August 31, 2015

Support LGBTQ Media: FIERCE! The Movie and Rainbow Boxes

I've been contacted recently about two great projects that you can support.

First, on Kickstarter, is FIERCE! The Movie. FIERCE! is a documentary by Zoe Davis, chronicling the journey of a group of British drag queens to an inaugural drag festival in Austin, Texas in a landmark year for marriage equality.

The crew says the following about the movie and their need for donations to finish production:

Throughout history, drag artists have been at the forefront of the fight for equality, tirelessly campaigning for the rights of LGBT people and using performance and humour to break through prejudice. We want to make a beautiful film that honours the rich culture of drag and the work of these artists who have been so instrumental in influencing and inspiring change. We also want to document this break-through time for LGBT equality, and perhaps even help change a few perceptions along the way!

In our lifetimes, history is rarely made in such a genuine, awe-inspiring and moving way. As the fight for equality continues, we will continue to film that inspiration and promise to deliver it the world over. But we need your help to do it!

Second, on IndieGoGo, is Rainbow Boxes by authors Cori McCarthy and Amy Rose Carpetta.  They've curated boxes of fifteen LGBTQ-interest young adult novels to send to community libraries, GSAs, and homeless shelters serving LGBTQ youth throughout the country.  They want to put books with messages of hope into the hands of the teens that need them most.  They'll also be buying the books from indie booksellers.

If you have a bit of spare change, both of these are wonderful projects that could use your support.

August 27, 2015

Review: Goodbye Stranger

Goodbye Stranger By Rebecca Stead
Available now from Wendy Lamb Books (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

Rebecca Stead won the Newbery Award for her second novel and became the first non-British author to win the Guardian Award for her third novel.  It's quite the pedigree, so expectations are understandably high for GOODBYE STRANGER, her fourth novel.

GOODBYE STRANGER mostly focuses on a group of thirteen-year old girls.  Like its protagonists straddle the world of children and teens, GOODBYE STRANGER straddles middle grade and YA.  It is a book that lives in liminal spaces.  Bridge, who narrates the most often, survived a horrific accident and has internalized that that means she's meant for more.  But more what? 

Her best friends Emily and Tabitha seem to be growing away from her, and all three struggle to navigate the changes in their friendship.  Emily has physically matured the fastest, and she's getting resulting attention from guys.  Tabitha, meanwhile, has fallen into the first blush of feminist fervor.  Sherm is a boy who tells most of his story through letters to his grandfather that he doesn't seem.  An unnamed narrator tells her story aside from the others, in a different time and an older place but still struggling with past friends and who she wants to be with or without them.

The threads of Bridge, Sherm, and You's stories come together in delightful ways.  Stead writes with a deft lightness that conceals just how much work she's doing to make all the pieces fit.  It also helps keep the book suitable for younger readers while appealing to older ones.  The darkest storyline in GOODBYE STRANGER involves scandalous photos texted between an underage girl and guy.  It's tackled perhaps with too much optimism, but I liked how the consequences and hurt were dealt with in a way that made it clear that made it clear that many dumb decisions were made but that it wasn't wrong for the girl to have sexual feelings.

GOODBYE STRANGER is another terrific novel from a celebrated author in children's fiction.  There's definitely a reason to get excited about a release from Stead.

August 26, 2015

Welcome Bodleian Children's Books!

Bodleian Library Publishing has launched the Bodleian Children's Books imprint, which will be distributed by University of Chicago Press in the US.

The press release says that this imprint will focus on forgotten gems and beautifully illustrated volumes.  I don't know about you, but I'm hoping for something that will rival The New York Review Children's Collection.  (Which, by the way, has several books on sale for the summer.)

The first two books published by Bodleian Children's Books will be Penguin’s Way and Whale’s Way by Johanna Johnston and illustrated by Leonard Weisgard. The 2016 list includes Veronica by Roger Duvoisin and The Story of Babar by Jean de Brunhoff.

(via Shelf Awareness)

August 25, 2015

Review: Space Dumplins

Space Dumplins By Craig Thompson
Available now from Graphix (Scholastic)
Review copy

Craig Thompson is the author of numerous acclaimed graphic novels, including BLANKETS and HABIBI.  His first graphic novel for young readers is a heartwarming tale of family, both the kind you're born with and the kind you find, and whale diarrhea.   All in all, it's a space adventure that all ages can enjoy.

Violet, her mother, and father live happily in a space trailer park.  He salvages whale poop, which is used for energy.  Her mother works in fashion and just got a job on a satellite, a job that could move their family up in the world.  I think the class conflicts that run through SPACE DUMPLINS are well done.  There are arguments kids might've heard in their own homes, but translated into space (which makes everything more exciting).  The environmental themes are also presented well, just goofy enough not to be overly heavy handed.

My favorite thing about this graphic novel might be all the puns.  I think I'm going to have to read it again to make sure that I get all of them.  There's a lot of cleverness flying about in the text and the images.  Thompson's space is a busy place, full of activity and bright colors.  (The contrasting colors make it easier to see what's happening.)  There's all sorts of details to distract and catch your eye.  I think the hyperactive style suits the wackiness of the story as well as the age group.

I don't think SPACE DUMPLINS will be a graphic-novel classic like BLANKETS or HABIBI.  But it is fun, sweet, and silly.  That makes it a pretty appealing read.

August 19, 2015

"Waiting On" Wednesday: The Legend of Lyon Redmond

Legend of Lyon Redmond "Waiting On" Wednesday is hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine.

I've been rereading the Pennyroyal Green series by Julie Anne Long, and I am now pumped for the release of THE LEGEND OF LYON REDMOND.  Long has been building up to this one throughout the series.

With ten books so far, the series has been up and down.  But when Long is on, there are few better.  I really hope this one is as winning as its cover.

Bound by centuries of bad blood, England's two most powerful families maintain a veneer of civility . . . until the heir to the staggering Redmond fortune disappears, reviving rumors of an ancient curse: a Redmond and an Eversea are destined to fall disastrously in love once per generation.

An Enduring Legend

Rumor has it she broke Lyon Redmond's heart. But while many a man has since wooed the dazzling Olivia Eversea, none has ever won her—which is why jaws drop when she suddenly accepts a viscount's proposal. Now London waits with bated breath for the wedding of a decade . . . and wagers on the return of an heir.

An Eternal Love

It was instant and irresistible, forbidden . . . and unforgettable. And Lyon—now a driven, dangerous, infinitely devastating man—decides it's time for a reckoning. As the day of her wedding races toward them, Lyon and Olivia will decide whether their love is a curse destined to tear their families apart . . . or the stuff of which legends are made

August 18, 2015

Review: A History of Glitter and Blood

A History of Glitter and Blood By Hannah Moskowitz
Available now from Chronicle Books
Review copy

A HISTORY OF GLITTER AND BLOOD is an aptly named novel.  Half of it is a disco teenage fever dream and the other half is haunting violence and mutilated bodies.  It is a strange novel and I absolutely loved every second of it.

The narrator of A HISTORY OF GLITTER AND BLOOD is an unreliable fellow.  He centers the story around Beckan, although he isn't her and cannot know the minutiae of her days and thoughts.  (She points this out to him, even.)  He also admits frequently that he's making stuff up, or eliding a nasty bit of the story, or doubles back on himself because he's not telling it well.  It takes a bit to get into the rhythm of the story, but I thought the way it was told in fits and starts suited the subject matter.

Beckan and three other faerie teenagers were the only faeries who survived the war.  (Except not really, because Cricket is dead.  Not dead-dead, because faeries are immortal.  But he's been rendered into pieces so small, conscious somewhere, that his friends can't find them.)  Beckan, Cricket, and Cricket's brother supported the household through prostitution.  Of course, the main people they could sell themselves too were the trolls, who eat faeries.  It's taken a toll on them, both because they were all too young to handle any of it and they feel a mix of blame and shame and not regretting it at all because they survived.

There is such horror in A HISTORY OF GLITTER AND BLOOD.  There are images in this book that haunt me.  And the characters, faerie and troll and other, wormed their way under my skin.  The worldbuilding is both deft and dreamlike.  It is a tale of an impossible place, yet all the pieces fit together.  I loved the complicated situation between the races and the lengthy exploration of what happens after trauma and disaster.

I've been meaning to read Hannah Moskowitz's novels forever, and A HISTORY OF GLITTER AND BLOOD definitely convinced me that I need to give her backlist my full attention as soon as I get a chance.  This book shoved it's way into my heart like sudden violence following on the heels of laughter.

August 13, 2015

Review: Fool's Quest

Fool's Quest Book two of the Fitz and the Fool trilogy
By Robin Hobb
Available now from Del Rey (Penguin Random House)
Review copy
Read more reviews of Robin Hobb novels

When Robin Hobb has a new trilogy coming out, I always get excited when it is time to buy the new book.  You can double that when it is a book about Fitz.  (This is the eighth book starring Fitz and the fifteenth set in this world.)  FOOL'S ASSASSIN, the first book in this new trilogy, made some choices I wasn't so sure about.  I'm still not sure about some of them - the new narrator speaks much less in FOOL'S QUEST and I'm not sure her separate point of view is actually needed.  Others are swiftly corrected, teaching me to trust again that Hobb has a plan.

FOOL'S QUEST ends with our heroes once more in peril, so I know I'll be on tenterhooks for the third and final book in the trilogy.  Those who were worried about the characters at the end of book one can look forward to long, soothing passages of recovery.  (Well, recovery for some characters anyway ...)  There's also some delicious, long-awaited vindication.  There were so many moments in FOOL'S QUEST that I've been waiting for as a fan of these characters.

And then Fitz does something else to prove he's too stubborn to learn easy.

As a fan, I continue to think that this trilogy is a delight.  I'm not sure it has much to offer newcomers, because it is more uneven than the previous two trilogies and generally expects the reader to be familiar with a large number of events and characters.  But seriously, it's worth starting at the beginning and working through these bricks.

August 12, 2015

Review: Fuzzy Mud

Fuzzy Mud By Louis Sachar
Available now from Scholastic
Review copy

I think many reviewers other than myself will compare FUZZY MUD to HOLES.  It's the obvious comparison.  Both involve disparate plot threads coming together, strong social messages, and young heroes with the strength to do the right thing.  FUZZY MUD feels like HOLES, even though it is a less complex and ultimately less successful novel.  No shade - HOLES is practically perfect.

Tamaya Dhilwaddi had my heart from go.  She's smart and follows the rules and has trouble making friends.  I definitely remember that difficulty of trying to figure out what I was doing wrong as a kid.  She's friends with seventh-grader Marshall Walsh, who is two years older and who won't interact with her during the school day.  They just walk home together.  Then they take a shortcut through the woods one day, because he wants to avoid the school bully, Chad.

But Chad goes missing and Tamaya gets sick. 

FUZZY MUD builds up the dread of what is lurking in the woods wonderfully, repeated equations giving a small sense of the scope of what is happening.  Court transcripts hint at what is waiting and how it was allowed to happen.  (At the end, these transcripts also reveal an imperfect compromise.)  The environmental message doesn't seem so preachy when wrapped up in a nice layer of horror and an ending that isn't nice and neat.  It also helps that Tamaya is a compelling main character who can make her actions come across as more important than the message.

FUZZY MUD is a great introduction to some complicated scientific debates regarding the creation, manufacturing, and regulation of biofuel.  It's also a great story about bullying and forgiveness and courage.  It is written for a slightly younger age group than HOLES, and I think it hits the mark.

Spoiler: The dog dies.

August 11, 2015

Review: Six Impossible Things

Six Impossible Things By Fiona Wood
Available now from Poppy (Hachette)
Review copy

Dan Cereill had a pretty cushy life, but now his parents are divorced and he's living in his mom in a historically protected house that smells terrible.  Among other things, he just wants to not be a complete loser and to be a good guy (unlike his dad, who he blames for the divorce).

I've heard about Fiona Wood through The Bookish Manicurist, who maintains a list of recommended Aussie YA.  I haven't read WILDLIFE yet, but I'm definitely going to check it out based on how much I enjoyed SIX IMPOSSIBLE THINGS.  Dan seems a bit advanced for his age (he's fourteen), but he was still a believable teenage boy.  I liked the way high school, girl, and family problems blended together and that learning to navigate one helped Dan out with others.

The supporting cast is also likeable, from Estelle (the girl next door he has a crush on) to his other neighbor's girlfriend who is always available to help out a friend.  I particularly liked Dan's mother, who is struggling to build a business to support her and Dan.  Unfortunately, she went into wedding cakes.  She has the skill, but it isn't the most suitable job for a recent divorcee.  The running gag of her breaking up future marriages goes on long enough to go from funny to not funny, and back around to funny.

I liked that Dan isn't instantly forgiven for his mistakes, but has to work to make amends.  I also liked that he understood the things he does wrong in pursuit of his six impossible things.  At the same time, he also does a number of good things in his struggle.  He listens to people, gets involved, and is generally proactive.  I like a protagonist who goes after what they want.

SIX IMPOSSIBLE THINGS is a breezy read for the younger YA set.  It's also a nice change of pace from most contemporary YA thanks to the Australian setting.

August 10, 2015

Blog Tour: Oh, What a Treat!: 36 Cute & Clever Food Crafts

Oh, What a Treat! By Sandra Denneler
Available now from SparkPress
Review sample

I was supposed to make a craft from OH, WHAT A TREAT!, but I just didn't have a good opportunity.  These food crafts are best for when you're having a party or have some kids you can guide through the steps.  They just don't seem as exciting to do on your own.  I do like that many of the crafts tie into holidays, making it easy to see a good occasion to do them.

I have decided to make the spicy sweet potato pumpkin bites when Halloween rolls around.  Cute and spicy?  I love it.  I think my family will like it too.

 Most of the projects are fairly involved, but there are a small percentage of very easy projects that are suitable for young children.

August 9, 2015

Books on Sale

I was looking at Amazon's monthly sale and noticing several titles I'd recommend.  Two are for teens, one for younger.  Found any good books on sale lately?

Sweet Evil Ballad Best School Year Ever

August 6, 2015

Alis Franklin on Women in Fantasy Novels

Liesmith Alis Franklin is the author of Liesmith (my review) and the recently released Stormbringer (my review). Both are modern takes on Norse mythology.  This Australian author is guest-blogging today to share how she became alienated from fantasy novels and how she found her way back.


I was fifteen when I stopped reading fantasy novels.

I remember the book that killed my interest. I'm not going to name it, only to say it's considered one of the greats of the genre. My father had loaned it to me, the book pulled from his wall-to-wall collection of battered SFF paperbacks after I'd asked him for something to read. Something for "grown ups" (this was in the mid-90s or so, before the YA boom filled in that transitional gap between growing and grown). He took Famous Fantasy Novel from its shelf, and handed it to me. "Read this," he said. "It's a classic."

I didn't make it through the first fifty pages.

"It starts slow," Dad said. "Stick with it."

But I wasn't worried about it starting slow. I worried about it starting wrong. I worried about it starting as a story of a farmboy and his farmboy friends, and the One Girl In The Village.

I worried about the fact I hated that girl. At the time, I didn't know how to put my revulsion into words. She was… annoying. Her sole purpose seemed to be to taunt and tease the boys with her "girlishness". She had no power outside of what the story bequeathed her for her connection to the male protagonist and his male friends. I could tell they were destined for greatness. Her? Destined to be a wife, I guess. Or a victim.

As a teenager, I didn't want to be a wife, or a victim, and I didn't want to bat my eyelashes and swing my hips and nag boys into doing things for me. I wanted to do them for myself. And, more importantly, I realized I didn't want to put up with reading a thousand pages of boys getting to have fun while I didn't. Not again.

I gave the book back to my dad in disgust. And then I did something terrible. Something I'm sure a lot of girls my age have done.

I blamed that female character for my dislike. If it was her "feminine" behaviors that put me off, her "femaleness" that prevented her from engaging in the story in the way I would have wanted to engage... If it was all that, then what else was to blame but the very idea of being female itself? This, then, was the start of my Not Like Other Girls phase.

Maybe I'm being a little unfair to Famous Fantasy Novel. It might be the first book I remember rejecting for its portrayal of a female character, but it was by no means the first book--or the first piece of media--where I'd encountered a female character I couldn't stand. And always, every time, I blamed my disconnect those fictional girls and women, and, by extension, I blamed real life women, too.

It wasn't until I was much, much older that it occurred to me that every female character I couldn't stand, without fail, had been written by a man. It wasn’t femininity or femaleness I was rejecting; it was a male-perceived version of it. One that didn't mesh with my own experience.

It took other women to bring about the realization. Talking to them both as fans, critical of the texts we were consuming, and as content creators, often in the long weeds of the early internet, outside the trimmed lawns of mainstream pop culture.

Thirty years of bad characters and misplaced blame is a lot to unlearn, but I'm trying. Slowly. Mostly by attempting to consume more media created by--and, importantly, for--women. Media that's inclusive of all kinds of women, no matter their shape or size or interests, no matter their color or sexuality or ability. Women who kick ass and take names, sure, but also the rest of them; the quiet mothers, the supportive friends, the awkward losers. I want their adventures, their stories, their epic quests.

Stormbringer Stormbringer is, in part, my contribution to that journey. More so than its urban predecessor, Stormbringer is a fantasy novel. And while it takes tropes and conventions from the male-written sword and sorcery I wanted to love as a teen, I've tried to rewrite it into the story I would've wanted to read as a teen. A story with all kinds of women; the warrior, the strategist, the queen, the mother, and, yes, the bride-to-be. They are the drivers or the plot, the keepers of the action, much more than the story's male narrators, who are more often than not there merely to observe the outcomes of female agency.

It is, of course, not the be-all and end-all of the Heroine's Journey in epic fantasy; not the last word on female representation. But it's a word; a book with women, written to try and appeal, if not to women in general, but one woman in particular, a.k.a. yours truly, age fifteen.

It's not enough. But it's something.

August 5, 2015

"Waiting On" Wednesday: Tell the Wind and Fire

Tell the Wind and Fire "Waiting On" Wednesday is hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine.

I enjoy Sarah Rees Brennan's work (see one of my reviews), so I was quite excited when Angie pointed out that the cover had been revealed and an excerpt of the first chapter released over at Entertainment Weekly.

Now, the cover is super boring.  Cityscape, greyscale, title.  It's a very similar treatment to her novel with Justine Larbalestier, TEAM HUMAN.  But that excerpt!

Look, I was already excited about a modern fantasy retelling of A TALE OF TWO CITIES, basically my favorite book by Dickens.  That excerpt just whetted my appetite more.  So do yourself a favor and go read it.

All Amazon says right now:

"From New York Times bestseller Sarah Rees Brennan comes a magic-infused tale of romance and revolution that is lush, dramatic, and poignantly timely."

August 4, 2015

Pick-Me-Up Books

I have a cold and it looks like I am feeling too muffled* to finish either my review of GOODBYE STRANGER by Rebecca Stead or FUZZY MUD by Louis Sachar.  For now, I'll say that they're just as good as you'd expect from those two names.

*It didn't help that I accidentally splashed some of my curry in my eye.  You were supposed to make me feel better, curry!

I'll ask a discussion question instead.  What are your favorite books when you're feeling ill or otherwise down?  What books help you feel better?

August 3, 2015

Movie Monday: Barely Lethal

Barely Lethal While bored and searching for a movie to watch I stumbled upon Barely Lethal.  It attracted me with its cast, which includes Oscar-winner Hailee Steinfeld, Sophie Turner, and Samuel L. Jackson.  I was hoping for a hidden gem, which I didn't find, but it did relieve my boredom for an hour and a half.

Steinfeld plays 83, an orphan raised to be an assassin.  However, she'd much rather be an ordinary girl.  When she gets a chance, she fakes her death and then attends high school as an exchange student from Canada.

There are good moments in Barely Lethal.  There's a running joke about Ke$ha perfume that just gets funnier and more absurd as it goes on.  I don't know if it was paid product placement, but it worked.  Steve-O makes a hilarious cameo as a torturer who really gets 83, now going by the name Megan Walsh.  And Megan's host family has great chemistry with her.  I was only familiar with Dove Cameron, who plays the daughter, from an ice-cream video song one of my younger cousins made me watch.  But she does a good job building up a sisterly rapport.

Unfortunately, there's lots of clunky moments.  83 gets most of her knowledge from nineties teen films, plus Mean Girls.  She seems not to notice that Mean Girls updated a lot of the tropes she follows.  She also is shown reading up to date magazines, but seems to take fashion inspiration from the parts of the eighties that aren't currently in style.  Also, everyone makes fun of her makeup from her terrible first day of school appearance when the problem is her hair and outfit.  It seems like a top spy would be better at researching and blending in.  I was up for some lampooning of teen movie tropes, but Barely Lethal was just so awkward about it.

I like Sophie Turner on Game of Thrones, but she seemed rather stiff as 84, who has a one-sided rivalry with 83.  Her character is supposed to be icy, but just felt a little off.  Maybe it was the American accent they made her do.  Jessica Alba's villain is thinly written, but I did appreciate that a former teen actress was cast for the role.  It was a nice meta joke.  (I liked the casting over all, which mostly has actual teens playing teens.  Some of the guys were older.)

Barely Lethal is a cute enough movie to watch in the background or if there's nothing else on.  It's mostly family friendly, although there are a few jokes that earn the PG-13 rating.  It's just bland, which is a waste of a talented cast.


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