October 12, 2018

Prime Book Box Kids?

At the beginning of October, I was browsing Amazon and saw a banner ad for a program I hadn't heard of before: Prime Book Box Kids. I instantly clicked.

Amazon has tried to move into the subscription box marked before; most notably, with the Prime Sweets Box. Books seem like a more natural fit for Amazon.

Now I did try the Prime Sweets Box a few times. However, it had one huge drawback: you couldn't list any preferences or choose your sweets in any way. As I currently have braces, this meant a quarter to a third of each box I received I had to give away due to nuts, caramel, or other foods I'm not supposed to eat.

Amazon seems to have learned for Prime Book Box Kids. First, none of the books in your box will be ones you've previously purchased on Amazon. Second, you'll have a number of alternate choices to choose from if you aren't interested or already own one of the choices in your box. That freedom to make sure you get what you want is a nice bonus. I do like my subscription boxes a surprise, but not too much of a surprise.

You can also adjust the frequency to every 1-, 2-, or 3-months and you can skip boxes. Both are good options for further flexibility. (More is listed in the FAQ.)

The price is a little rich for my blood. Each box is $22.99 (including shipping) and includes two hardcover books (for the older age ranges) or four board books (for the babies). Amazon promises each will be at least 35% off list price and no more expensive than it would be on the site. So it is a deal, but personally, I prefer paperbacks, and not just for the price point. Especially for children's books, where they can go through a large quantity. $11.50 isn't bad for one book, but it's more than a paperback.

I do think it is a good idea, and bet a lot of families will love it. It might make a good gift during the Christmas season.

Are any of you subscribed to a book box?

October 10, 2018

Recommended: As a Person, I’d Love to Stop Separating Children from Their Families, but, as a Pied Piper, I Can’t

I don't often get political on this blog. It's not that I don't have thoughts on politics; it is that it isn't what I made this blog for, and I often feel that if I address one thing on here, then I have to address all the things.

But I don't. This blog is what I make of it.

So today I am recommending a bit of political satire that appeared in The New Yorker. Because I enjoyed it. Because it has a fairy-tale theme that suits this blog.

I may recommend similar pieces in the future. I may not. But today, I am recommending this one.

"As a Person, I’d Love to Stop Separating Children from Their Families, but, as a Pied Piper, I Can’t" by Matt Doyle

It’s not like I can change the law.

Look, I’m not happy about having to do this. Try, for a second, to ignore that I was dancing while I coaxed all the children away from their parents. That wasn’t performative cruelty, it was more like law enforcement, performed.

October 7, 2018

Small Beer Press Sale!

Get in Trouble The MacArthur Genius Grants were announced on Thursday, and one of the winners was Kelly Link! Let me tell you, I am very curious about what project she is using the grant to complete.

I reviewed her latest short story collection, Get In Trouble, back in March 2015. That collection went on to become a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Link is not only a decorated author, however; she's also a publisher. Link co-founded and co-runs Small Beer Press, which publishes some of the biggest names in literary science fiction.

To celebrate Link's achievement, Small Beer Press announced a week-long sale, everything 50% off. So hurry over and look at what's available before the sale ends!  

YA novels on sale include In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan (a loving send-up of portal fantasy novels with a gay romance), The Poison Eaters and Other Stories by Holly Black (which contains the original version of The Coldest Girl in Coldtown and some stories that tie into her Tithe series), and Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace (a journey to the underworld that didn't quite work for me.

You can find works by major female SFF writers like Joan Aiken and Ursula K. LeGuin, as well as others you might not have heard of. Small Beer Press publishes a diverse range of voices, including award winners, authors in translation, and reprints of classics.

Take a look around the sale. I guarantee you'll find some fantastic reads. Plus, free media mail shipping within the US!

October 6, 2018

Cybils 2018 Nominations are Open!

You still have time to nominate for the 2018 Cybils! Nominations don't close until October 15th.

What are the Cybils, you ask? They're children's and YA book awards juried by bloggers. Nominated books are judged by both literary merit and appeal to their audience. Categories include contemporary/historical, speculative fiction, and graphic novels for several age levels, poetry, and book apps.

I've been a first- and second-round judge for the Cybils, and both were incredibly rewarding experiences. Everyone involved believes in getting the best books into the hands of kids.

You can find more information in the rules and FAQ.

You can find a link to nominations on this page.

October 4, 2018

Too Many Events in the Bookstores!

One of the great things about living in a big city with several independent bookstores is the frequent book events. I've gotten to see so many of my favorite authors speak, and it always leaves me with a deeper understanding and appreciation of their work.

Tonight, there are three amazing events going on around Houston.

Two Dark Reigns Blue Willow Bookshop is hosting the Epic Reads Meet Up with Elana K. Arnold, Kendare Blake, Anna Godbersen, Mackenzi Lee, and Claire Legrand. The Epic Reads events are always great fun, with giveaways and swag. HarperCollins and Team Epic Reads know how to throw a party! I'd especially love to see Kendare Blake.

The Hollow of Fear Murder by the Book is hosting two women who have written in multiple genres. Melissa Lenhardt's new novel Heresy is about an all-women gang in the Wild West; how cool is that? Sherry Thomas, one of my long-time favorites, is there with the newest novel in her Lady Sherlock series, The Hollow of Fear.

Beautiful Country Burn Again Brazos Bookstore is hosting Ben Fountain, the author of Beautiful Country Burn Again. This is not a novel but a work of reportage. (His previous work, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, was a novel and turned into an Ang Lee movie.)

So which of these events will I choose to go to? Ben Fountain at Brazos Bookstore. It's not just that he has an incredible faculty with words, but also that he was one of my past writing teachers. A number of the tricks I use in my fiction, I learned from him.

Thankfully, Murder by the Book is just up the street from Brazos Bookstore, and that event starts 30 minutes earlier. Maybe I can swing by and see part of Lenhardt and Thomas's appearance.

October 2, 2018

Review: The Grimm Files: How to Bake a Murder Cake

By Delicia Williams
Purchased copy

I love fairy tales. I love zines. How could I resist the two combined in one clever package? Delicia Williams' The Grimm Files series (there are three so far) are covered using cut-down manila folders, stamped CLASSIFIED. The inside cover notes the crime catalogued within. It really gives them the presence of police file, and is more effective than if they just had a self cover. The 8-page comic inside recounts a fairy-tale crime in verse.

The first page

"How to Bake a Murder Cake" tackles Hansel and Gretel. In this retelling, the witch is the one with something to fear from these hungry children. The rhymes are sometimes strained, but the illustrations are excellent. The pages get blacker as danger looms, and the expressions on Hansel and Gretel's faces are quite frightening. There's also a wonderful bit of spot red drawn in to give extra impact to the horrid ending. There's something terrifying about the illustrations, especially when combined with the loopy lettering.

Williams also works as a penciller, and I plan to look up some of her other work. Notably, she inked and pencilled a story in the Wayward Sisters anthology, which has a foreword from one of my favorite comics artists, Faith Erin Hicks.

September 30, 2018

Kickstarter: Daniel & Ismail—A Timely Children’s Book in Three Languages

Restless Books is a publisher that specializes in international books translated into English. In their own words, stories that "connect people across cultures and borders." In fall 2017, they started the imprint Yonder, to share children's books to help teach children "to place themselves in the shoes of others beyond their communities, and instill in them a lifelong curiosity about the world and their place in it."

One of their upcoming releases is the children's picture book, Daniel & Ismail. The twist? They also want to translate it into Hebrew and Arabic for a trilingual release.

You can support Restless Books in this endeavor by pledging to their Kickstarter. Rewards include books, signed books, signed prints, and original art.

September 26, 2018

"Waiting On" Wednesday: Slay

Slay by Brittney Morris was sold in a six-figure, two-book deal to Simon Pulse last week. Thus there is no book cover or even a cover copy yet.

But I had to share this Black Panther-inspired novel because it sounds amazing.

Slay is the tale of 17-year-old Kiera Johnson, a black teen game developer battling a real-life troll intent on ruining the Black Panther-inspired online role-playing card game she has created and that has become especially popular among black gamers worldwide. But when an African-American teen, Jamal Rice, is murdered during a dispute over the in-game currency (“Slay Coins”), Slay is widely disparaged in the mainstream media and elsewhere as a racist, exclusionist, and violent hub for thugs and criminals.

Read more at Publisher's Weekly.

September 24, 2018

Movie Monday: BlacKkKlansman

BlacKkKlansman is the story of Ron Stallworth, a black police officer who goes undercover to join the KKK. He does this by talking to Klan members on the phone, while fellow (white) detective Flip goes to meet with them in person.

John David Washington shines as Stallworth. He gets across the character's earnest belief in the system, which simultaneously exists with his frustration when confronted by the racists and other bad apples on the force. He's a character who is sometimes fierce and sometimes fearful, but always believable. He plays especially well off of Adam Driver, particularly in scenes where Flip confronts his own heritage as a Jewish man.

BlacKkKlansman is based on the memoir BLACK KLANSMAN by Ron Stallworth and it takes many liberties to make the story more cinematic. After all, a cop story needs shots being fired and an explosion.

I think the best change is that the movie adds women to the story. Laura Harrier plays Patrice, a militant young woman who organizes campus speaking events and marches and believes the police can never be trusted. She's based on actual women who worked with the Black Panthers and other radical groups. She's intense, but can also slow down and discuss which films and stars she likes best. On the opposite side, a woman is added to the Klan group as well, a wife whose efforts to host go unappreciated. It's an excellent portrait of how these women get wrapped up in supporting and championing a cause that sees them as second-class citizens.

By turns, BlacKkKlansman is hilarious, exciting, and a punch to the gut. I was crying by the time I left the theater, due to Spike Lee's effortless connection of the events of the past to the ones of the present. He's a masterful filmmaker and he's made a movie that's both an entertaining summer comedy-thriller and a haunting piece of art. I thoroughly recommend going to see it, or renting it once it is available on video.

September 23, 2018

Banned Books Week Starts Tomorrow: "Banning Books Silences Stories"

I want to live in a world that supports a diverse range of voices, where everyone can find that story that speaks to them and inspires them to amplify their own voice. That's why I am against censorship and support Banned Books Week and the fight to keep challenged books on the shelves and in libraries.

The Top Ten Challenged Books of 2017 are:
  1. Thirteen Reasons Why written by Jay Asher
    Originally published in 2007, this New York Times bestseller has resurfaced as a controversial book after Netflix aired a TV series by the same name. This YA novel was challenged and banned in multiple school districts because it discusses suicide.
  2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian written by Sherman Alexie
    Consistently challenged since its publication in 2007 for acknowledging issues such as poverty, alcoholism, and sexuality, this National Book Award winner was challenged in school curriculums because of profanity and situations that were deemed sexually explicit.
  3. Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
    This Stonewall Honor Award-winning, 2012 graphic novel from an acclaimed cartoonist was challenged and banned in school libraries because it includes LGBT characters and was considered “confusing.”
  4. The Kite Runner written by Khaled Hosseini
    This critically acclaimed, multigenerational novel was challenged and banned because it includes sexual violence and was thought to “lead to terrorism” and “promote Islam.”
  5. George written by Alex Gino
    Written for elementary-age children, this Lambda Literary Award winner was challenged and banned because it includes a transgender child.
  6. Sex is a Funny Word written by Cory Silverberg and illustrated by Fiona Smyth
    This 2015 informational children’s book written by a certified sex educator was challenged because it addresses sex education and is believed to lead children to “want to have sex or ask questions about sex.”
  7. To Kill a Mockingbird written by Harper Lee
    This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, considered an American classic, was challenged and banned because of violence and its use of the N-word.
  8. The Hate U Give written by Angie Thomas
    Despite winning multiple awards and being the most searched-for book on Goodreads during its debut year, this YA novel was challenged and banned in school libraries and curriculums because it was considered “pervasively vulgar” and because of drug use, profanity, and offensive language.
  9. And Tango Makes Three written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson and illustrated by Henry Cole
    Returning after a brief hiatus from the Top Ten Most Challenged list, this ALA Notable Children’s Book, published in 2005, was challenged and labeled because it features a same-sex relationship.
  10. I Am Jazz written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
    This autobiographical picture book co-written by the 13-year-old protagonist was challenged because it addresses gender identity.
For more information, see the Banned Books Week website.

August 25, 2018

Review: Black Klansman: A Memoir

Black Klansman By Ron Stallworth
Available now from Flatiron Books
Purchased copy

One day, a nineteen-year-old guy who wanted to be a PE teacher applied to be a police cadet so that he could get his education paid for. Little did young Ron Stallworth know he would become the first black detective in the Colorado Springs police department, lead a successful intelligence investigation against the Ku Klux Klan, and go on to have a storied career.

BLACK KLANSMAN is the story of Stallworth's investigation into the KKK and various organizations that counterprotested them, especially the local Communist group. Stallworth has an interesting perspective on race relations as a peace officer. He is well aware of racism and other issues within the police. He reports things said to his face that white officers didn't even realize were offensive, and describes what happened when one of his colleagues shot an unarmed kid. At the same time, he believes in the duties of a police officer and in making a difference from the inside.

While the KKK are the villains of the story, Stallworth does not approve of terrorist action against the KKK. His goal in his intelligence investigation is to keep the peace within the community and protect the innocent. This is not a police story where a bunch of people go to jail in the end; however, it is one where no crosses are burned and no gay bars are bombed because of the police who infiltrated the KKK.

It's a compulsively readable story. Stallworth is not an expert writer (he thanks his English teacher at the end for helping him polish his memoir), but he tells what happened in a straightforward fashion. The simplicity helps keep the pages turning. There's suspense, such as the mounting tension in anticipation of David Duke coming to town. There's humor, as KKK members speak to Stallworth on the phone and make it obvious just how clueless they are. There's the horror of how David Duke in his suit and with his good manners made the hate of the KKK more palatable to the masses. The resurgence of the KKK under Duke, during the time period of BLACK KLANSMAN, has a direct line to the explosion of racism and fascist ideals in the US today.

In 2014, BLACK KLANSMAN was released without much fanfare from the small publisher Police and Fire Publishing. In 2018, it has been re-released from a Big Six publisher to coincide with one of the movies of the summer, BlacKkKlansman. I am thankful to Jordan Peele and the other filmmakers who saw the potential in the story of this once buried investigation and brought it to the forefront of the public consciousness. It's a fascinating story, and a reminder that all of us can act against hate.

January 16, 2018

Props to Ny'shira Lundy!

The Hate U Give Ny'shira Lundy, 15, fought to get THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas back on the shelves of Katy ISD schools.

It was removed late last year for "pervasive vulgarity and racially insensitive language" after the parent of a junior high school student complained. Lundy decided to fight for the book, organizing an official petition and speaking before the school board on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

"Like Starr, I’m a black female who attended a predominantly white prep school. I struggled to feel as if I could be myself. After reading her story, and seeing how she went from feeling like to she had to adjust to the environment that she was in, to feeling as if she had a voice and that she should be bold enough to share it, it made me feel confident, and as if I shouldn’t be afraid to embrace who I am."

Thanks to her efforts, THE HATE U GIVE has been reinstated in Katy ISD high school libraries.

I paid more attention to this case than the many, many cases of censorship in school libraries because I attended Katy ISD schools for Kindergarten through sixth grade. They're amazing schools with excellent teachers, funding for incredible programs, and overall competitive in academics. I have that strong educational foundation to thank for many of the things I've achieved. But I also have books to thank for the person that I am.

Books are a window to other experiences. They make our world bigger. And sometimes they have to depict the worst parts of the world to tell their story.

Congratulations to Ny'shira Lundy, congratulations to Angie Thomas, and congratulations to the students of Katy ISD. I hope there's a wait list at the libraries for THE HATE U GIVE.

For the rest of us, remember to read banned & challenged books. You can also explore the Banned Books Week site for ideas on how to support the ALA, the Freedom to Read Foundation, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, The American Society of Journalists and Authors, Project Censored, and other groups supporting the right to read.


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