Wednesday, April 23, 2008

L1ttle Br0th3r is watching

Geeks rule, Homeland Security drools!

Okay, so this book is a little more sophisticated than that.

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow is the story of Marcus, aka w1n5t0n, who's more or less your average high school geek. He lives in a slightly futuristic San Francisco and loves RPGs, history, hacking his school-issued laptop, and subverting his high school's surveillance systems. His hacking is all in good fun until the day the Bay Bridge is bombed and thousands of people are killed. While trying to flag down some help for his friend Darryl, who is stabbed in the melee that follows the bombing, Marcus is taken into custody and treated as a terrorist. He is released after a few days, but he has no idea what's happened to Darryl. His experience with Homeland Security leads him to put his hacking skills to work on the XNet, an underground network of progressive-thinking geeks who use their modified XBoxes to communicate out of the reach of Homeland Security. San Francisco is now a police state, and Marcus won't stand for it. Working with his fellow hackers (and a cute girl), he is determined to fight for citizens' freedom and find Darryl. With increased paranoia, scary reports on the TV, and a new history teacher who believes in suspending the Bill of Rights, Marcus knows he has to put his net popularity and technical skills towards promoting freedom and liberty for all. Too bad Homeland Security sees him as a threat.

I enjoyed this book, but I didn't love love it. First, the good. Marcus is a great character, full of passion, style and smarts. He's got a great voice, both self-assured and vulnerable that way teens can be. Marcus never makes apologies for being smart and always does what he believe will do the most good, even if he can't see the long-term consequences. The reader gets a strong sense of the setting and also the sense that Doctorow really loves San Francisco. The ending is tied up nicely but doesn't feel rushed or contrived. There's a ton of food for thought regarding security, terrorism, and civil liberties, and it's clear what side Doctorow falls on, but I didn't feel bashed over the head with messages, either.

What I thought needed work was the pacing. There's lots of action and adventure, sure to appeal to the more grown up Alex Rider fan. The problem was that the book can alternately move much too fast or much too slow. Marcus often stops to explain complicated math and technology to the reader. Doctorow does a great job of breaking this down. Believe me, I can barely add and subtract so I'm always appreciative of well-explained complex mathematics. The explanations are necessary; I know I'd have no clue regarding any of it if I hadn't just finished The Numbers Behind Numb3rs: Solving Crime With Mathematics by Keith Devlin and Gary Lorden. (But, having read it, I can say, I KNOW ABOUT THE LARGE PRIME NUMBERS AND ENCRYPTION! THE RIEMANN HYPOTHESIS! I AM SO SMART!). Problem is, there's really no way to get them in without disrupting the story. So, great story overall, just needed some editing.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

All my friends are so Paper Towns

Many thanks to the publicity department at Penguin Young Readers Group for sending me a copy of Paper Towns by John Green. Like all viewers of Brotherhood 2.0 nerdfighters, I've been anticipating this book for some time, and I'm pleased to say that it does not disappoint.

First, a little on my relationship with John Green's books. (I have no relationship with John Green; he doesn't even know I exist.) I was the one person in the world who didn't love Looking for Alaska. Sure, the writing was intelligent and literary and all, but I couldn't stand the Alaska character and therefore felt absolutely nothing when she died, could not sympathize with Miles at all. I enjoyed An Abundance of Katherines very much, however. I thought it was funny and sweet and you know I'm always up for a book where the geeky guy gets the girl. So when I heard Paper Towns was coming out, I was excited. I believe that John Green on his worst day is still better than many writers out there on their best.

Let me tell you: It's true about the third time being a charm. Green has absolutely knocked it out of the subdivision park with Paper Towns.

The plot: When Quentin Jacobsen was nine years old, he and his next-door neighbor, Margo Roth Spiegelman, found a body in a park. Now it's almost graduation and over the years, Margo and Quentin have grown apart. Because of the distance in their relationship, Quentin is surprised when Margo employs him for a wild night of vengeful pranks on the people Quentin thought were her friends. Not long after, Margo disappears. Quentin is determined to find her. He follows what he believes are clues to her current residency, accompanied by a wacky yet completely lovable motley crew of friends. In one of the craziest road trips in YA literature, Quentin employs his friends, armed with nothing but a few sticks of gum, a BP credit card, and 211 bottles of beer, on a whirlwind road trip from Florida to upstate New York. What he finds...let's say it's everything and nothing he expects it to be. In just weeks, social statuses change, friendships and relationships dissolve, and Quentin learns Margo's song of herself.

Why you'll love it: Here's my favorite thing about Paper Towns, and what I have noticed is a theme in all of Green's works to date: The story is motivated by a character who is absent for more than fifty percent of the book. It really speaks to the influence the right person can have on our lives. The main character, Quentin, is really no one special on the outside. He likes boredom and routine, he's dated, he's basically your very average high school student. What sets Quentin apart and makes his story worth telling is his "miracle," his friendship with Margo Roth Spiegelman. Funny, I read an article not too long ago in...I should have bookmarked it because now I don't remember where...that talked about how our memories are much more unreliable than we think they are. With Margo, Green creates both old and new memories for Quentin, memories that don't always jibe with each other. And since Paper Towns is in first-person, we are left with only Quentin's view of Margo, a view colored by both recent and long-passed (and how well-remembered?) events. The peripheral characters sparkle and the turns of phrase are sublime, ranging from wickedly hilarious to heart-wrenching. This is a book that speaks to all of us who have ever remembered someone for better or worse, and who are always seeking connections to others.

Penguin's plans include "major early galley distribution," so keep an eye out for galleys at Book Expo and ALA. It's definitely worth picking up.

Filed under: Thinks that keep me up at night

There was a discussion on Adbooks earlier today (or I guess by now it'd be yesterday...I think the last time I went to bed before midnight was sometime in 1989, and I had mono) about the publication history of the Twilight series.

I paraphrase from a post to the listserv: ARCs weren't printed of book 3 because someone with early access to book 2 posted spoilers and the author got upset.

If that's the case, will someone explain the following to me:

1. Where is the line drawn between "spoiler" and "review?" Sure, it's possible to post a simple list that says things like, "Snape kills Dumbledore. Harry starts dating Ginny," etc. But it's also possible to say these same things in an in-depth review, talking about Harry's growing sexuality and the way his whole view of trust gets turned around. And does it matter? Does context make a "spoiler" okay?

2. At least hundreds, but I'm betting it was closer to thousands, of ARCs of New Moon were printed and distributed in June at Book Expo America and ALA Annual that year. Did the author, if she knew she'd be upset about "spoilers" (if anyone can figure out how to write a review without at least some kind of spoiler, please tell me how to do it), put a note in the thousands of ARCs that said, "Hey, don't write about this, even though there are thousands of ARCs out there and the whole spoiler thing will just be a giant elephant in the living room during the five months that mark the beginning of the ARC release and the actual book release?" If not (and I'm guessing not, because there wasn't a note in any of the three ARCs of New Moon I got), then did anyone really think that thousands of people would keep silent about a highly anticipated book? I saw plenty of fans in line to get ARCs at BEA the year of New Moon's release. Would it have been okay if any of them posted these "spoilers," and not a librarian (as Meyer reported to an Arizona paper just prior to the release of Eclipse)? Are fans more entitled to information than industry professionals?

3. If thousands of copies of an ARC go out, and the author and the publisher know they go out, does anyone have a right to be upset when details of the which thousands of people have access...are published online?

Now, answer that question and substitute any other author's name but J.K. Rowling's for Stephenie Meyer's. It doesn't work when you substitute James Patterson, or Holly Black, or Meg Cabot, or any other wildly successful YA author. All of those authors have ARCs printed of their books, and with all of them, details about the books come out prior to the publication date. What makes the Twilight books such a special case? Remember, this was in 2006, before the movie. What am I missing?

This is a detail about the publication history of this particular series that has always bugged the hell out of me. The whole point of an ARC's existence is to generate prepub buzz and encourage libraries and bookstores to make informed buying decisions. That is exactly what the "spoiler" posters did. If someone had posted details of Eclipse prior to its release, I would totally get it, because there were no ARCs of that book so someone would have had to have devious intentions in order to get it reviewed prior to release. But what good would an ARC of New Moon have been if no one wanted any spoilers to get out? It would be awfully strange for people who did get ARCs to say, "Oh, yes, I have this book and I've read it...but I'm not going to talk about it." I suppose thousands of people can keep a secret under the right circumstances, but I hardly think an advance of a YA novel is that sort of circumstance.

Tomorrow (or later today?) I'll be making a spoilerific post about Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. But somehow I think the main character of that book would appreciate it.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Just call me Lucien: Recap of NY Comic Con

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend the New York Comic Con, and here are some highlights:

1. THANK YOU, REED EXHIBITIONS, for learning from your mistakes. This is the third time I've attended NYCC and every year it is more organized, seems less crowded, and offers a wider range of programming. The first year, the exhibits hall looked like rush hour on the A train. This year, there were wider aisles and everyone could move around much easier. I got through registration quickly and easily. Also, thank you for offering free registration to librarians. What was the one major thing wrong with this year's programming lineup? All the programs I wanted to go to were at the same time. It seems like no one considered the idea that often, the children's librarian and the teen librarian in any given library are the same person. With the children's-centric panels and the teen-centric panels running concurrently, librarians often had to sacrifice one for the other.

2. The exhibits themselves were really neat. I am not as well-versed in the comics world as many of my colleagues, so it was cool to see the wide range of available (and vintage/collectible) comics and graphic novels. In addition to the comics booths, major publishers had booths and were offering some galleys and trade editions of popular titles. I know I saw Harper, Random, Tor, Hachette, and a few others. What I found most interesting, though, was that the titles these publishers were offering were almost entirely fantasy and science fiction. I realize many comics and graphic novels are centered on fantastic themes and ideas, but didn't Neil Gaiman say that graphic novels are a format, not a genre? One would think that people who enjoy comics and graphic novels but prefer realistic fiction to fantasy would want to see publishers displaying their realistic fiction as well. So now I'm curious: Who else out there likes graphic novels but prefers realistic fiction to speculative fiction?

3. Fabulous panel #1: "Helping bookstores buy and shelve comics for teens." I know libraries aren't bookstores, but when it comes to moving and marketing the teen collection in a library, I like to employ the occasional bookstore technique (handselling, faceouts, themed displays, etc.). The panel included buyers and distributors of YA novels and graphic works, who talked about issues of visual content, cultural differences, and age ratings on manga. They also discussed issues behind shelving and marketing a graphic novel collection for teens.

4. Fabulous panel #2: "Age-appropriate content for kids and teen comics." Lana Adlawan and the awesome Alison Hendon from the Brooklyn Public Library gave an excellent run-down of high quality graphic works for people ages 0-18. At the end, they talked about their wishlist for graphic novel publishers who want to see more libraries buying their books, including higher-quality printings, better bindings, etc.

5. Sherrilyn Kenyon is just about the nicest author ever, even though I made a fool of myself in front of her.

6. Fabulous panel #3: "Minx: Your life in pictures." Minx, an imprint of DC Comics aimed at teen girls, had several of their authors and illustrators on a panel and showed preview pages from upcoming books to the audience. I'm really excited to read all of them, especially because I've read and loved previous Minx titles.

I really wanted to go to the dinner with Neil Gaiman, too, but alas, I lack the $400 it would have cost. Ah well. I will have to follow my fish from afar.

crossposted at Pop Goes the Library

Thursday, April 17, 2008

It's April 17. How are you supporting teen lit?

readergirlz Support Teen Lit Day is a relatively new project of YALSA's, meant to increase visibility and positive press for teen literature. This year, the fabulous Readergirlz are hosting Operation Teen Book Drop, in which they donate young adult books to hospitals.

What did I do to support teen literature? I talked to a library board and foundation.

One of our libraries in BCCLS is undergoing a renovation and plan to expand their teen section and offer more teen programming. The director asked me to speak today as the BCCLS consultant on YA services, and I had a great time. I got to talk to a room full of people who don't read YA lit, and I told them about the amazing array of YA lit available these days, from the literary to the fluff, and how to reflect the lives of teens in a library's collection. Because here's the thing: We can talk all we want about how important it is to communicate with teens, to get teen input on books, all that good stuff, but if we can't make those who fund us (taxpayers, library boards, Friends of the Library groups, etc.) see how important teen literature is, and how it's more than just Eragon and Gossip Girl, all our good intentions and readers' advisory means nothing.

Visit the YALSA Wiki's Support Teen Literature Day page to find out what you can do to support teen literature on April 17th...and 18th, and 19th, and 20th, and 21st...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Berenstain Bears Get Nose Jobs

This might be the most disturbing article I've seen in a while short of that one from Philadelphia Magazine about 8-year-olds getting bikini waxes: Mommy 2.0. For the linkphobic, the article is basically about a new children's book written by a plastic surgeon about moms who have plastic surgeries and how their kids can cope with Mommy's recovery. It's available through Big Tent Books, hyperstylized depictions of the female form and all.

And just when you thought there was a children's book to deal with every possible issue a four-to-seven-year-old could possibly encounter...

Seriously, if people want to get plastic surgery, go ahead. It's not my place to tell people how to spend their money and there are several procedures I myself would consider if I weren't deathly afraid of pain and had more than $25 to my name. But there is a set of questions that come with this book that frighten me a little. If Mommy doesn't like her nose and little Susie looks like Mommy, does that mean Susie is ugly to Mommy? Are mommies who haven't had surgery inherently less beautiful? Why do we all have to conform to one kind of beauty, anyway? Larger philosophical questions aside, I find it kind of scary that there's a need for this book.

Also, the geeky side of me wonders how many copies it's going to sell.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Wait, you mean it's real? Confessions of a Midwest reader.

This post at the Horn Book blog made me do a double take. No, not about the idea of Roger Sutton singing "If I Had a Hammer," but that Community Auditions was a real show. As far as I was concerned until now, Community Auditions was a show Lois Lowry made up so that Bambi Browne could have a resume in my very favorite Anastasia Krupnik book, Anastasia's Chosen Career.

This is the time for me to stop and tell you a little about my childhood.

I lived all my life in Niles, Illinois, a town of about 35,000 people that borders the north side of Chicago. It is home to a really great public library, the Bradford Group, a 1/2 scale replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and like most areas of Chicagoland, corrupt politicians. I didn't do much traveling when I was growing up due to lack of family funds. I was 17 when I saw New York for the first time. I was 23 when I took my first trip west of the Mississippi. I've never been to Boston. As far as I was concerned, all high schools in books looked like the one I attended...which looks like not a lot of other schools out there. Growing up, I also raided that library for a LOT of books. I read all the Ramona books, all the Anastasia Krupnik books, everything Ruth Chew and E.L. Konigsburg ever wrote, most of what Jerry Spinelli wrote. Know what all of those books have in common?

None of them take place in the Midwest.

When you're learning new vocabulary words, your teachers always tell you to put them in context to figure out their meanings. That's what I did with all the unfamiliar places and things that showed up in my books; I put them in the context of the world I lived in. Klickitat Street looked like the street where I lived. Peter Hatcher's apartment looked like my grandparents' condo at Devon and Sheridan. Linda Fischer lived in my friend Jaime's house. The Metropolitan Museum of Art became the Field Museum. Rereading these books as an adult, I find that I love them just the same but I get more out of them because I'm now familiar with so many more places. What made all these places start to click for me?

Butterscotch Krimpets.

You have to understand, we have a great many wonderful things in the Midwest but we do not have Tastykakes. Those are strictly an Eastern thing. Growing up, my experience with butterscotch were the little hard candies my dad liked to keep around. When I read Maniac Magee as a kid and came to the part where Maniac had butterscotch Krimpets for breakfast, I thought to myself, "That doesn't sound very nutritious," and moved on. Years and years later, I was at my in-laws' house in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, and opened their bread drawer. I just about fell over when I saw, staring up at me in the most innocent of innocent ways, a box of butterscotch Krimpets. They looked like Hostess cakes! Why had no one ever told me this? My husband, whose entire family lived in eastern PA and central NJ, had quite the field day with my cries of surprise. Then again, he's never known the pleasure of Matt's Chocolate Chip Cookies, which are nearly impossible to find outside Illinois and Wisconsin.

(Jerry Spinelli was very nice when I told him the Butterscotch Krimpets story last year.)

All this said, I think we need more YA books set in the Midwest. It's not that none exist, don't get me wrong. I loved Dairy Queen, Teen Idol, Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo, The Year of Ice and more. But to look at YA literature today one would think that all teenagers, and certainly all teenagers with any degree of style, live east of Pittsburgh and west of Phoenix (unless they live in Ohio, which seems to be the recent go-to Midwestern state). I'd love to see a Gossip-Girl type series set at New Trier. I've contemplated writing a YA novel set at my high school at the time of the John Wayne Gacy murders because several of my teachers taught his victims. (I'm not writing it because I'm a much better blogger and critic than I am a writer.) We didn't live in Seattle, but we listened to grunge. We didn't live in New York, but we read and loved Sassy. And although Rush claimed that "the suburbs have no charms to soothe the restless dream of youth," we were not entirely without interesting things to do and say and think.

So where's the love for the Midwest, o writers of children's literature?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Read this: Your life in color

My most excellent colleague and close friend Melissa Rabey has a guest blog post at YPulse today: Your Life in Color. She blogs about a recent article in the NYTimes about preteen beauty treatments, and asks the very interesting question about rebellion through hair color.

Go read! Comment! Tell Melissa she's fabulous! I'll be commenting even though I've never dyed my hair in my life.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

And also, I know "Paiste" is pronounced "PIE-stee"

I love Slate when they're not talking about YA literature. (When they are talking about YA literature, I'm sure people in California can hear me swearing.) Today they ran this: Death by oboe: How acoustic instruments torment their players.

That was me for twelve years.

No, I never played the oboe outside of woodwind techniques classes, but I do know that percussionists, which I was, can be every bit as obsessive as oboe players. In order to get an evenly weighted pair of sticks, you might have to go through fifty sticks at the local drum shop. Those Zildjian cymbals mentioned in the article come in different weights and brightnesses and sizes. You sure as hell can't use those lightweight 16" cymbals to play the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra, let me tell you. Everyone has a favorite brand of marimba mallets (mine is Encore). Everyone has a favorite brand of marimba (mine is the Marimba One). The life of a percussionist is held together with duct tape and fishing line. We're obsessed with the tension on the heads of our drums, with finding the perfect way to tune timpani. And DO NOT EVER get a percussionist started on the glockenspiel part from the Act I finale of The Magic Flute. You will be sorry.

There's a note in the article about the physical traumas suffered by those who choose to play various instruments. The design of a flute is hell on the hands and shoulders. Violinists have violin hickey and callused fingertips. The Slate article would almost have one believing that percussionists only suffer mentally, and that's true to a great extent, but any percussionist worth the box of band-aids in her stickbag will tell you that one does not learn to play Michi without physical injury. You want pain? Play the marimba using Musser-Stevens grip, in which the player grips two marimba mallets and holds them parallel in his hand, one mallet in the thumb, index, and middle finger and the other in the ring and pinky fingers. For years I wore rings on a chain around my neck because you can't wear rings and play Musser-Stevens. I know this is something I did to myself, technically, but Musser-Stevens always felt really natural to me and I will never, never understand how Keiko Abe can play traditional cross. (One of the guys in my studio at college played Burton cross and our professor could never figure out how he did it.) Musser-Stevens, when it's done ripping the sides of your fingers to shreds, will build huge muscles on your palms. You can't play Musser-Stevens without these weird muscles and I scared the heck out of some of my classmates in high school the day I came to class with masking tape all over my fingers. No, I'm fine, I'm just learning to play Musser-Stevens.

More and more, I miss those days. I live in an apartment too small for any percussion equipment short of a practice pad. I haven't been able to play since college but I did once impress the heck out of my husband when I picked up a pair of drumsticks in a shop in Disney World and started playing on the testing surface. Someday, when I have space, I will have percussion again.

(Why yes, I did write a completely insufferable letter to Jordan Sonnenblick after I read Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie talking to him about geeky percussion things. He was very nice about it.)

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

My reputable review of Frankie Landau-Banks

Once upon a time, I was very hot and sweaty. It was June of 2007 and I was carrying my weight in books around the Javits Center while wearing 4-inch heels. It was Book Expo America, held on one of the first really warm days of the year, and whoever thought to put a huge convention in a center too small to hold it, when said center is half made of glass, is crazy.

During this once upon a time, it so happened that my friends and I ran into some YA authors we admire. All of us were standing around talking and I noticed that the woman on my right was none other than the very talented E. Lockhart. And she was holding a book in one hand with her name on the cover.

"Oh," I said, "do you have a new book coming out? I can't wait to read it. I loved Dramarama."

"Here," she replied, handing me the book.

SERIOUSLY? I just about fell over dead from fangirling.

It was one of the shining moments of Book Expo. And the book she handed me was The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, one of the shining books of 2008.

The Plot: All her life, Frankie Landau-Banks has been labeled as someone to be protected, her family's Bunny Rabbit, someone who is in need of sage advice and wise words. She's sick of it. Frankie, ace debater and ultimate Frisbee enthusiast, wants people to see her for her greatest talent, which is manipulating people (not in a bad way). She has a keen eye for social structure and an analytical mind, and she uses these talents to infiltrate an all-boys secret society at her school, of which her boyfriend Matthew is a member. Assuming the identity of the society's leader, Alpha, she gets the boys to pull some amazing stunts. In four months Frankie goes from unknown to girlfriend of the popular guy to secret campus puppet master to simultaneously revered and reviled by her classmates.

Why you'll love it: Like Frankie, there is much to this book beneath the surface. At first glance, it's a book about a girl, tired of being pigeonholed as sweet and innocent, who masterminds one of the unsweetest, uninnocentest series of pranks her prestigious boarding school has ever seen. One way to see it would be that it's a book about breaking from the shell of expectations that everyone else has built around you. The reader knows from the beginning that Frankie is dissatisfied with the way people see her and she wants to make herself noticed for being something other than Zada Landau-Banks's little sister. The way I see it, it's a book about belonging. Matthew's way of belonging is to not rock the boat too much with his friends. Alpha's way of belonging is to draw everyone to him with his supreme confidence and irreverence. Frankie does what she does because she needs to belong and needs to be recognized as a leader in the groups to which she belongs. The book has a very Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler feeling to it, in which an outside narrator with wisdom and omniscience tells the story of Frankie's social journey. The use of point of view can usually make or break a book for me, and just like I hold up Invisible and Inexcusable as examples of how to use first person, I will be holding this book up as an example of how to use third person. The peripheral characters are both fantastic and completely believable. Lockhart's use of both esoteric and witty-yet-confused teenage language gives the book a refined edge. This is a definite candidate for this year's Printz and I hope the committee doesn't overlook it.

Stuff serious librarians like: Bad reality television

It's true that all my life I've loved bad courtroom tv: Judge Judy, Judge Mathis, Divorce Court, etc. Maybe it's got something to do with my growing up in Chicago, where they film all those shows. Or maybe it's that I have a stronger sense of schadenfreude than the average person. But whatever it is, while I certainly like "smart" television, I really really love my dumb reality shows, too.

The dam broke three years ago when I was visiting my friend Amy. There were eight people in Amy's living room, and between the eight of us we had ten college degrees (with two people still pursuing their Bachelor's degrees). It was Friday night and all of us were glued to Amy's TV, transfixed by the Cycle 4 premiere of America's Next Top Model. I started watching and I couldn't stop. Six cycles of ANTM later, my closest friends AND both of my sisters AND my mom are hooked and in fact, Liz B. and Melissa and I will be liveblogging ANTM for Pop Goes the Library next week.

For a while I was able to convince myself that ANTM was going to be my one bad reality TV holdout, my "guilty pleasure," although I dislike using the word "guilt" in association with "pleasure" because as long as no one gets hurt, what's there to be guilty about? I fully embraced it as my one bad reality TV holdout, even bragged about how much I enjoyed it, until I was channel-surfing one day and ran headlong into the trainwreck that was season 1 of Flavor of Love. Raw chicken! Nicknames like Red Oyster! Oh, the drama! I think FoL1 was my gateway show. Since I started watching it I haven't been able to tear myself away from Rock of Love, I Know My Kid's A Star, and the like. I even watched...wait for it...Crowned. (What can I say? It was a dark time between seasons of Top Model.)

So yes, I spend my days being smart but when I'm in my pajamas on my couch, please don't interrupt me as I bite my nails seeing whether Bret Michaels will choose Daisy or Ambre.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The book to keep you up at night: Wake

Yes, I have already reviewed this book for, but I enjoyed it so much I wanted to do a short entry about it here: Wake by Lisa McMann.

The Plot: Janie can see into other people's dreams. She knows who's been to class naked and who's got a secret crush on whom. Problem is, she doesn't get a choice of when and where she visits dreams. If someone nearby falls asleep, she falls in. It wasn't so bad when she was younger, and she can deal at home as long as her alcoholic mother passes out behind her closed bedroom door. But now she's a junior in high school, and demanding homework schedules and early starts to their days mean a lot of people fall asleep in class. She's more or less learned to deal with it. No more sleepovers. No college roommate. But one night, she's driving down Waverly Street and falls into a nightmare so terrible she crashes her car. The nightmare belongs to Cabel Strumheller, reputed drug dealer and the object of Janie's crush. As Janie and Cabel grow closer she is determined to help him out of his nightmare...but how?

Why you'll love it: It's all about the sparse writing. Since this is McMann's first book I don't know if the quick, almost disjointed writing is her trademark or a style she adopted to evoke Janie's dreamworld, but whatever it is, it works. Most of the paragraphs are one sentence long. This serves to make the book move incredibly fast with a sense of otherworldliness. The details are wonderful and the reader really gets an idea of Janie, her friends, and her surroundings without drowning in description. There's a twist at the end that isn't completely unpredictable but is satisfying. This book is heavy on plot but the characters are still quite interesting and human. It's something you can finish in one sitting, and you'll be left wondering what other people dream about.

Friday, April 4, 2008

No need to be Undercover about this book

Sometimes I pick up galleys at Book Expo or ALA and they get buried at the back of a shelf or put in the "to read later" pile and I forget about them and miss some books that are absolute gems. Such is the case of Undercover by Beth Kephart.

The plot: Picking this up, I expected it to be a somewhat lighthearted Cyrano retelling, somewhat like Tucker Shaw's very enjoyable Flavor of the Week. What I got was a quiet study of one girl's experience with love, with the cute boy at school and her father, and also herself. Elisa is invisible at school to everyone at school except the boys who want her to write love poetry for the girls they plan to court. Elisa, like the Victorian poets, finds much solace and truth in nature. She walks through the woods near her home, collecting items for a box of inspiration, and all the while she misses her father, who travels much of the time for work. Her existence is relatively unremarkable until she is asked to write a love poem for Lila, the most popular girl in school. In writing, she becomes close to Theo, the boy she's writing the poems for, invoking Lila's wrath. The book makes no bones about the Cyrano De Bergerac parallels; in fact, Elisa is studying it in English class and her teacher, inspired by Elisa's insight and wisdom, encourages her to go on to college and study writing. The one secret that Elisa is keeping from almost everyone is her ice-skating; while her mother is at home missing her father, Elisa takes herself out to the frozen pond and jumps and spins. Lila, convinced that Theo is cheating on her with Elisa, is out to destroy Elisa's hope of winning a local skating competition.

Why you'll love it: Normally, I don't like to use the word "lyrical" when I review. Maybe it's my music background; lyrics can be anything from Un Bel Di to Smells Like Teen Spirit. But I felt that the language here deserves the "lyrical" adjective. I thought it flowed beautifully, observant and able to relate much of Elisa's emotion to the nature around her. I could hear the rising and falling pitch in the narrative. The peripheral characters are interesting but not so interesting that they take away from Elisa. Normally I'm a bit wary of hypersensitive, hyperobservant teen characters, but by building Elisa into a world of nature and classic literature, Kephart makes the reader thoroughly believe in Elisa's wisdom. Lila is cruel but doesn't slip into Evil Overlord dialogue. And Theo...I like him. He's a great boyfriend without being too perfect. This is a fast read, but the truth of humanity Kephart writes about will stay with you for a long time.

Beth Kephart's blog is at

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Jewelry that sucks

I may not like the Twilight books, but I couldn't help but think of them when I saw this. My question is, if Bella and Edward get married (in book twelve or whatever), will their wedding rings look like these?

(The interested can purchase their very own baby vamp rings from Catbird NYC.)