Monday, March 31, 2008

Reader's advisory for the reader's advisor

A funny thing happened on my trip to the bookstore.

I didn't know what to get.

I live not far from a very large Barnes and Noble, and I like to browse the YA section to make sure I'm not missing out on any of the hot titles. I figure if I've at least heard of all the books on faceout, I'm doing okay. Then I wander the adult fiction section and I feel thoroughly, embarrassingly, lost.

In my apartment that is really too small to hold all the books I own, I have five bookcases. No, six. Two of them hold YA fiction. One holds nonfiction. One holds children's fiction. One belongs to my husband and holds his science books and cookbooks. And one holds adult fiction and graphic novels. The adult fiction bookcase is noticeably less stuffed than the YA and nonfiction bookcases and studying it, I'm not sure what to think. I haven't read a work of fiction geared toward an adult audience in about a year. Part of this is the drive I have to do my job well; I review for three YA sources and that plus whatever else I want to read for my job puts me in the area of 125+ books a year, just YA. That doesn't leave a lot of time to read adult fiction. The other part, I think, is just that I don't know what to get when I want to read an adult book. I know the authors, don't get me wrong. I know James Patterson writes murder mysteries and Alice Hoffman writes literary fiction and Anne Rice is a bit of a nutjob. But I'm not one of those people who can definitely say "I like mysteries" or "I like Regency romances." When it comes to adult fiction, I know what I don't like (fantasy, Regency romances) , but I'm often lost as to what I do like. Most of the time when I read a book aimed at adults, I end up reading nonfiction. I found The Tipping Point and Freakonomics fascinating, and currently my nightstand holds Women and Money by Suze Orman, How to Walk in High Heels: The Girl's Guide to Everything by Camilla Morton, and The Numbers Behind NUMB3RS: Solving Crime with Mathematics by Keith Devlin and Gary Lorden.

That said, here's a sampling of some of my favorite adult books:
  • The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson (in fact, Shirley Jackson is probably my favorite adult author of all time)

  • Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

  • A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

  • Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan

  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

  • The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

  • The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

    and other books I liked but aren't my favorites:

  • Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

  • Light Before Day by Christopher Rice

  • One for the Money by Janet Evanovich (I love humor!)

I'm also one of those weird people who love short stories: Ring Lardner, David Sedaris, Neil Gaiman, the aforementioned Shirley Jackson, Ray Bradbury, Amy Hempel, etc.

All of this leaves me standing in the adult section of your average bookstore or library feeling very dumb and kind of lost.

My husband is a huge fan of Christopher Moore (I got him hooked, oddly enough) and tells me his books are a must-read, so those are on my list. Other than that, I haven't got a clue as to what I might like. Joyce Carol Oates? I do like her YA books. Khaled Hosseini? Tom Wolfe? How is it that I'm so good at picking out books for other people and my personal collection of adult books looks like fourteen different people put it together?

Monday, March 24, 2008

NYPL Books for the Teen Age 2008

A few weeks ago, I was tickled to receive an invitation to the 79th Annual NYPL Books for the Teen Age exhibition. I read the Books for the Teen Age list every year, of course, but this is the first time I'd been invited to the NYPL to see the books and authors themselves.

I'd only been to the NYPL main building once (I didn't grow up here! Until I was 25, my closest experience with the Library Lions had been Ghostbusters!) so I was really excited to see the Celeste Bartow Forum, a beautiful open meeting space that used to house the NYPL's entire circulating collection. The books that made the list were set up on tables at the back of the room, divided into their respective categories. I think my favorite categories this year were "Parents from Hell" and "Get me outta this place!" There were also lots of authors there that I was too scared to talk to. See, I have this problem where I get around authors I like and can only say stupid things. But hi and *insert not-so-stupid thing I said here* to Kirsten Miller, Jo Knowles, Cecil Castellucci, Margo Rabb, Daria Snadowsky, Nico Medina, Rachel Cohn, Libba Bray, and others I'm sure I forgot. But thanks again, NYPL, and I may be, um, appropriating some of your lists for Book Bonanza.

See the 2008 Books for the Teen Age list at the NYPL Teen Link.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Librarian/Reviewer preview: Random House Children's Books, Summer 2008

Many thanks to Tracy Bloom Lerner and Adrienne Weintraub for throwing the best RHCB preview I think I've ever been to. There was Valentine candy (yes, I'm a little behind in blogging)! There were individual tables rather than rows of chairs! There was lots of food! And best of all...THERE WERE SWEET VALLEY HIGH TOTE BAGS! I love mine so very much.

Here's a list of some of the books previewed that I'm dying to read:

  • Madapple by Christina Meldrum. I've started this one and I'm not very far in, but what I have read is wonderfully odd and captivating.

  • Snakehead by Ann Halam. Despite the unfortunate title (it's the same as one of the Alex Rider books), I think this will be fascinating. Ann Halam is the author of this year's One Book New Jersey selection, Dr. Franklin's Island, which, like Snakehead, is a retelling of an older tale. It looks creepy. I can't wait.

  • How to Build a House by Dana Reinhardt. I've really enjoyed Reinhardt's two previous books so I'm hoping this one will be as sharp and observant as those.

  • The Seance by Iain Lawrence. It involves Houdini exposing 3 fraudulent psychics, which makes me think it might be a nice readalike for my beloved A Drowned Maiden's Hair.

  • Lang Lang: Playing With Flying Keys. Because classical pianists can be rock stars, too.

  • The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine. An issue book, to be sure, but I like issue books.

  • Playing With Matches by Brian Katcher, which is the winner of the Delacorte Press Prize for a first novel. It's a guy romance, and there are simply not enough of those in this world. The editor called it a readalike for Frank Portman's popular King Dork

  • Catwalk by Deborah Gregory. It's an uplifting book about high school girls sex, drugs, or rock-n-roll. Don't get me wrong, I like sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll in my YA novels, but it's nice to have fun chick lit without it, too.

  • Likely Story (Book 1) by David Van Etten, about a girl who becomes a daytime soap star. Hooray, more boks about famous teens.

  • A La Carte by Tanita S. Davis. Combines cooking and romance. Sounds like a recipe for a delightful book.

Say it with many books, so little time!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Absolute Brightness unfortunately lacks the bright

Absolute Brightness is one of the most hyped YA novels of the year so far, and after reading it, I'm sorry to say that I was not impressed.

The plot: In Neptune, New Jersey, Phoebe Hertle's quiet, literary, relatively normal life is shaken up by the arrival of her flamboyant cousin Leonard. Leonard is anything but normal and for some time, Phoebe can't stand to be around him. Leonard's comfort in himself, however, inspires the women of the town of Neptune to be their more stylish selves. Phoebe gets used to Leonard's colorful ways until the day he disappears. Weeks later his body is found in a nearby lake, and Neptune's biggest murder mystery unfolds.

Why the book didn't work: It's too long. I know that sounds like a stupid reason for the book's failures, but that's the short of it. There are so many plotlines that get tangled and ultimately forgotten that the story as a whole is unsatisfying at the end. The language is monotonous and stilted and Phoebe seems so dispassionate, so distanced from herself and the situations around her that the reader has a difficult time caring about her or anyone else in her life. The author is trying to squeeze in too many lessons about tolerance and yes, it is possible to feel squeezed in a 400+ page book. Better editing and pacing, and snipping of a few plotlines, could have improved this book a lot.

Editing to add: I do some editing of friends' short stories, just for fun, and one of the first things I always end up telling them is to show and not tell. This book had way more telling than showing, and that was a big factor in its failure.

Sometimes it's the small details that are the most bothersome, so to me this was the most badly memorable moment of the book.

Page 210: When someone saw Dad pumping gas into Chrissie's Honda Civic down at the Mobil station on Division Street, Mom held to the idea that her husband was just being a Good Samaritan.

Because everyone who lives here can't pump your own gas in New Jersey. (And no, Phoebe's dad does not work at a gas station.)

The other thing I found odd were the blurbs on the back of the book from Eve Ensler, Michael Cunningham, Armistead Maupin, and Duncan Sheik. All brilliant minds in their own right, yes, but none of them are known for writing books/plays/movies aimed at a YA audience. I wonder why these particular people were asked to blurb the book.

Ah well. With books, you win some and you lose some. On to the next title.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

YA Authors 2.0: The Simon Pulse Blogfest

I meant to blog about this weeks ago and the publicity materials got buried in my Stack O Stuff on my desk. Ack!

One of the things I love about the way Web 2.0 technologies has affected YA services is that it allows teens and their favorite librarians to interact with authors in ways they couldn't before. You can go to an author's MySpace and tell him/her how much you liked the book s/he wrote without cluttering an email inbox. Authors can talk about the progress they're making (or not) on a novel. The possibilities are endless. Simon Pulse, an imprint for often edgy teen books, has taken the 2.0 author world and made it huge with the 13-day Simon Pulse Blogfest, which begins March 14.

During the fest, popular authors who publish with Simon & Schuster will answer questions from teens about their books (and probably a few other things, too. Some of the authors I'm looking forward to reading? Kate Morgenroth (Jude was so underrated!), Alex Sanchez, Sonya Sones (bonus points if she writes all her answers in verse), Rachel Cohn, Chris Lynch, D.J. MacHale, Ellen Hopkins, Scott Weterfeld, and more.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Audrey, don't wait! (to read this book)

I confess, I judge books by their covers. The minute I saw the cover of Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway, I wanted to read it. I am happy to say that the pink-yellow-orange sunburst surrounding the girl in a black sweater and jeans (which is what I have on today, incidentally) did not disappoint. Thanks to Penguin Group for the ARC.

The plot: Think of a song with a person's name in the title. "Eleanor Rigby." "Amanda." "Angie." Did you ever wonder who Eleanor and Amanda and Angie were in real life? Maybe they were the lead singer's ex-girlfriend. That's who Audrey was.

Audrey Cuttler, normal high school student from California, loves loud music, indie rock, her overweight cat, and her awesome best friend Victoria. What doesn't she love? Her boyfriend, Evan. Lately it seems that Evan's been paying more attention to his band, the Do-Gooders, than to Audrey. She goes over to his house to break up with him, and as she's leaving Evan calls out, "Audrey, wait!"

It's the phrase that launched a thousand hits.

Evan writes a song about their breakup and calls it, "Audrey, Wait!" And wouldn't you know it, the night the Do-Gooders first perform the song is the night they finally get the A&R guy from that record label to come and hear them. Suddenly, "Audrey, Wait!" is a hit and Audrey is an accidental star. Now everyone wants to dress like her, listen to the same music she does, and gossip about her. She's offered a reality show and free lip gloss. While Audrey wants to be normal and pursue a relationship with James, her coworker at the mall ice-cream shop, the papparazzi is recording everything from her trips to the record store to her makeout session with the lead singer of another band.

Why you'll love it: You know what I really hate about YA lit sometimes? The endless witticisms. Who really talks like that? Although Audrey is smart and sarcastic, just what you'd expect from a girl who lives for bands like Taking Back Sunday, the dialogue never sounds like it's trying to hard to be something Joss Whedon would write, and I love it. Audrey's self-aware struggle to maintain normalcy in the face of critical Hollywood is hilarious. I also love that she has two relatively normal parents who still expect her to do the laundry and feed her cat on her way to stardom. There's a wonderfully sweet (and not just because of the ice cream) romance. Everyone lives happily ever after thanks to Audrey's grounded personality, wit, and wisdom. When you close this book, you'll feel happy and maybe turn your music up in your car and really, who could ask for more?

Robin Benway's MySpace

Coming soon:

Friday, March 7, 2008

Official announcement: Talk It Up! and Speak Out! titles

Last week, I made a post with hints as to the Talk It Up! and Speak Out! 2008 titles. Here are the hints revealed:

Of the six Talk It Up! books:

* Two are centered around the relationships of a group of friends -- Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City by Kirsten Miller and The P.L.A.I.N. Janes by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg

* One is historical fiction -- Black Duck by Janet Taylor Lisle

* One is speculative fiction -- Magic or Madness by Justine Larbalestier. (See why I couldn't say "fantasy" or "science fiction?" It would have narrowed the field significantly.)

* One is a graphic novel -- The P.L.A.I.N. Janes by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg. I never said I wasn't repeating clues.

* Two have urban settings that are important to the plot -- Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City by Kirsten Miller and Magic or Madness by Justine Larbalestier

* Two are by an author who was not born in the United States -- The P.L.A.I.N. Janes by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg (Cecil is Canadian) and Magic or Madness by Justine Larbalestier (Justine is Australian).

So the final listing of books for Talk It Up! 2008 is:

  • The P.L.A.I.N. Janes by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg

  • Invisible by Pete Hautman

  • Born to Rock by Gordon Korman

  • Magic or Madness by Justine Larbalestier

  • Black Duck by Janet Taylor Lisle

  • Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City by Kirsten Miller

For Speak Out! I listed the following clues:

* One is nonfiction -- This one...I'm sorry. One of them WAS nonfiction but I had to drop it at the last minute.

* Two of the authors have very popular blogs -- Barry Lyga and Sarah Dessen

* One received a Printz honor -- I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

* Three have family dramas -- Just Listen by Sarah Dessen, A Brief Chapter in my Impossible Life by Dana Reinhardt, and, although this one is a little less obvious than the other two, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga

* None are set west of the Mississippi -- Unless you count the Australian setting of I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

* Two are first novels -- A Brief Chapter in my Impossible Life by Dana Reinhardt...but this one's a trick question, because Tyrell by Coe Booth is also a first novel. I didn't count The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga because I added it to the Speak Out! listing after I wrote the entry.

The complete list of Speak Out! 2008 titles:

  • Tyrell by Coe Booth

  • The Blue Girl by Charles De Lint

  • Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

  • The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga

  • A Brief Chapter in my Impossible Life by Dana Reinhardt

  • I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

And how I picked the books.

I've been working on this list of books since September. Yes, September. There has been much angst and substituting and deleting and erasing them from my Dry-Erase Board of Doom. There's a short story behind every title.


The first book I picked was Magic or Madness, and I never moved it off the list. I always have at least one fantasy or SF title, and this is one of the newest and greatest in the YA genre. I liked the elements of realism, and that the main character is not a white middle-class American. Plus, Justine is a cool person and I'm going to see if she can do a Shush! with us.

Besides Magic or Madness, there were two books that were easy choices: Black Duck and The PLAIN Janes. I always have a historical title, and Black Duck was easily my favorite of last year. It had adventure, a little romance, and a very cool look at Prohibition. The fact that it made BBYA didn't hurt, either. I also like to include a work of nonfiction or a graphic novel, and to me The PLAIN Janes was an obvious choice. It has substance as well as style, and a sequel is due out this fall.

I try to achieve a balance of books with male and female main characters, and at this point I needed more boy books. So I added The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl because Barry is coming for YA Boot Camp 2.0 in September, plus I'm a huge fan of his work. Now my "boy" and "girl" books were even. Kiki Strike was a pretty obvious choice for another girl book: It had adventure, a diverse cast, and local interest because Bergen County is so close to New York City. Now I had one slot left to fill. I needed a boy book, and I wanted something funny to go against the serious natures of the other books. Since I used Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie last year, I couldn't use it this year, but I could use a Gordon Korman title. Born to Rock was recently out in paperback, plus I loved it, so there was my list.


I worked on the Speak Out! books at the same time as the Talk It Up! books. Some of the choices, like some of the TIU choices, were easier than others.

There was never any doubt that Tyrell and The Blue Girl were going to be a part of the program. Street fiction and urban fantasy are both super hot in YA lit right now, and these titles are two of the best. Everything else...that's another story.

The next book I added to the list was An Abundance of Katherines by John Green. I love stories where the geeky yet mostly normal guy gets the girl, and no one writes them better than John Green. I'm hoping that what I call the "cerebral boy book," or boy romances set in contemporary times, are on the upswing in children's publishing. (PLEASE! NO MORE VAMPIRES!)

Then I wanted a nonfiction title, so I added The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of this book but it's an excellent title for discussion. Then came A Brief Chapter in my Impossible Life, because I wanted a "girl" title and this one features a wonderful main character who angsts about something other than boys. With one title left to go, I knew I needed a "girl" book. Many, many thanks to my friends Liz, Sophie, and Melissa who helped me pick out these titles. After much agonizing, Liz suggested Just Listen, which I had initially been reluctant to put on the list because I'm not a Sarah Dessen fan. I realized, though, that Liz was right, as usual. Just Listen is great book discussion fodder.


...I went to order the books and found An Abundance of Katherines won't be out in paperback until the end of May. I needed another cerebral boy book, preferably a Printz winner or honor. I am the Messenger was the next obvious choice, so in it went.

...I reread Fanboy and Goth Girl. It was even better than I remembered it being, but when it comes to Talk It Up! titles I prefer to err on the side of conservative and I really didn't think parents of seventh graders would let me get away with some of the content in that book. So I moved it to Speak Out, where it took the place of The Burn Journals. I know that makes me boring, but nonfiction is going to be the first to go.

...I had a hole in Talk It Up! that needed to be filled by a boy book. What's my personal rule with book groups? When in doubt, go with Pete Hautman. More than one group in BCCLS read Rash last year, so I chose an older title of his, Invisible. Invisible is one of my favorite examples of how to write in first person, and I think its utter creepiness will capture readers.

A week later, I presented all the books (after losing much sleep writing booktalks). I'm really pleased with the way this year's list shaped up and I hope the teens in TIU and SO around BCCLS enjoy them as much as I did.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Any demon you can know and any weapon you can show

The concept of a fanvid is simple: Take clips from the TV show or movie of your choice and synchronize them to a song, any song. With the right song and the right clips, you can tell your own story about just about anything. Some vids are serious, some silly. Lately, my friend Heidi has been doing a series of fanvids using Schoolhouse Rock songs and the main characters of Supernatural, with hilarious results. For your viewing pleasure, A Noun is a Person, Place, or Thing:

See, TV is good for you!