Thursday, August 27, 2009
Honestly, I don't care that EW gave the book a "C." The letter grades that EW assigns books, movies, and music are really more a ballpark estimate to me than anything else. What ticks me off is that the reviewer doesn't appear to have read The Hunger Games OR Catching Fire, yet complains that the book lacks "the erotic energy that makes Twilight, for instance, so creepily alluring." (I wish I could make that up. I'm a little skeeved out just reading it.)
Really, EW? That was low. It's a comparison of apples and pineapples. Catching Fire isn't meant to have erotic energy. It's a post-apocalyptic adventure. It's not meant to be "creepily alluring." I'm willing to bet that the reviewer, Jennifer Reese, has never read a YA novel other than TSVB. Of course, she doesnt need to, because TSVB is representative of the entire genre, right? I mean, according to her review standards, I can give Julie and Julia the same letter grade/review that I give Methland because they're both memoirs, right? And I can say that Methland is an inferior book because it's not happy and about food, yes?
I'm all for comparing similar books in a review. That's good reader's advisory and it's an essential part of developing a book's marketing plan. What brings down the quality of a review is expecting one book to be representative of an entire genre, as EW has done, and complaining when books in that genre aren't all the same. It's not fair for to give Catching Fire a bad review because it's not what Ms Reese wanted it to be. You might as well get mad at a pair of pumps for not being a pair of Wellington boots.
Now I need to go shoe shopping.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Each of the posts in the Authorcrush Series will spotlight a writer who I, well, have a crush on as an author. Authors may be male or female (or neither, or both) and write in any genre, but what they all have in common is some aspect of their writing, their in-personality, or both that makes me swoon like an eighth-grade girl with a crush. Hence the name. Authors who are part of this series also get this endorsement from me: I would pay retail for any of their books.
The first honoree: Christopher Krovatin
The attraction: Raw honesty and male characters with feelings.
Heavy Metal and You (Scholastic, 2006) is the surprisingly sweet story of Sam, a metalhead who falls in love with straitlaced theater aficionado Melissa. I confess, I was totally late to the Heavy Metal and You party because, well, you know how it is when there are more books than hours in a day. In fact, I didn't read it until after I saw Krovatin speak at the NJLA conference this past spring. I was impressed with how thoughtful yet unpretentious he was about his writing. To make things even more awesome, he liked heavy metal music! To date, I have met exactly one other librarian who likes heavy metal and hard rock as much as I do. We are few and far between in the profession and I couldn't help but admire a well-spoken YA author who also understands the deep need for the existence of Slayer, Celtic Frost, and Iron Maiden. Though the rocky romance was fun to read, I fell hard for the way Krovatin explores boys' feelings and how much he loves heavy metal and its fans. Heavy metal fans, though they look scary, are actually some of the most accepting, laid-back people around. As observed on GraphJam:
Thinking that my authorcrush might have come simply from the joy of finding another person in the YA world who likes their drums fast and their lyrics dark, I picked up Krovatin's second book.
Venomous (Atheneum, 2008) tackles yet another complex male main character, this one with an anger problem. Locke, sixteen, knows that his brand of anger is a little more vicious than everyone else's. He tries to control it but he finds that he's losing more and more of himself to it. It's got graphic interludes, where Locke tries to give a face and backstory to his venom. As he did in Heavy Metal and You, Krovatin did a great job exploring the wide range of emotions contained in one young man who scares the hell out of everyone who doesn't scare the hell out of him first. When the venom starts affecting the people Locke loves, he enlists outside help to keep it in check. Also there's kissing and a Goth girl with a dark past.
I loved Venomous even though "venomous" is one of my Ten Words I Can Never Spell Correctly (and still can't even after writing this book review).
Editing to add: There's going to be a comic book based on Venomous!
As I've read his books, I've developed a crush on the way Krovatin isn't afraid to give emotions to male characters. They fall in love, they fight with their friends, they hurt, they're happy, and sometimes they rock out. We (as in the YA lit community we) hear all the time that boys don't read, boys want adventure, boys don't want feelings in their books, blah blah blah and I love that Krovatin has basically said phooey to all of those. The adventures his male characters have are adventures of the heart and mind, ones that take place over just a few city blocks which are occupied by, you know, boys. Who don't read.
If you ever get the chance to hear Chris Krovatin speak, go do it. When he talks, people listen. I was particularly interested in his work with Revolver Magazine, which I read to keep up on all the metal bands that have actually produced music since 1995. (I'm the Heavy Metal/Old School sort, though I find I'm enjoying Killswitch Engage these days.)
Monday, August 17, 2009
Normally, I never turn my blog over to guest posters, but it's a little different when that guest is Natashya Wilson, senior editor at Harlequin TEEN. I asked her to talk about some of the questions that librarians are frequently asked about YA romance and new series: What's the content like? What's the audience? What are the imprint's plans for the future? Here is her post. It's long, but worth reading.
by Natashya Wilson, senior editor
Harlequin has a new YA imprint, Harlequin TEEN! we announced. And people speculated---what would it be like? Sweet romances? Steamy, sexy teen reads? Would adults buy a YA with the Harlequin name on it for their teens? Would teens pick up something from Harlequin? We at Harlequin TEEN are betting yes, and I would like to tell you more about the type of content you’ll find in our books.
Harlequin TEEN is a single title imprint focused on delivering a variety of entertaining, commercial reads targeted at teen girls, ages 13-18. Because it is not a series in the sense of our traditional romance series, we do not have specific guidelines about sexual and language content, and those elements vary from book to book and author to author. However, we are not seeking shocking, graphic reads, and you’ll find the content of our titles very much in line with many other popular single-title YA releases in the market today.
The majority of our list is relatively “clean,” as in sex and swear-word free. However, we do have the occasional title that includes or mentions sex and/or might contain a few swear words. If a story does include sex, it must be a natural part of plot and character development, not gratuitous, and not described in graphic detail. “Bad” language may appear when using a euphemism or alternate word would sound unnatural or out of character. We don’t seek out books that include profanity or sex, but if it works in context, we won’t insist an author take it out, either. Our goal is to deliver authentic, satisfying stories about memorable characters and situations. Just like most other mainstream YA publishers.
So what are our books about? My Soul to Take by Rachel Vincent (August 2009) features a heroine who discovers she is a banshee. Intertwined by Gena Showalter (September 2009) features a teen hero with four souls trapped in his body. Elphame’s Choice by P. C. Cast (October 2009), a reprint of our 2004 Luna title, features a goddess-blessed heroine destined to leave her home and save a banished people. Elphame does include a sex scene, but it is a natural part of the plot and character progression and the book would be less without it.
Our 2010 lineup includes a girl who discovers she is half-faery, a police chief’s daughter on the trail of a mysterious graffiti artist, and a teen dating expert who gives her peers advice through her Web site. We’ve got a loner-turned-rebel-leader fighting for justice in a future world, more Soul Screamers banshees, a teen witch, the next Intertwined novel, and ghosts. And more! And sex and profanity are almost entirely absent.
The name Harlequin has become synonymous with romance, and we’re aware that many people (including many who have never read a Harlequin!) have preconceived ideas about what a “Harlequin” is. Unfortunately, those who aren’t familiar with our series tend to assume they are all about sex and titillation—I assure you, they are not. We’re proud of the power of our name, and decided to use it for Harlequin TEEN despite the potential challenge of getting past those preconceptions. We are certain our YA editorial will speak for itself, and will soon be as accepted as titles from any other publishing house in the general marketplace.
While all of our titles currently do include romances or romantic elements, all have a wider scope than a traditional relationship-driven plot. As with all books Harlequin publishes, it is important to Harlequin TEEN to publish books that will surprise and delight readers, stories that will resonate and be remembered after the covers are closed.So what about sex and language in YA novels? What do you think is acceptable, how do you gauge the appropriateness of a read for your purposes? How can we at Harlequin TEEN best inform you about the content of our books? We want to hear from you! And we hope to see you at the next stop on our blog tour, In Bed with Books on 8/19!
Kelly J. (commenter #19) and Karen W. (commenter #27) from this post each win a copy of this book.
And his sister Beezus says:
Mark (commenter #1) and Jen P (commenter #3) each win a copy of this book.
Because cats won't wear t-shirts, I (Carlie) will tell you that the t-shirts from this post go to JoAnn (commenter #7) and Lillibeth (commenter #2)
Congratulations to all! I'll be in touch with the winners via email. Because Henry and Beezus were more interested in sitting on windowsills and eating their kibble than picking numbers, winners were chosen by the True Random Number Generator.
Friday, August 14, 2009
If you want to win one, just leave a comment on this post (and leave your email address so I can get your address to get you the prize). Henry will choose winners at random. You're welcome to enter to win a book, a shirt, or both, so you can be both well-read and well-dressed.
I had the opportunity to meet Natashya Wilson, publisher of Harlequin Teen, at Newark Airport (of all places) after last year's YALSA YA Lit Symposium while we waited for rides home. She's been keeping me up to date on exciting things going on with the Harlequin Teen brand and imprint, things she will tell all of you in person when she makes her guest post here on Monday, August 17.
In the meantime, I have two Harlequin Teen books to give away!
First, there's My Soul to Take by Rachel Vincent. From Harlequin's description:
A scream bursts from her throat, and someone dies. Kaylee Cavanaugh doesn't know why she is compelled to scream—she knows only that she can’t stop it. And now, just as she's started dating the hottest guy in school, classmates are dying—and Kaylee keeps screaming...
Then, I have Intertwined by Gena Showalter. From Harlequin's description:
Aden Stone has friends. They just happen to be the four human souls living inside him. Everyone thinks he's crazy, but he doesn't mind. For months he's been having visions of a beautiful girl—a girl who will either save him or destroy him. Together they'll enter a dark world of intrigue and danger . . . but not everyone will come out alive.
One or both of these can be yours! Here are the rules: Leave a comment saying which book or books you'd like. On Monday, August 17, I will have Henry pick the winners at random from the comments to this post and announce the winners at the same time as Natashya's guest post.
Here is a picture of Henry enjoying a YA novel:
So comment, and one or both of these books can be yours! Stop back here on Monday to see what Natashya has to say about Harlequin Teen and its future in the market. (I also asked her to answer a couple of frequently asked-by-librarians questions.)
Editing to add: Thanks to the very generous people at Harlequin, I now have TWO copies of each book to give away. Very exciting!
Thursday, August 13, 2009
If I were Twittering this review, it might go something like this:
Teen boy goes to magic school, graduates, goes to magical land 1st seen in fiction.
Problem: That wouldn't do a very good job of explaining this pretty cool book that, although it's published for adults, I think could easily cross over into the older teen market.
About the book: Angsty high school senior Quentin Coldwater has a most unusual experience when he goes for a college interview. The interview doesn't go as planned, but Quentin soon finds that he's got a college opportunity that's way beyond the Ivy League. After a series of headspinning tests, Quentin is admitted to Brakebills College, a school for magic in upstate New York. Brakebills is ten times as hard as any Ivy League school, and ten times as dangerous. Upon graduation, Quentin and his friends move to Manhattan, where their magical abilities enable them to lead a life of leisure. They also make the most exciting discovery of their lives: The magical land of Fillory, which they all know from the novels they read as children, is real. And they're going there.
Why you'll love it: It's escape-from-the-world fantasy for grownups. Grossman pokes fun at all the great children's lit that takes place in magical lands and incorporates it into Quentin's world. Quentin is hardly the most likeable character around (think Harry from Order of the Phoenix, with fewer caps), but I found myself so caught up in the Brakebills environment that I didn't care. Grossman does an amazing job with setting and imagining fantastic lands and creatures. He also twists the happily-ever-after. After graduation, Quentin and his friends aren't ready to begin adult lives; they're just as lost and confused as ever about what, if anything, to do with their futures. Love and sex are the source of sadness and anger rather than giddy happiness. Magic is not a cure-all for anything, though it does help maintain a certain lifestyle. This blend of urban and traditional fantasy, plus the beautiful cover, gives the book pretty wide appeal. (And you know it's got to be good if it's fantasy and I'm taking the time to recommend it.)
Lev Grossman's website || LA Books Examiner interview || review in the Washington Post Book World
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
The article opens:
One of the hardest things for me to reconcile lately is switching my brain from libraryland to retail in terms of how books get into the hands of readers, and seeing that bestsellers are often made, not born. Libraries are unique in that their collections rely heavily on peer reviews of books. I keep forgetting, after my years of library work, that not everyone in the world reads Kirkus, PW, or Booklist to make their buying decisions. This isn't a bad thing; it's just the nature of the beast. Librarians buy books for libraries in much different ways than retail consumers buy books for their personal collections. The question of bestsellers is very chicken-and-egg, and it's one that I think librarians can benefit from understanding. Amazon itself is also a different entity with different buying rules than brick-and-mortar chains. Anyway, read it. It's full of answers to (some of) the questions that keep me up at night.
It's almost a philosophical riddle: Do sales drive the best-seller list, or do best-sellers get all the sales because buyers see them on the list?
As much as we'd like to believe that the crowd picks the best books, a strong presence in retail locations -- front-of-store positioning and tempting discounts -- still counts a great deal in determining how well a title sells.
With no access to regular TV during the Columbia Publishing Course and a schedule that didn't exactly accommodate prime time schedules, I wanted a fluffy summer show that I could watch easily online. I thought the most interesting of the bunch, given my aforementioned affection for fiction involving gymnastics, was ABC Family's Make It or Break It.
Make It or Break It centers on four teenage girls with dreams of national, and perhaps Olympic, medals. Payson Keeler is clearly the best of the lot, the one with the greatest chance to get to the Olympics. She has a lot of determination and focus, but she is also kind and vulnerable where her loved ones are concerned. Lauren Tanner is the one everyone loves to hate. She's got two talents: balance beam and backstabbing. Kaylie Cruz is all heart, flow, and grace, but her coach wonders if she's got the fire to really make it to the top. The newcomer, Emily Kmetko, is mostly self-taught, making her her own worst enemy in the gym. The interaction between all of them is strong, maybe even strongest during Lauren's manipulative frenemy moments. Overall, it's Emily's show, so viewers want to see her come from her background of training on playgrounds to national champion. Question is: Will she be able to get over her inhibitions in time to retrain herself to get to Nationals? The secondary characters, save for their coach and Emily's mom, are not as interesting, but I get the feeling viewers aren't there as much for the parent characters.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Back in June, I went to a panel at BEA where editors talked about their lead YA titles for Fall 2009. During a panel that mostly focused on speculative fiction (including the fourth YA book about the Knights Templar published in a year...publishing trends are so interesting!), Liz Szbala of Feiwel and Friends mentioned a book I couldn't wait to get my hands on: The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill S. Alexander. Lucky for me, Feiwel had extra copies of the book and gave them out after the panel.
About the book: There's a rooster on the cover. What's not to love?
Kidding. There's more to it. During the annual No-Jesus Christmas Parade, Austin Gray, almost fifteen, decides that she's tired of being a parade watcher. She wants to be a parade participant. Specifically, she wants to be a hood ornament, a local Sweetheart elected by a club like the Rodeo Club or, in Austin's case, the Future Farmers of America. To be a part of the FFA and have the chance to be sweetheart, she'll have to raise a farm animal and learn to hunt or fish. Her farm animal of choice? Poultry. Specifically, a black Bantam Rosecomb rooster who she names Charles Dickens. Austin is convinced that Charles Dickens will help make her into the person she wants to be: popular, beautiful, and independent. When she's sweetheart and riding on top of the car in the parade, bully Dean Ottmer will stop making fun of her and her mother will stop being so strict. Only, you and I know it doesn't always work out that way.
Why you'll love it: Except for a few trips to Disney World, I have never traveled anywhere south of Maryland. Yes, Teri Lesesne, that means I've never been to Texas. But? That didn't matter. Alexander did a wonderful job of describing Austin's small eastern Texas town and the characters who live there. The big theme of this book is independence, which comes in a few forms: Austin's rearing of Charles Dickens, participating in her best friend Maribel's quincineara, figuring out what to do about Dean Ottmer, and getting her mother to finally talk about her father's death. On a personal level, I liked the general lack of romance as a plot. There's some goo-goo eyes and hand-holding with a cute boy, but Austin, her family, and her goals are always the focal point. It is, for want of better words, a sweet book about a girl who is a sister doing it for herself. (Sorry, Annie Lennox.)
Monday, August 10, 2009
Sunday, August 9, 2009
Sometimes (but not often) I am wrong about books.
When I first heard about Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, I was convinced it would be the most boring thing since a drive through Indiana. "The main character is so normal! She goes to the mall!" I was told. So what? Turns out, that normal main character had a hell of a voice and something to talk about other than her love interest. Due to its stellar writing, Dairy Queen ended up as one of my favorite books of 2007. I thought the 2008 sequel, The Off Season, was even better.
Front and Center (Houghton, October 2009, many thanks to Laura Sinton at HMH for sending me a copy) is the final book in Murdock's trilogy about small-town sports star D.J. Schwenk. It begins just after the events of The Off Season, so D.J. is gearing up for her favorite sport: basketball. D.J. plays center but knows she's got the athletic skills to play point guard. What's holding her back from the coveted point guard position is her lack of ability to voice what she's thinking. The point guard's job is to act as a sort of director on the court, and D.J. would rather die than shout instructions in front of all her teammates. When her coach calls her into his office for what D.J. thinks will be a talking-to about, well, her lack of talking, he springs a surprise on her: Even though she's only a junior, colleges are already stepping up to recruit her. If she wants a scholarship, which is the only way she knows she can afford to go to college, D.J. will have to make her college decision in the next few weeks.
D.J.'s familiar with the college ball process, having two older brothers who play Division I football. After seeing a disastrous end to a University of Minnesota basketball game, however, she's pretty sure she wants nothing to do with Division I women's basketball. Going to a Division III college will take off a lot of the pressure and that way if she screws up, well, it's just Division III, right?
All of this sounds good on paper, but there's one thing D.J. isn't factoring in: Athletics are her calling. She might not be the most outstanding student, but she has sports in her blood and coaching in her brain. Everyone sees this except D.J. herself, and it takes a lot of nagging, a lot of love, and a physics genius who can't play basketball to make her see what she's worth.
Don't laugh, but I think Front and Center is a perfect readalike for another favorite book of mine from 2007: Dramarama by E. Lockhart. D.J. is the complete opposite of Sadye: an introvert, terrified of being on stage, anything but outspoken. What both books have in common is their message, which is that you have to follow your true talents even if they scare you, even if they take you in a different direction than the one you planned. The best thing about the Dairy Queen series is how meticulous Murdock is about taking us through D.J.'s thoughts and internal processes. She great use of first-person narration and shows us how D.J., who doesn't say anything out loud to anyone if she can help it, grows from someone who does everything she's told without question to someone who thinks not just for, but about, herself and her personal goals.
I'm sad that this series has come to a close, but I'm thrilled with the way it ended and I can't wait to see what Murdock will offer next for YA readers.
Friday, August 7, 2009
Q: Why are blonde jokes so short?
A: So brunettes can remember them.
Blonde is not just a hair color. It's an identity. Of course, not all blondes are the same, but there is a minor societal fascination with people with blonde hair. Evil people were easy to spot in Harry Potter. Why? Because they were blonde (Fleur Delacour being the exception, but let's not forget how much Ginny disliked her). Kiki Strike stood out in the crowd with her white-blonde hair. Katniss Everdeen is torn between two deserving men, one blond and one brunette. On a personal note, the question I am asked most often, and mostly in hair salons, is "Is that your natural hair color?" (Yes, it is. I am too cheap and lazy to color my hair.)
Given all of this, not reading The Blonde of the Joke by Bennett Madison (HarperCollins, August 2009) was not an option.
About the book: Val is a quiet social nobody until bold Francie Knight, teller of unfunny blonde jokes, blondes her way into Val's life. The two connect instantly, and Francie draws Val into her life of shoplifting and look-at-me clothes. Their goal at the mall is to steal everything and search for the Most Beautiful Thing, the Holy Grail of shoplifted objects. Despite all their time together, Francie always seems to hold Val at arm's length. She disappears for weeks without notice and has some crazy mood swings. Val worries, but she also has other things to worry about in her life, like her dying brother. As the school year progresses and Val and Francie steal more, Val sees that there's more to being the blonde of the relationship than just the color of her hair...which can easily be changed.
Why you'll love it: I'm going to start carrying a copy of this book everywhere I go for the sole purpose of being able to say, "You're wrong," when people (in bookstores, in libraries, online) complain that there's no YA of substance anywhere, and definitely no decent realistic fiction. The Blonde of the Joke is set in the real world but has a just-beyond-reality feeling, with very dark humor and some downright weird peripheral characters. The ways that Francie changes Val will have readers wondering how strong a person Val is on her own and what she's really looking for in all the things she steals from the mall. Val's dysfuctional relationships are heartbreaking, but also telling of the kind of person that she is: dissatisfied and soul-searching. The mall becomes not just a place for Val to steal, but a place to acquire things that can't be bought or stolen. This quirky story is one that will leave you thinking and guessing for days after you finish it.
Suzanne Collins reading an excerpt of Catching Fire:
And a countdown clock:
More downloads are available at the Scholastic Hunger Games site. Go forth and adorn your blog!
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Disclaimer: I have had the pleasure of calling Lara Zeises my friend for a number of years, so I am a little prejudiced in favor of this book. My prejudices, however, don't change the fact that The Sweet Life of Stella Madison (Delacorte, July 2009, copy courtesy of Delacorte) is a fantastic summer book, and it is the book to sink your teeth into if you just can't read another vampire book right now.
About the book: Back when I reviewed Robin Brande's Fat Cat, I confessed that I really am not a fan of cooking. I'm a fan of eating, sure, but I believe that food always tastes better when someone else cooks it. Stella Madison, almost 18, is a girl after my own heart. The daughter of two foodies, one a world-renowned chef, Stella would rather eat hamburgers than foie gras. Unfortunately, escaping from food is not an option. It's not just that Stella has to eat in order to live, but she's also landed an internship at the local paper, where her editor thinks she's got what it takes to be an ace restaurant reviewer. When she's not eating, writing, hanging out with her two best friends, or working at her mom's restaurant, the Open Kitchen, Stella is trying to figure out her relationships. She's currently dating Max, who is kind, funny, and crazy about her. All is great with Max until Stella meets Jeremy, who is hot, elusive, twenty-one, hot, a chef in training, and...yeah, hot. Max and Jeremy are two different sides of Stella, and she's at an odds on which one to choose.
Why you'll love it: Stella is refreshingly normal and relateable, but she's also well-rounded. She's not the prettiest or thinnest or richest girl in town, but she's smart and has interests outside herself and her boyfriend. I think what I like best about Stella is that in the presence of Jeremy, she often doesn't know what to say or do. She doesn't have a perfect witty comeback for everything, but she doesn't have to. Lara also knows that real life, even if it's a real life that doesn't involve YA literature superdramas like sex and drugs, makes for great reading. Complex family stories are Lara's specialty, and she doesn't disappoint here; Stella has to deal with her parents' dating dilemmas as well as her own. The romance is sexy and there's plenty of making out (Stella *is* 18, after all), but the interpersonal relationships are what really matter, making this a good choice for those younger readers who are dying for romances.
What's the only caveat of this book? Don't read it while you're hungry.
review at Bookends (Booklist blog) || Liz's review
Saturday, August 1, 2009
The August issue of School Library Journal is now available online, so I get to announce that Liz B. and I wrote this month's cover story: When Harry Met Bella, which is about one of our favorite topics: Fanfiction. We wrote answers to some common questions about fanfiction, including "How legal is all of this, anyway?" and listed some of our favorite fanfiction sites. Let me tell you, it was NOT easy to get it all into 2,000 words. I think the first draft of the article was twice that long, and that was without the sidebars.
Once you've read the article, if you've got questions about fanfiction, I'm happy to answer them.