Monday, April 30, 2007

Not that it was much of a contest.

Well, there wasn't much question about who won that poll, was there? Opine with the new one, if you will.

There is something in my head that forces a relationship between Garret Freymann-Weyr's Stay With Me and Aidan Chamber's This is All. Stay With Me wins. It isn't just the teen girl having a relationship with an older man plot thing, it's something about the scope of the novel; that I feel Freymann-Weyr accomplished, in 500 fewer pages, much of what Chamber was aiming for. Stay With Me was poetic and moving. It really is a beautiful novel that deserves greater attention.

Leila (Lee-la, not Lay-la, because she is "not a rock song.") is feeling loose-ended after her older half-sister Rebecca dies. Her father is devistated and just wants to escape to Europe and drown himself in work. Her mother accompanies him, and Leila is left in the custody of Clare, Rebecca's much colder sister. She battles her dyslexia and tries to piece together Rebecca's last days to make sense of the loss. In looking for explaination for her sister's choices, she figures out what it means to live.

Um, Garret is a girl's name. Maybe that is part of why this book works better than This is All - Freymann-Weyr doesn't have anything to prove by writing intimately from the female perspective...and didn't need X number of pages to convince you... and can get on with the story. Just a theory. Another theory would be that Chamber's was more interested in a character study than in story (you might want to bank on that one). Either way, both books have left lasting impressions on my psyche.

Obviously for mature readers, this can easily be paired, among many others, with Cures for Heartbreak, The Geography of Girlhood, All Rivers Flow to the Sea, Sarah Dessen, and of course, This Is All. Yet more teen lit I can easily give to adults. Love that.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

It's not like it's a major plot point or anything...

I don't remember where I came across this title. I distinctly remember placing the purchase request, but I don't remember why. Not that I really need a reason with a title like My Dead Girlfriend and a friendly blurb by Joss Whedon. Really, does anyone?

Eric Wight, and they are playing this as a huge selling point, was apparently the 'ghost artist' on The O.C. (ok, I'll admit it I did watch the first season on DVD. It was far more funny than I was expecting. I'm now afraid that watching subsequent seasons will just be a let-down. *). I don't really remember there being that much art, but whatever.

For a brief time last summer Finney was able to forget about his doomed future. See, "for a member of the Bleak family the true measure of success is not what is accomplished in LIFE, but in how preposterously they achieve their DEATH." But when he met Jenny at the carnival, it was instant love, and for the first time, Finney wasn't just waiting to die.

There are a lot of great lines in this, especially at the beginning as Finney tells us of the family curse. Here's one from later on: "True, everyone dies -- some from natural causes, others from falling into a wood chipper while trying to outrun a stampede of wild antelope." hee.

The artwork seems like something straight off of Cartoon Network (Dexter's Laboratory, anyone?) with a gothic twist. It's spot on. I must say, however, that I don't really buy FishBoy as being with the popular crowd, and while the title is clearly a hook, it does make for a rather lack-luster climax. It will be interesting to see how this series proceeds, although, working with my past GN history, it is doubtful that I will read any future volumes.

It's darkly delicious in a Halloween meets Valentine's kind of way...(note: both holidays are known for their connection to candy & kitsch, so read that statement as: sweet with some surprisingly self-deprecating and clever laughs) There's some swearing, so, um, know that before you hand it to a 10-year-old with strict parents.

By the way: All future pets must be gargoyles. Friendly, friendly gargoyles.

*speaking of TV, Veronica Mars is back on Tuesday!! Yay! No more stupid, objectifying 'reality' show! Not that I actually watched that smear on the the VM time slot. Woo!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

What's life without DRAMA?

There was SO much of my high school experience in this book. It brought me back to the days where we'd go months listening to nothing but Les Miz, Rent, or whatever the latest flavor or production was. I remember casting all of Les Miz in Justin's car on the way home several times. He wouldn't turn down Valjean, but had a special place in his heart for M. Thénardier. Me? Eponine's got the best songs, but I had a bit of a hankerin' for Fantine - I thought it more of a challenge (and something with less competition). I wore out that CD. Still have it, but it won't play without skipping.

Gosh, it seems like I've read a lot of E. Lockhart this year. This one is, by far, my favorite. You might be saying now, "Hey, wait! That book isn't out yet!" And you would be right. Comes out next week. I snatched this ARC from the collections department at work. Wasn't that clever of me? (actually, Rachel E did the dirty work of snatching, but I did the work of reading. Which wasn't. Work, I mean. I'm good at that.)

Ohio's boring. At least it is for Sayde and Demi. Their small town is NOT big enough for their real personalities - or their talent. Each apply, audition, and get into the Musical Theater Summer Camp That Dreams Are Made Of. The moment he arrives, it is clear that Demi belongs, like the place wasn't complete without him. For Sayde it isn't as easy, and as she watches her best friend blossom, she must figure out who she is when she isn't needed, and when she isn't as special around hoards of girls who want the very same thing.

Lockhart has been very good at capturing the slightly obsessive teen girl. Dramarama is no exception. This book is FUN. Deals with just as many issues as the Ruby Oliver books, but (and maybe this is b/c I've been in musicals but not in therapy) goes a little deeper. The highs are higher and the lows are more painful. We can see Sayde's mistakes and flaws, and completely get her motivation and inability to stop. It's about friendships, how they grow and change. It's about dreams.

Oh, if you are at all, or ever were, a musical theater geek - let me warn you, after reading this book you will be pulling out ALL of your dusty musical soundtracks and singing along for weeks. If your addiction was even worse, you may just have to put the book down a few times and belt out the lyrics to the songs Sayde talks about. Yeah. That was me. I'm sure my neighbors loved that part.

Note the return of the long-lost poll! Vote away!---->

Monday, April 23, 2007

Past, Future, Present... An Interview with Barbara Kerley

Someone else bit. I couldn't believe it either, but then I got an email from Barbara Kerley. She had, presumably, seen the interview with Margo Rabb, and there I was with another author interview. I had my library rush-process Kerley's Very First Novel, Greetings From Planet Earth. If her name sounds familiar, you might recognize her as a non-fiction picture book author. Twice, she's worked with my favorite illustrator, Brian Selznick; on The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins (a Caldecott Honor book) and Walt Whitman: Words for America (a Sibert Honor book).

In 1977 the Space Race and Vietnam War are over, but for 12 year-old Theo both are foremost in his thoughts. Soon NASA will be sending out the Voyager Spacecrafts with messages from Earth, and the idea of communicating with people from outer space is fascinating and curious. What would Theo tell them? How would he express life on Earth? Would he tell them about his father who never came home from war? As he thinks about this, Theo starts to dig deeper into his past and searches for the one person who's always been missing...

Theo is a real kid. He's smart and thoughtful, but not a bit precocious. He's dealing with a missing and presumed dead father and a mother who won't speak of his father at all. He struggles because the one thing he wants to talk about more than anything is his dad, but that is the one subject absolutely verboten in the household. Kerley deftly wrangles with layers of lies and secrets, slowly revealing the story through tapes made by Theo to his father, letters written from Vietnam, and a third person narrative, all while keeping the kid true to 12 year-olds; he's innocent, hopeful, and resilient, but keenly aware of the world around him and easily hurt.

On to the interview:

Many compare the current war to the Vietnam War. How much influence did what's happening today have on Greetings from Planet Earth?

I was born in 1960, so the Vietnam War was part of my childhood. In fact, I still have the little workbook we made in school in 1967 about American soldiers in Vietnam.

I also worked in the 1990s teaching English in a program for vets who wanted to enroll in college, and I met many Vietnam vets during that time.

It wasn't until 2002, however, as I began writing GREETINGS, that I started researching the Vietnam War in earnest -- reading magazine articles about the war and books written by Vietnam vets, and watching documentaries. So the entire time I worked on the novel, we had American soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I live in a fairly small town. I know people whose son or husband or brother has served in Iraq. Some of my daughter's 11th grade classmates plan to join the military as soon as they graduate from high school next year, and I've known these kids since I was a parent volunteer way back in 1st grade. So the war today definitely has a presence in our community.

GREETINGS is in part about the cost of war on a soldier who fights and on the family he leaves behind, and about the war's aftermath. When you listen to vets today on NPR talk about the difficulty of readjusting to life at home and the strain it's put on their families, the parallels to Vietnam feel very clear.

Theo's fascination with space plays a significant role in the story. Can you tell us at all how you came to be interested in space and how you came to link it with the Vietnam War?

I've always loved taking walks at night and looking at the moon and stars. I was lucky enough to grow up in a neighborhood where I could wander around after dark, all by myself. I did this a lot all through adolescence, even in the winter, bundled up in this big thick coat my mom had. Just like Theo, looking up at the night sky made me feel "part of something bigger." He's much more disciplined than I ever was, however; Theo actually reads books about space, whereas I just wandered around in the dark.

My entry into the novel was the "Golden Record" that Voyager 1 and 2 carried into space in 1977, with sounds, pictures, music, and greetings from Earth.

In 2002, I happened to read an article about the Record and then couldn't stop thinking about it. I was fascinated with the idea of trying to capture humanity on a little round disk. We seem so complex, capable of such wonderful and terrible things. As I began working through these ideas and thinking back to the 70s, the Vietnam War and man's exploration of space immediately surfaced as examples of the terrible and wonderful things man can do.

The space theme became even more prominent in my thinking when I stumbled across a moon atlas on a library shelf and discovered that almost every crater, ridge, sea, and mountain has been officially named after something or someone. We've all heard of the Sea of Tranquility, of course, but I also fell in love with the names of other features, like the Marsh of Sleep, the Sea of Nectar, and a crater named Hercules. So, of course, Theo fell in love with these names, too.

Theo's sister, Janet, provides much of the comic relief in the way only a loving-bully of an older sister can. Do you know any Janets, and how did she work her way into your story?

I just love Janet; in a lot of ways she is my favorite character in the novel. She came to me almost fully-formed, voicing her opinion about things from the start. She is loosely based on my own older sister, though my daughter tells me that she is my sister 'channeled through me' -- in other words, there's some of me in Janet.

To me, Janet is a classic 14-year-old girl in that she calls it like she sees it, a quality in 14-year-olds that I just love. But even though she takes advantage of Theo at times, she looks out for him, as well. I have a tremendous soft spot for Janet.

What came first for you - the character or the conflict?

Actually, theme came first: What does it mean to be human? I had to fumble along with character and conflict after that.

You've written several successful non-fiction titles, what sparked the desire to write fiction for an older audience?

I think it was the desire to explore the ideas of the novel in a way that left things a little messy and unanswered.

I tend to be drawn to big ideas. When I work on nonfiction, my goal is to try to crystallize a big idea into something a kid can latch onto. So, for example, when I wrote WALT WHITMAN: WORDS FOR AMERICA, I explored big ideas like war and healing, patriotism and self-expression, by telling as cleanly and simply as possible the story of a man who offered comfort to wounded Civil War soldiers and honored them through his poetry. I have a new nonfiction picture book coming out in May called A LITTLE PEACE, and again, I tried to hone a complex idea into the simple theme that we can all spread a little peace.

But with GREETINGS, I felt the need to explore things in a more open-ended way. There's a passage near the end of the book when Theo is gazing at the moon, his binoculars focused on the crater Copernicus as he thinks about some of Earth's earliest astronomers:

"There was Copernicus, landed splat in the Sea of Isles like it had just rolled off the Apennines Mountains. Aristarchus glowed nearby.

"Before Galileo, before Copernicus, Aristarchus figured out that Earth revolved around the sun. All these guys looking up at the night sky, asking questions that seemed too big for answers. You could choose any one you wanted, Theo realized, and spend the rest of your life trying to figure it out."

By writing GREETINGS as a novel, instead of nonfiction, I could focus more on questions and less on answers.

How did your writing habits, style or technique have to change for fiction?

In some ways, I began the same way -- reading reading reading. In this case, I read about the Voyager probes, the Apollo program, moon topography, the 60s and 70s, the Vietnam War, and Vietnam vets.

Usually when I write a biographical picture book -- like THE DINOSAURS OF WATERHOUSE HAWKINS, or WALT WHITMAN: WORDS FOR AMERICA, or a new book I have coming out next spring, WHAT TO DO ABOUT ALICE?, about Alice Roosevelt and her father, Teddy -- I read and read and read until I start seeing what feels like the spine of the story. Then I set all my research aside and try to write the story as I've conceptualized it. Once I get that first draft down, then I have to go back and check everything against my sources to see what I've remembered wrong. Then I revise accordingly. But at the beginning, at least, it's a pretty inductive process. When I'm working on nonfiction, my editor at Scholastic, Tracy Mack, is always reminding me to only include what is "absolutely essential." (Which is why I tend to have very long author notes in teeny tiny type -- I can't bear to completely get rid of what wouldn't fit in the book. hah.)

The novel was hard for me because while I identified the theme very early on in the process -- What makes us human? -- I couldn't then return to my research and pluck out what I needed to best illustrate that. I had to make up all that stuff, too: Janet came to me quite easily, but I struggled to get a sense of the other characters. I had some plot ideas but had to do a lot of revising there, too. I had to work out Theo's tape recording, what he would say and when, and how he would say it. And, finally, I had this extra little pressure: Theo's assignment at the beginning of the book is to choose "what he thinks is most important about Earth." For much of the time I was working on the first draft, I was just like Theo: I didn't have any idea what he was going to choose, either, which was pretty scary. I remember at one point feeling like an overwhelmed novice juggler, thinking, "Where did all these balls come from?"

So I guess I had to let things stay messy and unanswered for a lot longer, and also trust that if I did enough work, I'd be able to figure things out.

Why do you think that it's important that authors are beginning to write more about recent history for a teen audience?

Well, I don't know trends well enough to make a broad statement, but I do know that when I started working on GREETINGS in 2002, there didn't seem to be that many children's novels about the Vietnam War. There were some, of course, like Walter Dean Myers' wonderful FALLEN ANGELS. But considering how many men and women served in Vietnam, and how long the war lasted, and how much impact it had on American culture, I was surprised that more children's and teen novels hadn't been written. But I think what we learned from the Vietnam War is still relevant today.

What inspires you on days you struggle with writing?

To be honest, there are times when it's a struggle, and I can't find any inspiration. (hah. Is that the answer you hoped to hear?) And that's when you really have to be disciplined. It's easy to write when it's easy; it's easy to do anything but write, when it's hard. (I must water the plants! When's the last time I filled the salt shaker?)

I remember a week-long period during the long revision process for GREETINGS when I was just plain stuck. And I haven't had a project yet where I didn't feel stalled or frustrated at least part of the time. But I've been writing long enough now to know that if I keep working, I can usually resolve the problem in some way. Sometimes it takes a while and sometimes it takes more than one try, but if I keep on working, I can figure it out. (Of course, it helps tremendously to have a circle of writer friends I can call on, and two wonderful editors: Tracy Mack at Scholastic and Jennifer Emmett at National Geographic. I've relied on both to get unstuck when I need it!)

What authors do you get overly excited for when you hear about their next book?

I read lots of different stuff, so that's hard to answer. But I do try to follow the work of other authors of nonfiction picture book biographies, since it's such a specialized niche -- I'm always curious to see how those authors will approach their subject and structure the text. So, for example, I try to read what folks like Peter Sis and Don Brown have written. I always learn things from studying their work.

What book do you think everyone ought to read, and at what age or stage of life should they read it?

I like to hope that everyone will find their own book.

For me, as a kid, that book was HARRIET THE SPY by Louise Fitzhugh, which I read over and over. I think I must have identified with Harriet's fascination with other people. And who wouldn't be -- the characterization in that book is amazing!

As an adult, that book is Andrea Barrett's THE VOYAGE OF THE NARWHAL, partly because I'm so interested in the history of science in the 1800s, and she really brings those themes to life, and also because I identify with the main character and the way he enters into the world.

Some people think it's weird for a grownup to have a favorite book. A few years back, I mentioned this one evening in my book club, and a friend of mine said, "How can you have a favorite book? That's like having a favorite color!"

To which I responded, "Blue."

Find discussion guides for Greetings and other Barbara Kerley books here.

For readers who enjoy Greetings, I would instantly hand them Katherine Paterson's Park's Quest and possibly The Life History of a Star by Kelly Easton. For the older readers, I would also give them Walter Dean Myer's classic Fallen Angels and Amaryllis by Craig Crist-Evans. Be assured that Greetings can easily be given to middle school readers.

Find other interviews with Barb now or in the near future at:

Eisha & Jules at 7-Imp
Colleen Mondor at Chasing Ray

Cynthia Leitich Smith at Cynsations

Kelly Herold at Big A, little a

Little Willow at Bildungsroman
Liz Burns at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Mindy at Propernoun

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

I just hate it when hopes are dashed.

Just look at that cover. Gorgeous. And it's about Vampires and Werewolves? Set in a restaurant? Was it written just for me? However can I resist? I'd been waiting for its release, and then had the agonizing lag for my library to actually process and get me the dern book. It jumped to the head of the stack. I relished my lunch hour. I actually took my breaks for once, just so I could read Tantalize.

Quincie is in love with a Werewolf. A Half-Wolf to be exact. And she's helping her guardian uncle remodel the family restaurant to have a trendy Vampire theme. Everything is going well; she's slowly convincing Kieren to take the next step and the menu is coming together. But when the father-figure head chef is brutally murdered in what looks like a Wolf attack, suspicion lands on Kieren. Quince is mostly sure her love is innocent, and she'll do anything to help him. Which isn't so easy with a restaurant to open, a new chef to hire and the world of Vampires to least she doesn't have to worry about running into any real Vampires. They haven't been seen in years...

Cynthia Leitich Smith has a HUGE web presence. I link to her. I think that somewhere on her site she links to me, too. We even exchanged emails once. I think that she offers a great deal to this blogging world. This said...

I didn't love Tantalize. The first half was very strong - riveting. The second half was riddled with jarring leaps in time that left me feeling that I had skipped pages and missed plot elements. I turned back several times, re-reading chapters convinced that there was something ...more. I had a real issue with what I considered to be major character inconsistencies on the part of our heroine. There was a reason for weird behavior, but the 'recovery' from that happened in a manner that did not jive with what came before. What, she just woke up better? Why that morning? What was different? Nothing, as far as I can see. It's set in an alternate Austin, Texas. Were-people are apparently common, and to an extent, accepted. On one hand, the world was largely plausible, but not as developed as it could have been. Were-opossum? Really? Heck, why not. *g*

I know that I'm being harsh, but it's how I feel. There was enough good in this book that I'm still interested to see what Smith delivers next. I'll probably read it, and I know that I'll recommend this title to patrons. Since I've, you know, already done so. Just because I don't love it, doesn't mean I can't recognize those who will. It's, like, my job. *twirls hair* (take that, Mr. Sutton. And no, this isn't just a reactionary review because of that controversy. Most of this was written prior to that.)

Comparisons to Meyer's Twilight abound, but the tone, while darker is actually, paradoxically, (because the lack of Meyer's tendency toward brooding) lighter. In short, it might be more fun, if less engrossing. It's something to give the masses as they wait until August for Eclipse. Will probably work for Holly Black fans as well, although they have their own fangirl book in May's release of Ironside. Possibly fans of Blood & Chocolate, too, but I can't speak for that title. I hear the movie was atrocious. Now that I think of it, the Gothic feel may appeal to Libba Bray fans (among which, I am not. Although, her blog is good.).

I'll be at the state library conference for the rest of the week, so... I'll post about E. Lockhart's Dramarama if I grab a chance. There's a rumor of free wi-fi, but I'm not holding my breath.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

In which lying, as always, proves a lousy idea.

Thursday turned into Sunday, as these things do, but at least now I've submitted my taxes, turned in my recommendations to Reader Girlz, emailed my questions for the next author interview (should be appearing next week sometime), triumphed over the teen craft program I've been agonizing about, and attended a birthday party. So here we are, on Sunday, with the review I thought I'd have up on Thursday.

Emma. Anna. Mariah. Three private school girls who've decided to walk a line their peers will respect, but their parents wouldn't approve of. Caught in a lie, the girls attempt to cover their tracks with another lie. One they think will get them off and quickly be forgotten. One they still wish would be forgotten after it inspires protests, outcry, and the arrest of an innocent man...

It's so vastly different from Dana Reinhardt's debut novel A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life. About halfway through I had to stop reading Harmless. I couldn't handle it anymore. Not because it was bad - far from it, in fact. These girls were so real, but so very, very wrong, and I was so troubled and angered by their behavior that I simply had to put it down for a while. I could easily see this situation translating into reality. I'm sure variations of it have.

Are there degrees of innocence and guilt? Is a small lie different than large lies? Does intent matter at all? Each character deals differently with their lot; Anna, ever hungry for popularity embraces her new-found notoriety, Mariah has a touch of denial, and Emma is consumed with guilt. The situation forces simmering family issues to erupt and many more lives are affected than the girls ever anticipated.

Harmless could have easily turned into a tale of didactic consequences but Reinhardt reigns it in with grounded takes on the familial situations that influence the girls' behavior. Each comes close to revealing their secret but are silenced by the pressures of their lives and the affect the revelation would have on those they love.

I kept thinking about the Salem Witch Trials. Those girls, those girls that ended up destroying lives and causing the death of 20+ people in 1692? They were bored. Like Reinhardt's trio, I doubt that they meant their accusations to go as far as they did, but... for whatever reason hysteria took hold of the situation and the adults who should have been in control of the situation let fear rule the proceedings. Every voice has power, especially when playing into the established fears of society. In 1692 it was was witchcraft. Today it can be private school girls being assaulted.

Even though I had a hard time reading the title due to it's intensity, I find it remarkable. I can't wait to see what Reinhardt gives us next. And no, I'm not just being nice because I'm hoping to interview the author someday...

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Book Group, Round A Doctor

It wasn't a boring book. In fact, I liked it, and was caught up in it far more than I had anticipated. This title was my concession - I asked participants in November for suggestions. Book group lasted a full hour, and since everyone really liked it and thinks Paul Farmer is fantastic, I don't really know what to say about it (oh, wait, Amber said that it made her feel guilty). Highest turnout yet, so that's cool.

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder is a biography of Dr. Paul Farmer who has dedicated his life to providing medical care (this means making sure that people have enough food, and other basic life stuff) for the poorest of the poor. He started out in Haiti in 1983, and while his heart and much of his time is still there, his organization, Partners In Health has expanded from Peru to Russia. He focuses on diseases that the modern world has forgotten since most people who contract them, who need help the most, are poor. Dude's got unending energy (says the girl about falling asleep at her computer).

One of the library board members posed as a normal patron and attended. I knew she looked familiar, but you reach a point where everyone looks familiar and you no longer really trust your facial recognition abilities. Well, I don't, at least. I'm regularly thinking that I see faces that belong in Michigan. Maybe there are lots of long-lost twins roaming about the two states I've lived in...

One of the book group participants was so inspired by the book that she donated $100 to Partners In Health. That's something.

Well, you wouldn't want me to rush in, right?

While this was possibly my favorite book of 2006, I've been hesitating about talking about it for... well, let's not talk time frames, if that's all right with you. I'm not sure if I can do this one justice, or fully communicate how much I love this title, so I've just sat on it. For a really long time. I've sat on other titles, too, but for other reasons (like: "it was ok, but there isn't much to say about it, so until I've got something to relate, it'll keep getting shoved aside" OR "Dear Lord, that was an awful book. How do I say 'ick' nicely, in what essentially amounts to a public space?" Ah, the curse I gave myself by reviewing everything I finish.).

UPON finishing Dana Reinhardt's A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life I talked Sarah (youth librarian extraordinaire and beloved bff, who sadly lives about as far away as possible from me. Quirk of fate. Gives me a good reason to visit Florida in the dead of winter, though.) into reading it. We don't, generally, like the same stuff (this fact created some serious music dilemmas on the hour-long trips to Library School, btw.). None of this is either here nor there, however, we were able to dish on how fantastic the book is. Sarah gave it to co-worker Allie (also fabulous) who wanted to book-talk it to her teens. That's where I come in again. It's not such an easy book-talk. This is what I gave them:

Simone knew exactly what she believed. Her parents raised her a liberal, atheist activist. Her world was firm. Well it was - but then her birth mother came back into the picture. Now Simone needs to marry her upbringing with her actual heredity as an Orthodox Jew. She needs to figure out what SHE believes, who SHE is, not just what people EXPECT her to be. Oh, and if she can get that cute cafe guy to like her? Definite bonus.

Apparently, that went over well. But it only really scratches the surface of WHY I think this title is important. How hard is it to question EVERYTHING you grew up NOT questioning? Things you took for granted. Questioning things that you were perfectly happy not thinking about. Think about how much courage it takes to disrupt the acceptable world order. Simone was happy. She liked her life, and she knew what she wanted. Even with her birth mother coming back into the picture, Simone didn't have to change anything. She could have gone all ostrich and maintained status quo - it would have been perfectly acceptable behavior. And to do this as a 16-year-old? And to make me believe her struggle and her growth? Yeah. That's pretty awesome.

We watch Simone go from denial and bitterness. We see her interact with her peers, with her adopted family, and with her birth mother - all revealing the different aspects of the same character - the different sides that we all have. Add to that a very clear and distinctive voice and a girl trying to figure out her first love and everyday life on top of such earth-shattering soul-searching? I was a total goner. With the love for this book. And no, I still don't think I've done this one justice. Too bad the cover sucks. The new paperback cover bites as well. God, I so hate it when great books have less-than-great covers. Not something to blame on the author, though.

And yes, I have read Harmless. I'll probably blog it on Thursday. Tomorrow is Book Group, so you'll get one of those adult titles I force myself to read. ;) It's only once a month, people. We can get through it together.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Argh. The Internets.

My home access is all screwed up somehow. I came home last night to all the clocks blinking, and it seems to have done a number on my wireless, too. So, hopefully, I'll get that all straightened out this weekend (if only because I've yet to do my taxes...). If not... well, maybe I'll post something from a cafe, or at least check my email.

Details: Power clearly went out. Internet seems to be working, judging by the blinking lights on both of the routers and that Airport is picking up my wireless signal. Unfortunately, the signal isn't making it to the browsers or dashboard as those all refuse to connect. Sigh.

So, yeah. Thanks.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

You know it's bad when they crawl out your eyes.

I am incapable of thinking of this book without comparing it to Christopher Golden's Body of Evidence series. Which I love (and have actually read all 10 books of). Alane Ferguson's The Christopher Killer may not be as good (to me) as Golden's, but it's a pretty darn good mystery in the gross-out CSI formula. In fact, it's been nominated for an Edgar Award.

Catch that gross-out comment? Yeah, I meant that. Really meant it. Cameryn knows what she wants to do when she grows up. Much to her grandmother's chagrin she is determined to become a forensic pathologist. As in the land of only-in-books, Cammie is fortunate enough that her father is the medical examiner of their small town and trusts his self-educated 17-year-old daughter to start assisting him on cases. Implausibility aside, Cammie hops onto the case when the small town is shocked by a rash of (convenient) murders. The connecting element is the St. Christopher Medal left with each victim. It won't be easy for her to crack the case; she faces the revulsion of a deeply decomposing body, the skepticism of officials (well, duh), a beau her father doesn't trust for unknown reasons, a long-lost mother, and a killer that might be coming after her next...

It might be a lot to cover in one short genre book, but since it's intended as a series, it's a good set-up and introduction to the characters. The nicely detailed crime scenes don't seem to hold anything back (yeah, got nothing backing that one up...I've only seen nicely embalmed bodies); the first one, a 'floater', (oh, jeeze, I'm grossed out just recalling this, and I read it months ago) includes odor, flies, sloughing skin, and everyone's favorite, maggots. I especially enjoyed this description: "Her peppermint oil, her finger, nothing could stem the sickly sweet scent of rotting flesh that filled her nose, her mouth, her very insides. She was breathing in particles of Larry Robertson" p37 (of my ARC, thanks Sleuth/Viking!).

Need a girl say more?

The sequel, Angel of Death is already out, and the third, Circle of Blood will be following shortly.

Also blogged:
Reading Junky
Reading Fool

Monday, April 02, 2007

Postergirlz for readergirlz

If you haven't already heard of Reader Girlz...Well, let's rectify that now, shall we? Justina Chen Headly, author of the fantastic Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies), gathered up some like-minded SCBWI Seattle writers and wrote up the following manifesta:

* Readergirlz is about having serious fun while talking about books with the author and your friends!
* Readergirlz is about getting the inside scoop about why the novel was written, the tears and joys and real-world angst that the author has lived and layered into her story.
* Readergirlz is about reading great books to get to know yourself, your friends, and yes, even your mother, better.
* Readergirlz is about celebrating strong girls in books who've got the guts to dream.
* Readergirlz is about reaching out to others based on what you've read.
* And most of all, readergirlz is about inspiring girls to make history of their own!

Every month Readergirlz Divas select a book for discussion that exemplifies a quality every young girl should have before entering the adult world. They host the author on the group site and everyone is invited to talk about various subjects the selected book touches on, or really anything that concerns teen girls. Join the discussion (or, if you are the shy type, read) by logging on to the Readergirlz MySpace.

I'm honored to have been asked to participate among the Postergirlz. As per the April Newsletter:

The readergirlz divas couldn't be happier to announce the formation of postergirlz for readergirlz, an advisory council which will generously lend their YA lit expertise to guide our book choices. This amazing group is made up of some of the biggest names in YA lit blogging as well as avid teen girl readers:

  • Little Willow, readergirlz webdiva and bookseller who writes the famous Bildungsroman blog

  • Jen, the multi-talented, left-and-right brained powerhouse behind Jen's Book Page

  • Jackie, the epitome of an enthusiastic and knowledgeable librarian who writes InteractiveReader

  • Miss Erin, the youngest Cybils' judge and author of her much-read and much-respected blog.

  • Alexia, an avid teen reader, Little Willow protege (which makes her instantly cool in our book) and brand-new blogger

So, I'm ridiculously excited to be involved with this, and with these other fantastic girlz.

Sing, chickadee.

Caridad Ferrer
's Adios to My Old Life is a finalist for two RITA Awards. These awards are definitely not my area of supposed expertise, but I'm happy to see that fun teen lit is finding a home among adults as well.

It's funny. I wouldn't have even thought of this as a romance. Not really. Yeah, there's a love interest, but that wasn't the point of the book. Not at all. The boy didn't have to be there, and Ali would have been just fine in the end (not that we don't like the boy - we totally do).

Ali Montero lives to perform. She's only truly herself when playing her beloved guitar and singing. So when the Spanish version of American Idol comes to town looking for contestants, Ali sneaks behind her father's back to audition. There's no way she going to make it in, right, so no harm and she gets some experience. Of course, under the life-long tutelage of her music professor father, Ali is far better than she knows. She gets on to the reality show and is plunged into a surreal world of tv, stylists, fame, jealousy, competition and backstabbing.

This, like The Pursuit of Happiness, isn't just a book about becoming famous, or reality tv (or with Pursuit, death). It's about family, and working hard, and growing up. It's about staying true to yourself when you have every reason not to. It's about finding out exactly who the 'you' is to stay true to.

Ok, I'm never going to roll my eyes at MTV Books again. It's really Simon & Schuster, anyway. That's two great books, and TadMack says that there's a third.

Having been so embraced by the romance world there are a plethora of other reviews out there. Here are just a few:
I don't know who Darla is, but I love her as much as she loved Adios.
Amy Garvey has a fantastic interview with Ferrer that includes the author's reaction to the RITA news.
Dee & dee have an incredibly in-depth two part review.
Not to overlook reviews by Cybil-sisters Mindy and TadMack.

Also find Ferrer on MySpace.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The declaration of whatnow?

So here I am, expectations lowered to non-existent because before me is a MTV Books title. MTV? And it's called The Pursuit of Happiness? Who's Tara Altebrando?

Betsy's working at one of those re-enactment villages weighed down in the heat of summer by too many layers of period clothing. She's stuck working with a goth freak from school, and if that doesn't sound bad enough, her mother dies of breast cancer. Then her boyfriend gets flaky and her friends don't quite know how to talk to her anymore. Turns out the goth freak and that cute Princeton bound carpenter may be the only friends she has in a time she needs them most, now that the itchy costumes of the past become a refuge from her present.

I was shocked. Shocked, I tell you, about how good this was. Now, I admitted to having zero expectations from it, but even then it exceeded what would have been normal expectations. Every thread was tied up nicely so nicely in the end. It was refreshing. I didn't put together one little revealing element until the last page out of shear obliviousness, but it turned out to be a lovely varnishing theme to the novel.

Ok, now that I've convinced you that I really did enjoy this, I'm going to be frank about one element. Carpenter Boy (er...James) has got a girlfriend who is severely depressed. I've been around depressed people, and I understand aspects of Carpenter Boy's situation. I'm by no means an expert, but I had some issues with some of the things surrounding that plot line. Especially Betsy's interaction near the end.

Sara mentions that she'd give this title to fans of Sarah Dessen, and I think that she's right on with that one. It will work for fans of A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life and Cures for Heartbreak as well.

(Yes, Sarah B, this means you ought to read it.)

You can do the MySpace thing with Altebrando, too.

Like, maybe an hour?

It's only appropriate that the first book I do in April is a novel with verse passages, right?

All of the following is terribly spoileriffic, so you may just want to skip on over to LW's far safer review.

BJ and Alex have been best friends since fifth grade. They share almost everything with each other, but both are finding out that sometimes we need more than just our best friend's acceptance. BJ, long ridiculed for the port-wine stain on her face, has discovered new friends in a couple popular girls and Alex is struggling with his sexuality, and has found a comrade in that.

Told in both voices, BJ's in prose and Alex's in poetry, it's an extremely quick read. The only thing that bothered me was that all through we only hear Alex's voice through the poetry of his journal. The last section is supposedly in his mind, but there is no change of format, and I find it hard to believe that he would think in poetry, especially at the end. But whatever. It was still a good read.

I had a conversation with one of my oldest friends last summer. We were talking about gay rights (you know, what they used to call civil rights), and how he would never choose to be gay. He even wishes that he weren't, simply because, even though he's very much in love with his boyfriend, it can be a hard, stigmatized life. But he is who he is, and he isn't going to hide to make other people feel better. So, pages 175-6 meant something to me.

I Don't Want to Be

David and I
in my garage.

For a long time,
we just sit quietly.

And the I say,
"Everyone knows now.
My life is over."

David says,
"You're wrong.
You're life is just starting.
Now you can be you,
and you don't have to
pretend anymore."

"But I don't want to be gay," I say.

"No one wants to be gay.
It's just the way some of us were made.
We have to learn.
To deal with it the best we can."

He puts his arm around my shoulder
and hugs me, like a real friend would.
He sits with me, silent and lest me cry
about something he understands.

I stay in his arms,
and let the walls
I built around me

Take a gander at:

Liz's interview with the author.
Jen's review.
LW's review.