Friday, April 17, 2015

This Week on Book Riot

Over at Book Riot this week...

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

2015 YA Novels in Verse: A Book List

Every April I like to do a big round-up of novels in verse. It's a format I enjoy quite a bit, and I tend to pick up as many verse novels as possible.

Back in 2013, I wrote a genre guide to verse novels for those who want to become more acquainted with it, as well as some standout titles in the format. I updated it a little bit last year with this roundup of 2014 novels in verse, and earlier this month, I talked about verse and how it's a subversive form (and feminist as such) as part of Emma's "Poetically Speaking" series.

Let's take a look at the YA books out in 2015 that fall under the category of verse novels. Some of these are written entirely in the format, and others interweave verse into more traditional prose. All descriptions are from WorldCat, and if I've missed any from traditional publishers, let me know in the comments.

Audacity by Melanie Crowder (available now): A historical fiction novel in verse detailing the life of Clara Lemlich and her struggle for women's labor rights in the early 20th century in New York.

All We Have Is Now by Lisa Schroeder (July 28): Since she ran away from home Emerson has been living on the streets of Portland, relying on her wits and her friend Vince to get by, but as a meteor approaches North America they meet Carl, who tells them he has been granting people's wishes--so what will they do if this is their last day on Earth, and, more important, what will they do if it is not?


One by Sarah Crossan (September 15): Despite problems at home, sixteen-year-old conjoined twins Tippi and Grace are loving going to school for the first time and making real friends when they learn that a cardiac problem will force them to have separation surgery, which they have never before considered.

Skyscraping by Cordelia Jensen (June 2): In 1993 in New York City, high school senior Mira uncovers many secrets, including that her father has a male lover.


A Heart Like Ringo Starr by Linda Oatman High (available now): Her family runs Stevens Brothers Funeral Home. Which is ironic, since Faith Hope Stevens is not long for this world. Unless someone dies. Unless there is a match. Staying alive will mean a heart transplant. Faith copes with wit and nerve. She's also a little pissed off. She will never grow old. She will never have a boyfriend. Then one shocking day everything changes. 

The Lost Marble Notebook of Forgotten Girl & Random Boy by Marie Jaskulka (available now): Forgotten Girl, a fifteen-year-old poet, is going through the most difficult time of her life--the breakup of her parents, and her mom's resulting depression--when she meets Random Boy, a hot guy who, like her, feels like an outcast and secretly writes poetry to deal with everything going on in his life. In The Lost Marble Notebook of Forgotten Girl & Random Boy, the couple's poems come together to tell their unique love story. The two nameless teenagers come from opposite sides of the tracks, yet they find understanding in each other when they lay bare their life stories through the poetry they write and share with each other. Through verse, they document the power of first kisses, the joy of finally having someone on their side, the devastation of jealousy, and the heartbreaking sadness of what each of them is simultaneously dealing with at home and hiding from the world. Finally they have someone to tell and somewhere to tell it in their marble notebook. This is the powerful story of two imperfect teens in first love who find solace in poetry.


5 to 1 by Holly Bodger (May 12): In a dystopian future where gender selection has led to girls outnumbering boys 5 to 1 marriage is arranged based on a series of tests. It's Sudasa's turn to pick a husband through this 'fair' method, but she's not sure she wants to be a part of it. 

Traffick by Ellen Hopkins (November 3): Five teenagers struggle to find their way out of prostitution. Sequel to Tricks


Dating Down by Stefanie Lyons (available now): Seventeen-year-old aspiring artist Samantha Henderson, eager to learn about life and to get away from her father's political campaigns and her stepmother, refuses to give up on her new boyfriend, "X," even after he proves to be trouble, damaging her friendships and introducing her to drugs.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Graphic Novel Roundup

Fables vol. 20: Camelot by Bill Willingham
I feel like the shine has worn off the Fables story somewhat. After the main story with the Adversary was resolved, new antagonist Mister Dark carried the Fables crew through several more successful issues. But since the defeat of Mister Dark, the series has been floundering. In volume 19, Willingham killed off Bigby and left Snow White trapped in a castle. This volume does precious little to move that along (Snow White isn't seen except in flashbacks). Fables characters who die aren't ever dead permanently, so there's some spellcasting on the part of the other Fables to bring him back, but I can't say I was terribly interested. The Camelot of the title references Rose Red's wish to help rebuild by rebooting the Camelot concept - you know, because it worked so well last time. For a reader who was obsessed with Arthurian legend as a teen, this held surprisingly little interest for me. Not much seemed to happen - a few subplots but nothing terribly exciting - and I'm still annoyed at what was done to Snow in volume 19 anyway. Both volumes 19 and 20 seem to undo a lot of the character growth done in previous issues, and certain parts of 20 hint at even further undoing in future installments.

The art is, as always, gorgeous, remaining one of my favorites among comics. The cover art in particular is stunning, whether it's James Jean in previous volumes or Daniel Dos Santos on this one. Fables has a set end date with collected volume 22 later this year. Fables as its worst is still better than a lot of the other stuff out there (and this volume isn't bad per se), so I'm sure I'll keep reading until the end. I hope it can go out on a high note. We'll see.

Gotham Academy by Becky Cloonan (issues 1-6)
This relatively new comic is about Gotham Academy (bet you didn't see that coming), a prep school for the elite kids of Gotham. It differs from a lot of other comics focused on Gotham because the characters most people know are only peripheral (Bruce Wayne is a benefactor of the school and drops by occasionally, but it's only a cameo). The book's main characters are the school's students, mainly Olive, who has a hole in her memory and whose mother is in an institution; and Maps, a younger kid obsessed with maps (hence the nickname) who becomes Olive's sidekick.

Strange things go on in the school and Olive, Maps, and a group of other quirky kids and teens investigate. Some of the things have to do with Olive and her inability to remember parts of her past, and this storyline makes up the main plot of the first six issues. This is a fun comic with a lot of humor and great Easter eggs for DC readers, though it's also perfectly accessible to people who haven't read much (or any) DC - like myself. It was recommended to me by someone with more knowledge of comics who also knows my love of heist stories and mysteries featuring teenagers (my boyfriend), and his recommendation was spot on. The art is clear, detailed, and moody, making significant use of light and shadow, perfect for a mysterious old school with secrets in its bones. Issues 1-6 comprise the first collected volume, which will be published June 17. I'd easily recommend it for comics-loving tweens and teens.

Personal copies.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright

I rarely read nonfiction, but Lawrence Wright’s book on Scientology exerted a pull on me. There’s a Scientology center rather prominently located on the main drag at the University of Texas, where I obtained my library degree, and I’ve been fascinated by its unique position within the American religious landscape since I first heard about e-meters and stress tests (not to mention the gossip surrounding Tom Cruise and his paramours).

Wright’s book is a deep dive into Scientology, one that that chronicles both the life of its founder, L. Ron Hubbard, from his childhood onward as well as the religion’s character in the 21st century. It’s long, dense, and very detailed. It’s different from a lot of nonfiction that I generally gravitate toward in that it doesn’t have much of a thesis. There’s analysis here, but it’s mostly relegated to the epilogue, which I found the most compelling. Most of the book is simply a chronicle of events, very journalistic, without a lot of conclusions drawn (though perspectives of many people with divergent views are included). There’s not a lot of authorial voice. I wouldn’t call this a weakness; it’s just a different style from which I’m accustomed.

Those looking for the salacious details regarding the church’s treatment of its celebrities won’t be disappointed (Wright writes at length about Scientology’s interview process for Tom Cruise’s girlfriends). But there’s a much darker underbelly to the church, one that I was mostly unaware of going into the book. Wright chronicles the physical abuse sustained by members of the church who had broken one of its tenets or simply pissed off one of its leaders, the organized system of punishment called RPF (where penitents spend years doing manual labor for a couple of dollars a week and aren’t allowed to leave), the method of brainwashing children by deliberately keeping them from their families, and the threats and intimidation exerted upon those who leave. Perhaps most stomach-churning are the revelations into L. Ron Hubbard, who routinely beat his wife and subsequently kidnapped his daughter when his wife threatened to leave him, telling her he had their child killed. The book is a damning portrait of Hubbard, his creation, and those who lead the church today (including David Miscavige).

Wright’s sources are almost entirely those who have left the church (and he talked to over 200 people), though he did give the church the opportunity to rebut the statements given by these former adherents, which are mostly relegated to footnotes that simply state “The church denies these allegations.” The amount of evidence against the church is so overwhelming that it’s difficult to take these blanket denials seriously.

Many people of faith object to Scientology being classified as a religion, and Wright touches upon its fight to be called one (mainly via the IRS giving it tax-exempt status, which is the only official way religions are defined in the United States). The arguments for and against are equally compelling. The RPF, for instance, is brutal to outsiders, but those “on the RPF” routinely state that they wish to be there and can leave if they choose to. Wright draws a comparison between it and some Catholic sects, whose adherents willingly undergo severe physical deprivation. While it may be easy for non-Scientologist readers to state what is harmful about Scientology, it’s much more difficult to simply write it off as a cult with a larger-than-usual following and a weirder-than-usual belief system.

I listened to this one on audio, read by Morton Sellers, and he does it quite well, in a solemn, even tone. I appreciate that Sellers reads all of the footnotes, which he sets apart by stating “Footnote” and then “End footnote.” I did find it amusing that he read off all web addresses that began with “http://” as “aitch tee tee pee colon forward slash forward slash.”

Compared with the book, the HBO documentary that aired a couple weeks ago is light on content, despite its run time of two hours. I enjoyed seeing the faces and hearing the voices of those Wright wrote about in his book; it definitely adds another level to their stories. If you enjoyed the documentary or found it enlightening, I highly recommend getting hold of the book. It paints a much fuller, and even more alarming, picture.

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Monday, April 13, 2015

How Do You Keep Track of YA Book Releases?: A Resource Guide

A popular question I get in my inbox or on social media from people is how I find and keep track of book releases. I thought rather than keep answering that question, I'd write about it so more people can keep tabs on upcoming YA releases. My method isn't perfect and it's not consistent, but I can offer the wheres and leave the hows up to how they work best for you.

There are three main sources from which I collect YA release date information: publisher catalogs, YA Lit/Bloggers/Goodreads, and Tumblr. There are a couple of other places I peruse, as well, which I'll note at the end.

Publisher Catalogs

I spend a little time every single week going to Edelweiss. From there, I look at the center column to see what the most recently added catalogs are. If there's a catalog from a publisher I like to peruse, I'll make note and spend a little time with it when I can allot an hour or so.

It's really easy to remember the big five publishers, and all of them -- Hachette, Macmillain, Simon & Schuster, Penguin/Random House, and Harper Collins -- are on Edelweiss. They each do a good job of separating out their children's catalogs from their general and adult catalogs. Generally, though not always, the catalogs come out during three seasons: winter, summer, and fall. Some of those publishers do four catalogs, one for each season, and some do a spring catalog instead of a winter. They tend to come out about six months in advance, if not more. That means, I can look at Fall 2015 catalogs now for most of these publishers and it probably won't be too long until Winter/Spring 2016 catalogs hit.

Mid-size publishers are recognizable on Edelweiss, too, though they're not all there. Publishers like Scholastic are easy to find, as are Abrams, Candlewick, Chronicle, Disney, and Sourcebooks. Smaller publishers, those which are ensconced within bigger houses, can be more difficult to find because you have to know the name of the bigger house. For example, Carolrhoda LAB books are found in the Lerner catalog, Algonquin Young Reader books are found in the Workman Press catalog, and sometimes Harlequin Teen is within Harlequin. I find the Harlequin catalogs very difficult to figure out on Edelweiss, so I tend to instead go to their website and do a search there.

Not all publishers are on Edelweiss, so I know that I will have to do some searching elsewhere. Amazon publishing, Switch Press, and Flux, for example, don't have a presence on Edelweiss, so I have to go to their sites specifically to look. Flux, I should note, is finally getting onto Edelweiss, but I still like to cross check.

Edelweiss catalog use is a time investment, but I am okay spending the bulk of my research time here. I can, as noted in the link above explaining Edelweiss, be efficient in my searching by release date or keywords. That makes an hour or two there not feel overwhelming. Likewise, I find looking at the available digital review copies helpful, too. But that's more for immediate information rather than long-term planning.

YA Lit/Bloggers/Goodreads

One of the best non-publisher resources, one that I tell every single person to keep tabs on, is YA Lit. Kari and Stefan have been running this site since 2006, and it's a straight up compilation of YA books by release dates, with links to appropriate retailers. You can see upcoming releases for a few months ahead of time, as well as look through already-published titles. It's that simple and straightforward. Since it's curated by a librarian, I trust the information being correct. If I had to direct general readers to one place for book release information or those who have little time but want to stay ahead of the game, it would be YA Lit.

I don't read as many blogs as I used to and a number of blogs I used to read aren't running any longer. But there are still a few that do excellent round-ups of books that they're excited about and looking forward to. The Book Smugglers do this in their weekly "On the Radar" feature and Leila at Bookshelves of Doom does this through her "By The Catalog" posts, her "New Books" posts, as well as her previews over on Kirkus.

I don't tend to use a lot of Goodreads lists, since they're crowdsourced and people don't tend to keep them well managed, but I do peruse the 2015 YA books lists periodically. This is especially useful for smaller press books AND for being conscious of what books look like they're going to be extremely popular. There's also a nice list of diverse YA/MG titles out in 2015 and debut 2015 YA novels (though sometimes this one in particular isn't always correct).


I love Tumblr's book lists. There are some really solid ones, and there are some that come out each and every week. Though I often know about the books from the publisher's catalogs, these do tend to fill in some holes or cover some titles I miss. And what's great about Tumblr is I can share the lists easily and return to them when I need to do some research.

Two of the best Tumblrs for book lists: Paperbacked's monthly new releases post andRich in Color's weekly roundup of new diverse books being released. I read a ton of other Tumblrs too, including Diversity in YA and Disability in Kid Lit, though they don't tend to offer up regular new/upcoming books features.

Another really solid Tumblr is the Pickerington Public Library, which regularly does reader's advisory for brand new or upcoming YA titles, which helps me sometimes place who a book might be for before I've even read it. They do some excellent graphic reader's advisory, too, with flow charts and read alikes.

Other Resources

A few other resources I take advantage of, but to a much lesser extent, include trade reviews and the handful of debut novelist websites.

I don't tend to love trade reviews. They're often reviewing things I know about already or that are already published, though not always. I like to peruse Kirkus in particular, in part because I love the honesty of the reviews (though I sometimes think they love and pan the same authors/styles over and over) but more, they're reviewing well in advance of publication. They pick up on a lot of mid size and smaller presses I might otherwise miss. You can read the reviews by those recently posted, those which have the books out already, or those books which are coming soon. That ease of navigation works for me.

For monthly debut YA novel roundups here at Stacked, alongside the other tools above, I make sure to check the Fearless Fifteeners site and the Class 2K15 site. I use their author profile/book links on site, then I do a search by month. As a side note: if you run a site like this, either now or in the future, the best thing you can offer to those who aren't insiders is a way to quickly find relevant information about publication dates. I've seen sites in the past where the publication dates haven't been easy to find and I don't spend time trying to figure it out. This is my last stop, so by this point, I'm only picking up what I've missed and double checking what I've got.

Once in a great while, I do look at the previews on Amazon or Barnes & Noble, but since those tend to be the biggest books of the season or are paid for by publishers, I generally already know about those books.

How I Organize Information

I have a really good memory for book titles, release dates, and especially covers. So when I read catalogs or blogs or reviews, I'm able to make mental notes that get them on my mind well enough. Things I am personally really looking forward to reading or that I think I might forget I tend to pop onto Goodreads in my "to read" shelf.

When I know I'm going to write something specific relating to book releases, such as a big roundup on Book Riot or the monthly "on the radar" posts here, I write book titles, authors, and month of release down (see the photo above). Usually it's in a notebook dedicated to my notes about books or reading, and sometimes, I'll open up either a draft email or a draft blog post and take notes. Sometimes, perusing catalogs leads me to seeing a thematic trend, and I note those things down, too, to think about later. Since migrating from post-it notes to using a bullet journal for my day-to-day planning, I've made use of one specific notebook for taking these notes and returning to them at a later date to think about.

I know of folks who use spreadsheets to track book releases, particularly when it comes to the books they're receiving from publishers. I tried to do this, but I found it overwhelming and ineffective for me. It would take me more time to do that than it would to do research when I can dedicate time to it and it keeps me from actually reading the books.

So what about you? Do you have any sources you frequent when organizing information about upcoming YA releases? Anything I should know about?

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Friday, April 10, 2015

Recently on Book Riot and Elsewhere

It's been a few weeks since I did a round-up of my writing at Book Riot. I'll pop them all together right here, along with a link to a guest post I wrote this week for Emma at Miss Print.

  • As part of Emma's awesome "Poetically Speaking" series (which you should read all of!), I wrote about how women have used verse subversively and talk about YA novels in verse featuring female characters/written by women. 

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Thursday, April 9, 2015

2 Recent YA Titles on Sexual and Gender Identity: None of the Above and Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda

I've read two books recently that tackle some element of gender or sexual identity. Since I'm still not entirely on in terms of wanting to write in-depth reviews -- partially because I've been reading a lot lately and want to keep up with that pace and partially because writing reviews feels like a risk more than a reward -- I thought I'd talk briefly about both, with their strengths and weaknesses. Both of these books are available now, having released earlier this week.

Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Let's start with a lighter-hearted YA novel about a gay boy who is trying to figure out who spilled the beans about his sexuality. Well, almost spilled the beans -- someone knows he's gay, but since he's not out, he's paranoid about who it is who knows the truth and what that person may or may not do with it.

The romance that builds between Simon and Blue, the boy who he's been in an email relationship with, is really sweet and well-drawn. It grows at a realistic pace, and I love the way we're able to see into the way they begin trusting one another and sharing pieces of their day-to-day as well as bigger wants in life.

There's drama in this one, but it doesn't feel manufactured. Simon is playing the role of wingman to one of his classmates in order to try to keep his sexuality under wraps (he's convinced he knows who knows and this is one way of staying on top of it). There's a nice thread throughout this one about friendship and how friendships can shift and change. Simon isn't a perfect guy, and even though he's finding himself in a tough spot, he's also putting some of his closest friends in a hard place, too: he's spent less and less time with them as he's become somewhat self-involved.

The one drawback for me as a reader, which will likely not bother teen readers, was that some of the middle sagged a bit. While it was well-written and at times witty (this is a charming book all around), I found the high school friendship/relationship challenges a little drawn out for me. I'd have liked it a tiny bit tighter. However, I'd recommend this one without hesitation, and I think teens, especially gay teens, will love seeing a story like this. Simon's parents are noteworthy, too -- in fact, they might be some of my favorite YA parents in a long time. It's worth noting, too, coming out is a part of this story.

This is a debut that makes me eager for Albertalli's next title.

None of the Above by I. W. Gregorio

Were this book out when I was a teenager, I would have eaten it up. Even as an adult, this was a hard one to put down because it was so fascinating.

When Krissy and her boyfriend try having sex for the first time, it hurts. And it's more than a first-time-having-sex kind of pain. Since Krissy's mother isn't around, she doesn't have another woman she can talk to this about, so she seeks out the help of one of her female friends, who recommends she seek a gynecologist. It's at the appointment where Krissy learns that she's not a female; rather, she's intersex -- she has a vulva and vagina, but she lacks a female reproductive system and instead has internal testicles. She's 18, so her medical access alone makes sense, but her father does learn about her condition and it's then she's left to make the choice about whether to have surgery to remove her testicles or not.

There's more than the diagnosis, though. The pitch for this book is Middlesex meets Mean Girls. It's the Mean Girls part that ramps up the drama in this title -- Kristin thinks she can trust her friends with her diagnosis, but it turns out that someone spilled and she's become not just a laughing stock at school, but she's bullied. Her boyfriend feels utterly betrayed, and he calls it off with her. Even later, when she's able to try to talk to him alone, outside of school, he's still reluctant to accept her as she is.

This is a book about how people can be cruel and unaccepting of those who don't fit into neat societal boxes. Gregorio's book isn't afraid to be feminist, and readers who pick this up will likely be fascinated by intersex individuals. I stopped numerous times to do a little research, and Gregorio weaves in the stories of other intersex people through Krissy's connections via an online listserv and an in-person meeting with another person.

The writing reads like it's from the voice of an 18-year-old girl, which at times doesn't come off as fluid or outstanding as it could. But this isn't a book readers will seek out for killer writing; this one is about character and about the story we rarely, if ever, see or hear. This is a must-add to collections.

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