Sunday, May 31, 2009

A New Look!

Many of you may have noticed that there's something different about the site. We now have an official banner and logo! Fancy.

We're indebted to Ryan Chaffee for his artistic talents. He spent a long time coming up with different ideas, crazy color schemes, and possible layouts for the banner. He even put up with Jennifer's constant prodding about his progress -- and despite all of this hassle, Ryan asked for only one thing in payment... a hamburger.

At Stacked, we want to heartily applaud Ryan. And we promise, it will be an amazing burger. We'll even pitch in for a good beer or two.

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I'm announcing random number #2 and #10 as the winners of the After the Moment giveaway (yes, I used a real random generator). So, that means....

#2...Nancy Pearl WannaBe has won a copy of After the Moment plus a book in their preferred genre


#10...Carlene has won a book in their preferred genre.

To claim your prize, please email with 2-3 preferred genre choices. If I don't hear from you by Friday, another winner will be selected.

Thanks for the turnout, all. Keep your eyes peeled for more giveaways soon.

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Friday, May 29, 2009

Double Take, Part IV

This one just handed itself to me!

First, Dirty Laundry by Daniel Ehrenhaft, published December 30, 2008 by HarperTeen. This book follows the fledgling actress Carli as she prepares for her new role as a boarding school student and leaves her family and friends behind. Of course, she meets interesting characters in her new life and that leads to a number of interesting adventures. The story's told through shifting narrators.'s the double take:

Cracked up to Be by Courtney Summers was published just a week before Dirty Laundry, on December 23, 2008 by St. Martin's Griffin. The story follows Parker Fadley as she becomes secluded after a horrible event has left her feeling bad about herself. Although the description doesn't give away a whole lot, it sounds a bit reminiscent of Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak.

Cover-wise, both fit the story descriptions. They're a little bit different, but again, being published a week apart from one another and with such similar covers, it'll be hard for either to stand out on their own. Both covers feature the girl in her school uniform lying down (with her head to the left) and both feature a stack of books on her stomach. The cover for Dirty Laundry, however, doesn't showcase the girl's head or face at all and instead features her feet and shoes. The uniforms on both covers are different, even though they feature the same style of a plaid skirt, polo shirt, and cardigan.

So ... which one did it better?

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Blast from the Past!

Did you have a favorite book or series from your youth you sometimes think about rereading? Well, if you're like me and were enamored with The Babysitters Club right down to owning the movies and the board game, then you're in luck. Not only are you in luck, but you'll get to experience it in an entirely new way.

Scholastic has begun republishing the series as graphic novels. Although I am definitely biased and prefer the traditional text series, I think this is such a cool idea. Not only will it appeal to a new generation of girl readers who may otherwise find a lot of The Babysitters Club "old" (much like I did with The Bobbsey Twins), but it will definitely be a great series for those of us 80s and 90s kids who grew up with Kristy, Mallory, Claudia, and the rest of the gang.

You can preview the first few books here. Not only can you preview them, you can also partake in the quizzes to find out which babysitter you are (I'm Kristy). I'm kind of sad my favorite sitter, Abby, has yet to make the cut here. I'll also confess here that one of the reasons I'm still fascinated with the series is that Ann M. Martin was indeed the first author I ever met (my mother let me miss a couple of hours of school to go see her in person back in 2nd grade!).

And if The Babysitters Club isn't enough excitement for you, then hold your horses for this one. The Boxcar Children series -- you know, the kids who solve mysteries -- turns SIXTY years old. What better way to celebrate than to see the books being rereleased for a new reading audience to celebrate its inception more than half a century ago (WOAH!). You can check out the website here for more Boxcar Children fun.

Do you have a favorite series from your youth you'd love to see make a reappearance? I think it's great that youth reading has gotten so good lately through not only strong promotion but through strong and interesting writers and stories. I'm just as excited to see these old staples of my childhood reappear, either in their traditional sense or remixed.

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Once Upon a Time in the North, by Philip Pullman

I've mentioned before how much I love Philip Pullman and his trilogy His Dark Materials, so it comes as no surprise that I went into reading Once Upon a Time in the North knowing that I would love it. A few years ago, Pullman published a little red volume called Lyra's Oxford, a companion to the trilogy that told a short story about Lyra set a few years after the events of the last book took place. Once Upon a Time in the North is a similar companion book, a little blue volume that tells a sort of prequel to the famous trilogy, focusing upon Lee Scoresby (the aeronaut from the country of Texas - Mr. Pullman knows how to flatter us Texans!) and how he came to befriend the great armored bear, Iorek Byrnison. The story is essentially an adventure tale about a corrupt politician, a greedy oilman, a seedy bar, a few hired killers, two pretty but very different ladies, and the cowboy who gets embroiled in it all. It has a distinctive Old West flavor (despite being set in the far, frigid North) and is written with the considerable level of skill I've come to expect from Pullman. This book is a treat for fans of His Dark Materials, who finally get to see how two of the most pivotal characters met each other. It's also heartwrenching at one point, when Pullman makes reference to an event that will happen much, much later.

The story is only about a hundred pages, so naturally it left me wanting more. Still, it was a good way to tide me over until The Book of Dust is published (hopefully sometime before I die), and I've read there will be a third little green volume that tells Will's story.

While I love audiobooks, listening to these books on CD would be unconscionable. Once Upon a Time in the North is a beautifully-made book, and it's chock full of "extras" that require hands-on reading. Aside from the short story, the reader is also treated to two letters from Lyra concerning her doctoral dissertation, snippets from a manual on aeronautics, beautiful woodcuts by John Lawrence, and an honest-to-goodness board game in a pocket at the back, which I am going to coerce someone to play with me very soon. It has thick, high-quality paper and is all wrapped up in a beautiful cloth cover. It's a perfect complement to Lyra's Oxford, which contains similar extras, including woodcuts by Lawrence and a postcard from Mary Malone. Instead of a board game, the story about Lyra features a beautiful fold-out map of the alternate universe Oxford in which Lyra lives (pictured to the right). I have always loved the tactile feel of a book, but these volumes take my love to another level.

I'm interested to see how libraries deal with books such as these. At the library where I work, the copy of Lyra's Oxford includes the fold-out map, but the copy of Once Upon a Time in the North does not include the board game. My local library, on the other hand, retains the board game as well as the map for patrons. I haven't been able to get my hands on the library copy, so I don't know if all the pieces in the game are still there or if the map has been torn.

I've always loved the extras that books sometimes have. When I was very into epic fantasy as a teenager, I'd pick the book with the map on the endpages over the book without the map every time. I especially loved it when the author's world was so intricate and detailed, it merited a glossary at the back. Is there a particular book you've read where the extras really enhanced your enjoyment? How does your library handle books with easily torn components or parts that are easily stolen/lost?

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GIVEAWAY reminder!

Just a reminder that you have ONE WEEK LEFT to enter our giveaway. I will indeed be selecting 2 winners -- the first winner will receive After the Moment along with a book in their preferred genre and the second will win one book in their preferred genre. There are only 10 entries so far, so your chances of winning are good! You can comment here or on the other post following the rules.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Why covers matter

Although we've all heard the adage that you shouldn't judge a book on its cover, I beg to disagree. I think that the cover is indeed an important attribute to a book and that you will judge it before reading it. Obviously, some covers will tell you more and some will tell you less (or nothing, as is the case with hard cover books missing their jackets). And not only do you judge the book, other people who may see you reading judge the book, too.

This isn't something I thought about too much before taking my young adult materials course. We were reading Judy Blume's Forever . . . which is one of those "classic" titles of teendom. Within my class of about 11 people, the currently available copy of book had three covers, and each of these covers portrayed something entirely different about the book.

The first:

What does this cover suggest? To me, it's reminiscent of many titles currently on the market. It reminds me a lot of the Sarah Dessen or the Jennifer Weiner covers in particular. Sweet with a definite bent for teens or young adults. When I shuffled through the used books at the bookstore, this was the copy I chose because it was most appealing to me (and as I found out, probably most relevant to the story itself).

The second:

This one's pretty basic as well. It's very similar to the recent cover from Sarah Dessen's Lock and Key (seen here). The cover doesn't tell you much about the story, but it's also discrete enough to carry around anywhere and no one will really know what sort of book you are reading. The first cover, on the other hand, definitely looks like it's a teen book or a book for the younger 20-something crowd. This one could scream romance, I suppose, but since there are no pictures of people or places, it isn't too obvious. Moreover, the benefit of a cover like this is that it allows the reader to imagine everything for themselves; the publisher hasn't given us an idea of what the main character looks like. The downfall, however, is that the book's physical appearance isn't memorable.

The third:

What says steamy romance more than the trade paperback size, red cover, and envelope with a lipstick kiss? Talk about a totally different message than the first book cover; in fact, this cover screams everything that the first cover doesn't -- this isn't a sweet romance but rather a hot and heavy lust-driven book. Obviously, that sort of cover appeals to an entirely different audience than the first, even though the book is the same. It seems to me that inevitably, one group of readers will be disappointed to discover that it's not what they were lead to believe it is based on the cover.

The cover images, the font (notice the first doesn't capitalize Blume's name and the second uses a teen-ish style), and even the size of the book really do impact the reader's sense of the story. Notice, too, how a cover often changes when the book goes from its first release in hard back to its second life as a paperback. I would love to ask people who read books that have different covers what impact that had on their reading.

I'm willing to bet that readers of Forever . . . see and appreciate the value all three covers have. For some readers, the story really can be a steamy romance like the third cover suggests while for others, it's a sweet story like the first portrays. But which do you think that people would feel most comfortable checking out from the library? Bringing to a busy lunch room on break? Reading on the train? What do YOU prefer when it comes to a cover?


Janssen has convinced me that it would also be worth including these two covers still readily available at the library:

This one just looks very, very dated. I'm a big believer in the notion if the book's circulating and still on the shelves decades after it was published, it might be worth spending a few dollars to replace it with a more current look. It might seen an entirely new life, too. This particular cover just reminds me of those Lifetime movies that came out back in the early 90s.

And finally:

Really, this one's not out dated, but it does strike me as a book geared for adults more than teens.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

11 Birthdays, Wendy Mass

While Bill Murray may have been the star in the hit film Groundhog's Day, it is Amanda Ellerby and Leo Fitzpatrick who play the lead role in Wendy Mass's 11 Birthdays, which follows the two as they replay their 11th birthday over and over.

Amanda and Leo were born on the same day, just hours apart in a hospital in Willow Falls. Angelina D'Angelo, a woman who had lived in Willows Falls since the beginning of time, admired the two lovely babies as their parents first saw them in the infant room at the hospital. Angelina commented that she hoped those two would forever celebrate their birthdays together. And through a mix-up at a party location on year later, the tradition of Amanda and Leo celebrating their birthdays together began.

This happened regularly until their 10th birthday, when Leo made a comment that caused Amanda great anger. For a year, the two did not speak to one another. However, as their 11th birthdays begin, it will be a day that they relive over and over again -- and it is only the two of them who realize this is happening.

11 Birthdays is a story that is tied deeply in family history and local history. Although the story sounds fairly simple, there are great layers buried within the events. Each of the small pieces of the first instance of Amanda and Leo's birthdays ties in somehow to how they solve their mutual problems and come to each celebrate one of the best birthdays of their lives. It was enjoyable to see how each of them figured out what was going on when they kept waking up on their birthday, even after having celebrated it the day before; more enjoyable was the fact no one else around them seemed to have a clue what was going on.

11 Birthdays was much different than I initially expected, and it was much better than I anticipated. This is the second book by Wendy Mass I've read (the first being A Mango Shaped Space) and I found both of her books to be the same way -- the jacket description and initial impressions were far surpassed when the story concluded. In fact, when I began this book, I was frustrated with how unlike an 11-year-old Amanda felt, but as the story progressed, I couldn't help but think about how very much like an 11-year-old she really was. I thought the story as a whole was well-paced and did not kill the concept as it repeated itself. Each instance of reliving the day was unique and fresh, and I thought that the descriptions and scenarios were cute and silly enough without being over the top.

Without hesitation, I would give this book to girls 9-13 or so. It's a definite tween title, and I think that it will appeal to those who enjoy Mass's style. While reading it, I couldn't help but think that Amanda and this story reminded me of Lina from Diana Lopez's Confetti Girl -- another title that definitely falls into this realm of squeaky clean, humorous, but touching titles that meld realistic fiction with an element of imaginary play.

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Yay or Nay?

A friend of mine recently bought a "reading ring." Knowing that I'm an avid reader, she texted me about her purchase. But instead of being amazed, I was bewildered. A reading ring? Is this piece of related to a mood ring? Can it magnify text on the page?

Turns out, it's a device that helps you hold the pages of the book open with your thumb. I found a couple of versions online, and one store advertises, "... great for commuters, especially if they have to read standing up."

To me, it seems a bit strange. I can see how it would come in handy, especially when reading for an audience in storytimes. But I don't need another item to lose. I can barely keep up with important items!

What do you think? Could you use something like this? Or is it just more junk?

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Getting sidetracked

The title of this post was originally "In defense of romances." I am an unashamed lover of historical romances, and I planned on using this space to delve into the many wonderful things about them. So there I was, merrily surfing the web for the bits and pieces that would serve as my defense for the genre I love, when I got sidetracked. By this:

It's the book trailer for Julia Quinn's newest, What Happens in London, due out on June 30. I confess, I winced while watching it. Many words sprang to mind: cheesy, painful, embarrassing, funny. Where to start? The atrocious accent, the sepia-tone colors, the overly dramatic acting... I'll still read the book anyway, since I know and love Julia Quinn's writing (one of the few romance authors to garner a starred review from Publisher's Weekly), but this trailer wouldn't be the first thing I'd show to someone I was trying to convert to romance-reading. I can find it in my heart to love the trailer, much in the same way I love The Crawling Eye, but I can't honestly say it's any good.

I have a love-hate relationship with book trailers. Some of them are so well-done, even with minimal production resources, they make me want to run out and read the book immediately. Others...well, others make me want to say defensively, "Not all books are as lame as this trailer makes that one look!" Most books are decidedly un-lame, but you wouldn't know it judging by a lot of the trailers floating around on Youtube these days.

I think book trailers have a goal in common with this blog: to "entice non-readers to think about reading in fun and interesting ways." However, the quality of book trailers is so hit and miss that I wonder if they're any good at it. I get excited about many of the trailers, but I also get excited just by seeing the cover of a much-anticipated new book. (My reaction upon seeing Shannon Hale's newest book being given away at a conference: jumping up and down, literally.) Have people who aren't avid readers been hooked by a trailer, or has it merely made them giggle? Am I totally wrong about the trailer above, thinking it's terrible when it's actually completely awesome? Do I just need to learn how to have fun and stop expecting book trailers to rock my world like movie trailers sometimes do?

A post in defense of romances (particularly my favorite, historical romances) is coming soon...

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Typography and Reading

As a reader, I do take note of typography. While it doesn't necessarily make or break a book, it does directly impact the ease of which I can read a book. If you've never really paid attention, take a second to do so and then think back on those books that something just seemed not right.

Traditional design denotes that use of a serif font is the easiest on the eyes for reading -- those serifs help in defining a line moving the eye from letter to letter. You can't see the line, but it's there. Sans serif fonts, however, are smoother but do not help in defining a visual line for readers. They look more contemporary and are great for emphasis or for titles since they just stand out. I've read, too, that the sans serif is easier on the eyes digitally; I'm not sure simply because I haven't spent enough time reading longer text blocks on a screen to notice a difference.

Most books are printed with serif fonts, but I've noticed a trend lately in that more books are published with the sans serif font (perhaps something to do with the fact we're more accustomed to digital text which trends sans serif). It's been a tripping point in my reading, too: I find the books printed in sans serif harder to get through because they require more effort on my part to read, and they suffer from the challenge of being less able to define emphasis or tone through font shifts. An advantage of the serif font is the versatility in developing tone, character, or emphasis through use of the sans serif.

Here's an example. Justine Chen Headley's recent book North of Beautiful is set entirely in sans serif font. You can preview the first couple of pages here. Now, compare how you read that with how you can read the first few pages of Shooting the Moon by Frances O'Roark Dowell here. While the first one is definitely more aesthetically pleasing, I find the second much easier to read. My eyes can more easily glide across the lines, whereas in the first one, I have to spend more time on the process of moving my eyes. Sure, it's fractions of a second, but over the course of 300 pages, it makes a difference.

All of this is to say that I find this trend an interesting one and one that perhaps isn't entirely helpful to readers. What do you think? Do you have a preference for typography? I think it is definitely worth noting this and considering it as we read. It's not about the font choices, but it's important to think about typography and on how the reading experience was enhanced or hindered because of that choice.

You can read a bit more about typography as a design principle here. I'd love to hear your thoughts or experiences regarding the serif versus sans serif issue. I think there are beautiful fonts in both families and both have a place in a book; however, the use of the sans serif, I think, should be off-limits for the bulk of the body of text.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Because I Am Furniture, Thalia Chaltas

It's tough to find a book that takes on a challenging issue relevant to teens and manages to twist it from what could be a trite retelling to a new, imaginative, and fresh take. Thalia Chaltas in Because I Am Furniture is successful, though, in her story about an abusive father.

Because I Am Furniture is told in verse and follows Anke as she witnesses the physical, mental, verbal, and sexual abuse of her brother, mother, sister, and friend. Anke is spared nearly all of this abuse because she is space taker in the family, and that is all -- she is, as the title states, furniture in the family. Her father is an abuser and because of the fear that her family has in furthering his anger, they do not report him nor speak about the terror he causes. That is, until Anke witnesses a girl with whom she is friendly come under the power of her father's abuse. When Anke is told that nothing will stop her father, she knows that because of her role as the family furniture, she can use that as her power to change the family's situation for the better.

Imaginatively and creatively told through verse, Because I Am Furniture broaches many difficult teen topics from the perspective of an outsider. The verse enhances this perspective, as it is just descriptive enough and sparse enough to leave the reader wanting something to happen but ultimately understanding the feeling of helplessness. Chaltas is spot on in her storytelling, and she paces the story perfect. The book is a quick read, but it is not a fast enough read at the expense of the story and the emotion. This is the type of story that a reader will sit down with and go cover to cover with in one sitting.

Because I Am Furniture would be a fantastic companion novel for any of the novels about abuse or rape available, including Halse Anderson's Speak. What makes this book stand out from the crowd is not only its imaginative and thoughtful use of verse rather than traditional narrative style, but also the important lessons that can be learned from Anke, including the lessons she learns about the importance of all people in a family. This is the sort of book that will resonate with readers and could inspire them to better themselves by not being afraid of being who they are. Anke goes from furniture and accepting her lot as such to learning how important she is as an individual in all of the varied roles she plays in her life within and outside her family.

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Going, going... gone.

Theft is an unavoidable part of being a librarian. I'm amazed at the amount of material that I never see again after it hits the reading room floor. But theft also has its good points - popular items get stolen more (yes, this is an obvious statement). Consequently, I know what I need to buy more of during the next month's ordering process. This kind of loss is one of the better ways to judge trends in the community. At times, when I'm buying books, I feel like Sisyphus, rolling that boulder up the hill another day. But at least I know that I'm on the right track with my collection development by purchasing such desirable items.

I work at a busy urban branch in an economically depressed area of Los Angeles, so what's most stolen will not corroborate with branches in other cities. Hey, it doesn't even corroborate with our closest branches! As a disclaimer, this list was not scientifically compiled in any way. I have no real facts or figures. And despite how many times I ask, I don't have access to many statistics from the circulation system in our library. This post is just a collection of anecdotes and personal observations from fellow librarians and clerks. I can't count all of the torn covers we've found underneath computers or library bar code stickers balled up and tossed behind the magazine racks. These are some of the items that stand out.

Theft of Naruto has reached epic heights. The Young Adult librarian recently received an additional $2,000 as a prize for winning a competition. She had an amazing shopping spree at Borders, filling out all of the gaps in the Naruto collection. Within a few weeks, the Naruto books in the library were down to 6, despite the catalog showing over 35 books on the shelf.

Troubles for our YA librarian doesn't end at manga. She also buys skateboarding books, many of which grow legs and walk (skate?) out of the library on a regular basis. This particular volume has been missing since December of 2008. We have a huge skateboarding population; we desperately need more skating books, not to mention a proper skate park. Hopefully a park would also cut down on the number of patrons run over by the droves of kids practicing their tricks outside the entrance.

Evidently it's tough to read the future with only a three week loan period. This was the most recent addition to the tarot collection, but it's been missing since March of 2008. Unfortunate, especially because I get asked for tarot books on a regular basis.

People still love Tupac Shakur. He may have died over ten years ago, but he still captures the imagination of this community. We've "lost" countless hardcover versions of this book. Even last week, a messenger clerk found a torn cover from a paperback copy stuffed in between cookbooks.

Popular movies have high shrinkage figures, unsurprisingly. Around here, Tyler Perry, Wall-E, and big-budget action movies are the most popular. One of our clerks mentioned Batman Begins as a particularly notable case. It was put out on the shelf, and within the hour, it was gone. I guess Christian Bale has some rabid fans in South Los Angeles!

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Unreliable Narrators

I started listening to the next Amelia Peabody book - The Hippopotamus Pool - a few days ago. It started out a little differently than the previous books. Instead of Amelia diving right in to the narrative without much preamble, the "editor" of Mrs. Amelia Peabody Emerson's personal diaries sprinkled her own commentary via footnotes throughout a rather lengthy introduction by Mrs. Emerson herself that recounted the major events of the previous books. It served a dual purpose: catch the reader (or listener, as in my case) up to speed on the pertinent events of the previous books that would impact the events of the current one, and make us laugh. Take this passage:

Text: "The date of my birth is irrelevant. I did not truly exist until 1884, when I was in my late twenties."

Footnote: "This is not consistent with other sources. However, the editors were of the opinion it would be discourteous to question a lady's word."

The "other source" the editor refers to is in fact the first novel in the series, when Miss Peabody tells her readers that she is thirty-two years old in 1884. The editor points out other inconsistencies throughout the introduction, and they all made me grin. While I love Amelia all the more for it, it also made me wonder...exactly how much should I take her at her word? Is her dashing husband really all that dashing, or is he only dashing when seen through her eyes? (Isn't the latter much more romantic anyway?) It helps that the editor is voiced by Davina Porter, who is one of my top five favorite audiobook narrators.

A few other famous unreliable narrators include Dr. Sheppard from Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Briony Tallis from Ian McEwan's Atonement. I have varying levels of tolerance and appreciation for stories with unreliable - or outright dishonest - narrators, and it depends on the purpose of the character being written in such a way. With Amelia, it's done for comedic effect, and I love it. In Atonement, it seems as if Ian McEwan did it to make me cry (it worked). Oh, and to bring up all those fancy meta-fiction issues while he's at it. I thought it was brilliant, and it helped lessen my antagonistic feelings toward Briony. (I also thought the movie adaptation was just as good as the book, a quality that is very rare.) I can just imagine Dame Agatha patting herself on the back and grinning slyly when she first devised the events of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I'm still undecided on whether I believe what she did was a genius move or a dirty cheat. Then again, it can be argued that fiction needs to be related by a less than honest narrator in order for the fiction to be honest at all, another one of those true oxymorons.

If you're interested in reading books with a narrator who may not be entirely trustworthy, check out the three I've mentioned above and the few below:

Odd Thomas, by Dean Koontz
Odd Thomas (not short for Todd) is a twenty year old fry cook who sees dead people. It's much better and much less creepy than the Sixth Sense, and Odd as a narrator is engaging, likable, and honest - usually. In the first installment (it became so popular it blossomed into a series), Odd must stop some very bad men from perpetrating something horrible upon his small California town. Unless you have a cold cold heart, the ending will make you cry.

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, by Jon Scieszka
I outgrew picture books very early on in my reading life, but this is one that I returned to many times. Scieszka is just so clever with everything he writes. Here, Alexander T. Wolf sets the record straight - he was not an evildoer who huffed and puffed, he simply had a very bad cold. And the pigs were rude anyway. Telling classic stories from the point of view of the "bad guy" has always been popular, but no one has done it better than Scieszka.

The Banned and the Banished, by James Clemens
You probably haven't heard of this series. I don't blame you if you haven't - it's a fantasy that is typical of its genre, with a lot of magic, black-hearted villains, and young good-looking heroes. It's the kind of stuff that I just eat up. The editor prefaces each book with a notice that everything you will be reading is false, the author of the book is a traitor, and in order to even be allowed to read his/her lies, you must be an advanced scholar, put your thumbprint on the page, and swear to tell no one what you have read. It's up to you to determine which person - the editor or the author - is the unreliable one. This aspect of the series is what hooked me, although it tells a very entertaining story too.

While searching Goodreads and Librarything for books tagged as unreliable narrators, I came across James Frey's A Million Little Pieces. Two Librarything users had tagged this nonfiction book, now notorious for its falseness, as having an unreliable narrator. I suppose in the strictest meaning of the phrase, it's true. But there's a sense with fiction that it's okay for the writer to deceive us - it's not the writer who's doing the deceiving anyway, is it? The deceitful one is the narrator, who we all learn in grade school English classes is a separate entity from the author. So perhaps I should give Christie a free pass after all - Dr. Sheppard is the one who pulled the wool over my eyes.

What's your take? Do you like reading books with unreliable narrators, or would you prefer it if the narrator just told it to you straight? Did you want to strangle Christie after she so blatantly and inexcusably broke one of the primary rules of detective fiction? What are some other books with unreliable narrators that I should check out?

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Oxford Project, Stephen G. Bloom and Peter Feldstein

I won't lie: The Oxford Project appealed to me initially for two reasons. First, I heard about it because it received an Alex award from the American Library Association this year, and second, upon researching the title following that nugget of information, I found out it was set in a town about 30 minutes southwest from where I went to college.

Bloom and Feldstein's book is a non-fiction photographic exploration of one Iowa town over a generation. Feldstein began the project by taking photos of nearly all 600 residents in 1984. His goal was to capture each of them in their natural state -- no fancy clothes, no fancy make up. These photos were put on display in town and turned out to be quite a neat feature for the downtown area and its citizens. Once the exhibits were finished, Feldstein put the project to bed.

A two decades later, Feldstein thought it would be interesting to take their photos again, but this time also ask them about their lives: the good, the bad, the ugly, and the sweet. He and Bloom teamed up for this aspect, and both were incredibly surprised with how honest and forthcoming the citizens of Oxford would be with them.

The Oxford Project is a series of photographs, the original beside the new, as well as a series of vignettes that are a glipse into the lives of the individuals that make up one small town. The stories are raw and are both heartwarming and heartbreaking. There are similar threads running through many of the stories, including the value of working hard, the value of being a good person, and the regret for many who did not attend college (not surprising, as the University of Iowa is a mere 10 miles from Oxford).

This is a very unique book that gives great insight into humanity, into the way our lives change both by choice and by accident, and into how a city can become such a part of who we are as people. For a non-fiction book, this one is engaging because it is steeped heavily into the visual images of ordinary people. I think the American Library Association is spot on with this as an Alex winning title -- I would not hesistate to hand this book to a student needing to do a report on a non-fiction book. There will be a story that resonates with each reader, who can see a bit of themselves in each of the people featured in the book. It's hard to build a book that combines both an artistic vision and a powerful story, but I think that Bloom and Feldstein do a fantastic job of this with The Oxford Project.

If you're interested in reading it and are on a very, very long waiting list for the book like I have been, be sure to check out the website promoting the book and project here. I'm impressed with not only the project, but the notes the author and photographer include about the lessons they learned in undertaking such a task, including lessons on history and preservation. I almost think their author notes -- which are sparse and come only at the beginning and end of the book -- are just as worthy of thinking about as the rest of the book.

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Sunday, May 3, 2009

Double Take, Part III

I really don't look for this intentionally, but perhaps it just happens as a matter of looking at and reading so much material. This one struck me and not because the covers are so similar that it's an obvious double take.

The first book is North of Beautiful by Justine Chen Headley, which was published February 1, 2009 by Little, Brown Young Readers.

North of Beautiful is a coming of age story about Tessa who was born with a large port-wine stain on her cheek. The book follows her as she comes to terms with who and what she is while delving into the big themes of love, family, and abuse. It's been getting a lot of attention around the blogosphere, though I did not find it as exciting as the other reviewers. I DO really like the cover -- it's clean, fresh, and captures the essence of Tessa and one of the big themes in the book, cartography. You can't see it here, but the edges of the cover are a beautiful fresh blue color.

The second book is this one:

Evermore by Alyson Noel was published a mere two days after North of Beautiful on February 3, 2009 by St. Martin's Griffin. Evermore is the first book in a series by Noel that follows 17-year-old Ever after a terrible accident leaves everyone but her dead in her family. Of course, she falls for a boy in her new home who has magical powers, including the ability to produce tulips and disappear when he needs to.

Though immediately the covers don't look alike, look again. It's the same girl in both photos, but in the second one, her image has been mirrored. The hair is piece-y in both, the lips are full in both, and her eyebrow is distinct in both. Both covers show the part of her hair behind her ear with part tumbling down her shoulder. The lighter-colored strand of hair in the front is distinct, as well. In Evermore a tulip has been added since it's a crucial part of the story, but I can't help but wonder, too, if this was done to create more distinction with the cover. While the images are exactly the same girl, it is a big relief that the cover for Evermore is darker. It helps differentiate the two, particularly when both may be sitting on a shelf of new materials.

Who did it better? I like both of them, but I'm very bothered by both of them, as well. It makes me wonder how this sort of copying can happen. The publishing world is huge but so is the photography world/stock image world -- it seems way too coincidental for two books to have this image published two days apart. What's crazier is if you go to Amazon and look up North of Beautiful, you will be recommended Evermore. Wonder why?

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STACKED's first book GIVEAWAY!

Since we're new to the blogging world and we'd love to see who's checking out our stacks, it's time for the first official GIVEAWAY here at STACKED. Please read carefully and follow the easy contest rules to be entered in a drawing to win a copy of After the Moment and one other title of my choosing (and I promise it'll be good -- I'm debating among a few titled picked up during January's American Library Association Midwinter Conference).

Contest Rules:
1. You must comment on this entry with your name and a link to your blog if you have one.
2. Recruit one new reader to our blog -- all they need to do is comment with their name and a link to their blog if they have one and mention that they were directed here by you. They will be added to the contest, too, if they bring in a new reader.
3. If you don't recruit a new reader, you can add a link to your blogroll to our blog. Just let us know which you did. We'll also hang on to your links and include them on our blogroll (good reads to good reads is a good thing, isn't it?)

Simple? You're right. We want to connect to more readers, so we're hosting the contest in order to find them.

The contest begins TODAY and runs through the end of the month (May 30 being the final day for the contest). Depending on how generous I am feeling and how many readers we're able to connect with, I may throw in another book for a second winner. You will, of course, need to stay tuned for details.

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Saturday, May 2, 2009

After the Moment, Garret Freymann-Weyr

It's difficult to be a young male in our culture -- there really are only a few acceptable stereotypes within which you can fall: the alpha male, the gay male, the sensitive mommy's boy, the nerd, or the creepy guy. Although we know males are much more than a stereotype, sometimes in growing up, it seems those are a boy's options for how to live and behave.

In Garret Freymann-Weyr's After The Moment, we meet Leigh: a guy in his early 20s reflecting back on his last years in high school and considering how he has come of age. Although the story is not about becoming a man in the traditional sense, Freymann-Weyr (a woman, by the way) delineates what it means to grow up and understand pivotal moments in one's development, particularly where it relates to love.

Leigh is a high school junior, living in New York City with his mother, a romance novelist, when his father Clayton calls to break the news that his new wife Janet's former husband Seth has died in a terrible accident. This news has not yet been broken to Millie, Janet's young teenage biological daughter and Leigh's beloved step sister. It will be Leigh's job to come down to Maryland and break the news to her, since she adores and admires him more than anyone else in the world.

While he is in town to help Millie come to grips with the news, he meets Millie's good friend -- also a junior -- Maia Morland. As you'd expect, Leigh's got an incredibly attractive girlfriend at home, but he becomes quite entranced with Maia and not for the reasons he adores his girlfriend Aster. Rather, there is something about Maia that speaks to him at a much deeper level. When Millie is beginning to feel more at ease with the loss of her biological father, Leigh returns him only to be asked by Millie and Clayton to consider relocating to Maryland for his senior year to continue helping Millie cope with her loss. After surprisingly little consideration, he jumps at the opportunity.

After The Moment explores the huge amounts of growth and change that happen to Leigh as he begins a relationship with Maia; it's not a sheerly romantic relationship, but rather a relationship that is about growth, change, and uncertainty. Leigh wrestles with many excruciating decisions during this year, including Maia's mental health, his role as a protector, and his role as a male living a fear-free life (Leigh spends many pages in this story reflecting upon the Iraq war and the young men his age both fighting in the war and dying and those trying to avoid the war and dying as civilians). As is likely clear as well, Leigh's also fighting the demons that come with a difficult family structure, a girlfriend in New York and girlfriend of a different sense in Maryland, the values and ethics of love and sex, and plotting a post-high school life.

Throughout the book, I was very impressed with some of the situations that Freymann-Weyr depicted, particularly through the eyes and mindset of a 17 year old male. There was a true depth to this character and he was utterly relatable and sympathetic. As a reader, I felt entirely on his side and began really thinking about how tough it is to be a guy. This same story told through the perspective of a woman wouldn't be as powerful or thought provoking, even if it was well-written. This is a story of growing up that both males and females will relate to, and it will definitely open up the eyes of females while garnering a sense of understanding from males.

After The Moment was paced well, and the descriptions and scenarios were quite believable, though at times I found some situations contrived or unnecessary -- I thought, actually, there were too many uninteresting and inconsequential characters cluttering the story lines that were brought in immediately and then left to sort of fend for themselves in the end. While many readers might find the fact that not one single family was a "healthy, normal" one (everyone had been divorced, remarried, or multiple iterations of either), I think that might be a point of comfort for some. I become quite obsessed with familial structures when reading, and while I initially got mad that there could be no role models of normality in the story, I thought that actually heightened the ability of Leigh to grow as a male. This becomes crystal clear in a final conversation between Leigh and his father.

I found Maia to be a frustrating character throughout the book; the girl had a lot of problems that I felt she could solve for herself. But then I stepped back for a moment and realized that she is the perfect metaphor for what Leigh is dealing with as a male on a daily basis -- she needs help and love, and while many could easily dismiss and ignore her and her problems, he found her absolutely worthwhile. Quite a way to parallel the ideas about the Iraq war and the future!

Overall, I was incredibly impressed with Freymann-Weyr's After The Moment and believe that it is the perfect book for the older set of teens. The story is set up as a flashback, with Leigh and Maia in their early 20s reflecting on their 17 and 18 year old lives. Although the book will be marketed for those 14 and over, I think that the real audience will be those between 16 and 26. There is a real sense of connection from both ends.

This is not your typical romance book, so while girls who like romances may swoon for Leigh and this one, I think that this could be sold to guys. I think it should be sold to guys, actually. After The Moment breaks stereotypes and bends the artificial rules in such a manner that males may find themselves feeling more confident about how they act and think. I think Leigh will be relatable -- he loves soccer, he has a tough family life, and he doesn't deny enjoying sex -- but he's much more complex than that. I think there is still a bit of a lag in the young adult literature that bulks guys up as much more than just their personal interests. This one is a definite in that arena. I am eager to see what the reception is for both males and females.

After The Moment will be available from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt press May 17. I was able to pick up a copy at a conference, and I'm very glad to have had the opportunity to read it. Keep your eyes peeled for a GIVEAWAY of this book from us very soon.

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Friday, May 1, 2009

Double Take Part II

I don't really notice a lot of cover art. It took me several Sookie Stackhouse books to realize that the artwork actually gave away plot points. I'm pretty dense at times.

However, I have my first addition to the "Double Take" game, despite my lack of observational skills. When Kelly first added The Zookeeper's Wife to her Goodreads list, I thought, "Oh, I've read that." Then I skimmed the description and realized, "Um, this has nothing to do with gay Thatcher-ites living in London."

Yes, I was foiled by the covers. Let's examine.

Published first, the paperback version of Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty.

The book art depicts a view of a white walkway in a wooded garden as seen through a close-up of a wrought-iron fence. For a book about a man who desperately wants to be part of a privileged London world, this is a fitting cover. Private gardens (and keeping people out of them) play a large role in this novel.

Then, the similar-but-not-quite-the-same cover of Diane Ackerman's The Zookeeper's Wife.

I haven't read this one yet, but from what I understand, Ackerman tells the story of Warsaw zookeepers who shelter Jews from the ghetto during the Nazi occupation of Poland. Notice the white walkway; the dark green of forests, the muted light; the curlicues of the iron bars. The photograph was taken from a different angle of a different fence, but the feel (and effect) of the cover bear a resemblance to The Line of Beauty. The superimposition of official documents underneath Diane Ackerman's name also adds a different element to the cover, giving clues to the plot of the novel.

I prefer the Hollinghurst rendition, but only due to personal taste. I find myself photographing items from uncomfortably close angles, so the assymetry of the Hollinghurst cover appeals to my aesthetic. The Ackerman cover is a little too perfectly composed; I prefer photographs that are not centered. For both, though, I keep thinking back to the many snapshots I've taken over the years with the same subject matter. The idea of a gated pathway seems to be an almost ubiquitous allegory for things that we cannot have. It's not surprising that this type of composition is striking.

Any other comments? We'd love to hear them.

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