Monday, May 31, 2010

BEA in review -- part three

So, Thursday was our last day at BEA, and since Jen was heading to a breakfast at 8 am, we all chose to get up and head to the expo center early. did the rest of BEA. Despite getting there earlier than Wednesday, we were further back in line to get in. But alas, it wouldn't matter.

We split up and did a few rounds of the expo hall, and Kim and I were ONCE AGAIN lucky enough to score a bag of Little Brown goodies. This time, it was their fall line of middle grade novels, including Jenny Han's MG debut (she's the writer of The Summer I Turned Pretty and Shug, so this should be a very different style).

But then we decided it was time to line up for what was one of my favorite moments at BEA: meeting Clinton Kelly of What Not to Wear. Due to some luck and some planning, we managed to get in line and be only about 7 or 8 people back from the front. And he is as cool and fun as you'd imagine he is.

I was a little disappointed he wasn't signing books, but the reality was meeting him was what mattered. Of course I was dressed to the nines, as you can see beside, and I took the time to properly accessorize (ahem, with my Texas tote bag).

Here's where you can get mad at Kim and me. We had seen people wandering the exhibit hall with Cassandra Clare's Clockwork Angel, a prequel to her Mortal Instruments trilogy. We'd heard it was a ticketed book give away, so we thought we were out of luck. But while I sat in line for Clinton Kelly, Kim wandered over to the S&S booth, wherein the publicist handed her the last two copies -- one for her and one for me. No line cutting, no tickets, no cut-throat action. Talk about luck and a fun surprise!

We checked our watches and decided to head over to the autographing area to score a copy of Adam Rex's Fat Vampire. This was another slow line, and as we were leaving (in a hurry for the next signing), I saw Alea. It was too bad we were in a hurry because it was a bummer I didn't get to talk to her more -- she's one of my all-time favorite bloggers and people to Tweet with. Alas, we were en route to Daniel Erenhaft's autographing session for Friend is Not a Verb -- an actual hard copy.

Using my suave skills again, I asked nicely if I could get a second copy for work. And not only did I get one, but Mr. Erenhaft hilariously signed the book something to the effect "To 'A Second Copy for Work' - Daniel Erenhaft." Very funny. That line went super fast, and then we were off to a big signing: Laurie Halse Anderson's Forge.

We were no where near the front of the line, but we were in no hurry. The theme of our Thursday was to be relaxed and just hit up things we were REALLY interested in. We waited patiently, and when it was our turn, I told LHA I like to tweet with her . . . and when she asked my Twitter name, she knew who I was. Talk about THE COOLEST THING IN THE WORLD. Oh, and she posted a video of her signing on her blog, and you can check out Kim and I's awesome place in line from approximately 1:55 - 2:03. We were quite excited about something, it looks like.

We grabbed lunch post-LHA -- chicken strips and fries at a reasonable price of something like $9 -- and immediately made our way to Brilliance Audio's booth for none other than Rick Riordan, who was signing the audio version of his latest, The Red Pyramid. And when you get there over an hour early, you get to be second and third in line. Totally rad, I tell you.

By then, our BEA experience was coming to a close. Kim and I split up. She went to Lee Child's signing, and I did one last round on the floor where I picked up Michelle Zink's sequel to Prophecy of the Sisters, titled Guardian of the Gate, as well as a sound track to the books. Very cool!

I won't bore you with the travel exploits, but needless to say, Thursday was probably my favorite of the two days. It was much more relaxed and the floors of the exhibit hall seemed less crazed. It was nice to be able to pick up publisher catalogs without being mobbed, and it was very nice to meet some well-known authors.

Although I've read about a lot of people feeling there was drama and disappointment at BEA, I never once felt that way. In fact, I went in with a goal of picking up fun, exciting titles, but I didn't have a set plan in motion. To me, getting worked up wasn't worth the stress, and having the opportunity to just take it all in was what made it such a fun experience. Clearly, luck was on our side, too.

I shipped back over $100 worth of items, which are due to arrive this week. And for that, I send my huge thank you again to those wonderful New York City librarians who told us about the shipping room. My oh my, if I had to carry all of that back, I'd be a sad girl still in New York maybe building a mode of transportation/teleportation out of books (uhm, no way I'd be driving in that place!).

Stay tuned for Kim and I's "tips and tricks" post later in the week for those of you planning your 2011 trips. You bet we'll be there again -- and this time, we'll be seasoned pros. Also, I'll probably still be reading the books I picked up this year then.

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Sunday, May 30, 2010

BEA in review -- part two

As the ribbons were cut, we were ready to dive in. Our first stop was Penguin in search of a handful of really exciting titles, including Scrumble, the sequel to Ingrid Law's Savvy. We got that, along with a few other forthcoming titles like The Replacement by Brianna Yavanoff. The people at Penguin, despite being overwhelmed, were happy to answer our questions about when they'd be putting out other titles. Don't worry; we made it back a couple more times to pick up titles like Ally Condie's Matched and Catherine Fisher's Sapphique.

I won't tell you everything we picked up because there was a heck of a lot on that first day. To describe it as a mad rush would be an understatement. It was unbelievable the hoards of people and just how tight it got in some areas (particularly near Little Brown, where Kimberly and I were lucky enough to score a BAG of forthcoming fall titles, including new titles by Gail Giles and Sarah Ockler. Oh, and Wendy Mass's The Candymakers which just screams mashup of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Gollywhopper Games to me -- a good thing!).

My favorite publisher to visit, though, was Bloomsbury. The publicist there was eager to sell all of their forthcoming titles. She sought out one I was really interested in (whose title escapes me as I recap, of course). Egmont was a close second, as their publicist was also great at selling their forthcoming titles. I'm still unsure how to pronounce their name, too -- EDGEmont or EGGmont?

Everyone in our group slowly dispersed, going to the individual signings we were interested in. I reconnected with Kim at the Harlequin Teen signing, where I picked up some forthcoming titles and met their authors. The set up was pretty much unorganized, but, we got in and out of there quickly and hit up lunch (I think that was a pretzel for me). We did a bit more wandering around thereafter, acquiring titles that included The Mockingbirds from Little Brown (which sounds like a fantastic readalike to The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks but on a more serious scale) and Lauren Oliver's 2011 title Delirium.

When 2:30 came around, it was time to hit up the first author signing of the day: Simone Elkeles. She was signing three times at BEA, but this was the only one where she'd be signing her forthcoming sequel to Leaving Paradise. And boy, was she a sweet author! I'm pretty adverse to picking up 2 copies of books, but because I knew Janssen would LOVE this one, I asked if she'd sign two. And without hesitation, she said yes and immediately asked me to spell Janssen's name for her. I thanked her a million times and she told me to show up to her other signing (which, I did not, due to a few other events, sadly!).

Since we got through that line super quickly, we met up again with Abby and Jen at the Zombies vs. Unicorns signing with Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier. It was a longer and slower line, but it was totally worth it -- when I got up there, Justine signed first and asked what team I was on. Being undecided, I said I needed to read the book to make a fair and accurate vote. She LOVED my answer, and I scored both a team unicorn and team zombie button. We'd later discover that Scott Westerfeld had also signed this ARC. Totally fun, and the book sounds like a real hoot.

When we finished the signing, it was time to run back to Little, Brown for the unveiling of a big title: Beautiful Darkness, the sequel to Beautiful Creatures. People here were unbelievable. I will go into more details in our final post of BEA tips and tricks, but needless to say, it was a mob scene. We got our book without a problem and tried to get out quickly because....we were on to a signing of Kody Keplinger's debut The DUFF.

So here's where one of the coolest moments of BEA happened. As we're waiting in the line -- which was moving kind of slow -- I see someone who looks familiar. I check the badge and it is Melissa Walker. I got her attention to say hi, and she checked my badge and knew who I was too. Uhm, talk about fangirl moment. Almost embarrassingly so. I'd like you to know we talked about arm pit sweat. And how excited we were to read The DUFF. Can you imagine being 18 and being a signing author at BEA?

Since that pretty much made my life complete, Kim and I chose to head out for the day. While Abby and Jen were heading to Kid Lit Drink Night, and our plans to head to Books of Wonder for their author event were dropped, we thought we'd head to the hotel and get a drink at the hotel bar.

Except the bar was outside, and it was 95 degrees out.

Plan b? Burgers & Cupcakes, a delightfully cute restaurant near our hotel. Besides being pretty good and having incredible cupcakes, it was reasonably priced. Then we went to the hotel and admired our books. For hours.

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Saturday, May 29, 2010

BEA in review -- part one

Imagine a world full of book sellers, publishers, printers, librarians, authors and bloggers, as well as a whole lot of free books. That, my friends, is BEA.

I flew out to New York on Tuesday, bright and early in the morning. I was getting into La Guardia about 11, but because my plane was delayed in Milwaukee, it was more like 12. My goal was to read on the plane -- The Cardturner by Louis Sacher -- and I did a bit of that then and a little bit of reading while waiting the arrival of Abby (the) Librarian and Jen of Nerd Girl Blogging. Partner-in-crime Kim, from here at STACKED, would be flying into JFK and meeting us at the hotel.

We decided to stay at the Wyndham Garden on 36th, between 8th and 9th avenue. It was really darn close to the convention center, at about half a mile. For those of you planning for next year already, it was a fantastic hotel at a very reasonable price ($189 a night).

After we recombobulated post-flight, we headed off to the AAP/LJ Librarians dinner, which offered some terrible food. While that was nothing worth bragging about, we got the opportunity to meet three New York Librarians and seasoned BEA vets who told us all of the dirty BEA secrets. Let me just say: they SAVED us so much time and money. That alone was worth the dinner.

But, ah, what would a dinner be without some guest speakers? We were serenaded with stories from Cory Doctorow (blogger at author of the fabulous Little Brother and new For the Win) and about the importance of books and libraries and librarians (seriously, this man is an incredible advocate for readers), Rachel Vincent (of the Soul Screamers series reviewed here and pictured at left), Jane Green (who I spent half the dinner thinking I knew her name to realize she is the writer of Jemima J, which I loved when I read the summer after my freshman year in college), Anne Fortier (of the forthcoming and highly buzzed title Juliet -- she was a riot!), and Ann Brashares (of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants fame). Each talked about the value and importance of libraries and reading, and it was just a very nice affair...despite the terrible food (it was free, at least). At the end of the dinner, we walked away with copies of all of their latest books.

We hopped a cab back to our hotel and spent the evening just relaxing. We were all tired from very early mornings and long days of travel. And let me just say this: these were some of the most wonderful people to spend time with. We never were without conversation.

That picture on the top there is what greeted us on our first official day of BEA attendance on Wednesday. The exhibit halls opened at 9, and we were all raring to go by 8 a.m. Yes, this is the line at just a few minutes after 8 a.m. to get inside. While waiting, we pulled out a list of books we were hoping to find or ask about and mapped out the places we'd hit first. Number one on our list? Penguin.

Then the clock clicked 9 a.m., the ribbon was cut and boy, were we in for a surprise with just how many people were in the hall, and how it really was a mass frenzy.

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AudioSynced: Don't Forget!

Don't forget to get your audiobook news and reviews over to Abby (the) Librarian this month! You can post your reviews over there or you can leave a comment here and I'll pass them over.

Haven't participated before or just want to see what others are listening to? Check out the previous posts:

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Friday, May 28, 2010

Double Take, Part ??

In this double take, the photos used aren't the same, but they're quite similar:

The first is The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf, an adult mystery/thriller/suspense novel about a girl who has gone mute after witnessing her father committing an act of violence.

The second is Crossing Oceans by Gina Holmes, another adult novel, this one a tearjerker about a woman who returns to her hometown after she learns she is dying and attempts to mend fences with family and friends.

Which cover do you prefer? I like the contrast of colors in The Weight of Silence and the image of the charm hanging from the girl's hands. The music note lends an eerie feeling to this story about a girl unable to make a sound. The beach scene in Crossing Oceans is peaceful, but not striking. I haven't read either book, but it doesn't seem as if either cover is misleading - I'd expect something slightly creepy from the first book and a tearjerker or family drama from the second.

I also have a feeling that I've seen other covers similar to these - the back of a girl in a dress, her hands lightly touching. Have you noticed any more?

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce redeux!

You read Kim's review yesterday of Pearce's forthcoming Sisters Red and I wanted to offer my take on this one.

The premise is enticing -- a retelling of the classic "Little Red Riding Hood" set in modern times, where the main characters are fighters of the Fenris, or the wolves who haunt and torment (primarily) younger, innocent, and naive girls. Scarlett and Rosie's grandmother had been killed by one, and they made it their mission to kill them and save the lives of countless others. It also helps they have a suave guy in Silas, a neighbor whose family was also haunted by the Fenris, to help them take with the takedowns. And what would a good story like this be without a little romance (Silas and Rosie) and a little twist in the plot where one of the characters you think is good is actually bad? It's no surprising plot twist if you've read even one paranormal/fairy tale retelling in your life.

Sisters Red stood out to me for its strong writing and well developed back story. However, for all of the world building in the first half of the book, I felt the story began to fall apart right around when we find out one of the people we liked is actually, maybe evil. It felt like a convenient way to segway into an ending for the story, when the author could have taken this as an opportunity to go in an entirely new direction. I felt what made sense in the first half of the book for this world fell into sinews in the second half -- the story of why the Fenris exist never made sense to me in a logical way. That is, it was never once apparant how the heck Scarlett could have figured out the puzzle. She spent a lot of time researching but never once giving readers any insight into what she was learning, and the final conclusion came out of left field. I wasn't with the story from here on out since this piece was not as logically developed as it should have been. Perhaps this has to do with my lack of being family with the original fairy tale (see below!).

Character development was strong, though I found Scarlett to be overbearing and Rosie herself to be far too weak. Time and time again she let Scarlett walk all over her, and Scarlett simply used the excuse that she saved Rosie's life. I wanted Rosie to come more into herself and stand up to her sister. Silas was well done, though at times he felt more like a convenience to the plot, rather than a central character.

Sisters Red will have wide appeal, and I think that this will be the story that propels Pearce into the spotlight as a YA author. It's delightfully urban, but it's relatable, too. There's love and romance, strong family relationships, and the fairy tale elements. As a reader, I didn't pick up enough of the "Little Red Riding Hood" back story, but that made me realize that perhaps I do not know the real Grimm's tale. So, guess what this book is making me want to do? It's always a plus when a book urges you to read more. And I think anyone who pursues the original tale might come back to this story and see a lot more here.

Although Pearce's story falls into a lot of the tropes other paranormal stories do, the fairy tale elements make it stand apart. There's a little more working here. Serious fantasy fans may not be impressed, but this isn't written for that audience. It, to me, felt like a bridge book for those interested in trying something new and different without losing some element of books they typically enjoy.

Sisters Red will be out in June. I'm a little bummed to report this will be a series (seriously?) BUT this one definitely would stand alone without any issues.

* Copy provided so kindly by the publisher.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Sisters Red, by Jackson Pearce

I loved the concept for this book: Rosie and Scarlet March are sisters who use their "Little Red Riding Hood" appearance to lure werewolves to their deaths. The sisters are hardcore werewolf hunters, initiated into the hunt by their memory of a terrible werewolf attack on their grandmother (of course) from when they were little girls - an attack which left Scarlet horribly scarred.

I love a good fairy tale re-telling, especially when it features a pair of ass-kicking females who turn the traditional fairy tale on its head. Sisters Red, published June 7 by Little, Brown, has a lot to like: an excellent cover (very different from your normal teen fare nowadays!), plenty of action, romance, good versus evil, and a compelling sister relationship (the strongest aspect of the book). Still, it left me underwhelmed. Nothing about the book really surprised me - the romance progressed as I expected it to, the tension between the sisters developed as I knew it would, and the "twist" at the end was so predictable I knew it almost from page one. Because of the predictability, I had a hard time staying engrossed.

Additionally, I expected something heavier from Sisters Red. After all, it's a book about two teenage girls, one disfigured, both jaded, who kill werewolves every single night. So much of the book felt fluffier than the content promised. I felt like Pearce was aiming for a moody, dark, intense thriller but didn't quite succeed.

The book's Amazon page has rave reviews from names like Melissa Marr and Carrie Ryan, and it's garnered a starred review from at least one major review source. I just wasn't wowed. There are so many better books in this genre (Donna Jo Napoli and Shannon Hale really set the bar high). Sisters Red does fill a small niche within this subgenre: it's a modern, urban re-telling, and would speak strongly to today's teens.

If you like the genre, you may want to check out this one, and if you're a fan of the book, you have two companion novels by Pearce to look forward to in the near future: Sweetly, a modernization of Hansel and Gretel, and Fathomless, a modernization of The Little Mermaid.

Bonus: There's a trailer for Sisters Red on Pearce's blog/website.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly

I've read a number of books that deal with mental disabilities, and while I can't say any have felt inauthentic per se, I haven't read one that has made the character a completely normal person. But I am excited to say I found that experience no longer true after reading Tara Kelly's debut Harmonic Feedback.

Drea and her mother move from California to the Seattle suburbs after her mother can no longer afford to support them both. They're moving in with her mother's mom, who has agreed to take them in -- for a while, at least. Drea's mom is not the most stable as we discover, but she's not central to the plot. Drea is.

Drea is ADHD and has Asperger's disease, but those challenges aren't what will hold her back from trying to make friends at her new school. As soon as she steps foot at her grandmother's, she is greated by Naomi, the neighbor who happens to her age, and she is immediately making a friendship. This helps get her settled into school just a little easier, even though Naomi has a list of issues herself. She's a little too into drugs for Drea's liking.

Music and sound design are Drea's passions, and those two things are what lead her to meeting -- and falling for -- Justin. Well, really, they meet the first day of school since they are both the new kids. They don't hit it off immediately, but when they start talking music, the sparks fly. Without much time, Justin, Naomi, and Drea are mixing their own jams. But then things go south for Naomi when she spends a little too much time with the wrong guy...and the wrong drugs.

Harmonic Feedback was a fast-moving and well-written book that portrayed Drea is a completely normal light. Although she mentions a few times that she has a couple of mental challenges, the book is not dominated by THE ISSUE. Drea wants to keep it under wraps from her new friends and the potential boyfriend, and when eventually the diagnoses come out, it's refreshing to see that no one makes it a big deal. They make Drea different, but that is neither a good thing or a bad thing. It just is.

Drugs, sex, and rough language abound in the book, but I didn't think they were too distracting. In fact, I thought that Tara Kelly provided one of the most convincing portrayals of real teenagers I've read in a long time. I didn't feel they were forced or set up to provide essential issues. The obsession with music in the teens' lives were well developed and weaved into the fibers of the characters, and I think readers will connect with someone here quite easily. Likewise, it was a relief that Drea's mother wasn't as deadbeat as she could have been, and it was sort of interesting to see grandmother as the powerhouse in the family. I definitely saw Drea in her grandmother.

Harmonic Feedback will appeal to teens who love music, stories about those with mental challenges, or stories about fitting in and forging new relationships. It sort of reminded me of Robin Benway's Audrey, Wait, despite all of the major differences. Perhaps it's the music element and the enjoyable writing style. Those who like realistic fiction will eat this one up. Because of how well written Drea is, I think her story will appeal to both males and females pretty easily -- music is clearly a uniter.

Kelly's debut will hit shelves in June. This was one of the top 5 of the debuts I read for the challenge . . . and the one that wrapped up my goal to read 20!

* Review copy provided by the publisher, who was so kind as to send it to me after chatting with me at PLA. Thanks!

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Monday, May 24, 2010

Audiosynced: Bog Child, by Siobhan Dowd

I loved this book. Loved loved loved it. Part of the reason I’m so very pleased by how much I loved it is because I did not expect to. I’ve been in the mood lately for fast-paced, action-filled books, and all reviews of Bog Child indicated that it would not fit the bill. But I was about to go on a road trip, and I needed something to help pass the time. My library has a rather small collection of YA audiobooks, so I didn’t have a whole lot of options. I’m so very glad I picked this one up.

Bog Child is essentially a coming of age story (I know many teens cringe at that phrase, but I still love those type of books). Fergus McCann is 18 and living on the south border of Northern Ireland during “The Troubles” in 1981. His older brother, Joe, is in prison due to his involvement with the Provisional IRA, and Joe and his fellow inmates have begun a hunger strike. While out cutting peat, Fergus and his uncle stumble upon the body of a child, preserved by the bog for almost 2000 years. The archaeologist who comes from Dublin to study the body also brings along her daughter, Cora, who provides romantic interest for Fergus. There are a number of threads in this novel weaved together with incredible skill by Dowd, the most remarkable of which is the dual stories of Fergus in 1981 and the bog child, “Mel,” in AD 80.

After reading so many technically flawed books recently, it was so wonderful to read this one. Bog Child is that rare thing: a perfectly-written book. Siobhan Dowd does not write like a rookie. Her writing is polished, beautiful, and communicates the story without a hitch. She demonstrates why writing is called both an art and a craft. The narrator was also spot-on, pronouncing each word slowly and deliberately in her wonderful Irish accent (which added greatly to my enjoyment of the story).

The book IS slow, but it needs to be. It chronicles Fergus’ maturation, and that’s not something that can be rushed. By the end of the story, Fergus has grown in believable ways. And there’s plenty of action near the end of the book to make the first parts worthwhile. Bog Child would be best for older teens who like more contemplative books, and it’s also a book I’d readily hand to an early twenty-something. Even if you don’t think you’d enjoy the book, I encourage you to give it a shot (on audio, if you can).

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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Round Robin Reviews: Winner!

We rolled our Internet dice and the winning suggestion for our next Round Robin Review is jpetroroy's The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X. Stork. I'm excited about this one!

We'll pick up something (or a few somethings) at BEA for jpetroroy. Thanks everyone for your suggestions. In fact, we liked your ideas so much, we chose a runner-up: Literature Crazy's suggestion for us each to read a different twist on a familiar tale. We'll make that our Round Robin Review after The Last Summer of the Death Warriors.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

What I'm Reading, Twitter Style

With Book Expo America only a few days away, I'm trying to work through a ton of titles before picking up a year's worth of titles at the convention. So, here's what I'm reading, Twitter-style.

Spoken From the Heart by Laura Bush: LB was a librarian before first wife. A bit repetitive and lengthy, but readable and fascinating. Sittenfeld's book was dead on accurate.

Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly: Debut title about a girl with autism & her obsession with music. Fluid, fascinating, & very authentic to the teenage voice. My 20th debut!

Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce: Werewolves are my vampires. Interesting premise with a spin off of Little Red Riding Hood. I'm hot-cold on fairy tales, so here's hoping.

A Thousand Sisters by Lisa Shannon: Non-fiction exploration of the most dangerous & most unfriendly places to be a woman. Not a memoir fan, but premise was too good to skip.

Goldengrove by Francine Prose: Listening to in the car - an adult fiction story about adolescence and growing up from an author who generally writes YA fic.

The Iron King by Julie Kagawa: This title has exploded in the blogosphere and has piqued my interest, despite being a non-fantasy reader. Kagawa is a debut author.

Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker: Fascinating premise of small-town life & being an outsider within ones community. A bit of magical realism thrown in for this book club fav.

So what are YOU reading?

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Real Estate

I've mentioned once or twice I am a pretty big non-fiction reader. I don't review a lot of it because much is super specific and wouldn't have wide appeal. But today's your big day. I'm giving you a quick peek into a few of the real estate books I've read and found to be quite readable and interesting.

House Lust by Daniel McGinn was one of the first books on this topic I read and fell in love with. McGinn is a writer for Newsweek, so his style was fluid and easy to follow.

This particular title published January 2008, right around the crash of the housing market. But, considering how long it takes to research and write, this book was put together right as the housing market was where there was a ton of money to be made. I read it in the summer of 2008, so the housing market was just beginning to nose dive.

McGinn's book discusses how American culture has always had an obsession with housing, and in the high times of real estate, there was a ton of money to be made (and spent!). This book focuses very little on the financing aspects of real estate and much more on how we obsess with what features a home has, what areas of the home need to have the most value, and perhaps the part I loved most, our obsession with reality home television. It was interesting to learn how people began falling in love with HGTV's House Hunters and with the obsession we have with the notion of square footage and price per square foot, the writers of the show rewrote it to include this information.

This is also the book where I learned about the power of the website Zillow. Did you know people used to hold (and maybe still do!) hold Zillow parties where they'd get together and price all of the homes in the area to see where they stood up?

If the social aspect of real estate interests you, this is a good pick. I noted in my review of this title 2 years ago that I found his style a little grating and that some of the really interesting stuff (to me!) got less time than I wish it did. Thinking back on this title in comparison with the two I'm going to talk about next, this is a terrifying look at how the real estate market got to where it is now. I might need to reread it, simply to see where the signs were so clear. This will both interest and sicken readers, which is what a good piece of non-fiction should do. Check out the website if you want more info or want to read an excerpt.

So, now that we know about the obsession American culture has with homes, how about what happens when we can't afford what we lust for? Alyssa Katz, in Our Lot, published in June 2009, deep in the heart of recession. Of course, take some of that with a grain of salt when you consider the time period of her writing and researching.

Katz, like McGinn, is a journalist and writes for a number of outlets. In Our Lot, she tackles the topic of American greed and how it ultimately came to cause the collapse of the housing market. She writes fluidly -- and with less grate then McGinn -- making a book that could otherwise be overwhelming with its jargon and technicality on banking and financing really accessible. And utterly terrifying.

I read this book while trying to get my own mortgage, and it made me eternally grateful for the struggles we had in attaining our financing. Reading about how bankers utterly deceived people in order to build a profit made me sick to my stomach, and it made me reevaluate how I had perceived the great real estate collapse (more on this in a second). For the most part, I thought it was even-handed politically. Katz gives us some insight, too, into how we can get our obsessions in check for a much sounder, safer real estate world. This book will teach you a lot about the banking side of real estate, and it should be read in companion to House Lust.

If you want more information, she maintains a nice real estate and financing blog on her website.

Last, but certainly not least, I finished up Edmund Andrews's May 2009 title Busted this week. If Katz's title can be called a good look at the "faceless" side of real estate, I think that Andrews's title could be called the face of greed.

Andrews is a journalist for The New York Times and more specifically, an economic reporter pulling in a 6-digit salary every year. In the midst of the housing frenzy, he chose to invest in a house on a low-doc mortgage well beyond anything he could ever imagine to afford. HE KNEW THIS going in, and yet, he followed his lust and jumped into it.

Busted does a little bit of what Katz's book does in unraveling the complexities of the housing collapse on the banking side, but what made this book stand out to me was that Andrews himself is a person facing foreclosure and the loss of his house. He gives us the background into how banks were misleading underrepresented groups with subprime lending, as well as how bankers and underwriters were approving (and even encouraging) applicants to lie or not even mention important things like income in their mortgage applications. Reading this after the hellacious experience I had getting a mortgage made me grateful again it was such a horrible experience.

That said, this book shows us the utter greed people like Andrews brought to the collapse of the housing market. He, with his 6-figure job, background in economics, and education, knew better than to do what he did, but because he was lusting after more (see House Lust), he chose to jump in anyway. And it doesn't work. This is his attempt to document it.

Unfortunately, while this book reads well and does a good job of putting a face to the crisis, I never once felt sympathetic for Andrews. I felt even less sympathetic when I found out later he omitted some pretty important details in his experiences (like the fact his new wife had filed for bankruptcy twice). Reading this in conjunction with Katz's title, though, was important because it emphasizes that there was no one cause for why real estate fell to pieces. It was a combination of greed from a number of sources, as well as deception from a number of sources. Bonus: he has a little report, too, in the NYT for your reading pleasure.

If you have even the slightest interest in our current plight, read these. Read them each with a grain of salt, of course, as you would any non-fiction title. They will inform you and inform each other. Even if you have no background in real estate or financing, you will find all three accessible (and skimmable for if you find yourself bored by some details).

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Round Robin Reviews

ONE suggestion for our Round Robin Reviews?

We know you're out there and you're reading this blog. Leave a comment over here and tell us what to read and review. We'll make you famous.

To sweeten the pot, our lucky random winner will receive a special gift from BEA. That's right - a free book (or two!).

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Cover Spotlight: Nancy Werlin

I've been trying to read more Nancy Werlin lately for a number of reasons. I read The Rules of Survival last year and really liked it. Her early mysteries were also released (or rereleased) on audio with very appealing covers and copy descriptions, and she has a new book publishing this year. She's a perennial favorite among teens, as well.

She's also been the recipient of new covers for almost all of her books, including many interesting redesigns when the book goes from hard cover to paperback. Although her repitoire isn't as lengthy as, say, Richard Peck, she's been publishing for a while and the changes to the covers have certainly made even her older titles quite contemporary.

1994's Are You Alone on Purpose before and after. I think it's quite interesting that the gender of the main character on the cover is different.

1998's The Killer's Cousin before and after. I completely love the new cover. It has a very contemporary feel but it also feels timeless. The cover on the left feels like a 90s teen book design.

2000's Locked Inside doesn't work in the same way that The Killer's Cousin does for me. The new design, on the right, feels older than the cover on the left (the original). Very My So-Called Life.

2001's Black Mirror has two covers that work well, I think. I prefer the newer one on the right slightly more, as I think it's a littler clearer that the story focuses on a person of color. The one on the left gives a bit of the wilderness feel to it. I think the cover on the left might have more boy appeal to it, too.

2004's Double Helix with the audiobook cover on the left and the book's unchanged cover on the right. I love this book's cover: it conveys the science element quite clearly, and this is a title that stands out on a shelf.

2006's The Rules of Survival with the hardcover on the left and the paperback on the right. Talk about two different audiences. The left screams boy appeal while the right, in its purple, definitely has a better girl factor. This one works well both ways.

2008's Impossible with the hardcover on the left and the paperback on the right. I like both of them for different reasons. The one on the left feels fresh to me, while the one on the right feels girly. Both of those feelings work for me.

September 2010's Extraordinary has a really cool, girly cover to it. I will be interested to see how this one may get made over into paperback -- after I read it, of course.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Audies

Every one wants an award, no? While the American Library Association offers a number of awards for books of distinction (and audiobooks of distinction), sometimes it's interesting to see who is getting nods from other associations.

The Audiobook Publishers Association offers up the Audies each year, and they just released their list of nominees. It's interesting to see who is nominated -- and nominated multiple times -- within each category. Katherine Kellgren's performances on LA Meyer's Bloody Jack series were nominated not once, but TWICE, in TWO categories.

Bonus: you can listen to a lengthy snippet of these titles by clicking on the little stereo symbol at the end of each title's short description. I know my "to listen to" list just exploded. I've listened to so few of these titles (ahem, perhaps only one -- The Help) but I am familiar with a few of the readers.

Are any of your favorites on there? Anyone you're rooting for to win?

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Whenever I read an "issue" book, I look for a new angle. That's really what makes it or breaks it for me, especially in the arena of eating disorders. I think that Laurie Halse Anderson has really sort of created the standard with Wintergirls here, but by no means is it the only book on the topic (nor should it be). So, despite some of the issues I'll talk about with Liane Shaw's, I think that topically, it's quite important and it will hit home with teen readers.

Maddie, who is 17, is introduced to us through a journal she is being asked to develop while she is in treatment for anorexia (and some bulimic tendencies, too). We're getting an intimate look at her life history, including the development of her eating disorder. While we get this, we simultaneously get Maddie's current journal that gives us insight into how she is acclimating to the treatment center, how she copes with new people, and how she is ultimately dealing with the eating disorder.

At first, this style of getting both the past and the present at the same time is a big jarring and disorienting, but by the end of the book, this is actually a pretty unique and useful manner of understanding how Maddie's mind works. It's like being both within her mind and one step removed from her mind. That worked quite well.

What makes this particular title a different beast on the issue, though, is that Maddie's addiction is fueled by her obsession with pro-ana websites. The book feels quite contemporary for this, and I think that it will resonate with many readers who themselves may be users and believers in these sites.

That said, I have to mention that while the book bills itself to be about Maddie's use of these sites, we do not get a mention of this until nearly page 100. I think this is attributed back to the style Shaw employs in writing the story. Since we are getting a look at Maddie's past, we must first learn about her life prior to the site obsession and since we are simultaneously getting her current journal, we know she doesn't have access to those sites. Something had to give, and ultimately, I was a bit disappointed to have to spend nearly 1/3 of the book without getting to the "meat and potatoes."

But, when I hit that part of the book, the story flew. I found myself actually quite relating to Maddie in terms of meeting like-minded people online. I think Shaw captured this realistically, and I found myself a bit sad at the end when Maddie gets one of the biggest shocks of her life. Again, I think the author hit on some real emotions there and real moments of space and distance mixed with closeness and a much-needed wake up call for Maddie all in those few pages.

I think this book, though the character is 17, will be a better fit for younger teen readers. It is not quite as powerful emotionally or topically as LHA's Wintergirls, and the voice of Maddie and the people she associated with (because it'd be hard to call many of them friends) feel younger. The topic is heavy, but the language and situations are done cleanly and appropriately. At times, it did feel a bit like an adult trying to write like a teen -- particularly in those first 100 pages -- but it did smooth out eventually. I found myself a little disappointed in this aspect, but I think ultimately, it'll find a good readership in the younger crowd that is a little more forgiving. is not fast paced, and, again, it is quite slow at the beginning, but when we see Maddie start logging onto the web more and more, it moves much quicker.

Shaw herself struggled with an eating disorder, and the book showcases her knowledge and expertise. I was disappointed there were not resources at the end of the book for those who may need help, though there is a plug for Shaw's website that DOES offer a number of resources. And hey, it's pretty nice that the site address is the same as the book. This will work well for memory!

* Thanks to the publisher for a copy of this title.

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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Round Robin Reviews

Remember our Round Robin Reviews? They're coming back, and this time, you get to choose what the three of us here at STACKED will read and review.

The rules are simple: leave a comment with the book you'd love to see the three of us read and review. Just one title. It must be something we'd have access to but any genre or age level works.

We'll pull a random number on Friday and that's the book we'll read and review it within a month (we're hashing out a date, but we promise it'll happen in a month). If it's a book one of us has read, we'll ask the winning commenter to choose another title.

Good luck! Here's your chance to de-lurk as a reader if you've been hiding for a while.

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Friday, May 14, 2010

Field Notes: Dark Life by Kat Falls

What combines adventure, science fiction, homesteading, and evil gangs all within an undersea water setting? I didn't think it could be done, but Kat Falls has created a fantastically creepy and exciting world in her dystopian debut, Dark Life.

Ty and his family are among the first to stake a claim to land under the sea, as the above-water world has become far too crowded (not to mention expensive and lacking in resources). But it's not that easy: the Seablight Gang, a band of powerful outlaws, wants to destroy the settlement. Because of this, the government calls for all citizens to work toward capturing the rebels, and until that happens, no one new can seek land claims. Ty, almost 18 and able to stake his own claim, is NOT happy.

Add to that Gemma, a Topsider looking for her brother who came down as a prospector, and the unsettling feeling that there is something strange about Gemma's story, and you have a story ripe for all of your adventure, intrigue, dystopian, and science fiction fans.

Dark Falls is richly written, so much so it begs you to slow down and read each word. The world building is strung together through the vivid language. Although the sea scape and concepts here are strong, the characters were a little on the weaker side, and a number of plot holes glared for me. Perhaps it was less plot holes and more that there were a number of instances of deus ex machina I couldn't swallow as a reader. Gemma's prospecting brother became something too convenient for me far too deep into the story, as one example. In terms of character, I never connected enough to any to care much about their situations.

But this is a book that has appeal written all over it. Fans of The Hunger Games, The Line, or faster, more action-packed adventures will eat this title up. HG fans will find the fighting scenes a little slower, but the government conspiracy factor will appeal hugely for HG and The Line fans. The dystopian aspect is not played up too heavily, though it is certainly the thrust behind why settlers came to the sea to homestead.

I can see our middle school and high school boys that love Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game series devouring this one, as well, for the pioneering aspect and the science fiction flair. For the adventure aspect, it'll likely appeal to fans of Ben Mikaelson (of Touching Spirit Bear and more). I believe that this would be a fantastic book to listen to on audio, with the language playing such a key role in the story development. The fact this has been optioned for film, too, delights me -- the entirety of the story reminded me of a film, so I cannot wait to see how that would play out.

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Throwback Thursday 1: Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin

A new feature I'd like to try out here is "Throwback Thursday," and trust me when I say it won't happen every Thursday...but more like two Thursdays a month. This feature will highlight books from a few years ago that are new-to-me and worth reading. Equal opportunity blogging, indeed.

Gabrielle Zevin's first splash on the teen lit scene was with Elsewhere in 2005.

After Liz Hall is killed in an accident, she finds herself on a ship heading to a place called Elsewhere. Of course, she doesn't understand where she is yet, but she knows she is surrounded by strangers, including one of her favorite singers. Her family is notable absent. So, where's she going and why aren't they around?

She quickly learns she is no longer alive and instead will reside in Elsewhere for the next 15 years. Elsewhere is home of those who have died, and she knows she will be there 15 years because in Elsewhere, people age backwards, rather than forwards. When they reach age 0, they are transported back to Earth for a new shot at life.

Liz meets up with her grandmother, who will take care of her in Elsewhere, but Liz cannot find herself happy. Rather, she spends hours on the Observation Deck that allows her to look back to Earth and long for her family and friends. Through some sneakery, Liz also finds a way to go back to Earth and communicate with (i.e., scare the crap out of) those still living. After many interventions, she realizes this will not help with either her closure or the closure of her family; however, she has so many unanswered questions that living in Elsewhere feels like a prison, rather than the most wonderful place on earth.

Elsewhere was one of the first books to explore the dead-girl-in-the-afterworld trope, which has been redone a number of times, notably in the Morris-nominated Everafter by Amy Huntley. Zevin's book has a number of issues with pacing and timing, however, that I felt weren't present in Huntley's book; years would pass by without much incident, as though Liz were simply okay with her situation in Elsewhere, while she's spent significant time prior moping and bemoaning her situation. I wish this were more seamless.

As far as pacing was concerned, there were jumps that were awkward, but the book read quickly. Zevin's style is pleasing, as I mentioned in the review for This Hole We're In. She writes realistic dialog, and I felt that Liz was a belivable teenager. I'm under the belief teens feel this is the case, too, as my copies of this title are rarely available on shelf -- for five years, this has been quite a popular book.

One of the notes I made to myself on this particular title, though, was that there were a lot of unanswered questions for me. I didn't quite understand the bigger idea of Elsewhere, nor how Liz found herself surrounded by certain people and not others. She befriends a favorite musician from her days of being alive, but she never seems to really meet anyone else (this could go back to pacing and plot jumps, too). Likewise, did everyone go to Elsewhere? What sort of point was there in Elsewhere? People could work jobs, but the money they made was a moot point since nothing cost money in Elsewhere. To me, it was a little strange to have developed this world but left so many questions for the reader. I wish I had gotten to know Liz a little better, both in her Earthly life and in Elsewhere. Oh, and the perspective-told-from-a-dog needed either to be pushed further or left out entirely. It felt a little forced for how it was presented. It opened more questions, too, about Elsewhere's requirements for admission. And really, how the heck would you ever FIND your loved ones if everyone could be in Elsewhere? Mind-boggling!

Is it fair to compare a book like this -- a first in this style or idea -- to something that felt more fully fleshed like Everafter that came a few years later? I'm not sure and I'm not sure it matters a whole lot. These are fantastic readalikes, along with The Lovely Bones. There is definite girl appeal written all over these, which begs the question when an author will approach this theme with a male character and, perhaps, a male-dominated world? I'd love to read something that shakes up the trope like that.

That said, Zevin's work, I think, will be one of those teen classics. It has staying power, and it will appeal to your readers' contemplating what happens after we die (and who doesn't think about that?). Fluid writing and he intriguing concept, without doubt, make up for some of the weaknesses.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Double take and things that look quite similar

Hand holding is so hot right now, isn't it? Check out this double take, followed by many of the similar covers flooding the market right now:

Sing Me to Sleep by Angela Morrison was published by March 2010 by Razorbill.

Sharing Sam by Katherine Applegate was published March 2004 by Delacorte.

I'm a bigger fan of Sing Me to Sleep, as I think the snow falling and the font for the title works much better than Sharing Sam.

Know of any others or do you have a favorite? Share in the comments!

Edit (5/15/10)

Thanks to Linda over at Jacket Whys (a blog that if you have any interest in cover design, you need to check out), here are a few more hand-holding covers:

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mercury by Hope Larson

Generations apart, Josey and Tara have more than just DNA and a family home in common: they're both holders of a necklace with mystical powers that causes both torment and closure for their quests.

Intrigued? That's the premise of Hope Larson's new graphic novel Mercury. Told in alternating voices -- depicted through panels set on a white page (Tara's modern story) and panels set on a black page (Josey's story a few generations in the past). Although jarring at first, this set up makes sense when one has read through a few pages of both. This method makes perfect sense.

Josey's family is poor, and when a stranger named Asa Curry stumbles upon their Nova Scotia homestead claiming to have a power of prospecting, they are intrigued. When Asa really finds gold, well, things turn from exciting to downright ugly. Let's just say there's some death, some deception, and at the end, Josey is left with a very strange necklace.

Flash to the present, where we have Tara, who has lost everything because her house burnt down a few months ago. Mom is torn up by it and has relocated while Tara has reentered school after a few years of homeschooling. Tara's Aunt Janice has found a box of old jewelry from her mother and she pulls out a strange necklace that seems to have a prospecting power to it. Of course, she doesn't know this right away but instead becomes many poor students' personal hero in the meantime.

Larson's graphical style is very appealing, and her storytelling has a wonderful magical realistic to it. I thoroughly enjoyed the weaving of the past with the present, along with the tool of the necklace to tie the generations together in an unexpected manner. This was a well-paced book that begged me to reread, and reread I did. Because there's the magical element, it was worthwhile going back to pick up the threads that lead to the exciting ending.

I found both Tara and Josey to be fully fleshed characters, and I found myself caring a lot about their individual stories. I didn't, however, find myself connecting or investing much time into any other characters, though, including Tara's love interest or Mr. Curry -- that, I think, might be problematic for many readers, as he is an integral role in the story.

Mercury is appropriate for teens through adults, as anyone in those age groups will appreciate the art and the story. Language and graphics are appropriate, and I don't think there's anything surprising. This might be a good book to hand to your fans of magical realism, both in graphic novels and in traditional novels. You can feel comfortable giving this to those a little skeptical about the graphic novel format, as Larson's a reputable author and illustrator and this book does not throw in those sometimes surprisingly revealing panels. We're all clean here!

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