Wednesday, October 31, 2012
First, check out our new look! After using the old image for more than a year with incorrect blog addresses, we thought it about time to update that. To make sure we were completely updated, we swapped out our ear bud image for the big headphones because, well, it looked neat.
AudioSynced is hosted by yours truly and Abby, and we swap each month who hosts the roundup of all things audiobook in the blogging and book world (best as we can, anyway!). This month, I'm covering the audiobook reviews and news posted in October, and Abby will take the charge next month. If you posted something and want it included, drop a link to your post in the comments. Missed out this month? Abby will host next month, so send her your goods.
Apologies for a relatively thin edition of AudioSynced. It seems like a lot of the usual audio reviewers are taking a listening hiatus this month. So if I missed something or you want to add to it, don't be shy!
Heidi over at Bunbury in the Stacks has a couple of reviews, including Kendare Blake's Anna Dressed in Blood and Mary Roach's Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.
Lisa at Shelf Employed reviews an early chapter book, Nancy Krulick's What's Black and White and Stinks All Over, which is the fourth book in the George Brown, Class Clown series.
Beth of A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust reviews Gabrielle Zevin's Because it is My Blood, Yes Chef by Marcus Samuelsson, and Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson.
Lee at Reading With My Ears lends her thoughts on Maryrose Wood's The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Hidden Gallery, Mark Haddon's The Red House, Christian Burch's The Manny Files, Ian Rankin's The Falls, and Georgette Heyer's The Convenient Marriage. She also snuck in a review of Joseph Delaney's The Last Apprentice: Rage of the Fallen.
Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead is this month's audiobook contribution from Sarah at YA Librarian Tales.
Over at Good Books and Good Wine, Allison takes a stab at reviewing an audiobook. Her choice? Amanda Quick's Seduction. April offers up an audiobook reviews of Bram Stoker's classic Dracula and Walter Dean Myers's Sunrise Over Fallujah.
Flannery at The Readventurer reviews David Levithan's recently released Every Day.
News & Other Audio Bits
Janssen has a thought-provoking question: do you reread audiobooks? Would you? She enjoyed her audiobook "reread" experience quite a bit.
Sharon Grover and Liz Hannegan talk about how educators can use audiobooks to meet STEM initiatives, including common core standards.
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
I've got a blog post over at YALSA's blog today as a guest. I'm talking about bullying and resources and what librarians and other youth advocates can do to be aware of the issue.
Since October is bullying prevention month, I wanted to write something -- especially in light of how many bullying books I've read in the last couple of years and in light of a number of horrific stories of teen bullying gone too far -- and I'm thrilled YALSA wanted to post it over on their blog. But it's not just about one month of awareness on the issue. It's about being aware all year long.
The Onion Book of Known Knowledge. Rather than having a moderator who asked them specific questions, they gave a PowerPoint presentation. Unlike most PowerPoint presentations, this one was funny. They had the audience in stitches with gems like "Antelope: Another f***ing kind of deer" and "Egg: The most popular form of child to eat" plus the graphic above. They also talked about how the book was created, including an $8,000 trip to see Mount Rushmore and an additional $8,000 trip to verify their findings. I have Our Dumb World and enjoy referring to it from time to time, but the Onion's encyclopedia speaks even more to my librarian heart.
|Kristin Cashore and the back of my head.|
The first session I attended on Sunday was my requisite nerd session: "Jane Austen: Reading Between the Lines." David Shapard talked about the process of annotating Austen's novels, including his initial love for her writing and how his appreciation for her grew as a result of the project. Jennifer Ziegler should get the Best Moderator award for her work here, since her questions were by far the most interesting and thoughtful of any session I attended. Shapard talked some about how he used the OED as a reference to learn about how the meanings of certain words were different in Austen's time, which I found fascinating ("condescending," for example, did not have quite the negative connotation we apply to it now).
|There are photos of me more awkward than this, but not many...|
I closed out the Festival by hopping over to see Garth Nix and Sean Williams discuss their collaborative effort, Troubletwisters. I'm not terribly interested in that series, but Nix spoke about some of his other books as well, including Sabriel and Shade's Children, both favorites of mine as a child. (It was really great to see so many of the authors I loved as a child still writing and winning awards in my adult years.) Bonus: both authors are Australian, so everything sounded much more interesting thanks to the accents.
All in all, it was a really satisfying event. On to 2013...
Monday, October 29, 2012
Well, I don’t actually watch or enjoy most of what’s offered these days as horror. Slashers are just boring; and, honestly, life is tough enough. Yeah, these kinds of films are horrific, but . . . snore . . . I mean, if you’re into blood and stuff, sure, but way too many people equate a ton of gore with what’s scary. Most of these slasher flicks with the guts and the sadistic chop-em-up sequences? Meh. It’s corn syrup, folks.
What’s much more intriguing/frightening/scarilicious are the things you only imagine and don’t see: that Boogey-Man under your bed, for example, or what you only see out of the corner of your eye. So I guess I really only have two favorite horror films. The first Blair Witch was super because it exploited the unseen. I think I must’ve poked my husband a couple hundred times: What did he say? Did you see that? What was that? I kept trying to see better. You know, squint and bring things into focus? It was brilliant.
My second favorite is Alien. (I just adore and, in my film academia days, wrote about those films, although I have not seen Prometheus and got zip interest in doing so). That first film is another superb example of things that are scariest when they are a) unexpected and b) ever-shifting/hardly seen. Alien is a haunted house-Halloween-style film set on a ship in outer space (and, no, I actually don’t care for Halloween).
And, frankly, the real reason I will always have a soft spot for Alien: the film made my date scream like a girl.
What influences, if any, did these movies have on the Ashes trilogy?
None, really, although I guess you could say that the Changed being so unknowable is a bit like worrying about that Boogey-Man under the bed. They’re creepy because you can’t really get into their heads—and, yeah, they’ve undergone this major lifestyle change.
Now, I can understand where people would think I’m big into slashers or something, but I’m not. Anything I put in a novel is there for a purpose, not simply to amp up the gross-out factor, or because I’ve run out of ideas. My characters are in horrific, horrible circumstances. For me, it’s not about the gore. It’s about what people are capable of doing to one another: the horror of brutality.
Friday, October 26, 2012
It’s a really simple premise, if a little stupid on Alex’s and Darla’s parts. Maybe it’s just because I knew I was reading a survival story, but two teenagers setting off into this post-volcano world on their own is a recipe for disaster. Let me tell you just a few things this new world has in store for our intrepid couple: cannibals (called “flensers”), rapists, kidnappers, never-ending winter, a desecrated landscape, an incompetent government response, and mercenaries. But both Alex and Darla are headstrong characters, so it’s not entirely unbelievable they would have made this decision, and their family wouldn’t have been able to stop them if they tried.
Ashen Winter is quite similar to Ashfall in a lot of ways: it’s a chronicle of how Alex and Darla survive, heavy on action. Unfortunately, I liked it significantly less due to the fact that it’s chock full of sexual abuse. A very large plot point (actually, the main plot point) focuses on the real and potential sexual assault women and girls undergo in this new world. Sexual assault was a part of the world pre-volcano, as it’s a part of our own world, but it’s practically a way of life for a much larger segment of the survivors post-volcano. Most of the book is spent trying to infiltrate a group of gangsters who steal and/or buy women and girls to use as sex slaves.
Some people don’t have a problem reading about this type of thing in fiction. Some people would say it’s realistic. I’m just tired of reading about it. There’s a particularly icky point near the end of the book that made me feel very uncomfortable as a reader, and I wished I hadn’t read that section at all. I finished this book before reading this thought-provoking post (about dystopias, not post-apocalyptic stories, but there is common ground), which really crystallized my feelings about this book. I want to read about resourceful teens surviving terrible cold, hunger, fatigue, even violence. I like those kinds of survival stories.
Maybe it’s because I frequently read to escape, and I know I won’t be going hungry anytime soon, that I have a shelter that keeps me warm, that my family is healthy and safe, that I won’t be eaten by cannibals, so I don’t mind putting myself in the shoes of a character who has to fight against those things. I do, however, fear sexual assault. I don’t like to read about it.
I guess that was just a really long warning that Ashen Winter focuses much more on this topic than its predecessor, which touched on it only slightly. It’s still well-written, exciting, and interesting. But I didn’t like most of it.
As always, your mileage may vary.
Review copy received from the publisher. Ashen Winter is available now.
Thursday, October 25, 2012
I started to write two separate reviews for these titles, but the more I thought about them, the more it seemed appropriate to talk about them together. Both Malinda Lo's new title Adaptation -- which will have a sequel -- and Kirstin Cronn-Mills's Beautiful Music for Ugly Children tackle sexuality and identity head on in ways that, on the surface, don't look to have anything in common but in actuality, touch upon many common themes.
They rent a car, determined to get home to San Francisco to their families. Except, the ride home is about what you'd expect from a world gone mad.
In the middle of Nevada, a bird crashed into their windshield, and shortly thereafter, Reese awakes in a military hospital. Neither she nor David can get answers about what happened or why they're in the hospital or even where they are. But they're healed from the car crash.
As soon as Reese gets home to San Francisco though, things become even more bizarre. There are dead birds still. Hazmat teams. All sort of surveillance. And then she runs into Amber Gray. Now Reese is much less worried about busting down the government's secrets and instead, she's worried about figuring out who she is and what Amber is to her.
Adaptation takes on one of my favorite scifi tropes: aliens. Aliens. This is a huge and brilliant metaphor in the story. As much as this is a story about Reese discovering the truth of her and Amber's identities (Are they human or alien? Is it all government conspiracy?), it's actually a story about Reese questioning her sexuality. Does she have feelings for David or does she really have feelings for Amber? This internal struggle epitomizes the alien aspect, of course -- Reese feels alien in either choice because she's unsure whether she's ever being true to herself or true to what people want to believe of her. David's reactions and interactions with Reese make readers want one thing, while she's unable to make a solid choice because her heart can't. I'm being purposefully vague because so much of the enjoyment in this book was not knowing what would happen going in and being pleasantly surprised with how the romantic tension played out.
More than being a story about sexuality, though, it's also a story about love more generally. Reese questions whether it's possible to love more than one person because the feelings she has for David and the feelings she has for Amber are real and true, but she isn't sure whether she can truly believe that or not. Is there enough room in her heart to love two people? To do so for such different reasons and purposes? And how do you proceed when you do tangle with that? There's a great speech from Reese's father on the topic who assures her it is possible and okay to love more than one person.
While I saw the twist in the story coming from pretty far away, I thought the pacing and the complexity with which Lo wove the alien/sexuality metaphor made this book quite memorable. I always hesitate to use the word fun when it comes to a book that delves into pretty meaty issues -- without becoming an issue book, I should add -- but this book was a lot of fun to read. It does have a companion and there is quite a cliffhanger at the end. I'm invested enough to want to know what happens next, though.This isn't a perfect book, as I found the pacing dragged at the end and I had trouble further into the book parsing out the government conspiracy aspects of the story from the personal struggle in Reese, but these are forgivable. I assume some of these issues will be better illuminated in the companion.
Give Adaptation to readers who like stories about sexuality, want something LGBTQ-friendly, and those who like good, thought-provoking science fiction.
Gabe feels most comfortable behind the mic, where he can truly be Gabe. It was up until a couple of months ago he lived as Elizabeth and fought against everything he believed about himself. He wasn't Elizabeth. He was Gabe. Through radio, he can better accept himself and hope people can accept him too.
It's the Midwest and while it's not small-town, there are certain beliefs that permeate Gabe's world and impact it pretty profoundly. His mom and dad have a hard time accepting him as Gabe (despite loving him and accepting him in their hearts, they still want to call him Liz, thus continuing to hold him back); school is a place where he's insulted and taunted for being different; people actually want to hurt him because of his difference (more because of their own fear of anything that's not black and white); and he struggles with where to go from here not only in terms of work (he's graduating and while he dreams of being a DJ, it's a dying art) but also in terms of relationships. Does he go after his heart and pursue his best friend Paige? Does he dare break the friendship in an attempt to forge a romance? What about Mara, who was the first girl to call in to his radio show and profess her feelings for his radio persona (which isn't a persona at all)? Or Heather?
While the transsexual storyline is at the heart of the book, I found what stood out were the relationships here (of course they all go back to the essential questions of sexuality and of gender and whether or not those things matter period). Gabe and his relationship with John is different from many I've read in YA, and it got me a bit choked up more than once. I found his relationship with Paige dynamic and authentic; as much as she was at times scared or worried for him, she loved him fiercely in the way he deserved. There is a real vulnerability that exists between the two of them and reading these moments made my breath a little unsteady. I worried so hard for both of them because their worlds felt so fragile, even though it shouldn't have; I think because the story was through Gabe's lens I was led to worry about him and Paige a little more.
Gabe doesn't think he deserves anything. He doesn't believe he deserves to be happy, deserves to be loved, deserves to be accepted for who he is. Gabe is hard NOT to like as a reader, and those moments where two jackasses who are scared of him want to hurt him because he's different, I welled up. He was such a good person, such an unassuming person, even, and the fear those two had for his being different and accepting himself as such made me so angry. No one deserves that kind of treatment, and that Gabe even questioned himself or his insanely brave decisions for a second because of them hurt. That Gabe didn't want to seek out police help because he assumed they wouldn't care not only hurt, but it struck a truth about the LGBTQ world, especially that world in the Midwest, and it only made me care and worry about Gabe that much more. It also further reflected Gabe's believe he didn't deserve protection or help.
John, who is Gabe's neighbor, has had a rough life, but he keeps it quiet. It doesn't appear to be the case on the surface, since his career in radio had offered him so many neat opportunities. He's a fully-fleshed character in and of himself, but his story line further enhanced Gabe's. John, despite being much older and being pained by loss in his own life, looked at Gabe as an equal. I think that's why when he does tell Gabe about his family, it's such a huge moment both for him and for Gabe. It's friends sharing big things with one another. John really sets Gabe up on a great path for the future in many, many ways with a big gift -- something he expects no returns on. The acceptance and love he offers Gabe without any questions was such a contrast to what Gabe experiences at school and, at times, home.
The music story line here is fresh, and I loved the A-side/B-side metaphor woven throughout. While Beautiful Music for Ugly Children focuses on Gabe and his acceptance of self as Gabe, it's really a story about accepting yourself, period. This is where the Ugly Children's Brigade, a fan group for Gabe's show, plays in. This is a story about Gabe, who is transsexual, but it's not a story about Gabe, the transsexual. There's a big difference.
I thought the transsexual storyline may have even been underplayed, actually, and I wouldn't have minded a little more. For a while I wondered if this was more about a transgendered experience since it was so underplayed, but it was the very last scene that cemented the fact that this was about a transsexual experience. John's gift was, of course, so that Gabe could work toward a full physical change. I'm assuming anyone who reads and gets this book understands the difference between those two terms. At the center, this is a story about being a person, and being a person who accepts that they deserve to be the person who they are. No question.
Cronn-Mills writes the teen voice so well, and maybe it's because my roots are Midwestern, but she nails life in this part of the country for teens. I love how these kids work and their jobs are a big part of who they are, too. For all of this, Beautiful Music for Ugly Children is a quieter book, but it is one that will resonate with readers, and I think they'll identify easily with Gabe -- the questions of who you are and who you can be are never limited to one experience.
Both Adaptation by Malinda Lo and Beautiful Music for Ugly Children are available now. Review copies received from the publisher.
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Liyana has trained her whole life to be the vessel for her tribe’s goddess, Bayla. When Liyana dances and a magician speaks the correct words, Bayla will be called and inhabit Liyana’s body, displacing Liyana’s soul. The ritual kills Liyana, but Bayla needs a body to work the magic that will bring rain to the desert and save the lives of everyone who calls it home.
Liyana is prepared to sacrifice herself to save her tribe, but although the ritual is performed flawlessly, Bayla doesn’t come. Her tribe decides that Bayla decreed Liyana unworthy of her, and they abandon her to the desert. Liyana survives on her own for a bit, but her prospects are bleak.
And then a young man approaches her, claiming to be the trickster god Korbyn. He tells Liyana that the various tribes’ gods and goddesses have been trapped in false vessels, and they must team up together to rescue them or the desert people will perish. So Liyana joins Korbyn on his trek through the desert, gathering up the other tribes’ failed vessels of other gods and goddesses and heading east, toward the Crescent Empire, where Korbyn says the deities have been imprisoned.
The desert setting Durst has created is wonderful. Liyana loves her desert, though it is a harsh place to live. In one scene, she defends it to another character, and her words inspire love for the desert in the reader, too. Durst makes the desert a unique, fully-realized place, not a thinly-veiled copy of Middle Earth.
I loved many other things about the book, too. The magic system has rules that make sense, and it’s never used as a deus ex machina. On their journey, Liyana and Korbyn swap stories about the deities that we would normally call fables or folklore, but they also have an impact on the story and its characters. Liyana herself is protective of her people and her culture, but she’s not blinded by faith, either. Durst balances these two aspects of her personality well – she is neither blindly obedient nor the stereotypical rebel. The supporting cast all have distinctive personalities as well, even those who do not get much page time.
Many books start with a unique premise, but then execute that premise in a predictable way (Crewel is a recent example). Durst adeptly avoids this pitfall. Vessel isn’t a book full of twists and turns, but nor does it lead exactly where I thought it would. It’s believable and interesting throughout, and I never felt that I had read the story a hundred times before.
Lastly, I liked how the religion in the book wasn’t mythical (in the way that we consider ancient Greek religion mythical – fun, untrue stories that people used to believe). Liyana's gods and goddesses are real, and they truly inhabit the bodies of others to work their magic. A lot of fantasy doesn't go there, which is fine, but it's more unusual to see it actually presented as the characters believe.
I know the cover doesn’t change what’s inside, but Vessel has a particularly striking one. I love the combination of pinks, oranges, and browns, and I love how powerful Liyana looks on it. The cover seems to depict her in the midst of her dance to draw Bayla to her, meaning that while it does depict a pretty girl in a pretty dress, it’s also relevant to the story. (And I’ll admit that I love looking at pretty dresses.)
Vessel is a great example of new territory fantasy can mine. One of the things I love most about reading fantasy is that anything is possible. The author has the whole world plus all imagined worlds to work with. Durst has done a terrific job with her imagined world.
I’d recommend this for fans of Girl of Fire and Thorns (for the hero’s journey aspect), For Darkness Shows the Stars (for the unique/believable world-building aspect), Shadows on the Moon (for the non-Western fantasy aspect), and possibly older readers of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon/Starry River of the Sky (for the folkore/mythology aspect). Its appeal should be wide to fantasy fans in general, but it’s a good example of story and writing that can draw in tentative fantasy readers as well.
Because I was curious and I figured you all might be too, below is a video of Sarah Beth Durst discussing the development of the idea behind Vessel. You can also read the first two chapters of the book at her website.
Finished copy received from the publisher. Vessel is available now.
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
This past weekend, I went out to Denver to visit a couple of college friends who'd moved out there not too long ago. One of the bonuses of choosing this last weekend was the opportunity to attend an author event in Boulder on Saturday evening, featuring three debut authors -- Donna Cooner (Skinny), Emily Hainsworth (Through to You), and Tiffany Schmidt (Send Me A Sign) -- and more-seasoned author Brenna Yovanoff (The Replacement and The Space Between).
Before the signing itself, I met up with Emily and Tiffany for a little ice cream. Except, it was probably the saddest ice cream experience ever, given that they ran out of ice cream for what we all wanted to order and Tiffany and I settled for less-than-stellar choices. Of course, it wasn't about the ice cream, but the company.
Shortly after, we made our way down to Boulder Book Store and upstairs to the area that had been cleared out for the reading. And immediately after, the news came that the exit from the interstate to Boulder had been shut down for an accident and Donna and Brenna may be late. That then led to realizing those who wanted to attend might not make it either. Fortunately, a couple of other people came (including Jen from A Book and a Latte and Owyn). We waited for a while and knew that the traffic situation was going to throw the schedule off a little, but in the mean time, Tiffany was kind enough to do a little reading for us from another book, Hot Guys and Baby Animals (with a short cameo from Emily):
Then Donna made it as the reading wrapped up, and by the time 6:30 rolled around -- the event began at 6 -- everyone started and crossed their fingers Brenna would show up. She hadn't made it as everyone began their introductions, but she snuck in right in time to share hers, too. Here everyone gives a little background into themselves and their books (here's where my stellar video-taking skills came in, as this video is a little choppy since I had to edit an entire rotated screen I somehow made happen):
This was an extremely informal panel, meaning that no one introduced it and there wasn't an agenda. So once the introductions were over, Donna suggested everyone do a short reading from their books. My camera's capacity filled up mid-way through Tiffany's reading, meaning I didn't get to capture all of hers nor any of Brenna's, but here are Donna, Emily, and (part of) Tiffany's readings:
Donna Cooner reading from Skinny:
Emily Hainsworth reads from Through to You (the sound doesn't pick up immediately, but it kicks in after a few seconds):
Tiffany Schmidt reads from Send Me A Sign:
Once the reading ended, they opened the floor up to questions. Fortunately, the audience had filled out nicely and they ran out of time answering questions because the were that many. I wish I'd done a better job of taking notes on what was asked and answered, but I can share what I asked, which was what was the most surprising thing about being a debut author (for the three debut authors) and what was the most surprising aspect of being a seasoned author past that "debut" stage. For Donna, it was how much people would interact with her and share how they felt about the book. In other words, it had nothing to do with the writing or the promoting but was much more about how suddenly, people wanted to talk with her about her story. Brenna's answer was really thoughtful, too, about how different it was going from being a debut to being a non-debut author -- it was hard to juggle writing and promoting and having her head in two different places, especially as it's less of a "status" to be a non-debut author.
There was a great discussion about branding and about how the authors felt their careers could look in the future, especially since they've all written stand alone novels. Where those who write a series kind of have an idea of what their careers will look after their debut novel, those who write stand alones don't. Do they stick with the genre or "type" of book they've done before or do they try something entirely new? How does Donna Cooner write another "Donna Cooner" book, when she's only written one before? Brenna mentioned that she loves writing somewhat creepy stories, so continuing down that path isn't something she worries too much about just yet.
Another good question that came up was directed at Emily and how she managed to write such a believable male protagonist in Through to You. She talked about working through scenes and dialog again and again until it sounded right and not too emotionally-driven, like a female voice tends to be. She talked about the challenge, especially because she herself had never been a teenage boy.
Once question and answers were cut off (because there were a ton!), all of the authors hung around to chat and sign books. I didn't get a photo of everyone on the panel together because my camera died, but there is an excellent one with Jen over at her blog.
Before I snuck out, I did manage to get someone to take a photo of Tiffany, Emily, and I:
This was a fabulous event, and I am envious of anyone who lives in Boulder and gets to attend things like this regularly.
Monday, October 22, 2012
I mentioned in this weekend's links of note post that I've been working on a couple of different projects. One of them has been on a presentation for the YA Lit Symposium, and the other one is something that has sort of been in the back of my mind for a few months now.
I've done a lot of thinking about the things I'm passionate about. About the things that I've had the chance to write about here on STACKED and elsewhere. About how much I love writing about and thinking about certain topics and issues. I started to really consider how I can take what it is that interests me and take it out a little bit further.
(I feel like building up really good tension here so that this is really as exciting an announcement to whoever reads it as it is to me, but I fear I'm doing a terrible job. Humor me, please.)
Last week, I submitted a lengthy outline to VOYA for a book.
This weekend, while out of town, I had a contract in my inbox.
Today, I signed and returned that contract.
In other words: I'm writing a book.
A book about contemporary YA fiction.
It's not just a book of book lists, though, and while there will certainly be a nice chunk of the book devoted to thematic and topical book lists (with book talks, links to well-done and worthwhile book trailers, with read alikes, and other readers' advisory materials), it's a lot more than that. My vision for the book -- which should be obvious by now isn't yet written -- includes a large first part devoted to some of the things I've talked about before: why contemporary YA matters, how to be an effective critical reader and evaluator of books, and how to make connections among and between books. It's also going to give a historical overview of the growth of the genre and the way it moved from "problem novels" to how it broaches different themes and topics in today's world. It's going to cover how to effectively provide passive readers' advisory, as well as how to give a book talk (with attention to the evaluation of and use of book trailers).
The book will also include readers' guides to different topics for book group and classroom use. These would be over niche topics within contemporary YA fiction that could make for interesting conversation -- for example, the topic of military service would highlight 4 or 5 books that feature this theme and provide a means of examining them individually and as a group.
And of course, there will be a section devoted to how to be an advocate for contemporary YA fiction.
The book as I see it will be useful not just for librarians, but also educators, youth advocates, and, I hope, general readers looking to educate themselves on the genre and also looking for a resource to a lot of new reading material. It's also going to be very up-to-date, meaning materials will be from 2009 to the present (thinking by the time it's in print, nothing in the book will be more than 5-6 years old). There will, of course, be a lot of time devoted to talking about classics and staples in contemporary YA, so those won't be overlooked.
I've been processing this all because, as much as I've been thinking about this for a long time, it all came together very, very quickly. Like I mentioned: this isn't written yet. And it won't be done for quite a while because I've given myself a nice lengthy deadline in hopes of devouring as much relevant material as possible.
As far as what this may mean for blogging, I am pretty sure it means nothing different will happen here except maybe for more reviews. I don't plan on talking about this project a whole lot until there is a finished product in hand (or there are parts of a finished product, at least) and I can talk about it as a tangible thing, rather than an idea I'm still wrapping my head around.
I'm writing a book about contemporary YA fiction.
“Who’s your favorite writer?”
My favorite writer is Stephen King.
But it’s also about roots. King was the first “grown-up” writer I ever sought out. See, I grew up in the ‘90s, and that was a time when Stephen King was still the biggest publishing juggernaut on the planet (this was when J. K. Rowling was still in her superstar infancy). He was the only writer I’d ever seen who had TV commercials to promote his books. His paperbacks were in every grocery store, at everyone’s yard sales. It’s still true, but back then it was somehow truer: Stephen King was ubiquitous.
So, in my adolescent brain, reading a Stephen King novel meant that you’d somehow arrived at adulthood. You were part of that great mass that King himself has come to call “Constant Reader.” But my introduction to the King canon was likely different than most. For whatever reason, rather than picking up something short but iconic – The Shining, perhaps, or Pet Sematary – I picked up what remains King’s longest, most ambitious single novel: The Stand.
Even after a career of nearly four decades encompassing all manner of scary and non-scary stories, I still consider The Stand to be King’s best work. It’s sprawling and majestic and so clear in my head that it still stands as my favorite novel. On the other end there’s Gerald’s Game, perhaps the only King novel I outright loathe, but overall his body of work is one that keeps me coming back. I re-read his longest novels over and over again, I reach for particular short stories to brighten my day, and I keep re-visiting the audio version of his memoir On Writing (which he reads). No other writer has ever kept me so hungry for the words.
Why, you ask? Well, apart from King’s role in my reading youth, it’s kind of hard to say. I’m not trying to cop out here, but I really feel that when you talk about favorite writers, what really causes that connection is something invisible. I could talk about how he manages to be extremely attentive to detail while never being overwhelming about it. I could talk about his incredible ear for dialogue. I could talk about the almost cinematic images he crafts that haunt me even years after reading them (the old woman in the tub from The Shining, the sandalwood handles on Roland the Gunslinger’s revolvers). I could talk about the fantastic blend of fear and humor. I could talk about his ability to travel far beyond his “horror master” label and deliver fantastic tales of human hope, compassion, and love. I could talk about all of that, but if you ask me why Stephen King is my favorite writer, and I really think about it, I find the honest answer is much, much simpler.
Stephen King’s writing just feels like home.
So, in the spirit of Halloween sharing, I’ve shared my favorite writer with you, but since this is a blog about reading, and I believe it would be a kindness to leave you with some useful information, I would like to present a brief reading list for the works of my favorite author. If you’d like some chills this Halloween courtesy of Mr. King, here’s where you can go.
High School Hell: Carrie
Vampires That Don’t Sparkle: Salem’s Lot
Haunted Houses, Haunted People: The Shining
The Ultimate Monster: IT
The End of the World As We Know It: The Stand
The Horror Variety Pack: Night Shift
The Horror Within: The Dead Zone, The Dark Half
Spooky Pets: Cujo, Pet Sematary
Horror-Free: Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, 11/22/63, The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger
Happy All Hallow’s Read, gang.
Saturday, October 20, 2012
This week's links of note is legitimately shorter than most. I'm in the midst of preparing a huge presentation for YALSA's YA Lit Symposium and I've been working on setting up the forthcoming contemporary week series here at STACKED, to run November 3-10. I've got five amazing guest posts, and I'll be including coordinating book lists to the topics the guests wrote on. Contemporary week will kick off with a post including all our presentation materials from the Symposium, including a massive project I've devoted all my free time to. Which would explain why this week's links of note is shorter.
- What's new in YA Fiction? Mashups. But not the kind of Mashups where Abe Lincoln is taking on something paranormal. These are mashups that tangle genres. I think some of these work way better than others, especially when trying to sell books to a teen.
- So how much do women dominate the YA world? Not that much, according to this awesomely well-researched piece over at Lady Business. So next time there's moaning about the guys reading problem, maybe it's not because of who is writing the stories nor who the main characters in stories are. There is another great followup piece over at Zoe Marriott's blog.
- Turns out Isaac Marion hates that he's associated with young adult books. Even though it was blurbs from a YA author who got him his start. The shame and stigma, etc. I'm posting this so you can add him to your "don't bother" list.
- The amazing ladies of The Readventurer have posted another "wall of books," this time featuring titles from Australia. I felt my to-read pile grow by leaps and bounds.
- Here's a good piece on how to support an author. Though I do find the "buy a copy even if you won't read it" bit to be kind of weird. I get the point, but I don't like extra clutter in my house. I'd rather just gift a book in support.
- Ten essential books for book nerds! How many have you read or do you own? I've read The Book Thief and The Polysyllabic Spree. I do own Reading Lolita in Tehran but haven't read it yet.
- Want to visit a haunted library? Here are the ten most haunted in the United States. I've been to exactly zero of them.
- Quercus books is going to expand to US distribution. I've read a couple of YA titles from Quercus (having ordered them from the UK) and I've really enjoyed them. This is great news.
- Ploughshares literary magazine does a feature on little-known literary boroughs, and this time, they covered Iowa City, IA. I went to college just north of Iowa City and used to go down to their amazing indie, Prairie Lights, to get a fix. I got to hear a few readings there, too, and I had the privilege of hearing so many well-known literary readers while in college because of the Iowa Writer's Workshop being there. I also had a professor who came from the IWW, which really did transform a lot of my thinking about creative writing and the creative process. When they tell you you will not have opportunities for "cultural events" in the midwest, I beg to differ. I loved reading this piece.
- Cassie Clare wrote a great piece about bullying and how it's a bad thing. I know that sounds cheesy and I feel like everyone's read this already, but I think her speaking out like this -- especially with the audience she has -- is brave and powerful.
- Want a literary Halloween costume? Look no further.
- The ten most twisted couples in literary history. I haven't read enough of these to agree. But do I love a twisted couple.
- I think it's way too early to be talking about the best books of the year, but The Huffington Post disagrees with me. They offer up their favorites of the year. There is one YA book on the list. Can you guess what it is?
- Speaking of Halloween, twisted couples, and other scary thoughts, make sure you check out the new series over at Nova Ren Suma's blog: What Scares You?
Friday, October 19, 2012
Actually, Leonard does have some good writing credits, which were thankfully also mentioned in the press release I received. He’s written for several well-known UK television shows like Hornblower and Wire in the Blood. I suppose it’s inevitable that his relationship to James would have emerged, whether or not the publisher touted it. Perhaps the strategy really does help sell more copies of the book – I wouldn’t know – but I still think it’s strange (and funny).
All that aside, Leonard has written a thoroughly enjoyable mystery of publishable quality. It doesn’t surprise me that he has experience writing television – the book is fast, with lots of dialogue and action. It’s one of those books that could also accurately be described as a thriller, although it’s certainly a whodunit as well.
Seventeen year old Finn Maguire is a high school dropout, working at a London fast food place and living with his dad, a has-been actor now struggling (and failing) to start a new career as a screenwriter. Finn comes home from work one day to find his dad bludgeoned to death, and as is almost always the case in mystery novels, our protagonist is the prime suspect.
Since Finn figures the police are too busy focusing on him to find the real murderer, he decides to do some investigating of his own. His search leads him to a mob boss named McGovern, and before long, Finn is in deep, deep trouble. But he’s also uncovering lots of secrets and getting closer to finding the truth.
Crusher doesn’t have a large number of characters, which also means it doesn’t have a large pool of suspects. Due to this fact, many listeners may find the culprit easy to guess. They may also feel that a certain red herring takes up entirely too much of the plot. Still, these flaws are easy to overlook, at least in the audio version, in light of the book’s strengths.
Primary among these strengths is Finn’s (first person) voice, of which the narration is part and parcel. I’m a sucker for narrators with accents, and Daniel Weyman has a terrific one. He’s great at conveying Finn’s bluster and toughness, but also the emotion that his tough words try to hide. I read a review of Crusher that called Finn a “cold fish,” but I found that to be far from the truth in Weyman’s capable hands. Finn puts up a strong front, but he’s clearly torn up about his father’s death, and later events in the story show his shell cracking further. After a pretty heart-breaking denouement, I was really feeling for the guy.
One element that was not as easy to overlook, however, was the female element. Basically, all the females in Crusher are awful. One or two may approach “realistically flawed,” but that’s pushing it. Of course, the males aren’t too great, either, so it doesn’t bother me as much as it would otherwise. This is a book peopled with some very unsavory characters, not unexpected for a book about the mob. (Normally I stay away from books that feature the mob in any way, but I love listening to mysteries on audio above all, and I figured I would give this a shot.)
Leila reviewed this one a little while ago, and she focuses on how it doesn’t seem to really be a young adult novel, due to its lack of “firsts” for its main character. That’s a question I don’t have a firm opinion on, but I think it’s interesting to ponder. Regardless, I think Crusher will certainly appeal to teens who like grittier mysteries and stories about the mob, and this is a well-done audio version.
Review copy provided by the publisher. Crusher is available now.
Thursday, October 18, 2012
I love when small trends in YA books emerge. A lot of the time, the books have nothing to do with one another in terms of plot, but there are common elements that still somehow tie them together. I've been keeping note of some of the interesting microtrends from this year and last, and I'd love to hear if you can think of other small trends or other books that fit into any of the trends below.
All descriptions come from WorldCat and/or Goodreads.
There is a whole subset of Amish fiction, but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about books outside the "Amish fiction" genre. Worth noting is that all of these books came out before the TLC show Breaking Amish, but I'm curious to see if that brings out more of these types of stories.
The Hallowed Ones by Laura Bickle: Amish teen Katie smuggles a gravely injured young man, an outsider, into her family's barn despite the elders' ruling that no one can come in or out of the community while some mysterious and massive unrest is wreaking havoc in the "English" world.
A World Away by Nancy Grossman: Sixteen-year-old Eliza, an Amish girl, goes to work for an "English" family as a nanny to two young children, and must then choose between two entirely different ways of life.
Temptation by Karen Ann Hopkins: But I love Noah. And he loves me. We met and fell in love in the sleepy farming community of Meadowview, while we rode our horses together through the grassy fields and in those moments in each other's arms. It should be Rose & Noah forever, but it won't be. Because he's Amish. And I'm not.
These books do something neat and something incredibly challenging from the writing and reading perspective: they've developed main characters who don't identify as either male nor female.
Brooklyn, Burning by Steve Brezenoff: Sixteen-year-old Kid, who lives on the streets of Brooklyn, loves Felix, a guitarist and junkie who disappears, leaving Kid the prime suspect in an arson investigation, but a year later Scout arrives, giving Kid a second chance to be in a band and find true love.
Every Day by David Levithan: Every morning A wakes in a different person's body, in a different person's life, learning over the years to never get too attached, until he wakes up in the body of Justin and falls in love with Justin's girlfriend, Rhiannon.
Both of these books came out this year, and I wonder how -- if any -- influence there was with Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus.
Circus Galacticus by Deva Fagan: Trix's life in boarding school as an orphan charity case has been hard, but when an alluring young Ringmaster invites her, a gymnast, to join Circus Galacticus she gainss an entire universe of deadly enemies and potential friends, along with a chance to unravel secrets of her own past.
Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby: Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, step inside Mosco's Traveling Wonder Show, a menagerie of human curiosities and misfits guaranteed to astound and amaze! But perhaps the strangest act of Mosco's display is Portia Remini, a normal among the freaks, on the run from McGreavy's Home for Wayward Girls, where Mister watches and waits. He said he would always find Portia, that she could never leave. Free at last, Portia begins a new life on the bally, seeking answers about her father's disappearance. Will she find him before Mister finds her? It's a story for the ages, and like everyone who enters the Wonder Show, Portia will never be the same.
That Time I Joined the Circus by J. J. Howard (April 2013): After her father's sudden death and a break-up with her best friends, seventeen-year-old Lexi has no choice but to leave New York City seeking her long-absent mother, rumored to be in Florida with a traveling circus, where she just may discover her destiny.
"The Turn of the Screw" Retellings
Retellings aren't really news or all that trendy (think of how many Jane Austen or Bronte sister books have been retold for modern times), but I find this one on Henry James's "The Turn of the Screw" to be an interesting one. I think part of it is because if you've read one, you have a good idea where the next book's twist will happen. You're pre-spoiled in a way.
The Turning by Francine Prose: A teen boy becomes the babysitter for two very peculiar children on a haunted island in this modern retelling of The Turn of the Screw.
Tighter by Adele Griffin: Based on Henry James's "The Turn of the Screw," tells the story of Jamie Atkinson's summer spent as a nanny in a small Rhode Island beach town, where she begins to fear that the estate may be haunted, especially after she learns of two deaths that occurred there the previous summer.
Tales of "The Furies"
The Furies have been showing up, both in the traditional sense of their mythology and through re-worked story lines.
Fury by Elizabeth Miles: After high school junior Emily hooks up with her best friend's boyfriend, and football quarterback Chase's life spirals out of control, three mysterious Furies--paranormal creatures that often assume the form of beautiful women--come to town to make sure that Emily and Chase get what they deserve.
Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini: When shy sixteen-year-old Helen Hamilton starts having vivid dreams about three ancient, hideous women and suddenly tries to kill a new student at her Nantucket high school, she discovers that she is playing out some version of an old tale involving Helen of Troy, the Three Furies, and a mythic battle.
Furious by Jill Wolfson (April 2013): After becoming the Furies of Greek mythology, three angry high school girls take revenge on everyone who deserves it.
Vengeance Bound by Justina Ireland (April 2013): Amelie Ainsworth longs to graduate from high school and live a normal life, but as an abused child she became one of the Furies, driven to mete out justice on the Guilty, and lives on the run from the murders they commit.
I don't call this a recent trend, since it's an era that made an appearance in Anna Godbersen's recent "Bright Young Things" series and Jillian Larkin's "Vixen" series. But there have been a few titles tackling the flapper era with both a nod to the flappers but with less emphasis on "Gossip Girl"-esque drama.
The Diviners by Libba Bray: Seventeen-year-old Evie O'Neill is thrilled when she is exiled from small-town Ohio to New York City in 1926, even when a rash of occult-based murders thrusts Evie and her uncle, curator of The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult, into the thick of the investigation.
Debutantes by Cora Harrison: It's 1923 and London is a whirl of jazz, dancing and parties. Violet, Daisy, Poppy and Rose Derrington are desperate to be part of it, but stuck in an enormous crumbling house in the country, with no money and no fashionable dresses, the excitement seems a lifetime away. But a house as big and old as Beech Grove Manor hides many secrets, and Daisy is about to uncover one so huge it could ruin all their plans - ruin everything - forever.
Born of Illusion by Teri Brown (June 2013 -- no cover yet): Anna Van Housen is thirteen the first time she breaks her mother out of jail. By sixteen she’s street smart and savvy, assisting her mother, the renowned medium Marguerite Van Housen, in her stage show and séances, and easily navigating the underground world of magicians, mediums and mentalists in 1920’s New York City. Handcuffs and sleight of hand illusions have never been much of a challenge for Anna. The real trick is keeping her true gifts secret from her opportunistic mother, who will stop at nothing to gain her ambition of becoming the most famous medium who ever lived. But when a strange, serious young man moves into the flat downstairs, introducing her to a secret society that studies people with gifts like hers, he threatens to reveal the secrets Anna has fought so hard to keep, forcing her to face the truth about her past. Could the stories her mother has told her really be true? Could she really be the illegitimate daughter of the greatest magician of all?
Set in the 1980s or 1990s
This is another trend I don't think is new but it's one I keep coming across and find worth noting -- and I guess technically it's not a microtrend, either, since there are a good number of books featuring settings in the 1980s and 1990s. In fact, I bet I could have written an entire blog post on this trend alone. What trips me up about these books is I can't call them contemporary but it makes me feel a little weird calling them historical, too -- a couple would easily be historical though because they tackle historical events. Also a lot of the time the setting isn't interesting for me as a reader. It seems like it serves as a convenience either through the author's own experience or as a means of avoiding dealing with the plot holes that technology could bring. Not always, but often.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (March 2013): A sweet, moving novel about two misfits finding love in the most unexpected of places.
The Summer I Learned to Fly by Dana Reinhardt: Thirteen-year-old Drew starts the summer of 1986 helping in her mother's cheese shop and dreaming about co-worker Nick, but when her widowed mother begins dating, Drew's father's book of lists, her pet rat, and Emmett, a boy on a quest, help her cope.
Running Wide Open by Lisa Nowak: Cody Everett has a temper as hot as the flashpoint of racing fuel, and it's landed him at his uncle's trailer, a last-chance home before military school. But how can he take the guy seriously when he calls himself Race, eats Twinkies for breakfast, and pals around with rednecks who drive in circles every Saturday night? What Cody doesn't expect is for the arrangement to work. Or for Race to become the friend and mentor he's been looking for all his life. But just as Cody begins to settle in and get a handle on his supercharged temper, a crisis sends his life spinning out of control. Everything he's come to care about is threatened, and he has to choose between falling back on his old, familiar anger or stepping up to prove his loyalty to the only person he's ever dared to trust.
Bitter Melon by Cara Chow: With the encouragement of one of her teachers, a Chinese American high school senior asserts herself against her demanding, old-school mother and carves out an identity for herself in late 1980s San Francisco.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth: In the early 1990s, when gay teenager Cameron Post rebels against her conservative Montana ranch town and her family decides she needs to change her ways, she is sent to a gay conversion therapy center.
The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler: It's 1996, and less than half of all American high school students have ever used the Internet. Emma just got her first computer and Josh is her best friend. They power up and log on--and discover themselves on Facebook, fifteen years in the future. Everybody wonders what their Destiny will be. Josh and Emma are about to find out.
Other Words for Love by Lorraine Zago Rosenthal: In 1985 Brooklyn, New York, sixteen-year-old artist Ari learns about first love.
Yesterday by CK Kelly Martin: After the mysterious death of her father and a sudden move back to her native Canada in 1985, sixteen-year-old Freya feels distant and disoriented until she meets Garren and begins remembering their shared past, despite the efforts of some powerful people to keep them from learning the truth.
Sometimes it's the main character and sometimes it's someone closely related to the main character.
I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga: Seventeen-year-old Jazz learned all about being a serial killer from his notorious "Dear Old Dad," but believes he has a conscience that will help fight his own urges and right some of his father's wrongs, so he secretly helps the police apprehend the town's newest murderer, "The Impressionist."
Velveteen by Daniel Marks: Velveteen was murdered at 16, but that's not her real problem. Life in purgatory is hard work when your side job is haunting the serial killer who killed you.
Henry Franks by Peter Adam Salomon: While a serial killer stalks his small Georgia town, sixteen-year-old Henry tries to find the truth about the terrible accident that robbed him of his mother and his memories, aided by his friend Justine but not by his distant father.
Have any titles published in the last two years to add to any of these trends? Have you seen any other microtrends worth nothing? Or are any of these trends you'd like to see more of?