Thanks for visiting, Angie! We loved having you and your wonderful recommendations here at The Readventurer. Also, I think we all learned one or two tidbits about your life. (insert evil, maniacal laugh) Let me know where I should mail a framed picture of Aaron Sorkin to!
If You Like This, You Might Like That: Angie from Angieville Gets Personal with Her Recommendations
Today on the blog, we are happy to welcome one of the deepest wells of book knowledge on the internet: Angie from Angieville. I'd seen posts of Angie's not only on her blog but on other sites and I honestly thought to myself every time, "You've got to get her over here, that girl's got crazy random taste." This is about the highest compliment I could ever give someone. I knew she'd be able to recommend a few lesser-known titles and she's done just that. (along with a few you might already know) For other older recommendations, you should check out her Retro Friday feature, where she reviews older books or books that have fallen under the radar. If you're not following Angieville, you should be. And if you need another reason besides me telling you to do so, I'm sure she can convince you with her recommendations post...
Do any of these books sound like something you'd enjoy? I, for one, know I'll try more than one.
Thanks for visiting, Angie! We loved having you and your wonderful recommendations here at The Readventurer. Also, I think we all learned one or two tidbits about your life. (insert evil, maniacal laugh) Let me know where I should mail a framed picture of Aaron Sorkin to!
The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling is OUT, in case you haven't noticed the intense media coverage of this event. The reviews so far have been pretty meh - both from professional critics and regular reviewers who complain about poor quality and high prices ($17.99!) of the ebook version and are also disenchanted by the novel's very dark and crass content. Entertainment Weekly helpfully supplies examples of crassness here, proving that the intended audience of Harry Potter books should definitely stay away from Rowling's latest.
Here you can read some more additional info from J.K. Rowling herself. The most interesting part of this post is that the auth0r considered publishing her adult novel under a pseudonym, but then changed her mind, saying - “But in some ways I think it’s braver to do it like this." However, here is a question, would The Casual Vacancy have received as much attention and, let's be frank here, a sure bestselling status without Rowling's name attached to the project? Bravery vs. definite financial success? Here is some food for thought.
In other news, book bloggers are ruining LITERATURE (and here we thought that we, adult YA- and genre fic- lovers, have ruined literature for everyone already), as lamented by Booker head judge and proud reader of 20 books a year, Peter Stothard. One might wonder, why is Mr. Stothard so concerned? It's not like we are taking bread out of his mouth reviewing the high-brow lit that he seems to cherish. Surely people interested in shortlisted Man Bookers and Pulitzers know not to check The Readventurer for opinions? Plus, someone has to give attention to the "low-brow," readable books he and people like him would never touch, right?
Positions such as Stothard's always bring to light the ever-going-on debate about worthiness of literary fiction and worthlessness of any genre fiction (and, consequently, the importance of the professional criticism of literary fiction over pedestrian reviewing of everything else). A few articles this week touched upon various aspects of this issue of literary snobbishness:
Book View Cafe had not one, but two articles that explore the relationship between literary and genre fiction:
“Oh, but *I* write literature . . .” (why is literary considered to be better than any genre fiction? when does "literary" become just another genre category? and does "literary" categorization guarantee longevity in literary history?) and Distinguishing Between Literary and Other Genres (what makes a book "literary" and why?)
Over at Salon Jeffrey Eugenides, a beloved darling of literary critics, gave an interview in which he briskly dismissed any concerns of gender bias in the world of literature. NPR cleverly dissects his responses on the subject here.
In random news, Penguin sued several prominent authors who failed to deliver books for which they received hefty contractual advances. It's an interesting article and it can get one thinking - with quite a few YA authors receiving massive 6- and 7-figure advances these days, what happens if their novels just don't sell as well as expected? Do the authors have to return their advances?
As you know, Flannery and Catie and very fond of attending and covering various author events, but how do authors feel about participating in such events? An interesting perspective here. Poor authors!
And, in conclusion, a couple of links about our favorite authors:
Stephanie Perkins (cryptically) answers questions about her much anticipated third novel Isla and the Happily Ever After.
EW reveals the cover and offers an excerpt from Gayle Forman's upcoming Just One Day. If you are lucky, you might be able to snag an eARC of the book on Edelweiss.
Author: Tom Stoppard
Publication Date: 1993
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Blurb(GR): Arcadia takes us back and forth between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, ranging over the nature of truth and time, the difference between the Classical and the Romantic temperament, and the disruptive influence of sex on our orbits in life. Focusing on the mysteries—romantic, scientific, literary—that engage the minds and hearts of characters whose passions and lives intersect across scientific planes and centuries, it is “Stoppard’s richest, most ravishing comedy to date, a play of wit, intellect, language, brio and . . . emotion. It’s like a dream of levitation: you’re instantaneously aloft, soaring, banking, doing loop-the-loops and then, when you think you’re about to plummet to earth, swooping to a gentle touchdown of not easily described sweetness and sorrow . . . Exhilarating” (Vincent Canby, The New York Times).
This weekend I was looking at my almost seven year old daughter and marveling at how quickly she’s grown up. I thought: she’s still so young and she’s still so new. But then I thought: no, she’s not. Not really. The atoms and molecules that make up her body are actually billions of years old. Inside, she carries pieces of what are now distant stars. She carries pieces of the original humans. She carries pieces of me. She carries pieces of her children. And yet, there has never been and there will never be her exact configuration of all of these pieces. She will only exist for a fraction of the blink of an eye in the history of the universe. She’s eternal, and she’s so terribly finite.
And I guess that is the main thing that blazed out at me from the pages of this play. I may have missed the point. I may have missed several points. But overall, Stoppard made me think a lot about how we are both eternal and momentary. Nothing is guaranteed. Maybe there is a formula which could take into account the exact position and direction of every atom at a single moment and predict the future. But there will always be an element of the unpredictable. There will always be a theorem too long to transcribe or a letter gone astray or a candle left burning. You might die on the eve of your seventeenth birthday. You might live out decades of solitude and regret. You only get this brief lifetime to make new discoveries and fail spectacularly and learn to waltz. Our lives are one long chain of entropy trade-offs until we finally have nothing left to trade and become dust and ash. But then again, we live on: in memories, however false; in our children; in the very soil. Even things that we think are lost irrevocably have a tendency to turn up again (and again and again – if only we had the perspective to see it happening).
“We shed as we pick up, like travelers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind. The procession is very long and life is very short. We die on the march. But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it. The missing plays of Sophocles will turn up piece by piece, or be written again in another language. Ancient cures for diseases will reveal themselves once more. Mathematical discoveries glimpsed and lost to view will have their time again.”
These are just a small fraction of the thoughts which were awakened to vivid clarity in me by this deceptively short, two act play. Stoppard weaves together two generations with history, coincidence, and conjecture. In the past, young student Thomasina and her tutor Septimus discuss geometry, thermodynamics, and carnal embraces during an eventful period at Sidley Park Manor. In the future, “gutsy” academic Bernard tries (and mostly fails) to decipher the past and stir up some scandal about Lord Byron, while the more level-headed Hannah plays the voice of reason. The two generations bleed into and out of each other. Into this circular timeline Stoppard flawlessly integrates Fermat’s last theorem, fractal geometry, Newtonian physics, chaos theory, botany, adultery, and fatal monkey bites.
I know that all sounds monumentally intellectual but please don’t be scared away. This play is above all, witty, entertaining, and profoundly meaningful.
Perfect Musical Pairing
Chopin - Waltz Op. 64 No. 2
Bonus (Flannery's pick!): Brad Mehldau - Exit Music (For a Film)
After reading this play I now have two more things to add to my bucket list:
1) Learn to Waltz
2) See Arcadia performed on stage.
Ask the Passengers
Author: A.S. King
Publication Date: 10/23/12
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Blurb (GR): Astrid Jones desperately wants to confide in someone, but her mother's pushiness and her father's lack of interest tell her they're the last people she can trust. Instead, Astrid spends hours lying on the backyard picnic table watching airplanes fly overhead. She doesn't know the passengers inside, but they're the only people who won't judge her when she asks them her most personal questions... like what it means that she's falling in love with a girl.
As her secret relationship becomes more intense and her friends demand answers, Astrid has nowhere left to turn. She can't share the truth with anyone except the people at thirty thousand feet, and they don't even know she's there. But little does Astrid know just how much even the tiniest connection will affect these strangers' lives--and her own--for the better.
In this truly original portrayal of a girl struggling to break free of society's definitions, Printz Honor author A.S. King asks readers to question everything--and offers hope to those who will never stop seeking real love.
If you've read as much YA as I have, I am sure this story will sound VERY familiar to you. I myself have read it once, twice or three times, in one form or another, and each version was of a different quality. I want to repeat the blurb and say that Ask the Passengers is a "truly original portrayal of a girl struggling to break free of society's definitions," but it just isn't.
Astrid's is a story that's been told before. A teen who lives in a small town full of close-minded people, possibly falls in love with a girl and questions her sexuality. She keeps her questions to herself for the time being, not sure of her own feelings and fearing reactions from her superficially accepting family and openly intolerant community. But one day Astrid's cover is blown and she is forced to face the fallout...
Although the book is an assemblage of popular tropes, especially the second part, abundant with acts of homophobia and fake gay-supportiveness, King's writing abilities and her unique touches of magical realism and quirk elevate this story from the been-there-done-that level. The novel shines because of its memorable, vivid characters and interesting family dynamics (you can't be bored by Astrid's high-strung NYC-nurtured mother and her laid-back, pot-smoking dad). The elements of magical realism brighten up the story as well. (If you are into that sort of thing; in my relationship with A.S. King's books, it's a hit or miss, sometimes the quirky and weird is too much for me to handle.) In Ask the Passengers imaginary Socrates follows Astrid through her troubles and infuses the book with old time philosophical musings, and Astrid's habit of sending her love to the passengers of flying-by planes adds another layer to the narrative, when these anonymous passengers return the favor by sharing their love and life stories with us, readers. These bits are refreshing and entertaining.
Besides the familiarity of the story I think my most acute concern is the one that Flannery talked about in her recent Something Like Normal review, easy and unearned forgiveness. There are many harsh things Astrid has to go through in this novel, thanks to people closest to her, things she doesn't deserve. But all is forgiven and forgotten in the end. This is not what a realistic resolution entails, at least not for cold-hearted me.
In her last three novels A.S. King has already undertaken the subjects well-used in YA - death and grief (Please Ignore Vera Dietz), bullying (Everybody Sees the Ants) and struggles of gay teens (Ask the Passengers). While I enjoy King's spin on all of these subjects (and she herself is a one cool lady and an author whose approach to her craft I respect immensely, based on this podcast), I wish she would stretch her wings of creativity and write about something... fresher.
Book Event Recap: Northwest Bookfest 2012, Day 1 (Successful Blogging, Writing Science Fiction, Using Social Media for Authors, and Middle Grade Authors Panels)
This weekend, I attended Northwest Bookfest, which is a literary festival celebrating authors from the Pacific Northwest that includes panels, workshops, author presentations, and lots of other fun book-related events. I went last year and it was one of my solo blog posts from that-period-that-I-sometimes-have-a-hard-time-remembering (also known as My Time Without Awesome Cobloggers). I absolutely loved my experience at the 2011 event so much that I actually rearranged a trip to Oregon so I could be back in time to attend for a second time. Anyone who has read a recap of mine before knows how many notes I take at these types of things so I decided to break it up by day. Thus, I'll recap my experience from Saturday only and tomorrow, there will be another post on Sunday's experience. (as well as my time seeing Rachel Hartman at the Seattle Public Library!) In case you are wondering, yes, my bum hurts from sitting all day long, and I have about 20+ pages of notes in my little pad of nerdiness.
My day chock full of books began with me oversleeping, which is really nothing new. One of my biggest regrets last year was missing two or three panel sessions, so I was determined not to make that same mistake. This is an amazing and FREE chance to geek out about books, learn some things, and meet (or spy on, let's be honest) some authors; I would be an idiot to skip out.
The first panel I attended this morning was called, "Creating a Successful Blog", and it was moderated by Shauna James Ahern (Gluten Free Girl), Bill Kenower (Author Magazine), and Tara Austen Weaver (Tea and Cookies). The only one I was familiar with before the discussion was Kenower, and that was from one of the most awkward events I've ever had the, er, opportunity to attend.*
One of the most interesting aspects of the blogging panel was that I realized how absolutely different every type of blog is. As a book blogger, very little of our readership and traffic is driven by images. Of course, making graphs, drawing pictures, Catie's lovely drawings for our features, those types of things occasionally bring people in, but food/fashion/wedding, etc.-type bloggers? It seems like blogging for those arenas is a completely different animal...one that I am happy to just leave in its cage. Both food bloggers on the panel spoke about the importance of Pinterest and taking good photographs but I have no interest in photography and I quit Pinterest on behalf of the blog a few months back because I am paranoid about copyright infringement. (side note: I do know several book bloggers who take amazing photos)
When the panel talked about just forgetting about stats, I was worried that I might not get a great deal out of the discussion. (Stats, while I'd like to forget them, seem to be of great significance to publishers.) However, all three members of the panel drilled their main point into our heads for an hour: You have to love what you're doing. You have to write about what you are passionate about. You should be writing stuff that you want to write, and no matter what, be authentic because someone will enjoy your unique voice and people can tell when you're faking. Kenower talked a bit about how he wasn't sure what the overall theme of his blog was going to be but he's made it into what he wanted--a blog about why it's worth it to get up in the morning and do this. [be a writer/editor] Weaver elaborated on the importance of finding your voice by saying that she's found work as a writer due to her blog and Ahern told a great story about driving while listening to a radio story told by an iron welder. She said that she would never be an iron welder but that she had to pull to the side of the road to concentrate on his story because "his interest was so interesting." As someone who gets sucked into individual stories, I loved that. What do you all think? Is Pinterest necessary for a book blog?
Weaver said that she jotted down four things she wished someone told her before she started blogging: (1) the aforementioned "be passionate about what you write/write about what you have a passion for"; (2) post with regularity (whether readers will be consistently visiting depends on their expectations of your new content); (3) pick a name early on in the alphabet for blogrolls and such (READVENTURER FAIL!); and (4) reach out to the community. She said that regular writing can be a bit weird after blogging because you find that you can't just hyperlink to additional sources all the time, you have to actually explain or change up what you are writing to accommodate. Kenower noted that a blog shouldn't be about you, it should be about things that happen to you that someone else, somewhere might find useful.
Other tidbits of advice that were doled out in the blogging panel were that if you are starting a blog, consider doing it for two months or so before telling anyone about it. You'll be able to see what it is like generating content and whether you like the feel of it. Don't be afraid to take breaks once in a while; everyone gets tired of blogging sometimes. If you go back to your early posts and you don't cringe, you're doing it wrong. Weaver said that would indicate that you haven't evolved as a writer at all. She quoted who she thought was Mary Oliver but who the magicians of Google inform me is Annie Dillard: “You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment.”
The entire time I was in this panel, I was just thinking about how happy I am with our blog. The panelists talked about having copyeditors look over your work, printing out your work, reading it to others, having their parents comment on errors. I was just smiling at my good fortune because I know that after I go to bed tonight on the west coast (best coast), one of my two cobloggers will wake up on the east coast, come and read through this post, edit it, and post it. So thanks, ladies.
Greg Bear (r) and Daniel H. Wilson laughing at a science joke.
I also attended a panel entitled, "To Infinity and Beyond: Writing Science Fiction" with Greg Bear and Daniel H. Wilson. I will always go to sci fi and fantasy presentations and author events regardless of whether I've read an author's work. Case in point, I've never read anything by Bear or Wilson, though I am familiar with much of their work. Wilson has a robotics degree from Carnegie Mellon. (Pittsburgh, holla!) He said that after writing How To Survive a Robot Uprising, he realized that he was excited to find he didn't have to build robots but could make a living by just making things up about robots. Wilson told a story about a robot someone created that could fold towels and Greg Bear thought that was interesting but said he'd be really interested in a robot that could unfold the newspaper and shake it out and fold it back up so it wasn't so annoyingly cumbersome at times. Amen, brother.
And now, a list of tasks I wish I had a robot to do for me:
1. Cooking my breakfast before I wake up (I don't want to have to re-set up my Pee-Wee's Big Adventure Rube Goldberg machine every morning.)
2. Keeping tabs on where the remote, my keys, my gym card, my license, etc. are at all times. (My friends put velcro on my college ID and put the other half on my computer tower. They'd tap it and give me a look if it wasn't there.)
3. Stand behind me and make a throat-clearing noise anytime I go to reddit or try to leave the room while I attempt to finish this blog post. (Okay, most blog posts)
4. Same, for when I start making lists of things like this instead of finishing recaps.
5. Take the recycling and garbage bins down the driveway on garbage day.
6. Collect all the clogs in the world and just deliver them to me so I can pile them up like Scrooge McDuck's gold and unrealistically swim through them to make me happy.
7. Braid my hair all sorts of crazy ways that I've never been able to figure out how to do despite watching Youtube tutorials. (also, to cut perfect swoopy bangs)
8. To go to YA writers conferences and walk around casually reminding people to sew up their world building.
9. To complete all the mindless tasks in video games that earn gold but take lots and lots of time with minimal exertion.
9b. To paint my nails perfectly, with no mess on the sides on my left hand.
10. Also, the robot could also be a hat.
This panel was more of a discussion between the two men and the science nerd vibe was strong, in the very best way possible. They talked about so many things that a bullet list is probably in order. (this is also due to my 7 pages of notes from this panel and the fun I just had writing the robot list)
Kehret and Brunelle
An audience member asked what her bestselling book is and it surprises even her that it is her memoir, Small Steps, about having polio as a child. Her agent had a hard time selling that book due to the fact that most kids today don't even know what polio is ("which is great!") but by a stroke of luck it ended up on the desk of an editor at Whitman whose father had polio as a child. Her advice to budding authors is to start short. The idea of writing a novel is daunting--instead, write a chapter, then another. When asked how to plot a children's book, she said it all about what the character wants. Think about what they want and then think of tons of obstacles that will prevent them from getting there. She said that when the book is nearing its conclusion, she writes faster because she "just can't wait to see what's going to happen."
Lynne Brunelle used to write for Bill Nye the Science Guy, which sounds like such a cool job, doesn't it? She worked for a time (or perhaps still works) with children of varied learning styles. She's a firm believer that there's a book out there for every reader or if there isn't, there should be. (Schlick Noe also mentioned this point.) A very interesting conversation developed including some mothers and librarians in the audience about how amazing illustrated books are for visual learners and how much success people have had by giving middle readers graphic novels to help them grasp parts of a story and to bridge them to longer books. When a mother in the audience asked what she would recommend to her son who has a hard time with the reality of most middle reader books, Brunelle suggested trying historical fiction, which I thought was a great suggestion. Those stories are real in a sense, but very removed from the child reader of 2012.
Katherine Schlick Noe had a hard time writing her first and so far only novel. She said she had lots of memories but didn't know how to put them together and that the experience was like "walking backwards through the snow. You can see where you've been but not where you're going." Noe wrote her book, Something to Hold, about a young girl growing up as a non-Indian on a reservation, which is an experience she lived firsthand. Her advice to writers who want to explore children's/MG books is to join the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, the members of whom have shown her much support. Noe talked about how she is inspired by writers like Gary D. Schmidt (Huzzah!) and Deborah Wiles, particularly her book, Countdown. Children are always looking for that one book that they can identify with and love to bits and Noe spoke about how she'd love to have written that book for even one child.
Other advice from the middle grade authors included to always have the child solve the crime (Kehret), write what you want and let the publisher pigeonhole an age range on it (Kehret), hang out with kids the age of your protagonist and other characters (Brunelle), and if you know the story you want to write and are having trouble with the subplots or anything else, just write the story from beginning to end and come back to fill in everything later. Just aim for that first draft. The last topic discussed at this panel was what the authors thought of the idea of middle grade horror books. Kehret has written a few ghost stories and spoke about how she had one entitled "New Friend, True Friend" that was changed by the publisher to Deadly Stranger, which she thought was a bit scary and never would've picked. She thinks there is a difference between scary and horror in that in scary books there is a hint of violence but the violence never actually occurs. In horror, it does. Brunelle chimed in that she thinks there is such a thing as "safe scared" and that has to do with how removed a child is from the subject matter. A librarian in the audience brought up the popularity of Caroline Cooney and R.L. Stine and everyone agreed that some kids eat that genre up and go far beyond what many middle grade authors are comfortable writing for children but Kehret summed it up quite nicely that the goal is to make them readers however they can. That's it.
The biggest mixed bag for me was the "Using Social Media to Market Your Work" presentation, by Sean McVeigh of 425 Media. While he made some very interesting points, I disagreed with a lot of his advice. However, I am not a marketer, I am just a reader/blogger so I come at the question from a different angle. (Also, I have only personal experience to back my opinion up.) McVeigh advised the authors to create their own website and then point all social media back to that site. The importance of this is that almost every other site you post to is not under your control. At any time, Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc. can change their terms of service and what they allow/disallow so you have far less control over your own content. This is great advice, especially when I recall people losing followers because of Google Friend Connect, the recent Feedburner problems, Facebook changing how it links out to Youtube videos, etc.
Where the presentation went wrong for me was in his advice to authors about where they should spend their time. McVeigh told the audience that for his money, he'd spend the time on Facebook and Google +. As someone who reads around 130-150 books a year, I can honestly tell you right this second that I have never gotten a book recommendation or even clicked through something on G+ and I don't know anyone who uses it regularly. I do click through on Facebook and I use it daily for the blog. However, if I were to give advice to authors, I'd tell them to spend more time on Twitter, post a giveaway up on Goodreads for exposure, engage as a reader on that site or on Amazon, and also use Facebook. I am happy that McVeigh explained about linking FB and Twitter accounts to auto-post, though. (I have gotten many, MANY recommendations from Twitter and I routinely click through links that friends/followers (even ones with whom I am not familiar) tweet) I hate it when authors are too promotional/salesy but there have been a few times when I interacted on Twitter with someone and then clicked through to find out they are an author and became more interested in their work. Success. The two most useful points McVeigh brought up from a blogging standpoint were the importance of backlinking and post titles. Google indexes post titles so it is important to title your posts using the keywords that people might search on Google for (or Bing, if you're one of "those people" (McVeigh is)), and backlinks also raise sites in Google's algorithms. Backlinking, which I'm kind of addicted to doing anyway, is when you talk about something in a post and then link out to another site. The more links out there to your site there are, the more legit you are in Google rankings (and I know Alexa takes these into account for site ranks as well) I find search engine optimization fascinating.
I'll be back tomorrow...or the next day to recap day two of the festival and my adventure to see Rachel Hartman at the Seattle Public Library! Were you at Northwest Bookfest? What'd you think? If you weren't, was this the longest blog post you've ever read?
* A multi-author book event where the bookstore employee had no idea how to interview, had nothing prepared, and the moderator was half hour late so the audience and authors just had a staredown of silence, no introductions were given, the bookstore events person asked a few questions but mostly talked about himself and then the moderator came and asked basically the same exact questions. Names left out to protect the hopefully embarrassed. I never did a recap because I was understandably not in a very good mood.
The Assassin's Curse (The Assassin's Curse #1)
Author: Cassandra Rose Clarke
Publication Date: 10/2/12
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Blurb(GR): Ananna of the Tanarau abandons ship when her parents try to marry her off to an allying pirate clan: she wants to captain her own boat, not serve as second-in-command to her handsome yet clueless fiance. But her escape has dire consequences when she learns the scorned clan has sent an assassin after her.
And when the assassin, Naji, finally catches up with her, things get even worse. Ananna inadvertently triggers a nasty curse — with a life-altering result. Now Ananna and Naji are forced to become uneasy allies as they work together to break the curse and return their lives back to normal. Or at least as normal as the lives of a pirate and an assassin can be.
Do you love Grave Mercy, Blood Red Road, or The Bloody Jack series? Then you need to read this book.
Do you like Grave Mercy, but wish it had more actual murder and a less prim heroine?
Do you like Blood Red Road but wish it had a plot that actually made sense?
Do you like Jacky Faber, but wish she would just grow up already?
Then you definitely need to read this book.
This book is an absolutely entertaining, fun ride that swept me up onto the back of a stolen camel and never let me go. I finished it in one day and it was one of those completely pleasurable, huge-grin-on-my-face reading experiences.
I almost didn’t request this book, because I’ve been disappointed so many times by “this type of book.” You know what I mean – fun, romantic adventure stories that inevitably have idiotic love interests or wimpy/spineless heroines, unbelievable happily ever afters, or all the other things that have prejudiced me against reading romance over the years. Or else they’re fun, romantic fantasy stories with black villains and shallow world-building. Thankfully, I am able to accidentally move past my own stupidity every once in a while and give one of “these books” a chance. And every once in a while, I am very pleasantly surprised.
I actually requested this for a very random reason: the author’s name is weirdly close to the name I was born with and had for the first 24 years of my life. Plus, there’s just something about girl pirates that will always pique my interest. This book did not disappoint. Ananna is smart, tough, practical, and resourceful. She’s no shrinking violet, although she is realistically young in a few hilarious ways. She's not a gorgeous knock-out who thinks she's plain. She actually spends the majority of this book in men's clothes. Her voice is a complete delight to read, but more than that - she feels like a real person.
Ananna wants nothing more than to be the captain of her own pirate ship and sail off into the sunset. Unfortunately, her parents have other ideas: they've already arranged for her to marry the son of another pirate family. Ananna wants none of it, so she escapes on the day of her betrothal by making use of the thieving and trickery she's been specializing in since toddler-hood. Unfortunately, she doesn’t get far before a powerful Assassin, hired by the jilted groom’s family, tracks her down.
Naji, the dark Assassin, mysteriously scarred and covered in magical tattoos, trained in blood magic, is a fantastic love interest. He’s quiet and flawed and willing to let Ananna fight her own battles. He’s no controlling macho-man and he doesn’t instantly fall head over heels for the heroine. Quite the contrary, in fact - he seems to be completely oblivious to her as a woman, which is hilarious. Nevertheless, these two have great chemistry and so obviously complement each other that it’s just delicious waiting for them to figure it out.
My one criticism is that this book is so short and there are so many things left to be explained – it feels unfinished. It feels like half of a book. When I got to 95%, 96%, 97%...and realized that this was going to end soon with so much left unexplained and unresolved, I felt a bit…FURIOUS, actually. Damn it, waiting a whole year to have any resolution between these two is probably going to kill me. Don’t read this if, like my friend Heidi, you prefer not to be left high and dry.
Perfect Musical Pairing
Heart – What About Love?
Because sometimes a romancey pop song just feels so right. Seriously Naji…think about it. Don’t you want someone to care about you? (Bahahaha…I can’t even type that without busting out laughing.)
Last week, we reported on this study performed by Bowker Market Research, which states (in part) that 55% of the buyers of YA books are over 18. Publisher’s Weekly and The Atlantic Wire both picked up the story, with posts titled “Over half of Y.A. books bought by adults” and “New Study: 55% of YA Books Bought by Adults.” It turns out that all three of us were reporting on this study incorrectly, as the lovely and intelligent Sarah from Clear Eyes, Full Shelves explains:
“Teens are still buying far more young adult books that adults do, representing 72 percent of YA books sold. Basically, teens buy more YA books, per person, than adults, despite being a smaller percentage of the actual buyers of YA books.”
The Atlantic Wire went further last week, in a post titled “Adults Are Devouring Kids’ Books For Good Reason” which seems complimentary of YA on the surface, but then included this passage:
“…the fact is, Y.A. novels are usually based in some basic, relatable premises. How these worlds are rendered is as creative and imaginative as any other book, but the fundamental topics addressed—death, love, survival, growing up, trials of life, and so on—are things we all understand on the most visceral of levels. At the same time that we relate we can escape in them. The writing is breezy, usually, certainly lighter and faster than that Russian novel we're toting around with us to look smart, and it's more personal and immediate, without the veneer of intellect that can make certain adult books muddy wading. The books aren't as long, as convoluted, or as heavy, either. The characters are simply yet effectively drawn. The lessons built into the books do not have to be deeply studied or carefully parsed, we usually get them implicitly.”
I really wish that people would just stop generalizing all of young adult literature in this way. Yes, there are YA novels with simple premises, “breezy” writing, and straightforward lessons. There are hundreds of “adult” novels that fit that exact same bill. There are also hundreds of YA novels with difficult premises, dense and descriptive writing, and heavy themes (and more than just a “veneer” of intellect, I might add.)
In happier news, Viking has picked up Stranger, the joint effort of Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown, with no straight-washing necessary. A year ago Smith and Brown reported that an agent had encouraged them to change the sexual orientation of their main character, claiming that a book with a gay lead wouldn’t sell. To this agent, whoever you are, I would just personally like to say: In your face!
Here’s a very intelligent, sweet article from YC Teen that gave me hope for readers and made me a bit teary-eyed – “What’s Wrong With Reading?” – written by a teen reader.
And for all the Angelfall fans out there – Susan Ee was interviewed by Entertainment Weekly this week.
Vacuous Minx posted the second part of her investigation into Goodreads’ practices: How Goodreads Caters to Authors (Part Two), and in the same week Zola Books launches its new site which advertises:
“Zola Books will launch with its social component, with retail and recommendation components to launch soon. Beginning September 20, publishers, readers, and authors can register on Zola Books and begin connecting with one another. Publishers can begin setting up "storefronts"--pages that Regal says are meant to solve discoverability problems by allowing publishers to be "reader-facing brands." The launch also allows publishers to interact with followers and curate their titles for discoverability, and, once Zola Books begins its retail aspect in mid October, they'll be able to access weekly sales numbers, number of books viewed, and books wishlisted.”
I am ever-hopeful for a better, more reader-centric alternative to Goodreads, but unfortunately this sounds even more author/publisher/bookseller-centric. I still think that the Goodreads community is pretty ripe for the plucking, should an enterprising person come up with something better, but for now it might be the best bet of very limited options.
And finally, despite my exasperation over the fact that Peter Jackson & Co. have chosen to drag The Hobbit out into yet another trilogy, the trailer made me very interested in seeing the first movie. I know I’m going to be throwing up my hands in frustration when the movie ends at some crazy mid-point and the last movie is artificially extended with long, lingering goodbyes and CGI-enhanced battle scenes, but I don’t think I’m going to be able to stop myself from seeing these movies. Damn it.
Do you have any exciting plans for this weekend? Stop by and let us know!
Something Like Normal
Author: Trish Doller
Publication Date: 6/19/12
Blurb (GR): When Travis returns home from a stint in Afghanistan, his parents are splitting up, his brother’s stolen his girlfriend and his car, and he’s haunted by nightmares of his best friend’s death. It’s not until Travis runs into Harper, a girl he’s had a rocky relationship with since middle school, that life actually starts looking up. And as he and Harper see more of each other, he begins to pick his way through the minefield of family problems and post-traumatic stress to the possibility of a life that might resemble normal again. Travis’s dry sense of humor, and incredible sense of honor, make him an irresistible and eminently lovable hero.
In this male-narrated upper YA/new adult book, Travis has just come home after a deployment with the Marines. In many ways, he is returning to exactly what he purposely left behind--his overbearing and disapproving father, his pushover mother, and his resentful brother, but he himself is coming back to that situation a somewhat changed young man. Doller treats her characters realistically; no one suddenly sees the light or does a complete 180 in this book. Travis was emotionally traumatized by the death of his best friend in action and at the end of the book, he still is, but just to a lesser extent. He begins a romance with Harper and she helps him deal with a few situations and issues in his life but at the end of the novel, I wasn't particularly rooting for them to succeed. Was I supposed to be? Probably, but I just wanted Travis to be able to deal with his PTSD and patch up familial relationships. I was reluctant to go into the book as a romance and to those readers who have similar feelings, I say go for it. Something Like Normal reads like an episode or story arc from one of those juicy teen drama shows that so many of us enjoyed in high school, college, and ashamedly sometimes still enjoy as adults. Travis is that tortured soul with so much to say and no capacity to express it. Harper is that girl from back home who's understanding, forgiving, and you wish you'd gotten to know her through your shared high school years. There's moments where you'd gasp or shake your fist at the screen if you were watching them, times to roll your eyes, and the entire last quarter of the book is for the sad puppy dog eyes. I didn't cry, but I bet you might.
Sometimes I get angry at a books because of choices characters make. It was very interesting to compare and contrast parts of Something Like Normal with another I was simultaneously reading (well, listening to), Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr. In both books, a young man has done something that tarnishes a girl's reputation for several years. How does she deal? Should she forgive and forget? In Story, Deanna stumbles around her life, trying to figure out why she made the choices she did and what she can do in her current situation. It's angsty, it's heavy, and it takes 192 pages for Zarr to tell the story. While I certainly do not believe that all people take the same amount of time to process and forgive wrongs, I am still surprised when something I consider to be serious seems flippantly tossed aside to move the story along. You were called names for years because of a lie someone told? Here's a thought: Don't date him a few years later. I was borderline ecstatic when Harper treated Travis like dirt when they first met back up -- the elusive YA character, a girl with a backbone. Tell him how his actions adversely affected your life, Harper! What? What's that? Yes, he is rather attractive, I guess. He's changed? You're going to what now? Er, well, this is awkward. Perhaps I am just envious of people who are so able to believe others have changed, to forgive those people. But Doller does not try to write likable characters, and that's what I really enjoyed about the book. I hated that Harper started dating Travis, I hated that she seemed to forgive him*, I hated that Travis' ex-girlfriend took up with his brother when he deployed, I hated the brother for "stealing" his girlfriend and car, I hated the dad for being an awful person, I hated the mom for not sticking up for her children, I even hated some characters because I didn't think they grieved enough. But I didn't hate this book at all. Not every person is a mystery wrapped in an enigma. Also, lots of people do stupid things.
As one of my Short YA list books, I read Something Like Normal in one sitting. This is Doller's debut work and though this wasn't one of my recent favorites, there's an authenticity of voice that rings through her writing and makes me want to read more from her. The dialogue is anchored in reality and for the most part, the writing is devoid of that poetic nature that many readers crave. I, for one, am not always looking for that, and thus I found this book to be an easy and enjoyable look into one soldier's life.
*Just as an aside, am I the only one who wishes that this book had been dual narration? STOP THE PRESSES! This might be the first time I've ever said this before. I wanted to know Harper's side to everything.
We had many, many entries to our Triviadventure book giveaway last week and with those entries came many, many incorrect answers. Of course, there were just as many people who got all the questions correct, but we thought we should share the answers just in case anyone was stumped on a question or wondering just what they would've/could've won if they'd spent their valuable time googling trivia answers or if random.org loved them just that much more.
Thanks to everyone who entered! We hope you all had fun exercising your mind for a while. Congratulations to the winners! We'll ship those boxes to you pronto.
MG Review: The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente
The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There (Fairyland #2)
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Publication Date: 10/2/12
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Blurb(GR): September returns to Fairyland to reunite with A-Through-L, Saturday, and Gleam, and to confront her shadow-self, who has become the queen of Fairyland-Below, the upside-down world beneath the Fairyland of the first novel, filled with creatures of water and shadow, tales of ancient Fairyland before the human world was born, and not a few hungry buffins, blind birds of ice and moonlight. The yearly revels of Fairyland-Below climax in a mysterious rite September must avert or else lose her shadow forever.
“A book is a door, you know. Always and forever. A book is a door into another place and another heart and another world.”
I can’t wait to open the doors to Catherynne Valente's Fairyland with my daughters, and maybe even my grandchildren. These books are destined to be placed among the classics of children’s literature; I’m absolutely sure of it. I know they’ll each have a permanent home with me, right next to Alice in Wonderland, Coraline, A Wrinkle in Time, Alanna, The Witches, and all of the other fantasy stories that are just as enjoyable for me to read out loud as they are for my girls to hear.
Earlier this year, Catherynne Valente addressed the fans of this series, writing in particular about some concerns that these books are “too old” for kids. She wrote, in part:
“There is always a balance in literature for the young–you write to teach and entertain the kids, to delight their older selves, and to amuse their parents while they read aloud or watch along. The best books, to my mind, accomplish all of these at the same time.”
And that is precisely what she has accomplished with these books (also, if you haven’t read that post in full, you need to). Not only are her Fairyland stories magical and fun, not only will they whisk you away on whirlwind madcap adventures through strange and highly imaginative landscapes – they’re also beautifully written, deeply profound, and intelligent.
I have to admit that sometimes the million quirky little oddities in these books feel a bit overwhelming to me. Don’t get me wrong; I love over-the-top imaginative detail. I guess I just don’t love it for its own sake. There has to be solid emotion and truth tethering it to reality for me to truly connect with it. And I think that is where Catherynne Valente really shines. How else can I explain how an underground tribe of antlered people made me think about freedom in marriage? Or how a mining kangaroo made me think about how important it is to hold onto the memories that hurt – maybe even more important than holding onto the ones that heal? How can I explain how a rogue shadow made me think about our secret selves and how they change as we grow up? I just have to sit in awe of this woman a little bit, for managing to suffuse these surreal, odd little books with so much wisdom. For example:
“Poor September! How much easier, to be hard and bright and heartless. Instead, a very adult thing was happening in that green, new heart. For there are two kinds of forgiveness in the world: the one you practice because everything really is all right, and what went before is mended. The other kind of forgiveness you practice because someone needs desperately to be forgiven, or because you need just as badly to forgive them, for a heart can grab hold of old wounds and go sour as milk over them.”
I loved The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, but I love this one even more. September has grown up in this book, and as a result everything here is more complex and grey. Her chief foe in this book, “Halloween” the Hollow Queen, is her own shadow – cut from her body and living the life she never dared to. As September descends into Fairyland Below, populated by “devils and dragons” and all the lost shadows of Fairyland, she confronts the hidden, secret selves of her best friends, her enemies, and herself.
“She did not know yet how sometimes people keep parts of themselves hidden and secret, sometimes wicked and unkind parts, but often brave or wild or colorful parts, cunning or powerful or even marvelous, beautiful parts, just locked up away at the bottom of their hearts. They do this because they are afraid of being stared at, or relied upon to do feats of bravery or boldness. And all of those brave and wild and cunning and marvelous and beautiful parts they hid away and left in the dark to grow strange mushrooms – and yes, sometimes those wicked and unkind parts, too – end up in their shadows.”
However, just as in the first book, September’s “enemy” The Marquess stole the show for me. The Marquess just seems to leap off the page whenever she appears – and in this case, it’s actually her shadow. Everything about her hits me right in the heart. I just adore a grey villain. Her story in this book, as small as it was, nearly broke me.
“Just above us, the light shines golden on daffodils full of rainwine and heartgrass and a terrible, wicked, sad girl I can’t get back to. I don’t even know if I want to. Do I want to be her again? Or do I want to be free? I come here to think about that. To be near her and consider it. I think I shall never be free. I think I traded my freedom for a better story. It was a better story, even if the ending needed work.”
I simply can’t wait to read these out loud to my daughters – because they’re imaginative and profound and beautiful, yes, but also because there’s a wonderful current of feminism running through them both. September, The Marquess, September’s mother, and Halloween are all examples of strong, daring, passionate, bold, wild, logical, clever women and I love them all. There’s one small bit of romance in this book near the end that actually made me press my hand to my heart and say “Oh Saturday…” in a huge dreamy sigh like a young girl. So yeah – you definitely have that to look forward to (and also, as a side note: loving a woman for her self and not her (lack of) experience is always romantic).
Everyone, please buy these books and support this woman. That is all I have left to say.
Perfect Musical Pairing
Joanna Newsom – Autumn
Okay, I guess I do have a bit more to say. I loved Joanna Newsom’s Bridges and Balloons for the first book, because it was quirky and sweet and spoke about flying away and finding new places and destinies. But this book deserves a much darker, more complex song. This song actually reminds me so much of The Marquess, so this is for her.
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