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Confessions of an Unemployed Librarian is no more! I have rejoined the ranks of the working. But not as a librarian.
I've started work as an assistant at the Jane Rotrosen Agency. Publishing, as many know, has been a longtime interest of mine, and I am very blessed to have found a position in a literary agency that in the long term will teach me how to take on my own clients and guide them to great careers. In the short term, I'll be responsible for filing, reading queries, tracking submissions, and all kinds of other duties that help to keep an agency running. Glamorous? No, but it's needed and I'm a no-task-is-too-small sort of worker. I firmly believe that getting really good at doing the small things makes learning the big things that much easier.
So what does that mean for this blog?
1. I'm going on hiatus for at least three months as I get into the swing of things at my job. The reading needs of an agent are very different from that of a librarian and I'm trying to balance it so that I get the big titles in my realm of knowledge while still providing the best service I can to our clients. (Translation: Their manuscripts come before my reading the book that won last year's Printz.) Also? I am EXHAUSTED, both mentally and physical right now. This is a welcome and anticipated, but taxing, shift in my life. Or, as my life's motto has always been: Work hard, play hard, sleep hard.
2. A change of pace and theme when I return. I'll be reading and enjoying YA, of course, along with our agency's clients. Maybe I'll do query readings for YA and women's fiction. Maybe I'll find the next Tom Clancy. Who knows?
3. But I will quickly answer your agency-specific questions:
Yes, you can submit your query as per agency guidelines. The agency is interested in, and I quote from our web page, "romance, mystery, suspense, thriller, women's fiction, memoirs, and YA." On a very personal note, I can say that while I adore the YA authors we currently represent, we are always looking for more to join the agency family.
Yes, you can direct it to me. I cannot make any guarantees other than "I will read your query."
Yes, I'd be happy to talk to groups of librarians, teachers, or students about what I do. Contact me via email or twitter (carliebeth).
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (Little, Brown, May 2010) is amazing. No two ways about it. It's also taken the #1 spot as the scariest book I've read this year.
What it's about: Nailer Lopez is employed as a ship breaker on a light crew. All day, he and his team work on wrecked ships in the Gulf of Mexico, salvaging what they can. Light crews, as opposed to heavy crews (not dark crews), are in the business of salvaging copper and other lightweight materials from the ships of yesterday. It's dangerous, it's toxic, and Nailer knows that as soon as he hits his growth spurt, he's done for in terms of being able to work on his crew. The people who live on his beach are mostly laborers, short on leisure time, money, and most importantly, loyalty. Then Nailer and his friend find the greatest treasure of their lives. After a hurricane, and we're talking a hurricane that makes Katrina look like a light drizzle, they find a wrecked boat full of riches. Only two things stand in the way of Nailer's life of luxury: His violent, greedy father and the girl, dubbed Lucky Girl, that he finds aboard the wreck. Keeping one step ahead of his father is a full-time job for Nailer, who knows that if Lucky Girl is discovered before she can find her people, she's as good as dead.
Salvaged thoughts: My only reservation about Ship Breaker is something that comes from entirely inside my own head, not the book itself. I really, really worry that this book is going to get pigeonholed as a "boy book," action and adventure and light on everything else. It has some amazing action, don't get me wrong, but it's so much more. With the Gulf Coast oil spill, it's timely, which is a very frightening thought considering that the lead time on novels is 18 months, give or take. The worldbuilding is extraordinary. Bacigalupi uses a third person voice that's anchored in events of the present. He doesn't bother providing much background on Nailer's world all in one or two data dumps, just throws in details as Nailer sees them. As a result, the details add up and you get to see that not only is Nailer living in an environmentally damaged world, but it's a world that's run by some really super-corrupt, super-evil people. Of course, Nailer doesn't take the time to think about this super corruption because he has much more important things to think about, like his daily survival. The book can be appreciated as a straightforward environmental thriller, sure, but it's also literary and horrifying in a psychological way. And lest you think I focus on the scary stuff, I also have to say that I found Nailer to be an inspiring character. He is morally upright and, in the immortal words of Dumbledore, makes the right choice between what is right and what is easy. He lives with so much uncertainty and violence, but triumphs over them when faced with tough decisions.
I could be entirely wrong about this pigeonholing. I hope I am. I'd love to see this book honored during the YALSA awards in January. In other thoughts, 2010 has been a good year for adult authors writing YA between this and
"Let's go to Hot Topic," I said to Liz B. as we wandered the Willowbrook Mall on Sunday. I don't buy clothes there because I'm simply not cool enough to wear them, but I do love their stationery and accessories. We agreed that if nothing else, we could poke fun at the sparkly vampire beach towels (although, I confess, I really want a Team Carlisle shirt).
We enter the store and I hear her say, "Carlie, look at this!"
She was holding this t-shirt. (I don't have an image to post here; just click the link.)
There was squeeing.
I hadn't realized that there'd be Hunger Games apparel in anticipation of the release of Mockingjay. For the movie, sure, because movies are multi-million dollar projects with bigger marketing plans than books, even books like Mockingjay with its 1.5-million copy first print run. But this time, there are multiple t-shirts for a BOOK. A BOOK, people! This is awesome.
Personally, I'll be wearing my "Team Peeta" shirt to whatever book release party I go to, though to be fair I'm also "Team it's okay with me if Katniss says no to both Peeta and Gale and devotes her life to rebuilding Panem rather than romance."
I wish this book had been around when I first read Rats Saw God. I mean, not that there's ever a bad time to go back and read Rats Saw God, but since I knew very little about dadaism then, this would have helped immensely. And made me smile, to boot.
Mimi's Dada Catifesto by Shelley Jackson is narrated by Mimi, a poor alley cat with an artist's soul. The other cats don't understand Mimi's need not just for a human who will feed her stomach, but who will feed her curiosity and need to create art. Her perfect human is Mr. Dada. After all, a man who balances a very tasty-looking fish on top of his head while yelling nonsense syllables must have the artist soul Mimi seeks in her human. Mr. Dada is a hard nut to crack, but Mimi has a plan to burrow her way into his heart. She'll leave him a Dadaist message that explains why he's the one and only human for her. Guiding her in her quest for a human are Laszlo, the logical pigeon, and a couple of cockroaches that reminded me of the mice in Babe.
The art accompanying Mimi's story provides an amazing visual backdrop to her Dadaist dreams. Jackson shows what Dadaist art is, isn't, and can be while making the form completely accessible to readers like me who can barely remember the difference between Manet and Monet. Young readers also get encouragement to create their own Dadaist art in the form of "Incredibly Great Poems" and galleries of found objects. The pictures often have a scattered look to them, which I think adds to the idea of Dada art coming from seemingly random things.
Mimi has starred reviews in Booklist and Kirkus. Not that she'd expect any less.
I read Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien because Melissa Rabey told me to, and the only thing I trust more than her taste in clothes is her taste in books. Once again, Melissa proves she can pick a winner, something both trendy and stylish.
The premise: Gaia (first syllable is pronounced like "guy," not "gay"), sixteen, is the apprentice to her mother, the sector's midwife. Gaia and her parents are mostly happy with their simple life outside the walled city called the Enclave. Gaia looks forward to learning more about midwifery. Every month, the first three babies born that month are brought, or "advanced," to the Enclave. Gaia doesn't like this ritual but she knows it's the law. She doesn't think that anyone has done much to act against the law until she comes home one night to an interrogation. Her parents are gone, arrested, and she must carry on her mother's work by herself in order to make a living. She can't deal with the lack of information about her parents and finds an underground group that can help her enter the Enclave. While in the Enclave, she performs an extraordinary feat: She delivers a full-term healthy baby from the body of an executed prisoner. Now she is simultaneously hero and criminal. Either way, she knows she has to get to her parents and rescue them from the Enclave. An unexpected ally in the form of an attractive young soldier with his own dark past joins Gaia when she is asked to break a code that could give the Enclave the key to saving many of its residents from genetic diseases.
What you'll love about it: Gaia kicks ass! Okay, well, she kicks ass as much as any other human would in her situation. In the face of danger she stands up for herself even when she's scared. It's not enough for the love interest to be hot; he was to be able to keep up with her. Gaia has an admirable sense of loyalty to those she loves and to the profession of midwifery. Through most of the book, she is hunted and has to think on her feet. She also comes face-to-face with the cruelty behind the Enclave's government. It does upset her, but it also inspires her to learn more about her own past and what her parents' work in their town did that got them arrested. I see more than one Katniss Everdeen comparison in the future.
Most likely to succeed? I know this book has a few things against it in terms of making the big sales: a striking but not bright-on-black cover, straightforward science fiction, no paranormal creatures to romance with. It has quite a lot, though, in its favor: A well-built dystopian world, fascinating and damaged people, and captivating writing that mixes action neatly with world-building. And as we know in the literary world, good writing trumps all. I'd love to see this show up on the Morris Award shortlist, as it definitely shows excellence by a first author.
When I think of the delightful Maryrose Wood, the first book that always comes to mind is Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall in Love, which I love to recommend when I'm asked about romances appropriate for middle schoolers. So it's hard for me, in a way, to think of Maryrose as a writer of gothic MG. (Old dawg, new tricks, you know the drill.) I need to get over myself, and fast, because this new book of hers is gothic and Snickensian (Snicket+Dickens) and a fabulous read.
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: Book I: The Mysterious Howling (Balzer & Bray, March 2010) centers around Miss Penelope Lumley, a recent alumna of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females. She answers an ad for a governess and is thrilled to find that the job is at a beautiful estate. Sure, the residents are a little oblique as to what the actual governess duties will be, but Penelope can tolerate that. Then she meets the children.
They were raised by wolves. No, really.
Employing a little quick thinking and some animal psychology, Penelope is able to communicate with the children and later gain their trust and love. Not everyone in Ashton Place is as enamored of the children as she is, though. In fact, someone seems to be looking for a reason to send the children back into the wild. Penelope, however, is having none of that, and one should never underestimate the tenacity and smarts of a Swanburne graduate.
There is nothing about this book that isn't pure delight. Penelope's neuroses in the beginning of the book are charming (and all too familiar to me!), and she admirably works through her uncertainties by employing logic and a strong sense of what is right. The children are intelligent and kind at heart without falling into the trap of being overly precocious or smarter than the adults. Wood sets up a mystery at the end of the book because she's evil and now I have to wait for the next book, I mean, a good writer who is building a larger overreaching plot for the Incorrigible Children series. I love the timelessness of the setting and the story. I also think that with its four starred reviews, we could be looking at a Newbery contender.
You know it's been a good BEA when weeks later, you're still unearthing yourself from the galleys. I'm hoping to get out some reviews of at least a few of my BEA haul, but we'll see.
First up: The Duff by Kody Keplinger (Poppy, September 2010). I will knock people down to get to advance copies of anything Poppy prints, and The Duff did not disappoint. I got a copy after hearing Cindy Egan, queen of Poppy, speak about it. Duff, she explained, is an acronym for designated ugly fat friend. The book is narrated by Bianca, who knows her two closest friends are gorgeous but never really thought of herself as fat and ugly until it's pointed out to her by Wesley Rush, a gorgeous sex-crazed egomaniac. Bianca wants nothing to do with Wesley, who insists on calling her Duffy. Too bad for her, they've got killer sexual chemistry. What starts for them as a sex-without-strings relationship evolves into a friendship when Bianca finds that not only is Wesley's life not perfect, but he's happy to listen to her about her own troubles. Then Bianca starts dating with the boy she's crushed on for years. So why is she still pining for Wesley?
What's good: The emotional complexity. Bianca's front of sarcasm hides her insecurities from almost everyone, and her relationship with Wesley doesn't morph into instant awesomeness once she realizes the trouble he hides. The female relationships were very positive, too, even when Bianca and her two BFFs drift apart for a while. Despite feeling like the Duff, Bianca's friends don't do anything that makes her think she's less than beautiful and cherished. I don't love the cover and I thought there were some cliched sentences and phrases that screamed "amateur writer," but the potential of the book to spark discussion far outweighs these blemishes.
I also saw in Variety that McG (producer of one of my favorite shows, Supernatural) is looking to produce the movie version. I think there are definitely cinematic qualities to the book, so I'll be interested to see what happens with it.
Kody Keplinger's website || review at Good Books & Good Wine || I don't have copies to give away but if you want mine and you're the first person to ask, you can have it.
A lot of people, now that I'm a confident, outgoing, stylish adult with a killer shoe collection and a makeup box to put Carmindy to shame, believe that I must have been popular in high school. Truth be told, I was neither super popular nor super unpopular. I wasn't the prettiest girl around, but no one turned to stone when they looked at me, either. I had friends, interests, activities, boyfriends from time to time, etc. I was mostly average.
The one thing about me that stood out was my devotion to all things band geek. I was a percussionist (and went on to get a degree in percussion), a drum major for the marching band, briefly sang in the choir, played in the school orchestra and jazz band, did well at Solo and Ensemble, you get the picture. And any high school drummer who devotes time to the instrument eventually hears the musical stylings of Neil Peart and is nothing short of hella impressed. When I first heard a recording of Rush at band camp in seventh grade, I was hooked. I had to run right out and get that recording of A Show of Hands so I could listen again and again to the drum solo track, "The Rhythm Method." Turned out that "The Rhythm Method" was a gateway drug. By the time I was a freshman in high school I had found all of Rush's albums on my own, and if you were the person who wanted to borrow Chronicles from the Niles Public Library that summer, I am really, really sorry.
Rush stayed with me through boyfriends and college and moving and grad school and more boyfriends and a husband and more moving and into my career. Rush was the first concert I ever saw (not saying how old I am, but it was the Counterparts tour, and if you're the person who stole my concert t-shirt out of the laundry at Lawrence, you're going to Hades). I made one of my first friends in college when Jeremy, seeing me walking down the hall in my Rush t-shirt, fell to his knees and said, "A girl Rush fan! A pretty girl Rush fan! Wow." Yes, female Rush fans are few and far between, but look at it this way: I never have to wait in line for the bathroom at their concerts.
Being a Rush fan for over half my life, you can imagine my happiness when I saw that Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage, a documentary following the band's 35+ year career, was coming to theaters nearby for a one night engagement. Here's the trailer:
Still alive, just working on a lot of projects that I prefer not to discuss at this time. But!
It's going to be a long, dark rest of 2010 until Solitary: Escape From Furnace 2 comes out in December. To tide you (and me) over, here's an Escape from Furnace LOLCat, made especially by Courtney of Otaku Goddess, who is also a Furnace fan.
No, it's not a phone number. Nor is it the number of excuses I've made for not blogging lately (though it's probably pretty close). Before I reveal this number's importance, I'll rewind a little.
Every now and again on this blog, or in comments to friends, I've said things to the extent of, "I will be a normal human being again when I'm not busy with the Chinese Democracy Project," or, "Sorry, can't talk, I'm on a deadline for the Chinese Democracy Project." That usually elicits a response of, "I didn't know you were interested in Chinese politics." I'm not, but I am interested in rock music. In rock music, Chinese Democracy is the name of the newest Guns N' Roses album, an album that famously took Axl Rose about 20 years to make. Less famously, I embarked on a project that took 4 years to make. That was way longer than I'd originally intended, so in homage to GN'R, I named my project after theirs. My project, however, was not an album, but a book, namely, this book:
and the number in the subject is, as I'm sure all avid readers know by now, its ISBN.
Isn't that a great cover, btw? Major win for the design people at Libraries Unlimited.
I haven't talked much about writing this book because there was a point in the writing process where I wasn't sure it was going to be published. I had huge problems with making the page count because this is strictly a reader's advisory guide, not a library services guide like Jack Martin's or a look at the history of GLBTQ YA literature like Michael Cart and Christine Jenkins's. By keeping the focus tight on YA books and following what I perceived to be the Genreflecting series vision, I sort of wrote myself into a corner. I had originally envisioned writing about movies, tv shows, music, and books, but that meant taking the focus off YA literature. It also meant that I had to be very judicious about what adult books I added. The Genreflecting series already has a book on GLBTQ literature for adults and I was charged with writing a companion, not a competing, title. What I ended up doing was writing in the introduction and chapters about how pop culture has some effect on GLBTQ YA lit and the people who read it. For examples...and more...you can read the book.
The Girls by Lori Lansens is one of those books I kept moving down in my to-read pile. Not because it didn't look like a great book, but because I just had to read other books for other reasons. I had a little time to spare while visiting family, though, so I got to read it (finally!). It's an adult book, but one that I think could have very high appeal to teen readers as well.
Rose Darlen is mostly the narrator of this book. She's writing her autobiography. That's not an uncommon thing to do, but Rose is somewhat of an uncommon person. She and her sister, Ruby, are craniopagus twins, joined at the head. Separation was never an option, because they share an essential vein. They come into the world on the day of a tornado that takes the life of a local boy, an event that ties them unwillingly to one of their neighbors. Rose and Ruby are raised by the nurse that delivered them and her adoring husband, who they refer to as Aunt Lovey and Uncle Stash. Lovey and Stash do everything in their power to always treat the girls as two separate people and encourage others to do the same. The Girls goes somewhat against the grain of what's popular in YA lit right now (not that it was ever intended to be a popular YA book, imho): Rose and Ruby are extraordinary people, but they get the most joy and meaning from ordinary events and things. In that way, it reminded me a lot of my all-time favorite book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
What impressed me the most about this book was Lansens's ability to write distinctly in the two girls' voices. Lots of books are told in two voices, but few are told in the voices of two people who are so close physically and emotionally. Rose, whose goal in life was to become a writer, writes like someone who reads, with lusher phrases and a larger vocabulary. Ruby is no less intelligent than Rose, but her dislike of reading in favor of television leads her to more forthright language. I didn't always like the characters as people, but I found them fascinating from beginning to end. Definitely a great life-story book, even if said life is outside the realm of experience of almost every one of its readers.
Personally, I'm not much of a t-shirt wearer, but I would absolutely love for them to carry gold ballpoint pens with "Riptide" written (or engraved?) on them. Bonus points if there's a way to Velcro it into your pocket.
(Disclaimer: Though I am an Amazon Affiliate because I like being able to get a new DVD every now and again, in this case I am just a satisfied customer.)
When you live in an apartment and own a lot of books, space becomes a major issue. When your husband threatens to divorce you if he has to move any more of your books, that's also a major issue. For me, the Kindle solved both those major problems; I can fit my entire library on there with room to spare, and I can carry it in my purse. And since I've had a lot of questions about it, here are my answers:
No, not every book is available for the Kindle, and the Kindle cannot read e-pub format books. But I figure that Amazon has 400,000+ books available for the Kindle. I'm not going to get bored anytime soon.
You have to read your Kindle under the same conditions you'd read a paper book, in terms of lighting. The Kindle is not backlit, because reading on a backlit screen for long periods of time is very hard on the eyes. I'm also a loyal iPhone user, and believe me, I spent the first 24 hours of my Kindle ownership poking the screen and listening to Mr. Carlie yell, "It's not an iPod! It doesn't have a touch screen!" Of course, there is a Kindle for iPhone app, which allows me to read my downloaded books on my phone and then sync the two so my Kindle catches up to where I've read on my phone. I heart technology.
I can hold a drink in one hand and read on my Kindle in the other and not worry about getting food on the pages. This is important!
Yes, Kindle books are $9.99. Sometimes they're more, sometimes less. Lots of classics are available for free.
You don't have to have internet at home to use the Kindle. In fact, you don't even need to own a computer. It works over a 3G network, just like cell phones.
No, I don't think the Kindle, or any other e-book reader, is going to kill the publishing industry because...
Let's think about this for a minute. THE hot new electronic toy to have is a device dedicated to reading. When was the last time that happened? Sure, the Kindle plays MP3s, but it's way too small in terms of capacity to hold a music collection. One significant person in my life who travels a lot adores his Kindle because it means he doesn't have to pack heavy books in his luggage. I like that I can read one-handed if I have to ride the subway standing up. People who love to read but have limited space don't have to worry about their volume of book ownership. Since the font size on the Kindle is adjustable (though the Kindle only has one font), people who are visually impaired don't have to wait for large-print versions of books. And those who like to mark their books (not I, but there are some) can still make notes and bookmarks via the keyboard.
There's even a discussion about the Kindle at Jezebel here.
I know lots of people have found various faults with the Kindle, but I pers
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I know it probably makes me uncool to blog about a huge bestseller, but I was never one of the cool kids, anyway.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett is a book that I might normally pass up. It's historical fiction, set in the early 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi. It's also most definitely women's fiction, which I've never thought was my thing. What got me to pick it up? First, I got it as a gift. Thanks, Mom! Second, the people I talked to who had read it said that what made The Help stand out were the voices. I'm a sucker for a great voice, so I picked up the book and now there's a day missing from my life (in a good way).
To be precise, the book has three voices: Skeeter, a white recent college graduate who is living at home in Jackson with no boyfriend and no job; Minny, an outspoken black maid with a talent for cooking; and Aibileen, also a black maid, who is devout and kind. When Skeeter is rejected for a job at Harper & Row, she is advised to work on her writing and really think about the stories she wants to tell. This leads to Skeeter investigating what happened to her beloved maid, Constantine, who stopped writing to Skeeter while she was away at college. In the course of finding out what happened to Constantine, Skeeter grows closer to Aibileen and decides that the stories she wants to tell are the stories of black maids who work for white families in Jackson. In the era of Jim Crow laws, just getting the maids together to tell these stories for the book endangers their livelihood. The women must meet in secret and when Skeeter's best friend Hilly gets wind of Skeeter's writing the book, she sets out to make things miserable for Skeeter. While Skeeter and Aibileen work hard to keep the book a secret, Minny is keeping a secret of her own: Her employer, Miss Celia, will do anything to keep her husband from knowing that she's hired Minny.
The voices make this book unforgettable, definitely, but I think there's another aspect to it, and that is that Stockett treats great human kindness as well as cruelty with equal care. She also stays far away from two of my biggest pet peeves in historical fiction, which are characters who rebel with twenty-first century sensibility in a time when they knew full well what the consequences could be for doing so, and forgetting that not everyone is super affected by every major historical event that comes along. Stockett always keeps her focus on the people, which I feel should be the focus of all good works of fiction. She gave her characters fascinating yet real lives, so they only needed each other to make for a great book. The setting is just as vivid as the characters, and it made me very glad to live in a time of air conditioning. No breakneck adventure, no zombie apocalypse, no torrid doomed romance, just an absorbing, thought-provoking story of three lives.
Know how much I wanted to read this book? I bought it. (Alas, my local library system doesn't own it and I never got an advance copy.) Not only that, I paid retail for it. I don't remember the last time I paid retail for a book. I have to say, this was well worth every cent.
The premise: Fourteen-year-old Alex has led a life of petty crime for the past two years, stealing money and valuables from empty houses. Stealing gives him a thrill, until the night he and his friend Toby break into the wrong house. Alex and Toby are caught not by the cops, but by three men who seem to be right out of a sci-fi movie. To Alex's horror, they kill Toby and frame Alex for his murder. And there's no standard juvenile detention facility for Alex, either. He's sent to serve his sentence in Furnace, the worst correctional facility since Camp Green Lake. It's a state-of-the-art prison built a mile underground into solid rock. No sunlight, minimal air, no fresh water.
The worst part of Furnace isn't the heat, or the tiny cell, or even the prison gangs. It's the monster skinless dogs who can rip you to shreds in about five seconds. Or maybe it's the wheezers, who come during the night. Once they mark you, you're in for a fate worse than death. You won't find any senior citizen inmates in Furnace. No one lasts that long.
Alex refuses to give up on himself, no matter how bleak Furnace is. He clings to his innocence and he's determined to find a way out.
My personal thoughts: This book hits all of my favorite book buttons. First, an institutional setting. I don't know why, but I love books that take place in prisons and hospitals. Second, the action is bloody and unforgiving. Many Darren Shan references are made by both the author and the characters. Darren Shan is the first author I thought of when reading this book. Both authors use breakneck speed and incredibly creepy half-sized creatures, and neither shies away from describing every gory detail and injury. (Translation: This book is not for the faint of stomach.) They also both remember that a book can have all the blood and gore of all the Saw movies put together, but no reader is going to get past page ten if the protagonist doesn't have some heart and charm. No matter how frightened he is by the prison, Alex retains his sense of right and wrong. He is a thief, yes, but not a violent criminal. Nor is he someone who wishes ill on his fellow inmates or harm them without provocation. I wanted to see Alex succeed, but I also couldn't wait to see what kind of prison atrocity Smith would spring on us next. It's a page-turner, no doubt, and I almost wish I'd waited to read this until book 2 was out.
Lockdown is the first in a planned five-part series. I don't know if I can take the suspense!
Now that I'm finally caught up on my Printz Honor books from last year, I will say this: Not only is the world of YA literature a better place because Margo Lanagan is in it, but I want to know what goes on in her head all day.
<--- Australian cover, because I like it British cover, because it rocks and says, "This girl lost her pearl earring while she was kicking ass and taking names." --->
Tender Morsels (that's a link to the print book, but this review is of the audio version) is a retelling of one of my favorite fairy tales, "Snow White and Rose Red." Only you know that when Margo Lanagan touches a story, it turns to gold. She roots the story in brutality; the Snow White character, Branza, and her Rose Red sister, Urdda, are conceived via incest and rape, respectively. Despite the violence others visit on her, Liga, their mother, is kind and wants a peaceful life for Branza and Urda. With the help of a little magic, she wakes up one morning in a brighter, gentler version of her town, and raises her girls to their teen years. Then Urdda passes through a portal to an alternate version of her town. Time flows differently in this new world, and when Urda comes back, she finds that years have passed in the life she knew.
Since the Snow White and Rose Red story wouldn't be complete without the bear and the dwarf, Lanagan tells their stories and makes them so much more than just the cranky man and the cursed prince. There's a witch involved, but she's not the evil witch of most fairy tales. These are complex people with lives and loves whose stories are told with the most amazing turns of phrase. It's a book that's not afraid to address all of the emotions that make us human, even the ugly ones.
The readers, Anne Flosnik and Michael Page, alternate the male and female voices with accents that make you feel like you're lost in a fairy tale land, wandering forests and fields. There's such a huge range of emotion in this book that it really speaks to their talents that these readers kept me captivated through both the dark and light parts of the tale. They convey wisdom from the older characters and love and wonder from the younger ones. It's a long book, 12 CDs around 45-60 minutes each, but I'm glad I listened to it. When listening, we can't help but substitute our own voices, and the audio version of Tender Morsels really helped me imagine the brutal, amazing world Lanagan created.
For the past few weeks, I've had to cut back on blogging because I've been busy with, among other things, an internship at a well-known NYC literary agency. It's an agency where I'd love to work someday, and I love the intern work. Getting my first "job" in publishing, though, has really changed the way I think about and read YA literature and how it gets into the hands of readers, and also why librarians ask the questions they do about publishers' mindsets.
On an average day at my internship, I might read 8 query letters. Queries, in short, are a one-page letter from an author to a potential agent selling the agent the idea of the book. A query's job is to make the agent say, "This sounds intriguing. I'd like to read this book." Now, do some math. If the average agent gets 8 queries a day, multiplied by the number of agents at the agency (let's say there are 5), that's 40 queries a day, multiplied by 7 days a week = 280 queries a week, 14,560 queries a year. It takes a lot to stand out among 14,000+ other book ideas. If there's one thing I've learned here, it's that good writing can make any plot or character appealing. I've also learned that a query and the first fifty pages of the novel it describes aren't always equal. Some queries that seemed so-so to me have turned into 50 pages that made me hassle the author (not really, but I wanted to) for more. In short, I get to see a lot of ideas both good and bad, and trust me, those who complain that "there are no good books anymore" need to see the slush pile. I'll SHOW them where the no-good books end up.
In order to be good at your publishing job, you do have to read, but because I'm now enjoying a longer commute and longer hours, I'm not reading as much unless the author is a client of the agency. I'm still reviewing for Kirkus and VOYA but I'm not going to print those reviews here, obviously. Future reviews will include Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan and How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford. After I get some much-needed sleep.
Sometimes a book just walks into your life at the right time.
First, I saw this tweet on the Kirkus Twitter. The most tragically overlooked book of 2008? If Vicky Smith says it is so, then it's probably true.
Second, my husband was working from home one day and over lunch we got into a discussion of Project Runway. Though I can't sew a stitch, I love clothes and I always enjoy seeing the PR challenges. He, being, well, a guy, can't understand the PR allure.
"Why make these crazy clothes that aren't even practical?" he asked.
"I like to think of the PR challenges more as art, and art doesn't always have to be wearable."
"But what's the point of clothing that isn't wearable?"
The Unnameables by Ellen Booream (Harcourt, 2008) tackles just this kind of question. It's set on an island in a time that is, well, right about now. The people of the island formed their government and society around a book: A Frugal Compendium of Home Arts and Farme Chores by Capability C. Craft (1680) as Amended and Annotated by the Island Council of Names (1718-1809). On the island, occupation and name are the two most important things in the world. Your surname comes from your occupation, hence the island has names like Carpenter and Glazer and Potter, but no Weasley, Malfoy or Chang. Things in nature are named for their function, too. A bee, for example, is a Honeybug, and a maple tree is a Sap Tree.
In the midst of all this practicality is Medford Runyuin, who was rescued from a shipwreck as a baby and raised by Boyce Carver. Boyce has taught Medford the carving occupation, which Medford enjoys. His talent at carving, however, is also Medford's biggest shame: He's using his carving talents to make things that have no purpose. Useless Objects, they're called on the island. Useless Objects cannot have names, and making Unnameable things is grounds for exile.
Enter the Goatman. (Come on, do I really have to say anything else? There's a Goatman!) Thanks to his wanderings, Medford knows that this is not the first time a Goatman has come to the island. Revealing this knowledge is...you guessed it, a really good way for Medford to get kicked out of the only home he's ever known. Only it's not so easy to hide a Goatman who can control the wind.
Kirkus was totally right about The Unnameables. I hadn't heard of it before I read that tweet, and it was tragically overlooked. Booream's characters live in modern years but they speak, for the most part, like they're still in 1809. It's a third-person MG allegory, a look at what can happen if we all forget that the arts are just as important a part of life as the practical things. The language can be a little hard to get through at first, but readers who stick with it will enjoy Medford's company and his sense of humor. It reminded me a lot of The Giver, with the adolescent transition into a career and the one boy who is separated from his peers by his simply having emotions.
Don't overlook this one. To do so is simply Unnameable.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (Dial, 2008) is a book I only read because of peer pressure. Everywhere I went, it seemed that people were talking about it. It's not the sort of book I seek out: epistolary, historical, some romance...those are three of my strikes. Because I am a literary lemming, I got out my library card and requested it. Skipping the flap copy, I dove right in.
Picture it: London, 1946. Juliet Ashton is a writer who made a name for herself writing columns under a pen name for the London Spectator. She's proud of her success, but a series of letters to her editor, Sidney Stark, show that she's at a crossroads. What should she write next? While Juliet ponders this, she receives a letter from a Mr. Dawsey Adams of St. Martin's Parish, Guernsey. Dawsey has a book of Juliet's, a collection of essays by Charles Lamb, and he just had to write to see if she knew where he could get more of Mr. Lamb's work.
A book that revolves around people who love books has to be good, right?
The letters between Juliet and Dawsey evolve into Juliet's correspondence with the members of the Guernsey Potato Peel Pie and Literary Society, which formed not as a literary society but as a cover for a group of people being out after curfew on their German-occupied island. Through their letters, Juliet learns that the people of Guernsey survived near-starvation and being cut off from the news during the war. In much the way that people form friendships over the internet today, Juliet forms bonds with the readers (and writers) of Guernsey. Her letters to her publisher and best friend are observant, funny, and inspiring. Guernsey goes on to become the idea for Juliet's next book, and the people are the kind of friends she's wanted all her life.
Before I read this book I couldn't have found Guernsey on a map, but now I'm intrigued by its story. For me, this was a "good writing trumps all" book, because even though I'm not the average reader of women's fiction or historical fiction, I stayed with this book because of the voices. The way Juliet fell in love with the people of Guernsey reinforces the power of the written word. The peripheral characters were most interesting for what they didn't relate to Juliet as much as what they did. (And I loved the character who wanted to be Miss Marple and decided she would knit and observe the world.) Books brought these people together, and books are how they relate to each other. That is something anyone who loves to read, librarian or not, can understand.
The attraction: Southern settings and first-person narration that will blow you away.
Knights of the Hill Country (Knopf, 2006). I didn't read this until it was nominated for a spot on Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, and then I couldn't shut up about it. I can take or leave sports books, generally. I figured this would be another football hero story, maybe with some girl angst. There is a football hero story and girl angst, but to label this book with only those words would do it a great injustice. Using slow pacing and subtle details, Tharp lays out the story of Hampton Green, whose greatest successes come on the football field. He's part of the five-time championship Kennisaw Knights and has a talent and instinct for the game. Everyone in town expects that Kennisaw will win another state championship, but Hampton knows something they don't: His best friend and fellow teammate, Blaine, is fighting an injury that could end his football career. This knowledge and the pain make Blaine increasingly bitter, to the point where he's not afraid to get in fights and engage in behavior unbecoming of a Knight. Blaine means the world to Hampton, who is also trying to deal with his mother's new boyfriend, but Hampton doesn't know how much longer he can rein Blaine in.
The Spectacular Now (Knopf, 2008) is...spectacular. I reviewed this last December and you can read my thoughts here.
What draws Tharp's books together, and what makes me squee in my authorcrush, is the way Tharp captures everyday emotions and the subtleties of boys who participate in seriously un-subtle behaviors. Hampton, for all he can do on the football field, is insecure in his academic and social abilities. Sutter tries to hide his insecurities in loud, drunken behavior. Both characters, however, think and feel deeply about their friends and families. These are the type of books I'm absolutely dying to see more of: Emotionally invested stories with male main characters. Tharp's books (somewhat like Christopher Krovatin's) understand that teenage boys, crude and stinky as they may be, also feel a range of emotions that deserve to appear in YA fiction. Emotions are not things to be afraid of in guy-centric YA, and Tharp understands that. He knows that for a book to make an impact and stay there, it has to hit the heart. So, basically, if I wanted to be a writer when I grew up, I'd want to write like Tim Tharp.
When I heard about The Devil's Kiss by Sarwat Chadda (Hyperion, 2009) during Book Expo, I had my doubts. A book about a girl Templar? I'd already read three Templar books this year and none of them were terribly appealing. A girl who spends her days training to hunt ghuls, as the job of the modern Templar is to protect humanity from the supernatural? Eh, I'd seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It sounded like a recipe for disaster, but I was so very wrong.
It works. Oh my, does it work. It's absolute proof that good writing can conquer all.
The premise: Billi (short for Bilquis) SanGreal has trained all her life to be a member of the Knights Templar, who work underground in the 20th century as demon hunters. Billi is nearing the point where she will swear fealty to the Templars forever. Despite the Templar training, she is still completely recognizable as a teenage girl at odds with her strict father after her mother's death. Billi's oldest friend is Kay, a powerful Oracle who couldn't fistfight his way out of a paper bag. For the past year, Kay has been honing his psychic powers in Jerusalem, and he's come back with some pretty annoying abilities. Billi, frustrated with Kay and wanting to get away from the Templars, falls for Michael. Michael is smart, hot, and interested in Billi. In fact, he's almost too good to be true.
Kay and Billi discover that Kay has drawn the Angel of Death to earth via a cursed mirror, and that means trouble for humanity. Kay is a great psychic, no doubt, but we're talking the Angel of Death, bringer of everyone's favorite of the Ten Plagues. It's the biggest, most evil thing Billi and the Templars have ever fought, and they don't know if this is a battle they can win.
Why you'll love it: With a girl who can kick some serious demon booty at the center of the plot, it would have been easy for this to be another sassy supernatural book with a pink cover. Chadda instead takes a more serious tone, crafting a stubborn and admirable character in Billi. There's barely a technology reference to be found; there are mentions of a cell phone but this book could take place anytime after 1999 or so. I was very impressed by Chadda's use of language, too. He's foregone slang in favor of plain yet effective dialogue, classic plot lines, and well-paced action scenes. The names of the Templars are a tribute to Arthurian legends: Gwaine, Percival, Kay, Arthur, etc. Templar history is covered without being dumped on the reader, and it's delivered in a way that might even inspire readers to learn more about the Templars. In terms of topic this is a timely book, but it's one that's going to last. Diversity, adventure, sexual tension, some pretty good insults, and family angst never go out of literary style.
I don't review a lot of graphic novels because my knowledge of art can generously be described as "lacking," but when I heard about Danica Novgorodoff's graphic retelling of Benjamin Percy's short story "Refresh, Refresh," I knew it was one I wanted to read.
Refresh, Refresh follows three teen boys, Cody, Josh, and Gordon, whose fathers are serving in the Marines. Stuck in their small Oregon town, they form a fight club so they can strengthen themselves against their enemies. They party, they go camping, they cause more trouble than they solve, and they refresh, refresh their email, hoping for a message from their fathers. Seasons pass and the boys, seniors in high school, make important decisions about their futures. Cody is sure he wants to become a Marine and fight terrorists, and Josh takes flak from his friends when he confesses that he'd rather go to college than join the armed forces. All three boys also feel stress at home, because they've become the men of their respective houses.
I'm sure this is a book that will be mentioned when the inevitable, "Do you know any books about teens whose fathers have gone off to war?" readers' advisory question is asked, but Refresh, Refresh is not just a book about a parent at war. It's about grieving someone who may or may not be dead, and it's about three boys trying to move forward with their lives when uncertainty holds them back. In trying to become strong, Cody, Josh, and Gordon show their biggest weaknesses and how isolated they feel in their own families and among their peers. Novogodoff uses a fair amount of dialogue at the beginning of the book, but the last ten pages are almost entirely wordless. It doesn't end on the happiest note, but it does end realistically, something this reader appreciated.
Brilliance Audio has this cool new program where they send out review copies of their audiobooks, and when I got the box of Fall 2009 titles, I didn't know what to listen to first. With the help of my to-read list and a recommendation from my good friend Liz B, I picked up Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford, which on the surface sounds like everything no one wants right now.
Besides being realistic fiction, Carter is set in the suburbs where the weather varies. The main character is from a white, middle-class family with two happily married parents and an older sister who sometimes antagonizes him, but generally isn't too bad. Carter is not the smartest or dumbest or handsomest or ugliest kid in the class. He has friends, but he's not super-popular. If you press me, I'll tell you that the book doesn't even have a plot; it's just a series of events and mishaps in Carter's freshman year. No vampires. No zombies. Nothing hi-tech. It's everything that could make for a boring book, but as Miss Snark always said: Good writing trumps all. In this case, good writing plus a great voice performance trump all.
Reader Nick Podehl's calling in life is to be a fourteen-year-old boy. Carter is a boy with a rich, dynamic inner monologue, and Podehl beautifully captures Carter's highs as well as his lows. Podehl also brings delight when he reads in the voices of Carter's friends and family, particularly the girls. Crawford's characters are real and recognizable to any reader, and when Podehl reads through the speech of fourteen-year-old girls caught up in fourteen-year-old boy/girl politics, you'll feel like you're in the hallway at a high school.