September 19, 2014

Afterworlds

by Scott Westerfeld
First sentence: "The most important email that Darcy Patel ever wrote was three paragraphs long."
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: September 23, 2014
Content: There's some grizzly murders, terrorists, and a lot of swearing. Plus the huge length and the amount of patience it's going to take to get through this one, and I'm not sure it's for the faint of heart. It's in the teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

I picked this up because it's the New Scott Westerfeld. I haven't read everything he's written, but I have loved (more or less) everything I read by him. (Also: I've met him, at KidlitCon in Seattle. He was pretty chill.) Even so, I didn't know what to expect. And this was nothing like I've ever read before.

It's really two books in one. Half of it is a ghost/terrorist/murder story. Lizzie, a high school senior, is traveling back to California after visiting her father, and some terrorists attack her airplane. She survives by playing dead, and soon discovers that she can see ghosts. But it's more than that: she is a psychopomp, a valkyrie, a person who helps the dead find peace. And she's in love with the underworld's lord, Yamaraj.

The second half of the story is about Darcy, a recently graduated girl, who "wrote" the Lizzie half of the book during NANOWRIMO her senior year, and got it snapped up by a major publisher for 6 figures. Suddenly, her life is turned upside down, and she decides that college is not an option. Instead, she moves to New York and is thrust head first into the world of YA publishing. It's a fictional account because Darcy is a fictional person, but very it much felt like an inside peek into the life of a writer.

I liked each of the stories individually; Westerfeld knows how to plot, and how to hold a reader's interest. The Lizzie story was sufficiently chilling (while also being a bit swoony) and had some clever and interesting takes on the afterworld. And the Darcy story was well-done as well; Westerfeld caught the uncertainty of a first-time published author as well as the excitement and naivete of someone just out of high school facing the Big Wide World.

But, what I enjoyed most, and what kept me reading, was the connection between the two parts. I loved seeing Darcy angst over her book, and how different parts of her life fit into the book. I loved reading about how parts of the story were changed and adapted. And I loved all the different teasers about the end, and how it could have been different. I'm not a writer but I loved seeing how the author and the story are tied up together and the effort it takes to write a story.

I don't know how well this is going to go over with non-Westerfeld fans; I do hope it goes over well. There's a couple of good stories here. And I'd be more than happy to read more of Darcy and Lizzie's story.

September 17, 2014

On Being the Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything

It's been a rough year for me. Not life-altering serious illnesses or anything like that, but a lot of change and a lot of adjusting. And a lot of facing the fact that I'm no longer *gulp* young. What is it George Burns always said? "You can't help growing older, but you don't have to get old?" (Or something like that.) Most days, I'm okay, but there are sometimes when I just get in a funk about the direction of my life.

Two things have helped. The first are three fantastic songs:






All of them help remind me that I am just fine the way I am, and to not listen to the inner (and outer) voices that would make me think otherwise.

The second is a decision to go back to school and get my MLS. I'm terrified of this -- my insecruities ask: who will want to hire a 46 year old librarian? -- but I am pretty sure it will help me in the long run to be doing something I should have been doing all along. I'm just applying to schools now, so I don't plan on any drastic changes just yet. But I am also excited.

So, here's to a much better year!

September 15, 2014

Gulp

by Mary Roach
First sentence: "In 1968, on the Berkley campus of the University of California, six young men undertook an irregular and unprecedented act."
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: One f-bomb (in the chapter about the rectum as a criminal accomplice) and a bunch of s-words (in the chapters on the colon and intestines). It's in the science section at the bookstore.

I never would have thought to pick up a book on the Alimentary system (that's your digestive system for the non-medically minded), except that this was picked for my in-person book group.

I'm so glad it was: it was fantastically fascinating.

She takes apart the digestive system, starting from the nose, working her way down. It sounds like it'd be boring, but it really isn't. Roach is not only an engrossing and accessible writer, but a hilarious one. Especially the footnotes. All her little asides and historical facts had me laughing out loud.

True, the last few chapters aren't for those who get queasy talking about bodily functions. But if you can get past that, it's an excellent book.

September 14, 2014

State of the TBR Pile: September 2014

I have no excuses for the state of my TBR pile. There's just too many books I want to read this time of year. PLUS, I've been nominating two books for each Kid's IndieNext list (the Fall one's out; I don't know why they don't have the link to that), so I need to read a couple of books that are coming out December/January. Too much to read, not enough time. But isn't that always the story?

(As an upshot, I've got a plane flight to Sacramento for KidlitCon coming up... 6 blissful reading hours with NO INTERRUPTIONS.) (Are coming too? You should! It's going to be a GREAT con!)

I probably won't get to all of these this month, but here's what I'd LIKE to read.


The Iron Trial, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare (Because the authors are awesome.
He Laughed With His Other Mouths, by M. T. Anderson (Same reason as above.)
A Beautiful Blue Death, by Charles Finch (A coworker has told me I need to read this on a number of occasions.)
Drama, by Raina Telgemeier (Should have read this ages ago.)
The Cure for Dreaming, by Cat Winters (Looks interesting.)
The Paperboy, by Kristin Levine (This was going to be one of my Indie Next pics, but they pushed up the pub date. Still: love the author.)
The Secret Sky, by Atia Abawi (Looks interesting.)
Anatomy of a Misfit, by Andrea Portes (It's an adult writer doing YA stuff. I'm wary, but want to check it out.)
Jackaby, by William Ritter (Looks interesting.)
The Burning Sky, by Sherry Thomas (I've been meaning to check this out since it was recommended LAST KidLitCon.)
Minion, by John David Anderson (Because I really liked Sidekicked.)
Bitterblue, by Kristin Cashore (I've been putting it off because it's so emotionally difficult. I will get to this. I will.)

What's on your TBR list?

September 12, 2014

Graphic Novel Roundup

The Shadow Hero
by Gene Luen Yang & Sonny Liew
First sentence: "In 1911, the Ch'ing Dynasty collapsed ending two millenia of imperial rule over China."
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There's some violence (graphic, obviously), but that's about it. It's a higher reading level, but I wouldn't be adverse to giving this to the superhero loving 9- or 10-year-old. It's in the teen graphic novel section of the bookstore.

In the 1940s, the first Asian-American, Hing, was hired by a small comic press to draw a superhero. The producers/owners wanted The Green Turtle to be white but the way Hing drew The Green Turtle, you really couldn't tell. It was a short-lived comic, and Hing never gave The Green Turtle's backstory.

Which is where The Shadow Hero comes in: Yang and Liew imagine The Green Turtle's origin story.

And what a story. Yes, this is a superhero comic: the kind of nerdy, unambitious boy who gets a super power, but not without great cost. Our hero is Hank Chu, the son of Chinese immigrants. All he really wants to do is run the grocery store in Chinatown with his father. But, Chinatown is run by the mob, people who extract "taxes" from the businesses. Hank's dad forgets a payment once, and the mob comes down on him, hard, killing him in front of Hank. That spurs Hank (kind of; his mother had been pushing him to become a superhero for a while) into action: he's going to take down the mob, going after the boss.

Like all of Yang's work, this is wonderfully drawn, and the story is compelling. I'm not a huge superhero comic person, but I couldn't put this one down. It's definitely a story worth reading.

Mr. Pants: It's Go Time!
by Scott McCormick and R. H. Lazzell
First sentence: "What are you laughing at, Mr. Pants?"
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It's a perfect beginning chapter graphic novel. Words are simple and large print, but the humor is abundant and the pages keep turning. It's in the beginning chapter book (grades 1-2) section of the bookstore.

This is one that our Penguin children's rep (who has the most delightful Irish accent) RAVED about. She said, "Seriously: you just have to read it. It's hilarious!" I put it off for a while, until she came again (there's a sequel coming out), and reminded me: "You HAVE  to read this." So, I did. And she's right: you have to read it. It's hilarious.

It's the last day of summer, and Mr. Pants -- a cat with two cat sisters and a human mom. No, I don't understand, either -- wants to go play laser tag. Except his younger sisters -- Foot Foot and Grommy -- have other ideas. Foot Foot wants to play with her new toy. Grommy wants to go to the Fairy Princess Dream Factory. Mom has to go shopping. The deal is this: Mr. Pants goes along with all this stuff (he doesn't want to do, obviously), and they can go play laser tag.

Much like Babymouse, this is a gold mine for hilarity. There's also some gender-bending going on; Mr. Pants is your typical "boy", but he's also accepting of his sisters' likes. (Which, I think, is typical for a boy with sisters. Ask me, sometime, about the summer I was into Little House on the Prairie. I was Laura, and my brother was Mary.) It's everything a beginning chapter book needs to be: colorful, funny, interesting, and good.

This One Summer
by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki
First sentence: "
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There's a half-dozen f-bombs as well as mild swearing, and one of the minor characters gets pregnant. It's in the teen graphic novel section for those reasons.

Every summer since she was five, Rose and her family would go to their cabin by the beach. She has her best friend there, Windy, and enjoyed the days playing, exploring, hanging out. But this summer is different. Rose is 13 (I think; she seemed 13) and she and Windy are talking about growing up (boobs were a big topic). And her mother and father are fighting. Quite a bit. Rose gathers from eavesdropping that much of it surrounds their failed attempt to have another baby. Which just makes Rose feel unwanted.

Add on top of that their observance (mostly from sneaking around) of an unfolding drama in the little town where their cottages are: a boy who works at the convenience store got his girlfriend pregnant and doesn't want to accept responsibility.

It's an interesting graphic novel, one that I think I didn't like as much as I could have, solely because I was not the right age. But the 12-to 14-year old crowd, especially girls, would relate. It's about changing, and accepting the future, and figuring out friends, and understanding the world. And it's perfect for its target audience.

Just not for me.