Sunday, June 30, 2013

Book Review: How to Lead a Life of Crime, by Kirsten Miller

Title: How to Lead a Life of Crime
Author: Kirsten Miller
Publisher: Razorbill
Publication Date: February 2013
Read: June 2013
Where It Came From: Library
Genre: YA-thriller-ish?
Rating: 3.5 Peter Pan Hats

The Quick and Dirty:

Flick, a teenage pickpocket, leaves the streets of NYC to attend a prestigious academy-- the Mandel Academy exists ostensibly to give not-well-off kids a leg up in the world, but in reality to train the next generation of powerful criminals. Flick agrees to attend in exchange for an opportunity to exact revenge on his father, whom he suspects of murdering his younger brother. As he rises up through the ranks, will he be able to achieve his goal, or will he lose sight of who he truly is? And when the girl he left behind to attend the academy shows up as a fellow student and his best competition, things only get more complicated. Fun and enjoyable, but also very violent, very long, and the protag’s self-loathing became grating at times.

The Wordy Version:

When I began reading this book, I remember thinking about how the jacket copy didn’t really seem to capture what was going on in the book—I mean, it did in a very basic sense, but somehow missed the feel (and the whole middle section) of the book. And now when I just typed up the Quick and Dirty, I can feel those jacket-copy-writers’ pain. This is a hard book to blurb, and that’s the best I was able to do. Also, let’s take a moment to appreciate the awesome cover art. ((moment)) Isn’t it cool?

As an added fun fact, I started reading this book when I was sitting in a Police Office one day (fingerprint cards stuff, not law-trouble stuff). It wasn’t until later that I realized reading a book called How To Lead a Life of Crime in the presence of the police might not have been the best idea I’ve ever had. Hah.

Anyway! I returned this book about a week ago and it’s already starting to become fuzzy in my mind, so we’ll see what I can do here. Overall, I enjoyed this book. I enjoyed it quite a bit, in fact! I liked the gritty atmosphere, and the characters were really well done. Flick, the protagonist, had a distinct, sassy voice, and it was fun to read his snarky perspective. (There was some weirdness with changing verb tenses, though—like for awhile it was like Flick was talking about things that happened in the past, and then switched to telling it like it was happening in present tense, and I just didn’t follow.) For most of the other characters, there was always more to them than what was on the surface. It would’ve been easy for some of these other criminals-in-training (especially the legitimately psychotic ones) to become two-dimensional, but Flick, and thus we the readers, eventually perceived the layers and were able to see them as actual people, complete with pasts and regrets and different motives and all sorts of complicated people-stuff.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Genre-ally Speaking: Indelible, by Dawn Metcalf

Title: Indelible
Author: Dawn Metcalf
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Release Date: July 30th, 2013
Read: June 2013
Genre: YA-fae-urban fantasy
Where It Came From: ARC from the BEA*
Rating: 3 Out of 5 Signaturae

The Quick and Dirty:

16-year-old Joy has been dealing with the fallout of her parents’ divorce and her brother going to college, and thinks things are finally starting to normalize a bit—but how wrong she is! While out dancing one night, she spies a cute boy across the room—and then he comes over and slices her eye with a knife. She soon finds herself entangled in the world of the fae, accidentally bound to Ink, the boy who cut her eye. As the two get to know each other, they find themselves at the center of a fae political maelstrom with the fate of humanity hanging in the balance. The fresh take on the fae mythos is interesting, and there are some really vibrant characters, but parts of the new mythology can be a bit muddled. An enjoyable read, but it didn’t quite capture me in a way that would bump it up to 4 stars.

The Wordy Version:

Overall, this was a pleasant read—well, as “pleasant” as a read can be with eye-slicings, brandings, and other sorts of mayhem going on! Maybe “enjoyable” would be a better word. Does that still make me sound ghoulish? This was definitely on the darker side of urban fantasy, but it still didn’t feel DARK-dark to me, despite the above-mentioned shenanigans. Does that make any sense? The beginning of the book was really genuinely creepy, after Joy gets her cornea nicked by a mysterious boy and is all WTF?? as the fae world closes in on her. The sort of mounting sense of dread was really cool, and had me jumping at sounds when I was reading it at night.

After it’s explained to Joy what’s going on, the creep-factor goes down and the story continues. I thought the author’s new additions to the fae mythos were really cool and even made sense—the fae coming up with a way to circumvent the power humans have over them (power gained from knowledge of the fae’s true names) with a symbol or grouping of symbols called a signatura to stand in for their name, and then the raw creation of a pair of new beings whose purpose is to dole out these signaturae, so the fae aren’t running around claiming humans willy-nilly via signatura for themselves.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Audio-Philes: Pearl of China, by Anchee Min

Title: Pearl of China
Author: Anchee Min
Read By: Angela Lin
Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC
Publication Year: 2010
Listened To: June 2013
Genre: Historical fiction
Rating: ****

Fiction audiobooks are generally not my thing (nor Alyssa's). I usually can read faster than someone else can read to me, many voices readers use for characters don’t sound like the way I’d read them from the page, and most importantly—listening to bedroom scenes destroys any pleasure I’d have in them on the page. So when I won a collection of audiobooks from my library’s summer reading raffle a few summers ago, I wasn’t sure I’d ever listen to the fiction selections.

Following a few soporific nonfiction titles I chose from my library (Guns, Germs and Steel and The Revenge of Geography) I decided to try fiction again. Unfitting voices at least can keep me awake while driving; I remain thankful that I caught myself before falling asleep at the wheel while listening to geography studies (DWB—driving while bored).

By luck, the first novel on my iTunes playlist this month was Pearl of China, which I didn’t realize until midway through listening was the historical fiction version of Pearl S. Buck’s life. A few days later I was baking muffins galore because scurrying around the kitchen would give me an excuse to keep listening to the book. I’m giving up on geography books—the history parts of Pearl of China (spanning the last emperor of China through the death of Madame Mao) fully absorbed me.

It isn’t just the history in the novel that makes it enjoyable listening; the main character, Willow (Pearl’s childhood best friend in the story), is courageous and resilient. My impression from women’s literature set in China has been that women’s lives were miserable and that no matter how intelligent they were, they’d get caught by institutional violence. However important such tragic stories are, it’s hard to listen to them. Pearl of China upended the tragic battered wife stereotype by making women escape their marriages and find intellectual fulfillment in universities and publishing, and some romantic fulfillment in new partners. These successes do not mean that Willow and other characters necessarily have easy lives after escaping marriage, but it makes them the force behind what happens to them later in life. It’s also worth noting that Willow’s choices in the second half of her long life (~50-80 years old) are the ones that show her true strength, and that all the other senior citizen characters are autonomous and active. So double well done to Anchee Min—independent women AND senior citizens!

Angela Lin, the audiobook reader, does a very good job. She varies voices for characters without exaggerated affectations. Best, she sings haunting excerpts of songs.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Recipe Challenge: Chocolate Strawberry Tarts

 photo IMG_0365_zps2720b1b3.jpg

It’s pretty obvious what my experience with tart-making has been that when I was reading The Selection, I pictured the strawberry tart as a Strawberry Toaster Strudel. Not a Pop Tart though, because Pop Tarts are absolutely not fancy enough for young women wearing dresses (possibly gowns) all the time.

But when I looked in the Martha Stewart cookbook Alyssa gave me I saw pictures of tarts with crinkled circumferences or stretching sides. And I wanted to eat one of my own.

Such was my desire to eat one of these pastries that I bought mini tart pans (cuter and easier to store than the 11” pan I saw), pulled out my food processor, and read a slew of recipes for our Selection Recipe Challenge.

I went to my garden to pick some strawberries too, but this was about a month ago, and my berries weren't quite ripe yet. (Though they were still pretty!)

 photo IMG_0462_zps1f9c43b4.jpg

Monday, June 24, 2013

Book Review: Plague in the Mirror, by Deborah Noyes

Title: Plague in the Mirror
Author: Deborah Noyes
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication Year: 2013
Read: June 2013
Genre: YA-paranormal / YA-historical / YA-contemporary
Rating: **

The Quick and Dirty:

Decent premise of a ghostly figure trying to trap a girl (who may be imagining it all) in the hellish world of the Florentine plague; actually about an insipid girl who deserves to be trapped and a crazy ghost figure who would be my #1 target in an Inquisition.

The Wordy Version:

May is spending the summer in Florence to avoid the shakeup of her parents’ divorce under the guise of helping a family friend research a travel guide. What seems like an interminably scholarly trip turns life-threatening when a doppelgänger from 1348 starts to haunt May and offer her a portal to Florence of the Middle Ages. As much as May tries to get involved with her present life, she is preoccupied by the harm her historical twin may be doing in 1348, and wonders if being trapped in the midst of the Black Plague would be as bad as it seems.

Time travel has been done so often that characters crossing into a world that ended before they were born doesn’t seem unusual. What is peculiar in Plague in the Mirror is that there is almost no logical impetus to engage in the time travel. 1348 is approximately the worst time in the second millennium to travel to Florence. Almost thirty years after the death of Dante and thirty years before the birth of Brunelleschi (whose famous dome is the modern image of the city), the only thing 1348 Florence has of interest it is its newly created republican government ...and the Bubonic Plague.

Middle Ages scholars may disagree with me, but I cannot figure out what appeal there would be in visiting a medieval city during a health crisis. As a writing convenience, setting up 1348 Florence as a hell if May were trapped is a good idea because it ratchets up the stakes for her to avoid being there. During May’s first visit we see “a young man in formfitting—that is, bulging—tights and a short, stained tunic…leering into her face. He has winey breath, and his bad teeth are bared, his head tilted like a curious dog’s.” There are “sinister towers” and “diseased-looking sausage links and sides of ham, swathed in flies,” “beds of filthy straw.” Everything about these descriptions convinces me of the undesirability of being there.

I would say “job well done” for setting up the stakes, except that the main character, May, seems to ignore all of the bad stuff that she is observing in those scenes! May has the choice to visit 1348 or stay in the present, and after her first visit she continues to return. For May, 1348 Florence is a previously living hell that contains one artist apprentice, Marco, who is every sort of Italian artist sexy May can imagine. Her one encounter with Marco (which involves about three sentences of broken dialogue because THEY DON’T SPEAK THE SAME LANGUAGE) convinces her that she has found her true love on the other side of time, and that he feels the same way. Because May’s look-alike, Cristofana, knows May likes Marco, Cristofana uses him as bait and then as a hostage, and instead of May doing the logical thing of telling herself that none of this matters because they already died hundreds of years earlier, May lets this go to her head.

“A lady’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment,” says Mr. Darcy early in Pride and Prejudice. I am convinced that even the self-satisfied Darcy of that point of the novel would underestimate May’s ability to jump from admiration to married life seven centuries before her birth. It’s astounding that May has no friends or interests that convincingly ground her in the twenty-first century. It is equally baffling that May doesn’t consider the language and culture differences that would separate her from Marco if she stayed.

(On the subject of languages, I am mystified at Cristofana’s ability to converse with May. Cristofana, living in 1348, says her mother was English and taught her the language. A word of linguistic context here: in the fourteenth century, people in England spoke Middle English, which is very different from what speak today. As an example, the dialect that Chaucer uses in the Canterbury Tales is the most accessible form of Middle English ( and I would be exhausted trying to figure out a conversation carried out in that. And chances are that Cristofana’s English could not have been so Chaucerian since he was only born in 1343.

I understand arguments for not using Middle English for Cristofana’s dialogue, including that the unfamiliar language would have made May’s time travel choices even weirder. But it would have given clarity to May’s potential mental problems if her twin could not have conversed with everyone in modern Florence while they switched places. Apologies for the side-rant.)

May’s imagination is certainly vivid when it comes to relationships, but it’s not clear if that creativity carries over to other parts of her life. According to her childhood friend (potentially with benefits), “[May] always had to invent these worlds and assign everyone names and make costumes. It was freaking exhausting.” This same friend suggests that May’s time travel could be psychological, and that May could use some help. The potential for Plauge to turn into a psychological thriller makes the middle section of the novel more palatable to read.

Unfortunately the thrills fail to come. May never seems to fully connect with the reader (or even with her own life), and when she finally is in a potentially exciting position, all she can muster is passive acceptance. If you need one reason to read this book, page 254/255 is it. On a page that should be the culmination of many of May’s dreams, May could be replaced by a board, and you might not be able to notice the substitution. Ugh, I have so many problems with this page that the next few paragraphs will be SPOILERS.

He's so intense she doesn't know what to do...until she does. The sleeping child has the bed, so they kneel together in a crouch, settling on the floor among coils of rope and oily stains and splinters and sawdust and chicken feathers.

It's hard to look at him as he eases her down, his eyes urgent and sorrowful while he undresses and lowers himself over, pulling her middle close in rough, paint-smeared hands, smoothing the sides of her crimson gown up. So she meets the blank stare of an unfinished sculpture beyond them, until at last he starts kissing her again, and she kisses back, a little fiercely, rolling on top of him in a bliss of rising away and falling and sliding and biting her lip as he moves inside her, moves and moves, and it's like reeling or flying apart.

...May feels sore and ripe and real and wonders did she really lose her virginity with...what? A man who no longer exists? An afterimage? How could something that physical not be real? She isn't sorry or disappointed, not at all, but there's something bittersweet because of Liam. She wouldn't change anything, May thinks, meeting Marco's dark eyes, wouldn't give this back or undo it, but part of her feels like a thief.

This is without a doubt the most disturbing depiction of consensual sex I've ever read. May "meets the blank stare of a sculpture" instead of the urgent eyes of her sexual partner, and after they're done she asks with what she lost her virginity. And yet she doesn't sense that not being able to communicate with the guy she's sleeping with, and not being convinced of his humanity, are major problems. May has extremely unreliable birth control available to her, but wouldn't that be a normal college-bound girl's first thought the next day? A little, "Holy F***. What if I'm preggers?" would make this scene (slightly) more palatable.

(SPOILERS END) Another thing that could make it more to my taste would be any point of view other than the third person present. I took years to get used to first person present, but the buck stops there. NO THIRD PERSON PRESENT. PLEASE. Let this book be a lesson, and examine the effect of changing the verbs to past tense.

To be fair, this was simply not my book. Even if everything I wished different had changed, I might still not have been enamored...I would just be less able to pinpoint things that made it not my book.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Audio-Philes: Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld

Title: Leviathan
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Read By: Alan Cumming
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Publication Year: 2009
Listened To: June 2013
Genre: YA-steampunk-alt history
Rating: 4 Out of 5 Fabricated Beasties

I used to joke that everything I knew about World War I, I learned from reading Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan. Now I can happily say that everything I know about WWI I’ve learned from Leviathan and Downton Abbey. (I feel WWI was perhaps not as well-covered as WWII during my secondary education—thankfully I can rely on fictional entertainment to pick up the slack.) And this book is great—full of imagination, historical inspiration, vividly portrayed characters, and rollicking action. Here, have a GoodReads blurb:

Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battletorn war machine and a loyal crew of men.

Deryn Sharp is a commoner, disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She's a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.

With World War I brewing, Alek and Deryn's paths cross in the most unexpected way…taking them on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure that will change both their lives forever.

So yes, I love this trilogy THIS MUCH and think everyone should read it, especially if they’re unsure about steampunk but want to give it a go. However, I’m not here to review the BOOK-book right now, but rather the audiobook.

My nitpicks and dissatisfactions with audiobooks in general are well-documented, so every time I decide to try another I wonder if I’m setting myself up for failure. But when I saw this beckoning to me from the library shelf, I had to give it a go. Scott Westerfeld? Love. Alan Cumming? Love. What could possibly go wrong? And I am pleased to say, not much. I found this to be a very pleasant listen.

It fit my criteria of having been a book I’d: a), already read the traditional way (so I could follow without much trouble), and b) enjoyed immensely, so it had those things going for it from the start. And I thought Alan Cumming did a great job reading it! Really wonderful choice there. There’s always an adjustment period where I acclimate to the characters sounding different than they do in my head, but once I made it through that, it was great. I loved his narration and the voices he created for all the characters, most notably and surprisingly, Deryn! I have this thing where I normally in audiobooks (or movies like Milo and Otis) I hate hate HATE when men try to approximate a female voice, but Mr. Cumming’s was spot-on for the character.

Less successful, for me, was his portrayal of the German-speaking characters. I don’t know what it was about it, but it just seemed…maybe a bit hokey? And to me it kinda made Alek seem a little less intelligent than he was. When I was reading, I imagined Alek with a lighter accent, with more natural tone and smooth cadence when speaking English, due to his privileged upbringing and education. Like I said, though, that’s just part of adjusting to a portrayal of characters on CD sounding different than they do in your head. But this is completely subjective on both counts—I’m sure there are plenty of people who LOVE that he gives those characters distinct accents. At any rate, while it really bothered me for about the first 2 discs, after that I got used to it and got sucked back into the story and Mr. Cumming’s reading of it and it didn’t really matter anymore! The fact that I want to listen to the rest of the series serves as evidence of that, but it seems my library doesn’t have the other two! Noooooo!

All in all, I thought it was great. Alan Cumming’s reading really captured the feel and personality of not just the main characters, but more peripheral ones as well, along with the sense of excitement and adventure of the story overall. If you haven’t read this book, you should probably go do that, or listen to it, or something. AS LONG AS YOU CONSUME IT AND LOVE IT AS MUCH AS I DO. No pressure. :)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Zucchini Bread

Recently I was talking to one of my aunts on the phone, and the subject of our summer gardens came up. I mentioned my zucchini plant’s uncanny habit of having perfectly normal-sized vegetables one day, and then sucking up a ton of water and ballooning them to gargantuan, seed-filled proportions the next. She mentioned that she often uses the bounty from her garden to make zucchini bread, and that inspired me to do the same. There have been lots of zucchini and thus many bread attempts lately, and this is the recipe I’ve settled on after fiddling with the parameters of the Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook’s version and arriving at the ratios and ingredients most pleasing to my own tastebuds. Feel free to try your own spice and nut combos to keep things interesting!

 photo photo5_zps8a7ccdbd.jpg

3/4 C. all-purpose flour
3/4 C. whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1/8 tsp. ground ginger
2/3 C. chopped walnuts
1 egg
1 C. sugar
1-1 1/2 C. shredded zucchini
1/4 C. cooking oil
1/2 tsp. vanilla

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 ° F.
  2. Meanwhile, we can toast! Heat a frying pan over medium heat, and dump in the chopped walnuts. Stir frequently so they heat evenly and don’t burn. When they start to smell delicious and toasty, take them off the stove and transfer them from the pan to another container.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the two flours, baking soda, salt, baking powder, and spices. Stir with a wooden spoon until well mixed up, with the spices evenly dispersed in throughout.
     photo photo_zpsd21a8a7f.jpg
  4. Beat the egg in a medium bowl. Then add the sugar, oil, and vanilla. After washing your zucchini, you can grate it (skin and all) onto a piece of wax paper until you have enough, and then dump it in with the rest of the wet mixture. Stir it until well combined. Perhaps not the most appetizing to look at, but the end result will be tasty, I assure you!
     photo photo2_zps7e7652f6.jpg
  5. Add the wet mixture to the bowl with the dry mixture, and stir it until everything is nice and moist. It’s okay if there are some lumps! Then you can fold in the walnuts you worked so hard to toast.
     photo photo3_zpsd6bd6541.jpg
  6. Spray your loaf pan with cooking spray. A medium-sized pan should do the trick—mine was Pyrex 8.5”x4.5”x3” and worked just fine. Pour or otherwise coax with a spoon the batter into the loaf pan, and then put it in the oven to bake for 50-55 minutes.
     photo photo4_zps555ea51a.jpg
  7. After 50 minutes, pull it out and perform the toothpick test. If you stick a toothpick in near the center and it comes out goop-free, you’re good to go. If there’s some stuff stuck to it, it’s back in the oven for a bit.
  8. Once the toothpick test has been passed, you can set the pan on a wire rack to cool. When it is cool to the touch, you can remove the bread (it might help to run a knife around the edges before trying to dump it out) and leave it to continue cooling on the rack. Slice and serve with butter melting over it, and wrap the rest up for midnight snacks!
     photo photo5_zps8a7ccdbd.jpg

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Genre-ally Speaking: The Rithmatist, by Brandon Sanderson

Title: The Rithmatist
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Publisher: Tor Teen
Publication Date: May 2013
Read: June 2013
Genre: YA-gearpunk-sff?
Rating: 3.5 Unicorn Chalklings

The Quick and Dirty:

In an alternate-history world where there are islands instead of states in America and Korea has extended an empire across Europe, Joel is the 16-year-old son of a deceased chalkmaker, living at and attending Armedius Academy. His dream is to be a Rithmatist, one of the elite who can draw lines, symbols, and creatures (these last called “chalklings”) in chalk on the ground to participate in duels and protect the country from the murderous wild chalklings out in Nebrask. When a series of grisly disappearances involving wild chalklings happen close to campus, Joel and his new Rithmatist friend Melody try to get to the bottom of it before anyone else can be taken, or worse. Characters and dialogue can be a little meh, but it has some very cool ideas as the foundation of the book. Slow to start, but with a finish that makes it worthwhile.

The Wordy Version:

As I was reading the first couple hundred pages or so of this book, I thought it was just okay and was already beginning to compose this review in my head. For me, this book fits into the category of books-marketed-as-YA-that-really-feel-like-middle-grade. For all that Joel and Melody are noted to be 16, nothing about them really feels teenager-y to me—at least not how I remember being and feeling at 16. They seemed just a touch younger, maybe more like 13. And that’s fine—once I figured that out, I was able to reframe the book in my head and get back into the story.

I also had some issues with the dialogue and character development. The dialogue was often kind of clunky or contrived—it didn’t feel real, although people’s speech tics (such as the inspector’s gruff military way of speaking and Melody’s flair for the dramatic) were nice ways to inject some personality. As for the characters, they felt kind of two-dimensional to me, even though there was clearly work done to make them more realistic and fleshed-out. For example, Professor Fitch had a kind of a retiring academic personality, but I found it hard to believe he had been the top Rithmatic professor at Armedius and in his many years of study somehow missed some knowledge that Joel, a teenage non-Rithmatist, had managed to learn in his short years of unofficial study. There were just some little things like that, but nothing too huge and glaring. The characters weren’t bad--they just didn’t seem to jump off the page for me.

What was great about this book were the ideas underpinning it. I was kind of at sea with regards to the alternate history world for a while. I had just assumed that the United States had been one big land mass as we know it, and then something cataclysmic happened to divide it out into these many islands (guess I’ve been reading too much apocalyptic dystopian, eh?), but eventually the narrative explained how it had always been that way. Information about the alternate history emerged slowly and organically, and it was interesting. I would have liked even more of it dropped in there!

More than the history though, the author’s invention of Rithmatics and the whole culture and society surrounding it was really cool. It was probably the most real and alive thing about the book (which makes sense, as it was the center around which everything else was based). Between chapters, there were pages with drawings and explanations of certain aspects of Rithmatics, so we didn’t have to rely on narration and dialogue for all of the information we needed (clever!). I was impressed by the level of detail, thought, and scholarship behind it. I can see tweens and maybe even teens reading this and getting really obsessed with it, learning how to draw the shapes and symbols and chalklings, and taking an interest in geometry. This was definitely one of the book’s greatest strengths. (I’ll also note here how much I loved the illustrations! The maps on the endpapers and the chapter heading illustrations were all really cool. Kudos to Ben McSweeney on a job well done!)

Now, as I mentioned before, as I was reading the first 300 pages I thought it was simply okay. The book was quick to read, but it felt kind of slow, like not much was happening. Joel and Melody seemed to be wandering around campus on the fringes of the excitement that was unfolding. At this point, I was feeling like the book was average, but geared toward a younger audience than I had expected and I probably wouldn’t read the sequel.

BUT THEN I got to the last 70 pages. And they were amazing! Whabam, action and speed! It was so exciting that any of my nitpicks about dialogue and character were forgotten. In fact, I’d say those final pages were when some of the best character development happened, such as with Professor Fitch and Melody. It was genuinely engrossing and fun in a way that I had hoped for, but not really gotten, in the earlier part of the book. Then there was the twist that we had all expected, but then it turned out that there was another twist back that nicely removed any trope-iness of that trope. Even the denouement after the mystery is solved is fast-paced and exciting—I wanted to cheer when Melody and Joel were participating in the Rithmatic Melee. So. Much. FUN!

It was an unexpected and very welcome surprise that these last pages so turned around my enjoyment of the book. I went from not having much interest in a sequel, to definitely wanting to read it. I’d give the first 300 pages of the book 3 stars, with an extra .5 awarded for the awesomeness of the final pages. If the whole book had had the same feel as those, it’d be 4 stars overall. Looking forward to the next one, with great hope that it will live up to the promise of those last few chapters!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Our Top 6 YA-Lit Dads

Girls in Capes is celebrating Father's Day in the best way possible--pointing out that there are no positive father relationships in geek culture, and that dads in YA only are deemed heroic when they've died young. Maybe this isn't the best way to celebrate Father's Day after all...

But as sad as the negative images of fatherhood are, we decided not to dwell on them this weekend, and to instead find ten examples of YA-lit dads who have excellent relationships with their children.

To qualify for this list, children had to be teenage main characters, and the books had to be on Susan's shelf this weekend. Dads we thought of who didn't meet these qualifications are welcome to apply again next year. (Specifically, fathers in The Fault in Our Stars, The Selection, and The Thirteenth Child.

6. Gen's Father, The Thief / Megan Whalen Turner (1996)

Gen, a young thief, has been telling his travel companions that his father has been disappointed with him for years for not becoming a soldier. Everyone thinks this means that Gen has disappointed his father, but they learn that Gen's father loves him regardless of his career choice.

I heard [the magus, Gen's travel leader] address someone as Minister and thought that probably meant minister of war. ... The magus described the fighting with the guard in detail and made me look very good indeed. The minister of war snorted. The magus didn't recognize this as high praise, and he said stiffly, "I've been told that his father wanted him to be a soldier. I'd be happy to inform his father that he has a son to be proud of." I stifled a snort of my own in the silence that followed. The magus must have been tired. ... He was talking to my father. ... While the magus, realizing his error, was trying to word an apology, my father came to look in at me. "I thought I heard you laughing up your sleeve," he said. ... "I'll come by later." Before he disappeared from the doorway, he nodded once, and that, I knew, would be his only sign of approval for all my hard work. He was not a man of many words.
In the world of Megan Whalen Turner no character speaks much. Hence scenes that would seem kind of cold in other books are the ones in MWT that are SQUEE moments. This scene is one of them (though perhaps a lowercase squee). Not only is Gen's father snorting and nodding in approval; he's also the model for Gen's own behavior. Gen's snort mirrors his father's but with a slightly different meaning, just as Gen's fighting skills are like his father's but used in slightly different circumstances. In the sequel to The Thief Gen relies on his father more than ever, and they become a pair in battle. (SQUEE)

5. Pop, Cherry Money Baby / John M. Cusick (2013)

In this novel, set to be released in September, high school senior Cherry Kerrigan lives in a trailer with her father and brother. Cherry has no plans for her life other than to marry her boyfriend, who lives next door and is planning on following his father into being a school janitor. Cherry's pop responds to these plans with a firm, "Nope." He encourages his daughter to work hard, sets firm limits about her behavior (it's refreshing to see a parent dole out a grounding, as well as a daughter who weighs whether being grounded is worth staying out past curfew), and hopes she will have more choices in her life than he has had in his. But what really got him his spot on this list was his ability to see past blame in the midst of a family tragedy:

[Cherry said,] "I shouldn't have left Stew alone."

Pop took another draw from his tall boy. "Yep. Wish you hadn't done that." He squeezed her tighter. "Accidents happen. I'm just glad we're safe. And together."

They were silent awhile, watching the blues deepen to oranges and reds in the sky.

"You don't hate me?"

He kissed her forehead. "I could never."

4. Ed Boone, Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time / Mark Haddon (2003)

Christopher is a fifteen-year-old mathematician with behavioral problems and sensory differences. Because of Christopher's special needs, his parents marriage became strained, and a few years later Ed can tell his ex-wife:

I cooked his meals. I cleaned his clothes. I looked after him every weekend. I looked after him when he was ill. I took him to the doctor. I worried myself sick every time he wandered off somewhere at night. I went to school every time he got into a fight. And you? What? You wrote him some fucking letters.
To be fair, this is what we would expect any normal dad to do. It's touching to see the little things too, like Ed's fighting the school to make sure Christopher can take his maths A-levels, or his hand-touching compromise on hugs. Ed's not perfect though—frustrated one day he grabs Christopher, and another day he tells a massive lie. What makes Ed exceptional is that after he loses Christopher's trust, he is completely honest with his son, and he starts to work on their relationship with sensitivity and this speech:
Christopher, look...Things can't go on like this. I don't know about you, but this...this just hurts too much. You being in the house but refusing to talk to me...You have to learn to trust me...And I don't care how long it takes...If it's a minute one day and two minutes the next and three minutes the next and it takes years I don'tcare. Because this is important. This is more important than anything else.

3. Wizard Derk, Dark Lord of Derkholm / Diana Wynne Jones (1998)

Derk is an unconventional wizard whose interests lie in magical genetic engineering. With his wife, he has two human and five griffin children. Seven children ensure that life at Derkholm is never quiet or without sibling bickering, but it also means that when Derk must take on the job of Dark Lord for the tours that fuel the economy in his land, there are seven additional helpers eager to make their father's life easier.

Derk's fatherhood is one of the central themes of the book—what dangers he lets his children undertake, what roles he lets them play in making the most of their natural talents, and what sacrifices he's willing to put up with just to keep them safe are considerations that play out over the course of the story. But our favorite aspect of Derk's fathering is that he seems to have very natural relationships with his kids even as they try teenage rebellions. Here he is with his oldest griffin son, Kit, after Kit has failed to carry out an assassination:

[Kit said,] "It was a pity. I could have killed him in seconds, even with that demon in his pocket, but he would have been just like food. He wouldn't have felt guilty, and neither would I."

"I'm glad to hear you think you ought to have felt guilty," Derk observed. "I was beginning to wonder whether we'd brought you up properly."

...Derk was thinking things through, fumbling for an explanation. Something had been biting Kit for months. Long before there was any question of Derk's becoming the Dark Lord, Kit had been in a foul, tetchy, snarling mood—bloodthirsty, as he called it himself—and Derk had put it down simply to the fact that Kit was now fifteen. But suppose it was more than that. Suppose Kit had a reason to be unhappy.

..."Kit, come clean. You're another like Blade, aren't you? How long have you known you could do magic?"

Derk does what the best fathers do—gives his growing children space, listens closely to what they're saying and not saying, and then helps them find solutions to their problems.

2. Carson Drew, The Secret of the Old Clock / Carolyn Keene (1930)

Nancy Drew, sixteen-year-old super sleuth, needs no introductions, and it doesn't take long to see that she has a great father. This is actually an understatement because Carson Drew appears on the first page of the first Nancy book, The Secret of the Old Clock, and his positive relationship with his daughter is instantly apparent. Carson Drew stops reading his newspaper and gives Nancy "his respectful attention" so she can tell him about inheritance rumors. A few pages later we see that this type of conversation is common in the Drew household:

Carson Drew, a widower, showered a great deal of affection upon his daughter; it was his secret boast that he had taught her to think for herself and to think logically. Since he knew that Nancy could be trusted with confidential information, he frequently discussed his interesting cases with her.
Seriously, how cool is he?

1. Mr. Murry, A Wrinkle in Time / Madeleine L'Engle (1962)

When we meet thirteen-year-old Meg Murry, her father has been missing on physics research for a year, and everyone in town is convinced that he's abandoned his family. Meg embarks on an adventure across the universe to find her father and rescue him from the Black Thing.

Mr. Murry is an amazing father. In earlier years he would play number games with Meg, talk to her about her insecurities, reassure her that he loved her and that she was exceptional, and call her various nicknames, like "megaparsec." When Meg and her youngest brother find Mr. Murry imprisoned on a far-away planet, Mr. Murry jumps right back into parent-mode. First he carries Meg through a dark column (scarier than it seems from that description), and his presence calms Meg:

She tried to scream, but within that icy horror no sound was possible. Her father's arms tightened about her, and she clung to his neck in a strangle hold, but she was no longer lost in panic. She knew that if her father could not get her through the wall he would stay with her rather than leave her; she knew that she was safe as long as she was in his arms.
Isn't that what every child wants to feel in the presence of her (or his) father?

The best thing about Mr. Murry, though, is that within pages he turns out to be fallible. Despite Meg's mantra of "Father will make it all right," Mr. Murry has to leave his son in danger in order to save Meg. Mr. Murry isn't bad--he's managed to coach Meg through a horrible experience by tossing math problems her way--but he isn't a superhero like Meg had believed.

Meg's growing understanding of her father's imperfection allows her relationship with him to mature. Even though he has disappointed her, his words and assurances allow her to fight her final battle.

Friday, June 14, 2013

PHXCC 2013 Report: In Which There is a Lot of John Scalzi

Back again, and striving to finish up Phoenix Comicon coverage with this post, by smashing TWO panels into one report. The last two panels I wanted to summarize for your vicarious enjoyment both involve successful science fiction writer John Scalzi (not weather man John Scalzi, or masonry award John Scalzi, just to be clear). The first is his spotlight panel, and the second is a panel that consisted of him and Wil Wheaton talking about…stuff, which was way more awesome than it sounds. So, following the precedent of my other author-panel-reporting-posts, here is John Scalzi:

Okay, okay, maybe he didn’t look quite like that when I met him, but that’s the picture on his Goodreads and Wiki pages. And it’s funny! Here are some books he has written:

John Scalzi Spotlight Panel

Important Thing #1 I Learned at Phoenix Comicon: John Scalzi is a very funny man. It was entertaining just to watch him get up on stage and talk about really anything, as we saw at the Author Chair Dancing panel. And this panel, his very own, was no different in that respect. He talked about random stuff, he talked about his work, he read to us, and he answered questions, all in a way that made me think he’s probably a really cool guy to hang out with. Things that went down:

    • While at the Redondo Beach stop on his current book tour, someone from his high school brought him a copy of his high school literary magazine, which contained 2 stories Scalzi had written as an ickle high schooler. One of them was a science fiction story, and as he re-read it he came to two conclusions: “One, it was very clear early on that I was going to be a science fiction writer, and two, holy crap, when I was 17 I was a terrible writer.” Oh yes, we’ve all been there… XD

    • He gave us our choice of readings—he could read to us from the new book he was on tour promoting, The Human Division, or from his upcoming book The Mallet of Loving Correction, a collection of entries from his popular blog, Whatever. He said that if we chose the latter, the piece he’d read would be “Who Gets to Be a Geek? Anyone Who Wants to Be,” and that is what we the crowd very democratically decided on.

    • He wrote “Who Gets to Be a Geek?” during the uproar last year when lots dudes were talking about how females can’t be “real geeks,” whatever that means. Specifically, Scalzi composed it in response to an article a guy wrote for about fake geek girls going to Comicon (the Comicon, I assume, the big one in San Diego). It’s a really awesome piece, and you can read it here. Seriously, go read it. It’s fantastic and awesome, for any and all sorts of geeks, and even for those who may not be of the geekly persuasion. It is perhaps even MORE fun to hear the author read it himself, and I am quite confident there are videos floating around the Youtubes where you can do just that.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Guilty Pleasures: The Elite by Kiera Cass

As you loyal readers know, we got sucked into the slough of the Selection series (slough in this case is pronounced SLEW. We just learned this today). As part of the immense fun of reading a series that cannot be taken seriously, we cannot seem to stop talking about it with each other. Volume 2, The Elite came out a month ago, and you have thismuchtime to read it before we spoil EVERYTHING by letting you in on our night of gabbery (not a real word; we just coined it today).

So Susan opened up our GoogleDoc unpacking of The Elite with the following questions.

1) Why is America so bad at human interactions?
2) How can we get rid of Maxon’s father?
3) Maxon’s mother--cool or weak?
4) Should we care about Maxon’s father when getting rid of Aspen is much more important?

We did eventually address these thought-provoking and important questions (some of them, at least), but first we had other items (a.k.a. gossip) to attend to. (From here on out, Susan is green and Alyssa is red. We are like Christmas!)

Aspen is hooking up with a maid. He will be, I mean. I forget which one, though...
YES. Though I kind of want Maxon to see him hitting on America and have him arrested.

This was followed by a bit of confusion, in which all dystopian YA books become the same book:

Now that America has decided to go all in for Maxon, Aspen is completely tangential to the plot now. Unless he becomes a secret rebel. Which might be cool. Although I don’t think he likes books enough to get recruited.
A la Gabe?
Who is Gabe?
The tangential childhood friend love interest in Hunger Games. Wasn’t his name Gabe?
Gale? Lol
Oh snap. Right. lol.

As the conversation continued, one might be led to believe that we hated this book, but au contraire! We actually enjoyed it. Don’t let our nitpickery fool you.

I’m just glad America is ready to go all in for Maxon. I could not believe her vacillation in the first half of the book. Or two thirds. Some horrible long time.
I was ready to puke with lines like these: “In Aspen’s eyes I saw a thousand different endings to that sentence, all of them connecting him to me. That he was still waiting for me. That he knew me better than anyone. That we were the same. That a few months at the palace couldn’t erase two years. No matter what, Aspen would always be there for me.” (48, sorry I have your book hostage) And then literally one page later, America is antsy because she wants to see Maxon so badly.

Yeah, they all annoyed me. America was super wishy-washy, Aspen was lame, Maxon was weird. I get that America was torn, but it didn’t need to take her THAT long to figure things out. THE WHOLE FREAKING BOOK.
America is stupid. She suffers from YA romantic lead stupidity problems.
Oh man!!! At the YA book panel, they talked about how ridiculous the names were. “She sings for a living, and she lives in what used to be America...let’s call her America Singer, and then not have to describe her character at all!”
LOL. I was wondering if her father was a singer too, or if he was a potter or something. How far back do these names go? “I’m Gregory Illéa, and I decree that whatever job you are doing TODAY will be your last name!”?

Then Voldemort made a visit to Illéa:

hahaha. Must be the case. Also, I think that the Gregory Illéa diary entries were a lot like Tom Riddle’s soul speaking to Ginny Weasley and then Harry through the diary. I wish there had been a big basilisk around to eat Aspen.
Yes, only Gregory Illea had the writing abilities of a 7th grader. Although I must admit, I do want to know what he did with his daughter. Who he sold her off to, I mean. Do you think there are people on the interwebs with theories about this sort of thing? Is it that popular? Are the fans that rabid? I do love a good crackpot theory.
Tom Riddle had the writing abilities of only a 10th grader. And that didn’t really help him. I think Illéa did much more in the long-run than Voldey did. Wasn’t she sold off to some European royal house?
Tom Riddle was a 10th grader at the time, though, right? Gregory Illea was middle-aged. Not that I’m arguing in favor of Voldey, I just think he probably had more smarts that Greggy-poo.

Next up was the debate about the fate of Scandinavia in the world Cass has created:

lolz. “Katherine was finally married today to Emil de Monpezat of Swendway. She sobbed the whole way to the church until I made it clear that if she didn’t straighten up for the ceremony, there’d be hell to pay afterward.” So she married into the combined Swedish/Norwegian royal house. (Do you think the author realizes that those two really did share a throne in history?)
OMG. You are so smart. I got the Sweden part, but not the Norway. Hah! What creative names... Why not Swendwaymarkland? Get all of Scandinavia in one go?
That would make so much more sense. Especially because I fail to see how the Swedish/Norwegian royal house would automatically get Greggy into a royal league. Sweden has a good economy and all, but their king is kind of unpopular right now, and I don’t think anyone really cares about Norway. The current crown princess of Sweden is half-liked, but that’s not too strong either. Ah logic. I must remember to set it free before I open the books.

THEN we finally got to the first question: Why is America so bad at human interactions?

Because she had no friends! As she loves to tell us! She would be a feral child, if not for her family. Her only male, non-familial interaction EVER seems to have been Aspen. Maybe she just falls in love with every dude her age she meets? Since she’s only met 2 so far, and has had a thing for both of them.

Which led to the question…how did she and Aspen even meet?

Oh, good point. I forgot that we didn’t know that. I had just assumed they met at school, but I guess they don’t go to school in the lower caste world in Illéa.
Aspen went to school, but America didn’t because she was homeschooled. Which was weird to me. You would think a higher caste would have better education opportunities. But maybe they just think if you’re going to be some sort of artist, artistic training is all you need.

Probably we aren’t as nice and class-blind as America, given our next thoughts:

But why bother sending Aspen’s caste to school? Why do they need to learn to clean houses and carry things?
So he can learn to read the labels on the bottles of cleaning product?
lmao. It’s so obvious when you put it that way.

At this point, discussion of previously posed questions dissipated and made way for ones invented on the spot.

All right, I have a question. Riddle me this, Batman--how do you think the author is going to make the competition for Maxon interesting for readers, since we are pretty certain he’s going to end up with America?
It’s going to be FORBIDDEN LOVE! Maxon’s father is 100% against America becoming the crown princess. And Maxon may not fully trust America as he continues to hang out with Kriss.

And then we came to a discussion of the nadir of Maxon’s character development.

Oh, not related---the Celeste make-out session with Maxon was straight out of my letter game*. Kiera Cass is probably my letter game partner using a pen name, taking my plot devices!
Omg that part was so hilarious. Maxon all, “I have NEEDS!” Nice try dude, but that excuse doesn’t really work when you have PROCLAIMED YOUR LOVE FOR ANOTHER. I’m actually surprised the monarchy hasn’t instituted polygamy. ALL OF THE GIRLS for the king/prince. That’s what the Selection is really for. That would be the gritty dystopian version of the Selection--all the girls are sent off to be sister-wives of a monarch they’ve never met. Tributes, like from the Hunger Games! Only for marrying, not killing!
OMG WRITE IT!!! I think both of us should start writing fanfiction for this series. It’s too easy to come up with absurd plots.

*Letter games are when friends write chapters of stories as letters to the characters being written by each other. Susan and a friend from high school wrote a 24-letter story this way years ago. Read Sorcery and Cecelia to see a successful letter game.

(Alyssa did go on to write the first chapter of this fanfiction. Susan would gladly read it to interested parties, except it makes her laugh too hard to speak.) And now we have some helpful graphics inspired by The Elite:

Where are the PR judges when you need them?

"[America's] dress was white, gauzy, and light, adorned with one long stream of green and blue tulle running along the right side. The bottom fell in such a way that it looked like a cloud, and its empire waist added a level of virtue and grace to the gown." (Kiera Cass, 2013)

 photo Eliteproject-runway America's dress in The Elite (Kiera Cass)

This is better with some zooming...

Read This / Eat That Assesses the Characters of The Elite photo EliteCharacterApproval_zps2719d1ff.png

There is a document with a comment and page number corresponding to every fluctuation on this chart. Sometimes we get carried away.

Monday, June 10, 2013

PHXCC 2013 Report: Previews and Recommendations

I have almost completely recapped Phoenix Comicon! Can you believe it? Soon I’ll get back to the usual reviews and recipes and read-alongs and things. But for now, here’s another potpourri sort of post, with reports on preview and rec panels I attended at the con.

Tor Books Preview

I had scampered off to the weird world underneath the convention center to grab some autographs (John Scalzi and Cherie Priest, I do believe), and ended up being a little late to the panel promoting upcoming books from Tor, the prominent SFF publisher. Still, I managed to learn about some exciting books on the horizon and to partake in a raffle! Thank you, Patty Garcia from Tor, for the info and the cool raffles and the free book (more on that last in a moment)!

This is not a complete list of everything previewed at the panel, just the ones that I was able to scrawl down while still paying attention. Up first we have:

Jacket copy, according to Goodreads:

“A sharp, original urban fantasy about a near-immortal secret society's battle to save itself—on the streets of Las Vegas.

The Incrementalists—a secret society of two hundred people; an unbroken lineage reaching back forty thousand years. They cheat death, share lives and memories, and communicate with one another across nations and time. They have an epic history, an almost magical memory, and a very modest mission: to make the world better, a little bit at a time. Their ongoing argument about just how to accomplish this is older than most of their individual memories.

Phil, whose personality has stayed stable through more incarnations than anyone else’s, has loved Celeste—and argued with her—for most of the last four hundred years. Celeste, recently dead, embittered, and very unstable, has changed the rules—not incrementally, and not for the better.

Now the heart of the group must gather in Las Vegas to save the Incrementalists, and maybe the world.”

Sounds like fun to me! I’ll probably give this one a go when it comes out.

Next up: The newest book by Kendare Blake, of Anna Dressed in Blood fame. Jacket copy, according to Goodreads:

“Old Gods never die… Or so Athena thought. But then the feathers started sprouting beneath her skin, invading her lungs like a strange cancer, and Hermes showed up with a fever eating away his flesh. So much for living a quiet eternity in perpetual health.

Desperately seeking the cause of their slow, miserable deaths, Athena and Hermes travel the world, gathering allies and discovering enemies both new and old. Their search leads them to Cassandra—an ordinary girl who was once an extraordinary prophetess, protected and loved by a god. These days, Cassandra doesn’t involve herself in the business of gods—in fact, she doesn’t even know they exist. But she could be the key in a war that is only just beginning.

Because Hera, the queen of the gods, has aligned herself with other of the ancient Olympians, who are killing off rivals in an attempt to prolong their own lives. But these anti-gods have become corrupted in their desperation to survive, horrific caricatures of their former glory. Athena will need every advantage she can get, because immortals don’t just flicker out. Every one of them dies in their own way. Some choke on feathers. Others become monsters. All of them rage against their last breath. The Goddess War is about to begin.”

Again, sounds interesting enough that I will probably give it a go when it’s released. Maybe based on the mythology slant, Susan might be interested, too? But then again, as a hardcore classicist, maybe not. Whaddaya say, Sus? Will you read this one?

Vicarious BEA!!! Thanks, Sus! :D

Saturday, June 8, 2013

PHXCC 2013 Report: Panel Potpourri

Here are mini-reports on a jumble of some of the other panels I attended:

The Unfettered Panel: New Tales by Masters of Fantasy

This panel focused on the upcoming fantasy anthology, Unfettered. The anthology’s editor, Shawn Speakman, was present, along with 4 other authors who contributed to it (Terry Brooks, Brandon Sanderson, Kevin Hearne, and Peter Orullian). The story behind the anthology is that Shawn Speakman was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma a couple years ago. As is often the case with writers, he had no health insurance, and over the course of his treatment has incurred a massive medical debt. This isn’t really the place for me to get on my personal soapbox about health insurance, but it’s kind of ridiculous, right? Shawn is a member of the SFF community and he runs Terry Brooks’ Shannara website (I believe), so when Terry heard about what was going on he offered to donate a short story to help cover some of those medical bills, and suggested that Shawn might ask some of his other author friends to do the same.

And a good suggestion it was! There are a total of 23 stories in the anthology, with the proceeds going to help defray the medical costs accrued by Shawn’s treatment and also to help author Dave Wolverton, whose son was in a terrible accident and is experiencing the same problems with healthcare costs. Shawn talked a little bit about the story behind the book, and then he and the other panelists discussed their stories and how cool it is that the SFF author community is able to come together to support one of their own. There was a special preview of the anthology containing the stories of the 5 panelists on sale at the convention, with the full anthology available for order here and shipping at the end of June.

I found it was very touching that the SFF community is so supportive of its own when they come up against tough times. You can read more about the anthology here on, and they also have articles about the stories from the preview.

The Awesome Hour with Wil Wheaton

Not strictly book- or author-related, but I felt it was awesome enough that it needed to be mentioned. Wil Wheaton, actor, author, and all-around famous geek, did basically a stand-up set in the biggest auditorium at the convention center on Friday night. It cost $10 extra to attend, and it was completely worth it. He was hilarious, and also so kind and genuine. I won’t try to recap his jokes and stories here, but I do have an audio recording and I’m sure there’s video floating around the internet. After the comedy portion of the evening, he spent some time answering questions. I had wanted to ask him about what it was like to record the audio book for Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, but did not get the chance. Next year! If you ever get the chance to see him, I would completely recommend it, and also to check out his Geek & Sundry show, Tabletop. I hadn’t heard of it until that night, and I just recently watched an episode—basically it’s Wil Wheaton playing various tabletop games with friends and famous people. Interesting and entertaining! :D

Brandon Sanderson Spotlight Panel

On Saturday I attended another Branderson panel, this time one not focused specifically on the Wheel of Time. WoT did come up (I remember a fan thanking him whole-heartedly for completing the series…awww), but he also talked about his own series and books and projects and things. He read us the prologue of his newly-released debut YA novel, The Rithmatist, and touched again upon how he really enjoys creating new and different magic systems for his books. Other points of interest include that he envisions his Stormlight Archive series to be two sets of five books, that he’s planning on expanding the world of his first published novel Elantris with a new book to take place 10 years after the first one (hopefully to be released in 2015), and that he is a fan of the BBC Sherlock. Another thing I found interesting is that he talked about how he knows how hard it is to wait for new books by authors you love to come out, which is why he has progress bars for all his projects on his website that he makes an effort to keep updated, to keep the process transparent. Very cool!

Following the panel, we naively headed downstairs to the exhibition hall to go get books signed by him, not having any idea what we were in for. And let me tell you, the line that awaited us was EPIC. I should have figured, since it was Saturday and all the people who couldn’t attend the prior 2 days would be there, but just…whoa. We were near the end of the line, and must’ve waited at least an hour. But it was okay, and we passed the time by people-watching (which takes on a whole new dimension at a comicon) and chatting with our neighbors in line. When we finally made it to the signing table, the exhaustion of the past 3 days had fully sunk in, and I am ashamed to say that when Branderson asked if I had any questions for him, I drew a complete blank and said, “Uh…no, actually, I don’t. I’m sorry. I’m very tired.” Very smooth... But he was very kind and gracious, and wrote nice things in my books and gave me cool swag. See?

Since we chose to wait in line for Branderson, we ended up missing the panel for Melissa Marr and Kelley Armstrong’s new middle-grade novel, Loki’s Wolves. Instead of dashing upstairs for the last 5 minutes of the panel, we stayed down in the underbelly of the convention center to wait in line for their signing. I am happy to say we were third in line this time. :) Unfortunately, exhaustion was still plaguing me, and while Marr and Armstrong seemed very nice, I just babbled at them about the hot Phoenix weather the whole time my books were being signed. I also felt bad that, a) I did not have the funds to purchase the book they were promoting, and b) I had nothing for Kelley Armstrong to sign. Oh well, I guess that’s how the cookie crumbles sometimes. Anyway, Melissa Marr signed some of my books of hers from a while ago:

And then I went home and slept, in hopes of being a little more coherent on Sunday. :)

Friday, June 7, 2013

PHXCC 2013 Report: Author Chair Dancing Panel

Author Chair Dancing

This was a panel consisting of Cherie Priest, John Scalzi, Sam Sykes, Leanna Renee Hieber, Delilah S. Dawson, and Kevin Hearne. I saw it on the PHXCC schedule and thought to myself, authors? exciting! chair dancing? hmm… I didn’t really know what to expect, and it turns out to have been basically a panel of authors who are great Twitterers and say funny things (often to each other?) on Twitter, doing what they do on Twitter out loud with mouthwords in front of a live audience. Look, here they are! (Picture borrowed from Delilah Dawson’s blog since I was too busy basking in their comedic genius to remember to take any pictures.)

It may sound a little weird, and it was, but in the BEST kind of way. These guys and gals were hilarious! John Scalzi definitely stole the show—it was kind of like a stand-up hour. This wasn’t really your traditional panel (mostly they talked about random stuff rather than their work, writing process, etc.) and it was easy to miss witticisms with people getting excited and talking all at once, but here are some things that transpired:

    • Kevin Hearne apparently received an award the night before, so the other panelists plotted to have the audience applaud wildly when he arrived and was introduced, so that he would feel embarrassed and blush a lot. (This is what friends do!) This was a running joke throughout the panel—referring to him as the award-winning Kevin Hearne!!! and watching him blush.

    • John Scalzi, early in the panel: “Alright, what the hell are we doing here? I mean not just in an existential sense…”

    • Delilah Dawson has eaten many strange meats, not actually including capybara and guinea pig, but rather things like squirrel, cat, kangaroo, alligator…

    • The most awesome 8th grade diorama ever would be the movie Seven, but with a squirrel

    • There may be institutions that categorize the capybara as a fish, and the meaty-beefy peptide is responsible for making things taste delicious, or if it’s not present, like chicken.

    • There was a lot of talk about cannibalism, with theories flying that bacon may taste like human

    • The discussion moved into the territory of animals solving crimes, which brought us to the murder-solving sheep flock of Three Bags Full (I thought this was just a joke, but no, it is a real thing!)

    • A discussion of what Kevin Wax may be, and the possibility of ceremonially rendering him down at the end of the weekend, like the Wicker Man

    • A note from a secret admirer was scrawled upon the top of John Scalzi’s signing table in the exhibition hall: “I love you John Scalzi—I love you so much I’m going to turn your skin into velvet and paint a picture of us on it. – Your Secret Admirer.” (His secret admirer was Wil Wheaton, which makes it slightly less creepy. XD)

    • Sam Sykes does not like cats, said, “I think they’re stupid, and I don’t have a high opinion of them.” To which Cherie Priest responded, “Which begs the question of what you’re doing on the internet, frankly.” He answered, “Not fitting in. Anywhere.” XD

    • Leanna Renee Hieber has a bunny that she rescued from a laboratory, and she smells like a cotton ball. The bunny, not the author. (I assume.) This led into a debate of whether or not bunnies eat their own poo.

    • Last time Sam Sykes interviewed John Scalzi, Sykes claims Scalzi made a girl laugh at him. They were going to dinner with Sykes’ mom after the signing and he was arranging things over the phone, and some woman overheard him. So she went to get her book signed by Scalzi, and while she was waiting she said, “Have fun with your mom.” XD (It was not until later, when I was reading online about the books written by the authors on this panel, that the vast knowledge of the interwebs informed me that Sam Sykes is apparently the son of Diana Gabaldon, of Outlander fame. I feel this context makes me enjoy the story on a whole different level. XD)

    • Stainless steel Sharpies exist.

    • Tyromancy is the art of divination through the coagulation of cheese, and clearly needs to be a series of books, beginning with The Tyromancer’s Cheddar. After thinking a moment, the panel decided that Brandon Sanderson is probably already writing about magical cheese, and it’s a 10-volume series.

    • In addition to author/panelist John Scalzi, there is a weatherman named John Scalzi. There is also a John (B.) Scalzi Award for Masonry Science. Who knew?

As a result of this amusing panel, I ended up picking up a couple books by some of the panelists I hadn’t heard of before. More padding for my TBR pile! :)

 photo photo4_zps76b1c8dd.jpg  photo photo3_zpse2fb0941.jpg

Thursday, June 6, 2013

In Which I Return from the BEA

Hello again, bookworms and moths! I’ve returned from the event of the season, Book Expo America, with a book haul to end all my previous presumptions of having impressive library hauls. Plus several new book blogging friends (Paper Reader, Girls in Capes, Dead Book Darling, and Headstrong-Tomgirl —all of them have much more established blogs with incisive reviews, so check them out!), and answers to most of my questions about American Girl books.

 photo IMG_0429_zpsf1ebe804.jpg
Anyway, for everyone as clueless as I was before I registered for this shindig, the BEA is to the publishing industry what NY Fashion Week is to the garment industry.

Dress is extremely fashionable Dress is power-lunch or power-walk
Runway shows with next season's clothing Galley proof giveaways of next season's books
Stars are mobbed for autographs Authors are mobbed for autographs
Editors spew theories about "upcoming trends" Editors spew theories about "upcoming trends"

Totally the same thing! Except with people happily eating cupcakes at parties, and a focus on books instead of clothing...

Mo Willems Cupcake

Trend Report

YA Dystopian is Dead. Long Live YA Contemporary, Diversity, and Melded Genres

Editors from Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, Candlewick Press, The Atlantic, and Disney-Hyperion proclaimed that the YA Dystopian trend is over, but every few minutes they seemed to decide another buzzword was the future of the YA market. I can’t remember if different publishing houses were predicting different trends, but it seems like the YA book world could be spending the next season in transition before a new real trend emerges. Let’s face it, diversity and melded genres cannot be a fad the way that vampires/werewolves/angels/corrupt futuristic governments have been because something that’s offering novelty at every corner is not going to gain the trust of reluctant readers. (Unless you distill “diversity” into a trite common theme of “I’m different but I love myself for it!” which I very much hope doesn't happen.)

Based on the galleys I picked up and the books I heard about at the panel, transcending time is a theme, whether through literal time travel (the much-hyped All Our Yesterdays), genetic immortality (Wake Up Missing), or ghosts (Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer; Plague in the Mirror; Raven Boys quartet; These Broken Stars).

As for the editor-observed diversity theme, maybe there’s a Native American Indian moment coming this fall (Ghost Hawk, If I Ever Get out of Here, Sorrow’s Knot), but it looks like there’s a long way to go still.

Welcome Back, Stand Alone Novels!

The editors on the YA panel said that they are “weary” of the trilogy craze that has dominated the market for years. We can only hope that readers agree, and that John Green gets some healthy competition on the NYTimes YA Bestsellers list.

New Adult Fiction

This is the latest buzzword, and it seems to describe YA-like books with late teen / early twenties main characters who have more sex than normal YA characters. I think I picked up two that may qualify (Left Drowning and The Art of Falling). The only thing truly interesting about New Adult is that there’s no consensus on whether it exists.

I think it may work like imaginary numbers, so when a publisher has only one manuscript that seems like New Adult, it gets marketed as YA; but two manuscripts get farmed to genres, three claim a mature YA designation, and if there are four then the publisher can announce that New Adult is real. (Yes, the math on this is not just imaginary but wrong.)

American Girls Historical Book Questions

(because you know you had them too)

Why did Elizabeth Cole (Felicity books) become a blonde, and did someone simply Photoshop all the images of her to keep girls from learning she originally had beautiful dark brown hair?

At the time of the Elizabeth Cole BFF doll creation, American Girl determined that they had overrepresented brunettes, and for the sake of balance they needed another blonde. I really enjoyed talking to the American Girl editor, but it is INSANE that the American Girl/Mattel people thought that blondes should be 40% of their visual image.

As for how such hair changes are done, the illustrator was asked to rework some pictures. There may have also been some Photoshopping involved, but it was mostly done by hand.

Why wasn’t Ivy the main character of the Julie/Ivy 1970s pair? Did American Girl really need another blonde?

The process of making an American Girl historical character starts with brainstorming issues or events that the company would like to address, matching these to a time period, and fleshing out further themes for the series. The company then commissions an author, who develops the character’s personality and stories. After that, the company determines what the character looks like (by figuring out what color hair they need, as we saw above).

In the case of Julie/Ivy, author Megan McDonald wrote a draft of Meet Julie that described Ivy. The production team loved Ivy so much that they hired an additional author, Lisa Yee, to write a separate book about Ivy in time for the Julie launch.

I still think it’s weird that American Girl’s efforts towards showing the diversity of experiences and circumstances in American history, as well as the unity of family and friendship bonds, hasn’t led to an AAPI main character in the historical line. I can only guess that the story the editor told me about Ivy’s inception means that American Girl legitimately didn’t realize it was ignoring the AAPI community, and when they saw Ivy in the Julie draft, they decided to create an Ivy doll before drawing too much attention to their oversight.

Why did they stop giving all the books formulaic names beginning with Kaya?

Booksellers HATED that the titles for each girl were essentially the same. Family members who didn’t fully understand the concept of a series of different girls would get confused and buy the wrong books for presents. And the original Pleasant Company had never expected they would have so many characters that the repetitive titles would become a problem.

What’s up with new girls not having stories that take place during a year ending with 4 (earlier books were set in 1904, 1864, 1774, etc.)?

Pleasant Rowland, founder of the company, created the original characters as a way for girls to connect with history. Ms. Rowland had a background in education, and figured that by making all the years end with a 4, children would have an easier time remembering the century and decade. But in order for the 4 to fit all the later stories, some finagling on the part of the production team was necessary. The Julie books were intended to be about the bicentennial celebrations in 1976, but to keep the year 1974 the first book had to take place two years before the celebration book. When the company wanted to use the events of the 1853 New Orleans yellow fever epidemic, they decided it would be extremely confusing to talk about the year in the books but put 1854 on the covers. Thus, they freed themselves from their final digit restriction.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Haul: Phoenix Comicon 2013

And now for a break from all my text-heavy posts with some pictures of pretty books I either acquired at PHXCC, or already owned and dragged along with me to get autographed there!

 photo b6ff3ad1-2c11-4f9b-960a-c76fb08d63d1_zpsb2b471b8.jpg  photo 4c9fb1b1-9001-4f69-be1c-a7492980d902_zpsd736a301.jpg  photo 95ce4942-57c0-420f-b22d-beed9a2994de_zps34d5b590.jpg  photo fe7da43d-7bdb-4fbc-b255-8672fd6dc3a5_zpsdfc47c86.jpg  photo 3012d174-1c69-4f90-b714-86b4e84da57b_zpsb126f6f3.jpg  photo 82766146-1487-476d-b00b-3a2dab0a51dc_zpsef2a4911.jpg

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

PHXCC 2013 Report: Brandon Sanderson and the Wheel of Time

On Friday afternoon of the con (5/24), I decided to check out the panel on Brandon Sanderson and the Wheel of Time. The Wheel of Time is an epic fantasy series by Robert Jordan that one of my cousins got me hooked on in…late junior high? Early high school? Somewhere in there. As the series progressed and the books got longer and more doorstop-like I was still enjoying them, but it got to a point where there was a book that focused on all the characters who had grown irritating to me (at least that’s how I remember it), and I put it down and never picked it back up. I’ve often meant to get back to it and finish out the series, but just haven’t for one reason or another. Robert Jordan passed away in 2007 and Brandon Sanderson ended up being the author selected to finish writing the series (more on that later, as it's something he talked about at the panel).

I thought it would be interesting to hear what he had to say on finishing off such a popular series in the place of the original author, and decided to go to the panel even though I was fully expecting to encounter major spoilers. Surprisingly enough, I did not! Brandon Sanderson said at the beginning that he would not go out of his way to talk about spoilers, but at the same time he wasn’t going to hold himself back from discussing things or the audience back from asking their burning questions. It was probably a combo of his not making a point of bringing up spoilery things, and the fact that it’s been so long since I read these books that any spoilers that did come up didn’t even register as such in my head. That being said, there may be spoilers for the whole series in this report, and since I can’t really tell whether they’re big or small ones, proceed at your own risk! I made heavy use of the interwebs to fact check and try to get spelling right, and I listened to the audio track over and over to get quotes down correctly—I apologize for any errors. This is Brandon Sanderson!

Here are some of his books:

And here are the 3 final books of the Wheel of Time series that he wrote using Robert Jordan’s notes:

So Brandon Sanderson (how should I refer to him in the rest of this post? Brandon? Mr. Sanderson? Branderson? BS?) talked for a bit about how he came to be chosen to write the final books of the Wheel of Time, and then he took questions from the panel and from audience members. Highlights:

• Robert Jordan was discovered by Harriet McDougal, who is considered one of the “great editors.” She edited the Wheel of Time, and she ended up marrying him (“to ensure narrative direction,” Sanderson joked).

• The Wheel of Time books started coming out in the ‘90s, and they were very popular. Fans eagerly awaited new installments in the series as the years passed. In 2006, Robert Jordan (which was a pen name! His real name was James Oliver Rigney, Jr.) was diagnosed with a “cancer-like disease,” and in September of 2007 he passed away. The last Wheel of Time book he completed on his own was 2005’s Knife of Dreams.

• Branderson read the books when they first came out, and 17 years later he got the call to finish the series. He wasn’t originally on any of the lists of names being tossed around of people who might finish out the series. At the time of Jordan’s death, BS had published a few novels, including Elantris and a couple of the Mistborn series, I believe. When he heard of Jordan’s death, he wrote a little eulogy on his website. A friend of Jordan’s wife and editor Harriet came across it and showed it to her. Harriet read it and something in it must’ve grabbed her, because she then contacted Tom Doherty, founder of Tor books (prominent SFF publisher, also BS’ publisher), to ask, “Who’s this kid? I want to read his books.” She read Mistborn and was impressed, and asked BS to complete the Wheel of Time, using Jordan’s notes and his own familiarity with the series as a fan. Branderson said, “I did not apply for it or anything like that—I had no idea this was coming. I just answered my phone one day and there was a voicemail from Robert Jordan’s widow. And so, at that point I did say yes. I was terrified, but I said yes.”

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...