Thursday, September 22, 2011

Goodbye, Fellow Bookworms

As much as I love this blog, I’m putting SLB to bed. I always saw this space as a diversion from real life, a way for me to indulge in a particular passion of mine. Now my passion is my real life. Exactly nine months after I began, and 99 posts later, I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing.  (Yes, I planned the nine-month anniversary, but the nice number of 99 posts was a pleasant surprise.)

It’s a little bittersweet shutting down SLB, as we’ve had a great run together. So many memories! It all started over Thai food. During my first “business lunch,” my inbound-marketing officemates asked me where I was planning to go in my life. I, still slightly demoralized from my summer-long job hunt, truly wasn’t hoping for much. I didn’t have plans beyond staying in Boston with my friends (thank goodness for these lovely people!) and continuing to receive a paycheck. I mean, publishing sounded great, but I wasn’t qualified. I hadn’t read enough books. I didn’t know anyone in the industry. Sure, I may have been a little sad, but wasn’t that what being an adult was about?

Thank you, thank you, Sam and Justin, for suggesting I write a blog. When I said I didn’t have anything to write about, they asked me what I loved. I said I love to read, and I love stories about and for young people. I thought other people gave these books, near and dear to my heart, short shrift because they weren’t “literature.” Eventually, I decided to apply my mind to these books, to consider them seriously. The rest is history.

I fell into the online YA/children’s lit community, and I learned so, so much. I tweeted with some authors who I crazy-admire, and some of them thanked me for my reviews. I reviewed one book that I adored and used a modified version of it as my entrance essay to the Columbia Publishing Course. (I have since met this author in a bar, blushing as he introduced me to people as the girl who wrote that great review.) I blogged the Course from June to August and maybe even blogged my way into a job. (My editor said she checked out SLB before hiring me!) I moved from Boston to New York, and though I miss my Boston friends, I’m constantly surprised at how much I LOVE my job. (Being an adult does not mean being unhappy.)

I’ll always be grateful for this space. My sixteen-year-old self had no idea I’d be here someday, with a blog that’s the highest search ranking on Google for “Simple Little Bookworm.” (It’s higher than results showing the song I named it for!) I've hosted two different giveaways, listened to music, posted a guest-blog, celebrated a birthday, uncovered some concept art, read a ton of excellent poetry, showed off my bedroom, received a blogger award, colored a princess picture, and won a Twitter contest. I've had an opportunity to be serious, to be sweet, and to be silly. Mostly though, SLB got me to realize what I should be doing with my life.

Thank you to any readers I’ve had, and thank you especially to the blog friends who made recommendations and made posting my thoughts a two-way conversation. Hopefully, I’ll be able give back by supplying other book bloggers with great titles to review. (Check out my Twitter @simplebookworm for real-time recs. Keep up the conversation! I'd love to hear from you.)

I’ve read a lot of good books, and I’m going to keep on reading. As I sign off, I hope to remain, now and forever, a

Simple Little Bookworm <3

Goodnight, blog.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Reading Roundup!

You might have noticed that SLB simply ain’t what it used to be. With all that’s going on in my life, blogging has fallen by the wayside. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still reading up a storm! If I may make a few recommendations:

---UNWIND by Neal Shusterman (A concept that blew my mind and twists that made me actually yell “NO WAY!” to my empty apartment. Intelligent and eerie dystopia at its best.)

---BEHEMOTH by Scott Westerfeld (The second in a trilogy, this alternate history of World War I is chock full of steampunk goodness. His imagination is a thing of beauty. I also can’t say enough about Keith Thompson’s illustrations.)

---The SONG OF THE LIONESS quartet by Tamora Pierce (A fiercely stubborn female protagonist, a lot of swordfighting, some magic, believable romance, a dash of political intrigue…Ingredients for an epic tale well told.)

---SAY HELLO TO ZORRO! by Carter Goodrich (Can you say cutest picture book ever? My heart melted in a puddle over Mr. Bud and Zorro. I gave a copy to my best friend, my little sister.)
How adorable are these two? (Click to see it bigger.)
I’ve also finished some incredible stuff from the authors on my editor’s list. You have no idea the awesome that’s coming your way…Emotion, suspense, humor, and, of course, kissing! You’ll definitely be hearing more about these books on Twitter as their release dates come closer. (I’m @simplebookworm, remember?)

In non-S&S news, I devoured FOREVER and THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic) and I’m starting in on DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth (HarperCollins) next.

I’m busy and happy. What more could I ask for?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Stuck in Brooklyn, Weekend Edition

Hope everyone weathered the weather! As for me, I have some entirely unnecessary liters of water to drink. Thanks for keeping me hydrated, Irene!

I honestly can’t believe I’m going into my fourth week of work. Fourth! I planned to post about my first week, but alas. It’s been busy. Though I’ve learned so much already, I have a while before all of these tasks become second nature. Metaphorically speaking, I can navigate the maze of my floor, but I’m still figuring out the best way to get where I need to go.

My apartment’s looking more and more like a home every day. Slow but steady progress is the key. The biggest victory was scoring the very comfy couch I’m currently sitting on, an L-shaped brown corduroy monster, off of Craigslist. It fits both my tall gentleman roomie and me in full lounge mode. Next nest project: art!

When not working or unpacking, I’ve been exploring around the Montrose neighborhood. Best discovery? My local watering hole. I’ve frequented Duck Duck several times since moving, and it’s perfect for launching or ending an evening. I had a tasty tuna melt at Boulevard Café and some yummy bagel sandwiches at Lula Bean. (The iced tea at LB is die for!) Great tacos have also been found but only serviceable Thai food. Recommendations, either in Brooklyn or in the city?

I had the pleasure of taking in an Otsego show at Halyards this past Friday. (Went with a good friend of mine from college, who went to high school with the drummer.) A talented ensemble that plays bluegrass-y good time music, Otsego does originals and covers with unassuming charm. I’ll be keeping an eye on these fellows.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Boston to Brooklyn Playlist

One of the things that really tickled me about Amy and Roger's Epic Detour was the formatting. Interspersed with the text were photos, scribbled notes, and haikus (my favorite). It totally immersed me in Amy and Roger's world, providing a winking window into the characters beyond the excellent prose. Let me show you what I mean:

Click to see it bigger!
Cute, no? The highlight for me though was Roger's playlists. There was a new one for every state, themed around the scenery and the mood. Take Kansas, for example:

Just a small typo with the quotes! Want to fix.
Morgan Matson--I mean, Roger--has excellent taste in music. (I have 11 of these 17 artists in my music library, so I might be biased.) Thusly inspired, I wanted to share a portion of my five hour long playlist with you all. (Yes, I made sure my laptop wore her seat belt.) Enjoy!

MY TOP 25 27 ROAD TRIP TUNES (aka Boston2Brooklyn)

The Arcade Fire: No Cars Go/Ready to Start
Bombay Bicycle Club: Always Like This/Ghost
Broken Bells: The High Road
Camera Obscura: Let’s Get Out of This Country
Chromeo: Night by Night
The Cure: Mint Car
Darwin Deez: Radar Detector
The Decemberists: Sons and Daughters
Devendra Banhart: Lover
Diane Birch: Valentino
The Dirty Projectors: Cannibal Resource
Ezra Furman and the Harpoons: Take Off Your Sunglasses
A Fine Frenzy: Electric Twist
Florence and the Machine: Dog Days Are Over
The Go! Team: Bottle Rocket
Hellogoodbye: When We First Met
Hot Chip: The Warning
Minus the Bear: Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey Warehouse
Neko Case: This Tornado Loves You
The New Pornographers: The Electric Version
Robyn: Cobrastyle
Roisin Murphy: Ruby Blue
Thao with the Get Down Stay Down: Bag of Hammers
YACHT: Psychic City
Yeasayer: O.N.E.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Amy and Gracie's Epic Detour

Moving to Brooklyn and starting a new job within one weekend was pretty intense, but here I am two weeks later. I'm alive! I have a couch and a cubicle, a new city to explore and a whole bunch of acronyms to learn. (CRF, P&L/PPE, TMM, T&E, OOP, OTS...)

Before all that though was Amy and Gracie's Epic Detour. (A nod to Amy and Roger's Epic Detour, which I read right before I left and LOVED.) I took Roger's road trip advice and procured both snacks and tunes for my drive from Boston to Brooklyn. I'll let the pictures do the talking.

Here's my route!

Here's my trusty steed...

(which was immaculately packed)

...And my copilot.

(Yes, that is iTunes up on Gracie's beautiful screen. My abbreviated playlist is to come.)

I had a couple of detours, more or less epic. I had enough money for the tolls, I relied on some very friendly people when I got lost, I never ran out of gas, and I surprised myself. It was actually a lot of fun, just me and some music out on the open road. Still, thank goodness I'm here. I'm ready to stick around for a while.

A hint of things to come: 
My coworkers are pretty great. <3

Thursday, August 4, 2011

SLB: EMPLOYED! Edition

So, I was holding out on you in my last post. Why? Because this news deserves its own!

I GOT A JOB. (Yes, a real one!)

I'll be joining Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers as an Editorial Assistant/Assistant to the Deputy Publisher. I could not be more excited. I loved everyone I met while I was interviewing, and I'll be doing what I love. How can I possibly improve on that?

Moving forward, SLB will be evolving as I figure out where to go from here. Of course, I'll still be talking about books, but I want to figure out how to do that in a way that's responsible and professional.

In other news, Gracie the MacBook and I are having a blast together. Anybody have app suggestions for me?

CPC: Weeks Five and Six (Plus)

I promised a doozy of a recap, and I always deliver on my promises. (It's really not my fault though. So many cool things were squeezed into the last few weeks!)

---Saw HP7.5 with a gaggle of CPCers. Though I missed certain scenes, I think the creative team did a great job distilling the essential magic of the book. I may have bawled like a baby, but I can partly blame it on the snifflers/wailers around me. I couldn't have picked better people to say goodbye to Harry with me. It does feel like a part of my childhood has ended.

---The "magazine" workshop was much less stressful than the book workshop for me, but my team and I still did plenty of work. We created a website this time around, a community/resource site for parents of teenagers. We called it "GROUNDED: A Parent's Guide to the Rocky Teenage Years." I served as the Information Architect, which meant I got to create the wireframes for the website's design. (Basically, telling the designer where to put what to give our users the best browsing experience.) I had a ton of fun with the girls in my group, and we all were invested in our concept. A silly yet serious good time.

---We had some more excellent speakers come share their lives' work with us. Choire Sicha (previously of Gawker, currently of The Awl and my super-fav forever The Hairpin) is a funny fella. Chris Kimball of America's Test Kitchen and Cook's Illustrated magazine is just as dapper and bow-tied in real life. Christopher Cerf (known for his musical contributions to Sesame Street and for co-creating the children's literacy show Between the Lions) was such a sweetheart. I still can't believe I shook the hand of the man who wrote "Put Down the Duckie." (I am personally tickled by his "Furry Happy Monsters," but you should check out his impressive list of accomplishments for yourself.) One of my favorite people to chat with was Jennifer Romolini. She's the editor-in-chief of Shine, a comprehensive community site that celebrates woman-centric topics, and she knows her stuff. Such a cool lady.

---I was one of the lucky few that got to attend the CPC field trip to Scholastic. For those of us who love children's books, visiting the building was like stepping into a sacred temple, and meeting Arthur A. Levine (better known as the US publisher of HP) was like meeting the guru.

---The last night of classes, about a third of the program went out on a massive karaoke night. The room wasn't that big, but the fun was. I had a bit of a moment when everyone sang the Frank Sinatra version of "New York, New York."

---At the final banquet, the food was delicious, but the company was even better. The wine also flowed freely, so our table got a little sappy speaking about our dreams for the future. (I was sitting with the next Martha Stewart, obviously.) My favorite part of the meal was when anyone who wanted to could stand up and make toasts. (Yes, I gave a toast. Yes, I got a little teary afterward.) I am so, so impressed by my 100 incredibly funny, warm, and talented fellow graduates.

---In our downtime, a group of post-program dorm stragglers ventured to Brooklyn for pizza. We braved an hour-and-a-half-long line for Grimaldi's, but it was all kinds of worth it.

---The career fair and the alumni reception (generously hosted by Christopher Cerf in his gorgeous home) wrapped up the last week. The same sentiments go for both events: I met such nice people from a multitude of different publishing outfits and generally had a grand old time schmoozing.

I can't believe it's over, but something new is about to begin. More details soon...

Monday, August 1, 2011

Playing Catch-Up + New Computer!

Hi, fellow bookworms! Long time, no blog. Sorry for the radio silence, but there’s been a few things occupying my time recently:

---The end of the Columbia Publishing Course! I have a doozy of a recap post (Weeks 5 and 6) coming up for you soon.

---Lucy the Laptop kicked the bucket. (She joins Charlotte in my personal computer graveyard. May they rest in peace.) I always said I’d get a Mac when my current Dell died, so here we are. Please welcome Grace the MacBook to the Internet!

---I’m slowly learning my way around this new OS. I had my first one-to-one session with a Mac Genius (shoutout to Cliff!) and asked aggressively silly questions. He was so nice and explained everything I wanted to know. I could get used to this. Side note: The Apple Genius Bar is FULL of adorable scruffy nerds. Ten times better than a regular bar.

---Slight diversion: I’m way too much of a chicken to ever get one, but I love tattoos, particularly the stories behind them. I completely respect/admire people who are thoughtful about their ink and commit to having it on their skin for the rest of their lives. So, I saw one I enjoyed at the Apple store yesterday. A man had the word VERENDUS tattooed on his forearm. After some surreptitious Googling, I found the Latin word translated to “awe-inspiring.” This guy literally has AWESOME on his arm. Awesome.

---While I'm here, I might as well plug my current obsession. I just read Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour, and I’m seriously in love. I’ll do a full review when I get a chance, but this was the best contemporary I’ve read since Anna and the French Kiss. Absolutely the perfect book to read before a big move. The voice is warm, the format is interesting, the story is expertly layered, the pacing is terrific, and the characters won me over completely. More gushing to follow.

Today, I’m getting my first look at the apartment since we signed the lease. I’m crossing my fingers that it’s as perfect as I remember. Hold tight! More to come.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

CPC: Weeks Three and Four

A lot has happened in the past two weeks. Mainly, I survived the fabled book workshop. It was strenuous and sort of inexplicable, but I’ll try for a satisfactory overview. Disclaimer: Everything in the following paragraph is completely made up.

I was the CEO/Publisher of Binocular Books, a children’s book imprint of Telescope Press. (Our company takes its name from an eccentric ornithologist who was tragically trampled to death while on safari in Africa.) We brainstormed and batted around a ton of ideas for our books, turning in 15 then 12 then 10 then 8 then 6. (Some of these titles are lost to the annals of publishing time and space, but they are not forgotten. R.I.P. Cindersaurus/Snow White and the Seven Raptors.) Once we had them finalized, we created publicity/marketing campaigns, devised subrights/sales strategies, and designed covers for each title. We also ran numbers for production costs and profit&loss statements. All of this was accomplished from 2PM on Friday to 5PM on Thursday. Ex-hau-sted.

After the workshop wrapped, I read three books. (The commute to Brooklyn is long. More on that later.)
---an ARC of Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
---The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
---Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares
Microreviews: Daughter is going to be huge. It was so, so fantastic...Luscious prose, deep mythology, and totally swoon-worthy romance. Windup is for hard sci-fi fans only, but it’s totally worth it. Sisterhood was the mostly satisfying conclusion to one of my favorite series. (As a Traveling Pants fan, I was more willing to make some crazy leaps with the characters.)

We’ve moved into the magazine part of the course, which has brought a new slew of excellent lecturers. (Shoutout to Lea Goldman of Marie Claire, who was so cool in my breakout session.) Highlights? I won a cookbook from the Food Network Magazine team by answering a question about Paula Deen’s favorite ingredient: “BUTTER!” I also discovered a surprising source to feed my cozy naturalistic design aesthetic: Country Living. Holy crap, that magazine is cute as a button. (Conclusion? My entertainment choices mark me as an old lady.)

Last but not least! After some intense real estate warfare, my roommate and I found an adorable little unicorn apartment in Williamsburg. It’s got an eat-in kitchen (with enough room for a dining room table) and a separate living room! There’s exposed brick and hardwood floors and at least one window in every room! It’s only a four block walk to the subway/library and just a 1.5 block jaunt to the laundromat! (Exclamation abuse!) There are certainly enough scattered bodegas and delis to keep me fed, and I’ve scouted out some cute coffee shops. I could not be happier.

Heading into HP weekend and the magazine workshop. Here goes everything!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

CPC: Week Two

Week the second! Highlights?

---Running into an old friend who I haven’t seen in six years. No biggie. Just walking down the streets of New York.

---Finding the perfect rooftop bar (with twinkle lights!) that serves my favorite hard cider.

---Touring and apartment-scouting in Brooklyn with my soon-to-be housemate. It’s like a summer camp down there! I kept getting distracted by all the puppies.

---Peter Pan Doughnuts. I had a chocolate crème-filled doughnut with a chocolate glaze. It was the size of my head and I only paid a dollar for it. I nearly died.  

---Oh, you wanted publishing news? Ha. OK. We were incredibly fortunate to have the creative team behind The Tiger’s Wife come to speak with us, including Téa Obreht (the author), Seth Fishman (the agent), Noah Eaker (the editor), Susan Kamil (his mentor/boss), and Jynne Martin (the publicist). We’d heard from several sources that a certain ineffable combination of alchemy and synergy must be present to create a bestseller. That combination, so hard to describe with words, was on full display that evening. I could tell they genuinely loved working together, and they were all so gracious with us. Téa signed everyone’s books long after she was supposed to leave, and she even remembered one of my friends from a book signing earlier in the summer. (She doodles a pretty adorable tiger.) I am completely rooting for her as her career develops, but I know she’ll be fine. She has a great talent, not to mention a great team guiding and growing with her.

---Again? Again. The YA controversy I touched on here has reignited. The author of the original article published a defense in the WSJ which I found just as tone-deaf as her first piece. Again, she’s complaining that books for children are too dark, that dark books endorse their subject matter, and that the quality of the writing has gone down. Fine, if you think so. I’m not even engaging with that. I did, however, break the first rule of the internet by reading the comments. Though my blood pressure went up, I think I have a better handle on what people think they’re objecting to when they call YA books “too dark.”

I think it all boils down to people’s views on how books should function. A ton of the commenters (I’ll hazard saying they skewed older) lamented that books used to be transportive, that they took children away from the sadness of everyday life to a place where hopes and dreams were realized. (Alternatively, if sad things happened, there was always hope at the end.) Now that the world is so much bleaker than they remember, they thought books should do the same thing for today’s youth. (I don’t think many of this crowd read current YA books or even get beyond the flap copy.)

The second group of commenters was comprised of YA readers and advocates. This bunch refuted that books help children make sense of the world as it is. (They also entertain!) Books about tragedy teach empathy by exposing kids to situations they have been fortunate enough not to encounter. On the other hand, “dark” books help kids (some of whom have been exposed to these horrors) by doing exactly what the first group says: showing a way out and lessening the sense of being alone. Sure, a number of these books are mishandled, but not all adult books are of the same stellar quality. The classics never go away either! Just two hours ago, I popped into a children’s book store to check out the current titles. A little girl came in with her mother asking for iCarly. She left with Little House on the Prairie. (When I was that little girl’s age, I read classic and new books alike. Just check out my list of favorites here and here.)

The bottom line is that the two camps are not so far apart. In children’s literature, now and then, lessons are learned and friends are made. They have their adventures in far-off lands or in their hometowns. The characters grow up in small and big ways. Their dreams are still a very present part of the genre. They may not be the same dreams of fifty years ago or even the same dreams the protagonist had at the beginning of the book, but something is realized in the pages lived. Children are smart enough to know exactly what that is.

...Anyway, I’m heading into the book workshop this week. Hello, 16 hour days! No blogging for a while, but I’ll miss you!

Friday, June 24, 2011

CPC: Week One

Checking in from the first week of the Columbia Publishing Course. First, let me say how incredibly tired I am! It’s the best kind of tired though. I love waking up in the morning and knowing that I’ll be able to eat and breathe publishing for the next twelve hours.

I can’t say enough about the people I’m meeting. They’re quickly turning into friends, and soon, I hope, they will become my colleagues. I also can’t believe the quality of the speakers that we are lucky enough to see on a daily basis. I don’t want to drop a ton of names, but they are the cliché-breaking best and brightest. I am routinely dazzled by their experience, their enthusiasm, and their obvious passion for their profession.

I’d be here forever if I rehashed everything I wanted to, but I’ll drop a few cookie crumbs:

---On the first day, I spied a girl with brilliant turquoise highlights. I ended up sitting next to her at the welcome BBQ, and of course, I complimented her hair. She said, “Oh, I modeled them after…” “…STEPHANIE PERKINS!?!” (The overenthusiastic one is me.) We were soon chatting about our mutual love of YA. (For those of you not up on your teen reads, Stephanie Perkins wrote the swoon-worthy Anna and the French Kiss, which I previously reviewed here.)

---I wrote a Summer Reading List for my friend Sam Coren at Student Advisor, and it went up on my second day here. I was so happy to do this for her, as she was one of the first people who told me to start a blog. SLB exists because she told me to write about what I love, so thanks, Sam!

---I have some breaking news! The dynamic and very funny Megan Tingley (Senior Vice President and Publisher of Little, Brown for Young Readers) came to speak to us about YA literature, which thrilled me to no end. (She is the editor who acquired the Twilight series. Can we say great instincts?) After her talk, she told me there would be a companion novel for Ship Breaker, which I reviewed last week and adored. Look for The Drowned Cities in May of 2012. (I just started Bacigalupi’s adult sci-fi The Windup Girl, so that might tide me over for a small while.)

---More news! I heard this tidbit from Nathan Englander’s editor (who’s also the Vice President and Senior Editor of Knopf). The incredibly warm and charming Jordan Pavlin let us know that Englander has a new set of short stories coming out. If you don’t know to be excited, you should be! His collection For the Relief of Unbearable Urges is nothing short of brilliant, and his novel The Ministry of Special Cases is a well-researched heartbreaker. He is one of my favorite adult authors writing now.

---What would a publishing course be without free books? Two of the novels I’m most stoked for are the buzzed-about Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor and the beautiful Ruben Toledo edition of Jane Eyre. I’ll let you know about the other ones as I work my way through them.

---I wrote a professional bio for the first time. Let me know what you think:
A fifth-generation Virginian, Amy Rosenbaum received her B.A. from Tufts University, where she majored in English and minored in Communications and Media Studies. Her senior project—an original episode of Grey’s Anatomy—was honored with a program-wide award. While at Tufts, Amy stage-managed the first licensed production of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and interned at Walden Media, where she helped design a marketing plan for a middle grade murder mystery. Her newest project is “Simple Little Bookworm,” a review blog focused on the magic and mechanics of storytelling. Amy is currently pursuing a career in book publishing.

That last line just about says it all, no? Wish me luck!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Reviews: Exposition and the Three Bears

I’ve arrived in NYC! Carrying almost everything I own on the Bolt Bus with me was a surreal (and heavy!) experience, but I made it all in one piece.

Long time, no writing. I have been reading though! Three books, to be exact. They are wildly different books, but they all made me think about the same theme: exposition and how it affects a reader’s experience.

Remember how I compared those books to dessert? I’m in the mood for another little deviation. Let’s call it the Goldilocks Scale.

The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney: This was a YA title that fell somewhere between paranormal romance and a mythological quest story. We’ve got a love triangle (though the heroine doesn’t know it yet), a secret society of Alchemists, and bloodthirsty faeries all primed for a trilogy. The alchemy angle was interesting and I didn’t mind the heroine, but it felt like the action stopped every twenty pages for someone to ask “Uh, what’s happening again?” There was a lot of backstory—how/why the iron tattoos happened, why Donna dropped out of school, how her parents died, the history of the Alchemists (including their orders/goals/secrets), who important Alchemists are—that pushed the rest of the story out of the way. I mean, her climatic showdown with the beast that killed her parents/destroyed her arms took maybe two pages at most. Some of the dialogue rubbed me the wrong way too, like the author was trying a little too hard to capture a “teen voice.” Verdict: Too much exposition! That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it. I did, but I often got impatient for the story to continue.

God’s War by Kameron Hurley: I was dropped immediately into this story, as the main character literally hit the ground running. Terms—burnous, bakkies, bel dames, butchers—and names of strange places—Faleen, Punjai, Nasheen, Chenja—were thrown at me. I only got flashes of understanding before things began to knit together. When that did happen though, I was drawn completely and totally into the story. Umayma is a brutal planet embroiled in civil war, racial prejudice, sexual ambiguity, and bugpunk technology. The mercenary Nyx and her team are perfect windows to this world, a motley crew of complex motivations. Even though the prologue was chapters long and the story suddenly jumped forward seven years, it didn’t even bother me. It was just that fascinating. (If you want a more complex breakdown, the reviews on Amazon are actually amazing.) Verdict: Too little exposition, but it didn’t matter. I was along for the ride, seeing the environment through the eyes of the characters that lived there. They didn’t need to explain the commonplace. That choice made Umayma feel more real than anything else. I absolutely can’t wait to read the rest of this planned trilogy.

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi: This was actually the first of the three books I read, the one that made me start thinking about exposition in the first place. Bacigalupi is just so perfect at showing and not telling. There was a lot of slang in beginning, not unlike The Maze Runner, but the book felt a little more sophisticated. The characters were immediately interesting, already knowing the importance of half-truths and divided loyalties. It was a murky setting to be sure, a dystopian future earth racked by immense storms and floods brought on by global warming. Genetic experiments, slavery, religious cults, and class were all hovering around the periphery of the protagonist’s experience. Nailer was dynamic, so his journey, both physical and mental, captured me. Plenty of surprises and elegant twists are in store for the reader. Ship Breaker has a companion novel coming, but this bildungsroman stands perfectly well on its own with a satisfying story arc and plenty of food for thought. Verdict: Just right! The exposition in service of the world-building and character creation was phenomenal. Can’t get enough of Bacigalupi’s porridge, so I’ll have to pick up The Windup Girl ASAP.

The blog will be pretty quiet as I begin the Columbia Publishing Course, but I hope to post about once a week. (There’s always the review archives and other old posts to hold you over.) I’ll also be fairly active on Twitter, so look me up @simplebookworm. Bye for now, fellow bookworms!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Review: The Girl Who Was on Fire

Ever since I perfected the “look Ma, no hands” trick on the elliptical, I’ve gotten a lot of my reading done at the gym. Today, I slipped a book into my bag—The Girl Who Was on Fire, a collection of essays by various YA authors on The Hunger Games trilogy—looking for something light I could engage with at will. I wanted something with no story to pull me along, something I could put down when I heard a good song. It was only after I realized I’d been on the elliptical for 55 straight minutes (my legs: “You crazy broad, put the book down!”), I knew I’d gotten more than I bargained for.

Each essay (it’d be a shame to single out only one or two) was so insightful—examining the three books as a whole, outlining influences/inspirations, teasing out issues, and illuminating relevance. Their authors drew some really lovely connections, reaffirming my love for the series and my admiration of Suzanne Collins’ skill, even to the point of mitigating my disappointment in Mockingjay. (I think I read that book more as a fan than a reviewer, which is a testament to its greatness anyway. I do want to reread it when I’m in less of a rush.)

Casual fans of the series (are there any?) will find their appreciation deepen after reading these layered, well-considered thoughts. Less-casual fans will undoubtedly adore this penetrating stare into the characters, story, and world burned into their memories. As a less-casual fan, I enthusiastically recommend The Girl Who Was on Fire. I may be sore tomorrow, but it was so worth it.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

YA in Shades of Gray

I'm working up some new reviews I think you'll like, but in the meantime, I have something else on my mind. There's been a big kerfuffle over The Article That Must Not Be Named in The Wall Street Journal. (I don't want to link to it, but I'm sure you can find it.) Meghan Cox Gordon paints a pretty ugly picture of depraved, sordid tales polluting the minds of young readers. I had a few reactions: Really? REALLY?!? Grrr. Aww.  Wow.

The "aww" and "wow" may look out of place, but you might find yourself feeling similarly once you read the YA community's rebuttal. The hashtag #YAsaves has been cranking out incredible, inspiring stories. Authors, booksellers, librarians, journalists, bloggers, and readers have easily taken apart Gordon's claims. They've written about censorship, parenting, writing, reading, acceptance, history, generational conflict, morality, purpose, intention, and stories for their own sake. There's also some great humor mixed in with the accompanying hashtag #YAkills. I don't need to rehash these brilliant and nuanced reactions (though I do advise setting aside some time for googling), especially because my thoughts on the matter have already been said by someone more eloquent.

In this season of graduation and change, I stumbled across J.K. Rowling's 2008 Commencement address at Harvard. (I loved it like I loved Elizabeth Gilbert's TED talk.) She is an immensely talented, empathetic, funny author. Everything I need to combat that misinformed article comes through in her speech. Do yourself a favor and take the time to listen, maybe even learn.

I will say this: Criticizing the content of books (YA especially) is a failure of imagination. It is a failure to see the light, a failure to seek out the light in the darkness, and a failure to realize that some darkness doesn't have light. Children, like adults, will find their way, especially if they are readers. It will be true, and it will be theirs.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

YA Highway Road Trip Wednesday #81

Oh, I’ve always wanted to do a YA Highway Road Trip Wednesday, and this one was right up my alley: What is the strangest/weirdest thing you’ve ever researched? So glad you asked! Some of my stories have included:

---breach pregnancies

---50s style wedding dresses

---feeding schedules of baby goats

---Route 66

---hallucinogenic leaves found in the Amazon

---percolator coffee pots 

---shoeing horses

---loom weaving

---graveyard maintenance

Anybody curious about something in particular?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Chirping Crickets

Sorry it’s been as quiet as a library around here! I’ve been putting the finishing touches on my CPC homework so I can send it off to NYC (with best wishes) tomorrow morning. To hold you over until my next post, here’s an excerpt from my publicity assignment that ended up on the cutting room floor:

“Not to be confused with the protagonist of H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man, Y__ is both Frankenstein and his monster, the result of his own hubris.”

As you can see, I had a lot of fun sinking my teeth into everything. Now, onto Assignment Round 2…Fight!

Friday, May 27, 2011

My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me

Slowly working my way through this anthology of reworked fairy tales. (What a delicious title: My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me) It’s actually perfect for right now, as I’m crazy busy with CPC homework and moving. I can just pick it up before bed, read a few tales, and put it back on the shelf. No urgency, no guilt.

I’m probably not going to be able to review this in my usual manner, but I have to say this. Gregory Maguire (of Wicked and other reworked fairytale fame) wrote one of the most enchanting and vital forewords I have ever read. (He’s giving On Writing a run for its money, and it has three!) Seriously, it’s worth picking up this book just to read his ode to the magic of childhood and the wonder of “Once upon a time.”

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Reviews: "Inspired By" Stories

Two more reviews for you! Both of these titles are descendants of previous works, but one is vastly more successful than the other.

In the category of paranormal romance, we have Firelight by Sophie Jordan. The tale revolves around a girl who can turn into a dragon, a mortal boy whose destiny is hunting dragons, and their forbidden love. Jacinda is a beautiful flame-haired draki, the first fire-breather in her clan for generations, and she has no interest in socializing with humans or fitting in. Will’s whole family hunts dragons and he’s a talented hunter, but he’s never really liked it. The pair meet cute in a cave as Jacinda (in draki form) is being hunted by Will’s family. He hides her presence from his family, sparing her life, and the two share an electrifying cross-species touch. Later, they end up at the same school and are irresistibly drawn to each other. Other stuff happens. A love triangle. Some family drama. An evil dragon hunter with Jacinda in his sights. It’s not important.

So, a powerful non-human being falls in love with someone whose basic nature is to kill their kind but doesn’t. Switch around a few words and…Remind you of anything? Twi—I mean, Firelight. The similarities don’t end there. In Twilight, it is Edward’s impossible good looks being described ad nauseum. In Firelight, it is Jacinda’s transformation into a draki. The mythology is such that draki revert to their dragon form when scared or excited. (It’s a survival mechanism, apparently, though that seems silly if the point is to remain hidden.) Basically, every time Jacinda sees or touches Will in any capacity, her throat gets hot, her skin glimmers, and she starts BREATHING STEAM. No one notices. No one. Also, sometimes her face starts shifting when she’s kissing Will, but what ultimately gives her away is her purple blood. Yeah, OK.

In the dystopian corner, we have an updated Handmaiden’s Tale in Lauren DeStefano’s Wither. When people in the future started messing around with their genes, they introduced a condition that kills all female offspring at age 20 and all males at 25. Of course, this illness led to human trafficking, particularly so wealthy young men can procure young wives and procreate. Our heroine Rhine, along with two other girls intended to be her sister wives, ends up in the home of Linden. She resents the kidnapping, though her new situation is extremely comfortable, and plots escape to return to her twin brother Rowan. While getting to know her new surroundings, Rhine is wary of Linden’s genetically healthy father Housemaster Vaughn and intrigued by a servant boy named Gabriel.

Each girl (ages 13, 16, and 18) comes to the estate with their own story and personality. The relationships forged in the captivity of the mansion blossom organically and are complicated by a whole mess of conflicting feelings. Cecily, Jenna, Gabriel, and other household members keep the setting from feeling claustrophobic. Villains Linden and Vaughn are respectively sad and terrifying. The plot may be a bit derivative, but this book still feels like Rhine’s story. Her world is fairly thought out, even if the illness makes very little sense. Take it on faith though, and just enjoy the characters. There are even some fun outfit descriptions! Very much looking forward to the next in the Chemical Garden trilogy.

Ultimately, the characters and their evolving relationships elevate Wither and make its source material seem fresher. The dilemmas are internal and external, but both carry a weight. Firelight’s characters seem flimsy and petty in comparison, and so I couldn’t muster up enough worry over “will they or won’t they?”(I could make some crack about the quality of the source materials, but I’ll restrain myself.)

Monday, May 23, 2011

An Additional 25 Favorite Books

I promised a follow-up list to my Top 10 Favorite Books, and here it is! (Again, the first books in a series stand for the whole.) Without further ado, the 25 Favorite Books that didn't make it on the first list:

---Alcott, Louisa May: Little Women. (Duh. Seriously, duh. I identified with Jo, but also a little with Amy. I was named for her after all.)

---Alexander, Lloyd: Time Cat. (Such a sneaky, perfect way to teach history. That the writing of this novel led Alexander to The Chronicles of Prydain is just a bonus.)

---Barron, T.A.: The Lost Years of Merlin. (This series fed my need for Arthurian legend. A fresh exploration of some well-worn territory.)

---Brashares, Ann: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. (I grew up with Bridget, Lena, Tibby and Carmen, and they were the sum of my experiences. Brashares wasn’t afraid to tackle the complicated issues of being a “normal” suburban teenager.)

---Bray, Libba: A Great and Terrible Beauty. (Seeing a lot of boarding schools, magic, and bodices around YA, but this is one of the first. I love when genres I love get muddled up in each other for the better.)

---Cashore, Kristin: Graceling. (Cashore populates her fantasy world with complicated characters, using the setting to enrich the people and vice versa. Her prose is phenomenal, and even better, she’s evolving as a writer. Fire shows her growth, and I can’t wait for Bitterblue.)

---Coville, Bruce: Into the Land of the Unicorns. (Scary villains, likeable protagonists, clever supporting cast, an alternate realm where unicorns exist, portals they use to cross over into our world…Yes, please.)

---Dokey, Cameron: The Storyteller’s Daughter. (It opens with one of my favorite prologues ever, which you can check it out on Amazon with the “Search inside this book” feature. Pair it with Susan Fletcher’s Shadow Spinner for another perspective on Scheherazade.)

---George, Jean Craighead: Julie of the Wolves. (I think these books are why I like werewolves better. Wonderfully researched and presented.)

---Henry, Marguerite: King of the Wind. (Though I read and loved many of her horse books, I think this is my favorite. Also have fond memories of Black Gold, Born to Trot, and San Domingo.)

---Jacques, Brian: Redwall. (I can’t say enough about this series. His death was a sad day for me.)

---Lowry, Lois: The Giver. (The grandfather of dystopian YA and still one of the best. I’m seeing shades of it everywhere now, which says a lot about the staying power of its ideas.)

---Konigsburg, E.L.: A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver. (I loved the Eleanor of Aquitane of I read here, and I kept searching out powerful women in history/historical fiction.)

---McCaffrey, Anne: Dragonflight. (The Dragonriders of Pern series was fundamental in forming my love of science fiction/fantasy. It also taught me how to keep a dynastic cast of characters with similar names straight. So useful.)

---McKinley, Robin: Beauty/Rose Daughter. (Two different retellings of “Beauty and the Beast” by the same author, though Beauty may have the edge.)

---Nix, Garth: Sabriel. (The Disreputable Dog and Moggat are some of my favorite “animal” characters ever. The system of necromancy and bell magic is an impressive feat of imagination.)

---Pierce, Meredith Ann: The Darkangel. (One of the best vampire trilogies out there. Not “sexy,” but scary, mythological, and so, so lush. She has a knack for character arcs, surprises, and resonance, especially for making certain characters feel ancient and powerful.)

---Pullman, Philip: The Golden Compass. (What can I say that hasn’t already been said? He has a magnificent mind. Lee Scoresby is one of my favorites.)

---Rawls, Wilson: Where the Red Fern Grows. (A boy and his dogs. Tears. Big, big tears. Heartbreak, sorrow. Did I mention crying?)

---Rinaldi, Ann: Wolf by the Ears. (As a native Virginian, I was caught by this story of Thomas Jefferson, his mistress, and their child. I remember this book contained one of the first “racy” scenes I’d ever read, a tense attempted rape. It was shocking, but so was the idea of slavery. A formative book for me about race, history, and humanity.)

---Staples, Suzanna Fisher: Shabanu, Daughter of the Wind. (I’ve had an affection for camels ever since. Something about this glimpse into the desert was spellbinding.)

---Taylor, Sydney: All-of-a-Kind Family. (I couldn’t tell you how much it meant to see a Jewish family represented in longer-form fiction. Of course, I read fantastic Jewish picture books like Hershel and the Hanukah Goblins, but this book was so important in making me feel secure in my identity. I have a huge affection for this immigrant story. It’s my Little House!)

---White, E.B.: Charlotte’s Web. (I think it can be best described in its own words: “Some Pig. Terrific. Radiant. Humble.”)

---Williams, Margery: The Velveteen Rabbit. (Can’t read it without tearing up. Who hasn’t had a stuffed animal they’ve made real?)

---Yep, Laurence: The Dragon of the Lost Sea. (This series was my crash course in Chinese mythological symbols, and it opened me up to books flavored with Eastern cultural influences. Shimmer and Thorn were an incredible team, flawed with pride but still loveable.)

(Ed. Oversight: I realized I forgot Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and Dune by Frank Herbert. I have a feeling I’ll be adding more to this list later.)

So, there you have it…35 of my favorites, available to peruse. I haven't even touched “adult” books yet, but that is for another time. (If you can't get enough of my lists, you can check out my 10 favorites of 2010, plus another 5. Still looking forward to seeing your lists.) Thanks for reading!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Reviews: Assorted Love Stories

Since I mentioned these four books all together, I feel like it would be a shame to separate them now. (I’m kind of hungry, so I think I’ll assign them dessert ratings.) Let’s get cracking…

One Day by David Nicholls: Did I cry big old leaky tears? Of course I did! (Oh, Dex and Em, Em and Dex.) This is a classic case of “the course of true love never did run smooth.” The conceit—checking in with this couple on the same day of the year from 1988 to 2007—initially made me a bit nervous. I wondered how this brief window could possibly show the nuances of age and maturation. Not to worry! Nicholls has a firm hand on his plot and is smart enough to cluster interesting events around St. Swithins Day (or at least allude to them). Yes, Emma was a bit self-righteous and Dexter was more than a bit of a cad, but together they were good. I love the intersection of their lives, which I suppose was the point. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the intrusions of other characters. I most certainly did. Nicholls has a knack for describing all sorts of people, and he takes special care with their faces, giving almost photographic detail. He also has an ear for dialogue that is both funny and true, which makes for blistering conversations and an excellent (drunk!) epistolary exchange. I cringed with recognition at his cutting, fond observations about human habits, but that’s what happens when you have the full portrait of two people. A banquet of desserts: sometimes lemon tart, sometimes chocolate torte, all very delicious.

Black Heels to Tractor Wheels: A Love Story by Ree Drummond (aka The Pioneer Woman): If you’re a reader of Ree’s blog, you’ll like this book. If you’ve never heard of The Pioneer Woman, you should head over there now and have a looksee. You’ll also like this book. Ree is such a winning presence on the web and on the page. I rooted for her every step of the way as she fell in love with Marlboro Man. (He’s a rugged cowboy, not a smoker.) She’s a charming fish-out-of-water on his cattle ranch, and the evolution of city girl to ranch wife is fascinating. Though everything is brushed with a rosy sheen (even postpartum depression) and her descriptions of Marlboro Man can veer into Bella-levels of adoration (your knees give out every time he kisses you?), these glosses can be forgiven. It is a true story after all, and a hopeful one at that, even if it reads more like fiction. An old-fashioned comfort food of a romance! Apple pie, for sure.

Something, Maybe by Elizabeth Scott: A cute set-up (girl striving to be normal as a reaction to her decidedly public parents) and some ideas worth perusing. Hannah experiences a love triangle, but in a stunning bit of real-life restraint, both guys are not “perfect” for her. She figures out (with a little help) how to tell the real guy from the phony one, and that was a nice resolution. Unfortunately, this path to realization took a turn for the wacky close to the end, almost invalidating the very practical lesson. By wacky, I don’t mean her estranged Hugh Hefner-esque dad or her washed-up webcam mom. They were fun diversions. (Here’s where I admit to loving the reality TV show The Girls Next Door, so I was jazzed by Hannah’s trip to New York to see her dad.) Kind of a cotton candy book.

The Big Crunch by Pete Hautman: I think I’m developing a sixth sense for David Levithan. Is that weird to say? Every time a book starts breaking my heart in a particular way, I get suspicious and flip to the acknowledgements. Why, hello there! The Big Crunch has a bare minimum of plot to follow, as it’s more of a meditation on the trials/tribulations of the first big connection. Hautman seems intimately familiar with the cozy cave of first love, that tunneling down of existence where only one other person matters, and he lets us explore slowly along with the couple, admiring the sights. Wes and June have a meandering emotional path, but the details are worth the journey. (The cover is so great. I sort of wish an alternate graphic novel form existed.) Tastes like ice cream, a sweet spectrum of melty feelings.

And there you have it! Romance in all different flavors. (My tummy is rumbling. I’m going to settle down with a hot chocolate book and some hot chocolate.)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

My Top 10 Favorite Books of All Time Ever

I’ve started to work on my CPC homework (found in the PACKET)…It is not easy! These assignments are certainly meant to challenge my abilities to the fullest. People call the program a “publishing boot camp,” and today, I read an article calling it the “West Point of publishing.” Then, of course, there’s this tweet. (Should I be worried that all of these metaphors revolve around war?)

Still, there is one assignment I found unbearably pleasant, even if it wasn’t any kind of easy. I had to list my top ten favorite books and give <25 word description of each book’s significance. Though I do have acute list anxiety, the task was so much fun. I reminisced and ranked and agonized over what books would make the cut, but I’m supremely satisfied with my choices. (The 25 books I couldn’t fit on this list will appear later in the week. Also, I used the first book in a series to stand in for the whole thing, even if I might have loved later books more.)

My Top 10 Favorite Books of All Time Ever (in alphabetical order by author’s last name):

---Alcott, Louisa May. Rose in Bloom. (For letting me watch the Eight Cousins grow up and for making morality go down easy. Mac Campbell, the bookworm, was my first literary love.)

---Cooper, Susan. The Dark Is Rising. (A series that fed my obsession with mythology and taught me about growing up. Children always have more power than they know.)

---Juster, Norton. The Phantom Tollbooth. (For teaching me to love whimsy mixed with wisdom and to understand “reread value.” This book never condescends, no matter the age of the reader.)

---Leaf, Munro. The Story of Ferdinand. (There are so many lessons inside such a slim book. The illustrations and Ferdinand’s sweetness have a permanent place in my heart.)

---L’Engle, Madeleine. A Wrinkle in Time. (A colorful cast, fantastic elements, and a heroine I could embrace shaped my taste for years to come. I voraciously consumed L’Engle’s body of work.)

---Levine, Gail Carson. Ella Enchanted. (Retellings aren’t easy to do right, but Ella is pitch-perfect. The details fit and transcend Cinderella, injecting the fairy tale’s heroine with new life.)

---McKinley, Robin. The Blue Sword. (Harimad is the predecessor to Katniss and Katsa. McKinley swept me away with this book, and it was the gateway to her other works.)

---Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. (I grew up with Harry and will never forget the experience. Books are the most magical things of all.)

---Saint-Exupéry, Antoine de. The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince). (On each reread, I love new things. In English or French, it reminds me to see an elephant inside a boa constrictor, not a hat.)

---Wrede, Patricia C. Dealing with Dragons. (Skewering the fairy tale genre was never more fun. Cimorene, Morwen, and Kazul are remarkable female characters—active, smart, and powerful.)

Let me know what you think of my list in the comments…I’d also love to read your Top 10 if you leave a link!

Monday, May 16, 2011

The PACKET (Alternate Title: ALL CAPS)

The PACKET came today. I have been waiting for the PACKET (uppercase properly conveys my excitement) since I got my CPC acceptance a month ago. I’m going to say it again because I like the way it sounds: PACKET.

Yes, I am a planner. (My to-do list is legendary in my circle of friends.) I also have a knack for packing. (Sorting! Folding clothes precisely! Labeling!) Moving is not my favorite, but I get it done efficiently. (Strong like bull. Lift with knees.) Since I finished my last day of work today, I have a lot of this ahead. However, the PACKET has certain information that I’ve been looking forward to even more than my elaborate cardboard box Jenga games.

I HAVE HOMEWORK! I know I should not be this excited after my Great Escape of 2010, but I love school like Hermoine loves…Well, school. My brain needs puzzles and hypotheticals with a purpose. It craves simulation and useful work. (Check out the Marge Piercy poem on this topic: “To Be of Use”) I could not be happier to dive in, to start down that path marked “career” and not just “job.”

I do learn best by doing, and this is a lot of doing. My pleasure reading might take a hit, but please bear with me. (I plan on some serious Belle-level multi-tasking.) Maybe I’ll even share some fun tidbits with you all.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Boo, Bro

Not cool, Blogger. Not cool at all.

So, my hosting site went down yesterday and took the post I wrote with it. Hopefully, it will be back soon. Until then though, Blogger's getting the old stinkeye.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

My Darling, My Darwin

I’ve been a busy little bookworm! Finished four books this past week—a cowboy/city girl romance, a twenty year relationship saga, a quirky YA love triangle, a contemporary slow-build-to-first-love tale—and now just need to write them up. (Let’s not mention that lingering review left over from forever ago.)

Though the plotlines of these four books were all quite different, they had one thing in common: evolution. The characters were forced to see themselves/their partners in a new light to grow, cement, and sustain their initial interest. Since I was thinking about this concept as I wrote the outlines for my upcoming reviews, it was a short leap from evolution and love to evolution and blogging.

I’ve matured so much as a reviewer since I started SLB. My first review was a bit of a rambly mess, even if the sentiments expressed still hold true. Any kind of writing is an exercise, and I was flabby. Now I’ve tightened up a bit. I’m quicker. I’m less emotional/wordy, more analytical/concise. I know the right questions to ask. I definitely feel more in shape. Teaching myself to read on an elliptical might have something to do with it. (OK, so my sense of humor has stayed the same. Let’s just call that a vestigial structure.)

PS. I’m interested to see if anyone can guess which books I read from their brief descriptions. I think the first two out of four are medium-easy if you’ve been following publishing news. Prove me wrong/right?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Review: Lauren Oliver's Delirium

Another day, another dystopian down. Not that I’m complaining! I love an alternate future as much as the next gal, and though Delirium is reminiscent of several existing novels, I enjoyed the personal touches Lauren Oliver slipped in.

In a future where love is treated as a disease (amor deliria nervosa), adulthood is marked by an operation that inhibits the feeling of love. Since the operation occurs at eighteen, its looming shadow is easily recognizable as “high school graduation” in disguise. (There’s even an SAT-esque assessment for teenagers to freak out over, though this test helps the government choose their future mates.) Oliver uses these rituals to deftly capture the end of adolescence, the particular feeling of change and the friction it brings. Parents are needed yet pushed away. Classmates turn into strangers, and closest friends grow apart. A future is waiting, worried about and yearned for with equal force.

Lena as a heroine is refreshing. I didn’t really want to like her, but time and time again, she made choices that drew me toward her. She comes into her rebellion slowly, lacking the initial fire of Katniss or curiosity of Cassia. Still, the character arc of a fearful, law-abiding girl is interesting to watch. Lena tries so hard to escape the legacy of her never-cured mother, but it’s clear she is her mother’s daughter.

Since this book is about the systematic destruction of love, the most compelling parts deal with Lena’s relationships with others. Lena and her best friend Hana’s shared history, forged despite their differences, gifts them the protective bond of sisters, allowing for both jealousy and admiration. Alex, the love interest that “infects” Lena, was as dreamy as a poetry-spouting rebel can be. (Imagine hearing banned love poems for the first time ever from someone you love!) Of course, there are other touching links Lena discovers, but I don’t want to give away too much.

Oliver’s prose contains consistent gems of description to stumble over. She is an incredibly sensory writer, fully inhabiting her characters as she spins out their story. Though I did some skimming, it was only because I wanted to find out what happens! I was getting anxious as I saw the pages dwindling, and BAM…A trilogy. I should have known better.

I will be reading on, as I want more of the characters and of the societal backstory. How did such an efficient overhaul take place? On that note, I loved the chapter epigraphs from “The Book of Shhh,” the dominant religious text, and other sources—nursery rhymes, children’s chants, academic tomes, scientific reports. (As in Ally Condie’s Matched, there are a lot of censored/reinterpreted creative works. For instance, Romeo and Juliet is read as a cautionary tale rather than a love story.) This extensive cultural reimagining assures me that however Oliver’s dystopian future reached its current state, there’s a really good story behind it.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Split by Lightning

The first time I read Marge Piercy, it was electrifying. Of course, I’d read and loved women poets before—Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti, Edna St. Vincent Millay—but they were always in a classroom setting. Stumbling across Piercy was different. She spoke to me in a voice much like my own (or what I wish my voice would be): contemporary, practical, fearless, and even a little bit silly.

I fell into her poems about women, about men and women, about sex and bodies and all of the concessions we make. Piercy writes triumphantly and incisively and inclusively, shedding light on the ordinary and the extraordinary in the ordinary. She rages little and large, and she does not shrink.

I can’t pick a favorite, so here is a collection of her work that is available on the internet. I encourage you to explore the full extent of that archive, but before you do, have a taste:

A Work of Artifice
by Marge Piercy

The bonsai tree
in the attractive pot
could have grown eighty feet tall
on the side of a mountain
till split by lightning.
But a gardener
carefully pruned it.
It is nine inches high.
Every day as he
whittles back the branches
the gardener croons,
It is your nature
to be small and cozy,
domestic and weak;
how lucky, little tree,
to have a pot to grow in.
With living creatures
one must begin very early
to dwarf their growth:
the bound feet,
the crippled brain,
the hair in curlers,
the hands you
love to touch.

…Give me more! More women poets! Tell me some of your favorites.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Perfect Ten + A Meditation on "Should"

So I didn’t make it to twelve or even to eleven, but I did make it to ten. Here was the final list in the order they were read (plus reviews!):

1. Scumble by Ingrid Law
2. Ascendant by Diana Peterfreund
3. Let’s Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell
4. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
5. Room by Emma Donoghue
6. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell
7. The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
8. The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht
9. Across the Universe by Beth Revis
10. Delirium by Lauren Oliver

I’m pretty proud of how much I accomplished. Let’s see some stats, shall we?

Duration: 4/2/11-4/30/11
Books Read: 10
Reviews Written and Posted: 8
Reviews Outlined: 2
Pages Read: 4384 (making the average length of book read 438 pages)

Some eagle-eyed readers might notice I didn’t get to Freedom or A Widow’s Story. I had them scheduled, but I just couldn’t make myself read them when the time rolled around. Memoirs about dying and “great works” are not to be read casually. You have to commit to them, and I didn’t feel up to it. I’m not worried though. They’ll still be there when I want to try again.

I think sometimes people (myself included) get caught up in all the things they “should” be reading or doing or watching. We want to be in the know, to gain access, to be on the inside. We want people to like us by validating our choices. We want to be tastemakers, good conversationalists. So we consume the things we “should,” whether or not we want to, and profess to like the things we “should” like, whether or not we actually do. Giving “should” up was the best lesson to come out of my April reading boot camp.

Thing is, we’ll never read or watch or eat or experience all of the things we “should.” That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have aspirations or a mile-long to-do list, but it does mean we should be gentle with ourselves. Sometimes, a YA dystopian will win out over Literature. (The heart wants what the heart wants!) Keep up with what you can and consume what you love. No matter what, you’ll find people who compliment your choices and who want to talk with you about your thoughts. Genuine enjoyment is more magnetic than every “should” under the sun.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Review: Téa Obreht's The Tiger's Wife

I had just gotten off the bus when a pang of hunger hit, insistent. A convenience store greeted me. My finger still marking my place in the book, I grabbed an orange and went to pay. At the counter, I put down the story, regretfully losing my place to riffle through my wallet. The adorable old man behind the counter took notice of my reading material as he was taking my change: “Oh, The Tiger’s Wife? That is supposed be good. What is it about?” Hey, Kindle! Eat your heart out.

…But that debate is for another time and place. Speaking of which, I would call “time and place” the most successful parts of Téa Obreht’s debut. An overwhelming sense of the past, of family, of generations and of tales passed down through them, pervades this book. Superstition bumps up against modernity, ever at odds even as they cling to each other.

In everything but writing style, The Tiger’s Wife reminded me of The Lazarus Project. They are appropriate Easter books, dealing with dead men and men who are deathless for one reason or another. The past interacts directly with the present and the future. Lives are built and lost on stories. Both authors hail from the now defunct Yugoslavia, a background that informs their war-torn fiction. Both Obreht and Hemon immigrated to the United States, and though she is two decades younger, they came overseas within five years of each other. They write in English, their second language.

Obreht’s prose is a bit sleepier than Hemon’s. She writes languorous sentences that curl up on themselves like a great big cat. In contrast to Hemon’s crackling first page, she crafts a dreamier opening, filtered through the haze of manufactured memory rather than the sharper fictionalization of forgotten fact. The setting of The Tiger’s Wife is completely fabricated, though it is made hyper-real with elaborate observations—debris by the road, the interiors of houses, precise paths through a city that never was. Somehow, these gathered examples of existence only make the world more dreamy.

There are quite a few disparate stories in this novel, and a central narrative is hard to find. Nothing is intrinsically wrong with the plots, and I enjoyed them all separately, but I was not compelled forward for quite a while. The reading did speed up as soon as the threads started to knit together.

Oddly enough, the characters that seem most real are those who are the most improbable. Rooted in folklore and magical realism, people form: A nephew of Death, cursed into immortality for love of a girl, has a coffee cup that tells the drinker when they will meet his uncle. A deaf-mute girl, battered by her dream-deferred* husband, forges a bond with a tiger that escaped from a bombed zoo. A young boy who is the primary caretaker for his epileptic sister grows into a skilled taxidermist and legendary bear hunter. Any members of the mythological cast could go toe to toe with Baba Yaga and her chicken-legged house. Unfortunately, the present day characters don’t hold up their end of the story and seem to get lost in it.

Promising and poised for a really excellent book, Obreht has just written a good one here, though there are stripes of greatness running through it.

*Seriously though, if Obreht didn’t intend for Langston Hughes’ poem to accompany the butcher’s story, that is one eerie coincidence.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Review: Beth Revis' Across the Universe

It’s always a pleasure to read authors who love their genres. Their books are delightful because they have an understanding born from being steeped in a certain pool of ideas. These consumed conventions act simultaneously as foundations and building blocks, allowing an author to play and create possibilities on top of something established. With Across the Universe, Beth Revis is in direct dialogue with what came before, but her passion and thoughtfulness keeps her blend of influences fresh. 

I’m having a hard time classifying AtU with an existing phrase. “Space opera” doesn’t quite cover it. Really, it’s a dystopian murder mystery set in space. Dyspacery? Whatever you want to call her book, Revis wears her influences on her spacesuit and does them justice. Showing “the bridge” on the ship’s blueprints is a tribute to Star Trek, and Amy’s number 42 cryo chamber can only be a nod to Douglas Adams. I saw shades of Joss Whedon’s Firefly in the name of Kayleigh and the positive slang “brilly,” but the correlation was strongest between the Pax and the “Phylus” drug. (Interesting note: I think Phylus comes from Phylum, which is Latin for “division.”) There are echoes of Ender’s Game and The Giver as well as direct references to Alice in Wonderland and Dante’s Inferno. I could feel all of these books ringing in my ear as I read, amplifying and deepening the story. (Not to mention the identically-titled Beatles song or Albus Dumbledore’s admonishment: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”)

Still, Revis is more than the sum of her references. She is an excellent storyteller and worldbuilder, crafting a sense of urgency and claustrophobia that underlies everything. Alternating viewpoints between Amy and Elder allowed multiples arcs to move along at a brisk clip. Working with two sets of eyes and ears and brains, Revis sustains tension without resorting to a love triangle. I liked the evolution of Amy and Elder as people and as a couple. Plus, it’s always exciting seeing your name in a book! (I was named after Amy March, but now I’m proud to share a name with this Amy too.)

Though a savvy reader can play “spot the bad guy” and come out correct, it is not at all boring to confirm these suspicions. There are loads of discoveries to be had. A large debt is owed to the spaceship Godspeed, a well-executed setting that operates within its own probable laws but also has enough details to catch the imagination.

A good dystopian always has something driving it, a question at its heart. Revis has the five Ws and one H: What is worth saving after the world ends, and where does society go afterward? Who’s going to get them there, and when will they arrive? Why did the world fall into ruin, and how do you survive after it happens? She covers all of the classics—genetic engineering, free will, inhabiting other planets, wars, economic collapse, rewritten history, religion, choice, love, knowledge—and has themes within themes. I was particularly charmed by the koi fish and by Harley, the painter who makes them his motif. I also enjoyed how creative people are made out to be crazy, when there already is that strain of thought in our society today.

Tiniest nitpick: When our slender, athletic protagonist who runs cross country and wants to run a marathon says she can barely run ten miles in two hours, I cried foul. I ran in high school and still enjoy running, but I’m more of a hoofer than a speedster. That being said, I ran 3 miles in 27 minutes at my peak. I could sustain that pace, and did, for 12 miles in around 2 hours. I bet she’d be quicker. Nitpick over.

Across the Universe wrapped up in a way that needs no sequel, but I’m glad Revis gets to write two more anyway. I’m looking forward to seeing what the future holds.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Review: Emma Donoghue's Room

When I picked up Room from the BPL, an impeccably dressed Indian man spotted its distinctive cover and came over to me. “That is a beautiful book,” he said with a lovely British accent. “Well, not beautiful. You know.” I took in his red sweater, blue blazer, and gorgeous leather shoes as I replied, “I’m looking forward to reading it.” We shared a smile, the bond between two readers who want to know the secrets of the same book. That was the end of our conversation, but his words echoed in my ear as I made my way through Room’s pages.

I stayed up all night rooting for the central pair of Jack and Ma. In the depths of depravity, they forged a quaint life together. Some might say their redemption was born from Ma’s love, but in retrospect, it’s hard to know exactly where her love stops and her desperate thirst for freedom begins. Yes, she made sure that Jack stayed in shape, that his mind was developed, that he did not despair in their captivity. However, was she only preparing him to be a partner in escape? How long had she been thinking about her plan? These questions do not preclude love—that Ma loves Jack, her one bright spot in a hellhole, is a given—but they certainly make her more interesting. Pushed beyond mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion, Ma does what she must.

Jack was an engaging narrator, an astonishingly empathetic and creative little boy. I can’t really say too much about the specifics, but I was interested to know if the fiction matched up with reality. Developmentally, he seemed years ahead of his peers, and I wonder if those results could be actually achieved, provided the child is brought up in a similar state of constant enrichment. (That is, acknowledging that such appalling conditions should never be replicated.) The plasticity of the young mind is amazing, and I loved exploring Jack’s evolving concept of reality.

Donoghue has a fine grasp of the telling detail. I was struck by the specifics, especially Jack’s lack of spatial awareness/depth perception and his vulnerability to sunburn, which convinced me that Jack and Ma lived in Room for as long as they did. Even better, the mundane details—the daily schedules, the furniture, the learning from repeated experience—were as fully imagined as some of the more horrific circumstances.

Both the ordinary and the extraordinary combine to make Room and its inhabitants haunting. Obviously, the inspiration came from real events, so I appreciated that Donoghue strove for authenticity over a straightforward happy ending. Anyone, fictional or actual, who lived through a thing like Room would be rocked by their survival.