Wednesday, August 31, 2005

DL Garfinkle Author Visit in New Jersey

For those of you in New Jersey: DL Garfinkle, author of Storky, will be in New Jersey on September 7th at the Lord & Taylor Fashion Center Benefit Bash in Paramus. Details and ticket information here. Having never been to Paramus, I'm trying to figure out just where in Paramus that is.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Buffy Quote of the Week

"I've got two words that are going to take all the pain away: Miniature. Golf."
- The Mayor, Ep: Enemies

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Encyclopedia Prehistorica : Dinosaurs

Encyclopedia Prehistorica : Dinosaurs by Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart.

If you think that pop up books are for kids, you haven't looked at Sabuda's work, including the stunning The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, with twirling tornado and green glasses; Alice's Adventures in Wonderland; and now, Encyclopedia Prehistorica : Dinosaurs.

EPD is an amazing pop up book of dinosaurs. Sometimes, Sabuda's work is all white, which while stark, helps showcase his creations. For this dinosaur book, the dinosaurs are in full color glory. There is a lot of information about dinosaurs and the history of "dinosaur detectives."

Each page has a "big" pop up, but (as Sabuda fans know) on each page are little booklets with more pop ups. My favorite "big" pop up: The sauropod, which includes an elephant and a human to give scale to the figure that is bigger than the book. My favorite mini pop up: the allosaurus, eating another dinosaur. A must own for any dinosaur fan or pop up fan.

While at library school, I had the great fortune to hear Sabuda speak about the process of how he creates his books. It was fascinating. If you ever have the chance to go to a place where he is speaking, run, don't walk! And if you don't have the chance, here is an interview and here is a peek into the studio.

Cute back story: Darling niece, who is 5, was over for a visit the other day and comes in with a bag from the toy store.

"What did you get," I ask.

"A present for you," DN responded.

And in the bag was was EPD.

"You have to be very careful with it," she admonished. "And put it up high so that little kids can't get at it."

I found out later that while at the store with my mother she had been allowed to pick out one thing. Torn between EPD and a stuffed cat, she asked, "what if we get the book for Aunt Lizzy?"

Friday, August 26, 2005

The Boyfriend List (15 guys, 11 shrink appointments, 4 ceramic frogs and me, Ruby Oliver)

The Boyfriend List (15 guys, 11 shrink appointments, 4 ceramic frogs and me, Ruby Oliver) by E. Lockhart.

Lockhart's blog is here.

The Plot: Following a panic attack, Ruby's parents send her to a therapist. The therapist asks Ruby to write a "boyfriend list". Which Ruby does ... but she throws the rough draft away. In the school trash. Did I mention the reason this 15 year old is having panic attacks? It's because of her boyfriend, Jackson. Or should I say exboyfriend. And her friends Kim, Cricket, and Nora. Or should I say her exfriends. And the reason why her friends won't even talk to her? Well, let's just say it has to do with Ruby. And a boy. Maybe Jackson. Maybe not. But now she's the school leper. And she's being called the school slut. (Hint: boyfriend list, draft, school trash.... I think you've put the pieces together.)

The Good: This is a funny "chick lit" type of book; and I hesitate to use that term, because its been so bandied about and misused. Let me say this: chick lit can be good and funny and entertaining and serious. And TBL is all of these.

Ruby tells her story, flashing back to when she and her friends were best friends; to the boys she has known, starting with kindergarten; and to the present, when everything just kind of blew up on her. Ruby is funny and honest, even if she isn't always very self aware.

In honor of Ruby's lists, here is my list of why I love this book and why I am adding it to my best books of 2005 list:
  1. They boys could easily have been all good or all bad. Instead, they are human and conflicted; they do some things which are sweet. And some things that make you want to shake them.
  2. While I am totally on Ruby's side about what happened with Ruby, Jackson, and Kim, and think her friends were totally wrong to stop talking to her, I can kind of see Kim's side.
  3. Ruby is very funny as the narrator, but the reader can see how Ruby's and Jackson's relationship had some issues. And I can't help but think those issues had to be pretty bloody obvious to everyone but Ruby, if Cricket and Nora took Kim's side.
  4. Ruby's a bit shallow and a bit immature. But, hello, she's 15. One of my pet peeves in books: 15 year olds who are more mature than most 30 somethings I know. Ruby is a real teen. She thinks about herself, is oblivious to other's feelings. I love her; I think she'd be frustrating to be around; I think she's real.
  5. Ruby's parents are interesting and also real. I especially liked how at the beginning, they were a bit one dimensional, because that is how Ruby presented them; but as the book went on, and Ruby saw their depth, we did, too.
  6. Have I mentioned how funny this is?
  7. Funny, but not lightweight. There are serious issues here. And they are treated seriously.
  8. A wonderful portrayal of girls and friendships, and even though there are conflicts, these girls are not the flat uber bitca's that usually appear in "girl" books. There is love, conflict, bonding, arguing, making up. Even a little shopping.
  9. It's boy obsessed and boy centric -- because hello, did I mention? 15 year old girls. But its also about finding one's voice; thinking for oneself; and speaking up.
  10. Anyone reading this book is tempted to put together their own "boyfriend list." Which I did. But no way am I sharing it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Battlestar Galactica

Awesome, amazing, spectacular. Somehow, the second season of BG is even better than the first! For background, check out my prior post on the reimagined BG.

The Good: People do good things, and bad things, and stupid things. "Who do I cheer for," you may ask... And there are no easy answers. There is no one "good" person to cheer on. Sometimes the crazy Cylon logic makes a lot of sense. One week, Tigh is saving the fleet, and the next, he's making such poor decisions you want to shake him.

Is this because of inconsistent characterization? Poor plotting? Nope: its for the best possible reason. Ron Moore has created a universe of Real People: and those traits and personalities, fears and hopes, means that sometimes people rise to the occasion. And sometimes they make stupid mistakes. And sometimes they give into fear. They are not perfect. They are flawed. They are real.

Buffy Quote of the Week

"Generally speaking? When the scary things get scared? Not good."
Xander, Ep: Dead Man's Party

Close Kin

Close Kin by Clare Dunkle is Book II of The Hollow Kingdom Trilogy.

The Plot: Seylin and Emily live in "the Hollow Kingdom," the world of the goblins. As human Emily discovered in The Hollow Kingdom, goblins are usually horrible looking creatures. The goblins have a long and proud tradition of kidnapping and marrying elf wives. It's why Seylin -- who is a goblin -- is so good looking. It's that elf blood. The tradition ended several generations ago, after the brutal war that left the goblins triumphant and the elves extinct.

But Seylin longs to find out more about the elf part of his heritage; and when Emily refuses his offer of marriage, Seylin leaves the Hollow Kingdom in search of any possible elf survivors. Emily soon follows, looking for Seylin. Both are shocked by what they find beyond the safety of the caves of the Hollow Kingdom.

The Good: The goblins are ugly. Hideous. Horrible. And I love that!! I love that its what inside that counts. And I love that what is attractive in one culture is not in another. This is not a simplistic "oh he's ugly so he's evil" world.

I love the setting that Dunkle has created. THK was a layered story; but Dunkle adds even more layers and depth here. If you want a simple fantasy, with clear examples of good and evil, this is not a book for you. Examples: the enmity between elves and goblins. The strange kidnapping/seduction of elf wives. The distrust that each race (elf, goblin, human) holds for each other. This is a fantasy world that is not a fantasy. The war scenes are short, straightforward, and brutal.

I liked what is important: family, traditions, learning, acceptance. And -- interesting enough in a fantasy -- acceptance is not just the obvious "accept goblins even if they are ugly", but also accepting that there is good and bad in cultures and in individuals; and accepting the reality of a situation, rather than dreams or fantasy.

The Hollow Kingdom series contains fairy tale elements, so readers who like fairy tale retellings will like these books.

The author's website is a treat. In addition to the typical author website stuff (info about books, reviews, author FAQ) there are "deleted scenes;" parts of the book that didn't make it to the final edited version.

For those of you wondering about reading this "in the right order": The Hollow Kingdom (Book I) is a great book and introduces the world and people of CK. CK stands on its own; the major players in CK were not the major players in THK. This is more than one story being told in the world of "the Hollow Kingdom." Whether or not there is one story underlying all three books of the trilogy.... I suspect after reading the yet unavailable third one, I will say "yes", but until then, this works as a stand-alone.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Black Juice

Black Juice by Margo Lanagan.

Black Juice is a collection of ten short stories. They are fascinating, intense, vivid glimpses into worlds that are similar to our own. The term for this writing is speculative fiction: a term that encompasses science fiction and fantasy, alternate worlds and alternate history. And a term that doesn't have the negative connotations that SF and fantasy have to the general public.

Black Juice reminded me of The Twilight Zone episodes. It takes you a minute to figure out what's going on; at some point, there's an aha moment as the puzzle pieces fall together; there's a message; and there's darkness. But its not the darkness of vampires or werewolves; no, its the darkness that is in our lives. The agonizing loss of a sister in Singing My Sister Down. The lady who abandons all to run away with the gypsies, told from the perspective of someone who cannot fathom why someone would do that, in My Lord's Man. And the struggles of an orphan, excluded from society, in Yowlinin (which of all of these, is the one which would make an excellent movie.)

Lanagan has crafted a memorable book; her talent is shown in the fact that days later, I am still thinking about the stories. The talent is also shown in the wholeness of the ten worlds the author created. You feel the heat of the tar, the dampness of a city.

This is a must read book. It is not an easy read; each short story demands your full attention as you try to figure out what is going on. It could be overwhelming and frustrating to have to decode story after story in one sitting; this is a collection of short stories to spread out over several days. Read one, then put the book down.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Buffy Quote of the Week

"I know Principal Flutie would have said, 'Kids need understanding, kids are human beings.' That's the kind of wooly-headed liberal thinking that leads to being eaten."
-Principal Snyder, Ep: The Puppet Show

Monday, August 15, 2005

Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys & Other Series

Camille at Book Moot recently posted about Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. I loved Nancy Drew but was annoyed by Frank & Joe. As a series reader myself, I agree with her statement that series readers become life long readers.

Other series I loved, in no particular order:

The Happy Hollisters by Jerry West

Katie Rose by Lenora Mattingly Weber

The Outdoor Girls of Deepdale by Laura Lee Hope (I also liked other pre-1920 girl series, but it was really hard to track them down so I tended to read only one in series such as The Red Cross Girls.)

Mary Rose at Boarding School by Mary Mabel Wirries (wow, I cannot find anything online about this series!)

Cherry Ames

Yes, I had a lot of hand-me-down, found in attics, or cheap at garage sale reading.

So what series books did you read?

Sunday, August 14, 2005


Dear Joss,

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

I didn't watch Firefly the first time around. I didn't want to like it.

You had Buffy; and then you had Angel; and I thought, that should be enough for you. With Firefly, you'll spread yourself too thin; you'll neglect the children you already have.

So I didn't want to know your new baby. Oh, I tuned in to the pilot -- but since that wasn't the real pilot, I was confused and not impressed. Since I am in full disclosure mode, I also had just fallen in love with Farscape (late to the party, I know) and felt that all the promos (ala Joss reinvents science fiction!) were an insult to Farscape. I wondered why there are still hookers in space. This last confession is the hardest: I was even a bit happy when Firefly got cancelled.

But time goes by.

Buffy was gone; Angel was gone. And there was all the talk of a movie sequel, Serenity. A movie sequel to a show that lasted less than a season? I was intrigued.... so I sighed and got off my high horse; and this past July, I began watching Firefly.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Firefly is a great show. Make that an amazing show. It's almost perfect television; with all the elements coming together just right.

The Good: the cast, the dialogue, the plotting. It's a great mix of fun and scary and adventure. And the underlying premise: when you've had a dream, and its lost -- how do you go on? How do you reinvent yourself? If you cared deeply about something, and that is over, what happens when you wake up the next morning? And the way that a whole future is imagined -- and not only imagined, but how that world is shared with the audience. Firefly expects much from the audience; it doesn't hold your hand. It's science fiction just the way I like it. It's story just the way I like it. And I was foolish enough to turn away when it first aired.

Seeing Firefly as it was meant to be, with the original pilot, helped immensely. I sped through the first episodes, and now have stopped with only three episodes left because I don't want it to be over. I'm trying to plan it so that I watch them just before the Serenity comes out on September 30.

If you're a Buffy fan like I am and, like me, you didn't watch Firefly, for whatever reason -- please, give it a chance.

So to Joss, the cast and crew: I am truly, deeply sorry that I prejudged and misjudged Firefly. Even though my library owns this on DVD, I bought my own set. I will be going to the theatre to watch Serenity. I've made my public apology. And all I can say is-- mea culpa. The fault was mine.

Yours truly,


P.S. I love that you love Veronica Mars. (Which by the way just had a change in season two start date, now it's September 28th).

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Storky: How I Lost My Nickname and Won the Girl

Storky: How I Lost My Nickname and Won The Girl by D.L. Garfinkle.

The Plot: Michael "Storky" Pomerantz has dreams for his freshman year of high school: hopes ("Gina confesses she's madly in love with me") and realistic hopes ("Gina doesn't totally blow me off.") Storky, oops, I meant Mike, shares his freshman year, from having to suffer the agony of Gina dating a jock named "Hunk" to being dragged by his Mom to a nursing home for forced volunteering. And his best friend moved away, and his Mom's dating his dentist, and his Dad is dating a string of bimbos.....

The Good: This is a very funny book, and funny in my favorite way. Not so much from outlandishly comical situations; but rather from Mike's observations and turns of phrase. It's all about the way Mike sees the world. As with many good funny books, under the laughter lies some serious subject matter: Love. Loss. Friendships.

Mike is a normal teen dealing with typical things: divorced parents who are dating, a popular older sister, making friends in a new school, crushes on girls. This is that hard to find book: a normal book about a normal teen, that has humor, and is perfect for both guy and girl readers. Guys will see themselves as Mike; and girls will either want to date Mike... or will start thinking about their Mike-like friend with a bit more understanding. This is an Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging for boys. I was also reminded of My-So Called Life, and pictured Mike as Brian Krakow and Gina as Angela Chase.

Mike is a preoccupied with girls... but hey, he's a teenage boy! On meeting a girl for the first time, he thinks, "she seems smart and very nice. Plus she has big round breasts." And his reaction to being reassured that "as girls mature, they realize the brain is the sexiest part of the male body" is an honest "it certainly isn't the sexiest part of the female body." But Mike isn't just obsessed with sex: he's also funny, endearing, highly likeable, and sympathetic.

Storky doesn't preach. Mike drinks alcohol. Has hangovers. And gasp -- all without car accidents! Or people being horrible injured! Or dangerous behavior! Or all those other moralistic things that are found in teen books.

While the book delivers on the title, pat endings are avoided, in significant part because the characters are well rounded and the ending remains true to these characters. It's not so much a happy ending as an ending with happiness. I'm not sure if a sequel is planned, but I want to know what happens during Mike's sophomore year.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Buffy Quote of the Week

"I almost forgot, somehow. I almost forgot how much high school hurts."
Buffy, Ep: Help

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Veronica Mars

As some of you may know, I contribute to Pop Goes the Library, a blog about pop culture and libraries. I recently had the privilege of interviewing Cathy Belben, a new staff writer at Veronica Mars. You can read the article here. Teaser for the interview: Cathy was a high school librarian who had never written a script for TV before joining VM.

For those of you who haven't yet started watching one of the best written and acted shows on TV: the new season starts September 21st and the DVDs for the first season will be available on October 11th.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Ellen Emerson White

Ellen Emerson White is a great YA writer who had poor timing. She is up there with Meg Cabot and Sarah Dessen. Her books are wonderfully plotted; the characters are those I expect to see on the street, in the library, next door; and the dialogue.... I would kill to write dialogue as witty and funny and realistic. But, EEW was publishing her YA stuff back when I was a YA, and somehow her work is overlooked. Out of print. And, sadly for me, her current work is either children's or grade school level.

EEW is worth tracking down, whether in libraries or used bookstores. I hope that sometime soon she starts writing YA again.

My recommendations: Friends for Life and Life Without Friends. In FFL, Susan returns home to Boston for high school, eager to be reunited with her old friends Colleen and Patrick. Then Colleen dies in a drug overdose, and no-one believes Susan's insistence that it had to be murder. A tightly plotted murder mystery. LWF is a companion book; the main character is Beverly, whose life sucks... in part because she was involved with the wild group of kids who were involved with Colleen's death in FFL. In LWF, a person who has made mistakes realizes that everyone is entitled to a second chance.

The President's Daughter, White House Autumn and Long Live the Queen! are about my favorite EEW character, Meghan Powers. In the first book, Meg's mother, a senator, decides to run for President. And wins. TPD follow's Meg's trials and tribulations of being the daughter of a presidential candidate -- and then the president. The first female president of the US. In the second book, Meg's mother survives and assassination attempt; in the third, Meg is kidnapped by terrorists. While all three deal with sensational topics, what makes these books so great is EEW's ear for believable dialogue. Meg & her younger brothers argue like real life siblings. Some things are dated: Meg's love of TaB, Joan Jett and Hillstreet Blues. One plot running through all three books is Meg's relationship with her mother. Mom is not condemned for being the ultimate working mother; but at the same time, the demands of Mom's "job" and the impact on her family are neither ignored or trivialized.

Romance is a Wonderful Thing is a standalone book about good girl Trish and bad boy Colin. I heart Colin.

The Road Home is very similar to China Beach: Army Nurse Rebecca is finishing her tour of duty in Vietnam. TRH follows Rebecca from Vietnam back home, as she tries to adjust and her friends and family fail to understand what she's gone through. I didn't realize it at the time, but TRH is a sequel of sorts to 4 books EEW wrote under a different name (more below). While Meg may be my favorite EEW character, TRH is my favorite EEW book.

The 4 "other" books are the Echo Company books, following a group of soldiers trying to survive in Vietnam. One book introduces Rebecca from TRH. I've only been able to read 2 of the 4. Published under the name Zack Emerson, they are: Welcome to Echo Company; Hill 568; Tis the Season; and Stand Down. You do not have to read these 4 to read TRH; but these are good books, about teenagers trying to survive a war, the intensity of friendships, the everyday dangers.

Edited to add: while trying to find some information online about EEW I found blog entries by other fans: a great blog entry here, and another here and news of A NEW MEG BOOK (yes I had to shout that one.) Can anyone confirm the new books?

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Bride & Prejudice

Sometimes movies based on books are terrible; and sometimes they are brilliant.

Bride & Prejudice is brilliant. No, that's not a typo; yes, it's a retelling of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

Why another film version of P&P, especially after the wonderful BBC version starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth? (The Darcy goes swimming scene....c'mon, I know that's what you were thinking.) Does the world really need yet another movie of an Austen book?

Yes, it does, especially when it is done as well as this. B&P reinvents P&P by taking the classic British story, setting it in the present day and moving it to India. Lizzie becomes Lalita; and Fitzwilliam Darcy is now William Darcy, a wealthy American visiting India. The clash between classes in Austen's work -- that isn't easily understood by modern readers -- is perfectly translated to a culture clash between Lalita and Darcy. And it's Bollywood influenced, with wonderful dance numbers, songs that I'm still humming, and vivid colors.

Despite the change to modern time and India, this is an amazingly faithful adaptation. How good is it? I watched it twice in two days before returning it to the library, and now am thinking about buying it on DVD. I have no knowledge of Bollywood films, please tell me what ones I should watch!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Tadpole's Promise

Tadpole's Promise, written by Jeanne Willis and illustrated by Tony Ross, is a picture book.

The Plot: Tadpole and Caterpillar meet, fall in love, and promise each other to never change. But, alas, time moves forward and there are some promises that cannot be kept.

The Good: I don't want to spoil anything about this remarkable book, but I do plan on adding a comment later about the ending so if you don't want to be spoiled, don't read the comments. At first, T'sP appears to be a simple tale of love and friendship, but there are deeper issues beneath the surface: love, forgiveness, change, growth, understanding, denial.

I liked how the picture book was designed. Instead of the traditional way, the book is "sideways" with the left hand side the "top" and the right hand side the "bottom," with the top being the Caterpillar's world of air and the right being the Tadpole's world of water.

The illustrations are fun, and include details that add to the story.

I liked this book so much that I will be buying it for Beloved Niece (age 5) and Beloved Nephew (age 2). And since it was published this year, it is also going on my Best Books of 2005 list. Finally, I think this book can work with all ages: I'm sharing it with some teens at the library tonight, so I'll include their responses in my comments section.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The Shamer's Daughter

The Shamer's Daughter by Lene Kaaberbol is Book 1 of the four book Shamer Chronicles, originally published in Danish. In the U.S., only the first two books, The Shamer's Daughter and The Shamer's Signet, are out.

The Plot: Like her mother, ten-year-old Dina is a Shamer. When a Shamer looks you in the eyes, you relive all that you have ever done that you are ashamed of; and the Shamer instantly knows these secrets. It doesn't matter if you stole something, were mean to your brother, or angry at a teacher: if it's something which causes you shame, the Shamer knows. With one look in your eyes. Needless to say, when people meet a Shamer, they keep their eyes down. No-one wants to voluntarily look a Shamer in the eyes. Dina finds this gift more of a curse -- who wants to be friends with a Shamer?

A terrible murder has happened in a nearby town and Dina's mother, The Shamer, needs to go to uncover the truth. Dina's mother doesn't return when she should, and Lord Drakan comes personally to fetch Dina to help her mother. Then Dina learns the truth: the "help" is to try to blackmail Dina's mother into naming the wrong man as killer. Dina finds herself caught in intrigue and politics as she tries to find a way to save herself and rescue her mother.

The Good: This is a great fantasy, and despite Dina's age (10), middle school kids will also like it. I don't know if it's because Dina has a gift, or because the book is Danish, but Dina is an old ten year old. This isn't a "little kids" fantasy. People are nasty and brutal; Dina and her mother are in real danger, and that danger is described, from murder attempts to bloodthirsty dragons.

TS'sD is sophisticated; what causes shame? If you are ashamed of something, does that mean you are guilty of something? Can someone do something bad, yet feel no shame?

Dina is an extremely likeable character. She is resourceful; she is brave; yet she also has faults, such as her own mixed feelings about being a Shamer.

Buffy Quote of the Week

"People who think their problems are so huge craze me. Like the time I sort of ran over this girl on her bike, and it was the most traumatizing event of my life, and she's trying to make it all about her leg! Like my pain meant nothing."
-Cordelia, Ep: Out of Mind, Out of Sight (aka Invisible Girl)