Friday, July 31, 2009


Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd Edited by Holly Black & Cecil Castellucci. Little, Brown. 2009. Review Copy provided by publisher.

The Plot: Short stories about geeks. All types of geeks: science fiction, role playing, even baton twirling.

The Good: What, exactly, is a geek?

In this collection of short stories, we meet all sorts of people who are interested in something to the point of obsession. Interested to the point where it seems to control their lives. Sometimes it's something that people readily call "geek" -- dressing up as a Klingon. Other times it's dinosaurs.

Whatever it is, you know what's nice? In this book, at least, the geeks are the norm. That isn't always the reality; though, thanks to the Internet bringing people with shared interests together, geeks are no longer isolated. Being a geek can be, well, geektastic. (Groan. Sorry.) Not everyone reading this will be a geek; not everyone takes that extra step from enjoying Star Wars to dressing like a Jedi. But anyone reading this will identify with falling in love; searching for a voice; learning about themselves and their place in the world. And, sometimes, will feel reassured in learning they are not alone in being passionate about something.

Who is the audience? With a variety of teen authors, and the main characters being teens, one answer is, well, teens. But I also recommend that this be cross marketed & shelved & displayed with science fiction. While the majority of the stories are realistic fiction, the majority of the stories are about people who love science fiction. How many times do your adult SF readers find themselves in a book?

From Publishers Weekly, all about the cover

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Twilight: The Movie

I watched Twilight.

And I liked it.

Especially this scene.

Carlie, appalled, insisted that I watch this instead right away to counter my joining Team Edward:

In my defense, I knew when I read the book and found it overwritten that it would work better, for me, visually. Also, the niece and nephew watched it and now want to be vampires (the good kind).

Finally, I realized that the scene above reminded me of something.... what could it be?

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Book Blogger Appreciation Week

So, Book Blogger Appreciation Week is September 14 - 18. The FAQ is up, and, of course, because I am the pickiest person on the planet I still have a bunch of questions. Like, what does "best" mean? Does someone have to post a review of day of just new books? Have contests and giveaways? Be around a certain amount of time? How is a review defined?

And -- OK, I'll be quiet now. But I overthink; it's what I do.

Because obviously, by the time my questions are answered -- that is, when we see the nominations and the process -- it will be too late for me to say "go, nominate the book blogs YOU think are best."

So go, nominate the book blogs you think are best.

No, there isn't a category for "overthinking everything."

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Teaser: Nikki & Deja: The Newsy News Newsletter

Nikki & Deja: The Newsy News Newsletter by Karen English. Illustrated by Laura Freeman. Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing. January 2010. Reviewed from ARC from ALA.

Teaser: The third book in a new series about third graders Nikki and Deja. Dialogue and classroom dynamics are sharply portrayed by English, herself an elementary school teacher. Children beginning to read chapter books will like this mix of illustrations and typical school day events (lost book club money, bossy friends, skateboard daredevils). While this book isn't out until 2010, the first two books in the series are available (Nikki and Deja, Nikki and Deja: Birthday Blues)

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Monday, July 27, 2009

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Forget Challenges

OK, OK, if you like challenges, don't forget them. Head over to Color Online Color Me Brown Challenge.

As Rasco from RIF points out: I realized I personally must commit to do more on this blog regarding books featuring people who are not mirrors of me and that I must do so in a conscious, planned manner.

So yes, do the challenge for August. Read three books about People of Color.

But don't stop there. Read and review books about people of color every month.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Getting The Books

I think it is important for bloggers to be aware; to ask questions, including questioning themselves. Which is why for the Liar issue, I think it is just as important to ask "what am I doing?" as to react to the specific book and publisher.

As I said in comments to my post Don't Judge A Book By Its Cover, that means thinking about books beyond "what are my friends reading," "what do I want to read next," "what does my library have," and "what have the publishers sent me." For book reviews, two things are important: knowing about the book and having access to it.

Color Online offered a tremendous list of resources for both knowing and getting in those comments and I wanted to highlight them in this post; all below are from Color Online so "I" doesn't mean me!

"1)Request your library buy it. Many will when a patron asks. I have a wonderful library system and every request has been purchased.

2)Look for dated POC on trade sites like Paperback.swap. I understand we can't buy every book we want to read. I know I can't.

3)Contact the author directly. Many will send you a copy. They don't have endless stashes but believe me they love being asked to review their books.

4)Send me a review of book by POC writer. Every month I do a drawing for a free book for reviews we publish.

5)Color Online hosts a trivia quiz. Same deal. Enter the drawing win a book. And winners pick their prizes from our Prize Bucket.

6)Book Loan Program at Color Online. For all active members at Color Online, I will loan you a book. Just pay for return shipping. I run a library with more than 3000 books. Our collection is 90% women 80% POC. "

Color Online follows this up at her website with a Challenge: Read and review POC books through the month of August. We'll have a random drawing for 3 reviewers at the end of the challenge.

Wondering what to read for the Challenge? Susan at Color Online offers this list of Great YA By or About Women of Color. When I see a list, I have to count. Of the current 47 titles, I have read ten.

I know that sometimes, when something is being spoken about in the blogosphere, people think "It's already been said; there's nothing new for me to add; I'm not going to post." Doret notes in a comment, "I've noticed many bloggers who don't review a lot of books featuring poc have decided to avoid this topic." Doret, I've noticed that, also.

I think bloggers need to speak up. Address this issue. Commit to reading and reviewing more books that feature people of color, whether it's officially (like the Challenge, above) or unofficially (like me, who tends not to be a challenge participant.) Bloggers are first and foremost readers, and readers who influence other readers; bloggers talking about books that feature people of color is a powerful message to send to publishers and authors.

Action is what is important at this point; and for bloggers, action is reading and reviewing.

Enough of that; I have books to read (a Nikki and Deja book) and reviews to write (Riot by Walter Dean Myers).

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Beyond Gossip Girls

Especially in light of the recent discussions about books (and their covers!) I wanted to post this for all NYC area readers:

The South Asian Women's Creative Collective (SAWCC) presents our next public event:

Beyond Gossip Girls: An Evening with Young Adult Authors, Neesha Meminger and Sheba Karim

Wednesday, July 29th, 7pm

Books and films for young adults have exploded onto the scene recently with the success of the Twilight series, Gossip Girl, Harry Potter, and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. How do teens of color fare amidst this explosion? What is it like to try to publish works with multicultural characters or characters of color in an industry clamoring for the next Twilight?

Join us for a reading and discussion with young adult novelists Neesha Meminger (author of Shine, Coconut Moon, Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster 2009) and Sheba Karim (author of Skunk Girl, Farrar, Straus & Giroux 2009). Meminger and Karim deal with issues ranging from the Sikh experience post 9/11 and single parenthood to body image and Muslim American identity, while providing cohesive narratives of South Asian American adolescences and their growing pains. Both authors will read from their new novels and discuss their different paths to publication and writing for a teen audience. Booksigning and reception to follow.


The Asian American Writers' Workshop
16 West 32nd Street, 10th Floor
(btwn 5th Ave and Broadway)
New York, New York

$5 suggested donation

For more information, visit

I won't be there; going to evening events in NYC is a bit of a challenge, logistics wise, and I'm already taking too much time off this coming week. Please, whoever attends, write it up and let me know the link to your blog report.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Don't Judge a Book By Its Cover

I think the main clue that Justine Larbalestier wasn't thrilled with the US cover for Liar was her use of the Australian cover for her twitter icon.

When I read Liar, which I loved, I closed the book and looked at the cover, extremely puzzled. Twisting and turning to make it work, I wondered, well, is this another lie? Is Micah telling a lie about being black? I thought that didn't make sense, in terms of the story. Slightly more sense making was that the cover was itself the lie: "you think this is what I look like, but it isn't." Except it was the type of sense that made one's head hurt. Still, I didn't want to believe the obvious --

That a white girl was put on the cover of a book about a black girl because otherwise, it wouldn't sell in bookstores and it wouldn't be checked out in libraries. Larbalestier blogs about it in more detail at her blog: "The notion that “black books” don’t sell is pervasive at every level of publishing"; Publishers Weekly reports on the cover, with the publisher, Bloomsbury, saying they hoped that what I thought (more evidence that Micah is a liar!) was the universal reaction; and even GalleyCat posted about it.

Here's my first question: If Micah was white, would the publisher have said, "hey, let's put a black girl on on the cover to show Micah's a liar!"

I don't think so.

Here's my second question: What are we doing to disprove the idea that "black books don't sell"?

I am white; looking at most of the reviews I've done in 2009, you'll see mostly white covers. Should I try to review more books with main characters who aren't white? Yes. Is it sad that, despite numerous bloggers and commentators noting that blogs don't review enough books about people of color, that it's a story about a book cover that motivates me? Yes.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Demon's Lexicon

The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan. Margaret McElderry books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. 2009. Reviewed from ARC picked up at ALA.

The Plot: Nick Ryves, 16, and his brother, Alan, 19, know only one thing: they have to keep one step ahead of the magicians. Why? Magicians get their power from demons; and the price they pay the demons? Human lives. Years ago, their mother, Olivia, had been a magician. She ran away and was saved by their father. Thing is, she took something from the magicians -- something valuable -- and they want it back. All the Ryves' brothers know is how to say one step ahead of the magicians. Sometimes it's close; 8 years ago, their father died when the family was almost trapped.

That is all about to change. Siblings Jamie and Mae come to Alan and Nick, looking for help. Jamie's been marked for possession by a demon. The struggle between the human host's soul and the demon is so powerful, the host always dies. It's a death sentence. Mae refuses to believe her brother will die; and despite the danger, Alan agrees to help. Nick cannot understand why Alan is willing to put them all in danger - it means instead of being hunted by magicians, they'll be the ones hunting. Is saving these two strangers worth it?

The Good: Hear the sound of shredding? That's me, shredding my few chapters of a book about a family with secrets hunting demons. Brennan does such a beautiful, wonderful job with this plot that I feel it's rather hopeless to go back to my draft.

The Demon's Lexicon has gotten a lot of buzz in the blogosphere; and as soon as I heard "brothers" and "demons" I thought "Winchesters" (in this case, British Winchesters) and knew I had to find a copy. I'll be honest; I'm sometimes disappointed by horror books. The main characters have a tendency to be too Mary Sue-ish for my taste; the magic lacks an edge.

Nick is sooooo not a Mary Sue (read Justine Larbalestier's take, but only if you don't mind the spoiler of a character description -- but not too spoilery!) Hunting hasn't made him weak and timid; quite the opposite. He has a collection of swords and knives and he's not afraid to use them. His mother is crazy - she favors Alan and barely looks at Nick.

Is this magic edgey? Oh yeah. It matters; people go mad, die, are doomed.

Alan and Nick are interesting brothers; there is something about Nick that reminded me of Dean Winchester, the son who unquestioning follows in his father's footsteps. The Ryves family may run - but they also know how to fight back. When Nick kills a magician, he knows he is killing a human; but he doesn't care. Alan, older, with a bad leg, glasses, appears to be the bookworm - but that would be underestimating him.

Don't underestimate Alan.

Their father left Alan, 11, as the man of the house. Alan has taken that charge very seriously. And by the end -- let me repeat. Don't underestimate Alan.

Brennan's characterizations of these two are very well drawn; we see things from Nick's perspective, from how he thinks and feels, and if it takes us a while to realize that Alan is the only person he cares about, it's understandable. Instead of first person, though, it's third person and this little bit of added distance actually helps create a fuller picture of Nick than a first person narrative ever could. Everything seems so understandable...until, suddenly, it doesn't. Masked in a horror story, Nick comes of age, questioning -- who is he? Why is he living this life?

The ending was so satisfying and the plotting so well done (and I sowanttosaysomethingaboutthetwistsandturnsbutthatwouldgiveitaway) that I got to the end and immediately reread the first few chapters. Would Brennan's writing and style hold up, once I knew where it ended? It did; if anything, it was better the second time around. I had no idea that this was part of a trilogy; I read it believing it to be a standalone. I'm quite pleased to find out there will be more books in this world.

Is it a favorite book of 2009? Hell, yes.


The Author's Playlist for this book

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Pigman

The Pigman by Paul Zindel. 1968. Audio copy provided by Graymalkin Media, publisher.

The Plot: High school sophomores John and Lorraine are best friends and opposites. John is an attention-seeking smart aleck who acts like he doesn't care about anything; Lorraine is quiet, with few friends, always analyzing but also always wanting to make sure she keeps John's respect and friendship by being up for anything and always willing to laugh at the world. Crank-calling "the pigman," Mr. Pignati is one of those jokes pushed to far. Yet it develops into an unlikely friendship, until John and Lorraine take things one step too far.

The Good: Can you believe I didn't read this book as a teenager?

The Pigman is over 40 years old; so how does it hold up? And let me say, thumbs up for the new cover. John smokes, the kids drink; it's rather amazing how easily both John and Lorraine buy cigarettes and liquor. The only cultural references that seemed really dated had to do with telephones; not only are there no cell phones, but there's a classmate whose family does not own a phone.

John is a mix of bravado and insecurity; he could fit into any classroom today. Same for quiet, book smart Lorraine; tho today's teens are probably more aware of the psych terms she throws out than the original readers were.

The parents are both dated and not; John is the traditional family with the businessman father who pushes his son and a mother who just seems to take a step back. She has no job or identity other than mother, part of which arises from the 1968 date and part from John only seeing what he wants to see. By the end of the book, despite John's self-imposed jadedness, we see a couple who had a surprise child late in life and recently faced a scary health crisis. Meanwhile, Lorraine is being raised by a single mother who can barely make ends meet and who is so concerned for her daughter's safety she tries to monitor her every step. If The Pigman were written today, no doubt we'd see more of the parents stories; its rather refreshing that this book lets teens be teens, concerned more with their own lives than their parents, with only small steps taken in seeing their parents as individuals.

It was refreshing to see how wonderfully thoughtless and self-involved John and Lorraine are about their actions, not only in how they impact the Pigman but also how they affect each other. Part of this story is about how the reader sees more, and learns more, than either John or Lorraine do about how interconnected we are and how actions have consequences.

I listened on audio, which was fab. It's part of the reason why I don't think the book is dated, and why kids will still like it. John's and Lorraine's voices are spot-on, with each relating one chapter. You feel John's snark, hear Lorraine's self doubt and hesitation, fall into agreement with them that if they have an empty house, why not have a party with a few friends? So I would say, invest in the new cover and the audio; and use the 1968 copyright date for book discussions about how things from 1968 (the phones, the parents) impact the broader story. And, when you're done, read The Pigman essay in Lizzie Skurnick's Shelf Discovery, because those essays are best read when you know the book.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Readers Choice

Or, you can't choose what you can't read.

More on the Readers Choice List over at the YALSA Blog. It's going to be interesting to see how this all works out, from rules to participation to end results. But then I'm a list girl so I love this type of stuff! There is also some talk of elitism (click the above link to read the full post.)

I still don't see how those books that are smaller, quieter, or not pushed by publishers are going to be able to be read by members, because the members won't have access. We aren't all privileged to work in well funded libraries with plenty of YA books; or multiple branch systems with books that easily flow from one branch to another. Heck, I've been reading of libraries considering cutting ILL or starting to charge for ILL. Personally, I don't work at a library that gets new YA books; my local library isn't particularly well funded, tho it is really cute; so I pay $100 a year to borrow books from my county. And I wonder if, with budget concerns, will this be one of the areas I cut back on. What about other people, other states?

Having worked with the Cybils, with a smaller number of readers, a more finite number of books, and some publisher support, I know it can be a real challenge to ensure that those who don't have money, don't belong to a well funded library system, don't have nearby bookstores with a variety of books, and don't get review copies, have the access to read the eligible books. The first year I spent over a hundred dollars on books and shipping to guarantee that nominated titles were being read by participants.

Look at what World Cat says about a handful of titles that I have blogged about:

Catching Fire at WorldCat 32 Libraries, and it's not published yet

Gringolandia at WorldCat 118 Libraries, May 2009

The Forest of Hands and Teeth at WorldCat 956 Libraries, April 2009

Flygirl at WorldCat 618 Libraries, January 2009

Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover at World Cat 389 Libraries, June 2009

The Forest of Hands and Teeth (which I loved) has also gotten tremendous support. Flygirl did, also; but one is zombies, and one is African American history, and one has over 300 more libraries carrying it than the other. (Of course, I didn't look to see how many copies of each book the libraries have.)

Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover came out one month after Gringolandia, but has 3 times the amount of copies as Gringolandia. One is by a NYT best selling author and is part of a best selling series; the other, a small press and historical fiction about the politics of Chile, and a family of political refugees living in America in the 1980s.

If I were totally obsessed (and it may seem like I am...but I'm not), I'd go to my local Barnes&Nobles and check out the shelves to see what they are carrying in their store.

I respect the YALSA members. But how can YALSA members embrace a book like Gringolandia or Flygirl in a Readers Choice award if they don't have access to the book to read? I'm very interested in how YALSA is going to address this issue for this List.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

You Think Publishers Don't Want to Control Your Content?

I don't want you all to think I don't like publishers. I do! Some of my best friends are publishers. Er, I mean work for them.

And I feel very, very strongly that blogs should have access to ARCs. One reason is that if blogs don't have ARCs, then it creates a monopoly by newspapers and magazines. Also, some bloggers may get ARCs because of other hats they wear (i.e., librarian, reviewer), so those blogs would be privileged over non-other-hat-wearing blogs. And I believe the bottom line about blogs is not so much WHO is writing as WHAT they are writing. And the kick-ass blog can come from NotNYC and NotLibrarian, and ARCS help make that happen.

Anyway. Point. Click over to Tasha's Kid Lit blog (the original!), and read about her exchange with a publisher at ALA. Here is the objectionable, bad behavour from publisher part (with me=Tasha)

Her: And if the numbers are good enough, we will send you ONE BOOK and IF WE LIKE HOW YOU HANDLE THAT TITLE YOU CAN HAVE ANOTHER ONE.

Me: (Blankly.) Oh?

Her: You can see that our titles have been embraced by the blogging community (Yes, there were several that were HUGE on blogs.) That’s because of this policy. It really works for us. (Yes, I bet it does. Didn’t doubt that for a moment.)

Me: I’ll have to think about that. I don’t do that with any other publisher I work with. It’s not how I do business.

Her: (Sudden change in demeanor. I think she just replayed our conversation and realized that she had completely misread the situation.) Well, we could send you hundreds of titles at a time. We wouldn’t hold you to one, necessarily.

Me: Well, I’ll think about it.

This is a problem; the idea that the publisher is treating the blogger NOT as an independent reviewer writing for a reader, but rather as someone auditioning for the job of official publisher reviewer writing for the publisher.

The further problem? This has CLEARLY worked with other bloggers. (Tho it is also possible that there are indeed new bloggers who are saying they are several years old and misrepresenting themselves...and that some people name their blogs things that sound like other people's blog names so that publishers get confused.)

I get review copies from the publisher Tasha spoke with. I have never had the publisher say to me that reviews had to be a certain way to get copies. I imagine it's what employee someone talks to; but it is also bloggers who not only accept being treated this way but who feed into it by saying, "send me a copy and see how I do, it's totally OK to act this way." No doubt publishers get mixed messages.

My message is clear: Thank you for the ARCs and Review copies that allow me to blog early about titles. And also thank you for realizing I am, as Tasha said, an independent reviewer.

And I hope other bloggers start thinking, seriously, about what they do, who the write for, and who they answer to.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Board Action Updates: BBYA

Thanks to Melissa Rabey for leaving this update in the Readers Choice post:

... [T]here were no actions taken regarding BBYA during the final meeting. Board members seemed split over whether to take action, and which action should be taken, vs. more exploration of the problems and proposed solutions for the BBYA issues. But I know that the Board is not going to let this drop; there will definitely be more discussion in the coming months, and I feel that the goal is that any changes made will take affect for the next BBYA group.

Please see my full report on my BBYA Board Meeting Post.

Edited to add: From the YALSA Blog, Linda Braun writing: During Annual Conference there was discussion of YALSA’s BBYA list including how the list is selected and how it is used. Following these discussions the YALSA Board decided that it needs to consider all of the feedback provided by members during conference. Using feedback from the Board and members, the Executive Committee of YALSA will work to develop a new strategy for BBYA that will be ready for Board consideration at Midwinter 2010.

My comments: Since we've all learned, I think (or at least me!) not to assume that something like this will be highlighted in the YALSA blog, YALSA listservs, or twitter, let's keep an eye on the YALSA Members Only page for Board Documents.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Modernizing Selected List Portfolio

More on the YALSA Board. These are my notes, my impressions, and while I've done my best to record it, it's limited to my pov. All errors are mine. It's not perfect; and I know this is very tl;dr

This Action Item, "Modernizing Selected List Portfolio," had one proposal: "Implement a phase-out of the Best Books for Young Adults Committee and list." This was originally scheduled for Saturday; as word spread, via Twitter and blogs and text messages and phone calls, word also spread that the Board would have discussion on this during their Monday meeting. Why the change? Because of scheduling conflicts with BBYA meetings; the Monday meeting would not have that conflict.

First thing to be clear about: at all times, the Board and Executive Committee were very respectful and mindful of membership.

These meetings follow set policies and procedures; its not an option. So, the first thing that had to be done? Make that change in the Agenda. Specifically, with no talk to the substance of the item, it was changed from an Action Item to a Discussion Item, to be discussed on Monday. There was even, I believe, a bit of talk of simply removing it from the Agenda altogether, except that members of the Board said that people were coming on Monday, wanted to speak on Monday, etc. Apparently, though, when something becomes a Discussion Item, there is still a chance for Action to take place on it. Oh, and for when the formal Board minutes etc are posted; this was also referred to as "Item 14" because it was the 14th item on the Agenda.

Flash forward to Monday morning, where instead of just two observers, there were well over 40 by my count, with standing/sitting on the floor room only.

Board Spoke First. Board Members: If I misquoted you, I apologize, email me/comment here and I will correct it. This is going from my notes and my trying to be track who said what, but it was a bit tough. Also, for readers, it is Board protocol to not repeat the points someone else already made. Finally, again, these are my notes. More may have been said that I didn't get to jot down.

Paula Brehm-Heeger said that BBYA has always been an issue at Board meetings because of the workload and the Board wants to take action on those issues.

Michele Gorman said she sees both sides and education is a component.

Beth Yokes said her mind is not made up (and noted she isn't a voting member) but that there is a compelling rationale to phase it out, and we are forward thinking to meet the changing needs of our members.

Melissa Rabey said that workload is an issue, and if that is the rationale let's consider changes to BBYA before sunsetting it.

Jerene Battisti was a member of the 09 BBYA and was very concerned about the statements in the rationale, especially those saying the list is not being used. She countered that, saying that the list has great impact in the wider community and is used. She mentioned this being a forum for thoughtful discussion; and that BBYA is a training ground for other selections lists; and is valuable for its combination of member backgrounds. Finally, that BBYA is an identifier -- people hear it and think YALSA and vice versa.

Kimberly Patton said she realized it was not perfect and used by all but that is true of all the selection lists and we're not talking about getting rid of other lists based on that.

Erin Helmrich spoke and my notes aren't readable, even by me.

Cindy Welch said that she recognizes and values the members here (IE the observers in the room) and those who have spoken up elsewhere and that she had issues with the rationale behind this as it now stands. She also mentioned the impact of BBYA on publishers and on teens.

Dawn Rutherford compared this to the cycle of fandom. BBYA has a fandom, but what does it mean? (OK, this note makes no change -- "Let's excite it for other committees"?") BBYA should continue, but with changes.

Sheila Schofer said that BBYA fills a need for membership and pointed out a past survey where 95.5% of the membership said they use BBYA. Does it need tweaking? Yes. She also noted that under the Strategic Plan, BBYA fits what is outlined in YALSA's Strategic Plan.

Mary Hastler pointed to the integrity of BBYA, noted that the workload issue could be addressed by virtual participation.

Gail Tobin said to think carefully before major changes are made.

Francisca Goldsmith said something about having no solutions.

Linda Braun said we need to think forward, internally and externally, about how we see ourselves and how others see us. and what will new librarians want.

Sarah Cornish Debraski ended, saying the questions of BBYA difficulties have always been before the board, BBYA cannot be hands off with no changes, we must be willing to embrace change.

Michele Gorman said we should move forward with solutions.

OK, this is Liz speaking now! As you can see from above, I think you'll agree with me that even without observers speaking, the Board seemed more inclined to tweak or change BBYA (either by what it covers or how it nominates/discusses book) rather than phase it out. I'd also say that the problem with coming up with solutions is we have to know what the problem is; and the rationales as listed in this Action item are disputed enough (especially who uses BBYA!) that it's hard to do a solution based on that. Also, the rationales fall into two very different camps: first, the usefulness of BBYA to membership (and using "usefulness" in its most broad sense); second, whether the workload of BBYA is so overwhelming as to not be feasible for BBYA to continue.

Back to the Meeting.

There were over 40 people in the meeting, and a limited time frame. The meeting HAD to end at a certain time; it was NOT an option to extend. So the Board began with allowing people to speak for up to 2 minutes and then had to change that to 1 minute. This was NOT PERSONAL. It was not done to limit voices. It was pure practicality.

OK, this is where I had an especially hard time following names; and because I was also preparing what I wanted to say, did not do a good job of regarding all the wonderful and thoughtful things people had to say.

Nick Buron spoke first, as someone who has served on Board and is aware of the complaints of how much time BBYA takes and the frustrations of the Board. He mentioned how last year he made a motion, an Action item, to change certain things to address that and it was not acted on; and why not change things? Why one year later suddenly the need to phase it out when last year an action to tweak was not acted on? And he pointed out that the final Additional Recommendations were similar to what he had suggested last year, and all made sense for a list that was continuing, not for a list being phased out.

Beth Saxton made the point that we are literature experts, and BBYA is part of that. I echoed that later, saying that we are literacy and literature experts; BBYA is part of it; and that new and future library students do see books (and BBYA) as being part of librarianship and part of why they join YALSA.

Rollie Welch (BBYA member and past chair) offered solid solutions having to do with the nomination process of books and how virtual discussions could work; others also pointed to changes in the nomination procedure, including how many books people could nominate, at what point a book had to be read by all, and what point real-meeting time discussion occurs and at what point virtual; and whether to remove adult titles, graphic novels, and/or non-fiction from BBYA's charge. (I'd like to add -- if the existence of the GN and NF lists/awards is a reason to eliminate BBYA, shouldn't those of us who supported those separate lists/awards have been made aware of that possibility?)

Several people spoke to how these lists are used (David Gill from ALAN/NCTE said they are used all the time with English teachers & education); professors said that based on their students, library students are interested in BBYA etc; many mentioned the usefulness of this list to collection development, management, and readers advisory.

In terms of teen impact, Kimberly Paone spoke how life-changing it was for her teens from Elizabeth NJ to speak at the BBYA meetings in Philadelphia a few years back, and that this list has and will change teens lives.

Victoria Stapleton of Little Brown (and a YALSA member!) spoke about how this impacts publishing, especially the quieter books, in terms of recognition, reprints, and paperback copies. I spoke later, referring to Alex Flinn's statements, about how this impacted a book, noting that forget publishers or authors pocketbooks -- without this going into paperback, teens wouldn't have it to read it, it wouldn't be in classroom sets, small budget libraries wouldn't buy it, and it wouldn't be on various state award lists. BBYA helps teens get the books they need and want by keeping them in print.

Walter Mayes spoke to education, not just in terms of how/when people use BBYA, but also in terms of who applies to be on. Don't apply if you don't know what you are getting yourself into, in terms of number of books read, etc. (A couple of other people made this point; yes, its a helluva lot of work, but that shouldn't be a surprise). (I'd add this thought: being I've applied practically every year of my professional YALSA involvement and not gotten on, and read basically a book a day etc., I'd love to know how it is decided from applicants who does get on.)

So many people spoke, with passion, with respect; and I'm sorry I don't have all your names and all the quotes. If others want to add or clarify to this, please do so in the comments or link to your own posts. Simply searching BBYA, even without a hashtag, finds many posts in Twitter.

I'll end with a current member from BBYA who said this was his professional goal and he loves it and doesn't want it to go away; yes, it's a lot of reading but he knew it and he still has time for his wife and four young kids so it's not an impossible task.

Where does this leave us? I don't know. I do know there was a board meeting on Tuesday, when most non Board members were already gone, in airports on planes. I haven't heard what action, if any, the Board took or will take. I assume that we'll find out via Twitter, Blogs, or the listserv when Minutes etc are posted.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Readers' Choice

As I posted last week, YALSA Board had an action item up before it: a Readers' Choice Award. I was not alone in believing there to be a link between that and the BBYA Action item (more on that another day), even tho (as I said in my original post) the two Actions did not refer to each other. The two Action items, in addition to being one right after the other on the Agenda, shared nearly identical Backgrounds; used similar phrases; and the proposed Readers' Choice List also referred to said list as a "Best Books for Teens -- People's Choice" (..."selection of the best books for teens"..."new list will serve as the YALSA resource for identifying the best books for young adults published in the previous 12-month period.")

School Library Journal published an article online about this (linking to this blog and quoting from this blog);* and at the YALSA Blog, Michele Gorman said: "The BBYA proposal does not call for the Readers’ Choice proposal to replace it; the Reader’s Choice proposal does not mention BBYA or any of YALSA’s booklists by name. They are two separate proposals, and they are just that - proposals."

I attended the YALSA Board Meeting on Saturday, when the Readers Choice item was discussed. The Board stated that these two proposals do not have anything to do with each other. What do I think, having sat in on this board meeting and the Monday board meeting? That these are indeed two different proposals; and that it was unfortunate that the second one used the term "best books". So, let's put the linkage of BBYA/Readers Choice aside.

Discussion around the Board basically made the following points (and please note, there could be errors in my reporting, I was unfamiliar with peoples names etc.) YALSA members who cannot go to conference want to participate in creating lists; there was a Wiki discussion on this;* and people want virtual participation. Whether a "people's choice" would exclude small publishers/ quiet titles/ diverse books was raised, but someone else asked where the proof/stats where to support this. It was also noted that some of the questions about HOW this would be done were premature and would be part of any task force (i.e., the Action item included an action for a task force to establish policies and procedures). Also, that an evaluation of how the list worked (or did not) would be part of the task force. Frankly, a lot of details (how this would be done, run, etc.) were not discussed because it would be part of any task force.

Discussion from observers was then allowed. There were only two of us there. I had three comments: first, that "Best Books" not be used in describing/naming this; that "People's Choice" not be used unless it was looked at from an intellectual property angle because of the entertainment industry's People's Choice Awards; and that regarding nominations/voting, how would YALSA members who are authors/editors/publisher employees be treated (i.e., they are usually not on selection committees, would they be allowed to nominate/vote). Sophie Brookover, the other observer, asked questions about the policies and procedures.

The Action Item was passed; the proposed name (subject to change by a task force, I imagine) is Members/Readers Choice.

I'm a bit torn about how useful this list may be. On the one hand, I'm lucky enough to go to conference and I served on the Printz. On the other, before that started I was one of those people wanting involvement in selection lists.

What I wanted and (still want) is not just about voting; but to have in depth discussions about books with other people. It's about discovering new books beyond the popular. Since it's what I want, I get it from other places -- heck, it's the reason I started this blog. Would me from five years ago want this? I don't know. But it will be interesting to see if it does meet a need for YALSA members. It will also be interesting to see if those of us not on selection committees who already found a place to discuss books -- blogs, listservs, GoodReads, Cybils, etc. -- will shift that discussion to whatever YALSA creates or uses for this new list.

Also, clearly different people mean different things when using the same terms. For example, when I think "virtual participation" in a list, I think a list with a concrete number of committee members interacting virtually, not thousands of people. I think, oh, allow virtual participation for BBYA, GGN, etc., not create a new list with a committee of thousands.

At the Board meeting, Melissa Rabey (a good friend, so I knew her when she spoke!) mentioned that this idea would have been good five years ago, and I have to agree that a time before blogs and GoodReads etc., this would have met a need. Now, it feels like it will be competing with other areas for people to read, discuss, and vote. Now, those other places don't have YALSA's name attached. So we'll have to wait and see what happens.

Being the former lawyer, I found the Board Meeting very interesting. Part of me really wants to run for Board; but that would be a pretty significant commitment time wise, in terms of the number of years a term is. Also, from the start of my being active in YALSA, what I have wanted is to be on Best Books for Young Adults.** To pursue being on Board (trying to get elected, etc.) would pretty much mean giving up that goal.

* Personally, I do not like Wikis as a method for discussing things. I prefer listservs and blogs; wikis I view as reference, not as discussion forums. So it was a bit of surprise to me to find out about this; especially as often I do see things that are proposed to the Board (such as the Older Teens Task Force) mentioned outside the Wiki.

** Yeah, I know.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Monday, July 13, 2009

Shelf Discovery

Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading by Lizzie Skurnick. Avon, an imprint of HarperCollins. 2009. Copy supplied by publisher.

I feel like I should put a disclosure in this review -- Lizzie Skurnick is my best friend.

The problem with such a disclosure is, of course, that Skurnick and I have never met. (I hope Skurnick isn't now on the phone to her lawyers, reporting me as a potential delusional stalker). But having read Skurnick's essays on teen books, Shelf Discovery, I am convinced that somehow we are friends. How else to explain how she wrote about my favorite books? She has snuck into my house and looked at my bookshelves; she has remembered the titles I have forgotten; she has eavesdropped on my fifth, seventh, ninth grade self as I sat and talked books with my friends.

One big difference exists between the child/teen reader I was and the one I am; at age ten, eleven, thirteen I said I loved a book; that someone had to read a book; I knew I was getting something important from a book. But to put it into words? No. Skurnick takes those best loved books, treats them (and the young reader) with respect, and, as an adult, explains why, exactly, that book worked so well for the reader. At times I nodded along with agreement (yes, that's exactly why!); and at others, I was hit with the sudden realization of just WHY a book meant so much to me.

Skurnick on V.C. Andrews: "Andrews writes like a non-native speaker who has done time in a jail where they only show 1960s sitcoms and One Life to Live, and my small heart aches and blood runs from many small paper cuts as I read her, beating my small fists on the pages." Not only does Skurnick explain Andrews' style, she also imitates it. Honors it. And here is the thing -- upon occasion, as here, Skurnick brings the snark but done the right way. With love.

Because Skurnick is writing about the books she loved, these are books that were published in the 60s, 70s, and 80s (with a handful of titles, like Understood Betsy that are even earlier). Books that were out, and read, before the current golden age of YA. They are the books that we, the readers in the 70s and 80s and 90s, chose to read. Wanted to read. Found, ourselves, on library shelves, in classrooms, passed on from a friend, picked up at a garage sale, found in a bookcase at home. And while there is a so-called classic or two among these pages (because even classics can be loved), most are not. They are classics in our hearts; because we remember and love them; not because of committees and teachers and assigned summer reading and classroom book discussions.

Reading this is like a discussion with a friend; Skurnick throws out a reference to Canby Hall totally assuming we will know exactly what she is talking about; and we do. And smile a little. And wonder if somewhere we have one of the Canby Hall books, to revisit. The jacket covers shown for the books are not the current ones but the ones that we had; and no matter how much we may think they are "bad" now and know that they wouldn't be picked up by any reader today, they are ours, our firsts, so we love them best and want that. exact. copy from eBay to replace the one lost or stolen or thrown out or sold at a garage sale.

A handful of the books reviewed were also reviewed at Skurnick's Fine Lines column for Jezebel; but even those essays have been revised. While some adults will (like myself) remember reading these books (even if we forgot the title of Beat the Turtle Drum we totally have memorized "if we were all on a boat and the boat capsized, and we had only one life jacket, they would put it on Joss"), others (I know from talking to the parents in libraries) have blanked out the books of their childhood and teen years. They forget that yes, teen books did have s.e.x. (please reprint Norma Klein); and gay characters; and bad things happened liked YOUR PARENTS SENT YOU TO CAMP TO KILL YOU. Good lord, the current parents who are so sensitive on behalf of their children (but really are sensitive as to how they are being portrayed in fiction to children, it's not really about their kids but about them) need this reminder of just how godawful the parents were in the books we read.

Having finished Shelf Discovery, I want to reread old favorites with the new insights from Skurnick. I want to track down the books I had never heard of. But I also want to pick up the phone, call Skurnick (tho if we're friends I guess I can call her Lizzie) and say, what, no A Summer to Die? No The Last of Eden? And she'll say, Liz, I included To Take a Dare, what more do you want from me? No one else on the planet knows that book, so be quiet already. And I'll pull out my copy of To Take a Dare and say, remember how Chrysta's dad wouldn't give her the pills, and we'll just continue talking about the books.

Twitter Review

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Buh-bye, BBYA

Sorry this will be quick & short & not finely edited.

YALSA's Board is meeting at Annual; do I usually read the Board documents, unless they are highlighted somewhere thru a message to YALSA BK or the YALSA Blog? No. So when Jen Hubert began reading them yesterday, as I was packing, and shared the information that YALSA Board was entertaining a proposal to eliminate BBYA, I thought she was kidding.

Right after this proposal (so apparently linked to it) is a proposal to instead have a "Readers Choice" when anyone can vote on a short list and then all members can use that short list to vote on a top 5 per category, and that is the New BBYA: Reader's Choice.

I had heard & supported the idea that BBYA needed tinkering -- say, remove GNs from BBYA because there is now a GN list. Or open BBYA up to allow virtual attendance by committee members for Midwinter. I had no idea it was to: "implement a phase out of the Best Books for Young Adult Committee and list"

Source: (you need to be a YALSA member to access): Modernizing Selected List Portfolio (and cheers to Jen, who found this despite the title not saying BBYA and BBYA being the only list being "modernized")

Instead, we get a Reader's Choice award, which is not about opening up committee slots for virtual members but about organizing a popular vote with anyone voting to create a short list, then YALSA members voting for a top 5. (I'll let the math/statistics among you realize that smaller, quieter books and small publishers won't have a chance in this type of arrangement).

I say "instead of" because Readers Choice List, while not mentioned in Modernizing, follows that proposal immediately on the agenda.

I plan to rearrange my schedule and other commitments to attend these meetings. Please comment here to let YALSA know what you think, or blog about it, or Tweet it.

Oh, reasons for getting rid of BBYA:

-- there is overlap with other lists, like adult, nonfiction and GN. (my reply: then narrow BBYA to fiction).

-- number of books published for YA has increased (query: how many books does ALSC's Notables read?)

--membership wants greater participation in list selection. (my reply: then open up the list selection to virtual members! don't remove a list, therefore limiting members' options, and replace it with a participation that will mean little is "I voted for Readers Choice" going on a resume?).

-- BBYA is not useful. (my reply: It's useful to me!!! For collection development, creating booktalks, booklists, etc.)

-- workload issues amongst Committee members. (my reply: see above, for narrowing the scope).

As for Readers Choice; I'm packing. Could I support this in addition to BBYA? Yes. But instead of? I don't have enough time to discuss it. Just: NO.

Edited to add: Alex Flinn does a great job of both explaining the importance of BBYA & the flaws in using Readers Choice as a substitute.

Cindy Dobrez & Lynn Rutan at Bookends share their opinion.

I WILL HAVE LIMITED ABILITY TO EDIT THIS DURING ANNUAL. So PLEASE if you post something about this, include your link in the comments because I will not be able to edit this post for much longer.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The Sweet Life of Stella Madison

The Sweet Life of Stella Madison by Lara M. Zeises. Delacorte Books/Random House. 2009. Copy supplied by publisher for review.

The Plot: Stella Madison is the 17 year old daughter of foodies; and not just any foodies. Her father is a world famous French chef; her mother owns and runs the "Open Kitchen" restaurant. Stella's idea of fab food? Burger King. Kraft Mac'n'cheese. Yet somehow, she's gotten herself a gig at the local paper, reviewing restaurants. Luckily, Jeremy, the new (and cute!) intern at her mom's restaurant is there to help her out. (Did I mention cute? And older? And flirtatious?) But what about world's best boyfriend, Max? Oh, yeah. Maybe life isn't so sweet.

The Good: Romance, self-discovery, humor, good food, what's not to love?

You could hear the pain in her parents' voices from Stella not inheriting their tastes. But at the same time, they have a good enough sense of humor -- or at least her Mom does -- to laugh at the idea of Stella writing about restaurants. It's nice how Zeises has her cake and eats it, too. The young foodies who read this will swoon (as I did) over the menus from the guest chefs at Open Kitchen; the fast food crowd will grimace with Stella and look forward to the hot dogs. Parents like Laura will say "please God, not my child. My child will love blue cheese."

Of course, there is more to food than meets the eye. Turns out, Mom and Dad, while not divorced, have been separated for six years. And that Dad, as the dedicated chef and wine lover, leaves every year for four months of traveling, tasting, and drinking in France and not once has brought Stella. Suddenly, Stella's rejection of what her parents center their lives around makes a whole lot more sense.

Now, onto Stella, Max (the boyfriend) and Jeremy (the intern). This is a great triangle for a couple of reasons. First, don't you hate triangles where one guy is so obviously wrong that the girl looks stupid? That doesn't happen here. Second, don't you hate how complex emotions are looked at in a simplistic way? Again, not happening here. Stella may call herself "boy obsessed" but quite simply she is attracted to two very different guys at the same time. There is no simple "Team Max" or "Team Jeremy" (That said, I'll let you know in the comments what Team I'm on). In the real world, attractions can be complicated and messy. And also fun and flirty.

Stella works through her issues -- with parents, food, and boys -- in a tightly plotted book that (not counting epilogue) covers just a few weeks. Several things are going on in Stella's life and the three story lines intertwine and balance each other. This book is a tidy 228 pages; it is so refreshing, after several-hundred-page megabooks, to have a return to a book whose length won't scare readers away.

You know, I have to take something back. Stella doesn't have issues with food -- she has issues with not liking the same food her parents do. No food issues here -- which brings us to another great about both Stella, and Zeises for writing Stella. She's not size two. She's described as normal and healthy; cute ("criminally cute", actually); both boys like her; and at one point, Stella mentions the size of a shirt she wants as being either an 8 and 10. She talks about cute clothes and two piece bathing suits. Thank you, thank you, thank you for a book about a girl who really is a normal size, and eats normally, and her size and eating and diet is never an issue. Because that size? Despite what magazines and tv shows tell us? THAT is normal and healthy and cute.

For the grown ups: guess what? Open Kitchen is real! Or kind of. Due to my mad Google skillz (and Zeises's author's note) I found Celebrity Kitchens in Wilmington, Delaware. Which is basically the Open Kitchen model: famous guest chefs cook in front of the audience, sharing their specialties. It's only two hours from my house; maybe it's doable on a Saturday...

I'd also like to point out something about Zeises. You know how it's all about the online tie-ins for book? Zeises did that years ago. No, really; in 2004, she had a blog for the character of Lucy Doyle from Contents Under Pressure. Five years ago, Zeises realized and used the power of the Internets to promote her books.

And, also? Sometimes I'm slow. It took my to page 194 to realize that Zeises was pulling a L'Engle/Dessen by referring to characters from other books. I KNOW. Isn't that awesome?

More awesome; Zeises is fairly blunt about the business aspect of YA at her blog. If you believe authors write to express creativity and don't, you know, pay bills or have vet bills for sick dogs, don't read it. She also shares recipes (because, like Stella's parents, she's a foody).


Bookends, A Booklist Blog review
Bedtime Booktalks review
Twitter review

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Monday, July 06, 2009

Hana's Suitcase

Hana's Suitcase by Karen Levine. Audiobook from Brilliance Audio. 2009. Copy supplied by Brilliance.

The Plot: Fumiko Ishioka, curator of the Tokyo Holocaust Education Center, receives a child's suitcase from Auschwitz to display at the center. A name: Hana Brady. A birthdate: May 16, 1931. Who was Hana? What happened to her? The horror of the Holocaust is told in the dual stories of Hana and Fumiko's efforts to find out who she was. Non-fiction.

The Good: Hana's Suitcase is a child's nonfiction book that is full of pictures, illustrations, drawings; things that bring the story alive. How could a book that is so dependent on seeing what Hana looks like translate to audio?

It does; two stories unwind, skipping back and forth between Hana's story and Fumiko's efforts to uncover the story of one child. An ordinary child, an ordinary life. Until War World II. Yes, this is good history; but it's also the story of being a history detective. We follow Fumiko step by step as she tries to uncover Hana's story, researching, looking into archives, sending letters. Hana's story is revealed to us so that we know a little more than Fumiko -- but so slowly that we don't know the answer to what happened to Hana until Fumiko finds out.

There is nothing in the text that doesn't make sense; no reliance on photos or illustrations unseen. The Hana's Suitcase website has many photographs for the reader who wants to see what Hana, George, and their parents looked like.

Oh. In looking to find out more about Hana and her family (especially the aunt and uncle) I found this CBC report on Life After Auschwitz. Which led me to discover that the suitcase is a replica. As Lara Hana Brady says, it's about the people, not the items.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Sunday, July 05, 2009

What Does "Best" Mean?

Over at the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof writes about The Best Kids' Books Ever.

There's a bit of a logical fallacy with a twist of semi-research involved is wanting to write about kids books: I was aghast to learn that American children drop in I.Q. each summer vacation — because they aren’t in school or exercising their brains.

Considering all of us who have been blogging and writing about the assigned summer reading, Kristof's "we need summer reading lists" makes some of us sigh. He may not state it explicitly, but he's really talking about how kids who don't read on their own over the summer can be encouraged to read. Which, frankly, involves more than a "best kids' books" list.

Kristof then makes the leap to "these are the books I/my kids loved, so they are great for everyone!" Conversation at his blog then turns to "my favorite books."

And you know what?

That's cool. I don't agree that the books Kristof and his kids think are "the best" are going to be "the best" for everyone; and reluctant readers need more than an assigned reading list to discover the joys of reading. But this is his personal favorite list -- and you know what? That's cool.

Everyone has their own favorites; and Kristof isn't the first to think his personal favorites are universal. Parents do it all the time -- and so do librarians, teachers, and other readers. Actually, everytime a librarian tells me they only booktalk books they love, I back away a bit, because they are doing what Kristof is doing -- only recommending personal favorites. At this blog I do review books that may not be my personal favorites but that I know, upon reading, will be favorites for others.

On a side note, he recommends On to Oregon! (aka Seven Alone). Tea Cozy readers know how that really ended; I wonder if Kristof does?

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy


I am attending the ALA Annual Conference in Chicago.

I will be signing my book, Pop Goes the Library.

I will be at the Printz Reception on July 13th.

Hope to see you!

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Friday, July 03, 2009

ALA: Sophie & I will be signing our book

The following authors will be signing at the Information Today, Inc. booth [#4525] on

Saturday July 11 from 1:00 — 2:00 p.m.

Tasha Squires, author of Library Partnerships: Making Connections Between School and Public Libraries

Pop culture mavens Sophie Brookover and Elizabeth Burns, authors of Pop Goes the Library: Using Pop Culture to Connect With Your Whole Community

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Get It Now: July 2009

The following books were reviewed from ARCs; the official publication dates are here so you can find them in stores and libraries.

The Treasure Map of Boys be E. Lockhart

Crash Into Me by Albert Borris

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Teaser: Leviathan

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. Illustrated by Keith Thompson. Simon Pulse, Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing. Publication Date October 2009. Reviewed from ARC from BEA.

Steampunk adventure: What if the two sides of World War I were separated by philosophy and machines, with one side being "clankers" who build steam powered machines and the other being "Darwinists" who manipulate DNA to create new animals who exist just to be beasts of burden?

And let's change history a bit, so that Franz Ferdinand leaves behind a fifteen year old son who just may have a chance at the throne -- and to change history. And let's say a fifteen year old girl has bluffed her way into the British Air Service, posing as a boy.

Put that all together, add Scott Westerfeld as the writer and Keith Thompson as the illustrator, and you get one high-flying adventure.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Crash Into Me

Crash into Me by Albert Borris. Simon & Schuster. Publication date July 2009. Copy supplied by Classof2K9.

The Plot: Owen's on a road trip with Frank, Audrey and Jin-Ae. It's not your typical group of friends. Their shared interest: suicide. They four teens are on a road trip to visit the graves of famous suicides. The trip will end in a suicide pact.

The Good: Crash Into Me starts with a gripping first line: "The third time I tried to kill myself I used a rope." From that moment on, you're pulled into Owen's life, wondering, will their be a next time?

These four teens aren't friends; well, not real life friends. The four met online, sharing their fascination with suicide and their own past attempts. Frank's was years ago; Jin-Ae, more recent; Owen has the most repeats (six, maybe seven if you count walking down a highway, tempting fate, waiting for a truck to come by to jump in front of); Audrey, the youngest, jumped off a roof and broke her legs, has scar on her head from hitting herself with a frying pan.

As the road trip moves from Boston (Anne Sexton) to Idaho (Ernest Hemingway), these four bond and find out more about each other. Jin-Ae is a lesbian who cannot tell her family; Frank loves sports but isn't good enough to compete so drinks; Audrey's father is in jail; and Owen's brother is dead and his father left the family.

These four are serious enough about suicide to make a pact; to talk over details; but it also quickly becomes clear that all are depressed. Suicide is an escape. An answer. For Jin-Ae, death is better than telling her parents the truth. Frank says, "there's no, like, way out of my family." Audrey tells him, "Just live your own life." "I can't," he answers.

This is more than just a morbid road trip. For each teen, it's the first time away from the family and friends that have failed them. Perhaps they can learn that they can live their own life. Early on, Owen thinks "I don't know if I want to die. I just want to be happy. I want to feel better."

Readers will root for Owen, the narrator, silent, lonely, and with his multiple attempts, the one who seems most serious; but as he comes out of his shell, as he begins to care for his fellow "suicide dog" pack, will he change his opinion of himself? His past? His life? Will he be happy? Can he feel better?

Borris has a great ear for dialogue; each teen is fully fleshed out and their banter is true to life. The parents are absent, seen from the view of their children, and their failings are all too human. A mother who cannot recover from the death of a child, a woman who married the wrong man, parents who see their daughter as they want her to be, a father who wants a star athlete son.

There is also humor! Top ten lists (Top Ten Weird Celebrity Death Sites) plus, well, teens being teens and goofing off and having fun.

Borris also takes a close look at society's obsession with not just dead celebrities, but suicides. Audrey is fascinated by Kurt Cobain; Jin-Ae is a Sylvia Plath girl (but they visit Anne Sexton because Plath is buried in England). While Audrey listens to Nirvana, and Jin-Ae reads Plath's poetry, there are other suicides about whom the teens know more about their deaths than their lives.

My 48 Hour Review
Press Release
Guest Post From Senior Editor at Simon Pulse on Crash Into Me (at Class of 2K9)
Director of Publicity at Simon Pulse on Crash Into Me (at Class of 2k9)
The Compulsive Reader review

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy