Monday, August 31, 2009

Julie & Julia

Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen by Julie Powell. Little Brown, 2005. Paperback edition renamed Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously. Reviewed 2005 hardcover; personal copy.

The Plot: One of the first "book based on blog," this recounts Julie Powell's year long obsession with making every recipe in Julia Child's Mastering The Art of French Cooking, Volume One.

The Good: Believe it or not, I bought this back in 2005, when it first came out, but only got around to reading it now because of the movie version of the book, Julie & Julia. I cannot wait till that film is on DVD.

I really enjoyed Powell's memoir; what led her to start cooking Julia Child's book, and to blog about it. Thankfully, Powell never calls what she was going through as any type of "life crisis" (seriously, one of my pet peeves is the whole quarter life crisis etc.) What she is going through is something that is not so uncommon: feeling adrift in your own life. We live in such a driven culture, where the young achiever and go-getter is the one who is given prestige and honor, that we need reminders: not everyone knows what they want to be, and goes for it, at age 14. Or 18. Or 21. Or 25. Or, for that matter, at 35, 40, 45. Or, people may know what they want -- and life happens and they, wait for it, change their mind. But because, again, we're in a culture that demands you know, at every moment, your endgame, the idea that someone doesn't know is viewed as wrong. The idea that what one wants may change is viewed as negative. I still get odd looks because I changed careers, as if there is something wrong, with me, for changing my mind. And I'm sure, should I change careers again, I'd get the same looks. The only acceptable path, it seems, is the one where you know from age 14 what you want and go for it and anything else is less.

But it's not just twentysomething Powell that this is about -- it's not just Powell reinventing herself as a writer. It's also about Child, who reinvented herself as cook and writer in her 30s and 40s.

So here we have Julie Powell: in a dead end job that pays the bills, lacking anything to be really passionate about, and deciding to put that passion into a slightly odd cooking project. I love her honesty about this, about her searching. I love how in her own memoir, she isn't afraid to show her own flaws -- and despite this, no, because of it, she remains likable. But I have to make a disclosure: she likes Buffy! You know I'm going to love anyone who loves Buffy.

While there are things in the book about cooking, and the cooking project, this is so much more. Powell created a narrative around that project; those interested in the actual Julie/Julia cooking experiment can check out the Julie/Julia blog, which is still around. So, a handful of recipes are mentioned and described, but not each. and. every. one. Instead, it's her life, her friends, and what she learns along the way.

What's also interesting is the real person versus the imagined; Powell at times imagines a scenario from Child's life. At the end of the book, she finds out that Child knows about her project and is less than impressed. Ultimately, Powell realizes that the "book" Julia Child is who matters to Powell, not the person. But isn't that true of many of us, who think we "know" someone? Here among book bloggers, how many people think they know an author or blogger based on there words? But, really, don't. And does it really matter? I read Meg Cabot's blog (and love when she comments here or otherwise throws out a shout out to this blog), and am secretly convinced that if we met we'd be best buds and spend our time watching TV and movies and eating. But, really, I don't know her. Not really.

Finally, as a blogger, I love the blog stuff! The happiness over comments, the oddness of people you don't know knowing you, the realization that real people read your blog.

Powell's next book is out this December, and is called Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession. Do I care about butchery or butchering? Nope; but I love Powell's voice, so cannot wait for it to be published.

Am I inspired to start French cooking? Are you crazy? It's like 80 degrees in the shade! My kitchen doesn't have air conditioning! Plus I'm trying to lose weight! I don't have the time, hello, I blog, don't make involved French recipes. But if you are so inspired, invite me over.


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

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Norma Klein

Readers know I like Norma Klein. So yay, here is a great article about her: Teen Shpilkes
Young-adult novelist Norma Klein taught me about sex and feminism, in a very Jewish world
by Eryn Loeb at Tablet: A New Read on Jewish Life.

One of the things I don't like about both the blogosphere and current Internet culture is it's all so "this five minutes." It seems like authors and books who existed pre-Internet days disappear and are unknown. I think that's part of the reason I adore Lizzie Skurnick's Shelf Discovery; it's about the books we may have blogged about and shared if blogs had been around.

Anyway, Loeb captures all I remember and love about Klein; and why I wish they were back in print. And, sorry to be repeating myself, but she remains my go-to author when I say, "yes, there WERE books for older teens back in the day.... yes, they DID talk about (and have) sex."

In Loeb's words: In Klein’s stories, everyone lives or ends up in New York, a city populated by secular Jews who keep yellowing back issues of the New York Review of Books stacked on their coffee tables (and where Klein herself was born and lived for most of her life). The parents are often professors or writers, friendly, progressive types who love their children but insist on having their own lives, too. They all own The Joy of Sex and are happy to discuss its contents with their precocious, introspective offspring, but those kids would rather study it furtively on their own. There are affairs, divorces, abortions, ardent feminists, gay characters, and lots of sex—all portrayed with Klein’s distinctive casualness and honesty, at a time when nearly all of those things were destined to stir up controversy.

Guess what? These things STILL stir up controversy. If it weren't for the fact I have no time for challenges, etc., I'd say we needed a Norma Klein Challenge!

Go, read the article. Because I want to copy the entire thing here. And I want to now haunt used bookstores for Klein.

Link from Jenny Schwartzberg, Newberry Library.

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

Friday, August 28, 2009

Did You See that EW Article?

Entertainment Weekly has a review of Catching Fire.

Don't read this, or that, if you want to be spoiler free.

First, let me point out that this proves my point that a blog review can be more professional than a professional review. Tho, some blog reviews can be like this Catching Fire review. It's not about the method of publication; it's about the writer.

What is wrong about the EW review? First, in trying to be pithy it is inaccurate.

"In between romantic daydreams, Katniss shot strange beasts, dodged force fields, and battled murderous zombie werewolves — usually while wearing fabulous glitzy outfits."

I'd say most of Katniss's daydreams in the Hunger Games before the Games were about food, and after were about survival. Much as I'll argue for Team Peeta, these books are not romances. Plus, um, werewolves? How does this reviewer define werewolves? And the glitzy outfits were BEFORE the Games.

". . . — this being a teen novel — she also has boyfriend problems. For PR purposes, Katniss pretends to be in love with her sweet-natured Games teammate Peeta Mellark, but she secretly pines for brooding Gale, a childhood friend. . . . Collins conjures none of the erotic energy that makes Twilight, for instance, so creepily alluring." OK. So no adult novel has boy/girlfriend problems? Oh, right, if its adult then it's just chicklit. Eye roll. And, as a firm member of Team Peeta, "sweet natured"? Um, no. That's the POINT. He appears to be sweet but is quite clever and cutthroat. And Gale as "brooding"? OK, I'm not Team Gale but there are ton of better ways to describe Gale than brooding. What, she's trying to turn him into Heathcliff? But the final sentence shows what this is about -- not Peeta, not Gale, but the reviewer wanted to read a romance like Twilight. And saw Gale as Edward...huh? I

Let's all say it together to her at once, because she may then hear and get it. In the words of the brilliant Carlie at Librarilly Blonde, "It's not fair for to give Catching Fire a bad review because it's not what Ms Reese wanted it to be. You might as well get mad at a pair of pumps for not being a pair of Wellington boots."

You want to read a romance? Fine; but when the book isn't a romance, DON'T BLAME THE BOOK. Man, why is EW paying this person when there are a dozen bloggers out there (including me and Carlie and you) who could do a better job with half a keyboard. Jeesh.

The author describes [Katniss] wearing a series of Cher-worthy costumes in which she confronts poisonous mists, deranged monkeys, and a flock of ''candy pink'' birds equipped with long beaks used to skewer human necks.

Readers, raise your hand if at this point you're convinced the reviewer did not read the book. The "Cher worthy costumes" end BEFORE THE "CONFRONTING."

I'm not pissed about the review. Seriously.

I'm pissed EW paid someone MONEY to write this.

Edited to add: PS: Time shows you how it's done. A review (but SPOILERS) of CF.

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

The Actor and the Housewife

The Actor And The Housewife by Shannon Hale. Bloomsbury USA. 2009. Copy from BEA.

The Plot: Becky Jack is sitting in a Hollywood office, selling her screenplay to a producer. Who would have thunk it! Becky, a Mormon housewife, seven months pregnant, happily married to Mike, three young kids at home, in Hollywood. It's surreal. And gets more odd when Felix Callahan -- yes THAT Felix Callahan, the totally hot A list British actor married to a French model -- walks into her meeting. One comment leads to another and the next thing you know, Becky and Felix are.... friends?!?

The Good: This was one weird ass book. And I mean that in a good way. This book doesn't fit into any one genre; if you go in with certain expectations, chances are, you'll be puzzled, at the least.

What IS this book about? Friendship. Pure, simple, complicated, teasing, flirting, friendship. When can a married woman and a married man who are NOT married to each other be friends? The type of BFFs when just thinking about the other person makes you smile? With shared jokes and banter and giggles?

Wait, you say. That's not friendship! That's romance.

Is it?

Hale explores just that issue -- when can two people of the opposite sex be friends. What is friendship? And what is romance? What is love? What creates temptation? Should any temptation be avoided? Does that mean locking oneself away? If there is banter and a connection, does that mean there is, or could be, something more? Hale raises some uncomfortable questions and explores some touchy issues, and does so during an eleven (eleven!!) year period in the lives of Becky and Felix

There is more! There is Becky, who is so, well, normal and happy that you almost -- almost -- cannot stand her because she has the perfect family, perfect children, perfect husband, and now perfect best friend in Mr. Famous Felix. Hale weaves in things, puts things together, so Becky isn't perfect, but is likable and normal and very nextdoorish. While Felix is, well -- I'm sure every reader will picture a different famous actor in the Felix role. For the record? Hugh Grant. Also? For some reason, I picture Patricia Arquette as Becky, probably because she is so nextdoorish in Medium and Joe reminds me of Becky's husband, Mike. Except, just for the record, Becky Jack is not a medium and does not solve crimes. This book isn't THAT weird ass.

But this is more than an examination of life, love, and relationships. It's also funny! Laugh out loud, wishing you had said it, wishing you had that friend funny. I giggled my way through the book. Becky and Felix's banter are something out of, well, a Hollywood movie. Here is the dialogue from their first meeting, where they have literally, just met. And remember, Becky is seven months pregnant, and in a real person way, not a Hollywood model way. By coincidence, they are walking into the same restaurant, in that uncomfortable together but not together moment, Becky ahead of Felix.

Becky: Anyway, just so you know, I'm not following you.

Felix: Technically, I'm following you.

Becky: Yeah, I didn't want to mention that. You should do horror movies -- you're kind of creepy.

Felix: I get that a lot. People magazine's Creepiest Man of the Year, Lifetime's Top Ten Hunks Who Give Us The Willies, that sort of thing.

Becky: Where do you keep all the trophies?

Felix: In an abandoned shed in the forest.

Becky: Infested with bats and rusty farm equipment?

Felix: Naturally.

Becky and Felix appear to be opposites; but they fall into a patter, a way of looking at the world, that is similar. Each is, well, a good, decent, person. Felix, for example, interrupts Becky's business meeting by accident and realizes she is about to sell her screenplay without an agent. Felix steps in and tells her what terms to negotiate. (Wondering what favorable terms to ask for when selling an option on your screenplay? Page 17.)

One of the (many) areas that Becky and Felix have nothing in common is religion. This is one of those rare books that includes religion (Becky & family are Mormons) just as part of who the people are. Prayer, church attendance, etc. are just woven into the fabric of their lives.

Hale is best know for her fantasy books for teens (as well as Austenland). This, on the other hand, is realistic fiction. Except it's almost a fantasy... c'mon, a regular person who just happens to become best friends with famous actor? And he turns out to be an awesome guy? Yeah, there is a fantastical element here, for anyone who has daydreamed about meeting Mr Perfect. And being there friend. But maybe that's just me. Oh, and Ally Carter and George Clooney.

For those of us interested in covers, I found that the image up at Amazon and the one I had were different. See the photo to the side here? How different it is from the real cover, above? Subtle differences; here, on what I imagine is an earlier draft of the final photo the housewife is way more formal the Becky Jack: hair in an up do and pearls. The real cover has long hair, less formal, and a pie that looks more enticing. Plus, the actor -- here, if you look at it quick, as I did, you don't realize it's the actor but think it may be the housewife's legs. (Just me? Really?) The real cover shows more of the actor than his chin -- we also see his smile -- and that defines the shoulders more, so it's clearer there is a second person.


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

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Perfect Chemistry


Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles. Walker & Co. 2009.

The Plot: Brittany Ellis. White, rich, all the latest clothes, a brand new car. Alejandro "Alex" Fuentes, Mexican, member of the Latino Blood gang. A chemistry teacher who insists on alphabetical order makes these opposites chemistry partners; but will opposites attract?

The Good: Perfect chemistry? Try perfect romance instead!

Brittany and Alex are real, live, breathing people, as are the supporting characters. I'm in love with all these people!

Brittany Ellis -- rich and spoiled, right? But her outward perfection is a desperate attempt to make everyone believe she is a perfect daughter, perfect student, perfect friend because at home things aren't perfect. She creates a fake life of outward appearances, trusting no one; but she still has truths she holds onto. Brittany loves her sister, who has cerebral palsy, and will do anything to help her sister. Brittany has the strength to know her own heart and mind. Since Perfect Chemistry is told in alternating chapters, first Alex, then Brittany, we see how others see her, and her truth. And yes -- she can be bitchy. And dishonest. But she also is committed to her sister and her family.

Alex Fuentes is what he looks like: a gang member, like his father before him. But what you cannot tell from looking at him: he dreams of college and escape. But if he leaves, who will take care of his mother and younger brothers? If he's in the Latino Blood gang, it means his brothers don't have to be. To protect them, he has created a fake-life, the life Brittany sees, tough talking, ready to fight, carrying guns, committing crimes. But he has a truth: he is committed to his family; and while he knows he can never leave the gang, he does well in school and is a decent, nice guy. Like Brittany, he isn't perfect; he has a temper and can be judgmental.

Alex and Brittany, thrown together by the fate of alphabetical order. As the year goes on, they both begin to see the truth about the other.

This is an AMAZING romance. And H.O.T. There is heat, it is steamy, it is awesome.

The gang life is not glorified. There is bloodshed, deaths, drug deals, arrests. But, the gang members are not vilified; this isn't a message book. It's clear that the gang meets a need; for Alex, it's a way to protect his family. For some of his friends, the gang becomes the family they lack.

Plus, bonus -- this is also a mystery. Alex was six when his father was killed; and Alex is beginning to ask questions, to try to solve his father's murder.

Like I said, this isn't a message book; it's not didactic. But there are some things a reader can take away: do the right thing. Love matters. Life is made of hard choices. But, again -- this is not preachy. There is meaning and depth here.

My only disappointment? I wanted MORE! So I was very psyched to see at the author's website that Rules of Attraction, the sequel, is coming in 2010!

Last note: I moved this up on my TBR pile for a couple of reasons. One, I was looking for more books with covers of people of color, and Alex, who is Mexican, is featured on the cover. Elkeles is not Latino, but from the endnotes she reveals that she carefully researched Alex's world to make it as realistic as possible. Two, I heard Elkeles speak at ALA, and she is TERRIFIC. And funny. And caring. And really, truly believes in teen literacy and in writing books for boys and girls. Seriously -- while, yes, this book IS a Romeo & Juliet romance (and a great romance!), it is also a story full of action. Yes, teenage boys will like it. Also, she has a great website for Perfect Chemistry with a video, and playlists!

And yes...it's one of my favorite books of the year.






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

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

So, Shannon Says And Then I Say

More on my pretend conversation with Shannon Hale! When last we met, I was responding to Shannon's awesome post about reviewing books.

First, I totally forgot to really explain why I don't do ratings. Because there is no real standard. No, seriously; professional journals (and more on that in a second) have firm criteria in place for how stars are awarded. I have rarely seen such stringent criteria in blogs (you disagree? put down the link, thanks, I'll look). In other words, in a nutshell, I see the professional journals being more objective about their stars and blogs being more subjective about their reviewing.

And there's nothing wrong with that. But it's why I, personally, don't pay much attention to such ratings. Except, of course, wanting to know what books gets the lowest rating, because that tells me more about the blogger. I thought about doing ratings; but in the end, figured that, if, say, we were doing 1 to 5, 5 being "the best" that just getting on my blog in 99 out of 100 times meant that the book was at least a 3, or "liked it." Cause, remember, 1 or 2 (hated it/ didn't like it) would be "not finished it." Too many books, too little time. As for the 5s (OMG I LOVE IT), that is on my favorites list. Because, really, that is ultimately what the ratings show -- personal likes and dislikes. So, ultimately, not something I look at (except to see what people hate) and not something I provide.

Anyhow, so now Shannon asks me (and you, too, I guess) in commenting on comments, reviewing reviews:But as a reader I know I DESPISE spoilers when I haven't read the book, and LOVE to discuss all the details after. This was one reason why I asked the reviewers out there, why do you review? What's the motivation to post them? I wish we could have two classes of "reviews": one intended for those who have read them and one for those who haven't. They're all mixed together as it is.

Liz B: Shannon, I hate that too! But I've decided, then, that part of that burden of being not spoiled is on me. Once I know I want to read a book? I stop reading reviews. Seriously.

I also stopped reading for the "gotcha" or the "big reveal." So while there are some times I will murder if I'm told the ending (and cannot stand the people who take joy out of doing this to other people), I also like to enjoy the journey to the end as much as the end, if that makes sense.

I do try to be very careful about spoilers. I think, would I want to know x before reading the story? And it can be tough!

I like the idea of reviews for those who have read the book -- more dicussiony type things -- but short of a second blog (which I won't do, don't' have the time) it won't stop people form reading.

That said, I think you left out a third type of review. The professional review that isn't for a reader but is for the person buying, selecting, or recommending books. So, yes, SLJ/LJ/Booklist/Kirkus/Horn Book do need to give "spoilers" because they aren't being written to get librarians to read the books but rather to buy the books. And, sometimes, the librarian has to know that spoilery stuff to buy, booktalk, recommend.

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

I've Got a Barn, Let's Put On a Show!

Seriously, a few years ago Robin Brande suggested some kidlit bloggers get together for a potluck dinner and next thing you know, we are at our Third Annual Kidlitosphere Conference.

This is entirely volunteer; put together, run, organized, planned by members of the kidlitosphere.

Who is this for? Anyone who blogs about children's and teen books; writes or illustrates children's and teen books; comments at blogs about children's and teen books; or reads blogs about children's and teen books. So, yes, that includes you! This is YOUR conference!

"Conference" seems such a big, formal word about what is more a chance for people who know each other online to get together and talk about what they love with other people who get it.

Author Bonus: Since this is so intimate a gathering, it's a great way for authors to network with bloggers. MotherReader has some additional information at her blog: Book Promotion, A Conference Scenario. Librarians near the conference? Keep on eye out for what authors are attending, and contact them about scheduling a library or school visit!

Where is it? DC. Technically, Arlington VA, at the Sheraton Crystal City Hotel. A special conference rate has been arranged, but you need to reserve by September 16 (or until the block of rooms are filled)

Why DC? Because the first year was Chicago; then Portland; so now it's on the East Coast. Plus, remember the v word; volunteer. MotherReader, from the DC area, volunteered to organize this. Where will it be next year? I imagine not the East Coast; and it will depend on who steps up to organize. If you're within driving distance of DC, take advantage of this because I promise you, while I don't know where this will be next year, I can tell you this. It's very unlikely it will be on the East Coast.

When? Saturday, October 17. Things are scheduled from 8:00 to 5:00; plus, there may be informal excursions for whoever is around the day before and after. Plus, on Saturday, there is a dinner.

How much? $100; bringing someone who doesn't want the full conference but will be at the dinner? $50.

What are some of the formal sessions? The are listed at the Conference website. What isn't listed is just how fun it is to match the faces to the blogs; to turn to someone and with a straight face say, "Mother Reader, this is Tea Cozy." And to network and talk and laugh with other people who are passionate about books.

Who will be there? MotherReader started a list a couple of weeks ago at her blog. I know I've talked to a few people who said they are going, and aren't on the list (yet). Keep checking to see the attendee list.

Will you be there? I will!

Bonus Feature: So, which "I have a barn, let's put on a show" TV show/ movie do you remember?

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

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Riot


Riot by Walter Dean Myers. Egmont USA. September 2009. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.*

The Plot: A story of the 1863 New York Draft riots, told primarily through the eyes of Claire Johnson, 15, daughter of an Irish mother and black father.

The Good:

The problem with an ARC like this is I don't have the photographs, maps, and illustrations the final copy will have and, as an armchair history lover, I want them.

The author thanks Professors Padraig OCearuill and Marion Case of NYU's Glucksman Ireland House in this book. So, while my copy lacked the various back matter, my assumptions are that the history in this can be relied on. For example? Those thinking "a white mother? and black father? in New York City in the nineteenth century? I don't think so!" can be rest assured (if they rely on Wikipedia) that New York was one of a handful of states that never had laws about marriage between the races.

Riot is balanced; it portrays and does not excuse the violence, but Myers illustrates that the roots of the anger and the violence were about racial hatred, yes, but also fed by ignorance, poverty, and social injustice.

The use of a screenplay is interesting; unlike Monster, it's not being written by a character. It starts on the streets of present day New York, rapidly skipping back in time until July, 1863 is reached. Riot does not pretend to be written in the nineteenth century; from the first scene it's clear that this is a look at the past through present eyes, the present day unseen narrator being the screenplay writer.

The storytelling device focuses primarily on Claire, who, literally, has a foot in both worlds as the racial tension escalates into violence and she tries to figure out her place in her world. A number of other people are also introduced, covering the variety of people touched by the riots: a girl working at the Colored Orphan Asylum, soldiers, police officers, rioters, observers. The camera cuts away to these other players, always returning to Claire and how she sorts things out.

At times, the speech and action of Claire and others seems modern; but the screenplay format is a constant reminder that this isn't really historical fiction. It's often been said that historical fiction doesn't reveal as much about the historical time being presented as it does about the present. And that is what the sometimes modern thoughts or actions reminds us -- that Claire's questions about identity and race are not some long ago quaint question but are today's issues. Yes, we've elected the first black president; but look at the dialogue, still, about whether he is "black" or "white." Looking at the violence that "have nots" inflict on other "have nots" is not something safely in the past.

* True Story about how I got this ARC. Waiting for the plane to Chicago for ALA, I had a "meet up" with someone I know via Twitter, who works for Egmont, and gave me a copy. Add it to the list of "anecdotal evidence of the benefits of Twitter."


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

Monday, August 24, 2009

Blogging Survey

I am doing a double experiment; first, using Survey Monkey for the first time. Second, I'm a bit curious about how my online time working on the blog compares to others.

In terms of how I define "working on the blog": I don't include reading the actual books, but I do include drafting and posting; working on the blog template, sidebars, design; reading other blogs and commenting; Twittering and other related online activities that tie back to my blog; and reading news about books and publishing.

Here it is: my first survey. Click Here to take survey

Since, as with many things, I look at this as not only the survey itself but also the process involved, any comments/ suggestions on both using survey monkey and the survey itself would be informative. I'm not quite satisfied with the questions, but I'm not quite sure how I would tinker with them or what I would add. I know asking on average can be a bit tricky; some days are more than others, like days off I spend more time!

Why I'm including things outside of the actual blogging: because, like others, I view the social networking of blogging as just as important as the blog itself, so I tried to capture that time also in the survey.



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

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Shannon Hale Asked Me A Question...

Well, actually, Shannon Hale asked the world several questions via her blog.

Hale has a great post up about books, reading, reviewing, and evaluating. I strongly recommend it, and the comments. And she throws out these questions, so I figured I'd throw out a few answers.

Shannon Hale: 1. Do you find that the anticipation of reviewing the book has changed your reading experience?

Liz B: It has focused my reading experience; but that focusing had already begun as a librarian. As children's/teen librarian, I had to shift my reading from "what I like" to "what will my patrons like," which quickly became "what about this book can I book talk / recommend". So I began my blog with the idea, already, of an audience other than me behind my book reactions.

Originally, I began with the idea that my readers were other people who had read the book and wanted to discuss it or read more about it. This shifted to include readers who would be interested in the book -- either to read it, purchase it, or recommend it. I think of my readers as both the end-reader and what I call the "gate keeper": the parent, librarian, etc. who purchases the book so that a reader may have access to it.

It varies according to book, but as I read I think, what about this book do I want to share with others? What impressed me? I jot down ideas about themes, plot, characters, or copy language that either I really liked, or that I think conveys a flavor of the book.

In terms of how to share my reactions -- beyond the simple loved it/ hate it/ liked it -- I found From Cover to Cover: Evaluating and Reviewing Children's Books by K.T. Horning to be a fabulous resource on how to get beyond simple conclusions. I heard somewhere she is working on a revised edition, and fingers crossed it includes something on online reviewing. It helped me to refine how I discussed books and, hopefully, saved me from some mistakes. "Mistakes" meaning overused language or phrases that in the end do little to convey to the reader what I'm trying to say about a book.

Shannon Hale: 2. Are you rating the book even as you read? Or do you wait until the end to sum it all up?

Liz B: If I don't "like" a book, I don't finish it. Life is too short. That said, I put "like" in quotes because I may read a book, finish it, and review it knowing that the book is not my cup of tea but that it would appeal to or be loved by other readers. So I'm reading and reviewing with not just me in mind, but also other readers. For the most part, if something makes it onto my blog it's already passed either the "I liked it" or the "readers will like it" test.

That said, I realized quickly that I also had personal favorites that I wanted to highlight; sometimes because a book really was that good, other times for something more personal. A character may have more meaning for me, a location I love be lovingly portrayed, the language speak to me. At first I called this "best books" and limited it to books published that year; now I call it "favorite books" and include any books read that year, whatever the publication date. See my sidebar for those books. A book may become a "favorite" only after I've read it and time has passed-- for example, a book that sticks with me or haunts me.

Shannon Hale: 3. Does knowing you'll be reviewing it (or rating it) publicly affect which books you pick up in the first place?

Liz B: As blog readers will know, I get a good number of review copies (solicited and unsolicited) in addition to attending conferences where I can pick up review copies. When I was "just" a reader, not a librarian (and even in my first few years of librarianship!) I had no idea how review copies worked or that people got them or why. It's that type of reader I have in mind when I include in my reviews the source of my books. The person who wouldn't know otherwise, and would think either a, my library gets all these books, b, I buy all these books, or c, how the heck do I read a book that isn't published yet?

Various factors that lead to a book being shifted to the top of my TBR pile: Did I actively solicit the book? Was it sent in response to a specific request? Has someone else's review made me curious about the book? "Review" can mean a professional journal such as SLJ; mainstream media such as the NYT or EW; as well as blog reviews and discussions. Hearing the author speak in person. Reading something the author said online. Checking out my scheduled posts and realizing I'm heavy in one area and need to balance it. Heavy could mean too much by one publisher or genre. Since LiarGate, I also attempt to be more conscious that the mix includes books by and about people of color. Has it been a while since I reviewed picture books? What about audiobooks? Visiting the bookstore. Finding out a favorite author has a new book. Liking the cover. Being intrigued by the plot.

Shanon Hale: 4. Does the process of writing the review itself change how you felt about the book?

Liz B: Trying to capture what I feel about a book in words, and share that with others, can deepen my appreciation for a book and what an author accomplished. Sometimes, though, all I want to say is "I really really liked it!" For repeat Tea Cozy readers, that may be enough; but for the first time reader, who may be there just for that one review? I know I need more and have to push myself to verbalize why I really really liked it.

Shannon Hale: 5. What is your motivation to assign a rating to a book and declare it to the world?

Liz B: I covered this in my above answers. My motivation is both a book I adored; or a book I know others will adore. I love, love, love booktalking -- the process of being a book matchmaker and finding the perfect book for a reader. So, for example, whether or not I like Twilight doesn't matter; what matters is when I find other books for that Twilight lover to read and enjoy. Liz B., book matchmaker.


Shannon Hale: 6. If you review a book but don't rate, why not? What do you feel is your role as reviewer?


Liz B: I'll skip the first bit and concentrate on the second. I'm not always comfortable with the term "review" being used for all online book talk. Sometimes it fits; but just as often, there are personal reactions, discussions, etc. going on that really aren't "reviews". That said, it's an easy shorthand term to use for online book talk. And personal reactions and discussions etc. can be just as valuable and just as fun as a review. I'm not knocking them; I just wonder, as I am wont to do about words and definitions, what really is a review?

My role is to be honest. And that honesty needs to include knowing when the reason I don't like a book is because of the book itself or because of my personal reaction to something the author did or did not do. Using a very broad example, a person who doesn't like fantasy reviewing fantasy books and saying "this book is terrible" would not be honest; saying, "I'm not a fantasy fan so this book didn't work for me" is honest. (Again, those are VERY BROAD examples and most reading and responses and reviews are, we all know, more complex than this example). That also applies to knowing why I liked a book; is it because the book is that good, or because I have a soft spot for that subject, plot, or character?

My role is to know who I am writing for; is it for me? Yes. Is it for other readers? Yes. Is it to engage in discussion about books and authors? Yes.

Is it for publishers? Much as I adore publishers and the publishing industry because I find them fascinating and they produce the books, I don't see them as my audience. Same for authors. Don't get me wrong; I love hearing from an author as much as the next person. But I don't write with the anticipation or expectation that an author will read it, respond to it, link to it, etc. Do I like when I find my review blurbed on a website, etc? Hell to the yes. Do I write thinking "this will be a good blurb for an author/publisher to use"? Hell to the no.


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

Going Bovine Trailer

Oh. my. Norse. god.

Libba Bray made a video for Going Bovine.

She wears a cow suit.

In Manhattan.

Go, see. It's at EW's Book Blog, EW's Shelf Life.

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

Friday, August 21, 2009

North of Beautiful


North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley. Little, Brown. 2009. Copy reviewed from ARC provided by publisher.

The Plot: Meet Terra Cooper. She could be such a pretty girl... Tall, but not too tall. Ballerina's legs. Platinum blonde (natural). So pretty...

If it weren't for the port wine birthmark on her cheek.

She is flawed. The best she can do is hide behind heavy makeup; medical treatments have not worked.

She wants to escape... Escape the small town where everyone knows what her face really looks like. Escape her controlling father and doormat mother. Escape herself.

Escape is in slow steps, at first. Her artwork. Hoping to go to college far away. A secret trip to Seattle for one more attempt to treat her birthmark. CRASH. And a fender bender in a parking lot, that leads to meeting Jacob. An Asian Goth. And things start changing, faster and faster. North of beautiful is a place that isn't beautiful, but has it's own beauty.

The Good: Where to start? I read this a year ago, and so many details have stuck with me. Terra's artwork. Her horrible father. Her weak mother.

Her mother.... Headley does a terrific job portraying a woman who has been a bit beaten down by life, not very confident, hiding from life, who just needs a hand reached out to her to pull herself out of her hopelessness. That helping hand comes, surprisingly, from the family whose car Terra hits.

This unexpected friendship between the families -- between the mothers and between Terra and Jacob -- lead to one of the best things about this book. A trip to China. Terra's escape is made real, as the two families travel to Jacob's birthplace. After reading this book, I so so so wanted to travel to China; but the details, the description, make me feel like I have been there.

The father. I hated him. Hated him all the more for understanding him; a man who has been disappointed with life, who cannot control some things so instead tries to control his wife, his daughter, his sons. And -- as is usual the case -- control is done by being a mean, nasty, S.O.B.

The various metaphors going on in this book worked really well to add additional layers to the book. The father is a mapmaker -- talk about the ultimate illusion of creating and controlling a world! Thinking something is yours because you drew the lines, mapped it out. Geocaching also figures in this book; and it's a way for Terra to actually take something positive from her father (mapping places, finding things) yet make it uniquely her own. Discovering herself, while discovering hidden things.

Is this about a birthmark? About learning how to geocache? About a wounded mother healing and growing? A young artist? A romance? A trip to China? Coffee? It's all of these; but ultimately, it's classic young adult: coming of age, as Terra matures into a strong, beautiful young woman.

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

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Devil's Kiss


The Devil's Kiss by Sarwat Chadda. Disney Hyperion Books. September 2009. Reviewed from ARC I picked up at BEA.

The Plot: Billi SanGreal has been raised to be a Knight Templar. No, it's not hundreds of years ago. It's present day London, and her father Arthur leads a small band of dedicated knights in fighting evil: vampires, werewolves, ghosts. Things are about to be kicked up a notch. No, it's not that she's being made a knight at age 15. No, it's not she actually met a cute guy, Mike, who likes her. No, it's not that her childhood best friend Kay (and kinda crush and psychic Oracle) has returned from studying in Jerusalem. Quite simply, hell is being raised and an Archangel is plotting to get in God's good grace by killing a lot of people. It's up to Billi to stop him. Or die trying.

The Good: Let's say the B word right away. Buffy. Chadda addresses this on his website in a very humorous way: "October 2004- Friend tells me to try my hand at a straight story. I bash out Templar Chapter 1. The Premise is awesome. Nobody would think to write about a teenage 'kick-ass' heroine fighting the supernatural, or mix in the utterly obscure Knights Templar... November 2004- I discover Buffy. Despair follows...."

OK, now that Buffy is out of the way.

Billi Sangreal is tough cookie because she's been raised that way. Her mother, Jamila, died when she was five; at ten, she began training to be a knight as if she were a grown man. Her father didn't pull any punches, literally, in the training she undergoes. It makes her tough, but also oddly sheltered because she's had little time to interact with her peers or to do anything for herself that is, you know, fun.

The Devil's Kiss is a nice mix of horror, adventure, angst, and history-light. The Knights Templar figure in; but there are none of those pretend-textbook paragraphs of too-much-historical-information. The "info dumps" are woven into the story; Kay's being gone for a year is an excuse to tell some, Billi's not having studied as much as the other Knights (because, hello, 15!) is another reason. It's also "light" because Chadda has been able to create his own history of what the Templars have been up to since October 13, 1307.

What else did I like? Billi's name is Bilqis; her father is British but her mother was Pakistani. Her father, a member of knights sworn to protect Christianity, marries Jamila, a Muslim, and gives his daughter an Islamic name. The other knights have names of Knights of the Round Table: Percy, Balin, Bos. I'm not sure if it's the authors' sense of humor (which is very apparent on his website and had me chuckling) or if future books will indicate there is something more to the names. And while there are some who speak with Welsh accents, there is also a knight who is African. So yes, this is a very modern mix of people. And religions. Because while the Christian roots of the Knights Templar are quite clearly spelled out, under Arthur's leadership the purpose of the knights is to fight the Unholy and he works with all religions to do so.

In case the "pull any punches" doesn't clue you in, let me repeat -- Arthur SanGreal doesn't play it safe with training his daughter, and Chadda doesn't play it safe with this book. People bleed (a lot). People die. The risks are real.

So, in sum, my type of fun reading: strong female character, action, history, supernatural elements, fights, a little romance, angst, unanswered questions, devils, angels, vampires.

Yes, there is a sequel. The author's blog talks about his new book and the research and writing process. And that little run in with immigration. Those of you who don't like cliffhangers between books? Never fear! The main story was wrapped up in The Devil's Kiss.

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

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

When Mike Kissed Emma


Happy Book Day!!!!

Today is the official publication date for When Mike Kissed Emma by Christine Marciniak.

Christine (interviewed here) has been my friend for a very, very long time; which means that yes, I read the Charlie's Angels/ BradyBunch/ MarySue story. And was there for the KC/ Kate/ Meg/ Emma incarnations. I even remember WHY KC was KC. And the inspirations for other friends.

I've read Mike as he evolved from Nice Jim to Psycho Jim to Friend Mike to Biker Mike.

All those stories (and more!) about the journey of WMKE from idea to draft to story to revised story can be found at Christine's blog.

Books, like babies, sometimes come early. While today is the "it" day, Christine got her copies about two weeks ago and shared photos at her writing blog, Simply Put.

Here's the book trailer:





Go over and say "congrats" for Christine's first book!!

More information on the book is available at the publisher's website (Climbing Rose, an imprint of The Wild Rose Press).

And at Publisher's Weekly.

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

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Living On Impulse

Living on Impulse by Cara Haycak. Dutton Books, a member of Penguin. 2009. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Mia Morrow, 15, is doing what she's done many times before.

Shoplifting.

Except this time, she's been caught.

The Good: Usually, the "getting caught shoplifting" is the start of the main character's redemption. Here, well, yes, Mia gets caught, is grounded by her mother, and has to get a job to pay restitution to the store.

But she still has a long slide down ahead of her, and, frankly, at times Mia's impulsiveness is not attractive. When her two friends basically dump her, they give a laundry list of what she's done in the first hundred pages (which includes shoplifting, cheating, hurting one of them during a volleyball game, joking about using prescription drugs, and sneaking into a club) and there's a part of the reader who is nodding along, especially when they sum it up: "Mia, you're a liar and a thief." Mia's response (in addition to being angry): "Maybe she didn't think through all the things that she did. But at least I do things, don't I? Mia walked even faster toward the nude beach."

Mia isn't mean; she is, as the book states, impulsive, thinking first, acting later. She doesn't mean to hurt others; yet she does, and also hurts herself. And, as the story unfolds, so, too, does the realization that she shares this trait with her mother. There is no one thing that changes Mia - or, rather, there is no one thing that inspires Mia to change herself. Instead, the reader learns more about her, her mother, her grandfather. If anything, as the external things in Mia's life spin out of her control (her grandfather is dying; her mother's hidden drinking is now out in the open), she begins to think about her own actions, the things in her life she can control. What results is a believable story about a realistic character.

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

Monday, August 17, 2009

Carlie and Melissa in the driver's seat

Since Liz is on vacation this week, Melissa and I are wearing the Tea Cozy as a hat going to make a few guest posts just to make sure things don't gather dust around here.

Today at Librarilly Blonde I've posted a blog tour letter from Natashya Wilson, senior editor at Harlequin TEEN, where she talks about the future of the imprint and what books HT is offering to teens this fall. Also she talks about sex in YA books, which we know is everyone's favorite subject. If you'd like to read it, find it here: Guest post: Natashya Wilson of Harlequin Teen

© Carlie Webber of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Maisie Dobbs


Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear. Soho Press 2003 (Hardcover) Penguin Books 2004 (Paperback). Reviewed from audiobook from ListenNJ.com

The Plot: 1929. Maisie Dobbs opens up her own London office as a Private Investigator. Her first client -- someone who wants to find out if his wife is cheating on him. Maisie, thinking of her education, background, and training, internally sighs at how mundane this is but takes the case. Nothing is what it appears to be, however. Maisie is not an upper class woman, despite her accent, bearing and education; and this, her first solo case, is about people and a country haunted by the Great War.

The Good: I've heard great things about the Maisie Dobbs books forever but just got inspired to make time for them. ListenNJ.com has audiobooks for the iPod, so it seemed like a good idea to read a book I wanted to and play with the downloading.

Love this series! Now I have to carve out time to read the rest of the books in this brilliant series.

Who is Maisie? A working class girl who was in the Downstairs world, that slipped into the Upstairs life based on education and drive. Part of the mystery of this first book is finding out exactly how that happened. It's not linear; we begin in 1929 with the investigation, get some clues into Maisie's life, then slip back to 1910 and a young teenager who has lost her mother and been put into service because it's the best her father can do for her. Long story short, her employers realize her potential and she ultimately ends up going on to Cambridge. With the entry of England into the Great War, Maisie interrupts her education to become a nurse.

Maisie's backstory is fascinating; and the Great War shadows everything. It matures Maisie; and it changes the society she lives in. Her Downstairs/Upstairs background, combined with her own war experiences, and her education and training, create a uniquely talented investigator with great insights into motivation.

The mystery was well told; Maisie's investigation was interesting; the various characters were nuanced; and I'm looking forward to reading more in this series.

I had one quibble with the book; but with a series, it may be something that is addressed later. It also may well be that my issue isn't with the book, but with the realistic burdens and challenges Maisie faces. As a teen, Maisie has to be twice as good as everyone about her and this isn't recognized in the book. Yes, an education is provided but she still has to perform her full workload as a maid. So, she has to work full time PLUS pursue knowledge; and in that education she has to show herself to be twice as dedicated and smart as any upper class teenager, because she is studying while working full time. When it seems like Maisie is overwhelmed, the book diagnoses the problem not the dual workload but rather the pressure of navigating between two classes. While I don't doubt the truth of the class issues, particularly for this time period, on Maisie's behalf I wanted someone to recognize she had to be twice as dedicated as the next person to achieve what she did.

Downloading review: Overall, it took much longer than I'd anticipated. The actual download had to be done twice because it didn't all download correctly the first time; then it turned out I had the wrong application OverDrive media console; and then it took a very long time to transfer to my iPod. The iPod mini worked OK for listening to the book; the main drawback was that halfway thru, I turned it on to find out it hadn't saved my place and I had to figure out where I was. I'm not sure if this was all human error (and wireless) or typical.

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

Friday, August 14, 2009

Going Bovine


Going Bovine by Libba Bray. Random House. September 2009. Reviewed from ARC supplied by publisher.

The Plot: Sixteen year old Cameron Smith is just another slacker at his Texas high school. Until he gets diagnosed with Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (aka mad cow disease), starts seeing angels, and ends up on a road trip to DisneyWorld with a dwarf, a yard gnome, and an angel.

The Good: This is so different from Libba Bray's other books -- I love when an author can do multiple things well. I don't see anything in Cameron's voice that reminds me of Gemma Doyle; the world in Going Bovine so different -- it's a joy to discover just how multi-talented Bray is, because all you can think is "Holy Hannah, what is she going to do next?"

There's some things I think I don't like in books. Then, what happens, is a book comes along that has the things I don't like and I realize it's not that I don't like something -- I don't like it when it isn't done well. Why, I wondered, do I want to go on a road trip with Cameron? And a dwarf? And yard gnome? This is just getting ridiculous. I don't do ridiculous.

But then, I remember, I do. I love The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Thursday Next delights me. Like Douglas Adams and Jasper Fforde, Bray throws out casual one-liners that are just fantastic; the book is so full of wry observances and over-the-top humor that I'm sure I missed half of what was there. This book demands a reread.

And a reread is needed not just for the humor; but also for the layered storytelling. Flat out the back of the book says, "Hope arrives in the winged form of Dulcie, a loopy punk angel/possible hallucination with a bad sugar habit." If I told you the movies this reminded me of, I'd be giving spoilers. Which is why suddenly, instead of writing a long review, I'm coming up short. Because the joy of all 480 pages is not just Cameron's discoveries, but the reader's discoveries. And I'm not going to take that away from you.

Bray addresses serious questions -- about life, and belief, and what it means to live. Why does Cameron need the threat of death to wake him from his life? Do we live to our fullest? Much like Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal and Dogma, something that may be viewed as blasphemous actually asks the most serious of questions.

Hey, did I mention there are also Norse gods? Physics? Inuit Rock Stars? Music? New Orleans? All-U-Can-Eat Freedom Pancake Towers? Bowling? Smoothies?

Not only is this going on my favorite books list for this year; but I predict this being on starred/best of year lists. Also, this needs to be crossmarketed to adults, who will eat it up.

Links:
My Teaser
My Twitter Review

Jen Hubert's Reading Rants review (which is brilliant)

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

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Hate List

Hate List by Jennifer Brown. Little Brown. Publication Date September 2009. Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher.

The Plot: On May 2, 2008, Valerie Leftman, a high school junior, got off the bus in a bad mood because Christy Bruter had once again tormented her on the bus and then broken her MP3 player. She complains to her boyfriend, Nick Levil, who says he'll take care of it.

Val thinks Nick is going to yell at Christy, give Christy a hard time, maybe -- just maybe-- do something more.

Val doesn't think Nick is going to pull out a gun and shoot Christy. And then turn the gun on the other kids and teachers in the High School -- people whose name appears on Val & Nick's "Hate List." Val ends up being one of people shot right before Nick turns the gun on himself.

Months later, school has begun, and Val is returning to school. And whispers. Is she a hero who stopped Nick from killing more people? Or is she a villain who helped plan the shooting?

The Good: Hate lists. Yep. Easy to say, after one has been used by a school shooter, "what a terrible, sick, horrible, mean thing done by an evil person." But c'mon...when people are picking on you? Teasing you? Bullying you? Making your life miserable? Isn't it tempting to make a list of all the people and things you hate -- all the people and things that hate you? Does that really mean you want those people dead?

Val's struggling with a lot of things, least of all is being shot in the leg. There is her part in it -- the Hate List. There is returning to school. There is her family, hardly the model of perfect family bliss before the shooting. And there is Nick.

Nick, her boyfriend. Best friend. She loved him. Loves him. How can the sweet, Shakespeare loving boy be a murderer? Yes, he was teased. Yes, he got mad. But... but... how come she didn't see this coming?

While Nick and Val are bullied, with words and fists, Brown does a great job of showing this isn't about bullying. There are a lot of unanswered questions about school shootings (and if you want answers to those questions, I suggest reading books like Columbine.) Instead, this looks at the survivors -- the people who loved and liked the shooter. Because before he was a monster, he was a teenaged boy, with friends and a girlfriend and parents. Brown explores being that type of survivor, and what it means to reshape your life after the worst thing possible happens. Val is haunted by Nick; and I am haunted by Val.

Interesting thing about names. Nick's is "Levil" -- evil. The devil is sometimes called "Old Nick." Val's last name -- Leftman. She's been left behind. But her name, Valerie, means strength. Her brother, Frankie, is one of the more honest -- or frank -- people in the book. The principal, Angerson, does a lot to make me angry. Val's psychologist, Dr. Hieler, is a healer -- another wordplay. Christy Bruter is a "brute" to Val.

Twitter Review

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

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

PaperTigers


When One Shot South East Asia was proposed, my first thought was, what book to read? And my second, but I don't want to read the same book everyone else is. And did I want a book written by an American about set in that area? Or a book by an author from South East Asia?

So I thought, aha, I'll take a look at PaperTigers, and see what they have to say.

And then I thought.... hey. One purpose of the One Shot tours is not only to talk about books we love, but also to bring attention to titles and resources. So why not interview PaperTigers? Instead of talking about one book, instead highlight a resource that continually brings good books to the attention of its readers.

From PaperTigers website: PaperTigers is a website about books in English for young readers. It embraces multicultural books from or about anywhere in the world, with a particular focus on the Pacific Rim and South Asia. PaperTigers offers a wealth of book-related resources for teachers, librarians, parents and all those interested in the world of children's and young adult books. The PaperTigers website is http://www.papertigers.org/; and yes, they have a blog.

I spoke with Aline Pereira via email. Many people contribute to both the website and the blog; Pereira is the Managing Editor.

Liz B: PaperTigers is a website about multicultural books, with a particular focus on the Pacific Rim and South Asia. What was the reason behind PaperTigers and what led it to have this geographic area as its special focus?

Pereira: In 1996 Pacific Rim Voices, a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, launched the Kiriyama Prize, a book prize whose aim was to choose outstanding books, fiction and nonfiction, that would contribute to greater understanding of and deeper empathy among the peoples and nations of the Pacific Rim, east and west, north and south. The geographical outreach of the Kiriyama Prize was later extended to include South Asia as well as the nations of the Pacific Rim (which already included the "ASEAN" countries of Southeast Asia).

A website titled WaterBridge Review gradually grew up alongside the Prize to offer interviews, book reviews etc with the same focus. Recognizing young readers as a vitally important audience when it comes to establishing a foundation for greater intercultural understanding, in 2001-2002 Pacific Rim Voices decided to launch a website that would highlight books for young readers (in English, or bilingual, with English as one of the languages) that would have the same geographical outreach as the other projects. Thus PaperTigers was created.

Some of the central ideas motivating PaperTigers were to celebrate the common humanity we all share, while also recognizing, respecting, and celebrating diverse cultures; and to help overcome stereotypes and prejudice that could diminish awareness of and respect for the humanity of "the other", whoever and wherever that "other" is.

While maintaining a particular focus on the Pacific Rim and South Asia, in 2007 PaperTigers expanded its geographical outreach to include books in English from anywhere in the world. Its aim was then, and continues to be now, to offer a service to parents, teachers, librarians and others interested in multicultural or cross-cultural books, and in encouraging and promoting reading among children and young adults.

Liz B: In the years that PaperTigers has been online, have you noticed any differences or changes in your readership or the type of information users are looking for?

Pereira: I’m happy to say that our readership has grown consistently over the past 8 years. From the beginning, our audience has been comprised mainly of librarians and teachers, but the means of our audience or potential audience to receive information have certainly expanded/changed.

In order to serve our existing audience in a new way as well as to reach new readers, in 2007 we started the PaperTigers blog. It seemed like a natural extension of the website, and a good way to keep up with the changing times. We definitely saw a spike in the number of readers/visitors since then, and judging by the feedback we get from readers (mostly still via email!) we seem to be on the right track. We have managed to expand our reach mainly by consistently adding quality content to the website and blog and staying to true to our goals.

Liz B: The recent controversy over the cover for "Liar"by Justine Larbalestier included questions of whether white readers would pick up books with a cover illustration of someone who isn't white; or, at least, whether publishers, booksellers and librarians believe this to be true. What is your response to this?

Pereira: I haven't read Liar, but having seen the book cover and read all about the controversy surrounding it–and learning about the fact that the author herself said there was never a question about the narrator's race–I find the publisher's claim of "striving for ambiguity" with the choice of cover quite appalling. I understand that publishing is a business, but if publishers aren’t willing to shed old stereotypes about race and about what readers will or will not buy based on book covers, there isn’t much hope of bringing the narratives by or about non-whites to the attention of the general public. White-washing book covers hurts book creators and readers alike––and such an approach can’t be good for business in the long run either, no matter how profitable it may prove to be short-term. I can only hope that one day, sooner than later, publishing houses big and small will realize the wealth of humanity they are missing out on by sticking to old ways and not taking some risks.

[Note from Liz B: After our interview, it was announced that the cover of Liar was being changed to reflect the narrator's race.]

Liz B: What are some of your current favorite books from the Pacific Rim and SouthEast Asia?

Pereira: I recently read Carolyn Marsden’s The Buddha’s Diamonds (Candlewick Press) and enjoyed it a lot. The book, which is aimed at 9-12 year-olds is co-written with Thay Phap Niem, a Buddhist monk whose childhood in a fishing village in Vietnam is the basis for the coming-of age story. Marsden has also written Silk Umbrellas and The Gold-Threaded Dress, which take place in Thailand and are also wonderful reads. Her work is always engaging and of the highest quality.

As for picture books, Lee & Low has just released The East-West House: Noguchi’s Childhood in Japan, written and illustrated by Christy Hale. It tells of how Isamu Noguchi’s experience of growing up biracial in Japan influenced his outlook on life and his development as a multi-faceted artist. The book is lovely and very accessible.

Liz B: Thank you so much! You can find out even more about Aline Pereira and PaperTigers as this lovely interview by Mitali Perkins.

If you're looking for other books to read, check out the resources at the PaperTigers website; add the blog's RSS to your feedreader; and, of course, check out the other One Shot South East Asia posts, rounded up by Colleen at Chasing Ray.


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

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Color Me Brown Challenge


Susan's comment to my post on Mare's War by Tanita S. Davis reminds me to remind you about Color Me Brown Challenge at Color Online. The questions raised by the initial Liar cover were not resolved by the cover change.

A brief recap of the Color Me Brown 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. Drop us a link to your review to be eligible. +3 entries for any sidebar link/tweet or blog post about this challenge. Contest limited to US residents.

Head over to Color Online! It's for the entire month of August so you have plenty of time to find a book (Color Online has suggestions) and blog about it.




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

Mare's War


Mare's War by Tanita S. Davis. Knopf Book for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House. 2009. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: All teenage sisters want to spend their summer driving cross country to a family reunion with their grandmother, right?

Wrong.

Octavia and her older sister, Tali, are stuck in a car with their grandmother (who prefers to be called Mare, by the way.) There's a thing or two or three they are about to learn, about their grandmother, about life, about each other.

The Good: The classic road trip story is tweaked a little bit, bringing in grandmother. So instead of wild and crazy times, it's a journey of discovery. Mare (Marey Lee Boylen)'s story of her teenage years takes her from Alabama to England; because when Mare was a teenager, she ran away from home and joined the Army. No, really; Mare ends up in the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, an all-African American, all-female unit, part of the Women's Army Corps (WAC).

The story alternates between the road trip and Mare's teenage years. I have to admit; as the history junkie, it was Mare's story that grabbed me. Mare's War is, of course, World War II. It's also her war with her family. Mare's father died young, and her mother has struggled to keep the family farm at any cost, even if it means Marey dropping out of school and working two jobs. Mare runs away, to grab an opportunity at a life beyond her small town. Then there is Mare's war with the greater world. She may be a WAC; but segregation and racism don't disappear, not in the Army, not later when she is shipped to England and France. And finally there is the war with her own grandchildren, who see her as an embarrassing old lady who doesn't act like other people's grandmothers.

How did this teenager become old? Become this old lady? Story by story, this is what Tali and Octavia discover. Along the way, they reconnect with each other and learn, well, all the things you learn on a road trip.

Oh, and if you have teens who you know will like this book but may be turned off by the history, because some teenagers eyes glaze over when you say "and it's about women soldiers in World War II!" Simply say, "and then Mare went after her mother's boyfriend with a hatchet." Imagine hearing THAT about your grandma.

Links:
Reading Rants review
More on the 6888th
Charlotte's Library review
Colleen Mondor's Bookslut in Training review
Reading in Color review
The Happy Nappy Bookseller review
Jen Robinson's Book Page review

Disclaimer: Tanita is an online friend; we have never met in person, but I feel as if we have, from her blogs and her posts and her comments.
© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Monday, August 10, 2009

Interview with Lyn Miller Lachmann

Cynthia Leitich Smith has an interview with Lyn Miller-Lachmann, author of Gringolandia.

Miller-Lachmann talks about the writing process, especially writing about Chile-Americans when not a Chile-American and a companion book to Gringolandia.

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

Betsy: The High School Years


Heaven to Betsy (1945), Betsy in Spite of Herself (1946), Betsy Was a Junior (1947), Betsy and Joe (1948) by Maud Hart Lovelace. From the library. What with all the editions, etc., available, I'm linking to Amazon's most recent ones but read much earlier ones.

The Plot: Betsy Ray's high school years, from 1906 to graduation in 1910.

The Good: I continue to love everything about this series. Betsy is hysterical; I love how she affects a stoop, er, droop, because she thinks it makes her look alluring. I love how Betsy isn't a star student in every subject; realistically, she shines in some areas, not so much in others.

I love how Betsy is obsessed with boys; and to any modern parent shaking their head, thinking that is a modern concern, reread Heaven to Betsy. Betsy may think of most of the boys she knows as just friends, but she still wants them to walk her to and from parties and to come calling at her house. She yearns for a boyfriend -- cries over it, even.

Did I mention the fanfiction? I mean, Betsy's fanfiction? In the article Carlie and I wrote for SLJ, we didn't get into RPF, aka Real Person Fanfiction. In Heaven to Betsy, Betsy takes an assignment to write an essay about the Puget Sound and turns it into a travel adventure story about herself, her friends and sister, and Enrico Caruso.

I'm also impressed with how Betsy views her writing as more than a hobby. She isn't perfect; she drifts away from it, neglects it, gets over confident -- but ultimately never hesitates in viewing it as important. Her family also sees it as important; in fact, her family supports all their daughters that way. Julia wants to be an opera singer? They do what they can to make that dream a reality.

In other things, Betsy is a teenager, a typical teenager, trying on different personas, not always honest about her own likes (books) or dislikes (skating), talking on the phone, worrying about her hair and clothes. As a matter of fact, while some of the references are delightfully turn of the century (shirtwaists! pompadours!), remove them, add a cell phone, and you find a girl and her friends who would fit into today's world.

Betsy gets in trouble for passing a note in class, and the teacher first humiliates her in class by reading it out loud and then sends her to the Principal's office. Her mother's reaction? The school was wrong. Yep; all those "oh noes" news articles about how parents today don't support the school and their darling is never, ever wrong and the good old days were better... Mrs. Ray proves you cannot make any assumptions about the "good old days" versus today.

I almost forgot -- the Crowd! Betsy's mix of friends, boys, girls, some her class, some older, some younger. They're fun; I would love to hang out with them. And they're not perfect, but Lovelace doesn't preach about their missteps (the sorority), but allows them (and the reader) to come to their own conclusions. Plus, whatever the downside of the sorority flirtation, it also has its fun moments. Very true to life.

I love that this is one story -- the story of Betsy's path from childhood to woman, figuring out her role in family, her relationships with boys, her own dreams -- told in four volumes.

I love historical fiction; but I also love reading fiction written during the time period it is about, because I find a book written in the 1910s is more authentic and historical than the one written in 2009 about the 1910s. What is interesting about books like Betsy-Tacy is it's about the early 1900s written in the 1940s. When Betsy visits Tib (a trip Tacy's family cannot afford), she encounters on the train a "porter, a colored man in a white jacket". Later on, he brushes off her hat and travel coat before she departs the train. Today, in addition to not using the word "colored," there would have been more made of race. Also, the mysterious brushing off the clothes leaves the modern reader scratching their head. What the heck? A book written today would have over-explained that. And there is the scene where Tony sings in blackface; a modern book would explain it, if it was included at all. Lovelace just has it happen, revealing just how standard a practice this was; and how unobjectionable it remained in the time period it was being written.

Much is told about the German immigrant experience and their contributions when Betsy visits Tib in Milwaukee. It's a beautiful and loving look at a pre-World War I America, when the immigrant experience was such that the immigrant's primary language remained the language of their home county. There is the modern (today) lesson here, for all those who say "learn to speak English, our grandparents did!" No, not always; Tib's family, second generation, spoke German. I cannot help but believe that Lovelace was also writing from the perspective of a person who had lived through World War I and II and seen how "the enemy" was treated and often demonized, and included the information about Milwaukee's German population not only because it was factual but also to inform readers that German Americans were Americans and "German" didn't mean "enemy."

The Little House books have had much written about how the books were written, including a recent New Yorker article. As I further explore the world of Maud Hart Lovelace, I'm looking forward to learning the same things about her and her books (tho, honestly? While I love the LH books, I think I'd rather hang out with Maud than Laura and Rose).

I like to wonder about what goes into the writing process of turning childhood into fiction. Compare Betsy Tacy, for example, to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn; Betty Smith includes details that would not have been included in a book written for children. (BTW, one of my (many) pet peeves is people who think A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is a children's book.) I'm especially intrigued by the inclusion of Joe Willard in these books. Just a cursory look at the Internet shows that Willard was based on Lovelace's husband and his boyhood; yet Lovelace didn't meet her husband in High School. So I can't wait to read her biography and learn more of what she included, what she did not, what she changed, what she did not. If you have a particular biography or journal article to recommend, let me know.

Like Little House, Betsy Tacy doesn't flat out point to negatives but rather the positives show the negatives. Nothing in the first four books mentioned bathrooms, toilets, outhouses, baths in tubs in the kitchen. When Betsy moves to a new, grander house with an indoor bathroom, we find out for the first time that in the old house there wasn't a bathroom.

Betsy's family is "not rich" but it is clearly upper middle class. Like today's kids, who think of themselves as "not rich" but always have the money for a movie and ice cream and new clothes. And there are references to the bigger world with different lives. Betsy's father grew up poor. Joe Willard, Betsy's age, is living on his own, working, paying his own way and going to school full time. A friend's father dies, putting his schooling in jeopardy, making Betsy realize just how fortunate she is. As Betsy gets older and more aware of the wider world, we see a family that suffers huge losses. The music teacher's sister dies, leaving behind four children, three of whom die of an unspecified sickness (probably TB). Part of Betsy's growth is her growing awareness of people and lives beyond her own; so we don't learn about this family until Betsy is older.

Vera Neville illustrates these books; loved them; disappointed I couldn't find more about her online.

Next reads: the remaining two Betsy books and a biography of Lovelace. I also want to get my hands on Carney's House Party and Emily of Deep Valley, neither of which my library owns, so I'll be using their ILL for the first time.

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

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