Saturday, January 31, 2009

readreadread, Vol. 4

The BPL really came through for me this week—check out this nice stack of books I picked up from the reserve shelf today! I have a good feeling about next week's reading, and soon I'll finally be able to talk about the books everyone else is already done discussing.

But meanwhile, this week was more scant, partly because I started and then quit two different books that didn't do it for me—which is actually something I rarely do. I did finish two good ones though:

Impossible, Nancy Werlin
This one was not at all what I was expecting. For a story about a girl who has to perform three impossible tasks to break a curse placed on her family by an elfin knight, it's surprisingly unfantastical. Which is not a bad thing, and I enjoyed it quite a bit, but I have to say I was a tad disappointed in how simple and literal the solutions ended up being. Need to figure out how to plow an acre of land with a goat's horn? Why, just buy some goat horns on ebay and turn a wheelbarrow into a makeshift plow and go to it! (No, that's not the whole task or anything, so I haven't given much away). I was expecting some more clever fairy-taleish riddle-y solutions though. Basically, a sweet love story, with (as Kirkus says) a "startlingly wholesome" ending.

Madapple, Christina Meldrum
I'm not quite sure what I think about this one. It's about an isolated girl whose mother believed her to be a virgin birth and raised her to know about medicinal plants, ancient runes and esoteric religion, but little of the outside world. The text cuts between courtroom transcripts from her later murder trial, and flashbacks that show how she ended up there. Complicated, beautifully written and atmospheric. But just...I don't know, it was kind of all over the place. People seem to either love it or hate it, or else love and hate it simultaneously. I think I might be one of the latter.

Week's total: 2
YTD total: 11 new, 2 re-reads

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

2009 BBYAs

And the award-winnings keep rolling in...
Soon enough, the lean months will be here, and I'll have to come up with other things to post than just lists of awards results, but fortunately those days aren't here yet.

Yesterday, the ALA announced the 2009 Best Books for Young Adults, which is too long to type out in its entirety here, but there are plenty of familiar faces on it, plus some less known titles.

And here's the Top Ten:
It's Complicated: The American Teenager, Robin Bowman
Waiting for Normal, Leslie Conner
Mexican WhiteBoy, Matt de la Pena
Bog Child, Siobhan Dowd
The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
Ten Cents a Dance, Christine Fletcher
Baby, Joseph Monninger
Nation, Terry Pratchett
Skim, Mariko Mamaki
The Brothers Torres, Coert Voorhees

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Aurealis Awards

So we all know by now that the 2009 Printz Award went to Melina Marchetta for Jellicoe Road. It turns out that two days earlier, she won another award for another book: The Aurealis Award for best young adult novel for Finnikin of the Rock (a book that's a little hard to find in the United States, and seems to be only available through Amazon as a used book.) **UPDATE** I hear it's going to be published in the US in 2010, which seems like an awfully long wait..

The Aurealis is for Australian Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror writing. This year's other finalists were:
The Stone Key, Isobelle Carmody
Lamplighter (Monster Blood Tattoo Book Two), David Cornish
The Two Pearls of Wisdom, Alison Goodman
The Changeling, Sean Williams

And here's a quick video of Marchetta talking about Finnikin:

Monday, January 26, 2009

Ok, but who won the Printz??

The horror! Neil Gaiman's spooky book wins John Newbery Medal
Newbery Medal for Children’s Literature Goes to Neil Gaiman
Author Neil Gaiman Wins Newbery Medal

Ok, ok! Yes, Neil Gaiman won the Newbery. And that's awesome. I'm pretty excited about the choice myself, and even though kids' books aren't so much my thing, I can't help but keep a little on top of it, and it really is a great group this year. But, um, what about the other awards announced this morning? They are so sadly ignored in the news reports—relegated to jumbled lists at the end of articles, like they're the Oscar for set design or something. No one even likes the Newbery anymore, or so I keep hearing.

2009 ALA Awards!

So you all caught the webcast, right? Just in case you missed it and/or the stupid website kept crashing your browser like it did mine, the Printz went like this:

Winner
Jellicoe Road, Melina Marchetta

Honor books
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing II, M.T. Anderson
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, E. Lockhart (yes!!)
Nation, Terry Pratchett
Tender Morsels, Margo Lanagan

Then, other stuff:
Laurie Halse Anderson won the Margaret Edwards author award!

The brand-new Morris Award for good YA by a first-time author went to A Curse Dark as Gold, by Elizabeth C. Bunce, and there were four other finalists: Graceling, Absolute Brightness, Madapple, and Me, the Missing and the Dead.

The Odyssey award for best audio went to The Absolutely True Diary of A Part-Time Indian, narrated by the author, Sherman Alexie (and the audio version of Nation was an honor book). Oh, and then some non-YA book narrated by Steve Buscemi was an honor book too, so that's got to be worth a listen.

The Schneider Family Award for good books about kids with disabilities went to a book I sort of disparaged in a previous post, Jerk, California by Jonathan Friesen.

**UPDATE**
I just typed that really quick this morning as I was watching it online, and then I had to go do some actual work. Obviously it's not complete, and I was going to link to the ALA website, but it is really really slow right now. So here's a link to a press release with full details of all the awards.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

JHunt Winner

So I posted last week about the JHunt, the YA award voted on by subscribers to the "adbooks" email list. And tonight, the final vote was tallied, and the winner announced: It's Nation, by Terry Pratchett!

I haven't even read this one yet, and it's killing me because everyone else has by now. According to my Brooklyn Public Lib. request list, it's "in transit" to me right now. The thing I find interesting about this whole email list voting thing is how closely it matches with other YA honors. I mean, that's not surprising at all, but for an award that was started because the founder thought other award-givers were missing the mark, you'd think there would be at least one surprise winner somewhere in its history (by which I mean a book in contention that hasn't been generally considered all over the place as among the most notable of the year.) It's really sort of reassuring in a way.

ALA Awards Ceremony Tomorrow

An important reminder: Tomorrow's the big day. It's the ALA awards ceremony where they'll announce the Printz and all the rest. There's a live webcast starting at 9:45 am, eastern. If you're like me and aren't actually in Denver, you'll have the address bookmarked, your headphones plugged in, and you'll be ignoring all bosses and coworkers for the duration. Should be great!
(You can also get live results via twitter here.)

The week's reading: vol. 3

Not much this week. I've been kind of busy and distracted, and also am coming to terms with my new subway commute. I can't say I wasn't warned, but the F train is crowded and slow and not super conducive to reading, as often I'm so mashed up against other people that I have to close my book and hold it against my chest for a good bit of the ride. So, just one:

Little Brother, Cory Doctorow
The library finally got this one to me. It's about what happens after there's a huge post-9/11 terrorist attack in San Francisco and a cybergenius/geek gets mistakenly arrested by the Department of Homeland Security, which quickly turns S.F. into a police state—intrusive surveillance all over the place, false arrests run amok. Obviously, the tech-savvy kids have to start a revolution.

It's a great read, and scarily timely and important, but here's the thing: it explains everything. Like, the story stops dead and Marcus explains all about live action role-playing games. Fair enough, he's a big nerd. Then the story stops dead and Marcus details how computer encryption works and how to get around it. Ok, very important to the plot, and also informative. Then. The story doesn't quite stop dead, but Marcus uses a lot of parentheses to define the items in a meal he orders. Did you know that a churro is fried dough with cinnamon and sugar?? Truly, this is spelled out in the book. It gets a bit exhausting. Still, I know a lot more about a good number of things now than I did when I started the book, so who am I to complain? Overall, very good stuff, especially since there just aren't enough quality books out there about cool geeks, especially ones who (**SPOILER!**) actually get to lose their virginity while still in high school. It's renewed my interest in my bad idea of going back to school for a comp sci degree.

Week's total: 1
YTD total: 9 new, 2 re-reads

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Scott O'Dell Award

The 2009 winner of the Scott O'Dell Award for historical fiction is Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson, which, of course, was also a National Book Award nominee.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Edgar Nominees

Just a couple days ago I was writing only semi-good things about John Green's Paper Towns which I just finished, and today I hear from his blog that it's been nominated for an Edgar Award. The Edgars are given by the Mystery Writers of America for (not surprisingly) good mystery writing. I'm chagrined that I had to wait for an author to announce his own nomination rather than being on top of this myself, but whatever. We can't win them all, and it's still fresh news.

Here are the nominees—and it's a good looking bunch:
Bog Child, Siobhan Dowd
The Big Splash, Jack D. Ferraiolo
Paper Towns, John Green
Getting the Girl, Susan Juby
Torn to Pieces, Margot McDonnell

JHunts and backyards

The JHunt Award finalists:
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing II, M.T. Anderson
Graceling, Kristin Cashore
The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
Tender Morsels, Margo Lanagan
Nation, Terry Pratchett

The JHunt is awarded by the YA lit email list adbooks. Every fall, this guy Jonathan Hunt, who has apparently been unhappy with YA awards results in the past, nominates a bunch of good books and from them group readers select a shortlist of twelve titles. And then for seven awesome weeks, inboxes fill up with discussion and debate and offers of bribes as members vote off one book each week. Eventually there are just five left standing—the finalists—and then everyone votes for the winner. And that's where we are right now.

So it's not a real award, but it's better than all these gazillions of mock Printz results because you can play along, and it's loads of fun to read all the smart, insightful things everyone has to say about the books. (I don't participate myself, I just read quietly.)

And P.S. Here's a picture of my cat watching sparrows from my new bedroom window:
It snowed yesterday. Anyone who lives in a regular house with access to actual dirt and plants all the time might think it's not such a big deal, but the poor cats haven't had a proper view in five years, and I haven't been able to step outside with a cup of coffee in the morning or plant a tomato in more than ten. So I'm pretty excited.

**UPDATE**
Here's my cat walking in the snow! This guy is, I think, 9 years old, maybe 8 (I've lost track), and this is the first time he has ever set foot on actual ground outside. That's terrible, I know, but he's a city cat. What choice have I had?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Procrastinating...

It's been a terribly unpleasant week, and now I'm doing anything I can think of to avoid packing. I'm moving tomorrow to a new apartment in Brooklyn that has a backyard (!), and I'm so tired but I can't put it off much longer since the movers will be here in twelve hours, but there's still time to make non-essential posts. Like for example, to make a list of what I read this week:

The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness
You know, that book the reviewers keep saying has the best first sentence ever? Where people settle a planet with a germ that makes animals talk and everyone's thoughts audible? And a boy who's about to become a man has to escape from his town for unclear reasons that eventually mostly become clear (but still don't totally make sense, at least to me)? I have read so much about this book, so it's about time I actually read it all the way through. And I loved it, but now I think I need to read it again because I was rushing through to see what would happen.

Living Dead Girl, Elizabeth Scott
A quick read about a girl who was kidnapped by a pedophile and treated horribly for five years and is now waiting for him to kill her since she's gotten too old. I'm sure it's a good book and all; lots of people seem to like it, but it's just so grim.

Paper Towns, John Green
I must be the last person in town to read this one. People seem to be taking sides, like is it better than Looking for Alaska, better than An Abundance of Katherines? The exact same book as Looking for Alaska, so why bother? I dunno. I think I enjoyed reading it more than the others; it's a fun mystery, but thank goodness it turned out that most of the clues weren't intentional, because Margo would have been really insufferable if she had actually put together a ploy like that, and for pete's sake what's so great about her anyway to get everyone so whipped into a tizzy? But I realize that that's the point. It's not about Margo. I really really try to like John Green's books; I've read each of them several times, trying to love them as much as so many do, but I think I will have to settle for just sort of liking them.

Total this week: 3
Year to date totals: 8 new, 2 re-reads

Monday, January 12, 2009

Oops...

Ack! I looked at my site through an RSS feed, and I've screwed up!
My post about the Sydney Taylor Book Award of a few days ago shows up once on the website, but twice on the feed, and one of the posts has all the wrong info. It's because I posted the first one, realized about two seconds later that I had absentmindedly been looking at the 2008 results from their website, not 2009, so I deleted the post quickly, rewrote it with the correct info and posted that. But... I'm not a professional blogger or anything, and it didn't occur to me that of course once it's posted it's on the feeds and that's that. And now that it's deleted from the site, I can't even edit the incorrect post to clarify. So. Now I know. Won't happen again.

**UPDATE** Valerie Zenatti, the winner of the award, has joined the blog tour! So go to Lori Calabrese Writes on Jan. 20th for the interview.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

My "Week" in Reading, vol. 1

So 2009 is young, and it might be possible to do what I've always kind of wanted to do and keep track of what I read. I always wonder how many books I actually finish, because it feels like I read a lot, but then again I do most of my reading only while commuting, so it's only actually 2 or 3 a week. We'll see how this goes. This here is going to be a bit of a catch-up, what I've read so far this year, and then maybe from here on out I'll update every weekend. Or something.

Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie
,
Jodan Sonnenblick
Ugh. I hate to be negative, and I know it's for the middle reader/young YA audience, but it was all I could do to not put this one down.

Jerk, California
, Jonathan Friesen
Meh. Again, if I can't say anything nice why say anything at all, but then again if I'm going to list everything, I can't possibly love them all. Boy with Tourette's goes on assigned road trip to learn important lessons about his dead father and himself. The intensity and quick development of the various relationships didn't make sense, and it reminded me a bit too much of my least favorite award-winner ever, Whirligig by Paul Fleischman.

The Hunger Games
, Suzanne Collins
A re-read, so it won't count for the total, although I only read it for the first time on the plane home after Christmas, and also I'm a huge re-reader so that'll happen a lot. Maybe I'll do a separate count of those.

The Boyfriend List
, E. Lockhart
I avoided this forever because the cover made it look like silly chick lit on the shelf, but now that I know how awesome this writer is, I reserved it at the library, and wasn't disappointed. I just wish I could have read it when I was about 14.

The Spectacular Now
, Tim Tharp
Another re-read that I've already blathered about. I like.

The Midnighters III
, Scott Westerfeld
This was the only one the library had, and I haven't read the second, so I had to figure out what was happening on the fly. Note to self: read trilogies/series in order. Still quite entertaining, in spite of my confusion.

The Dead and the Gone
, Susan Beth Pfeffer
Asteroid hit throws moon out of orbit, causes catastrophic problems on Earth; boy in upper Manhattan has to take care of himself and his sisters when the parents never come home. Didn't like it as much as Life as We Knew It; would have loved if there were more about the briefly discussed evacuation of the entire city and its cultural artifacts etc. I know it's about the struggle of this one non-rich boy, not the whole of NYC. I know. Still, there was a really interesting story in the background that was only barely touched on.

TOTAL
New reads: 5
Re-reads: 2

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Spectacular Now

I'm going to take a break from rotely listing new award winners to mention a terrific book that should be getting a lot more attention than it is: Tim Tharp's The Spectacular Now. Yes, it was nominated for a National Book Award, and you'd think that would be enough, but somehow it barely seems to be on the YA radar.

It's a character-driven book so the plot isn't the most important thing, but the gist is this (and there are spoilers ahead): Sutter, a charismatic teen drunk who can't see how messed up he is, meets an awkward, nerdy girl who reads lots of sci-fi and wears t-shirts with horse faces on them. He decides he's going to save her, so he takes her to parties, tries to find her a guy, turns her on to wine coolers and Grey Goose, becomes the guy, and encourages her to stand up to her family and make out-of-state college and job plans that she hadn't thought were possible for her. Meanwhile, nothing is changing in his own life except that his friends are outgrowing him, he doesn't graduate and he loses his job because he can't promise to stop coming in with whiskey on his breath. In the final scene, with his friends off to college and their various futures, Sutter ends up in a bar in the middle of the day charming the bartender and a bunch of aging drunks, all the while still convincing himself he's having a spectacular time.

Now, several reviewers have been critical that there weren't enough consequences for the exhaustingly endless drinking (and driving) going on, and/or because Sutter doesn't seem to make any positive changes by the end. I find this curious. It's not didactic in the slightest, but it's still about the most effective don't-drink-too-much cautionary tale I've ever read (if you insist that there be such a lesson from a book like this). The ending is heartbreaking. I bet teen readers will be even more horrified by the fact that he's become his father than I was, and you don't have to be a super sophisticated reader to see where things are heading for him.

I just don't understand the lack of enthusiasm for this book. It's fabulous; I couldn't stop thinking about it for days after I read it, and Sutter has one of the best voices since Brock Cole's Celine (another woefully under-appreciated book, by the way).

Friday, January 9, 2009

Sydney Taylor Book Award

The 2009 Sydney Taylor Book Award winners (for excellence in Jewish children's books) are out! Here is the winner, the honor book and some notables in the teen category:

Winner: A Bottle in the Gaza Sea, Valerie Zenatti
Honor Book: Freefall, Anna Levine

Notable Books for Teens:

Nothing, Robin Friedman
Rutka’s Notebook: A Voice from the Holocaust, Rutka Laskier
Gravity, Leanne Lieberman
The Freak, Carol Matas

Some of the winners are taking part in a blog tour, so check here for dates and links. (Though it looks like Anna Levine is the only YA author involved, at least so far..)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Booklist 2008 Editors' Choice

And Booklist has put out its 2008 Editors' Choice. (Actually, it was out a week ago; I kind of dropped the ball on this one...) Here's a rundown of the 19 YA fiction titles:

The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
Pretty Monsters, Kelly Link
What World is Left, Monique Polak
Octavian Nothing Vol. II: The Kingdom on the Waves, M.T. Anderson
Nation, Terry Pratchett
Chains, Laurie Halse Anderson
Here Lies Arthur, Philip Reeve
The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
Graceling, Kristin Cashora
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, E. Lockhart
Impossible, Nancy Werlin
Little Brother, Cory Doctorow
Climbing the Stairs, Padma Venkatraman
The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness
Paper Towns, John Green
The Diamond of Drury Lane, Julia Golding
Madapple, Christina Meldrum
Tender Morsels, Margo Lanagan
The Boy Who Dared, Susan Campbell Bartoletti

And if you're wondering, the Top of the List prize isn't among these—it went to Little Audrey by Ruth White, a book for middle readers.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Costa Award Winner!

The Costa Award winners have been announced, and in the children's category it's
Just Henry by Michelle Magorian!
The shortlist's here.
And that whole list is just another nagging reminder of my endless to-read list. I can't believe I haven't gotten to any of them yet...

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Stuff to look forward to in 2009

The worst thing about being a fan of YA lit without actually being in the biz is that I don't have access to ARCs. I actually have to wait until a book is released to read it, and by then it feels like I'm the last person in the world. But here are a few 2009 titles that I'm looking forward to. And I'm really going to try to be patient.

Wintergirls, by Laurie Halse Anderson (March)
Word is it's better than Speak, so even though I've been kind of lukewarm on some of her recent books, I'm looking forward to this one (even if it is about anorexia.) Speak might have been about date rape, but it would have been just as good if it were about almost anything else since it was the characters and the writing that make it interesting. So until I hear otherwise I'm going to assume this one will totally transcend the tediousness of the typical eating disorder problem novel.

Sacred Scars, by Kathleen Duey. (August)
As many know, Skin Hunger was just about my favorite book of 2007. I first heard of it from Sharyn November at the first Brooklyn Book Festival where she said it was one of the books she was currently reading. She made it sound so dark and cool that I immediately bought a copy. In fact, it's not so dark at all. Or it is I suppose (I mean, the wizards do let their students starve to death if they can't figure out how to magically conjure food), but it's just so meditative and intense that even though I literally felt hungry and desperate (and super-attuned to my own breathing) the whole time I was reading it, it somehow doesn't have time to seem grim. Later of course, it became a National Book Award finalist. And now it seems like I've been waiting forever for the second book in the series. August just cannot come soon enough.

Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld. (September)
No picture available for this one, and I don't really know much about it, but a) it's Scott Westerfeld, so how bad could it be? And b) I was on Amazon looking for a box set of Uglies and apparently the first two chapters are available at the end of that silly-looking new Uglies guide, and based on that one reviewer described it as "a steampunk version of World War I with diesel-powered battlemechs." What else could I possibly need to know? Can't. Wait. (!!!)

And there's so many more. I may have to post a part II when I have more time...

Bulletin Blue Ribbons

The Bulletin Blue Ribbons list is out, and it's packed with YA this year. As they say: "it’s probably the oldest-aimed fiction list, overall, that we’ve ever put on Blue Ribbons. Has the increasing attention to YA fiction in prestigious circles tipped the writing balance?" In fact, the entire list, which can include YA as well as books for middle readers, can be considered YA this year, although some titles are aimed at the youngest, junior-high-age young adult readers:

Octavian Nothing II: The Kingdom on the Waves, M.T. Anderson
Audrey, Wait!, Robin Benway
A Curse Dark as Gold, Elizabeth C. Bunce
Mexican WhiteBoy, Matt de la Peña
Ten Cents a Dance, Christine Fletcher
Runemarks, Joanne Harris
Tender Morsels, Margo Lanagan
Season of Ice, Diane Les Becquets
Hippie Chick, Joseph Monninger
Nation, Terry Pratchett
Living Dead Girl, Elizabeth Scott
Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow, James Sturm

Friday, January 2, 2009

Unrelated to YA lit, I just checked my site stats and it looks like someone got here with a search for "Bathtub reading accessories." They must have been disappointed, but I'm sure not. This is the best kind of reader, and just the kind I'd like to attract to my blog! For what it's worth, though, I'm a no-frills tub reader and my most important "accessory" is a towel draped over the side so I can keep my hands more or less dry. That, and a cup of coffee teetering on the edge.

Best Book I Read in 2008

I had meant to write up a list of my favorite books of 2008 sooner or later, but in the end it would be pretty meaningless as it was sort of an off year for me. I haven't yet read so many of the books that are getting all the buzz (let alone enough of the ones that aren't). So instead, here is a very short list: the single best book I happened to read last year, even though it was published back in, I think, 1999.

Bloodtide, by Melvin Burgess!
(And also its sequel Bloodsong, to a slightly lesser extent)
I'm pretty sure many who know me in real life are already way too familiar with this book, because they had to listen to me talk about it endlessly and breathlessly the whole time I was reading. I have way too many memories of whipping it out of my bag at inappropriate moments in conversations, waving it about while ramblingly describing awesome halfman things. Also, I had to use the stationary bike in the gym instead of the treadmill for a few days so I wouldn't have to put the book down to work out.

If you don't know, Bloodtide is a futuristic retelling of the 13th century Icelandic Volsunga saga, where two families viciously war for control of London and beyond. The marriage that's supposed to join the families goes horribly wrong, betrayals abound, everyone's hanging by their heels, or eaten alive, or held prisoner, and it all leads to an amazingly complicated revenge scheme involving shapeshifting birds and cloned babies and robo-horses. The gods and mythical creatures of the original legend are brilliantly reimagined as variously genetically-and-mechanically-tweaked human/animal/machine combinations.

A warning, though: like the original story, it's plenty brutal and gory. I actually started reading it on the subway one morning when a particularly vicious scene made me so nauseous that I had to put it away and take deep breaths the rest of the commute. I didn't plan to pick it back up, but I couldn't stop thinking about it, about what was going to happen next, about that amazing pigman calling for his dinner—all day at work I was distracted. So I started in again on the way home, and it's a good thing I did. Melvin Burgess is a genius—a Cormier-level genius—and this, I think, is his best work.