October 29, 2014


Somehow, though I've been reading along faithfully, I never got around to reviewing the second in the Gail Carriger Finishing School series. Curtsies & Conspiracies was just as much hare-brained fun as my well-loved Etiquette & Espionage. May I have so eloquently named a series someday! Love the use of ampersands in a title, and I love the font. Though this entry into the series is a little uneven for me, for fans, it will be eagerly received and lapped up.

Summary: Sophronia Temmick - still an entirely dreadful name - is now sixteen, and though further from the mutton-headed fourteen year old she was in the first book in this series, she's not much further in her second full year of finishing school. She's surreptitious and calculating, and can kill a grown man with a fan, but she still the sort who takes life as it comes, and goes along with things out of a sense of amused mischief, just to see what will happen next. Soph's education has expanded to knowing a great deal more about the perfect dress to catch attention - she wears black well - and quite a few new courses are on offer - including the rudiments of Seductions! Soph's new understanding of the world, now that she's a freshly turned sixteen, is expanding. There are things on the horizon which cause most girls to drop out of finishing schools - marriages, contracts with great houses, and gentlemen wanting to kiss her! Now her brother's getting married, and she's manufactured some tenuous excuse to take her roommate, Dimity, along with poor, put-upon Pillover, to be her guests at the betrothal ball. Before they can make their escape from the rather boring lessons, Something Awful happens to Sidheag... she's received a pigeon, which is strictly secret communication from Abroad... and the dispassionate girl they've come to rely on is utterly undone -- and then vanishes.

Which is simply unacceptable. There's nothing for it but to go after her, right? Fortunately - or unfortunately? - Soph already has her closest sidekicks along - whether she expects them or not - and the hijinks, fun, and danger roll along at a good clip.

Peaks: I like the series as a whole, and I like the covers - though I don't care so much for the girl on the cover (and maintain that the model has never actually looked fourteen or sixteen - not with that finished bone structure in her face), I always appreciate that the covers contain elements of the text, in this case the fan. I also laughed out loud - in public - at the idea of Sidheag getting a pigeon. Despite their history as carrier birds, pigeons, to me, are Just Not Serious Birds. Getting an Owl, oh, my, yes, that's a big deal...but in this reality, it's a pigeon (which, honestly? Makes more sense. Owls have their own agendas; pigeons just want you to give them more bread crusts, and if you keep feeding them? They'll come back. Owls... not if they see a fat vole). That little nod (or was it a razz?) to Harry Potter made me snort.

I was surprised by the fact that the girls are learning Seductions, but as spies, they know their own power as women and they're learning to use it in an educated manner. Dimity might faint, but I feel fairly sure that Agatha is going to rock this Seduction thing, once she figures out that she can't hide behind Sidheag anymore. I love the tiny hint of a love interest for our formerly quietest spy.

Creatively diverse characters in Carriger novels is something by now to be expected; we've seen the flawlessly beauteous Lord Akeldama and have admired his clothing sense and that of his drones, and then there's the sooties, and Soap. ...who is both adored, and somewhat problematic...

Valleys: While this is a ridiculous and fun series, and much loved, I want to practice engaging critically with the books I love, yes? That said, I've always had a tiny... question about some attitudes in these books, and I'm going to go ahead and put it out there. If it's a valley, it's a small valley. Maybe more a pothole? Okay, maybe not that small - it's something that bugs me.

First, I so LOATHE love triangles that the eruption of one in this novel really put me off, and tarnished what, for me, was a perfectly frothy and lighthearted book.

Second, I've always found Soph's relationship to Soap to be ...interesting. She followed him around, she came into his world, and she essentially made her interest in his life obvious - in a perfectly reasonable way. BUT. It seemed that the innocence was, in some ways, disingenuous; unlike Dimity, who is VERY CLEAR on who is and is not Acceptable, Sophornia seems to have missed that portion of her life - which I never really believed. She may not CARE, but surely she knows the social mores in her world - yes? Okay.

Sophronia and Phineas - or Soap's - proposed romantic connection, which began in the last book, feels ... on unequal footing, to say the least. Older boy Soap adores Sophronia; it takes her immature emotions longer to figure out that she might think he's okay, too, mainly because she's trying to keep fascinated someone Eminently Acceptable, that is, Lord Felix Mersey... except, how acceptable should the son of a Pickleman be to her? I had a hard time feeling like Soph would seriously be considering Felix, that has never felt realistic, considering what the Picklemen did and have been doing since the first book, and how arrogant and doltish he was - it almost seemed like one of those relationships your friends think you should have ("So-and-So LIKES YOU!"), but that you're ambivalent about, but go along with, once the "Do you like me Yes/No?" note gets passed, because everyone else thinks you're a cute couple. That Sophronia seems so guileless and so innocently curious in her actions toward both boys is realistic, but equally, she seems proprietary about Soap - and with the author not giving us sufficient background of human bondage in this semi-parallel Victoriana, or of Soap's position, legal or otherwise, in society, or reasons or explanation as to how it is that he's so exceptional - why is there only ONE person of color on an entire continent? - and how it is that he's always there for Sophronia... well, our Soap is somewhat Magical of a Negro, and always has been. Trying not to pass judgment, I've waited a long time for him to have a fuller storyline, and maybe now ... there's a chance. The open-ended conclusion to the novel may frustrate some, but I'm interested to see if the "solution" provided for the storyline is going to make an actual difference in the social and class separations to which even this version of Victorian England seems to cling.

What follows is a dissection of a specific detail in the novel, which may contain SPOILERS despite the fact that this doesn't go into plot, but a minor action. Read at your own risk.

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Third, and this is a big deal for me - in this novel, Sophronia, without thinking too much about it, touches Soap's hair, thinking to herself how much she likes the texture, and -- I'm sorry. I know, all right? It's a novel, and she's sixteen, and curious, and it's innocent and he's not a stranger, but...

... someone touching an African British character's hair without invitation? And she, being a girl of Quality, and of the dominant culture? Granted, he does not have our modern-day issues and hangups, but without context or explanation or exchange on this action? With just a knee-jerk reaction of shame at being seen taking this liberty, by someone else of the dominant culture? No. NO.

Sorry, but there it is - it briefly gave me goosebumps, and not the nice kind. The moment is a mishmash of innocent and egregious, especially since in Actual Britain during Actual Victorian times, Africans were exhibited like zoo animals. The fascination with African hair and skin and body type is well documented; further, in many Western countries, as well as in the Southern United States for too many years, it was believed good luck to rub the head of a person of color - ! so a hand on the head/in the hair is greatly contested ground - deeply, conflicting, greatly contested, and upsetting ground. Despite her allegedly continental upbringing and subsequent worldwide gallivanting, I cannot imagine that the author did not know that, thus I must assume she wrote that scene in that manner on purpose.

However, I'm not at all sure that it accomplished all that she hoped.

How much of our real world sensibility overlaps into the steampunk world? Other than all the words for clothing and such being the same, other than the class structures being the same as real life Britain - I mean, it's apparent that Soap doesn't measure up to Felix for one great big right-on-his-skin reason, not to mention the fact that he works, when real gentlemen don't sully their hands with trade - everything is different. Sort of. How much are we meant to say, "Ah, well, it's fantasy/alternate history?" I don't know - but I think maybe not that much.

It doesn't diminish from my desire to read the final book and see this series conclude triumphantly, with Soph "finishing," in whatever way she feels is... um, done. But... this still is a tiny bit of a niggle that threw me out of the story, and makes me wonder a bit.

Conclusion: Due to considerations of growing up, this volume of the Finishing School tales is a little heavier than the usual frothy fun, as Reality looms on the horizon, but there's still lots of laughs, a tiny surprise, a great deal of speculation and at least one more book in the series, which fans of the series will enjoy.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. After November 4th, you can find WAISTCOATS & WEAPONRY by Gail Carriger at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

October 28, 2014


Wow, a book review!

What with all the ranting going around here lately, I'd almost forgotten that I do that. But, partially to blame have been the number of books I've read recently that just haven't provoked a response. I checked out a pair from the library - a post-apocalyptic series, and on the front cover, of both, the girl had a great big swoopy cape and I just... couldn't. No. I mean, I read the first one, but... meh. Because I kept thinking:

Really, character? Where did you GET that swoopy cape? Are you not scared and starving and living under the lash of a despotic scary military-type who just killed your grandfather and threatened sexual violence to you and killed your beau's mother when he was but a tiny child? What, then, is with the swoopy capes and perfect body? JUST ONCE I want to see a YA novel where the character looks as scared and as scarred as she should. Like the ROT & RUIN cover. That character there looks appropriately terrified. But, we can't even get ethnic or ability diversity on covers, not to mention people of diverse sizes so why am I going about facial expressions and outfits?

< /digression>

With the number of books I've been putting down lately, I was cheered and charmed pick up this breezy pair from 47North, Amazon's new publishing imprint. Or, one of several. The novel is imperfect in its pacing, and has some Harry Potter moments - but in more of a tribute than a derivative way, which was good - but has a warmly whimsical - if also bone-headedly, truculently impulsive and stubborn heroine. Two books are available now in Ms. Holmberg's series and a third of the trilogy is in production.

Summary: Ceony Twill is well vexed. What's the point of working your behind off to graduate top of your class in magic school if you don't then get to choose your next steps? However many protests she mounts to the Head Magician in charge apprenticeships of Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, she's stuck. Ceony had her heart set on being a Smelter; someone who worked magic into metal. She wanted to make, for some reason, charmed bullets, which always struck true. Now the apprenticeship offered, take it or leave it, is... Paper. What on earth can you do with paper that even counts?

Despite her less than can-do attitude, Ceony arrives at the ugly, cluttered house and eventually determines that there's a place for everything there... including her. Magician Thane - though younger than she expected and quite gifted is kind - and he just might be worth listening to... at least, a little. Ceony's gulping down magic by leaps and bounds, aided by a preternatural intelligence and a firm determination to make something of herself, to make up for a few scrapes in the past. Her eagerness to learn something is interrupted by danger that she doesn't understand and that no one expects. Can a half-trained Paper Magician make a difference and save someone she's just learning to love? Turning her prodigious intellect and ferocious stubbornness toward the task, she just might be able to change the whole game. All it takes is a little luck, listening to absolutely no one but her own heart, and doing her best.

Peaks: Both novels are filled with those wonderful "new-things-per-page" which worked so well for JK Rowling. Reading the first novel at times felt like opening a pop-up book for the first time and figuring out what little flaps and paper levers will move what - always a fun experience. This is a slightly steampunked London - but instead of dirigibles we've got... gliders. Ceony is not perfect princess material; she describes her hair color as the inside of an uncooked yam, which means it's quite orange-y, initially she's bitter and not at all charming to her new teacher, which would also make her unattractive, in a way. And yet, she grows on the reader, just as she grows to have great respect and affection for her teacher. The extended metaphor of having one's heart ripped out is subtle enough not to be invasive - and a lot of what happens in the first book IS metaphor worked out in reality. It's interesting, and in the end, Ceony's bright intellect and stubbornness win the day.

I found Ceony's crush to be completely realistic, despite its speed -- crushes work like that. I was gratified that it wasn't acknowledged until the second book, and that natural consequences of her personality and bone-headed choices in the second book have taken some of the shine off of it. I doubt the whole thing will be as easy as readers expect, and I'm intrigued by the New Things Learned at the end of the second novel. A secret is best kept with just you and yourself... one other person knows Ceony's secret...but, if things go as badly as I think they might? That might not last...

The paper cutout covers are THE BEST. Classy, yet understated and fresh.

Valleys: A tiny disappointment is that these books lack diversity. Despite the novels taking place in a fictional parallel Victorian London, the exceptional appearance of a South Asian person is so that he can be identified as a psycho killer, and boo for that. As always, if we're going to imagine worlds, why not imagine them diverse?

I found it a tiny bit distracting that I found out about Ceony's backstory where and when I did -- there are hints several times about Bad Things that have happened to her - hints that are supposed to lead the reader to believe that the stories inform her character. Unfortunately, I felt told about them more than shown how they worked to change and shape her.

At Tagis Praff, the magical apprenticeships are divided by type of magician... There are Folders - in paper, Gaffers, in glass, Smelters, in metal, and more - it seems like a lot of fiction has been hijacked by The Sorting Hat. Or Divergent. I don't find my world as easily sorted, but the nod to the types of magicians - or Divergent - and knowing that One Is Bad - one was bound to be, and in this case, they were the Excisioners, who practiced blood magic - was a comfortable and familiar plot convention, if not terribly original.

Conclusion: Debut author Charlie Holmberg has created a lighthearted, charming magical series for readers who enjoyed school stories like Shannon Hale's THE PRINCESS ACADEMY, or Caroline Stevermer's A COLLEGE OF MAGICS and an intersection of London and magic as in Patricia C. Wrede's MAIRELON THE MAGICIAN series.

I received my copies of these books courtesy of NetGalley. Now for the first one, and after November 4th for the second one, you can find THE PAPER MAGICIAN and THE GLASS MAGICIAN by Charlie N. Holmberg at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

October 27, 2014

A KidLitCon 2014 Roundup

Between the two of us, Tanita and I have done several posts with our notes and impressions from this year's KidLitCon in Sacramento. I suspect for both of us, some of these were necessary in order to come down a bit from that special organizer's frenzy that seems to accompany the planning of such events. As you can see from the photographic evidence (photo courtesy of Tanita's husband D.), we lived to see another day, and the written evidence mounted over the past weeks...so I wanted to round it all up in one place for the sake of convenience and simpler linking.

First, though, I'd be remiss if I didn't remind you that there is a master roundup of KidLitCon posts by attendees over at the Kidlitosphere Central website, so don't forget to peruse those for a "Diverse" (heh) range of posts about this year's diversity-themed conference.

Here's what Tanita and I came up with, sorted by post author for your convenience:

Tanita's posts:

KidLitCon, 2014: A Retrospective, Part I
KidLitCon, 2014: Notepad Forum, Part I KidlitCon 2014: Notepad Forum, Part ii ~ The Weekend Word: "Appropriation"
KidLitCon 2014: A Retrospective, Part II - Reflections on Floating Heads
Sarah's posts:

KidLitCon 2014: Small World, Diverse Voices
KidLitCon 2014: Further Thoughts (And Sketches) 

October 24, 2014

KidLitCon 2014: A Retrospective, Part II - Reflections on Floating Heads

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The one and only Floating Head of Shannon Hale! It rocks! It talks! It silences its viewers!

I didn't take as many notes as I should have, when author Shannon Hale "visited" KidLitCon on our second day. Mainly because I was on edge, hoping against hope that the Skype would stay hooked up (it didn't) and that laptop wouldn't blow up (oddly enough, it kind of did. Was it because I was thinking about that??), and that all would go well (somehow, in the end, it did). I regret that lack of note-taking and apologize for it.

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Even if you've never met her, reading her blog will reveal a Shannon Hale who comes across as such a lovely, genuine person. I appreciated much of what she had to say. She gave us a little background about who she is, and how she came to support greater diversity in children's literature. While sharing a personal experience, she spoke movingly about the lone girl she imagined needed her stories - and the variations on that girl that she has met, the one little girl who looked at a Hale book and said, "Oh, that girl is just like me," and whatever her color, truly believed it. She also talked about moving to a high school and going from being in the majority to being a definite minority, and what an unusual and freeing experience that was for her. She talked about what a hoot THE GREAT GREEN HEIST had been for her, and how much she'd loved the cover, filled with faces across the (human pigment) color spectrum.

But, there was one thing Shannon Hale said that caught me right across the solar plexus, that made me strain vainly to catch my breath (and I wonder if I am making this up, or if I was the only one who heard it, because I'm a little surprised no one else has blogged about it. Guys, seriously: did I hallucinate this???). She said, and this is not a quote, because I didn't take good notes, that books with nonwhite characters on the covers don't sell as well as those with white characters on the covers. Shannon went on to explain how she'd seen that as truth with her own books, that sales of the arms-and-hands girl on the hardcover version of BOOK OF A THOUSAND DAYS sold much, much better than the paperback whereon the whole of the girl with Asian arms, hands and features was revealed.

...wait, what?

BOOM. Sucker punch.

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Further, Hale explained, the sidekick character in Rapunzel's Revenge was nonwhite, and the sequel, which starred him on the front cover, has sold poorly in comparison to the first, with Rapunzel in her titian-haired glory on the front cover.

This is where I started taking notes... much of which did not make all that much sense:

* You can't compare apples and apples! I scribbled. (I'm pretty sure I meant "apples and oranges." Or kiwis. Or, ooh - let's go with star fruit - the star fruit on the a.m. snack buffet was really good. Okay, back on topic.)

* Different market conditions between Rapunzel 1 & 2, I added.

* Could be anything: change of narrator = ugh?

* Is "white" vs. "other" all that matters? if "white" is all what sells, ...sad, shrug? Must be answer for this - parents, teachers, librarians ==>readers.

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To decode: two like things cannot effectively be compared. True, Hale's BOOK OF A THOUSAND DAYS were in paperback and hardback form, but: the two books were sold at different times; there's the possibility that everybody had already gotten their copy of the book, in hard-back, and didn't need or want a second copy; the marketing would have been different, as would its placement within bookstores; etc. The only way for this kind of "test" to be fair would be to test the same book - with the same price - and different covers, either in the same store, or in different regions.

Further, in referencing the Rapunzel books, the issue of poor sales for the sequel might have been something as simple as... It was a sequel. There was a change in narrator. Maybe it came out in the summertime, the springtime, the autumn, when school just started, deep winter, post-Holiday blahs.... In short, there could have been all sorts of reasons.

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Slightly on-topic example: I really love Seanan McGuire's bizarre InCryptid series. I haunted my library for them, and actually bought and donated a couple when they were too (*cough*) slow procuring them, and then I saw the cover of the third one, and I hit a wall. Half-Off Ragnarok. Had a boy. On the cover. No, no. NO. My favorite insouciant and smarty pants narrator is a girl, Verity Price. Some dude? I didn't even wanna know. I put that book aside for an embarrassingly long time, out of sheer pique. I didn't want to read it, because Who Was This Alex Person, Anyway? In the end, Alex was hilarious and just fine. It just... took me a minute. Readers - even dream readers like me (*cough*) sometimes choke when an author changes things in a series. So, case in point, with Ms. Hale's sequel? It could have been something that simple which affected sales.

My point? There is not enough data to generate meaningful information in response to questions about what sells better. Giving credence to this evidence-free argument is another way to hide behind the idea that The Market is to blame for z, y, and x. The Market did it. It's not anyone's problem but The Market's. Just sort of summarizing like that makes the issue of publishing's diversity pitfalls all so much less... distinct and specific, and I think Shannon Hale erred when she gave credence to a free-floating publishing paranoia that will neither get data nor die, as my friend and fellow author Ashley H. Pérez puts it.

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It wasn't the most coherent rant there in my notes, especially that last bit ("sad shrug" - ??), but I've still kept thinking about Hale's talk. And thinking about it. And, thinking, this is ridiculous (not Shannon Hale's talk - this publishing thing). Ashley is right -- we need to either get data, hard data, or we need to let this one die. And, we need to think ahead -- because if we GET the data that says definitively that books with nonwhite characters on the covers don't sell, is the answer really to close up shop and say, "Welp, the colored people gave it their best shot, better go home now" -- ??? REALLY?


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A problem exists, and it is systemic - involving us all - teachers, librarians, readers, writers, publishers, bloggers, reviewers - and I think it's not going to sort itself until all of us are involved. I also think that people in the dominant culture are simply given what it's assumed that they want, which is a world that appears to be a monoculture - which is then what they buy - which revolves around itself like an ouroboros, as bookstores stock those books, which then are the books purchased over others, and it goes on, and on, and on. A monoculture is certainly an easier world to find, in stock-photographyland, which is from where a great many book covers come, and certainly businesses are all about easy and inexpensive. Art? Individual photo shoots? The money those things represent is pretty significant.

I know the challenges. But, I still can't blindly give credence to the evidence-free argument that books with diverse and multicultural people on the covers don't sell. I appreciated Elizabeth Bluemle's perspective a few years back. She lives in Vermont, one of our smallest states which is 93.4% White, as of the 2010 census, and somehow manages to stock and sell diverse books in her tiny bookstore.

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For this issue to be resolved, someone (meaning: someone with proper research chops, plus a willing publisher, READ: not Sarah and me - CBC? Knopf? Horn Book? Anyone?) needs to put together an experiment wherein a book is distributed with two different covers: one with a Caucasian-looking character, and one with a non-white character, with everything else exactly the same. Whether the two versions go to the same stores, or whether they separate out the covers to different distributors, I don't know. I do know, however, that we need an answer, and there ought to be people who are interested in studying the problem, if only we could find them. If we truly seek the answer, we can then move forward (and there is a "forward" to move to, for sure. Simply identifying the needs for diversity isn't enough). If it turns out that there is no effect, one way or another on sales with diverse or non-diverse covers, then we can argue that much more strongly for more diversity in cover art. If it turns out that the American public is racist in their purchasing ... well, we can at least know for certain, identify our lack, and make a specific and pointed campaign to effect change. Either way, though, it is my heartfelt wish for argument from evidence rather than from gut-feelings and suspicion.

Meanwhile, I, as blogger, will continue to blog about what's important to me - diversity - just as Shannon Hale, in her less floaty, smaller head incarnation, will continue to think about and write stories whose diversity, energy and imagination captures ours.

October 23, 2014

Thursday Review: COMPLICIT by Stephanie Kuehn

This cover is really awesome.
Summary: Protagonists whose past is hidden--even, sometimes, from themselves. It's something author Stephanie Kuehn does well, if you've read her first book, Charm & Strange. Complicit is another suspenseful read, in which protagonist Jamie Henry's life is turned upside down (again) when he finds out his sister Cate is getting out of juvie. Cate is...well, everyone knows she's a psycho, and everyone knows Jamie as the psycho's sister, so nothing good can come of this. After all, before she was put away, she set fire to a barn and almost killed someone.

It's two years later, and now Jamie's seventeen, with his life more or less in a routine. His home life with his adoptive parents is okay, but not great. He's seeing a therapist, but he still doesn't remember a lot about the traumas in his past. He's avoided by most people at school, but the new girl seems to like him. He struggles with a mysterious neurological thing--a cataplexy--that seems to be stress-induced: his hands go completely numb and paralyzed, but it doesn't happen that often. Until, of course, his sister comes back into the picture, prompting not only the return of Jamie's physical symptoms but a whole host of questions and unpleasant flashbacks about their traumatic childhood. But she's the only one who really knows what happened the night of the fire, and in their past. So Jamie will have to confront the truth--and his sister--if he wants closure.

Peaks: The suspense created by the structure of this story--movement between the past, before the fire, and the present--is very effective, and makes this a real page-turner. The author does an amazing job treading the balance between what the reader knows (or suspects) and what the protagonist knows (or suspects). One of my pet peeves in books where the protagonist unconsciously knows more than s/he consciously knows is when it's obvious to the reader, and therefore it feels like I'm being manipulated as I read, which boots me out of the story faster than you can say "obtrusive storytelling."

In Complicit, though, the mystery is heightened by the fact that Jamie knows there are things he doesn't know. He's trying to figure them out, and we know trauma has made him not remember. I didn't feel deliberately misled because I felt very close to the character as he fumbles his way toward the truth, frightening as it is. He's relatable, and the stark contrast with his troubled sister, Cate, elicits even more sympathy.

Valleys: This was a really good book. I don't have any major criticisms--I was impressed by how the author handled the slow reveal of information and clues, so that the reader (well, this reader) only begins to suspect what truly happened as we near the end of the story. And I don't think it's really a negative criticism to say that a book's ending made me exclaim "WHY!! Why did you do this to me?" (I shan't elaborate, for fear of spoilers, but that's what happened.)

Conclusion: Fans of mystery and suspense, as well as dramatic family stories, will really enjoy this one, I think. If you liked her first book, Charm & Strange; if you liked E. Lockhart's latest; if you like Swati Avasthi and Laurie Halse Anderson (particularly her latest, The Impossible Knife of Memory, which I think I still need to review), I recommend Complicit.

I purchased my copy of this book from an independent bookstore at KidLitCon. You can find COMPLICIT by Stephanie Kuehn at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

October 21, 2014

Dear Author, Whose Book I Read and May Have Negatively Reviewed, Your Anger Will Not Silence Me.

By now, the flurry of comments on the Guardian essay of last week have turned into their own weather system. I won't link to or add to the storm, but should you want to sort of track the round-up, Leila has stood in the eye of the hurricane, Beth Revis has responded as an author, and Kelly Jensen has some good thoughts on blogger privacy.

I was disappointed, though, to hear that a couple of bloggers are considering leaving blogging over this. I am... baffled. Okay, I know - I'm often baffled, but seriously, I don't understand. NOT that I don't get the fear that something like this could happen - there's another tale of insanity online at a Goodreads review where a woman said that the author struck her over the head with a wine bottle - yikes. There's a case, and it's ongoing in Scotland and London. Authors are not always acting with genteel restraint, to say the least, and frankly, Wonderland is embarrassedsince both of us are authors, too.

But, what I don't understand is reasonable people's inclination to quit blogging over it. Because of stupidity? Oh, no. The egregious we will always have with us. I understand the feeling - seriously, I do - but I strongly feel... we need to keep blogging.

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Dear Author, Whose Book Of Yours I Read And Reviewed:

Your narrative piqued my attention. Your jacket copy raised an eyebrow. Your plot arc had all the elements we enjoy - a beginning, a middle, an end... Well, I liked your book enough to finish it - or, at least it intrigued me that far. And now, it's my turn: I'm going to talk about it.

Despite YA bloggers having been labeled the queens of nice, you may not like what I have to say.

I won't be mean - you can count on that. I don't find personal attacks necessary. However, the fact remains: I might not have enjoyed your book.

You know, I'm sure, that when a book leaves your hands that it is no longer yours. Of course you do - you've experienced the same moments of dismay, as your critique group read deeply into something you hadn't even put into the voice. You even experienced this same thing in school, where you read a novel, short story or poem, and the teacher tried to drill MEANING into your head, where you only saw words. Discussions ensued and you had no idea what the rest of the class was talking about. Theme? Symbolism? What? Sometimes, that's how it goes: we all come to a work of art from varying angles of privilege and background, we all bring different things to the metaphorical table. No one of them makes us better or worse - just who we are, and inform where we're coming from.

So, dear author, whose book I read, when I say that it troubles me that your dominant culture characters talk down to your deaf character, or when I express disbelief that your African American character from an urban landscape shows facility with country activities, such as raising cows; when your male character uses the word "Mamí" to a minor Latina character, and comments on her backside, or "don't be a retard" and "that's so gay" escapes the lips of a straight female character with no context or explanation - you can bet I'll comment. I'll be talking about the book, not you, but sometimes, the book might feel like you, like your baby. When I comment, you may feel attacked, and angry.

And your anger is really and truly okay. As long as it doesn't hurt anyone else, it's just fine.

So is mine.

And, your anger will not silence me -- nor will the potential you have, as everyone does, for unhinged assault, stalking, or violence. Your anger does not silence me, because I've already had that childhood, and I'm old now, and cranky, and cannot live my life in fear of what you might do if you don't like what I say. Your anger will not silence me, and I will not quit blogging for you. I will not cease critically engaging with books. You can't make me.

There is a way to be a fan of problematic media. There is a way to say "I LOVE Buffy," and turn around and say, "but she should have gotten the heck away from That One Guy Whose Name I Can Never Remember," because the relationship was abusive, and that relationship, Mr. Wheedon, reclined all too comfortably on the lumpy cushion of the tired stereotype of the female's honest desire for an alpha male to come and tell her his crazy was her fault. There is a way to love Game of Thrones, and voice your concern, Mr. George R.R., about the violence toward women, and how somehow it feels a little skewed, because there's a blonde over the slaves, and so many of the slaves - when the series is otherwise flirting with the monoculture, so many of them are not of the dominant culture. There's a way to enjoy engaging with video games, but want to speak out incisively about certain games' pervasive might-makes-right storylines, gratuitous violence and inability to consistently make avatars of reasonably bodied females or minorities. There's a way to love what you love, and still SEE it.

This is what smart people do. I like to think of myself as, if not smart yet, thinking my way hard toward that direction. I can't be afraid of my own thoughts - or expressing them. Not for you, dear author whose book I have read and reviewed.

Sometimes things in books are problematic. Sometimes cultures are appropriated, genders and ethnicity are slandered, races and nationalities are "othered" and marginalized. Bloggers, as we see those things, need to speak up. And you, dear author, might come to my home, call my workplace, stalk me online, warn me that just "as a friend," that I should know that some nebulously scary "people" can "find me," and that you'd hate to see anything happen. You might hit me over the head with a wine bottle with no explanation.

But, you know what? YOU CANNOT SILENCE ME.

Just sayin'.

October 20, 2014

KidLitCon 2014: Further Thoughts (and Sketches)

I meant to do this post last Thursday, but work spun dizzily out of my control, tossing me into a whirling black hole (do black holes whirl? I feel like they do) of getting-caught-up. Tanita's done some amazing posts with lovely photos of the KidLitCon last weekend, and while I can't compete with the photos (mainly because I forgot to take any...sigh) I do have a couple of quick sketches I did during sessions, which is a Thing I Do at Conferences when I'm not jotting notes. And I did jot notes, too, and was left with a lot of food for thought on blogging and on diversity.

Charlotte of Charlotte's Library--a fellow Cybil-ite and a good friend from previous KidLitCons--gave a very practical and thought-provoking presentation the first day on Finding Your Voice. You'd think this wouldn't be a problem after blogging for as long as I have (EONS!) but it really and truly is something I constantly agonize over. Here are some things I learned from Charlotte; things I'm still working through in relation to my own blogging and what I might want to do with it in the future, and making myself feel like it MATTERS:
  • What makes a blog interesting? Focus + intensity/passion + personality
  • However, in order to stand out and be authoritative, a personal approach needs reasons to back it up.
  • People will relate when you talk about what you care about--but to what extent should one talk about personal things? 
  • "Things that make the blogger a protagonist in their book journey" - that's what many readers want to see from a book blog
  • Consider who is the target audience, but also who isn't.
  • What is holding you back from writing strong blog posts? Is it diffidence? Or a desire not to hurt feelings?
Those were some big take-aways for me, especially the idea of showing one's personality through a conscious attempt to share our journey with books. Also diffidence--because I have trouble getting very personal with blogging. 

Another great session I attended was Getting Beyond Diversity, with Jewell Parker Rhodes (pictured), Hannah Gomez, and Edi Campbell. One point that really resonated with me was something Jewell said, which is that when considering diversity in books, we have to think about what we don't see as well as what we do see.  Hannah added that it's important to know your own biases as well as your readers' biases. Edi shared a list of diverse reads she recommended, and I was reminded during this session that posting a themed roundup of books is always a good thing for book bloggers to do now and again, and something I haven't been doing.

I honestly can't gush enough about keynote Mitali Perkins or the Skype presentation from Shannon Hale. They were awesome! I think my tweets are probably the best record of those particular sessions, as well as the one by the folks from #WeNeedDiverseBooks. There were a lot of provocative ideas brought up, and not-so-provocative things we should all think about and remember. A few of my tweets from the conference sessions (and a drawing of S.E. Sinkhorn from the #WeNeedDiverseBooks panel):
  • Zetta Elliott: blanket policies that exclude self-pubbed books uphold the status quo. @zettaelliott #kidlitcon
  • Diversity: Review books that you think matter. @shgmclicious #kidlitcon
  • A child's imagination co-directs story along w/writer, & accesses all 5 senses. W/movies, director is in charge. #kidlitcon @MitaliPerkins 
  • Tropes, good or bad, when repeated again and again, begin to acquire power. @MitaliPerkins #kidlitcon
  • Writing diversity: how is race defined, if at all? If not, is it assumed that white is the "default race"? @MitaliPerkins #kidlitcon
  • If you're going to cross a border of power in your story, have you done the work to authentically tell that story? @MitaliPerkins #kidlitcon
  • An important job of writers: stop being safe & scared and start telling the truth of the world. @haleshannon #kidlitcon
  • The assumption is that stories about men & boys are universal, while stories about women & girls are only for girls. @haleshannon #kidlitcon 
  • When will writers/books of diversity not be solely relegated to "diverse reads"? @haleshannon #kidlitcon 
  • Making a personal/emotional connection helps readers engage with your blog or campaign. @karensandlerYA #kidlitcon 
  • Kids need to see others, see diversity, so they can learn to be empathetic. @karensandlerYA #kidlitcon #WeNeedDiverseBooks 
  • .@karensandlerYA on reading outside our comfort zone: "I think it's good to be a little uncomfortable. #kidlitcon #WeNeedDiverseBooks 
  • .@farre talks about how diversity is more than race or culture - it's also socioeconomic status. #kidlitcon 
  • "Caring is not trying, and trying is not succeeding." @shgmclicious #kidlitcon #WeNeedDiverseBooks 
  • Bloggers have an important role in reaching people who care but who don't know where to go from there. @shgmclicious #kidlitcon 
Thanks to Unconventional Librarian Pam, I also took a SHELFIE with Mitali's upcoming book Tiger Boy, but I'll leave you to find that for yourself on Twitter if you really must see it. I always think I look weird in photos (and selfies possibly even more so) and this is no exception. Don't forget to check the #kidlitcon hashtag on Twitter to read more live tweets from the conference--believe me, they were flying fast and furious, and it was a great simultaneous discussion.

I really hope to be there next year in BALTIMORE for more amazing book talk. I always end up feeling much more energized about blogging, with all these wonderful ideas (which I currently have no time to implement, argh) and I honestly couldn't recommend this conference more if you are a kidlit or YA blogger or author. Really really.