deborah: Kirkus Reviews: OM NOM NOM BRAINS (kirkus)
2014-10-18 06:01 pm

Revolution 60

I realize I am actually sick of talking about terrible people and how they treat people badly. So I'm going to talk about something positive: This is my review of Revolution 60, the game created by Giant Spacekat. Disclaimer: I'm a book reviewer, not a game reviewer. I'm not going to review this in a critical, professional way, but only my very personal reaction.

As you know, Bob, I have pain and dexterity problems in my hands, severely limiting what I can do on a touchscreen. I'm not dexterous, I'm not fast, and I have to be enjoying myself a lot to spend spoons on a game. These days most of my gaming is shared with my housemates, where they drive the controller but we make decisions together. Many of the games I install on my iPhone get rapidly deleted for this reason, and even the ones that I do play I specifically don't play in timed modes, or modes that require dexterity.

So I was a little bit nervous about Revolution 60. I knew there was a combat system, which was necessarily going to push my limits. I picked up the game anyway, on the recommendation of a coworker. (This was when the game first launched, long before the Internet blew up at Brianna Wu.)

Revolution 60 review )
deborah: Kirkus Reviews: OM NOM NOM BRAINS (kirkus)
2013-12-23 12:54 am

Little sparks of happiness

Kirkus Reviews reviewers are anonymous, and I like it that way. For one thing, it means that we speak with an editorial voice; when the incomparable Vicky Smith changes my reviews (always for the better), it means she's doing so with the voice of the publication.

Famously, our reviews are anonymous because they give the reviewers (in the very small world where so many publishers, authors, editors, agents, reviewers, and librarians know each other, smaller now in the days of the Internet) the freedom to be frank. Some, whose opinions I do not share, think that we are infamously cruel. The Kirkus folks I know certainly don't think of ourselves this way. Rather, we know that our reviews are being read by people with limited budgets and limited time, not just readers but librarians and teachers with small selection budgets, and we are determined to give those Kirkus Reviews readers all the tools they need to make the right purchasing choices. And yes, sometimes this means we write reviews authors don't like. The children's book review world has a partially true reputation of operating under the "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" rubric. This is most apparent with journals such as The Horn Book Magazine, which dedicates almost every one of its limited pages to books it thinks excels. While this serves one purpose for potential customers of reviews, Kirkus Reviews serves a different one, and I'm glad they both exist.

Anyway, when I first started reviewing for Kirkus Reviews, I would occasionally go seek out the social media presence of authors about whose books I had been ... not as kind as the authors probably would have wanted me to be. I'm not quite sure what experience I was seeking out. It wasn't schadenfreude or gloating, because I had nothing against these authors and certainly no desire to cause them pain or financial harm. I suppose it was a desire to see my mark in the world in some small way. I've long since stopped doing that; the point of our reviews is not a relationship with the author, but a qualitative description of the book in hopes that we might help find the right reader for the right book. In general I have thoroughly mixed feelings about the now-thoroughly shattered wall between readers and authors, and especially between authors and book bloggers. I apologize for thinking aloud in reader response terms, but I feel like the transaction between reader and story is fundamentally changed when the reader is constantly aware of the author.

But I do confess I still have one small social media bit of spying that I sometimes do. Occasionally, long after I have reviewed a book -- and not when I have something else by the same author in my pool -- I will go look at the blog of an author whose work I starred or otherwise kvelled about. If the author doesn't mention Kirkus Reviews, I am perfectly happy. And if they mention the review in a way that shows they are thinking about the effect on sales, that doesn't really affect me one way or the other. But sometimes I go to an author's blog and their response to a review I wrote is some variant of "They liked my baby! Those famously picky people liked my baby!" or "Wow, this one sentence in the review shows that what they loved about my book is what I love about my book!" And then I think, you know, Author, my goal was not to make you happy. In fact my goal was to take the ways in which you had given me joy (by writing the book), and convince as many people as possible to share the experience. But the fact, Author, that I gave you such joy -- it rebounds back onto me. ♥ Floating hearts and kittens for everyone. ♥
deborah: Kirkus Reviews: OM NOM NOM BRAINS (kirkus)
2013-04-01 10:10 am

that girl's wise: derivative versus archetypal

I don't actually want a professional tumblr, but it strikes me that this brief but very wise comment by [livejournal.com profile] diceytillerman is exactly the kind of thing that tumblr re-blogging is good for:

I will be fascinated for the rest of my life that some of the same things are archetypal and intertextual and deep when written well, but are stale derivatives when written poorly.


Via "No formula"

Dicey has been schooling me for years to pay attention to this when I write my reviews. Frequently the problem with the book is not that it's derivative, but that the characters are flat, the prose is uninspired, etc. And yet when all of those things are true, what you see is how derivative it is.

The same goes for certain other negative terminology. "Didactic", for example, is a term you apply to a terrible book with an overt moral lesson, whereas a good book with an overt moral lesson might get "thought-provoking". "Problem novel" versus "relevant".

Full disclosure: [livejournal.com profile] diceytillerman and I have an ongoing disagreement about the usefulness of the term "problem novel" given that we both define it differently. I've been trying to reclaim some of these terms myself, to use them descriptively about books that I like. Trying to pin down why I want to define I am J (a young adult novel about a trans Jewish Puerto Rican) as a problem novel, while I don't want to apply that same term to, say, The First Part Last (a young adult novel about an upper-middle-class adolescent black single father), if I'm not going to use high/low quality as one of my available definitive points, is... complicated.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
2012-10-26 10:17 am

millinery

My built-in china cabinet has long since ceased to be a cupboard to showcase hand-me-down wineglasses and become a closet for hats. Now I've outgrown that space, and my coat closet, too, has become overridden with hatboxes. Veils and feathers, fascinators and caps, boaters and fedoras.

What I'm saying is that I have a lot of hats.

I have almost as many metaphorical hats, though sadly they lack the trimmings of the physical kind. Usually I juggle my professional interests adequately, although every fall I come to terms anew with the reality that, for three months, my contributions to Dreamwidth are what I give up to make room for teaching. This year is slightly tighter than usual, because of membership on the Odyssey Award committee, but at least much of the time spent listening to audio books is time that would otherwise be dead space.

In any case, here is a description of the 48 hour period of which I'm currently in the center.

  • Yesterday morning, go to work as a digital archivist, where I've been having more opportunities to code of late as I've been contributing fixes and features to a blacklight/Hydra digital library portal we will be launching Any Day Now, and where I've been helping to manage our Open Access Week activities.
  • Leave after a short day to teach two sections of the children's and young adult SFF class I teach with Amy.
  • Get home at nearly 11 PM, go to bed, and wake up at 4:30 AM (on a gorgeous, starry autumn morning, Orion and Jupiter high in the sky) to catch the early train to New Haven for code4lib New England, where I'll be presenting on
  • On the train I'll be listening to audio books for the Odyssey Award committee;
  • when I return home I have some reading to do for Kirkus Reviews.


I do like hats. I like how they look and how they feel, how each one makes me into a slightly different person. But sometimes having so many gets a little complicated.
deborah: Kirkus Reviews: OM NOM NOM BRAINS (kirkus)
2012-05-18 12:24 pm
Entry tags:

things to think about when reading books about American Indians

the amazing [livejournal.com profile] diceytillerman, with assist from [personal profile] sanguinity, has made an excellent bulleted list of "A few things to think about when reading fiction about American Indians". I find this list incredibly valuable as a reviewer.

(This list is also valuable in reading fiction which is not about American Indians or other native populations, but which talks about them. I think of all the books I've reviewed for which the character, almost always white, shows their Social Justice Awesomeness by doing a school report about How We Killed off All the Indians Because We Are Bad, or has their epiphany moment by going on a Dream Vision Quest and giving themselves a name like Happy Running Deer. When I get one of those books, I'm coming back to this list.)
deborah: Kirkus Reviews: OM NOM NOM BRAINS (kirkus)
2011-08-25 03:42 pm

Guilt and Pleasure: you'll have to do the morality for both of us

I like to start off my semester by talking to students about how you can love media you find deeply flawed; part of learning to think critically is being willing to put aside your affection or dislike for a text for a little while. (And then you need to be able to take your emotional reaction back, and see what happens to it when informed by critical thinking. I'm all about multilayered response.) The examples I use are usually texts which are deeply flawed vis-à-vis some axis of political oppression which touches me personally: feminism, usually. There are plenty of movies I love that have deeply ingrained misogyny. On another axis, there's Georgette Heyer's The Grand Sophy, a fabulous book with the despicable Jewish moneylender.

But it's easy to talk about the the books you love when you're in the group under attack; not so easy when reading the book makes you into an attacker-by-proxy. Over at the Kirkus blog, Vicky Smith writes "Guilt and Pleasure":

Do you ever love a book that you feel you shouldn’t? I'm not talking about a typical “guilty pleasure” sort of book--legions of smart, emancipated women find themselves tucking into Twilight and its spawn as if they were chocolate-covered nougats. A little shamefacedly, they confess that they find the sexual politics of so many of these books utterly retrograde but nevertheless hugely enjoyable. But that guilt is a light one, not the kind that a person really feels, well, guilty about.


And then Vicky talks about what it feels like, both as a reader and as a reviewer, to have enjoyed 13th Child. It's an interesting essay, I think. As a reviewer, I share the worry she addresses:

A colleague at another book review asked me that summer, "What are you going to do about Thirteenth Child?" Of course, we had already done it. Because of our ferocious pre-publication schedule, we had gone to press with a starred review before I ever became aware of the controversy. Certainly, I was a member of that presumed non-Native audience, and I lapped the whole book up without thinking twice.


I'm not sure I know anyone who deals with books -- whether reviewers, authors, teachers, or readers (and I assume folks in publishing, although they have tighter constraints on what they can say in public) -- who doesn't occasionally have deep regret over the public or private reactions they had to a work they later realized was deeply problematic, or about problems in their own fiction. And I'm not sure I know anyone who doesn't love some deeply troubling fiction. I tell my students that you can love something and find it troubling, as part of your job as a critical thinker is gaining the ability to reconcile those. But it's a lot easier for me to reconcile my feelings about great books with despicable Jewish moneylenders than it is for me to reconcile my love for, oh, A Horse and His Boy or A Little Princess. It's easier to forgive (the book? myself for loving the book?) when I'm not reading from a position of privilege.

This goes beyond Wrede to so much of our literature, both great and not-so-great. Every year children devour the Little House books despite their terribly hurtful depictions of Native Americans, for instance. Some of us give Laura Ingalls Wilder a pass of sorts, saying she was a product of her times, a forgiveness that we cannot extend to Wrede—and, depending on the reader, to ourselves, when we enjoy her series.


Read the piece, it's thought-provoking.
deborah: Kirkus Reviews: OM NOM NOM BRAINS (kirkus)
2011-05-29 03:47 pm

more thoughts about trends in young adult literature

I've heard a lot of people griping lately about all the mermaid books, but I can't deny that they are vastly preferable to the glut of angel/demon books. And of course, every mermaid or angel book is one less werewolf.

<shameful confession>I never have gotten sick of faerie books, as long as they are decently written.</shameful confession>

Which is not to say that I currently am not craving realism in a way I never have before. Last night I read Cecil Castellucci's Beige (teen from Montréal, daughter of a recovered groupie, has to spend the summer in LA with her punk rocker dad) and loved it, and I've got an Interlibrary Loan copy of Tanita Davis's Mare's War sitting on my desk for next, which, if it is half as good as her À la carte, will be gorgeous. I suspect it's in the same family as Beige, as well, When the protagonist has to spend the summer with an estranged family member and in doing so, learns something about his or her past and becomes a better person. It's a pretty common theme in middle grade and young adult literature, but you can go a lot of different directions with it.

My point is, we need a paranormal romance where one of the boys is a abbey lubber and the other is a mind flayer.
deborah: The management regrets that it was unable to find a Gnomic Utterance that was suitably irrelevant. (gnomic)
2011-03-28 11:55 am

beloved books, beloved authors

I reviewed a fair number of Diana Wynne Jones books for Kirkus Reviews, although I was far from the only Kirkus reviewer to review her work. Even a beloved author falls flat sometimes; not all of my reviews of her books were overwhelmingly positive.

On the other hand, when one of her books was spot on, it has always been such a pleasure to be able to tell our readers how much the book lives up to expectations. My review of House of Many Ways, for example, reflects how I loved the heroine and her journey.

I'm honored to have been given the opportunity to write a tribute to Diana Wynne Jones on the Kirkus blog.

(Two disclaimers: I know the review refers to her as "Wynne Jones" rather than "Jones"; it's a legacy error in the database. And oof, that tribute points to the website, which I haven't updated in years, focusing on the mailing list instead. I suppose now would be a time to get cracking.)
deborah: Kirkus Reviews: OM NOM NOM BRAINS (kirkus)
2010-10-18 10:20 pm

crimes against humanity

Personally, I've always felt that Kirkus Reviews' reputation for being mean is undeserved. On the other hand, I have to say that I absolutely adore our willingness to tell it like it is. Although in this case, no reviewer commentary was necessary, clearly.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
2010-03-26 01:08 pm

nobody is objective, but book blogging advice sometimes scares me

YALSA Blog had a post I mostly liked about Blogging as a Professional Development Tool, but the opening paragraph concerned me greatly.

"Last month I posted an interview with Perry Moore, the executive producer of the Chronicles of Narnia films and author of the Y/A novel, Hero, to the YALSA blog. Did I know Moore personally before interviewing him? No, I didn’t. How did I get to know him? I blogged about his book. Yes, you read it right. I posted a blog entry on my own blog about his novel, Hero. Moore read my review, liked what I had to say, and suggested an interview."


I know a lot of book bloggers who treat their online reviews with the same sense of professionalism as professional reviewers. They write positive, negative, and mixed reviews, depending on what the book deserves. I know bloggers who have received angry mail from authors or editors and have taken it as a mark of pride. But this opening paragraph from YALSA Blog, in all its well-meaning optimism, exemplifies everything that worries me about encouraging people to become book bloggers.

This post explicitly states that the author (a) did important professional development and (b) met a successful young adult author and film producer because she wrote a review the author liked. I'm sure most people start out with every intention of integrity but it's hard to keep that when you know publishers are more likely to send you galleys* if you say nice things about the books. It's hard to remember when authors are coming into your blogs themselves and praising you every time you say something nice. A lot of people work very hard to keep that level of integrity, and the YALSA Blog article inadvertently but actively discourages that. I'm sure Perry Moore would not have suggested the interview if the blog post have been a negative review (although I can't swear to that, because I can't find the original blog post anywhere).

I had to take [livejournal.com profile] diceytillerman's excellent advice and unsubscribe from most author blogs after one author had gotten in the habit of posting squeefully along the lines of "wow, anonymous Kirkus reviewer, you are the best person in the world and I love you love you love you." That just felt too good, and compromised my integrity when I was reviewing that author's books. My hindbrain would send little reward signals every time I wrote a sentence in a review that I thought would make the author say nice things about me. (Yes, some of you are authors. Hopefully I will not be sent any of your books to review, and if I am, I will figure out what to do then.)

First of all, you should only book blog if you love books and love talking about them. Secondly, it can indeed succeed as a professional development tool -- although keep in mind that a reviewer who only writes squee might have prospective employers think twice about that blogger's ability to do collection development and selection. But you should NEVER be encouraging people to do book blogging in order to get the attention of authors or to get galleys from publishers, because both of those goals will result in intellectually dishonest reviews. The blogger with the best intentions cannot override the hindbrain's desire for free stuff and the friendship of famous people.




* I really don't understand why adults get so excited about galleys. First of all, they are often full of errors, and rarely read as smoothly as the finished copy. Secondly, yes, you get the book early -- but if nine months are going to pass between the finished version of book 1 and the finished version of book 2, those same nine months are going to pass between the galley of book 1 and a galley of book 2. And if you aren't guaranteed to get the galley of book 2, you will be waiting even longer between books than the people who waited for the finished version. If it's just the "free", than I would like to recommend to all these people their awesome local public library and its interlibrary loan program.
deborah: Kirkus Reviews: OM NOM NOM BRAINS (kirkus)
2010-03-17 03:08 pm
Entry tags:

review journals: it's what's for dinner

Not quite five weeks ago, Kirkus was sold. Two weeks ago, Library Journal and School Library Journal were sold. Now VOYA has been sold.

I can't tell if I am exhausted by the volatility of this industry or relieved all of these journals keep finding buyers. Both, I suppose.
deborah: Kirkus Reviews: OM NOM NOM BRAINS (kirkus)
2010-03-15 11:05 pm

reviewing sadness, reviewing glee, journal glee

I just wrote a scathing review of a debut novel, which made me feel like crap. But I followed it up with a starred review for a different debut novel, which made it all more than okay. *hugs the good one*

Incidentally, the fourth issue of Transformative Works and Cultures, a special issue on Supernatural, was just released. This issue includes an interview I conducted with the administrative team of the Super-wiki. It was a fascinating interview for me to conduct. Although I know a fair amount about administering fannish wikis, I know almost nothing about Supernatural or its fannish community, and the interviewees quite gracefully schooled me about my incorrect assumptions about their community and their goals.
deborah: Kirkus Reviews: OM NOM NOM BRAINS (kirkus)
2010-01-05 11:43 pm
Entry tags:

rising from the dead like a young adult zombie novel

Guys, guys! Usually I like to respond to every comment, but so many of you commented on my last post with variants of "yAt!", "\o/", and for those who believe in actual words, "hip hip, huzzah!" that I can only respond to all of you that I am still grinning like an idiot over here. Also, the occasion has prompted the second ever icon I have made for this account. After all, this is a professional blog, so it's not all about making silly icons, right?

Except [livejournal.com profile] cqs made a comment, and then [livejournal.com profile] bigbrotherreads made me a matching icon, and I just couldn't resist.

Really I should wait until there is actual news, so I am not hexing things in advance of them telling us "by the way, your pay has been cut to this shiny new nickel, and from now on we can only write positive reviews," but somehow I doubt our fearless leaders would have sold our souls for such business.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
2010-01-05 09:28 am
Entry tags:

Kirkus Redux

We are back!

I have no more details than that. But my face hurts from smiling.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
2009-12-10 05:02 pm
Entry tags:

We weren't grouchy. We were necessary.

I've reviewed children's and YA books for KLIATT, Jewish Book World, Horn Book Guide, and Horn Book Magazine, and I'm not speaking hyperbolically when I say none of them compared to my seven years with Kirkus. At Kirkus I've had two editors who were mentors, helping me become a better critic and prose crafter. Kirkus's so-called grouchiness is really a committment to fairness -- not fairness to the book, but fairness to our audience, which is to say, the teachers and librarians who need to spend their limited collections budgets wisely, and the children and teens they serve.

In seven years, I gave stars to 25 books, and I'm sure I completely panned far fewer. I had my editors demand more substance to back up negative statements, and once had a book taken from me and given to another reviewer because my editor felt I was insufficiently appreciative of the audience that would like it. At Kirkus, every review was written with the tiny collections budget in mind, with the idea that, if a book has a potential audience, the Kirkus reader wants to know about it.

Yes, we are often negative in Kirkus. That's because we have that tiny collections budget in mind. We're not worried about the feelings of the author but about the budget of the teacher or the librarian. We want brutal honesty, both positive and negative, in the service of that audience.

For business reasons beyond my ken, Kirkus was priced out of the affordability range of our prime audience. Now the children's and YA literature world has lost an invaluable resource. Just as politics bloggers provide a valuable new service but don't replace investigative journalists, book bloggers will not make up for the loss of Kirkus. They don't fill the same niche.

Good luck, PW, SLJ, and VOYA. Keep the flag flying.

Kirkus Reviews: 1933-2009
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
2009-05-18 11:26 am

Politics and reviewing, as always

I have 60 words in which to review a lengthy YA book which includes, in passing, hateful language which is totally in character for the protagonist (e.g. "fags," "spazzes in helmets"). The language is condemned neither by the text nor by any of the other characters; in fact, no attention is called to it at all within the text.

What I'm finding most problematic about this is not how to write the review. That's easy: I have 60 words, which means I tack on "bigoted" to one of my mentions of "the protagonist", which is about all I can do. No, what I'm finding most problematic is that this wouldn't have been an issue for me if the protagonist had been equally briefly and casually fatphobic, because I so take that for granted that I would have cringed and moved on. What's surprising in this book is that I don't actually expect over language of this sort to make it to the editing process without some kind of textual self-awareness being added. (I certainly am not surprised to find homophobia or ableism in contemporary YA, but more of the systemic kind, and not this sort.)

I know some people could make the same post and turn it into a judgment on the publishing industry for self-censorship, but I'm not one of them. I do think that language helps shape thought, and I think a raised eyebrow from another character or from the narrative voice could have clued in even the less aware reader that yes, the protagonist said "fags," and maybe that language is worth a second thought. I find it much more problematic that fatphobia is much more often treated with the same casual disregard this text gave to homophobia and ableism.



(Yes, I acknowledge that children's and young adult literature comprise a corpus created by adults for a group of readers who don't have control over their own literature and that we use their literature as a teaching tool. Like Nodelman, I find this both problematic and necessary.)
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
2009-03-02 01:03 pm

artists and art: I need better walls

For some time now, I have been unhappy about the thinning of the wall between authors and readers that has taken place in the blogosphere. I've never been able to pin down exactly why (except in little ways -- as a reviewer, I had to stop reading Scott Westerfeld's blog when he started posting gleefully about positive reviews he'd received from me). I've also found it frustrating when other people post mixed or negative reviews on their own blogs, which they immediately retract if the author shows up in the blog comments to ask why the review was negative. The sense the blogosphere gives us of all being friends makes it more difficult to fulfill the professional obligation of the reviewer: to advise people on where to spend their limited resources.

Now I have a non review-related example of how this thinning wall aggravates me. Will Shetterly's behavior online has made me feel uncomfortable about the fact that his Elsewhere is required reading in my class, because I don't want to give him the sales. This is clearly a ridiculous concern on my part. For one thing, I regularly support far more loathsome people with my purchases. Shetterly, on the other hand, was probably once a pretty well-meaning guy who has just reacted pretty badly to being told that his own history of hardship does not make him always right. But more important, much more important, the book is pedagogically important. It's a little-known precursor to the genre which would eventually spawn Wicked Lovely and Twilight. Giving Shetterly a few dollars in royalties (dollars he desperately needs; the man is filing for bankruptcy, not living large on ill-gotten gains, and unless I'm going to stop requiring Twilight I really just need to get over myself) is the necessary price to teach my students what I need them to know to understand the genre.

Still, it sticks in my craw. And it shouldn't, I should be able to keep the artist and the art separate in my head. It makes me sad that the blogosphere has made that more difficult for me.

ETA: A. helped me narrow down exactly what's making me uncomfortable here. It's not an artist being Wrong on the Internet; Orson Scott Card, for example, is Wrong on the Internet pretty much every time he opens his keyboard. It's this thinning of walls, this Internet-created feeling of fellowship which allows us to engage with each other in the same spaces. When Card is an ass, he's an ass in newspaper columns. When authors engage with their critics (not even critics of their books, but critics of their extratextual words) in the spaces populated by their fans and critics, I get uncomfortable. As A. pointed out, some of the people Shetterly is insulting, investigating, and posting rumors about could easily be my students or potential students. It's that which makes me uncomfortable, not his willful blindness to the legitimate concerns of people whose side he would like to think he is on.

Well, that, too.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
2008-12-12 02:01 pm

best of 2008

Following [livejournal.com profile] diceytillerman, I'm listing my best books of 2008. All of these are middle grade or young adult. I've marked them with an asterisk (*) if they are sequels or parts of series. And I've read almost nothing this year I didn't review, so there's so much here that's missed, I'm sure!

Fantasy and science fiction:
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
House of Many Ways* by Diana Wynne Jones
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Flora's Dare* by Ysabeay Wilce
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Realism:
Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez
This Full House* by Virginia Euwer Wolff
The Porcupine Year* by Louise Erdrich
Antsy Does Time* by Neal Shusterman

Books that weren't as good as I wanted them to be but were still very enjoyable:
Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock: very enjoyable but the well-meaning attempts to deal with body image politics backfired badly.
Rex Zero, King of Nothing* by Tim Wynne-Jones: excellent, like everything he writes. But the Rex Zero books are too nostalgic for my tastes.
Impossible by Nancy Werlin: this book was beautiful, but one of the things I like about Nancy Werlin is how grim she is willing to be. This story tied up all the loose ends more neatly than I wanted it to.
Cycler by Lauren McLaughlin: I really wanted to love this book with its protagonist who unwillingly gender swaps monthly. I got hung up on some really icky race politics that are a tiny part of the book, so it's hard for me to judge the text fairly aside from that.

Books that were way better than I expected them to be
Mousetraps by Pat Schmatz: this looked like a really fun, silly book with a pat message about accepting your gay friends, until it got unexpectedly dark.
Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi: Scalzi decided to write a standalone young adult novel that takes place in the middle of an existing adult science fiction series. It sounded like a train wreck to me -- but the book was great, and worked very well as a standalone. He didn't give me any interest in reading the adult books in the same series, but it did make me want to read more about Zoe from her own point of view.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
2008-09-02 03:53 pm

Graceling!

I have weird ethical issues with discussing books in this blog I've reviewed elsewhere. Because I review anonymously (mostly), there's no way to connect my opinions in this blog with opinions that have been published in a review journal; I feel like this is cheating, and gives my opinion double weight. I don't want anyone to think to themselves, "well, I saw two different reviews which thought the plot of Breaking Dawn made perfect sense, and there was nothing Mary-Sueish about Bella in the book's second half at all, so since two different reviewers said it, it's more likely to be true!" (For the record: I did not review Breaking Dawn, and if I had, I wouldn't have said that. But I suppose in the spirit of full disclosure I should add that I did review the other three books in the series.)

Anyway, this all brings me to Kristin Cashore's fabulous debut, Graceling. I keep forgetting that these days there are plenty of reasons I see manuscripts and galleys which have nothing to do with my reviewing the books. I didn't review this book -- in fact, I couldn't have, because the author is a friend of mine. (I know that's not actually considered to be a real ethical dilemma in professional reviewing, but it's an ethical dilemma for me.) But if I had reviewed this book, and I hadn't known Kristin, I would have given it a big fat star*.

I don't think the book is perfect, by any means. There aren't many books I do think are perfect, and offhand I can't think of any. But oh, I got so wrapped up in this heroine, in her choices, in her dilemmas, in this world where there are people and magic powers which aren't just McGuffins. The book is full of BFFs, which is a major pull for me in fiction.

Get, read, love.



* [livejournal.com profile] diceytillerman, I don't think I even realized we still had places in our vocabulary where "fat" could be a positive descriptor!