Friday, September 30, 2016

More picture book fun!

Beard Boy by John Flannery and Steven Weinberg.

This is completely adorable and super-diverse.  Ben wants a beard.  His dad has one, his friend's dads have them--dude, everyone who's boss has a beard!  Different shapes and colors and textures all.  So Ben is crushed when his dad tells him he'll have to wait until he's 25 or 26 in order to grow one.

Nooooooo!  That's so old!  (Note: at my current age, I feel like 25/26 was pretty awesome)  So Ben takes matters into his own hands ... with some permanent marker.  This reminds me of the time that I drew a beard on my little brother using my mom's waterproof mascara ... but we didn't have any makeup remover.  I had to scrub his face until it was bright red to get it off.  Yeah.  Don't do that.

My very favorite part of this book is the huge diversity of people featured.  Ben's mom has a fauxhawk and tattoos.  Ben is brown with curly brown hair, and the people in his neighborhood are all different shades.  The funky, lively art made me smile.

Excellent Ed by Stacy McAnulty and Julia Sarcone-Roach

In general, I love dog books.  I am a dog person in a profession stereotypically obsessed with cats.  And something about Ed on the cover of the book reminded me of Idiot Dog or Helper Dog from Allie Brosh's Hyperbole and a Half.

Alas, the story here didn't live up to the illustrations. It's about a family where everyone's name starts with "E" and they are all super-special.  Only Ed, the family dog, doesn't feel special.  At the end he realizes he's good at being a dog, et cetera.  The illustrations are delightful, but the text is far too small and blocky.   It's also too long for a storytime unless you have exceedingly patient preschoolers.

Grumpy Pants by Claire Messer

THIS BOOK.  First of all, I knew I had to have it because of the title.  Secondly, it is about a penguin.  Thirdly ... I mean, do you need more reasons than that?

Grumpy Pants is exceedingly delightful.  Penguin has a grumpy day.  He doesn't know why--he's just grumpy.  He has grumpy boots, socks, and even GRUMPY UNDERWEAR.  But after a nice cold bath, he chills out and realizes that tomorrow is another day.

Is it awful that I desperately want someone to be unable to do storytime so I can fill in and use this book?  Sharing is caring!

Double bonus if you are a Pittsburgh Penguins fan!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Snow White: A Graphic Novel

This is exquisite.  This is the book that you purchase to give as a present to a fairy tale lover, a graphic novel lover, or someone who just wants something beautiful.

I've been a fan of Matt Phelan's work since I first read The Storm in the Barn when it first came out.  His work has a dreamlike quality that blurs the line between fantasy and reality.  However, I admit to having my doubts when I heard that this take on Snow White would be set in the 1930s.  When I think of the 30s, I think Art Deco, with its symetrical geometry and fierce lines.  I think of pencil-thin brows over cupid's-bow lips.  I think of martinis and silk gowns.  I think of shantytowns and skeletal bodies.  I wondered if Phelan could capture the contradictions of the era and tell a fairy tale at the same time.

I promise to never doubt him again.  Phelan incorporates the highly stylized lines of the 1930s into his work, and it's better than anything I've seen him draw.  The play of hard and soft also separates the worlds and the characters: the evil stepmother, a former Ziegfield girl, has a sharp bob, harsh brows, and overdrawn lips.  Samantha White, whose family lost money in the crash, has a softer, gentler look done in Phelan's signature style.

Everything about this retelling was delightful.  Samantha White is a princess of New York high society.  Her father, a kindly businessman, loves her dearly.  But when Samantha's mother succumbs to tuberculosis, her father is lonely.  One night, he sets out I gasped when I saw what the magic mirror had turned into, and I adore Phelan's take on the seven dwarves.  They're a diverse bunch, reflecting the ragamuffins who ran the streets of New York--lost boys all.  But the artistic coup de grâce is the sparing, highly effective use of color.  The majority of the art is black and white, so when Phelan adds a touch of color, it leaps off of the page and makes a point better than any dialogue could.

This is an essential addition to your library shelves, be they personal, public, or school.  Most highly recommended.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016


Max is the bildungsroman of a young Nazi, from birth to disillusionment at the end of World War II, at which point I believe the reader is supposed to feel sorry for him.

I don't.

Monday, September 26, 2016

VOYA: A Case Study in Everything You Should Never Do When Criticized

If you were lucky enough to not have seen the wildly unprofessional conduct of VOYA magazine over the past few days, I salute you.  Also, I am curious: were you vacationing in a yurt (I want to do this mostly because I read that Erin Bow did it and now it is on my bucket list)?  Were you in Tahiti (I hear it's a magical place)?  Where do I have to go to get away from the giant garbage fire that is People Saying Horrible Things on The Internet?

And yet, as a librarian, I cannot step away.  I have to step up.  Rolling over and hiding when people say racist things (hi, Lionel Shriver) or biphobic things (VOYA) or whip out the ad hominem attacks (also VOYA) or go on a blocking frenzy against people who want apologies (also also VOYA) does nothing to improve the situation.  How are things going to get better if we don't demand that they improve?

People sometimes dub this "callout culture" and treat it like it's a bad thing.  There's that book So You've Been Publicly Shamed that details how lives were ruined after social media fiascos.  What we can't seem to remember about social media is the "social" aspect of it: it is available to anyone in our society with an internet connection.  When you post on social media, you are opening yourself up to criticism.

Please note that this in no way excuses or justifies the death and rape threats that women--especially women of color--receive on social media on a daily basis.  I would hope people see the difference between hate and criticism.  Often, they are conflated.  They are two separate things.  Hate is inexcusable.  Criticism is necessary.

Circling back to VOYA, if you missed the drama, it went down something like this:

Angie Manfredi pointed out that VOYA's review of Kody Keplinger's Run was problematic.
The review in question was more of a summary of the book than anything else (which puzzled me as a librarian--I know sixth graders who could write better reviews than this).  However, the reviewer suggests the book only for "mature" readers because one character is bisexual, there is sexual content, and also foul language.  Oh, dear me, an abundance of "bad language".

Here it should be noted that in Run, the bisexual character does not have sex.  However, the wording of the now-deleted review insinuates that the sexual content is only appropriate for mature readers because there is a bi person involved.

Readers wrote to VOYA expressing their disappointment, outrage, and disgust.

VOYA thought it would be a REALLY GOOD IDEA to post author Tristina Wright's letter and their response on their webpage (thanks to Debbie Reese and Heather Booth for the correction. I originally wrote Facebook page). First of all: no.  Do not post correspondence on a public site.  Said letter was sent in confidence and should be kept private.  Secondly, the response was six kinds of awful (actually more like a million kinds of awful--there were levels of awful in it that I didn't even know existed) in that the VOYA representative shamed both the author and her child.

Tristina shares the post.  So do others, like Colton Teske, who wrote and received similarly inappropriate responses.

Librarian and author and book Twitter demands apologies from VOYA.

VOYA responds by blocking everyone who said anything negative about them.  Including me.  Honestly, it's been a long time since I've felt that proud.

VOYA posts an "apology" on Facebook that contains the word "but."  Real apologies never, ever contain the word "but."  They also accuse Kody Keplinger of not speaking up earlier and insinuating that our response to the review was some sort of coordinated attack and/or publicity stunt.

The author of the original review and response to Tristina Wright posts on Facebook and says that she apologizes, but never says "I'm sorry."  Angie asks what VOYA is going to do to prevent this situation in the future.  MaryRose evades the question by pointing out how awesome she was on a committee on which both she and Angie served, effectively turning the question into an "I'm a nice person and I thought you were too but now you are a mean meanie how could you betray me?"  This does not go over well.

VOYA posts another apology on Facebook saying that it's going to take a long time to fix the problems manifested in the review and the subsequent nuclear reaction.  Author Hannah Moskowitz is blocked by VOYA because she called them out.

This is the world's most simplified version of what happened (and if I got anything wrong, I'm sorry.  Please let me know and I'll correct it!).  I only saw bits and pieces of it, so there might be many other interactions of which I'm not aware that also demonstrate VOYA is being run by people with the emotional intelligence of a toddler.  The entire display was like a giant flaming ball of poop snowballing down a mountain of even more flaming poop.

As a professional, I rely on publications like VOYA for reviews of upcoming books.  And someone asked an excellent question: how many other reviews have been published that chastised a book for sexuality (especially if the characters are not straight) or foul language?  I admit that when it comes to professional reviews of books that are by authors that are popular with my teens, I don't always read the review.  It's automatically in my cart to order.  And that is a huge error on my part.  I need to be better.  I need to read the critiques and pay attention to how they are worded and what they draw attention to.  I don't remember reading the Run review in VOYA when it came out several months ago.  And I won't block you if you criticize me for that.

I won't be using VOYA for collection development because the staff has shown itself to be unprofessional and incapable of handling criticism--something that they purport to do on a literary basis.  I will follow the situation and see if any of the concerns raised by librarians (biased reviews, phobias, block-happy fingers) are addressed and rectified.  It saddens me to know that a journal that supposedly advocates for teens thinks that acting in this manner is acceptable.

VOYA reviews and other professional reviews are very different from what you see on my blog.  When I review here, I am giving you my personal reaction.  Often, the books that I rant about here are ones that I have purchased because I see why and how they would appeal to teens in my community.  For example, I know I've harangued at length about how much I hate love triangles.  And yet there are scads of books with love triangles in my collection and they are almost always checked out.  Just because I personally don't enjoy something does not mean that I restrict access to it.  Hello, censorship.

And right now I'm not even sure if any of this makes sense at all.  I've been having severe writer's block and my words aren't flowing like they used to.  It's like my brain is a drain full of manky hair and other unmentionable sludge and my words just get stuck.  But I am angry and I am not going to sit here and be quiet.  I can't stand unfairness and I don't take kindly to doubling down instead of shutting up.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

What I'm Reading Wednesday

I finally got through that giant pile of books and have moved on to the next giant pile of books.  What, you think I'd change?

First up is I Am Providence by Nick Mamatas.  This is hilarious and slightly sinister.  Think Bimbos of the Death Sun meets Lovecraft.

The Rains by Gregg Hurwitz.  I'll be straight with you: I probably won't finish this.  Is it creepy?  Yes.  Gross?  Oh, yes.  It's also completely ridiculous and has a boy with a "Native American nickname."  Noooooo.

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel.  The Ivy duology made quite a splash when it came out last year, and I've been meaning to pick it up.  If it's anything as twisted and messed up as The Roanoke Girls, I will be pleased.  Wow.

When The Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore.  This is a book I shall need to carve out a block of time for and just read.  It's so lyrical--I don't want to miss any of it.  Something about it recalls The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender.

Under A Painted Sky by Stacey Lee.  Westerns are really coming back, aren't they?

Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter.  So far, this is lyrical and wonderfully weird.  Excellent.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Ever just the same: Ever the Hunted

Okay, so that doesn't rhyme, and the meter is totally off, but that's the song line that got stuck in my head as I was reading Ever the Hunted.  It's more of the same.  If you can't get enough of the super-gifted girl + childhood friend who is also super-hot + evil ruler + kingdoms at war, you will probably enjoy this book.

See that first paragraph?  That's prevarication.  I admit it.  I'm sitting here, looking at the screen wondering what, exactly, I can say about Ever the Hunted that hasn't already been said about a wannabe fantasy.

I should have known that this book and I were not meant to be (but not "not meant to be" in the sense that most YA fantasy uses it, meaning that we will absolutely detest each other at the beginning, but then I'll be taken in by the book's liquid eyes/rugged abs/saucy lock of hair, but we'll still fight, and then passionately declare our love for each other at the cliffhanger ending, just when some other vaguely attractive guy has sauntered in and declared his love for me*).  I should have known from the moment that a starving girl who refers to herself as a "freckled skeleton" carries the carcass of a massive bull elk into town to try and sell the meat.

There's a "do you even lift?" joke in here somewhere, but I haven't the heart to put you through that.

Okay, let's back up.  Britta is in mourning.  Her father, the King's Bounty Hunter, taught her everything there is to know about hunting, tracking, and general woodsmanship.  Britta has killer (literally) aim with her bow and arrow, and can track anything or anyone through the Ever Woods in the Kingdom of Malam.  Alas (there is always an alas, you bet your royal coinage on it), she is not exactly a welcome personage.  The Kingdom of Malam's neighbor and enemy is the Kingdom of Shaerdan, and Britta's mother was a Shaerdanian.  Shaerdanians are super scary because they can do magic and ... stuff.  At least, that's what the gossiping old biddies say.  And Britta is treated with contempt because of her mother, but protected from any real attacks by her father's position.  This is a Big Deal in the story, because #identitystruggles and all that jazz, but honestly, there's a lot of telling and not much showing.  To quote my high school French teacher, "blablablablablabla."

Right, back to the elk.  So Britta has been hanging out in the forest since her Papa died two months earlier, evidently not remembering to eat.  Emaciation from grief is so hot right now.  Just as she's about to pass out from lack of food, lo!  A six-point bull elk wanders into view.  Britta is torn.  Should she shoot the elk in the King's woods, thus becoming a poacher (punishable by death!), or should she wait and find something smaller a bit farther away.  The elk is majestic.  Britta shoots him, and then field-dresses the carcass, drying the meat and saving the pelt.

If elk in Malam are anything like elk here, it probably weighed between 500-700lbs.    I don't know what Britta weighs, but she's a) weak from hunger and b) a self-described skeleton.  I also don't know her exercise regime.  But she slices and dices like it's no big deal, and then takes a sack of the meat back to town to try and trade.  And not a couple of filet mignons à la wapiti, either.  A whole sack of meat.  Literally 24 hours earlier she was too weak to walk, and then she lugs a bunch of meat back to town to trade.

Of course she's caught, and taken to the King, where she's going to be executed, but lo! (again!)  Who's that?  Why, it's the King's trusted advisor, Lord Jamis.  And he has a proposition.  Don't they all?

The tl;dr of it is: Britta's secret crush, who was also her father's apprentice, who was also the King's new Bounty Hunter, killed her father and went on the lam.  If Britta captures him, she'll go free and have her land as inhertance.  And, you know, not get hanged for poaching.  But why would Britta fall for such an obvious set-up?  She has a secret.  A secret power--she knows when people are telling the truth.  It's like a warm fire inside of her--and she feels it as Jamis tells the tale.  So, completely discounting everything she knows about her loverboy, Cohen, she agrees to hunt him down and kill him.

Jamis sends her off with Captain Omar, head of the king's guard, and two soldiers: Leif and Tomas.  Leif is kind and gentle, while Tomas is a leering cowpie.  Britta easily picks up Cohen's trail, wondering why he hasn't bothered to hide it, since he's such a good tracker.  It's ALMOST AS IF HE WANTS HER TO FIND HIM.  But whyyyyy?

Reviewer's truth right now: I am literally sitting her shaking my head back and forth because girl, no. Also, I'm offended as a reader--are we supposed to be as dense as Britta?  Honestly.  So much no.

Anyway, Cohen whisks her away from her captors and they sort of make up but don't make out yet.  Britta finally reveals her magic and Cohen gets all pouty, but then they decide to ride for Shaerdan!  Yahhhh!  That got me to about 40% of the way in and I couldn't take it anymore.

From here on out, I predict lots of chases, lots of agonized, lustful gazing, lots of kissing, some mild endangerment, and the requisite sequel setup ending.  It's like reading a plot diagram.

If you want really cool stories about intrigue, hunting, fantasy kingdoms, power struggles, and more, read these books instead:

The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
The Graceling series by Kristin Cashore
The Impostor Queen by Sarah Fine
Court Duel and Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
The Princess in The Opal Mask by Jenny Lundquist
Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman
Poison by Bridget Zinn (bonus: involves an adorable pig!)
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
StarCrossed by Elizabeth C. Bunce
The Lyra books by Patricia C. Wrede
The Songs of Eirren duology by Edith Pattou
Shield of Stars by Hilari Bell
Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder
literally anything by Mercedes Lackey
ditto Tamora Pierce

However, if you have an exercise regime that will allow me to lift hundreds of pounds of elk meat, please let me know.  I have a feeling that barbell squats won't be enough.

I received an ARC of this title from Edelweiss and the publisher.

*This will never happen to me.  Thank goodness.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Still Life with Tornado

Eleanor Rigby ...
Waits at the window, wearing the face 
That she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for?

Life is strange.  But without all of the weirdness and eccentricity, I don't think it would really be worth living  It wouldn't be original.

Originality and the meaning of art plague Sarah, a sixteen-year-old high school student who suddenly can't draw anything, despite her prodigious talent.  Nothing is original, she tells herself.  And if you're not original, you're not worth anything.  School isn't original, so Sarah stops going to school.  Why bother?  As the days of her truancy stack up, she evades her parents' nagging about that totally unoriginal school--the place with Miss Smith and Vicky the grand-prize-winner and the ruined headdress--and sets out to find art by rambling through the neighborhoods of Philadelphia.

Aimlessly riding the bus and having rechristened herself Umbrella, Sarah is shocked to meet a ten-year-old version of herself.  Then, she meets 23 year old Sarah, and finally, 40 year old Sarah.  Although this is exceedingly strange, it's also comforting.  At least she survives ... right?

Sarah's past and future selves gently nudge her toward tearing down the wall that she's built in her mind: the one that hides what really happened on that family trip to Mexico.  The trip after which her older brother, Bruce, never returned home.  The trip that simultaneously changed everything and left it all exactly as it was before.  Zippered up.  Hidden.  Ashamed.  But it doesn't have to be that way anymore--it can't remain that way if Sarah is going to find herself and rediscover the truth in the art of the mundane.  She has to look into the whirling, dirty, garbage-laden tornado that is her family and rescue herself.

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?

Like the song Sarah plays on the piano, Still Life with Tornado is a melancholy book.  It, too, discusses death: death of love.  Death of innocence.  Death of illusions.  But it also demonstrates the amazing capacity of the human brain to protect itself from pain and to bounce back from the most painful of injuries.

Just now, as I was writing this, I wondered why I cried at the end, aside from the fact that I am vaguely certain that King likes it when readers' hearts are shredded.  I said to myself, "I'm not an artist.  What do I know about creating things?"  And I realized that I was lying to myself.  Right now, I am creating.  I'm not writing for a living or to sell books, but I write to let my feelings out of my heart, because if I left them inside, I would be emotionally destroyed (as if I'm not already, but let's just flow with this right now).  And right now, I feel a lot like Sarah.  I'm wondering what the point of this whole writing/blogging/reviewing/creating jig is.

My secrets are not Sarah's secrets.  My problems are not Sarah's problems.  I've never even been to Mexico.  But I feel like my best critiques came from a different person.  A funnier, less depressed, less jaded person.  Right now, I'm going through the motions, and it makes me queasy.

But I'm not going to wander the city on the bus system (which is a colossal joke) or follow a street artist/homeless person in order to find my inner art.  What I will do is continue to read.  I might not write as much, because it doesn't feel like an authentic expression anymore.  But that's okay.  Because art is all around is.  It's life in all of its messy glory.  It's the things we hate just as much as it is the things that we love.  It's complicated and yet crystal clear.  It's the juxtaposition of chaos and repose in a still life with tornado.

I received an ARC of this title from the publisher.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Holding Up The Universe

This book has been controversial ever since the first blurb was released.  I'm pretty sure I reacted with shock, disdain, and disgust when I learned it centered around a teen girl who had to be cut out of her house because she was so fat.

If you take a stroll through Twitter or dive into the Goodreads reviews for Holding Up The Universe, you will find a lot of anger.  And that anger is justified, coming from a long line of books abusing fatness as some sort of weird pity trope, or as something to be lost, not found.  However, I don't think that Universe deserves the level of hatred being flung at it.

My ultra-controversial opinion of this book is that it handled the main character with sensitivity and grace.  I actually had more issues with some of the side stories and supporting characters than I did with Libby Strout, once America's Fattest Teen, now America's most kick-butt lady.  For real.

I fully acknowledge my thin privilege in this review.  I am not fat.  I don't know what it's like to be bullied or hated or mooed at because of my size.  This is not my mirror.  I hope that the struggles I've gone through with my weight and my own body image (which, to be completely frank, is the absolute pits right now) have made me more compassionate and understanding.  I will vehemently call out fat-shaming, either in books or in real life.  But I know that simply by writing this review, I'll make a lot of people angry.

My advice is this: you know yourself.  You know what will hurt you.  If you feel like reading this book will trigger you in any way, don't read it!  You have that choice!  Conversely, don't condemn the book if you haven't read it, or at least dipped your toes into it.  And I would never tell anyone that they cannot read this book.  That's not my job, either as a librarian or a blogger or a human being.

Ready?  Here we go!

It's Libby Strout's first day of high school ... as a junior.  She's been homeschooled for several years--ever since her mother died and she decided to eat and eat and never stop.  At one point, Libby weighed 653 pounds.  She suffered from anxiety attacks that were so severe that she believed, truly and wholeheartedly, that death was imminent.  She laid in her bed and panicked.  After being rescued by the fire department, Libby made changes.  She now weighs around 350 pounds, and in her own words,
"I'm fine with that.  I like who I am.  For one thing, I can run now.  And ride in the car.  And buy clothes at the mall instead of special-ordering them.  And I can twirl.  Aside from no longer being afraid of organ failure, that may be the best thing about now versus then."
Her dream is to join the school's famous dance troupe.  She doesn't let weight or what other people think of her weight stop her from going after what she wants.

Jack Masselin has a secret--he has prosopagnosia, commonly known as face blindness.  And this frightens him.  He thinks of all the ways people could play tricks on him.  He thinks of how he's not perfect.  And he makes the very strange and illogical decision not to tell anyone.

Humans make tons of irrational decisons.  You and I know that his parents would still love him, and that his friends would be like, "Okay, dude," but Jack is afraid.  All he can focus on is his inability to recognize faces, and he doesn't think that he's acceptable the way that he is.

So he fakes his way through life with a swagger and a bucketload of charm to cover up the fear.  You know, the kind of fear that hits when you can only identify your mom as Mom-With-Hair-Up or Mom-With-Hair-Down.  Or when you accidentally make out with your girlfriend's cousin because they seriously look so alike!  Crap.

When Jack decides to "help out" and jump on Libby for that day's round of Fat Girl Rodeo before any of his friends do (again: he's a totally misguided idiot), she punches him in the face and lays.  Him.  Out.  I mean, I know violence doesn't solve problems, but this was one of the most delightful scenes in the entire book.  For their actions, Libby and Jack get detention and have to participate in a "conversation circle" to work through their *feelings.*  Jack confides in Libby, and then they fall in love, et cetera.

To be honest, the relationship between Jack and Libby was my least favorite part of this book.  Thankfully, Libby does not change to fit Jack's ideal or to "save herself" by having a boyfriend, which commonly happens to the Outsider Girl who meets the Hot Popular Brooding Guy with A Secret.  I know some people mentioned that she lost weight over the course of the book, but I didn't notice that (did I miss something?).  Thank you, Jennifer Niven, for not going there.

Libby deserves better than Jack Masselin.  She is an awesome character who vacillates between killer self-confidence and absolute panic.  You know, like lots of other human beings.  She doesn't let being fat define her, but she doesn't apologize for it either.  She's also a super-fast runner and a talented dancer.  Once, when she chases after one of the guys participating in Fat Girl Rodeo, Jack describes her as "flying" and a "gazelle."

But what does Jack do once he and Libby are dating?  Um, he dumps her, because alas!  She shouldn't be with someone with propoganosia!  "What happens if you lose weight?  You'd need to stay large for ever, and that's your identifier, but you're so much more than weight."  Oh my goodness, Jack.  Just shut up!  You know how guys dig themselves into GIANT HOLES and then keep burying themselves with every attempt to get out?  That is Jack in a nutshell.  He honestly is attracted to Libby, but it's all about what is convenient for him.

Don't lose weight, Libby, otherwise I can't identify you!  And I can't learn other ways to work with my neurological disorder because I have to keep it sooper seekrit because I AM JACK MASSELIN, HOT DUDE AND POPULAR GUY.

When Libby takes a stand for herself by standing in the school in a rockin' purple bikini, Jack's only reaction is to tell her to put some clothes on.  Wow, possessive much?

And yet, as frustrating as he is, Jack doesn't really have anyone to show him how to be.  His father is having an affair with his biology teacher, and tries to milk the cancer survivor angle to maintain people's good opinion of him.  He gives Jack this pathetic speech about wanting more as a teen but then presumably getting "held back" by having kids and "Oh Jack, don't be too harsh on me!"  As he finally grows up near the end of the book, Jack isn't afraid to tell his dad that he is ten kinds of nope.  Hmm, like father like son?

Time and again, Libby shuts him down.  She's frank with him and tells him that he's being a horrible jerk.  And to his credit, Jack slowly starts to learn.  There's this whole underlying theme of "seeing the person inside," which is as cheesy as the state of Wisconsin, but I can't knock off too many points for it.  Just because I am a jaded cynic does not mean that the idea of seeing past the outside to the beauty of the soul is a bad idea.

There are so many good things in the periphery of the story, too.  Jack and his brothers are mixed (White dad, Black mom).  Niven avoided the whole brown-people-as-shades-of-beverages trap--thank goodness!  Curiously, we learn comparatively little about what the Masselin family looks like other than the basics in a device that reminds the reader that Jack doesn't really remember what his own family looks like.  Very clever!  Libby's dad is very involved in her life, and he truly cares about her.  They have a fantastic relationship, and I just kept thinking, "That's how you write about a dad."  A lot of authors tend to kill off dads because ... they're inconvenient.

I'd also suggest that the entire marketing team for this book just walk away, because they're doing it no favors.  Every time the blurb is revised, it gets marginally better, but it still uses problematic language in the name of sensationalism.  Libby isn't "rejoining the human race"--she's going back to high school while dealing with a panic disorder that makes her feel like she's going to die.  Jack doesn't save her--she's already saved herself.

And that brings us full circle: the character that people are most upset about is the warmest, most vibrant, most kick-butt girl.  I wish I had a tenth of Libby's confidence.  She refuses to accept society telling her that she is unwanted.  She knows she is wanted.  She is wanted and loved and needed, and she makes sure to tell other people that they, too, are wanted.  All while wearing a purple bikini.  I love you, Libby Strout.  In a different way than Jack, but I do.

Read this for the chance to meet Libby, because you won't soon forget her.

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Female of the Species

Why do we accept and praise vigilantes in fantasy, science fiction, and comics, but when it comes to a female vigilante in a YA contemporary novel, it's suddenly a shocking, horrifying concept?  What does that say about society?

Give a guy a mask and a catchy nickname and he can toss as many bad guys off of a bridge as he wants.  He can beat them up and torture them and let them fall, all in the name of justice for people without the power or influence to be revenged.  And consider the antihero: people love Deadpool because he's hilarious and snarky, but he also kills people.  Like, all dead.  Never to return.  Not even with a magic pill covered in chocolate to make it go down easier.

So why is it that in The Female of the Species, the response is to vehemently push back against Alex, the teen girl who kills her sister's rapist and murderer?  Superheroes are vigilantes, Deadpool is an antihero, but Alex?  She's a murderer.  Where do we draw the line?

These questions are deeply rooted in gender roles and the inherent sexism of human society, and The Female of the Species does a fantastic job of prodding those uncomfortable places and making you squirm.  I'd rather a book make me deeply uncomfortable than for it to coddle me.  Additionally, I couldn't shake the feeling that the whole time she was telling the story, Mindy McGinnis was playing a trick on us.  It added this vaguely sinister aura to the book, which may or may not be amplified by the fact that she can skin dead animals and probably kill people with a straw.  I mean, Mackenzi Lee could feature her in "Bygone Badass Broads" on Twitter--but skip the "bygone" part.

Jack was there the night they found Anna's body.  He wasn't sober, nor was he looking for her.  He was busy with Branley, the sexiest girl at school.  But he's always felt like utter crap about that night.

Alex loved her sister  And so the fact that the guy who repeatedly raped her and then murdered her walked away from so-called justice ate her up inside.  So she killed him.

Peekay is the Preacher's Kid (PK).  She's not a rule-following Jesus-loves-me type.  Peekay isn't quite sure who she is, though, because she's just always been the Preacher's Kid.

These three lives intersect in a stunning way in The Female of the Species.  Peekay loves (does she really?) Adam, who broke up with her and is with Branley, who used to be with Jack, who's in love with Alex, who volunteers at the animal shelter with Peekay.  This is a chronicle of high school in all of its glory: drinking, sex, parties, more sex.  It's not sanitized.  It's truth.  And lurking in the shadows in the knowledge that Alex has killed a man, and that she doesn't feel bad about it, and that she'd do it again.

So why does Alex make readers so uncomfortable?  Why is the concept of "teen girl takes matters into her own hands" so much more distasteful than "growly rich boy takes matters into his own hands, also has a cool car and a butler"?  Has murder been gendered?  Is it unfeminine for a woman to kill?  I'm not condoning murder--far from it--but it is curious how we, as a society, look at murderers and murderesses.  Even that word--"murderess"-has a seductive quality.  The sibilant hiss of the "s" softens the hard tones of "murderer."  It's telling that Alex has a name that could be either a boy's or a girl's name: she could be anybody, but because she is female, she is more threatening to us as readers because she challenges our mental image of "murderer."

Some readers have criticized Jack and Alex's relationship as being the typical "boy saves girl from herself" trope.  Except ... he doesn't.  She might even say, "Oh Jack, I want to change because of you," but words and deeds are two different things.  Personally, I thought Jack was a human turd, but as it so happens, girls fall in love with human turds.  It's a sad fact of life.  But you'll notice that in the end, Jack did not change Alex.  Not one bit.

Nobody here is truly a "good person."  They're all complicated and messy and they say thoughtless things.  Some readers will call out slut shaming--but guess what?  A lot of teens talk like that!  I'm not saying it's right; I'm saying it's the truth.  Peekay covets and deceives; Jack lusts, and Alex murders.

The Female of the Species is not a happy story of redemption.  It's not a saccharine tale of how twue wuv saves a girl from herself.  It's not what it seems at first glance.

It would be much more dramatic to describe my reaction upon turning the last page and closing the book, but I had an eARC, so just ... use your imagination.  "Swiping to the last page" really doesn't have that same feel to it.  I felt like my heart was simultaneously over-full and empty.  It fell out of my ribcage and landed in my gut.  I was hollowed-out and humbled by this experience of reading.  I marveled at the darkness I had just walked through.    Because here, darkness only begets darkness; death leads to death, and nobody has a happy ending.  

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Picture Book Round-Up

Bloom by Doreen Cronin and David Small.  Not so much a picture book but a fairy tale to be shared.  A fairy named Bloom is very powerful, but she has heavy feet and she tracks mud everywhere.  The Kingdom of Glass deems this unsuitable, so they banish Bloom into the forest.  Years later, the kingdom is falling apart.  It's only held together with "tape, glue, and peasants" (Small rather delightfully adds an illustration of the castle in silouhette with little people studded throughout the walls, rather like cranberries in a muffin).  The King remembers that there is a powerful fairy in the forest who might save the kingdom.  He rides off and encounters Bloom, who flings a pot of mud at his feet and tells him that is the magic that will save the kingdom.

This isn't acceptable at all, so the King rides off in a huff.  Ditto the Queen when she comes to visit.  Finally, the royal household sends Genevieve, the royal crystal spoon-washer, because she is the quietest, gentlest, and most ordinary of all.

When Bloom asks why the King and Queen sent a girl entrusted with only a spoon's maintenance to save a kingdom, Genevieve replies that she is ordinary.

The fairy with heavy footfalls and the propensity to leave dirt everywhere is also a can-do feminist, and she teaches Genevieve that "there's no such thing as an ordinary girl."  Genevieve returns to the kingdom loud, in charge, full of dirt, and perfectly capable of rebuilding the kingdom ... in brick.

Cronin, author of Dooby Dooby Moo, Click Clack Moo, and other silly barnyard tales, hands readers a surprise and a gift with this story to be shared with all the girls in your life.

Chuck and Woodchuck by Cece Bell.  I imagined Caroline and Chuck's budding romance as how Cece Bell and Tom Angleberger met.  Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised to hear that there was a woodchuck involved in that story, too.  This was truly adorable, although perhaps a bit more adult-directed than storytime friendly.

Crash! The Cat by David McPhail.  This book has some of the most terrifyingly illustrated children I've ever had the misfortune to see in a picture book. I remarked to a coworker that the two girls looked like they were trying out for a Stephen King novel adaptation. Crash the cat resembles not so much a feline but a rabbit (add long ears and cut off the tail and you've got Crash the bunny), and he sleeps in a small human-shaped bed. As cats do.

A good pick for Halloween if you want to have nightmares about ill-dressed children with hair like octopi.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016


Finally!  A YA fantasy series opener that I actually enjoyed and would recommend to others!

I may faint.

But for now, let there be rejoicing instead!

I confess that reading the author's bio and seeing that she is a library assistant may have swayed me in favor of Frostblood, but in truth, it is quite competently written with the potential to move forward without the usual cliffhanger ending.  There are certain things that I would change--the main character's name being first and foremost--but overall, this was quite a lot of fun.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

ARC August Wrap-Up (in September)

I am horrible at sticking to the plan.  Any plan, really.  I would make an awful FBI agent, detective, or member of a heist crew.  Winging it is more of my style.  Flexibility and the option to change direction is how I operate.

Which is stunningly hypocritical, now that I think about it, because I can't deal with change in other people or in plans made for me or with me.  

This is awful.  I'm having an existential crisis.

While I'm busy sorting all of that out, here are the results of my first time participating in ARC August hosted by Read. Sleep. Repeat:

In my original post, I stated that I wanted to finish 8 ARCs.  They were:

Frostblood by Elly Blake

Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

Spare and Found Parts by Sarah Maria Griffin

Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King

This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills

Of those, I've linked the ones I read and reviewed above.  I also finished Frostblood but I'm still working out the review. It's positive, in case you thought (and I wouldn't fault you for this) that I am excessively picky about the books that I read and that I hate all fantasy.  Not so!  As of writing this, I'm savoring Still Life with Tornado, which I saved for the very end because I wanted to end on a high note.  Maybe I waited too long?

However, lest it seem like I read very little in August, I actually cleared my Kindle of a lot of new ARCs that I received just as the month began.  If we're talking "ARCs Pam actually read and/or DNFd with good reason in August" ARC August, then I've been far more productive!

Apollo by George O'Connor

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

Here are some snazzy graphics to prove that librarians can math too!


I've done "clear the shelves" challenges on my own before, but I loved participating in ARC August because I felt more accountable for what I had to read.  On the other had, I felt more stressed about getting enough reading done.  I've been in a book slump, and writing hasn't been easy, either.  It's like all the words are stuck in my fingertips and I can't transfer them to the keys and onto the digital page. Perhaps some interpretive dance book reviews are in order?

Onward to September and October, AKA the months when ALL THE BOOKS launch and I revel in the newness and shininess, much to the detriment of older books on my to-read list.

I am not talking about Pumpkin Spice Lattes, though.  Those things are gross.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Mini-Review: The Girl Before

The Girl Before is the story of a woman whose entire life has been built on lies and emotional manipulation.  And emotional manipulation at first led me to want to rate this book higher than it actually deserves.  The Girl Before turns reading into a compulsion instead of a choice, but so many of the plot points are simply unbelievable (even while practicing suspension of disbelief) that afterwards, you might feel a little bit cheated.

Clara huddles in the closet with her daughters, hearing the men with guns come closer and closer.  She prays they won't find the hiding space, but her luck has run out: the FBI is there and they're pulling her out, pulling her away from her daughters.  And strangest of all, they're calling her Diana.

Who is Diana?

Waking up in protective custody, Clara is terrified.  She wants her daughters and she wants her husband, Glen, but the agents in charge of her case inform her that he is also in custody.  And Clara knows that he would never, ever, ever want her to breathe a word.  She will be a good wife.  She will protect Glen.  She won't say anything.

After all, what could be wrong about her and Glen continuing Papa G's business of educating girls who had been bought from unloving families and grooming them to be the best companions a man could buy?

Olsen splits the narrative fairly equally into "before" and "after" time periods.  As Clara works through her imprisonment in the now, the reader gets to see her idyllic (oh really?) life before.  But who was Clara before the before?  Does she even want to know?

The Girl Before is a compelling story about human trafficking, brainwashing, and the nature of guilt. Unfortunately, it was spoiled for me by rushing the development of the main character.  Her arc involves illumination and self-discovery.  She was raised from a very young age to believe implicitly in the right of Papa G and Mama Mae to run their business.  Clare belived that these children really weren't wanted--what else had she ever known?  For her, beatings and whippings and a smack across the face are all valid reactions on the part of her adoptive mother or her husband.  And yet, when someone tells Clara that husbands do not express their love by hitting their wives, she accepts this rather matter-of-factly.

Years of indoctrination are undone by the statements of a few strangers?  I find that to be highly unlikely.  In Clara's situation, she's very much like a cult member who has to be ... I don't know what the proper word is.  Gently reintegrated back into society?  Clara's been with these people since she was a very small girl--she doesn't remember her birth parents or her sister.  Her entire life has revolved around "education" and corporal punishment and fear.

Overall, a solid thriller, but it would have been excellent had the author tinkered with the timeline to make Clara's growth as a person more believable.

I received an ARC of this title from NetGalley.