Monday, November 09, 2015

The Keeper

This is a Cybils book, but the opinion expressed in this review is just mine, and not the committee's.

The Keeper: The Unguarded Story of Tim Howard Young Readers' Edition by Tim Howard with Ali Benjamin

Tim Howard plays keeper for Everton FC in Liverpool, and the US Men's Team. He also has Tourette's Syndrome and OCD. The biography starts in his early years and moves through the aftermath of the 2014 World Cup.

There are a few things that really stand out in the book:

1. Howard's experiences with TS and OCD. He explains really well what it feels like, and how hard it can be with people who don't understand, but he's pretty adamant that they are what help make him such an amazing player. His hyper-focus and demand to get everything just right is what helped drive him to greatness. He also does a lot of work with kids who have TS to offer support and a role model.

2. The importance of a good coach and a good team environment. Howard has played for a lot of teams and understands what the role of good coach is at all levels of play and really focuses on what made different coaches so helpful and spectacular. He also talks a lot of team dynamics, which was really fascinating when he went from Manchester United to Everton and how different the two teams were and what allowed him to flourish at one and not the other. (He talks about this so much, coupled with his work with kids with TS, I have a feeling he would be a really great coach after he retires from active play.)

3. The changing place of soccer in the US over the course of his career. He started playing professionally right when MLS started in the US and it didn't seem like anyone in the US cared about soccer and no one expected US teams to go anywhere, and through the phenomenon of the last World Cup (I believe that we will win), professional soccer has come a long way in the US and he's been on the inside the whole time, and it was really interesting to see that change from his perspective.

Overall, it's a really readable, great book. It's not one I would have picked up on my own, but I'm glad I read it. It is a Young Reader's Edition, and I'd be interested to see if the language in some of the conversations changes in the adult version. There's a lot of "oh my goodness!" in here that I think might have been something more salty in real life.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Thursday, November 05, 2015

Fan Girl's Guide to the Galaxy

This is a Cybils book, but the opinion expressed in this review is just mine, and not the committee's.

The Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy: A Handbook for Girl Geeks Sam Maggs

Here's the guide you've been waiting for on Fandom 101, especially for girls. Everything is covered--how to get started, next steps to take, great books to read and shows to wath, how to make an awesome cosplay costume, tips for writing awesome fanfic, finding your people, and dealing with various levels of trolls. Parts of it are a general rah rah rah celebration of fandom, and parts are very nitty gritty hands-on practical advice (which sites you'll want to be on, but with a throw-away name/email that's not linked to any of your other social media)

It's great and interesting and wonderful with one major fatal flaw that made me want to throw it across the room. It's written right on the back-cover, but I didn't read it, because too much is obscured with library stickers. It's "The Geek Girl's Litany for Feminism."

I m a geek girl and I am a feminist... I don't have to prove my nerd cred to anyone, ever.

There are some great lines in there:

From SuperWhoLock to Shakarian, I accept all fandoms and ships as equally meaningful and important in our geek girl lives...I will support empowering, lady-created media and amazing female characters...

And then we get the kicker that made me roll my eyes so hard they almost fell out of my head:

Buffy, not Bella

Because, all fandoms are meaningful and we support lady-created media, right? Oh... only if they're the right ones. Yeah. That's when I flipped back to where she's introducing fandoms and in the list of major fandoms, the Twihards aren't listed at all. Sure, they might be covered under "YA Book Nerds" but the Nerdfighters get their own shout-out. Potter has its own section. In non-book fandoms, Gleeks get a mention. Squints get a mention. Scoobies are mentioned on the list, despite the fact there's a whole section on Whedonites in general. Leaving off Twihards seems pretty deliberate. And telling.

Outside the Buffy, not Bella thing, Twilight only gets name-checked in the section on how to critique media. There's a general introduction about why we need to critique media and that it's ok if we enjoy not-perfect things but... it's glib and kinda snarky ("I'm not telling you... to stop reading your guilty-pleasure YA romance novels!") And in things to look out for, there's a section on "How Healthy is that relationship, anyway?"

There a lot of media out there (like Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey) that glorifies abusive, controlling, or even violent behavior as a romantic relationship. When we read these books and think, "Wow, that's so sweet that he shows up at her house, uninvited, at night while she's unconscious, to watch her sleep!" we subconsciously accept that behavior as okay.

There could have been a great section on how things that are mostly liked by teen girls are automatically dismissed as lesser and what that says about us as a society and how to deal with that as a fangirl. Or, you know, it could just pile on.

Most importantly, it could have been a great section on how to reconcile how problematic our faves are. I know all about problematic faves. How? Because I am Buffy, not Bella. And even though this book is all over the awesomeness of Buffy (as it should be, Buffy is awesome) it never points out its problems. And Buffy has plenty of problems.

For instance, that whole thing there it's painted as "romantic" for a vampire to show up uninvited to watch his girlfriend sleep? Before Edward did that to Bella, ANGEL WAS DOING THAT TO BUFFY. Speaking as someone who got into Buffy late in the series and didn't go back and watch the beginning until after I read Twilight? Angel has most, if not all, of Edward's icky points. Buffy's other loves all come with major issues in the "healthy relationship" category. Maggs mentions Spuffy elsewhere in the book, and trust me, Spike over Angel any day, but Spike is ISSUES and their relationship is all ISSUES. And I really like Xander, but that guy is really a whole heap of Nice Guy (tm) problems.

When Twilight was still new there were T-Shirts and sayings of"And then Buffy staked Edward. The End" Yeah... Buffy wouldn't have. Edward and the other Cullens would have all been Scoobies. There's a good chance Buffy would have dated Edward. Or at least made out with him, or had a MEANINGFUL slow dance (note to self: see if there's any good fanfic with Rosalie and Cordelia as BFFs. Or Willow and Alice.)

I think the main difference is not the guys, or the relationships, but Buffy and Bella themselves. To save the world, Buffy killed Angel--I don't think that Bella could have killed Edward. BUT, BUT, BUT in one of my many conversations about this (hi, my name is Jennie, and I'm a fangirl) my Twitter friend @FangirlJeanne pointed out something major that has me rethinking that stance:

Buffy was THE SLAYER. She had a job given to her by the POWERS THAT BE. She was the CHOSEN ONE and had to deal with DESTINY. Of course she killed Angel. Bella didn't. Bella was just a normal girl who turned into a normal vampire and she still fought serious battles before and after to protect her friends and family. If Bella was a CHOSEN ONE and had to deal with SLAYER DESTINY, could she have then killed Edward? If Buffy wasn't the SLAYER, could she have still killed Angel? I don't know, but these are the kind of things fangirls think about late at night, both the Buffys and the Bellas.

Maggs went a snarky, easy route that ended up invalidating a lot of her book for me, undermining her main argument. We like all fandoms, but not that one.

And now I'm rage-defending Twilight, which is not a place a like to be. (This review sums up my Twilight feelings pretty well)

Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Elena Vanishing

This is a Cybils book, but the opinion expressed in this review is just mine, and not the committee's.

Elena Vanishing: A Memoir Elena Dunkle and Clare B. Dunkle

It opens with Elena in a hospital in Germany, not sure why her chest hurts so much. She's then medically evacuated to the US, to be treated for anorexia. She next years are a tangle in and out of treatment as everyone watches Elena slip away while she insists she's fine.

This is co-written with her mother, who is a novelist, and it was that story-telling sensibility. Part of that is we are in Elena's head for the entire time, and not Elena-looking-back, but Elena-then, so... holy unreliable narrator Batman. It's a pretty warped (albeit fascinating) perspective.

One thing I would have liked is something on what was "really" happening during all of this, because Elena's POV is so divorced from reality. (of course, I could just read her mother's memoir of the same time, Hope and Other Luxuries: A Mother's Life with a Daughter's Anorexia)

It's painful and hard to read, but also hard to put down.

Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015


What I'm reading on my lunch break today. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Monday, October 12, 2015

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Cybils Nominations--What to Nominate!

Cybils Nominations are Open!

There haven't been that many nominations yet in YA Nonfiction, and we need some more books to read so that we can pick the best ones!

When I was preparing for the Cybils, I started looking around to see what books had gotten stars or a lot of good review so I could start placing my holds and gathering up potential nominees.

Are you still looking for something to nominate? Here's a list of things that I found that would be a good nominee, but no one's nominated yet:

Fuel Under Fire: Petroleum and Its Perils by Margaret J. Goldstein

Courage & Defiance: Stories of Spies, Saboteurs, and Survivors in World War II Denmark by Deborah Hopkinson

The Untold History of the United States, Volume 1: Young Readers Edition, 1898-1945 by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, adapted by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus

The Boys in the Boat: The True Story of an American Team's Epic Journey to Win Gold at the 1936 Olympics (Young Readers Adaptation) by Daniel James Brown

Also, on Sunday, Jean Little Library posted a long list of possible nominations--all of her suggestions for YA Nonfiction are still waiting to be nominated!

Anyone can nominate! If you're reading this YOU CAN NOMINATE. Go do it.

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

This summer, I read comics

I've been reading a lot of comics this summer, and it's the greatest.

I just finished Ms. Marvel Vol. 3: Crushed and the series continues to be fun, as was Rat Queens Volume 2: The Far Reaching Tentacles of N'Rygoth. I love to read about girls kicking ass! (See also, Nimona) One thing I really appreciate about Rat Queens and Nimona is that it's fantasy kick-ass fun, but there's underlying basis of pain. It's not always there or the focus of the narrative, but it bubbles up to color the story in a way that's really compelling. (Plus, now I have an excuse to yell I'M A SHARK! and see who laughs--new bestie test)

Oh, and I also read Lumberjanes which I loved for it's kick-ass girls and silliness, but also its friendship and their long-suffering camp counselor. I love these girls as an ensemble and their relationships. FRIENDSHIP TO THE MAX for reals.

Also in ongoing series... Fables Vol. 22: Farewell happened. The final Fairest, Fairest Vol. 5: The Clamour for Glamour comes out on Tuesday, but Fables is done. This is the series that turned me onto comics and my feelings about it ending are so bittersweet. I'm going to miss these characters and their stories and their lives and how Willingham played with meta-fiction and what happens when you put fictional characters in the real world. At the same time, the final volume was wonderful. I think it was a fitting tribute and end to the series and, in many ways, it was a farewell. It wrapped up the narrative arc nicely, left some loose ends, but not ones that will drive me batty, and let the characters say goodbye (sometimes very literally). I have been nervous lately because the last few volumes have been a bit of a blood bath, and there is some of that here, too, but... it's good. It's really, really good. My only complaint is that it's done and I very selfishly want more, more, more, more. (Also, I asked my friends at Secret Stacks what I should read to fill the Fables void, and they got Bill Willingham himself to answer and zomg.)

But also, I've been reading some new series!

I read the entirety of Y: The Last Man because Bellwether Friends did an episode about it. I am in love with Saga (which was also a Bellwether recommendation) which is also by Brian K Vaughn, so I thought I'd pick up all the Y before listening to their episode, so I'd be able to better understand. Y is the story of what happens when suddenly, all males (human and animal) drop dead. Except for Yorick and his monkey Ampersand. Science and governments want Yorick, but he just wants to get from New York to Australia where his girlfriend-maybe-fiance was when the gender-cide hit, but it also explores what happens when a gender dies. You get radical feminist movement burning sperm banks, countries that had higher gender equality do better than those who had more men in charge, and also a lot of people in deep morning. Plus little things-- it hit at rush hour so a lot of the highways are clogged with cars and what do you do with that many dead bodies? It was really interesting and good. I like the way it explored the different aspects of this new world as well as all the different theories people had for what caused it. (People have feelings about the ending. It wasn't the ending I necessarily wanted, but I think it was good for the story, if that makes sense. Fangirl Jennie was "eh" but literary critic Jennie was "oh, yes.") Also, let's talk Saga. I've read the four volumes that are out now and so good. It's about love and family and survival against the backdrop of intergalactic war! And their nanny is a ghost. (Basically, star-crossed lovers from opposite sides of this inter-galactic war have a kid and everyone wants them dead because there can't be proof that the two sides can get along and all they want to do is live and survive as a family, but always running puts strain on a relationship!) Also, let's just talk about how the romance novels are also political tracts wrapped in love story, because a romance reader, YES. There is meaning and metaphor and all the other trappings of HIGH LITERATURE in romance (and really, all genre) but it gets written off so often, but not here. That warms my heart.

I've also picked up the first four volumes of East of West. It's this story of a futuristic alternate history US where the country's fractured into several other countries and there's a religious cult and Four Horseman of the Apocalypse are reborn, except for Death, because he's left them for love and it all ties back to this religious cult and a prophesy and it's weird and not quite my usual thing, but really good at the same time.

Also for something amazing, but a little different than my usual fare, Secret Stacks also recommended I check out Pretty Deadly which is also about Death falling in love with a person. But this time it's Death's Daughter who's riding for revenge. And there's a girl in a feather cape and old man who travel from town to town to tell her story. It's hauntingly surreal and I cannot wait for more. (Please tell me there's more!)

What comics are you reading?

Books Provided by... my local library, except for Fables, which I bought.

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Talking to RT and Library Journal about That Book

I was going to post this a few days ago, but didn't have time and then Bethany House came out with their gross statement and I decided to save this post for today, so we can end the week on a high note!

When I contacted Bethany House and RWA, I did not contact RT* or Library Journal, even though the book was very favorably reviewed in both places (it was a Top Pick for RT and it got a coveted star from LJ). Not because I didn't want to, but unlike Bethany House and RWA, I have bridges to burn at RT and LJ. (So, full disclosure, I review both for RT and for LJ's sister publication, School Library Journal.) I reached out to people I know and trust at both organizations to seek advice on how best to handle the situation (Should I email the editor-in-chief? The reviews editor? My editor and have her pass it on? etc.)

I got a lot of support and advice, and sat down to craft my emails.  Within an hour of contacting Library Journal I had a response that the person I contacted takes the matter seriously, but key people to the conversation are out of the office, so they need to wait. Totally valid and I look forward to seeing what happens.

While I was still crafting my email to RT, my former editor forwarded me an email that had been sent out to their reviewers who cover Inspirational Romance. It is not an official response from RT, but does show they take the issue seriously and is an example of what you SHOULD do in this situation. With permission, I'm posting it here:

Hi inspirational reviewers,

I wanted to reach out to you because of a 2014 inspirational romance that's been getting a lot of attention. You might've heard, but For Such a Time by Kate Breslin was nominated for two RITA awards and received rave reviews from Library Journal — and from us.

For Such a Time's critical acclaim has been a source of great pain for many in the romance community. For those of you who don't know, the central plot involves a blonde, blue-eyed Jewish woman who falls in love with a Nazi commandant who is in charge of a concentration camp. The heroine's appearance allows her to conceal her ancestry and grow close to the SS officer.

This is problematic on many levels. That the heroine's non-"Jewish" appearance saves her is deeply troubling: it essentially — and somewhat insidiously — valorizes not looking "Jewish" without examining the anti-Semitism inherent in that assessment.

But the most painful: For Such a Time casts a Nazi officer — who's presumably overseen the systematic murder of a number of Jews — as a romantic hero. Even viewing this in the most generous light, granting such a character redemption and a happily-ever-after is — at best — hugely insensitive. This book is set against the monstrous historical backdrop of so many lives being brutally extinguished. We're talking about a time when Jews were fleeing their homes in terror, families were separated, children were murdered and buried in mass graves. Let that sink in for a second.

One of the most moving and wrenching moments of my life was when I went to the Josefov, the historically Jewish district in Prague. In the Pinkasova synagogue, there's an exhibit dedicated to children's drawings from Terezin. Terezin was a camp in the Czech Republic where Jews were held before being sent to their deaths at Auschwitz and Treblinka. The children there, mostly orphans, were given art lessons — they drew their homes, they drew what they imagined Israel to be like, they drew what they saw in their dreams. As you might expect, none of those children ever made it home.

When an author chooses to set a story during World War II, right in the thick of one of the most soul-crushing examples of genocide in human history, she takes on a huge responsibility. As does the publisher who sells and distributes her book. As do the people who read and review it. The reason I'm addressing this with you all is that I believe there is a certain lacuna in the publishing industry, particularly in the inspirational/Christian market. I don't say this pejoratively, but merely as a statement of fact: the Christian fiction market is narrow and insular. Because it is written almost exclusively by and for Christians, it's born out of an inherently limited perspective — one that isn't as finely attuned to the struggles of non-Christians as it could or should be.

It raises the question: What can we, as staff of this magazine, do? What can we offer? Empathy. Sensitivity. A conscious effort to broaden our own perspectives.

We gave For Such a Time a Top Pick review, which can't be undone. I'm not here to censor or wrist-slap your ratings and reviews. But I am asking you to strive for a greater awareness when you read and review, especially where it concerns Christian handling of non-Christian religions, history and identity.

To that end, when you have time, here are two posts about For Such a Time and RWA's decision to honor it, from Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches and from our own reviewer, Jennifer Rothschild, both of whom are Jewish:

It would mean a lot to me if you would read both.

Thanks for your time.

See everyone? That's how you do it! You look at the issue head on and confront it. You don't dismiss the people hurt, you listen to them, and you take steps to do better next time.

Easier said than done, but it makes such a difference.

Such a difference.

It's amazing how a little bit of real compassion and respect can do.

*For those following this story who aren't part of Romancelandia, RT is a big romance magazine (it used to be called Romantic Times) We're not talking about Russian State Media.

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.