Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunday Salon: A fight where we're the ones who lose

MacMillan Publishing and Amazon are in a bitch fight.

As far as I understand it, MacMillan wants Amazon to raise the kindle book price from $10 to $15 and Amazon doesn't want to. As the debate has heated up, Amazon has now pulled ALL of Macmillan's books from the site, so you can now only get them from 3rd party seller (or anyone who isn't Amazon.)

I think publishers should be able to set a base price and sellers either mark it up or discount it to make their money. I know this has changed with digital media. I'm sure record companies want to sell single tracks for more or less than $.99. So, I see MacMillan's point, but I don't think ebooks should get much more expensive. Ebooks should be cheaper than print books. I know that part of a book's price covers the paper, the ink, the printing process, the shipping and distribution to stores etc. There's a reason a hardcover is more expensive than a paperback, why a beautifully bound version with full color illustrations is more expensive than a basic edition. Ebooks don't have those associated costs. Sure, ebooks should still cost something. Authors and editors deserve to get paid for the work they did. But, they should be cheaper than regular books.

I don't have all the answers. I'm sure I don't understand all the facets of the debate and if I knew how to fix it, well, I'm sure I'd have a different job than I currently do.

But, I'm with MacMillan on this one. While I think their position is wrong, Amazon's being a brat and MacMillan is allowed to price their books how they want. But, of course, Cory Doctrow says it much better than me. Being Cory Doctrow, he also ventures into the issues surrounding ebooks and digital rights management (DRM). DRM is one of the main reasons I don't own an ereader. Yes, digital music comes with DRM, but I can still burn a mix CD and give it to my friend or burn off an album to listen to in my car. Also, it's pretty easy to burn a CD and rerip it and strip most of the DRM that way. We haven't found a way around that yet with ebooks. Once I buy an ebook, I can't lend it to a friend, I can't resell it if I want to get rid of it, I can't donate it to a school or library or hospital or anything. If I were going to buy an ereader today, it would be a Sony, because the Sony platform is compatible with Overdrive, which is the company my (and 9,000 other) libraries use to lend ebooks. I read 269 books last year. I spend a lot of money on books, but I can't afford to spend over $2000 a year on them. Librarians don't make *that* much money. I use my library. Until we come up with a way to lend ebooks and share them and make them available cross-platform, I'm staying out of the market.

The music business has finally started to figure this out. On iTunes, for an extra $.30, you can buy your tracks DRM free. I'd pay more for DRM-free ebooks I could lend to my friends or donate or resell. Or, if you're not going to let me fully own the book, charge me a lot less as the rental fee it essentially is. But, here's where the huge irony of the situation comes in-- the reason I started buying all of my digital music on Amazon? Because they lowered the price when buying a full album and even better, insisted that the record companies allowed them to sell all of it DRM free.

Meanwhile, here are just a few of the children's and teen books you can't get on Amazon right now:

The Adoration of Jenna Fox
American Born Chinese
Annie on my Mind
Bad Kitty
A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts
The Black Cauldron (and the rest of the Prydain Chronicles)
Briar Rose
The Cat Royal Adventures
Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith
Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice
The Cricket in Times Square
Diamond Willow
Doing It
Emil and Karl
Ender's Game
In the Name of God
Isabelle's Boyfriend
Junebug Series
Kampung Boy
King George What Was His Problem?
Leaving Glorytown
Letters from Rifka
Little Brother
The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs
Make Lemonade
Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac
The Mozart Season
Pay the Piper
The Poison Apples
The Possibilities of Sainthood
The President's Daughter
Reality Leak
Robot Dreams
Someday This Pain Will be Useful to You
Something Out of Nothing: Marie Curie and Radium
The Swan Maiden
Tasting the Sky
Time's Memory
Tuck Everlasting
A Wrinkle in Time (and almost every other Madeline L'Engle book)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Japanese Literature Challenge Review!

Hardboiled and Hard Luck Banana Yoshimoto trans. Michale Emmerich

This was the book I read for the Japanese Literature Challenge.

Death isn't sad. What hurts is being drowned by these emotions.

I am always a fan of Yoshimoto's quiet, understated prose and moods. Like Kitchen,this book is actually two novellas packaged together.

The first is Hardboiled, which is about a woman coming to terms with the death of her ex-lover, exactly a year ago. Part ghost story, the reader gets bits and pieces of relationship history as the story goes on, putting together what happened and why our narrator feels the way she does. And while the sense of loss and death permeate the story, it's not a sad story, just peaceful.

The second is Hard Luck. The narrator's sister, Kuni, is lying in a coma after suffering from a cerebral hemorrhage a few weeks before getting married. While there is part of this story that focuses on the family getting (emotionally) ready to remove her from life support, there is a family drama that gives a lot of anger to this story. After slipping into a coma, Kuni's fiance disappeared to deal with his grief at his parents house. Her parents are upset by actions they see as selfish and spineless. It's made worse by the fact that his brother, Sakai, does visit Kuni in the hospital almost daily, becoming close friends with the narrator. The reader feels almost as emotionally drained as the narrator as she tries to balance her new friendship and her plans for the future with her sorrow and the sorrow and anger of her parents.

Yoshimoto manages to convey so much in so few words, her books always end up haunting me.

Book Provided by...
my wallet

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: Two Biographies

For today's Nonfiction reviews, I give you two amazing biographies that were both Cybil nominations this year...

Leaving Glorytown: One Boy's Struggle Under Castro Eduardo F. Calcines

In January, 1959, Eduardo is only 3, but he remembers the coming of The Voice. Suddenly, The Voice is everywhere, being broadcast for hours from every radio, speakers rigged up outside. Everyone's listening to The Voice. Then, the soldiers are on every corner. As a 3-year-old, he's first fascinated by them, but then all the adults are short tempered and there's less to eat.

As he grows up in Castro's Cuba, Eduardo gets used to watching what you say, used to hunger, used to his father being gone at labor camp (for daring to apply for an exit visa), used to the jealousy as other families get their visa and his family is still stuck. They're on a deadline for the visa. When Eduardo turns 15, he'll be drafted into the army, so once he hits 14.5, his family's no longer eligible and they'll have to stay.

We don't get enough memoirs out of Cuba, especially for teens. This one is hard to put down, as we watch the situation grow worse and worse. Unlike other communist memoirs, this one's more chilling because while Mao and Lenin and the other revolutionaries are dead, Castro isn't and the situation in Cuba has only grown worse. Not only is is a good read, it's an important one.

Book provided by... my local library

Rock 'n' Roll Soldier: A Memoir Dean Ellis Kohler with Susan VanHecke

After graduating from high school in 1965 Dean Kohler's rock band landed a record deal and then he was drafted into the US Army. The deal got dropped when Kohler shipped out to Vietnam, serving as an MP in Qui Nhon, which was a port used to off-load supplies going deeper in country. Despite the fear and death and shooting, Kohler knows how lucky he is to not be on the front lines in the jungle, to not be in the Deep Serious. Things also take a better turn when his commanding officer orders him to form a rock band. Kohler's band is soon traveling the area, playing shows for soldiers who are in the thick of things. Kohler has to balance the two sides of himself, is he a musician? Or a soldier? I deeply appreciated that there are two chapters and a epilogue that take place after he returns home. While not the focus of the book, Kohler does talk about returning home and trying to decide what to do next. Re-entry is a dimension that is often sadly left out of war stories.

One thing that's interesting for me (coming from a perspective of one who has done quite a bit of cultural and academic study of the Vietnam War) is that it takes place mainly in 1967 (1966 was spent in basic training), which was when the armchair historian tends to think things were just starting to heat up. Kohler is home before the Tet offensive. This is most obvious in the music. This is, after all, a book about a rock band. They do several covers, but when I (and, I think, many people) think 1960s, Vietnam, and Music, I tend to think of music from the late 60s, early 70s. Songs like "Fortunate Son" (thanks Forrest Gump) "White Rabbit" or "Purple Haze." Kohler's band is playing current hits-- "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" "Wipe Out" "Louie, Louie" "Louie, Louie" and "Twist and Shout." I'm thinking Crosby, Stills, and Nash, but Kohler's playing music by The Hollies.

But, in the end, that just adds to the punch of the book. So much of our focus is on the later, post-Tet part of the war. We don't pay attention the what happened before and when we do, well, it was before things got bad. Even though Kohler isn't on the front lines, this is still a book about a war and forces us to re-look at our assumptions about it. While I do think older teens will enjoy this book immensely, I wonder if they'll have that same perspective. On the other hand, if we remind them from the beginning that there was a war before 1968, that can't be a bad thing.

Book Provided by... my local library

Round-Up is over at Playing By the Book

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sunday Salon: The Best Books You Aren't Reading

Kelly at YAnnabe is hosting a Blog Blitz of Forgotten YA books. Coming up with the list is pretty easy-- if you're on LibraryThing, go through all the books you've rated with 5 stars that are tagged with YA or your tagging equivalent (Because I don't have a tag list, mine are tagged with "ya" "young adult" or "teen") that have less than 500 members. (For some perspective, Twilight has is in 26,220 libraries Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging is in 2,058).

Now, to clarify, I don't list everything I read in LibraryThing. I use it to catalog all the books Dan and I own. I don't own most of the books I read. But, I still have a strong list of books that you should be reading (and buying.) And I'll be honest, some of the results didn't surprise me, some made me really sad, and some were shocking.

Sadly, it appears that one of my favorite authors is not even on most people's radars. I'm talking about Jaclyn Moriarty. Almost all of her books is on this list! Most of her books are told in notes and journal entries and other "things" to piece together a narrative. In Feeling Sorry for Celia deals with what happens when Elizabeth's best friend, Celia, runs away. There are notes left of the fridge from her mom. Notes from such organizations as The Best Friend Society telling her she's a bad friend for not trying harder to find Celia. Meanwhile, she has to balance the hole Celia left with a new friend made through a school assignment... funny and poignant. You should also check out her Murder Of Bindy Mackenzie and Spell Book Of Listen Taylor. Right now my big question is do I wait patiently for her newest, The Ghosts Of Ashbury High to come out this summer, or do I break down and order it from Australia now?

Two Moons in August by Martha Brooks was my favorite book when I was a teen. I can't tell you how many times I've read it and I'm so happy it's back in print so others can discover it. Set in small town in Canada in the 1950s, Sidonie is slowly learning how to open herself up again after the death of her mother the summer before. After her mother died, her family fragmented and this summer, she tries to pull them together again. This book is the reason I own A Night in Tunisia. Also, her older sister's totally hot and cool boyfriend is Chinese and it's... not really an issue.

My Cup Runneth Over: The Life of Angelica Cookson Potts by Cherry Whytock (also, the just-as-wonderful sequels, My Scrumptious Scottish Dumplings, and My Saucy Stuffed Ravioli) Angel is a bigger girl (as in, she's got curves and her out of control body can be tamed with a decent bra and wearing clothing that works with it, but she's not fat) who lives a fabulous life in London. It's predicable British chick-lit fare, but has a few things that separate it out. Angel's family is super rich (their grocery store is HARRODS!) but Angel's fairly normal and down to earth. Not a lot of conspicuous consumption of brand names. The biggest thing in the story that's wealth dependent is that their family has a chef and Angel spends most of her time in the kitchen, learning to cook. Her parents are major characters and create a lot of the slapstick comedy. (Her mother is a former supermodel, her father a puddering older man who used to be England's most brilliant barrister.) Also, there are recipes after most of the chapters of something Angel's made or eaten. I've made a few of them, and they're pretty tasty. And, it's illustrated. And the illustrations have arrows with labels. Also, it gets props for having a gorgeous model on the cover who is closer to a size 12 than 2, much like Angel herself.

Now, I first picked up Diva without a Cause because of blog reviews. It's a book that I got from the library and loved it so much I bought it, and ordered the rest of the series from England. It's a hilarious look at working-class England and one of the most unforgettable voices I've ever read. Shiraz Baily-Woods is a proper legend and you MUST meet her.

The First Daughter series by Mitali Perkins. The first one is all about Sameera being on the campaign trail with her father, who is running for president. But when his advisers and handlers get a hold of her, packaging her into what they think the American people want, well Sameera has a few things to say about that. It has the best use of "Free Bird" in a book, EVER. And, look! A person of color on the cover with her whole head! One time, my friend Aimee came over to check on Sassy while we were away. There was a thunderstorm, so Sassy went and hid in the closet and Aimee couldn't get her out. So, Aimee figured she'd just sit down and wait. She grabbed a book off the bookshelf (this one!) to entertain herself. I came home to a note saying she had become engrossed and ended up borrowing both of them because she couldn't wait until I got home to ask and she hoped I didn't mind. (Not at all)!

Gamma Glamma by Kim Flores is a super fun book about science, makeovers, and homecoming. If Luz's science project is beyond outrageous, her teacher won't make her go to regionals, which are on the same day as homecoming. But, he likes it. So, Luz is inventing jelly beans that give you sparkling personality, as well as formulas to make your hair and nails grow in an attempt to make over her friends. But, not all of them want to be made over, and everything might explode right in her face, on national TV. Hilarious! I love a science nerd with a sense of fashion! And, you can't see her face, but I'd believe the girl on the cover is Latina.

Simon Pulse's Once Upon a Time series is a little hit or miss, but mostly it's hit. Different authors retelling different fairy tales. All of the volumes in this series appear on the list (yes, I checked the ones I don't own yet.) I've read all of them, and liked most of them, and loved many of them. Some of my favorites that you should check out? The Storyteller's Daughter by Cameron Dokey, which is Scheherazade's version of Arabian Nights and The Night Dance by Suzanne Weyn, which takes on The Twelve Dancing Princesses and King Arthur.

Along those same lines, last year's Morris winner, A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth Bunce is a fantastic retelling of Rumpelstiltskin. Additionally, it is a wonderful look at English life at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and the problems that face a small family mill when more and more people are turning to large factories. This got a decent amount of blog buzz, so I'm pretty surprised to see that it's in so few libraries.

DC's doomed Minx line has some unloved titles that deserve a second glance--Kimmie66 by Aaron Alexovitch explores reality and death and virtual friendship, Good as Lily by Derek Kirk Kim shows what happens when, on Grace Kwon's 18th birthday, her 70, 30, and 6 year-old selves show up and Confessions of a Blabbermouth by Mike Carey is about high school, step-fathers, step-sisters, writing and life, from the point of view of a British teen blogger.

Really? Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City by Kirsten Miller? A group of Girl Scout rejects dress up like ninjas and fight crime in New York and you haven't read it yet? There's a horde of gold, Kiki Strike might be a princess, an assassin, or a kung fu movie star, and in general this is just a most awesome book. Excellent characters, lots of action, and more mystery than there appears on the surface. Sooooooooo goooooooooooood.

Seriously guys? Both volumes of The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation? I understand the idea of a sprawling epic written in authentic 18th century English about slavery and freedom in the American Revolution is complicated and scares some people away, but they're so damn good! Also, do I have to remind you that the first one won the National Book Award? And that both received Printz honors? Also, the second cover prominently displays a person of color. And while it is a book about slavery, it's a much different narrative than we usually get.

Where is the love for Justina Chen Headley? North of Beautiful is a Cybils nominee and has been all over the blogosphere for a year! And yet, it's only in 239 libraries! WTF? Girl Overboard also isn't getting the attention it deserves, and that was another one that all of us were raving about when it came out! But I really want to give my shout-out to Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies). Patty Ho is a bi-racial teen sent off to math camp. Sure, she does dorky things like math proofs for what's going on her life, and there's the Mama Lecture series, which reproduces the text of her mother's more frequent lectures. If you like her other work, you have to read this one. Also, the girl on the cover? Totally looks like she's half-Tawainese, half-white.

Also, Elizabeth Scott seems to be the blogosphere's darling, so why is EVERY ONE OF HER BOOKS on my list? If you want a good, fun romance with some meat to it, check out Perfect You or Bloom. They're so refreshing. If you want something darker that will haunt you for years after you've read it, try Living Dead Girl. I cannot wait until The Unwritten Rule comes out in April.

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.