Monday, December 31, 2012

The Turning of the Year

I feel like I've neglected my blog a bit lately. There are, of course, reasons for this.

Part was my work on the nonfiction committee, as I decided it was easier to not blog about the books I was reading than try to separate the review from my feelings from the book in relation to the award. Plus, I read a lot of the same books over and over and over as we narrowed down our list.

Part of it was adjusting to my new job. I went from being part of a children's (0-12) team at a large and busy branch to being a department of 1 for youth servies (0-18) at a tiny and less-bustling branch.

Part of it was my brain needed a break this fall.

BUT. A really big part was my TOP SECRET BLOG PROJECT. It required a ton of research and prep work. IT DEBUTS TOMORROW. Stay tuned. I'm really excited by this.

And, of course, I'm busily reading and reviewing so things should be back in swing here very soon!

I hope everyone has a wonderful new year and is looking forward to all the possibilities that a new calendar brings...

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, December 26, 2012


NW: A Novel Zadie Smith

I don’t know why I’m having such a hard time writing this review. It’s taking me longer to write about than to read, and it took FOREVER to read this book.

We start with Leah, who falls for a scam, who doesn’t want the kids her husband is desperate for, who thinks that if she still acts like she’s 18 (because she still feels like she’s 18) then she won’t have to grow up. Leah’s section of the book is choppy, much like Leah’s mind. Part is in poetry.

Felix’s section is next, told in more traditional narrative style, covering a day in his life as he visits his dad, buys a car, and attempts to finally end things with an old girlfriend (because things have gotten that serious with his current girlfriend.) And then it goes horribly wrong.

The final section is Natalie’s, Leah’s best friend from childhood. Natalie is the most successful, having left behind the council estate and gone to college and law school and now leads an upper middle class life. But she leads her life the way she thinks she’s supposed to, and can’t find herself in there anymore, and starts looking for ways to feel something. Natalie’s section is mostly told in very brief vignettes, covering most of her life until the present.

All three stories overlap, timeline-wise. There isn’t much of a plot, it’s more like three character sketches, where most things are shown, rather than told.

I say this book took me forever to read, and it did. Part of that had to do with my discovery of a certain game called Tower Madness. Part of it had to do with the fact it wasn’t a rush-through-breathlessly-to-see-what-happens next type book. I did, however, like it. I liked it a lot. I enjoyed the shifting narrative styles. As they changed with character, it didn’t seem too much like “uh-oh, your craft is showing!” It’s also a refreshing challenge to read something where so much is left unexplained, left for the reader to figure out by reading closely. As someone who reads a lot of fiction, where this isn’t done as much, it took a while for me to get used to that. It was a difficult book for me, and I enjoy a challenge. Most of the stuff I read tends to make sure you know what's going on. Sometimes a little too much. I read a lot of plot-heavy books (and nonfiction, where everything should be spelled out.) I'm hoping with my Outstanding Books for the College Bound, I'm going to step out of what I normally read. This book reminded me that I like being challenged in my reading by craft/form. (I don't enjoy as much when I'm challenged by content.)

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.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Fairest: Wide Awake

Fairest, Vol. 1: Wide Awake Bill Willingham

A new spin-off series, this one focusing on the princesses. The main story arc picks up with a character who's been asleep for many, many issues.

Part of Fabletown's plan during the final showdown with the Adversary was putting the Imperial City of sleep with an ancient curse. All Sleeping Beauty had to do was prick her finger and the entire city would fall asleep until she was awoken with true love's kiss.

Enter a Bottle Imp with a master plan, a master thief (Ali Baba), a newly awoken Princess, and a newly awoken Snow Queen. The Snow Queen likes stories, and the Bottle Imp has one-- Sleeping Beauty's.

Y'all know how much I looooooooooove back story. And so much back story! I love how this one ties Sleeping Beauty's backstory with her newly awoken life. I love the mix of the Snow Queen with Ali Baba and the Bottle Imp. I love the look at what true love can mean in different circumstances--it's not always the fairy tale ending we wish for. And oooooo.... all the fairies! A great addition.

I also just really love what Willingham has done with princesses in general in this universe. Snow White is the tough as nails administrator who tamed the Big Bad Wolf. Beauty can't quite fill her shoes, but is no slouch. Cinderella seems all beauty and nice, but is a kick ass spy. Ozma looks like a child, but was able to step into Frau Tottenkinder's roles. So far, Sleeping Beauty has fallen asleep (but was willing to do so when strategically necessary). This one fleshes her out a little more.

And then, something that looks like a fun 50s comic noir, but turns into a SHOCKING revelation about one of our princesses.

I am looking forward to see where this series goes-- it's gotten off to a wonderful start.

Book Provided by... my wallet

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, December 13, 2012

Werewolves of the Heartland

Fables: Werewolves of the Heartland Bill Willingham

Bigby is looking for a new place for Fabletown, someplace away from too many Mundys. On a tip from King Cole, he checks out Story City, Iowa, a place where Blue Beard had many investments. As he gets closer, he smells something in the wind that he recognizes, but can't place, which is troubling, but not as troubling as what he's about to discover.

Werewolves. Werewolves that are built from a Nazi experiment and faces from Bigby's time in WWII.

Ugh. Guys. I ordered this book over two years ago, as the release date kept getting pushed back. I had HUGE hopes for a hardcover one-off special story, all about Bigby.Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall is the only other hardcover one-off, and probably my favorite book in the entire Fables world. I was hoping for something of that caliber.

Sigh, it was not to be. The art is very pale and washed-out and that reflects the story, too. The political situation is not fleshed out enough, nor is the culture of Story City. There's lots of shape-shifting (werewolves!) so lots of nudity. To the point where it gets excessive. Overall, I just wanted so much more from this, and it failed to deliver. Maybe if it had been part of the regular arc, an omnibus of a 5-issue story arc with some other issues thrown in, it would be "not my favorite" in the series, but as a separate thing, it was disappointing, especially with all the build-up to it.

Book Provided by... my wallet

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, December 12, 2012

Cinderella: Fables are Forever

Cinderella: Fables Are Forever Chris Roberson

Yay! More adventures in Cinderella's double life as one of Fabletown's spies! I love this other side to her!

As I mentioned on Monday, the closing scene of Inherit the Wind sets up the story for this one (although we start with a flashback, so it doesn't appear right away.)

The person who killed Kadabra is an old, old nemesis of Cindy's--one she thought she buried a long, long time ago. We start in the USSR, in the early 80s. Lots of sexy ladies in hot tubs. That was the last time Cindy met her old advesary.

Remember how I said we were going back to Oz? Meet Dorothy Gale, mercenary. We get some good backstory on her, too.

With Mr. Kadabra's death, many old secrets and enemies are coming home to roost, with issues involving the other Fable communities around the world. I like the backstory that flushes out these characters that don't quite fit into the main Fables narrative. I also love the deeper look at the international Fable politics.

PLUS! Anansi! ANANSI! What a wonderful surprise to see him turn up as a character.

I hope we see much more of Cinderella's adventures, as she really does open up the the Fables universe.

Plus, she knows how to fight.

Book Provided by... my wallet

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.

Jack of Fables

I always wanted to like this series so much more than I did. It just never clicked and I kept reading out of loyalty. I did like the Page sisters and the crossover battle and the metafiction, but... that was just a part of the overall series. Jack never met an adversary like the Fabletown authority and it just never worked as well.

Luckily (?) it's done. And I have to say, I do really like the way it ended.

Jack of Fables Vol. 8: The Fulminate Blade Bill Willingham

At the end of Book 7, Jack had turned into a dragon and Jack Frost was still off being a hero. This book has no Jack, and it's all Jack Frost being a hero in a weird space/sci fi world. With your Babe the Blue Ox episodes (which I've never appreciated.) Anyway, I'm not entirely sure what this volume has to do with anything. I can't explain it into the larger plot besides pure filler.

That said, it is really fun and I do like Jack Frost, so I'm not complaining too hard about it.

Jack of Fables Vol. 9: The End Bill Willingham

Ok first off, I'm not entirely sure what's up with this book cover from Amazon, because that's not what I have.

ANYWAY! It's the last one! We have a dragon in the US! And a newly minted hero! Heroes slay dragons! But this hero doesn't know that the dragon is really his father!


And that's all I'm going to say, because, well, SPOILERS.

BUT! I did like this one. I think it's a pretty strong ending to the series and one that I really like. It's fitting for all the characters (especially Jack of Fables) and it's fitting for the Fables universe in general. As much as I struggled with this series, I did not struggle with how it ends.

Book Provided by... my wallet

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, December 10, 2012


It's Fables week! I am horribly behind on reviewing this series. There are several spin-offs in this sprawling universe, so we can cover a different aspect every day this week. We're starting with Fables proper, and I have four omnibus editions to look at, so let's get started.

Fables Vol. 14: Witches Bill Willingham

Fabletown is destroyed by Mr. Dark. Some are trapped in the business office, but most have evacuated to the farm. The first issue focuses on Mr. Dark and a bit of his backstory. The main story arc involves the witches trying to find a way to defeat Mr. Dark. We get into the witches politics and there's a lot of Frau Tottenkinder, which is always WONDERFUL. Ozma and Buffkin also play a big role, setting up the rising role of Oz coming up. (It's kinda fun reviewing these books so late, because I've read other books in this series and other spin-off series, I can see the set up and how odd things come into play later... Willingham is a master at the slow, twisty plot that eventually all ties together.

The end is a story in about a baseball game in Haven. We get some of Fly's personal life and the tough choices of justice that a leader has to make. I love Fly so much. So very, very much.

Fables Vol. 15: Rose Red Bill Willingham

Things are getting complicated. More Dunstan and Bellflower. Promises between the Beast and the Blue Fairy that's going to cause MAJOR drama in the future (not that we've seen yet, but it's going to come 'round.) But the main focus is Rose Red. She's spent the past few issues in bed, depressed and guilty and unable to lead when the farm and the community needs her most. We get A LOT of backstory on Rose and Snow. I love backstory. There's a throwaway about a world in a teacup on the back of a turtle-- remember this.

There's so epic battling. I really like how this battle ends. A lot of little stories, a new enemy made AND! some fun bits at the end-- fan questions, a prose story, a game... lots of fun little bits for fans (because let's face it, if you've made it this far, you're a fan.)

Fables Vol. 16: Super Team Bill Willingham

This is pretty light-hearted compared to the last volume. Pinochio thinks he has the answer, found in the comic books he loves so much. Too bad he's more into the costumes and names than an actual plan...

But, the Dark storyline wraps up, but how it ends opens up a new can of worms, and we're brought back the heart of the Empire, to wrap up some sleeping ends that were left there in the war. And here's something that happens in the master plotting-- one of these storylines picks up in the next issue of Fables. The other picks up in the new series, Fairest, which I'll review in a few days.

Fables, Vol. 17: Inherit the Wind Bill Willingham

BACK TO OZ! Buffkin leads a band of rebels, but not too well. Shocking ending that has me waiting at the edge of my seat for Fables Vol. 18: Cubs in Toyland (comes out at the end of January.)

This big storyline is that one of the cubs has to be chosen as a successor for the North Wind. Bigby and Snow aren't happy about this, and either are the other cardinal winds who want to chose the successor--one they can control.

Christmas opens up a whole host of other issues and questions. One leads directly to Cubs in Toyland, one opens up new questions about Rose Red's new role, and I'm just waiting to see what happens with Nurse Spratt. That's something that's been simmering for a long time and I can't wait for that to explode.

Remember that turtle and teacup? We get a whole issue about that.

There's a backstory story about a magician in the Empire, back when the Empire still ruled the home worlds. He ends up dead on the farm, which seems odd, until you realize that the discovery of his body is the first scene in Cinderella: Fables Are Forever, which I'll review later this week.

Stay tuned for more of the Fables universe!

Books Provided by... my wallet

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, December 05, 2012

Excellence in Nonfiction

Yesterday, YALSA announced the shortlist of the Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults.

This is why blogging has been slow these past few weeks-- I've been busily reading and re-reading the nominees over and over again to help whittle down the list to these 5. I'm so excited about the 5 books we chose-- they are all excellent.

1. Titanic: Voices From the Disaster Deborah Hopkinson

This book may have ruined all other Titanic books for me. Seriously. I was listening to the audio version of The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic by Allan Wolf. It's a WONDERFUL book and the audio is fantastic, but... about halfway though I realized all I really wanted to do was reread the Hopkinson book. So I did.

2. Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World's Most Dangerous Weapon Steve Sheinkin

Sheinkin has a gift for making history really come alive. This one follows several different storylines in the US and Europe as scientists and spies try to make an atom bomb, keep the other guys from doing it, and/or just stealing their research.

3. Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 Phillip Hoose

Red Knot Rufas are small birds that migrate every year from the Canadian Arctic to Tierra del Fuego. And back. B95 is one bird that's done the journey so many times, that he's flown enough miles to get to the moon. More than following this one bird, Hoose describes bird conservation and tracking efforts and the complicated inter-tangled issues at play. Now, based on that plot description, I'd be like "eh" but he does it in a way that's utterly fascinating. Plus, really wonderful maps.

4. Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different by Karen Blumenthal

Using a commencement address as a framing device, Blumenthal paints great warts and all biography of on of Steve Jobs. I learned so many interesting things about Jobs (when he was a young man he was on a weird diet and thought that because of this he didn't need to shower. Anyone who smelled him disagreed) and about Apple (a great explanation of why the ad campaign was Think Different instead of Think Differently. And the letters they'd get from irate English teachers.) Plus, the photographs of a young Steve Jobs makes me feel much better about the fact that Ashton Kutcher is playing him in the biopic.

5. We've Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children's March Cynthia Levinson

In 1963 over 4000 children were arrested marching for their civil rights. They woke up in the morning, packed what they'd need for jail, and march, knowing they wouldn't be sleeping at home that night. Levinson follows a few of these children (some teens, some much younger) from different walks of life, how they got involved with the movement, their experiences and what happened next. It's inspiring and eye-opening.

The winner will be announced at the Youth Media Awards at the end of January. And NO! We haven't decided who's won yet! Stop asking!

And... seems I'm talking about committee stuff and I don't think I've mentioned this on the internets yet, when this committee wraps up in January, my next assignment begins. I'm the incoming chair of for Outstanding Books for the College Bound. I'm very excited for a million reasons, not least of which is that it's a huge change of reading material for the next year!

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, November 15, 2012

Born Too Short

Born Too Short: The Confessions of an Eighth-Grade Basket Case Dan Elish

Life isn't easy when you're a full inch over 5 feet and your best friend is so perfect he's actually in a toothpaste ad. Matt and Keith have been best friends since forever, but sometimes Matt has to own up to the fact that's horribly jealous. He knows he shouldn't be, but...

Then one night he can't take it and starts ranting that he wishes Keith's life was a little less perfect. As the homeless guy on the corner says, "Better be careful... wishes can come true." It's just a homeless guy, but... all of a sudden Keith's life is a little less perfect and thins start going Matt's way. He didn't accidentally ruin his best friend's life, did he?

I read this one years ago, so I'm a little short of specifics, but I remember that it's hilarious. I liked the way the Elish examines how Matt can be so jealous of his best friend while still actually being his friend. It's not junior high girl drama where everyone's stabbing each other in the back. I like that it's about feelings but still very much a guy book with guy voices that ring true. Matt as a narrator is fantastic. I loved his sarcastic humor and how he uses it to mask his insecurities.

Also, at 156 pages with a small trim size, it's a great pick for reluctant readers.

Book Provided by... my wallet

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, November 14, 2012


Drama Raina Telgemeier

Callie loves theater. She can't act or sing, but she's awesome at the tech stuff. So she's very excited to be the set designer for the school's production of Moon of Mississippi. She's finally kissed the guy she likes, but now he's not talking to her. She has two new guy friends (one an actor, one she talks into tech) who may be possibilities, but maybe not. Her best friend is doing costumes and the show could be awesome but...

Callie doesn't have the budget for the set she's designed, her cannon isn't working, and no one's buy tickets. What's a girl to do?

I think Telgemeier could make a comic book out of the phone book and I'd love it. I love how she captures drama department politics without going too prima donna diva-overboard. I love Callie's determination to make that cannon work. I also love the relationship with her friend Liz and her little brother.

While this isn't straight up biographical like Smile, the little details about junior high life that made that one so perfect are here in Drama.


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.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Crown of Embers

The Crown of Embers Rae Carson

So, The Girl of Fire and Thorns didn't really need a sequel, but I'm glad there was one, because I love Elisa and I love this world that Carson has built.

Everything I loved about the first book is amplified in the second--the fact that the world is vaguely Central/South American instead of vaguely European. The way she has a love triangle without having a love triangle (Being torn between two hot guys who both want you gets old. Being torn between your heart and duty? I will never tire of that.) I love the politics and how Elisa is still struggling. She's better at playing the game than she was, but she hasn't mastered it yet. I love the role religion play-- how it affects the politics, the varying interpretations, the HUGE role it plays in Elisa's life.

I love how everything just becomes that much more complicated.

Yes, Elisa won the war, but her country is in tatters and her treasury is depleted. Inverieno spies and assassins lurk around every corner. Because she let the Eastern Holdings split off, the Southern Holdings want to as well. Taxes must be raised to refinance the rebuilding, but until the country is rebuilt, the people are too poor to pay more in taxes. Riots keep breaking out in Brisadulce.

The Quorom keeps pushing Elisa to marry, for she is still a child and not a strong enough leader to be queen at this trying land. And Ximena has written to Alodia suggesting that Alodia marry Hector.

But there's a passage in the Apocrypha that suggests that a metaphorical gate might be real, and it might hold the key to Elisa's problems...

Sadly, as much as Carson twists the conventions of the genre, she still goes with a second-book-in-a-trilogy Empire Strikes Back cliffhanger ending.

Ah well, it's totally worth it. Can't wait until the next one!

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, November 12, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Magical Life of Long Tak Sam

The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam: An Illustrated Memoir Ann Marie Fleming

This is two stories-- the story of how Ann Marie tried to find out about the great-grandfather she just discovered was a world-famous magician and vaudeville performer, and the story of his life.

It’s a graphic novel, but more. There are a lot of photographs and documents in with the drawings, telling this tale.

And what a tale it is.

Long Tack Sam’s origins are a bit hazy (there are a few versions) but he rose to become an international superstar. He was Chinese, his wife was Austrian. They traveled the world and lived all over, fleeing wars and performing.

The family remained largely international in origin and much of Fleming’s work revolves around being multiple ethnicities, visas, and citizenship. Fleming herself was born on Okinawa when it was UN protectorate. She couldn’t leave the island because she didn’t have an exit visa. She didn’t have an exit visa, because you needed an entry visa. She didn’t have an entry visa because she was born there. It’s pretty representative of many of the issues her family goes to through over the years.

After WWII, Long Tack Sam could become a US citizen, but his wife couldn’t because Austria wasn’t under Russian threat.

Visually, the mixed media works really well. Fleming weaves her stories and broader themes in and out in way that makes for a great read and draws you in. You’re fascinated by Long Tack Sam’s life and fame, but also by Fleming’s journey of discovering her family history.

I appreciated the sidebars of contemporary world events that helped ground the story in time. It’s a sweeping story that takes much of the twentieth century and is affected by much of twentieth century history.

Originally, Fleming told this story in film, and the book comes from the film. Sadly, I can’t find the film anywhere to watch. I’d love to see more of this story.

While this is a book published for adults, I think teens will really enjoy it-- especially the exploration of identity and family.

The Nonfiction Monday roundup is over at The Flatt Perspective. Be sure to check it out.

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, November 07, 2012


Hi All!

Just a note to say that my committee work for the YALSA Award for Excellence for Nonfiction for Young Adults is coming to a head! Nominations close today and our short list (which we still have to make!) will be announced next week.

I have read so much awesome nonfiction this year. (And a lot of not-so-awesome nonfiction, too.)

Meanwhile, I've falled way behind on my blogging. Hoping to catch up soon but mostly just looking at a giant stack of fiction that I can't wait to get to. ;)

Monday, November 05, 2012

Why I Vote

It's another election, and another blogosphere round-up of why voting matters.

Here's my story on why I vote:

(This is largely just a repost of my 2008 post on why voting matters.)

Do you remember 2000? I do. I bet you do, too, but I bet the way I remember it is very different than the way you do.

2000 was my very first presidential election. My story starts early in the year, during the primary. I was living in Iowa, and the Iowa Caucuses are a thing to behold. You have no idea until you've voted in one. I live in DC now and am surrounded by people who are convinced they run the world. But to stand in an elementary school gym, literally standing for your candidate, that's something different. My adviser, a distinguished older gentleman with a Tennessee accent that sings, stood on a table and directed us, shouting to be heard over the crowd.

He knew who the crowd was going for. The Republicans were in a classroom down the hall, the Democrats in the gym. He knew who the Dems were going for, so everyone who was for Gore was ordered into the hall to do a head count. Those for Bradley stayed in the gym, clumped into groups of 10, so we were easier to count. I stood with a French professor, some other students, some people from town... we stood and were counted. We were the only precinct that Bradley won that night, but he won it by a landslide.*

Fast forward to October. I was studying abroad in Nanjing, China. (Yes, that was my campus on the left.) In October, we had a two-week travel break.

For my last stop, I was in Harbin, sick, and having forgotten my towel, 5 days seriously overdue for a shower. I skipped the hostel and checked into the Holiday Inn** Do you know what the Holiday Inn had? SATELLITE TV! With English language news! I hadn't seen English language news since mid-August. I jumped on the bed, I took a bath, I wrapped up in the super plush bathrobe, and ordered room service. Then a friend from my program showed up at the hotel and we sat on my bed, eating pizza and watching CNN.

I have never enjoyed CNN so much. Jamie went to Georgetown. About about half an hour of catching up on the world, she turned to me. "You know, I think this election might be really close." She isn't dumb. This is just how hard it was to get English-language news behind the Great Firewall of China back then. We had NO IDEA. Later in the week we returned to Nanjing and told everyone it would be a close election. Little did we know...

A few weeks later, and I voted absentee. I was one of the few Americans on my program who voted.*** I was ecstatic because I didn't think I would get my vote counted. My friends were jealous, because they didn't. Our Chinese friends were confused--what was the big deal?

Yes, what was the big deal? And how could we explain it to our Communist**** friends with our limited vocabulary? Little did we know the bigger conversations to come...

November rolled around. We were exactly 12 hours off Central Time. We had class from 8-12 and figured that we'd just pop by the internet cafe on the way to lunch, see who won and then go eat.

HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA. Really, that was our plan.

For the next 7 hours, every internet cafe in town was filled with Americans hitting the refresh button every 30 seconds, wishing we could get more sites.

China filters its internet. There are ways to work around the internet and many people do--it's not actually that hard. But in 2000, wifi wasn't a thing yet, most of us didn't bring our own computers, and using an internet cafe, you really couldn't get around it. We were extremely limited in which Western news sites we could access that day. I just remember that MSNBC was reporting two different winners on the same page. I didn't understand. None of us did. A few weeks previous, I had made a joke that Bush would win the popular and Gore the electoral. My next prediction was that Texas would succeed in protest. Little did I know.

I was counting down the hours until 7pm, which would be 7am at my parents' house and they would be waking up. I was sure they would have answers, but they didn't.

Later I would find out that Florida was the sticky wicket. Much later, when I returned home right before Christmas, I would learn about Dan Rather's folksy charm. I would first hear about hanging chads. I would find out that Florida got called several times.

That Wednesday, the day after the election, I woke up and called home again. Surely after a full day, they'd know something! Still no answers. We went to class. My teacher started with Bush winning. I told her he didn't. "No no, I saw it on CCTV this morning."
"Yeah, well, I talked to America this morning. They still don't know."

We waited. The guy I was seeing (Scottish! The accent!) threatened to reneg my American independence. I had broken English/French/Chinese conversations with my Swiss friends explaining the electoral college.

We waited. I watched the evening news every day and every time I heard Bush or Gore's name, I yelled for Xiao Mao to translate.

We waited. Xiao Feng wondered why they couldn't just share the job.

And that's why voting is important.

Why couldn't they just share the job? Trying to explain the two party system, to explain democracy to our friends, in our limited vocabulary was hard. I'm not sure they ever got it. These were students chosen for their party loyalty. But they were our friends. They were amazed at our decadence (we had hot water 24 hours a day!)***** They taught us how to play mah johng and phrases in local dialects. We helped them with their TOEFL preps. We watched movies together. We jumped on our beds, lip synching along with cheesy pop songs. We teased about boyfriends and girlfriends. They took care of us using Chinese medicine when we fell ill. We pumped them full of Tylenol when they had a fever or headache. We had our inside jokes and nicknames.

They were our friends.

When we got to China, we wanted to learn how to swear, so we asked. We couldn't figure out how to ask, so we asked our friends what words we couldn't say on television. They told us ziyou and we were excited and then we remembered we knew that word. Ziyou means freedom. Welcome to China.

Da Lu wondered why the party chairman just didn't appoint the next president.

And that's why I vote. Because I can.

We get to vote. We have candidates to choose from. A party chair doesn't get to appoint anyone. While we complain that our candidates are too similar, they do have differences. They can't just share the job.

And that's why voting is important. It was my first presidential election and it was staring me in the face. These were my friends who might never get to vote, and if they did, it would be one Communist versus another Communist, and they wouldn't vote for the leaders of the party. If they ever get to vote for the leaders, if they ever get a choice in parties, it will be after a serious revolution.

You can say one vote doesn't count and maybe it doesn't. But the act of voting counts. We think of it as a right, but it's a privilege that so many in the world don't get. We do. We can vote and that means something. We can vote, but most of us don't. So go do it already.

*He had given a very good speech on campus earlier that year. Gore never came.

**Seriously, the NICEST Holiday Inn I had ever seen. It came with bath salts! But I was just overjoyed by the soft bed and Western style toilet.

***Not that the others were disenfranchised. It's a long (and boring) story about where people had their paperwork sent.

****In China, we lived in a foreign student's dorm. They read our mail. They read our email. The maids wrote reports on what was in our trashcans, on our desks. In my program, which I HIGHLY recommend BTW, there were 3 of us to room, 2 Americans and 1 Chinese student. Being able to room with a Chinese student is a huge deal, but we also knew that in order to room with us, they had to be model students and citizens. But, by the end of the semester, Xiao Mao was sleeping until noon and had picked up some of my more atrocious grammar patterns.

******Xiao Mao would take 2 hour showers because the she was so amazed that she could. Then her friends would come over, too. Just to use our shower. Our shared shower (3 showers in the girls bathroom serving a floor of 30+). It was pretty grotty-dorm standard, but it had 24 hour hot water and was an absolute luxury. Also, our rooms only had 3 people instead of 8. Oh, and we had heat. Not much, and only in the rooms, not in the hall or common areas, but we had heat.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Border Crossing

Border Crossing Jessica Lee Anderson

Manz's mother is an alcoholic, a sometimes painter who is still reeling from a stillbirth. His dead father was crazy. Manz's best friend has an abusive father.

Manz and Jed get a job over the summer at a local ranch where Manz meets Vanessa, one of the kitchen worker. Only, when Manz hears about Operation Wetback*, he starts thinking that the government is starting it up again. Even though Manz is a citizen, US-born of a white citizen mother, the voices in his head tell him everyone else is in on it, tell him that the government will ship him to Mexico, unless he can stop it.

As the voices grow louder and louder, Manz can't stop them, can't not do what the tell him. He doesn't realize that no one else can hear them.

On the surface this is an ISSUE NOVEL. Paranoid Schizophrenia! Alcoholism! Domestic Abuse! Immigration! Dead babies!

But, in execution, told through Manz's eyes it's not heavy-handed. It's just the way things are. The real story is Manz's worsening condition. Anderson does a good job of letting the reader know what is "real" and what isn't. Part of this is that she does a good job of setting everything up before Manz starts to lose his grip on reality.

It's a fast-moving, compact book. I like the ending-- there's resolution, without it being super-tidy.

Interestingly, I just saw this photo on another book jacket--American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar. Same cover photo, different nationalities. Hmmm...

Operation Wetback was a pretty extreme anti-illegal immigration/deportation program in the early 50s.

ARC Provided by... the publisher, at ALA a few year ago.

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 24, 2012

Dead is a Killer Tune

Dead is a Killer Tune Marlene Perez

Nightshade is having a battle of the bands! Local favorites Side Effects May Vary and Drew Barrymore's Boyfriends are up against some new comers. Moonlight and Magic features Selena, Connor and Harmony. Harmony's never been able to sing before, but she's tearing up the lead vocals now. Hamlin is a band from out of town, but their fans follow them everywhere. But when band members start acting strangely, even turning up dead, Jess and the other Viragos are on the case, with some complications. Flo's best friend may be involved, but she refuses to see it. And, Jess has been drafted to fill in some holes in Side Effects May Vary! EEP!

You have a band called Hamlin, whose fans follow them around on tour. It's not hard to see where this one is going. There are a few nefarious threads going on, and it's hard to see if they're all related or not. The different threads also throw out lots of red herrings, to keep this one fun and interesting.

I also like how Dominic is a seer and his prophesies appear in songs. I missed the psychic jukebox from the earlier books. I continue to enjoy the new track Perez has taken with this series. Daisy's story was pretty much done, but there is still so much material in Nightshade, so focusing on Jess coming in to her abilities is great and works really well.

Now, to wait another year until the next one!

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.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Chopsticks Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral

And, for our final book in Books in Stuff Week (which was much longer than a week!) we have something completely different!

Chopsticks is less a book in stuff and more a (almost) wordless novel. It's told mostly in photographs with some ephemera-- concert programs, ticket stubs, newspaper articles. There are some captions and letters, and text message chats, so it's not entirely wordless, but it's a similar effect.

Glory is a piano prodigy known for mixing classical pieces with pop culture themes, motifs, and musical references. She plays sold out shows across Europe. Frankie is the boy next door, whose family just moved from Argentina. Frankie is all Glory has outside of piano and her over-bearing father/teacher. Glory is all Frankie has in this country he hates and doesn't fit into.

But soon, Glory is falling, all she can play are variations on the Chopsticks waltz over and over and over and over and over again, ruining sold out shows. (As the jacket copy explains, it's the F and G notes moving apart and together over and over.) But as she unravels, we start to see another side and have to wonder how much is true, or even real.

Have you ever seen He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not? The twist and plot are very different, but there's something about the structure and how twists are revealed, as well as some undefinable things (and it's been years since I've seen the film) that really connect the two in my mind. After finishing Chopsticks, I had an overwhelming urge to see the movie again.

I liked the format, I liked the story. Even though I knew more about where it was going than I reveal in my plot summary, I was still surprised by a lot. I think it would make an excellent book discussion group-- there's enough in the plot to dissect, but the format and design will add more.

While it's not as ground-breaking as it could be, or as earth-shattering as it should be (but that might be because they jacket copy reveals waaaaaaay too much about where the plot is going, taking a lot of oomph out of it) I still really enjoyed it.

Now, this was also released as an app. From this review (which is super-spoilery) I learn that the app adds some stuff to the book-- you can hear the music, watch the videos they're watching, text conversations appear in "real time" instead of all at once on the page, and some items we see on the page can be moved in the app to reveal more. But, it's also a bit glitchy (one of the youtube videos isn't available anymore, the music and video isn't actually in the app, it's all external links). I haven't seen the app. I want to play around with it, but it's $7, and given that I already spent money on the actual book, I'd rather spend the money elsewhere. Also, it's something I'd save for the larger screen of the iPad.

I think this is something we're going to start seeing more of as authors play with adding content to their stories.

If you've played with the app and read the book, which would you recommend?

ALSO-- Frankie is Argentinian and I assume Glory's mother was Latina (her maiden name was Torres and Glory speaks fluent Spanish.) While race and language play a part in Frankie's story, it's not a huge part of the book, which focuses more on Glory's piano and Glory and Frankie's relationship.

Book Provided by... my wallet

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 15, 2012

Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt: A Novel in Pictures Caroline Preston

In 1920, Frankie Pratt dreams of escaping her small New Hampshire town. A scholarship to Vassar looks like the ticket, but money's still too tight. Inspired by Frankie's very unsuitable boyfriend, her mother finds a way. From Vassar to New York to Paris and back, Frankie tries to find her way in a glittering world. It's a book with speak easies and exiled Russian nobles, avant garde literature, and false friends.

Format wise, it's a scrapbook. Preston collects vintage scrapbooks and used vintage pictures, ticket stubs, guide book pages, newspaper articles, advertisements and more to illustrate the story. Visually, it looks a lot like an olde time Middle School Is Worse Than Meatloaf: A Year Told Through Stuff, but most of the story is told in Frankie's captions and explanations of the items she's saved. Some "explanations" are more like short diary entries (never more than half a page) of memories/events/conversations to remember.

I liked Frankie. I liked how she went out an saw the world and tried to make it as a writer without too much angst about not getting married and settling down like many of her friends. There wasn't too much "this isn't what women dooooooooooo" whinging on or explanation. Also, given the format there isn't a ton of explanation/instruction/info-dumping about the time period and events, which is always a danger in historical fiction. But, there are some nods to the modern reader. Oliver goes to write for a magazine that Frankie's sure will fold in a few issues. There is much talk of the magazine as it's starting, and it's funny joke when we finally see what it is. (I won't ruin the surprise, but it's still very much in print.)

I am still unsure how I feel about the ending. My spoilery thoughts are here.

Overall, I enjoyed it. It's a great addition to the format, and while there are some great books in stuff written for adults (e Squared, The Boy Next Door) this is more literary in tone (even though it uses fewer words) and also much more visual in nature.

And while it is an adult book (or "New Adult" if that's a thing now-- it starts at the end of high school and ends 8 years later) it does have older teen appeal.

Book Provided by... my wallet

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.