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.

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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

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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

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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

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mo Yan

Mo Yan won the Nobel Prize for Literature!

He's my favorite author and he's had Nobel hype for years. It's so exciting that he finally won!

The first book of his that I read was Red Sorghum. It was assigned for a Chinese Literature in Translation course. I was only auditing the class and could only read part of it before I had to turn my attention elsewhere. But, I liked it so much that I went back and finished it after the semester was over.

The movie Red Sorghum dramatises the first part of the novel. The opening scenes of Happy Times are based on one of the short stories in Shifu, You'll Do Anything For a Laugh.

The Garlic Ballads is my favorite book by him.

I prefer is earlier stuff to his later stuff. The shorter works are tighter and more accessible. His later works seem like a Nobel bid, but are still very good. Overall his writing is marked by a visceral lushness that I'm not used to seeing from Chinese prose, which is usually sparse in its descriptions. Many of his works are touched by a magic realism that brings to mind Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

AND! When writing up this blog post I see that many of his works are available for FREE for Amazon Prime members through the lending library and many are priced at bargain prices to own the Kindle version. Take advantage while you can, especially of the three titles I mentioned in this post.

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 10, 2012


Shooter Walter Dean Myers

Len and his friends were bullied in their high school. They enjoyed letting off steam at the shooting range, but one day Len takes it too far by bringing his guns to school and opening fire before ultimately committing suicide.

The book takes place after the shooting and mostly told in interviews by police and psychologists with Len's friend Cameron. There's an interview with another friend, Carla, newspaper articles, and then Len's diary itself.

The "stuff" format works a bit differently here-- with the exception of the diary (which is included at the very end) it's telling a story of something that already happened, looking back. Usually, "stuff" is used in a hyper-real time so the reader can put together the clues to piece together the story to find out what's going on the same way/time as the characters piece together the story of their lives.

While this stands apart from many other "stuff" novels, the format does work really well for what Myers is doing. The different interviewers are going after different information for different reasons. Cameron's story is different than Carla's and different from Len's. Not only in terms of perspective, but some evidence directly contradicts other evidence and the format offered without extra commentary allows/forces the reader to come up with their own conclusions as to where the truth and blame lie in this tragedy.

It's not my favorite Walter Dean Myers title, but it's still interesting and good, as well as important.

Random thought-- I've never met Myers or heard him speak, but I have a very vivid image of him and the way he sounds that's entirely created by mashing up photos I've seen of him and the description of his class visit and voice in Love That Dog. I trust Sharon Creech hasn't steered me wrong, because I love the Walter Dean Myers in my head.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Nothing but the Truth

Nothing But The Truth Avi

Lest we think that "books in stuff" is a new narrative technique, let's turn to a classic-- one I read when *I* was a tween.

Phillip is a high school freshman whose English grads are keeping him off the track team. Phil's convinced it's because his English teacher hates him. It has absolutely nothing to do with the fact he doesn't try and disrupts class all the time. Trying to get transferred out of her homeroom, Phil hums along with the morning announcements playing of The National Anthem. Unfortunately, the rules state that students must stand as "silent and respectful attention" and so he's sent to the office. Given a pattern of behavior it escalates quickly. When his next door neighbor finds out, he uses it as part of his local election campaign and it quickly spirals into a national issue and no one's lives will be the same.

Told in memos, script-style dialogue, journal entries, speeches, newspaper articles, letters, phone messages, etc. The reader gets to see many sides of this story and draw their own conclusions about what really happened and who was at fault. Because of the documentary format, we also have much more information that any of the characters. We know why they do what they do, but we also know why their read of the situation is so incorrect. (And when it comes to why Phil's failing English, we get his teacher's true feelings on him, but also his answers to test questions.) Avi does a wonderful job of showing us the situtation through Phil's eyes (both in his journal entries and conversations with friends) but also how other people see the situation (conversations teachers have, the teacher's letters to her sister) but also some completely unbiased evidence (the test answer in question.)

I really liked this book when I first read it (when it first came out in 1991) and love it even more as an adult. (Partly because of life experience, partly because of the way politics and the news works today, it's just become more and more believable.)

It's heartbreaking and Phil is so infuriating (not as much as his father though. UGH HIS DAD.) This is a perfect book discussion book because there's so much there and so much in real life to tie it into.

There's a reason why it was a Newbery Honor. THere's a reason why it's still in print and still assigned reading in many schools.

Book Provided by... my local library for this rereading, but originally my parents bought it for me as part of my book order. Mmmmm... book order. I really miss book order. I can't wait until the Kung Fu Princess gets her book orders... They still do book orders, right?!

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 08, 2012

Cathy's Book: If Found Call 650-266-8233

It turns out that I had A LOT of "Books in Stuff" waiting to be reviewed, so we're doing another week!

Cathy's Book: If Found Call 650-266-8233 Sean Stewart and Jordan Weisman

Cathy's not having a great time lately. Her boyfriend suddenly dumped her, she has a weird mark on her hand, and her dad's dead. Add in best friend drama and bad grades, and well...

But things take a decided turn for the bizarre when Cathy starts looking into WHY Victor dumped her. He's either a murderer, messed up with the Chinese mob, or a vampire. Or all of the above. Soon Cathy is in way over her head as she tries to save Victor, and, more importantly, herself.

Format-wise, the book is Cathy's journal, complete with doodles and comments and notes in the margins. Extra evidence is included in a package in the back--pictures, newspaper articles, Cathy's full-color drawings of characters, lipstick shade tests [there's a CoverGirl tie-in/marketing component], old letters, birth certificates, a marriage licensee... I liked the touch that a photograph of Victor with a phone number on it is torn into 4 pieces that the reader can put back together. This is fun, but not strictly necessary. It's all discussed in the text, but the addition of it is pretty cool, especially as some of it's ripped up. (The paperback includes photo-pages of the evidence instead of the actual ephemera, which isn't as fun, but much more practical for libraries!!!)

In addition to the book, there are websites and phone numbers to call, voice mail boxes to hack into and a huge online component. This provides additional information, but nothing terribly vital (so, it's fun for fans, but you can enjoy the book without it.) You can also do what I did and google around to find some sites that have done all the hard work for you (what can I say, I'm LAZY.)*

As far as the actual story, it was pretty fun. I liked the story and the format. I liked that all the extra stuff was there, but ultimately wasn't required--it adds to the story for those who want to go the extra mile, but people who don't or can't go those extra steps can still enjoy the book.

Bonus points for having a large Chinese-American cast.

This is pretty telling about my ultimate feelings on the book-- when I finished it, I liked it enough to buy the sequel, but couldn't read it right away because of school. It's been 4 years, and I haven't read it yet, but I still have it, because I still *want* to read it. Just not enough to bump it up the stack. Does that makes sense?

*This is also my complaint with Pottermore. I want the extra info about the book and characters, but I don't want to go around collection random trinkets and all that other stuff to get to it. Annoying.

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.

Friday, October 05, 2012

An Order of Amelie, Hold the Fries

An Order of Amelie, Hold the Fries Nina Schindler, translated from the German by Rob Barrett

You gotta love a book that references Leonard Cohen on the second page. With a big ol' picture of him, too.

Tim's a student who sees the woman of his dreams. He doesn't know her, but her address falls out of her bag, so he takes a risk and emails her. Only... it wasn't her email address. Amelie is NOT the girl of Tim's dreams, but her reply charms him, so he writes back and writes back, until she caves. It's a very sweet relationship the develops as Amelia tries to figure out what to do about her new feelings for Tim and some negative feelings with her very serious long-distance boyfriend.

Format wise, this one's much closer to Middle School is Worse than Meatloaf as we get a much better visual on the notes, flowers that are also sent, phones used in text messages (you actually tell the who's texting who because their phones are different.)

Interestingly, even though this is a German book, it takes place in Canada.

It's a short, sweet read that's a great use of the stuff format.

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, October 04, 2012

Ashbury High

So here's a weird thing where I've already reviewed the 4th book in this loosely connected series, but not the first three.

Now, I've written about my undying love for Jacyln Moriarty before. In 2010, she topped my list of Unsung YA Authors. When I turned 30, the first book in this series made my list of the 30 Most Influential Books in My Life (so far). It caught my eye when I was shelving books at the library and was the first YA book I had read since I was a teenager (not counting rereads of teen favorites or Potter.) This book is pretty responsible of the monster you know and love today.

Now, when I first read the first two books in this series, I wasn't reviewing everything I've read. The third one, however is a legitimate OUTSTANDING REVIEW. The other two were re-read for my YA lit paper and when I re-read them, I was committed to reviewing everything I read... I could easily get away with not reviewing them BUT. THEY ARE AWESOME SO I WANT TO TELL YOU ABOUT THEM.

Feeling Sorry for Celia Jacyln Moriarty

Elizabeth has problems. Her best friend, Celia, is missing. Her father's moved back to Australia from Canada. To top it all off, the new English teacher wants the Internet Generation to rediscover the JOY OF THE ENVELOPE and is making the students at Ashbury (posh private school) become penpals with students at Brookfield (public school a few blocks away.)

This book is told entirely in letters. Some letters are obvious-- notes between Elizabeth and her Mum, the letters between Elizabeth and her penpal Christina. Some come from not-actual-characters, such as the The Association of Teenagers (which does things like inform Elizabeth that the new zit under her nose is utterly disgusting) and the Best Friends Club (which does things like harp on how much progress Elizabeth is making in finding Celia.)

I loved the hilarity of the notes Elizabeth's Mum writes, always asking her to cook elaborate desserts and come up with slogans for bizarre products (she words at an ad agency.) I loved the slow-building friendship between Elizabeth and Christina and the juxtaposition of their friendship with the deteriorating one Elizabeth has with Celia.

It's been a while since I've last read it, but as I was dipping in to write this review, I ended up rereading large chunks of it. Elizabeth is not a drama queen and when confronted with real drama, she takes it in stride, but she's still very vulnerable. The letter-writing assignment allows her to open up to someone new, something I don't get the sense that she does a lot with Celia, as she tries to keep Celia grounded.

The Year of Secret Assignments Jaclyn Moriarty

So the Ashbury Books are more like companion novels than actual sequels.

It's a new year at Ashbury and three best friends-- Emily, Lydia, and Cassie are subjected to Mr. Botherit's JOY OF THE ENVELOPE and each have three Brookfield Boys (BOYS!) to correspond with over the year.

There are no letters from fake organizations this time. We get the letters from the boys and the notes the girls pass back and forth. We get the legal memos between Emily and her lawyer-parents, transcripts of meetings, pages from Lydia's writing prompt notebook, school notices, and diary entries.

There's the heavier component-- Cassie's dad died last year and things have been hard since then (she's in therapy with her mom and she's not off the deep end, but well, her dad died, that has to completely suck and there will be consequences). To top it off, her Brookfield pen pal is a complete jerk but she keeps writing to him and he just gets worse. (The original Australian title of this one is Finding Cassie Crazy. I like Year of Secret Assignments better.)

Emily and Lydia get very close to their penpals (Charlie and Seb. My oh my how I adore Charlie and Seb) and quickly discover that the boy Cassie's been writing to doesn't exist. MYSTERY!

On the surface, the three girls are your stereotypical rich shallow girl but over the course of the book, you see some depth. Emily's hilarious though, in that she wants to be a big-time lawyer but she's not that smart. She uses lots of big words, but always uses the wrong ones. There's some great romance going on and Elizabeth and Christina make small appearances.

This is the most light-hearted and funniest of the bunch.

The Murder Of Bindy Mackenzie Jacyln Moriarty

No more JOY OF THE ENVELOPE. Readers may remember Bindy's amazing typing skills from the dramatic climax of Year of Secret Assignments. So this one is mostly told in Bindy's journals and transcripts that she keeps of the conversations she overhears around her.

Poor Bindy. Bindy's incredibly smart and gifted, but annoying and unpopular. It's not hard to see why no one really likes her. Think Hermione before the bathroom troll incident. And then multiply it by 5. That's Bindy. But that's ok, because Bindy doesn't have a high opinion of her peers either.

This year, Ashbury's developed an experimental course called Friendship and Development. All the students are placed in small groups that meet for an hour a week with a facilitator to talk about their feelings and offer support. (Emily and Elizabeth are in Bindy's group.)

Something weird is going on though, Bindy's sleepy all the time. She's become careless and is losing her edge. She feels sort of ill. She can't sleep. She's hallucinating. Is someone trying to kill her?

As unlikeable as she was, Bindy broke my heart. Her parents have moved away and so Bindy's living with her aunt. Bindy doesn't understand why people don't see the world she does and finds her classmates rather bewildering. Friendship and Development is actually good for her in helping her understand other people.

And she's just... unraveling. Something's going on and it looks like Bindy might be going crazy. Or someone really is trying to kill her.

The original Australian title is Becoming Bindy MacKenzie which is much more fitting (if not as grabbing.)

It's a wonderful character study, even if the it did not end up going where I thought it was going to go. Bindy's a wonderful person.

It was also great to see a lot more of Emily and Elizabeth, but through Bindy's eyes.

The fourth book in the series is The Ghosts of Ashbury High, which I reviewed here.

Books Provided by... my wallet, ultimately. I originally read Feeling Sorry for Celia and Year of Secret Assignment from the library, but then went out and bought them, because I like them THAT MUCH.

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 03, 2012

Paul is Undead

Paul Is Undead Alan Goldsher

Basic premis-- zombies walk among us. There are different types of zombies, depending on where the zombie was created. Some function well in living society, some are scary death monsters. Some play a mean guitar and turned some other good musicians into a band. Because Liverpool zombies are strong and artistic.

Except Stu, Stu became a vampire. And Ringo, Ringo's a ninja. (Yoko is, too.)

John Lennon had a vision of the first undead rockband. A zombie band, which caused some friction with another Liverpool band that was made up of living members, but called The Zombies.

Overall, it's the history of the Beatles, but with zombies. Pete Best gets fired because he refuses to turn. John didn't die in 1980, because he was already undead. Mick Jagger's a zombie hunter (they could have done a lot more with that plot line. It kinda fizzled.)

Overall... I liked most of it. The zombie stuff was pretty graphically gross, which isn't my cup of tea, but makes sense in a zombie novel. But there's also a lot of comic grossness, like that'll often rip their arms off to better beat each other with them. There's a good dose of teen boy humor in here.

I think Goldsher was really clever in how he made the zombie Beatle thing work. He especially excels at the strained relations between members. No one's dead, but everything still went down, so they're not exactly talking to each other and John's version of events often differs from other people's.

Format wise, it works really well-- (ok, the pictures were gross, but, that's a cup-of-tea thing, not an actual complaint.) It's an "oral history" so the conceit is that Goldsher is a rock journalist interviewing all the actors involved, and so it's all transcript form, piecing together different interviews like you would in a documentary. This really allows the strained-band-politics to shine. Interspersed are interviews with zombie experts, newspaper articles, and excerpts from books about zombies, to help with the world building, but in a really unobtrusive way.

My only real issue is that, after awhile, the premise wore thin and it wasn't enough to sustain such a long time span of band history or 300 pages of book. It got to the point where I was invested enough that I wanted to finish it, but had to slog through the last bit to get there.

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.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Ginny Davis

Middle School Is Worse Than Meatloaf: A Year Told Through Stuff Jennifer Holm, illustrated by Elicia Cataldi

Ugh. How have I not reviewed this one yet? It's been a favorite for years. Ginny Davis is starting 7th grade, trying to navigate the waters of middle school. She's feuding with her best friend, hoping for a lead in ballet, and trying to keep her dog from eating her science project. Some things are big (her brother getting sent to military school, setting up her mom with the insurance salesman) but most are the minor dramas of the everyday (trying to get back the yellow sweater from your former best friend). Through school assignments, to-do lists, and IMs with her friends, we get a great sense of Ginny's voice.

This is also designed superbly well. It's full color and we don't really get any diary entries or conversation transcripts--this one's pure ephemera. When there are notes on the fridge, we see the fridge in the background. We can see the ever-increasing amount of magnets from the pizza delivery place.

It's a good story about the ups and downs of 7th grade and a super-easy handsell (just show them a random page spread.) It's also pretty funny. I especially like the comics Ginny's older brother draws (guest artist Matthew Holm of Babymouse fame) and the notes from "The Management" aka, Mom.

Eighth Grade Is Making Me Sick: Ginny Davis's Year In Stuff Jennifer Holm, illustrated by Elicia Cataldi

So, there was a lot of buzz this summer that Holm had a new book coming out, but I was over the moon when it came in at the library and I saw that it was a sequel to Middle School is Worse than Meatloaf!

Ginny's back, this time tackling 8th grade and there are some MUCH BIGGER things happening this year. At the beginning of the book, the family is moving to a bigger house. Then Mom gets pregnant, Ginny tries out for cheer and gets a boyfriend. But after Mom quits her job to be a stay-at-home mom and Bob gets laid off and the baby comes really early and Ginny's grades start slipping...

I have two minor complaints--

1. WE WANT MORE GRANDPA JOE! You can never have enough Grandpa Joe. He's the nice old guy who sends you money for things your mom says you can't have-- everyone's dream grandpa. Also, very funny. MORE GRANDPA JOE.

2. It's not as long as the first one. Now, Holm doesn't short the story, it didn't have to be longer, BUT. I can't get enough of Ginny and her family (and that's the thing-- even those these books about Ginny and it's mostly her stuff, you really get to know and care about the rest of the family) and so I just want MORE MORE MORE MORE. (Yes, I'm greedy.)

A nice bonus on this one? There's a LOT of YA book love. And it's pretty subtle. Books that Ginny's reading (mostly about vampires) are part of the background and they're *excellent* choices. They're all great books that teens actually read on their own for fun. (Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith! Also, Babymouse Mad Scientist.;) ) Also, her English teacher ROCKS. They have to read classics and contemporary and he chooses AWESOME contemporary titles (Monsoon Summer by Mitali Perkins!) So yeah, good book love that's super subtle.

Another awesome bonus-- Ginny's romance. NO DRAMA. It's pretty awesome that way. Also, they're so nerdy together and aren't self-conscious about that. It's super-nice to see a romantic subplot without angst and drama.

With the BIG STUFF going on in this one, it's a bit heavier than the first one, but I really hope this isn't the last we've seen of Ginny.

Also, MAJOR MAJOR props to Elicia Castaldi. So much of this series is the design. A bad design would have killed the story. But this design is SO GOOD and it makes the story. It adds SO MUCH. And it just works SO 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 01, 2012


e Squared Matt Beaumont

I loved loved loved Beaumont's e and The E Before Christmas* so I was super excited to see this title!

The first two were told all in email, but as technology has changed over the years, the book did to! We still have email, but also IM, internet news articles, ebay listings, texts, photo attachements, blog posts and comments,etc.

Beaumont is truly a master of the e-format. Many authors who write email novels are writing standard epistolary novels, but with a to and from field. Beaumont understands that not only are emails different than letters (shorter, for one) but also really gets the form-- you have to really pay attention to the date stamps, because they matter. Also, lots of misunderstandings involving accidentally cc'ing someone, not understanding spam, and those annoying people who send crap company wide or don't know the difference between "reply" and "reply-all."

The favorite characters from e are still there and there are many new ones as they've moved on to a new agency that's one of those super-dysfunctional too-cool-for-work hipster places. Relationships are on the rocks and the products they're supposed to create campaigns for are unbelievable.

I super love the text messages between the kids and their parents, especially how the kids then go turn around and have a completely different text conversation with their friends. It's so true.

British comedies that capture voices and technology perfectly? YES. It's super-smart, snort beer out your nose laugh-out-loud hilarious, and expertly crafted. This is a series you must read.

*Interestingly, this was originally only issued in e-book, back in 2004, before e-readers. Dan and I bought it, printed it out, and took it to Kinko's to have it bound. My how things have changed! I thought about getting e2 on Kindle, but the reviews all said that the email formatting was off so it was hard to read to/from fields and date stamps. So I bought it in paper. Heh.

Book Provided by... my wallet

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No Crystal Stair

No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the life and work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

Guys, there is a reason this fantastic book won the Hornbook/Boston Globe award for fiction.

The son of a storeowner in Newport News, Lewis Michaux was in and out of trouble as a child and young man. Inspired by Marcus Garvey's work to connect African-Americans with Africa, Lewis found his calling when he opened up the National Memorial African Bookstore. People told him it wouldn't succeed, but with excellent salesmanship and a natural charisma, Michaux's bookstore became a landmark and an important meeting place and resource. People came to talk to him and learn from him just as much as they came for the books. He even had a library in the back where you could read and learn for free.

Michaux was Micheaux Nelson's great-uncle (she explains the "e" in her author's note.) She set out to write a biography of her relative, but so many details couldn't be tracked down (including what year the store opened!) that she just didn't have enough material, so she took what she did have and filled in the gaps and wrote a fiction book.

As she said at the Horn Book Awards "When a writer begins to invent, you need to own up to that & call it fiction" (*cough*kadirnelson*cough*)

Now this is a book told in stuff, so let's talk format.

Most of the text is told from different characters--Lewis, Lewis's family, store customers, authors, etc. Many are real, a few aren't. Most characters only speak for a few paragraphs. Mixed in are newspaper articles, photographs, and excerpts from Michaux's FBI file. These are all actual source materials and not fiction. There's some other (real) ephemera, too--newsletters, funeral notices, business cards, advertisements, etc. Running through it are R. Gregory Christie's sketches, which really add to the feel of the book.

It's fascinating reading, especially as it paints the different views within the black community during the 50s/60s/70s. Lewis and his brother differed over many things, but towards the end, especially Lewis's relationship with Malcolm X. (Malcolm X frequently spoke at the store and often got mail there. Michaux was supposed to be on stage with him with Malcolm X was assassinated, but was running late.) How much FBI material there is on him, and why, is chilling.

It's also a wonderful story about the role a bookstore played in history and the community, and everything that a bookstore offers beyond merchandise.

The "stuff" format allows Micheuax Nelson to seamlessly blend the non-fiction material she had with the fiction she created (what's what is explained in the author's note.) It also leads to a more vignette-y type narrative, which allows her to cover 70 years of his life, which out it getting bogged down or too long.

It's an important book in that it highlights a fascinating part of America's past. But it's a good book because Micheaux Nelson can tell a story. The weight of history doesn't pull it down, the extra material adds to the engaging nature of the narrative instead of detracting. She not only tells us the story of her family, but paints a wonderful picture of Harlem and the greater scene without it getting in the way of what is, at its heart, the story of a man trying to get a neighborhood to wake up and read. It all ties together in a fantastic package that deserves many more awards and a hell of a lot more buzz than it's been getting.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Books Told in Stuff Week

When I was in grad school, my final paper for YA lit was on "Books Told in Stuff." I've long been a fan of alternative storytelling techniques and telling a book in "stuff"-- newspaper articles, notes, conversation transcripts, and other ephemera has long been a favorite method of mine.

In my paper I looked at the how and why this technique was popular with teens. One big thing I looked at was how these books often appeal to reluctant or struggling readers, even though their structure demands a pretty high reading level.

I use some pages from Jennifer Holm's most excellent Middle School Is Worse Than Meatloaf: A Year Told Through Stuff as an example. One on page, we see a cut out from a magazine the recommends a bubble bath and a makeover. We see a receipt from the drugstore for hair dye and bubble bath. On the next page, we see a bill from a hair salon for corrective color, a blank check, and a bill from the plumber to repair the jacuzzi after bubble bath got in the jets.

In a traditional narrative, many of the dots are connected. It would tell us "Ginny read an article on how to feel better about herself and followed it's advice. However, it went wrong and when she tried to dye her hair, it turned out really ugly and she broke her mom's bathtub, making her feel even worse." And there'd probably be a hiliarious scene involving breaking the bathtub and just how horrible her hair looked. But, we don't need that, we can see from a few scraps of paper what happened.

So, why do readers that shy away from traditional narrative not have issues with filling in such huge plot holes? Mostly, because that's how we live our life. We overhear snatches of conversation without explaining it to ourselves. We see pieces of evidence, such as some bills and receipts and easily put together the story of our lives and the lives around us. Books told in stuff present the story that same way we live the story.

Plus, they're just really fun. SO! This week, all books in stuff, all the time.


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Bloggiesta Finish Line

So, I knew I wasn't going to get everything done because my list was insane. I did a lot of work and while I didn't get done what I thought I'd get done, I did get a LOT done!

1. Review books. I have 57 books to review. I'll be happy if I get 10 done. I reviewed 7. I got a few comments on the size of my backlog. That's one of the reasons why I love Bloggiesta-- even though 57 is a lot of books, the size of my backlog is smaller every Bloggiesta!

2. Deal with my Google Reader. This mainly means geting caught up on blog posts. I have over 6191 unread blogposts (OMG I KNOW.) So, I will read as many as possible, but the hard part will be heavy use of the "mark as read" button. I also want to clean out my stars. Most are books that I want to read, so I want to write at least 5 "reviews that made me want to read the book" posts. Others are videos I wanted to watch or things I wanted to pin when I was reading my reader when I couldn't watch videos or pin things. I read over 1700 posts and deleted a bunch of others. I also deleted several feeds-- some are blogs I don't really like, some that are defunct, and several that I for some reason have multiple feeds for. I cleaned out a TON of stars--over 80. Of course, I ended up just transferring most to Evernote or Pocket thanks to some super-helpful mini-challenges. I didn't write any of the "reviews that made me want to read the book though.

3. Change domain hosts. YES! I have two blogs and this took longer and was much more complicated than I thought it would be, BUT it's all done and I didn't have a lot of the negative "side effects" that a lot of people have and my blogs were only offline for about half a day.

4. Work on upcoming secret blog project-- buy domain name, work on layout, pick at least 20 themes, sketch out at least 10 blog posts. YES YES YES. I didn't think I'd get much done on this, but I bought the domain name (when I was transferring the others) and set up the basic design and about pages. I'm not sure how many themes I picked, but way more than 20. I didn't sketch out 10 blog posts, but I did preliminary notes for more than 10.

5. Clean off the bedroom bookshelf-- specifically, the library books cubby (I have too many checked out, I'll never read them all) and to-review cubby (Review and move!) and the ARC cubby (which ones am I actually going to get to?) Nope

6. Tag old posts. (Um, this probably isn't going to happen, but it's something I want to do, so let's put it on the list, ok? )Nope

7. Try again to make a video or two for Library Noise. Nope

8. Write new storytime intro posts and update the existing ones on Library Noise. Nope

9. Write that post I gotta write. Nope

10. SLJ round up. Nope

11. Do that review app. Nope

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.