Monday, March 31, 2014

Spell it Out

Spell It Out: The Curious, Enthralling and Extraordinary Story of English Spelling David Crystal

Much like he does in The Story of English in 100 Words, Crystal has made language history exceedingly accessible. This is a basic history of English spelling and how it developed over time, and why it’s so darn wacky. (Short story-- trying to use the latin alphabet for a non-Latin language, scribes changing spelling to make things easier/prettier on the page, French influence after the Norman conquest, and the Great Vowel shift.)

But, for a book that could easily be boring, short chapters and a conversational style make this one an easy read. I also love love love love that Crystal doesn’t decry texting and the internet as ruining spelling. He also makes wonderful arguments as to why spelling is more important than ever. There's also an entire section for early education teachers with his ideas about how to teach spelling to make it more relevant, easier, and fun.

Very fun, and an Outstanding Book for the College Bound that I think teens will really enjoy.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Friday, March 28, 2014

Graphic Novel Week: Pluto

Pluto by Naoki Urasawa, based on work by Osama Tezuka.

I'm going to review the entire 8-volume series as one, because that's how I think about it, because that's how we looked at it for inclusion on the Outstanding Books and College Bound list for Science and Technology.

Urasawa takes a story arc from Osama Tezuka's classic Astro Boy series and retells it for an older audience. The first volumes really focus on Gesicht, a top European detective who's looking into the horrible murders of some of the world's leading robots. It's soon evident that the serial killer is targeting the seven most powerful robots in the world. This troubles Gesicht for many professional reasons, but many personal ones as well--most of the seven are his friends, because he is one of them. This killer is unlike anything they've ever seen before--he's too fast to be captured on film, so he can't be human, but he doesn't show up on any robot sensors, so he can't be a robot.

As the mystery deepens, we meet the other robots, get backstories-- many are haunted by what they saw and did in the last great war and many live their lives today as a way to atone for their actions then. There are flickers of something at the edges of Gesicht's memory that he can't quite place, but he thinks it's important.

And through it all it raises questions of what it means to be human and where the line is between Artificial Intelligence and humanity--if we get too good at designing AI, will there be a line any more? Can there be one? What about an injured human with robotic parts? How much robot is too much robot? And through it all, it's just a damn good, engaging story that has many heartbreaking moments. An early one that stands out is the story of North, a robot who is known for the death and destruction he brought during the war. He's now a butler to a composer who loathes him because everyone knows robots can't feel. All North wants to do is make music, to play piano and bring beauty to the world, but the composer won't let him, because robots are emotionless and can't understand or play true music because of it. It perfectly sets up the prejudices many have against robots, while showing that many of these AI systems are so advanced that robots may not be that emotionless after all. It's a tender story that sets up a lot of the larger issues and dynamics in the series.

I love the world Tezuka and Urasawa have built, and it's eerie to realize that the geopolitics read as super-current, but were in the original text from the 60s. As someone whose never read Astro Boy, I'm not familiar with the source material, but that's ok. The story is amazing on its own, but I do like the touch that each volume has a bit of back matter--an essay, an interview, another comic-- from a variety of people--Tezuka's son, manga scholars, other artists-- that help give both works a context to each other and to the larger manga world. It was very interesting and helpful. (Plus, I just love that Japan takes drawn books so seriously that there are a lot of manga scholars out there.)

I highly recommend it.

Books Provided by... my local library

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Graphic Novel Week: Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms

Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms Fumiyo Kouno, translated from the Japanese by Naoko Amemiya and Andy Nakatani

This isn't currently in print, but many libraries still have it and it's seriously worth tracking down a copy. It's two stories, in one book. "Town of Evening Calm" deals with Minami, a young woman who, 10 years prior, survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. She's still haunted by that day, and has intense guilt about the fact she survived when so many didn't. (Including many members of her immediate family.) "Country of Cherry Blossoms" is in two parts and takes place in 1987, the second part in 2004, and on one hand is a story of changing friendships and aging parents, but on the other is a look at how the bombing still lingers in Japanese society and thought. They're connected, but I won't tell you how.

This is an Outstanding Book for the College Bound, on the History and Cultures list. I didn't read it when we were working on the list, because I was on different subcommittees, but hearing the History and Cultures people talk about it, it was on my list of ones to pick up immediately.

The author's note at the end explains why Kouno wrote the story. She's from Hiroshima, where they avoid the subject. When she moved to Tokyo she discovered that the rest of Japan (excepting Nagasaki) don't talk about it because they don't understand it. They don't the scars those cities still bear, and how they're different than the ones the rest of Japan has.

The result is beautifully drawn book. "Town of Evening Calm" is rather heartbreaking, but "Country of Cherry Blossoms" is often very funny. It's a fascinating look into a time and place and effects events still have decades down to the line.

Book Provided by... my local library

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It's Bloggiesta time! That wonderful time when we set aside a few days to do the nitty-gritty work on our blogs. I almost missed it.

I'll be honest. Last week, after 8 years, I almost pulled the plug on Biblio File. You'll notice posting's been... sporadic. I just haven't been feeling the review bug lately. I haven't felt connected with the blogging community in a while. All my work last year on YA Reading List, plus Outstanding Books, plus a pretty major career shift might have broken me. Not to mention the Kung Fu Princess will be 3 in June and needs/wants a lot of attention that I need/want to give her.

And then I realize I don't think I ever officially announced my career shift here on the blog. At the beginning of September, I went from being the half-time youth services librarian to being the full-time Acting Branch Manager of my branch, which also includes being the adult services librarian. In February, I got to drop the "Acting" from my job title. It's super-exciting, but a major shift, not only in time spent working, but in my focus and what I'm doing. It's really fun and I'm loving it, but there's definitely a learning curve.

Blogging just seemed... like a chore. I don't want it to be a chore. But then, I read Snow White and wanted to talk about it. That's why I started blogging in the first place--to find my book nerd people. And I miss the blogging community. SO! Let's throw myself back in headfirst and see if it sticks. Let's try again and Bloggiesta just perfectly coincides with that. Join me by signing up here.

Here are some bloggy things I want to accomplish between now and Sunday:

1. Write a #$@#-ton of reviews. I'm so far behind on reviewing. I'm so far behind, I don't even know how behind I am. Obviously, in a perfect world, I'd write ALL the reviews and catch up. That's not going to happen. Let's aim for 30 (doable, but insane) and be happy if I write 10. Which leads to...
2. Record-keeping. On of the reasons I don't know how far behind I am is because my back-end planning spreadsheets haven't been updated in 6 months. Let's fix that.
3. Work on my new interview project--reach out to potential interviewees, come up with a set list of questions.
4. Write a "state of the blog" post for YA Reading List.
5. Before #4, I should probably figure out what the "state of the blog" IS for YA Reading List.
6. Sort the bookshelves.
7. Read some blogs. I'm really behind on this.
8. Update the professional blog lists. I've officially moved from children's/teen to adult services/management, so I need to find some new ones and weed out some others.
9. Research my spam comment problem.
10. Do some mini-challenges and have fun.

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, March 26, 2014

Graphic Novel Week: The Unwritten--Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity

Unwritten Vol. 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity Mike Carey and Peter Gross

This is one that’s been on my radar forever. Like since Leila reviewed back in, oh 2012.

I *finally* got around to reading it, and it’s so good! Tom’s father wrote a series of highly popular fantasy novels (think Harry Potter), but made Tommy the lead character (think Christopher Robin.) People have a really hard time realizing that Tom the man and Tommy the fictional character aren’t the same person.

Coupled with this is the fact that when he was younger, his father disappeared without a trace, leaving the series unfinished and his estate was very complicated, making it so Tom can’t get any of the money. Tom makes a living by signing his father’s books and making public appearances-- this doesn’t help people separate the two identities, and it means constant questions about his father’s abandonment.

Only, at this con, a fan points out that Tom Taylor, the real person, doesn’t actually exist--which is how Tom learns that most of his identity is fabricated. Then, as he tries to trace his past he discovers that the line between fiction and reality might be thinner than he ever imagined… maybe there Tom the man and Tommy the character aren’t that different…

This one is obviously a lot of set up for the greater story, which I can’t wait to delve into. I like how the book incorporates a lot of the Tommy Taylor novels, interweaving them with the main story, as well as lots of flashbacks from Tom’s past.

Tom’s father was also very into literary geography-- knowing where people wrote things, the real places that inspired fiction settings, and the trivia behind it all. It’s a slightly annoying party trick of Tom’s-- reciting all of it as he travels, but it’s fun to read and it looks like it’s going to be important to the larger plot, which I find very intriguing.

The next volume is on its way to me-- I can’t wait to read it and see what happens next.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Graphic Novel Week: Fables

So, I think the last two volumes of Fables really work together, as they have overlapping timelines for the main story, so I'm going to review them together.

Fables, Vol. 18: Cubs in Toyland Bill Willingham

Fables Vol. 19: Snow White Bill Willingham

Cubs in Toyland starts in the with main story right away. Therese has a toy boat that takes her to be the Queen of Toyland, but Toyland is a dark, twisted place. It's the island of Misfit toys-- toys that were all involved in the death of a child. They have hopes for a Queen that will restore them, but there is no food to sustain Therese. Meanwhile, Snow, Bigby, and Therese's brothers and sisters are frantically searching for her. One will find her, with devastating consequences.

It then moves onto some back story on Bigby Wolf, and destiny.

The first third of Snow White takes place in Oz, wrapping up the storyline of Bufkin. It's a good end to the story, and it was dragging a bit there and needed to be wrapped up, but I will miss him greatly in the lost business office of the Fabletown.

The last part of the book is where the "Snow White" title of the Omnibus comes from and covers the same amount of time, showing what's happening in New York when Therese goes missing. Now, here's a very cool thing-- the magical car that we got out the end of Fairest: Wide Awake has appeared-- so Bigby and Stinky are off through worlds, tracking the missing cubs. Meanwhile, the fencing instructor from Castle Dark? The one that Mrs. Spratt/Leigh was into? Turns out, he's Snow White's fiance, pre-Prince Charming days and he's come to claim her. Snow's having none of it, but he has some powerful magic working there. This, too, has devastating consequences.

So, I wanted to look at these together, partly because I'm super-behind on reviewing, but this time it works out, because these volumes play out so well. The main storyline in each volumes actually ends with more-or-less the same panel. (The "camera angle" is a bit different, but the scene, and dialogue, are the same.) Both storylines are heartbreaking and they both bring back some of the magic that's been lacking a bit. I wasn't a huge fan of the whole Mr. Dark storyline (I just don't think it every really got going or had the same gravitas as the Empire in terms of the Big Bad.) I think this hits at a much deeper, more emotional level in a way I think is a first for the series.

I read Cubs in Toyland a full year ago, and Toyland is so creepy, it still gives me the heebie-jeebies. I love the way the storylines play on each other-- ending Snow White with that same panel is the ultimate gut punch in a gut punch of a book. I don't know if this series has every really made me cry, but both of these did.

Also, let's give a shout-out for Ambrose Wolf. He's obviously the "loser" or the pack, but adult Ambrose plays a large narrator role in these stories, and it's great to see a glimpse of who he's going to grow into. Maybe not a hero, but a pretty great stand-up scholarly guy (with a wife I have suspicions about. Check out the color of her skin--is it because it's nighttime and it's shadow? Or is she actually green, and quite probably the Lady of the Lake?)

And, I love that the Fairest series is weaving in a bit right now. In general, I like that Fairest is about stuff outside of Fabletown, but it's weaving in in small, interesting ways. I'm intrigued.

Anyway, this whole set is super powerful and moving and I need to TALK ABOUT IT. Hit me up if you want to discuss.

Question-- the cover artwork for Snow White looks a lot like it was probably an alternate possibility for the cover artwork for the new edition of Legends in Exile (aka, Fables #1). What is the symbolism there?

Also, I had forgotten about the end story in Cubs of Toyland until I started working on this review. I have some hope about things now. If you haven't read them yet, it's very relevant to what happens in Snow White. I think. I hope.

Books Provided by... my wallet

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Graphic Novel Week: Buffy Season 8: The Long Way Home

The Long Way Home Joss Whedon.

I know I’m totally late to this party, but Buffy didn’t end when the show did! Buffy lives! In comic book form!

So, now that all the potentials are slayers, they’re all divided up into different teams, working different parts of the world, killing baddies. But Willow’s missing, Amy’s back, and so is a gross skinless Jonathan. Plus, Dawn is a giant. And the Army thinks Buffy’s the enemy. All in a day’s work for a slayer!

But, this is a comic book with many over-reaching plot threads, and it jumps around a lot, which is a bit different from the show and took some getting used to. Also, while the characters look like the actors who played them, they’re still drawings and it’s a bit hard to get into. Luckily, the voice is still there, so I can "hear" it properly in my head. I’m really excited to see where this is going. I should have gotten a few volumes at ones, because I have to waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaait for the second one. It’s checked out. And I’m not the first person on the holds list for it! (Which is awesome, given these books came out in 2007 and they’re still popular!)

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, March 05, 2014

Eye of Minds

The Eye of Minds James Dashner

Michael’s parents are often traveling and like most serious gamers, he spends most of his time in his coffin-- the next step in virtual reality equipment that affects all the senses very realistically. All of Michael’s friends and hang-outs are in the VirtNet. He can usually afford what he wants, but he’s good enough he can also just look at the code that makes up his world and hack his way in.

But something weird’s going on -- a gamer named Kaine has driven gamers to suicide-- cutting out the device that acts as the shield between reality and virtual reality-- so when they die in the VirtNet, they die in the real world, too.

The police are after him, but they need the help of Michael and his friends. They go on a terrifying adventure to stop someone who is always a step or two ahead--someone who knows the code better than they do, better than anyone.

And, what they find is beyond what anyone expects.

It’s a fun action sci/fi thriller where the VirtNet setting allows for some very fun settings and landscapes that Michael and his friends have to work or hack their way through. Of course, it all leads up to a big twist reveal ending, setting up the second book perfectly. Now you just have to wait for the second book.

I probably won’t pick it up-- I enjoyed the book, but it’s not really my thing, so I’m not the right reader for it. (Although I liked it enough that I will probably make one of the teens at work tell me what happens, like I did with the Lockdown series.)

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, March 04, 2014

Fallen Beauty Blog Tour

Fallen Beauty Erika Robuck

In the late 1920's/ early 1930's, two women live in upstate New York. Laura has an unsuitable love affair, one that leaves her with a child, the scandal of her small town. The other is Edna St. Vincent Millay, the renowned poet. Told in both voices, their lives start to intersect.

While it was the Millay angle that intrigued me, it was Laura's story that drew me in and made the novel for me. It has shades of The Scarlet Letter, as Laura refuses to name Grace's father, and is shunned my most of the town. Her sister is married to an up-and-coming politician, and while they remain very close (Marie being her only friend) there is tension between Everett's career ambitions and Laura's scandal. Laura's a hard character--she loves her daughter, but cannot forgive herself for what happened to bring her daughter into this world, and cannot forgive the town for shunning her even though she judges herself just as harshly, if not more so, than they do.

Millay's a harder character to judge. Robuck is constrained by the realities of who she was. She did her research and did a good job of capturing her voice, but has a harder time explaining her actions. Laura isn't always a likeable character, but she's an understandable one. Millay flies into rages and orders all those around her to do her bidding. She orders ex-lovers to return to her side, and plays their affections off one another. Her free-love and open lifestyle had a definite mean and vindictive streak. But because Millay is not Robuck's character, there is little explanation for her actions that can be given beside "temperamental poet." The language is definitely more beautiful in Millay's sections (it is, afterall, in the voice of a poet) but it was Laura's story and Laura's journey that really drew me into the story and kept me turning the pages.

This is not Robuck's first novel based on authors--she also has Call Me Zelda and Hemingway's Girl.

Book Provided by... the publisher, as part of the Fallen Beauty blog tour.

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, March 03, 2014

Packing for Mars

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void Mary Roach

So, this is the first Roach I’ve read. She’s been on my radar forever, but I finally picked some up, and I’m very glad I did. Hilarious and smart writing about science-- sign me up. Packing for Mars is part astronaut history, part space travel technology, and part looking at what we’ll have to figure out what we need if we’re ever going to get to Mars (beyond Congress approving NASA’s budget.)

Along the way she explores the challenges of pooping in zero-gravity (apparently Gemini had a lot of, uh, fecal matter, floating around in the capsule with them) and how to design a really safe seat for take-offs and landings. Not to mention how to find appetizing food (turns out most early space food was designed by veterinarians) and how disorienting bobbing around in zero-gravity is (or how disorienting it is to have OTHER people bobbing by you). And she looks at the differences between a short 2-week max mission (like Gemini and Apollo) to months-long (like ISS stints) to the years it would take to get to Mars.

Very readable and enjoyable (I laughed out loud A LOT, even though I was often in public and got some looks) it’s also a great look at where we’ve been, where we could go, and why we should go there.

I highly recommend, and it is an Outstanding Book for the College Bound.

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.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Interview with Holly Schindler

As part of her blog tour for The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky, Holly Schindler is stopping by to talk to us about her book, writing, and other things!

Your previous novels have been YA-- what's the difference between writing YA and MG and why did you make the switch?

Actually, I started writing YA and MG at the same time. A bit of backstory: I got my master’s in the spring of ’01, and was encouraged to devote full-time attention to getting my writing career off the ground. I still wanted to do my part to pay my own bills, though, so I started teaching music lessons in the afternoons. And I was shocked at how familiar those kids seemed—as familiar as the kids I’d known when I was in school! They actually inspired me to try my hand at writing in the juvenile market; I dove in headfirst, trying both MG and YA at the same time. (The first books I published were YA, but I’d been writing MG all along as well.)

The main difference is that your characters have different abilities, which changes your plot to some extent. Something as simple as the ability to drive can change your book dramatically; a teen has access to a car, so they can go literally anywhere. An MG character has a bike—their “backyard” is much smaller than a teen’s. It changes the shape of the book.

Librarians are always on the look out for books with diversity--especially stories that feature characters of color that aren't about race, so it's worth mentioning that your main character Auggie and the mean girl, Victoria, are both African-American. However, this fact is very subtly coded in the text (and one reference to Auggie feeling like her skin looked like mud while Victoria's was fine imported chocolate) so readers might miss it. Can you talk a bit about diversity in middle grade lit, why you made your characters African-American, and why you wrote it the way you did?

My YAs began with concepts: in A Blue So Dark, I played with the idea of mental illness and creativity being linked; in Playing Hurt, I explored learning the difference between loving someone and being IN love. But THE JUNCTION began with a figure—Grampa Gus. I saw him as clearly as I’ve seen anyone in my life. When I first envisioned him, he was African American. But as I drafted the book, I knew I wanted a neighborhood to look every bit as diverse as the figures in Auggie’s yard. I wanted to show the different faces who were all in the same boat.

Your book deals with a lot of heavier topics--class, beauty, eminent domain, changing friendships, and missing parents, and deals with them well, but it's not a heavy book. Why were these issues important for you to discuss and what was your process for dealing with them without making the story a total bummer?

It’s funny—early critique of the book when I was attempting to shop it was that the original beginning chapters were a bummer. (I certainly didn’t think so, but I did go back and rework those opening chapters several times—even after the book was acquired—in order to make them feel lighter.) The trick is pulling the reader in early on so that they know it’ll be a delight to come to your book—not something they dread! You want to draw a reader back, make sure they will finish your book, be hungry for another read.

If you had Auggie's artistic talent what changes would you make to your house? (Personally, I'm all about colored glass in my windows!)

I’m with you on the colored glass! And the sidewalk—I’d love that, too.

If you could go back in time and talk to yourself when you were Auggie's age, what would your advice be?

Never, never, never be afraid to say what you think. Even when it goes against what everyone else is saying or doing.

What are you working on now?

My next MG—and my next YA, Feral, which releases on August 26! FERAL is my first thriller:

It’s too late for you. You’re dead.

Those words float through Claire Cain’s head as she lies broken and barely alive after a brutal beating. And the words continue to haunt her months later, in the relentless, terrifying nightmares that plague her sleep. So when her father is offered a teaching sabbatical in another state, Claire is hopeful that getting out of Chicago, away from the things that remind her of what she went through, will offer a way to start anew.

But when she arrives in Peculiar, Missouri, Claire quickly realizes something is wrong—the town is brimming with hidden dangers and overrun by feral cats. And her fears are confirmed when a popular high school girl, Serena Sims, is suddenly found dead in the icy woods behind the school. While everyone is quick to say Serena died in an accident, Claire knows there’s more to it—for she was the one who found Serena, battered and most certainly dead, surrounded by the town’s feral cats.

Now Claire vows to learn the truth about what happened, but the closer she gets to uncovering the mystery, the closer she also gets to discovering a frightening reality about herself and the damage she truly sustained in that Chicago alley. . . .

With an eerie setting and heart-stopping twists and turns, Holly Schindler weaves a gripping story that will make you question everything you think you know.

What are you currently reading?

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing

What are you currently watching?

RAKE. THE AMERICANS. (Not really kid-friendly, eh?)

What are you currently listening to?

The SteelDrivers. Will Hoge (he’s my favorite, actually).

Thanks for stopping by Holly!

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.

Junction of Sunshine and Lucky

The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky Holly Schindler

Auggie likes her neighborhood and going to the dump with her Grandpa Gus, a trash hauler. But her school has closed down, and she and her friends have to go to a different one, in a neighborhood with a lot more money. Suddenly, the fact that Auggie and her friends don't have new things is a big deal. Suddenly Auggie's best friend would rather spend time with Victoria, who sneers at Auggie and Grandpa every chance she can. Victoria's father is on the town council and he's started the House Beautification Committee and everyone has to comply. Auggie has some grand ideas to make her house beautiful, but not everyone agrees with her idea of beauty.

I haven't read any middle grade in a while--my time on Outstanding Books for the College Bound really focused my reading on teen and adult, mostly adult, titles. This was a great re-introduction to the age range. Schindler really captures a lot of Auggie's confusion and the delicate politics of a 5th-grade classroom and changing friendships. I loved Auggie's voice and the brave face she put on. There is A LOT going on under the surface of this story, and some very BIG ISSUES are touched on--class divide between Auggie's neighborhood and the rest of town, eminent domain (the House Beautification Committee will never be happy with Auggie's neighborhood for spoiler-y reasons), the fact that Auggie lives with her Grandpa while her mom is out in California becoming a star. But despite these big issues, it's not a downer book. The story is told through Auggie's voice, and a lot is about her artistic vision for making her house beautiful, making it into its own work of art.

Also, I should note, Auggie's town is very diverse and Schindler writes race with a very sublte hand. Auggie and the mean girl, Victoria, are both African-American. But race doesn't play a role in the story.

Book Provided by... the author, for inclusion in her blog tour.

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.