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Back to blogging for the #48hbc

June 7, 2013

48hbc I know, I haven’t been around the blogosphere much this year. But it’s 48 Hour Book Challenge time, which is always a lot of fun. Although I do have to work on Saturday, which I haven’t had to do the previous times I participated, so we’ll see how this goes.

My goal is to read for at least 12 hours, reading primarily YA fiction. If I need a break from the YA, then head to adult romance (the new Tessa Dare book is just begging to be read…) or nonfiction. Or listen to an audiobook instead, since I’m up to chapter 13 of Cinda Williams Chima’s The Exiled Queen, read by Carol Monda, and really want to know what will happen next.

Starting: Friday, 7 pm
Ending: Sunday, 7 pm



January 28, 2013

That’s my one-word summary of this morning’s ALA Youth Media Award announcements.

Who cares if more than half of my predictions were wrong? The sheer number of surprises (not to mention, completely unknown titles) in this year’s announcements was incredibly exciting.

Okay, I did get Tamora Pierce winning the Margaret A. Edwards correct, but I’ve been saying that for a couple of years now, and I think it was inevitable that she would win it at some point—such a huge influence on YA fantasy (there’s a reason so many YA fantasies with strong heroines are compared to Alanna or another Tamora Pierce book, right?), plus very diverse casts of characters—that it’s not like I was going out on a limb with this one. I’d be super happy about it even if I hadn’t predicted it.

And Seraphina by Rachel Hartman winning the Morris and Bomb by Steve Sheinkin the Excellence in Nonfiction were not surprising. But the rest of the awards?

After Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secret of the Universe won the Stonewall, I suppose it’s Printz Honor didn’t come as a shock. Lots of people loved Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity. Terry Pratchett previously won a Printz Honor for Nation, and Dodger did earn excellent reviews. Then came the two shockers: White Bicycle by Beverley Brenna as an honor book and In Darkness by Nick Lake as the big winner. I was like, “White Bicycle? What is that?” because I’d never heard of it. According to Whitney,

Seriously, I think it must be the most unknown Printz title since One Whole and Perfect Day in 2008. In Darkness did get a couple of starred reviews, but it had no Printz buzz. (In other words, if I do Printz predictions again next year, I am definitely going under, if not completely off, the radar.)

Which would have been surprising in itself. But then, no Pura Belpré illustrator honors? Three overlapping YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction and Sibert books? (Though I would argue that a lot of the best kids nonfiction these days is aimed toward that overlapping ALSC/YALSA middle school age range.) Weston Woods not winning the Carnegie? Five Caldecott honors? Jon Klassen getting a Caldecott Honor (for Extra Yarn) AND the medal (for This is Not My Hat)? Oh, and the Batchelder committee giving an honor to a graphic novel (A Game for Swallows)! And the Stonewall Book Award – Mike Morgan & Larry Romans Children’s & Young Adult Literature Award* (Drama), too.

Check out the full list of winners and honors.

Just, wow.

What do you think about the books that were honored, or snubbed?

* the title of which actually makes YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults look short in comparison

It’s Youth Media Awards prediction time!

January 26, 2013

Last year, my predictions were mostly wrong. We’ll see if I do better this year.

The Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature
So, Code Name Verity: you are a complex, beautifully written novel, outstanding in plot, characterization, structure, and voice, to name just a few of the Printz criteria. But until a Printz committee surprises me by actually awarding the medal to the book most people considered the odds-on favorite, I’m going to keep predicting an underdog will win. This year, that underdog is

cover of Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan

Bonus points for Lanagan being 1) a two-time honor winner and, most importantly, 2) Australian.

For Printz Honors, I’m going with

cover of Seraphina by Rachel Hartmancover of Bomb by Steve Sheinkin cover of Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

The William C. Morris YA Debut Award
The Morris Award was one of the few I correctly predicted last year. This year, I’m picking Seraphina by Rachel Hartman to win.

YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults
Having predicted Seraphina as a Printz Honor and Morris winner, you may think I’ll likewise go with Steve Sheinkin’s Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon for the Nonfiction Award. And, well, Deborah Heiligman’s Charles and Emma won a Printz Honor and the Nonfiction Award back in 2010, so I can see Bomb winning here. Still, another part of me wonders if some of the issues regarding Bomb‘s presentation and style that came up at Heavy Medal will also be problematic for Nonfiction Award committee. It didn’t seem to have been a problem when Sheinkin won last year for Benedict Arnold, though that was selected by a different committee.

But then again, I have no idea what the award criteria actually are. Compare what’s on this page to the Sibert Terms and Conditions, and…yeah. Am I just not seeing it, or is “The title must include excellent writing, research, presentation and readability for young adults” the only thing on the YALSA Nonfiction Award policies and procedures page that even comes close to defining anything? So I’m torn between picking Bomb and

cover of Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson

Margaret A. Edwards Award
I said it before, but I’ll say it again: I’d love to see Tamora Pierce win. Who knows if it’ll happen, but I’ll be very happy if it does.

The Odyssey Award
I got nothing. Especially after being so sure Beauty Queens was going to win last year.

As for the other, non-YALSA Awards, the Sibert committee’s really got their work cut out for them, with so many great books published last year. I hope Jason Chin’s gorgeous Island is honored somehow, and I do have a soft spot for Elizabeth Rusch’s The Mighty Mars Rovers. I think Sharon G. Flake has a pretty good chance of being recognized by both the Coretta Scott King and Schneider Family awards for Pinned. I’m not well-read enough in children’s books to even think about predicting the Newbery or Caldecott, but I have to say that I absolutely loved Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen’s Extra Yarn.

What books do you think will win on Monday?

On my must-read books of 2013: Christa Desir’s Fault Line

January 4, 2013

Fault LineFrom On Steubenville and where we go from here… (Trigger warning)

Months later, I was speaking about this experience and one of the guys in the audience came up to me afterwards and said he was a high school teacher and he was quite certain that if I told that story to his classroom, most of the guys would just laugh and call the girl stupid.

Background reading: “Rape Case Unfolds on Web and Splits City” in the New York Times, updates at the Atlantic Wire.

A belated* list of my notable reads of 2012

January 4, 2013

* because I thought I scheduled this post to publish earlier, but I guess not.

As you can probably tell by the lack of posts, I’ve been in a major reading—and blogging—slump for most of this year. Well, to be more specific, the reading slump has been very YA fiction-centric (though I haven’t read many adult mysteries this year, either), since it hasn’t affected how many adult romances I’ve read and I’ve also read a lot of nonfiction, both YA and adult.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that when the YALSA Nonfiction Award and Morris Award shortlists were announced, I’d read all of the Nonfiction finalists (and reviewed two of them, Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson and We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March by Cynthia Levinson) and read all of…1/3 of 1 Morris finalist. To me, the only shocker on the Nonfiction shortlist is Karen Blumenthal’s Steve Jobs bio. It’s solidly written, but I didn’t think it was outstanding.

cinderThere were some YA novels this year that I did like and which I should have reviewed, including Cinder by Marissa Meyer (though I did mention it over at Stacked), Black Heart by Holly Black (on the to do list, assuming I get back in the habit of blogging: a Cassel Sharpe/Jazz Dent comparison), Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore (though Janine discussed some of the same things that stood out to me—namely regarding reconciliation and South Africa—in her review at Dear Author), and A Midsummer’s Nightmare by Kody Keplinger (because in a year in which so many people raved about YA romances that did nothing for me—on the rare occasion I even made it through the book—this was about the only one I really liked).

The only recent YA novel that truly hooked me was Speechless by Hannah Harrington. (It also broke through Sarah’s reading slump, so you know, if you’re also struggling to find something to read that you just can’t put down…) It’s told in the first person by Chelsea, an inveterate gossip, who stumbles upon a secret at a party and drunkenly announces it to her friends. The consequences are disastrous and, knowing she made a huge mistake, Chelsea takes a vow of silence. And remains silent, even as all her friends turn on her. It kind of struck me as a cross between Some Girls Are (though much less visceral) and Just Listen, with a bit of Kody Keplinger thrown in, along with more caring parents (compared to all three). Harrington made me care about Chelsea—who is not always likable, especially at the beginning of the book—and convinced me of her determination to change. While, objectively, I can pick out aspects of Speechless that could have (maybe should have) detracted from my enjoyment of it, they ultimately didn’t matter.

My top non-YA books? Sherry Thomas’s Tempting the Bride. Loved it, even though I usually don’t care for amnesia plotlines. Which again goes to show that in the right hands, trite or clichéd plot elements can be turned into great books. AND, Thomas packs so much emotion into only 278 pages that it made so many YA books seem even more bloated and overlong in comparison. (Yes, The Diviners, I’m looking about you.) So I’m really hoping that her upcoming YA trilogy (!) retains these same traits that made Tempting the Bride so good.

What else?

The Mighty Mars Rovers: The Incredible Adventures of Spirit and Opportunity by Elizabeth Rusch

December 24, 2012

mighty mars roversMore than eight years before the Curiosity rover landed in Gale Crater, two rovers named Spirit and Opportunity landed on opposite sides of Mars. While previous NASA missions to Mars, such as the Viking landers, had carried scientific instruments, their capabilities were limited. To Steve Squyres, then a college student, it was obvious that the Viking landers were not the ideal way of studying the geology of Mars. True, valuable pictures and information had been collected, but so much more could be discovered—if only it could move around the planet and crush rocks or dig things up.

Perhaps it is therefore not surprising to learn that Squyres had arrived at college considering a major in geology. An astronomy course taught by a member of the Viking science team inspired Squyres to study planetary science instead, with the dream of exploring Mars. Sending an actual person to Mars seemed impossible, but what about a robot, “a rolling geologist, with the hammers and drills and tools of a human geologist”?

His idea was a tough sell. “Rovers are risky. They are expensive and difficult to do,” he admitted. “And people kept asking, Why do you need a rover when all the rocks on Mars look alike? But all you had to do was look at pictures from orbit and it was obvious that Mars is an incredibly scenic, diverse, and complicated planet.”

For eight years, Steve wrote proposals to NASA for a Mars rover.

For eight years, NASA refused to fund the proposals. (p. 12)

Then, in 2000, Squyres received a call from NASA. They weren’t interested in one rover. They wanted two. Oh, and he only had three years to build the rovers (and rockets and landers) instead of the typical five. Squyres, leading a team of 170 scientists, and Pete Theisinger of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, leading hundreds of engineers, rose to the challenge. Spirit and Opportunity became the centerpieces of Mars Exploration Rover Mission, with the primary goal of “search[ing] for and characterize a wide range of rocks and soils that hold clues to past water activity on Mars.”

The Mighty Mars Rovers by Elizabeth Rusch is part of the the outstanding Scientists in the Field series. Although Squyres is the scientist whom Rusch focuses on, she also emphasizes the teamwork that was essential to overcoming challenges, from the technical difficulties of building the rovers to troubleshooting obstacles on Mars. Rusch keeps readers engaged throughout the book, even in the more technical sections, and especially towards the end, when the rovers have long exceeded their expected three-month life span, and the team must maneuver the rovers in tricky situations during the harsh Martian winter.

The book’s design is effective and inviting, with sidebars that take readers behind the scenes (like brief explanations of how to drive a rover) and captioned full-color images on every page. Back matter includes a source list, chapter notes, a “For Further Exploration” section, glossary, and index.

Readers looking for information about Curiosity should be aware that it is only briefly mentioned at the end of the book (which was written prior to Curiosity landing on Mars), but they—along with many others—will still find much to fascinate, inform, and inspire them in these pages.

Published 2012 by Houghton Mifflin (ISBN 9780547478814).

Book source: public library.

Cross-posted at Guys Lit Wire.

Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson

September 24, 2012

Here are the numbers:

  • 2,208 people were on board the RMS Titanic on her maiden voyage
  • of these, 891 were crew members and 1,317 were passengers
  • yet she carried just 20 lifeboats that could have held a total of 1,178 people
  • she sank, after hitting an iceberg, on April 15, 1912
  • only 712 people survived

But numbers can only tell us so much. They don’t convey the excitement surrounding the largest and most luxurious ocean liner ever built at the time, the confusion and fear on board when disaster struck, the bravery of many crew members and passengers, or the heartbreak of realizing a loved one did not survive.

As the subtitle of Deborah Hopkinson’s Titanic: Voices from the Disaster implies, this is a human history of the Titanic. After describing the building of the ship and giving readers a sense of its massive scale, Hopkinson introduces some of the crew and passengers (from several countries, and different social backgrounds) who were on board. Their memories add depth and intimacy to events, engaging Titanic buffs as well as readers less familiar with the disaster. Hopkinson does an excellent job weaving multiple voices together—first describing, well, “normal” life on the Titanic for passengers and crew, then the chaos after the iceberg was spotted—with contextual information regarding different aspects of the Titanic (both in terms of what was known or custom at the time, and based on what we know now) into an organically flowing narrative.

Numerous images (photos, reproductions of telegrams, and more) spread throughout the book provide additional atmosphere; it’s one thing to read about some of the amenities on board, but seeing photographs of the gymnasium and a life preserver made of cork give the details even more impact.

The back matter is another thing to rave about here. Seriously, it is awesome, especially if you love back matter as much as I do. It’s comprehensive (comprising about a quarter of the book!), including a glossary, timeline, selected bibliography, source notes, additional biographical information about some of the passengers, and an excerpt from the British Wreck Commissioner’s Inquiry Report.

Book details: middle grade nonfiction, published 2012 by Scholastic, ISBN 9780545116749

Book source: public library.

Cross-posted at Guys Lit Wire.

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