June was BEA–the Book Expo–and I got a lot of freebies from there, some of which aren’t even out yet, so while I want to focus on those, I still read other titles, which I’ll get to first (rather than my usual chronological order):
Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins by Emma Donoghue is a series of loosely connected retold fairy tales with an often lesbian or gender-bending twist. In some cases, these twists are literal, and come at the end of the story; in others, they are just another detail. I think it says a lot that it took me a while to remember that I’d already read the book. Some tales are far more engrossing than others, and each could be its own book–in fact, today, they probably would be a series. But ultimately, the book’s tone is too same-y, the stories quickly become forgettable as they jumble together, and its content feels dated, like something that could’ve only been done when it was done. So many have done so much more with retold fairy tales, even lesbian retold fairy tales (Malinda Lo’s Ash, if you’re looking for a recommendation), that if I were to talk Donoghue, I’d just skip discussing this book entirely, and say, “So–have you read Room?” Because that book is a masterpiece. There are only bits of its genius in Kissing the Witch, and for me that’s not enough.
That was my own book club’s selection. The speculative fiction book club back home in NJ read Nevil Shute’s On the Beach that month, and I kept up from afar because it was my suggestion, although I could not get home for the discussion. As I was saying before, there are some books you put off because of the attachment you have to someone who’s passed, and for me, On the Beach is tied together with a memory of my grandfather: we watched the movie together when I was so young that he was shocked how much I enjoyed it. And not just because it was “grown-up” fare, but because of its content: the world is slowly coming to an end due to nuclear war. The fallout has not yet reached Australia. There is no way to survive. The movie is a sanitized version of the book, which doesn’t shy away at the end from the symptoms of radiation poisoning. The book is flat-out depressing, in a way few books allow themselves to be, but a rather beautiful look at human nature. If you’ve seen the movie but never read the book, the biggest change, in my opinion, is Moira. In the movie, she’s Ava Gardner. In the book, she’s a redemption story, or at the very least a coming-of-age story with a side of stages-of-grief. Like Bradbury’s devastating short stories, I feel this book is a must on the “why we need to, you know, not destroy ourselves” list of reads.
And, of course, I couldn’t just mope around for days afterward, so I reread a short story collection I’d tracked down: Thirteen (Tales of Horror), a selection of the greats of the ’80s and early ’90s teen horror books that were as plentiful then as dystopian fiction is in YA today. You’ve got your Pike, your Stine, your Cooney, and many more. Pike’s stories, for he has two that bookend the collection, are just a condensed version of everything he’s ever done: female rivalry, creepy dude, supernatural forces, etc. Still, he manages to pull off a lot in a short period of time. Having never been as big a fan of Stine, I was impressed by his story “The Spell.” I really shouldn’t have been surprised, but the pain of Red Rain was still upon me, and not the freakin’ heart attack memory of The New Girl. Cooney’s story reminded me why I was at first apprehensive about moving to the Pine Barrens, because she’s the only person who can make you afraid of deer. While there were other stories I liked, there was one that I only partially remembered and upon rereading was both impressed and amused: Ellen Emerson White’s “The Boy Next Door.” That’s partially because of her description of the story in her bio at the end of the book. I too was terrified of Fudgie the Whale. Anyway, this is a good collection for young horror readers, if you can get your hands on it, because you have all of the scare and very little of the gore, in typical ’80s fashion. Oh, except the thing with the–well, you’ll see. Or you remember.
High School Girls Volume 1, by Towa Oshima, is another forgettable manga that I read and traded in from my daughter’s giveaway pile. Supposedly based on real-life events, it still has that utterly-goofy feeling that doesn’t seem realistic, and doesn’t interest me at all. Off it went.
Laura Lee Gulledge’s Page by Paige is an excellent graphic novel for middle and high schoolers. Paige Turner (yes, that’s her name, blame her parents) is a shy artist just moved to a new area. How she describes her feelings in her artwork is a feast for the eyes, and the story is good too: how she comes out of her shell, meets people, and how art helps her do that. It’s a must-have for libraries and school collections, but considering how many awards its won, librarians probably know this already.
Now on to the BEA books.
So, at the Book Expo, people HAND you books. Piles of books. People who’ve been to the event before say, hey, only take what you really want, but that’s so difficult when you only get a second to look at the books before locusts descend. And also, don’t fool yourself; you’re one of the locusts. The first day I watched for someone else to take a book before I did, because some books are there for sale and some are there for giveaway, and I was afraid of making a mistake. Once I got into it, though, I grabbed EVERYTHING.
Some books are giveaways to promote last year’s book, or this year’s book, or a book that’s coming out in the next few months–some are new books or new versions of books that the author will sign for you. The author might be in a publisher’s booth and you find yourself wrapped around a zillion other booths with no idea where the line ends, or he or she might be at a table in the back of the room, where the line is neat and orderly and you know exactly when it will be your turn. The booth thing was quite the pain for some of the more popular authors–the Grumpy Cat line went on FOREVER–and I really think that The Big Ones should be at the tables, but hey, I don’t run the thing.
You can also get posters and other promo items, but the big thing are the books. Some people just grab and grab and grab and then go to the FedEx booth outside the show floor and ship them back to the library or store. This is clever, if you have the budget for it. As I said before, checking a rolling bag (which is not allowed on the floor) and filling it over the course of the day is very good for your back. I forgot to do that.
I got quite a few children’s books, most of which I donated to the library, but I absolutely kept the ones I got signed by Mo Willems and Bob Shea, because they are AWESOME. A Big Guy Took My Ball! is another gem of an Elephant and Piggie book, and really, do I need to say ANYTHING about Mo anymore that I haven’t said already? He’s perfect. Elephant and Piggie are always perfect or close enough as makes no difference. Shea’s new book, Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great, is actually a fantastic companion book to A Big Guy Took My Ball! because both are about making friends despite assumptions on appearance, and learning that others have limitations too. I would say definitely do a combo of these two books for a storytime, for sure.
I met Sarah Dessen, OH YEAH, and got her to sign her new book The Moon and More.
Photo credit Caryn Woerner, because my iPod died. Thanks Caryn!
LOVED The Moon and More. Another insightful book that captures the emotional journey to adulthood perfectly. I like to joke that Dessen shoots it out of the park every other time, but that’s not true. She always does. It’s just that her best books makes her great books look just good. The Moon and More is between best and great, I think, and there were things about it that I really really enjoyed that I can’t discuss because I don’t want to give them away. However, it hurts me every time I read a book about a girl/woman whose family walks all over her, and that definitely happens here. Fans of Dessen will love this one. New readers of Dessen’s work will love this one too, and become fans.
And now, Rainbow Rowell.
Her hair is amazing.
Fangirl! The book that raises all my favorite issues about fan fiction, while still treating it with love and appreciation. But that’s not what the book is about–although you do have to sit through many pages of pseudo-Draco/Harry fic. Cath is one half of a set of twins who have gone to the same college but have set themselves on completely different tracks. Cath’s sister is determined to throw herself into college life, whereas Cath hides behind the computer screen where she immerses herself in someone else’s creation and gains accolades for it. Why give that up? Real life is a pretty good reason. Writing your own stuff, maybe. There are arguments on every side, in each character, yet the book doesn’t say “Give up fan fic for friends and ‘real’ writing.” It’s more about balance, about growth, and I loved every page of it (except maybe the fic). Highly recommended, especially to Brandy, who’s just waiting on the release date after all I’ve said about it, I think.
Finally, Richelle Mead.
I was sure I had a pic of her tiny self, but I can’t find it all of a sudden. What the heck? She is VERY tiny, though.
Wait, wait, I think I found it.
Look how tiny!
Okay, so Gameboard of the Gods is the first in a series that I am definitely going to be keeping up with. Mead is FANTASTIC at world-building and fantastic also at looking at a character from multiple perspectives to create a stronger sense of depth and realism. But also? The story is neat. The characters are cool, or likeable, or interesting. For those of us strong on mythology, we want to yell “DUDE!” a couple of times, but it’s understandable–and part of their flaws–that these characters live in ignorance. Anyway, it’s the future, and there’s all this stuff going on and–you know what? Just read it. If you liked American Gods, you’ll like this. If you like Mead’s Vampire Academy series, this is more adult, but you’ll like this. If you like good supernatural fiction, you’ll like this.
Okay, I have to go take my kid to get her learner’s permit (I hope), so I’ve gotta run. That was June, though. Next up: JULY, and hopefully August by the time September starts. Maybe this “Week in Books” thing can get back to being a weekly deal.