Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Banned Books Week: What My Mother Doesn't Know

It's that week I get most excited for, Banned Books Week!  I know, I'm such a library geek.  But I put the most planning into decorating for it, more than for any other "holiday."  I research it, and why books are banned, and what's trending in promoting the freedom to read.  And I do enjoy reading banned books.

As part of Banned Books Week, I always like to review a book that's stirred up particular controversy.  Here are my thoughts on What My Mother Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones.  It impressively made the Top Ten Banned/Challenges Books List for four nonconsecutive years.

Checkouts: 10 checkouts from my public library (the one I run)
Typical reader: teen and tween girls
Source: My public library

Synopsis: Sophie is a boy-crazy high school freshman.  This is a free-verse account of a few of her romantic flings.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

Banned/challenged for (in alphabetical order): nudity, offensive language, sexism, sexual content, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

This book has quite the curriculum vitae when it comes to controversy.  In 2004, it debuted on the Top Ten Banned/Challenged Books List at #6 for offensive language, being sexually explicit, and being unsuited to age group.  In 2005, it was at #7, for sexual content, and being unsuited to age group.  After a few years off, it came back in 2010 to regain #7, for sexism, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group.  In 2011, it was #8, for nudity, offensive language, and being sexually explicit.  Wow.

Between the repeat infamy and the title ("Ooo, it sounds scandalous!"), I was expecting something pretty salacious.

... It isn't.

Really, it's one of the sweetest books about teenage romance that I've read.  Granted, I don't read many.  (And when I do, they tend to be angst-filled coming-out GLBT novels with plenty of heartbreak.)  Sophie is boy-crazy and knows it.  But she's a romantic, a serial-monogamist, with some sense in her hormone-addled head, giving her the ability to move on when a relationship is ending and defy peer pressure in certain instances.  No spoilers, but the hints leading to, and the actual, third romance are pretty "aw"-inspiring.

What could be wrong with this book?  (Beware of sass.)

Nudity.  There's a scene where Sophie and her girlfriends go out for a bite to eat in trenchcoats and smiles.  No one sees that they're not wearing anything underneath.  It's their little secret.  A goofy bit of fun.  (And really, unless it's illustrated, how the heck does one criticize a book for having nudity?)

Offensive language.  Sophie is Jewish, and in one instance, a rude man refers to her and her mother using a derogatory word beginning with a K.  Certainly, that's something to get a reader upset over, because they'll otherwise never hear derogatory racial/ethnic slurs.

Sexism.  I don't know.  Maybe when Sophie gets groped by a random boy after a dance, and he comments to his friends that her breasts are real?  Speaking of that scene, Sophie handled it excellently, defending herself and chasing the boys away.

Sexual content.  Sophie discusses getting her period, and tries to buy feminine products.  It's as bad as Are You There, God?  It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume.  Oh.  Right.  That's been banned and challenged over the years, too.  We certainly can't have girls reading about other girls dealing with menstruation.  They might have been as in-the-dark as Sophie was, without instruction from her mother, and they might learn something from a book like this or the one by Judy Blume.

Sexually explicit.  Certainly, there must have been some eye-widening scenes in this book, for it to be challenged so often for this offense.  But what I found was mostly kissing.  Oh, no, the horror.  How dare teens kiss.  They're supposed to wait until after their Sweet Sixteen.

In sum, this book with the eyebrow-raising title has gotten a lot of undue criticism, in my opinion.  It's a mostly harmless book about a boy-crazy high school girl.  This novel is just a lightning rod that attracts storms from people who are overly protective of girls, and don't want them knowing about anything that can and does impact their lives during puberty.  Get over it.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Yay for YA: Sisters' Fate by Jessica Spotswood

It's probably worth repeating something I said earlier this year in another YA review: I don't typically indulge in reading to completion.  So when I actually do finish a trilogy, you can bet that the author impressed me enough that I felt it worth my time to see it through to the end.

There was no way I was going to let Sisters' Fate, the third and final book in the Cahill Witch Chronicles trilogy by Jessica Spotswood, slip by me.  That twist at the end of the second book!  Oh, my word!  I actually squawked when I read what happened, and wanted to throw something at the perpetrating character.  So, I just had to know how things resolved in this book.

Not to mention, does the prophecy that one of the three sisters kills another come true?  Or can fate be changed?

(For my review of the first book, Born Wicked, click here.)

Checkouts: The book is new to the school library; the series surprisingly hasn't been checked out at all.  I need to talk it up more, apparently.
Typical reader: Teen girls looking for paranormal romance
Source: Snowbound Books

Synopsis: As a fever ravages the city of New London, Cate must deal with what happened at the end of Star Cursed, the prophecy and what it could mean, her little sister Tess's own prophecies, her middle sister Maura's conniving ways, and regaining Finn's trust.

My Goodreads rating: 5 stars

First, I must comment on the cover art.  It's an improvement over the first book's hardcover printing, where Cate (presumably) looks all come-hither and wonton.  The paperback edition of the first book, and the printings of the subsequent books, fit the stories much better.  The three girls on this cover look like they could be Maura, Cate, and Tess.

On to the book itself.  It was everything I wanted, and more.  The end of the trilogy answered questions, left a few tasty dangling threads, and overall satisfied me.  There's also a tremendous climax - multi-tiered, even - that is action-packed and far-reaching.

What I loved most about this book is that while there's romance, it surpasses what is the norm in teen literature.  Cate benefits from her beau, but does not rely on him.  He's a support, not a crutch.  She can love, without being codependent.  This is absolutely marvelous, and well-written.  We need more strong females in YA fiction like her!  Really, many of us could learn a bit from Cate.

I look forward to more of Ms. Spotswood's works in the future.  (Also, thank you for the bookmarks.)

Monday, September 15, 2014

Guilty Pleasures: The Clockwork Dagger, by Beth Cato

The book I'd like to tell you about today comes out tomorrow (Tuesday, Sept. 16).  I read the ARC two months ago.  Oops!  Not to say I've been busy or anything.

Here's my review of The Clockwork Dagger by Beth Cato.

Checkouts: Comes out tomorrow - none!  Having copies on the shelf before the release date is unethical, if not illegal.
Typical reader: Fans of steampunk, perhaps particularly the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger (I actually agree with a read-alike on the back cover of an ARC, for once)
Source: Advanced reading copy, courtesy of Snowbound Books

Synopsis: Trained as a medician (medical magician, if you will), Octavia Leander sets off into the world to take her first job in a rural town.  But there is much intrigue and adventure to be had on her journey by airship.

My Goodreads rating: 5 stars

I fell in love with this book within the first dozen pages.  This is no small feat, but I was extremely impressed.  In that short amount of text, I learned more about the protagonist, why we should like her, how magic works, and the world she lives in than in some entire books.

And the book kept my love throughout.  This is one that I resisted finishing as long as I could, to savor it longer.  It depressed me at the end to know that I was reading an ARC, and I would have to wait even longer for the sequel (and it sounds like there will be one!)

How did I adore this book?  Let me count the ways.
  • It has a plucky, unique heroine with a well-rounded support cast.
  • The magic is unlike any other I've read about, coming closest to a cross between a Dragonlance mystic and a druid with a penchant for healing.
  • It's an interracial romance!  How common is that?!  For all the diversity in romance in literature, you'd forget that Loving v. Virginia made it legal in the U.S nearly 50 years ago.  Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell gets a lot of its attention because it's a love story between an overweight redhead girl and a half-Korean boy.  I'd honestly like to see more books like these.
  • Speaking of the romance, it isn't overbearing.  And in a Victorian-style steampunk setting, that's to be expected.  Flirting and wooing is very cordial.
  • The plot has plenty of twists, turns, and intrigue.
  • The worldbuilding is exquisite.  It has a Dickensian feel, particularly in the cities.  There wasn't much interaction between Octavia and the poor, but one particular scene made me sit back and say, "Whoa."  Outside the cities, the author has constructed an interesting, different world with a mixture of magic and mechanisms, spirituality and science.
Go out tomorrow and buy this book.  It could well be the best fiction I read all year.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Why can't I write Dragon Con off as a business trip?

This was my second excursion to Dragon Con in Atlanta, Georgia, and both times, I have asked myself, "Why is this not a business trip?"

Perhaps it's because of the Kilt Blowing.
But seriously.  I always learn so much that is relevant to library science at Dragon Con.  Last time I attended, in 2009, was a few months after I went sent by my job to Computers in Libraries.  In all honesty, I learned more at the sci-fi/fantasy geeky convention than the business one.  I even took better notes at Dragon Con.  :P  In my combination notebook/autograph book, I have scribblings from such things as, "YA Lit Track - Religious Themes in YA" (2009), "YA Lit Track - Faeries and Fairy Tales" (2009), "High Fantasy in YA" (2014), "Fantasy Lit Track - Fantasy for Gamers" (2014), and "Writers' Track - Writing for the GLBT Market" (2014).  Valuable information?  Heck yes.

My library science degree, and continuing education, has covered such matters as copyright.  There was a panel on Copyright 101 at Dragon Con, which was an excellent refresher for me and an enlightenment for others.

Need to know about the publishing industry?  My partner and I found out so much from the various panels we attended - things that weren't covered in his college writing classes, even at the master's level.  I even learned a lot about small presses (strangely, in the "Writing for the GLBT Market" panel).

How can you help aspiring writers research science to make their science fiction realistic?  Thanks to the YA Lit Track panel about "Writing Science in Science Fiction YA," I can tell you that if you research leading experts, you can then try contacting them via Twitter.  Many scientists would love to talk to writers about their passions.

And, of course, I got to meet authors.

L-R: Jonathan Maberry, Faith Hunter, Alex Hughes, Susan Griffith, Clay Griffith
For the most part, the authors I met were so amazing.  I managed to talk to Jonathan Maberry before a panel, and have him sign some books for my libraries, and he knew who I was.  Squee!  (Thank you, sir, that means a lot.)  Stephanie Perkins is sweet.  Chelsea Quinn Yarbro is regal.  Todd McCaffrey is jovial.  And Laura Hickman rocks my world - did you know that she A) introduced her husband and fellow author Tracy Hickman to D&D, or B) she introduced story to the D&D modules?  Inspirational!

And the author-librarian relationship is symbiotic.  I love meeting authors, and most of them love meeting librarians.  I took to jokingly calling my autograph book my shopping list.

Todd McCaffrey said it succinctly.
Janny Wurts' note was touching.
If you get to go to Dragon Con, you might not be able to call it a business trip, but it's certainly worth it.

Bonus picture: Janny Wurts plays the bagpipes and leads the parade.