Why Cynthia Leitich Smith Is So Awesome...

7:28 PM 0 Comments A+ a-

Please note the fabulous picture of one of my lead members of our Library Advisory Board who happens to have  a birthday tomorrow (Happy Birthday, Molly!).  She was listing which new book she was going to read first.  I realized when I put it up that this is actually a pretty good shot of the library floor from our information bar (we think circulation desk is too limiting a term).  I'm sending a different photo to our benefactor to thank her for such a great present. Who is our mystery philanthropist?  Well, we have a favorite author in the library this week, and it's Cynthia Leitich Smith.  Why you ask?  Oh, I don't know - maybe because SHE SENT US AWESOME FREE BOOKS!!!! (Check out her shout of us on her great Spookycyn blog.)

Yes, you read that right, I had participated in a competition on one of Smith's great blogs (she has two, Spookcyn and Cynsations) which she had named the "Spooky Cynsational October Giveaway" and I won!  The library ends up with a terrific crop of books Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2009) which she was kind enough to sign for us; an ARC of Coffeehouse Angel by Suzanne Selfors (Walker, 2009); Far From You by Lisa Schroeder (Simon Pulse, 2009); How to Be a Vampire: A Fangs-On Guide for the Newly Undead by Amy Gray (Candlewick, November 2009); Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side by Beth Fantaskey (Harcourt, 2009); Kissed by an Angel by Elizabeth Chandler (Simon Pulse, 2008); and Vamped by Lucienne Diver (Flux, 2009).  The coolest cover award goes to How to Be a Vampire: A Fangs-On Guide for the Newly Undead by Amy Gray - what must the publisher have gone through to make one so cool?  It's actually embossed so the eyes and puncture wounds are indented and the eyes are all silvery and holographic - very eyecatching.

I look forward to posting the reviews as I read through these delicious novels.  I'm particularly interested in Eternal, Cynthia's latest book (which, please note, is published by Candlewick Press who I always trust to publish high quality young adult titles).  I recently read Tantalize and I really enjoyed the tone of it.  Told in the first person, Quincie Morris lives in a world in which vampires and werewolves exist, but aren't particularly liked.  She has an extremely attractive male best friend who is a werewolf/human hybrid (I love it that Smith uses "hirsute" as an adjective to describe him) and a somewhat negligent uncle who is her guardian.  Her parents are both dead and Quincie is focused on helping her uncle reinvent the family restaurant while finishing high school.  Her uncle is fixated with his somewhat skanky girlfriend, Ruby and it just so happens she is fascinated with vampires (think a hotter, Elvira Queen of the Night vibe).  Result? The restaurant is going to have a vampire theme.

There's only one problem.  The restaurant's head cook (who took better care of Quincie than her bachelor uncle) is dead, murdered in the kitchen, in fact, and it seems like either a werewolf did it or someone wanted the police to think that one did.  And despite the bad karma the restaurant appears to suffer from, a thin, pale head cook with a talent for creating indescribably delicious food shows up.  He seems very taken with Quincie and as she gets to know him, she becomes less and less interested in her friends and the things that used to matter to her.

I was impressed with Smith's writing - there was a real wit to Quincie's inner monologue and the strong sense of place (I could feel the Texas heat and hear the twang of that accent) was extremely compelling and had me fully believing in her world.  Quincie's H-O-T friend, Kieren, produces some serious sexual tension and as we grow to understand why he doesn't think he can have a relationship with Quincie, we also get a window into the world of discrimination against werewolves in this uneven society.  Kieren realizes that something is wrong with the restaurant's new situation but Quincie ignores his warnings and finds herself in a difficult situation from which she may not be able to extricate herself.  Tantalize is a page-turner filled with characters to whom you immediately feel attached.  I can't wait to read Eternal!

Kristin Cashore Hits Another Home Run with her latest book, Fire

9:29 AM 0 Comments A+ a-

I remember the visceral feeling of how totally wowed I was by Graceling.  I was not so much astonished at Cashore's ability to create a complete and alternate world with such utter certainty that I believed it, hook, line and sinker (I had experienced that with other great fantasy authors like Tamora Pierce).  It was more that her characters left me breathless.  They lived.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see them picking up artichokes at Price Chopper or getting apples at the local farmer’s market.

I’m going to admit that when I read the premise of Fire, I was worried.   The main character wasn’t just a human being with special abilities, she was a monster.  A beautiful monster actually, and I had trouble wrapping my head around that.  Also, author Kristin Cashore was quoted as saying that Fire was more of a “prequel” with some minor crossover in the form of characters or events that would tickle the back of our Graceling minds.

Well, you won’t find me doubting Kristin in the future.  I’ll just wait with open palms for each book as she publishes them.  Fire is a tour-de-force – the main character is emotionally vulnerable as one of the monsters that populate the Dells, monsters which sometimes take on colorful human forms.  Only the very mentally strong can resist the mind-reading (and mind-controlling) ability these monsters have – the majority of residents are inflamed with desire or such hatred that the creatures are in danger of rape or assault constantly with only their mind-reading ability to protect them. 

Fire is the half-monster/half-human offspring of a diabolical monster who seduced her mother (who Fire never knew) and manipulated the former king to the point of bringing the country to near ruin.  Her face and form are so stunning as to empty the minds of the majority of people, but in addition to human predators, she is also at risk from the other monster creatures (the mammals, basically) who find one another delicious.  Her human friends and companions who surround Fire seek to protect her from these threats but the political situation of the country is such that she finds herself called into action by the children of the former king.  Feeling a tremendous amount of guilt for her father’s actions, Fire ends up using her gifts to help others.

Of course there is a love interest and I found a lot of parallels to Graceling in that area as well.  Fire owns her sexuality (she’s no blushing virgin) and while her growing love and respect for one of the leaders of the country is deep and heartfelt, the main crux of the novel is above all Fire’s personal growth and transformation.  I was moved by her feelings about her potential as a mother – on the one hand she is envious at the women around her choosing motherhood (or having it forced upon them) but she also feels so strongly about the potential damage another monster in her world could incur that she is willing to destroy her fertility before endangering others.  She’s an altruistic, deep character continually judged by her beautiful surface and under a constant pressure of personal and mental assault.

I loved this book and it made me feel even more fuzzy when I thought of the two autographed Kristin Cashore posters on my office door!  Some of our fabulous Lower School teachers attended a literature conference over the summer where they met Kristen.  It turns out that she is originally from Center Moreland, Pennsylvania (literally a mile up the road from my house) which is a very, very, very small, rural town and she attended Scranton Prep, a well-regarded Catholic school in our area of Northeast Pennsylvania.  So she had heard of Wyoming Seminary and chatted up my great teachers in a very friendly way.  They LOVED her!  We want to find out about the cost of having her do an author visit or maybe Skype us – the upper school offers a fantasy fiction English elective that could really use her insights into the complexity of writing a detailed world like hers.

The best news?  She’s working on a third book, tentatively entitled Bitterblue, which takes place a few years after Graceling.  Thank heavens.

What DO Teens Want?

9:49 PM 1 Comments A+ a-

Publisher’s Weekly recently published an article, “What Do Teens Want?” by Carol Fitzgerald that’s been receiving a lot of attention from librarians serving teens.  Fitzgerald names the growth of the Young Adult literary market (a 5.1% projected sales increase) with higher grossing areas for specific genres often fueled by the YA market (like scifi/fantasy which is supposed to experience a 13% increase).

While the author acknowledges that certainly there are plenty of adults interested in these books because of the recent phenomenon of books like the Twilight saga, the fact remains that teens are the ones causing that very phenomena, placing a great deal of power in the hands of this specific demographic.  Publishers are naturally very interested in a group of such heavy readers as they are desperate to figure out how to market to them in five and ten years.

Using the readership of teenreads.com (230,000 viewers a month), a survey was given to answer some burning questions.  Naturally, as any librarian knows, the responders were largely female (96%) due to the site’s emphasis on fiction and the fact that most YA fiction is read by girls (at least to the point that they’d want to talk about).  The survey also had a mostly younger teen audience (only 37% were 16 to 18 years of age, the remainder younger than this) so these results might be of particular relevance to middle school librarians.

Because of the fact that it’s obvious to any school librarian how shockingly overscheduled kids are, I was most interested in the number of books respondents reported to read and during what time periods.  Forty-one percent reported reading over 20 books during the summer, with 26% reading 11-20 books and 18% reading six to 10 books.  That’s 85% of these students reading at least six books over the summer.  Granted, the readership of teenreads.com I doubt is comprised of casual readers, but nevertheless it shows how kids will read when more time is available.

But these readers don’t stick to just YA authors.  They listed Mitch Albom, Jane Austen, Meg Cabot (who I actually consider more of a YA author, but whatever), Agatha Christie, Mary Higgins Clark, Suzanne Collins, Michael Crichton, Janet Evanovich, John Grisham, Charlaine Harris, Sophie Kinsella, Dean Koontz, George Orwell, Chuck Palahniuk, James Patterson, Jodi Picoult, David Sedaris, Nicholas Sparks and John Steinbeck as favorite adult authors that they’d consider as well.  Isn’t that an interesting mix?  We have a lot of these folks on the shelf, but I’m going to need to check and make sure we’ve got a complete oeuvre. 

And as for the format (hardcover v. paperback) they prefer, it seems close enough that I don’t need to worry with 79% liking paperbacks and 74% preferring hardcover.  Only 6% like ebooks as their format right now, so I’ll be interested to see if that number grows after Barnes and Noble starts heavily marketing the Nook, aka their version of the Kindle in stores.  All of my teens LOVE hanging out at Barnes & Noble which is the place to see and be seen.

With the publishing industry as the focus of the survey, naturally the book buying habits of these kids were their focus.  Forty-four percent of kids indicated that their book buying habits had changed due to the economy with 54% naming visiting the library as their main habit change.  Sixty-eight percent share the cost of book purchasing with their parents (go parents!).

What really grabbed me was the data on “what would enhance their shopping experience”.  More books to chose from (63% came in first) but check out what was second – 48% wanted more book reviews and recommendations from “experts”.  Isn’t that interesting?  It’s important to be reminded how overwhelming a bookstore is for someone who doesn’t read all the professional journals and can pick out the good presses and know the latest reviews.  Events with favorite authors came in as important to 45% and comfortable places to sit (check!) got 40% of people clicking the radio button.  With any luck, our new “book discussion” group (which has as its mission booktalking books to each other rather than reading the same book, important as 83% of respondents named peer recommendations as the reason they will read a book) will fit this bill but I really need to think about adding in reviews (maybe I can use Titlewave to grab them?) to the display process.  Hmmm…

Tweaking the library webpage also came to mind as well as taking advantage of the MARC record field where we can embed companion websites.  Over 85% of teens reported visiting the websites of their favorite authors for information about upcoming titles and 65% would love to see the author in person at an in store event.  Only 19% utilized social networking sites for author interaction (and I couldn’t help thinking of my AWESOME new Facebook friend, Scott Westerfeld!) so clearly I’m a passé geek or total pioneer in author interaction.  I’m leaning toward the former.

Blogs (I’m guessing author blogs?) and specifically “book and reader blogs” were also named as sources of interaction or information (32% and 31% respectively).  Maybe the author website can go in the MARC record but we could have a section on the website for the blogs that might be the most popular (with a link to a screencast on how to use Google Reader for efficient browsing).  Still 58% of them don’t read author blogs at all, and my curiosity is piqued – is this because they don’t know how awesome they are? Because they don’t read other blogs?  Respondents have great taste in who they do read – authors named were Libba Bray, Meg Cabot, Ally Carter, P.C. Cast, Cassandra Clark, Zoey Dean, Sarah Dessen, John Green, Richelle Mead, Stephenie Meyer, Christopher Paolini, James Patterson, Tamora Pierce, Sarah Shepard, Melissa Walker and Scott Westerfeld.  Considering most of these are in my “Author Blogs” list, I feel that discerning book readers are good blog readers as well!