October 2018

The last time I posted on this blog, I was about to begin my library science degree. Now, I’m roughly halfway through my program and looking to graduate in the summer. It’s been a whirlwind 14 or so months, and although things aren’t going to quiet down anytime soon (I’m writing my thesis next semester!), I’ve decided to try my hand at blogging again. I’m thinking I’ll most likely do a big post like this one once a month and a few odd posts here and there as the mood strikes. I’ve broken the post down into a few different sections, and while I’ll probably stick with them in future posts, they aren’t set in stone.

What I’m Doing

Last night, I led a nighttime storyhour at one of the libraries I work at. I’ve done a handful of these nighttime storyhours before, but never with more than seven children. Last night, 21 children and their parents showed up. As the hour crept nearer and more and more people strolled in, I became more and more nervous—and then, at exactly 7PM, I called everyone into the meeting room and I just did the thing. And you know what? It wasn’t bad. We had a good time. I had the schedule my coworker was nice enough to write out for me, but I deviated from it when doing so felt right; for example, the kids were having so much fun dancing, I skipped our second movie to play another song. After we wrapped up, two parents asked when our next nighttime storyhour would be, so I have to assume they thought it wasn’t bad, either. I know I’ll probably still get nervous before the next one, but I feel a lot better about my abilities now. This is a good thing, because I’m leading the first session of my book club next month.

What I’m Learning

I’m currently taking two classes (one about teen services and one about collection development), and we’re discussing readers’ advisory in both. Readers’ advisory is something that I’m still working on getting good at, but I’ve learned a few things that I think will help me: For example, I’ve learned two important questions that I should ask in addition to my usual, “What was the last book you read that you enjoyed?” These questions are: “What exactly did you like about that book?” and “Tell me about a book that you hated and why.” As I noted on Twitter, asking readers about the books they don’t like makes a lot of sense because it’s sometimes easier to talk about why you hate a thing than explain why you like a thing (at least, it is for me).

What I’m Reading

I’m about three-fifths of the way through Unwritten by Tara Gilboy. Unwritten is about twelve-year-old Gracie, who has known since she was much younger that she and her mother are fictional characters who avoided a terrible fate by escaping to our world. Although her life is comfortable, Gracie is haunted by visions of the fate she escaped, and she cannot help but be curious about Gertrude Winters, the author who created her. Although her mother warns her against it, she visits Winters, taking along with her a mysterious scrap of parchment from Bondoff, her storybook home. Things spiral from there.

Unwritten reminds me of The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, another book in which a storybook character grows up in our world and later returns to it. The Hazel Wood is solidly YA, while Unwritten is geared toward MG audiences. I’m enjoying it so far.

I’m also a few pages into The Girl with the Dragon Heart by Stephanie Burgis. The book is a follow-up to her 2017 novel, The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart. I absolutely loved The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart (and I cannot recommend it highly enough), and I’m excited to dig into The Girl with the Dragon Heart and learn more about Silke. Note: The book will be released in the U.S. on November 6th.

What I’ve Read Recently

The last book I finished was Dragons in a Bag by Zetta Elliot. In Dragons in a Bag, young Brooklynite Jaxon is left with Ma, a mysterious woman from his mother’s past, while she attends court to fight their impending eviction. It turns out that Ma is a witch, and she recently received a very curious package—one containing three tiny dragon eggs. Ma lets Jaxon in on her mission: She has to deliver the dragon eggs to another dimension, one where magic still thrives. Jaxon decides to tag along, but the trip does not go smoothly, to say the least.

Dragons in a Bag is a short (at 150 pages), fast-paced read for younger readers who are interested in fantasy adventures, but who might not be ready to leave our world entirely just yet. There are some loose ends, meaning the book is likely the first in a series.

Prior to reading Dragons in a Bag, I sped through Estranged by Ethan M. Aldridge. I don’t read a lot of graphic novels (I’m working on it!), but I absolutely loved this one. In Estranged, a human boy brought to the glittering world of the fae court seeks out the help of the fae changeling left in his place when things go terribly wrong. It’s a book about adventure, darkness, magic, and family, and I’m very much looking forward to a sequel.

What I’m Listening To

I love podcasts. I’m subscribed to way too many of them. I recently subscribed to Breaking the Glass Slipper, a podcast about women in science fiction, fantasy, and horror. I’ve listened to just two episodes so far: 2017’s “In praise of YA with Frances Hardinge” (author of A Face Like Glass, the last book I blogged about) and 2016’s “Labyrinth” (about the movie with David Bowie). Both were amazing. If you think learning about women in speculative fiction is something you might be interested in, subscribe immediately and get listening!

What’s New On My TBR

This is the month of me somehow not noticing books that I would normally be very excited about, like Finding Baba Yaga, Jane Yolen’s recent release, and Gail Carson Levine’s Ogre Enchanted, a standalone prequel to Ella Enchanted. Both are now on my list.

That’s all for now. See you next month!

A Face Like Glass

Upon finishing A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge, I had to fight the urge to immediately flip back to the beginning and start over. It was just that good. Alas, there are far too many books I want to read for only the very first time (including two of Hardinge's other novels, The Lie Tree and Fly By Night) for me to be rereading anything, even a new favorite.

A Face Like Glass is about a girl named Neverfell, who is adopted by a gruff cheesemaker after he discovers her wandering alone in his tunnels in the underground city of Caverna. Grandible is no ordinary cheesemaker, however; his cheeses have magical properties, as do the other delicacies produced by Caverna. Like their wares, the people of Caverna are unique, too; their expressions do not necessarily reflect their emotions, for expressions in Caverna are bought and sold, and must be learned... by everyone except Neverfell, who has, as the title discloses, a face like glass. This face, as one might expect, gets her in (and out) of trouble over the course of the novel.

Although the book is nearly 500 pages long, which is longer than most middle grade novels I have been exposed to, it is eminently readable. In fact, I read the first 125 pages some time ago, and then I finished the rest of the book in one (gung-ho) go. The worldbuilding is immaculate; Caverna feels to me like a place I may have visited, not merely read about. Readers learn so much about it: about its architecture, its many people, its class systems, its politics, its quirks. Neverfell bursts with life and energy, as do her friends and enemies. The magic is not only inventive, but delightful. Consider this description of a particular wine:

"Do you know how long it takes to prepare a perfect Cardlespray Wine?"
[...]
"One hundred and three years. The grapes spoil if they are exposed to loud noises, so they are tended by a silent order of monks, and all the local birds are killed. The fruit can be harvested only at night during the new moon, and must be crushed by the feet of orphans. The barrels are stored deep in the earth, and only the softest, sweetest music is played to them, continually, for over a century. And after all this, the Wine is fit to be drunk...."

Hardinge's writing is lyrical. She is a wordsmith, as skilled in the crafts of character, plot, and setting as the craftsmen of Caverna are in the crafts of cheese, wine, and perfume. A Face Like Glass is a magical read. I highly recommend it.

Day Dreamers: A Journey of Imagination

My nephew is turning three in a few weeks. This gives me an excellent excuse (not that I really need one!) to buy him new books. Day Dreamers: A Journey of Imagination is one of the books that I'll be giving him, and for that I must thank Brightly's Iva-Marie Palmer, who recommended it in a recent post. She described it as "the perfect whimsical invitation to worlds of unicorns, dragons, and jackalopes." Well. How could I not order it after that?

It arrived recently and I have to say, I'm very happy with my purchase. In Day Dreamers, ordinary scenes, like a day at a beach or a museum, are juxtaposed with what imagination might make of them. Dragons breathe fire, leviathans rise out of the sea, and jackalopes race across open fields. The book teaches us that imagination can open new worlds, and it promises us that those worlds are always there for us, waiting.

Day Dreamers is, I think, a great way to introduce my nephew to the worlds of magic, fantasy, and dream that I love so much. If you know a toddler and want to introduce him or her to those worlds, this book just might be perfect for you. It also serves as a good reminder of why many of us enjoy fantasy, so even if you don't know a toddler, I recommend you buy it anyway.

Vassa in the Night

I really wanted to love this book. I received it for free from the Tor Books booth at Comic Con, where I also (very briefly) met Sarah Porter. After I read the inside flap, I turned to my sister and told her that Vassa in the Night sounded like my kind-of book. I was especially excited because the synopsis reminded me of Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente, a book that I really enjoyed. I read Vassa in about eight hours, and while there were parts that I liked, I was ultimately disappointed.

Vassa in the Night felt unfinished. I was initially intrigued by the idea of BY's, the convenience store with "a policy of beheading shoplifters." I was on the edge of my seat when Vassa first called the store down, but the location quickly lost its charm. By the end of the book, I wasn't sure why it even took place in a store. I doubt Babs Yagg makes a lot of money with the aforementioned policy, even if her store is the only one open during the very extended night hours. Certainly, Vassa didn't see a lot of customers in her time there. Why, then, does Babs Yagg own and maintain a chain of convenience stores? Considering the setting and the fact that the idea of gentrification is alluded to in the synopsis, I was expecting a critique of that and of capitalism. I didn't notice one. If that had been the case, the store could have been an ideal setting. It was not.

Many of the small cast of characters felt just as replaceable. We are introduced to Vassa's sisters, Chelsea and Stephanie, early on, but they are absent for most of the book. Instead, a character named Tomin is introduced to help Vassa set things right. Personally, I would have preferred to see Stephanie realize the error of her ways and her and Chelsea come to Vassa's rescue. I think their reconciliation could have dovetailed nicely with Vassa's revelation at the end of the book. Instead, the relationship between the sisters is another missed opportunity.

There are more loose threads of perhaps less importance. I still want to know more about Vassa's mother, Zinaida, and about Bea and her relationship with Babs Yagg, too. Vassa in the Night could have been a great book, but it didn't work as well, or do as much, as I hoped it would.

Have you read Vassa in the Night? What did you think?

Legend

Sunday was the last day of Comic Con. My sister and I started the day at a BookCon @ NYCC panel, "Diversity, Class Systems, and Equality in Fantasy." (The panelists were Jennifer Jenkins, Marie Lu, Daniel Jose Older, Lara Elena Donnelly, and Laurent Linn. Ali Kokmen of Barnes & Noble moderated.) We arrived about an hour early, so to help pass the time she gave me one of the books she had brought along to be signed. It was Legend by Marie Lu, and I enjoyed it so much that I finished it by the next morning.

Legend is approximately five years old. It's the first of a trilogy, and the sequels, Prodigy and Champion, have already been released. (I plan on reading them, of course.) I haven't read many dystopias, but I'm familiar with some of the big ones. I found it preferable to Divergent, which I disliked, but I enjoyed the characterization and development more in The Hunger Games.

The main characters, Day and June, are quite alike, even though they come from very different backgrounds. For now, I'm going to chalk that up to what they have in common. (You'll have to read the book to find out what that is.) I'm curious to learn what brought on current events in the novel, and what the world is like outside of Los Angeles. I'm also itching to learn more about the Trials. My sister is reading Prodigy now, and I'll be borrowing it from her when I get the chance.

Before I go, I also want to take the time to thank Marie Lu. Since I finished Legend, I've read another book and gotten more than halfway through a third. I haven't read this much in a very long time, and I'm hoping this is the beginning of a good thing.