One of my favorite people in the world (and partial originator of the 'janicu' nickname) came to New York City last week over Memorial Day Weekend. Besides our usual (the MoMA: all six floors, and then food), we visited Book-Off, which is at 49 W 45th St, just a a short walk from Grand Central.
This place is magical. Basically it is a used book store, but it's a Japanese chain so there are a lot of Japanese books and manga there. There used to be a Book-Off about 10 minutes away from me in Hartsdale, NY but that was a short-lived venture - probably because there were a lot more books in Japanese than English and I don't think very people really knew it was there. But this Book-Off, the one in NYC? It has plenty of English books. It has rows and rows of used DVDs and CDs in the front, a huge sale section in the back, magazines to one side, and then a floor below with Japanese books and manga, and an upstairs balcony with I think non-fiction (but don't quote me because I was just glued to the fiction shelves, salivating and petting bindings). Also many books are on sale for $1. MANY MANY books. The books that are not on sale: about $2.50 for a paperback and $5 for a hardcover. It's not too shabby. I also prefer it over the Strand when it comes to its selection of genre fiction: SF&F and Romance in particular. The Strand does have a bigger YA section and general fiction section, but I think Book-Off beats the Strand's prices because all the books at Book-Off are used.
You can open the drawers on the bottom of the shelves and there are more books!
Anyway, if you happen to be in New York City, I'm just saying this place exists.
This past Thursday and Friday I was at the annual Book Expo America held at the Javits Center in New York City. I also attended the BEA Bloggers Conference (formerly the Book Bloggers Conference) on Wednesday. Here's my (supah long) report of these things.
BEA BLOGGERS CONFERENCE:
BEA Bloggers is a book blogger convention affiliated with BEA. You may or may not recall, but last year I had a horrible time dealing with registration for the BEA Bloggers Con, and after that I was rather disappointed in the conference itself. That was the year the convention was bought by Reed and it felt like the new management didn't really understand book bloggers and it led to there being a ridiculous amount of promotion to a captive audience amongst other blunders. This was not really what I'd paid money to have to deal with, and from the posts online there were a lot of book bloggers that shared my disappointment. Thankfully Reed Exhibitions seemed to be listening, sent out surveys to book bloggers, and set up a conference advisory board to make this year's conference better. Even with this, I dragged my feet when it came to registering again this year. I only live a train ride away and I can afford to go (I know I am very lucky to be in my situation), but last year honestly drained me. On top of that I've been neglecting book blogging because of my full-time job. I finally decided to go a week before the conference itself, but a lot of bloggers who went last year told me they were skipping the BEA Blogger Con if they were coming to BEA at all.
So with that optimistic preamble, how was it?
I think it was a lot better than last year. This time I had minimal problems registering (I had the page open too long and it didn't register me when I hit submit, so I had to redo it all. It also hiccuped and sent me back to the main BEA registration page, not back to the BEA Blogger Con registration page), I felt like the con was more about book blogging than it was about promoting things to book bloggers than it was last year, and I also felt like this year I learned something from a couple of the panels that I attended. On top of that there seemed to be more effort to represent the different genres of bloggers in the panels with a YA and adult blog track, genre fiction like Romance and SFF were better represented, there were more book bloggers on panels about book blogging, and it felt like the way the sessions were timed at 45 minutes this year allowed for more sessions and decent breaks between them.
On the other hand, there is still room for improvement. I'm not convinced the keynote speakers fully understood book bloggers (maybe we should do away with the keynote speeches - I'd personally be OK with having the time to talk to people over breakfast/drinks instead), I had some trouble deciding what sessions to attend because all I had was a title and no description, and there were still a few comments by some non-book-blogger speakers that made me pause. Most notable for me were remarks about "being nice". I'm going to say I think their hearts may have been in the right place but I was wincing internally. Between the opening keynote speaker's comments on negative reviews and a couple of other offhand comments in other sessions (from mostly non-book blogger panelists) telling bloggers not to post on controversial topics for page views and not to fight with authors on social media, I left the con wondering a little bit about how book bloggers are seen by those who are in the publishing industry. In my mind the comments suggest a disconnect from the book blogger's perspective. There could be some validity to the speakers' comments, but reviewers have been targeted for critical reviews that were not attacks on an author, posting on controversial topics is not necessarily a bid for attention, and as for fights over social media--there are always two sides to every story. Maybe I'm feeling defensive of being a book blogger and I'm taking some comments and seeing a pattern where there isn't one, but this was food for thought for me after BEA. Anyway, putting that aside, I really did feel a lot better about the con compared to last year - but last year set a pretty low bar. If I don't go next year it would be more about having gotten what I can out of this con rather than anything else. That said, there are bloggers who were more disappointed than I was.
The opening and closing keynotes and the Ethics Panel Luncheon were events that was shared universally by all attendees, but in the morning and afternoon there were sessions where there was a choice between two options. In the morning there was a YA focused track and a non-YA focused track (which they called "adult") to choose from, .and in the afternoon the sessions were more about general blogging topics.
These were the sessions I attended:
- Opening Keynote (Will Schwalbe)
- Adult Editor Insight Panel (other choice: Young Adult Editor Insight Panel)
- Adult Book Blogging Pros: Successes, Struggles and Insider Secrets (other choice: Young Adult Book Blogging Pros)
- Ethics Forum Luncheon
- Blogging Platforms (other choice: Taking Your Online Presence Offline)
- Extending the Reach of Your Blog Online (other choice: Book Blogging and the "Big" Niches)
(I skipped the Closing Keynote with Randi Zuckerberg)
Opening Keynote: I saw that there was a camera set up but I am unable to find the video online, but I found a nice recap from a fellow blogger here that I thought hit the highlights. The general feeling I came away with was that Schwalbe had a genuine enthusiasm for books and for how reading connects people. He had some poignant things to say about the book club for two he had with his mother after she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and he talked about the different definitions of success in publishing with a story about connecting to one reader at a book signing, but he also said a couple of things that I don't think he realized were a bit touchy for his audience. This included talking about the affect that "negative reviews" have on authors with advice such as "keep in mind the human beings behind these books". I wish I could find the video so I could just link to it and ask people to watch and decide how they feel about what he said. Overall it was a nice speech and I thought Schwalbe's earnestness very likable, but his comments about negative reviews have me mulling days later. OK, let's move on.
Adult Editor Insight Panel: This turned out to be a buzz panel where each of the editors discussed books they were particularly excited about this year. Joshua Kendall of Mulholland Books talked about two books: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes (who won the Arther C. Clarke award for her Zoo City), about a time traveling serial killer ("imagine Silence of the Lambs written by Margaret Atwood"), and S, a book by JJ Abrams and Doug Dorst which he says reorients your experience as a reader (he compares it to House of Leaves) and is a book about storytelling. There will be 20 to 22 pieces of ephemera related to S and the first one is a postcard from Brazil (see picture below). Patrick Nielsen Hayden of Tor Books discussed Jo Walton's What Makes This Book So Great, which is a collection of selected tor.com essays by Walton in which she rereads books and discusses them; Twenty-First Century Science Fiction, a collection of science fiction stories; and The Incrementalists by Steven Brust and Skyler White, a supernatural procedural centered around a society with special powers and a goal to make the world a little bit better a little bit at a time. Mary-Theresa Hussey talked about The Returned by Jason Mott, which is about people who have died returning to their families, and Sarah Beth Durst's first adult trilogy which begins with The Lost, and is about a small town in the desert where missing things go - this includes the heroine, Lauren. Out of all the books discussed, I was most interested in Sarah Beth Durst's and Jo Walton's, so they're going on my "what to watch for" list.
Adult Book Blogging Pros: Jim Hines was the moderator here, with bloggers Mandi Schreiner from Smexy Books, Rebecca Joines Schinsky of Bookriot, and Sarah Wendell from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books making up the panel. I was excited by this one because the panel was full of actual bloggers, and two of the blogs were Romance, which I felt was a genre that is hugely popular and strangely underrepresented at this con in previous years. This was a fun session and I thought the panelists had some good advice, notably from Sarah Wendell: "your opinion belongs to you, no one should tell you it's not valid". Also Jim Hines specifically joked about being in front of book bloggers and holding back from pitching his books. I thought this showed awareness for staying on topic and why the audience was there that was refreshing. Another thing I thought was a good takeaway was their discussion on social media and how it didn't always have to be about books - that just linking to your posts on twitter isn't enough. They recommended being multidimensional and not being afraid of being vulnerable because people will connect to you (Sarah of Smart Bitches said she just has rules about what she won't talk about - like the mafia, don't talk about the job, don't talk about the family).
Ethics Forum Luncheon: I think a couple of years back there was a rash of posts about FTC disclosures and we've had previous sessions on this at BBC, so I wasn't unfamiliar with the topics at this forum, but this is still a useful panel nonetheless. Jane Litte of Dear Author moderated a discussion with Richard Newman of Hinch Newman LLP and Professor Geanne Rosenberg of Baruch College. First the speakers went over their credentials, then they discussed what the FTC guidelines for bloggers were. Basically you must disclose if you got a free product to review or are compensated in any way. It should be noted that the FTC is more concerned about reviews that are falsely positive in order to sell a product rather than reviews that are not positive. Disclosure should be clear and conspicuous. After this there was some discussion of ethics and conflicts of interest (something that gets in the way of or appears to get in the way of clear, unbiased, independent opinion), and then the floor opened up to questions. I wish I could say I paid more attention, but I'm afraid I zoned out after a while. :\ ETA: I meant to link to this Book Smuggler's post in which they pointed out some of the problems with this panel which includes calling ARCs "free".
Blogging Platforms: This might have been one of my favorite panels because the women who were in it (Rachel Rivera of Parajunkee, Evie Seo of Bookish, April Conant of good Books and Good Wine, and Stephanie Leary - a Wordpress consultant) went into some more technical detail of the day-to-day differences between some of the more popular blogging platforms (specifically blogger and wordpress were compared, and then the differences between wordpress.com versus wordpress.org were discussed). I have a wordpress.com site because I cannot be bothered to deal with self-hosting, keeping code up-to-date, dealing with security and backing up my blog that is involved with wordpress.org, so this panel cemented my continuing laziness, but may eventually get fed up with some of the plugins I can't get on the .com end. There was also an interesting discussion of useful-for-book-blogger wordpress.com plugins, including one for star-ratings. Plus I'd always been curious about blogger so it was interesting to have it's pros and cons laid out even if I'm not really ever going to move there.
Extending the Reach of Your Blog Online: I was seriously waffling over sitting in on this panel until the moderator busted out a laptop and we realized that a powerpoint presentation was happening. It was a long day and I needed some visual aids in my life. The panelists were Mandy Boles of The Well-Read Wife, Malle Vallik of Harlequin (moderator), Eric Smith of Quirk Books, and Robert Mooney of Blogads. Basically this session was about using social media in order to drive traffic to your blog. Mandy Boles started by saying she thinks that the next big thing after twitter and facebook is instagram because it is on its way to having 100 million users within 3 years. She talked about how she uses Instagram, and then moved on Vine, which is like Instagram except users share 6 second long videos. She recommended using the availability of hashtags in both these social platforms to get yourself noticed. [FYI: both of these social apps are geared towards Apple customers, and I am anti-Apple, so for those of you like me: Vine just became available on android this week]. Eric Smith talked about how offline events can produce traffic online - for example he has something called the Geek Awards that has created traffic for his blog. Finally Robert Mooney recommended using Stumbleupon because 'stumbles' last a long time, while on twitter you post a link and the effect of bringing in traffic is only a temporary blast. He also recommends Reddit but cautions that you can't just jump into the Reddit community, you have to be a "good citizen" and "do your research" before you dive in.
BEA: THE HAUL, THE PEOPLE
I attended BEA on Thursday and Friday (I thought about also going Saturday but I was pretty pooped by then). As usual it was pretty crowded and crazy, but this year I think I had a better time dealing with it. It helped that there weren't that many books that I HAD to have so I wasn't really rushing around. There were some long lines though - I think I waited up to an hour to get a couple of books signed. I didn't really go straight to the most crowded areas when BEA first opened it's doors so maybe I just wasn't looking at the right time, but to me it didn't seem like there were as many books out on the floor as before. It might be that there just was less Young Adult and Science Fiction & Fantasy out though because a couple of people told me they thought there were more books this year. I did feel like it was a lot harder to get extra copies of books. I was trying to get certain YA books that other bloggers asked me to look out for, but the publishers were pretty strict about the popular titles.
Anyway, here's my haul. I tried, but I have a hard time saying "no thanks" when someone hands me a book. This means there's a couple of YAs in here that I'm debating if I'll keep because I don't really know what they're about (The Wolf Princess and Catena in case you were wondering). The total is: 19 books, 1 sampler book, 1 novella.
As usual, seeing blogger friends was the best part, so I was happy I got to spend some time walking around with Stacey (USAToday's HEA and Heroes and Heartbreakers), and with Heidi (Bunbury In the Stacks). It was brief but I finally met Alyssa of Books Take You Places. I also met Andrew of Raging Biblioholism (he writes lovely reviews, you should all mosey over to his blog and check them out).
I saw a few other bloggers briefly through the days (Ana and Thea, Elizabeth, and Memory), but I wasn't able to find everyone I knew who was there. I have to say I was really missing a few bloggers that I had connected with at previous BEAs who decided not to come this year - it felt strange not to see some of my fellow YAckers and Kristen of Fantasy Cafe. BEA wasn't the same without them, but thank goodness for the Internet.
Overall, I was exhausted after three days, but BEA did it's job in making me feel re-energized about reading and blogging, so this means I'm probably going to be posting more regularly around here and visiting and commenting on other book blogs again. Watch this space. :)
To celebrate the publication of Deborah Harkness' Shadow of Night in paperback on May 28th, the publisher Viking/Penguin has offered a copy of the book, along with some alchemical symbol buttons to give away to a reader of this blog.
A Discovery of Witches introduced reluctant witch Diana Bishop, vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and the battle for a lost, enchanted manuscript known as Ashmole 782. Harkness’s much-anticipated sequel, Shadow of Night, picks up from A Discovery of Witches’ cliffhanger ending. Diana and Matthew time-travel to Elizabethan London and are plunged into a world of spies, magic, and a coterie of Matthew’s old friends, the School of Night. As the search for Ashmole 782 deepens and Diana searches for a witch to tutor her in magic, the net of Matthew’s past tightens around them, and they embark on a very different—and vastly more dangerous—journey.
Please go to this page at the specficromantic blog to enter!
- Sorry, this contest is just for U.S. addresses this time
- One entry per person please
- Contest ends Wednesday, May 22nd (midnight EST)
Today I'm excited to be at FantasyCafe's Women in SF&F Month for the second year of this awesome event. Last year I talked about some of my favorite female SF&F authors. This year I wax nostalgic about some of my first reads in this genre that were by women writers. Head on over to find out what they were, and please tell me what your firsts were too. I'm curious!
I was also recently interviewed by Emma Larkins, a writer who interviews different people on her blog about their perspectives on the writing and publishing community. She was interested in asking a book blogger's perspective, so I'm over there answering questions about what I like to read, how I blog, issues I run into while reading, and things that don't work when approaching me for a review.
1. Bookshelf Bandit Tote in Jane, Caterpillar, Anthony (see also Alice, Scott, Louisa;$17.99) 2. Penguin Drop Caps ($22 ea) 3. Stacked Paper Wallpaper ($198/roll) 4. Demeter fragrance in Paperback (from $6) 5. Vintage Book Vase ($39-$69) 6. The Definition of Darling Wallet ($52.99) 7. Vintage Book iPhone Charger ($68)
8. Libraries - Where Shhh Happens mug (£9.95) 9. Lumio Lamp (available for pre-order for Oct 2013 - $125) 10. Gold Bird Metal Bookmark (£4.00) 11. Customizable Wool Felt eReader Case ($44) 12. Reading Fox Bookends (€39.00 / about $51.70) 13. Bracket Bookends in velvety black (€34.00 / about $44.70) 14. Book Bookend (€19.00 / about $25.19) - many other styles of bookends available 15. Buttons: Second Breakfast and Weasly is our King ($1.70) 16. Chipboard Classic novel bookmarks ($1 each)
17. Bookrest Reading Lamp ($85) 18. Engraved 'Words are for Nerds' pencils (£3.50/ about $5.51, set of 3) 19. Lowercase Scarf ($58. Also available in Uppercase, Numbers, & Helvetica) 20. 2b Or Not 2b Pouch ($20) 21. Egar Allen Poe Art Doll ($120) 22. Bookworm Plush ($6.99) 23. Ring hand carved from a book ($17) 24. Bookworm Statement Socks ($10.99) 25. Novel Tea ($12.50/box or $2.50/pouch) 26. Furst Edition Sweatshirt ($50) 27. Hanging Book Rack ($210 fullsize, $110 MINI. All available in different finishes)
Dark and Stormy Nights is an anthology of 9 urban fantasy stories with the theme of "knights" who do some questionable things for the right reasons. So basically urban fantasy heroes doing what they usually do, which is work in the grey area. I liked that the theme is so wide open, and that the anthology had a bunch of authors I have read and liked. Here's a breakdown of what we get, followed by my brief (non-spoiler) impressions of each:
- A Questionable Client by Ilona Andrews (also found in a 2-novella ebook here)
- Even Hand by Jim Butcher
- The Beacon by Shannon K. Butcher
- Even a Rabbit Will Bite by Rachel Caine
- Dark Lady by P.N. Elrod
- Beknighted by Deidre Knight
- Shifting Star by Vicki Pettersson
- Rookwood & Mrs. King by Lilith Saintcrow
- God's Creatures by Carrie Vaughn
A Questionable Client by Ilona Andrews - Kate Daniels, a member of the Atlanta Mercenary Guild is offered a bodyguard job when two of her peers back out. This is a prequel the Kate Daniels series, which means it doesn't require you to know anything, but fans of that series will enjoy learning the back story on how Kate met Saiman, a minor but unique character. I always understood that Saiman creeped Kate out from the beginning, and why that is is explained here. Lives up to what I expect from Ilona Andrews, currently my favorite writing duo. Link to an excerpt
Even Hand by Jim Butcher - A powerful man agrees to protect a woman and child against a supernatural pursuer. This is set in the Harry Dresden universe, except the narrator is John Marcone. I haven't read any of the Harry Dresden books, but I gather this narrator is not Dresden's ally. He's not a good guy, but he does have his own set of rules, and it was refreshing to hear a story from a character on the other side and who is sharp in a scary way. This was another strong story in the anthology and really hit the sweet spot in character development - I just loved the ambiguity in this one.
The Beacon by Shannon K. Butcher - This is a story about a weary hunter named Ryder Ward who kills Beacons - people who (through no fault of their own) attract monsters called Terraphages into our world from another dimension. The latest Beacon is a young girl with a single mother and Ryder feels wretched about his choices. This sounds like an original story though the Terraphages sound like the Synestryn of Butcher's Sentinel Wars series. Although Shannon K. Butcher is known for her paranormal romance, this didn't go there (although it did feel like there was the set up for it). There was something about these characters that I didn't warm to - I think they just felt very standard issue: single mother in a small town, adorable child, tortured hunter, but I felt like there was a spark for something more there if this was a longer story.
Even a Rabbit Will Bite by Rachel Caine - This is another story that didn't feel set in a bigger universe, but I really enjoyed the world building which was nice and comprehensive in such a small space. It's about Lisel, a centuries-old woman warrior who has managed to survive and become the last living Dragonslayer, and she's just been informed that her successor has been chosen (by the pope, as these things are). A young girl knocks on her door the next day. I loved this one for the characterization and dialogue. The grumpy old-school Dragonslayer ("Get your ass inside") viewing the new guard with exasperation ("glowing with youth and vitality and health and a smart-ass attitude") but having to train her anyway and maybe gets proved wrong was a fun concept. One of my favorites.
Dark Lady by P.N. Elrod - The Internet tells me that Dark Lady is part of the Vampire Files universe because its narrator, Jack Fleming is the star of that series. This didn't bother me, all I needed to know was that Jack was a vampire, owns a nightclub, and on occasion helps out people, and this was explained in the first three sentences. This was a very noir-style story with a damsel in distress, a mob boss, missing money, and thugs galore, set in 1930's Chicago. What I liked about this one was that there were surprises and a puzzle which is unexpected for the story length. Link to an excerpt
Beknighted by Deidre Knight - An artist named Anna gains a patron in order to pay for "living gold" which she needs to unlock a man from another world through her artwork, but there's something that makes Anna question her patron's motives for backing the project. This was another story that had more of a paranormal romance tint to the writing than an urban fantasy one. I found the concept of the living gold, Artist Guild and patrons in the context of artists actually "unlocking" things within their paintings interesting in theory, but the execution was confusing. It could be a reading comprehension fail on my part, but I just had trouble connecting some of the dots.
Shifting Star by Vicki Pettersson - Skamar is a woman made flesh by the focus of her creator, and her job is to protect a certain teen girl. This means investigating the abductions of girls around her age, working with a human, and dealing with human emotions. This is just as gritty and violent and a little bit heart rending as the rest of the Signs of the Zodiac series, and it focuses on side characters, but I think it would be a little difficult to follow the concept of the Zodiac, tulpas, and who Zoe Archer is unless you've read other books in this world. One of the darker stories in this collection.
Rookwood & Mrs. King by Lilith Saintcrow - A suburban wife comes to Rookwood, asking him to kill her husband, who is already dead. This is another short story of the pulpy vampire detective variety, except a more modern-day version and a damsel in distress who is a lot faster on the uptake than she might be given credit for. I liked the plot of this one, but I wish the story would have been from Mrs. King's point of view instead of focusing on Rookwood's interpretation of events.
God's Creatures by Carrie Vaughn - Cormac is called to deal with a killer that has gutted some cattle. It is clearly a werewolf losing the battle against bloodlust, and it won't be long before it moves to human prey. This is another story set in a bigger universe (Kitty Norville), but Cormac is a secondary character and on a side trip so you don't need to have knowledge of the series to understand what is going on here. The concept of hunting a werewolf was straightforward, but God's Creatures adds a human element and ambiguity to the whole enterprise that I liked. Link to an excerpt
Overall: As urban fantasy anthologies go, this is probably one of the strongest ones I've read. The reason for that is there seemed to be a concerted effort (for the most part) not to lose the reader with world building details they wouldn't know. I think we've all read stories set in a world related to an author's series and been lost before. It seemed like most of these were written from the point of view of a side character, or set the story before their series begins, or are original stories not related to some bigger world. This made things more accessible, which was refreshing to see. Also keeping things cohesive: no romance and stories that all kept with a theme of doing deeds for the "greater good" that don't always leave our heroes looking entirely pure. A very solid lineup.
Buy: Amazon | Powell's | The Book Depository
Temporary worlds book reviews - "although there are a few stories that didn't work for me, I feel as if the good content outweighs the bad in this anthology"
Calicoreaction - Worth the Cash: "On the whole, it's a very solid anthology with stories that stand on their own two feet even if they're set in established universes"
The Premise: Elisabeth Page is the pastry chef for a fancy restaurant in L.A. Her five-year plan was to one day open her own patisserie, but after the five years come and go, and then another five, Elisabeth wonders if that will ever happen. With a father who is world renowned novelist Ben Page, and a brother who is a publishing wunderkind, Elisabeth feels the pressure of unfulfilled expectations of her intellectual family. Her romantic life is no better than her professional one. Her relationship with Will, childhood-friend turned world-traveling journalist consists of a few nights of passion when Will breezes into town, then months of separation while Will is following a story. Then Daniel Sullivan wins the basket of pastries and private baking classes that Elisabeth donated to one of her mother's charity events, and Elisabeth's career begins to go in an unexpected direction. Can Elisabeth let go of her own expectations and try something different?
My Thoughts: I had to think a little bit to put Seeing Me Naked into a category. Even though this story has an obvious romantic arc, Seeing Me Naked is a lot more focused on Elisabeth and her personal growth than it is on the relationship to be a strict Romance. It does focus on a single woman and her career and relationship with her family but it isn't quite lighthearted enough to be put into chick lit (although there is some humor in it). I think the closest term might be "women's fiction", but that feels like it could be too big of an umbrella term. Really, this gave off the vibe of a mix between a literary novel and chick lit.
At first Elisabeth's life was rather bland and lonely. She lives alone in an apartment close to work, follows a set routine every day, and doesn't really socialize. Her life revolves around her stressful job making desserts at a high end L.A. restaurant with a tyrant for a boss. When she goes home to see her parents in wealthy Montecito, the dynamics there are similarly overshadowed by her father, a literary giant with a matching ego. While her high society mother (heiress to the Foster Family Fortune) is supportive of her children, Ben Page is a tougher, more critical parent. Dinner is a battle of wits and intellect with the great Ben Page presiding. As for her relationship with childhood friend Will, Elisabeth hardly sees him and is tired of them leading separate lives.
As we say our goodbyes in the foyer, I look around at all that defines me. The rubric for success in my family has always been about legacy--what imprint will you make on this world. I have tired to live by these standards all my life. Measuring success and love by the teaspoon, always falling short, the goal constantly out of reach. My five-year plan has become an unending road to nowhere, both professionally and personally.
Despite all this, Elisabeth wasn't actively trying to change her life. Instead she continued on while the stress made her stomach hurt. Elisabeth struck me as a steady type of character with a quiet creativity, a love of food, and gently sarcastic voice. But I was worried about a certain amount of ingrained judgementality she had. Maybe judgementality isn't the right word -- it was just that she seemed to have a self-imposed set of restrictions on herself and was trying to adhere to what she thought were her family's unspoken expectations. For example, it felt like there was an assumption of who she should be and who she should be with. Any relationship outside these parameters is assumed to be temporary, like all of her brother Rascal's "giant lollipop head" girlfriends. When regular guy Daniel enters the picture, he seemed to me like the most honest person in her life, but I wasn't sure that SHE saw that. I think that this first impression could turn some readers off. I'm thankful that the back blurb of this book hints that the story is about Elisabeth having "the guts to let others see her naked...and let them love her, warts and all" because that made me trust that this story would go to a better place. That, and the setting of the story which kept me interested by giving me fascinating glimpses into a life that's set in L.A. and revolves around food.
Seeing Me Naked takes its sweet time, but there is satisfaction in reading Seeing Me Naked all the way to the end. It's enjoyable to sit back while the nature of the characters is revealed organically, their dialogue and actions and Elisabeth's own reactions to them deftly sculpting clear personalities. And then there's Elisabeth's own character. She doesn't actively seek change, but Elisabeth is smart enough not to fight it when a good things fall onto her lap. And the best part is she works to keep these good things. If you can handle Elisabeth in her rut, you will be rewarded by a very cathartic last few pages. Where things ultimately go left me quite content.
Overall: I enjoyed this one but I can understand why this is an under-the-radar book. It's not quite literary fiction, not quite chicklit, and not just about self-discovery, but it has elements of all three, so it falls in a difficult to categorize place which can mean you're unsure as a reader what you're going to get. Also, the story doesn't start in the best point of Elisabeth's life and rolls forward quietly, without much fanfare -- so the reward of reading isn't immediate. It's much later in the story that the big gestures happen, so you have to be OK with waiting and watching characters grow, enjoying the way the writing builds the story layer by layer, experiencing food and L.A. through Elisabeth's eyes and trusting that things will get good. They do though.
Buy: Amazon | Powell's | The Book Depository
Chachic's Book Nook - "I didn’t expect to get emotional over Seeing Me Naked but I’m glad that it surprised me."
Angieville - "The characters are complex and carefully rendered. There is no black and white in the intricate web of family relationships they navigate."
The Book Harbinger - " wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Seeing Me Naked to casual and seasoned readers who like complex, multivalent chick lit."
1) There is a cool kickstarter campaign going on (6 days left to back it) for a calendar featuring authors in custom fantasy costumes. The photographer has secured a lot of famous names (Brandon Mull, Christopher Paolini, Gregory Maguire, Brandon Sanderson, Tad Williams, Patrick Rothfuss, Cassandra Clare, Holly Black, Lauren Kate, Lauren Oliver, Maggie Stiefvater, Gail Carriger, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff) for the calendar and needs funds for travel and special props. What the kickstarter page doesn't say is that the calendar will raise money for First Book and Patrick Rothfuss' Worldbuilders. There are a lot of cool gifts for pledging, including signed postcards from the authors of your choice.
2) Con or Bust has auctions on its website for a lot of cool stuff to raise funds to send fans of color to SFF cons. So many books and signed items, but there's also one-of-a-kind handmade items up for auction too. Hurry, looks like the auctions end on Sunday.
The Premise: Every psychic Blue Sargent has ever gone to tells her the same thing: if she kisses her true love, he will die. Other people might dismiss such claims, but Blue lives in a house with her mother Maura and a group of women who are in the business of telling fortunes, and she knows how accurate their readings can be. Blue's fate has hung over her head for much of her life, but when her aunt Neeve joins the household, she gives Blue a timeline. This is the year that Blue is going to fall in love.
If that isn't a grave enough portent for the year, Blue also sees the spirit of a boy during St. Mark's Eve, when the soon-to-dead march through the grounds of an abandoned church. The boy whispers that his name is Gansey. Blue has no psychic powers of her own (she only magnifies what others see), so seeing Gansey has one of two meanings: either she is responsible for his death, or he is her true love.
In the meantime, Richard "Dick" Campbell Gansey, III (Gansey to his friends) attends the nearby Aglionby Academy. Outwardly he has the ease and confidence of the rich and privileged and he leads a gaggle of Aglionby misfits: Adam, Ronan, and Noah. But inwardly, Gansey is more than he appears. He's a finder of lost things, and he's searching for something in particular, something ancient and magical: Glendower, a sleeping king who will grant a boon to whomever wakes him.
Read an excerpt of The Raven Boys here (pdf)
“I should tell you,” Maura always advised her new clients, “that this reading will be accurate, but not specific.”
It was easier that way.
But this was not what Blue was told. Again and again, she had her fingers spread wide, her palm examined, her cards plucked from velvet-edged decks and spread across the fuzz of a family friend’s living room carpet. Thumbs were pressed to the mystical, invisible third eye that was said to lie between everyone’s eyebrows. Runes were cast and dreams interpreted, tea leaves scrutinized and séances conducted.
All the women came to the same conclusion, blunt and inexplicably specific. What they all agreed on, in many different clairvoyant languages, was this:
If Blue was to kiss her true love, he would die.
The Raven Boys begins with a sense of anticipation. The first chapters follow Blue and Gansey separately, but because of fate, Blue's curse, and St. Mark's Eve, the reader knows these two characters are meant to cross paths. Blue sees a boy's spirit whispering the name Gansey, and sitting on a ley line on the other side of town, Gansey picks up the very same conversation on his recorder. Obviously Blue and Gansey are part of a bigger mystery, a mystery that they can only see the edges of from different angles.
Blue was born into the strangeness in Henrietta. She is working class and lives surrounded by women who tell fortunes and are well aware of the ley lines that make her town special. Gansey couldn't be more different. He was born into privilege and has never experienced life without the ease that money brings to it. Despite this, he leads a pack of misfit boys at Algionby academy and has an obsession with mystic phenomena and a king named Glendower. In spite of their differences, Blue and Gansey's lives hold some parallels. Mystery swirls around them and they share their lives with people that hold secrets. While Blue lives with her mother and older women named Calla, Persephone, and Orla (in a set-up that doesn't seem to be unlike what I imagine a coven to be like), Gansey lives in the husk of an old factory with a couple of boys that don't fit anywhere else. Her mother and her surrogate aunts warn Blue about kissing boys and avoid discussing Blue's absent father. Gansey is is leader and support for his friends but there's a line he can't cross that keeps Noah elusive, Ronan surly, and Adam defensive.
I liked the way things were set up in this story: Blue's world about to collide with Gansey's. Wondering what would happen when these two finally meet had me turning the pages eagerly. Unfortunately, somewhere after the initial set up and the actual crossing of paths, something happened. I never felt fully captured by the story in the way I wanted. It took me a long time to parse out what happened there. My reaction was frustratingly in the middle-of-the-road, and I couldn't help comparing it to my fellow YAckers who mostly loved the book. I know that reading is a personal experience, subject to mood and a myriad other factors, but while I knew what I liked, I couldn't pinpoint what kept me from wholeheartedly loving The Raven Boys.
Cut to over a month later, some angst over separating my reading experience from the end of a stressful year, a reread of The Raven Boys, more angst, and I think I have a better idea of what my problem was. Technically, this should have been a winner: the writing is engaging and of good quality; there's a mishmash of eccentric characters; and the main story centers on mysteries that reveal themselves in slow degrees. Individually each character had his or her own fascinating back story. But for me, some of these strengths also translated into weaknesses. Everyone had some personal albatross: Blue with her curse and her unknown father; Gansey and his obsession for which there is no explanation; Ronan's father's death and his subsequent broodiness; Adam with his poverty, pride, and miserable home-life. Even Noah, who is practically a non-entity at the start of the book turns out to be more than meets the eye. On top of that, the antagonist of this story has his crosses to bear. My problem was with so many complex/tragic/secret back stories, the focus felt fragmented. Blue and Gansey took the spotlight the most, but I felt like I was focusing on the other characters through them instead of focusing on them. I'm all for characters having depth, but when there's a mystery or tragedy to everyone, it felt like too much to me. You could argue it all links back to the phenomena surrounding Henrietta, but (for me) it created an imbalance. Every issue I had stemmed from this central one. The pacing in the first 150 to 200 pages feels meandering, and the narration hops between characters for some time before something vaguely plot-like appears. I think Gansey and Blue were the protagonists of this story, but I question if that assumption is correct. Then when the pace picks up and the story gathers focus, I felt like certain things like Blue's acceptance into Gansey's group didn't get the attention I wanted. It took me longer than necessary to finish The Raven Boys because I felt adrift.
On the other hand - did I like these characters? Did I want to know what was happening to them? I did. The characters that I loved most are the ones where veil is pulled back a little more in the narration. When that happened, oohh, that's when I adored this book. That's why I think I have more of a soft spot for Blue, Gansey, and Adam than the rest of this group. We're shown Blue's prickliness towards the raven boys, and Adam's self-consciousness about being poor, and Gansey's good intentions that never seem to go right when he deals with either of them. I was half-irritated with Adam's pride until I came to a realization that his parents failed him when they instilled an us-versus-them mentality in him (which really covers their sins and did Adam no favors), and I was kind of blown away by that epiphany. And then there's this sweet fledgling maybe between Adam and Blue. It made me hope, but also fear a little, because thrown into the mix is Blue's curse that points at Gansey. Everything in this story is so fragile and so breakable, and there is no certainty. I'd very much like to find out what happens next.
Overall: There were things I really liked about The Raven Boys and things I really didn't and they balanced each other out. If you are one who can sit back and enjoy a character-driven story with lovely prose and you don't need to know where it's all going, this will do quite well. I think that I needed more structure though. In the end I enjoyed the characters more than the plot. But now that the set up is done, I think I'll react better to the second book, so I'm planning to continue the series and I'm really looking forward to The Dream Thieves.
Buy: Amazon | Powell's | The Book Depository
Bunbury in the Stacks
Pirate Penguin Reads
Debbie's World of Books
The Book Nut
The Raven Boys website