The Tough Choices

Y’all. There are, like, a bajillion books out there. In fact, there are probably a solid bajillion books out there that I would really like to read, or that you would really like to read. So how do we choose which ones we actually do read? And – a question of particular interest to authors – how do we choose which ones we buy?

I got thinking about this because of author Delilah Dawson’s post about authors’ social media marketing techniques that don’t work. (She followed this with a post about ones that she feels do work, and various other people responded with posts of their own.) This made me wonder: how do people choose what books to actually purchase?

I admit it: these days, I don’t buy a lot of books for myself personally. My budget’s tight, and also I work for a library system that can get me anything I want in a couple of days flat. (I’m so spoiled. How will I ever be able to leave? *clings to CLAMS system*) I do buy books for other people as presents. These are usually either books I’ve read and loved, books with massive buzz that sound like they’d fit the giftee perfectly, or sometimes books recommended by the employees of my local independent bookstore or by the lovely reference librarian at my own library.

However. Outside of all that, I still spend approximately $500 a month on YA books. That’s because I’m a Teen Services librarian for a very-well-funded public library. So I thought my rationale for that buying might be of some interest.

First of all, I read a LOT of YA book review sites and blogs. Probably my favorites are Forever Young Adult, Diversity in YA, and the periodic diverse book lists posted by author Malinda Lo. I also use No Flying No Tights, among other sites, for graphic novels. When I’m not sure whether to order a book or not, I sometimes check out its reviews on Goodreads, though I know to take most individual reviews there with a grain of salt.

A big part of the library buying is basic rather than discretionary. That is, demand dictates that I MUST buy these things before buying stuff that just sounds neat. Is there a new Sarah Dessen coming out? A new John Green? Something with Maggie Stiefvater’s or Cassandra Clare’s name on it? A new Raina Telgemeier graphic novel? And then there are series to keep up-to-date.

You know you want some of this. Let’s be real: we all want some of this.

My library is part of CLAMS, a system with about three dozen libraries which, as I mention above, can do quick and easy interlibrary loans. This means that every library will not collect every series, even if they’re popular. For example, my library doesn’t carry the Pretty Little Liars series by Sara Shepard, because there are fifteen of them (not counting prequels, sidequels, whatever) and our patrons can easily order them from another library. But we do carry The Lying Game series by Sara Shepard, while some other libraries in CLAMS don’t. This leads some libraries to unofficially specialize in certain types of books. Mine, for example, has a lot of superhero graphic novels in the YA collection, and a pretty decent YA audiobook selection. But there are lots of popular things we don’t have, like all fifty million volumes of Naruto. Another library has those. We cover the gaps in each other’s collections. (Though, of course, we all have, say, The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, because NOT OPTIONAL.)

On the other hand, my library is located in a summer resort town. We make it easy for vacationers to get library cards and check out materials. This means that we don’t want to rely too hard on other libraries having popular books, because in summer, we’ll get lots of people who want to pick something up that day, making interlibrary loan unhelpful. So we have to balance that.

To make sure I don’t miss a big upcoming book release, I regularly go through the long long list of all the YA books that will become available via our ordering system, Ingram, in the next few months or year. That is a LOT of books. Ingram is fairly thorough in terms of what books are included, but it doesn’t give much of a summary of each book, so I turn again to book review sites.

I order each year’s Printz winner, and usually the honor books, too, if we don’t already have them. And I tend to buy books that aren’t in CLAMS if patrons request them (recent examples include the Horatio Lyle series by Catherine Webb).

If there seems to be a gap in our nonfiction collection, I’ll look for books on that topic specifically. I order anything that looks half-decent if it has Minecraft in the title, and same with guides to drawing manga. My library is also the only one in CLAMS with an up-to-date collection of Dungeons & Dragons manuals, which are very popular.

After I’ve ordered what I think our patrons will demand, then I get to pick lesser-known books that look high-quality and/or fun and/or important. (When I say “important,” I usually mean books that feature underrepresented views or situations.) While patron demand requires me to order every new Ally Carter book, my own knowledge of their greatness requires me to order every new Sara Farizan book. (Not dissing Ally Carter. Just saying she’s popular like whoa.) Ditto Brandon Sanderson’s YA books, A.S. King, Lamar Giles, and oodles more.


If you haven’t yet crammed every word of this book eagerly into your brain, then you are not living your best life.

I discovered A.S. King through recommendations on the Young Adult Library Services listserv. I heard about Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson from a coworker. I heard Sara Farizan interviewed about If You Could Be Mine on NPR. I discovered Brandy Colbert through a review of Pointe on Forever Young Adult, and now consider her books must-haves for the collection. (Is that new one ready yeeeet?) Honestly, if a book gets a great review on Forever Young Adult and no one else in CLAMS has it, I’ll order it on the spot.

So I guess in this instance, Delilah Dawson is right: Twitter and Facebook are not motivating me to buy books for the library. They don’t hurt, but it’s mostly reviews from people I respect and word-of-mouth that makes me order a book when I don’t already know it will be wildly popular with our patrons.

What makes you buy a book, or how do you learn about books you then go on to buy?

Happy New Year!

Hope 2015 has been good to you so far!

Writing-wise, I’m in limbo at the moment. The laptop I write on died in December. I knew it was coming – the poor thing had been limping along for awhile – but there’s never a great time for a computer to fail, is there? Anyway, I bought a new laptop, but the little local Mac store didn’t have it in stock and had to order it. It hasn’t arrived yet. I do have my old, faltering fallback laptop for Internet access, but it does not contain up-to-date versions of my writing files. The new one will have all that transferred over from the zombified remains of my dead laptop. Can’t wait!

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking about New Year’s resolutions. Last year, I made a list of fifteen books to read I felt I ought to have read sooner. (Fifteen isn’t a lot for me – according to Goodreads, I read 154 books in 2014. But I do regularly read and review graphic novels for No Flying No Tights, not to mention oodles of other books.) I enjoyed this, and I’ve thought about repeating it in 2015.

The main obstacle, of course, is that while 2014’s list included books I’d guiltily avoided or missed for many years (The Giver, Ender’s Game), there aren’t a lot of those left now. There are still many contemporary books I feel I ought to read. These include influential books I might not pick up without a list to make me do it, generally because they’re sad (If I Stay and Thirteen Reasons Why, I’m looking at you). And there are authors I think I should read (Ellen Hopkins, Chris Crutcher) or read more of (Laurie Halse Anderson, John Green).

Note: When I say I “should” read something, that doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t expect to enjoy it. I loved many of the books on my 2014 Shame Unreads list, when I finally got around to them.

None of the above, however, seem like things I want to make a point of reading this year. You know what does? Diverse books.

By “diverse books,” I mean books written by and/or about people of color, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, and generally anyone who isn’t already widely represented in the world of books and authors. I’m a big fan of the We Need Diverse Books campaign. I already read diverse books, and when I encounter a good one, I push it in everyone’s face. (I love being a librarian.) A few of my favorites in 2014 were:

  • Amulet graphic novel series by Kazu Kibuishi – Gorgeous and exciting!
  • House of Purple Cedar by Tim Tingle – Check it out, I CAN read adult books!
  • If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth – Fun yet touching realistic YA.
  • Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine – I love me some retold classics.
  • Pointe by Brandy Colbert – Thrillery and well-written.
  • The Selection series by Kiera Cass – Fluffy and fun.

In 2015, I intend to read a lot more than fifteen diverse books, and there are many that I would read whether or not I stuck them on a list and guilted myself into it. However, I want not just to read diverse books, but to be loud about reading them! Talk about them! Promote the good ones! Overuse exclamation points! And to that end, my Diverse Books Reading List for 2015!

I might read these in any old order, so I’ll just list them alphabetically. With each one, I’ll include the factor(s) making it a diverse book.

  1. 100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith – protagonist has epilepsy – This author is supposed to be great, and I haven’t read anything of his yet.
  2. A La Carte by Tanita S. Davis – author and protagonist are African-American – The main character wants to become a famous vegetarian chef? I’m in.
  3. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz – author and both protagonists are Chicano, and protagonists are both queer – I’ve heard this is a fantastic, beautiful book.
  4. Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier – author and protagonist are Indian-American – A modern classic that I somehow missed.
  5. Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang – author is Chinese-American; the books are set in China and feature Chinese characters – Technically, this is two graphic novels, but they’re a set, so I’m counting ’em as one. I’ve heard great things.
  6. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson – author (and protagonist, as this is a memoir) is African-American – National Book Award winner, and it’s supposed to be awesome!
  7. The Chaos by Nalo Hopkinson – author is Jamaican; protagonist is mixed-race – A post-apocalyptic novel featuring a PoC! And also volcanoes!
  8. The Girl From the Well by Rin Chupeco – author is Filipina; protagonist is Japanese – I started reading this on a borrowed e-reader and didn’t get to finish it, but it’s creepy, well-written horror with cool Japanese mythology-type elements
  9. Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky – protagonist is transgender – I’m thrilled when I see middle-grade books featuring LGBTQ people, as there’s a frustrating assumption by some that LGBTQ people themselves are somehow PG-13 content. Plus, I read the first page of this when it came across my desk at one point, and I didn’t want to put it down!
  10. How I Became a Ghost by Tim Tingle – author and protagonist are Choctaw – I liked Tingle’s book House of Purple Cedar, so I look forward to trying this one.
  11. How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon – author and, from what I can tell, most of the characters are African-American – Highly topical, and I’ve heard it’s well-written.
  12. I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson – one of the two protagonists is gay – Supposed to be an excellent book.
  13. Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper – author and (I think) protagonist are African-American; protagonist has cerebral palsy – From what I’ve heard, this is a beautiful and important book. Also, have I really not read anything by Sharon Draper? Time to change that!
  14. Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan – author and protagonist are both Iranian-American lesbians – I liked If You Could Be Mine, and this one sounds good, too.
  15. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin – protagonist is a person of color – HOW HAVE I NOT READ THIS. Alternate-world fantasy is my jam! And PoC protagonists in alternate world fantasy are tragically rare! And this is supposed to be a great book!

Boy, I had trouble narrowing this down to fifteen! Do you have any reading resolutions for 2015?

Shame Vanquished!

You may recall me deciding, back in January, that this year I would read a bunch of the books I was embarrassed not to have read already. I made a list of fifteen “shame unreads” to cross off this year. Most are classic or new-but-wildly-popular YA or middle-grade books. I posted an update in May, at which point I had read six of the books.

Well, as of this afternoon, I have finished the list! Nic: 15, Shame: 0! Huzzah!

First, let’s see what I thought of Books 7 through 15.

matchedMatched by Ally Condie
Reaction: A little unimpressed, honestly. I’m glad I read it, because the trilogy is super-popular with teens, but I found the world and characters a bit bland.
I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: Just hadn’t gotten around to it.

sabrielpbSabriel by Garth Nix
Reaction: YES. THIS. Why had I not read this already? This book was lyrical, exciting, well-thought-out, even funny.
I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: I have no idea. Maybe I was afraid it wouldn’t live up to my expectations? I’d heard a lot of good stuff, and I’m already a fan of Garth Nix.

the giver The Giver by Lois Lowry
Reaction: Impressed. I’ve heard people insinuate that Matched ripped off The Giver, and I can see that angle, though Matched is different in that it focuses on romance. The Giver has spare, strong writing and an interesting concept. Not a big fan of the ending, though.
I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: I saw it as a “school assignment” book. I’d never been assigned it, but knew lots of people who had. Also, I feared Newbery Award books as having dead dogs and no dragons.

ender's game Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Reaction: I see why so many people are into this book. It’s fascinating and exciting. I believe the twist had been spoiled for me at some point, but honestly, I’m not actually sure to what extent I’d been spoiled versus to what extent I was just able to guess the twist. It didn’t surprise me much. Still, cool book.
I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: Mostly superficial reasons – it’s an older book, and most of the covers are terrible. Plus, I’m not usually a sci-fi person. And I’m totally skeeved by what I’ve heard about Card’s views on homosexuality. But the book is important enough to enough people that I felt I ought to read it.

hugo cabret The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
Reaction: Beautiful, touching book. I like the historical tie-in. I also like that the copy I read was a beautiful object in itself – not just illustrated, but printed on heavy paper and giving every impression of quality.
I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: Just hadn’t gotten around to it.

When_you_reach_me When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Reaction: Whoooah, trippy! I like a time-travel story that’s well-planned. Plus, the quirky story and poignant character development makes for good reading all on its own.
I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: Again, just hadn’t gotten around to it.

Daughter-of-Smoke-and-Bone-Book-Cover Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Reaction: Beautifully written. I like the characters, the world, and the plotting. It’s a quadruple-threat!
I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: I thought it might be just another paranormal romance, a genre in which I’ve had poor luck finding books I like, though I do keep trying.

ruins of gorlan The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan
Reaction: Underwhelmed. I found the writing uninspired, the plot cliché, and the glaring near-absence of female characters unnerving. Had to force myself to finish it.
I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: Honestly, based on its plot description and its massive following, I’d been nervous I would really like it, and would then find myself caught up in the Ranger’s Apprentice series, which is at least twelve books long, not counting spin-offs.

The_Knife_of_Never_Letting_Go_by_Patrick_Ness The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Reaction: WOW. This blew me away. It should be called The Book of Never Letting Go, because I couldn’t put it down. The thing’s close to five hundred pages long, but I zoomed through it. Touching, scary, smart, sad, action-packed . . . this book is amazing.
I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: I’d heard it was intense. Which is a phenomenally accurate description. I’d also heard about one sad thing that happens. It happened, and it was sad. But the book was still fantastic.

Whew! Finished reading those just in time, didn’t I?

My favorites: Sabriel, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, The Knife of Never Letting Go. All of these have me psyched to come back for more. I’ll definitely be continuing with these three series.

I’m not sure whether I’ll do a similar list next year. After all, I’ve now read many of the books I’d been embarrassed not to have read (*coughEnder’sGamecoughTheGivercough*). I’m thinking that maybe next year I’ll do a Diversity Read. Of course, I want to be reading diverse books every year, but maybe making a big point out of it one year would help me cement the habit. What do you think?

Your Last-Minute YA Book Holiday Gift Guide

Holiday season is here, ready or not! And in case you’re not ready, and your state of unreadiness involves indecision over what to get someone as a gift, and that person reads YA books, your friendly neighborhood Teen Services Librarian is here to help! I have personally read all of these in the past year, and recommend them all whole-heartedly.

(Course, you could always buy these books for yourself, too. You deserve it. Yeah, yeah you do.)





For the fan of drama, darkness, and stories of healing: Pointe by Brandy Colbert. Theo is a mega-talented ballet dancer. She’s also recovering from anorexia. Then her best friend, Donovan, who was kidnapped four years ago, is found, and his kidnapper caught. That’s when Theo discovers that she knew Donovan’s kidnapper. What she could say in court might make all the difference, both to the case and to Donovan and Theo’s lives.

of metal and wishes





For the fan of smart, atmospheric reboots of classics: Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine. It’s Phantom of the Opera, but in a reimagined industrial Asia. Instead of an operahouse, it’s set in a slaughterhouse. Grim yet beautiful, and you’ll root for capable and empathetic protagonist Wen.






For the fan of rapid-fire action and stuff that makes you go “coooool!”: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson. A strange new star appears in the sky, and suddenly people are developing superpowers – and turning evil. These superpowered “Epics” quickly come to control the world. The Reckoners are a group of humans with the mission of assassinating Epics. David wants to join the group to avenge his father, but it’s not easy to get in. Good thing he has a bargaining chip – he might hold the secret to taking down one of the most powerful Epics in the world.

the living





For the fan of nail-biting disaster stories: The Living by Matt de la Peña. Shy is spending his summer working on a cruise ship, making a little money and goofing off with his friends on the crew. Then a massive earthquake strikes. Their training didn’t prepare Shy and friends to deal with tsunamis hitting the ship. Or with what comes afterward.






For the fan of rollicking fantasy adventure: The Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi. Maybe a little more middle-grade than YA, but this gorgeous ongoing graphic novel series appeals to everyone. Seriously, everyone.

if you could be mine





For the fan of realism with an unusual viewpoint: If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan. In modern-day Iran, homosexuality is a crime, so girls in love, like Sahar and Nasrin, have to be careful. And they certainly can’t get married. But being transgender is not a crime – in fact, the government will help you get sex-reassignment surgery. Sahar is a girl, and she knows it. But if she could be a boy, then maybe Nasrin wouldn’t have to marry someone else. Maybe they could be together.


I’d also like to recommend this Holiday Shopping Guide by Diversity in YA. (They also sing the praises of The Living.)

Actually Nice Guys, or, Team Peeta Forever

Real talk, y’all: I am Team Peeta for life.

I have oodles of respect for the people who respond to the whole Peeta/Gale divide with “Team Katniss!” But though I admire and like Katniss herself, when I read the trilogy, I was desperate for her to get with Peeta. I so rarely get to watch a heroine – especially a YA heroine, double-especially one in a genre other than realistic fiction – choose to be with a guy like him. A guy who’s not macho or alpha, who doesn’t seem concerned with whether his strengths and weaknesses align with those that are commonly considered “masculine.” A guy who lets the girl be the strong one in ways in which girls rarely get to be the strong one.

(Yes, I’m assuming a guy-girl relationship here. Most of the couples I’ve read about are straight, and the whole issue becomes less pronounced, or at least different, with gay couples.)

Peeta is a communicator. He’s empathetic. He has oratory skills and baking skills (baking skills are key, guys). He’s not a fighter, and in the context of the Hunger Games, this puts him at a definite disadvantage. But Peeta isn’t useless, no matter how many times he falls down in the Catching Fire movie. He’s less equipped for the arena than Katniss, and he knows this, and it doesn’t bother him.

I don’t have anything against Gale, per se. I just find him uninteresting. That is to say, he interests me as much as any other character in the world Collins has created, which is a lot, because I like her writing, but to me, Gale is a lot like the romantic interests of SO MANY dystopias and paranormal romances. (I think the guys have more of a tendency to be alpha males in those genres because the worlds they’re in are so dangerous. Maybe some authors fear that their male leads will seem weak or worthless if they can’t defend themselves, let alone their girlfriends.) He has the fighting and survival skills. He smolders. When he sees something he wants, whether it’s to kiss Katniss or to Fight the Power, he throws himself at it, even if he’s sometimes unlikely to succeed and may jeopardize himself and others in the process. He’s a Man of Action.

My YA heroine gal pals have dated Gale a lot. Together, we’ve done some swooning over his heroics; I’ve done some eye-rolling over his aggressiveness. Not that he’s not ever fun, but frankly, he’s not my type.

Peeta, though! Peeta is a rare thing. He’s a well-spoken sweetheart who is just as heroically willing to sacrifice himself for Katniss, but who would do it in a way that’s based on cleverness, not facepunching. And he doesn’t feel threatened by Katniss being a badass, so you know he’s never going to pull a Riley Finn on her.

RileyFinn 1
Not pictured: a guy worth dating.

Not that sweetheart guys don’t appear in these books. It’s just that usually, they’re the losers in the inevitable love triangles. Happily, I have found a few other YA books with romances that feature guys who I find swoony a la Peeta. (I’m not going to list realistic fiction, because I find the romantic interests there to be more varied than the arrogant-and-dangerous-alpha-hottie so common in paranormal YA or the damaged-but-smexy-alpha-hottie so common in YA dystopias. I’ll just say that for realistic fiction with a romance, my go-to is Sarah Dessen.)

Anyway, examples!

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones – My favorite book of all time. Howl is arrogant and moody, but these things are more “comical flaw that Sophie can deal with” rather than “just part of his charm.” He’s also a self-described coward – but brave enough to go into danger when someone he cares about needs him. And he’s funny.

Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore – A big part of the reason I like this book and its sequel so much is the fact that it’s a paranormal romance in which the guy, Erris, isn’t ooooh, so dangerous. (Nor is his role to be the protector of the girl from other things that are ooooh, so dangerous.) He’s actually less of a rescuer-type than a rescuee. But he’s kind, and his emotions feel like a real person’s rather than like the facial expressions of Batman.

The Selection and sequels by Kiera Cass – Um, spoilers? As far as which guy America chooses in the love triangle? I was so happy to see her pick sweet Maxon over pushy Aspen.

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater – Sam is more an artsy type than a macho type. He’s got a traumatic past, but he has the optimism to still hope for a happily-ever-after.

Soul Enchilada by David Macinnis Gill – Romantic lead Pesto is earnest, caring, and accomplished in his area of expertise. Heroine Bug is more athletic and more aggressive than he is. The fact that this doesn’t bother him only adds to his charm.

If you have suggestions for books with this kind of romantic interest, I would LOVE to hear them! Otherwise, authors of the world: more, please?

Fun with Other People’s Characters

I’ve been doing fanart!

I’ve been writing, too, of course, and reading a lot. But fanart is great fun, so I thought I’d share a bit of that. I recently read and enjoyed a YA low-fantasy novel called Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine – a retelling of The Phantom of the Opera, but set in a factory complex in a reimagined industrial Asia. It’s pretty great, and I had to draw some of the characters. These are, from left to right, Melik, Wen (the protagonist), and Bo:

drawing of three characters

(Also on deviantART.)

I also drew Bo with a character from another YA fantasy I love, Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore. The character’s name is Erris, and in case the drawing isn’t clear, his body is made of clockwork under the shirt.

Bo and Erris have words

(Again, on deviantART.)

Nothing profound to say about any of this. I mean, I do find creating fanart to be inspiring to me as a writer, insomuch as it’s powerful to be reminded that people can create characters you care about so much that you want to play with them yourself, to spend more time with them and see them expanded. I’ve never written much fanfiction, but it’s the same concept.

Yay fanart!

Update on an Old Post

My writers’ group, a little local chapter of SCBWI, met today. Per usual, we had some good fun and batted around a few pieces of writing like kitty cats, only more concerned with character development and commas.

When we were talking about scene versus summary (the old “showing versus telling” business), I remembered that I once wrote a blog post on the topic. I had looked through a bunch of books, mostly YA and MG, and analyzed how much showing versus telling each one did in its first fifty pages. (I analyzed one book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, all the way through, and found that the numbers were similar to the numbers in the first fifty pages, so I decided that would be representative enough.)

I mentioned this blog post, and there was some interest from the group, especially in the pie charts I had made to show the scene-vs-summary breakdown of each book. When I went back just now to look at the post, though, I see that I have for some reason not included said pie charts! Happily, I still have all the work I did then, and I will post the pie charts now. Better late than never, right? And I do think they’re pretty neat.

First, a recap of how I defined the four categories that appear on the charts. From my earlier blog post:

“I’m dividing each book into four types of sections. I call them Scene, Scene* (“scene-star”), Summary, and Summary*. “Scene” means a section that takes place entirely in the moment – dialogue, a blow-by-blow description of action, even a character’s thoughts – basically, anything that isn’t summarized. “Summary,” conversely, is stuff that doesn’t tell you exactly what’s happening right now. I found the two most common uses to be description and to note time passing. “Scene*” is any section that, overall, is definitely in the moment, but includes a non-negligible element of summary – say, several sentences of description, or a introduction that describes time having passed. “Summary*” is any section mostly not grounded in the moment, but with a smattering of lines that are, often a brief exchange of dialogue. Generally speaking, “Scene” and “Summary” correspond to the “Show” and “Tell” of writing. Not every book has all four section types. Howl’s Moving Castle, for example, had no Scene* at all.”

Now, the pie charts!

First, because it’s the only one for which I looked at the whole book, let’s do Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

HP first 50 chart

HP chart

Next up: three books by my favorite author, Diana Wynne Jones. I analyzed Howl’s Moving Castle and Dark Lord of Derkholm and its sequel, Year of the Griffin.

HMC chart

Dark Lord chart

Year of chart

I also did the first two Twilight books by Stephanie Meyer.

Twilight chart

New Moon chart

Here’s the chart for a middle-grade fantasy I’d recently picked up, The Magickeepers: The Eternal Hourglass by Erica Kirov:

Magickeepers chart

For something a little different (but still fantasy, because yeah, okay, they kind of all are), Mort by Sir Terry Pratchett.

Mort chart

And finally, an adult (fantasy) book, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke.

JS and MN chart

Yay pie charts! Hope you find these interesting. Any thoughts on the results?

Shame Levels Falling!

Time for an update on my Shame Unreads List of 2014! Here are six books that I will never again have to sheepishly admit I haven’t read. The books are listed in the order in which I read them.

  1. TFioS
    The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
    Reaction: Quality! Though I may have sprained a tear duct.
    I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: I don’t like crying. I don’t know how I’m going to handle the movie.
  2. delirium
    Delirium by Lauren Oliver
    Reaction: Really drew me in. I’m especially impressed by how well Oliver made a premise that I feel is highly unlikely (a future world in which love is seen as a terrible disease and people get “cured” with dangerous procedures to prevent it) seem more plausible.
    I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: I just hadn’t gotten around to it.
  3. wild magic
    Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce
    Reaction: I like the world and all the cool, powerful women. Some of the writing just fell a little flat for me, though, especially in terms of emotional content. Would probably have loved it as a kid, but I found it hard to identify with the protagonist. Also, there are a lot (a LOT) of characters.
    I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: Somehow I missed out on Tamora Pierce as a kid/teen, when I think a lot of fantasy fans get into her. Maybe my library didn’t have her books? Dunno.
  4. disreputable
    The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
    Reaction: Holy Awesome and Accessible Feminism, Batmanwoman! Plus, this is a really smart and funny book.
    I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: I only heard of it fairly recently. It came very highly recommended, though, so I put it on the list.
  5. curious
    The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
    Reaction: Smart and entertaining, and also the kind of book that makes me feel like I might become a more empathetic person because I’ve read it.
    I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: As with Delirium, I just hadn’t gotten around to it. I was pretty sure it would be good, though.
  6. outsiders
    (That little image cuts off in a weird way, doesn’t it?)
    The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
    Reaction: I’m surprised by how much I liked this! It’s universal and heartfelt, and Ponyboy is easy to empathize with. He makes even his gang – some of whom, let’s face it, are kind of thugs, stealing and getting into fights for fun – seem sympathetic and decent.
    I Hadn’t Already Read It Because: I was never assigned to read it, and I saw it as the kind of book you read because you’re assigned to. Also, I was afraid it would rub me the wrong way, like The Catcher in the Rye did, but it didn’t. Maybe because Ponyboy is less jaded than Holden. I don’t know.

I’ll have to pick up my pace on these, since there are nine more in the list! It’ll be fine, though. The reason I haven’t made more headway is that I’ve been reading lots and lots of other books in between, which is also a pretty great use of my time. Books forever!

Here’s to a Shame-Free 2014!

. . . or at least, you know, low-shame. Let’s be realistic here.

Happy New Year! I’m all excited and energized about writerly things, and also about readery things. In particular, I am excited about the 2014 reading challenge I came up with. I’ve made a list of fifteen Books I’m Kind of Ashamed I Haven’t Read Already. And this year, I’m going to read them! Then I will NEVER AGAIN have to admit that I’m a Teen Services librarian who has read nothing by John Green. Or that, even though I suspect I’ll love it, I’ve never quite gotten around to Ender’s Game. Or look, my school never assigned The Giver, okay? I tried to keep it to books that I think I’ll actually enjoy. Different titles make the list for different reasons: it’s a classic, teens at my library devour it, I’ve heard a million times that it’s great, it’s something I’m obviously going to love and it’s absurd that I haven’t read it already.

It’s a pretty doable challenge, I think, and I’m psyched about it. My coworker Nori (of the book review blog Nori’s Closet) liked the idea, too, and ended up making her own list of embarrassing unreads to be finally read in 2014.

Want to see my list? (You know that’s a trick question on this blog, because you will always see the list.) Here, in alphabetical order but not necessarily reading order, are fifteen books that will soon no longer shame me with their unreadness!

  1. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
  2. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
  3. Delirium by Lauren Oliver
  4. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
  5. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  6. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (This was the first one to go. I just finished it! And might have sprained a tear duct. WHY, JOHN GREEN, WHY?)
  7. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  8. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
  9. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
  10. Matched by Ally Condie
  11. The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
  12. The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan
  13. Sabriel by Garth Nix (I loved his Keys to the Kingdom series)
  15. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Probability of crying while reading some of these books: high.
Probability of going, “Why didn’t I read this years ago?”: high.
Probability of being glad I read these books: skywriter high.

Anyone else want in? Or just want to share a book or two that you’re kind of embarrassed not to have read yet?

Oh, But Before That . . .

I just read a book that was billed as a companion to another book I’d read, but which turned out to be sort of a prequel. That is, it includes the origin of the villain who’s villainizing around in Book I’d Already Read.

(Just for the sake of simplicity, let’s go ahead and call the first book I read “Graceling by Kristin Cashore” and the prequel “Fire“. Purely random. But, you know, through pure random chance, there may be some major spoilers of those two books ahead. You know, it’s possible.)

So, in Graceling, we have Leck, an adult villain of misty origins. I was very interested to see that Fire included, as one of several antagonists, a character who became more and more clearly the child Leck. I was curious about his background, and also about how the book would handle the fact that Leck, despite being a terrible, murdery-type person, could not be killed off or otherwise permanently dealt with as one generally expects villains to be.

This made me think a lot about the potential and the limitations of prequels. I haven’t read a lot of them. My impression is that direct prequels, sharing many characters or important characters and plotlines, are fairly uncommon. That makes a lot of sense, given that the author would have written the original book with the intention of having its setup stand alone. Besides, as I mentioned above, a prequel means the challenge of writing a book with a satisfying conclusion that still leaves things open for the events of the following story.

Since I was thinking about this while reading this book we’re calling Fire, I thought I’d lay out a few things I noticed that seemed to make the whole prequel situation work pretty well in this instance.

  1. Graceling included a villain whose background was unexplained. This left a clear and significant way for the stories to be tied together. Bonus points for the fact that Leck in Graceling is missing an eye – a useful trait in a world where dangerous Gracelings like himself are identified by their mismatched eye colors – and that makes the reader of Fire keen to discover the story behind the injury.
  2. The books take place in different countries. The author didn’t have to worry about what a lot of the other characters in Graceling should be up to in Fire, because they didn’t appear.
  3. Leck is just one of several antagonists in Fire. Indeed, I think that the real villain of the story might be war. Because of this, it seems more important that Leck be rendered no longer a threat than that we get the satisfaction of a really personal, permanent comeuppance for him. It also might help that, creepy and horrible as he is, Leck is a kid in Fire, and many readers likely do not expect a child to be explicitly killed off, even if he is a villain.

Fire does a great job establishing how awful Leck is. He murders Fire’s best childhood friend – a major character whose death I didn’t see coming – and, oh yeah, also his own doting father. At the same time, as I said, Leck isn’t the Big Bad of Fire. His defeat is the almost-slightly-groanworthy classic non-death of falling into a chasm, which is basically the same as toppling over a cliff, and everyone knows that the cliffs of fictional landscapes are bizarrely non-deadly. Vis-a-vis cliff death, and maybe death in general, the informed reader’s mantra is, “Body, or it didn’t happen.” But in Fire, this is acceptable, because the defeat of Leck isn’t the point. In Graceling, killing Leck means they’ve won. (Though there’s a lot more plot to wrap up, what with romance and such.) In Fire, getting rid of Leck just means Fire is free to rejoin her friends and help bolster their forces against the coming war for their kingdom.

The takeaway here is, the less evil or the less important a villain is, the less is expected – required – to happen to him. (Remember Voldemort being completely destroyed while Draco doesn’t even get locked up?)

Reaching a satisfying conclusion in a prequel does involve special challenges when that prequel includes the same villain as the next (previous?) book. To look at some possible routes authors can take, we return to Listland, because I love it there.

  • Show the villain just starting out in the prequel, and don’t make her bad enough or central enough to require that she get comeuppance in that book in order for readers to be satisfied. You could do this by not making her villainous at all – picture Harvey Dent appearing in Batman Begins, if that were a prequel to The Dark Knight rather than being made first. Or you can be hardcore like Fire and make the villain really bad, but not the Big Bad.
  • End with the villain locked up, exiled, etc. This is a great way out if your baddie is not yet bad enough to clearly merit being offed by a hero. Prisons can always be escaped, and incarceration can be an interesting element in your baddie’s backstory.
  • Do the fake death, like Fire does. I would not recommend this if your villain actually is the Big Bad of the prequel. You should know up front that many readers are not going to believe in the death unless they see it. Even if they do believe it, they may resent that the story’s villain didn’t get a worthy, dramatic death scene – which is going to be hard to pull off if the character isn’t really dead.

There are plenty of other options. If your original book allows it, I think it would be very cool to end a prequel with a minor villain who seems reformed but who, as is seen in the following book, was actually just biding her time and scheming, waiting to become a major villain.

What prequels have you read, and how do they tie into the stories they precede?

And, in unrelated linksys, I like Pixar’s rules of storytelling, especially number nine, which I hadn’t thought of before.