Monday, December 31, 2007

Wordcandy's Year in Books: 2007 Edition

Hey, everybody! We are delighted to present our annual list of the top ten Wordcandy-approved book releases, rumors, and events of the past year. We really enjoyed this stuff, and we hope you did, too.

10. From the elegant new edition of Strunk and White's Elements of Style to the lovely Annotated Secret Garden, 2007 was a great year for beautifully-designed reprints of classic novels. We were particularly impressed by Penguin's edition of The Three Musketeers.

9. As longtime Buffy the Vampire Slayer devotees, we were totally stoked when Joss Whedon announced that he would be continuing his story in comic book format. We've been a little underwhelmed by the artwork for this series, but the storylines are great.

8. 2007 was full of solid film adaptations. We haven't had a chance to see the coolest-looking one of all (the just-released Persepolis), but we did enjoy the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix movie, the Nancy Drew movie, and the adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Stardust.

7. There have been a number of highly effective fantasy, sci-fi, and horror releases in the past year. William Gibson’s Spook Country, Kat Richardson's Poltergeist, and Dan Simmons's The Terror were all outstanding, and we were thrilled to finally get our hands on Sergei Lukyanenko's Nightwatch trilogy. (Note: While the first book in the trilogy allegedly came out in 2006, it only seemed to turn up in bookstores in 2007.)

6. There were a ton of great picture books released in 2007, sure to appeal to both children and adults. We were particularly impressed by Peter Sis's The Wall and Brian Selsnick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

5. 2007 saw a number of excellent romance releases. Lisa Kleypas released Sugar Daddy, her first non-historical romance, and started a new series, Jennifer Echols wrote another great teen romance (The Boys Next Door), and Nora Roberts's new Sign of Seven series kicked off with a bang.

4. It isn't available in English yet, but plenty of Internet-savvy anime geeks watched 2007's wonderful animated adaptation of Tomoko Ninomiya's Nodame Cantabile.

3. 2007 was a great year for entertaining and informative non-fiction. We were particularly impressed by Michael A. Stusser's The Dead Guy Interviews, Tina Gromberg's Out of Line, and Alan Weisman's The World Without Us.

2. Suzanne Collins' Underland Chronicles and J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series both ended with more of a whimper than a bang. Luckily for us, 2007 still produced a towering pile of excellent, wildly creative YA fiction, including the aforementioned The Boys Next Door, Ysabeau S. Wilce's Flora Segunda, Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Catherine Jink's Evil Genius, Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy, and Cynthia Leitich Smith's Tantalize.


1. Our #1 Wordcandy-approved happening for 2007 was the massively overdue release of the fourth volume of Kiyohiko Azuma's Yotsuba&!. This series was put on hiatus for the better part of two years, and offered a textbook example of why it can be so frustrating to read manga: it's very unpleasant to invest time and money in a series, and then discover that the English publishers have put it on hold indefinitely. We were thrilled when ADV brought this delightfully bizarre series back from the dead.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

eBooks GALORE! is a website with a mission: it offers free e-books by female writers, all in an effort to “make classic and lesser-known works by female writers available to a large audience through the e-book medium”. Their titles include well-known novels by Jane Austen, Edith Wharton, and Lucy Maud Montgomery, as well as books by lesser-known authors like Hanna Webster Foster and Fanny Fern.

In an effort to judge the e-book experience, I compared the Girlebooks version of Fanny Burney’s Evelina with my print copy. The idea of reading a 400-plus-page-long novel online was a little daunting (even to a longtime fanfic reader like me), but I was happy to discover that Girlebooks had done everything possible to make their readers comfortable:

1. The digital version was surprisingly easy to read. I wouldn’t recommend trying to wade through Girlebooks’ Spartan “Plain Text” version of Burney’s novel, but their PDF version was attractive, neatly organized, and written in large, clear font.

2. There weren’t many differences between the printed and the digital texts, although I noticed that the e-book typist didn’t include any italics, and they appear to have changed some of the original punctuation marks. On the other hand, 18th century grammar and spelling wasn’t standardized, so I can’t be certain that the text in my print version is accurate, either.

And last, but definitely not least…

3. The e-book version of Evelina is free, while the cheapest (unused) print copy I could find was ten bucks. (There doesn’t seem to be a Dover Thrift edition.) Sure, you can’t curl up in an armchair with an online novel—unless you have some kind of fancy e-reader doohickey, which I don’t—but did I mention that it’s FREE?

My hat is off to the fine people at Girlebooks: their e-books are beautifully designed, and you can’t beat their prices. Anybody who hasn’t read Evelina—or any of the other excellent titles they offer—should run, not walk, to check them out.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment

James Patterson has described his Maximum Ride series as his favorite series, and possibly his best. We totally understand why these books are his favorites, as the first installment in the series, Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment, is an thrill-a-minute rollercoaster full of Buffy-esque quips and butt-kicking—but we shudder to think of the quality of his other novels if this is as good as his writing gets.

Fourteen-year-old Maximum Ride is the leader and oldest member of the "Flock", a group of six scientifically-engineered bird/human hybrids with the ability to fly. Max and her friends escaped from the lab that created them, but they live in constant fear of discovery. When Angel, the youngest member of the group, is kidnapped and sent back to the lab, the Flock is determined to rescue her, even if that means braving the “Erasers”: werewolf-like beings built to defend the lab and the evil scientists who run it.

Maximum Ride isn’t the best-written teen series on the planet. Patterson uses the same tired adjectives over and over (sometimes twice in the same paragraph!), and he’s way too fond of short, terse chapters. (A two-page chapter about a brutal fight might have had some dramatic impact... if previous two-page chapters hadn’t featured stuff like the characters eating breakfast.) Patterson’s writing style isn’t bad enough to totally ruin the series, but it detracts from some of his books’ over-the-top fun.

But picky readers shouldn’t give up on this series just yet: Patterson’s writing skills aren’t as remarkable as his storytelling ability, but the powers that be are planning to turn Maximum Ride into both an animated film and a manga*. These fast-paced, visually dynamic forms will emphasize Patterson’s strengths (amusing dialogue and suspenseful plot twists), and downplay his stylistic missteps. So if you’re in the market for an action-packed sci-fi/coming-of-age story, we suggest thinking of Patterson’s novels as promising first drafts. They might need a bit of polishing, but they've got what it takes to become seriously awesome entertainment.

*As we previously reported.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Shonen Jump turns five!

The January issue of Shonen Jump magazine hit stores on December 4th, and it is jam-packed with 392 pages' worth of holiday-worthy content. This "Mondo!" issue - which marks the anthology's fifth anniversary - features an important turn in the hugely popular ninja epic Naruto (which returns to the magazine after a two-month hiatus with a brand-new story arc), three full chapters of Bleach, and installments from Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, YuYu Hakusho, One Piece, Hikaru No Go, and Yu-Gi-Oh! GX.

Shonen Jump is the world's most popular English-language comics anthology, with nearly two million readers. I'm not part of its target demographic (teen males), and I'm totally disinterested in video game tips and trading cards, so I was surprised to discover how much I enjoyed this issue. Each section was prefaced by a helpful "Story Thus Far" primer, and the various manga series offered a nicely balanced blend of humor, drama, action, and girls in disconcertingly inadequate uniform skirts. I was particularly pleased to get caught up on Bleach and Naruto - according to our highly scientific research study*, these are seriously popular titles, and even the world's girliest manga fan (read: me) needs at least a nodding familiarity with them.

*i.e., We looked 'em up on to see how many fanfics they'd inspired.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Kissing Snowflakes, by Abby Sher

Kissing Snowflakes, Abby Sher’s first novel, isn’t outstandingly original, but it features plausible characters and a solidly entertaining storyline. The book reads like a Molly Ringwald movie, but fans of YA romance novels shouldn’t find that off-putting.

Fifteen-year-old Sam has been forced to accompany her father and his new wife on a trip to a Vermont skiing lodge, and she’s determined not to enjoy herself—until she meets Drew, a blond, self-confident skiing instructor who exhibits a flattering desire to shower her with cheesy pick-up lines. Drew’s not really Sam’s type, but at least he’s better than the innkeeper’s quietly judgmental son Eric, who keeps running into Sam at her absolutely worst moments....

There’s never any real mystery as to who Sam is going to end up with (Let’s see: conceited, sexually aggressive skiing instructor versus sardonic artist type—where’s my Magic 8 Ball?), and frequent readers of YA novels will see all of Sher’s plot twist coming a mile off. On the other hand, it’s not like most people read teen romances for their nail-biter plots, and this thoughtful, amusing, well-written book is sure to be enjoyed by fans of the genre.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Pushin' for the Oscars

I couldn't stand Joe Wright's recent adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (not, as has been suggested, because I'm an impossible-to-please Austen purist, but because the movie was TOTALLY STUPID), and I'm not exactly panting to go see his new movie Atonement*. I'm sure Ian McEwan's book was good and all, but I'm no fan of the tearjerker, no matter how well-written it is. However, I know that some of you just can't resist the combination of solid source material, period costumes, and Keira Knightley's weird teeth, so we found an NPR article about Mr. Wright and his movies - click here to learn how Mr. Wright's dyslexia has affected his approach to literary adaptations.

*Although James McAvoy is pretty hot... y'know, for an elf.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Make every word tell

Here is the Wordcandy stocking stuffer of choice: a new, gorgeously illustrated version of our personal bible, Strunk and White's The Elements of Style:

Is it not awesome? This elegant $15 paperback features fresh artwork by Maira Kalman, plus all of Strunk and White's timelessly snippy advice on grammar and style. How could anyone fail to appreciate a book that includes a line like this one?
"Rather, very, little, pretty — these are the leeches that infest of the pond of prose, sucking the blood of words."

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Wordcandy Summer Trailers Presents: Chronicle Books

Publishers' Spring/Summer catalogs are beginning to roll in, and there's some seriously awesome stuff coming down the pike. We were particularly interested in the artsy, funky, elegantly presented gift-book offerings from the fine people at Chronicle Books:

1. The Ultimate Book Club Organizer

The Ultimate Book Club Organizer (out in May '08) keeps your book club information in one beautifully designed, easily accessible place. The book includes pages for your reading notes, a book log, a meeting calendar and a place for your fellow club members' contact info. There are also cute extras, like 90 book-rating stickers ("Wow!", "OK.", and "Ugh!"), bookmarks, adhesive bookplates, and a pocket for storing clippings and reviews. Plus, it's really, really pretty.

2. School Years: A Family Keepsake of School Memories, illustrated by Stephen Britt

This adorably funky album (currently available) comes with expandable pockets—one for every year from kindergarten to 12th grade. You can fill them with photos, report cards, art projects, and other mementos. This book is the perfect solution for those of us who want to keep some of our children's masterpieces... but would prefer to avoid turning our entire houses into shrines to Junior's scholastic achievements.

P.S. Plus: Stephen Britt!!! How could you not love Stephen Britt?

3. Ichthyo: The Architecture of Fish

These black and white X-ray images of fish skeletons were originally created to preserve a record of scientific samples. They're also astonishing lovely, sure to appeal to devotees of both science and art. Ichthyo (out in June '08) is a compendium of images drawn from the National Museum of Natural History, which holds the world's largest collection of ichthyological specimens.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007


I've never read a Gregory Maguire book, and I'm not leaping to do so - his cover art is good, but the guy seems like a one-trick pony. However, I was mildly tempted by this:

In case you can't read the bottom of the picture, the book's subtitle is "The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy". I was really hoping What the Dickens was a horror story (doesn't that cover art look like it was aiming for creepiness?) about an evil tooth-yanking demon, but I looked up the publisher's description and the plot sounds totally G-rated.

...sigh. Oh, well.


Monday, December 10, 2007

Somewhere, Edward Gorey is spinning in his grave.

Okay, everybody, can you pick out the REAL Gorey cover?

Seriously, just look at them. It's not that I don't like the Gorey-esque covers - on the contrary, I think they're remarkably eye-catching - but I'm pretty sure Mr. Gorey's estate could sue (if he had any heirs, which I don't think he did).

At the very least, the cover artists should make a symbolic donation to the Edward Gorey House.

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Friday, December 07, 2007

Not what I was hoping for

But let's face it: the only news I REALLY want from Yen Press is an announcement of when they'll be releasing the rest of ICE Kunion's titles. (Must... read... Angel Diary....)

I suppose their other press releases are okay, too, though. Check out this one, particularly if you're a James Patterson fan:

"NEW YORK, NY (December 6, 2007) - Hachette Book Group USA announced today that its graphic novel imprint, Yen Press, has acquired world rights to a graphic edition of James Patterson's young adult series Maximum Ride. The #1 New York Times bestselling series about fourteen-year-old Maximum Ride and her "flock" will be adapted into 30-page manga installments for monthly inclusion in Yen Press' new manga anthology, Yen Plus. The first episode in Patterson's first Maximum Ride title, The Angel Experiment, appears in the inaugural Yen Plus issue scheduled to release in summer 2008. Available through subscription and at major bookstores and comic book retailers across the country, each 460-page issue of Yen Plus will cost $8.99 at retail.

The thrilling non-stop action of the Maximum Ride series will be rendered in a "manga" style, with black & white and color illustrations that will appeal to teens, male and female alike. Select content from the monthly magazine will be featured on the Yen Press website, along with bonus features.

"Featuring Maximum Ride as a staple in the Yen Plus anthology, will, no doubt, increase manga readership and bring it to a completely new level," said Kurt Hassler, Co-Publishing Director of Yen Press. "We are thrilled that James has chosen to bring this dynamic property to the rapidly growing medium of manga."

"I am completely over the moon that Max's story will be told in manga editions," said Patterson. "I can’t imagine a more visual tale than this one. Truly, this is Max taken to the max."

Featuring approximately 12 separate storylines in each anthology, Yen Plus will serve as a vehicle in breaking out and building enthusiasm for new properties from around the world - such as Nightschool by Svetlana Chmakova, already scheduled for the debut anthology.

James Patterson is one of the top-selling writers of all time, with over 140 million books sold. No other author has had more #1 New York Times bestsellers. He lives in Florida with his wife and son, who loves the Maximum Ride books. He says, "I want young Jack to know what his dad does at the office and, hopefully, to be proud." (Newsweek, April 30, 2007)."

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

There's a fine line between optimism and stupidity...

...and I frequently find myself walking it. After all, it's not like I enjoyed the first Narnia film adaptation, but I have a sinking feeling I'll end up seeing the second one. Click here for the official site.

But you know what's what's even sadder? I'll probably end up seeing it in the theater. (I know, I know: I'm weak-willed.)

Maybe I'll try to think of my ticket as a $10 tax on bad judgment.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Wordcandy's 2007 Gift List

Well, the holiday season is upon us. On the one hand, that means we're broke. But on the other, it also means that we get to compile our annual list of elegant, affordable, Wordcandy-worthy gift items! (It's just like fantasy football, only with shopping.)

Any one of these would make a lovely gift for the bibliophiles on your list:

For anybody (kid version):
Tove Jansson's $20 collected Moomin strips are cool, colorful, and totally insane.

For anybody (adult version):
Penguin's $25 Transit Maps of the World would beautify any coffee table.

For the lady of fashion:
FredFlare is currently featuring several items based on Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's. You can pick up a gorgeous copy of the book PLUS this funky "Miss Golightly" necklace for under $30.

For the child with discriminating musical and literary tastes:
Sunny, Robin Mitchell and Judith Steedman's wonderful (and only $16!) kids' book comes with an accompanying 10-song CD that's overflowing with hipster goodness.

For the guys:
Check out this awesome interactive Sherlock Holmes story, The Crimes of Dr. Watson. This $25 book includes letters, newspaper clippings, and more, allowing the reader to test their detective skills.

For the foodie:
Laura Werlin recently appeared on NPR's The Splendid Table to discuss her new book, Laura Werlin's Cheese Essentials ($25). Click here to listen to the podcast.

For the manga reader:

Yotsuba&! calendars follow the Japanese school year (running from April to March), but I would totally love to get one for Christmas. These adorable $26 calendars feature a mixture of Kiyohiko Azuma's artwork and Miho Katuka's photographs.

For the crafty:
If you're artistically inclined, a handmade set of literature-inspired paper dolls (maybe accompanied by a Dover Thrift edition?) would make a wonderful gift. The rest of us should check this site out. They offer $10 paper doll sets for characters ranging from Mansfield Park's Fanny Price to Jane Eyre.

For the Janeite:
Man, who doesn't need a set of $9 "Jane Austen Evil Eye" charm earrings?

For the reader with unadorned walls:
There are several great poster/print shops online, all of which are full of amazing artwork based on vintage book covers. We particularly liked this $50 print of a French edition of The Hound of the Baskervilles (hey, nothing says Christmas like a severed head) and this $25 Brave New World print.

Click here for the 2006 list, and here for the 2005 list.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Porn for Women

Check out this awesome (and totally holiday-worthy) offering from Chronicle Books and the Cambridge Women's Pornography Collective:

Here's the publisher's description:

"Prepare to enter a fantasy world. A world where clothes get folded just so, delicious dinners await, and flatulence is just not that funny. Give the fairer sex what they really want—beautiful PG photos of hunky men cooking, listening, asking for directions, accompanied by steamy captions: "I love a clean house!" or "As long as I have two legs to walk on, you'll never take out the trash." Now this is porn that will leave women begging for more!"

Heh. My favorite image is one of this spectacularly hot dude dusting. Tragically, this puppy is currently out of stock, but you can add it to your wish list (and enjoy a preview of the book) here.


Monday, December 03, 2007


I spent Sunday morning reading Brandon Mull’s debut children’s fantasy novel Fablehaven, and found it to be something of an emotional rollercoaster: this imaginative, fast-moving story had a lot going for it—which, unfortunately, made its weaknesses all the more apparent.

Kendra and her brother, Seth, have been sent to visit to their eccentric, reclusive grandparents for the first time ever, and it promises to be a weird trip—their grandmother is missing, and their grandfather informs them that the woods surrounding the house are absolutely off-limits. Seth (who spits on stern safety warnings) ignores that rule, and his illicit trips into the forest uncover a mind-boggling secret: their grandparents’ land is actually a magical wildlife preserve, full of fairies, satyrs, trolls, and witches.

Fablehaven is at its best when it focuses on the preserve and its inhabitants. The house and grounds are described in glowing detail and stocked with memorable otherworldly creatures. Mull has a gift for creating scenes of vivid, kid-appropriate horror, and several of his outstandingly creepy images—a wailing baby on a rooftop, a shriveled old woman tied up in a shack—will linger with readers long after they've forgotten the details of his plot.

On the down side, the book's human characters are uniformly one-dimensional. Seth is the rule-breaker, Kendra is well behaved and obedient, and their grandfather is a generic “wise man” character, full of vague-but-dire warnings. Readers aren’t given any sense of the characters' inner selves, and therefore never get to know any of them well enough to care about their various predicaments. (On the contrary, after watching Seth flout the rules again, and learn nothing from the consequences again, I found myself hoping that something truly awful would happen to him.)

I can't believe I'm saying this, but Fablehaven might actually make a better movie than it is a book. A great film adaptation would showcase the story's strengths (the action-packed plot, the driving pace, the richly imagined world), while decent actors would lend depth and complexity to its one-note characters.

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