Thursday, April 29, 2010

Returned (in part) to the original owner

Newspaper publisher E.W. Scripps Co. is selling the licensing rights for Charles Schulz's 'Peanuts' characters to Iconix Brand Group Inc. (owners of Joe Boxer and London Fog) for a whopping $175 million. Schulz's family will also gain 20% ownership of the unit that controls the characters. Schulz struggled for decades to win back the rights to his work, and this new "ownership interest" will give his heirs a far greater ability to moderate the way his creations are used.

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Who knew she was dating Harry Potter?

Speaking of Nora Roberts' Bride Quartet, there's a game! It's an interactive "Hidden Objects" sort of deal, and apparently there will be separate games for each book in the series. Now, I'm not gonna lie: I love Hidden Object games, but the voice-over for this one was so embarrassing I had to close the window. Still, if you're a braver woman than I am (and trust me, most of you are), feel free to check it out on the I-play site.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Savor the Moment, by Nora Roberts

Savor the Moment is the third book in Nora Roberts' best-selling Bride Quartet. This installment focuses on pastry chef Laurel McBane, co-owner of Vows, the wedding-planning company she founded with childhood friends Parker, Emma, and Mac. Laurel's been hiding a monster-sized crush on Parker's older brother Delaney for over a decade, and plans on keeping it secret forever—until one impulsive kiss transforms their relationship from friendly to romantic.

Laurel and Del are intelligent, attractive, well-adjusted adults who totally dig each other. This, naturally, creates a dilemma. If they're perfect for one another, where's the drama? The angst? Roberts has written herself into this corner before, and in the past she's handled it by giving one of the characters some massive (and usually kind of stupid) emotional hang-up. Happily, that isn't the case here. Laurel and Del have issues, but everything is sunshine and roses until the very end of the book, when they have a relatively (by romance novel standards) mild argument... which immediately leads to them clarifying their feelings for one another and riding off into the sunset. Seriously—that's it. The book is sweet, funny, and drama-free. It's not the most exciting thing ever written, but if you're looking for a few hours' worth of pleasant distraction, Savor the Moment is practically a Golden Ticket.

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Bad omen?

Hmm. Yen Press has announced that they'll be switching their monthly manga/manhwa anthology Yen Plus from print to a digital format. The last printed issue will come out in July, and there are some yet-to-be-announced content changes in the works.

Yen Plus has always struck me as a risky venture (several big-name manga magazines have failed in the past few years) so I'm hoping this is just good business sense, not a grim sign about Yen Press's overall economic situation.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Living Hell, by Catherine Jinks

Great horror novels usually feature two things: a terrifying antagonist and a plot capable of lending weight to what would otherwise just be a lot of running and screaming. Catherine Jinks' novel Living Hell is weak on the plot front, but her villain was so memorable that it took us a while to notice.

Living Hell is narrated by 17-year-old Cheney, a second-generation inhabitant of the Plexus, a self-contained spacecraft searching for a habitable planet. The Plexus is designed to promote humanity's survival, but when the ship drifts through a bizarre cloud of energy, its mechanical elements begin transforming into organic ones. As the ship changes into a living thing, it begins to identify the humans living inside it as alien organisms—organisms that need to be eliminated.

We had several technical complaints about Living Hell: it was too short, it would have worked better as a series, it featured an implausible collection of survivors, etc. (Plus, the central plot conceit strained credulity, but the popularity of Lost proves that Americans can overlook a lot of credulity-straining.) However, none of these thoughts registered until after we'd closed the book. While we were actually reading, all we were thinking about was how SUPER CREEPY the "ship as a human body" metaphor was. We've seen scarier villains than a sentient spaceship (read: clowns), but not many, and definitely none as the Big Bad in a kids' book.

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Just a reminder....

They're offering tons of titles, but I'm most interested in the Tick issue and what appears to be a Lady Gaga bio linked (in some obscure way) to S.E. Hinton, author of The Outsiders.


Monday, April 26, 2010

The Sisters Grimm: The Inside Story, by Michael Buckley

Once again, Michael Buckley's newest Sisters Grimm book is scheduled to go on sale May 1st, and once again, it was widely available by mid-April. I asked about this (again), and the bookseller told me (again) that it wasn't actually out, but he was okay to sell it.

Yeah, I don't get it either. But the point of this story is: don't buy this sucker online, because you can get it weeks earlier in brick-and-mortar stores.

The Inside Story picks up immediately after the final scene of The Everafter War. Sabrina, Daphne, and Puck are stuck in the "Book of Everafter", where they're forced to chase the Master through a series of stories peopled by Everafter characters anxious to change their destinies. (Spending eternity getting your house blown down by a wolf or having water thrown on you by a snot-nosed kid from Kansas gets old.) Unfortunately, every alteration they make further angers the Editor, the guardian of the Book, whose army of Revisers eats anyone who screws with the established order....

The Sisters Grimm: The Inside Story features plenty of action and humor, along with a healthy dollop of Puck/Sabrina romance. There wasn't much concrete plot development (Daphne and Sabrina's parents are barely present, for example), and the climactic battle scene was cluttered and hard to follow. However, we don't love these books for their action sequences; we love 'em for their charm and humor and squee-inducing Puck and Sabrina spats, and this installment delivered those in spades.

We noticed that the final line of The Inside Story was "To Be Concluded...", which seems to indicate that the ninth book will be the end of this series—sad news, as we were hoping for a tenth. (Well, *I* was hoping for a tenth. Meg wants to read about Puck and Sabrina's dating adventures straight through high school. And maybe beyond.) Still, The Sisters Grimm has had a great run, and I'll be haunting bookstores starting in mid-April next year, looking for Buckley's next May 1st release.

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I finally watched the Eclipse trailer, and it is bad. Like, hilariously bad. Everything about it, from the "creepy dudes coming out of the water" bit* to the run-towards-each-other-and-SMASH! battle scene has been done before--and done way better. The acting looks terrible and the CGI worse. I stopped reading this series after the second book, so I don't know how faithfully the movie is following the novel, but I am impressed by how terrible this looks. It's like they were purposefully aiming for "camp classic" status.

*Turns out vampires aren't inconvenienced by wearing sopping-wet jeans as battle-wear. Who knew? It must be part of their special, sparkly magic...

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Friday, April 23, 2010

I'm *sure* there's already fanfic about this.

Huh. Apparently, long-running comic series Archie is about to introduce its first openly gay character.

It's sweet that the Archie writers are trying to make their universe more diverse, but get back to me when they take this newfound open-mindedness to its natural conclusion and announce that Betty and Veronica's intense competitiveness over boring, wishy-washy Archie is just a front for their passion for one another.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Taming the West

NPR has a great interview up with Stephen Fried, author of the recently-published book Appetite for America, a nonfiction account of the life of entrepreneur Fred Harvey. Harvey created the Harvey House chain of lunch rooms, restaurants, souvenir shops, and hotels, all of which served rail passengers heading into the American West. The NPR story includes a link to an excerpt from Fried's book and copies of two Harvey House recipes: "How to Make Coffee" and (much to my delight) something called "BULL FROGS SAUTE PROVENCAL".

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Contest news...

Flat broke, but still in the market for a Mother's Day gift? Check out's Mother's Day Contest. In addition to a variety of Mom-inspired reading material, they're also giving away 15 swanky-looking gift baskets. Their book choices are hit-or-miss (I'm sorry, but it will be a cold day in hell before I celebrate *my* mother with anything written by Dr. Laura), but the baskets themselves would make a lovely gift.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Movie magic

Rumors are rampant that Robert Downey Jr. will be starring in a movie prequel to the Wizard of Oz series.

I wonder if Johnny Depp is upset that Downey is now sufficiently clean and sober to provide some competition for all those dark-haired, half-hot, half-weird dude roles, or happy someone's there to share the load?

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Class act

Aw... in a particularly cool move, Powell's Books is celebrating Earth Day by giving away a free reusable Powell's tote bag with the purchase of any three used books.

This offer is good through April 22nd, so if you're in the market for some used books now might be the time to pick 'em up.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Once more (with pants)

Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe is continuing his march towards Broadway fame. Unlike his role in Equus, we're assuming playing J. Pierrepont Finch in the 2011 production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying will allow him to remain fully clothed.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

For serious?

Whoa: the Royal Shakespeare Company has arranged something called Such Tweet Sorrow, a five-week-long event that allows six actors (playing Romeo, Juliet, and four additional characters) to tweet their way through the events depicted in the play. Each actor is following a loose script overseen by the RSC, but they'll write their tweets themselves. This leads to fascinating character insights like this one, which Romeo (@romeo_mo) wrote about Mercutio (@mercuteio):

Mercutio is seriously on the prowl tonight,ladies look out!!He's like a dog on heat! @mercuteio close your mouth, your drooling in your pint
I do love me a good literary gimmick, so I'll probably be following this.

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Friday, April 16, 2010


AustenBlog informs me that actor Corin Redgrave, whole stole every scene he was in in the 1995 movie adaptation of Austen's Persuasion, died on April 6th. He was 70 years old, and no cause of death was mentioned in his Times obit. I am sincerely sorry to hear it.

But if you've never seen the '95 version of Persuasion, or it's been a while, you should totally rent it. As a book, it's not as sprightly as Austen's more popular works, but it's incredibly sweet, and it has a dry, quiet sense of humor that the movie (and Redgrave's performance in particular) does a wonderful job of capturing.

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Fun with taxes...

In honor of Tax Day, allow us to point out that you can find copies of Jean Johnson and Scott Bittle's excellent Where Does the Money Go? for as little as $5.99 online.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Manga Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream: Illustrated by Kate Brown

Amulet Books clearly worked hard on their Manga Shakespeare books. The series is edited by a “leading Shakespeare scholar” and evaluated by an educational editor and an advisory group of teachers. The books feature abridged versions of Shakespeare's original plays, short explanatory essays, and manga-inspired artwork. They're sturdy, attractive, and (at $10.95) reasonably inexpensive.

Manga Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream is an excellent example of the line. For those of you unfamiliar with the title, A Midsummer Night's Dream is one of Shakespeare's sillier works—there's a love square, two feuding fairies, a magical plant, and a yawn-inducing subplot about a play (The Tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe) being put on by a group of well-meaning but inept city workers.

Amulet's take on this material is gorgeous, featuring delicate and beautifully laid-out artwork by illustrator Kate Brown. Her style is reminiscent of Charles Vess's work, and gives the material an appropriately dreamlike feel. This version is set in a futuristic version of Athens, but the unobtrusive sci-fi touches ensure that the focus remains on Shakespeare's language. And while I stand by my belief that this is a fundamentally stupid play, it's also the source of some of Shakespeare's most well-known lines, including “Lord, what fools these mortals be” and “The course of true love never did run smooth”, so the editors were smart to approach the abridging with a light hand.

Despite the book's many virtues, however, I doubt it will be of much use to young readers. It features too much original language to be easily understood by Shakespeare newbies, but it's edited too heavily to stand in for the original work. The artwork provides plenty of context (and humor), but it's not as informative as the many editions that feature Shakespeare's original language on one page and explanatory notes on the next. I enjoyed Manga Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream, and I'm keeping an eye out for the rest of the series, but high school kids looking for a dumbed-down version of Shakespeare to get them through Honors English should look elsewhere.

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Dark times

There was an interesting article in the Seattle Times (via the Tri-City Herald) a few days ago about a potential censorship case in the Richland School District. A 10th grade Honors language-arts class was offering Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, a novel about a small boy dealing with the death of his father in the 9/11 attacks, as one of their supplementary (not required) readings. The book contains "profanity, sex, and descriptions of violence", and certain parents felt the school district had done an inadequate job of informing them of the book's subject matter. They are requesting some kind of system (flagging, a rating system, whatever) to warn parents about potentially objectionable content.

The parents' complaint was made with civility and reason, but as far as I'm concerned that just makes it scarier. When we start flagging books for content, we are setting ourselves up for one-size-fits-all censorship. What happens next? Do we flag school libraries? Only let kids check out books with a parent-approved rating? These kind of questions freak me out--if you're worried about something your kid is reading, read it yourself and discuss it with them. Hell, feel free to forbid them to read the book. But don't ask the school district to make systematic changes that do your work for you.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Scarlet T-Shirt

The L.A. Times recently posted an article about literary-themed t-shirts. I particularly liked the style of and idea behind these baseball-style shirts... but I wish they'd chosen better characters to get inspired by:


Monday, April 12, 2010

The Reckoning, by Kelley Armstrong

Kelley Armstrong is one of those authors whose work I rarely think about unless one of her books is right in front of me. I like her novels, but they just don't stick in my brain—at least, they haven't in the past, but the recently-finished Darkest Powers trilogy (her first series for young adults) may have changed that.

2008's The Summoning, 2009's The Awakening, and the just-released The Reckoning all center around Chloe Saunders, a fifteen-year-old girl whose family thinks she's crazy. Sure, she seems sane enough, but do sane girls claim to see ghosts? Chloe is sent to Lyle House, a group home for mentally ill teens. She promptly starts fretting over her social status amongst her fellow inmates, but when she meets the ghost of one of Lyle House's patients and realizes that her new “doctors” are less interested in her health than her potential powers, she decides she has bigger fish to fry....

I have always been impressed by Armstrong's gift for nuanced characterization, but found it hard to care about the ins and outs of her fantasy universe. (Plus, her cover art is usually terrible—like, distractingly bad.) Happily, the Darkest Powers books simultaneously play to her strengths and tone down her weaknesses: her characters are still multifaceted, but her writing for young adults is sharper, more coherent, and even a touch sexier—everything stays well below a PG-13 rating, but she doesn't distract from her romantic plotline with hundreds of pages of supernatural politics. The combination is delightfully creepy, far more memorable than her previous books, and has us eagerly looking forward to her next YA release.

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National Library Week

April 11th through the 17th is National Library Week, and public libraries nationwide will be celebrating with special events. This year's theme is "Communities Thrive @ Your Library", so if it's been a while since you've visited your local library, now might be the perfect time to drop by and see what they have to offer.

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Friday, April 09, 2010

Let them read read Pat the Bunny.

After years of finding Gwyneth Paltrow unbearably full of herself, I'm learning to appreciate her. I still think she's insane, but insane in a fun way, you know? But while reading her GOOP newsletter is usually like getting lifestyle tips from Marie Antoinette*, she recently posted a list of recommended children's books, and it's 100% normal and appropriate and sane.

...which is kind of a letdown, really.

*Like, she'll mention something normal, like socks, but in a completely out-of-touch-with-reality way. See: $45 cashmere socks.

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Thursday, April 08, 2010

Never Tell Our Business to Strangers: A Memoir, by Jennifer Mascia

When Jennifer Mascia was five years old, her father was taken away by the FBI. It was the first sign that there was something different about her family—a difference that Mascia only dimly understood during her childhood, despite years of mysterious name changes, financial instability, and her father's unexplained absences. Despite a few eyebrow-raising moments as a teenager, it wasn't until Mascia was in her early twenties that she finally began looking into her family's past. A Internet search revealed the details of her father's criminal history, and further questioning of her mother lead to a veritable torrent of terrifying family secrets, including adultery, drug dealing, and murder.

Never Tell Our Business to Strangers is both a straight-up memoir of an unconventional childhood and Mascia's attempt to understand how her loving-if-flawed parents justified their unjustifiable actions. The book is successful on the first front but fails on the second—despite recording the nuanced memories of her parents' friends and relatives (and the professional opinions of psychologists), Mascia's father still comes across as monstrous, and her willfully deluded mother doesn't fare much better.

Mascia has spent the past few years working as the nightside news assistant for The New York Times, and her book reflects her journalistic training—i.e., even at its creepiest, it's still quite easy to read. One has to wonder, however, what catharsis Mascia achieved by writing it, apart from what was hopefully a large enough advance to cover decades of therapy. Is this the way she wants her parents to be remembered? What about her half-siblings from her father's first marriage? How do they feel? Is this truly what she wants to be known for? It's tough to imagine what it must have been like to grow up with parents like the people Mascia describes, but it's even tougher to imagine that writing a take-out-every-skeleton-in-the-closet tell-all like Never Tell Our Business to Strangers could be anything but a very mixed blessing.

[Review based on publisher-provided copy.]

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Return of the Tiffany

AWESOME. There's a release date up for the next Tiffany Aching novel: I Shall Wear Midnight is coming out on September 28th. We will be there with bells on.

We want Terry Pratchett to focus on his health, of course... but if work helps keep him going, who are we to complain?


Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Out and about

If any of our beloved readers are going to be within traveling distance of Olympia, WA on April 23rd and 24th, make sure to check out the Olympia Arts Walk. Not only is it a consistently awesome event, J. Otto Seibold (of Olive the Other Reindeer and Mr. Lunch fame) is apparently going to be the guest artist at Room 30.

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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

They Never Came Back, by Caroline Cooney

Caroline Cooney has never quite achieved household-name status, but she's made a successful career out of writing suspense novels for young readers. Her latest effort is They Never Came Back, a fast-paced, enjoyably melodramatic novel about the fallout from a financial scandal.

When fifteen-year-old Cathy Ferris signs up for a intensive Latin class in a neighboring town, she doesn't expect it to turn her life upside down. A fellow student takes one look at her and accuses her of being his long-lost cousin Murielle, the only daughter of Rory and Cade Lyman*, a notorious pair of fugitives who fled the country with millions of dollars in embezzled investments. Cathy denies it, but the boy doesn't give up, and pretty soon the whole school is weighing in—is Cathy really Murielle? And if so, how could her parents abandon her?

They Never Came Back should have been thirty pages longer, and there are some highly questionable plot twists in the final chapters, but those objections only occurred to me after I put down the book (which is easily read in one sitting). Rather than focusing on the details of the Lymans' crimes, Cooney keeps the novel centered around Cathy, using her experiences to explore questions about family loyalty and obligation. The end result is immensely readable, and sure to be gobbled up by fans of her earlier work.

*As names for embezzlers go, “Lyman” isn't as good as “Madoff”, but it's close.

[Review based on publisher-provided copy.]

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According to Digital Spy, Dark Horse will be coming out with another "season" of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic.

I'd be happier about this news if the first season hadn't been such a disappointment. The ideas were good and the quips were snappy, but the series never seemed to gel into a decent comic. Every other issue left me feeling like the story was being written by people who were talented and clever but had no clue how to write for the comic book format. It's possible next season will be better, but my hopes are not high.

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Monday, April 05, 2010

Poetry Speaks Who I Am, edited by Elise Paschen

Poetry Speaks Who I Am is the latest anthology to come from Sourcebooks' "Poetry Speaks" line, and the first—perhaps only?—poetry collection aimed specifically at middle-school-age readers. This book features more than 100 poems, including both classic works (from Walt Whitman, Christina Rossetti, etc.) and modern poetry written by authors representing both genders and a rainbow of cultural perspectives. The book includes a 47-track audio CD featuring many of the poets reading their own work.

This is the kind of project that fills our hearts with happiness, because over the past five years we've met several kids who seriously had no idea that poetry was still being written. Poetry Speaks Who I Am is the ideal collection to prove to young readers that while poems like Edgar Allan Poe's "Annabel Lee" are called classics for good reason, modern poetry—like Parneshia Jones's outstanding "Bra Shopping"—can be funny, evocative, and powerful. There were one or two inexplicable omissions (no E.E. Cummings, and they left out my favorite youth-themed poem of all time, Simon Armitage's "I Am Very Bothered"), but Poetry Speaks Who I Am is still totally awesome, and a must-buy for any middle or high school library.

[Review based on publisher-provided copy.]

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Iron Man 2 cometh

Click here if you're interested in seeing a 2-minute-long clip from the upcoming Iron Man 2 movie. (Personally, I find it funnier if you picture Bill Gates standing in for the Tony Stark character. Don't you think a bevy of scantily clad dancing girls would really liven up the next Microsoft release?)

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Friday, April 02, 2010


Huh. Apparently, there's an award given out each year for the oddest book title, and this year's winner is...

Who knew? But now I kind of want to read it.


Thursday, April 01, 2010

Get well soon, Ms. Jones

We are very sorry to hear that Wordcandy favorite (and Howl's Moving Castle author) Diana Wynne Jones is suffering from cancer, and is currently undergoing both chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Fans can send well-wishes to Ms. Jones via her official fansite, so please take the time to send a note or good thought her way--she's truly a wonderful and unique talent, and we wish her all the best!


Little grotesques

Whoa. Speaking of questionable cover art, how did I miss this? It came out in 2007!

Normally I'm a huge fan of Penguin's Graphic Classics editions, but I don't know about this sucker. It's certainly eye-catching, but I just don't think it offers the perfect blend of subject matter and cover art of, say, their version of Wuthering Heights, which is so awesome I'm almost tempted to buy it, even though I totally hate Wuthering Heights and always have.

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