Mia’s Adventures at Comic-Con International
(in which Mia talks about Comic-Con in a weird stream of consciousness sort of way that possibly makes no sense, but go with it, OK? OK.)
As stated in my previous “Adventures at BEA” post, I love Comic-Con. I do. I love it as an exhibitor and as a … non-exhibitor (regular Joe?) And I also hate it. If you’ve been to Comic-Con (any Comic Convention really), you know what I mean. There’s just a little bit of hate in all that love. Either you hate the lines (lines to the bathroom, lines to get in a panel room, line to get stuff signed, lines to line up), the bumping up on sweaty people because there’s barely any room to move (imagine walking through Time Square on a daily basis with half the people there wearing costumes), the getting wacked in the face at least ten times a day by some dude’s poster tube (not a euphemism), the pain in your legs from standing all day… you get the idea.
Once again this year I attended Comic-Con as an exhibitor with Penguin books. What does it take to exhibit (and yes, being an exhibitor is VERY different than just attending) at the Con? Well, you definitely have to be a geek. No, really, planning Comic-Con is a very, VERY, long process. I start thinking about what authors/books/promotional material to bring at least 7-8 months before Comic-Con starts (while also planning New York Comic Con, because of course schedules overlap). Then there are the panel pitching, author wrangling, creating of promotional materials, finding hotel rooms, booking travel, training staff, handling schedules, freaking out about those things, catching typos in promotional materials, freaking out about that, working with publicity, labeling and shipping over 350 boxes of materials to the convention center… etc.
Then after I’m done with all the exhibitor stuff (which is never, really) I can finally look through the event guide and see what panels I’d like to attend! (Which is any panel not in Hall H or Ballroom 20, because who are we kidding, you aren’t getting in there unless you camp out days before.)
I think the only thing that kept me sane through all of it was, honestly, my love of the Con. My geekiness, if you will. It’s what got me the job in the first place and what’s gotten me through the craziness that is planning SDCC and NYCC (and soon C2E2) as well.
For example, my geekiness is what helps me get through 12-13 hour day at the booth (from set-up to take-down), standing on my feet, talking to person after person (rude and nice) about our books. About how much I love them, and how much they’ll love them, too. Which is amazing! Getting to talk to fellow geeks about the stuff that you love!
My geekiness is what convinces me that after these brutal shifts I should totally go Con after shows like W00stock (a geek music/comedy festival that goes to midnight), the Nerdist live podcast (where I saw Matt Smith) and a Nerd HQ panel with Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk. Because who needs sleep with all the geek stuff happening all around you? No one, that’s who. Certainly not me, I’ll sleep later. And by later I mean after New York Comic Con (in October, and then it’s back to planning for C2E2 and Comic-Con International 2014!!)
Now we’ve gotten to the part of this blog post where I’m not sure what I’ve been talking about or where I’m going (has any of this made sense?) My fingers pause over the keys and my brain scurries to figure out what to write next. I can try to explain what it feels like to attend Comic-Con: the crowds, the pushing, the purchasing of anything and everything (I totally needed those three issues of the Dark Phoenix saga – no, really, I did.), but I think I’ll fall short.
It’s awesome and intense and I’m quite happy it only happens once a year because you’ll need the rest of it to recuperate (and attend other Cons, of course). I will say this. You have to be a geek to enjoy it. You just do.
Dreamhunter & Dreamquake by Elizabeth Knox
Julie: I shouldn't be starting our conversation about Elizabeth Knox's DREAMHUNTER and DREAMQUAKE (together, the DREAMHUNTER duet) right now, because I don't have the books nearby. I'm usually obsessive about flipping through the books we're recommending when I write my parts of our reviews, making sure I have facts right and doing my best to convey the tone and other qualities of the books. But in a way it's perfect that I don't have DREAMHUNTER and DREAMQUAKE at hand. Because what I love most about them is how powerfully their story has stayed with me in the weeks since I finished the books. I remember these two books far better than most, even though their pacing is slower than many of the fantasies I've loved, and even though they lack the kind of distinctive voice that I'm typically drawn to. Mia, did DREAMHUNTER and DREAMQUAKE cast the same lasting spell for you?
Marirosa Mia: DREAMHUNTER did and didn't, Julie. Let me explain. I enjoyed reading it. The language was lush and descriptive. It had a certain leisurely tone that I quite enjoyed, and I could see the thought behind it. The plot chugged along, and it wasn't until I finished that I realized that I was missing something. But what? It wasn't until I read DREAMQUAKE that it all came together for me, that it felt like that big moment - that crescendo if you will - when everything works. A lot happens in DREAMHUNTER, but at the same time not a lot does. It really does need DREAMQUAKE to feel fully formed and have impact. Am I making sense, Julie?
Julie: I agree wholeheartedly. DREAMHUNTER sets the stage for the far more compelling action and satisfying resolution of DREAMQUAKE. I was intrigued by DREAMHUNTER--its ideas, tone, characters, and world--but the book is a prelude. The foundation built in DREAMHUNTER allows DREAMQUAKE to excel. DREAMQUAKE is a Printz Honor book; DREAMHUNTER is not; and that is fitting.
But we haven't even summarized the story yet! Let me give that a shot: Laura and Rose Hame are cousins and friends who live in a world much like ours, except for its proximity to the Place, a land wherein a select few can "catch" dreams. These dream hunters can then share those dreams with the rest of the community. At the start of DREAMHUNTER, Laura and Rose are eligible to determine whether either qualifies as a dream hunter. Their relationship becomes strained when one of them qualifies and the other does not. At the same time, Laura's father--like Rose's mother, an acclaimed dream hunter--disappears under circumstances suggesting dark forces at play in the Place. The girls' efforts, and those of their family, to set right what has gone very wrong continue in DREAMQUAKE.
I'm not sure I just did the story justice, but it's not easy to sum up a new world and its rules. How'd I do, Mia?
M: Very well, considering my reaction to the book's back copy was, "I'm sorry, but what?" Ha! But back to the books and particularly Rose and Laura, whom I cared for dearly. I was first very attached to Rose and her fiery nature, but by the end of the first book I was with Laura all the way (not to say that I started to dislike Rose, but just that my concern for Laura increased exponentially). By the end I wanted Laura to succeed in all her endeavors and become the greatest heroine in the WORLD...or at least pretty darn good. What about you, Julie?
J: I also care deeply for both Rose and Laura--and their parents. All of these characters are flawed, but all of them (whether gifted with dream-hunter powers or not) are heroic. Knox does a terrific job of bringing them to life and making us sympathize with them and root for them. (Though I did find Rose's ultimate treatment by her parents a bit mysterious. Do you know what I mean?) I also like that the book made me think in a different way about dreams and their effects. I suppose it would be quite powerful to be able to inflict nightmares--or dreams of contentment--night after night, on a significant percentage of the population. Though I'm not sure it would be as powerful as Knox contends. What do you think?
M: Well, as a person who often suffers from incredibly vivid nightmares after which I can't go back to sleep until the sun is up...I might be with Knox on this one, Julie! And I suppose there's something to be said for the lack of sleep accumulation!
J: So true! (Just remembering my nasty, sleep-deprived self when my girls were infants...yeesh.) But what about the effects of contented dreams?
M: I think I might be just the person to ask these questions since I'm always affected by my dreams (as they tend to be very vivid and also have giant back stories). I always have a bit of a hop in my step after a really lovely dream. So in my case I can see what Knox is getting at. I should probably be in some sort of sleep study program...
J: Huh. Turns out I'm a wimpy dreamer. How sad.
M: Depends on the dream I suppose. Not sure you’d ever want to experience one of my nightmares!
Wind In the Willows by Kennith Greene
Sylvie Larsen: Nothing made me more desperate for summer than reading THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS. Kennith Greene’s pastoral novel about anthropomorphic animals “messing about in boats” and running around in the woods made me long for that idea of summer, friendships and adventure. It also made me long to see an otter consulting a pocket watch, but I just don’t live in Greene’s world; and I have to come to terms with that.
Rather than one cohesive story the book is composed of several snippets from the lives of some of the creatures who live in this forest/river area. Mostly we follow Mole, Water Rat, and Toad as they go through their cute little days doing cute little things. They have picnics and spring cleaning days; they go off to visit friends and have adventures. One such adventure leads them to discover the god Pan hanging out on an island, and it blows their tiny little minds. Pan knows this, of course (he’s a god), and so erases it from their memories. The book is filled with these, “Wait...what?” moments, such as Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, which while the inspiration for a fun ride at Disney, leads to a rather bleak jail sentence for the guy.
I will say that there were moments where I was a bit confused about the rules of this little forest world, such as how anyone makes money or how a frog can borrow clothes from a human (are they the same size?), but of course, when reading a book like this it is best to suspend one’s disbelief and just go with it. For example, while Mole, Rat and Toad are venturing out for a picnic, Mole chooses to walk with the horse, as the horse had complained of feeling “frightfully left out,” but later on another horse isn’t able to speak at all!
Aside from those little issues with “rules,” THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS would make an excellent bedtime book as the chapters are mostly self-contained stories. I will say it might be a bit tough for a young reader, as there are lots of British-isms and long words that may need to be clarified, but that is not always a bad thing!
A (half) day at BEA (Book Expo America)
Marirosa Mia: I’m going to be honest. I’m not a huge BEA fan. This doesn’t mean I dislike it; it just doesn’t cause the same happy thoughts that Comic-Con International and New York Comic Con cause. It’s probably because I’m not very involved in the planning of BEA, unlike SDCC and NYCC. Usually I pop in at BEA for an hour and I pop out, which you can’t really do at NYCC because of the dangerous number of people.
So this year I was happy to tag along with my good friend Colleen and see what BEA had to offer to those of us who didn’t wait in line at 9 am and instead sauntered in around, say, 1-ish.
First off, how fantastic is the Penguin-branded book mobile and cart?
I love how they don’t actually say “Penguin” anywhere, but the brand speaks for itself! So adorable and classic. Gah. Love it. Colleen and I mused about driving it all the way down to Chicago Comic Con and taking pictures with the world’s biggest ball of twine, but I doubt they’ll let us steal it!
Then I was walking down some aisles and saw this little guy!!!! (Please note that I just got back from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, so I’m freshly obsessed with HP.)
I think it was a display copy and not for sale, which is sad because what a great addition it would make to any library!
And of course it wouldn’t be BEA without people signing books. Got to see Paula Deen signing new copies of her next cookbook and the lovely Anna Jarzab signing ARCs of Tandem, her book coming out in October of this year!
And I used my super secret ‘work in publishing’ super powers to score some ARCs from my publisher friends! Super excited to read the new Nancy Farmer and Holly Black’s new book, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. And my friend at S&S assured me that Ghost Hawk was a great read, so I can’t wait to dive in.
What about you guys? Anyone go to BEA? What did you think? What did you snag?
Now this edition of Author You Should Be Reading is as much for myself as it is for you, dear reader. This is because, though I’ve read and re-read and re-read HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE (read our review here), THE GAME, and FIRE AND HEMLOCK, I have yet to delve into her other books! Of which there are 40! So may this edition of AYSBR serve as a reminder to all of us to get our butts in gear!
First, a bit on Diana Wynne Jones, plucked from her website: Diana Wynne Jones was born in London, where she had a chaotic and unsettled childhood against the background of World War II. As children, Diana and her two sisters were deprived of a good, steady supply of books by her father, ‘who could beat Scrooge in a meanness contest’. So, armed with a vivid imagination and an insatiable quest for good books to read, she decided that she would have to write them herself.
Over the course of her life she wrote over 40 works of art (including picture books, short stories and novels) and won both the Mythopoeic Award (1999) and the Karl Edward Wagner award (1999).
So we have much to catch up on, yes? Yes.
Diana’s work is singular. Her prose is simple yet rich in texture and tone. Within a sentence or two you are there (there being wherever she chooses to take you!). There is a Diana Wynne Jones book for any reader, really. Do you like adventure? There’s a book for you. Fantasy? There’s a book for you. Witty writing and unforgettable characters? Spoiler alert, there’s a book for you!
Though, as confessed, I’ve only read a small smattering of her work, I continue to go back to it over and over again. If that isn’t one of the marks of a great piece of work, then I don’t know what is. I can pick up HOWL’S or FIRE AND HEMLOCK and both remember why I loved it and discover something new to love.
Darn! Now I want to re-read them again.
Marirosa Mia: Once again please welcome the lovely Sylvie Larsen in another edition of Classically Challenged!
Sylvie: MATILDA, by Roald Dahl is a book for bookish children. An ode to the bookworm. It’s a treat for those of us who love to read and see that as something that sets us apart from the rest of the herd. The story is about a small girl who love, love, loves to read. Her family, unfortunately, loves to do droll things like watch TV, swindle people and play bingo. They hate reading; they don’t particularly like Matilda either. And as dumb as her family is, so Matilda is prodigiously smart. She is tackling Dickens, Faulkner, and Wells and she’s not even 5 years old. Already, there is a hint of magic in that. In addition to her terrible family, Matilda has to compete with her school’s demonic headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, who is, frankly, psychotic. It’s not a surprise that Matilda lashes out at authority; whenever they do something rotten to her, she does something even more rotten to them. Her punishments are all fun and games until Matilda discovers she’s kinda telekinetic.
Matilda is not the contrary, outcast character you would expect from this kind of story. Sure, she’s brilliant and cunning, but she’s also just a little girl. As soon as she gets to school, she makes friends with the other students. They are her allies in the battle between headmistress and students. Their teacher, Miss Honey, also sees the injustice of the headmistress and acts as the caring mother-figure Matilda has always wanted.
I loved this book. The story is whimsical and pretty darn heartwarming. Reading it as an adult has been a treat; I wish I had read it as a bookish child. The illustrations by Quentin Blake are adorable. I really like his cute little Matilda line drawings; she makes a great companion throughout the story. I hope that she inspires young readers to keep challenging their minds.
Since its 25 years out in the world, MATILDA has inspired a movie, a radio play, and now a musical on Broadway! With all these new ways to experience MATILDA I hope the message of challenging oneself will reach a wider audience.
The House of the Scorpion – Nancy Farmer
Marirosa Mia: I confess I had never heard of Nancy Farmer’s THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION until about a year ago, when a fellow publishing person called it her favorite science fiction novel. I grew up in Puerto Rico, where most of the English language novels I read were either for school or part of the HARRY POTTER series. My education in English language science fiction didn't come until much later, and frankly I'm still not as fluent as I'd like to be! So I was quite happy to discover that Julie also wanted to read THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION and I should add it to my list.
First, a plot summary: Matteo Alacran is special. He is a clone. A clone of one of a feared and hated drug lord, "El Patron." Matteo lives in luxury because of El Patron's support, but is hated by the rest of El Patron's family. Like most of their society, those family members consider clones no better than livestock. Matt is cared for by Celia (who loves him like her own), Tam Lin (who teaches him quite a few lessons for survival), and Maria (who gives Matt friendship, and with whom he falls in love) as he journeys to discover who he is as an individual and within society.
Julie, what did you think of THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION?
Julie: Oh, I love this book. It's easy to see why it won a trifecta of children's book awards when it came out in 2003 (the National Book Award, a Printz Honor, and a Newbery Honor). I feel rotten that I waited so long to read it! I've owned it since 2003 (hiding my head in shame now), and I remember reading the first couple of pages. But those pages have a far more technical feel--a far more "you are reading science fiction!" feel--than the rest of the book. I didn't love them, and I set the book aside. What a mistake! This book has riveting action and tension; it raises and compellingly addresses interesting moral questions; and it brings to life multidimensional characters whose relationships I cared about. After the first ten pages or so, I did not want to put the book down. I loved watching Matteo grow older surrounded by people who sometimes surprised me and sometimes did not--always in satisfying ways--and understanding more about his world with him. Did you feel the same, Mia?
M: Couldn't agree with you more. One of my main issues with science fiction is that often I have a hard time finding the humanity through all the technical speak and high concept ideas. All the shiny ships and guns in the world won't save a book if there isn't a beating heart at the middle of all of it. At least, not with me. And THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION's beating heart is Matteo and his journey to discover who he is and what that says about those around him (and us as readers); it's Celia and her love for Matteo and defiance of El Patron; it's Tam Lin and his tragic redemption at the end of the novel; and it's Maria and her continuous affection for Matteo. And the ending, oh lord, the ending. I think you and I disagree on the ending, Julie--I thought it was so poetic and tragic. But let me turn it back to you. Any more thoughts on the novel? The ending?
J: I like the very end of the book. But there are several chapters before that--I don't want to say too much! I hate spoilers--that I found frustrating. In those chapters, Matteo is away from the other characters who've brought the story to life. And I missed that setting and all of its energy and tension. Does that make sense?
M: Totally. Not sure I'm there with you, but I see what you mean. I'll be interested to see where we pick up in the sequel!
Julie: It can take a while for Mia and me to find a book we both love. This is an obvious downside of our dialogue format for recommendations. (A huge upside, for me anyway, is that it's far more fun to talk about a good book with a friend than to ramble on all by my lonesome. But I digress.) To fill those quiet intervals, we thought we might start sharing a bit of our process for identifying the books that we think have potential. And so, here are some of my recent thoughts.
I suggested HOKEY POKEY, by Jerry Spinelli, after reading this review by celebrity librarian Betsy Bird: http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2013/01/14/review-of-the-day-hokey-pokey-by-jerry-spinelli/. Bird admits that Spinelli's prior books have left her cold, then says that HOKEY POKEY is "one of the strongest works of children’s fiction I have ever had the sheer joy to encounter." Surely that's worth a read! So it's now on our list.
I also like teacher Monica Edinger's blog, "Educating Alice." She recently posted this rave preview of an upcoming fantasy novel for young adults: "Even though MORTAL FIRE isn’t out till June I want to write about it now to get the word out as it is simply spectacular. And to encourage those fantasy fans among you unfamiliar with Elizabeth Knox to go and read her two other also fabulous young adult books, DREAMHUNTER and DREAMQUAKE, the latter a Printz honor book." http://medinger.wordpress.com/2013/01/22/coming-soonish-elizabeth-knoxs-mortal-fire/ And so I'm proposing to Mia, at this very moment, that we take a look at DREAMHUNTER. Mia, what do you think?
Finally, my younger daughter, Isabel, recently devoured the middle-grade novel SEE YOU AT HARRY'S, by Jo Knowles. Maybe we should add that to our middle-grade list, Mia? Also, any suggestions to add?
Julie again: Wait! I've found more possibilities, before you've even had the chance to respond! Take a look at this fabulous list from husband-wife uber-talents Philip and Erin Stead (seriously, those author-illustrators are jaw-droppingly good. They’ve chosen "the books [from 2012] that meant something special to us at this point in our lives. These are books that challenged us to be better writers and illustrators." Here's the link: http://philipstead.com/2013/01/22/announcing-the-4th-annual-phildecott-and-steadbery-awards. And here are some of the picture books from this list that intrigue me: STEPHEN AND THE BEETLE, by Jorge Lujan; A TRIP TO THE BOTTOM OF THE WORLD WITH MOUSE, by Frank Viva; and BONE DOG. Note, too, that Steve Sheinkin's BOMB (middle grade non-fiction) is showing up everywhere as a 2012 favorite, including this list. Hmm.
And one more option! I never read Nancy Farmer's HOUSE OF THE SCORPION, a 2004 science fiction novel for young teens, which won (get this! how often does this happen?!) the National Book Award and the Newbery Honor and the Printz Honor. Wow. Seems worth reading, right? Especially because the sequel is due out in September.
That's it! I think. I make no promises.
Marirosa Mia: Am I good to go? You sure? (waits a few minutes just in case) I'm all for reading HOUSE OF THE SCORPION! I've been meaning to read it for a while. And I already have my copy of HOKEY POKEY on the way. I'll make sure to add DREAMHUNTER to that mix, Julie!
Let's see. On my end I’m interested in reading TO SAY
NOTHING OF THE DOG, which I looked up after a friend recommended it. The
description is quite intriguing in that it doesn't say much! "Ned Henry
shuttles between the 1940s and the 21st century while researching Coventry
Cathedral for a patron interested in rebuilding it until the time continuum is
disrupted." Time continuum disrupted? I'M THERE. Plus it feels a bit Terry
Pratchett-like, so I'm intrigued.
I just got my copy of TELL THE WOLVES I'M HOME, and I can't wait to devour it soon. A few others I'm looking forward to are OUT OF THE EASY, by Ruta Sepetys, and PAPER VALENTINE, by Brenna Yovanoff. I'm a fan of both of these ladies' work, so I can't wait for their latest.
J: We're so set! But, just because it’s raining children's book reading ideas right now, let me close by noting that School Library Journal's annual Battle of the Kids Books has begun! Here's their list; we can check it against ours: http://battleofthebooks.slj.com. Oh, and by the way, my copy of DREAMHUNTER has arrived! (Boy, was that fast.) I might have to start with it, since Isabel has stolen HOKEY POKEY.