Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sub Zero

Winter awakes with icy fangs,

Scattering dream crystals,

And sinking mercury.

Exit only on skis or snowshoes;

Storms do not obey traffic signs.

Another blizzard is due tonight!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney and other novels about date rape

bedroom window: ice crystals at sunrise

On the first page of The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney (2010), the main character wakes up naked in bed with a boy she barely knows at her boarding school. There are two condom wrappers in the trash can, but Alex has no memory of losing her virginity. Carter is not aware that it was rape because Alex came to his dorm room willingly and never said no. However, she was too drunk to consent. Alex is too ashamed to ask adults for help. Luckily a secret student organization, called The Mockingbirds after Harper Lee’s novel, is there to aid victims of abuse.

While preparing for the student-run trial, Alex has a consensual relationship with Martin, a member of the Mockingbirds. He won’t even touch her without asking permission. At times Martin’s mature behavior sounded too good to be true, but all boys should aspire to that level of sensitivity. Their romance is beautifully portrayed and balances the painful flashbacks that are interspersed throughout the narrative.

The Mockingbirds should be required for high school Sex Education classes because it models both good and bad behavior and shows how victims can be supported by their peers. This educational novel still avoids sounding pedantic, probably because the author brings emotional truth to the moving narrative. The books's fictional system of peer justice was modeled on one at Brown University, where the author brought forth her own date rape case in 1990. I cried reading the Author's Note. The college students I knew who were date raped in the late 1980’s had no recourse for justice without witnesses. Times have changed.

My only criticism is that the story might have been more believable had it been set in 1990 rather than now. It’s hard to imagine administrators at a prestigious boarding school these days turning a blind eye to bullying and to date rape. Also the musical references were more the taste of my generation. Still, the well-developed characters, fine writing and accessible voice will appeal to teens today.

Another excellent book on date rape is Speak (1999) by Laurie Halse Anderson. Unlike Alex, Melinda suffers her humiliation in silence until she finds her voice. Humor and fine writing makes Speak easy to read. Anderson wrote the book for 12-15 year olds because many date rape victims are in that age group. Anderson followed up with Twisted (2007) about a boy falsely accused of sexual harassment, the other side of the coin.

I strongly recommend all three books to teenagers and to the adults who care for them. Congratulations to Daisy Whitney for an impressive debut novel!

Disclosure: I bought all three books myself.

January in Maine:

Last Wednesday a blizzard dumped 18 inches; that was a Snow Day. Then yesterday morning it started snowing before shifting to rain overnight. Another 2 inches are due today.

School has not been cancelled. The roads are plowed and our driveway was cleared by morning. We lift shovels instead of weights.

I look out the window (left) and turn back to a white page to write. For a break, I carve more lines with my skis. You have to love winter sports and reading by the fire to live in Maine.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Kindle 3 Cases Reviewed and Helpful Links for Kindle Users

Although I’ll always be a fan of real books, I love my new Kindle 3. Thank you, Henry, for the best Christmas gift! I’ll be using my Kindle for travel, for review galleys and to have in my handbag when I’m out of the house. I’ll still buy plenty of real books from independent bookstores to read at home and to give as gifts.

Why I chose a Kindle 3

I chose the Kindle over the Nook and iPad because of the larger number of titles (including free classics) available for Kindles and because the backlit screens on the other 2 devices are harder on the eyes. The Kindle screen looks just like regular paper. It did take a while to configure the settings to download ebooks from Amazon, but now it’s one click easy, taking only one minute.

The new Kindle has all the features I’ve been waiting for: visibility in bright sunlight (for beach reading), smaller and lighter (8.7 oz), and an ability to lend books (for 2 weeks.) The cost has come down too. My husband got me the 3G version ($189) so that I can download books anywhere and get newspapers daily while traveling. The cheaper version ($139) requires proximity to a Wifi network for downloads, but you don't need to be connected while reading.

Tip: to save batteries, disconnect from the WiFi when you’re not downloading books. Then the charge should last for a month.

Review of Kindle 3 Cases

Kindle Lighted Leather Cover, Duragadget Case with Adjustable Stand, Timbuk2 Envelope Sleeve

Choosing a Kindle was easy, but finding the right case was difficult. I tried out several cases, but none was perfect. The Kindle Lighted Leather Cover ($34.99, 15 oz, above left) has the best reading light. I like the colorful outside paired with a dark grey interior and secure Kindle clips. Unfortunately, the case is bulky, heavy and has a rough pebble grain in the leather. It would only be worth getting if you read in dim lighting or crave a hardcover book feel. This cover negates the advantage of a lightweight Kindle over a book.

The Timbuk2 Envelope Sleeve ($25, 4.2 oz, above right) and Flapjacket ($40, 6.4 oz, not shown) are both lightweight, durable nylon and stylish, but the Envelope adds bulk plus noisy velcro and the Flapjacket is expensive. Neither one has a stand nor a light.

Of my sampling, Duragadget makes the most utilitarian and least expensive Kindle 3 case ($18.99, 10.6 oz, above center). This slim leather cover has an integral stand for hands-free reading. The red case is prettier but black was less distracting while reading. The stand was sturdy enough to rest on my lap or armchair. The stabilizer flips up to become a protective cover with a magnetic closure. The picture frame style stands from other companies (viewed online) looked like they wouldn’t balance as well on my lap. I wish the Duragadget had a reading light and a more attractive exterior, but it's still the best option. Thank you, dovegreyreader, for the recommendation.

Options Beyond These Cases: Skins/Decals, including one from Van Gogh, look cool but don’t protect the Kindle screen. At Wired I read about the cheapest case option: an ordinary 6X9 padded mailing envelope! Since the Kindle 3 is so new, there are bound to be more options later. Let me know in a comment if you find a better case.

Digital Galleys for Book Bloggers

As a book blogger, the main draw of a Kindle will be digital galleys. Advanced Reader Copies (also called galleys) are sent free to reviewers like me at high cost to the publishers (more than a finished hardcover book.) ARCs are full of typos and formatting errors so are not worth saving or passing onto others. Frequently publishers run out of popular ARCs and leftovers can’t be sold. It makes a lot of sense to switch ARCs to digital galley format. Go to Netgalley to request free digital galleys from publishers for review purposes.

Useful Links for Kindle Users

The Story Siren, a hub for YA book bloggers, asked her readers to share useful links for Kindle users:

The Social Frog gave the link to Kindle Boards
Catherine gave the link to The Kindle Lending Club on Facebook
Gaby shared the link to a similar lending club at Goodreads
Elizabeth checks eReader IQ daily for posts on free ebooks, price drops and new titles
Anna recommended Books on The Knob for free ebooks

Thank you, Story Siren and commenters!
Do you have more tips or helpful links? Please comment below and I'll add a link here:

David Cranmer commented with a link to Project Gutenberg with 33,000 free ebooks for all ereaders.

What I’m reading and not yet noting on my Kindle:

I like to read the book before seeing the movie spin off. I loved Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, both the novel (1989) and the movie (1993). Unfortunately my local independent bookstore was sold out of Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (2005) which is now a movie too. I didn’t want to order the latest paperback edition because I dislike movie tie-in covers so I downloaded the ebook for $5 after sampling the first chapter for free.

It’s perfect reading a futuristic story like Never Let Me Go on a new age ereader. I don’t know what page I’m on, but the Kindle remembers my place. It shows my location by line and percent (25%) of book. Just a few chapters in, I’m very much enjoying my first ebook.

Still, I prefer the feel of a real book and the ease of scribbling notes in the margins. The Kindle allows you to highlight, bookmark and type margin notes, but I haven't figured that out yet. I'm not sure why someone else's highlights are appearing automatically in the text. Very distracting. I know, RTFM. There is a manual pre-installed on my Kindle only I need to read it first before I can skip to the relavent section. Sigh. Good project for a snowy day.

Reviewer’s Disclaimer: I was not paid to review any of the above products. The Kindle was a gift from my husband, and I bought the ebook and cases to sample. I kept the Duragadget case and returned the others.

Storm Watch: a blizzard is due later today with up to a foot of snow predicted. We're thrilled because Maine has had less snow than usual and we're well set up to deal with it. The storms have all gone south and wrecked havoc. My son's first two Nordic ski races were cancelled due to lack of cover, even up north in the mountains. Ironically his race was cancelled today due to the storm. We'll be skiing out back in the woods. I love a snow day as long as we don't lose power.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Head Games by Keri Mikulski: review, interview and sporty girl books

photo of author Keri Mikulski by Justin Mikulski, her husband

Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972 banned the exclusion of students from programs or activities on the basis of gender in American schools. This progressive law has allowed girls’ teams to flourish at public high schools. Nonetheless, most teenaged sports books are written for boys, even though nearly as many girls play sports. It's time to address the lacuna.

In 2007 Razorbill (Penguin) started publishing the Pretty Tough series about girls who play sports. Liz Tigelaar wrote the first two novels about soccer and football. Young adult author Keri Mikulski has picked up the ball for the next four books in the series. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because Keri is a member of our book review club. Her publisher sent me an ARC to review on my request.

Head Games by Keri Mikulski is a sweet basketball romance. Taylor is a six-foot-tall (and still growing!) freshman. Her phenomenal basketball skills have earned her the center position on the girls varsity basketball team. However, her height is “a serious boyfriend handicap” off court. Playing Seven Minutes in the Closet, Taylor is humiliated when a shorter boy chooses to watch the clock on his phone instead of kissing her.

Only the boys basketball center is tall enough to look her in the eye, but unfortunately gorgeous Zach is dating her teammate Kylie. Team dynamics are shattered when Zach dumps Kylie and starts shooting hoops with Taylor. Adding to the stress, Taylor’s best friend needs her to play fashion model for a designer competition. A self-described “people pleaser” and klutz, Taylor has to learn how to be more assertive and self-confident off the court.
“No one has ever called me ‘hot’ before. Except maybe my mom when I’m sick.”
The romantic shenanigans were amusing, but I was a bit bothered by how romance ruined the girls’ game but not the boys’ game. Still, in the context of this story, it made sense, and the main character certainly took sports seriously. Taylor is a sweetheart who would make a fine role model for tween girls.

Head Games is a quick and easy read, but you had better know your Gossip Girl and teen pop culture to get all the references. Facebook takes a lot of court time too. This fun and engaging novel would appeal to reluctant readers and to sporty girls ages 10-14 years. Even a non-basketball player like me (I’m 5 foot 3 inches) could understand the plays and appreciate the drama. Keri Mikulski is on top of her game. Head Games will be released tomorrow on January 6th, 2011 in the USA. Congratulations, Keri!

From Keri's Bio Page:
"From as far back as I can remember, I’ve always loved sports and books. However, as a teen and tween, I fell out of love with reading. For years I never picked up books for pleasure because I couldn’t relate to the main characters. They weren’t like me. They didn’t play sports.
"Then, decades later, I witnessed many of my sporty middle school students also morph into reluctant readers. As soon as I began writing professionally, I set out to write the books to reach this audience. And here I am – living my dream."

My Interview of Keri Mikulski

Keri Mikulski (center) in her high school yearbook

Sarah: how did you end up taking over the Pretty Tough series from another author?

Keri: About three years ago, I began writing web articles for the Pretty Tough website. While writing for Pretty Tough, the brand read Screwball, asked me if I had written any other sporty books, and requested to read my work in progress. At the time, I was working on FULL COURT PRESS (which is now Head Games). I sent Pretty Tough FULL COURT PRESS and they loved it! Immediately, Pretty Tough asked me if I would be interested in writing novels for the brand. Since I absolutely adored the first two novels (written by the amazing Liz Tigelaar, executive producer of Life Interrupted), I accepted the offer and we began the process of attempting to sell the series again with Head Games through my agent.

Has this constrained your writing?

Not at all! ☺ I LOVE writing sporty books and I was honored to continue the series after Liz did such an excellent job with the first two novels. Since it’s been four years since the first two books were published (the original characters sadly graduated from Beachwood Academy), the only two elements that stayed the same are the setting and one character.

How did you research the California setting and the techno-savvy habits of contemporary teenagers?

I emerged myself in California. I viewed, read, and studied everything I could get my hands on about Los Angeles. I connected with friends who live in California, spent a lot of time on the phone with Pretty Tough asking detailed questions, and I’m on my way to Los Angeles this spring. ☺

Since I’m a teacher, I spend a TON of time with teens and tweens. I have a front row seat to their technology habits. Technology has drastically changed the way teens and tweens communicate with each other and I find the subject both fascinating and scary.

The photo booth picture is of my best friend (right) and me at the same age as my protagonist.

Ha! Classic.  Were you a teen athlete like your protagonist?

Yes! I LOVE sports. I played basketball, softball, and soccer, earned ten varsity letters as a senior, and served as captain to all three sports.  In the photo below I'm #40, grabbing the rebound during my junior year (from my yearbook.)

How tall are you?

I’m five foot eight inches tall. ☺

Are you still involved with sports now?

When I’m not writing or on deadline, I love, love, love to play sports. When I can, I participate in adult soccer and softball leagues, but my favorite sporty times are with my daughter and hubby.

How do you balance career and family?

Basically, I live by this rule. When I’m with my daughter, I’m with my daughter. When I’m teaching, I’m teaching. When I’m writing, I’m writing. I try to write around her schedule – write at night and in the morning.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve received?

Actually, there are two pieces of advice I consistently refer to. A well-known author once told me, "You can only control your writing." In other words, you can’t control your sales, publicity, and/or the publishing business. And another fabulous author told me to "Write Because You Have To." I love this piece of advice because it reminds me everyday that without writing I’m not balanced. ☺

Can you give us a sneak preview of the next three books in the Pretty Tough series? 

Absolutely! I’m super excited about the series. ☺ Each Pretty Tough book will follow a different athlete from Beachwood High School. The next book, Stealing Bases follows the ‘mean girl’ and softball superstar in Head Games, Kylie Collins. But, after writing the book, I love her now! ☺

Here’s the back cover of Stealing Bases:
Reformed mean girl Kylie Collins desperately wants to put the craziness of basketball season behind her and concentrate on her lifelong dream – being recruited for Division One softball. She also wants to move on from her cheater ex, Zachary Murphy, which isn’t exactly easy when Kylie’s living in his backyard guesthouse with her father after her parent’s divorce.
But when Kylie arrives at her first softball practice of the season she comes face-to-face with her worst nightmare – Amber McDonald, the best pitcher in the state.
Now, Kylie’s forced to warm the bench as Amber wows crowds again and again. With all the drama happening out on the softball diamond, Kylie finds herself drawn back to her bad habits – sabotaging people and hanging out with a certain Zachary Murphy.
I’m currently writing Book 5. All I can divulge at this point is that it’s about a lifeguard. ☺

When are the other books due out?

Stealing Bases will hit bookstores on July 7, 2011. Book 5 and 6 will hit bookstores in 2012.

Thanks for having me, Sarah! ☺ Happy New Year!

Thanks, Keri, I'm looking forward to Stealing Bases.

Book Blog Watch: I’m not the only blogger who has noticed the dearth of sporty books for girls. Steph Su Reads included athletes in her list of “What’s Missing in YA Lit?” Reading in Color called for a protagonist “To be Young, Athletic and a PoC.”  She goes on to list several sporty books featuring People of Color, beyond African Americans playing basketball.

Blog readers, do you have any book recommendations about teenaged girls playing sports? My work in progress, A MATCH FOR EVE, is about an American softball player who goes to England to play cricket. I could also do with some cricket book (boy or girl) recommendations.

Happy New Year!

Click icon for more
book review blogs
@Barrie Summy