Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Book Review: Uglies (Series) by Scott Westerfeld

When I heard there was a book series out there where everyone got plastic surgery to turn them pretty on their 16th birthday, I knew it would be right up my alley. It's high concept, it's dystopian, it involves a female protagonist - and I came to it so late that I could buy the whole series and not have to wait between books.

Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld, introduces us to a world where civilization has inched its way back into a robust existence after being nearly destroyed by us careless "Rusties" of the 21st century. Hundreds of years later, there is no more war because everyone over 16 is pretty and lives a vapid life of partying and feeling "bubbly". Tally Youngblood, nearly 16, can't wait to join the pretty life and rejoin her best friend Peris who had his pretty transformation already. But for now, she's still ugly and still up to playing “ugly” tricks - tricks that grow more dangerous after she meets Shay, also close to her 16th birthday but unsure she really wants to go through with the operation. Shay insists she's made contact with people off the grid, "Smokies", who say that being pretty is not all it's cut out to be. When Shay runs away, Tally is recruited for a mission by the ruling class "Specials" to get Shay back or she’ll be denied the chance to turn and will be ugly forever.

The plot is very well paced, following Tally from the city out into the wilderness on her search for Shay and the “Smokies”. Westerfeld grinds his exposition so finely that I never felt bored by a bunch of “telly” scenes. And even though Tally has a lot of her decisions made for her and character growth is pretty much accidental, it feels authentic to the story. The social commentary is very sharp as well, especially in regards to the superficial life of the post-op “pretties”. In one passage, Tally is told about a beautiful, rare orchid that was genetically reengineered and is now a monoculture, choking out any biodiversity it comes in contact with. Doesn’t that sound just so “pretty”?

Of course I loved it.

The second book, "Pretties" continues where "Uglies" left off. If you haven't read book one and don't want to be spoiled, STOP READING NOW. Ok, so now Tally has had her surgery and her "smoky" friends are trying to contact her and save her from her "pretty" ways. She now runs with a group of "pretties" who seem to be smarter than the rest, called "crims" because of their "criminal" backgrounds as "uglies". The leader of this group is Zane and he and Tally start up a romance while still pulling "ugly" tricks.

This book suffered a bit from "middle" book syndrome but was still very compelling save for some blatant anorexia and cutting. Tally and Shay continue their "love/hate" friendship/rivalry which is a well-drawn and convincing adolescent relationship. You learn more about the world the author has created and are well set up for the third book, "Specials".

The third book, "Specials" follows Tally in her new role as a "Special". Shay is now her boss and she feels contempt for anyone not "Special", including her boyfriend Zane. Shay, Tally and their group of "cutters" are charged with finding the new "smoky" settlement and stemming the tide of cured "pretty" runaways from the city.

Again, Tally must overcome societal norms and be true to herself. Because she has a weaponized body, the story is full of action which reads quickly but was not as interesting to me personally. Still, the story comes to a satisfying conclusion and you feel like you're leaving a friend when you read the last page.
And now of course I am totally kicking myself because Scott Westerfeld was at Bologna Children's book fair and I could have met him but didn't. Do'h!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Frankfurt Public Library

My TBR (to be read) book pile is quite high, but still I can't resist the pull of the public library. (Well, actually, I haven't been in so long that I didn't even know that the main library had moved). The main library has quite a lot of books in English and many pretty recent titles as well. I brought home 8 books that I've had on my wish list but just wasn't sure enough about that I'd want to buy. So now I can read for 50 pages and if they don't grab me, I can put them down guilt free. I plan to visit the children's library in Bornheim to see what YA and PB they have on offer in English (maybe Friday).

I also picked up their events calendar and learned that author Annie Proulx is going to be at the main library on Friday May 16, 2008 at 7:30 pm to read from Brokeback Mountain. (free entry). Who wants to go with me?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Where to get free books and ARCs

(NOTE: This post was edited and updated on Dec 16, 2012)

If you are a book lover like I am, you are always excited to discover new books and ecstatic to get free books. I am lucky that I do get a lot of ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October and BEA in May. And while book fairs are great places to get books, there are other ways. Book publishers have caught on that a great way to get buzz for their books is to put them in the hands of people who love books and have a enough gratitude for a free book that they are likely to write a review on their blog, for amazon or other review outlets. Several websites now offer ways for publishers and authors to match up free books with willing readers and potential reviewers.

First up, there is the Early Reviewers program at Library Thing. Each month, LT releases a list of donated ARCs that ER members can request. LT then uses a special algorithm that calculates how likely you are to like the book you request (based on the books you enter into your LT library) and how likely you are to review it (based on the number of reviews you've uploaded to the site). It is not a sure thing - there are far more people requesting than there are review copies, but you can increase your chances. My first time, I spent a couple of hours entering about 70 books and uploading reviews for 1/3 of them and I ended up snagging an April 2008 book, The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton. I've gotten 16 more since.

Book Divas has a program called Collective X that offers ARCs for review. Every once in a while, the moderator announces the books she has to offer and you send her a private message with your top 5 picks. You need to review the books you've claimed before you can claim more.

Shelf Awareness has a daily newsletter where publishers often offer ARCs in ads. Just sign up for the newsletter and look for ads which say "Click here to get an ARC" or some variation thereof. Make sure you sign up for the Pro edition.

Bostick Communications provides access to review copies of books mostly by self-published authors.

NetGalley is the place to go for eGalleys of many publishers' books if you have access to an eReader.  Be aware however that most eGalleys expire on the book's publication date.  Make sure to fill out your profile with the appropriate information or you are likely to be declined for many books.

Edelweiss is another eGalley platform of interest.

Publishers themselves have also set up ways to get free books into your eager hands:

Harper Collins has a First Look program where winners are selected at random and applicants must explain why they think they'd like the book (currently on hiatus).

Hachette also offers ARCs for active bloggers on the ning platform called Early Birds ARC review. You can also join and get review copies from the Early Birds Blog Tour group and the Audiobook Review group.

St. Martin's Reading Group Gold offers Early Access books periodically on a first-come, first-served basis so check back often for latest offers.

If you are in a Sci-fi book club, you can sign up at Del Rey to get on their ARC mailing list. Many publishers run periodic contests or will enter you into a drawing to win free books if you sign up for their newsletter.


Thomas Nelson has a book review bloggers program where you get a book in exchange for a 200 word review on your blog and a consumer retail site .

Young Adult:

Random House offers Random Buzz for teens (earn points that can be traded for free books by submitting reviews and doing activities - this seems like a lot of work!).

There is the In Group at Mac Teen Books for teens 13-19 (not sure exactly how it works, but if you want to join, there's a e-mail address provided in the sidebar).

Teen reviewers can be members of the Hip Scouts at Hachette.

And then there is Sneeky Peeks at CBAY Books (an imprint of Blooming Tree Press).

There are also tons of sites and blogs that run contests where you can win books. You can find some just by surfing around and looking at bloggers' sidebars.  Free Book Friday and Free Book Friday for Teens offer new book contests every Friday. Fresh Fiction has a page with a LONG list of contests you can enter each month. YA Books Central has great book contests from publishers for YA books. Goodreads also has many book giveaways as part of their First Reads programs.

Another activity to get involved in is blog tours. This is where an author who wants to promote his or her latest book sets up a tour of book lover's blogs. The blog owners will usually get an ARC of the book and agree to review it as well as host the author on a specific day (usually an interview). I've been a part of several of these. There are several PR specialists who set these up and two good places to start are Pump up your book promotion and TLC Book Tours. If you do end up becoming a host for a tour, Lillie Ammann has a great article here with advice for hosts.

A type of blog tour that is becoming increasingly popular is the ARC tour, where a group of bloggers pass along upcoming books to review before publication. In this case, you do not get to keep the book, but must read it and then pass it along within a certain time frame (usually one week). Because these types of tours are a ton of work to organize, most don't last very long.  Try googling ARC tour to see if you can find current ones.

Lastly, you can get the publishers/authors to come to you - how? By maintaining an active book reviewing blog with a wide readership. Easier said than done right? I started getting offers just a few months after I started reviewing books on my blog, but I put in a lot of hard work on my blog in the meantime.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Emmy comes home

I picked up Emmy on Friday so she's been with us a couple of days now. The first night, she just danced around on us all night, licking our faces and biting exposed skin - not very restful! Saturday night she was calmed down enough that she didn't bother us too much.

She found a spot she really likes - under the sofa in a storage compartment used to store blankets. So if we can't find her, we just dangle a rope in front of the sofa and she runs out. She seems to be adjusting well and is very cuddly (besides the night biting).

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

London Trip for Daniel's Birthday

Friday, we caught our BA flight to Heathrow's new Terminal 5 (it looks quite nice - excellent signage) and were at Jeremy's birthday party in the Guanabara by 7. He had rented two tables off to the side of this very hopping club with a live band playing. With 70 Mojitos and beers too numerous to count spread out among 25 birthday guests, there was a lot of dancing! I haven't been out to a club in ages but this was really fun.

Here I am with the birthday boy and Antonia - a super cool girl from Zimbabwe (obviously we had lots to talk about!)

Saturday we went to visit Steffi and her 2 month old son Caspar and then went out to lunch at a french cafe in Chelsea.

We also went to a gallery that was displaying some of Banksy's work. He is most famous for his graffiti art which now sells for over 100,000 pounds a piece.

Then we met Synne and Guy at their place where we dined on a delicious enchilada dinner.

Sunday, Jeremy picked us up for church at Holy Trinity Brompton, famous for their alpha course, a basic christianity primer or refresher course. We really enjoyed the service and wish we had access to such a vibrant worship experience here in Frankfurt.

In the evening, we all (Synne, me, Guy, Daniel, Jeremy) met for dinner at an authentic Japanese restaurant in Hampstead to celebrate Daniel's birthday.

Monday we met Sarah McIntyre, her husband, and her friend Annika for breakfast at a real greasy spoon on Regency Street. Sarah is a very talented illustrator who we met in Bologna and we look forward to more children's book related exchange and hearty breakfasts with her.

Though I did not make it to the London Book Fair which also started Monday (35 pounds to enter seemed a bit steep) I did pick up several new books in London which I am looking forward to reading including Mister Pip and The Declaration.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

KU in the NCAA final

I'm so excited that KU has made it to the final of the NCAA basketball tournament! Go Kansas!

UPDATE: And they won the championship!! My dad said that two days later you could buy championship hats, t-shirts and season retrospectives in the stores already. How's that for production turnaround?!

Saturday, April 5, 2008


I've waited so long to post (we got back Tuesday evening) because I wanted to include pictures that I took with my phone (I forgot my camera), but I still haven't figured out a way to get them from my phone to my computer.

Bologna Day 1
Operating on very little sleep, I wasn’t too enthused to discover that the owner of our bed and breakfast only speaks Italian. That meant it took a half hour for her to explain that she wouldn't be serving breakfast because her babysitter broke her leg (and this leg is integral to making breakfast, how?) and that we owed her money because we only paid for single occupancy (a scam she tried on her other guests as well as we soon found out). At least we had a place to store our luggage as we used our free day to go out to explore the city.

There is not too much in way of tourist attractions, but we did climb the 498 steps of the tower for lovely views of the city and sampled the excellent food at 3 different establishments.

Bologna Day 2
We were up bright and early for day 1 of the SCBWI pre-Bologna workshop. The first speaker was illustrator Paul Zelinsky (“The Wheels on the Bus”, “Rumpelstiltskin” which we got signed) who also happened to be our neighbor at the B&B (we’ve seen him in his PJs). He was a highly entertaining speaker – really all of the speakers were great. Daniel’s favorite was by Ariol creator Marc Boutavant and his publisher Pauline. We were lucky to pick up a copy of the French graphic novel for kids and get it signed.

For dinner we met an Art Center classmate of Daniel’s, Damien, who now works at Ducati designing motorcycles.

Bologna Day 3
Another day of inspiring speakers including Kathleen Duey (“Sacred Scars” which I just ordered), Babette Cole (“Princess Smartypants” which we got signed), Leonard Marcus (“Ways of Telling”, “Side by Side” – books we have that we SHOULD have brought to get signed), and Susan Fletcher (“Alphabet of Dreams”) who led my writer’s workshop. Daniel had an illustrator’s workshop called “First Look” where children’s book editors looked at illustrations that attendees sent in beforehand and gave their opinions. Daniel had submitted 3 of his daily drawings and he got really great feedback. Everyone loved the vampire – in fact – the editor from Penguin said at the end that it was the one that stuck most in her mind and they even all gave Daniel their cards at the end. Definitely a confidence booster for him!

Dinner was at the SCBWI closing party in town which was a great opportunity to mingle with fellow authors and illustrators and industry insiders.

Bologna Day 4
This was our day at the actual book fair. Since it is only children’s books, it is much smaller than the Frankfurt Book Fair, so we saw all we wanted to in one day. We picked up some catalogues and got books of illustrations from Portuguese and Argentinean illustrators.

Dinner was with some of the SCBWI members again – we sat next to Babette Cole who is wacky and so inspiring. Then we met Damien again for a drink at a trendy bar where we ran into two of the Portuguese illustrators from our book, Madalena Matoso and Bernardo Carvalho and got them to sign it.

Bologna Day 5
Our last day – we did some shopping and visited the big unfinished cathedral on the main plaza. It was a beautiful sunny day – we were out in just t-shirts! We also blew our anti-sugar diet by eating the yummiest gelato (ice cream) of all time. Then we flew back to overcast, cold Frankfurt.

All this book signing got me thinking about all the authors/illustrators I’ve met over the years, so I thought I’d make a (partial) list (leaving out the ones of course I just mentioned above):

Shel Silverstein (Allison Elementary School)
Zilpha Keatly Synder (Allison Elementary School)
Norma Fox Mazer (Power of the Pen, State Writing Competition)
Neil Gaiman (Frankfurt Book Fair)
Jasper Fforde (Frankfurt Book Fair)
Ken Follett(Frankfurt Book Fair)
Tomie de Paola (SCBWI Paris)
Marcus Zusak (SCBWI Munich)