I Am J
by Cris Beam
2011 • 352 pages • Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
I’m not sure I have that much to say about I Am J, let alone the seven hundred words I decided a long, long time ago was my required length for a review in this house. (Every space I occupy, be it a physical space or not, inevitably becomes referred to as a house. Even the Church of Bowie, although, I suppose, it is technically also the Thin White Duke’s House.) The novel is a fairly straight forward transition narrative: a teenage trans man comes to terms with being trans, decides to begin hormone treatment, and finally comes to a place in his life where he can live as himself. It isn’t poorly written. It boasts a diverse cast. It actually talks about homelessness and queer youth. But there wasn’t anything for me in it.
by James Burke
Worldbuilding is one of the most difficult challenges a speculative fiction writer can face. It’s difficult to balance the believability, research, and discretion necessary for it to be effective. It needs to be believable; it needs to be well-researched; and it needs to be the setting, not the story. The existence of Worldbuilders’ Disease speaks to this difficulty, as we’ve seen over and over again in the past.
Ever After High: The Storybook of Legends by Shannon Hale
Have I mentioned that I’m in stupid love with Monster High? Something about that doll franchise’s blend of adorable monster girls, increasingly outrageous fashion, and atrocious puns just makes me happy. The webseries’ emphasis on friendship and occasional horror certainly helps, such as designated mean girl Cleo being actually fiercely protective of her friends or Frankie Stein creating a voodoo doll boyfriend to impress her friends—who reveals his sentience by running off screaming after she’s dumped him in the trash. The franchise has been a hit with both adult collectors and the actual target audience. Mattel saw more money in them hills and spawned Ever After High, which is the same concept, but with the children of fairy tale characters in high school instead of the children of classic horror characters.
A History of Food in 100 Recipes by William Sitwell
The other day, I made my first omelette.
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
Before picking up The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, I only had two impressions of Holly Black. The first was that “When You’re a Jedi, You’re a Jedi All the Way,” the short story she collaborated on in Geektastic, was a weak execution of a good premise. The second is that she’s friends with Cassandra Clare. (According to disgruntled whispers in the fan community, Black introduced Clare to her literary agent. Remember, dear readers, networking is important! And it doesn’t have to be all cold and impersonal, either!) Sure, her Tithe is on my reading list, but it was added so long ago that I don’t remember how. (I keep much better notes now.) Neither impression scared me away from her, but neither did I go out of my way to pick up Tithe.
My Ideal Bookshelf by Jane Mount and Thessaly La Force
Every bibliophile knows the surreptitious joy of peeking at other people’s well-curated bookshelves. (Curation is important: haphazard piles of dusty books make me sad, unless I’m a potential buyer.) The books that are so important to you they stay with you move after move, culling after culling… those are the ones you can count the rings on your soul with. This is exactly what artist Jane Mount was tapping into when she started the Ideal Bookshelf Project in 2007, painting people’s idealized bookshelves. The spectacularly named Thessaly La Force joined forces with her and added interviews to Mount’s pieces, resulting in My Ideal Bookshelf.
Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple
Y’all know me—I rarely seek out brand new books by authors I’ve never heard of, especially anywhere near the time they’ve been released. But Melissa’s review of Where’d You Go Bernadette over at The Feminist Texan [Reads] made me reconsider, as did its inclusion on Book Riot’s Best Books of 2012 list. My temporal gap between publication and reading is usually a function of accessibility; I once had a hold on The Time Traveler’s Wife come in, six months after I placed it. Perfectly reasonable, given my place in line (somewhere in the hundreds?), but my appetite is easily distracted. But I had no such problem here, raiding the new bookshelf of my public library at home and then blazing through it in a day.
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
I never read anything at the right time. This not only applies to seasonal reads, but generational reads. During a recent A. V. Club binge, I came across a Q & A post where contributors talked about what they would make required reading to graduate from high school. Among them was The Catcher in the Rye, which I have managed to completely miss. (That’s not too surprising; I’ve managed to completely miss The Wizard of Oz. Now I’m just holding onto that out of sheer stubbornness.) I have a hard time relating to teenage protagonists, but, for some reason, I found myself wandering the fiction shelves at the library and automatically taking it home. It’s not the usual time, perhaps, but it’s the right time for me.
A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh
I love Brideshead Revisited. It’s one of the few novels I knew of as a child (despite current appearances, I wasn’t a reading child) that has stayed with me to adulthood. My mother, whose love of British television I inherited (as well as her love of Lou Reed, which is another story), tried to sit me down and show me the BBC miniseries as a child. But Evelyn Waugh comes down hard on his best-known novel; upon review, he found it rather rich and gluttonous. As much as that disappoints me, I was curious about Waugh’s other novels, the ones that Brideshead Revisited deviates from. A Handful of Dust, as a recommendation, actually comes from The Lost City of Z, and it was the only Waugh in at the library that I could pin down.
Far From Xanadu by Julie Anne Peters
My recommendation for Far From Xanadu comes from the dearth of butch heroines in literature, let alone young adult literature. Malinda Lo recommended it on Tor.com, so I thought it was worth picking up. This is actually a harder title to come by, if only because this book actually has two titles—the original Far From Xanadu and the recent reissue under the title Pretend You Love Me. But rest assured, they’re the same book.