Book Blog – Likely Stories, from Booklist Online
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Book Blog - Likely Stories, by Keir Graff - Booklist Online

Likely Stories

A Booklist Blog
Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

Thursday, June 26, 2014 9:40 am
Book Trailer Thursday: Journey
Posted by: Annie Bostrom

Heading to ALA Annual Conference in Las Vegas? Let this trailer for Aaron Becker’s Journey (Candlewick Press), a 2014 Caldecott Honor title, see you on your way! (And, look for a Booklist review of Journey‘s sequel, Quest, next week–in the July issue and on Booklist Online.)

Thursday, June 26, 2014 1:00 am
Simon & Schuster Expands Library E-book Lending
Posted by: Keir Graff

As ALA’s Annual Conference gets under way in Las Vegas, ALA President Barbara Stripling welcomed the news that Simon & Schuster will convert its pilot library ebook lending program to serve all U.S. libraries:

“Today represents an important milestone for improving the ability of libraries to serve the public in the digital age. America’s libraries are the quintessential institution in connecting authors and readers. We have always known that library lending encourages patrons to experiment by sampling new authors, topics and genres. This experimentation stimulates the market for books—with the library serving as a critical de facto discovery, promotion and awareness service for authors and publishers.”

Click here for Stripling’s full statement.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014 1:52 pm
See You in Las Vegas?
Posted by: Sarah Grant

PrintBooklisters are packing their bags for ALA’s Annual Conference in Las Vegas. Are you going, too? We hope you’ll make time for some of the following events!

Michael L. Printz Program and Reception

This year’s program honors Marcus Sedgwick, 2014 Michael L. Printz winner for Midwinterblood, and Printz Honor Book authors Rainbow Rowell, Susann Cokal, Sally Gardner, and Clare Vanderpool.

Friday, June 27, 8–10 p.m., Paris Las Vegas Hotel, Versailles Ballroom.

She Reads . . . Tarot!

Stop by to have Booklist columnist Kaite Mediatore Stover read your tarot and see if the cards hold 50% off a new subscription for you!

Saturday, June 28, 1–3 p.m., Booklist booth #617.

Nancy Pearl, chair of the Carnegie committee

Nancy Pearl, chair of the Carnegie committee

Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence Award Ceremony

Join bestselling author Karin Slaughter, committee chair Nancy Pearl, and the 2014 winners for the big announcement! Drinks, dessert, and a drawing for signed books will follow.

Saturday, June 28, 8–10 p.m., Caesars Palace, Octavius 5-8.

Discovery: the New Name for Readers’ Advisory?

Readers’ advisory expert Kaite Mediatore Stover, Bibliocommons CEO Beth Jefferson, and Collection Management editor Rebecca Vnuk discuss both new and tried-and-true methods of leading your patrons to their next great read.

Monday, June 30, 10:30–11:30 a.m. Las Vegas Conference Center, room S219.

Beth Jefferson, CEO of Bibliocommons

Beth Jefferson, CEO of Bibliocommons

Odyssey Awards Presentation.

The free program will celebrate this year’s winner—Scowler, written by Daniel Kraus, narrated by Kirby Heyborne, and produced by Listening Library—as well as the 2014 Honor titles.

Monday, June 30, 3:30–5:30 p.m., Las Vegas Convention Center, room N256.

 Love FREE stuff? Enter a raffle to win tickets to the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence award ceremony; pick up complimentary issues of the June Booklist and April Book Links print magazines; get a tour of Booklist Online—all this and more from your friends at Booklist!

See you at booth #617!

Monday, June 23, 2014 2:18 pm
Pictures from an Investigation: The Images That Inspired My Book, “Black Current”
Posted by: Karen Keskinen

Black Current by Karen KeskinenKaren Keskinen’s Black Current, the second mystery to feature private investigator Jaymie Zarlin, opens with an arresting scene: Zarlin sees the lifeless body of a teenager, wrapped in the tentacles of the deadly jellyfish he was feeding at the Santa Barbara Aquarium. In this blog post, Keskinen discusses the images that informed the creation of her latest novel.

Wasps of the Sea

Sometimes a single image, even an image that dwells only in the mind, sparks a novel. Black Current was engendered that way.

Chironex fleckeri

Where do life guards wear pantyhose and store bottles of vinegar in their stashes of surfboard wax? If you’ve spent time in Australia, as I have, you know the answer. Down Under, nets surrounding popular beaches aren’t just there to keep out the sharks. Perhaps even more fearsome than a Great White is Chironex fleckeri, a species of box jelly. Commonly known as the Sea Wasp, its tentacles can reach ten feet long, deliver stings resulting in excruciating pain, and cause death in under three minutes.

Which brings me back to the image that sparked in my mind: the body of a handsome, athletic young man floating in an aquarium tank. Skye Rasmussen was wrapped in the arms of a blue box jelly, and the two swayed together in a macabre dance. How did Skye end up in that tank? A mystery was born.

The Camino Formerly Known as “Blue Boy”

El Camino

PI Jaymie Zarlin is a fit woman not all that keen on the collections of squirrel cages commonly called gyms. She relies on the jogging and biking she does around town to help her stay strong. Even so, her favorite mode of locomotion was always Blue Boy, her brother Brodie’s El Camino. In a fit of funk she doesn’t like to remember, Jaymie donated Blue Boy to a local charity, which spun around and sold the El Cam to an aging boomer down in L.A.

Now she wants Blue Boy back. But the boomer has renamed the Camino Dudette, and Jaymie knows she needs to let go—and locomote on.

The Santa Barbara Aquarium


We may not have a facility called the Santa Barbara Aquarium here in our town, but we do have the Ty Warner Sea Center, perched jauntily on a spur pier just off Stearns Wharf. The Sea Center sells Beanie Babies in the gift shop, boasts a collection of glow-in-the-dark jellies, and possesses a wet deck. I’ve monkeyed around with the dimensions and layout to suit my own nefarious purposes, but trust me in this: the Sea Center is remarkably similar to the Santa Barbara Aquarium in Black Current.

Seven-pointed Piñata


Dale, dale, dale: hit, hit, hit. If the image of Skye embraced in Cruella’s arms suggested the book to me, it was the image of a traditional piñata that suggested the theme.

For once, the high-schoolers were paying attention in their ethnic studies class: their attention was piqued when they learned that the seven points of a traditional piñata represent the seven deadly sins. The piñata, which may have been carried by Marco Polo from China to Europe, was brought on to Mexico by the Spanish missionaries. The Mayans already had a similar custom, and the enterprising friars bound the two customs together to teach Christian lessons. The one with the stick, blind-folded, represents Faith: she and the onlookers are rewarded with a shower of goodies when she vanquishes those deadly sins.

The kids in Black Current have a bright idea. They’ll stage their own version of a piñata party. The goodies themselves will actually represent the deadly sins—and the yummy rewards will be no virtues. Dale, dale, dale: who else but Gabi Gutierrez, Jaymie’s sidekick, will have the fortitude to set these wayward kids on the straight and narrow path?

A Rare Flower Indeed

Flower tattoo

Much of Santa Barbara is frost-free, and plumerias do grow here. The waxy fragrant blooms tend to be cream, yellow, or white. An orange-and-blue plumeria bloom is rare, so rare that it may only exist in the imagination of a tattoo artist—or a writer.

Even so, Jaymie Zarlin finds one of those rarities, squashed and imprinted with the pattern of the sole of a shoe. Where does she find it? And from whence did it come? That would be telling!

Rain Dance

Rain danceSanta Barbarians came together this past spring to hold a rain dance up at the mission. Their antics found no favor with the gods, however: we remain dead center in the red bull’s-eye of California’s drought map. Locals are busy ripping out any remaining lawns, coyotes are chewing at the drip irrigation lines, and the city mothers and fathers are dusting off the abandoned desalinization plant.

Black Current is a story about thirst in a dry land. The characters thirst for love, and for their loved ones who’ve died or moved on. They drown in a dry climate, but even then, they can’t quench their thirst.

The people in Black Current desire one thing above all, and that’s rain: the rain that turns the grasses green overnight, the rain that pours down and sluices the ash from the leaves, cleansing and cooling the hot dry air. But some things don’t come by wishing, or trying, or even praying: they come only through grace.

Karen KeskinenKaren Keskinen was born in Salinas, California. She has also lived in California’s San Joaquin Valley and in Wellington, New Zealand. She now resides in Santa Barbara where she is a full-time writer. Keskinen is the author of Blood Orange (2013) and Black Current (2014).

Thursday, June 19, 2014 10:14 am
Book Trailer Thursday: I Am Having So Much Fun Here without You
Posted by: Annie Bostrom

According to Booklist reviewer Kate Soto, Courtney Maum’s debut I Am Having So Much Fun Here without You (Touchstone) “deftly captures a thirtysomething’s sense of grief for the lost passion of youth.” The book’s trailer strikes me as capturing that very same mood; what do you think? Watch and decide.

Monday, June 16, 2014 10:03 am
True Confessions: V.C. Andrews Made Me the Librarian I am Today
Posted by: Rebecca

doll_attic_1This year, Lifetime Television began producing movie versions of V.C. Andrews’ “classic” tales in the Dollanganger series, starting with Flowers in the Attic. I don’t have cable, but was lucky enough to be on a business trip at the time, which meant, yay, hotel cable! (My unfortunate husband was roped into watching it with me, on our anniversary, no less.) For the second installment, Petals on the Wind, I was once again traveling (hm, I wonder if If There Be Thorns will come out in time for Midwinter 2015?), and had the chance to savor every over-the-top moment.

Anyone who watches the movies without the (dubious) benefit of reading the books first will likely turn them off after just a few minutes—the dialogue is awful, the acting even worse, and if you don’t already know the plot, you’ll never understand what’s going on. The basic outline is this: Man marries cousin. Incredibly wealthy parents outraged, cut couple out of inheritance. Couple has four lovely children, father dies in a tragic accident, mother is forced to crawl back to family asking for forgiveness and acceptance. Wicked and batshit crazy grandmother agrees to let mother and children back into palatial family home, but locks kids in attic. All kinds of over-the-top drama ensues, including religious mania, incest, and arsenic poisoning. Cut to book two, where kids (now young adults) escape attic, are taken in by kindly doctor and his mute housekeeper. Chris, the older boy, is still obsessed with his sister, Cathy, who is obsessed with moving to New York to become a ballerina. She does so, only after rejecting the doctor’s marriage proposal after discovering his own melodramatic past. Younger sister Carrie, still in high school, meets a terrible fate after not being able to drown out the years of berating by the grandmother, convinced that she is “devil’s spawn” and should have never been born. If you want the most clever and hilarious take on the series possible, check out the book reports on Forever Young Adult.doll_attic_2

Any time I talk to people about their experiences with this series—and I find myself talking about it a lot lately, thanks to the movies—no one can quite put their finger on why we liked them so much. But there is no doubt that women who came of age in the 1970s and ’80s hold a special place in their hearts for these books. The common refrain is usually that they were passed around at slumber parties, or at school, or maybe swiped from our moms, if they were young and cool enough. Everyone remembers the black covers with the peek-a-boo frames, and we compare notes on which scenes have stayed in our heads longer than anything we might have read in our seventh grade English class. Most of us were not savvy about sex, and likely skimmed right over those scenes—they aren’t at all graphic, and we just knew they were dirty. But there’s a lot more to these novels than just the sex.

A January 2014 Slate article on the series goes as far as to draw parallels between the outrageous plot and the need for girls to assert their independence, as well as the fear of turning into one’s mother. That may be stretching things a bit, but where the article really gets it right is summed up with this: “The novel addressed the disconnect between feelings that were hard for us to acknowledge and fiction that we were supposed to like. Despite its excesses, it conveyed a sadness about being robbed of normalcy that felt authentic to teens that were experiencing varying degrees of their own family dysfunction.”

doll_petals_1The vast catalog of V.C. Andrews books usually strikes fear in the hearts of librarians. After all, they are mass-market paperbacks, likely to go missing or fall apart (those stepback covers don’t hold up well), and worse, there are 77 titles in 20 different series (not surprisingly, they all feature young adult women, and a host of horrors awaits for every heroine.) When Andrews died in 1986, ghostwriter Andrew Neiderman took over and is still churning out the beauties. Patrons keep requesting them, and librarians valiantly try to keep track of them, even while wrinkling their noses—and veteran librarians know that Fifty Shades of Grey had nothing on Andrews’ oeuvre.

While most lovers of literature scorn the purplest of purple prose that is found within those black covers—not to mention their utter disgust with the forbidden sexuality, outrageous plot holes, obsession with religion, and psychotic characters—I talk about the books with near reverence, and I proudly declare my love for them. At the base level, I read for entertainment. I read to be taken out of my pleasant little regular old life, and nothing’s better than a book that sweeps me up in a fascinating story, no matter how crude or unrealistic it may be. And you know what? I have come to the realization that these novels played a role in my success as a reader’s advisory librarian. Every RA librarian has Betty Rosenberg’s quote inscribed upon their hearts: “Never apologize for your reading tastes.” Some give lip service to that, but I live it. Every book can be judged as good, if someone enjoys it. If I am willing to gleefully pick up and re-read a V.C. Andrews novel, who am I to look down on any other reader?

I find it pretty amusing that there’s a big hubbub right now about people having to defend their reading choices, with articles on why adults shouldn’t read YA or why a celebrated (and decidedly literary) novel isn’t highbrow enough to warrant accolades. Why is this even an issue? (As Cathy would say, “Golly-lolly!”) My reading has a wide range. In fact, my copy of Flowers in the Attic sits nicely on the shelf next to my dog-eared college copy of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil (interesting juxtaposition, dontcha’ think?). I encourage everyone to get outside of your reading comfort zone and pick up something you normally sneer at. (Andrews’ My Sweet Audrina is a doozy. . .) You might just find yourself enjoying it. And there’s not a damn thing wrong with that.


Thursday, June 12, 2014 12:44 pm
Book Trailer Thursday: Animal Madness
Posted by: Annie Bostrom

It’s been a few weeks without an animal-themed post at BTT, and we are beginning to feel short of breath. To the rescue is Animal Madness: How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots, and Elephants in Recovery Help Us Understand Ourselves, by Laurel Braitman (Simon & Schuster). Reviewer Nancy Bent calls Braitman’s findings fascinating, and the trailer alone delivers lots of food for thought. Let’s watch, read, and be kind to our occasionially neurotic feathered and four-legged friends (and, I think Braitman would add, ourselves, too).

Wednesday, June 11, 2014 3:45 pm
In Memoriam: Frances Foster
Posted by: Gillian Engberg
Frances Foster

Frances Foster

It’s with great sadness that we join the community of mourners for editor Frances Foster, who passed away last Sunday at age 83, following a long illness. During her 50-year career in children’s publishing, Frances shaped and nurtured the work of a remarkable and eclectic roster of talents, including Leo Lionni, Phillip Pullman, Kate Banks, and Peter Sís. This week, I revisited some favorite books that she helped bring into the world. (Here are a few that I just looked at: Louis Sachar’s Newbery Medal-winning HolesPeter Sís’ multi-award-winning The Walland the luminous and powerful Planting the Trees of Kenya, by Claire A. Nivola.)

I’ve also been revisiting the few conversations with Frances that I am fortunate to have had over the years. The first one was not long after I began working at ALA in 1998, as an assistant editor at Book Links magazine. In addition to speaking about young readers and their books, Frances also spoke about herself as a young reader—and as a young person, in general. Among many other things, I learned about her adventures as an English language teacher in Europe as a very young woman, before she entered publishing, and I learned about her profound interest in others’ stories, including my own. What might have been business as usual for Frances felt like a transformative moment of mentoring for me; her whole-hearted intelligence, sly humor, and gracious generosity made a deep impression that continues to guide how I read and recommend books, and how I listen to—and learn about—others. That’s just one personal memory of Frances. We invite you to join in and share your own remembrances—or tributes to her influential work. And as plans for a memorial service are announced, we’ll update this post with information. For now, Frances’ family asks that any donations in her memory go to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, 125 West Bay Road, Amherst, Mass. 01002.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014 8:42 am
Hostile Questions: Marcus Sedgwick
Posted by: Daniel Kraus

HOSTILE LOGOIt’s just a couple weeks before Marcus Sedgwick accepts the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. It’s a pretty sweet deal: your books get these neat foil dealies and you get to take home a glass — well, I don’t know what to call it. It’s a thing. A glass thing. Perhaps they should rename the award to The Glass Thing?

Anyhoo, what did Mr. Sedgwick do to deserve such unusual glassware? He wrote a historical-novel-in-reverse called Midwinterblood. I know, it sounds brilliant, but I have a theory. The Youth Media Awards are always announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting, so isn’t it possible that Mr. Sedgwick wrote this book for the sole purpose that the title would worm its way into the minds of Midwinter-ing Printz  Committee members so that they rubber-stamped it like glassy-eyed Manchurian Candidates? Isn’t it possible we are all victims to a massive conspiracy by a foreign interloper? That’s right, Sedgwick isn’t even American.

And to think, he almost got away with it. The clever little bastard.

The best picture we had on file.

       The best picture we had on file.

Just who do you think you are?

I think I’m a 46-year-old British writer with a liking for red wine and the films of Stanley Kubrick amongst other things, but somehow I also think I’m a 17-year-old dude who plays bass in a garage punk band. There is no evidence for this whatsoever, any more than there is that I have always felt like I’m about 72, even when I was 12. I hope I’m not getting any weird looks now – I believe we all have this feeling; who else might I have been? Who else could I be? Isn’t that one of the reasons we like to read? So we can become a thousand-year-old telepathic go-go dancing cat living in another galaxy? If no one has written this book yet, please could they?

In summary, I have no idea who I am; I’m certainly not the person I often find myself describing when invited to speak about being a writer. It’s odd that other people always seem to know exactly who you are. Or think they do.

Where do you get off?

Well now, that would be telling. I seriously don’t think I should talk about that here, on the Booklist blog. I mean, this is a classy place, right? But I could perhaps mention other forms of mind-altering behavior, such as writing. Because this is an interview about writing, isn’t it? It isn’t? Oh. Well, anyway, I don’t do drugs because that whole thing is incredibly boring. And people talking about it is even more boring.

If you take even a few minutes to look around, it rapidly becomes obvious that the whole world is a spectacularly strange mind-bump anyway. And as a writer you get to pick and choose the freakiest drugs in the candy store. And then, rather than ending up as a burned-out, bankrupt bore with ruined health, you get to turn these things into stories, for which there’s even the slim possibility you might get paid. So that’s how I get off. But I’m not letting on where.

midwinterbloodWhat’s the big idea?

The big idea is linked to the above. It seems that the world falls into two kinds of people; those who think the world falls into two kinds of people, and those who don’t. And of those that do, the world falls into two kinds of people; those who seemed interested in the universe into which they have been deposited, and those who don’t look further than their toenails. As a writer, you are always being asked what’s the most important trait to have, and BEING INTERESTED in the world is right up there with good typing skills and a sassy agent. It’s probably the most depressing thing in the world when you meet someone who simply has no desire to look around, to understand himself or herself, or anyone else for that matter, or, in the loosest sense of the word, to explore. Note, these kinds of people tend not to be readers. That’s a generalization of course, but the world falls into two kind of people; those that… Oh yeah. Sorry.

What is your problem, man?

How long have we got? Do you want a list? I could draw you a picture if that makes things clearer, or maybe I could do a matrix diagram, like those that the incredibly-intelligent and not-at-all-patronizing people who work in advertising use to work out how to sell us stupid people rubbish stuff we don’t need. Matrix diagrams (potential for unlimited harm..!?) are dumb because they try to make the world simple. The world isn’t simple, it’s very complicated, but that’s not my big problem. My problem is that many people seem to think the world can be simplified; black/white, good/bad, Coke/new Coke, when the truth is way more complex than that. It would be like trying to classify everyone in the world as falling into two types of people; those that… Oh, yeah. Right. Sorry.

My other big problem seems to be using the phrases ‘seem to’ or ‘seems to’ because I haven’t got the nerve to say what I actually think.

Haven’t you done enough?

Yes and no. I’ve probably done too much of some things. I guess you know what I’m talking about. But I haven’t done enough of the things that really matter to me, and writing is one of those. The very best part about being a writer is the time when you are putting words next to each other, trying to find an interesting and original and good way of doing that. When it’s going well, it feels very, very nice. I don’t get to have that experience anywhere near often enough – and actually I don’t think it would be possible to. So in the meantime I will go on, trying to ‘fail better’ as Samuel Beckett put it. But I’ll stop doing the other stuff. Thanks for pointing it out.

Thursday, June 5, 2014 11:58 am
Book Trailer Thursday: Claire of the Sea Light
Posted by: Annie Bostrom

With just a few weeks to go until two of the six Carnegie Medal for Excellence shortlist titles are announced as winners, this week’s BTT features one of the three fiction offerings: Edwidge Danticat’s Claire of the Sea Light (Knopf). Reviewer Vanessa Bush writes that the book’s interlocking stories “flow beautifully one into another, all rendered in the luminous prose for which Danticat is known.”

Heading to ALA Annual Conference? Find out in person if Danticat, or any of your other favorite shortlist authors, will be taking home one of this year’s prizes at the Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction presentation on Saturday, June 28 at 8 p.m. at Caesar’s Palace. Come for the announcement, stay for the dessert and drinks reception! Buy your tickets here.

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Quoted material should be attributed to:
Keir Graff, Likely Stories (Booklist Online).

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