57th Street Books' Angela Sherrill picks three books about Wolves

"Teens & Wolves: A Post in Two Voices"


The Program:
 At 57th Street Books, I have a Kid and Teen Critic review program, where I exchange ARCs and galleys for reviews.  ARCs are hand-selected to match the individual reader based on the participant's age, reading level, history and genre preferences. After reviews are submitted, I use them to help determine stock, displays, and promotions; to gauge interest in genres, authors and various formats; and to communicate with publishers on early feedback.  And the review program helps other shoppers make better decisions, especially when buying books as gifts, by posting the reviews in store, online, and in newsletters.

The Reviewer: Jennifer Glick has been a part of the Teen Critic program for over two years.  I have relied heavily on her opinion in my decision-making and find her reviews concise, reliable, helpful and enjoyable. She has helped me discover books I might not have read, and also helped me weed out others I probably shouldn't devote time towards.

The Idea: While my colleagues may call me a spring chicken, I am no longer a teen.  Therefore, the reviews from the teens in our program are essential to balance adult opinions with those of the intended audience.  For this post, I've paired up with Jen to get a more balanced perspective on three young adult novels about werewolves. Yes, teen werewolves.

The Note: These reviews contain spoilers.  Don't say we didn't warn you!

   

Liar
by Justine Larbalestier
Bloomsbury | 9781599903057 | 16.99 | Sept 2009

One of my favorite gals in publicity, Deb Shapiro, from Bloomsbury, got me to read this with her teaser campaign that included a chapter sampler, vague, yet enthusiastic little notes of praise, and of course, the early galley. I jumped in with two feet ready to love what she'd sent. But here's why I didn't.

Micah, the main character and narrator of the book, is a compulsive liar.  I found reading from this perspective endlessly frustrating.  As a reader, I was not able to distinguish between actual people, places, things and events and Micah's revisionist accounts. While this was a unique read, it's not something I felt I would recommend or read again. Mostly because, even though we don't really know Micah's story, the one she tells is that of urban werewolves and their bloody, romantic escapades.

While I suspected teens would be interested in the genre, I had no idea how they would take to the “liar's tale” voice.  Luckily, one of my savvy Teen Critics turned in a review to help balance my own opinion.  Here's her perspective: 

When I first picked up Liar it looked like one of the quickly and shoddily written werewolf novels that the recent Twilight obsession has unleashed, but Liar turned out to be a fantastic surprise.

I absolutely, one-hundred-percent, loved Liar.  The best part about the book is that it follows the life of Micah, a teenage pathological liar who is constantly rewriting her own story.  Thus the reader is never sure which chapters are true, and which convey aspects of a life that Micah wishes was her own.  Halfway through the novel Micah reveals that she is a werewolf, who shifts once a month unless she regularly takes her medication.

This novel is my favorite of the three wolf stories because instead of adding a wolf to an ordinary story, Ms. Larbalestier takes a great story about a liar, and then adds another great story about a werewolf. 

Wow! It''s a good thing I'm not the buyer at a reputable bookstore, huh?  Oh, right. I am. Well then, it's a good thing I have teens who review books for me, huh?

> Justine Larbaleister blogs here and tweets here.

***

Shiver
by Maggie Stiefvatar
Scholastic | 9780545123273 | $8.99 | June 2010

My sales rep and other booksellers really talked this one up early on as “the next Twilight, but with werewolves”.  So I knew it would get some attention and thought I'd give it a read after my recent lack of enthusiasm for Larbalestier's Liar. No dice. While I did enjoy this story a little more, it still fell flat and felt too much like werewolf romance. Which is good in a way, because that is exactly what it is.  Why are these girls dying to be vampires or wolves?  What's wrong with them? Why are so many people loving this story and desperate for it's sequel, Linger, due out in July 2010? For answers to these questions, I turn to my Teen Critics.

Jen hadn't read this one just after Liar, like I did.  I asked her to read this as the idea for this post formulated inside my cynical little head.  Here's what she said:

Shiver is a tale of a doomed romance, as Grace falls in love with a werewolf named Sam who has only a few more months to stay human. Although there are some mystery elements to the novel, the primary focus rests upon whether Sam and Grace are able to keep Sam human. 

The werewolf element made this story unique; instead of being simply a story about two teenagers in love they are a human girl and a wolf boy who are fighting against time and nature to stay together.

Jen thought this one was good, but not great.  While she doesn't have anything negative to say, she certainly wasn't raving about it like she did with Liar.  Therefore, I'd say we came out thinking similarly on this one. A sort of meeting in the middle.

> Maggie Stiefvatar blogs here and tweets here.

***

Claire de Lune
by Christine Johnson
Simon Pulse | 9780670011421 | $16.99 | May 2010

After reading two YA werewolf books, I certainly didn't expect to find myself reading a third this summer.  And then, one day, I got a call from a debut author trying to get her foot in the not-so proverbial door of a brick and mortar bookstore.  After a brief discussion on the possibility of hosting her for a book signing, I, with dread, agreed to read the book and then make a decision on whether we could make this work. I grabbed the galley, took it home, and started reading. 

Much to my surprise and pleasure, I truly enjoyed this one. And before I go on, here's what Jen had to say:

Claire de Lune is the most “traditional” werewolf novel out of the three, in the sense that Claire, the main character, is the werewolf, and she is trying to figure out how to be human and a wolf at the same time.  Claire’s life is further complicated when a rogue wolf begins to terrorize her community, inciting a local scientist to hunt the wolves so that he can attempt to cure them.  The novel gets interesting when Claire falls for the scientist’s son, but is unable to tell him about her true identity.

The mystery of the lone wolf makes you want to keep reading, and the hope for an impossible love keeps the reader entertained during slower scenes.  This book is well crafted and a delight to read – female teen readers who enjoy books about real girls with a splash of fantasy will love this book.

 I was happy to see Jen give nods to three things I couldn't agree with more. They are:

  1. Craftsmanship
  2. Mystery as intrigue
  3. Pleasurable reading

Our opinions diverge when Jen calls this one traditional. I can certainly see how you'd find this one more traditional when comparing this book to the two above, but I found this treatment of werewolves more feminist and enjoyable. Secondly, this one was definitely my favorite on the list, while Jen remained swept away by Liar

> Christine Johnson blogs here and tweets here.

In Summary:

Liar — Read this one if you're looking for a unique voice that will surprise and challenge you.

Shiver — Read this one if you're looking for a star-crossed romance to satisfy your soul.

Claire de Lune — Read this one if you're looking for a well-crafted, mysterious teen novel for the simple pleasure of reading a good story.

Moreover:  I can't wait until Twilight is no longer the starting off point for discussing YA novels such as these three books. It reminds me of the days when Harry Potter was the reference point for all middle-grade fantasy.  That moment seems to have passed. This, too, shall pass. 

In the meantime, I will keep encouraging teens to give all of us in the book world feedback.  I will gather their opinions, introduce them to new materials, and filter all of that through to you.  When you visit 57th Street Books, look for the kid and teen reviews and only after that should you ask me what I think about a particular book or genre.

– Angela Sherrill
57th Street Books 

[Editor's Note: As Angela alludes in her post, Claire de Lune author Christine Johnson will be appearing at 57th Street Books in July.  For more information, head on over to the Kids' Books page at the 57th Street Books site.]

Unearthing the foundations of our bookselling passion.

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I've been thinking about these books for a while, and I think it all comes down to archeology. Human archeology, I mean.

If we got out our tiny picks and miniature whisk brooms and our specimen trays and started digging into the psyche of the typical bookseller, the first layer we'd unearth would be that of a bookstore customer. We all have stories about the bookstores we used to shop in before we got into the business. We're always remembering those stores and the experiences we had in them.

If you looked underneath that bookstore customer layer, you'd likely find a childhood layer of bookish passions - wintry trips to bookstores and libraries, rainy days spent indoors with a long series of kids' mysteries, and summers spent in the park or on the stoop, engrossed in novels.

In fact, anyone who loves books and works with them professionally - from publishers to publicists to book bloggers - will likely have this common history below the surface.

The adults we've become are built upon these foundations that we all have in common. When we get together at trade shows or conferences or in bars to meet up with each other, these stories come out pretty easily. When I'm working with my buyers in their stores, or when I'm having a meal with other booksellers, a little scratching at the surface will reveal their stories.

Like the archeologists who study humanity's ancestors to better understand how we got where we are today, booklovers can examine our own bookish histories to understand why we do the work we do.

Luckily, some authors have taken it upon themselves to explore the roots of their own passions, the bookishly-tinted world around us, and why we behave the way we do in stores.

***

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop: A Memoir, A History

by Lewis Buzbee

Graywolf Press | 9781555975104 | $14 | 2008

How did I get here? What led me to this life? Sooner or later, we all ask these questions. Lewis Buzbee spends a good portion of his fascinating memoir & exploration of the history of bookselling, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, retelling his own story.

"I became a voracious reader and book luster at fifteen, after discovering The Grapes of Wrath. For several years, I cared little about a store's atmosphere or reputation; I was concerned only that it carried books.

"When I wanted new books, I hung out at the local B. Dalton located in the dark basement of our biggest shopping center, or at a tiny Little Professor tucked into the back end of a nearby strip mall. I bought mass-market editions of Steinbeck (every single one within six months), Cheever, Updike (for the respectable naughty bits), Vonnegut, Heller, Barth, Barthelme, Pynchon."

Buzbee soon graduates from bike-powered trips to the local mall to a discovery that he wants to spend his days & nights in bookstores. From his first day on the job, he's hooked. And in his memory, he captures the flavor of our passion so well!

"November, a dark, rainy Tuesday, late afternoon. This is my ideal time to be in a bookstore. The shortened light of the afternoon and the idleness and hush of the hour gather everything close, the shelves and the books and the few other customers who graze head-bent in the narrow aisles."

Perhaps you will pick up Yellow-Lighted Bookshop to find a portrait of a kindred spirit, as I did. But you'll finish the book with a greater appreciation for the democratic power of the book, and the place of the bookseller in the world.

***

The Book Shopper: A Life in Review

by Murray Browne

Paul Dry Books (Consortium) | 9781589880566 | $14.95 | May 2009

Like Lewis Buzbee's book, Murray Browne's The Book Shopper is also a memoir of a life spent reading and a life spent in bookstores. He writes from the outsider's point of view, the passionate amateur. Early chapters describe his initiation into the life of the book lover, his 10-year career as a book critic and even a balanced chapter on the pros and cons of Amazon.com book shopping (which he ends with a recommendation that sometimes you just need to step away from the keyboard and seek out your neighborhood bookstore).

Though his focus is frequently on shopping for used books, his chapters on the prerequisites of what every good bookstore should have make for a great starting point for any bookstore's collection. He doesn't waste time on store cats and mugs of coffee and comfy chairs - he just gets down to brass tacks: the authors that any self-respecting bookstore oughta carry. I doubt you'll disagree with any of his recommendations, and the treat is in the telling. He's a charming storyteller.

The Book Shopper is another great addition to the shelf of books for book lovers.

***

Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping (Updated & Revised)

by Paco Underhill

Simon & Schuster | 9781416595243 | $16 | Jan 2009

Once we've unearthed those childhood obsessions and adult passions, discovered the primary colors of Why, Where and How we got into this, it's time to start thinking about the place where we spend so much time - the bookstore itself.

At this point, it makes sense to leave the warm, friendly memoirs behind and learn from a scientist about the psychology of shopping. I don't think much introduction of Why We Buy is necessary - the first edition was published 10 years ago, and since then it has become a classic case study of Why and How people behave they way they do in stores.

In fact, the continuing appeal of the book prompted Paco Underhill to go back to the book and completely revise it, looking more closely at how online shopping has altered the landscape over the last 10 years, and exploring the most innovative stores to have sprung up recently.

A couple choice bookstore-specific tidbits from Why We Buy. To start, it's important to let

"...shoppers know that it's all right for them to touch. At Hallmark stores we studied, some front-end Christmas ornament displays were so artfully designed and painstakingly constructed that shoppers didn't know if they were supposed to take or just gaze adoringly. Bookstores, too, sometimes run into the same problem when tabletop displays show a little too much effort. People know how much effort it is to get anything looking nice, so they can be reluctant to undo somebody's hard work."

Underhill spends a few paragraphs extolling some of the merchandising choices that his favorite bookstore (BookPeople in Austin, Texas) makes.

"This store isn't just selling books - it's selling to people who like books. At heart it's still a serious place that, among the tchotchkes and kitschy humor, has reinvented categories and subsections. For example, the Insurrection and Conspiracy section sits next to the Journalism shelf, and there's a pair of stuffed roosters flanking Homesteading & Farming - a nice touch."

Of course, most of Why We Buy is not specifically targeted at booksellers. But Underhill's conversational voice and easy expertise might be just what you need to get inspired to take on some serious bookstore reinvention. And some of the issues he raises are perfect for tossing out at your next staff meeting to get folks thinking in new ways.

***

What other books about bookstores keep you inspired? Let us know in the comments.

my3books links: Jake-The-Girl from A Great Good Place for Books

Jake-The-Girl sends word that she's posted a response to the "my3books" concept yesterday at her blog, and included her own "my3books" take on Great YA Dystopian Science Fiction.

I'm a reader of science fiction, too, so I was happy to click through and check out her list.  I can already tell that she's my kind of bookseller - her 3 picks included two books I already own and one that I had completely missed but I must now own.

I'm posting a preview of Jake's post here, and recommend that you head on over to her blog to read the whole thing.

Her three picks, with excerpts:

Little Brother
by Cory Doctorow
Tor Books | 9780765319852 | $17.95 | April 2008

"This is a frighteningly real look at the not-so-distant future of technology, seen through the eyes of a school-skipping, video-game-playing techno-geek."

***

The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins
Scholastic | 9780439023481 | $17.99 | Sept 2008

"Readers of this blog know that this is my favorite book of all time ... This book is full of non-stop action. It is an emotional rollercoaster. It is the best book EVER."

***

Skinned
by Robin Wasserman
Simon Pulse | 9781416974499 | $9.99 | Aug 2009

"Most dystopian science fiction is action-packed and full of technical jargon. This one isn't. It's more of a moral and ethical look at the future of medicine, and how far we will eventually go to keep our loved ones in our lives."