Archive for the ‘Reviews & Interviews’ Category

Monsters of entitlement

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Hello, friends. I’ve been reading a light, slick, funny book of cultural observation and enjoying it very much. And it’s a – gasp! – parenting book. Doesn’t that seem like a contradiction in terms?

It’s Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman (in the UK, it’s called French Children Don’t Throw Food). It was published earlier this year, to a predictable squawk of gossip, defensiveness, and some reluctant concessions that Anglo-American parenting is imperfect. (This review is somewhat typical – much more about the reviewer’s own experience than about the book.) It seems that we don’t like to think about a parenting culture that’s not “child-centred”.

What I loved about this book (and which I haven’t yet seen mentioned in a review) is Druckerman’s distillation of what seems to underlie what she calls French parenting. It is the assumption that babies are small people with an immense capacity to learn, right from the beginning. Amazing! Druckerman traces this attitude all the way back to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s 1762 book Emile, or On Education.

In practice, this means that instead of reorganizing their lives around children’s desires, French parents start to teach children how to be rational members of a society from a very early age. Instead of “discipline”, they talk about “education”; instead of “development”, they use the term “awakening”. They take pride in being strict. They allow children immense freedom within a strong framework of rules. They speak politely to babies, because babies are individuals, too.

To me, this doesn’t sound uniquely French. As my friend S at Waldorf Yarns observes, it’s familiar to Waldorf parents (S gives a sample list). S also theorizes, “I can’t help but wonder if some of what is presented as ‘the French’ way of parenting may be European and may have infused into Waldorf education before it was transplanted into our corner of North America.” I’d just add that Druckerman’s “French” parenting also sounds a lot like Maria Montessori’s philosophy of education. It’s no accident: both Waldorf and Montessori education  are founded upon the idea of respect for the child.

As you can tell, I’m a believer. Do I think French parenting (or any single method or ideal) is perfect? Mais non, pas du tout! But it’s a beautiful, rational, and sane starting position that gives me hope that we can raise thoughtful, compassionate citizens, not monsters of entitlement.

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On performance

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

Yesterday, my almost-four-year-old had a birthday celebration at his preschool, to which his whole family was invited. It was absolutely beautiful: thoughtful, focused, loving, and joyful. And yes, I wept. But I’m more interested in my son’s response, which was an intense blend of pride, excitement, the need to control his own surge of emotions, and stage fright. It’s all completely logical, and it would probably have been odd had his response been more straightforward. But it made me think about author appearances and public performance.

I was an extremely shy, introverted child. (Yes, this is Author Cliché No. 2, second only to “I always wanted to write”. But being a cliché doesn’t make it less true.) I preferred to play alone, or with one good friend. Changing schools – especially midway through the school year – made me dry-heave with anxiety. I consistently, seriously, contemplated breaking my hand, on purpose, before piano recitals. And let’s not even discuss public speaking.

Actually, yes, let’s. Because I detested it. I’d work hard researching a topic, writing a script and memorizing it, and practice delivering it to an empty room. And then, on the day itself, I’d go hot-and-cold-and-dizzy with nerves, and blast through the entire speech in 30 seconds of unintelligible, warp-speed muttering. What a complete waste of time.

Or was it? Because I now have an introvert’s dream job. And yet I regularly stand before small and large groups of people and read to them, talk to them, answer questions, and generally do what my husband calls “the Y. S. Lee Show”. And it’s fine. More than fine: it’s fun. Occasionally, it’s even inspiring.

I’m so far removed from the kid who, in Grade 1, hid in the cloakroom at recess because I was the new kid. And I don’t think it’s because I had an overnight personality change. I think it’s because of all the practice: public speaking assignments, changing schools several times, and working as a university professor. When you are forced to do something, over and over again, you adapt. Hone techniques. And rehearse a show of confidence that, eventually, becomes very real.

I’m still definitely an introvert. I love working at home. I don’t miss having colleagues (if I want chit-chat, there’s always Twitter!). And too much noise, for too long, makes me flee the scene. But I hadn’t thought about how much I’ve changed until I saw the blend of expressions on my little-big boy’s face yesterday.

How about you: are you an introvert, an extrovert, or that rare (and possibly mythical) balanced creature? How do you deal with author appearances or other public speaking gigs?

Interviews are a different kind of performance, and I had such a fun time with Trisha of the YA YA YAs when she interviewed me as part of her Summer Blog Blast Tour. Do you like night soil jokes? If so, you’ll love Trisha’s questions as much as I did!

Trisha’s also written a really lovely appreciation for the Agency novels that’s gone straight to my head. Obviously, I adore her taste in books!

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Yes. THIS.

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

I have the most interesting, keen-eyed friends a girl could ask for. A few days ago, my fellow Master of Arts (that’s what they said at our convocation: “Rise, Master of Arts!”) Jo Valin sent me this link to some photos of Smiling Victorians.

The photos are all borrowed from a Flickr group called – you guessed it – The Smiling Victorian, but Retronaut does a great job of explaining why the Victorians are so commonly stereotyped as stuffy and solemn: when being photographed, “subjects had to stand very still to avoid being blurred, and holding a smile for that period was tricky. As a result, we have a tendency to see our Victorian ancestors as even more formal and stern than they might have been.”

You guys, I ADORE this cache of photos. Not only are they cheeky and vivid and candid and moving, but they absolutely SHRED our preconceptions about the Victorians. Check out the body language! Women put their arms around men, they lay down on beaches, they sat on their (sketchy-looking) boyfriends’ laps!

This is precisely the kind of Victorian England I try to evoke in the Agency novels: pungent, gritty, vigorous. The stuff missed by canonical novels and etiquette books. The parts you might never glimpse, if you buy into the stereotype.

And there’s more: I’ve raved about the Dictionary of Victorian London before, but its editor, Lee Jackson, actually made me cackle out loud this week with a blog post about Victorian prudery – or its antithesis. The writer quoted is Francis Wey, a French tourist, so we should make allowances for exaggeration and a desire to caricature the English. But if even half of what Wey reports is true, the prim-and-proper stereotype is about to collapse like the toilet tents Wey describes. As he says, “When English people are not icicles, they are apt to become shameless.”

Finally, this week I’m the feature author at Nineteenteen, a really cool blog about “being a teen in the nineteenth century”. Yesterday, blogger and YA author Marissa Doyle interviewed me – and of course, as a fellow novelist and history fanatic, she asked very interesting questions. Check it out!

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The Traitor in the Tunnel!

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

Hello, friends! I’m so thrilled today to share with you the North American cover for The Traitor in the Tunnel:

Those of you with an editorial eye will now be wondering, “The Traitor and the Tunnel” or ” The Traitor in the Tunnel”? Why are you so inconsistent, Ying? Don’t you know the title of your own book? In fact, there are two slightly different titles. I originally chose “and” because I wanted the title to allude to different traitors and different tunnels, and that’s what we did at Walker Books for the UK edition. But the fine editors at Candlewick Press felt that “in” sounded better – faster, snappier, cleaner. And once it was pointed out to me, I agreed. So the North American edition is The Traitor in the Tunnel. Did you think it was possible to agonize this much over a simple conjunction or preposition? 😉

I also wanted to share with you an absolutely lovely review of Traitor by Niranjana Iyer of Brown Paper. Iyer says, “The richness of detail, the intelligent writing, the intricate plots, and superbly-drawn characters elevate this series miles above most YA offerings on the shelves today; I’m delighted to hear this trilogy now has a fourth installment in store for its many devotees.” Thank you so much, Nina!

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A Walk in the Void & Kat, Incorrigible

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

Hello friends! This month, Mondadori publishes the Italian edition of the second Agency novel. It’s called La Detective. Passeggiata nel vuoto, which translates to The Detective: A Walk in the Void. I really, really, really wish I could read Italian.

Here’s the cover:

And the full dustjacket:

What do you think?

I also have a few lovely announcements. Some French readers have asked when the third Mary Quinn novel (The Traitor and the Tunnel in English; I don’t know what the French title will be), will be published by Nathan. There’s no firm date yet, but it’ll be early in 2012. Hurray! I’ll update this as soon as I have a date for you.

This month, The Body at the Tower is the Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children‘s Book of the Month! Their review is here.

Deborah Sloan just told me that A Spy in the House is on the Bank St College of Education’s 2011 Best Books List! If you’re curious, their picks are here (as downloadable PDFs), grouped by age. Spy is on the 14 and up list.

And finally, a truly fantastic announcement that’s not about me or my books: Stephanie Burgis‘s debut novel, Kat, Incorrigible, is published this week in North America! Huzzah!

I’ve raved about Steph’s novel before. If you love Jane Austen, magick, sly wit, and sibling solidarity, you will adore Kat’s adventures. But don’t just take my word for it – read the first three chapters here! Congratulations, Steph!

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Notorious Victorians, farewell

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

This is it, the last post in the Body at the Tower blog tour, and it features the Edinburgh Seven. Sound like a group of revolutionaries of some sort, doesn’t it? And they were. They were rich, educated young ladies who had the nerve to decide that they wanted to study medicine. Obviously, trouble ensued. You can read more about their story at Booksmugglers.

Then, Booksmuggler Thea reviews Body, calling it “another winning, impeccably well-written historical mystery”. Huzzah!

Thanks so much for joining me on this blog tour. Regularly scheduled blogging returns on Thursday, when I continue my English adventures. See you then!

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Victorian rebels

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

The Notorious Victorians blog tour stops today at Laura’s Review Bookshelf to consider Victorian Rebels. Florence Nightingale was a lady who defied her parents, got her hands dirty during the Crimean War, and revolutionized modern nursing as a result. Not bad!

And over at Teenreads, I’m dispensing bad advice. Ever wondered How Not to Be a Writer? I’ve got tips for you!

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The whole Mary & James thing

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Okay, so the #1 question I get from readers – and this is by a long shot – is, “Will Mary and James get together?” Naturally, I don’t have a simple yes-or-no answer for you. James is back in The Body at the Tower but the path of true love is never entirely smooth, know what I mean? I go into a bit more detail in an interview with Cecilia at the Epic Rat, but it contains some spoilers for both Spy and Body. If you can’t stand spoilers, feel free to email/tweet me your questions and I’ll do my best to answer them in a discreet and tantalizing manner.

Cecilia also reviews Body. It’s a great review but it, too, contains spoilers for Spy. It’s a cruel world out there for innocent readers.

I’ll see you tomorrow for more Notorious Victorians!

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Happy bookday, Body!

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

I will refrain from gag-inducing metaphors of birth & infancy. Suffice it to say that today, the second Agency novel, The Body at the Tower, is published by Candlewick Press. I’m one-third disbelief, one-third out of my mind with excitement, and one-third “Stop it, Ying, you’re such a nerd”.

Fortunately, it’s not all about me. The Body at the Tower blog tour is at Steph Su Reads today, where I guest-post about Notorious Victorian Joseph Merrick – aka the Elephant Man – and the way he used celebrity as a survival strategy. His is a tragic but also smart and fascinating story.

Steph then reviews Body: “damn if the pages didn’t nearly catch on fire…” *evil cackle from smug author*

There is no real-world launch party today, but stay in touch: I’m planning an online launch party in September. Details to follow.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to celebrate.

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Notorious Victorians, celebrity edition

Monday, August 9th, 2010

Welcome to the second week of The Body at the Tower blog tour. My theme for the next 2 days is the idea of celebrity and today I’m guest-blogging at A Reader’s Adventure about one of the most notorious of Victorians: writer, dandy, aesthete, and scandal-magnet Oscar Wilde. Once again, the Victorians seem oddly contemporary in their adoration and hatred of the limelight.

Mariah also reviews Body. As she warns, you’re in for “slight spoilers for first book. And possibly some fangirling.”

I’ll see you tomorrow – which is, by the way, the OFFICIAL PUB DATE for Body! – at Steph Su Reads with part 2 of Victorian Celebrities.

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