Saturday, August 9, 2014

Book Review: Two Vampire Novels

Image Credit: Goodreads
I did a semi-live blog of Team Human on Facebook recently, but I'll recap the gist here: Team Human is the Twilight antidote I didn't know I needed. For starters, the title. For seconds, the tagline: Friends Don't Let Friends Date Vampires. For thirds, this line: "A vampire who wants to go to high school?... That is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard."

I enjoyed it for Mel's snark and for the perhaps-racist vampires (200 years of life doesn't prove you're not a bigot), but mostly for the way it wrestles with the question of how to deal with a friend making bad decisions when there's nothing you can do to stop them. Consent and self-determination are addressed extensively here – huge after Twilight's "I like to watch you sleep" bullshit – and in her attempts to save her best friend, Mel doesn't handle everything gracefully. Mel and her two female friends, Cathy and Anna, all react in different – and believable ways – to Mr. Handsome Vampire's presence in their school. And the eyeroll treatment that teen girl + mysterious vampire receives is hilarious.

Image Credit: Amazon
In contrast to Team Human, Claudia Gray's Evernight is the Twilight inversion that let me down. SPOILERS AHEAD.

Bianca has just transferred with her teacher parents to a boarding school which helps vampires readjust to humanity's ever changing concept of "normal."  Although this time it's a vampire school with a few humans in it, instead of the other way around, and Bianca – not her love interest Lucas – is the vampire, all the Twilight nonsense of "But it's for your own good!" carries on with a charming side of "You shouldn't trust anyone (except me)." At one point a side character, Raquel, tidily ticks off the warning flags for why Bianca should run from Lucas as far and fast as she can: starting fights, insisting that he is "protecting" her from non-threats, attempting to isolate her from support networks and loved ones. These are all real signs and elements of abusive relationships. I was excited – a vampire book addressing what healthy relationships are? Two in a row? Hooray!

Aaaaaand then Gray blithely handwaves away all of this as "He was just trying to protect me!"

Needless to say, I will not be reading any more of the Evernight series.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Book Review: The Finisher by David Baldacci

Let me preface this by saying: this is my first time reading David Baldacci; this is David Baldacci’s first time (as far as I know) writing young adult SF/F; and, therefore, this is in no way a review of Baldacci’s larger canon of work, which I have never read and is not of the same genre as this book.

Vega Jane has never left the village of Wormwood – neither has anyone else in the village – until the night she sees her mentor vanish into the dangerous forest that surrounds the hamlet. Behind him, he’s left a series of cryptic clues for Vega to follow – if she can survive long enough to understand them.

I picked up The Finisher because I recognized Baldacci’s name and because someone had mentioned it as a readalike for The Giver. Unfortunately, The Finisher comes nowhere near Lois Lowry’s masterpiece. While it starts in a tone similar to The Giver – isolated village overseen by ruling council – Baldacci quickly starts tacking on subplots. The narrative jolts from dramatic moment to dramatic moment, made more confusing by the fact that Baldacci laces the story with arbitrary invented words (e.g., “session” instead of “year”), some of which are never fully explained. And then he throws in some magic. With no real rules or explanations, the nebulous magic saves (or hurts) various people Because Baldacci Said So whenever Vega Jane can’t think her way out of something.

For all that, the society Baldacci builds is the best thing about the book. The council members are flawed but well-intentioned, being rough doesn’t mean being cruel, and when it occurs, cruelty can be deliberate or unintentional. And I like the idea of fantasy AND dystopia. Unfortunately, Baldacci has not created a successful merger of the two genres.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Book Review: Kinslayer by Jay Kristoff

Kinslayer by Jay Kristoff is the second book of his Lotus War series. I read (and briefly recapped) this book last year and loved it, so naturally I picked up #2 once I heard it was out. (Spoilers for Stormdancer below. You've been warned.)

Alas, Kinslayer suffers from the "link the beginning to the end" syndrome shared by so many other second in the series books. After opening with a brief who's-who (and where they are) refresher, Kristoff adds several new characters to an already substantial cast, including a clanless slum worker and another Guildsman. The plot centers on the Lotus Guild's solution to Shogun Yoritomo's death, their plans against the Kagé, and the Kagé rebellion's attempt to stifle those plans. Unfortunately, I think Kristoff's multi-perspective style has done his plot a disservice here; he seems determined to hop into every significant character's head at least once and quite a number of the minor ones as well. Because of this and the multiple narrative threads he has running simultaneously, the storyline is very jarring, jolting back and forth in time, location, action, etc. Likewise, character development suffers in this book, since we're not in anyone's head but Yukiko's or Kin's long enough to watch them grow. I still love the infusion of Japanese culture and mythology into a steampunk world, but wish he'd kept to a smaller number of perspectives.

Endsinger, the final book in the trilogy, will be out in September 2014 and I do plan to pick it up. Hopefully all the different tendrils Kristoff's got going will reunite into a strong conclusion.

Monday, January 6, 2014

4 Recent Reads

Gentle readers, I am ashamed. I abandoned you for several months because I could not bring myself to tell you this truth: that budget cuts, the bane of libraries everywhere, caught up to me at my lovely new school job. It's probably the hardest job I've ever had to lose, even as I understood why I lost it. But the world has brightened again, and I am re-employed at a bookstore and a local library (both part-time). But the more important questions in life: what's good lately?

The Ascendant by Drew Chapman

Full disclosure: I picked this up at work as an unsolicited ARC and enjoyed myself quite a bit reading it. The Ascendant is a digital age thriller, focused on the possibility of a subtle cyber-financial war in our modern era. I can't say that it was revelatory, but it was fun. Snowy day, stay inside, winter fluff fun. Political machinations are involved, which pleases me. The protagonist actually experiences personal growth over the course of the book, which is even better. A very strong debut novel for Drew Chapman, good enough that I'm passing my ARC along to my father and freely recommending the title at work.

Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen

I picked up Her Royal Spyness (first in a series of six) because my mother looooves Lady Victoria Georgiana - Georgie to her friends. Georgie is thrown headfirst into detective work when she discovers a Frenchman drowned in the bath of her family home. Bowen has a good sense of humor and develops Georgie - a broke demi-royal - fairly nicely, from hapless nobility to vaguely self-sufficient, with a good deal of flailing along the way. I would pass this one along to my friend who loves the Jeeves and Wooster series.

All Through the Night by Suzanne Brockmann

I'll be honest, I wanted to like this book. I really did. I'd read Force of Nature, the book in which protagonists Robin and Jules came to the fore, recently and picked this one up from the Christmas books display at my library. Alas, equal rights include the equal right to mediocre thriller fiction. There's one drama after another after another all barreled through at enormous rates of speed with minimal development. I understand that this is a short-and-sweet interlude sort of book, but I feel like Brockmann had 8 different possible plotlines and, instead of pruning, decided to shove them all in. I'd pass along Force of Nature, but skip this one.

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

You couldn't possibly imagine getting through without a re-told fairy tale, could you? Me either. This one ticks all my boxes: strong female protagonist, well-defined magic, political intrigue. Check, check, check. When her lady-in-waiting attempts to assassinate her and seizes her role, Ani must learn to stand on her own two feet, using her talents and wits to prevent her greedy betrayers from throwing two kingdoms into chaos. If you read this and like it, try Hale's Princess Academy series as well. I would pass it along to Rayna, who I think might love re-told fairy tales as much as I do.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

So Many Books, So Little Time (to Shelve Them All)

The books arrived last Monday, but first a little perspective on where Square 1 was for me in all this:

Librarian's desk and empty bookshelves

Empty Shelves

If you stare through the display racks, you can see some stray books floating around back on the shelves – a couple of classroom sets (including The Incredible Journey and A Wrinkle in Time), but mostly 25 year old "issues" books.

Boxes of books lined up in the gym
The books all came into the gym, which is why my arms look so much buffer than they did a week ago. For the most part, fiction and non-fiction were in separate boxes, but those boxes were all jumbled together. So the engineering staff and a couple guys from climate control helped me move them all downstairs and get them (mostly) separated into fiction and non-fiction at least.

Book stacksWhere they ended up stacked up all over the place. Most were labeled in a general way: 811, Dre-Dru, enough to let us sort them into fic/non-fic without too much hassle.

And during breaks, I got to hash out the leftovers from the school building's previous tenants. The issues books have been escorted to the trash, especially after cracking one open and finding that it still dated from the days of "having a single mother turns you into a druggie."

I get by with a little help from my friends
I also shamelessly begged help from friends so we could sort the non-fiction boxes down into 100s/200s/etc. Priority for me ended up being the science books, especially the 500s, simply because I (rightly) suspected that they would need the most work & weeding and I wanted to get after them early. According to our collection, alas, Pluto is still a planet and the internet does not exist. Weeding these fully is going to be difficult. I was once advised to draw the line at anything that predates the internet, but that would leave hardly any books in some subject areas. These and issues books are probably going to be where I spend any money I get. The astronomy section is particularly bad. I also discovered my least favorite Dewey number: 595.4 - spiders.

By now, the 500s have overflown the space that was designated as theirs by the previous tenants. For better or worse, I suspect we will not have enough space for all the books we received. The good news is that this encourages me to be more aggressive with my weeding where I can be, to be more generous with teachers' "Ooooh, can I have this for my classroom?" requests, and to allow kids to take more books home with them for longer. I can also probably bring some books over to the other campus. The bad news? Some things that deserve shelf time may not get it.

 Things I Have Learned Include: the last person to have this collection liked fairy tales about as much as I did; petition for volunteers/minions early and often; do not order your books backwards (whoops); talk to other librarians - they will want to help you (to the tune of "here's how you can get $10,000 worth of stuff"). Talk and blog and share and tell everyone you know because people will just give you stuff - lots of stuff - because they want the next generation of readers to have access to the books they loved and learn to love them too. Library school students will volunteer for letters of rec. If you say "I want to do program X," people will say "oh my god, that sounds great, let me give you the number of my friend at the Program X Foundation." Basically, never shut up about your library. Of course, for most library people, that's not a struggle.

Starting to shelve books

Books on the shelves with display racks

The displays with the 398s behind them.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Staff In-Service, Day Five


Or, rather, we will have books. Amid all the getting to know you exercises and school tours and distribution of classroom materials (dry erase markers and construction paper!), I have received news that we will be receiving around 15,000 books. I actually staggered when my wonderful Director of Curriculum (Ms. Monique Bell) told me the news.

I have no idea when they get here. I have no idea how they were cataloged. I have no idea if I'm receiving 15,000 copies of To Kill a Mockingbird. I really don't care (okay, I don't want 15,000 copies of a single title) because WE HAVE BOOKS! I am going to have an actual library that we can actually use!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Staff In-Service, Day One

Or, the matter of starting a school library from the ground up.

I am finally, delightfully, and gainfully employed in my career of choice: librarianship. (Technically, library specialist, as I have no MLIS.) Beginning with this post, I intend to blog about the challenges and successes of starting a school library from the ground up.

Just as a point of reference, here are some things that might be good for you to know:

- I have very little formal library education, amounting to a single children's literature class in college and a CE course in "Managing the One-Person Library" through Simmons

- However, I have worked as a page at the Oshkosh Public Library in two different departments (Reference & Adult Services - which included Teen - and Tech)

- I have my eye on library school, yes I do.

- My time will be split between two campuses.

- My budget is $0.

In short: At under age 30, I am going to run 2 libraries without an MLIS degree, with substantially less than 5 years of experience and no money at all.

Watch me learn on the fly!

What I'm reading today: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. Dragon/human politics and political intrigue set in a medieval-ish world with a musical backdrop. Going to try to get this one on my shelves.