March 26, 2013

A love letter to books...

Ah, love.  Not to be confused with lust (I'm talking to you 50 Shades of Gray).  For the two books I'm going to review are about love, and heartbreak.  The things that make us human, for dung beetles do not go through boxes of tissues and pints of ice cream after breaking up with the guy/ girl.

Our first book is one my dearest friend Lisa recommended.  Because she knows me so well, she knows EXACTLY the kinds of books that I fall in love with.  The books that I can't put down because I love fantasy, and strong female characters, and plot twists, and a good romance, and good endings (not happy endings, good endings).
So she suggested that I run and get Grave Mercy by R.L. LaFevers (what a great name).  So I did, and I LOVED it.  The beginning starts off strong, with our heroine Ismae trapped in a loveless marriage, arranged by a father who despises her.  She is beaten to almost death, then rescued, then sent to live and train by a convent devoted to patron saint of Death.  OK, ok, I probably lost some of you, but this book is wicked rad.  I loved the main character and her journey to becoming a strong, powerful, assassin that finds peace with herself, and finds mercy to be one of the most powerful tools in her retinue.  It is long, and not for the weak reader, but this book will take you on a adventure full of tension, intrigue and eventually love.  Oh, Lisa this book was a love letter.  (This is a mash up of Graceling and Poison Study, two more favorites).

Our second feature is Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler.  There are 2, no 3 very cool things about this book.  1) The artwork.  Maira Kalman illustrates each of the items the heartbroken Min Green returns to her ex love of her life.  And they are done so well.  They are characters of the story as much as Min and her jerk of an ex boyfriend.   They have a whimsy to them, yet are real enough to touch.  2) The author is Lemony Snicket.  What?  That's right, the guy who brought us The Unfortunate Events series wrote this love/ heartbreak story with the same grace and hilarity that he brought to the story of the Baudelaire trio.  And 3) This book is you, and me, and your best friend.  It is the story of heartbreak. Something we all went through either in school or right now.  A story of how much in LOVE we were then we weren't and this is why.  Handler and Kalman brings the reader into the story of Min and Ed with a sensibility that holds up, caresses, breaks, then heals our most tender organ.

Fall in love today...

March 17, 2013

"EVERYONE DIES" and other plot summaries of scary books.

We like to be scared.  We like suspense, and chills, and spine tingling trips down dark staircases.  We like ghost stories, and murder mysteries, and twist endings.  We like to watch a movie between our fingers as they are pressed against our faces saying "tell me when to look."  We also like reading a book with all the lights on, heart racing, turning pages quickly to see what happens next.  

When I talk about scary books or movies, I might be a little tame for you hard core slasher freaks.  I swear on one of my dead cat's graves that I will never watch a Saw movie (while sober).

I remember a time when I lived with my older sister during the summer before I turned 14.  We loved scary movies, so we spent almost every night watching one.  Now don't get ahead of me, you need to remember I'm an incredible wuss.  I just recently got enough courage to watch Carrie...the old one...and will never watch Silence of the Lambs, and hit my husband very hard after he made me watch Seven.  So the movies my sister and I watched were pretty tame to today's standards.  They might even have been old Hitchcock The Birds, and Psycho.  However, after that week my beloved brother-in-law was kicked out of bed and I slept with big sis.  For a more current example, after a recent viewing of Paranormal Activity  I slept with the lights on.  I know what you are thinking, that lady is really brave and I would totally want her with me in times of danger.  Here's my number 1-800-HELLNAH.

In books I have a few hairs-on-the-back-of-the-head-sticking-up favorites...Down a Dark Hall by Lois Duncan freaked the crap out of me.  I remember it being twisted and dark and intense.  I just heard that they are making a movie out of it which could be very cool.  Another horribly scary read was The Ruins by Scott Smith (also a movie).  O...M...G I remember finishing it late at night (so smart), jumping from the couch to the stairs, running into bed and grabbing hubby so hard.  It sounds so simple...vacation turned missing brother turned expedition into the jungle turned EVERYONE DIES.  I couldn't bring myself to go to the movie.  No one needs to see a grown librarian sobbing.

So for this edition of my book reviews we will look at two recent books I read that try to surprise the reader with gruesome death scenes and plot twists, but are both pretty tame.

First is Ten by Gretchen McNeil
What I love about this book is its easy read format, good main character, and plot twist that I really didn't see coming.  This story is about Meg and Minnie, best friends about to be parted by college.  They get an interesting invite from the most popular girl in school...
Don't spread the word! Three-day weekend. House party.
White Rock House on Henry Island. You do not want to miss it." 

And they don't, but what happens is not the last "best time they ever had in high school," but a deadly encounter with someone out for revenge.  The death scenes are awesome and sometimes brutal, the characters, typical high school stereotypes, are still enjoyable to follow as they meet their untimely deaths.

Next is The Farm by Emily McKay
I wanted this to be so much better...the idea of a disease that attacks and turns humans into a zombie/ vampire hybrid...a disease that devastates the US and forces people into apocalyptic scenarios...a disease that focuses on teenagers so they round them all up and imprison them onto old university campuses.  All the pieces were there, and it is a good read.  But it could have been a great read if the author hadn't focused on how much the main character Lily was in love (but of course wouldn't admit it because she was too strong and had to take care of her sister, and why would someone so handsome like her).  Just hold the guy's damn hand and kiss him, then move on and save the world together.  I understand tension is important to the story, but I believe the constant chase from the Ticks and battle scenes provided that story element.  It's good, but be warned there is an inevitable sequel.  However, I will say the ending had a twist I didn't see coming which redeemed its many sappy parts.

So try some of these to get your blood pumping...or there are many others I could recommend...Project 17, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, The Enemy, Odd Thomas...

What's your favorite scary book?

February 24, 2013

Because Matthew would want me to write this...

I'm still in shock over the horrific ending to Downton Abbey so I may have to pause in my writing to scream while throwing my fist in the air.  I was one of those that did not see it coming, and had not read any spoilers, so I was sucker punched.  And if you don't know what I'm talking about, get Netflix, or borrow Downton from the library, for it is a soap opera set in England early 1900s, for those who say they hate soap operas.

I want to share two books with you today...two completely different books.  One Pulitzer Prize winning of brilliance, the other...meh.  I mean it's good, but for my students.  It's one for librarians to suggest to those who love realistic fantasy and romance.

First the YA book for those who either deal with the trade of YA books, or are in fact a young adult or one at heart.
Lies Beneath by Anne Greenwood Brown is a fantasy book that delves into the world of mermaids/ mermen.  This is not a common theme among YA lit, but it has seen some good stuff (see this list from Good Reads.)  This one is good, not great, good.  What I like about it is the main character is a boy.  Really not something you see in this type of fiction.  Not only a boy, but one out for revenge and justice for a mother killed by humans.  There is much more than just justice and revenge.  His sisters are awesomely evil and siren like, and the human girl he obviously falls in love with is actually cool and strong.  I like the strong female roles in this one, and I also liked the twist ending (no spoilers here).  Could it have been better and more sophisticated, yes.  Was it predictable, yes, but still surprising.  I would definitely recommend it.

We ate our desert first, for now I serve you the main course, the meat.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.  I must warn you some love, LOVE this book, while others hate this book with a passion I have not seen since Star Wars was murdered by Jar Jar Binks.  I was a lover.  A deep lover that wanted desperately for Oscar to win that kiss, win that love he so wanted.  And in the end I believe he did, just not in the way most heroes win.  This book, although the title suggest otherwise, has many main characters.  Oscar's sister, Oscar's mother, Oscar's adopted grandmother, the narrator, and the Dominican Republic.  For that country is as much a character as Oscar.  But if you see from above, each main character is just a piece of Oscar, each one telling you about the family curse and how it finally beat Oscar.

This is the story of a loser.  However much you hate labels and stereotypes, Oscar is a loser.  But not because he is a loner, a nerd, and Dungeons and Dragons Master, but because he believes he is a loser.  So when he does try, when he holds on with a death grip to his one chance at love even when we all see it will end with a literal bullet to the head we still want him to try. I was equal parts infuriated, in love, depressed and glad this book was over when I finished the last page.

Mother, don't read this one. xo

February 19, 2013

A post where I take on a troll...

So I've been obsessing over this article about author, Terry Deary.  A popular children's author has come out publicly against libraries.  In summary, he is upset that people are getting access to his books without paying for them.  He works very hard at writing his histories, they are one of the top books checked out at the library, but he sees very little in cold hard cash.

I always had in the back of my head that one day someone will just start quietly closing libraries.  No news story, no big "save the library campaign."  Just one day they will be empty and closed.
I've been harboring a fear that myself and other librarians will just one day not exist.  This article played into those fears, and sent me to the edge. An article about an author who negates the need for libraries.  What?!  These people are our champions!  I have heard from author after author how much libraries support and help promote them and their books.  Now one of them has turned.  You traitorous traitor!!!

But let's calm down...

First, he wants cash.  Understandable.  Author's are not the wealthiest, unless they hit it big like J.K. "Money Pants" Rowling.  But let's really examine this issue.  I know for a fact that libraries help the sale of books.  I personally have put money into the hands of many many many authors.  I promote books, show book trailers, gush over authors, have raffles for books (and book paraphernalia), invite authors to the library to promote their book-WHILE PAYING THEM, have sold their books at book fairs and other events, helped put on a tri-district author event that sold books and paid dozens of authors to come speak.  Not to mention all the books I buy for the library.

Which leads me to this scenario...
"Hey Ms. Workman I hate to read but I have to read a stupid book, what do ya got?"
"Well Timmy, how about this book by Patrick Carmen called Skeleton Creek?  It's a cool horror/ ghost story that is half book, half online.  You read this sweet story of a haunted old dredge, then come to a part in the book that tells you to watch a video online for next part.  It's scary, a good story, awesome characters, and you only have to really read half of a book.  Give it a try."
"Ok, whatever.  I hate reading."
"Here ya go Timmy, enjoy, but if you really don't like it come back after 10 pages and I'll find you something else."
"Whatever, I hate reading.  However, you do play an awesome ukulele."
"Thanks, Timmy."

2 days later...

"Um, Hi Mrs. Workman"
"What's up Timmy, what did you think?"
"Um, do you have the second one?"
"I'm sorry Timmy, I was playing my ukulele too loud?  Did you say you needed the second one?"
"Um yeah..."
"Gosh Timmy, I don't have the second one, and another kid just checked it out, so it might be awhile until I get it.  The public library is out of it too.  It is at the book store, but until you get the next one I've got another series you might like... "
"Ok, well I hate reading, but this one wasn't bad.  What else you got?"

Then he went and made his mom take him to the bookstore and buy the book!!!!  (Some of the above scenario were fictionalized).
What?  That's right.  Libraries help the sale of books.  They really do.  I started reading the Game of Thrones book series from the library, but eventually bought the books.  A series I just happened to pick up one day at the library.

So, suck it Deary.

Are libraries useless?  I don't know author of HISTORIES...did you use the interweb to find ALL OF YOUR INFORMATION, or did you probably go to the LIBRARY to do RESEARCH?!    That's right, all those primary sources, historically significant books can not be digitized overnight.  Not all of their information will can be found on the internet/ Wikipedia.  Centuries of non-fiction and fiction books are not going to be digitized by tomorrow, and then all read on an ebook.  Yes libraries are changing, yes we must adapt, yes the internet has destroyed independent bookstores and the sale of physical books.  But library patronage has gone up 20% during the last recession.  They are used by the poor, and by the affluent alike.

And they haven't caused you to earn less, but helped you earn more...respect...from children and parents who have found your lovely books on a library shelf.  Otherwise most of us wouldn't have known you existed.  That class/ person wouldn't have seen your book promoted, or recommended.
How do you think you established your audience?  How else do you think people know who you are?  Your friendly neighborhood librarian, a@#hole.

February 7, 2013

Winter Reads...Libba Bray, the other white meat.

The Diviners by Libba Bray
What I love about Libba Bray is her absolute lack of caring about popular culture.  This author writes stories, amazing stories of people you fall in love with, stories that even though it's 200 pages too long you will finish every page, stories that do not buy in to what is popular.  Who writes a Young Adult  story set in the 1920s?  No one, except Libba Bray.  Diviners is about Evie, a girl (a flapper actually) who I really really want to hang out with.  I love how Bray describes Evie, she is such a good time girl with a big heart, and a very cool divining power.  I want to party with Evie at Speakeasies, wearing long strands of pearls and drinking gin while dancing the Charleston.

However, Evie has a supernatural power.  A power that keeps getting her into trouble because she shows off after having a few too many cocktails.  She is sent to New York to live with her reclusive Uncle.  This Uncle is a well-known professor of all things occult.  Evie is then caught up in helping to solve a murder, that turns into a serial murder case.  A string of murders that are the catalyst to the end of civilization.
I did love this book, and will read the inevitable sequel, but it was too long.  Many scenes where completely irrelevant to the story line.  But the characters were real, and charming.

January 27, 2013

Winter Reads 2013...We want hoverboards!

Origin by Jessica Khoury

Ah, Science Fiction, second only to my love of Fantasy.  Because I'm a nerd, and that's what nerds love... unreality.  Why do we love stories about times and places that don't exist?  Is it due to escapism?  We love reading about places that aren't our own to escape the dull, mundane life that we have here?  But how can we call this life dull?  We have cell phones that travel to space and tell us the weather, what the Kardashians are doing, what band is playing near us, how the traffic is, tell us what our family and friends are eating, etc.  We travel by air, by train, by hot air balloon.  We fight wars with drones!  We have cured diseases. We can talk to our friends from Abu Daubi face to face.  We have cars that run on solar power and vegetable oil.  We have 3D TV.  And we have Ikea.  This is all Science Fiction.  Things from stories I've read.  So why do we want more?  Cause it's awesome.  We are dreamers, and love good stories that explore the unknown and the possible.  That's why we love Science Fiction, because it could be, and already has been, and we want hoverboards.

So this is the story of Pia, unknowingly trapped in a prison to protect her.  For she is the first human in a long line of experiments who is immortal.  She can't die, her skin can't be pierced, she is wicked smart and fast, and has amazing endurance.  Oh, and of course she is beautiful...perfect.  Yet, when one night she escapes the world she has always known she finds immortality comes at a great cost.  This book has it's weak spots, but it is full of beautiful moments, and some pretty suspenseful moments too.  It is definitely a YA book, and I do wish it could have been a bit more sophisticated at times.  The ending was predictable, but good.  I give it 3 out of 5 stars.

Live, long, and prosper.

January 19, 2013

Ukulele Lady says "Books are NOT dead"

I'm typing this with my ukulele next to me contemplating the question I get constantly..."Are books going to go away?"  I guess it's because I'm a librarian, but I get this question a lot.  By students, parents, coworkers, friends, etc.  In some ways I'm flattered, it means I'm an expert on something other than witty comebacks and ninja stars. In other ways it terrifies me that I live in an age that this question is on everyone's mind.  Because this question comes up so often I think about it constantly.  Much of that has to do with job security.  No books=no job.  Or does it?

Will books go away because of the invention of ereaders and tablets?
My short answer is yes.  In 20-30 years a majority of physical books will go away.  We will all have tablets to read from.  Been in Barnes and Nobles lately?  It's a Nook factory.  Think about cell one had one 5 years ago.  Now EVERYONE has one.  Almost everyone has a smart phone.  Because they are cheap, easy to use, and the world is developing apps to use your smartphone in new/progressive ways everyday.  This will happen with ereaders.  Especially in schools.  E-versions of textbooks are a heck of a lot cheaper than physical text books.  Also, along with reference materials (i.e.-encyclopedias) online versions can be updated quickly and cheaply.  Schools are always looking to cut costs.  Textbooks for one subject for one year for a typical school cost about $45,000.  That is a lot of hot dogs people.  And these textbooks are out of date as soon as you buy them.  E-versions will be much cheaper, and interactive.  So for non-fiction ebooks will take over.  Especially when ebook readers are now as cheap as $60!!!  And so many books are available for free or much less than a physical book.
However, not all books we read will be ebooks.  I really feel physical books are part of our culture.  Fiction and children's books will be enjoyed with physical books for decades to come.  I can't imagine books not here.  Even with technology improving our communication and the accessibility of information nothing has improved the book.  It is still the best way to read.
Will books go away because of competition from non-reading activities.
There are so many things to do besides read.  Have you watched television?!  It's awesome.  And movies are getting better and better.  Plus video Skyrim completes me.  But will this take over reading?  Many say yes.  I say NO!  I posted awhile ago about the PEW research about reading today and it is not going anywhere.  If anything reading is at an all time high, especially with young adult readers.  There is so much more out there to read, more accessible, new genres, more exciting, and more venues are promoting reading.

You need to realize that reading is part of American culture.  Our First Amendment right is freedom of speech. This includes the written word.  It has always been important that we express ourselves through words.  It's who we are.  We have been reading and writing since we got off the boat, and we always will.  Physical books are also a part of our culture. I once worked with a custodian who was from Mexico.  Before he left to go back he made me promise I would eventually go to Mexico and help him get his family/people to read for fun.  According to him, they don't, even his sister who is a principal doesn't read for fun.  There is not a culture of reading, like there is here.

And as for job security, you still need someone to suggest a book, to help you find what you need, and to help you wade through the fields of information.  That's right, your friendly neighborhood librarian!
Visit one today!

January 15, 2013

The Best Book of 2012 or why this author owes my family an apology.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
 That's right, a YA book is the best book of 2012...and why not.  It is simple, beautiful, has unforgettable characters, and will leave your heart gaping open.  I couldn't put this down.  Yes, John Green you are the reason my children and husband were neglected for a time.  One of the coolest things about this book is one of my favorite students EVER suggested it to me.  I love that.  Once again proving that kids today are amazing.  I think we liked this book about a terminally ill girl not because it was gut wrenchingly sad (which at times it was) but because it was gut wrenchingly beautiful and full of dreams and friendship and hope and love.  

Why all the hype.  Why is it TIME's #1 Fiction book of 2012, listed by Entertainment Weekly as a MUST Read, Amazon's Best book of January 2012, and a starred review from Booklist?  Well, simply put it's about Hazel.  A girl with cancer that will not get better.  She is in a slight remission due to a miracle drug.  She is depressed because she is going to die.  So her mom makes her go to a cancer support group with other kids.  There she meets Augustus.  A boy with a story and a smile.  From there it's just...magic.

 See, the summary doesn't do it justice.  It doesn't.  I've had meals that sound more interesting than this.  But the bottom line is, read it.  It rivals my love of The Absolute True Diary of a Part Time Indian, that says a lot.

Next time...Origin by Jessica Khoury...