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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Yay for YA: Promise Bound, by Anne Greenwood Brown

I am never quite comfortable with reviewing sequels.  If you've been reading my reviews for a while, you likely know I don't give spoilers, and do not appreciate spoilers.  Thus, to review something in a series after the first book is a bit difficult.  You either have to paint broad strokes about it and drop hints, or just say what happened in previous installments.

On the other hand, when I take the time to actually read through an entire series, I would like to give props to the author, because I don't typically indulge in reading to completion.  In this line of work, one needs to have a vast knowledge of what can be recommended to patrons, which does not bode well to moving beyond the first book of anything.

So, let me tell you about Promise Bound, the third in the Lies Beneath trilogy by Anne Greenwood Brown.  I'll also briefly touch on the second book, Deep Betrayal, as I read it while on hiatus.





Statistics
Checkouts (series): 4 at the school library
Typical reader: Fans of the series
Source: Snowbound Books

Synopsis, Deep Betrayal: Told from Lily's perspective.  After graduating from high school, Lily returns to the lake to find Calder and her father spending too much time together, thanks to the events of the first book.  And someone - or something - is killing tourists and locals alike on the lake.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

Synopsis, Promise Bound: The chapters alternate between Lily and Calder's perspectives, plus additional voices near the end.  There are a lot of things going on in this one, with Lily dreaming of being Nadia, her grandmother (and Calder's adoptive mother), Calder's sisters vying for control, a mermaid's baby, and old promises that must be kept.  Will all the turmoil tear Lily and Calder apart?

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

Deep Betrayal pleased me.  Lily's voice was perfect in this book.  It was just as I would have imagined it.  The lore in this rendering of the world was explored more.  The thriller elements of the book stayed fresh and gripping.

Promise Bound had a lot going on, yet it also felt like a finisher for the trilogy.  It didn't really add to the experience, but wrapped things up - including elements added in this book.  There were a couple of points I want to address in it, though.

1. The plot twist halfway through the book.  Initially, I was shocked by what seemed like an odd, out of left field, crazy plot twist.  Lily makes Calder promise to do something that he doesn't want to or feel the need to do - but promising compels merfolk in this world, so then he has to.  It flummoxed me.  But I came to terms with it.  It did fit, somewhat.  While it was rash and impulsive, Lily is a teenager, and teens (perhaps especially Lily) can certainly be rash and impulsive.

2. I have a much harder time with the character of Chelsea.  Calder meets her at the reference desk of (a branch of) the Thunder Bay Public Library.  She should not exist.  Harsh, yes.  But what library lets high school students work the reference desk?!  You don't find that at a small town's reference desk, much less in a city of more than 150,000 residents.  She could have been a college student and I would have bought it.  But not a high school student.
And then what the heck is up with her not only giving Calder the addresses, let alone driving him to the addresses, of patrons?  It wasn't even as though he had used his powers on her.  She just up and violated patron confidentiality to an extreme.  I had a little conniption fit over that.

But, overall, I enjoyed this series.  It was a fresh, different take on merfolk, and offered elements of other genres beyond paranormal romance.  The protagonists were interesting, as was the world-building and lore.  And I appreciated the setting - not quite Michigan, sure, but Lake Superior is visible from my apartment.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Money can't buy happiness, but it can buy books. Same difference, right?

As promised in the last post, I will now share what I bought for just under $200 at the local bookstore.

If you are a librarian with a small budget, it is very important to have a good relationship with your local bookseller, especially if he or she carries used books and gives discounts to libraries.  I am especially blessed by Snowbound Books, particularly because I worked there while pursuing my MLIS.  The people there don't cut my any extra-special deals - I get 20% off books I'm buying for either of my libraries, but do have to pay tax if the library isn't directly paying the store for it.  However, they know that if I say the book is going in my library, it will end up in my library.

And so it is with this lot.  Many are used, but some are new.  Some are ones I've read and know are good; others are award-winners or are popular; and still others are gambles.  Let's take a look at what I have to add to the public library's collection.

 For adults
A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin
It's a used copy!
Before I bought this, and my partner donated A Feast for Crows, the library somehow did not have any of the series.  Gasp.

For children
Dork Diaries 6 and 7, by Rachel Renee Russell

Diary of a Wimpy Kid 1, 2, 6, and 8, by Jeff Kinney
These fill gaps in the collection.  All are hardcover, which was a must because they get used so heavily.  I did review the first Diary of a Wimpy Kid back in July 2011.

Battle of the Labyrinth by Percy Jackson
Flush by Carl Hiaasen
Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
Calumet Copper Creatures by Johnathan Rand (reviewed Oct. 2012)
More gap-filling goodness.  Maniac Magee was my favorite book as a kid.  I must have read it around 50 times.


For teens/young adults
 Zombies!
Rot & Ruin (Reviewed July 2011)
Dust & Decay (Reviewed Nov. 2011)
Flesh & Bone (Reviewed Sept. 2012)
all by Jonathan Maberry
These are paperback, and when the fourth comes out in that format, I'll also get that.  Hopefully in time to go in my suitcase to Dragon Con so I can Mr. Maberry sign these!  Squee!!

Maximum Ride
Books 1 and 2, by James Patterson
$4 apiece, used, before my discount.  And it's James Patterson, that prolific and popular author I've never read anything by.

A little Scott Westerfeld
Leviathan
My middle school boys love this author, especially this series.

Movie books
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (Review coming soon)
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
People love reading books and seeing the movies.  Granted, they'll never read the books again once the hype dies down (save for Harry Potter), but we must strike while the iron is hot, and actually not rely on interlibrary loans for every hit title.

Post-Apocalyptic
The Big Empty and Paradise City by J.B. Stephens
These are the first two books in a post-apocalyptic YA series that I haven't heard of.  But, they're used, someone might like them; why not give them a chance?

Award-winners
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (Reviewed Dec. 2011)
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz (Reviewed Sept. 2013)
Looking for Alaska by John Green (Audiobook reviewed Sept. 2012)
These are great books.

Miscellany
Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien
The Shade of the Moon by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Burned by Ellen Hopkins (Audiobook reviewed Oct. 2013 with its sequel)
Kiss Me, Kill Me by Lauren Henderson
Here we have a hodge-podge to round out the purchase.  The first is historical, the second post-apocalyptic.  The last two are contemporary.  I think it's a nice mix.

I have read and plan to review The Fault in Our Stars, and as you saw, there are several that I already reviewed.  Are there others in this group you think I should also read and review?



Update: Before I had a chance to catalog these, a donation of Divergent came in.  So, I brought the newly purchased copy back to the store, and Dana let me exchange it for a book of equal value.  I bought Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride.  Dana has been having about that book to me for years, so now I'll finally read it and add it to the library collection.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

How to create a YA section out of thin air

As I previously mentioned, I have quickly moved to create a YA/teen section at the library where I am now the director.  How did I do this?

I asked the system administrator of the library cooperative to generate a report for me that would show me what books of my juvenile fiction collection were held in the YA sections of other libraries within the cooperative.  She is a very magical woman, and was able to do this for me.  From this list, I gathered up all the books, weeded them for age and condition, and put together a section of nearly three hundred books.
Here are the stacks of YA books, waiting to be labeled and reshelved.


Next, I had to create a space for this section.  In an ideal world, I would have come up with a whole new shelving area, where teens could hang out and enjoy their own space.  However, that cannot happen.  So, I needed to move the juvenile section around.

And since I was moving that section around, I figured I should weed that section, to make more room both for new books and for the YA section.  So I emailed the system admin again, and she made a dusty shelf list.  Before she sent it to me, though, she called me up and explained a little problem.  See, if she went only based on when books were last checked out, I would be clearing out a major chunk of the section.  By limiting the list to only books that had never circulated since automating in 1997, and limiting further to only books published in 1985 or earlier, I'd only be deselecting about 700 books from the section.  Ouch.

Put another way, I was weeding anything that hadn't been checked out in nearly 20 years, and was about my age or older.  Of this old material, I kept anything by major authors, or were prize winners, or just struck my fancy ...

And what is more fanciful than this?

This weeding of the juvenile section was going well, until the picture books I was finding in the section began piling up.  And of course there was no room in that section for more books.  Once again, I asked for a dusty shelf list, this time writing a story that was along the "if/then" statements of a book by children's author Laura Numeroff.  It got a laugh, and perhaps one of the fastest dusty shelf list generations ever.

So now I have my evening clerk working on the project of pulling the books on the picture book list.  I rearranged the juvenile fiction section, weeded the juvenile paperback section for condition, and put everything in its places.  I feel very accomplished!


Then comes the problem of maintaining the section.  I am serving a population of 7,600+ people with a library that has a materials budget of $5,000.  The library has a McNaughton lease-to-buy subscription of five books per month, and a few Junior Library Guild packages.  The previous director would also buy five books and a couple audiobooks on CD each month from baker & Taylor.  Beyond that ... donations, and whatever can be bought with what's left of state aid at the end of the year.

If you're interested in library science, let me just disenchant you a moment and make it very clear that if you don't have a millage supporting the general services of the library, and you're at the mercy of a municipal government, you're not going to have much of a budget.  And that's even if you have a good city manager, as I currently do.

So what do you do?  Look to your own pockets and go shopping.  Next time, I'll show you what I managed to get for under $200 at the local bookstore.  You might be impressed.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Yay for YA: My Basmati Bat Mitzvah, by Paula J. Freedman

I think that getting back into reviewing books with one of the best contemporary preteen books I've read in a while is a good way to do this.






Statistics
Checkouts: Not owned by either library ... yet
Typical reader: Preteens or teens interested in contemporary coming-of-age books, have ties to either ethnicity/religion portrayed in this book, or are attracted by the quirky, catchy title
Source: Advanced reading copy courtesy of Snowbound Books (It came out last October.  I'm behind in my reading.)

Synopsis: Tara Feinstein, an Indian-Jewish-American preteen girl living in New York City, is preparing for her bat mitzvah.  Being multicultural, she's not sure in how she fits in to either her mom's Indian culture or her dad's Jewish one, or what exactly she even believes.  Adding to her worries are the fact that her best friend Rebecca is spending more time with a snobbish girl from both their middle school and Hebrew school, and her other best friend Ben-O may or may not like her as more than a friend.  Oy vey!

My Goodreads rating: 5 stars

I really enjoyed reading this book.  Ever have a book that you're reading, that's so good that you slow down and try to drag out the last few chapters so it will last longer?  This book was like that for me.

It's well-written.  The dialogue and internal monologue are realistic and believable.  There was a decent balance of description - not so little that it would turn me off, and not too much for a preteen reader.  Characters are well-rounded.  The plot and subplots are interesting, yet resolvable by the end of the book.

And best of all, it has a glossary.

Don't worry, I am kidding when I say that a glossary is the best thing about a book.  But it helps!  Hardly anyone is going to be familiar with all the Yiddish, Hebrew, and Hindi words, much less the blended ones.  The glossary is also seasoned with the humor of the protagonist, making it part of the enjoyable read.

I'd be hard-pressed to nitpick and find little flaws with this book.  Sure, it's not perfect - nothing is - but this is really darned good.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Finding peace

Greetings, dear readers, if there are any of you still following this blog.

I did not mean to step so far away and not write anything for so long.  But, as they say, if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.

I also spent a month on books 3-5 of A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin, and did not get much reading done for this blog.  Those were great, and I wait with baited breath for the sixth.

This past month, I have made what will hopefully be my last shift in jobs.  I am now the director of the public library I began my post-MLIS career at.  I am thrilled to be back there.  Many patrons remember me - or, they knew my grandparents or know my dad, since he grew up in that town.  And I'm able to keep my gig at the charter public school, which is excellent.

Already, I have made incredible changes to the public library.  It's on Facebook, and the web site has been updated.  I created a YA section, and weeded the juvenile fiction section.  And I've only been there three weeks!

Look, a young adult section!

I have found my happy place.  Now let's get back to reviewing books!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Cover-to-Cover Commuting: Burned, and Smoke, by Ellen Hopkins

I had intended to review these two books during Banned Books Week, or shortly thereafter.  It's now two weeks later.  Good heavens, I hope my readers don't actually expect me to be timely, or if you do, you forgive me.  I'm a library director, and I have a second library job.  Both jobs are a lot of work, and consume a lot of time and energy.  Much as I'd love to blog more regularly, that's not going to happen.

Librarians are like teachers.  Overworked and underpaid.

 Enough of that, though.  Let me tell you about these audiobooks!  Burned was published in 2006, while its sequel, Smoke, came out last month.

Statistics
Checkouts: Both owned in print and audio format at the small public library
Typical reader: Teens, fans of the author
Source: Burned was interlibrary loaned; Smoke was cataloged and checked out to me the day it arrived, hehe

Synopses: In Burned, Pattyn von Stratten is the eldest daughter in a fundamentalist home with an abusive father and useless mother.  Enraged by her really fairly typical teen actions, her father sends her away to his sister's ranch in rural Nevada.  There, she finds happiness and hope - which she must leave when the school year begins.  Smoke picks up not long after the cliffhanger ending of Burned, with Pattyn on the run and her sister Jackie picking up the pieces of their lives.  Can they rebuild, despite the lies and pain?

My Goodreads ratings: 5 stars for Burned, 4 stars for Smoke

Pattyn (named for General Patton; her father named all his children for generals) is likely the sweetest protagonist you could possibly find in one of Ms. Hopkins' novels.  The poor girl has a rough life, though, with a father who rules with an iron fist - which he often uses against his wife - and a fundamentalist church that looks the other way when its women need help.

When Pattyn gets into trouble with her father and at school due to a boy, she is shipped off to live with an aunt who has a ranch in rural Nevada.  This is meant as punishment, but it turns out to be the exact opposite.  There, she learns how it feels to be loved, both by her kind aunt and by a nice neighbor boy.  Love is a double-edged sword, however, which she learns when she returns home to face reality.  And man, can the consequences of love be disastrous.

The second book is narrated by both Pattyn and her sister, Jackie.  Pattyn is on the run after a horrific series of events, and tries to rebuild her life posing as an illegal immigrant worker to become a nanny on a rural Californian ranch.  (And that didn't come across as ridiculously in the book as it does when I type it.)  Meanwhile, Jackie has her own demons to face, and must help her mother and sisters cope with all that's happened.  It's a lot for a young teen girl.

Smoke is different from any other novel by Ms. Hopkins that I've read.  It's filled with so much hope.  Fans may find themselves torn between grabbing onto that hope and expecting everything to turn out okay for Pattyn and Jackie, and being cynical and waiting for it to all come crashing down, especially for Pattyn in her new life.  Can there be a happy ending?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Banned Books Week: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

I must say, I am shocked at how well Banned Books Week went over at my library.  Pleasantly shocked, certainly.  But still, I am in awe of just how positively the community responded to it.  People were curious, and asked questions.  And they checked out the books.  Of the Top Ten Banned Books of 2012, only The Kite Runner and Beloved were left on the shelf when I closed up this afternoon.  There seems to have been a reluctance to take the books with the pink slips on them, but hopefully those will go out next year.  Hopefully by then, the library will be in its new home (just down the street) and I'll have more room to make displays.

I also celebrated Banned Books Week by listening to book number two on the 2012 list, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.  The author himself read the book.

Statistics
Checkouts: audiobook not owned by either library
Typical reader: teens, Native Americans, fans of the author, fans of banned books
Source: my hometown library

Synopsis: Arnold "Junior" Spirit is a 14-year-old Spokane boy who lives on a reservation.  At the encouragement of a teacher, he transfers to a better school 22 miles away, where the only non-Caucasian is its Indian mascot.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

Banned/challenged for: offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group

This is a slice-of-life story of a teen boy who changes his own life by upsetting all norms of his tribe and going to a school off the "rez."  It follows roughly a year of Junior's life, as he navigates his freshman year, friendships, racism and ostracism, loss, and basketball.

In listening to the audiobook version of this novel, I missed out on the art.  However, I gained the hilarious narration of Mr. Alexie.  I stuck the first CD in my car's player before I left the library parking lot, and proceeded to laugh all the way home.  The humor is deadpan and dry, a lot of the time.  But also, the voice the author uses for Junior's voice and internal monologue has an amazingly familiar accent.  Apparently, a brain-damaged teen Spokane boy from a reservation in Washington State sounds like a Finlander Yooper.  Seriously.  He sounds like my dad's Uncle Reino.  If you don't know what a thick Yooper accent sounds like, watch the movie Fargo and listen, particularly to the women in the bar ... or listen to this audiobook.

I loved this book.  It covers a wide range of emotions and life experiences.  Pretty much any teen could read it and recognize something for his or her life.  It's humorous, and it also has plenty of hyperbole.  Many of the stories remind me of American tall tales.

Does this book deserve its negative acclaim?  Let's break it down.
  1. Offensive language.  Everyone has a different definition of this.  But yes, there is a sentence where a character not only drops the F-bomb, but also uses the N-word.  It's a pretty knockout use, too, that really covers ...
  2. Racism.  Yup.  The sentence with the aforementioned words was definitely racist.  And there's also racism between Native Americans and Caucasians.  There's also a sort of racism within an ethnic people, as demonstrated by how other reservation inhabitants called Junior an "apple:" red on the outside, white on the inside.  But it's intrinsic to the story.  If everybody got along, if the US government had not discriminated against Native Americans and pushed many onto reservations, if ethnic groups did not stick together and create out-groups and outcasts, then maybe we wouldn't need stories that deal with racism.  People that complain about racism in this book need a reality check.
  3. Sexually explicit.  This isn't 50 Shades.  The most Junior does with a girl is kiss.  There are "gay" jokes.  The most sexually explicit thing would have to be his admissions that he masturbates.
  4. Unsuited for age group.  Because teens don't read about teens?  Sure, it's not what you might want to hand to a child in elementary school, but that's not its intended audience.  Teens are.  And teens can and should read it, and they can and should handle the book just fine.
In sum, beyond one over-the-top sentence that was important to a plot element (white guy insults Junior, Junior punches him, they become friends), this book is tame and appropriate for its intended audience.

What did you read for Banned Books Week?