Sunday, September 30, 2012

Banned Books Week: Crank, by Ellen Hopkins

Unlike last year, I'm taking Banned Books Week seriously here and reviewing a book that has been banned and challenged.  I recently listened to the audiobook version of Crank by Ellen Hopkins, and realized that it was perfect for this feature.  It has been challenged for drugs, offensive language, and being sexually explicit.  This has happened all over the country, often with the worst result possible: it's been banned.  It was #4 on the American Library Association's most frequently challenged book list for 2010.  The author, who has had many of her books challenged or banned, has even been repeatedly dis-invited from speaking events.

That's particularly sad because Crank is semi-biographical, about Ms. Hopkins' own daughter's descent into drug use.

So let's take a look at this book.

Checkouts: not owned by the charter school; 6 checkouts of the paperback at the school/public; no statistics available for audiobook (interlibrary loan)
Typical reader: curious teens, and drug users
Source: Interlibrary loan

Synopsis: Kristina Snow was the perfect daughter and student.  Then she went to visit her father one summer, where she tried crank - the monster, methamphetamine.  At first, it was great.  But then it led her into a special sort of hell.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

I went with the audiobook for this one because it's written in free verse.  Between my dislike for that form of poetry, and the fact that I just can't read poetry (blaming high school English for that), it seemed like a good choice.  And it is, just for time's sake - the audiobook is 4 discs long, whereas the paperback is a whopping 537 pages.  But it's also good for the quality of narration.  Laura Flanagan delivers the story well, with feeling and a teen-sounding voice.  She handles the verse format better than I ever could, making it more lyrical and less cumbersome.

Crank is a rough book, any which way you read it.  It deals with some very hard subjects.  Kristina gets into a lot of trouble due to her drug use.  This includes trouble at home with her family, with her finances, at school, with her friends, and with boys.  Some of that is very serious.

This book has been banned and challenged for drugs, offensive language, and being sexually explicit.  Well, yes, it does have all of that.  Sometimes people challenge books for the oddest perceived faults; this time, they're right.  The book is about drug use.  Is it glamorized?  Hardly.  There's offensive language, but that seems superfluous.  As for being sexually explicit, let me give you some spoilers.  Kristina gets raped, and that is described a bit.  It's worth cringing over.  She talks with a fellow female drug user about it, and finds out that it's happened to the friend as well.  Girls that use drugs often get raped by dealers, or by guys that offer to help them get high.  And as a final lesson in what bad things can happen when a girl uses drugs, she discovers that she's pregnant, and it's the rapist's baby.

Is this appropriate for young children?  No, but I doubt anyone found it in an elementary collection.  Is it appropriate for teens?  That's a good question.  It's written for teens, about a teen, based on a real teen girl.  But parents should certainly be aware that their teen is reading it.  This is a novel that needs discussion.  Don't take it away, just because of a fear that it might make them curious or lead them astray.  The consequences of Kristina's drug-addled actions become clear enough by the end of the book.  Discuss it with them.  Talk about how drugs can mess up their lives.

I really have to give kudos to Ms. Hopkins for writing this book and its direct sequel, Glass.  She was struggling with how and why her daughter could go down the path of meth use, and this book explores what happened, or may have happened.  She's been praised by people who have used meth, for accurately portraying what it's like.  Some have even told her how the books have helped them clean up.

If that's not a reason to keep the book on the shelf, what is?

Have a good Banned Book Week, everyone.  Enjoy your freedom to read.  Do you have a favorite challenged book, or one that you're reading in honor of this week?

On to a lighter subject.  Tomorrow is the first day of October.  October shall be a special month here, where a librarian moonlights as a librarian.   I'm going to take the month to focus on books of Marvelous Michigan!  I'll be exploring new and old books for all ages, that are by Michigan authors, or are set in Michigan, or are about this state of pleasant peninsulas.  I might even have an author interview or two.  Stay tuned - I hope you'll love it.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Feature and Follow Friday

Hello, and welcome to the blog of a librarian moonlighting as a librarian (AKA Moonlit Librarian)!  I'm participating in another Feature and Follow Friday, hosted by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.  Thanks for stopping by.  I hope you'll come back in October, when I'll be unveiling my first real theme month!

Q: What is the BIGGEST word you’ve seen used in a book lately – that made you stop and look it up? Might as well leave the definition & book too.

A: That's a tough question.  I soak up big words like a sponge.  Also, flexing our vocabulary is hot flirting between my boyfriend and me.  (We're such geeks.)  Between the size of my lexicon and the fact that I read a lot of YA and kids' books, I don't come across many words that I don't already know.

That said, Sharpe's Tiger by Bernard Cornwell (reviewed Wednesday) was good for broadening my horizons based on cultures and dialects.  The largest new word was probably "embrasure," which is an opening in a defensive wall to fire cannons through.  The British pronounce "lieutenant" as "leftenant," which is interesting.  A new foreign word is "bibi," formally meaning "lady" in Hindi and/or Arabic, and used derogatorily by the British army for "lover" or "prostitute."

What words have you learned lately from books?

FYI, I am typically pretty busy at work all day on Fridays, and cannot access social networking at that time, so please be patient if you want me to follow you back. :) Thank you!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Cover-to-Cover Commuting: Sharpe's Tiger

In listening to audiobooks this summer, I rediscovered my love of historical fiction.  I read it often as a child, and there's a lot of great historical fiction available for all ages.  It's also something that I can use to relate to my adult patrons at the school/public library with; many enjoy historical fiction.  And it's something that appeals to both genders.  Many genres attract a certain demographic: romances are read mostly by women, thrillers by men, and so on.  There's less of that divide with novels based on historical events or set in past time periods.  True, a woman might be more likely to pick up a queenly novel by Philippa Gregory, and a man would probably gravitate toward a Civil War tome by Jeff Shaara, but many people across the span of ages and genders feel drawn to stories set in olden days.

Let me share with you a historical audiobook I recently had the pleasure of hearing.  It's Sharpe's Tiger by Bernard Cornwell, and is the first in the series about a man in the British army, beginning in southern India in 1799.

Checkouts: not owned by either library
Typical reader: Men interested in historical war fiction
Source: Interlibrary loan

Synopsis: It's 1799, and Richard Sharpe is a young private in the British army, stationed in India and marching to battle the Tippoo Sultan of Mysore and his French allies at Seringapatam.  He is rescued from the flogging post to go on a secret mission behind enemy lines to free a captured general, or at least glean vital knowledge from him to aid in the coming conflict.  Accompanying him on this quest are Lieutenant William Lawford and Sharpe's lady friend, the widowed Mary Bickerstaff.

My Goodreads rating: 5 stars

I have one little quibble with this book in audio format, so let me get that out of the way first.  As you may have noticed in the synopsis above, there are a lot of names involved that are difficult to spell.  An audiobook is not going to spell those out for you.  Nor is there a map to look at while you're listening, as there would be in the physical book.  Much thanks to the other reviewers on Goodreads who actually mentioned stuff by name.  (Also, Seringapatam is under a different name these days, like many other Indian cities; thankfully, Google maps recognizes that Seringapatam of old is now Srirangapatna.)

The flip side of this problem is something that really made the listening experience great: the voice actor.  Physical books don't have voice actors, of course, and do not give the readers the full flavor of the various accents and tones encountered in a given tale.  Sharpe's Tiger on audio, narrated by Frederick Davidson, takes the listener around the British Empire and then some.  Mr. Davidson manages English, Irish, Scottish, French, and Indian accents, as well as different voices for the various and sundry cast.  I particularly loved the Scottish generals: "Mah name is David Baird.  B-A-I-RRRRRR-D."

Mr. Cornwell did a lot of research into the Siege of Seringapatam, and it shows in more than just the historical notes at the end of the novel.  Details are meticulously accurate, with a mixture of real people - the Tippoo Sultan, Major General Baird, Colonel Arthur Wellesley, and others - and fictional - our hero Richard Sharpe, the French Colonel Gudin (much thanks to Sharpe's Compendium, as I thought it was Gouda before I looked it up), and the nefarious Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill.  The novel stays true to most events, with some liberties to make Sharpe the British Forrest Gump of the conquest of India and the Napoleonic Wars.

Much thanks to IX_of_Swords for the art.
This book has some memorable characters.  The most notable is Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill.  He's worth swearing over, despite the fact that my parents read this blog (Hi!).  This sergeant is a complete rat bastard, the lowest of low.  He is at once utterly despicable and amazing.  Sergeant Hakeswill hates Sharpe and will do anything to bring him down, if not outright kill him.  And that just scratches the surface of this wretched man.  This is more than just a crusty sergeant that bellows at his subordinates and makes their lives miserable; he takes pleasure in doing so.  He has a complex, to put it mildly.  In his youth, he had survived a hanging, and he believes that he cannot be killed.  He also follows many of his orders and opinions of how things should be with, "Says so in the Scriptures."  Clearly, the man has never read the Bible.  It was downright glorious when a superior officer points this out to him.  He is horrible, but he's also one of the best-written villains I've ever read.  This man deserves an award.

If I base my reviews and ratings of audiobooks on this one, there will be far fewer 5-star books.  This is one that I can rave over (as shown above) and highly recommend.  I'm eagerly awaiting the next audiobook through interlibrary loan.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Yay for YA: Flesh & Bone

As promised, here's my review of Flesh & Bone by Jonathan Maberry.

I've previously reviewed Rot & Ruin and Dust & Decay as well; click the titles to read those reviews.

Checkouts: Coming soon to the library
Series checkouts: 18
Typical reader: Fans of the series
Source: Snowbound Books

Synopsis: Benny and his friends have a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day.  Seriously.  With the exception of the epilogue, the entire book takes place in the span of a day.

My Goodreads rating: 5 stars

First of all, I do have to say after last year's review of Dust & Decay and the ensuing comments on the post, I was prepared for the wildlife and the problems they can cause for our heroes.  I'm also aware that Mr. Maberry does his research, which I can respect and appreciate.  The average reader probably won't catch the nuances, but I could tell that care was put into finding facts about how the world would operate in a zombie apocalypse.

I think what I liked best about this third installment of the Rot & Ruin series is what has happened to the zombies.  And how it's explained.  If you're the type that wants to know what caused a given zombie outbreak, you're in for a treat with this book.  Also, you'll get to find out, somewhat, what's happening to the zombies - why some are faster, and ... minor spoiler, why those wild boars are acting oddly.

Something I felt was perhaps a little overdone at this point in the series is the use of religious cults as issues Benny and crew must face.  They're certainly justifiable; that's not my point.  Of course people are going to band together and try to come up with reasons for what's happening in the world.  But every book has encountered religious fanatics, from the well-meaning Children of God, to the nefarious Preacher Jack, and now to the deadly Church of the Darkness.  I'm not docking my rating for this, but it's something that could be a turnoff to some.

I did like, however, that the third-person limited point-of-view included some of the rogue's gallery of this book.  It really added flavor and depth, and gave an inside look at the politics and machinations of the threat.  That was a great strength.  In the epilogue, it even lends the possibility of what the fourth book could entail.

Speaking of the fourth book, I'll be honest and say that I was very satisfied with how this novel ended.  I don't feel like there's a need for more to the story.  I'm also not sure how the heroes will get out of their current situation.  Does anyone have some teasers to offer up on the matter?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

What's coming up for the Moonlit Librarian

Hello!  A question for my fellow Google Blogger/Blogspot users: What do you think of the new blogging interface?  Personally, I can't stand it.  It's too white, with poor use of space, and a strangely long loading time.  I've also had trouble finding some things.  Then, when I added a photo to this post, everything started dancing wildly, moving around to places where it did not need to be.

This is a bit of a teaser post, for what's coming up on the blog.

  • I've finished Jonathan Maberry's latest YA novel, Flesh & Bone. Finally, a book that I was looking forward to, that met my expectations! Expect that review soon, probably Sunday or Monday.
And I swear, this time I did not balk at rhinoceroses in zombie novels.
  •  The rest of the reviews for this month will probably be about audiobooks.  In the physical realm of books, I'm going to try and get ready for my October feature.  I'm hoping that it will be awesome, and that you, my dear readers, will enjoy it greatly.
Also, I did a little designing and made a background banner for the title area of my blog.  ^_^  Isn't it nice?  I'd love to get a photo of one of my libraries in the moonlight, but both have west-facing windows and I'm not going to be up so early as to catch a moonset just for a photo.  Ah well.

(If you're here for Feature and Follow Friday, I wasn't interested in the question this week.  But thanks for stopping by!  Consider this my FFF post. ^_^ )

Monday, September 17, 2012

Yay for YA: Bitterblue

As I promised on Friday in my "Feature and Follow Friday" post, I would like to tell you about Kristin Cashore's latest book, Bitterblue.  But if you've read that post, you also know a bit of what I thought of it.  If you haven't, that's cool too.  Welcome to the review.

Checkouts: Coming soon to the library
Series checkouts: 23
Typical reader: YA fantasy readers, and fans of the series
Source: Snowbound Books

Synopsis: Eight years after the events of Graceling, Queen Bitterblue of Monsea is still trying to make heads or tails of what happened in her father's reign, correct wrongdoings, and be a fair and just ruler.  All these things are very hard to do.  She also sneaks out at night and meets interesting townsfolk.

My Goodreads rating: 3 stars

Isn't that a beautiful cover?  I love blues and purples, and these jewel tones are so vibrant.  The gold lettering looks great with it all, too.

But you know what they say.  You can't judge a book by its cover.

Well ... thinking this will be a beautiful book is somewhat correct.  I sum it up as "beautifully boring."  The prose is excellent.  It just doesn't go anywhere.  And it takes 563 pages to do that.  This is one chunky book.  Thick books aren't a bad thing - Eona, which I reviewed earlier this year, was 637 pages, and I quite liked that one.

But this isn't just a doorstop.  While it takes forever to accomplish anything, and I did put it down for a few months to read more interesting books, this novel does have merit.

  1. Maps, illustrations, and other accoutrements.  I can really appreciate maps in books.  Fantasy novels, as well as history and historical fiction books, can be enhanced with physical representations of where the books' events happen.  This not only has maps of the lands and the castle, it also has a glossary of people (though that does contain a few spoilers), and renderings of the bridges in the capitol city.  These things please me.
  2. Katsa and Po.  While it is said that Bitterblue can be read without either Graceling or Fire, you'd be greatly missing out if you jumped right in without at least reading the former.  (Minor spoiler, but a character from Fire doesn't show up until page 500.)  This is especially true with the protagonist from Graceling and her bosom buddy.  The book brightened when Po, Bitterblue's cousin, showed up.  It became more interesting.  Bitterblue is a good character, but it really felt like Ms. Cashore put her heart into Po and Katsa.  They are intriguing, deep, mysterious, and have fascinating interpersonal relations with each other and their comrades.
  3. The librarian.  As long as I'm on the subject of great characters, let me talk about Death.  Technically pronounced "Deeth," rhyming with "Teeth," Death the Librarian is wonderful.  He can come across ill-tempered, and is often sardonic and/or sarcastic, but he's fascinating.  His Grace includes speed-reading and eidetic memory, perfect for any librarian.  And he has a cat.  It's name is ironically Lovejoy, and it has a most foul disposition.  I found myself musing on occasion how the story would be, if told from his vantage point.  (Aside: Death the Librarian tickled my fancy on a personal level, as a librarian friend goes by the nickname of Death.  I don't know her to be deadly or particularly morbid; it's just one of those aliases that get attached in college.)
  4. It's not a romance.  Ms. Cashore even says so.  There's an odd "thing" between Saf and Bitterblue, that is far more complex than just falling in love.  Or falling out of love.  Or figuring out how a queen and a ruffian should act toward each other.  But this isn't a romantic fantasy novel, and that's pretty true to Ms. Cashore's other writings.  Her strong heroines get along fine with men, but aren't dependent upon them.  I can appreciate that.
This book set me to musing over what could have made it better.  Maybe it should have been told with a focus on Saf, the scamp Bitterblue meets and becomes entangled with (in many ways) during her nighttime excursions.  I think a downfall of this book was that since it focused on the queen, there was no adventure.  If you liked the other books set in the Seven Kingdoms for the action, this is a disappointing book.  Bitterblue is mostly an observer trying to puzzle out the world around her.

The timing of the book's plot perplexed me.  It took eight years for Bitterblue to finally start wondering about how to fix her kingdom.  Why?  I cannot fathom how she wouldn't have started trying to figure things out, and realize how wrong things were close to home, when she was a teen.  Is it for the sex scene?  It's a very vague scene, not explicit at all, and something that could be glossed over by a reader who didn't realize what went on in the "fade to black" spacing between one thing and the next.  That seems unlikely, as plenty of YA books have sex.  Heck, the wonderful Song of the Lioness fantasy series by Tamora Pierce had sex in it, and that was written in the 1980s.  Anyway, I just don't get why Bitterblue didn't pursue finding out why her kingdom is so screwy until she was 18 years old.

In sum, I wanted to like this book.  I've enjoyed the other books in this world.  The story of Queen Bitterblue and her kingdom may have been a story that needed to be told, particularly if Ms. Cashore continues this line of novels and builds off what we learned in Bitterblue.  But this book was too dry, too drawn-out, and it left me wondering how it could have been better written.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Feature and Follow Friday: I succumb to a meme.

I've kind of avoided resorting to memes on the blog.  There are multiple reasons for this, including such things as shyness and a stubborn nonconformity.  But, last week I did sort of participate in "Feature and Follow Friday," hosted by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read, and a few people who wandered here mentioned that I didn't have an FFF post.  So, here's an FFF post.  Whee.

Q: What hyped up book do you think was not worth all the talk?

 There's a very easy answer to this, which would be Twilight, for I am quite intolerant of everything dealing with it.  But that's taking the easy way out, isn't it?

I will instead go with a book I finished earlier this week, and will likely review this weekend.  It's one I was really anticipating, and the cover is so beautiful.

Bitterblue, by Kristin Cashore

Argh.  I was highly anticipating this book, and the cover is absolutely gorgeous.  I love the jewel tones, the predominant blue, the gold lettering.  Plus, I thought Graceling was great, and Fire was good.  This ... this was beautifully boring.  Excellent prose, stretched out for far too many pages, giving too much detail over very little that happened.

But I'll go into more detail soon, with a proper review.

Thanks for stopping by!

How to make a librarian happy, September 2012 (part 2)

As promised in my previous post, today I'll share with you the books the library received from the Superiorland Preview Center.  These books are free to the area's libraries, and funded by a memorial endowment.  Again, all links are to Goodreads, unless otherwise stated.

Tempest Rising and Tempest Unleashed by Tracy Deebs

Various YA fiction
City of Swords by Mary Hoffman
The Springsweet by Saundra Mitchell
Dead Reckoning by Mercedes Lackey (I may have to pull that one and read it myself!)

By Jason Strange
The Graveyard Plot and The Demon Card
Jason Strange also wrote Zombie Winter, which I reviewed last year.

Heidi Heckelbeck series
#1, Heidi Heckelbeck Has a Secret
#2, Heidi Heckelbeck Casts a Spell
#5, Heidi Heckelbeck Gets Glasses
All by Wanda Coven (I sense a pseudonym).

The Boxcar Children!
The Boxcar Children Beginning by Patricia MacLachlan
I'm sure the Kindergarten teacher will be interested.

Different thinking awareness
Bilingual books!
Mi amigo tiene ADHD/My Friend Has ADHD
Mi amigo tiene autismo/My Friend Has Autism

Picture books
The Little Bully
Caldecott Honor book The Spider and the Fly
Ganesha's Sweet Tooth, based on a Hindu myth

Books boys will love
Military Robots
Airplanes in Action
Bulldozers in Action
I'd really like to see girls interested in this stuff too, but there's a sexist divide in what piques each gender's curiosity these days.  It drives me nuts.

The world around us
Countries Around the World: China
Languages of the World: Arabic

Ser honesto/Being Honest
Helping Family and Friends

Setting up the Shot
Taking the Shot

Pirate poetry
Shiver Me Timbers!

Various nonfiction
Rapido, mas rapido, muy rapido/Fast, Faster, Fastest

What great additions to the library!  These will support curriculum and offer new reading materials to the students.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

How to make a librarian happy, September 2012 (part 1)

This is a great week for the library!  So many good things have come its way.  The Scholastic order and the Demco order were there when I went in for a staff meeting, and last night my lovely assistant (read: boyfriend) and I cataloged the new books from Scholastic and started covering dust jackets with the protective covers from Demco.  Then, today I visited the Superiorland Preview Center and picked out another boxful of all sorts of new books.  Exciting!

Let me showcase the Scholastic books for you now.  Links will be to Goodreads when available.  Tomorrow, the books from Superiorland will be displayed.

Nonfiction books from series previously reviewed here
The Girl's Guide to Wizards
The Girl's Guide to Werewolves
(Two other Girl's Guides reviewed)
Investigating Hauntings, Ghosts, and Plotergeists
(Aliens and beasts seen here)

Books that will fly off the shelves
The Kane Chronicles 3: The Serpent's Shadow by Rick Riordan
The Slayer Chronicles 1: First Kill  by Heather Brewer
Chomp by Carl Hiaasen
Bone: Out From Boneville graphic novel by Jeff Smith

YA lit from bestselling adult authors
Changeling by Philippa Gregory
Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult, and her daughter Samantha Van Leer

Neat nonfiction
USA Today's Cultural Mosaic series (well, 5 out of 6)

Author biographies
Rick Riordan
Suzanne Collins
(Pardon the Amazon links)

Fresh fiction
Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Wonder Struck by Brian Selznick
Rush for the Gold by John Feinstein

Caldecott Medal winner
A Ball for Daisy

For my princess problem
 More nonfiction
Scholastic's Year in Sports 2012

Harry Potter
The Tales of Beedle the Bard

And I ordered a preview pack, K-8.
Picture books
Skippyjon Jones, Class Action
Dog in Charge
Ruby's New Home

Fiction for upper elementary and middle school
The Ghost of Graylock by Dan Poblocki
Ninth Ward by Jewel Parker Rhodes
The Savage Fortress by Sarwat Chadda
Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys (which has nothing to do with the erotica of a similar title!)

More elementary fiction
Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur
Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Whatever After 1: Fairest of All by Sarah Mlynowski
Wolf Storm by Dee Garretson (who also wrote Wildfire Run, a book I reviewed last year)

And last but not least, some quirky nonfiction

I'm sure the kids will enjoy these books, and the ones I'll show off here tomorrow.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Cover-to-Cover Commuting: Looking for Alaska

I am a fan of the Printz Awards.  If you're into young adult literature, or are involved in librarian-like pursuits, you're probably familiar with them.  Akin to the Caldecott and Newbery Awards for younger audiences, the Michael L. Printz Award is the American Library Association's award for a book that "exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature."  For more information, visit the ALA's page about it.

I've previously read other Printz winners, such as the gritty Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (review available here), the quirky graphic novel American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, the heartbreaking The First Part Last by Angela Johnson (that was for a class), and the bleak Monster by Walter Dean Myers.  All of those have been very good.  The book I want to share with you now is also an outstanding Printz winner, called Looking for Alaska by John Green.  I listened to the audiobook version.

Checkouts (School/public audiobook): 30
Checkouts (Charter school print):5
Typical reader: Mature teens
Source: School/public library, on audio CD

Synopsis: Miles decides to leave home and attend his junior year of high school at his father's alma mater, a boarding school in Alabama, hoping to find more to life and discover his "Great Perhaps" (a reference to the last words of Francois Rabelais).  There, he makes friends with interesting classmates, most notably the beautiful, clever, sultry Alaska Young.  This comes across as a great "slice of life" tale, until one night ...

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

Does Looking for Alaska exemplify literary excellence in YA lit?  Oh, yes.  It's genuine, edgy, unafraid to look at teen issues.  While the Printz Awards can go to any genre of book, provided that the intended audience is teen/YA, this is lovably contemporary, realistic fiction.  As much as I like fantasy and dystopian novels, this had great appeal for the realism: in the characters, in the events, in the setting.

This is character-driven, and the people in Miles' life are quirky and interesting.  Miles himself, or "Pudge," as he is known at school since he's skinny,  has the unique trait of being obsessed with last words of famous people.  Alaska is extremely multifaceted, from being sweet and funny, to railing against the "patriarchal paradigm," to withdrawing into deep melancholia.  Even the allegedly one-lunged religious studies professor has his idiosyncrasies.

This is a hard book to discuss without getting into spoilers, though.  There's definitely a turning point in the novel, and the chapters/sections are even marked with "eleven days before" or "one day after."  Certainly, something momentous happens, but if you've been reading my reviews for a while, you know I try to steer clear of letting things slip if I can help it.  My advice: if you want to read this, just jump into it, and don't look at the reviews on Goodreads.  I made that mistake, and was not happy.

The audiobook version of this was good.  Not outstanding, but good.  There's a part where Miles, narrating the story, comments on someone's Southern drawl, and that most people at school didn't have such an accent.  *sigh*  Maybe it's just my acclimation to how people in the upper Midwest talk, but I swear a lot of the characters had a bit of a Southern accent.  Nice to listen to, but inaccurate.

This novel is certainly for more mature readers.  Miles and his friends live boarding school life to its fullest.  They pull pranks, smoke, drink, explore their sexuality, and examine the meaning of life, be it in pursuit of the "Great Perhaps" or a way "out of the Labyrinth."  There are also mature themes.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Coming soon!

I've made it through the first week of the school year at the school/public library gig!  Tomorrow is my day at the charter school - the one I focus on most for this blog.  I've already met the new Kindergarten class, placed an order through Scholastic and requested that book jacket covers be ordered, and set up phone and in-person meetings of various sorts.  Busy, busy!

And I have plans for this fall, for this blog.  Be excited!  I have a couple of third-in-a-series reviews coming as soon as I read the books, such as Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore and Flesh & Bone by Jonathan Maberry.  Then, for October, I have a very special feature planned.  It should be great.  Maybe I'll even do a bit of redesigning to spiff this up.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Yay for YA: Toads and Diamonds

Sometimes a stroll down the aisles of the local library is all that's needed to find a treasure.  And treasure is certainly alluded to - and found - in Toads and Diamonds by Heather Tomlinson.

Checkouts: Not available
Typical reader: Fans of fairy tale retellings, perhaps
Source: The local library

Synopsis: This is a wonderfully embellished retelling of Charles Perrault's "The Fairies."  Two step-sisters in India encounter a goddess at a well and receive life-changing gifts/curses.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

Isn't this a pretty cover?  I enjoy henna/mehndi art, and sari fabric is so pretty.  Also, I was not familiar with the original fairy tale, so I was greatly intrigued by the whole package.

This is quite a different take on fairy tales.  Right away, I was impressed by how the two step-sisters got along well with each other, as did the step-mother/step-daughter set.  The girls are even friends, admiring each other's talents and caring about one another's well-being.  Not something you see normally in this sort of story!  The characters are also far more well-rounded and realistic than in classic fairy tales.  Really, this novel is as character-driven as it is plot-driven; it is about the growth and maturation of two teen girls undergoing unique trials and tribulations.

The setting and catalyst are also refreshingly new.  Toads and Diamonds is set in India, or something like it, at a point similar to/inspired by the Mughal Empire.  (FYI, that's the Muslim empire in the Indian subcontinent that erected such wonders as the Taj Mahal.)  The cultures are based on the native Hindus and the ruling Muslim conquerors, though the author makes clear in her notes/acknowledgments that they are not actually those religions and cultures.  It comes across a little on the "cover your butt" side of things, as the inspirations are quite recognizable if you know much about them, but it's fairly understandable.  No use ruffling feathers.

Forget fairy godmothers and witches.  How about a goddess to get the story rolling?  Naghali-ji, a goddess in the indigenous pantheon, appears to Diribani when she goes to fetch water at the sacred well.  The interaction seems to go well, and Diribani is blessed with flowers and jewels falling from her mouth whenever she talks.  Her step-mother is amazed, and somewhat greedily sends her own daughter, Tana, to the well in hopes of a similar outcome.  Tana encounters a different visage of the goddess, and gets cursed with toads and snakes instead.  And the local governor - as well as others of the conquering people - fears and hates snakes.

And so begins an adventure that lightly follows the original French fairy tale, but diverges for a lot more depth and different results.  After I finished the book, I looked up the inspiration, and this is an improvement.  Even the moral is far more complex, since gems and flowers don't always bring good things, and snakes and toads can be useful.

This is quite an enjoyable retelling of a fairy tale, and worth reading.