Monday, December 31, 2012

Most Disappointing Books of 2012

As the year AD 2012 (or 2012 CE, if you prefer) ticks down its final hours, I need to get in an annual feature or two more.  So let me tell you about the most disappointing books I read - or tried reading - this year.

*crickets chirp*

It was a pretty good year, really!  I only had one physical book that I did not finish.  That was Unraveling by Elizabeth Norris, which I talked about back in June.

There were certainly books that did not live up to my expectations of them, such as Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore.  That was a letdown with a beautiful cover.  My full review of it is available here.

Occasionally, I would pick up an audiobook from the public/school library where I work, and start it on the way home.  Some of these were audio-duds, that I didn't even try for one CD.  I might like them better in print form, so they're not truly disappointing; I just didn't like the vocals.

Room by Emma Donoghue was such a book.  I didn't give it five minutes.  The narrator is a five-year-old boy.  Whoever voiced him (there were multiple cast members) was too high-pitched and shrill to be enjoyable, or five years old.  I work with Kindergartners at the charter school, and they don't drive me up a wall just by talking.

I feel a bit embarrassed by this next one.  "Read by the author" should be something you should feel privileged to listen to.  Lord of the Flies by William Golding nearly put me to sleep, and that's never good while driving.  The forward was captivating, when Mr. Golding was discussing the writing and influences of the book.  But his soft, lovely British accent lulled me as he started narrating the story itself.  Too bad.

What books disappointed you this year?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Yay for YA: Things Change

I found a contemporary teen book set in Michigan, written by a Michigan author!  Let me tell you about Things Change by Patrick Jones.

Michigan connection: Patrick Jones grew up in Flint.  Things Change is set in Pontiac, which is between Flint and Detroit.  (See?  I don't just read books set in the U.P. for "Marvelous Michigan.)
"A" is for Pontiac. Image taken from Google Maps.
Checkouts: Not owned by either library
Typical reader: Teens, mainly girls
Source: My hometown public library

Synopsis: Johanna is a high school junior under a lot of pressure to be perfect, from her strict parents and admiring teachers.  Maybe that's why she shakes up her life by telling the wild, class-clown, student council president Paul to kiss her.  They end up going out, and Johanna finds that she's added another high-maintenance facet to her life.  Paul changes a lot about Johanna's life - but can she change him for the better?

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

Can a leopard change its spots, a skunk its stripe?  A smart girl can fall from her pedestal and get in trouble with a bad boy, but can that bad boy change for the good, to please the girl?

This is a book about a relationship, but it's not a romance.  (If you've been reading my blog a while, you know I don't do romance novels.)  It's what I call a "problem novel," a fictional piece, typically written for teens (or kids, to a lesser extent), about a social issue.  Crank by Ellen Hopkins, which I previously reviewed, is such a book; it deals with the dangers of methamphetamine.  Things Change is about abusive relationships.

Can Johanna succeed in keeping Paul happy so that he doesn't leave bruises when he pokes her?  Will leaving her best friend, Pam, ease his jealousy and keep him from slandering Pam?  Can Paul work to control his temper, or will the abuse escalate?

The novel is mostly told from Johanna's perspective, with a few chapters narrated by Paul thrown in.  They aren't labeled, but Paul's chapters always begin with a typed note to his father, who the reader quickly learns had left Paul and his mother several years ago, and died a couple years back.  It's easy enough to follow.  The prose is at a good reading level - not too simplistic as to be too dumbed-down for the perspective of a top student, but not too complex or adult, either.  There are sexual situations in the story, but anything beyond kissing and petting is "off-camera."

What I appreciated most about this book was that it wasn't cliche.  It surprised me at times, and I liked that.  The characters don't always make the right decisions, but they're very realistic.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Most Ambivalent Read of 2012: The Scorpio Races

As the year races to its end, it's time for me to look back on things that have been good, bad, and indifferent. My choices for this post, about a book I was horribly ambivalent over, were between the highly acclaimed The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, and the graphic novel edition of Fahrenheit 451 by the late great Ray Bradbury.  Throughout the former, I could not find myself going "wow" as so many others did.  With the latter, it wasn't until I started typing up a review that I realized how much I was "meh" over it.

I think I'll save the post about the graphic novel for another day this week, and go for the more controversial one.  It fits the bill better, plus it may be good for my blog's traffic and comments.

Typical reader: Teen girls, fans of Ms. Stiefvater's novels
Source: Scholastic

Synopsis: Every fall, a Gaelic island is infested with mythical sea horses unlike any others.  Brave men try to ride and race them in November, in the Scorpio Races, for great wealth or a horrible death.  In an attempt to save the remnants of her already-shattered family, a girl named Puck enters the races as the first female to ever do so.  She draws the interest of a returning champion, a young man named Sean.

My Goodreads rating: Unrated, for I am truly ambivalent.

What did I like about this book?  The mythos the author created was great.  The capaill uisce, the malevolent sea horses, are so unique.  Yes, they are based on Celtic water horses such as the kelpies, but spiced up a bit.  Kelpies and their kin also don't show up often in teen literature, so this is a nice departure from the typical paranormal fare of cuddly werewolves, sparkly vampires, and zombies lurching everywhere.

I've also got a soft spot for horse racing.  I'm a military brat, and one of my father's assignments put us in Kentucky for a few years.  I took a shine to Churchill Downs in Louisville, and to this day still enjoy watching the Kentucky Derby every May.  The plot of the book was intriguing.

Now, if only the race featured more prominently in the book.  The race itself occurs in the last 10% of the book.  While there's something to be said about "the journey, not the destination," there's also a need for decent pacing.

My biggest "ho hum" issue with the book is the people.  I was so utterly ambivalent about Puck, and could rather care less about Sean.  Did I care who won the race?  Not really.  And Puck rubbed me the wrong way sometimes.  For instance, take this thought of hers.  "No one notices what the third sister, Annie, looks like, because she's blind."  I've got a note in my progress on Goodreads that says I actually went "Huh?" regarding that line.  Maybe it's just a bit of culture shock; while I've worked with an amazing blind woman, Puck probably has a bit of that old Celtic mindset that a physical deformity is a sign of a mental/spiritual deformity, and therefore the blind woman is beneath her.  But still.

If you've read it, what did you think of the book?  Did you like it?  Many people seemed to.  Or is this review something that makes you say, "Whew, I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels that way"?

Friday, December 21, 2012

Feature and Follow Friday: Dec. 21

Is it the post-apocalypse yet?  I was avoiding major sites for a good portion of the day, as I figured some virus or hacking of major proportions would occur in "honor" of the Mayan New Year (very easy to do when there was no internet for half the day thanks to a snow storm).  But it appears as though nothing happened, so let's go on with life and blogging, and get back into the swing of things with Feature and Follow Friday, hosted by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.

Q: What have you learned from book blogging that you didn't know before about the publishing industry?

I've learned something very important, actually.  ARCs, or advanced reading copies, do not go in library collections.  That's illegal.  As awesome as it would be to stock the shelves with free books, we librarians do also need to purchase the books, just like everyone else.  Publishers do like sending ARCs to libraries to encourage us to buy their wares, but after that, they need to be pitched in some cases, or used as giveaways.

Something I did know before blogging, though, is that ARCs are not the finalized versions of the books.  That's not just limited to fixing typos or cleaning up grammar.  One of my former bookstore coworkers loved to tell of how bestselling mystery novelist Tony Hillerman changed the ending of one of his books, from how it had ended in the ARC.

What do you do with your old ARCs?

I intend to blog more in the near future, complete with a couple reviews of YA problem novels. One's even set in Michigan, meeting my goal of reading/reviewing at least one Michigan-related book each month.

Monday, December 17, 2012

On school violence

I am the school librarian at a K-12 public charter school, and am the public librarian at a school/public library connected to a public middle/high school.  I'm only at the charter school one day a week, but I know all the elementary kids, most of the middle school students, and a portion of the high school students.  And I love them, even if sometimes they can drive me nuts.  Last year when I was a chaperone on a field trip with my second and third graders, I was asked which child was mine.  I smiled and said, "I'm the school librarian - all of them!"

Last Friday, my talented K-7 students put on musical holiday programs.  They were wonderful.  It was a great afternoon.

After dinner with some friends, I heard the news and sat in stunned silence, watching the news coverage of a less happy school day for other elementary students.  That night, I started crying when I read more and could just picture my own little students, and my own beloved coworkers, as the victims of such a disaster.

There were many heroic teachers and staff, some of whom gave their lives.  Most teachers are heroes anyway, but the majority never have to face something like this.

But they need to be prepared, in case it happens.

This summer, the public school system that sort of employs me at the school/public library held some mandatory training that I want you to know about.  It's called active shooter training.  Teachers and other school staff get to learn what to do if someone enters the school and threatens lives.  The experience was amazing, and the knowledge I gained was the most useful and important I've probably ever gotten from a school in-service.  (It would also come in handy in the event of a zombie apocalypse, I swear.)

If you have school-aged children, ask your school administrators if the school has undergone active shooter training.  If not, insist that they do.  Pass this idea on to your friends who are parents, too.  Most schools cannot afford to hire guards; most police forces do not have the funding or manpower to provide security at schools.  Active shooter training can be cheap, or even free.  Training around here is provided by a former deputy, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't charge for it.

We are the underpaid people who love your children enough to protect them in the face of a gunman.  Make sure we know the best ways to do this.

For another take on school violence, my boyfriend has a pretty heartfelt opinion on using video games as a scapegoat.  Maybe you'd heard that when the murderer was initially incorrectly identified as his innocent brother, people searched the innocent brother's Facebook page and found that he liked video games like Mass Effect.  Blaming inanimate objects is always easier than addressing the real issue.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Guilty Pleasure: A Game of Thrones (the book)

Hello, I'm back!  I hope you didn't miss me too much during my hiatus.  While I did not get much writing done, I did do a lot of reading - 835 pages worth in one book alone.  Let me tell you about this behemoth, known as A Game of Thrones in the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin.

(Note: video, screenshots, and music of A Game of Thrones from HBO, all rights and such are theirs.  Please don't eat me.)

Checkouts: Not owned by the charter school library
Typical reader: Fantasy aficionados who are not daunted by reading a paper brick; fans of the show on HBO
Source: Birthday present

Synopsis: ... You want me to summarize a book that's more than 800 pages?  A lot happens!  The main plot involves the Stark family of the north, as their lord Eddard is invited south by his old friend, King Robert Baratheon, to be the Hand of the King; political intrigue and dark family secrets abound.  Meanwhile, his illegitimate son, Jon Snow, goes north to the Wall to nobly protect the Seven Kingdoms from whatever lies in the frozen wastelands beyond.  Finally, an exiled, deposed princess struggles to find her place in the world.

My Goodreads rating: 5 stars

I believe I've mentioned before that I really enjoy fantasy, but it's a turnoff that so many adult fantasy novels are massive tomes.  Several of my friends rave about this series, though, and with them I've watched the first two seasons of A Game of Thrones on HBO.  The show, which is very good (though very adult), swayed me to read what it was all about.

Kudos to everyone that made the first season of A Game of Thrones happen.  It followed the book very well, giving superb visualizations to the text.  Some scenes are even on Youtube, and worth revisiting from time to time, like Tyrion the Imp smacking his nephew, Prince Joffrey.  (The video below loops the slapping, because it's just that satisfying.)

What could the show have done better, to be more accurate?  It needed more dire wolves and less prostitutes.  While there is certainly sex in the book, the show added plenty more, of many varieties, to meet a sort of cleavage quota or something.
In the book, Tyrion liked to read.
In the show, Tyrion liked bed sport.
To focus on the novel itself, this masterfully crafted brick of a book is told from multiple third-person-limited vantage points to paint the wide world and intricate plots from the eyes of those involved.  Many of the Stark household are focused on, as well as Tyrion the Imp, brother-in-law to the king, and Daenerys Targaryen, the last descendant of the former ruling house.  Fall in love with them or revile them, these main characters and the dozens of supporting cast are well-rounded, deep, flawed, and utterly exquisite.

Do you like complex plots, with plenty of intertwining stories and facets?  This is an excellent book for these reasons.  A myriad of events, dealings, scandals, mysteries, magic, schemes, and dreams occur.  If you like a well-described world, it can be found here.

I could go on and on about this book, but maybe I'll just dance about it instead.