Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Cover-to-Cover Commuting: Sex on the Moon

As I said before, I'm on a bit of a true crime kick this summer.  Sex on the Moon by Ben Mezrich has a catchy title and quite the different premise from the usual murders that are found in the 364 Dewey section.

Unfortunately, as I was writing this review, I happened upon some information that made me feel duped.  While this is no Million Little Pieces, it is an embellished tale.  Entertaining, yes; entirely factual, no.  The author did not do his homework for this book, which seems mostly based on interviews with the criminal behind the caper.  It drops my rating.

(As Wikipedia puts it, "Testimony given [for a National Geographic show] is at odds with some of the key claims made in Ben Mezrich's account.)

Checkouts: Information unavailable
Typical reader: True crime fans and those drawn by the title
Source: Checked out from my local library

Synopsis: Thad Roberts, a daredevil and an up-and-coming fellow in a prestigious NASA program, risks it all to perform a most audacious heist - stealing moon rocks gathered by the Apollo missions.

My Goodreads rating: 3 stars

Thad Roberts is an idiot of a genius.  After a rough and rocky start to adulthood, allegedly getting kicked out of the Latter-Day Saints' missionary training as well his family, and marrying young and penniless, he decided to be an astronaut and set about achieving that goal.  He managed to land an internship several years in a row at the Johnson Space Center in Texas.  It was there that he came up with a wild, extravagant heist to impress his girlfriend - the liberation of moon rocks from a secure safe in one of NASA's most secure buildings.  Then he went and promptly got caught in a sting operation by the FBI.

The book is exciting in parts, particularly the execution of the theft itself, and dry and dull in others.  It lacks the complete story; apparently Mr. Mezrich only interviewed Roberts and Axel Emmermann, the Belgian rock collector who contacted the FBI about someone trying to sell moon rocks.  From what I've read elsewhere, both men are portrayed as greater than they really were.  The characterizations of those involved are actually quite the caricatures.  If you go by this book, the other interns had dull lives before Roberts spiced things up with camping trips, skydiving, and such.  And all the female interns were blonde and buxom beauties.  (Speaking of the female interns, I don't know why his girlfriend and other accomplice's names were changed, considering they also were charged in the heist and their names are matters of public record.)

I did not particularly enjoy the audiobook's narration.  Casey Affleck has a rather gravelly voice.  His diction is clear, though, and he differentiates between speakers.  It did not deter me.

In spite of being embellished, this was still an interesting book to listen to.  As I previously stated, the execution of the heist was exciting.  Learning a bit about NASA, the Apollo missions, and the moon rocks was also interesting.  If you want to read or listen to this book, just take it with a grain of salt.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Yay for YA double feature: If I Stay and Where She Went

Dear reader, I am sorry for my lack of posts this summer.  I have been reading (or listening to) plenty of books, but I haven't had the time to sit down and write reviews about them.  The school/public library where I started working last month is one of the busiest libraries I've ever worked at.  It is staffed by three people, serves a county of over 9,000, and interlibrary loans like crazy.  I really need to get a new camera, and bring it to work with me, so I can photograph the stacks of books waiting to go hither and yon, waiting for our patrons to pick them up or for the delivery system to take them away.

My shift on Monday is devoted to summer reading, and that's been amazing.  We had a visit from the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum, complete with an inflatable starlab.  (That was cool when I was a kid, and still is cool for me as an adult.)  A couple weeks ago, an author visited, and a few days ago, we had a paleontologist give a presentation.  Next year, I suppose I'll be the one scheduling all these special events.  Oh, my.

Anyway!  This is supposed to be a double feature review of Gayle Forman's books, If I Stay and its sequel, Where She Went.  Let's get to that.

(All stats are for the charter school's library.)

Checkouts: 6
Typical reader: Middle school/teen girls
Source: Follett

Synopsis: One wintry day, Mia and her family go for a car ride, which ends up being her parents' and brother's last.   Mia watches the aftermath unfold around her comatose body in an out-of-body experience, and realizes she has to make a decision to stay in this life or die.

My Goodreads rating: 5 stars

Checkouts: Coming this fall to the library
Typical reader: People who loved the first book and want to know what happens next
Source: A giveaway by Authors Are Rockstars!

Synopsis: Adam, Mia's former boyfriend, tries to cope with all that life has in store for him three years after she unexpectedly left him.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

If I Stay is an incredibly emotional book.  Mia has a great life and wonderful family, and it all gets smashed in a car accident not far into the book.  Her parents are instantly killed.  She sees herself lying on the snow-dusted side of the road, and from there has a heart-wrenching journey as her comatose body goes through surgeries and hospitals, and her remaining family and friends struggle with loss and hope.  The book is filled with beautiful memories of her awesome, loving parents, her sweet little brother, her teen romance with Adam, and much more.

And then she learns (*SPOILER*) that her little brother died.  If you read the dust jacket/back cover, you knew it was coming.  But it's a fair way into the book, and I feel a little bad including that detail, but it was on the cover, and it's one of the main catalysts that cause Mia to think twice about where she wants to be.  Living without Teddy and their parents seems awful - but at the same time, her friends and Adam are doing everything possible to see her and encourage her to stay.

This book is powerful.  I don't think it's just because I finished it a couple weeks ago, that I'm grasping fruitlessly for any criticism I could offer.  It's an excellent book that has rightfully earned acclaim for being a quick read that reluctant readers could get into.  Book clubs have flocked to it for good reason.  It even made me look up medical terminology to better understand some things mentioned in the book.  Fiction that leads me to learn something gets kudos.

Where She Went continues the story from Adam's perspective.  I didn't enjoy it as much, because it was jarring to go from Mia's narrative to his - I hadn't read the cover, but plunged right in after finishing If I Stay.  The first book is a tough act to follow.

This second book seems like it's better suited to young adults than to the original audience.  There are themes that teens can't relate to as well as college students and older 20-somethings could.  What those themes are, I cannot say, because I'm certainly not going to give away how the first book ended, or what led to the events of the second book.  Ha, you'll just have to read it on your own.

Ms. Forman's duology is a very fine set of work.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Cover-to-Cover Commuting: Two books by Ann Rule

Ann Rule is one of the leading true crime authors in America.  I came across her work some years ago, when her book Green River, Running Red needed repair at the small library where I worked.  After fixing the binding, I checked it out and was engrossed in the story of the Green River Killer.  It was at once horrific and absorbing.  Adding to the intrigue of the book is that, as with her more famous work, The Stranger Beside Me (about Ted Bundy), Ms. Rule had unknowingly met the man she'd one day profile as a horrific serial killer.

While I don't care for mysteries, true crime stories and TV shows such as Forensic Files are fascinating.  So as I began my foray into audiobooks, I've gravitated toward this genre of nonfiction.  Two of the first books I listened to were by Ms. Rule, which I shall review here today.

Checkouts (school/public library): 32
Typical reader: Fans of true crime and/or Ann Rule
Source: Checked out from the school/public library

Synopsis: Two children die in a house fire in Prairie Village, Kansas.  The fire was intentionally set - by their own mother.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

Checkouts (public library): 60
Typical reader: As above
Source: Checked out from my "home" public library

Synopsis: A Southern belle tears her husband and his family apart with lies, manipulation, deception, robbery, and more.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

These two books pair together well.  Both are about strange, conniving women who ruin the lives of those close to them.  The tales are complex and twisted.  And both are abridged in audiobook format, much to my dismay.  (Most audiobook versions of Ms. Rule's books are abridged, it seems.)

Abridgement is when a book is shortened.  Many classics are abridged, including in the kid-friendly Great Illustrated Classics series.  It is also common with audiobooks.  You get the flavor of the book, and most of the story, but without the length and little details.

While Bitter Harvest seemed like a complete story, I felt like I missed something with Everything She Ever Wanted.  Having not read the print version, I'm not sure if there was a chunk left out of the story that could have otherwise enhanced it, or if it was just that confounding.

These books are narrated by different readers.  Before listening to them, this puzzled me somewhat; typically, the books of a particular author will be read by consistent talent, be it one particular voice actor or a full cast (provided that the recording/publishing company remains the same).  However, the change makes perfect sense.  Bitter Harvest is read in a Midwestern accent, befitting the Kansas location, while Everything She Ever Wanted is read in a delicious Southern drawl.  These were excellent choices by the crew at Simon & Schuster Audio.

These books ended up starting my true crime "kick" this summer.  While I'll still be reading and reviewing children's and YA literature, I'll also be highlighting a number of books in this nonfiction genre, both in audio and print formats.

Also coming soon, I'm interviewing an author of local interest.  Stay tuned!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Cover-to-Cover Commuting: Shelter by Harlan Coben

I'm just full of ideas for new features lately.  This one is courtesy of my new job.  Every day that I work, I drive roughly 45 minutes each way.  The drive is beautiful, and this time of year there are always sandhill cranes in the grasses near the highway, but it's still a long commute.  My boss strongly urged me to try audiobooks.  I protested a bit, as I prefer print and claim to be a bad listener.  Really, I retain what I read far better than what I hear.  But, I gave it a try with a nonfiction true crime by Ann Rule (to be reviewed in a double feature with another of her audiobooks soon).  It does pass the time.  And, I take in more books than I would otherwise - and therefore have more to review.

Welcome to cover-to-cover commuting, my audiobook review feature.  First, let me tell you about Shelter, a YA mystery by bestselling author Harlan Coben, and read by Nick Podehl.

Checkouts: I'll keep it in mind for when I get the charter school's audiobook collection started.
Source: Checked out from school/public library (sources' checkouts: 10)
Typical reader/listener: Teen boys, fans of Harlan Coben

Synopsis: Mickey Bolitar is having a rough year.  His father died in a car accident, his distraught mother turned to drugs and is currently in rehab, and Mickey has to live with his estranged uncle Myron (protagonist of Mr. Coben's primary series).  He starts the new school year on the right foot, with a beautiful, kind girlfriend ... but then she disappears with barely a trace.  Can Mickey find her?

My Goodreads rating: A generous 5 stars

I'm not a fan of mysteries, and was skeptical when my boss practically shoved this book on CD into my hands as she gushed about it.  But, I'm glad I gave it a try.  This really works well as an audiobook, and it held my interest throughout the narrative.  A major reason for this is Mr. Podehl's voice acting.  He captures the tone of a teenaged narrating protagonist very well, with distinctive voices for the supporting cast.  The voices for some of the adult females, particularly the gym teacher, came across as flamboyantly gay instead of feminine, but it worked - that's likely just how Mickey would have imitated her!

If all of Mr. Podehl's work is this good, I may seek out other audiobooks he's voiced.  (Here's a list of works he's been a part of, from his web site.)

The other half of the audiobook, the writing that's being read, objectively pleased me.  The plot was engaging and edgy.  There were side-plots and unraveling back-stories.  I found the characters interesting, particularly Mickey's new friend E-ma, the sassy, plump, emo girl who is initially reluctant to be befriended by a tall jock like the protagonist.  And I must not leave out the goofy sidekick Mickey finds himself with - Spoon, who is unrepentantly geeky and spouts random trivia.  These are such vivacious characters.

While I'm being generous and giving a mystery 5 stars, I do have to say that I realized what I don't like about the genre.  Mickey is just a teen boy, trying to solve what could be a kidnapping.  Other mystery novels feature librarians, caterers, cat owners, and other ordinary people not normally involved in crime-solving ... solving crimes.  Once you go beyond who took Aunt Gertrude's antique candy bowl or where the elderly next-door neighbor buried a box of money during the Great Depression, you're entering territory that's, well ...

... the stuff of cartoons.
Really, when all is said and done in Shelter, I'm surprised the bad guys didn't say something like, "If it weren't for you pesky kids!"

But I know that many people like mysteries, and they probably look at my preferred novels that are full of dragons and magic, and shake their heads too.

If you're looking to try a mystery, give this one a shot.  If you're looking for a step between the Hardy Boys and adult mysteries, this probably fits the bill.  And if genres are irrelevant to you, you're awesome, and so is this book.