Monday, March 31, 2014

Wonder What Happened

Reboots of classic characters are tricksy, tricksy things, my precioussss.

So far, the only run of the New 52 that I really enjoyed is Batgirl (and then I find out that they up and fired Gail Simone, so humph).  Snyder's Batman with the Court of the Owls is also intriguing, but I found the crossover issue hard to swallow.

And now, here we are with Wonder Woman.  I had pretty high expectations given that it's Brian Azzarello writing it (full disclosure: I haven't yet read 100 Bullets, but I know he's generally reviewed well.  So I'm kind of winging it here).  But but but but...

grumpy cat no

This is one of those reboots that's not just a reboot--it's a total reworking of a well-established character.  I don't think I'd like that even if it were done well.  This is going to be all spoilery, but I'm sure you've already guessed what's going on anyway.

Long story short: Wonder Woman finds out that she wasn't really shaped out of clay by her mom, Queen Hippolyta, but rather she's Zeus' daughter, product of a one-night bow chicka wow wow that comprises one of the more squicky spreads in this volume  *cringe*  Cue the temper tantrums.  And that's ... pretty much what happens in this volume.  It's really a bunch of stuff sort of crammed together, but none of it makes sense, especially in light of Greek mythology.

Let's go back to the beginning.  Hera sends assassins to murder a girl named Zola because Zeus had teh sexytimes with her (but Zola doesn't know that).  Hermes intervenes but manages to get his butt kicked.  Yay Wonder Woman!  Poor Hermes.  He ends up in a full-on leg brace.  Dude.  Rub some ambrosia and nectar on that and get on with things.  Diana takes them all back to Paradise Island.

Meanwhile, Hera is plotting whilst wearing a giant robe of peacock feathers and nothing else.  She sends her daughter, Eres, down to Paradise Island.  Except Azzarello insists on calling Eres "discord" and not her name.  This is irritating to me.  Eres makes the Amazons fight each other, for which they all blame Diana, because evidently all the Amazons actually hate Diana and they want to have some sort of wacko civil war because ... I don't know.  Unfortunately, the agitator of the rebellion decides to get things going right when Eres forces Hippolyta to describe in graphic detail her, um, time spent with Zeus to her daughter, which is obviously what every child wants to hear.  WW goes berserk and rips up a jungle and storms off to London to go clubbing.  As you do.

While Diana's getting hammered and attacking her sister Eres whilst Hermes looks on bemusedly, Apollo (who at first I SERIOUSLY thought was Darkseid from Superman) is chatting with his brother Ares (who again is described as War, not by his name, which is again totally confusing) in the middle of an African war zone.  As you do, if your brother is the god of War.  Then we find out that Zeus has *poof* disappeared.


Well, seeing as we knew nothing about this at all earlier, this is a bit of a shock.  According to Hera, he's gone off into the "ether," whatever that means.  So all the gods decide now is a really good time to try and be king.
it's good to be the king
Poseidon shows up in the River Thames as this horribly ugly fish thing, while Hades pops up wearing a melted candle on his head.  Actually, he looks like a frog with a candle on its head.  Not exactly how I pictured God of the Dead and all.  I mean, even this guy was more menacing:
Is my hair out?
Wonder Woman jumps in and suggests that Poseidon and Hades have joint rulership and joint wife-time with Hera (which, ew) in order to provoke Hera into coming down and throwing down.  (Oh, did I mention that Hera went all Medusa on Hippolyta and turned her into stone and the Amazons into snakes?  Never mind that Medusa is associated with Athena, not Hera, but whatevs.  How can you just wipe out the entire Amazonian race???)

Once things get a little too heated, WW grabs Hermes' caduceus and a candle from Uncle Hades' head and throws them at Hera, thus inexplicable blasting her (Hera) back to Mount Olympus.  I legitimately have no idea what happened there.  Seriously.  Then it's more posturing until Hades decides to steal Zola in a cliffhanger ending.

Seriously, I feel dumber for having written about what I just read.  The artwork is pretty but not awesome, and the dialogue is just UGH.  I am sorely tempted to read the next volumes in order to see just how bad this can get, but I'm not sure if I'm ready to kick off my week with that level of intellectual masochism.

Images courtesy of memegenerator and the Disney Wiki.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette

When I first started as a Youth Services Librarian, to say I was stressed out would be one of the greatest understatements of all time.  To make yet another understatement, I don't handle change in my personal life very well.  So, I did what any librarian would do.  I picked out a cozy-sounding book and attempted to lose myself in some fluff.

The book I chose was The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall, and it was a soothing tonic to me.  The curious thing about The Penderwicks is that it could exist in any time period.

In a momentary lapse of sanity, I downloaded The Penderwicks at Point Mouette from our library's ebook lending library.  Whoops.  This is book three in the series.  Unfortunately, I couldn't remember the name of book two, and was simply too lazy to google it, so there.  Thankfully, Point Mouette can be read without having read the second book, although the plot of the second one is probably spoiled in the first few pages.

In Point Mouette, Rosalind spends the summer in New Jersey with a friend, while Skye, Jane, and Batty go to the titular Point Mouette, Maine with their aunt.  It's the first time the girls have been apart, and the logical and science-loving Skye is now the OAP--Oldest Available Penderwick.  It's her job to keep Jane and Batty out of trouble.
the penderwicks at point mouette
Here's where you laugh and say, "Oh, no, that's not possible!"

And you're right.

The mishaps suffered by the girls are perhaps not as engaging as those in the first book, and I found the setting to be curiously vague.  While I could picture Arundel from the first book perfectly in my mind, I couldn't see Point Mouette.  Actually, when I think of Birches, the girls' cabin, I picture the tentshack that the Griswolds stayed in in National Lampoon's Vacation.  I'm sure Birches wasn't that smelly.

Across the way, the Penderwicks have a neighbor named Alec, who is musically talented.  When Jeffery comes to visit, he and Alec jive right away.  *woo woo woo*

I know that the whole Penderwick experience is just that--the experience.  There's not much of a plot, and what is plotted is pretty predictable.  After I read the first Penderwick book, I went back and started reading E. Nesbit and Elizabeth Enright.  After having tasted those glorious halcyon books of romping childhood, I'm not as in love with The Penderwicks at Point Mouette as I expected to be.  It's just kind of ... there.  And it's fine being ... there.  But still.

I'll definitely read the second one, but I don't think this is a series I'll be anxiously watching any longer.  I'm going back to read more of the Melendy Quartet.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Rather Dismal Picture Books (and Two Fantastic Ones!)

*note* I edited the title because I do have two books in here that I really love and that are not at all dismal.  I need something in large, friendly letters that says "Don't Panic."

I am a harsh critic of picture books--what our library calls "easy" books.  I like my picture books snarky and funny and maybe a teensy bit dark.  As you can imagine, this doesn't jive particularly well with my preschool storytime group, although I can make some of my favorites work.  This Is Not My Hat and I Want My Hat Back are big hits with my group; maybe they are as twisted as I am.  I don't know.

It's always exciting when I see a fresh crop of picture books on our new book shelves.  Their new labels are still bright blue and firmly attached to the spine, instead of limply curling away from the book in a sort of gasping desperation to be free.  They've not yet encountered as many pathogens as their older brothers and sisters.  Sometimes, they even make that special creaky noise when you open them for the first time.  It's glorious.

Yet, as with all things, new does not equal good.  Out of the several books I read today, I really only liked one. 

The winner of my affections:

Row, Row, Row Your Boat by Jane Cabrera.

I pretty much love anything Jane Cabrera does, and this would be so much fun to do in a storytime.  Kids love making animal noises (duh!) and the louder the better!  Plus, it's a song most kids know, so this is definitely going into my rotation.  Plus, I love how she gives the animals rosy cheeks.  Awwwww.

The others:

The Very Tiny Baby by Sylvie Kantorovitz

This is a picture book about dealing with the premature birth of a sibling.  It's a pretty specific topic, and there are some good facts in here (like the page about nursing and pumping breast milk).  Unfortunately, the author included ideas that made me squirm.  The brother of the very tiny baby is three years old.  When he finds out that the baby is early and has to stay at the hospital, he starts to worry about different things.  One of them is, "What if the baby dies?" and there is a picture of a tiny baby with x's for eyes.  First of all, that picture was really not appropriate.  Second of all, how many three year olds think that?  Death is a hard topic for kids to comprehend, and it's implied that Grandma worries that the baby will die, and the little boy picks up on that.  That is not something you want a little kid to worry about.

Another page, where the boy expresses his frustration with his parents' preoccupation with the new baby, he says that he wishes the baby would die.  The page is black.  It was a scary thought.  I mean, yeah, those of us with siblings have probably all thought that in spite at one point or another, but for someone at the age of the main character, they would probably think that if anything happened to the baby, it was because they had wished it.  The power of magical thinking is still strong with the young.

I also wish that the author had given a name to the "very tiny baby," since calling the baby "it" dehumanizes the child.  I do understand, though, that children are meant to be able to project their own experiences into the story.  Overall, I would really hesitate to recommend this to anyone.

Next up: Matilda's Cat by Emily Gravett

Gravett's last book, Again!, played with the one-more-story-pleeeeeease dilemma by introducing dragons into the mix!  It's a lot of fun to do at storytime.  I expected that same inventiveness from Matilda's Cat, but it was pretty, well, boring.  I mean, I'm sure other people will and do like it.  It's got a very repetitive structure and the ending is kind of like, "Huh, well, why?  Matilda practically tortures that poor cat."

Finally:  Yellow Is My Color Star by Jane Horacek.

Horacek's pretty famous for doing the illustrations to Mem Fox's Where Is the Green Sheep?, which
my preschoolers think is THE MOST HILARIOUS BOOK EVER! (me: *shrug*).  She likes color, obviously.  The first thing that turned me off is the rhymed text.  Sometimes rhyming text works well, but here, it feels forced.  Then, we go through "all" the colors, but not black or brown, as if those aren't legitimate colors.  The main character explores other colors alone at first, and then other children join her.  These children are of different ethnicities, which is made painfully obvious by the color choices for their skin.  The child of Asian descent has yellow (yes! I kid you not!) skin and slanted lines for eyes.  I wanted to cry.  There's an African-American child, and then a child who is quite, well, black.  I mean that Horacek just used black to color in this child.  It's really jarring.

There are a lot of better color-related concept books out there. 

Oh!  To end on a high note (pun fully intended with this title), I finally got my greedy paws on Herman and Rosie by Gus Gordon, and it was sublime. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Rags and Bones: Truth in Anthologies

Rags & Bones: New Twists on Timeless TalesRags & Bones: New Twists on Timeless Tales by Melissa Marr
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Anthologies and I, well, we've got something worked out.  They'll collect stories, many of which are by authors I wouldn't normally choose to read.  I'll read the stories.  I'll dislike about half and love the other half.  Generally, I find myself genuinely surprised at certain authors.

Par for the course here.  Rags and Bones is quite a nice anthology, actually.  Several of the stories are just outstanding, while others, er, not so much.  It's just easier to do a breakdown of the stories themselves, so, here we go:

That the Machine May Progress Eternally by Carrie Ryan

Talk about starting out strong!  Many years ago (okay, like, three), I started In the Forest of Hands and Teeth.  For some vague reason which has floated out of my consciousness entirely, I didn't finish it.  After reading this story, I have a strong urge to revisit Ryan's novels.  Ryan writes with confidence, and she makes a rather simple scenario extremely frightening.  I find that the things that scare me the most are the conceivable.  No vampires or monsters, but rather the perversity of human nature.  Or inhuman nature.  This one is just fantastic and I'll have to go track down the E.M. Forster story--I had no idea he wrote anything like this!

Losing Her Divinity by Garth Nix

Nix is one of my favorite MG/YA authors, and it's a shame he doesn't have more recognition.  I've not read the original Rudyard Kipling story (don't worry, it's on my list), but the narration of this story was absolutely pitch perfect.  The befuddled (or is he?) man explaining strange events that occurred in a steampunkified India is intriguing.  As you may know, I love me an unreliable narrator, so this was clearly a good match for me.

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman.

DUH NEIL GAIMAN  *fangirls obsessively*  I have a coworker who actually met him and got his picture.  So jealous.  But in all serious, the gentleman can WRITE.  I love Sleeping Beauty, I love Neil Gaiman, and I love this story.  'Nuff said.

The Cold Corner by Tim Pratt

Well, gee, Mr. Pratt, now I am craving barbecue.  The good kind with the vinegary sauce.  This is an interesting meditation on the concept of the path not taken and all that Robert Frost jazz.  I didn't find it stereotypically negative towards Southern people, but then I'm a Yankee, so I have no right to judge.

Millcara by Holly Black

A retelling of Le Fanu's "Carmilla" from Carmilla's point of view.  Black's voice for "Millcara" is really spot-on here, and I can see how it dovetails with the original story while having it's own point of view.

When First We Were Gods by Rick Yancey

This one, along with Carrie Ryan's story, are the most sci-fi of the bunch, and I love them both.  In Yancey's future, you download your consciousness to a new body, thus allowing you to live forever.  This is kind of standard sci-fi fare, but the intricacies of the society that Yancey managed to create in a short story are fascinating, and the narrator is wonderfully despicable.

(This is where things started going downhill)

Sirocco by Margaret Stohl

Stohl is the co-author of the Beautiful Creatures series (which I have not read).  I attempted to read her standalone novel Icons last year and wasn't impressed.  The calibre of the writing simply isn't up there with Gaiman, Yancey, Black, or Nix.  It's very straightforward stuff that attempts to torturously squeeze itself into being cool.  Plus, I was kind of ticked that she picked The Castle of Otranto and gave it this weird Hollywood treatment.  It also bothered me enormously that she wrote about a character ordering "due cappuccino" when it should be "due cappuccini."  Gah.  Plurals.

Awakened by Melissa Marr

This felt like Marr just really really really wanted to write a Selkie story and picked a piece of literature that involved the ocean: Kate Chopin's The Awakening.  Nothing in this story was even remotely believable, and I feel kind of ticked off on behalf of Kate Chopin.

New Chicago by Kelley Armstrong

I squealed (really, I did!) when I realized that this was a retelling of "The Monkey's Paw," which is one of my favorite Victorian horror stories.  It's truly creepy and truly well done (the original, that is).  This retelling was fine, but it didn't really riff on the original in the way that some of the better stories did.  It basically just transported the story from a stormy coast to the middle of a kind-of-zombie-apocalyptic-but-not-really future.  It also wasn't very scary.

The Soul Collector by Kami Garcia

Um ... what?  Supposedly this is based on Rumpetstiltskin, but I honestly couldn't have told you that from the story.  I thought she was referencing something a bit more obscure.  Yes, there's the whole "taking of valuable things in exchange for services rendered" aspect, but I found the setting jarring (future city + gritty mafia) and the time-skipping was extremely disorienting.

Without Faith, Without Law, Without Joy by Saladin Ahmed

Quite a good story based on The Faerie Queene, which I haven't read.  In fact, I'm a bit afraid of reading it, because in Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books, Thursday dies (don't worry, not really a spoiler as she lives in other senses) reading The Faerie Queene because it is so boring.  A book that kills with boring.  Woo.   Anyway, I loved the twist Ahmed put on the story, and I actually enjoyed the snippets of the original, as I felt they worked quite well with his flipped point of view retelling.

Uncaged by Gene Wolfe

At first, I thought this was a retelling of "Une passion dans le d├ęsert" by Balzac because of the leopard, but it apparently references this werewolf story I've never heard of.  As in Nix's story, the narrative is disjointed and unreliable, but it's not done very well.  It shouldn't be completely obvious from the outset that he's lying, you know.  Plus, the ending didn't have much of a punch.

I'm not quite sure about the inclusion of Charles Vess' artwork, either, although it was ... fine.

Bottom line: read this for the first half, skip the second.  And then just go read "The Monkey's Paw" by W.W. Jacobs to feel better about scary stories.

View all my reviews

Monday, March 24, 2014

Sharcano. Like Sharknado, but with more lava...

Poking around on Amazon about a month ago, I noticed a pretty hilarious-sounding title: Sharcano.  I did not personally watch the glorious film epic of our time, the Syfy Original, the one and only Sharknado, but I am a sucker for a good (read: bad) pun and I was in the mood for some giggle-inducing ridiculousness.

So, I requested this on Netgalley.

And they gave it to me!  Little did I know when I settled in for some cheesetastic shark mayhem that I would be taking so many notes.  This may be a review of epic proportions.

Sharcano delivers what it sounds like it should deliver.  Sharks + volcanoes.  It's also extremely silly, and what's rather nice about that is that it's unabashedly extremely silly.  The author, Jose Prendero, specifically set out to write a goofy, no-holds-barred book that's like a b-movie, only written down.  He may have succeeded only too well.

As I began Sharcano, I tweeted some of my favorite (read: ridiculous) quotes.  They soon became too many to document, and people were probably thinking I was off my rocker in the Twitterverse.  I soon just started keeping notes in the ebook version that I was reading.  So, to help structure my review, I'll share all of my favorites with you.  You're welcome.

Sharcano begins innocently enough: a long-thought-extinct Megalodon (thanks, Steve Alten, for turning the Megalodon into the whipping boy of wildly improbable thrillers) hunts a giant squid.  They tussle for a while, until WHOOM!  LAVA!  Calamari and roasted shark, coming right up!  A boy discovers the barbecued Meg washed up on the beach, and that's the beginning of the mayhem. 

 I mean, it sounds pretty par for the course for this type of thriller, but it's the language in the beginning that really sets the tone for the book.  First sentence: "It sensed it before seeing it."  Okay, what is "it?"  Reading on, "Now it knew it wasn't alone and it began to salivate as it threw all of its senses out into the watery world around."  I am having pronoun pain.  Then we switch pronouns: "And why would it be afraid?  He was the fiercest predator in the ocean."  PICK A PRONOUN.  So, we finally figure out that the narrator is talking about the Megalodon.  As the shark hunts, "its tingly parts tingled."  I assume we are talking about the shark's Amupllae of Lorenzini, which allow sharks to track electrical impulses like heartbeats and so on.  But let's simplify and call them "tingly parts."

During the fight between giants, the narrator offers us this tidbit of squidly wisdom, "A blind shark was a dead shark.  Every good giant squid worth his salt knew that to be God's honest truth."  Actually, I think a shark that stops swimming is a dead shark, but whatever.  That's not "God's honest truth" according to cephalopods.  

Meanwhile, two strange dudes, Buck and Trigg, described as "outdoorsmen," hunt Bigfoot in Yellowstone National Park.  This chapter is aptly named "Squatchin'," but there's no one named Bobo to make squatch calls.  Dang.  Buck and Trigg are pretty much indistinguishable from each other as characters, and they kind of talk like stereotypical, um, well, rednecks (sorry!).  Their hopes of bagging a Sasquatch are shattered when they finally meet one, and then the ground opens up and the Sasquatch falls into a pool of lava (filled, naturally, with LAVA SHARKS).

Meanmeanwhile, Mick Cathcart, hotshot TV reporter, jerk, and the erstwhile hero of this story, finds out about the beached Meg kabob and prepares to fly down to investigate.  His sidekick for this mission is an Australian cameraman named Rick Perry.
No, not THAT Rick Perry.  Although that's how I totally pictured the character in the book.
Hey, while we're casting this thing, here's Mick Dundee Cathcart:
"That's a knife!"
Only minus the charm, Aussie accent, and lack of knowledge about bidets.

ANYWAY.  Called away from his daughter's soccer game and his fascinating pursuit of the hot soccer moms, Mick must travel to Nicaragua and meet up with Agnes Branch, the scientist in charge of examining the Filet O' Meg.  Naturally, Agnes is extremely hot and she and Mick fall for each other after she hates him for a while.  They realize that the shark incident is not isolated, but rather tied to strange lava-related incidents around the globe, like ...

Off the coast of Shanghai, a ginormous volcano rises out of the ocean, causing tidal waves galore and releasing the LAVA SHARKS. 
 Not only does Bao, a young boy who fortunately decided to skip school that day, have to negotiate crushing tidal waves, but also toothy predators made of molten rock.  Because, you know, science.  Bao is actually a likeable little dude.  Unfortunately, the author has given him a female first name, which you may also recognize as the word for "dumpling."  Bao risks his life to rescue his grandma from a nursing home, and performs various feats of derring-do in order to save her life, which (spoiler!) ends up being a total waste of time and energy because LAVA SHARKS.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

There are actually way more characters than this involved in the story.  There's Mick's ex-wife, her lover Caroline, his daughter Annie, a mad priest, a slightly-less mad priest, a heartless villain, Mick's producer, two random soldiers somewhere in South America (I literally have no idea where they came from), the President of the United States, and an aw-shucks-type cop from the Bronx.  Those are just the ones I could think of off the top of my head.

After twin volcanoes in Nicaragua erupt while Mick, Agnes, and Rick are investigating, they somehow get on a boat and go to Hawaii (???) where Agnes' boss, Mr. Hu, has an underwater lab.  They realize that the lava is sentient and that it is actually from Hell (like, the Catholic version of Hell, not a metaphorical hell).  In order to stop the "end of times" (did you just roll your eyes?  I did!), they launch a two-fold attack:

Step one: drop a small-ish nuclear bomb into the volcanoes that spew out the LAVA SHARKS.

Step two: spray everything with holy water.  Since the lava is from Hell, holy water repels it.
I am not making this up.

RIGHT.  So that's basically the story, with about five thousand subplots going on, most of which end in the character being eaten by a LAVA SHARK.  Now, as a very special treat, I am going to share my favorite quotes and notes with you.  They are actually even funnier in context.  I am leaving all the punctuation and capitalization as is since that can often really make the quote.

"Yes, it was a piggish thought but Mick was a pig as all men instinctually are."  At least he's honest?

"Hugo Boss was Mick's go-to suit of amour manufacturer."  I think it's supposed to say "armor" manufacturer, but it's much funnier this way.  No offense, Hugo Boss.

"'Well, it's about time, Mister Cathcart,' Gavin greeted, barking like a constipated poodle."  What distinguishes a constipated poodle from a regular poodle?  What is the sound of one hand clapping?

"Agnes Brach was an athletic slice of woman heaven."  I have no words.  Well, maybe "objectification" and "sexist pig" would be good words.

"She rocked a Farrah Fawcet style that never lost its flavor."  What does that even mean?  Not to mention the misspelling of "Fawcett."  Since when were feathered flip bangs considered hot?  Um, 1984?

"'Because when I pictured Agnes Brach in my head I saw a dumpy, four-eyed, hairy chinned troglodyte," explained Mick, walking closer to her with that hip-shimmy that brings a gal's attention a man's package."  Care to demonstrate that shimmy, anyone?  Also, worst pickup line ever???

"Shanghai is a bit far from Nicaragua."  Good job, Sherlock!

"Bigfoot fell and was swallowed up, disappearing with a hoarse shriek of fright like a drowning horse."  Homophones do not equal synonyms.

"The homeless man was what some people call a 'pickpocket.'"  As opposed to ... what, exactly?  Do only some people call pickpockets pickpockets?

"I love this place," Father Franco stated.  Sipping his espresso like a true gourmand."  Can you describe the technique, please?  Also: subordinate clauses.  Look into those.

(This next line occurs in an Ethiopian village where two priests go to perform an exorcism):
"'Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly.'  An eerie voice invited--in Russian-inflected English, no less." (I would here like to point out that nothing is ever explained regarding what happens in this scene, nor why the person would have a Russian accent.)

"The city was swamped in ten feet of whipped, sun-red lava."  I didn't know lava could be whipped, like cream.

"A lava shark pounced up into the air and took a big, burning bite of Max's left thigh.  Max cried out as his nerve endings burned.  The thing ripped away a sizeable chunk of of leg meat.  Max dropped to his knees, unable to drag the surviving half of himself due to the intense pain and the buckets of blood pouring out onto the street."  A lot of things don't make sense here.  Generally, when LAVA SHARKS attack, their bites cauterize the wounds.  Here, that doesn't happen. Even though Max is only bitten in the thigh, that somehow equates to the non-surviving half of his body.  And even if the femoral artery were opened, I don't think "buckets of blood" would be an accurate description of blood loss.

"He had theorized to no one in particular that most viruses sprang from the Earth itself like a defense mechanism.  The fact that this so-called Hellfire Virus came as a direct result of the lava made perfect sense."  No, it doesn't.  Since when did the ground create new viruses?  *pulls out hair*

"The cavernous space was filled with 203 priests and cardinals and bishops and whatnot."  Last time I checked, members of the clergy are not usually referred to as "whatnot."

"It was a beacon of hope.  'Airport, dead head.'"

"Live, Nude Specimens"  Chapter title.  Refers to LAVA SHARKS.

"What if the Megalodon we found, and other sharks, were the first things this sentient lava encountered and decided to copy them?"  Sentient.  Lava.

"Then their eyes met and a moment was shared that electrified the air.  If the lights had been turned down you could have seen sparks flying between them."  So that's how that sparks flying thing works!

"The doorway was filled with a massive chunk of woman.  This mammoth maiden was none other than Buck's sweet-cheeks wife, Shana.  Her hair was frizzy and curled, and the floral mumu was stained here and there with ancient ice cream."  Remember, ladies, if you aren't "woman heaven," you are a "mammoth maiden."

"But George [Clooney] had decided to go off and make a sci-fi movie about homosexual robots."  How is this relevant to anything and how can robots be homosexual?

"The lava beast exploded through the reinforced tank in a splash of slimy magma and bit into Poindexter's junk with its burning teeth."  Wow.  That LAVA SHARK attacks with uncanny precision.

"Agnes knew, of course, and ripped her khaki trousers away like a professional pants remover."  So male strippers can euphemistically be called "professional pants removers?"

"Every semi-villanous person needs a private island to go along with his or her private jet."  A ha ha, author, you are so winky winky funny!

"The smell had changed from recycled airplane and disinfectant to the sweet and honeyed scent of love's first blossom."  Wow.  Romance.  Leading to ...

"A moment longer was lingered and then they rushed into each other with a bracing smashing of lips and tongues.  They kissed as if they had been hungry for it for days and were finally able to feast.  Mick's insides radiated heat as they came together and enjoyed the velvet touch of their mouths."  I am projectile vomiting over here.  Help.

"The soldier dropped to the floor, shaking like a giant vibrating dildo as his side bled out."  That's the best simile you could come up with?  Ew!

Those were some of my favorite quotes.  Oddly, many of the chapters seemed perfectly normal and I didn't find anything wrong in them at all, except for the lingering presence of LAVA SHARKS.  This book was pretty hilarious, but maybe for all the wrong reasons.  Still, I read all 400+ pages of it, which is saying something.

Guess what?  It's a trilogy!  So if you need even more hellish LAVA SHARKS, I'm sure installments two and three will deliver!

Please feast your eyes on the cover of the book and note the LAVA SHARKS flying from the volcano.  It is epic.

A copy of this title was graciously provided by Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

What I'm Reading This Weekend

I have a habit of reading several things at the same time.  You could argue that it's a good habit or a bad one.  It depends on what I need to get done and which books are due soon at the library.  I like having options.

Right now I'm reading four books:

Red Rising by Pierce Brown
This is one of the big talk-about-me books of the year.  I'm enjoying it so far.  Unfortunately, I keep getting distracted by other things, so I'm not sure what that says about the book itself.  I'm not dying to finish it, obviously.  I know it's a trilogy, so maybe my mind is purposely dragging this out?

It's nicely sci-fi enough to remind me of the harder sci-fi I enjoy, like Alistair Reynolds, Neal Asher, and Peter F. Hamilton.

Mila 2.0 by Debra Driza
This has been on my list since I saw Debra at the Class of 2K13 panel at ALA 2013 in Chicago.  She was hilarious.  I started this one before I left for PLA this year, and as I had zero room for excess books (just the Kindle came with me), this stayed at home and I keep meaning to get back to it.

Rags & Bones: New Twists on Timeless Tales, ed. Melissa Marr and Tim Pratt

I love anthologies.  Even though the general pattern is that there will be one or two stories you won't like, I adore reading short fiction from authors I normally don't read.  The format constrains authors who might write paranormal love triangles, for instance, and forces them to funnel all their writing energy into a finite (imaginary) space.  I've found that in other anthologies I've read, my favorite stories are by authors whose full-length novels I didn't particularly like or that just didn't appeal to me.  So far, my favorite story in this collection is by Carrie Ryan (I suppose I'll have to give In the Forest of Hands and Teeth another go), with Rick Yancey's coming up a close second.

Sharcano by Jose Prendes.

I found this on Amazon about a month ago, and it made me laugh.  You know, like Sharknado but with a volcano instead of a tornado.  I try not to snark-read, but when this showed up on Netgalley, I had to request it.  When they approved me, I did a little happy dance.  It's as ridiculous as you'd expect and then some.  This guy is outdoing SyFy Originals, and that's really saying something.

Please also note the cover art.  There are lava sharks (because, as we've just found out in the middle  of the book, the lava is SENTIENT).  LAVA SHARKS.  This will be an epic blog post.  I promise.  There are notes.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Practice What You PLA

Okay, so I know that's a completely ungrammatical title, but I am a youth services librarian and therefore also a sucker for alliteration.  And puns.

It's been almost a week since I finished my first visit to PLA, and I'm still trying to process everything!  Oddly, the biggest revelations that I had were in regard to very small changes.  I don't have to necessarily overhaul what I do, but just tweak it.

Admin encouraged us to write down ten things that we plan to implement from PLA.  I'm going to put five of them here to hold myself accountable (and maybe inspire someone else to try something new!).

  • Reach out to schools and other groups where teens congregate.  This hasn't been easy to do in the past, but this past week I've been cold-calling teachers like crazy.  It's not comfortable, but it needs to be done.  At the opening session, Bryan Stevenson spoke.  He was mind-blowingly inspirational, and I am generally not one to go in for inspiration.  Several times, I had to choke back tears.  One thing he challenged us to do was to be uncomfortable.  That's when you grow and you see things differently.  Check out his TED Talk here.  
  • Don't be afraid to fail.  That's kind of a general goal, but I'm a massive perfectionist.  When I was in school, an A- was practically The End of All Things.  I don't like being wrong, but I'm working on that.  I've started to find that being wrong is okay, because when you do something right, you feel as if you've accomplished so much more.  Up until recently, the culture where I was/am didn't accept failure.  Now it does.  So.  I will fail and I will get back up and I will keep going.
  • Make videos!  Right now we do Facebook posts and Tweets, but that's about it.  I want us to have a Vine account and an Instagram feed where we can post short book talks and clips of what we do at the library.  Teens need to see that we are fun.  I can tell you that I shocked and then delighted everyone in my department today when I blasted "Happy" and danced with wild, clapping, Pharrell-hat-crazy-level abandon.
  • Do more lock-ins!  The way-awesome program I attended called "Beyond Duct Tape" gave me so many ideas which I will shamelessly borrow from the awesome librarians who presented.  They all talked about the success of lock-ins.  We're doing our first one as part of the National Teen Lock-In on August 1st (check it out here!).  There will be pizza, popcorn, and copious amounts of carbonated beverages.  Also hide-and-seek and minute-to-win-it.  W00t!
  • Shamelessly promote the library.  The pre-conference session, hosted by Rebekkah Aldrich, was all about marketing.  One quick tip the presenter gave was that if you get a compliment on your service or your library, just say, "Thanks!  I hope you'll tell a friend."  That's it!  It's so easy and quick!  I can do that!
My eternal gratitude goes out to Angie Manfredi (, Kelly Jensen (, Katie Salo (, and Andrea Sowers ( for giving me so many ideas at your kick-butt teen programming session!

So.  How do you #pla?

A Name Like Abandon

Ghost towns.

here's a tumbleweed, enjoy

Ramshackle remnants of mankind's hubris and greed.  Creepy.  Derelict.  And a darned good setting for a horror novel.

Abandon by Blake Crouch revolves around a mining town/soon-to-be-ghost-town in southwest Colorado in the San Juans.  It's called Abandon, which, you know, if I were living there, I wouldn't be too happy with that choice of name.  Yeesh, a bunch of downers.  Anyway, the story opens in the early 1890s.  The mines are pretty much played out, and no one wants to trek up to 13,000 feet to go visit some shacks and a brick hotel.  The people of Abandon, CO know their town is dying, but they don't leave.  Until one day--Christmas Day, in fact--they decide to disappear without a trace instead.  Food left on the table.  Animals left to die.  No bodies, no bones, no nothing.  Abandon
Switch to the present day.  Abigail, a journalist living in NYC, goes out to Durango to cover a story and attempt to reunite with her estranged father, Lawrence.  Lawrence is also a professor and his specialty is the town of Abandon.  Lawrence, Abigail, and two guides (well, and two llamas) accompany a couple who are paranormal photographers up to the town of Abandon.  However, when they get there, Abigail realizes that they're not just there for the pictures.  It's all about the lost gold, baby.  Suddenly, she's caught in the middle of power plays between three different groups who all want the gold and will kill to get it.

I really, really, really wanted to love Abandon, but instead, I ended up just liking it.  For all of its potential, it wanders and meanders and tosses in extra characters who just muck up the works.  Plus, there were some factual things that just didn't sit right with me.  In addition to the main group of characters, there are the ex-military bad guys, plus a mysterious prisoner, plus a double-crosser, plus everyone in the 1893 storyline (a whole town full!). I think this would have been more successful had we had fewer characters to deal with.  Plus, the relationship mending subplot between Abigail and Lawrence really didn't cut it for me.  I would have been much happier had it been tossed.  

Abigail herself isn't exactly compelling, either.  It's her character who creates a lot of the implausibilities in the novel.  She's from NYC.  On like her second day out in Colorado, she embarks on a seventeen mile hike (or maybe it's 27--the novel never decides on which).  Yeah, she complains about being tired, but she doesn't show signs of altitude sickness or oxygen deprivation or anything.  I too live at sea level, and every year we go out to Colorado to hike (not usually in the San Juans, but in the eastern Rockies).  I'm pretty fit, I think, and the altitude still kills me.  Crouch has his characters running (literally) across mountain passes at 13,000 feet.  I'm getting altitude sickness just thinking about it.  Ugh.  Plus, they magically survive a lot of natural events that they really shouldn't.

Me, a few years ago, hiking in the Rockies. I kind of felt like death afterwards.

I much preferred the chapters set in 1893, which chronicle the last days of Abandon and which parallel the modern-day account (this parallel is actually quite well done).  The characters have more zip to them--Jess, the black widow bartender, is a great example.  So is Lena, the mute woman who plays piano at Jess' bar.  Everyone has his or her demons, and they're very well portrayed.  

Unfortunately, I read Pines before I read Abandon, and Pines is by far the better book.  It's tighter and a heck of a lot scarier.  However, Abandon certainly is not a bad book by any means.  I was engrossed in the action (even if I had to double-check who was doing what and was on what side when and where!) and I loved reading a book in a setting I'm familiar with (Silverton and Durango) and love.  Being the nerdy librarian that I am, I actually went to maps and started inputting radii based on the mileage given in the book to see where they could have gone from Silverton.  For example, Crouch mentions a Sawtooth Pass.  There's a Sawblade Mountain in the San Juans, but it's too far north (near Gunnison/Lake City) to be the right one--although the name certainly could have been inspiration.

I'll certainly read more by Crouch--he has a sure hand when it comes to the creep factor, and he's not afraid to be brutal with his characters--but I hope his other books have a more satisfying ending than this one did.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

This One Summer

Thinking back, I never really had a memorable summer.  A defining summer.  A time period in which the course of my life irrevocably changed for better or for worse.  I never went to camp (I have serious introvert issues about being with a lot of people at once and HAVING FUN BECAUSE I SAID SO), I never had boy drama, and I never, you know, saw someone commit a crime or something like that.  Past summers merely remind me of the horrible misery of Wisconsin winters.

Yet, the summer as catalyst for change is a theme we find in film, song, and print.  If we want to get all metaphorical and stuff, it's kind of an interesting choice.  I mean, usually we have spring=rebirth, autumn=fading or dying OR a fresh start (school year, right?), winter=death, sleep, darkness.  Summer ... hmm.  Summer is ... hot.  It can be scorching, stripping you clean of what you used to be or who you used to be.  It's a time of freedom, generally, as kids are off of school and they aren't constrained by schedules and homework.  Especially in middle and high school, you start to think that summer is a time of reinvention.  You'll go back to school in the fall a different person.  A better person.  A cooler, prettier, hotter person.  Or whatever your dream is.  No one's there to scrutinize you over the summer.

Summertime is vacation time, too.  Transplantation into another environment enables you to meet new people, forge new bonds, and attempt to save old ones.  There's the summer fling.  You can become someone other than who you normally are--or maybe, just pretend to be someone else.  No one knows.  You're in a new place.  You can reinvent yourself as whomever you would like to be.

But I've never done that.  I've never had some sort of magical summer metamorphosis, nor did I particularly aim for one.  Perhaps my ignorance impeded my ability to fully appreciate This One Summer, by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki (Mariko writes; Jillian does the artwork).  However, the more I think about it, the more I realize that I did, in fact, enjoy this graphic novel very much.
this one summer
This One Summer is a (deceptively?) simple story of Rose and her summer at Awago Beach.  Her family's been going there forever, and she always meets her friend Windy when they get to Awago. Rose and Windy are very different, and their families are different, but even if they disagree, they're flexible enough to still be friends.  I quite liked Windy, actually.  She has these scribbly, thick, dark eyebrows like mine.  Actually, Windy is a giant bundle of energy, bouncing around, singing, swimming, and dancing.  Rose is more reserved and I didn't connect well with her.  Maybe that's the point, though.  Rose's whole family has issues with secrets and holding in pain when it should be let out.

Rose and Windy decide to watch scary movies (think Texas Chainsaw Massacre) over the summer in an unspoken attempt to be grown up.  Their regular trips to the town store for candy and over-the-top horror films give them glimpses into the real-life drama of Awago's older teens.  We see the events from Rose and Windy's perspective, which is pretty sheltered, but as older readers, we can see the whole picture.  It's quite a clever narrative, actually.

For me, though, the real standout in this volume is Jillian Tamaki's artwork.  It's ... stunning.  Done in inky ocean blues, the characters all look like real people.  They're not glossy superheroes.  They look like people you could and do meet every day.  Plus, there are these absolutely gorgeous two-page spreads, generally of the ocean or the beach near Awago, that just stunned me with their depth.

This is a graphic novel that you have to digest.  At least, I did.  I didn't particularly like it right away, but after meditating on what it said and what it didn't say, I think I understand what the authors were going for.  It's a summer where normality became disrupted.  And I'm kind of jealous, because I never really had that.

Actually, maybe, now I do.  I believe that reading gives you life experiences you might never have a chance to experience in the flesh.  So now, I've had my one summer.

Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher, :01, in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Stay Where You Are and Then Leave

boy in the striped pajamas

I have a coworker who really, really dislikes The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne.
 This same coworker also disliked When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead, so maybe we just agree to disagree on certain literary topics.  Which is very cool; lately I've been having "discussions" on Goodreads with people who refuse to see a viewpoint other than their own, and who cannot fathom how something offensive can, you know, offend people.

But back to the boy in the pajamas.  I thought it packed quite a punch for such a slim volume.  Although I guessed where the ending was going, it was still shocking to read.  Actually, what hit me the hardest was the scene early on where Adolf Hitler comes to eat at their house.  That is just ... incomprehensible to me.  That he may have acted like a human being on occasion, eating like humans do, talking like humans do.  It was surreal.

The thing with such an astounding TA-DA! type novel is that it's quite hard to follow up with another hit without everyone comparing it to the first book.  I know Boyne did an adult novel, but this spring he's releasing Stay Where You Are and Then Leave.  I received an ARC of this novel from Netgalley and the publisher for review, so here we go!  All opinions are my own and were not influenced by the publisher in any way.
stay where you are and then leave

Alfie seems to live a pretty charmed life in his London suburb.  His dad is the local milkman, and his mum stays at home.  They love each other very much.  Their neighbors, while not perfect, get along quite well, and Alfie is particular friends with the daughter of a Czechoslovakian immigrant who owns a corner shop.  Then, World War I breaks out, and his charmed life ends abruptly.  The government takes the Czech neighbors, father and young daughter, to an internment camp on the Isle of Man.  Alfie's dad signs up to be a soldier and goes off to France, while Joe, their neighbor, is imprisoned for being a conscientious objector.

After four years of war, the family barely has food or money.  Alfie secretly works as a shoeshine boy in the train station while his mum is at work as a nurse.  He thinks that his dad is dead, going off of the vague answers given by his mum.  He also discovered a cache of his dad's letters from war, and they become increasingly incomprehensible before stopping abruptly.

A chance meeting and a gust of wind give Alfie information he'd never dreamed of.  His dad is alive, but in hospital outside of London.  Why did his mum lie?  Why hasn't his dad come home?  Alfie mounts first a reconnaissance mission, and then a rescue mission, to bring his dad home.

Put that way, it seems like a pretty simple story.  I actually wasn't particularly wowed by it.  I mean, it was well-written.  Alfie was intriguing: innocent and yet worldly at the same time.  Boyne doesn't skimp on the hardships endured by those in the UK during the war--outdoor toilet with ashes for the smell, anyone?  If pressed, I suppose I would say that the Big Problem addressed in this novel is "shell shock"--what we would call PTSD.  Boyne describes the hospital inmates in vivid detail, and it's really horrifying to think that while these men suffered from something no one had really seen before, politicians were out there encouraging yet more young men to sign up.  Women were publicly mocking men who refused to go to war for any reason, giving them white feathers to accuse them of cowardice.  Society turned upside down.

Yet, while being evocative, I didn't feel that the plot stood up to the material.  Neither did Alfie, really.  He didn't have the same magnetism as Bruno did.  The Boy in the Striped Pajamas told a simple story as well, and yet it had a spark, something special that made it transcend simplicity and become something heartbreaking.  My heart didn't break with Stay Where You Are and Then Leave.  I certainly mused quite a bit, and I felt for Alfie and his family, but I didn't cry.  This is the kind of book that I rather would like to make me cry.

I also didn't particularly like how the third-person narration referred to Alfie's mum and dad by their first names--I had a really hard time keeping track of what was going on.

Overall, it was well done, but wasn't a home run for me.  I would have preferred a bit more complexity in the plot and with some of the characters, especially Alfie's mum and grandma, who had the potential to be extremely nuanced.

I'm petering out of things to say, and I've never been good at ending things so: This is the end of this post.

P.S. I didn't particularly like Oliver Jeffers as the choice of cover artist.  While I generally love Jeffers' work, it feels a bit too ... scribbly and haphazard for this story.  The inclusion of the field of poppies was, however, a very nice touch.

Mega Bizarre: A Shark Tale (Please Don't Sue Me, Dreamworks)

Ah, the lure of the $0.99 ebook.  You think, "Gosh, this is super-cheap!  It's less than a dollar!  Instant purchase!"  Yeah, that old trick.  It's a dollar.  Really.  Kinda like when gas stations tack that little 9/10 of a cent on the end of the price of fuel so that it seems like it's only $2.99 a gallon, when really it's $2.99 and nine-tenths, which is, for all practical purposes, $3.

That's too much math for me right now.  Yikes.  Why am I bringing up the $0.99 ebook?  Well, Amazon knows that you will buy those.  Especially if it's a LIMITED TIME DEAL or DEAL OF THE DAY or SECRET SALE or something.  I'm not quite sure how I found this title, but about a month ago, I impulsively purchased Mega: A Deep Sea Thriller for my Kindle.  

thrift shop ebook

I don't just read YA lit, you know.  I like fluffy reads, mysteries, and I'm a big fan of the popcorn-style mutated animals + spec ops teams combo books (think Matt Reilly or James Rollins (more of his earlier stuff, but I like his new stuff too).  So, yeah, basically anything that Syfy makes into a movie. 

Note to self: Watch Sharknado, gain cultural awareness.

Back to our regularly scheduled programming...

I figured, "Hey, this could be entertaining.  It's cheap.  And if I dislike it, I won't feel too bad about it."  Unfortunately, a lot of the mystery creature adventure thriller books I've read lately have been horrifically edited.  Perhaps they haven't been edited at all, which floors me, especially when it's a paper copy that somebody, somewhere, thought it would be good to publish.  The Event Group series by David Golemon is a perfect example of this.  The first one, Event, was uneven, but a lot of fun.  Then things went completely off-the-wall and there were grammar mistakes up the yazoo and sentences that didn't make any logical sense.  

The author's name is Jake Bible, by the way.  I've simply never heard of someone whose last name is also what we call a holy book in English, so, there's that.  That's pretty much related to zero other things in this post, but I do want to assure you that it's not a typo.

The first thing I noticed was that aside from a few hiccups, Mega was actually pretty competently edited.  Me being me, I have to note the funny editorial things before moving forward.  I'm cruel that way.  When the Somali pirates attack a German tanker at the beginning of the book, the German sailors are speaking German.  However, it would be a good idea to figure out how German is conjugated before you put it in your book.  The captain says, " 'Ich sprechen' " which makes no sense.    It's "Ich spreche."  Yikes.  He also spells English "English" when it should be "Englisch."  *twitch*  Near the end, we have a classic example of #no: "must of felt the change."  Darling.  I understand that when we speak, "have" and "of" often sound alike when following "must.  But it's "must have" not "must of."

So, let's talk about the actual book.  It's got a mildly entertaining premise: people fight giant shark.  I like a good monster book as much as the next book nerd.  However, this falls into all of the traps of these sorts of books.  The characters are extremely one-dimensional.  For example, the beginning of the book describes the financial woes of an ex-SEAL, Darren Chambers in South Africa.  He's pretty well described, and his plight is clear.  The reader would expect that this will be the main character.  However, after those opening scenes, he pretty much disappears from the action except for key moments where he pops in and says something like, "Hey, I'm the captain here."  Could have fooled me.

Another character is Kinsey, Mr. Ex-SEAL's ex-wife, who almost became a SEAL herself before failing a routine drug exam.  As you do when this happens, she becomes addicted to like every drug ever (including alcohol) and performs sexual favors in exchange for drugs.  Her dad, a SEAL commander, resigned when she got kicked out and pretty much ignored her ever since.  Thorne (that' his name) becomes the actual leader of the military squad in the book: Team Grendel.  Other recruits include pot-smoking sniper brothers (for real), a Coast Guard pilot who just happens to be dating the aforementioned Darren Chambers, and her Coast Guard sniper friend.

Actually, there are a ridiculous amount of characters in this book (more shark chum), and it was pretty hard for me to keep track of what was going on and who was originally doing what for which organization.  I needed a flow chart.

The betrayal was pretty predictable.  The other villain (i.e. not the giant shark) is a Somali pirate chief who is hunting the giant shark because it killed one of his sons.  This doesn't seem like sufficient motivation.  This man, Daacar, is extremely focused on avenging his son.  However, he kills his other sons (not all at the same time!!!) without a second thought.  Even if the shark-eaten son was a favorite, would he really endanger being captured by sailing around hunting a giant shark?  It doesn't seem very pirate-y to me.

The ending wasn't really satisfying, but it contained some oddly bizarre dialogue that entertained me. Consider this: " 'The shark was pregnant,' Mr. Ballantine replied.  'Impossible,' Gunnar said, 'a clone couldn't just be pregnant.'  'Apparently it could,' Mr. Ballantine said.  'They don't know how, they don't know why.' "  OH HOW CONVENIENT.  Pregnant clones that fly in the face of biology, explained away by a "well-that's-just-how-it-is" statement.  Huh???

Also, Darren (ex-SEAL, non-entity) is hunting a giant whale, which they sort of find, but he also agrees to go find this giant shark, which they really find, but at the end, he still wants to find the stupid whale.  After all that.  The whale.  There are, of course, myriad references to Moby-Dick.  Sigh.

This definitely isn't horrible.  It didn't make me want to scream.  I just shook my head, sadly at times, at the lost potential for a great campy story.  Evidently, there's a sequel coming out.  Is that really necessary?  Well, maybe I can tell you, if it ends up being $0.99.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

I Survived My First Conference Roadtrip!

To tell the truth, I'm awfully tired of tagging everything #pla2014 on my social media.  Four days of conferencing has left me both burnt out and totally inspired.  I'm completely ready to do fantastic, fun new things at my job.  I'm confident that my teen programs will blossom.  I just have to be patient.  (Note: Not my best quality)

But, boy, those conferences suck all the energy out of you.  Which, you know, is completely bizarre because for a lot of it, I sat on my rump.  And since we drove--7 librarians in a minivan--for five hours (one-way), my bottom is now semi-permanently pancaked.  But we all made it okay and had lots of fun.

I have to say, my favorite session was the one called "Beyond Duct Tape," about alternative (and super-successful!) teen programming!  Kelly from Stacked Books was there (minor fangirl moment) and so was Storytime Katie (which I totally call her in my head all the time.  I hope that isn't too creepy)!  Of course, I loved the other speakers as well and now my blog feed has EXPLODED with AWESOMENESS.

Another holy-mackerel-is-this-really-happening-to-me moment occurred when I got to hear John Green speak at the YA luncheon.  He signed my book (Paper Towns, which is one I haven't read) and I acted like a complete nincompoop.  More on that later.

As of right now I think I've been up for ... I don't know, 18 hours?  I could probably claim some sort of incapacitation if someone complained that this post was horribly written and contained far too much passive voice (which it does, but I'm just too tired to go fix all of that.  Plus, active voice can sound pretentious in certain situations).

Pursuant to the above, I have nothing else meaningful to say at the moment and will do something a bit more in-depth when my brain isn't malfunctioning.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

PLA 2014!

I'll be at PLA 2014 in Indianapolis for the rest of the week.  

See you all on Monday (if I survive).  We're driving.

Close Reach; or: Why I Never Want to Sail Ever Ever Ever

I've never particularly wanted to sail on the ocean in a sailboat, even a high-tech fancy sailboat, but this just reaffirms my decision never to sail around the world. 

Kelly and Dean have been sailing for almost three years. Their marriage was broken, but they've put it back together with this time at sea. Dean actually designed and built the sailboat, and Kelly, who's a brain surgeon (really!) is pretty good at sailing too. 

From the first pages you know this won't end well. A bizarre distress call, death metal banging through all of the radio stations, and a filthy trawler stalking though the Atlantic waters herald horror and death. 

After receiving the unnerving distress call, Kelly and Dean keep sailing east, toward South America. But they're overtaken by a ship of worse-than-pirates. Really. It's ... they're just really bad people. You have to read it to find out. Because I'm a worrywart, I try not to think about the fact that people like this even exist. But they do. I know they do. That's part of what makes this book so scary. You could imagine it happening, and you're totally helpless.

The action is pretty much nonstop, and Kelly is an extremely smart, tough heroine. I liked her very much. I particularly liked that Moore didn't paint her as a stone-cold you know what, though. She realizes that her actions have consequences, and the morality of her choices haunts her. The woman she ends up protecting, Lena, irritated me a bit at first, but I came to like her too. I cared about what happened to her. 

Unfortunately, I can't say the same about Dean, Kelly's husband. He's kind of a non-entitity. I guess he's rich and smart and all, but I couldn't get inside his head. The choices he made were really bizarre and his fate felt like a bit of an afterthought to the whole story. He existed to get Kelly on the boat, on the ocean, but after that, he was just kind of ... text, taking up space. There's also some irrational behavior when it comes to Lena's treatment, especially as the true purpose of the pirates' raid comes to light. However, the pure adrenaline this story injects into your veins helps you gloss over that. I raced through this like ... like I was trying to outrun murderous pirates. 

As I mentioned, I'm no sailor, but the descriptions of sailing seemed pretty spot-on, and so were the medical scenes. That makes the second novel in as many weeks that I've read that describes a detailed resetting of a dislocated joint. I still don't know if I could do it, though. 

Definitely recommended for fans of dark thrillers.

Note: I received an ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher. All opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Sunrise in an Ashen Winter

Finally! A YA series that is well-written and satisfying throughout every single volume. It's been so long since I read one of those! 

I have a feeling that some people might not like how different this is from the first two. Think of it this way: Ashfall=a survival novel, Ashen Winter=a rescue novel, Sunrise=a picking-up-the-pieces novel. 

In Sunrise, the characters are pretty stationary (in space, not in development). Alex and Darla are trying to make their encampment in NW Illinois work. It's all centered on his Uncle's farm and their ability to grow kale (no more scurvy, arrrrrr!). Unfortunately, the largest town nearby has been occupied by a ruthless gang of well-armed men, and Alex and his people want that town back. It's the first in a series of battles that occur in the book. 

Mullin does not pull any punches when it comes to wounding, maiming, or killing characters. As you read this series, you constantly question whether you could survive something like this. Could you trek across a state on homemade snowshoes? Could you learn how to butcher hogs? Do you know enough to make you valuable in a survival community? (I would probably be dead, but there is a surviving librarian in the book, so maybe there's hope for me yet) The frantic pace of battle is done perfectly, and the fact that no mercy is shown to the characters makes this brutally real. It's not like in Hollywood, where you get a last-minute-salvation from somewhere. 

Alex and Darla are probably one of my favorite couples in recent YA literature. They love each other very much. They don't even think about cheating on each other (this means NO LOVE TRIANGLE! Woot!). They recognize and appreciate the other's skills and abilities. Darla doesn't need Alex to "complete" here, and Alex knows that Darla will do what she wants. There's a ton of respect in this relationship. Plus, they've also chosen not to do anything that would mean Darla could get pregnant unless they have the supplies and resources to take care of a baby and have a safe birth. Smart kids. Very smart. 

You also learn a ton about hydroponics, well-digging, irrigation, sanitation, and engineering. Enough to make you realize how good we have it now, and how easily it can be taken away. 

I also love the variety of characters Mullin has populated his world with. It feels real. People do stupid things, selfish things, and totally wackadoodle things because that's how humans are. I particularly liked his inclusion of Ben, an autistic character whose fascination with all things military saves the camp again and again. There was also an aborted GLBTQ relationship that felt a bit tacked on (if Mullin had fleshed it out a bit more it would have been a lot better). The transformation that takes place in Alex's mom is scary but also very real. 

If I had one main quibble, it's that the main villain, Red, simply isn't given enough page time. He's really a fascinating character when he's introduced. His idea of the ideal settlement is to go back to ancient Rome. He's killer with knives and swords (literally) and is obsessed with all things Roman. He's also a megalomaniacal sex trafficker, murderer, and cannibal. I kept picturing the Governor from The Walking Dead, but shorter and with more swords. Unfortunately, after the big scene in the middle of the story, he kind of just disappears. I wish we had seen more of how he runs his settlement, why he is the way he is, etc. The final encounter really wasn't that satisfying.

All in all, a really great read and a fantastic conclusion to a fantastic trilogy. Highly recommended.

Note: I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley and the publisher. All thoughts in the review are my own and have not been influenced by the reception of this ARC in any way.

Monday, March 10, 2014

27bslash6, David Thorne, and Unattractive Laughter

I think I discovered David Thorne, of 26bslash7 on Twitter. Maybe from one of the nerdaliciously awesome people I follow, like Charlie Stross or Cory Doctorow. Of course, I had to click over to the website. I promptly put in an interlibrary loan request for his first book (^^^this one, duh), after reading of his travails with Penguin (the publishing house, not the fashion people). 
The Internet Is a Playground
If you are looking for a book to make you laugh so hard that you start to make gasping, hiccuping, wheezing noises during your lunch hour, thus causing all of your coworkers to look at you with mingled horror and curiosity, please read this book. Caveat: if you don't like snark, do not read this book. Thorne is, as I gather, something of a professional internet troll. He's also extremely clever and utterly unfiltered. A lot of his stuff has to do with people at work or clients making ridiculous requests, which I can relate to on some level (he's in graphic design, I'm in public service). His Blockbuster email exchange sounds suspiciously like what I would hear from library patrons who didn't want to pay for the DVDs that they lost/ran over with the car/gave to their cousin who is now in jail in another state. 

I'm not quite sure how much of this is fact and how much is fiction, and that's kind of what I love about it. He's so brilliant at fusing the two. 

The email exchanges also show that he can be pretty cruel and rather a jerk (other people aren't as polite as I am), but sometimes it's a relief to realize that there are loads of people out there who are nastier than you are. 

Placing a request for his next book, which ticked off Penguin so much (still think that the merger should have created Random Penguin instead of Penguin Random House, which is SO vanilla), ASAP.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Castle Anthrax

I'm not sure if it's good or bad that my cultural reference for anything Arthurian is Monty Python.  I love Monty Python.  Given a choice between Mallory and Python, I'd go with Python any day.  However, I'm sure students of Early English Literature, Poetry, and Folklore would say I'm an uncouth heathen (or would it be uncouthe heathenesse, yea?). 

Continuing in my trek through the glorious Arthurian reworkings of Gerald Morris, I've just finished The Quest of the Fair Unknown. The Quest of the Fair Unknown This was quite a different book from its predecessors, and from browsing the reviews on Goodreads, I've noticed that many didn't like it because it addressed ... a naughty word.  *whispers* "religion." 

Have you done clutching your pearls?  Good.  Let's proceed.

Let's be clear.  Morris is not attacking religion, faith, or any sort of belief.  If you just read Beaufils' inner monologue on how he feels when he's in nature, for example, or when he prays quietly by himself, you'll see that faith is not presented as a bad thing.  Morris pokes fun of and exposes the exploitation of faith that was so prevalent in the Early Middle Ages.  You know, selling of indulgences and that sort of thing.  Many of the hermits that our travelers meet are hermits for the wrong reasons.  They're not alone to contemplate God, but rather they're alone because they want to rob people or leech off of the populace.  Let's admit it, hermit is a great profession to go into if you want the free food.

Leaving the whole theological debate aside, this is yet another strong entry in Morris' Squire's Tales series.  I love how he takes multiple sources and Arthurian stories and weaves them into a cohesive whole.  There's always ample humor, but Morris includes some pretty thought-provoking wisdom as well.  I wish the main female character had been more developed, as I think Morris writes his female characters exceedingly well, but Beaufils is such an interesting person that you can't help but be fascinated by him.  It's that well-worn but comfy story of an innocent thrust into the world, finding his/her way. 

The Fair Unknown introduces Gawain, who was always my least favorite Arthurian knight (he's the exceedingly pure and pious one).  To my delight, Morris treats him as well as I could have ever wished.  I do admit to picturing him as Michael Palin in the Castle Anthrax, though, begging for just a little peril. Monty Python Sir Galahad Castle Anthrax

The one quibble I have with this book is that the ending seemed to rush up on me.  I had hoped for a bit more resolution (which, perhaps, we'll get in further books).

Read this one especially for the banquet scene at Camelot and Beaufils' encounters with the three hermits (hilarious!).

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The New 52: Night of the Owls

I am so geeky that I'm not even up on how we geeks and/or nerds refer to ourselves these days.  Is it geeks?  Is it nerds?  I use both of them in a positive way.  If someone called me a geek or a nerd, I'd say, "Thanks!"  We've had this discussion at work, and somebody's teenage son did give us an answer as to which was the preferred term in modern teenspeak, but I'll be darned if I can remember which one it was. 


There are various degrees of geekitude or nerdliness.  I like nerdy things but I'm not hardcore by any means.  Like, I wasn't really a huge comic book/graphic novel reader until I became a teen librarian.  Even after my brother (who is on a much higher geek-plane than I am) ranted about the sheer awfulness of DC's New 52 reboot, I went for some of them anyway.  I started with the one he deemed, "pretty good," which was Batgirl.  I love Gail Simone's Batgirl.

She's funny and imperfect and mobile again (I know there's a huge kerfuffle about losing Oracle by giving Barbara use of her legs again but that's neither here nor there to me).
Aside from the fact that I like nerdy stuff and I'm a librarian, you should also know that I'm cheap.  Er, frugal.  I'm not one to go out and purchase individual issues of a comic.  I wait for the volumes to come in at the library, so they're free!  Unfortunately, that means I have to wait longer to get caught up.  Fortunately, it's free!

So, once I hit volume 2 of Batgirl, I realized I should probably read the Batman: Night of the Owls crossover.  I didn't realize how many characters from the "Bat Family" were involved in this.  Yikes.  I started the Batman series anyway, since I really like Scott Snyder's work, and I was all set for volume 2.

The basic premise is that this ultra-secret organization called the Court of Owls, which has secretly been in Gotham since its founding, has decided to unleash their cryogenically preserved fleet of assassins, called Talons, on Gotham and on Batman.  They're going to kill all of the powerful people in Gotham.  I'm not quite sure how the storyline will develop after this because *minor spoiler* they get most of the important people on the list.  Like, Gotham has no government now. 

ANYWAY.  I really only found three of the multiple storylines compelling, and one of them didn't really count, since I'd already read it (Batgirl).  I quite liked Snyder's Batman and the Nightwing storyline.  Confession: I've always rather liked Nightwing, even when he had that awful mullet 'do.  NightwingThe storyline involving Alfred's dad was rather convoluted, and the art in the last story was absolutely atrocious.  Alfred looked nothing like Alfred and Bruce looked nothing like Bruce.  Ugh. 

I think you have to really like all of the characters that are swirling around in this crossover to really, really enjoy it.  The main weakness was that since the volume collected stories from different superheroes fighting the same villain(s), the story arc of each individual storyline was the same.  Superhero meets Talon.  Talon gives little speech about how Court of Owls has threatened _____ to die.  They fight.  Superhero goes, "Whoa!  These dudes are piercing my impenetrable armor (or whatever the schtick is)! I must fight harder! *bleeds all over*).  Superhero pitches a massive comeback and is victorious despite having lost 90% of his/her blood supply. 
I know, I know, it's comics.  They're SUPERheroes, so they have to be able to beat unbeatable odds.  Otherwise, it wouldn't be fantasy.  But I do like a dose of reality in my fantasy, thanks ever so much.  That's why I like Simone's Batgirl

I wouldn't actively discourage people from reading this, but I would only encourage it if you are a big fan of the reboot AND you like various members of the Bat Family.  (Or is it Batfamily? BatFamily???)

Right now I'll stick with Batman and Batgirl, although I may have to add a little Dick Grayson into the mix to spice things up.  So grateful that he ditched the mullet.