Monday, August 21, 2017

ARC August: Warcross

I have deleted several introductions to this review. It is Sunday night, and I am tired, and I burned my finger on some molten pizza sauce so typing this is slightly painful. So:

I liked this; I did not love it. BUT! Many, many, many teens out there will go completely gaga for this. AND THAT'S THE WHOLE POINT.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries #1)

2017 has been the year of the Wildly Amazing Novella for me. So far, I've fallen in love with Seanan McGuire's Every Heart A Doorway and Down Among the Sticks and Stones, Sarah Gailey's River of Teeth, and now Martha Wells' All Systems Red. Thankfully they are all the first in their own series, which means I get to read more delightfulness in these universes relatively soon!

I hadn't really heard about All Systems Red in the way I had Gailey and McGuire's works (viz Twitter), but I saw it on the shelf at work one day and I knew it had to come home with me because of one simple, delightful word: "murderbot." I mean, how can you resist a book about murderbots???

Thursday, August 17, 2017

ARC August: Thornhill


Thornhill held so much dark and creepy promise. I was hoping for a shivery Gothic story told à la Hugo Cabret--half in pictures, and half in prose. However, to split the narrative like that, both parts must be stellar, and sadly, the prose in this one lacks oomph and reads a bit like an adult's idea of a teen girl's journal. And the story itself? I was underwhelmed.

The illustrations tell the story of Ella, a modern teen who moves into an apartment block that faces an old school for orphaned girls: Thornhill. It's a terrible place with scandal up the yazoo, but no one has the guts to tear it down. Looking into the Thornhill lot, she sees a garden, and sneaks past the barbed wire and no trespassing signs to poke around a bit. A mysterious figure leads her deeper into the grounds where Ella finds a doll's head. She restores it, and more dolls appear. Since that isn't creepy or suspicious at all, she keeps trying to connect with the person who is leaving her these gifts.

Meanwhile, the prose narrative tells of a girl named Mary who lived in the orphanage in the 1980s. She has "selective mutism" and was emotionally traumatized by another student/orphan who has just recently been returned by her adoptive family. Various scenes of Mary's wallowing in misery and being tormented by Jane and the Mean Girls of 1982 follow. This is obviously going to end badly, and it does.

But how does it end?

No, really, I am befuddled. It really seemed like Mary was going to light Jane on fire in the cellar (yes, that escalated quickly), but then Jane escapes and tricks Mary yet again, so ... Mary hangs herself? I think??? But then thirty years later she sets Thornhill on fire for real once Ella is inside so that she and Ella can be postmortem BFFs. It's all very vague, and I think the jumping from no fire in 1982 to the drawings of a fire raging throughout Thornhill just causes confusion.

I'm not a huge fan of the artistic style, either. Ella's head is unnaturally flat on the top, like an elephant sat on it for a while when it was still malleable. The girls resemble very small, haggard, overworked housewives (possibly intentional to indicate their difficult lives et cetera, but rather disconcerting). And everything looks so clean. The lines are so clean. I wanted something messy and grungy and hopeless.

And therein lies the crux of the matter: Thornhill was not what I wanted nor what I needed this book to be. I've read only positive reviews so far, and obviously it's pleasing to others. But the art and the story didn't mesh well for me, and the actual prose felt a bit labored. This was not a win for me, but it might be for you, especially if you like creepy dolls. The cover is very nice, in any case.

I received an ARC of this title from Edelweiss.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Down Among The Sticks and Bones

A week ago, I tried to write a blog post about how reading didn't help me. I was in despair, suffering from that vicious cycle of obsession that torments my brain. I was convinced I was unhealthy, unattractive, unlikeable--all the "un"s, really. Curled up on my bed, my body hurt as much as my heart, because depression and anxiety make you physically ill to match the illness in your head. And I couldn't bring myself to pick up a book because I told myself that I was beyond saving. I was doomed to be unhappy, so why bother trying to banish the darkness with a story?

Now, I regret that I didn't make myself read. Much like doing something you are afraid of to overcome the fear, doing something you've convinced yourself won't succeed probably will help. Tonight, angry, not at myself, but at the world and the people in it, the people who spend all of their time and energy on hating other human beings, I had to get away. Vile rhetoric glared at me everywhere I looked, cold and completely insane. I grabbed Seanan McGuire's Down Among the Sticks and Bones, the companion book to Every Heart A Doorway, and I fled.

Friday, August 11, 2017


It's never a good sign when I can call the big plot twist of a book after 40 pages. I had seen a lot of good reviews for Ararat and at first blush, it looked like it would tick all my reading boxes when it comes to adult thrillers/horror: stuck on a mountain, winter storm, ancient mystery, evil creature. That is tailor-made for me. Plus, comparisons to At the Mountains of Madness gave me hope that this would be a horror story with the punch of Lovecraft's original without all the wonky prose.

Alas. Any appeal that Ararat may have held was smothered by one-note characters, a very silly bad guy, and the general senselessness of the plot.

The cover is really cool, though.
That's it. Kinda false advertising, I guess.

*Warning: Spoilers ahead. Proceed at your own risk.*

(But please proceed!)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

ARC August: Hunted

Beauty and the Beast was the first movie I remember going to see in theaters. I cried so hard when Beast died. SO HARD. My little 4 year old heart was broken. And then, well, I felt kind of disappointed in the way he looked as a human. As a child, my favorite was The Little Mermaid, but now, I think I can safely say that Beauty and the Beast has overtaken Ariel (or Awiel, as I said as a child, with my inability to pronounce "r" properly. I sounded like a lisping Baba Wawa.)

And of all retellings, my favorites have always been those based on Beauty and the Beast (Sleeping Beauty pulls a distant second). However, it's such a popular story to retell that it threatens to devolve into a trite love story. Thus, with much trepidation, I approached Meagan Spooner's Hunted. To my great surprise and delight, this book turned out to be excellent.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

ARC August!

Being in a different part of the country affects how I feel about August in rather dramatic fashion. Since I now live in a climate that is not the ninth circle of Dante's Hell (freezing cold, whipped by the wings of Lucifer, if you don't feel like reading the whole poem), I don't feel like this is my last chance to wear shorts or go swimming or enjoy being outside. And so what used to be a month of mourning and dirges (slight exaggeration) is now just like any other month. Wackadoodle but also pretty amazing.

All of that rambling means that I'm approaching this year's ARC August with less trepidation and more indulgence. I'm not making a specific list of BOOKS I NEED TO READ THIS AUGUST, partially because since I'm not a teen librarian in name anymore, I don't have as many physical ARCs, and partially because just eh. I will be tagging my ARC reviews with #ARCAugust and I'll try to make it to the chats!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Beggar King (Hangman's Daughter #3)

There's this face that I make when I'm frustrated that makes me (alas!) resemble my aunt. If you knew my aunt, you'd understand why I hate catching myself making this face. I believe in literature an author might describe it as a "thin-lipped grimace." Basically, I suck my lips in, flatten them out, and look a bit like a frog.

I'll be very surprised if my face isn't frozen that way (or if I don't get any new wrinkles) from a near-constant presence of the expression on my face as I read the third book in the Hangman's Daughter series, The Beggar King. While I quite enjoyed the first entry in the series, I was disappointed by the second, The Dark Monk. Goodreads almost unanimously (it's a miracle!) agrees that this third book is the weakest of the series, and it gets better from here. Hmm. It's a good thing I can get them on Kindle Unlimited and not clog up my library card with checkouts of books that make me cranky.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Another Pandemic book

About a week ago, there was a meme on social media that your DJ name would be DJ + the way you would least like to die. At the time, I put down DJ 3rd Degree Burns Over 90% of My Body, but I belatedly realized that a close contender would be DJ Hemorrhagic Fever. Being turned inside out and bleeding from various orifices is a horrific way to die. So, in case I get burned, please accidentally unplug me, and if I get Ebola or Marburg, same. Or just ... do something quickly.

I read two of A.G. Riddle's prior books (the third in the Atlantis trilogy was a bit too woo woo even for me, and I have a high woo tolerance) and was reasonably entertained by them. Since his latest book, Pandemic, was free on Kindle Unlimited, I snagged it. I'm a bit shocked that this is the first in a new series called The Extinction Files, because this book could easily have been three separate ones itself. It's quite long and tells (at least!) three disparate stories. At the end, I was so frustrated with the book, because it felt like the author got caught on tangents and there was no editor to guide them back on track. While I started out being entertained, I finished out of sheer stubbornness.

The first third of the novel is the best section: it's pretty tightly written and has a compelling threat. The character interactions are a bit hackneyed, but I'm not exactly looking for a Jane Austen social commentary in a book about THE POSSIBLE END OF THE WORLD BY A VIRUS AHHHHH! You know, a popcorn book. However, it's evident that the author had tons of ideas, which is pretty amazing, since I would love to write a book and have negative ideas. Alas, nothing got edited out; therefore, we end up with several different books in one:

  • a medical thriller
  • a Jason Bourne-style espionage novel featuring a man of many talents
  • a conspiracy thriller about shell corporations with a dash of startup culture
  • a Deep Impact-style catastrophe survival story
  • a love story
  • the story of an MI-5 operative infiltrating an organization that wants to control the world in order to save it
As if this weren't complicated enough, toss in some flashbacks and you've got one hairy narrative to try and track. Let me show you what I mean (show! Don't tell!).

A man wakes up in a hotel room. His body is thoroughly bruised, he has no memory of who he is or what he's doing, and, most worryingly, there is a dead man in the room with him. In his pocket he finds a phone number and a laundry ticket with a name printed across the top: Desmond Hughes.  and when you have no memory you just follow the clues that are left. The phone number is a landline (bundling is cheaper!) belonging to a CDC scientist named Peyton Shaw. He calls her and warns her about ... well, he has no idea what he's warning her about, but he's compelled to do it, and then takes off on an epic shake-your-tail chase in Berlin, only to get captured again. Sigh.

Meanwhile, in Mandera, Kenya...

Dr. Elim Kazbet tries to keep his small regional hospital running, but it feels like a losing battle. With the attacks from an ISIS splinter group to the north, no one supports the hospital. When two Americans and a British man come in, two with signs of viral hemorrhagic fever, Dr. Kazbet does his best ... but what if that's not good enough to contain the spread? The men who are ill show symptoms of both Marburg and Ebola--it's an entirely new disease.

When the CDC finds out about the outbreak, they enlist super scientist Dr. Peyton Shaw to assemble a strike team to land on the moon and deactivate the field generator.

Wait, no, that's Return of the Jedi. Shaw actually has to put together a team of scientists who are in the civil service to try and isolate patient zero of the outbreak, as well as stop it from spreading. We, the readers, know this is Doomed to Failure because, well, there wouldn't be a book if they failed. Peyton wonders about the strange phone call she got from Desmond, but has to focus on the work at hand.

Back in Atlanta, Peyton's boss Elliott realizes that things are going to get really, really bad if the government enacts a certain protocol, so he gathers his neighbors and Hatches A Plan to survive. The plan is: liquidate all their assets and buy RVs.

Don't look at me. I still don't understand why they bought all the transportation if a) the virus is highly contagious and therefore inescapable and b) they only end up using one near the end of the book. What was his glorious plan to save them all? Just ... drive off in an RV? Start living that retiree life early?

This is all like 20% of the way into the book. It KEEPS GOING. People get shot, infected, kidnapped, rescued, re-kidnapped, and held captive in the Georgia Dome. Our heroes are Desmond and Peyton, together at last after an excruciatingly long set of flashbacks where we find out that:

  • Desmond is emotionally damaged by almost dying in the fire that killed his family 
  • Then being raised by a cold and crusty oil rig worker of an uncle isn't much help either
  • But he's also a computer genius
  • He falls in love with Peyton in college but can't commit because he's too afraid to love again
  • He's a total turd and dumps her "for her own good"
Oh yeah, and then there's the bit with Peyton's dead brother and her missing father and her emotionally distant mother. 

I am woefully ill-equipped to describe to you the frantic jumps in the story, so please, just take my word for it. And in this world, people in Africa speak "African-accented English."

However, I will give the book credit for being immensely entertaining in its first third (or so). I get a bit of a schadenfreude thrill when reading about epidemics--I find myself immensely relieved that I do not have that disease, and I find the various ways that viruses and bacteria can destroy a living organism both fascinating and terrifying.

This would have been immensely better had the author picked one or two storylines to focus on, and decided whether or not this was going to be a hard-science medical thriller or a specfic book. The way the two are juxtaposed in the text is jarring and doesn't flow well.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

DNF: Stillhouse Lake

Everyone (not everyone in the world, but for the sake of this review, I'll use the all-inclusive term) seems to be loving on this book. "So suspenseful!" they cry.

You know that awkward feeling when people are all talking about A Thing and you know nothing about The Thing, so you sit there and silently scream for help using your eyes?

That was me, attempting to read Stillhouse Lake. I don't get it.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo

I would like this review to consist of me shaking you, frantically, by the shoulders and yelling "READ THIS BOOOOOOOOK!!!"

 However, that is a rather violent way to recommend a book, and I don't really like touching people I don't know, and perhaps you'd respond better to a reasoned and measured review.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Jane, Unlimited

I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that Jane, Unlimted is one of the most unique books of the year. It's also one of my favorites.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Backlist reread: Subterranean

In the end notes of The 6th Extinction, James Rollins wrote that he would be bringing back more characters from his standalone early novels, and that one of them was actually a pretty big character in that book. The name "Jason" didn't ring a bell, but the repeated references to his parents living in Antarctica should have tipped me off to the fact that he was a character (albeit much younger) in Rollins' first book, Subterranean. I started reading these in college. After stumbling across Amazonia (lost monsters in lost area of the Amazon will terrorize the world if intrepid humans don't stop them) and loving it, I bought paperbacks of everything else Rollins wrote. Subterranean, Excavation, and Amazonia were subject to repeated rereads.

I figured I should reacquaint myself with Jason and his family before proceeding any further in the Sigma Force series, so I grabbed my copy of Subterranean and dove back in. It's very clear that Rollins' writing has improved immensely since that time, which only makes sense, but I also think that he's tried to move away from writing so very many stereotypes. He hasn't totally succeeded, but the Sigma Force books are quite well-written.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Life, Librarianship, and The Pursuit of Happiness

I got home from an afternoon and evening spent at the beach with friends and felt a pang of guilt that I hadn't written any reviews over the weekend. Yesterday, I worked. Today, I played. It feels strange to play, to actually enjoy life. It shouldn't, but it does.

For a relatively long time, I worked in a toxic job. Looking back, I'm not afraid to call it that. I was conditioned to believe that I was always wrong, always irritating, never Good Enough. I wasn't one of the rockstar librarians (I only meet one of the two requirements: although I am white, I am not male) that could be held up as an example to other staff. I had opinions (how dare I?). I had depression (again, how dare I?). I had anxiety and an eating disorder that I now realize isn't as in remission as I thought it was and I was completely miserable. In fact, "completely miserable" doesn't begin to touch how I really felt.

I'm going to turn thirty in one day. I don't celebrate birthdays (or any holidays), so it's usually not a big deal. Society has made Turning Thirty into somewhat of a Big Deal, though. It's one of those life markers that people use to gauge if you're a success or not. Oddly, I've gotten over most of the angst and the weird mental block that comes with turning thirty as a single lady, and I've reflected on how amazingly terrible my twenties were. You'll see a lot of books about depression, anxiety, and eating disorders reviewed here. I read them because I don't want to feel alone. When I first read It's Kind of A Funny Story, I cried because here was someone who was exactly describing what my brain did. My perseverations and catastrophizing. It was both strange and liberating to see myself reflected in that way. And that was basically the theme of my twenties. I never made a plan, but there were so many times that I just wished I were dead. I thought it would be easier on everyone. My soul hurt too much. And a lot of that pain came from fear generated by work.

Professionally, I love what I do. I love helping people. I love showing them entirely new worlds that they can travel to for free via the printed page or a tablet screen. I love creating safe spaces for teens, because heaven knows they have enough to deal with on a daily basis. But if the place where you do these things is toxic, it doesn't matter how much you love them. You're going to start hating your job. That's what happened to me. And because I hated my job, I started to hate myself, and to believe that I didn't deserve to be happy. The only people I saw experiencing happiness or good fortune were my male coworkers, who were routinely promoted over more qualified women, solely because of their gender. And I know that they also have problems; they probably aren't truly happy. Few people are. But when you're in the constricting, smothering grip of depression, that rational brain has zero effect on how you feel. And I felt hopeless.

But earlier this year, I had a chance to move away for a new job. It wouldn't be working with teens, which is what I was doing, and it would be far away from my family. But I could start over. I sat myself down and told myself that it was entirely possible that New Job would be weird and stressful in many different ways--there is no perfect job. But it would allow me to continue my profession while, hopefully, being able to get out of bed in the morning and not hoping that I would get in a car accident before I got to work, because months in traction sounded infinitely preferable to going to work.

I can't say I got lucky. I don't believe in luck. I believe that God answered the prayers I made with an anguished heart. I don't usually talk about religion here, because this is a book blog, but this is my personal experience. That's all I'll say about it, so if you are not religious, don't worry. I don't Blog for Jesus or anything like that.

And now I am in my New Job, in a new city, in a new state. I have a wide circle of new friends and I often stop during the day to marvel that this is my life. It's not glamorous--I'm poor. It's not what most people dream of--I am an unmarried librarian and therefore both a sort of romantic leper and a punch line. But I'm learning to just not care about it anymore. I deserve this happiness. I didn't have it for so long. The deprivation of happiness is so difficult to bear, and I wanted to write this mostly for myself, to prove to myself that I am growing. But I also hope that if anyone is out there feeling hopeless or beaten down because of the stresses of their job or their profession, that you know you deserve to be happy. Even though the Old White Dudes who founded this country only intended the Declaration of Independence to apply to people just like them (i.e. white and male), Thomas Jefferson got it right when he stated that we all have a universal right to pursue happiness.

Here's the thing: it's a pursuit. That means it's not a one-and-done deal. You have to keep moving and fighting for it. It's not handed to you on a silver salver. For me, I had to start believing that I deserved to be happy. I had to try and believe that people didn't all hate me. I had to have faith that there was a place where I didn't feel afraid being myself. And after a long time, I think I found it. It won't stay that way forever, of course. We change and organizations change and our jobs change. But in this moment, I am happy. This quiet wonder in my heart is strange but utterly welcome. I want to embrace that and leave the other pressures that I placed on myself behind.

So although I like you, readers that I've probably never met, I don't owe you my happiness in exchange for a book review. I should not feel guilty for sitting on the beach as the sun sets and feeling at peace for the first time in so, so long because I could have been using that time to write about books on my laptop. My profession as a librarian does not own my happiness. I'll fight for it, but I refuse to die for it. That's what I was doing--slowly killing myself in a place that made me feel bad about myself. I'll fight for books, but I won't die for books. I've got much bigger plans.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Who is ALAAC for, anyway? A Storify

I like Storify, so I popped my recent 11:40PM thread about ARC theft and one librarian's frustration with the cost of professional development.

Some people liked it, I guess.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

DNF: Mask of Shadows

I had a great-aunt by marriage named Opal. She was the quintessential German Wisconsin lady. Snow white hair permed into a cottonball cloud, she was a bundle of energy swathed in at least one animal print. Her bright pink lipstick--at least five coats--formed a halo around her lips and somehow always smudged on the faces of any child who crossed her path. In short, she was pretty fabulous. And because of the associative nature of memory, I kept picturing my loud, brassy Aunt Opal whenever characters discussed the fearsome assassin of Our Queen's Left Hand in Mask of Shadows.

That is not the book's failing; it is my own. However, I believe that is the one problem I had with this book that I cannot pin down to murky prose, a generic plot, or weak worldbuilding.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Books I've Read in 2017 (so far)

Welcome to Top Ten Tuesday, a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Today's theme is, well, it's the title of the post.

Well, if this isn't a daunting post, I'll eat my hat. I already feel anxious about the books I have to leave out. Oh nooooo. The ones I feature on this list will be 2017 releases only, but can include future releases.

Okay. Breathe.

This is in no particular order:

1. The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee. If you love snarky narrators, kick butt ladies, Chinese mythology, superpowers, and complicated relationships with parents: you will adore Genie Lo. So, basically, if you are a human who reads, you will love Genie Lo.

2. Want by Cindy Pon. Take notes, because a near-future commercial dystopia revolving around the collapse of the environment and the war between the haves and the have-nots is definitely a possibility. Also, Jason Zhou is a red-hot protagonist. Also also: that cover!

3. Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore. This is another one that I'm working on a review for, but I did discuss it with Andrea over on Teen Services Underground. Be warned: that review is chock full o'spoilers! But seriously: a book that has literary homages up the wazoo and the multiverse??? Yes, please!

4. The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli. This is a fluffy, fun, and smile-inducing romance with a lot of fabulous diversity rep.

5. Lady Killers by Tori Telfer. Nothing distracts from impending doom in the world like reading about mass murderesses of times past. You feel a little better about your life when you realize, "Hey, at least I don't work for someone who literally beats people until they explode!"

6. The Valiant by Lesley Livingston. Yet another hit from this year's selection of Reader Vs. Reader books. Kick-butt girl gladiators in ancient Rome? Oh yeah.

7.Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson. I want to describe this as epic, because a story spanning centuries naturally is. Anderson has managed to write a magical, slightly weird, utterly beautiful epic in under 300 pages. Wow.

8. Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia. This is a fabulous examination of the intersection of fandom, anxiety, family, and friends. BONUS: you can now read The Children of Hypnos, the popular YA series featured in Eliza on Wattpad!!!

9. Heartstone by Elle Katharine White. This book was so unbelievably good that my reviews for it consisted of walls of text generated by me slamming my hands on the keyboard in simultaneous frustration and utter delight. If I reread this, which I probably will, I will make a second attempt at a review. Basically, this is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice BUT WITH DRAGONS. YOU ARE WELCOME. READ IT.

10. A Season of Daring Greatly by Ellen Emerson White. Andrea and I read this for Reader Vs. Reader on TSU, and it's a total sleeper that deserves far more recognition than it's getting. If you are sad that Pitch didn't get renewed, check out this book! I'm hoping against hope that White turns this into a series!

What have been your favorite reads of 2017 so far? Have I missed anything that's absolutely brilliant?

Monday, June 26, 2017

Skitter (The Hatching #2)

The one thing I do miss about the frigid weather up north is that it is an effective pesticide. Sure, we get those awful hairy centipedes in the winter, and mosquitoes in the summer (it's more humid there than a lot of people think) and the usual bees, ants, and other insectidae et arachnidae. However, the general state of frigidity from October through May kills off all but the hardiest bugs.

Alas, this is not the case here in the Carolinas. There are bugs everywhere.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

I am not at ALA and I'm trying to be okay with that

I've been waiting for ALA to come back to Chicago for so long ... and then I moved out of the Midwest and to the East Coast. What with a new job and very little time off and not a lot of money, I skipped ALA this year.

I'd be lying if I said that I feel sad looking at everyone's tweets and FB updates from the conference. So, I decided to do a pros and cons list of the ALA conference in relation to my circumstances right now. This is mostly for me to work out my anxiety, but if it helps you, then that's awesome too! 

Pros of being at ALA:

  • I see my friends and meet people I regularly engage with on Twitter. Oddly (or perhaps not?) my relationships with these people are more transparent and easy than friends I know in real life. This is probably because on Twitter, I say what I feel pretty much all the time. This is me. And if you do the same thing, that is you, and that is why I follow you. 

  • I meet new people. I am definitely introverted, but I like big crowds because I can lose myself in them. However, at ALA, I make a point to go up to someone if I recognize them and introduce myself. I put on my No-Shame hat (the one I wear during storytimes as I wiggle and shake around the room) and go for it.

  • I pick up ARCs, not just for myself, but for my coworkers and the teens at the library. Yup, it's awesome to get an ARC of a book you've been on tenterhooks for, but it's even better when you give it to a teen who didn't even know ARCs were a thing and their face lights up and you feel all warm and fluffy inside. Try it--you'll like it!

  • It's in Chicago this year, which is one of my favorite cities. I would totally live there if I a) could find a decent-paying job in the area and b) didn't have to go back to the Winters of Doom. However, if any well-read, Chicago-based millionaires who appreciate my wit and don't mind that I look kinda weird want to marry me, I'll consider applications. Ha! Just kidding. Marriage sounds awfully difficult and I am probably too selfish to make that work.
Cons of being at ALA:

  • It's exhausting and over-stimulating. There is just SO MUCH STUFF. I always worry about missing the really good sessions or the author appearances.

  • I hype myself up for a session and it turns out to be Not That Great.

  • Pursuant to the last point, sometimes sessions are flat-out insulting and not good, like the one I was at last year which basically involved a person presenting about how much they disliked a specific coworker. This had nothing to do with the theme, and since we knew where the presenter worked, it's highly likely someone at the conference knew the coworker in question. Or like this year, where I saw someone was already trying to make #infobesity into a thing. How is that a thing? How could you ever think that's okay???

  • It's pricey. If you don't have library financial support, it's really expensive, especially if you stay in an ALA hotel. And shocker! Not all of us work at libraries that have the money to pay for you to go to ALA. Or even if you do, they make you feel like a greedy person for asking. Or they punish you for going by making you write an essay. (Note: this is NOT my current job. I love my new library! They could have sent me but I wanted someone else to go, especially because I'm new and I am still learning my own job)

  • Somehow everyone else gets the invitations to all the parties with the swag and free food and champagne, and you're sitting on the outside wondering how to be with the Cool Kids. Because yes, Virginia, there are library world Cool Kids. For them, it's effortless (or directly tied to being a dude, but that's another blog post). They simply exist and publishers are like "Hey, want to come to the Newbery Gala?" And then I feel awful about myself for not being a Cool Librarian and for not getting invited to anything.

Huh. That did make me feel a little better about not being there this year. For the librarians who are there: enjoy it! Have fun in Chicago (you can hit me up for restaurant recommendations and/or directions to most places on the CTA because I'm pretty good at public transportation in Chicago)! See the Bean! Go to the Art Institute! Live Ferris Bueller's Day Off!

And with that, I might go to the beach. It's my only true rebuttal.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Top Ten Tuesdays: Series I've Been Meaning to Start

Welcome to Top Ten Tuesday, a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish!

Hello procrastination, my old friend.

Clearly, Simon and Garfunkel had better rhythm, but I don't so much have an issue with darkness of the soul as I do lassitude of the mind. I can talk myself out of almost anything, which is probably why I'll never make any Really Big Decisions like getting married or buying a house. I will always find a way to not do something because I've brainstormed all of the ways it could go horrifically wrong.

Or I'm just feeling tired and not that into it at the moment. Either one, really, is a normal scenario.

Take blogging, for example. I love writing while I am writing, but staring at a blank screen trying to come up with Words so I can talk about my Feelings is extremely difficult. Therefore, I tend to go off and do other things, and by "other things," I mean "play Star Wars games on my tablet."

Generally, if I am interested in a series but haven't started it yet, it's for two reasons:

  1. I want to know I can at least jump into book two right after book one if the series is good.
  2. I am afraid of the Feels that I will experience and so avoid the book so as to cut out awkward and messy Feels.

Uh, that's about it. Without further ado, I present you with ten series I've been meaning to start but haven't:

  1. Dune by Frank Herbert. I suppose one could argue that Dune is Dune and need not be taken as a series opener, but it is, and I do, and this one is still looking at me balefully from the shelf. I have one of those pretty leather editions, too.

  2. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. If GRRM isn't going to finish it any time soon, I'm not sure I want to put my time into starting the series. I am also freaked out by what seems to be a lot of, er, interfamilial relationships.

  3. Dreadnaught (The Lost Fleet:Beyond the Frontier) by Jack Campbell. I read The Lost Fleet by Campbell, and I really enjoy the character of Black Jack Geary, the man revived to lead a war that he finds himself an accidental hero in. Of? Dangling prepositions? Crap. Anyway, I am worried that the neat little arc in The Lost Fleet will bleed out with Black Jack taking on new adventures and fighting new battles.

  4. Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake. I adored Three Dark Crowns, and all of my friends equally adored Anna, so I'm not sure why I'm hesitating.

  5. Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes. Honestly, I just like the cover of this one and it sounds pretty good. I think.

  6. On Basilisk Station (Honor Harrington) by David Weber. As a young person in the library, I remember marveling that people read books as long as the Honor Harrington ones. After working my way through a decent amount of military sci-fi, I think she's next on my list.

  7. Can You Forgive Her (Palliser) by Anthony Trollope. I've been meaning to read Trollope for at least a decade and I keep putting it off. I like so many of his quotations out of context that hopefully, I'll like them in context even more!

  8. Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier. I love a good time-travel story. I only pray that this is a good time-travel story.

  9. Over Sea, Under Stone (The Dark Is Rising) by Susan Cooper. I KNOW, OKAY? I HAVEN'T READ THIS. YET.

  10. The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani. This first blipped my radar when I saw it was a twist on the good/evil fairy trope, but after hearing Soman speak at ALA Midwinter and tell the story of his fabulous Auntie Mame-esque grandmother, it really shot up in the rankings. If you want to read more about Soman's grandma, check out his story in Flying Lessons.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Repost: Top Ten Tuesday: Fraught Relationships with Dad

Welcome to Top Ten Tuesday, a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

I wanted to do a feature on the top ten dads in fiction, but I found that all of the most compelling father-child relationships in books that I read have been more complicated than "he's a good dad." Usually, it's something like, "he's a messed-up guy, but loves his kids in a weird sort of way anyway" or "he's a turd." So here are some dads with complex, and often turbulent, relationships with their families:

1. Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King. I am often at a loss for words when it comes to the brilliance of King's books, but this one explores domestic violence in an utterly unique way. Sarah's relationship with her dad is almost non-existent--or at least, she pretends that it is. Short vignettes from the point of view of Sarah's mom are simultaneously funny and heartbreaking. This is a fantastic rumination on art, trauma, and memory.

2. The Shining by Stephen King. This book is so many things: horror novel, exploration of writing as catharsis, psychological study, and portrait of a flawed father. When it comes right down to it, Jack Torrance's actions are influenced by his love of his son, but whether that love is pure or twisted--ah, the Outlook decides that.

3. The Lie Tree by Francis Hardinge. So you've been exiled to a tiny, rocky island in the North Sea because your dad lied about his fossil findings? Cool--the reason why he did it will blow your mind. Will Faith's desire to be loved and appreciated by her father blind her to his true nature?

4. Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero. When your dad is addicted to meth, and you hate what that does to your family, but he's still family.

5. Black Helicopters by Blythe Woolston. Generally anything that involves intensive brainwashing by dear ol' Dad is going to be an issue. In this case, it's that the government killed Val's mother. After Dad perishes in a fire, Val becomes the avenging angel sent with a bomb strapped to her chest in order to make things right.

6. Gem & Dixie by Sara Zarr. Gem and Dixie's dad is a washed-up Cool Guy who disappears for years at a time but then reappears all hunky-dory with a very suspicious backpack full of small bills. Hmmm.

7. Rotters by Daniel Kraus. This book is so terrifying that I couldn't even finish it. Honest, hand to the sky could not stomach it, which is saying a lot. Joey Crouch's dad, Harnett, is the Garbage Man of his isolated Iowa town--but what he really gets up to at night is so much worse.

8. Royal Bastards by Andrew Shvarts. The entire premise of the book is that a group of, ahem, royal bastards see their dads (and one mom) murdering another ruler and planning to blame the illegitimate kids for the crime! Cold, man. That's cold.

9. Cut Me Free by J.R. Johansson. When your dad kills your little brother and locks you into a torture closet ... yeah, that's messed up.

10. William Shakespeare's The Empire Striketh Back by Ian Doescher, William Shakespeare, and George Lucas (sort of). Come on, I had to find a way to include Darth Vader.
Any of these dads make your list too? Do you have favorite dads in literature?

Pandemic (Infected #3)

This book is a conundrum. It was a page-turner--I can't remember the last time I whipped through a 600+ page book in such a short period of time--but it also basically had lost all momentum and the characters were two-dimensional. I suppose I kept reading because of the aliens, and also because of the brilliance of the first book in the series--but this book lacked what made Infected so special: one "Scary" Perry Dawsey, ex-linebacker and anti-hero.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Unexpected Beach Reads

Welcome to Top Ten Tuesday, a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week we're all about that beach, 'bout that beach with a beach reads freebie. I know for some parts of the country (hey, former home state of Wisconsin) it's not really beach time yet, but it will be Memorial Day in six days, and that's the official kick-off to summer. I'm not sure who decided that (probably some scheming executive in a mega corporation), but I'll take it.

Much like chick-lit, "beach reads" is often a term used with derision. I see no reason why deeming a book a "beach read" automatically reduces its value, but that often is the case. When you stop and consider that not all beach reads are fluffy--thrillers make the cut a lot--I do think it is a gendered attack on female authors. But beach reads, like beach bodies, should have no stigma attached to them. A beach body is a body on a beach. A beach read is a book you read while you happen to be at the beach. Because I take this view, I read whatever I want when I'm at the beach. I'm looking for a gripping story, but I wouldn't necessarily bring my Balzac or Victor Hugo to the beach. I need some respite from tragedy, after all.

Here, in no particular order, are some non-traditional beach reads to try out this summer:

1.  Misery by Stephen King. This is my current beach read, and the contrast between Paul Sheldon's confinement and the open spaces of the ocean is interesting to contemplate. And, you know, it's terrifying. Also, it will keep strange people away from you if you're an introvert like me and crave solitude.

2.  Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. It's a toss-up between this one and The Cabinet of Curiosities for my favorite Pendergast novel, but if you must start, start at the beginning. Bonus: count how many times the beast has a "goatlike" odor and how often it "ululates."

3.  Heartstone by Elle Katharine White. If you lean more toward the romance spectrum in your reading preferences, give this fantasy retelling of Pride and Prejudice a spin. I am quite sure that I had a silly grin plastered to my face while reading the whole thing, and man, I shipped the ship so hard that I shattered into all the feels.

4.  The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi. With prose as fluid and graceful as waves, this book will sweep you away on a romantic, magical journey with a feisty heroine and a demon horse with a wicked sense of humor. It's achingly beautiful and perfect for sunsets.

5.  Thunderstruck by Erik Larsen. Most people are familiar with The Devil in the White City (and if you haven't read it, you MUST!), but this tale of murder, scientific quarrels, and police chases in Victorian England will hold you captive until the last page. You may have quite a sunburn from trying to finish this in one day.

6.  Sweet by Emmy Laybourne. If you feel sad that all of your friends are going on a cruise and you aren't, then have I got the book for you! You'll be super excited about all the money you saved and get a hefty dose of body positivity to boot. If Carnival Cruises were renamed Cannibal Cruises, this would be their promo guide.

7.  Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey. Kick-butt female protagonist, horselike companions, and fantasy intrigue combine in this, one of my favorite Valdemar books.

8.  Zero World by Jason Hough. A twisty, mind-bending story of alternate timelines and universes, this book moves quickly but is hefty enough to provide food for thought.

9.  Close Reach by Jonathan Moore. Again, this will make you think twice about that sailboat you may have been eyeing. A brutal, psychological thriller about a couple's really, really, really bad sailing vacation.

10.  Meg by Steve Alten. Sure, this one is hokey as all get out, but it's a novel about a dinosaur shark. How can you go wrong with "giant dinosaur shark" while you're at the beach? The new cover is garish and I love it.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Fairest of All: A Tale of the Wicked Queen

Historically, I've not had a good track record with Disney's reworkings of fairy tales. However, good things happened with their Journey to The Force Awakens marketing push for TFA (see my reviews of Alex Bracken and Tom Angleberger's take on Epidodes IV and VI, respectively), and I was willing to give them another shot. In spite of my suffering through A Whole New World, I am drawn, moth to the flame, to the Braswell retellings series. It's my literary masochism rearing its ugly head again.

I was at the local Barnes and Noble* right before going to see the live action version of Beauty and the Beast, and the teen section was decked out with Beauty and the Beast swag, along with piles of Disney ephemera. Tables with Braswell's retellings abounded, but they were side-by-side with some other, more middle-grade focused titles with really lovely artwork. I am a sucker for a pretty cover, and if the book has special touches like beautiful endpapers or gilded pages, I will make almost any excuse to buy it. However, because of the thorough burn I had received from the hokey Aladdin retelling, I talked myself out of buying any of the Disney Villains retellings, turned firmly on my heel, and went to the movie.

About a month later, I was perusing the offerings on Kindle Prime** and saw the first book in the series was available. Since I didn't have to pay for it (discounting the fact that I do pay for a Prime membership and therefore it isn't wholly free, but if you divide the savings I've gotten from Prime plus the free items into the actual cost of them membership, I feel like I've come out ahead, so it's like more-than-free), I happily downloaded it, envisioning an evening of oohing and aahing over stilted prose and banging out a cranky review, which is the surest way to restore my mental equilibrium.

Except ... I was rather enjoying this tale of Snow White's stepmother. While some of the prose veered dangererously violet at times, it wasn't bad, nor was it a word-by-word recreation of the film (thank goodness!). In a short novel aimed at higher elementary and middle grade students, Serena Valentino managed to create a rather astounding amount of pathos in the Queen's character and a commentary on the way men treat women's looks as an indicator of their worth as a person.

Daughter of a talented mirror maker, the Queen never expected to, well, to become Queen. Why should the King notice her? Her father told her often enough how very unattractive she was. Is the King playing a cruel trick? But it seems as if he has truly fallen in love with her, and she with him. Additionally, the Queen cares deeply about his daughter, Snow. Like the Queen, Snow has lost her mother, and the Queen is determined to be a stable and loving influence in Snow's life.

But odd things happen in the castle, particularly when the King is away on a military campaign. His three cousins come to visit and threaten both Snow and the Queen. The King gives her a mirror made by her hated father, and there is something--or someone--inside. Watching her. Waiting for her to slip up. Alone, with only Snow and her faithful attendant Verona, the Queen's hold on sanity begins to break.

The king's cousins (who aren't really his cousins, of course) return and offer her something tempting: power over the mirror, which is magic, and the knowledge that she truly is beautiful--fairest in all the land, even. After the King dies in battle, the Queen retreats into herself, brooding on her beauty and cutting out anyone and everyone who should challenge her. In a way, she still loves Snow, but the corrupting influence of her father's wicked spirit in the mirror and the three cruel sisters turns the Queen's uncertainty and self-loathing into a hatred for others' happiness.

At the end of the book, we pick up the story where the Queen creates the poisoned apple and gives it to Snow, but in her guilt and horror at what she has become, throws herself over the precipice during her flight from the furious dwarfs.

My favorite part of the book is when the Queen confides in her husband and tells him the whole story of her childhood. "A day of my childhood didn't pass when my father didn't tell me how unattractive I was, how ugly, and that is how I saw myself." The emotional abuse of a child leaves deep scars, and here, the Queen's father directly related her worth as a person to her physical appearance. Is that not what society does to us today? Your selfies better be at just the right angle, otherwise you are ugly. If you don't have a body that conforms to the currently worshipped aesthetic, you're worthless. Who would ever love you? And yet, the Queen is loved. She is beautiful, yes, but when we first meet her in the book, it is her kindness and unwavering love for Snow that shines. It is only when she turns her focus to her outward appearance that her inner beauty is poisoned and dies.

As I'll further explain in my review for the Beast book in this series, I prefer to think of these as AU retellings, and not necessarily canon (although I suppose that by publishing them, Disney has made them canon, in a way). They offer a glimpse of what might have been or what could have happened to make things turn out the way they did.

The books in this series are quick reads, and not poorly written. They are also quite lovely in physical form--I may go purchase the Ursula volume to read as it's not available for free online yet. Surprisingly thought-provoking for movie tie-ins.

*It's right by the cinema, so please don't blast me for not hanging at the indie bookstores more often. Also I can get gluten free cheesecake there.

**I know this is coming off like RAH RAH BIG CORPORATIONS THAT ARE EEEEVILLLL but honestly there are only so many fights I can fight, and I like the discounts I get on gluten free stuff on Amazon. Also the two-day shipping. If that makes me a bad person, then okay. I am a bad person.

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Fifth House of the Heart

Treasures and monks and vampires: oh my!

No, it's not the latest Dan Brown book. It's a quirky Van Helsing-esque horror novel featuring a cowardly antiques dealer as the unlikely leader of a band of vampire hunters. And I'm using Van Helsing in a positive way, because I thought it was a fun movie, and also because Hugh Jackman. So if you didn't like that film, you may not enjoy The Fifth House of the Heart. Caveat lector and all that jazz. All that Latin? Whatever.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Mommie Dearest

Wooo, it's Top Ten Tuesday again! TTT is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. It's super fun because it combines two of my favorite activities: reading and compulsively making lists! Yay!

This week's theme is a Mother's Day freebie.

I love my mom. I love her even more after finishing a book where the mother/child relationship is ... shall we say, less than ideal? I'm not a fan of the phrase "bad mom," just because ascribing a moral judgement to a person I don't know makes me feel icky, so I'll call these ladies Moms You Probably Shouldn't Make Your #goals.

1. The Commandant in An Ember in the Ashes (Sabaa Tahir). Because nothing says "I love you, son" like scourging him and repeatedly trying to kill him. Mwah!

2. Jeannette's mom in The Glass Castle (Jeannette Walls). Another book that made me go to my parents and say, "Thank you for not making us live in a coal town in West Virginia with no heat and also make us eat garbage while you hoard Hershey's bars."

3. Gem and Dixie's mom in Gem and Dixie (Sara Zarr). Because making your fifteen-year-old daughter buy painkillers at school so you can take them to get high is amazing parenting.

4. Gertrude in Hamlet (William Shakespeare). Gotta give a shout-out to the Queen of Denmark, who marries her dead husband's brother and wonders why Ham is in a sulk.

5. Erica Milbourn in Wild Swans (Jessica Spotswood). Self-absorbed? Check. Fat-shaming? Check. Oooh, my top two indicators of a NOPE mom.

6. Myrtle Sunderly in The Lie Tree (Francis Hardinge). I understand why she does what she does, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

7. Mary Addison's mom in Allegedly (Tiffany D. Jackson). So many reasons. So many. Most of them are spoilers.

8. Gervaise Macquart in L'assommoir (Émile Zola). You know, throwing your life away for drink because life sucks (unofficial motto of Zola).

9. Maddy's mom in Everything, Everything (Nicola Yoon). I am one of the few people who disliked this book, but Maddy's mom was really something else.

10. Lane's grandma in The Roanoke Girls (Amy Engel). I know, technically this is a grandmother, but her complicity in the acts of the book is astounding, nauseating, and terrifying.