Saturday, June 28, 2008

The good, the bad, and the authors.

There are two authors (besides Meg Cabot who I've already reviewed here and can't take back) that I despise above all else, and despite their high reverence amongst the rest of the reading world I refuse to read another word they've written. Ayn Rand and Henry Miller are their names. It isn't that I think that either of them write filth or have horrible ideas. It is that their writing seems to me to be so utterly self-serving and full of self-worship that I can't wrap my head around anything else they are trying to say.

I'm not posting this to say that other people shouldn't read these two writers. I firmly believe there should be no judgment made on the reading tastes of others. What I would like is an argument convincing me of their high worth (and consequently why I should give them another try) from someone other than my high school AP English teacher, Bobby Y.

On a more positive note, a short list authors you may one day see reviewed here (in no particular order):
Neil Gaiman
Jennifer Weiner
Louise Voss
Richard Peck
Jennifer Cruisie
Michael Connelly
Nancy Martin
Sarah Waters
Melissa Banks
Dave Barry
Susanna Clarke
Junot Diaz
Stephen Chbosky
Chuck Palahniuk
Chris Crutcher
Kurt Vonnegut
Gregory Maguire
Nick Hornby
Michael Chabon
Zadie Smith
Caleb Carr
Sharon G. Flake
Craig Thompson
And so on...

Percy Jackson and the goblet of Greek Mythology

Riordan, Rick. The Lightning Thief. New York: Miramax Books, 2006.
Genre:Modern Mythology, Modern Fantasy, YA
Year: 2005
Series:Percy Jackson and the Olympians

Plot:Percy Jackson doesn't get along in any school, but he can't go home to his smelly stepfather and his loving but weak mother. When he temporary vaporizes his pre-algebra teacher (something I'm sure most 12 year olds dream of often) he starts to figure out that he is beyond not normal. So he gets sent to a summer camp where he learns that he's not normal, in fact, he's the son of a greek god! And he's not even safe at the summer camp, so he must solve a pretty big problem with a little help from his friends. Percy is only 12 years old but he travels the country on his very first hero's quest meeting a strange cast of characters every where he stops.

Appeal characteristics
: The book has some of the best modern characterizations of gods I've ever seen. Percy is the essential misfit superpowerful hero and his two best friends who aid in the quest might seem familiar too (a brainy girl and a awkward but loyal boy both roughly his same age and also misfitted in some way.) The actual character behind the characters doesn't need to be developed through a lot of exposition as it shows itself in ever step of the adventure. The book pulls you into the story and is a real page turner that makes a good start to the winding plot of what promises to be an epic series.

Some god on god violence, also use of the term "half-bloods" to describe the half mortal/half god children which both reeks of Harry Potter and is also generally somewhat offensive. Some of the scenes could be scary to younger children.

Read Alikes:Neil Gaimon's American Gods or Anansi Boys and Mur Lafferty's Heaven are all in the same vein. Mur's takes place mostly off earth though, and both are more mature than Percy Jackson and don't have the advantage of series. Holly Black's "A Modern Faery Tale" series has a similar feel as well with mortals dealing more with all Irish Mythology than Greek. I haven't read Spiderwick Chronicles (also by Black with Tony DiTerlizzi) but from the reviews I think it has many of the same appeal elements of modern fantasy: misplaced person meets with mythological creatures much to the disbelief or disdain of adults for a ton of adventure. Fantasy is such an awesome genre, especially for YA readers. I also found a booklist on the page about twisted fairytales, which while not exactly the same, is in the similar idea of fantasy novels.

For some other thoughts I had about this book you can check out my Livejournal entry.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Making up words

I wonder if I should start calling this a "recommendation blog" instead of a "review blog". But who wants just lists of know it all recommendations and no room for badmouthery. I am opening this up to say that I will take recommendations or even just reading suggestions and add them to my giant list of books to read, movies to netflix, video games to play, and cds to listen to all the way through (at least once.I am the queen of listening to one song six times and then skimming through the rest of the cd.) There is debate about audiobooks being reading, and rightly so, listening to an audiobook is something that can be done while driving, working, mowing the lawn, and reading is not. Audiobooks can't be skimmed, they can't be put down for a moment while you babelfish that entire Spanish paragraph to get the gist of what the characters are saying (ever notice that authors most often switch languages while cursing or insulting or, on the other end, being extremely tender? Are they all saying that English lags in these areas? I tend to agree.)And audiobooks, when read well, give you voices for the characters you may never have come up with on your own and bring the story to life in a way that reading can't. But, when audiobooks are bad, they will kill the story faster than I can put down the latest Meg Cabot atrocity. Anyway since I'm averaging something like 500-1000 miles a week in the car over the past month I will say that audiobooks can save me from the mind numbing boredom of farmland scenery any day. I'll have more audiobook reviews coming up in the near future. In the meantime though I think I'm going to make some blanket and blatant recommendations with very little reviewing because it will only take you a second to check them out online.

First up a vegetarian/vegan food blog written by my favorite roller derby playing librarian. X libris does her best to show that English has its fair share of impressive curse vocab. She also makes a delicious sorbet and you can find out how at Cookcrazy

Second up is my only non-web 2.0 blogstyle entry: online banking. I don't know what bank you use, but I have two very local banks and both of them offer it. I love not having to find a stamp myself to pay my bills. And I also love knowing I can check my statement wherever the internet can be found.

Third we have Podrunner Intervals. These are great for the couch to five k program. The cues are easy to follow and the BPM are perfect for each point in the interval.

More Dead Cats is the blog of poet who wrote my favorite poem ever, Secret Playdate. I sent that poem in a letter that helped to win my boyfriend's heart and I find myself reciting it sometimes when I'm nervous or stressed out.

Similar to More Dead Cats there is Mimi Smartypants who tells stories about her intrepid superhero wannabe daughter Nora.More importantly Mimi writes everything with a heavy dose of the good funny.

God's Town

Ribeiro, Andrea Barata, et al. Cidade de Deus City of god. [United States]: Miramax Home Entertainment, 2003.

I abhor violence and like kids so this movie seems on the surface to be the opposite of everything that I would want to watch in a movie. The story is basically the timeless tale of a slum druglord's hostile takeover, his salad days, and the war for territory that ends up killing nearly every one involved. The story is told in a series of shorter tales by the observer, Rocket, who ends up building his career as a photojournalist off of the pictures he takes of the gangs and the violence. The movie is based off of a true story and it feels bloody realistic. No one important to the plot is much over the age of 18, and a number of key players are small children who seem to view the war as a game. The body count is immense, but the stories are like puzzle pieces that snap neatly into place. Though some might claim this to be a lack of subtlety, I say it is more an abundance of candor. Though all of the gangs and the warfare is compelling (as the ever growing number of bloody Grand Theft Auto franchise has taught us) the true heart of this story isn't the main druglord Little Ze, nor is it the opposition forces Carrot and Knockout Ned. No, the real crux of the story, the reason why the movie is compelling is the little peep show we get into Rocket's life and his somewhat detached involvement, his bit part in the greater story. All of the actors are beautiful and believable and deliver their lines with an appropriate nakedness that one would imagine comes with that sort of life. So even though I have to turn my head almost every scene to avoid watching another child get their foot shot or another woman get raped I think this movie was worth watching what I could of it. Because sometimes a good story told well is worth a little discomfort, especially when that story is true.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The absolutely true blog of a wimpy librarian.

Today's post is going to be a short set of reviews for two illustrated novels and one audiobook. After I review the books I'm going to give you a little comparing/contrasting action. Ohhhh, sassay!

Alexie, Sherman, and Ellen Forney. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. New York: Little, Brown, 2007.
Genre:Realistic YA Fiction, Journal, Illustrated
Plot Summary: Arnold Spirit Junior is a poor reservation Indian. He was born with water on the brain and had seizures for most of his life. Both parents are alcoholics as are most the people on the rez. But, he's got a best friend named Rowdy and a dog named Oscar. Then one day he realizes he can't go to the poor rez high school anymore and switches to the white high school far past the reservation lands. And then Junior has to deal with all the usual problems of reservation life, plus not fitting in at a white high school, and not fitting in on the reservation, and the fact that merely getting to school every day is an epic adventure. Who knows if there is money for gas, or if he'll get a ride from a drunk relative, or if he'll be walking or just staying home that day? But despite all of the odds being stacked against him, Junior still manages to be (perhaps foolishly) optimistic and he FIGHTS. Interminable Arnold Spirit Junior.
Geographical Setting: Rural Washington State
Time Period: contemporary
Appeal Characteristics: The odds are so stacked against Arnold Spirit Junior that it would be easy for this book to come off as whining self-pity. The straightforward way the story is told combined with the humor and the general buoyant nature of Junior's outlook keep that possibility a distant one. The story is absolutely a page-turner. It has elements of first love, high school, basketball heroism, family, and friendship. Forney's drawings are simply funny and perfectly suited Junior's narrative voice. It is easy to forget this is a diary and just become enraptured by the story and the art.
Red Flags: Lots of people die, violence,alcoholism and the general unpretty picture of reservation life. Also 14 year old boy talks frankly about masturbation.

Kinney, Jeff, and Ramon de Ocampo. Diary of a Wimpy Kid Greg Heffley's Journal. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 2008.
Genre: Realistic YA/Children's Fiction, Journal, Audio Recording
Plot Summary:Greg Heffley is the middle kid in a typical middle class family. He's in junior high and struggling to shed his little kid image. The book chronicles some of the trials and tribulations of the school year, but it is NOT a Diary. It's a journal.
Time Period: Contemporary
Series:Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Appeal Characteristics: Ramon de Ocampo's reading doesn't detract from the story. Greg is a funny kid and shares his experience of being a somewhat trouble making middle child tween with awkward humor and defiance of authority. Nothing to big or serious ever happens in this book.
Red Flags: The full effect of the book is lost without the illustrations. There really isn't much done to make up for that loss in the audio book and it is way too bad. What seems harmless in the paper book version makes Greg seem insufferable and his parents seem reluctant at best.

Kinney, Jeff. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules. New York: Amulet Books, 2008.
Genre: Realistic YA/Children's Fiction, Journal, Illustrated
Plot Summary:The further adventures of Greg Heffley. More hijinks and shenanigans ensue. The overall plot is still not as important as the relationships and each individual story.
Time Period: Contemporary
Series:Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Appeal Characteristics:The artwork is the main draw of the book. The comic-like style is light and funny. Greg's exploits and family or school stories are a guilty pleasure told by a middle child who just doesn't quite get the real difference between right and wrong.
Red Flags: Don't let kids think that this story gives them permission for bad behavior. This series is mostly squeaky clean as far as parents are concerned.

Here's a video I found of some kids who really like "Diary of A Wimpy Kid"

And now for the part that is going to make me completely unpopular with the masses, as opinions sometimes do.

The comparison: if you have the gift of vision, please read Diary of a Wimpy Kid instead of listening to it. I know I'm particularly persnickety about audiobooks, but sometimes I have a good reasoning. At first glance Diary of A Wimpy Kid and Absolutely True Diary of A Part Time Indian have a lot in common. But, on closer examination that similarity ends at genre and format. Wimpy Kid is definitely for a slightly younger (read:immature) audience, doesn't deal with any serious social issues or even notices that other people might exist (therefore precluding social issues entirely), and is generally meant to be a short light hearted read not to be taken seriously. Except, it is the number one graphic novel on Amazon and that is something to take seriously. I understand the appeal of this book, but I'm not really fully on the bandwagon. It isn't that I'm opposed to purely escapist fiction where the most troubling incidents result in a light grounding from caring parents, but I do object to the fact that Greg doesn't ever seem to learn any life lessons, ever. And I think that is an important part of most YA and kids lit. They don't have to beat you over the head with the lessons, obviously kids are way to smart for that.I do think having Greg show remorse for some of the semi-terrible things he does instead of just remorse for being caught would occasionally be a good idea. On the other hand Alexie's book is so chock full of life changing events and Serious Lessons that at times the message would be overwhelming if it weren't for the saving grace of Arnold's outlook and narration.I shouldn't have read these books the same night;Alexie's right after Kinney's. Alexie's story is a cohesive story all geared to a more mature audience while Kinney's is geared towards the tricky age of middle school and each diary entry is its own short story. It probably wasn't fair to the Wimpy Kid series that I would hold it to such high scrutiny afterwards. Especially since the audiobook of the first one left such a bad taste in my mouth and I really like Forney's art better than Kinney's too. But, Absolutely True Diary of A Part-time Indian made me really feel for the characters and stayed with me after I read it. Diary of a Wimpy Kid just made me feel sorry for Greg's friends and family and I haven't really thought about it much since. But don't get me wrong! Any book that makes kids want to read is still marked as an amazing piece of literature in this blog.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Too young to die.

Crutcher, Chris. Deadline. New York: Greenwillow Books, 2007.

Genre: Young Adult Realistic Fiction
Plot Summary:Ben Wolf has a manic depressive mother and a brother who looks just like him, only much bigger. Ben has always known he was a "shrimp", but he just found out he is going to die within a year. He views the option to try and prolong his life as trading quality for quantity and decides instead to live this year as his best ever by not telling anyone. He joins the football team instead of cross-country, dates the girl of his dreams, works to cure social ills, and avoids makes friends with an alcoholic ex-priest with a really big secret. Speaking of secrets, what is Ben going to do when he can't hide his anymore?
Geographical Setting: Trout, Idaho
Time Period: Contemporary
Appeal Characteristics:
As with all of Crutcher's works this novel is first-person narrated by strongly-developed, ethical, and likable young man. The story is a tear-jerker by the expected end, but told in such a light humorous way. Despite good character development and complex relationships the story clips along at fair pace. The twist on the classic coming of age story is aided by the usual Chris Crutcher story elements of small town life, courage in the face of adversity, dysfunctional families, and the triumph of good over bad...even when things don't work out for the best.
Crutcher, Chris. Running Loose. New York: Greenwillow Books, 1983.

This book features Louie Banks, the football coach in "Deadline." In this story Louie is a high school football hero. He has a great girlfriend and an almost perfect life. But that perfection starts to derail after he stands up against his racist teammates. Again all the fearless and funny Crutcher elements are all here including courage in the face of adversity, dealing with death, humor, complex relationships, and well developed characters.

Downham, Jenny. Before I Die. New York: David Fickling Books, 2007.

Tess has lived battled her cancer for four years and thus missed out on important parts of childhood. This story really focuses on the death and dying by highlighting it against Tess's quest to enjoy her last bit of life before she dies. The book is funny and poignant. Characters are more important than plot and family relationships are complex. It is a book to be enjoyed slowly.

Leimbach, Marti. Dying Young. New York: Doubleday, 1990.

If Deadline had only focused on the love story and the dying it might have ended up being something like this book. Victor is dying and falls in love with his caretaker Hillary, who in turn is in love with a healthy friend of Victor's. Again, lots of deep characterization and complex relationships. Victor's defiance of medical treatment is also similar to Ben's attitude.

Krech, Bob. Rebound. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 2006.

Crutcher's books, especially deadline, often focus on sports and team dynamics as catalysts for change and vehicles of empowerment. Rebound follows with that theme. This book focuses on Ray Wisniewski, who goes against the grain in his small racially-polarized town by playing basketball instead of wrestling.

Connelly, Neil O. St. Michael's Scales. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2002.

Keenan Flannery feels responsible for the death of his twin brother and plans on killing himself but is saved when he is forced to join the wrestling team and it gives him a reason to live. In the course of the book the complex family relationships and the idea of death are very fully explored.

Red Flags: Some adult themes, words, and phrases. There is the usual, sex, violence, and cursing, but also references to things that aren't really as familiar to today's teens as they were to the teens of the 70s and 80s. It sometimes seems that Crutcher's character's are well developed because he uses them again and again, and this book is no exception. Finally, the plot in this one is more of vehicle for the characters than usual for Crutcher.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Meg Cabot is not fat.

Cabot, Meg, and Justine Eyre. Size 12 Is Not Fat. A Heather Wells mystery. Westminster, Md: Books on Tape, 2007.
It is hard to suspend your disbelief when the main character of an amateur detective story can't seem to suspend her own. Heather Wells is a size 12, 28 years old, and a former self-proclaimed "teen pop sensation". Heather has been forced, due to dire circumstances, to take a job as an assistant residence hall director. But, just a few weeks after students move into Fischer Hall for the fall semester, two girls die in quick succession. Both are found at the bottom of the elevator shaft, but for some poorly explained reason, no one except Heather suspects their deaths are in any way suspicious. Heather just happens to also have recently moved with her philandering ex-boyfriend's older brother to save on rent. Conner is both conveniently a private investigator with connections all over town and also evidently so mouth-wateringly-delicious that we must hear about it every other paragraph. Oh, also, her ex-boyfriend is heart-throb superstar Jordan Cartwright and he wants her back, but by now she's completely in love with his brother, Conner.
The plot of the book starts of far fetched (because what police force really doesn't investigate two bodies in the same place in a one week span of time?) But, it could be believable, if only Heather would stop making so many asides all the time. Obviously the humor and sass that should drive a chick-lit mystery is supposed to be in the asides. And who doesn't love a sassy average sized woman who is proud of her size? Evidently, not Meg Cabot. Some of Heather's asides dwell for an absurdly long time about the slender beauty and intelligence of other women around her and how much she longs for junk food and abhors exercise. Heather also tends to believe any thought she has is ridiculous and constantly second guesses herself. Anytime someone objects to one of her ideas she folds like a bad hand in Texas Hold 'em. Cabot, skinny herself, could definitely use a lesson in "lush women psychology" from Jennifer Crusie or Jennifer Weiner. The characters are flat, predictable, and read without much shifting, differentiation, or faceting by Justine Eyre in the CD book. Though, to be fair, Eyre had 20 characters in the story and only 5 of them were significantly different from the others. I guess she did what she could. The most realistic relationships seem to be the twisted ones between Heather and her mother and/or her former record label. At least the love scene was mercifully brief. Too bad the book on CD lasts an excruciatingly long time.

For a more personal and less restrained review; click here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Promises, promises

The past few weeks have kept me busy and unable to update this site. I also realized that I started to stray some from the more professional reader's advisory purpose of the site with the quickfire review challenge. On the other hand I had fun with that so I'm not apologizing.

Anyway a quick preview of what I'll be reviewing here, on Library Thing, and on the Reading Sarah Livejournal.

I've been on a series Chris Crutcher kick here lately so Deadline, Whale Talk, and Stotan! are all on the list.
Harmless by Dana Reinhardt
The Hollywood Nobody series by Lisa Samson

I'll also be doing reviews of two illustrated novels and then comparing and contrasting them. This may not be fair, but I read them both over the course of one night and it really struck me how very different Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian is from Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

Before I go I'd just like to say that Freaks and Geeks, a short lived tv series by Judd Apatow was much better the first time I watched. I can re-read the same book a thousand times, I have seen Princess Bride probably 200-300 times, and this is not an unusual trend for me. So it is very sad that other than the character "Bill" no one and no plot is truly holding my attention for a full second viewing.
Oh, and also, Kung Fu panda was adorable, energetic, and funny. I understand why it gets the criticism it gets, but I throughly enjoyed it. Skadoosh!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Library 2.0

You might notice that I'm pretty big on using web 2.0 for library or library-esque purposes. That all started with this:
kohafive: Review: The Time Traveler's Wife / Audrey Niffenegger

This link takes you to a review I did for a blogger application linked to a Koha open source integrated library system (the online library catalog for non-librarians.) This was set up for a Library Technologies class project during my MLS studies. (Though the review itself was written for another course.) Basically we had a blogger where we posted youtube video reviews/trailers, our own reviews, or other reviews and then we linked it back to the "url" line in the marc record. It wasn't always the prettiest but it worked. Also nice was the fact that we could link the blog to the item in the record and so doubling the usefulness of the Library 2.0 technology. I really liked the Liblime Koha platform, it was really librarian and patron friendly, and fairly intuitive. Blogspot has always been super-user friendly and easy to make professional-looking without devoting an insane amount of time to getting it running smoothly. I love my LibraryThing applications and how easy it was to link LT back to Blogspot and vice versa. That is probably one of my favorite things about the web and readers' advisory: once a good resource is found they often have a web (2.0) of other resources that are as useful and accessible.