Friday, April 24, 2009

Audiobooks I have loved and lost.

I had discovered audiobook reader Anna Fields/Kate Fleming just a few short months ago and have been listening to her almost non-stop since. I ordered everything that sounded interesting that she read. Then at an ARRT meeting I found out she had passed, tragically. And I finished listening to one of the most beautiful stories I've heard her read today. So I dedicate this entry to her. I hope when my mom finds out it is a mom-read that she gets the audiobook.

Bel Canto Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
Patchett tells you in the beginning what is going to happen in the end. But, you won't believe it.

A dinner party for an illustrious japanese business man goes horribly wrong when it is taken over by terrorists who mistakenly believe that the president of the unnamed south american country will be attending. The president stayed home to watch his favorite soap opera instead of attending what was supposed to be the most important night of his country's future. The terrorists had planned to have the president and be out of the building within just a few minutes, but when they find out he really and truly isn't there they decide to take everyone hostage. As the story unfolds what starts as a hostage situation becomes much more complex. The terrorists and hostages spend each day, every day, in close proximity. The terrorists are for the most part barely older than children, two of them are female. There are three older generals in charge, but they start to seclude themselves from the day to day terrorist business. The mansion of the party becomes the universe to everyone and roles become blurred. People are people, after all, regardless of whether they wear the old worn fatigues of a terrorist or the neatly pressed tuxedo or evening gown of a hostage.

Crying on the tollway into work is always awkward. Because no matter what the author tells you at the beginning, the ending will still shock and sadden you. The book unfolds at a leisurely pace, but still manages to be a fairly quick listen (only 9 discs!) Anna Fields/Kate Fleming had her leant her ability towards creating nuanced characters without ever distracting from the story. Patchett's and situations are so well drawn, her since of timing and exposition and dialogue could have been so stilted and far fetched but instead flow into complete suspension of disbelief.

This is definitely a book to recommend to my mom.

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Notes from the Midnight Driver

I should preface my review by saying it isn't entirely impartial. A few weeks ago the School Media Specialist at one of the middle schools I work with called and told me that Jordan Sonnenblick would be there the next day for their one book one school author visit for "Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie" and would I like to come hear him speak? Well, I'd been meaning to get over to the middle school around then of course I said yes.
Confession: NftMD is the first Sonnenblick book I've read. I have a huge pile of stuff to read at any given moment and the stuff I want to read sometimes gets pushed to the back. Plus, at my library "Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie" is ALWAYS checked out and I'm on hold, alright? The point is that I got to meet Jordan Sonnenblick and he was energetic and passionate and fantastic. And then I got to watch him speak to a big group of 6th graders and when he called two of them out for talking during his presentation you could almost see the middle school teacher he used to be rising up from the depths of the author he'd become. I'm glad I got the chance to meet him before I read any of his books actually. I was far less liable to trip over my own tongue trying to heap on my blundering brand of praise. I mean, I'm the awkward librarian and it only gets worse when I'm a fan. (You should have seen it when I met Caroline B. Cooney, oh man, talk about gauche.)

Anyway, here's my review of a book by a very nice guy:
Notes from the Midnight Driver Notes from the Midnight Driver by Jordan Sonnenblick

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
We all do stupid things. Alex did one of the stupidest. He got angry, got drunk, and decided that this was the perfect time to steal the car and yell at his dad for making him angry.

Luckily for Alex, he didn't get far and the only casualty was the neighbor's expensive* garden gnome.

Alex gets punished, super punished, by being forced to do community service at a retirement home. He's now company for one particular old man for three hours every Wednesday night until he works off 100 hours. And then the fun starts. Let's be honest here folks, none of what I'm telling you about this plot is going to surprise you. It is the feel good tearjerker of my night. And I did cry, whooboy. I bawled through the last few pages there. There are some characteristic Sonnenblick elements, even characters you might recognize, and that is what makes the story great. It is a familiar story, well and humorously told, and in a unique voice. To my mind, that's better than what 95% of books I read even come close to providing.

*$374 seemed expensive to Alex and to me. I think maybe he killed the Travelocity gnome and now we must all roam alone.

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Dear Zachary.

I just finished this movie five minutes ago. It took a minute to get into. Did I really want to watch what was beginning to look a lot like an MSNBC special report? It was even produced by MSNBC!

Then I forgot what the film seemed like and just watched. In horror and in awe I couldn't stop watching. Tears haven't even dried up yet. Kate and David and Kurt and Andrew and Zachary affected my life and my sense of well being. The films from Kurt and Andrew's youth look like films I've made with my friends. You know or you are people like them. Just hope nothing so horrible is ever allowed to happen in your life.

Also, I blame Canada.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Mistress of the Art of Death---Finally I am reviewing this book!

Who would you recommend this book to? This is a question, as readers' advisors, that we are to think about whenever we read anything. But most often my way of telling if a book is really going to stick with me (most YA fiction excluded) is if I want my mom to read it so I can discuss it with her. My mom has always been a huge influence on my reading. All the series I've ever been swept away on have been because she was reading them. Especially mysteries. My mom loves a good whodunit. And so do I.

So this blog now has a whole new standard for reviews defined this way: Books I would recommend to My Mom. She's going to love this standard. What it means is that when I find something I consider to be Mom-worthy (well-paced, well-written, re-readable or a series with a lot of appeal, basically an overall winner with little room for useless nonsense)I will mark the entries with the tag "My Mom." Don't expect this for every book, or even most of them. But today I have one for you. Mom, take this one to heart.

Yesterday I finished Ariana Franklin's Mistress of the Art of Death.
You might recognize this as the book in my online profile pictures. I've been reading snippets forever, but since I own it, all the other genre studies and need to reads kept taking precedence. Until I reached that hook moment where I couldn't put it down.

This book was recommended to me by Big Sleep Books in St. Louis as a read-alike to one of my all time favorite books, The Alienist by Caleb Carr. I love the Alienist because it has well known historical figures, a well-researched time period and setting that seeps from every page, and the early ways science and reason are employed to catch the killer astounded me in a way that surpassed even Sherlock Holmes. It is one of the most tightly stitched stories I've ever read. Beautiful and infinitely re-readable. There was another book to but it didn't quite match up to The Alienist.

Mistress of the Art of Death has all of the same appeal elements, but a different time period and a far pluckier hero. I've mentioned this book before, and how hard it is to get into. But once I was into it and fully committed I was wowed. The main character, Adelia, is so anomalous for the time, but she is exactly how I would have wanted to be had I been living in Henry II's England. And I love a book that teaches me things about history, science, and/or people without me ever really realizing it until I'm spouting off some random trivia and realize that I got it from a mere story. This book has all that in SPADES. And the reason it is slow in the beginning is because Franklin wants to make sure we really and truly get the era we are entering into, and though she fully admits to fudging some things for the story's sake, she does a brilliant job. The plot unfolds slowly because there is so much Era to contend with, but the plot never feels secondary to the setting. Really well played, and totally mom-worthy.

Wrong again it seems.

My last post, months ago now, was all about how I didn't like ARC of Fade to Blue. I didn't think kids would like it either. I was wrong. I gave it to some of my teens and they passed it around and everyone loved it.
Shocked face.

Cut to the reviews of another ARC I was reading in VOYA. Both the teen reviewer and the librarian/educator reviewer gave the book No More Us For You much higher marks then I would have ever dreamed.

Both of these books had felt unfinished or somehow lacking to me. Maybe I didn't read them closely enough. Maybe I need to rethink entirely how I review. On the other hand, maybe opinions are as opinions do. Nora Rawlinson of EarlyWord gave a talk recently that I attended on the connection between publishers and librarians. It turns out that librarians are more inclined to buy mid-level or poorly performing (sales-wise) books than other buyers. And I'm willing to bet that these are the books that we end up culling again and again from our shelves. And these aren't books that are critically panned necessarily. Some of my lowest circulation rates are on books that are festooned with medal after medal.

My point with this post is to really say that there is no accounting for taste, and what appeals to me might not appeal to you. And that I'm back, and ready to review for you. I've got an ARC of David Cullen's "Columbine" courtesy of Nancy Rawlinson and it is affecting me in ways I never thought that tragedy would. It happened my junior year in high school and I thought--up until now--that I was too cool to care. I was wrong.

Sometimes-- it is good to admit you can be wrong.