Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wither-very quick review

Wither (The Chemical Garden, #1)Wither by Lauren DeStefano

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rhine is trying to make extra money for herself and her twin Rowan by answering an ad to sell her marrow. The ad is a trap and she's captured by gatherers with a group of other girls. Out of the group 3 are chosen, including Rhine. The others are shot. This is a near future dystopia. Genetics created one perfect generation, but that generations children die young. Women at 20 and men at 25. Rhine and the other two girls are married off to the sheltered son of a wealthy doctor. Her husband is ridiculously unaware of reality. His father's mansion is designed to keep the outside world out, and those inside the walls are kept in as well. Rhine's conflicting emotions about her situation are believable. Sometimes she gets sucked into believing the lies and caring for her captors. The real conflict of the book seems to lie more in whether or not she follow through on her plans of escape or if she will give in to luxury and comfort. This book could have used a lot more tension and uncertainty, but the language and imagery moves the book along.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

More thoughts on Jane

In the original Jane Eyre, Jane leaves Rochester because he is married and it goes against her moral fiber to be with a man who is married. When she runs, she does not want him to find her (at least, IMHO.)

When Jane Moore runs it seems to be more because she thinks Nico Rathburn is still in love with his mentally ill wife. It does not seem to be a moral stand about anything, at least, not a strong moral stand. Later, she admits that with all she did to make herself disappear (mails her cell phone to San Fransisco, changes her name) she was still hoping he would find her and convince her to come back. So basically it was just a test of his love for her and in this case, he kinda fails. But HEAs for everyone because this is based off the slightly more optimistic sister's book.

This completely alters the message of the original book for me. Though, for once, Jane has one damn flaw.

Oh, and I meant to tell you that I don't hate all updated versions of classics. I liked "10 things I hate about you." And, well, I'm sure there are others too, some that I probably didn't even realize were updates of something else.

"Jane" is no "Jane Eyre"

I know that Jane Eyre is a problematic novel. Jane is basically one of the first Mary Sues, and by being virtuous and some kind of female paragon she gets her rich, but roguishly flawed, husband. Still, it is a problematic novel representative of its time. Women had no agency, no recourse, but Jane finds a situation unsuitable and leaves it despite what it costs her. As a teen I loved her for her strength to leave Rochester. She's unusual in that time for her decision to refuse two marriage opportunities, when through marriage was the only chance a woman had to exert power over her own life. I did not begrudge her for going back to the man her heart truly desired when he was (conveniently) freed from his burdens (though he paid for that freedom, because the novel has to be redemptive, somehow.) Anyway, I unabashedly love this novel with its problems and issues, and even though I think it paved the way for Twilight. So I wasn't sure how I'd feel about a YA novel update with a rockstar Mr. Rochester and a modern setting and characters.

Updated classics are often even more problematic than their originals. What makes originals more bearable is that we can look at them in context and say, "This was remarkably X for time Y, even though it is also Zist." That being said, I read through "Jane" in the span of three hours last night, when I really needed to be trying to sleep. I even cried at it a little. But really, I don't think I was crying for the book I was reading, but in memory of my most beloved Jane Eyre. Jane Moore (I'm not sure what the name changes were about, I'd figure this book is out of copyright and any naming issues would be moot, but I'm unsure of the legalities) is at a desperate point. Her parents have died leaving her nothing, she can't afford to go back to Sarah Lawrence in the Fall and the Spring semester is ending with her being essentially homeless. So she goes to a nanny placement agency and because of her anachronistic ways gets sent to nanny Maddy, daughter of rock star Nico Rathburn.

Aside from more edgy language (Mr. Rathburn likes the F word) and sexytimes (ugh, that just turned my stomach actually) the plotting and characters are virtually the same, just more modern versions with details twisted to fit into plausibility. The most interesting aspect of this was that the author tried to fit more obvious motivations into the novel than are found in Jane Erye. I think more modern literature spends a lot of time being introspective and this novel is no exception. Jane Eyre soldiered on despite all that happened to her. Jane Moore spends a bunch of time analyzing and explaining herself (and tries harder to figure out Rathburn than Eyre ever did to figure out Rochester.) The time-period related problematicness of Jane Eyre don't get resolved in this book. Bibi, the Bertha Mason character, is still very much othered. She's Brazilian instead of Creole, but the implication about foreign women of color is still there. And our understanding of mental illness seems to be stuck in the Brontes time, because Rathburn keeps her locked away and keeps her secret and acts like he doesn't know where she is. He acts like her condition, which he blames himself for exacerbating (and I'm with him on this one), is still so shameful and secret the only way to deal with it is to lock her on the third floor with no one but an alcoholic for company/healthcare. Awesome work, Nico Rathburn. At least, unlike Mr. Rochester, he doesn't act like her whole family deceived him by not telling him of a hereditary history of mental illness. Cause that made me hate Rochester in the original Jane Eyre, so much. "You douche!" My teenaged brain cried on first reading, "Don't blame her for things that are Not Her Fault, and don't act like it would have stopped you from marrying her in the first place." And if you haven't read Wide Sargasso Sea, which is Jane Eyre from Bertha Mason's p.o.v, I suggest you do that to understand what I'm getting at here.

The thing I do like Mr. Rochester for more in Jane Eyre than Nico Rathburn in Jane is that Mr. Rochester takes in Adele even though he doesn't believe she is his, and treats her as well as he knows how. But, Nico Rathburn had to have a paternity test to prove Maddy was his and all that tired bullshit. Family is more than DNA, jerkface.

I didn't particularly enjoy modern Jane more than Original Jane. O.J. was really going against the grain of her station and time. M.J. was really mostly doing what was expected, to fall in love with a rockstar, and just by being an unflawed Mary Sue, she got her man. I really did not like the author for mentioning a couple of times that Jane Moore "ate whatever she wanted without getting fat." I don't really remember Jane and food in the original novel, but if it was in there at all it was probably there because of the Bronte siblings effed relationship with food. (Evidently in their horrible lives food and eating was the one thing they could control, and so they controlled it by not eating. There is speculation that the ones that supposedly died from consumption either worsened their conditions by their eating disorders or never had consumption at all. I learned this in my Romance novel genre study and no longer have any citations, sorry.) Anyway, given historical context and modern day food issues and fat acceptance issues, bad form there April Lindner. Oh, and bad form with the body image stuff on Brenda (Grace Poole) too. Bringing up that she was mannish as a negative image? And why didn't you twist up the whole novel a little more? Why are there no noticeable people of color as main (and non-servant) characters? Why is not one person any kind of (gender or sexuality) queer? Why is this book just the original with different wording?

I don't know. Even with a lot of awkwardness in passages (there was a lot of wording and backstory that took me out of the flow of the main story) and all the aforementioned stuff, the book still compelled me. I think mostly because I wanted to see what would change. In the light of day, I'd rather have spent that time re-reading the classic.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


In a year I'll forget I ever read this book. But I'll be drifting off to sleep and will have a quick flash of rememberance of the architectural drawing of the detailed floorplan of the house, with the mother lying in the fetal position on her bed and the two boys looking for their father in the other rooms. Then my mind will drift to the pattern on the wall of the living room on the cover, and then I will remember how Harvey turns invisible, and I will want to read it again.

HarveyHarvey by Hervé Bouchard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A heart attack kills the father of two young boys, leaving their mother to raise them alone. One of the boys, Harvey, is obsessed with an old movie that no one else cares about.

Reading this book is like finding a moleskine someone left at a table in an independent coffee shop. You could pick it up, flip through, digest quickly and forget everything as soon as you close the last page. The book would seem confusing and pretensious and the character drawings juvenile. Or you could savor, take your time, and still feel the book resonate in your head long after you close it.

The art, while the characters are stripped down and simplistic, the textures and colors and backgrounds are so beautiful and detailed. Patterns drift off clothing onto the page and reform to mean something else.I want to take the wallpapers and fabric patterns off the pages and dress my house and myself in them. I want to live in this book, until it gets too sad.

The story of grief is so simple seeming, while at the same time, asks big questions. In addtion to grief the book touches on questions of existance. How often do you ponder that everyone knows a slightly different version of someone then everyone else knows. The father I know is not the exact same father my sister knows, while at the same time, he is father to us both, and it is the same for Harvey and his brother Canton and their father. The pages without text sometimes speak as loudly as those with a paragraph.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer

I love a good pun, so of course I had to pick up this book as soon as I heard the title. Usually this pun-based readers advisory system fails, but this time I was not at all disappointed.

Hold Me Closer, NecromancerHold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Samhain LaCroix is just existing post-high school. He has a crappy fast food job, but good friends and a supportive mom and sister. One otherwise normal day an encounter with a bad customer changes Sam's life forever. The customer, Douglas, is a local necromancer and one of the most powerful paranormal people in Seattle. No one dares cross him. He recognizes that Sam has a small necromancy power and from that point on makes Sam's life hell. When threats don't work Douglas actually kidnaps Sam.

While in captivity Sam meets Brid, a female were-fae hybrid roughly his age. Despite the awful circumstances--sparks fly between them and being held together helps make the situation more bearable for both, especially since Sam is being "taught" necromancy by Douglas. Unfortunately (but unsurprisingly) for Sam, Douglas's idea of teaching more closely resembles torture.

The hijinks are wacky but the non-stop wisecracking is broken by moments scary, sad, and touching. The characters, especially Sam and co. (especially his best friend, Ramon), are quickly but expertly developed. Actual character motivations drive actions, which is refreshing in the paranormal YA genre (which is often plagued by characters only reacting in ways to drive the plot, no matter how against character the reactions seem.) Characters are added in through-out the story, including a sassy 10 year old ghost and Brid's protective family, setting up for future sequels while helping to wrap this adventure up nicely.

This book was just the right mix of slacker redemption story and paranormal romance. The humor didn't overwhelm the serious bits or vice versa. As an added bonus, each chapter heading is a song reference, and while some might be a little old...I doubt many people will have trouble getting the joke(s). The paranormal genre is oversaturated, especially in the YA market, but this fresh book is well worth checking out whether you are a long-time genre fan or just want to dip a toe in to see what all the fuss is about.

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Monday, April 4, 2011

Tyger Tyger (not Tiger Tiger)

I really enjoyed this story. Every time I had to put it down I couldn't wait to get back to it. But, I don't think that the Chicago of this book is representative of the city I live in. The story is good though and I don't want this one to get lost in a sea of Irish-flavored urban fantasy. So if you like Marr, Black, or Clare don't forget to try Hamilton.

Tyger Tyger (Goblin Wars, #1)Tyger Tyger by Kersten Hamilton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Teagan Wylltson leads a busy life. She has an exciting job at a primate house, a supportive best friend, and a fantastic and supportive family. One day she comes home from work to find a cousin she didn't know existed would be moving in with them. But Finn brings more with him than just a troubled foster family history, he unintentionally brings an entire fantasy world and attendant monstrous creatures.

Hamilton has based her elaborate mythology on Irish faery lore, and she does a great job with integrating the mythology into the story. The sidhe that terrorize Teagan's family and wreak havoc on her life are terrifying and the tension doesn't let up often in this tale. When their father is kidnapped by the faeries, Teagan and her little brother Aidan must go with Finn into the evil faeries lair to save him. In the midst of turmoil we see a budding relationship between Teagan and Finn (who are not actually related) and a rekindled relationship with Finn's biological (and their mother's adoptive) grandmother Mamieo. This book has a little bit of everything, and while it doesn't focus as much on the romance as Wicked Lovely, is a great read-alike for people who like that brand of urban fantasy. The characters seem very much like real people, people you've met. They just happen to have very unreal problems.

The book suffers from a few lapses in timing/pacing and locale. People who don't live in the Chicagoland area would probably never notice how strange the covering of ground by this family seems. Chicago is a place of many diverse and distinct neighborhoods, and this book doesn't acknowledge that at all. The pacing also seemed off, this story takes place over the course of months maybe? But it feels like a day with disproportionate amounts of time spent on Teagan's time in the ape house. It was a great way to get to know Teagan and be introduced the the story, but then important parts of the actual story felt rushed and told more than shown. All in all this book is a promising beginning to another urban fantasy YA series. It's set apart by being lighter on the romance and heavier on the lore than many of the other series that seem to focus too much on eternal love and finding The One in a post-Twilight world.

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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Adorable Chipmunk in Slow Motion

I got you this to ease the pang of loneliness while I'm gone.

House Hunters

Short blog hiatus as we begin the process of finding and buying a mortgage, I mean, a house.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Trend Watch: So Tiring For Librarians

Vampires, Werewolves, Fairies, Angels, Zombies, Dragons and now dystopian and/or post-apocalyptic futures are all the rage. And as each new trend is noticed and trumpeted by the press at large I roll my eyes. Oh really, New York Times? Dystopian lit is what all the kids these days are into? They've given up the sparkly vampires are going full force into a bleak future? They love the trend so much that get behind James Frey's "sweatshop" model and read shoddy second rate books* with vim and vigor?

I'm too tired to point out exactly what it is about the linked piece that bothers me so much, but it really does. Maybe it is the meandering tone and the implication that young adult authors don't know their audiences and conversely the about face the article does and implies that teens aren't smart enough to see through the crap some YA authors try to pull.

Blogging while tired (tired in general, and tired of big "watch out for this new YA trend" articles.)
*I haven't read I Am Number Four so anything I say about it here is Not My Opinion.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Caturday: primed and ready.

Because I just couldn't think of anything else to do for this Caturday how about a picture of Tux with Lasers primed.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Sweetness of Salt

Sometimes I think agree with the idea that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. I know a little about the craft of writing. I tend to analyze books with what little I know about writing fiction in the foreground and it makes me a little hypercritical about things like character's following through on their motivations, and when I can actually see the editing process in the finished product ("You should add more about how she loved to bake as a teen right here," the editor says pointing to a innocuous chapter that previously had nothing to do with baking.) So I was probably a little harsher on this book than needed.

The Sweetness of SaltThe Sweetness of Salt by Cecilia Galante

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Julia has never really understood her moody (and much older) sister Sophie. She dreads Sophie's return for her high school graduation, and the experience lives up to her fears. Julia is underachiever Sophie's opposite in every way and has her whole life mapped out in front of her. Before Sophie leaves in as much of a whirlwind as she came in she gives Julia two gifts: a car and a place to drive the car. Sophie wants Julia to come up to visit her in the house she's renovating in Vermont (which will also be a bakery.) Julia refuses, of course, until she finds out her parents and sister had been keeping a secret from her for her entire life.

The rest of the story is about Julia's time in Vermont with Sophie helping her fix up the old house/bakery and her burgeoning but different relationships with two guys. Revelations and drastic personality/life shifts become almost common place in the last 1/4th of the book.

The writing is heavy handed. (Way way way too many metaphors serving as plot points and pretending to be character development. Please, you don't need to hit me over the head with your literary devices.) To be fair, the author knew what she wanted to do with the metaphors she chooses. The main problem is that very early on, I did too.

At the same time, it was an engrossing read. I wanted to know more about this family secret and more about the thinly developed romance between Julia and the boy across the street. Many times I found Julia to be an obnoxious and bratty narrator, but the methodically paced out revelations saved her from being unbearable. Julia is not the only one with character development problems. The parents in this book do some really loathsome and detrimental things to both daughters, especially Sophie. All of which is glossed over and given a shine during the unnecessary epilogue.

Who should read this book?

Realistic fiction readers who like some drama and a hint of romance will enjoy this book. Despite my criticisms this book would be popular with anyone who has a difficult sibling relationship to work through. What sibling relationship isn’t at least a little difficult at times? It also really was a very well paced and plotted novel with some lovely descriptions.

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Metaphors are kind of awesome, right? They are a way for us relate anything back our own experiences or at least experiences we can image having. Unfortunately Galante just got a little heavy handed with her metaphor shaker, and much like salt, too much metaphor is bad for your heart.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Another blog post about posting blog posts.

So I've been trying to come up with a schedule for this blog and of course I want to have fun names for everything, like my lovely friend Caitlin over at Out of the Loop who has "Mentionable Mondays."
I was thinking about "News on Tues" but I can't tell if the cheese factor is too overwhelming. Then I decided to just go for it anyway.

The plan is to post three times a week.

1x News on Tues
- will consist of me either reviewing an ARC (so new it hasn't even been released!) or something that just came out in the past month. Sometimes it might be news about the blog (like today!) or some noteworthy Library World thing that just happened.

2x Teen Services Thursdays
-mostly ruminations and reflections related to working with that tricky 13-19 demographic. There might be some reviews crammed in here too. Well, yeah, that's really likely actually. Put those reviews where ever you can fit em I always say.

3x Caturday!*
-by which I mean anything goes on Saturdays (including but not limited to pictures of cats!)

So since me talking about this is going to count as News for this Tues please be prepared for some aspect of Teen Services this Thursday.

*please note that Caturday may switch on occasion to Funday depending on how busy I am that weekend.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


I, like many people, suffered through two of the worst years of my life with painful orthodontia. In addition to the usual braces I had a device attached to my top teeth that fitted over the entire roof of my mouth and made speaking clearly nearly impossible. The device was a palate widener. Once a day a member of my family would crank it twice and work towards breaking my upper palate so my overlapping front teeth would not overlap anymore. Luckily I only had that particular torture for a few months of the whole ordeal.

If you think my experience was bad (and it was, oh yes, it was) it was NOTHING compared to what dental hell Raina Telgemeier shows us in her awesome memoir "Smile."

SmileSmile by Raina Telgemeier

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Raina had just gotten braces on her teeth when a far more serious dental tragedy struck. After a Girl Scout meeting she tripped and fell. One of her front teeth was knocked out completely, the other one was knocked far into her gums. The rest of the memoir reflects on Raina's experiences with corrective orthodontia (and other specializations that will give the average reader dental nightmares) as well as chronicling her puberty and growing up processes. Raina isn't always brave about what is happening to her mouth, but she's always relatable. In fact, the art, the story, the characters are all so relatable (to someone with a middle class background and decent health and dental insurance, anyway.) Though dental drama and orthodontia seem mundane, what they really are are the things that those of us who've experienced them don't just forget, but actively push to the corners of our memories. Bravo to Raina Telgemeier for being able to pull the experience out and use it to flesh out her coming of age story into something recognizable to every kid who ever had headgear or remembers what it felt like to have a guy reach into your mouth, tighten a wire, and make eating painful to impossible for the next several days.

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Side Notes:
One thing I don't mention in the review is just exactly how hyper-aware I was in the reading of this memoir that as painful and awkward as the experience with orthodontia was as a child, it was a privilege to be able to experience it. Not a privilege in the "oh it has been an honor to share these years with these braces" but more of a "I was a privileged person whose parents had the resources to provide me with a lovely smile."

As a side note, I met Raina Telgemeier last year at C2E2. She was in the artists alley with her husband and I recognized the book she had piles of on her table as "Smile." I told her how popular the novel was in our Library and how nice it was to meet her. I noticed then, and you can see in her author photo, that her smile is really quite beautiful.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

90 Second Newberys

(This post is cross-posted to the Young Adult Services Forum's "So like YA know" blog.)
Let's face it, when it comes to encouraging literacy and promoting libraries through viral video the results are....mixed. But if we give patrons the chance to create videos out of their favorite stories I think the results have the potential to be amazing.
James Kennedy is the author of The Order of Odd Fish and from what I can tell an all-around stand up guy. We've been email introduced by a mutual awesome acquantaince and James will be coming to my Library for a presentation this summer. I also did a program proposal for ILA this year for a Tween/Teen Local Author Panel and James jumped right on board with that idea. Though we've only corresponded via email I think it is fair assessment that he is all about using his talents to encourage literacy for all.

And in that spirit he recently announced a contest on his blog!
Big news! I am pleased to announce, with the New York Public Library, the 90-Second Newbery Video Contest! Thanks to Betsy Bird at Fuse #8 for her help in getting this off the ground.

I think this is a brilliant idea and I want to see some stellar videos as a result (some already exist and you can see them on James' website or on the link to Betsy Bird above!)

Okay, so here are the rules
1. Your video should be 90 seconds or less. (Okay, okay: if it’s three minutes long but absolute genius, we’ll bend the rules for you. But let’s try to keep them short.)

2. Your video has to be about a Newbery award-winning (or Newbery honor-winning) book. Here’s a list of all the winners.

3. Your video must condense the plot of the book in 90 seconds or less. Again, exceptions will be made for something really ingeniously bonkers, but it has to be related to a Newbery winning book.

4. Upload your videos to YouTube or Vimeo or whatever and send me the link at kennedyjames [at] gmail [dot] com. Make the subject line be “90 SECOND NEWBERY” and please tell me your name, age, where you’re from, and whatever other comments you’d like to include, including whether you’d like me to link to your personal site. You can give an alias if you want; I understand privacy concerns.

5. Sending the link to me grants me (James Kennedy) the right to post it on my blog and to other websites where I sometimes post content (like Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and to share at public readings, school visits—and hopefully the 90-Second Film Festival at the New York Public Library in the Fall of 2011.

6. Deadline is September 15, 2011.

This sounds so awesome. I'm going to be encouraging every eligible person to create and submit an entry and I think you should too!

Friday, February 4, 2011

A hiatus I forgot to tell you about...

So 2 weddings (one of them my own) and a whole lot of blogennui while pursing interests outside of the Library World* has resulted in a lack of updates. But, the work/life balance is starting to head towards middle ground again and I'm going to get back to reviewing here soon. I've been reading lots of stuff and some of it I even liked. And a hiatus (even an unplanned one) is good because it means I've been doing a lot of thinking about my reviewing process and writing this blog and how I want to improve on it.

*Knitting is just one of the newish hobbies I'm pursuing! Yeah, just one of them! Photo on 2011-01-14 at 22.36