Friday, December 30, 2016

Read in December 2016

Last month I read the following:

1. Three Dark Crowns - Kendare Blake
2. Come What May - A.M. Arthur

picture credit:  Reading, Herman Richir

Friday, December 23, 2016

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Miseducation of Cameron Post review

The Miseducation of Cameron Post
by Emily M. Danforth
Balzer + Bray
February 2012

First line: "The afternoon my parents died, I was out shoplifting with Irene Klauson."

Emily Danforth offers a sensitive and detailed portrait of Cameron Post, a young woman growing up in rural Montana, slowly coming to terms with her gay identity and the relationships with her family and friends throughout her youth.

This is a heartbreaking book. It's a long book - clocking in at a whopping 470 pages it's a real door-stopper. I think that alone will dissuade a lot of readers. But, for those who aren't put off by the length and enjoy a good slow wallow in sad feelings, this is a perfect read. Cameron painfully blames herself for her parents deaths and silently suffers with her miserable, religious spinster aunt. She eventually finds refuge with her high school swim team, but as rumors start to swirl about her sexual identity, she finds her aunt all-too-ready to ship her off to a camp to cure gay teens, while Cameron's feminine girlfriend pretty much gets off scot-free.

The truly horrifying thing is that the characters are all so nuanced and so real. Danforth could have easily made this story into a Dickensian dystopia, but refrained from doing so. The administrators at Promise, the de-gaying camp aren't monsters. They are all genuinely nice, yet terribly misguided people who honestly believe they are doing the right thing and in their own way are trying to help others. Cameron falls into a rhythm at the camp, discovering small ways to rebel, but ultimately, she ends up playing a waiting game, waiting to turn 18, so that as a legal adult, they'd have no right to detain her.

Danforth's beautiful writing accurately captures the stark feel of the prairie. Again, the length and the slow pacing were super challenging for me, but interest in this book may be piqued once it is released as a movie.

Compare to:
Tessa Masterson Will Go to Prom - Emily Franklin
Pink - Lily Wilkinson
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe - Benjamin Alire Sanchez

I borrowed this book from the library.

Friday, December 9, 2016

"Perfectly good"

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about library donations. Mainly, about how very often, the very things you want the most... are not what is actually donated. Of course, everyone knows this about book donations. Librarians would gladly welcome a box full of new NYT bestsellers, or a bag full of the latest season of popular TV shows on DVD. Instead what we usually get is a dusty, musty box from someone's garage - plenty of items that are yellowed, torn covers, missing pages, but still "perfectly good." In book resale parlance, these are called "reading copies" - still readable, but in terrible shape and basically with a very low to nonexistent monetary value. There are a few gems, to be sure, but mainly we take these donations for the "feel good" factor. Many patrons will become incensed if you refuse a donation! What is wrong with you? These books are "perfectly good!" You're a library, aren't you? Why aren't you hopping up and down with excitement over my box of dusty, mildewed books? So, to save a fight, we just take everything that's offered. Rightly, or wrongly, the patron walks away feeling happy that they've accomplished a "good deed" and we fish out a few nice items and (quietly) recycle the rest.

Now that I'm the branch manager of a large suburban public library, I've been coming across donations of a different sort. Our library is located on a beautiful set of grounds - admittedly, not terribly well-cared for, but there is a reading garden, a small wooded area, and a meditation maze walking path, along with an outdoor story circle and several benches dotted about. Overall, it's a lovely space, and I'm very lucky to work here. We get a lot of "offers" for donations for the park! In the past year, people have offered up:

  • More benches
  • Evergreen bushes
  • A new garden installation
  • Fresh bulb plantings
  • Several truck loads of wood chips
  • Even more benches
  • More public art sculptures
  • A mural
  • A climbing playground structure
  • Grass re-seeding
  • Recycled tires
  • Rosebushes
  • Yet more benches
  • Pinwheels and other yard decor for the lawn
  • More recycled tires
  • A Little Free Library box
Most of the things on this list are not our top priority, but we have accepted a few of them. Yes, to the rosebushes and the bulbs! (Even though they died out soon after being planted.) Yes, to the wood chips. (Even though it was, perhaps, one truckload more wood chips than we really would have preferred.) 

But, I find myself saying, "no" to a lot of our garden donations. No to the public art (too large for our space), no to the evergreens (too expensive to install, no way to upkeep them), no to the benches (we already have 27,) no to the playground structure (too expensive to install, possible safety liability.) No to the load of tires (we already have more than enough), no to the Little Free Library (competes with our used bookstore sales, and sadly, people tend to fill up LFL's with junk anyway.)

Wow, if I thought patrons got huffy over books being turned away, I had no idea that people would get so upset over our refusal to take their garden offerings. "Well, what am I supposed to do with all these old tires??" Uh, I dunno. Not make them our problem?

I'm walking a fine line between having an involved, engaged community, who are contributing to make our shared space wonderful, but at the same time, not being the place where unwanted garbage is dumped (while people pretend it's a wonderful gift.) Happily, most patrons eventually see sense with a little talking to. 

At first blush, the idea of having our lawn full of pinwheels sounded whimsical and fun. However, when the patron hedged that the pinwheels were coming from their garden, and they were a little worn out, but still "perfectly good," I decided to follow-up with a gentle reference interview. 

"So why are you taking the pinwheels out of your garden?"
"Well, they are a little worn out."
"Do you think I could see a few of them, before you move ahead with installing them?"

And here, the patron brought me a box of the most tattered pinwheels I've ever seen, torn-up, sunburnt and covered in dust. My initial reaction was pure Simon Cowell, "It's a no from me, I'm afraid." But, out of politeness, I continued to gently lead the patron to the logical conclusion.

"Are they all in this condition?"
(somewhat defensively) "These are pretty good."
"What inspired you to want to donate them here? Do you think these would look better on the lawn here than at your house?"
"Um... they look okay."
"Do you think it would make people happy to see them?"
"Why don't you recycle or throw them out? Then purchase new ones, which we'd be happy to install."
"I can't afford to do that!"
"This one is torn. This one doesn't spin anymore."
"So you don't want them?"
"All right."

Friday, December 2, 2016

Read in November

Last month I read the following:

1. Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly - Anthony Bourdain

picture credit:  Reflection, Francis John Wyburd

Friday, November 18, 2016

Lucky review

by Rachel Vail
May 2008

First line: "Our toaster is moody."

Eighth-grader Phoebe Avery has led a charmed life: good looks, good grades, she's friends with the popular set, and her parents make a "comfortable" living that includes designer clothes, their own maid and trips to Europe. She's in the midst of planning a major bash to celebrate her eighth-grade graduation when everything starts crashing down around her ears. Her mother loses her high-powered job, and suddenly, the whole family must economize.

I found Phoebe bratty and difficult to like. What sort of eighth-grader angrily demands to purchase a Vera Wang dress? The first clue that all is not right occurs when Phoebe dramatically throws away the family's broken toaster. Her mother angrily fishes it out of the trash, very out of character. Phoebe, of course, has only been imitating her mother who had recently thrown away a slightly imperfect tea kettle.

What is strikingly real about the book is Phoebe's excruciating self-consciousness. It's painful to read, because it takes you right back to that feeling of being in middle-school, and terrified of not fitting in. As the youngest of three sisters, Phoebe always feels like she's trying to prove herself. Phoebe feels like she's barely holding onto her spot in her social circle, as her best friend Kirstyn insists on taking their big graduation party to greater and greater excess. Poor Phoebe is so distracted with her family's money worries, she can hardly spare a thought for Lucas, a boy at school that she's been interested in.

There's something very, very intense about going through tight times at this age - Phoebe is old enough to understand very clearly exactly what is going on, but young enough to be completely unable to help out, or support herself at all. She's utterly humiliated at the idea of having to shop at thrift stores and can't bear to tell her friends the truth about her reduced circumstances. Many tween readers may get a vicarious thrill out of reading this, knowing that if their own situation mirrors Phoebe's, at least there's a very good chance that they'll handle it with better grace than she does. This is the first in a trilogy.

Compare to:
Everything I Was - Corinne Demas

The Not-So-Great Depression - Amy Koss

Cross Your Heart, Connie Pickles - Sabine Durant
The Daughters - Joanna Philbin

I borrowed this book from the library.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Read in October 2016

Last month I read the following:

1. The Midnight Queen - Sylvia Izzo Hunter

picture credit:  A Quiet Moment, Fernand Toussaint

Friday, November 4, 2016

Election 2016!

In general, I try to avoid getting political in my blog... but I have to say, our library is serving as an Early Voting site and as a polling place on Election Day, Tuesday Nov. 8, and the lines are the longest that I have seen. I've noticed long lines every day! Voter turnout has been truly stupendous. I do think that's great - when everyone votes, the winner is truly the will of the people.

Political circus aside, I know our patrons have been upset by the loss of our meeting room. A lot of our regularly scheduled programs have had to be moved or cancelled in order to accommodate the election. In truth, it is a bit of a hassle, but I don't mind it! It's only once every 4 years, after all!

I know a lot of our staff are getting frustrated by this election as well. It can be tiring to feel like a broken record, answering the same questions over and over again, about voting dates and times and places, about voter registration status and so on as the phone rings off the hook all day. Personally, this is another one that I am not bothered by at all. I'm always glad to help people, and there's nothing more satisfying than answering the phone and immediately being able to spout out the correct answer! (Because it's the 10th person who asked today!)

I've been asked if I enjoy helping people register to vote and in a kidding-not-kidding tone, been asked if I am more eager to help citizens in the "correct" party. Not at all! I pride myself on staying neutral and truly helping everyone. I might inwardly grimace when a rabid supporter of a party I don't care for successfully registers to vote, but you would never guess it from my professional demeanor!

Just a few days more, and this will all be behind us.

Friday, October 28, 2016

This Savage Song review

This Savage Song
Victoria Schwab
Greenwillow Books
June 2016

First line: "The night Kate Harker decided to burn down the school chapel, she wasn't angry or drunk. She was desperate." 

I loved this fresh, inventive urban paranormal fantasy. In Schwab's dystopian future, the world has come under attack from monsters of our own making - Corsai, Malchai and Sunai, each type springing up when humans commit violent acts. They are kind of like fey-folk, kind of like vampires, kind of totally their own thing.

Super-rare, Sunai only burst into existence after mass murders. Corsai are quite vampire-like, and Malchai are simply ravening monsters that roam the countryside, keeping most humans penned into small fortress-like cities.

Kate Harker is the daughter of a famed crime-boss who wants to prove her toughness to her father, more than anything. August Flynn is a Sunai who hates his hunger for human souls and struggles to reconcile his love of music with it's deadly effects. I liked his unconventional family; murderous Leo who gives in to his taste for killers and sweet Ilsa who models astonishing restraint each provide August with a completely different path that he might try to follow. August Flynn seemed like a smarter, more thoughtful Edward Cullen, that's for sure.

There's the very lightest hint of romance, as August goes undercover at Kate's school, but nothing really develops on that front. Which makes perfect sense! With a city under siege and competing human crime syndicates, who has time to think about romance?

Moody and atmospheric, perfect for Halloween, I'll recommend this to any teen readers who enjoy reading magical books about tortured souls. 

Compare to:
Shiver - Maggie Stiefvater
The Replacement - Brenna Yovanoff
Chime - Franny Billingsly
White Cat - Holly Black

Friday, October 21, 2016

Baby 365

We did it! This year I vowed to read a book day to my daughter. We finished up reading our 365th board book this month, but we'll keep on reading! This has been such a neat experience. Of course, we have a lot (really a lot) of books around the house, but this project has allowed me to explore what our library has to offer, and given me the excuse to shop for more.

I also felt really humbled by statistics that show nearly half of children are not read to every day. Reading nearly every day was a challenge! And there were a lot of days that we skipped, and a lot of days where we'd read 4 or 5 books. So technically, we didn't read "every day." If a librarian can't read Every. Single. Day without fail, who can?

It has been really fun reading old favorites with my child, and reading those books which were always my favorites to perform during storytime and see her reaction. She likes making chomping noises for The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and patting the fluffy dog in Touch and Feel Farm. I also discovered a lot of new authors, and even found that some of my daughter's favorites were affordable books we picked up at the dollar store. Her all-time favorite has to be Jungle Noises. "What sound does a tiger make? Rawr!"

Friday, October 14, 2016

Inside Out review

Inside Out
by Maria V. Snyder
April 2010

First line: "I'm Trella. I'm a scrub."

In a dystopian future, Trella is a "scrub" responsible for cleaning and maintaining the pipes that service the "uppers" or higher castes. Everyone lives in a building only known as "Inside" - there are rumors of an "Outside" but no one's seen it in their lifetime. As a reader, you know that there are one of two possibilities: either they are underground, or in a spaceship. My money was on spaceship, pretty quickly on. Time is referenced to only in weeks, which gives everything a pleasantly alien feel - the characters refer to themselves as "x" weeks old, and seem to use the phrase "a hundred weeks" the way we'd refer to something as "a year or two." They speak about "one million weeks" the way we might say, "an eternity" and it's a commonly held belief that they'll find the way Outside when the clock reaches one million weeks. Children are raised in creches by their Care Mothers until they graduate to a job assignment. Overcrowding is a real problem on the lower levels, yet the "Pop Cops" still inexplicably test everyone to ensure that no one is making use of birth control. Failure to obey results in being fed to "Chomper" a.k.a. the ship's recycling system.

The story was a slow build-up to what for me was the super-obvious "reveal" of the novel. But I did like the character of Tris. She's petite, and not at all girly. She's a bit aloof from the other scrubs, hence her nickname, "Queen of the Pipes." Cogon, another one of the scrub workers, seems almost like a father figure to her. He arranges for her and her childhood friend Logan to meet with Domotor, a wheelchair-bound prophet looking for the Gateway which he believes will take them Outside. There is the mildest hint of romantic interest, when she meets Riley, one of the uppers who secretly agrees to help her search for plans to Gateway, which they hope will take them Outside. If this book was skewed for just a little older, I'd say we have the beginnings of a Trella/Logan/Riley love triangle, but that situation doesn't appear to rear its ugly head here. I'll recommend this for middle-grade readers and young teens.

Compare to:
The Pledge - Kimberly Derting
Birthmarked - Caragh M. O'Brien
Across the Universe - Beth Revis
Glow - Amy Kathleen Ryan

I borrowed this book from the library.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Read in September

Last month I read the following:

1. This Savage Song - Victoria Schwab
2. The Angel and the Highlander - Donna Fletcher

picture credit:  Reading on the Rocks, John George Brown, 1877

Friday, September 23, 2016

Fantastic Beasts trailer

Hooray! Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is right around the corner. I'm still kind of amazed that a whole movie is being made out of what was a very slim book of Harry Potter "extra material" with essentially no plot. Still, I guess we've all seen films made from less!


Friday, September 16, 2016

Shut Out review

Shut Out 
by Kody Keplinger 
September 2011

First line: "There is nothing more humiliating than being topless in the backseat of your boyfriend's car when someone decides to throw an egg at the windshield."

Keplinger delivers a very capable re-telling of Greek playwright Aristophanes's Lysistrata. In the original play, a comedy, the title character Lysistrata arranges a "sex-strike" to convince the armies of Athens and Sparta to stop fighting.

opening scenes of Shut Out are like a slap in the face, and I mean that in the best possible way. Readers are rudely reminded that most high school boys are not dreamy romantics. Indeed, most are horny, inconsiderate jerks. Teen Lissa's boyfriend, football quarterback Randy (get it? Randy??) barely pays attention to her - even when they're making out, he's busy planning some sophomoric prank to play on the soccer team. While many schools enjoy a football rivalry between schools, Hamilton High has an internal rivalry between the football team and the soccer team. Fed up with Randy's disgusting behavior, Lissa decides to enlist her friends in shutting out the boys' advances until they can behave like gentlemen.

the meantime, Lissa develops a growing interest in Cash Sterling, leader of the soccer team. Even though she's underwhelmed by Randy's charm, she's afraid of letting down her dad and her brother, both big football fans. It's obvious that Cash is the better choice for Lissa but it takes them a while to figure it out. They hooked up briefly a year ago, but due to a misunderstanding never pursued things. Lissa is simultaneously bossy, detail-oriented and perfectionist, yet still manages to come across as a lovable nerd who is just trying to figure out how to master social skills.

Of course, the book suffers from the same weaknesses as the original play: an overemphasis on sex, and a somewhat juvenile approach to relationships. On the whole though, Keplinger's version warms and humanizes Aristophanes rather two-dimensional characters. All of the characters, including Lissa, her family, her circle of girlfriends, even disgusting Randy, really ring true. Cash is a hero, but not in a "too good to be believed" way. There's a lot of discussion, from a feminist perspective, of the double-standard for sexually-active young men and women. Keplinger has her finger on the pulse of how teens speak. I'll recommend this book for older teens.

Compare to:
The Duff - Kody Keplinger
XVI - Julia Karr
Dairy Queen - Catherine Gilbert Murdock
A Long Way From You - Gwendolyn Heasley

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Scarlet review

by A.C. Gaughen
Walker Childrens
February 2012

First line: "No one really knows 'bout me."

In this re-telling of the Robin Hood tale, Will Scarlet has been re-cast as a girl. She is, of course, a tomboy, who frequently masquerades as a young lad. Scarlet is a grumpy loner, who can't seem to figure out how to fend off Little John's advances and admit her feelings for Robin Hood - to herself, or to him.

I found the dialect a bit of an annoying distraction, but I got used to it fairly quickly.  Imagine a Cockney-accented Katniss, and you'll have an idea of what Scarlet is like. As tough as Scarlet is, I wish that she had been able to get Little John out of the picture a little faster... she's oddly passive when he shows interest. There are also some terribly awkward scenes when a young woman has a crush on Scarlet, not realizing Scarlet's true identity.

There is a great twist at the end, and I liked the treatment of Maid Marian. The medieval England setting is rustic and there are plenty of hardscrabble characters just barely eking by. Still, the grittiness of the story is not overwhelming, and for romance or violence, the book is relatively tame.

Compare to:
Rowan Hood - Nancy Springer
The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins
The Forestwife - Theresa Tomlinson
The Thief - Megan Whalen Turner

I purchased this book.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Read in August

Last month I read the following:

1. What to Do With a Houseful of Memories: A Heartfelt Guide to Downsizing - Marni Jameson

picture credit:  The Bluestocking by Reginald Higgins, 1923

Friday, August 5, 2016

Read in July

Wow, a first. This July, I was reading multiple books at once, and finished none of them!
Summer reading (the library programs, not the reading part) at the library have kept me busy.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Peeled review

by Joan Bauer
Putnam Juvenile
May 2008

First line: "DATELINE: Banesville, NY, May 3rd. Bonnie Sue Bomgartner, Banesville's soon-to-be 67th Apple Blossom Queen, let loose a stream of projectile vomiting in the high school cafeteria."

Sixteen year-old Hildy Biddle dreams of being a stellar journalist. She's the star writer for her high school newspaper in the small, sleepy farming town of Banesville, NY. I must admit I very nearly put this book in my "Did Not Finish" pile in the first few pages. The book opens with a prolonged description of the Apple Valley Pageant Queen vomiting, which went on for far too long and with far too much detail. That, plus the fast-paced, noir-inspired, witty banter that Hildy uses initially felt a bit forced - she was trying too hard to sound like Sam Spade. But, I stuck with it, and things picked up from there.

Hildy reminded me a lot of Veronica Mars... bold, inquisitive and skeptical, and fairly negative on the whole idea of dating. Ever since the recent death of her father, also a reporter, she's been living with her mother and cousin and grandparents.

The local paper, The Bee, starts printing more and more outrageous stories, claiming there's a ghost haunting the old Ludlow place, creating fear and panic in the town. With the help of her experienced newsman mentor Baker Polton, she sleuths out the clues that lead to the real reason behind the hauntings. When the school shuts down the school paper, The Core, she and her friends start a rebel sheet called The Peel.

This is basically the same plot of every episode Scooby-Doo, ever:
"You mean the editor of The Bee faked all the ghost sightings to lower property values in town so he could build a new development?"
"And we would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for you meddling kids!"

This was a fast-paced enjoyable read, a solid pick for younger teens, and the perfect book for YA readers looking for non-fantasy realistic fiction without too much emphasis on romance. I'd actually recommend this as a great introduction to Joan Bauer. If readers like this, they'll love the much-stronger Hope Was Here.

Compare to:
Hope Was Here - Joan Bauer
Famous Last Words - Jennifer Salvato Doktorski
Inside the Shadow City (Kiki Strike #1) - Kirsten Miller

I borrowed this book from the library.

Friday, July 15, 2016

A Trio of Adult Fiction

I don't normally read very much adult fiction, but I've been trying some out lately.
Here's a group of three mini-reviews from the last couple of books I just flew through.

Life Before Death
by Abby Frucht
Scribner Book Company
July 1997

What a depressing book! Isobel discovers a lump on her breast, and in an alternate universes either recovers completely and helps her friend raise two Mexican orphans she impulsively adopts or the cancer worsens and she struggles as her health worsens and she finally succumbs to the disease. A heartbreaking look at infertility, adoption and childlessness, and the painful transitions of being born/giving birth and dying. I enjoyed My Real Children by Jo Walton much more, for it's slightly more sci-fi feel and more uplifting look at how different choices can create completely different life paths.

I borrowed this book from the library.

This Body
by Laurel Doud
Little, Brown & Co.
September 2009

I kept looking for a reason why the magic works exactly the way it did. This had more of a literary fiction feel - Katharine has a heart attack, and for reasons no one can understand, she awakes in the body of a 20-something drug addict, Thisby. She immediately sets to getting Thisby (herself?) cleaned up. Ultimately, this slow-paced book concentrated the bulk of the story on Katharine's wonderment at her situation, especially being in a new, younger, stronger body. Readers may wonder if "Katharine" is just a drug-fueled dream of Thisby's, but Katharine does hunt up her own teen children (never revealing her true identity, of course) and eventually comes to terms with the fact that she will be living out the rest of her life as someone else.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Lily and the Octopus
by Steven Rowley
Simon & Schuster
June 2016

I have a confession to make: I am not a dog person. Also, I have never been a sucker for a book where the dog dies. This book though, is a heart-breaker! Quite against my will, I found myself being utterly charmed by silly, cute, lovable Lily. Her owner Ted, is a single gay man and he lavishes all of his attention on her as if she was his own child and dorky best friend rolled into one. You know what happens! Of course, the "octopus" is a tumor threatening Lily's life, robbing her energy and her life, and yup, you'd need a heart of stone to resist crying at Lily and Ted's inevitable goodbye.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Read in June

Last month I read the following:

1. Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-up Bubble - Dan Lyons
2. Life Before Death - Abby Frucht
3. Lily and the Octopus - Steven Rowley
4. This Body - Laurel Dowd

picture credit:  Portrait of Lucie Reading by Jacques Emile Blanche, 1890

Friday, July 1, 2016

Happy Fourth!

Happy Fourth of July, everybody!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Anna and the French Kiss review

Anna and the French Kiss
by Stephanie Perkins
December 2010

First line: "Here is everything I know about France: Madeline and Amelie and Moulin Rouge."

I put off reading this book for so long because I was a little bit afraid that it couldn't possibly live up to the hype. But it does! It really does! This is a completely swoonworthy book. I knew the main character, Anna, a senior in high school is from Atlanta, and I had imagined that more of the book would take place in the South. That's not the case - her parents ship her off right away to a boarding school in Paris. I was prepared to immediately hate Anna for being a whiny brat about having such an awesome opportunity. That was the problem that I saw with Falling in Love with English Boys, by Melissa Jensen about a girl who has to spend a summer in London. Gee, wouldn't you love to have these girls "problems?" Happily, Anna did not seem too bratty to me. Her father is basically clueless - a less functional version of the real-life Nicholas Sparks, the famous author of badly-written, bestselling melodramatic romances.

When Anna gets to Paris, she's not on vacation - so she doesn't spend a lot of time jetting around, seeing the sights. Mostly, she's trying to get settled in her new dorm, meet friends, and figure out enough French to handle the basics, like ordering food in the cafeteria. She meets Etienne St. Clair, a total dreamboat, but of course, he has a girlfriend, and half the school is crushing on him anyway, so she knows she doesn't stand a chance. They do end up becoming good friends though, and spend the year getting to know each other, developing various in-jokes and so on. I was about 
¾ of the way through the book, and Anna hasn't even kissed anyone yet. I was beginning to get worried - maybe the titular kiss would be on the last page? Fortunately, St. Clair soon realizes that his relationship with his former girlfriend just isn't working out, and Anna 'fesses up and admits her sort-of boyfriend back home isn't in the picture either. After they become a couple, Anna helps St. Clair confront his father who has been cruelly keeping him away from his cancer-ridden mother. It sounds more melodramatic than it plays out, and while I don't think high school romances often work out, I could totally picture Anna and St. Clair moving to Berkeley together, getting married and living happily ever after. I hate to say that this is a "When Harry Met Sally" story, since I think that reference will be lost on a lot of younger people, but it is a really good comparison. They're really sweet together, completely right for each other and have a really solid foundation because they were platonic friends for so long before the rest of their relationship developed.

Compare to:
The Truth About Forever - Sarah Dessen
Meant to Be - Lauren Morrill
Audrey Wait! - Robin Benway
Just One Day - Gayle Foreman

I purchased this book.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Do you still do summer reading?

I was at a dinner party recently, and one of the guests, upon hearing that I am a librarian, innocently asked, "Oh! Yes! The library! Do you still do summer reading?"

I am still so gobsmacked by this question. I just don't even know where to begin. Yes! We are totally doing summer reading. My life is dominated by summer reading! We do summer reading for kids, and for teens, and now for adults, too. We do programs, and displays, and we offer so many prizes, and we do so much outreach to promote it. This is a monumental effort. Summer reading feels like the raison d'etre of our library lives. We literally start planning next summer's reading program as the current summer is ending. Yeah. We still do summer reading.

It really got me thinking... on one hand, this is exactly the same kind of question that falls in the category of, "Do you still use the Dewey Decimal system?" (Answer: yes) or, "Do you still use those card catalogs with the drawers?" (Answer: no) Probably people mean it as a harmless, light conversation starter. But, my number one takeaway when I hear something like this is that, this is a person who has not been to a library since they were a child. And this is the kind of person who imagines that if they are not at the library... then probably nobody is in the library. And they just don't know. They don't know how busy we are. They are nonplussed when they get to the library and they have to wait in line... not to check out a book, or get a computer, or ask a staff member a question or for anything. Because how could that dusty, quiet place be so bustling? It doesn't make sense to them. The same way that, "Do you still do summer reading?" doesn't make sense to me.

I know there's a segment of the population that we don't always reach - working adults in their 30's and 40's don't come to the library as often. They are too busy. Even when we offer evening or weekend hours they may not make it in. Our core users are retirees, stay at home moms, and economically disadvantaged. Still, it's worrying when I hear reactions like these - there's a whole universe that they are missing out on!

Friday, June 3, 2016

Read in May

Last month I read the following:

1. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail - Cheryl Strayed
2. Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life - Henry Cloud
3. Moloka'i - Alan Brennart
4. Becoming Grandma - Lesley Stahl
5. Cruel Beauty - Rosamund Hodge

picture credit:  Mihrap by Osman Hamdi Bey, 1901

Friday, May 20, 2016

Juliet Immortal review

Juliet Immortal
by Stacey Jay
Delacorte Books for Young Readers
August 2011

First line: "Tonight he could have come through the door - the castello is quiet, even the servants asleep in their beds, and Nurse would have let him in - but he chooses the window, climbing through the tangle of night flowers, carrying petals in his clothes."

I was pleasantly surprised by the reinterpretation of this Romeo and Juliet story. In this version, Romeo and Juliet are traveling through time, inhabiting the bodies of star-crossed lovers who've had near-death experiences. In each incarnation, Juliet, who is working for the Ambassadors (presumably the good guys) has a limited amount of time to get the couple back together again. Romeo, who sacrificed Juliet (and in some ways, himself) to the Mercenaries in exchange for eternal life, catches up with her, possessing a newly dead body each time, and tries to foil her plans.

This go around, Juliet finds herself in the body of Ariel Dragland, a shy blonde teenager in the small California town of Solvang. After a reckless driving accident, Romeo is in possession of the body of Dylan, the school bully and sometime crush of Ariel's. There are a few hints that are dropped that all is not right - Juliet/Ariel has never seen Romeo track her down so quickly before. She's noticed that the gaps between each mission are growing shorter and shorter. Nurse, her Ambassador handler, has gone missing. She's beginning to wonder if the Ambassadors have her well-being at heart after all.

As Ariel, she's landed in the middle of a tricky situation. Ariel's been recovering from severe burns she received as a child. Years of surgery have restored her looks, but not her confidence, as she copes with a strained relationship with her single mom, and an overbearing best friend, Gemma. I had trouble visualizing Ariel's ugly/pretty look - she's supposed to be a former burn victim, but she's also supposed to have an elfin, delicate beauty, with scars that only add to her unique look. Juliet explains that once she's inhabiting someone's body, she picks up their language, memory and abilities, and she's pleased that she and Ariel share a "soul gift" - both are talented artists. I liked the kind of maturity and distance that Juliet brings to the situation. When Ariel is in a fight with her mom, Juliet decides to let some matters drop, instead of escalating the situation. They end up having a heart-to-heart talk that is very healing for them both. Juliet is very conscious of wanting to leave her host's relationships better than when she found them, which made me wonder how and what her former hosts remember after she leaves them and returns to the void she inhibits while waiting to be pulled to Earth again. The last thing Juliet expects is to be slammed with "love at first sight" feelings for sensitive and kind Latino transfer student Ben. Unfortunately, she feels duty-bound to stick to her mission and try to fix him up with Gemma, who is glowing with the aura of true love. Juliet also has to avoid Romeo/Dylan's attempts to kill her - he truly comes across as a psychopath, coming up with whatever threats and lies that cross his mind just to try to distress her. Ben, on the other hand, is a total fantasy - no high school boy in the world has ever been so kind and virtuous and good. He instantly falls head-over-heels for Ariel/Juliet and within a few days is already talking marriage.

I was curious if readers not familiar with Solvang, CA would get the references to Danish windmills, tourists, and of course, easy access to wine country, with most high school students finding it easy to host bootleg wine parties.

The ending has a number of surprising twists. I had a few of my own favorite pet theories brewing, and I sure didn't see that ending coming. I had been hoping that Juliet would realize that she'd been a dolt - that every time she'd been deposited into someone else's life mid-stream, it was actually a chance for her to grab a chance at happiness and realize there is no such thing as a "one true love" pre-destined by fate. I was shocked by the revelation of Gemma's relationship with a teacher, and more shocked by the Ambassadors cold admission that they were going to somehow use the psychic power of the relationship, which suits them just fine. The actual ending felt like a bit of a muddle to me, with time traveling, alternate realities, awful fates for most of our modern day characters (if we find out what happens to them at all!) and Romeo getting the last word. Normally, I'm not one to recommend a book with such a let-down of an ending, but it was still such an enjoyable read - brace yourself for the oddness at the end and you will enjoy it. I really liked the characters of Juliet/Ariel and Ben, they made the book worthwhile for me.

Compare to:
Hexed - Michelle Krys
Everneath - Brodi Ashton
Dead Beautiful - Yvonne Woon
Wondrous Strange - Lesley Livingston

I borrowed this book from the library.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Real Life Quidditch Skydive

Nobody will ever convince me that skydiving is a good idea, but these fellows seem to be having fun.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Read in April

Last month I read the following:

1. The Ring and the Crown - Melissa de la Cruz
2. The Autobiography of James T. Kirk - David A. Goodman

picture credit:   Tatyana from Evgeni Onegin Elena Samokysh-Sudovskaya

Friday, April 29, 2016

Afterlife review

by Claudia Gray
March 2011

First line: "Sunrise is coming," Balthazar said.

Vampire-in-training Bianca is dead, but still around as a mostly non-corporeal wraith. Her star-crossed lover Lucas has unwillingly been turned into a vampire. How much of a romance can this be with two leads who are both dead, only one of whom has a body??

Bianca and Lucas both still have that very restrained, mature approach to life - possibly because they're both only children, raised in circumstances where they don't interact much with other people their own age. (In Bianca's case, her parents and family friends are not just decades older, but in some cases, centuries older.) At several points in the story, it felt as if Bianca and Lucas were college seniors, not high school seniors. Their loyal vampire friends hunky Balthazar and quirky, about-a-thousand-years-behind-the-times Ranulf as well as human Vic all get the opportunity to assist Bianca and Lucas as they fight their way back to Evernight boarding school and attempt to figure out if there's any cure for their predicament.

We get a lot more of Evernight Academy's headmistress Mrs. Bethany's backstory in this novel, and the mystery of how and why the wraiths are connected to humans being admitted to the secretive formerly all-vampire academy is revealed. Did I miss something? Whatever became of Balthazar's sister, the threatening and insane vampire Charity?

Gray shocks readers yet again, with another surprising twist at the end of this book. While dramatic endings should be expected by now, it's honestly, a turn that readers will not see coming. It wasn't the ending I was hoping for. I want to say more, but I don't want to spoil it, either. The ending wasn't satisfying, but it didn't want me to make me throw the book across the room either. Much like Romeo and Juliet, it seems that Bianca and Lucas are not destined to make a life together after all.

Compare to:
Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side - Beth Fantaskey
Marked - P.C. + Kristin Cast
Blue Bloods - Melissa de la Cruz

I borrowed this book from the library.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Read in March

Last month I read the following:

1) You're Never Weird on the Internet - Felicia Day

picture credit G. Cooper Reading by Hulton Archive

Friday, April 1, 2016

No Foolin'!

I thought we'd have a little fun at the library this April Fool's and had planned on putting out this "joke" self-check out. But, much like Google's April Fool's mic drop flop, it was not to be. Our real self-check out machine chose that day to go on the fritz - and a little joke like this might be funny, when you can point to the self-check just behind the patron and say, "Just kidding, it's right there," is NOT funny at all, when you've got to deal with troubleshooting a computer that's down. Rats. Maybe next year.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Word twins video

Interesting stuff! The fast-draw really makes this video entertaining.

Bunheads review

by Sophie Flack
October 2011
First line: "My name is Hannah Ward. Don't call me a ballerina."

19 year-old Hannah Ward has given up most of her childhood in pursuit of her dreams... a spot in the corps de ballet of the famous Manhattan Ballet Company. As a very worldly teenager, she's already been living in Manhattan for several years, and is slowly but surely attempting to work her way to the top of the heap in her clique-ish, exclusive world.

When I first heard about this book, I thought for certain it would be some kind of exploration of body issues, and maybe an anorexia book with touches of evil competitiveness a lá Black Swan. That is the stereotype of the hard-driving, ambitious, slightly-crazy ballerina, right? I was pleased that the book dispels those ideas immediately. Hannah's not anorexic - she's always been naturally slim. It's just her natural body type. She eats healthy, but "cheats" every now and then with a big bowl of pasta or (thanks to lax city bartenders) the occasional glass of wine. She doesn't hate her fellow dancers - they are her best friends and constant companions. She doesn't even consider herself a true "ballerina." She's a ballet dancer, but she's not a star. For her, it's a living.

Flack's own experience as a dancer lends lots of realistic details to the book. Hannah and her friends are heartily sick of The Nutcracker, a perennial audience favorite which is physically challenging yet artistically boring. They are tired of having to dance through filthy re-used plastic snow every night, which then wends it's way into everything: hair, clothes, even the utensil drawer at home ends up with stray bits of dirty white fluff.

Another detail I didn't expect, but found completely believable was the staff of professional masseuses and sports doctors on hand to treat the ballet dancers - massaging them into shape, even offering an ultrasound machine in the basement, where dancers are invited to wand their tired bones back into fighting form again.

When Hannah meets Jacob, a gorgeous college-student musician, they are both instantly equally smitten. Hannah soon realizes just how all-encompassing her schedule really is as she struggles to make time for him. I loved how from her perspective, she sees Jacob, "all the time" - bending over backwards to call in favors and skipping classes in order to get in a simple date. From Jacob's perspective, he almost never sees Hannah. He likes her a lot... and he'll wait patiently for her, but even so, a man has his limits. In fact, Hannah is only seeing Jacob every couple of months - to her, with a jam-packed routine where every moment is either devoted to rehearsals, auditions, performances or classes, it really does seem like time flies. It would be so much easier to continue to ensconce herself in the world of the "bunheads" - the serious ballet dancers, and date the charming son of one of the ballet company's most generous benefactors.

As Hannah puts on a little weight, she's mortified to have to wear a bra for the first time. A few critical comments from her dance director leave her feeling shaky and unsure of herself. Again, I liked how this is a brief crisis of conscience, rather than an all-encompassing quest for her. I thought Hannah's main struggle was in how her ballet colleagues - who have been her entire universe - will most certainly judge her if she chooses to dial back on what is already a short-lived career for "some boy." Ultimately, Hannah has to do what feels right for her, and I liked being inside her head as she thoughtfully considers her options.

Romantic, funny and totally absorbing, I loved this look into the life of a dancer who struggles with "work/life balance," on a grand scale. I highly recommend this book.
Compare to:
Audition - Stasia Ward Kehoe
Jenna & Jonah's Fauxmance - Brendan Halpin & Emily Franklin
Confessions of a Back-up Dancer - Taylor Shaw

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Steelheart review

by Brandon Sanderson
Delacorte Press
January 2013

First line: "I've seen Steelheart bleed."

Sanderson's well-thought out and creative take on superheroes stars an ordinary teen determined to take down Steelheart, the all powerful super villain who has transformed Chicago into a dystopian perpetual nighttime metalscape. Ever wonder what Superman would be like if he was pure evil? As usual, Sanderson's world-building is superb and the powers that each of "Epics" possesses are used in unusual and surprising ways.

David is your typical, awkward teenage guy - except for the fact that he witnessed Steelheart murder his father during a bank robbery gone wrong and as one of the few survivors of a Steelheart attack, he's lived a life undercover, bent on revenge and intensely studying up on Epics. He hopes to join the Reckoners - a small group of ordinary humans who are fighting the Epics in secret.

The book has a fast-paced cinematically inspired style, with plenty of fight scenes and a dash of romance for David. My favorite humorous scene was when David is put on the spot while hiding in plain sight at a gun dealer's shop and amazingly is able to rattle off the specs of each of the weapons in the room. David's wacky misuse of metaphors provides another stock-in-trade measure of comic relief.

Graduates of Sanderson's Alcatraz and the Evil Librarians series will especially appreciate this action-packed superhero adventure tale.

Compare to:
Sidekicks - Jack D. Ferraiolo
Chance Fortune and the Outlaws - Shane Berryhill
Council of Evil - Andy Briggs
The Rise of Renegade X - Chelsea M. Campbell

I borrowed this book from the library.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Read in February

Last month I read the following:

1. The Storybook of Legends - Shannon Hale
2. Pivot Point - Kasie West
3. Outlander - Diana Gabaldon
4. Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion - Elizabeth L. Cline
5. A Discovery of Witches - Deborah Harkness
6. Firefight - Brandon Sanderson
7. Uprooted - Naomi Novik

picture credit:   La Liseuse by Alexandre Charpentier

Friday, February 26, 2016

Baby 365

Earlier this year, I made a pledge to read to my baby daughter every day. I was feeling like, "the cobbler's children have no shoes." I had every best intention of reading to her, and LOTS of books to choose from, but with a jam-packed schedule, it was hard to make the time.

I'm about 3 months in... how is it going? It's going really well! I am glad that I'm making the effort. Sometimes we end up skipping a day, but usually there's another day where I really have her attention and we read 2 books so that makes up for it.

I think having a professional relationship with books, I felt a certain pressure to heavily curate my books at home and only offer my daughter the very, very best. Choosing to read every day, weirdly, took the pressure right off. I end up reading whatever we've got to hand. Ratty board book at the local coffee shop? Check. Books at the pediatrician's office? Check. Books from the dollar store? Yes. Library books? Yes, and yes. Pretty much a smattering of everything. I'll say my daughter's taste has really evolved in the past month or so. Board books, with sturdy cardboard pages, are an absolute must. She used to respond to high-contrast, black and white picture books. Lately, she enjoys books with a lot more color and simple words, especially animal sounds. Last night I read her a touch and feel book with fluffy pages that she loved.

Here's a sampling of what we read our first month into this project:

Friday, February 19, 2016

Eliza's Freedom Road review

Eliza's Freedom Road
by Jerdine Nolan
Simon & Schuster
January 2011

First line, "Dear Reader, I am Eliza. Not the girl, but the grown woman Eliza. It has been many years since I was called Eliza. I call myself Elizabeth now."

12 year-old Eliza lives as a slave in the 1850's in Alexandria, Virginia. As a house slave, she enjoys a comparative number of advantages but still must endure many injustices. She is friends with the house cook, and therefore eats well. Her half-blind mistress has taught her how to read (an unusual advantage for a slave) so that Eliza can read her letters and newspapers. Eliza even has a small diary that she is able to keep. Her mother has sewn her a beautiful quilt, with each quilt square representing a traditional folktale. But Eliza's mother has recently been sent away, and there is talk that Eliza may be sold next. She decides to make a break for it, and the bulk of the story, in diary format, is about her year-long journey northward to Canada by night. Alternating between stories of Eliza's escape and traditionally-inspired folktales, this book reminded me just a little bit of The Wanderer by Sharon Creech.

Eliza is an oddly formal little girl - her tone is a bit stilted, and she never uses contractions, but that may be a reflection of the proper speech of the 1850's. As a "house slave" with a bit of education, she doesn't employ colloquial slave speech. The book culminates in a meeting with the legendary leader of the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman. True to history, Tubman is a gruff, no-nonsense figure.

An impressive amount of backmatter helps young readers put everything in perspective. There is an author's note, as well as some information about the background of the folktales within the tale. There's also a bibliography of other resources and a list of websites, which I always think will date a book quickly, but certainly have plenty of use at the moment.

The book wraps up very quickly, with a few amazing coincidences that leave our heroine safely reunited with her mother, who has also escaped by the story's end. I'll recommend this to anyone who has exhausted the Dear America series or for those readers who might appreciate the formal prose that takes you to another century.

Compare to:
The Wanderer - Sharon Creech
I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly - Joyce Hansen
A Picture of Freedom - Patricia C. McKissack

I borrowed this book from the library.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign.

I hate signs. I hate signs in the library.

There, I've said it.

Well, that's not exactly true. I do like decent wayfinding. When I see a shiny new library, with large, easy to read signs and good traffic flow patterns, that is nice. Several years ago, I did a sign renovation project at my library, replacing ragged, ratty, wordy signs with simple and inviting messages. That was so satisfying! I can't stand most handmade signs, tacked up by frustrated staff who are tired of constantly dealing with a problem. No one reads them. Can I tell you how many times I've had a patron ask me a question while standing directly in front of the sign that contains the info they are asking about? It happens a lot.

Here is a whole collection of signs of the sort that I mean: Pinterest library signs.

Does your library have signs like these?
"Please do not reshelve library materials."
"No food or drink."
"This area is a quiet zone."
"Please keep an eye on your materials, thefts are not uncommon."
"Do not bathe, shave or sleep in the bathroom."

Whenever possible, I try to avoid having these kinds of signs as they all come across negative, with a passive-aggressive quality. Putting signs up like these doesn't solve a problem, it just creates visual clutter. Oh! And bonus points for signs printed in red. With underlining. And italics. Or all caps. And exclamation points. And bars sinister. Those kind of signs are the worst!

Instead of a sign that says, "Please do not reshelve library materials," how about a sign that says, "Please, leave books here."

"No food or drink" is a tricky one. If you don't have the staff to (kindly) enforce this, then I don't see the point in putting up a sign that everyone ignores. It only reinforces how toothless that policy is. Ha!

"This area is a quiet zone." Here is another sign that really doesn't need to be around. Much better to have enough staff routinely perambulate through the library and to (gently) remind patrons if they get too rowdy.

"Please keep an eye on your materials, thefts are not uncommon." This is one of the few signs that I don't mind so much. I have seen some clever signs to this effect - and there are some studies that show a picture of an eye, or an authority figure is sometimes enough to deter theft all on its own! Don't overdo it though.

"Do not bathe, shave or sleep in the bathroom." Oh man. Here is another example of the kind of sign that I feel does no good. It makes the library feel sleazy and trashy to any casual user. And the kind of patron (probably homeless) who is in such desperate straits as to try to take a bath in a public library restroom sink isn't going to be deterred by a sign. You don't need a sign to make a policy stick, either. One shouldn't need to post signs for every possible infraction. Sure, when you have to approach a patron who is breaking this rule, it's awkward, and yes, that individual may grasp for a bit of dignity by sputtering at you, "Well! I don't see a SIGN, prohibiting bathing!" That doesn't matter. You do not need a sign. Putting up a sign is not the answer.


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