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Remember that time I said I’d finish the reviews? I was reading instead.

December 31, 2015

Down to the wire this year on getting my 50 shelf books done–I finished the last one at about 3pm today. Hey, I would’ve been done sooner, but the two before that were absolute stinkers.

Then I read a graphic novel, because why not?

Next year’s goals don’t include the “new book” thing. That was a goal I set for myself when I was working at the other library, where there were lots of hold lists and I didn’t get to older adult books I was interested in. They don’t really include a number, but I’ll set it at “100” on Goodreads because Goodreads wants something set.

I’m still doing 50 off the shelf–or, in this case, what’s left of the book tree, which is a shrub. So, 50 off the shrub.

I’m going to try to keep up with all the book clubs–the ones I run and the one I help with and the one I go to for fun–but I won’t beat myself up if I miss a book here or there.

It’s a pretty light year for me, all in all.

Goodreads says I read 340 books this year, but they don’t recognize when I don’t finish a book, and they really have no way of setting a book unfinished. (Probably bad for the authors and publishers they work with?) Anyway, so it was probably around 330, including children’s books I read to the kids at work.

Good year.

Tomorrow, if I’m awake, I’ll post a little about which ones I loved the most.

Merry Christmas! Here are some half-butted book reviews

December 25, 2015

Where were we? Four stars of 2014, right.

Rainbow Rowell is great. Her book Attachments is also great. What is not great is that the characters are generally crap people in the beginning and that made it difficult for me to fall in love with it. I wanted to punch these twenty-somethings all the time. It was like Everything You Dislike About Millennials, but Actually True Stuff Not the BS on the Internet. But eventually they grew on me, or I liked it despite them. It’s probably my least favorite of her books, but that’s not saying much.

Richelle Mead put out her second book in the awkwardly-named Age of X series, The Immortal Crown. It was good! I’m not sure I liked it as much as the first book, but isn’t that often the way when you’re looking at a series? Age of X is sort of like futuristic American Gods, and is not a teen series like her Vampire Academy books, if it wasn’t otherwise clear. These are adults doing adult-y things.

E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars is a dark, broody tale of privilege, love, and loss. It’s definitely for that type of person who enjoys Lauren Oliver, which I sort of do but not as much as I want to. It’s a good back-to-back read with Oliver’s four-star book of the year, Rooms, although I don’t think Rooms is a YA book. Still, there are some interesting similarities, including tone. What kept Rooms from being a five-star book is Oliver’s tendency toward flowery language in the beginning of her work, which always drives me batcrazy. Once it settles down, it’s a great book.

Scott Westerfeld’s book Afterworlds is amazing. It tells the story of a young author getting her first book published, and alternates with the book she’s writing. The problem is that the first scene of the book-within-a-book is so intensely, heart-stoppingly good that nothing else could ever compare to it, so the book-within-a-book quickly becomes the least interesting part of the story. Both parts are interesting on their own; together, they may not be naturally stronger, but it’s a cool, unusual take on storywriting and the publishing business.

Sara Farizan’s second novel Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel highlights how far she’s come since her debut. Her writing flows better, although that could be because this book is set in America and she doesn’t have to walk the thin line between describing Iranian culture and telling a good story.  It’s about an Iranian-American girl who knows she’s attracted to other girls, but has kept it under the radar, until a new student dazzles her. Great book to rec to LGBTQA(etc) teens.

Jojo Moyes seems to be one of those writers from somewhere else that’s been big over there but has only now crossed over here. I could be wrong about that, but suddenly, I am seeing her everywhere. I decided to try out her book One Plus One, and I’m glad I did. It has a sort of Nick Hornby feel to it. A single mom has a kid who’s really good in math and…you know what? Whatever. It’s one of the most honestly subtle books about poverty that I’ve read. The simple desperation of single parenthood. And also it’s a great story. So there’s that as well. I’d like to read another book of hers, but finding the time has been tough. (Because of all the other books I have much closer to my fingertips.)

I read two four-star Christopher Pike books last year: Master of Murder and Tales of Terror, the latter of which includes a story with the main character from the former. M of M is a book I didn’t own as a kid, so it was fun to pick it up. I’m pretty sure I’ve read it before, but I didn’t practically memorize it like I have with so many Pike books, which made it a treat. Same with Tales, although it’s basically got three stars worth of content. As I said on Goodreads, “The 4th star is for the insight of his introductions. He calls himself a genius and says he never dated in high school.” Never change, Kevin.

Speaking of horror, Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes is a good book to use to explain why Stephen King is not as huge as he was when I was growing. The world has changed, Mr. King, and I often wonder if you are changing with it. The constant stream of racism from the villain’s inner monologues are tiresome and, frankly, come off like they were written by a teenager who gets off on the idea of shocking people. But racism isn’t shocking to a post-Obama world, Mr. King. Also, his jive-talking black sidekick and the women in the book are written incredibly awkwardly. Despite that, the book is entertaining, but not enough to immediately pick up the second book when it came out.

Sarah Waters’s book Tipping the Velvet is basically insane. Like, good insane. Great insane. It’s about a girl who spends her life shucking clams or something (oops, oysters) and then sees a stage act and immediately falls in love with either the actress, acting, or both. It’s raunchy Dickens; it’s Victorian soap opera. It’s amazing. I’m not quite sure why I gave it four stars. It also has a watered-down, means-well television that I would suggest you skip but hey, you can do what you want.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon is about a kid who’s on the spectrum who’s annoying and trying to solve what he believes is a mystery. It’s a fascinating look into the way a neuroatypical mind works. Haddon, who also wrote the great A Spot of Bother (which I listened to on audiobook; love the reader), has this way of keeping you reading even if you want to throttle the characters.

Robot Uprisings is a compilation of short stories, many of them ranging from good to very good, edited by Daniel H. Wilson of Robopocalypse fame. I didn’t note which stories I liked best, but it’s rare for me to give a four-star rating to an anthology, so they must’ve mostly been good across the board.

Stephanie Perkins’s Anna and the French Kiss trilogy ends with Isla and the Happily Ever After. Except for the part where I couldn’t get the pronunciation of Isla right, it was a cute wrap-up with interesting characters and closure for the other ones. I really liked this series. I wish more series took place in other cultures. When did we stop being Francophiles? Or was that just me as a kid?

Four-star first issues from Image Comics: Tim Seeley’s Revival, Greg Rucka’s Lazarus, Ed Brubaker’s Velvet, and Kurtis J. Wiebe’s Rat Queens (which ended up being a five-star series, I believe).

Speaking of comics, I read Mark Millar’s Superior, and it’s an odd little story about a kid with MS and how he gets the ability to turn himself into a superhero. It gets trippy at the end, but it’s a solid read (especially if you like trippy).

Whew, okay, I’m almost tapped out here. No, never mind, I really am tapped out. And I have a family event to get to. Except more tomorrow or Sunday, since I want to get 2014 done by New Year’s Day.

 

End of the year thinky-think

December 13, 2015

I’m pretty sure if I go back, I’ll find a post like this every December: I’m X number of books behind my yearly goal, I feel like I haven’t Y, I’ve failed at Z.

I depress myself. I set slightly more reasonable goals this year, but only in the sense I lowballed my straight-up “how many books?” number. (Down from like 400 to 100. I will probably finish the year with a little over 300 books read, including graphic novels and all the children’s books I read for storytime.) I set a goal for 50 from the in-house TBR pile (which I called “shelf reads,” because they’re on my shelves when they’re not packed into boxes because there are so many of them I’ve run out of shelves. I’m at 42 now. I can probably finish 50 by the new year, but these last couple weeks will feel like a chore.

I blew far past by new-book reads because I work at a library where I can call dibs on stuff, by 30 or so books, the books I “should” have read off the shelf, which are also new. I mean, I was even at the point where I took out a book once or twice and then went, “Oh, right, I have this at home from BEA.”

Scheduling books isn’t working. Not scheduling books isn’t working.

The end of the year always makes me feel crummy about everything I haven’t done. I know I’m progressing in a lot of my goals, and I’m even meeting my book goals, but I still, after all these years, haven’t thrown off that feeling that I am wasting all my time ever. The new tablet/hybrid/whatever is not helping, because it SUCKS and is now underlining everything I type in red for no reason that I can figure out.

Oh, so going to another paragraph helps. Whatever THAT means. Buuuut I’m past the time I can return it, and I don’t know what I could return it FOR that would cost the same and get me as much that wouldn’t exacerbate my dizziness. That’s been the problem with laptops the last three or four years. There’s something about the refresh rate or something, and you can’t mess with it. Only the Retina screen from Apple didn’t make me nauseated. Fortunately, most tablet screens are on that level now, but I also need the laptop-like OS to run things like Scrivener. So here I am, with a half-working computer that doesn’t have any of my documents on it because I don’t trust it since it lost those 5k words during NaNoWriMo. (I got to 25K with NaNo, which is another reason I finish every year feeling like I’m a failure.)

Oh, now the audio menu won’t disappear and every time I type it’s lowering the volume (not that I’m listening to anything) and it won’t let me minimize any windows. Surface, y’all!

So, anywhoodle, I should probably be reading instead of writing this, but what’s my year without being miserable about my year? Usually around this time I’d be cementing my reading goals for the next year, but I think I’m going to put “100 books and shut up.” For one thing, I’m running four book clubs and helping out with a fifth. AND I’m in a sixth book club, sort of. At least, I’m trying to be but I get so busy and tired. In any case, trying to use only my own books isn’t likely to work. I still think it’s important to read the new books coming into the library because the kids appreciate and sometimes even rely on my suggestions. So do many of the adults who read in YA, and the sf ones too.

But I do like reducing the amount of books in my house. I was thinking about maybe moving many of them to the library but really, that’s just changing whose shelves they’re on, you know? It wouldn’t actually change whether I would feel like they were hanging over my head. Which I do. So I could get rid of ALL of them but I wouldn’t like that either. I can’t win. I’ve created a no-win situation here. I could read all the time, I guess, but then I’d just think of another place in my life where I’m lacking. As always, the answer to all this is the toughest: break the internet addiction I created twenty-plus years ago.

Hm. Now THAT is a goal…and it’s barely reasonable in this day and age. But what would that even look like? Would I feel even more lonely? I do all my scheduling online. How would that affect my ability to keep up with what I’m doing? Also, one of my besties lives a few miles down the road, but the other certainly does not, and she is getting married later this year. While I’m not in the wedding (she loves me so much), I still want to be there for her, and I can barely hear a thing on my phone, so chat is still the best way to talk to her. How can all these things mesh?

Okay, so I’m forming a goal here, I think. I have to think some more, though, and get back to you on how it’s going to end up.

(And then I’ll probably just fail at it, too. But trying is good, right?)

 

More three-star reads from 2014

December 11, 2015

Maybe I will finish reviewing 2014 books before 2016…sigh.

Marge Piercy’s collected short fiction is nothing to write home about in The Price of Lunch, Etc. Some good stories, some not-so-good. I’ve been reading more short fiction on purpose since my time in college made me appreciate the form, and I think we don’t give the short story the kind of respect it deserves. It’s tough! And Piercy, sadly, proves that.

Judith Michael’s Acts of Love is…well, I’ve mostly forgotten it. I want to say it’s about two people and their relationship or whatever, and the dude is insanely arrogant and completely put me off, but I feel that way most of the time about any romantic fiction from before the mid-1990s. Judith Michael is a husband and wife team, which I think makes it even worse, because the dude was written with dude input.

Another author who has been one-and-done for me (see above: Piercy) is Emma Donoghue. Room is a masterpiece. Her other works, not so much. Frog Music is Sarah Waters without all that talent. It’s good enough to keep you going, but that’s not really what I want from a book.

Speaking of disappointments (oh, three-stars), Patrick Ness’s The Crane Wife. I am such a fan of his Chaos Walking series. We had a patron in the other day and I recommended it to him (adult, not a teen) and he sat in the library, devouring the first book, then immediately took out the other two. The Crane Wife has that vaguely icky feel to it that happens when you read a retold fairy tale where someone extraordinary becomes someone ordinary’s wife. I wanted the book to be more subtle, but it’s not, and more…something. I can’t even tell you, it’s been so long. But I won’t reread it. I’ve read it once and I’m done. *shrug*

Thor: Season One by Matthew Sturges et al is one of those perfect three-star books: it adds nothing to the myth of Thor, but gives us a pleasing but, again, not memorable story with the character in it.

R.L. Stine’s Dangerous Girls probably got the rating of three stars in comparison to his awful Red Rain. It’s a good kid horror book, but it’s nothing special, not even for R.L. Stine. Goodreads says it’s the first book in a series or at least has a sequel, but I’m uninterested in what happens next.

My husband, for some reason, got me the fifth volume of the Dennis O’Neil Question run. I guess because it was there. I hate reading things out of order, and Riddles was no exception. When the book is focused on the ongoing story, it’s interesting. The rest of the time, it was not.

I read some first issues of comics that were interesting enough, but not enough to get me to buy the first trade: Alex + Ada by the Luna Brothers, Thief of Thieves by Robert Kirkman, and Bedlam by Nick Spencer. I actually do expect to pick up Alex  + Ada at some point, but I think it’s because the source material has been done and done, so I’m wondering how the Lunas will deal with it. Can they even give it a unique spin? The art will be worth it no matter the story, I think. The other two, I’ve completely forgotten what they are.

Yeah, even the Kirkman.

I have a very unpopular opinion: I don’t love Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye run as much as everyone else. I think it peaked in the second trade. The first, My Life as a Weapon, is firmly three-star, although David Aja’s art is fantastic. The “bro” thing wears itself out, but “Hawkguy” never will.

Oh hey, I already reviewed E. Paul Zehr’s Project Superhero on Goodreads, good for me: This is a book written on about a fifth grade level about an eighth grader who apparently reads comics meant for late teens and adults. Some of the superhero knowledge is wonky (Storm got her powers how?) or sanitized (Cassandra Cain’s back story), and/or full of spoilers. The scientific information and non-fiction aspects of the book work when they’re tied into Jessie’s research, but otherwise feel like digression. This book is, no pun intended, about five issue books at once, like someone decided to splice bits of After School Special-esque levels of information into one decent story. Kids will probably like this book, either if they’re already into the topic or young enough to be able to relate to 8th graders (Grade 8-ers?) who haven’t yet seemed to hit puberty, but my suggestion to teachers and librarians is to put in the research to find age-appropriate comics for the kids to read afterward.

Mary Downing Hahn’s Where I Belong is a boring name for a book that could be so much more than it is. It’s a by-the-numbers bullying/friendship/whatever kids’ book. Good for collections, bad for adults to read, because it doesn’t have that universality that good children’s books have.

Finally, I did a reread of Jennifer Crusie’s short story “Santa Baby.” You know I love Jenny Crusie like whoa, but this is probably her weakest later work. The short story thing is not her forte. I heard she’s been asked to polish it before but hasn’t had the time or energy, which is too bad. It needs…something…although it is enjoyable.

And there you go, that’s the last of the three-stars. Four stars are next!

I’m putting Armada in YA and you can’t stop me

November 19, 2015

Fans are saying Ernest Cline’s Armada is a failure because it sticks too close to the source material. My argument is that it’s been marketed wrong. This is a young adult book that’s been marketed to adults. Why doesn’t anyone seem to get that?

Even School Library Journal put it under “Adult books for YA collections.” But why? Why is it not a YA book? It’s the story of a teen–who is about to graduate, but hasn’t yet–and his adventure fighting aliens. Readers have complained that it’s too much like The Last Starfighter, which it references, but the meta-narrative only works if you’re an adult and grew up watching The Last Starfighter. I mean, I did and all, but not over and over again like a lot of other movies from that time (I guess it wasn’t on cable for me to record), so I didn’t mind. Also, I thought when I was reading it that it was a teen book, so what did it matter? It stands as a teen book. If it’s too close to the source material, so what? That doesn’t matter for the audience it would do best with. Even if they’ve seen it, we’re talking about the generation that made Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl and Carry On bestsellers. This isn’t a generation that thinks that meta-narratives don’t have their own worth.

So I’m ordering Armada today for my teen collection, and no one here will stop me. Nor should they. Armada is a teen book, and I’m going to put it where my teens can read it. Then we’ll see what they think. Dollars to donuts, they will enjoy it for what it is, not what they want it to be.

November means 2 things: Thanksgiving and failure

November 16, 2015

I sure did tank early on NaBlo this year. I’d done three or four posts in one day, and set them to publish 24 hours apart. Then I forgot what day it was and got bogged down in the last of our settlement paperwork, and then my husband and I bought a house and I stopped caring.

I do hate failing. I’m failing at NaNo too. I was doing great the first few days–ahead of schedule by about three thousand words, and then I realized I was writing to write and not taking any joy from it. The story had been told already in short form. Maybe I’d just picked the wrong thing. Maybe I needed to switch. I wrote another flash fiction (I like those) and began another…and then my brand-new laplet (tabtop?) needed to be reset to factory settings, and I saved my Scrivener file incorrectly. I lost about five thousand words.

I then spent the last week moving and dealing with having a cold/flu thing that’s been going around the town. I wrote a little last night and a few days ago, but nothing feels quite right. Everything feels like stress. How do people write? I wonder if you have to have no ego or too much ego, and I’m in that in-between place I can’t get out of.

Some repair guy is coming over and I have to be here until they’re done. How do you write during THAT?

Something something need a room of one’s own. I just gave mine up so we can bring in some extra cash. My library/office is going to be a guest room.

Sigh.

Repair guy is here. I can’t focus. Go figure.

Some three-star books of 2014

November 4, 2015

Three stars on Goodreads for me is still a good review. These are the books I would likely reread on a cold day had I any time for rereading nowadays that doesn’t involve book clubs or my utter, absolute favorite books or nostalgia track-downs. They are usually fast, breezy books, but occasionally they are heavier reads that don’t quite hit the mark emotionally. They are, basically, serviceable.

Jennifer E. Smith is the kind of writer where I couldn’t tell you which of her books is about which characters or plot a year after the fact, but which pass the time well and I enjoy while I’m reading them. I even look forward to her next release. So I can’t tell you what The Geography of You and Me is about, but I can tell you I liked it! Isn’t that silly? She’s one of my go-to recs for teens who like realistic romance.

Lauren Oliver is never a five-star writer for me either. It always takes me too long to warm up to her books, which I then tend to give three or four stars to. It’s three stars for Panic, which I felt was one of her weaker works. Still worth reading but not if you’re looking for the depth of Before I Fall. It’s a book about teens who have a yearly dangerous game they play. I dunno, three stars: forgettable.

L.M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle is a book about a young woman who has been oppressed her own life and decides “No more” when she’s given a diagnosis of a terminal illness. I don’t know why I didn’t love it, but I wonder if I reread it I would? It’s a book I’ll revisit in a few years, I think, it figure it all out.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout gets a lot of props for how great it is, and there are definitely great things about it, but it’s got a bit of pretension in it, capital-L Literary that I don’t love. There were times I ate the pages up, and times I wanted to put it down and not pick it back up. I’ve gotta watch the miniseries, for sure.

Sarah Waters’s Fingersmith isn’t half as good as Tipping the Velvet, but it’s still a good read about a female thief. Lots of tropes used quite well. It’s probably better if you’re familiar with that era’s source material. In short: Lesbian Dickens. How can you not want to read it?

Victoria Holt’s On the Night of the Seventh Moon has a lot of that Victorian thriller feel to it as well. I don’t love Holt upon reread the way I did when I was a kid.

More three-star books tomorrow!

The Two-Star Reads of 2014

November 3, 2015

Still NaBlo-in’…

It’s easiest to forget the two-star books. The one-star books are unforgettable in their awfulness, and the three-star books are at least entertaining. The two-stars, however–they’re just meh.

Mary Kubica’s The Good Girl was heavily hyped at BEA and I was excited to read it. Unfortunately, all I got was a hot mess of a wannabe thriller, with poor use of chronology. That’s literally all I remember about the book. Possibly also that the “twists” were easily guessable. For fans of Lisa Scottoline, whose Think Twice suuuuper sucked.

I got a lot of #1 issues of comics at BEA last year and Pretty Deadly was one of them. I am usually a pretty big Kelly Sue DeConnick fan but I didn’t know what was going on, and wasn’t interested enough to pick up the first volume from the library until now–after which I decided not to read it because the interest wasn’t high enough to try to jam it in between NaNo write-ins.

I read Rick Remender’s Uncanny Avengers Vol. 1: The Red Shadow and I have no idea which book it was. The one where Red Skull does… something? Oh hey, Goodreads says I was right! Good for me. Yeah, I barely remember that one. Remender’s like that for me: hit or miss.

I called Michael Grant “Stephen King for kids” when I read his book Gone, but his newer series Messenger of Fear doesn’t live up to that. It sort of reminds me of my next 2-star book, R.L. Stine’s Party Games, which never hits any new ground and suffers from what feels like Fast-Writing Syndrome. (Aka “You have a deadline, popular author!” The thing which is going to kill the current J/YA popularity. Give them time to write, companies!) I could literally tell you more about Gone, which I read aaaages ago, than I can this newer one, because it was better.

Party Games is like someone put all the Fear Street books in a blender and let the chunks fall into a glass that says “New book! Nostalgia!” on it.

Finally, there was Tracy Hickman’s Wayne of Gotham. There’s never been a time that people have tried to flesh out the Waynes where it hasn’t been misguided at best, and this is no exception. It shares the Gotham trait of too much too soon when it comes to the weirdness of Gotham. It destroys the idea that Batman is at least partially the genesis of Gotham’s madness, which makes everything far less interesting.

So those were the two-stars from last year that I hadn’t already covered. Good on me!

I still don’t know if I’m committing to NaBlo

November 2, 2015

Buuuut I can post today anyway.

I’ve read so many books this year and haven’t written about them. But I still have some of last year’s stuff that I didn’t write about either. So… that’s a good way to do NaBlo, IF I DO IT.

2014 Catch-up

But I think I’ve blogged about this book before! Redshirts by John Scalzi is a weird little book. It’s a parody of Star Trek where the characters are aware they’re walking plot points. Even weirder is that the story finishes quickly and then there are three more sections, each in a different person-perspective (first, second, and third) and they all tie in. I really enjoyed each part, but some find it too odd. Those people don’t enjoy life.

Judith Krantz’s Scruples is the one book I was not allowed to read as a kid. Murderous evil twin and sexcapades through the generations in Sidney Sheldon’s Master of the Game? Sure. What the heck, I was about eight when I read that one. But Scruples was hidden in my mom’s drawer.

Of course I read it.

It’s the story of a woman who has everything good happen to her ever. And glory holes. But when I reread Scruples as an adult, I was shocked by how little the main character actually did. She wasn’t triumphantly succeeding–success kind of happened to her because she lost weight and got hot. What a lesson.

But that’s not the book I read in 2014. What I read was Scruples 2, a pile of crap even worse than the original book, so bad that I gave it the dreaded 1-star review on Goodreads. The book is set 15 years later, and is awful, and that’s mostly what I remember about it. Also that the main character’s creepy husband continued to be creepy, so I guess they break up and she ends up with the dude who ended up with the French chick at the end of the first one? Not sure why that happened, but it sucked, and the whole book sucked.

I also read some early Margaret Atwood: The Edible Woman and Lady Oracle. Both were good reads but didn’t have the impact her later stuff did. The time in which she grew up was so oppressive for women, it’s easy to see why even know it’s hard to find a sympathetic male character in her works–although, really, you could argue that it’s tough to find any sympathetic character in any of her works.

Brian K. Vaughan’s The Escapists is the story of the people who try to bring back the comic that is part of the focus in Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, which is an awesome book and this comic doesn’t quite reach that awesomeness, but it’s a fun read with interesting characters. It wasn’t what I expected, but that’s okay too.

*

The problem with reading a lot of books and being a busy and sleep-deprived person is that very little sticks a year later, which is why I always want to try to blog more, but then I’m like “I’M SO TIRED I literally can’t even get out of this bed even though I should go eat/pee/do my back stretches/et cetera.”

So, tomorrow, there will be a lot of books I barely remember because they were just meh.

It’s NaBloPoMo

November 1, 2015

Do I care? I doubt it, but ask me again tomorrow after I get some sleep. I’ve about hit 5k for NaNo and I need a ten-hour nap.