Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Further Meditation on Romance Novel Titles: Historical Fiction Edition

So after I got back to work on the Romantic Times Book Reviews Nominees for the 2009 RT Awards(see the previous post on this subject), I found that there was yet more material for me to work with, in the form of the "Best Historical Novels" category. It turns out that historical romance writers, with all of history to work with, have a surprisingly limited range of words when they are naming their books. I decided to see if I could use the data I collected to create a kind of "uber-historical romance title" that would fit almost any book in the subgenre.

Out of 80 titles (I left out the "Historical Biography" category, which featured 4 queens, 1 king, and a virgin, on the grounds that it strayed toward nonfiction), titles that included the word:

Scotland or Highland: 11
Wicked: 9
Lord/Lady/Laird: 8 [This does not include Duke/Duchess(3), Courtesan(2), Queen(2), Marquess(1), Baron(1), Earl(1), or Knight(1)--including those would bring the total of nobility-based titles up to 19, or about 25% of the total]
Tempt/Temptation/Tempted: 7
Mid/Night: 4
Devil: 3

Now, the Scotland count is a bit skewed, due to the "Scotland-Set Historical Romance" category, which consists of five novels, but still, I didn't even include the new Diana Gabaldon in my assessment. I think we can probably place a large amount of the blame on her for the Scots-Romance boom.

Taking all these factors into consideration, I have decided that my Ultimate Historical Romance Title, which I will apply to an as-yet unwritten masterpiece of fiction, will be (drum roll):

Tempting the Wicked Scottish Lord at Midnight

A quick check of the Library of Congress assures me that this title is STILL AVAILABLE. I can hardly believe it! I should probably get to writing TWSLM right away, but as I am on vacation, I think I will put it off until 2010.

ETA: My favorite title on this list was, hands-down, The Runaway McBride.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Meditation on Recent Series Romance Novel Titles

Today I took the opportunity to inspect the Romantic Times Book Review nominees for the best books of 2009. I thought "hey, I'll take a look at this list, and see how many of these I actually ordered. They're supposed to be the best of the best, right?" Somehow I got from that noble goal to where I am now. First of all [disclaimer], we don't order a lot of series romance.1 There's such a tremendous volume of paper published every month by Harlequin, Silhouette, and so forth that our modest paperback budget can't possibly keep up. However, Best Series Romance Novels 2009 caught my attention for another reason: titling. Often absurd titling. Out of the 83 titles listed on the page, I discerned some interesting themes, which I will attempt to enumerate here:

Children/Babies/Family: 10 ["by surprise": 2]
I was guessing that The Mistake She Made and Next Comes Love might have something to do with pregnancy, but a check of Harlequin SuperRomance proved me wrong. Just as well. I also think that the whole "by surprise" thing (i.e., The Doctor's Surprise Family) is very odd.
Tycoon/Millionaire/Billionaire/Playboy, etc.: 10
Men with money is always a popular theme. We had a discussion on Twitter2 the other day about how these wealthy people are all, inevitably, male. Even the Merriam-Webster definition of "tycoon" agrees. I did gather, though, that Greek men are remarkably wealthy (The Greek Millionaire's Secret Child and Powerful Greek, Unworldly Wife).
Christmas: 5
Always a crowd pleaser. Extra bonus: Always Valentine's Day and A Cold Creek Holiday
Cowboy/Cowgirl/Maverick: 5
Has there been any long-lasting McCain/Palin impact? Only time will tell.

There were a smattering of titles involving military men and/or rangers (4), and not as many as I expected dealing with weddings (4). There were three books having to do with a boss romance (again, presumably the boss is male), my favorite of which was The Boss's Inexperienced Secretary.

By favorite, I mean ironic favorite, because my main complaint with this list--a list that is presumably a compilation of the best that a certain genre has to offer during a particular year--is that the titles are terrible. I mean, The Boss's Inexperienced Secretary? That sounds like something I would have come up with in my course on Titling When You Only Know Bare Details About Plot. Also, the implications are kind of creepy. For a lot of the titles, it sounds as if the publisher or author (I'm not sure where to place the blame) took the stereotype of the male character and the stereotype of the female character and stuck them together. These are the kinds of titles that I hate the most, Powerful Greek, Unworldly Wife and The French Tycoon's Pregnant Mistress being outstanding examples. Looking ahead at the Harlequin Presents upcoming releases, this trend will (sadly) be continuing into the new year: Prince of Montéz, Pregnant Mistress and Untamed Italian Blackmailed Innocent, anyone? And no, there was no comma in that last title. Why bother?

So, without more ado, here is my list of five favorite best/worst titles from the list:

5. The Frenchman's Plain-Jane Project. It just doesn't flow, people.
4. Memo: The Billionaire's Proposal. Experimenting with formatting, I like that!
3. Seduced into a Paper Marriage. I am imagining a paper house, paper car, paper bed . . .
2. More than a Man. I hesitate to ask in what way.
1. Anna Meets Her Match. Now this one I would actually read.

That was an exhausting review. I'm just going to take the edge off a little by reading my prized copy of The Playboy Sheikh's Virgin Stable-Girl--once I figure out why it didn't make the "Best-Of" cut.

1I would like to say at this point that I am an unapologetic reader of romance novels, and that Harlequin has my name and address and sometimes sends me free stuff, some of which is even cool (note the title of the top left cover). Now those are some gripping titles. It's a pleasant habit I formed long ago, at the feet (or on the shelves) of my mother, and I quite enjoy it.

2Thanks again to @Tuphlos, for always posting the BEST book covers on Twitter. And thanks to @MrsFridayNext, for teaching me how to do HTML footnotes.

ETA: Go here for the sequel to this post.

Update: Apparently Canadian researchers are also tackling this important subject (thanks @jpetroroy).

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Meditation on Adult Services

Yes, another library post. Perhaps the end of the year has inspired me to be particularly reflective about my job, especially against a background of inevitable budget cuts? I work as a reference librarian in a public library, which means that technically I help anyone who asks me for help (and a few people who just look lost and happen to be in my vicinity), but my passion is really for serving the adult population. I believe that no matter how awfully local schools perform, children benefit from an infrastructure (teachers, counselors, parents) that exists to support them through a certain age. I know that there are flaws in that infrastructure, but when budgets are cut, there will always be more money preserved for schools (along with public safety), because who wants to go on record as being "against" educating our children? I hear they are The Future. A lot of the smaller libraries I've spent time in clearly devote more resources to the children's department, and who can blame them? Kids are supposed to be reading, while services for adults can always be construed, if it comes down to a choice, as optional. Kids are pretty much forced to try to learn stuff on some kind of schedule, while most adults have to try and figure things out for themselves.

One thing I can say with absolute certainty after working in public libraries for several years: Adults need our help, sometimes desperately. A lot of them don't have technological savvy or access to resources they need, and they often don't have the support of government, family, or work to make things easier. In fact, they often come to us for information on how to locate and use government-supported programs (such as the Safelink Wireless program). When I say adults, I'm not talking just about the homeless, or the elderly, or non-native English speakers. I'm talking about the ever increasing number of people who find that they are directed to an online employment application when they have very limited experience with computers. People who haven't visited the library for twenty years, and just want to know how everything works because they discovered that it's a lot cheaper to get DVDs at the library than at Blockbuster. People who need to figure out how the FAFSA (now completely online) works, so they can get their kids through college. Even adults who know how to use the catalog and Dewey (they do exist!) sometimes need help. These are the people who have the courage every day, as adults, to actually admit that they don't know something and ask another adult for help.

Yesterday someone--a judge, actually--queried me about whether I still had a job to do, considering the availability of information on the internet. For a lot of our service population, the existence of the internet actually makes life more complicated--not only do they need it to perform basic tasks like creating resumes and filling out job applications, printing pay stubs, looking up phone numbers, and communicating with friends and family, they need the library to provide access for them. Why? Guess what: Not everyone has the internet at home or at work, and in this economy, the number of people who do is not likely to increase.

I know that the library can't be all things to all people--we don't have the budget for it. But we do have computer classes, adult programs, one-on-one assistance, and an excellent collection of adult material designed to appeal to a broad segment of our population. In the purest world, one with a support system for adults that does a better job of making sure people don't fall through the cracks, the library would be all about voluntary self-education and entertainment. That world doesn't exist. My goal as a reference librarian is to help people--adults, teens, and children--find what they're looking for to navigate the world, even if they don't know exactly what that is when they come up to my desk. My desire is to be as open as welcoming as possible, so they feel comfortable interacting with me, and I try whenever possible to give them the tools to help themselves in the future. This is not to say that I don't help my share of people who go on to MySpace and post their provocative pictures, then complain when the computer freezes. And while I can't really argue with any serious conviction that libraries are more important that police, fire, or schools, I can say that I am proud of what I am doing every day to help adults survive in these tough times.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Book Review: Into the Wild Nerd Yonder [2009]

Jessie, the protagonist of Julie Halpern's Into the Wild Nerd Yonder, has a dilemma. She's had two best friends, Bizza and Char, since first grade, and she's pretty much gone along with whatever trendy thing--starting in a band, writing a soap opera, or becoming punk groupies--they wanted to get into. But more and more, Jessie realizes that there are things she likes to do for herself, like make cool skirts, or kick ass at calculus. She's afraid that these things might get her the label of "nerd," though, so she keeps pretty quiet about her actual personality until Bizza finally crosses the line with the guy that Jessie's had a crush on for years. Never mind that the guy turns out to be a total jerk, Jessie finally has an excuse to branch out. After hanging some with the band geeks, she realizes that she might have more in common with the D&D playing nerds than she is entirely comfortable with. Will Jessie have the courage to make new connections with people she actually likes, even though it might get her the "nerd" label? Of course she will.

I've spent the time since I finished this book trying to figure out why I didn't love it. Was it the predictability? The present-tense narration (which I generally, inexplicably loathe whenever I come across it)? The obviousness of the story's message? Probably a combination of all these things. I would be worried that I might be ruined for "normal" (i.e., not paranormal) YA fiction, except I enjoyed Saving Francesca so much. What I liked most about this book was actually the relationship between Jessie and her older brother, Barrett, who is a senior to Jessie's sophomore. They have a great, supportive relationship, and I often found myself more interested in his plotline (renouncing punk and dating the most popular girl in school) than Jessie's. I also think the book is right about girl-frienship groups and how they change over time (or stagnate), I just didn't connect with the narrator. Perhaps because I am already a self-professed nerd.

Grade: C+

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Meditation on the Little Blue Stripe

Ok, I don't plan for this to become a baby blog or anything, but the truth is that there is an almost-three-month old living in my house (henceforth known as Baby G), and that has a significant impact on my life in a variety of ways. Now, I've never really had the charge of an infant before, so what I know about feeding, clothing, changing, and caring for him has only been knowledge recently acquired. Today's topic is diapers. Sure, we want to do the right thing and use cloth diapers most, if not all, the time. It theoretically costs less (although the price of the diapers we use, which have to be replaced as he grows, plus the cost of constant laundry, probably make it almost the same) and fills up fewer landfills. But anyway, the point is that we use disposable diapers more often than we probably should, and that has recently become a Problem.

See, when we were in the hospital, we were provided Pampers Swaddlers New Baby diapers, presumably because Pampers has some kind of sweet deal with Bay State where they provide the maternity ward with free diapers and then we all become addicted to their magical technology. Well, that's what happened--somehow we developed a kind of strange brand loyalty to Pampers, so much so that when we thought about switching to Huggies (heated conversation conducted in the Costco aisle), it would have functioned as a kind of betrayal. For me, the reason wasn't so much for the absorptive gel, or the lovable Sesame Street characters that adorn the diaper (except Elmo, he can disappear forever as far as I am concerned), but the blue stripe technology. Now, for those of you not in the know, the blue stripe appears as if by magic when the diaper is wet. Yellow = dry, blue = wet. Easy [click on "Product Tour"].

Now, I can recall thinking something along the lines of "Pampers has probably designed these so that they turn blue upon coming into contact with the smallest drop of pee, or perhaps even on a time-release formula, whether the kid pees or not, just to make sure that we use and therefore buy more diapers." I'm cynical like that. But even these thoughts did not shake my brand loyalty. In fact, the only thing that can shake my brand loyalty, apparently, is the disappearance of this technology in the next size up of diapers for Baby G. WHERE IS MY BLUE STRIPE, PAMPERS? I have honestly had several times in the last few days when I could not tell whether the diaper was wet or not, even when comparing it directly to an unused diaper, conducting a sniff test (these diapers are heavily perfumed--another argument for cloth, but that's another post), and weighing them thoughtfully in my hand. Now, I'm thinking that Pampers has deliberately designed their diapers to be as opaque as possible about their saturation level, in order to make use use, and therefore buy, more diapers. I am still cynical, see, but now I am cynical and deeply distressed. I am an outraged consumer of really expensive baby products, and apparently I am addicted to blue stripe technology.

The issue is one of Ruling Things Out. When Baby G is crying, a series of things must be ruled out as the cause of the upset before I throw my hands up and decide he is just having a fit. Number one on the list is, naturally, "is he wet?" When it is difficult to determine if this is the case, the whole chain of rulings-out is thrown out of whack and no progress can be made in the soothing of the baby until the question is settled. So Pampers, please get on this and make sure that all the diapers you produce have this capability. Or we are going to have to take our business elsewhere, such as the evil Huggies (whose server is currently too busy to even let me on the site to verify that their diapers are covered with Disney rather than Sesame Street--the question of why diapers must be decorated at all is the subject of yet another post), figure out an optimal cloth-diaper-washing strategy, or we might just buckle down and figure out when the stripe-less Pampers diapers are wet. Let's see if their website can offer any tips on when to change a diaper:
Diapers should be changed whenever they are wet or soiled. Your baby will often (but not always) let you know. With a super-absorbent diaper like Pampers diapers, you can tell if it's wet by feeling for lumps in the absorbent material. Here are some common times for changing diapers:

* Right before or right after every feeding
* After every bowel movement
* Before bedtime
* When your baby wakes up
* When you go out with your baby
So, basically, all the time. At any given moment, you will probably be changing your baby, have just changed your baby, or be about to change your baby. That's just about what I figured, Pampers. Thanks for that.

ETA: Apparently you can get the blue stripe if you buy the (more expensive) "sensitive" version. Hmm.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Book Review: Secret Society Girl [2006]

After I read and enjoyed Rampant, and after following Diana Peterfreund's blog and learning about her path as an author, I decided the next logical step would be to go back and read Secret Society Girl, the first in her Ivy League series. I must confess that I know next to nothing about secret societies in general, and Yale secret societies such as Skull & Bones in particular (wasn't there some movie with Pacey from Dawson's Creek or something?), but that certainly didn't stop me from enjoying this tale of a literary magazine editor who finds herself unexpectedly "tapped" by the most exclusive society on the "Eli University" campus, here renamed "Rose & Grave." Amy Haskel is outspoken and career-focused, but she still feels like she doesn't quite belong with the few other women who are selected as the first female members ever to be inducted into Rose & Grave. The sudden change in Amy's life has her at odds with her (formerly BFF) roommate, keeping secrets from her sweet potential boyfriend, and also makes her unexpected allies with a circle of people she never would have otherwise known. Pledging to join a secret society, offering its members her "love and affection, everlasting loyalty, and undying fealty" turns out to have much more of an impact on Amy's life than she expected, especially when outraged and powerful alumni protest the decision to admit women by making Amy's life (and those of her new "brothers" and "sisters") as difficult as possible. Add that to boy confusion and post-college career angst, and you've got an action-packed series opener that had me eagerly ordering the second book through ILL.

Grade: A-

Random Thoughts:

I couldn't help thinking about the Gilmore Girls repeatedly as I read the book. Not so much the Life & Death Brigade as the whole Yale University setting, the Daily News, etc. Now that was an excellent TV show.

The book was much more about the problem of integrating women into an all-male world than I thought it would be, and less . . . Gossip Girl-y. I guess maybe it was the title that had me thrown off? Not that this wasn't a pleasant discovery, and I probably should have known better given the delicate handling of sex and gender politics in Rampant.

An interesting post by Peterfreund about the "New Adult" marketing niche that the Ivy League novels purportedly fit into. And follow-up here.

I always appreciate a well-drawn gay or lesbian character in any high school or college-centered novel. I've been reading too many YA books lately, in particular, who act as if the GLBT population doesn't exist at all.

Book Review: Give Up the Ghost [2009]

Give Up the Ghost is the first novel published by Canadian author Megan Crewe, and its title has several layers of meaning. The protagonist, Cassandra McKenna, has been able to see ghosts since her older sister's drowning four years ago. She also harbors a grudge against her former (supposed) best friend, Danielle, who engineered Cass's fall into social obscurity after a seventh-grade falling out. Now a junior in high school, Cass finds a vicious pleasure in making public the secrets that her ghost friends find out about her fellow students. Unable to trust anyone living, she searches for a way to revenge herself on Danielle, only to find that the moment, when it comes, is not as sweet as she had anticipated. The novel is also the story of the popular student council vice president, Tim, whose struggle with the death of his mother from cancer leads him to the mysterious Cass. Not explicitly a romance, the book nonetheless follows Cass and Tim as they work to establish the intimacy of a real friendship against a backdrop of grief and self-doubt, each "giving up" what has been keeping them from moving forward.

I liked that the book embraced the discussion of difficult topics, such as death and social ostracism, but I thought at times that the relationship was developing too quickly (the novel takes place over the course of a few weeks) and I didn't like that Cass brushed off one of her ghost friends (the only friends she had for the past four years) on page 54, and the character never appeared again. But I also liked that Danielle was, by the end, more than a one-dimensional character. I am curious as to whether Crewe plans to write a sequel, as there are a few plot threads that were left unaddressed. I would be interested to see what direction she takes.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Library Routes Project

Or, how did I get here from there? After reading the Swiss Army Librarian's account of his journey into librarianship, I thought I would also take a stab at it. As he says, the idea is to talk about how you became a librarian. I am thinking about this more than usual today because the library director who exerted great effort to hire me for my current job passed away this morning. She was the latest in a line of library people who were willing to take a chance on employing me even though my experience was, to be quite honest, negligible or not quite fitting the job description. Thank you, EB.

I grew up with books as my constant, familiar companions. This is still how I prefer to live, but for some reason it never occurred to me to actually become a librarian until I had started and discarded various other career paths. After an indifferent high school experience (which included stints as an inventory "specialist" and ice cream scooper), I pursued an English major and History minor. My father was an English professor and my mother was a linguist and writer, and it seemed logical at the time. After three and a half years, applying to graduate school in English Lit seemed logical as well--and heck, my two best friends were doing it, so why shouldn't I? After a year at the University of Wisconsin, choking on Literary Theory and Old English, it became apparent that I probably should have taken some time off after college, that I wasn't really keen on the whole "teaching thing" that being a professor would entail, and that at the age of 23 I really had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.

I left the bosom of the Midwest and headed east to Connecticut with a job as a Technical Writer--well, two jobs, actually. One with my mother's company, and one with my aunt's freelance company. Nepotism: working for you. I learned that I really like to edit other people's work, and I earned the highest hourly rate that I am ever likely to earn while I was a corporate drone--for a relatively short time, before budget cuts led to my layoff.

It turns out that unemployment is both financially and emotionally draining. After a grueling period of inactivity, I pulled myself off the couch and started signing up with temp agencies. Thus began my career as an Office Manager. I had a couple of truly horrible temp jobs before finally striking on one that appreciated my many skills enough to actually hire me as a full-time employee (my first job with benefits!). I moved from job to job as a kind of glorified head secretary for a series of men who were deeply passionate about their non-profit organizations. At my last non-library job, I found that I enjoyed talking to parents and organizing the summer reading collection more than I did items in the actual job description such as booking travel and collating materials for the board meeting.

At this point my loving spouse asked me (for about the twentieth time) why the heck I didn't think about going to library school. I decided I might as well listen to her, because working as an Office Manager was really starting to make me feel like my work was without a purpose (even though I always worked for non-profits with missions in which I genuinely believed). We lived in Boston at the time, and had a friend who had applied to Simmons, though she ended up choosing a different school. I applied, was accepted, and started attending classes two nights a week in addition to working 9-5. While not an ideal situation, I was lucky enough to be taking classes that affirmed my feeling that this was the right direction. After moving back to Western Mass, going to school part time, and applying to pretty much any available library job, I had the great fortune to be hired by the Westfield Athenaeum as a part-time reference librarian, despite my previous library experience: processing books as a senior in high school in order to fulfill my community service requirement, and shelving books at the UW-Madison library. Whatever my boss saw in the panel interview, I'm glad that it made her want to hire me. In the meantime, I was also filling out my resume by volunteering--both for an academic library, in a preservation department, and for a local elementary school library. All of this was with the goal of knowing as much as I possibly could about all kinds of libraries before I graduated and got a "real" job, but it turned out that my first job as a reference librarian in a public library was the one I was ideally suited to do. Imagine that! Despite only having a year and a half of part-time reference work under my belt, I somehow convinced my current employers that I was worth hiring, and I have never been more content with the direction of my professional career.

What it comes down to is that Librarian is the first career that I didn't just fall into or passively accept as the best option available. I actively chose to pursue my MLIS, I sought out opportunities to broaden my experience in school, academic, and public libraries, and now I am reaping the rewards. I find that almost every day, I am excited to go to work. I know I am in the right place, and that knowledge is immensely satisfying. Sure, as a city employee I could easily get laid off tomorrow, but unemployment isn't as scary now that I know what I want to be doing for the rest of my working life.

ETA: Link to main page of Library Routes Project.

Follow-up: Meditation on Adult Services.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Book Review: The Broken Teaglass [2009]

I was very keen to read The Broken Teaglass when I first heard about it. After all, it has a lot of elements that I find appealing: lexicography, mystery, and local interest--the author currently lives in nearby Shelburne Falls and worked at Merriam-Webster, right up the street from the central library in Springfield. Despite the fact that first-person narrator Billy, a recent college graduate with a secret in his past, is male, a lot of the narrative details seem drawn from Emily Arsenault's own experience. The details of lexicographical work at the "Samuelson Company" certainly do not disappoint, and in many ways the public service aspect (Billy and a co-worker field calls and letters from inquiring dictionary users for definitions and clarifications) reminded my of my own job as a reference librarian. However, I have some lingering uncertainty as to the lasting power of the "mystery" itself. Billy and his co-worker Mona fall into a friendship as they pursue the curious citations from a non-existent novel called The Broken Teaglass, which seems to be about some former Samuelson employee's deadly encounter. As they learn more about each other, and work to uncover what happened in 1985, it becomes clear that the novel is less about the mystery itself than about Billy's struggle to find a place for himself in the post-college world. I have certainly read my share of twentysomething angst books disguised as genre fiction (The Magicians comes to mind as a recent example), and that wasn't really what I was looking for here. However, I have already used at least one quote in conversation:
"Oh, Billy," she said, opening her door. "Don't hate words. Hate the people who misuse them."
Overall, I found the book engaging and its premise fascinating, despite the fact that the narrative sometimes seemed to be backtracking.

Grade: B

Random Thoughts: What happened to the character of Tommy? He seemed so present and mysterious in the first half of the book, and then appeared only briefly in the second act as an ex machina character to move the plot along.

Why didn't Billy and Mona ever pursue the question of where Mary Anne went after she left Samuelson?

I doubt I will ever open a dictionary and not think of this book.


I haven't posted in a while, since I've been reading one particular book for some time, so why not a little meme action to fill up the time? I picked a random one and edited out the lamest questions.

1. What is the color of your toothbrush?
What a weird question. It varies. My upstairs toothbrush is one color (maybe orange) and my downstairs toothbrush is probably green or something. Plus there's my fancy Sonicare toothbrush (much neglected of late), which is a boring white.

2. Name one person who made you smile today.
George, when he smiled at me despite being congested and cranky.

3. What were you doing at 8 am this morning?
Sleeping, thankfully.

4. What were you doing 45 minutes ago?
Answering chat reference questions from around the country.

5. What is your favorite candy bar?
Today, Snickers. Tomorrow, something else. A Butterfinger sounds good about now.

6. Have you ever been to a strip club?

7. What is the last thing you said aloud?
"And it's only common sense."

8. What is your favorite ice cream?

9. What was the last thing you had to drink?
Orange Vitamin Water.

10. Do you like your wallet?
Yes, of course. It's black leather.

11. What was the last thing you ate?
A Tootsie Roll.

12. Have you bought any new clothing items this week?
Sadly, no. I think there's probably still a clothing-buying embargo on me.

13. The last sporting event you watched?
Yesterday's Pats game. At least they won this one.

14. What is your favorite flavor of popcorn?
Caramel, despite the fact that it once caused me to lose a tooth.

15. Ever go camping?
Of course. But not enough and not recently.

16. Do you take vitamins daily?
It's a goal. A not very often realized goal.

17. Do you go to church every Sunday?
I'm an atheist. So, no.

18. Do you prefer Chinese food over pizza?
It's a close call, depending on my mood. Right now I prefer either to cooking anything at home.

19. What are you doing tomorrow?
Going to work. Cleaning. Playing with a baby.

20. Favorite color?
Blue or green.

21. Look to your left; what do you see?
A pile of junk on my desk.

22. What do you think of when you hear “Australia”?

23. Would you strip for money?
No, because I'm sure I wouldn't make that much.

24. What is your favorite number?

25. In how many states have you lived?
Five. And three countries.

26. Biggest annoyance right now?
Inability to finish current book.

27. Last song listened to?
Touching the Ground, Brandi Carlile.

28. Favorite pair of shoes you wear all the time?
LL Bean comfort mocs.

29. Are you jealous of anyone?
Of course.

30. Is anyone jealous of you?
I'd like to think that people are jealous of my beautiful hair, my charming smile, and my obvious intelligence, but I strongly doubt it.

31. What do you usually do during the day?
Answer people's questions and help them print things.

32. Do you hate anyone that you know right now?
Hate is a strong word. I don't currently know anyone that's worth that much negative energy.

33. Do you use the word hello daily?
Yes. Again, what a weird question.

34. What color is your car?
Green. Or black. Depends on the car.

35. What size wedding ring do you wear?
Um, 6 1/2? 6 1/4? Apparently I don't know my ring size.

36. Have you ever been to Six Flags?
No, but I have a fear of roller coasters that would probably make it a money-waster anyway.

37. How did you get your worst scar?
I ran through a door. And that should be "scars" plural. There are a lot of other candidates, but I think those are probably the worst.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Book Review: The Gathering Storm [2009]

Publication of The Gathering Storm, the 12th book in Robert Jordan's epic (in many senses of the word) fantasy series The Wheel of Time, was long overdue. The last volume, Knife of Dreams, was published all the way back in 2005, before the author's untimely death in 2007. I have to take a moment to reflect on the series, because since the first book was published (1990), my investment has slowly moved from "hey, this is a neat story, let's see where it goes" to "DAMMIT, I read all the others, I have to see this through to the end! Please promise me there will someday be an end?" A fantasy-reading endurance test, if you will. I am happy to report that The Gathering Storm is an improvement over some of the later installments of the series, particularly in terms of pacing and action. I do believe that Brandon Sanderson is absolutely the right author to continue and conclude the series (based on what is reputedly a large body of unfinished work left by Jordan). Sanderson's skill at big-picture plotting is vital to the task of bringing a giant mess of characters, motivations, and events to some kind of coherent endpoint. And if he can actually do it in the next two years/two volumes, well, I salute him.

The Gathering Storm, as its name suggests, sets the stage for the Last Battle between Rand al'Thor (the Dragon Reborn) and the Dark One. Despite being rather heavy on the storm imagery, and omitting or reducing some viewpoints (Elayne, for example) that have been prominent in previous installments, the action moves along quickly and several large plot points are resolved. Mat is relegated to a comic relief role, Perrin hardly appears, and, PS, The Last Battle is coming! I don't have the energy to summarize the details here, but the reader spends a lot of time with Egwene, who is trying to restore the White Tower to unity, and Rand, who is (as usual) struggling with his sanity and becoming more and more of a pain in the ass à la Harry Potter in The Order of the Phoenix. There is a lot of moping and staring people down. As is customary after I take a multi-year break from this series, if I had a nickel for every minor character I had to look up (particularly various Aes Sedai), I'd have at least $2.00 right now. However, there's no way that I'm going back and re-reading every freakin' book again, because this is my Year of Not Re-Reading. Also it would take forever. I was satisfied with the character development and plot movement in this volume, although the urge to smack Rand upside the head was often very strong, and the ending seemed appropriate to the trajectory of the plotlines, leaving me optimistic about the next (and penultimate) volume. Bring it on!

Grade: A-

Random Thoughts:

Look, if you've read the others, you might as well read this one. Just do it.

I always struggle with Jordan's representation of women. On the one hand, there are some great, complex female characters, and we get to spend a lot of time with them. On the other hand, they almost universally seem to think that men are "wool-headed" idiots. Then there's the question of homosexuality. In a fictional world as huge as The Wheel of Time, it seems a bit odd that none of the viewpoint characters are gay. I read an interesting article at the Thirteenth Depository about "pillow-friends" (same-sex attraction and sexual activity among the Aes Sedai and others), but I'm convinced that the world could benefit from additional viewpoints beyond the men-are-stubborn-but-noble and women-love-those-ornery-men dichotomy.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Book Review: Soulless [2009]

When I was ordering paperbacks a months ago, I immediately added Soulless by Gail Carriger to my cart, because I knew from its description alone that it would be completely awesome. And of course, I was right. Soulless is utterly charming. I am charmed. If it didn't have multiple holds on it, I would keep it to read again instead of releasing it back into the library system. However, I am generally kind and don't want to prevent other patrons from enjoying it. I am, however, considering buying my own copies and forcing them on various friends, if this review doesn't immediately make them want to read the book. Which it should, because I have impeccable taste.

Alexia Tarabotti is regrettably (in the eyes of her family and the London ton) a half-Italian spinster who combines bluestocking tendencies with the unnerving habit of speaking her mind. She is also lacking a soul, a fact known only to those in the supernatural community, including the ill-mannered (but strangely appealing) Lord Maccon, alpha werewolf and head of the government's Bureau of Unnatural Registry (BUR). Being soulless, or preturnatural, grants her the ability to negate other supernatural powers. After an unfortunate incident that ends in the staking (with the help of her wooden hair stick and trusty weighted parasol) of an unregistered vampire, Alexia and Lord Maccon's paths cross and re-cross as the BUR attempts to get to the bottom of a series of disappearances in the supernatural community. Populated by endearing secondary characters, plenty of electricity between the leads, a fully-realized and enchanting alt-Victorian London, and abundant descriptions of couture, comestibles, and steampunk gadgetry, Soulless is a feast for the senses and, so far, my favorite book of 2009.

Grade: A (obviously)

Random Thoughts:

This was much more like a romance novel than I initially thought it would be. For me, this was excellent, as I love a good romance--however, anyone looking for hard urban fantasy should be prepared more for an Amanda-Quick-ish supernatural.

I was reading this book while walking around the house carrying a fretful baby. Carriger's turns of phrase often made me grin like a madwoman. I can't wait for the sequel to come out, and you can bet that I'll be ordering it for the library.

I don't generally ever choose the werewolf in any situation where such a choice is possible. For example, Edward beats Jacob (although--what a choice . . .), and for me Jean-Claude is always preferable to Richard. However, suddenly Lord Maccon has appeared and provided some weight to tip the scales toward the furry side. Here is a werewolf whom one could embrace wholeheartedly, if one were of an appropriately soulless state. Not to say that I wouldn't embrace Lord Akeldama--he is adorable, and one of the few fully realized gay characters who (spoiler alert) does not get killed that I can remember existing. I just adore his army of foppish, yet secretly capable, minions.

The author's website.

Book Review: Rosemary and Rue [2009]

I'm a fan of urban fantasy, thought I haven't read a lot of it lately, and decided to pick this one up while doing my paperback order. Rosemary and Rue, by Seanan McGuire, is the first of a series of books featuring the changeling character October "Toby" Daye. As the product of human and Faerie blood, changelings are not entirely welcome in either world, and although Toby once forged a place in Faerie as a knight for the Duke of Shadowed Hills, she has since repudiated all connections to that world. In fact, Toby apparently lived quite an event-filled life before the book even begins: she was engaged to and had a daughter with a human man before her "private investigator" status in Faerie landed her in a fourteen-year imprisonment in a koi pond. As the action begins, she works as a grocery clerk, is unable to speak to her daughter, and exists in a voluntary state of friendlessness. The setting may be fantastic but the action is a straight-up mystery, revolving around the death of one of Toby's old allies, Countess Evening Winterrose. The Countess has cursed Toby with discovering the truth of her murder with cold iron, and the task becomes a race against time as well as Toby's forceful reintroduction into the world of Faerie. Although there is a lot of (necessary) exposition and explanation of the laws of Faerie, etc., this is a solid series opener with some intriguing characters that left me hopeful that some of the many threads left hanging will be picked up in the next volume.

Grade: B

The author's website.

Book Review: Ash [2009]

I have read and enjoyed Malinda Lo's work on AfterEllen for many years now, so it was with great pleasure that I heard of the imminent publication of her first young adult novel, Ash. A reworking of the Cinderella story, Ash draws heavily on fairy tale tropes but colors them with a darker, almost gothic flavor.

Aisling ("Ash") is young when her mother dies unexpectedly, and somewhat puzzled when her father remarries and brings a City lady and her two daughters to live in their quiet village. After her father's startling death and their subsequent removal to her stepmother's house, she finds comfort in tales of the fairies, who are said to thrive in the adjacent Wood. These stories emphasize that, when dealing with those of the other world, a price must always be paid. Moved at first by her absolute certainty that her mother must still be alive, Ash delves deeper and deeper into the Wood, eventually becoming acquainted with the mysterious Sidhean, a fairy with an unknown agenda. Although she is drawn to him and finds their odd friendship the only remedy for an increasingly abusive relationship with her stepmother, she also becomes intrigued by the King's Huntress, Kaisa. She is torn between her certain knowledge that Sidhean can take her away from all earthly struggles, and the golden glow of her interactions with Kaisa. However, in order to enter the world of the Huntress, she strikes bargains with Sidhean that could put her newfound life in jeopardy. Though the plot sometimes moves at an agonizingly slow pace, this is one fairy-tale reimagining that is definitely worth a thoughtful read.

Grade: A-

Random Thoughts:

Lo also develops an interesting tension between the "old ways" (primarily female and earth-oriented, represented by the greenwitches) and the book learning of the "philosophers," who tend to be men.

After thinking about it, I would say that agency is one of the most important themes of the book. Ash spends a good deal of the narrative having things done to her, and must learn to make her own decisions and deal with the consequences of her actions.

Interview with Malinda Lo on AfterEllen.

The author's website.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Book Review: Gravity [2008]

I was recently on a panel for the New England Library Association entitled Alterna-Lit for Teens. I'll probably be writing reviews of some of the books I read for my portion (coming out books) at some point when I have the energy, but in the meantime I wanted to write about Gravity, by Leanne Lieberman, which was actually presented by one of my colleagues.

Gravity is set in the 80s in Toronto and revolves around a family of Orthodox Jews. Although the narrative is from the perspective of the younger daughter, Ellisheva Gold, who falls in love with a girl she meets while on vacation, the story is really about the entire family and their struggle with faith. Ellie's mother works to find ways to express her faith despite the restrictive confines of orthodoxy, Ellie's sister Neshama is determined to leave and never look back as soon as she finishes high school, and Ellie's father believes that if the Jews had been more observant, the Holocaust would never have happened. Against this background, Ellie fights doggedly against her attraction to Lindsay and also her desire to know more about the world and science than her religion finds strictly acceptable. When she accepts that she does prefer girls over boys, she must come to terms with what that means for her belief in God. The story resonates at the end with the balance she finds between her faith and her sexuality.

Grade: A-

Random Thoughts: I don't love the cover photo--I think the model's skirt is much too short. I did like that the book was set in the 80s, although that didn't have too much to do with the movement of the plot. I especially liked the tension between Ellie and Lindsay--they don't have much in common, and they may not actually like each other much, but they nevertheless find themselves drawn together.

The author's website.

Book Review: Saving Francesca [2003]

Some list somewhere of YA literature "for adults" recommended Saving Francesca, by Melina Marchetta, and it has the distinction of being the book I was reading during that whole labor & delivery thing. Therefore, my recollection of it is a little fuzzy--however, I do remember liking it! Francesca is accustomed to struggling with her vibrant, overbearing mother, until the day that Mia doesn't get out of bed. To make things worse, Francesca is the only one in her group of friends to begin 11th grade at St. Sebastian's, a formerly all-male school still adjusting to its transition to co-ed status. As Francesca's family falls apart, she loses touch with her old, shallow friends and finds herself bonding with an unlikely group of girls and boys. She is embroiled in an initially adversarial flirtation with House leader William Trombal, who unfortunately already has a girlfriend.

The strengths of Saving Francesca are both the subject mattter (the ripple effect of Mia's depression strains Francesca's relationships with her father and teachers in addition to her mother) and the slow, deliberate filling out of characters through Francesca's sometimes unreliable narration. Francesca's eventual group of friends isn't just a clique-y group of girls as in many teen school-based novels, but a mix of slightly outcast boys and girls whom circumstances have thrown together. The characters are fresh and vibrant, and the ending brings the story to a satisfying full circle.

Grade: A

The author's website. I especially like the Australian part--she lives in Sydney.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Book Review: Alcatraz Versus The Evil Librarians [2007]

As an Evil Librarian, I must say that this book is libel of the worst kind. If the world were secretly controlled by librarians, as author Brandon Sanderson claims, surely we would be able to accomplish all sorts of things, like come up with a plan for affordable health care and keep the Yankees from winning the World Series this year.

On Alcatraz Smedry's thirteenth birthday, his world changes drastically. Having spent the previous years of his life in a series of foster homes (sometimes for very short spans of time due to his "Talent" for breaking things), suddenly he finds himself propelled by an eccentric grandparent--whom he has never met before--into the forefront of a long-standing war between the Free Kingdoms and the Librarians, who rule the Hushlands. That would be where we live, in a society controlled entirely by Librarians and policed by their various minions. Sanderson's characters, including Bastille, the kick-ass knight who is also a thirteen-year old girl, are fun to watch as they attempt their seemingly impossible task: retrieve the Sands of Rashid from the bastion that is the Central Library.

In some ways, Alcatraz is like a well-made children's movie that has an extra layer of meaning that adults can appreciate. Sanderson's books always contain some humorous elements, but in this first-person volume for young adults, he really gives his zany, tongue-in-cheek character free reign to embrace silliness. Sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn't. At times, the narrative is in jeopardy of being too clever, but for the most part, reading it left me with a light heart. The book ends with a major cliffhanger, and I know there are at least three more in the series, which I definitely plan to read.

Sanderson's website.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Meditation on The Attack of Confidence

Some days, I just wake up feeling too good about myself. I look in the bathroom mirror and say, "you're pretty hot," and the day just gets better from there. I walk around work and think about how great it is to be young and strong and healthy and a librarian. I feel charming. I feel like trying to charm everyone I meet, even people on the streets of Springfield, by making eye contact and smiling at them, and seeing if anything happens. I get giddy. I feel at the top of my game, in terms of my ability to make people smile. I feel like a cross between Mary Chapin Carpenter's "I Feel Lucky" and Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself":

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I know that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. Unfortunately, I am too over-full of energy to settle on any one thing to do. I really should leave work and try to take over the world or something before this feeling fades. As it will, because it always does. But in the meantime, I will grin like a madwoman and bounce around the library.

Book Review: Bite Me! [2009]

There are a lot of things to like about Bite Me!, the debut novel by Melissa Francis. First of all, the protagonist, AJ Ashe, is a high school girl who actually is a vampire, rather than being a doe-eyed girlfriend of a vampire. AJ doesn't even like being a vampire, and has spent most of her life being as perfect as she can to compensate. I also liked the basic plot: AJ's mom marries AJ's boyfriend Ryan's dad, and they are forbidden to date despite their deep deep lurve for each other. That's good stuff, people! However, things quickly get muddled with the introduction of the overall mythology of the world. See, there's something about clans of vampires, of which the Serpentines are the most evilest, and scrolls, and runes, and some group of not-vampires called the Frieceadan Druids. I have a rule when I read books for fun (most of which are fantasy books): don't name stuff using words I can't pronounce, or I will have a hard time every time I see that word. Yes, after a little internet searching, I can see that Francis is going for a whole Scottish thing with Ryan's family, but still. The way that the mythology is introduced is very clunky, with AJ discovering information through books and scrolls, and so quickly (in order to move along various plot points) that it seems forced. If you look too closely at the plot, it starts to create a lot of questions--why, if AJ's father is the one behind all the trouble in town, did he wait years to do anything? Why doesn't AJ notice how creepy her recently returned friend is acting? Why on earth don't AJ and Ryan's parents just let them date, for god's sake? They were dating first! On the plus side, at the end of the book, AJ finally chooses to embrace her heritage and kick ass, which was well worth the wait.

Francis leaves the ending open with a major cliffhanger (my copy included a teaser for the next book, Love Sucks!) that leaves the villain on the loose, AJ's vampire father apparently the mastermind, AJ's vampire mother [spoiler!] pregnant with a Frieceadan child, and AJ and Ryan still in love with each other. It might be interesting to see where this is going, but I hope the second book is more tightly edited.

Grade: C+

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Book Review: Perfect Life [2009]

I keep making these forays into what I guess you might call "Literary Fiction" in an attempt to broaden my horizons, or make myself better at Reader's Advisory, or something. I read a few reviews of Perfect Life, by Jessica Shattuck, while I was doing collection development at work and impulsively placed a hold. As usually happens when I finish one of these books, I ended up somewhat disappointed. The novel is the story of four college friends (three women and one man, Neil) who attended Harvard undergrad together, and the action largely takes place in Boston (which is one of the problems, but I'll get to that momentarily). As the story begins, advertising executive Jenny is preparing for her son Colin's christening. Colin is biologically the child of Neil, who has agreed to give up his right to have knowledge of or contact with the child. So naturally, he is peering in the window of the fancy church that social-climbing Jenny has selected as an appropriate staging ground. The other friends, Laura (stay at-home mom and wife to a self-made immigrant) and Elise (lesbian and new non-bio parent), are each also prominent characters. I feel that the main difficulty with Perfect Life is that it takes on too many things. Each thirtysomething wrestles with mundane issues such parenthood and connecting with their spouse, in addition to heavier topics such as biology, inheritance, marketing, video game design, and a general crisis of faith. Jenny's husband [spoiler alert] is diagnosed with cancer, bringing her perfect world down around her ears just as she pioneers the launch of a new drug for postpartum depression. Laura, the most likeable character, struggles to find meaning in the daily routines of motherhood. Elise, a biologist, finds her partner's desire to meet other children conceived with their donor's sperm bewildering. Neil returns to Boston for reasons unknown even to himself, and it is around him (as the wild card) that the action largely turns.

In a weird way, this book is like a cousin of The Magicians, which I also read recently: a youngish group of friends struggling to find a place in the world and have angst and complicated relationships. But because Shattuck presents the narrative from the perspective of each of the four main characters, a lot of the interactions and character motivations end up feeling shallow because the reader never gets to spend enough time with one person. I lived in Boston for several years, and still don't consider myself an expert, but something about the way Shattuck dropped street, restaurant, and place names into the narrative really struck me as unnecessarily forceful, as if she was always trying to stress the location as an integral part of the story. Unfortunately, I don't feel that the location was an integral part of the story; the events could have played out anywhere. I get that Shattuck lives in Cambridge, and she wants to write what she knows--but it really was like reading one of those Gossip Girl or chick lit novels in which the names of designers and posh locales are always intruding on the plot.

I guess it probably sounds like I didn't really like this book. I'll be honest: it took me a long time to finish. I wasn't hurrying to pick it up. But it did make me think about a few things, like parenthood and friendship between adults, in a different way.

Grade: B-

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Meditation on the PVTA

So earlier this week I dropped off my car in Northampton for a couple of routine repairs, thinking I would easily be able to pick it up at the end of the week. Due to a variety of scheduling difficulties, I wasn't able to proceed with plan A (making LawyerGirl drive me Thursday morning) or Plan B (I forget what Plan B was, but it was probably excellent). I ended up taking the bus from Springfield, where I work, to Northampton. As the Google Maps fly, this is a distance of a little more than 20 miles, which takes about half an hour in the car. Other than a taxi, or throwing myself on the mercy of one of my coworkers, there were two bus options: the Peter Pan (based in Springfield!), an $8 one-way ticket, or the much-maligned PVTA, for $1.25 a ride or a $3 day pass.

I have spent five years living in the Pioneer Valley and have taken a bus here and there, but for the most part I use my car to get around. Part of this is because I love my car, and part of this is because the motto of the PVTA should be "You Can't Get There From Here." Let's say I wanted to take the bus to work from Easthampton to Springfield. I could get up to catch the 6:35 AM bus to HCC (whoops, no, the early bus doesn't stop at HCC for some reason). I would have to take the 7:25 bus to HCC, which arrives at 7:40. Then I could wait around until 8:00 for the P11 HCC Express, which gets in to Springfield at 8:25. That's not too bad! Only an hour on the bus. However, I can't take this route back. Why? Because the last bus leaves Springfield at 4:30, which is a completely inconvenient time for anyone who works normal business hours. So I would have to take another bus back. The last bus leaves HCC for Easthampton at 5:40, which rules out any bus that goes from Springfield to Westfield after 5:00 (otherwise known as the time that a lot of people get off work), and then on to HCC. The only other bus routes to Easthampton come from the direction of Northampton. Ok. So, what if I got off work at 5 and took the bus from Springfield to Northampton, and then on to Easthampton? Well, I learned yesterday that that trip will take at least TWO HOURS. But, for the sake of argument, let's say I get on the P20 at 5:15 in downtown Springfield. I'll get to downtown Holyoke at 6:30, hopefully make my instantaneous connection to the B48 bus, and arrive in Northampton at 7:00. Whoops! It is now too late to take the R41 into Easthampton. Well, what about the Nashawannuck Express, which is one of those little buses that the elderly take to get places, and you can call to pick up (and presumably was one of the ones involved in the PVTA scandal a few years back in which an elderly man died)? Well, let's say I can take that bus to Easthampton, even though it's not entirely clear from the schedule that I can. I would finally get back to the Easthampton Senior Center (a twenty minute walk from my house) at 8:00. That's THREE HOURS after getting off work. If I took the bus in the morning and home at night, I would spend at least four hours in transit.

The point of this exercise is not to illustrate that the PVTA sucks. Everyone knows that the service has had votes of no confidence and, of course, the death of a paratransit rider who was dropped at the wrong location. Sure, the drivers could probably be more diligent and the Springfield buses, at least, could benefit from not running the heat in the summer. The point is that there are a lot of people in this valley who rely on local bus service to get from place to place because they can't afford the luxury of owning a car. The point is I had a patron last month who was offered a job--in this economy--at CNS in Hatfield, but couldn't take it because he doesn't own a car and guess what? The PVTA doesn't really go anywhere near Hatfield. The point is that there are lots of people like me who could drive a little way to a parking lot for a commuter rail line that went from Hartford to Greenfield or Brattleboro, which would save countless gallons of gas (for consumers) and air pollution (for the environment). It's about time that we stopped screwing around with useless digital road sign projects and started building something that will actually be useful, environmentally sound, and serve a wide variety of people. In the meantime, the PVTA could go a long way by listening to its constituents and scheduling buses for when people actually need to travel. All right, I'm done.

ETA: And just in case you're thinking--wait, why doesn't she just live in Springfield, since that's where she works? I would be happy to live in Springfield, actually. We just managed to buy the house before I got my job. But the next time we move, Springfield will definitely be in the equation.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Book Review: Another Kind of Cowboy [2007]

Another Kind of Cowboy, by Susan Juby, is a bit of a strange book because it's all about horses, riding, and training, but ultimately it doesn't have that many scenes where riding and competition feature prominently. Juby splits the narrative between Alex, the closeted dressage enthusiast, and Cleo, the spoiled rich-girl character who is exiled to riding school in Canada for her poor behavior. Alex learns to enjoy the company of people as well as horses, and the book is in some ways the story of the reunification of his family. Cleo learns to exercise her judgment (at least a little), and, of course, Alex finally comes out of the closet. I felt like the horsey details of the book and its supporting cast were its strongest points. Alex's twin sisters, who are convinced they will be martial arts movie stars when they grow up, are hilarious. I didn't quite understand why Alex's narrative was presented in third person while Cleo's was in first person--because Alex's motivations are supposed to be more mysterious? Because the author is female and felt more comfortable using the "I" with Cleo? I felt that this division really did Alex a disservice (his story is to me the more compelling one). It's a quick, easy read, and its engaging characters rise above the somewhat predictable storyline to create a pleasing package.

Grade: B-

The author's website.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Book Review: King of the Screwups [2009]

Liam always seems to be screwing things up, but when his businessman father catches him making out with a girl on the desk in his office, he finally gets kicked out of the house. Instead of going to his uptight grandparents in Nevada, however, Liam's mother (who used to be a famous runway model, and has passed all her knowledge and beauty to her son) arranges for him to stay with his cross-dressing, glam-rocker uncle Pete, who lives in a trailer in upstate New York. Liam decides that in order to win his father's approval, he needs to be something other than the "popular kid" he's always been in the past. Despite his keen fashion sense and designer clothes, he tries dressing in Pete's t-shirts, reads the morning announcements, and generally acts as "uncool" as he can manage. Fortunately for him, his plan backfires in a variety of spectacular ways, and he learns that it might just be better to be himself than try to please his father (who is, frankly, an abusive jerk).

What I liked about this book the most was Liam's character. When he is being himself, he loves clothes, loves modeling, and cares about other people. It's also nice that Uncle Pete's gayness (and the sexuality of his bandmates), rather than being a major focus, is downplayed. I felt the book cried out for a sequel--will Liam get together with Darleen? Will Liam's mother ever leave his father? What is Liam going to do with his life? I hope he will become a world-famous model!

Grade: B

The author's website.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Book Review: How I Became a Famous Novelist [2009]

I really couldn't stop myself from reading a book about a guy who decides to become a famous novelist in order to completely humiliate his ex-girlfriend at her wedding, the aptly titled How I Became a Famous Novelist, by Steve Hely. Pete creates his best-seller, The Tornado Ashes Club, by assembling every hackneyed convention and tired metaphor he can muster and meshing it all together with overpoweringly "lyrical" prose. Pete's list of rules for best-sellers (hastily assembled during a research trip to Barnes & Noble) include: "Abandon truth," "At dull points include descriptions of delicious meals," and "Evoke confusing sadness at the end." Hely primarily uses Pete's transition to author to provide a searing criticism of the publishing industry. Publishers are portrayed as having no idea how to recognize quality writing:
You know like when a kid is just screaming and screaming, and the mom just keeps throwing toys at it, but the kid keeps screaming, and it looks like the mom's about to cry, too? . . . That's what it's like! The editors are the mom! Readers are the kid. And the editors just keep throwing stuff at them, but they don't know what to do!
Readers buy poorly written books by the millions, and literary masterworks are consigned to the pulping machine. Hely opens almost every chapter with an example of wince-inducing prose from a "best-selling" author.

In retrospect, it probably would have helped if I'd been able to identify the real bestselling authors that no doubt are represented by the broad caricatures with whom Pete finds himself interacting. However, I've read enough books to be amused by the faux bestseller list (including A Whiff of Gingham and Pecorino: On a hilltop villa in Sicily, an American divorcee finds new love with a local cheesemaker involved in a blood feud.), and these lines alone made me laugh out loud (after Pete expresses his views on the "con game" of writing on national TV):
"You might have to apologize to Oprah."
"What'd I do to her?"
"She's just--that's who you apologize to."
Although the book didn't hang together as well as it could have, and ended with a whimper rather than a bang, it was worth a few laughs as a reminder to appreciate literature (but never take anything too seriously).

Grade: B-

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Book Review: The Magicians [2009]

How could I not pick up a book that George R. R. Martin blurbed with "The Magicians is to Harry Potter as a shot of Irish whiskey is to a glass of weak tea."? Although at its heart the book is an homage to Narnia, and it does contain some Potter-ish elements (notably a school of magic and division between magicians and the "real" world), it has a profoundly adult and dark sensibility that is rooted more in twentysomething angst than a child's magical adventures. Lev Grossman's protagonist Quentin Coldwater--I hesitate to call him "hero"--feels out of place and listless in Brooklyn until he receives the opportunity to study at Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy. Despite his growing affinity for magic and a close-knit group of friends, Quentin feels a rising sense of panic as graduation approaches:
Any one of a thousand options promised--basically guaranteed--a rich, fulfilling, challenging future for him. So why did Quentin feel like he was looking around frantically for another way out? Why was he still waiting for some grand adventure to come find him?
Becoming a magician is not the cure-all he always felt it would be when he read children's books about the enchanted land of Fillory. When the opportunity to pursue his childish dream finally arrives, the outcome turns out to be more brutal and harrowing than he could ever have imagined. I found the book's premise intriguing, but stalled several times while I was reading it, probably because it was so darn depressing and filled with relatively unsympathetic characters. Still, Grossman does an admirable job of capturing Quentin's ongoing existential crisis.

Grade: B

[Edited to Add: So, I am still thinking about this book the next day, which is, I guess, a good thing. But what I am thinking is more along the lines of: Maybe the book would have been stronger if Quentin had never actually had a big magical challenge. I thought its strength was in the heaviness, the overpoweringly terrible ennui of the magical life, which allows the group to pretty much do whatever they want with no consequences. They have no purpose and no direction. One of the reviews of the book suggested that, unlike Harry Potter, The Magicians doesn't have a Big Bad on which all attention is focused. Except . . . it kind of does. I half expected it to end--as it was in 3rd person--with Quentin's miserable death after his listless, unfulfilled life. Perhaps by alcohol or stupidity. I think I might even be disappointed that Grossman went for the big battle instead.]

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Meditation on Personality Tests

Generally, I feel that personality tests are like horoscopes: you take out of them what you feel applies to you, and the rest of the information just drifts by like empty candy wrappers the day after Halloween. However, I recently learned that I place greater value on personality tests (specifically the Jung-derived Myers-Briggs personality test) than I had previously thought. The Myers-Briggs test divides the personality into four dichotomies: Extraversion/Introversion, Sensing/iNtuition, Thinking/Feeling, and Judgment/Perception. From these dichotomies, 16 personality "types" can be created.

The other day I took the Facebook version of the Myers-Briggs test, which I had last taken (perhaps even in its official format) during high school. I'm not sure why they were having us take the test--whether it was for fun or to help us figure out what careers would be best for our looming future--but I clearly remember my original "type" as INFP, or Introverted, iNtuitive, Feeling, and Perceiving. As I recall, it was quite heavily weighted toward the "I." I clutched the paragraph associated with this identity close to my heart, discussed it with my mother at length, and have spent the last fifteen years thinking of myself as, well, an introvert. However, when I took the Facebook version, I was labeled instead as an ENFP. I felt like the whole foundation of my identity had shifted; was I really that far from the wallflower of high school that I could be comfortable with the label of "extrovert"? Not only that, but unlike the "real" test, the Facebook version doesn't show you a handy breakdown of your answers that lets you know how close you are to the division between the different types, which is very frustrating. I decided to do some additional research in the face of this potential crisis.

I took a battery of online Myers-Briggs or similar personality tests, as well as one from the book Please Understand Me, by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates, which we happened to have on the shelf at work. The book told me I was an I, an F, and a P (which was comfortable), but also that I was tied between Sensation and iNtuition. Another wrinkle in the previously smooth fabric of my self-perception! I began to feel as if I would never be able determine my own personality by means of ten-minute personality tests! However, I gamely carried on, receiving an INFJ (Judging!!! Really?), an ENFP, another ENFP, and an ENFP/ENFJ. The latter has a really cool way of displaying your percentages and, rather than either/or questions (a lot of which have no right answers for borderline personalities), has you move a bar along a scale between two options. Nevertheless, that test gave me a potential J, and I'm still not so sure about that. After all this, I was confronted with the quandary: was it possible that my personality has migrated all the way from INFP (presuming that the original test was absolutely correct, which for my mental model it was) to ESFJ or ENFJ? It would seem that the only stable part of my personality is the Feeling part, which is pretty much a no-brainer if you have ever been around me. Those tests that did have percentage breakdowns had me at about 5% Thinking and 95% Feeling, which is probably about right.

If I take a rough average of all the tests I took, I do end up as an ENFP, which was what Facebook had indicated. Reading descriptions of ENFP, a lot of the observations seem to ring true, especially the flattering parts and "zany charm." I feel exactly the same way when I read stuff about the Libra star sign; it fits pretty well. I guess I like the generalizations that this kind of categorization yield, and the feeling of "you're special and unique, and just like everyone else who tested this way." Mostly, it has been interesting to realize how much unconscious emphasis I have always placed on being an introvert--so much that I was deeply startled by my new test results. Subsequent discussions with friends and coworkers have revealed that . . . yeah, I am kind of extroverted at this point. I don't know when it happened, but I enjoy being around people more than I enjoy being alone. Lucky for me! Lucky for the people upon whom I inflict my company! I will enthusiastically embrace this new vision of myself . . . until I take my next personality test.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Museum Review: Bodies Revealed

I am generally a fairly squeamish person, but I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed a recent trip to the Bodies exhibit at Foxwoods Casino. We had planned for some time on visiting an incarnation of the exhibit--a traveling show that features Real! Human! Bodies!--but missed it in the Boston area and didn't want to make the drive to New York City. Thank goodness for Foxwoods, which also enabled our "bonus" museum visit to the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center. The coolest part of the Bodies exhibit was definitely the veins revealed by some obscure and deliciously gruesome process. The display was ultimately clinical, rather than gory, and ended up feeling more like an anatomy lesson than a House of Horrors. We didn't even have any qualms when faced by the row of fetuses in various stages of growth. The only downside was probably the steadily cautionary tone of the descriptions ("these are a smoker's lungs--you shouldn't smoke!" and "obese people are more likely to have deformed organs like this--watch what you eat and exercise!" and "are you sure you don't want to stop smoking RIGHT NOW?"). Despite the proselytizing, it was more often than not that we couldn't figure out the real difference between the regular lung and the cancerous lung . . . I would be hard pressed, if given a sample and told to identify them, to figure out which one looked more like my mother's lungs upon her death. Not to mention the cancerous breast. I'm not sure the museum was worth the $20 per person price of admission (we cheated and shared the audio tour), but it was interesting. If anything, it wasn't informative enough--not enough things were labeled, especially the "cross-sections" (basically people sliced from top to bottom, side to side, and front to back, then positioned with space to see between the slices), which were otherwise really cool. I have never been at an exhibit that made me so often stop and examine myself physically.

Grade: B

Random Thoughts:

Reading more about the controversy surrounding the exhibit . . . the bodies may be executed Chinese political prisoners. Hmm. It would really be nice if this sort of scientific/educational/commercial endeavor could be achieved without exploitation. Aren't there fat, white, middle-class guys out there who are willing to give their bodies for science? I maintain that the theory behind the exhibit--educating people about their own bodies--and the process by which the bodies are preserved--is worthwhile, but in retrospect I hope those who provided their bodies received some compensation.

A lot of the people at the exhibit were pretty juvenile, despite appearing to be adult. I'm looking at you, former frat boys, and YOU, giggly (possibly drunk) ladies. Yes, those were genitalia. I blame Foxwoods.

We didn't leave nearly enough time for the Pequot Museum. For some reason, I thought I could breeze through in an hour and 45 minutes (like the Uffizi in Florence, no I'm not proud) despite the ticket-seller's warning, and I was wrong. I will have to return with a penitent air at some point in the future and cough up another outrageous amount of money. Also, the viewing tower offers a super view of . . . the casino. Which is really fairly ugly, compared to Mohegan Sun . . . which is no great shakes.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Book Review: The Girl Who Played With Fire [2009]

I read and enjoyed The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo when it came out last year, although I felt that it was a bit heavy-handed at times. The Girl who Played with Fire is the second of the trilogy written by Swedish author Stieg Larsson before his untimely death. Fire, like the previous novel, features the characters of Lisbeth Salander (socially awkward hacker extraordinaire) and Mikael Blomkvist (investigative journalist and ladies' man). Larsson's characters are for the most part deeply flawed, and a refreshing number of them are women. This book, unlike the first, focuses on Salander's past and has as its main plot point her fugitive status after three mysterious killings shake Stockholm. As one of the victims is Salander's court-appointed guardian and her fingerprints are found at both crime scenes, she is naturally under suspicion from the outset. Blomkvist and the rest of the staff of Millennium magazine, the police department, and the security firm where Salander was once employed are all on the hunt for her, as well as a group of thugs that would rather she disappeared for good. I can't tell if I thought there were too many characters because there really were--several minor story lines seemed to disappear by the end of the book--or because they all had similar (and therefore somewhat confusing) Swedish names. I am all for Scandinavian naming conventions, but it was occasionally hard to remember who individual characters were when they popped up after being absent for some time. The book is gripping, however, and ended on a bit of a cliffhanger, leaving me eager for the final installment.

Grade: B+

Random Thoughts: There were lots of comparisons between Salander and Pippi Longstocking. I used to really love Pippi--I think I need to re-read those books. And I seem to remember a movie?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Book Review: To Kiss a Spy [2002]

It has been quite some time since I picked up one a Jane Feather romance novel. I started borrowing them from my mother's shelf at quite a young age (*cough*), and still have a sentimental attachment. When I was between books--by which I mean there was a book upstairs that I meant to start, but I was downstairs--I saw one on the paperback shelf, yielded to my old impulses, and picked it up. To Kiss a Spy is, unlike some of the other Feather series I have read, set in the reign of Edward Tudor, and involves a great deal of intrigue about the succession. Lady Penelope "Pen" Bryanston is Mary Tudor's closest confidante, but she is haunted by the loss of her child under mysterious circumstances. Owen D'Arcy is the premier spy for the French in the English court. They strike a bargain: she will give him information about Mary if he helps her find her child. Result: love. (Surprise!)

Apparently this is the second book of a trilogy. It was a quick and pleasant read, although Feather really didn't do much to make her villains anything more than one-dimensional, and the outcome was--of course--never in doubt.

Grade: B

Random Thoughts:

I did learn that Jane Feather's real name is Dzhein Feizer, which is cool. I always assumed it was a pseudonym, but I didn't realize how it was related to her real name.

Someday I will have to look more closely at our culture's absolute fascination with the Tudors. It's really quite amazing.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Day in the Life of a Reference Librarian

8:40 Arrive at work.
8:45 Go to computer lab, turn on computers for 10 AM Computer Basics class. Bypass reservation system, set out handouts, realize there aren't enough evaluation forms.
9:00 Go upstairs for evaluation forms. Turn on computer. Attempt to wake up.
9:12 Eat breakfast.
9:15 Back downstairs with evaluation forms. Someone is very, early for the class. Start her on Mousercise.
9:45 Wow, people are super-early today! Almost everyone signed up is here ahead of time. Reading Publisher's Weekly to pass the time.
10:00 It's a full class at 14 people. Only two of them own a computer, so they're probably in the right class.
11:40 Class runs over due to "cut and paste" question with ten minutes left. Oh well, it gave us a chance to review everything we covered again at lightning speed.
11:45 Lunch.
12:00 Chat reference. Help a UK resident find numbers for French B&Bs. Help someone figure out how to get books from other libraries. Help someone figure out that they really should just call their library directly instead of bothering with chat reference. Review 1988 staff Facebook, just for fun.
1:00 Staffing a public desk. Not as hot today, but fans still making it hard to hear patrons and vice versa, especially since my voice is hoarse from class this morning. Helping people find information on worker's comp, car repair, and tracking down lots of summer reading. Marks are piling up fast and furious on my stat sheet. Why is this summer reading prize system so complicated? Decide to call for help.
2:00 Patron lull. Check in on Twitter. Check work email.
2:12 Help lady with a series question by using Fantastic Fiction.
2:13 Check Google Reader for first time all day. Usually I would do this when I first got in the building, but was prepping for class instead.
2:14 Or not. More patrons.
2:17 I've lost track of the times someone has said "I'm looking for a book." And then looked at me expectantly.
2:22 Someday I will have to read "A Child Called It" and see what the fuss is about.
2:31 It's too bad I don't have my pedometer on today, because I have been running up to the mezzanine and back quite frequently.
2:32 Putting holds on things we don't have here. I would call a branch to expedite, but the one that has the item is closed today--hazards of branch system.
2:34 Patrons want address and phone for Chicopee Library. I actually know what street it's on, but have never been.
2:40 Apparently there is something gross in the public restroom.
2:42 Give scrap paper to patron teaching herself how to draw.
3:00 Break!
3:15 Go to branch to weed 800s. First, shelf reading. Found several missing items.
5:00 Done until Saturday!
11:00 Search for "This American Life" episode with Nubbins the doll.
11:15 Search for "This American Life" episode with rabid raccoon.
11:30 Search for "Car Talk" episode with black widow spiders.
11:45 Time for bed.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Book Review: Boy Proof [2005]

Inscribed with a dedication to "all nerdy girls everywhere," Boy Proof, by Cecil Castellucci, an endearing romantic comedy-type novel set in Hollywood, has plenty of Sci-Fi references to go around. Now, as someone who recently made an X-Files related "Erlenmeyer Flask" reference in casual conversation, I may be biased, but I found the book's geekiness refreshing and engaging. Victoria "Egg" Jurgen is obsessed with the Sci-Fi movie Terminal Earth to the point where she dresses like Egg, its main character, quotes extensively from the movie, and holds everyone and everything else at a generous distance. She believes that her big brain and general aloofness have made her "boy proof," which of course invites the introduction of the other main character, Max Carter, a cool transfer student who seems genuinely smart and wonders why Egg doesn't use her talents for some better purpose. Cue adorableness!

Grade: B+/A-

Random Thoughts:

Castellucci's website. I imagine she gets mistaken for a male author quite often. I wonder if it's ever to this extent. The only other thing I've read by her was The Plain Janes. I should probably read the sequel to that, huh?

My favorite quote from Boy Proof:
I wish I smoked cigarettes or had a flask or did something self-destructive to get rid of this burning black feeling inside of me. Instead I resort to biting my nails.
I think I feel this way far too often, for a non-teenager. Maybe I should get a vice.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Book Review: 84, Charing Cross Road [1970]

Who could fail to be charmed by the wit and warmth of Helene Hanff's 84, Charing Cross Road? Hanff reproduces in the book (with some excisions) her correspondence with the staff of Marks & Co., Booksellers, most notably Frank Doel, who was chiefly responsible for sending her books she requested over the course of nearly twenty years. In return, she sent both teasing, sometimes outrageous responses ("this is not pepys' diary, this is some busybody editor's miserable collection of EXCERPTS from pepys' diary may he rot") and supplemental food for the book shop's staff, a luxury in post-war England. The letters are humorous, educated, and vibrant, and it is heartening to watch them grow from simple business transactions to signs of genuine friendship between Hanff and various employees of Marks & Co. The only downside: not enough letters, even in the "Deluxe Gift Edition." Seriously, it only took me about 45 minutes to read.

Grade: A-

Random Thoughts:

In her memoir The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, Hanff finally visits England and sees the sites she's always read about--alas, after the shop has closed. I've added it to my list.

Also, "epistolary" is a cool word.

Also also, people who liked The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society should probably read this.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Book Review: Wintergirls [2009]

I've known several of them over the course of my life: girls who disappear into the bathroom after meals, girls who push food around rather than eating it or punish their mouths as they consume what little substance they allow themselves. I'm sure most people might recognize a friend or classmate or relative by these signs. Eating disorders are more common than we might like to admit, and of course they aren't just a problem encountered by women. Among other topics, New York Times food critic Frank Bruni details his struggle with bulimia in his upcoming memoir (excerpted here). Self-deprivation of this sort involves control more than anything else. I have occasionally experimented with starving myself, for a variety of idiotic reasons--I know, for example, that after a certain amount of time without eating, you can convince yourself that you don't need to eat. Luckily, I never met a sugar-laden item I could successfully resist, and I usually manage to remember that eating is pretty important. All of which is a roundabout way of introducing Wintergirls.

Like Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson's Wintergirls is an "issue" novel, but in this case the issue is body image, and the eating disorders and self-mutilation that too frequently accompany it. Lia, our first-person narrator, is a (possibly) recovering anorexic whose former best friend, the bulimic Cassie, dies horribly alone. Although they hadn't been speaking for months prior, Cassie leaves Lia 33 messages on her cell phone during the course of her last night, and Lia is wracked by guilt--quite literally haunted by Cassie--because she didn't pick up. Whatever marginal progress she might have been making by moving into her father's house and learning to care for her younger half-sister is steadily eroded as Lia spirals farther and farther out of control, until she is forced to decide once and for all if she really wants to remain among the living.

While I didn't really like the typographical choices Anderson used to convey Lia's underlying thoughts (strikethrough text, smaller font sizes and right justification, and italics beginning and ending a flashback, blank pages [shades of New Moon]), there are few books that I have read with a near-permanent wince and frequent--especially toward the end--verbal exclamations of "oh, no!" This was largely due to the way Lia's barren interior landscape forcefully engendered my own depression and misery. The pressure Lia is operating under feels disturbingly real and life-threatening. The scenes between Lia and her parents were among the most powerful, while those where the reader is lost in the wilderness of Lia's mind occasionally felt swamped in metaphor.

Wintergirls also feels a little bit like what it is: an adult's attempt to capture the inner life of a teenager struggling through something it is difficult for many adults to fully understand. She admits in this interview, that the "issue" yielded the character, rather than the reverse. And that's OK, Anderson should absolutely respond to the needs and stories of her letter-writing fans, but the book loses something undefinable and organic as a result of its constructed nature. However, Anderson clearly did her research about anorexia and cutting, hitting every point she could, and candid discussion of these issues is certainly welcome. Overall, I think Speak is probably a stronger book, but Wintergirls could play a similar role, educating readers about eating disorders.

Grade: B

Random Thoughts:

Boy, those "forum postings" from anorexic girls were really disturbing.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Book Review: American Parent [2009]

Thankfully, American Parent: My Strange and Surprising Adventures in Modern Babyland has much more substance than Home Game, although its flaws might actually tend in the other direction: I now know much more than I ever wanted to about 19th century psychological and physiological theories. Written by journalist Sam Apple, this memoir of a first-time father's exploration of the "baby industrial complex" is both hilarious and occasionally moving. Apple investigates the booming market for baby products, naming, water and hypnobirthing techniques, lamaze, labor and labor coaches, circumcision, colic, child care, and baby education, all while illuminating the historical basis from whence various theories of child-rearing arose. Although he touches on Pavlov, Ferber, attachment parenting, and name-checks Baby Einstein, Dr. Spock, and Freud (sometimes at great length and at the risk of losing the reader's attention), the real gems of the book come when Apple stops investigating and describes the experiences that he and his wife shared during and after pregnancy. For example, just after their child is born:
I remember that I wondered if I had already bonded with our baby and that I wasn't sure, and that even though I didn't know what exactly a bond was supposed to feel like, I felt terrible about not feeling one and then briefly felt better when Jennifer admitted that she also didn't know if she had bonded, and that Jennifer and I then wondered if our failure to bond instantly meant that we would turn out to be the most monstrous, unfeeling parents of all time.
Ultimately, reading American Parent makes one feel as if--despite the many theories on parenting--baby development is still a largely nebulous field, and raising children is characterized by contradictory advice, uncertainty, and fear. All of which is hopefully tempered by joy.

Grade: B+

Random Thoughts: Despite mentioning Dr. Spock several times and giving us the personal history of any number of baby experts (past and present), Apple never delves any farther into Spock's theories or popularity. It was a very curious thing.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Book Review: The Reformed Vampire Support Group [2009]

Imagine a group of vampires who have chosen to live the "vegetarian" lifestyle, avoiding the inevitable awkwardness that arises from drinking human blood. No, it's not Twilight. Instead of being godlike, sparkly, glamorous, and sculpted, Australian author Catherine Jinks's vampires are weak, nervous, insular, and distressingly prone to vomiting guinea pig blood. Nina, a perpetual fifteen year-old who was "fanged" in 1973 and still lives with her mother, is a member of the Reformed Vampire Support Group, which meets weekly to retread the psychological issues of its members. Nina actually hates vampires:
Vampires are meant to be so glamorous and powerful, but I'm here to inform you that being a vampire is nothing like that. Not one bit. On the contrary, it's like being stuck indoors with the flu watching daytime television, forever and ever.
More than vampires, Nina hates thinking like a vampire, and is desperately afraid that she will cease to care about the outside world entirely, given enough time and lack of motivation. What is important to her, and the rest of the Reformed Vampire Support Group, is their identity as humans who are struggling with an infection, rather than monsters with no self-control. The means by which Nina leaves her comfort zone--an obsessive vampire slayer, an abused werewolf, and two disturbingly violent men--are less important.

I enjoyed the book immensely as a light-hearted Twilight antidote (Nina, herself the author of vampire-themed fiction, remarks wryly that she's no Stephenie Meyer), but I had several issues with the plotting/editing. As an author, Jinks has taken on a narrator who misses all the daylight hours of any given day, something which can make plotting for an action-packed novel rather difficult. I do understand that, however . . . I feel that there must be a better way to move the plot along than having Nina say "I'm going to cheat a bit now" and then recount things as if they were happening in real time. Perhaps if this were not a book for young adults, she would have been able to move the story along without holding our hands every step. Also: Doesn't Nina have to go to school? (This may be something that Twilight actually does better.) Also also: I know Nina is an author and all, but having her start the book in 3rd person, then switch to 1st person after 3 pages, is a distracting throwaway. Nevertheless, I loved the ensemble cast, which is filled with endearing characters, and I enjoyed Nina's growth over the course of the book. I look forward to developments in The Abused Werewolf Rescue Group.

Grade: B-