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-

Friday, July 17, 2009

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Let me say right away that I am definitely a Harry Potter fan, although it has been a while since I read the book--probably just as well, since I had an unsettling feeling that they were changing or omitting various things, and it was better for me if I couldn't figure out exactly what the differences were. That didn't stop me from making a beeline to the bookshelf when I got home, however. Anyway, as for the movie itself, in the words of Randy Jackson, "it was just OK for me." Although various reviews mentioned increased role of romance in the movie, the build-up between Ron and Hermione and Harry and Ginny was ultimately abandoned (with a whimper, rather than a bang) in favor of the Harry/Dumbledore relationship. However, it's not like that relationship (and the perspective on Voldemort's past that it yields to Harry) is given full justice either. The film had a lot of surface but very little depth, which is probably 1) a function of the difficulty of adapting a giant book that needed some editing in the first place, and 2) an annoying side effect of stretching the film franchise out for another two movies. The film manages to accomplish a lot superficially but leaves one feeling as if nothing much happened until the final ten minutes. It is difficult to imagine being super-excited about the next film, knowing that it won't be the last and will (like this one) have no real resolution. I'd rather re-read the book. Wake me up when it's 2011 and the last movie is out in theaters.

Grade: B-

Book Review: Petronella Saves Nearly Everyone [2009]

A review on the back of The Entomological Tales of Augustus T. Percival: Petronella Saves Nearly Everyone, by Dene Low, describes the narrative as "frothy," and nothing could be more true. The plot (best approached without looking too closely at the details, or it might collapse under the weight of its own frothiness) concerns the kidnapping of two dignitaries on the eve of narrator Petronella Arbuthnot's sixteenth birthday. With the aid of her insect-ingesting uncle Augustus, bosom friend Jane and Jane's handsome brother James, and her butler, and the hindrance of a raft of relatives, a disappointed suitor, and various members of local law enforcement, Petronella delves to the bottom of the mystery. I highly approve of the book's Edwardian setting and sensibility (especially the exotic names of the cast--one time you will find me pushing for intriguing names), although occasionally the writing was nearly undone by its own cleverness. More style than substance, but an enjoyable read nonetheless, and the first in a series.

Grade: B

Random Thoughts:

The cover and interior art is adorable. The packaging is definitely what drew me to this book in the bookstore, although of course I ultimately got it through ILL.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Book Review: The Treasure Map of Boys [2009]

E. Lockhart's forthcoming The Treasure Map of Boys: Noel, Jackson, Finn, Hutch, Gideon--and me, Ruby Oliver is a strong follow-up to The Boyfriend List and The Boy Book. As with the others, if you can't tolerate a certain level of obsession over boys, boys, boys, and what their actions might possibly mean, this is not the book for you. The secret of Lockhart's success is to make the story more about Ruby's struggle for acceptance at school (and some kind of mental clarity about her relationships) than it is about getting a boyfriend. As usual, the supporting characters are well drawn and some of the observations about girl-friendships are spot on:
And why was it that I had to lie to my friend in order to do the right thing by her? In order to be a good person, I had to pretend I didn't feel the way I felt. Was that what good people did? Denied their feelings and acted fake?

In this installment, Ruby struggles with her feelings for Noel (who is off limits because Nora said she liked him first), her ex-boyfriend Jackson (who recently broke up with Kim, Ruby's ex-best-friend), and a rotating cast of other boys who have mysterious motivations. As usual, both comedy and tragedy ensue, including her attempts at creating the aforementioned Treasure Map. In the end, Ruby learns to accept that people are imperfect, that the picture you have of an ideal life at one time might not necessarily be what you are happy to end up with, and that she can try to make new friends instead of feeling completely isolated. What I didn't like as much: sometimes Ruby's vocabulary feels a little forced, and the footnotes that were awesomely entertaining in the first book and fun in the second are just kind of there in the third. I am hoping for a return to awesome in the fourth and final volume! All in all, a fast and enjoyable read.

Grade: B+

Random Thoughts:

Here I am, reviewing another to-be-published book. I feel so special. Thanks to Cassandra for lending me her ARC.

The author's website.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Book Review: Rampant [2009]

I'm sure that unicorns were as much fixture in many young lives of my generation as they were in mine. I was traumatized at the age of five by my first movie, The Last Unicorn, I read The Little White Horse avidly, I had a sister who was addicted to all things equine, my mother's needlework included the Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries, and of course there was Lisa Frank. In all of these scenarios, however, unicorns were the good guys. That is not the case in Diana Peterfreund's forthcoming young adult novel Rampant, in which unicorns are vicious, man-eating beasts who can only be slain by virginal girls descended from Alexander the Great. Once you get beyond the strangeness of that premise, Peterfreund has created a believable world populated by an engaging cast of characters.

Astrid Llewellyn, our heroine, has been raised by her seemingly crackpot mother to acknowledge the existence of unicorns, but they don't become real to her until an encounter in the woods leaves her (soon to be ex) boyfriend gored and poisoned by the unicorn's potent venom. Soon, Astrid finds herself in Rome at the Cloisters, an ancient training facility for unicorn maidens. She is joined by her cousin, Philippa, and a diverse cast of teenage girls from different parts of the world (with entertainingly archaic names). Various complications ensue: no one is quite sure about the details of the lost art of unicorn hunting, the endeavor is being funded by a shady corporation, and Astrid and Phil begin dating two exchange students. The connection between virgins and unicorns gives Peterfreund the opportunity to explore the girls' conscious choices to remain abstinent, and to present Astrid with a major dilemma. The major theme of Rampant has to do with Astrid's desire to be a healer, rather than a unicorn hunter. History and genetics seem to be pushing her toward a life of violence and death, which she could easily escape by sleeping with her boyfriend. She is forced to make that choice after a particularly harrowing experience leaves her near death. Moments like this raise Rampant above its somewhat oddball premise of killer unicorns and into the realm of serious social commentary.

Peterfreund has clearly done her unicorn research, and as a result the mythology of the narrative is appealingly strong. Although the book has a good mixture of light, humorous moments and dramatic reveals, it occasionally felt unfinished, as if there were yet more to be revealed, or scenes had been excised for length. Perhaps this was due to the fact that Rampant is the first in a series? After the glut of vampires and zombies of the past few years, unicorns are are a refreshing change of pace. Read Rampant if you like Buffy Season 8, Veronica Mars, or Tamora Pierce.

Grade: A-

Random Thoughts:

This ARC was the first book I've read entirely on the computer. I . . . didn't hate it. However, due to DRM restrictions, I could only read it on my laptop at home (and only through my login), so it was frustrating when I was at work and wanted to read more on my lunch break. For the time being, I'll be sticking to tangible books. Thanks to EarlyWord for making the recommendation and enabling me.

The author's website.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Book Review: Airborn [2004]

The best way to describe Airborn, by Kenneth Oppel, is "Steampunk Treasure Island." In a pseudo-Victorian world populated by gas-powered airships, cabin boy Matt Cruse makes a name for himself aboard the Aurora by rescuing a hot air balloonist stranded above the Pacificus, who unfortunately dies shortly thereafter. One year later, his granddaughter Kate boards the ship, intent on seeing what he described in the balloon's log: winged, cat-like animals, a species never before seen. Throw in an attack by vicious pirate Vikram Szpirglas and a shipwreck on a remote, uncharted island, and you've got yourself all the ingredients for a fine adventure. Although there were several moments where coincidence played a bit too much into the plot, the characters (especially Kate) were engaging and the book highly entertaining. Oppel also included some nice bit of character development in between pirates and scientific discovery. Matt, whose father died three years previously by falling off the Aurora, discovers that he can't outrun grief, while heiress Kate has her sense of entitlement severely shaken. I am looking forward to reading the remaining volumes in the trilogy, Skybreaker and Starclimber.

Grade: B+

Random Thoughts:

Kenneth Oppel is a Canadian author. I can't think of many other Canadian books I've read (for children or adults), other than Anne of Green Gables. Maybe I should get on that.

Rather than reading the book, I listened to the audio version which, as always, was both a blessing and a curse. For example, I had no idea how to spell Szpirglas (it sounded like Spearglass) and had to look it up for this review. This audio edition was a full-cast production, but luckily most of the performances were well done, although they must have cautioned the younger actors to enunciate their "t"s, because they were awfully careful to do so, to the point where it was almost annoying. Still, full cast is sometimes better than having a single narrator who can't differentiate enough between characters (I'm looking at you, audio version of Twilight).

The book's website.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Book Review: A Certain Slant of Light [2005]

So, my dear Cassandra has been trying to get me to read A Certain Slant of Light, the first novel by Laura Whitcomb, for over three years. She even lent me the book a year and a half ago, I suppose in the hope that proximity would move me to do what the passage of time had not. And it finally worked! I am very glad that I got around to reading it, as well, although it was much more dark and serious than I had expected. At first, the story seems to be about a ghost (Helen) and the high school boy (Billy) who is the first person to see and interact with her for over 100 years. However, she soon finds out that he can see her only because Billy's body is being occupied by another spirit, James, who exerts a magnetic pull on Helen as she begins to discover that her (after)life might not be as unchanging and eternal as she believed. Although the story is set in the modern era, the atmosphere is distinctly gothic, as Helen struggles with questions of faith (why does God deny her entry into heaven?), love, and obedience. The book is also concerned with perception; Helen's purgatory is in no small part created by her own belief in the "rules" of life as a ghost, which she has never questioned until James arrives on the scene. It is difficult to say more without giving away key parts of the story, but suffice to say that Whitcomb does an excellent job of gradually building tension, delicately outlining the difficulties experienced by teenagers and their families, and exploring the concept of free will, all within the framework of an engrossing love story.

Grade: A

Random Thoughts:

I was really, really worried about the main characters for most of this book. It made it very difficult to stop reading.

Although I imagine this is categorized as a Young Adult book, the main character has "lived" for at least 150 years, and James is equally adult. The juxtaposition between the ghostly lovers and their human counterparts is intriguing, because they have been distanced from the world of the living for so long that everything is new and exciting for them (a kind of delirious freedom), whereas the teenagers find life increasingly restrictive.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Book Review: So You Want to be a Wizard [1983]

Ok, so I finally read Diane Duane's So You Want to be a Wizard about twenty years after I probably should have. Better late than never! It's funny, because the book recalls a lot of the other books I read around that time: Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising, the books of Madeleine L'Engle, and even Prince Caspian. The most obvious series to compare it with at this point, however, is Harry Potter. Unlike JK Rowling's universe, wizards in Duane's are given very little formal instruction, learning about their craft almost exclusively through the handbook So You Want to be a Wizard, the title of which Duane patterned after career guidebooks she had seen. The story opens when thirteen-year old Nita, target of bullying Joanne, takes cover in the library and discovers the book. Soon enough she has taken the Oath and discovered another apprentice wizard, Kit Rodriguez, who also has a bully problem. Their plan to cast a protection spell and recover Nita's stolen property leads them to the heart of the struggle between light and dark.

I enjoyed the strength of the two main characters, who must rely almost entirely on their own ingenuity to do what amounts to saving the world. Their approach is haphazard and certainly not pretty, but with luck and a little bit of skill, they manage to prevail. However, it is not without great cost, and I appreciate the author's willingness to sacrifice major characters for greater impact. I don't know if my 11 year old self would have approved, though. She would probably still be crying.

Grade: A-

Random Thoughts:

The author's website. She seems to be up on her social networking, which is refreshing.

For some reason, the New York City setting also reminded me of Annie on My Mind. Hmm.

A Meditation on the Future Reading Taste of My Child

Having spent the last several hours "weeding" my collection of young adult books and entering the majority into LibraryThing, I have had the opportunity to contemplate the purpose of this activity (beyond pure pleasure at touching and arranging my books). Of course, my greatest fear as a librarian and bibliophile is that the forthcoming child will not want to read. Reasons this could happen: sheer perversity, a learning disability, or lack of reading material corresponding to his interests. With this in mind, and given our space crunch, how do I decide at this point what to keep and what to put on the give-away shelf at work? Well, the good news is that I do work at a library, and a gazillion books are therefore available for me to bring home each day. But that actually doesn't stop me from wondering many currently unanswerable things: will he like the Harry Potter series? Anne of Green Gables? What about the Jim Kjelgaard books? Will he and I end up having anything in common in terms of reading taste? How can I shape his young mind to make this happen? Is that wrong? Why the heck do I have a copy of Land of Gray Gold: Lead Mining in Wisconsin (and why is it a children's book?) . . . Going through all these books makes me realize that a lot of them I have kept to share with someone. This is my golden opportunity! I am going to start reading them aloud as soon as humanly possible, so they can fulfill their higher purpose before they return to the shelf (or the book sale table). And hopefully we will also discover some new books together that will fill the holes I am currently creating in the collection.

More Random Thoughts:

I do hope our child will be a Bibliophibian.

My grandmother was excellent at inscribing books. It's actually really helpful. She also gave us a lot of books through the years. She went through each book in the Anne of Green Gables set and wrote our street address (now several moves out of date) on the inside front cover.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Book Review: A Weaver Wedding [2009]

Somehow I've gotten myself on a list somewhere that means that Harlequin sends me free books and stuff and then I'm supposed to read them and say what I think. Well, reading books and saying what I think about them has never particularly been a problem for me, but it's been a while since I dallied with a Harlequin novel. This one, part of a series called Famous Families, has a cast of about a zillion related characters and follows the romance of Tara, lonely daughter of a CIA operative who has always wanted a big and loving family, and Axel Clay, the bodyguard who has to protect her from a nebulous mob-related threat. And he doesn't even know she's pregnant from their one-night stand four months ago! Don't worry, it all works out OK. I'm not a big fan of pregnancy-as-plot-device or novels in which the hero tries to make the heroine marry him for the sake of the child. However, the book did have some hints of character development, as well as remarkably little sex. It wasn't the worst romance novel I've ever read, but despite lines like "Maybe it was her imagination that those fingertips seemed to subtly flex against her, like the sheathed claws of some big, golden cat kneading against his soft prey" or "I don't just want roots, Axel. I want the entire tree," the book wasn't even bad enough to be really fun, either.

Grade: C-

Random Thoughts: Again, why do romance novel protagonists always have to have such annoying names? Axel isn't the worst out there, but really, there's nothing that can put me out of my reading groove like a poor character name choice. The same is especially true of lesbian romance novels, which just have to go out of their way to have masculine sounding names for their heroines, like Jay and Drew--either that or utterly ridiculous names, like Rooke or Jett or Anidyr. Note to authors: most people don't have crazy names! Check the Social Security Administration for confirmation!

The best part of my strange relationship with Harlequin is that they sent me a free "60 Years of Harlequin" calendar, which features lots of cool vintage covers.

Book Review: Fake [1994 – 2000]

I read Fake, a manga series about "two New York City cops with an attraction for action--and each other!" on the recommendation of a recent Library Journal article. Dee Laytner, a hard-hitting cop with a devil-may-care attitude, falls hard for his new partner Ryo (it is explained several times that he's "part Japanese"), but Ryo isn't sure about the whole boy-boy thing. Their romance plays out over seven volumes of barely believable plot against the hardly recognizable backdrop of "New York City." Throw in two younger "comic relief" characters, whose ages vary wildly between volumes, and you know you definitely aren't reading Fake for the plot. However, there is plenty of material for those readers interested in, erm, cop-on-cop action in which kisses happen at seemingly impossible angles. The development of the relationship over time is actually quite sweet and believable, and everything comes to a satisfactory conclusion. However, I found Antique Bakery infinitely preferable in pretty much all respects.

Grade: D for plot, B+ for romance, C- overall

Random Thoughts: The Ludlow library classified the first six volumes as Young Adult and the last as Adult, and I understand why (although the scene isn't all that shocking, really), but it seems counterproductive to have parts of the series shelved in different parts of the library. I know we are past the point in history where we are just glad that there is GLBT material available in the library in the first place, so maybe we could take the next step and trust teens to be responsible for what they read.