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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

All hail Mr. Darcy! Or, Elizabeth Bennet. Or someone from Longbourn!

Longbourn by Jo Baker

Book Type: It's a Pride and Prejudice retelling!!!! Or is it???

Stereotype Alert: Not as bad as you'd think!

Cover Art: Looks like art.  Though I'm going to guess this is a servant from about... 20 years before our story takes place.

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Mrs. Hill/John/Wickham

Character Score: 6 out of 10 Mr. Micawbers

What's the Story?: Pride and Prejudice as told by the servants.  There's hardly any Darcy/Bingley in here at all!

X-Factor: The great Jane Austen- with a twist.

Stereotype Alert: Readers, I was quite afeared that this would be yet another Jane Austen rip-off/ "What happened after the story ended????" type novel.  Not so.  Not at all.

Cover Art: Not much to say about this cover.  It is clearly a housemaid.  So, yeah.

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Poor Mrs. Hill!  She needs a lover- stat!  John is, to use the words of Forever Young Adult, a total MLD (Mysterious Loner Dude).  He's hot and has a mysterious past- all good things for a friend with benefits to have.  And Wickham.  Death to creepy, old Wickham- always.

Character Score: 6 out of 10 seems fair.  I might even go as far as a 7.  Baker has created a great voice for Sarah and just like with Austen, you fall in love with all of her main characters.  But there is surprisingly little of Mrs. Bennet and her five daughters.  Glimpses, yes, but the story is driven by those below-stairs.  

What's the Story?: Many, many authors have tried to capture the genius that is Jane Austen (and more specifically, the delight that came from the characters in Pride and Prejudice).  But Longbourn by Jo Baker isn’t an Austen rip-off.  It isn’t even a story that tries to answer the question “What happened after Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy got married?”  Instead, Baker has told the story of the Bennet household from the point of view of a rather unlikely character: the Bennet’s housemaid, Sarah. 

Sarah (about Ms. Elizabeth Bennet’s age) has been with the family since she was a little girl.  She does everything that is expected of a housemaid including: soaking and scrubbing muddy petticoats, feeding the pigs, emptying chamber pots and washing the never-ending supply of dishes being used by a family of seven.  She does not complain. But she does wonder what it would be like to live a life where no one expected you to do anything and you could act on your own free-will. 

The joyous thing about this novel is that we see only glimpses of the Bennet family; a line of conversation here and there, but not much more.  The pages are filled with Sarah’s daily activities and those of the other staff: Mr. Hill and the housekeeper Mrs. Hill, the young housemaid Polly and a new hired man, James, who has a shadowy past.  There is little here of Jane’s pining for Bingley or Elizabeth’s annoyance with Darcy.  Sarah slowly sets off down a path towards her own romance but will she end up with the mysterious James or Mr. Bingley’s handsome and charming servant Ptomely? 

Baker takes us with Sarah on her journey from young lady to woman and we get to see just how much she longs for a world outside of service.  We see her set off with Elizabeth to Kent to visit the Collinses and her amazement at the metropolis that is London.  When she is given the opportunity to leave Longbourn and serve at Pemberly, will the grand house be the new responsibilities and distractions she needs?  Will she marry in order to get out of service?  Or will she go a direction all her own without the help of her benefactors and friends?  

X-Factor: The great Jane Austen- with a twist.

Seriously guys, I was kind of worried about reading this book.  I am not a fan of Austen retellings.  I thought this was just another author who was in lurve with Austen and was trying to write a book in order to express her feelings to the long-dead legend.  Not so.  Baker has a very unique voice.  She is authentic to the time, but does not strive to sound like Austen in any way.  You are given glimpses of the girls at Longbourn, but your heart lies with Sarah and her struggles.  Even the staunchest Austen fan can enjoy this novel.  

Longbourn by Jo Baker is available at all fine bookstores and libraries.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Book Review: Run, Brother, Run

Book Type: true crime meets family memoir

Stereotype Alert: Nada 

Cover Art: Hey Ma!  We're in a window!

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: N/A

Character Score: 6 out of 10 Mr. Micawbers

What's the Story?: David Berg writes a memoir that is half family history, half detailed account of his older brother's murder.

X-Factor: A rose by any other name...

Stereotype Alert: Nope.  This is a very interesting tale of family and murder but there isn't really anything stereotypical about it.

Cover Art: It's a memoir, y'all.  I'm pretty sure they are obligated to use an old family photo on the cover.

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: I've decided that I only want to do Bed/Bride/Bludgeon in the realm of fictional characters.  Since all the people in this story exist, I'm going to let them be.

Character Score: David Berg may be a lawyer and not an official writer, but he has a wonderful voice.  The way he tells his family's story is quirky and funny despite the murder that you know is coming.

What's the Story?:  
Run, Brother, Run is a true tale of murder and how it affects a family.  The book is written by David Berg, whose older brother was murdered under mysterious circumstances by hit man Charles Harrelson (father of actor Woody Harrelson).  While a good portion of the book deals with the crime, police investigation and the aftermath of the court case surrounding Alan Berg’s murder, much of the story is about the Berg family.  It is a story about memory and how tragic events can alter the way you see the past and the future.

Berg begins with memories from his childhood using wit and honesty to portray life in a very stressful home.  Here is one example:

“That was 1946, the year our father met Dorothy Heinrich in a Kalamazoo diner.  She would one day become his wife, but for now, she was his waitress.  “Dot” was five ten, with the sultriness of Rita Hayworth.  Mom was four ten, with the temperament of Henry VIII- so there you have it.  It wasn’t the first time Mom had caught Dad cheating, but it was the last.  Our parents would scream at each other for what felt like hours.  Alan would cry in bed beside me, and then, to my astonishment, get up and go down the hall to intervene.  Mom would shriek, Get out of here, Mr. Buttinski, this is not your business!  Get back in that bed! “(4).

Berg talks a lot about growing up in the Berg household.  A big part of that time was David and Alan’s father wanting his sons to go to medical school.  Alan took quite a few detours before getting there (including leaving the Navy due to holding a floating crap game) but Alan finally made it into the medical program at the University of Texas.  After a fight with his father, Alan took off instead of registering for classes.  The hopes of having a physician in the Berg family had died yet another death.

David becomes a lawyer much to his father’s dismay.  When Alan disappears in May of 1968, David admits to being busy starting his new career.  But it is clear that certain things don’t add up.  Alan had been involved in gambling, but he was also very in love with his wife who was then pregnant with their third child.  The police refused to start an investigation, insisting that Alan must have just taken off.  But David and his father knew different.  They began hunting for leads which took them down a whirlwind of different paths, most of which involved paying a fee of some kind.  When Alan’s body was finally found six months later, questions surrounding Charles Harrelson and a business associate of Alan and David’s father swirled in earnest. 

There isn’t a happy ending to this tale.  There is not justice for the dead, and none for the surviving family.  David Berg tries his best to use his knowledge of law to lay out the facts surrounding his brother’s murder and subsequent trial.  It is a stark tale of true crime in America in the 1960s.

X-Factor: A rose by any other name...

Full disclosure: the only reason I picked up this book was because I'd heard that the brother was murdered by Woody Harrelson's dad.  Then I read the inside cover, and was like "Woody Harrelson's father was a notorious hit man???? I must read this!"  To be honest, I'd like to know more about Charles Harrelson and how he fell into the life that he lived.  But knowing that Harrelson was never convicted of murdering Alan Berg made him into even more of a low-life than I'd originally thought.  Again, the star power isn't the factor I thought it would be, but it was still an honest, even funny memoir.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Reference Question of the Day: Puberty & Stuff

So this reference question got asked a month or so back, but the exchange was so adorable I had to share.

A female tween/preteen who had been asking me to help her find various books all morning came back to the desk for another round.  Normally, this is a very outgoing, engaging young person so when she sort of crept up to the desk and whispered her question I was a little concerned.

"This is really embarrassing."  She began and buried her face in her hands.

"No worries."  I told her.  "How can I help?"

"Well, my mom told me to ask for... god, this is embarrassing... a DVD about like, puberty and stuff." *buries head in hands a second time*

I just smiled and told her that wasn't embarrassing at all- that I'd had people ask me practically everything under the sun and that her question didn't even come close to being weird or embarrassing and that she shouldn't ever be shy about asking. And sure enough, I found her a "birds and the bees etc." DVD and she was happy.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Book Review: Songs of Willow Frost

Book Type: plucky orphan story meets hardship of a Chinese American daughter

Stereotype Alert: meh.

Cover Art: It seems a bit foggy in here...

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Colin/Willow/Uncle Leo

Character Score: 6 out of 10 Mr. Micawbers

What's the Story?: Chinese American orphan William Eng knows his mother is out there somewhere... could she really be the glamorous movie star he's seen on the silver screen?

X-Factor: Movie history

Stereotype Alert: Yeah, I don't know.  Some of William's obstacles seem a little easily overcome, but the main meat of the story is what happened to Willow to make her put William in the orphanage.

Cover Art: Foggy Chinatown instead of London?  Whatever.  I was going to read this book regardless of the cover.

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Um, it is quite obvious that Colin is pretty hot.  And knows a lot about the world of cinema.  Poor Willow.  I'd like to think that her being married would have eliminated a lot of her strife, but we all know that marriage can sometimes be more harm than good and with Willows luck, it might have just ended up being more of the bad.  And Uncle Leo.  Uncle Leo, there is a special ring of hell with your name on it, buddy.  May your ancestors forever torment you in the afterlife.

Character Score: Above average.  I liked the voices of William and Willow.  And maybe Charlotte most of all.

What's the Story?:

Jamie Ford, author of Hotel On the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, returns to his Seattle roots in his second novel Songs of Willow Frost.  First we meet William Eng, a lovable Chinese American orphan who lives at the Sacred Heart Orphanage.  All of the boy orphans are given the same birthday when they arrive at Sacred Heart- September 28th: coronation date of the honorable Pope Leo XII.  On this day, all of the boys are shepherded downtown to see a motion picture as a special birthday treat.  This year (1934) the boys are taken to a showing of Cimarron.  William hunkers down in his seat to share his popcorn and Orange Crush with his best friend when something unthinkable happens.  During the Follies reel, the audience meets a new actress with a sweet, sad voice: Willow Frost.  William is stunned.  Though he can’t explain how, he knows that the woman on the screen is in fact his mother whom he hasn’t seen in five years.  Shaken, William tries to ply information out of the sisters at Sacred Heart but to no avail.  He know his Ah-ma wouldn’t have abandoned him and believes that if he can just get out of the orphanage long enough to see her in person at an upcoming show, she’d take him home again.

Life in the orphanage is not easy.  But William knows that he has it a lot better than many orphans- some roam the streets begging, others are sent off to labor farms or to work in factories.  And while he feels the strong pull to run away from the orphanage in order to find his mother, he knows that if he is caught, he probably won’t be sent anywhere as nice as Sacred Heart.  Bolstered by his best friend, the adorable but blind Charlotte, the two hatch a plan to escape from the orphanage and trek to the 5th Avenue Theatre to see Willow. 

Charlotte and William manage to sneak out of Sacred Heart and even see Willow’s show.  Afterwards, they wait with a line of other admirers outside the Stage Door.  William gets Willows autograph and calls her Ah-ma and when the actress begins to cry William knows that he’s finally found his mother.  But she is whisked off in a taxi and William is left sitting in the alley for hours.  One of the performers takes pity on William and Charlotte and gives them backstage tickets for the next performance.  There, William gets a chance to speak with Willow before her next performance.  Unfortunately, Sister Briganti arrives to take the two orphans back to Sacred Heart before William can get all of the answers about his past.

Will William find Willow again?  Will he ever find out how he wound up at Sacred Heart?  But most importantly, does Willow still want her little boy?  Songs of Willow Frost is an interesting tale about the bond of parent and child, duty to society and the history of early motion pictures.  I was seriously afraid that Songs would be a Sophomore Slump type book.  Not so.  Granted, Songs doesn't combine the same number of interesting issues with the same amount of finesse as Hotel On the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, but this is a separate book set in a separate time.  I wasn't disappointed.  

X-Factor: I'm a sucker for the background on things I love.  Learning about the early days of film in Seattle (as opposed to Hollywood) was really cool.  I almost wish there'd been more back story for Colin just so I could find out more but, alas.  A nice historical touch.

Songs of Willow Frost is available wherever you can manage to buy a print book.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Book Review: Alex by Pierre Lemaitre

Book Type: crime drama, thriller

Stereotype Alert: Other than the jaded cop with a personal tie to a case, no. 

Cover Art: Big face with a blindfold?

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Oh geeze.  Verhoeven/Armand/Vasseur. 

Character Score: 5 out of 10 Mr. Micawbers

What's the Story?: A woman has been abducted off the street in Paris.  Can Commandant Verhoeven find the victim before she is murdered?  And is she really a victim?

X-Factor: France!  

Anti X-Factor: Acid

Cover Art: Well big face, it's, uh, nice to see you.  My advanced copy was a sort of tan color instead of blue but the effect is the same.  Is that really what Alex looks like, or is that a wig?  That's all I'm sayin'. 

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: This was a bit tricky.  I wasn't really invested in any of the characters enough to want to sleep with or marry them.  But Verhoeven quite obviously needs more action in his life and Armand was just crazy enough that I sort of wanted to know more about him personally.  And Felix Vasseur?  There is a special place in hell for that mother f*cker.  

Character Score: Again, not totally in love with the characterization in this book, but that wasn't the point.  Lemaitre told a great detective story with lots of twists and turns.

What's the Story?:
Alex by French author Pierre Lemaitre will be published in September by MacLehose, and imprint of Quercus Books.  What's so special about Quercus?  They were the lucky publishing group who snagged Stieg Larsson's wildly popular Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium) trilogy.  Quercus is again hoping to strike crime fiction gold with Lemaitre's newest novel.  

There are a few similarities between Larsson's Lisbeth Salander and Lemaitre's Alex Prevost. Both are strong, vibrant characters who are stuck in rather unfortunate situations.  And like Dragon TattooAlex has another main character who is trying to solve a crime/mystery; in this case, police Commandant Camille Verhoeven.  And guess what, this is going to be a trilogy!  But the similarities pretty much end there.

Camille has worked for the brigade criminelle for years and there is only one kind of case he won't work: kidnappings.  It isn't any wonder, considering his wife (who was eight months pregnant) was abducted on her way to the hospital and later found murdered.  But Camille's boss has forced him to be the lead investigator on a new case which involves, of course, a kidnapped young woman.  The Commandant tries his best to ignore his emotions and does what he can to try to find missing Alex Prevost.

Alex was out for a night of shopping and dinner when she was pummeled by a very large man, tossed into a van and taken to a secret location.  When she wakes, the man forces her into a rough wooden crate and suspends her from the ceiling of what appears to be a warehouse.  After who knows how many days, Alex realizes that the water and dog kibble the man has been feeding her daily, was not to keep her alive but to attract a horde of rats that live in the building.  More terrifying than being eaten alive by rats, however, is the fact that the crate is too small for Alex to even stretch out and, being a nurse, she knows her muscles are beginning to deteriorate.  
Camille is working with a very small pile of evidence.  There was witness who saw the woman get thrown into a van, there is a little bit of vomit on the street and not much else.  Camille knows that the more hours that pass, the less likely they are to find their victim alive.  After a stroke of luck identifying the van that the criminal used, the police now know who they are looking for.  When they find the man, he throws himself off a bridge into oncoming traffic rather than tell the police who Alex is or where he has hidden her. Back to square one and the clock continues ticking.  More investigation into the kidnapper leads to the discovery that the man's son went missing year or so ago.  When they go to ask questions at the former home of the son's girlfriend, they discover the son's body.  Is Alex really just the victim of a kidnapping or is she a murderer?  By the time Camille and his men have discovered the warehouse where Alex was taken, she has managed to escape.

X-Factor: Paris!  Who doesn't want to see a little bit of France from time to time?  I know I do.

Anti-X Factor: Acid.  Seriously.  You think it's horrible to hear a description of someone being hacked to death by a machete?  Try descriptions of people being forced to drink sulfuric acid.  Gross.

This book is full of twists and turns and is a fascinating detective story.  A word of warning, however, for the folks who were put off by the sexual violence in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo- this also appears in Alex.  But it is a thriller that will keep you guessing.  A thriller that might just answer the question: is there a worse way to die than being eaten alive by rats?

Alex is available everywhere in the US on September 3rd.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Scary-Bad Book Covers

Today's Scary-Bad Library Book Cover:

Time-Life's The LIFE History of the United States, Volume 5: 1849-1865

Where did the picture for this photo come from?????? I (of course) looked in the book to see who was credited with this masterpiece but could find NOTHING!

Several possible inspirations for this work come to mind:

1.  This was originally a painting of Moses telling Pharaoh to "Let my people go!!!!"  Just substitute a staff for the gun and some sort of ten commandments thing-y for the book (yeah, yeah.  I know the commandments happened after the Jewish people were free).  You see it, right?

2.  Paul Bunyan showed up to free the slaves in the South.  But where is Babe????

3.  Zeus decided to come down and was all like, "What up, Civil War people?"  I mean, he is HUGE compared to everyone else in the picture!  What's up with that?  

You cannot un-see it!  Happy Friday, ya'll!!!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Book Review: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

***Warning*** There are significant plot spoilers included below.  I'll warn you when to stop reading.

Book Type: fiction, psychological experiments with humans and animals

Predictability Factor: not so much.

Cover Art: color block w/ bonus monkey!

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Um, Lowell/Rosemary/ (fictional) Indiana University

Character Score: 5 out of 10 Mr. Micawbers

What's the Story?: Rosemary Cooke has always known a life with her sister Fern by her side.  At the age of five, Rosemary is moved to a new home and Fern is nowhere to be found.  Years later, suppressed memories start to surface and Rosemary must find out what really happened to her sister.

X-Factor: Science experiments/animal activists

Cover Art: Kinda boring.  Brightly colored, but boring.  I already knew about the big plot point involved in the story so that was why I wanted to read it.  Not because of the cover.

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Who wouldn't want to sleep with mysterious animal activist/ domestic terrorist Lowell?  I feel bad that Rosemary is constantly worrying about her actions in society.  Whether her facial reactions are proper, if she's standing too close to other people.  I want to be the perfect person so she can feel comfortable and just be Rosemary.  And shame on you (fictional) Indiana University and other similar institutions who say "Hey!  Let's do some awesome animal experiments!"  Several years later: "Oh, hey.  This isn't really working out/we're not getting the results we expected.  We're terminating the program."  And then you just sell the test subjects (animals) to whoever will buy them regardless of the conditions in which they will live for the rest of their lives.  Shame, shame on you folks who do this in real life.

Character Score: Here's what I'll say:  I enjoyed seeing inside Rosemary's head.  But I thought that the addition of Harlow as a plot device was stupid.  She was vapid and I couldn't stand reading about her interactions with Rosemary.  Lowell, on the other hand, I would like to know more about.  Tell me what you've been doing all these years you've been on the run from the FBI!

***Spoilers!  Stop reading now!***

What's the Story?: Rosemary Cooke spent the first five years of her life joined at the hip with her beloved sister Fern.  Thing is, Fern is a chimpanzee and Rosemary's dad is a psychologist who is studying both of his "daughters."  One day, Rosemary is sent away to her grandparent's house for three weeks only to be returned to a different house with no explanation. But as distressing as this might be for a five-year-old, the worst is yet to come:  Rosemary cannot find Fern anywhere.  What happened to her sister?  Why will no one in her family speak Fern's name?  Why is her older brother so angry all the time?  The once motor-mouthed child withdraws deeper and deeper into herself as her family begins to self-destruct around her.  Rosemary starts kindergarten and begins to see just how non-traditional her upbringing has been: she can't connect with any of the other children.  As the years pass, Rosemary copes with having zero friends and blocks out practically all memories of Fern.

Fast forward almost ten years and we find Rosemary in college at the University of California, Davis.  She hasn't thought about Fern in ages.  She barely even thinks about her brother Lowell who disappeared at the age of 18 and became what amounts to a domestic terrorist.  Rosemary is pulled into the path of an unusual girl named Harlow and suddenly many things from her past return to her all at once.  Why was Fern taken away?  Where did she go? Was it all Rosemary's fault?  Will Lowell return even for the briefest of moments? Karen Joy Fowler's We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is an interesting look at the institution of family, scientific experimentation and self identity.

X-Factor: People have raised chimps in human homes for years.  This is not a new concept, but it certainly is an interesting one.  I picked the book up because it sounded like an interesting idea- raising your daughter alongside a newborn chimp.  I'm going to go out on a limb, however, and say that this probably isn't the best book on the subject.  I'd like to read some real-life memoirs of people who tried to do the same thing.  The thing that kills me, though, is that so many of these people commit their lives to this experiment.  They swear that the chimp will always be a part of their family etc. etc.  But accidents happen, chimps grow up big and strong or the humans simply become bored or inconvenienced by the experiment.  And then the chimps get sent to creepy labs where they don't know how to act with other chimps and bad things happen.  That's what gets me about this story.  That people can just shrug off another living creature so easily.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Book Review: Someone's Watching, Always Watching OR The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

Book Type: Trainspotting meets Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter

Stereotype Alert: none

Cover Art: Jail cell plus tiny, tiny Anais?

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Blech.  Okay.  Um... Angus, Shortie, Jay et. al?

Character Score: 8 out of 10 Mr. Micawbers

What's the Story?: Constant criminal and perpetual foster care teen Anais is being carted off to a new group home in handcuffs.  Did she really beat that cop into a coma?  Will this home be any different than the scores of others?

X-Factor:  Dialect

Cover Art: I've seen better, I've seen worse.  I am glad, however, that this cover isn't a black a white picture of a teen with smudged eyeliner huddled against a brick wall.  That would be the worst possible choice for this book.  So, I dunno.  I'll give it a C+.  I would like to state for the record that the title alone gives me flashbacks to grad school and a class where we had to read Foucault's Discipline and Punish. I am creeped out already.

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: This was a tough one since so many of the people Anais knows are completely shitty human beings.  I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it wouldn't be too out of character for Anais to sleep with Angus- even if he is her social worker.  A. she slept with a teacher at her high school and B. Angus gives Anais weed.  So, yeah. Maybe.  I love Shortie.  I just want to bundle her and Anais up and set them down in their own little apartment to live a normal life.  I won't even get started on Jay.  What a fucking creep.  Hope you get shanked in prison, bitch.

Character Score: No contest here.  This book is all about Anais and her world of foster care teens.  They all have their own quirks and wounds and you can't help but love them due to Fagan's vivid writing.

What's the Story?:

pan·op·ti·con  /paˈnäptiˌkän/- noun.  A circular prison with cells arranged around a central well, from which prisoners could at all times be observed. 
Oxford English Dictionary

Anais Hendricks is unlike any fifteen-year-old you've probably ever met.  Orphaned by a woman who gave birth at a mental hospital and then disappeared, Anais has spent her entire life in the foster care system in Scotland.  As the book opens, we find our lead character in the back of a police car (a rather normal occurrence for Anais) headed to a new group home.  This home is actually the Panopticon; a former mental institution with 24/7 surveillance.  The Panopticon is used to house the most serious juvenile offenders and Anais soon finds herself in the company of a handful of teens who are either A. broken, B. mentally unstable, C. violent or D. all of the above.  But Anais doesn't have to work very hard to prove her status in this new home since her reputation has reached the doors before the police car: Anais is suspected of beating a policewoman so badly that she is now in a coma.  Anais, however, was higher than a kite at the time of the crime and can remember nothing.  

The story is told from Anais' point of view and is filled with her frustration with the system (it's amazing what the social workers don't ask), her dreams and commentary about "the experiment" and flashbacks to her adoptive mother who was murdered when Anais was still young.  Anais, like many kids in foster care homes, bonds quickly and deeply with her fellow "inmates" and they become a new family unit.  When the threat of throwing Anais into a secure lock-up until she can be placed in a regular jail looms near, and devastating events throw her new family into chaos, Anais must decide if she is going to the criminal everyone in the foster system assumes she is or if she will discover her true self.

X-Factor: I canae even tell you how fucking fun the dialog in this book is.  If you arenae a fan of dialect (i.e A Clockwork Orange or even The Sound and the Fury) you will probably nae enjoy this novel.  But if like me, you were instantly transported with flashbacks of Spud and Sick Boy, you will appreciate the world that Fagan is portraying.  

This is a very gritty, realistic telling of a life that has always been hard.  One that probably won't get any better.  Anais talks openly about drug abuse, prostitution, child molesters, rape and AIDS.  Ultimately, if Fagan's goal was to shine a harsh light on the modern-day foster car system, she has succeeded.  Readers will potentially be horrified by the experiences Anais has lived through, but will want to cheer for her to become a healthy, independent person.  The easiest explanation of this book that I can give is this:  it is like Trainspotting took place in the foster care system and all of the main characters are much younger and have infinitely shittier lives.  But in a good way?  I dinnae.  Don't be a fanny.  Read The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan.

PS- sorry the formatting is super weird on this post.  Blogger hates me today!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Book Review: Thousand Words by Jennifer Brown

Book Type: YA lit, "issue" books, sexting

Stereotype Alert: Whiny pants. 

Cover Art: Attack of the Big Face! Also: "Ugh.  So bored right now."

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Uh, none? 

Character Score: 2 out of 10 Mr. Micawbers

What's the Story?: Ashleigh has a pretty great life: awesome boyfriend, awesome best friend, and cool parents.  But when she and her boyfriend Kaleb start growing apart before he's scheduled to leave for college, Ashleigh thinks she may need to take a bold step in order to keep his mind off of all those college girls.  Once Ashleigh texts Kaleb a naked photo of herself, neither of their lives will ever be the same.

X-Factor: hot topic (no, not the store)


Stereotype Alert: Ashleigh is kind of a Whiny McWhiny-pants. I know that teenagers can be really full of themselves and really upset about how unfair things are, but I guess I just felt like Ashleigh didn't ring as true as some of Brown's other characters. 

Cover Art: Cue the Big Face, as Forever Young Adult would say.  Also, this girl just looks sooooo bored!  Like, ugh.  I'd like it better if there was a photo somewhere on the cover.  As in, a photo of a photo since that's what this book is about.

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Book, I was soooo not into you.  So much so that I can't even play my own little stupid game with myself.  I didn't want to kill anyone, with the possible exception of Kaleb (grow up, dude) but I didn't want to marry anyone or jump in anyone's pants either.  Meh.

Character Score: Again I say: Meh.  I think Brown does great things with characters... just not in this particular book.

What's the Story?: Ashleigh Maynard has a pretty great life. In the summer before her Junior year she has a great best friend, a sweet boyfriend, a place on the cross-country team and a decent relationship with her parents. While at her best friend Vonnie's great summer bash, a drunken Ashleigh is starting to feel really bummed that her boyfriend Kaleb keeps ditching her to play baseball and hang out with his friends. Soon, a few friends have convinced Ashleigh that she should send him a naked photo of herself- you know so he doesn't forget her when he goes off to college in the fall. After all, lots of people do it. Before she can think twice, Ashleigh has snapped the pic and sent the text to Kaleb.

Flash forward a few months. Kaleb has gone off to college and Ash finds that he is still pulling away from her. She tries to call him but keeps accusing him of sleeping with college girls. Finally, Kaleb has had enough and comes home one weekend to break up with Ashleigh. Things get out of hand and before Ashleigh knows what is happening the great boyfriend she used to love has turned into a spiteful, mean individual.

Then the whispers start. At first, Ashleigh has no idea what the guys at school are talking about. Until a friend tells Ashleigh that her nude photo is being passed around the entire school via text. Someone even added her name and phone number to the bottom of the photo and now she is getting all kinds of sick and mean texts from people. What is going on? How did the photo get out? Kaleb would never do something like that...would he?

In a whirlwind of chaos, Ashleigh is suspended from school, arrested for "distributing child pornography" and in order to set an example, she is forced to do 60 hours of community service with a bunch of other teens who have messed up. Sure, she made a really stupid mistake by taking that picture, but she never intended for anyone but Kaleb to see it. Why has Vonnie suddenly ditched her? And why is everyone making her out to be a criminal? The saying goes that a "picture is worth a thousand words" but it may not tell the whole story.

Thousand Words is a book for those of you who like realistic stories. Told between flashbacks and Ashleigh's daily life spent doing community service, you get to piece the story together while seeing all of the confusion inside her head. Technology may make our lives easier, but as Jennifer Brown shows, once something is out in cyber space, it stays in cyber space.

 X-Factor: Jennifer Brown tackles yet another hot topic in her newest YA novel.  Hot topic.  Am I the only one who now has the "Burning down the Hot Topic" song from South Park stuck in my head?  Just me?  Ok then.  But seriously, I would TOTALLY have read this when I was a teenager.  I looooooved "issue" books: drug addiction, abuse, rape, eating disorders, crime- the more intense, the more enthralled I became.  These books were so far from my boring existence that I almost couldn't believe that people lived these sorts of lives.  And lots of teens today have the same fascination that I did. 

Here's my PSA: This is a serious topic.  With the invention of the internets, life has become a whole lot more complicated.  The things you do or say are out there forever (or until someone fries everything with a well-placed EMP.  Whichever comes first).  Barring any extreme terrorist acts, stupid things that people do will live on forever via the net.  It's a damn good thing that cell phones didn't have cameras and video when I was a teen.  I'm not saying that I would have sent nude photos all over the place but... if nothing else, I probably would have gotten a lot of other people's stupid acts on video.  And I probably wouldn't have listened to any adults saying "This stuff is out there forever, you can't take it back!" But damn.  Kids will be kids to an extent, and I know you gals out there want to look sexy for your boyfriends.  But do you really want to take a risk that a college, future employer or *gasp* even your kids could someday possibly see you naked?  Like, full-frontal naked.  Seriously.  Keep it in your pants.  Or if absolutely necessary, keep it in your pants until you are absolutely sure that there are no phones or cameras around. 

Alrighty, that bit of preaching aside, this was not my favorite Jennifer Brown book.  Nobody does issue books like her and if you haven't read her award-winning novel Hate List yet you certainly should do so.  Jennifer is even a pretty awesome person.  I was in contact with her to see if she would Skipe with a teen book group after we read her novel and she said she would!  For free!  (Unfortunately, I never got to do the book group because it was just a bit to racy for the library I was in at the time).  But this book?  Skip it.  I will await her next work with anticipation tinged with skepticism.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Fifty Shades of Knockoffs

A friend suggested that I do a "These Books Actually Exist" book post all about the Fifty Shades of Grey read alikes that are out there.  There are so many of them that they (and the marketing geniuses who jumped on the bandwagon behind their publication) deserve their very own post.  Well, sort of.

Much like my "These Books Actually Exist" posts, I will admit up front that I have not read the entirety of Fifty Shades.  I haven't even read two full chapters.  And I have no intention of doing so for soooooooo many reasons.  To those who are all "OMG!  Fifty Shades was totally awesome and hawt!  I've never read anything like that before!"  Dude. First of all, the books were written as Twilight fan fiction.  Meaning, a Twilight fan wrote a book about what would happen if Bella and Edward got super freaky.  Yeah.  Not reading that.  Second,  go to the paperback romance section at your local library or independently owned book store.  Hell, go to a drug store for all I care.  See those books?  Ninety percent of them contain the same amount of "racy" material.  They may have ugly covers with a lot of lords and ladies in various states of undress, but sex is sex.  True, not all erotic romance books deal with BDSM.  But there are many books out there that cover the experience in a much more engaging and realistic manner.  I'll take my "trashy" books ala Anita Blake and her orgy of vampires/wereanimals, thank you very much.

Since E.L. James's self publish books exploded onto the literary book scene, there has been a veritable plethora of books clambering to be "The next 50 Shades."  Publishers seem to think that if you take a crappy romance book and stick a cover on it that has a close-up of a flower or a piece of jewelry or whatever that people will automatically buy said book and devour anything else that author writes.  And there are a ton to choose from!

Nonfiction publishers are now jumping into the fray with 50 Shades themed cookbooks.  Yes.  Cookbooks.  And of course there are 50 Shades board games, sex toys, t-shirts etc.  Some are meant to be funny.  Some are well... you'll see.

So here is a list of the many books and other items that publishers are trying to market as the next Fifty Shades of Grey.

The actual romance novels:

Maya Banks has been writing erotica for years.  And her books are very popular.  And they will only become more so what with the 50 Shades of Grey movies about to be made!  Bank's Sweet series is supposed to be really good and have a lot of variety for all of you romance readers.

All of Sylvia Day's book are looking like 50 Shades knockoffs these days.  The Crossfire trilogy is really being pushed at 50 Shades readers.  Can I just say how classy those fake pearl clip-on earrings are?  Gold star, cover art person!

The Wild Riders series by Jaci Burton has a federal agent twist to things.  Because sometimes you like your sex to be uh, official.

From that cover, to this:

Looks like someone is redoing the marketing for Shayla Black's series about the hostess of a cable sex talk show...

Here's another comparison of how publishers are making the switch to 50 Shades-ish covers.  Megan Hart is another popular erotica author whose books are getting a face lift.

50 Shades of cookbooks, anyone?

That's right, ya'll!  It's 50 Shades of Chicken.  I particularly like that the author is "FL Fowler."  Oh, and here is a link to the book trailer for this guy if you are curious...

Because nothing is sexier than Kale.  Yeah.  Sweet, sweet Kale.  Note: this is the new edition.  The old one looked like this:

And then we have 50 Shades of Quinoa (available exclusively as a Kindle edition).  It's a best seller, guys!

Bacon, ya'll.  Delicious, greasy bacon! Points for making a necktie out of your main ingredient to use as the cover art.

Ok.  You get it.  There are lots more out there.  Really.

Play on the title 50 Shades of...

Correct.  This books contains stories about an African Grey parrot named Pickles.  This is his fourth book.  From Pickles the Parrot's website:
 "Everyday life with an African Grey Parrot seen through the humorous and often twisted mind of his owner, Georgi.  Her interesting perspectives on animal intellect and unique insights into nature take the reader on a thought provoking, entertaining and often hilarious ride.  The star of the book, Pickles, takes his adventures in stride with wit and charm."  

That's right, folks!  It's zombie porn.  Because nothing gets my motor humming like leaking body fluids and decaying flesh.

Heh. Heh. Heh.  Ok.  That's kind of funny.

Sure.  Why not?

God I hope that one is a joke...

Other weird crap that people are slapping 50 Shades on:

Because when you think of "Mommy Porn," you think of crappy house music.  Yeah, yeah.  Dub step isn't house music.  I know.

Look at all of the fun you could be having with the official 50 Shades of Grey sex toy collection.  Gee wiz!

And then this happened...

Yep.  It's already been turned into a parody musical.

So there you have it, folks.  All of the things you never wanted to know that people were using to make money.  All in one nice little (Ok.  Giant) post.  

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Reference Question of the Day!

I've looked up some strange things at the Reference Desk.  You just never know what is going to pop out of a patron's mouth.  Here's one that was passed down to me at a patron's request via our library director:

Backstory:  There are patrons- every library has at least one who, honestly, are either A. hypocondriacs B. want someone at the library to do all of their work/research/physical movement for them or C. just loooove being a pain in the ass.  This particular patron has a long standing history of petty library complaints that she likes to blame on the library staff or the fact that she has [insert disease/affliction here].

The patron calls our director (who is "an angel!  And I have so few angels in my life!") and asks if the cases for our audiobooks contain vinyl or polyethylene glycol.  Because polyethylene glycol makes her "short of breath."  So, being the person in charge of the audiobook collection, our director asks me to see if I can find out anything.  I am thinking that I am going to get a big, fat "What on earth?  Uh, there's plastic in our cases.  Yeah.  Plastic."- type response.

So I call our representative at Books On Tape (a Random House company).  He does a bit of digging and calls me back a few hours later to tell me that they switched manufacturing companies a few years ago in an effort to be more Earth friendly.  The cases are made of polypropylene (recyclable no. 5) and other recycled materials. Super duper.

I then call the office for Midwest Tapes.  My representative wasn't in so the secretary tried to page his boss. No dice.  She tells me she'll try to get back to me and sure enough, there is a voicemail waiting for me the next day.  Same thing- polypropylene.  Not only that, the secretary called me back again just to double check that I'd gotten her message.

And so, dear library patron, your can breathe easy with as much breath as you like.  Your library's audiobooks are safe.  And you, dear blog reader, learned something new today.  Probably not something you wanted to know or would ever think of wanting to know, but still.  Knowledge is power and all that.

What I was sure would be a brush-off by these two vendors actually turned out to be a very positive customer service experience.  Props to both Books On Tape and Midwest Tapes!