Category: nonfiction

Life’s too short to read bad books.  They’re sometimes unavoidable; we’ve all had to read a book for a class at some point that we absolutely couldn’t stand.  But once you get past the requirements, there’s no reason to waste your time on books that aren’t worth reading.

Here are the books I simply could not finish in 2011.

It’s Elementary: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

This book won the Newbery Medal in 2010.  Normally, that’s a sure sign of quality.  You can typically rely on books that win the medal, or honor (runners-up), to be excellent.  When You Reach Me just bored me, though.  I put it down at about page 39.

No-Nonsense Nonfiction: In the Company of Cheetahs by S. K. Niel

Oh, I wanted to like this book!  I love cheetahs, and practically did a happy dance in the public library when I found this on the shelves.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t get even ten pages into this book.  I really wanted to read about the Cheetah Conservation Fund and its work.  This is badly in need of proofreading!  I could not get past the horrible writing or the overuse/misuse of italics.

Guilty Pleasures: Hit List by Laurell K. Hamilton

(Sorry, this one gets a little long and rant-y.)

I put up with the Anita Blake series as long as I could.  (Granted, I started reading the series only a couple years ago, but I read 19 and a half books.)  The first several books, written before 2000, were really good.  Anita was an interesting character – a strong heroine that could really kick butt, and had high morals.  Back then, she was a good necromancer who had a lot of plots surrounding her job for a company that helps settles wills and the like by raising zombies to answer questions and such.  She was a love interest to a powerful vampire in her hometown of St. Louis, Jean-Claude, who she inadvertently helped into power in the excellent first book, Guilty Pleasures.  A few books in, a hot new guy by the name of Richard Zeeman entered the picture.  He was not only hot, but also a closeted werewolf who was powerful enough that Anita didn’t realize for most of the book that he was a werewolf.  A love triangle emerges, then a power triangle, bonding the necromancer, werewolf, and vampire together.

Then around 2000, Laurell K. Hamilton went nuts.  There’s an interesting obsession with rape that crops up in both this series (despite the author’s insistence to the contrary, we fans know that when Micah didn’t take “no” for an answer in Narcissus in Chains, it was rape) and in the first book of the Meredith Gentry series.  The series took a turn from good plots and enjoyable writing to erotica with a dash of plot.  One or two books after this were okay to good, such as Skin Trade.

I kept holding out hope for the series because I liked Anita Blake so much as a character, despite how much I hated what the author was doing to her.  After the nineteenth book (Bullet), I was fed up with the lack of plot – or in that book, the recycling of old plot – and the lack of proofreading/fact-checking against previous novels.  But then I read good reviews of this year’s release, Hit List.  It features Edward, the all-human, mostly-psychopath, bounty hunter that trained Anita and would love nothing more than to have a fight to the death with her someday.  I gave it a shot.

Really, I got two-thirds of the way through this before I gave up.  I was probably being far too generous with my time on this one.  But then the book introduces a character for a second time, and when a mixed-color weretiger up and loses one of his established colors, 100 pages after he’s been established, I just can’t take anymore.  Plus, Edward’s been pretty much neutered.  But hey, that’s what this series has gone and done with every flipping male in the series.

Don’t worry.  Laurell K. Hamilton hates her fans as much as we hate her.  I’m glad I never bought one of her books.  She has nothing but contempt for her readers, and there’s proof on her web site.


Happy Halloween!  I’ll try to get another seasonal book review up by the actual date, but I’m really busy these days.  Here’s a review of The Zombie Combat Manual by Roger Ma.

Checkouts: Definitely not owned by the library (though I could see far too many of my war and weapons obsessed 3rd grade boys wanting it)
Typical reader: Zombie fans
Do the Dewey: 818.607 (miscellaneous modern writing)

My Goodreads rating: 5 stars

According to the back cover of this book, most individuals will have to destroy this undead opponent without the aid of a firearm.  This is logical.  You’ll run out of bullets.  Your gun will jam.  You’ll wake up to find zombies breaking into your house and your gun will be out of reach.  What should you do?

You should read this book and be prepared to take on zombies with an assortment of melee weapons that are readily available and know how to fight at a variety of distances, as well as how far you need to run to get some down-time, the best infant protection/mobility options, and what’s fact and what’s fiction about the zombie plague.

I haven’t read other zombie survival guides, but this seemed like an excellent, well-rounded manual.  The anecdotes included are far superior to those in Max Brooks’ World War Z, because this book actually gives its characters flavor.  I was frustrated while reading World War Z because, while it was interesting for the history, it really lacked any differentiation between speakers.  A Texan would give an account with the exact same lexicon as a South African or a Japanese person.  The Zombie Combat Manual never had that problem.  The survivors’ stories were engaging and gave the book a decent plot, despite not being a novel.

The author really put a lot of thought into not only combat systems and survival tips, but also into how his zombies functioned and what happened in the zombie apocalypse.  The first chapter wastes no time in getting into the facts and myths about how zombies work.

If you’re worried about zombies, or need a good reference tool for writing your own zombies novels, this book is a must-read.

Selecting nonfiction for a school library takes a critical eye.  However, I want to gush about the two books I read from the Unexplained Phenomena series by Capstone Press!  These books are pretty much the epitome of what I like to see in a nonfiction children’s book.

Checkouts: new to the library, courtesy of the Superiorland Preview Center
Typical reader: Middle- to upper-elementary students are going to really enjoy these.
Do the Dewey: 001.942 for Aliens, 398.24 for Legendary Beasts

My Goodreads ratings: 5 for both

As I said, I am very impressed with this series.  The layout for both books is outstanding.  The presentation of information and depth of coverage are fantastic.  There are glossaries as well as in-text definitions of world kids may not understand.  These are age-appropriate books, and can also be “high interest/low level” that will intrigue older students who do best with books that are written for a lower grade level than their own.

Searching for Aliens, UFOs, and Men in Black covers its topics through history, starting with things ancient people saw in the sky and continuing through the United States government’s investigations of aliens and UFOs.  It provides rational explanations for sightings when possible, while still allowing readers to believe in the possibility of lifeforms from other planets.

From Wikipedia: an okapi

Tracking Sea Monsters, Bigfoot, and Other Legendary Beasts is more broad in scope, highlighting many well-known and some less familiar cryptids.  The creatures are grouped by where they are found – on land, in the sea, and in the air.  Height or length and features are provided, as well as what is known and speculated about each beast.  It also talks about the kraken, which was proven to be more or less real in the 1870s with the discovery of giant squid, and the okapi, which was initially believed by European explorers to be a myth like the classic unicorn but was proven to be an actual animal.

This series is well-rounded, informative, and highly interesting.  I’m sure that these books will be very popular.  If you’re looking for a good paranormal/unsolved phenomena set for a library or a child in your life that loves this stuff, this set (four volumes total – I want the other two!) is an excellent choice.

I’m introducing a new feature today with a double billing!  As a school librarian, I have to make sure that the students have plenty of nonfiction material as well as fun novels and picture books.  I need to select books that support curriculum standards and classroom lessons.  From folklore to history, from dinosaurs to poetry, nonfiction can sometimes be the most challenging to select and circulate.  These books need accuracy and currency along with accessibility, and I need to keep in mind that this is a K-12 school: I’m serving a wide age group.

As I said, I’m highlighting two books today.  These are from The Girl’s Guide to Everything Unexplained series by Jen Jones.  One is The Girl’s Guide to Vampires and the other is The Girl’s Guide to Zombies.

Checkouts: new to the library, courtesy of the Superiorland Preview Center
Typical reader: Alas, while I’ve got students of both genders who would love these topics, boys won’t pick up books labeled for girls.  Ironically, there’s hardly anything in the books that make them girl-oriented.
Do the Dewey: 398.4 (398 is folklore/fairy tales)

My Goodreads ratings: 3 for vampires, 4 for zombies

I was only able to get half the series, which is a bit unfortunate.  (The other two books are on werewolves and wizards.)  These are pretty easy to read but not too watered down, making them great for elementary students grades 2-6.  The format is great, with the books introducing the lore and history of these creatures, how they feature in pop culture, how to recognize them (Is your BFF a zombie?  Is your crush a vampire?), and their strengths and weaknesses.

The zombie book was particularly good because it covered the wide scope that modern zombies do.  There’s a bit about the origin of the word, and what Haitian zombies are, as well as what movies like Night of the Living Dead have given us.  I liked the bit about the movie Pathogen, which was written and directed by a 12-year-old girl.  Wow!

The vampire book … I wish it were as good.  While the textual information is relatively on par with the zombie edition, the scope was too narrow.  Apparently, all vampires are of the Twilight ilk!  Books actually meant for kids, like the Bunnicula series of my youth or the more recent My Sister the Vampire get a little blurb at best.  I’m trying to stay off my soapbox regarding the series, but Twilight is not appropriate for elementary students – or really anyone who can’t tell the difference between a good relationship and an abusive one.  Sneaking into your girlfriend’s bedroom to watch her sleep is called stalking.  Throwing her through a glass coffee table because she has a papercut is physical abuse.  But, this book has an overwhelming amount of photos from the movies of the same name.  More Bela Lugosi, less Bella Swan, please!

I’d like to see how the other two books in this series compare.  I think the two that I received will be hits in the library this fall, at least.