Category: year_end


Five Best Blogging Experiences of 2011

  1. Finding this blog’s niche in life.  I’d originally started this blog to document putting together a library from scratch, but got so busy with actually doing that, that the writing never happened.  Then last summer, I started writing reviews of what my students enjoyed reading.  This endeavor blossomed from there.
  2. Finding a use for Twitter.  This amuses me.  I’ve actually been on Twitter for several years, but completely forgot about it, including the fact that it was connected to my Goodreads account.  Then my email notified me that I had a new follower.  Confused, since I hadn’t posted to Twitter in ages, I logged in … and found that Goodreads updates my Twitter feed when I note what page I’m on, or rate a book.  The proverbial light bulb when on above my head, and I realized that Twitter is an awesome way to do social media advertising for this blog.  It also leads to …
  3. Connecting with authors.  This is pure awesome-sauce.  Authors are the biggest celebrities to librarians, and that some have sought me out through Twitter is simply amazing.  With some, it’s as simple as hoping that I like their book that I’ve marked “to-read” on Goodreads, or re-tweeting my links to reviews of their books.  Others follow my blog.  And some offer my really cool things, like free Skype visits to my school library (I should think about scheduling that – my sixth graders suddenly took an interest in the books by the author that offered this), to links to free prequel/sequel scenes, to free review copies of books.
  4. Getting free review copies of books.  This is pretty epic.  I was already able to get free uncorrected proofs from Snowbound Books when I’d stop by.  And as a librarian with a meager book budget, I could get some new books for free from the Superiorland Preview Center, many of which have been reviewed here.  But lately authors have begun to contact me.  I was offered a PDF copy of Ugly to Start With in exchange for a review, which was posted last week Monday.  Yesterday I received in the mail a copy of The Jinson Twins, Science Detectives, and the Mystery of Echo Lake from the author, who had contacted me through Goodreads due to an overbooked giveaway he was hosting.  (Here’s a link to the Goodreads description, until I review the book.)  In 2012, I’m hoping to start contacting publishing companies for advanced reading copies; that will probably be in this item’s place this time next year.
  5. Connecting with other bloggers.  No man (or woman) is an island when it comes to blogging, especially when writing book reviews.  A librarian also relies on book reviews to know what to select for the library collection; we cannot read every book under the sun (nor do we want to, believe it or not).  There’s no reason to stick to the “expert” opinions of the New York Times Book Reviews, or Publishers Weekly, or the School Library Journal.  Book bloggers could well be our patrons.  Often, they are other librarians.  Beyond the practicality, though, there’s quite the community out there.  I haven’t featured any memes on my blog (yet), but there’s a ton available to help bloggers to connect with each other.
    Besides, I wouldn’t have started blogging book reviews if not for my friend Michelle over at Never Gonna Grow Up!  Happy birthday, by the way.  😉

Happy New Year!  I should have at least one more review up before the end of 2011.

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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.

It’s time to start winding down the reviews for 2011.  I’ll get at least one, hopefully two, more fresh reviews up before the ball drops on Times Square, but I’m also going to share highlights from the year.

First up, my most ambivalent read of 2011: Unwind by Neal Shusterman.

Statistics
Checkouts: Not owned
Typical reader: Fans of dystopian fiction
Source: Checked out from local public library

Synopsis (from Goodreads): The Second Civil War was fought over reproductive rights. The chilling resolution: Life is inviolable from the moment of conception until age thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, parents can have their child “unwound,” whereby all of the child’s organs are transplanted into different donors, so life doesn’t technically end. Connor is too difficult for his parents to control. Risa, a ward of the state is not enough to be kept alive. And Lev is a tithe, a child conceived and raised to be unwound. Together, they may have a chance to escape and to survive.

My Goodreads rating: Unrated, because I have no idea what to give it.


In the future, the Second Civil War is fought between pro-life and pro-choice. The result is a compromise: The Bill of Life, which protects life from conception to age 13, and from age 18 on. Between 13 and adulthood, parents and guardians can choose to retroactively “abort” or “unwind” their child – but the teen stays alive through a sophisticated form of organ donation. Unwound teens live on in recipients’ bodies.

Oh, and if a mother can’t wait that long, she can “stork” the child on someone’s doorstep. If she’s caught in the act, she has to keep it; if the homeowners find the baby, they have to keep it.

The plot focuses on two Unwinds, Connor and Risa, and their unwilling Tithe (parents decided for religious reasons at birth to unwind their child for the greater good) companion, Lev, as they struggle to stay alive in a society that wants 99.44% of their bodies. It’s a good plot, with excellent pacing and some outstanding twists. I honestly did not expect the ending.

This book does get recognition for being one of the most disturbing novels I’ve read. You do get to find out what happens when an Unwind occurs – though it’s all the more powerful because of what’s left to your imagination. I was nauseous afterward and had to put the book down for a while.

On a meta-reading level, this is one that will make you THINK. Is it pro-life or pro-choice? Is it in favor of organ donations or against? What choices would you make in this society – and would you rather die or be unwound?

That said, I did not like several aspects of the book. The present-tense writing style grated on me. I found the main characters to be somewhat flat and couldn’t relate to them; you get more of a feel for the Admiral’s personality, background, what makes him tick than you do for the other characters. Connor and Risa are too intent on survival and immediate problems to introduce themselves to the reader very much. The third-person limited narration may be at fault there, and that sort of point-of-view may really irk some, especially since it changes focus with every chapter.

Five stars for being thought-provoking with some incredible twists. Two stars at most for style, characters, and the plot holes regarding the Bill of Life.  This is what makes it my Most Ambivalent Read of 2011.  I’m not going to pick up the next two books in the trilogy when they come out.  This was good for the shock value; what’s left for the sequels?