BookFest Fever

…or flu, anyway.

I’m back from my visit to Louisiana for the Louisiana Book Festival, and sick as a dog. Initially I thought I’d partied too hard at the author party, but by Monday morning my sinuses were in full riot. I can’t talk without sounding like I’m choking on something, which made ordering my beloved Chestnut Praline Latte a bit of an endeavor. But hey, the CPL is back! Yay?

I set out from San Antonio on Friday morning, with Marie Lu’s Warcross powering my drive. I was able to finish it on my way back to Texas, and rated it a 4/5. It was definitely a great listen, but I wasn’t expecting it to end with something of a cliffhanger! Sequel soon, please?

It rained on Friday night, but Saturday was a beautiful day for the festival. It was bright and breezy. That said, I spent most of it in the Barnes and Noble bookseller tent doing some serious damage to my bank account, or attending sessions inside the State Library. I got to meet some really cool authors, and I left town with a stack of autographed goodies.

I spent Sunday with my former housemate, who gave me still more books for my early Christmas present, and hit up some of my favorite Baton Rouge haunts.

A fun Halloween evening would’ve been the icing on the cake…but sadly, I spent mine sick in bed. I’m back at work today and trying to chug along, with my box of tissues close by. There’s not much I hate more than being sick. I do think I’m on the mend, and I’m hoping I’ll be over this by the Texas Book Festival this weekend. I intend to see still more awesome authors, pick up more signed books, and earn a few alarmed emails from my bank. In the meantime, I plan to start making a dent in my nightmarish TBR list and chug some cold medicine. Wish me luck, folks.

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Up and Coming

Two posts in one day? No way!

I’m dusting off this blog because I’ve got a lot going on these days, most of it very exciting.

On October 28th I’ll be a panelist on podcasting at the Louisiana State Book Festival from 3-3:45 PM. I’ll also be hosting the Urban Legend trivia at 10:30 AM! Louisiana will always have a very special place in my heart – it’s where I spent some of the most important years of my life, and some of my best friends still live there. As a former Louisiana State Library employee, I’m so honored to be back at Book Fest as a guest!

I’ll be attending the Texas Book Festival November 4th-5th. I won’t be hosting any panels, just attending as a lowly plebe, but I’m insanely excited to get to see some great authors! I’m hoping to get a few books signed and crossing my fingers I don’t pass out from the sheer awesomeness.

I’m also excited to announce that I’ve got a new podcasting project on the horizon! While I’ll still be voicing Morning Wood on The Alexandria Archives, I’ll also be hosting a podcast on youth services in the library with the amazing Skye of The Spork Review. I’m so, so excited about getting this show off the ground. We’ll be discussing programs and services for kids and teens at the library, as well as featuring the occasional author interview! The show won’t premiere until mid or late November, but we’ve already gotten the ball rolling and will be announcing the title soon. If librarianship floats your boat, keep an eye on this blog for more information!

Book Review – They Both Die at the End, Adam Silvera

There are books that make you laugh.

There are books that make you cry.

Then there are  books that throw you into an existential angst, leaving you gripped by a great and terrible fear of your own mortality.

Or maybe that only happens to paranoid shut-ins like me, I’m not sure. In any case, it’s been a long time since I’ve been as moved by a book as I was by They Both Die at the End. Silvera introduces us to two young men (boys, really), Mateo and Rufus, who have both learned through the service called DeathCast that their next 24 hours will be their last. First thought: whose terrible idea was this, and why isn’t there a way to opt out? But never mind that. The boys meet through an app called Last Friend, both of them facing their ends alone for different reasons.

The story that follows is, quite simply, beautiful. The boys live their final day taking risks they’ve never taken before, though Mateo adamantly refuses to risk hopping on Rufus’s bike. Along the way we meet a cast of characters, doomed and not, who the boys encounter throughout the day. Each has their own approach to death that forces you to think about things in ways you might not have before. What does it mean to face your own end? How has your life affected those around you? Do you live this day like any other, or do you paint the town red?

Knowing that both Mateo and Rufus will die at the end (it’s in the title, after all) doesn’t affect the suspense at all. How will it happen? When will it happen? Will it come as a surprise, or will they have time to compose themselves and face it down? Will they go together, or separately? When the time comes it manages to pack a punch, leaving you screaming “SWEET CINNAMON ROLL, NO!” Or maybe, again, that was just me.

I cried like a baby. Not just at The End, either. There were so many profound moments scattered throughout the novel. There was so much love, and all kinds of love, all of it beautiful in its own way. Silvera crafted something really amazing here.

In all likelihood, I’ll look at They Both Die at the End the same way I looked at the film Pan’s Labyrinth – it was an enchanting, wild ride, but dear god don’t make me do it again. I made the mistake of reading the final pages of the book first thing in the morning and spent the rest of the day terrified by the myriad ways I could accidentally kill myself. Get into a car accident? Choke on a cookie? Trip over my cat and bust my head open? Said cat would probably eat me before they found me, too. He’s ungrateful like that.

So unless you’re a paranoid shut-in like me, please, please check out They Both Die at the End. I promise, you won’t regret it!

Book Review – The Raven Cycle, Maggie Stiefvater

This is not a review about a book, but rather a series of books – The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves, Blue Lily Lily Blue, and The Raven King. It might seem like biting off more than I can chew, reviewing four books in one go, but it’s hard to look at each of them individually rather than as a singular, well-executed narrative.

In short, I loved these books. LOVED them. But let’s start from the beginning.

I have kind of a weird relationship with YA. I read quite a lot of it, but I often find it lacking. Writing teenagers is hard. It’s so easy for them to come off as whiny, or childish, or far too precocious for their age. The last YA series I felt I really enjoyed was probably the Infernal Devices trilogy, and it’s been quite a while since then. But after repeated references to the Raven Cycle by a favorite YouTuber, I decided to give it a shot. So, I checked out the first book from the library. I liked it well enough. Then I checked out the second book. Then I checked out the third AND fourth books, because it was the weekend and I had no intention of stirring from my house until I was through with them.

Where do I even begin? The story follows Blue Sargent, the non-psychic daughter of a talented psychic mother, as she falls in with a crowd of “raven boys” – students at the prestigious Aglionby Academy in Henrietta, Virginia. Gansey, the enigmatic de facto leader of the pack, guides the others on his hunt for the Welsh King Glendower, who he believes is alive and sleeping. The promise of a magical favor dangles over their heads. It was hard not to fall in love with Stiefvater’s characters – no-nonsense Blue, ambitious trailer park-raised Adam, street racer Ronan, occasionally charming Gansey, and Noah, who loves glitter. They’re not perfect, but their depth and character development makes them easy to relate to. Hell, even the side characters were fantastic – Mr. Gray, who first makes his appearance in The Dream Thieves, quickly became a personal favorite.

The kids are aided on their search by psychics and stuffy English academics, and hindered by murderous Latin teachers and yuppy collectors of curiosities. Their relationships evolve, and each grows in their own unique way. The ending left a little to be desired – without spoiling anything, let’s just say this is one of those stories where it turns out the quest was more important than the final destination – but it didn’t do anything to detract from the wild ride on the way there.

Honestly, if I didn’t have such a backlog of books waiting to be read, I’d probably have turned right back around and read the whole series over again. But alas – another day, another book to review. I’ll definitely be coming back to these in the future!

 

Book Review – I Am Providence, Nick Mamatas

Every so often, I come across a book I go into expecting to enjoy only to be sorely disappointed. I Am Providence should have hit all the sweet spots. Female writer at a Lovecraft conference? Murder mystery? I love those things! I’m going to love this book!

Only I didn’t love I Am Providence. In fact, I didn’t even like it.

The protagonist, Colleen, puts on her Mystery Solving boots when her conference roommate Panossian is brutally murdered. Now, again, I’m a fan of murder mysteries. Give me some Charlaine Harris and P.D. James any day. Only, Colleen’s meddling comes across as just that – meddling. She has no real reason to think the police can’t solve this one on their own, or to continue digging when all she’s doing is clearly antagonizing everyone around her. She constantly gets it wrong and gets herself into more trouble. In short, she seems to flub everything she tries her hand at. Which I suppose is realistic, when it comes down to it – these things are better left to law enforcement, right?

Even the touches of Con Culture we’re exposed to come across as ham-handed. Yes, sexism and misogyny are rampant at these kinds of things. Any girl who’s spent time in the Nerd World can tell you that. But Colleen’s opponents come across as cardboard figures, lacking any real menace or conviction. The in-fighting seems petty and ridiculous, more childish than necessary. It was hard to take any of it seriously.

It doesn’t help  that the murder victim was so thoroughly unlikable, it’s hard to care that he’s dead. I must say that the one real Lovecraftian twist was the narration from the corpse’s point of view. There’s a sort of intrinsic horror to be found in the notion of being trapped in one’s rotting body after death. As Panossian’s consciousness observes the aftermath of his murder with a sort of detached bewilderment, we get a look at the conference attendees and the investigation as it unfolds. Turns out, there isn’t a single likable character in the bunch. Everyone’s a creep or an asshole. And with Colleen so hard to like as a protagonist, there’s not really anyone to root for.

The ending fell flat for me. I suppose Mamatas left it somewhat open-ended to add to the unsettling atmosphere, but all it got from me was a “WTF?” The twist (if you can call it that) was a sore letdown, and the whole thing just felt a bit ridiculous.

I rated I Am Providence 2/5 stars. I felt like it had so much potential. Mamatas’s writing was solid, and if he’d taken time to develop the concept further it could have been a much stronger story. But the whole thing read almost like sub-par fanfic about the Lovecraftian community. What a waste!

Think on your feet

Part of my job is coming up with display ideas for highlighting the library’s collection of picture books. Pinterest is a huge help with this, and before my first day I had a few ideas in mind. One of them turned out like this:

I put this display together three months ago with the vague hope that we’d have some rain come September.

Then, Hurricane Harvey happened.

So joking about the rain when folks have literally been rained out of their homes would obviously be in poor taste. Scratch that idea. Luckily I had a backup board I’d put together with no real plan for displaying it in mind. I put my display up this morning and it looks a little like this:

Cute, relevant, and not horribly insensitive. I can use the other display next year, perhaps, when things have died down. These are the kinds of things that you have to be prepared for as a librarian, whether you’re showing off picture books or planning services for refugee populations. Our goal is always to meet the needs and expectations of our community. I think my current job is doing a pretty well at teaching me that. While it’s had its ups and downs, I’ve learned a lot in the past 4 months. Here’s to learning more.

Book Review – Where’d you go, Bernadette, Maria Semple

If I ever tell you that a book you’ve mentioned is “On my list,” call me out on my bullshit. “On my list” is my way of saying “I’ll get to it when I get to it.” Which may well be never, given how long this imaginary list has grown. Where’d you go, Bernadette is one of those books that’s been on my list for a good long while, probably since it was released in 2012. My former roommate spoke pretty well of it, and I even checked it out to read on a flight. Instead, I found myself distracted by a magazine and, probably, sleep.

So it wasn’t until this past weekend that I finally told myself that I was going to finish this damned book. There was a hurricane sweeping towards San Antonio, and it seemed like there was a good chance it would be just me, my pets, and a flashlight alone in my little apartment. Before leaving work on Friday I checked out Where’d you go, Bernadette once more and vowed I’d get through it this time. And what do you know? I did!

I should probably mention, first and foremost, that San Antonio escaped the storm relatively unscathed. We got a little rain and a bit of wind, and nothing more. I wish I could say the same for Corpus Christi and Rockport, and for Houston. Texas is hurting right now. If you’re the giving type, now might be the time to look into local charities on the ground that are trying to get folks back on their feet.

Where’d you go, Bernadette is the story of prodigal mother Bernadette and her equally brilliant daughter Bee. It’s also a story about mental illness, though exactly what that illness is manages to fly under the radar. Depression? Anxiety? All we know is that Bernadette hasn’t been the same since Something happened to her back in L.A. She’s managed to be a great mother to Bee, but seems to have few redeeming qualities otherwise – she’s bitter, angry, and is so sick of people and of life in general that she’s outsourced her everyday tasks to a virtual assistant in India. Despite this, she manages to be a likable character. I’m still not entirely sure how Maria Semple did it. Maybe it’s because so many of the little aggravations that get Bernadette going are exactly that – aggravating. You can’t help but sympathize, for the most part. Traffic sucks, and nobody wants to eat at a shitty restaurant.

As for Bee, she’s almost too good to be true. Despite a childhood brush with serious illness, she’s managed to flourish almost to excess. She does well in school, she’s liked by her peers, adored by her parents, admired by her teachers. My one real complaint is that she never really stops excelling, even after Bernadette’s mysterious disappearance. Despite the loss of her best friend, there’s little actual change to Bee’s character. Even when she’s kicked out of boarding school and rejecting her father’s attempts at reconciliation, she’s pushing on, putting pieces of the puzzle together and finding answers. I had a hard time imagining that things wouldn’t turn out all right, after all, despite the family being thrown some major doozies.

Told in a sort of epistolary format, the story unfolds in the form of emails, journals, and letters, punctuated with the odd FBI report. The conflict is driven by ever-present gnats, as Bernadette has dubbed them, those hovering, agitating people who just seem to complicate things unnecessarily. Gnats bad, Bernadette (and Bee, of course) good. Easy enough, I guess. Only some of the gnats did mean well, and it’s apparent that they’ve all got their own troubles to deal with. Bernadette’s greatest persecutor manages to become her salvation in one unexpected twist.

The novel ends with the reunion you’d been led to expect, but leaves a lot of questions unanswered. There are still some major bridges to be crossed and consequences to be faced. But we don’t get to see that, which felt like a bit of a letdown. I rated Where’d you go, Bernadette 3/5 stars, but I’d say that it’s definitely worth a read. I burned through it once I got started and I can see myself rereading it in the future.

Book Review – The Sun is Also a Star, Nicola Yoon

Confession: I’m borderline aromantic. There’s just something about romance as a genre that turns me off, in large part because I’m not a romantic person myself. There’s something about these grand gestures that seems contrived and insincere. So when I heard about The Sun is Also a Star getting a lot of press, I initially wrote it off as another melodramatic teenage lovefest. I don’t know what possessed me to check it out, but I did. And I’m glad I did, because this book was the most refreshing take on romance I’ve encountered in a long time.

I like my romances to take place on the sidelines, secondary plots to the need to save the world or defeat the evil wizard. While the romance in this book was certainly an important part of the plot, it wasn’t the defining driving force in the story. Natasha is a Jamaican immigrant on the eve of her family’s deportation, desperately searching for a way to stay in the US. Daniel is the son of Korean immigrants, burying his desire to make art beneath the facade of the dutiful son. While the bulk of the story alternates between their viewpoints, we also get a look at other characters we meet along the way, like the unhappy security guard and the enamored legal assistant. I absolutely loved this technique. I have kind of a thing for minor characters and sidekicks, so it was wonderful to see the way these “NPCs” drove the story with their actions – and in at least one significant case, inaction.

The romance aspect of the story was whirlwind, but it never felt forced or artificial. There’s a sort of recurring theme of celestial elements, and despite all the talk of fate you can’t help marvel at these two people being thrown together at this particular point in their lives. It feels significant without being hammered home. This isn’t a story of love overcoming everything. It’s a story about love just sort of happening.

We also get a lot of fascinating cultural insight, questions about race and class and ethnicity. Daniel’s family has made a living selling black hair products, a scene I first heard about in the documentary Good Hair some years ago. The question of whether or not what Natasha and Daniel have is bigger than their families is secondary to whether or not it’s big enough for them.

And the ending! God, I loved the ending. It was so bittersweet, happy but also realistic and down-to-earth. Nicola Yoon really hit it out of the ball park, with this one. I haven’t yet read her other novel, Everything Everything, but after this it’s definitely on my list. In short, I highly recommend The Sun is Also a Star – I gave it 5/5 stars.

Up next, I’m hoping to get through Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy. I’ve had it checked out forever and a half now, and I’ve only managed to slog through the first few pages. It’s not capturing me as readily as Dumplin’ did, but I’m trying not to sell it short without giving it a proper chance. I haven’t been in much of a reading mood lately, to be fair. Hopefully things will pick up soon!

Float On

A lot has happened since my last post, most of it good. I'm still adjusting to the new job, and I find that I like it a lot overall. The Switchgrass Review accepted my short piece "Okay" for publication this fall. I booked my flight for Dragon Con. I joined a wine club. And my sister and I spent a lazy afternoon floating down the Guadalupe River.

In contrast, I woke to thunder and lightning this morning. It's been storming nonstop since. I got to put the raincoat I bought for my Coraline cosplay to its intended use.

I signed up for OwlCrate a while back, and I've gotten a couple boxes since. I find that it gets my Librarian Gears turning. I'm taking over our Family Fun program this fall, and I'm looking forward to doing some fun STEAM activities. There are a lot of professionals development opportunities on the horizon for me, including an appearance at the Louisiana Book Festival to talk podcasting. Exciting times!

I can't pretend it's all sunshine and roses. I've been struggling with some self-doubt, and if I try to think too far ahead I get a pounding headache. The Alexandria Archives are on hiatus while we all deal with real-life commitments, but we are working on content while we're on break. And that's all we can do – keep working. Float on, even through the rapids and the shallow bits with the slimy rocks.

Can you die from too much librarianing?

Ah, the age-old question that has long plagued my profession. If the answer is “yes,” I haven’t learned it yet. I’m hanging in there. Back in May I moved out of my old place to a new city about a couple hours away. I wish I could say I’ve gotten unpacked and suitably settled, but that would be a lie. I’m still surrounded by boxes and potato chip crumbs. Someday, I tell myself, I’ll get it together. But that day is not today. And it’s probably not tomorrow, either.

I had this idea in my head that a change of scenery would get me out of the rut I was in. And for the most part, it has. I can’t afford to spend too much time down in the dumps because frankly, I’m just too busy to wallow in my own self-loathing. The Alexandria Archives and my writing have gone largely neglected as I struggle to adjust to a new lifestyle that’s pretty different from my old one. Well, not entirely different – I still spend my free time vegetating in front of the TV, but exhaustion is largely to blame. Lately I’ve been marathoning the new MST3K, which has been a fun watch. And I’ve picked cross stitch back up, so I’m not being totally unproductive. But there’s definitely a sense of “grass was greener.”

I like my  new job. I like it a lot, actually, despite horrific papercuts, screaming children, and collapsing boxes. But there’s still that fear of ending up back in a rut where I’m not making any progress professionally or personally, like I’m just existing to take up space. So I’m trying to take initiative to change things. Tonight, I’ll begin recording my audio for episode 16 of the Archives. Tomorrow, I’ll go to a writers’ meetup and maybe spend some time with a new friend. And I’m going to finish that damn cross stitch. If life’s what you make of it, I’m going to make sure mine involves some dainty embroidered flowers.