Thursday, August 9, 2012

Throwdown Reading Wrap-Up

Hello again, everybody. As promised, here are some final Throwdown book comments.

Let's begin with the book whose cover is staring at you from the right: The Boy of a Thousand Faces by Brian Selznick. Clearly, I have a "thing" for Mr. Selznick, and I don't care who knows it. This is the story of Alonzo King, a boy born on Halloween, who grew up loving monsters. He reads scary stories, makes models, and worships Lon Chaney, the original Man of a Thousand Faces. He watches old horror movies on a show hosted by a masked man called Mr. Shadows, to whom he sends pictures of himself in monster make-up. He is not the most popular boy in school. He His only friend is Mr. Blake, his neighbor. But then, right before Halloween, a rumor starts: there's a monster in town! There are footprints here. Someone heard it over there. Now EVERYONE wants to know about monsters, and so everyone is talking to the kid who knows about monsters. There is huge excitement building in the town as Halloween approaches. Is there a monster in town? And how does Alonzo become "The Boy of a Thousand Faces?" This short sweet book has the answers, and is a love letter to anyone who grew up loving monsters and feeling left out.

And since I'm already talking about Selznick, his afterword to Wonderstruck made clear his affection for and debt to E.L. Konigsburg's classic From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, so I decided to re-visit it. What a delight! Two kids run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, washing up in the bathrooms, living off the money thrown into the fountain, and sleeping in the exhibits. They end up embroiled in an art mystery over whether a particular angel was created by Michaelangelo. The mystery leads them to the wealthy, no-nonsense and lonely Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, who holds the key to the angel in her mixed up files. If you're going to read Wonderstruck (and I wish you would), do yourself a favor and pick up this book first.

Next up is Jasper Fforde's Something Rotten, book four in his Thursday Next series. I really enjoyed The Eyre Affair, and liked Lost in a Good Book. The Well of Lost Plots was just okay, and I thought maybe I had burned out on the character, so I avoided Something Rotten until now. Describing a Thursday Next plot is well-nigh impossible (and you'll sound like a nutter if you try): a full-contact croquet match to stave off armageddon, obnoxious dodos (the birds, not stupid people), disappearing, re-appearing husbands, an evil corporation bent on world domination, Hamlet having an affair with Admiral Lord Nelson's mistress, book characters entering the real world, a minotaur on the run.. see what I mean? That's all one book, and there's much, much more I could have said. Is it as good as the first book? No. But I find it doesn't matter. This was such a strange, random little lark, and I enjoy the literature-infused world Fforde has created so much, that I had a great time reading it.

Rick Detorie's The Accidental Genius of Weasel High is where you steer kids who loved the drawing/writing combo of Diary of a Wimpy Kid but are a little bit older now. It's a sweet story of a guy who realizes that his best friend would make a perfect girlfriend only to find out that she doesn't feel the same way. There's a lot of humor, hijinks occur, but this isn't a simplistic story. Good stuff.

I don't know if they realized it at the time, but Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl created one of the best openings ever in Beautiful Creatures, ending thusly:

There were no surprises in Gatlin Couunty. We were pretty much the epicenter of the middle of nowhere.

At least, that's what I thought, when I closed my battered copy of Slaughterhouse-Five, clicked off my iPod, and turned out the light on the last night of summer.

Turns out, I couldn't have been more wrong.

There was a curse.

There was a girl.

And in the end, there was a grave.

I never even saw it coming.

How can you not want to turn the page? I was hooked hard, and was not disappointed. Yes, there's teen romance here (I said it was a YA book, didn't I?), but it's well done, with history and magic and Dark Secrets and books. The small-town details of place and people ring true, and even the outrageous characters make sense.

For those teens (or adults) who like their supernatural without all that romance stuff, may i suggest Rick Yancey's The Monstrumologist. It purports to be the journal of an orphan boy apprenticed to Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, who studies monsters. It's scary and gothic and gory (and sometimes tough going as it's written to sound stilted and "of its time") and there's none of that sissy girl stuff to see here. But if horror is your bag and you like some blood and guts along with your moody atmosphere, then take a gander here.

Bill Willingham is best known for the hit comics series Fables, but he writes novels, too, including this little charmer of a juvenile fiction book called Down the Mysterly River. A Boy Scout called Max the Wolf for his woodsy skills finds himself in an unfamiliar forest with no idea how he got there. He's being chased by guys with glowing swords and then he finds the talking animals, including a warrior badger named Banderbrock, a gentle bear named Walden, and an outrageous pirate of a tomcat named McTavish. Together they have to figure out how they got here, where "here" is, and why they were brought here. It's a quest novel with some unexpected twists and turns, some ripping adventure, and a touching heart.

What have I not talked about yet? If you guessed Temeraire, you're spot on. Tongues of Serpents picks up the story as Laurence and his unknowning revolutionary of a dragon are transported to Australia to build and look after a new breeding ground. Both are depressed (and trying to hide it from the other). The situation in Australia doesn't help: terribly hot and dry, politically unstable, and full of criminals and the objectionable men sent to watch over them. Then one of the eggs they're looking after gets stolen, and a group unlikely to ever see eye to eye is sent after it. Sadly, this installment didn't have as much zing as the others leading up to it. I can't put my finger on why, but this one felt draggy and uninspiring. Hopefully the next will see Novik back in form.

Finally ('bout time!), there was Paula Guran's excellent anthology The Year's Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2011. I am a huge fan of anthologies. It's one of the best places to discover new authors, or to try an author you've heard of without dropping a pile of cash on a hardcover. No anthology is perfect; most are hit and miss. But this one was more hit than miss with a lineup including stalwarts like Neil Gaiman, Joe R. Lansdale, and Tanith Lee, and current faves like Maureen McHugh, Jay Lake, Stephen Graham Jones, Holly Black and Genevieve Valentine. It even includes a nice fat novella from George R.R. Martin, set in his Song of Ice and Fire universe. Guran's definition of dark fantasy and horror casts a wide net, and it's safe to say that whatever kind of story you like, you'll find something pleasing here.

P.S.

For those that might have missed it, the final results of the Throwdown can be found here.

I'd Have Gotten Away With It, Too, If Not For You Meddling Kids!

The Runge Public Library Throwdown is over, and here are the official results: Team Everyone Else read 228.82 books. I read 228.48 books. Team Everyone Else is triumphant, by a grand total of 17 pages.

To quote the immortal Jake Blues:

Honest... I ran out of gas! I--I had a flat tire! I didn't have enough money for cab fare! My tux didn't come back from the cleaners! An old friend came in from out of town! Someone stole my car! There was an earthquake! A terrible flood! Locusts! IT WASN'T MY FAULT, I SWEAR TO GOD!!!

But seriously folks, this is awesome. 228.82 books equals 11,441 pages read in three weeks. We've had folks get cards that never had them before and folks using cards that they hadn't in a long time. I've gotten to talk to kids about books and what they like to read, which will enable us to make more judicious choices when we buy books. (Hint: Is it like Goosebumps? We love Goosebumps! You could quiz any kid in town about Goosebumps and they could answer your question.) We were able to keep kids reading during the summer on their reading level, which will hopefully help them out when school starts later this month. Everybody wins! (Well, except me. Rotten kids.)

As a bonus? Now the adults in town are getting cocky, so we may be having Throwdown 2: The Wrath of Kahn in the near future. Fine by me, Runge--I really want that Shrieking Flying Monkey, so Bring It ON!

And all of this Awesome? Couldn't have happened without you all. Sharing our little contest around the internet (William Gibson--THE William Gibson--re-tweeted a link to our contest page to his followers. I'm still squeeing over that, and it's all thanks to you, Deanna), reading the blog and commenting, sending cards and letters and emails: y'all have done more than you can guess to encourage kids to read (and to convince a librarian that she was on the right track). Thank you all.

I'm inching towards work time, so I'll post my final books later today.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Zero Hour, 9 AM

Just a short note: the Throwdown ends today at 5:30. Currently, Team Everyone Else is ahead 181.82 books to 177.60 books. After 5:30, all pages will be tallied and the final standings will be announced tomorrow. I will try to post my final books tonight, but blogging from a Kindle Fire is painful, so it's more likely tomorrow.

Thank you all for following along and for sending your support. 181.82 books equals 9091 pages read, and there will be more to come today. Think about that for a minute. Over 9000 pages read, most of which probably wouldn't have been read without this little shindig and your support for it. Team Everyone Else is awesome, and all of y'all are, too.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Throwdown Countdown: Two...

The final weekend for our little throwdown is done, and I'm pretty happy with the reading I got done. It's a sprint to the finish with several lead changes on the way. I can just taste that Shrieking Flying Monkey.

Metaphorically. I don't want to chew on the monkey, people. Sheesh.

First up for me was Naomi Novik's Empire of Ivory, the fourth book in the Temeraire series. I am officially obsessed with the series and actually have to force myself to read other things in between volumes--otherwise y'all would be getting all Temeraire, all the time. Taking up just where volume three left off, Laurence and Temeraire have finally returned to England from their China adventures only to find Bonaparte running rampant over Europe. England's dragons are nowhere to be seen. Laurence discovers the terrible reason for this: most of the dragons have caught some kind of virus and are slowly dying. They figure out that Temeraire had this same disease while traveling but recovered, so they are sent to Africa in search of the cure. It's terribly distressing watching friends from previous volumes sicken and die, and as if this isn't enough, Laurence is faced with a horrifying decision: stand by while hundreds of sentient creatures die, or save them and commit treason, condemning himself to death. Things are never easy for these two, which is one of the reasons I enjoy the series. There's lots of discussion about freedom and honor and such, but there are also consequences, sometimes known, sometimes not, that must be dealt with.

Next was Crash, by J.G. Ballard. Quite a departure. To tell the truth, I've read Crash before. I'm reading it again because it's this month's selection for my book group. I ran into a fellow book-grouper at ArmadilloCon and his comment was something along the lines of "Man. That book is just relentless." And yes, it is. Ballard explores our addiction to technology through characters who get an erotic thrill from car crashes (their own and others). If it's not about cars, roadways, car crashes, or extremely fetishistic sex (involving cars, roadways, crashed cars, and car crash victims), then you won't find it here. Reading the book is analogous to that "slow down and stare at the carnage" impulse we all seem to have, and just as uncomfortable.

Then I finally jumped in to China Mieville's Railsea. I am a huge Mieville fan (even if he does sometimes make me doubt my own intelligence) and I always look forward to whatever he comes up with. Imagine a post-apocalyptic world where insects and vermin have grown huge and make their way through the under the surface of the earth like one of those sandworms from Dune. You can't set foot on the ground without calling some horrific beastie up to damage you. The only safe places are small "islands" of townships (presumably built on rock the beasties can't tunnel through) connected by an ocean of inter-connecting iron and wood rails: the railsea. Now imagine that you're a young boy, clumsy and not very motivated, who's been signed onto a vessel as a doctor's apprentice, set to sail the railsea and hunt the giant moles. Your captain has an artificial arm, and is obsessed with finding and killing the great albino mole who took it Mocker Jack. It's weird and adventure-y and funny and I couldn't put it down.

Finally, I just couldn't resist diving into Victory of Eagles, Naomi Novik's fifth book featuring Temeraire. Hey, I told you I was obsessed. Having essayed a noble act that has seen him charged with treason, Will Laurence expects to be put to death at any time. He knows that he only lives as pressure on Temeraire to do what the government wants. But now Bonaparte has caught England unaware and invaded, taking possession of London. Laurence and Temeraire are needed for battle, so a temporary pardon is cooked up to allow them to fight. Will is deeply depressed and for the first time, Temeraire realizes that actions, however righteous they may be, have real consequences and that their deed has hurt others and will have long-lasting ramifications (provided they survive). There's war and intrigue and loyalty and betrayal, issues of gender politics and human (and dragon) rights, bravery and foolishness, humor and pathos. There's a lot of meat to this series, and it's a pleasure to read.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Throwdown Countdown: Five...

The race remains tight, with Team Everyone Else at 145.88 books holding a slim lead over my 141.04 books. I've got some pretty substantial books in the to-be-read stack, so it's anybody's game.

Yesterday's entertainment consisted of an older YA novel and a much newer juvenile novel. The YA was the first House of Night novel, Marked, by mother/daughter writing team P.C. and Kristin Cast. Let me tell you up front--these books are the literary equivalent of crack. I cannot read them slowly and I cannot wait to get to the next one. Zoey Redbird is a terrific main character, smart, funny, dorky, compassionate, and occasionally annoying as all get-out. Even though this is a Book One and therefore saddled with tons of introductions and info-dumping, it's still entertaining and very readable.

The other novel was Katherine Applegate's The One and Only Ivan, the story of a gorilla who lived for decades as the attraction in a run-down mall, told by the gorilla himself. Ivan is a stoic, having cut himself off from painful feelings for so long that he endures rather than lives. Even his friendships with the other animals on display (and one stray dog that resists being gotten rid of) are reserved and distant. But then a scared baby elephant is brought in, and something awakens in Ivan as he strives to communicate with the outside world and save the baby. Keep tissues handy, people.

And now that I've outed myself as a book-cryer, I'll bid you all a fond good evening and get to some reading.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Throwdown Update: Six...

It's been a busy few days around the old Throwdown. A huge effort sent Team Everyone Else surging into the lead, leaving me to battle my way back. Team Everyone Else is sitting pretty at 138.84 books read, while I am almost exactly 10 books behind at 128.8. They'll never defeat me. NEVER!

I've been reading an odd amalgamation of books (which is par for the course for me) beginning with The Sugar Barons: Family, Corruption, Empire, and War in the West Indies by Matthew Parker. I've long been fascinated by the history of how one seemingly ordinary product can effect global changes (see Cod, or Salt, or The Scents of Eden), and given that this book promised to marry that to corruption and piracy, it sounded like a fun time. It delivers what it promised: a history of a product coming out of some of the most corrupt circumstances imaginable. There is history, both of families and Empire. There is drunkenness, licentiousness, rum, and piracy. There is slavery and inhumanity of many kinds. Sadly, the story is more compelling than the telling of it. Interesting information, just not an exciting read.

Then there was James Renner's The Man From Primrose Lane, a story about missing girls and suspicious characters that takes some really unexpected twists and turns. It's well-grounded, moves quickly and goes places I guarantee you won't expect.

Then I spent some time with Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling's anthology Teeth: Vampire Tales. (I like vampire stories. So sue me.) Datlow and Windling are master anthologists, and this collection contained some of my favorite authors (Jeffrey Ford, Neil Gaiman), so I was excited to see where all it took me. It's a fantastic collection, introducing me to some new authors that I've just got to see more of: Genevieve Valentine, Cecil Castellucci, Holly Black. The pieces range from funny to scary to poignant and there were way more hits than misses.

Finally, there's The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. Like Wonderstruck, it's a story told in both words and pictures, lending a (highly appropriate) cinematic feel to the reading experience. It's the story of Hugo Cabret, an orphan taken in by his drunken uncle who maintains the clocks at the train station. When his uncle disappears, Hugo goes on maintaining the clocks, hiding from the Station Agent and stealing food when he has to. The story has danger, excitement, chase scenes, automatons, coincidence, and even a history of early films. It's fabulous, and I love it to pieces.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Throwdown Update: The Final Countdown (I Totally Just Got That Song Stuck In Your Head)

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the final week of our little Throwdown. As of right now, I have a slight lead (85.48 TO 85.2), but obviously anything can happen. The response from my friends and the reading world has been awesome, but I'm even starting to see a response from parents and grandparents in the area, leading me to believe that this might be year one of an annual event. I could get behind that.

So if you wanted to send a card or letter but just haven't gotten around to it yet, now is the time--your words of encouragement might be just what Team Everyone Else needs to put me away for good and forever dash my dream of owning a sparkly Shrieking Flying Monkey.

As for me, ArmadilloCon severely curtailed my reading time by being especially awesome this year. I got to spend time with good friends, talk about movies and books, and even attend a screening of Christmas With the Dead (visit them on FaceBook here). I also bought a beautiful edition of Charles Finney's The Circus of Dr. Lao signed by Finney. All in all a fabulous weekend, but not one where I got a lot of reading done. Still, I did finish one book.

Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones is the story of an absent-minded professor who inherits his grandfather's house and lands without realizing that he is now responsible for magically protecting the grounds and everyone on them. It's both a fun read and a funny one, with characters you'll enjoy spending time with and a gentle, quick-moving story.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Wonderstruck

Hello again, my bookish friends. Sorry for the delayed update, but I am at a convention and computer time is hard to come by.

I have no idea what happened at the library today, but when I left on Thursday, I had surged into the lead by about 10 books (500 pages or so). Still, reading time is hard to come by here, so chaos may await me Monday morning.

Having enjoyed Graceling despite my brain's best efforts to mash it up with The Hunger Games, I next tackled Kristin Cashore's Fire. A companion to Graceling rather than a sequel, Fire takes us to an unfamiliar kingdom where Gracelings don't exist, but where some animals are a riotous rainbow of new colors and some humans are "monsters" with the ability to control people's minds.

I like Cashore's storytelling, but I have to admit that I liked the world of Graceling better than that of Fire. This gives me high hopes for her most recent book, Bitterblue, which is, in fact a sequel to Graceling (albeit one which takes place 12 years or so afterwards).

I also finished Brian Selznick's Wonderstruck, which was awesome. I love the way Selznick chooses to tell his story, with one character's more modern part told in words and another's older story told in pictures. I don't know about you, but when I read, I "hear" the book in my head as if it's being read aloud. Obviously, I don't "hear" pictures, I just see them. The main character in the earlier story is deaf, so it is an extra layer of cool that the voiceover is silenced during her part. The words and pictures eventually come together and I love it. If you're caught up enough in the story and the characters, coincidences become moments of wonder rather than moments that jar you out of the story.

Finally, I picked up Book of Secrets by Chris Roberson. When not remolding the comics industry into something more to his liking (and writing for series as varied as Superman, Fables, and I, Zombie), Chris is a pretty awesome novelist. I've read a lot of his stuff, and always look forward to reading the next one. Book of Secrets is what The DaVinci Code would read like if it were written by a ridiculously smart guy with a snarky sense of humor and a real talent for crafting prose. Shadowy organizations that have existed through the ages, aging cat burglars, flirty mob princesses, computer hackers, Odin-worshippers----what more do you want?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Throwdown Update: Mortal Combat

Team Everyone Else continues to hold a slight lead in the contest (58.52 books to 56.04 books). We've had more kids sign up to play, so I have my work cut out for me, especially as I'll be hanging out at ArmadilloCon this weekend. But I am awfully stubborn, so don't count me out yet.

Our local Wal-Mart (Wal-Mart #524) and Pico (Pico #22) have climbed on board to help us with our party (assuming Team Everyone Else can pull it off; if not, I'm getting my Shrieking Flying Monkey BeDazzled), and yet more cards and letters have arrived, this time from the Netherlands (Hi Rachelle!). Your support for this little slice of madness has been nothing short of amazing, and I'm grateful.

Last night I finished Kristin Cashore's Graceling, which I really liked. The characters were well-drawn, the action was stirring, and the plot moved right along. However, I kept getting pulled out of the story because my stupid brain kept trying to confuse it with The Hunger Games: Katsa vs. Katniss, Po vs. Peeta, lovestruck boy and loveblind girl, arrows flying everywhere, and so forth. I'm not trying to say the two books are alike, or that any of this was deliberate; just that I'd already read Hunger Games, so the surface similarities really struck me.

I also put away Diary of a Wimpy Kid 03: The Last Straw. While I really enjoyed the first Wimpy Kid book, I don't see me keeping up with the series. What was cute and funny once now kind of drags (for me--I can totally see why kids dig it and continue to read it). I guess I just need a little more variety these days.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Throwdown Update: Every Title I Try Sounds Dirty

Hello there, fellow print junkies. Team Everyone Else and I are neck and neck (44.54 bks to 44.24 bks), so I'll be staying in to get some reading done tonight. Before I go, though, I wanted to share my thoughts on the last two books I've read.

The first was Marlene Zuk's Sex on Six Legs: Lessons on Life, Love, and Language From the Insect World. As is true for most folks, insects are not one of my favorite topics. But I have discovered over the years that an author who is really gaga over the subject can make pretty much any topic interesting, at least for the duration of the book. I've read books on squid, eels, and trilobites, among other things, and I have enjoyed these books immensely.

Zuk's book has a lot going for it. There are some genuinely fascinating things that insects do that most of us aren't familiar with because we avoid any interaction with them. Zuk believes that her subject is important, but it's clear that she'd be talking about insects anyway because she loves them (not as much as Richard Fortey loves trilobites, but I'm not sure anybody loves anything as much as Richard Fortey loves trilobites). And she has a sense of humor, which makes spending time in her company enjoyable even if the topic is sometimes uncomfortable. It's not going to replace any of the above books in my heart because aquatic critters are to me what insects are to Zuk, but it was fun to spend an evening in her company and gain a greater appreciation for bees, ants, wasps and beetles.

The second was Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. There's a really cool backstory here: Riggs took genuine vintage found photographs (some got minimal postprocessing) and created a story around them. The book includes the photographs throughout.

The story itself involves Jacob, a rudderless teen from a wealthy family who only connects with his grandfather and his grandfather's wild stories about the strange people in the old photographs he has. As a child, Jacob believes wholeheartedly, but as he grows up, he begins to dismiss the tales as stories at best, outright lies at worst. A wedge is driven between them, so when his grandfather calls frantic, asking for help, Jacob dismisses it as the slipping mind of an aging man. Still, he goes to check and makes a terrible discovery.

He convinces his parents to let him visit the island where his grandfather spent his childhood in a home for children displaced by WWII (and the source of all of his odd stories). While there, he discovers that his grandfather's stories were real, the people in the photos actually existed, his grandfather left but continued to protect them, and the dangers his grandfather was protecting them from are still there and still threatening.

It's a terrific premise,and the photographs throughout really add mood to the story. It's rough in some places, and sometimes stretches too far, but it moves well and the children are fascinating. I'll certainly give the sequel a try when it comes along.

Monday, July 23, 2012

KHAAAAAAAAAAAN!

Team Everyone Else is on fire! With the books turned in today, they have read a total of 2227 pages, or 44.54 books. I, on the other hand am at 1537 pages read or 30.74 books.

THIS SHALL NOT STAND!

The Postagram postcards have started arriving, as well as some more emails. Everything we get is going up on a bulletin board, which will be photographed and shared soon. I cannot thank you all enough for getting the message out and sending your words of support--it really does make a difference. Teens who didn't even have library cards are getting them so that they can join. Kids who haven't used their cards in a while are dusting them off and checking out books. I'm getting to talk to kids about books and make recommendations, which is the highlight of any day for me. If I were to thank you a thousand times, it wouldn't be enough.

Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy!

Good morning and a Happy Monday (insofar as that is possible) to you all. Your postcards and letters began arriving on Friday and I was over the moon. We've started a bulletin board to display them all (I'll take a picture soon and share), and it really started to get some attention. So Roxie from New York and Yakira from California? You made my day. Thank you.

Your letters, postcards and emails are really making a difference--we've had new patrons get cards, former patrons renew their cards, and some of our top readers join the contest. If everyone who has books checked out now reads and returns them, I've got a big challenge on my hands. If they really make an effort, I'm toast (which would be kind of awesome).

So stand up to the challenge I must, and this weekend I did so with a couple of very different books.

Up first was Alexandra Fuller's Don't Let's Go To the Dogs Tonight, Fuller's memoir of growing up in Rhodesia during the war where Rhodesia became Zimbabwe. It's unflinching and unsentimental in any way, but told with a well-developed sense of the absurd and a clear love for Africa that's absolutely compelling. Fuller does a fantastic job of getting inside her own childhood head and letting us experience things as she did, the amazing, the embarrassing, and the horrible. She shows us her family flaws and all, and we're richer for having met them.

Next came Busy Monsters by William Giraldi. I was intrigued by the description, which sounded amusing and contained giant squid, which is always a bonus. It is tremendously funny, with a great, ridiculous, looping plot, a main character who tends to mix fiction with fact and is prone to linguistic excess, and enough literary references and meta-moments to please the most jaded postmodernist. That said, I'm still not sure how much I like it. All of the things I just mentioned also serve to distance the reader from the experience of the characters and the story--you won't just fall into it and get swept away. I generally like to care a bit more about the characters and what's happening to them and spend a bit less time thinking about how clever the author is. Still, it was a quick read with some truly hilarious moments, and then there's the bonus points for the giant squid.

I'm currently reading Marlene Zuk's Sex on Six Legs, because I am a sucker for a title that makes me laugh.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Throwdown Update #2

Hello again, everybody--sorry for the delay (computer problems). Let's get to it, shall we?

Book number two for me was Gina Damico's Croak.

Lex was a good girl: loving daughter, devoted twin, straight-A student. But at age 16 she has been possessed by a towering rage that causes her to lash out violently at everyone around her, friend or foe. Out of options, her parents send her to stay with her Uncle Mort for the summer. Uncle Mort is not what Lex expected. It turns out Uncle Mort is a Grim Reaper (scythe and all), and he wants Lex to join the family business.

Croak is Gina Damico's first novel, and it shows. It shows in her infectious enthusiasm for her characters and world. It shows in her exuberant descriptions. And it show in some uneven plotting and pacing and some short-shrifting of characters and motivations.

This is book one of a series, and it's clearly introduction and set-up for adventures to come. But it feels like a lot of set-up for a small payoff (at least in book 1). The abrupt ending is also pretty dark for a story that has been pretty humorous, albeit darkly humorous.

Still, it's a fun, quick read. Damico has an ear for snappy teen dialog and the premise is interesting enough that I'll be on board for book 2.

Book three was Black Powder War by Naomi Novik.

The third book featuring Novik's unique mashup of Napoleanic War tales and dragons, Black Powder War sees Will Laurence and his dragon Temeraire leaving China and making their way overland to Istanbul to take charge of 3 dragons eggs purchased by the British government. The journey is rough, their guide is questionable, and Laurence struggles daily with an incredibly intelligent dragon who has little respect for any authority that isn't his and who has begun to wonder at the way dragons are treated by humans.

I'm really loving this series. I should have picked it up years ago, but somehow I didn't. Clearly, I'm an idiot. Novik goes out of her way to ground these books in gritty, historical reality and to integrate dragons into her world as realistically as possible.

But as fascinating as the realism is, Novik's real gift is for characters, from Laurence, very much a man of his times who is being forced to confront the validity of many of his beliefs about the way things ought to be, to Temeraire, an extremely powerful adolescent with a curious mind and a loyal heart. The other characters, human and dragon alike, are memorable and well-drawn.

If adventure stories are your thing, you'll love the battle scenes and various shenanigans the characters get up to and you'll forget that the dragons aren't supposed to be there. If historical fiction is what you look for, you'll love the rich detail of London, China, the Ottoman Empire and daily life for a soldier in wartime. And if dragons make your heart go pitty-pat, you've simply got to meet Temeraire and Volly and Lien and the rest.

We've had a couple more sign-ups for the contest and consequently some new check-outs, but I'm still awaiting my first batch of returns so I can tote up pages. I have high hopes for today as folks often come in to stock up for the weekend.

My count so far: 954 pages read, which comes out to 19.08 books.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Day 1 Update

I've finished The Prisoner of Heaven. The sadness and loss are still there. The anger and pain are still there. The longing and love for a Barcelona that will never come again is still there. The unshakable faith in the power of the written word is still there. Twisted plots and literary allusions are still there. Beloved characters finding a small measure of happiness is still there. I desperately enjoyed all of these things that were there.

What wasn't there was an ending. Sure, there's a stopping point and even an epilogue, but really that only serves to make the story feel unfinished. There's too much of this particular story left untold. Yes, I know that this means there will be another book, and yes, that makes my cold and black little heart leap for joy. But it also means I'll have to wait, and I'm not very good at that.

I'm currently reading Gina Damico's Croak, about a 16-year old wild child who finds out that her uncle is a Grim Reaper and wants her to join the family business. So far it's a snappy read. I'll let you know how it goes.

My Official Page Count is 278, or 5.56 books.

12:01 July 18: The Throwdown Begins

It's officially July 18th, so I'm diving in to book number one: Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Prisoner of Heaven.

I fell head over heels in love with Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind, so I can't wait to revisit the Sempere & Son bookshop and the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. I love the bookish atmosphere Zafon creates, but I am fascinated by his portrait of Barcelona and the history of Spain under Franco.

Suffice to say that Zafon has moved Spain up near the top of my wishlist of places to visit.

I'll check back in with my thoughts on the book when I finish.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

All-In-One Reading Throwdown Info

For ease of sharing, I'm consolidating all of the current info into one blog post.

My name is Peggy Hailey, and I am a small town librarian. My library serves a town with barely over 1000 people. While we have adult readers and adults who read picture books to their kids, when it comes time to read on their own, many (most) kids don't.

My boss and I have been trying to discover ways to encourage this group of readers, and this is what we've come up with: a Reading Throwdown between Team Me (consisting of me) and Team Everyone Else (consisting of...well, you get the picture). Books must be Juvenile Fiction level (age 10-up) or higher, all books must be checked out from the library, re-reading doesn't count, and 50 pages = 1 book (so kids on lower reading levels can participate).

If Team Everyone Else wins, they get a party with refreshments that I will help provide. If I win, I get a Shrieking, Flying Monkey, the right to wear a crown (if I so choose), and bragging rights. In short, I get to be insufferable.

I'll be posting my reading log and updates on Team Everyone Else here so that you can all follow along. Feel free to join the challenge yourself, but truthfully, if you really want to help please consider sending a note of support to Team Everyone Else. The more actual evidence we have that folks outside of our tiny town actually care about reading and about this contest, the more motivation for them to beat me. You can send letters or postcards to:

Team Everyone Else

c/o Runge Public Library

PO Box 37

Runge, TX 78151

Send emails to rungepubliclibrary_a@yahoo.com and I will print them out and post them with the letters and postcards.

An utterly awesome friend points out that there's an iPhone app called Postagram that lets you take a pic from your camera roll and put it on a postcard which is then printed and mailed to the recipient of your choice with your own message. Normally .99 cents + postage, right now Postagram is giving everyone 5 free postcards (to 5 separate addresses). The postcards will arrive within a week anywhere in the US and can even be sent overseas. So all of you iPhone users out there--why not take a picture of yourself reading or of your favorite book and send that along to Team Everyone Else?

Here are the full rules for those who'd like to participate:

The contest runs July 18th through August 8th.

All books must be checked out from the library (inter-library loan counts).

Books must be Juvenile Fiction level or above (ages 10 and up).

You must read the books yourself—being read to doesn't count.

Books only count once per card—re-reading doesn't count.

50 pages = 1 book.

Books must be turned in by 5:30 on August 8th to count.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Ramping Up For the Reading Throwdown

First of all, thank you for the positive reaction to my upcoming reading project. It often feels like I'm whistling in the dark down here, so the warm reception for my crazy little idea is much appreciated.

Some of you have asked if there's anything you can do to help. As a matter of fact, there is. Take a minute or two to write a quick note of encouragement to Team Everyone Else--letter, postcard, or even an email. I'll gather them as they come in and post them here at the library to show them that others outside of our tiny little hamlet care about reading and are interested in the contest. Notes from authors, artists, or editors would be awesome, but any encouragement will be terrific.

Send letters or postcards to:

Team Everyone Else

c/o Runge Public Library

PO Box 37

Runge, TX 78151

Emails can be sent to:

rungepubliclibrary_a@yahoo.com

P.S.

Please pass this request along to anyone you know who could be convinced to write a short note supporting reading and Team Everyone Else.

Thanks!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Reading Throwdown

I work in a small-town public library. A very small town. Like, barely over 1000 people. Unsurprisingly, it's difficult to get patrons through the doors, especially in summer. We just had our Summer Reading Program, and it was pretty successful. We had a good turnout for events and those who participated in the reading contest read fairly consistently.

But like many libraries, we have a huge gap in our readers. We have a lot of parents who check out picture books for their kids and read to them, but it seems like as soon as the kids are able to read on their own, they stop reading.

We've been brainstorming, trying to come up with a way to get that group in particular to come in and read more. What we finally came up with was a challenge: Me vs Everyone Else in a 3-week reading throwdown. I'll be matching my reading skills against all comers (who sign up officially at the library). If Team Everyone Else wins, they get a party with refreshments. If I win, I get a Shrieking Flying Monkey and bragging rights (in other words, I get to be insufferable).

I'll be posting a running page count (50 pages = 1 book, so younger kids can participate) and a description of the books I read here. I'll also keep y'all up to date on how my competition is faring. Please stop by regularly to check my progress—I can use all the encouragement I can get.

P.S.

For those who'd like to read along, here are the rules:

The contest runs July 18th through August 8th.

All books must be checked out from the library (inter-library loan counts).

Books must be Juvenile Fiction level or above (ages 10 and up).

You must read the books yourself—being read to doesn't count.

Books only count once per card—re-reading doesn't count.

50 pages = 1 book.

Books must be turned in by 5:30 on August 8th to count.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Let's Pretend This Never Happened

When a book is as highly anticipated as this one was, you start to steel yourself for the inevitable letdown--even if the book is good, what are the chances that it will be that good? I mean, sure, her blog is funny as hell. And yes, if you don't follow her on twitter (@TheBloggess) you'll never know just how side-splitting random chaos and taxidermied animals can be. But really; a whole book? Surely it can't sustain the level of sheer manic Texas-gonzo hilarity and wrongness we've come to expect, right?

That's what I thought, too. Until I found myself not just laughing out loud but actually reading the book out loud.

To myself.

Jenny Lawson's voice is so clear, you can hear it (although granted, that's difficult to do over the sound of me already reading it aloud. Sorry about that.), and I love it all--the sarcasm, the stress, the traumatic childhood memories, the editorial asides. There's nothing more fun than a book you can't wait to share with your friends, and right now, there's no book I'd rather share.

Seriously. Call me up right now and I'll read bits of it aloud over the phone for you. You can't stop me.