Friday, July 26, 2013

Throwdown 2.0 Update: Reading Report #2: Wallowing in Bone

We're nearing the end of week 2, and Team Everyone Else is making a move. I'm still in the lead (as of now, anyway), but the gap is narrowing. We've started to see some cards and emails come in (you can see photos on our Facebook page), and I'm grateful for that, but we need more. Because it's a bunch of people on the team, it's very easy to back-burner your own reading and assume that everyone else will pick up the slack. It's one of the reasons I wanted a good, fast start, and that I want to keep it close. Ideally, they will never be sure who is winning at any given time. But they still need encouragement, and actual, physical evidence that people inside and outside the community are engaged and paying attention and rooting for them to take down the Dastardly Librarian Lady is important, so please take a minute to send some encouraging words to Team Everyone Else (mail: Team Everyone Else c/o Runge Public Library, PO Box 37, Runge, TX 78151; email:; or leave a message on our Facebook page), and encourage your friends to do the same.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's move on to what I've been reading. As per usual, I'm all over the place, but there are some mighty fine reads to be found on this list.

The Ocean At the End Of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

A man returns to his childhood home. Feeling out of place because nothing is familiar, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the lane and a pond, which was once called an ocean. Gradually, he remembers a time when monsters were real, people were more than they appeared to be, and joy and wonder were balanced by terror and sacrifice.

I'm a huge Neil Gaiman fan, and have particularly enjoyed his books (like Coraline and The Graveyard Book) for younger readers. The Ocean At the End Of the Lane is not a juvenile book, but it has a similar feel to it. It's funny and dreamy and scary and painful and, despite some decidedly odd goings-on, very recognizable and real.

Criminal Enterprise by Owen Laukkanen

Laukkanen's first novel, The Professionals, featured a slick, fast-moving plot and believable characters (both cops and cons). I was looking forward to spending some more time with Windemere and Stevens and seeing how Laukkanen was going to bring them back together.

Criminal Enterprise is another slam-bang action thriller, and I still like Windemere and Stevens, but the plot strained credulity. There were far too many coincidences and casual connections to the events in the previous book and Stevens (as much as I like him) really felt shoe-horned in. It's compulsively readable, particularly as things get out of control towards the end, but as much as I like them, if Windemere is slapped down by The Man just so the criminal can keep up the spree and she can be proven right yet again or Stevens promises his wife he's done with danger while in the process of doing something dangerous, I'm going to pinch their little heads right off.

Gustav Gloom and the Nightmare Vault by Adam-Troy Castro

Book two starts up a few weeks after the events of the first book. Fernie What and her family are visiting Gustav regularly, introducing him to real food and getting him more comfortable with human company. After an abrupt warning to avoid the ice-cream man, Fernie and her sister are, in fact, attacked by an ice-cream man, who turns out to be a Shadow Eater sent to find the Nightmare Vault. Fernie & her sister split up and Fernie leads the Shadow Eater to Gustav's house to get some answers. What follows is a fast-paced chase as Fernie and Gustav try to figure out what a Nightmare Vault is, where it might be located, and how to keep it out of the hands of the Shadow Eater and his boss, Lord Obsidian. Along the way we learn a great deal more about Gustav, why he's alone, and why he cannot leave the grounds of the house, as well as more about the origins of Lord Obsidian.

Plotwise, this is much the same as book one: Fernie and Gustav on the run through a weird and wonderful house, trying to escape the bad guy, an evil henchman of the Ultimate Big Bad. While this might seem repetitive, the setting of Gustav's strange Shadow House really helps by allowing all manner of scene changes, and the tidbits of Gustav's life that we're given along the way help, too. The best thing about these books, though, is the characters. We really like Fernie and Gustav (and the various shadows and Fernie's family), and when Bad Things happen, we really care about how it might affect them.

Bone: the Quest For the Spark 01 by Tom Sniegoski, illustrated by Jeff Smith

Bone: the Quest For the Spark 02 by Tom Sniegoski, illustrated by Jeff Smith

Bone: the Quest For the Spark 03 by Tom Sniegoski, illustrated by Jeff Smith

Tom Elm is the son of a turnip farmer, and expects to be a turnip farmer himself one day. Things don't quite work out that way. Soon Tom has met Lorimar, a nature spirit, explorer Percival Bone and his niece (Abbey) and nephew (Barclay), a former Veni Yan priest, and two stupid, stupid rat creatures and set out on a quest to save the Valley from the Nacht.

Quest for the Spark is a novel with illustrations, not a graphic novel like the Bone books, and it's meant for younger readers. It shares some characters with the Bone books, as well as an adventurous spirit and a sense of humor. The Bones are pretty secondary here, though, and it would have been great to see Fone, Phoney, and Smiley Bone again (we do get brief glimpses of Gran'Ma Ben and Thorn). The plot itself is pretty familiar: young Chosen One with no idea what's going on must fight a terrible evil (that's really only the forerunner of a truly terrible evil) against terrible odds. But it's still a fun adventure with lots of action and lots of humor.

Bone 01: Out From Boneville by Jeff Smith

Bone 02: The Great Cow Race by Jeff Smith

Bone 03: Eyes of the Storm by Jeff Smith

Bone 04: The Dragonslayer by Jeff Smith

Bone 05: Rock Jaw, Master of the Eastern Border by Jeff Smith

Bone 06: Old Man's Cave by Jeff Smith

Bone 07: Ghost Circles by Jeff Smith

Bone 08: Treasure Hunters by Jeff Smith

Bone 09: Crown of Horns by Jeff Smith

What can I say about the Bone series? I came to it late, but I fell for it hard. The story of a hidden valley, a long-lost princess, a terrible darkness and three cousins who end up in the middle of it all is wonderful. The characters are wonderful (I defy you not to fall for Fone Bone and his mad crush on Thorn, or roll your eyes at the greed and deceit of Phoney, or laugh at the antics of Gran'Ma Ben, two stupid, stupid rat creatures, or the smart-assiest dragon I've ever run across.). The art is wonderful — detailed and expressive. There's nothing I don't like about this series, except for the fact that it ended, and it even did that well. Everyone from elementary school on up will find something to love about Bone.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Reading Report #1: Off to a Fast Start!

It's time for my weekly round-up on the books that I've been reading for the Throwdown. My strategy was to get off to a fast start to (hopefully) jump-start the contestants into reading more and to (hopefully again) make things a bit easier on myself. Without further adieu, the books:

Joyland by Stephen King

Thirty years. I've been reading Stephen King books for thirty years now. We've been through a lot together, Steve and I. We don't always see eye-to-eye, but every once in a while he still gives me goosebumps.

Joyland is the story of Devin Jones, a broken-hearted 21 year-old who takes a summer job at a carnival to nurse his wounds. He ends up finding friendship, love and a place in the world, but he also ends up haunted, literally and figuratively, and face-to-face with evil.

Dev's innocence and innate goodness shine through as he stumbles across the story of the ghost who haunts the Horror House and works to find her killer. But there's also a melancholy to the story. The Dev who is telling us the story is now in his 60s, and there's certainly a mourning of the loss of his youth and also the loss of a time when anything seemed possible. Even at 21 Dev is obsessed with what might have been, worrying over his former girlfriend and what she might be doing now and what he never got to do with her. It's not surprising that he would latch on to the story of a young girl murdered before she got a chance to live. While we certainly feel Dev's love for Joyland and the happiness he finds there, we also know that it's the beginning of the end for places like that, and soon it will be no more. There's a sense of loss for a way of life that doesn't exist any more (or never did in that kind of idealized form): a golden moment when youth and innocence and exuberance were enough to win the day and turn the shadows back.

I'm not saying it's a perfect book. Believability is stretched here and there and the big reveal and standoff is pretty abrupt. But if you're looking for a read that moves along briskly, has characters that are likeable and interesting and understands that golden moments, though awfully fine when they occur, never last, spend some time with Devin Jones in Joyland.

Chickenhare by Chris Grine

I picked up Chickenhare because it had a terrific cover quote from Jeff Smith, creator of the Bone series. I really love the Bone series, but that's sets a pretty high standard for all-ages adventure. I was hopeful about Chickenhare, but I was prepared to be disappointed. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised.

As the story opens, Chickenhare (who has the head and ears of a rabbit, but the legs and feathers of a chicken) and Abe (the only bearded box turtle in existence) are in chains, being taken to Klaus (the evil taxidermist) to be sold. On the way we learn of the shromph (toothy little monsters) and Chickenhare sees a vision of a goat (wearing a top hat and a monocle) who asks for his help.

What follows is a fast-moving story with a lot of humor and a lot of heart as Chickenhare and Abe meet new friends (who are apparently not what they appear to be), execute an escape from Klaus and his henchmen, run afoul of the shromph, and find out the full story of Mr. Buttons, the be-monocled ghost-goat (Be-monocled Ghost-Goat is the name of my next band).

There's a nice arc to this paperback, but there are enough questions left that I can only hope the sequel is on its way.

The Doll by Taylor Stevens

If you're into action, schemes and doublecrosses, and women who can kick ass and take names, it's long past time that you met Vanessa Michael Munroe.

The Doll is the third novel to feature Munroe, and it's not a good starting place for the series. The plot is not really any more confusing to first-timers, but without the other two books, you'll miss a lot of the emotional impact. The Doll tells you that Logan is important to Michael, but unless you've been through the other two stories, you won't feel the horror as she's forced to make difficult choices.

The book opens with a motorcycle crash and ambulance pick-up that is the cover for a kidnapping, immediately splitting Michael from her lover and sometime partner Bradford. The action remains split for most of the book between Michael, forced to deliver a kidnapped starlet to a “collector” or cause the death of the one person on earth she's closest to, and Bradford, trying to figure out what happened to Michael, find Logan, and keep other people important to Michael safe. As per usual, Michael tries desperately to keep her violent nature in check, but when she loses that battle, no one is safe.

There's lots of twists and turns (and a big-time bummer), but the non-stop action will keep you reading.

Gustav Gloom and the People Taker by Adam-Troy Castro

Book one of Castro's series featuring a strange little boy who lives in an even stranger house and the adventurous, brave, and funny girl who moves in next door is a charmer.

The Gloom house is a shadowy, dark Gothic nightmare of a house surrounded by a well-manicured and brightly-painted subdivision (if you've seen Edward Scissorhands, you've seen the neighborhood). The only resident of the house that people see is Gustav, a sad-looking boy who never leaves the yard. Fernie What, whose mom is a noted adventurer and whose father an over-protective, statistics-obsessed Safety Officer, chases her cat Harrison into the Gloom mansion one night and ends up meeting Gustav, the shadows who inhabit the house, and the People Taker, a very bad man indeed. She also learns about the Pit, a doorway of sorts to the Dark Country and Lord Obsidian, the evil ruler of the Dark Country. When the People Taker threatens Fernie's family, she and Gustav have to try and save the day.

The book is funny and moves along nicely. And don't let the title fool you—Gustav Gloom may be the main mystery that needs explaining, but Fernie What, adventurous, monster-loving, and big-hearted, is the hero of the story.

I'm looking forward to the next in the series.

The Corpse Reader by Antonio Garrido

Ci Song was the father of forensic science. Garrido fictionalizes his life and gives us a picture of Song Dynasty China and speculates on how Ci Song might have developed the skills that he is still known for today.

A promising student in the capital city, when his grandfather dies Ci Song and his family must return to their farming village and be ruled by Ci's older brother, who they had left there. He's a tyrant who makes everyone’s life miserable, but he is especially cruel to Ci. One day Ci finds a body and his brother is arrested for the crime. Ci thinks that this is his ticket back to the city, but then events lead to him being accused of a crime and he goes on the run. He works as a gravedigger and as the assistant to a con man, and both jobs allow him to hone his corpse-reading skills. He makes it back to school, but his luck goes sour again and soon he's caught up in a mystery that might mean his life.

There's a lot to like here. It's a very fast-paced story, the forensic details are interesting, and spending time in another culture, especially one as different from ours as 13th century China, is always fun. Despite a large cast, the characters are pretty easy to tell apart, and it's hard not to root for Ci as his luck goes from bad to worse.

However, I had a hard time believing that someone who thumbed his nose at authority as much as Ci did would have survived the times, much less been allowed as high up as he was. At a time when the Emperor's word meant death, flouting his authority was not a smart way to go. And I know, Ci was cornered and had no choice, but that doesn't mean he'd get away with it. I also never bought into his sister. She was there to soften Ci up; to let us know he cared about someone. But she was more of a plot contrivance than a character, never really coming alive.

Still, if you're looking for a mystery with a historical setting, interesting detail, lots of plot twists, and lightning-fast pace, spend some time with Ci Song and the birth of forensic science.

The Bulldoggers Club: The Tale of the Ill-Gotten Catfish by Barbara Hay

If you're looking for a gentle, humorous story with a strong moral and a country flavor, then you need to check out The Bulldoggers Club.

Four friends who live on ranches in Oklahoma decide to go fishing one day. The sneak onto someone else's property and not only catch a fish, but a huge fish—maybe a record-breaker. In order to see if the fish is a record-breaker, they concoct a lie about where they got the fish. But soon the lie spins out of control and the four friends aren't speaking. Can this situation be fixed?

Of course it can, but only if they make the right choices.

The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey

Pardon my french, but daaaaaaaaaaaaaaamn! Rick Yancey's dark paranoid vision of the aftermath of an alien invasion is absolutely unputdownable.

The 1st wave was an EMP pulse that shut down the power and took out 500,000 people. The 2nd wave killed billions. The 3rd wave killed 97% of those who were left. The 4th wave was when they realized the aliens had hidden sleepers among us and no one could be trusted. Now it's the dawn of the 5th wave.

Oh. My. Dog. Y'all this book is epic. Our main character is Cassie Sullivan, surviving (barely) on her own. As we see her day to day life, she tells us the story of how she got to where she is. Her voice is amazing: angry, scared, snarky, hopeful, despairing and paranoid. We feel her struggle as she tries to stay alive one more day in a world where anybody could be the enemy. We get some chapters narrated by others having a different experience, and the true meaning of the 5th wave becomes horrifyingly clear.

This book is gut-punch after gut-punch and I love every page. A sequel is inevitable (perhaps two), and I'm counting the minutes.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Throwdown 2.0: How Can I Help?

Throwdown 2.0 is officially ON!

I can't tell you how Team Everyone Else is doing yet, but I can tell you I'm very excited. We've already got almost as many people as last year and we've got a nice mix of kids and adults. As of now, this is still a two-team battle, but we just may reach the point of having to divide Team Everyone Else into two competing teams (I will still compete alone).

"That's great," you may be saying; "Yay reading! I want to play too, but I don't have a Runge Public Library card. How can I play along?" There's a couple of ways, actually. You can play along at your local library and send us your results via email, snail mail, or on our Facebook page. Follow along and see how your totals stack up.

Or, you can be a cheerleader. One of the most exciting aspects of last year's throwdown was the support we got from people like you who took a little time to send a word of encouragement to our participants. We got cards and photos and emails from all over the world, and it was an impressive sight (photos of the display and some of the notes can be found on the Runge Public Library Facebook page.)

I realize that it's early days yet, but I'm going to go ahead and ask again: please take a little time to jot down a few words of encouragement and send it along to Team Everyone Else; it really does make a difference. Cards and letters can be sent to Team Everyone Else c/o Runge Public Library, PO Box 37, Runge, TX 78151 and emails can be sent to Or you can "like" us on Facebook and leave your messages of support on our page.

Thank you in advance for your words of encouragement and for your support of reading and libraries.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Throwdown 2: The Librarian Strikes Back!

Hello again, everybody. Summer is here, and you know what that means: I have once again challenged my small Texas town to try to out-read me. As you may recall, I was thwarted in my quest to win a Shrieking Flying Monkey last year by a mere 17 pages.

Unacceptable! I totally deserved that Shrieking Flying Monkey, and I'd have gotten it, too, if not for those meddling kids!

This year we're changing things up just a bit. Now anybody who's reading books that are middle-school-level or above can participate: kids, teens, and adults. If a relatively small number of people sign up, then we'll stick with the two-team format: Team Me vs. Team Everyone Else. If bunches of people sign up, we may split Team Everyone Else into multiple teams, but I will still be competing alone. As an added incentive, each member of the winning team will get a prize, but in addition, the person who reads the greatest number of pages will receive an individual prize.

Just like last year, we'll be counting pages rather than number of books read, and just like last year all books must be checked out from the library. So if you want to read along and let us know how you're doing, that'd be great, but only books checked out from your local library count. No cheating!

The Throwdown will run from July 15 to August 9. We'll start out strong, because the Thrwdown is starting the week after our regular Summer Reading program is ending. We've had a good Summer Reading Program so far and everyone's still excited about reading. But without weekly programs to keep everyone's attention and to keep parents bringing their kids in, it's going to get tougher to keep our participants engaged with the Throwdown. That's where you come in.

We had a lot of fun doing this last year, and a big part of that was you: you tweeted and shared our updates and you sent pictures and cards and letters and emails of encouragement from all over the world. It was pretty nifty: authors, students, former co-workers, and old friends from college all banding together to encourage readers and ensure my downfall. We would absolutely love to hear from you this year as well, so if you'd like to show Team Everyone Else some love you can email us at, comment on our Facebook page (and be sure to “like” us!), or send your good wishes the old-fashioned way by sending your cards and letters to Team Everyone Else c/o Runge Public Library, PO Box 37, Runge, TX 78151.

Oh, and that swanky throwdown t-shirt up there? It was created by Bonestank, and is available at Zazzle.