Sunday, October 23, 2011

Book Review: Shine by Lauren Myracle

Book: Shine
Author: Lauren Myracle
Published: 2011
Source: ARC from the publisher, via NetGalley

He was left for dead at the gas station where he worked, tied to a pump with a gas nozzle shoved in his mouth and the words, “Suck this, faggot” scrawled on his bare chest. It’s clearly a hate crime, but the local sheriff doesn’t seem that interested in finding the culprits, preferring to blame it on out-of-towners. Cat knows there’s more to it than that, and for the sake of the friendship she once shared with Patrick, she’s going to uncover it.

As she struggles to understand what happened to her one-time friend, Cat starts to come out of the timid shell where she retreated after an unthinkable act years ago, and find the strong girl she was always meant to be.

If anthropologists were to put together a portrait of American culture from literature, they might come away with the idea that the South was a region of small towns with nice folks who all go to church on Sundays, bake casseroles and cobblers regularly, and in general take care of each other. Also, there’s that nasty Civil War thing that nice folks don’t talk about it because it’s all behind us. Shine would knock them for a loop.

Honey, this ain’t Paula Deen’s South. This is a South riddled with poverty, prejudice, drugs, and secrets, all feeding off each other in a messy stew. At the center of it all is a girl who’s learning that, for better or worse, she’s the only one in control of her identity.

Honestly, I’ve had this review half-written since May, and never felt like it captured everything I felt about this book. I’ve decided to call this enough. This one is acquiring some notoriety right now, due to the National Book Award kerfuffle. But I knew when I read it that this book was something special. Whatever happens with the National Book Award, this is a book that’s going to stick around for awhile, both in your head and walking out the door in kids’ hands.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Not just for Gardens

I recently weeded my to-be-read list. Weeding is something librarians do every so often to keep the collection fresh and new so the good stuff actually circulates. Weeding motto: “Nobody actually needs a book on the space program from 1968.” (Oh-ho-ho. You think I jest. I really did weed this very book from the collection at my first library. It had been a long time since they’d discarded anything.)

I’m a bit of a packrat by nature (she says from under the massive stacks of books and yarn), and I’ve started to apply weeding principles to my everyday life. If you don’t wear it/use it/even remember why you own it anymore, it’s time for it to go.

I decided to apply this to my TBR list. It was famously (because I wouldn't shut up about it) around 1400 items long, and I was reading books that I’d added to it close to two years ago. All of this wasn’t so bad, except I was doing more plowing than reading, just getting through this book so I could get to some of the good stuff further down the list. The list should be made up of good stuff, I decided.

So I got drastic. Using LibraryThing’s collections option, I tossed everything into a collection called “Weeding” and then went through it, looking for stuff that made me go, “Oh, but I WANT to read that!”

Any book I recognized right away, remembered the premise, and remembered who had recommended it to me got saved. Any book by auto-read authors like Sarah Dessen, Elizabeth Scott, Philip Reeve, Scott Westerfeld, etc, got saved. Anything else, I just left in the weeding collection. The few things where the title, the cover looked promising or I vaguely remembered a little about it, I studied and hemmed and hawed and clicked through to Amazon to read the premise and a few of the professional reviews. And you know what? About half the time, I left it in the weeding collection. Some of them were very good books, I’m sure, but it wasn’t something that I particularly wanted to devote several hours of my life to. I know about it, and from a professional standpoint, that’s enough.

I did one pass through my list. This took several days, during snatched moments in the middle of other things. Then a second pass, slower, more focused, and with no distractions, to catch the things that I might have missed the first time. There weren’t many. Then I gritted my teeth, screwed up my courage, and deleted everything that was left.

In all, I cut my list down by 572 books. I discarded trendy books that fell off the radar two days after publication. I discarded Very Weighty Tomes that won Very Weighty Awards, very nice for them I’m sure but I just don’t wanna read it. I discarded books whose inclusion on my reading list made me wonder what I’d been smoking.

A huge amount were picture books. I don’t feel so bad about that, because as the children’s librarian, I see every picture book that comes in, and I keep a stack of the more interesting ones at my desk for when I have the time to read them. (I hear that derisive laughter from the ALSC committee. It happens. Sometimes.)

I look at my list now and it looks like a list of books I actually want to read. Which is really the whole point.

How often do you weed your piles or your reading list?

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Reading Roundup September 2011

Sorry about the late posting on this one, guys. Second month in a row, too! Blame it on Cybils excitement. Have you nominated your favorite yet?

By the Numbers
Teen: 17
Tween: 6
Children: 9

Review Copies: 7
Purchased: 2
Library: 17

Teen: Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey
Can I be Ellie when I grow up? Sarcastic, resourceful, and severely lacking in histrionics, she forms a solid core for this novel's wild flights of fantasy, drawn heavily from Maori mythology. And it's a standalone book! Heavens!
Tween: Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman
The thing I like best about Karen Cushman is her ability to make a downright unlikeable girl into an engaging and sympathetic main character, without milquetoasting her in any way, shape, or form. Also, she excels at bringing a historical world to life. Meggy Swann is prickly, defensive, and rarely nice, but you'll want to hang out on the mean streets of London with her.
Children: One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
Okay, it's set during the 70's, in the heart of the Black Panther movement (joining Kekla Magoon's equally stellar The Rock and the River in representing that little slice of American civil rights history), but first and foremost this novel is about the difficult and fraught mother/daughter relationship. I actually had a very hard time deciding whether to put this one or Meggy Swann in the Tween category. It's an older kid's book, verging on Tween, as is Meggy Swann. Argue with in the comments if you like.

Because I Want To Awards
Enjoyed This Much More Than Expected: Hearts at Stake by Alyxandra Harvey
Oh, jeez, more vampires! But the two girls at the center of this vampire novel are hardly likely to swoon over the fangs. For one thing, one of them is a vampire, and fated to be the vampire queen. The other has been raised alongside vampire boys most of her life, and regards them as brothers (except that one). Entertaining enough to keep the rest of the series on my to-read list.
Loved It/Hated It: Shade by Jeri Smith-Ready
What I loved? The worldbuilding, the mystery lurking underneath, the inquisitive and intelligent main character. What I hated? The "romance." That was not a functional relationship and I resented being asked to care about it.
Worthy Successor to the First One: Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
Okay, it's not a sequel to The Invention of Hugo Cabret, but the illustrated-novel format means that they'll forever be paired in the brains of librarians. I liked the dual-storyline style of this one, and an insight into Deaf culture means that it should have a place in libraries forever.