A Rogue Librarian's Reading List

let's pretendPlot: The hilarious mostly true memoir of Jenny Lawson, known online as The Blogess.

This book had me laughing from beginning to end, sometime in recognition, sometimes in horror and always because of Lawson’s clever turn of phrase and perfect comedic timing. I found myself interrupting my boyfriend’s own reading constantly to share Lawson’s words (to the consternation of the strangers around us). I think for the rest of my days, when someone is going through a hard time, I will tell them that at least their arm isn’t stuck in a cow’s vagina.

Lawson’s memoir covers a great deal of territory from her unusual, poverty-stricken childhood through marriage and motherhood. But this is no average memoir. Lawson’s tale is full of dead animals, poop and unlikely incidents. And though she herself admits that her memoir is only mostly true, the strangest stories are the ones I believe the most: they simply defy imagination. With humour and honesty, she shares the struggles of living with mental illness (mainly, though not exclusively severe anxiety) as well as the struggles of work, love and motherhood.

It’s a book I would recommend to most anyone who enjoys a good laugh and who does not quite fit the definition of normal.

Lawson is currently working on a second book which I cannot wait to read. Meanwhile, for more of her writing, check out her blog: http://thebloggess.com/

2014 (#42)

THE QUEEN OF TEARLINGPlot: Kelsea is the heir to the Tearling, raised in hiding to protect her from those who would never see her on the throne. But in her 19th year the Queen’s guard come to take her to the capital for her coronation. Reaching the capital is a challenge in itself but even once crowned, Kelsey will have to deal threats of invasion and with the troubled, impoverished country that her mother and her uncle the regent have left her.

I picked up this book because an interview with Johansen in which she discussed (among other smart things) how heroines always seem to be beautiful and are so often forced into romances that do not fit their plot. If I find it again, I’ll post a link.

Kelsea is not one of those heroines: she is plain and though she has an unwise crush, she has no time for romance. She has a whole, troubled kingdom, full of traitors to run. She is also fiercely intelligent, a great reader and has real care for her people and her country. She wants to be just and refuses to bend her morals in order to make things easier. Our first introduction to Kelsey reminded me a lot of Elizabeth I own rise to Queendom. She is quickly forced to acknowledge her naivete and adapt to the world outside her sheltered upbringing. Everyone around her, even those sworn to defend her with their lives, doubt her and are waiting to see if she is worthy of the role she has been born to. And over the course of the novel, she grows immensely and learns a lot and we truly get the sense that she could one day become the True Queen. It is an amazing process to watch.

The world that Johansen has created is an interesting one. It works like a medieval fantasy, something like Game of Thrones more focused on politics than magic, but there is also an element of the Post-Apocalyptic. We get the sense that the Kelsea’s ancestor’s left our near future to create a utopic socialist, low tech society across the sea (this last is not quite clear in my mind). And this utopia completely failed leading to the flawed monarchy that Kelsea has been saddled with. Johansen fleshes out the history, mythology and politics of this world, weaving these tales into the action so skillfully that it never interrupts the narrative. And anyone who knows me, knows how I love a political fantasy. I was thrilled to find that Johansen made this her focus. Further, she addresses issues of slavery, rape, serfdom and many others that many other fantasy worlds simply take for granted.

The Queen of the Tearling was a real page turner. Working full time makes staying up all night to finish a book something that I can (sadly) no longer afford to do but in this case I couldn’t resist. This is the first book in a series and I cannot wait to see where her rule takes Kelsea next.

2014 (#41)

no one elsePlot: Friendship, Wisconsin is a small, quiet town where people don’t even lock their doors. They are thus not ready for the brutal murder of a teen girl and are eager to condemn her thuggish boyfriend for the crime. But Ruth’s best friend, Kippy, isn’t sure that he’s guilty and is determined to find the real murderer, with or without the aid of the police.

Can we just take a moment to bask in this amazing cover. I am not ashamed to admit that I bought it transfixed by the adorable morbidity of the pink knit moose.

Hale’s debut novel is a mystery but Kippy isn’t your typical intrepid girl detective. There is a murder, there are many suspects and there is a truly terrible, short-sighted sheriff with whom Kippy is constantly at odds. But Kippy is not very sneaky: she gets caught and misled more often than not. And as often as she is thwarted by the adults and authorities in her town, her own neuroses, grief, anger issues and compulsions get in her way. Kippy’s mental illness is an interesting aspect of the book. It puts her into doubt as a narrator and also gives a different and unexpected twists to the typical girl-detective narrative. It also forces us to reexamine our expectations of people with mental illness.

The majority of the novel is narrated by Kippy, a few in a less than lucid state, with occasional snippets from Ruth’s diary. These last were a bit a disappointment, not because they were uninteresting, quite the contrary. When the novel started it seemed that these diary entries would slowly unravel the truth of Ruth’s death (a conceit that I have seen in several other novels) but as the novel progresses they slowly peter out. Kippy simply can’t bring herself to read them anymore. I would have loved to have read more entries, not for the occasional scandalous moments, but rather to learn more about the ambiguous character that is Ruth and of her complicated friendship with Kippy. Just as Hale doesn’t give us a simple stereotype of mental illness, this diary complicated the narrative of two best friends growing up together. Both Kippy and Ruth are deeply flawed and not always likable but they are better characters for it.

I won’t give away the killer or the resolution of the novel but I will say that I found it rather timely given some recent terrible crime in the real world.

This was quick entertaining read with more than a few surprises and some truly unexpected characters (I was especially fond of Kippy’s Non-Violent Communication Group).

2014 (#40)

{August 1, 2014}   Landline by Rainbow Rowell

landlinePlot: Georgie McKool knows that her marriage is in trouble. But when she must cancel a Christmas trip to her mother-in-law’s home to work on a new sitcom, she is surprised that her husband takes their daughters and leaves without her. Unable to get a hold of Neal, she calls him on the old landline in her childhood bedroom and somehow reaches the Neal of 1998, during their first separation, before he proposed to her. Faced with this apparent magic, Georgie must decide if this is an opportunity to save her marriage, or prevent it.

This review is based on the audiobook narrated by Rebecca Lowman.

Since Eleanor & Park, I’ve become a true Rainbow Rowell fan who will buy any book she puts out. I pre-ordered this one so I could listened to it as soon as possible. Landline did not disappoint. It is full of the feeling, humour, skillful turn of phrase and sheer geekiness that I loved in the previous books. Attachments remains my favorite but Landline is a very nice addition to Rowell’s bibliography, with a novel bit of magic.

The time-travel magic of the landline is the only bit of magic in the story, and it exist merely to serve the plot. At it’s essence, this is a story of love, marriage, friendship, ambition and priorities. Where her previous books have dealt with adolescence/first love, college and early adulthood, Georgie is a grown woman with a family and a career. (Can I interrupt to thrill at a woman succeeding in the world of comedy writing?) Georgie is not without flaws: she takes her husband for granted, puts her career before her family and she can be a bit bumbling and self-interested. But for all that she is funny, charming and well-intentioned. Being in her head, I grew to root for her even through her obvious mistakes.

The story moves between the present time where Georgie’s fear for her marriage is slowly tearing her apart and the beginnings of her romance with Neal. The charm of their young romance adds poignancy to their current troubles. It made me wonder, like Georgie, if they should indeed split up. But, in true Dickensian style, the little bit of magic allows Georgie to realize what she has taken for granted and work to save it.

The novel centers on Georgie and Neal, naturally as it’s a romance, and to a lesser extent their two young daughters, who would be lost if their marriage never happened. But I feel the need to mention two of my favorite characters: Georgie’s sister Heather, who is going through her own romantic troubles, and her mother’s ridiculous pregnant pug. I just wanted to hug the two of them.

Rowell has put out a surprising number of novels since her debut but I’m already eager for more. But she tells us that she will be writing two graphic novels for First Second (love them!) with another favorite creator: Faith Erin Hill. I can’t wait!

2014 (#39)

{August 1, 2014}   Comics and manga of July

ShadowHero-Cov-final2The Abominable Charles Christopher, volume 2 by Karl Kerschl

  • The story follows a mute yeti named Charles Christopher wondering through the forest but the best part of the series are the gags about the forest animals, the “hen pecked” bird husband, the neurotic chipmunk and the tragic circus bears. It is a quick, beautiful read that will make you laugh and make you cry. If you don’t believe me, look for the free webcomic.

The All-New X-Factor, volume 1: Not Brand X by Peter David

  • I loved David’s previous incarnation of X-Factor led by Madrox so I was a bit wary of a whole new series with a newcast. I should have trusted David. In this new series, David brings together the unlikely cast of Polaris, Quicksilver and Gambit to work under a (evil?) corporation known as Serval Industries. It is as much fun watching the three (and eventually more) of them interact as to follow on their high stakes adventures. Also Gambit has cats. I cannot wait for more!

Avatar the Last Airbender: The Rift part 2 by Gene Luen Yang

  • Aang discovers the secret of the factory polluting his sacred spot and learns more of the spirit that inhabits the land. Meanwhile Toph must confront the father she ran away from. The Avatar comic has been consistently excellent, a true continuation of a show that I loved.

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{July 22, 2014}   Monster by Walter Dean Myers

monsterPlot: 16-year-old Steve Harmon is on trial for murder. If he is convicted, he will spend the rest of his life in jail. To deal with the stress, the aspiring filmmaker writes out the trial and the events leading up to in the form of a screen play.

This book has been on my to read pile for the longest time. I admit, I had my doubts about the format: in my mind screen plays are made to be performed, filmed, not read (even voracious readers have ridiculous format prejudices). But when Walter Dean Myers sadly passed away a few weeks ago, I knew that I had to read this book as soon as possible.

It turns out that the format that initially intimidated me is perfect for the story Myers had to tell. It is a quick read, mostly dialogue, with bits of description and the occasional diary page. It’s great for reluctant readers and people used to the flow of film narrative. Because there is so little description, the characters really need to come through in the dialogue and here Myers succeeds perfectly. We get a real sense of Steve, his parents, the lawyers and the other young men in the tale.

But all that aside, this is an important tale to tell. Myers gives us a very frank look at young black men caught in the legal system, rightly or wrongly. It deals with masculinity, loss of innocence and the horrors of prison and it doesn’t pull any punches. Myers gives a voice, literally in letting Steve write his own story, to youths in very difficult situations, youths who are often judged before they even say a word.

In the end Myers gives no definitive answer about Steve’s guilt or innocence. In doing so, he makes the readers part of the jury and lets them decide if justice has been done. I found this so incredibly powerful and it gave me the urge to go back and sift through the evidence again.

Reading this novel I couldn’t help but think of all the different ways that it could be used in a class or book club setting: amateur films, mock trials, autobiographical screenplays… the possibilities are endless. But that’s “déformation professionelle” (is there a good English expression for that?). Read this book because it is thoughtful, troubling and enjoyable. Worry about projects later. ;)

2014 (#38)

{July 22, 2014}   Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher

Proven_GuiltyPlot: Fear demons are terrorizing a horror fest, leaving corpses in their wake, and the family of Harry’s friend Michael are somehow caught in the cross hairs. But his investigation leads him into the very depths of warring fairy and brings back memories of his troubled history with the White Council.

This review is based on the audiobook narrated by James Marsters.

This is the 8th novel in the Dresden Files and it revolves around dark magic and fear.

In the previous novel, Harry was made a member of the White Council (the governing board of wizards) and he must now take on the first responsibilities of this role. The novel opens powerfully with the punishment of a warlock: a young man who, in the absence of any guidance, has misused his magical gifts to control others. This event colours the rest of the narrative, though we do not immediately know how exactly it ties into the rest of the story. Butcher takes his time revealing the importance of this moment and of warlocks, and the payoff is well worth it.

Meanwhile there are a lot of other things going on. Harry is still struggling with the presence of the demon Lashiel in his mind, fear demons are killing convention-goers and Molly – Michael’s eldest daughter – is implicated, the White Council is at war with vampires (and doing poorly), and there are dangerous power struggles in the realm of fairy. That’s a lot for one book and I honestly had my doubts about whether it would all hold together. But somehow it is not only coherent but Butcher manages to tie each of these threads together for a truly satisfying end. Colour me impressed.

My favorite part of this novel? Charity Carpenter. Without question. In previous appearances, Charity was simply Michael’s wife: a woman of faith and conviction, loving wife and mother. She was most often characterized by her seemingly irrational hatred for Harry. In this volume, Butcher fleshes out her personality and her past. He shows why she feels the way she does and shows her kicking some major ass in defense of her children. I think I love her.

Harry’s growing romantic feelings for Karen Murphy are finally resolved in this volume and, though many might disagree, I’m very happy with the results. I thought that Butcher was very true to their characters. All though speaking of relationships with the other sex: if there is something that I didn’t appreciate about this novel it was the way Harry sexualizes Molly (who is still a teenager!). I get that Harry is not exactly a modern man when it comes to women but his barely contained lust at the sight of his friend’s daughter was taking it too far imho.

Next is White Night.

2014 (#37)

{July 21, 2014}   Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone_Girl_(Flynn_novel)Plot: Nick and Amy seemed to have an idyllic marriage until she mysteriously disappears on their 5th anniversary. Now Nick is desperate to prove that he didn’t kill her.

I want to write a better plot description than that but that’s what we know as we start and the fun of the novel is really unweaving the various threads and getting to the truth of the dark, Machiavellian plot. Suffice it to say that Flynn is a masterful writer with a perfect grasp of pacing; I flew through the 400 hundred pages in no time.

The first part of the novel alternates between Amy’s diary – describing their love affair and their disintegrating marriage – and present day Nick. I was impressed with the way in which Flynn kept us believably in Nick’s head while leaving us in doubt as to whether or not he killed his wife. He is constantly telling us that he is lying, even how many times he has lied, but never about what or what the truth is. He is cagey even in his own head. In a less skilled author’s hands, this could have seemed like a sloppy way to manipulate suspense but Flynn manages it perfectly. Then in the second and third parts, the shit completely hits the fan but I’ll let you discover that on your own.

I can’t say that I genuinely like any of the characters – except perhaps some very minor ones that are (intentionally) not done proper justice by the narrators. Nick in particular is a self-absorbed man with more than a little misogyny hidden behind his respectable mask. But Flynn crafts them so carefully and reveals them in such tantalizing bits that I can’t help but be fascinated by how terrible they are.

Though I have a lot of great things to say about the book and I genuinely enjoyed the experience of reading it, it left me troubled. I have some real discomfort, as a feminist, with some turns that the plot takes but I can’t properly get into it without spoiling a few key twists. So I’ll leave it at that.

There will be a movie based on the novel coming out in the fall. If you’ve read the book and worry that it will be boring without the surprise ending, fear not! I hear Flynn changed the ending for the movie. I find some of the casting choices questionable but I’ve been proven wrong about that before.

2014 (#36)

The_Human_Division_CoverThe Human Division is a science-fiction series in 13 episodes. Below you’ll find the reviews for the first 9 episodes.

These reviews are based on the audiobooks narrated by William Dufris.

Episode 1: The B-Team

Episode 2: Walk the Plank

The second episode is the transcript of a recording. In it the members of a colony interrogate the last survivor of a terrible crash. The young man, in terrible pain throughout, tells a tale of pirates, terror and death.

None of the characters we met in the first episode are present here and it is not entirely clear yet how this story fits into the main narrative. But it is a great short story on its own. The story the boy tells is horrific and well told. And more than that, in 40 short minutes, using only dialogue, Scalzi helps us get to know the colony leaders, their struggles and the terrible decision that they must make in the wake of the crash.

2014 (#28)

Episode 3: We Only Need the Heads

In the third episode we return to the crew of the Clarke. Ode Abumwe is sent to negotiate with the Bula but her work is complicated by a recently destroyed Wildcat (or unsanctioned) colony in Bula territory. Harry Wilson is sent to investigate the remains of the colony and what he discovers could shut down negotiations entirely.

Episode 3 ties Episode 2 back into the main story. We begin to get the sense of a deeper, darker plot at work. Much as in episode 1, Scalzi combines diplomacy and technological investigations. Only it doesn’t go as well for our heroes this time. We meet another interesting alien species as well; there isn’t much time to develop it but as I’ve said in the past, Scalzi has a rare gift for describing truly alien creatures.

2014 (#29)

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{July 1, 2014}   Dead Beat by Jim Butcher

Dead_BeatPlot: A deadly vampire threatens to ruin Karen Murphy’s career unless Harry Dresden brings her the Word of Kemmler. But Harry isn’t the only one looking for the book. Several groups of necromancers have gathered in Chicago to claim the book and the godly power of the Great Hunt on Halloween.

This review is based on the audiobook read by James Marsters.

Dead Beat is the seventh book in the Dresden Files and it includes a zombie T-rex! That’s all I need to say.

Not enough? Ok. The theme of this volume of necromancy. As with most of the volumes, there is more than one flavor of necromancer. There are of course zombie lords and body snatchers but of more interest to me are the necromancers who wish to use this dark art for good, to defeat death. I think that’s part of the magic (if you’ll forgive the pun) of Butcher’s series. There is no simple black and white. Even his dark creatures have some depth to them.And speaking of dark creatures, Harry begins to feel the consequences of picking up the coin belonging to the fallen angel Lashiel. It all adds up to a lot of danger and action, almost more than Harry can handle on his own.

Murphy, one of my favorite characters, is mostly absent but Butcher develops some new characters. The most interesting of these is the polka loving medical examiner, Butters. Something of a coward, especially in the face of forces he cannot understand, Butters is more of a hindrance than anything else at first. But he has a sharp mind and by the end he has become a true ally and friend to Harry. “Polka will never die.”

I liked this volume almost as much as Blood Rites.

The next novel is Proven Guilty. I am listening to it as we speak.

2014 (#27)


et cetera

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