Tuesday, August 31, 2010

YouTube Tuesday: Fine

No matter how hard you flirt, cajole, or barter, you will not get out of your library fines. Many have tried - none have succeeded.

That said, always keep an eye open for local library's amnesty days or "Food for Fines" events.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Book 24: The Crimson Petal and the White

TITLE: The Crimson Petal and the White
AUTHOR: Michael Faber
STARTED: July 27, 2010
FINISHED: August 20, 2010
PAGES: 901
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: Watch your step.

SUMMARY: [From Amazon.com] Faber's bawdy, brilliant third novel tells an intricate tale of love and ambition and paints a new portrait of Victorian England and its citizens in prose crackling with insight and bravado. Using the wealthy Rackham clan as a focal point for his sprawling, gorgeous epic, Faber, like Dickens or Hardy, explores an era's secrets and social hypocrisy. William Rackham is a restless, rebellious spirit, mistrustful of convention and the demands of his father's perfume business. While spying on his sickly wife's maid, whom he suspects of thievery, he begins a slow slide into depravity: he meets Sugar, a whore whose penetrating mind and love of books intrigues him as much as her beauty and carnal skills do. Faber (Under the Skin) also weaves in the stories of Agnes, William's delicate, mad and manipulative wife, and Henry, his pious, morally conflicted brother, both of whom seek escape from their private prisons through fantasies and small deceptions. Sin and vice both attract and repel the brothers: William, who becomes obsessed with Sugar, rescues her from her old life, while Henry, paralyzed by his love for Emmeline Fox, a comely widow working to rescue the city's prostitutes, slowly unravels. Faber's central characters, especially the troubled William and the ambitious Sugar, shine with life, and the author is no less gifted in capturing the essence of his many minor characters-the evil madam, Mrs. Castaway, and William's pompous father-in-law, Lord Unwin. The superb plot draws on a wealth of research and briskly moves through the lives of each character-whether major or minor, upstairs or downstairs-gathering force until the fates of all are revealed. A marvelous story of erotic love, sin, familial conflicts and class prejudice, this is a deeply entertaining masterwork that will hold readers captive until the final page.

THOUGHTS: Holy epic door stop of a novel, Batman. This sucker was huge. It single-handedly kept me from reading anything else during my beach vacation. Lucky for me, I liked the story.

A 900 page book is a rather tough thing to review because so much occurs. The novel is entirely character driven with a rather whimsical narrator telling the story. In this book, there is no major plot question to solve, no dastardly villian to fight, or happy ending to root for - it's a long story about people. I've never read anything quite like it, so I was shocked how easy it was to fall into the text.

In this book, Faber tells a story about a prostitute named Sugar and her "benefactor," William Rackham. While that is main plot line, there is so much else going on. You learn about the all people they come in touch with including Rackhams wife and friends, Sugar's fellow prositutes, and a host of servants and other day-to-day people. Characters seemed to sprout left and right from this novel and they all fit perfectly into the story. What I like best about Faber's writing is that each individual felt wholly realized; even if the character only appeared for a page or two, it felt like Faber had developed a whole life story for them. No character felt like a set piece or plot device - which was good, because in a character driven novel, that would have broughy my enjoyment to a crashing halt.

Beyond the characters, I enjoyed the writing itself. Faber's style is incredibly (some would argue overly) descriptive. A reviewer called is Dickensian. I call it awesome. Victorian England comes alive in all of its squalid glory. This was no romanticized city; Faber revels in all the layers of poverty and richness available during this era. I love description, so these vivid scenes were fascinating to me.

And the ending, oh my goodness, the ending. It was wholly unexpected, but totally in character with the novel. It was the first I was completely flabbergasted by wholly satisfied at the same time. The Boyfriend had to deal with my vocal outburst and book toss as he was trying to fall asleep. Wow. You have to read this book if only to deal with how it all ends.

A long read, but worth it.

RATING: 8/10 [Terrific]

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Book 23: The Lightning Thief

The Lightning Thief   [LIGHTNING THIEF] [Paperback]TITLE: Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
AUTHOR: Rick Riordan
STARTED:August 14, 2010
FINISHED: August 15, 2010
PAGES: 400 (Audio Book)
GENRE: Juvenile

FIRST SENTENCE: Look, I didn't want to be a half-blood.

SUMMARY: [From Amazon.com] Percy Jackson is about to be kicked out of boarding school...again. And that's the least of his troubles. Lately, mythological monsters and the gods of Mount Olympus seem to be walking straight out of the pages of Percy's Greek mythology textbook and into his life. And worse, he's angered a few of them. Zeus's master lightning bolt has been stolen, and Percy is the prime suspect.

Now Percy and his friends have just ten days to find and return Zeus's stolen property and bring peace to a warring Mount Olympus. But to succeed on his quest, Percy will have to do more than catch the true thief: he must come to terms with the father who abandoned him; solve the riddle of the Oracle, which warns him of betrayal by a friend; and unravel a treachery more powerful than the gods themselves.

THOUGHTS: When the audio of this book started I was uneasy - the narrator sounded off, the story too juvenile, and the miles of our drive home seemed to stretch forever. Luckily, I was quite wrong. The narrator and the book were both fantastic. Towards the end of the drive home, I found myself silently rooting for traffic so I could hear the conclusion. Riordan totally has a Harry Potter phenomenon thing going on here and it works.

The first few pages were too juvenile for my taste, but the deeper into the story I got, the more I enjoyed it. The complexity of the story forces the reader to remember details to understand how the plot is developing. I like how Riordan doesn't explain everything in mythology. He tells just enough to get people interested and on the same page, then leaves the reader open to research Greek myths and legends. I particularly like how the whole story is constructed to resemble the Odyssey. That amused me greatly.

The Lightning Thief is an addictive story. The more I listened, the more I wanted to know how it all connected. Riordan has done a fantastic job of speaking in the voice of his characters - the teens sound like teens and the gods sound like gods. Best of all, everyone is written in shades of gray - no one is perfect and no one is purely evil. The Underworld may have been my favorite part of the book. Jersey Turnpike, teehee.

The downside I see to the book is that it is very cookie-cutter in some ways. The basis for the story is rather original, but Riordan relies too heavily on stereotypes to build characters and situations. I guess I would say A+ in originality for plotline, C for construction. On the whole, Riordan excels at mixing up the ancient and the modern, with a heavy helping of awesome characters.

RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

Friday, August 27, 2010

Book 22: Act of War

Act of WarTITLE: Act of War
AUTHOR: Dale Brown
STARTED: August 7, 2010
FINISHED: August 14, 2010
PAGES: 419 (Audio Book)
GENRE: Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: Just twenty precious minutes more - and the global war for freedom from death and tyranny would enter the next level.

SUMMARY: [From Amazon.com] Near Houston, Texas, an oil refinery belonging to one of the world's largest energy companies is obliterated by a "backpack" nuclear device -- the first of many planned global attacks against corporations and government organizations accused of plundering the world's natural resources.

A horrific act of war has been perpetrated against the U.S. and her interests -- and Major Jason Richter and his top-secret, high-tech Task Force TALON are dispatched to pursue, engage, and destroy this virulent new strain of terrorism.

Yet Richter's plan of swift, brutal, and unconventional action is threatened by an enemy buried deep in the highest level of government -- a mole whose blind desire for personal vengeance could doom Richter and his team . . . and America.

THOUGHTS: Here we have a great example of a book that would have been a better read than it was a listen. The narrator on this gem was quite horrid. The poor man could not keep his character voices straight and he veered quite often into melodrama territory. Throw in a bunch of names that all sounded alike and you've got yourself quite the spectacle.

But I digress, the story itself was so-so. I enjoy political thrillers from time to time, but this was book was too over the top for me. You can have robo-soliders, dirty bombs, American cities going boom, Russians, and South American jungles. You can even have a mix of those - but when you have all of them like this book, you just go beyond what I can tolerate.

And the writing... my god, I had to fight to not cackle through the scenes of dialogue. I'm sure Dale Brown is an enjoyable author, but here he felt like a college kid writing fan fiction after playing 10 straight days of Halo. The characters were too impressed with themselves to be even somewhat believed.

The only reason I'm not totally panning this book is because it was a humorous audio book for the drive.

RATING: 5/10 [Meh.]

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Book 21: Death of a Maid

TITLE: Death of a Maid
AUTHOR: M.C. Beaton
STARTED: August 6, 2010
FINISHED: August 7, 2010
PAGES: 272 (Audio Book)
GENRE: Mystery

FIRST SENTENCE: The letter lay on the doormat just inside the kitchen door of the police station in Lochdubh.

SUMMARY: [From Amazon.com] At the start of Beaton's enjoyable 22nd Hamish Macbeth mystery (after 2006's Death of a Dreamer), the lovable Scottish constable stumbles over the body of a gossipy housecleaner, Mrs. Mavis Gillespie. She's been bludgeoned to death with her own pail, and there are plenty of suspects to go around in the Highlands village of Lochdubh. None of her clients liked her, but they insist she was a superb maid. Macbeth, noticing thick layers of dust in their homes, digs a little deeper and learns that Mrs. Gillespie was a more skilled blackmailer than housecleaner. His jealous senior colleagues try to thwart his investigation, but he's determined to get to the bottom of things. Meanwhile, the arrival of an erstwhile ladyfriend in town with a new beau makes lifelong bachelorhood appear not so appealing to Macbeth, who remains as charming a hero as ever in this funny, unpredictable read.

THOUGHTS: This was my first introduction to both audio books and Hamish Macbeth. I now have to find the first book and read the series from the start. Yes, I liked it that much - that coming from a girl who doesn't do mystery.

Beaton's series has just enough humor and narrative storytelling mixed with the mystery plot to keep my interested. Hamish is a great character - a hero without all the alpha tendencies. I liked how he calls himself an anachronism and then lives up to it. Part of me wishes Hamish was real so that I could meet him in person. He seems like a really cool and pleasant guy. As a reader, I appreciated how Beaton kept him human. He was the town police officer with a manly streak who also had his faults. And I loved his beasties in this book.

I greatly enjoyed Beaton's writing style. It was simple enough to follow, but also impressed me with its eloquence and turn of phrase. I also enjoyed how the mystery was not telegraphed. I did not see the resolution coming at all, but the ending did not feel forced or completely out of the blue. Additionally, I loved how the story was about Hamish and not solely mystery. The book is clearly building a community of characters and their lives. If you're not normally a mystery reader, this series may work for you.

My enjoyment of the book was probably helped by the fantastic narrator. His voice was great to listen to and he knew when and how to throw in accents and character voices.

The Boyfriend and The Roommate have won the battle - I give in... please give me more of these.

RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

Variations on a Theme: College Reading List

This month's Variations on a Theme is aimed at the college students that are now arriving on campus. )(I can see them moving in and scurrying about outside my office window)

Freshman - I know a ton of books is going to be thrown your way (via syllabuses and discussion), but the following items will be more useful than you know. No, really, I used them (and still use them in some cases) all the time.

The Elements of Style (4th Edition)Elements of Style: 4th Edition
William Strunk and E.B. White

Much to my surprise, this item is controversial - some people really really really hate it. I am very much on the pro side of the action. This little book will answer most - if not all - of your grammar and usage questions. It is well organized, easy to read, and easy to browse. You will find it invaluable when that 3:00am term paper rears its ugly head and you have a debate between whether to use who or whom. (I know for a fact that it is assigned in a couple of our University's philosophy courses.)

A Writer's Reference with 2009 MLA UpdateA Writer's Reference
Diana Hacker

The Holy Grail of citation. While I am also a big fan of the MLA handbook, Hacker's work saved my butt more than once. No two of my professors required the same citation style - that's what you get when you double major. It was difficult to keep all the styles and how to cite what correctly straight in my head. Hacker's work saved the day. Organized by citation style, Hacker shows you how and when to use certain citations. I prefer the spiral bound edition for ease of use, but all the editions contain what you need. Also, expect this one to show up on required or supplemented reading lists

Research and Documentation in the Electronic Age: with 2003 MLA and Chicago UpdateResearch and Documentation in the Electronic Age
Diana Hacker

Much like the book above, this Hacker item is all about research and citation. This book is more about how how to research and document your sources. The advent of the internet and digital databases makes the research process slightly easier, but also more complex. Hacker discusses what you need to know to survive all those piles of resources.

Roget's II: The New Thesaurus Third Edition, HardboundRoget's II: The New Thesaurus
American Heritage

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know it seems silly to put up a thesaurus when you have the internet, but this book is worth it's weight in gold. I used it more times than I can count while writing papers. Sometimes, it just helps to be able to look things up when you find yourself repeating the same words in a 10-page paper.

The Craft of Research, Third Edition (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing)The Craft of Research: 3rd Edition
Wayne C. Booth et al

Unless you were lucky, I'm guessing most of you incoming freshmen never learned proper research methods. College research and writing is nothing like high school writing. It's more complex and long-term. This book shows you how to approach research, draft your question and material, and write your paper. If you've never written a research paper, you need this book. Then again, when it comes to research, this book is a just start - bu, really, go visit your library.

The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College
The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College
Harlan Cohen

I gave this book to my brother the Christmas before he went to college. To my surprise, he actually used some of the stuff he learned. (Color me shocked that he actually read it.) College is fun and tough, but mainly awesome. Cohen's work comes in handy when you run into sticky situations - like being sexiled. Cohen goes far beyond the academics and discusses roommates, homesickness, Greek life, and other essential facts of college life.

Other Items on the College Reading List
1000 Best Money Secrets for Students - Debby Fowles
Academic Research and Writing: Inquiry and Argument in College - Linda Bergmann
The College Cookbook: An Alternative Meal Plan - Geri Harrington
College Rules! How to Study, Survive, and Succeed in College - Sherrie Nist-Olejnik
The College Writer: A Guide to Thinking, Writing, and Researching - Randall VanderMey et al.
Don't Get Fat! 101 Things to Do in College (Other than Drinking) - Joseph Cornacchioli
The Everything College Survival Book: From Social Life to Study Skills - All You Need to Fit Right In - Michael S. Malone
Getting the Best Out of College: A Professor, a Dean, and a Student Tell You How to Maximize Your Experience - Peter Feaver et al.
The Healthy College Cookbook - Alexandra Nimetz et al.
How to Become a Straight A Student: The Unconventional Strategies Real College Students Use to Score High While Studying Less - Cal Newport
McGraw-Hill's Concise Guide to Writing Research Papers - Carol Ellison
My Roommate is Driving Me Crazy! Solve Conflicts, Set Boundaries, and Survive The College Roommate from Hell - Susan Fee
Please Send Money: A Financial Survival Guide for Young Adults on Their Own - Dara Duguay
Strategies for College Writing: Sentences, Paragraphs, Essays - Jeanette Harris
U Chic: The College Girl's Guide to Everything - Christie Garton
The Voice of College: The Freshman Experience - Kipp Van Dyke et al.
The Worst-Case Survival Handbook: College - Joshua Piven et al.

Links and Stuff: August 26, 2010

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Vacation Reading?

I was unsuccessful in my quest to read lots and lots and lots of books during my week on the beach. I blame that on the 900 page behemoth I brought with me. That book was rather unwieldy to read on the beach, but at least the story was worth the length.

Lucky for me, I learned something new. I like audio books!

Normally, while on a road trip, entertain myself with crossword puzzles, NPR, and radio music. The Boyfriend, on the other hand, has always listened to audio books. I was game to try his tradition. He loaded up three audio books to his iPod from the local/state library databases (Score one for an awesome library service) and off to the beach we went.

We started our trip with a Hamish Macbeth novel by M.C. Beaton (a classic road trip selection, sayeth The Boyfriend). It took me awhile to get into the whole vibe of listening to an audio book, but overtime it got easier. Let me tell you, being stuck in traffic on I-95 for 3 hours was never more enjoyable.

From now on, I'm going the audio book route. The time spent in the car was much more enjoyable. In fact, on the drive home, I aws silently rooting for traffic so that I could hear the conclusion of The Lightning Thief. (Too bad the Beltway cleared up. We had to listen to the story as we unpacked the next day.)

The one thing I will do before the next road trip is preview all the books. The better the narrator the better the ride. It's difficult to get into a story when you're too busy giggling at the character voices the narrator makes. Or, even worse, trying to figure out what happens when a narrator switches the character's voice.

Are you an audio book reader? If so, do you have any recommendations for me? I think I need to start stockpiling a list of good listens.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

YouTube Tuesday: Discovery

I run the stacks of a college library. In my years here, I've seen all sorts of things - from canoodling couples to studious patrons, hidden sandwiches to napping freshman , fun titles to "oddities" in the bookdrop. I've seen it all. This job is always uncovering surprises. Call numbers may become dull, but the sights I see change every day.

What can you discover in your library?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Links and Stuff: August 19, 2010

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Useful Things: False!

If you're like me, then you've got a least one family member who likes to send around e-mail forwards warning people about this and that. If you're like me and decide to be onery, then you check out Snopes to confirm or deny the contents of those e-mails.

The whole point of Snopes is to determine whether e-mail forwards, urban legentds/myths, second hand stories, or what have you are true or false. The stories are broken down by type and are both searchable and browesable. The website tracks the history of the story to show how it's legend (or truth) has grown.

You can search Snopes for you particular story, check out the Hot 25 stories circulating at the time, you can also see What's New with Snopes and the world of urban legend. Additionally, Snopes has set up a newsletter and message board for those who want to know more. If you're bored, you can check the top menu bar for the Randomizer and Odd News.

Snopes is not the only myth debunking website. Tech Republic has put together a list of websites that make it their job to verify the reality of things.