Monday, February 28, 2011

Review: Rotters by Daniel Kraus ★★★★

RottersI received an advance review copy of this book from Star Book Tours for review. I requested it purely based on the cover and title - I didn't know anything about it, but I'm kind of morbid so I hoped it would be as good as it looked. I wasn't disappointed.

I didn't really know what to expect... zombies? I was hopeful, I'll admit. I love zombies, and if this one contained them, I had no doubt they would be awesome. But no zombies here, and the more I read, the more I appreciated this for the realistic story it was. This is the story of a mostly normal boy who gets thrust into this very unconventional situation and life.

Here's the gist: Joey Crouch's mother dies, and he is sent to live with the absentee father he never knew, in a small town where hostility reigns, and Joey finds understanding in the most unlikely quarter one can think of - the Diggers... Grave robbers.

I was hooked right from the start. The first part of the book, the fear and the surety and the paranoia, and specifically the specifying, drew me right into to Joey's life and I wanted to know more, and to find out what happens to this boy. His life goes is completely out of control and he has nobody and nothing at all he can rely on, and I found it fascinating how he dealt with - or failed to deal with - this new life he's got. His struggles were what kept me glued to the book. He was nothing if not real. His mistakes and compulsions frightened me on his behalf. I love an underdog, so I wanted him to persevere and prevail against those against him... and against himself.

I loved the fact that the students at Bloughton High were realistic. They may have been a little cliche, actually, but teenagers ARE cliche. The jocks are jocklike, the snooty mean girl is snooty and mean (and a girl), the outcasts are outcast. But the devil is in the details with these kids, and I thought the portrayal was great. Just enough to read into them and make them more than cliche without needing it to be spelled out in big bold letters. I loved Foley. He may have been my favorite character. I wished that he was a bigger part of the book, actually.

I also liked the Diggers. They were a varied and interesting group, and I loved their independent camaraderie. I love the history and the mostly noble feel of these men, and the sacrifices they make for this calling. I was fascinated by the way that the Diggers behaved among the dead, especially The Resurrectionist, as it was such a contrast to his behavior with the living. I would have loved more history and lore and more detail regarding the Diggers and their profession, but since this was Joey's story, and he's a 16 year old, I know why this would have been a mite tedious for him to relay.

I appreciated the unflinching way that the dead and that death were portrayed. I liked that there was a certain reverence and respect there, even among these men out to pry valuables from someone's cold dead fingers. There was quite a bit of gore and grime and muck, among other foul things, so this is probably best not read by those weak of stomach or virgin of ears (so to speak). But I thought that these details added a lot to the book - a kind of reality and truth that it might otherwise be lacking.

I really enjoyed the writing in this story, and many passages were gorgeously descriptive and evocative. I loved the contrast between these parts and the gritty and almost irreverent brutal honesty of the rest of the story. This one pulls no punches regarding bullying or loss, or about growing up and finding one's own path either. I really enjoyed it. I will definitely be on the lookout for more from this author.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

HarperCollins vs Libraries Lending Ebooks: Round One

*sigh* Oh HarperCollins... This makes me sad. :(

HarperCollins (HC) has recently decided that ebooks licensed to libraries will now be subject to a 26 loan cap, meaning that an ebook can be loaned twenty-six times, and then their license expires and the library would have to purchase a new one in order to keep lending the ebook. If a standard lending period is two weeks, that means that after ONE lending year, the ebook license would have to be repurchased -- EVERY lending year.

Apparently, this number was chosen after reviewing "a number of factors, including the average lifespan of a print book, and wear and tear on circulating copies."

"HarperCollins is committed to the library channel. We believe this change balances the value libraries get from our titles with the need to protect our authors and ensure a presence in public libraries and the communities they serve for years to come."
(Quoted from LibraryJournal article)

*sigh* Come on guys... really? I love HarperCollins. They publish some of my very favorite authors. They publish amazing and beautiful and memorable books. But I cannot help but find myself disappointed in them for this decision. I cannot see how this would "ensure a presence in public libraries and the communities they serve for years to come."

Libraries are already underfunded and hurting. Libraries are already finding it necessary to reduce their staff, hours, branches and stock. They are already finding it hard to operate and continue to serve their communities as they have done for so long. Every few months, there's news of another library that can't stay open on its own, and (thankfully) many communities rally to donate and support them. 

Libraries are not just places to read and borrow books, movies, and music. These are community hubs that provide many different services to the residents in their area. My local library alone offers many different educational groups and forums, from illiteracy help to special needs student study groups to after-school programs to book discussions and themed book clubs. They offer assistance with searching for job openings and offer help with resumes and applications. They offer the local homeless a warm place to spend bitterly cold winter days. These are just a few of the things that my library offers... Others probably offer even more. How could they possibly continue to offer these services if they had to repeatedly "pay rent" just to keep their stock of books?

My library system does not support ebook lending now, and if instituting a 26-loan cap is the trend to come, I doubt they will be able to do so in the future. Nearly all of the library books I've ever taken out of my library were donated, not purchased. My library has books on their shelves that are decades old -- older than I am in some cases. My library barely has the funds available to purchase print books that are in need of replacement, let alone potentially renew licenses for ebooks that are undamaged and unchanged, but have just been limited by a publisher.

I do understand that print books are subject to wear and tear and eventually need to be replaced, while ebooks do not. I understand that publishers will lose money if libraries only ever need to purchase ebook copies one time and never replace them.

But there should be a reasonable middle ground. This is an industry that needs to work together and support each other. I do not want to see HarperCollins or any other publisher fail, but I do not want to see libraries fail either. A loan cap is not unreasonable, however the extremely low limit they've set is. Books last longer than one year in EVERY format.

How can this possibly be good for libraries that are already struggling? Why not set a loan cap at a realistic figure, taking into account that ebooks DO last longer than print books? Say 300 loans and then renew? That would be a new license every decade or so (depending on lending of course), which is MUCH more reasonable to me. I am afraid that to prevent themselves from having to pay repeatedly on HarperCollins ebooks, libraries will just stop offering them. :(

What do you think of this decision? Let me know in comments!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday Flashback Review: American Gods by Neil Gaiman ★★★★★

Friday Flashback is hosted by Jen @ The Introverted Reader.

I've been on something of a Neil Gaiman kick lately. In the past couple weeks I've read Fragile Things (which I loved) and Stardust (which I thought was just good). I really love the way that Gaiman sees the world though, and this week I thought that I would highlight one of my favorite Gaiman books, American Gods.

I read this book back in February 2009, but it is one that has stayed with me. So, without further ado, here's my review of American Gods:

American GodsThis was my first of Gaiman's novels-- not counting Good Omens, which he co-authored with Terry Pratchett-- and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Both books took well-known themes and twisted them into something new and unique, and I really enjoy that. I will definitely be reading more of Gaiman's work.

I really liked the concept of this book. In a very amateur way, I enjoy mythology, mysticism, religions, rituals and belief structures. By "amateur way" I mean that I am interested in these things, but I'm too lazy to actually "study" it. I like the entertainment that mythology and the like offer, I like the escapism. One passage that I really liked from the book represents this perfectly:

"Fiction allows us to slide into these other heads, these other places, and look out through other eyes. And then in the tale we stop before we die, or we die vicariously and unharmed, and in the world beyond the tale we turn the page or close the book, and we resume our lives." (pg. 323)

Anyway... This is one of those rare treats of a book that never fully give up their secrets on the first reading. As I was going through, I marked some passages that made me sit back, reread and just absorb them. One, which I found almost heartbreakingly sad and cruel, is:

"A whole life in darkness, surrounded by filth, that was what Shadow dreamed, his first night in Lakeside. A child's life, long ago and far away, in a land across the ocean, in the lands where the sun rose. But this life contained no sun-rises, only dimness by day and blindness by night.

Nobody spoke to him. He heard human voices, from outside, but could understand human speech no better than he understood the howling of the owls or the yelps of dogs.

He remembered, or thought he remembered, one night, half a lifetime ago, when one of the big people had entered, quietly, and had not cuffed him or fed him, but had picked him up to her breast and embraced him. She smelled good. Hot drops of water had fallen from her face to his. He had been scared, and wailed loudly in his fear.

She put him down on the straw, hurriedly, and left the hut, fastening the door behind her.

He remembered that moment, and he treasured it, just as he remembered the sweetness of a cabbage heart, the tart taste of plums, the crunch of apples, the greasy delight of roasted fish.

And now he saw the faces in the firelight, all of them looking at him as he was led out from the hut for the first time, which was the last time. So that was what people looked like. Raised in darkness, he had never seen faces. Everything was so new. So strange. The bonfire light hurt his eyes. They pulled on the rope around his neck, to lead him to the place where the man waited for him.

And when the first blade was raised in the firelight, what a cheer went up from the crowd. The child from the darkness began to laugh with them, in delight and in freedom.

And then the blade came down."

After finishing the book, I came back to this passage and found it even more interesting after learning the implications. I feel like when I revisit this book there will be a TON of missed references sprinkled throughout the book. I look forward to it.

View all my reviews

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Review: The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens ★★★★★

The Emerald Atlas (Books of Beginning)I requested this book thinking that it would be a fun and magical children's story aimed at 8-10 year olds, like with the Percy Jackson series, but I was really surprised by the complexity and depth in this book, as well as the darkness, and loved every minute of reading it. I'm actually a little disappointed that I'll now have to wait for so long to read the next book and see what happens.

Kate, Michael and Emma have been shunted from orphanage to orphanage for 10 years, since being removed from their parents' house one Christmas Eve with a kiss and a promise that they'll be reunited again... one day. Then, after missing their last chance at placement with a foster family, they are sent to Cambridge Falls, where they stumble on an adventure that has been both 15 and thousands of years in the making.

This story reminded me of other children's stories - but only little bits and pieces. There was nothing I could really point to and say, "Oh, he was inspired by THIS story here," or anything like that, it was more just an impression that I had. I was reminded of Harry Potter, only kind of in reverse, with the opening scene of the children being taken away from their home. I was reminded of E.Nesbit's stories as well throughout the book, mainly by the tone and the family loyalty theme. I was reminded of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe a few times, and The Hobbit a few times, etc. But again, these were more like impressions that I had, rather than feeling like anything was actually borrowed from what came before.

Despite feeling a vague sense of familiarity with these books, I felt like The Emerald Atlas was very original and different. I loved the concept of time travel, and how it actually came about. I thought it was just the right level of complex to logically and magically work, but was still explained in a way that everyone could understand and follow. The storyline was exciting and the creatures and characters were all interesting.

I loved the characters - they were all believable and identifiable to me, and I couldn't help but love them and their loyalty. Kate is the eldest, and promised her parents that she would watch out for the others. She's got a load of responsibility on her shoulders to match Atlas (which is pretty significant, actually), and she's got a heart of gold. She just can't stand seeing anyone suffer or hurt, and instantly falls into a nurturing role when needed. Emma was my favorite, I think. She's the youngest, and the type of girl who's strong and forceful because she cannot take being hurt, not when that's all she's ever known. She's quick to love though, and her love is a little desperate and fierce. I loved her and I can't wait to see her next adventure. Michael, the middle child, was hilarious. A studious Dwarf-scholar, he is the smart and logical one of the trio. He was constantly making me laugh by his bald-faced awe in a lot of the situations they were in. I truly loved how each of the children brought their own unique aspects and each played and intricate role in the story and worked as a team. I was glad that they had trials, because they each had time to shine.

There was a lot more that I loved about this, but I think that I'll just recommend that you read it yourselves. I highly recommend this one - for readers of all ages.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

In My Mailbox (11)

As always, IMM is hosted by Kristi @ The Story Siren!

Soooooooo... I haven't been getting very many physical books lately... Nook is taking over my life!

*sighs blissfully*

Oh sorry... I was having a moment. I'm done now. So, ahem... as I was saying. I haven't been getting a lot of dead-tree books, but I have been getting a ton of ebooks, which is quickly becoming an addiction. I should probably rename my IMM posts to like "IMeM" for In My e-Mailbox, LOL. Although I don't technically get ebooks in my email anymore than I got them in my mailbox either, mostly. Ahh, whatever. I digress. LOL

Here's my recent acquisitions... No pics this week - technical difficulties. Blah. I'll link some images though. :)

For Review -
1) Rotters by Daniel Kraus
2) This Vacant Paradise by Victoria Patterson
3) Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis

Rotters This Vacant Paradise: A Novel Kat, Incorrigible (Kat, Incorrigible, #1)

Bought -
1) The Tapestry Shop by Joyce Elson Moore (This is being discussed as our first Featured Author read with an author Q&A in my Historical Fictionistas group on Goodreads!)
2) The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder by Rebecca Wells

The Tapestry Shop The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder

Ebooks -
1) To Say Nothing of the Dog & Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
2) The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
3) Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
4) Feed by Mira Grant
5) The Discworld series 1-37
6) Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
7) Misc. classics and ebook duplicates of DTBs I already own. :)

Sorry... I'm got no piccies for these! I'd rather spend my time reading them than linking images for them! LOL

Until next week(ish)! Adios... But come back and tell me what you got in your mailbox too!