Friday, December 16, 2011

Review - Tyger, Tyger

Tyger, Tyger, by Kersten Hamilton

I first heard about this book over at The Enchanted Inkpot, where they have a delightful interviewed Kersten Hamilton. I am so glad I picked up this book! I hadn't heard of Hamilton before, but I will definitely be reading anything she writes from now on.

Teagan is a fairly typical high school student. She has a great after-school job working at a vet clinic; a mom who writes and illustrates children's fatasy books; a librarian dad; a music-obsessed younger brother; and a best friend she's known forever. Teagan's practical and goal-oriented; she's got a plan for her life and the action steps necessary to go after it. But one night her parents agree to take in Aiden, Teagan's cousin, who has been in and out of foster homes since his parents -- Teagan's mom's adopted brother and his wife who also happen to be Irish Travelers-- died in a car accident. What happens next has little to do with Teagan's simple and uncomplicated life, and a lot to do with adventure, danger, and a million-year war.

Tyger, Tyger is basically an interpretation and retelling of classic Irish legends and myths; which I'll admit I am predisposed to like. Hamilton does a good job of infusing the book with both a mystical and magical feel, as well as reminding us that Teagan has always been firmly grounded in reality. At least...reality as she knows it. I also like that Hamilton doesn't shy away from the creepy and sinister. The book moves along at a fairly quick pace, but I think that gives the book an appropriate sense of urgency. As far as characters go, I enjoyed everyone I met, and particularly loved Teagan's younger brother. Then of course there's Aiden: hot Irish guy. Need I say more? There's thankfully no love triangle; and while the romance had a bit of the "we're destined for each other" element, it wasn't overdone and there was still a lot of sweet, awkward first romance.

Bottom line: an excellent fantasy/fairy tale, with more to come!

Review - Alloy of Law

Alloy of Law, by Brandon Sanderson

Alloy of Law is a book set in the same world as, but several hundred years after Sanderson's excellent Mistborn trilogy. It's part Western, part mystery, part fantasy. There's magic and gunfights and wisecracks. In some ways, it reminds me Joss Whedon's Firefly series, in that it's a fun, Western-inspired adventure. You can read Alloy of Law without having read the Mistborn books, but it's pretty cool reading a book where the history and religion of the people you're reading about are the people you've met and bcome friends with.

About the story: Waxillium Ladrian is a lord turned lawman turned lord again -- very reluctantly. As he attempts to supress his "uncouth" habits learned in the Roughs, fit back into society and repair his deceased uncle's damaged estate, Wax becomes intrigued with a string of seemingly impossible train and coach robberies. He is further pulled into the mystery when a friend from the Roughs - Wayne, who I might have little crush on -- comes to solicit his help. Although the story isn't necessarily deep and layered, it's a good mystery, with enough twists and turns to keep you guessing.

About the characters: the characters definitely play to some classic archetypes. Wax is the hero with integrity, a heart for the downtrodden, a strong moral code, and a sense of duty and loyalty. He is no stranger to heartache, and prone to conflicted emotions. Wayne is the guy with a rough past, but ultimately a good heart. He's funny and irreverant and doesn't seem to take things too seriously, but he's good in a fight and loyal to the end. Kind of the Doc Holiday to Wax's Wyatt Earp. Then there's the ladies: one who is blunt and forthright and Wax's best prospect at marrying into money to save his estate; and her bastard sister who is super smart, a little bit spunky, and in love with Wax. Oh, and let's not forget the woman from Wax's past, the one he loved who now haunts his present. Although I loved all of the characters, I will admit the villian didn't exactly leap off the page at me.

Bottom line: a fun read from one of my favorite authors.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

In defense of libraries

For the past four years, I've worked at a public library. Well, technically two public libraries. I have learned a lot at both of these libraries, including that sometimes there is a big disconnect between those creating library policy, and those using libraries. Yesterday, I found myself attempting to bridge that gap twice, defending and explaining why things are the way they are.

My first encounter had to do with downloading ebooks. Our library system is part of a consortium that offers downloadable ebooks. Awesome! Free ebooks! Of course, now that we've advertised and promoted and excited people with our free ebooks, a lot of people want to read them. And all the good books have waiting lists. But the ebook collection is basically like starting a library from scratch on a limited budget: the numbers are growing but still limited. Buying one copy of an ebook is like buying one copy of a print book in that there is only that copy available at a time. This limited availability of every book one wants irritates people who are used to digital content being more accessible, more instantaneous. I'm curious to see as ebook publishing continues to evolve, if these limitations will become less limiting. In the meantime, the good news is that check out time is two weeks. Just get on the waiting list and you won't have to wait long.

My second encounter had to do more with the mechanics of libraries and fine policies in a scenario that happens regularly: Patron checks out books. Patron returns books. Books are not checked in properly. Patron receives letter from finance -- return your books or pay the replacement cost or get sent to collections. Patron is angry and comes to library to confront staff. Staff finds books on shelf. Patron leaves feeling self-righteous and with a grudge against the library. There are two things happening here: first, irritation at fines and the collection of fines; second, the incorrect accusation. Basically, the person feels like they are being called a liar.

Here's the thing: the library is staffed by human beings. We make mistakes. And we also respond to your attitude when you come up to the desk. If you approach me angry and defensive, my first instinct is to be angry and defensive right back. But if you come up to me and calmly and rationally explain that you turned the books in, I will do my best to work with you and figure out what happened. I'm not calling you a liar; I'm just trying to do my job and find our books. Librarianism is a helping profession -- I WANT to help you. But if you're attacking me, it's a whole lot harder.

And about those fines: do I wish that the policies were different and we could do away with fines? Sure. Does "harrasing" people for $30 seem a little petty? Sure. But one could also look at it this way: we (at the library) are responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of material paid for by tax payers and used by tax payers. It is our job to be fiscally responsible as well as provide fair access to all of our patrons. Fines encourage turning books in on time, thereby making them accessible to more people. If a library just wrote off the cost for all of the items never returned, we would lose thousands of dollars each year. Is that fiscally responsible? And the same patron who thinks it's ridiculous to be threatened with collections over a missing (or assumed missing) book is probably also the same patron who is mad if we don't have exactly the book he or she wants exactly when he or she wants it. And they don't see the connection between the fact that because we have to spend $80 to replace that GED study guide that someone never returned, we don't have the money to buy that book you want.

Like most things in life, it's a balancing act: customer service versus responsibility. Big picture versus individual interractions. And it's all tied together by human beings. We're just doing our best.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Review - Along for the Ride

Along for the Ride, by Sarah Dessen

Auden hasn't slept at night since her parents started fighting, a habit that has continued past the divorce and all the way through high school. She spends her nights at an all-night diner, overachieving as the perfect, academically minded daughter. After her senior year of high school, Auden decides to spend the summer in Colby, the beach community where her father lives with his wife and newborn daughter. The academically-minded Auden has never had a social life -- has never really had friends. And to be honest, Auden starts off the book pretty cold and judgemental, but also a little lonely even if she doesn't realize it. As the summer progresses, Auden begins working in her stepmother's boutique, meeting local girls her own age and their male bike-shop counterparts. And she meets Eli, a haunted boy who also spends his nights awake. And so begins the summer where Auden learns and grows in ways completely unrelated to test scores and college admissions.

This book could have easily turned into one big, cheesy cliche; but what I love about Sarah Dessen's book is their genuineness. Her characters are real and relateable, her settings vivid (I could smell the salty air and taste the copious amounts of coffee Auden drank). Auden drove me crazy at first -- but in the way that a real live person would. Her mother and father were unbelievably self absorbed and annoying -- but believably. I enjoyed reading about Auden's journey, I enjoyed meeting the secondary characters that taught Auden about friendship, and I rooted for Auden and Eli's sweet relationship. And speaking of Eli, I liked how he and Auden had a two-way relationship; they needed each other, which just made it that much more rich.

Bottom line: another solid contemporary YA book by the consistently great Sarah Dessen.