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Monday, December 31, 2012

What I'm Reading: Sailor Twain and Boneshaker

It's the last day of 2012 and I have my reviews on the last 2 books I finished this year--one brand new and one from the backlist of my to-read pile.

Let's start with the new. Mark Siegel is getting a lot of great reviews for his new Gothic graphic novel Sailor Twain: Or, The Mermaid on the Hudson. And after reading it, I have to say I am in complete agreement.  Not only is this an interesting and well crafted story, but the art also perfectly matches the feel.

Let's start with the story.

Mark Siegel had previously published children's books, but this is decidedly an adult story.  It is a historically set tale about obsession, addiction, infatuation, revenge, and love, but despite its setting in the past, it is also a fable for our current times.  It has nudity, violence, and an unsettlingly (but satisfying for readers who like that) psychological darkness. Some readers may have encountered this story first as a webcomic, but it is really a treasure in its printed and bound form.

Sailor Twain is set in 1887, the story is not only set in that era, but it feels like it was written in that era, not ours.  It is a Gothic Romance in the traditional sense. The entire story is told in flashback as a distraught former river boat captain tells a story to a beautiful, mysterious woman in a seedy riverfront bar. It is a well known story of life on the romantic river, the loneliness of the captain whose sick wife is back in his home port, and the mysterious French brothers who own the ship line, one who has disappeared and the other who is nothing more than a womanizing fool.

However, in the true Gothic tradition things are not always as they appear.  What follows is a story out of mythology, deeply rooted in our storytelling tradition as humans. And, also in the true Gothic tradition, things only go from bad to worse.


This is not the story of a mermaid like Disney's Ariel who loves humans; rather, this is the mythological mermaid who want to steal souls and trap humans in the deep with her.  She wants to kill.  She is angry because she has been banished to the Hudson to be tormented by the mix of fresh and sea water because of her evil ways; she never gets the true salt water she craves.  She can never leave the river and feel the freedom of the ocean unless she can get a human to love her for her, without using her song to hypnotize him.  Here is a picture of Twain and the mermaid.

Speaking of this picture, now is the time to take a pause in the appeal of the story to talk about the art.  Everything is done in this charcoal style.  The fuzzy edges add a dreamlike quality to this mythological story.  The shades of gray color palate adds to the overwhelming darkness of the story.

Here is another example of the art in a more traditional storytelling page. The story is set during the summer of 1887 when there was non stop rain.  This art depicts the melancholy, suspicion, secrets, and despair the story.

In Sailor Twain the time period and the setting, the Hudson River, are also characters.  The romance of steamboat travel between New York City and Albany (a popular route for powerful people in the 1880s) enhances the story. But you also have the undercurrent of the area's creepiness (think Sleepy Hollow).

There is also a book within a book frame here as a female author plays a huge part in the story.

Twain is our narrator, as I mentioned above.  The book is his confession, so we see everything through his eyes.  The mystery of the mermaid unfolds through him, and while it ends fairly resolved, there is a final twist that leaves it all open and questioning who and what we should believe.  And to underscore the importance of the both the art and the writing in the best graphic novels, the twist is unveiled visually only (which I found very satisfying).

Sailor Twain is a perfect pick for fans of Gothic fiction whether they normally enjoy graphic novels or not.  It is a haunting tale that will remain with you long after you finish it.  It is also a good choice for fans of well executed literary graphic novels.

Three Words That Describe This Book: Gothic, mythological, obsession

Readalikes: The Gothic story in Sailor Twain reminded me of a few other darker Gothic tales I have read over the years.  Use the links to see my reviews of The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, Drood by Dan Simmons, and Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger for details.  All three are a good readalike option here in their unsettlingly atmosphere, darker tone, and overall themes.  It is also important to note that all four of these novels have twist endings and unreliable narrators.

If you want to read more about mermaids in folklore I would also suggest Mermaids: The Myths, Legends and Lore by Skye Alexander (2012). I cannot seem to find a fiction book about mermaids that captures the feel of Sailor Twain, however.  Most of today's mermaid novels are in more of the Twilight mold.  The 3 novels mentioned above more accurately capture the feel of this graphic novel even though they have zero mermaids.

If you really want a graphic novel as a readalike, I would suggest a book from the 2011 best lists,  Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol.  It follows Anya and her new best friend, who happens to be a ghost, a not always nice ghost. It also uses a similar color palate (shades of gray), but it is drawn with crisp pen lines, not the fuzzy charcoal.

Now let's move to the dusty book from my to-read pile.

Released to critical acclaim in 2009 Boneshaker by Cherie Priest is a steampunk zombie novel, and the first in what is (as of November 2012) a five book series.

First, for those you you who are not well versed in steampunk, click here for a tutorial and then come on back.

I am by no means and expert on steampunk, but I do enjoy the stories and the aesthetic.  In fact, I just recently saw my first steampunk band, Frenchy and the Punk, and greatly enjoyed their show. I have read a few steampunk novels, but Boneshaker has really become one of the go-to titles for fans of the genre. I had a few free days in early December, so I grabbed it off the shelf to finally give it a try.

For the record, I have handed out Boneshaker to many a satisfied patron over the years without having read it myself

Like all steampunk, the set up here is an alternative history in the 19th century with advanced technology based on technology from that era.  In this case, we have airships, which are very popular in steampunk.  Some steampunk contains supernatural elements, and here we have a zombie problem.

The story follows two narrators-- a mother, Blue, and a son, Zeke.  They take turns telling the story.  Both live in a destroyed Civil War era Seattle.  Why is is destroyed? Well Blue's husband created a machine called the Boneshaker which dug under the city causing most of it to collapse into a giant hole, but to make matters worse, it released a gas that turned many of the survivors into zombies.

It is many years later, a wall has been erected, and although the gas is still seeping out, the remaining citizens have figured out how to live with it. However, Blue's teenage son, who never knew his father, wants answers.  One day he sneaks into the walled part of the city (with a gas mask) to try to go back to his parents home and find out the truth about his father, his grandfather, and his mother's part in all of it.  Blue goes in after him, desperate to find him and finally share the real story with him. The novel is their alternating stories and adventures as Blue looks for Zeke and both desperately try to survive inside the walled city.

The story that follows is a combination wild west adventure/zombie apocalypse survival tale.  It is fast paced with a cast of characters that grows with the story. The pacing and the action dominate here, so we really don't get to know any of the characters too well.  Priest gives us just enough to care about them.  A few are a bit stereotypical, but they serve a purpose and it keeps the action moving.

There are some very good zombie action scene here and a nuanced bad guy who reminded me of the Governor from The Walking Dead.

Personally, I liked the story and had fun while reading it, but ultimately I was unsatisfied because I found Blue annoying.  Her refusal to discuss what happened in the past was very selfish.  Her selfishness put her son in jeopardy and directly caused the death of many people.  Finally, in the end she does right by all of the people living behind the wall and shares the truth, but I was done with her by that point.

However, I did love the setting and the details of the world.  I liked the airships and their crews.  There were a few characters along the way I grew to like too.

You read this book for the setting and the action, not the characters.  If that is okay with you, this is a good choice.  This is also a book for people who want to try out steampunk since it is a fairly accessible option.

Three Words That Describe This Book: steampunk, fast-paced, zombies

Readalikes: Click here to see my former student Jason's presentation of steampunk titles.

Fans of the airships should also check out the excellent Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld.

For a better balance between action and character try anything by Paolo Bacigalupi.

The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling is also a must read.

Remember, for more suggestions and background, you can also check out my longer steampunk post here.

And that marks the end of my reports on the 59 books I read in their entirety during 2012.

Friday, December 28, 2012

What I'm Reading: Broken Harbor

I have 3 more books that I finished in 2012 that still need reviews.  Two of them, including this one, are 4 out of 5 stars in my opinion and just missed out on my top 12 of 12. So let's get the reviews going so I can finished up before 2013 begins.

Tana French's latest literary suspense, Broken Harbor continues with her winning style.  Here is what I have said in the past and it still holds true:
...police procedural meets psychological suspense.  This is a dark book, with an extremely flawed narrator.  Bad things are happening here and even when the crime is "solved," no one is satisfied; in fact, just about everyone involved with the case has been ruined as a result of the investigation.   And the kicker is, you know that it will not end well from the start, but you are so compelled by the complex plot, the interesting, 3-dimensional characters and their interactions that you cannot look away. 
The titles of all of French's novels refer to a place.  In this case the place used to be called Broken Harbor.  It was a vacation area where our lead detective and narrator, Scorcher Kennedy used to go on vacation as a child.  It also happens to be the place his mother committed suicide when he was a teenager. Today it is a half-built, mostly abandoned, "luxury" housing development known as Brianstown.

Speaking of Scorcher, he also represents a trademark of French's, she takes a character from a previous story and brings him or her back for his or her own tale.  Scorcher appeared in Faithful Place.

Scorcher and his rookie partner are called out to Brianstown where a family is dead. Well, the kids and husband are, the wife is hanging on by a thread at the hospital. What follows is the story of the investigation, but like all French novel's we have Scorchers story from the past, and, in this case, his relationship with his mentally ill sister as a parallel story.

Like all of French's novel's the story from the past plays into the present investigation.  And also like her other novels, the entire story is told in the past tense, by the investigator in first person, confessional narration.  We know the narrator is unreliable from the start, since he tells us that this is a story of how it all went wrong.  There are small asides all along the way where Scorcher says things like.. if I had pushed him just a little more right then things might not have gone all to hell.  We the reader are constantly reminded that the story is a giant train wreck waiting to happen, but we cannot turn away, rather French sucks us in and grabs us for the duration, only letting go near the end.

As a result, the pacing begins quickly as the facts of the case are laid out, then pulls back as we meet the key players, finally building in intensity for the full last third as we barrel down to the resolution, which is not satisfying for anyone involved.

Broken Harbor also directly addresses the global economic downturn.  Anyone living in any middle class neighborhood, anywhere in the West can understand French's setting and context.

Of the three books I have read by FrenchBroken Harbor  is the most traditional of the bunch.  The link between the past story and the present one is more tenuous and Scorcher's issues are more guilt based than actual wrong doing.  Although once you figure out both stories, I liked how the deaths in each mirrored one and other.  But in the end, it was not as creepy as In the Woods or as full of rich characters as Faithful Place.  Also, the "twist" was not that shocking.

However, Broken Harbor is better than most stuff out there and I can still give out this one like any of her books to anyone who like suspense who is looking for a good read.  One thing I love about her books is that while they are slightly linked, you can read them in any order. There is usually at least one on the shelf.

Personally, I have listened to 3 of French's 4 books on audio and have loved them in this format.  Since she always uses a first person, confessional style narration, the audio makes the story even creepier and more personal than it already is.  Scorcher is recounting the case the\at ruined his career directly to us, the readers, but when you are listening to him tell it to you, it is even more real and chilling.  I would highly suggest any French audio to someone looking for a good listen.

Three Words That Describe This Book:  suspense, unreliable narrator, intense

Readalikes: I have many, many readalike authors mentioned if you click here. There are literally a dozen with one click.  I will not waste your time repeating them.

I will be back on Monday with one more post reviewing my last 2 books of 2012-- one brand new and one a few years old.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What I'm Reading:The Best Books I Read This Year

I hope everyone had a nice Christmas holiday.  I am home with the kids until 1/7, so posts will be irregular, but as promised, I have narrowed down my list of the Top 12 for 2012.  They are not in a particular order except to say that if I had to pick 1 favorite it would be Building Stories by Chris Ware. Also, remember, I do the best book I read in 2012, the year they were published is irrelevant to this list.

The title captioned under each cover links to my lengthy review.  Enjoy. 

I still have to write reviews for 3 books that I finished this year, both of which were close to making my top 12.  I will get those up before the calendar flips over to 2013.  But for now, here is the year that was.

Building Stories
11/22/63

Gone Girl
The Art of Fielding
1Q84

A Land More Kind Than Home

Ready Player One
The Snow Child

The Orphan Master's Son

Arcadia

Canada
The Fault in Our Stars


Friday, December 21, 2012

What I'm Reading: 1Q84

Back in August I finished listening to 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. I had listened to it as part of the update I made to the Murakami readalike article on NoveList (more on that in a minute). 

Now I need to say up front, I am a Murakami fan.  What you get with Murakami are stories in which the plot is not even close to the reason you read the book.  He writes wildly imagined yet familiar stories, and they can be very long (as is the case here), and convoluted to the point that as a reader, you may not be quite sure what is going on (or even why), but if you like his writing, these are stories that grab a hold of you, draw you in, and refuse to let you go even after you have finished.

Murakami also tends to use the same general plot-- a character, more Western-oriented that the average Japanese citizen, who has lost a loved one for inexplicable reasons, often involving a supernatural event, embarks on a journey to explain this mystery.  The overall themes are usually darker: alienation, loneliness, obsession, and a longing for acceptance and love, but he uses many references to pop culture, especially music and sports, and humor to temper the darkness.  The overall effect is that Murakami writes metaphysical, post-modern fiction that is actually fun to read.

Since the plots can be a little bit wacky, non-linear, and confusing in Murakami, the focus is on the characters-- intensely on the characters.  We know where the characters sleep, what they eat, what they are wearing, down to the last detail.  The protagonists, and there are always at least 2, are introspective and quirky, narrating their stories, thoughts, and feelings in first person, so the reader is literally inside their heads.

The narration will switch between the different characters, who are often on parallel quests (although they may not know it). This makes the pacing engrossing, if not fast.  The story goes back and forth between different storylines, focusing on different characters, who are all leading toward each other.  The reader knows more than the characters, and this keeps you turning the pages to see how it will all end up.

On a side note, a Murakami novel usually features a talking cat; in fact, in 1Q84, there is a town of talking cats that feature prominently in the story. I have met a few readers who seemed like the perfect match for a Murakami book until they told me they refuse to read a book with talking animals.
 
All of these comments about Murakami in general are from the research I did for the NoveList article, but they also all hold 100% true for 1Q84.  In fact, I have purposely saved the plot info for now, after the appeal discussion, for just this reason.  I will share a brief discussion of the plot here, but what you need to understand is that it does not play a role in whether or not you will enjoy this novel. Everything I said above will though.  If you do not like what I have had to say so far, Murakami is not the author for you.

Click here for the Murakami graphic from the NY Times which turns his style into an amusing AND totally accurate BINGO card.

Now the plot of 1Q84 specifically.  The novel is an ode to Orwell's 1984. The year is 1984 in the novel, and our female protagonist, Aomame is an assassin who, after travelling down a staircase, enters a parallel version of 1984 (or 1Q84 as she calls it).  The male narrator is Tengo, who is a math teacher and aspiring novelist living in the normal 1984.  The two are nearing their 30s and both still hold an unrequited love for one and other stemming from a single hand holding when they were 10 years old.  The plot revolves around the quest of Tengo and Aomame to come to terms with their life's purpose and find one and other.


Sounds clear right?  But wait, it is Murakami, so there is more.  Along the way one of the main plot devices that unites both Aomame's and Tengo's stories involves a cult that worships "little people."  In true Murakami fashion, this subplot is extremely important, but is never explained.  The novel ends in  heartwarming fashion, but if you want the whole "little people thing" rationalized, it doesn't happen, so don't wait for it.  I know this about Murakami going in, so I did not expect an explanation, and as a result, was not bothered by it in the least.

In terms of genre, this is a true blend of fantasy and realism, mystery and epic

This is one of the best books I have ever read.  From start to finish, every second I listened was amazing.  Since it is such a huge novel, I would suggest listening to it OR getting the paperback edition, which is split into 3 volumes (1 paperback for each "book" Murakami has divided the story into). Otherwise, you may hurt yourself toting it around.  In Japan, it was released in 2 parts, months apart.

A note on the audio:  I listened to 1Q84, and thought it was well done.  There are Japanese readers, alternating a man and a woman so that Tengo's chapters are in a male voice and Aomame's are in a female voice.  As a result, the intimacy Murakami infuses into writing his characters shines through in the narration.  I felt like Tengo and Aomame became my friends over the course of the story.

Three Words That Describe This Book: character centered, metaphysical, parallel worlds

Readalikes: I have many readalike authors suggested in my NoveList article.  Here is a little bit of a preview of what you can find there. If you have access to NoveList, you can see a lot more.

The most similar author to Murakami is Neil Gaiman.  Both use complex storylines, a serious tone, and themes of loneliness and alienation with a dash of playfulness.  The most epic of Gaiman's works is American Gods and would be a good fit here.

A brand new readalike author who I added to the article just this fall is Jennifer Egan:
For readers looking for a female author who writes like Murakami, try Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Jennifer Egan. Like Murakami, Egan writes character-centered, complexly layered narratives that shift points of view. She crafts tales of alienation and lost love that carry a haunting and thoughtful tone. Murakami fans should try A Visit from the Goon Squad, in which music plays a central role. In a story that spans from the 1970s until 2020, Egan recounts the lives of a punk rocker turned music executive and his secretary, using interconnected stories that shift points of view and are written in different styles. One chapter is even in the form of a Power Point presentation. Readers of Murakami will appreciate the novel’s experimental nature, while being drawn to the larger metaphysical questions it raises.

If you are looking for another Japanese author who is readily available in translation, try  Kobo Abe.

When I reviewed 11.22.63 by Stephen King last month, I noted in the readalikes section that since I listened to it right after listening to 1Q84 I felt like they had a similar feel, but I wasn't sure if it was just a proximity issue.  With some more distance on the question I can say they are similar to a point.  They share the same pacing that is engrossing if not traditionally fast.  They are also very focused on a character on a speculative quest that the protagonists must keep secret from the rest of the people around them.  And, both have a parallel world aspect with a heart-warming ending.  However, if you are a stickler for a linear plot in which every detail makes sense and pans out in the end, Murakami is not for you.  The feel and basic plots are similar, but the style is vastly different.

Finally, here is a link to all of the times I have mentioned Murakami on this blog.  In many cases he appears in the readalikes for a book I have read.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

NoveList RA News Thriller Article

Another quick post today before I go help out at the elementary school library all afternoon.

My article on Thriller Resources went live on NoveList's RA News today.  Click here to access the article and here to access the entire issue.

Please note, you do not have to be a NoveList subscriber to subscribe to these articles.  You can click here to sign up.  I also keep a link to the past issue archive in the right gutter of the blog.  These come out monthly and contain great tips and resources written by RA experts.

I will be back tomorrow with a few reviews and then not back until 12/26.


BPL RA Dream Team's Favorite Books of 2012

In our quest to turn the Browser's Corner into the go-to place for the BPL's online RA presence, Kathy is trying something new this year.  Last month she asked the staff --John, Betty, me, Connie, Sharon, and of course, herself to give her 3-5 of our best reads of 2012.  She is featuring each of us over these last 2 weeks of 2012.

Click on through to see John, Betty, and me (already posted) and return to see Sharon, Connie, and Kathy (in the days to come).

But in general, we are looking for big things from the Browser's Corner in 2013. We already have a lot of original material created by our staff on there.  From Reading Maps to "If you like" lists to Book Lover's Club reports and genre guides, as well as the regularly posted staff recommendations, the RA Dream Team is already providing great suggestions of "Books People Like at the Berwyn Public Library," on our blog and it will only get better in 2013.

This is a resource worth your time because its created by our staff.  We are not cutting and pasting from other sites.  We are crafting content that is based on our own interests and specialities, combining forces to provide a resource that is unique and wide in scope.

So please, click on through and check it out. You may just find your next good read.  While you there, feel free to leave a comment with your own favorites from 2012.

My official Top 12 of 2012 list will be out after Christmas (I'm still reading a few contenders), but in the mean time, you have seen a 4 book preview.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

BPL Book Discussion: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

On Monday the book club gathered for a holiday lunch followed by a discussion of Anne Fadiman's 1997 National Book Critics Circle Award winning nonfiction title, The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures.

Here is the publisher's description of the book:
Brilliantly reported and beautifully crafted, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down explores the clash between the Merced Community Medical Center in California and a refugee family from Laos over the care of Lia Lee, a Hmong child diagnosed with severe epilepsy. Lia's parents and her doctors both wanted what was best for Lia, but the lack of understanding between them led to tragedy. (From the publisher.)
When three-month-old Lia Lee Arrived at the county hospital emergency room in Merced, California, a chain of events was set in motion from which neither she nor her parents nor her doctors would ever recover. Lia's parents, Foua and Nao Kao, were part of a large Hmong community in Merced, refugees from the CIA-run "Quiet War" in Laos. The Hmong, traditionally a close-knit and fiercely people, have been less amenable to assimilation than most immigrants, adhering steadfastly to the rituals and beliefs of their ancestors. Lia's pediatricians, Neil Ernst and his wife, Peggy Philip, cleaved just as strongly to another tradition: that of Western medicine. When Lia Lee Entered the American medical system, diagnosed as an epileptic, her story became a tragic case history of cultural miscommunication.

Parents and doctors both wanted the best for Lia, but their ideas about the causes of her illness and its treatment could hardly have been more different. The Hmong see illness and healing as spiritual matters linked to virtually everything in the universe, while medical community marks a division between body and soul, and concerns itself almost exclusively with the former. Lia's doctors ascribed her seizures to the misfiring of her cerebral neurons; her parents called her illness, qaug dab peg—the spirit catches you and you fall down—and ascribed it to the wandering of her soul. The doctors prescribed anticonvulsants; her parents preferred animal sacrifices. (Also from the publisher.)

Before I get into the discussion, I want to share my opinion on this book. This was an amazing book. Not only is it well written and engaging, but it taught me so much about history and issues I knew nothing about. This is going to become one of my go-to sure bets to hand out to patrons looking for a good read when it joins our book discussion collection next month.


Now on to the discussion:
  • You know the drill with us. We had 9 likes, 2 so-sos and 1 dislike. The dislike was more because she was so angry about how the 2 cultures clashed and could not see eye to eye. The little girl who suffered at the center of the tale was too much for her to finish. But she liked the Hmong history part.
  • Here are some of the initial likes comments:
    • I thought all immigrants came to America because they wanted to, but after reading about the Hmong, my eyes have been opened to that fact that this is not always the case.
    • I liked learning about the history of the Hmong. I knew nothing about them before this.
    • I enjoyed the structure of the book. (more about this later)
    • The collision of cultures-- how there was total misunderstanding by well meaning parties on both sides that caused so many problems-- was enlightening.
    • It was hard to relive the anger from the Vietnam era and how badly our country screwed it up, but I was glad to see the contributions of the Hmong people working for the CIA acknowledged.
    • This book gave me insight into myself as a reader. I need my history to be personal. I am reading a Lincoln biography right now which is good, but it did not capture me like Fadiman's book did.
  • I asked about the structure of the book; how Fadiman chose to relate this complex story. Just Lia's medical story is hard enough, but then to have to also explain thousands of years of Hmong history and culture is quite a feat. I described the structure this way: the book is told with Lia's story as a winding river running through the center of the book, with the story spilling over onto the banks and at times trekking far inland; but always it is the river of Lia's story that anchors the work.
  • This left us to talking about all of the history packed into the book. It reminded many of us of other incidents in our country when we wanted to do right but still screwed up. One person said the Hmong were very similar to the Native Americans: no written language, story telling tradition, and we came in and assumed that meant they were stupid. We took away their way of life and they can never have it back.
  • We were amazed by how the Hmong kept their culture together for thousands of years without a homeland or written language by using storytelling, rituals, and a detailed family/clan hierarchy.
  • We spent a lot of time talking about the failures of medicine. We need to remember this was a book written about the 1980s. Medicine has changed a lot since then, and now doctors are encouraged to be more culturally sensitive. Here is some of our conversation about the medical aspects of the book:
    • Although the lack of sensitivity was a factor in Lia's seizure disorder care, "the big one," the seizure that left her in a vegetative state, was brought on by an underlying infection that no one noticed. Lia had become her disease and the doctors could not see past the seizures.
    • Medicine in the 1980s was very disease focused. Doctors did not look at the whole patient, just the disease. Now things have changed and doctors are trained to use the best of Eastern and Western medicine to treat the person.
    • Drs. Peggy and Neil wanted to give Lia lots of medicines because that is what they would have done for an American family, but the Hmong family who have no experience with letters and numbers had a lot of trouble keeping the medicines and dosages straight. One medicine would have worked okay and been more reliably given, but Peggy and Neil felt that that would be giving a lower standard of care. They couldn't consider the cultural differences.
    • Neil reported Lia's parents to Child Services because he thought her life was in danger since the parents were not giving the medicine correctly. Everyone was lucky that Lia's short stay in a foster home was with such a great family.
  • On pages 260-261 (end of chapter 17, "The Eight Questions,") Fadiman talks about the work of Arthur Kleinman in creating a list of 8 cross-cultural medical questions:
1. What do you call the problem?
2. What do you think has caused the problem?
3. Why do you think it started?
4. What do you think the sickness does? How does it work?
5. How severe is the sickness? Will it have a short or long course?
6. What kind of treatment do you think the patient should receive? What are the most important results you hope she receives from this treatment?
7. What are the chief problems the sickness has caused?
8. What do you fear most about the sickness?
  • Fadiman gave this questionnaire to the Lee's after Lia was in a vegetative state. We could all easily see where things went wrong just from the answers, but what was shocking to us, was that after years of treating Lia, when Peggy and Neil saw their answers to these questions, they had no idea how the Lee's had felt. We talked about how every doctor should ask these questions to every patient, every time.
  • We went back to talking about the Hmong culture some more. I asked the group what they thought the most important aspect of their culture was:
    • the fish soup story of their history-- really storytelling in general. We also talked about how the fish soup story the Hmong people tell as their origin story is also a model for how the book is told.
    • love of family
    • spirituality in everything
    • perseverance
    • rituals
    • independence
    • "collaborative self-reliance"-- on participant coined this phrase to describe how the Hmong took care of themselves as a group.
  • I ended the discussion by asking everyone to share what they "got out of" this book. Here are the responses:
    • It was tragic and sad, but it showed me that in any tragic situation, there are failures on both sides.
    • I liked how the author did not take sides; she simply presented the full picture
    • Sometimes there is no bad guy, there is only the truth.
    • Everybody has a story to tell
    • I learned a reverence for the Hmong culture
    • I am grateful that the author stuck with the story after it fell through as a magazine article to turn it into a book. We have all learned because she wrote it.
    • People who mean well and want to do good often do very weird things in pursuit of a good goal.
This is an amazing book that I highly recommend for any book club out there.
Readalikes: This book most reminds me of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, although Fadiman's book is better (IMO) because Fadiman keeps herself out of the narrative. But both are books that use a medical issue to try to tell a larger story about an ethnic group. Click here for my review of Skloot's novel and to see more medical narrative nonfiction.
Fadiman's storytelling technique reminds me of Laura Hillenbrand. Although they share no subject headings, these writers both take a larger historical issue or event and make it personal. They are able to weave an intimate story and a long view of history into a compelling narrative. If you asked me to read a book about the Hmong or the horse Seabiscuit in a vacuum, I would have said no way. But I loved both books. That is a testament to their writing.
Finally another writer who writes compelling historical nonfiction with a broad historical sweep is Candice Millard. I have reviewed both of her books here. Also use that link to access further readalikes.
Finally for those who want to know more about how the medical establishment has changed since the 1980s to be more understanding of cultural differences, check out Cultural Diversity in Health and Illness, 8th Edition (2012).
If you want to learn more about the Hmong, I would go straight to Fadiman's bibliography for suggestions. I would try to get the 2012 paperback update as she mentions in the new afterward that she did update the resources. Speaking of the 2012 edition, it does have a "where are they now" afterward too.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Student Reading Maps

Today at Noon marks the official end of the semester as this is the deadline for the instructors to submit final grades.  So in honor of the students, here are three excellent reading maps that were created by my GSLIS students and submitted as their final for Fall 2012.

I will have one map to share more soon, but I am waiting for the student to make a few small fixes. I will be also adding these to the Reading Maps Archive which is always accessible here.

Reading Maps

Monday, December 17, 2012

Monday Discussion: Looking Forward to 2013

Welcome to the last Monday Discussion of 2012.  Due to the next two Monday being holidays, the Monday Discussion will not be back until 1/7 when I will be asking about your 2013 reading resolutions.  Click here to see my report on how I did on my 2012 resolutions.

So like I do every year, after we have wrapped up our 2 weeks running of Monday Discussions about our favorite reads of the year that is about to end (click here and here), I end the year with a look forward to 2013.

Here are a few of the highlights I am excited for:
  • Fall marks the long awaited sequel to Stephen King's The Shining, still my pick as the perfect place to start reading King.  It will be titled, Dr. Sleep.
  • Diane Setterfield whose debut novel, The Thirteenth Tale, is an all time favorite of mine, is due to finally have another novel sometime this fall.
  • My favorite book I read last year was Karen Russell's Swamplandia!.  She is due with a new short story collection entitled Vampires in the Lemon Grove in February.
  • I am just excited to see what book comes out of nowhere to be the darling of the year,  What will be 2013's Gone Girl? There is always at least one surprise. So I guess I am most excited to find out what the surprise hit of the year will be.
There are many more great reads coming in 2013; this list is just the tip of the iceberg.  For today's Monday Discussion, let me know what you are most looking forward to in the book world in 2013.  Here are some links to help you see what is on the horizon and to get you excited for the year in books to come:
Thanks for being a part of 2012's discussions too.

For past Monday Discussions, click here.

Friday, December 14, 2012

RA Links Roundup

Well, the planned review for today slipped away from me.  I could give you the draft, but it would not be up to my standards.

Instead, for today I have a list of interesting links I have been compiling:

That's all for now.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

What I'm Reading: The Family Fang

I finished The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson back at the beginning of October. I read it in just a few sittings even though I was very busy getting 31 Days of Horror off the ground over on the horror blog.  I loved this books as I was reading it, but I feel that the more time that has passed, it did not stayed with me as much as some of the other books I read this year.  In high school terms, I would say I like, like it but don't loooove it.

The Family Fang was an almost universal choice on every "best" list in 2011.  Now in paperback, it has been added to the BPL Book Discussion 2013 schedule.  I am actually excited to read it again.  But on to my report on who would like this book and why.

The Family Fang has a pretty easy to articulate set-up.  Our narrators are Annie and Buster. In the present of the story, they are both screwed up young adults (not teens, actual adults, but in their 20s) who had both found moderate success as an actress (Annie) and a writer (Buster), but as the story opens, both have reached crisis points in their lives and the possible end to their careers.  Why are they falling apart? Well as children they were the famous sidekicks (Child A and Child B) to their performance artist parents Camille and Caleb Fang who reached international success and critical acclaim as performance artists who, in the 1980s, became famous for going to public spaces and causing chaos. As you can imagine, this explains why Annie and Buster are a bit messed up now.

When Annie and Buster are both forced to return home to their parents, the drama and chaos return to their lives.  After a short time at home, Camille and Caleb disappear and are presumed dead, but Annie and Buster are suspicious that it is all a new performance piece.  Together, Annie and Buster investigate their parents disappearance and along the way confront their own troubled pasts.

Not only do Annie and Buster alternate telling the story of "now," but in between their chapters are separate chapters which describe the performance pieces of Caleb and Camille.  These performance piece chapters all happened in the past when the kids were small and begin with a clear heading such as this one from the very first chapter:
[crime and punishment, 1985
  artists: caleb and camille fang]
So we have multiple points of view and a shifting time frame here.  I thought Wilson did a great job of weaving the story together so that these shifts seemed inevitable.  As a reader you got just the right description of one of the Fang performance art pieces at just the right time in the story.  They were never intrusive or disruptive; in fact, they were often quite enlightening.  I looked forward to them because they helped to shed light on the "now" part of the narrative.

Which leads to the point of view changes.  These two are important to the enjoyment of the story.  Annie and Buster have two different perspectives and reactions to their childhoods.  Seeing them each deal with their parent's disappearance helps to create the full picture of all four family members as characters.

Ahh, characters.  This is a good time to mention that while the novel has a solid investigative plot as Buster and Annie try to figure out what happened to their parents, the story ends resolved but open.  This is not a book for plot driven readers; it is one for lovers of the character centered story.  This is a story about Camille and Caleb to a point, but when it is all said and done, it is a coming of age story for Annie and Buster (a delayed coming of age, but a coming of age nonetheless).  Everything that happens in the novel is leading toward a moment of epiphany for Annie and Buster.  By the end of the story, each has been able to come to terms with their crazy and unhealthy childhood (for the first time in their lives) and move forward as an adult.  We hope that things will work out for them, and the ending hints that it will, but we do not know for sure.

Similarly, we know "what happened" to Caleb and Camille by the novel's end, but their story has another chapter, yet to be written. We will never know if what they want to happen, will actually come to fruition. Also, although we have learned a lot more about Caleb and Camille by the end, they are still a bit of an enigma. I think this works though because it is really Annie and Buster's story and the Camille and Caleb storyline is tied up enough.  But again, those who want a clean ending will not get one here.  Me, I prefer my endings to be this way.

Many people will enjoy the satirical look at performance art.  In fact, the entire novel has a satirical tone that moves it into a caper feel.  It is thought provoking with the satire, but it is also so outrageous at times that it is hysterical.  Specifically the way others in the art community talk about the Fangs is so ludicrous it is funny. 

Three Words That Describe This Book: character centered, open ending, shifting time frame

Readalikes:  When I was thinking of books with a similar satirical tone, family dysfunction, and character centered story line three books I have read in the last couple of years came to mind immediately. This got me thinking that this is a type of book I generally enjoy.  Interestingly, none of them make my best of the year lists either.  These are books I like a lot, but don't love.  Hmmm, thank you The Family Fang for helping me to discover this new dimension to by own reader profile.

Enough soul searching, here they are with the links to my reviews for more detail:
If you liked the performance art angle to the novel, I would also suggest two other books by well reviewed literary fiction authors that feature performance art.  Both are also known for their use of satire:
  • The Dissident by Neil Freudenburger in which a Chinese performance artist comes to Beverly Hills and gets entangled in some family issues.
  • Clear: A Transparent Novel by Nicola Barker which is centered around the time the magician David Blaine suspended himself over the Thames in a clear box.
Finally, for an outside the box suggestion, the Newsflesh Trilogy (reviewed here, here, and here) by Mira Grant stars siblings who have a lot of issues because of their parents using them for their work when they were young.  Of course, the series also has zombies and a government conspiracy, but for readers who really enjoyed delving into the adult children as they deal with having been used by their parents part of the story, this would be a great choice.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Author Interviews Archive and Upcoming Blog Schedule

As I was going through my RSS feeds this morning, I noticed this post on BookBrowse where they compiled their favorite author interviews from 2012.  [By the way the permalink is not working for some reason, so if you click this after today, you might have to scroll to find it. I will update the link if it gets fixed.]

While the list itself is fun and useful for both library workers and patrons, clicking through to it reminded me of something even more important.  I had forgotten that BookBrowse even had a cache of author interviews.  Well they do, and you can access all of them here.  It is quite an impressive archive actually, both in number of interviews and in the range of authors represented.

This is yet another argument for subscribing to RSS feeds to help you to help patrons better. BookBrowse is a site I use, but infrequently.  I mostly go there for book group and/or display planning.

So its on my radar, but with all of the other resources and information bouncing around out there, it is easy to forget about the specifics of each resource.  Their blog post of the best 2012 author interviews was delivered to my feed reader; I did not have to seek it out.  Literally in just a matter of minutes, while I was doing my regular mid-morning routine of quickly scanning all the feeds, I came upon this great archive.

So thanks BookBrowse for reminding all of us about your great cache of interviews.  But to the rest of you out there, let my experience serve as a reminder.  Don't get stuck in a rut only using the same go to resources.  Get RSS feeds to as wide a range of resources as possible.  Don't let them overwhelm you though. If you are busy, just mark all as read, or star something that looks interesting to go back to it when you do have time.  It takes only minutes a day, but it will serve you and your patrons well.

Upcoming RA for All Schedule:   (Because a few people have asked)

I will have reviews on Thursday and Friday, one more Monday Discussion for the year on 12/17, and a final book discussion report for 2012 sometime next week [we meet on 12/17].  I have 2-3 more books (plus the book discussion book) that I will finish this month.  I will try to get those reviews posted before the end of the year also.  We'll see how that goes.

Tonight is also the night of my student's final presentations.  I already know there will be at least a few reading maps to share. Grades are due on the 18th, so look for posts of student work sometime in the middle of next week.

Finally you can look for my post on the best books I read this year during the week between Christmas and New Year's.

RA for All will be on a limited holiday schedule after 12/21 as I will be taking time off to celebrate with my family.

Enjoy the symmetry of 12-12-12.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Monday Discussion: Best Book You Read This Year-- Part 2

Last week we all shared what our favorite book we read in 2012 that was NOT published in 2012.  Click here to see the comments, or leave one of your own.

Today, I want to know your opinion of the best book you read in 2012 that WAS published this year; a more traditional BEST list.

This one was easy for me.  It was Building Stories by Chris Ware.  Click here for my full review.  However, I figured I would love this book when it came out, so much so that my husband bought me a copy.  I rarely buy books since I have access to anything and everything at the library, but this is one we needed to own.

In terms of my most surprising BEST book of the year, that title would go to the remarkable debut by Wiley Cash, A Land More Kind Than Home.  Click here for the full review. I did not expect this book to blow me away, yet that it did.

What about you? Start sharing those best of 2012 books with me.

For past Monday Discussions, click here.

What I'm Reading: Building Stories

Believe the hype.  Building Stories by Chris Ware is on just about every best list for 2012.  Here is what I turned into Kathy to be included in my post for the Browsers' Corner Best of 2012 (coming later this month):
In an age where eBooks seem to be taking over, Chris Ware has created a story that can only be experienced in print form. Building Stories is one single story told in graphic novel form in 14 distinct parts. Each part is different; for example, some are hardbound books, others are small comic strips, a few are pamphlets, and still more are large broadsheets. At the story’s center is an apartment building in Chicago in 2000. The building has 3 floors, with one apartment on each floor. While some pieces follow all of the residents, the main focus of the story is on the life of the young, amputee who lives in the 3rd floor walk-up. The majority of Building Stories follows her both while she lived there and in decade before and after. We grow attached to her as we see her search for acceptance, love, and fulfillment. As a reader, you make your way through the story as you see fit. Ware does not impose an order on the 14 pieces to his tale. This creates a unique storytelling experience as every reader encounters the story in a different order. Readers familiar with Ware’s drawing style will also notice his trademark large headed characters, a bright color palate, and his use of the entire page to tell the story.
That is pretty much the entire book in one paragraph. I do want to flesh out a few of the appeal factors here though.

This is a book for people who are worried that eBooks will take over the world of publishing.  Because this graphic novel is actually a box filled with 14 pieces of a single story, it can only be read and experienced in print.  In today's digitally, app fueled world, there is something comforting about sitting down with the box, choosing one of the 14 parts, and sitting down to experience it.

That is how you read any Ware book by the way, they are always an experience first, and a story second.  You experience the genius in his art work and in the way he structures a story.  Time flows freely here, like in all of his books, but the themes at the heart of his tale do not get lost in the tide of his style.

Here is an example of what I mean when I say that time flows freely.  This graphic novel is written in a circle, with no beginning or end, but it is still a complete story.  We see the characters at various points in their life, but we never see a beginning or end to their lives.  We are there for a time, visiting them, being a part of their lives, and then leaving when we read whatever the last piece we, the readers, choose to end the story with.  It's the classic "slice of life" story taken to a satisfying extreme.

Since Ware imposes no order on how the book is read, each reading produces a slightly different version of the same story.  This makes it a great option for re-reading.  In fact, I am normally not a re-reader and I am excited to read this again in a few months to get a new experience from the graphic novel.

Speaking of the story, in Building Stories the theme is also like his other works (most notably the brilliant Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth)-- how we all long for fulfillment, love and acceptance, and while we think we find it at times, in the long run, it slips through our fingers and we keep the search going.

That is not to say the tone of the story here is dark and depressing.  It is melancholy overall, but there are moments of elation, joy, and contentment sprinkled throughout.  As a result, you do not feel overwhelmed by disappointment and sadness.  Also, Ware tells the story from a place of observation.  We come to care for the characters, but we do not necessarily sympathize with them.  I know that sounds confusing, but it describes Ware's narrative voice perfectly.  We see them, watch them, even root for them at times, but we also know that they will not make the right choices in the end.  But somehow, it is all wonderful and beautiful to observe.

The story here is realistic.  With its free narrative structure, extremely well rounded and fleshed out characters for whom you know their deepest darkest secrets, and lack of a starting and ending point, Building Stories resembles the actual human experience more than any novel I have ever read.  It is remarkable in this sense.

The Oak Park and Chicago setting will also appeal to many readers in this area. Real places are drawn and/or referred to, like The Book Table, the BPL's favorite book store.

Finally, for libraries, there are many cataloging issues with Building Stories.  Click here for my post (with pictures) on how we handled it at the BPL.

Three Words That Describe This Book: episodic, layered, stylistically interesting

Readalikes:  I have a couple directions you could go with suggestions here.  First, the episodic nature of the 14 pieces, made Building Stories feel like a book of short stories.  With its connected characters, melancholic tone, and realistic portrayal of the people in the story, it reminded me of Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Stout. Also, the old lady in Building Stories really reminded me of Olive herself.  Click here for a book discussion report on this book.

Another similar title is The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery which also revolves around the tenants of a single building and is reflective, melancholic, and character-centered.

In terms of graphic novels that are similar.  I think the tone of Adrain Tomine and Daniel Clowes are  similar to Ware.  Click here for more from me on Clowes.

Three years ago I read the graphic novel Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli.  Click here to see the similarities.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Announcing The BPL Book Discussion 2013 January Through June Schedulee

The votes are in, the books have been purchased from the wonderful people at The Book Table in Oak Park, and the schedule has been set.

Here are the titles, dates, and times that my group will be meeting at the BPL; all links are to discussion guides where possible:


Monday Afternoon Group, meets at 2:30 p.m.
January 21st - The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht
February 25th - Bury Me Standing by Isabel Fonseca
March 18th - Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
April 15th - I Still Dream About You by Fannie Flag
May 20th - The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
June 17th - Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones


Remember, I always post a report on what we discussed, so no matter where you live, feel free to follow along with us.  All are welcome to comment after I post the discussion notes too.

It looks like it will be a fun six months of discussions.  Our only disappointment was that when we made the eligible titles voting list, Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers was scheduled for a January 2013 paperback release, but after the votes were tallied, and it made the cut we were informed that since it won the National Book Award, the publisher is holding out for more money and the paperback has been pushed back until at least October 2013.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

2 Year End Things to Mention

Today, Audible.com posted their list of the best audio books of the year.  Click on through to see it.

But I really wanted to talk about one of my favorite year end compilations, The Millions: A Year in Reading Project. Each year, since 2005, The Millions asks authors to write about what they read in 2012 that stuck with them.  Turning the tables on the usual year end list, "A Year in Reading" allows all of us to step back and see what the people whose books capture us, get captivated by themselves.

Click here for the 2012 archive, updated daily, all month.  The page also has a link to the completed series for every year past.

This is a great list for any reader, but it especially useful for those hard to please patrons.  Show them what the year's hottest writers were reading, and how can they turn that suggestions down?

As I have said before, I will not be posting every list here on the blog, but ones that I find interesting and especially ones that might not get mainstream attention, I will point out.  Go to RA Online for a full compilation of Best of 2012 lists.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Final Student Annotation Day: Plug For Their Blog

I am taking a break from the review-a-polooza today in honor of my last lecture of the semester.

My Fall 2012 RA students in LIS 763 at Dominican University have been one of the best overall groups I have had in awhile.  While normally, at least half of the students are engaged and add positively to the class, there are often a few students each semester who either cause me trouble or really do not give their full effort.  As a teacher that is frustrating, and unfortunately, it taints your view of the group as a whole.

I am so pleased that this semester, that was not the case.  Overall they are a wonderful group who are engaged, they keep improving, and they care about doing their best.  Tonight is my last chance to teach them because next week they turn in their final papers and half of them give a presentation.  Then it is goodbye to the group.  One student, Elizabeth will turn up on the blog next semester as "Intern Elizabeth," filling the shoes of fabulous "Intern Christi" from Spring 2012 and awesome "Intern Bill"who just completed his practicum, and thus his Masters Degree, this past Monday. Congrats Bill.  [P.S., if you have a job out there in the Chicago area, contact me about Bill.]

Back to the current batch of students.  I have not been as annoying about reminding you to check out their Student Blog every single week as I have been in semesters' past.  But today, hours before their final posts go live, I do want to remind you of what a wonderful resource their blog is.

I am not exaggerating when I tell you I consult RA 763's Blog on a regular basis to help my patrons.  The students are given free range to read any 5 books that interest them as long as they each fit a separate category.  The approved categories are genre and format designations which can be seen and accessed in the right gutter of the blog.

So as a first use of this resources, you can pull up a list of titles considered "Gentle Reads" or "Inspirational" as well as more traditional genre designations like "Fantasy" or "Mystery." It just takes one click, and since the students all have different reading tastes and they can pick any book in a given category, the blog has a huge range of annotations available for each category.  Many blogs have a tight focus, but breadth is our mantra here. I want the students to have as wide an experience as possible. If you use the blog to help patrons, you will reap the benefits.

Second, students are required to use the language of appeal in their annotations.  These terms are then converted into tags, but they also appear in the body of each entry.  As a result, you can do a natural language search in the search box at the top of the right gutter for "compelling, character centered and humorous" and get at least 2 pages of results.  You can also choose a sinlge appeal term from the tags cloud by clicking on it-- here is what you get when you click on "character centered."  And, there is still more.  If you read a post and are drawn to a specific appeal term, especially if it is not one of the most popular, so as a result does not appear in the tag cloud, at the end of each annotation, you can simply click on the hyperlinked term to pull up more-- here is what you get when you click on "closely observed characters;" which is a very specific but helpful appeal term.  I really do not know another resource that gives you this many appeal access points for a given title.

Third, the students are required to provide 3 fiction readalikes and 3 nonfiction readalikes with a comment for each as to why the title fits as a similar read.  That is 6 readalikes for every title! And, they are encouraged to give at least one "outside the box" suggestion out of the six, so you won't see only the same old, same old suggestions here.

Fourth, since Joyce and I have been keeping this blog for 3 full years now, the number of titles is huge!  And, as an added bonus, some more popular books have more than one annotation, giving you different perspectives on the same book. And, in reference to the third reason above, it also gives you more readalike options.

Fifth, it would be hard to find a resource where the content is created with more effort and enthusiasm. Look, let's be honest, they are doing this for a grade.  They are library graduate students; these are men and women who want a good grade.  They put a lot of effort into each of their 5 published annotations.  I would argue that there are times that I put in less effort on a review than they do on an annotation. Use their effort to your advantage by using the blog as a resource to help a patron.  The students will make you look like a RA star!

So congrats to the students for being almost done with class.  And to you library workers out there, don't forget to use their hard work to your advantage.  This is an under used resource that I would highly recommend.  I am very proud of their work.  Click here to access RA 763's Blog right now.  For future reference, I always have the link in the right gutter under the heading "Other Sites Featuring Me" listed as "Becky's Student's Blog."

If you are able to help a patron with the student's blog, leave a comment to let me and more importantly, them know.

Reviews back tomorrow.  I have Building Stories, 1Q84, and The Family Fang in the immediate queue.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Review I Decided Not To Write

As I get closer to being caught up with reviews, I thought today I would tackle the book I read this year that I decided not to review.  Let me explain...

Back in June, I posted here about how I was going to finally read The Hunger Games.  I did.  And, as planned, I read it with my 10 year old.  I had some short questions we talked about after every chapter or 2.  I had originally hoped we would read A Wrinkle in Time together for its 50th Anniversary.  I even told her, knowing her reading tastes, I thought she would enjoy A Wrinkle in Time more, but she insisted, Hunger Games was the book for her.

As I thought, she loved the build up in the Hunger Games; she loved the world building and details right up to the start of the games themselves.  Once the games began, she lost interest.  I literally had to force her to finish it.  We checked out a Nook from the public library, which came loaded with The Hunger Games and the novelty of reading it that way, made her finish it.  She has no desire to read the rest.

[On a side note, later this summer she read A Wrinkle in Time on her own and absolutely loved it.]

We talked a bit about what she didn't like about it, and mostly it was the romance angle.  Yes the violence turned her off a little.  The struggling to survive back in the District part she got, but the forced survival in the games, did not hold her interest.  However, she really didn't get the whole falling in love thing.  So when Katniss pretends to love Peeta so they can win together, my daughter didn't understand why Katniss switched her opinion on him so fast.

This was an age issue, as I thought it would be.  She has read plenty of YA books and loved them, most notably the Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld. But I knew there was a love plot line in The Hunger Games, and, quite honestly, it is a lot easier to feel the tension in a real conflict like WWI in Leviathan over a constructed reality TV show.  Even a 10 year old can see through that.

Ahh, that last comment hints a bit as to why I decided not to write a review of The Hunger Games.  The truth of the matter is, I really did not like this book.  Some of that dislike comes from the fact that I have read far too many dystopian novels, and this one does not measure up.  But more importantly, I am a reader for character, and one of my problems here is that while some characters are given quite a bit of development, others are not.  Specifically, most of the other contestants, especially the "bad guys" are very stereotypical and surface. Also as a parent, I did not believe that the residents of this world would have gotten to a point where they allowed their children to be killed off so easily.

Enough of my opinion though because my opinion is only part of why I write these reviews.  I write these reviews to explain why someone would like a specific book and to help you to match the best type of reader with that book.  In this case I feel like others have already done a better job at this than I could possibly do.  Specifically, Christi's Reading Map that she did for my class really gets to the heart of the series' appeal.

Anything I could say would not help in the RA conversation surrounding this series.  I may have a lot to say in general here on the blog, but I also know when to shut up and listen.  That's what I did here.  In fact, I have used Christi's Reading Map and other resources to help many readers who love The Hunger Games to find more great reads.

So boys and girls, that's my tale of the review I decided not to write.

Now I am off to do our last Trivia Night of the year.