Monday, July 30, 2012

Miss me?

Sorry for not posting sooner, but it's been a crazy few weeks. Our Summer Reading program just finished up last week at the library, which is the biggest reason I've been away. An interesting seven weeks this summer, as we aren't open to the public nearly as many hours as we were last year. Our overall signups were less, but not much less. Our program attendance, though, was fantastic!

I have been reading, and yes, there are reviews forthcoming. Thanks for being patient with me, and if you have kids yourself, I hope you've been taking them to the library this summer! I also hope we all get much-needed weather relief, be it rain, dryness, cooler temps, or warmer weather. It's been kinda miserable where I am, but I know I'm lucky. Many friends are in areas that have been hit hard by drought/soaring temps.

OH!!! And if you need something to make you smile, please go check out my latest obsession, Lil Bub. She's one of the cutest kitties in the whole world, and she was rescued by her dude in Bloomington, Indiana. She's got some genetic issues (read all about her on her website or her Facebook page), but other than that, she's a perfectly normal, happy kitty cat! Just don't tell my own cat that I check her page at least once a day...he'll get jealous.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

"The Weird Sisters" by Eleanor Brown

"See, we love each other. We just don't happen to like each other very much."

The Andreas family is one of readers - books are their passion and their solace. The father is a bit eccentric.A renowned professor who communicates almost exclusively in Shakespearean verse, he named all three of his daughters for great Shakespearean women: Rosalind (Rose), Bianca (Bean), and Cordelia (Cordy). As a result, they find that they have a lot to live up to.

Each of the sisters has found her life nothing like what she had thought it would be - and when they are suddenly faced with their parents' frailty and their own disappointments and setbacks, their usual quick salve of a book can't solve what ails them. When they each return to their childhood home - ostensibly to take care of their ailing mother, but really to lick their wounds - they are dismayed to find the others there. What can they possibly have in common?

To their surprise, the three discover that they are more similar than they ever imagines, and their childhood town and their sisterly bond offer much more than they ever expected.

This book sat in our lounge at work for quite a while, and I finally decided to pick it up. (We receive ARCs from one of the local newspapers after they're done with them, nice to have but not the sort of thing we can add to the library collection). What caught my eye was the quote on the back of the book, the one that basically starts the blurb above. Such a cute thought, too: "There is no problem a library card can't solve." As a library employee, I do tend to feel this way. The books/information available in a library can open doors to all sorts of possibilities for people, not just escape from reality with a good beach read. The Andreas family, however, take this concept a bit too far, as they seem to live in their own little worlds. I don't think I've ever read about a more dysfunctional, yet polite family.

The characters are interesting if a little cliche at times. Cordy, the youngest, has tired of her free-wheeling hippie lifestyle and has decided it's time to head home. Of course, she's also pregnant, and knows full well that life on the road is no place to raise a child. She's not sure if she's capable of being a parent, either. And she's not even entirely sure who the father is, either. Rose is the stereotypical big sister, always taking care of the younger siblings, and of course, her aging parents. Rose's whole identity is wrapped up in what she's done (and continues to do) for others. She has no life of her own, although her fiance is pushing her to get one; he's been offered a teaching position in England and wants her to accompany him. Rose doesn't even seem all that torn about possibly losing him, either; she's more concerned about her mother and the cancer that is invading her body. And now her two younger siblings are invading "her" turf.

Bean reminded me of many of the characters I've discovered in chick-lit; she's addicted to appearances, both hers and other's. She's wracked up a mountain of debt trying to maintain a certain lifestyle in New York City, and now the piper is demanding payment (and firing her for embezzling money to pay for said lifestyle). She's broke, she's scared, and she has no idea how her life went so wrong. Will she find the strength to discover who she is and what she truly wants out of life by returning to her childhood home?

What I liked: the relationships between the sisters. I'm the oldest of two girls, and I completely understood the author's quote about loving each other but not liking each other. The love/hate yin/yang of all it was spot on, and I thought the author did a great job of developing these familial bonds. I also liked the scenery of a small-town dependent on a liberal arts college; I felt like I knew exactly where they were.

What I didn't like, however, is why I can't completely say I enjoyed this book. It's obvious that the girls are the way they are due to their upbringing, but the relationship with their parents is woefully unexplored, especially their enigmatic father. I also thought the construction of the book was a bit strange. We get different chapters from each sister's viewpoint, told in the third person. However, there's an omniscient first-person narrator who sets scenes for the reader, almost acting like a Greek chorus. It's interesting at first, then just plain off-putting. Every time I came to this "royal we" first-person voice, I would wonder which sister this was supposed to be. It threw me out of the story, and that's never a good thing. Finally, my biggest wtf moment was near the end of the book when Bean finally decides what she's going to do with her life. Actually, someone else sort of makes the decision for her, and while I could normally buy such a thing happening in a small town like this, I could not for a second believe that anyone would agree to such a thing given the small fact that Bean is a thief. If you embezzled thousands of dollars, would you expect any future employer to trust you with money again? Especially if that money was anything more than what's in the cash register? Yeah, I'm pretty sure I got to this scene and literally said, "There's no way in hell this would ever happen in the real world." Sigh.

Overall, an interesting read. If I ever decide to re-read a book, this one might be a good option, as I would pick up the final published version rather than the ARC. However, I can't imagine that too much changed between the two versions, so I'm fairly confident this review would stand.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

"The Great Typo Hunt: Two friends changing the world, one correction at a time" by Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson

The signs of the times are missing apostrophes. The world needed a hero, but how would an editor with no off-switch answer the call? For Jeff Deck, the writing was literally on the wall: NO TRESSPASSING. In that moment, his greater purpose became clear. Dark hordes of typos had descended upon civilization...and only he could wield the marker to defeat them.

Recruiting his friend Benjamin and other valiant companions, he created the Typo Eradication Advancement League (TEAL). Armed with markers, chalk, and correction fluid, they circumnavigated America, righting the glaring errors displayed in grocery stores, museums, malls, restaurants, mini-golf courses, beaches, and even a national park. Jeff and Benjamin championed the cause of clear communication, blogging about their adventures transforming horor into horror, it's into its, and coconunut into coconut.

But at the Grand Canyon, they took one correction too far: fixing the bad grammar in a fake Native American watchtower. The government charged them with defacing federal property and summoned them to court - with a typo-ridden complaint that claimed that they had violated "criminal statues." Now the press turned these paragons of punctuation into "grammar vigilantes," airing errors about their errant errand.

The radiant dream of TEAL would not fade, though. Beneath all those misspelled words and mislaid apostrophes, Jeff and Benjamin unearthed deeper dilemmas about education, race, history, and how we communicate. Ultimately, their typo-hunting journey tells a larger story not just of proper punctuation but of the power of language and literacy - and the importance of always taking a second look.

As someone who now has a small gig proofreading for a small publisher, I cannot tell you how much I loved this book. If you are a self-proclaimed "grammar nazi," then this book is for you. If you've ever looked at a sign in public and shaken your head at a horrible misspelling, this book is for you. If you're one of those people that know the difference between its/it's, your/you're, to/too/two, etc, this book is for you.

Besides all the great typos Deck found (and trust me, there are some real doozies in here) and the fun travel adventures (who hasn't had some sort of disaster happen on a road trip?), there's quite a bit of philosophy here, too. For example, after the blog has been up and running for a little while, Deck and Benjamin land in Galveston, where they correct "Davy Jones Locker" with an apostrophe and an additional "s": "Davy Jones's Locker". No sooner do they post the pics of their success than the proverbial grammar poo hits the fan. Several comments show up blasting the pair for the additional "s", claiming that it's not necessary according to AP style, and that "everyone" knows that. Which made our heroes discuss which style, exactly, they were using when performing their feats of grammatical daring. (While Deck has done some AP-type editing, he prefers to refer back to his Chicago Manual of Style days.) As Deck himself points out, which style guideline you follow depends on what you do for a living: journalists refer to the AP Style Guide (obviously preferred by readers of his blog, too), while scholars would flip through an MLA Handbook. But if you're a medical writer, you're going to pull out your trustworthy APA Guide. And finally, if you're an author (fiction and non-fiction both), you're going to be intimately familiar with the tome that is The Chicago Manual of Style.

In the end, Deck puts it quite nicely. To all those that are concerned about the "right" or "wrong" way to correct an error, he says this: "The point is that any correction, regardless of the stylebook, is better than leaving the thing wrong."

It was also very interesting to read about people's reactions to the errors. At first, TEAL attempts a lot of "stealth" corrections, trying to leave the written world a better place but without taking any credit for it. Then Deck and his partners (especially Benjamin) start asking to change the errors, sometimes with great results, but more often finding attitude. Several retail-type employees simply refer to the fact that "they" didn't make the signs, and "they" don't have the authority to do anything about it. Other retail jockeys have an apathetic attitude of "whatever" - so the corrections happen. The authors also discovered that while people understood that there were errors in the signage, they were often loathe to have it "corrected" for fear it would look...well, "tacky" is a good word to use here, I think. Which really surprised our grammar sticklers, as they thought the tackier sign would be the one that was misspelled. To each his own, I suppose. But it did make for good conversations about how people take criticism, any criticism, even if it's not really directed at them.

As I said in the beginning of this review, I loved this book. Highly recommended to all. And people - let's watch the grammar out there!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

"Devilishly Hot" by Kathy Love

Annie Lou Riddle had a plan: Move to New York City. Break into the fashion industry. Work her way to the top. Nowhere in that scenario did she expect to accidentally sell her soul in exchange for a job at Hot! Magazine. Oops. Demons, it seems, aren't big on letting mortals off the hook. Now Annie is stuck working as assistant/personal slave to Finola White - diva extraordinaire, and glamorous she-devil. Whatever Finola wants, she gets, and she wants Annie to match her up with Nick Rossi, the gorgeous detective investigating shady doings at Hot! Frankly, Annie sees the appeal. Nick is effortlessly sexy, rugged, charming - and the one man Annie should definitely not be flirting with, or kissing, or... Oops. But some loves are too devilishly hot to resist...

A light, fluff romance from Kathy Love. Not much different than her other books, although the humans play a much bigger part in this first book in a new series. Nick Rossi, our hunky detective, meets country-girl-with-big-dreams Annie Lou Riddle while investigating some twenty missing persons, all past employees of Hot! Magazine, and all somehow tied to Finola White. It's definitely a case of wanting the forbidden fruit, and the relationship between Nick and Annie develops nicely, albeit predictably.

What bothered me most of all about this was the misleading blurb on the back of the book. Annie didn't "accidentally" sell her soul; she knew full well what would happen when she signed her 10-year contract with Finola. In fact, the idea of being sent to Hell pretty much consumes Annie's every waking moment, until she meets Nick. Then his sexy body occupies her thoughts, which make it much more difficult for her to concentrate on her job, meaning Hell might be closer than she thinks. Biggest disappoinment was the super-rushed scene where Annie finally tells Nick why she can't just quit her job. Um, hello? It was one of the things I wanted to know, and the author pretty much has Annie say "yeah, I got a call to work at Hot! and I really wanted the job, but it meant I had to sell my soul to get it". Where's the backstory? Why would a girl like Annie go to such lengths to work at the magazine? What about the scene where she first meets Finola or whoever interviewed her and she's all excited about the job - until she reads the fine print? It's such an important plot point, the danger to her soul, and yet we never really see why she was willing to offer it up in the first place. I would have been much more interested - and invested - in Annie if I knew what had really happened. Having Annie tell Nick just did not work for me.

What I did enjoy was that Finola White, a demon who is hellish in every single way, truly embraces her last name and does everything in white: her clothing, her office, her flowers, even the food she offers at an event. Sweet play on our idea of evil and the typical meanings associated with the color white. I also loved the teeny-tiny little twist at the end, one I did not see coming. It had me laughing and saying "Now that was cool!"

Overall, I'd give it a solid three stars. It's not great, but it's not horrible, either. (It could use some editing, though, as I caught the usual typos: incorrect punctuation, wrongs words, etc.)

"The Book of (Holiday) Awesome" by Neil Pasricha

As I was straightening up the shelves at the big library the other day, I came across this wonderful little offering from Pasricha. If you read this blog, you know I have read his first book of Awesome, as well as the sequel, and have highly recommended both. I missed this one when it was first published, and since it's been hotter than you-know-where lately, I thought I'd treat myself to some Christmas in July awesomeness.

I should have known that Pasricha would offer up more than yuletide greetings; the man has covered almost all the holidays in this little book. We start off with the biggie, the one that most wait for all year long: Christmas. And while it's one of our favorites, Pasricha also points out that it can be (and often is) one of the most stressful holidays around. Let's face it: we put some might high expectations on Christmas, no thanks in part to those holiday movies and specials we watch every year on TV, the ones that show angelic children and loving families gathered around the table to enjoy the perfect meal. No one mentions that at least one of those kids is a brat, that Uncle Louie drinks like a fish, that Aunt Edna will hit on cousin Shirley's date, etc. Nor will we get that perfect meal, as the turkey is either dry or cold (you've gotta give that big bird plenty of time to thaw!), the potatoes are lumpy (as is the gravy), and no one is exactly sure what the dish is that Grandpa Phil brought. There's always a fight, sometimes two or three, followed by tears and "I love you, man!" make-up hugs. Pasricha wants to make sure that in this time of holiday drama, we all remember the little awesome things that make Christmas....well, Christmas. Things like having all the lights work the first time you plug them in, the first snowfall of the season, a card from a long-lost friend, and hot chocolate by the fireplace. Look for the little things, and you can (hopefully) ignore all the rest.

We move on to New Year's, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Easter, Mother's Day, Father's Day, summer fun (no 4th of July here, just a chapter on fireworks, since the author is, I believe, Canadian). Then we hit the biggie, Halloween. Love the author's advice on how to hit this holiday up for maximum fun and candy takedown. For example, do not trick-or-treat with a group. Nope, wrong way to go: the slowest person will drag you down, plus when you hit a house, the "giver" will suddenly decide to ration the goodies (the old "one for you, and one for you, and one for you...") Instead, go with a partner to maximize the haul. The "givers" are a lot more likely to give out a handful to each bag if just two little ghosts show up at the front door. But be wise when picking said partner - don't choose anyone with less energy than you. You're looking for someone on your playing field, not someone that you'll have to lift up. Conversely, stay away from the track stars, too - you don't want to get left behind.

Finally we end with Thanksgiving, which seems a bit strange since again, I do believe the author is Canadian, and I didn't know they celebrated that holiday with us. Thought it was just us Americans. But perhaps there's something similar and around the same time for our neighbors to the north? Either that or the guy just likes the idea. Anyway, lots of good advice on how to sneak in a nap at the in-laws, getting to unbutton your pants after dinner, and of course, The Turkey Coma.

Another nice little offering from Pasricha. If you haven't checked out his blog, you really need to do yourself a favor and explore his site. The world is still a dreary place right now (economic uncertainty, unemployment, gas prices, Mid-East unrest, you name it), and Pasricha does an awesome job at reminding us to look around and appreciate the little things that bring a smile to one's face, even if it's just for a minute.