Thursday, October 31, 2013

Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy

Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding (2013), narrated by Samantha Bond

It's been many years since we've seen Bridget Jones, and a hell of a lot has changed. First off - and I'm sure you've seen all the hysterical book review headlines about this - Mark Darcy is dead. Dead! Bridget is a 51-year-old widow with two little kids and she's finally ready to begin dating again. She meets a 30-year-old guy named Roxster on Twitter and embarks on a relationship, while balancing all the responsibilities of a single mother. Hilarity ensues.

Let's just talk about this Mark Darcy situation first and get it out of the way. We spent two books trying to get Bridget and Mark together, and it's kind of a shame we didn't get to experience their relationship. But that wouldn't be a very interesting book, would it? One reviewer at least is convinced it wasn't necessary to kill Mark, arguing that a marriage has enough fodder to sustain a narrative arc. While I agree with that, I don't think that sort of story is Helen Fielding's style. It certainly wouldn't be the sort of Bridget we all know and love. She needs to be awkwardly dating and mucking shit up all the time.

Enter Twitter. Some of the funniest scenes in this book are from Bridget's early experiences using Twitter and being obsessed about her lack of followers. Ultimately though, she gains some followers, including the young Roxster. After some online flirting they decide to meet in real life, and begin dating. There's a lot more explicit sex in this book than in the first two Bridget Jones novels, and I wasn't crazy about that, but it wasn't enough to really detract from the story.

I think I read in a review somewhere that Bridget hasn't grown up since the last novel, but I disagree. She is pretty similar in terms of dating - and why not? She's spent all the time since we last saw her married. How would she have gotten better at that? In that time she has also become a mother, and a good one. Her relationship with her kids was really quite touching, and though she had moments of frantic disorganization and the kids sometimes acted up, I think that's pretty realistic. She's certainly learned to cook since the last book. Back then preparing a meal was fraught with unreasonable expectations, disorganization, and clumsiness. These days she has kids to feed and is pretty no-nonsense about getting a meal on the table.

Bridget had two romances during the course of the novel, and unfortunately I found one of them very unconvincing. It felt rushed to me, and I didn't feel like I really knew this guy at all. I'm sure he's a great person, but I didn't get the chance to find that out for myself. To me, he was a usurper who didn't earn the right to take Mark's place. So that left me feeling a bit unsatisfied.

I was very disappointed that the narrator wasn't Barbara Rosenblat. I've listened to the first two Bridget Jones books countless times, and it's Rosenblat's narration that really makes the experience for me. I'm sure Samantha Bond does a good job but it's so hard for me to consider her performance objectively because ultimately she fails at being Barbara Rosenblat. This of course is an unfair judgement and is my problem, not Samantha Bond's problem.

All in all, I liked this new (and final?) installment in the Bridget Jones series. Given the premise of the book, it simply can't be as lighthearted as the previous two novels. There are many moments in which Bridget gives in to sadness over Mark, and I couldn't help feeling sad too. Nobody should be widowed like that, at such a (relatively) young age. I thought Fielding did a good job though of balancing the sadness and the humor, and I feel comforted to know that Bridget is still doing ok. Obviously it wasn't as fun as the first two books but I still liked it, and I liked this new more mature and capable Bridget who can withstand tragedy and still manage to enjoy herself.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

It's Kind of a Funny Story

It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini (2007)

All Craig Gilner wants is to gain entrance to the Executive Pre-Professional High School in Manhattan, thus ensuring that he'll then get into the right college, then get the right job. He's got it all planned out. But after getting into the school, everything goes a bit crazy until one night Craig finds himself calling a suicide hotline and checking himself into a local hospital. This was not part of the plan. A teenager in the adult psychiatric unit of a local hospital, Craig meets a variety of interesting characters and starts trying to work his way back out of his depression.

In addition to having depression, Craig placed a lot of pressure on himself to excel which led to "cycling" - an internal monologue in which not doing well on a test would lead to failing school, not getting into a good college, not getting a good job, and ultimately being homeless. In the psych ward, he met people who were homeless, who didn't have families to fall back on, and this helped Craig maintain some perspective on his life. If they could pull themselves up and go on and improve their life situations, then surely he could.

There are few young adult books that tackle mental illness head-on and I appreciated the straightforward honesty of this story. Craig wasn't as screwed up as he could have been, his family not as dysfunctional, and the story not as dramatic, and this lent believability to his story. In fact, it's based on the author's own experience in a psychiatric ward and he wrote the book almost immediately afterward. Unlike in many YA books, our protagonist had a great family, a therapist he liked, and supportive parents. I suppose it doesn't add to the narrative tension but I found it a welcome change. This novel sends a clear message that help and support is available and that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. But not in a way that is too messagey, or that interrupts the narrative flow.

One of my favorite parts of the story was an exercise that a counselor walked Craig through when he called the suicide hotline. The counselor, Keith, says it's a five-step exercise for managing anxiety and tells Craig to begin by picking any event that he had experienced. Craig picks "ate pizza last week." Keith says to then record how he felt. Then he goes to prompt Craig to record anything about the event that he regrets or felt that he should have done better, at which Craig realizes he picked the wrong sort of event and furiously erases his work and picks something else. I loved this because I've participated in many exercises where you pick a situation and build off it, and I always feel like I began with the wrong thing. If it's in a conference session or something similar, the presenter always has a carefully crafted example that works, but mine never do. Same thing with working through the activities in What Color Is Your Parachute? in which a bad choice could lead one down the wrong career path. I felt so validated reading this scene.

Another way in which I related a bit to Craig was when he was given a menu to fill out for hospital meals. It was so simple, and Craig wished that everything in life was like this: you're given a set of choices, you check off what you want, and you're taken care of. He concluded from this that he wanted to be in preschool. He's not even an adult, yet he's already feeling the burden of all the choices and tasks one must complete just to get through daily life. I feel your pain, Craig.

True to the title, it was kind of a funny story. Craig's voice was not only honest and straightforward, but fairly light and humorous. He was self-aware and able to step outside of his own head enough to wittily observe his surroundings and his new friends. He was also very compassionate and selfless, helping out his fellow patients as much as he could. I liked Craig a whole lot. Although he will likely struggle with depression his whole life (I say as though Craig Gilner is real), I feel confident that he'll be able to manage it enough to have the fulfilling sort of life that he deserves.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sunday Knitting

After I began the Geodesic Cardigan with the Yarn Spawned From the First Circle of Hell, I realize that all three of my current projects were almost exactly the same color. Clearly one of them needed to be finished so I could rectify this situation.

These are the Sunshine Socks, from Cookie A.'s Sock Innovation.

They're a bit loose in the leg, but not as bad as I thought they'd be. They call for a size 1.5 needle which should have tipped me off, but the number of cast on stitches was fairly low. Then in the first pattern row there are some increases, but by then I had forgotten that I was using a largeish needle. But anyhow, I think they're fine.

You may remember that I realized halfway through one leg that there's an error in the chart, and decided to just keep going as I had started. Well, after turning the heel I decided to heed the errata and knit the rest of that sock and the next one the correct way because it does actually look better.

I'm pretty sure the one on the right is the error-ridden one, but you have to look closely to tell (well, especially with this picture. I wasn't thinking about comparing them when I was taking it.) (Also, the color is more accurate in the first photo - it's pretty teal.)

I expect that these will need to be darned about 25 times in the next couple of years before I finally shove them in the trash in a fit of rage. I've used this yarn before and there's no nylon in it so I should have known better than to use it for socks. My plan was actually to make something else with it but I could never decide on what, so now it's socks.

Immediately upon finishing these I cast on for another pair of socks. So now I have two projects that are in the teal family and one in a different shade of blue. I need to find something green or orange to knit...

Saturday, October 26, 2013

NELA 2013

Whoops - thought I posted this days ago and here it is sitting in my drafts. Well, better late than never!

Hello! The reading - and reviewing -  is going pretty slowly, partly because I was just at the New England Library Association conference for a few days, where I presented about my Not-So-Young Adult book group. It was held in Portland, ME, one of my very favorite places. For those interested in librarianish things, here's my rundown of the conference.

Extending the Harwood Practice to Libraries
The Harwood Practice was introduced in the keynote speech by Richard C. Harwood. I missed the keynote, but thought I'd get at least the basics at this session on how to apply his ideas. Unfortunately, it was mostly Q&A about the keynote so I felt like I walked in to the middle of a conversation. It's an interesting conversation though, because Harwood's aim is to end divisiveness and acrimony in favor of focusing on shared goals for the community.

Working with Trustees and Friends
I almost didn't attend this session because I felt it would be more relevant to library directors, but it turned out to be quite interesting. Panelists included a library director, a long-time trustee, and the MA Board of Library Commissioners' liaison for Trustees and Friends (who also happens to be a friend of mine.) All panelists were good speakers with interesting things to say about the sometimes complicated relationships between all these parties.

Annual Banquet
I always attend the Sunday night banquet at NELA, even if I don't know the featured author. This year the featured author is retired Maine game warden John Ford, author of Suddenly the Cider Didn't Taste So Good, and This Cider Still Tastes Funny. His books are stories about his experiences as a game warden, and this guy is really funny! I grew up in Maine and he reminded me of so many other older Maine guys who tell crazy (and likely embellished) stories that tend to revolve around things like hunting and fishing. He was a very good speaker and kept everyone laughing. The food was unusually good for a conference too.

BYOD: Supporting Patrons' Devices in the Library
Two presenters discussed the ways in which they provide information and support for patrons having trouble using various devices, especially trying to download ebooks from the library. A third presenter talked about using old computers as dedicated catalog stations, which was a little technical for me and didn't quite fit in with the other subject matter. In general, it was a pretty good session though I kind of wish I had instead attended Library Trends: Pew Research which was apparently fantastic.

Not Your Average Book Group
Really great, fantastic session! Ok, I was a presenter so maybe I'm biased. I spoke about my Not-So-Young Adult book group, where adults gather to talk about YA books. Another presenter has one about cookbooks and she demonstrates a few recipes from each one, which sounds like a TON of work but she has amazing attendance so I'm sure it's worth it (plus she likes to cook.) The third presenter talked about her adult summer reading program, which is a great thing to remind people about - every library does summer reading for kids, and usually for teens, but not necessarily for adults. And we deserve fun prizes too. Finally, our fourth presenter discussed his nonfiction book group, which is totally something we should have at my library but I think we all have a full course load already. But I'm always surprised how often book group members request nonfiction. It was a fun and popular session and people seemed to really like it.

Community Makerspaces: How Libraries Can Help
Clint Crosbie from the Port City Makerspace in Portsmouth, NH discussed what makerspaces are, how their goals are similar to that of libraries (sharing, community) and how libraries can integrate these ideas even if you don't have a permanent space of budget. Holding classes and workshops, mini maker faires, or even having small semi-permanent spaces like one library that has an area for 3d printing. He gave a special shoutout to my local neighborhood makerspace, Artisan's Asylum, which he said is the best out there and exactly what other makerspaces strive to be. Yay, Somerville!

How to Make Those Challenging Relationships Work Better and Easier
I'm always a sucker for this kind of thing. Presenter David Lee talked about how to bring your best self to conversations and help others bring their best selves. He stressed that we have no control over others, but can control our own attitude and reaction to situations. A lot of what he talked about wasn't new to me (in fact, some of it is coming up in The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, which I'm reading right now) but it's exactly the sort of thing I need to be reminded about. Lots of great ideas and tips that I'm trying to keep in mind every day. Hopefully they'll stay in my head, because this is useful stuff.

Outreach to Queer Communities: Successes and Challenges
I'm not the only one at my library with a cool book group - one of my coworkers runs Queer Book Group (QBG) and she spoke about it in this session. This is a fairly new book group but she's been thinking about it for a while. She shared some very sad stories about teen suicides in our library's town (not necessarily of LGBT kids) and talked about making people feel like they have a safe space. She's a very good speaker - both conversational and dynamic. Another presenter spoke about the Vermont Queer Archives, and the third, the president of the Vermont Library Association, talked about Que(e)ry Party. They all had interesting stories and great points about the importance of outreach to the LGBT community.

Trends in E-Books
I was especially interested in this because there's a statewide ebook project in Massachusetts that aims to empower libraries through a new model of ebook lending. The goal is for us to be able to purchase content (right now we are basically leasing it) and have more control over the platforms and user experience. My library is going to be a pilot in this project, which was one of the subjects of this panel. We also heard about a library system that uses the 3M Cloud Library and has had a good experience. A third panelist talked about ebook accessibility for vision-impaired patrons. It was interesting, but obvious that we still have a long way to go before ebook lending is more streamlined and easy for patrons to use.

Urban Library Success Stories: Engaging Your Community in Positive Change
Panelists from three different urban libraries spoke about their success stories. Two were from my old library in Somerville, MA, which just built an awesome new teen room, and I was mostly there to hear them. They were really good, speaking in a conversational way and showing a couple of photos of the teens and their space. There were also people from the Portland, ME and Springfield, MA library talking about their projects, but honestly they were very PowerPoint-heavy and I find that sort of presentation difficult to focus on. But I was happy to hear positive stories from the Somerville Public Library. Even though I don't work there anymore, I still live in Somerville and want the library to do well.

Those are all the sessions I attended, but of course I also got to catch up with other librarians, some of whom I only see at these conferences. I also won a raffle sponsored by the Maine Library Association (co-sponsors of the conference). My prize was an L.L. Bean backpack full of really great hiking and camping supplies like a guide to Maine trails, L.L. Bean socks, a first aid kit, emergency blanket, water bottle, water purification tablets, knife, compass, protein bars and a ton more. Of course, I also came back with lots of inspiration and a ton of ideas!

For now though, I'm exhausted. I need to get some rest and catch up on my reading.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sunday Knitting

In my excitement at finishing two sweaters in such a short period of time I wanted to cast on for something new immediately. Now that my beloved Windsor Button is gone and purchasing yarn isn't quite so instant, this means working with what I have on hand already. Ages ago I queued the Geodesic Cardigan from Knitscene, bought the yarn, and put it with the magazine into a ziplock bag to await casting on. A year or so later, the time came. One evening at around 8pm, after a relaxing glass of wine, I grabbed my swift and ball winder and pulled out the hanks of yarn to wind them.

Mind you, the state of my house right now is such that I can't wind yarn on my sewing table where I usually do it. My ball winder is kind of like this, which means it needs to clamp onto a table, a very thin table. I forced it onto the edge of my kitchen table, and optimistically put the first hank of yarn on the swift. Soon, this is what I had.

Don't be distracted by the brilliant color. Look more closely. 

First, the stupid ball winder came off the edge of the table, which really was too thick. I had to hold it awkwardly in one hand while turning the handle with the other. Usually, this would work ok, and I'd just have to occasionally stop winding to straighten out the yarn or remove it from the swift arm where it is caught. But this isn't usual yarn. Malabrigo Lace is clearly the work of Satan and was wound into this hank by his evil minions.

There were eight ends, which was extremely confusing. They weren't even knots, as you sometimes find, just ends. This made it a little easier though, when it came so impossibly tangled that I couldn't undo it, hence the ball winder sitting uselessly aside with its partial ball while I began winding by hand with another end I found. I couldn't even take the partial ball off the ball winder and continue with it because the yarn feeds through that small eye and I'd have to undo the whole ball to feed it back through, which would be pointless. 

Occasionally, a ball of yarn will be a tad tangled. You put the hank on the swift and it seems one piece is looped around strangely, so you need to make a minor and obvious adjustment. This one, though, defied all explanation. As I began winding by hand, I regularly had to feed the whole ball through a weird tangle in order to continue. Sometimes the yarn inexplicably looped back and started coming off in the opposite direction. 

At 10:30pm - two and a half hours after I started - I finally finished up the fourth ball (and there should never be a fourth ball) of the hank, bits of bright blue lint coating my kitchen table, and me mad with exhaustion. I couldn't allow myself to even think about the second hank.

A few days later I was recovered enough from my trauma to tackle the second hank. When I put it on the swift, I examined it thoroughly. It turns out that a couple of feet of one end was woven in and around the the rest of the yarn, guaranteeing misery if you had the misfortune of beginning with the other end. Luckily, the second hank went much more smoothly and resulted only in one ball.

I felt rather betrayed by this yarn after my positive experience with the Whisper Cardigan. Malabrigo Lace, you are a fickle bitch and cannot be trusted.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (2013)

In war-torn Chechnya an 8-year-old girl named Havaa hides while her father is taken away. Her neighbor Akhmed, knowing that she is in danger too, takes her to a nearby hospital in hopes that the sole remaining doctor will take her in. The doctor, Sonja Rabina, is suffering the loss of her sister Natasha and remains emotionally distant even as she works to save the lives of the patients coming through the doors. The stories of Akhmed, Sonja, and Havaa are revealed over the five days of the novel as we learn all of the ways in which their lives are intertwined.

There is so much more to this book than I can summarize here. In addition to the three main characters are several secondary characters, who all have their own stories. The novel is about their connections, separations, and disappearances, not to mention the guilt and responsibility some of the characters carry. It is reminiscent of Stalinist Russia or Nazi Germany in its culture of paranoia, torture, and informing on neighbors to save oneself. And when you delve into each character's story, you just can't blame them for the actions they've taken because each person's situation is so desperate and they all feel so powerless.

It is hard enough when someone you care about dies, but in these pages are so many situations in which a family member or friend disappears leaving their loved ones to wonder, possibly for the rest of their lives, what happened to them. It happened over and over again and yet, they all had to keep on going. I don't think I could stand the not knowing, but I guess maybe everyone thinks that before it actually happens and you have no choice but to go on.

What I loved though, is that the reader knows. We are frequently told how the lives of various characters will end up, and sometimes even get a little glimpse of the future of even the most minor characters. It makes it all seem more real. Like, you know how the people in your life are minor characters in your life and it's a whole paradigm shift when you realize they are the stars in their own lives and you are a minor character to them? It's a little like that throughout this whole book.

The writing is wonderful, with vivid descriptions: "A smock of dark evergreens wrapped around the nearest mountain." Other passages were striking for their insight or perspective, and I read them over again: "Khassan was studying the sheet of paper in his hand, where in the fifth sentence of the second paragraph, in the gap of a missing comma, he found the sorrow of his life."

I'll admit that at times I would feel, briefly, like the book was suddenly too long and lacked forward momentum. But then suddenly, with just a few words, I'd again get caught up in the sadness and complexity of the story and be riveted for the next hour. It's not a happy story, but it's a rich and complicated one, beautifully written, that will leave you with a lot to think about.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (2013), narrated by Rebecca Lowman

Cath and Wren are twin sisters who grew up sharing a mutual love of a series of books starring a magician named Simon Snow. All through high school they wrote fan fiction together, but eventually Wren's interest began to wane and Cath continued on alone. The sisters decided to go to the same college and Cath was surprised to find that Wren didn't want to room with her. Feeling awkward and alone, Cath moved into her new dorm with a stranger who seemed to hate her. Her roommate's boyfriend Levi was always hanging around too. Cath couldn't adjust to campus life, felt alienated from Wren, and constantly worried about her emotionally fragile father, left at home alone. Even more concerning, the final volume of the Simon Snow series would be published soon and Cath absolutely must finish her version before the official version hits shelves.

This is one of the very best representations of starting college that I've ever read. I love how out of her element Cath felt. I love that she stocked up on power bars and peanut butter so she wouldn't have to face the dining hall. I laughed out loud at the scene in which Levi told Cath about some alpaca mittens knit in Ecuador that he bought outside the Student Union. It's a little thing, but really took me back to my own early college days.

The romance is the best. Where the hell was Levi when I was young enough to date him? I don't think a boy so perfect actually exists, but he is very convincing. Cath, on the other hand, seemed weirdly prudish. I could accept it if there was an explanation, but there wasn't - for us, or for Levi, who continued to be extremely patient. I mean, they barely kissed. Still, experience their romance slowly growing was the most wonderfully satisfying part of the novel.

On a more serious note, Rowell did a great job of handling difficult issues like Wren's excessive drinking, their father's mental illness, and the abandonment of the girls by their mother. That's a lot of serious issues for one book, but they are expertly woven into the story.

The audio was fantastic. At this point I'm pretty sure I could listen to Rebecca Lowman read her grocery list. She's incredibly talented at making subtle differences in the characters' voices, enough to tell them apart but not enough to be awkward or exaggerated. Unfortunately, I found myself drifting off during the Simon Snow excerpts and I don't know why. They were short and interesting, and narrated by a British man (except in those instances where Cath was reading them out loud). I think the change of pace between the regular story and the excerpts was just tough for me on audio.

Another excellent novel from the author of Eleanor and Park. I'm going to go back and read (or listen to) The Attachments, which she published a couple of years ago. If you like YA books, Rainbow Rowell should be required reading!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Sunday Knitting

So here is my finished Cozy V-Neck Pullover. Unfortunately, this is the best picture I have since the thing makes me look like a big grape pudding (and the camera battery died before getting many photos, so there was little to choose from.) It's the same pattern as this sweater, which I love. It's pretty comfy so I expect I'll wear it despite it's unflatteringness. 

The main change from last time is that I used a different yarn in an attempt to make it slightly less cozy (i.e. sweltering.) Previously I used the recommended yarn, Cascade Pastaza, which is a heavy worsted/aran. This time I used Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride, and regular worsted and one of my common go-to yarns. Strangely, the thickness varied greatly through the skeins. Every time I've used it in the past it has been quite uniform, so perhaps they've made some changes in the production of the yarn.

The other small change is that I made this one a little longer, to cover my back more completely even when I'm leaning or bending. Nothing worse then bending over to tie a shoe and exposing my lower back to the chilly winter air and the unwelcome gaze of nearby onlookers.

I'm basically happy with the sweater, which actually looks fine to me when I look in a mirror, so to hell what with the camera says. I'm never especially photogenic. It's comfortable and purple, so what more could I really ask for?

Thursday, October 10, 2013


14 by Peter Clines (2012)

Nate Tucker has a crappy data entry job and shares a house with a few roommates. When they all decide to part ways, he happens on a great deal for an apartment. It's a little too good. He moves in, starts meeting his neighbors, and begins to notice very odd things. Like, green cockroaches with extra legs. A light fixture in his kitchen that turns any bulb into a black light. Mysterious padlocked doors. As he visits the other apartments in the building it just gets weirder and weirder and soon Nate is organizing a group of newfound friends on a quest to investigate their strange building. They find way more than they ever expected.

I heard about this book last year, when it got great reviews and made some "best horror books of the year" lists. I knew it was about a creepy apartment building, but it is so much more than that. Of course I can't tell you what because that would ruin it. But it just got better and better as the residents tried to solve the mystery of their building, and it goes places that I never expected. A quote on the cover compares it to the show Lost, and I can see why. There are lots of little mysteries that don't seem to relate to each other, but you know that somehow they're all part of something larger. It was just riveting.

One of my favorite things about the novel was that I really felt the characters come together and form friendships through the course of their adventure. And they were good characters who I was rooting for (most of them, anyhow.) Of course it was also a great mystery that was quite creepy in parts, with strong elements of science fiction and even steampunk. Everything about it was very compelling and I found it difficult to put down.

Despite the press it got last year, I don't know that this is very widely read. However, I'll certainly be recommending it. It's like a cross between Lost and the best aspects of House of Leaves, but still unusual and original. Really fantastic!

I just want to briefly mention the publisher, Permuted Press (tagline: "Enjoy the apocalypse.") I'd never heard of them before, but had great fun looking at all the covers and titles featured in the back of 14 and on their website. I would have been all over these books when I was a teenager. Some of them look awesome now. Judging totally on how they look though, I'd say that 14 is of a higher caliber than most of the books. But if you like horror, definitely take a look.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

About Book Blogs

I won't have a book review until later in the week, so I thought it would be fun today to talk about book blogs. There are a TON of them out there! How do you even choose which ones to read? In the past few years I've become pretty good at deciding right away whether or not I'll like a particular book blog. I'll talk a little about my likes and dislikes, followed by some recommendations of book blogs that I really love.

Certain things turn me off, and will make the difference between reading and not reading a particular blog. First, I don't read blogs if the author won't take the time to summarize the books. Pasting in a summary from Goodreads or some other source is just lazy. (I wouldn't be as bothered, however, if a post linked to an external summary.) There are a lot of different ways to summarize the same book and the way a person summarizes it provides insight into how they view the book and what they felt was important in the story.

Second, I don't read blogs in which a lot of the content is from memes. If a blog uses one meme per week that they happen to like, that's ok. But far too many rely on memes like "Mailbox Monday" and "Waiting On Wednesday" to fill their posts and frankly, I don't need a list of the books you received from publishers - which seems like bragging to me - nor do I need a weekly list of books you are anticipating. This isn't real content. One of my coworkers attended a conference session on book blogging in which the presenters encouraged exactly this sort of frequent meme-usage. So obviously there are people who really like that sort of thing, but it feels like filler to me.

I also prefer not to see too much non-book content. There are exceptions though. Forever Young Adult posts a lot about tv shows, movies, and even cooking. But there are still plenty of book posts, and I like their style enough that I'm willing to wade through the other stuff.

Finally, too much content in general. I don't know why bloggers think they need to post multiple times a day, but I simply can't keep up with that. If they are very short posts (like on EarlyWord) that's fine, but I will never read that many book reviews or full posts. More than daily and I get a little twitchy.

The blogs I like the most are simple. They talk about books. They are written by people who read and have opinions about what they read. Mostly, their entries are fairly short. I follow a few just for book-related news. My favorite is EarlyWord, though I also really like EW's book blog, Shelf Life. But for the most part, the book blogs I follow are written by one or two people and don't focus on a particular genre; it's just whatever they happen to have been reading.

One of my favorites for a while has been Shelf Love. Jenny and Teresa mostly read different books than I do, though occasionally one of them will post about a book I've read or plan to read. What I love is the way they write about books, and the surprise of seeing what they've read recently. They tend to read a lot of older books, some of them classics, though occasionally they'll write about something new. It's a really great mix. Recent books they've reviewed include Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, The Bird in the Tree by Elizabeth Goudge, and The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo.

Farm Lane Books is a UK-based blog in which every review begins with "Five words from the blurb:" and ends with a starred rating. It's very organized! The reviews are short but still informative. A lot of new popular books are reviewed here, but still plenty of older or more obscure titles. This is where I heard about Kiss Me First. Other recent titles reviewed include Buriel Rites by Hannah Kent, Night Flight by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, and The Last Banquet by Jonathan Grimwood.

Another of my favorites is Iris on Books. Iris is a young woman in the Netherlands who writes about a mix of contemporary books and classics, with a healthy dose of Dutch literature thrown in. She has recently written about My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier, Heaven and Hell by Jon Kalman Stefansson, and Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeannette Winterson.

Tiny Library is also written by a Brit (I'm only now realizing how few American book blogs I read.) Sam reads a pretty interesting mix of classic, contemporary, fantasy, young adult, even graphic novels. She also seems to participate in a lot of book challenges, which are fun to read about. Some of the books she's reviewed recently include The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon, Out of Africa by Karen Blixon/Isak Dinesen, and Blankets by Craig Thompson.

These blogs are my favorites because they're so informal and are just written by people who love books and want to share that love. They're not being paid, they're not doing any tricks to try and drum up traffic, and they're not at all self-serving. Their writing style are key - they're just simple and conversational.

What are your favorite book blogs and why? Please share in the comments!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Doctor Sleep

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King (2013)

The little boy from The Shining is all grown up, but the memories of that one winter at the Overlook Hotel aren't far away. Dan Torrance has turned into an alcoholic like his father and has hit rock bottom. As he starts on the road to recovery, he secures a job at a hospice where his special talents are useful helping the residents pass out of this world. Meanwhile, a group of older folks called the True Knot travel around in Winnebagos seeking out kids with the shining; torturing and killing these kids releases steam upon which the True Knot feeds, but they are growing weaker. However, they soon learn about a girl with an especially powerful gift, maybe even stronger than that of Danny Torrance himself, and decide to go after her next. They don't know what they're getting themselves into.

In his author's note, King says that no sequel is as good as the original and that he's not the same person he was when he wrote The Shining. Maybe he doesn't think it lives up to the first book, but I think it's just a different book entirely. This isn't The Shining; it's another book starring Dan Torrance a couple of decades later and although all the history is there, there's another whole cast of characters and a fresh new plot, not to mention new ways in which the shining powers manifest.

I didn't re-read The Shining before starting this so the details I remember about it really come from Stanley Kubrick's movie, which I've watched several times since reading the book. I know the movie departs from Stephen King's version (and King apparently doesn't like it) but I don't think I missed anything by not having those details in my recent memory. In fact, this novel could probably stand on its own.

I liked seeing how Dan Torrance's life progressed, how he was both trapped and freed by his past. He would make bad decisions and then up and move to another town where he quickly got himself into trouble, starting the cycle again. It was gratifying when he finally began to pull himself together, and meeting Abra - a kid with whom he could strongly identify - helped a lot. We even find out interesting new information about Dan Torrance's family.

The other characters were great too. Abra made a formidable protagonist, her combination of strength and anger a match for any villain. (In an early scene, she predicted 9/11 as an infant. It kind of gave me the chills.) It would have been easy to dislike Rose the Hat even without her supernatural aspects, but with them she was not only cruel, but frightening. Even supporting members of the cast were well-developed enough to feel like people we've met before, a particular talent of King.

I'm not sure if Doctor Sleep was as scary as The Shining - it's been too long since I read it, and I was just a teenager then - but it's definitely dark and creepy. Mostly, it's a great story with characters I liked reading about, and it kept me very interested for its entire 530 pages.