Review: A Court of Wings and Ruin

Warning: HERE BE SPOILERS!

 

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I didn’t know how long my sisters and I lay there together, just like we had once shared that carved bed in that dilapidated cottage. Then—back then, we had kicked and twisted and fought for any bit of space, any breathing room. But that morning, as the sun rose over the world, we held tight. And did not let go.”  

 

 

 

 

I make no secret of the fact that I am not generally a Sarah J. Maas fan. I know a lot of people are (I mean a lot) and, if that’s you’re thing, that’s cool. It’s just not for me. I picked up A Court of Thorns and Roses to give her another shot after hating the bullshit series that is Throne of Glass. It was pretty decent and I decided to give A Court of Mist and Fury a go. ACOMAF was my favorite book of 2016. In many ways, I think that book represents the best of YA fantasy. It’s original, character driven fantasy set in a well developed world and it doesn’t rely too heavily on tropes. It’s expertly plotted and every single character is multidimensional and just so. fucking. interesting. Naturally, A Court of Wings and Ruin was my most anticipated read of this year. Let’s launch into the review to see how I felt about it.

The good: There were a lot of things that I liked about this book, namely that we get to see a lot of characters come full circle. I am more partial to character driven books than I am to plot driven books. So, it was nice to see Rhys and Feyre explore their relationship and to spend more time with our lovely cast of sidekicks. Arguably, we learned the most about Mor in this book but I think we also gleaned new insight into Amren, Cassian, and Azriel as well. I also liked that Elain and Nesta played a fairly large part, mostly because I just really like and identify with Nesta’s stubborn ass. Also, #JURIAN.

The pacing at the beginning of the book was spot on. Things picked up right where we left off and SJM let us hit the ground running. Tamlin remained a piece of shit, which was nice. We all know how much SJM likes to do lovely little character switcheroos that make no sense whatsoever so I was happy to see some consistency.

The not so good: Unfortunately, there was quite a lot that I did not enjoy here. I think the more fantasy I read, the better I get at identifying fantasy that I think is bad because it’s actually poorly constructed and fantasy that I think is bad just because of some personal preference. Unfortunately, this book falls into the first category. While it’s certainly not the worst fantasy I’ve ever read (I’m looking at you, Lightbringer series) it’s just not that great. It’s kind of hard to believe that this book was written by the same author that wrote ACOMAF. I was hoping that SJM would be able to deliver that level of awesome in the next installment and it just did not happen. If you want to see what I didn’t like in greater detail, keep reading.

The first issue that I had with this was how many time someone gave a nondescript “vulgar gesture.” Seriously, come on! Authors should be much better equipped at description than that. I wish I’d counted how many times this appeared in the book before I returned my library copy. Once I started noticing it, I couldn’t stop and it honestly made me die a little every time it was used.

The second issue that I had is with the sex scenes. Now, I am not a romance reader and I certainly don’t read any erotica. It’s just not my thing. The sex scenes in the first two books didn’t really bother me and I thought they actually gave us quite a bit of character development in the second book. This book, however, has the driest sex scenes of life. Seriously, Rhys and Feyre are newly mated immortal beings and their sex life is more boring than this human who has been with the same dude since she was 16. They’re routine, boring, and they offer absolutely no insight into their relationship whatsoever. I honestly have no idea what those scenes are actually doing in this novel and I deem it a failure of SJMs editors that they weren’t either improved or totally omitted.

The third issue is the pacing. The first half of the book is BOMB. I was so excited to be back in this world and to be badass and scheme and plot and fight Hybern etc. Some of that stuff happened in the beginning. The Spring court fell a lot faster than I thought it would but I was happy to get Feyre back to Rhysand. The issues happened after that. For someone as smart and calculating as Rhys, he had absolutely no idea what the hell he was doing in this book. Everyone was always one step ahead of him. I think that was supposed to create tension but all it did was give me a deep sense of dissonance after what we experienced in book two. It made the pacing so, so slow. We’d lurch forward bit by bit. Something would happen and the characters would react. On and on it went. Until it ended. Which brings me to my fourth point.

Ah, the end. And make no mistake, friends, this is the end of this series. Yes, there are spinoffs coming but the main storyline here has come to a close. And yet. There are so, so many unresolved things here. It feels less like SJM was trying to keep things somewhat open ended for the remaining books set in this world and more like she just didn’t quite have the balls to really end things. After an extremely slow middle, we’re rushed through the ending in a matter of, like, 20 pages. Feyre wields the cauldron, Amren dies, the cauldron breaks, Rhys dies, the cauldron is remade, Rhys is remade, Amren is remade, and then we all just magically go home to Velaris and live our lives. HUH?!

Rating: Overall, I did like this book. It’s easy to sound negative after the fact and to focus on things that you didn’t enjoy as much. Like the rest of the series, this was compulsively readable and entertaining. Is it the best high fantasy out there? Absolutely not? Should you read it anyway? I think so.

3.5 stars.

Split Storytelling with The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors

As soon as I got The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt and Adam Rex in and read it, I knew I had to find a way to share it with my kids. The book i51sgwzqf3hl-_sx258_bo1204203200_s a long one. It has three separate storylines and a conclusion storyline. It also has a lot of dialog bubbles, which I sometimes find confusing during a read aloud.

Ideally, this is a book that I’d like to share with school age kids. Unfortunately, I only see the school age kids once a year to talk about SRP. So, the oldest group I was likely going to be able to share it with would be preschool. I’m usually up for a storytime challenge and I’m always willing to try a different approach to a book, song, or activity. If it doesn’t work out, we learn and move on to the next awesome thing. Failure is so, so useful.

Ordinarily, I share two books with my preschool group and mix in our songs, fingerplays, and movement activities between stories. Since this book is so long, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to share it and then read another story. It’s just too much for the kids to sit through and I always err on the side of a shorter storytime when I have a choice.

Even if I only read this, though, this book is LOOOOOOONG. Too long for preschool kids in a single sitting. So, I decided to break things up. We read Rock’s story and then we paused for Zoom, Zoom, Zoom. We came back and I asked them to briefly summarize Rock’s story (working on those pre-reading comprehension, communication, and pattern recognition skills) and then we moved on to Paper’s narrative. We paused after that to do Five Fat Peas and then we moved on to Scissor’s story. After Scissor, we took a few moments to really get the wiggles out with Knife, Fork, Spoon, Spatula, though I will say that the kids were getting less restless than I thought they would at that point in the program. We finished the book with the bang, took a moment to talk about it together, and then sang our goodbye song before moving into the free play segment of the program.

All told, I think it worked out very nicely. This is a book that both caregivers and kids enjoy and funny in a way that’s accessible to kids while being genuinely entertaining for adults as well. I highly recommend the book and this program set up–it worked wonders for us!

Brief Hiatus

I usually hate those I’m going on hiatus posts. They almost always come after weeks or months of silence anyway. And yet, here I am, writing after not publishing on this blog for weeks to tell you that I won’t, in fact, be publishing anything on this blog for a few weeks.

This isn’t for any negative reason. I’ve just been so busy in the best possible way that I haven’t had much time to sit down and write about what’s been going on. That’s not a sustainable path for me. I require reflection time to decompress and to grow personally and professionally. This is where the hiatus comes in.

My husband and I are finally, finally going on vacation. We’ve been married for going on 5 years and we’ve never been on vacation together. Hell, neither of us has been on vacation period. Between the deployments, field exercises, college, grad school, and two cross country moves that we’ve put under our belts since 2012, there just hasn’t been any time to get away. Luckily, the time has finally presented itself.

We’ll be in San Francisco for nearly two weeks. Of course, the Army had to step in and schedule an annual training (SURPRISE!) after we booked our vacation so we will be flying out to SF separately. Fun fact: for all of the flying I’ve done, I haven’t flown with anyone since I was 12! I can choose to be upset about this or I can look on the bright side and choose to spend my three solo days, well, solo traveling, which is something I’ve always wanted to do.

My hope is that I will come back renewed! energized! and ready to blog again. Who knows. I’m not making any promises. What I am going to say is that you shouldn’t expect any posts from me until May and then hopefully weekly after that.

See you on the other side.

Bookish Academy Awards 2017

Today I’m doing the Bookish Academy Awards tag! I saw this floating around YouTube and since I don’t do YouTube because I’m terrible at it, I figured I’d give it a go on this blog.

If you don’t know how the tag works, you essentially take the Oscar categories and replace the movies with books you’ve read in the past year. I’ve talked pretty expensively about books that I read in 2016, so I’m also including books that I’ve read so far this year.

Best Actor (Best Male Protagonist): Rhysand from A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas. No character will ever replace this dear man in my opinion. He is just wonderfully and complexly written. If you haven’t read this book series yet, even if you don’t like romance, I’d say give it a go.

Best Actress (Best Female Protagonist): Catherine from Heartless by Marissa Meyer. I didn’t actually realize that this was an origin story until about 3/4 of the way through the book so I had no idea what conclusion we were moving toward. Watching Catherine experience so much loss and seeing her transform throughout the book was awesome.

Best Cinematography (Best Plot Twist): Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. I mean, the entire story is one massive plot twist after another. And it’s so well done. Even if (and I mean if) you see a twist coming, it’s written so well that it remains emotionally impactful.

Best Costume Design (Best Book Cover): The Night Gardener by Johnathan Auxier. I love anything shiny on books and this one has a big shiny monster guy! And a creepy tree! What’s not to love here?

Best Supporting Actress and Actor (Best Female and Male Sidekick): I’m going to go with Mor from A Court of Mist and Fury and Noah from The Raven King who, despite being a main character during the preceding three books, was definitely a sidekick in this installment.

Best Originial Screenplay (Most Unique Plot/World): This one goes to A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab, hands down.

Best Animated Feature (Book that Would Work Well in Animated Format): The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani. I didn’t like this book but I honestly played the whole thing out in my head as if it actually were in animation.

Best Visual Effects (Best Action in a Book): This might be a bit of a cop out since this book is a true story, but I just have to go with Red Platoon by Clinton Romesha. I’ve spoken about this book many times before and likely will do so again in the future. It deserves all the awards, frankly.

Best Director (Author You Discovered for the First Time): I’m giving this one to Ben Hatke. I’m not a huge graphic novel reader (though I have been reading more recently) but I read several of his novels this year that I really liked. I can’t wait to see what else he comes out with.

Best Picture (Best Book): I had a three way tie for best book last year but two of the books have won other awards on this list so I’ll give this award, the award of all awards, to All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely.

 

 

If You Only Knew…

I have been seeing a lot of posts on librarian social media recently that make me cringe. Posts in which librarians give other librarians seriously faulty professional advice. These aren’t just differences in opinion. I can totally handle those. These are tips and tricks given that completely contradict actual evidence based practices.

Like many non-library people, I used to revere librarians. I saw them as the smartest people out there. This is thanks in no small part to one of my high school English teachers who told me “The smartest people aren’t the people who know everything; they’re the people who know how to find the answer to anything.” Who knows how to find all of the answers? LIBRARIANS!

Alas, it turns out that librarians, like anyone else, are just people. We’re not all well educated. We have personal biases that get in our way. We aren’t all good at our jobs and a startling amount of us don’t even seem to be trying. In some ways, I wish I’d had a more realistic view of librarians before I became one. That idea prompted me to make a handy-dandy list in which I tell you 5 of the things I wish I’d known before I became a librarian:

  1. Not all librarians are nice. Maybe I was just lucky with the librarians I knew before actually becoming one. With the exception of two of my MLIS professors, all of the librarians I knew before I got my degree were genuinely nice people. I very, very rarely experienced any kind of workplace tension. That said, several of the first librarians (or people who claim the title but aren’t) that I worked with were not just bad librarians but actual bad people. I’ve had co-workers get in my face, spend the whole day at their desk watching Netflix and then complain when I don’t provide programming to their age group as well as mine, and literally throw office furniture at me. So, yeah, we are not a profession made of saints. But there are a lot of good people here.
  2. You may not work with books very much. Notice I do not say all day. I knew coming into this job that being a librarian wasn’t all about the books. If I wanted to be alone with text all day, I would have become an archivist and not a public librarian. That said, the entire first year of my librarian career I had 3 readers’ advisory questions and 2 reference questions involving physical collections. My new position is much more book-focused but sometimes I do a ton of programming that has absolutely nothing to do with books (literacy, yes, but not books) and I’ll think to myself yeah, maybe I should try to tie that in.
  3. Patrons might treat you like shit. When I was in college, I lasted exactly 6 months working at Wal-Mart before I quit. The reason? Customers treated me worse than a dog and management did absolutely nothing about it. I spent my last day being followed around and sexually harassed by a customer. Working in a library isn’t that much different. I’ve had people yell lewd things at me, tell me they were going to kill me, and even brandish at actual weapon at me. The upside is that my library management teams have always been more responsive than my managers when I was working in retail.
  4. This pays basically nothing. Honestly, even if I’d known quite how crappy the pay is, I still probably would have become a librarian because I love what I do. But I might have been swayed if you told me that I’d be making a cool 20-30k less than even a public school teacher and that I’d need a second income in addition to my professional work if I had a prayer of, say, ever owning a home. Like, ever.
  5. Your job will be on the chopping block every year. As much as I now know to anticipate the standard budget cuts and “staff reductions” aka layoffs, it never gets any easier knowing that I may not have a job next year. Particularly when you consider the fact that I make such a low salary in a high cost of living area and I’m the family breadwinner. If having zero job security is something that’s going to make you tear your hair out, I recommend choosing another career. If you can learn to enjoy the work because it may be gone tomorrow, come on down!

Review: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

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I’m tired of watching children perish. I’m tired of watching the world grind up gentle people. I’m tired of outliving those I shouldn’t be outliving. I’ve made books my life because they let me escape this world of cruelty and savagery. I needed to say that out loud to somebody other than my cats. Please take care of yourselves, my young friends.

 


What happens: Dill’s dad is a grade-A nut job. He’s a former Pentecostal preacher currently serving jail time for possession of child pornography. Dill’s mom works constantly to make ends meet and is basically absent from his life. It’s Dill’s friends, Lydia and Travis, who help him get through life in a tragically small southern town. But their lives aren’t perfect either. Lydia is destined for the big city fashonista life and Travis is a fantasy nerd who carries a staff everywhere he goes. He also has a bad home life. This book is a little hard to sum up because it’s so character  driven. Some things happen but the meat of the book is in the relationships that exist between the characters.

The good: I grew up in East Tennessee not far from where this book takes place. Although the town in the book is fictional, it could just as easily be set in the town where I spent 4th-6th grade (Rockwood, in case you’re wondering) and it reminds me a lot (like, a lot a lot) of a little town called Sparta. Anyway, this book is very easy for me to relate to. That said, I don’t think you had to have grown up in this area of the country to connect with. There’s something here for everyone. Have a parent or a family with a weird legacy that you’re trying to outrun? Check! Do you feel like you’re destined for much more greatness than your small hometown has to offer you? Check! Are you a little weird and find it easier to connect with friends on the internet than people in your day to day life? Check! We’ve got the rich kids with stable families, the poor kids with very unstable home lives, and those who fall somewhere in between with dark secrets that nobody sees. We have people who have done very bad things and people who do very good things. I think there’s something for everyone in this book.

The not so good: This is harder for me to answer. When I finished the book, I immediately went to Goodreads and slammed down a 5 star rating. But the more I thought about it and the further removed from my initial emotional response, the more I realized that the book, as great as it is, has some flaws. It’s okay, pretty much all books do! My main issues with the book stem from its pacing. There are a few points in the novel at which I felt like things were going a little too slow and then parts that I felt were rushed. There were also some plot points that felt like they were only introduced to serve as a bridge to a later plot point and didn’t actually add much to the story. I think this is likely due to the fact that this is Zentner’s first novel.

Rating: 4.75/5 stars.

Citation: Zentner, Jeff. The Serpent King. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2016.

Review: Old MacDonald Had a Truck by Steve Goetz

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Old MacDonald had a farm

E-I-E-I-O.

And on that farm he had a…

 

 

What happens: Old MacDonald has a farm. There’s a lot of stuff on it. But it’s not the usual suspects.

The good: It’s in indisputable fact that toddlers go berserk over contstruction stuff. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just the boys who are into this stuff. I’ve found that transportation books transcend obsolete gender norms up until about school age…you know, right around the time that little girls learn they’re not supposed to like these kinds of things. Stuuuuuuupid! Anyway, this is one of my favorite machinery based books that I’ve come across. It combines a familiar nursery rhyme with construction vehicles, making it both familiar and new and interesting to young children. The motions made by the different vehicles can be replicated by kiddos and makes for a fun and interactive read aloud for even the wiggliest worms.

The not so good: The ending is a little weak for me. Old MacDonald has all kinds of super cool vehicles. He’s got an excavator, a bulldozer, a dump truck, and even a motor grader! These are all very fascinating things to kids. I feel that the coolest, most bad ass machine should come last for a final WOW MOMENT for the kids. But we end with Old MacDonald having a truck. It is the title of the book and kids do love trucks, but it just feels a little vanilla to me.

Rating: 3.75/5 stars.

Citation: Goetz, Steve. Old MacDonald Had a Truck. Illustrated by Eda Kaban, Chronicle Books, 2016.