What’s That Under The Bed: Childhood Fears

Given that it’s the Halloween Season and some of us may have spooky and creepy things on our minds, we thought that it would be fun to revisit the books and media that scared us as children. Sometimes looking back at childhood fears can be funny and cute, and other times it just reinforces the fact that these things are freakin’ scary at any age.

Serena’s Fears

1518699“The Ankle Grabber” by Rose Impey

Yes, mine is literally a book about scary things under a bed. But this book was truly traumatic, and a bunch of reviews on the books’ Goodreads page back me up on this. I didn’t even remember this book until we started brainstorming this blog post, apparently having successfully blocked it from my mind like all other traumatizing memories. So…thanks blog, for that! Supposedly, this story is supposed to help kids conquer their fears of the dark and things under the bed, but the pictures! The pictures were so creepy that it did just the opposite, ensuring that I took a running leap to my bed for years. For some reason, I kept re-reading to this book in some type of masochistic ritual throughout my childhood. It got so bad that my mom got some type of air freshener can, created a funny paper logo that she wrapped around it that said “Scary Stuff,” and convinced my sister and I to spray it around our room at night and that would someone chase of the Ankle Grabber.

95f6aaede63e86d5131fedb74111b52d“The Tale of the Dollmaker” (TV episode from “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”)

As any kid who watched early 90s TV knows, “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” wasn’t messing around with its “horror stories for kids” concept. I mean, the “for kids” portion is really questionable, in my opinion. I could probably rattle off 10 episodes from this show that were scary as hell, but the one that always stood out was “The Tale of the Dollmaker” in which a cursed dollhouse traps little girls and slowly turns them into porcelain dolls. Throughout the episode, we see one of the girls, Susan, slowly lose her ability to talk and move as her body turns to porcelain. She almost loses an arm when her porcelain body breaks from too much movement. This of course lead my crazed, overly imaginative mind to begin fearing that if I sat still too long I’d start to turn to porcelain or stone or something. And as a kid who read a lot, a very stationary activity, this was a concern that popped into my brain more often than I would care to admit. I would be holding my book and literally start worrying that my arms were somehow firming up….

gooey_gus“Gooey Gus” (TV episode from “Ghost Writer”

Look at that thing?!?! What’s not to be afraid of?? The story is simple enough, Ghooey Gus is an evil toy that systematically attacks and goos to death every kid he comes in contact with. The fact that the goo tastes like bubble gum somehow made the whole thing worse. I’m convinced that whoever wrote this episode pretty much just thought to themselves “Hey, adults have had to be traumatized by ‘Chucky.’ Let’s not leave out the kids! Here, have your own toy-like terror monster!” The whole idea of drowning, suffocating, whatever, by being covered in some gross goo is horrible enough on its own, regardless of having it all tied up in the nightmare fuel of toys coming to life and attacking kids.

Kate’s Fears

images-2“Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones” by Alvin Schwartz

I’ve mentioned here that one of my absolute favorite book collections as a kid were the “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” series by Alvin Schwartz. But along with loving them, there were a few stories, mostly because of the pictures, that scared the living daylights out of me. The story that messed me up the most was that of “Harold”, a story about a scarecrow that comes to life and murders one of his creators. I think that it was the combination of the drawing of the terrible Harold (I mean just look at him!) and the final line of the story, which talks about Harold laying out a piece of flesh on the roof to ‘dry in the sun’. Like, what the hell is that about? In my nightmares about these books, Harold made the most frequent appearances. I still don’t really care for scarecrows.

“Fire in the Sky” (Film)p14658_p_v8_ad

I don’t know whose genius idea it was to advertise this movie with shots from an alien abduction and experiment scene, but they can bite my ass. When this movie came out I was in grade school, and since I would watch “Star Trek” with my Dad I would see the promos for this film. It’s supposedly based on a true story (whatever that means) in which a logger named Travis Walton disappeared for a few days, and when he returned he said that he had been abducted by aliens. So then I was convinced that I was going to be abducted by aliens and experimented on as well, because BASED ON A TRUE STORY, GUYS! When I was an adult I saw that it was on Netflix Instant for a time, and thought that I should face my childhood fear and laugh about how silly I was. Except, oops, the alien abduction and experimentation scene was still super upsetting and I just kind of wanted to die while watching it. Here, have a trailer. It has a glimpse of the sequence I’m referring to.

matila-2“Matilda” by Roald Dahl

Yup, another instance in which I loved a book and yet it scared me to death. And what was it that scared me to death about this book? Was it Miss Trunchbull and her penchant for throwing children? Was is Matilda’s awful parents and they way that they abused her? Was it The Chokey? Oh no. It was the part where Matilda glues her father’s hat to his head with superglue. Yep, you heard it here first, folks, Kate had RIDICULOUS anxiety about that concept. What if it would never come off? What if a hat got glued to MY head and then IT would never come off?! Honestly, I had so many crazy anxieties as a child that made no sense I probably should have been in therapy for them, and the hat glue scene from “Matilda” is really just the one that takes the biggest WTF cake. I hid that damn book behind my bookshelf after reading that scene, and didn’t come back for it for a week or two.

What did you fear when you were a child? Let us know in the comments! We won’t judge you if you don’t judge us!

Book Club Review: “Eliza and Her Monsters”

31931941We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is a “Dewey Call Number” theme. This book comes from a Dewey Decimal Call Number range, and has to fit the theme of that range.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for bookclub. We’ll also post the next book coming up in bookclub. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own bookclub!

Book: “Eliza and Her Monsters” by Francesca Zappia

Publishing Info: Greenwillow Books, May 2017

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Dewey Decimal Call Number: 800s (Literature, Writing)

Book Description: Her story is a phenomenon. Her life is a disaster.

In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless. Online, she’s LadyConstellation, the anonymous creator of the wildly popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves the online one, and she has no desire to try.

Then Wallace Warland, Monstrous Sea’s biggest fanfiction writer, transfers to her school. Wallace thinks Eliza is just another fan, and as he draws her out of her shell, she begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile.

But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity—begins to fall apart. 

Kate’s Thoughts

My high school years were during the time before social media really became a huge thing. My parents had Internet, but it was a dial up connection that we could only use if we weren’t expecting or planning to make any pertinent phone calls. And honestly, I’m so relieved that the Internet wasn’t the big social zone that it is now, for regular people as well as celebrities. I think that teenage Kate would have both loved living a lot of her life online, but I also think that it would have been isolating in its own way (and given that I was bullied a fair amount, it probably would have opened up a huge target on my back from my peers). And that is where “Eliza and Her Monsters” comes in. As a teenager who suffered from social anxiety and depression, I saw a bit of me in Eliza, our main character who has found the online world to be more comforting than the real world. And as someone who has written some fanfiction in her life (and was a vaguely well known author in a niche fandom at one point, though I’m not telling which), the ups and downs of online artistry also spoke to me. But the core of Eliza herself, and how she interacted with those around her, didn’t do as much for me as one might think that it would.

But I want to start with what I liked here. I thought that Eliza’s social anxieties were pretty spot on in terms of characterization. Without really outwardly saying that she was suffering from it, you get a slow and well painted picture of what Eliza’s insecurities are like, how they hinder her, and how she tries to cope with them. It was refreshing to see this character portrayed in a realistic and honest way, and that while it was understandable that she would act in various ways, she wasn’t totally let off the hook when she was being a jerk to those around her. I also really liked that this book brings up the philosophical question of ‘what do artists owe their fans?’. Sure, this is something that has been going on for a long time, but with the advent of social media, now fans can not only interact with each other, but they now have the opportunity to address and interact with their favorite creators in a more direct way. And while this is great in lots of ways, in other ways, sometimes lines are crossed and fan entitlement gets a bit out of hand. From the “Song of Ice and Fire” fandom to the “Harry Potter” fandom to the wonderful world of comics across the board, sometimes healthy and relevant critiques of topics turn into “YOU OWE US THIS.” This book allows us to see that from the creator’s POV through Eliza and one of her favorite authors, and it’s a great way to raise these questions and get the reader to think about them.

But there were other things about this book that frustrated me. Mainly, I didn’t really care for Eliza, as relatable and realistic as she was. I think that seeing it from the perspective of an adult who had to tramp through that swamp of teen angst and came out on the other side, a lot of me was saying “goddammit, suck it up.” Teen Kate would have TOTALLY loved Eliza though, and given that this is, ultimately, written with teens in mind, I think that she probably works well. I also was a bit frustrated with her relationship with Wallace, if only because I felt like there were some things that she did that were SO manipulative and she never really was taken to task for it. I didn’t really like what it said about acceptable things in teen relationships.

Overall, I liked how “Eliza and Her Monsters” approached fandom, artistry, and teenage mental illness. I wish that I had liked the protagonist more, but hey, you can’t have everything.

Serena’s Thoughts

As Kate has lain out so nicely, my evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of this book is pretty similar. I don’t have the personal experience of existing as a creator on an online platform, but I follow various fandoms online fairly avidly and have witnessed first hand the strength in community that these groups can bring, as well as the viscous cycle of entitlement and possession that can also be on display at times. In these ways, I think this book is very much speaking to an ongoing struggle in today’s teens’ lives that I, like Kate, never had to deal with.

Like Kate, I was never part of the popular crowd in highschool. I wasn’t the most bullied either, and instead existed somewhere in the probably lucky “no one cares” zone of being unnoticed. I also had no other “version” of life or a representation of my life that I had to maintain, like today’s teens who must carefully navigate and manage not only their day-to-day activities, but also the version of themselves that exists online. Eliza, uncomfortable and shy in real life, has found a niche for herself online. But no social sphere comes without its own strings.

I very much enjoyed the exploration of creativity on an online platform. Eliza is both safely at a distance from those who interact with her online (one of the appeals of her online persona), but is also exposed and at the mercy of those same fans. No longer do fans need to write a letter and mail it in to an author who may or may not even look at their fan mail. Creators online are exposed across so many formats to the visceral reactions of the same fans whose admiration and appreciation they are hoping to garner. I think one of the best representations of the push/pull relationship of this kind is Bo Burnham’s raw, and almost tragic, song “Can’t Handle This.”

But, in general, I read books for the characters, so as much as I loved the themes that were tackled in this story, I had a similar hang up with Eliza as Kate did. I think Kate hit it on the nose when she mentioned the fact that she and I are reading this having come out on the other side of that hellish tunnel called “highschool.” Many years (yikes!) distanced from these same struggles, they begin to lose their edge. This is good, but it also presents a reality check when reading books like these. I don’t want to dismiss these problems as “just highschool stuff, get ready for REAL life, kids!” But…I’m still a 30 something woman reading this and that’s what I felt. So with that perspective, maybe there’s nothing wrong with this character for highschoolers themselves, and it’s probably touching on many relatable challenges. But there are many YA stories out there that present the challenges of their young protagonists in ways that are more approachable and sympathetic to their adult readers as well than this one did, which is a legitimate mark against it.

Kate’s Rating 7: This book brings up a lot of good questions about artistry and creativity, the relationship artists have with their fans, and mental illness, but I was put off by Eliza, as relatable as she could be at times.

Serena’s Rating 6: Many great themes are discussed, but the protagonist wasn’t as widely relatable as she could be to readers beyond highschool themselves. And as a reader who goes in mostly for characters, this put a pretty big dent in my enjoyment of the book.

Book Club Questions

  1. What did you think of Eliza as a main character? Did you find her to be relatable and/or likable?
  2. Have you ever had a friend you met online, or know solely from online interaction? What do you think about the claim that online friends aren’t ‘real’ friends?
  3. Eliza has a complex relationship with the fans of her work. What do you think an artist owes their fans when it comes to content production, or characterization? Do they owe their fans anything?
  4. Eliza has a contentious relationship with her parents. What did you think of how they all interacted with each other? What could they have done differently?
  5. Have you ever followed an online work that is posted occasionally like “Monstrous Sea”? What was it? Is it still going on? If not, how did it end?

Reader’s Advisory

“Eliza and Her Monsters” is included on the Goodreads lists “YA Fiction Featuring Fangirls, Fanboys, or General Fandom”, and “YA Nerd/Geek Books”.

Find “Eliza and Her Monsters” at your library using WorldCat!

Next Book Club Book: “Every You, Every Me” by David Levithan

Movin’ Right Along: Favorite Traveling Stories!

Over the week of Labor Day, both of us went on week long adventures and vacations. Serena went to Glacier National Park for family and the outdoors, while Kate went to New Zealand for hobbits and landscape appreciation! In honor of our trips, we have complied a list of books that have to do with traveling and vacationing. Just because summer is almost over, it doesn’t mean that we have to say goodbye to travel and trips!

172732Book: “The Motorcycle Diaries” by Ernesto “Che” Guevara

Publishing Info: Verso Books, 1995

Before Che Guevara became a legendary revolutionary and symbol of rebellion, he was a medical student with a taste for adventure. He and his friend Alberto went on a motorcycle journey from his home in Argentina to a leper colony where he was going to treat patients. During this journey across the continent he met many people from many backgrounds, and seeing their plight sparked his political activism. His journey on his motorcycle is chronicled in his diary, which was published years after the fact and became a critically acclaimed movie starring Gael Garcia Bernal. South America comes to life on the page as Guevara’s journey unfolds, and it makes the reader ache to see what he saw.

9791Book: “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson

Publishing Info: Broadway Books, 1998

Those familiar with Bill Bryson know that he’s an avid traveler and a connoisseur in history and storytelling. Arguably, his most famous and beloved work is “A Walk in the Woods”, his story of his attempt at walking the Appalachian Trail with very little prep and very little idea of what he was getting himself into. After putting out feelers to the people in life as to who would like to try and walk the Trail with him, his only taker is an old college friend named Katz. Hilarity, mayhem, and poignancy ensue. This travel log is not only very funny, but also has some fascinating stories about the history of the trail, the wildlife on it, and the people they meet along the way.

29283884Book: “A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue” by Mackenzi Lee

Publishing Info: Katherine Tegan Books, 2017

Part romantic romp, part historical fiction, and part sumptuous road trip adventure, “The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue” is not your average travel story.  Monty, a teenage boy of high stature in the 1700s, is going on a final European Tour before he is to settle down and take over the family estate. Accompanied by his sister Felicity and his best friend (and unrequited crush) Percy, Monty cavorts through 1700s Europe, meeting interesting people, and getting into trouble, along the way. The descriptions of this trip are fun and decadent, and you cannot help but wish that you too could be accompanying them through Old Europe and the adventures that they pursue.

10692Book: “The Historian” by Elizabeth Kostova

Publishing Info: Time Warner Books, 2005

On the surface level, this is presented as a horror story relating to Vlad the Impaler who is most notoriously known for inspiring Bram Stoker’s “Dracula, and the legacy that he and this most famous vampire have left across the centuries. In particular, how is this history tied up with Rossi family, the central characters of our story? However, more actually, it is a travelogue story detailing the rich history of Eastern Europe. A family mystery leads our two protagonists throughout the region, and the text takes a deep dive into the beauty of its wildernesses and cities. This book will make you want to suddenly upend your life and take a month-long trip to Budapest.

865Book: “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho

Publishing Info: HarperCollins, 1988

This is the story of a treasure hunt. But instead of pirates, islands, and maps marked with an “X,” we follow Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who travels from his home in Spain across the desert in Egypt to discover a hidden treasure said to be buried in the pyramids. However, no one knows what exactly this treasure is. As he travels and meets new and interesting people (a gypsy woman, a would-be King, the titular alchemist), we come to see that the real treasure is the value placed on dreams and the will to follow them wherever they may lead us.

45546Book: “Undaunted Courage: The Pioneering First Mission to Explore America’s Wild Frontier” by Stephen E. Ambrose

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster, 1996

This is a nonfiction story that is masquerading as fiction and details the historic journey across the country by Lewis and Clark between 1803 and 1806. Ambrose focuses his tale particularly on Captain Meriwether Lewis and his relationship with President Jefferson, the driving force behind the mission. While many of us know the broad strokes of the story, this book is jammed packed with details that add color, heart, and rightly highlight the real stakes involved in undertaking a journey such as this. For example, did you know that at this point in history, the wilderness was so overrun by squirrels that they would actually migrate each year, in a similar manner to birds? And Lewis and Clark noted seeing packs of them swim across rivers in this migration? As a largely fiction reader, this is on a select must-read nonfiction list!

 

The North Read-members: A “Game of Thrones” Book List

Like many people, we are HUGE fans of “Game of Thrones” here at The Library Ladies. The drama, the action, the intrigue, the DRAGONS, we are here for it. With the seventh season a little past its midway point, we thought that it would be fun to throw out some recommendations inspired by the show. But instead of focusing on plot points, we’re focusing on characters, and what books they might like. The night is dark, and full of readers, so let’s see what books we would recommend to some of the best loved (and most hated) characters on the show.

 

Jon Snow: “The Zombie Survival Guide” by Max Brooks

Jon Snow, who is presently the King of the North, is less interested in the fight over the Iron Throne, and more interested in the fact that a horde of ice zombies known as White Walkers are gathering an army that is threatening to invade all of Westeros. Even though his strategizing has been mostly solid up until this point (the whole Rickon thing notwithstanding), we think that he should read up on Max Brooks’s book “The Zombie Survival Guide”. This book talks about how to defend against an uprising of the undead in your day to day life, and while it has it’s tongue planted firmly in cheek, it still gives realistic and helpful tips on how to plan for multiple kinds of disasters. Dragon Glass and Valyrian Steel may be key, but having escape routes and plans for any terrain and climate from the get go couldn’t hurt, right?

 

Daenerys Targaryen: “Dragon’s Milk” by Susan Fletcher

It’s been quite a while now since Dany’s dragons were adorable little draclings, but there was a time when they were only adorable little babies, helpless and needing her care. “Dragon’s Milk” was one of my favorite fantasy stories when I was a teenager, and the three adorable draclings that our teenage protagonists “adopts” was definitely part of the appeal. I believe we even named one of our pet birds “Pyrro” after one of the draglings in this story. Here, Kaedra, like Dany, finds herself raising three tiny dragons who are truly babies, temper tantrums and all. What’s more, this book, like “Game of Thrones” doesn’t play it safe with the stakes. There is danger, tragedy, and real consequences involved for all of the character’s actions.

 

Arya Stark: “Skullsworn” by Brian Staveley

For our most deadly Stark, what could be better than a book that is ALSO about a female assassin who has been trained by an organization that essentially worships death? While Staveley’s Skullsworn do not give up their names (or get super cool face-changing-abilities) they do have a similarly pragmatic approach to death and killing and are equally proficient at it. Our would-be-assasin, Pyrre, even has a list of marks she must kill before the end of the book in order to pass her final test. Arya would fit right in with this group! And I’m sure they would have looked on with pride at her mass elimination of no-one’s favorite sleazy patriarch and family.

 

Tyrion Lannister: “And I Darken” by Kiersten White

Going in, this book seems to be about Lada and her rise/fall to power. But this is also Radu’s story, and his is one that in many ways closely mirrors Tyrion’s. They are both born into the world with traits that set them apart and clearly mark them as “other.” This failure to be the sons their fathers want leads to neglect, scorn, and ultimately, exile. Both have complicated relationships with their siblings, specifically their sisters, and both find themselves more welcome and at home in the court of a foreign ruler whom they go on to support and become the right hand man of. Like Tyrion, Radu thrives at political maneuvering and brings these skills to the forefront in his support of Mehmed. And in many ways, Lada can be seen as the combination of Cersei and Jaime into one sibling; she both loves and hates Radu at different points throughout the story, and his feelings are similarly flexible towards her.

 

Cersei Lannister/Jaime Lannister: “Flowers in the Attic” by V.C. Andrews

Well, the obvious comparison is there. Cersei and Jaime, the Golden Twins of House Lannister, are a bit too close for comfort. They are in love with/obsessed with each other, and all of her children with King Robert Baratheon are actually her children with her twin brother. So yes, the Twincest factor matches up with the brother/sister couple of Cathy and Chris Dollanganger. But there are other parallels between the Lannister family and the Dollangers of V.C. Andrews’s book “Flowers in the Attic.” The Dollangangers also have a massive fortune that they sit upon, and with that money comes the dysfunction, cruelty, and haughtiness that has come to define the Lannisters. So does a penchant for poisoning those who may be getting in their way. And much like Corrine Dollanganger, it can be argued that Tywin Lannister doesn’t really care for any of his children, so parent issues are present as well.

 

Sansa Stark: “The Witness Wore Red” by Rebecca Musser

There is no question that Sansa Stark has been through hell. She was raised to be a queen, but then betrothed to a sociopath, held political hostage by his family, only to escape to then be married off to ANOTHER sociopath who tortured and raped her daily. But she escaped from him as well, reclaimed her family home, got her brutal revenge on her husband (in one of the most satisfying sequences the show has ever done), and became the rightful Lady of the North once again. Because of all this, she should read “The Witness Wore Red,” a memoir by a woman who was a member of the FLDS Church, until she escaped and testified against her abusers in court. It follows her life as a child growing up in the FLDS, being married off to the elderly ‘prophet’ of the sect, Rulon Jeffs, and her eventual escape and activism. This book is harrowing and hard to read, but ultimately triumphant, as Musser not only has her life and her freedom now, she is also an advocate for stopping sex trafficking and abuse.

 

Brienne of Tarth: “The Woman Who Rides Like a Man” by Tamora Pierce

Technically, “The Woman Who Rides Like a Man” is the 3rd book in a 4 book series, but the title and plot of this one book in the series most closely aligns with Brienne’s experience of life as a lady knight in a world that doesn’t know what to make of that. I mean, this is the tag line of this book: “Let her prove herself worthy as a man.” Alanna faces the same challenges as Brienne now that she has graduated as a full knight while at the same time being exposed as a woman, a fact she has hidden for years as she trained. Both Brienne and Alanna are constantly defending their right to be what they are: excellent warrior women. And both Brienne and Alanna find the people and causes for which they are willing to devote their considerable abilities to fully.

There are so many other characters that we haven’t touched upon. What books would you recommend to those characters, or the ones that we covered? Tell us in the comments!!

Beach Reads: Summer 2017

Back for 2017, here is a list of some more favorite beach reads! “Beach read” is a very fast and loose term for books people read over the beautiful summer months when we really should be outside “doing things” but are instead reading…maybe outside. Some people see these months as an opportunity to slog through long classics (we’re looking at you “Moby Dick”) before the busy-ness of of the fall starts up, but for the sake of this list, we’re limiting our choices to stand alone, mostly feel good books (though there’s some obvious leeway here for Kate’s horror tastes!) that could be easily brought along on vacations. So, still a very loose definition, but hey, we had to start somewhere! We will select one title for each of the genres we most read.

Serena’s Picks:

18782855 Fantasy Title: “Princess of Thorns” by Stacey Jay

I reviewed this one fairly recently on the blog, but it’s still stuck with me as one of the more simply “fun” fantasy books I’ve read in quite a long time. Not only is it a standalone fantasy book (quite the rarity in its own right), but it’s a perfect pick for a summer beach read due to its expert balancing act of tone and story. There’s plenty of action and adventure, just the right amount of romance, witty dialogue, and two main characters who are each a blast. On top of this all, the villain of the story is a compelling and sympathetic character on her own, and in many ways, brings to bare the true heart of the story. This is a fast, fun read that is sure to please fantasy lovers, especially those who like fairytale retellings. For more on this book, here is my review of “Princess of Thorns.”

6424171Science Fiction Title: “Jurassic Park” by Michael Crichton

So while trying to come up with a science fiction pick for this list, I’ve discovered two things: 1.) I need to get back to my science fiction list, cuz man, it’s been a while since I’ve read any and 2.) what I have read is all super depressing and not really fit for a “beach reads” type of list (ie Oryx and Crake). So we’re going old-school with the fan favorite “Jurassic Park.” I don’t need to tell you the story with this one, though if you are basing all of your knowledge on just the movie, you will be surprised by aspects of it. There’s much more science mixed in with all of the dinosaur adventure madness. And yes, before you ask, dinosaurs eating people is my idea of a light read!

91661Mystery Title: “The Beekeeper’s Apprentice”  by Laurie R. King

As a lover of all things Sherlock Holmes, of course I have to highlight King’s amazing “Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes” series. I’ve been reading these books for over a decade now, and while there are some hits and misses in the long-running series, the first several books, and the first book itself, “The Beekeeper’s Apprentice” are simply excellent. (While this is the start to a series, it easily reads as a stand alone novel, so I feel justified in including it). Here, Mary Russell becomes the apprentice and, later, partner of Sherlock Holmes. There are nods and winks to the original mysteries, but the stories themselves are all new. Most importantly, Holmes is spot on with the way I always think of him, and Mary Russell is a strong enough character on her own to never get lost in his large shadow. Definitely check this book out if you like historical mysteries, and Sherlock Holmes especially.

37470Historical Title: “The Other Boleyn Girl” by Philippa Gregory

Chances are good that if you’re a fan of historical fiction, especially historical fiction focusing on the years during the Tudor reigns, you’re already well familiar with Philippa Gregory. She’s written what seems like a million and one of these novels in her many years as an author, but I remember picking this book up way back when she was lesser known, and this was her first book and absolutely loving it (I have fairly mixed feelings about many of her following books). The story focuses on the life Mary Boleyn, the younger sister of the infamous Anne Boleyn. Through her eyes, we see the inner workings of the court, all while waiting with a sense of sickened dread for the inevitable doom of her family. While that sounds grim, and yes, it is, Mary’s story still has moments of brightness, and, for the most part, ends in a satisfying manner…you know, given the beheadings and all. This is a longer book, but for fans of historical fiction, especially those who like some romance in their stories, definitely check this one out!

Kate’s Picks:

924765Horror Title: “‘Salem’s Lot” by Stephen King

If you want to go for fun beach reads that are also a bit scary, you really can’t go wrong with horror master Stephen King. While he’s very good at dark and angsty existential dread, he can also tap into entertaining and ‘lighter’ horror. His second book, “‘Salem’s Lot”, has been referred to as vampires meets “Peyton Place”, so you know that there’s going to be some fun and sudsy drama along with your vampire scares. When a man comes home to the small town of Jerusalem’s Lot, he slowly comes to the realization that the townspeople are turning into vampires. This is the book that has the iconic scene of the little boy vampire hanging outside his brother’s window, and since it was still kind of early in King’s career it was before some of the darker and deeper themes of small town banality and innocence actually hides a deeper evil, a la “It”. Really, for fun vampire fiction, this is the book.

2247142Thriller Title: “The Talented Mr. Ripley” by Patricia Highsmith

I literally read this one on a beach in California when I was a teenager, and have been meaning to revisit it as the trope of the ‘charming psychopath narrator’ has started to gain popularity again. Tom Ripley is living an unfulfilled life, so when he’s approached by the wealthy father of former classmate Dickie Greenleaf, he’s a bit surprised. Seems Dickie is living it up in Italy when he should be at home. So Tom says he’ll go find Dickie, but instead finds a life of luxury and power that he doesn’t want to come back from… even if that means murder and identity fraud is necessary. I haven’t seen the movie version, but I was quite struck with how charming and yet malignant Ripley was, and he paved the way for future characters like Dexter Morgan and Joe Goldberg. For unsettling and addicting thrills, take this one with you.

12959045Graphic Novel Title: “My Friend Dahmer” by Derf Backderf

Okay, before you question my tastes (more than you probably have already), I want to make it clear that this isn’t the story of Jeffrey Dahmer’s crimes. This is the story of his teenage years, as seen through the eyes of his high school classmate and kind of friend Derf Backderf. It looks at the high school years of both boys, with Backderf’s not so popular group taking Dahmer into their fold, but only because they think he’s a complete weirdo whose weirdness entertains them. Backderf tells us the Dahmer he knew in school, the one who was the product of a broken home, who was hiding a heavy drinking habit, and who was never a member of any group of peers who could, or would, relate to him. While Backderf takes special care not to give Dahmer a pass when it comes to his later, horrific crimes, he does ask where the adults in his life were when he was so clearly fighting a number of demons, and whether interference could have saved multiple lives. This book is insightful and, yes, upsetting, but it’s also compulsively readable.

What are you planning on taking to the beach with you this summer? Let us know in the comments!

Joint Review: “Triple Threat” by Gwenda Bond

31632115Book: “Triple Threat” by Gwenda Bond

Publishing Info: Switch Press, April 2017

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: For the first time, Lois Lane has almost everything she wants. Non-temporary home? Check. Dream job? Double check. Incredible BFFs? The absolute best. And now, her online crush, SmallvilleGuy, is coming to Metropolis. If all goes well, they’ll turn their long-distance friendship into a some-kind-of-fairy-tale romance. But when does all ever go well? Before she can check boyfriend off her list, Lois must take down a mad scientist plus a trio of mutant teens, protect the elusive flying man from the feds (including her dad), and navigate her very first date with SmallvilleGuy. In the follow-up to FALLOUT and DOUBLE DOWN, Gwenda Bond’s reimagination of DC Comics’s first leading lady takes on her toughest challenge yet: Love.

Kate’s Thoughts

So I will wholeheartedly admit that after reading “Double Down”, the previous book in this series, I was starting to feel disheartened. While I absolutely loved Lois Lane and her relationship with SmallvilleGuy, I was starting to realize that I just wasn’t interested in Lois’ life in Metropolis, or her friends, or the mystery that they were all trying to solve. Plus, I was worried that Gwenda Bond wouldn’t be able to sustain the cute relationship between Lois and SmallvilleGuy, aka Clark Kent, aka the future Superman, because if she was to stick with canon, Lois and Clark don’t meet until they are adults. How much longer could I accept Lois and SmallvilleGuy just having an online relationship that doesn’t progress beyond that?

Well good news! Gwenda Bond just tosses all that canon out the window, because it is in “Triple Threat” that Lois and Clark finally meet in person!!!!! Most of the time I’m kind of irked when a new writer or content creator ignores the history of the characters, but in this case I’m grateful  that she did. Because I’m still really just here for Lois and Clark.

That isn’t to say that I don’t like Lois’s friends in Metropolis. Because I do, for the most part. But ultimately they are kind of inconsequential, because they just aren’t quite strong enough to stand on their own two feet next to Lois and Clark. And hell, next to the rest of the original characters that have shown up in the series thus far. I even find Lucy Lane infinitely more interesting than Maddy, James, and the rest of the gang. I also wasn’t too interested in the main mystery this time around, just like last time. Teenagers with mysterious powers, potential connection to SmallvilleGuy, blah blah blah.

The true strength in this series is definitely Lois, and to a slightly lesser extent Clark. It’s fun seeing them interact with each other, and be cute and hesitant boyfriend and girlfriend together. These were the parts that I liked, and boy did I like them a lot. I think that while I don’t want Lois to lose her reporter storylines, because that IS who Lois is and she does deserve to be on her own without Clark part of the time, she is stronger with Clark. And honestly, I think that’s kind of a shame.

But something else that I enjoyed about this book? Lex Luthor has shown up. And I think that he could potentially bring interesting storylines in the future should this series continue. Especially seeing the dynamic between the three of them has been switched up a bit.

“Triple Threat” brought us some wonderful and cute Lois and Clark moments. But while I greatly liked those parts, part of me wishes that this Lois Lane could interest me more in her own right, not just when she’s with Clark. However, for pure shipping and romance purposes, this really does a great job of showing what a great couple Lois and Clark are, both romantically and professionally.

Serena’s Thoughts

I had the same feelings going into this one as Kate has expressed. I’m mostly here for Lois and Clark, and while the system that Bond has put in place for them to interact through a virtual reality chat system is cute and all, it was beginning to wear thin. So, in this instance, I was more than thrilled when Bond just threw her hands up in the air and said “Canon schmanon!” and had them finally meet up.

Also, as Kate said, I had similar feelings in the first two books about the unfortunate comparisons that are inevitably drawn between canon characters and the original characters. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these characters on their own, but they don’t have the emotional heft and weighty backstory that accompany even the most minor of original characters. Like Kate said, even Lucy, who has tiny, incremental scenes in all of these books, reads as more interesting than the story lines of Maddy, James, Dante, and the crew. This problem is only being expounded upon as the number of canon characters is beginning to heavily out number these originals. We had Perry, the Lanes, Lucy, and online-Smallville guy in the first two books. But here, we have the addition of not only Clark in the person, but his parents the Kents (who I always adore in every version!), and another heavy-hitting character with Lex. Even his father shows up!

This feels weird to say, as the concept of these books as an original take on Lois Lane as a teen is a great idea, and with that goal should come new characters. But whether it was the execution of these new characters or the fact that their storylines were frankly not that interesting ever (there’s a lot of relationship drama between Maddy and Dante that doesn’t fair well in a book where you have Lois and Clark meeting for the first time in real life. The comparison level of interest is never going to play in favor of that), my urge to skim these sections is at an all time high. At this point, there are so many canon characters and their storylines and scenes are so inevitably more interesting, that I almost think it would be best to just shelve these original characters largely. It feels wrong to say/admit that, but I kind of think it’s the truth. I love that Bond has brought in Lex and Clark (outside of the internet), but it’s kind of a game-changer move, and the reality is now that we have them, it’s even harder to think of a fourth book not predominantly focused on this threesome.

In the last two books, I’m also on the record as saying that I have never been a huge fan of the mysteries that are central to the plots. It’s a weird believablity issue, really. Which is a strange thing to say about a book that has a flying alien as a romantic hero. But, look, Superman aside, this is supposed to take place in the real world. So when I’m reading a mystery about teens with wacky abilities, and the science behind it, and the scientists themselves, are all pretty wacky, I end up being thrown out of the story. If my brain is waking up and questioning the physics of things, there are problems. This is also a strange problem, as the comics, cartoon versions, and my beloved “Lois and Clark: The Adventures of Superman” all have a long history of zany mysteries that are just like this. But, and we’re back to it, at the center of all of those plot lines you had Lois and Clark together and a great super villain behind it, Lex. Without those core elements, the wacky, unbelievability of these plot lines just stand out in a negative way.

But, as Kate said, this book gets major props for the things it did right. Namely, forgetting canon and bring in Clark early in Lois’s life, and the addition of Lex. Bond did some creative things with his character that laid a really solid groundwork to understanding how this teenage Lex could grow to be the super villain we all know and love. So for these things, I will be still be here when book 4 comes out!

Kate’s Rating 7: Once again I had little investment in the main story line, BUT there was so much Lois and Clark interaction (and a surprise cameo by Lex) that I was pretty happy with it overall.

Serena’s Rating 7: I’m staring to admit to myself that I just want a novel version of “Lois and Clark: Teenage Reporters” without any of the original added aspects of this series. Sorry, but not sorry.

Reader’s Advisory

“Triple Threat” is fairly new and isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but like it’s predecessors it would fit in on “Ladies of DC”, and “Books with Comic Book Heroes”.

Find “Triple Threat” at your library using WorldCat!

Book Club Review: “Ghost”

28954126We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is a “Book Challenge!” theme. This book comes from a “Pick A One Word Title” challenge.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for bookclub. We’ll also post the next book coming up in bookclub. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own bookclub!

Book: “Ghost” by Jason Reynolds

Publishing Info: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, August 2016

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Running. That’s all that Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) has ever known. But never for a track team. Nope, his game has always been ball. But when Ghost impulsively challenges an elite sprinter to a race — and wins — the Olympic medalist track coach sees he has something: crazy natural talent. Thing is, Ghost has something else: a lot of anger, and a past that he is trying to outrun. Can Ghost harness his raw talent for speed and meld with the team, or will his past finally catch up to him?

Kate’s Thoughts

It occurred to me and the rest of book club that we have been dong a fair  amount of Middle Grade books for this session! Which, hey, that’s just fine. I know that for some of us, me included to a certain extent, the fear with middle grade is that the book may rely less on nuance and more on being explicitly clear about what is going on. But the good news is that with “Ghost,” one of the deluge of books by Jason Reynolds recently, the story never seems to underestimate the middle grade audience. Not only are the themes of this book pretty sophisticated, such as parental abuse, systematic oppression, and bullying, but Reynolds doesn’t seem to feel a need to water anything down. Ghost is a very intriguing and complex protagonist, who is dealing with a large amount of trauma due to his father trying to kill him and his mother when he was younger. I thought that Reynolds addressed this trauma in a way that wasn’t told but definitely shown. Ghost has a lot to deal with, and while his first person POV never explicitly describes how he’s dealing, the reader gets a very clear sense of how much this continues to haunt him. Though I’ll be honest, the sports theme wasn’t really my thing, just because I myself am not really a sports oriented person (outside of hockey and baseball). I was definitely skimming the more sports oriented parts, and wanted to get back to Ghost’s personal life and struggles.

I think it’s also important to note that I greatly appreciate the fact that “Ghost” is a book that has People of Color as the default. What I mean by this is that in many books, ‘white’ is kind of the default character, so when the author describes someone, their skin is kind of assumed to be white, while characters of color have their skin described almost right off the bat. In this book, however, it’s the opposite, and the white characters are the ones who are described as if they are outside the norm. Given that the middle grade and YA publishing industry is still struggling with diversity, this was refreshing.

I liked “Ghost” quite a bit and I think that a lot of kids could find a lot of things to like about it as well.

Serena’s Thoughts

Like Kate said, sports books aren’t really my thing either. Unless it’s, like, magical horse racing or something. I read a few as a kid, like the almost required “Maniac Magee,” but never really went beyond that. But “Ghost” has received a lot of attention as a great new addition to middle grade fiction, including both a diverse cast of characters and a story/topic that is likely to appeal to middle grade boys (the age-group-bane of most public librarians’ existence!), so I was excited to try it out. And while sports books will never be my thing, I found myself quite enjoying this one.

Reynolds expertly mixes the two primary parts that make up this book: track and life trauma. The obvious parallels about literally and figuratively running away from one’s struggles are never hit on the head too fully, and I appreciate the author’s dexterity in creating a story that doesn’t simplify the realities its main character has lived through. As an adult reader I very much enjoyed such literary touches as opening the story with the shot of the gun his father is aiming at Ghost and his mother and closing it with the shot of the pop gun to begin the race. This ability to weave real depth into the story while also creating a relatable main character with an excellent voice that would appeal to young readers really makes this book stand out. Ghost himself could make me laugh on one page and want to shake him on the next.

I also enjoyed the fact that the sport in question was track. There are tons of books out there about the more traditional sports like football, basketball, and more and more often, soccer. But track with its strange balance of individual stakes and teamwork was a unique sport to choose. My own track career was very short (due to a happy ankle sprain that got me out of it, essentially), but I still enjoyed reading the sporting portion of the book as well.

Reading books like this is why I particularly enjoy being involved in a great bookclub. I’m consistently challenged to read outside of my own comfort zone and discover excellent books like this that I likely would never have stumbled upon myself.

Kate’s Rating 8: While I don’t really care about the sports themes of this book, I liked Ghost and the other members of the track team, as well as the way that Reynolds tackled some pretty complex themes.

Serena’s Rating 8: “Ghost” was an excellent middle grade book that provided deep commentary on important topics while never losing sight of its own story and audience.

Book Club Questions

  1. What do you think motivates Ghost to run at the beginning of the book? Do you think that has changed by the end of it?
  2. What did you think of how Coach dealt with Ghost stealing the shoes? Why do you think Ghost impulsively stole the shoes in the first place?
  3. The end of the book is fairly ambiguous about how the track team ended up in the race. Did you wish that there was a definitive ‘win’ or ‘lose’ outcome? Do you think the book needed that?
  4. What did you think of the other members of the track team? This is going to be a series that follows each of these kids. Whose story are you most excited for, and why?
  5. This is a middle grade book, though Reynolds is known for writing YA books as well. How do you think this book would have been different had it been written for a YA audience?

Reader’s Advisory

“Ghost” is included on the Goodreads lists “2016 YA/MG Books with POC Leads”, and “2017 Mock Newbery.

Find “Ghost” at your library using WorldCat!

Next book club book up is “The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog”.