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…And my husband was right. I almost hate to admit it, but I’m becoming a ebook reader. Not exclusively, not even for a significant percentage of my reading, but as a supplement. Kind of like how I listen to audiobooks – a few a month, because they take longer to get through with my short commute. With ebooks, I’ve been reading them in two main ways – as my gym book, because I don’t have to worry about the book not laying flat, and as my emergency, always-in-my-purse book.

Here’s how it all started. Mark had a smartphone that he didn’t want anymore (he goes through phones like nobody’s business) and he talked me into giving it a trial run. I was perfectly happy with a regular old cell phone that had two functions – phone calls and text messages. But one of the things that appealed to me about it was that I could try out ebooks.

We get tons of questions about getting ebooks from the library – there was a big surge after Christmas, in particular. I can walk people through using Overdrive, but I’d never really gone through the experience myself. Even if I didn’t end up reading ebooks, I wanted to know what the process was like as a library patron. So I got the Overdrive app and the Kindle app on my phone and tested them both out (each has its own frustrations, but that’s another story).

I’m completely not interested in purchasing ebooks – if I spend money on a book, I want to be able to see it on my shelf, loan it to a friend, read it anywhere regardless of technology or whether my phone is charged. But since I do the majority of my reading from library books, borrowing ebooks is perfect for me. So I browsed through Overdrive’s selection (we’re part of the Oregon Digital Library Consortium) and put a few things on hold. One annoying aspect of this was that I knew the very same books were available in print on the library shelves, but the waiting list for ebooks was several weeks. The other annoying this is the way Overdrive is laid out as a website – not particularly well-suited to browsing, especially by genre in the children’s and YA categories. You can either browse alphabetically or search for a particular author, title or keyword.

Once my books starting coming in on hold, and I managed to get them onto my phone (if I remember correctly, the Kindle books had to be downloaded from a computer, while the others can be accessed directly through a mobile device), I found reading them surprisingly pleasant. Sure, the small screen size on a phone means you’re turning pages a lot, and I had to learn to resist the impulse to start turning the page before I’d quite finished with it (with print books, I realized I often have the page partly turned when I’m nearing the end of a page, so that I’m moving smoothly to the next one; with ebooks, this doesn’t work so well and I kept having to flip back and finished the last sentence).

The first book, The Aviary by Kathleen O’Dell, I read almost exclusively at the gym. The second book, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, had me so hooked that I was picking it up at home, as well. That was the point when Mark said, “I was right, wasn’t I?” and I had to tear myself away from the screen to stick out my tongue at him. We’re very mature at our house.

Shortly after that, I read somewhere that NetGalley had partnered with ALA (the American Library Association) to give members quicker approval of galleys. I’d heard of NetGalley before, but never tried to use it since I didn’t have an e-reader – and really, who wants to sit in front of the computer to read a book? But I was inspired and signed up and added my ALA member number and told them I’m a librarian and presto, I was getting approvals from publishers immediately!

My first request was for Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, which I’d been dying to read even since I heard of its existence (it comes out in May). It took a little hair-tearing to figure out how to read it on a Kindle app and not an actual Kindle, but before long I was in business. The formatting can be a bit wonky on the galley versions, compared to the library books, but not enough to stop me from going back for more. Plus, this is a great way to make myself read more new books since they’re generally only available until their publication date – with print books, I feel like I’m still playing catch-up from last year (and the year before, and the hundred years before that…)

So, here I am, reading ebooks. It’s definitely come in handy when I’m coaching a library patron through the process, plus the galley versions are helping me make more informed ordering decisions for the library and giving me a sneak peak at upcoming releases. I’m finally feeling like the fancier phone is worth the bigger phone bill (well, almost).

I’m curious about other experiences with ebooks and library downloads – love, hate, indifferent?

Blood Red RoadBlood Red Road by Moira Young

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

1st try in print: This came recommended, but the first 100 or so pages didn’t grab me – or maybe I just wasn’t in the right mood. It had holds at the library and I didn’t feel like getting even further in and risk feeling like I needed to finish it just because I’d read so much. Maybe another time.

2nd try on audio: The moral of this story is to trust your gut. If a book doesn’t grab you, it’s okay to quit even though people you trust rave and it wins awards like the Cybils. The premise was intriguing, and the beginning of the story sets up lots of potential themes. The father with his star reading, the heartstone, the complicated family relationships, midwinter twins, kids raised in near-isolation thrown into a rough world. But one after another, Young drops the ball on all this potential. The story becomes action-driven, rather than character-driven, which is fine if the action manages to hook you. It sure didn’t hook me – the cage fighting was the first thing to put me off, and by the time the big showdown at the end arrived, I was only interested in seeing whether she’d leave us with a cliff-hanger or a neater resolution.

The characters had great potentional – Saba’s adoring attitude towards her twin Lugh and her near-hatred of little sister Emmi could have had some great nuance, but other than a predictable build-up of affection for Emmi, nothing much happened. Like another reviewer pointed out, Saba has an incredible ability to fight and interact with the wider world considering her isolated upbringing. Others have compared her to some awesome kick-ass heroines, but she lacks their prickly likableness. The romance is dull and the heartstone’s role painfully predictable. I kept expecting various intrigues – I wanted Lugh to turn out to be a huge jerk, just because Saba idolized him. I wanted the king to be more interesting, but he was simply bizarre. I wanted more.

The audio version is nicely done, though, all things considered. The dialect that comes across as distracting on the page feels natural when spoken aloud, and Heather Lind does some good voices, nicely distinguishing characters.

Source: both versions from my public library

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Liar's Moon (Thief Errant, #2)Liar’s Moon by Elizabeth C. Bunce

The good news is that you don’t need to have Starcrossed fresh in your mind to enjoy this one, although if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. The (slightly) bad news is that this one didn’t feel as tight as the first.

The good! Bunce creates a fantasicaly realized world, complete with complex politics and religions and social structures. Nothing startlingly original, but well-crafted. The large cast of characters is fantastic and nuanced, with plenty of people you love and plenty of people who are flawed and potential suspects. The story is a combination of fantasy and mystery, with a flavoring of historical fiction.

The not-so-good – despite my interest in the world and the characters and the plot, things slowed down majorly in the middle. I enjoyed reading it but had a hard time really sinking in and losing large chunks of time with the book. It’s a smart book, and I love that, but it needed a tad more zip. Nonetheless, the ending has a nice zinger.

Source: my public library

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Rules of CivilityRules of Civility by Amor Towles

This story – mostly set in 1938 – was mainly engrossing but occasionally frustrating. The brilliance of the story is the way Towles captures a certain year, in a certain place, from a certain point of view. Or rather, 1938 in New York for Katey Kontent. It also captures the way that a period of time can be formative and yet have little visible affect on our lives.

That last element – the formative time with little outward influence – is something that I love to see in books. It doesn’t always make for a smooth plot, which might be why lot of narratives introduce the protagonist to people who become (as far as the reader knows) a lasting fixture in the life of the character. Here, we see all of the supporting cast gradually pass out of Katey’s life. But, by the end of the story you know that she would not be who she is in 1966 without the events of 1938.

Highly recommended if you like historical fiction that draws more on the lives of ordinary people than big events, or well-crafted character and setting-driven stories. I often reminded myself to slow down and enjoy the writing, rather than rushing through to find out what happens.

Source: my public library

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Why We Broke UpWhy We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

If you’re incapable of suspending your disbelief long enough to believe people can write novel-length letters, then this is not the book for you. Flip through to look at the pictures and then step away. If, like me, you were raised on a steady diet of novels pretending to be letters or diaries, complete with detailed recreations of dialogue, you just might enjoy the ride.

Everybody thinks that Min is ‘arty’ or ‘different’ (well, she thinks they think ‘arty,’ but they always say ‘different’) and she is a bit different – she’s obsessed with old movies that you’ve never heard of (because Daniel Handler made them up) and she doesn’t buy in to mainstream high school culture. But a lot of these ‘different’ things about Min are surface, and as the story goes along I got more and more tired, as did Min, that people looked at her that way.

The story felt believable as a brief, slightly disastrous high school romance. What I just didn’t see (and maybe this is adult perspective) was why Min loved Ed so much, at least at first. In the middle part of their relationship, I began to see his appeal to her. The ending, sadly, felt inevitable – not sad because they broke up, but slightly predictable.

I enjoyed Min’s somewhat run-on style, her constant references, and the combination of images and text. I loved the way she ended each chapter with a variation on “and that’s why we broke up.”

Source: my public library

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EntwinedEntwined by Heather Dixon

An absolutely fun read that I’d recommend to fans of fairy tale retellings – although was more of the Princess of the Midnight Ball variety (read: fun and a bit fluffy) than of the Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast variety (read: emotionally complex and all-around awesome). It’s a retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, and one of the great things about this version is that it really conveys their love of dance, mentioning specific dances and steps and what it means to the girls.

With fairy tale retellings, it’s always fun to see which bits of the story are emphasized in the plot. Here, the subplot of wanna-be suitors trying to solve the mystery is a relatively minor part of the story. What really shines are the family dynamics, the relationships between the girls and their difficult bond with their father.

As far as setting, giving the kingdom and the castle a small, slightly run-down feel helps establish a sense of place and make the princesses less stereotypically royal. Which is all to say that the cover is completely wrong for the story – there are swirling crinolines aplenty, but the characters go through most of the story in much-mended mourning black, with much more of a Victorian feel than modern runway.

My only issue with the book is length – it could have been much tighter and shorter, since much of the middle is repetitious. However, I was still having fun and whizzed through the story.

Another plus is the relative innocence of the story – there’s some magical violence and a bit of action, but the romances are sweet and innocent in a way that makes the story great for middle school on up with no worries about content. Recommended if you’re in the mood for frothy fun.

Source: my public library

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I stopped beating myself up about writing something about everything I read (quality over quantity being the idea) and instead I’ve been writing…nothing much. So here’s an attempt to dip my toes back into the water and make it fun again. These are all February reads that I haven’t already blogged about, but wanted to put out there as well worth picking up:

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. This one hardly needs more buzz, and books with buzz often end up being disappointing – but this is the exception. The buzz is not wrong, but it’s still best if you can set it aside and enjoy the book on its own merits. It’s funny and raw. Some readers have accused the book of doing exactly what the characters hate – somehow romanticizing kids with cancer or turning into entertainment – while others wonder whether teens actually talk and think this way. The second question bugs me because I want to see more characters like these – smart, intelligent teens who also act like teens. While I can’t claim to being this smart or well-read in high school, I would’ve eaten these characters up with a spoon because I would’ve wanted to read and think and discuss like them. There is nothing wrong with a high standard. The first question is trickier, and I won’t try to answer it except to say that it didn’t prevent me from finding the book emotionally and intellectually stimulating. Also, I started this on a dinner break at work, but for the love of dignity, read the second half alone, or around people who understand crying over books.

The Cheshire Cheese Cat by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright. I listened to this one, as read by the incomparable Katherine Kellgren. It’s full of nods to the works of Charles Dickens, and he features as a character in the story, but they’re more extras than essential to enjoying this fun story of a cheese-loving cat and a band of mice. Fun, and especially recommended to fans of stories told from the perspective of  animal characters.

The Isle of Blood by Rick Yancey. I had this one checked out forever before picking it up, but I’m glad I did because it’s my favorite so far in the series. This one has all the appeal factors of the first two – Victorian style, gore, monsters, fabulous characters – but the relationship between Warthrop and Will Henry deepens in a way that caught me off guard. Will Henry is growing up! Plus, the whole monster chasing bit at the end had some great twists. Recommended to fans of the series, but you should really start with The Monstrumologist and go on from there.

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos. You’ve got to listen to this one on audio if you’re an audiobook fan, because listening to Jack Gantos read you the story of Jack Gantos is perfection. His voice is quirky and distinctive and serves to highlight all the black humor. The cover does this a disservice, because the story is dark and funny and a bit rambling, but filled with a fascinating sense of history and place and childhood. The whole thing is awash in nosebleeds and dead old ladies, with some fantastic obituaries and an appearance by the Hell’s Angels. Just read it already. This year’s Newbery winner!

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley. After something of a slow set-up (I was puzzled by the alternate chapters from different viewpoints for quite a while) the story gets going. It’s both suspenseful and ordinary, dealing with the disappearance of Cullen’s younger brother and the everyday despair of a dying small town. It’s also frequently funny, enough to keep the whole thing from dragging down, and has brilliantly realistic characters. Recommended for teens & adults who like stories that pack a punch without much action, and for readers who like character-driven stories. This year’s Printz and Morris winner!

I have a few longer reviews that I’ll post separately, and then we can move onto March and (sooner or later) my hesitant embrace of ebooks.

March 2012

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