Friday, January 03, 2014

Begin the madness

My shipments of titles for the IBPA award have arrived; I need to rate a book every other day in order to not fall behind schedule.

First, a real book, or rather, a book I chose for myself last week:  
The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman by Margot Mifflin.  (979.1)  The prologue made it seem like this book would be fairly academic but it was actually a very accessible story. 

Now, notes:
The Librarian by Brian Fence.  I thought this would be a great title to start off with-- a good title, nice cover art; but bad.  Here are my notes:

librarian stereotypes in the book: the main character is an introverted, single, glasses-wearing perfectionist who dresses with an eye towards the "more practical than stylish" (2), who prefers to "immerse herself in daydreams, great literature, and study without worrying about trivial concerns" (42).  She's a "cranky" (237) (although that may have been a temporary state) "timid shrew of a librarian" (230) who uses books to hide from reality (192) but realizes "how lonely her life as a librarian had been" (184).  And the kicker?: librarians read all day (103)!  First of all, there were no positive librarian stereotypes; second, it seems like a bad idea to alienate the people who you're hoping will buy your book and promote it to the masses; third, the character's profession had absolutely nothing to do with the story other than providing a way for the author to set the characters together early in the story.  Throughout the book the main character is called "the librarian" just about as often as she's called by her name, and that has absolutely nothing to do with what is going on.

Here are the rest of my notes from this book, in the order I wrote them.  I feel strongly about this title because the writing is just good enough that many people might not pick up on the flaws, and I can see inside the writing that it could have been a good story with a couple more beta readers.

  • the writing has a rookie feel-- incorporates too many senses into trying to set the scene; too focused on visuals throughout (always describes the clothes).
  • unnecessarily grandiose language-- "for it was in this one grand space that she could truly let her sense of self float away, awash in an ocean of learning" (11); "after a curt nod that signaled Luc's acquiescence, Gilbert's hands searched the folds of his robes and brought forth a shining globular jewel, a lighter shade of blue than sapphire, suspended by a lustrous silver chain" (63).
  • the main character's supervisor is an evil caricature; no realism or depth to the character.
  • silly things that throw off the flow of the sentences-- using people's names, or full names, way too often, esp. in dialogue; referring to the main character as "the librarian" or "the junior librarian" when her name or a pronoun would do better.  
  • feel of the writing is very YA.  I'm concerned about a very limited readership for this title.
  • binding at inside front cover is feeling very loose before I got past 75 pages.
  • the fantasy world combines magic and circa-late-1800s technology-- set in a steampunk world might have been better.  A lot of time wasted on the fantasy world's geography and political structures.
  • the misogyny is extremely heavy handed.  Please stop beating me over the head.
  • poor choice to not spell out the magicians' relationship until after Gilbert's death-- and jarring when it came.
Average rating is about a 6 out of 10.

Uncertain Journey by James Rouman. Fewer notes on this title:
Neither narration nor dialogue flow naturally.  I can forgive the dialogue to some extent because the character is not a native English speaker, but it's almost as if the ideas, the flow of conversation, is unexpected, unanticipated, every time.
Author is incorporating alot of information relevant tot he story, but so much that the nonfiction paragraphs are not so seamlessly interwoven as may be desired.  The author is trying to make a point ("Uncertain Journey puts a face on illegal immigration through telling the perilous journey of a young Albanian...") but a nonfiction work with more skillful storytelling would have done better.
note: How is this an entry for 2013 when it has a "Best of 2011-Kirkus Reviews" emblem on the front cover?

Average rating is about 7 out of 10.

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