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Book Review: The Isle of Blood by Rick Yancey (Audiobook narrated by Steven Boyer) (Series, #3)

April 29, 2013 2 comments

Tree and birds silhouetted against a moon and a green background.Summary:
Will Henry states that this is a story that Dr. Warthrop did not want told…and proceeds to tell it anyway.  When a British man shows up with a package being delivered under duress, Dr. Warthrop is ecstatic to realize it is the nest of the Magnificum–the holy grail of monstrumology.  Dr. Warthrop decides to leave Will Henry in New York while he pursues this beast.  But when his monstrumologist companion returns claiming that Warthrop is dead, Will Henry and two fellow monstrumologists travel to Europe to track him–or his body–down.

Review:
Not as engaging or thought-provoking as the first two books in the series, I can only hope that this third entry is suffering from the common penultimate book malady where the book which must set everything up for the finale of the series can sometimes drag.

There are two problems in this entry that make it fail to be as engaging or thrilling as the first two books.  First, Will Henry is left behind in New York for a significant portion of the novel.  We are thus left with a whiny teenager bemoaning Warthrop’s choice to be responsible for once and keep him out of danger.  We also are left with very little action for far too large a portion of the book.  The second issue is perhaps a bit of a spoiler but suffice to say that the monster is disappointing and its disappointment is easily predicted.  If we had a lot of action with a disappointing monster, that’s still engaging.  If we had less excitement with a surprising, phenomenal monster, that’s still thrilling.  The combination of the two, though, prevents this thriller from being as thrilling and engaging as it should be.

Of course there are other elements that still worked, which is why I kept reading it.  Yancey’s writing is, as ever, beautiful to read (or listen to) and contains much depth.

“So many times we express our fear as anger…, and now I think I wasn’t angry at all, but afraid. Terribly, terribly afraid.”

The settings are unique, and the characters are strong and leap off of the pages.  Will Henry becomes more fully fleshed-out in this entry as we start to see his descent into a love affair with monstrumology.  We also get to see Warthrop at what he himself perceives of as his lowest point.  It’s a dark bit of characterization but it works very well for the story Yancey is telling.

Overall, I was a bit disappointed, purely because the first two entries in the series were so phenomenal.  The third book is still a very good book.  Fans might be a bit disappointed, depending on how attached they are to the unique thriller aspect of the series, but the characters and writing still make this well worth the time.  Fans will remain in eager anticipation of the final entry in the series.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

Buy It

Previous Books in Series
The Monstrumologist, review
The Curse of the Wendigo, review

Book Review: Oddkins: A Fable for All Ages by Dean Koontz

An assortment of stuffed animals standing on a road between two tall buildings.Summary:
Isaac Bodkins is a magical toymaker.  He makes toys that actually come alive and seek out children who need them the most, such as children who have lost a parent or who are facing abuse.  When he dies before he has a chance to tell his chosen heir about her purpose, evil has a chance to take over again.  His toys, the Oddkins, must set out to tell her before evil manages to land its own new evil toymaker that would create living toys to torture children.  Evil sends out his evil toys in an attempt to stop the Oddkins on their dangerous cross-town mission.

Review:
The person who loaned me this book told me it was marketed as a fable for all ages but really might be a bit too scary for the youngest among us.  Person also knew that I love me some fables, not to mention talking animals or toys, so I was excited to get into this book.  Alas, it wasn’t ultimately my style, but it is a well-written book I could see working for a lot of people.

The plot is a quest where each member of the questing group gets at least one chance to shine.  Although I was fairly certain that good would ultimately triumph over evil, I still was left worried for the main characters periodically, and I also was unable to predict the details of the triumph.  Since the toymaker lived in the countryside outside of the city, the quest consists of time in both the country and the city.  This kept situations varied and engaging.

Since this is a fable and most of the characters are in fact magical toys, they are not what one would describe as three-dimensional.  However, their two dimensions work for the story.  For instance, the teddy bear leader of the good toys is brave and strong and true but he also has to work at being brave.  He is not just naturally brave.  Similarly, although the two potential inheritors of toymaking are good and evil, they both get background information given to them.  The evil one was in prison and only takes pleasure from causing others pain.  The good one ran a toy store and was recently widowed and looking for something more in her life.

So why didn’t I love it?  Well, some things said were just too clearly religious for me.  There’s a lot of talk of afterlife, and the evil toys are driven by who is clearly Satan.  There are also times where the good toys stop and make statements to each other that are clearly the author preaching to the reader through them.  For instance

God’s world is full of magic, isn’t it? Not just the secret kind of magic of which we’re a part, but the simple magic of everyday life-magic. (location 1358)

Given that this happens rather frequently and given that the evil is clearly represented to be Satan, I just found the whole book to be a bit too heavy-handed in the religion department for me.  A reader who does follow Christianity might not be bothered, but even then, the preachiness within a book isn’t for everyone.

Overall this is a well-written fable that is engaging and unique.  It is a bit heavy-handed in its presentation of various religious beliefs for this reader, but other readers who enjoy that in their literature will probably enjoy this book.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Borrowed

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Book Review: Where the Blind Horse Sings: Love and Healing at an Animal Sanctuary by Kathy Stevens (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

Woman standing next to a horse in front of a country landscape.Summary:
When Kathy Stevens decided to change careers mid-life, she wanted to do something that would help animals and let her teach.  She landed on the idea of founding an animal sanctuary.  But this book is very minimally about Kathy.  It is mostly about the animals that came to find a safe haven at the sanctuary she founded.  Animals like Rambo the sheep who guards other animals.  Paulie a former cockfighting rooster who loves car rides.  And of course a blind horse once terrified to move who now goes for trail rides.

Review:
This book wasn’t what I was expecting, which was an account of setting up and running an animal sanctuary.  Instead it is a collection of short stories about individual animals who live at Catskill Animal Sanctuary, in the vein of James Herriot, although not quite to that classic’s level.

The stories are roughly grouped based on the situations that led the animals to the sanctuary, their personality, and of course some ultimate peaceful deaths at the sanctuary.  I was a bit frustrated that instead of telling one animal’s story end to end, they were split up among sections.  I can understand not wanting to end every chapter with an animal’s death, but I also think seeing one animal’s life in a complete story would be more touching.  On the other hand, I also appreciated how clearly the different animals’ personalities were drawn without ever venturing into the land of hypothesizing.  One doesn’t have to impose their own beliefs on an animal to clearly see the difference between a hurt, abused animal and a happy one.  Stevens presents the difference quite clearly without venturing into speculation, which I think will give the book the broadest audience.

In spite of the dark past lives of these once abused animals, the book is a light read, both in spirit and in content.  You won’t learn the nitty gritty of founding and running an animal sanctuary, which I think is too bad.  It’d be nice if there was even an epilogue about more of the day to day realities of rescuing animals.  On the other hand, the light, easy read gives the book a broader audience.  It also features a suggested further reading list at the end, as well as links to the sanctuary’s website and invitations to visit, so those who want more can seek it out.

Overall, this is a well-written, feel-good collection of stories of the animals of Catskill Animal Sanctuary.  It doesn’t provide much insider information on the running of animal rescue charities, but it does provide insight into the personalities of farm animals.  Recommended to animal lovers who enjoy short stories.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Boston Marathon Bombings

April 17, 2013 2 comments

Hello all.  I just wanted to take a moment to let those of you who don’t follow me on twitter or facebook know that I and my loved ones are safe, although a student who goes to the university I am an academic librarian at is one of the (currently) three dead.  My medical library serves the medical school that is affiliated with one of the Boston hospitals caring for the victims, and we also serve as the medical library for that hospital.  Today is my first day back at work after my long weekend (which was pre-scheduled for Marathon Monday).  Things are very subdued on-campus.  My morning commute had a side of national guardsmen and extra police presence as I commute directly through part of the area that was put on lock-down after the bombings.

I am full of mixed emotions.  I am incredibly grateful that myself and my loved ones are safe, but I am also full of empathy for everyone who cannot say that.  I am angry that someone would attack a bunch of innocent people on a day that is about so many positive things.  The Boston Marathon is about athleticism, cheering on the accomplishments of others, and fortitude.  But it also takes place on Patriot’s Day.  Patriot’s Day is celebrated in Massachusetts, Maine, and Wisconsin to commemorate the first battle of the American Revolutionary War.  It celebrates our freedom, and in Boston, it’s about celebrating being the birthplace of our nation.  And I hope that the people of Boston won’t let the events of Monday ruin our celebrations in the years to come.  You defeat terrorism by refusing to be terrorized.  My boyfriend and I have already made a pact that next year we are going to the marathon and we are cheering our guts out.  In the meantime, I am just continuing to live my life and trying to do whatever small part I can to support those who have much tougher rows to hoe.

If your heart has been touched by what has occurred in my city, I ask you not to pray, but to do something.  If you can afford it, donate to the official One Fund set up by Governor Patrick and Mayor Menino.  It is a verified safe way to get the funds where they will reach those in need.  If you can’t afford to donate money and are close by, donate blood. Or donate blood where you are in honor of the event.  If you can’t do either of those things, or even if you do those things, then please show support in other ways.  Express support online, offer a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen.  Try not to let anyone fall through the cracks.  Let those around you know that somebody cares.

 

Book Review: The Curse of the Wendigo by Rick Yancey (Audiobook narrated by Steven Boyer) (Series, #2)

April 11, 2013 3 comments

Black silhouette of birds and trees against a moon and a red background with a face just discernible in it.Summary:
Will Henry, 12 year old orphan and assistant to renowned Monstrumologist, Pellinore Warthrop, is shocked to find a refined woman on Warthrop’s doorstep.  She is the wife of Warthrop’s best friend who has now gone missing in rural Canada while looking for the elusive wendigo (aka werewolf).  Warthrop insists that there is no such thing as a wendigo, but he agrees to go looking for his missing friend anyway, even if he believes his mission was ridiculous and an affront to monstrumology’s reputation.

Review:
I can’t believe it took me this long to get to the sequel of one of my rare 5 star reads, The Monstrumologist.  I gave my dad a copy of The Monstrumologist for his birthday, and his enthusiasm for the series brought my own back to me, so I joined in with him to read through it.  I had a bunch of credits stacked up on Audible, so I went with the audiobook versions.  My speedy father reading in print quickly outpaced me, but that’s ok.  I’m really enjoying the audiobooks, although I’m sure I will be reading the final book in the series in the fall when it comes out on my kindle. Can’t wait around for the audiobook!  All of which is to say, my enthusiasm for the series remains high, if not steady, and the audiobooks are just as enjoyable as the print.

Yancey does something brave for a second book in the series.  Instead of following the formula that worked so well in the first book and basically doing a monster-of-the-week-in-our-town method like Buffy and so many other urban fantasies, he changes things up.  There is a monster, yes, but it is entirely different from the first one.  This is a monster that might not even exist, unlike the anthropophagi in the first book who are almost immediately clearly real.  Additionally, Warthrop and Will must travel away from New England to go looking for the trouble.  It does not come to them.  Another good plot twist is that the story does not entirely take place in Canada.  It moves to New York City.  Thus we get both the dangers of the wilderness and the dangers of the city in one book.  These plot choices mean that what makes this series a series is the characters, not the fantastical nature of their world.  By the end of the book I was thinking of the series in terms of the relationship between Will and Warthrop, not in the context of what nasty beast we might meet next.  It thus does what great genre fiction should do.  It looks at a real life issue and dresses it up with some genre fun.  And the issues addressed here are big ones.  What is love and what should we be willing to sacrifice for it?  Is it more loving to stay with someone at all costs or to let them go to protect them?  At what point do you give up on someone?

The horror certainly felt more grotesque this time around, although it’s possible I just wasn’t remembering the anthropophagi that well.  This is a bloody book full of horrible things.  Precisely what I expect out of my genre.  There’s not much more to say about the horror than keep it up, Yancey.  Also that this might not be for you if blood and guts and profanity are not your thing.  But they *are* mine and, oh, how well they are done here.

Just as with the first book, the language Yancey uses is beautiful.  It’s rich, eloquent, visual, and decadent.  It’s a word-lover’s book.  An example:

But love has more than one face. And the yellow eye is not the only eye. There can be no desolation without abundance. And the voice of the beast is not the only voice that rides upon the high wind….It is always there. Like the hunger that can’t be satisfied, though the tiniest sip is more satisfying than the most sumptuous of feasts.

Stunning.

The characterization here remains strong for Will and grows much stronger for Warthrop.  Will grows and changes as a 12 year old in this time period in his particular situation would be expected to.  With Warthrop, though, we get a much clearer backstory and motivations for his actions.  In the first book we came to know Will.  In this one we come to know Warthrop, although Will is not left without any development.  It’s a good balance.  I also enjoyed the addition of two female characters, who I thought were well-written, particularly Lily, the budding young feminist determined to be the world’s first female monstrumologist.  She is truly three-dimensional in spite of her rather limited screen-time compared to Will.

The pacing doesn’t build steadily from beginning to end.  It rather builds to a first climax, comes back down and builds again to a second climax.  This makes sense, particularly in a werewolf book, but I must admit it felt a bit odd in the moment.  It almost felt like reading two books in one until it all came together in the end.  In fact, this is one of those books that gets better the more you look back on the story as a whole.  Be prepared to enjoy it more in retrospect that in the first reading.

The audiobook narrator, Boyer, has a tough book to work with.  There are a wide range of characters of multiple nationalities to act out (Canadian, German, French, New York, Massachusetts, etc…).  Additionally, at least three different languages are spoken (English, French, and German).  I’m not fluent in anything but English, but I did take German in university, and I can say that his German accent is at least passable.  He also does an excellent job creating a unique voice for each character.  I only rarely got lost, and that was generally due to rapid-fire conversation where each character only had a word or two.  I must say, though, that he does mispronounce a few words, which detracts from Yancey’s gorgeous writing.  I blame the audiobook director for this, though.  S/he should have realized and corrected this.  Overall, though, the mispronounced words are only in a couple of locations and do not deeply affect the reading of the book.

Overall this is an excellent follow-up to a remarkable first book in the series.  It brings to the table that which made the first so powerful: YA horror with rich language set in a historic time period.  But it also changes things up enough to avoid falling into the monster-of-the-week trap.  The entries in the series are part of a larger story, and that can be seen.  Fans of the first book should pick up the second book asap.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

Buy It

Previous Books in Series
The Monstrumologist, review

Boston Library Consortium Networking Day 2013: Strategic Thinking about Copyright for Libraries in a Digital Environment presented by Kevin Smith, J.D.

This week I went to the annual networking day for the Boston Library Consortium, an association of 17 academic and research libraries working together to provide better information to our patrons.

The speaker this year was Kevin Smith, J.D., a lawyer librarian (yes, those exist) who is an expert in copyright law for libraries.  He works at Duke University and also writes a widely regarded blog on scholarly communication.  The following are my notes from his presentation entitled “Strategic Thinking about Copyright for Libraries in a Digital Environment.”  Please feel free to ask me for any clarifications (to the best of my ability) in the comments.

  • When we open a library and let the public in, we are taking risk. We plan and mitigate for them [risks]. Copyright should be no different. It’s not all or nothing.
  • Digital environment has rewards
    • opportunity to create new knowledge
    • new ways to reach community
  • Think about copyright in terms of the mission of your organization
  • In the past 5 years, there’ve been an unprecedented number of lawsuits [against libraries regarding copyright]. So far, libraries have won all of them.
  • Kirtsaeng vs. John Wiley
    • doctrine of first sale applies to any material manufactured with consent of owner in the US [ie it doesn’t apply to pirated copies]
    • this leaves the status quo in place
    • Courts like libraries. They understand and appreciate what libraries do.
    • Library Copyright Alliance
    • copyright cuts across partisan lines
  • New Challenges: MOOCs and mass digitization
  • Author’s Guild vs. Hathi Trust
    • AG argued that what HT was doing with the scans, not the making of the scans themselves, was what was wrong
    • AG argued that libraries shouldn’t be allowed to rely on fair use
    • Judge said no, libraries can rely on fair use
    • Judge said fair use can support a mass digitization project
    • Is it fair use to digitize for greater access? We don’t know yet/it depends
    • Courts like transformative use
    • purpose –> even if the work itself isn’t change, its purpose is now for a different audience
    • Judge said these instances are transformative:
      • indexing
      • preservation
      • access for persons with disabilities
  • Strategy for Mass Digitization
    • recognize some material is public domain
    • seek permission from prominent or large-scale rights holders
      • people who are most likely to object and are possible to find
      • watchfile –> writers, authors, and their copyright holders
    • rely on transformative fair use
      • improve the context of the transformation (frame it)
      • fair use supports good library practice and good pedagogy (teaching)
    • have a “talk to” policy
      • a talk to policy is not a take down policy
      • you can learn a lot from people who originally call angry
  • GSU and UCLA
    • 70 of 75 excerpts on ereserve were deemed fair use
    • strict length limit of 10% or 1 chapter, whichever is less, was used
    • if we’re within limit, the subsequent semester rule (ereserves can’t be duplicated from one semester to the next) is impractical and unnecessary
  • non-transformative fair use
    • not clear that new form of access is transformative
    • ereserves are generally not viewed as transformative
    • address with context and creativity
    • It doesn’t have to be transformative to be fair use. It helps but isn’t necessary.
    • 4 factors of fair use
      • purpose
        • usually in favor of libraries
      • nature
        • usually in favor of libraries
      • decidedly small
        • can go either way
      • impact on market of original
        • This usually weighs against as long as holder is providing way to get license for digital use. If there is no way to get a license then it weighs against the copyright holder.
  • Strategy for eReserves
    • balance forms of access
      • having all the readings available digitally looks bad
      • balance purchases, licenses, and fair use
    • for fair use, stick to small portions
      • 10% isn’t the law, but it’s a good rule of thumb
    • always keep course site closed
    • be creative
      • think about what makes your site a unique exercise in pedagogy
    • seek permission when larger excerpt is needed
  • Strategy for Streamed Videos
    • almost anything shown in face to face classroom is legal
    • students are not a market that rights holder is allowed to exploit
    • look for ways to enhance the case
      • works that are unavailable
      • works where it’s difficult to contact rights holder
      • special pedagogical needs ie language instruction
  • Strategy for MOOCs
    • two separate MOOC tracks:
      • teaching content
      • course readings
    • teaching content
      • clearly transformative fair use but it’s more limited
      • be as obvious about transformative use as possible
      • link to original when possible
      • seek permission
      • Remember creative commons is a form of permission. Use creative commons when possible. For example, if it can be illustrated with any picture of a tomato, find a creative commons one.
    • course readings
      • when seeking permissions, talk to the marketing guys! MOOCs are a great marketing opportunity
      • MOOCs are new and are a huge opportunity
      • remind faculty of open access options, such as putting their author’s final draft into the institutional repository
  • Conclusion
    • balance risk with reward
    • If we don’t take at least some risks, we won’t get any rewards
    • Avoid extremes
  • Q and A
    • Tiered pricing has no legal support for academic use
    • fair use argument is harder to make the larger the scale. ie if it’s for a 30,000 person MOOC as opposed to a 25 person face to face class.
    • copyright law defines fair use for educational purposes as “teaching activities in classroom or similar space normally dedicated to instruction”
    • Dissertations are a work of public scholarship. The university can set what requirements they want to for issuing degrees. Indefinite embargoes should not be accepted, although a case could be made for the traditional 6 month, 1 yr, 2yr, or 5yr. 5yr should be an exception though.
    • Gray markets, such as ebay and Costco, are very important industries.

For more information on fair use, copyright, and libraries, please see my posts Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries and On Open Access (OA) and Institutional Repositories (IRs).