Sunday, October 25, 2009

Neal Wyatt on the ideal tool

Serendipitously, after my post on Drinkers, watchers & listeners' advisory, Library Journal ran Redefining RA: The Ideal Tool by Neal Wyatt.

She considers Netflix, Pandora, and Project Steve (a museumgoers' art classifying tool that I hadn't heard of previously) in an exploration of how to make the best Readers' Advisory database. Basically, ideas I was pondering in a previous post with a lot more meat and expert opinion.

She concludes:
RA has the human experts; what we need now is a database that manages to meld rich RA-infused data with an algorithm that lets us use it as we will.

If the day comes when a reader can open an RA database, input the title of a beloved book, and get back a list of suggestions that was collaboratively developed based on appeal, a range of expert input, and the books other readers suggest who also loved that title, then we will be well on our way to a database that supports our work.
Now we just have to get more people to be computer scientists/readers' advisors.

I have to apologize in advance for a hiatus here. I've been reading a lot of nonfiction for work and have let my pleasure reading slip. I shall return with verve next month, I hope!

Monday, October 12, 2009

RAview: Tessa Dare's Goddess of the Hunt

Tessa Dare's Goddess of the Hunt is a historical romance, the first of a trilogy in which each title focuses on a different woman protagonist/couple.

Lucy was essentially raised by her brother (e.g., not as a lady) and hung around with his hunting buddies when they'd vacation yearly at his home. This makes her a fantastic protagonist, as she fancies herself not as naive as ladies, but still, at 19, is far from grownup. The book is narrated primarily from her perspective, although the male lead, Jeremy, gets maybe 30% of the book devoted to his thoughts and feelings. Of course, his thoughts and feelings are all about Lucy. That is to say, this is definitely a character-driven novel, as I suspect most romances are (what, with such a similar plot and expected happily-ever-after ending).

The language does not significantly add to the book's appeal, but it illustrates pace and mood well. The pace is quick but slows down a bit as the book doesn't end when many romances do--at the wedding. Details highlight period clothing, natural scenery (hunting), the class relations among a lord and his tenants, and the role of a proper lady.

The tone is exciting, anticipatory, sexy, witty, defiant. Tone has to do with how the book makes readers feel, so I would also say this book could be somewhat frustrating. We get the perspectives from the man and woman, and there's a lot of misinterpretation of emotions and misreading of actions, so near the end, the tension is somewhat grating. Some readers will enjoy a drawn-out dance, though.

I haven't read enough romances for readalikes. Eloisa James blurbed the book--"The sweetest, sexiest romance you'll read all year"--and she's one of the few other romance authors I've read, but her books seem more traditional, more formulaic (but not in a bad way!). The protagonists aren't as individual or relatable to modern readers (at least in Desperate Duchesses and An Affair Before Christmas), perhaps because her historical detail is more carefully cultivated and emphasized.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

RAview: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Alan Bradley's The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is a mystery, with a main character sleuth, Flavia de Luce, who is a 10-year-old girl who's obsessed with chemistry in mid-20th-century England and lives in a decaying mansion--her mother died when she was a baby, her father is so distant he might as well not even be there, and her two sisters' relations to her revolve around pranks and torment.

The setting is primarily a mood evoking backdrop of dusty, mysterious chemistry mechanisms, a decaying manor, a marshy wetness that is somewhat dickensian. This is a character-centered book; Flavia narrates, and we experience the disjointedness of a 10-year-old's thought processes complete with her morbid curiosity at finding a dead man in the family's cucumber patch, her fearlessness, and the simple, absorbing, distracting joy at the freedom of riding a bicycle.

Details of stamp collecting; chemicals, elements, and poisons; and magic pepper this world of academia and all the secret guilt and unshared thoughts and emotions that go along with a stereotypically upper-class British stoicism. But Flavia, being a kid, smashes through all that with endearing, precocious wiles to solve the crime.

This may appeal to nonmystery readers, as the focus is more on Flavia than on the clues themselves. It doesn't feel as though the reader should or could have figured out the whodunnit before the characters.

Looking through what I've read recently, I'd say Flavia shares some appeal with Bod, the young main character from Neil Gaiman's Graveyard Book. That's YA, though, and I'm assuming young protagonists are much more common there. Any plucky young narrators in adult fiction you can think of?