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Review Policy

March 15, 2012

I am particularly interested in books in the following categories:

  • Historical fiction
  • Foodie lit or foodie memoir
  • Historical mystery or forensic-based mystery
  • Extremely well-written YA  genre fiction (no vampire romance or dystopia, please!)

If I request a specific title, I will do my best to review it in a timely manner. I will review books outside of the above criteria at my discretion.

Thank you so much for keeping me Surrounded By Books

– Elizabeth


October 7, 2015

Updating my blog has become much less frequent than I like… it’s sort of like getting in touch with an old friend who moved away. (And far too many of my friends near and far know that I’m not as good at keeping in touch as I should be or as I want to be.) And this post isn’t even really about books, except tangentially.

Things have been busy and a little overwhelming, lately both inside and outside of libraryland for me.

But no matter how busy I am, how running around or juggling or feeling stressed…I’m grateful.

Every day, I feel grateful for the people I know, the library people and elsewhere. My conversations with students and faculty in the library delight me. The things I learn while I help them learn are great fun, as well. (From ghoulish things about serial killers to the intricacies of medical billing to profound gratitude that I don’t ever have to read Catcher in the Rye ever again, and beyond.)

The wider library world is pretty amazing, too. When I started school, I knew it would be a good idea to network and to join professional organizations… and that’s turned out even better than I anticipated. I’ve gotten to help make a conference happen, and have gotten to know and learn from some amazing, inspiring people. I got the chance to write a book (!!!) because a great librarian befriended and mentored me, and had faith I could tackle it. And because librarians were willing to share their time and their expertise with me to make it possible. And there are more great projects and collaborations on the horizon.

I’m grateful for the friends and family beyond the library world, as well. I am lucky in the friends and family who surround me. Whether we’re being silly on a dance floor, eating dinner and all talking at once, or staying in touch on Facebook sporadically. And I’m especially grateful to those who have helped scrape me off the ceiling when I feel overwhelmed by big changes and transitions, and need a little grounding and a pep talk. My friends and family are very, very good at trying to help me pull back together when I’m feeling freaked out. (Years of practice.)

I’ve been neglecting my blog and my correspondence while this amazing wild ride I’m on captures my attention. But I’m grateful to everyone who’s helping make this possible.

And someday, soon, I’ll get back to book blogging more regularly…. I promise.

The sweet spot of book reviewing

September 29, 2015

Sometimes, I like a book far too much to review it.

It’s easier for me to come up with the words to review books I liked a lot, books I sort of liked, or even books I really didn’t like all that much, than a book that I absolutely adored and dove into. That’s even more true when it comes to series books I love. I have not blogged nearly enough about the books in the Billy Boyle series by James R. Benn. Each of the ten books in the series is, I assure you, that good in terms of interesting military plots, and that holy grail of series books, ongoing character development. If I were a better, more disciplined book blogger, I would go back and review each book, singing the praises of the setting, of getting to learn more about World War II. The entire series stays consistently good, and turning the last page makes me wishing James Benn would write faster, as well as wondering what on earth I can read next for that combination of great characters, interesting setting and mystery that goes dark in spots but maintains a certain optimism about humanity.

Speaking of which, I’ve blogged about my consistent fondness for Phryne Fisher mysteries. They also have the interesting setting in a historical mystery, the crime and suspense grounded in warm characters who support each other. And wry, funny bits of dialogue and narrative. Added bonus: getting to watch the series, and see the characters, and Phryne’s outfits. It takes me twice as long to watch each episode, because I’m pausing to admire the outfits.

I’d think re-reading a series helps me temper my adoration for a book, or a series, enough to blog about it in coherent sentences. But that’s proving not to be the case either. Recently, I treated myself to the New Millennium editions of the Young Wizards series by Diane Duane. I first read the series when it came out, and was thoroughly happy with the combination of magic and science and social responsibility. I loved how the wizard characters were developed as powerful enough to have great magical adventures, but also realistic kids with families and doubts and things to figure out. Plus, the series is solid fun to read. Recently, I treated myself to the New Millennium edition e-books, updated versions of the books in the series. It’s been long enough since I read each one for the first time that I can’t entirely spot how they’ve been updated: mobile phones and better computers, and maybe a few plot tweaks. Still just as good as the first reading. I have been telling myself I need to settle down and blog in praise of each book. And then I don’t blog. Because I am hungrily reading the next book, to stay in touch with the series.

Go figure.

Maybe a third reread would be the charm?

It’s so much easier to blog about books where my enthusiasm is tempered. Where I can step back, and figure out ways to think through and explain what I liked and why. If I can find a way to pull out things that didn’t work as well to contrast with things that blew me away, I feel like I have more to say. Not altogether sure why. Maybe it’s because the raw emotions and enthusiasm are dialed back, or that I have to spend more time thinking about putting dislike into words. With a mixed review, I stand a much better chance of being able to form sentences and hit “Publish.”

(Given the above mindset, I’m amazed I managed to be coherent enough to review Shadowshaper.)

For books I absolutely love, it’s a lot easier for me to talk about them outside of my blog: recommending them in conversation with friends, fellow librarians, booksellers; lavishing them with five star reviews on Goodreads, praising them in 140 character increments on Twitter. So I’m out there singing their praises… just not on the blog.

Books I really don’t like are also a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s kind of fun to snark and tear a book apart. But I don’t really feel right doing that on the blog too often. When authors and publicists send me their books to review, I feel bad ripping it apart, because work and hope went into it, and because they reached out to me thinking I’d like it. I’d rather not review it than sharpen my claws on something that was sent to me. I’ve gotten much better about not finishing books I’m not enjoying, whether they’re library books or review copies. Which reminds me, I should probably post a list of books I haven’t finished, because it would probably be instructive to see them in a group.

All of this said, I really need to get back in the habit of writing reviews of the books I read.

The SLA Expo: Librarians and Information in My Backyard

September 27, 2015

I was part of the planning committee for this year’s SLA Expo, a daylong conference event that took place on Friday. I can say that the hard work of the conference committee paid off beautifully. The speakers and panelists were full of good information, beautifully presented. Librarians from all over connected, or reconnected. I found a conference role for myself that I really liked doing. And I got to see speakers in action, and daydream about my future. A great day.

The way the conference was organized was ideal: everyone came together at the start for a keynote presentation, broke out into two parallel sets of sessions before a lunch break, and then two more sets of sessions before coming together for a final presentation, and then having time to mingle all together at a post-conference happy hour. I think that the together sessions and the separate sessions, and the timing of the day’s schedule worked beautifully to make it a coherent whole as an experience, and would be a good model to follow for any conference.

Yes, there were glitches. But, we were braced for more than the ones that happened. Of course, the technology hiccuped a little. Typical for conferences. Even with the best, fastest, most capacious wifi in a conference facility, it’s not going to be flawlessly connected. That many digitally savvy information professionals and their devices are going to put a strain on it. We adapted. Something to remember for next time: Twitter connectivity worked speedily. Twitter messages wound up being a really good, fast way for a panel organizer sitting up front to let me know to duck outside and ask for a fix like more chairs, tech help and such.

I came of age as a conference attendee and organizer in the age of Twitter, and I think it has enriched my experience of conferences. Following the conference hashtag is a boon when there’s a conference I can’t attend: the nature of Tweets means distilling conference information into short messages, condensed knowledge and useful links. I find the same thing as a participant. Rather than taking copious, ongoing notes with the intent to find a way to capture every detail the presenter is explaining… taking notes with the intent to Tweet them, or sometimes Tweeting as a means of notetaking, forces me to process on the fly, to listen for and distill main points and solid quotes. Besides, when I go through old papers from classes or conferences, I find that I have lots and lots of unexamined, handwritten note pages. Whereas, I’ve been making an effort to go back through the conference hashtag, #slanewyork, and pull Tweets into an organized narrative.

I captured the conference Tweets using Storify.

The above also represents some post-conference inspiration for me… nothing like a good conference to convince you to try new ideas and tech. Storify isn’t something I’ve used very often, so I’m still learning and experimenting. Maybe I’ll even make a few mistakes.

More things I know I need to learn:

How to work with and analyze data

Presentation and public speaking techniques

Coding, at least enough to streamline library work. Maybe Python?

Budgeting and some of the other larger tasks of library management.

Hearing presenters, and talking to friends and colleagues in the field throughout the day inspired this list. Now that I’ve completed my schooling, and feeling settled in my not-so-new job at the library, with the book project under my belt… it’s time to catch my breath, yes. But it’s also time to plan the next skills I learn.

A huge thanks, and tons of praise to my fellow organizers, who did the logistic work for months to make this happen: contacting and coordinating speakers and vendors, arranging space and catering, planning and scheduling the event.

My role on the day was one I enjoyed- attending panels with one eye on the information, and one eye on the backstage aspect: keeping watch to make sure small details were tracked down, people were contacted to solve problems before they were noticed by attendees. At day’s end, I felt proud and energized by knowing that I’d played a role in managing the small details of the conference experience, as well as having the freedom to listen and participate in the conversation and evolution of ideas. It was a busy, but ultimately energizing day, and so much fun.


Official Book Release: Using Tablets and Apps In Libraries

September 17, 2015

Of all the things I planned to do when I graduated from my Masters Program, it’s possible that “Write a Book,” was on the list… but it was more something I thought of doing in the Distant Awesome Future, rather than starting to write just a month after I handed in my last project.

I want to share the official publication news… My first book, Using Tablets and Apps in Libraries has just been published by Rowman and Littlefield, as part of the Library Technology Essentials series. Here’s the official information.

Jacket image, Using Tablets and Apps in Libraries by Elizabeth Willse

Using Tablets and Apps in Libraries

Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield

There were 185 million tablet and smartphone users in United States as of January 2015, representing a decline in the number of traditional desktop computers. Lightweight mobile computing devices are quickly becoming an integral part of patrons’ everyday lives. Libraries are responding by incorporating them into their programs and services. Using Tablets and App in Libraries outlines how libraries can support this new BYOD (bring your own device) culture including offering app events and instruction, installing mounted tablets within the library, offering tablet lending programs, initiating tablet training programs for staff, and ways to evaluate and use quality apps.

Discover how you can implement a successful tablet program in your library. Through this comprehensive guide, readers will learn:

  • How to integrate the potential of tablet technology into existing library programs and staff workflows
  • How to Host a Staff Training Technology Petting Zoo
  • How to provide tablet support and training for your patrons
  • How to use tablets in your story time and other children’s programming
  • How to circulate tablets in your library
  • How to use tablets to promote library services
  • How to use tablets in your physical spaces to provide and gather information

Pages: 156 • Size: 6 x 9
978-1-4422-4389-7 • Hardback • September 2015 • $85.00 • (£54.95)
978-1-4422-4390-3 • Paperback • September 2015 • $45.00 • (£29.95)
978-1-4422-4391-0 • eBook • September 2015 • $44.99 • (£29.95)
Series:  Library Technology Essentials

Earlier this week, I held an actual copy of the book in my hands. And grinned, still not quite believing it was real.

Now that the writing and editing are done, and the book is out in the world, I’m thinking of sharing some behind the scenes stories about the writing process. Because it was an education. Not only in terms of what I learned about technology and about what libraries are doing to use tablets to deliver great service and resources…. but in terms of learning about myself, realizing what grad school taught me about writing. And getting a new experience of a book’s journey: I had known it for years as a reader, even a glimpse behind the scenes as a publicist working for a business books publisher. But coming to the writing side has been an education, and I want to share some of that.

Interesting Things I’ve Read Recently 9/1/15

September 1, 2015

How is it September already? When did that happen? In part, it’s the quarter system at my Library messing with me… quarter started in July, and will chug along into mid-September, so the students I work with aren’t thinking First Day of School so much as they’re thinking Final Projects and Exams. In part, of course, it’s the fact that I’m not in school myself. (Woohoo!)

So here are some things I’ve read recently.

Librarians on Bikes are Delivering WiFi and Books to Kids in ‘Book Deserts.’ (Good Magazine) I love this. It fills me with librarian pride. Librarianship is, at its core, about working to ensure equal access, whether through the traditional notion of a bookmobile or adapting the bookmobile to become an access point to bridge the digital divide (the Philly library system sends out techmobiles, very cool.) Adapting the term of book desert

A Poirot Novel Where No One Is Murdered And He Gets To Eat Everything He Wanted Without Interruption (The Toast) Exactly what it says it is: a riff on one of Agatha Christie’s famous sleuths, focusing on gastronomy, not mystery. This pleased the foodie in me.

If I go quiet for a while, assume I have fallen down the historical rabbit hole of the OED. Curious? 5 things you can do with the Historical Thesaurus of the OED.

And finally: The digital debate is done, sayeth The Guardian. I am on board for their assertion that screens and print can coexist in a mature markets, and in reader preferences. However, I’m hesitant to be on board with their assertion that peace has been made between independent bookshops and retail behemoths. I still worry on behalf of indie bookstores and want them to thrive.

Book Review: Shadowshaper

August 28, 2015

Jacket image, Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose OlderShadowshaper
By Daniel José Older
Arthur A. Levine Publishers
(library book)

This book. Just wow. This book. From the very first chapter, it pulled me right into Sierra’s world: her Brooklyn home and family and friends, the weird supernatural things that were happening around her, her questions, her banter with her friends. I was hooked, and hooked hard. I spent every spare moment turning pages, enjoying the take on fantasy steeped in Caribbean and Latin American mythology, in questions about anthropology and heritage. I stayed up late to finish it.

And when I finished it, I decided I was going to read it again. Immediately.

Now, I’m no stranger to re-reading books I love. It’s the main reason I buy books: to make sure I have access to them the instant I’m wanting to read them again. But… usually I wait longer than a day before I dive in for a re-read. Yes, it was just that good. I’m going to try to write about the things I liked, without gushing. I might not be able to pull it off.  I enjoyed it on a level of wanting to go back through my lists of Five Star favorite books on Goodreads, and maybe demote a few to set it apart.

I give up. I’ll surrender to the need to gush.

I liked the way Sierra and her friends and family developed as characters. They were people with loyalties and ordinary days and intertwined histories, before they were Characters Serving the Direction of the Plot. That meant getting to see Sierra as part of a group of friends, with a best friend helping her get ready for a party, a crowd of friends flirting, razzing each other, enjoying a summer night, gossiping. And also seeing Sierra at home in her neighborhood, the avuncular pride of the domino playing old crowd reminiscing about the old country. Characters’ voices, both in dialogue, and in the narrative that stays with Sierra’s thoughts and reactions to people and events, felt real: the importance of family, of heritage, the way the past can shape the future. Their take on the neighborhood felt real and contemporary, too (a few digs at gentrification and race and fancy coffee rang very true, both situationally and to what those characters would notice and comment on.) Also, I really, really liked Sierra’s scenes with her friends and with her grandfather’s friends from the neighborhood. There’s warmth and humor as well as realness.

Making sure the characters were so well established and anchored in their Brooklyn neighborhood as well as keeping cultural traditions part of their lives was what let the more fantastical and supernatural elements work as well as they did. I was really happy to see Sierra stay true to herself, even as magical powers and threats entered the picture and adrenaline started to happen. She’s a teenage girl who’s brave in some ways, certain of her focus on art and devotion to her family and friends, and those things stayed true when the adrenaline and magic and threat got going.

All of which sets Shadowshaper well apart as a great example of solid, interesting fantasy, along with well-crafted YA. And that’s why I went back to enjoy rereading it almost immediately, and am going to be recommending it to just about anyone I know who reads fantasy, or stories with fantastic elements.

As if I didn’t have enough gushing to do about this book, there’s a library in it, and an archivist, and some chewy anthropology questions that let me enjoy thinking about the meta side of things, and larger roles of mythology and immigrant cultures and anthropological study. Yeah.

I don’t think I’m going to read this three times in a row… but I definitely need to buy a copy to keep on my shelf. So should you.

Guest Post: Why I Will Never Finish The Witches of Eastwick

August 26, 2015

Cover image, The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike, photographed by Pamela Outwin

The following is a guest post from Pamela Outwin, a library school classmate, government documents whiz, and all-around good egg.

I’ve been working on this book for years.

I first obtained my current copy of John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick – hardcover, second printing, a wee bit tatty – on a cloudy October day in Montreal, at a book sale at McGill University. I don’t even remember why I bought it, never having had any particular urge to read said novel before, nor anything else by that author. Once it came into my possession, however, it seemed like the Thing to Do, especially in October.

That was in 2004. So far, I’ve made it about 200 pages in. And that’s the furthest I’ve ever gotten.

This is not because it’s a bad book, or at all uninteresting. Indeed, it’s atmospheric in a way that truly speaks to me as a New Englander, haunting in the manner that all towns in my home region always are no matter how much spit and polish we put on for the tourists. There is always that smell of tidal salts underneath, a marshy decay, and the certainty that winter’s storms will batter and buffet away any summertime sense of civilization until all that’s left is the grey sand and the grey sea and the grey sky, and only native eyes can distinguish between the three elements.

I haven’t managed to finish The Witches of Eastwick because every time I get further than page 50, something massive happens and I have to drop everything like I’m escaping Hitler’s invasion of Poland. Three pages in? Massive university exam. Finish the first key plot point, around page 70? Get held at the Canadian Border for six hours for missing Quebec Residency permit, lose bookmark. Make it to the end of Part 1? Get into grad school, move 350 miles, ditch psycho roommate and find own digs. The list goes on, for better than a decade, and that’s when I can find the book on my shelves at all.

Each time I have to put it down, I lose my place, and the plot and story run from my mind like so much winter-cold sand through my fingers. Even when nothing is going on, the story will hit a point where it scares me so much that I have to stop reading for a while. It’s worse than Rebecca. Updike’s view of the women he writes is something I like, simply because it’s the antithesis of all the feminine-power affirmative literature that was so popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

These are not the magical women of The Mists of Avalon, or the mystics of The Red Tent. They’re victims, to be sure, but much of their unhappiness is the work of their own hands, and all the power that enriches them comes very much at the expense and pain of others. They are flawed. They are human. They are very often wicked. These women are not the starry-eyed sorceresses who are fonts of the Sacred Feminine, and they are certainly not role models. They are Witches, of the old kind, witches as every child in New England is taught to fear them. The brutalism of their personalities and behaviour as rendered by Updike’s prose is a gorgeous and horrible thing to behold. I’m not even totally sure what would happen if I managed to finish the book, know the entirety of the tale; some dark and foggy nights, I’m not even sure I should.

At the time of writing this, I’m 72 pages from the end, and just got offered a job 550 miles away that starts in less than a month. I’m going to try and finish it before I leave Maine. I’ll probably lose the bookmark when I move.

Pamela Outwin is currently in the process of moving to the D.C. area where she will spend her time in the Patent Office researching all the things. She fears only the Kraken, obscure Medieval book curses, and her lipstick colour being discontinued. She lurks around various parts of the internet under several pseudonyms, and can be found at LinkedIn.


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