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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

Happy #Readathon Weekend!

April 25, 2015

I love readathon weekend. Dewey’s Readathon snuck up on me this Saturday. I’d been looking forward to it for ages. After all, it would be the first in years that didn’t coincide with having to churn out a paper for school (an entirely less-fun way to lose sleep and read too much.) I’ve been looking forward to the chance to read interesting books and get to know other readers on social media, in one great big, bookish slumber party.

Speaking of slumber, I decided to do the Readathon a little differently this year. Having learned that staying up too far past my bedtime turns me into a jerk the next day isn’t the best idea for me, I’ve decided to rejigger the schedule a bit. So, I’m having my 24 Hour Readathon, but I’m spreading it out over the entire weekend.

Rebel that I am, I started last night, stretching out on the couch to finish reading London Falling, by Paul Cornell. An entirely satisfying blend of urban fantasy and police procedural, set in London. At times, it skewed more towards horror and gore than I really like, but it was still a great read. The setup is that police investigating a murder get hit with a supernatural power that gives them all the Sight, turning them into the Met’s only weird-magical crimes unit. The best part about it was that, instead of being inducted into some kind of existing magical tradition, they had to figure out the weird crimes as they went, trying to adapt what they knew, instead of inheriting an existing fantasy tradition.

So that got my Readathon off to a very nice start. I’m going to jump in and out of participating today, tomorrow and even Monday, with the goal of accumulating 24-ish hours, plenty of Twitter conversations, and at least one more book, along with some sunshine, weekend frolics, and of course, sleep.

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
I’m participating from New York. And it’s a fine part of the world indeed, nice and sunny out. Going to head out in a bit, to grab coffee and read in a sunny window spot.
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
The only books I have on deck so far are a British murder mystery and a book that chronicles the working life of nurses. Given how much hospitals make me squeamish, I anticipate the nurses book will scare me more than the murder mystery.
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?
My impending latte. Which may need to be a mocha. Yes, definitely a mocha.
4) Tell us a little something about yourself!
On Monday, I start a job as an actual academic librarian. I just finished my Masters in Library Science, and I’m doing the readathon in the hopes of losing myself in a book and distracting myself from wondering what the first week of work will be like.
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

 

Book Review: The Tapestry

April 24, 2015

The Tapestry
Nancy Bilyeau
Touchstone
Review copy from Publisher

Having thoroughly enjoyed The Crown, and its sequel, The Chalice, I was curious to see how the mysteries and intrigue surrounding Joanna Stafford would evolve, and resolve. It’s highly recommended to begin at the beginning with The Crown, and then read straight through. While I could pick up the intrigues and mystery reasonably well having read the earlier books over a year ago, I think a re-read would have been even more fun leading into the third volume.

Let me say this right off: The Tapestry is aptly named. Not just because, after the events of the previous installments, Joanna plans to set herself up in a quiet life weaving tapestries…. but then finds herself faced with a “request,” and an official commission from Henry VIII. Henry VIII, drawn in all his decadent (kind of amazingly repulsive) glory by Bilyeau’s excellent descriptions, is not so much the sort of person whose requests one can ignore.

So, despite misgivings, Joanna undertakes the journey to Whitehall, to the Tudor Court, where being a former nun puts her in a distinctly odd, and uneasy position, to say the least. Henry VIII has dismantled convents and monasteries, looting them of their treasures, is married to Anne of Cleves, and is spending an awful lot of time with the young, and innocent Catherine Howard. Joanna Stafford also has to navigate court intrigue regarding familiar historical figures such as Oliver Cromwell, John Cheke, and Thomas Culpeper.

And, even before she arrives at Whitehall, somebody’s trying to kill Joanna. The combination of Joanna’s voice, and excellent description keeps the suspense rising very nicely.  This is a dark book, full of scheming and excellent peril, and I was rooting for Joanna to come through, even if I wasn’t entirely sure, until the surprising ending, how she would make it happen.

It’s hard to say who is the biggest architect of Bad Things happening to Joanna and  others in the Tudor court, or who is the main mastermind of intrigue. Whoever’s at the heart of it, whether the intrigue is political, religious, mystical, or some combination of all three, it runs very very deep.

Highly recommended that you block out a weekend to dig into this book, order takeout and don’t move from your comfy chair, because sustained attention is needed, especially in the last third of the book, to keep track of who Joanna’s friends and allies (few) are, who knows what, and who can’t be trusted (a lengthy and shifting list.) I had some knowledge, vaguely remembered from history class, of the Tudor court and historical events, but the sheer physicality of Bilyeau’s descriptions, and the immediacy of Joanna’s voice made the story absolutely engrossing. The kind of historical fiction where you look up after a few chapters, and are surprised to be in the 21st century.

Not sure what’s next for Bilyeau. It seems like Joanna’s story has reached its satisfying, if unanticipated, conclusion. I’m hoping there will be another historical mystery in the works, Tudor or otherwise.

 

Book Review: Gabriel Finley & the Raven’s Riddle

April 23, 2015

Gabriel Finley & the Raven’s Riddle
George Hagen
Schwartz & Wade Books
ARC from BookExpo

Gabriel Finley & the Raven’s Riddle absolutely charmed me from the start. I liked it for any number of reasons: a well-constructed fantasy, with just enough spookiness and strangeness to give a few delicious chills. It’s built around a well-constructed and interesting mythology: ravens have their own society, and tell riddles as both a matter of community and a matter of survival. The kids driving the plot are well-constructed, and if they and their various grownup figures are a touch on the eccentric side, they’re believably so. Plus, it’s set in Brooklyn, and does a good job of capturing a brownstone neighborhood full of kids and smallish shops.
And did I mention the riddles and puzzles? The mythology that the book sets up is that ravens love riddles of all kinds, and laugh croaky raven laughs at riddles and wordplay. Owls are more fond of puns. And certain ravens and people can communicate… Gabriel, a young boy being raised by his Aunt Jaz, collects riddles of all kinds. He’s being raised by his aunt, because his parents disappeared under Mysterious and Menacing Circumstances, in a way that has to do with how the human and raven worlds intersect, and with magic, mythology, and of course puzzles. Together with his riddle-loving new friend Abby, the young violin prodigy Pamela, Gabriel must find a way to unlock the ultimate puzzle, what happened when his father disappeared. Gabriel and his friends need to decide whether to trust the school bully, Somes, and a local shopkeeper who may or may not be trustworthy. There’s also an excellent literary reference in one of the key puzzles. I won’t spoil it for potential readers though. Throughout, Hagen’s prose makes it easy to visualize the characters and settings– from Abby’s mismatched bright outfits to the corridors of Gabriel’s house or the underground explorations that are part of their quest.

While very few books will ever come close to The Westing Game, one of my all-time favorites, I can see and appreciate some of the same elements here. Kids working together to solve puzzles. The puzzles themselves, which seem right about on target for the book’s middle-grade audience. (I can admit a few of the riddles stumped me on the first try!) Also, as mentioned above- some of the villains and obstacles getting in the way of Gabriel’s quest are well-characterized. Neither straightforward big-bads nor mawkish forced sympathy. Good stuff, throughout. Highly recommended as a middle grade book with enough going on to grab an older reader (including one, ahem, a decade or two past her middle grade years.) I don’t think there are plans for a sequel or series, but I wouldn’t mind seeing more in this world, and I’d definitely like to see where Hagen’s imagination heads next.

Unread

April 16, 2015

elizabethwillse:

Um… Oh dear.

Between physical, and digital books, I can safely say the number must be at least 100. I still have unread books I brought home from a trip to Scotland.

And yet, I run my finger over spines, shrug, move on, and head to the library to find entirely different books.
The bookshelf equivalent of having nothing to wear, I suppose.

Originally posted on Booking Through Thursday:

btt button

What proportion of the books you own are unread?

Don’t forget to leave a link to your actual response (so people don’t have to go searching for it) in the comments—or if you prefer, leave your answers in the comments themselves!

View original

Singing the Praises of Libraries for National Library Week

April 16, 2015

It’s National Library Week this week. Hooray!

I always knew librarians were a talented, dedicated, and passionate group. But these videos are just… wow. Catchy and clever, and amazingly well done.

First, from the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, we have CheckItOut, a Taylor Swift parody.

Unread Books, a parody of Bruno Mars, comes from the Orange County Public Library

There are a few different versions of All About Those Books, out there, parodying Megan Trainor’s All About That Bass. This one’s my favorite, from the Mount Desert Island High School Library. These are (some very talented!) high school kids.

Yes, I’ve had all three stuck in my head this week, and yes I like these enthusiastic, catchy library anthems much better than the pop songs they parody. Well done, all!

Interesting Things I’ve Read Recently 3/31

March 31, 2015

Why We Need Ruth Bader Ginger Ice Cream (NPR blog)

Of course, ice cream flavor names aren’t exactly political mandates or awards for lifetime achievement. As McCall acknowledges, flavor-name parity won’t close the gender pay gap or elect more women to office. But calling attention to gender disparities of this kind is valuable precisely because such disparities so easily go unnoticed. A string of female flavors would seem anomalous (Ruth Bader Ginger, Coco-nut Chanel, Angelina Jolie Rancher, Jane Austen Cream Pie…), yet in many domains, it takes a stunt like McCall’s for most of us to notice a trend of female absence.

The above piece, and the blog post it references from BuzzFeed do an excellent job of setting up an important conversation, and arguing how urgently it’s needed… through ice cream flavor puns.

What Happens To a Book After You Donate It to the Library? (BookRiot)

When the volunteers are done pricing, the books have to be stored until it’s time for the next big book sale. Some libraries are lucky to have large staging areas like obsolete garages that can store a whole lot of books. Other Friends of the Library groups have to dip into their coffers to pay for off-site storage. Still other libraries have spaces for small used book stores that are open year-round and staffed by volunteers, with the pricier books getting listed on Amazon.

Not sure if the NYPL even takes donations anymore, so not sure if this applies, but it’s still a fun read.

My childhood friends and I were avid readers, trading paperbacks and poring over the Scholastic catalog together. Now, even in 2015, children’s publishing has a diversity problem. But this was back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and so nearly 100 percent of the books I read were about white, straight, able-bodied kids. I didn’t think to question it; I yearned to read about kids who looked like me, but if I hadn’t read the books that were out there, I wouldn’t have read anything at all. I started writing fiction when I was seven years old, and even my own books at the time featured exclusively white characters because I just assumed people didn’t publish contemporary books about black kids.
The biggest art heists of the 20th century  (Independent) includes the Mona Lisa, a massive theft in Boston that remains unsolved 25 years later, and a Rembrandt painting that has been stolen 4 (!!) times from the same museum. But at least they have a sense of humor about it.

Interesting Things I’ve Read Recently 3/27/15

March 27, 2015

How Snobbery Helped Take the Spice Out of European Cooking (NPR Blog)

Back in the Middle Ages, spices were really expensive, which meant that only the upper class could afford them. But things started to change as Europeans began colonizing parts of India and the Americas.

“Spices begin to pour into Europe,” explains Krishnendu Ray, an associate professor of food studies at New York University. “What used to be expensive and exclusive became common.”

Related: Food Studies at New York University? Neat! Making a note to see if they host lectures open to the public.

Speaking of really cool things at NYU: There’s an Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Symposium there this summer: Art Crime and Cultural Heritage: Fakes, Forgeries, and Looted and Stolen Art. According to the Department of Justice, art crime is the third largest type of crime in the world. I have no justifiable, professional reason to go to this conference. (Kicking myself for not studying archives, preservation or more in the vein of cultural heritage for library school.) Man, this looks cool, though. Maybe a browse through journals is in order. Because art crime can be astonishing (and surprisingly low tech).

Inside the Secret Technology that Makes ‘The Daily Show’ and ‘Last Week Tonight’ Work (SplitSider)

Historically, these types of video clips would have been pulled from stacks of videocassettes, or saved on a DVR or TiVo. But SnapStream, a Houston, Texas company that developed a system of recording television shows directly onto a server and searching them through a web browser, is changing the way these comedy shows report the news.

I’m torn between delight at this sleek, data-crunching program for media… and marveling at “the way these comedy shows report the news” as a phrase that captures our times.

Sign language that African Americans use is different from that of whites (Washington Post)

[The study by Carolyn McKaskill and her research team], which assembled and analyzed data from filmed conversations and interviews with 96 subjects in six states, is the first formal attempt to describe Black ASL and resulted in the publication last year of “The Hidden Treasure of Black ASL.” What the researchers have found is a rich signing system that reflects both a history of segregation and the ongoing influence of spoken black English.

 

 

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