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ARC POLICY: Chronically Behind on Writing Reviews

March 15, 2012

Dear Publicists, Publishers, Authors and Generous Book People,

I am in graduate school, pursuing a Masters in Information and Library Science.

While the program is fascinating, the coursework and reading load are a little intense.

And I have fallen behind on book reviews. Please limit the books you pitch or send me to 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, please!)

I will still be posting book reviews here when I can. But I cannot guarantee a timely review of your book, though I will do my best.

Thank you so much for keeping me Surrounded By Books

- Elizabeth

Debugging and Debugging at the Burke Library

July 26, 2014

In two days at the Burke, I did two different kinds of debugging.

And some helping to develop and expand their social media strategy, but I couldn’t shoehorn that into the title of this post.

Read more…

Book Review: Freak Show Without a Tent

July 21, 2014

Freak Show Without a TentJacket image, Freak Show without a Tent by Nevin Martell
Nevin Martell
Possibilities Publishing
June 2014
(review copy received from author)

From Nevis at age six to Vanuatu at age 12 to Tonga and Western Samoa at age 13, Nevin’s family vacations take him to places far more exotic than your average family jaunt to Disneyland. The memoir gathering these stories together is both a fun romp and a detailed view that evokes the places his family visits.

The book works as an armchair travel guide and daydream fodder. Anecdotes about each vacation make it easy to picture the islands themselves, and to feel brought along on the family trips. His writing makes it easy to share the white-knuckles in a small, rickety plane or watching land diving (both firmly crossed off my own vacation to-do list); and to wish for a bite of the johnnycakes or fresh caught fish cooked wrapped in leaves (yum). I’ll be pulling this off the shelf again in February, to cheer me up when it’s gray and slushy out.

Martell does a terrific job of blending the voice of the young boy seeing the islands for the first time (bickering with his sister, rolling his eyes at his dad, uneasy about piranhas swimming too near the boat) with the wry observations of an established writer looking back. Moments that stand out for capturing both voices include his riff on James Bond movies (I giggled out loud on the subway, and nearly missed my stop while reading) and his tale of the family’s experience with the awful-tasting but trippy kava ceremony on Fiji.

In the spirit of full disclosure as to how I got my hands on this book: Nevin and I went to the same college. He was a senior when I was a freshman. He came across my blog and reached out to tell me about his book, wondering whether I remembered him. (Here, I think it helps that he and I both have unique enough names for disambiguation in cyberspace.) He was a senior when I was a freshman, with a few friends in common. I remember a cheerful grin, and that he knew and wrote about cutting edge cool music for various school publications. So that added an extra layer of fun to reading this. But I can safely say it stands alone as a good read, even without prior knowledge.

My Blogging Family Tree

July 20, 2014

What does your blogging family tree look like? Who led your way into social media?

Over at BlogHer, they’ve been talking about blogging family trees. It got me remembering.

I came to book blogging through ink and paper journalism. Fran Wood, then features editor of the Star-Ledger tapped me to do some book reviews in 2007. Of course, I loved the idea of free books, and, even better, the chance to write about them. Periodically, packages of books would arrive from Fran, along with wordcounts and deadlines. It was like having a birthday every month!

I began exploring Twitter and Facebook around the same time.  (Fun fact: my Dad was the one who prodded me to get into both. He enticed me onto Facebook with promises to play Scrabble with me. A decision he later came to regret, when I started doing things like playing “BANJAX” on triple word scores. He won’t play with me anymore.)

I grew up on the Internet, of course, in the age of AOL disks and the understanding that cyberspace was not a place for real names or identifying information. Before book reviewing, and starting to blog about books here, any web journals I had were veiled under a screen name. If they were about connecting with others, they were about fandoms, or staying in touch with real-life friends, rather than participating in a deliberately created blogger community. So it felt distinctly odd to do things like use my real name to make my blog something that could be found and deliberately connected to me.

Making the transition into book reviewer and book blogger, and becoming more active on social media introduced me to Sassymonkey, who I see as a “blogmother,” both someone to steer and start conversations about books, and also a model of how book blogging worked. Sassymonkey introduced me to the community of BlogHer as well as being an entry point to various other book blogs. Through Twitter and other book blogs, I found my way to participating in blogger events like Booking Through Thursday and Dewey’s Readathon, expanding my family of book bloggers further still. Beginning to attend the Book Expo allowed me to meet some of these excellent book bloggers in person, along with introducing me to the writers, publishers and publicists who keep us all reading. (It was the community of librarians at the Book Expo who convinced me to go for my Masters in Library Science, but that’s a different family tree altogether).

In 2008, my social media life took a turn for the deliberate and professional, and found me taking on work as a social media manager and blog editor. Working to create and publicize content that focused on the interests of specific populations (women over 40 and fashion illustrators, to be exact) honed my ability to tailor social media content to a specific audience, and start conversations geared towards promoting a message to them. Now I do the same in the world of business books.

Working in content publishing (and publicity for a publishing company) while also blogging book reviews, and learning how to be a librarian, my blogging family tree starts to branch out in all directions.

Because of the way the different bookish and blogging interactions twine around one another (for example, my former Star-Ledger book review editor asked me for some tips on starting her own book blog), I think my blogging family tree may be less a tree than a trellis of ivy.

Historical Mysteries for Art and Book Lovers

July 19, 2014

On Saturdays, I work the circulation desk of my school library, in the company of Annalise. In addition to being one of my fellow students in the library science Masters program, Annalise is pursuing a Masters in Art History.  On a slow afternoon, we got talking about books. (Shocking, I realize!) We discovered that we’re both fans of mysteries set in any time period, and historical fiction.

So here’s a list of recommendations for Annalise

1. The Crown and The Chalice by Nancy Bilyeau for the historical setting (Tudor England) and the richness of description.

2. The Kate Martinelli mysteries by Laurie R. King. Start with Grave Talent

3. Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon for the setting in the Caucasus mountains in 950 A.D., and for the adventures and bickering of Amram and Zelikman.

4.The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon because there’s an antiquarian book dealer and a mystery. And it’s really good.

5. Sherlock Holmes variations that I like

6. A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness because there’s a mystery, an ancient text, and a vampire done vastly better than Twilight.

What mysteries would you add for an art historian who loves antiquarian books?

Book Review: I Love You More

July 12, 2014

Jacket image, I Love You More by Jennifer MurphyI Love You More by Jennifer Murphy
Doubleday, June 2014 (review copy from publisher)

Picasso Lane is twelve years old when her father, Oliver is murdered. During the course of the murder investigation, it is discovered that her father has two other wives. All of the women say they have never met, are shocked to learn of their husband’s polygamy. But, precocious Picasso knows otherwise. She knows that the other two women arrived secretly at the house, and that all three have the same purse, but carry different photos of her father. Kyle Kennedy, the detective assigned to the case, spends more and more time with Picasso’s mother, investigating the family, and then beginning to hope that she won’t be a suspect. The novel is told in alternating chapters, from the point of view of Picasso, Kyle, the Wives as a whole, and yes, even Oliver. As in: the dead guy. (I thought that last was a bit much.)

We’ll start with the good: It’s a fast summer read, but the prose is well crafted enough, that it feels a cut above purely trashy. Using alternating chapters to tell the mystery was an interesting device- the daughter, an investigator, the wives who might be suspects. I liked the shifts, though as I mentioned, hearing from the dead husband was a bit over the top. And I genuinely had no idea who had actually done the murder, as I followed along with the investigation. I found the wives’ interactions with each other, and the power dynamic between them interestingly creepy.

That said… this was a book I enjoyed disliking, far more than I actually enjoyed reading it. Poindextrix was in town for the weekend I was reading this. She and I kept laughing at how often I scoffed “Oh come on!” or “Really? Are you kidding me?” and rolling my eyes at the book. I can’t give a full account of what made me roll my eyes without spoiling, but here is a brief list:

The fact that nobody had a normal name. Picasso (who was at times, the kind of precocious kid who sets my teeth on edge in fiction) offers the explanation for why she is named Picasso (something about her mother and art and the truth). But come on! In the first few pages, when she referred to the other wives as “Jewels” and “Bert,” I snarked about nobody having a normal name in this gimmicky book.

While I appreciated the Wives chapters as a way to understand them in a character-driven suspense novel, I got frustrated by the pseudo-mystical tone of their narrative.

And Kyle? Do not get me started! I understand there are tropes in mystery novels, especially for gruff detectives who have Pasts, and beautiful women in trouble but come on! “He should take himself off the case!” I protested, making Poindextrix giggle.

In sum, I guess I had enough fun disliking this book to make it a worthwhile read?

Learning about Archives: Day One at the Burke Library

July 10, 2014
Shelves of Archival Boxes

Shelves of archival boxes. Wonder what’s in them!

A shorter version of this post (marginally less giddy) appears on The Burke Library Blog.

First of all, why haven’t I taken an archives class yet?

I went merrily along my digital library way through my classes at Pratt, and everyone I met who was studying to be an archivist was very nice, and their classes sounded interesting and… I did not take the intro Archives class. Maybe I thought:  since I didn’t have a background in archives already? Since I have (admittedly flexible) notions about special libraries and academic libraries, rather than the predetermined plan to work in archives that the archives-class-takers seemed to have?

And then I met Brigette Kamsler at a networking event at Pratt.

And she was really nice when we talked. And she was generous enough to suggest that I become an intern with her, despite my utter lack of a background in archives. She gave me a list of things to read, that have been a really good foundation, helping me understand the theory behind archives. Almost as if I’m catching up, and taking an archives class as I read and discuss. So it’s a start. I have a lot of catching up to do, though. Read more…

Book Review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

July 6, 2014

Jacket image, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle ZevinThe Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
Gabrielle Zevin
Algonquin Books
(borrowed from library)

I saw this at Book Expo 2013, but didn’t get a galley. The title made me curious about it, as did the bookloving nature of the plot and characters. It’s both a character-driven small town novel, and also driven by the love of books. Set in a bookstore at the center of the small town, and each chapter begins with a reference to a short story. Many of which I haven’t read, and now think I really ought to.

I am sure that if you’ve read the short stories referenced, they amplify the themes of the chapters they introduce. So it works on that level.

I also appreciate that the characters’ quirks felt reasonably well balanced: not so quirky that they feel like the author is trying too hard. I especially liked Officer Lambiase, for being a good friend to A.J. and for being a cop running a book group about crime fiction. I also appreciate the way the younger Maya was written. It’s really hard to write a child character well, especially a smart child in a bookstore in literary fiction. She could have gotten gratingly precocious, but Maya’s characterization worked.

Some of the story reminded me of A Simple Twist of Fate, a Steve Martin movie I love dearly, which is based on the story of Silas Marner. I think that might have played into the difficulty I had picturing what A.J. looked like, or even pinning down how old he and Amelia were. Not that the characters’ ages matter in any particular way to how this story is told.
I have thoughts and feelings about the ending, but I will say no more out of respect for spoilers. Except to say it is literary fiction, and that leads to certain endings being more likely. Is that oblique enough?


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