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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

Goodnight, Sweet #Readathon

October 22, 2016

logo for Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon

Time for me to put this Readathon to bed.

I’m very pleased. I had a day where I cuddled with a purring cat, went out and about and met new people and learned about local history, and then adjourned home to sprawl on my couch and finish three books. Including my first Readathon foray into an audiobook, that I found really grabbed me, so I listened to it until I finished the story.

I frolicked on Twitter a good bit, and explored some blogs, but not so much that I felt too pulled away from reading. Got to say hello to some of the international crowd, and got some book recommendations as well, which is one of my favorite parts of the Readathon.

I think I’m going to revisit some of the mini-challenges as fodder for future daydreams and blog posts, especially book memories, book casting, and which book worlds I’d visit given a chance.

Happy Readathon to all, and to all a good night.

Who knows how long I’ll stay asleep- might rejoin as things wind down in the daylight hours.


#Readathon Mid-Event Survey

October 22, 2016

logo for Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon1. What are you reading right now?
Just finished Sidney Chambers and the Forgiveness of Sins, which I started 2-3 weeks ago. It’s been my slow-reading nightstand book for a while. Right before polishing that off, I finished listening to the Welcome to Night Vale novel.

2. How many books have you read so far?
Two: a Sidney Chambers mystery and the Welcome to Night Vale novel have got to be the weirdest juxtaposition of the Readathon. Both have lovely turns of prose, though, so I guess it works in terms of cadence and pacing, if not imagery. I’d started both weeks ago. I think being in the middle of a book is the key to a successful Readathon, rather than starting on page one in hour one, to foster a sense of accomplishment.

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?
I’m not sure yet. I think this book finishing/evening time is a signal to do some things like put together some dinner-esque snacks to graze on, catch up on social media and blogs while I ponder. Maybe a Jodi Taylor? One thing is I’m going to go for paper rather than e-book, for sure.

4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?
I had a scheduled interruption earlier in the day, to be out and about rambling, but I have been in since this afternoon, pretty much immersed in reading and the bookish internet, give or take some chats with the nonbookish. People know I’m off the grid today. I have the non-Readathon crowd pretty well trained.

5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?
The fact that I got so into an audiobook I’d put on as a transition/break while I was heading home and making lunch, that I kept listening for almost three hours, to finish it. Never done an audiobook as part of the Readathon before. Or gotten so engrossed in an audiobook that I wanted to set aside purposeful time to focus on it. Audiobooks are usually bedtime things, or car trip things, or doing-something-else things for me, rather than a focal reading mode. Maybe time to switch it up and listen to books and podcasts more intentionally.

#Readathon Hour 9ish Mini Challenges

October 22, 2016

logo for Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon

I’m back to the Readathon after a morning and early afternoon rambling about uptown. Some of it was bookish: getting to see a statue of Mother Goose (which I mistook for Baba Yaga at the time) and a bust of Schiller, as well as a detour through Strawberry Fields. It wasn’t the hideaway focus on books and reading that I’ve valued about previous Reathons, but it was good. Taking time out, meeting new people, taking introspection and stillness time from everyday life, regrouping time. Spiritual reconnection based around words and poetry. So, similar to the Readathon, if less virtual.

Plus, I misquoted Lady Lazarus at a new friend who works as a stuntman, so that entertained me. And he was suitably impressed. Librarian cred! It wasn’t an ideal day for outside exploration: raw, windy, bits of rain. Good weather to be back home, wearing cozy fuzzy pajama pants and a gray sweater with long droopy sleeves I’ve had since I was 14. Yes, that’s more what this weather demands.

Now I’m back home, wearing cozy clothes and catching up on Readathon.

Midnight Book Girl asks: What are your bookish memories?

That’s like asking for a favorite book. I couldn’t possibly pick just one.

I can think of so many:

This Readathon day brings back a memory of my first Readathon in 2011, where I read and read, slept just a few hours. The next afternoon, my parents and I went to visit my grandma in her nursing home, where she and her friends were suitably impressed, if a little bemused by the idea of staying up all night reading and being on the Internet. I remember her one friend who’d been an English professor really loving the idea.

The Westing GameI remember book fairs when I was a kid. I bought The Westing Game at the first school book fair I can remember going to. I was eight. I’ve read it every year since. Hm, it’s almost Halloween, I should read it today!

I remember two books that really made me cry: The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis and The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. Both books made me sob. And I didn’t expect it either time, nor did my astonished father, who gave me a hug.

Reading The DaVinci Code in tandem with a former Jesuit seminary student, who was absolutely outraged  about how much canon law they got wrong. He waved his arms and got such a good rant going I was pretty sure he was going to levitate. I felt almost as irate about the badness of the writing, but man, his ire was fun to watch!

I remember all sorts of bookstores: Burton’s Bookstore on Long Island, the Corner Bookstore uptown, making sure that every place I travel to, I go check out the local bookstore. Or bookstores. (London, Edinburgh, I promise I’ll come back to you and your bookstores, someday soon.)

I’ve got to keep this Bookish Memory idea going, to see what else comes up.

Another daydream-inspiring mini-challenge from Ampersand Read:

This challenge seems simple: if money and time were no object (you’ve won the biggest lottery jackpot ever, and your boss is totally fine with you taking all of the time off work you need), where would you go to experience your favorite book(s) or series? Fictional places count too, of course.

My first thought is, ooh! Getting to be in the Young Wizards world and see real magic! Or American Gods or the Library in Discworld… I’m not sure I want to be in a world where the magic is real because those are stories about preventing the end of the world. I’m really, really not interested in being a protagonist, or even any kind of centrally involved in a scenario where the world might end. Or even having that on the table. That is not my kind of adventure, thanks. I think I’d do better in a lovely sort of ordinary life novel. The restaurant in Comfort Food  by Kate Jacobs or the one in The School of Essential Ingredients would be amazing, and I’ve read both books any number of times, just to be around the people again. Good ideas. Or into the Westing Game, not to play, necessarily, but to dispense cookies and hugs and alcohol to a few people who need them.

Gah! No! Nevermind that, forget it. If I have one chance to crawl into the world of a book and stay there for as long as I want, I want to go to The Night Circus. Why didn’t I think about that? It’s lovely, and I want to explore it and it’s not the end of the world.

Also, if I could go into books, I have a few vendettas to settle: Holden Caulfield needs a kick in the shins. Speaking of The Westing Game. Bella and Edward also need a good kick. As does Mrs. Bennett from Pride and Prejudice.

Roving, Rambling #Readathon

October 22, 2016

logo for Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon

Good Morning, Readathon!

In my head, I hear Robin Williams yelling that. Motivational!


Getting things started with the introductory meme.

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

I am reading from the city of Gotham, in various places depending on the weather. I’d planned to be out and about this morning, setting aside my book in favor of some sociable fall-weather rambling plans. But the forecast says rainy and gray, so… we will see. Could be reading from my couch. Or my comfy chair. Or the local cafe. It’s a readathon of no fixed address.

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

I’m looking forward to two:

Cover image, Fic by Anne JamisonFic, by Ann Jamison, which I own as a paper book and have had in my much-anticipated TBR pile approximately forever. Because it’s nonfiction/commentary, I’m beginning to realize that if I don’t deliberately carve out sit-down-and-read time, I’m not going to hit my stride with it. That’s usually how nonfiction works, for me.

Jacket image, No Time Like the Past by Jodi TaylorI’m also looking forward to rereading No Time Like The Pastone of Jodi Taylor’s St. Mary’s series. Because I tore through it in pretty much one sitting a couple of months ago, and I feel like I read it so delightedly and so fast that I don’t actually remember what happened. So I’d like to do that before I go on with the series.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

It’s not about one particular snack for me as much as it is the collection of snacks I’ve laid in for the Readathon (to be re-purposed as lunch later in the week, as whim strikes) ideal for grazing while reading:

  • Veggies and spinach dip
  • Dark chocolate almonds
  • Cucumbers and cheddar cheese (to be eaten sandwich style, with slices of cucumber framing the cheese)
  • Fresh apple cider
  • Peanut butter oatmeal cookies

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

I’m starting my day by cat-sitting for the next door neighbor cat, Yossi. After he’s fed and watered and tended to properly, I’m going to sit on my neighbor’s couch for a bit with my book, to see if I can get some cat snuggles to start my day and my Readathon. Here is a picture of Yossi.


Hopefully, neither he, nor I, will drool on my book too much.

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?

I’ve done a number of Readathons in the past. My first was in April 2011.  There have been intermissions and interruptions, as things like grad school and my work schedule came up (including a few memorable Readathon Weekends where I stayed up late working on a paper and being cheered on Twitter by readers using the hashtag to talk about books). Every time it rolls around, I make an effort to spend at least a couple of hours reading something for fun. The main difference is that this is the first Readathon I’m doing entirely at home, rather than decamping to my parents’ place. I’ve relied on a change of location to help me keep the Readathon spirit in the past, but we’ll see if I can power through despite home distractions. Ideally, it’ll get me more in the habit of carving out intentional and sustained reading time at home on an ordinary weekend. I will, however miss Dad’s traditional pasta sauce and spaghetti.

So that’s me, getting started reading. Happy Readathon to all!

Hodgepodge 10/20/16

October 20, 2016

Penguin boss admits the company read too much into the e-book hype. (Telegraph)


Behold,  my shocked face.

“There was a definite moment when we all went shooting out after the shiny app thing and spent money on that and invested probably unwisely in products that we thought could in some way enhance the book.

“We somehow lost confidence in the power of the word on the page, which was a bad moment.”

I shouldn’t snark this too hard, as tech is shiny and seductive, and the move to make it ubiquitous is understandable. I’m just relieved that the human brain pushes back to cling to paper, honestly.

Libraries’ responsibilities to tangible books are not without problems. Good read from Public Libraries Online about preservation and discoverability and trying to keep up.:

Mostly, it falls to our national libraries such as the Library of Congress to collect all the books. This works if everyone registers for copyright, as a book or books are to be placed in the LC as part of the copyright process. This kind of preservation won’t work any longer now with eBooks and the cost of changing an address for single book authors. It will be up to consortia to figure out who collects what.

Authors’ Other Jobs is a fun read (BookRiot) with bonus tatties. I said TATties, as in Scottish potatoes, you filthy-minded imaginary reader!

A night in Dracula’s Castle, complete with Bram Stoker’s descendants, and sleeping in a coffin. (DailyDot) My parents live next to a graveyard, so I’m not sure I need to enter a contest to get that funereal vibe, thanks.

Movie Poster for The Monster Squad movieIn a similar vein (see what I did there) 38 Facts About Frankenstein (MentalFloss) which includes a nod to Monster Squad, the very best monster movie in the world.

Libraries and Librarians respond to the Scary Clown Epidemic.  Please note, I will not be reading any of these scary “clownpocalypse” books, thank you very much. But it’s a useful and timely reference for book displays, I guess. Still: yikes.

Archiving the Inventor of the Archive (JSTOR Daily) made me want to go back to grad school and study Archives. Maybe someday.


Trick or #Readathon?

October 18, 2016

imgres-1The Readathon took me by surprise for October. It shouldn’t have taken me by surprise. I know it’s always in April and October. I have prepping for the Readathon down to a science, from snacks to book stacks.

Not that I have even begun to think about any of this prep for the current Readathon.

Because the Readathon snuck up on me. Lots going on. Work stuff: new semester, lots of projects from curriculum design to helping out with an e-book launch, information literacy tutoring, student questions. Life stuff: projects, frolics. How is it mid-October already? And I haven’t even made soup yet, this fall? Or planned for the Readathon!

As luck would have it, there are all sorts of enticing events to lure me away from my reading nest this Saturday. Given a chance to be social and enjoy fall weather, I definitely want to make time for that, no matter how much fun it is to curl up and read and connect with fellow Readathon folks more virtually. Having outdoor frolics that eat into my Readathon time is, after all, a fun problem to have.My parents are out of town next weekend, so no decamping to the ancestral home for a bookish spa weekend. (The Readathon snuck up on them, too.)

Another wrinkle: the demise of my Kindle. Or, rather, its departure to parts unknown. On Saturday, I was reading on the subway, pleased with all the errands I’d accomplished. Yesterday afternoon, I ransacked all my various bags and apartment corners… No Kindle. It must have fallen out of my bag in my schlepping hither and yon. Cue swearing, self-recriminations, fist shaken at universe. On the plus side, it was straightforward to report it missing, unlink the device from my account, and even order a new one. I was kind of hoping there was a replacement discount through the warranty, but no joy. Sigh. I will eat the replacement cost as an Idiot Tax, and learn my lesson about juggling e-reader vs that many various shopping bags.

Decently easy to remedy: once the New Kindle is here and powered up, I’ll have the books right where I left them. But, argh. This, too, cuts into my Readathon-anticipating zen. Grumble.

I think this might be a Readathon weekend I expand to fit my own schedule. Forget Saturday. I’m starting Friday night, after work. I’ll have dinner with my book, and stretch out for the evening. I’ll cavort about on social media in between my real-world cavorting. And I’ll bring a book with me to read in between frolics. (Possibly a paper book, so as not to tempt fate unduly. Or, a new Kindle stuck in a more secure pocket. Sigh.)

Update: New plan- not starting on Friday, as I don’t want to miss seeing the Hamildoc. With friends, the better to learn, sing along, and revel in being the Hamiltrash that I am.

On the positive side, I still have plenty of time to decide what to read next. And time to line up some tasty snacks.

Happy Readathon, to the binge-readers and the book-browsers, to the prepared and the spontaneous, the social and the solitary.

Enjoy the Readathon in whatever spirit moves you!

Review Roundup: YA

October 14, 2016

Another grab bag of bits and pieces of reviews. These are books intended, I think, for a teen, or tween readership. I read them and enjoyed them at twice the age of the target audience, so I can confirm they work for other age groups. How’s that for science?

24885806The Winter Place
Alexander Yates
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
448 pages
(Library book)

How’s this for a great first line? “Tess was sitting on the front stoop of her house, kissing a boy, when the knight rode up.”? And the best part about it is that there’s a plausible, real-world context for the knight (Tess’s dad is in the SCA). But not so much for the rest of the wondrous events, in this mythic, dreamy, modern fantasy novel.
There are strong elements of modern fairy tale: Tess and her younger brother Axel live in a rural, almost woodland cottage, raised by their father (an absentminded professor who jousts at a nearby RenFaire). Their mother died so long ago, she’s basically half-dream and half-memory in their lives. But when their father is killed in a freak accident, Tess and her brother are uprooted from everything they know, and taken to live with their grandparents, reluctant guardians in Finland. Where there is a mysterious stranger who might have answers about their mother. Or might lead them to a mythic monster who’s out to kill them both. Using Tess’s skeptical eye as the narrative voice works particularly well to allow for descriptive worldbuilding, as the events of the novel take stranger and spookier turns, fueled by Scandinavian mythology and its imagery. Especially when set against Axel’s willing imagination (or are the things he sees hallucinations?) The fusion of dream-logic and Scandinavian mythical imagery made me enjoy this as a unique fantasy.

9780062421906_c1360One Half from the East
Nadia Hashmi
(e-galley from Edelweiss)
I loved this story. It was a fascinating look at culture and family structure in a village in Afghanistan. Brief summary. Obayda is the youngest of four sisters, whose father is still recovering from losing his leg. She lives in the very sex-segregated small village that her family moved to, after Her mother decides that Obayda will become Obayd, living and being treated as a son, to help bring the family luck. Obayda/Obayd is a kid navigating a huge, sudden role change, from living as a girl/daughter to living as a boy, getting the choicest meats, being expected to run and play, and go to different classes. Finally, a friendship with another bacha posh, helps make sense of it all. The story is told entirely through Obayda/Obayd’s eyes, and first-person perspective. That strong narrative voice absolutely makes the story work, anchored in the unique take on the culture that comes from being part of both worlds. And from being, above everything else, a kid: curious, loyal to family, forming friendships, dreaming, hoping. That perspective, and the immediacy of voice, really makes the story work, because you get such an interior view of events and feelings. I think, reading more stories like this, that capture experience and personality, would go a long way to realize the goals of reading more diversely to learn about world experiences.

cover image, Fear the Drowning Deep by Sarah Glenn MarshFear the Drowning Deep
Sarah Glenn Marsh
Skyhorse Publishing
(e-galley from Edelweiss)

A spooky, atmospheric fantasy, using folklore and the setting of the Isle of Man to tell a unique tale. There are romantic elements, and coming-of-age elements, and historical fiction, as well as supernatural and mysterious aspects. So, in other words, right in my sweet spot. (And, possibly, thematically linked to The Winter Place, for a reading experience.)
Bridey, the main character, is navigating family relationships, how to choose her apprenticeship and town identity, and maybe first love, in a way that’s focal to the plot. But it’s not just coming-of-age, there’s a spooky, atmospheric mystery going on in the town. And mythic elements, drawn, I gather, from the legends and history of the Isle of Man. I enjoyed a glimpse into the folklore as much as I enjoyed the way the story used the mythic elements. The descriptions of Bridey’s home life, and her work with Morag, and the descriptions of her father’s boat made this feel like it could be set any time from fifty years ago to two hundred years ago, which added to the feeling of being a fairy tale. I think I remember a passing mention that it was meant to be set around World War I, but it had a more arcane atmosphere. Good stuff, would recommend, especially for teens who enjoy spooky supernatural romance. Unlike some examples of the supernatural romance genre, the heroine shows courage, agency, and has her own set of skills, rather than subsuming herself in the boy.