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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

Hodgepodge 1/14/17

January 14, 2017

First hodgepodge of the new year…. first blog post, too!

I’m settling into some big (good) changes, and will have more to say about them, and about a lot of other things, as I get to settle in. Meanwhile, some odds and ends.

A San Francisco Library Book Returned 100 Years Overdue (SFGate). I think that might be a record.

A 4-year-old kid who’s read 1,000 books got to be Librarian of Congress for the day.

Aside from the fact that the kid is face-meltingly cute… the important part from the Washington Post about her.

Before Daliyah Marie Arana was even born, her parents say, she was learning how to read.

While she was pregnant with Daliyah, her mother would read books to her other young children on a daily basis. When Daliyah was an infant, she would hear her older brother reading chapters of books out loud in their Gainesville, Ga., home. And by the time she was about 18 months old, she was recognizing the words in the books her mother read her.

That is what needs thinking about. That is how you raise a reader, surround the kid with books and reading. Not sure how to make that happen around the obstacles that life can throw a family. Libraries are only part of the equation.

The top-circulating e-books and e-audiobooks from libraries in 2016, from OverDrive.


Book Review: All The Rage

January 6, 2017

Book cover, All the Rage by Courtney SummersAll the Rage
by Courtney Summers
Macmillan 2015
(library book)

This was, at times, hard to read. But that’s part of what makes it an important book to read. I’m not entirely sure how to talk about the book, or my experience of reading it.

To paraphrase the book blurb: Romy Gray, a girl from the wrong side of town, knows that the Sheriff’s son, Kellen is not the golden boy everyone thinks he is. Telling the truth about him, that he raped her, has cost her friends, family. Former friends now bully her relentlessly. Working in the local diner feels like a respite, where nobody knows her, and maybe she can start to feel less broken. Until a girl with ties to both Romy and Kellen goes missing.

This is a book about poisonous violence against a young woman. Against young women. Working with Romy’s narration, letting her tell the story that pulls together past, present, and her experience and voice… sometimes the prose is constructed beautifully, with lines I wanted to stop and read aloud and marvel at. Even at points in the book where the story, and Romy’s experience, were breaking my heart.

This is a hell of a book. Staying in Romy’s voice, her experiences past and present. It was intense. Suffocating at times. To read about emotions of that intensity, in her voice, and also realize how small and turned-inward Romy’s school and town could feel. In Grebe, where everyone knows everyone, but there are still secrets, still ways to lie. It was suffocating to read.

I definitely want this on the shelves of any teen library. School library, public library. I want it to be there, and be a resource. But I have no idea how to get it into the hands of people who need to read it. “Here, read this book. It will break your heart with truths you already know. Or truths you need to learn.” There are discussion questions in the back of the book, which I appreciate. Because I’m not sure how to discuss it. How to get the word out to someone who might really need to read it.

Bookish Resolutions 2017

January 3, 2017

Starting the New Year with the tail end of a long break, and the tail end of a cold has decidedly put a crimp in my usual New Year’s Resolution mojo.

I know that it would be smart to use the time to get organized, fueled by the resolution fervor. Clean off my desk, conquer dust bunnies organize papers and clothes and prep meals and do errands and and read all the things in my TBR pile and and and and….

I feel that Allie Brosh handles this state of mind beautifully in This is Why I’ll Never Be An Adult, one of the excellent comics from Hyperbole and a Half.

This bit describes my current mental state.

responsibility12alternate2It’s raining. I’m trying to get rid of the last of a cold.

I’m blogging pretty much expressly to give myself permission not to clean all the things today, nor to read all the things, or do all the errands and chores. Nor will I sign up for all the reading challenges ever.

The new year always brings some good opportunities for reading resolutions, given a competitive edge with reading challenges.

The Litsy network is running Read A to Z: one book title or author for every letter of the alphabet.

Read Harder from Book Riot (I like the emphasis on reading more diversely here.)

The challenge I should embrace the most is likely a riff on my usual no-buying-books resolution: #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks. Tackling the towering pile of books currently in my orbit and on my shelves and Kindle.

Which dovetails nicely with goals of not leaving the house on this rainy day when I’m supposed to be getting rid of my cold and taking it easy.

The new year also makes me want to take on a classic work of literature. I’m delighted to find that there’s an app for that! Serial Reader. Daily, bite-sized chunks of the classic of your choice, delivered to your device. This is good, because the daily portions will help me override the panicky feeling of wanting to get it all done at once. I’ve started with The Three Musketeers, which has 90 sections. Will see how that goes.

Also going to make a semi-bookish resolution, in the form of getting better about doing professional development stuff… time to dig into webinars and other continuing education opportunities to get my librarian skills sharper. Again, making time for webinars is even reasonably compatible with making time for not leaving the house on this rainy day. So yay!

To sum up my resolutions for 2017:

  1. Don’t buy new books.
  2. Read my own damn books
  3. Read more diversely wherever possible.
  4. When inevitably breaking Resolution #1, shop at independent bookstores.
  5. Read classics via Serial Reader
  6. Do more professional development self-study to boost librarian skillset

What are your reading resolutions?

Book Review: A Study in Charlotte

December 31, 2016

Cover image, A Study in Charlotte by Brittany CavallaroA Study in Charlotte
Brittany Cavallaro
Katherine Tegan Books
(Library Book)

The premise is this: The descendants, respectively, of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson meet at a Connecticut boarding school in the 21st century. Each has been aware of the other their whole life: the crime-solving adventures of their famous forbears were published (with varying degrees of veracity, depending on who you ask.) The Holmes family has always tended towards the odd and intense… tutoring their kids to dust for fingerprints while still in preschool, and the like. And the Watson family has, to varying degrees, been enmeshed in their lives. So now you have James “Jamie” Watson, starting at the posh Sherringford Academy on a rugby scholarship, the school that aloof, brilliant Charlotte Holmes attends.After they’ve formed a somewhat uneasy friendship tinged with hero-worship (him) and arrogance (her), crimes and murders start happening. Eerily similar to those chronicled in the legendary stories.

I admit it, I went into this book with a lot of skepticism. The more I think about it, though, I think it worked, really well. I zoomed through reading it, as is my inclination with a good vacation read. And I think I want to go back and reread the last third, to appreciate some of  how the plot worked, with some nods to the original Doyle stories. The mystery took a few turns that genuinely surprised me, even when clearly built on the Doyle stories, in a way that characters understood and reacted to. I like the conceit of having the famous Holmes and Watson stories be part of a real legacy, that these two teenagers are dealing with. I like how the characteristics associated with the original characters morphed and played out, in some ways that were self-aware. The self-awareness struck the right balance, giving a nod to the source material without coming off as slavishly derivative or arch.

Plus, it was a solid, workable YA, with Jamie and Charlotte, and their friends coming through as authentic teenage characters, not just Sherlock and Watson stuffed into modern teenager bodies and tropes. I’m glad it’s the start of a series, and I’m looking forward to reading more.

If future outings in this series do anything with the one where Holmes and Watson deal with a were-orangutang, though, I’m not sure whether I’m going to be impressed, or ready to take back everything I just said above.

Oh, and it looks like BBC Sherlock is back on my screen tomorrow night, thanks to PBS. That’s a Holmes adaptation I’m definitely going to watch with a jaundiced eye, as per usual…Stephen Moffatt does a rotten job with women characters. Blah. Maybe someone should send him a copy of this book.


Book Review: The Marvels

December 24, 2016

Cover image, Marvels by Brian SelznickThe Marvels
By Brian Selznick
(Library Book)

This was lovely, and devastating, and devastatingly lovely. Not at all what I was expecting. Better than I was expecting. I had high expectations, yes, but what I expected was something fantastic in all possible senses: the magical sense as well as the positive sense.
And that is definitely what I got.

I was delightfully surprised, beginning to page through, seeing lovely charcoal illustrations. It’s left to the reader to piece together the first parts of the story from the charcoal drawings. Glimpses of a stormy sea, an angel, a shipwreck, theaters.

A family legacy carried out and passed down across centuries.

And then, as I’ve paged through the pictures to a certain point, there’s a narrative that took me, again and again, by surprise. In the way its characters evolved and the way the pictures of the first story wove into it.

Lovely stuff.

Why haven’t I read Brian Selznick before?

Definitely putting him on the To Read, and To Own In Hardcover list. Because returning this to the library is going to hurt.

Here’s a lovely book trailer that somewhat captures the experience of the book.


If you need me, I’ll be curled up in a corner, paging through the lovely illustrations. Again.

Series Still Going Strong

December 23, 2016

It’s hard to escape series fiction, especially if you enjoy reading fantasy and mysteries and other genres as much as I do. That’s especially true in the YA markets. It seems like every book that catches my eye is “Book One in the Something-or-Other Series” or worse yet, “Book Three in the Something Or Other Series” (and now I have to go read the first two if I want any clue what’s going on).

On some level, I’m still kind of mad that The Name of the Star launched a series. I enjoyed it as a self-contained novel, and subsequent installments ended on a few cliffhangers that made me make a spectacle of myself on public transit, making noises that could best be described as “strangled Muppet cries of outrage.”

Sometimes, I get lucky, and the series stays engrossing and fun to read.

But then I’m not sure what to do on the reviewing side. A review of the next book in the series could pretty much amount to:

“Still good, with new adventures and deepening friendships for the characters I liked in the last book. Plus a few new characters and twists I’m enjoying and didn’t see coming. You should read this entire series. Because it’s terrific. Start with the first book and keep going.”

Which doesn’t make for a very lengthy blog post. And could get repetitive across the various series where it holds true.

So… I guess this post is a roundup of some love for later books in series I’ve enjoyed recently, and I’m glad to see going strong.

Cover Image, The Hammer of Thor by Rick RiordanI was fortunate enough to snag the second Magnus Chase book by Rick Riordan from the library almost right after I finished the first. The Hammer of Thor continued Magnus’s adventures with Sam the Valkyrie, Hearth the Elf and Blitzen the Dwarf, saving the world from Loki’s schemes and holding off Ragnarok. I giggled my way through what I’d enjoyed from the first book, sarcasm, snark and pop culture references woven along with Norse mythology into the adventure. Also, I really enjoyed the introduction of a new character, Alex, who’s clearly going to keep making things interesting in future installments. (Being less vague about Alex would be a huge spoiler about what the character’s like.) I like how the team dynamic is evolving as much as I enjoy the adventures themselves. These are big, chunky books but super-fast, fun reads. Can’t wait for the next one.

Cover image, Ghostly Echoes by William Ritter, Jackaby novelI have had Ghostly Echoes, the latest in the Jackaby series by William Ritter, queued up on my Kindle for ages and ages, and I finally got around to reading it. I’m sorry I put it off for so long. It’s great to see Abigail coming into her own, taking an active role in solving a mystery that had all sorts of ghoulish, atmospheric touches. Petty vendettas, a big, sprawling conspiratorial mystery, a ghost… And a duck. There’s a duck. It makes sense in context. Mostly. Like the Magnus Chase books, I’m reasonably certain that the Jackaby series is being marketed to middle-grade readers, but I can vouch for both sets of books being fun to read at easily twice the target age.

Cover image, The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman, Invisible Library Book 3With a similar, baroque steampunk feel, the next book in the Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman, The Masked City, made a good read to follow up my Jackaby adventures. The second installment has Kai kidnapped, a plot twist very much complicated by the fact that he’s a dragon from a powerful family. Irene has to journey into an alternate-Venice, steeped in the atmosphere of the Renaissance, racing against time to save her friend, and keep the dragon factions and the Fae from going to war. It took a while for the action to get going, but I appreciated the attention to setting up a really twisting plot. Also, I enjoyed the way that story and archetype wove in and became plot devices in themselves. In Cogman’s world, the Fae’s construction of their own narrative is both their strength and their weakness, and pulls everyone around them into it. The way that played out over the course of this adventure was quite satisfying to my love of meta and commentary.

Hoping that the coming year brings me new books in these, and some of my other favorite series, like the Young Wizards and Billy Boyle.

Holiday Hodgepodge

December 20, 2016

A few festive odds and ends from the holiday cheer corners of the Internet.

Think of these as stocking stuffers.

50 Vintage Christmas Cards from the NYPL Archives. (Mental Floss)

The face of Santa Claus. (BBC News.) Scientists have reconstructed and created an image of the face of St. Nicholas, a 4th-century monk who liked to give gifts secretly, the inspiration for Santa Claus.

Biker Santa (Seguin Gazette) Santa Claus joined local bikers in Seguin, Texas, to visit local nursing homes. The pictures on this one are great.

Church cat claims nap spot & chucks Baby Jesus out of the manger  (various corners of the Internet.)

The real history of ‘A Christmas Carol,’ (TIME) 

Which, of course, demands an outtake from my favorite version, A Muppet Christmas Carol.

And also an outtake from my father’s favorite version, Scrooged:

I am not altogether certain what this says about me and Dad.

If you’re feeling the need for a longer Christmas read, some holiday-themed book reviews I’ve done.

Five Favorite Christmas Books

Nine books to make the season bright 

Christmas Books and Gifts For Readers

Finally, a parody mashup of Hamilton and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” It’s delightful as a concept, and because it’s really well done! Note to self: check out more from Eclipse 6, because I do love some holiday a cappella.

Merry almost-Christmas to you, if you’re so inclined. Or if not, more generalized cheer.