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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 7/29/16

July 29, 2016

I’d been calling these link roundups Odds and Ends. Have decided I like Hodgepodge better. Fun to type, fun to say. Here, have a hodgepodge.

International libraries give me wanderlust

Libraries in the Czech Republic

My parents just got back from a cruise around the Baltic Sea. Of course, they paid special attention to visiting libraries, bringing  back photos and tales for their librarian daughter.

The National Library of Finland, pictured below.

image of the interior of the National Library of Finland

National Library of Finland, by Dad

More from Dad’s blog:

In Oslo, they’re working on  a new version of the current Deichman Library. “Hailed by many as a deichmanske-bibliotek-01.jpglibrary of the future’, New Deichman will be much more than just a library. While seeking to be Norway’s most important arena for literature, the project also looks to become a center of knowledge for the capital’s citizens as well as a host of cultural experiences that are accessible to everyone.” It’s going to look like a spaceship that landed in the harbor. It’s supposed to open sometime this year.

And in Copenhagen, there’s the spectacular “Black Diamond” library that opened in 1999.It’s more than a library — there’s a 600-seat auditorium, the Queen’s Hall, used for concerts—mainly chamber music240px-SHL_-_Black_Diamond.jpg and jazz—literary events, theatrical performances and conferences. There are also exhibition spaces, a bookshop, a restaurant, a café and a roof terrace. Two museums are based in the Black Diamond, the National Museum of Photography and a small museum dedicated to cartoon art

Finally, in Stockholm, everyone got worked up six years ago about their new library. They announced an architectural competition that drew 1,170 entries, and a German architect Heike Hanada was declared the winner with her proposal Delphinium. Although Hanada was instructed to produce preliminary plans for the project’s realisation, the extension was put on hold in late 2009. Maybe they’ll restart it in time for our grand library-and-opera house tour in a couple years.

I have talented friends

Chasing Waldorf’s history as it becomes history itself A New York Times profile of Deidre Dinnigan, the archivist for the Waldorf Astoria, and a classmate of mine from Pratt, doing a great job working with a fascinating collection. How cool is this? Go Deidre!

Fencing photos taken by Russ Voss  at Stab in the Dark, an outdoor fencing event in the Hudson Valley. I love all of these, and it was hard to pick a favorite. Check this one out, though.

photo of two fencers against a stormy sky

Photo by Russ Voss

Various nifty things

Friday Reads in the Digital Library from JSTOR Weekly  themed book roundup, annotated with interesting articles. Great way to talk about, and publicize books lists. (Good outreach idea for an academic library, too.) I have a huge crush on JSTORDaily, the blog JSTOR runs to highlight the articles and oddities in its collection, and this just reinforces it. Love!

Savage Chickens delights me.

chickenacrophobia

Book Review: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

July 27, 2016

yv5p40fg5thomw8usqncThe Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
Becky Chambers
Harper Voyager
(library book)

I loved this book. Absolutely, gleefully, loved the ensemble alien cast of characters, being drawn into the space world, loved reveling in the emotional feel of how the characters worked together, and the way the story played out. I want more science fiction like this, where so much of what drives the story forward is navigating interpersonal relationships.

Can you say “interpersonal?” when the crew includes a saurian-bird-looking pilot named Sissix, a multi-pedal being named Dr. Chef (because his true name would take multiple throats to say, and  work on the ship is to both feed and minister to the crew) and where even the default-recognizable humans are as alien to a reader as the visually alien? Each of the crew members (including the AI: the plot with the ship’s AI is magnificent) has a perspective colored by the life that came before the story, and shown in little interactions, the domestic and logistical life of the ship, of bringing new crew on board, dealing with taking on a  huge job, space pirates (yes there are space pirates), supply runs, downtime.

The best part was the way the story combined the warmth, the heart of crew-as-found-family with some riveting read-past-my-bedtime fascinating action. There are some great spaceships and compellingly weird alien customs going on, even/especially among the focal ensemble of the crew of the spaceship, the Wayfarer, as most of the story centered around the ship and its journey. Newcomer Rosemary learning her way into the ship’s routines makes a good viewpoint to get to know the rest of the crew and their quirks, both individual and cultural.

There were a few moments that held a mirror to questions our own, present society deals with. It was satisfying to see them play out with the novel’s characters. They were handled with grace, and with the story’s central warmth, without being didactic. I appreciated the guiding ethos of the story. A lot. Interactions may be messy, but they’re doing their best.

I feel like calling it “escapist,” or “feel-good” does a disservice to the world created aboard, and around the Wayfarer. But I really enjoyed being swept into the story. I smiled and laughed so much reading this book. And that, I think, is the best part about it. The action took time out for domestic, relationship-building scenes, for moments of tenderness. Those moments provided pacing relief from tension and panic, both the characters’ and, honestly, my own. I felt really happy reading this book, and I’m still smiling. If I hadn’t already chucked my no-buying-books resolution, this would have been the book that did it. It’s a library book… so I might just be placing an order for a copy.

I would like more, much more, of this kind of character-driven, warm and exploratory science fiction.

Got any recommendations?

Buying Books

July 26, 2016
tags:

I made it almost to the end of July before breaking my New Year’s resolution not to buy books.

And I did not so much fall off my resolution as swan dive off it, in spectacular style.

 

I have bought a set of books, to be exact. A complete set of Jodi Taylor’s Bells of St. Mary’s wonderful, zany, suspenseful time travel series. A series I first encountered in the first months of the year, when Just One Damned Thing After Another was offered on Edelweiss. And I zoomed through reading it, and then was desperate for the second book, which was, mercifully also offered on Edelweiss. Got the third from the library.

So far, so good. Resolution firmly in place.

Realized a few things: One, was that I couldn’t find the fourth book in any library (and I have five separate library cards, so that’s saying something.) And also, that I wanted to spend money to show support and encouragement to both the writer and the publisher, to vote with my dollars, for more Saint Mary’s books. To tell the publisher and agents and others behind the scenes that, yes, I want more madcap and perilous but good-natured takes on history and time travel. Also, dinosaurs and Romans and screwball comedy and snark. And giggling on the subway and staying up late binge-reading. I want more of this, from Jodi Taylor, and from the publishing industry in general.

Also, I want to be able to loan out copies of the first volume, to get friends to read it. And then, ideally, go buy their own copies of it, and the rest of the series.

My main complaint about e-books is that it’s not very easy to share them. There are many advantages to the format, of course: portability, ease of accessing review copies and library books, and having library books zap away to be returned on time… Lending books on Kindle can be done, it appears, but only of books bought through the Kindle platform? Meh.

Secondary complaint: curling up in bed with a book is much nicer, much cozier, with an actual book. Even allowing for a paperwhite, not gorilla glass shiny screen.

This morning, I willfully chucked my resolution,  with a monster book order of the entire St. Mary’s series. Had I been truly thinking through all of the implications of voting with my dollars, encouraging the book economy, I would have placed the order by calling the world’s greatest bookstore, Burton’s Bookstore. Bit ticked at myself for that one.

Amended resolution: no buying books, except through Burton’s.

As I wait eagerly for the fruits of my broken resolution to arrive, a few thoughts on lessons learned.

I did a decent job of relying on my various libraries to get books that looked interesting. Even if, in more than a few cases, that’s turned into buying the books, after the fact. Being able to satisfy bookish curiosity with a test-drive is one of the reasons to love libraries.

I fudged my resolution a few times: I placed a decent-sized pre-order of books on December 30th, anticipating some of the books that were likely to break my resolution. (Sheepish admission: I’ve only read 2 of the 6 I ordered, since then.)

I bought four books that I needed for a project of personal study. They’re textbooks, I told myself.

I convinced myself and my friend Josiah that buying books for each other wouldn’t count as breaking my resolution. (Haven’t read that book, either, but he’s read the book I bought him.)

Bought a whole bunch of music on iTunes, and also, a few CD’s. “I’m not buying books, after all,” I reassured myself, as I bought more music than I have in the past 5 years. Related news: my music collection could use an update, so if you have any recommendations in a blues/rock/folk-rock vein, or other tuneful recs you think I’d like, let me know.

enhanced-27976-1405966713-29The intent of my resolution was to read down the stash of books that I own, as well as those that have been lingering about in my Kindle queue. I can claim only marginal success on this one.

New books, or the promise of acquiring new books, is a big thing for me. I think browsing new books from the library and from book reviewer sites, as well as books that come from lovely generous publicists, was the only thing that allowed me to last as long as I did before chucking my resolution. Sometimes, I think I like browsing, acquiring and novelty even more than owning or reading books. It’s the thrill of the chase. And book-dragon tendencies.

I got books for birthday presents, both requested and books I didn’t know I needed. Thank you, parents!A58DE9FC-931C-4526-9F7C-C93466401598

While I didn’t make much progress reading books that have been sitting on my shelf for a while, I did reread some old favorites like Billy Boyle, and I read what feels like a ton of library books and review books. There’s just something about the novelty of books I don’t own yet, or new books. The bookshelf is always…greener?

Or something.

Lessons learned and resolution tweaks to take me through the rest of the year:

Going forward, I am only buying books from Burton’s. And other independent, local bookstores. (Does the Strand count? I think it does.) For me, and for others.

I feel like the moratorium on buying books might help me do a better job of buying them more intentionally, when I do. Written by and sold by people I really like. Will see how that plays out.

Novelty and reading whims play a giant role in my reading enjoyment, and always have. Even to the point of making me hate a book on the first try, and zoom through it later. This can be detrimental to my ability to review books in a timely fashion, and to any effort to try to read down my TBR pile.

I possibly need to face the fact that I will never catch up with my TBR pile, or the unread books I’ve got all over my bookshelves.

This is not the worst problem to have.

 

 

Review Roundup 7/22/16

July 22, 2016

Nothing in particular binds these reviews together, other than the fact that I’ve read the books fairly recently, and had some thoughts about them that weren’t long enough for bigger posts.

9781501124372_d1d3dEveryone Brave is Forgiven
Chris Cleave
Simon & Schuster
e-galley from Edelweiss

Devastating. Impressive, in that it didn’t put a valiant sheen on war by turning it into an adventure. Ensemble, alternating perspective, weaving from Tom and Mary living in London and bearing the destruction of bombs and the Blitz… and Alastair, joining up and heading to the front. Alternating between their stories and perspectives makes the emotional pacing work really well, even though they’re living completely different (and heartbreaking) experiences.
Impressive, in that I’ve never seen a WWII novel openly deal with racism this way.
Lovely turns of phrase kept weaving through brutal, violent passages. Marking a long night of bombs overhead, with a piano in a jazz club. A jar of blackberry jam, luminous on a barracks windowsill. I kept underlining bits of sentences, or brief images, both the lovely happy ones, and the startling, harrowing images of war. It took me ages to read this, because I kept putting it down, just before I decided I wanted to cry. Possibly pair this with The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson, for similar lovely prose surrounding wartime heartbreak.

9780062467256_ade66The Bookshop on the Corner 
Jenny Colgan
William Morrow Paperbacks
e-galley from Edelweiss
This is possibly the sweet, reassuring book you need right after reading the above. The start of this book hit a little bit close to home for an early-career librarian, I have to say. Nora’s job at her beloved library comes under threat when the library is redesigned as a digital, interactive, space, with new management that is looking for cutting edge corporate technology, rather than the skills of a readers’ advisory librarian. On the plus side, it’s set in Scotland, and it’s a romance for a librarian, so it’s wish-fulfilliment for me. Nora gathers up her courage, leaves everything familiar behind and moves to rural Scotland, where she purchases a giant van to turn into a mobile bookshop. The tiny Scottish village where she lands is almost too precious, with an idyllic setting and gruff eccentrics slow to welcome Nora. I was just as jealous of the sensuous descriptions of farm-fresh eggs and cream and food, as I was of the bookshop life and the romance. Not too many surprises (Am I too cynical to read romance novels?) it’s a romance, after all. But it’s a good, happy read. I liked the characters. My only complaint is that I wish there was an annotated bibliography at the end, so that I can go read all the books that were described just as tantalizingly as the food. Some of the titles Nora mentioned and sold real books I recognized, but I’m pretty sure others were invented for the sake of the story… and I want that confirmed, or I want to find the books being referenced. Especially that one children’s book!

26202447A Shameful Murder
Cora Harrison
Severn House
(library book)

Lucked into this as a book recommendation on Goodreads, and found a copy at the library. Set in the dark, foggy streets of Cork, Ireland in 1923, this wonderfully atmospheric mystery forces Reverend Mother Aquinas to confront murder and dark secrets when the body of a murdered debutante floats up from the canal, almost onto the convent’s doorstep. The Reverend Mother sends for Police Sergeant Peter Cashman, one of her former pupils, now a member of the police force. A member of the clergy solving mysteries? Yes please! (It was possibly my Grantchester binge that tipped off the Goodreads recommendation algorithm). I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the story through Mother Aquinas. Although living in the convent, she’s not completely cloistered from the realities of the world. Interestingly, there are intimations of her own origins, born into a high society life she left to take vows.  She’s observant, curious, resourceful. The dynamic between the Reverend Mother and the Police Inspector was a delight. They had to transition from past pupil and teacher, to sort of collaborating to solve the crime, in a way that stayed respectful of her vows, his work, their past as student and teacher. The whole mystery is fascinatingly steered by the social strictures of Cork of that time: religion and class and family relationships govern how secrets are kept, who can learn what information, and even how the mystery can be solved. This has the feel of a great series, and turned the last few pages hoping there were at least 6 more books to launch me into a binge read.

I Ain’t Afraid of No Movies

July 16, 2016

Saw the new Ghostbusters on Thursday night. I want to get my thoughts down, but of course, I want to be decorous about spoilers.

We’ll start with my own memories, expectations, everything I was trying like mad not to bring into the movie with me. Ghostbusters the first is one of my go-to, happy childhood, nostalgia and smiles and watch anytime at all, movies. (The fact that original Ghostbusters and E.T. share a place in my heart with the Muppets as formative media probably says a lot about me.) I must have seen Ghostbusters for the first time when I was no more than seven, because  I remember having a Ghostbusters logo T-shirt when we were living in California, and I remember running all over the kindergarten schoolroom and playground with my friend Eva, playing that we were Ghostbusters. As far as memory serves, the rules of playing Ghostbusters  involved running around, making scowling “important scientists looking for ghosts” faces, and inside the classroom, a sign of ghosts was when the fluorescent lights of the classroom flickeredKids are weird.

I must have seen original Ghostbusters   before we moved from California. I know the scary monster parts with Zuul didn’t scare me nearly as much as seeing Disney’s Fantasia a few years earlier. (“Night on Bald Mountain” made me sleep with the hall light on for years. Brr!) And, as with the Muppets or the lyrics of Rolling Stones songs, the innuendo sailed over my head at the time. When I watched original Ghostbusters again as a teen and a grownup, I laughed with delight at so many of the parts I remembered of manic energy and spooks and wildness. And I got all the jokes.

Here’s something odd: Moving from San Francisco to New York was the Big Major Life-Change of my childhood. And I know I must have seen Ghostbusters right around then. I also know that, as a recently-arrived West Coast Transplant Kid,  I didn’t connect New York to The City Where Ghostbusters Happened, and Now I’m Living Here. I remember being completely culture shocked by things like constant traffic noise, and knowing that our floor was someone else’s ceiling. And I remember seeing The Muppets Take Manhattan and feeling the connection of knowing that it took place in the city where I was now living. Maybe if my parents had taken me to the Schwartzman Building of the NYPL at an earlier age, I would have made the connection.

Or I might have decided to be a librarian at a much earlier age.

Trivia I am currently spouting at every opportunity: When the Ghostbusters question Alice, the librarian who gets spooked by the card catalog above, about any insanity in her family, she tells them that her “uncle thought he was St. Jerome.” St. Jerome is the patron saint of librarians!

I was probably destined to be a librarian.

But I digress, I think, from my original digression. Which was to say that I didn’t connect my love of Ghostbusters to moving to the city where it was set, at the time.

And this visitation of my memories is more of a review of the current Ghostbusters movie than it might originally appear.

I hadn’t thought about playing ghostbusters in the playground, not for years. I hadn’t thought about how connected to New York the original Ghostbusters movie was, or how much the first movie was part of my childhood.

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Halloween costume ideas

Seeing smart, funny women, celebrating friendships and wonder and zaniness and busting ghosts, gave me a happy nod to the young Elizabeth running around the playground busting imaginary ghosts with Eva. And a giant, validating middle-finger to any and all boys who told us girls “only boys can be Ghostbusters.” (Some of whom, I know, are whining in movie reviews and comments of their own. None of which I’m linking here, because this is my happiness and nostalgia post, and my playground, so there.) Ladies have the science and the proton packs now. And a generation of girls drawn to science?  We can hope.

The new movie is full of sly jokes that made me laugh with recognition. Cameos and references to my beloved original movie, both in plot arc and in sly guest appearances that made the entire theater cheer. References to the realities of living in New York: the rent is too damn high, you get loyal to that one delivery guy, subways. And to the reality of seeing a movie set in, and talking about a city you love: debating where that “Seward” subway station on the 6 line is, recognizing a facade that’s absolutely not-the-Chrysler-building-we-promise.

It wasn’t a perfect movie. There were entire problematic plot threads where I was mad at the jokes to the point of not finding them funny, annoyed at the  cheap-lazy jokes made at the expense of a promising character. Writers, do better! It matters!

Let this be my spoiler-free movie review, then. It made me remember being a kid watching the original. It made me laugh with recognition.

It was a love letter to the original movie. It was a grumpy, grudging, sweary love letter to New York, this difficult and weird and haunted city I call home.

But most of all and best of all, it was a love letter to friendship, and to the girls on the playground dreaming of proton packs.

 

  

Hard News Days

July 8, 2016

I feel like I haven’t known what to do, what to say, for weeks. Weeks of sad news, heartbreaking stories of loss, of violence, relentless hatred. Made sense to let my book blog go dark for a bit, felt weird to be blithering about mysteries and spaceships and libraries in the face of the news.

Saw this OwlTurd comic, it resonated.

ak7ptpq

I work at maintaining optimism. I try to work from the belief that people around me are doing their best at any given moment. And to push myself to do my best and give my best. I work on accepting where I am, where people are, to meet us where we are and work from there. (Yes, sometimes it really, really takes work. But it’s important to me.)

Reading the news is heartbreaking, frustrating to feel helpless and crushed by the weight of World Events. I try to have faith. And man, does it take work, sometimes! It takes careful curation of my media, whether news outlets, social media, or reading preferences.

 

 

This resonated, too.

criminybookworm1_9737

I know it’s my duty as a citizen and information professional to read the news, to stay informed, to bear witness. To read the experiences, fiction and nonfiction, of those whose voices are marginalized or under threat.

I also know that if I don’t counterbalance the news I consume with a pretty steady diet of fiction I can trust to have a reassuring, happy ending, I’m probably going to cry. Or scream. I need stories to help me feel steadier and less heartbroken about the fate of the world. (Even with seeking out positive endings and optimistic literature, I know I should be reading and reviewing more diverse voices, across different cultures and experiences. That’s on me to do better on the blog.)

Been thinking about writing this post for a few weeks. Because it felt spectacularly tone-deaf to blither along with just another round of book reviews or happy and whimsical link lists. I hate that there’s any number of tragedies and heartbreaks in the news, near and far, that could have inspired me to think and write these thoughts. But there it is.

I read some excellent words from Colin Whitehurst:

Having woken up to the news about more violence this week, I felt helpless. I felt overwhelmed by how much violence is ravaging our country. Coming in to make flyers and to read tweets seemed pointless.

But then I remembered I was going to the Library.

At its core, a public Library is one of the few places on earth with no sides.
Everyone is welcome no matter what race, creed, religion, skin color, sexual orientation, gender identity, political view, or any of the other ways we divide and categorize each other.

I feel like today more than ever, the Library reminds us that we can work together. We have this place in each of our communities that stands up proud and tall and invites everyone in to be fed emotionally, intellectually, and yes sometimes literally.

I work in a college library, with students who are learning and building skills. I can help with research, push critical thinking, help polish job applications and cover letters. Offer books and articles that expand perspectives. So there’s that, to feel actually positive about.

I believe in trying to stay optimistic and upbeat, trying to encourage people. Sometimes, it takes work. Sometimes, I need to retreat behind a barricade of books for a bit.

I’m doing my best. I trust that you are, too.

Live-Tweeting a Book: A Love Story

July 1, 2016

Can I just say how much I love reading in the age of Twitter?

Jotting a few notes on Twitter can happen with the ease, speed and brevity of a note in the margin, with the added benefit of being able to share the note, and continue the conversation. When authors join the conversation, it becomes even more fun.

Of course, it’s not mandatory, never mandatory, that an author engage with me on Twitter when I’m blithering about their book.

Sure is fun, though.

With The Dragon Round, I happened to know the author beforehand, as we’d become friends while both working at AMACOM.

(There were also Twitter messages back and forth, which I can’t share here, as character names, and spoiler-y events are mentioned. They included wailing at Stephen over lost sleep, nearly-missed subway stops, and certain decisions about characters. He displayed an excellent lack of remorse.)

As many readers know, I’m a huge fan of the Billy Boyle series by James Benn.

Yes, the series is right in my sweet spot for character-driven historical mystery with heart and solid friendships. And the mysteries stand up to rereading. Which I am doing, now. I’m sure I’d enjoy them, even if I’d had no interactions with the author.

That said, I also know that James Benn is a kind soul, generous with his fans both online and off. (Also, a former librarian, so cool!) Does that influence how much I enjoy his books? Maybe.

I know that part of the enjoyment of re-reading has been Tweeting as I read.

JamesBenn

So yes… Tweeting while reading has become a new part of enjoying a reading experience. I’m glad I can reach out and tell an author I’m enjoying a book, or reading a specific scene. And Tweets that become a conversation are really, really fun. (Not an obligatory part of my reading enjoyment, never that. I’m sure authors must feel pressure to be constantly on social media and interacting with fans. I’m sure that happens on an exhausting scale, as part of expanding their reach. And I bet that can get really weird.)

So this is a thank you, to Stephen S. Power, James R. Benn, Lauren Willig, Daniel José Older, and all the other authors writing, and Tweeting and connecting with readers.

It’s a treat.

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