Friday, September 30, 2011

Book Blogger Hop!!

bunnies think trying to ban a book is silly.   Books are to be chewed on, not banned.
I don't know about y'all, but I'm happy to have reached another Friday.   This week (and especially this morning) have been a bit crazy, so I'm ready to settle in to the weekend.    And .... that means doing a little Hopping.   The Book Blogger Hop, that is --- hosted by Jenn at Crazy for Books.

This Hop's question is: In honor of Banned Books Week, what is your favorite "banned or frequently challenged" book?  She also very nicely included a link to the 2010-2011 list of books, so I thought I'd choose one of those.   I actually saw a bunch of books on the list that I have read and liked, but I think today I'll choose:  The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

I really love this book, and the entire trilogy --- and I liked how this book got a lot of people reading, and talking about the story (and not only teens, but adults, as well).    The book landed on the list because in 2010, a parent complained to the Goffstown, N.H. school board about it.  Apparently, her 11-year-old read the book and had nightmares.   The parent also claimed that the book could "numb other students to the effects of violence."

Interesting.  The first thing that popped into my mind when I saw that was --- 11 years old is a bit young for the book.   Maybe this kid is mature for their age, and reads ahead of their grade level, but I don't think Suzanne Collins was aiming the story at that young of a reader.   The second thought I had was that all kinds of stories can give you nightmares; heck, even what you see on tv can give you nightmares.   Watch the news, anyone?   And lastly -- I don't think this book can necessarily "numb students to the effects of violence."   The book is set in a world where there are towns that send kids every year to fight each other to the death.  Last time I checked, this isn't actually happening in our world.  Also, I believe there are a lot of other things that kids these days are exposed to that can affect how they respond to violence: video games, movies, television.   I don't think one book alone has that much power.

And that's just my personal opinion.   I understand if not everyone agrees.  I understand this parent was probably concerned that her child had nightmares, and of course, a parent's first instinct is to protect their child.  However -- I don't think that saying that no one else's child can read this book is the right way to go about things.

Ok - enough about that.   Like many book bloggers, I could go on and on about what I think about challenging and trying to ban books.  However, I'd prefer to get my rant over with, and proceed on with enjoying my Friday and my weekend.

So -- have a great Hop everyone!   And read some dangerous books!!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):   "Opens at Nightfall; Closes at Dawn." The Le Cirque des Rêves is a circus unlike any other, just as this magical debut novel is equally unique. At the center of The Night Circus spectacle are two specially gifted young magicians, Celia and Marco, pitted against each other in professional competition, drawn towards one another in love. Erin Morgenstern's literary fantasy has already drawn raves for its captivating evocativeness: "A world of almost unbearable beauty.... A love story on a grand scale: it creates, it destroys, it ultimately transcends." "A novel so magical that there is no escaping its spell... If you choose to read just one novel this year, this is it."

And here's what I thought:   You may have seen flutterings around the blogosphere about this book.  Certainly, if you look on GoodReads, there are 869 reviews.   From what I can tell, readers either seem to really love this book, or really dislike it.   That alone tells me something, because when a book seems to polarize people like that, something's happening (because if a book is just mediocre, no one bothers talking about it all).

I saw one review that said that if you don't like magic, don't pick up this book, because it's all about the magic.  I agree -- if you don't like magic, pass this one up.   But, if you do.... if you do love magic, and you love fantastical imagery, you should read this book.   Is this book perfect?  I don't think so.  However, I found myself completely enchanted by it, staying up late and taking breaks at work just to read it.

I admit that I have always had a fascination with the circus.  One of my favorite books is Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, the tale of the dark circus that comes to town one October and whose proprietor, Mr. Dark, has some secretive and unpleasant things for those who come to the tents.    In this story, there isn't anything overtly unpleasant, but rather, a sense of something dark that runs through and underneath, never lingering long enough for you to really see it, or put your finger on it... but you sense it nonetheless.   The characters sometimes remain a bit of an enigma, so throughout the story, you are unsure of who they really might be, and whether their intentions are good or not.   And what lies inside the black and white tents?   Fantastical things that stretch the imagination and belief. 

To read a story like this, you need to suspend your belief.  You cannot demand that things be completely real, or be explained.  That's the essence of magic, isn't it?  If you have seen the movie, The Illusionist, and watched the scene with the orange tree, then you know what I mean.    If you insist on knowing how the illusion is performed, it spoils the experience --- and I think that's the key to this book.   The author doesn't always explain things, and you just need to relax about it and enjoy the story.

I enjoyed the writing in this book.  I felt the author really crafted certain parts of it, taking care with her language to make reading as delicious an experience as possible.  The story at times leaves a bit to be desired, since things aren't always explained, and characters can seem a bit ....thin.   However, I wasn't bothered by this.  I was so captivated by the writing, and the story, that I got caught up.   And, I'm not one of those readers that always needs things explained fully ---- I like to have my mind opened up so that I can be free to let my imagination loose.

So, if this sounds like your kind of story, I'd definitely encourage you to pick it up.   I've got this on my "treat myself for Christmas" list.

** And ... a bonus point to the author for a cool librarian reference: "The Burgess sisters arrived together.  Tara and Lainie do a little bit of everything.  Sometimes dancers, sometimes actresses.  Once they were librarians, but that is a subject they will only discuss if heavily intoxicated."  (p. 57)

First sentences: The circus arrives without warning.  No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers.  It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.
Thoughts on the cover:  Perfect -- simple, but detailed enough to catch your eye.   The one thing I will note is this: be careful when you open the book because the black/white striped end papers are a bit hard on the eyes (at least, on my eyes).

Interview with author Carol Carr

Today, I have a short interview with Carol Carr, author of India Black and the Widow of Windsor (which I reviewed just the other day), and India Black.   Ms. Carr was gracious enough to let me ask her a few questions when I reviewed the first book, and she very nicely agreed to let me ask a few more! 

* What made you focus on Queen Victoria and the Scots?  
Queen Victoria was such a deliciously eccentric character that I knew I wanted to feature her in one of India's adventures.  The queen survived several attempts on her life by Fenians and the occasional deranged person, and I took that as the starting point for "The Widow of Windsor."  This story takes place in 1877, however, which is a few years before the Irish assassins got busy.  In thinking about other groups which were less than enamored with Victoria, I thought of the Scots.  Many Scots were furious when the country became part of Great Britain in 1707.  Obviously, there are still some Scots who dislike the Union, as evidenced by the Scottish National Party and the calls for a referendum on independence.  There was also the rather bizarre relationship that the queen and her husband, Prince Albert, developed with Scotland, in essence treating it like their own private DisneyWorld, with the queen affecting a slight Scottish accent when she visited Balmoral and insisting on dropping in at local cottages for tea.  Since the queen was half German and Prince Albert a German aristocrat, I thought the Scots might take exception to being treated like characters in a theme park and worked that aspect into the story.

* What sources did you turn to for your research?   I'm always impressed by how many historical details you work into your stories.
A lifelong love of the history of Victorian England usually supplies the original idea for a story, but for this book I needed (or wanted) information on Scottish weapons, fencing, the topography around Balmoral, a floor plan of the castle, pictures of the rooms of the castle, names of the servants who worked at Balmoral, the nationalist movement in Scotland during the Victorian era, lists of Scottish songs and types of Scottish dances, etc.  I rely on my local library (at least this time I wasn't requesting books about whores in London in the 1870's) and the internet to provide most of the details.  How did anyone write an historical novel before the internet?  I found YouTube useful, for videos of the dances and the songs.  And with respect to one aspect of the story, I went directly to a source for information.  It turns out that we have a well-known fencing maestro here in the area.  I visited him and his students to watch the fencing and to discuss some details of the fencing scenes.  I wanted to hear the sounds and see the movement up close and have all the moves explained to me.  That was fun.  I've always wanted to learn about fencing.

* I can tell you enjoy writing India --- is her character inspired by any woman or women in particular?
She is inspired by a type of woman-the kind of woman I enjoy reading about: daring, plucky, resourceful, opinionated, and perhaps too ready to jump in before testing the depth of the water.  I like her vanity and her self-belief, which often gets her into trouble. I also wanted to write about someone who is outside the bounds of "normal" society and thus could behave with a freedom that most Victorian women would not have had.

* As someone with Scottish heritage (of which I am extremely proud), I enjoyed some of the details in the story (the singing of Scots Wha Hae really struck me), I was wondering if you also have some Scottish lineage.   Did that influence how you wrote the story?
Oh, yes.  I'm an amateur genealogist and a proud Scot, although I must confess to having several English ancestors.  I've got a family tree loaded with Scotts, Campbells, McClellans, and McCurdys.  I married a Carr, descended from one of the famous Border families (the Kerrs) who were lifelong enemies with my own Scott ancestors.  Scottish history is romantic and stirring, though I wouldn't have enjoyed living in a hovel and cooking over a peat fire.  Having Scottish blood certainly fires the imagination.  You can't read about the Border Reivers (nice name for thieves), the Highland Clearances, or the gathering of the clans, or hear the Great Highland War Pipe or watch the sword dance without getting a little chill.  At least I can't.  People who aren't of Scottish ancestry will probably not feel the same way.

* Of course, I need to ask ---- does India have another adventure in store for us?
Yes, I'm at work on Book #3.  This time French, India and Vincent are infiltrating a gang of anarchists.  There will be lots of explosions in this one (cue internet search on bomb-making in the 1870's), and we'll learn a bit more about India's background.  It's due to the publisher on February 1st, so I'd it expect to appear a few months after that.
Thanks for having me on, Jo.  I hope your readers will enjoy the book.
********* ******** ******** ****** **********
You may find more information about the India Black books, and about Carol Carr, on Carol's website and she may also be found on GoodReads.

Monday, September 26, 2011

India Black and the Widow of Winsdor by Carol K. Carr

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):   Black is back! Her Majesty's favorite spy is off to Scotland in this new adventure to ensure the Queen doesn't end up getting killed.

When Queen Victoria attends a séance, the spirit of her departed husband, Prince Albert, insists she spend Christmas at their Scottish home in Balmoral. Prime Minister Disraeli suspects the Scottish nationalists plan to assassinate the Queen-and sends the ever resourceful India and the handsome British spy, French, to the Scottish highlands.

French will take the high road, looking for a traitor among the guests-and India will take the low road, disguised as a servant in case an assassin is hiding among the household staff. India is certain that someone at Balmoral is determined to make this Her Majesty's last Christmas..

And here's what I thought:  I had read the first India Black book, so I was looking forward to reading Ms. Carr's second India book --- and, I wasn't disappointed.   If you aren't familiar with the character of India Black, you might want to read my post about the first book.     In this story, the focus is on Queen Victoria, who has been in mourning for her late husband, and who has an affinity for "communicating" with him via spiritualists.   The prologue sets everything up: Queen Victoria visits a spiritualist, and Albert "tells" Victoria that she should spend Christmas at Balmoral.   If you aren't familiar with Victorian history, this might not seem like a big deal ---- but Balmoral is a castle in Scotland that Victoria spent quite a lot of time at, both before and after her husband died.   The thing to note here is: Scotland.   Historically, Scotland has chafed under the rule of England (think: Braveheart) and that comes into play in this story.
I know, I know -- this isn't a history lesson; it's a book review.   But, if you don't know a bit of the history, the story doesn't make as much sense.  However, if you are familiar with some of the history, this book has a lot of details that you'll pick up. 

Overall, I thought the story was a lot of fun.   Ms. Carr mixes in enough accurate historical detail to make the settings and people seem realistic, without it being overwrought.   She also gives us interesting characters -- not only India, but French (who still remains a bit of a mystery in this second book), and in this story, the Marchioness, an elderly woman who enjoys partaking in snuff as often as she can (which is, by the way, completely disgusting, but manages to come off as pretty funny most of the time).    I really enjoy India's narration of the story because I like her character.   She's intelligent and has a wry humor about her.   It's clear that her background as a madam informs her view of the world, as she sometimes has pretty pointed observations of the people around her.   This does mean that she's not always nice; her portrayal of Queen Victoria isn't the most flattering.   But, I'm sure that Victoria, despite her commanding presence, wasn't necessarily a perfect person (especially at this point in her life).

I liked that there was some mystery in the story, mixed in with the history and thought this was an enjoyable read.  Well done, Carol Carr!!    

First sentences: "Alafair, you stupid girl.  It's First Samuel.  First Samuel, for goodness' sake."  Mrs. Evangeline LeBlanc rustled to the table in her black silk gown, taking up the heavy Bible from the table and flipping rapidly through its pages until she'd found the correct chapter and verse.
And here's a bit of the fun writing that I liked in this book:   "It amused me to cavort among the most powerful men in the land, men who wouldn't dare acknowledge me if they met me on the street but who weren't too proud to rely on a whore to help them out of a jam now and then...You may say it smacks of arrogance and that it's unseemly for a lady to gloat, but as I'm not a lady, I don't care ha'pence for your opinion."  (p. 44)

Thoughts on the cover:  Beautiful, and completely appropriate for the story -- and eye-catching!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Library Lagniappe --- let's read dangerous books!!!

Library LagniappeI thought I'd do a library post that focuses on banned books, since it is Banned Books Week (9/24 - 10/1).  If you aren't already familiar with Banned Books Week, I'd encourage you to check out this link to ALA (American Library Association) and the Banned Books site.

As a librarian and a reader (I'm making that tiny distinction because not every librarian loves to read books.  Shocking, but true), I believe in reading books that have been challenged.  In my library, we put together a display every year to focus on these books and we have the display up all through the month of September (and I will say, our display totally kicks butt this year!).  The books we feature are ones that have been the targets of challenges or attempted bannings (in the majority of cases, books are not actually completely banned, although they may be restricted).   The whole point of our display is to not only draw attention to these books, but to also show how important it is that we celebrate our rights to read what we want (a/k/a/ our First Amendment rights).

Here are some statistics, courtesy of ALA
Over the past ten years, American libraries were faced with 4,660 challenges.

  • 1,536 challenges due to “sexually explicit” material;
  • 1,231 challenges due to “offensive language”;
  • 977 challenges due to material deemed “unsuited to age group”;
  • 553 challenges due to “violence”
  • 370 challenges due to “homosexuality”; and

Further, 121 materials were challenged because they were “anti-family,” and an additional 304 were challenged because of their “religious viewpoints.”

1,720 of these challenges (approximately 37%) were in classrooms; 30% (or1,432) were in school libraries; 24% (or 1,119) took place in public libraries.  There were 32 challenges to college classes; and 106 to academic libraries.  There are isolated cases of challenges to materials made available in or by prisons, special libraries, community groups, and student groups.  The majority of challenges were initiated by parents (almost exactly 48%), while patrons and administrators followed behind (10% each).
find this at The Book Smugglers

Now, have I read every book on that list of most challenged books?  No, although I have read most of them.  Do I love every book that I have read that happens to be on that list?   No --- but here's the important thing:  Just because I didn't like the book doesn't mean that I believe no one else should have the opportunity and right to read it.  Period. 

And frankly, if a book is challenged, it's a signal to me that it's probably an interesting read.  I like being defiant like that.  Yeah.... just call me Dangerous Librarian!

So, feel free to read what you want this week!!!    Read dangerous books!!  And don't forget to see if your local library has an interesting display going on!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Winner of my giveaway

Thanks to everyone who left comments on my recent giveaway!     The randomizer chose comment # 5, so an email has been sent to the lucky commenter.

I plan on having another giveaway next week, so stay tuned!!!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

Poppet in lacy wood 1

Hard Spell by Justin Gustainis

  Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):  Stan Markowski is a Detective Sergeant on the Scranton PD's Supernatural Crimes Investigation Unit.
Like the rest of America, Scranton's got an uneasy 'live and let unlive' relationship with the supernatural. But when a vamp puts the bite on an unwilling victim, or some witch casts the wrong kind of spell, that's when they call Markowski. He carries a badge. Also, a crucifix, some wooden stakes, a big vial of holy water, and a 9mm Beretta loaded with silver bullets.

File Under: Urban Fantasy [ Dial V For Vampire | Forbidden Spells | Bite Club | Scranton By Night ]

And here's what I thought:  Hard-hitting, gritty detective novel meets the paranormal in a witty and entertaining read.  I really liked how the author crafted this book, giving me an imperfect main character that I cared about, a police procedural, and some supernatural elements mixed in.  There's also some wry humor, just to keep things interesting.

Gustianis creates a world that seems pretty similar to our own, except for the "supes", or supernaturals.  In this story, the supes are seen as a part of society (since President Lyndon Johnson guaranteed them their civil rights), and basically, everyone gets along ... until some dark magic starts happening and vampires turn up dead (and carved up).   Stan Markowski is the kind of guy you'd expect to find on a show like NYPD Blue (or Hill Street Blues, if your television knowledge goes back that far).  He's pretty no-nonsense, and well-versed in the supe world.   He doesn't hold back when he's got something to say (even if that means a bit of strong language).  I never felt like the author made him into a caricature, however, and that's important.  I could totally see how this story could go in that direction, in the hands of a less talented author.

Instead, what we get is a fast-paced story that keeps you guessing on who the bad guys really are, and whether or not Markowski and his partner are going to save the day.  I wouldn't say that this book is for every reader (especially those who don't like detective novels), but I thought it was an entertaining read.

This is another title from Angry Robot, a publisher whose books I've found to be consistently good reads.

First sentences:   This is the city - Scranton, Pennsylvania.  It used to be a coal town, back int he days when anthracite was king.... It's a good place to raise a family - apart from vampires, werewolves, ghouls, wizards and the occasional demon.

Thoughts on the Cover:   I reads this as an e-book, so the first time I saw the cover was when I went to GoodReads to grab the summary for this post.  It definitely conveys what the book is about -- you won't mistake this story for anything other than a gritty detective novel.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Giveaway --- just because !

Two with Cake Yes, just because I feel like it.   I've been feeling a bit drained lately (I'm chalking it up to my allergies and lack of good sleep), so I decided I've have another small giveaway.   After all, I'm 10 days away from my blogoversary!

So, just because .....  I'm giving away a copy of one of my favorite new books, Mermaid by Carolyn Turgeon.   And a nice mermaid necklace (which, of course, I don't have a good photo of), and probably a bookmark or two.   

Here's the simple rules:   You don't need to be a follower, but it's always nice.  However, I'd rather have you follow my blog because you like it, and not just for the giveaway, so it's not required.

To enter in the giveaway, please leave a comment on the subject of ---- Mermaids.   Like them?  Don't like them?  Share your thoughts!   And, please leave me your email address so I can contact the winner.

This giveaway will end on Midnight (CST), Wednesday, September 21st, and I'm limiting it to US and Canada only.  

Friday, September 16, 2011

Hopping towards the weekend....

another Disapproving Rabbit ... another Hop
Friday again!!!   Not only is it nice and cool where I live (yay!!!), and a bit cloudy (yay!!), but it's Friday -- which means the end of another week and time for the Book Blogger Hop.   Generously hosted by Jenn at Crazy for Books, the Hop allows bloggers the opportunity to visit each other, meet bloggers, discover all sorts of new books, and spend some quality time online.   You can read all about it over at Jenn's blog.

Today's question is:  "As a book blogger, how do you introduce yourself in your profile?"

I had to go over to my "About Me" page and look, because I didn't remember what I had said.   I keep it pretty short, mostly because I don't tend to talk a lot about myself.  I included the fact that I'm a librarian, because I think it definitely influences my outlook on books, authors, and generally, life.  I also included a little note about the kinds of photos I put on my blog because I participate in Wordless Wednesday, but also occasionally post a random photo.

I suppose I could have gone into more detail, but I figured short and sweet was a good way to go. 

Happy Hopping, everyone!!!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

BBAW - Day #4 --- it's all about the books

I'm a roll!!!   Well, I'm posting two days in a row, so that's something, at least.     Today's BBAW prompt is: 
We have no blogs without books! Today’s topic explores that even more!
Book bloggers blog because we love reading. Has book blogging changed the way you read? Have you discovered books you never would have apart from book blogging? How has book blogging affected your book acquisition habits? Have you made new connections with other readers because of book blogging? Choose any one of these topics and share your thoughts today!

I will admit that while I have always been a book addict, and I have always read a fair amount, book blogging has changed the way that I read.  Since I started blogging and posting reviews, I now make notes when I'm reading, and I never used to do that.   Originally, I was just trying to remember things from the book that I wanted to touch on, and then I saw some other bloggers posting about how they used index cards to make notes and now, that's what I do, too.   I don't take notes on every single thing I read, but if I think I want to post a review on it, I grab an index card and a pencil right away.

mwah ha ha -- I am the ever-growing book list!!!
Book blogging has been a great way for me to discover new books, and not just for my own personal reading.  Since I select books for my public library, I'm always keeping my eye out for new books.   And, I really appreciate the honest reviews I read on book blogs.   I read professional journals (Booklist, Library Journal, and a ton of other professional review sources), but it's nice to get the "real reader" experience.   Waiting on Wednesday posts give me the heads up on some cool-sounding books that will be coming out, so I can add those to my list of books to order.   And, book blogs allow me to discover interesting-sounding books that I want to read.   I've come across things that I totally wouldn't have seen otherwise, especially from bloggers outside the U.S.   Of course, this means that my TBR list just grows and grows (I think it's getting a bit out of control, like Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors).    Being a book addict and a librarian at a public library is both a blessing and a curse!

The one thing that hasn't changed too much is my "book acquisition habit."   You might not already know this, but --- librarians don't make a ton of money.  I know, shocking.    So, I was never a big buyer of books for myself.   Sure, I would treat myself every so often, but I'd try to save up, or visit my local used bookstore (love, love, love used bookstores).   And library book sales, too!   But, I still get the majority of my books from the library.  After all, the library lets me try before I buy --- I don't want to buy something and then not enjoy it.  If I get a book from the library, and I really enjoy it, then I consider buying myself a copy.    I also get ARCs from some authors and publishers, so that lets me add to my personal library, as well. 

Happy Thursday, everyone!!!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

BBAW post -- it's all about community

I missed posting Monday and Tuesday, so I'm a bit late to the game, but today's prompt from Book Blogger Appreciation Week is:  The world of book blogging has grown enormously and sometimes it can be hard to find a place. Share your tips for finding and keeping community in book blogging despite the hectic demands made on your time and the overwhelming number of blogs out there. If you’re struggling with finding a community, share your concerns and explain what you’re looking for–this is the week to connect!

I have to admit -- sometimes, I feel a bit adrift in the blogging community.  While I blog primarily just to share my thoughts on books, etc., sometimes, I feel like I'm talking to myself.  Posts go by without comment and I wonder if I should just take the hint and stop blogging.   And then.....

and then I remind myself that I don't blog to get comments -- I blog because I sometimes just want to share what I'm thinking about.  And then, the most magical thing seems to happen (once I've kicked myself in the butt to get going again) --- a comment will appear on the next post I write.  And then, I feel like I have a connection, and I'm all happy again.

I do enjoy the connections that I have made with other bloggers, and even if I never meet them in person, I really love being able to comment back and forth with them, or make frequent visits to their blogs.  Doing things like virtual book tours, and the Random Magic tours is a lot of fun.  In reality, I'm pretty shy, so being able to connect with people in the blogging community is a real blessing.  I know I've been at book signings where there have probably been other book bloggers, so I guess I need to be a bit more outgoing and try to talk to more people when we're all standing around.  

Even if I don't talk to people, though, I still feel a connection to other book bloggers.  After all, we share a love of reading, and books (and for those food bloggers, the love of food), and just having that connection is pretty cool.

Happy BBAW, everyone!!

Wordless Wednesday

poppet with tiny snail

Monday, September 12, 2011

Fourth Degree Freedom and other stories by Libby Heily

  Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):   Fourth Degree Freedom explores the best of humanity and the worst. The stories range from hopeful realism to the dystopian side of speculative fiction. Each story twists and turns through darkness and light, settling somewhere in the shadowy area of day to day life.

Thank You For Calling - A young woman fights to keep her sanity, her marriage and her hope while working in a call center.
The Event - Do the youth decide to go along with the government's plan to rid the population of the elderly, or will they fight back?
Fourth Degree Freedom - A family, shunned by neighbors and friends, struggles with their youngest son, a boy that was literally born a monster.
The Last Six Miles - Samantha has hit rock bottom. Her husband has left her and her only source of comfort is junk food. Her slip into depression seems inevitable until she discovers running. Samantha begins the long journey from barely being able to jog a minute to completing her first marathon.
She Floats - If you woke up and didn't know where you were, would you panic? What if you were trapped in a giant aquarium

And here's what I thought:
   As you can see from the above summary, the stories contained in this book are pretty widely varied.   While I don't know if I loved every story, I found all of them interesting.  The first one, where the main character is working in a call center aimed at lonely callers, seems pretty straightforward.   You get a clear mental picture of the main character, Penelope, not only through her verbal interactions with callers, but through the blog entries she writes.  

Then, things shift abruptly into the second story, The Event.   Here, once a year, the elderly are culled from the population.  And if you don't know what I mean by culled, try this: once a year, younger people hunt down the elderly and shoot them.  Of course, the elderly people do have the option of taking the cyanide pill they've been issued, instead of writing to be found and shot.  Disturbing, eh?   And the main character here states things pretty plainly, saying "We eliminate a large portion of the elderly population every year.  Another big chunk of old people kill themselves.  More leave the country, illegally.  They can't work, can't provide.  Who needs the hassle?" (p. 7).  Definitely chilling, and thought-provoking.
Moving into the next story, we read about David, who was born a monster.  Yes, a monster.  In this story, it is explained that "Ever since the last war, and the radiation it produced, thirty percent or so of all children had been born with some degree of monster-like qualities." (p. 11)  What I thought was really interesting was that what I found disturbing wasn't David, even though he was obviously not very human.  Instead, it was the behavior of his parents that was the distressing part -- they just toss food down to him (in the basement) every day, and have disconnected completely from him, and from each other.  The only sympathetic character other than David is his sister, who is a friend to her monstrous brother.
Then, things take a turn back towards the normal, as The Last Six Miles takes us through Samantha's transformation from an overweight, unhappy woman, to a slimmer, marathon-runner.  Admittedly, I didn't find much disturbing in this story, and found it less thought-provoking than the previous two stories.
Finally, we reach She Floats, and are back into the odd and disturbing arena.  This is very short story, and is told in the first person.  We don't know anything about the main character, where she is, or what is really happening, and we experience everything as she does -- so there is a really uncomfortable feeling as the story continues and she has to figure out how to avoid running out of oxygen.
It's an interesting collection of stories.  I found that three of them resonated with me a bit more than the others, and these were the three that were more disturbing.  I probably liked them a bit more just because I found them to be thought-provoking; in other words, they really made me think.  I found myself turning them around in my mind after I had finished the book.  The stories certainly seem disparate --- I could take the three I liked (#2, #3 and #5) and put them into their own volume, and take the other two and put those in a separate book.  I would have also preferred those stories to be a bit longer, just because I was enjoying the story and wanted to know more.   I was reminded of one of my favorite collections of short stories, Saffron and Brimstone by Elizabeth Hand (and I don't love every story in that book, either - but really do like a few of them).

Overall, I found the stories to be well written, evenly paced, and appealing.  If you're looking for something short, and (probably) completely different than what you're reading now, I'd encourage you to check out these stories.   And if you're like to know more about the author, please visit her blog -- and here's the link to the book on Amazon.

Thoughts on the cover:  Actually, I wish the cover art were more complex.   This cover is bright, and almost a bit aggressive (I think it's the orange) -- and based on the three stories that I enjoyed, I would have gone with some kind of darker image, maybe even a black and white photo, and with a different font.  

Friday, September 9, 2011

Hopping through the weekend....

might hop, might nap .... we'll see.
 Book Blogger Hop, that is!   If you aren't familiar with the Hop, go on over to Jenn at Crazy for Books, where she explains it all.   She graciously hosts the Hop each week, which allows book bloggers to go around and visit each other, meet new bloggers, find more books to add to their tbr lists.....   and generally, enjoy spending some time online.

This week's question comes from Lori, who asks:  “Many of us primarily read one genre of books, with others sprinkled in. If authors stopped writing that genre, what genre would you start reading? Or would you give up reading completely if you couldn’t read that genre anymore?”

Hmm....  I actually don't tend to read just one genre all the time, so I had to think about this one.  I do read a lot of general fiction, but within fiction, I read a lot of fantasy, some mysteries, and I also read a lot of nonfiction.   I'm a book addict who happens to also be a librarian --- I'm surrounded by all kinds of books!!  Frankly, if the romance books weren't being written any more (those books where the romance is the main focus of the book -- not books where there is a plot, and there happens to be a romance), I would be okay because I don't read romances (maybe one or two a year).   If the entire genre of fantasy disappeared, I'd be pretty upset --- but I would just amp up my fiction reading and look for those "magical realism" books that our library shelves in the fiction section (instead of the SF/F section).   I do read a lot of YA books, but I'm not quite sure I'd say YA is a genre -- because it contains books in other genres (fiction, SF, etc) and is just written with protagonists in a certain age range, and aimed at readers of a certain age.  I would definitely be bummed out if those authors stopped writing, because there are a lot of really great books --- that are enjoyed by both young adults, and adults.  I guess I see YA books as a category more than a genre --- which I guess means I don't need to worry about them (for this question, at least!). 

Whew!  Long answer!   Happy Hopping, everyone!!!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Entwined by Heather Dixon

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads): Azalea is trapped. Just when she should feel that everything is before her . . . beautiful gowns, dashing suitors, balls filled with dancing . . . it's taken away. All of it.

The Keeper understands. He's trapped, too, held for centuries within the walls of the palace. And so he extends an invitation. Every night, Azalea and her eleven sisters may step through the enchanted passage in their room to dance in his silver forest. But there is a cost.The Keeper likes to keep things.
Azalea may not realize how tangled she is in his web until it is too late.

And here's what I thought: I grew up with the story of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, so I had been looking forward to reading Heather Dixon's re-telling in this book. Beautifully written, this story expands upon the original, giving us an interesting, smart and sympathetic main character, a creepy and sinister villain, and some family drama, as well. And that's not a bad thing at all. In the original fairy tale, we don't really know much about the princesses, but here, we get to know all twelve (to some degree -- Azalea is the oldest and she's our main character). We learn her motivation behind her dancing, and how her relationship with her parents shapes her and her decisions. Dixon's words flow, easily pulling the reader in to the story and before you know it, you, yourself, are entwined. At least, that was my experience with this story.

What I really liked was how Dixon wove together the various dances, and steps, into the familial and political relationships in the story. There are bits of magic here, to be sure, but not so much that magic entirely drives the story. Magic is what gives Azalea and her sisters the ability to go through the passage to the enchanted forest, where they dance all night. However, it is true heart and determination that fuels Azalea's story. There are beautiful things in Azalea's world, but also things that have a deadly side to their beauty. When they first visit the silver pavilion and meet Keeper, it all seems so romantic, and you can see where it's so easy for all of them to get swept up in it all. Later, however, it's not so lovely as it seems --- and Dixon makes the pace so even in this book that it almost sneaks up on you.

Re-tellings can be tricky, and I had read some that were somewhat leaden, or too simple re-told. This story is one of the exceptions, however --- beautifully written, I think it's better than the original that I grew up with.

First sentences: An hour before Azalea's first ball began, she paced the ballroom floor, tracing her toes in a waltz. She had the opening dance with the King ... who danced like a brick.

Thoughts on the cover:  Beautiful and completely suited to the story.  This is a great example of eye-catching cover art.

Winner of this week's giveaway ----

Thank you, Commenter #2, who will now be receiving this week's giveaway!

I'll have another giveaway next week, so stay tuned!  

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Library Lagniappe --- on the subject of BookLamp

Library Lagniappe Today on Library Lagniappe:  get ready for the rant.......

So, there I was, reading the Huffington Post Book section, and I came across this interesting little article about a new service called Booklamp, which offers reading suggestions, much along the lines of how Pandora recommend music.   And, I was curious.   After all, as a librarian, and someone who does Reader's Advisory at times, I was curious to see how Booklamp worked.

So, I went on over to Booklamp and typed in a title to see what it would recommend.   According to the Huff Post article, Booklamp says "Unlike other such services", Booklamp says that it compares book content (which they dub "StoryDNA") rather than previous purchases or author popularity.
The company attempts to help readers find new books that they will enjoy, based on the writing style and themes of books they have enjoyed in the past. The service claims to examine not only the style, but the pacing, perspective and dialog of the text when recommending a book."

I typed in Kraken by China Mieville, and here's what came up:  The City & The City by China Mieville.  No surprise there, since it's another book by the author.  Next one suggested:  Un Lun Dun by China Mieville.  Actually, a bit of a surprise, since although this book is by the same author, it's completely different from KrakenUn Lun Dun is a book written for younger readers, and while it has elements that are similar, I wouldn't say it's quite what I might recommend to someone.   And then, things turn a turn down Wackadoo Lane.   The next book suggested by Booklamp was The Bad Mother's Handbook by Kate Long.  Huh?

Looking at the "Story DNA" on Booklamp, here's what it says for Kraken:
Death & the Dead/Postmortem
Old City Infrastructure
Police Involvement
Docks & Warehouses

The "Story DNA" for The Bad Mother's Handbook says:
Features of the Body
School Environment
Brunch/Social Gatherings

Here is the summary of The Bad Mother's Handbook (courtesy of BookList): This charming, funny first novel has propelled its author to the top of the best-seller charts in the UK. The narrative alternates between the voices of three generations of the same family: bright 17-year-old Charlotte, whose pregnancy threatens her plans to go to university; her bitter mother, Karen, whose pregnancy at 16 ensured that her own dreams would never be realized; and Karen's sweet mother, Nan, who is starting to show signs of dementia. Karen is consumed with frustration at the thought that her family seems doomed to replay the same dismal themes of abandonment and restricted opportunities, and between caring for her increasingly infirm mother and worrying about Charlotte, she's exhausted. Meanwhile, Charlotte, unable to get her baby's father to take responsibility, falls in with seemingly nerdy Daniel, who soon proves to be extraordinarily helpful and an extremely proficient lover. These very appealing women do, of course, work everything out, leaving a trail of hysterical one-liners in their wake.

What about this book makes it a good suggestion for a reader who likes Kraken by China Mieville?  No idea.

The other 2 suggestions in the list from BookLamp were My Best Friend by Laura Wilson and Yeats is Dead by Joseph O'Connor.   I don't know what these books have in common with Kraken, either.   Looking at the "Story DNA" didn't make it any clearer.

What I find a bit puzzling is that this service seems to bill itself as being very, very innovative.  After all, BookLamp doesn't base suggestions on social feedback and bias (unlike, it implies, Shelfari, LibraryThing, Amazon, and other sites).   They state on their site that "Enjoyment is our goal. We want you to glimpse the same world of possibility when you arrive at our site as you would walking in the front door of the largest, oldest, most mystical library you've ever seen."    That's very cool.  However, this statement: "The last thing we would want is to walk into a library, and have a person standing there that shoves a book into your hands and says, "You can go home without looking any more. This is the best book for you.""  Not cool.   Actually, I was a bit offended by this.

As a librarian, part of what I do is Reader's Advisory; basically, I help people find what they would like to read (or watch, or listen to).  And I never shove one book into someone's hands and say "You can go home without looking any more."   The whole point of Reader's Advisory is to talk to a person and discover what they liked, or didn't like about what they read.  Maybe they've read Stephenie Meyer and want something new.  But do they want vampires?  Do they want a book that has a love triangle?  Would they prefer werewolves?  Do they just want a romance?    Maybe this person has read everything that Stephen King has written, everything that Dean Koontz has written -- they want something completely new, but still really scary.   But what kind of scary?  Psychological-scary? Gory-scary?   And no, I don't badger people with questions -- I ask enough so I can find a few suggestions I think they'll like.

As you can see, helping someone find a good book is actually a combination of some skills: we need to ask the right kind of questions, we need to listen to what the person is saying, and we need to be able to point them towards a couple of selections to look at.   And no, we don't know every single book or author in the world.  Some of us do know a lot of books or authors or series or genres, especially if we select books in the library.  There are people who specialize in Reader's Advisory, and who are absolutely amazing at it.  Joyce Saricks is one of those people, and she's written some of the authoritative books on the subject, in addition to writing for BookList (and doing some other cool things).  When we're not sure what to give someone, we turn to one of the coolest tools in the world: Novelist. 

Novelist is a database/service provided by a company named Ebsco (so it's something your library would need to subscribe to, but you can't get a personal subscription).  Novelist provides book suggestions based on all sorts of factors, appeal being one of them, but also provides author information, read-alikes for books and authors, series information, and much more.    While it's not perfect (because nothing really is.  Except China Mieville.  I believe he's perfect), it's a great tool and sometimes, a real life-saver when I can't come up with a suggestion.

I can see where BookLamp would be interesting, because it definitely recommends things that you wouldn't think of.   You don't have to come in to a library, or speak to anyone, to see recommendations and find books.  However, I don't think it's really quite up to speed for making good recommendations yet (they do admit that they are still adding in books and authors.  I looked for some classics, like The Grapes of Wrath, and found nothing).  And, I don't think it can beat a good Reader's Advisor - although I'm looking forward to checking back on it in a few months.

And that's the lagniappe for now.    Comments are always welcome, as well as suggestions of topics for future Library Lagniappe posts.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Celebrating turning two this month --- with some giveaways!!!!

Two with Cake    Officially, this blog doesn't turn two until the end of September, but I'm so happy to get to September (after enduring the summer, especially some of the super-hot weather that August brought with it), that I thought I'd do an early giveaway or two.   Maybe more.

So, to celebrate this nice long weekend, I thought I'd have a giveaway ----   3 books (the links will take you to more info on GoodReads):  

* a signed copy of Solid by Shelley Workinger 
* an ARC of The Devil's Kiss by Sarwat Chadda

* an ARC of Rage: A Love Story by Julie Anne  Peters

and I'll throw in a few bookmarks, as well.

Rules:  U.S. only for this one please (because I'm a bit strapped right now)   I'll end this giveaway on Wednesday, September 7 at midnight (CST).   To enter the random drawing for the giveaway, please leave a comment and your email address (so I can find you if you win).   Following not required, although always appreciated.

I'll have more giveaways during September, just because I feel like it -- so if this one doesn't sound that interesting, keep your eye out for another.

Happy September, everyone!!!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Hopping through the long weekend.....

Friday again means another Hop!  Book Blogger Hop, that is --- the weekly event hosted by Jen at Crazy for Books.   Running Friday through Monday, the Hop is a great opportunity to visit blogs, meet bloggers, discover new books.....    and for me, the perfect way to spend some relaxed time over the weekend.

This Hop's question is: “What are you most looking forward to this fall/autumn season – A particular book release? Halloween? The leaves changing color? Cooler temperatures? A vacation? (If your next season is other than fall/autumn, tell us about it and what you are most looking forward to in your part of the world!)”

I am really looking forward to fall in general --- cooler temperatures, leaves changing, and October.   October's my favorite month because not only is Halloween in October (my favorite holiday), but my birthday and my husband's birthdays are in October -- which is a great excuse to have cake!    And maybe, a long weekend spent somewhere quiet.......       Generally, I just always feel more inspired, and more like myself once I get through summer (I am not a summer person at all) and into the fall.

Happy Hopping, everyone!!!!! 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Bookie Brunch - winner!!!!

As you may remember from my Bookie Brunch recently, there was a little giveaway for one lucky commenter ---- who has been chosen!

Congratulations to Lieder Madchen!   I'll be contacting you shortly for your address so you can receive your prize!!

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