Sunday, July 31, 2011

Library Lagniappe --- what the heck is an MLIS?

Library Lagniappe

What is an MLIS?  How do I get one?  Why would I want one?

You may have encountered this term before, if you've ever looked at ads for library positions, and wondered what it was.   Or, you may already know what it is.   Or, you may think it sounds like some kind of strange abbreviation --- Monkeys Like Illicit SweetsMay Lunch Involve Sauerkraut?

An MLIS is a Master's in Information and Library Science, and is the required degree for many professional librarians in the United States.   It's also sometimes termed an MLS (Master's in Library Science), and the two are kinda the same (some schools call it MLIS, some call it MLS).  Basically, a lot of times, people just call it "library school."  To get an MLIS or MLS, you need to find an accredited school, which means a school which the ALA (American Library Association) has approved for the degree.   To get into a master's program, most schools require: a bachelor's degree, that you take the GRE (Graduate Records Examination), and .... a lot of money.    Sorry, but that last part seems to hold true no matter where you go to school --- getting a master's degree is usually pretty expensive.   The good news is that your bachelor's degree doesn't have to be in library science, but can be in anything.  In fact, a lot of schools encourage diversity in backgrounds, which makes for a lot of students from different backgrounds, but who all have a similar interest in libraries.

My MLIS is from  Dominican University in Illinois.   Illinois only has two schools that offer the MLIS: Dominican and the University of Illinois (Champaign-Urbana).   When I was in library school, they didn't have online classes at Dominican, which was a complete bummer, since it would have been nice to do classes on my own time, at home.  Instead, I worked a full day of work (7 am - 4:30 pm, sometimes with no lunch break) and then went to school at night.    While online classes would have been convenient, I'm glad all of my classes met physically, face-to-face.    Having to drive to school and attend class meant that I had a full commitment to going to school, and there was no way to slack off.  Face-to-face classes make for a lot of instant discussion and interaction, which, depending on the class, meant for some really interesting sessions.   Physical classes let you make friends that you can study with, and commiserate with -- and it lets you ask questions in class and get answers right away.    That being said, I would have enjoyed having one or two classes as online classes, because I didn't feel it was necessary to physically be in class to learn the material.

Since obtaining the degree, I have taken a few online courses to continue my education, and I've enjoyed them.  It's really nice to be able to take classes without needing to travel.    I chose Dominican over University of Illinois mainly because of the location.   U of I was less money, and had an online learning program (called the LEEP program), but at the time, required physical presence on campus for some sessions --- which would have necessitated me using up all of my vacation time from my job in the first two semesters.....   not an option for me, since I did not tell my employer that I was getting my degree (that's a whole 'nother story, which I may tell some other time).    I think online classes are great, but I wouldn't want to give up the physical classes, simply for the interaction that happens when you get together with a group of people to discuss things face-to-face.  However, online classes do allow people to get the degree who otherwise wouldn't be able to travel back and forth to class, or take the classes from an accredited school in another state --- which is very convenient.  

So that answers the first two questions: what is it? and how do I get one?     But maybe you're wondering -- why would I want an MLS?

Library positions for Librarians (Reference Librarians, Catalogers, Assistant Directors, and many others) usually require that you have the MLIS.    If you want a position that pays more money, you need the degree.   At least, most of the time --- there's no way to make a blanket statement for every single library, and every single position, but this seems to be the general way things go.   However -- don't despair if you would love to work in a library, but don't have the money or inclination to get a master's degree.    The other degree that you can get is a LTA, or Library Technical Assistant certificate.   Some library positions ask for an LTA, but others don't require any kind of degree at all.   Depending on the library, and the job, the required qualifications can really vary (which is why it's important to read any job descriptions carefully).    There's a great article I found which compares the MLS to an LTA, if you want to know more.

Ok -- enough lagniappe for now.   Comments and questions are welcome, as always, especially since I'll probably work them into future posts.   Thanks go out to Kelly, who commented last time and asked about my degree experience!

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Cambridge List: An ever-so-English Greek tragedy by Robert Clear

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):   The Cambridge List is an action-packed, ever-so-English dark comedy about gods, sex and death amidst the ivory towers of Cambridge University.

James Connor thinks that murdering his former professors in cold blood is rather a bad idea. Unfortunately his head has been commandeered by a bloodthirsty family of Greek gods, so he doesn’t have a say in the matter. With Hera and Aphrodite at each other’s throats and Dionysos failing to keep order, James’s brain has become a cosmic conflict zone, and he’s worried they’ll leave it in ruins. There’s only one way out: he has to go from socially inept young man to slick sociopath fast. If only he wasn’t so squeamish about mass slaughter.

Follow the world’s least menacing serial killer on his awkwardly murderous journey through the little town of Cambridge, where ancient rituals, scheming academics and divine politics collide. And where murder has consequences unforeseen even by the gods themselves…

And here's what I thought: This is one of those books that will appeal to you if you have knowledge of some of the Greek gods and a fairly dark sense of humor.  I have both, so I really enjoyed this book.   I liked how creative the plot was, where James' brain is taken over by Greek gods, who bicker back and forth and give him instructions for doing away with people.   I will admit that at some points, things became a bit grotesque, especially in the beginning where James is dealing with one of his professors (she is grossly overweight, and generally gross person, as well).  It made the story go from a bit funny to a bit funny-horrifying --- but it didn't stop me from continuing to read.  I'm a fan of the defunct show Dead Like Me, so there were parts of this that I found really funny. 

What I found really fun about the story, other than the inspired ways that people were killed off, was the Greek gods, themselves.  Each has a distinct voice and personality -- and they're so well written that they are absolutely clear as characters.  The bickering between them was at times so snarky and funny that I found myself snickering out loud (which is fine when you're reading by yourself and a bit hard to explain if you're in public).    Here's an example from page 38: "Your plan was idiotic," retorted Hera.  "You can't kill someone by having them eaten by a pack of rabid guinea pigs."   Thanks very much to the author for putting that image in my head.  Actually, true thanks to the author for contacting me to review this book --- I might not have discovered it otherwise, and I thought it was a great read!

First sentences: 
A cold wind whipped across the Fens and through the little city of Cambridge.  It has travelled this vacant land since long before the spires of churches and the turrets of towers pierced the vast East Anglian sky.  It will continue to journey here long after grass has covered the untilled earth and the square-cut stones are buried deep beneath.

Thoughts on the cover: I read this as an e-book, so the cover art I saw was on GoodReads.  I probably would have chosen something else, like a photo of a classical Greek statue, to make the cover a bit more dynamic.

Hoppin' on the weekend....

Hopping will happen...... eventually
Another Friday, means another Book Blogger Hop!  Graciously hosted, as always, by Jenn over at Crazy for Books, the Hop allows all of us book bloggers to meet, discover new blogs, new books, and have fun.   

This week's question is: "Highlight one book you have received this week (for review, from the libary, purchased at the store, etc) that you can't wait to dig into!"     

I just picked up Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand from my library and plan on starting it tonight.    Here's the review, courtesy of Booklist, if you'd like to know more:

A second book by the author of Seabiscuit (2001) would get noticed, even if it weren't the enthralling and often grim story of Louie Zamperini. An Olympic runner during the 1930s, he flew B-24s during WWII. Taken prisoner by the Japanese, he endured a captivity harsh even by Japanese standards and was a physical and mental wreck at the end of the war. He was saved by the influence of Billy Graham, who inspired him to turn his life around, and afterward devoted himself to evangelical speeches and founding boys' camps. Still alive at 93, Zamperini now works with those Japanese individuals and groups who accept responsibility for Japanese mistreatment of POWs and wish to see Japan and the U.S. reconciled. He submitted to 75 interviews with the author as well as contributing a large mass of personal records. Fortunately, the author's skills are as polished as ever, and like its predecessor, this book has an impossible-to-put-down quality that one commonly associates with good thrillers.  

I'm looking forward to seeing what everyone else is going to be reading.  Happy Hopping!!


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Too Far by Rich Shapero

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):   Rich Shapero’s Too Far follows a pair of ultra-imaginative six-year-olds, Robbie and Fristeen, through a transformative summer spent exploring the woods behind their remote Alaskan homes. As their family lives become increasingly unstable, the children travel deeper and farther into their private world. The forest—and the gods who inhabit it—becomes their refuge until, at summer’s end, they are forced to choose between the crushing prospects of the real world, and the lethal demands of their ideal one.

And here's what I thought:  I don't think I have said this before, but.... I didn't get it.  I think it's the kind of book that will either really resonate with a reader, or really not and for me, this didn't resonate at all.

I understood that the story was from the perspective of Robbie, who is six, and the friend he makes, Fristeen --- but to me, it wasn't realistic.  Maybe it was supposed to be fantastical, but most of the time, I felt lost.  At first, I wasn't sure if Fristeen was even real (I was thinking she was an imaginary friend made up by Robbie).   There is a voice that Robbie hears from time to time, and I wasn't sure what that was all about, either.   I'm all for stories where the main characters are children with vast imaginations, who make a lot of things up, but a lot of this story just never came together for me.

The author's writing and pacing also threw me off a bit because I found both to be inconsistent.  At times, the writing is extremely descriptive, but then will suddenly become a bit abrupt, which makes the pacing somewhat choppy.    And, at times, I found the dialogue to be odd.   Example, on page 53: "Dream, Robbie, dream.  Right here, right now.  Anything you choose.  Crack the sun open and paint your face with its yolk.  Cast the fragments from you and turn the world to smoke.  Pull the tacks from the night and roll the sky up..."  Interesting, but to me, a bit strange to say to a six-year-old.

Obviously, as I said, this book just didn't resonate with me.  I completely understand if there are readers who really enjoy this book, because I think has elements that some readers will respond to.  However, I found myself just stumbling through this story, feeling like I was in a world I never understood, with characters that just never seemed quite real to me.  This is the first time I've given a "Meh" rating, and it feels quite odd....

First sentences: On the outskirts of Fairbanks, down a gravel road, a small house and a family had taken root among the trees.  A man and a woman, and a six-year-old boy.  They had come a long distance, impelled by an idea, like seed flock on the wind.  In May the northern sky pales early.  Dreams trail off, and you wake and dress yourself.  Robbie, the boy, managed that himself now.

Thoughts on the cover: Very funky and fractal-like, at once harmonic and chaotic -- and I am not sure it's well-suited to the story, although it's very eye-catching.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Quick Bookie Brunch post ...

Now that our Internet seems to have stabilized......   just wanted to point y'all in the direction of This Miss Loves to Read, who is hosting today's Bookie Brunch.

And, apologies from myself for making her late on the brunch posting.   I had my email all ready to go, and was in the middle of doing stuff online ..... and our connection went out.  Then came back up.  Then went out.   We've been having lightning storms the last few days, and apparently, our provider has been tinkering with things a bit.  I initially thought our modem was acting up, but unfortunately..... not.   So, that made me late in getting back to Irena.

I'm sure she'll have her post up soon, and today's discussion question is a good one, so stop on over and see what we all had to say about classic books ---

thank you, Irena, for hosting!!!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Introducing ..... Library Lagniappe

Library LagniappeWelcome to my new semi-monthly post, Library Lagniappe, where I'll write a little bit about being a librarian, what libraries are all about, and more.

What does Lagniappe mean?   Per the Random House Dictionary:  
1.  Chiefly Southern Louisiana and Southeast Texas . a small gift given with a purchase to a customer, by way of compliment or for good measure; bonus.

 My favorite Cajun restaurant has a number of lagniappe, like corn muffins, sweet potato polenta, etc., and they just call it "a little somethin' extra."   So, these posts will be a little somethin' extra about libraries --- as a thank you to all of you who frequent your libraries.  

 So, let's start off with an introductory kind of post:   Why become a Librarian?  

Well, the easiest way for me to answer that question would be: I chose to change careers and become a Librarian because I wanted to use my knowledge and skills to help people.     And, I love books and reading, and I wanted to share that love and excitement with other people.   But, the real reason was that I wanted to have a career where I felt like what I did made some kind of difference.  You don't need to love books to be a Librarian (especially since there are all kinds of libraries and librarians).

I had worked in my high school library for an hour every day (I had a scholarship, which meant you worked somewhere on campus for an hour each day, and I was lucky enough to get the library 3 out of 4 years), and really loved it.   I had grown up as an avid book junkie, so working in a library meant I was surrounded by books, which was way cool.  But, I also got exposed to microfilm, and microfiche, and reference books.   But I didn't go to college intending to become a librarian.

Instead, I went to college with the intention of going on to law school.  My bachelor's degree is in Political Science, and I studied and took the LSAT and started looking at law schools.   However, right when I took the LSAT, a family member was starting law school (working 2 part-time jobs and going at night), and I thought .....  maybe I should wait and see how she does.   So, I got a job in a law firm as a legal assistant, and kept law school in the back of my mind.  After seeing my family member sweat it out through law school and the Bar exam (and rack up tons of loans), I decided I didn't want to go to law school.   I liked working at the law firm, and I had worked my way up in the ranks, and I was good at what I did.   But, after 3 law firms, and 10+ years in the same field of law, I was getting a little restless.   I never felt like what I did really helped anyone.   And, I was training new attorneys (and they were getting paid a lot more than I was).   But, I had a second, part-time job at a library, working at the Circulation Desk, and I loved it.   Unfortunately, the extra overtime required by my law-firm boss meant that after about a year, I had to quit the library.   Argh.......

However, I still went to the library all the time, as a patron and one day, my old boss at the library said, "Why don't you go to library school?  You would be a great librarian."    Library school?  Huh?   There's school for that?   I had no idea.    So, I did a little research (actually, a lot of research), and did a lot of thinking.    After all, a master's degree costs money (a lot of money, actually), and I would have to go at night........

And that's what I did.    I worked full-time at a horrible job during the day, then took night classes, and after 3 years of blood, sweat and a lot of tears, I obtained my Master's Degree.     I will say, the stress of it really made me into a not-very-nice person, so I really owe a lot to my saint of a husband for putting up with me.    But, once I had my degree, I could look for a job ...... and I found a great job at my local library.   Five years later, I still love what I do ---- I help people all the time, whether it's finding a book, or the next book in a series, or helping them to format a resume' and find a job (or figure out how to use email, even).      Would I make more money if I had stayed in my previous career?  Um .... yes.  Librarians don't usually make a ton of money compared to other jobs.   But, I don't feel any more like my job is sucking out my soul.   

And ..... I'm surrounded by books all the time.   That's a perk, too.  Actually, it's both a blessing and a curse sometimes.

There are a myriad of reasons why people choose to go to library school -- this is just my own story.   Thanks for bearing with my rambling on!!

More Library Lagniappe to come, including posts on what an MLS is, some of the different kinds of libraries, what we do all day, and more.

Friday, July 22, 2011

...Then I met my sister by Christine Hurley Delso

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):    
Summer Stetson lives inside a shrine to her dead sister. Eclipsed by Shannon's greatness, Summer feels like she's a constant disappointment to her controlling, Type A momzilla and her all-too-quiet dad. Her best friend Gibson believes Summer's C average has more to do with rebelliousness than smarts, but she knows she can never measure up—academically or otherwise.
On her birthday, Summer receives a secret gift from her aunt: Shannon's diary. Suddenly, the one-dimensional vision of her sister becomes all too solid. Is this love-struck, mom-bashing badass the same Shannon everyone raves about? Determined to understand her troubled sister, Summer dives headfirst down a dark rabbit hole and unearths painful family secrets. Each revelation brings Summer closer to the mysterious and liberating truth about her family—and herself.

And here's what I thought: I liked the plot of this book, where Summer reads Shannon's diary and discovers what her sister was really like, as opposed to the sister she thought she knew.   Because all that Summer knows of Shannon is through her parents, and all the photos and awards around their house, she has developed her own ideas about her sister.  However, when her aunt gives her Shannon's diary, her vision of Shannon is shattered.   The fact that Shannon is dead adds a lot of mystery to the story, but what held my attention was the idea: how well do we know our own family?   If you are much younger, or older, than a sibling, you can wind up not really knowing them well at all.   Getting to know someone through a diary is especially thought-provoking because you are getting their direct thoughts on their experiences. 

As for the characters, I have to admit that I didn't always like Summer.  I could understand that she had the attitude she did about school, and her family, but she at times became so obsessed with the diary, and her sister, that she completely blew off Gibs, who has been nothing but supportive of her.  Her single-minded focus seemed a little annoying to me at times.   Her mom, on the other hand, seemed a bit too.... much.   I understand that some parents are very focused on their children's successes, pushing them all the time to do better, get better grades, etc.  However, Summer's mom seemed to take things to a whole new level.   It sometimes seemed like her mom was a little two-dimensional at times.    Summer's father, on the other hand, just seems like he lets his wife run the show --- it's like he has almost no spine.  

Overall, though, I found this to be an enjoyable story, mostly because the idea of getting to know a sibling was interesting to me.  The whole family dynamic kept my attention, as did the mystery of what really happened the night Shannon died.

First sentences: "Your mom."
Gibs nodded toward the audience and I follow his gaze.

Mom is sitting next to Leah Rollins' mother in the middle of the packed auditorium.   They chat discreetly, leaning towards each other and holding Chapel Heights High School Honor Day programs over their mouths.  Mom clings to the fantasy that Leah Rollins and I are still best friends (Leah cut me loose in ninth grade), and is no doubt telling Leah's mother that we girls just have to get together soon.

Thoughts on the cover:  I thought it was interesting how the ink-drawn heart opened up to show part of a girl's face.  Question is: whose face is it?  Summer?  Shannon?   I liked the possibilities.

Book Blogger Hop time!!!!

soft...fluffy..... might just Hop
I'm at the end of an 8-day stretch of straight days at work .... and boy oh boy am I glad it's Friday!!!!!    Seriously.... it's going to be margarita time when I get out of work today.

The nice thing about Friday, other than it being the end of the week, is that it means it's time for the Book Blogger Hop.  Generously hosted by Jennifer over at Crazy for Books, the Hop allows book bloggers to travel around the web, meeting each other, discovering books, and new blogs.

Every week, there's also a discussion question, which always makes for some interesting posts.  This week's question is: What’s the ONE GENRE that you wish you could get into, but just can’t?

For me, that would be ..... romance.   I have never been a paperback romance kind of girl.   While I don't mind if other people read romance, it's never been my kind of thing.   I tend to just find it a bit much, or too unbelievable, or ....  a bit overdone.   Or, I just get impatient with it ....  like, "just kiss already and stop talking about it!"   A bit of romance can be just fine in a story, but when it's all about the romance... no thank you.

Happy Hopping, everyone!!! 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Monday, July 18, 2011

Hatter by Daniel Coleman

Summary (courtesy of Smashwords):   There’s nothing wrong with a touch of madness. – Cheshire Cat

Someday Hatta will save the kingdom. In his mind, at least. But his talents of uncharacteristic kindness and a passion for colors hardly qualify him for such a destiny. In a kingdom that doesn’t need saving, a young man ignorant of social norms is the unlikeliest of heroes.  Along the way, the Cheshire Cat, Queen of Hearts, White Queen, and other familiar characters emerge to fill their eminent roles as well.

Witness literature’s most lovable lunatic’s tangled ascent into madness.

And here's what I thought: I was introduced to this book by vvb32, from one of her contests.  Before that, I wasn't familiar with the author --- but now, consider myself to be a huge fan.   Beautifully written, this book pulled me into a world that I thought I might know, and showed me I knew it not at all.

At first, you read a lot about Chism, and that threw me off a bit -- I was wondering, who is he?  What's he doing in the story?   But, I found his character to be intriguing, and when he snaps into action on page 5, I knew I was going to like him.   I really liked how the author wrote the fighting scenes.  I know that might sound a bit odd, but sometimes, when characters fight, it sounds all awkward (or completely unrealistic).   Daniel Coleman writes a fighting scene that is full of fluid, deadly grace -- I felt like when I was reading, I was visualizing it clearly -- and it was great.    I also liked that Chism seemed very real as a character.

Hatta's a completely different character than Chism, as you would expect.  And, he's completely what you expect him to be, if you imagine him as the Mad Hatter (and actually, the author does have a note at the end, explaining Hatta from the original Lewis Carroll story and how he fits with the Mad Hatter and all).   He's all about color -- the brighter, the better.  Here's an example:  "His purple boots always made him smile.  What was more wonderful than purple leather?"  (p. 11) Indeed.     He has an interesting way of looking at the world, and he certainly seems to see the good in all sorts of people.  Another example: "As with other small towns, people greeted him warmly enough.  Most either raised an eyebrow or stared openly after he passed.  No one was aggressive or demeaning and the street was a little brighter in his wake."  (p. 13)     However, things are not always easy for Hatta, and the colors aren't always kind.   You'll have to read the story to see what I mean.

I really liked how Chism and Hatta paralleled each other at times.  Both definitely have more to them than meets the eye, for example.  Chism isn't that big for fifteen, but he's a superb warrior.  Hatta appears to be a bit odd (and extremely colorful), but within his convoluted logic lie insight and truth.  Each of the have their own habits to keep themselves at peace (Chism counts things, and Hatta relies on color).  The two characters' stories seem completely at odds at first, and then when the two come together, everything falls into place.    And what about the Cheshire Cat?  He's here, too, don't worry.

I appreciated how Coleman created the world in this story, giving it realistic elements of people, and settings, and then working in more fantastical things, like odd creatures.    The explanation of how Wonderland came into being, and how the two queens came about were creative, and made complete sense.    I felt like this book was carefully crafted, and the pacing was smooth and even -- once I started, I was under the spell of this story.

First sentences: Despite the chill morning, Chism dropped his plain tunic on the ground and approached the estate bare-chested.  His treasured uniform, which he earned only three weeks before, lay folded carefully in camp.  Counting steps came naturally as he walked with palms open and arms outstretched.  The men holding the duke for ransom wouldn't be threatened by an unarmed fifteen year old, especially one as slight as Chism.  They had no way of knowing they were about to take prisoner one of the most dangerous people in the kingdom.

Thoughts on the cover:  Very pretty hat, I must say -- and perfect for Hatta.

Where to find this book:   Smashwords --

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Today's Bookie Brunch ---

is being held over at Moonlight Gleam's Bookshelf, so stop on over and join in the discussion!!    The question for brunch is:  Do you prefer e-books or print copies of novels, and why?

I'm looking forward to seeing what everyone has to say, and joining in the discussion, as well.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

My curious mind would like to know ......

I'm thinking of starting a semi-monthly scheduled post about libraries -- basically, what libraries are about, what it's like to work in a library, etc.   I wasn't sure if anyone would be interesting in reading this kind of post, so I'm looking for any comments you all might have.    Thank you!!!

I know she's Deputy Chief, but I think she'd make a great librarian!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Friday already ?????

poised and ready to Hop
Somehow, it's Friday again.  I feel like I lost a day in there somewhere, but either way, it's nice that it's Friday.   And --- Friday means it's time for the weekend-long Book Blogger Hop.  Hosted by Jen at Crazy for Books, the Hop lets us all discover new blogs, visit familiar blogs, and have a lot of fun.   Plus, if it's hot outside, it's the perfect way to spend some quality time in the air conditioning.  

This week's question comes from Veronica, who asks:  How/Where do you get your books? Do you buy them or go to the library? Is there a certain website you use like paperbackswap?

As a Librarian, I get almost all of my books from the library -- either from my own library, or through interlibrary loan (which is great -- and free!).   I'm definitely a fan of "try before you buy" - especially since librarians don't tend to have huge salaries, but also because I don't necessarily want to own every single book I read.    Books I do buy are ones I really want to have, and to read again and again --- and I try to buy them used (online or at the local used bookstore), or new from my local indie bookstore.    I also am fortunate enough to receive books from publishers and authors, who would like me to review their book.  

I'm looking forward to seeing what everyone else has to say --- especially because, of course, I'd like to see that bloggers are using their libraries (hopefully).        Happy Hopping, everyone!!!

and ... thanks, as always, to Disapproving Rabbits, for providing such great bunny photos!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Daughters of the River Huong by Uyen Nicole Duong

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):   Daughters of the River Huong is a richly woven tapestry of family, country, conflict, and redemption. A saga spanning four generations of Vietnamese women, we discover lives inextricably tied to their country’s struggle for independence. Narrated by the teenaged Simone, a girl who flaunts convention and enters into a forbidden relationship of love and sensuality, readers are drawn to the lives of four of Simone’s ancestors, from Huyen Phi, the Mystique Concubine from the extinct Kingdom of Champa, to Ginseng, the Mystique Concubine’s second daughter and a heroine of the Vietnamese Revolution. Duong tells a tumultuous story of power and lust that transports us from the Violet City of Hue to the teeming streets of a Saigon at war, from the affluence of Paris’s St. Germain des Pres to Manhattan. Love, war, capitalism, revolution—this novel delivers a chronicle of history as fascinating as it is memorable.

And here's what I thought:   I didn't have any knowledge of Vietnam's history (aside from the Vietnam War in the 1960's-1970's involving America).   In this book, not only did I get caught up in the stories of these women, but I also learned about Vietnam, much more than I thought I would when I began the book.   The story spans the period from just before the French colonization of Vietnam in the mid-19th century and goes through the 1990s.   The backdrop of all of these different time periods (and conflicts) really made the story interesting.

I really enjoyed how the author seemed to carefully choose words, crafting sentences and paragraphs.  Her writing was so descriptive, that I could picture these women, and the settings, quite clearly.    I will admit that I was glad the author had included not only a list of the main characters and their context, but also a family tree, at the beginning of the book.   Once or twice, I got a little confused, so it was helpful to refer to these to get back on track.   However, overall, I found this to be a good read.   I have read and enjoyed stories about Chinese women in different time periods (Wild Swans, which is a nonfiction book; books by Lisa Yee and Amy Tan), so it was interesting to read about a different country, whose history I had little knowledge of beforehand. 

If you'd like to learn more about this author, I'm including a few links I found:  The Vietnam Literature Project, an interview with the author on The Writer's Post, and her information on GoodReads, showing her two other books.    Her book, Postcards from Nam, is due out in August, 2011.    

  First sentences: I turned the key and opened the door to the apartment that was my home.
Christopher must have sent Lucinda home for the weekend.  The lacquered clock chimed six thirty as I closed the apartment door behind me, my heels clicking and pivoting on the hardwood.  I knew that, down the hall from where I stood motionless in the vestibule, he could have heard my turning and hushing the key out of the lock.

Thoughts on the covers:   I included both covers here, to show the differences between them.    The cover on the book I received is the one below, which is blue.   I like this cover, but you really have to hold it up and look closely to see the details.  I actually like the other cover a bit better, where it shows images of women against a backdrop --- and I especially like how the one older photo fads into the background a bit.   

Monday, July 11, 2011

In the Arms of Stone Angels by Jordan Dane

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):   Two years ago, Brenna did the unthinkable. She witnessed the aftermath of a murder and accused her only true friend--the first boy she ever loved--of being a killer.
Now sixteen, Brenna returns to Oklahoma only to discover that Isaac "White Bird" Henry isn't in juvie. The half-breed outcast is in a mental hospital, frozen in time, locked in his mind at the worst moment of his life. And when Brenna touches him, she's pulled into his hellish vision quest, seeing terrifying demons and illusions she doesn't understand.   Feeling isolated and alone, she's up against the whole town, targeted by bullying former classmates, a bigoted small town sheriff, and a tribe who refuses to help one of their own. But when Brenna realizes she's as trapped by the past as White Bird is, this time she won't turn her back on him. She's the only one who can free them both.   Even if she has to expose her secret--a "gift" she's kept hidden her whole life.

And here's what I thought:  Not my favorite book that I've read lately.  I had seen this book mentioned on another blog, and thought I would give it a try.  I'm glad I got it from a library and didn't buy it for myself.

The basic story idea is good, but I felt like the book didn't have an even flow to it.  The main character, Brenna, is a decent narrator, but several times, the book shifts to another character's perspective, which I found a bit jarring.  I can understand seeing events through Brenna's eyes, but then when it would switch to a third-person narrator, it was confusing -- whose perspective is this?   I also found I didn't quite buy some of the other characters -- they seemed a bit cardboard-y to me, like stock characters (you have a pretty but mean girl, another girl who kinda goes along with the mean girl, a sheriff who has it out for some of the kids, etc).   

I have seen other reviews where the reader just loved this book.  For me, I never felt a complete connection to either Brenna, or the story.  I think the inconsistencies with both the pacing and the story threw me off.   So -- maybe it's a great book for some readers, but it just didn't resonate with me.

First sentences:  
I sleep with the dead.  I don't remember the first time I did it and I try not to think about why.  It's just something I do.  My fascination with the dead has become part of me, like the way my middle toes jut out.  They make my feet look like they're shooting the finger 24/7."

Thoughts on the cover: 
Not my favorite, although I appreciate that it's simple.  But if I had designed it, I would have used a black & white or sepia-toned photo of an angel from a cemetery, and made the text a bit smaller.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Changes on the way.........

Just a heads up ......   after about 2 years of blogging, I'm getting ready to celebrate a bit with some giveaways (stay tuned .... ).   However, I realized I need to make some improvements, as well.

Now that I have reached 270 followers (thank you !) will be following everyone back (making sure that I'm actually doing this and paying more attention than I have been).   As soon as I can get the followers to load back on my blog, I'll be giving this attention.

And .... I'm going to get myself on a schedule.  So, starting immediately, I plan on having posts on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday (for the Bookie Brunch).   I have been guilty of being lazy.... of feeling uninspired.... and letting myself get in a rut.   So -- I am going to try a schedule to keep myself on track.   

Thanks to everyone who reads this blog and inspires me to get my butt in gear.   :)

Metamorphosis by Sheila Wolk

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):   In her national bestseller Alice I Have Been, Melanie Benjamin imagined the life of the woman who inspired Alice in Wonderland. Now, in this jubilant new novel, Benjamin shines a dazzling spotlight on another fascinating female figure whose story has never fully been told: a woman who became a nineteenth century icon and inspiration—and whose most daunting limitation became her greatest strength.
“Never would I allow my size to define me. Instead, I would define it.”
She was only two-foot eight-inches tall, but her legend reaches out to us more than a century later. As a child, Mercy Lavinia “Vinnie” Bump was encouraged to live a life hidden away from the public. Instead, she reached out to the immortal impresario P. T. Barnum, married the tiny superstar General Tom Thumb in the wedding of the century, and transformed into the world’s most unexpected celebrity.  Here, in Vinnie’s singular and spirited voice, is her amazing adventure—from a showboat “freak” revue where she endured jeering mobs to her fateful meeting with the two men who would change her life: P. T. Barnum and Charles Stratton, AKA Tom Thumb. Their wedding would captivate the nation, preempt coverage of the Civil War, and usher them into the White House and the company of presidents and queens. But Vinnie’s fame would also endanger the person she prized most: her similarly-sized sister, Minnie, a gentle soul unable to escape the glare of Vinnie’s spotlight.

A barnstorming novel of the Gilded Age, and of a woman’s public triumphs and personal tragedies, The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb is the irresistible epic of a heroine who conquered the country with a heart as big as her dreams—and whose story will surely win over yours.

And here's what I thought:  I really loved this book.  I had already come to it with some knowledge of who Lavinia Warren Bump was, who Tom Thumb was, who P.T. Barnum was, and some knowledge of their history together.  However, I had never thought about Lavinia's real life.   Sure, I was curious, just as I have always been curious about the real lives of some of the people under Barnum's management, but I hadn't taken the steps to try to learn more.   In this book, even though it was fiction, I felt like I really got to know Lavinia, and thought about what her life was like, not only as a small person, but as a woman at that time in America.
 As you can see from the summary (and see the picture to the right), Vinnie was only 32 inches tall.   If you're not sure how tall that is, grab a measuring tape -- it's pretty small.  Imagine living as an adult, at that height.  Imagine trying to reach an average wash-basin, or door handle, or bed.  Imagine living as an adult, at that height, in the mid-1800s.  People tend to treat you like a child, because you are small -- which can be irritating, or even dangerous.

I found that while I didn't always like Vinnie, I was always impressed by her tenacity and determination.  As she says, (p. 25), "Never would I allow my size to define me.  Instead, I would define it.  My size may have been the first thing people noticed about me but never, I vowed at that moment, would it be the last."  And, indeed, she was true to her word.  She is intelligent and has beautiful manners, and this is what she focuses on to make an impression on the people she meets.  She is a bit of a controlling personality, but I found that understandable -- due to her size, if she didn't take decisions into her own hands, she could easily have been taken advantage of.  

I really liked that the author put in a lot of nonfiction details into the story, in addition to what was true about Vinnie's life.  For example, Vinnie stays at the DeSoto Hotel in Galena, IL at one point, and I'm quite familiar with Galena, having visited there several times.  The details about traveling by train are accurate, and so descriptive that it made me feel grimy (which train travel was at the time -- it was dirty).  I got so caught up in the story that I tended to forget that it wasn't a non-fiction book.  The author's writing is so descriptive, and smooth, that I just kept turning the pages -- I literally could not put this book down.  And, after I read it, I found myself reading the acknowledgments, and searching for more about Vinnie and her husband.   I feel that Melanie Benjamin is a true master of historical fiction (this book is her second work of historical fiction, the first being Alice I Have Been), and I'm looking forward to seeing what she does next.

First sentences:   I suppose it would be fashionable to admit to some reservations as I undertake to write the History of My Life.  Popular memoirs of our time suggest a certain reticence is expected, particularly when the author is a female.  We women are timid creatures, after all; we must retire behind a veil of secrecy and allow others to tell our stories.

Thoughts on the cover: 
The cover my book has is slightly different, but I like how it just shows a skirt, with slippers peeping out --- it's very feminine, which suits Lavinia, and also gives the impression that she is just touching the ground.

Please note: I received an ARC of this book through LibraryThing Early Reviewers.  Thus, any page notations and quotes may differ upon final publication.

Friday means it's hoppin' time

Ready to be fierce.... and hop.
Another Friday means it's time for the weekly Hop!  Generously hosted by Jennifer over at Crazy for Books, the weekly Book Blogger Hop is an opportunity for all of us to visit bloggers, get to know new people, discover new books .....   and for me, justify spending more time in the air conditioning (and not outside, in the heat and humidity).   :)

This week's question isn't a question ---- but a great chance to promote someone else's giveaway.   I think that's a great idea, so I'm giving a shout-out to the giveaway over at A Blog About Nothing, where Cynthia has some great books that I'm sure many us of would love to have (at least, I see a few I'd love to have).   I like reading her reviews, and saw she's got this giveaway going (which is perfect timing for today).    So -- if you have a chance, hop on over to her blog and check it out!!  

And - Happy Hopping, everyone!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Coming soon ---- Bookie Brunch!!!

Come join the discussion every Sunday!   It's the perfect thing to pair with a glass of champagne (or sparkling water), or a mimosa (or two)..... 

What’s Bookie Brunch all about?: Bookie Brunch is a weekly meet-up, held every Sunday, where book bloggers can have a cup of tea (or any other beverage) and chat about a particular bookie question of interest.    The discussion is open from Sunday through Wednesday, and you’re welcome to drop by any time to add your opinion or read what other people have to say.  This discussion is open as well to general readers or bloggers in a different field, authors, publishers and publicists.

Courtesy guidelines: All thoughtful comments will be considered and probably get a response from fellow bloggers. In fact, you’re encouraged to talk about it and share viewpoints or include links to relevant materials. We’d like everyone to have a nice time. Differing viewpoints are just fine, even if strongly expressed, but inflammatory or off-topic comments will be removed.

 Contact Bookie Brunch:

Be a guest at an upcoming brunch: @StoryWings
Bring goodies for a giveaway: @StoryWings
Suggest a question: @LiederMadchen
Browse Bookie Brunch discussions (after July 2011, archive): The
Fluidity of Time 

Find Bookie Brunch:

You're Invited!!!   Feel free to join us every Sunday for great company, fun discussions, and occasional goodie giveaways. Some upcoming dates are listed below --- it'll be great to see you there.   CALLING ALL BOOKIES --- Grab a seat and let's talk books!!

Upcoming Bookie Brunches in July, 2011:

We’ll be talking about e-readers vs. print editions, fantasy vs. realism in books, characters vs. plot, and lots of other cool and bookish questions.

Sunday, July 10
Host: Songs and Stories

Sunday, July 17
Host: Moonlight Gleam’s Bookshelf

Sunday, July 24
Host: This Miss Loves To Read

Sunday, July 31
Host: Beyond Strange New Words

More Bookie Brunches: Every Sunday, July 2011 through December 2011:
Upcoming dates on the schedule (coming soon)

 * * * * * * * * *
Would you like to be a guest on an upcoming brunch, bring a giveaway, or send a question?   Feel free!!!   Please leave your information in the comment section, and then contact the Bookie Bruncher who can help get you set up:
 Contact Bookie Brunch:

Be a guest at an upcoming brunch: @StoryWings
Bring goodies for a giveaway: @StoryWings
Suggest a question: @LiederMadchen
Browse Bookie Brunch discussions 
(after July 2011, archive): The
Fluidity of Time

The first Bookie Brunch is open for a delicious discussion on July 10, at Songs and Stories  --- can't wait!!!

** cheers and chanpagne to the lovely Sasha Soren, who dreamed this all up, and who organized it all!!!    

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