Thursday, April 28, 2016

Throwback Thursday: He, She and It

In which I share vague recollections of books I read long ago that have stuck with me.

Back in my early or mid twenties, I started running out of Margaret Atwood books to read and a friend suggested Marge Piercy. It turned out to be a great suggestion and I happily read my way through many of Piercy's books. Like Atwood, many of her novels have science fiction elements.

He, She and It (which really needs an Oxford comma) is a novel of a dystopian future centered around a woman named Shira who has lost her family and left her corporate-controlled area to live in a Jewish free town. Here she meets and falls in love with a cyborg man. That love story is what I most remember about the novel - the details are lost to me, but there are interesting ideas here about freedom, love, and what it means to be a person.

As I read about it now to refresh my memory, I get the distinct feeling that this novel would hold up now. Piercy's writing is strongly feminist and character-driven and I hope to someday go back and read her books again.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Kind Worth Killing

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson (2015)

While waiting for a flight back home to Boston, two strangers meet in a London airport bar. After several martinis Ted admits that his wife, Miranda, has been cheating on him, and jokes that he wants to kill her. Lily casually agrees that she deserves to die and offers to help. From here, the two get more involved as they form their plan, but there's a lot that Ted doesn't know about Lily and that neither of them know about Miranda.

I was first struck by the idea that murdering a spouse was somehow preferable to just getting a divorce. It's an awful lot of trouble to go through, and you might end up in jail because of someone you hate. But Ted was rich and his wealth was at stake, and it seems like money can be a huge motivator in crime. In the beginning, I was also rather taken aback by how casually Ted and Lily were discussing this murder they were planning. It seemed sort of unreal, but also disturbing real. (The night I started reading the book I had an upsetting dream that I killed someone and couldn't figure out how to hide the body.)

So at the outset I wasn't sure how I felt about this book and was not especially excited about it, and then...then, the first half ended and the second part began. Here, there was a game change and that is when things got really interesting and it became a whole different kind of book. The least said about this the better, but I just want you to know that if you start reading this and you're not sure whether to keep going, you should because it gets really good about halfway through.

The narrative viewpoint switches from chapter to chapter, sticking with Ted and Lily for the first half of the book. As it progresses, though, the narration shifts around to different characters and, oh, it is not at all what I thought when I started. I'm sorry for doubting you, Peter Swanson.

Once things really got going I couldn't put the book down, and I really didn't know how it would all turn out. It kept me guessing until the very end. I hate to make direct comparisons, but I think those who like dark, psychological crime novels like Gone Girl or Eileen will likely find this one as satisfying as I did.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Firebird

The Firebird (Slains #2) by Susanna Kearsley (2013)

A woman with a small carved bird arrives at the gallery where Nicola Marter works, and although the object is appraised and considered to be without value, Nicola knows this isn't true. She has a gift and when she touched the carving she saw far into the past and knew it was a gift from Catherine I of Russia. With the help of her ex-boyfriend Rob, who is also gifted in a similar way, they set out on a journey to prove that what they know is true. Along the way they learn more about Anna, the young woman who received the gift, and also began to reconnect to each other.

This is the second in the series that began with The Winter Sea. The only connection I could see is that Slains Castle appears in both books, as do Jacobites. But in reading the author's note at the end, I found that one of the characters from this book was also in the last one, I just didn't remember because I read it a year or so ago. At any rate, this could definitely be read as a stand-alone.

The psychic abilities of the main characters in the present-day part of the story sets it apart from the other books I've read by Susanna Kearsley. In those the more paranormal elements are related to a place as opposed to being powers the characters have. At first I was a bit put off by the psychic aspect as I consider it to be complete nonsense, but somehow I came round pretty quickly. Kearsley's writing has such a dreamlike quality to it that I can more easily suspend my disbelief and get into the story, and it is fiction after all.

The main conflict between Nicola and Rob is their differing approaches to their abilities. Rob, who works as a cop in Scotland, is completely open about what he can do and doesn't pretend to be anything other than who he really is. Nicola, like a sensible person, keeps her abilities to herself because she lives in the actual real world where you can't just tell people you're psychic and expect to be treated like a sane person. (Not that I'm taking sides here, nope.) But of course in the world of this book, they do have these powers so I was a bit conflicted and a little tense about how it was going to all work out (because it has to work out between them, right?) I really liked Rob a lot. Aside from his unfailing honesty, he is considerate and generous and kind. Plus his Scottish accent was quite charming in my head.

Part of what made me want to read this (besides being the only book of hers available on Overdrive when I looked) is that the back story takes place partly in Imperial Russia. One of the characters is the Empress Catherine I - not the famous Catherine, but the one before that who was married to Peter the Great. Many parts of the story take place at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, which was very cool since I have been there.

Through much of the book I thought it wasn't as good as The Winter Sea, but it got very interesting late on in the story and I was so satisfied by the end that now I no longer feel like I can compare the two with any sort of accuracy. I think I hit a slump at one point which is related less to the book and more to the fact that I was reading it near the end of my vacation and first part of being home. If I had kept up my reading pace I think it would have been a more consistent experience. I really liked all the characters here, the Russian setting, and both the present day and past romance stories.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Thing Around Your Neck

The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2009)

Adichie is the author of Americanah, Half of a Yellow Sun, and Purple Hibiscus, as well as the TED talk turned mini-book We Should All Be Feminists. This collection of short stories was the only remaining book of hers I hadn't read, until I just devoured it in the course of two days on my vacation.

Each of the twelve stories has a pretty strong emotional impact, and in non-vacation circumstances I might have taken a bit of a break between each story. They were about families, lovers, immigrants new to America, or Nigerians living in their own country. In "The American Embassy" a woman whose child has died recently stands in a long line seeking asylum to the United States. "Jumping Monkey Hill" takes place at a writer's retreat in South Africa. In "The Arrangers of Marriage" a woman comes to the US to marry a Nigerian man, who immediately begins instructing her how to act more like an American. "Tomorrow Is Too Far" recounts a family tragedy in an almost eerie second person voice.

They were such distinct experiences that it's difficult to talk about the book as a whole, but I can say that all the way through it felt similar to reading other books by Adichie. Though these were only snippets compared to reading a novel, I felt thrust into the characters' lives and minds and surroundings in the same way I do in her novels. I don't know how she accomplished this in so few pages. They were not uplifting stories, and most left me feeling some level of despair for the characters, but somehow the experience was so colorful and full of feeling that reading it was still a positive experience.

Is Adichie even capable of writing anything that is subpar? It seems like even the best authors have one crappy book or story or something, but apparently she does not. I'd be annoyed at how unfairly perfect she is if I didn't love her writing so much.

This is the sixth book I've read for my TBR Pile Challenge, which means I only have four left for the year. I think my next choice will also be the last unread book from a favorite author, The Night Watch by Sarah Waters, and I'm hoping to read it in the next month or so to keep up my momentum for this challenge.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Panama Vacation

Last week I went on a vacation to Panama. This isn't a place I would have chosen, but the opportunity came up to stay several nights for free on Isla Bastimentos, so we thought why not?

First we went to Panama City. Here's a photo of downtown from the neighborhood where we were staying.

We stayed in an area called Casco Viejo, which is the historic district. It's very cute.

We visited the Panama Canel. Here's a boat making its way through the locks.

This lady's arm kept getting in my photos.
Then we took a small terrifying propeller plane to the Bocas del Toro province, and a water taxi to Isla Bastimentos. There is only one street on the island, and it is more of a paved walkway.

The tan blob is a napping dog.
Here's a view of part of the town from a water taxi.

It is very beautiful and laid-back on the island and we spent a lot of time just sitting and reading and looking at the ocean views.

This whole region is known for its beaches, and they are quite lovely.

Surfing is popular here, and Eric took a lesson, though I did not. The ocean there is so warm though!

What I most wanted to do was visit the bat caves and we did so on our last day on the island. A tour guide takes you on a boat through the mangroves where you might see sloths or monkeys, and we saw one of each. I didn't get a good picture though, so you'll have to take my word for it. Then you dock the boat and hike to the cave. It's very dark inside but I did get a photo along our short hike there.

Thatched hut among lush green vegetation.
This was far more relaxing than most of our vacations where we're running around seeing sights and visiting museums. There was not a lot to do here so we spent a great deal of time relaxing, as one should do on vacation.

I got sunburned and came back with a ton of bug bites. There are some nasty mosquito-borne diseases, but it seems that even Deep Woods Off can't keep me from being irresistible to insects. We were also warned against eating fruit or raw vegetables or drinks with ice cubes but that was almost impossible. Luckily these areas depend on tourists so I think they used filtered water in all their food preparation.

Although this wasn't my favorite place I've visited, I'm glad I finally experienced this part of the world. I could do without all the mangy stray dogs everywhere (they made me so sad!) and the food wasn't spectacular, but I'll admit I loved traveling by water taxi, and you can't beat the natural beauty of this place.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Suffragette Scandal

The Suffragette Scandal (Brothers Sinister #4) by Courtney Milan (2014)

Frederica "Free" Marshall runs a newspaper called the Women's Free Press and is an outspoken proponent of women's rights. Naturally, this garners outrage from those threatened by the idea of female power. She finds an unlikely alley in the mysterious Edward Clark. Abandoned by his family and presumed dead, he has returned to town to find that his brother is trying to bring down Free Marshall and her newspaper. Of course they are working together in business only because Free can't stand such a rogue as Edward, and Edward basically doesn't have feelings. Right? As it turns out, they may be perfect for each other.

Free really was different from other romance heroines. Historical novels always star a fiesty forward-thinking woman, but this is the first I've encountered to do things like get herself checked into a government lock hospital for prostitutes (which existed to stop the spread of syphilis) in order to get a story about how terribly women there are treated. She is absolutely fearless and dedicated. Neither was she a blushing flower when it came to sex. She talked about it quite frankly and when the time came to get sexy with Edward she was unapologetically passionate. Edward was a bit irritating in his angst, and some of his decisions were questionable to me, but I could definitely see why he and Free were drawn to each other.

One of my favorite parts about this book was a subplot romance between two women. How I wish they got their own novel! I'd love to read a historical lesbian romance. Free's friend Amanda was outcast from her family for choosing not to marry and when she met and became attracted to Genevieve she kept questioning whether Genevieve was also attracted to her, or just really really friendly. Opening up about their affections to each other was especially risky at this time.

It's no secret that I love humor in my romance and Milan apparently excels at this. I loved the banter between Free and Edward! Early on, Free tells Edward that he's pronouncing "suffragette" incorrectly and explains, "Suffragette is pronounced with an exclamation point at the end. Like this: 'Huzzah! Suffragettes!'" To which he replies "I don't pronounce anything with exclamation points." This becomes a running joke, she occasionally accusing him of using an exclamation point, he making some excuse ("I just borrowed it from you!") They also joke about Edward having a puppy-cannon (until he sadly explains that he doesn't actually, because it would be so unkind for the puppies.) They also write some amazingly hysterical letters to each other. But the funniest part has to be the Ask a Man advice column in Free's paper. The questions are things like "Dear Man, I have heard that women are capable of rational thought. Is this true?" The replies, written by another favorite character, Stephen Shaughnessy, are witty and biting and I could probably read an entire book of these columns.

If you read it, don't miss the author's note in the back (at least in the ebook version) where Milan describes the amazing women on which she based her characters, and discusses just how realistic Free is. She also talks a bit about her use of the word "suffragette," which may or may not have actually been used at the time this book takes place. Courtney Milan does her homework!

I loved all the suffragette/newspaper aspects of the story, and was hooked from the very beginning. The relationships, the dialogue, and the nasty villain kept me turning (virtual) pages until I reached the very satisfying end. Despite being a series finale, it's the first book I've read by Courtney Milan, but I imagine it won't be my last.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Ten Books/Authors That Will Make You Laugh

Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. Today is all about funny books.

I thought of so many that I have two lists. One of the first 10 specific books I thought of, and another of authors I generally consider funny.


1. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
I rarely laugh out loud, but I do when reading her comics. My favorite is "Adventures in Depression," which is still just as funny the 20th time as it was the first.

2. Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
I really need to read this one again. It's wacky and satirical, and I totally loved it.

3. Bossypants by Tina Fey
I read this when it first came out, and later listened to the audio. Not many people are funnier than Tina Fey.

4. Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding
The audio version is even better, and I've listened to it about 4 times and haven't gotten sick of it yet. The sequels are hilarious too, and this could have gone on my author list, but then I wouldn't have had 10 of each, so.

5. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
Quite possibly the funniest book for teens that I've read. It's satirical and celebrates diversity and is one of my favorite audiobooks.

6. How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
Not for the faint of heart, this one is a hilarious book about serious issues. I admire Caitlin Moran so much for writing it.

7. They Call Me Naughty Lola: Personal Ads From the London Review of Books
I don't know if I'd want to date any of these people, but boy are they clever and hilarious!

8. American Housewife by Helen Ellis
These short stories are darkly comic and might appeal to fans of Where'd You Go Bernadette or Jenny Lawson.

9. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
I liked Moriarty's book The Husband's Secret, but I loved this one. Who knew a book about murder and domestic abuse could be so funny?

10. The Cry of the Sloth by Sam Savage
Oh, The Cry of the Sloth! Will I ever stop recommending you? Will I ever refrain from putting you on my Staff Picks shelf at work? I think not. This book about one man's downward spiral, told through his collected writings, is dark and kind of sad but I laughed all the way through.


1. Jenny Lawson: Let's Pretend This Never Happened and Furiously Happy, and of course her blog.

2. Laurie Perry: Drunk, Divorced, and Covered in Cat Hair and Home is Where the Wine Is

3. Jennifer Weiner: It all started with Good in Bed, but she is funny all the time. If you ever get a chance to attend a reading, do so! She didn't even read at the last one I went to, she just spoke, and it was hilarious.

4. Kristan Higgins: The Best Man, The Perfect Match, and Waiting On You are the first three in the Blue Heron Winery series of contemporary romances and nothing makes romance more palatable to me than humor.

5. Mary Roach: Packing for Mars, Stiff, and Bonk are the ones I've read so far.

6. Nick Hornby: He's written a ton, but I almost think my favorites are his books about books, such as Shakespeare Wrote for Money and More Baths, Less Talking

7. Julia Quinn: The first romance author I tried and it was her humor that sucked me in. Just Like Heaven, A Night Like This, and The Sum of All Kisses are the ones I've read.

8. Daniel Handler: He's written a lot of great stuff, but the best and funniest are the books in A Series of Unfortunate Events, written under his pen name Lemony Snicket. He's also hilarious in person, so if you get the opportunity to hear him speak, don't miss it.

9. David Sedaris: I've read Holidays on Ice and When You Are Engulfed in Flames.

10. Andrew Smith: Winger, Stand-Off, Grasshopper Jungle, 100 Sideways Miles, and more.

I know I'm forgetting something or somebody. What did I miss? And what other funny books should I read? Tell me in the comments!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Level Up

Level Up (Fandom Hearts #1) by Cathy Yardley (2016)

Tessa Rodriguez works at a video game company and is dying to be promoted to engineer, but she isn't taken seriously enough. When she meets a group of sisters who are worried about losing their bookstore (and home), she decides to create a video game to enter in a contest for them. She has only three weeks to do it, but she enlists the help of her roommate and co-worker Adam and some of the other guys from work. The projects brings Tessa out of her introvert shell a bit and much closer to Adam, but should she risk their good roommate relationship for something more?

This contemporary romance novella is everything that's right about self-publishing. Traditional publishing doesn't give us a lot of novellas, first of all, yet sometimes your book only needs to be 150 pages to tell its story. Secondly, a romance novel about a Latina woman working in the video game industry? Yes, please. This story is so obviously filling a gap, yet I don't know that a traditional publisher would see it that way. They might just view is as a risk because it's too niche.

The cover art is also perfect, and captures the feeling of the story. It's cute, but not cutesy and doesn't take itself too seriously. The comic book style is totally appropriate to the story and characters. It's a welcome departure from the typical glamour and overly sensual facial expressions that grace most romance novel covers.

I loved everything about Tessa: her career ambition, her hermit-like tendencies, and especially her desire to help her new friends. She went way out of her comfort zone to even meet these women, and it was great to see her form friendships with them right away. The women in this story were all unique and atypical for romance novels and I found them totally refreshing.

I heard about Level Up on the DBSA podcast, which did an entire episode about this short book. They talked a lot about the world-building and how true to life it is for women working in the tech industry. Like many women in the tech industry (apparently), Tessa is in the situation of having to either be one of the guys and taken seriously, OR considered an actual woman who is datable. It was a great discussion and there was no way I wasn't going to read this afterward - it is rare that DBSA does an entire episode about one book, and their praise was too enthusiastic to ignore.

Although Tessa wasn't treated as an equal, don't think the guys in this book were boneheaded jerks. I found them very true to life based on men I know who work in the tech industry. I've never worked at any kind of software company myself so I can't really speak to the work conditions, but I know these guys. They are decent people, but not terribly bright about interpersonal relationships sometimes, and their occasional off-color or slightly sexist jokes aren't mean-spirited, just....clumsy. They kind of know when they're being dicks, but are sometimes a bit helpless to stop it.

There are some definite feminist messages in here, but Yardley doesn't whack you over the head with them; they are seamlessly integrated into the story. The romance, too, progresses naturally and I found it both sweet and realistic. Adam was a bit more enlightened than the other guys from work and despite his occasional missteps was super nice, considerate, and totally appealing. He is what I guess they call a beta male? He's not forceful or possessive or any of those other qualities I can't stand in many romance heroes. I can see why Tessa likes him.

The book could have been a tad more polished - there was awkward wording in a couple of spots - but it didn't detract from my enjoyment of the story. Level Up is free on Barnes & Noble and Amazon, but I hope she charges for future installments in this series. I want her to make a living at writing so she can do more of it!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Faithful Place

Faithful Place (Dublin Murder Squad #3) by Tana French (2010)

More than 20 years ago, Frank Mackey was making plans to run away with a girl named Rosie Daly. But the night they were supposed to meet, he arrived to find only an ambiguous note that seemed to be telling him she was going to England alone. Now, at the same abandoned house where his heart was broken so long ago, somebody finds her suitcase hidden away. Frank returns to the street where he grew up, dreading what he would find, but determined to uncover the whole truth of what happened that night in Faithful Place.

The night that Rosie never showed up to meet him, Frank left the neighborhood anyhow, and with good reason. His family was poor and his father was an alcoholic who abused his wife and kids. Frank left and became a cop, which definitely didn't endear him to the people in his old neighborhood and the distance grew even more. It was good to see his brothers and sisters again (he had two of each) even though he didn't really get along with all of them. By the time he returned, he was divorced with a 9-year-old daughter. Although Frank put on a pretty cold, tough front he was utterly devoted to his daughter and it was clear that he had been in love with Rosie Daly. Otherwise, he would have been pretty hard even for me to like.

This is my second Tana French book after The Likeness, and it was a similar reading experience in some ways. It's dense and long but it's easy to get lost in the characters and their lives and though it's not exactly a page-turner it still has a pretty good momentum when you get going. She does a great job of creating characters who feel real, and the Mackey family and the other neighbors really came to life here in all their boisterous working-class glory.

I guessed the killer early on which is pretty strange for me, but I was never quite sure until it was all revealed. This story doesn't rely on shock or surprise though, it's more about the psychology of the relationships. The Likeness was better in my opinion, but Faithful Place is still a solid 4-star book.

This is the fifth book I've read for my TBR Pile Challenge, which means I'm halfway there!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Throwback Thursday: Yargo

In which I share vague recollections of books I read long ago that have stuck with me.

The cover is the only part that's
exactly as I remember it.
I don't know how old I was when I read Yargo, but I have a feeling I may have only been in middle school. For some reason I think I may have gotten this book from my grandmother, which seems weird but not unlikely. It was published after Jacqueline Susann's death, and the only book of hers I've ever read, though she is most known for Valley of the Dolls.

All I remember is that it was a love story between a human woman and an alien man. In reality, it's about a woman who is accidentally kidnapped by aliens (accidentally as in they meant to kidnap someone else) and taken to a planet called Yargo. The people there do not have feelings or emotions, but she falls in love with one of them who, I gather, is not able to return her feelings.

What I remember about it is many intense feelings of love and romance and, oh, what a beautiful story about people from two different planets who fall deeply in love. I cannot reconcile my memories with what is apparently the reality of the story.

This is a great example of a book that I remember really loving, but that is actually terrible, so as much as I'm tempted to read it again I know that is very bad idea. I'd love to recapture what I felt when I first read it, but from the reviews I just read online I feel certain that wouldn't happen. In fact, it doesn't even sound like a love story from what I just read so I have to wonder how much of my experience was my imagination.

Did any of you ever read this book? What do you remember of it?

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Openly Straight

Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg (2013)

Rafe has been openly gay for a while now. His parents are supportive, his friends are supportive, he's a member of the GSA and has even spoken publicly at high schools about being a gay teen. But after a while he started feeling like every time anyone looked at him all they saw was GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY GAY and, even worse, that's all he started seeing when he looked in the mirror. So now he's leaving Boulder, CO for a boarding school in Natick, MA where he will reinvent himself as a straight kid. Not because he's ashamed of who he is - he's not - but because he just wants to leave the baggage behind and fit in with all the other kids.

The story opens with Rafe's arrival at his new dorm room, where he now lives with Albie, a survivalist who is really, really messy. They are frequently joined by Albie's friend Toby, a skinny kid who shares Albie's survivalist interests and love for a drinking game they call scanner pong, which involves a police scanner and drinks (but no ping pong balls). Rafe starts playing sports and finds he really likes being part of a team, and really likes some of the other guys, though he suspects their friendships wouldn't come so easily if they knew he was gay. Which just goes to show what a good idea this was, right? He doesn't tell his parents his plans, nor does he tell his best friend Claire Olivia. So this isn't going to get awkward at all, ever, because surely nobody from home will ever have contact with anybody from school. Ha ha! Obviously, this sort of lie is not going to actually make things as awesome as Rafe thinks.

I'll admit that I wasn't looking forward to reading this. My Not-So-Young Adult book group picked it, but I was sort of cringing at the whole premise. A gay kid wanting to essentially go back into the closet? But of course the whole point (spoiler?) is that it's a horrible idea and he has to learn the hard way what a horrible idea it is. I really like how the author handled the whole thing, and I especially liked that Rafe had one teacher who was in on his secret and made him write about it in the journal he kept for his class.

Speaking of adults, there were some great adult characters in this book. Rafe's parents were pretty earthy-crunchy and ultra-supportive of him being gay (to the point of embarrassment), but I really liked their relationship. I especially loved his relationship with his mother. As much as she aggravated him sometimes, he thought she was a really good person and he would sometimes put his arm around her or lean on her affectionately, and talk to her about personal things in his life. It was very sweet. His friendship with Claire Olivia was also very close and supportive and fun, and I also like the friendships he developed with some of the guys at school, Albie, Toby, and Ben.

But my favorite part of this whole book isn't even really part of the book. There's a passage in which Rafe is thinking about the way his guy friends talk about women: "I tried to imagine what it would be like if gay were normal and all of us were gay. Would we objectify men in the same way?" That question was underlined in pencils and a note pencilled in next to it said "Brilliant Absolutely Brilliant = Mind Blown" Underneath it in purple pen someone else wrote "100% same" with four arrows pointing to the first person's comment. I'm not normally an advocate of writing in library books, but I'm a HUGE advocate of teens being really excited about what they are reading.

In summary, this is a great book about friendship, honesty, and being true to ourselves and those we care about. Surprisingly fun and insightful!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Ten Bookish Thingers You Should Follow

Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. Today's topic is Ten Bookish People You Should Follow On Twitter/Instagram/Youtube/Snapchat/Facebook, etc. I'm mixing it up a little and including blogs and podcasts because that's what works for my list.

1. The Dear Bitches, Smart Authors Podcast (listed in iTunes as DBSA)
The accompanying site Smart Bitches, Trashy Books is a fantastic resource for romance readers, but the podcast, I would argue, is great for anyone. They do talk about romance novels a lot, but they also discuss feminist issues, ebooks, libraries, diversity in fiction, interesting women in history, and more. Their author interviews are great - last week they interviewed Emily Nagoski, author of Come As You Are, a new well-reviewed book about female sexuality.

2. The Perpetual Page-Turner
Jamie is a contributor of The Broke and the Bookish, which hosts Top 10 Tuesdays and which you should also read, but I've really fallen in love with her blog recently. She reviews a lot of books of the sort that I read (lots of YA in there!) and she recently published 12 Reasons I Am Totally in Love With My Library, which is the best (and most thorough) piece of library PR I've seen in a while, and she's not even a librarian. Of course I shared it with my coworkers who also loved it.

3. The Readers Podcast
This fortnightly podcast is hosted by Simon of Savidge Reads and Thomas of Hogglestock, and together their reading tastes are very wide-ranging and I really like listening to their conversations about books and reading. I've gotten some great recommendations from this show, but be warned that Simon is British so the books he talks about aren't always available here (or at least not yet.)

4. Vlogbrothers on YouTube
John Green is the author of some amazing teen books such as The Fault In Our Stars, and Hank is adorable (I'm pretty sure that is his actual job.) They are both super smart and educational and fun. I don't actually watch their videos enough because I'm not a big video-watcher and very forgetful. So here's a reminder to me to watch more of their videos, stat!

5. Elizabeth McCracken
I loooove her books but she is also pretty funny and entertaining on Twitter.

6. The Bloggess
She has her blog, obviously, but is also on Twitter and Instagram, so whatever you prefer will work.

7. Books on the Nightstand
This podcast is hosted by Ann and Michael who both work for a publisher so some of their recommendations are waaay before publication. Which is totally cool with me. I like that the show is pretty short (like a half hour) and broken down in segments. They're sponsored by so every episode starts with a review of an audiobook, which I really like.

8. EarlyWord
The blog to read if you want to be on top of all the hot books. It's intended for librarians, to help us make sure we're ordering the right things - forthcoming releases, unexpectedly hot titles, books being made into movies - and I find the frequent short posts very helpful, not just as a librarian, but as a book lover.

9. Forever Young Adult
If you're an adult and you like to read teen books, this blog was made for you. They post really really frequently and there's a lot of tv content (which I'm not a fan of) but I love their book posts!

10. Ms.shelved
There's this awesome new vlog on which two librarians talk about books. The episodes are pretty short so it doesn't take up much of your time and you'll leave with some great book recommendations and, hopefully, food for thought. Ok, one of the librarians is me and we only have two episodes so far, but I think it's going to be a lot of fun!

So that's my list. What do you think of these choices? Who else should I be following?

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Rook

The Rook by Daniel O'Malley (2012)

Myfanwy (rhymes with Tiffany) Thomas wakes up in a London park surrounded by bodies wearing latex gloves. She's holding a letter that begins: "The body you are wearing used to be mine." She soon learns that the old her works for a secret organization that deals with supernatural problems and knew that she was going to be wiped of all her memories. She had given her new self two options: leaving for a new life, or continuing to be Myfanwy Thomas, Rook of the Checquy. Of course she chose the second option and, guided by the many letters and large binder of information with details about her job and people around her, she set out to fit back into that life and hopefully figure out who has betrayed her.

Not only does the Checquy investigate supernatural activity, but members of the organization have their own powers. Not everyone, but members of the Court, such as Myfanwy do. The Court are the leadership positions and are named after chess pieces. Myfanwy is one of two Rooks and can control people by touching them. Even weirder was the other Rook, Gestalt, who has four bodies. So outwardly it appears to be four siblings, but actually they are all controlled by one mind. I loved this idea, and the possibilities it engenders.

I really enjoyed the supernatural elements of the story, which I found quite unusual and creative. An unexpected surprise was the humor, which I always enjoy, though at times it approached slapstick. Still, despite all the elements here that I liked, there was just so much of it. From the outset there are a ton of info dumps. This is necessary because of the whole premise of the book and Myfanwy's reliance on the information her former self left for her, but it meant a really slow start that never quite picked up to the pace I wanted. I also had a hard time keeping track of all the characters and their positions. The 480 dense pages were tough to get through, and I came very close to putting it down almost halfway through, despite my commitment to finishing books that are for book group. But the book I planned to read next was at work so I kept going. Once I got over that hump it got a bit easier, but I never really got into it the way that I had hoped.

Another thing I found interesting - and I'm not sure if this is a criticism or not - is that she refers to her former self as a different person. I get that your memories and personality make you who you are, and she was definitely different after all of that was wiped, but she was still Myfanwy Thomas. It's not as though another person jumped into that body. I look forward to discussing this issue at book group because it's such an interesting idea.

Some people love this book, and I've heard great reviews of the audio version. But although I didn't dislike it, it didn't really work for me.

Interestingly, there is a list of suggested reading at the end and the first book on the list is Doomsday Book, which I loved. I guess I can see how the two are similar but in terms of which is better, there's no contest in my mind. I haven't read any of the other books on the list so I can't comment on them, but I do love the idea of providing a list of suggested reading for those who want to find similar titles. All books should have this!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Literary vs. Commercial Fiction

On a recent episode of Books on the Nightstand the hosts, Ann and Michael, talked about the difference between literary and commercial fiction. As a librarian, this is something I think about a lot, especially since we put up several permanent fiction displays at the library, one of which is labeled "Literary Fiction." I don't know what means exactly.

When I need to fill that display, I usually look at the nearby carts of books waiting to be shelved and look at my options. Sometimes know what should go there: winners of literary awards, for instance. Or books I know to be highly regarded by publications such as the New York Times Book Review. At other times, I find myself staring at a book and wondering whether or not it is literary. At times like this I usually ask myself "Would Jenny read this?" If my coworker would read it, then it goes on the display. If not, I probably won't put it there. But obviously this method of categorization won't work for everyone.

Automat by Edward Hopper came up on an image search for
"literary fiction" because even the internet doesn't know what it is.
Now, these aren't my only guidelines when trying to determine whether or not a book is literary. If I try to read a book and need to re-read sentences to figure out what is going on, I suspect that it is literary. If it keeps getting great reviews but I think it's boring or pretentious, then I can only guess that it is too literary for me. This is a terrible methodology.

On the podcast, one definition of literary fiction the hosts gave is that it contains carefully crafted sentences and a lot of character development. I can buy the part about carefully crafted sentences. But I feel conflicted about character development. On the one hand, there is definitely genre fiction (which is, by definition, apparently not literary) that is notable for not having a lot of character development. Science fiction, for instance. On the other hand, romance - which is definitely not considered literary - is highly dependent on the internal life of characters.

What most annoys me about the whole idea of something called "literary fiction" is that it implies superiority. The BOTN hosts claim to not feel that way, and they do apparently both read commercial fiction, so I guess I believe them. But I don't know why else there would be a distinction if it weren't to set apart these books as being somehow a higher form of art. Yet by definition (theirs, anyway) an engrossing page-turner is not literary, while a book that you need to slog through is. How is it possible that the more enjoyable book can be the one considered less good?

It all begs the question: what is the value of a book? The answer is completely dependent on the reader. For some it is to learn more about the world and ourselves, or to provide food for thought. For others it is to escape or entertain. For me, it is all of those things, but usually not at the same time. My tastes and moods vary widely and although I get very different things from books like War and Peace than I do from books like Never Judge a Lady By Her Cover, to me they all have value.

How do you define literary fiction? Or do you? Do you think some books are inherently better than others, or do you agree with me that it's all subjective?