Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Discovering Books as an Adult, Part 1: Find the Right Time for You

I've been thinking about a series of posts on discovering books as an adult for a while now.  I work in a college library, so our collection definitely has an academic focus, but we also try to keep a small popular reading collection as well.  I frequently hear from students that they liked to read as children, or in high school, but that they haven't picked up a book in years.  I hear the same thing from many of my non-reader friends.  People who don't read say enviously that they wish they could find time.  Or they tell me they loved books in younger years, but since college they haven't know what to look for or where to start to find the time.

For those who aren't immersed in the culture of books through blogging, librarianship, teaching, or the publishing industry, it can be completely overwhelming to a would-be reader who hasn't picked something up in years.  The options for starting are endless and I can totally understand how people find it difficult to know where and how to start reading again after years of focusing on home, family, career, or school.  So I'm going to do a short series here about what the options are, how to determine what you want to read, find the right time for you to read, and where you can find the right books for your needs.

Five years ago (basically a billion years in blogging time) I posted about how I find time for reading. All those ideas still apply, but I thought I'd update it with a bit less defensiveness and more frankness about the fact that, if books aren't already a part of your world, it may be difficult to imagine a place for them in the midst of the business of life.

So in addition to my previous post, I offer these suggestions:

  • Always have a book on you.  Carry a paperback or e-reader in your purse, download a reading app on your phone, or download audiobooks for your commute or road trips.  This suggestion frequently works in my favor, but not always.  A lot of people recommend reading while waiting in line or while shopping or while waiting on an appointment.  I have a hard time reading for just a few moments at a time, but I have been so grateful to have access to a book at times when I've found myself stranded for a length of time with nothing to do (or a dead phone).

  • Schedule reading time.  If you've got young kids, this is probably more difficult, but not impossible.  My schedule allows for daily reading time, but maybe yours doesn't.  Maybe what works for your schedule is an hour a week on Saturday afternoons that your partner can watch the kids.  Or for thirty minutes a day during naptime.  Don't stress about reading in terms of quantity of books read or time spent reading.  Just make it a priority and give it the same attention you'd give any other entertainment or interest.

  • Along with scheduling time to read, be mindful of how you spend your down time.  I am the absolute worst at this.  I can easily waste a half hour that could have been spent reading browsing Pintrest or clicking through Netflix trying to decide what I'd like to watch.  I have to force myself to make a continual effort to make those 5, 10, or 15 minute spaces of free time count for something, whether it's reading for that short time, or using that time to take care of other tasks so that I have more time for reading at night.

  • Make reading a family event.  If your kids are old enough, read out loud to them.  My brother recently read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to my nephew.  I was lucky enough to be there for a night of it and had as much fun listening to him read it as I would reading it myself.  Getting to experience great children's literature with children as they read it or hear it for the first time is such a treat.  If your kids are old enough to read on their own, designate a portion of each evening to reading silently as a family.  And if you don't have kids, find a book that your partner, roommate, or best friend would also like and read it together.  I'm not much of a fan of reading out loud with Luke, but we frequently choose a book we'd both like and listen to it or read it separately and then discuss as we read through text messages, g-chats, or dinner conversations.  
  • Don't get caught up in comparisons.  Don't compare yourself to other readers.  Don't compare yourself to other non-readers.  Don't compare your choice of reading materials to the choices of anyone else.  And don't compare your response to the material you choose to anyone else's response.  Maybe you hate a book that was critically acclaimed.  Maybe you love a book that was panned.  You're not reading for other readers, you're reading for you.
  • Most importantly, remember you're not in school anymore.  In school, you read what you were told to read, whether or not it interested you.  Those days are over - you can read anything you want now!  You're an adult!  Don't choose a book you think you ought to read or that is on a top ten list or that everyone you know read in school but you avoided.  Trust your instincts and pick something that you know you'll like.  And if you start something and don't like it?  Put it down.  Skim a boring description of a meal or landscape if those things don't interest you.  You're not going to be tested on it and if it's not fun, you'll find reasons not to do it.  
So now we've gone over the basics of finding time to read and how to incorporate reading into your life, even if you're pressed for time.  I think the best place to go from here is going to be finding the right place and format for reading and making it easy for you to choose to pick up a book as opposed to turning on the TV or playing WordBrain on your iphone for three hours straight (I mean what?  No one I know does that). 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Audiobook Review: Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman

From Goodreads:
The fascinating lives of the characters in Almost Famous Women have mostly been forgotten, but their stories are burning to be told. Now Megan Mayhew Bergman, author of Birds of a Lesser Paradise, resurrects these women, lets them live in the reader's imagination, so we can explore their difficult choices. Nearly every story in this dazzling collection is based on a woman who attained some celebrity—she raced speed boats or was a conjoined twin in show business; a reclusive painter of renown; a member of the first all-female, integrated swing band. We see Lord Byron's illegitimate daughter, Allegra; Oscar Wilde's troubled niece, Dolly; West With the Night author Beryl Markham; Edna St. Vincent Millay's sister, Norma. These extraordinary stories travel the world, explore the past (and delve into the future), and portray fiercely independent women defined by their acts of bravery, creative impulses, and sometimes reckless decisions.
I'm usually drawn to short stories with a somewhat fantastical twist, along the lines of George Saunders or Karen Russel, but heard so many amazing things about this collection of historically inspired stories that I couldn't pass it up.  It wound up being everything the reviews said and more.  I loved the author's voice and felt like she managed to capture multiple, diverse characters and make them each original and separate from the others.  Characterization is short stories is hard, because you only have thirty or so pages to get to know the characters.  Bergman doesn't let that limitation stop her from creating rich, complex characters who leap off the page.

Entertainment Value
You'll want to read this one with Wikipedia open and a pen in hand.  The uniting idea behind this collection is that it features women who were close to fame, although not necessarily famous in their own right, or women who achieved a bit of fame, but aren't the ones we learn about in school.  Every single one of the stories was fascinating and I spent quite a bit of time after each one looking into the background to find out all I could about the story's subject.  I added several biographies to my TBR list as a result.  Even if you're not interested in the history behind the stories, I still think readers will be pleased with how well-drawn each of these stories is.  There's something to grab you in each selection and, when put together as a whole, make a beautiful tapestry that showcases both the author's talent and the experience of being a woman throughout history.  I couldn't stop listening.

No complaints here - I liked the narrator's voice and thought that, like Bergman, she did a great job of creating a unique voice for each story.  That's not to say that she overacts or employs cheesy accents - each story sounds natural and fluid, and I appreciated her changes in intonation to give a different sound to each narrator.

I highly recommend this one to any short story fans.  I'll be watching all of Bergman's future publications, as well as adding her backlist to my TBR.

Thanks to the Free Library of Philadelphia and Hoopla for providing me with an audio copy!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Mini-Reviews: Recent FYA Book Club Choices

From Goodreads:
Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary--including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain it’s a nonhuman creature, whose existence the police--with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane--deny.

Doctor Who meets Sherlock in William Ritter’s debut novel, which features a detective of the paranormal as seen through the eyes of his adventurous and intelligent assistant in a tale brimming with cheeky humor and a dose of the macabre.
This one is just an absolute delight to read in every way.  It felt familiar, but not in a cliched way.  I liked that the series seems, so far, to be somewhat episodic, which is exactly what appeals to me about the two tv shows used to blurb the book: Doctor Who and Sherlock.  I love getting a complete story at once, knowing I can look forward to sequels and maybe a continuing story line, but with a fully formed story as well.  The characters are fun and quirky and the story made for compelling reading.  I did figure out the "who done it" very early on.  And while I appreciated the familiarity of the characters, I felt like they were pretty soundly influenced by Doctor Who and Sherlock.  You could easily replace Jackaby with either and not miss a beat - but for me that wasn't problematic.  It's meant to be fun and fanciful and it completely lived up to that expectation.  I highly recommend it and can't wait to read the next book in the series, which comes out in September.

From Goodreads:
Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be. 
The first three quarters of this book were absolutely beautiful and captivating.  I loved the friendship between Dante and Aristotle.  I loved how open Dante was about his identity and sexuality, even though it led him to danger.  His character is so well drawn - he's full of such exuberance and just so very much himself that he can't help but show it to the world.  And I enjoyed reading about a friendship with an unrequited romance.

I felt like the end caved to the pressure of having a message.  It became more on the nose regarding the issue of homosexuality and, I felt, made a point about acceptance rather than honoring the characters, who were already diverse and nuanced and showing a unique and accepting friendship that didn't need a romantic element.  While I thoroughly enjoyed the book, I felt like the ending was somewhat forced.  I was also disappointed by the 1980's setting.  There were few cultural references and, were we not occasionally reminded of the era, I never would have noticed it didn't have a contemporary setting.  There didn't seem to be much of a reason to set it in the 80's other than for novelty, but the author didn't follow that novelty through consistently.  

Overall, I think it's worth reading, but it lost some entertainment value (and writing value) for me when it became more of a message book and less consistent in terms of characterization.

A big thanks to my public library and my college library for providing me with copies of these two!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Scanning the Backlist (4)

It's been so long since I've done one of these!  I really thought I had posted at least one this year, but it looks like the last time I updated my backlist was back in October.  This is a list of backlist books I've added to my TBR list based on authors I've tried recently (or not so recently).

John Ratey
I am 99.9% sure that it was Kelly from The Well-Read Redhead who recommended Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain to me.  It was an excellent read and really inspired me to make regular exercise a part of my schedule.  I've since added Go Wild: Free Your Body and Mind from the Afflictions of Civilization to my TBR.  It's a title that wouldn't normally grab my attention, but I trust Ratey's science and decided to give it a try.

From Goodreads:
In Go Wild, Harvard Medical School Professor John Ratey, MD, and journalist Richard Manning reveal that although civilization has rapidly evolved, our bodies have not kept pace. This mismatch affects every area of our lives, from our general physical health to our emotional well-being. Investigating the power of living according to our genes in the areas of diet, exercise, sleep, nature, mindfulness and more, Go Wild examines how tapping into our core DNA combats modern disease and psychological afflictions, from autism and depression to diabetes and heart disease.
Dana Reinhardt
Obviously I picked up We Are the Goldens because of the title.  I just couldn't pass it up.   It didn't disappoint as a YA issue novel, full of angst and woe and drama.  So I was happy to review Reinhardt's backlist and discover that I already own a copy of one of her earlier books, Harmless.
From Goodreads:
There was a man. He had a knife. He attacked us down by the river.

It was just a harmless little lie.

Anna, Emma and Mariah concoct a story about why they're late getting home one night—a story that will replace their parents' anger with
concern. They just have to stand by it. No matter what. Suddenly the police are involved, and the town demands that someone be punished. And then there is the man who is arrested and accused of a crime that never happened.

Jennifer Vanderbes
Vanderbes is another author I discovered during my early days of blogging, but who has stayed in my mind as an author to watch.  I loved Strangers at the Feast, so I was excited to see that she had authored a second book that has been on my TBR list for a while.  Like Dana Reinhardt's books, I somehow failed to make the connection until I started doing research for this feature.  Although technically The Secret of Raven Point isn't backlist (it's her most recent title, published after Strangers at the Feast), I'm still considering it backlist since it's several years old.

Juliet Dufresne is a hard-working and smart high-school girl who aspires to make a groundbreaking scientific discovery like her hero Marie Curie. Life in South Carolina with her father, stepmother, and her brother Tuck is safe and happy. But when war breaks out in Europe, Tuck volunteers and serves in Italy—until he goes missing. Juliet, already enrolled in nursing school, is overwhelmed by the loss of her brother, so she lies about her age and enlists to serve as a nurse in the army, hoping she might find him.

Shipped off to Italy at the age of seventeen and thrust into the bloody chaos of a field hospital, Juliet doles out medicine, assists in operations, and is absorbed into the whirlwind of warlife. Slowly she befriends her fellow nurses, her patients, the soldiers, and the doctor who is treating the little-understood condition of battle fatigue. Always seeking news of her brother, her journey is ultimately one of self-discovery.

Ana of California/Anne of Green Gables Giveaway Winner!

The winner of my Ana of California and Anne of Green Gables giveaway is Cynthia!  Cynthia, I've sent you an email - send me your address and I'll pass it on to the publisher!  Thank you again to Penguin for sponsoring this giveaway!  Click here to see my review of Ana of California.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Contemporary YA Mini-Reviews: Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan and All the Rage by Courtney Summers

From Goodreads:
In the wake of the devastating destruction of the luxury yacht Persephone, just three souls remain to tell its story—and two of them are lying. Only Frances Mace knows the terrifying truth, and she’ll stop at nothing to avenge the murders of everyone she held dear. Even if it means taking down the boy she loves and possibly losing herself in the process.

Sharp and incisive, Daughter of Deep Silence by bestselling author Carrie Ryan is a deliciously smart revenge thriller that examines perceptions of identity, love, and the lengths to which one girl is willing to go when she thinks she has nothing to lose.
I hate to even say it because I really loved Carrie Ryan's Forest of Hands and Teeth books, but this one was a major letdown in terms of quality of writing.  It's just not very good.  The characters tell us they think/feel one way and they act in a completely different way.  And it's not that they're meant to be unreliable.  Our main character can't stop loving the boy she hates and plans to destroy, but it's not as conflicted as it is contradictory.  She tells us over and over how she'll do anything to bring him down, but spends half the book fawning over him.

I'm also less than impressed with the plausibility that Frances met both Libby and Grey on a luxury cruise and became such immediate friends with Libby that she's able to impersonate her for the next four years and became so intimately in love with Grey that those same four years fail to diminish her love, even though she holds him responsible for the deaths of everyone she cares about (and was, you know, fourteen when they met and spent maybe a week getting to know each other).  And do not even get me started on how convenient it is that Frances is even on that luxury cruise to begin with, since all we hear about her family is that they struggle financially.  There are so many lucky conveniences and coincidences here that it becomes laughable.

I really wanted this to be great because it seemed like a great idea for a story and because of my love for Carrie Ryan, but I think it was pretty spectacularly disappointing.  I don't recommend it.

From Goodreads:
The sheriff’s son, Kellan Turner, is not the golden boy everyone thinks he is, and Romy Grey knows that for a fact. Because no one wants to believe a girl from the wrong side of town, the truth about him has cost her everything—friends, family, and her community. Branded a liar and bullied relentlessly by a group of kids she used to hang out with, Romy’s only refuge is the diner where she works outside of town. No one knows her name or her past there; she can finally be anonymous. But when a girl with ties to both Romy and Kellan goes missing after a party, and news of him assaulting another girl in a town close by gets out, Romy must decide whether she wants to fight or carry the burden of knowing more girls could get hurt if she doesn’t speak up. Nobody believed her the first time—and they certainly won’t now — but the cost of her silence might be more than she can bear. 

With a shocking conclusion and writing that will absolutely knock you out, All the Rage examines the shame and silence inflicted upon young women after an act of sexual violence, forcing us to ask ourselves: In a culture that refuses to protect its young girls, how can they survive?
I truly enjoyed my read of this one - enough that I basically gobbled it up in one sitting.  My only break was on the drive from my work computer (where I stayed late reading) to the house.  Summers does a truly excellent job of capturing teen voices and dealing with incredibly difficult subject matter.  I fee like there are a lot of people who could be reached with the platform she's developing and I'm pleased to see that she's using it to promote empathy and understanding.  Another aspect of the story that I loved was the interracial romance and the way it wasn't addressed as the "issue" of the book.  My one complaint would be that there were elements that were very similar to both Cracked Up to Be and Some Girls Are.  That didn't stop me from inhaling it and it doesn't stop me from recommending it to readers of contemporary YA as well.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Comics Friday: March, Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

From Goodreads:
After the success of the Nashville sit-in campaign, John Lewis is more committed than ever to changing the world through nonviolence - but as he and his fellow Freedom Riders board a bus into the vicious heart of the deep south, they will be tested like never before.

Faced with beatings, police brutality, imprisonment, arson, and even murder, the young activists of the movement struggle with internal conflicts as well. But their courage will attract the notice of powerful allies, from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy... and once Lewis is elected chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, this 23-year-old will be thrust into the national spotlight, becoming one of the "Big Six" leaders of the civil rights movement and a central figure in the landmark 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Last year I reviewed the first book in this series - click here to see that initial review.

I was so excited when this one came out, so I have no rational explanation for why it took me so long to finally pick it up.  Once again, I was blown away.  The story is remarkable, all the more so because its biographical.  I am continually amazed that we live in an era where we get to hear these amazing stories from civil rights leaders who are still living.  I'm inspired and moved by John Lewis's story and his dedication to the civil rights movement.  The art itself is beautifully done.  I have nothing critical to say, but would only add that, as with the first book, this is essential for any high school or public library.  It's an amazing way to introduce history to students and adults in a time when the civil rights movement is particularly important.  

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Audiobook Review: Bad Faith by Paul Offit

From Goodreads:
In recent years, there have been major outbreaks of whooping cough among children in California, mumps in New York, and measles in Ohio’s Amish country—despite the fact that these are all vaccine-preventable diseases. Although America is the most medically advanced place in the world, many people disregard modern medicine in favor of using their faith to fight life threatening illnesses. Christian Scientists pray for healing instead of going to the doctor, Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse blood transfusions, and ultra-Orthodox Jewish mohels spread herpes by using a primitive ritual to clean the wound. Tragically, children suffer and die every year from treatable diseases, and in most states it is legal for parents to deny their children care for religious reasons. In twenty-first century America, how could this be happening?

In Bad Faith, acclaimed physician and author Dr. Paul Offit gives readers a never-before-seen look into the minds of those who choose to medically martyr themselves, or their children, in the name of religion. Offit chronicles the stories of these faithful and their children, whose devastating experiences highlight the tangled relationship between religion and medicine in America. Religious or not, this issue reaches everyone—whether you are seeking treatment at a Catholic hospital or trying to keep your kids safe from diseases spread by their unvaccinated peers.
Offit lived up to all of my non-fiction requirements: well-cited research, objective point of view, and a style that keeps the reader interested and wanting to hear more.  He does a particularly great job of combining data, statistics, and analysis with personal stories told in a relatable way.  I particularly appreciated the sympathy with which he portrays families whose children have been harmed or killed because of religious beliefs regarding healthcare.  He's careful not to demonize parents or make them monsters.  Instead he portrays them as people who have misunderstood and misapplied beliefs to tragic results.  He doesn't agree with them or their beliefs and makes a great argument for more legal involvement in issues like vaccination, but he also doesn't villify them.

Entertainment Value
The topic in general is just fascinating to me.  I love the intersection of religion and medicine and the exploration of fringe beliefs.  As a Christian, I was pleased to see that Offit doesn't attack the beliefs of others, but presents arguments that would appeal to those who have very fundamental religious beliefs.  He's very respectful in addressing issues of faith and mentions in his introduction how much his study of the subject led him towards a greater respect for Judeo-Christian beliefs.

If you're interested in the anti-vax movment, fringe beliefs, or the intersection of faith and medicine, this is an absolutely must-read.  Offit is respectful and remains unbiased throughout, but also provides the listener with a great summary of the problem being faced while including personal stories to illustrate the damage that can be caused.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Choose Your Own Adventure Book Club (Adventure 4)

This month we met on July 4th, which turned out to be terribly rainy.  We ate homemade apple pie (my state fair best in show winning recipe, thank you very much) and drank coffee and tea and listened to my neighbors set of firecrackers in the rain.  This month's topic was not our best, if I'm being honest.  We all had great ideas for books, but only two of us actually finished a book.  The rest of us had good intentions, but just never quite got there.  I'm still going to make the list and just include what we intended to read.  We also came up with a great list of boarding school books we've read and loved in the past, so I'll post that at the end.

Rachel planned to read:

I planned to read:
Dark Rooms by Lili Anolik.  I did eventually finished and will be posting a review soon, but hadn't finished by the time of book club, which meant we didn't discuss it much.

Courtney was one of our diligent members who actually started and completed some boarding school books:

Stephanie was also on top of things.  She read:
Vault of Dreamers by Caragh M. O'Brien, but was less than impressed with the ending.

We had a new member join us this week.  Sarah was in the midst of reading:

Because so few of us finished our choices this month, we opted to talk about our favorite books set in boarding schools instead.  We came up with quite a list, and I added several to my own TBR.

Next month's adventure is "things in the water".  I'm currently bingeing on sea monster stories, but this could include anything from desert islands to mermaids to cruises to swim teams.  If you've got any suggestions, you can leave them in the comments!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Book Review and Giveaway: Ana of California by Andi Teran and Anne of Green Gables

From Goodreads:
In the grand tradition of Anne of Green GablesBridget Jones’s Diary, andThe Three Weissmanns of Westport, Andi Teran’s captivating debut novel offers a contemporary twist on a beloved classic. Fifteen-year-old orphan Ana Cortez has just blown her last chance with a foster family. It’s a group home next—unless she agrees to leave East Los Angeles for a farm trainee program in Northern California.

When she first arrives, Ana can’t tell a tomato plant from a blackberry bush, and Emmett Garber is skeptical that this slight city girl can be any help on his farm. His sister Abbie, however, thinks Ana might be just what they need. Ana comes to love Garber Farm, and even Emmett has to admit that her hard work is an asset. But when she inadvertently stirs up trouble in town, Ana is afraid she might have ruined her last chance at finding a place to belong.
Well done, particularly for a debut.  I loved the story and the all of the characters, especially Ana and Rye.  Teran does a great job of putting two very different characters together and having them develop a close friendship that, for me, was the highlight of the novel.  I also liked the relationship that develops between Abbie and Ana and Ana's attempts to win over the more stand-offish Emmett.  Character development was obviously a priority for Teran and I appreciated that she was innovative and original here, instead of just writing mirror images of the characters from the classic Anne books.

Entertainment Value
Again, I was impressed here with the way that Teran invented her own story while still referencing the classic scenes readers expect from an Anne retelling.  I also really enjoyed the ways she modernized the story.  Had I not know this was an Anne retelling, I'm not sure that I would have picked up on it as such, but I did recognize the familiar elements.  The one disappointment for me was in Cole, who is the new version of Gilbert Blythe.  He lost some of his charm for me in the update to a bad boy dirt-biker.   That said, I think the novel still shines, both as a retelling and as its own story.

I definitely recommend this one, both to fans of the original and to those who enjoy contemporary YA fiction.  I did wish at times that I were reading the story without comparing it in my mind to the classic Anne novels.  Some of the innocence that I love so much from them is lost in any modernization.  Ana, Rye, and Cole are all much more adult than Anne, Diana, and Gilbert were in Anne of Green Gables and have a more cynical, modern sensibility.  That said, I think its pretty accurate in its depiction of modern teens and holds its own as an independent story.

Now for the fun part: Penguin, who provided me with a copy of this one to review, is allowing me to give away both a copy of Ana of California AND this gorgeous edition of Anne of Green Gables.

To enter, leave a comment with your name and a way for me to contact you (email, social media, etc) by next Monday, July 20th.  I'll announce the winner on Tuesday, July 21st! 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Comics Friday: Rex Libris by James Turner

From Goodreads:
The astonishing story of the incomparable Rex Libris, Head Librarian at Middleton Public Library, and his unending struggle against the forces of ignorance and darkness. Rex travels to the farthest reaches of the galaxy in search of overdue books. Wearing his super thick bottle glasses, and armed with an arsenal of high technology weapons, he strikes fear into recalcitrant borrowers, and can take on virtually any foe from zombies to renegade literary characters. 
In this first collection of Librarian adventures, Rex must confront the powerful Space Warlord Vaglox and retrieve the overdue Principia Mathematica while an energy manifestation of blood thirsty Vandals attempt to burn down Middleton Library, and all within, to the ground.
My only disappointment with this series is that it ended with no apparent plans for more issues.  I loved this so much.  It's hilarious and a blast to read, although, obviously, you're going to need to be able to suspend your disbelief big time.  Rex Libris reminds me a bit of a noir detective version of Dr. Who with a very literary bent.  I love how he's constantly fighting evil - but only because he needs those books to be returned on time.  Seriously, it doesn't get any better for me than over the top, outlandish humor based on libraries and librarians.

This series is ideal for librarians and those who love them and fans of Doctor Who and other cleverly done science fiction/fantasy type shows.  It's not meant to be taken seriously and it's a blast to read.  My one critique is that the format makes it super hard to read in print.  The book itself is smaller in size than most paperback graphic novels and the text is just tiny in places.  If eyesight is any issue at all, this one will be hard to read in print.

Click here to see the webpage and get an idea of the comics.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Mini-Reviews: 100 Skills for the End of the World as We Know It and The Blondes

From Goodreads:
Whether you're prepping for a shipwreck, economic collapse, a zombie attack, or catastrophic climate change, Ana Maria Spagna has you covered with her quirky collection of essential skills for a brave new world - from blacksmithing and falconry to bartering and music making.
This makes for a super cute gift book for those who are survivalists, preppers, fans of post-apocalyptic fiction, and writers.  It's got an alphabetical listing of all the skills we'll need to have when life as we know it comes to an end.  From blacksmithing to wheel-making to darning, all of the skills people used to have that have fallen by the wayside are included.  My first thought after reading it was that it would make a great resource for any author writing post-apocalyptic fiction or dystopias. While it doesn't actually teach you how to do those things, it's a fun little book to flip through and consider all of the skills that we no longer have.

From Goodreads:
Hazel Hayes is a graduate student living in New York City when she learns she is pregnant from an ill-advised affair with her married professor. More worrisome than the shock of this discovery is the apocalyptically bad timing; random but deadly attacks, all by women with light hair, have begun terrorizing the city's inhabitants. As the days pass, it becomes clear that the attacks are symptoms of a strange contagion that is transforming blondes from all walks of life--whether CEOs, flight attendants, students, accountants, television personalities, or academics--into rabid killers. Hazel--confused, desperate, almost penniless and soon visibly pregnant--flees the city and sets out to cross the border into Canada where she will find the one woman who just might be able to help her in a world gone awry.
I love epidemic books, I love post-apocalyptic books, and I'm blonde, so this met a lot of my bookish standards.  It wasn't quite as frightening or intense as I had hoped, but it does a great job of getting into the characters' minds.  There's some action, but the majority of the novel is character-based and explores relationships between Hazel, her child's father, and his wife.  I particularly enjoyed reading about Hazel's journey from New York to Canada and her experiences along the way.  I think in general I might have preferred a bit more action.  I like character development, but I didn't attach to these characters in a way that made me want to get to know them better.  I'd recommend it to fans of character-driven work.  Those who enjoyed Station Eleven might want to give it a try, but I'm not sure that the writing holds up under comparison.  It's worth reading if you're a particular fan of any specific aspect of the plot, but those who don't have a sweet spot for epidemics and disasters might pass.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with copies to review.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Mini-Review: Style Me Vintage Home and 1940s Fashion

Celebrating the perennial interest in incorporating vintage flea-market finds into interior schemes, this book is a feast of retro inspiration. With practical information on how to identitfy and source original vintage homewares, there is also plenty of inspiration on how to style your rooms according to your favored decade, whether it be the 1920s or the 1970s. There's also plenty of advice on how to mix eras and incorporate vintage into contemporary schemes. This book will provide a sourcebook of inspiration to all those hungry for nostalgic design. From ideas for display (fab 1960s artwork, kitsch figurines, retro plates, and crockery) to larger furniture finds (1950s sideboards, classic fabrics, reupholstered armchairs) see how vintage design can be made to work today.

From Goodreads:
The next book in the successful 'Style Me Vintage' series is designed to inspire re-enactors and all those vintage aficionados who admire the classic looks of the 1940s. This beautiful and accessible book looks at how to source and put together 1940s outfits – from how to create the elaborate hairstyles and how to apply the correct make-up to sourcing the right accessories and authentic clothing, even undergarments. Featuring beautiful original photography, as well as inspirational vintage images, this beautiful book offers plenty of tips on getting the details right. Whether you are a fan of the make-do-and-mend looks of the wartime years, or a latter-day glamourpuss wishing to emulate the New Look styles of the post-war era, this book will inspire. 
Despite my own complete lack of interest in developing a personal style, I still find a lot of joy in flipping through style books.  I'm also a huge fan of vintage items, even though it's not something I'm drawn to for my own clothing or home.  Paging through any well-formatted and photographed style book will always interest me, as does historical fashion and home decor.  So the Style Me Vintage series is a perfect way for me to spend an hour or two of free time.

Both of these books are incredibly well-researched.  They contain a lot of history about how and why certain styles evolved.  I was particularly interested in the effects of World War II on fashion in terms of rationing and changing styles.  I loved that both of these books go into those details, rather than just providing images.  That's not to downplay how well this is put together though.  The pictures are a blend of modern reproduction and photos from the time period itself.  It's beautiful to look at and fun to read.

If you're a fan of fashion or home decor, or you're interested in the historical details surrounding the clothing and home styles of the past, this is a perfect choice.  For those who are interested in acquiring vintage pieces, each book includes a list of sources for purchasing both vintage pieces and reproductions of vintage pieces.  You'll also find information on antique shopping, hair styles, and makeup.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy of these to review.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Audiobook Review: Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

From Goodreads:
Claudia Rankine's bold new book recounts mounting racial aggressions in ongoing encounters in twenty-first-century daily life and in the media. Some of these encounters are slights, seeming slips of the tongue, and some are intentional offensives in the classroom, at the supermarket, at home, on the tennis court with Serena Williams and the soccer field with Zinedine Zidane, online, on TV-everywhere, all the time. The accumulative stresses come to bear on a person's ability to speak, perform, and stay alive. Our addressability is tied to the state of our belonging, Rankine argues, as are our assumptions and expectations of citizenship. In essay, image, and poetry, Citizen is a powerful testament to the individual and collective effects of racism in our contemporary, often named "post-race" society.
Beautifully written, but I feel like some of the quality was lost in an audio recording.  I've read many reviews about the poetry here, but it's particularly hard for me to appreciate poetry when I'm not seeing it on the page.  That said, I did find the book to be well-composed, utilizing a unique voice to bring up the small scale and large scale racial aggressions seen and experienced in day to day life, both personally and from the media.

Entertainment Value
This one flew by - only a little bit over two hours on audio - so I'm assuming that it would also be a quick read in print.  It really packs a punch though.  I think it's so important right now for people of all races to be listening to each other's stories.  You can hear a lecture on racism or read an article about it, but what's really going to make a difference in the way you see the world is hearing a person's story - how they feel when certain phrases are used, how media reactions affect their day to day lives, etc.  This book completely fit that bill for me.  It gave me a glimpse into the casual racism that, being white and privileged, I'd most likely never pick up on.

The narrator does a great job, but I found myself getting lost a few times, particularly during portions that are more poetic in format.  I think I would have enjoyed this more if I read it in print and will be making an effort to find a print copy.

I don't think anyone of any political persuasion would deny that the last year has been a difficult one for our country in terms of race relations.  And as I mentioned above, I think the key to combating racism (or gender inequality or sexual orientation or religious differences or any other) is to sit down and listen to what a person on the other side has to say about their own experiences.  Hearing "this hurts me because" or "this makes me furious because" from another human being will always make more of an impact than hearing a list of arbitrary reasons.  I think that Rankine does an excellent job here of using various forms of literature, from essay to poetry, to convey her personal story.  I highly recommend this book to everyone - it's so important to do the hard work and think the hard thoughts that will help us make a difference in the ways we relate to each other.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Book Review: Ravensbruck: Life and Death in Hitler's Concentration Camp for Women by Sarah Helm

From Goodreads:
Shortly before the outbreak of World War II, Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS and the architect of the Holocaust, oversaw the construction of a special concentration camp just fifty miles north of Berlin. He called it Ravensbrück, and during the years that followed thousands of people died there after enduring brutal forms of torture. All were women. There are a handful of studies and memoirs that reference Ravensbrück, but until now no one has written a full account of this atrocity, perhaps due to the mostly masculine narrative of war, or perhaps because it lacks the Jewish context of most mainstream Holocaust history. 
Ninety percent of Ravensbrück's prisoners were not Jewish. Rather, they were political prisoners, Resistance fighters, lesbians, prostitutes, even the sister of New York's Mayor LaGuardia. In a perverse twist, most of the guards were women themselves. Sarah Helm's groundbreaking work sheds much-needed light on an aspect of World War II that has remained in the shadows for decades. Using research into German and newly opened Russian archives, as well as interviews with survivors, Helm has produced a landmark achievement that weaves together various accounts, allowing us to follow characters on both sides of the prisoner/guard divide. Chilling, compelling, and deeply unsettling, Ravensbrück is essential reading for anyone concerned with Nazi history.
This is the gold standard for historical non-fiction in my eyes.  You couldn't ask for better documentation/citation of the research.  And the research itself is absolutely exhaustive.  If it happened at Ravensbruck it is included in this book.  I appreciated her decision to write the history biography style, so that we got the "life" of the camp in chronological order.  Despite the heavy subject matter and the depth of the research, Helm manages to keep the reader interested and the story moving along.  It took me over a month to read it, but I never once wanted to give up because it was so interesting.  Any other book that took that long would have earned itself an automatic DNF spot, but this was too fascinating and informative to give up on.

Entertainment Value
So as I mentioned above, this is a very long, very detailed book.  If you're looking for a quick overview, this is not the place to start.  It's highly detailed and covers every aspect of the camp.  That also means that it contains some information that is very hard to read.  Despite the length and the difficulty in reading about such evil, I think it was completely worth the time and effort.  I learned so much more about concentration camps, and about how political prisoners, resistance fighters, and "asocials" (prostitutes, lesbians, anyone who spoke against Hitler) were treated.  I was particularly surprised by how many German women were eliminated during the Holocaust and how many non-Jews were killed.  It also really helped put the Holocaust in a historical context.  I think because the images we see are all in black and white, it's easy to believe this is something that happened a long time ago.  Reading this book helped me really grasp how recently this took place in the scheme of history as a whole.

I highly recommend this to any fans of historical non-fiction, World War II, or who have an interest in human rights history.  I also think it could be a possible crossover for fans of recent YA books like Rose Under Fire or Code Name Verity who want to read a non-fiction book to learn more about life in a concentration camp.  That said, it is a very long and very detailed book.  It also contains some very difficult passages on conditions in the camp and, particularly, medical experiments that were conducted on prisoners.  As much as I enjoyed it and feel like I learned from it, there may be readers who aren't interested in investing the time or have the stomach for reading the more difficult portions.  My opinion is that it's something we should all be familiar with, however, and this book is an excellent place to get a detailed account.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Comics Friday: Mike's Place by Jack Baxter and Hand Drawn Jokes for Smart Attractive People by Matthew Diffee

From Goodreads:
There's a rule at Mike's Place: never, ever talk politics or religion. At this blues bar on the Tel Aviv beachfront, an international cast of characters mingles with the locals, and everyone is welcome to grab a beer and forget the conflict outside. At least, that's the story Jack and Joshua want to tell in their documentary. 
But less than a month after they begin filming, Mike's Place is the target of a deadly suicide bombing. Jack, Joshua, and the Mike's Place family survive the only way they know how-by keeping the camera rolling. 
Written by filmmakers Jack Baxter and Joshua Faudem and illustrated by award-winning cartoonist Koren Shadmi, Mike's Place chronicles the true story of an infamous terrorist attack in painstaking detail. Rarely has the slow build to tragedy, and the rebirth that follows, been captured with such a compassionate and unflinching eye.
This one is a must-read if you enjoy graphic non-fiction.  It would also make a great transition book for those who are fans of graphic novels but don't normally gravitate towards books about history or current events.  What I enjoyed most is that this is a story about the people who populate Mike's Place and their relationships before and after a terrorist attack.  It doesn't get into the politics of conflict in the Middle East.  At its heart it's a personal account of private lives that are affected by politics, but doesn't make a judgment or statement about those politics.  I'm now on the lookout for the documentary that the story is based on, Blues by the Beach.

 From Goodreads:
This collection contains Diffee’s funniest drawings and writings from the past decade as well as all-new cartoons and sketches organized into categories that will appeal to smart attractive people in all walks of life, based on profession and circumstance: smart attractive Medical Professionals, sharp and good-looking Old People; beautiful geniuses in Prison; brainy handsome Lumberjacks; and more. Are you an alluring well-read utensil user? Well, there’s a chapter just for you!

If you’re a fan of Demetri Martin and Jack Handey, or if you happen to be George Clooney or Natalie Portman, Hand Drawn Jokes for Smart Attractive People will leave you laughing your smart attractive ass off.
And on a totally different note, I also enjoyed this collection of cartoons from a prominent New Yorker cartoonist.  I liked Diffee's sense of humor and enjoyed it, but I wasn't just blown away.  I think it's pretty normal for me to only really "get" about three quarters of the jokes you find in the New Yorker, and the same could be said for this book.  Some parts just didn't resonate and I felt like I needed the joke explained.  But the jokes that I got were quite entertaining.  It wasn't a laugh out loud book for me, but it was worth the short time it took to read and made for great diversionary reading.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with copies of these books to review.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Mini-Reviews: First Jobs by Merritt Watts and The Job by Steve Osborne

From Goodreads:
Steve Osborne has seen a thing or two in his twenty years in the NYPD—some harmless things, some definitely not. In "Stakeout," Steve and his partner mistake a Manhattan dentist for an armed robbery suspect and reduce the man down to a puddle of snot and tears when questioning him. In "Mug Shot," the mother of a suspected criminal makes a strange request and provides a sobering reminder of the humanity at stake in his profession. And in "Home," the image of his family provides the adrenaline he needs to fight for his life when assaulted by two armed and violent crackheads. From his days as a rookie cop to the time spent patrolling in the Anti-Crime Unit—and his visceral, harrowing recollections of working during 9/11—Steve Osborne's stories capture both the absurdity of police work and the bravery of those who do it. His stories will speak to those nostalgic for the New York City of the 1980s and '90s, a bygone era of when the city was a crazier, more dangerous (and possibly more interesting) place.
Nothing spectacular here, but solidly done.  I really appreciated reading the book from Osborne's voice and not from the voice of a ghost writer.  It meant that the book really captured his voice - I could basically hear the New York accent through the page.  It wasn't overly polished, but it sounded like the voice of a NYPD cop.

Entertainment Value
Osborne got started with storytelling on The Moth and you can see that storytelling is really where he shines.  I loved each anecdote and think I would have enjoyed them even more in audio format.  If you're a fan of podcasts like The Moth or This American Life or Story Corps, this is exactly the same kind of stuff you'll find there.  Anecdotes of personal life, told well, and reflecting Osborne's personality.

I think something about the format translates better when you can hear the storyteller speaking than just in reading, but this is definitely worthwhile in print format too.  I'll be looking up the author's stories and trying to find them in the Moth's archives so I can hear them as well.

A future mayor shining shoes, an atheist shilling Bible, a housewife heading to work during World War II, a now-famous designer getting fired - we all got our start somewhere. A first job may not have the romance of the first kiss or the excitement of a first car, but more than anything else, it offers a taste of true independence and a preview of what the world has in store for us. In The First Job, reporter Merritt Watts collects real stories of these early forays into the workforce from a range of eras and industries, and a diversity of backgrounds. For some, a first job is a warm welcome to the working world. For others, it's a rude awaking, but as these stories show, it's an influential, entertaining experience that should not be underestimated. This book transforms what we might think of as a single, unassuming line at the bottom of a resume into a collection of absorbing tales and hard-earned wisdom to which we can all, for better or worse, relate. Perfect graduation gift; Picador True Tales is a new series of books in which reporters select short, candid, as-told-to, first-person narratives, and curate them in fascinating anthologies. The stories you'll discover within these books will be by turns hilarious, wise, and heartbreaking.
Much like The Job, this book consists of persona essays from various people about the first jobs they ever worked - from the horrible to the inspiring.  Some have a better quality of writing than the others, but the true standout here is in the personal anecdotes, not in the writing itself.

Entertainment Value
Again, I'd highly recommend this to those who enjoy hearing personal stories along the lines of Story Corps or This American Life.  These are short and easy to read and have a pretty broad appeal.  And like a podcast, you can read just one at a time here and there or you can binge on them.

Worth checking out, especially if you had a terrible first job and can identify with some of the madness these people dealt with.  It's not something that I think people will be itching to get their hands on, but I think it's a pleasant diversionary read.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with copies of these titles to review!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

What I Read in June - Half a Year's Reading Progress

I'm not going to lie, Reader Friends - I hate summer.  I love living in Georgia, but June through August is just flat out misery.  It is so hot my body basically just gives up.  I've managed to avoid going outside for the most part, although we did fit in one evening hike to Sunset Rock on Lookout Mountain at the beginning of the month that wasn't too terrible.  And the view was totally worth it:

Other than that, I've been spending all my time indoors, doing everything I can to keep from wilting in the heat.  That doesn't mean I haven't stayed busy, though.  I put in twenty hours of volunteer work processing books at the Chattanooga Public Library, which earned me a library card (those who don't live in the city either pay or volunteer to get a card).  I also had a great yoga month and finally, after seven years as a platinum blonde, returned to my natural hair color.

Staying inside apparently also really boosted my appetite for reading, because I read almost as much this month as I did in March. 

Save the Date by Jen Doll
I Was A Child Bruce by Eric Kaplan
Yoga for Your Mind and Body by Rebecca Rissman
Bodies by Si Spencer
100 Skills for the End of the World As We Know It by Ana Maria Spagna
Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore
Irrationally Yours by Dan Ariely
When Books Went to War by Molly Guptill Manning
The Blondes by Emily Schultz
Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb
First Jobs by Merritt Watts
Batman: Earth One by Geoff Johns
Love May Fail by Matthew Quick
The Best American Comics 2013 by Jeff Smith
All The Rage by Courtney Summers
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
The Job by Steve Osborne
Ravensbruck by Sarah Helm
Jackaby by William Ritter
The Evil Hours by David J. Morris
Tomboy by Liz Prince
The Wrong Man by Kate White

Total books read: 22
Total pages read: 5753

I'm thrilled to say that I'm nearing my year-long goal of 150 books and will be boosting my goal to 200 for the year.  I'm also significantly behind on reviews.  I'm going to have a marathon writing day on Friday, but be looking for some mini-review posts as I catch up and try to get my slate clean for the second half of 2015.

What did you read in June?