Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Librarianship in a Wired World

This Book is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All
by Marilyn Johnson
Harper Collins, 2010.

This review refers to an uncorrected proof borrowed from a co-worker.

So many people subscribe to the notion that libraries are falling by the wayside. Who needs books, they argue, when just about anything can be found on the Internet now? Marilyn Johnson explores ways in which libraries are not only continuing to be relevant in a wired world, but using technology to promote and extend library services. Just a handful of the topics covered include blogging, Second Life, and archives.  What ties these all together is where librarianship and technology meet - and make great services for their patrons at that crossroad.

I expected this to be a book for librarians, written by a librarian, but that first impression had to be revised in numerous ways.  Marilyn Johnson is not a librarian, but got the idea for this book when she was writing about obituaries and some of the more interesting ones she came across were the obits of librarians.  Furthermore, the book is broad in scope, and reads more like a series of vignettes than an in-depth look at any one issue.  My only real disappointment was that she spends a lot of time talking about the New York City libraries, and personally I am more interested in and find more relevant how small-town libraries with smaller budgets and fewer connections would serve their public.  Many librarians have probably heard of most of the technologies, issues, and ideas that she covers.  Does that mean that librarians won't like the book?  No, but I would more readily recommend this book as perhaps being more helpful for folks who are thinking of going for a master's in library science - in fact, I learned about much of these topics in my M.L.I.S. program - and it's a great introduction for them to see the breadth of what librarians do, including the sometimes crazy balancing act between research, archives, traditional services and shinier things like blogging, Second Life, and circulation numbers.  Alternatively, I would suggest it to those folks who think librarians are still in the shushing business to open their eyes to all that librarians can do, even in a wired world.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The King of Attolia

by Megan Whalen Turner
Greenwillow Books, c2006.

Costis, a member of the Queen's Guard, expects to lose his life because he has punched the King in the face. Everyone knows he's just a swindler from Eddis who stole their queen, but obviously, even if you hate your sovereign hitting him is dangerous business. But Eugenides doesn't kill Costis; he promotes him. The new lieutenant instead sees the King at his finest - half asleep during the morning sessions, bored during lessons on history and languages, practicing sword drills in first position. This is the King of Attolia?

Because the story is told primarily from Costis' perspective, we are that much more distanced from Eugenides, though his personality still comes out, especially when he speaks with his cousins or Attolia. Though I like this book least of the three I have read, I appreciate it in rereading in ways I did not before, picking up on more details and having my reading eyes attuned to any hints regarding what A Conspiracy of Kings may cover. The King of Attolia is more about political maneuvering than the previous books in the series, and more about Eugenides becoming a true king than about the action. As a result, some parts are rather slow, but every time I've read it, I've only taken a day or too, so I can hardly complain on that count.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Queen of Attolia

by Megan Whalen Turner
Eos, copyright 2006, 2000.

If you haven't read The Thief, this is a **spoiler warning** for that title.

The Queen of Attolia catches Eugenides sneaking around her palace.  Eddis sends her people to negotiate, but the situation does not look good for the Queen's Thief - until Attolia decides to invoke an older rule in which thieves were not hung, but lost their right hand. How can Eugenides continue in his role one-handed?

Once again, this story reads beautifully whether the first time or as a reread, where I catch small hints here and there that I passed over the first time reading.  Though I'm a little sad that this book does not have Eugenides' first-person narrative, I will (albeit grudgingly) admit that the story would not work as well without the distance created by this method.  On the other hand, this story is incredibly satisfying and, despite the fact that this is my third time reading it, I still had trouble putting it down.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Thief

by Megan Whalen Turner
Eos, copyright 2006, 1997.

Gen, a thief in Sounis, brags that he can steal anything, a boast that lands him a bet to steal the king's seal. He does so, only to show it off in the wine shop to prove it, and is promptly clapped in chains and brought to the king's jail. The king's magus comes to Gen with a proposition: steal something for me, and I'll set you free; fail to steal it, and you die.

This is one of my all-time favorite books. When I first read it about three years ago, I remember stopping every so often to look at how many pages left thinking, "What is this author doing? There are so many pages left, what on earth can happen?" Of course, as I kept reading, I realized how brilliantly Megan Whalen Turner had been spinning her story, surprising me yet absolutely convincing me that she knew exactly what she was doing. Two rereads later, and the story has not lost its charm. Gen is a great character, and I love following his narrative and being in his head even when I remembered most of the story. The world-building of a whole pantheon, mythology, and politics of three countries, is just about perfect. This first book in the series, followed by Queen of Attolia and King of Attolia, is by far my favorite of the series, but I highly recommend them all.

Though I mentioned the series briefly when I wrapped up my summer reading 'way back in 2007, I never did review each of the books individually. Now that I'm rereading the series in preparation for A Conspiracy of Kings, I'll be posting reviews with the caveat that though I will try my best to avoid spoilers for each title: 1. each review will necessarily give spoilers for previous titles, so do yourself a favor and read the books before you read my reviews and 2. this will be my third read of the books, and it's really hard for me to bring myself back to the first read and avoid said spoilers.  It's sort of like those college professors who read the assigned reading about ten times and couldn't bring themselves back to the undergrad's position of having never read the books before - they just kind of expected you to see some themes and connections that were only obvious after rereads.  But I will try my hardest.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Unsung YA Giveaway

Remember the Best YA Books You Haven't Read project, meant to highlight those teen books a few (75!) bloggers loved, but didn't get much notice?

Kelly over at is hosting a giveaway for some of those "unsung" books. Check out her blog post to see how to enter. Good luck!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


by Gail Carriger
Orbit, 2009

When Miss Alexia Tarabotti took refuge in the library during a dinner party, she did not expect to meet a vampire. He attacks her without provocation and does not know that she was a preternatural, thus ending up dead when she attempted to protect herself. Yes, Miss Tarabotti is soulless, one of those individuals who negate the supernatural abilities of vampires and werewolves, though don't tell her mother, or she'll have a fit. The dead vampire is only the beginning, however, as Miss Tarabotti and Lord Maccon, the werewolf Alpha leading investigations for BUR, discover when they begin to look into the mystery.

This story does not fit neatly into one genre. With vampires and werewolves, it's definitely fantasy, with a smattering of paranormal romance and steampunk.  The writing fit the story perfectly, narrating with a humorous tone and a slightly old-fashioned tinge that conveys the 19th century period in which the book is set.  I would recommend it to fans of the vampire/werewolf genre and to readers just looking for something out of the ordinary who wouldn't mind all the genre mixing. Personally, I really enjoyed how various genres are seamlessly blended in surprising yet believable ways.  Some readers (alright, probably not those who read a lot of vampire novels) might be put off by the romantic aspects of the story, but I would advise them to skip a few pages here and there that might offend and read the rest of the story, because it's a darn good read. I'm really looking forward to the next one!

Monday, March 22, 2010

YA Through the Decades: 1950s

by Beverly Cleary
William Morrow and Company, 1956

Jane Purdy is just your normal, everyday teen growing up in the 1950s. She has babysitting jobs that she trades off sometimes with her best friend, Julie. She is not one of the popular crowd, like Marcy who has a ton of cashmere sweaters (Jane just has one), nor part of the intellectual crowd. But despite all this, she meets a boy while she is babysitting a holy terror, otherwise known as Sandra, and he's interested in her! Now if only her parents will let her go to the movies with him...

Reading this for the YA Through the Decades Challenge, I couldn't help but wonder to myself how this story would hold up today. In some ways, it's an old-fashioned read. Jane and Stan walk to the movies on a first date, Jane worries that her mother doesn't wear stockings, she puts her hair up in pin curls. As they were a little before my time, I had to look up what pin curls looked like.  My mom explained how one made them.  Another item I wasn't too sure about was the dirndl to go with Jane's peasant blouse. Turns out a dirndl can be a tight-wasted, full skirt.

But really, what I kept thinking was "the more things change, the more things stay the same." Sure, it's tame by today's YA standards - Jane's a good girl and doesn't go parking, for example - so it probably skews a little younger today than it might have fifty years ago. Yet Jane has common teenage concerns: Will I ever meet a guy who I can date? Will my parents embarrass me when this boy comes over? Why don't they understand how important this is to me? Will he call? I kept thinking how Beverly Cleary's Ramona books always seemed to hit the nail on the head of my experiences as an eight-year-old. This book did the same, if in a more nostalgic way, and I'm afraid I laughed at Jane far more than I ever laughed at Ramona's earnest eight-year-old feelings. Though I probably would not have chosen to read this book at fifteen, reading it now I could look back and see how much Jane's experience mirrored my own as a teen, even if some of the details are a little different.

Edit: I tried to upload a picture of pin curls, but for some reason it's gone, and I can't get it to upload anymore. Oh well.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Postmistress

by Sarah Blake
Amy Einhorn Books, 2010

In Franklin, Massachusetts in 1940, Iris James is the postmaster in town, and takes pride in keeping order in her domain. Emma is the wife of the young town doctor, a woman who has already survived tragedy. They both hear the radio broadcasts of Frankie Bard, an American reporter covering the war live in London. This is a historical novel that's not about war, but about individuals and lives and stories that only get partly told.

The story and characters are compelling; the writing moves along quickly as you learn about each character and his or her struggles and want to know what happens to each of them. One thing I kept puzzling over was why this is called "The Postmistress" when it seemed to me to be just as much Emma's and Frankie's story as it was Iris's. I didn't like the hopeless point of view that some of the characters espouse, but couldn't imagine their experiences leaving them any other way.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


by Blake Charlton

Nicodemus Weal is a cacographer, the magical equivalent of dyslexia, which makes him misspell magic texts and shortchanges his spellcasting ability. An unknown enemy is searching for a powerful cacographer, and Nicodemus is in grave danger, even while the master that would protect him, Magister Agwu Shannon, is under suspicion of murder.

This fantasy is an excellent blend of old and new. I loved the inventiveness of magic itself - and gargoyles, constructs, and the like - being built out of text. This gave rise to numerous plays on words and new meanings for such things as "authors" and "grammarians" that were really fun to discover. This also yields some great one liners like: "The place was alive with yelling librarians" (174). Okay, that's completely out of context, but I love it. The use of magic, prophecy, and battle of good and evil put this well within the traditional fantasy genre even while playing with some of the details. Though sometimes given to long, conversational exposition explaining this complicated world and a drawn out ending that seemed more to set up the next book than wrap up loose ends, this debut shows a lot of talent, and I look forward to reading the next in the series.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Exploring Steampunk: The Anubis Gates

The Anubis Gates
by Tim Powers

In 1802, Doctor Romany and Amenophis Fikee perform an incantation at the behest of their master, an incantation that should allow Anubis to come forth and sorcery to rule the world. In 1983, Brendan Doyle receives a summons from a rich old man who wants to travel to 1810 to observe Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and wants Doyle to lecture his fellow travelers before they set off.

Powers weaves a deft, complicated tale in which both of those apparently divergent tales have much to do with one another. Filled with eccentric characters and the danger of the London streets, the many threads of this story come together in sometimes surprising ways and the pace never lets up.

Exploring new genres is fun! I've been meaning to try steampunk for awhile - though I'm more of a fantasy than science fiction fan, the alternate history part of it intrigued me and it's just an awesome name for a genre, anyways - so when some folks on LibraryThing decided to start a Steampunk Group Read I jumped in with them. The Anubis Gates is one of the classics of the genre, though it doesn't have all the trademarks, particularly the Victorian setting, and has more magic than steam technology. One of the posts on the group read thread explains better than I can how this particular title fits within the genre (reader beware - the link goes to a thread with spoilers, though that particular message doesn't have any).

I'm definitely planning on reading more steampunk this year. Soulless or The Affinity Bridge with be next; the latter will be for the group read.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

When Reinventing Yourself is a REALLY Bad Idea

The Secret to Lying
by Todd Mitchell

*This book was received through LibraryThing Early Reviewers. As per the rules, I receive a free book in return for a review, and whether it's positive or negative has no affect on my receiving books in the future.*

James is tired of being a nobody, the kid everyone overlooks because he's just plain average. He jumps at the chance to attend a public boarding school for gifted kids, where he reinvents himself as a rebel. He's got it made now - purple hair, ripped jeans, and a few lies have given him a reputation. But his dreams suggest that more is going on beneath the surface than even James realizes.

Todd Mitchell's first book for teens explores the common theme of identity in an inventive way. James' dreams reflect what he's doing to his self, and you see that acting one way and being another really affects his psyche deeply. I actually thought the dream sequences were the weakest part of the story, preferring the interactions with friends, teachers, and the IMs with "ghost44." Mitchell does a good job of discussing teen issues, like cutting, without ever making them the focal point of the story. The focus instead is all on James - who is he, and who will he choose to be? Moments of humor also keep this from being a heavy read; one of my favorite parts was his description of the gifted school's cheers as using words that the opposing team needed dictionaries to understand. I'll definitely be on the lookout for more books by this author.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Finnikin of the Rock

by Melina Marchetta

When Finnikin was a boy, he was friends with the prince, Balthazar, and his cousin, Lucian. They pledge to protect their country, but shortly thereafter Lumatere is attacked, the royal family killed, and many of the people forced into exile. Several years later, an older Finnikin travels many lands collecting the stories of exiles. Called by a messenger, he travels to a convent to pick up a girl, Evanjalin, who walks in the dreams of others and carries hope that Finnikin had long given up believing in.

This story focusing on the plight of exiles is a compelling one, and Finnikin and Evanjalin are really fun characters to spend time with. I especially enjoyed getting to know Evanjalin, who had a strong presence and complex character. I sometimes felt like the story went by too quickly, a bonus when it meant I was reading fast and she packs a lot of plot into one story, but a little negative when I wished for perhaps a slower relationship development between two travelers, for example. Also, some plot developments were foreshadowed early, so I was not too surprised about some developments. Part of it is how much I loved Jellicoe Road, which made it an incredibly tough act to follow in my book. Though I still prefer Jellicoe Road myself, Finnikin of the Rock was a fun, well-told story with memorable characters that I enjoyed reading.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

More Time-traveling Historians

Doomsday Book
by Connie Willis

Kivrin, a time traveling historian from Oxford, 2054, travels to the Middle Ages to live at the village of Skendgate during the Christmas season. Mr. Dunworthy, her mentor, worries about her going to a century that has long been deemed too dangerous for historians to visit. The tech, Badri, is experienced using the "net" and tells him that there is minimal slippage - Kivrin should arrive in 1320, just as planned. But then Badri comes down with a bad case of influenza on his way to tell Mr. Dunworthy something important, and Oxford becomes shut down under quarantine.

The two stories and times, Kivrin in the 1300s and Mr. Dunworthy in 2054, are well-balanced, switching off every few chapters, and building the tension perfectly. The story is dark at times and even heartbreaking, but humor, particularly through the characters of Colin and Mrs. Gaddson, keeps the story from becoming depressing. I came to really care about many of the people that Kivrin meets - especially Father Roche, Agnes, and Rosemund - as well as loving Colin, who was often used for humorous effect but still struck me as a realistic twelve-year-old boy.

And now I have to shame-facedly admit that I've had this book on my TBR longlist (as opposed to the short list of books currently stacked on my nightstand) for years. I read To Say Nothing of the Dog a couple of years ago when a friend recommended it, but was afraid to pick up Doomsday Book because I was afraid it would be too depressing or dark. Is it sad? Yes, at times. But it's also funny and thought-provoking and just a plain good read. I'm sorry I put it off as long as I did.