Mini-Reviews: Series notes and a classic

Time for another round of mini-reviews! I’ve been a little neglectful of my book reviews lately, mostly because I am trying to move beyond book reviews in this blog. But I do love reviewing books, and reviews – whether I are writing or reading them – are actually an important component of librarianship.

Reading reviews is essential to collection development. When we purchase books for the library, we often don’t get to read a book before it ends up on our shelves. Reading reviews gives us a better idea of whether the books suit our patrons. But writing reviews is equally important. Writing reviews allows a librarian to practice distilling the qualities and values of a book into an easily digestible description, a necessary skill for those reference librarians who still get to offer readers’ advisory services. So while I will continue trying to integrate more librarianship into this blog, I will always be sharing my book reviews with you. And now, to the reviews!

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Women and Comic Books

I did not grow up on comic books, although that was for no other reason than they seemed like a lot of money to invest in such flimsy bits of colored paper with very few pages. Books seem like way more bang for their buck, if you are basing it strictly on page count. So I didn’t care for many of the famous super heroes, though I didn’t really know anything about them. The old Batman and Superman movies were okay, but they really weren’t my thing.

And then the X-Men, Spider-Man, and Iron Man movies all came out. I was in love, though not any more capable of affording the past-time. And then libraries started getting into the graphic novel/comic book game, I decided there was nothing standing in the way of my getting my comic-book-nerd on.

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Get a list of the top 50 female comic book writers, compiled by ComicBookResources.com.

At first I grabbed some classics (including Rocketeer and a compendium of D.C. Universe Secret Origins stories). Then I grabbed an issue of the new Guardians of the Galaxy. They were okay but they didn’t seem worth it. And then Ms. Marvel arrived. Followed by my discovery of an awesome parade of kick-ass females helming their very own books. And a genuine love was born.

Women authors have been on my mind lately, and many of the best comic books (including Ms. Marvel) feature women writers,  but they remain a minority. So I thought that a great follow-up post about reading more women authors, would be a post about reading more women comic book characters, since there aren’t that many female comic book authors. Keep in mind that I am a relative newbie when it comes to comic books. Many of these characters existed long before I discovered them, and, since my library is focused on building current series since we don’t have an unlimited budget, my experiences are with current runs that have generally debuted in the last  one to two years. If you have any suggestions for me to read, please leave them in the comments below. I’m constantly looking to expand my comic book/graphic novel knowledge.

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My creepy fall reading list

I am a seasonal reader. By that I mean that there are certain books that demand to be read during a particular season, be it quirky romances in spring or science fiction in the summer. With its mild sunny days and chilly nights struck through with sharp breezes carrying the scent of decaying leaves and cinnamon, fall is the most demanding season of all. Late September always finds me plotting out a list of books that will put me in just the right spirit for the season of Jack-o-Lanterns and ghost stories. readings__1224527389_9277

Like my movies, I don’t like my books to be scary. But I do want a creepy factor, a thick and clawing fog, dead branches scratching on windows, humans who aren’t quite human. There can be ghosts and monsters, sure, but I prefer those books that reveal the spooky wrongness we are all capable of harboring. Where magic is real and coexists in the world we already know, accounting for that weird prickling you feel on the back of your neck or the chill that steals through you on even the warmest days. My fall reads evoke these feelings and leave me looking forward to this season most of all. Well, I look forward to the books as well as to the return of pumpkin beers, hot apple cider and spicy chai lattes.

I thought I would share a list, my good readers, as you build your own TBR list for fall. Some books I plan to read this season, and some are books I’ve already read that fit perfectly into the season. Books I haven’t read (0r haven’t quite finished) are starred. Continue reading

What I’ve been reading, part 3

Time keeps trucking along and I still keep forgetting to post reviews. I wouldn’t bother, except I enjoyed most of these books immensely and I love to share good books with readers. It is one of the many reasons I became a librarian, after all. So, here is another round of mini-reviews from my summer of reading:

  • darksideoftheroadThe Dark Side of the Road by Simon R. Green – If you are a sci-fi/fantasy buff who has a soft spot for classic manor murder mysteries, than Simon R. Green’s new series is for you. Representing a slight departure from Green’s normal fare, The Dark Side of the Road introduces an anti-hero in the vein of The Dresden Files: Ishmael, Ishmael Jones. As Ishmael says, “Because someone’s got to slay the dragons, even if the armour isn’t as shining as it used to be. And because if you have to hide in the shadows, it helps if you thin out the predators that want to hide in there with you.” As Ishmael hunts for a murderer among the guests of his employer’s holiday party, he hides a secret of his own. This book is what a genre-blend should be: Something new that will attract die-hards of both genres, while providing a fun homage to a beloved genre, in this case a classic British murder mystery.
  • BOOK OF SPECULATION_MECH_01.inddThe Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler – When librarian Simon Watson is sent an old, dusty and stained book, he becomes obsessed with the mysterious ties his family has with it. From it he learns that the women in his family were all able to hold their breath for a remarkable amount of time, and they all drowned too young on July 24th. As his life – and the family house – falls apart around him, he fights to break the cycle – because July 24th is approaching, and his sister is showing signs that she may be just like her ancestors. Swyler’s novel swells with her love of books, circuses and the sea. As she builds Simon’s history, you find yourself caring for and fearing for these characters as they are swept forward on the tide to face their fates.
  • jasper_fforde_thursday_nextThursday Next Series: The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots, & Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde – The year is 1985, and England has been at war with Russia over the Crimea for years. Thursday Next, a SpecOps agent tasked with tracking down literary criminals, finds herself pulled into a whopping mystery in which the fate of Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit and Bronte’s Jane Eyre hang in the balance. At the same time, her time-traveling father is on the run from crooked SpecOps agents, although he stops in every once in a while to check that his attempts to set things right are on track. Packed with literary references, hilarious details of an alternate future, and dodos (yes, dodos), the Thursday Next series is a fun romp through literary classics. Anyone who wishes they could meet some of their favorite characters should pick this up. Then promptly move on to the rest of the series, because it is excellent.
  • libraryatmountcharThe Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins – I’m not sure what I expected when I checked out The Library At Mount Char, but the novel turned out to be a science fiction fantasy that tells of the end of this age through the eyes of a librarian-in-training. But don’t be fooled. Librarians aren’t what you would expect, either. Instead, librarians are scholars who master the mysteries of the universe from a brutal and cruel man who rules the world from behind the scenes in a library that exists on another plane of existence. The book is not an easy read, since it includes a great deal of gruesome violence and has a lot of characters to track. At first the gratuitous violence makes you want to put it down, but Hawkins slowly hooks you with empathetic characters whose plight forces you to keep reading. It’s not what you would expect, but it is definitely a thrilling read that makes you rethink how the smallest gesture can make a huge difference in another’s life.
  • armadaArmada by Ernest Cline – Ernest Cline wowed me with an overwhelming amount of geeky pop-culture in his debut novel Ready Player One. Since the announcement came that he was writing a new novel, I’ve been looking forward to the release of Armada. Like Ready Player One, science-fiction media and video games are frequently referenced, though you don’t have to know the references to follow the story. And the story is quite good. The story centers on a teenaged boy, whose father died before he got to know him, grappling with what to do when he graduates but finding it difficult to care about anything but his rank in Armada, his favorite video game. Then his whole world is upended when he spies an alien craft from the video game flying nearby his high school. Cline has a talent for creating an immersive universe and a thrilling plot, as well as variety unique – and geeky – characters. Cline grapples with ethics of war, conspiracies, and familial relationships, especially fathers, again using a lighter, science-fiction narrative to cloak important discussions.
  • The Watchmaker of Filigree StreetThe Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley – Though the language is difficult to get into and the narrative is slow to build – despite narrative points that are usually quick to pull me in – I ultimately enjoyed this historical novel that takes readers from Victorian London to Japan during the civil war and back again. The eponymous character – the watchmaker of Filigree Street – and the magical twists that drive the narrative are lovely and worth the effort it takes to get through the beginning.
  • twoacrossTwo Across by Jeff Bartsch – I don’t like romances, but I do like stories about quirky characters. I like characters with depth and I find that characters who show the most depth are those that are unique in unexpected ways. And if those characters just happen to fall in love during the novel, I can accept that. Two Across follows two spelling bee championships through the ups and downs of their early teens through late twenties and the relationship that develops. Set in the 1970s, the quirky factor lies in their use of crosswords to communicate. Although I found myself wanting to throw the book across the room after particularly distressing decisions by the characters, in the end, I enjoyed the novel.

What I’ve been reading, part 2

This seems like a good time to mention that I have already exceeded my reading challenge that I set for myself. Last year I read 62 books. I figured I would increase that by a little, so I set it for 75 books. Apparently this was entirely too small of a number. By the beginning of July, I had hit 75. I’m already rounding the bend on 84. According to Goodreads, I’m actually 37 books ahead of schedule. Next time I know better and I will challenge myself a little more appropriately!

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I’ve also been kicking around the idea of reading 30 books that people say I should read before I hit 30 (which is a little over a year from now). There are quite a few lists, including some from Huffington Post, Business Insider,  and Refinery29. I’ve been thinking of theming it to books by women authors everyone should read, but I don’t know yet. If you have any suggestions, please share!

Anyway, here’s another round of mini-reviews, this time featuring some fictional works. Continue reading