Tag Archives: reading

Changing Things Up

There’s nothing more dulling than the same-old, same-old. It’s good to shake things up. No, I’m not doing anything radically different on this here blog (other than hopefully getting back to, er, updating it again.

I’m talking about my book club.

When I started my current job almost two years ago, I inherited a book club. A flagging book club, but a book club nonetheless, and it has become one of my favorite parts of my job. Oh, and it’s not flagging anymore. Continue reading

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Not Quite Failing. Ish.

Remember how I was all about using this for accountability on my reading goals, how I was going to get regular content out of it all? *sigh* Yeah, me too. I blame the fumes of “thank goodness 2016 is over” for that youthful optimism.

The good news is that in spite of “blog regularly” being a fail, my own personal diversifying challenge is still holding up.

#ownvoices – I went the YA path for this one since my work YA/juvenile reading challenge was still underway, reading Diverse Energies, a collection of short dystopian stories with an emphasis on diversity in both authorship and setting. I went into it warily, not because short story collections are hit or miss (it’s a feature of the genre that I’m aware of), but because after the end of the Divergent trilogy, I threw the book across the room, lamented the hours I lost to it, and declared YA dystopian lit DEAD to me. Dead and buried. Deep as I could go. But this collection… well, it didn’t give me a hankering to read about another simplistically divided society with a (typically white) Chosen Teen to save it, but I enjoyed it, which is an acceptable enough outcome. Standout stories to me were the ones from Malinda Lo and Ken Liu, both very different in tone and content, but good enough to make me seek more of them out, and I went on to read Lo’s Ash per a friend’s recommendation and loved it, so hey, bonus points.

New or forthcoming – This title was a newly released one, Ellen Klages’ Passing Strangeone of Tor.com’s novella line. This story sucked me right in, but it wasn’t quite the story I expected. It opens with a compelling framework, that of an older woman retrieving a hidden and valuable painting from a hidden tunnel hearkening back to Prohibition days before quietly dying. And then we get to the heart of the story, which seems like a love story against the backdrop of 1940s San Francisco, following a core of several women, including Helen, the woman from the introduction and Haskel, the painter of the valuable work. There’s an initial whisper of a hint of magic, but it fades away, leaving a story that feels more like historical fiction as Haskel meets and falls in love with the lovely Emily, a singer from the local club, known, among other things, for being “a haven for women who loved each other could meet in public without fear or the shame of sidelong glances from ‘nice’ ladies.” Things are going lovely, for the most part, until someone from Haskel’s past shows up, and disaster threatens to unravel everything.

passing strangeAbout two thirds of the way through, I looked up from the book in surprise, wondering why it was classified as a fantasy since I hadn’t really seen much magic. Oh, it had been hinted at in a couple places, crept into the occasional conversation, usually contrasted against science in the process, both otherwise quietly unacknowledged. And then everything came together. I had been lost in the atmosphere and the air of forbiddenness foreshadowed in the reference to Prohibition in the introduction, that I had forgotten there was supposed to be magic. I’m not sure if that’s a matter of narrative unevenness, or simply a testament to the author’s compelling homage to San Francisco and the people who found sanctuary there. If you like immersive atmosphere in your fiction, give this one a try because it has that in spades, and if like me, that gorgeous cover piqued your interest, definitely pick it up because… I’m not going to spoil anything, but it’s a marvelous reveal when you realize what’s happening.

Different genre – I thought at first this might be a bit of a cheat to count Mixed Vegetablessince manga is really more of a form than a genre, but it’s really a story that isn’t in my typical wheelhouse to begin with, so we’ll count it. Look, I’m a reader of romance, and it’s my go-to when things get heavy and I want the assurance of a happy ending, but even then, I like a bit of angst burning in the background. So this story was, overall, much fluffier than I normally would gravitate toward, plus, well, cooking has generally been a chore to get through for me, not a creative process with its own merits, so the foodie angle of this romance was a tough sell to begin with. I tried a volume, and it was cute, but nothing that overwhelmingly drew me in. I’m not the reader for it, but the next time I see someone with an armful of romances and foodie-themed reads, I know the perfect thing to hand them.

And that was February in expanding my reading horizons. March was a near miss with a reading slump and crafting slump and, really, overall lapse in anything remotely resembling productivity, but I’ll have that post soon. Spoiler: even though I barely got any reading done (relative to my usual reading pace), I still managed to meet my goals, and I’ve got a theory on that I’ll talk a bit more about…

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(Maybe not actual bunnies)

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On reading challenges

Every year, I eyeball the various reading challenge lists that go around. They should absolutely be my catnip since I live a life surrounded by books. Fundamentally, I think they serve a valuable purpose in providing a structured framework for people who want to read outside their normal boundaries. And can I say, for the record, that Book Riot’s Read Harder challenge for 2017 is woke, and I love it?! But I’m not doing it, or any other pre-specified challenge this year. Not exactly.

I work in a library. I am surrounded by books every day, and to the lament of my to-read list, new books that I want to read constantly cross my path, so my to-reads are in a constant state of flux. I’m also notoriously stubborn, and the moment a task feels like homework, I’m checked out (yes, librarian pun intentional. You’re welcome). Because of these things, I’ve determined three flexible categories intended to serve my own specific needs.

With a to-read goal in 2017 of 110 books, averaging about 8 books a month, I have figured out that three “challenge” categories a month will give me structure, built-in-deadlines, and enough room to read whatever else crosses my path without feeling like my reading is dictated by external parameters.

  1. Read at least one book per month of #OwnVoices, because we need diverse books. I am uniquely positioned to signal boost great books or underappreciated books from underrepresented perspectives, but I’m not doing anyone any favors if I’m not aware of what’s out there. My Twitter feed is a great way to follow the conversation, but I can do so much more if I’ve read things and can sell them that way. I also want to be conscientious about how I talk  about these titles, too. I don’t want to fall into the trap of making diversity sound like something that should be consumed, like vegetables, because it’s good for you–I want to signal boost stories because they’re beautiful, heartpounding magical journeys with the strength of family love at the heart of it, or sweet YA stories of friendship and first romantic love.
  2. Read at least one new or forthcoming book a month. I actually did much better last year than I’ve done in the past, but this is also an area that needs conscientious work since it’s so easy to get caught up in, well, getting caught up with all the things that have already been published that I haven’t gotten around to reading yet. I was finally able to participate in LibraryReads‘ year-end best of list last year, and I’d like to do so again this year, with the hope of helping bring more attention to the speculative fiction that I adore. I also have a veritable cache of delicious books waiting on my Kindle from Netgalley and Eidelweiss, but e-books are a format that is not my primary way of consuming books, so I need a bit of a nudge there. This also includes reading more of the “it books” that take library hold lists by storm, just to better know what the fuss is about.
  3. Finally, I vow to read at least one book a month that is not in my usual reading genres because it’s important for a librarian to be widely read, and I tend to read deep in several genres without branching out much, left to my own devices. I’m trying to decide if it’s cheating to allow myself to use book club books for this category since they’re titles I’ve already committed to reading and what I choose for them is rarely what I would choose for myself. I think, in the spirit of this challenge, it would be cheating, but I’m leaving myself a little wiggle room in the event of the occasional hectic month.

And that’s what I’ve got. I’ve knocked out two categories this month already and the only thing holding me back from the third is waiting for my library’s adult winter reading challenge to start since the book I want to read is on theme but can’t be read before January 15. I’m going to try and do end-of-month reading wrap-ups, both to keep me accountable and, honestly, to have ready-made blog content. Here goes, 2017.

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Belated Thoughts on WorldCon

If there’s a phrase that encompasses my overall sense of self these days, I think it’s growing pains. I have a big-girl librarian degree now, but being a paraprofessional means I’m not technically using it. I’m happy enough in my current gig that I don’t have the frantic sense of needing to get to the next phase with a desperate hunger yet, but the occasional offhand comment about paras from peers further along the career track puts me right back in my place, whether the slight was intended or not. But this isn’t a post about imposter syndrome; it’s about finding other spaces to belong and grow.

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[Insert profound metaphor about growing where you’re planted here]


It’s a restless sort of place, this growing pains spot, and in the absence of the whole finish-the-MLIS life goal, I’m finally seeking out other ways to develop my skills and interests and hobbies. And I’ve realized there’s a synergy to some of them, a discovery I made watching a panel at WorldCon this year.

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Review: Breaking Cat News

Have you ever been woken up in the middle of the night by cat crazies? Been yowled at in concern when you’ve dared to be on the other side of a door from your cat(s)? Had the entertainment of watching cats go flying to various hiding spaces when the vacuum comes out?

If any of these scenarios sound remotely familiar, get thee to a bookstore and go buy Georgia Dunn’s Breaking Cat News. Collecting some of the best panels from the web comic of the same name, Breaking Cat News depicts the news-worthy events in the household of cats Lupin, Puck, and Elvis. While each cat has a distinct purrsonality—lead anchor Lupin always first to report happenings, easily excitable Elvis, and sensitive Puck—their news reports will resonate with both cats and the humans they deign to share their lives with.

Cover art for Breaking Cat News

Breaking Cat News, by Georgia Dunn

The sense of perspective in these comics is utterly charming. While we humans know well why we shut ourselves in the bathroom with the door closed, our intrepid reporters simply must know what’s happening (“Ma’am? Ma’am?”). We humans might wonder at the reasoning behind nighttime crazies, but our reports demonstrate the route (beginning on the kitchen counter and making a circuitous path through the home) and lay out the rules (a lamp must be knocked over for a competitor to qualify). Our intrepid repurrtors are baffled by the witchcraft that lets the Man appear on the other side of the glass, confused why their sick Woman doesn’t just find herself a nice bit of carpet to throw up on, intrigued by the system of cabinet caves in the kitchen, and determined to unravel the mystery of the red dot. It’s these scenarios humans see from the outside, given feline insiders’ purrspective.

Not all web comics make the transition to book smoothly (How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You comes to mind), but Breaking Cat News makes the transition nicely, with enough self-contained strips to be entertaining and a broad story arc that perceptive humans can see before the cats understand what’s happening (like the transition from YAY BOX FORT to trapped in cages in the car to SCARY NEW PLACE) as well as a few other developments.

My copy of Breaking Cat News was provided free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review, but I now want to pick up a copy for every cat person I know. And maybe one for the coffee table for myself. In short, cat lovers, this is a must-have.

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That new book smell

I joke frequently that I use the library because there’s no way I could afford my reading habit, a statement that is mostly true, given a yearly reading rate spanning 50-100+ books. However, it’s perhaps less true than it once was. I’ve noticed, recently, a subtle indicator that we’re starting to get a more secure financial footing: the number of brand-new books purchased in this household is increasing.

Make no mistake–Half Price Books still gets plenty of money from us as we fill in author backlists and find new-to-us gems. But we can afford new books, and giving money to support the creative ventures of authors producing things we like is important in this bookish household.

Here are the most recent gems I’ve acquired:

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The Fifth Season, Truthwitch, and Winterwood

N.K. Jemison’s The Fifth Season – because I’ve always been a sucker for the end of the world, and friends I trust have raved about the world-building and touch of social issues. Jemison’s been on my to-read list since her Inheritance trilogy came out, so this seems as good a time as any to dive in without being two books behind. Plus, it’s recently been nominated for a Nebula award.

Susan Dennard’s Truthwitch – because in a YA landscape saturated with love triangles, I heard about a novel with female friendship at its core and want to see more of that. I also read highlights from the author’s Reddit AMA and was further intrigued, especially when she mentions some of her soundtrack inspirations, which I was familiar with and would love to see how someone else interprets them.

Jacey Bedford’s Winterwood – Confession: I was sold on this from the moment I saw its pirate cover art, and I didn’t need to read much further in the synopsis than “cross-dressing privateer captain” (pirates are my catnip, and woman-disguised-as-a-man is a favorite trope from my formative years of preferring adventuring shenanigans over romance in my reading). Throw in magic, and it’s sold to the lady in the black cardigan.

I love the worlds that fantasy can take me away to, bleak ones sometimes, awe-inspiring ones, beautiful ones, ones ripe with adventure and discovery–and I can’t wait to travel to these.

 

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Hey, Listen!

Alternate title: How our Heroine Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Audiobooks

I am, unabashedly, a fan of reading my books in paper form. There’s nothing quite like curling up with a book of an evening or day off, just getting lost in the tale. A rainy day curled in a comfy chair with a book, a cat in my lap, and a cup of tea is pretty much my idea of heaven. Except, well, life can get in the way of that. I would not go so far as to say I have no time to read; indeed, an outsider looking at my list of books read so far this year would probably assume I do nothing but read. But what can I say, I’m greedy. No, my main problem isn’t lack of time to read. My main problem is splitting my off time between conflicting hobbies, namely crafting (knitting, crocheting, and lately, coloring) and reading for leisure. And then an idea struck me, an idea that took way too long in coming for someone who works in a library branch where so many people love their audiobooks: listen and craft at the same time. Derp. My past attempts at audio book listening were with mixed success. I tried listening to books on tape when I had an hour-long commute, but long drives are irrevocably linked with listening to music in my mind, and I had a poor time sticking with books. I’d read one here or there, and then I’d just drift away. If I could stick with one, I enjoyed it enough to linger in the car upon arriving at my destination and listen for a few minutes more each time, but getting there was the tricky part. Then, last fall, my husband and I took a mini road trip and took the audio book of Stephen King’s The Wastelands with us; it was too short of a trip to finish the book, but we took it in the house and listened to it together in the evenings. Reader Frank Muller, I realized, added something to the story with his distinct voices. So we kept listening. And when that was done, we listened to the next Dark Tower novel. And then… well, the next one had a different reader, and we needed a change of pace. At some point, I decided to take advantage of my library’s e-audiobooks, and this was where the paradigm shift happened. I no longer have a long enough commute to listen in the car. And listening to books on CD kinda ties me down to my laptop. But books in my smartphone, a device that is somewhere on my person 75% of the time anyway? That I can handle. I started listening to Erika Johansen’s Queen of the Tearling one evening during work because the backroom is quiet then; with one earbud in, I could still hear if the phone rang but still listen to my book too. At home, I realized, I could knit and listen too. And even during parts of my shift where I’m tucked away in the workroom and not in a public-facing capacity, why, I could even listen then too! The real eye-opener came when I didn’t finish the audiobook before it was due back. With a hold on it, I had to wait until the next reader finished it, so I checked out the book… and it sat on my shelf… and sat on the shelf… and sat there. I was enjoying the story, but more specifically, I was enjoying hearing reader Katherine Kellgren’s powerful telling of it. It was, to quote a famous ‘90s movie,

A whole new world

A Whole New World

Now, my appetite for audiobooks is insatiable. Yes, I still have a few print-on-paper books going at a given time, but having an audiobook on the side lets me squeeze more reading time into my schedule. No longer do I have to choose whether to craft or whether to read. If it’s quiet at work and coworkers and I are quietly all doing our own things, I can squeak in some reading without stopping what I’m doing. It’s the closest thing to a Time-Turner this reader can get, and I can’t wait to discover new reading experiences. What about you? What audiobooks have you found that add to the reading experience?

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Review: The Clockwork Dagger

It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for a steampunk romp. Sort of. I adore the subculture but often find the literature lackluster. I had high hopes for Beth Cato’s The Clockwork Dagger but have come away from it with very mixed feelings.

Cover art for The Clockwork DaggerAll the requisite trappings are present here—a spunky heroine, airships, an alternate universe where scientific progress exists alongside older magic. Heroine Octavia is a medician, a Druidic doctor of sorts whose connection with The Lady (a healing goddess of sorts) is particularly strong. This leaves her the target of assassins, or Clockwork Daggers, as they are known, as she sets off to take a post in a city traumatized by plague and war. Her traveling companions include Mrs. Stout, a writer of lurid pulp tales with a few secrets of her own, and the enticing Alonzo Garrett, a hottie with one mechanical leg and an irresistible attraction to her.

Assassination attempts, first love, and in the backdrop, war—these should make for an appealing tale, and to some extent, they do. The most intriguing part of the story, to me, was the backdrop, by parts bustling industrial cities and in other parts of the world, post-apocalyptic wastelands. Octavia has tended to soldiers at the front and seen firsthand the horrors of war and what it does to people, which is a dynamic I haven’t seen a lot in steampunk. The different magic systems were also fascinating—while her own magic is of the healing variety, Octavia also encounters “infernals,” mages who can wield fire (naturally, they are among the ranks of the villains, a pity, since what little was revealed of them would have indicated some intriguing cultural attitudes had they not been filtered through Octavia’s biased lens).

Unfortunately, Octavia is the crux of my problems with this story. In my fanfiction days, she is what would have been called a Mary Sue—here is a gifted young woman who remains blissfully unaware that the power she wields is so spectacularly beyond what others of her rank can accomplish. Don’t get me wrong—I love a strong heroine. But by the end of the book, readers wonder if there is anything Octavia can’t do. Perhaps those are matters for another tale.

The Clockwork Dagger is clearly the setup for a series, and while this first volume didn’t overwhelm me, it is one I would follow for at least the worldbuilding.

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Review: Ain’t She Sweet

Few of us look back with fondness on our high school years. With too much drama and insecurity packed into four years, it’s a wonder people manage to become functioning adults. For the most part, though, once it’s over, those days are behind us.

For Sugar Beth Carey, protagonist of Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Ain’t She Sweet, high school is about to catch up with her. Forced to return to her small Southern town where she ruled high school as the spoiled-rotten and gorgeous queen bee who made everyone else’s lives miserable, she comes face to face with her former victims, and the reunion is not a joyous one. Among them are her half-sister Winnie and Colin Byrne, whose teaching career she ruined with false accusations of inappropriate behavior. A big helping of humble pie is on the menu, but of course, so is romance.

I’ll say this upfront: Ain’t She Sweet requires a healthy dose of suspended disbelief to accept the premise that virtually an entire town has remained pettily invested in comeuppance of a high school bully. Once that hurdle is crossed, it actually makes a very entertaining read, with snappy banter and some decent character development.

Sugar Beth herself is the antidote to previous contemporary romance heroines I’ve encountered (Bridget Jones, I’m lookin’ at you). She’s a woman who has made some poor life choices and has had to live with and learn from those mistakes. The result is a strong-willed and self-deprecating woman who would rather piss people off and maintain what’s left of her pride than show a moment’s weakness. She’s trying to be a better person, but sometimes self-defeating habits get in the way—in short, while the premise of the story may be contrived, the protagonist herself reads as a fairly realistic person. The supporting cast of characters is developed to varying degrees, but the main ones at least are developed enough to keep the story going. One of the cute subplots involves the relationship between Sugar Beth and her half-sister’s daughter, a teenager going through the throes of, well, being a teenager and looking to her infamous aunt for guidance.

Overall, this was a fun, fast read. I think Susan Elizabeth Phillips is an author I may revisit when I’m looking for something fluffy to read.

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Reader profile

Having just started reading David Dalglish’s A Dance of Cloaks, I was thinking about amazing cover art and its role in my becoming a reader of fantasy. That in turn reminded me of a short essay I wrote for my readers advisory class, a reader profile with several specific examples of books that exemplify trends or tastes in my reading. I shall share it here because it was a fun essay to write, and in glancing back over it, it’s a piece of writing I’m fairly pleased with.

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