Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Hobbit : An Expected Journey

Today starts a long-term reading project focusing on Tolkien's work.  I'm joining various folks in a one chapter a week read through, starting with The Hobbit, going through the Lord of the Rings, likely dabbling in some of the other assorted works, and ultimately getting through The Silmarillion.

We'll be reading and discussing the chapters, as well as sharing various Middle Earth resources, treating it as a study of Middle Earth itself.  It's a very long-term project, but one that doesn't impose a heavy burden while participating.  Should be fun.

If you want to join us, we can be found over on BookLikes

Saturday, August 22, 2015

[Book Review] The Annihilation Score

Annihilation Score (Laundry Files #6) / Charles Stross (Powell's Books)

Dominique "Mo" O'Brien is having a rough time.  She wields a soul-eating bone violin (that's trying to take over her will) in the service of her country, things with her husband are on the rocks, there's a sudden plague of humans manifesting superpowers, and she's expected to do something about at least the latter with the help of her husband's ex's.  On top of all that, CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN (the end of the world as we know it) draws inexorably near, and Mo's suffering from a seeming cultural invisibility as a woman of a certain age.

Annihilation Score stands out from the other Laundry Files in a few ways.  Beyond the obvious change in narrator, The Annihilation Score doesn't follow the trend of parodying various well-known British spy novelists' work.  Instead we have a novel lambasting the cultural treatment and expectations of women while Mo heads up a superhero team along with the now vampiric Mhari, the transitioning to Deep One Ramona, and Jim/Officer Friendly as a tag-a-long representing the London Police.  On top of this all, Mo deals with keeping her soul out of her violin's grip, coping with her husband's inheritance of the full Eater of Souls package, and generally attempts to convince herself she is perfectly stable and not in the midst of a very well earned nervous breakdown.

Is the book perfect in its goal?  No, but it's a damn good showing, and fits right in as a Laundry Files novel.  Personally, I found Mo's ranting asides directly to Bob a bit on the "unprofessional" side since this is "supposed" to be a memoir that doubles as training/reference material on this specific case, which really makes the included sexy bits seem a bit exhibitionistic.  On the other hand, Bob's memoirs aren't exactly professional, though, unless he's destiny entangled with a BLUE HADES succubus agent, there's really very little in the way of sexy details shared.

I loved the referencing of the Bechdel test, and once they get past their rather legitimate concerns and fears regarding each other, Mhari, Ramona, and Mo (heavier weight on the "you can kill me" part than the "you have an intimate history with Bob" issue) are a power-team.

Going in it's important to be aware that Stross deliberately has given us unreliable narrators.  The previous books have been from Bob's point of view, giving us what Bob experiences and is filled in on.  Now we get a different point of view on some overlapping events, and they don't quite match up.  For example, The Rhesus Chart gives us the impression that his marriage with Mo largely fell apart due to the events of that novel, The Annihilation Score shows that maybe things weren't running as smoothly as he thought.

I'm left wondering how Mo will develop going forward.  Latent superpowers aside, we never really see her act without near total reliance on her violin.  It's implied that she has some sorcerous ability, but when AGENT CANDID is called in, it was generally something of a nuclear option.  Definitely interested to see her role in the Laundry post The Annihilation Score, and eagerly awaiting the next chapter in the build towards CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN

Friday, August 21, 2015

Life Update : Heeeey Employment!

So life's been all sorts of crazy lately, but not necessarily in a bad way, and with any luck my employment situation is relatively stable for the rest of this fiscal year at least.  After a year and a half of job searching, including a few false starts, it is a nice place to be regardless of how chaotic.

The upside, as I said, is Employment.  And employment at some fantastic places with amazing people.

The downside is the complications and limitations.  I'm juggling five jobs, a mix of regular and on-call/as needed hours.

On July 1st I started as the Circulation Supervisor at a delightful small-town library, working 28 hours per week.  Today I had training for a 10 hour a week sabbatical replacement position at a beautiful private school that we'll just call Hogwarts, where I'll be the supervising evening Librarian and working the Reference Desk.  I'm totally bummed that Hogwarts will only be for this school year, everyone I met today on campus is amazing (and campus security has a cat "on staff").

I've also got some filler work.  I do about 15 hours a month at a local indie bookshop processing the shipping for a signed first editions collectors subscription club (also, super employee discount and access to the unsaleable damaged books).  It's guaranteed work, and it gets me additional exposure to the book industry with a focus on literary fiction.  Additionally I'm the area substitute/heir apparent Quizmaster for Geeks Who Drink, and I do occasional work for a web development company.

All in all, generally busy, and, thanks to the assortment of jobs, able to cover cost of living.  My permanent employment at this time isn't a 'professional' librarian job, but it is within a library and is a supervisory position.  My job at Hogwarts is professional, but sadly temporary, so I'll have to find something to replace it come next fiscal year.  However I'm extremely happy to have library work again, and am fortunate to have fantastic co-workers across the board.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

[Book Review] The Killing Moon

The Killing Moon / N. K. Jemisin (Powell's Books)

In the city-state of Guanjaareh peace rules through the blessing of their goddess Hananja.  Priests siphon off the dreams of the citizens to provide healing and to rid the city of corruption.  Ehiru, perhaps the most renown of the city's Gatherers, begins to doubt himself when a Gathering goes awry, only to be pulled into a conspiracy that threatens not just Guanjaareh but the world.

I cannot say enough about Jemisin's writing (or about Jemisin herself, she's a wonderful person).  She creates rich, gorgeous fantasy worlds and compelling stories.  Additionally, she provides a fantasy that doesn't take place in a re-imagined medieval Europe themed setting.  The Killing Moon delves into belief, love, power, corruption, and politics.

The Killing Moon was the July pick for my Virtual Speculation bookclub, sorry for the late posting.

Discussion Fodder:
  • To the Guanjaareens, the death offered by Gatherers is a honor and a comfort.  What do you think about their cultural reverence towards death?  Do the Gatherers bring peace and purge corruption?  Do only the ignorant fear Gatherers, or is Guanjaareh too powerful and too strange?
  • "Did you know that writing stories kills them?  Of course it does.  Words aren't meant to be stiff, unchanging things."  How does the recording of stories change them?
  • What do you think about the treatment of women in Guanjaareh?  Are they are "goddesses" while being homekeepers?  What about the importance of food, of offering, in seduction?
  • Do Gatherers "kill"?  As the Sister says "I do not actually share my body with tithebearers, Apprentice.  I merely give them dreams."  Does the distinction matter?
  • What the The Killing Moon say about the themes of love, power, and corruption?  What is the place of love in Guanjaareh?  What about power?  Corruption?  Does Ehiru offer love and kindness by easing pain, or does real love cause pain and endure?  Are all three tangled together or can they be separate?
  • Is the Prince insane or inspired?  What do you think about his goal for peace?
  • What do you think of the Sunadi's statement, " are the victims here.  The most pitiful victims of all, because you believe."

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

[Book Display] Dog Days of Summer

It's August.  It's hot and sticky.  Summer reading at my library has ended.  Back to school is right around the corner.  Time to get some last enjoyment of the summer before the blessed cold of winter the season change.  A time of year otherwise known as the "dog days of summer."

We needed a new book display, and I like word play.  I think you can guess where this goes.

And yes, searching the internet for dog photos is an applicable skill
My original idea was to do summer books and dog books, ideally books that were a mix of the two.  But ultimately I made it into a display of books that featured dogs in some manner, be it a main character, some part of a character's life, or even an animagus who turns into a dog.

As it turns out there are quite a few prolific authors who write mysteries featuring dogs, enough that I settled for sharing a hyperlink to someone else's detailed list rather than copying it all here for additional titles.  There are also quite a few nonfiction titles, often with adorable covers, about dogs.  In the end I pulled together I hope a reasonable balance of titles, with a mix of genre, and audience.
Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend.  Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.
-Groucho Marx

On Display
  • The Dogs of Babel / Carolyn Parkhurst
  • Marley & Me : Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog / John Grogan
  • You Had Me at Woof : How Dogs Taught Me the Secrets of Happiness / Julie Klam
  • Giant George : Life with the World's Biggest Dog / David Nasser
  • The Dog Who Could Fly : The Incredible True Story of a WWII Airman and the Four-Legged Hero Who Flew At His Side / Damien Lewis
  • The Story of Edgar Sawtelle / David Wroblewski
  • The Dog Stars / Peter Heller
  • A Fistfull of Collars : A Chet and Bernie Mystery / Spencer Quinn*
  • The Dog Killer of Utica : An Eliot Conte Mystery / Frank Lentricchia
  • The Dogs of Babel / Carolyn Parkhurst
  • Call of the Wild / Jack London
  • Travels with Charlie in Search of America / John Steinbeck
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being / Milan Kundera
  • The Art of Racing in the Rain / Garth Stein
  • Dancing Dogs : Stories / Jon Katz
  • A Three Dog Life / Abigail Thomas
  • Dark Summer / Iris Johansen
  • The Dogs of Bedlam Farm : An Adventure with Sixteen Sheep, Three Dogs, Two Donkeys, and Me / Jon Katz
  • Bride and Groom (Dog Lover's Mystery) / Susan Conant*
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban / J. K. Rowling
  • The Phantom Tollboth / Norton Juster
  • Oogy : The Dog Only a Family Could Love / Larry Levin
  • Fay / William Wegman*
  • Lost and Found (Taken Trilogy) / Alan Dean Foster
  • Three Among the Wolves : a Couple and Their Dog Live a Year with Wolves in the Wild / Helen Thayer
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz / Frank L. Baum
  • The Fall Guy : A Rachel Alexander Mystery / Carol Lea Benjamin 
  • Started Early, Took My Dog / Kate Atkinson
  • No One Like You / Kate Angell 
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time / Mark Haddon 
  • The Boy Who Talked to Dogs / Martin McKenna
*Quinn and Conant have multiple series featuring canines, Wegman has several books featuring his photography of dogs.

Other Reads (titles not in our collection/unavailable for this display)
  • 101 Dalmations / Dodie Smith
  • Cujo / Stephen King
  • Lives of the Monster Dogs / Kirsten Bakis
  • Sophie : The Incredible True Story of the Castaway Dog / Emma Pearse
  • Huck : The Remarkable True Story of How One Lost Puppy Taught a Family--and a Whole Town--About Hope and Happy Endings / Janet Elder
  • Born to Bark : My Adventures with an Irrepressible and Unforgettable Dog / Stanley Coren
  • Katie Up and Down the Hall : The True Story of How One Dog Turned Five Neighbors into a Family / Glenn Plaskin
  • What a Difference a Dog Makes : Big Lessons on Life, Love and Healing from a Small Pooch / Dana Jennings
  • Dogs and the Women Who Love Them : Extraordinary True Stories of Loyalty, Healing, and Inspiration / Allen & Linda Anderson
  • Through a Dog's Eyes : Understanding Our Dogs by Understanding How They See the World / Jennifer Arnold
  • The Dog Who Couldn't Stop Loving : How Dogs Have Captured Our Hearts for Thousands of Years / Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
  • Mutts / Sharon Montrose
  • Nose Down, Eyes Up / Merrill Markoe
  • Our Story Begins : New and Selected Stories / Tobias Wolff
  • Dog Years / Mark Doty
  • Woof! : Writers on Dogs / Lee Montgomery
  • Dumb Witness / Agatha Christie
There's also a fantastic list of dog themed mysteries to be found at Cozy Mystery List

Saturday, August 15, 2015

[Book Review] The Heart Goes Last

The Heart Goes Last / Margaret Atwood (Powell's Books)

A dystopian story of desperation, greed, for-profit prisons, and the sex lives of those caught up in it all.

For Stan and Charmaine, the Positron Project seems like a gift from Heaven.  A home of their own and guaranteed jobs, even if it's tempered with alternating months spent as prison inmates, is a vast improvement over living in their car and surviving on Charmaine's meager tips.  The isolation from the world at large seems a small price to pay for safety and security.  But little things don't seem to add up, and when Charmaine begins a torrid affair with Stan's "alternate" a chain of events is set into motion that threatens the secrets of those in charge, and puts Stan and Charmaine in danger.

I didn't fall in love with the story immediately.  The start felt off, disjointed, as it tried to drop me inside both of Stan and Charmaine's lives.  It's when they reached their supposed utopia with all it's cracks that things began to get interesting.  The characters have their flaws, Charmaine may cheat on Stan, but Stan himself stalks the woman he believes to be Charmaine's alternate with intend to force himself upon her.  Stan is pulled into a dangerous game where he's used and sexually abused by a woman pursuing revolution.  The supporting cast has less depth, seen only through Charmaine and Stan's eyes, their true thoughts and motivations hidden from Stan, Charmaine, and the reader.  We see the faces that they present, lacking their thoughts and introspection.

Ultimately as things unraveled I found myself drawn more and more to the story, less willing to put it down.  The Heart Goes Last may push the bounds of believable future, but it also never goes fully into the unbelievable.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of Doubleday Books via Netgalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

[Book Review] In Libres

In Libres / Elizabeth Bear (Uncanny Magazine)

A delightful bit of short fiction, a fantastical take on academia and the pursuit of higher degrees.  One where a "bull-headed classmate" is literal not figurative, and visiting the library is a truly feared event.  Don't ask me why, but I get way too much enjoyment out of dangerous arcane libraries and librarians.
The Library was not a single building, but rather a complex of buildings on the edge of campus, with only one way in. It was said to have one copy of every book ever written. This was probably an exaggeration, despite the fact that it seemed to have a functionally infinite interior. The Library was bigger on the inside, and it iterated. 
It certainly had a great mad pile of things shelved within it. Finding them was another matter: there was no card catalogue, and several attempts to establish one had met with madness, failure, and disappearances. 
There were, however, Librarians. Librarians, with their overdeveloped hippocampi, their furled cloaks, their swords and wands sheathed swaggeringly across their backs. The university bureaucracy was nightmarish, Byzantine, and largely ornamental. But those caveats did not apply to the Librarians, an elite informational force second to none. They were lean, organized, and they knew when to turn left and when to turn right.
The writing is witty, with tributes to and twists on familiar mythologies and the traps of academia.  The exploring the labyrinthine library takes days, with a ball of twine recommended for finding one's way back out.  Feed the books at your own peril, after all, everyone wants something.

I absolutely love the description of Conrad and Hemingway as "poets of anguished masculinity," and again and again I found myself delighted by some small (or large) detail.  Definitely worth the read.