Sunday, 25 September 2016

Roses and Rot

Finished September 25
Roses and Rot by Kat Howard

This tale of two sisters drew me in and didn't let go. Imogen is older than Marin by two years. They lived under the influence of a very controlling mother, one who used not only physical punishments, but verbal and emotional ones in an attempt to keep them under her influence and drive a wedge between them. Imogen has always used her writing to escape her reality, and has had some success with it. Marin is a dancer, with natural skill, but also dedication and constant pressure by her mother to succeed.
Imogen managed to get away more that a decade before this story begins, first to boarding school and then to college, but her mother never stopped trying to draw her back into her sphere of control. Marin has heard about an artists' retreat, Melete, in New Hampshire, where artists apply and are chosen for a nine month stay to focus on their work with the assistance of a personal mentor. She urges Imogen to apply at the same time, partly so the sisters can come back together for the first time in years.
The women discover that Melete is both more than and less than they expected. Strange things happen, they see things that don't seem believable, and they begin to understand that this is a place where the human world and the world of Faerie come together and the Faerie world exacts a price for this opportunity.
Howard brings this world to life, the stardust and the darkness, the giving of power and the drawing of energy. The artists that come here will never be the same, and no one who hasn't been will ever truly understand. And, of course, some of them may never return to the lives they imagined for themselves.
I read this book voraciously, not wanting to put it down until I reached the ending. I cared about the characters and their dreams and wanted to see what happened to them as their stay at Melete progressed and came to an end. A great read.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

The Best American Mystery Stories 2013

Finished September 24
The Best American Mystery Stories 2013 edited by Lisa Scottoline

I like short stories but somehow don't make the effort to seek them out that often. Each year this series has a different editor. The series editor, Otto Penzler selects works from hundreds of sources including magazines, journals, and websites. The annual guest editor then chooses the best from that, usually around 20 stories. The story writers range from best selling authors to the lesser known, but the stories are all extremely well written.
The authors for this year's stories are: Tom Barlow, Michael Connelly, O'Neil de Noux, Eileen Dreyer, David Edgerley Gates, Clark Howard, Andrew Kocsis, Kevin Leahy, Nick Mamatas, Emily St. John Mandel, Dennis McFadden, Micah Nathan, Joyce Carol Oates, Nancy Pickard, Bill Pronzini, Randall Silvis, Patricia Smith, Ben Stroud, Hannah Tinti, and Maurine Dallas Watkins. I was glad to see a couple of Canadian authors in the mix.
There are a nice mix of stories, most set in the present, some historical. Some are very dark, others surprising. Hard to pick a favourite as I liked most of them, but for different reasons.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Crafting a Colorful Home

Finished September 20
Crafting a Colorful Home: a room-by-room guide to personalizing your space with color by Kristin Nicholas, photographs by Rikki Snyder

The book appealed to the creative side of me when I spotted it at the library, and I found several things in it that appealed to me. As the subtitle indicates, it is organized room by room, with a few techniques and projects spelled out for each room or area. These instructions are very well done, with photos for the different steps and clear wording.
I would have liked more photos and discussion on what she's done in her own rooms as some of the room shots showed interesting things that I would have liked to see closer and learn about how/why she did them.
As the title indicates the rooms here have two themes. One is color, lots of it, mixed with thought but not looking too planned. Vibrant colours played across more subtle ones. She does discuss color palettes and layering of colors in the first chapter to get you familiar with good color design practices. The second theme is crafting. A lot of her home has been done by herself from painting to textiles to useful and decorative objects. Nothing here is too difficult for a beginner which is great. She also provides templates for the projects.
The areas she covers are: studio; garden and entryways; kitchen; living room; dining room; library; and upstairs bedrooms and stairway.
As a librarian, I also liked how she worked books into her rooms. It made it feel very cozy and comfortable to me.
Lots of ideas here, and I'll plan to put some into action.

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo

Finished September 19
The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer, read by the author

I always like to try listening to a book read by author when I see that option, and especially so from someone who performs for a living. Amy reading this herself makes it really come alive as she puts the emphasis where she intends and the jokes are hers entirely.
The book covers her life, so I'd consider it a memoir although it is organized by topics rather than in a strict timeline. She covers her family, her childhood and coming of age, her relationship and dating experiences, and she doesn't shy away from difficult topics from health to drinking to sex.
I really enjoyed the book and was laughing aloud on several occasions. But there are serious moments too. Amy is a woman who is from a generation younger than me, not afraid to show her strengths or stand up to those who would deny her rights or opportunities. She won't be judged. I like that a lot.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

BiblioTech

Finished September 16
BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google by John Palfrey

Unlike most books looking at the role of libraries, this book is written by someone not trained as a librarian, but who has come into the library world through work. Palfrey is the Head of School at Phillips Academy in Andover, and led the effort to reorganize the Harvard Law School Library. He is also the founding chairman of the Digital Public Library of America.
While Palfrey acknowledges the world of information we now live in, he makes good arguments for the library being more important than ever before.
He looks at libraries in their role as equalizing access to information, education, jobs, and technology. The library is a safe place, one of the few where people from many walks of life come together. He also acknowledges the threats to libraries, the struggle to adapt to rapid change, lack of funding, and lower government support. The book is divided into themed chapters, each looking at a different aspect of libraries and using examples to make the point.
The first chapter, crisis, outlines the situation and the threats facing libraries. The second chapter looks at who uses libraries and how they use libraries. The next chapter looks at the spaces that libraries occupy and offer, both physical and virtual. The fourth addresses platforms and how the move to the cloud impacts libraries.
Then we move to those libraries trying something different, in a chapter titles Hacking Libraries. There are many forward-looking librarians moving their libraries into new and interesting territory. The following chapter looks at the human network of librarians, a sharing community like few others. Then the topic is preservation, with a focus on preserving culture. Following this is a chapter on the important role libraries play in education. Finishing up the topics is a chapter on law and libraries, looking at copyright and privacy in particular.
He concludes with a chapter emphasizing the importance of libraries and what we stand to lose if they don't adapt to meet the needs of their communities. As yet another well written book on the importance of moving to a community-led model, this outlines many important aspects to consider for those libraries serious about planning their futures.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

The Accidental Empress

Finished September 15
The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki

This historical novel keeps to the facts for the most part, telling the story of Elizabeth, "Sisi," the Austro-Hungarian Empress of Franz Joseph from late childhood in 1853 until Hungarian self-rule was established in 1867. She was born a duchess of Bavaria and enjoyed a remarkably free childhood, spending a lot of time outdoors, riding horses and enjoying nature. Her mother's sister was the mother to the young Emperor, and held a great deal of power as she served as regent until he came of age. It is true that her accession to Empress was not planned. Her older sister was intended as the one to marry Franz Joseph, but he became enamored of the younger lively sister and fought to have her as his bride. While Pataki has written the conversations that take place between the various players here, she draws on my historical resources to do so, creating an entirely believable personal insight into the royal historical characters. Sisi was very young when she married, just sixteen, and she got pregnant almost immediately. Alone at court without anyone she felt close to, other than her maid, she would have been easily manipulated by those more experienced with court life.
She was beloved by the people, and that comes across well here, as does the special relationship that she developed with the Hungarian people, having a definite influence on the nation's development.
I enjoyed seeing her learn and grow in her chosen role. The loss of innocence was necessary in her circumstances, but she sounded true to life. In the author interview at the back of the book, it sounds like she plans to write more about this fascinating Empress, and I look forward to reading more about Sisi.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

The God's Eye View

Finished September 9
The God's Eye View by Barry Eisler, performed by the author

This thriller builds on the Snowden story. Theodore Anders is the director of the NSA and he wants to know everything about everyone, so he can "keep America safe". But he is so used to having control that when he finds he has lost it, he will take extreme measures to regain it.
Evelyn Gallagher works as a computer analyst at the NSA and has been the primary creator of a program that draws images from cameras around the work and applies biometrics to them to look for patterns and anomalies. When she sees two people together who shouldn't be in normal circumstances, she reports it. But when something happens to those two people shortly afterward, she begins to wonder if the director has taken steps beyond legal limits. She also wonders what she can do, and who she can tell, and if she herself is in danger. These are all good questions, She is a single mom, struggling to make a good life for her deaf son Dash. When she meets Manus, a kind man at a baseball game, and he is deaf, she finds herself drawn to him. Is she thinking of Dash or is something else attracting her.
Manus has his own issues, including an extremely difficult childhood, and an unswerving loyalty to the person who took him out of the negative trajectory he was on and sent him in a different direction. The feelings he begins to have for Evie and Dash are new to him, and he isn't sure how to interpret them.
As Anders grows more desperate and takes more and more extreme actions, we also learn just how much access he has to people's lives and their secrets. This is a scary view of the world of security and intelligence and one that seems increasingly possible.
This book offers scenarios that are terrifying, and there is lots of violence in the plot. But the people and their motivations are well drawn, and I was both mesmerized and horrified as I listened.