Sunday 29 May 2016

The Long Fall

Finished May 27
The Long Fall by Walter Mosley, read by Mirron Willis

I enjoyed the last Walter Mosley book so much that I sought out another of his series. This one feature the private detective Leonid McGill and is set in New York City, mostly. This is the first book in this series and the time is 2008. Leonid has a shady background, one where he did a lot of looking for people for on the criminal side, without asking questions about why they wanted that information. He has also planted information on people he deemed as "not good," to fit his own or others' narratives. That is, in fact, how he got his current office space.
He is trying to go straight, to do legitimate work, but it is harder to disentangle himself from his past than he thought. He does a seemingly simple job of looking for four men based on their descriptions and nicknames in their youth, but begins to grow suspicious of the motive behind the search when he locates the final man of the four. But he needs the money, and the story seems believable, so he provides the information.
The characters introduced here are interesting. Leonid's wife, come back to him after an ill-fated separation, but now untrustworthy. His landlord representative, for whom he has more than professional feelings. His old clients, who still want his expertise and won't take no for an answer. The cop who knows he's done some sketchy things, and has his eye on him for good. His former associates, some of who he still relies on for their expertise and connections. Those who owe him something and are willing to do him favours because of that. His younger son, who has a good heart and immense charm, but who doesn't always make the best choices.
I will definitely be looking for more in this series.

The "Natural Inferiority" of Women

Finished May 23
The "Natural Inferiority" of Women: Outrageous Pronouncements by Misguided Males compiled by Tama Starr

This collection of quotations about the inferiority of women has been collected and organized into categories. The quotes range from the ancients to the modern, from the pithy to the weighty and include philosophers, writers, entertainers, religious figures, medical practitioners and political leaders. Some will have you open-mouthed, others laughing out loud. and still others dismayed beyond expectations. There is humour here, but the sheer volume and extent of this viewpoint toward women collected together in one place felt overwhelming in a bad, bad way. The book starts with a sadly true (even with this volume included) quote from 1614 that translates from the Latin to "One volume could never contain all the insults and satires against women."
The quotes are separated into two parts: Evil is Woman and Domesticating the Female. Each part has a few chapters. The Evil is Woman part has separate chapters for: What Is Woman?, Her Lesser Biology, Unclean and Disgusting, Insatiable as the Grave, Evil Is Woman, and The Wise Man Will Avoid Them. The Domesticating the Female part has separate chapters for: The Law of Obedience, Beat Your Wife, Women Are Masochistic, The Virtuous Woman, Her Proper Sphere, Educating the Female, and Woman's Contemptible Weaknesses.
So, you are probably wondering why I have this book to begin with. It was a gift a few years ago from my mother-in-law's cat who, although a female, obviously has limited understanding of her purchases. She apparently paid less than a dollar for it, as she has a limited budget, as she explained in the accompanying note.
Unique and definitely odd, this book had me wanting to read aloud some of the worst bits which, thankfully, my husband also found mind-boggling.

Mata Hari's Last Dance

Finished May 19
Mata Hari's Last Dance by Michelle Moran

This novel takes the real life events of the woman known as Mata Hari and builds a fascinating story around them. Mata Hari was born Margaretha Zelle in the Netherlands. Her father left the family when she was young and her mother died soon after. She married young and went to Java with her husband, but dissatisfaction with the marriage and personal tragedy caused her to leave.
Trying to find work as a dancer in Paris, she was discovered by the lawyer Edouard Clunet, and that is where this novel begins in 1904. We see her take her natural skills both physical and mental, and turn them into something that drew others to her, even as it fed her insecurity. Her relationship with Clunet was not like the ones she cultivated with her many lovers and patrons, and she confided her real concerns to him. Her insecurity and love of the limelight drove her to her fate.
As the book unfolds, we learn of her past, She was not highly educated in a formal way, but her natural curiosity led her to read voraciously on subjects that interested her, and she spoke many languages. She met a local woman in Java that taught her how to dance and her curiosity fed her knowledge about the culture she adopted. Her patrons included Guimet, the Rothschilds, Jeanne de Loynes, and Givency, but she was always drawn to military men above others, and it was one of these who spoke up on her behalf at her trial.
Mata Hari was executed by firing squad for treason on October 15, 1917, as a symbol during a difficult period of the war. Her trial was held in secret and facts that did not support her guilt were dismissed without consideration. This book unveils her life in a new way and was gripping.

Saturday 28 May 2016

18 Minutes

Finished May 9
18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction and Get the Right Things Done by Peter Bregman

This very helpful business book outlines a process that helps you manage your productivity. Because we are living is a world of constant change, it is easy to lose focus and get caught up in expectations that can limit you.
The first step Bregman has you take is to pause briefly. This pause serves to refuel, refocus towards what is important to you, and create an environment to aim yourself at your goals more accurately. During this pause you need to look around, and see things in a way that is open to the unexpected, that lets you take a step back and include yourself in that examination.
The next things you have to do is look at the upcoming year and find your focus. This isn't always easy, and to get you started he has you start with four elements, The first element is your strengths, and to do things suited to those strengths. The second element is your weaknesses, and to embrace them and act in a way that these are an asset rather than a liability. The third element is your differences, what you bring to the game that is different from what others bring. Don't try to blend in. The fourth element is your passion, which again sometimes we have to stop to figure out. Pursuing something you desire, focusing on wants instead of shoulds to the extent that pursuit of that will persist through those times you feel you aren't making progress. For our passions, hard work will feel easier. Bregman suggests around 5 areas of focus with 3 work-related and 2 personal, and to aim at spending 95% of your time on them. These should be things that will make the most difference in your life. One line I really liked from this section is "The time to judge your successes or failures is never."
There are a few things to watch out for when doing this and Bregman gives some pointers in how to deal with them when they arise. These are: fear of failure, paralysis, tunnel vision, and a rush to judgment. Life will get busy and obligations will appear to distract you from these areas of focus, and this leads us to the next step.
Here, Bregman has us focus on the day, taking one day at a time. It is important to have a plan for your day to keep moving in the right direction. This means making an organized list of tasks, focused in those five areas you identified. Choosing what to ignore is important in this. For those things that are important, setting a time and place to do those tasks will help you to get them done. As he says, when looking at a task you have four choices: do it now, schedule it, let it go, or put it on a waiting list. He suggests never leaving things on a to-do list for more than three days without doing one of these things with it. It is easy for things to fall through the cracks; calls that we don't return, emails we don't answer, not really listening to others. Bregman says that many of us live in a constant state of dissatisfaction where we feel ineffective, insufficient, and so disappoint ourselves. One way he suggests tackling this is interrupting yourself on an hourly basis to refocus. Another tactic he suggests is taking a few minutes at the end of the day thinking about what you learned and who you should connect with. He supplies a few questions to ask yourself at this time.
This is where the next step comes in, the one referred to in the book's title, 18 minutes. Here where those minutes are: for the first five minutes of your day, before turning on your computer, sit down with your to-do list and decide what will make the day successful, then schedule those things into your calendar. For one minute every hour, refocus. At the end of your day, take five minutes, shut off your computer and review the day.
By building each day's plan on your annual focus areas, making choices about where to spend your time and energy effectively, paying attention to those things daily to keep yourself on track, you will get the important things done. Bregman could have ended the book here, but he knows human nature and so he included a section on dealing with distractions. The first set of distractions are those around getting started. Dealing with these, Bregman calls this "mastering your initiative." You need to create the right environment that naturally compels you to do the things you want to get done. You only need a few seconds of motivation to get started on a task, and being aware of when you need to turn this motivation on is key. One insight here is that we are not motivated by money, we are motivated by fun and by fear. Fear can be a catalyst to change, but pleasure is what keeps you going. Choose both. Tell yourself a good story that inspires you to move in the right direction. Venturing into a fantasy world in your mind can provide support.
The second set of distractions is those brought to us by others. Dealing with these, Bregman calls "mastering your boundaries." He provides a set of three questions to ask yourself when faced with these. In addition, he counsels us to mean it when we say no, to not wait too long once something arises so that others are aware of our boundaries, and to allow a few moments of transition time when changing tasks. Mastering boundaries involves paying attention and he offers several pointers here. He also discusses the issues around disconnecting when away from work, giving some strategies.
The third set of distractions are those we create ourselves. Bregman calls dealing with these "mastering yourself." Again he provides several strategies: use intentional distractions as an asset; don't multitask, don't be a perfectionist, and define the situation,
As he concludes, your next step in one thing. Do it.

Asking For It

Finished May 9
Asking For It by Louise O'Neill

This teen novel is set in the Irish town of Ballinatoom, where Emma O'Donovan is a young woman who uses her beauty and popularity to get what she wants, or at least what she thinks she wants. She is the dominant one in a group of 4 girls, with the others being Jamie, Maggie, and Ali. She values her reputation, but still is willing to use her body to get the boy that she wants. She doesn't want to be seen as afraid of trying things, even though she really is. She counsels her friends to deal with bad things that happen to them quietly, and not make a fuss. So when she goes out to a party when her parents are away overnight, and they find her on the doorstep the next day in very bad shape, she works to protect her reputation. She doesn't remember exactly what happened anyway, and despite knowing inwardly some of what she happened is not what she would choose, she tries to move forward as if nothing had happened, but when it turns out that pictures were taken and circulated, she doesn't know what to do, or how to react.
This is a story of peer pressure, of a culture of risky behaviour, and of bad choices. This is not the book I expected as I began it, and yet it is a book that speaks to the realities of some young women.

Saturday 7 May 2016

One Foot in the Grave

Finished May 4
One Foot in the Grave by Jeaniene Frost, read by Tavia Gilbert

This is the second novel in the Night Huntress series, but the first I've read. Cat Crawfield is a young woman who is half-vampire, half-human. Her mother hates and fears vampires and Cat found out her nature when she was sixteen. She is now in her early twenties and is a special agent for the FBI, leading a team who goes after rogue members of the undead. As the book starts, Cat learns that she has been targeted for assassination, and is facing great danger. When someone from her past reappears in her life, she must decide whether he offers a real future and protection or more danger than she can live with.
The voice of Cat here comes across as young, loyal to her men, yet a tad on the over-confident side. She doesn't just do her job, she engages in trash talk while doing so. She lets her emotions rule her actions sometimes, leading her into more difficult situations.
This is a book of fantasy and eroticism, with graphic sex scenes, and crude language. It is an action novel with a strong dose of paranormal.

Monday 2 May 2016

Letting Go of Legacy Services

Finished May 2
Letting Go of Legacy Services: Library Case Studies edited by Mary Evangeliste and Katherine Furlong

Libraries are being asked to do more with less these days, and many of us find it difficult to stop offering services that we've been offering for years to free up resources for those new things people want us to provide. The libraries here looked at the concept of planned abandonment, a concept popularized by Peter Drucker, and how it applies to libraries. Also included are several interviews that look at solutions to common pressure points.
This book contains a number of case studies of libraries who have taken a good hard look at either those things "we've always done" or things "we've always done that way" and determined if they are still worth doing or if they should be done differently. Each case study is wrapped up with a summary by the editors called Bookend.
Case studies included here are:
* a college library that changed the way they provide periodicals to their patrons.
* a county library system that took a good look at their web-based services, overhauled their website and improved community outreach.
* a university library that eliminated their reserve services.
* a university library that redefined reference service.
* a university library that used a series of crisis situations over six years to redefine mission critical services.
* a university library that used ethnographic research techniques to help them redefine library spaces to better meet student needs, reexamine resource delivery, checkout service, fines, ILL, and equipment lending.
* a university library who used collaborative strategic planning to facilitate the shift towards electronic resources.
* a public library who responded to a natural disaster and a financial crisis to look for efficiency opportunities in technical services, acquisitions, and cataloging.
* a university library used surveys and space analysis to create more useful spaces for their patrons

Interviews include:
* talking with David Consiglio about data driven decision making in a library context
* talking with Valerie Diggs about communication strategies for successful change

The conclusion to this book provides a lot of reflection on change in the library community. One sentence in particular spoke to me: "Among the many things we need to abandon is the nostalgia that unfortunately gives us an inaccurate perception of the past and hinders discussions of the present, and the future of libraries." Insights here range from the urgency of library as space for our communities to come together in a variety of ways, you can never had enough communication, and that fostering leadership and diversity is a necessity.

Sophie's Throughway

Finished May 2
Sophie's Throughway by Jules Smith

This short novel was fun and insightful. Sophie is a writer for an unnamed magazine, and struggling with her personal life. She has two teenagers, Bryony, who is 14, and Brendon, who is 15.  Brendon has been recently diagnosed with Asperger's and PDA. I hadn't heard of PDA before, and learned it stands for Pathological Demand Avoidance, and is often associated with Asperger's. Brendon is very bright, but is having behavioural issues, which is particularly a problem at school. At home, it has created enough issus that Karl, Sophie's husband has left the family.
Sophie has been missing work to deal with Brendon's issues, and while she has an understanding boss, and makes up her work from home as much as she can, she worries about how this affects the other staff members.
The novel has a chicklit feel to it, with the social nature of Sophie's job, and her open communication with her children, but also more substance with the insight into having a child affected by these conditions. Sophie's got a good approach to it, and is better able to handle Brendon when he is in the midst of an inappropriate episode than Karl, but she's not a saint and that makes the book feel more real.

Sunday 1 May 2016

The Consciousness of Cats

Finished May 1
The Consciousness of Cats by Nigel J. Borthwick

This short novel tells the story of Nathan Blakemore, a young man with a master's degree in philosophy, who, as the story begins works as a part-time professor of philosophy and as a salesman for music equipment. When he was a bit younger, he was a sound engineer for a moderately successful rock band. He has a good friend that he talks philosophy with, Charmaine, who is a few years younger than him. Charmaine works as a cocktail waitress and is at university studying psychology. Her mother has had some issues with alcohol as well as psychological challenges. Charmaine is a very calm, reasoned young woman, and even as the two become closer, she holds Nathan at a distance.
Nathan feels his life is missing something, so he is determined to move on and not wait for Charmaine to tell him what is holding her back. He volunteers for a long-term assignment in the Philippines and enjoys the projects there and the people he meets. When a crisis occurs that changes his life forever, Charmaine re-enters his life briefly, and then leaves him to recover on his own. As Nathan learns strategies and tools to help him live with his new reality, he also finds that his life has grown larger and more satisfying.
This is a book of a man learning how to deal with his life more thoughtfully, taking a step back to control his impulses and gaining something for that.

Sleeping Giants

Finished April 30
Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

This debut novel is a winner. This is wonderful science fiction, with a very human touch. When Rose Franklin turned eleven, she took her new bike out at dusk for a ride and made a discovery she didn't understand until years later. Following a strange light, she fell into a hole that hadn't been there before, knocking herself out and waking hours later while being rescued. Later one of the rescuers brings her a picture that shows her from above, in the palm of a giant metal hand.
Rose always loved science and went into physics as her career. Now, years later, she is being asked to head a research team involving that hand, and potentially other body parts.
The story is told in a series of interviews and journal entries, similar to that of World War Z, and for me it had a similar feel to it. The interviewer is an unnamed man, one with power and influence, who sees a bigger picture and plans far ahead. He chooses most of the people involved in the project as it develops and changes, but not all.
The other main characters here are two US military pilots, a woman, Kara Resnik, and a man, Ryan Mitchell, as well as a French Canadian linguist, Vincent Couture.
As they realize what they are dealing with they must reconcile their own feelings about it and the power it possesses. This discovery will change the world, but in which direction will it take us. Not all questions are answered here, and the ending provides an interesting twist. This is the first in a planned series, and I will be looking with interest for the sequels.
I found it interesting that the author has a similar background to one of the characters, and, of course, I always love to find out about a new Canadian author, so lots to love about this book.

Indian Horse

Finished April 26
Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

This novel follows Saul Indian Horse, a man who has hit bottom in his life, and while at a native healing centre looks back on his life to see what brought him to where he is now.
He looks back at his early life on the land with his brother, parents, grandparents, and other family members, particularly when they camp on the remote island that is special to his family.
He tells of his experience being brought to residential school, and of the priest that introduced him to hockey. Saul gradually reveals his life, those that influenced it for good and bad, those that he still feels something for, and the things that matter most to him.
Saul has natural skills for many things, and he gradually comes to accept these for what they can do for him.
This is a story of the impact of residential schools, here fictional, but real for so many. This is a story that brings some of that impact to readers in a meaningful way. This book had me laughing, crying, and touched deeply. Wagamese is a master writer, and when telling stories like this you can see that clearly. An amazing read.
A colleague urged me to take this book off my shelf where it had been lingering and once I did, I had trouble putting it down. I urge every Canadian who hasn't already read this book to do so. Besides being winning the 2013 Canada Reads People's Choice, this book was also shortlisted for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, winner of the First Nations Community Read, and on the Globe and Mail top 100 list for 2012.

The Great American Whatever

Finished April 26
The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle, read by the author

This YA novel tells the story of sixteen-year-old Quinn Roberts from his point of view. Quinn wanted to be a screenwriter from a young age, after meeting the older brother of his new neighbour who was just starting out in the industry. He corralled his older sister Annabeth and his best friend Geoff into his dream. Annabeth directed the movies he wrote and Geoff was the main actor.
But as the book opens, we learn that Annabeth died six months ago in a car accident, and Quinn has retreated into his room since then, with little contact with others. His mother has also retreated into a world of sadness, leaving mail unopened and not going out. Quinn has been getting some therapy, through Skype sessions, but it isn't until Geoff forces him out on an excursion to replace his dead air conditioner that he starts to move on. The two buy the air conditioner, but go on to a party hosted by Geoff's older sister, who's at college, and Quinn begins to interact with others. At first it is with these college kids, who don't know about the tragedy in his life, but it gradually expands.
Quinn begins to understand that he's not the only one grieving Annabeth, and he needs to realize his dreams still have possibilities.
Quinn is gay, but has never admitted that to anyone, not even Annabeth or Geoff, and as he comes out of his self-imposed retreat from the world, he also begins to come out personally. This is a story of loss and grief, of growth and risk. It is a coming of age story with a twist. There is humour and sadness, but above all great writing, and the author's reading makes it come to life thoroughly.