Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Announcing a new series!

In the new year I'll be starting a new annual series that will present the library staff's favorites from the previous year.  Each Friday in January a new installment of the series will post, and you'll get to see not only my favorite reads from 2014, but you'll also get a taste of what Miss Sheila and some other staff members here at the library were reading and loving over the past year.

In the meantime, you can check out what I've read in 2014 and what I thought about it (because you know I have strong opinions about some of these books!) by clicking the links in the Blog Archive on the right side of the screen.  And if you also read some of these books after hearing about them here on the blog, I want to hear about that too!  You can tell me what you thought about them in the comments for this post.

What did you read in 2014?  What were your favorites from the past year?  Share those in the comments too!  We want to hear from you!

--posted by Ms. Angie

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Faker's Guide to the Classics: Everything You Need To Know About the Books You Should Have Read (But Didn't) by Michelle Witte

I haven't been reading many (okay, any) books lately, but I read this one back in September.  The Faker's Guide by Michelle Witte is an alphabetical (by title) collection of summaries of all the classics that you "should have read but didn't."  From Jane Austen to Charles Dickens to Mark Twain and Edith Wharton to Dostoyevsky and Dumas, this collection of cheater's guides covers British literature, American literature, as well some titles from Spanish and Russian literature.

Each summary is fairly short and told in a tone and with language and commentary meant to keep the reader's interest.  However, the snarkiness that is prevalent in each summary grows old after several pages and instead comes across as try hard.  In many instances the snark confuses a reader not familiar with the plots and characters of these classic novels.  The author also has a penchant for nicknaming characters, and this is another element that causes confusion especially for readers not familiar with many of the titles.  The snarky quips also detract from the overall clarity of the summaries.  Some instances of quips read instead as typos or mangled turns of colloquialisms. By the end of the book the snarky quips and overall mocking tone of each summary becomes downright annoying.

If you're someone who has always meant to read more classics but never quite got around to it, this book is meant for you.  However, if you're a student looking for a short cut around reading some chunky assigned reading for school, steer clear because these bare bones summaries leave a lot out.

Reviewed by Ms. Angie

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

All Roads Lead to Austen: A Year-long Journey With Jane by Amy Elizabeth Smith

All Roads Lead to Austen: A Year-long Journey With Jane is Amy Elizabeth Smith's first book.  Smith is a tenured university professor in California who teaches literature; she specializes in Jane Austen novels (and is an Austen enthusiast), and she teaches a course in Austen novels.  The premise of this book was to travel to six different Central and South American countries to meet with both formal and informal reading groups to discuss various Jane Austen novels.  The groups read Austen in Spanish translation, and Smith wanted to find out if these readers connected with and reacted to Austen's novels in the same way that her students back home did.  Smith also wanted to find out if Spanish language readers thought Austen's themes were universal enough to translate across time and cultures.

Ya'll know I'm a sucker for an English period drama.  I've seen all of Austen's novels in film adaptation form (but sadly have never any of her novels).  So when this book popped up in the new titles list on the online catalog of the library website, the Austen in the title is what grabbed my attention.  Intrigued, I thought I'd give this book a try.  And overall, I'm glad that I did.

The introduction and first pages of the first chapter were slow and at first I wasn't sure the story would keep my attention.  However, after a few chapters I was all in.  The slowest parts of the book for me were when the author was describing the geography and physical settings of the countries.  The most fascinating were the descriptions of the reading groups' interactions and reactions to the Austen novels as well as the discussion of cultural differences, the gender roles in the different countries, and the history of each country visited.

The author's various personal struggles with the language barrier and her health as well as her account of her fledgling (mostly) long distance romance also add many layers to the story.  I also enjoyed reading about her trips to local bookstores and identified with her love of books, reading and acquiring various used and new books.  However, as someone who can spend hours perusing titles in a bookstore or a library, I have long ago committed to acquiring my reading selections pretty much solely from the local library system.  (This has saved me much money and book shelf space and makes the most sense for someone who never re-reads a book.)

As part of her literary adventure the author asked those who participated in her reading groups to recommend authors from their countries who were important to their national literature, were required reading in school or were very popular, best selling authors.  Reading about these authors and the literature scene in these countries and how it differs from American or British literature was also pretty interesting.  Through these authors and their works, Smith also touched a little bit on the history of each nation's literature and the development of each country's respective national literature.

While this book's built in readership is obviously Jane Austen enthusiasts, fans and scholars, ultimately I think any book or literature lover and anyone who considers themselves an avid reader will enjoy this book.  People who like to read about travel will also enjoy this book and it's original approach to the genre of travel literature.  I hope you will check this book out the next time you visit the library.

--Review by Ms. Angie

Friday, September 12, 2014

You Know When The Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon

You Know When The Men Are Gone is the debut short story collection by Siobhan Fallon.  Fallon writes from experience as she is the wife of a military serviceman, and the family was once stationed at Fort Hood where these stories are set.  This collection was also among the five finalists for the One Book One Community 2015 title selection; local readers were voting on their choice for the selection throughout the month of August, and the winner will be announced in October, while the reading (of the selection) will take place in February.  I don't normally read the OBOC selection (sorry not sorry); in the past there have been a couple titles that I had already read (years) prior to their selection as the campaign book.

This is a collection of loosely interconnected short stories populated by the soldiers and their spouses stationed at Fort Hood.  Each story focuses on the lives and perspectives of different characters, such as the deployed soldiers in country, the returned soldiers struggling to re-integrate into civilian life or the spouses left behind to worry about the safety and well being of their deployed husbands while they struggle to hold together their families on the home front.  The characters are bound together by the cavalry regiment to which they (or their spouses) are assigned.

I'm not normally a fan of short stories (they're too short and at the end you're like, wait, what was the point?), but something about this particular collection grabbed me.  The stories go by fast, and I think they benefit from the interconnectedness of the characters--for example, characters from one story might pop up in another story.  Each story is in itself heartbreaking, sad, and heavy with the struggles, fears and worries of its characters.  You can easily read through this short story collection in a day because it's hard to put down, the stories are compelling and it is an easy read.  I recommend that you pick it up the next time you visit the library.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Nine Years Under: Coming of Age In An Inner-City Funeral Home by Sheri Booker

Lately I've been on a run of non-fiction--this is unusual for me because (and I know I say this every time I review a non-fiction book) non-fiction and I generally don't get along.  Every once in a while though, I find a non-fiction book that sticks and I read it AND I finish it.  Nine Years Under: Coming of Age In An Inner-City Funeral Home is Sheri Booker's first book... well, actually it isn't because during the course of the book she talks a little about how she's published a collection of poetry.  But this is her first prose book.  I saw this title come up in the New Titles list in the online catalog, and since I'd recently come across a review for another memoir set in a funeral home and added it to my reading list, I thought I'd request Nine Years Under and read it.

This is a quick and easy read and Booker's writing style is easily accessible.  There are a few quibbles--for example, there are a few passages in which the chronology and/or those people involved in the action of those passages and the actions ascribed to them are confusing.  I think it was a partially a pronouns issue in one of the passages.  In one such passage the author drops a huge bombshell regarding a family member's health and then after those paragraphs the issue isn't even mentioned for several chapters.  Meanwhile, I'm like, WHAT IS HAPPENING IS (S)HE GOING TO DIE?

Starting in high school, the author spends nine years working part time for a funeral home owned and run by a deacon in her church.  The account focuses heavily on her work in and for the funeral home, while some personal stories about her family and romantic life are shared.  Booker starts strictly as an office employee, answering phones and letting people in the front door when the buzzer rings.  By the time she's spent just a couple years working in the mortuary business, she has graduated to assisting with viewings, prepping bodies for services, and some accounting tasks.

This is clearly a business in which one sees it all, from family dramas and histrionics to unspeakable tragedies to murderers coming to the funeral to view the bodies of their victims.  There is clearly no shortage of dramatic stories.  When the funeral home itself becomes a crime scene after gunshots break out at the funeral of gang member because a rival gang wants payback, I'm surprised Booker's parents don't put an end to the funeral home job (although by this time, Booker may have been in college).

This memoir offers a fascinating and interesting glimpse inside the day to day business of a family owned funeral home in Baltimore.  And in many ways the business of the funeral home in which Booker worked serves as a window onto the rough streets and struggles of one of the most crime ridden cities in America.  It's also interesting to see how funeral customs differ even within the United States.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie