Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Unwritten: The Wound

The Unwritten, Vol. 7: The Wound Mike Carey and Peter Gross

We start with the Tinker and Pauly-Rabbit hanging out in a wasteland, encountering streams of fictional refugees, streaming from The Wave.

Then we switch to a detective in Australia, who partners up with Danny--the reader from the last issue in Tommy Taylor and the War of Words--to infiltrate the Tommy Taylor cult. Tom and Richie then go hide out and deal with some very real ghosts in Tom’s past.

This is a good “must set up next plot point” volume, but nothing spectacular. EXCEPT that it introduces us to Danny and Didge (the detective), and they are awesome and great additions. (Also, let’s give a shout to Didge, who’s Aboriginal and dyslexic. Turns out dyslexia is a pretty great defense against Pullman’s freaky fiction hand! Also, she’s generally awesome and literally kicks a lot of ass.)

Book Provided by... my local library

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Monday, September 01, 2014

The First 90 Days

The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter, Updated and Expanded Michael D. Watkins

I picked this up because Jessica Olin recommended it on Twitter as a follow up to her ALA panel on leadership, What I Really Want To Do Is Direct. If you don’t know, last September I made the leap from librarian to branch manager and in June, I transferred to a much bigger branch in our system.

Basically, the book looks what leaders need to do in the first 90 days (with some groundwork to lay before you start) at a new job, whether you’re new to the organization, new to the department, or just in a new role. It helps ease you into a new role to be successful, and to be successful relatively quickly.

One thing I really appreciated was how practical it was. Instead of being full of blithe platitudes, it was full of stuff like “you need to talk to your supervisor about x, y, and z. You need to talk to all of your direct reports about a, b, and c. You need to map out these 6 things.” Parts of it are a bit jargony, but explained well, and do give a useful framework to think and discuss certain things. It includes a lot of charts to fill in to help you think about the things he says you need to be thinking about.

He really stresses taking the time to learn different things (and he tells you what you need to learn) before you hit the ground running, to make sure you’re focusing on the right things for greatest impact and that you’re doing it in a way that’s most likely to succeed without burning bridges that shouldn’t be burned. It’s just extremely helpful and doable.

While its focus tends to be on high-level private sector/corporate transitions, the overall issues and Watkins instructions scale down and transfer pretty well, even to a public library. (I see he also has one on government jobs, but I haven’t read it and can’t comment on if it’s more applicable.)

I liked that the final chapter was about how professional transitions mean personal transitions, too, and working with your family and other people in your personal life to ease everything.

It also gets points for gender-inclusivity--the examples of new managers were evenly split between men and women, and when it talks about dealing with your new boss, the pronouns switch from he/him to she/her every other section.

Overall, it was really helpful, and I highly recommend that people transitioning into a new role read it, but preferably a month or two BEFORE the transition actually happens. I finished it on day 30, and while I still got a lot out of it, I would have gotten even more if I had finished it on day -30.


Book Provided by... my local library

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Tommy Taylor and the War of Words

The Unwritten Vol. 6: Tommy Taylor and the War of Words Mike Carey and Peter Gross

Tommy’s coming for the Cabal, but they’re not sure how to prepare for him. Pullman has some ideas, but no one wants to listen to him. We get A LOT of Pullman backstory here. He’s been the Cabal’s thug for millennia. Lots of exploits to cover. There’s even an entire issue of Pullman in Gilgamesh. Plus, we find out who/what Pullman is, exactly (although it’s already been heavily hinted at.) Also, some important backstory with Wilson and Mme. Rauch.

This is a much larger omnibus, and we also have the final showdown between Pullman and Tommy, and the results are… not good. (Setting up the next chapter in the overall story.)

We end with the story of one of the Cabal’s readers--how he got involved and his role in everything, even as a completely insignificant player.

This is where the series really drives home the point about story and how we use story in our lives, and the power story holds in our world.

I loved seeing Pullman through the ages--especially with Gilgamesh and how the art style changed depending on the time period. I think that’s another thing this series does really well--changing the art as things shift. Different time periods, different book, all have art that fits with that story, which is different art than the main story we’re telling. Very cool.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Duchessina

Here's a post that originally ran in the now-defunct Edge of the Forest

Duchessina: A Novel of Catherine de' Medici Carolyn Meyer

Catherine de’Medici is mostly known as the power behind the throne during the reigns of her ineffective sons, the kings of France. History has also placed her with the blame of the St. Bartholomew’s massacre in which over two thousand Huguenots were killed. Not much is known about the early life of Catherine de’Medici, beyond her use as a pawn in various Florentine power struggles.

In this latest installment in her Young Royals series, Carolyn Meyer’s imagination fills in the gaps in her story. Orphaned as an infant, she is known as Duchessina, the little Duchess after her duchy in Urbino. She grows up in Florence, in the Plaza de Medici under the watchful eye of her cardinal uncle, the future Pope Clement VII. After her guardian uncle assumes the pontificate, Italy is plunged into several wars against the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. Catherine is eight at the time and does not completely understand the political machinations at play as the citizens of Florence take the excuse to reassert their independence from Medici rule. Catherine is taken as a war hostage and sent to an anti-Medici convent. She then changes convents from time to time as the turmoil mounts and recedes. Eventually, Catherine is taken to Rome to be with the Pope as he arranges her marriage to the French dauphin.

Once in France, Catherine’s life does not become easier. It is obvious her new husband’s affections lie elsewhere. But, with the skills she has learned, she makes a place for herself.

This is an exciting tale with historic splendor, adventure, love, and true friendship. Unfortunately, the historical notes at the end act mainly as an epilogue to her life, not as illuminating background information to the events of the book. During the Italian Wars, the young Catherine does not fully understand the political maneuverings at play, and as she is the narrator, neither does the reader. Also, there is nothing to let the reader know which details of the story are fact, and which sprung from Meyer’s mind. It is also interesting to note that Catherine’s speaking voice is the same at the age of three as it is as an adult.

(note-- I did go an read an adult biography of her, Leonie Frieda's Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France, which I reviewed here in 2007)


Book Provided by... The Edge of the Forest, for review

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel Anthony Doerr

This book guys, oh this book.

It starts in Saint Malo, with the Allied bombing. Hiding in her house is Marie-Laure, 16 and blind. Hiding in a basement with the rest of his unit is Werner, 18 and a German soldier. It then jumps back to Marie-Laure growing up with her father in Paris, losing her eyesight, spending her days in the Museum of Natural History where her father works. It jumps back to Werner, growing up with his sister Jutta in a children’s home, destined at 15 to go work in the same mines that killed his father, until his skills with radios and mechanics mark him for something greater.

It occasionally flashes forward to the “now” of the bombing and for the most part alternates between their two stories. Occasionally other stories interrupt. There is a storied diamond, spirited away from the museum before the invasion that the Nazis are looking for and Marie-Laure may or may not have. There is Jutta in the children’s home. There is the after. There is Marie-Laure reading 10000 Leagues Under the Sea in Braille, her uncle who hasn’t left the house since returning from WWI. There is Werner trying to survive the Nazi Youth academy. Huddled with his sister and his short-wave radio, listening to a French professor broadcasting science lessons to children. There is the resistance--Marie-Laure helping it, Werner tracking it and ending it.

The chapters are short--usually only a few pages, but the writing is so magical. I love Doerr’s rhythm. Each sentence is perfect. Most of them are short, like the chapters, but contain so much. I like that, despite the dual stories and occasional jump in time, it’s a fairly straight forward story, but perfectly executed. This is one of the best, if not THE best book I’ve read this year, maybe longer. It’s not the story is mind-blowing (although the story is very good) but just the language and rhythm and overall, such perfect writing. I wanted to show you some, but individual sentences don't stand out, it's how it all adds up.

Such, such perfect writing.

This book guys, oh this book.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Orange is the New Black

Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison Piper Kerman

Piper used to run drug money for her then-girlfriend. 4 years after she got out of the game (when the girlfriend asked her to start running drugs, too) she was arrested. They also charged her with conspiracy and was subject to harsh mandatory minimum laws, so she plead guilty to hope for leniency at sentencing. She then waited. The US wanted to try the head of the operation, but needed to extradite him and wanted Kerman to testify against him as a civilian, not a prisoner. 6 years after pleading guilty, Kerman was sentenced to 15 months in minimum security.

This memoir focuses a bit on her life before Danbury, but mostly looks at her year in prison and what she learned about herself, the institution, and the societal and political structures we have in place to keep landing people there. Kerman does not have a lot of sympathy for our drug sentencing laws--especially the prosecutorial catch-all of the conspiracy charge. She knows how lucky she was in having the resources to have good legal counsel and saw many, many, many women who did a lot less than she did go down for a lot more time.

It is pretty eye-opening to the realities of the prison system--how it sets people up to fail, how it doesn’t actually fix our issues, but also the camaraderie underneath as people turn to each other to build family and support mechanisms in order to survive (mostly emotionally, though a bit physically).

One thing I appreciate about Kerman is she never denies that she did wrong. She never says she didn’t deserve to go to prison. In fact, it was in prison that she finally came face-to-face with the realities of the drug trade--not the people who go down for being in it, but the addicts and the what addiction does to people, families, and communities. And she doesn’t turn away from facing it and dealing with her shame and guilt (both moral and legal) head-on.

It’s an easy read, written in short sections and vignettes, part personal story, part character sketches of the people and scenes around her. The pacing works really well to move it ahead quickly. That said, it would benefit from tighter editing. I think many were originally written as a series of essays, and so some characters are introduced with the exact same language multiple times while others show up out of left field with no context given.

But, let’s be honest--I picked this up because I’m a fan of the show and wanted to check out the source material. So, how does the book compare? Well, book-Piper has a much better head on her shoulders than TV-Piper. She’s much more aware of her privilege and also knows how to keep her head down to avoid trouble and extra time. I often want to smack TV-Piper up against the head with a clue-stick when it comes to socioeconomic issues, but not so much with book-Piper (but, book-Piper also has the benefit of hindsight). Book-Larry is also much more together than TV-Larry.

Also, not surprisingly, there is a lot less drama in the book than the show. While Piper does eventually come face-to-face with her ex-girlfriend, it’s not until the end, and there are no lingering attraction issues. We also don’t get a good look at many of the other women in Danbury with Piper. Some of the nicknames are the same (Pennsatucky, Big Boo, and Delicious instead of Tastee) but they don’t have backstories and often the personalities we see on screen are nothing like the glimpses we see in the book. Other characters don’t have names, but you see some character traits to make them recognizable (such as the Russian kitchen boss, or the strict, older bunkmate, the aging hippie who teaches yoga and the activist nun) but the stories aren’t quite the same. On the reasons is in prison, you don’t ask, so Kerman just didn’t know the backstory of a lot of her fellow inmates.

I do recommend it to most people, but especially fans of the show. It’s fascinating and a fun read that doesn’t bog down, despite the repetition issues I mention above. Also, if you do watch the show, it’s really interesting to see which parts are TV and which parts are actually true.


Book Provided by... my local library

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Unwritten: On To Genesis

The Unwritten Vol. 5: On to Genesis Mike Carey and Peter Gross

Back story time! Through some fairly fun hijinks (involving explosions, the Cabal, and Madame Rauch), we see more of what Wilson Taylor was up to, both in the time before Tommy Taylor, but also in how he raised Tom and Lizzie. And the Cabal kicks its game up a notch.

So it doesn’t do much to develop overall plot, but it continues to answer some questions, and the back story is awesomely f-ed up. I like it involves comics-as-literature, and I like the introduction of The Tinker--an old-timey over-the-top superhero. It answers A LOT of questions and raises even more as the world and plot really start to make sense.

Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Steal Like an Artist

Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative Austin Kleon

Who ever had this one checked out before me left a some sticky arrows in the front cover, which was good, because I ended up using them.

This book is a short read--lots of graphics, fun typography, and white space, with some good advice about how to be creative and make your art.

Kleon’s basic point is that nothing is new anymore, so steal inspiration from things you enjoy. As he reminds us, even the Beatles started as a cover band. Also, if you steal from 1 person, that’s plagiarism. Stealing from many is research.

He tells the reader to think about the flaws you see in your favorite artists work--what could have been done differently? If they were still alive, what would they make today? If your 5 favorite artists got together and made something, what would it be? And then he tells us to go make those things.

I also like that he tells us to give our secrets away. Part of it is building a name for yourself, but he also reminds us that Martha Stewart built an empire on telling the world how she does stuff.

It was a great read and well-designed, with a lot of advice and inspiration on how to go out and make art. I really loved it and now I need my own copy to mark up and reread on a regular basis.

Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Last Gleaming

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight Volume 8: Last Gleaming Joss Whedon, Georges Jeanty, Scott Allie

So, Twilight would have been a logical conclusion to the season, but no, this one’s all about consequences, so it takes a bit of a left turn here in a way that actually works.

So, Buffy and Angel can never just be happy--no when they had superpower sex they created an entire universe, and Buffy then abandoned it to return to Earth. But nature, even on other planes, abhors a vacuum and, well, there are consequences to creating a universe, and there are consequences to abandoning it. It all ties back to the seed of wonder--the root of magic on Earth that turns out is physical object… and it’s in Sunnydale.

The question is what to do with it--protect it? Destroy it? Give it away? The gang goes back to the beginning--back to Sunnydale and back to the Protector, who is an awesome bit of “casting” on the part of Whedon et. al. Some very nice parallels with the beginning of the series (and by that, I mean the first season that was on TV beginning of the series).

And of course, at the end of Twilight, we had Spike show up in a goddamned spaceship piloted by giant cockroaches because OF COURSE SPIKE NOW HAS A GODDAMNED SPACESHIP PILOTED BY GIANT COCKROACHES. (This makes me joyously happy, both for the WTF?! factor, but also because I just love Spike. Who doesn’t love Blondey-Bear?)

Things never go right in Sunnydale, and what happens there is devastating on so many levels, making it surprisingly satisfying end to the season, and perfectly setting up the Angel & Faith spinoff.

And oh man, I thought this season dealt well with the consequences of creating a slayer army? There are MAJOR consequences to what goes down in Sunnydale--ones that are going to haunt Buffy & Co. for a long, long time.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Hollywood Sisters: Caught on Tape

Here's another reprinted review from the much-missed Edge of the Forest

The Hollywood Sisters: Caught on Tape Mary Wilcox

Life in Hollywood can be crazy, but for Jessica Ortiz, it’s not tabloid party-girl crazy. In this third installment of The Hollywood Sisters, Jess’s romantic complications continue, an overzealous tour company is eluding the police, plus there’s always drama on the set, and not just the scripted kind.

Jess’s TV star sister, Eva, has decided that, in order to speed things up on the Jeremy front, it’s time for fake-boyfriend Heathcliff to appear in person. Only she cast the brother of Jess’s creepy ex-boyfriend.

Not only has the Golden Tours bus company figured out where the Ortiz’s live, they’ve been pulling into the driveway! And it’s not just the Ortiz’s house—somehow this tour group even knows when gated houses are open, and always when the police are on the other side of the neighborhood.

Meanwhile, on the set, Lavender’s ex-boyfriend is pulling some very nasty, and very public, practical jokes on her. Jess knows it’s Murphy, but how is he getting onto the set? And how will she find out when she’s spending all of her time avoiding this week’s Very Special Guest Star?

A light, quick read, Caught on Tape shows the craziness of life in Hollywood, while featuring well-grounded characters that non-starlets can identify with. Jessica solves mysteries through observation and quick thinking. I also appreciate that her frequent poems read like they were written by the teenager she is. Overall, Hollywood Sisters is a very entertaining and fun series for tweens and teens.


Book Provided by... The Edge of the Forest, for review

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.