Monday, September 22, 2014

The Family Romanov

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia Candace Fleming

It opens with an imperial ball in 1903 to celebrate St. Petersburg’s 200th anniversary, the story then jumps back to the childhood of Nicholas II and Alexandra. It starts getting more in-depth once they are married, which is the same time that Nicholas II becomes Tsar. What follows is a horrific story of incompetence and willful ignorance and a population pushed to action in order to survive.

I knew Imperial Russia had problems, and I knew Nicholas II wasn’t the greatest ruler, but holy crap. Fleming paints a bleak picture that offers them very little redemption. Running parallel to the story of the Romanov family is an introduction to early 20th century Russian history, looking at what life was like for ordinary Russians and the causes and starts of the Revolution. The story seamlessly works in quotations pulled from journals and other primary source documents.

Despite covering so much, she keeps it very readable and it’s a great introduction to the subjects, but I think that readers who already know about the topics covered will get a lot out of it as well. It has two different inserts of photographs and frequently in the text is a pull-out box titled “Beyond the Palace Gates” which contains the words of someone else--a soldier, a factory worker, a reporter, a peasant--to add contrast and context to the main narrative.

The package wins further points with it'scomprehensive back matter--endnotes, bibliography, index-- and being a teen-friendly trim size. (I have very strong feelings on trim size for teen nonfiction. It's a surprisingly huge factor in appeal.)

Overall, it is fascinating and horrifying, and just really well-done and put together. I highly recommend it and keep an eye out for it come award season.

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.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Fairest: Return of the Maharaja

Fairest Vol. 3: The Return of the Maharaja Sean E. Williams, Bill Willingham, Stephen Sadowski, Phil Jimenez

Check it out! Prince Charming is alive! And back!

And that’s the best thing I can say about this volume.

After dying in the battle against the adversary, Prince Charming comes back (which we all knew he would eventually, right? He’s much too powerful) but doesn’t want to go back to the mundy and instead becomes a ruler in an Indus fable world. There he meets a woman, Nalayani, who’s come to ask for help. Her village lost all its men to the adversary and is now constantly being attacked by roaming bands and they’re about to be wiped out. Charming is also facing issues as there are those who aren’t fond of having a white foreigner ruling them.*

I do like Nalayani because she’s awesome, but she’s also a new character and not having lived with her for years, I just didn’t care as much about her as I did about Charming or some of the other Fables characters.

Charming… has lost a lot of character growth. When we first met him, he was an arrogant ass, but over the series he had mellowed and matured, but he’s reverted back to all jack-ass charm and lost what made him a deeper, more likeable character.

But here’s my real problem-- the great romances of Fables have all been a slow burn building up through multiple story arcs. If Charming is *finally* going to meet someone for him, someone “better” than Snow or Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, we need the slow burn. We need to get to know Nalayani, we need to see them get to know each other and fall in love. The whole execution seemed rush and I never bought that Charming liked her more than he likes most awesome women, and Nalayani’s affections seem to turn on a dime. Overall, its was just really disappointing.


*this is problematic, as Charming is set up as the good guy, and those who aren’t into colonization are the bad guys. It's kinda worked out in the end, but ergh. But this whole issue is ergh, so...


Book Provided by... my wallet

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, September 18, 2014

Fairest: Hidden Kingdom

Fairest Vol. 2: Hidden Kingdom Lauren Beukes, Bill Willingham, Inaki Miranda

This is a bit of a jump-back in time from where the main series is. With the “present day” happening in 2002, so the action is pretty firmly at the beginning of the series, with lots of flashback to Rapunzel’s back story.

So, like most fairy tales, Rapunzel has a dark edge that we tend not to retell. In the original, the witch discovers the prince because Rapunzel is pregnant. She casts Rapunzel into the desert where she gives birth to twins. The prince gets tangled in brambles trying to climb the tower, is blinded by the thorns and is also cast into the desert. They all wander around for like 20 years before they find each other, Rapunzel’s tears of joy cure his eyesight and only then do they all live happily-ever-after.

In the Fables world, Frau Tottenkinder is the witch that imprisoned Rapunzel. She casts her out, Rapunzel gives birth, and she’s told her children die during childbirth. She’s always known that they survived and has spent centuries searching for them. At one point, she tries to drown herself but washes up on the shores of a Japanese fable kingdom (named the Hidden Kingdom).

In the present day, she gets a message via attacking crane origami that there is news of her children. She meets up with friends and enemies from her old adopted homeland, and Tokyo’s version of Fabletown where the present is tied with the fall of the Hidden Kingdom to the adversary's forces.

I loved this one. I loved the look at Japanese mythology and fables, how they played in their homeland and how they survive in the modern Mundy world. I liked the old school “present day” with Jack running his schemes, Snow and Bigby in the business office and Frau Tottenkinder doing her thing on the 13th floor of the original building. It was a nice return to the beginning. But more than that, I loved Rapunzel’s story and her strength. We don’t see a lot of her, as she’s not allowed to leave Fabletown because of her hair and she’s been kinda shoved to the side in this series.

There’s also a tantalizing clue about the truth about her daughters, that I don’t believe we’ve seen the answer to yet. (I’m trying to rack my brain, as this happens so far in the past to see if we’ve seen them and not known it, or if they have yet to come up.)

This is my favorite volume in the Fairest spin-off series.

Book Provided by... my wallet

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, September 17, 2014

The Unwritten Fables

The Unwritten Vol. 9: The Unwritten Fables Mike Carey, Bill Willingham, Peter Gross, Mark Buckingham

I was so excited for the one. Tom Taylor is trying to fix Leviathan and ends up in the middle of the witches from the 13th floor of Fables (which is my favorite comic) But, in the end… ugh.

Basically, it’s an alternate Fables universe where Mr. Dark has won and the Fables are barely hanging on (most won’t survive.) This is how alternate it is--Snow White is married to Mr. Dark and they’re keeping Bigby prisoner (and Mr. Dark has conquered all of Earth and is moving on to other realms.)

As such, the witches summon the “greatest wizard who never was, but might be” and end up with Tom Taylor as a stand-in for Tommy.

Now it’s a great concept--Fables who know they’re fictional, but they’re real and living in our world intersecting with this story about the power of story and where the line between fiction and reality is, and where it blurs. And it kinda touches on it, but not nearly as much as it could have, or should have. Instead, it ends up being a dark AU piece of Fables story, in which they get Tommy, Sue, and Peter to help fight their battles. It’s a rather horrifying look* at what could have happened in Fables, and it’s so Fables-centric, I’m not really sure what’s the point of having it as an Unwritten story instead of a Fables one. The only thing it really does is end in such a dramatic fashion to set up the Unwritten reboot. Not sure what this does to all the stories and threads that we still have resolve. I kinda wonder if Carey and Gross wrote themselves into a corner and this was the only way to get out.

That said, this series has kept me guessing the entire time, so I’ll withhold final judgement until we see what happens with the reboot.(But at the moment, I'm rather discontented.)

*And given how dark Fables has been recently, that’s really saying something. ALSO, when announcing the upcoming end of Fables Willingham has said that what comes up in the Unwritten crossover has consequences and now I’m really scared.

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.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Sisters

Sisters Raina Telgemeier

Raina, her sister Amara, her brother Will, and her mother are road-tripping to Colorado (her dad has to work and will fly out and meet them there.) Of course, Raina’s siblings drive her crazy and if she didn’t have her Walkman to drown them out, she’d go insane. The story alternates between the car trip and what happened before (Raina wishing for a sister, she and her sister fighting, the arrival of her brother, life in general in their cramped 2-bedroom apartment.)

As always, I love Telgemeier’s art and storytelling. I think the frame of the road trip works well. It’s also interesting because this focuses exclusively on her family, and as such, gives a different, more complex picture than the glimpses we saw in Smile. The other thing I liked was, when Raina and Amara reached their inevitable detente, they didn’t immediately become BFF. They gained a bit of understanding, but you know their relationship still wasn’t perfect.

Hilariously, I read this one a bit out-of-order. When I got it, I flipped to the middle just to kinda flip through it and I started reading. And then I got to the end, having only read the second half of the book. Then I had to go and read it again, but this time starting at the beginning.

It’s not my favorite of Telgemeier’s (she’s going to have a hard time topping Smile in my heart) but it’s still a great read.


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.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 9



Volume 1: Freefall Joss Whedon, Georges Jeanty, Karl Moline, Dexter Vines
Volume 2: On Your Own Andrew Chambliss, Georges Jeanty, Cliff Richards, Karl Story
Volume 3: Guarded Andrew Chambliss, Jane Espenson, Drew Z. Greenberg, Georges Jeanty, Karl Moline
Volume 4: Welcome to the Team Andrew Chambliss, Georges Jeanty, Karl Moline
Volume 5: The Core Andrew Chambliss, Georges Jeanty

Ok, I’m just going to review all of Season 9 at once. It makes more sense that way. First off, there are only 5 volumes in Season 9, and that makes me sad.

Buffy’s living in San Francisco, trying to make rent and killing vamps in her spare time. She and Willow have some friction because remember how well Willow reacted to losing her magic in Tibet last season? Yeah, now that all the magic is gone from the world, it’s not easy. There are also major divisions in the slayer army--many were killed at the end of last season, but the ones that weren’t aren’t happy with Buffy for destroying the seed.

CONSEQUENCES. They’re even a bigger deal this season than they were last season. First, off World Without Magic is some seriously bad stuff that they have to learn to live with. I love the fact that Xander can’t uncoil--after years of fighting for his life, he can’t relax into normal life. I mean, I don’t love it, because Xander’s in a bad place and I like Xander, but I think it’s a very real consequence. Willow is having a hard time without magic, but one major character’s very existence is threatened by a world without magic. It’s amazing when it happens, because you don’t see it coming, and when it does, you’re just like “DUH OF COURSE”

A few big bads to deal with--ZOMBIE VAMPIRES (who Xander dubs “zompires”), who are basically feral--not the almost-human vamps we’re used to, and the Siphon, who sucks all special power out of you.

Buffy becomes friends with a cop, and they sometimes work together. An interesting character from the end of Angel shows up at the end. Spike’s around and occasionally we see him in his spaceship IN SPACE, because you know, WHY THE HELL NOT. But mostly importantly SPIKE IS AROUND. I love Spike. Kennedy has a side business of slayer bodyguards and there’s a very cool new slayer and watcher on the scene. A BOY SLAYER. He may not have actual slayer powers, but that’s not going to stop him.

I loved this, and I really loved the new complications they set up, and the new big bad we see coming for Season 10. Which comes out in November (UGH WHY SO FAR AWAY?!) I think with Season 8, sometimes Whedon was like “it’s a comic, I can do ANYTHING” and sometimes he did in ways that were fun, but weren’t necessary and sometimes took away from what makes Buffy work. He reigns that in a lot in Season 9. It’s much more about the characters, and we’re back to really just battling vampires. A new breed of vampires, but it’s back to basics (except for Spike’s spaceship, because… well of course you keep the spaceship?)

Books 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.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Dead is Just a Dream

Dead Is Just a Dream Marlene Perez

Jessica and the other viragos are having a hard time figuring out Nightshade’s most recent run of murders. People are dying with looks of terror on their faces. They can’t figure out a pattern, and there are too many suspects. Is it the new art teacher who specializes in creepy marionettes? What about the landscape artist whose work has suddenly taken a morbid and disturbing tone? Or is it the ghostly horse that runs through town at night? And why does Jessica keep seeing a clown with a mouth of dripping blood outside her window in the middle of the night? To make matters worse, Dominic’s ex-girlfriend is in town and is making no secret of the fact she wants him back.

I love this series. This is a fun installment because it features the return of Daisy. Where she’s been in the periphery of the last few books, she and Jessica team up to solve this mystery, which is hitting really close to home when Sam ends up in an nightmare coma. Also, unlike some of the other mysteries, this one was hard to figure out because there were a lot of likely suspects and no clear pattern.

I like how this series balances paranormal mystery drama and regular high school drama. In addition to Dominic’s ex-girlfriend hanging around, graduation is looming, and Side Effects May Vary is going on tour, all of which make Jessica insecure about their relationship’s future. It manages to balance the different sides of the story with a light town that really works and why this entire series is consistently a delight.

The first printings also have a bonus short-story that works as an epilogue to the whole series (so I think this may sadly be the last one.)


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, September 11, 2014

Orpheus in the Underworld

The Unwritten: Orpheus in the Underworld Mike Carey and Peter Gross


Tom ends up back in the story, but there are so many refugees--the Wound that Pullman gave to Leviathan means stories are dying--with horrible consequences in the real world and in fiction. It's hilariously awesomely horrible what some of our favorite characters from literature are forced to do. Tom journeys to the underworld to save Lizzie but Hades has been disposed by Pauly (PAULY!) But hey, Cosi and Leon are there to help out. (Oh, those kids! I’m so glad they’re still around in the story.)

This was pretty great. Pauly’s horrible, but I’m glad to finally see where that was going. Plus, we get to see what Carey thinks would happen in a Zombies vs. Vampire fight.

But let’s face it-- the FINAL PAGE makes it the greatest thing EVER. Because the final page sets up the next volume, which is a FUCKING FABLES CROSSOVER.

I cannot WAIT for it to come out.


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, September 10, 2014

Creativity, Inc.

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace

Part Pixar-history, part management how-to, Catmull lays out his management philosophy with examples of how he’s implemented it.

One of the things that Catmull really values is candor and building a culture where everyone feels free and safe to give honest feedback, and where speaking truth to power is welcome and encouraged. He shows this well in his book, because he illustrates his ideas with real-life examples, and he is very honest about his missteps and what happened when things didn’t work.

And I think that’s what I appreciated most about this book--Pixar isn’t a perfect company. Many beloved movies failed multiple times before hitting the theaters. I don’t want to say this is a “warts and all” because it’s not a tell-all airing out the dirty laundry, but, at the same time, it is very honest. Catmull shows where things have gone wrong and then parses it to try to examine why and what they changed to make things better.

One the other big underlying themes is letting go of ego. When people point out ways your project isn’t working, it’s not personal. (Of course as he readily admits, not taking it personally is really hard and much easier said than done, but it’s something to strive for). You should hire people smarter than you are, and then trust them to grow and you should listen to them. I think another very good point he makes is that when managers first learn about problems in meetings, or when told about something not-in-private, it’s not a sign of disrespect and that they need to GET OVER IT.

Personally, this is something I strive for in my own management. I told everyone who works at the library in my first few weeks here that if something isn’t working, I need to know. If I’m doing something that’s not helpful, they need to tell me. I have bigger things to worry about and deal with than being personally offended when you rightfully call me out on my bullshit. (Easier said than done, but I’ve been working on separating stuff out. Dealing with the issue, and then going home and acknowledging my sad feelings and wallowing a bit, and then getting on with it.)

He’s also a big proponent of creating a culture where it’s safe to take a risk and it’s safe to fail. (As Robert Reich said in his commencement speech when I graduated from college, if you’re not occasionally failing, you’re not reaching far enough or trying hard enough.)

I like that he gets into the specifics of culture clash issues when Disney bought Pixar and he became the head of Disney Animation. He then talks about what he did to change the Disney culture and that, like most things worth doing, it didn’t happen overnight and it wasn’t always smooth.

But, one of his big things, and I think this is a good take-away for libraries is that everyone’s responsible for quality. And this ties back with his points on candor--everyone should feel empowered to look for quality issues and to go ahead and fix them or bring them to the attention of someone who can help fix them. Problems are not solutions. Often the person who notices the issue won’t have the solution, because often solutions aren’t that easy, but everyone is responsible for quality. One of the ways they foster this is to bring people from different areas and departments together. When movies are in progress, works-in-progress are routinely shown to, and commented on, by people who aren’t involved in the movie. When Pixar had grown so big some of the candor was being lost, they had a notes day where people from all across the company (including kitchen staff) got together to talk about issues and possible solutions.

I spent a number of years in a large library where departments were very separate--the children’s staff had a different work room than the adult services staff, which was different than circ, etc. Since switching systems, I’ve been at branches, which are smaller. At my last branch, only 1 person could physically be on the desk at a time, so they did reference and circ, and helped people of all ages. There’s much more fluidity between departments because that’s how we need to function. I love it. We all have the areas we specialize in, but we all have our fingers in other things, which makes us understand each other a lot better, and we have a bigger pool of people to bounce ideas off, because even if it’s not their department, they know the basics of your resources and constrictions. It doesn’t always work and it’s not always good, BUT one of things I really want to do as a manager is foster this type of cross team collaboration and minimize some of the us vs. them dynamic that I often see in libraries that can get really poisonous really quickly. And this is where Creativity, Inc. really spoke to me, both with ideas on how to nurture this, but in just reaffirming its great importance. (And, here I’m going to plug my friend Rachel’s new blog, Constructive Summer: Building the Unified Library Scene which is about this very thing)

So, overall, obviously, I loved this book. I found a lot of inspiration, but it was also just a fun read (let’s face it, when your examples are about making Toy Story, I will find it more engaging than an example about making a car.) Also, the Afterword: The Steve We Knew made me cry, which was embarrassing, because I was on the bus. Steve Jobs (owner of Pixar) came up frequently in the bulk of the book, but the afterword really looked at his role, but more importantly was Catmull talking about a friend who died. Catmull really looks at the biographical books and articles about Steve and talks about how they jived and did not jive with the person he knew. As someone who’s read Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different a countless number of times, it was really interesting to see some of the big points directly rebutted.


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, September 03, 2014

Tween Hobo: Off the Rails

Tween Hobo: Off the Rails Alena Smith, illustrated by Kate Harmer

Based on the twitter account, Tween Hobo documents the adventures of a modern 13-year-old riding the rails with depression-era hobo stereotypes.

Unlike the twitter account, there’s a basic plot-- Tween Hobo’s parents are pretty absent, her brother’s in California in some place called “rehab” and she needs to know what’s going on. When she learns that her teacher’s brother is a hobo, she’s inspired and off she goes to California to get answers about her brother. She live tweets/blogs her adventures and is adopted by a band of hobos who are what you think of when you think of Depression hobos. It all stays light and funny as they try to find work, perfect their bean recipes, and look for free wifi. It often mocks tween culture, but it’s obviously from a place of love and “I was totally like this when I was that age.” Lots of tweets, lots of pictures, lots of random other lists and things about life on the rails.

Although the joke occasionally wears thin, it was pretty enjoyable and funny. I liked tween hobo’s upbeat, can-do attitude and the way she never realized her adventures and life choice were bat-shit crazy insane. Plus, Hot Johnny Two-Cakes is just plain hottt.

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.