Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Because They Marched

I am a Cybils second round judge. I am currently reading the all the nominated books in a fun "armchair readalong" way with the first round judges. My reviews and opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the work of the committee.

Because They Marched: The People's Campaign for Voting Rights That Changed America Russell Freedman

This title looks at the Selma voting rights Marches, culminating in the Selma to Montgomery march. It talks about Jim Crow, and the importance of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. I greatly appreciated the epilogue that looks at how key provisions have recently been struck down, and what the means.
I am a huge Freedman fan and he consistently creates books that are beautiful and informative.

This one, however, falls short of expectations. For one, I’m not sure what Holiday House was thinking, but I’m used to Freedman’s books being printed on a heavy gloss paper and this one’s not. I’m surprised by how big of a difference this makes, but it does.

It does retain that classic Freedman style of lots of large photographs, but all the text is black-on-white and some of the more beautiful design that we’ve come to expect is missing.

Now that would be ok if the text was amazing, but it’s not. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s perfectly serviceable, but I’m used to finding his writing engrossing even when he’s covering topics I know well.

There is nothing wrong with this book per se, but there’s also not a lot right with it when you compare it to his other works, or even better treatments on the same subject (it’s going to be really hard to find a book on Selma that’s better than Marching for Freedom)

Overall, a resounding “meh” which is disappointing for someone like Freedman.



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, December 15, 2014

Sarah MacLean, Buffy, Assassin Nuns, and more




So I took a bit of a break from Cybils reading this week* because OMG GUESS WHAT WORDS OF LOVE SENT ME?

Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover by Sarah MacLean. And oh, it is just as delicious as I hoped. It's probably my favorite of her Rules of Scoundrels series. I love love love love that Chase was Georgiana from Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord. I'm also very excited about the glimpse we got of MacLean's new heroine for her new series (the first will release sometimes in 2015)

Some other non-Cybils things I've read this month?

Buffy: Season Ten Volume 1 : New Rules Woo-Hoo! Season 10 has started. Once again, consequences and repercussions are big themes. At the end someone shows up that proves I really should have been reading the Faith and Angel spin-off, because woah, what was that?! BUT! Dracula's around and the Dracula Xander bro-mance is in full swing, which is always fun and awesome. Now, I just need to wait for-EVER for the next one.

My hold on Mortal Heart finally came in, and, oh, another most wonderful end to a favorite series. Ever since I finished it, I've been trying to figure out which one is my favorite in this trilogy, and I just can't decide. They are all so great--there's no weak link or one particular standout, just straight-up excellence across the board. I was reading this one at a training and the person (NOT a librarian) across asked what it was and as soon as I described it as "historical fiction about assassin nuns in 15th century Brittany" she was on her library's website to see if they owned it. Because, I mean, of course she was! It's HISTORICAL FICTION ABOUT ASSASSIN NUNS. Although now I really want to read more about historical Brittany. Why isn't there an awesome YA nonfiction about the the 15th century Brittany? Someone should get on that for me.

I also read Mistletoe and Mr. Right: A Christmas Romance which I reviewed over here. If you don't feel like clicking over, I liked it.

In non-book reading, did you all see Kelly's poignant and powerful post about fatness in YA? Definitely click over to that one.


*Ok, I don't actually have any Cybils reading until January 1st, because I'm a second round judge. BUT, I'm reading my way through the long list anyway, partly for fun, partly for armchair quarterbacking, and partly so that when I do look at the short list, I'm that much more familiar with the titles and can then do deeper rereading instead of reading for the first time.

Book Provided by... my wallet, my local library, my local library, and RT Book Reviews (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, December 09, 2014

Happy 10th Birthday, Biblio File!




Picture by Sam Howzit, used under Creative Commons license.


Biblio File is turning 10 years old today. Yes, 10. I know, it’s insane.

A lot has happened in the past decade--I moved to DC. I stopped being a database cataloger and started being a children’s librarian at the public library. I started grad school. I bought a house. I adopted a dog. I graduated from grad school. I became a parent. I went from children’s services to youth services to adult services to management. I served on the Cybils 4 times (and am currently doing so for the 5th time) and the Maryland Blue Crab and YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction and YALSA’S Outstanding Books for the College Bound. I started reviewing for School Library Journal and RT Book Reviews website. I’ve presented at conferences at the local, state, and national level. I blogged about storytime. I made a themed book list for every day in 2013.

And Biblio File has always been here, sometimes more active than others, but always here. It’s changed over the years. The first month or so, it was just me generally talking about what I was reading. Then it was very informal reviews and then more formal ones. And then I tried to review everything I read. I've reviewed over 1600 books here. As of this morning, my backlog is over 200 and I just don't want to deal with it. It’s time to change again.

I’m burned out on reviewing here. I’m reviewing for other sources and want to take on new projects and the thought of reviewing everything I’m reading and catching up on all my backlog... It’s not fun anymore. And I don't know why, because I'm not burned out on reviewing for other sources. Maybe it's because the books are assigned? That it's only a small percentage of the books I actually read?

I thought of a few directions--maybe only review the stuff I wanted to review or felt like it? Eh. In reality, right now, I don’t feel like reviewing anything for the blog, even stuff I love.

I could drop the blog, but I don’t want to. So much of my growth as a reader and my professional growth has been because of Biblio File. (I can actually connect the dots from the blog to some opportunities that turned into other opportunities, that turned into... etc) It taught me how to review. It's made me a better reader. It gave me exposure. It gave me a way to talk with other book people. I love this blog.

So, instead, I’m shifting focus a bit. I’ll still talk about what I read, but in a much more general, less review-y way. It's actually going to go back to the way I used to review 8-9 years ago. I’m also going to start posting more about general trends/issues I’m seeing in what I’m reading. Some bigger picture stuff. So, expect regular round-up posts of "what I read this week/month/lately" and some thoughts I've been having on deciding age range (sometimes the hardest part of an SLJ review!) or how authors show respect for their teen audience. And maybe there will still be some more formal reviews on here. Who knows. That's the great part about a blog--it can change and grow and can change and grow back.

(I find it's interesting that as I'm putting the finishing touches on this post I've been writing for a week, Kelly's tweeting about some of these same issues. If I could figure out how to link to a series of tweets, I would because you should read all of them.)

I am personally committed to reviewing the Cybils books I’m reading and I have a handful of reviews that I’ve already written, so I’ll go ahead and post those. But after that, we’ll see what happens and where it goes and how it develops.

Thank you so much for being with me these past 10 years. I hope you’ll stick around for the next 10.




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, November 28, 2014

Hanukkah Books that are Actually for Jewish kids

Hanukkah's coming! And here begins my annual hunt for a Hanukkah book that's written for Jewish children. See, many, many Hanukkah books are actually written for non-Jews, to explain this crazy holiday. Jewish children don't need to be told what a menorah or latke is. They know. They want stories about crazy Hanukkah hijinks and there just aren't that many. (Also, you really don't need *that* many books about the miracle of the oil.) Here are a few of my favorites:

The Borrowed Hanukkah Latkes by Linda Glaser, illustrated by Nancy Cote

As the Hanukkah party guest list keeps growing, Rachel's mom keeps sending her next door to borrow more latke ingredients, chairs, and other necessary items. Rachel keeps inviting Mrs. Greenberg to come to the party, but she just won't come! How can Rachel help spread the Hanukkah joy?

The Chanukkah Guest by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Giora Carmi

I love this hilarious tale about a Bubba who thinks she's inviting the rabbi in to eat her latkes, only to discover she's fed them all to a hungry bear! (Sadly out-of-print)

The Ugly Menorah written and illustrated by Marissa Moss

Rachel doesn't understand why her grandmother insists on using her ugly, old menorah. But then grandma tells her how, when she and Rachels recently-passed grandpa were first married, they didn't have money to buy a menorah and so grandpa made the old, ugly, one. (Also sadly out-of-print)

Biscuit's Hanukkah by Alissa Capucilli, illustrated by Pat Schories

Mostly because I get excited to find a series character who's obligatory holiday book is about Hanukkah, not Christmas.



Which ones would you add?





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, October 23, 2014

Organization Part 2: The Reading Binder

In July, I wrote a post about how I keep organized, both in reading/reviewing and then all that other stuff I do during the day.

After a conversation on twitter this week, I realized I left off something important: The Reading Binder. It's a source of awe and good-natured ribbing in some circles, and it's the only way I can handle award and booklist committee work. (I wasn't on committee in July, so I forgot about it.)

What you need:
1. A 3-ring binder
2. Tabbed separators
3. Loose leaf paper
4. 3-hole punch
5. Highlighters

The first section is for administrative stuff. I print out committee policies and procedures, schedules, rosters, and contracts/agreements I had to sign, etc. This is so I can always go back and look, and be reminded of what we're doing. When I chaired Outstanding Books for the College Bound, I also had another section of chair stuff, which was more of the same, but chair-specific. Also, because Outstanding Books was such an overwhelming charge, I had another section with articles about the history of the list, and another one with previous lists.

The next section is for the actual books. The first page is my at-a-glance sheet, which I'll explain more about later. In the book section, each nominated book gets its own page (or more.) For YALSA committees, there's an actual nomination form that gets sent out for each book, with citation info, annotation, and why it was nominated. I would copy this form into Word and add a picture of the book cover and print it out. For my reading notes, I make them on the back of this sheet, or tape them on, or make them on a sheet of loose leaf that I then put in the binder with the nomination form. For committees that don't have a nice nomination form (like Cybils), each book gets a sheet of looseleaf with my notes. The form my notes tend to take are things I jot down while reading and then after I finish, a paragraph or more of my thoughts about a book, including strengths and weaknesses as a contender for whatever I'm evaluating it for.

There are some various levels of organization within this section. When I was on Nonfiction, there were 2 sections--one for books I hadn't read yet with just the nomination forms, and one for the books I had read. On Outstanding Books, I had to keep an eye on all sections, and had a different section for each sublist (this was helpful when I had to run meetings, too.) Within the "have read" section, I find it's most useful to put the notes and forms in the order they'll be discussed at meetings. (Usually in the order they were nominated.)

The organization in this area will vary depending on the committee. It will also vary during committee time. Nonfiction had a short list, which was announced in December, but the actual winner wasn't decided until midwinter, when it was announced. After we made the short list, I pulled those nominations to the front, away from the ones that we were no longer considering. On Outstanding Books, we narrowed the list down a bit before midwinter, so I pulled out the books that were no longer under consideration.

Now the first page of this section is the at-a-glance page. The at-a-glance is a spreadsheet print-out. There's a column for the name of the book, a box where I can check if I've read it, and a box for brief notes (maybe a sentence or two). This is also color-coded (time to break out your highlighters.) I use a basic green/yellow/red coding system (it's a traffic light) green are for the books I love and I'll cry if they don't make it to the finals. Red is the books I loathe and I'll cry if they do make it to the finals. Yellow is for everything else. YES, there is also a spring green and orange level. The at-a-glance is for when I need a quick snapshot of where my thinking is on the list as a whole. This is something that needs to be redone (and reprinted out) on a regular basis--at least once a month--as more titles are added and my thinking about the books shifts.

This is different from my status page, which is usually in my date book. This is a list of all the books I haven't read yet, and whether or not they're checked out/on hold/at a different library/need to buy/have an ARC/review copy is coming/etc. (Also, due dates and how many renewals I have left). I then just cross the book off the list when it's read and hand-write in more titles as they're nominated. This is something I have to redo weekly.

Also, let's talk meeting notes. Grab your looseleaf! When you have a face-to-face meeting or a group call or chat and take notes... notes on general committee stuff get files int he admin front section. Notes on titles are appended on the end of my notes on a title. (as are re-read notes.) For committees where things are just discussed on email (and committees that use email in addition to face-to-face), I usually just save the email in a separate folder, but I will jot down some things that other people mentioned if I'm thinking about them and am working on a response.

Now, obviously, the make-up of the binder and how things work changes a bit with each committee, as they require different things, but this is the overall idea of how I work.

Is there a Cybils binder? I'm in the process. I'm on second-round, so I have just over a month to look at 5 books, so I don't really need a binder. But, I'm reading a lot of the nominations now, partly as a personal armchair, but also just to be ready to go when January 1st rolls around. I'm putting together a binder so I can remember my thoughts and feelings on any titles that make it to the second round.

What's your system for tracking committee or other assigned reading? Do you have any questions about my crazy binders full of books?


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, October 20, 2014

On Safety, Kathleen Hale, and what to do next

A lot of bloggers are thinking about what the next steps are after this weekend. How do we react when negative status updates about a book can get you stalked? Is an author going to show up on my doorstep? Call me at work and harass me until I cry? Blogging isn't a job, it's a hobby. It's supposed to be fun, a way to connect with other book nerds.

It's not supposed to put you in danger.

Of the two big issues facing book bloggers right now, a major lawsuit looks like "lucking out."

That's fucked up.

And it's worse than authors showing up in your front yard and calling you at work. It's the people who automatically take her at her word that the reviewer was wrong and harassing her. She wasn't. I know. I'm shocked, too! A woman who thought that showing up on someone's doorstep was a rational response to bad status updates has a skewed version of the reality leading up to that point. Shocking! But there are a lot of people who are applauding her for "fighting back."

So, what's next? Do I seriously have to balance the safety of my family with my desire to talk about books? Is this a real live thought process I've been having the past few days? REALLY?

I blog and tweet with my real name. It's not that hard to figure out where I work. And part of this is on purpose--my blog is personal and mine and I do it on my own time, but to say it's 100% separate from work is hard. My day job (which includes regularly scheduled nights and weekends) affects the blog--it informs what I read, my library users inform my reactions to titles and my blog affects my day job-- it's opened up professional doors to me and given me opportunities I may not have had. Many of my blogging friends are also professional colleagues and part of my personal learning network. My blog is on my resume. Honestly, in the grand scheme, at this point, it doesn't make sense for me to change it to a pseudonym. But what am I leaving myself open to?

And here's another area-- I'm not just a book blogger. I'm also a professional reviewer. I regularly review for School Library Journal (paywalled) and the RT Book Reviews website. These are signed reviews and SLJ even includes my place of employment after my name. If anything, this is what makes the most sense to give up. The majority of my critical or negative reviews are professional (mostly because I'm not apt to finish a book I don't like unless it's assigned.) But, I really like reviewing professionally. It's made me a better reader and a better blogger. It has helped my career and sometimes I get paid. It's not something I'm willing to give up, and I don't think I should have to in order to protect my safety.

And then my thought process turns to the fact that the affected bloggers are much bigger than me, so it's not going to be an issue for me... except. I have had an author track me down at work about a review I wrote. This person used my library's "contact us" form to comment on my review of their book. Luckily, it was for one of the professional outlets, so I could just forward it to my editor and let them deal with it.

Who do I forward the scary lady on my front lawn too? What happens when someone defames me in an international newspaper? What happens if the it's the blog, where I'm the editor? Will my professional reputation be dragged through the mud and affect my ability to put food on the table?

Where do I go next? Do I give into my fear? Is that letting the terrorists win (in the parlance of our times?) Do I accept the risk, knowing there are more Kathleen Hales out there and if they can write well enough (and let's be honest, that article was fascinating and compelling. She can clearly write. She just can't recognize dangerous and probably illegal behavior) people will just take her word at it without even trying to hear the other side of the story?

In a month and a half, Biblio File will turn 10. Yes, a decade of book blogging. Posting has been spotty at times, and this is not the first time I've seriously considered stopping. But, every other time it was because of internal issues--do I really want to devote the time it requires or do I want to prioritize other things in my life? Do I still have the passion to make it worth the brain space? And I've always just taken a break or powered through. It's never because of something external before. And... I just don't know now.

I just don't know.

Edited on 10/21/14 to add Please also read this post by Beth Revis. It has links to the story of a an author who showed up at a GoodRead's reviewer's place of employer and hit her in the head with a wine bottle hard enough that she went into shock and had to be hospitalized. Because of a bad 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.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Innocent Darkness

Innocent Darkness Suzanne Lazear

Steampunk Faeries. Oh yes. And that’s all you really need to know.

Ok, you want to know more.

Noli comes from a good family that’s fallen on hard times. She’s an ace engineer and too reckless and spirited to ever be the perfect Lady her mother expects. After one-too-many brushes with the law, she’s sent to a reform finishing school.

Kevighn Silver is drawn to the school--it’s a school devoted to ridding young ladies of the Spark. The Spark may make them less-than-society-perfect, but every 7 years, the faeries in the Otherworld need to sacrifice a mortal girl with Spark in order to keep the magic going. The time is coming fast, and it’s Kevighn’s job to find the girl. A well-timed wish in the wrong place, and poof, Noli’s in the Otherworld, slated to die.

On top of all this is Noli’s best friend and next-door-neighbor, V. Noli knows V’s father would never let them marry, so it’s all very platonic, despite her wishes that it could be something else. V knows something is very wrong and tracks her all the way to the Otherworld, where he just happens to be an exiled prince. YEP.

First off, despite the awesomeness of STEAMPUNK FAERIES*, Noli is what makes this book. Noli knows who she is. She likes who she is. She struggles that who she is isn’t who her mother wants or needs her to be and how she can best take care of what’s left of her family. I like that despite the tensions between who her mother (and society) expect her to be and who she is, she still really loves her mother. There's tension, but it's not much greater than most teen daughter/mother tension. I appreciate that it's not a breaking point between them. Unlike many "modern before her time" historical heroines, she chafes at the restrictions, but kind of understands them? Also, more than many historicals, Noli and the text understand that many of these restrictions are actually the restrictions of her class rather than the time period. (She wants to work. The fact her mother won't let her isn't because she's a girl, it's because girls of their station don't work. Even though her mother (most shamefully) does.) She’s brave and bold, but will still cry when things go to hell.

As with all good faeries stories, court politics and tradition are intriguing and dark (even if this one is dressed up in crazy fashion choices and steampunk toys.)

The first in a series, this one pretty much just sets everything up, but it builds a pretty awesome world you’ll want to stay in for longer. (Just don’t eat anything.)


*This is kinda like whenever I talk about His Fair Assassins, I just end up randomly shouting ASSASSIN NUNS! ASSASSIN NUNS!

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 25, 2014

Lord and Lady Spy

Lord and Lady Spy Shanna Galen

Sophia Smythe is hiding in a wardrobe, waiting to capture Napoleon's top aide, when a fellow spy comes in and grabs him first. She is then unceremoniously laid off, as the war is over and the government no longer needs as many spies. And so she's packed off home to her boring and distant husband.

Adrian Smythe is shocked when he is laid off--didn't he just hand over Napoleon's top aide? Now what is he supposed to do? Go home to his boring and dowdy wife?

Then, the top secret Barbican group realizes it can hire one of them back. Whoever solves a simple murder case first can be reinstated. Only first, Sophia and Adrian have to get over the shock once they discover each other's true identities! As the danger mounts, they learn to work together as a team and slowly piece their marriage back together.

YES. This is a regency retelling of Mr. and Mrs. Smith. YES. It is 100% awesome.

I loved the action and the mystery, but I also loved the real distance between them and how they slowly come back together. Not having keep secrets about huge parts of their identities--the parts they cherish the most--definitely helps. Once they can be completely honest, they're almost entirely different people. But there are other issues--Sophia has suffered a string of miscarriages, the grief from each tearing them apart as they didn't know how to mourn together. On top of that, she knows she can't go through that again and so she's fearful of physical intimacy because of what may result. And I loved seeing them work together on spy stuff, and how their newfound respect for each other's work lead to a romantic relationship.

Like I said, it was AWESOME and I loved it and I'm excited to see that it's the first in a series--all retellings of spy movies (which is a premise that could be awful, but it's NOT.)


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 24, 2014

Show Your Work

Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered Austin Kleon

A great follow-up to Steal Like an Artist, which details how to be discovered.

Basically, find your people (easy to do with the interwebs) share a lot (easy to do with the interwebs) don’t be spammy (being spammy is easy to do with the interwebs) and learn to take criticism and stick it out for the long term.

My favorite part was when he says “No Guilty Pleasures” because he means it in the way that you shouldn’t be guilty about your pleasures--if you like it, embrace it.

I also like his emphasis on teaching and sharing skills and inspirations and opening up work processes as well as work products. I love that aspect of online maker culture right now. (I think Pinterest is great for sharing and discovering other people’s inspirations and work.)

Overall, it’s very practical, hands-on advice on how let other people know you’re out there, making things.

It retains the same vibe and design aesthetic of Steal Like an Artist and the two work really well together.

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 23, 2014

Bonjour Tristesse

Bonjour Tristesse Francoise Sagan, translated from the French by Irene Ash

Cecile loves the carefree and glittering lifestyle she and her father live in Paris. The summer is shaping up to be perfect--her father, his current mistress, and Cecile are spending the summer in a rented beach house. There’s even Cyril-- a nearby university student that Cecile tastes first love with. But then her father invites Anne, a friend of his late wife, to join them and it turns sour. Anne’s understand elegance forces out the mistress Elsa and the lifestyle that Cecile loves. When her father and Anne get engaged, Cecile, Cyril and Elsa hatch a plot to break them up, with tragic consequences.

While Sagan has some interesting and insightful comments about the type of people in Cecile’s life, especially her father, her age when writing this really shows. It’s written as Cecile looking back, mostly regretful for her actions, but then you realize that only a year has passed, and Sagan herself was only 18 when the book came out (younger when she wrote it) so while it well captures the emotions and logic behind Cecile, the older-and-wiser gets a bit tiresome as readers that actually are older and wiser will realize she still doesn’t get it, and it’s pretty obvious that it’s the author who still doesn’t get it, not the character.

THAT SAID, I did like a lot about it and I think it would lend itself really well to a modern YA-reworking, and it would work really well when aimed at an age-contemporary audience instead of adults. It’s a short book (without back matter, it’s only 130 pages in a small trim size) and she captures the languid summer beach atmosphere really well.

Not sure if I recommend it, but I am glad I read it.

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.