Book Review: Bent Heavens by Daniel Kraus

OUT FEBRUARY 25th! Thank you to Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) and NetGalley for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Image from Goodreads

♥♥♥♥ (Four stars, trigger warnings for child neglect, torture, death of a parent, graphic violence.)

I’ve been blessed lately with books that feel like they’ve come right out of The X-Files, and as a massive X-Files fan this is obviously great for me! I wasn’t sure what to expect from Bent Heavens, but I knew Daniel Kraus’ impressive track record. Despite not having read any of his work in the past, I felt like I could trust him. That trust was in great jeopardy for a lot of this book, but by the end Kraus found himself in the camp of authors that I will automatically read no matter what.

Liv Fleming’s father is gone. He disappeared one day, for the second time, but this time he didn’t come back. Was Lee Fleming right? Did aliens truly abduct him to conduct brutal experiments? Or did he just go crazy? One thing was clear, he was very unwell. Liv has done her best to move on: she has new friends and participates in new activities, but her past refuses to leave her. Her mom is an alcoholic trying to hold down two jobs and her old childhood friend, Doug, will not let her father go. He dutifully follows Lee’s instructions, confounding as they are. Every week Doug and Liv check the traps Lee built to keep them safe from the beings he swore took him.

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Book Review: The Boatman’s Daughter by Andy Davidson

OUT FEBRUARY 11th! Thank you to Farrar, Straus and Giroux / MCD x FSG Originals and NetGalley for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Image from Amazon

♥♥♥♥ 1/2 (Four and a half stars, trigger warnings for violence against women, self harm, assault, sexual assault, lots of blood)

Do you like action? Brooding? Cults? Women highly skilled with a bow and arrow? Ancient swamp magic? REVENGE?? I’m sure your answers were all ‘yes’, and so I highly recommend to you The Boatman’s Daughter by Andy Davidson. This book is a thrill ride with plenty of bloody action, terrifying folk magic, and beautiful found family vibes. It feels like Winter’s Bone meet Beasts of the Southern Wild, and it’s amazing.

Miranda Crabtree is an orphan and has been since her father disappeared in the bayous of Arkansas when she was eleven. The only evidence left behind was a shotgun shell and a baby Miranda could have sworn was dead when her father and an old witch took it deep into the woods. Miranda barely escaped that night with her life. Something in the bayou wanted her.

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Committing To My TBR in 2020

The new year brings with it lofty declarations about reading habits. And without fail, every year, I break those resolutions. In 2015 I was going to read all the books I never read in high school. In 2018 I was riding high on the #NoNewBooks2018 book buying ban vibes. In 2019 I was going to throw out my scheduled reading and stop joining book clubs. LAUGHABLE. I sabotage myself best when it’s concerning books.

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A chunk of my scheduled TBR for 2020

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My Best Books of 2019

IMG_20190901_131504Hi friends! Another year of reading is now behind us, wow. This one went fast. This year I beat my reading record by just a couple books: 84 read. I would love one day to get to 100, but I don’t want to let arbitrary goals get in my way of enjoying my reading.

I read a lot of amazing books this year, and a lot of meh books. I also read some straight up trash, including a highly regarded piece of non-fiction that was one of the most racists pieces of shit I’ve ever witnessed (I’m looking at you, Empire of the Summer Moon). I DNFed that garbage.

This was the first year I used the Bookriot tracking spreadsheet, created in Google Sheets. It was really fun to record specific details about my reading and get a good overview of my year in books. Horror was my most read genre (26.1%) with SFF in second place (23.9%). Mystery/crime/thriller was a distant third at 12.5%. Most of what I read was in audiobook format (51.7%), and most of the books I read were from the library (68.5%). Thanks to this spreadsheet, I have a better idea of my reading habits and some new goals for my 2020 reading, which I will post separately soon.

I read less books that completely blew me away than I did in 2018, but the ones that did blow me away knocked me into another galaxy. I’ll be thinking about these books for a long time!

Here we go! My favorites of 2019:

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Book Review: Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

OUT JANUARY 14th! Thank you to Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group and NetGalley for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.

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If there are people in your life (or if you are this person) who are thirsting for beautiful, thoughtful, magical YA novels with an inclusive and LGBTQ+ focus, look no further than Anna-Marie McLemore! Their classic fairy tale retellings and LGBTQ+ fantasy-lite YA novels really scratch an itch and fill the soul.

They continue to delight with Dark and Deepest Red, a retelling of both the classic fairy tale The Red Shoes by Hans Christian Andersen and real historical events from hundreds of years ago. McLemore seamlessly moves the narrative between two teens living in a slightly enchanted modern town and a young Roma woman (Lala) trying to pass in society with her aunt and a trans boy in Strasbourg in 1518, the same year a mysterious dancing mania overcame hundreds of residents in the city. The two stories blend together and inform each other in ways that will break and mend your heart. This is a story about building acceptance, community, and self-love. It is about honoring your past, your heritage, and your place in the world.

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Book Review: Why We Can’t Sleep by Ada Calhoun

OUT JANUARY 7th! Thank you to Grove Press and NetGalley for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Image from Goodreads

While I am very solidly in the Millennial generational bracket, I really enjoyed reading Why We Can’t Sleep, Ada Calhoun’s nonfiction examination of Gen X women’s experiences with aging and managing their middle-aged years. I appreciated the discussion as a way to prepare myself for midlife, which will be coming for me in about a decade. Calhoun hoped as much, that younger women would learn from the generation above them, but she also does a lot of work explaining why Gen X has been uniquely set up to experience the issues that they currently are doing battle with.

In Why We Can’t Sleep, Calhoun talks about how a lot of Gen X women have found themselves to be miserable in their 40s and 50s. Maybe their careers (or lack thereof) are nothing like they expected. Maybe they hate their children or their partner or their body. Maybe they desperately want children and are running out of time to have them. The list is long, as I’m sure we can all understand. No one is 100% satisfied all the time.

Calhoun looks at the reasons why Gen X women seem to be more miserable than the women of other generations. She looks at how they were raised, with elevated expectations after Title IX and with elevated levels of parental neglect. She looks at the geo-political climate over the course of the entire lives and what made the biggest impacts on Gen Xers. And she examines the roll advances in medicine, science, and technology have had on a Gen Xers lives and their choices, as well as the shifts in social/cultural/gender dynamics from their parents’ generation. With all of this, she concludes that Gen X just seems to be the generation in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were hit hardest by the Great Recession and continue to, as a generation, hold the most consumer debt. They have a deep distrust of authority, the biggest deficit between reality and expectations, and they have acted as a kind of oldest child to Millennials and Gen Zers…facing technologically induced problems first.

Why We Can’t Sleep is an incredibly addictive read. I found myself unable to put it down, perhaps because I craved a fuller (and more honest) understanding of real women’s experiences. Calhoun’s writing was engaging and entertaining, and she covers a good range of topics. That being said, I have a couple issues with Why We Can’t Sleep. The first is that at times it can come off as one giant complaining session and whoa is me-ing. There are legitimate reasons why Gen X has had a rough go, but some things in the book make me want to roll my eyes.

Part of that is wrapped up in the second issue…she refers to Millennials as kids multiple times. The youngest of us are out of undergrad and the oldest of us are nearly 40. We are adults with adult issues. We don’t have our heads buried in video games. We are fully engaged with what’s happening in the world, and (I hate to break this to everyone) some of us actually do remember a time without Internet in our homes OR AT ALL. We are battling with our own set of grown bullshit that is decidedly not childish in nature. She also uses some generalizations about Millennials and Boomers as ways to prove why Gen Xers have it the worst, and that just doesn’t fly with me. Stereotypes don’t prove points.

My third and probably biggest issue with Calhoun’s book is her seeming lack of diversity in voices. While there is at least one queer person’s story, we’re not really told the ethnicity or socioeconomic situation or childhood environment for a lot of the women in the book. I know Calhoun isn’t trying to conduct an exhaustive survey on the issue, but I think that the reason I felt like rolling my eyes at a lot of the stories in this book was because they felt like #FirstWorldProblems.

Loosing jobs is awful, being in debt is awful, facing fertility issues when you want children is incredibly painful, but what happens when you face these things as a Gen X woman who came from a very impoverished family or who can’t pay for groceries every week or who has been homeless or has suffered racial discrimination. I don’t think trans women were mentioned at all (and that would have been incredibly valuable). We don’t get much insight on those women’s experiences, or a look at how a Black Gen X woman or a trans Gen X woman experience the difficulties of middle age differently than a White Gen X woman. I am certain that there are notable differences that are worth discussion.

But those issues aside, this was a very readable book that does offer valuable insight into our middle aged years in the new world we live in. I found it helpful (as a white, middle class, cishet woman), and if you are a Gen X woman you will probably feel some great comfort in reading your peers’ experiences. I applaud Calhoun for sharing these details about female life. Middle aged women tend to get pushed aside and their problems not taken seriously, so this was a nice step to correcting that.

I’m at a point in my life where big decisions have to be made. These things affect the rest of our lives, and choices we make will sometimes come back to haunt us. I greatly appreciated hearing the stories and lessons of women 10-20 years my senior. Sharing that knowledge is very important, especially for women. And while I did feel comforted in some ways, I also learned that there is no right way to do anything in life. Women interviewed by Calhoun were miserable for the same reasons other women were happy. And some women were miserable because they couldn’t have the things other women had (like a family or high-powered career or both), but some of those same women who do have those things hate them and wished they’d never attained them.

So honestly, it feels to me like the best we can do is try to know and love ourselves as well as possible, make educated guesses as to how to proceed with life, try to live in the moment and appreciate what we have when we have it, temper our expectations in order to have an achievable goal of happiness, and not be afraid to change something that makes us unhappy if it is possible to change! Calhoun’s book does have plenty of positive stories to offset the sad ones, and she does leave us on a hopeful note. Many of the women she talks to who are going through a hard time end up in a better place when she follows up with them later on. Humans are adaptable and resilient, and while life is getting harder and things have changed drastically from the Baby Boomers’ experience, there is hope for happy and fulfilling lives as we age!

 

 

Book Review: An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

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Image from my library’s Instagram @jkmlibrary

As part of the ReVisioning American History series, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz is critically eye-opening to everyone living in North and Central (and maybe even South) America, most especially if you do not identify as native or indigenous. I’m sure some native folks would learn something from this book as well due to the state of education in this country.

I grew up with a lot of native visibility around me in Upstate New York, and yet there is an enormous amount about the history of European invasion that I was never taught. We got the hits of course…Manifest Destiny, the French and Indian War, the Trail of Tears, Little Bighorn, etc. But we got them with a slant steep enough to Olympic ski jump off of. We definitely were taught about these things with a tone of “this was in the past, the Indians were in the past” despite living not even a full hour away from the reservation of one of the most important tribes of the Haudenosaunee (the Onondaga). Even our class trips to the Iroquois Indian Museum placed our point of learning in the past, looking at artifacts and practices that felt ancient and not at all contemporary (although many of them are). This is not a jab at the museum, it’s just my experience and interpretation as a child (it’s honestly a lovely museum, go). Erasure was happening in our education, and I’m sure it was happening in yours too.

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Book Review: The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters

OUT DECEMBER 10th! Thank you to Crooked Lane Books and NetGalley for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Image from Goodreads

Every year I usually end up picking up a book I know little about and then get my socks blown off by how exciting and entertaining it is. Last year it was A Noise Downstairs by Linwood Barclay. This year, it’s The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters. Wow, this book was a complete blast! A wild ride from beginning to end!

Heather is a successful therapists who works with troubled children. This might seem ironic, considering her own childhood holds an extremely troubling and traumatic event that begins to come back to bite her. Her best friend Becca died the summer they were twelve. More accurately, Heather killed her. But it wasn’t just Heather…The Red Lady was there too.

I loved this book. I loved the “kids going on an adventure during summer break” vibe it had. I loved the constant ramping up of action, and I loved the paranormal elements. Coming of age stories will always suck me in, and as a child who grew up in a small town where I was constantly running off with my group of friends to play a town-wide game of manhunt, build forts in the woods, and tell ghost stories in the graveyard, books like The Dead Girls Club and IT really click with me. That depiction of youthful nostalgia will get me every time, and Walters does a great job of it here.

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Book Review: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Thank you to Doubleday Books and NetGalley for providing me with an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Image from Goodreads

The Night Circus was a bit of a slow burn phenomenon for the bookish world. Over the 7/8 years since it was published, people have found it and fallen deeply in love with it at their own pace. I didn’t go crazy over The Night Circus when I first read it, but all these years later I find myself thinking about it a lot. The atmosphere, the setting, the magic, the character relationships. It really stuck in my brain, so I was very excited to hear that Morgenstern was finally coming out with a new book this year!

I was shocked when I saw The Starless Sea available for request on NetGalley. I had just assumed it would remain elusive and exclusive to only the most renowned of book reviewers. I was even more surprised when I was approved for the digital ARC.

A real quick synopsis: Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a grad student studying immersive media (video games) design and storytelling. One day he stumbles on a mysterious book in the library that appears to be a collection of short fairy tales and folklore. The thing is…a true story from his childhood is in this book. No one else knows this story but Zachary, and on top of that, the book looks to have been written way before Zachary was born. He starts to do some digging and in the process gets stuck down in a weird underground magical library where clothes are perfectly tailored for him and the food is exactly what you need and cats wander everywhere. But there is like, no one else in this library. The space itself is confusing and labyrinthine, and time and place don’t hold much power.

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Interactive Displays in the Library

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One of my interactive displays @ CLP’s JCEC

It’s been a while since I wrote about my work in libraries. I honestly haven’t had too many fun things to mention, just business as usual for the most part. But recently, a colleague sent me this blog post from the Pennsylvania Library Association’s College & Research Division about using interactive displays in your library. I’ve actually been doing these kinds of displays for a long time, so I thought maybe I would talk about them and how I’ve been expanding them into the digital humanities realm.

Interactive displays and polls are a concept borrowed from museums as a way to engage patrons. If used strategically, you can also gather anonymous data about your users that can then be used to inform your services and programs. When I was at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Job and Career Education Center a few years back, I started putting together what were basically interactive graphs. They were basically just large sheets of paper with a graph and it’s axes written on it and patrons would follow the directions to insert their own data point on the graph. We made graphs that asked why people moved to or away from Pittsburgh (the color of the sticker you picked to put on the graph would indicate the reason), what industry folks worked in, how confident they were in their job search, stuff like that. The information we gathered was important to how we ran the department.

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