Summer Reading for Grown-Ups

June 6, 2016 Books, Geekery, Library Life 4

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This is the first year since I started working as a librarian that I’m not in charge of any summer reading programs. No events to plan, no kiddos to wrangle, no posters to put up, no prizes to give out. It’s just me & my own books this summer.

Which is why I wanted to join up with my own neighborhood library’s adult summer reading club. It’s a pretty simple set-up: if you read 10 books or go to 10 events or do a combo of 10 books/events, you get a little pin (and bragging rights, natch). If you hit 20, you get library-themed SHOELACES. I am bound & determined to get me those dang shoelaces, if only to say that I won library-themed shoelaces because I read a ridiculous number of books.

Another nearby public library has a weekly drawing that only requires a title of a book you’ve read for the entry form. The prize is a custom bag (not sure what “custom” means in this case — maybe something with the library logo or decorated with the summer reading program theme). I actually used to work at this library and I know the folks there who are running this program are pretty dang cool. But I don’t remember whether you have to be a city resident to participate, and I’m not anymore, so I do need to check on that….

Not every public library does SRC stuff for grown-ups. The one where I used to work (diff. from the bag one above) gave up on it after years of low attendance/participation. They had other stuff going on for the grown-ups, though. My own focus was mostly on the teen events, which could be anything from making slime to watching anime to irreverently “decorating” the statue of the library founder (he wouldn’t have really minded, I don’t think). The branch closest to our new neighborhood doesn’t really have any events for adults that will fit into my schedule, though, so I guess if I want those shoelaces I better get to reading.

Anyway… anyone else out there doing their library’s summer reading programs for adults? What is your goal & what kind of prizes are you aiming for?


Movie Musicals Challenge –
The Sound of Music

June 4, 2016 Just for Fun, Movies 0

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Um, I am way they hey behind on my Movies Musical Challenge right now! SHAME.

Anyway, I actually watched (well, re-watched) The Sound of Music a month or so ago, and am only now getting around to writing a little something about it. At least I took notes at the time, right? And I’m very glad that I did spend an afternoon with this movie because I was reminded again why it has always been one of my favorite musicals.

I forgot how beautiful the scenery is. The aerial views of the Alps in the opening scene are especially impressive, just unbelievably gorgeous. And the Austrian town/countryside, too. The cinematography in general is amazing. I have to say that this is one of those shows that has just been done so well as a movie that no live stage play can really compare — although I have seen a couple of very entertaining stage versions of it.

I’d also forgotten how snarky the Captain is at first and how silly all the crying at the first dinner was. There are some very funny lines + scenes in this film; it isn’t all just epic music and anti-Nazi sentiment. Although there is plenty of that, too, both on purpose and accidental. I mean, I know that the “You are 16, going on 17” scene/song is supposed to be cute and romantic, but really it’s a bit creepy the way Rolf calls Liesl “little girl” and treats her like one, too, while at the same time being super flirty. Oh, well, the associated dance sequence was lovely and quite athletic, so I suppose I can’t be too critical.

The children are generally adorable without being too sickly-sweet (always a danger in old movies — or heck, even modern ones). Their little German costumes were especially charming. Yes, German, because even though they lived in Austria they were culturally German, which is a big part of why the Nazis took over the area, and anyway the whole history of the thing is quite complicated but also fascinating, if you like that sort of thing (and I do).

You have to appreciate The Sound of Music not only for its impressive soundtrack, but for telling the based-on-a-true-story story of non-Nazi Germans during WWII. ‘Edelweiss’ is incredibly sad in this context. Of course the song was invented for the film, but the flower was a cultural symbol for the people of the Alps well before that.

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Watching the movie again was like seeing an old friend. Though the particulars of her face might be forgotten over the years, she is instantly recognizable and it is as though no time has passed at all.


A Natural History of Dragons
by Marie Brennan

June 3, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 4

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★ ★ ★ ★ ★

A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan | February 2013 | Tor | Paperback $15.99

All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever.

File this one under ‘W’ for: Why Did It Take Me So Long To Get Around to Reading This?

I’ve been on a bit of a dragon book kick lately, rereading Seraphina and a handful of Pern books and tackling the Temeraire series for the first time (instead of working on any of my reading challenges or finishing up some ARCs like a good little book blogger should). I’m quite glad I picked this one up, too.

It has 4 of my Achilles heels (yes, I have more heels than I have feet) when it comes to fantasy stories: dragons (obviously); a plucky, smart, no-nonsense heroine; a kind of alternate-history setting; and a healthy dose of science! The story is told in the style of a memoir, and Lady Trent is an excellently-built character and convincing narrator. To be clear, this is not so much a book about dragons as it is about the early years of a young naturalist’s career. This was all the more interesting to me because the young naturalist in question is a woman in a world very much like Victorian England (albeit one with fantastical creatures), where she’s expected to develop ladylike hobbies and leave the science to the boys. Dragons do play a big part in this, but the book really focuses on Lady Trent’s first adventure into a strange land in pursuit of knowledge, and the mysterious/violent — yet very human — happenings there.

I also have to put in a good word about the illustrations by Todd Lockwood. Elegant and detailed, these “sketches” really add an extra oomph to the book that pushed it firmly into 5-star territory for me.

I will absolutely be picking up the next book or 2 in the series ASAP!


Links:


Publication information: Brennan, Marie. A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent. New York: Tor Books, 2013. Print.
Source: Gift.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Welcome to the New Digs

May 31, 2016 Meta 2

If all went well during the little switchover, you should now be seeing my new site! (Or at least seeing this post on it, if you’re following via RSS, if I did the feed update correctly, haha.)

Please feel free to poke around. Many pages are the same as they ever were, but some have been updated. I’ve tried my best to redirect old links as needed, but you might still hit that 404 page if you find one that I missed.

Want to follow along? Subscribe by email (see the form in the sidebar) or find Lone Star on a Lark at on social media: Facebook & Twitter. You can also follow me on Instagram & Tumblr, although for me those platforms are less bookish / more of mishmash of personal things.

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Comments on old posts were not ported over properly, and I’m working on replacing them. Your previous comments are not lost forever, I promise.

You may notice that some old posts are missing. Sorry about that. I took this opportunity to restructure some stuff, which took a lot of time and finagling and I’m sure lost a couple of things here and there.

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Find a problem? Please feel free to contact me about it here!


Locally Laid
by Lucie B. Amundsen

May 9, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 6

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★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Locally Laid: How We Built a Plucky, Industry-Changing Egg Farm — From Scratch by Lucie B. Amundsen | March 2016 | Avery | Hardcover $26

When Lucie Amundsen had a rare night out with her husband, she never imagined what he’d tell her over dinner — that his dream was to quit his office job (with benefits!) and start a commercial-scale pasture-raised egg farm. His entire agricultural experience consisted of raising five backyard hens, none of whom had yet laid a single egg.

With a heavy dose of humor, these newbie farmers learn to negotiate the highly stressed no-man’s-land known as Middle Agriculture. Amundsen sees firsthand how these midsized farms, situated between small-scale operations and mammoth factory farms, are vital to rebuilding America’s local food system.

With an unexpected passion for this dubious enterprise, Amundsen shares a messy, wry, and entirely educational story of the unforeseen payoffs (and frequent pitfalls) of one couple’s ag adventure — and many, many hours spent wrangling chickens.

I was fortunate enough to win this little gem of a book from a giveaway put on by Amanda and Holly of Gun in Act One.

First, let me clarify that I know very little about farming and even less about chickens in particular. What little I do know has been gleaned from various books and TV shows (of the educational variety, to be sure) rather than practical experience. So my admiration for the “middle agriculture” efforts of the Amundsen family is based entirely on the engaging way that their farming life is described in this book. I’m sure people who actually do agricultural stuff for a living could be more eloquent about the Locally Laid venture than I am.

Lucie writes in that kind of casual, “Here’s me and all my flaws, haha, and oh by the way let me drop this ton of knowledge/wisdom on you,” style that I so enjoy in contemporary nonfiction. I wouldn’t shelve this book in the humor section, but there are plenty of LOL moments — alongside some anxiety-inducing moments, of course. I can’t imagine the crushing levels of stress, physical labor, and debt that these people had to (have to?) deal with.

I think the local food movement is actually pretty great — not without its logistical problems, of course, but generally a smart idea — and I need to do a better job as a consumer of supporting smaller, hyper-local organizations. (“Hyper-local” as opposed to the general “Made in Texas” stuff that I make a point of picking up at the grocery store when the opportunity arises.) Now that I have weekends off on the reg again, it’s probably time to pick a nearby farmers market or two to try out.

I definitely recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in the local food movement or just the state of modern agriculture in general. I also think it would be a good pick for folks who enjoy sort of blog-like memoirs.


Links:


Publication information: Amundsen, Lucie B. Locally Laid. New York: Avery, 2016. Print.
Source: Giveaway from publisher Avery and blog Gun in Act One.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Summer Days & Summer Nights
edited by Stephanie Perkins

April 30, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 0

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★ ★ ★ ★
Summer Days and Summer Nights ed. by Stephanie Perkins | May 2016 | St. Martin’s Griffin, and imprint of Macmillan | Hardcover $19.99

Maybe it’s the long, lazy days, or maybe it’s the heat making everyone a little bit crazy. Whatever the reason, summer is the perfect time for love to bloom. Summer Days & Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories, written by twelve bestselling young adult writers and edited by the international bestselling author Stephanie Perkins, will have you dreaming of sunset strolls by the lake. So set out your beach chair and grab your sunglasses. You have twelve reasons this summer to soak up the sun and fall in love.

First, let’s all just acknowledge that we suddenly have ‘Summer Nights’ from Grease stuck in our heads now, OK? OK.

Next, I also have to acknowledge that I am not normally one for romance – in books, at least. If I hadn’t read Perkins’ last multi-author “romance” short story collection, My True Love Gave to Me (Christmas 2014), I don’t think I’d have given this one a second glance. As it is, I was a bit surprised that none of the authors beyond Perkins were repeats from that previous winter-themed collection, and I was a little unsure about the whole thing. I needn’t have been.

If you’re wondering who all contributed to this book besides Stephanie Perkins, here ya go: Leigh Bardugo, Francesca Lia Block, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, Brandy Colbert, Tim Federle, Lev Grossman, Nina LaCour, Veronica Roth, Jon Skovron, and Jennifer E. Smith.

I don’t think there’s a bad story in this collection, though some of the stories are more satisfying/interesting than the others. Some of them have elements of fantasy/sci-fi, some of them are more realistic. Some of them are cute, some just kinda weird.

I think my favorites were ‘Head, Scales, Tongue, Tale’ by Bardugo (about a mostly-sensible teen and her budding friendship/romance with a mysterious summer visitor) and ‘In Ninety Minutes, Turn North’ by Perkins (actually a continuation of her story from My True Love Gave to Me).

I think I’d recommend this to someone who wants a little light beach reading, or perhaps something to distract you on a plane while you’re thinking about how a 970,000 lb hunk of metal with seats in shouldn’t really be able to fly without pixie dust.

Please note: I received an e-ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss.


Links:


Publication information: Perkins, Stephanie, Leigh Bardugo, Francesca Lia Block, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, Brandy Colbert, Tim Federle, Lev Grossman, Nina LaCour, Veronica Roth, Jon Skovron, Jennifer E. Smith. Summer Days and Summer Nights. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2016. EPUB file.
Source: ARC provided by Publisher.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Middlewhat? Moving on from a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Book

April 24, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 0

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Middlemarch by George Eliot | Originally published 1871-2, this ed. 2003 | Barnes & Noble Classics | Paperback $9.99

George Eliot’s most ambitious novel is a masterly evocation of diverse lives and changing fortunes in a provincial community. Peopling its landscape are Dorothea Brooke, a young idealist whose search for intellectual fulfilment leads her into a disastrous marriage to the pedantic scholar Casaubon; the charming but tactless Dr Lydgate, whose pioneering medical methods, combined with an imprudent marriage to the spendthrift beauty Rosamond, threaten to undermine his career; and the religious hypocrite Bulstode, hiding scandalous crimes from his past. As their stories entwine, George Eliot creates a richly nuanced and moving drama, hailed by Virginia Woolf as ‘one of the few English novels written for grown-up people’.

Well, if this is a novel for ‘grown-up people’ I don’t even want to grow up.

Middlemarch by George Eliot is on my Classics Club list. (That’s a list of 50 classic books I intend to read within 5 years.) I gave it a good shot, but the time has come for me to give up and move on with life.

It’s just so damn boring.

The problem is twofold. First, I struggle with Victorian “social” literature generally. I try to appreciate it for what it is, but this genre is just not my forte. The thing is, I knew going into the novel that this is a particular failing of mine, and in an effort to get more out of the book I chose to read slowly, take notes, and divide up my reviews by book (Middlemarch is actually made up of 8 volumes).

This might have worked, if it hadn’t been for my second problem: I am easily bored by stories that reflect my own boring life back at me. Or rather, the boring parts of my life — I have to say, my life overall has not been entirely devoid of adventure, tragedy, and excitement. My breaking point came when I was trying to read through the section in Book II on the hospital board voting for the chaplaincy during my lunch break after a particularly long, drawn-out meeting with my fellow librarians. It was as though all the mind-numbing yet necessary political minutiae I’d just waded through for the past 2 hours was being replayed on the page, and it made me want to rip the damn book in half.

I soldiered on through the rest of this part of the story and even partway through Book III, but the novel had lost all charm for me. The lovely prose and little flashes of Eliot’s humor and insight were lost in a storm of constant thoughts like: “I don’t CARE about these people and their petty bullshit.”

I should clarify that I don’t think that Middlemarch is objectively a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad book. It’s just a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad book for me.

If you just love Middlemarch, can you forgive me? If you want to share what you enjoyed about it in the comments, please feel free. And if you, like me, just couldn’t get into it, I’d feel much better about my failure if you’d share that with me, too.

In atonement for my abandonment, I’ve decide to add a different title to my Classics Club list as a replacement for Middlemarch. I’ve picked out 5 possibilities below. Vote for whichever seems most intriguing to you in the comments.

  • East of Eden by John Steinbeck (1952)
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo (1831)
  • The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting (1920)
  • The Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller (1934)
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (1900)

Whither goest thou, Louise?

April 17, 2016 Meta 0

This is just a quick note to let any followers know that I ATEN’T DED* yet, friends.

Yes, I’m still working on the behind-the-scenes upgrade/migration. And yes, I’m still reading and reviewing. But my afternoons these days are mainly spent out on the back porch, enjoying the lovely weather with a book and my dog and a cup of wine to hand… and it’s been so lovely and worthwhile.

I promise I haven’t disappeared — I’ve only gone outdoors for a while.

 

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*all apologies to Granny Weatherwax and Terry Pratchett


In the Shadow of Man
by Jane Goodall

March 26, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 0

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★★★★★

In the Shadow of Man by Jane Goodall | This edition April 2010, originally published January 1971 | Mariner Books | Paperback $15.95

World-renowned primatologist, conservationist, and humanitarian Dr. Jane Goodall’s account of her life among the wild chimpanzees of Gombe is one of the most enthralling stories of animal behavior ever written. Her adventure began when the famous anthropologist Dr. Louis Leakey suggested that a long-term study of chimpanzees in the wild might shed light on the behavior of our closest living relatives. As she came to know the chimps as individuals, she began to understand their complicated social hierarchy and observed many extraordinary behaviors, which have forever changed our understanding of the profound connection between humans and chimpanzees.

In the Shadow of Man is a classic in the realm of science non-fiction for good reason. Jane Goodall and her fellow researchers spent years — well, decades actually — studying the chimpanzees of the Gombe Stream area near Kigoma, Tanzania. She not only observed an astounding range of wild chimp behaviors, but she brought the plight of these chimps (whose forest home and own bodies were/are endangered by humans) into the spotlight for the rest of the world.

This book was originally published in the early 1970’s, well before the author observed some of the more violent chimp behaviors like “war” and infant cannibalism. However, it was revolutionary at the time because it sort of humanized chimps and debunked some misconceptions about the nature of their primitive tool use or their typical diets.

(One thing to keep in mind if you decide to read this as well — it’s fairly apparent in a few instances that this was written in the 1970’s, when the general attitude of Westerners towards the native peoples of Africa was still slightly colonialist, or at least more openly superior than is generally accepted nowadays.)

Goodall and her team gradually came to know the apes as individuals, with particular personality traits as well as physical features. She was particularly fond of a few of them, which made it all that much more difficult to deal with leaving them to go back to Europe, or watching them suffer or die. The section on the polio epidemic was particularly brutal, as by that point in the book I was also beginning to feel as though I “knew” the chimps and care about their fates. However, even that section was incredibly interesting, because I had no idea that a disease like polio could cross the species boundary. It makes sense now that I think about it, though, because after all we are so closely related genetically to these particular apes.

Jane Goodall has written several follow-up books about the chimps, as well as several other books on topics like spirituality and environmentalism. I read her book Reason for Hope, about how her spiritual beliefs have developed with her experiences and scientific studies, last year. She has a way of writing that makes you feel as though you’re have a thoughtful but laid-back conversation with a good friend. You know that feeling you got when you watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as a little kid, as though this intelligent but kind man was speaking to you personally about something that really mattered? It’s a bit like that, but for grown-ups and involving chimpanzees.

I’m so glad I chose to read this because I feel like I learned quite a bit + it made me hungry for more information about chimpanzees and east African wildlife in particular. I’ll have to see if I can pick up any of Goodall’s follow-up books at the library sometime soon.


Links:

This book also counts for my Classics Club challenge and Women in Science History Challenges.


Publication information: Goodall, Jane. In the Shadow of Man. New York: Mariner Books. Print.
Source: Barnes & Noble
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


A Book Review Routine

March 25, 2016 Books 0

Do you have a particular process you go through when writing book reviews?

I realized the other day that I do! It wasn’t really a conscious thing, though (at least up until I started thinking about it). But I had to make a semi-complicated flow chart for a particular process at work, and I realized that I totally do the same kind of thinking when I’m writing reviews here at LSoaL.

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Reading the book

First, I read the book — obviously! Can’t really write a review if you don’t read the dang book. If I DNF it, I typically just leave it at that… unless I got pretty far into the book and DNF’d for a specific reason, in which case I’ll do a quick star rating plus maybe a few sentences on Goodreads.

I almost never take notes while I’m reading. It’s disruptive for me, personally. There are a few exceptions, though. If I’m reading something that takes a lot of concentration and I want to really study it (or at least be able to marginally understand it), I’ll get out a pencil and do notes in the margins. Otherwise, I rely on my memory when I get ready to sit down and write the review.

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Being opinionated

Next, I assign a star rating to the book. Some people don’t really do/get star ratings, and I totally respect that. But for me, it’s a great at-a-glance way to express my opinion. Sometimes I ramble too much or can’t think of all the right words for my review, but that star rating can instantly give the reader an idea of whether I’d recommend the book or not.

After doling out stars, I try to write at least a couple of paragraphs about why I did or didn’t like the book. This can be a little bit of a struggle sometimes — no way would I ever be able to cut it as a professional book reviewer — but the writing process is a pretty good way to clarify my thoughts. It also helps me remember the book later on! I have a pretty awful memory, and often without these reviews I would not have a clue about most of the books I read even just last year.

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Dealing with technicalities

The third part of my review process is really just bloggy stuff. It’s important to find a good cover image — usually I prefer to share the actual cover of the edition that I’m reading, but sometimes I resort to a different edition’s cover if I can’t find/take a nice picture. Then I get all the metadata straightened out (full title, author, publisher, pub date, list price, that kind of thing). If I read an ARC and the book will be published sometime in the future, I’ll schedule my review post to go live sometime within a month of the pub date.

I always include a little FTC disclaimer at the end of each review, plus a little note about where I obtained the book. If the author has a website or has done some interesting interviews or something, I share those links as well.

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I know a lot of people don’t really read book reviews on blogs. That’s OK! But many of us just go on writing them anyway. It seems like many (most?) reviews are really more of an exercise for the blogger rather than the reader, with the obvious exception of advanced reviews/blog tours/etc. that are meant to promote an upcoming release.


So… what about you? Do you approach your book reviews in a particular way, or is it more of a by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of thing?