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BBAW: Second Treasure: Interview Swap

September 14, 2010 2 comments

For the second treasure of Book Blogger Appreciation Week, we get the opportunity to interview a fellow book blogger.  I was randomly assigned Courtney of Stiletto Storytime, and she was an absolute pleasure to work with.  She’s a 20-something children’s librarian, currently a stay-at-home mom.  Her love of encouraging a love of reading at all ages shines through on her blog.

Courtney the Book Blogger

I wouldn’t be interviewing you today if you didn’t start blogging about books.  When and why did you start book blogging?
I started blogging in December of 2007. I had just graduated with my MLIS and gotten a job with the Charlotte Public Library System as a Children’s Librarian. The library I worked at shared a main desk between children’s services and adult reference so I found myself really doing a little bit of everything straight out of library school. I also found myself reading voraciously to try and pump up my reader’s advisory skills. So I decided to start a blog about what I was doing at that time. It began with book reviews and storytime plans…and moved into a little bit of anything that interested me. Stiletto Storytime really began as a way for me to keep track of this new adventure I was beginning and also a way to record my reading and reviewing in a more personal and at the same time public manner. It’s now become so much more than I ever imagined.

Has it been what you thought it would be or something entirely different?
I have to say it’s been beyond what I imagined. When I began there weren’t nearly as many book bloggers out there as now. And the concept wasn’t even really something I was aware of. I was kind of doing my own thing and then found others doing the same. I had some inspiration in sites that I followed that were book related, I would have to say that my Jane Austen roots led me to sites such as Austenprose and that really inspired me. It was nice to find other people obsessed with “Masterpiece Theatre” and Jane Austen. I thought…wow..I’m not alone!  Now looking back I never dreamed of having my blog lead me into writing myself or of traveling to New York for a convention just for Book Bloggers. These have been things that I never could have imagined at that time.

What genres do you usually cover on your blog?
I cover a wide variety of books because I read a wide variety of books. I love classical literature but also am really interested in young adult, literary fiction and historical fiction. Gothic and dystopian specifically are some of my favorite genres as well. And of course children’s books. It’s hard for me to really limit myself to one area so I don’t.

Are there any genres you don’t like to read or review?
I read paranormal to a degree but I am not really into romance or really deep fantasy. I generally don’t read self help or non-fiction on topics that don’t interest me personally.

Say an author, agent, or publishing house contacts you about an ARC, book tour, etc…  How do you decide whether or not to participate?
Well first I ask myself if this is something I would enjoy reading and my readers would enjoy hearing about. Then I check my blog schedule to see if the date is open. Sometimes with ARCs I am really looking forward to, I will read and post in advance in order to cover more than one release on a certain day. I also try to keep track of what is coming out and when to get my ARCs and also manage my review dates, author guest posts and other content.

You’re participating in a few reading challenges, including, but not limited to, 2010 Debs, 2010 YA reading challenge, and A to Z challenge.  How do you decide what challenges to participate in?
The challenges are a way for me to have fun personally in my reading. Since I have become a reviewer, I always feel the need to be reading and reviewing new works but the challenges allow me to read what I want and to have some flexibility. I also really like completing challenges and reading towards a goal with other people. You’ll notice a lot of my challenges are Jane Austen related, classical literature or Young Adult since these are my personal favorites. .

Do you limit the number of challenges you participate in?
I try to keep it doable and make sure that I am not in so many that I am overwhelmed. I want it to be fun.

What made you decide to include the “Little Man Reads” page featuring photos of your son with books and his current read on your blog?  Or where did you get the inspiration for that page?
‘Little Man Reads” is just my way of trying to lead by example and remind everyone to read with and to their children. It’s such an important message for me. One that I based my library career on and I just think that I need to show that I practice what I preach in that area. I also love to show what books he “loves” at different times. Some times he doesn’t mind what we read but then at other times he has his favorites and only they will do.

What goals do you have for your blog in the future?
I just want to continue to help people find books that interest them and have fun reading along the way. I guess I’ve never really been in it for the number of followers or hits, I just want to connect with people about books. It’s kind of like being a digital librarian now that I work from home.

What makes you not only decide to subscribe to another book blog but stick around in the long term?
For me it has to have content that I am interested in and also have a special something that keeps me coming back. I also really like people who know their areas of interest. I like people who dig deep into what they love. Passion like that can be contagious and inspiring.

Courtney The Librarian

You, like me, are a librarian.  Do you see your book blogging as innately connected with your career or a separate hobby?
I have always kept my blogging separate from my career as a librarian. When I was working in the library, no one knew what library I worked at from my blog or even my first name for that matter. I just gave out my first name last year. I always wanted to keep in separate because my blog is based on my opinions and feelings and it’s a very personal space in a lot of ways. I don’t want to expose too much so I keep my last name to myself for the most part and my son is called “little man” whenever referred to.

Your area of concentration is public libraries’ children’s services.  What made you choose this area of concentration?
Well I thought after being a 18th-19th century British English major, that in library school I would go academic and keep the same concentration but once I got into library school I became obsessed with children’s services and the idea that you have to build a reader young. Yes, I want people to read classical literature but if I don’t help children simply like the act of reading in general…well that’s not gonna happen. So I started at square one. I may still be trying to lead them to classical literature, I am just sometimes only doing it in “baby steps”. Public libraries drew me in because that’s where I knew I could make the most impact. It’s where I could share my love of reading with kids who might otherwise never be exposed to books. My first library job was in a low income urban area of a large metropolitan city, I wanted to work with the kids that didn’t have books at home. I wanted to make a difference.

Currently, you’re a full-time mom.  Do you foresee going back to work at libraries?  Why or why not?
I don’t really see myself going back into traditional librarianship. First off, I want to raise my son and hopefully another child sometime in the near future. I want to be at home for them and be hands on. I want to take them to storytime and bake cookies in the afternoon or make a fort. I love being a stay at home Mom and feel blessed to do so. Secondly I have been very lucky to have opportunities in professional reviewing, freelance writing about books  and even the possibility of writing a children’s series come my way so I feel drawn to those areas now in my career. I see my future more in that sphere than back in the library setting.

Courtney on the Deserted Island

The classic, you’re stranded on a desert island and can only take 5 _____?

  • Books: The Bible, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen, North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, The Monk by Matthew Lewis, ,
  • Movies: You’ve Got Mail, Gone with the Wind, Steel Magnolias, Jane Eyre (Cyrian Hinds version), Pride & Prejudice (1995 Colin Firth version)
  • TV shows: True Blood, Masterpiece Theatre, Top Chef, The First 48, Intervention
  • Foods: Tacos, White Chocolate Covered Oreos, A Cobb Salad, A Turkey BLT with Avocado, Vanilla Ice Cream

Many thanks to Courtney for the wonderful interview exchange experience!  Please be sure to check out her blog, as well as her interview of me.

BBAW: First Treasure: The First Book Blogs I Encountered

September 13, 2010 12 comments

Glowing treasure chestHello to those visiting for Book Blogger Appreciation Week!  To my loyal readers, in case you missed the note in Friday Fun, this week is Book Blogger Appreciation Week (BBAW) in which  people who blog about books come together, post on topics related to the theme, and award prizes to various types of book blogs.  This is my first year participating, and I must say that I feel like it’s the formal introduction to a community I’ve gradually become a part of over the last year.

The theme for this year’s week is “A Treasure Chest of Infinite Books and Infinite Blogs,” so each day’s theme is a “treasure.”  Today’s is all about either a new blog you’ve discovered since last year’s BBAW or the first book blog you encountered.

Last year at this time I was blogging about books, but not in the in-depth way I do now.  I started this blog as a place to voice my opinions on various things (mostly so I wouldn’t annoy the crap out of people I know irl).  That’s clearly how my blog got the name.  I was already entering my books read into LibraryThing and writing mini-reviews there, but I found myself wanting to say more, so I figured I’d start reviewing some of the books I read on my blog.  Some changed to most changed to all and suddenly I found the whole book blogging community.  My blog definitely isn’t exclusively a book blog.  It’s still my opinions.  I just happen to read a lot of books and have quite strong opinions on them, so reviews show up a lot.

Anyway, that’s not the question today, is it?  I’m really not sure if it was Jessica’s The Bookworm Chronicles or Meghan’s Medieval Bookworm that first crossed my radar, alerting me to the concept of a book blog, so I’ll talk about both of them!

I actually attended undergrad with Meghan.  We were casual acquaintances via mutual friends, not to mention the fact that our university was medium-sized, so you grew to know most people by sight.  I saw her talking with our mutual friend on twitter, and we got to talking again.  I admit I was curious, because I knew Meghan had moved to England to get married right after undergrad.  Talk about a transition!  Via twitter, I went to her website and was immediately intrigued by it.  Here was an opportunity to discuss books in an academic fashion; something I was sorely missing in my post-undergrad life.  Plus, since I knew Meghan before I saw the blog, I was able to see how much personality and personability impacts a blog.  Meghan’s reviews are academic and professional, but she never goes so far as to lose her own voice and personality.  Reading her blog is truly like discussing a book with your friend down the hall in the dorm who’s at the top of all her English or Medieval History classes.  That level of intellect and personability is exactly what appeals to me in book blogs.

Now Jessica I stumbled upon using WordPress’s tag surfer.  Basically, it finds other recent posts on WordPress that the writers tagged with the same tags you use.  Jessica had just started her blog when I stumbled upon her, but I was immediately intrigued.  It was again for the combination of intellect and personality; however, this time I was mainly interested in the glimpses into a British gal’s life who is approximately the same age as myself.  All of Jessica’s posts are very British, and I find that endlessly fascinating.  For instance, she takes the time at the beginning of each review to casually discuss the various interesting tidbits she knows about the author or the work or the impact the work has had on the world before delving into the plot and her thoughts on the book.  I think of reading Jessica’s blog as similar to visiting a country cousin who lives on a pleasant dirt road and always has a spot of tea and cookies (er, biscuits?) ready for when you arrive.  Jessica is also very personable, taking the time to respond to all the comments on her posts.  She’s one of those people who I wish actually lived down the road from me so we could be friends irl too.

I’ve of course found more blogs in the book blogging world since these two lovely ladies, but the ones that have longevity in my GoogleReader are the ones that are similar–they’re smart and personable.  They don’t worry about branding; they just are themselves.  Bright, intelligent, witty people who you are pleased to know online and wish lived close enough to have tea with periodically.

Friday Fun! (Announcements Galore)

September 10, 2010 5 comments

Hello my lovely readers! I actually have a few exciting blog announcements for you today!

First, I set up an aStore. An aStore is your own personal section on Amazon full of items you recommend. I have five categories: books, movies, tv shows, videogaming, and household. Every single item in my store is something I’ve personally read/watched/played/whatever and would give at least 4 out of 5 stars to. Since it’s just recommendations, you’re still buying the items from Amazon or a third-party seller, not me, but I do get a small percentage of the profit as a thanks from Amazon for referring you to them. There is a link to the store on the right sidebar of my blog, so if you want a centralized list of trust-worthy reading/viewing/playing recommendations with easy 1 or 2 click buying, please check it out! It’s good for me and good for you. It’s a win/win.

Next, I realized how embarrassingly odd and disorganized my categories were. I was still pretty much using the same ones I set up the first couple of weeks I was blogging before I really realized what I’d be posting on a regular basis. I didn’t even have genre categories for my plethora of book reviews. How annoying for you guys! I mean, say you like the dystopian reviews, but there was not category for that. Blergh. So, I totally revamped the categories. Not only did I add genres, but I also made these Friday Fun posts and Imminent Arrivals and TBR posts their own categories. It’s exciting and organized and it made me happy! Be sure to check it out, and please let me know if there are any categories that you think don’t make much sense. What makes sense to me might not make sense to people that aren’t me, after all.

Hokay, finally I wanted to give you guys a heads-up that next week is going to be a bit different as I’m participating in Book Blogger Appreciation Week (BBAW).  Basically, it’s a week every September since 2008 that exists “to recognize the hard work and contribution of book bloggers to the promotion and preservation of a literate culture actively engaged in discussing books, authors, and a lifestyle of reading.”  It consists of themed posts, visiting blogs new to you, and awards!  It’s an awesome idea, and major props to Amy of My Friend Amy for coming up with it.  I just missed it last year, and I’m excited to participate this year.  So next week in addition to my regular schedule of reviews there will also be the BBAW daily posts.  Each day will have a different theme like the first book blog you read, so it should still be interesting for my readers who aren’t book bloggers.

That’s it for announcements!  I hope you enjoy the store, the categories, and the BBAW posts next week.  🙂

Movie Review: Shortcut to Happiness (2004)

September 9, 2010 2 comments

Male and female feet entwined with a red devil's tail.Summary:
Jabez Stone loves writing, and he wants to be a good writer, but he also wants to be a famous one.  When his friend sells his manuscript for a lucrative sum, and Jabez follows this news up by having one of the worst days of his life, he tells the mirror that he’d sell his soul for that success.  Of course the devil comes knocking in the form of a beautiful woman to cut that deal, but fame isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Review:
Even though they’re all rather obvious and quite predictable, I’ve always enjoyed “sells soul to devil” stories as a sort of movie comfort food.  Yes, we all know what’s going to happen in the end, but the selling the soul part and the part immediately after when everything is going right are actually quite entertaining to watch.  The thing is, these movies can easily go bad if they’re not careful.  There’s fun cheesy, and then there’s eye-rolling cheesy.  Unfortunately, this movie is one of the latter.

It features a fairly impressive cast–Alec Baldwin, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Dan Akroyd, and Kim Cattrall–yet they for the most part fail to deliver.  Jennifer Love Hewitt clearly tries; it’s not her fault she was miscast.  For some reason many of these movies persist in casting Barbie doll fake plastic type actresses in the role of the devil, when it’s obvious a classic femme fatale would be much more accurate.  The devil should be glamorous, not fake.  It’s much harder to see through glamor than fake bullshit.  Dan Akroyd does a good job, but he is underutilized.  As for Baldwin and Cattrall, I had no idea these two can’t actually act, but they can’t.  Either that, or they can only act one type of role.  Baldwin behaves in exactly the same manner here as he does in 30 Rock, and ditto for Cattrall and Sex and the City.  In Cattrall’s case, that’s fine because it suits her role, but in Baldwin’s?  Yeesh.  His character is supposed to be a good soul who has one bad day and makes a bad decision, not a slimy corporate guy, and yet he reads as the latter.

In spite of the casting, the movie still could have been decent with a good script, which is why the first half of the movie is quite watchable.  Unfortunately, it takes a serious nose-dive in the second half of the movie from interesting exploration of human behavior to….a court room trial?  Held in a cemetery?  With a jury consisting of people from Jabez’s past and famous authors such as Hemingway?  What the fuck?!  The whole entire court room scene, which seems to last forever, is from so far out of left field and so painfully boring that it really, truly ruins the movie.  This is the classic example of how the ending can ruin an entire story.  Seriously, don’t start out being all “yay NYC capers! Plus, the devil!” and then slam us with a court room scene more boring than Law and Order.

That said, I still actually watched the whole movie.  Granted, I was playing Angry Birds on my iTouch most of the time, but the fact remains I did finish it.  So it is watchable, but it certainly is not high-quality viewing.  If you have time to kill and are a fan of any of the actors I mentioned or are a fan of selling soul to the devil stories, you won’t hate it, but there are definitely better films out there to kill time with.

2 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

Buy It It appears not to have been released on DVD. Interesting.

Book Review: Crime Scene at Cardwell Ranch by B.J. Daniels

September 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Man in cowboy hat looking into the distance.Summary:
Dana doesn’t want to sell the family ranch in Montana, but her siblings are insistent and without her mother’s new will, she doesn’t have a leg to stand on.  The sale gets held up when a body is discovered in an old well on the ranch.  A new marshal is brought in from out of town to investigate, and it’s none other than Hud, Dana’s ex-fiancee.  Can they find the killer?  Can Dana save the ranch from her greedy siblings?  Will renewed love overcome old hurts?

Review:
This is a Harlequin romance novel, and they are not meant to be super-serious or make you ponder life.  It’s light reading akin to viewing the hot summer blockbuster movie.  So does it do its job?

The murder storyline is just complex enough to be compelling but not so complex that too much thinking is required, so plot-wise, Daniels does a good job.  The characters are fairly well-rounded, and Daniels eloquently presents a true-to-life modern Montana and not the romanticized vision of the old west often seen in books.  (My brother used to live in Montana, so I’m speaking from experience here).  Hud and Dana are sigh-inducing as a couple, but are also still believable.  Their love story could happen in real life, so that makes for an enjoyable read.

However, Harlequin romances are definitely supposed to be romance.  I was expecting at least one good sex scene.  What you get is a scene that, I kid you not, consists almost entirely of he kissed her breasts, there was passion, they went to sleep.  I’ve seen better sex scenes in historical fiction that wasn’t even marketed as romance.  Is this a Harlequin thing?  Are they supposed to be that clean?  I definitely remember them being a lot more hot and heavy when I was 15, but well, that was 9 years ago.  In any case, this sex scene left much to be desired.  Much.

The book also suffers from a lack of good editing.  This definitely isn’t Daniels’  fault.  Daniels makes mistakes most writers will make periodically in a book this long, but the editor failed to catch them.  I’d say there are around five easily noticeable errors in the book.  I find it easy enough to roll my eyes and continue on. If that sort of thing bothers you, though, you should be aware.

Overall, Daniels provides an intriguing modern day crime mystery set in rural Montana with a touch of romance and sex that happens off the page.  If you like light, fairly clean genre fiction with a dash of intrigue, you will enjoy this book.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

Buy It

Book Review: God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut

September 6, 2010 6 comments

Book cover with a large blue V and a pig wearing pearls.Summary:
A satire on free enterprise, money, and capitalism in America told by examining the fictional Rosewaters–an uber-wealthy American family whose ancestor acquired his wealth essentially by profiteering during the Civil War.  The current Rosewater fights in WWII and returns with this crazy idea that everyone deserves to be equally happy and people who inherited wealth did nothing to deserve it.  He responds to this conundrum of conscience by returning to his ancestor’s hometown and using the Rosewater Foundation to help the “useless poor.”  In the meantime, a lawyer by the name of Mushari decides to attempt to prove that Mr. Rosewater is insane, and the foundation money should be handed off to his cousin, currently a suicidal, middle-class insurance man.

Review:
How to review Vonnegut?  Upheld (at my university anyway) as the epitome of great American writing.  He is certainly prolific, and some of his books absolutely deserve the high praise (Slaughterhouse-Five springs to mind).  I don’t feel that this novel lives up to his reputation, however.  I was left feeling that I somehow had missed his point.  That he was attempting to make some high and mighty, heavy-handed vision known to me, and it just didn’t come through.

I think part of the problem stems from the fact that the first third of the book is focused on Eliot Rosewater, the next on his cousin, and the last on Eliot again.  Just as I was getting into Eliot’s story, it switched to his cousin.  Then when I was getting into his cousin’s story, it switched back to Eliot.  To top it all off, the ending left me with little to no resolution on either one.  Maybe Vonnegut’s point is that capitalism either makes you crazy or depressed with no way out?  I’m not sure.

That’s not to say that this wasn’t a fun read, though.  Vonnegut crafts the mid-western town Eliot lives in and the Rhodes Island seacoast town his cousin lives in with delicious detail.  What is interesting about both are of course the people in the towns surrounding the main characters, and not the main characters themselves.  In particular the Rhodes Island town is full of surprisingly well-rounded secondary characters from the cousin’s wife who’s experimenting in a lesbian relationship, to the local fisherman and his sons, to the local restaurant owner who is intensely fabulous (yes, the gay kind of fabulous. There’s quite a bit of GLBT in this book, for those interested in that).  I was so interested in this town.  This was a town that actually demonstrated the problems innate in some people having too much money while others don’t have enough.  This was so much more interesting than Rosewater’s sojourn in Indiana.  But then!  Just when I was really getting into it and thinking this book might approach Slaughterhouse-Five level….bam! Back to Indiana.

Much more interesting than the heavy-handed money message was the much more subtle one on the impact of war.  Mr. Rosewater’s sanity issues go back to WWII.  I won’t tell you what happened, because the reveal is quite powerful.  Suffice to say, Vonnegut clearly understood the impact WWII had on an entire generation and clearly thought about the impact of war on humanity in general.  In this way, this book is quite like Slaughterhouse-Five.  Another interesting way that it’s similar is that Mr. Rosewater listens to a bird tweeting in the same manner (poo-tee-weet!)  I haven’t read enough Vonnegut to know, but I wonder if these two items show up in many of his works?  The birds, especially, are interesting.

Overall, if you’re a Vonnegut enthusiast, enjoy reading for setting and character studies, and don’t mind a message that’s a bit heavy-handed, you will enjoy this book.  Folks just looking for a feel of what makes Vonnegut held in such high esteem should stick to Slaughterhouse-Five though.

3.5 out of 5

Source: PaperBackSwap

Buy It

Friday Fun! (Fridge and Online Class)

September 3, 2010 6 comments

Hello my lovely readers!  I hope this week treated you well, and to my New England readers, I hope you survived the heat wave relatively painlessly.  My thoughts are going out to those of you in the south-east and eastern seaboard facing Hurricane Earl.

At the beginning of last weekend, I opened my fridge to discover that my soy milk had exploded.  Not pleasant.  I cleaned it up and thought that was that, but then I noticed that my produce seemed to have grown mold overnight and my cheese was sweaty.  It took until that point to realize that my fridge was not as cold as it should be.  I turned it to its maximum coldness, and that seemed to work for a day, but then it went right back to shitty.  My fridge was on the fritz.  Also my landlord was out of town on vacation, and it took me a while to get ahold of him.  Oddly, my freezer was working the whole time, just not the fridge.  Long story short (too late!), the fan was busted and that’s what moves the cold air from the freezer to the fridge.  On the plus side, I got to see the inner workings of my fridge while a super-sweet father/son contracting team, complete with thick Boston accents and Irish names, fixed my fridge.  On the minus side, I lost all of my food in the fridge portion.  Since I cook a lot, this was actually a lot of food.  Ah well, at least it’s fixed now, and I have a new appreciation for people who have to live without refrigeration.

My new online class is in full-swing.  I was pleased to discover the required textbooks on my Kindle app for cheaper than the print versions, so naturally I bought them there.  It’s always hard to get print copies of textbooks off your hands after you’re done with them anyway.  The class is on librarianship for distance learners, and as part of the course we’re being embedded as librarians into online courses at University of Central Missouri.  My online course itself is at San Jose State University.  My classmates are literally from all over the world, even Australia!  I have no idea how she’s dealing with the time difference.  I find myself scratching my head over it all the time, and I’m only a few time zones away.  I’m pretty excited for this course, because for once they’re letting us do real librarian work (which I already do anyway, but still….).  It’ll look good when I’m applying for jobs for sure!

This weekend is a 3 day weekend here in the States for Labor Day (basically a holiday in honor of the workers in the US, aka, moi).  I have plans to see a couple of my friends. Naturally some me time including reading and playing either Twilight Princess or Paper Mario (or both!) will be worked in too.  Oh, and restocking my fridge.  If Earl lightens up enough at some point for me to go buy groceries, that is.  What’re your weekends looking like?