Monthly Archives: August 2013

Harassment in the Stacks: A non-review post on a review website, so sue me

I know that the entire premise of this blog is to post reviews, but I’ve been increasingly bothered by an issue lately and, frankly, this is the only place I can really rant about it. That being said, feel free to stop reading now that you know it isn’t a review.

Prior to making the jump to librarianship, I taught high school English for 5 years. Teaching public high school prepares you for an amazing number of things, including the ability to suffer abuse without flinching. In five years of teaching, I can’t count the number of times that I had parents and students alike heap abuse on me for all manner of things. I was too young to be teaching, I was racist, I was incompetent, I was mean, I gave too much work, my class wasn’t easy enough, blah blah blah. I spent most days of my first year of teaching going home, sitting on my couch, drinking most of a bottle of wine, and crying hysterically because I was so unhappy.

I was obviously much more of delicate flower my first year of teaching than I am now.

So after a year of this self-imposed misery, a friend from college asked me why I cared so much.  “You aren’t there to be their friend. It’s not your job to make them like you. Your job is to make them learn something. As long as you’re doing that, who cares what they say?” Lightbulb moment of my life. Teaching got much easier after that and some of the students who spit the most vitriol at me have later come back and told me how much of a difference I made in their lives. I spent the next four years becoming pretty much impervious to people hurting my feelings. I have to like you a whole lot for you to be able to hurt my feelings nowadays.

This skill has proven to be exceptionally helpful in the world of public libraries. When I first began working in a library three years ago, my building was under construction and many of our patrons were angry about a lot of things. Apparently, it is the library’s fault(and therefore mine by extension) that property taxes have gone up $400, that we live in a third world country, that the power goes out sometimes, that rats exist, and that the renovation of a two-story building cannot be accomplished in a weekend.  I have spent a lot of the past three years nodding calmly as people yell at me. I’ve gotten so good at this that when we get new employees, my first piece of advice is: “If you get a really nasty patron, just send them to me. It’s just easier to let them yell at me because it just doesn’t bother me.”

Now don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of wonderful things about working in a library. The sense of victory at figuring out a book title with a short three word description. The satisfaction of solving one of the many technical problems that patrons come by with. Having patrons stop by the desk just to say hello and tell us that we’re their favorite librarians. The excitement of recommending a book for someone and having them come back to tell me how much they loved it. By and large, we have way more kind and happy patrons than angry, embittered ones and I am grateful every day for them.

Then there’s the third set of patrons. And it’s this set that is becoming more and more problematic for me: Creeper patrons. I get that as a public librarian part of my job is going to entail busting people for watching porn. But I’m really tired of the BS excuse of, “Oh, I didn’t realize I couldn’t look at that here.” Seriously? You didn’t realize that it was inappropriate to look at a screen size picture of a vagina in the middle of a public library full of children, teens, and other adults? I do my best to joke about it to avoid thinking about exactly how much it creeps me out that this person is now smiling at me and trying to play dumb.

Additionally, I am not your best friend, or you future girlfriend, or your shrink. Please don’t stand at the reference desk and tell me all about your divorce and how you think your ex is such a crazy bitch, all the while smiling at me and telling me how nice you think I look today. I didn’t put on a dress to look nice for you; I did it because my boss would fire me if I showed up in jeans, a t-shirt, and a pair of Chucks.

Further, if you are over the age of 16, do not, under any circumstances whatsoever, follow around our high school aged pages while they shelve books and ask them their life story. You are not being friendly, you are scaring them to death. And so help you if you follow them out to the parking lot.

But see, that’s the problem. These types of patrons have no fear of getting kicked out of the library. We run interference as best we can, we explain to them, in the politest way possible that their behavior could be “misinterpreted” but I can’t actually do anything. We’re a public, tax-funded entity so apparently a little good old fashioned harassment just isn’t enough to ban someone. We can politely ask them not to do it again but inevitably run up against people(be they management, board members, Friends, etc.) who don’t understand why it’s a big deal. “You should be flattered.” “Oh, I’m sure he didn’t mean anything by it.” “He’s just lonely and you’re such a lovely young woman.”

I’ve never realized how much it bothered until recently when a male patron, going through a divorce, kept coming up to the desk to ask questions about zip codes. Each question followed by a five minute ramble and then an effusive gushing of how much he appreciates my help and how friendly I am and how much he enjoys coming to the library. At which point I realized that every time he was coming to the desk I was starting to hunch my shoulders over and avoid eye contact. I desperately tried to appear too busy to talk to or tried to engage another patron or co-worker in the hopes that he would go talk to someone else. But instead he would wait patiently until I could no longer ignore him and it crushed a little bit of my soul every time.

I don’t like feeling uncomfortable in my work place and even more, I hate feeling powerless to do anything about it. I can handle people being mean to me, I can handle rowdy teens, possible fist fights, and people who pee in the study room. But apparently I don’t handle harassment as well as I thought and it is becoming increasingly frustrating. So that’s my non-review rant for the day.

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REVIEW: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Title: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

Author: Holly Black

Publisher/Publication Date: Little, Brown and Company, pub. date September 3, 2013

 

So, as with my review of Curtsies & Conspiracies, I’m going to start this with a little bit of fan girling. I’ve read a few other things by Holly Black and really enjoyed them. Additionally, I was lucky enough to meet her at ALA where I picked up my signed copy of The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. Yeah, she’s really super nice. I’ve seen some authors who just sort of smile and nod at people as they go through the autograph line. She really seemed to make a point to try and chat a little with people, have a laugh here and there. And I squeed out loud at work when she replied to something I posted on Twitter. So yeah, I’m a fan girl and not ashamed to admit it J I really appreciate authors who don’t try to act all fancy pants and better than their fans.

Our main character, Tana, is a seventeen year old girl who lives in a world in which vampires exist and are kept, in theory, under control in walled off cities known as Coldtowns. Tana wakes up the morning after a party to find a house full of her friends slaughtered by vampires, her ex-boyfriend tied to a bed infected with the vampire virus, and a mysterious vampire boy. To her credit, instead of abandoning them to the vampires who perpetrated the massacre, she helps them both escape and the three set off to the nearest Coldtown.

When I started reading this book I described it on Twitter as a nice mix of creepy realism.  I grew up on traditional fantasy and it’s still my go-to genre for when I want to read something I know I’m going to love. Urban fantasy, which is how I would personally classify this particular novel, has also become a favorite of mine. One of the reasons I enjoy urban fantasy, and something that I think is a vital component of urban fantasy, is the sense of realism and contemporaneity that is found. The way that magic intertwines with the mundane fascinates me. While vampires fall clearly into the fantastical realm, Black’s characters, their motivations, actions, reactions, etc. all fall firmly in the realm of realism.

When Tana is confronted by the dead bodies of her slaughtered friends and classmates, Black clearly articulates her growing panic and desperate attempt to smother her hysteria. Anyone who has endured some form of traumatic situation can understand this overwhelming and incredibly awkward desire to laugh hysterically at inopportune moments simply because our mind can’t seem to reconcile what is happening. My father died when I was 19 and I still remember telling incredibly inappropriate jokes to my brother throughout the funeral because I just couldn’t deal with what was happening. It has to be dealt with eventually and we see Tana struggle with this throughout the novel as things swing from good to bad, from terrifying to exciting, and so forth. Watching the emotional roller coaster that she goes through in conjunction with the physically demanding events of the plot kept me drawn in and eager to keep reading. I so genuinely wanted to see how Tana was going to stomp her own path through the opulent and horrifying world that is Coldtown.

So,  as you have probably realized, I thought the book was great. The pace moves along well, Black develops the characters that need to grow but isn’t afraid to give static characters major roles as well. It’s a good mix that keeps the book moving while keeping the reader invested. The quotes located at the beginning of each chapter were a nice touch as well and add a lot to the tone of the novel. Now, go forth and read this book as soon as you can.

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REVIEW: The Dead Run by Adam Mansbach

 

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Title: The Dead Run

Author: Adam Mansbach

Publisher/Publication Date: Harper Voyager, pub. date September 24, 2013

 

While I do harbor a deep and abiding love for zombies, I don’t typically go for horror novels. I read R.L. Stine, Christopher Pike and all that other fluffy crap when I was younger but somehow I never got around to graduating to actual horror as I got older. In the last couple of years I’ve stumbled across a couple of things here and there that strike my fancy(Joe Hill in particular) but I’ve never been motivated to search out new horror novels. So when I pulled The Dead Run out of my swag bag from Harper Collins I was fairly skeptical about it. And I will be totally honest and admit that it took a fair bit of talking to myself to add it into the rotation.

At which point I promptly read it in two days despite a busy weekend at GenCon.

The premise of the book is pretty easy to follow. Our main character Jess Galvan is offered his freedom from a Mexican jail if he agrees to run a package across the border. Of course, the fact that he’s being given this bargain by some creepy god-like figure living in the basement of the prison and that the package is suitably supernatural, this is obviously not going to end well. Tied up in all of this, but unbeknownst to Galvan, a number of girls have gone missing and evil is pretty much running rampant. Galvan accepts the deal and sets off across the desert with five other criminals who have been chosen as his companions.  I’ll stop there to avoid spoiling any major plot points. 

So, my favorite thing about this book is that there aren’t any really good characters. Everyone in the book is either a little bit morally gray or just completely bloody evil. Morally gray is an area that I enjoy in a character because I think it adds a lot of realism to a book, even one that is heavy on the supernatural. It’s hard to be wholly “good” in the world. We can either follow the rules or we can follow a more personal code of honor. Neither is a perfect option and a lot of this book is about watching Jess Galvan try to figure out how to play by the rules of the game he’s been dragged in to or play by the rules of his conscious.  To me, that’s the most interesting portion of the story and I would have liked significantly more depth to all the characters, not just Galvan. I understand why this isn’t always possible though and there’s enough moving the plot along to make it a good read without the extra character development. There were also a couple of plot points that I would have liked to see more of as well, but as the book is already close to 300 pages I’m not super surprised that some things had to be glossed over. Not everyone wants to read books that weigh more than a small child. 

All in all, it’s a good read. Not overly terrifying so more enjoyable for a wider audience. There is violence throughout the book but nothing close to the splatterpunk levels you see in some novels. And the book doesn’t need excessive terror or gore to stand so I’m glad it wasn’t shoved in randomly. The end leaves an opening for a sequel, but I think this is one that I would prefer to see remain a stand alone. 

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REVIEW: Curtsies & Conspiracies by Gail Carriger

Curtsies and Conspiracies

Title: Curtsies & Conspiracies (Book the Second of the Finishing School Series)

Author: Gail Carriger

Publisher/Publication Date: Little, Brown and Company, anticipated pub. Date November 2014

I’m going to preface this review by acknowledging that I am a huge fan of Gail Carriger and I have utterly adored every single book of hers that I have read. So it probably comes as no surprise that I found this book to be wonderful.

I first came across Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series while browsing through Borders. I liked the cover, read the description and made a mental note to come back to it one day. Six months or so later, I finally got around to reading it and was hooked on the madcap mischief of Alexia Tarrabotti. I like Carriger’s books because they don’t seem to take themselves too seriously. They’re incredibly well written and show an obvious dedication to being as accurate as possible when possible. But they aren’t at all stuffy or hard to get into which makes them appealing to a wide variety of readers.

The Finishing School series is set earlier than the Parasol Protectorate series (I’m not entirely sure by how much) and does focus on a younger set of characters who are being educated at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. What at first glance, and to the untrained eye, appears to be a typical finishing school is actually a school of espionage and clandestine activities located on a dirigible. The first book in the series, Etiquette & Espionage, follows our somewhat clumsy but quite clever protagonist Sophronia as she enters and then completes her first year of academy. Curtsies & Conspiracies follows Sophronia’s second year of schooling and involves a deadly conspiracy surrounding an intriguing device.

While this series is aimed primarily at a YA audience, it is easily enjoyed by adult fans as well. There are fewer romantic entanglements involved with the younger set of characters, but there is plenty of amusing awkwardness as Sophronia begins to  take more note of her male counterparts and tries to sort out who she is, what she wants, and who she wants. A portion of the plot hinges heavily upon the question of friendship: what defines our friendships, how strong are they, and to what extent do we need them? While espionage tends to be more of a solitary activity, Sophronia’s friends, including Soap, Sidheag, Vieve, Agatha, and Dimity, all continue to play prominent roles in the plot as they also tackle these questions.

The book contains enough mystery to drive the plot and be suitably entertaining without overshadowing the character development that makes the book more than happy fluff. Carriger’s characters are relatable as well as likable, her villains are properly diabolical, the language is clever, and the surprise appearance of a well-known character absolutely made my day. I’m greatly looking forward to the next book in the series and will probably promptly re-read the first two with as much enjoyment as my first read through.

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