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A working librarian and library student who spends too much time reading shares all she has read. She is not genre specific, but her job makes her heavy on children's and YA.
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1. We Need Diverse Books

Every year, the Cooperative Children's Book Center tracks how many books are by, or about, people of color. They just released the numbers for 2014.

It's not pretty.

For some context--they estimate 5000 books for kids and teens were pubbed. They looked at 3500 of them. I took the number of books about an ethnic group and divided it by 3500 to get the percentage. I then did the number of books by an ethnic group and did the same thing. (CCBC breaks it out into two numbers--how many are about that ethnic group, and how many do not contain significant cultural content of that group. I added those two numbers together to get a total.)

I then graphed those percentages against the percentage of the US population of the same ethnic group. (Source: 2013 Census Bureau info) (I added the numbers for Asian and Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander to get a number to compare to CCBC's Asian Pacific/Asian Pacific American)

Ideally, all of these percentages should be equal.

They're not:



We can certainly do better than this.



Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

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2. Coming Soon (and I can't wait)

Looking through the upcoming hardcover adult fiction lists for work, here are some books that caught my eye:



Paris Red: A Novel by Maureen Gibbon. A novel exploring Olympia--the model the posed for it, the painter who painted it, and how it changed everything in their lives. Pubs April 20

Mademoiselle Chanel: A Novel by CW Gortner. A fictionalized biography of Coco Chanel. I've recently made my peace with fictionalized biographies (they're literary biopics!) and they're a fun way to read more about someone I wouldn't necessarily read an actual biography of. Pubs March 17

The Scapegoat: A Novel by Sophia Nikolaidou, translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich. Based on a true story, a school student is assigned the task of finding the truth in the murder of an American journalist in Greece in 1948. The killer was found, but after serving his time, claims his innocence. Out now



Me and My Daddy Listen to Bob Marley: Novellas and Stories by Ann Pancake. I've been getting into short stories lately and these take place in rural Appalachia--a place that is so geographically close to me, but is a whole different world. Out now.

A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab. Library Journal gave it a star and this part of a sentence is what sold me "the three Londons we see (and rumors of the one we do not)..." Pubs February 24

Love in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction: A Novel by Judd Trichter. Eliot fell in love with an android, and she's been kidnapped and sold off for spare parts. Now he has to buy up the parts, reassemble her, and then hunt down the people who did this to her. Out now.




Bones & All: A Novel by Camille DeAngelis. Kirkus said this coming-of-age story about a ghoul who keeps eating people read like a cheesy episode of Buffy. Like that was a BAD thing. Pubs March 10.

The Last Flight of Poxl West: A Novel by Daniel Torday. Eli idolizes his uncle Poxl--debonair fighter pilot and WWII hero, but as Eli learns more, he realizes that there is a darker side to Poxl's life and the legend he's built up for himself. Pubs March 17.

A Love Like Blood: A Novel by Marcus Sedgwick. Um, Marcus Sedgwick wrote an adult book. The only other thing you need to know is that is it's out now.



The Prince: A Novel by Vito Bruschini, translated from the Italian by Anne Milano Appel. The most promising of a handful of mob books on this month's lists. This one covers the true story of how mafia began in Italy, Irish and Italian gang turf wars in New York, and WWII. Pubs March 10

A Dangerous Place: A Maisie Dobbs Novel by Jacqueline Winspear. New! Maisie! Dobbs! Pubs March 17.

The Devil's Detective: A Novel by Simon Kurt Unsworth. A detective novel about a serial killer--but it takes place in Hell. Intriguing. Pubs March 12.



The Mouth of the Crocodile: A Mamur Zapt mystery set in pre-World War I Egypt by Michael Pearce. It's the subtitle that got me--pre-WWI Egypt. This is the 18th in a series I'm unfamiliar with, so I'll have to start at the beginning with The Mamur Zapt & the Return of the Carpet). This new one pubs on March 1.

Murder in the Queen's Wardrobe: An Elizabethan Spy Thriller by Kathy Lynn Emerson. Ladies in waiting that double as spies? Elizabethan England and the Russians are involved? Please download this into my brain ASAP. Pubs March 1.

Duet in Beirut: A Thriller by Mishkla Ben-David, translated from the Hebrew by Evan Fallenberg. A spy thriller written by a former Mossad agent. Ben-David's a best seller in Israel and this is his first novel translated into English. Pubs on April 14.



Leaving Berlin: A Novel by Joseph Kanon. Alex fled the Nazis for America, but in the McCarthy era, his pre-war activities mark him for deportation. He strikes a deal with the CIA--he'll return to Berlin, as their agent, and earn his way back to the US. But the CIA wants him to spy on those it was hardest to leave the first time. Pubs on March 3.


Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

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3. Diversity Wins at the Youth Media Awards

ALA's Youth Media Awards are always an exciting day for those who love youth literature. This is when the big prizes (Newbery! Caldecott! Printz! more!) are announced.

There are several specialized awards, such as the Coretta Scott King awards for books by African-Americans about the African-American Experience, and there has been some worry that these awards "ghetto-ize" books by diverse authors. While committees can't explicitly take it into consideration, are books by diverse authors unintentionally overlooked for the bog awards because oh, they'll just win the other one, that's "for them"?

Not today. Not today. Not today. It was SO EXCITING to see overlap between the awards and see so much diversity recognized and celebrated. Let's hope this isn't a one-year change, but long-term one.

Here are some of the diverse titles awarded today Caveats: I'm only listing books where diversity wasn't a criteria, so I'm not listing winners of the Schneider Family Award, Coretta Scott King awards, Pura Bel Pre, Stonewall, or Batchelder because listing all of them inflates the numbers. Many of the books listed also won these awards though, because they're awesome books. I may have also missed a few titles.



The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

El Deafo by Cece Bell

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson



Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales, photographs by Tim O'Meara

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki

I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson



Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Howell, illustrated by Christian Robinson

H.O.R.S.E.: A Game of Basketball and Imagination by Christopher Myers, narrated by Dion Graham and Christopher Myers (yes, I know this links to the book. It won for audio, but Amazon doesn't seem to carry it)

Five, Six, Seven, Nate! written and narrated by Tim Federle



Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family's Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen




Laughing at My Nightmare by Shane Burcaw

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin

Bingo's Run: A Novel by James A Levine



Confessions by Kanae Minato, translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder

Everything I Never Told You: A Novel by Celeste Ng

The Terrorist's Son: A Story of Choice by Zak Ebrahim with Jeff Giles

AND! In addition to the books, the 3 authors honored were... Donald Crews, Sharon M. Draper, and Pat Mora.

It's an awesome list, no?


Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

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4. 2014 in Review

Well, it's a new year, so of course it's time to look back on the year that was. I hate doing my "best of" lists or my stats before the clock strikes midnight because I CAN STILL TOTALLY READ MOAR BOOKS!

But first, a look back and the highlights of this year (I'll save the lowlights for when we're sharing a bottle of wine face-to-face).

At the beginning of the year I finished up my work on Outstanding Books for the College Bound. Almost a full year later and I'm still really damn proud of that list.

Shortly after, I was able to drop the "Acting" from my job title of Acting Branch Manager. I also joined the adult collection development committee, which has been really great.

In May, I did my last storytime. I'm sure I'll do it again, maybe if it's just filling in, but it is no longer part of my regular job duties, and probably won't be again for quite some time. It's been bittersweet. (BUT! This fall, with the new storytime schedule, and me working a slightly different work schedule, there is now a storytime that I can take L to! So now I get to go to storytime, which is great.)

In June, I transferred to a much larger branch in my system, which was a big change, but one I'm really enjoying. After about a week there, I went off to Las Vegas for ALA. Angela and I got to present on tips and tricks for reader's advisory with nonfiction and I got to hang out with old friends and make new ones. We took the most epic group selfie to make Rachel jealous. But I got her twitter handle wrong when mocking her with it. And then, in the airport on the way home, I won $40 in the Dolly Parton slot machine.

In August, I started a tumblr documenting my attempts to explain pop songs to L. L now has more tumblr followers than I have on all my other social media accounts combined. And then multiplied.

This fall, I was asked to give my ALA presentation again at a staff day in a nearby library system, which was really nice. And now I'm working on updating it (highlighting new books) because I'm giving it again this May at the Maryland and Delaware Library Association Annual Conference, which is very exciting.

I also started a new project on the website, suggesting read-alikes for the books with the longest holds lists. That's been a really fun challenge that I (hope) is something our users are finding useful.

And, of course, I read a lot. After 2 years on YALSA committees, this was a bit of a recovery year. I read a lot less. I've also found I'm much more willing to drop a book part-way through if it's just not working for me at that moment. And, now that I'm no longer officially a youth services librarian and am doing more with adult collections, I read a lot more adult titles, which is a really big shift.

So... I read 147 books. 58 were YA, 7 were middle grade (?!) and a whopping 79 were adult. (yes, I know that math doesn't quite work.)

77 were by women, 67 were by men. 37 were titles I would consider diverse. 20 were translated works. 57 were comics and 11 were adult romances. 37 were nonfiction, which is a low percentage for me especially as many were 'required' but it makes sense after 2 years of nonfiction-heavy years because of my committee work. And only 43 books were required reading (so, for committee work [last minute OBCB reading and my pre-Cybils reading] and assigned reviews).

So... that's my year. Next year, I want to read more diverse titles and more works in translation and more romance.

How was your year? Oh, and here are some of my favorite books of the year:









Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

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5. Cybils books about Trans* people

Leelah Alcorn was a trans* teen who commited suicide this weekend. Her parents wouldn't accept her, her friends, either. She was alone with no support, and she killed herself. Her mother then posted on Facebook about how her son had been hit by a truck, implying it was a horrific accident. There is a beautiful hashtag right now, #RealLiveTransAdult to let trans* teens know that there is hope.

Four books about trans* people were nominated in the Cybils YA Nonfiction category this year. 4. That's tied with perennial favorite subjects of the Civil Rights Movement and WWII. I've read them and had reviews written on each of them, picking apart their merits and weaknesses, judging how they may or may not be award worthy. Some obviously compare against others, pitting themselves against each other in my judge-y reader's brain.

You know what? In light of this? Fuck that. I just can't pick them apart when the importance that they even exist is so painfully obvious today. None of them have fundamental flaws, they are all worthy of recommendation, and here they are:


Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition Katie Rain Hill. A college student when she wrote this, Katie tells her story of growing up in a body that didn't feel right--the body of a boy. She tells of her depression and pain and the sheer relief of discovering that transgender was a thing--there was a word for what she was and she wasn't alone. She details the process of coming out and transitioning, the support of her mother and the bullying at school, her advocacy work in Oklahoma, and starting college. A wonderful memoir.





Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen Arin Andrews. A high school senior, this is also a memoir of a trans* teen, detailing his life growing up, his depression and his problems at his very conservative Christian school, as well as coming out and transitioning. There is also the real heartbreak of falling in love and a painful breakup after his girlfriend goes to college. This one has a little more medical information than Rethinking Normal

I would read these two as a set, as Arin and Katie are both from the Tulsa area and had some very similar, and some very different experiences. They also used to date and their relationship (and messy breakup) is well-documented in both books so they can be a sort of he said/she said set. Having two (sometimes drastically different) takes on the relationship (including different versions of events and conversations) might be a very successful way to hand sell the set to teens who might not be otherwise interested in reading a trans* memoir.





Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out Susan Kuklin. Kuklin interviewed several trans* teens for her book, editing their conversations down to a narrative in the teen's own voice. In the range of interviews and photographs, Kuklin captures a wide-range of trans* experiences and showcases the diversity within the trans* community. (Also, it's just a plain gorgeous book. I'm usually all about a smaller trim size for YA nonfiction, but yes, this is a book that can justify being larger.)





Transgender Lives: Complex Stories, Complex Voices Kirstin Cronn-Mills. Much like Beyond Magenta, this book focuses on several trans* narratives (although not exclusively young people) and the personal stories of trans* people. Interspersed are chapters to offer background and context--challenges faced by trans* people (covering topics such as legal, health, and social), trans* people in history, introduction to trans* issues, how trans* people and issues are viewed in different cultures, and more. It's hard to tell in the photo, but the cover is a shiny silver, making it a fuzzy mirror.









Books Provided by... my local library, with the exception of Transgender Lives, which was given to me at a publisher dinner with the author at ALA.

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

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6. Eyes Wide Open

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

Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines Paul Fleischman

Fleischman (who’s probably most known for his Newberry Prize winning Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices) offers a book about the real issues facing us environmentally while, at the same time, teaches teens how to evaluate their sources and be an informed consumer of news. It’s a really great call to action, pointing out how we need to change things, and maybe should have changed them yesterday.

I really liked the design of the book, but I think it would have worked even better in color.

The margins contain a lot of extra reading or watching for more information. It was a great way to recommend some great titles. I also really like what he chose--a good mix of books, articles, movies, and videos. Additionally, a lot of the things he chose are for adults, but are things teens could totally read and understand. It shows a respect for his audience that I really appreciate.

It also has excellent back matter and extensive endnotes--not only are all the sources documented, but many also give further information.

That said, there is a “how-to-think how-to manual” vibe to the book that grates a bit--it seemed condescending. I’m also wondering at who it’s aimed at--are teens no longer cynical about what they’re being told by THE MAN?

Fleischman’s writing often uses many of the same logical fallacies he warns readers against falling for. And, some of his points were interesting, but he didn’t have anything to back them up (like lack of food is what led to the Rwandan genocide and the crisis in Darfur. I think that’s an interesting argument to make, but the argument has to actually be made.)

Two things really irked me though--one is that he really hates think tanks (wonder if he feels the same way about the left wing environmental ones?) and paints them with such a brush that what he describes just doesn’t resemble what they are (and yes, this is personal, and yes, I know a lot about think tanks from the inside.) He tends to equate them with lobbyists (they’re not the same thing) and also all lobbyists are bad (what about the ones who lobby for the environment? According to Fleischman it doesn’t matter, because they’re not as well funded. Um, no. If you have a problem with the tactics, you have a problem with the tactics, if you have a problem with funding imbalance, that’s something else.) He also says that all talking heads on the news are PR flacks. Nope.

The other is the overblown hyperbole he resorts to. According to him, Foundations are a way for think tanks to hide where their money comes from and is the same thing as how drug cartels launder their money. Also, when talking about the psychological phenomenon of regression (trying to make the point that people would rather watch TV, play video games, care about a sports fandom or hang out on social media than face reality and learn about the world around them, which is problematic enough, but wait) he talks about how it regression causes childish reactions--his examples? Credit cards [note: not credit card debt, but credit cards in general] and tax revolts are childish reactions to wanting it now and not being able to save for the future or long term. And shootings are a crazy-people childish reaction to annoying people.*

And then my head exploded.

He makes some great points, but so much of it is undermined by his tone and writing, that it undoes everything that's right about this book.


Exact quotation: “With the daunting issues facing us, it’s easy to see the appeal of retreating to a childlike stage without responsibility. This is the defense mechanism regression. Where can you see it? Credit cards. You haven’t saved enough money but you really want something now? Go ahead and buy it anyway! Tax Revolts. Maturity demands looking beyond our narrow interests. Contributing to the public good from our private pockets causes some adults to throw tantrums. Shootings. Don’t like your boss/ex-wife/gum-chewing coworker? Blowing them away is a childish fantasy with such appeal that some mentally unstable people act it out.” p. 69


Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

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7. How I Discovered Poetry

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

How I Discovered Poetry Marilyn Nelson

Traveling Light (Smoky Hill AFB, Kansas, 1956)

In memory, Pudgy is just a tail
brushing my thighs as we surveyed the shelves
in the icebox. “Pudgy,” Daddy explained,
“went to live with a different family;
she’s fed and happy.” Lady welcomed us
to one Officer’s Housing, where she lived
under our unit. She was a good dog.
She seemed almost sad when we drove away
behind the moving van. And General
did have a knack for causing us trouble:
He dug up gardens, dragged whole clotheslines home.
“He’ll be happier with his new family,”
Daddy explains. We’ve been transferred again.
We stand numb as he gives away our toys.

This is a beautiful collection of unrhymed sonnets exploring life growing up on a series of military bases--a child of one of the few black officers. It explores so well the pain of growing up coupled with the pain of moving every few years, always saying goodbye, always trying to fit in with a new group of kids--sometimes made even harder by racial differences.

It’s a sparse book--only 50 sonnets--but packs a punch. Inevitably it will be compared to the other memoir-in-verse that came out this year, Brown Girl Dreaming, and I fear it will be overshadowed by it, which is sad, because this one is so good and so lovely.

It’s also wonderfully illustrated by Hadley Hooper in black-and-white drawings (maybe prints?) occasionally accented with muted goldenrod or blue.

Now, how do I feel about it as Cybils book? This one’s interesting… it’s a nomination in both YA nonfiction and in Poetry. I think it’s an outstanding choice, and strong contender for poetry, I do not think it’s a strong choice for YA Nonfiction. If nothing else, her author’s note states: “I prefer to call the girl in the poems ‘the Speaker,’ not ‘me.’ Although the poems describe a girl whose life is very much like mine, the incidents the poems describe are not entirely or exactly ‘memories.’ They are sometimes much enhanced by research and imagination.” So, a wonderful book that everyone should read, but not the right book for this award.

Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

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8. Strike

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

Strike!: The Farm Workers' Fight for Their Rights Larry Brimmer

When I was growing up, my parents had a Boycott Grapes sign in our basement. I knew Cesar Chavez was a labor leader, but when I hear his name, my mind always goes to this:



Strike changed all that, really bringing to life the issues of migrant workers and how and why they unionized.

What Brimmer does really well is bring a lot of meat to the story--the divides between Filipino and Chicano workers, the politics involved in *which* union you joined (not all unions are created equal, which is a side of labor history we don’t see a lot, especially in children’s books.) I also like that Brimmer takes a hard warts-and-all look at Chavez and where he mis-stepped and where he succeeded and everything he accomplished.

To top it off, the design is just breathtakingly gorgeous. I would have gone for a smaller trim size, to make it more appealing to an older audience, but if you’re going to make it large, this is the way to do it. (Except a few of the pictures are too large, making them pixelated) There are several pull quotes which is great, and they’re presented in Spanish and English. On one hand, I like that they’re in both languages when this makes sense. But, why are non-Hispanic whites and Filipinos translated into Spanish instead of left in English or translated into Tagalog, respectively? This is especially troubling with quotations from the Filipino workers, because one of tensions was that many meetings were held in Spanish instead of English, leaving Filipino attendees in the dark and out of the loop.

Overall though, a fascinating and great book--one I’m really glad I read. I learned a ton about something I knew a little bit about. A great example of what nonfiction for teens can look like.


Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

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9. Port Chicago 50

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

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights Steve Sheinkin

During WWII, the armed forces were still segregated. Black men who signed up were subjected to segregated mess halls (sometimes eating the cold leftovers of their white counterparts) and barracks, and given the most menial jobs. They were often treated even worse when they were off base.

In the Navy, black sailors were only allowed to be mess attendants when on a ship. They weren’t eligible for promotion. At California’s Port Chicago, they had to load ammunition onto ships. Only black sailors had to do this and they were not given any training on how to properly handle explosives. Their white commanding officers took bets on which Divisions could load the most, creating a hurried and unsafe atmosphere.

On July 17th, 1944, there was an explosion. A small one, then a big one. 320 men died (202 were black men loading ammunition.) Another 390 were injured (mostly due to flying glass when the shock wave blew out windows.) The 1200 foot pier was gone, as were the 2 battle ships being loaded. No one’s entirely sure what happened or why, because anyone who saw it was killed immediately.

On August 9th, the black sailors, some still recovering from their injuries, were told to go back to work loading ammunition. 258 (out of 328) refused, saying they would obey any order but that one. On August 11th, facing mutiny charges, 208 returned to work. The remaining 50 were charged.

The trail was a racist farce and all were found guilty, sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, followed by dishonorable discharge. In 1946 their sentences were commuted and eventually all were discharged with honorable conditions (which is better than dishonorable, but not honorable. You can get VA benefits, but not the GI Bill). In 1999, President Clinton pardoned one of the mutineers, but many did not want a pardon--they wanted their convictions overturned.

Today, all of them have passed on. All of them are still convicted of mutiny.

No one will be surprised to hear that once again Steve Sheinkin has written a riveting account of history. It is a great one for WWII or Black History projects, or anyone interested in injustice, legal dramas, or the armed forces. In true Sheinkin fashion, he pulls in many threads--American racism, the Navy and War Department’s unwillingness to challenge that status quo, the personal stories of many of the sailors involved, the story of what was actually happening, and the impact it had in larger society then and today.

One thing I found interesting--Thurgood Marshall is introduced as an NAACP lawyer, working throughout the war to help defend black armed service personnel from racist persecution and injustice. He watched the trial and foughtfor years to appeal. But, it never mentions what Marshall goes on to eventually do. (I mean, it’s not like we all grow up to be Supreme Court Justices.)

There are many photographs throughout the text (unfortunately, a few have been blown up too largely and are pixelated) and I love the trim size--even though it’s written a bit younger than younger than Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World's Most Dangerous Weaponor The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism & Treachery, but the trim size should entice older readers to pick it up.

It’s a story that many have sadly forgotten, but Sheinkin’s powerful storytelling will hopefully tell this story to many more readers.


Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

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10. Alice + Freda Forever

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



Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis Alexis Coe

Man, I love Zest in general and when I heard they were doing a New Adult line, my thoughts were “huh? really?” because I wasn’t sure how it would fit. Then I saw that their first New Adult book was a historical true crime about 19th century lesbian murder in Memphis. Because, of course, it’s Zest and that’s how they roll and that’s why I love them.

Sadly, I did not love this book, as much as I wanted to. It’s exciting and compelling, but has some fatal flaws.

Alice and Freda were school friends. In the late 1800s, it was common for young women to form very intense friendships, hold hands, declare their love for each other. For Alice and Freda though, it went much deeper than mere “chumming.” They were actually in love, and Alice was going to pretend to be a man so they could get married and Alice would work to support the family. But when Freda’s sister discovered the plot, she forbade Freda to contact Alice again. She then told Alice’s family who agreed to keep the girls apart. Freda moved on, but Alice could not, would not. So Alice slit Freda’s throat in the middle of a street in broad daylight. A sensational murder trial followed, with Alice’s family pleading insanity, because what other explanation was there for same-sex love?

Coe tells this story very well. It’s gripping and readable, opening with the murder and then jumping back to detail their relationship. Their relationship had many issues, Freda was a flirt, Alice was jealous and possessive, and Freda had moved upriver from Memphis. She also does a great job explaining the trial and differences in the legal system between then and now and I love the way she subtly emphasizes that Alice’s family was rich (not mega rich, not high society, but definitely not poor) and white and how that changed things. How Alice’s Memphis was not the same Memphis many other people lived in. Overall the story is a great one to know about and I couldn't put it down--I read it one sitting.

But, it still had some problems.

For one, it kept referring to Eastern Tennessee like that’s where Memphis is. (Such as when Alice’s father hires two of the most prominent, expensive attorneys in Eastern Tennessee.) At one point it talks about “nearby Knoxville.” Um, look at a map. Memphis is as far West as you can get in Tennessee and Knoxville is 400 miles away. If something as basic as the location of Memphis is incorrect, what else is, too?

But, my major problem is that it’s illustrated. As I’ve said before I don’t agree with using drawings of historical photographs instead of the actual photographs. And this book even illustrates historical DOCUMENTS, like newspaper headline and articles, and the Register of Deaths. Worst of all, all of the letters between Alice and Freda are illustrated in handwriting. Not their handwriting, or even time-period authentic handwriting, and some of it is VERY hard to read. Yeesh, just type it out.

Some of the pictures are great and there’s no way there’s a photograph (my favorite is this stark on of Alice lying in her jail cell where she’s lightly sketched in white, surrounded by this heavy, dark grey) and that’s fine. BUT. Don’t illustrate a newspaper headline. Just use the original. And, if you’re going to use letters as part of your narrative and evidence, make sure they’re readable.

So, on the whole, this is not one I’ll be looking for on the award lists this year (sadly) and I’ll be very disappointed if it is on the lists, BUT, it is one I’ll recommend to readers and share widely.


Book Provided by... my local library

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11. Looking Ahead

So, I thought I'd start a new feature here where I talk about upcoming adult fiction I'm interested in. I'm not a collection development librarian, but I am on the adult fiction selection committee at work, and here are some of the titles that I marked because I want to check them out when they publish:



Holy Cow: A Modern-Day Dairy Tale by David Duchovny. Remember this summer when news broke that Duchovny wrote a children's book about a cow, pig, and turkey who somehow bring peace to the Middle East and even then it was a hot mess? Turns out, it's a 224 illustrated book FOR ADULTS. Obviously, this is going to be so terrible it will be amazing. Pubs. February 3.

The Price of Blood: A Novel by Patricia Bracewell. This is a sequel to Shadow on the Crown: A Novel, which I haven't read (yet) but historical fiction about Emma of Normandy and English royalty in the half-century before the Norman Conquest? Yes, please! Pubs February 5

The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty: A Novel by Amanda Filipacchi. A group of friends struggles with the role beauty plays in their quest for love (one struggles with being too beautiful, the other with no being beautiful at all) and then it turns out one of them is a murderer. Sounds intriguing. Pubs February 16




Prudence: A Novel by David Treuer. Here's what I know about this book (the description's rather vague) WWII, Northern Minnesota, an escaped POW, an act of violence with long-range repercussions, a Native writer. Pubs on February 5.

The Swimmer: A Novel by Joakim Zander. Already an international best-seller, this is about a deep-undercover CIA agent who had to give up his infant daughter to maintain his cover. Now she's grown and an EU aide who's seen something she shouldn't have. She's in grave danger and the only person who can save her is the father she never knew. Pubs on February 10

A Price to Pay by Alex Capus looks at 3 historical figures (Felix Bloch who worked on the Manhattan project, Laura D'Oriano who was a spy, and Emile Gillieron who was an art forger) starting in Zurich in 1924 through WWII. Out now.





The Firebird's Feather by Marjorie Eccles. Debutantes! Murder! Suffragettes! Russians! Family Secrets! What more do you need to know? Pubs tomorrow.

The Orphan Sky by Ella Leya. I'm a fan of her songwriting, and now she's written a book about growing up in the 70s in Soviet Azerbaijan and becoming disillusioned with the Party? Can't wait! Pubs on February 3.

Our Lady of Infidelity: A Novel of Miracles by Jackie Parker Magical Realism in the southwest when a window installation turns into religious vision--everyone sees a vision in the window, but they all see something different. Meanwhile, 7-year-old Luz needs a real miracle--her mother, her only surviving family member is dying of kidney disease. Out now.

 


Fatal Feast (A Merlin Mystery) by Jay Rudd. Camelot in the Middle Ages. A knight is poisoned at dinner and Guenivere is blamed. Will Merlin come out of seclusion to prove her innocence? Pubs on January 21.

Above Us Only Sky: A Novel by Michele Young-Stone. A young girl was born with wings that were then removed. As a teen she tries to find herself and discovers her Lithuanian routes, and a long line of bird women. And it also some how covers over a century of Lithuanian history. Pubs on March 3.


And a bonus nonfiction title! (This one just caught my eye as I was flipping past)

In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China by Michael Meyers. I *loved* his The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed, which covered the destruction of Beijing's hutongs, of which Meyers was a resident. Turns out, he then moved to a small village in Manchuria and this new one covers the changes (and his life) there. Very exciting! Pubs on February 17






Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

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12. Because They Marched

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

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13. Sarah MacLean, Buffy, Assassin Nuns, and more




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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Book Provided by... my wallet, my local library, my local library, and RT Book Reviews (for review)

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

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14. Happy 10th Birthday, Biblio File!




Picture by Sam Howzit, used under Creative Commons license.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

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15. Hanukkah Books that are Actually for Jewish kids

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

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

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

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

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

The Ugly Menorah written and illustrated by Marissa Moss

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

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

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



Which ones would you add?





Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

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16. Organization Part 2: The Reading Binder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

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17. On Safety, Kathleen Hale, and what to do next

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

It's not supposed to put you in danger.

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

That's fucked up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I just don't know.


Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

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18. Innocent Darkness

Innocent Darkness Suzanne Lazear

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

Ok, you want to know more.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

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19. The Unwritten Fables

The Unwritten Vol. 9: The Unwritten Fables Mike Carey, Bill Willingham, Peter Gross, Mark Buckingham

I was so excited for the one. Tom Taylor is trying to fix Leviathan and ends up in the middle of the witches from the 13th floor of Fables (which is my favorite comic) But, in the end… ugh.

Basically, it’s an alternate Fables universe where Mr. Dark has won and the Fables are barely hanging on (most won’t survive.) This is how alternate it is--Snow White is married to Mr. Dark and they’re keeping Bigby prisoner (and Mr. Dark has conquered all of Earth and is moving on to other realms.)

As such, the witches summon the “greatest wizard who never was, but might be” and end up with Tom Taylor as a stand-in for Tommy.

Now it’s a great concept--Fables who know they’re fictional, but they’re real and living in our world intersecting with this story about the power of story and where the line between fiction and reality is, and where it blurs. And it kinda touches on it, but not nearly as much as it could have, or should have. Instead, it ends up being a dark AU piece of Fables story, in which they get Tommy, Sue, and Peter to help fight their battles. It’s a rather horrifying look* at what could have happened in Fables, and it’s so Fables-centric, I’m not really sure what’s the point of having it as an Unwritten story instead of a Fables one. The only thing it really does is end in such a dramatic fashion to set up the Unwritten reboot. Not sure what this does to all the stories and threads that we still have resolve. I kinda wonder if Carey and Gross wrote themselves into a corner and this was the only way to get out.

That said, this series has kept me guessing the entire time, so I’ll withhold final judgement until we see what happens with the reboot.(But at the moment, I'm rather discontented.)

*And given how dark Fables has been recently, that’s really saying something. ALSO, when announcing the upcoming end of Fables Willingham has said that what comes up in the Unwritten crossover has consequences and now I’m really scared.

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20. Fairest: Hidden Kingdom

Fairest Vol. 2: Hidden Kingdom Lauren Beukes, Bill Willingham, Inaki Miranda

This is a bit of a jump-back in time from where the main series is. With the “present day” happening in 2002, so the action is pretty firmly at the beginning of the series, with lots of flashback to Rapunzel’s back story.

So, like most fairy tales, Rapunzel has a dark edge that we tend not to retell. In the original, the witch discovers the prince because Rapunzel is pregnant. She casts Rapunzel into the desert where she gives birth to twins. The prince gets tangled in brambles trying to climb the tower, is blinded by the thorns and is also cast into the desert. They all wander around for like 20 years before they find each other, Rapunzel’s tears of joy cure his eyesight and only then do they all live happily-ever-after.

In the Fables world, Frau Tottenkinder is the witch that imprisoned Rapunzel. She casts her out, Rapunzel gives birth, and she’s told her children die during childbirth. She’s always known that they survived and has spent centuries searching for them. At one point, she tries to drown herself but washes up on the shores of a Japanese fable kingdom (named the Hidden Kingdom).

In the present day, she gets a message via attacking crane origami that there is news of her children. She meets up with friends and enemies from her old adopted homeland, and Tokyo’s version of Fabletown where the present is tied with the fall of the Hidden Kingdom to the adversary's forces.

I loved this one. I loved the look at Japanese mythology and fables, how they played in their homeland and how they survive in the modern Mundy world. I liked the old school “present day” with Jack running his schemes, Snow and Bigby in the business office and Frau Tottenkinder doing her thing on the 13th floor of the original building. It was a nice return to the beginning. But more than that, I loved Rapunzel’s story and her strength. We don’t see a lot of her, as she’s not allowed to leave Fabletown because of her hair and she’s been kinda shoved to the side in this series.

There’s also a tantalizing clue about the truth about her daughters, that I don’t believe we’ve seen the answer to yet. (I’m trying to rack my brain, as this happens so far in the past to see if we’ve seen them and not known it, or if they have yet to come up.)

This is my favorite volume in the Fairest spin-off series.

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21. Fairest: Return of the Maharaja

Fairest Vol. 3: The Return of the Maharaja Sean E. Williams, Bill Willingham, Stephen Sadowski, Phil Jimenez

Check it out! Prince Charming is alive! And back!

And that’s the best thing I can say about this volume.

After dying in the battle against the adversary, Prince Charming comes back (which we all knew he would eventually, right? He’s much too powerful) but doesn’t want to go back to the mundy and instead becomes a ruler in an Indus fable world. There he meets a woman, Nalayani, who’s come to ask for help. Her village lost all its men to the adversary and is now constantly being attacked by roaming bands and they’re about to be wiped out. Charming is also facing issues as there are those who aren’t fond of having a white foreigner ruling them.*

I do like Nalayani because she’s awesome, but she’s also a new character and not having lived with her for years, I just didn’t care as much about her as I did about Charming or some of the other Fables characters.

Charming… has lost a lot of character growth. When we first met him, he was an arrogant ass, but over the series he had mellowed and matured, but he’s reverted back to all jack-ass charm and lost what made him a deeper, more likeable character.

But here’s my real problem-- the great romances of Fables have all been a slow burn building up through multiple story arcs. If Charming is *finally* going to meet someone for him, someone “better” than Snow or Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, we need the slow burn. We need to get to know Nalayani, we need to see them get to know each other and fall in love. The whole execution seemed rush and I never bought that Charming liked her more than he likes most awesome women, and Nalayani’s affections seem to turn on a dime. Overall, its was just really disappointing.


*this is problematic, as Charming is set up as the good guy, and those who aren’t into colonization are the bad guys. It's kinda worked out in the end, but ergh. But this whole issue is ergh, so...


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22. The Family Romanov

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia Candace Fleming

It opens with an imperial ball in 1903 to celebrate St. Petersburg’s 200th anniversary, the story then jumps back to the childhood of Nicholas II and Alexandra. It starts getting more in-depth once they are married, which is the same time that Nicholas II becomes Tsar. What follows is a horrific story of incompetence and willful ignorance and a population pushed to action in order to survive.

I knew Imperial Russia had problems, and I knew Nicholas II wasn’t the greatest ruler, but holy crap. Fleming paints a bleak picture that offers them very little redemption. Running parallel to the story of the Romanov family is an introduction to early 20th century Russian history, looking at what life was like for ordinary Russians and the causes and starts of the Revolution. The story seamlessly works in quotations pulled from journals and other primary source documents.

Despite covering so much, she keeps it very readable and it’s a great introduction to the subjects, but I think that readers who already know about the topics covered will get a lot out of it as well. It has two different inserts of photographs and frequently in the text is a pull-out box titled “Beyond the Palace Gates” which contains the words of someone else--a soldier, a factory worker, a reporter, a peasant--to add contrast and context to the main narrative.

The package wins further points with it'scomprehensive back matter--endnotes, bibliography, index-- and being a teen-friendly trim size. (I have very strong feelings on trim size for teen nonfiction. It's a surprisingly huge factor in appeal.)

Overall, it is fascinating and horrifying, and just really well-done and put together. I highly recommend it and keep an eye out for it come award season.

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23. Bonjour Tristesse

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

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

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

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

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

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24. Show Your Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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25. Lord and Lady Spy

Lord and Lady Spy Shanna Galen

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

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

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

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

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

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


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