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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. 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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2. 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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3. 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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4. 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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5. 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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6. 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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7. 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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8. 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.)


Book Provided by... my wallet

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. 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.

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. 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.

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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11. 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.

Book Provided by... my local library

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12. 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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13. 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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14. 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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15. Sisters

Sisters Raina Telgemeier

Raina, her sister Amara, her brother Will, and her mother are road-tripping to Colorado (her dad has to work and will fly out and meet them there.) Of course, Raina’s siblings drive her crazy and if she didn’t have her Walkman to drown them out, she’d go insane. The story alternates between the car trip and what happened before (Raina wishing for a sister, she and her sister fighting, the arrival of her brother, life in general in their cramped 2-bedroom apartment.)

As always, I love Telgemeier’s art and storytelling. I think the frame of the road trip works well. It’s also interesting because this focuses exclusively on her family, and as such, gives a different, more complex picture than the glimpses we saw in Smile. The other thing I liked was, when Raina and Amara reached their inevitable detente, they didn’t immediately become BFF. They gained a bit of understanding, but you know their relationship still wasn’t perfect.

Hilariously, I read this one a bit out-of-order. When I got it, I flipped to the middle just to kinda flip through it and I started reading. And then I got to the end, having only read the second half of the book. Then I had to go and read it again, but this time starting at the beginning.

It’s not my favorite of Telgemeier’s (she’s going to have a hard time topping Smile in my heart) but it’s still a great read.


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16. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 9



Volume 1: Freefall Joss Whedon, Georges Jeanty, Karl Moline, Dexter Vines
Volume 2: On Your Own Andrew Chambliss, Georges Jeanty, Cliff Richards, Karl Story
Volume 3: Guarded Andrew Chambliss, Jane Espenson, Drew Z. Greenberg, Georges Jeanty, Karl Moline
Volume 4: Welcome to the Team Andrew Chambliss, Georges Jeanty, Karl Moline
Volume 5: The Core Andrew Chambliss, Georges Jeanty

Ok, I’m just going to review all of Season 9 at once. It makes more sense that way. First off, there are only 5 volumes in Season 9, and that makes me sad.

Buffy’s living in San Francisco, trying to make rent and killing vamps in her spare time. She and Willow have some friction because remember how well Willow reacted to losing her magic in Tibet last season? Yeah, now that all the magic is gone from the world, it’s not easy. There are also major divisions in the slayer army--many were killed at the end of last season, but the ones that weren’t aren’t happy with Buffy for destroying the seed.

CONSEQUENCES. They’re even a bigger deal this season than they were last season. First, off World Without Magic is some seriously bad stuff that they have to learn to live with. I love the fact that Xander can’t uncoil--after years of fighting for his life, he can’t relax into normal life. I mean, I don’t love it, because Xander’s in a bad place and I like Xander, but I think it’s a very real consequence. Willow is having a hard time without magic, but one major character’s very existence is threatened by a world without magic. It’s amazing when it happens, because you don’t see it coming, and when it does, you’re just like “DUH OF COURSE”

A few big bads to deal with--ZOMBIE VAMPIRES (who Xander dubs “zompires”), who are basically feral--not the almost-human vamps we’re used to, and the Siphon, who sucks all special power out of you.

Buffy becomes friends with a cop, and they sometimes work together. An interesting character from the end of Angel shows up at the end. Spike’s around and occasionally we see him in his spaceship IN SPACE, because you know, WHY THE HELL NOT. But mostly importantly SPIKE IS AROUND. I love Spike. Kennedy has a side business of slayer bodyguards and there’s a very cool new slayer and watcher on the scene. A BOY SLAYER. He may not have actual slayer powers, but that’s not going to stop him.

I loved this, and I really loved the new complications they set up, and the new big bad we see coming for Season 10. Which comes out in November (UGH WHY SO FAR AWAY?!) I think with Season 8, sometimes Whedon was like “it’s a comic, I can do ANYTHING” and sometimes he did in ways that were fun, but weren’t necessary and sometimes took away from what makes Buffy work. He reigns that in a lot in Season 9. It’s much more about the characters, and we’re back to really just battling vampires. A new breed of vampires, but it’s back to basics (except for Spike’s spaceship, because… well of course you keep the spaceship?)

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17. Dead is Just a Dream

Dead Is Just a Dream Marlene Perez

Jessica and the other viragos are having a hard time figuring out Nightshade’s most recent run of murders. People are dying with looks of terror on their faces. They can’t figure out a pattern, and there are too many suspects. Is it the new art teacher who specializes in creepy marionettes? What about the landscape artist whose work has suddenly taken a morbid and disturbing tone? Or is it the ghostly horse that runs through town at night? And why does Jessica keep seeing a clown with a mouth of dripping blood outside her window in the middle of the night? To make matters worse, Dominic’s ex-girlfriend is in town and is making no secret of the fact she wants him back.

I love this series. This is a fun installment because it features the return of Daisy. Where she’s been in the periphery of the last few books, she and Jessica team up to solve this mystery, which is hitting really close to home when Sam ends up in an nightmare coma. Also, unlike some of the other mysteries, this one was hard to figure out because there were a lot of likely suspects and no clear pattern.

I like how this series balances paranormal mystery drama and regular high school drama. In addition to Dominic’s ex-girlfriend hanging around, graduation is looming, and Side Effects May Vary is going on tour, all of which make Jessica insecure about their relationship’s future. It manages to balance the different sides of the story with a light town that really works and why this entire series is consistently a delight.

The first printings also have a bonus short-story that works as an epilogue to the whole series (so I think this may sadly be the last one.)


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18. Orpheus in the Underworld

The Unwritten: Orpheus in the Underworld Mike Carey and Peter Gross


Tom ends up back in the story, but there are so many refugees--the Wound that Pullman gave to Leviathan means stories are dying--with horrible consequences in the real world and in fiction. It's hilariously awesomely horrible what some of our favorite characters from literature are forced to do. Tom journeys to the underworld to save Lizzie but Hades has been disposed by Pauly (PAULY!) But hey, Cosi and Leon are there to help out. (Oh, those kids! I’m so glad they’re still around in the story.)

This was pretty great. Pauly’s horrible, but I’m glad to finally see where that was going. Plus, we get to see what Carey thinks would happen in a Zombies vs. Vampire fight.

But let’s face it-- the FINAL PAGE makes it the greatest thing EVER. Because the final page sets up the next volume, which is a FUCKING FABLES CROSSOVER.

I cannot WAIT for it to come out.


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19. All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel Anthony Doerr

This book guys, oh this book.

It starts in Saint Malo, with the Allied bombing. Hiding in her house is Marie-Laure, 16 and blind. Hiding in a basement with the rest of his unit is Werner, 18 and a German soldier. It then jumps back to Marie-Laure growing up with her father in Paris, losing her eyesight, spending her days in the Museum of Natural History where her father works. It jumps back to Werner, growing up with his sister Jutta in a children’s home, destined at 15 to go work in the same mines that killed his father, until his skills with radios and mechanics mark him for something greater.

It occasionally flashes forward to the “now” of the bombing and for the most part alternates between their two stories. Occasionally other stories interrupt. There is a storied diamond, spirited away from the museum before the invasion that the Nazis are looking for and Marie-Laure may or may not have. There is Jutta in the children’s home. There is the after. There is Marie-Laure reading 10000 Leagues Under the Sea in Braille, her uncle who hasn’t left the house since returning from WWI. There is Werner trying to survive the Nazi Youth academy. Huddled with his sister and his short-wave radio, listening to a French professor broadcasting science lessons to children. There is the resistance--Marie-Laure helping it, Werner tracking it and ending it.

The chapters are short--usually only a few pages, but the writing is so magical. I love Doerr’s rhythm. Each sentence is perfect. Most of them are short, like the chapters, but contain so much. I like that, despite the dual stories and occasional jump in time, it’s a fairly straight forward story, but perfectly executed. This is one of the best, if not THE best book I’ve read this year, maybe longer. It’s not the story is mind-blowing (although the story is very good) but just the language and rhythm and overall, such perfect writing. I wanted to show you some, but individual sentences don't stand out, it's how it all adds up.

Such, such perfect writing.

This book guys, oh this book.

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20. Tommy Taylor and the War of Words

The Unwritten Vol. 6: Tommy Taylor and the War of Words Mike Carey and Peter Gross

Tommy’s coming for the Cabal, but they’re not sure how to prepare for him. Pullman has some ideas, but no one wants to listen to him. We get A LOT of Pullman backstory here. He’s been the Cabal’s thug for millennia. Lots of exploits to cover. There’s even an entire issue of Pullman in Gilgamesh. Plus, we find out who/what Pullman is, exactly (although it’s already been heavily hinted at.) Also, some important backstory with Wilson and Mme. Rauch.

This is a much larger omnibus, and we also have the final showdown between Pullman and Tommy, and the results are… not good. (Setting up the next chapter in the overall story.)

We end with the story of one of the Cabal’s readers--how he got involved and his role in everything, even as a completely insignificant player.

This is where the series really drives home the point about story and how we use story in our lives, and the power story holds in our world.

I loved seeing Pullman through the ages--especially with Gilgamesh and how the art style changed depending on the time period. I think that’s another thing this series does really well--changing the art as things shift. Different time periods, different book, all have art that fits with that story, which is different art than the main story we’re telling. Very cool.

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21. Duchessina

Here's a post that originally ran in the now-defunct Edge of the Forest

Duchessina: A Novel of Catherine de' Medici Carolyn Meyer

Catherine de’Medici is mostly known as the power behind the throne during the reigns of her ineffective sons, the kings of France. History has also placed her with the blame of the St. Bartholomew’s massacre in which over two thousand Huguenots were killed. Not much is known about the early life of Catherine de’Medici, beyond her use as a pawn in various Florentine power struggles.

In this latest installment in her Young Royals series, Carolyn Meyer’s imagination fills in the gaps in her story. Orphaned as an infant, she is known as Duchessina, the little Duchess after her duchy in Urbino. She grows up in Florence, in the Plaza de Medici under the watchful eye of her cardinal uncle, the future Pope Clement VII. After her guardian uncle assumes the pontificate, Italy is plunged into several wars against the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. Catherine is eight at the time and does not completely understand the political machinations at play as the citizens of Florence take the excuse to reassert their independence from Medici rule. Catherine is taken as a war hostage and sent to an anti-Medici convent. She then changes convents from time to time as the turmoil mounts and recedes. Eventually, Catherine is taken to Rome to be with the Pope as he arranges her marriage to the French dauphin.

Once in France, Catherine’s life does not become easier. It is obvious her new husband’s affections lie elsewhere. But, with the skills she has learned, she makes a place for herself.

This is an exciting tale with historic splendor, adventure, love, and true friendship. Unfortunately, the historical notes at the end act mainly as an epilogue to her life, not as illuminating background information to the events of the book. During the Italian Wars, the young Catherine does not fully understand the political maneuverings at play, and as she is the narrator, neither does the reader. Also, there is nothing to let the reader know which details of the story are fact, and which sprung from Meyer’s mind. It is also interesting to note that Catherine’s speaking voice is the same at the age of three as it is as an adult.

(note-- I did go an read an adult biography of her, Leonie Frieda's Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France, which I reviewed here in 2007)


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22. The First 90 Days

The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter, Updated and Expanded Michael D. Watkins

I picked this up because Jessica Olin recommended it on Twitter as a follow up to her ALA panel on leadership, What I Really Want To Do Is Direct. If you don’t know, last September I made the leap from librarian to branch manager and in June, I transferred to a much bigger branch in our system.

Basically, the book looks what leaders need to do in the first 90 days (with some groundwork to lay before you start) at a new job, whether you’re new to the organization, new to the department, or just in a new role. It helps ease you into a new role to be successful, and to be successful relatively quickly.

One thing I really appreciated was how practical it was. Instead of being full of blithe platitudes, it was full of stuff like “you need to talk to your supervisor about x, y, and z. You need to talk to all of your direct reports about a, b, and c. You need to map out these 6 things.” Parts of it are a bit jargony, but explained well, and do give a useful framework to think and discuss certain things. It includes a lot of charts to fill in to help you think about the things he says you need to be thinking about.

He really stresses taking the time to learn different things (and he tells you what you need to learn) before you hit the ground running, to make sure you’re focusing on the right things for greatest impact and that you’re doing it in a way that’s most likely to succeed without burning bridges that shouldn’t be burned. It’s just extremely helpful and doable.

While its focus tends to be on high-level private sector/corporate transitions, the overall issues and Watkins instructions scale down and transfer pretty well, even to a public library. (I see he also has one on government jobs, but I haven’t read it and can’t comment on if it’s more applicable.)

I liked that the final chapter was about how professional transitions mean personal transitions, too, and working with your family and other people in your personal life to ease everything.

It also gets points for gender-inclusivity--the examples of new managers were evenly split between men and women, and when it talks about dealing with your new boss, the pronouns switch from he/him to she/her every other section.

Overall, it was really helpful, and I highly recommend that people transitioning into a new role read it, but preferably a month or two BEFORE the transition actually happens. I finished it on day 30, and while I still got a lot out of it, I would have gotten even more if I had finished it on day -30.


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23. Unwritten: The Wound

The Unwritten, Vol. 7: The Wound Mike Carey and Peter Gross

We start with the Tinker and Pauly-Rabbit hanging out in a wasteland, encountering streams of fictional refugees, streaming from The Wave.

Then we switch to a detective in Australia, who partners up with Danny--the reader from the last issue in Tommy Taylor and the War of Words--to infiltrate the Tommy Taylor cult. Tom and Richie then go hide out and deal with some very real ghosts in Tom’s past.

This is a good “must set up next plot point” volume, but nothing spectacular. EXCEPT that it introduces us to Danny and Didge (the detective), and they are awesome and great additions. (Also, let’s give a shout to Didge, who’s Aboriginal and dyslexic. Turns out dyslexia is a pretty great defense against Pullman’s freaky fiction hand! Also, she’s generally awesome and literally kicks a lot of ass.)

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24. Tween Hobo: Off the Rails

Tween Hobo: Off the Rails Alena Smith, illustrated by Kate Harmer

Based on the twitter account, Tween Hobo documents the adventures of a modern 13-year-old riding the rails with depression-era hobo stereotypes.

Unlike the twitter account, there’s a basic plot-- Tween Hobo’s parents are pretty absent, her brother’s in California in some place called “rehab” and she needs to know what’s going on. When she learns that her teacher’s brother is a hobo, she’s inspired and off she goes to California to get answers about her brother. She live tweets/blogs her adventures and is adopted by a band of hobos who are what you think of when you think of Depression hobos. It all stays light and funny as they try to find work, perfect their bean recipes, and look for free wifi. It often mocks tween culture, but it’s obviously from a place of love and “I was totally like this when I was that age.” Lots of tweets, lots of pictures, lots of random other lists and things about life on the rails.

Although the joke occasionally wears thin, it was pretty enjoyable and funny. I liked tween hobo’s upbeat, can-do attitude and the way she never realized her adventures and life choice were bat-shit crazy insane. Plus, Hot Johnny Two-Cakes is just plain hottt.

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25. Creativity, Inc.

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace

Part Pixar-history, part management how-to, Catmull lays out his management philosophy with examples of how he’s implemented it.

One of the things that Catmull really values is candor and building a culture where everyone feels free and safe to give honest feedback, and where speaking truth to power is welcome and encouraged. He shows this well in his book, because he illustrates his ideas with real-life examples, and he is very honest about his missteps and what happened when things didn’t work.

And I think that’s what I appreciated most about this book--Pixar isn’t a perfect company. Many beloved movies failed multiple times before hitting the theaters. I don’t want to say this is a “warts and all” because it’s not a tell-all airing out the dirty laundry, but, at the same time, it is very honest. Catmull shows where things have gone wrong and then parses it to try to examine why and what they changed to make things better.

One the other big underlying themes is letting go of ego. When people point out ways your project isn’t working, it’s not personal. (Of course as he readily admits, not taking it personally is really hard and much easier said than done, but it’s something to strive for). You should hire people smarter than you are, and then trust them to grow and you should listen to them. I think another very good point he makes is that when managers first learn about problems in meetings, or when told about something not-in-private, it’s not a sign of disrespect and that they need to GET OVER IT.

Personally, this is something I strive for in my own management. I told everyone who works at the library in my first few weeks here that if something isn’t working, I need to know. If I’m doing something that’s not helpful, they need to tell me. I have bigger things to worry about and deal with than being personally offended when you rightfully call me out on my bullshit. (Easier said than done, but I’ve been working on separating stuff out. Dealing with the issue, and then going home and acknowledging my sad feelings and wallowing a bit, and then getting on with it.)

He’s also a big proponent of creating a culture where it’s safe to take a risk and it’s safe to fail. (As Robert Reich said in his commencement speech when I graduated from college, if you’re not occasionally failing, you’re not reaching far enough or trying hard enough.)

I like that he gets into the specifics of culture clash issues when Disney bought Pixar and he became the head of Disney Animation. He then talks about what he did to change the Disney culture and that, like most things worth doing, it didn’t happen overnight and it wasn’t always smooth.

But, one of his big things, and I think this is a good take-away for libraries is that everyone’s responsible for quality. And this ties back with his points on candor--everyone should feel empowered to look for quality issues and to go ahead and fix them or bring them to the attention of someone who can help fix them. Problems are not solutions. Often the person who notices the issue won’t have the solution, because often solutions aren’t that easy, but everyone is responsible for quality. One of the ways they foster this is to bring people from different areas and departments together. When movies are in progress, works-in-progress are routinely shown to, and commented on, by people who aren’t involved in the movie. When Pixar had grown so big some of the candor was being lost, they had a notes day where people from all across the company (including kitchen staff) got together to talk about issues and possible solutions.

I spent a number of years in a large library where departments were very separate--the children’s staff had a different work room than the adult services staff, which was different than circ, etc. Since switching systems, I’ve been at branches, which are smaller. At my last branch, only 1 person could physically be on the desk at a time, so they did reference and circ, and helped people of all ages. There’s much more fluidity between departments because that’s how we need to function. I love it. We all have the areas we specialize in, but we all have our fingers in other things, which makes us understand each other a lot better, and we have a bigger pool of people to bounce ideas off, because even if it’s not their department, they know the basics of your resources and constrictions. It doesn’t always work and it’s not always good, BUT one of things I really want to do as a manager is foster this type of cross team collaboration and minimize some of the us vs. them dynamic that I often see in libraries that can get really poisonous really quickly. And this is where Creativity, Inc. really spoke to me, both with ideas on how to nurture this, but in just reaffirming its great importance. (And, here I’m going to plug my friend Rachel’s new blog, Constructive Summer: Building the Unified Library Scene which is about this very thing)

So, overall, obviously, I loved this book. I found a lot of inspiration, but it was also just a fun read (let’s face it, when your examples are about making Toy Story, I will find it more engaging than an example about making a car.) Also, the Afterword: The Steve We Knew made me cry, which was embarrassing, because I was on the bus. Steve Jobs (owner of Pixar) came up frequently in the bulk of the book, but the afterword really looked at his role, but more importantly was Catmull talking about a friend who died. Catmull really looks at the biographical books and articles about Steve and talks about how they jived and did not jive with the person he knew. As someone who’s read Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different a countless number of times, it was really interesting to see some of the big points directly rebutted.


Book Provided by... my local library

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