Books Archive

Book Review: Poison and Protect, Gail Carriger

Posted June 22, 2016 By Abigail Goben
PoisonOrProtect_promo
I was invited by the author to review this novella and received an electronic preprint version for the review.
Carriger returns to writing for an audience of adults in the decade or so before Soulless.  For those familiar with her other works, this feels much closer to the Alexia novels than her more recent teen pieces and it’s a comfortable but intriguing return to a well known place.
There are spoilers in this review, if you would not like to be spoiled, please come back another day
 
In this transition between time periods of her other works, Carriger draws forward a character from the Finishing School novels, Preshea, who is now a fully trained and highly capable assasain. Sent on assignment to a house party in the North, Preshea encounters a Scottish Captain who might get in the way of her assignment and might mean more to her than a target or an irritant.
My first impression of Preshea was that I could see her getting along with Conall, the werewolf from the Soulless books, although undoubtedly he would take issue with her being female. She is presented as chilly and exacting, the type slightly feared at parties by women who mistrust her and men who are easily impressed by her beauty and thrilled at the idea of being around someone dangerous.
Carriger makes an unusual choice in having a more “broken” female character rather than the traditional cold and aloof male characters common in most romances. It’s well done and I appreciated the change in choice. Preshea is aware of her effect on people and has chosen to cultivate it, recognizing that it makes her lonely but uninterested in currying favor.
While the story is intended to be a stand alone, Carriger  — probably rightly– assumes familiarity with her universe. She does not waste time explaining how vampires and werewolves interact, vampire tethers, ghost naming conventions, etc. This will not be an issue for familiar readers but might cause some confusion for someone coming new to the series.
Plot spoilers really start here
 
Preshea’s assignment is unusually not to serve as an assasin but instead as a romantic disrupter for one couple and, under cover of that, as a bodyguard for another character. Gavin is in a similar bodyguarding position, albeit from a differnet quarter, and along as the friend of a lovelorn jackanapes. One feature that was disappointing  was the abandonment of the attempts on the guarded character’s life after one rather paltry attempt halfway through the book. I kept waiting for a second attempt and it was brushed off as “into the future” which I saw as a missed opportunity for more romantic interplay.
The sexual tension between the leads was nicely done and the sex scenes had an interesting take to them. I tend to read an author’s first round of sex scenes and then skim through the rest, most authors writing more traditional romance don’t tend to put any big revelation of secrets in scenes readers might skim.
There are two interesting side plots– the lovers that Gavin is there to support and Preshea to break up and another pair of young ladies who have their own special connection. The search for scandal as the first pair finally realize they are not the best matched seemed unnecessary– wouldn’t young girls at a house party be up late giggling in each others’ rooms?
A few other familiar characters pop up. Everyone’s favorite vampire returns and I find I must have missed something, being two or three books behind in the Finishing School, as I don’t remember anyone talking about the apprenticeship work mentioned here. Carriger repeats one of the verbal ticks Akeldama has from Soulless in is enteractions with Alexia –not using names– but it feels strained in his conversations with Preshea and, had I not already known Akeldama’s habits and behaviors as head of a spy network, it would have seemed odd and would likely have ruined later books for me. I loved his ridiculousness in Soulless and that is missing here.
Overall it was a nice short trip back to Carriger’s world and I recommend it for Alexia fans. If you are introducing new readers to her work, I would continue to suggest Soulless  as the gateway, however, for best world building.

Book Review: The Coach’s Guide for Women Professors

Posted September 2, 2015 By Abigail Goben

The Coach’s Guide for Women Professors Who Want a Successful Career and a Well-Balanced Life
by Rena Seltzer

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Seltzer is a consultant and coach whose work is primarily with academics. I stumbled across her book somewhere recently and then had it sitting on my bedside table so I couldn’t ignore it as I am occasionally wont to do with “improving” books.

All told, it’s about a three hour read–so you’re not committing to a long text here. And Seltzer recommends tackling it by whichever chapter you need most right now, rather than reading start to finish, though she acknowledges that many people will and will want to read it that way. Her examples are drawn from her clients and she provides extensive references to further research in this area, which I appreciated.

What I found most powerful about the book were her “Into Action” sections, which summarize what has just been suggested into immediately usable ideas or activities. Some are questions, others are referrals, others are thought provoking.  The best chapter, for me, was the How to Have More Time. Seltzer points out some obvious things (one occasionally needs a clue-by-four, I’m certainly among them) such as the statement Everything Takes Time.  It was something I hadn’t really considered to the forefront–we say “oh that’ll just take five minutes” or “I can do that in an hour, it’s nothing.”  But it isn’t. It’s always more than five minutes and it’s frequently more than the hour we’ve allotted. And that’s still an hour that adds up. It’s rare that I can find an open hour of time on my work calendar and a spare hour at home certainly is few and far between.

Seltzer also point out areas where women are particularly challenged: perceived as not being a faculty member because we’re female; not listened to– where others are; expected to be more nurturing; assumed that we’ll take a higher level of service on.

There are some aspects of the book that don’t quite line up with librarian duties.  I’ve written before about being a faculty member and being a librarian and the challenge of being in a “service profession”  where I’m lumped in with other service professions and therefore not always given the same level of support as those other services might offer a “regular/real/normal” professor.  And I can’t imagine actually skipping department meetings, a time saver recommendation, without there being a lot of questions. Also, Seltzer isn’t worried about running a physical space, which is a primary concern for librarians, nor the same kind of advocacy of role of the library–trying to expand into more professor’s classes to teach, etc etc. That said, librarians aren’t her primary audience so it would be unreasonable to expect that to be fully addressed.

Seltzer spends a great deal of time talking about early or impending motherhood. This is a regular concern in academia.  However, I found her emphasis on it a little too exclusive. While a majority of women will become mothers at some point, not all of them in the tenure track are also dealing with newborns, which seemed to be Seltzer’s overarching expectation. Comparing it with my own current department, it felt a little tone deaf–of the four peers with children in my immediate department undergoing tenure now or over the past five years, all of them had children in high school or above.  The other four women didn’t/don’t have children. I can’t speak for anyone’s immediate child-bearing plans except my own, of course.  We’re an exception, I’m sure, but it struck me as another instance of being told that because I don’t have children, I shouldn’t be having any  problems in terms of finding time to write or produce scholarly work or extra labor or what have you and I found that particularly off-putting.

Seltzer does address varying cultural issues that arise and put other pressure on women, family who do not understand the workload, community norms that don’t align with academia, etc.  She also points out how community can serve as extra support, particularly for minorities who feel isolated in their work environment.

Overall, I found the book useful and a couple of coworkers, spotting the cover, have already asked to borrow it and I do think it’s worth the recommendation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

Posted October 29, 2013 By Abigail Goben

Hyperbole and a Half
Allie Brosh

When I got notification that Allie Brosh’s book was available on NetGalley for reviews, I may have left a smoking trail through cyberspace trying to get there to request a copy.  To my own surprise, I received one. In a single train ride home I devoured this book.  As such, I must admit that I might not be the most unbiased of readers.

For readers coming from Brosh’s popular blog of the same name, much of the material will feel familiar. This is not an entirely new book of essays and never before seen information. Brosh’s most popular “CLEAN ALL THE THINGS” post, for example, appears as well as some other familiar essays. There is new material, however, and a chance to have some of these best posts gathered together is no bad thing.

Brosh has written a part memoir, part introspective chat, balancing honest and slightly cringeworthy childhood reflections, stark and poignant details of her difficulties with depression, and tears-running-down-your-face-from-laughing stories about her crazy dogs. While the stories don’t follow any particular path, the mix of subjects and balance of humor versus reflection keeps the reader moving along; allowing a breath and smile between some of the more difficult moments.

The chapters about her depression are incredibly difficult, whether you’ve experienced depression yourself or seen it in others. Brosh’s essays are unapologetically raw, taking the reader through the initial disengagement, into the levels of self-recrimination and anger and overwhelming sorrow and then down further into complete apathy and finally to the edge of suicide contemplation.  There is no glamorization or glorification, only the clear depiction of the challenges. Her frustration with the extra-happy-hope-filled people around her and the vacuousness of the words streaming around her is apparent. That she was able to finish the essay from a slightly more positive perspective gives hope to the reader in a different way–a way that “snap out of it” and various other commands or platitudes cannot offer.

 

Brosh’s stories of her childhood are a little cringeworthy, in that you-made-your-parents’-lives-crazy kind of way. Misinterpretations of children abound, by the child herself or by the adults around her, and a clear fascination with dogs.

And Brosh’s stories of her dogs and her other miscellaneous essays will make you laugh. Brosh does not have smart dogs and their trials through moving, learning what the word “no” means, or the indignity of wearing doggie mittens indoors are wonderfully rich moments of laughter. She unabashedly documents the attack of a goose one night and reminds us why we’ll never be adults.

Brosh leaves her readers with some self-reflection that mirrors a little too clearly not the major challenges in our world but the little beliefs we have in our heads. Her embrace of the minutia points out identity challenges many of us face but had not yet found words for.

With her highly accessible voice and instantly recognizable cartoons, Brosh’s book will be welcomed by her regular readers and will hopefully find new audiences in those who might not want to wade through the blog archives.

Now, I need to go answer ALL THE EMAIL.

 

Book Review: Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger

Posted February 18, 2013 By Abigail Goben

*I received a copy of the ARC from the publisher in advance of the publication date. I signed up to receive it through their promotion as sponsors of Unshelved.*

Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series has definitely been a favorite on my shelves for a few years now. Her first, Soulless, has been read over and over and I’ve introduced it to several friends, the Philosopher included. With witty repartee, steam punk Victorian aesthetic, and a healthy dose of pragmatism from the heroine, they are very enjoyable books and I’m glad the vampire/werewolf/steampunk craze did not totally overwhelm us before her books came along.

But now that Parasol Protectorate has concluded, I’ve been waiting with some trepidation for Carriger’s next forays.

Etiquette and Espionage is a move into teen literature and that can often come with challenges for adult authors. Readers of Carriger’s other work will find some familiar characters, younger versions of themselves but thankfully, not all of them. Carriger, so far, is finding a story for these characters, rather than taking a side character, aging them down a few years, and taking off in directions that don’t align with the adult work, a trap I’ve seen other authors fall into.

Unlike Soulless, which could stand on it’s own as a story, Etiquette and Espionage was obviously about world building. We met characters who will grow and develop; we were given hints at things to come; and we learned about the school.

I enjoyed the frivolity of the book, adding in handkerchief and eyelash fluttering lessons in with more practical education. If the Regency and other historical romance writers I frequently favor are anything to go by, these may well have been actual subjects for the finishing of some young ladies, but it’s presented in such seriousness that one can’t but take it lightly.

While there are some small events in the story, overall the work felt like a prelude and that is my only serious complaint. I think once all four books are out (three more are to follow), I’ll want to read them together as though they were one longer tale rather than short snippets. I am looking forward to the next on though and to Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate Abroad series due out this fall–which will take on the next generation after the Parasol Protectorate.

 

Book Review: Managing a Dental Practice the Genghis Khan Way

Posted August 25, 2011 By Abigail Goben

It’s a five minute book review! I used to do those for Teen Librarian at La Crosse, she and I often had pretty different reading preferences and it would give her ideas on books to booktalk that she might not have time to read.

Managing a Dental Practice the Genghis Khan Way
by Michael Young

I have to admit, one of the reasons I recommended this for purchase was that I was really interested to find out how Young would incorporate Genghis Khan. To burst a few bubbles (including sadly, my own), it’s not quite as targeted on the Mongolian parallels as it is on management of people, business planning, financial planning etc. While this makes for a slightly less blood-thirsty read, it does make for a more practical book and, ultimately, an enjoyable one.

Young offers a no-nonsense look at managing a dental practice, raising questions that young dental students should certainly be addressing in their classes, but are presented here neatly and in a very readable fashion. Have the first year dental students really thought about hiring a practice manager, a receptionist, or making sure they’ve ordered enough supplies? Are they considering that they may need to fire people that they have worked with every day?  Young raises questions like these.

This book was published in the UK and as a result there are things in here that will not apply to dentists in the US. Even so, there’s more that is relevant than not, and it gives the reader a different perspective on how things are handled abroad, hopefully raising questions about American equivalencies.