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Book Review: Romancing the Werewolf

Romancing the Werewolf Cover

**This review was completed from an e-ARC provided by the author. I have also purchased the e-book and am probably going to get the print as well**

At first I was just behind in getting this review written because life had intervened–and then it was because I was savoring each page and didn’t want the story to end. There are likely to be spoilers if you haven’t read the Protectorate series.

Gail Carriger returns to the Parasolverse in the best way, with a short love story about everyone’s favorite Beta Professor Lyall.

I, along with many other fans, have adored Lyall ever since he fished a ham and pickle sandwich out of his waistcoat and presented it to the hungry Alexa after her tea was interrupted. Carriger gave him depth and charm and also, as the series progressed, complications. By the end of the Protectorate series we knew far more than a dapper wolf.

Biffy, too, evolved from being a name on a page to a full blown character to the brand new Alpha. And after one night, he and Lyall were separated.

Carriger brings these characters together again in a love story both between them and between her readers and her. This is not a story to jump into without the background; characters are referenced in a natural way but it assumes that you understand her already built world. For those already familiar, as Lyall does, we are coming home.

At it’s core the story is simple: two people who had found each other before, coming back into each others lives and wondering if the other still cares. It’s a different take from many romance stories — the vast majority of which focus on falling in love with someone for the first time. Here, rather than people falling in love, there is instead worry and wonder. Are you still the same person? Could you still love me? Are we still right together?

Carriger presents this entanglement with exemplar poignancy, realistic doubt, and hope.

Biffy has grown more as a character than Lyall in the intervening years, though Carriger doesn’t change either of them drastically. Instead it is a maturity that Lyall, already 400 years, carries and Biffy is beginning to acquire.

And of course while they are circling each other, there is a werewolf pack to be relocated; the appearance of everyone’s favorite vampire; and miscellaneous infants… [this last point took a plot twist I hadn’t expected but it made sense]. It was also nice to see Major Channing again.

For her long-time readers, this is a lovely addition and few minutes to spend again in the Parasolverse. Recommended with a cup of tea.

Process vs. Product

One of my coworkers asked me recently what my best advice was for getting through the tenure and promotion and research process.

Mine: Find colleagues to work with. Don’t try to do this alone.

In my post in July, I wrote an extensive list of names with thank yous — many of them my research or project partners. There are some common themes. Most of them are women. Many of them are within about 5-7 years of me age wise. Most of them are also academics.

And many of them are Product.

This is a knitting analogy that I am borrowing from Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. She describes this extensively as it relates to the craft world in her book Stephanie Pearl-McPhee Casts Off: The Yarn Harlot’s Guide to the Land of Knitting. Summarily, she identifies two types of knitters:

  • Process Knitters — those who knit because they enjoy the process of knitting, the repetitive stitches, the calming effect, the movement of yarn.
  • Product Knitters — those who knit because they enjoy having a pair of socks or seeing the accomplishment of a cabled sweater

As with most things, knitters tend to be on a spectrum of Process v. Product. I certainly was in Product mode a couple of weeks ago as I churned through 3 hats (Mama, Papa, and Baby) for a baby shower and this also describes my usual frantic self towards the end of a Loopy Academy challenge and/or Christmas knitting. (Go see the knitting blog for more details about that).

Generally, however, I am a Process Knitter. This is why I have knit 70+ pair of 1×1 rib socks. It’s why AudioGirl sighs when she hears I’ve started yet another Log Cabin Baby Blanket. Contemplating hours of simple knitting doesn’t bother me. It’s usually to take the edge off while I’m trying to think about other things, read a paper, listen to an audiobook, pay attention to a webinar, not totally check out during a faculty meeting. It’s not that I don’t enjoy complicated knitting, but for me the primary focus of my craft is enjoying the journey.

This translates often to how I approach research projects. I’m interested in designing, gathering data, getting into the weeds of whatever it is that we’re working on. I’ll pull us back for a secondary analysis, point out an interesting tangent, and keep things rolling along.

My research partners tend to be Product people. They have an end goal (paper, curriculum, presentation) and we are getting from A->B.  They want the pair of socks.

My most productive research collaborations are when I am paired with a Product person who is happy to take that roll. I can pull them back; they can pull me forward. I catch details, they make sure we have a timely object out the door.  For myself, I struggle much more with a project when I have to be the Product person. I’m certainly capable and have done it, but it takes more effort.

We do not always get to choose who and what balance of Process/Product end up on committees, team-assigned projects, or among our coworkers. But for some of our research or projects, this is an option and I’ve found it useful to identify which of us is what.  If you’re both Process, you may need to sort out how to meet deadlines so the paper doesn’t sit forever; if you’re both Product, how do you slow down to see the changes that may need to be.

It helps too that you usually have the same end goal: a paper or a poster proposal. You may just vary on the path and direction each of you takes.  My Product colleagues have helped me find a shorter path and reach the goal and I drag them off into the weeds at times to find an interesting flower I’m sure I can just see over there.

And it means neither of us is going alone. That helps too.

 

 

Tenure: Day 1

Today was Day 1 of my new contract year, which means that I really, truly, in all of the official ways am now a tenured associate professor. It feels mostly like yesterday. The to-do lists are longer, not shorter; the obligations and far overdue deadlines are still the same.*

But it’s a position of power and strength and it has brought changes. I can assert and have and will continue to assert on behalf of others who are not in the same position that I am.

Libraries have very firm hierarchies. Add the tenure ones onto that and it’s a very interesting play of power dynamics. But I remember what others have done for me, and it is my goal to do as best I can for those not in my position of strength.

And maybe to get this to-do list to stop hemorrhaging.

 

 

*Dear Everyone I Owe Things To: I’m this close to being done with that document. Promise.

Book Review: The Sumage Solution by Gail Carriger

**This review was completed from an e-ARC provided by the author. I have also purchased the book**
Carriger takes a turn away from steampunk with her newest series, the first full book of which is The Sumage Solution. The author has written about her change of genre (modern, X) on her blog and how under a slightly different identity (GL rather than Gail), she hopes to provide her current and new readers a visual cue.
The reader is dropped into an already built world and this comes with some initial flailing for the reader. I had skipped Marine Biology so I am not sure how much of that world is developed in the novella. I sorted out most of it through various backstory hints.
A new wolf pack has relocated to Central California and needs to register and apply to stay, which requires navigating the depths of supernatural government bureaucracy and tosses a very calm but closeted Beta into the office of a snarky and broken Sumage.
Bryan (called Biff by his pack) is a caregiver and calm wolf. As Beta he has both the role of managing pack down and managing his Alpha, who is also his newly merman mated younger brother. He’s closeted due to familial homophobia and embodies the strong silent stereotype.
Max is the failed product of generations of mage hopes — unable to control magic and working an underling job where he moves paperwork around, handles painful things, and trades good natured insults with his boss.
Their chemistry is immediate and it is not particularly long before they fall madly into bed together. If only the relationship part was equally as straightforward.
The book revolves around several themes: changing your self-identity, relationship as healing, finding partnership.  Bryan has to adapt to being an openly gay man — to himself, his brother and his pack. Carriger does this in a remarkably accepting fashion–pointing out the issues that will yet remain with family but not letting that get in the way of the love story. Max has fully internalized being a failure as a mage and as being uninterested in continuing his family line through procreation. He also  has some serious body images issues and self-loathing going on.
The major trauma in the book really revolves around Max figuring himself out. Some of how that would get sorted was apparent early in the book but didn’t detract from seeing the journey along the way.  Both men demonstrate a lot of vulnerability, in their own thoughts, and to each other.
I had some issues with the book. Whether it is because I don’t read as much modern paranormal or hadn’t read the first novella, it took me a long time to sort out what “sumage” referred to. I still don’t fully grasp what the various types of Mages/Sumages do, but I assume that may  be more fully addressed later or previously.
And I struggled with Max.  The “smart mouth” was, I think, intended to come off as bitchy funny gay boy but frequently just rang bitter or mean. This may have been intended to demonstrate his  brokenness but it made him a less relatable or engaging character. Max struck me as a person who in real life you would get tired of really fast because of the obnoxiousness. –That said Carriger shows the frustration I was feeling in other characters, so perhaps I just do not give her quite enough credit.
Carriger is smart enough not pull the “magical sexy-times heals all” that many romances fall into. Sex is complicated for these two men –passionate and wonderful for them (also very explicit) but with emotional repercussions that they both have to face and ultimately, it is outside of the bedroom that they get things sorted.
There were also a few relationship / conversations that struck me as odd. A character was just out of themselves or sounded wrong.  I was prepared not to like the merman based on the initial chapters; then he seems to shift and soften and be a much more relatable character.
Overall, I think this will have high appeal to paranormal and male-male romance readers. Some of Carriger’s trademark sly humor shines through and she has a complex set of new relationships to mine in future books.

My Hopes for a New ALA Executive Director

The job posting for the ALA Executive Director has gone out. Keith Michael Fiels, who has been the ED longer than I’ve been in the profession, is retiring and a search firm has been retained. I read through the job ad and the requirements put it pretty squarely in the “have been a Library Director” range, which I’m okay with. There were strong debates about the need for an MLS or not for this position. This is not a continuance of that debate.

But there are some hopes that I have for the new ED:

  • A commitment to accessible transparency to the organization. When I’ve brought up issues of transparency in the past, I’ve been told that well, if I just want to dig deeply enough into documentation of the Council, the this, the that– navigating ALA Connect in all of it’s bad interfaces, requesting permission, and showing up in person to meetings that don’t actually seem like they are open or welcoming –I’m entirely welcome and things are totally obvious. That’s not transparency.
  • Active two-way communication with the members of ALA. This is not only a leadership role, it’s a service role. If an active staff member doesn’t recognize the Library Director, I think that’s an issue. If an active ALA member could physically run into the ED and not know who they are–similar issue. Communication methods have evolved drastically. I expect a social media presence and willingness to engage in far more than the ‘usual’ places or to a very narrow group of people. My Provost holds open office hours once a month and *anyone* on campus is welcome to drop in and raise a question with her. Could we see something like that from the ED at least on a quarterly basis?
  • ED accountability that expands beyond the Executive Board. Currently the EB are the only ones engaged in the evaluation of the Executive Director. I take issue with this because there historically has been no input from the membership. When Fiels was last evaluated, nothing was solicited from the larger membership and the process was entirely opaque. Most of the other people I know in ALA didn’t even know an evaluation had happened (me included) — and I tend to run with a very engaged crew. Feedback should be solicited, encouraged, and welcomed. And please don’t tell me it will be too much data to ask likert-scale questions about the strategic initiatives and allow for a short open comment from members. We have many quant and qual researchers, and I bet I can find a couple of librarians who could knock together some text analysis to pull out big trends. And think of the interesting information it would give the ALA Office that they could use for evaluating those initiatives and identifying engaged members.
  • ALA Staff Accountability to Volunteers. Engaged members work regularly with ALA staff who are not specifically accountable to these volunteers. On one hand I understand that; volunteers change and there will always been personalities that don’t go together. However, being told as a volunteer that you are expected to take on much work that falls squarely in the job description of one of those paid staff members is disheartening and disillusioning. Watching a paid staff member repeatedly not do their job is infuriating. Seeing no change for years when concerns are raised by multiple voices drives members away and trust me…unhappy volunteers talk. Solicit feedback from committee chairs and division leaders with the intention of determining actionable outcomes.
  • Appreciate your volunteers. This lines up with that last bullet point. *We* are the organization. We show up, pay dues, pay for conferences, put together presentations, give education, write publications, run committees, create plans, give of our time when it’s frequently not encouraged by our organizations– or is in name only. We will give you an hour at 2 a.m., show up early, stay late, find ways to make things work, drag in our friends and do what we can to make this a great organization. But if we’re only ever presented with more obligations and there is never appreciation expressed for what we do– why should we continue? We’ve *paying* for the privilege of giving back to our profession — many of us thousands of dollars a year in dues, conference fees, and travel. Find tangible ways to demonstrate that appreciation.
  • And that leads me to a last point–find more ways to hear from more voices. ALA has long held the line that if you’re a librarian and certainly if you’re a member,  we can’t possibly cover your travel to the conferences and there’s NO WAY to give someone a day pass. This hard line creates an immediate barrier to bringing in underrepresented voices. I’m fortunate to have funding from my Dean to cover part of my attendance and membership fees. My salary is generally sufficient to cover the rest. I am not the general rule for our membership. ALA cannot cover attendance fees for everyone, I recognize that– but not allowing any flexibility puts the divisions in a hard position when recruiting speakers for things like 8 hour pre-conferences.  Review these policies and see where we can make changes to encourage broader representation.

I think there is much a new Executive Director can do and I look forward to working with them in the future.