Thursday, May 30, 2013

public service announcement:
free audio books starting today
Sync is back!

I'm a huge fan of the Sync free-audiobooks-in-summer program, which is administered by AudioFile Magazine and supported by the audiobook publishers1 who make the selections available free of charge during the weeks in which they are featured.   I promote the program because I like it, as a user. 

The most important thing to note, which is not mentioned below,2 is that these books don't expire like the e-audiobooks you get from the library. So, be sure to check in each week to download the books even if you don't think you'll get around to reading them right away.

Sync offers free audiobook downloads of Young Adult and Classic titles this summer!
May 20 - August 21, 2013

Teens and other readers of young adult literature will have the opportunity to listen to bestselling titles and required-reading classics this summer. Each week from May 30 to August 15, Sync will offer two free audiobook downloads.

The audiobook pairings will include a popular YA title and a classic that connects with the YA title's theme and is likely to show up on a student's summer reading lists. For example, Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Boys, the first book in a bestselling series about a group of teenagers search for the supernatural ley lines, will be paired with the Latino classic of magical realism, Rudolfo Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima.

SYNC Schedule:

May 30 - June 5, 2013
June 6 - June 12, 2013
June 13 - June 19, 2013
June 20 - June 26, 2013
June 27 - July 3, 2013
July 4 - July 10, 2013
July 11 - July 17, 2013
July 18 - July 24, 2013
July 25 - July 31, 2013
Aug 1 - Aug 7, 2013
Aug 8 - Aug 14, 2013
Aug 15 - Aug 21, 2013

Visit Sync's Educators, Librarians, Bloggers page for more information about the program.

  1. AudioGo, Blackstone Audio, Bolinda Audio, Brilliance Audio, ChristianAudio, HarperAudio, L.A. Theatre Works,  Listening Library, Macmillan Audio, Recorded Books, Scholastic Audiobooks, and Tantor Audio as indicated.
  2. An ever so slightly modified version of their press release

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Codex by Lev Grossman

source: Bookcrossing

Per the Bookcrossing journal for my copy of Codex, I've had it in my possession since March 5, 2006. Now that I've finally read the book, I feel badly for keeping it so long. And, it's not that I enjoyed it so much that I wish I had read it sooner. I didn't like it nearly as much as I thought I would and I feel badly that this copy waited six years for me not to like it. That may not make very much sense, but there you have it. I'll be wild-releasing this book shortly and I hope that it finds itself an amenable new reader soon.

A 25-year-old investment banker who is inexplicably asked to catalog the extensive library an aristocratic family, for whom he'd made some good investments, in the two weeks he has before he starts a new position. As he begins working on the project, Edward Wozny learns that his real mission is to locate an extremely rare (possibly mythical) 14th century text. His employers have a vested interest in whether or not this text comes to light and they will do everything to help (or hinder) him in his quest. At the same time, Edward starts playing an open source computer game on the recommendation of a longtime friend. As he navigates further into the world of the computer game, Edward notices echoes of the story that's meant to be contained within the book for which he's searching.

I didn't find Codex particularly thrilling. In fact I really only finished it out of laziness. It was easier to just continue reading the book than it was to give up on it and start something else (I wasn't near my book collection at the time). I was not rewarded for my perseverance: the novel's ending is particularly unsatisfying. Even if (especially if) I'd liked the book all along I would have been disappointed with the anticlimactic nature of the ending.

The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann

source: public library
Changeling — The child of a faery and a human, a changeling is small, sickly, and sharp-faced, and, if his faery-blood is particularly strong, he will have branches growing out of his head instead of hair. He is not expected to live past the age of twelve. [...] Half-bloods are forever being hung by the superstitious lower class, or stolen by the faeries who hate them for their ugliness. They spend most of their short lives locked-up and hidden away. (Bachmann's Faery Encyclopedia)
I checked out the e-audio version of The Peculiar in preparation for a train trip earlier this month. I hoped to while away the 7 hours each way listening to the novel and knitting. While the shawl project I packed proved to be a poor choice for train travel, The Peculiar did not let me down. It was engaging, but not too taxing, which was particularly useful during my exhausted return trip.

The novel is set in an alternative 19th century England, in which humans and faeries (cut off from the Old Country after an ill-fated attempt at conquest many years before) live in somewhat uncomfortable peace. It's two protagonists are Bartholomew Kettle, a changeling from the faery slums of Bath (his father, a high faery, "danced off into the night and never c[a]me back"), and Arthur Jelliby, a (human) member of the Privy Council who is particularly ill-suited to political life (his mother, a Hessian princess, got him a position as MP "while playing croquet with the Duke of Norfolk").  When a number of suspicious deaths seem to point to a serial killer targeting changeling children, our two protagonists independently develop vested interests in thwarting the killer.

The Peculiar was written by a teenager (apparently Bachmann, age 18 at the time of publication, started writing it at age 16), but it doesn't read like a novel by a teen (better writing than Christopher Paolini, for example, and no focus on romance, sex, or other angsty teenage occupations).  The novel is being marketed to middle grade readers, but it would be just as (if not more) appropriate for young adults because of its underlying themes.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Tam Lin by Pamela Dean

series: Terri Windling's Fairy Tale Series (5)

Pamela Dean's Tam Lin is one of the books in Terri Windling's wonderful Fairy Tale Series,1 retellings of classic fairy tales for adults, originally published by Ace and Tor (1987-2002) with cover art by Thomas Canty. In it, Dean reimagines the tale of "Tam Lin" (a ballad of the Scottish Borders first recorded in the 1549) on the campus of a small liberal arts college in Minnesota in the early 1970s.

The bulk of Tam Lin read like a very literary college novel (a word of warning: unless you have seriously studied English literature and have a background in Classics, the sheer number of references and quotations peppering the narrative is bound to leave you feeling dejectedly ignorant). The faerie realm enters the story overtly only in the last ten percent or so of the novel, though it intrudes, subtly, much earlier.

I have to admit that as I was reading Tam Lin I was at a bit of a loss as to how it could possibly qualify as a fantasy novel. Not being familiar with the original story and not having (re)read the back-cover text prior to beginning the novel, I nevertheless was well aware of the fact that the novel was an adaptation of a fairy tale of sorts. Knowing that, I remained alert, taking note of anything that was remotely out of the ordinary, which helped me to tune into the undercurrents in the story early on.

I enjoyed Tam Lin (and it definitely made me nostalgic for my own college years), but I do wish that there was a bit more of a balance between the natural and supernatural elements of the story. The realization, climax, and ending seem horribly rushed when compared to Dean's detailed treatment of everyday college life. One can't help but feel a bit disappointed.

My favorite line2 of the whole 456-page novel:
"If you read science fiction," [her advisor] said, "you'll like Herodotus." (22)
I have no idea if this is true,3 but I liked that the protagonist's academic advisor (a Classics professor) tried that tack in hopes of luring her into the strangely malevolent Classics department.
  1. Other books in the Fairy Tale series:
  2. My other favorite is "'I only did it to please Janet,' said Molly. 'She thinks elephants are festive'" (137), which I found absolutely hysterical - though it doesn't seem as amusing out of context.
  3. Care to weigh in, Classics majors?

Saturday, May 25, 2013

disclosure: where and how I get the books featured on this blog

This is a personal blog with books as its focus. I do not get paid for any of the content that I post on this site. I do, however, receive review copies of books, for which I have not paid. Receiving a free review copy of a book does not make me more likely to write positive comments, but per the new FTC disclosure regulations (see post) I will henceforth be explicit1 about the source of every book I review on the blog. Posts will begin with a descriptive link that will direct to the relevant section of this post. They will end, when any real disclosure is needed,2 with the same type of full disclosure statement I've been using in those circumstances for the past few years.

A general note about when and what I write about individual titles:

I do not write about all the books that I read.  I don't even write about all the books I receive review copies of.  I am much more likely to write about a book if I have strong feelings about it, either positive or negative.  Basically, if I feel ambivalent about a book, writing about it can feel like a waste of my time.

I'm trying to be better about including at least some commentary about every book that I read.  In fact, one of my 2013 resolutions was to write something about every book that I read this year (see post).  It should be obvious, though, that I've not been particularly successful with this so far.  The idea that I need to write thorough reviews is often what keeps me from posting more frequently.  Because of that I'd like for this blog to go back to being more of a book journal.  Personally I'd prefer to have a blog where I regularly share my thoughts about the books that I read, even if those posts are informal, rather than one where I post full reviews, but only infrequently. We'll see if I manage to accomplish that.

While I do try to find something redeeming in every book that I read (and I am sure to outline those redeeming qualities in my more thorough book reviews), I do not write positive reviews about books that I do not like regardless of the source of the book.  I don't even pretend to like books when they were recommended to me by a friend.

Now, the sources of the copies I read of the books I review on this blog:

Bookcrossing books

Bookcrossing is a book tracking website. I liked the idea of the site and hoped joining would facilitate my releasing of my own books.  Unfortunately, heavy involvement with the Bookcrossing and spin-off communities led to an increase in the number of books in my home rather than a decrease.  I'm not particularly active with Bookcrossing anymore, but I still have quite a few registered books in my possession.  I do not intend to keep those books in perpetuity so I wild release or pass them along to other readers after I've read them or decided not to read them.


Many of my friends and family members like to read.  They sometimes loan me their books.  In most cases I don't know how my source obtained the book I've borrowed.

Library books

I'm a huge fan of libraries both public and private. Since I was in kindergarten I've had at least one active library card at all times.

From July 2006 when I started the blog until April 2011, my sources for library books were the University at Buffalo libraries and the New York Public Library. All interlibrary loan requests were facilitated by the UB libraries.

From April 2011 to present, my library books came primarily from branches within the Westchester Library system. I did access books from the library at work on a near daily basis,3 though I don't often read these books all the way through so they are mentioned on the blog only infrequently. Interlibrary loans (only 1 so far) requested through WLS.

- Public: Because I rent rather than own, my direct financial support of public libraries is in the form of payment of late fees.

- Work: Access to the library and its collections are employee benefits at both UB and my current employer.

Personal copies

I own a lot of books.  Some, but not all, of these books have been added to my LibraryThing collection.

I've bought both new and used books from all different types of book sellers, but I don't usually keep track of where I've purchased them.

Because I like to read (and have a book-filled wishlist), I often receive books as gifts.  I do not ask how these books were originally acquired.

I also acquire books through BookMooch, a (used) book trading site (profile).  By trading away our own books, Russell and I earn points that we can use to request other people's books.    So far we've mooched 394 books and sent out 260.4 full disclosure:  I did serve as a volunteer administrator (mediating disputes between users and whatnot) for the site in its early days.  I received a coffee mug, but that was more thank-you than payment.

Review copies

I do receive review copies of books, for which I have not paid. These come from publishers, agents, authors, editors, or tables at library conferences or book expos. Usually review copies are unfinished proofs, either in paper or electronic form, but occasionally they are retail-quality audio, e-, or paper books. 

Review copies are distributed to authors, bloggers, book club organizers, booksellers, librarians, reviewers, and others for their consideration in the hope of generating buzz about recently and soon-to-be-published books.  While entities distributing review copies hope that reviewers will review the book in question, they do not expect it.  There are, of course, some exceptions to this rule, but I hope those individuals quickly learn that nagging and/or harassment does not yield their desired results.  In any case, when I accept a review copy, I do not guarantee that I will review the book.

  1. To the best of my ability. That is, if I've had a book on my shelf for years I may not remember who gave it to me or whether I bought it from one bookstore or another.
  2. I received a review copy, I know the author, etc.
  3. Remember I work in the library.
  4. The disparity in those two numbers is a result of that fact that the site places more value on books that are sent internationally.  We have sent a lot of our books to people outside of the US and have requested books primarily from people who live within the US.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

April recap

Books read in April1

37. The S-word by Chelsea Pitcher (post forthcoming) - Netgalley
36. The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau (post forthcoming) - Netgalley
35. The Diabolist by Layton Green (post forthcoming) - Netgalley
34. Pandora's Bottle by Joanne Lessner (post forthcoming) - personal copy
33. Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella (post forthcoming) - personal copy
32. Treachery in Brodeaux by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen (post forthcoming) - Netgalley
31. Madenksy Square by Eva Ibbotson (post forthcoming) - Bookcrossing book
30. The Diviners by Libba Bray (audio; post forthcoming) - library book
29. The Girl with the Botticelli Eyes by Herbert Lieberman (post forthcoming) - personal copy
28. Clockwork Angels by Kevin Anderson (post forthcoming) - library book
27. The Best of Us by Sarah Pekkanen (post forthcoming) - Netgalley
26. India Fan by Victoria Holt (post forthcoming) - Netgalley

Notes from the field
or, the not-so-secret travels of BookCrossing books

(see this post for more information about this feature)

- This copy of Divided in Death was read a reviewed in Ontario on April 15th before being given back to the bookcrosser from whence it came.
- This copy of The Garlic Ballads was wild-released in Israel mid-month.
- This copy of The Space Between Us was given to one bookcrosser by another in Ontario on April 7th.

2013 (so far) in Books

books finished / abandoned - 37 / 3
- library books - 12 (10 finished, 2 abandoned)
- review copies - 15 (14 finished, 1 abandoned
- personal copies - 7
- bookcrossing books - 4
- borrowed copies - 2
- non-review ebooks - 1

books purchased
- for self - 6
- as gifts - 0

books otherwise acquired
n.b. ebooks don't count here as they don't take up physical space
- as gifts - 2

- books read - 4
- books registered - 1
- books wild-released - 11

Foot notes
  1. full disclosure - I'm not 100% sure whether I finished The S-word in April or May, but it's going on April's list rather than May's