Released by Amber Polo

Full disclosure: This book was sent to me by the author, who very astutely offered me dog treats with it for my two babes and therefore got in the door easily. Great trick, Amber!

releasedLiberty Cutter is a librarian recently returned to her hometown of Shipsfeather, Ohio, having taken the position of public library Director. She’s there to learn more about her own history and that of the town; ever since her mother abandoned her at age 5 in the children’s section of the local library, she’s had precious little information about her background and family. (She was raised by four law librarian aunts who apparently lacked any sense of fun.) Shipsfeather is a strange place: no one in town wants to talk about the past. As the book opens, Liberty dashes off to a massive fire that destroys her library. City officials are less than helpful, but she ends up reopening in an beautiful old school building, with the help of the friendly townspeople and her excellent staff. It turns out that her new library building was already occupied! Underground from the old Academy lives a pack of dogshifters, who it turns out are humankind’s original librarians, and are pleasantly disposed towards Liberty. And it’s a good thing, because the werewolves are the enemies of librarians everywhere – book burners, no less! I’ll mostly quit here for the sake of spoilers, but: Liberty makes new friends, and the library gets a fresh and healthier new start.

The first in a series, Released is great fun, if you’re a fan of books, dogs, or libraries (preferably all three). It does rely heavily on the reader’s appreciation of these framing elements, but this doesn’t concern me overmuch, because I doubt many people pick up such a book who aren’t. Shipsfeather is full of library references: “thank Dewey,” Liberty thinks, when things go right; certain characters talk in “Dewey-speak” (substituting Dewey numbers for nouns). This idyllic small town has far more enthusiastic librarians and library patrons than seems realistic, but again, we’re happy to forgive. The dogshifters in the basement are named and described by breed (and their country of origin plays an important role, too), in another instance of casual indulgence in our mutual interests. The chihuahua is, of course, my favorite character (and he shares a name with a major Mexican beer!).

There is plenty to like: the fantasy is clever and cute, the characters are likeable in their eccentricities, and again, there’s plenty of dog- and library-play. There is some romance, of the swooning and weak-kneed, he’s-so-handsome-and-strong variety. It’s all “clean.” I could make a few criticisms, too. The plot and fantasy realm is not terribly complex; this is a light-hearted romp, not a world-building feat. The dialogue can be a little tedious and unreal. Phrases like “even so” don’t feel right in dialogue, and likewise the lack of contractions: “I will do everything I can” in informal speech. The humor is heavy on the puns – not a problem for every reader, but noteworthy.

Released is easy-reading fun, not crafted in high literary style but a worthwhile jaunt. I enjoyed it, despite a few stylistic flaws, and found myself thinking about the sweet characters and the sweet little world of Shipsfeather as I fell asleep one night this week; and they made me smile. And that’s always worth a few points.

Rating: 5 liver treats.

Thanks, Amber, for sending me a copy of your book.

Teaser Tuesdays: Released by Amber Polo

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. The idea is to open your current read to a random page and share a few sentences. And try not to include spoilers!


Here’s a strange book for you, about libraries and librarians, and werewolves and dog-shifters (those are the good guys). It’s a little paranormal, a little romance, a little fantasy, and a lot of candy for the book- and dog-lovers. Here’s a cute thought for the day:

She read aloud the Alphonse Karr quotation on the back, Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The more things change, the more they are the same. She didn’t want change; she wanted the status quo, just better.

This made me laugh, as it’s so apt. I don’t want it all; I just want everything I want right now. 🙂 I’m enjoying Released so far.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

book beginnings on Friday: The World’s Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.


I have discovered a strange and wonderful new book: a memoir by a Mormon strongman librarian with Tourette’s Syndrome.

Today the library was hot, humid, and smelly. It was like working inside a giant pair of glass underpants without any leg holes to escape through. The building moved. It breathed. It seethed with bodies and thoughts moving in and out of people’s heads. Mostly out.

To me, this beginning establishes the author’s voice, which will be evocative as well as irreverent. One of Hanagarne’s strengths is that he communicates often serious content with a wry twist that sometimes had me giggle out loud. Aside from which, the opening setting of this book is a library, and I am a sucker for that, as I bet are some of you.

I’m sorry to tell you that this book won’t be out until May! But be sure to look out for it then.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

Chrome’s library extension for Amazon

Coworker Liz does it again. I have long been a Mozilla Firefox user, but (gulp) am finally switching to Google Chrome for my internet browser, and here’s why: Chrome’s new Library Extension for Amazon.

The concept is this: when you look up a book on Amazon, you have the option – once you have this extension set up – to see at the same time whether that same book is available at your local library.* For instance (after buzzing right through Lost in a Good Book), I am looking for the third Thursday Next book by Jasper Fforde:
New Picture2
And I would normally have two tabs open in my browser, so that I could search Amazon and my local library at the same time. But now:
New Picture
Look at that. My local HPL has me covered – and all in one browser tab. Thanks, HPL! And thanks, Google!

Now, it remains to be seen whether this will continue to fly for Amazon, an organization which likes its profits. If Amazon were to suspect any drop in business I imagine they’d find a way to keep libraries off their website. But we can hope – and enjoy it while we can.

*Once your local library is set up in the extension. Ours wasn’t, so Liz emailed “the guy” who does such things and the next day, there we were. So it might be just that easy – at least while the traffic remains manageable for “the guy”, which, I have no idea.

library visit: the Julia Ideson building; and Some Recollections of a Western Ranchman by William French

My journey began thusly: having decided to visit the Gila National Forest with Husband this summer, I was doing some research on the website (above) relating to our trip: camping, weather, trails, maps, sights to see, what to expect. I was very pleased to find a suggested reading list (scroll to the bottom). Like many avid readers, I often like to do some reading relating to a place I plan to visit.

This reading list consists of some travel books, the Leopold which I was already interested in, and others that I either began searching for or decided I didn’t need. And then there was this one: Some Recollections of a Western Ranchman, by William French. I took a look at my local library’s catalog, without much luck; and then I looked on Amazon and figured out why: this book is long out of print, with used copies running well upwards of $100. Well, I don’t think I want the book that badly; I don’t really know if I want it at all. But I’m interested, because the Houston Public Library does house a copy in the Texas Room at the Houston Metropolitan Resource Center at the Julia Ideson Building.

This had me intrigued enough to pay a visit. I hadn’t been to the Ideson Building in a few years, since I was a library student and toured with my mother. It’s a lovely space. For 50 years, from 1926 to 1976, this building served as Houston’s central library; its namesake was Houston’s head librarian from 1904-1945. In 1976, the Jones Building was opened on the same block, and today that’s our main library, and the one I grew up with; it’s some 5-6 stories tall, and I grew up with the children’s library in the basement, although now it gets a sunnier treatment (following a recent renovation). The Jones Building is, in my opinion, a fine library in its own right, but the Ideson Building is really lovely. Please do go check out some beautiful photographs (and renderings) provided by The Julia Ideson Library Preservation Partners. You can read more about the building and very recently completed and so well-deserved renovation here.

So what of the book? Well, I entered the Texas Room, which bibliophiles would recognize as a classic reading room in the days before Kindle. I was asked to lock my purse in a locker – no pens, water bottles, or theft opportunities allowed! – and then I waited in this lovely space while a librarian fetched the book I wanted from the closed stacks. There were accountant-style lamps on the tables, but I sat near a window and didn’t need one. I was given William French’s Recollections, in two volumes, bound in what I assume was a custom book box, and I gave it a look.

lovely reading room

As it turns out, the book itself was not the most impressive part of this visit. I spent a little time with it, and encountered a few funny or poignant anecdotes. But each volume being some 300 pages long, I knew I wasn’t interested in making the commitment with a book I couldn’t carry around myself. It is a memoir by a Dublin-born man who traveled to the American Southwest in the late 1800’s and had adventures there, and I read about ranching, local politics, tracking and hunting bears, frontier weddings, and more; apparently French was a friend to the Wild Bunch including Butch Cassidy, which is part of what has made his memoir of some enduring interest. (Not so much enduring interest, however, that this book is still in print.) I think it has some entertainment value, but is not so well-written or sensational to make for popular reading; clearly it has historical value to the time and place it represents, which is why it’s on the Gila’s list of suggested reading. How it ended up in the Texas Room is a little mysterious, as the librarian I asked said that the collection mostly covers not Texas, but more specifically Houston-related resources; I asked how this book (which mostly covers New Mexico) ended up there, and she guessed that perhaps its donor was somehow related to Houston. No worries, of course; I’m glad this hard-to-find book was available to me to touch and read in such a lovely setting.

I don’t regret the books I’ve read, but those I did not read

I work in a library that focuses mostly on fiction, mostly on bestsellers, and mostly on recent releases. Recently released bestselling fiction is the big hit, although we certainly carry exceptions to each category, too. I get asked a lot about books. I get asked for advice on what a patron should read – this is the most common and the most natural and appropriate; I’ve taken courses and read books about “reader’s advisory” service, which means advising what books a person might enjoy, based on what they’ve enjoyed (or not) in the past. (I still consider myself woefully inadequate, mostly because we can’t read them all! But I try – and I’m familiar with what’s expected, with what reader’s advisory entails, even when I can’t perform.) Almost as frequently, I get asked about what I am reading, what I like to read, what I’ve read recently. This can be a tricky one. It should be easy – I should be able to answer honestly, and that should often lead to a fun, stimulating conversation, even if our reading tastes differ. (Which is fine! I like to say, how boring would it be if we all liked the same things? And how long the lines would be, too!) But sometimes I get some strange questions or strange responses. Today, when asked what the last book I read was, I answered truthfully: The Taming of the Shrew. I was rewarded with deep, uncontrollable belly laughter as the patron stumbled out wiping his eyes. I don’t entirely understand. Carry on, sir.

I also get asked difficult questions, like, “which Christian fiction author do you like to read?” The truthful answer is none; the diplomatic answer is “Jan Karon and Karen Kingsbury are very popular. What are you looking for? Who have you enjoyed in the past?” It always makes me smile bemusedly when people ask me, “do you read?” (I’m sure there is a librarian out there who doesn’t, but really.) Or another favorite, when a big batch of hot-off-the-presses, brand-new books arrive: “have you read all of these?” To which I reply, “no. I put them out for you all, first.” But sometimes I can’t resist grabbing a brand new one, I confess. The Reversal and The Paris Wife both came straight home with me, for example. And sometimes I get to read a gally before publication, as I did with Chevy Stevens’ Never Knowing (review yet to come, via Shelf Awareness). But mostly, my access to our library’s new books is limited in the same way my patrons’ access is: by availability. Also, I’m very busy, have lots of reading to do, and try to prioritize their access more highly than my own.

I do get excited about a lot of the books that I buy for the library. And I do get to read a lot of them, but I miss more than I hit. By how many? Well, I got curious. Out of 2011 book orders to date, I have read (in no particular order):

**Some of these were among the best I’ve read this year, too.

But on the other hand, I wanted to read:

  • Turn of Mind, Alice LaPlante
  • Once Upon a River, Bonnie Jo Campbell
  • County: Life, Death and Politics at Chicago’s Public Hospital, David Ansell
  • Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading, Nina Sankovitch
  • The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White, Daniel J. Sharfstein
  • The Clamorgans: One Family’s History of Race in America, Julie Winch
  • The Story of Beautiful Girl, Rachel Simon
  • The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared, Alice Ozma
  • Ruby Red, Kerstin Gier
  • The Butterfly’s Daughter, Mary Alice Monroe
  • Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, Sara Gran
  • I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive, Steve Earle
  • Mightier Than the Sword: Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Battle for America, David S. Reynolds
  • Georgia Bottoms, Mark Childress
  • One of Our Thursdays is Missing, Jasper Fforde
  • Mr. Chartwell, Rebecca Hunt
  • Oracle of Stamboul, Michael David Lukas
  • Cleaning Nabokov’s House, Leslie Daniels
  • Crime: Stories, Ferdinand von Schirach

…that’s a lot of books. I may still make it to several of these – I have my heart set on County, for example. (I want to continue my reading of history and historical fiction in Chicago and the northeast, as in The Devil in the White City, Newspaper Titan, Around the World on Two Wheels and Clara and Mr. Tiffany.) But others will just fall off my wish list gradually for lack of attention – or move up it, if someone else raves. This is the joyful problem of the avid reader and professional librarian: so many options, so little time.

I know I’m not alone! What has passed you by this year that you’re still hoping to find time for? Or, what DID you find time for that turned out really, really well? Best of 2011? (We’re talking published in 2011 here for now. My best of 2011 [published in] are those asterisked, above.) Anything really terrible? (I found Gone with a Handsomer Man very disappointing.) Please do share. Tell me I’m not alone. 🙂

Little Free Library

Thanks to Shelf Awareness, I discovered something called the Little Free Library today. I am excited and inspired by this concept. Go look around the website at some of the beautiful and artistic versions – but the basic concept is a tiny little box of books on a post, in a neighborhood somewhere, where folks can take-a-book, leave-a-book. I want to play! I’m ready to pay the $50 to “join the club,” and I’m hoping to get Husband to help with the carpentry side of things. If you live in Houston: would you help by donating a few books? Used is fine, of course. And, what location do you like? I’m thinking Lindale Park or the Heights. I wonder how you keep the city from being upset with you for constructing things on public land, though.

Dewey vs. the card catalog

I just need to interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to clear up what appears to be a common misconception.

I have this shirt.

Pretty rad, right? It totally draws conversation, and has resulted in me meeting a few very cool fellow librarians when out on the town, too. (Hi, Rob & Shannon!) But it also tends to expose people’s misunderstandings about what’s pictured there.

The picture in that image above is of a card catalog, y’all. It’s a card filing system, and it contains (or contained) cards, on which were printed information about items in a library’s collection. The joke on the t-shirt – “never forget” – is a reference to the fact that card catalogs are pretty much dead. Gone. We now have electronic catalogs that have the same library function: to find what books we have by title, author, and more bibliographic attributes, as well as by subject. Card catalogs. Gone.

But I keep hearing people mention Dewey when they see this shirt. There is no Dewey on this shirt, folks. Let me help.

The Dewey decimal system is a classification system, meaning a way of classifying books (or other items) by subject, and coding subjects, in this case, by a series of numbers. We group books together by subject, so that if you find the one book you want, you can find a bunch of other similar books parked next to it on the shelf. In this way, 796.63 stands for “Mountain biking (All-terrain cycling).” 636.76 stands for toy dogs, including the chihuahua. This classification system does not need cards, or a card catalog. It is alive and well in many libraries today, including the one I work in. We use an electronic catalog, not a card catalog, but Dewey, all the same. My books on true crime [homicide] sit happily together at 364.152. Right now. Dewey. Not Gone.

See the difference?

If your eyes aren’t glazed over yet, I’ll tell you that when I couldn’t find a print copy anywhere of Irrepressible Reformer: a biography of Melvil Dewey, I started reading it through Google Books. (This book’s Dewey number, by the way, is 020.92. You’re welcome.) I didn’t get to finish, because Google Books offers only a preview, which turned out to be something like 100 pages, if memory serves. But I read enough to tell you that Dewey, creator of the system, was a fascinating character. He was a reformer and an innovator of a number of systems, not only classification of books but library practices generally, the metric system, spelling, higher education, and library schools. He’s also a pretty controversial figure, having used very questionable business practices and even in the most generous of light, taken advantage of his benefactors. (For example, he set up various organizations and bureaus in pursuit of his various causes, but they all shared one money pool, so that donors to one cause often ended up funding an entirely different one.) As part of his crusade for simplified spellings (thru for through, etc.), he changed his name from Melville Louis Dewey to Melvil Dui. That Melvil was an interesting guy.

All right, hope you’re still with me. Let’s review. Card catalog:

A physical thing. Large. Heavy. Cumbersome. Mostly dead and gone. [Also, I want to own one of these very badly.]


A system of categorizing and organizing books. The catalog that leads a person to a book using Dewey can be electronic, and today, almost certainly is. Not dead and gone. [Although if you tempt me I may tell you about the Library of Congress‘s alternative classification system…]

BTT asks, own or borrow?

As usual, I’m late on this one, but the real point, seems to me, is the discussion, not the timing of the discussion. Sometimes I need to let these topics ruminate for a day or days before my own feelings become either articulated in my head, or strong enough to warrant a blog post.

Booking Through Thursday asked, on June 9:

All things being equal (money, space, etc), would you rather own copies of the books you read? Or borrow them?

My response in this case has been shaped and strengthened through reading lots of other responses, so thanks, fellow bloggers. Special thanks to A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook for the mention of supporting his local library!

So. What’s my answer? Like some of these other discerning bloggers, it’s not a simple either/or. Of course, as a librarian, an insatiable reader, and a book lover, I have a collecting problem. It’s too easy to pick up a book I know I want to read someday, but have no time to read now, and put it on a bookshelf or in a stack at home; then I turn around and find that the towering stacks are threatening to eat Husband, little dogs and I for lunch. (Part of the problem is that my job sends numerous homeless books my way.) This would seem to indicate a preference for owning.

But! When given the opportunity to think it through and give a reasoned answer, as here :), I would not always choose to own. For one thing, there are too many good books in the world to ever read, or own, or house, them all. (This is both a good thing and a bad thing.) I know the question presupposes endless storage space, but there has to be a limit. I don’t ever want to live in a space the size of the Library of Congress times 10,000 or whatever it would take. I think the “etc.” in the question (unlimited “money, space, etc.”) is ability to choose! Or maybe time to read! I feel that books are meant to be shared, and passed on. Now, don’t get me wrong; there are many books in my collection, and in my future or dream collection, that I wouldn’t part with. That copy of The Jungle (etc.) that belonged to my parents; the beautifully bound; the unique early editions. My favorite books, especially those with a high chance of being reread or quoted from, I would always want to own a copy of. But I also enjoy passing books on. Recommending a book to a friend is one thing; putting a physical copy in his/her hands is another. (That’s one reason why it’s fun to meet up with Amy or Fil for dinner or drinks: the prospect of physically handing over books.)

Also, as a librarian, part of my life’s work seems to be providing other people with reading material. I work in a library that runs a paperback collection off donations; I’m always happy to put books into this collection, and really, a “light read” of genre fiction may as well go back into circulation as languish on my shelf never to be reread. Also as a librarian, I’m hyper-aware and extremely appreciative of the prospect of a free and unlimited supply of books to read. Even with all the money in the world, I wouldn’t buy every book I’m interested in reading; if it turns out to be a dud (and some do!), I don’t want it living with me afterwards! But with all the money in the world, I would be likely to buy some of the best books I’ve read from the library that turn out to be excellent. (Most recently, that would be Fire Season and The Heroine’s Bookshelf.)

So I guess what I’m saying, to question of buying vs. borrowing is… both, of course! Moderation in all things (thank you Aristotle), and a place for everything and everything in its place (variously attributed). Some I want to own, but most I think I would borrow, even with all the money and storage space in the world. What I most need is not money or storage space, because we have these wonderful libraries everywhere! (Support your local libraries, friends!) What I most need (besides more storage space, certainly) is more time to read. And some really beautiful, well-crafted bookshelves.

an average day in the life of a librarian

…means taking things home. We will eventually have a storage problem in my house. Or perhaps it has already begun, considering that the books have outgrown my study (Husband calls it the “book cave” which is really unfair as there is lots of lovely natural light streaming in) and the TBR bookcase is in the dining area. Here is a picture, which is now dated; it’s all full up these days…

Some days I just carry my regular work bag, which only allows a book or two along with my lunch and personal effects. But some days I carry a supplemental book bag. Like today. Today I’m bringing home…

Starting upper left and going clockwise:

Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner. My interest is inspired by Thomas at My Porch, and I’m nearing the end of it now and very well pleased.

The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent. Katy at A Few More Pages has written up this and other of Kent’s books, and I’m intrigued.

These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf, which I’ve had my eye on for a while now. Now, litlove (at Tales From the Reading Room) did take issue with this book, calling it commercial fiction. But I’m still interested.

The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne. The one and only mystery from the author of Winnie the Pooh etc.? I’m sold.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I’ve never read it (gasp!) and want to; plus I saw this post the other day at Savidge Reads and got a final nudge.

Without Fail by Lee Child. My current genre favorite; he hasn’t let me down yet. It’s always good to have some light pleasure reading lying around!

By-Line: Ernest Hemingway has been discussed here before. I’m still not quite done.

Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child on audio. This is in the car right now. More of my current genre guy.

And… Tales from Watership Down by Richard Adams. On the long list of books I’ve always vaguely intended to read, so I grab when I can.

It’s a dangerous world when you spend over 40 hours/week in a library!!

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