Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Be a Bookie: Read

Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison LibrarianRunning the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian by Avi Steinberg

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In retrospect, it’s perhaps not so strange that a book by a prison librarian contains violence, references to drugs and sex, and lots of bad language. Never fear, there’s good language, too—enough so I liked the book in spite of myself.

Avi Steinberg: young (20-30 something), privileged in spite of his outsider status as a Hasidic Jew; intellectual Harvard graduate; freelance obituary writer for the Boston Globe. He applies for the job of prison librarian, already wise to the desirability of a steady government job with benefits. He gets it, and sticks it out for two years. This is, of course, a dream scenario for any would-be writer. Danger in the dirty underbelly of society, almost as much street cred as going to war: one can feel this type of distance and excitement as Avi starts his story and his job. Avi is a sensitive guy, though, and he cares. Avi’s heart is the thing that gets him accepted into this prison culture of sheriff vs. prisoner, staff vs. inmate, poverty vs. privilege; it’s the thing that will ensure his eventual departure, as well.

It’s not only about the volumes on the shelves and what their authors wrote. The library is a place where love letters are left and found, literature of the desperate.
“Look for me. Love me, even if we can’t touch. I’m the third window from the top on the left.” Prison is a place of broken hearts and failed dreams and hope is precious and rare. The book is worth the read.

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My Grandmother Asked Me to tell You to Read This Book

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's SorryMy Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It was true after his first book, A Man Called Ove, that I would read everything this man ever writes. Or give it a shot, anyway. After this, I can't imagine ever not reading, not finishing. Contemporary fiction is hard for me, as dark and dreary as most of what's published is. I already know about the worst of humanity, I like reading about regular people living their values (ok, there are some vampire hunters in the mix, but you know what I mean). Every character, spot-on. Every story charming, wise, humorous as Nick Hornby, tender as McCall Smith's Botswana. Laughing and crying throughout the same book is wondrous and rare--but true to real life, whatever that may be.

Elsa is not Pippi Longstocking, but she could be. Through her eyes we see death and divorce, change and mystery, love and community. I actually have met some elderly, cranky European women, so I had a face and a feel for Elsa's grandmother from the get-go. This controlling, loving woman has left some letters for young Elsa to deliver after the funeral. Aware that her death will create cracks and faultlines in her community, Grandmother has made an opportunity for those who grieve her to patch over the faultlines and build anew.

If you like a heartwarming story and don't mind some "cussing," you have found an author to treasure and share. Go, buy, make sure he keeps getting published!

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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Goddess is Alive and Magic is Afoot

The Immortals (Olympus Bound #1)The Immortals by Jordanna Max Brodsky

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jordanna Max Brodsky has written a smart, satisfying tale in the "old gods still survive to modern days" trope, and became my favorite debut author of 2015 (advance copy, thanks Orbit!!). Many of us have indeed worshipped Artemis, Shining One, archer and leader of the Muses, and it's usually Athena and Aphrodite getting all the attention. The Immortals satisfies as a thriller, as an urban fantasy, and as a darn good read. This means the language is engaging, the history and the magic theory hold up, and the characters are believable.
Selene DiSilva protects the innocent on the mean streets of Manhattan as she slowly fades into whatever gods become as they wane. Of course she specializes in helping abused women. But one night, she receives an infusion of strength and purpose: a believer's prayer. Unfortunately, it was a prayer made by a woman dying by violence and betrayal. On her search for the woman's killer, Selene will face both death and life returning and find love greater than she's ever known. Just the right amount of action, humor, and theoretical pontificating (yes, one of those villians!). Love the chapter titles, mostly names of the Goddess. The book highlights some of New York's famous hidden places, too.
For me, the book succeeds on all levels, and I'm so glad to look forward to another book!
(I received an ARC of the book from Orbit for review.)

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