Sunday, July 05, 2015

Helsinki Noir, edited by James Thompson (2014)

As a big crime fiction / noir-y stuff fan, I'm pretty excited about the extensive regionally-based "Noir" series, part of which is the book Helsinki Noir, edited by James Thompson (2014), which I recently finished. Each book consists of a series of short stories that take place in (and are usually by authors from) a specific region. In this case, the Helsinki area in Finland. (As an aside, I recently bought a copy of Lone Star Noir and I'm really excited about some Texas-based crime stories. More on that later.)

I don't know much about Finland except for what I've seen through the movies of Aki Kaurismaki which bring to mind lots of drinking, cold ice and snow, general depression, and a seriously dark sense of humor. The stories in the book pretty much all back that up, although some of them travel to a ritzy side of Helsinki that Kaurismaki doesn't really use in his films.

To be honest, some of these stories were a little rough even for me -- particularly the ones that included some sexual violence. Although there was generally some kind of revenge / divine retribution, being in a narrative with a really horrible character can get a little old. The best stories were those that relied on a solidly written detective character (particularly Leena Lehtolainen's "Kiss of Santa" and Jarkko Sipila's "Silent Night." [Also, Finnish names are really weird, guys.] A few of the stories were originally written in English, but most were translated from Finnish for this book. The editor notes in his preface that Finnish authors don't usually see a lot of crossover appeal because there is something unusual about Finland that just doesn't translate to other cultures. I could definitely see a little bit of that here, but that oddness and untranslatability often added to the creepy noir feeling of the stories. 

[Note: I received a review copy of this book from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers group.]

Friday, July 03, 2015

Bull Rider by Suzanne Morgan Williams (2009)

I won this copy of Bull Rider by Suzanne Morgan Williams (2009) in a raffle about a year ago and, even though it didn't seem like the kind of book I'd really like at all, I read it because I am a ridiculous woman.

Cam O'Mara is 14 and lives with his family on a ranch in Nevada. His whole life he has admired / been jealous of his older brother Ben who carried on the family tradition of championship bull riding. Cam has decided he does not ride bulls, even if he is an O'Mara. He skateboards instead.

Then Ben joins the marines, along with several other recent high school graduates from their small town. This only makes everyone more proud of Ben, including Cam. But after coming home for leave and heading back to Iraq, Ben's convoy hits an IED and he loses his arm and sustains a traumatic brain injury. He comes home after a long time in various hospitals, but he is depressed and angry, and not the same golden big brother that Cam knew before.

As he is dealing with his brother's injuries and his parents' grief and stress, Cam starts hanging out at the bull pens with some of Ben's friends. He ultimately finds himself goaded onto a bull and discovers that he has the O'Mara talent for bull riding. Eventually he comes up with the idea that he should ride Ugly, a famously rough bull that is touring the riding circuit with a promise of a $15,000 for any rider that can stay on him for more than 8 seconds. If he can conquer the bull, Cam reasons, Ben can work through his physical therapy and find a way to use his talents that doesn't involve bull riding or being a Marine. Plus the $15,000 will help his parents out with all their mounting expenses.

So, yeah: this is a young adult novel, for boys, with a patriotic / military theme, and bull riding. None of which am I super into. And yet, this book was really good! Williams has a good sense of character and dialogue, and the story as it is told from Cam's perspective is both interesting and moving. The patriotic stuff is definitely there, but focused on supporting the troops (both overseas and veterans at home) and not necessarily supporting the war. In fact, Williams leaves room for a lot of questioning there. And the bull riding stuff is exciting! I think this would be a great book for a teenager dealing with a family member who was injured during military service, but it was also a pretty great read for a non bull-riding 38 year old woman. I love it when my expectations are all turned around!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Lone Arranger: Succeeding in a Small Repository by Christina Zamon (2012)

A little light professional reading sometimes sneaks into my pile, and that was exactly the case with The Lone Arranger: Succeeding in a Small Repository by Christina Zamon (2012). Archivists refer to themselves as "Lone Arrangers" if they, like me, are a one-person outfit. Aren't archivists hilarious?

In this book, Zamon seeks to give an overview of all the different aspects of running an archive (setting up policies, collecting material, providing access, controlling the environment, processing and describing collections, doing outreach, and more), but with an eye towards adapting the usual archival best practices to the reality of a one-person shop with a small budget.

This book came out of Zamon's leadership with the Society of American Archivists Lone Arrangers Roundtable, and she was able to bring in case studies from many of the roundtable members to add different perspectives to her text. Her experience as a lone arranger makes her well qualified to write an overview book like this one, and it was so refreshing to read some professional literature that spoke to the realities of a small repository like mine (yes, I know archival theory and best practices and ideal procedures, but those seldom work when you don't have enough time or money to implement them). While some of the chapters were shorter than I would have liked, I think the length and pacing was just right for this kind of overview. I'd love to see some more in-depth pieces on different aspects of archival enterprise from a lone arranger perspective sometime. Maybe we can get a sequel!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Best American Comics 2008, edited by Lynda Barry (2008)

My latest read from the St. Denis bookshelf is The Best American Comics 2008, edited by Lynda Barry (2008), another in the extremely satisfying "Best American Comics" anthology series.

As with the other volume of this series that I've read, the anthology brings together a nice mix of familiar names (Ware, Barry, Geary, Bechdel, Groening, Derf), and a sprinkling of enjoyable new artists. Barry, true to form, presents her introduction as a comic where she leads us through her changing relationship with comics and art and the importance of the much-maligned comic strip in the world of "Graphic Novels" (especially for the children of today who will become the artists and readers of the future).

That being said, some of the entries in this volume were a little too comic strippy for this graphic novel devotee to really get into, especially without a little more context for the characters in the strips. I did come away with some new (to me) artists that I'd like to check out more of, including Nick Bertozzi, Lilli Carré ("The Thing About Madeline" was one of my favorite pieces in the book), Jason Lutes, and Sarah Oleksyk.

What can I say -- anthologies are fun, and anthologies of comics are even funner. 2008, you were a pretty good year (comically).

Friday, June 19, 2015

Jack: Adventures in Texas' Big Bend by Chris Ruggia (2010-2014)

I picked up the three volume set of Jack: Adventures in Texas' Big Bend by Chris Ruggia (2010-2014) from the author at Austin's STAPLE! convention this past spring and I'm so glad I did!

Ruggia lives in Alpine, Texas and through his experiences in the region crafted these adventures of Jack (a non-native jackrabbit who finds himself in Big Bend due to some unusual circumstances) and his new friend Mel, an extremely extroverted and charming kangaroo rat with a very big imagination. In the course of their time together they come across predators, friends, rainstorms, vegetation, and, of course, some serious adventures. Ruggia ends each volume with a scientific look at the real flora and fauna that make up the fascinating Big Bend region. The straightforward and compelling drawings and nice paced stories seal the deal: these are really fun comics that work equally well for adults or kids.

Find out more or buy your own on Ruggia's site here:

Support a great Texas artist and storyteller and learn about Big Bend at the same time -- you can't go wrong!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Austin's First Cookbook: Our Home Recipes, Remedies and Rules of Thumb by Michael C. Miller (2015)

I really couldn't be happier with Austin's First Cookbook: Our Home Recipes, Remedies and Rules of Thumb by Michael C. Miller (2015) [in partnership with the Austin History Center], and not just because Mike is a fellow-archivist and good friend.

When Mike and his colleagues were researching an exhibit on early foodways in Austin, they came across an intriguing book in their collection, the Our Home Cookbook compiled by the women of the First Cumberland Presbyterian Church as a fundraiser in 1891. Few other libraries held the book, the earliest known published cookbook from Austin, and the copy at the Austin History Center was very fragile, but filled with fascinating information reflecting the lives and values of the women who put it together. Mike and his publisher decided to reprint the volume, including all the penciled in notes from its previous owners, in order to share the history with the Austin community (and beyond!).

To add to the fun, Mike wrote a well-researched introduction delving into Austin life in the 1890s and the biographies of about a dozen of the women who contributed recipes. Rounding things off are an essay on the history of cookbooks in Austin and an exhaustive bibliography of every cookbook written, published, or about Austin, Texas. The beginning and concluding essays include lots of historic photographs, reproduced from the collections at the Austin History Center.

The book is nicely printed and the reproduced cookbook is crisply scanned and easy to read. The recipes are fascinatingly vague, sometimes pretty gross sounding, and often intriguing (you can broil deviled eggs?). If you buy this, you will never need another recipe for fruit cake! An unexpectedly fascinating part of the cookbook are the many ads that local businesses put at the beginning and end of the publication, a common practice at the time, which give a little more flavor to this piece of Austin history (see what I did there?).

Y'all. Go buy this book. All proceeds benefit the Austin History Center, and you will get some serious enjoyment from it. Great job, Mike!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Drifting by Katia D. Ulysse (2014)

Drifting (2014) is the debut novel by Hatian-American author, Katia D. Ulysse. Although to call it a novel might be a little misleading. This book deftly straddles the line between the narrative focus of a novel and the variety and pacing of a collection of short stories.

Through a group of interconnected narratives, Ulysse tells the stories of Haitian women and girls, both in Haiti and after their often complicated immigrations to the United States. These are hard stories and rough journeys, but the wholeness of the characters and the richness of even the briefly described relationships brings in a wave of humanity and joy. Her emphasis on female friendships, both for girls and grown women is particularly moving and serves as a backdrop for the often pretty horrible other parts of the character's lives.

Ulysse is one of the strongest new writers I've read in a long time, and this book is both powerful and extremely readable. I haven't read many Haitian writers beyond Edwidge Danticat and reading Ulysse's book made me want to revisit what I'd already read and go out to find even more. You will like this book, y'all.

[Note: I received this review copy through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program.]