Review: Patience and Fortitude by Scott Sherman

Review: Patience and Fortitude by Scott ShermanPatience and Fortitude: Power, Real Estate, and the Fight to Save a Public Library by Scott Sherman
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Pages: 205
Published by Melville House on June 23rd 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

A riveting investigation of a beloved library caught in the crosshairs of real estate, power, and the people’s interests—by the reporter who broke the story   In a series of cover stories for The Nation magazine, journalist Scott Sherman uncovered the ways in which Wall Street logic almost took down one of New York City’s most beloved and iconic institutions: the New York Public Library.
In the years preceding the 2008 financial crisis, the library’s leaders forged an audacious plan to sell off multiple branch libraries, mutilate a historic building, and send millions of books to a storage facility in New Jersey. Scholars, researchers, and readers would be out of luck, but real estate developers and New York’s Mayor Bloomberg would get what they wanted.
But when the story broke, the people fought back, as famous writers, professors, and citizens’ groups came together to defend a national treasure.
Rich with revealing interviews with key figures, Patience and Fortitude is at once a hugely readable history of the library’s secret plans, and a stirring account of a rare triumph against the forces of money and power.

The iconic lions that welcome readers to the entrance of the New York Public Library’s Central Library are named “Patience” and “Fortitude”. This made me wonder about the names of the two equally iconic lions that guard the entrance to the Art Institute of Chicago. Those two don’t have official names, but their unofficial titles are “stands in an attitude of defiance” and “on the prowl”. The difference in names may describe the difference between New York and Chicago, right there.

At the entrance to the New York Public Library
At the entrance to the New York Public Library

But the patience and fortitude in this book about the New York Public Library and its most recent step into controversy may be better attributed to those who campaigned against what looks remarkably like a real-estate boondoggle, at least from the outside looking in.

There’s plenty of story here. It begins with the very origins of NYPL, and its rather strange and certainly unique financing. In spite of the name, NYPL was never a public library in the way that most of us think of one. It is not a department of the city of New York, and is not owned or managed by the city. Nor is it an independent taxing district as many libraries are in the Midwest (and probably elsewhere)

Instead, NYPL is a private non-profit entity that owns the buildings of the library, while the city provides funds for personnel and other services – funds which are then administered by the private non-profit. To add to the confusion, the research function of NYPL was never intended to be supported by taxpayer dollars. The intent was for the research library to be supported by donations.

So there are two effectively competing agencies housed uneasily under one administrative roof, while everyone hopes that someone else will pay the bills. A plan which never works, but does provide at least some of the genesis for the mess that NYPL found itself in from 2007 until 2014.

Entrance to Donnell Library Center
Entrance to Donnell Library Center

The plan was to sell both the Donnell Library and the Mid-Manhattan Library, and to gut the Central Library’s book stacks, then combine all the services into the single remaining building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. While the Donnell Library building was sold, the great recession intervened before any more damage could be done.

As the text makes pretty clear, it’s not that there wasn’t a financial crisis that needed to be solved, it’s that in the end, no one except the consultants and their staunchest supporters believed that the solution being proposed would actually solve anything at all. Those in opposition were convinced, and it looks like correctly, that the plan would cause structural damage to the Central Library building, further erode services both to the public and to researchers, and would not actually generate the income necessary to sustain the library. It didn’t help their cause that the claims of damage and rot to the structure of those incredible book stacks seemed overblown, and that no less drastic solutions were even considered.

In the end, it all looked like a grand shell game being played with other people’s money. In this case, NYPL’s money. It also looked increasingly to outsiders that even though no one involved from the library’s side did anything illegal, or made any money under the table, that there was more than a whiff of sweetheart dealing in the way that the properties were going to be, or in the case of the Donnell Library actually were, disposed of.

And no one anywhere should ever believe any consultant on a major building project who claims that there can’t possibly be any cost overruns. There almost inevitably are cost overruns, and the less you expect them, the more ruinous they are.

Reality Rating B+: Before I discuss the gist of this story, I need to insert a caveat or three. I am a librarian, and while I never worked at NYPL, I did work at two of the other city libraries named in the text, Chicago and Seattle. I also served in a middle-management position, not just at CPL and SPL, but also at several middle-sized public libraries, which gave me the opportunity to observe library board meetings on a regular basis, and interact with the boards of trustees at some of those institutions. What I am saying is that I know something about how the sausage is made, and can see similarities to situations I worked in fairly clearly.

So reading this book felt a bit like insider baseball. Some of the people involved were nationally recognized it the profession. And the situations they got themselves into had the ring of familiarity.

The financial situation at NYPL was never very stable. As a librarian, it was considered a great place to have on your resume, but a lousy place to actually work because NYPL did not pay a living wage for the city of New York. Reading the introductory chapters of this book makes it pretty clear why the finances were so precarious.

One of the things that I found amazing was the way that the powers that be at NYPL during this era used their unique situation to suit themselves. They went to the city hat in hand to beg for money for this project, while at the same time frequently ignoring Freedom of Information Act Requests and even demands from the press or the State Legislature for information, and they did it with impunity as a “private non-profit”.

The main part of this saga begins in 2007. This was just before the great recession dropped the bottom out of the real estate market pretty much everywhere. It was also the point where the Google Books project to digitize the collections of great research libraries, including NYPL, was in full swing – and before it ran afoul of the copyright laws in court. Some pundits on the bleeding edge were predicting that libraries would either be all digital or completely obsolete in a relatively short time. Basing the building design on a premise that hadn’t yet been proven looks foolhardy in retrospect. Especially when combined with the notion that “everything will be digitized” when the volume of “everything” that existed prior to the ubiquity of computers is much too high a volume to be digitized within the lifetime of anyone now living.

There has also been a longstanding shift in the library profession to a “give ‘em what they want” mentality. The other side of that coin is when “they” stop wanting something, it’s time to throw it out to make way for something new that “they” will want. This works fairly well in most public libraries, and is an absolute necessity because real estate and shelf space are generally expensive and always finite. But in a research library like the NYPL Central, the intention is to keep a broad and deep collection because we don’t know what some researcher will want 5 or 10 or 50 years from now. But we know that if we don’t preserve it, it won’t exist for that researcher to find.

A panoramic view of the Rose Reading Room
A panoramic view of the Rose Reading Room

And then there was the issue at NYPL that the steel book stacks are physically supporting the Rose Reading Room on the top floor. Take out the book stacks and the top floor becomes the bottom floor with a sudden and resounding crash. While there were designs to account for this, none of them seemed as sturdy, robust or even as beautiful and simply functional as the existing stacks.

Part of the plan was that the 3 million volumes housed in those stacks be relocated to off-site storage in New Jersey for better preservation. There was a frequently articulated promise that books would be made available within 24 hours. The problem with this part of the plan was that patrons already had plenty of experience with off-site storage, and 24 hours was known to be a laughable dream. Three or four days was considered an achievable dream, but a week was not unheard of.

As part of this phase of the plan, the powers that be conducted a stealth removal of the books in the stacks, sending them to off-site storage and to private warehouses. The stacks are now echoingly empty, even though the grand plan is dead, and some of the books are completely inaccessible. Others were lost in transition.

There have been any number of libraries and library directors who have found themselves in the midst of hurricanes of controversy over plans to vastly eliminate or move the collections of their libraries. One of the more infamous cases occurred at the San Francisco Public Library in the mid 1990s (see Nicholson Baker’s scathing book, Double Fold, for an example of just how acid the vitriol became). There are more recent stories from the Urbana Free Library in Illinois and the Berkeley Public Library in California. Every librarian knows that massively weeding or otherwise removing the collection is one of the fastest ways to generate negative publicity that libraries can fall into. But the librarians seem to have been left out of the decision-making loop in all of the planning for this great plan.

The NYPL Central Library, with its enduring and patient lions, is a living symbol of the city. It is also a storied place of history, where many scholars and writers did their research and composed some of their greatest work. It’s also a place that, in spite of its often shaky finances, fulfilled every library’s purpose of being the “People’s University” with its doors and its collections open to any researcher or reader who visited its hallowed halls. There were too many people, both famous and forgotten, who loved that building and the purpose it served.

The real estate moguls never had a chance. Just this once, the pen was mightier than the pocketbook. But it was still one hell of a fight.

Review: The World Between Two Covers by Ann Morgan

Review: The World Between Two Covers by Ann MorganThe World Between Two Covers: Reading the Globe by Ann Morgan
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 326
Published by Liveright on May 4th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

A beguiling exploration of the joys of reading across boundaries, inspired by the author's year-long journey through a book from every country.
Following an impulse to read more internationally, journalist Ann Morgan undertook first to define "the world" and then to find a story from each of 196 nations. Tireless in her quest and assisted by generous, far-flung strangers, Morgan discovered not only a treasury of world literature but also the keys to unlock it. Whether considering the difficulties faced by writers in developing nations, movingly illustrated by Burundian Marie-Thérese Toyi's Weep Not, Refugee; tracing the use of local myths in the fantastically successful Samoan YA series Telesa; delving into questions of censorship and propaganda while sourcing a title from North Korea; or simply getting hold of The Corsair, the first Qatari novel to be translated into English, Morgan illuminates with wit, warmth, and insight how stories are written the world over and how place-geographical, historical, virtual-shapes the books we read and write.

The World Between Two Covers is a book about thinking about what you read, and why you read it. By thinking about “why you read it” I don’t mean which genres you love (or don’t). The “why” in this instance is much more about “why are particular books available to you (or not)” than why you find a particular book or genre engaging.

Not that the author of The World Between Two Covers was not engaged with many of the books she read, and not that I wasn’t engaged in reading about her journey. Because she was, and I certainly was.

The story here is about her journey through books. She goes from what made her decide to take this journey, through her process of actually managing it. And along the way she dives into the realms of why certain books are and are not available, and what effect the overwhelming preponderance of the the Western, anglophone marketplace juggernaut may have on literature and its availability in the future.

It’s a lot to wrap into one book.

This is not a collection of her reviews of the books she read during her figurative year abroad. The reviews are available on the author’s website, appropriately named, A Year of Reading the World, which she did in 2012. This is her story about doing it.

Part of the fascination of the project is in the sleuthing. When one is exclusively a reader in the English language, one of the first hurdles one must climb over is that one needs to find English translations for everything one plans to read.

It turned out that an even bigger hurdle for the author was in determining what exactly constituted her “world” and then finding some work, sometimes finding any work, from a particular country. Not merely finding an English translation of a work, but finding a work at all.

Not every voice is heard. Some places don’t have a written literary tradition. Some places don’t have a publishing tradition. Everyone, everywhere has access to American and British lit, or at least they do if they have some access to the internet. But the converse is certainly not true. She found herself relying not just on the recommendations of strangers to find material, but also on the kindness of strangers to find, or in one memorable case, create, translations for her.

As someone who is part of the world of reading and reviewing, I found this glimpse into another writer’s process absoluting fascinating. As a librarian, I found her thoughts on the publishing and reading landscape gave me insight into conditions that we don’t think about too much.

But perhaps we should.

Reality Rating B: There are the books. Then there is the process of getting the books. And finally, there is the writing about books and reading and publishing and what it means when we stay within our own comfortable little houses of mirrors. And what it feels like when we don’t.

Each of the aspects of this book will have its proponents. And for those who are disappointed that the reviews are not included, the joy of the internet means that they are all still available at A Year of Reading the World.

For this reader, the heart of the book was in the way that the author thought about what she read and about the circumstances that made certain books available, and works by other countries very nearly impossible to track down.

In the U.K., where the author is based, only 4% of the books available are works in translation from other languages. In the U.S., that figure is estimated to be 3%. In other “First World” countries where English is not the dominant language, those numbers rise to 30% or 40%. Everyone consumes our product, but ours is not cross-pollinated by much material from anyone else. There are questions about the effect of this imbalance on literature as a whole. We read in an echo chamber, and it’s an echo chamber that we increasingly export to the rest of the world. And writers in languages other than English are increasingly writing to what they perceive as the U.K./U.S. Western market because that’s where the money is. But the question of what voices are being lost echoes throughout the book.

The author also speaks to the way that the books that we are used to support our Western-centric worldview, a perspective that often reinforces the view of the West as conquering heroes and bringers of civilization to places that are seen as less-enlightened. Stories from other parts of the world present a different and sometimes uncomfortable perspective for us, that we have created messes in places where we chose to tromp on the existing culture instead of understanding and working with it.

For a small and not too uncomfortable sample of this view, as a U.S. reader watch or listen to BBC News for a few days. The BBC reports on a lot of parts of the world that U.S. news doesn’t bother to cover, and for the BBC, the U.S. is quite naturally NOT the center of the universe. But I digress.

On the one hand, the internet is what made this book possible. Without the ability to contact people from all over the globe at the click of a “Send” button, and without the ability for people around the world to see her project and want to help, this book could not have happened. At the same time, the internet can be seen to a homogenization of culture and literature that may not be good for anyone, as the voice of the internet becomes more and more Western centric, anglophone, and increasingly controlled by corporate interests.

If you care about what you read, this book will make you think about it. Hard. And that’s an excellent thing.

Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca SklootThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 370
Published by Crown Publishing Group on February 2nd 2010
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

Henrietta Lacks, as HeLa, is known to present-day scientists for her cells from cervical cancer. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells were taken without her knowledge and still live decades after her death. Cells descended from her may weigh more than 50M metric tons.
HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta Lacks was buried in an unmarked grave.
The journey starts in the “colored” ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s, her small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia — wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo. Today are stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells, East Baltimore children and grandchildren live in obscurity, see no profits, and feel violated. The dark history of experimentation on African Americans helped lead to the birth of bioethics, and legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was recommended to me in glowing terms by multiple people the year that it was published. And being in a contrary mood, I didn’t read it at the time.

I’m here to say that everyone who told me to “READ THIS BOOK” was absolutely right, and I was wrong to wait. This thing is awesome on so many levels.

It’s a medical mystery. It provides some serious context for discussions of medical privacy, including those HIPAA forms we all sign every time we get medical treatment these days. It dives deeply into the field of medical ethics. It makes you think about fairness and justice. It provides a fascinating and humanized history lesson in cell research.

And the description of cervical cancer treatment in 1951 is scarier than any horror movie ever made. It’s not that Henrietta Lacks was treated badly at that point, it’s that the treatment in general seems absolutely barbaric from early 21st century perspectives. The standard treatment was to insert tubes of radium into her cervix and sew them in place for TWO DAYS. If you are a woman and this doesn’t make you reflexively clench your legs shut, you are a much braver woman than I. The description of this treatment makes Torquemada look benevolent.

But this was the state of cancer treatment in 1951.

However, the story of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks both is and isn’t about Henrietta herself. Because Henrietta died in 1951. Her cancer killed her. But not before her doctor removed bits of both her tumor and her healthy organs and turned them over to the nascent science of cell research.

Cell science was nascent because of one major problem, the researchers couldn’t manage to keep a cell line alive for more than a few days. The bits of Henrietta that her doctor sliced out without her permission did not obey the normal rules of harvested cells. Just as her tumors grew at an unprecedentedly rapid rate, so did her harvested and cultured cells.

Henrietta Lacks died, but her harvested HeLa cells, thrived. At first only at Johns Hopkins, but eventually at biological research labs and companies all over the world. The cancer that killer her also made her immortal.

Henrietta, through her HeLa cells, helped cure polio. And diagnose cancer, and create vaccines for HIV and HPV. And helped scientists to study the effects of travel in outer space on human cells. You name a medical breakthrough in the past 60+ years, and HeLa cells are somewhere in the story, whether the actual cells, or the techniques that were created around them.

HeLa has saved thousands, probably hundreds of thousands of lives. Those cells have also made hundreds of researchers and biological products companies either rich or famous, and sometimes both.

But her family was not informed. Nor did they consent. In fact, when researchers needed better methods of distinguishing HeLa cells from other cultures, researchers took blood samples from her surviving family, without fully informing them of the purpose of the tests. And revealed their names and relationships to Henrietta in medical journals.

All of this seems unthinkable today, but at the time it took place, it was all legal. It wasn’t until the turn of the 21st century that a researcher chose to include Henrietta’s surviving family in research about Henrietta and her miraculous HeLa cells, but by providing the family with the scientific information and simple respect that they had been denied for so long, was able to both give them closure and create the first complete record of this formerly unsung woman who changed the face of medicine.

Escape Rating A+: This book is really two stories running in a kind of parallel. The first story is Henrietta’s story. Not just the biography of her actual life, but also a tracing of the history of her immortal medical afterlife. The continuing life and journey of her HeLa cells. Those cells helped to create a revolution in cell research, which in turn created a revolution in medicine.

As with so many revolutionary ideas, those revolutions fed on themselves in either a vicious cycle or virtuous circle, depending on one’s perspective. Once a line of viable cells, the HeLa line, came into existence, everything about cell research has spent decades playing catch up. All of the procedures for handling, transporting, culturing and eventually selling cells developed because there were finally cells to create procedures around.

But even more importantly, the ongoing discussions in medical ethics, medical research and patient confidentiality are still catching up to the developments made possible by the myriad opportunities that were opened with the HeLa cells. Henrietta did not give permission for her cells to be harvested and used. The law did not require it. What will astonish you is that the law still doesn’t.

The story of the author’s search for Henrietta and her family, and her work with them and for them over the years that this book was in development make for every bit as compelling a story as the story of the HeLa cells.

As the years went by after Henrietta’s death, and as her cells were used around the world, there was a long period of time in the history where her name was obscured or deliberately covered up. Multiple names were put forward as the original HeLa, including Henrietta Lakes, or Helen Lawson, and most often, Helen Lane. Even as one reads the accounts, one gets the feeling that there was an attempt to hide the origin of the cells from the family. When the HeLa research began, the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiment was still going on, and there was a persistent and not totally false rumor mill that African Americans were frequently kidnapped for experimental purposes and often experimented on without their consent or knowledge. The kidnappings may have been apocryphal, but the experiments so clearly were not.

This was also the era of a kind of heroic medical researcher who thought nothing of injecting unsuspecting patients of all types (including sometimes themselves) with all manner of drugs and diseases without their consent. A study was conducted with HeLa cells, injecting HeLa cells, which were known to contain cancer, into healthy patients to see if they would develop cancer in turn. The patients were not informed because it might cause them “anxiety”. No kidding. And the great majority of the patients did develop tumors at the injection site which required surgery. At least one developed cancer.

Just the thought of this kind of research brings back the spectre of Nazi medical experiments in the concentration camps. And it makes me shudder in reflexive horror.

But as the real identity of the HeLa cell donor became more and more widely known, at least in medical circles, it also brought out of the woodwork more and more people who wanted to take advantage of the family in some way. By the time the author of this book began her quest, the family was angry at partial and incomplete explanations and disgusted by or frightened of the charlatans who knocked on their door.

So part of the story that the author tells is of her journey to being trusted, and then the journey she undertakes with Henrietta’s surviving daughter to uncover the truth. The questions that are explored, and the answers that they find, stick in the mind and heart of the reader long after the last page is turned.

Reviewer’s Note: The mother of a 15-year-old boy attending a STEM Academy in Knoxville Tennessee has requested that The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks be banned from the entire school district on the grounds that the book is “pornographic”. Her contention is based on two incidents in the book. Henrietta first diagnoses herself by inserting her own fingers into her vagina to find the lump on her cervix that she believed was present. Which it was. And the second “support” for the charge of pornography is that Henrietta’s medical records include her multiple diagnoses of syphilis and gonorrhea, and go on to explain that she contracted the venereal diseases from her husband’s promiscuity. This is not pornography. This is history. And gynecology. Also a whole lot of courage on Henrietta’s part. How many of us would rather continue in ignorance than investigate inside our own bodies for ourselves?

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 9-27-15

Sunday Post

This week is Banned Books Week. You may, therefore, see a theme in my upcoming posts. I certainly intended there to be a theme. Someone recently attempted to ban The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks from her 15-year old son’s high school STEM curriculum and library on the grounds that it is “pornographic”. The other books this week have themes of reading, privacy and freedom. The freedom of speech (or the press) is not as free without the freedom to read what is written or hear what is said. The right to read and hear controversial speech without the fear of reprisal is tied inextricably into the right to keep one’s reading, viewing and listening habits private.

As an exercise in doing a theme week, this is also going to be interesting from my perspective. I’ll confess to wondering if I’m going to bounce off one or more of these books. Not Immortal Life, I’ve already finished it and it is fantastic. But some of the others, or a whole week of serious, may strain my ability to keep up. But if these don’t work, I have other titles in mind. And some of the other books that have been banned are absolutely fascinating.

banned books week giveaway hop 2015There are still a couple of days left to enter the Rockin’ Reads Giveaway Hop, and the Banned Books Week Giveaway Hop just started. The prize is the same, either a $10 Gift Card or a $10 Book. The book will be shipped from Book Depository, which allows me to do an international giveaway. They ship everywhere! But I still wish they did gift cards.

Current Giveaways:

$10 Book or $10 Gift Card in the Rockin’ Reads Giveaway Hop
$10 Book or $10 Gift Card in the Banned Books Week Giveaway Hop

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the $10 Book or $10 Gift Card in the Stuck in a Good Book Giveaway Hop is Amy B.

jade dragon mountain by elsa hartBlog Recap:

B Review: Gold Coast Blues by Marc Krulewitch
A- Review: Marcus by Anna Hackett
Rockin’ Reads Giveaway Hop
B Review: The Race for Paris by Meg Waite Clayton
A+ Review: Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart
Stacking the Shelves (154)
Banned Books Week Giveaway Hop



world between two covers by Ann MorganComing Next Week:

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (review)
The World Between Two Covers by Ann Morgan (review)
Terms of Service by Jacob Silverman (review)
Data and Goliath by Bruce Schneier (review)
Freedom of Speech by David K. Shipler (review)
Books That Need More Attention Giveaway Hop

Banned Books Week Giveaway Hop

banned books week giveaway hop 2015

Welcome to the Banned Books Week Giveaway Hop, hosted by Bookhounds and I Am a Reader.

First of all, “What is Banned Books Week”?

Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. It focuses on efforts across the U.S. to remove or restrict access to books. I’m going to put on my librarian hat here to say that the reasons that someone might want to restrict access to, or ban, a book are many and varied. While when someone says “banned books” most people thing of sex, in real life anything that makes some people uncomfortable will incite in those people the idea of banning that book so that other people aren’t exposed to whatever it is that just made them uncomfortable.

Violence gets challenged. Speaking truth to power gets challenged. Books that contain historical truths that make people uncomfortable get challenged. Books that appear to uphold an opposing, untraditional or unpopular viewpoint get challenged. And yes, books that include sexual references, or even merely seem to include sexual references, often get challenged.

As I said in my Banned Books Week post a few years ago, “Everything bothers somebody”. And if that somebody gets bothered enough, they may try to ban the book that bothered them.

But Banned Books Week celebrates the Freedom to Read. Just because a book upsets one person, or even a whole group of people, does not mean that those who are upset have the right to prevent others from reading that book. If one person’s meat is another person’s poison, then one person’s book to ban is another person’s book to cherish.

This year’s Banned Books Week is sponsored by the American Booksellers Association;American Booksellers for Free Expression; the American Library Association;American Society of Journalists and Authors; Association of American PublishersComic Book Legal Defense Fund; the Freedom to Read FoundationNational Coalition Against Censorship; National Council of Teachers of English; National Association of College Stores; People for the American WayPEN American Center and and Project Censored.  And it is endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.
alternate banned books banner 2015For more information on Banned Books Week, including the absolutely fascinating lists of frequently challenged books, visit the official Banned Books Week site. The books on those list are guaranteed to contain more than a few surprises.

This year’s Banned Books Week especially celebrates Young Adult books, because books for teens are so frequently challenged.

In my own celebration of Banned Books Week, I’m participating in the Banned Books Week Giveaway Hop. The prize is either a $10 Gift Card or a $10 Book, so that you can get your own Banned Book to read.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
For more bookish prizes, and more info about Banned Books Week, be sure to visit the other stops on the hop: <!– end LinkyTools script –>

Stacking the Shelves (154)

Stacking the Shelves

I have to admit, I picked up a review copy of Star Trek Sex just for the title. And I’m curious as hell. The book’s description mostly covers the original series, but there wasn’t any actual sex. There was a fair amount of romance, usually of the girl or alien of the week, but no actual sex. However, there was one episode, Wink of an Eye, from the often horrible third season. This episode became slightly infamous because it was the first episode that showed the aftermath of presumably actual sex. Kirk is seen in the lady’s stateroom putting on his boots while sitting on the edge of the bed. The presumption is that he is putting his boots on after having put back on the rest of his clothes. But even then, we assume, we don’t absolutely know. But it was always a titillating presumption. Even if the book is more of the same, it will be a nice trip down memory lane.

And over in the MUCH higher quality section of the science fiction rack, Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie, the final? book in her awesome and award-gobbling Imperial Radch series, is available for pre-order. It’s scheduled to come out on October 6, and I can hardly wait!

For Review:
Controlled Burn (Boston Fire #2) by Shannon Stacey
London Rain (Josephine Tey #6) by Nicola Upson
No Shred of Evidence (Inspector Ian Rutledge #18) by Charles Todd
Otter Chaos by P.D. Singer
Rock Redemption (Rock Kiss #3) by Nalini Singh
Star Trek Sex by Will Stape

Purchased from Amazon:
Ancillary Mercy (Imperial Radch #3) by Ann Leckie
Overload Flux (Central Galactic Concordance #1) by Carol Van Natta


Review: Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart

Review: Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa HartJade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 336
Published by Minotaur Books on September 1st 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

On the mountainous border of China and Tibet in 1708, a detective must learn what a killer already knows: that empires rise and fall on the strength of the stories they tell.
Li Du was an imperial librarian. Now he is an exile. Arriving in Dayan, the last Chinese town before the Tibetan border, he is surprised to find it teeming with travelers, soldiers, and merchants. All have come for a spectacle unprecedented in this remote province: an eclipse of the sun commanded by the Emperor himself.
When a Jesuit astronomer is found murdered in the home of the local magistrate, blame is hastily placed on Tibetan bandits. But Li Du suspects this was no random killing. Everyone has secrets: the ambitious magistrate, the powerful consort, the bitter servant, the irreproachable secretary, the East India Company merchant, the nervous missionary, and the traveling storyteller who can't keep his own story straight.
Beyond the sloping roofs and festival banners, Li Du can see the mountain pass that will take him out of China forever. He must choose whether to leave, and embrace his exile, or to stay, and investigate a murder that the town of Dayan seems all too willing to forget.

I absolutely loved this book. I was swept away instantly, and remained fully immersed in the author’s world until the very last, reluctantly turned, page.

Jade Dragon Mountain reminds me of The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, but upon analysis, I am not sure why. That I read The Name of the Rose 30 years ago does not help the comparison. But the feeling is still there.

While Rose has a library at its heart, the investigator in Jade, Li Du, is a librarian. And an exiled librarian at that, forced to leave his post at the Imperial Library in Beijing because he allowed a traitor to do research at the library. Li Du was never part of the conspiracy, he seems to have been a bit of collateral damage.

But he has found his calling as a scholar wanderer, roaming the roads and small villages of the Chinese Empire in 1708 to discover whether all the travel journals he read while at his post contain truth, or are composed mostly of hyperbole. In the middle of his wanderings he comes to remote Yunnan province in the southwestern portion of the Empire. Yunnan is one of the great tea producing regions of China, and it was in 18th century China as much as it is today.

Li Du comes to Dayan, the capital of the province, to check in with the local magistrate, as is required by his sentence of exile. Fortunately for Li Du, the magistrate of the province is his cousin. Unfortunately for Li Du, Dayan is about to receive an unprecedented visit from the Emperor who exiled him. The Emperor has predicted that there will be a lunar eclipse, visible in Dayan, in just a few days.

The prediction was made a year ago, in secret consultation with Jesuit astronomers. It takes an entire year to travel from Beijing to Dayan, but the Emperor considered the journey worth the investment of time. Yunnan Province has only recently been brought fully under the Manchu Empire, and there are still pockets of resistance. The ceremony of the fulfillment of the Emperor’s prediction will do much to showcase his divinity and the pre-eminence of his empire.

If the entire ceremony isn’t derailed by the death of one old Jesuit scholar, who has come to Dayan, like so many other foreigners, for a brief glimpse of the otherwise closed Celestial Empire. While everyone in the provincial palace is bent on sweeping the crime and the old man’s body under the carpet, Li Du is unwilling to let the truth rest in an untended grave.

Because Li Du, wandering scholar, is certain that the old priest was murdered. He is reluctantly, and with many threats of punishment, given 6 days to find the murderer before the Emperor arrives.

He has barely enough time to solve the case. The questions are the eternal ones, who benefits from this man’s death, and who benefits from covering it up, and most tellingly, who benefits from covering it up in the particular way that it is done. In the process of his investigation, Li Du finds motives upon motives, and a killer lurking in the most unlikely place.

And he very nearly does not find out enough.

Escape Rating A+: This story takes place at an absolutely fascinating point in history. In 1708, the Qing Dynasty, known more popularly in the West as the Manchu Dynasty, was in power. But the days of the previous dynasty, the Ming Dynasty, are still within living memory, although just barely. The Ming and their supporters still considered the Manchu barbarian outsiders, and there were still rebellious impulses. The Yunnan Province, while it had been part of China for centuries, had only been very loosely governed from Beijing until the later Manchu. The previous provincial royal family had been decimated, but they and their adherents were still around.

Also, the wealth of China and its markets was completely closed to the West at this point. The British East India Company was extremely powerful, and was absolutely salivating at the possibility of entering China to engage in their own unique brand of conquest through economic hegemony. The First Opium War is still in the future. Considering the way things were already going in India, resistance may have been futile, but it was well worth fighting.

So the story centers around one of the rare occasions when China was open, if not to the West, then at least to certain select Westerners who could pay tribute to the Emperor and make their case for more access. And because this festival is taking place in a far-flung province, there is even more opportunity than usual for nefarious double-dealings and attempts to change the state of affairs, or overthrow them all together. It is also an unprecedented opportunity for officials in the province to have a chance to catch the eye of the Emperor, and perhaps gain future influence and position back in the capital.

In other words, everyone is a stranger or an outsider, security is in disarray, and every man and woman is out for their own interests. It’s a great place for a murderer to hide in plain sight.

Li Du is both a fascinating and an enigmatic character. We know very little about him, only that he has been exiled from the capital for not being rigorous enough in his observations of researchers working in the library. But his exile has put him in the position of being both an insider and an outsider in his cousin’s province. Li Du knows the things that are supposed to be said in public, as opposed to what is known and believed in private, but he is also in a position where he doesn’t have to care. He’s already been punished.

He serves the truth. And he rightfully fears that if the death of the old Jesuit was murder, that sweeping his death under the carpet leaves a murderer on the loose. He is a dogged investigator, but he has no modern forensics to work with. So in the end, he studies the crime, it’s motives, and even more, the motives for covering it up. In the end, it is all about stories. Not just because his friend and assistant is a professional storytelling, but because it is the way that this crime is meant to tell a particular story in a particular way that leads to the killer.

That it just doesn’t lead far enough makes for a surprising, and surprisingly satisfying, conclusion to the mystery, and finally wraps all of the events and their motives into a neat little package.

Review: The Race for Paris by Meg Waite Clayton

Review: The Race for Paris by Meg Waite ClaytonFormats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 336
on August 11, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

Normandy, 1944. To cover the fighting in France, Jane, a reporter for the Nashville Banner, and Liv, an Associated Press photographer, have already had to endure enormous danger and frustrating obstacles—including strict military regulations limiting what women correspondents can do. Even so, Liv wants more.

Encouraged by her husband, the editor of a New York newspaper, she’s determined to be the first photographer to reach Paris with the Allies, and capture its freedom from the Nazis.

However, her Commanding Officer has other ideas about the role of women in the press corps. To fulfill her ambitions, Liv must go AWOL. She persuades Jane to join her, and the two women find a guardian angel in Fletcher, a British military photographer who reluctantly agrees to escort them. As they race for Paris across the perilous French countryside, Liv, Jane, and Fletcher forge an indelible emotional bond that will transform them and reverberate long after the war is over.

Based on daring, real-life female reporters on the front lines of history like Margaret Bourke-White, Lee Miller, and Martha Gellhorn—and with cameos by other famous faces of the time—The Race for Paris is an absorbing, atmospheric saga full of drama, adventure, and passion. Combining riveting storytelling with expert literary craftsmanship and thorough research, Meg Waite Clayton crafts a compelling, resonant read.

no job for a womanThe background of the the story in The Race for Paris is based on the reports of real-life female war correspondents who fought to cover World War II from the front lines, just like their male colleagues. These were women who were told they couldn’t go near the front, because “we don’t have any female latrines and don’t plan to dig any” in spite of the fact that their male counterparts were generally housed in confiscated chateaus with running water and no need for any latrines.

And there were always plenty of available jeeps with drivers to take the guys to the front whenever they asked, but no matter how many spare jeeps were available where the women were segregated, there were never any for them.

While this may sound petty, the facts were that the Army didn’t want women covering the war, and put every roadblock possible in their path. Pioneering reporters and photojournalists like Ruth Cowan, Martha Gellhorn, Dickey Chapelle and Margaret Bourke-White covered it anyway, often going AWOL from their restricted stations in order to cover the war the way it needed to be covered.

The story in The Race for Paris is a kind of amalgamated and fictionalized version of the escapades of those early female war correspondents, as it follows a young newspaper woman, a celebrated photojournalist, and the fully accredited military photographer who provides them with cover and transportation and makes their exploits possible.

This story actually begins in 1994, as journalist Jane Tracy attends a museum exhibit dedicated to her book of the war photography of her friend and companion on that now long ago quest, Liv Hadley. It was Liv’s photographs that told the story, which Jane narrates in her memories as she views the exhibit.

Liv and Jane, at Liv’s insistence, go AWOL from their posting by hitchhiking a lift from a friendly ambulance driver on his way back to the Front to pick up more wounded. He’ll take them out, but once there, the women are on their own.

In the summer of 1944, every reporter in France wants to be the first to reach Paris to cover the liberation of the long suffering City of Light, under Nazi occupation since 1940. The reporter with the first byline from “Free” Paris will make their career. Everyone wants to be first, and the competition is fierce.

At the same time, the camaraderie is abundant. They are all in this together, at least until that last sprint for the finish. Liv and Jane find military photographer Fletcher Roebuck in the same hunt that they are on, but with a difference. Fletcher is photographing German defenses, and is a British officer rather than a civilian correspondent. He can, and does, commandeer transport and supplies. And he is an old friend of both Liv and her husband, newspaper editor Charles Hadley.

Fletcher can’t resist either Liv or her obsession with being the first photojournalist in Paris. At the same time, he can’t bear the thought of Liv and Jane on their own, hopping from company to company in a mad attempt to reach Paris and stay one step ahead of the MPs who are chasing them and return them to the U.S., in handcuffs if necessary.

So Fletcher falls in with the female journalists’ need to cover the war, no matter what the cost is to themselves. And even though they can’t file their stories out of the very real fear that the MPs will track them down by following their transmissions, they still write and photograph the campaign to take Paris from the ground where the soldiers fight, and not from the sanitized and censored press corps camps.

But Paris is not enough.

Escape Rating B: While Jane is telling the story, it is really Liv’s story that she tells. This seems appropriate, because Liv was the photographer, and Jane was the journalist. Liv was the pictures, and it’s an exhibit of her pictures that frames the story, but Jane was always the words.

So Jane finds herself as an observer in the events. She watches as Liv’s candle burns so bright it burns out, and she watches Liv’s feelings about her marriage and fear that while she is in Europe traveling in horrible conditions and sometimes under both enemy and friendly fire, her husband is back in New York with multiple mistresses. And at the same time dealing with his underhanded attempts to get her back home via the MPs, and her own fear that if she isn’t out there taking new pictures and scaling new career heights, she won’t be interesting enough to keep him.

And at the same time, Jane is observing the very mixed-up feelings of their little trio, as Fletcher falls in love with Liv, and Jane falls for Fletcher. The three of them are an emotional train wreck as they trek across Europe with any unit that will have them and not turn them over to the MPs.

Their journey is often harrowing, but frequently lightened by camaraderie with the troops. They write (and film) stories of both hope and brutality, and come away utterly changed. And they live in fear, fear that they will be shot or shelled, and an even greater fear that they will be captured before they finish their self-appointed mission.

Sometimes the story breaks down into a series of incidents, but it feels as if that mirrors both their journey and the feelings of the troops that they covered. The old army motto of “hurry up and wait” is in full force. They hurry to their next destination, and then wait endlessly for something to happen. And everyone was waiting for the liberation of Paris.

At the end, I was left with some mixed feelings. Their journey to cover the war felt very much like the way it must have been. I would have liked more stories about what they covered and how they felt about it. The framing story, while it turns out to have been not just necessary but carried an emotional punch, also led to what felt like a bit too much emphasis on the triangle between Liv, Fletcher and Jane. I wanted more war stories and less romantic emotional angst. There was enough other angst to go around.

But I came away thinking about the conditions under which the female correspondents were forced to work. The men got everything handed to them, and the women were hemmed in and cordoned off and held back at every turn. Then they were arrested when they questioned their treatment. This wasn’t about their safety, they only wanted to work under the same conditions as the male correspondents. If it was safe enough for one civilian, it should have been safe enough for another. Notwithstanding the combat deaths of the 54 war correspondents killed in action in WWII. Only 500 correspondents were accredited, so that’s a pretty big slice of what was supposed to be a non-combatant position.

The way that Liv’s husband treated her rankled. On the one hand, he encouraged her to cover the war. On the other hand, he started rumors and badgered the MPs to restrict her movements and eventually try to arrest her when she broke out. If he had been the one out covering the war instead, while she would have worried just as much, she wouldn’t have encouraged him on one hand and tried to take it all away with the other. Her treatment embodied the whole era – she did every bit as good as job as any of the men, but was constantly told that she wasn’t supposed to be there at all. But they all were, and their contributions kicked open the doors for women war correspondents in (unfortunately) future wars.

Rockin’ Reads Giveaway Hop

Rockin Reads Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Rockin’ Reads Giveaway Hop. This hop is organized by The Herd Hops and hosted by Herding Cats & Burning Soup.

Everyone needs a Rockin’ Read! Stop by Sept 23rd to 30th and find out which reads have rocked 2015 for us! There will be a giveaway on each blog so don’t forget to visit them all!

With a picture like that,I can’t help but think of Rock Star romances that have rocked my world this year. (And one that I’m very much looking forward to this year!)

rock redemption by nalini singhMy current rock star romance addiction is Nalini Singh’s Rock Kiss series. I got into it because I love her Psy-Changeling series, and wanted to see how she did with a completely contemporary romance. I love Psy-Changeling, but her Guild Hunter series (the one with the angels) just didn’t wow me for some reason. Rock Kiss, on that other hand, is a marvelously guilty pleasure. I really liked Rock Addiction and Rock Courtship and absolutely loved Rock Hard . I can’t wait to sink my teeth into Rock Redemption next month.

For other variations on the rock star romance theme, there’s Olivia Cunning’s incredibly hot Sinners on Tour series, starting with Backstage Pass. For a view of the rock stars when they get back home, Lauren Dane’s Hurley Boys are a real treat. (Start with the marvelously titled (The Best Kind of Trouble)  And for the rock star romance with a mystery twist, you can’t go wrong with Rhys Ford’s Sinners series, starting with Sinner’s Gin.

There’s even a paranormal rock star romance series. (Probably more than one). But my favorite bite at this particular apple is Nico Rosso’s Demon Rock series, starting with Heavy Metal Heart.

So what’s your favorite rock star romance, or which book rocked your world this year?

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For more fabulous bookish prizes, be sure to check out the other stops on the hop!

Review: Marcus by Anna Hackett

Review: Marcus by Anna HackettMarcus (Hell Squad, Book 1) by Anna Hackett
Formats available: ebook, paperback
Series: Hell Squad #1
Pages: 217
Published by Anna Hackett on April 19th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

In the aftermath of a deadly alien invasion, a band of survivors fights on…
In a world gone to hell, Elle Milton—once the darling of the Sydney social scene—has carved a role for herself as the communications officer for the toughest commando team fighting for humanity’s survival—Hell Squad. It’s her chance to make a difference and make up for horrible past mistakes…despite the fact that its battle-hardened commander never wanted her on his team.
When Hell Squad is tasked with destroying a strategic alien facility, Elle knows they need her skills in the field. But first she must go head to head with Marcus Steele and convince him she won’t be a liability.
Marcus Steele is a warrior through and through. He fights to protect the innocent and give the human race a chance to survive. And that includes the beautiful, gutsy Elle who twists him up inside with a single look. The last thing he wants is to take her into a warzone, but soon they are thrown together battling both the alien invaders and their overwhelming attraction. And Marcus will learn just how much he’ll sacrifice to keep her safe.

The setup for this book, and for the Hell Squad series, reminds me of a combination of the movie Independence Day and the TV series Battlestar Galactica (the remake, not the original). Just like in Independence Day, the aliens have not only landed, but they have targeted all of our major cities and are the in process of wiping out the human race.

It’s been a long time since I saw the movie, but my memory says that the aliens looked like the raptors. In the book, the aliens look an awful lot like honking big dinosaurs, only clearly with way more intelligence as well as advanced space flight.

The story also has the dystopian feel of BSG. It’s not that the humans have space flight, but the gritty feeling of the last human outposts fighting back against an overwhelming invasion as they barely keep their technology together feels similar.

The Hell Squad series is certainly dystopian, or at any rate post-apocalyptic. The humans know exactly what the apocalypse was in this case – the aliens landed and are well on their way to wiping out humanity. Victories for the human survivors are damn few and very far between.

The humans in the Blue Mountain outpost in Australia are all too aware that even if they somehow manage to take Earth back from the alien Raptors, nothing will ever be the same.

In this first installment of the Hell Squad series, we focus on one of the combat squads that operates out of Blue Mountain Base. Squad Six, otherwise known as Hell Squad, is one of several squads that regularly conducts raids in enemy territory, scrounging for supplies, assisting isolated groups of humans reach the relatively safe base, and attempting to capture enemy intel.

The story in this book is in the context of one such intel operation. Through torturing a captured Raptor prisoner, they have determined that there is an enemy communications hub somewhere in their patrol area. They even have enemy data crystals that pinpoint the exact location. What they need is a translator.

What they have is Elle Milton, their comms officer. Elle has learned more of the Raptor language than anyone else. She knows enough to know that the data crystal they have recovered will lead them to the hub, but not enough to translate the exact directions. Elle needs a Rosetta Stone.

Marcus, the leader of Hell Squad, just wants to keep Elle safe. It’s pretty obvious to everyone in his squad that he is in love with the beautiful refugee who has worked so hard to become a comms officer. Her life pre-invasion was that of a spoiled little society girl, and she has worked damn hard to become someone useful. Someone strong. And she is endlessly disappointed that Marcus does not want her around – not on his missions, and not in his life.

Of course, Elle couldn’t be more wrong. It takes the high-adrenaline danger of needing to take Elle on a mission to make Marcus admit that he’s been keeping her at arm’s length in order to protect her. Elle’s way of proving to Marcus that he’s wrong is to not just get the mission done, but to save his life along the way.

Escape Rating A-: As the series introduction, Marcus is short and tremendously fun. We get glimpses of the way that the world has gone to hell, just enough to explain things without being overwhelming. We see the humans as survivors, and not just as victims. It reminds me of Station Eleven (see review) in that respect. We don’t need to live through the entire alien invasion to get the picture. It’s enough to show the humans as plucky survivors who have a hell of a fight on their hands, even if it is a fight they are mostly losing at the beginning.

The love story is a classic. Marcus the military leader feels like the only thing he’s good for is killing. And he is good at killing raptors, but he is also a terrific leader for his squad. He feels like he is atoning for some of the dirty missions he conducted while he was in U.S. Special Forces, before the invasion. He feels as if his hands will never be clean, and he doesn’t think he deserves happiness in general or Elle in particular.

Elle has her own demons to fight. As a spoiled party girl, Elle had no skills with which to fight off the raptors when they invaded her parents’ estate and killed them. Elle feels like she hid uselessly in a closet as she listened to her parents die, and has become a comms officer in order to battle past her own feelings of uselessness and worthlessness.

So when Marcus shoves her away, she interprets it as her worthlessness and not his need to protect. They make a very stubborn, but equally matched, pair.

The mission is one that showcases what humanity has lost, and at the same time bonds Elle with Marcus and with his whole unit.

The raptors have taken over a public library, because they are using the library’s data banks to translate human electronic documents into their language. They don’t just control the whole planet, they want to make sure that they wrest every scrap of technology out of it as well. These aliens are like interstellar locusts, they find a planet, kill its inhabitants and steal its technology, then fly away leaving their conquest a dead hulk in space.

But Elle is able to use the aliens attempt to reverse engineer English the other way. She gets enough of a start to reverse engineer the aliens’ language, and find their communications hub. The mission to take out the hub is an action-packed page turner that will keep any reader glued to their seat.

It’s impossible not to root for these stubborn humans to find a way to throw the aliens off of our world. And the fight has just begun.