Review: Claws for Concern by Miranda James

Review: Claws for Concern by Miranda JamesClaws for Concern (Cat in the Stacks, #9) by Miranda James
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #9
Pages: 277
Published by Berkley Books on February 20, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Charlie Harris and his Maine Coon cat, Diesel, are embroiled in a new mystery when a cold case suddenly heats up in the latest installment of the New York Times bestselling series.

Charlie Harris has been enjoying some peace and quiet with his new grandson when a mysterious man with a connection to an unsolved murder starts visiting the library...

My Review:

April 8-14 is National Library Week. In honor of this week, one that celebrations Libraries and Librarians, I searched the virtually towering TBR pile for a book that related to libraries. Instead of choosing something serious, I went for the lighthearted approach, and snagged Claws for Concern, a cozy mystery by a librarian that features a librarian-cum-amateur sleuth.

While the book managed to be mostly light-hearted, in spite of the surprising number of murders that librarian Charlie Harris seems to trip over in his small Mississippi town, there was also a bit of real librarian seriousness in the background, which makes this the perfect book for this week after all.

The Cat in the Stacks series, which began with Murder Past Due, features the extremely large Maine Coon cat Diesel and his human, librarian Charlie Harris. Diesel does not solve crimes, and he never does anything that is not within the bounds of normal feline behavior, but he is probably the reason a lot of people read the series. We all want a cat just like him because he’s not merely large and intelligent (on the scale of cat intelligence – not human) but he is also incredibly well-behaved.

But of course it’s the human’s point of view that we follow. Librarian Charlie Harris, in spite of his penchant for involving himself in murder investigations, is very much “one of us”. The series is written by a librarian, and Charlie, at least at his actual work, is quite true to life. He does the things that many of us do, puts up with many of the things we have to put up with, and has many of the same gripes and complaints that real-life practicing librarians do, as well as many of the joys and intellectual challenges that make up library-life.

The murder in this particular entry is a cold case. It was refreshing not to have Charlie trip over yet another dead body, as the population of tiny Athena Mississippi and its surrounds would be decimated if he kept up at the rate he was going. But this cold case turns out to be tied to his family, albeit tangentially.

Long before the aunt from whom Charlie inherited his lovely house married the man that Charlie knew as his uncle, said uncle was previously married and divorced. And had a child he never knew about. That child is now in his 60s, seems a bit down on his luck, and is haunting Athena looking for information about the father he never knew.

But the poor man was also the suspect in a long-ago multiple murder, and it seems as if there is someone in town who either wants to settle the old score – or who wants to keep old Bill Delaney from revealing what he knows about that bloody, long ago, night.

Charlie isn’t sure whether his recently discovered cousin is a murderer who got off scot-free, or about to be the victim of a murder in the here and now. But he and his new associate are determined to find out – one way or another.

Escape Rating B: This is a cozy series, so it’s always a light read – no matter how many dead bodies Charlie stumbles over. This particular entry feels unique in that there are no new murders. And that’s probably good for the population of Athena.

Instead, Charlie finds himself investigating a cold case with the help of a new friend who has a history of conducting his own amateur investigations in a nearby town. Jack Pemberton writes true-crime books, investigates cold cases, and wants to feature Charlie and other amateur sleuths in his next book. Together they bring new light to a case that everyone believed was cut and dried if not open and shut.

The process for opening the investigation reads very much like an oral history project, something conducted by many librarians and archivists (Charlie is both) over the years. There is no new forensic evidence – only evidence that may have been overlooked or just needs to be looked at in a new light.

But with a 20-year-old case Charlie and Jack have to find people who were around at the time, and interview them. Not that they don’t think everyone was interviewed at the time, but they need to form their own impressions. And it is always possible that someone remembers something they didn’t back then, or that someone was covering for someone who is now beyond earthly justice.

It is always fun to follow Charlie as he works, whether it’s his work at the library or his work as an amateur detective. Especially when he brings Diesel along with him. Athena is a nice place to visit, Charlie is a terrific person to visit it with, and I always enjoy my time with Diesel. This series is a comfort read for me, and I know I’ll be back for more when the mood arises.

One serious library issue gets raised early in the book, and it’s one that I want to talk about before I close. As a volunteer staff member at the Athena Public Library, Charlie has access to the library circulation system. He can look up people’s library cards, see where they live and what they’ve checked out. In libraries, this is a huge privacy issue, and there have been plenty of court cases about what staff can reveal to anyone other than the cardholder, including law enforcement. But when Charlie discovers that the old man who keeps coming into the library is looking up Charlie’s own address in the old City Directories, Charlie can’t resist the temptation to look up the man’s library card and see who he is and where he lives. Charlie knows he’s not supposed to do this, he has resisted the temptation on previous cases, but can’t resist temptation when he knows that this person is looking for him or his family and casing his house. Charlie feels guilty about it immediately afterwards, and so he should. Protecting patron privacy is one of the cornerstones of library service. He does not let himself off easily for his transgression, nor should he.

In celebration of National Library Week, please visit your local library and/or (preferably AND) tell your local powers that be that you value your library and want to see it continue to be funded and to serve your community.

Review: The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu and Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer

Review: The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu and Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua HammerThe Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: current events, history, libraries
Pages: 288
Published by Simon & Schuster on April 19th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

To save precious centuries-old Arabic texts from Al Qaeda, a band of librarians in Timbuktu pulls off a brazen heist worthy of Ocean’s Eleven.
In the 1980s, a young adventurer and collector for a government library, Abdel Kader Haidara, journeyed across the Sahara Desert and along the Niger River, tracking down and salvaging tens of thousands of ancient Islamic and secular manuscripts that had fallen into obscurity. The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu tells the incredible story of how Haidara, a mild-mannered archivist and historian from the legendary city of Timbuktu, later became one of the world’s greatest and most brazen smugglers.
In 2012, thousands of Al Qaeda militants from northwest Africa seized control of most of Mali, including Timbuktu. They imposed Sharia law, chopped off the hands of accused thieves, stoned to death unmarried couples, and threatened to destroy the great manuscripts. As the militants tightened their control over Timbuktu, Haidara organized a dangerous operation to sneak all 350,000 volumes out of the city to the safety of southern Mali.
Over the past twenty years, journalist Joshua Hammer visited Timbuktu numerous times and is uniquely qualified to tell the story of Haidara’s heroic and ultimately successful effort to outwit Al Qaeda and preserve Mali’s—and the world’s—literary patrimony. Hammer explores the city’s manuscript heritage and offers never-before-reported details about the militants’ march into northwest Africa. But above all, The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu is an inspiring account of the victory of art and literature over extremism.

My Review:

April 10-16 is National Library Week, so The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu was an absolutely irresistible title to review this week.

But the story in this book is a lot bigger than just the librarians, and goes a lot further back. Yes, we do have the story of the librarians who rescued the manuscripts, but also a whole lot more. Because the author has taken the story and set it into the history of the region, and provides the context for why the rescue was necessary.

So, this isn’t just the story of the librarians or the rescue. What we have is a history of Timbuktu and the region surrounding it. The author gives us an all too brief glimpse into the scholarly past of the town, and shows how this incredible treasure trove of manuscripts came to be in this city that is a byword for remote.

From the late 13th century through the early 20th, Timbuktu survived successive cycles of open and abundant scholarship, followed by waves of educational repression and suppression. When the scholarship flourished, manuscripts were collected and accumulated by the thousands. During the periods of repression, the manuscripts were hidden in private collections in the city and surrounding areas.

In the 20th century, a man named Abdul Kader Haidara inherited one of the largest of those private collections. He went from being skeptical about his legacy, to becoming a passionate preserver of not only his own archive, but of all of the manuscripts and scrolls that had been hidden, both in the town and in the large area surrounding it.

For decades, Abdul Kader sought grant funds, and eventually was able to create a world-renowned institute for the study and preservation of the manuscripts, said to number nearly 800,000 and nearly all irreplaceable.

But just as in history, his wave of open scholarship was succeeded by a wave of severe repression. In the 21st century, Al Queda and other intolerant forces began to scoop up territory around Timbuktu, as they inserted themselves into the power vacuum after the fall of Qaddafi. When an Al Queda offshoot took control of Timbuktu, Abdul Kader made plans for the manuscripts.

In a long and daring series of convoys, over desert trails and river voyages, and through military checkpoints that had to be bribed or evaded every step of the way, 95% of the precious manuscripts were evacuated to safety.

This is their story.

Reality Rating B: I’m not sure whether to call this one a “Reality” rating or an “Escape” rating. The story is real, but the manuscripts escaped.

This is really three stories rolled into one – first the history that made this collection possible. Second, the tragedy that made the rescue necessary. And finally, the rescue itself.

While the history of Timbuktu and its frequent scholarly golden ages was interesting, the recent history was sometimes hard to follow. While we know in general terms that many of the Islamic fundamentalist sects are extremely hostile towards any historical references that contradict their dogmatic view of history and religion, the attempt to provide the reader with context on which group controlled which part of Mali at which time, and why, often fell a little flat. There were too many names and dates, and not enough background to what made them different from each other.

History, or at least the parts of it that interest this reader, is about people. There were too many unfamiliar names and places infodumped on the reader in too few pages. At the same time, those expositions felt longer than the earlier history, or certainly dragged on longer than the story of Abdul Kader and the rescue of the manuscripts, itself.

It is in Abdul Kader’s story that the book really shines. We are with him as he shoulders the responsibility for his family’s collection, and we suffer along with all of his hardships on his dangerous and ultimately successful trips to acquire more manuscripts for the Institute that set him on his path. It’s his journey, his hopes, and his fears that bring the reader fully into this story and engage the mind, heart and imagination.

Speaking as a librarian, Abdul Kader’s story is one that makes me proud of my profession. He’s a librarian, a rescuer of history, and an inspiration to us all.

national library week 2016

Review: BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google by John Palfrey

bibliotech by john palfreyFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genre: nonfiction
Length: 288 pages
Publisher: Basic Books
Date Released: May 5, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Libraries today are more important than ever. More than just book repositories, libraries can become bulwarks against some of the most crucial challenges of our age: unequal access to education, jobs, and information.

In BiblioTech, educator and technology expert John Palfrey argues that anyone seeking to participate in the 21st century needs to understand how to find and use the vast stores of information available online. And libraries, which play a crucial role in making these skills and information available, are at risk. In order to survive our rapidly modernizing world and dwindling government funding, libraries must make the transition to a digital future as soon as possible—by digitizing print material and ensuring that born-digital material is publicly available online.

Not all of these changes will be easy for libraries to implement. But as Palfrey boldly argues, these modifications are vital if we hope to save libraries and, through them, the American democratic ideal.

My Review:

ALA_NLW2015_FBThis week is National Library Week, so it seemed logical to review a book about libraries. Not just because I am a librarian, but because I believe that libraries are important to our future as a democratic society.

BiblioTech attempts to answer a question that most librarians and library workers face multiple times in any given month: whether libraries are still relevant in an age where any information an average person (or library user) might desire ostensibly can be found in the palm of one’s hand – in other words, accessible on the internet via any smartphone.

For those who believe that libraries’ primary purpose is to provide repositories for books, especially popular books, isn’t everything anyone might want to read available for instant download as an ebook?

In the face of those two questions, the author of BiblioTech provides a plausible and mostly reasonable answer.

However, the subtitle of BiblioTech is “Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google”. After having read the book, I got the sense that the question the author actually answers is “How Libraries Can Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google”.

The words “should”, “ought” and “must” get used much too much to let this book stand as “why”. The prescription here is that if libraries make some significant and necessary changes, they are capable of mattering more in the Google Age.

We aren’t there yet.

While it seems that the intent is to reach a popular audience rather than an insider (inside libraries, that is) audience, I can’t help but wonder how much of a popular audience this book will manage to reach. I’ve read most of these prescriptions before – but then again, I feel as if I am a part of the choir that this book, intentionally or otherwise, preaches to.

So from the point of view of this librarian/reviewer, the book reads as more of a prescription rather than a description.

It is an interesting prescription all the same.

The author’s questions, and in fact most librarians’ questions, revolve around finding, creating or transforming into a mission that draws on libraries’ unique strengths instead of continuing to do what we have always done, because what we have always done is in many cases being served more ubiquitously, if not always better, by for-profit entities.

But there are things that libraries do that are not done elsewhere, or are not done as well elsewhere. Most people support their local libraries and value them highly, but that support is not translating to tax dollars or institutional budgets.

Libraries as places do provide a sense of community. They are clean, well-lighted and climate-controlled “third places” in our society where anyone can come to get in out of the sun, to find a less distracting place to read or study, and to get information assistance if one needs it.

Too many of the places that provide some of these functions are Starbucks, where you need to buy something to “rent” a table, and someone will help with your coffee but not your homework.

Also, Starbucks may provide “free” wifi, but doesn’t provide laptops for those who need a computer to apply for jobs and services, to make the leap onto that first rung of the ladder that can get a person onto the ladder of success, or simply to get help.

(The above is not to say anything terrible about Starbucks. Just that their mission is different from a library’s – and so it should be.)

There is a long-term preservation mission that libraries fulfill. The entire sum of human knowledge has not, and probably will never be, digitized. But digitization makes remote or unique resources available to a wider world. And if you believe that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, well, libraries and archives and museums are the places where that past is preserved and analyzed for future applications.

The irony, as the author makes quite clear, is that it is proving more expensive to preserve the current digital output of information for future researches than it ever was to preserve the paper records of the past. Paper is still readable 50 years later, but the computer files of 20 years ago may only be readable on a device that no longer exists except in museums.

Also, libraries provide information from all sides and in all formats, without an agenda other than making the information available and protecting the privacy of those who seek it. If Google controls the availability of information, keep in mind that their agenda is to make a profit. Things that are not profitable may be deemed of lesser importance and suppressed or simply made too difficult to find. (I am not saying this is necessarily happening now, only that it can. This is similar to the arguments about Amazon’s power over the book marketplace.)

One of the strongest chapters in the book is the chapter on copyright law and how it both affects and hinders library mission, especially in this current age where the much more restrictive law of licensing is having greater and greater control on what libraries are able to offer and the means by which they are able to offer it.

As much as I agree with the author about the need for libraries in the future, and the need for libraries to change in order to be a part of that future, I have some difficulty with the way that the author addresses how libraries should go about that change.

One of the premises is that in order to provide funding for research and development into the necessary changes, and to provide funding for capital equipment and especially for professional development (meaning training) for library staff, that libraries will need to convince their current user base to accept less and fewer services now in order to pay for this bright new future that the author envisions. I find this more than a bit too idealistic. In order to maintain funding now, libraries are generally in the position of having to maintain all their services at the current levels with shrinking budgets, just to keep those budgets from shrinking even further in the wake of dissatisfied patrons screaming at their funding bodies about what they consider poor service.

In these types of scenarios, everyone wants someone else’s ox to get gored, and not their own.

But while I think that the implementation of many of the author’s prescriptions will prove much more complicated in practice than is evident between the pages of a book, the need for libraries to change in order to continue to adapt, and to adapt faster, in the future is more than evident. These prescriptions for one such future deserve a wide readership and much further discussion.

Reality Rating B+: I agree with a lot of the message that the author proposes, but the book also reads as if the author is “preaching to the choir”, in other words, talking to believers. At the same time, as part of the choir being preached to, I have heard most of these arguments before. I found the chapter on copyright law and its effects and issues to be the most informative. It contained information that I was aware of, but found this author’s description to be both a good summary of the current state of affairs and to provide new information. I also think it is accessible for a layperson, and that is needed.

Reviewers note: In the text, the author refers to himself as a “feral librarian” because he became a library worker (in fact, director) without having ever received a library degree. As someone with decades in the field, I have never heard that terminology. Some research (i.e. Google) leads me to wonder if this is a term in currency in Boston or the New England area. I’ve not heard it in other regions. The Urban Dictionary says it applies in academic libraries, but the person supplying the definition is also from Boston.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

 

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 4-12-15

Sunday Post

You still have a few hours left to enter my 4th Annual Blogo-Birthday Celebration Giveaway. I’m giving away four(4!) $10 gift cards or books, so that’s four chances to win. But time is running out!

The big piece of bookish news this week has been the continuing fracas over the nominee slate for this year’s Hugo Awards. If you are looking for balanced coverage of the mess, take a look at either George R.R. Martin’s Not a Blog entries or File 770’s posts. I am planning to attend WorldCon this year in Spokane, which means that yes, I was eligible to nominate. I’m glad that I did this year, even though very few of my nominations made it to the final ballot. I am definitely planning to vote. I think I’ve figured out what I’m going to do, but there are lots of thoughts still running around my head. This has been a big topic of discussion around our house this week. While it certainly makes the evening walks go faster, it is also an exhausting piece of chaos, and there are not going to be any winners at the end, possibly including whoever takes home the actual Hugo rockets. If anyone does.

I thought seriously about writing a blog post on this mess, but I have decided not to. What I wrote for my own amusement was cathartic but probably not helpful to anyone except me.

Besides, I believe that Robert A. Heinlein, who seems to be the patron saint of the Puppies, said it best in The Notebooks of Lazarus Long:

If you are part of a society that votes, then do so. There may be no candidates and no measures you want to vote for…but there are certain to be ones you want to vote against. In case of doubt, vote against. By this rule you will rarely go wrong. If this is too blind for your taste, consult some well-meaning fool (there is always one around) and ask his advice. Then vote the other way. This enables you to be a good citizen (if such is your wish) without spending the enormous amount of time on it that truly intelligent exercise of franchise requires.

In the meantime, here is what’s happening on Reading Reality…

blogo-birthday-april6Current Giveaways:

Four $10 gift cards or books in my 4th Annual Blogo-Birthday Celebration!

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the $10 bookish prize in the Fool for Books Giveaway Hop is Danielle S.
The winner of a paperback copy of Never Too Late by Robyn Carr is Natasha D.

doc by maria doria russellBlog Recap:

4th Annual Blogo-Birthday Celebration + Giveaway
B+ Review: Wildfire at Larch Creek by M.L. Buchman
B+ Review: The Fifth Heart by Dan Simmons
C Review: Bite Me, Your Grace by Brooklyn Ann
A- Review: Doc by Mary Doria Russell
Stacking the Shelves (130)

 

 

 

bookseller by cynthia swansonComing Next Week:

The Dream Lover by Elizabeth Berg (blog tour review)
The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson (blog tour review)
One Bite Per Night by Brooklyn Ann (review)
BiblioTech by John Palfrey (review)
Ivory Ghosts by Caitlin O’Connell (blog tour review)