Sunday, July 31, 2011

Book Review: Heartless [2011]

Gail Carriger's Heartless is the fourth and penultimate book in the Parasol Protectorate series. It is also one of the very few books I've read recently that made me produce audible sounds of delight and distress. There was no question of whether I would read Heartless, as I pre-ordered it from my local independent bookstore what seems like ages ago. I also ordered a copy for my library's collection, which is currently checked out and has holds on it. Spoilers ahoy if you haven't read the first three books in the series!

Heartless picks up with Lady Alexia Maccon ponderously pregnant and clearly near her due date. She comes to a truce with the vampires, who have been trying to kill her for a book and a half, by arranging to have the baby (presumed to be a soul-stealer, since it is the product of a union between supernatural and preternatural parents) adopted and raised by the flamboyant Lord Akeldama. Before the "infant-inconvenience" arrives, Lord and Lady Maccon take up residence in London (in one of the fashionable vampire's capacious closets) and Alexia becomes embroiled in thwarting a possible threat against the Queen, despite her voracious appetite and difficulty rising from a sitting position. In the course of her sleuthing, Alexia delves into the history of her husband's packs--both Kingair and Woolsey--and unexpectedly learns more about her father, the mysterious Alessandro Tarabotti. After a monstrous and destructive contrivance is loosed on the city, it is up to Alexia to make sure that everything is put right in the end.

Grade: A-

Reading Heartless was much like brewing a cup of favorite tea--you know what to expect and end up feeling comforted, relaxed, and ready for more. All of the secondary and tertiary characters that a reader might have missed while Alexia was gallivanting off to Scotland and Italy in the last two books are present and accounted for, including plenty of Professor Lyall and Biffy, a dash of Ivy and Alexia's obnoxious sister Miss Loontwill, Madame Lefoux, the Westminster hive, the werewolves, and of course more of Lord Akeldama than I had ever dreamed I would get. I was so pleased! The strength of the series comes from the characters and their interactions, and Heartless provides many opportunities for the reader to spend quality time with characters grown near and dear.

Random Thoughts:

As ever, it is wonderful to read a book in which there are characters with a range of sexualities and find that their sexual preference is not the defining portion of their character. I appreciate what Carriger has done to incorporate a more generous cross-section of experience into all her books, especially because it's so rare to encounter one queer character in the genres of SF/F and Romance, let alone several . . . let alone in a series set in Victorian England!

I am now awaiting the final installment of the series (Timeless, to be published in March 2012) with a mixture of gleeful anticipation and depression. I don't want it to end! However, I am also looking forward to Carriger's new venture, a finishing school series set in Alexia's world.

My reviews of the other books in the series:


Book Review Index
Dead Mother: In a tangential way, yes.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Library Day in the Life

This post is part of the semi-annual Library Day in the Life project, in which I have been participating on Twitter by using the #libday7 hashtag. This post is an excruciatingly detailed description of the thrilling life of a reference librarian at a large-ish public library. On a Saturday.

8:30 Get to work and immediately make tea. Check email, Twitter, and attempt to wake up.

9:00 On desk in the nonfiction/young adult area. This part of the library is not air-conditioned and is therefore already quite warm, since we are not allowed to keep the windows open overnight. The person on desk first is responsible for opening the windows and starting the fans. While I'm out and about doing that, I pick up books left lying around and stick them on the book truck for counting and reshelving.

9:05 "Fluff" the new YA fiction display by filling the holes left from the previous day.

9:10 Explain to patron why the fan is positioned the way it is, since he seems to think that he should be able to angle it in whatever direction he likes.

9:15 Patron comes up looking for "self-help" books but is unwilling to explain much beyond that, then is disappointed with our selection (shockingly, we don't have a c. 1959 "great" book that he thinks we should have) when we get to the 158s. He is one of those patrons that knows he's looking for a specific book, but doesn't tell you that until you get to the shelves and are able to look down at your helpful computer from the floor above. This is one of those times when an iPad would come in handy, I'm thinking. He leaves to search the internet for the books he really wants.

9:23 The elevator doors open and a patron says "there you are!" I know who this is without looking, because I see him almost every day. He asks about holding a movie--released July 19, so no library has it in their collection as yet--and puts a much more easily found movie on hold. I make a note of the first movie as a suggestion for purchase for my DVD-purchasing colleague.

9:39 My high-maintenance video patron returns to ask whether Fast Five is out on DVD yet (no, not until my birthday) and whether Breakout Kings has a scheduled DVD release.

9:40 A girl comes to me with a Scholastic circular, looking for all the books in the Chronicles of Icemark. The first one is on the shelf in paperback, I have to go back to the closed stacks for the second one, and the third one is not on the shelf (hardback YA fiction) where it's supposed to be. I check the new YA fiction and the large print YA fiction just in case it's been misplaced, as well as the overflow book truck, and finally tell her that I'm going to have to place a hold on some other library's copy. However, before I mark the book missing I note that it was last checked in on 7/27, so I run back to circulation and check the put-away shelf, where it sits complacently. She leaves happy.

10:00 Switching desks to the main reference desk, located near the public computers. Immediately, I have one person wanting an extension on computer time, one person wanting to print, and one person raising his hand and saying "Miss?" while looking at me expectantly. At the risk of appearing to be a grumpy librarian, I wish people would come up to the desk when they needed help. The patron was getting IE error messages, so I happily switched him to Firefox.

10:09 A patron wants more time on the computer to finish a project but comes up with only two minutes left, which (PSA) is way too late to ask for an extension. However, the reservation system isn't running as slow as usual, so I manage to squeak it through.

10:10 A patron wants to get on a computer, and I run him through how to use the reservation system. We've been open an hour, and all of our 30+ public computers are in use. As I take one step away from him, another woman comes up and asks for help. On my way to her computer, a HMP complains that the fan is blowing her papers as she's trying to work, and could I move it? I explain that the fan is positioned this way in a (probably vain) attempt to cool everyone in the computer area, and that it's going to stay right where it is, sorry. The first woman is interested in finding the registered sex offenders in her neighborhood, which is a more common reference question than you'd think or hope for. The information on level 3 sex offenders is easy enough to find through the website.

10:15 A woman comes up to complain that her computer has suddenly shut off. In fact, three computers in a row have suddenly shut off, because the person at Computer 20 hit the power strip with his foot and cut off the power to all of them. This means that I need to flip the switch, ask them to wait, make reservations for each of them (because there are people coming in all the time and it's less awkward than restarting and having two people claiming one computer). To make matters more annoying, when the computers are shut off improperly, the sessions go "on hold" and I have to go around the reservation software to get them back on. Each and every time, I am caught by the "no num

10:25 A patron, staring at the golf pencils and scrap paper, asks me if we might have a pen or pencil and if he could maybe use that paper. Debating the advisability of a FREE, NO REALLY THIS IS FOR YOU sign.

10:27 The sex offender registry patron leaves, saying: "Thank you. We might need you again later."

10:29 I notice the patron at Computer A keeps looking over his shoulder at me in a shifty way, but I can see his screen and it's clearly not porn. He is also wearing a T-shirt that says "SHHH! That's the sound of nobody caring what you think!"

10:34 The phone rings. "Hi, I was just calling to see if the computer room was open today?" Me: "Yes, we're always open when the library is open..." After I hang up, I realize he might be talking about the computer lab, which has been closed to the public for almost two years for lack of staffing. But surely not?

10:37 The phone rings again. I explain that we don't have a public fax machine and direct the patron to the nearest place that does. The fan decides that it's cooled off enough to start working again.

10:40 A flood of patrons came all at once with their issues, which I addressed one by one but can hardly remember.

10:43 A woman approached the desk, wanting to know as much as possible about tanning and tanning beds for a research paper she was doing. As it happens, most of the books on tanning that we have in the collection require animal hides, but we did have an Opposing Viewpoints book that included a pro/con for tanning. I also found information at the FDA and various articles and studies about tanning bed use and potential health risks. And then there's the Indoor Tanning Association. They endeared themselves to me right away by having a section entitled "Member's Only"...

10:55 In the midst of working on the real reference question, I answer a bunch of printing related questions, transfer a phone call, deny people extra time on the computer, and print several things out for the patron I'm trying to help. The HMP is worried that she'll lose the email she's working on if she runs out of time, so I show her how to save a draft in Gmail. I end up working past when my shift ends to try and get a patron's final exam questions to print out instead of a blank page. I can't find the tanning bed woman, who I told to come back after picking up the one book we had that might be useful. Hopefully the printouts weren't in vain.

11:05 Oh, the sweet, air-conditioned haven of the staff area. Time for lunch and a book and some collection development.

12:00 Back on desk in the nonfiction/YA area. I check in with my co-worker about the tanning bed patron, who seems to have found what she needed. A patron asks me where the best place to plug in and work on a laptop would be. It's quiet, so I work on some collection development.

12:25 A woman comes over to ask for help finding books. They are by Patterson and Evanovich, but I know right where those are (and it's air-conditioned downstairs), so I take her down to find them, without much luck. We go two for four.

12:36 A patron walks by and tells me to "stop working hard."

12:42 People come up to the desk to try to check out books. I direct them around the corner. This happens fairly often when I'm sitting at this desk.

12:47 A patron has been standing over at the catalog for a while, so I ramble over to ask her if she needs any help. She says she's all set, so I return to my post.

12:50 A pair of kids are wandering around the mezzanine and looking in general like they were about to start running and playing hide-and-seek, which indeed they did. They ended up being chased down the stairs, with three other friends, by the security guard.

12:52 A man came up looking for the "music section." In the interests of conducting a proper reference interview, I asked a few follow-up questions and ended up taking him to books on the Blues. When I got back, a woman was waiting to ask me why Randy Pausch's The Last Lecture had been cataloged as 004.092 PAUSCH and not as a biography or memoir or even, as some libraries had it, as 158.1. She was looking at the Library of Congress material in the front matter as I walked up, so I assume she was a librarian or some sort of book person. After I looked to see how other libraries in our consortium had cataloged it, I responded honestly that I wasn't sure why Tech Services had put it in the 000s, but that I was glad it was actually on the shelf.

1:00 Off desk time! Better wrap up that nonfiction order.

2:00 Back on desk, this time at the slightly air-conditioned Fiction & Media desk. I check in with my co-worker about the rowdy children, who apparently have been running around and playing with the elevator for the last hour, despite the efforts of security.

2:10 A woman asks me for Chicken Soup for the Heart, which I diligently look for--my computer down here is so slow that an eternity passes between a click and a page loading--before gently asking her if maybe she would be interested in one of the hundreds of Chicken Soup for the Soul books instead. She departs for nonfiction.

2:22 A patron holding her toddler's hand asks if we have public computers where people can print things out. I direct her upstairs, and let her know that it's going to be 15 cents a page, except for resumes and cover letters, which are free.

2:30 A patron comes up looking for Kiss CDs but has been baffled by our system of organization, the ANSCR classification system for audio recordings. For some reason, he was having trouble with the concept of M Rock. In addition to being user-unfriendly, our CD collection is completely out of order. While trying to help this patron find music by an artist named Eva Cassidy, I find in the Cs: Duffy, Lady Gaga, Emilia, Levi Kreis, Jimmy Buffett, The Dave Matthews Band, Selena Gomez, Ann Wilson, and Paul Simon. Needless to say, I pull these out as I come across them and take them back to my desk to check them in. Four are marked Missing in the catalog, one has a hold, and I end up taking Duffy home with me. I could spend days and days organizing the DVDs and the CDs, but I'm afraid that they'd be out of order again within hours.

3:00 I realize how quiet it's been this afternoon. It's kind of spooky, actually. There should be more people here picking out DVDs for the weekend or something. Instead, all I've got is the regular from the 9:00 hour, who is considering the contents of our DVD collection for the nth time and wants to give me a job listing to pass on to anyone who might be looking. I think about ordering paperbacks.

3:10 Helping a woman who came in looking for a book that is checked out across western MA, which is a warning flag that has Summer Reading List written all over it. I request a copy from central MA, where it is not as in demand, and find her the call numbers for Angela's Ashes and 1984 as well. They, at least, appear to be in the library for her to take home. I do a fruitless online search for the rest of the Ludlow High reading list.

3:22 From the desk, I can clearly see a sleeping patron. I ponder the idea of waking him up, but he must sense something, because he stirs and checks his watch.

3:30 A couple walks up the stairs, saying "circulation" over and over again to each other. Um...okay?

3:34 I overcome difficulties understanding a woman with a heavy Russian accent and direct her to the author she's looking for.

3:37 My girlfriend posts a notice that Connie Willis has a new novelette coming out in December. I am completely derailed by this and must pre-order it right away. I am considering it my birthday present to myself.

3:40 A child is dragged from the library, screaming at the top of his/her lungs.

3:44 A patron asks me where I keep the new paperbacks. I tell him that I have a small display (and show him where it is), but otherwise they're with the rest of the paperbacks. He doesn't have anything particular that he's looking for, which makes him one of the frustrating kinds of patrons.

3:47 Time has ground to a complete halt, as far as I can tell.

3:50 This sometimes happens on Saturdays.

4:00 Before heading upstairs to my cubicle for off-desk time, I gather the latest registration forms and book reviews from the Adult Summer Reading Program, which I volunteered to lead at the main library. There are quite a few book reviews, so I will have plenty to share about what our patrons are enjoying via the library's Twitter feed.

4:30 Done for the day after tidying up a few odds and ends!

Links to my other Library Day in the Life posts:
A Day in the Life of a Reference Librarian
Weekend Edition
Late Shift Edition
Collection Development Edition