Quote: Barack Obama on Literacy and the Knowledge Economy

Quote: Literacy is the most basic currency of the knowledge economy. Barack Obama

"Literacy is the most basic currency of the knowledge economy." Barack Obama

Quote: Literacy is the most basic currency of the knowledge economy. Barack Obama

Also see

Quote: At the moment that we persuade a child, any child, to cross that threshold, that magic threshold into a library, we change their lives forever, for the better. It’s an enormous force for good. — Barack Obama

Quote: Barack Obama on Children and Libraries

Quote: At the moment that we persuade a child, any child, to cross that threshold, that magic threshold into a library, we change their lives forever, for the better. It’s an enormous force for good. — Barack Obama

At the moment that we persuade a child, any child, to cross that threshold, that magic threshold into a library, we change their lives forever, for the better. It's an enormous force for good. Barack Obama

Quote: At the moment that we persuade a child, any child, to cross that threshold, that magic threshold into a library, we change their lives forever, for the better. It’s an enormous force for good. — Barack Obama

Read more books about books and libraries:

Booklist: Books about Books for Shared Reading with Children

Booklist: Books about Libraries for Shared Reading with Children

Book Review: Summer Hours at the Robbers Library, Sue Halpern

Book Series Review: The Invisible Library, Genevieve Cogman 

Book Review: The Mortal Word, Book 5 of The Invisible Library Series, Genevieve Cogman

Book Review: The Library Book, Susan Orlean

Quote: The only thing you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library. Albert Einstein

Quote: Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation. Walter Cronkite

Quote: Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future. Ray Bradbury

 

 

 

Book Review: Spinning Silver, Naomi Novik

Book Review: Spinning Silver: A Novel, Naomi Novik

Spinning Silver: A Novel by Naomi Novik

Fantasy: Spinning Silver, Naomi Novik

I didn’t particularly like Prince Casimir. He’d come to stay at my father’s house once, and I’d been beneath his notice, so he hadn’t been on his best behavior….He was nearly my father’s age, and a man who lived almost entirely on the surface. But he wasn’t a fool, or cruel. And more to the point, I was reasonably certain he wasn’t going to try and devour my soul. My expectations for a husband had lowered.

 

Spinning Silver is a sweeping reinvention of the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale. Miryam is the daughter of a moneylender, one who is too nice to be successful. Frustrated at her family’s poverty and the disrespect her Jewish family faces, she takes over the debt collection business and changes their fortunes. However, she unwisely boasts of her ability to turn silver into gold while in the forest, within the hearing of the king of the Staryk. This fairy creature has silver but needs gold, and he gives her a bag of silver coins for her to turn into gold for him.

 

Miryam realizes that she has no choice but to obey. She takes the silver to a jeweler in the city, who melts it into a ring for the duke. The ring is sold and the purchase is made with gold coins. But, of course, the transaction was never going to be a one off, and more silver follows.

 

Irina is the daughter of the duke, of marriageable age but not particularly attractive or notable. However, the silver is magical, and the duke realizes that with the unmarried tsar visiting soon, magical jewelry on his daughter might attract the tsar’s eye. He purchases everything that Miryam can have made, and bargains are set that push two unwilling women into unwelcome marriages.

 

For the Staryk king has decided that a mortal with the gift of turning silver into gold would make a fine queen. And the tsar is not himself, but is possessed by a demon who wants nothing more than to take the life of one who can wear magical jewelry. Unless these two women can find a way to work together, their lives and the lives of everyone in two kingdoms may be forfeit.

 

Naomi Novik is a prizewinning author with both a John Campbell and a Nebula award to her credit. In her two latest books, 2016’s Uprooted (Nebula winner) and 2018’s Spinning Silver, she has begun a series of books taking Polish fairy tales and reimagining them. In this case, she has indeed taken the silver of a classic fairy tale and spun it into the gold of a marvelous fantasy novel.

 

Spinning Silver shifts back and forth between the perspectives of Miryam, Irina, Miryam’s servant Wanda, Wanda’s brother Stepon, and Tsar Mirnatius. It also shifts back and forth in time occasionally, retelling the same events from different perspectives. This can be confusing sometimes, but Novik usually does a good job distinguishing the voices and perspectives to help the reader stay with her. In a book that builds two worlds so fully, the human world where Miryam and Irina live and the Staryk world, the occasional confusion during a perspective change is a small challenge for the reader.

 

Novik does not shy away from legitimate social issues within her worlds. The Staryk world is very hierarchical. It is an icy world, gripped in winter. To protect his world from the demon living in the tsar, the Staryk king is quite willing to freeze the human world and kill all of the people living in it. That iciness is not only toward humans. Staryk are not given names until they are valued by someone willing to name them. It may be the most valuable gift a Staryk peasant can receive.

 

Miryam’s family are Jews. Because of this, they are resented and not trusted by the general population. Miryam’s grandfather, also a moneylender, could greatly advance his standing in the city if he converted. He refused. Miryam’s parents are despised in their small town, even though her father’s soft heart means he allows people to go for years without repaying their debts. To her credit, Novik does not assume any fantasy can fix anti-Semitism. Miryam fights to conquer the Staryk king. There is no magical cure for blind hatred.

 

Spinning Silver is pure gold. My only suggestion: make sure you read it someplace warm. The descriptions of northern European winter and the icy Staryk kingdom made me want to hunker under blankets the entire time. Hot chocolate, warm fires, thick blankets, and time to savor a magical fantasy.

Spinning Silver: A Novel by Naomi Novik

Book Review: Spinning Silver: A Novel, Naomi Novik

Book Review: A Natural History of Dragons, Marie Brennan

Book Review: A Natural History of Dragons, Marie Brennan

A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent (The Lady Trent Memoirs) by Marie Brennan

Fantasy: A Natural History of Dragons, Marie Brennan

Lady Trent is a naturalist, an expert in dragons. For a woman to accomplish this in a Victorian-type society is no small accomplishment. It is little wonder, then, that her autobiography would be so eagerly sought by publishers. A Natural History of Dragons is the first installment of her autobiography, one that tells the story of her early life, her marriage, and her first trip abroad to study dragons in their native habitats.

 

Marie Brennan thus begins a new fantasy series set in a Victorian-esque world where ladies wear dresses and do not do things like travel abroad to study dragons. Unless those ladies are Lady Trent. In this fun and well-written book, styled as a first-person autobiography of the protagonist, our heroine breaks the mold of feminine society to pursue her passion as a natural historian, studying dragons in the mountains of someplace like Russia (but not actually Russia).

 

Lady Trent is smart, brave, and quite willing to confront society, travel hardships, smugglers, and dragons head-on. She is self-aware, noticing her own shortcomings and occasional lack of compassion with regret. She loves her husband almost as much as she loves her dragons. In all, she is a delightful protagonist.

 

As fun as it is to see a woman tackling the conventions of Victorian society, it’s important to step back for a moment and realize that women and girls still struggle to break through stereotypes to pursue careers in the sciences and other STEM fields. Reading about the challenges faced by a woman who was expected to fulfill her role as wife and mother and lady-in-society should serve to remind us that society still has expectations of women that are governed more by gender perceptions than by logic. We can be grateful that a woman traveling to study animals in their native habitats is no longer scandalous. Let’s be even more grateful when a woman pursuing her career in science or math is no longer unusual.

 

Marie Brennan has written a fun novel about a bold protagonist who may be as brave as the dragons she studies. I look forward to getting into further Lady Trent novels, and learning more about dragons in the process.

 

If you like this book you may enjoy:

Book Review: Voyage of the Basilisk, Book 3 of the Memoirs of Lady Trent, Marie Brennan

Book Review: European Travel for the Monstrous GentlewomanTheodora Goss

Book Review: The Invisible Library, Genevieve Cogman 

Book Review: The Mortal Word (Book 5 of The Invisible Library Series), Genevieve Cogman

 

A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent (The Lady Trent Memoirs) by Marie Brennan

Book Review: A Natural History of Dragons, Marie Brennan

Book Review: The Lost Gutenberg, Margaret Leslie Davis

Book Review: The Lost Gutenberg: The Astounding Story of One Book’s Five-Hundred-Year Odyssey, Margaret Leslie Davis

The Lost Gutenberg: The Astounding Story of One Book's Five-Hundred-Year Odyssey, Margaret Leslie Davis

Nonfiction: The Lost Gutenberg: The Astounding Story of One Book’s Five-Hundred-Year Odyssey, Margaret Leslie Davis

On October 14, 1950, an ordinary wooden box arrives at the southern California home of Estelle Doheny. Inside the box, wrapped almost carelessly by customs officials after inspection, is one of the rarest and most valuable books in the world: a Gutenberg Bible.

 

Doheny was one of the premier book collectors of her time, although she was barred admittance to the old-boys club of book collectors. Still, she had amassed a private collection that rivaled the rare book rooms of many elite universities and museums. Twice before she had bid on a Gutenberg Bible–and lost. She had even bid once before on this specific copy and lost. This time she was determined to have it. She thus became the only woman to have ever owned a copy of the Gutenberg Bible.

 

Margaret Leslie Davis traces the history of this copy through several owners, which included an Irish baron, the owner of Lea & Perrins, and Lord Amherst. This particular Bible was one of the last to remain in private ownership, finally bequeathed to a seminary library upon the death of Estelle Doheny (though that’s not the end of its story). The various owners each have their own stories, of fortunes won and lost, of collections gathered and scattered. Booksellers and brokers play their roles as well.

 

Davis is a very good writer, and the story is quite interesting. The characters could walk from her book into a novel and find a home. She includes historic and scientific data in measured doses, not too much and not too little. Her careful writing reveals some formidable research and reporting, though. For a book which has such historic significance, I was surprised at how little we know about Gutenberg himself and the process he invented. Apparently the historical record is incomplete because, as Davis notes, he never put himself into print.

 

The Bible that found its way into Estelle Doheny’s collection is now locked in a vault in Tokyo, but it continues to aid scholars. Her Bible was the first Gutenberg to be analyzed by a cyclotron, which discovered a previously unnoticed replacement page in the Bible and revealed information about the inks and paper Gutenberg used. That same Bible later became the first Gutenberg reproduced electronically, and can be seen in its entirety online at http://dcollections.lib.keio.ac.jp/en/gutenberg .

 

The Lost Gutenberg is a riveting account of a book, the people who had to own it, the history of printing and the history of book collecting. In Margaret Leslie Davis’s careful hands, it is also a wonderful read, informative and exciting.

 

Read more books about books and libraries:

Booklist: Books about Books for Shared Reading with Children

Booklist: Books about Libraries for Shared Reading with Children

Book Review: Summer Hours at the Robbers Library, Sue Halpern

Book Series Review: The Invisible Library, Genevieve Cogman 

Book Review: The Mortal Word (Book 5 of The Invisible Library Series), Genevieve Cogman

Book Review: The Library Book, Susan Orlean

Quote: The only thing you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library. Albert Einstein

Quote: Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation. Walter Cronkite

Quote: Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future. Ray Bradbury

 

The Lost Gutenberg: The Astounding Story of One Book's Five-Hundred-Year Odyssey, Margaret Leslie Davis

Book Review: The Lost Gutenberg, Margaret Leslie Davis

Book Review: The Swimmer, Joakim Zander

Book Review: The Swimmer, Joakim Zander

 

The Swimmer, Joakim Zander

Thriller: The Swimmer, Joakim Zander

A young mother, killed in an explosion meant for her deep cover CIA lover. Their baby, left on the steps of the Swedish embassy. A man, tortured for decades by the decisions he made back then. That is the backdrop for Joakim Zander’s powerful thriller, The Swimmer.

 

The Swimmer is an unnamed operative who likes to swim. During a mission to Damascus in the mid 1980s, he falls in love and has a child with a Swedish woman. She is killed in a car bomb that was meant for him. Not certain how best to protect their child, he leaves the baby at the Swedish embassy with a note telling them how to place her with her grandparents in Sweden. Thinking he has covered his tracks, he returns to Washington and to his life as a spy. But he never forgets the child and tries to keep an eye out for her from a distance, hoping to protect her from his dangerous life.

 

Perhaps it’s genetics, but Klara manages to find her own danger. An ex-boyfriend gets drawn into an international conspiracy and asks for her help. When she agrees, she finds herself going across Europe, from Brussels to Paris to Amsterdam and finally home to Sweden, barely staying one step ahead of those who want her dead for reasons she doesn’t understand. Along the way she finds help from some unlikely sources: a lover who failed to mention to her that he was married, a stoner teenaged hacker, an old friend who runs moonshine, a college roommate who has become a lawyer, a corrupt lobbyist who is caught up in the same conspiracy against his will, and the father she never knew.

 

Zander’s book shifts from the first-person of the never-named swimmer to third-person narratives of other characters in the story. Somehow the author manages to make these shifts appear seamless, changing voices and perspectives smoothly and clearly. Zander also treats violence as an ugly reality. When people die in this book (and they do), it is not clean or neat or tidy. It is messy and terrifying and ugly and disturbing. One character has to vomit after committing an act of violence against another character. Guilt and sorrow and anger and panic follow the acts of violence. I love that a thriller author actually gets how an ordinary person would react to violence. Too often it seems that violence in thrillers is only told from the perspective of professionally violent people: soldiers or police or spies. But it is the very ordinariness of the characters that makes this book feel very real.

 

Zander is not an American, so don’t look for the typical American heroes here. This is not your Jack Ryan saves the world thriller. This is a darker view of American power, where there are good guys and bad guys and it is not always clear which are which or whether the good guys are actually all that good. But that’s probably a more realistic view of how the world actually works. We don’t live in an era with easy answers and clear distinctions, and it’s only fair that fiction follows life in that regard.

 

The Swimmer is a taut and fascinating thriller with well conceived characters and surprising twists. I look forward to reading more from this author.

 

If you like this review, also see:

Book Review: American Spy, Lauren Wilkinson

 

 

The Swimmer, Joakim Zander

Book Review: The Swimmer, Joakim Zander

 

Book Review: Foxglove Summer, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Foxglove Summer, Rivers of London Book 5, Ben Aaronovitch

 

Foxglove Summer, Rivers of London Book 5, Ben Aaronovitch

Fantasy: Foxglove Summer, Rivers of London Book 5, Ben Aaronovitch

 

This fifth installment of the DC Peter Grant series of books brings London’s very most junior detective wizard to the country. Two young girls, age 11, have gone missing. Since on very rare occasions children are used in evil magical practices, DC Grant is sent to rule out involvement by an elderly retired wizard who lives in the area. Although he quickly determines that the wizard played no part in the disappearance, Grant offers to stay to help the local force in their search. He is a policeman, these are children whose lives are at stake, and so it is all hands on deck.

 

When the girls’ phones are found, though, they show signs of having been affected by magic. This puts Grant at the center of the investigation, and although the retired wizard may be innocent there are other magical forces at play. Aided by the arrival of his sometime love interest, Beverly Brook, goddess of a small river near London, Grant looks into local phenomenon that might explain where the girls had gone. There is the wizard’s mysterious daughter, who has a way with local bees and with local boys. There are the local water goddesses, who are less than pleased with Beverly’s arrival for reasons they will not explain. There are the occasional texts from his former partner who betrayed him to side with an evil magician. And there is the strange rumor that one of the missing girls had an invisible friend. Not imaginary–invisible. In other words, plenty of things to keep an investigator of the paranormal busy.

 

Aaronovitch’s writing is delightful. His plots are involved but not muddy, his characters are complex and interesting, and his prose is crisp and sometimes hilarious. He weaves in some pointed social commentary with a deft touch of humor through his examination of race as a factor in Grant’s work. Grant finds himself the only person of color involved in the search for the girls (until Beverly arrives). This gives him the opportunity to practice his diversity training, since working with all white rural police and citizens provides multiple cultural cross-currents. Fortunately he manages to avoid conflict even when some of the less broad minded citizens seem bent upon fomenting it.

 

The world building in this series is quite elaborate, and moving the setting to the country allows Aaronovitch to add multiple layers to the work he has already established in London. Grant approaches magic from a scientific mindset. He likes to reason out how and why magic works. In the city, vestigia or echoes of magic remain observable (to the trained) on hard surfaces: stone, metal, plastic, and to a much lesser extent flesh. In the country, though, with dirt and plants, how is magic absorbed…or is it? Are magical beings visible only in certain types of light? Is there a parallel fae world existing essentially overlaid on the mortal world? Those are questions that did not require a full answer on the streets of London, but in this rural setting they become central to the search for the girls.

 

Foxglove Summer is a nice addition to a series that is fun and fascinating. It is one of the best urban fantasy series I have ever read, made even better by this sojourn out of the city.

 

Also see by the same author:

Book Review: Midnight Riot, Rivers of London Book 1, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Moon Over Soho, Rivers of London Book 2, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Whispers Underground, Rivers of London Book 3, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Broken Homes. Rivers of London Book 4, Ben Aaronovitch

 

Foxglove Summer, Rivers of London Book 5, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Foxglove Summer, Rivers of London Book 5, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Broken Homes, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Broken Homes, Rivers of London Book 4, Ben Aaronovitch

Broken Homes, Rivers of London Book 4, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Broken Homes, Rivers of London Book 4, Ben Aaronovitch

Detective Peter Grant is becoming stronger in his magical powers, more confident in his detective work, but still is not allowed to drive DCI Nightingale’s jaguar around the streets of London. Nor is he very good at telling the future, like when a river goddess suggests she may start a flood, she may actually start a flood. Still, it was a small flood, insurance paid for most of it, and that really wasn’t his fault. Probably.

Broken Homes is the fourth book in what is quickly becoming one of my favorite series, The Rivers of London. Aaronovitch has quirky and likeable characters interacting in believable ways–that is, once you accept the premise that there is an entire magical London living among and amid the ordinary human residents. It makes sense that this magical London would have dedicated police officers who work to capture rogue wizards and witches, keep the peace between various magical factions, and above all prevent ordinary humans from realizing they are surrounded by magic.

Peter, Nightingale, Lesley, and the rest of the crew (including Toby the dog) are trying to solve multiple crimes when they realize that those crimes are related. We see the return of a witch they faced in a previous novel, but here they find out she is much more powerful than they had realized before. They also find clues that the “faceless man” is becoming active again, a powerful wizard who nearly killed Peter during their last encounter. Not even Nightingale is certain he can be beaten, which gives Peter and Lesley increased urgency in their training. When they are required to move into a building to investigate suspicious activity, that brings them face to face with their most challenging enemies.

Aaronovitch has built a terrific sandbox in this Rivers of London series, and invited all of us to play in it with him. Broken Homes is a fun and easy read. Well worth the time.

Also see by the same author:

Book Review: Midnight Riot, Rivers of London Book 1, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Moon Over Soho, Rivers of London Book 2, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Whispers Underground, Rivers of London Book 3, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Foxglove Summer, Rivers of London Book 5, Ben Aaronovitch

 

Broken Homes, Rivers of London Book 4, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Broken Homes, Rivers of London Book 4, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Whispers Underground, Rivers of London Book 3, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Whispers Underground, Rivers of London Book 3, Ben Aaronovitch

 

Whispers Underground, Rivers of London Book 3, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Whispers Underground, Rivers of London Book 3, Ben Aaronovitch

Peter Grant got his start in the police department that handles magic by interviewing a ghost who witnessed a murder. So when a young girl who lives near his parent’s apartment says she has seen a ghost, he can’t really ignore her request to come investigate it. This is the first supernatural visit to London’s underground that DC Grant and DC Lesley May make. It won’t be the last.

 

Whispers Underground is the third installment in a terrific series, Rivers of London. Ben Aaronovitch uses a lot of humor and terrific characters to tell a magical story. After investigating the ghost young Abigail has found, they are called to investigate a murder, a young man stabbed by a piece of pottery. The pottery has traces of vestigium, the echo left by magic, an echo that only those trained in magic can usually sense. Grant and May are part of the Metropolitan Police Force’s department that handles magic and the supernatural, and they are now part of a high profile case.

 

The victim is an American art student, the son of a US senator. This means that the FBI has a vested interest in the case, and despite his quite junior status on the team the agent decides that Grant is the one she should focus on. Scotland Yard may have a division focusing on magic, but it doesn’t LIKE having that division, and especially doesn’t like admitting that they have that division…or even admitting that magic exists. They certainly don’t want to share that information with their friends across the pond. This makes things awkward for Grant. He is charged with investigating a crime involving magic, underneath the watchful observation of an FBI agent, without revealing that magic is involved or even that magic exists.

 

Good. Luck.

 

Aaronovitch continues his often hilarious storytelling style in this wonderful series. The humor is quite dry. In some ways this was the most “British” of the novels, with no efforts made to translate the British idioms into American ones for us colonists. For me that adds to the charm. I don’t mind looking up words that I don’t know. If I am going to read a book set in London, written by a writer living in London, I may as well experience the full effect. A trip to London is on my bucket list…but for now I will have to settle for the vicarious experience through fiction.

 

This series continues to delight. Through wit, compassion, and maybe a little magic, Aaronovitch gives us an urban fantasy that feels very real. His characters are wonderful, his setting is vivid, and his stories are imaginative. It’s hard to ask for anything more in a book.

Also see

Book Review: Midnight Riot, Rivers of London Book 1, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Moon Over Soho, Rivers of London Book 2, Ben Aaronovitch

 

Whispers Underground, Rivers of London Book 3, Ben Aaronovitch

Book Review: Whispers Underground, Rivers of London Book 3, Ben Aaronovitch