About Carol

Carol likes to read for fun. Her reading material tends to be fluffy, funny, and/or frivolous. If she were stranded on an island with only one author's books she would take Dave Barry. She obsessively records what she reads and what she wants to read on GoodReads.

In the Hall with the Knife

It’s YA Clue! The End.

For some reason my editor didn’t think my first draft review of this book (see above) was long enough. So I’m going to take another stab at reviewing In the Hall with the Knife by Diana Peterfreund.

First, I want to take you back in time. No, we won’t need a DeLorean but we will need Christopher Lloyd.

I wouldn’t discover this for another five years, but in 1985 a totally bonkers film based on a board game with an all-star cast was getting mixed reviews. Critics didn’t understand at the time that they were witnessing cinematic gold; gold my family and I would watch repeatedly over the years to the point it became a family tradition.

I’m talking about the movie Clue. It takes the characters and layout from the board game and re-imagines it as a 1950s-era dinner party-turned-murder mystery. Thrills, chills, puns, and innuendo are all served up on a platter of physical comedy. While this might not sound amazing to you, it captured my heart and mind in a way that no other media has ever been able to do.

Author Diana Peterfreund had a similar backstory and relationship with the film. She gives a great shout-out in the book’s acknowledgements:

Finally, my eternal devotion to anyone even marginally involved with the beloved 1985 classic movie, as well as my parents, who thought nothing of letting us bring along our battered VHS tape of Clue on every road trip growing up. I could know a foreign language: instead I know that movie’s script by heart.

Same, girl. Same.

If you have a similar love for the film, you will appreciate the 5-6 subtle references I spotted in the text of In the Hall with the Knife. But rest assured that no knowledge of the film is required in order to enjoy what I’ve told friends is “a delightful murderous romp through a flooded and frozen Maine boarding school campus.”

Scarlet, Mustard, Green, Peacock, Plum, and Orchid are students at Blackbrook Academy, an elite, secluded boarding school in the wilds of Maine. It’s winter break and they are among the handful of students unlucky enough to be on campus when the storm of the century strikes. Flooding has wiped out the bridge to the mainland, making escape impossible. Flooding has also systematically invaded most of the buildings on campus until there’s only one place left for everyone to try to survive until help arrives: Tudor House.

Tudor House was once a home for wayward girls or some such nonsense. It housed teenage girls who somehow didn’t fit the norms established by society; in some cases they were accused of crimes and sent to Tudor House to be “reformed.” When Blackbrook went co-ed, they acquired Tudor House to serve as the first girls’ dormitory. For decades Mrs. White has served as Tudor House’s proctor and chaperone.

When it becomes clear that help isn’t coming, or is at least a ways off, the group of students, Mrs. White, Headmaster Boddy, and the school’s caretaker work to weather-proof the old mansion as much as possible while keeping spirits up and learning to get along.

But just as secrets are shared and trust is starting to form tentative bonds, tragedy strikes: Headmaster Boddy is found dead. At first most people try to convince themselves it was a suicide: he must have stabbed himself to death. The school’s caretaker leaves to get help, but Green is the only one who sees the absurdity of ruling his death a suicide and tries to convince the others that it’s definitely murder and the police are needed more urgently than ever.

Who murdered Headmaster Boddy? Was it Beth “Peacock” Picah, Orchid McKee, Vaughn Green, Sam “Mustard” Maestor, Finn Plum, or Scarlet Mistry? All we know for certain is he was killed in the hall, with the knife.

Trapped in a rambling old mansion with a sordid history (and wait–is that a secret passage?) during a brutal winter storm, will anyone survive to tell the police whodunnit?

Stay Home for This Challenge

Fall is my most favorite season. We get pumpkin spice, falling leaves, and furnaces kicking on. My sweaters and boots are so happy to see me and I’m whipping up soups and stews every weekend. And we get rain. Months and months of glorious, life-giving rain. I may as well call myself Shirley Manson because I’m only happy when it rains. Just kidding–but I do love a great rain shower and/or thunderstorm.

We also get a new reading challenge. Read the book, post a photo of it with #everettreads, and be entered into a drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card courtesy of the Friends of the Everett Public Library. Thanks, Friends! This month we’re going to read a book set in Washington State.

That’s right, dear reader. We get to stay home for this challenge.

You may have heard about a little book called Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. I reviewed it a few years back and the film adaptation was released in August. While I still wholeheartedly recommend reading Bernie, I also think you should try these books set in our wet and wonderful Evergreen State. Just click the cover and be magically–okay, it’s HTML–taken to the summary and with a few more clicks you can reserve your very own copy.

FYI: some of these look really spooky, so if you are looking for some Halloween mood reading you might be able to check two boxes with one book.

I’m going to curl up with Useless Bay by M.J. Beaufrand. Shocking family secrets and a giant mystery on Whidbey Island? Count me in! What will you read for the October challenge?

I Want You to Read What They Don’t Want Us to Read

Holy cats, how did it get to be September already? Don’t ask me how, but we are definitely here! The good news is that we find ourselves looking at a new reading challenge. Read the book, post a photo of it with #everettreads, and be entered into a drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card courtesy of the Friends of the Everett Public Library. Thanks, Friends! This month we’re going to read a book that was banned or challenged.

What is book banning, and what is the difference between banning a book and challenging one? I’ll let the American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom explain:

A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group.  A banning is the removal of those materials. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others.  Due to the commitment of librarians, teachers, parents, students and other concerned citizens, most challenges are unsuccessful and most materials are retained in the school curriculum or library collection.

Have you heard me say lately that librarians and library staff are fierce protectors of intellectual freedom and your right to choose what you read? Because it’s true, and nowhere is this more obvious than when we talk about challenges to library materials in the attempt to prevent others from accessing them. You know–censorship.

Reasons for book challenges in 2018.

These are actual reasons why folks tried to have books banned last year.

Banned Books Week is September 22-28, 2019. However, we can get a jump start on this month’s EPL reading challenge by checking out the list of the most challenged books of 2018:

George by Alex Gino
Reasons: banned, challenged, and relocated because it was believed to encourage children to clear browser history and change their bodies using hormones, and for mentioning “dirty magazines,” describing male anatomy, “creating confusion,” and including a transgender character.

 

A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss, illustrated by EG Keller
Reasons: banned and challenged for including LGBTQIA+ content, and for political and religious viewpoints.

 

 

Captain Underpants series written and illustrated by Dav Pilkey
Reasons: series was challenged because it was perceived as encouraging disruptive behavior, while Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot was challenged for including a same-sex couple.

 

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Reasons: banned and challenged because it was deemed “anti-cop,” and for profanity, drug use, and sexual references.

 

 

 

Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
Reasons: banned and challenged for including LGBTQIA+ characters and themes.

 

 

 

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Reasons: banned, challenged, and restricted for addressing teen suicide.

 

 

 

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
Reasons: banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and certain illustrations.

 

 

Skippyjon Jones series written and illustrated by Judy Schachner
Reason: challenged for depicting stereotypes of Mexican culture.

 

 

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: banned and challenged for sexual references, profanity, violence, gambling, and underage drinking, and for its religious viewpoint.

 

 

This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman, illustrated by Kristyna Litten
Reason: challenged and burned for including LGBTQIA+ content.

 

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
Reason: challenged and burned for including LGBTQIA+ content.

 

 

 

You’ll notice that the final two books on the list, This Day in June and Two Boys Kissing, were also burned. BURNED. It’s the twenty-first century and some folks are still so threatened by certain ideas that they will light books on FIRE. I’d say it’s unbelievable but I remember all too well this report of a 2018 book burning. This Day in June and Two Boys Kissing, in addition to Families, Families, Families! by Suzanne & Max Lang and Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino were checked out from an Iowa public library and burned. The person responsible recorded it all on video and posted it online as a “protest.”

Stories like that make my skin crawl.

If you tell me the “problems” with a book you’re just going to make me want to read it even more; double that if you tell me that certain illustrations are why you’re trying to prevent folks from reading it. I am absolutely going to read This One Summer.

What banned or challenged book are you going to read? You can tell me in the comments, or you can take it one step further and participate in the Dear Banned Author postcard writing campaign. Write a postcard (author mailing addresses listed here) or tweet an author of a banned/challenged/burned book. Let them know what the stories you read mean to you and show your support.

To all you authors of challenged, banned, and burned books: thank you.

Houston: City of Magic

Despite living in Washington for nearly 15 years, I still associate summer with heat and humidity. The Houston branch of my family will tell you that the weather there will give you a “nice summer glow.” I say the icky sticky makes showering a nearly wasted effort and breathing deeply indoors is a luxury taken for granted. After reading the first part of the Hidden Legacy series by Ilona Andrews, I now think of magic, mystery, murder, and mega romance when I think of Houston.

In this series, Ilona Andrews (pseudonym for husband-wife writing team Ilona and Andrew Gordon) invites the reader into a Houston we’ve never seen before. I’ll let Andrews explain:

In 1863 in a world much like our own, European scientists discovered the Osiris serum, a concoction which brought out one’s magic talents. These talents were many and varied. The serum spread throughout the world.  Eventually the world realized the consequences of awakening godlike powers in ordinary people. The serum was locked away, but it was too late. The magic talents passed on from parents to their children and changed the course of human history forever. The future of entire nations shifted in the span of a few short decades.  Those who previously married for status, money, and power now married for magic, because strong magic would give them everything.

Now, a century and a half later, families with strong hereditary magic have evolved into dynasties. It is a world where the more magic you have, the more powerful, the wealthier, and the more prominent you are. Some magic talents are destructive. Some are subtle. But no magic user should be taken lightly.

Magic rules the world. Families with multiple magic users over more than one generation can form a House. Houses almost come across like mob families in that they are very powerful and often skirt the laws–or break them entirely.

But what if you’re a magic user who has spent your whole life hiding your talents? Being a part of a House means you generally have at least one target on your back at any given moment. The more powerful the House, the more powerful your enemies. Sometimes it’s safer to live your life with your magic hidden, especially if your powers are not well-understood and strike fear into the hearts of established Houses. Because if you are feared, you could be taken out.

Nevada is basically a human lie-detector. Catalina is a siren; she can make anyone instantly love her. And Arabella can shift into a giant beast that cannot be physically restrained. Basically, if the government found out that the sisters had these extremely rare magical talents they would be locked away in secure facilities, forced to work for them.

Yeah. No thanks! I’d rather keep my secrets to myself, too.

But such is life for the Baylor family, who are not a House because they have kept the daughters’ abilities secret. Nevada, her maternal grandmother, mother, two sisters, and two cousins all live in a large warehouse that is part home and part headquarters for their family investigation firm. Grandma brings in extra cash retrofitting vehicles for Houston’s elite Houses, and Mom is a retired military sniper. Everyone pitches in with the family business, but none is more dedicated and shoulders the burdens like Nevada. Ever since her father died of cancer and left the business in her care, she has made it her personal mission to see the family business succeed.

To ensure continued success, Baylor Investigations has three rules everyone follows:
Rule 1: they stay bought. When a client hires the family, they are loyal to them.
Rule 2: they don’t break the law, keeping them out of jail and safe from litigation.
Rule 3: most important: at the end of the day, they still have to be able to look their reflections in the eye.

These rules pop up frequently, because the Baylors, and Nevada in particular, are constantly up against powerful and deadly forces who nearly always ask them to break their personal principles in order to stop catastrophic consequences.

Powerful rogue magic users are rampaging through Houston and threatening to topple the world’s House hierarchy. These acts of terrorism have the magic community and the general population on high alert. Enter Mad Rogan, one of the most powerful telekinetics on record. He is working on the fringes to stop the terrorists and crosses paths with Nevada. At first thinking she’s a part of the conspiracy, he eventually learns to work with her in order to stop anarchy and protect society.

This is a high-concept urban fantasy/romance series where the stakes are high and the characters are well-written and relatable, despite the whole magic thing. The first three novels follow the terrorism arc with Nevada and Mad Rogan the protagonists. The novella (and the soon-to-be-published next arc) follow Catalina and her own adventures.

I’m a sucker for a series that dedicates a book to each sibling in a large, loving, and somewhat looney family. But stretch that series out with multiple books per character in a way that doesn’t feel stretched out at all but in fact feels absolutely perfect and wonderful and I think I’m obsessed? Yes. I am here for it. And now that I’ve finished what’s been published so far in the Hidden Legacy series, I’m going back to the other Ilona Andrews series and seeing what trouble I can get into.

I recommend the Hidden Legacy series for fans of superhero comics and movies, those who dig a good family saga, romance lovers, and anyone who fell in love with Harry Dresden. But don’t stop there. Fall down the Ilona Andrews rabbit hole with me. You just know it’s going to be magical.

The Truth is Out There (But Probably Not in Textbooks)

Dedicated to all American history teachers
who teach against their textbooks
(and their ranks keep growing)

And so begins the updated edition of Lies my Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen. “Every teacher, every student of history, every citizen should read this book,” said Howard Zinn. The San Francisco Chronicle called it, “an extremely convincing plea for truth in education.” My husband exasperatingly declared, “I can’t believe you still haven’t read this book, Carol!”

Since this month’s reading challenge is to read a book about American history, I thought this was the perfect opportunity to see what all the buzz is about–and finally let my husband rest his weary voice.

First, let’s be clear: the author is not bashing teachers! He knows that teachers need to teach from the textbooks provided. And the books are only as good as their authors. Some authors are better than others, but overall the state of textbooks–American history textbooks specifically–need to be reformed. As the author points out in the introduction when discussing how most textbooks are 1,200 pages or more:

Indeed, state and local textbook committees should not select *any* 1,200 page hardcover book. As the introduction to the second edition points out, there is no pedagogical justification for such large tomes. Their only reason for being is economic. These textbooks now retail for more than $100 and cost more than $70 even when ordered in quantity by states and school districts. It’s easy to understand why publishers keep on making them. It’s harder to understand why school districts keep buying them.

Topics range from the Vietnam War, the truth about Columbus, and how we have a bad habit of creating heroes out of people who were, at best, regular folks and at worst, total monsters. The book focuses on educational texts, sure, but the point it’s really trying to get across is that we need to educate children and teens to think critically and apply skepticism, not cynicism, to everything they consume: books, internet sites, news reports, and social media posts. This starts in the classroom and it starts with teaching critical thinking skills.

Let me reassure you that there are photographs. Sure, they’re in black and white, but I’m always reassured that a history book won’t be too dry and boring if I can find illustrations, maps, photographs, or other visual helpers to keep my brain engaged if it wants to wander. Many of the images in this book come directly from the textbooks the author reviewed.

Sometimes the representative textbook photos are good, like showing two images representing early Native American societies, one showing an organized society and the other showing people on horseback seemingly wandering. The caption asks students to discern which happened before white settlers arrived and which was after. This builds critical thinking skills and encourages students to find information to support their conclusions. It also busts the lie we’ve been told about how indigenous communities were uncivilized people who welcomed white saviors.

Other times, the representative textbook photos are reeeeeally not good. For instance, a racist cartoon that is still printed in high school textbooks with either no context or a skewed viewpoint. Stating your opinion–especially when it’s racist and contrary to reality–as fact does not make it a fact. But this is what students are taught and tested on. When we teach our children racist views as a requirement of their education, is it any wonder our society has problems with systemic racism and the inability to tell fact from fake news?

This all means that often the illustrations included in textbooks do a great disservice to the students forced to use them in class. It’s just one layer upon many that make up the cracks in our educational foundation. A foundation that is in serious need of repair.

I just checked this book out today. I’ll be reading it this month to complete the reading challenge and I just know I will be completely insufferable as I plague friends and strangers alike with the misinformation, misrepresentations, censorship, and outright lies we’ve all been fed. But this is good, and it’s exactly what the author was going for. He wants people to think and learn and grow and challenge the way we’ve been taught American history. We must stand up for facts, and push back against the BS.

Have you read this classic? I’d love to hear the most shocking or surprising fact you learned from the book. From what I can tell so far skimming, there are an embarrassing amount to choose from.

Read Your Fruits and Veggies

If you’re following along with our annual reading challenge, you’ve likely discovered that so far the challenges each month have been relatively straightforward: read a book by Sy Montgomery, read a poetry book, etc.

This month’s challenge, read a book with a vegetable or fruit in the title, is a little harder to achieve. Yes, you could go straight to the cookbooks, but I’m here to offer up a relative cornucopia of novels that will satisfy both the criteria and your book cravings. Just click any book cover that looks good! You’ll be taken to the catalog record where you can read a summary and place a hold.

 

   

So don’t wait–gobble these up while you can! And don’t forget to enter the monthly contest. Simply post a picture of your book on Instagram, Twitter, and/or Facebook with the hashtag #everettreads for your chance to win a $25 Amazon gift card from the Friends of the Everett Public Library. Be sure to make the post public so we can see it. Easy peas-y.

Hi, I’m Carol and I Use She/Her Pronouns

A funny thing happened on the way to the blog. I had an inclusion epiphany at the joint Oregon Library Association/Washington Library Association conference.

Conferences have name badges, and often there are also trays of different colored ribbons representing different interest groups and jobs that a conference attendee can select and adhere to the bottom of their badge. At the OLA/WLA conference, there was a bright yellow ribbon with a blank spot underneath. The top read, “My pronouns are” and you could write your personal pronouns below. I loved the idea, but didn’t want to take a ribbon away from someone else who needed it.

Yup, I actually thought I was doing everyone a favor by not using the ribbon, since I use she/her pronouns and I’ve never been misgendered. However, I quickly learned that by taking the lead in stating your own personal pronouns you’re showing allyship and normalizing this type of exchange of information. You’re laying the groundwork for change. This was my inclusion epiphany.

Luckily, as with many complicated and nuanced issues, there’s a well-written book to help us understand. A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns by Archie Bongiovanni & Tristan Jimerson packs a lot of information into 60 pages. This book succinctly explains what pronouns are, how to use them, and why they matter in the first place. Hint: misgendering someone is demoralizing at best and demeaning at worst. And no matter how inclusive you think you are, you can always do better.

Archie and Tristan, the authors, are longtime best friends and offer two different perspectives on gender-neutral pronouns. Archie is a genderqueer artist and explains from the perspective of someone who uses they/them pronouns and wishes the world would get on board already. Tristan is a cisgender dude who wants to start introducing gender-neutral pronouns at work. He explains from the perspective of an ally and friend who wants to change his and his organization’s habits.

Both Archie and Tristan want to create a more welcoming and inclusive environment for everyone. They know that understanding and talking about personal pronouns is a simple way to offer support and understanding.

Written in graphic novel format, this book is a fun and informative way to get up to speed on how language has changed and what you can do to be supportive, inclusive, and welcoming. Archie and Tristan run through everyday scenarios they and their friends have experienced. This helps the reader understand what it’s like to be non-binary and constantly misgendered, as well as how difficult it can be to change old habits even if you want to do better.

It can be a struggle for everyone, but the only way to affect change is to keep working on it. In the back of the book there are a couple of quick reference sheets you can practice with until this becomes natural to you. For instance, there’s a list of different ways to ask for someone’s pronouns. One point the authors make is something I’m still correcting myself about. For a while I was saying, “What pronouns do you prefer?” but that suggests that gender is a preference. The authors are clear that asking, “What pronouns do you use?” is the best way to go.

There are also ideas for how to recover when you mess up someone’s pronouns. Hint: don’t make it a big deal, just apologize and move on while remembering their pronouns for next time. Also, for those of us who grew up with parents who taught us that showing respect meant using gendered words like sir and ma’am, there’s a list of non-gendered words you can use instead.

Other ideas to create more inclusive environments for non-binary folks:

  • Be the first: introduce yourself to someone new as I did in this post title:
    “Hi, I’m ___ and I use ___ pronouns.”
  • Add your pronouns to your email signature and/or business card.
  • Begin a meeting with a new group by asking folks to go around the room and state their name and pronouns.
  • Talk to your boss about gendered language in policies and handbooks that could be neutralized.
  • If you work with official forms, ask if references to gender binaries like male/female can be removed.

Change doesn’t happen overnight, and we’re all going to make mistakes along the way. Just keep moving forward, keep trying harder, and have those conversations with friends and coworkers. The more work you take on, the more you’ll clear the way for everyone else.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to see about getting my pronouns added to my name badge at work.