Friday, August 30, 2013

Book Review Friday: The Poisoner's Handbook


    The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum is a fascinating walk through New York City during the years of Prohibition and Tammany Hall.
    In the early 1900s corrupt politicians had a strangle hold on city government.  Payoffs and cronyism were the names of the game.  The city coroner wasn't even a doctor.  In a town where death certificates were for sale poison was a sure fire way to commit murder and get away with it. Then the New York State Legislature stepped in to require a qualified person take control of the coroner's office.  In 1918, over the objections of NYC Mayor John F. "Red Mike" Hylan, Dr. Charles Norris was appointed Chief Medical Examiner.  Together with toxicologist Alexander Getttler, Norris created a disciplined, efficient, and scrupulously honest forensics team that handled every suspicious death in NYC.  With painstaking determination they researched the effects of poisons on the body in order to convict poisoners in the courts.
    This is a thoroughly researched and thoroughly entertaining look back in time.  Each chapter tells the story of another crime, another poison, and the reader is drawn into the mystery as Norris and Gettler race against time, ignorance, and government bureaucracies to save lives and bring criminals to justice.

Want to read more about Forensic Medicine?  Try these:

Beating the Devil's Game: A History of Forensic Science and Criminal Investigation
by Katherine M. Ramsland

Forensic Science: An Encyclopedia of History, Methods, and Techniques by William J. Tilstone

The Science of Sherlock Holmes: From Baskerville Hall to the Valley of Fear, the Real Forensics Behind the Great Detective's Greatest Cases by E. J. Wagner

Friday, August 23, 2013

Book Review Friday: The Uninvited Guests


In The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones,a charming Edwardian house party is interrupted by a seemingly endless stream of confusing events.  It is Emerald Torrington's twentieth birthday, friends and family are gathered at the family estate of Sterne to celebrate.  Her stepfather is away on business.  A stranger has crashed the party.  And not far away a dreadful train crash sends hordes of disheveled survivors to the doors of the manor house looking for aid and hospitality.  Meanwhile, Smudge Torrington, Emerald's younger, and often overlooked sister, has decided this will be the night for her Great Undertaking.  Quirky, likable characters populate this dark and interesting comedy of manners.

If you like quirky, haunted tales you might like:

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by C. Alan Bradley
And then There Were None by Agatha Christie
Rebecca by Daphne  Du Maurier
The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

New Librarianship MOOC Review

I survived my first MOOC (Massive Open Online Course).  It was fun.  It was informative.  And I now understand why MOOCs tend to have low completion rates.  It is completely self-directed.  If you don't log in and participate no one is coming after you or holding you responsible.  But if you've got the determination and self-discipline to see it through it can be a great experience. 

I enrolled in The Atlas of New Librarianship MOOC sponsored by Syracuse University.  Professor David Lankes wrote the book by the same name and teaches at the school so it all ties in together.  The class consisted of readings from the book, short video lectures by Lankes, in which he explained and expanded on topics from the book, and a comments section where faculty and students could comment on what we were learning.  Each section was followed by a brief quiz for comprehension.  And for those who desired (and could afford it) the course was worth 2 CEUs ($150) or, with some additional work and a full tuition charge a student could get graduate credit for the course.

Lankes' work is really quite theoretical, and frankly, some of it I just didn't get.  His book was not organized in a way that was easy to follow.  It had no index and no bibliography.  And some of his arguments just didn't hold together, but I'm just a librarian and not a scholar.  For some professional reviews of Lankes' work check out these blogs (full disclosure, Lankes mentioned these critics/reviews during the course discussion):

All in all it was a great experience.  I got to hear some scholarly views about Conversation Theory and a possible future for libraries and librarians.  I got to participate in my very first MOOC.  And I started a couple of very interesting discussions at the Adult Services Desk at work.
I can't wait to take another!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Book Review Friday: Saving CeeCee Honeycutt

 It’s 1967 and twelve year old Cecilia Rose (CeeCee) Honeycutt lives in Willoughby, Ohio with her father, Carl, a traveling salesman who is almost never home, and her mother, Camille Sugarbaker Honeycutt, who is rapidly succumbing to mental illness.  CeeCee’s life is a nightmare of worry and embarrassment as she tries to cope with her mother’s increasingly bizarre behavior.  When CeeCee’s mother is killed in a traffic accident, her great Aunt Tallulah arrives from Georgia, and after a brief consultation with Carl, takes CeeCee to her home in Savannah.
Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman is a gentle, heartwarming story told from the perspective of twelve year-old CeeCee as she tries to cope with her mentally ill mother and absentee father.  At times CeeCee’s observations seem old beyond her years.  When CeeCee moves to Georgia, the author’s descriptions of Savannah are so vivid, the city almost becomes a character in the story.  The cast of quirky friends and neighbors that troop through Aunt Tallulah’s home and CeeCee’s life add humor and pathos to the story.   The South in the 1960s was alive with racial strife and some of that is depicted in the story although the author wraps up a racially tense situation almost too neatly.  There is not a lot of action or dramatic tension and the ending might be too fairytale like for some, but for those who want a sweet slice of Southern charm, sprinkled liberally with eccentric characters, and wrapped in a happy ending this could be the one. 

I listened to the audio book and Jenna Lamia’s narration was amazing.  Her portrayal of the twelve-year-old CeeCee, was so good I quite forgot I was listening to an adult portraying a child’s voice.  Her portrayal of the other characters was equally charming.    The audio was smooth and clear and the Southern accents of Savannah made the story come alive. 

If you liked Saving CeeCee Honeycutt you may like:

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
The Divine Secrets of the Ya ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
 Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Fifty Shades Redux ... The Controversy Continues

E. L. James's Fifty Shades of Grey was the biggest thing to hit the library in ... forever.  The demand was huge, as was the controversy.  And the trilogy has opened up patron demand and library shelves to the genre of erotic fiction.  Now a study has been released that's sure to fire up the controversy again.  This article from "Every Day Health" reports on the results of an analysis of Fifty Shades done by researchers at Ohio State University. In the article, author Laurie Sue Brockway reports:
In "Double Crap!' Abuse and Harmed Identity in Fifty Shades of Grey," published in the Journal of Women's Health, researchers Amy Bonomi, PhD, MPH, Lauren Altenburger, BS, and Nicole Walton, MSW, from OSU conducted a systematic analysis of the novel and found patterns consistent with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) definitions of interpersonal violence and associated reactions in abused women.
The researchers found that Fifty Shades heartthrob, Christian Grey, exhibited all the behaviors of an abuser.  " ' The interlocking pattern of emotional abuse Christian uses — stalking, intimidation, isolation and humiliation — serves to control every aspect of Anastasia’s behavior,' said Bonomi, Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Science at OSU."  They expressed their concern that the trilogy romanticizes abuse and "sheds light on our society’s tolerance for violence against women."

In rebuttal, Brockway reports that sociologist Pepper Schwartz, PhD conducted a survey of women who had read the Fifty Shades trilogy while researching her book, The New Normal.  Schwartz reported that more than half the respondents said that Fifty Shades had a positive impact on their lives, many reporting that the book empowered them to be more "playful" during sex.

No doubt the controversy will continue and, as long as it does, readers will keep coming into the library to ask for Fifty Shades and its read-alikes.  And we will continue to provide them.

PS: For another take on why women read Fifty Shades check out this post from Kristen Lamb's Blog. Insomnia, Wizard Vans, and Why Modern Women Read 50 Shades of Grey is witty and spot on.

Monday, August 12, 2013

A 21st Century Librarian

Here's an article I wish I'd read before I started library school.  "How to Become a 21st Century Librarian" by Meredith Schwartz was published in Library Journal in March of 2013.  Recommended reading for anyone thinking about a career in librarianship.
Not that I wouldn't make the same career choice, but some of Schwartz's advise about schools, courses, financing, and career planning might have made the path a little less bumpy.  She includes plenty of practical advice and links to sources for more information for the student, novice, and even the experienced librarian.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Book Review Friday: Lost in Shangri-La


On Mother's Day, in May 1945 an American military plane crashed in the mountains of New Guinea.  The crash killed almost everyone on board and stranded three survivors, including one female WAC, in a remote jungle surrounded by definitely unfriendly Japanese troops and possibly unfriendly and cannibalistic natives.  This is the true story of their survival and ultimate rescue from the lost valley of Shangri-La.

Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II lives up to it's title.  Author Mitchell Zuckoff did plenty of research, combing military records and newspaper accounts for details of the crash and it's aftermath.  In addition, he interviewed survivors, rescuers, and New Guinea natives for their recollections.  He puts it all together into a page-turning narrative complete with vivid descriptions and quotes from the survivors describing their experiences in their own words.

I listened to the audio version, narrated by Zuckoff, himself. He does a good job with the narration and tells the story in a crisp, clear style. 

Narrative non-fiction tells a true story in a literary style that makes the stories flow.  If you like your non-fiction to read like fiction try these:

The Girls of Murder City: Fame, Lust, and the Beautiful Killers Who Inspired Chicago
by Douglas Perry
Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President
by Candice Millard
The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal and the Real Count of Monte Cristo
by Tom Reiss, read my review of The Black Count here.
Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, an the Battle for America's Soul
by Karen Abbott
The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York
by Deborah Blum

For more true World War II adventures try these:
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin
by Erik Larson
1942: The Year that Tried Men's Souls
  by Winston Groom
First Men In: US Paratroopers and the Fight to Save D-Day
 by Ed Ruggero
Unbroken: A World War II Airman's Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
 by Laura Hillenbrand

Always something new to learn

I just found this article at Library Science List "Free Online Courses for Librarians" what's not to love about that?  The list includes webinars and online courses from various state libraries and other library loving organizations that cover librarianship from soup to nuts.  Something for everyone in the race to keep current and hone our skills.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Audio Books Go Mainstream

"Once I had a secret love ... my secret love's no secret, anymore." (from the movie Calamity Jane).

Well the secret is definitely out!  Audio books are moving front and center in the publishing world.  Check out this article at the Wall Street Journal, "Can You Hear Me Now? The New Explosion in Audio Books" for a discussion of what's going on in the audio world.  Now that, in the words of Hachette Audio VP, Anthony Goffe, "Everybody has an audio book player in their pocket at this point" sales have taken off.  In fact, Hachette has seen their sales go up over 30% in the past year.
Of course, not quite everyone has a smart phone, but we're getting there and the major audio book publishers as well as straight downloadable companies like Audible (part of the Amazon corporation) are taking full advantage.  This is great news for libraries and lovers of audio books because higher demand is bringing prices down and expanding the list of available titles for downloadable audios and  traditional CDs alike.
While the debate will go on about whether or not listening to a book is the same as reading it or better or worse, the fact remains that audio books are here to stay.  Not just for the visually impaired, but also for the commuter, the treadmill user, the crafter, and the dozens of other reasons that people choose to listen rather than read.
Personally, I listen while I commute.  Nothing to heavy, I've found there are certain books that require too much concentration to make good commuter fair.  But in some cases I have found that listening to a book actually enhanced the experience.  One recent title that comes to mind is Sutton by J R Moehringing.  The print version was leaving me cold, the narration by Dylan Baker brought the book to life for me.
Haven't tried an audio book yet?  You never know what you might like until you try. 

Friday, August 2, 2013

Book Review Friday: The Hen of the Baskervilles

The Hen of the Baskervilles is the latest installment in Donna Andrew's Meg Langslow mystery series, and it does not disappoint.  It's late summer when the story opens. Meg  and her husband, Michael Waterston, are trying to juggle their two-year-old twin sons, Meg's eccentric relatives, and an assortment of wacky friends and neighbors as the townsfolk of Caerphilly, Virginia host a county fair.  A few acts of vandalism could be the work of pranksters, but there's an undercurrent of resentment among the exhibitors and one dark evening, after the fair closes,someone ends up dead.   A great cozy mystery with no sex, no drugs, just a little rock and roll and a character driven story that's sure to please.

You can read this as a standalone novel, but to get the full impact of Meg's wacky family history start with Murder with Peacocks and read the books in order.

For a complete list of Donna Andrew's books click here.

If you like your cozy mysteries on the humorous side, you might like these:

The Southern Sisters mysteries by Anne George, start with Murder on a Girls' Night Out
The Death on Demand series by Carolyn Hart, start with Death on Demand
The Claire Malloy series by Joan Hess, start with Strangled Prose
The Izzy Spellman mysteries by Lisa Lutz, start with The Spellman Files