Friday, June 29, 2012

Home from the Sea

Mari Prothero worries when her father Daffyd goes out fishing on the sea during storms, because she's not a fool; just because he's always come home safely before, logically that doesn't mean he always will. But at the same time, she knows he always will, thanks to the Prothero luck. When she turns 18, her father finally tells her the price that Protheros for generations have paid for their luck--a price she is now expected to pay in her turn.

Mercedes Lackey's Elemental Masters series is always great fun, and this installment is no exception to that rule, though it does seem a little light weight, compared to some of the previous volumes. It's nice to check in with a couple of recurring characters from earlier in the series, but Mari's journey of discovery and learning is something we've seen before, and the threats she faces don't feel particularly threatening. The fairy tale theme that all these books have isn't very strong in this one, either; in some other books in the series it took me a while to recognize the underlying story, but I eventually got it, and usually felt kind of tickled to be in on the secret. For this one I had to resort to the internet to figure out exactly which tales were involved, and then squint a little to see how they fit.

This is all just nitpicking; I quite enjoyed the book, and finished it in a couple of days, which I hardly ever have the chance to do any more.  But I don't think this one is going to stick with me the way some of Lackey's other work has done.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Glamour in Glass

After the defeat of Napoleon, when travel from England to the Continent once again becomes conceivable, professional glamourists (and newlyweds) David and Jane Vincent decide to visit Belgium, where a colleague of Vincent's has developed an interesting new technique of the decorative illusion. Jane is pleased for the chance to practice her extremely rusty French, and for an excuse to get away from her mother's urging to present her with a grandchild at the earliest opportunity. But not everyone they meet agrees that Bonaparte was rightly exiled; and why is Vincent locking up his letters?

This is a better book than the first one (and I loved the first one).  Even though Mary Robinette Kowal explains in an author's note how careful she was not to use words that Jane Austen wouldn't have known, the tone of this novel is less like Austen and more, I guess, like Kowal. Still a fantasy of manners, but now when Jane Vincent has a pressing reason to do something that would have horrified Jane Bennet it fits the story and the characters instead of seeming like a jarring departure.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England

I've read a lot of English history, just because I like that sort of stuff, but didn't know too much about the reign of Henry VII. He tends to get skipped over a lot, in favor of the fascinating complexities of the Wars of the Roses before him or the glamorous (and scandalous) years of the next Henry after him. So when I saw advance copies of this one at the PLA conference back in March, I picked one up; it was the only free book I brought home with me, since I was trying very hard to travel with only a carry-on bag in both directions.

It turns out that Henry VII's reputation for avarice was founded on some thoroughly frightening practices which also served to keep his nobles and the merchants of London in line. Powerful lords were forced to go into debt to the crown, and sell off their properties to royal favorites at knockdown prices. People were accused of awful crimes, then allowed to purchase a royal pardon. Henry himself initialed every page of every account book.

Very informative, and a well written introduction to an otherwise shadowy figure.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Fifty shades of grey

No review or summary, since I haven't read it. I just have a couple of observations about the book as a cultural phenomenon.

The library where I work practices what's called patron-driven acquisition, which basically means that if you ask us to get a book we'll do our best to get it for you. Sometimes, if it's an older book or something really specialized (or if the wholesaler with the statewide library contract doesn't have it), we'll borrow it from another library just for you. But if we get multiple requests for the same title, we will almost certainly buy at least a couple of copies for the collection.

When we got the first five requests for Fifty Shades of Grey, including one from a (male) coworker in the IT department, they presented something of a dilemma; the book was just taking off in this country and was still only available as a self-published paperback from Australia. I had heard the title and had a vague idea it contained some questionable content, so I read up on it; that's when I learned the whole backstory of its origins as Twilight fanfic and subsequent self-published success.

I also ran across some reviews that cast aspersions on the actual writing. So I decided we'd give it a miss; not because it was BDSM erotica, because we've certainly got that in the collection already (hello, Anne Rice, and all of your pseudonyms!), but because it appeared to be not very well-written.  The librarian who handles requests sent out his usual boilerplate email to the patrons, including the IT guy, saying that we were unable to get the book at this time but would be happy to try interlibrary loan in six months, which is the usual time before most library allow new books to be loaned to other libraries.

(The IT guy promptly emailed back to ask why, so the librarian told him it was because Baker and Taylor didn't carry it and because it was porn. I'm told this led the IT guy to have a very interesting conversation with his wife about how it's not always a good thing to ask the library for the top ten books on Amazon without finding out what they're about!)

But we kept getting requests for it, and I soon realized I'd have to break down and buy the thing. By then, it had been picked up for reissue by Vintage, so we could finally order it from the wholesaler without issues. I didn't get enough copies at first; we've had to reorder it twice, and we ended up with 30 copies across the ten branches in our system.

And here's the part that amazes me: the hold list. There are 171 people waiting for those 30 copies. We also added it to our ebook catalog--the seven library systems in our consortium have added 30 digital copies as well, but there are 252 people on that hold list.  I find it oddly fascinating.  I have no interest in reading the book; not that there's anything wrong with erotica, it's just so not my thing.  But I keep checking every couple of days to watch the numbers go up.