Tag Archives: Books

Free Books Explained


No really, they are free

The Scenario

Several weeks ago, a cart of free books appeared on the lower level of the Calarco library. Frequenters of the space would peruse the selection, grab some choice items, and continue on with their days. As time passed, the word spread and the newbies began to appear – sometimes solo, often in pairs. They would whisper furtively to each other (or to themselves, which was weird), sneaking hurried glances at the nearest librarian as they discreetly slipped books into backpacks and tote bags. Just as the Hopkins community breathed a sigh of relief – only the worst of the worst books were left  – we clever librarians cycled out the rejects and stocked the cart with a fresh batch of alluring volumes.

The anticipation grew, and we observed as students, faculty and staff once again put themselves through the stress and anxiety of trying to “steal” library books.

And we laughed. We chuckled. We snickered to each other. We pointed and guffawed, “Look at them! They think they are doing something wrong – how endearing!”

The Explanation

Where there is a school, there are books. Lots and lots of books. While our love for books is boundless, the shelves are not. The enclosed space of the Calarco Library has limits, and so do the enclosed walls of a Library Department meeting. Last year, we would sigh as we sifted through books 12 copies of The Complete Collection of Mark Twain or The Future of Soviet-U.S. Relations ©1972. We would walk through the library and find each other buried under books that had fallen off the overburdened shelves. As I extracted Mrs. Dubois from a pile of Microsoft Word for Dummies ©1994 and Recent Advances in Genetics ©1998, she furiously declared that she could not even find a copy of Hogwarts: A History, by Bathilda Bagshot.

In that moment, two things became clear:

  1. Mrs. Dubois needed to see a doctor, and
  2. The library desperately needed to undergo spring cleaning

It was decreed during a Library Department meeting that the weeding of books, CDs, DVDs, cassette tapes (yea…), etc. would henceforth commence ASAP, ending only when the dust settled and victor had been declared.

There can only be one victor. And it will be us – the librarians.

Treat yourself to the spoils of a hard-fought war and visit the library to explore the latest free books. We will be offering even more to the Hopkins community before the school year is over, so keep an eye out for more “FREE BOOKS!” announcements.

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Good luck you, young soldiers. We wish you courage and bravery as you build your own home libraries, and we offer only one piece of advice to those who must commence their own book purge.

Be bold. Be merciless. And take no prisoners.

-Signing off, Jenny Barrows (who amid dust, debris, and loose pages, waves fists in victory as she runs through the liberated shelves)

Summer Reading Preview

With summer fast approaching, I’ve been thinking about what to do with all that free time. Maybe learn Spanish. Hike the Appalachian Trail. Paint a sunset.

Nah, just kidding.  I”m going to read.

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When I want to feel intellectual:

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss

Mr. Peters read this months ago, and I want to be like him.  The story of Alexander Dumas’s father, the son of a count and a slave who fought under Napoleon.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

I think any book that can be described with the keywords “war” and “satire” will inevitably be compared to Catch-22. Then again, I really liked Catch-22. The Iraq War, football, and incredibly persistent media coverage/promotion.

Jane Austen: The Complete Collection

I read Pride and Prejudice for  Wit and Wisdom lo these many years ago and loved it. That I’ve never read any other Austen novels is potential Read of Shame territory.

That is not to say that I will be reading ALL of her novels. At least, not this summer.

When I can’t access my Steam account:

Ready Player Oneby Ernest Cline

I got halfway through this a few months ago, put it down, and never went back to it.  Time to pick it back up, because it’s fun (and if you can’t play games, you can at least read about them).  A treasure hunt through an MMO/Second Life hybrid, guided by 80’s trivia (with a dash of dystopia thrown in for good measure).

Scott Pilgrim, by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Also sitting on my shelf at home, waiting for me to finish it.  Slacker and musician must defeat love interest’s seven evil exes to get a date.

When I need to know whodunit:

The Diviners, by Libba Bray

Libba Bray has been hit or miss for me. Beauty Queens was one of the best books I read last year, and  The Diviners has received some great reviews  – but then, so did  Going Bovinewhich I couldn’t get into at all.

A Simple Murder, by Eleanor Kuhns

Historical mysteries: my great weakness (along with zombie stories with good world-building, droll protagonists, and gummy bears). And I’ve been craving a good mystery (other than “where did all the textbooks go?”).

Aaaaaand a whole stack of others. What’s on your list? Any books you’re particularly looking forward to reading once you have the <gasp!> time?

-Signing off, Kit Gette (Yay books! Yay summer!)

Book Review: The Matched Trilogy, by Ally Condie

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It all happened so fast.

I was reading these critically acclaimed books – The Dinner by Herman Koch and Miles from Nowhere by Nami Mun – and next thing I knew, my reading brain was swirling with romance triangles, dystopian near-futures, and slightly whiny female narrative.*

There are those VERY SERIOUS READERS out there who want to make other VERY SERIOUS READERS feel ashamed when they succumb to the inexplicable draw of YA Fiction. Well guess what? Those of you with upturned noses and derisive snorts of disapproval, THIS librarian is incapable of [reading] shame**. Which is why I read the entire Matched trilogy in 4 days.

Basic Plot: Dystopian near-ish future. The Society is entirely based on statistical calculations culled through data mined daily from citizens. There is only limited, pre-selected culture and an appearance of content sameness. The first glitch appears when 17-year-old protagonist Cassia is Matched with her statistically determined perfect mate (cue Xander: totally handsome, all-Society boy-next-door best friend) AND a second, seemingly imperfect mate (cue Ky: the loner, mysterious neighbor with eye-windows of his soul…or whatever).

And cue the story. When Cassia experiences this glitch in an otherwise perfect Society, her utopian life begins to unravel as she is exposed to the hidden realities of her world. There’s a wise all-knowing grandfather in Matched, who first introduces Cassia to words written on paper and the glimmer of a world that exists beneath and between the Society. There’s an epic adventure and introduction to a rebellion in Crossed. And there is an actual rebellion, plague and ending in Reached.

I have to admit, YA fiction is a little heavy on the dystopia and love triangles lately (and manic pixie girls, but I digress). This trilogy was predictable – even the part when the rebellion (the Rising) is not as upstanding as it appears (sound familiar?). And let’s be serious – who has a hunky neighbor in high school? Who is secretly in love with you? Psh. There was also a noticeable deterioration in plot structure and narrative in Crossed and Reached. So why? Why did I, an often VERY SERIOUS READER, persist?

Because why not? Because Cassia is not helpless, and she does not even come close to the levels of whininess achieved by Katniss Everdeen in Mockingjay. Because I like the gramps, a lot. Because it was vacation. Because the premise is solid. Because the characters are engaging. Because Condie put forth a respectable effort in the world of YA trilogies.

I may not feel [reading] shame, but I do harbor [reading] pity. I feel genuinely sorry for those VERY SERIOUS READERS who feel the pressure to maintain a VERY SERIOUS REPUTATION every day of their reading lives. That must be exhausting. I would need a green pill.

Inside joke. My apologies, VERY SERIOUS READERS.

-Signing off, Jenny Barrows (who is now reading Junot Díaz, because the pendulum is meant to swing)

*No, not my own.

**KG: Which is why we still haven’t seen a review of Great Expectations.

Junior School Spring Break Book Mobile

Dear Junior School,

In celebration of our impending Spring Break (so close, yet so far), we neighborhood librarians invite you to…

Spring Break Bookmobile

Thursday, March 14th, 12:10 pm

Thompson South Atrium

Come visit us in the atrium where you can view this episode’s selection of books, kindles and clay tablets. In the interest of time, we will be organizing materials into broad/vague categories that may or may not be helpful to interested parties. They aren’t really rules, more like guidelines. And we probably won’t be following them too closely, so be bold and ask for help and reading suggestions. Bring your friends, teachers, adviser, imaginary pets, and etc. The more the merrier!

Book Review: The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker

Turn, Turn, Turn

The Age of Miracles

They call it the slowing – the unexpected, inexplicable, quietly disastrous deceleration of the earth’s rotation. There are no predictions of its impending occurrence, or Armageddon-esque missions to prevent it – the slowing just happens, and continues to happen. The seemingly ordinary Julia wakes up on an ordinary Saturday after an ordinary sleepover in an ordinary house in an ordinary suburb and hears (along with her ordinary parents) the obviously un-ordinary news that the earth’s rotation on its axis is in fact slowing, and will continue to slow indefinitely.

What makes Karen Thompson Walker’s debut novel quite brilliant is her decision to tell the story of the slowing through the voice of Julia, an 11-year-old girl with parents, a best friend, and two cats. The dichotomy between the extraordinary slowing and the ordinary Julia blurs, merges, overlaps, and swaps places repeatedly throughout Walker’s narrative. Everything from Julia’s best friend and the suburb she calls home, to her parents’ marriage and school bus stop sheds the facade of “ordinary”. Do all things become extraordinary because of the slowing? Does the slowing become ordinary when life is so? Or, can the slowing only be blamed for certain phenomena? Lengthened periods of light and darkness, drastic tide changes, agricultural failures, altered laws of physics, mass extinctions of entire species. Julia herself is never really quite sure.

I mostly enjoyed The Age of Miracles – it couples a coming-of-age story with a sci-fi plot set in a dystopian near-future. Often, there are instances when familiar moral questions are raised – persecution of outsiders (“real timers”), the human impact on planet earth, and the purpose of existence. Conversely, Julia recounts the universally familiar (but perhaps not so grand) personal experiences of middle-school loneliness, first crushes, loss, and marital troubles. Sometimes, I noticed Walker overreaching in her effort to draw parallels between  the microcosm of Julia and the macro phenomenon of the slowing; however, such flaws do not warrant distraction from the promise of this debut novel.

-Signing off, Jenny Barrows (who is confident that she would be a “real timer” if the slowing actually happened….or just a very batty librarian)

Book Review: The Passage

Help! Virals!

The Passage

Author Justin Cronin listened to his daughter, and now life is awesome. Now we have The Passage.

The first installment of a trilogy of the same name is a little difficult to summarize – and by “a little difficult,” I actually mean a Herculean task that suspiciously resembles impossibility.

Attempt #1

Basically, a rare Bolivian jungle virus is discovered and extracted by a Harvard scientist and the US military. Cursory evidence suggests that the virus, if properly harnessed, could be injected into humans and turn them into superheroes who stay young not forever, but for awhile.

Are these things ever properly harnessed?


Injections fail, test subjects escape, infection spreads, mayhem ensues, and the world falls into a post-apocalyptic state. Most people are dead, some are “turned,” and few humans remain. Those  “turned” are dubbed virals, which strongly resemble vampires. Hate sunlight. Drink blood. Mostly kill, but sometimes turn their victims. Super strength and speed. Etc.

Attempt #2

There is no way to summarize the book without making it sound like an installment of a horror trilogy that only appeals to a specific genre reader (see above). The summary provides the framework of a plot that is made great by its characters, particularly Amy – the heart of Cronin’s story. An abandoned girl whose journey spans miles and decades, Amy’s appearance nearly 100 years after the outbreak (Year Zero) infuses members of the First Colony (94 surviving humans) with the hope needed in their journey to survive and reclaim the world.

High-lights: non-linear plot, varying perspectives, biblical undertones, Peter, Alicia, Wolgast, masterful suspense, interjections of letters, emails and official reports, overlapping story lines, calling pants “gaps,” slow revelations, and the virals. Definitely the virals – for so many reasons.

Low-lights: heaviness of the text (solved by reading on a Calarco Kindle), occasional uneven prose (almost forgivable in such an epic tale), Richard (terrible human)…that’s about it.

Takeaways: These vampires do not sparkle or seduce and this text is better described as a dystopian journey rather than a horror story full of blood and guts and stuff.

The Passage is dangerously absorbing and fascinatingly rewarding. Read it so I have a friend to geek out with and someone to accompany me as I read Cronin’s first sequel, The Twelve.

-Signing off, Jenny Barrows (who will forget to eat, sleep, or bathe as she reads The Twelve…apologies in advance)

Bennett Amador’s Book Review

Seeking Love in America

By Bennett Amador

Women from the early 1900s came to Buddha in the AtticJapan to live with unknown already chosen spouses. These hopeful “women” were as young as 11, and as old as 31. The author, Julie Otsuka, describes their journey with unrivaled prose, written in a poetic fashion. She is the author of When The Emperor was Divine, a book about the American-Japanese in World War II. Both books are written in similar style; Otsuka writes plainly and concisely but her words leave a strong sentiment. She does not focus on the individual but rather the collection of women. To make her point she writes in the 1st person plural. One might think the stories would become detached or lacking individuality, but she overcomes this by occasionally telling anecdotes in the 1st person singular. The minimalist tack is effective and thought provoking, particularly because so much can be inferred by her words.

Julie Otsuka’s first book The Buddha in the Attic is considered a prequel to “When the Emperor was Divine”. Otsuka’s distinct writing style is evident in both novels.  The focal point is the Japanese-Americans’ lives affected in WWII. She refers to specific characters of the book as “the boy” or “white dog.” The effect is that the reader connects to “the woman” and “the boy,” while at the same time facilitating the realization that the war affected many Japanese-Americans. She utilizes a similar strategy in The Buddha in the Attic by maintaining the focus on the group of Japanese women coming to the U.S.

The book opens on a boat that is transporting the Japanese women from their homeland to America. Otsuka is not verbose in the first chapter as shown in the first sentence “on the boat we were mostly virgins.” The Japanese women are portrayed as innocent, full of hope, nervousness, worry “would we be laughed at?” traits not omnipresent throughout the group but also not unique to a single woman. Chapter one primarily sets the scene for the book by explaining the disappointment the woman felt when reaching the shores of California: “…we could not have known that when we first saw our husbands we would have no idea who they were. That the crowd of men in knit caps and shabby black coats waiting for us down below on the dock would bear no resemblance to the handsome young men in the photographs. That the photographs we had been sent were twenty years old…. This is America, we would say to ourselves, there is no need to worry. And we would be wrong.” This quote typifies the spirit of these women throughout the book because they are constantly faced with the harsh reality that they are not equals. World War II only further exacerbates this reality when they are sent away solely on the crime of being Japanese.

“The Buddha in the Attic” highlights the somewhat lesser known, unpopular actions carried out by Americans during World War II. The second chapter “First night,” conveys more horrors: “They took us by surprise, for some of us had not been told by our mothers exactly what it was that this night would entail. “ Each chapter advances the women’s lives “Babies,” “The Children,” “The Last Day” and with each chapter the characters evolve to develop an understanding, “they did not want us as neighbors in their valleys. They did not want us as friends.” The women slowly progress and repetition in their daily activities eventually leads to normalcy. That comfort found in normalcy is only shattered come wartime.

Otsuka writes repetitively to emphasize certain points. For example, when talking about the “picture brides” opinions on American women: “We loved them. We hated them. We wanted to be them.” The language is simple and certain parallels can be drawn to Ernest Hemingway. While reading the novel the reader feels a large sense of sympathy for these women and this is perhaps Otsuka’s greatest gift.

Otsuka writes simply, so that teens can read it and understand it, Adults will appreciate the book for its poetic style and historical underpinnings. We truly feel for these women and hope their lives positively change, however, knowing in the back of our minds, they are doomed.