Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Review: We Believe the Children

We Believe the Children: A Moral Panic in the 1980s by Richard BeckPublicAffairs. 2015. Review copy via NetGalley.

It's About: A look at the child abuse prosecutions of the 1980s.

The Good: We Believe the Children was the cry of the media, prosecutors, and families during the prosecutions and lawsuits of the daycare child abuse allegations of the 1980s.

I was in law school in the late 80s; I remember studying the varying ways that children were being questioned, and how their testimony was being presented in court. I remember thinking, how could children lie about such things? Why would they?

We Believe the Children gives answers to those questions, and not answers that are very comforting or easy. At this point, I think many familiar with these cases and the time know about some of the "why", about doctors and therapists and police and prosecutors and family members who, at best, weren't equipped to investigate such claims and, at worst, made it worse with leading questions, faulty science, and almost abusive questioning tactics of very young children.

Beck discusses those things, but also puts what was happening in the context of the times.Why, for example, was it so easy for people to believe? He points to fear, yes, but also the bigger context of politics -- it was easier for people to believe that the danger of abusers was outside the home (in the daycares, in places which employed those of lower socioeconomic standings), and to link those dangers to changing family structures (the "danger" came from the child being outside the home, in a daycare, so while the parent (ie mom) was not doing what she should).

How does memory work? What does it mean, to repress a memory? What is multiple personalities, is it real, and how does that contribute to what people think about child abuse and what children say?

This book is not an easy read; and the consequences of what happened in 1980s are still ones we live with, and not just in terms of the individuals on all sides of the investigations and prosecutions. Not just the people sent to jail, or the children subject to problematic questioning. It lingers in today's reactions that demand more than allegations; look at happened the last time "we believe" became a tagline. It's also still around in how people view daycare and parenting, as well as how child abuse is viewed, prosecuted, and treated.

It also raises the questions of how people believe what is reported in the here-and-now, without reflection. Truth be told, there are some things in the book that I've read before and agree with, but other points, well, I had a bit more skepticism about. I'd want to look more into, before agreeing a hundred percent.

We Believe the Children also made me think of novels, of fiction that is based on current events and "torn from the headlines" stories. Books that used these stories as parts of plots or motivations.



Other reviews: The New York Times review; The Guardian review.




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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Monday, August 17, 2015

Review: The Girl on the Train


The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin RandomHouse. 2015. Library copy.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins - USThe Plot: Rachel takes the same commuter train to work and home, day in, day out. She watches outside her window, watches the buildings and houses. There is one couple in particular she watches, who she names Jess and Jason. Wondering about them and their lives, making up a story about who and what they are.

Until one day, something happens. Something that forces her from observer to participant, off the train and into the lives of those she watches.

The Good: I confess, that I'm not sure what put The Girl on the Train on my must-read list. Once it went there (and it was a long hold list from the library!) I avoided any reviews or mentions of the book, because I didn't want spoilers. Since it was being talked about in the same breadth as Gone Girl (my review here), I knew that I didn't want spoilers. I wanted to discover the book, and any twists and turns, on my own. (For another day is my perhaps contradictory stance on both not minding spoilers and also getting really annoyed when something I don't want spoiled is spoiled.)

To begin with, The Girl on the Train is nothing like Gone Girl: well, both have "girl" in the title. Are both are best-sellers with twists best discovered on one's own. But the unreliable narrator is different: Amy of Gone Girl is a deliberate manipulator of her own story, depending on her audience, and always believes she is the smartest person in the room. Rachel, the primary narrator of The Girl on the Train, is unreliable for different reasons. She doesn't know herself well enough to lie or manipulate the reader, even if at times she tells the story in a way to make herself look better. She also has problems with memory, and so she's unreliable because at times she just doesn't know.

There are three narrators, and I'll leave it to book clubs and others to discuss why these are "girls" and not women. There is Rachel, in her mid-thirties, the girl on the train looking out at life. There is Anna, a young mother, blissfully happy with her husband, her baby, her life. There is Megan, a wife and the crossroads, unsure of whether to pursue a new career or motherhood.

I picture you as a reader like myself; so here's the deal. I'll do nothing spoilery in this post, but if you want to talk spoilers, or things beyond what I do in this review, we'll do that in the comments. So reader, it's your choice, much like it was my choice to avoid reviews and news articles about the book.

The Girl on the Train is a mystery: a woman is missing. What happened to her? And why? It is also a a character study in Rachel, a woman whose life has come undone. She's of an age when she should be in a house, with a family, perhaps a career. She wants these things; she doesn't have these things; she's having more than a tough time reconciling herself to her life now. One of her few distractions, beyond drinking and wallowing in memories, is watching life outside the train window.

Anna's life of happiness is built on someone's else unhappiness, and you know what? Honestly? She doesn't care. That's right. Judge her as you want, the how of her romance and happiness started. Her daughter, her husband, isn't it what anyone wants? And she'll do what she can to keep anything from creeping into that unhappiness.

Megan doesn't quite know what she wants: she's drifting, anchored by a husband and a home but not much else. Motherhood, the next logical step for a wife in her twenties, isn't for her. She keeps her secrets and her past close and unshared with anyone, not even her husband.

These are the three who tell the story: and because it's just these three, with both limited perspectives and particular ways in which they see things, and because they are telling their stories at different times, it's a bit hard to figure things out. But the dots do connect, eventually, between the women and what they know and what they don't.

In some ways, I found this more satisfying than Gone Girl; I liked it more. At it's heart, The Girl on the Train is a mystery and I love a good mystery. It also has one of the more interesting, unapologetic alcoholics in literature; in some ways, I was reminded of Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor. And, because of their complexities and their integrity (each is true to themselves), I liked spending time with Rachel, Anna, and Megan. And while Amy amused me and kept me on her toes, I wouldn't say spending time with her was something I liked.

And yes...A Favorite Book Read in 2015. Because Rachel.

Links: NPR review; publishers' Reader's Guide; New York Time review.




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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Review: The Year We Fell Down

The Year We Fell Down: A Hockey Romance (The Ivy Years Book 1) by Sarina Bowen. Rennie Road Books. 2014. Personal copy.

The Plot: Corey Callahan is excited to be starting her freshman year at college. Just like her brother, she is going to Harkness College.

Corey's also supposed to be playing ice hockey. But because of an accident her senior year, she's in a wheelchair. So Corey's not playing the sport that defined her. She's also not in a dorm with the others in her incoming class; instead, she's in the school's handicap accessible dorm.

Determination, and refusal to be babied by her parents, drove Corey to start her freshman year. Some things may be more of a challenge for her than others: Harkness is an old campus, and even when buildings are accessible it's not easy or simple.

But other things are great. She has a terrific roommate, and then there is the very cute guy across the hallway: Adam Hartley, a ice hockey player who took a fall over the summer and broke his leg in two places, which is why he's in the handicap accessible dorm. They become friends as together they figure their way around campus, and classes, when their are too many stairs and not enough elevators and ramps.

Corey finds herself falling for Hartley. But he is popular, and a jock, with a hot girlfriend. And he plays the sport she can never play again. Is he only thinking of her as the girl across the hall, a friend to play videogames with? Or could he fall for her?

The Good: I loved this book so, so much. When I, along with Sophie Brookover and Kelly Jensen, was preparing for the New Adult Genre webinar for the Massachusetts Library System, I asked for recommendations for books and Gail from Ticket To Anywhere recommended Sarina Bowen. A huge thanks for the suggestion.

The Year We Fell Down works for so many reasons: it's a college story where being at college, the setting, really matters. I don't say that lightly; some books with a college setting use the college as a simple backdrop, a device (much like dead parents) to give the older teen independence. In The Year We Fell Down, Harkness College matters. What Corey does at Harkness matters. She attends classes, goes to parties, makes friends. It's familiar to anyone who has been at college, but also provides a true portrait of what college is like. The Year We Fell Down is also about how college provides a place for older teens to become independent, to make choices, to succeed, to fail.

It's also a love story, with Corey and Hartley becoming friends and that becoming something more. (Heck, that's hardly a spoiler! It's a New Adult book. It's a romance. It's not about whether the couple gets together, but how and why.) It's real and believable. And as someone who doesn't like stories about cheaters, I'll add that "Hartley has a girlfriend" is handled very well. This is not a book about cheating; but it is a book about people in college sorting out their feelings and figuring out when and how to act out on those feelings.

It's also about a young woman recreating her life. Corey had been a jock: it's who she was, it's what took up her time, it was her identity. Her accident didn't just change her, physically; it also means that she has to recreate herself. Who is she, now? What does she like? It's not a quick process. And part of it is Corey adjusting to her new body. There is never a moment of info-dumping or "as you know" happening; information provided to the reader about Corey is organic and part of the story, while addressing everything from how using the bathroom, catheters, parties up stairs, and sex. (Again, not a spoiler -- it's a New Adult romance so of course there are sexytimes.)

The Year We Fell Down is first of a series, one of those series that isn't about a sequential story but rather interconnected stories, with overlapping characters. I'm looking forward to reading the other books.

And so yes: it's a Favorite Book Read in 2015.











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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Twitter Chat on August 18

Save the date!

On Tuesday, August 18, at 4:30 pm ET/ 1:30 pm PT, there will be a Little, Brown Twitter Chat with Jennifer E. Smith about her new book, Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between (publication date September 2015).

Embedded image permalink













I'm happy to say that I've been invited to be part of it; and I'm looking forward to it very much.

As you can tell from my reviews of Smith's previous books (The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight and This is What Happy Looks Like), I enjoy Smith's works and her writing so I'm looking forward to chatting with her on Twitter.

Twitter handles to know for the chat: @LBSchool, @JenESmith, and @LizB; and the hashtag to follow is #HelloGoodbye.

Make a note on your calendar; and don't worry, I'll be reminding you again before it starts!

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Va Va Vavoom!

Like the photo I'm using on this page?

It's from this year's birthday present to me: I did a pinup photo shoot at Vavoom Pinups in Chicago.

Vavoom Pinups is about "empowering vintage photography" and I can say that description? Is totally, a thousand percent true.

I had heard about Vavoom Pinups from friends; I was wanting to do something for me. And I was thinking about my younger self, and how sometimes I just wanted to go back in time and say you look amazing, you're not fat, wear that bikini. And I can't go back in time, but I wondered, twenty years from now am I going to be saying the same thing? So forget the self doubt and all that.... and get my picture taken.

I recommend the experience to anyone! It began with hair and makeup, and wow, it takes a while to look that good. No, seriously -- I had no clue that it would take as long as it did. I loved the results.

Vavoom Pinups provides the clothes; and perfect fits don't matter because it's about the photos. So if there are gaps, are things that need to get pinned up, that's all fine because it's about looking right for the photo.

Here are the results:








 
 
One of the reasons the photo shoot was so fun was I didn't do it alone. Kelly Jensen of Book Riot and Stacked also got her photos taken -- and we had some taken together. It was a blast.
 
 


It was so much fun, and it showed, that Vavoom Pinups used one of the photos on their Facebook and Instagram.


Since I did this for my birthday, it only seems right to post about it on my actual birthday.

This was my extravagant gift to myself: and I have no regrets. I love the photos; and I love the experience; and I can't wait until I'm in Chicago again and can do it again.




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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Monday, July 27, 2015

Review: The Trouble With Harry

The Trouble With Harry by Katie MacAlister. Sourcebooks Casablanca. 2014. Library copy.


The Plot: Regency England. Lord Harry Rosse thought he'd faced danger as a spy. But that he could handle... what he can't handle is life, now, raising five children alone. What he needs, what he wants, is a wife: someone to love his children, with all their antics and high spirits. Such high spirits he sometimes hides from them...

A wife for company and companionship. Not one of those pretty young things only interested in his title and status, eager for children of her own.

So he places an ad for a wife, leaving out a few details. Like the children. And the title. Or his past as a spy.

Plum sees the advertisement for a wife and thinks its the answer. All she wants is a decent man; the chance to have a child of her own; someone who will be kind to her the niece she's raised; and someone she can respect. She doesn't deliberately leave out details -- like her disastrous elopement twenty years ago, to a man who already had a wife. (She didn't know!! He lied!) Or that book she wrote under an assumed name, the book that helped support her when her family and friends and society shunned her for her involvement with a married man.

The Good: The Trouble with Harry was a lot of fun: it's like a sexytimes Nanny McPhee. The children are terrible, and cause so much problems. I kept giggling as I read it.

This is one of the titles recommended back when I asked about books featuring those 40 and over: Plum is 40, Harry is 45. Each are hiding secrets, and those secrets come create problems for them. But what I liked is that despite those secrets they are keeping from each other, they are honest with each other in what matters: their emotions and their feelings. Both are also frank about their attraction and physical needs and desire for each other. Perhaps more than frank -- let's just say that the book Plum wrote isn't some Jane Austen or Bronte inspired work of art.

Because both are older, Harry and Plum are for the most part secure in who they are. They don't have unrealistic expectations of each other; Harry particularly doesn't want some young wife full of romantic dreams. But that earned dose of reality is what makes their relationship and growing love so romantic and meaningful.

So, thank you very much for the recommendation, and I look forward to reading the others in this series!




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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Monday, July 13, 2015

Review: Taking The Heat

Taking the Heat (Jackson: Girls' Night Out) by Victoria Dahl. Harlequin. 2015. Reviewed from ARC.

Taking the HeatThe Plot: Veronica Chandler is "Dear Veronica" for the Jackson, Wyoming local paper, the voice of wisdom offering funny and on-target advice for young and old, on everything from family relationships to sex.

The thing is, she's hiding something -- she feels like a big fake. Yes, she has common sense, a sense of humor, the research skills and writing skills that make "Dear Veronica" such a success. What she doesn't have, well, is the real-life experience everyone thinks she has.

Everyone thinks that she's the local girl who went to New York City and came back full of wisdom and experience. What they don't know is that NYC was nothing like Veronica had dreamed it would be. What they don't know is she came home because she had no where else to go. What they don't know is she's never been in love. What they don't know is she's a 27 year old virgin.

Gabe MacKenzie is the hot new guy in town. He's the new librarian, and while he's originally from New York City he's not a big-city guy. He loves that his new job allows him plenty of time for rock-climbing and hiking. He doesn't love that it's only for a year: family obligations are pulling him back to New York. He's not looking for anything long term or anything serious. And then he meets Veronica.

The Good: This is the most recent book in Dahl's Girls' Night Out series, and it's the third in that series to feature a librarian. Since it's set in a small town (well, small when it's not tourist season) it makes sense that the library is an important place in the lives of the members of the small town.

Familiar characters from the other books make appearances, but this story is all Veronica's. There are many, many things I enjoy about Dahl's books and this one doesn't disappoint. The characters are interesting, real, and complex. Veronica isn't a virgin for reasons of religion, morality, or desire -- it's just that her timing has never been right. In high school and college she was concentrating on grades so that she could get a job in NYC; and then NYC let her down. She returned home to discover that what she wanted in life was what her home town had to offer.

And the sexytimes are terrific, as well as what leads up to it -- Veronica revealing her big secret to Gabe is one of my favorite scenes.

Gabe, as I said, is in Wyoming for a year; Veronica doesn't know that, and I like that the tension between the two of them was Gabe keeping this secret from her. And that his motivations for this were explored -- how his desire to be a "nice guy" by not bringing up a possible conflict was itself problematic. That "protecting" someone by not mentioning something was not protecting at all.

Also good were both Gabe's and Veronica's family situations. As I said, Gabe's family is the reason he has to return to NYC and his situation was believable and sympathetic with a good resolution. Veronica's father is a gruff, distant, and demanding man -- I need to go back and reread Flirting with Disaster (Jackson: Girls' Night Out Book 2) to remind myself of how others saw and interpreted these two. While at times I wanted to throw things at him, I found his actions, and his daughter's reactions, realistic.

Bottom line: It's Victoria Dahl. If you haven't read her books, start now, and honestly you can start anywhere with any title. The books may be interconnected but they are not dependent on each other. The only problem you'll have is the problem I face: the desire to read them all at once balanced against wanting there to always be a new-to-me Dahl book around when I need one.

What else? It's a Favorite Book of 2015, needless to say. And under "readalikes" I think this one may work for New Adult readers. While Victoria is older than most NA heroines, she is negotiating those things that NA is about: trying to establish her career, not sure what to do about career or life, trying to get independence, and love and sex. It's just, for reasons, those things happen a bit later for her; and, again for reasons, people looking at her think she has her act together when she hasn't. Or, rather, she thinks she doesn't have her act together.




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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Monday, July 06, 2015

Teaser - These Shallow Graves

These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly. Delacorte Press. 2015. Reviewed from ARC. Publication date October 27, 2015.

These Shallow Graves by A historical mystery!

In 1890's New York City, Josephine Montfort has everything: she's young, she's rich, her parents adore her, she has good friends. Soon, she'll be engaged to the handsome and rich young man who has been a good friend since childhood. She wants to be a reporter, like Nelly Bly, and puts together the school paper.

All that changes when her father is found dead in his locked study, a gun in his hand. An accident.

Jo can't understand how the accident happened....she does what a proper young lady should not do.

She asks questions. Searching for answers leads her out of her protected, cossetted world, into the rough and tumble streets of New York, the world she's been protected from. A world of shallow graves.

Yes, put this on your radar -- it's a great mystery, but it's also a great look at female roles and expectations, and sexism, and how people can be too protected.


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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Looking for recommendations....

Sometimes, I'm reading for outside reasons (right now,  I'm reading YA for the Edwards Award, and New Adult for various articles and webinars) - and sometimes I read for me.

Fanning the FlamesDon't get me wrong, I love YA and New Adult, but the truth is, I like to mix up what I'm reading. And after months reading about teens or young twentysomethings, I want a change -- I want to read about characters that, well, are closer to my age. (This desire is one of the reasons I'm sympathetic to the reader-driven aspect of New Adult, of people wanting to read about those in their own age group.)

So that's the long introduction to me asking you for recommendations.

I want romances featuring women over forty. I prefer contemporary or historical.

Last year, via twitter, I asked for older women/younger men recommendations, leading me to Victoria Dahl. (Alas, I didn't keep that list here -- it's lost in a old tweets.) I'm reading my way through all her books, but the one that introduced me to her was Bad Boys Do (older woman/younger man, with the woman in her mid-30s). Dahl's newest series starts with a novella (Fanning the Flames: A Girls' Night Out novella ) featuring two forty-somethings (a librarian and a firefighter.)

I also began my over-40 request on twitter Sunday morning, and got the following recommendations. Please chime in with your opinions on these titles or other suggestions!

Pleasure Rush (New York Sabers Football Book 4) by Farrah Rochon

The Trouble With Harry by Katie MacAlister

Anyone But You by Jennifer Crusie

Fast Women by Jennifer Crusie

Books by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

A Bad Day for Sorry: A Crime Novel (Stella Hardesty Crime Series Book 1) by Sophie Littlefield

Apples Should Be Red by Penny Watson

Any other suggestions? Thanks!










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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Edwards Award: Who Was Margaret A Edwards?

If all these posts about the Edwards Award makes you want to know more about the woman the Award was named for, here you go!

At the YALSA website: Who Is Margaret Edwards and What Is This Award Being Given In Her Honor? by Betty Carter. This is an article that originally appeared in The ALAN Review, Spring 1992, 45 - 48.

And, also at the YALSA website, some Award Facts.



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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Edwards Award: Winners!

So who has received the Edwards Award?

The 2015 Winner is Sharon M. Draper. And yes, my fingers are crossed that I'll be able to attend the Edwards Brunch in June.

And here is the list to previous winners:


1988 S.E. Hinton
1990 Richard Peck
1991 Robert Cormier
1992 Lois Duncan
1993 M.E. Kerr
1994 Walter Dean Myers
1995 Cynthia Voigt
1996 Judy Blume
1997 Gary Paulsen
1998 Madeleine L'Engle
1999 Anne McCaffrey
2000 Chris Crutcher
2001 Robert Lipsyte
2002 Paul Zindel
2003 Nancy Garden
2004 Ursula K. Le Guin
2005 Francesca Lia Block
2006 Jacqueline Woodson
2007 Lois Lowry
2008 Orson Scott Card
2009 Laurie Halse Anderson
2010 Jim Murphy
2011 Sir Terry Pratchett
2012 Susan Cooper
2013 Tamora Pierce
2014 Markus Zusak




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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Edwards Award: Selection, Administration, Publisher Solictation

And a little more about the Edwards Award, from the YALSA website.



Selection

A committee of five, including the chair, will be responsible for the final selection of the recipient of the Award. Input may be solicited from the field, including librarians and young adults, but the selection will be made by the committee. Input should be received by the chair of the committee by November 1. The selection of the winner award will be made at the ALA Midwinter Meeting preceding the Annual Conference at which the award is to be presented.

Administration

The five member selection committee is virtual and will serve an 18 month term. A new committee will be charged with the selection of the recipient for each annual award. Two members of the committee will be appointed by the YALSA President-Elect and three members will be elected from names placed on the YALSA ballot. The chair of the committee will be appointed by the President-Elect from among the five members. This appointment will take place immediately after the election results are known. Committee members are not eligible for consecutive reappointment but they can stand for election to the subsequent committee.

Publisher solicitation

The Ethical Behavior Policy for Volunteers and the Award Committees Conflict of Interest Policy outline appropriate interactions between committee members and publishers.

The chair and/or administrative assistant are responsible for contact with the publishers. Committee members must not solicit publishers for free personal copies of books. If members receive, or are offered, unsolicited copies of books from publishers, they may accept the titles.

Committee members must not solicit publishers for favors, invitations, etc. If members receive these, however, they will use their own judgment in accepting. Publishers understand that such acceptance in no way influences members' actions or selections.

So basically the time-frame means a lot of reading and rereading over the next few months, and then a decision next fall/early winter. So I'll be pretty busy!

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Edwards Award: Sponsor and Presentation

And a little more about the Edwards Award, from the YALSA website.



Sponsor

School Library Journal is the award's donor and funds the award and administrative cost. The recipient receives a cash prize of $2,000 plus an appropriate citation.

Presentation

The award (cash prize and citation) will be presented to the winning author at the YALSA luncheon or other gala affair at the ALA Annual Conference. The author is required to attend the event to accept the award and to make a short acceptance speech.

Currently, the presentation is made at a brunch during ALA. I've attended the event both as a lunch event and as the brunch, and both ways it's a great event.


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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

ASCLA Interface Interview

One of the ALA groups I'm a part of is ASCLA, the Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies.

ASLCA's newsletter is Interface, available online. And I was highlighted in their recent Member Spotlight!

So if you want to know about the library job that pays the bills, head over to the ASCLA Newsletter.





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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
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