*I received an ARC of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*
This collection of fantasy short stories explores the relationships of readers and librarians, the wonderful work librarians do, the fantastical places that libraries can be… and all of that mixed with lore.
Now, I must say this book really caught my interest when I first saw it! Stories about librarians, libraries, and lore in the same book? Count me in! Also, the Latin title got me. I think it speaks for the theme’s oldness, deep knowledge, and mystical air. The best thing about Ex Libris? It did not disappoint me – in fact, it even surprised me more than once!
Of all the book introductions I’ve read in my life, Paula Guran’s one in Ex Libris is by far the best one out there yet (at least for passionate readers and anyone who loves libraries). She tells us of the different libraries and librarians from all genres in literature while punctuating it with excerpts. Her research must have taken her a long time… but I want to say it was well worth it and beautifully done. It’s an introduction I won’t forget anytime soon. As for the reading itself, it flows – it is engrossing and lovely. It also got me quite emotionally invested in the stories, characters, and life itself (I still haven’t figured out how it managed to do that with the last one, but it’s still a neat feat!). Moreover, I had a magical read! The stories (most of them) were very funny and amusing. It reminded me of the magic libraries hold and how time flies by when I’m reading. It is an enchanting and lovely book!
All the short stories in this collection have a varying degree of importance related to books and/or libraries – you never know what to expect except that these two elements will be there in some way or another. To what extent and use is the surprise of each story. Speaking of stories, they were quite imaginative. They even manage by some mysterious force to be believable (don’t ask me how, I’m still working on understanding it)! The voices of the many narrators are clear, distinct, and strong. I would have thought some stories would lack in voice… but I was shown wrong with this collection! Woven into the texts are amusing references to real books – it’s a nice addition and at the same time a necessity regarding the library theme.
The vocabulary used in these stories is diverse, beautiful, and precise. The short stories aren’t too long – I believe their length has been well measured as it makes for captivating enough without becoming boring. Some stories are drama, others are adventures, but all have a subtle touch of humor and are engaging in their own way. One thing is for sure: together, those short stories are an eclectic mix – although it is sometimes destabilizing, it is also quite pleasant, much like refreshing parts of the same whole. Another thing I particularly enjoyed about Ex Libris is how diverse the situations and characters are! Some are people of color while others have illnesses or handicaps. A much appreciated touch that helps make those weird (it’s a compliment here) stories more realistic! There is something different I noticed about the format of these short stories: they include subtitles related to books or libraries (like the widely used Dewey decimal system), quotes, and other fun things. It’s a great idea to make their format somehow fit their main theme! I also think they were well structured, which helps the reading experience by making it easier on the eye. Finally, I loved learning about the authors in the ‘’About the Authors’’ section at the end. At first, I thought this was a collection of short stories written by emerging authors, but oh no! They are all big names like Holly Black, Ray Bradbury, and many others! It’s imposing and impressive.
You’re probably wondering where are the negative points, aren’t you? I was too, frankly… However, there are only two of those, which I am pretty sure are now fixed since the book has been released. I have found a few typos, additional and unneeded words, and sometimes forgotten conjugations. The other thing that bothered me (only slightly as the rest of the book was well worth my time spent reading it!) was how many repetitions there were. For example, in two close paragraphs the words ‘’soft’’ and ‘’softly’’ were used thrice. It happens here and there and, like in that example, it can pull you out of the story you’re reading. Those points aside, the book is pure entertainment with mysteries written in its pages.
The idea itself of a book about libraries and librarians wins numerous points with me. It hit home and I think it will do the same thing with other bookworms. In fact, it is a good fit for anyone who has a (secret) love of books and libraries and the people who help keep them in order. I give it a rating of 5 out of 5 because of the library theme, the quality of the stories, and also because I always wanted to resume reading it. I’m pretty sure all fantasy fans will find Ex Libris quite entertaining and worth their while since it has varied short stories – in other words, there is a short story for everyone in this amazing collection!
As a bonus, here’s my ranking of my favorite Ex Libris short stories:
1- In the House of the Seven Librarians by Ellen Klages
2- The Last Librarian by Edoardo Albert
3- Death and the Librarian by Esther M. Friesner
4- Special Collections by Norman Partridge
5- In Libres by Elizabeth Bear
Please note that all short stories had something unique to them and the ranking above is simply based on my personal tastes!