Oct 31, 2012

Halloween Throwback! Sweet Valley Twins and Friends

The Haunted Burial Ground is a "Super Chiller" edition of the seemingly endless Sweet Valley series.  I read (or reread, I honestly can't remember because there are so many of these books) this book last night and I am having mixed feelings about the experience.

On the one hand, it was a great book to feed my current 90s nostalgia mood (I was a Tamagotchi for Halloween and I've been watching Frasier every night lately).  The distinctly opposite personalities of the twins, Elizabeth and Jessica, were fun to relive.  But with the twins came the flood of awful memories of "The Unicorns" and the annoying members who make up that group.  Ugh.

The book also reminded me of some of the cringe-inducing dialogue.  Take, for instance, Elizabeth's meeting of the plot-important new Native American student, Kala:
"That's a pretty name," Elizabeth commented.
 "Thanks. It was my grandmother's name. She was Native American."
"Wow. That means you're part Native American."
Yeesh. Nothing like spelling out the obvious.  Then there's this quote from when the twins' mother scolds The Unicorns for being too loud during their sleepover:
"We want you girls to have fun, but it's late and Mr. Wakefield and I are trying to sleep."
Okay, maybe this one irks me because I'm from Boston, where we come prepackaged with a different set of manners; manners that include excessive swearing (both celebratory and anger-induced) and punching as a form of greeting loved ones.  But I've never heard any of my friends' parents refer to their spouse as Mr. or Mrs.  Asshole, yes, but never Mr. or Mrs. 

The text doesn't get much better than that and the story itself is a little meh.  Jessica wants to throw a Halloween party so a cute boy will come, she decides to hold it in an abandoned shack that her friends promise to clean up (abandoned meaning structurally unsound and trashed), and they ultimately discover it's on a burial ground - which is the major twist and also the title of the book.  Remember how Kala is part Native American? In case you've forgotten, Elizabeth performed scholarly work to figure it out (see above).  Well thanks to her heritage, she receives messages from "the old ones" full of warnings not to disturb their peace.  Yikes.

Do I still love the memory of Sweet Valley series? Yes. It was one of the series I would read by moonlight when I was supposed to be asleep.  I used to get in trouble for that until my parents realized they should just let me leave the lights on and pass out while reading.  But I don't think I would ever outright recommend this to a child to read, unless they were specifically looking for an easy, cheesy book to pass the time.  OR if they wanted to look at the ridiculous trends of the 90s. 

I snagged Christmas and Valentine's Day themed Sweet Valley books as well, so I'll revisit the cheesiness for those holidays!


Oct 30, 2012

Top Ten Favorite Kick-Ass Heroines

The latest trend, outside of dystopias and love triangles, is a kick-ass female lead and I am on-board. But I'm not just limiting my heroines to adventures.  Girls (and boys) can kick butt in non-adventures.  So, here are my

Top Ten Favorite Kick-Ass Heroines

1. Hermione - Harry Potter

2. Annabeth - Percy Jackson and the Olympians

3. Nancy Drew - Nancy Drew series

4. Claudia Kishi - Baby-Sitters Club

5. Ramona - Ramona series

6. Violet Baudelaire - A Series of Unfortunate Events

7. Katniss - The Hunger Games

8. Matilda - Matilda

9. Turtle - The Westing Game

10. Tris - Divergent

More at The Broke and the Bookish!

Oct 24, 2012

Literary Themed Halloween!

Halloween is my favorite holiday.  Actually, the week of Halloween is one of the best in the year.  Days are filled with costumes galore and I'm a firm believer in a different costume per gathering.  I don't care if people see me in the same dress twice, but costume?! That's an outrage. This year, I've assembled my nostalgia-based costume of a Tamagotchi (I know, I'm awesome) and my simple tribute to everyone's favorite adorkable TV lady, Jess from New Girl.

Being a book nerd, I have to get some literary ideas out there for those of you who don't have costumes planned yet.  So here we go:

1. Miss Frizzle from The Magic School Bus Series

All you need is a purple dress with paper cut outs attached all over.  Of course, it helps if you have frizzy hair.

2. Katniss/Peeta/Gale from The Hunger Games

No more dressing up as Twilight characters (please!). If you're going for the love triangle angle, there's a new one around. Bonus points for spontaneously shouting "I VOLUNTEER" or making Sad Gale faces throughout the night.

3. Mr. Popper from Mr. Popper's Penguins

I think this works best if you have a pet or a small child.  Throw on a suit and dress your animal/child as a penguin.  HOW CUTE WOULD THAT BE? But if you can't procure an animal/baby, you can always grab a stuffed animal. 

4. Pippi Longstocking

If you have long hair and some wire, it is absolutely possible to get your braids to stick out like Pippi's and trust me, it will amaze everyone around you. There's a tutorial here

5. Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter

If you're not super creative, all you need for this is to stick a red A on yourself.  Bonus points if you have a baby! Or you could go as Taylor Swift with an A on for a complete misunderstanding of The Scarlett Letter. Or you could be Emma Stone as a better version of Lindsey Lohan.  The possibilities are endless.

6. Greek Gods/Goddesses - The Odyssey, Percy Jackson, Mythology in general

This one could be very fun.  Pick a god/goddess and play up what they represent.  Wear a Hawaiian shirt and go as Poseidon, wear a bunch of purple balloons and put a laurel on your head to be Dionysus, etc. etc.

7. The Whomping Willow from Harry Potter

You could always go as the obvious - HP himself - but try thinking outside the box.  Wear all brown, attach construction paper leaves to yourself, and grab some branches (but don't hurt anybody)! Bonus points for attaching a blue Ford Anglia to your head.

8. The Man With the Yellow Hat from Curious George

It's in the character's name, you really just need a yellow hat.  Except that's not true, you need a completely yellow ensemble.  And a monkey.  Stuffed animal or real.  Preferably stuffed animal.

9. Margaret from Are You There God? It's Me Margaret

Wear a nametag that says Margaret and attach a thought bubble to yourself stating the book's title question.

10. Janie - from The Face on the Milk Carton

If you're ambitious, make a giant cardboard milk carton complete with Janie's identifying details. 

Go nuts! Happy Halloween!!

Hitting Pause

I have a problem.  No matter how much I dislike something, I feel an obligation to see it through to the end.  Sometimes that's a good thing.  I would have quit marching band in college had I not felt the pull of obligation to complete my first season and eventually all four.  I would have missed out on a lot of amazing experiences had I quit.

But I have the same problem with books. I might hate something, but I can't just let it go and not finish.  What if it gets good? It's even worse when the book is part of a series.  What if to truly appreciate the first book, I need to read the whole series?

I recently stated that I didn't like the beginning of The Casual Vacancy (though I think now that I'm familiar with the characters, I would love it), and pushed through because I love Rowling.  I DESPISED (and still do) the beginnings of both The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, but then went on to love the books as a whole.  I always think of these books when I'm reading a book that bores me to tears. 

But now I'm wondering if and when there's an appropriate time to stop reading a book.  Thoughts?

Oct 17, 2012

The Casual Vacancy

About 20 pages in, I got worried that I wasn't going to like this book.  Obviously with her prior series being full of familiar characters and settings, it was never difficult to dive into a book.  But with The Casual Vacancy, it's a completely new world with a mess of new characters.  Really, it's like you're jumping into your first episode of a long-running soap opera, but a soap opera that is well-written and developed.  No offense to soap operas; we all know Passions was one of the greatest things to ever grace daytime television.

Once I hit page 50 though, I was in love. 

This novel examines the divide between the social and economic classes, races, generations and genders.  A friend remarked "so it's like every history textbook ever written?" Well no.  There are no history textbooks out there that have Rowling's knack for creating well-rounded characters and ability to weave storylines together with the tiniest of details. 

There's one scene in particular that had me floored.  A dinner party caught up in political storm shows the perspective of five different characters.  The way Rowling describes the thoughts of each of the characters made me realize that Rowling understands the cryptic ways women's brains work in social situations.  If you were to ever search for a manual on how to understand women, only bother reading it if Rowling is the author.  She also understands how poverty affects people.  While this book very clearly champions the idea that there should be assistance for the lower class, she effectively presents the other opinion through many characters and the reasons behind their views. 

The narration, along with the plethora of characters, might trip readers up.  There are no visual indicators that the narration is following a new character. It just flows seamlessly from one character to the next.  It takes some getting used to, but becomes very powerful by the novel's close.

Oct 12, 2012

Let's Talk About Tech, Baby: Gmail

There's a weird reaction that a huge chunk of people have when I tell them a librarian (in-training). A lot of people are quick to apologize: "I'm sorry! I use Google!"  Another group will apologize for not reading, but that's a different story. 

Well guess what? We use Google too (although online challenges suggest that I actually prefer Bing).  Sometimes to look up fast answers (gasp!).  But as you probably know, Google is way more than just a search engine.  E-mail, blog, e-readers, documents drive, social media (HA), etc. etc. etc.  There's a lot of tech stuff you can do with Google.

Apparently, customizing your Gmail is something that many people are unfamiliar with.  So here are some tips:

LABELS! Label everything! Never need to search through e-mails for something again! Well that's not true, but this will make it easier.  Far easier. Hit settings.  Go to the "Labels" tab. Create a label. You can change the color of said label to differentiate labels at a glance (if reading the label name is too much for you).  You can even nest labels! That is, you can create one giant "School" label, but then have labels for individual classes that are kept under School.  Is your OCD brain going into overload? It should be.

Wondering why some people have a fancy looking Gmail inbox? Head back to Settings and find the "Themes" tab.  Go nuts.

Next, check out Google Labs! Under settings, you'll find a tab called Labs. Click on it and get excited about the marvelous things you can do to make your life easier and your screen prettier. For instance, do you keep Google Chat open on your e-mail like I do? Do you find it annoying that the list of online friends blocks your list of Folders and Labels that you've now created?  ME TOO! Under Labs, you can switch the GChat to the right side of the window and free up your Folders and Labels.  Not too shabby.

Do you like having a preview pane for your e-mails?Well with Labs, you can make your Gmail a mirror of Outlook if your little heart desires.

Lastly, you know when you send an e-mail and then you immediately regret it?  This question applies to both sober and drunk e-mailers.  THERE IS AN UNDO SEND SETTING.  It only works if you hit it immediately after sending, but you must take what you get.  If anything, it can help erase "reply all" mistakes with ease.

Happy Gmail-ing!

Oct 4, 2012

Banned Graphic Novels/Comic Books

Excerpt from Persepolis
I've gotten really into graphic novels as of late, both academically and recreationally.  Academically speaking, graphic novels and comic books are great for boosting vocabulary, spatial reasoning, and interest in reading.  They also provide a fascinating way to read stories and learn information.   Recreationally speaking, I just finished reading the first volume of the Fables series and Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis and I loved both. 


But like all things good, graphic novels and comic books are frequently challenged.  Many people see them as juvenile reads and are often upset when "that kid book" is full of nudity, foul language, and other graphic content.  In honor of Banned Books Week, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund put together a list of banned and challenged comics.  Here are some highlights from their list:

-Dragon Ball, by Akira Toriyama:

The library review committee recommended that the public school libraries in Wicomico County, Maryland remove the books from all school levels, even high schools, despite the publisher's recommendation that the books were for a 13+ audience.

-League of Extraordinary Gentleman: The Black Dossier, by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill

This one is interesting.  In a Public Library in Kentucky, two library employees were fired for witholding the copy from patrons because of sex scenes.  Even librarians have their own agendas.  Some are in it to censor others based on their own beliefs.

-Maus, by Art Spiegelman

In Pasadena, California, the home of the Big Gang Theory characters, a Polish-American man was offended by the book's content and challenged it on the grounds that it was anti-ethnic and unsuited for its age group.  A library employee described the man as being uncomfortable with the book and wanting to keep others from reading it, which is censorship and an act that parents aren't allowed to extend to children who are not their own.

-Sandman, by Neil Gaiman

This is challenged in multiple locations for anti-family themes and language.  These challenges don't faze Gaiman because he knows that one of the best ways to get teens to read something is to ban it. #Footloose

-Sidescrollers, by Matthew Loux

In Enfield, Connecticut, this book was challenged in the public schools for it's language and sexual content.  The school's removed it from summer reading lists despite how their policies state that parents aren't allowed to dictate what other children should read based on their own personal beliefs.

-Stuck in the Middle, by Ariel Schrag

The Dixfield Maine public school system kept this book on their shelves, but on account of the sex, drugs, and language, requires students to get parental permission before they are allowed to check it out. 

Check out the rest of the list here!

Oct 3, 2012

#TheList No. 697: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Unless you've been living under a rock, you most likely know that J.K. Rowling's first novel purposely for adults, The Casual Vacancy, came out last week.  I started it yesterday, it's very different from HP and I really like it so far.  To get prepped for the new Rowling book, I decided to skip ahead on the List, and go for my favorite Harry Potter book.

The Prisoner of Azkaban is usually everyone's favorite of the series.  Whether it's the new information about the death of Harry's parents, the introduction of the Marauder's Map, or simply Sirius Black's amazing entrance, it's one of the most revered of the HP world.  What's interesting is that the movie version of this book was the least successful financially.  It doesn't make sense because look at that picture of Gary Oldman as Sirius.  Siriusly, guys? Have you seen this wizard? Yes I just made that bad joke. Moving on.

Rereading Azkaban, I noticed that there is still a lot of explication of previously introduced concepts.  The whole, "you see, Harry isn't like other boys. He's a wizard" concept is still evident (I paraphrased there, obviously) and that can drag the book for a tiny bit because we already know this information.  Forgetting the scoring system of a Quidditch match? Maybe. Forgetting that Harry is a wizard? Not going to happen.

But that aside, the book is incredible.  It is fast paced, funny, moving, and filled with adventure, friendship, and consequences.  And, of course, magic.  In case you forgot.  The lessons the trio learns about second chances (time-turner business), different outlooks (Malfoy's view of Hagrid and Lupin vs. the trio's view), and skewed histories (Snape's account of James saving his life vs. Lupin's account) are often implicit, which gives levels to the reading experience.  The books aren't about magic.  The books are about these lessons. Magic is just something they know how to do.

Oct 1, 2012

Happy Banned Books Week!

Go read a Banned/Challenged book!

The Top 10 Challenged Books in 2011 from the ALA List of Frequently Challenged Books of the 21st Century:
  1. ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
    Reasons: offensive language; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  2. The Color of Earth (series), by Kim Dong Hwa
    Reasons: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  3. The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins
    Reasons: anti-ethnic; anti-family; insensitivity; offensive language; occult/satanic; violence
  4. My Mom's Having A Baby! A Kid's Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy, by Dori Hillestad Butler
    Reasons: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: offensive language; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  6. Alice (series), by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
    Reasons: nudity; offensive language; religious viewpoint
  7. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
    Reasons: insensitivity; nudity; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit
  8. What My Mother Doesn't Know, by Sonya Sones
    Reasons: nudity; offensive language; sexually explicit
  9. Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily Von Ziegesar
    Reasons: drugs; offensive language; sexually explicit
  10. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
    Reasons: offensive language; racism