Jan 27, 2013

Book Review: All Unquiet Things

I'll be honest, I picked this book up because the cover grabbed me.  Finding out it was a murder mystery only made me want to read it that much more, because a good chunk of YA murder mysteries tie in great insight to a teenager's first brush with the idea of mortality.

Anna Jarzab's All Unquiet Things focuses on the unsolvable mysteries left behind when someone dies.  However, with the help of a hidden diary, cell phone records, and a safe deposit key, the mysteries are all solved.  So it's a little disappointing.

Let's rewind.  The plot: A year ago, Carly was murdered.  An investigation leads to her uncle being found guilty of the murder.  In the present day, Audrey, Carly's cousin, seeks out the assistance of Neily, Carly's ex, to clear her father's name.  They explore the world of wealth, privilege, entitlement and drugs in order to find the truth.

All in all, it was a capable mystery.  It has the standard mystery elements: the obvious suspects, stereotypes, suspense, and a twist ending.  I just wish it had the oomph of The Body of Christopher Creed, by Carol Plum-Ucci, a novel that uses an alleged murder mystery to highlight parent-teen relationships.  For me, All Unquiet Things only worked to tell a typical 'drugs are dangerous' story.

After reading this book, I immediately watched Brick, a 2005 film noir set in a modern day high school starring Joseph Gordon Levitt (SWOON).  This film incorporated all of the elements of All Unquiet Things, murder, deep love, secrets, drugs, etc.  Ultimately, the stories are very different, but I think that a teen who, provided s/he likes non-Hollywood movies, enjoys this novel, would like Brick.

Jan 18, 2013

Friday Five: Gun Control

In libraries, it's important to showcase books that start conversations.  As a result of the current gun control debate that is consuming the nation, here are some titles that focus on guns and school shootings.  Obviously, it's also important to not show bias (hardest part of my day), so I tried to include some titles that express pro-gun idealogies, but I don't have knowledge of many.  I threw in Lyga's Hero Type as an example of a book that, while focusing primarily on freedom of speech, discusses American rights in general. 

1. Give a Boy a Gun, by Todd Strasser

2. The Rifle, by Gary Paulsen

3. We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver

4. Hero Type, by Bary Laga

5. Columbine, by Dave Cullen

Any other suggestions, fiction or non-fiction?

Jan 16, 2013

#TheList, No. 551: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase

A 5th grader asked me for a "bunch of suggestions" on what to read over winter break.  So we walked around the fiction section picking out books at leisure and talked about them until she had a sizeable pile.  It was a slow day in the library, I wish that this was a daily occurrence.  It would be heavenly.  During our stroll through amazing books, she grabbed Joan Aiken's The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and told me it was one of her favorites.  She talked about 55 mph about it so I promised her I would check it out over the winter break.

I felt guilty that I didn't like it as much as she so obviously did, but I can see the appeal: adventure, good vs. evil, smart, brave children, fantastical good relationships between the rich and the help, and, my favorite, symbolism!

A pair of cousins, with the help of friends (servants), take down their evil governess and her scheme to take over the family's estate and create a school for the elite in order to steal their money. Also, there are wolves all over the place. The book starts off as (for me at least) a bit of a snoozefest. Once the parents are removed, the plot considerably picks up pace.

It makes sense, of course, that that is where the book picks up.  The first rule of children's lit is "kill the parents."  With parents around, there are rules and expectations.  Once they're gone, the children can have adventures.  What's interesting about this book is that the opposite occurs.  The parents, particularly the father, is all about the fun.  He encourages his daughter, Bonnie, to be a rambunctious brat.  Once he's gone, the governess imparts strict rules upon Bonnie and her cousin, Sylvia.  Twist!

Oddly enough, it's these rules that allow the adventure to begin.  The girls rebel against the governess, get sent to an evil orphanage, escape, and take down the evil woman.  All with many compliments to each other for such smarts.  On top of this,

Not my favorite of children's lit, but the symbolic value of the wolves gets it some more points (the governess and her evil partners are like the wolves!).   I'd label the book as historical fiction and would definitely recommend this to a child who likes classics (like the girl who loves it so much).

Google Translate - Fresh Prince of Bel Air

I love Google.  I love mostly everything about it (let's all agree to forget Google+ is a thing).  But sometimes it can be wrong.  Take Google Translate, an awesome tool that proves useful when you have a word or short phrase that you need translated.  But for longer sentences, or song lyrics, it's not your best bet. 

The CDZA, a group that "create[s] musical video experiments," has put together an awesome video demonstrating that Google Translate isn't always perfect.  

The moral of this story: This song is still the best theme song ever and kids, do your homework without Google Translate. 

Jan 14, 2013

December Book Blurbs, Part 1

When you're doing an on the spot book talk (recommendation), most of the time the requester doesn't have all day to stand there and listen to you wax poetic about how the nuances of some character in such and such a book really tie it together. Most of the time, especially if they're a teenager, they want one sentence that answers the question: "what's it about?"Here are some quick, to the point blurbs for books I read last month:

Princess of the Midnight Ball, by Jessica Day George
Summary: Cursed princesses are forced to pay off their late mother's debt by dancing from midnight to dawn.  The threat of excommunication looms over the kingdom unless someone can find out where the princesses are going each night.
About: Fractured fairy tale, love, loyalty
Genre: Fairy tales, romance, adventure
Audience: 5th-7th grade, someone looking for a quick read, someone who has heard this fairy tale before (or me, who had seen a scary cartoon version when I was younger and couldn't remember the ending)

Graceling*, by Kristin Cashore
Summary: Gracelings are people born with extreme skills (mind reading, super-killers, etc.) and one Graceling in particular, Katsa, goes on a rescue mission that turns into attempting to take down an entire kingdom.
About: Strength, loyalty, rescue, survival
Genre: Dystopia, adventure
Audience: Hunger Games fans - it's all about the kickass female, fighting and survival.  Teens, people looking for something about questioning authority

Story Time, by Edward Bloor
Summary: George and Kate transfer to a special school for the gifted that focuses solely on standardized testing.  Once there, they realize that something is off about the school and they work to take down the system.
About: Education, fairy tales, overcoming obstacles
Genre: Satire, paranormal, comedy
Audience: 6th-7th graders, someone looking for a quirky book, anyone who liked Tangerine, which is also by Edward Bloor, someone looking for an anti-authority read

My Life in Pink & Green*, by Lisa Greenwald
Summary: Lucy's grandmother owns a pharmacy that is quickly headed towards bankruptcy.  Lucy thinks she can save the store single-handedly by turning the store "green."
About: Recycling, friendship, makeovers
Genre: Chick lit (offensive term, I know, but yeah it's kind of an offensive book)
Audience: 4th-6th grade, people looking for quick reads, people who like "cute" books.  This book advises readers to avoid doing anything that will give them wrinkles, so I feel like I wouldn't want to really recommend it to anyone...

The Mother-Daughter Book Club*, by Heather Vogel Frederick
Summary: After a productive yoga class, a group of mothers decide it's a perfect idea to create a mother-daughter book club.  The group members read and compare their lives to Little Women, each effectively growing into a better person by the book's end.
About: Mother-daughter relationships (shocker), friendship, books
Genre: Chick lit (not as offensive as above), dramedy
Audience: 4th-6th grade, people who like book/movie references in their stories, someone looking for a "cute" book, people who like series books (it's the first in a series).

* I read these books because they were constantly being checked out by students and I had to know what was up.  The other two books were recommended by VOYA.

Jan 11, 2013

Friday Five: Children's Lit that Works as Wedding Readings

As you may know, I'm a legal assistant by day, super librarian [assistant] by night afternoon.  I obviously prefer one over the other, but the legal gig has its moments.

Recently, one of the attorneys gave me a fun assignment.  She was doing a reading at a wedding and thought an excerpt from a children's book would be a cute option, as she finds traditional ones boring (AMEN!).  Because of my innate lack of caring for traditional weddings (and weddings in general? maybe), this was the best assignment ever.  Here's what I brought back to her:

1) Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams
"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

"I suppose you are real?" said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.

"The Boy's Uncle made me Real," he said. "That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always." 

2) Winnie the Pooh, by A. A. Milne
“Pooh” whispered Piglet.
“Yes, Piglet” replied Pooh.
“Nothing,” answered Piglet,
“I just wanted to be sure of you.”
“If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day, so I never have to live without you.”
“It’s so much more friendly with two.”
“Pooh, promise me you won’t forget about me, ever. Not even when I am a hundred.”
Pooh thought for a little.
“How old shall I be then?”
Pooh nodded. “I promise,” he said.
“Some people care too much, I think it’s called love.”

3) The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
"You're lovely, but you're empty," he went on. "One couldn't die for you. Of course, an ordinary passerby would think my rose looked just like you. But my rose, all on her own, is more important that all of you together, since she is the one I've watered. Since she's the one I put under glass. Since she's the one I sheltered behind a screen. Since she's the one for whom I killed the caterpillars (except two or three for butterflies). Since she's the one I listened to when she complained, or when she boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing at all. Since she's MY rose."
And he went back to the fox.
"Good-bye," he said.
"Good-bye," said the fox. "Here is my secret. It's quite simple: One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes."
"Anything essential is invisible to the eyes," the little prince repeated, in order to remember.
"It's the time you spent on your rose that makes your rose so important."
"It's the time I spent on my rose…," the little prince repeated, in order to remember.
"People have forgotten this truth," the fox said. "But you mustn't forget it. You become responsible forever for what you have tamed. You're responsible for your rose…"
"I'm responsible for my rose…," the little prince repeated in order to remember.

4) Martha and George, by James Marshall
One day after George had eaten ten bowls of Martha's soup, he said to himself, "I just can't stand another bowl. Not even another spoonful." So, while Martha was out in the kitchen, George carefully poured the rest of his soup into his loafers under the table. "Now she will think I have eaten it." But Martha was watching from the kitchen. "How do you expect to walk home with your loafers full of split pea soup?" she asked George. "Oh dear," said George. "You saw me."

5) I Like You, by Sandol Stoddard Warburg (The whole book is perfect, this is just a small excerpt)
I like you because because because
I forget why I like you but I do
So many reasons
On the 4th of July I like you because it's the 4th of July
On the fifth of July, I like you to
Even if it was the 999th of July
Even if it was August
Even if it was way down at the bottom of November
Even if it was no place particular in January
I would go on choosing you
And you would go on choosing me
Over and over again
That's how it would happen every time
I don't know why
I guess I don't know why I really like you
I guess I just like you because I like you. 
The New York Public Library had a great blog post on this topic in 2011.  

Jan 10, 2013

Reference Ettiquette

It happens to [almost] every librarian: not wanting to deal with a reference question.  Sometimes you're annoyed by a patron.  Sometimes you're really busy and you just want to focus on the task at hand.  Other times you're just plain lazy.  Whatever the reason is, you answer in the worst possible way: "Go search for it yourself."


Something I witnessed this week at the public library:

Patron [5th grade-looking child]: (looks nervous) Do you have anything on starfish?
Librarian:  (reading a magazine) Did you look for it yourself?
Patron: (looks forlorn) No...
Librarian: Computer's right over there (points). Go search for it.

The poor girl looked so sad.  Now she hates librarians, hates asking for help, and probably hates starfish for getting her into this mess.  Alright, maybe I'm being overdramatic, but I was taught to do the opposite of all of the above.  In fact, we were often given scenarios and discuss point by point what was done wrong.  Soooo:

What did she do wrong?

1) If you can't give 100% of your attention to a patron, at least make the effort to make it look like you are.  Not once did she look away from her magazine.  That's just rude.

2) Asking "Did you look for it yourself?" I get what she was trying to do here.  Librarians don't function to do your work for you, but to help you learn how to do it on your own.  But what she said isn't helpful.  These are better: What have you tried searching for already? What have you already found? What exactly are you looking for, something specific or just basic information? Etc.  Just asking if they've already searched puts the entire burden back onto them.  They're asking for help for a reason.  Help them.  Also, by having them search for themselves, you're pretty much arguing against your job.

3) Never point!! This was practically beat into us by my professor, mainly because she had a bad experience at a previous job where her boss solved every problem by pointing in the opposite direction.  Obviously, it's impossible to always be able to walk away from your desk, so you can be lax on this rule, but at least give good directions.  But pointing can feel like you're shooing someone away (which is effectively what was occurring), so it's better to try to avoid it.  Or learn some nice pointing.  Vanna White knows what's up.

So be better with your reference etiquette! Otherwise, this might be about you:


Jan 8, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Reading Goals for 2013

I always have a standing goal of reading 100 books each year.  Why? Because I have 1000s of books I need to read and that seems like an efficient way to get through this process.  Also, not going to lie, it's fun to brag about reading 100+ books in a year.  Granted, I'm counting rereads and children's and YA books, but hey, a book is a book, right?

Top Ten Reading Goals for 2013

1) Read 100 books. 1.5 down, 98.5 to go!

2) Read more non-fiction, especially children's and YA fiction.  I think reading non-fiction children's books is the best way to get a broad understanding of a new topic.  I need to do this more.

3) Make a significant dent in reading the books I already own.  I have a problem with checking out too many books from libraries, which means I have to read those before they're due, which means I neglect the unread books on my shelf.

4) When I'm in bookstores and limiting myself on buying things, I take pictures of books to later checkout from the library.  I never go back to these pictures though.  I need to do that this year.

5) Read more of the books my students recommend to me.  I already have a rule that I look into books that I see have been checked out about 5 times, but I want to read their favorite, less popular gems.

6) Finally finish The Series of Unfortunate Events.

7) Reread Harry Potter.  A must.

8) Reread Mockingjay because I hated it, but maybe it'll be better the second time around?

9) Watch the movies I have on my Netflix Instant Queue that were based off of children's books I've read, and make the call as to whether they're good or not.

10) Be better about blogging regularly.  Now that I don't have any more homework (YES!), it shouldn't be too difficult. 

More at The Broke and the Bookish!

Jan 3, 2013

#TheList, No. 904: The Ruby in the Smoke

First off, Happy New Year!! (or Happy No Year if you're a Friends fan).

Now, The Ruby in the Smoke, by Phillip Pullman.  I enjoyed it well enough, but I'm fuzzy on the details of the plot.  Allow me to paint a picture of my experience reading this novel.

I was flying to Virginia and had to make a connecting flight in Newark.  After my first flight out of Boston was delayed three times, I was actually delighted to be in the worst place in the US.  But then my connecting flight was delayed and delayed and delayed and finally canceled.

I feel ya.
Long story short, I spent 17 hours in the Newark airport, going almost 35 hours without sleep.  I read three books and listened to two iPods until they died (yes, I carry a backup iPod sometimes...).  But then someone incredibly awesome drove from VA to NJ and saved me and the rest of vacation was relaxing.

But The Ruby in the Smoke was the last book I read as I approached 30 hours of no sleep.  While I read this book, a seagull flew over my head.  I was inside the terminal.  Later, a pigeon stopped by.  Then a sparrow. Obviously, I was distracted as I read this novel.

From what I recall, in this mystery adventure, Ms. Sally Lockhart's father had died and she receives a somewhat cryptic message that leads her to find out secrets of her father's life.  During this adventure, she displays ridiculous amounts of business savvy, love for her pistol, and a sense of incredible calmness.  I think she's also 12.

But I liked it for some obvious reasons.  The lead is a young girl who knows how to take care of herself.  There's a mystery at hand.  The novel is historical fiction.  There's some humor, a little violence, and a pretty good ending (if I am remembering correctly).  With all of the novels for children and teens being released with strong female leads (or female leads in the case of Twilight), this a good book to fall back upon if those newer books are unavailable or already read.  Plus, the kids might find the author familiar if they enjoyed The Golden Compass series.