January 2013 Reading Recap

Jan2013reads

 

Thanks to my new obsession with audiobooks, I read quite a bit this month!

1. Only the Good Spy Young – Ally Carter

2. Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life (new hardcover color edition) – Bryan Lee O’Malley

3. The Austere Academy (Series of Unfortunate Events #5) (audio) - Lemony Snicket

4. Bomb – Steve Sheinkin

5. The Ersatz Elevator (Series of Unfortunate Events #6) (audio)Lemony Snicket

6. The Vile Village (Series of Unfortunate Events #7) (audio)Lemony Snicket

7. Out of Sight, Out of Time – Ally Carter

8. Liar & Spy (audio) – Rebecca Stead

9. The Brides of Rollrock Island - Margo Lanagan

10. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – Bryan Lee O’Malley

11. The Hostile Hospital (Series of Unfortunate Events #8) (audio)Lemony Snicket

12. The Carnivorous Carnival (Series of Unfortunate Events #9) (audio)Lemony Snicket

13. Jepp, Who Defied the Stars – Katherine Marsh

My top recommendation from this crop is Bomb by Steve Sheinkin, which chronicles the development of the atomic bomb during World War II. Sheinkin is a master of narrative nonfiction. Even though I knew how the story would end, it still had me on the edge of my seat for the last 50 pages or so! This book cleaned up at the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards earlier this week, winning YALSA’s Nonfiction award, a Caldecott Honor, and the Sibert award. Way to go, Steve! Bomb really is…the bomb! (yeah, I went there!)

My runner up has to be The Brides of Rollrock Island. As you know, I’m not a huge fantasy fan, but I ADORE Margo Lanagan. I read Tender Morsels for class a few years ago, a fantasy that includes tough subjects like rape and incest. It’s a book I never would have picked up on my own. I absolutely loved it though, so I knew I needed to read Brides. Miskaella, a girl with magical powers is made an outcast by the people of Rollrock Island. She seeks revenge by making the most beautiful selkie brides for the men that live there, forcing the women to leave. The men are happy, but their happiness comes at a high cost, and it’s up to one little boy to make things right. This was one of the most well-crafted books I’ve read in awhile. The structure and prose are just perfect. It’s one of those books that takes seemingly separate narrative arcs and weaves them together expertly.

Next month I’ve decided to take part in the Young Adult Library Services Association’s 2013 reading challenge. Librarians are encouraged to read as many of the ALA award winning titles for teens as possible before  June and are entered to win prizes if they can read 25 titles. Wish me luck!

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So this just happened on Jeopardy

Alex Trebek:  “Right off the bat I can think of about 5 or 6 women authors. That’s the category for final.”

Wow, that many Alex?

Seriously?!

It was so ridiculous that all I could do was laugh hysterically.

 

**EDIT** Apparently this is my 69th post, which makes this whole thing so much funnier!

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Six Month Job-iversary

One of my supervisors reminded me today that it had officially been 6 months since I started my job!  I had to celebrate by smooching Harry Styles…

HarryandMe

 

…in a manner of speaking! I’m having a One Direction Party next week (because so many of the teens are obsessed!) and I’m going to raffle off this life size Harry. He’s taller than me!

Things at work have been crazy but wonderful. The children’s librarian and I are working on a grant that would make my teen space super amazing and we spent the morning brainstorming fun ideas. Last night I livestreamed John Green’s An Evening of Awesome, and despite some initial issues with the audio, it worked out okay and we had a great time. I love my Nerdfighters! On Friday, I’m doing an after hours screening of Pride and Prejudice–which some teens requested! I have a teen who wants to start a Jane Austen book club! Isn’t that adorable? I’ve finally gotten a core group of amazing kids who come to my programs, who come to visit me at the reference desk all the time, who email me to fangirl over The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, who bring me surprise cupcakes (!) and draw me pictures…I am so, so lucky!

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December Reading Recap + Reading Resolutions

These monthly recaps have quickly gotten out of hand! I’ve read so much to catch up lately that I won’t bore you with a huge post. But in case you’re wondering, here’s what I read to finish off 2012:

Dec2012reads

1. The Fairy Ring: Or Elsie and Frances Fool the World – Mary Losure
2. I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You – Ally Carter
3. Friends with Boys – Faith Erin Hicks
4. My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece – Annabel Pitcher
5. Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy – Ally Carter
6. At Home: A Short History of Private Life – Bill Bryson
7. The Miserable Mill (A Series of Unfortunate Events #4) – Lemony Snicket
8. Don’t Judge a Girl By Her Cover – Ally Carter
9. The Nutcracker – E.T.A. Hoffmann, illustrated by Maurice Sendak
10. Grave Mercy – Robin LaFevers

Last month was a great month for reading. I really loved everything I read/listened to. I have been reading all the Ally Carter books (about a boarding school for teenage spies) because they are super popular at my library and I’m having a release party for the latest Heist Society book next month. I also tried to read more widely in December so I included some nonfiction (The Fairy Ring), nonfiction on audio (At Home), a graphic novel (Friends with Boys) and some historical fiction with a tinge of fantasy (Grave Mercy). I also loved Maurice Sendak’s Nutcracker–who knew that the Nutcracker actually had a complete plot! I’d recommend all these titles.

This year I’ve made a couple resolutions related to my reading habits.

  • Read 100 books
  • Read more widely (more adult titles, a classic or 2, genres other than realistic romantic comedies!)
  • Read more books to recommend to 12 year old boys (The number one question I’m asked at work is what to recommend to these guys and I only have a handful of options)
  • Read more of the books that my teens recommend to me (which should help me accomplish all the previous goals)

Wish me luck!

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Hello 2013!

Hello my poor neglected blog!

Last month was positively crazypants and blogging was the last thing on my mind. I completely overextended myself at work last month, so when I finally had a week off to fly home and visit my family, I wanted to be as unproductive as possible!

I had an awesome holiday season. I was at home in Colorado about 5 1/2 days and it was so good to be with my parents, my brother and sister, and their new puppy, Buddy Holly.

My brother's favorite thing about school vacation? Bedhead and jeans with holes.

My brother’s favorite thing about school vacation? Bedhead and jeans with holes.

I had to fly back to Massachusetts by myself a few days before Jeff did and I was pretty bummed. Leaving home is really hard and I always get a bit sad and angry at the world because I wish I could move back.

I felt a little better once I finally made it back to Salem though. For a couple reasons. A) My cab driver sounded EXACTLY like Mike from Breaking Bad and it was so amusing. B) I watched the entire first season of Girls.C) I ordered myself some Chinese food and painted my nails gold and glittery for an instant mood picker upper. D) I finished my 100th book so I met my yearly goal! and E) The next day at work, all my favorite teens came to visit me and told me how much they missed me. Awww!

Oh 2012. Last year was so intense. Highlights:

-Watching all of Doctor Who and becoming obsessed

-Finishing grad school and earning 2 Master’s degrees!

-Presenting at the Children’s Literature Association conference

-Getting a job!

-Moving to Salem

-Reading a ton of great books and having the time to watch a lot of great TV series. Oh the joys of not having a syllabus!

Here’s to hoping 2013 is just as fun, and lacks the chaos of 2012!

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Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time

I have always loved Christmas, but the past few years I haven’t been able to fully enjoy it. Being in grad school meant that those precious weeks before Christmas were spent frantically researching and writing papers, scheduling flights home, studying for finals, working on projects etc. It left very little time for baking, listening to Christmas music, spending time with loved ones and all the stuff that makes this time of the year so cozy and fun.

This year I wanted to make the most of my post-grad school free time by making Getting Into The Christmas Spirit a major priority. Jeff and I broke out our Nutcracker cds at Thanksgiving and I started switching to the Christmas music channel anytime I got the chance. I listened to the Peanuts Christmas album and baked cookies. We even splurged and went to see the Nutcracker performed at the Boston Opera House.

The super fancy Boston Opera House. I pretended I was at Versailles.

The super fancy Boston Opera House. I pretended I was at Versailles.

And sure, these things were wonderful and Christmasy and lovely. But I’ve found that what’s really put me in the Christmas spirit has nothing to do with my efforts, but rather the small acts of kindness that people have shown me this month.

I had two graham cracker house decorating programs at the library this month. I’d never done anything like this before and had no idea what I was doing. And then randomly one day, a fellow staff member introduced me to a patron who makes super fancy gingerbread houses for competitions and displays. The next day, this woman emailed me a list with a TON of helpful tips, her husband dropped off a load of candy for the teens to use to decorate their houses, and she even invited me to her house one afternoon to teach me how to make royal icing. Seriously! My programs turned out a million times better than they would have without her help. I ended up having 21 teens participate and they all had a blast. And this woman gave me all this help of her own accord. I tend to be a pretty cynical and negative person, but her generosity helped me remember that there are kind people out there who choose to help others out of the goodness of their hearts.

Check out their amazing creations!

Check out their amazing creations!

My spirits were bolstered again this past weekend. Jeff and I came home late Friday night and I realized I had a flat tire. Neither of us had ever changed a flat before. The next morning, good researchers that we are, we looked up YouTube videos, I reread Sarah’s super helpful guide and said a silent prayer that we wouldn’t break my car with our amateur efforts. We went outside to search for something to use as a wedge for the other tire, when I spotted a man across the parking lot fixing his own flat tire. I went over to ask if we could borrow his wedge, and he came over and helped put the spare on for me! He didn’t want anything in return. He was just happy to help!

In addition to these random acts of kindness, I’ve had several parents thank me for the programs I put on for teens and tweens. My Teen Advisory Board girls have also been so sweet, helping me set up and clean up after this month’s particularly messy programs, and even bringing me a hot chocolate treat from Starbucks the other day.

When terrible things happen (like the awful awful tragedy in Connecticut) it’s easy to lose faith in humanity. These small acts of kindness have helped remind me that generosity and goodwill truly do exist, and have helped put me in the Christmas spirit better than all the carols and presents and films have.

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November Reading Recap

So once again I must apologize with my belated reading recap! This past week I’ve been completely consumed with planning a gingerbread house decorating program at work and binge watching the last season of Breaking Bad and the entire first season of Game of Thrones (I’m not usually one for high fantasy but DAAAAAANG this show is good!). So anyway, without further ado, here’s what I read in November, as I frantically tried to catch up so that I can meet my 100 books goal for the year.

1. The Bad Beginning: A Series of Unfortunate Events #1 – Lemony Snicket

This month I discovered the joy of audiobooks, and since I commute about an hour and 45 minutes everyday, I get to listen to quite a lot as I drive to and from work. I’d never read this series. but after seeing Daniel Handler (ie: Lemony Snicket) at the Boston Book Festival in October, I was intrigued. A friend recommended the audio as it’s read by Tim Curry and I’m so glad I gave it a shot. Tim Curry is fabulous, and this book was so fun!

2. Pirate Cinema – Cory Doctorow

I saw Cory Doctorow at the Boston Book Festival too and was intrigued by this near-future story about a 16 year old boy (Trent, aka Cecil B. DeVil) who makes illegal video remixes, and after getting caught, destroys his family when their internet gets cut off by the government. His dad can’t do his job, his sister can’t do her schoolwork and his mom can’t get her meds. So Trent runs away to London where he meets a very Dickensian band of fellow runaway artists, and they lead a fun life of squatting in abandoned buildings, making art, and sticking it to the man.

I had high hopes for this book but I found myself disappointed. It lacked narrative structure, and the loose plot seemed like an afterthought, as the main agenda was clearly a political rant. Luckily, I agreed with much of the agenda that was being pushed; however Doctorow frames the matter of downloading and using clips to make new art as very black and white which it most certainly is not.

Basically, Doctorow excels at extrapolating current issues and creating a plausible dystopian near-future, but he fails at creating a compelling, believable narrative (the happy artist runaway band of misfits, while fun, is totally unrealistic) and also in avoiding sounding preachy and didactic. The book is thought-provoking, but ultimately fails to deliver.

3. Chuck Close: Face Book – by Chuck Close

Before this book won the Boston Globe Horn Book Award for Nonfiction this year, I had never heard of it, nor had I heard about the famous artist Chuck Close. He is a fascinating man, and the book, based on an interview some school children had with him, is excellently crafted. Close, who suffers from face blindness, creates amazing, enormous portraits of faces using fascinating techniques. He blows up a photograph he’s taken to crazy heights, places a grid on it, and recreates the image using an effect that almost looks like pixels. Here’s a self portrait he did in 2002:

Chuck Close

Amazing, right? And the crazy thing about it–Chuck suffered from a collapsed spinal artery that left him nearly paralyzed in the 1980s, so he’s had to reteach himself to paint with a brush strapped to his hand. I loved learning about this fascinating man, and looking through his art. I highly recommend this book!

4. Hilda and the Midnight Giant – Luke Pearson

I picked up this graphic novel after seeing it on Publisher’s Weekly’s best of the year list. The beautiful cover reminded me of Tove Jansson’s Moomintrolls and instantly caught my eye. I don’t want to say too much about the plot because I don’t want to give anything away, but I will say it is a bit reminiscent of Horton Hears a Who. Beautiful art, lovely story.

5. Fantastic Mr. Fox – Roald Dahl

I love Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, but I’d never read the book. I love Roald Dahl and I enjoyed this story, although I must warn you film fans that the movie has a ton more going on than the book. Still a fun read though.

6. A Beautiful Lie – Irfan Master

I picked up this book to review for a group of youth librarians. It takes place in India just before Partition. 13 year old Bilal thinks his dying father’s heart will be broken if he learns that his beloved India is going to be divided, so Bilal and his friends craft an elaborate scheme (a “beautiful lie”) to keep him from learning the truth.

The language in the book is lovely, vividly portraying India and the tension of its people during the period before Partition. The relationships between Bilal and his friends, his father, and secondary characters like the doctor and his teacher are skillfully handled, adding humor and heart to the story. Despite this, the book has issues with pacing (certain areas drag, while others feel rushed) and suffers from an overall lack of suspense. Additionally, though the subject matter has the potential to pack a strong emotional punch, the lack of historical and cultural context limits the book’s impact. Without more information about Partition and the differing viewpoints of the characters (particularly Bilal’s father and brother) it is difficult to fully understand why Bilal chooses to lie to his father, making the story’s conceit feel hollow. In order for the premise of the novel to ring true, readers need a backstory that allows them to believe that the truth would break his father’s heart, and Master unfortunately does not provide one.

7. Neil Gaiman – The Graveyard Book

I’ve already read The Graveyeard Book twice (once on my own and once in grad school) and I liked it well enough but didn’t love it. The audio version, read by Mr. Gaiman himself though–I absolutely LOVED.

8. Sailor Twain – Marc Siegel

I’d seen bits and pieces of this book around the interwebs, but when I took a look at the artwork in person I HAD to read it. It is absolutely stunning. The story takes place in the early 1900s. Sailor Twain, the captain of a riverboat on the mysterious Hudson River rescues and rehabilitates an injured mermaid. This story is lovely and gothic and mysterious, and the artwork is perfect–the cartoony faced characters (Sailor Twain reminds me of a cross between Bert from Sesame Street and Inspector Gadget) against the gorgeous, photorealistic backgrounds provide a fascinating juxtaposition. The plot was a bit disappointing and lacked clear resolution (I had to read the ending twice and I still don’t fully get what happened) but the elements of Greek mythology, allusions to authors like Poe and Twain, and the interesting use of foil characters was very thought-provoking.

9. The Reptile Room: A Series of Unfortunate Events #2 – Lemony Snicket

Another Tim Curry audio version. Awesome.

10. Such Wicked Intent – Kenneth Oppel

This is the sequel to His Dark Endeavor (see my brief review here), the second book in Oppel’s trilogy which is meant to function as a prequel of sorts to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as the first (none of the characters are likeable which prevented me from caring too much about what happened to them) but it still makes me want to read book 3 so I can see just how Viktor evolves into the Dr. Frankenstein we know Shelley’s character.

11. The Wide Window: A Series of Unfortunate Events #3 – Lemony Snicket

For some reason, Daniel Handler (and not my beloved Tim Curry) reads the next few books in the series on audio. Poor decision! He is a terrible reader! I didn’t like this story as much either. Here’s to hoping #4 will be more enjoyable.

12. Meant to Be – Lauren Morrill

Love love loved this book! A romantic  comedy that takes place on a school field trip in London? Sold. Numerous Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Beatles references? Super sold. The romantic hero busting out “Oh Darling” in a skate park? Oh book, you had me at hello.

13. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever – Barbara Robinson

Read this classic a couple times when I was little and scooped up the audio version when someone returned it to the library. Enjoyable as always and helped me get in the holiday spirit!

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