Monday, January 30, 2012

Shakespeare Review

Book talk:  Much has been written about Shakespeare over the years.  Enough to fill whole libraries.  So you might wonder what more such a slim volume could have to offer.  The answer, my friend, is clarity.   You see, the reason the volume is so slim is because we simply don't know that much about Shakespeare.  Much of what has been written about him over the years is hopeful hypothesis or wild speculation.  Bryson skillfully cuts through all the misconceptions and tells the reader what we really know about Shakespeare in this brilliant, brief biography.

Rocks my socks:  Like most theatre students, I've heard a lot about Shakespeare through the years but I'd never actually read a biography of him.  So I was glad to find this book at a charity shop in Scotland for 75p.  It was a sound investment because not only did I walk away with a better understanding of Shakespeare's life and his work, I also got a lot of entertainment, often laughing out loud.  These stories are the kind you want to share after you hear them and share them I did with my poor long-suffering friends. I'm sure Bill Bryson tells them better than I did.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to anyone who wants to know more about Shakespeare's life.  Especially to any Baconists I meet.  Who better than Bill Bryson to set them straight?  (Which reminds me, the first person to claim that Shakespeare didn't write his plays was Delia Bacon, born in 1811 and died "under institutional care in 1859, believing she was the Holy Ghost"  Gahh I'm doing it again--this book is infectious!)

Shakespeare by Bill Bryson 

Buy it or check it out today!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Christmas Ornament Crafting

This year I decided to make ornaments as Christmas presents for my family.  I was inspired by this blog, but I used different images to match my family members' tastes and employed slightly different techniques (I sewed everything instead of gluing parts.)  While Wearing Heels has a great tutorial if you want to make your own, so be sure to check it out.

Here's the ornaments of everyone who was at my parents' house Christmas Eve, except my mom and sister's because they were there when I took this picture.  I stitched the names of everyone on the back, but I was especially proud of the way I mimicked the Purple Rain font on the back of my dad's ornament.  The ornaments are, starting from the upper left and going widdershins Alfred Hitchcock, a dress model, Zatanna, Scott Pilgrim, a Skyrim symbol, an ambulance, Cinderella's slipper, bacon, my cousin's dog, Purple Rain, and a baseball.  I  clearly have a family with varied interests.

For my sister I made Tock to go with the anniversary edition of Phantom Tollbooth I got her.  For my mom I went with the vessel with the pestle from our favorite movie The Court Jester with the inimitable Danny Kaye.

The rest of the ornaments included a cruise boat over Antarctica to celebrate the trip my aunt and uncle went on this Christmas, Buzz Lightyear, a monkey, a basketball, a hippo, a frog, an alien from toy story,  a horse, a robot, and a rubix cube.  

Did anyone else do any crafting this holiday season?  Let me know in the comments.  

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Sea of Poppies Review

Book talk: Zachary--a carpenter by trade who goes from novice sailor to first mate in his first sea voyage due to maladies and misfortunes plaguing the crew.  Deeti--a wife and a farmer who has lost her food crops and her husband to the insatiable poppy industry.  Jodu and Paulette--orphans and adopted siblings separated by a hierarchical society that leaves them at opposite ends.  Neel--a Raja struggling to maintain his father's legacy while paying off the debts he left him.  Under normal circumstances these people would never meet, but in desperate times fate twists their lives unexpectedly and leads them down the same path: towards the Ibis, at sail on the Ganges and beyond.

Rocks my socks: This was the first adult book I read after a semester of only reading for my tween materials class, and it was exactly the kind of complex sink-your-teeth-in narrative that I was craving. The narrative reminds me of Dickens in its wide cast of characters and its focus on those at the bottom of the social ladder.  But it's set in India right before the Opium wars, which is a time and place I know very little about so the rich details allowed me to lose myself in a new world.  Mauritius also figures into the narrative and one of my best friend's Dad is from there so I was excited to hear about it.  Given my own ignorance on the time and place I was pleased when Madame Cheng cropped up because I recognized her from the Stuff You Missed in History Podcast episode "Don't Cross the Dragon Lady" (from March 9th, 2011).  I was even more pleased when I read this blog, however, and realized that part of the narrative I assumed was fiction was fact.   I loved all the languages glimpsed in the book including the delightful sailor's 'pijjin' language. I wouldn't call this novel a fast read due to its complexity but it is definitely absorbing.  Ghosh leaves it as a good place instead of a cliff hanger, like a gentleman, but I was still eager to read the next one.  So eager, in fact that I went out and bought it in hardcover because I found a signed copy at my local indie book store.  Because independent book stores rock.

Rocks in my socks: None, I loved it!

Every Book its Reader:  I'd give it to someone looking for a modern literary epic and fans of Dickens.  Anyone with an interest in historical fiction, India, the opium trade, or sailing will enjoy it as well.

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh

Buy it or check it out today!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Museum of Thieves Review

Book talk: The world is a dangerous place.  It's full of war and disease and water to drown in and sharp objects to pierce the skin.  Many children have died throughout history.  Until the city of Jewel was founded.  In Jewel children remain connected to an adult by a chain at all times.  That way they cannot be kidnapped, or lost, or injured.  They expect the children to behave in turn, and if they try to run away or disobey or act too bold or impatient they will get heavy punishment chains to wear.  They may even be taken from their families and put in care.  For their own good, of course.  The system worked very well, until one day when a bomb exploded and a girl named Goldie ran away in the confusion.  Soon she finds herself in a mysterious museum where all the dangerous things the city has outlawed live, waiting to come back out.

Rocks my socks: I love the premise and world of the novel and I think today's coddled children will definitely be able to relate to the children of Jewel.  I also enjoyed the varied characters and the fact that there are adults who try to help the protagonist out.  The museum itself is a fascinating place and I enjoyed discovering some of its secrets including a brizzlehound (I always have loved big dogs.)

Rocks in my socks: While the good characters are fully rendered as three dimensional and believable, the villains do not receive the same treatment.  I think a lot more could have been done with the central question of whether or not children need a little danger in their lives if the guardians genuinely had their best interests at heart and were just trying to protect them.  Instead they were portrayed as unrealistic sadists whose only aim was power.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to anyone grade four and up looking for a fantasy adventure novel.  Fans of dystopian novels will enjoy this in particular.  There's enough to entertain adults and children alike, there is a male and female protagonist, and the audiobook was well read so it would make a good family road trip listen.

Museum of Thieves by Lian Tanner

Buy it or check it out today!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

New Year, New Look, New Title

The Auld School Librarian in her natural habitat...totally not posing or anything

I have recently received notice from San Jose State that I have officially graduated!  Now that I am in proud possession of an MLIS I can call myself a librarian.  This is a big milestone for me, so I thought it merited a re-branding of my blog.  I only came up with the "Sassy Shelver" moniker because I couldn't call myself a librarian at the time and because between my jobs at a library and a book shop I was in fact doing a lot of shelving.  Now however, I rarely shelve books so it no longer seems right to call myself by that name.  So after a Skype conference with my good friend Laura spit-balling some ideas I came up with "Auld School Librarian."

I like this name for many reasons.  Firstly, I do like to sew, write letters, play backgammon, and engage in other pastimes from, well, the past.  I enjoy retro clothing styles, I shun contacts in favor of glasses, and I wear my hair long and often in braids.  Secondly, in many ways I am a stereotypical 'old school' librarian: I wear the aforementioned glasses, I have a cat, I am shy around strangers, I generally dress conservatively and sometimes even wear my hair in a bun.  Thirdly, I work in an elementary school so I thought it would be clever.

I was going to use 'old school librarian,' but there was already a blogger blog with that name (and one post from 2005, but still crouching on the domain) so possibly because it was so recently the new year with the annual singing of 'Auld Lang Syne' I thought of solving my problems with Scotch.  In the end I'm glad that someone was crouching on the 'old school librarian' name because 'auld school' is more unique and it gives a little nod to my Scottish friends.  I've visited them the past two summers for about a month each time and thoroughly enjoyed myself.  Both because of the company and the country.  Hopefully I will visit them again this summer.  The picture I'm using as the background (and the one at the top of this post) is actually a picture of me in Scotland, at my favorite castle, Dunottar.  So even though I am not myself Scottish I feel at least slightly justified in using a Scottish word in my title.

I look down my glasses at you!
Outside of Amsterdam's public library.
The title is in some ways self-mocking because I know I'm old-fashioned and have been teased for it.  Many librarians are trying hard to dispel the librarian stereotype, so admitting to being old-school is not really in vogue in the profession at the moment.  I do appreciate their efforts and follow the blogs of many librarians who absolutely shatter the stereotypical image.  I have worked in libraries for many years now (or at least what qualifies as many years to a twenty-something) and have met a wide variety of librarians so I know as well as anyone that the stereotype is false.  At the same time I believe in staying true to who you are and I like my long hair and retro dresses and glasses.  I really don't think my personal habits are important enough to have an effect on the image of the library profession as a whole so I don't see the point in changing myself to look more modern.  Besides, I don't think any of the librarians with edgier looks would advise me to do so anyway.  Librarians are all about helping people pursue their passions and their interests whatever they may be--not forcing them to conform to an ideal.  That's why librarians are so varied and why I am so proud to finally join their ranks.  That's why I feel free to embrace my old-school style.

Finally, I know from reading That Book Woman by Heather Henson to classes that old-school librarians are actually pretty tough cookies.  The pack horse librarians of the Appalachians traveled miles by horse, mule, and foot across rivers, mountains, and rocky terrain to reach remote houses and schools.  Plus, Casanova was apparently a librarian.  So really, old-school librarians aren't the stereotypical shushers people seem to think of them as, and I am proud to number myself among their company.

My bedroom Senior year of undergrad.
Wearing my 'baby got books' t-shirt, sitting under my 'people who really love books read naked' poster, and generally looking stereotypical.
So that's the rationale behind the blog re-vamp.  I like it and I hope you will too.  If you have any thoughts or advice on what direction I should take the blog in the future, let me know in the comments.

Friday, January 13, 2012

London Eye Mystery Review

Book talk: What goes up, must come down—which is why the police don’t believe Ted and Kat when they say that their cousin Salim went up the London Eye but never came back down.  But that is exactly what happened.  Ted and Kat followed his pod up and around but when it came back down, there was no Salim.  The police are exploring other possibilities, but Ted and Kat were there; they saw it happen with their own eyes.  Ted doesn’t see the world like everyone else, so perhaps his unique perspective will help him see clues that others overlook.  Ted and Kat are determined to crack the case and find their cousin, but they have to work quickly if they ever want to see him alive again.

Rocks my socks: Many novels with young detectives have premises that require a lot of suspension of disbelief, but in The London Eye Mystery Dowd created a believable premise that led to a wonderful story that is recognizably a mystery while setting itself apart in a class of its own.  Ted describes his brain as ‘running on a different operating system’ that is never explicitly named in the novel but sounds like Asperger’s Sydnrome.  The novel is told from Ted’s perspective and it is interesting to hear about the way he sees the world.  He has difficulty reading body language and social clues which adds another layer to the mystery as he tries to decipher the actions of those around him.  This first-person narrative would be great for helping tweens understand what it is like to be someone like Ted but the plot is engaging and never preachy so that they will enjoy the novel for its story primarily and learn a lesson in empathy in the process.

Rocks in my socks:   I listened to the audiobook and because the novel is narrated by Ted who is not emotional in the traditional sense, the narration comes off as very monotone.  I can see why the reader chose to do this and it makes sense but listening to a monotone for so long was difficult. I kept listening because the story was so engaging but I think this one is probably better read than listened to.

Every book its reader: I'd give it to mystery fans in grades 4 and up.

Buy it or check it out today!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Lost and Found Review

Book talk: Have you ever found something that you didn't lose?  What would you do if you found something that didn't have a place where it belonged to go back to?  Something that was just plain lost. Would you bring it home?  Would your parents let you keep it?  Would you put it away and forget about it or would you try to take care of it? Or are you too busy to notice a lost thing at all?

Rocks my socks: I have heard a lot of hype about Shaun Tan in the last year so I thought my expectations would be too high going into this and I'd be disappointed.  Thankfully, I was wrong.  Shaun Tan met and exceeded my expectations in this quietly profound collection.  The narration is sparse and the pictures detailed  in a way that complements each other incredibly well and provides the reader with layers upon layers to unearth with each new reading.  Small details like the little red leaf that appears in each picture of the story on depression speak volumes about how even in the darkest times there are patches of brightness if you are willing to look hard enough for them.  Other extras like the ad for industrial-strength red tape in the corner of a newspaper page in an oppressive society add a touch of humor and help to flesh out the worlds Tan creates.  Anyone who has ever felt lost will feel found when they read this collection.

Rocks in my socks: zip

Every book its reader: I'd give this to fans of Sandman or Dave McKean or other ruminative comics and distinctive art.

Lost & Found by Shaun Tan

Buy it or check it out today!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Fractured Fables Review

Book talk: You may have heard of Mary Had a Little Lamb and The Frog Prince, but have you heard the story of Mary Had a Little Spam and The Toad Prince?  Check out this comic collection for new twists on your favorite stories.

Rocks my socks: This book was a mixed bag.  I really enjoyed Marie Cruz's The Secret Princess Society.  Overall I'd say I liked about half.  There were some interesting twists and the artwork had a nice variety.  

Rocks in my socks: I'm not sure who this collection is aimed at.  It seems to be marketed for the children but some of the jokes are aimed at a more adult audience.  There's nothing really inappropriate but I'm just not sure younger children will get the punchline of the little mermaid retelling where she turns into beer foam or in "a bad word that no nice girl should ever say unless she catches her husband making a fool of himself with a tart half his age."  Many of them are just uninspired retellings with predictable twists.  Some I felt like I was missing the joke because I was unfamiliar with the artist's work.  One, "Trouble at the North Pole" by Shane White was about global warming and not based off any fairy tale or nursery rhyme I know.  It just confused an already confusing issue and without any context I had no idea what its point was.  

Every book its reader: I'd give it to someone looking for twists on fairy tales or a humorous comic book in grades 4+

Buy it or check it out today!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Hereville Review

Booktalk: Mirka dreams of becoming a dragon slayer while her step mother tries to get her to focus on knitting.  All her dreams remain fantasy, however until one day when she steals a grape.  Suddenly a pig starts chasing her around, eating her homework, and making her life miserable.  Everyone thinks she's making it up, so she develops a plan to catch the troublesome pig.  Soon she's consulting with a witch, battling trolls, and risking her life to get her own sword.  When her dreams start to come true will she rise to meet the challenge--or will she discover she's stuck in a nightmare?

Rocks my socks: The tagline reads "Yet another troll-fighting 11 year old orthodox Jewish girl" and that is precisely what I love about this comic.  I am always glad to see bold heroines and there isn't much  juvenile fiction set in an orthodox Jewish community either so it was a refreshing new perspective.  Readers will learn about what life is like in the community but without it ever feeling didactic.  The book is full of humour both written and visual and many children will relate with Mirka's struggle of staying true to who she is despite her family's pressure for her to conform to the norm.  I particularly enjoyed the portrayal of her step-mom who while she does force Mirka to knit and do chores clearly has good intentions and cares about Mirka.  They fight sometimes, but Mirka also goes to her for comfort when she sees a vision of her dead mother.  She is shown as having a sense of humour as well. The troll has a lovely old-world feel but also brags about its treasure of a "shirt once worn by J.K. Rowling. No rips."  Really this comic is worth it for the knitting battle scene alone and her way of winning it reminded me of my method of surviving art classes.

Rocks in my socks: Nada

Every book its reader: I'd give this to fans of adventure comics. Grades 3+

Buy it or check it out today!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Magical Mischief Review

Book talk:  There are few places left where magic can live undisturbed.  The world is too busy, too clean, and too new for magic.  So when a bit of magic finds Mr. Hardbattle's dusty, quiet, old bookshop it is delighted.  Living with magic can be hard--it smells awful and can create quite a mess when it gets excited.  But life is never boring when the bottom step may turn into custard at any moment.  So when Mr. Hardbattle learns he'll have to move out of the shop he's worried about where the magic will go.  With the help of his new friends, though they just may be able to save the shop and the magic.

Rocks my socks: The premise of someone trying to save an independent book shop from closing down is timely and presented in a charming way.  This is an old-fashioned fairy tale kind of world where people's characters are reflected by their names.  I enjoyed reading about the mischief the magic got up to and I enjoyed the characters of Mr. Hardbattle and the boy Arthur Goodenough who ends up helping him.

Rocks in my socks: The plot has more holes in it than a sieve, the characters are mostly two-dimensional, and the pacing is slow.  I really wanted to like this book, but I didn't.  It was, like Arthur, good enough but the lackluster characterization and weak plot kept it from truly engaging me.  Having worked in an independent book store the wildly inaccurate depiction of that annoyed me as well.  I have no idea how Mr. Hardbattle could run a shop where the books constantly rearrange themselves, or keep afloat when he only has one or two customers a day unless he's doing crazy amounts of delivery, which doesn't seem to be the case.  His shop must be really tiny too if a couple of people with no book shop experience can shelve ALL the books in the course of a morning.  Many plot devices felt contrived such as the exterminator who randomly stopped by the shop then immediately began work as soon as he discovered what he thought to be a roach infestation without speaking to anyone other than a child too young to actually work there. The completely unsympathetic portrayal of the only teacher in the book didn't exactly thrill me either.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to someone looking for a magical tale to read before bed--something sweet that they'll be able to easily put down and pick up the next night.

Magical Mischief by Anna Dale

Buy it or check it out today!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Breadcrumbs Review

Book talk: Hazel and Jack were best friends until one snowy day in winter.  "It was the sort of snowfall that, if there were any magic to be had in the world, would make it come out. And magic did come out.  But not the kind you were expecting."  Suddenly Jack starts acting strange and stops being friends with Hazel.  Her mother says that these things happen sometimes and to make new friends, but Hazel knows that something is wrong.  Then one day, Jack disappears entirely and no one even seems to notice.  Hazel has read about this sort of thing in books, she knows what to do and may be the only one who can save him, so what choice does she have?  She packs her supplies and sets off into the icy heart of winter.

Rocks my socks: I felt like Ursu did research for this book in the library of my mind.  Although seeing as how we're not all the beautiful unique snowflakes we like to think of ourselves as I'm sure that plenty of other readers will feel the same way.  I experienced a falling out with friends of the opposite gender at the same age. I love Hans Christian Andersen (partly due to my love of Danny Kaye) and many references to his stories are made with the overall framework provided by The Snow Queen.  I appreciated the fact that it explores different family situations with Hazel's parents having recently divorced and Jack's mother going through something that makes her mentally absent.  Hazel herself was adopted by her parents from India and while Hazel does wrestle with that a bit it's clear how much Hazel and her mother love each other and it's painted in a positive and realistic light that is lacking in so many children's novels where adoptive parents are horribly cruel or it's portrayed as a casual act.   Hazel understands the world through the stories she has read, so when she sees Jack's depressed mother she describes her as looking like someone severed her daemon.  I enjoyed little references like these. Casual references throughout the text to the baseball stats of various superheroes from their fantasy league never failed to make me smile.  This story fit me right down to the Grover stuffed animal.  I read this book on my birthday (because that's how librarians celebrate) and it was just the perfect choice.  Thank you Anne Ursu for the lovely birthday present!

Rocks in my socks: Early on in the book Hazel's mom tries to explain snowflakes to her scientifically and Hazel gets upset, wanting to keep the mystery alive and this kind of willful ignorance upset me at first, but then I remembered when I was her age.  Even though I was very into science as a kid for some things I'd avoid hearing any explanation because I wanted to keep a few mysteries.  Ursu captured that sense so well that it reminded me of a feeling I entirely forgot having.  So the thing that bugged me at first ended up just making me love the book all the more.  The only thing I didn't really like were the pictures.  They just felt too clean and modern to me for what is essentially a fairy tale.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to fourth graders and up.  Adults looking for a fairy tale retold will be able to enjoy it as well and it was so nice to see a fairy tale retold novel that wasn't based on the life of a princess in the Disney cannon!  Not only that but it's a fairy tale with a strong heroine who saves her man instead of the other way around.  It's another great outsider tale as well.  Book worms will appreciate all the literary references Hazel makes.  Those looking for a school story will be drawn in by the first half and those looking for a fantasy will be drawn in by the second but there's enough of each in both halves to satisfy fans of both throughout.  Tom boys in particular will appreciate Hazel's exasperated sighs as her mom tries to get her some female friends.

Bonus Quotes: 
"Everyone in a story wants something..Especially the villains."

"'The reality is that sometimes people we love get hurt and we can't just turn into the Incredible Hulk.' Hazel looked at the floor.  The Incredible Hulk batted .273 with a slugging percentage of .581.  He was a disaster in the field, though."

"Now, the world is more than it seems to be.  You know this, of course, because you read stories.  you understand that there is the surface and then there are all the things that glimmer and shift underneath it."

"In books a good choice is choosing to go fight the dragon.  In Hazel's life, it's not going sledding because you left your boots at school."

"The raucous voices of the boys in the back slapped against her like an angry sea.  In the air around her, Jack laughed, Jack hooted, Jack cackled, Jack snickered, Jack was a whole thesaurus entry of glee, and Hazel could only let the waves batter her."

"When your heart has been poisoned and someone picks a dandelion for you--because it is bright and yellow and you seem like you could use something like that--all you can do is contemplate the funny ways of weeds."

"Hazel might have plunged into a mysterious fantasy woods after an evil witch with a pack of wolves at her disposal, but at least she'd brought a compass."

"Her father said she was a princess.  He did not see that she was a brave knight.  Jack did."

"There were so many Jacks she had known, and he had known so many Hazels.  And maybe she wasn't going to be able to know all the Jacks that there would be.  But all the Hazels that ever would be would have Jack in them, somewhere."

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

Buy it or check it out today!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

One Crazy Summer Review

Book talk: This was not how their trip to California was supposed to go.  They were supposed to go to Disneyland and meet Tinkerbell instead of being stuck in Oakland eating breakfast with the Black Panthers.  Delphine knew it was a bad idea to go see the mother who abandoned them as children.  She barely even glanced at her and her sisters when they arrived in the airport and she won't let them anywhere near her kitchen where she makes her poetry.  Now Delphine is stuck watching after her younger sisters, yet again and keeping them safe is no easy task.  They all want to go to the Black Panther rally, but she's read about people being arrested or even killed at them.  What's more important: fighting for what she believes in or keeping her sisters safe?

Rocks my socks: Williams-Garcia does a great job re-creating a pivotal era and populating it with layered and endearing characters that make you care about their problems like they were your own.  They get into a lot of the issues and present some questions to sink your teeth into, while remaining appropriate for a young audience.  I enjoyed seeing the Black Panther movement from the perspective of their summer camp program.  I also loved the local color, of course, being a bay area resident.  I cracked up when they took a trip to San Francisco and were excited about seeing a real flower girl.

Rocks in my socks: The ending was a bit too neat for me, especially considering what a messy period it was. The character we didn't like got his deserts and the girls made a kind of peace with their mother.  They also didn't get as deep into the lives of some of their summer school classmates as I would have liked.  There was a romantic subplot that seemed tacked on to the end as an afterthought.  But those are all rather minor complaints.  This was a great book.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to students grades 4 to 6 who want to learn more about the 60's in general or the Black Panthers specifically.  For older students I'd recommend The Rock and the River which is another excellent novel on the subject that's a bit older and grittier with more complexity to it.  The book has appeal beyond that subject area though, and would be fun for any student in those grades looking for a good summer story.

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

Buy it or check it out today!