Friday, March 18, 2016

Word twins video

Interesting stuff! The fast-draw really makes this video entertaining.

Bunheads review

by Sophie Flack
October 2011
First line: "My name is Hannah Ward. Don't call me a ballerina."

19 year-old Hannah Ward has given up most of her childhood in pursuit of her dreams... a spot in the corps de ballet of the famous Manhattan Ballet Company. As a very worldly teenager, she's already been living in Manhattan for several years, and is slowly but surely attempting to work her way to the top of the heap in her clique-ish, exclusive world.

When I first heard about this book, I thought for certain it would be some kind of exploration of body issues, and maybe an anorexia book with touches of evil competitiveness a lá Black Swan. That is the stereotype of the hard-driving, ambitious, slightly-crazy ballerina, right? I was pleased that the book dispels those ideas immediately. Hannah's not anorexic - she's always been naturally slim. It's just her natural body type. She eats healthy, but "cheats" every now and then with a big bowl of pasta or (thanks to lax city bartenders) the occasional glass of wine. She doesn't hate her fellow dancers - they are her best friends and constant companions. She doesn't even consider herself a true "ballerina." She's a ballet dancer, but she's not a star. For her, it's a living.

Flack's own experience as a dancer lends lots of realistic details to the book. Hannah and her friends are heartily sick of The Nutcracker, a perennial audience favorite which is physically challenging yet artistically boring. They are tired of having to dance through filthy re-used plastic snow every night, which then wends it's way into everything: hair, clothes, even the utensil drawer at home ends up with stray bits of dirty white fluff.

Another detail I didn't expect, but found completely believable was the staff of professional masseuses and sports doctors on hand to treat the ballet dancers - massaging them into shape, even offering an ultrasound machine in the basement, where dancers are invited to wand their tired bones back into fighting form again.

When Hannah meets Jacob, a gorgeous college-student musician, they are both instantly equally smitten. Hannah soon realizes just how all-encompassing her schedule really is as she struggles to make time for him. I loved how from her perspective, she sees Jacob, "all the time" - bending over backwards to call in favors and skipping classes in order to get in a simple date. From Jacob's perspective, he almost never sees Hannah. He likes her a lot... and he'll wait patiently for her, but even so, a man has his limits. In fact, Hannah is only seeing Jacob every couple of months - to her, with a jam-packed routine where every moment is either devoted to rehearsals, auditions, performances or classes, it really does seem like time flies. It would be so much easier to continue to ensconce herself in the world of the "bunheads" - the serious ballet dancers, and date the charming son of one of the ballet company's most generous benefactors.

As Hannah puts on a little weight, she's mortified to have to wear a bra for the first time. A few critical comments from her dance director leave her feeling shaky and unsure of herself. Again, I liked how this is a brief crisis of conscience, rather than an all-encompassing quest for her. I thought Hannah's main struggle was in how her ballet colleagues - who have been her entire universe - will most certainly judge her if she chooses to dial back on what is already a short-lived career for "some boy." Ultimately, Hannah has to do what feels right for her, and I liked being inside her head as she thoughtfully considers her options.

Romantic, funny and totally absorbing, I loved this look into the life of a dancer who struggles with "work/life balance," on a grand scale. I highly recommend this book.
Compare to:
Audition - Stasia Ward Kehoe
Jenna & Jonah's Fauxmance - Brendan Halpin & Emily Franklin
Confessions of a Back-up Dancer - Taylor Shaw

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Steelheart review

by Brandon Sanderson
Delacorte Press
January 2013

First line: "I've seen Steelheart bleed."

Sanderson's well-thought out and creative take on superheroes stars an ordinary teen determined to take down Steelheart, the all powerful super villain who has transformed Chicago into a dystopian perpetual nighttime metalscape. Ever wonder what Superman would be like if he was pure evil? As usual, Sanderson's world-building is superb and the powers that each of "Epics" possesses are used in unusual and surprising ways.

David is your typical, awkward teenage guy - except for the fact that he witnessed Steelheart murder his father during a bank robbery gone wrong and as one of the few survivors of a Steelheart attack, he's lived a life undercover, bent on revenge and intensely studying up on Epics. He hopes to join the Reckoners - a small group of ordinary humans who are fighting the Epics in secret.

The book has a fast-paced cinematically inspired style, with plenty of fight scenes and a dash of romance for David. My favorite humorous scene was when David is put on the spot while hiding in plain sight at a gun dealer's shop and amazingly is able to rattle off the specs of each of the weapons in the room. David's wacky misuse of metaphors provides another stock-in-trade measure of comic relief.

Graduates of Sanderson's Alcatraz and the Evil Librarians series will especially appreciate this action-packed superhero adventure tale.

Compare to:
Sidekicks - Jack D. Ferraiolo
Chance Fortune and the Outlaws - Shane Berryhill
Council of Evil - Andy Briggs
The Rise of Renegade X - Chelsea M. Campbell

I borrowed this book from the library.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Read in February

Last month I read the following:

1. The Storybook of Legends - Shannon Hale
2. Pivot Point - Kasie West
3. Outlander - Diana Gabaldon
4. Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion - Elizabeth L. Cline
5. A Discovery of Witches - Deborah Harkness
6. Firefight - Brandon Sanderson
7. Uprooted - Naomi Novik

picture credit:   La Liseuse by Alexandre Charpentier

Friday, February 26, 2016

Baby 365

Earlier this year, I made a pledge to read to my baby daughter every day. I was feeling like, "the cobbler's children have no shoes." I had every best intention of reading to her, and LOTS of books to choose from, but with a jam-packed schedule, it was hard to make the time.

I'm about 3 months in... how is it going? It's going really well! I am glad that I'm making the effort. Sometimes we end up skipping a day, but usually there's another day where I really have her attention and we read 2 books so that makes up for it.

I think having a professional relationship with books, I felt a certain pressure to heavily curate my books at home and only offer my daughter the very, very best. Choosing to read every day, weirdly, took the pressure right off. I end up reading whatever we've got to hand. Ratty board book at the local coffee shop? Check. Books at the pediatrician's office? Check. Books from the dollar store? Yes. Library books? Yes, and yes. Pretty much a smattering of everything. I'll say my daughter's taste has really evolved in the past month or so. Board books, with sturdy cardboard pages, are an absolute must. She used to respond to high-contrast, black and white picture books. Lately, she enjoys books with a lot more color and simple words, especially animal sounds. Last night I read her a touch and feel book with fluffy pages that she loved.

Here's a sampling of what we read our first month into this project:

Friday, February 19, 2016

Eliza's Freedom Road review

Eliza's Freedom Road
by Jerdine Nolan
Simon & Schuster
January 2011

First line, "Dear Reader, I am Eliza. Not the girl, but the grown woman Eliza. It has been many years since I was called Eliza. I call myself Elizabeth now."

12 year-old Eliza lives as a slave in the 1850's in Alexandria, Virginia. As a house slave, she enjoys a comparative number of advantages but still must endure many injustices. She is friends with the house cook, and therefore eats well. Her half-blind mistress has taught her how to read (an unusual advantage for a slave) so that Eliza can read her letters and newspapers. Eliza even has a small diary that she is able to keep. Her mother has sewn her a beautiful quilt, with each quilt square representing a traditional folktale. But Eliza's mother has recently been sent away, and there is talk that Eliza may be sold next. She decides to make a break for it, and the bulk of the story, in diary format, is about her year-long journey northward to Canada by night. Alternating between stories of Eliza's escape and traditionally-inspired folktales, this book reminded me just a little bit of The Wanderer by Sharon Creech.

Eliza is an oddly formal little girl - her tone is a bit stilted, and she never uses contractions, but that may be a reflection of the proper speech of the 1850's. As a "house slave" with a bit of education, she doesn't employ colloquial slave speech. The book culminates in a meeting with the legendary leader of the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman. True to history, Tubman is a gruff, no-nonsense figure.

An impressive amount of backmatter helps young readers put everything in perspective. There is an author's note, as well as some information about the background of the folktales within the tale. There's also a bibliography of other resources and a list of websites, which I always think will date a book quickly, but certainly have plenty of use at the moment.

The book wraps up very quickly, with a few amazing coincidences that leave our heroine safely reunited with her mother, who has also escaped by the story's end. I'll recommend this to anyone who has exhausted the Dear America series or for those readers who might appreciate the formal prose that takes you to another century.

Compare to:
The Wanderer - Sharon Creech
I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly - Joyce Hansen
A Picture of Freedom - Patricia C. McKissack

I borrowed this book from the library.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign.

I hate signs. I hate signs in the library.

There, I've said it.

Well, that's not exactly true. I do like decent wayfinding. When I see a shiny new library, with large, easy to read signs and good traffic flow patterns, that is nice. Several years ago, I did a sign renovation project at my library, replacing ragged, ratty, wordy signs with simple and inviting messages. That was so satisfying! I can't stand most handmade signs, tacked up by frustrated staff who are tired of constantly dealing with a problem. No one reads them. Can I tell you how many times I've had a patron ask me a question while standing directly in front of the sign that contains the info they are asking about? It happens a lot.

Here is a whole collection of signs of the sort that I mean: Pinterest library signs.

Does your library have signs like these?
"Please do not reshelve library materials."
"No food or drink."
"This area is a quiet zone."
"Please keep an eye on your materials, thefts are not uncommon."
"Do not bathe, shave or sleep in the bathroom."

Whenever possible, I try to avoid having these kinds of signs as they all come across negative, with a passive-aggressive quality. Putting signs up like these doesn't solve a problem, it just creates visual clutter. Oh! And bonus points for signs printed in red. With underlining. And italics. Or all caps. And exclamation points. And bars sinister. Those kind of signs are the worst!

Instead of a sign that says, "Please do not reshelve library materials," how about a sign that says, "Please, leave books here."

"No food or drink" is a tricky one. If you don't have the staff to (kindly) enforce this, then I don't see the point in putting up a sign that everyone ignores. It only reinforces how toothless that policy is. Ha!

"This area is a quiet zone." Here is another sign that really doesn't need to be around. Much better to have enough staff routinely perambulate through the library and to (gently) remind patrons if they get too rowdy.

"Please keep an eye on your materials, thefts are not uncommon." This is one of the few signs that I don't mind so much. I have seen some clever signs to this effect - and there are some studies that show a picture of an eye, or an authority figure is sometimes enough to deter theft all on its own! Don't overdo it though.

"Do not bathe, shave or sleep in the bathroom." Oh man. Here is another example of the kind of sign that I feel does no good. It makes the library feel sleazy and trashy to any casual user. And the kind of patron (probably homeless) who is in such desperate straits as to try to take a bath in a public library restroom sink isn't going to be deterred by a sign. You don't need a sign to make a policy stick, either. One shouldn't need to post signs for every possible infraction. Sure, when you have to approach a patron who is breaking this rule, it's awkward, and yes, that individual may grasp for a bit of dignity by sputtering at you, "Well! I don't see a SIGN, prohibiting bathing!" That doesn't matter. You do not need a sign. Putting up a sign is not the answer.


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