Thursday, October 28, 2010

Variations on a Theme: Spooky!

Halloween is fast approaching...  but the candy has already made it to my desk. Yum! Anyway, The Boyfriend just finished reading Dracula just in time for Halloween. (I did the same a few years back.) That spurred me to create a list of classic halloween reads.

Trick or Treat!

Dracula (Qualitas Classics)Dracula
Bram Stoker

Your classic vampire tale. This is the original, and it is rather spectacular. I remember thinking it was streaky. The book is good, for the most part - but the very readable passages are spread out with much narrative. Don't let my review deceive you, this is a good read.

Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus: The 1818 Text (Oxford World's Classics)
Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus
Mary Shelley

They did the mash! The monster mash! Science + Mad Scientist = Pitchfork wielding peasant fun. Shelley set out to to explore how science and injustice act in society. A spooky read that leaves the reader questioning their own humanity over the monster's.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. HydeDr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Robert Louis Stevenson

Of all the classic scary novels out there, this is the one I want to read the most. We're all a bit bipolar, but Stevenson tells a story of one man who is two different people. This book is part mystery, part philosophy, part struggle between a person's good and evil.

The Tell-Tale Heart (Bantam Classics)The Tell-Tale Heart
Edgar Allen Poe

Most of us had to read this is short story in High School (or, if not this, then The Cask of Amontillado). Poe knows his suspense and dramatic tension. Murder, a cover up, and a guilty conscience. This is a classic thriller by a classic prose author.

The Complete Grimm's Fairy TalesThe Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales
Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm

Think these tales are child's play? Wrong! The modern take offs of this stories have been Disneyified. The classic Grimm tales are all chopped off limbs, blood, and evil naughty people. These short tales are perfect for terrifying yourself (or small children).

The Haunting of Hill House (Penguin Classics)The Haunting of Hill House
Shirley Jackson

A Halloween based list has to have some haunting in it. Spooky mansion, scary noises, and naive characters - this has Halloween written all over it. I would not recommend reading this book while you're home alone.

Other Halloween-esque Reads
Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
The Hound of the Baskervilles - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Invisible Man - H.G. Wells
The Island of Doctor Moreau - H.G. Wells
The Man in the Iron Mask - Alexander Dumas
The Phantom of the Opera  - Gaston Leroux
The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde
The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories - Charlotte Perkins Gilman

If you l liked this Variations on a Theme - check out the one on Zombies!

Links and Stuff: October 28, 2010

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Book 34: The Photographer

The Photographer: Into War-torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without BordersTITLE: The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors without Borders
AUTHOR: Emmanuel Guibert, Didier Lefevre, and Frederic Lemercier
STARTED: October 9, 2010
FINISHED: October 9, 2010
PAGES: 267
GENRE: Graphic Novel / Non-Fiction

FIRST SENTENCE: [From the Introduction] Until the events of September 11, 2001, Afghanistan had been off the radar of nearly all Americans for many years.

SUMMARY: [From] This documentary graphic novel brings together starkly beautiful black and white photographs taken by Lefèvre, intimate drawings by Guibert, skillful design by Lemercier and a vibrant translation and thorough introduction by Siegel. In 1986, photographer Lefèvre was hired by Médecins sans Frontières (MSF; Doctors Without Borders), to document a mission into northern Afghanistan. Along the way, he and the doctors, guides and interpreters with whom he traveled endured physical hardship and the fracas of war. In one memorable scene, the group must cross an open plateau where Russian planes fired on the previous MSF caravan. Photographs acting as panels emphasize the vast openness of the plateau, while drawings allow a glimpse of the small human gestures of the travelers. Arriving on the other side of the plateau, they reach a wooded area where, two years ago, they buried the man who didn't make it. This revelation is punctuated by a large photograph of the burial mound under the trees, the mix of drawings and photographs heightening the emotional impact.

THOUGHTS: This book was thick. No really, for a graphic novel is huge - my arms got tired holding it. Thank goodness pillows and thighs make good book rests. I expected to fly through this book but I did not. My readathon palate cleanser turned into quite the read. I found myself stopping time and again to re-read text and study the pictures.

The Photographer is a true story about a photographer who chronicles his journey into Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders. The book takes place before the post-September 11th invasion and I think that makes the story all the more poignant. No one who had a hand in this book goes out to sugar coat the story or make a hero out of anybody. They are just trying to do some good in an area of the world that needs it. The locals come across almost as stereotyped characters, but somehow manage to seem more curious than anything else.

I was struck by how intense the images came across. There is a stark difference between drawn comic and the included photographs, this made the book seem more real and current. I don't know how, but it just did.I would be intrigued to see what images from the trip failed to make it into the book.

This graphic novel is not a quick read, nor is it particularly easy to get through. The time it takes to read The Photographer is worth it and I think any reader would find themselves placing this story into the context of today.

RATING: 8/10 [Terrific]

Useful Things: Umbrella or Sunglasses?

The weather in D.C. has been a little bipolar as of late. Mornings will start cool and crisp and they day will end muggy and hot. Today it poured, now it's brilliantly sunny. Days like this wreck havoc on my commute and hair. Luck for me, I've got bookmarked. is the online website for The Weather Channel (who is now with less weather?). Anyway, it may be an oldie, but it's still a goodie. In fact, has made some recent changes that make the website more useful.

You can still check out today's weather, tomorrow's weather, and the long-term forecast. But the new features now include homepage personalization like a commute forecast, watering need indicator, pollen reports, and flight status. As with most websites these days, now has a RSS feeds and mobile apps and a place to submit iwitness reports. is so full of stuff that you could spend hours poking around. If all you need is today's forecast, this website has your back with a few bonus items on the side.

If is too boring for you, you could always jump to Umbrella Today?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Book 33: Death of a Snob

Death of a Snob (Hamish Macbeth Mysteries, No. 6)TITLE: Death of a Snob
AUTHOR: M.C. Beaton
STARTED: October 9, 2010
FINISHED: October 9, 2010
PAGES: 151
GENRE: Mystery

FIRST SENTENCE: Police constable Hamish Macbeth was a desperate man - ill, friendless, and, at the approach to Christmas, near to death.

SUMMARY: [From] Series detective Hamish Macbeth, with more couth and tenacity than the usual Scottish villager, visits a health farm on the Hebridean island of Eileencraig to investigate a woman's suspicions that someone wants her dead. He joins a holiday house party there, and meets an unconscionable snob who ends up with a broken neck. Hamish suspects more than an accident, and with the aid of an attractive cookbook writer, he nails the culprit. This efficient little caper, full of gentle humor, quick character sketches, and easy movement, will endear itself to Hamish fans and newcomers as well.

THOUGHTS: Ah, Hamish. You are so adorable.

I wanted to read this series from book one, but this was the earliest book available at my library. Good thing you can read these babies out of order. Once again, I, not a fan of mystery, quite enjoyed this book. There's just something addictive about Hamish's wit, smarts, and quaint take on life. I enjoyed spending time with him as he navigated his way through a most interesting Christmas season.

Like Death of a Maid, I didn't care about the mystery itself, but I was in love with Hamish and all the situations he encounters. Beaton has a way of making all the characters in her novels fun to read about. They may grace the book for only a few pages, but they are all enjoyable. In this book, I particularly liked the man who thought his truck was possessed.

Finally, for a mystery novel, it sure took a long time for a dead body to show up.

Bonus points to Beaton for throwing in a minor subplot about romance novels that left me cackling.

P.S. Everytime I read this series (all of twice now), I have an urge to drink tea and eat scones. I may have to prepare some next time.

RATING: 6/10 [Good]

YouTube Tuesday: Let's break out of the mold shall we


Oh look! Stereotypes.

Then again, when you add up all the stereotypes, you see that you can't stereotype librarians at all.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Book 32: The Exile

The Exile: An Outlander Graphic NovelTITLE: The Exile: An Outlander Graphic Novel
AUTHOR: Diana Gabaldon
STARTED: October 9, 2010
FINISHED: October 9, 2010
PAGES: 224
GENRE: Graphic Novel

FIRST SENTENCE: [From the intro] My mother taught me to read at the age of three - in part by reading me Walt Disney Comics.

SUMMARY: [From] After too long an absence, Jamie Fraser is coming home to Scotland—but not without great trepidation. Though his beloved godfather, Murtagh, promised Jamie’s late parents he’d watch over their brash son, making good on that vow will be no easy task. There’s already a fat bounty on the young exile’s head, courtesy of Captain Black Jack Randall, the sadistic British officer who’s crossed paths—and swords—with Jamie in the past. And in the court of the mighty MacKenzie clan, Jamie is a pawn in the power struggle between his uncles: aging chieftain Colum, who demands his nephew’s loyalty—or his life—and Dougal, war chieftain of Clan MacKenzie, who’d sooner see Jamie put to the sword than anointed Colum’s heir.And then there is Claire Randall—mysterious, beautiful, and strong-willed, who appears in Jamie’s life to stir his  compassion . . . and arouse his desire.

But even as Jamie’s heart draws him to Claire, Murtagh is certain she’s been sent by the Old Ones, and Captain Randall accuses her of being a spy. Claire clearly has something to hide, though Jamie can’t believe she could pose him any danger. Still, he knows she is torn between two choices—a life with him, and whatever it is that draws her thoughts so often elsewhere. 

THOUGHTS: So pretty. The art in this graphic novel is just stunning. The story was a nice change of viewpoint from the rest of the series. I know for a fact that I will be rereading this book just to make sure that I picked up on all the details and plot points that Gabaldon put into this novel. I admit, I was distracted by the pictures and missed a bit of the storyline. Whoops.

RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]

Book 31: Mockingjay

Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games)TITLE: Mockingjay
AUTHOR: Suzanne Collins
STARTED: October 9, 2010
FINISHED: October 9, 2010
PAGES: 400
GENRE: Juvenile

FIRST SENTENCE: I stare down at my shoes, watching as a fine layer of ash settles on the worn leather.

SUMMARY: [From] Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But now that she's made it out of the bloody arena alive, she's still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Who do they think should pay for the unrest? Katniss. And what's worse, President Snow has made it clear that no one else is safe either. Not Katniss's family, not her friends, not the people of District 12. Powerful and haunting, this thrilling final installment of Suzanne Collins's groundbreaking The Hunger Games trilogy promises to be one of the most talked about books of the year.

THOUGHTS: I began my readathon with this book. Because I devoured the book so quickly, I let my thoughts about it roll around in my head for awhile. After much contemplation, I have to say that the conclusion to the Hunger Games series was just okay for me. I neither loved nor hated the ending, I just wish that the final book had the same addictive quality as the first book in the series.

Collins was still able to shock me on occasion, but the majesty of the first two books was missing. The whole volume felt a wee bit rushed, as if Collins couldn't wait to wrap things up. I enjoy a fast paced book, but not when that pace makes the book feel incomplete. The imagination of the story was still present, but the dramatic tension was off. I guess, by book three, you know how the characters are going to react to each situation.

This book bugged me a little because Katniss was beginning to feel selfish. Her reactions were in keeping with her character but, for all she's been through, I had hoped that Collins would have matured her a bit more. I found myself wanting to smack her at times and scream "Grow up!" Also, the rest of the characters in the series revolve too much around Katniss. Collins should have shown them as more independent characters. That would have added to the dramatic tension and realism of the story. In some ways, it felt as if the other characters ceased to exist when they were not interacting with Katniss.

I still have to give kudos to Collins for keeping the story interesting, creative, and fast paced. The world of the series is fascinating and I am moping over the fact that the books are done. I want to go back to book one and read them all over again.

As a final note, the epilogue was welcome, but I almost wish I could have imagined the ending for myself. Leaving the series a little open ended would have felt more in line with the set up of the novels.

RATING: 6/10 [Good]

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Links and Stuff: October 21, 2010

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Useful Things: Fly Me to the Moon

In honor of my flight home today (hello, upstate NY fall foliage!), I bring you an awesome tool - FlightStats.

This awesome website is a great flight tracker. I have been known to track my flight up until the moment I leave and to also track the flights of those I'm expecting until they arrive. It's addictive.

What makes this flight tracker so much fun is the offerings for each individual flight. You not only get departure and arrival times, but you can also watch altitude, the flight path, wind speed, and a whole lot of other data.

My favorite part is the map. It zooms in and out once the plane is in the air so you can see exactly where the aircraft is over the country.

The website also lets you add widgets to your webpage, send updates to your phone, and check out airport related information (i.e. ground delays, local traffic delays, etc.).

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Book 30: Dirty Sexy Politics

Dirty Sexy Politics [Hardcover]TITLE: Dirty Sexy Politics
AUTHOR: Meghan McCain
STARTED: October 4, 2010
FINISHED: October 7, 2010
PAGES: 194
GENRE: Memoir

FIRST SENTENCE: Freedom is addictive.

SUMMARY: [From] Meghan McCain came to prominence as the straight-talking, progressive daughter of the 2008 Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain. And her profile has only risen since the election ended in favor of the other guy.

What makes Meghan so appealing? As a new role model for young, creative, and vocal members of the GOP, she's unafraid to mix it up and speak her mind. In Dirty Sexy Politics she takes a hard look at the future of her party. She doesn't shy away from serious issues and her raucous humor and down-to-earth style keep her positions accessible.

In this witty, candid, and boisterous book, Meghan takes us deep behind the scenes of the campaign trail. She steals campaign signs in New Hampshire, tastes the nightlife in Nashville, and has a strange encounter with Laura and Jenna Bush at the White House. Along the way, she falls in love with America--while seeing how far the Republican Party has veered from its core values of freedom, honesty, and individuality. In Dirty Sexy Politics, Meghan McCain gives us a true insider's account of life on a campaign trail.

THOUGHTS: I have a girl crush on Meghan McCain. I don't know when it started, but when I saw that she wrote a book, I knew I would read it. (Kind of like how I know I will read Snooki's book when it comes out.) When McCain's book arrived at the library for inclusion in our new popular reading collection, I snatched it up before anyone else had the chance.

Well, I still have a girl crush on Meghan McCain (and no, it's not because she spells her name right), but this book kind of dulled the shine. I most enjoyed the text when she discusses her political opinion. I like how she is a no nonsense, unapologetic, politically outspoken woman. Our personal politics are not the same, but I think McCain speaks more sense than most people give her credit for. Her writing on politics is quite fascinating because she's been surrounded by it for her entire life. Insider stories are always interesting to read, and I like how McCain breaks down her viewpoints and explains why she has them. I also likes how she uses her opinions to criticize the GOP.

What I disliked was how McCain seems to sell herself short all the time. The book is very emotional - make that incredibly emotional. McCain makes no excuses for how she acted during the campaign (which I like) but constantly calls herself a "daughter of" (which I loathe). Throughout the book, McCain paints herself as an accessory or a distraction. Personally, I think she should have owned who she is and been a stronger character. She's constantly making herself out to be a road block in her father's campaign. I was quite frustrated how she let her emotions and position get the best of her.

That said, I think that showing her vulnerabilities and personality makes McCain a more sympathetic figure. Those same factors also lead me to believe that she may have indeed written this book herself. McCain's book reads much like her Twitter. I enjoyed all of her stories and am quite intrigued to see how the rest of her life pans out.

But really, I wish she would stop referring to herself as a "daughter of." Ms. McCain, you are a complete woman - not  political accessory.

RATING: 6/10 [Good]

YouTube Tuesday: DeweYou Rap?

There are no words for this video. Just watch. It's amusing.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Book 29: Librarians as Community Partners

Librarians As Community Partners: An Outreach HandbookTITLE: Librarians as Community Partners: An Outreach Handbook
AUTHOR: Carol Smallwood (ed.)
STARTED: September 14, 2010
FINISHED: October 5, 2010
PAGES: 205
GENRE: Library Science

FIRST SENTENCE: What part of a book does a reader look at first?

SUMMARY: [From] Including 64 focused snapshots of outreach in action, this resource reflects the creative solutions of librarians searching for new and innovative ways to build programs that meet customer needs while expanding the library s scope into the community. This contributed volume includes:
  • A huge array of program options for partnering with other community groups
  • Outreach in action through writing essays, poetry, and fiction
  • Event planning for library anniversaries, book festivals, science projects, and student athletes
With a wide range of contributors, this book will give you a multifaceted approach for reaching out within your community.

THOUGHTS: My ideal library job is one where I am tasked with reaching out to people to either a.) get them into the library b.) offer information literacy instruction or c.) lobbying on behalf of libraries and literacy. Librarians as Community Partners is a great book (at least for me) because it gets the imagination wheels in my brain turning. Libraries do not exist in a vacuum and this book highlights great examples of the library as community member.

The book is composed of essays sorted into different categories. I read the book straight through, but a reader could also pick and choose which essays they are most interested in reading. Every essay offers individual insights and lessons from outreach and instruction events. All the essays were well conceived and written but some essay activities seemed far more feasible than others.

Librarians as Community Partners serves as a great jumping off point. I could easily see myself adapting these events and lessons into my own line of work. While some of the essays did seem repetitive after awhile, they all served to showcase just how important it is for librarians to be proactive and receptive to their community's wants and needs.

RATING: 7/10 [Very Good]