Tag Archives: Reader Advisory

Book Review: Mister Pip, by Lloyd Jones

Not exactly Great Expectations

Mister Pip

I discovered Mister Pip a few years ago (yes, the discovery is mine and mine alone). I was shelving other, less important books when that thing happened…when you notice a book for no remarkable reason. No glitter or bright colors, lusty vampiric individuals, geometric patterns or unusual shape—just a slim blue book that inexplicably made me double take and pull it off the shelf. I didn’t know what the Man Booker Prize was, and I didn’t care. I just knew that this book was going to be gold. Mister Pip introduces Matilda and the delicate dichotomy between the reality of her village being torn apart by war and her literary escape with Pip, Dickens, and Mr. Watts. When the divisions crumble with unexpected harshness, Matilda is left to cipher the events with insights from both worlds.

-Signing off, Jenny Barrows (who is STILL reading Great Expectations)

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Book Review: The Ghost Map, by Steven Johnson

Non-Fiction Fun

The Ghost Map

Who knew that human waste and drinking water don’t mix? Not Londoners in 1854, where a contaminated well led to a deadly cholera outbreak. Two men – a doctor and a minister – followed two very different paths to figure out where the disease had come from and how to stop it. Spoiler: it wasn’t “miasma;” the conventional wisdom at the time that illness was caused by a fog of bad air around the poor. A fascinating look at Victorian epidemiology, and one of my favorite non-fiction books.

-Signing off, Kit Gette (who is very grateful for modern medicine)

Book Review: A Visit From the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan

Time's a goon

A Visit From the Goon Squad

I adore dystopian fiction, the cancelled (and excellent) TV show Freaks and Geeks, non-linear plots, interconnected story lines  well-written bleak endings, and the film Almost Famous. Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad combines all of those elements (along with many others, whether she meant to or not) into what I will confidently proclaim the best book I read in 2012. A careful arrangement of dovetailing stories, Goon Squad visits 1980, Africa, New York City (several times), a studio apartment bathtub, the present, the near-future, a cocaine-filled penthouse, declining music producers’ boardrooms, San Francisco, high school, the desert and etc. via the appearances and reappearances of characters throughout the novel’s short stories (or chapters, whichever you prefer). Shifting between traditional narrative, PowerPoint images, text lingo, and perspectives, Egan’s characters and their stories reveal that, “Time’s a goon, right?”

-Signing off, Jenny Barrows (who would recommend this book to rock stars and wannabe rock stars…so that’s basically everyone)

Book Review: An Abundance of Katherines

I’m not sure if I really liked An Abundance of Katherines. I am sure that I am sad that I am unsure.

At this point in my mission to read every book written by John Green, I am pretty sold that he is a good author. Not just good at producing kind of acceptable books for teenagers, but good in the broad spectrum of good. Not necessarily Dickens or anything, but FAR superior to anything Stephenie Meyer has ever written or will ever write. Ever.

Moving on.

An Abundance of Katherines is about a boy who was dumped by a girl named Katherine. Two things make this boy different from other boys who have been dumped by girls: 1. He is a child prodigy (or was, since he is technically 18 in the book’s present day) and 2. He has dated and been dumped by 19 Katherines. Rather than wallow in being dumped for the 19th time by the 19th girl named Katherine…he redefines wallow and exceeds all measures of pathetic. Luckily, like most slightly unlikable, self-involved protagonists, Colin has a best friend (Hassan) who drags him out of the house for a pre-college road trip. (Technically the road trip is only pre-college for Colin because Hassan refuses to attend college, ever). One antic leads to another and the two end up in Gutshot, Tennessee, the final resting place of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. There, they stay with Lindsey Lee Wells and her mother Hollis, the owners of a tampon string company that basically employs and sustains the town.

Colin devotes his summer to developing a theorem that predicts the arch of relationships: specifically who will dump who and when. Thinking this theorem is the only thing that can transform him from child prodigy to adult genius, Colin unreasonably puts all of his eggs in one basket. Or tampon strings in one box. Anyway. The major theme that develops is: “not all absolute truths are absolute,” or something similar to that. Colin’s certainties are not as rock solid as Green leads you to believe in the novels start, nor are anyone else’s.

This book has all the fantastic elements that make up a Green book: insecure protagonist, humorous best friend, likable but “lost” leading lady, slightly preposterous circumstances, and a mildly unrealistic dialogue for teenagers. However, I just didn’t fall for it the way I did for Paper Towns and Looking for Alaska. Maybe I’m an idiot (very likely). Or, maybe I’m on to something. When the main character is as pitiful as Colin, it is difficult to really care if he grows up or not. I think I would have liked the book much more if Lindsey Lee Wells’ personal growth was more central, or further developed.

In conclusion: I’m sorry for the mildly negative book review. However, rule #1 about reading is: never EVER buy in to someone else’s opinion. Read Green’s An Abundance of Katherines, and discover your own opinions.

Review by emerging John Green fan girl/nerd fighter Jenny Barrows

Book Review: I Am The Messenger

Ed: We interrupt your normally scheduled mold/library report to bring you this breaking book review.

I read I Am The Messenger over the long weekend. I’m still not sure how I feel about it.

Did I enjoy it? Yes.
Would I recommend it? Yes.
Am I glad I read it? Yes.

But the book is bothering me, and all because of the ending. I can’t decide if it’s brilliant, or…something else. Which is too bad, because so much of the rest of the book is brilliant. A guy who everyone thinks is a loser (especially himself) gains minor fame after sort-of foiling a bank robbery. Soon after, he receives a playing card in the mail. It has three places and times written on it. Ed’s been given a chance to make more changes in the world – if he can figure out what he’s meant to do.

The book was darker than I thought it would be (though really, after reading The Book Thief I should have know). And some of the plot developments were extremely satisfying (though again, they surprised me more than they probably should have).

I think I owe it a second reading, just to see what stands out to me now that I have a better idea of what’s going on.

Got something to say about this book/post/what was for lunch today? Leave a comment!

– Signing off, Kit Gette (whose mysterious mail only amounts to bills)

Hopkins Students Take Library Books on Vacation

The Calarco Library held its first-ever Take a Book on Break program during the two days leading up to March break. On the Thursday prior to break, Ms. Bray and I (Ms. Barrows) ventured up to the Weissman Room in Heath with books and cookies in tow. Junior Schoolers were invited to visit during their free period to browse through dozens of young adult fiction books brought up from the library. Friday was devoted to Middle and Upper School students. There were many more new books on display in the library (including a popular cart of books “leftover” from the JSchool event) and cookies for everyone who checked out a book. Your librarians thoroughly enjoyed both events. We had a great time hearing about how much our students love to read for pleasure and sharing book recommendations with them.

Junior School

Below you can see the room set up, ready and waiting for students. Ms. Bray, Mrs. Dubois, Ms. Prendergast and I wondered how many students would venture upstairs. Five? Twenty-five? Maybe even thirty? Think about  how you feel when you present a project that you’ve put a lot of effort into: confident, because you’ve worked hard so you expect good results; nervous, because this is the culmination of all your effort; and anxious, because you are unsure of how the audience will react to your ideas. That’s how we felt! So we crossed our fingers, hoping everyone would enjoy themselves and find something great to read on their vacations.

Before the chaos

We promoted the Junior School Take a Book on Break program with a Glog (with an embedded Animoto video) that was e-mailed to the 7th and 8th grade students and advisers; Ms. Bray made announcements during JSchool lunches.

We arranged the books into broad themes – LOLScience Fiction and FantasyThrillers and ChillersDrama, and Award Winners – put some cookies on the table for students to take when they checked out books, set up a Prezi of book trailers, and waited.

As you can see in our Animoto video below, the outcome was terrific. While 43 students checked out 55 books, their enthusiasm was the best part of the event. Thank you for visiting JSchool, and we hope to see you again soon!

Upper School

Since Middle and Upper School students have more flexibility in their schedules, we decided their event should be casual and not restrained by a time-frame. We had high expectations about student response to our invitation, but there was no way to predict how many would actually respond to the Glog and Animoto video promoting the event. But, Hopkins students rose to the occasion, as usual, and dozens visited Calarco to check out books, ask for recommendations, snack on some cookies, and talk about spring break plans.

In short, we were thrilled by the turn-out and excitement of all our students. In total, 116 books were checked out during the Upper School program. Your librarians thoroughly enjoyed sharing book recommendations and hearing about how much you love to read for fun. We want to thank all of you who asked questions, ate cookies, and/or left with a book (or sometimes several books) in hand, and invite you to share your thoughts about the Take a Book on a Break Program.

Questions and Suggestions are welcome in the comments section.

Coming Soon: Stay tuned for an upcoming entry featuring our “Photograph a Book on Vacation” contest winners.

How to Pick a Good Book…

…or at least how to do more than close your eyes and select at random.

So many books, so little time!

photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc

What makes a book a good book? Of course, the entire process of making that decision is inherently subjective. Let’s present a hypothetical: you (the reader) are a fan of the comprehensive genre “horror”. Some of your favorite movies are Dawn of the DeadThe Shining and The Omen. You not only watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but you read the Buffy comic books written and published by Joss Whedon. You have also read many of the classic “horror” books—DraculaFrankensteinInterview with the VampireThe Shining (again), The Tell-Tale HeartThe Haunting of Hill House—your list is diverse and substantial. But now you want to read something new, whether there is an upcoming vacation or all of your college applications have been submitted, you have decided that you deserve a good book.

Will you like Twilight?

Is this for you?

photo credit: hollowcrown_ via photopin cc

The answers are wide-ranging and inexact, and the logic behind the answer could be debated, but that is not the point. The purpose of this exercise is to demonstrate how even a well-read individual with a predisposition to a particular genre could be misguided in a reading choice.

photo credit: lyk3_0n3_tym3 via photopin cc

We are not all so lucky to be biased towards any particular genre, and many of us muddle even deeper through the Land of Lost Readers. This is a general roadmap, not an exact GPS-generated directional route that can help you choose a good book. Hold fast to this guide during your initial ventures, or even more conveniently, download the WordPress app to your iPhone for easy access to the information presented below.

Tip #1: The Calarco Library LibGuides

Our reading-based LibGuides are a good place to get started. Check out the What’s New in the Library guide for the list of all fiction and non-fiction books that are new to the library. The Kindle LibGuide includes a list of titles loaded on our Kindles along with links to a motley collection of book awards lists. This latter point leads to Tip #2…

Tip #2: Book Award Lists

Each award has its own parameters and stipulations, but most “major” awards serve as reliable starting points. Here are the links to some of the most popular awards:

Tip #3: Blogs

Blogs are becoming regular pit stops for readers seeking book selection advice, and it goes without saying that we think you should use this one as a resource. Although the quantity of reader advisory blogs may initially seem overwhelming, you can develop your personal list of “go to” blogs by exploring several and visiting them regularly. Here are a few to get you started:

Tip #4: Review Sources

There are almost as many book review sources as there are blogs about books. Rather than list dozens of premier book review sources, I am only going to mention two: Kirkus Review and The New York Times, bedrocks in the intimidating world of formal book reviews.

Tip #5GoodReads.com 

Social networking for books—who wouldn’t want to explore this resource? When you sign up with GoodReads, you choose if you want to link your GoodReads profile to Facebook and Twitter. Linking can help find more friends on GoodReads, but it is not necessary. The avenues to finding a good book are varied—add friends to see their latest reads, rate books in order to get recommendations (must rate a minimum of 20), and find books to add to your shelves. The default bookshelves are Read, Currently Reading, and To Read. You can also add more shelves that are organized to fit your particular needs. Is there an app? Of course, but only for iPhones.

Calmly pick a book amidst the whirlwind of choices

photo credit: Casey David via photopin cc

Tip #6: Yourself

This tip should be obvious, but it is oftentimes elusive. Trust your instincts—sometimes a book grabbed at random off of a library or bookstore shelf (whether physically or on a tablet device) proves an excellent read. Pay attention to your “inner reader,” and listen to the people whose reading opinions you value. Sometimes the best resources for opinions are not found in critical reviews or auto-generated book recommendations, but amongst those whom you see everyday.

Walk through the fog with a friend, and you will find your way

 photo credit: Casey David via photopin cc