December 18, 2007

Our New Art Lamp

Our library finally has a conversation piece worth talking about. As one of the last parts of our renovation plan, we purchased this art lamp. The lamp is just a cylinder of light, but it comes with up to 100 hangers you can use to hang original artwork. Right now, we have snowflakes hanging that were created by patrons and staff. The library staff are already talking about future projects. Hearts for Valentines Day? Flip flops for summer? Today, my co-worker came in and brought some origami butterflies made from pretty blue and purple paper. She wants to hang them on the lamp this summer to go with the teen summer reading theme: Metamorphosis. This lamp has great potential to be an eye pleaser.

November 27, 2007

Movie List: Zee's Must See Holiday Movies

Here they are folks, the movies I must see each and every Christmas season. This is as necessary as breathing air to me. Some of the movies are just plain entertaining. Some of them are family favorites and remind of my younger childhood days when Christmas was truly magical. And some of them just make me laugh. Here's the list, in no particular order.

November 26, 2007

Library Program: Make Gocks!

I kept hearing that teen librarians were making gocks (aka gothic sock puppets), and wondered what the fuss was all about. Well, let me tell you, this program is hot! Usually, the same group of teens come over and over again to my events.

I even had a walk-in older male teen enter the programming room when he heard the announcement, a risky move in a roomful of teenage girls.

The program originally ran in VOYA magazine. You take ordinary socks, any pattern, although plain black or funky patterns work the best. Then, use hot glue to apply hair, googly eyes, facial features, and you have a gock.

November 23, 2007

Movie Review: Into the Wild

When Christopher McCandless graduates from Emory University, his parents are sure he will follow the path they have set for him and become a lawyer. McCandless wants nothing to do with that. He has grown up watching his parents choke on the American dream. They seem terribly unhappy.
Instead, he wants to break out of the trap, give away all of his money, take only the most essential possessions on his back, and work his way up to his ultimate adventure: surviving alone in Alaska. He left home in summer of 2000. By April of 2002, he was ready to walk into the wilds of Alaska.
On September 6, 2002, McCandless's malnourished body was found dead in a bus he had survived in for the past several months. What lead him to this fate? Dying alone is no man's dream. Primary source material for this movie and the book it was based on are the journals McCandless filled while he was on the road.

November 13, 2007

Book Review: Jinx by Meg Cabot

Jean is known by her family as Jinx because bad luck seems to follow her wherever she goes. It is back luck that has lead Jinx to move to New York. She is running away from some trouble she believes she has brought on herself. Is it just bad luck or something else?

Jean moves in with her aunt and uncle and cousins, including similar-aged Torry. Jean remembers Torry as being a fun childhood companion, but this new Torry looks and acts completely different. She dresses all in black, takes drugs, and is convinced she is a witch. After Jinx saves the life of hot neighbor Zach by pushing him out of the way of a car, Torry believes Jinx is also a witch. But that's ridiculous, right?

When Jinx refuses to join her coven and catches the eye of Zach, who has been a long-time crush of Torry's, it starts a war between the cousins.

November 10, 2007

Book Review: Middle School is Worse than Meatloaf: A Year Told Through Stuff by Jennifer Holm

Ginny Davis and her 7th grade year of school is the subject of this book, which uses notes, report cards, newspaper clippings, birthday cards, and other miscellaneous texts to tell her story.

This is one of many books that has come out recently that uses a multi-media approach to storytelling. One look at the cover, which sports meatloaf and tater tots, is enough to make anyone quote Napoleon Dynamite: "Give me your tots."

Holms is successful in telling this tale. I found myself smiling at Ginny's misfortunes. She lists people she could babysit for, the last one being Tiffany Kurtz, who bites. Of course, it is Mrs. Kurtz that ends up calling Ginny to babysit.

But the story isn't all humor. Her older brother, Henry, gets into some serious trouble. And at one point, Ginny's grades drop noticeably from almost all A's to C's.

This is sure to be grabbed off the shelf often. The audience here is clearly lower middle school. My library classified it in children's fiction instead of young adult, which I am not sure I agree with.

Six Ways to Get Over Being Sick Quick

No one enjoys being sick, but once you get sick, what should you do to make it end as quickly as possible? I don't get sick very often, but it does happen on occasion. Usually, when I get sick, I get a cold, including a sore throat with chills and sometimes a stuffy nose. I don't usually get a fever or temperature, so keep that in mind when reading this article. Hopefully, by following these six steps, you will get over being sick quick.

November 09, 2007

Movie Review: Lars and the Real Girl

If anyone had told me I would one day be crying during a movie about a man and his blow-up doll, I would have called them a liar. But, here I am, going through at least 3 Kleenex even after the movie is over. Lars and the Real Girl is a touching, quirky film that is a lesson in why people do the things they do. Anyone that is interested in social work, counseling, psychology, or ministry should watch this movie.

Lars is a quiet young man (probably 30s) who does not like to be touched. He works in a cubicle in some random office. Currently, he lives in the garage of his childhood home. His brother, Gus, and new wife, Karin, live in the connected house and are expecting a child soon. Karin puts a great deal of effort into trying to pull Lars out of his shell. Gus, on the other hand, thinks Lars is happy how he is. It's his choice to spend time alone, isn't it?

The status quo is shaken up, however, when Lars brings home a new girlfriend. Her name is Bianca, and she is a blow-up doll.

October 24, 2007

Movie Review: Millions

Damian is a very imaginative 7-year old who has just moved into a new house with his older brother and widower father. Damian is one of those rare little boys who would rather read than play sports. Would rather think about what could be than what is. His main interest is the Saints, as he believes his mum is now a saint in heaven. He hopes that by learning about the Saints and being like them, he might one day see his mum again.

One day, he drags all of the discarded moving boxes behind his house by the railroad track to make himself a fort. As the train passes by, a bag full of pounds falls off. To Damian, it seems like the package dropped from the sky, possibly from his mum. At first, Damian only tells his brother Anthony what has happened.

This quickly becomes their dirty secret, and each boy sets out to use the money in opposite ways. Anthony wants to live the grand life, investing in real estate and using his money as bait for friends in his new school. Anthony quickly forms a posse, who do everything for him from cycling him to school to removing his sunglasses for him and even standing in the lunch line for him.

Our saintly Damian, however, has his heart set on one thing: to give as much money to the poor as he can. He does this by grabbing homeless people off the street and buying them Pizza Hut. He gives his money to the "poor" Latter Day Saints, who have given up worldly possessions. He even grabs a bum in the backyard who says he is poor. Every time Damian finds these folks he kindly asks, "Are you poor?"

October 18, 2007

Library Display: Teen Read Week

Sarah and I made an awesome window display in the library foyer to promote Teen Read Week. We wanted to make it look like teen spaces we have seen at home or at school. Key pieces were a backpack and a locker.

We based the backpack on a project Sarah did with our TAB. She had the teens bring in their backpacks so we could see what is in a teen's backpack these days. How do they fold their notes?

What tools of trade do they bring (ipods, brushes, candy)? What toys are they carrying? She made still lifes from the teens' backpacks.

September 30, 2007

Movie Reviews: Double Feature

Okay, two other movies I have seen recently:

Little Shop of Horrors, the 1960 version
Although the audio was terrible on the DVD I watched, I couldn't help enjoying what I heard. This is a more humorous version than the 1986 musical version I watched as a teenager. And there is an early appearance of Jack Nicholson as the masochistic patient who wants visit the sadistic dentist's house of pain. My favorite scene would have to be when the plant brainwashes Seymour into picking him up an additional body to feed his hunger. It was good ol' fashioned cheesy movie fun

The Machinist, starring Christian Bale
This movie will tickle your creepy bone. Christian Bale plays Trevor, a man who is so skinny, it hurts to look at him. He weighs around 120 pounds and writes his weight on a progression of sticky notes. He has wasted away to almost nothing. He doesn't sleep, he barely eats, and now he is possibly seeing visions. What could be torturing this anorexic looking soul? What causes a man to punish himself so severely. It can only be guilt, but to find out what he is guilty for, you will have to sit through this movie that is sometimes painful to watch. Remember when we watched Sixth Sense for the first time? After all was revealed, we wanted to go back and watch the movie again so it all made sense. This is another one of those films, and I kept thinking about this film long after the last scene.

Movie Reviews: 3:10 to Yuma

3:10 to Yuma
This was a Western well worth watching. The genre is not dead after all. The film is full of star power but still gritty enough to be appreciated by the arthouse crowd. Christian Bale is Dan Evans, a husband, father, and ex-war veteran with a gimpy leg. Russell Crowe is Ben, the villain, an intelligent crook who commits crimes purely to make money he didn't earn. He's not a bad guy. Ben doesn't kill out of spite.

In a purely dumb luck encounter, Dan ends up helping to capture Ben. The sheriff is going to play completely by the book. Ben won't be hung. He will given a fair trial in Yuma. But Ben's gang is sure to try and stop them. The local sheriff decides to hire 4 men to get Ben to the train on time, Dan being one of them.

Dan's oldest son, William, is so enamored with Ben he can't see straight. On the side, he reads dime store novels about Ben's adventures. He is ashamed of his father and his supposed weakness. After all, his dad hasn't been able to protect the family from fires intended to drive the family out of coveted land. William ends up following Ben against his father's strict orders and joining this band of make-do deputies.

Throughout the course of the journey to deliver Ben to the authorities, Dan is wary to get too close to Ben. But whenever a group of men spend time together, a bond of brotherhood is inevitably formed.

September 17, 2007

Book Review: Leonardo's Shadow

Giacomo is the servant of the great Leonardo Da Vinci. Several years ago, a mob was chasing him through the streets, convinced he had stolen someone else's possessions. That night, Da Vinci saved Giacomo's life. Ever since then, Giacomo has served Da Vinci faithfully and almost comically. Whenever anyone even hints that they are insulting his master, Giacomo is right there defending his honor, although it is most unsuitable for him to speak to his superiors.

His greatest ambition is to paint and learn from his master. But Da Vinci seems reluctant to teach him. Giacomo spends his days waiting on Da Vinci, hanging out with his small circle of apprentice friends, and bugging his master to finish the painting The Last Supper. Why won't Da Vinci finish the painting? The Da Vinci household has been buying food, clothing, and art supplies on a credit basis only, but the business owners are beginning to be impatient for actual money. More importantly, the Duke of Milan is most impatient for him to finish the work. Why, any day now, the Pope will visit. The Duke is hoping that the Pope will be impressed with the painting enough that he will remain an ally to the city of Milan against the French. But there may be no peace if the painting is not completed on time!

But Giacomo has much more on his mind. Who are his parents? What was in his knapsack that the mob was angry about? Is he, indeed, a common thief? Will he ever learn to paint? How will he and his master eat with no money? Is the master hiding secrets from him? Can Giacomo discover them?

Giacomo is no ordinary servant, you will soon see . . .

September 04, 2007

Book Review: Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

In nineteen minutes, you can get revenge . . .

Nineteen Minutes deals with a town, a school shooting, and a boy named Peter Houghton, bullied since the day he started Kindergarten. In Picoult's signature style, we hear the thoughts of multiple characters throughout the story.

The introductory chapters are some of the most suspenseful writing you will ever read. We meet Josie, a girl who looks perfect on the outside but is drowning on the inside. She's getting ready for school at Sterling High. She's dating Matt Royston, one of the most popular boys in school, but plans how she will commit suicide when she is discovered to be the fake she knows she is.

We meet Alex Cormier, her mother, a Supreme Court judge who is more comfortable on the bench than in the mother role.

We meet Lacey Houghton, a midwife. She treasure her comfortable home and role as a wife and mother.

And we meet Peter. When we first meet him, he wakes up and goes to his computer to read email messages, only to see something on his screen he never wanted to see again. We don't know what it is or why it upsets him.

We get a few scenes of a regular school day. Next thing you know, Sterling High School is in a panic because shots were fired. The detective on duty, Patrick Dushan, runs into the building processing a huge crime scene while he is trying to apprehend the shooter. We see the sights of blood, cowering students, and interrupted class activities. We hear the gunshots. We are in the middle of the action when Patrick finally tracks down the shooter in the gym locker room.

The shooter is Peter Houghton, a slight boy with delicate features. What would cause Peter to do such a thing? The only thing he says is, "They started it."

August 31, 2007

Movie Review: Amelie

I watched Amelie over the course of 4 days. It's pretty pathetic when your life is so busy that it takes you 4 days to watch a movie, but I think Amelie might need extended viewing. The material is so rich that it takes awhile to process. Plus, the narrator names off facts as quick as bullets. I had to play several scenes over again to see how all the people tied together.

Amelie is a porcelain doll of a young woman. She was how I imagined Snow White would look minus the rosy cheeks: dark brown hair, gooey chocolate-colored eyes, perfect skin, and red lips. Amelie is painfully shy. She struggles with revealing her deepest needs. She longs to be close to someone and have a friend to talk to, but instead she watches from her window with binoculars. She observes those around her and thinks she might know what might make them happy. She studies them, takes notes, and executes a plan. If special ops needed a happiness agent, Amelie would be their woman.

When she was a girl, she had two type-A parents. Her father would never touch her, except when he gave her a medical exam. Her mother's greatest joy was cleaning her purse out. Amelie's only friend was a goldfish with suicidal tendencies.

August 30, 2007

Graphic Novel Review: The Plain Janes by Cecil Castelluci and Jim Rugg

Art saves and art heals are the themes of The Plain Janes a graphic novel created in the MINX imprint, a new line of graphic novels that uses the popular media to tell stories that traditionally would be done in written format.

Jane was walking the streets of New York when a bomb went off near her. Her parents freak out and move the family to the suburbs to protect their darling Jane. But Jane wants to stay in the city so she can keep visiting her comatose friend, a man she calls John Doe. He has been in a coma since the day of the bombing. She visits him in the hospital and has taken up sketching to honor him, since he was carrying and dropped a sketchbook that day. For whatever reason, she takes a major interest in him and feels devastated that she won't be able to continue her frequent visits.

Now she is trying to start a new life. Interestingly enough, she is determined NOT to be in the popular crowd. Instead, she finds paradise in the reject lunch table, at which sits three girls named Jane: a drama geek, a jock, and a whiz kid. Our main Jane doggedly finds ways to connect with these girls until they call her a friend.

August 24, 2007

Book Review: The Camel Rider by Prue Mason

The timing is right for books like The Camel Rider to appear for children. With the hot success of books such as the Kite Runner, there is a market for books written about the Muslim culture. This multicultural book allows readers to learn about the culture in the midst of an interesting adventure story. Aussie Adam lives with his family in the Middle East on a compound in the fictional city of Abudai. Adam is bored of his life and longs to get away from the thumb of his overprotective parents. His only joys are his beloved dog, Tara, and the hours he gets to surf with his buddies. Walid is a young boy from the Middle East who is a camel rider, a small child trained to ride camels in races that men gamble on. His mother felt pressured to give him up so he could have a better life and a possible education, but he spends his days abused and beaten by his guardians.

The lives of these two boys intersect when bombs are dropped near the compound.

August 16, 2007

Graphic Novel Review: Sloth by Gilbert Hernandez

I am reviewing this purely for the weird factor. Is this one of the highlights of my graphic novel reading? Absolutely not, but it impresses me that graphic novel creators continue to expand the storylines graphic novels tell. It used to be that graphic novels took simple storylines and made them more complex by adding the graphic element. In Sloth, we have a fairly complicated storyline successfully contained in a short amount of pages (probably less than 100), due to a picture being worth a thousand words.

Now about the weird factor. The cover art on the entry pages shows lemons dropping to the sky like A-bombs. Weird, indeed. Miguel slept for a whole year with no medical explanation. You could call it a coma, but there was no medical explanation. Apparently this was a self-chosen slumber. After three months of physical therapy, Miguel is ready to rejoin the world, but he moves very slowly. It seems his legs just can't work at a normal pace.

He's back together with his old girlfriend, Lita, and playing in a band with his friend, Romeo. He's seeing a shrink and getting picked on by the locals. All seems kosher, except for these dreams he keeps having about lemon orchards and freaky women being buried alive by lemons.
After Miguel and his two companions explore the local lemon orchard late at night, the truth about Miguel's troubles gets more and more blurry. What was life like for Miguel before his coma? Is there more beneath the surface?

It kept me reading just so I could see what Miguel's problem was. This graphic novels has some language and a few scantily clad women shots. It is recommended for college age and up.

August 02, 2007

Teen Program: Nifty 50s Mystery Party

This past Friday, July 27th, teens gathered at my library to solve a mystery set in a 50s diner. This was the first time I had bought a mystery party kit online from I would highly recommend using their pre-made mystery games. The price is good (only $30 in most cases), they have lots of choices (all settings and for all age groups), and you get everything online. This means you can print your kit immediately, email invitations out to everyone, and post pictures before and after the party.

The Nifty 50s was a scripted play. I had teen actors I found from both my TAB and a comedy improv workshop I held back in the spring. The mystery was so cute. John E. "The B" Good is going steady with Peggy Sue, who is having a birthday today. But John seems like he is more interested in the car he is driving, a 1957 Shavy El Domino. When the car ends up missing, John interrogates everyone in the diner, including Maybelle Lean, the waitress, Miss Molly, the high school etiquette teacher, Mack the Knife, the local bad boy, Moana Leesa, the beatnik, James Steen, the shop teacher, and Mary Lynn Mudrow, the blonde bombshell with some awful good hotwiring skills.

We had a local 1950s style diner donate the food, and they also loaned us materials for our set. The set was two card tables, oilcloth tablecloths, and table decorations, such as napkin holders, mustard/catsup bottles, salt and pepper shakers, and restaurant menus. The set called for milkshakes, and we created them with mashed potatoes and food coloring. 45 people attended and had a fabulous time.

July 23, 2007

Movie Review: Black Snake Moan

Black Snake Moan is a redemption story cleverly set in the hillbilly South. The acting is superb, including an excellent performance by pretty boy Justin Timberlake . Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson) and Rae (Christian Ricci ) are two lost souls, seemingly acting off impulses neither one can control. Lazarus, an elderly blues guitarist, is torn up that his wife left him for his younger brother. He turns to booze and music for comfort. Rae, young, white, and the town slut is addicted to sex and can barely wait an hour after her military boyfriend ( Timberlake ) leaves for his enlistment before her next dip.

Their lives intertwine one night, when Rae, high from a party, is raped and beaten and left in Lazarus's driveway. I know this sounds brutal, but this is not done in a heavy, depressing manner. On the contrary, this story has a whimsical tone peppered with lots of deep fried Southern flavor. Yes, Rae is attacked, but she doesn't seem to mind. She knows it's a natural outcome of her behavior and doesn't really seem to expect much more of menfolk, a clue to the truth about Rae's past.
Lazarus, raw from his wife's abandonment, decides it's his job to deliver Rae from herself.

July 05, 2007

Book Review: The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart

Ruby is having panic attacks. Her boyfriend has broken up with her, none of her friends are speaking with her, her ride to school won't take her anymore, and her parents are sure she is feeling suicidal or anorexic. Welcome to the story of The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, a masterful look inside the life of a teenage girl. This girl is every girl. Reading this book was like looking back at parts of my past, and it was amazing and painful to take the journey with her.

Lockhart writes truthfully on the way a girl thinks about boys. Ruby reveals pieces of her life one bit at a time. Her therapist asks her to create a boyfriend list: a list of every guy she has liked, dated, thought about dating, kissed, or had a special relationship with. Ruby isn't sure how this is going to help her solve her immediate problem: getting her boyfriend back and getting life back to normal. But as she examines each boy on the list, Ruby may discover she's not the victim she thinks she is.

June 18, 2007

Movie Reviews: Fever Pitch and Ocean's 13

Fever Pitch is a cutesy cute and very funny romantic comedy. It was released in 2005 and stars Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore. Ben is a math teacher who meets Lindsay when he brings his best math students into her workplace to see a real professional who uses math in her career. He ends up going back later to ask her out. Originally, she turns him down because he doesn't seem like her type. She is an up and coming overachiever, while he is a down to earth math teacher. Her friends encourage Lindsay to give him a chance, and she is very impressed during their first date. When Ben arrives, Lindsay has food poisoning, and she is vomiting up every possible shred of food. He cleans up the mess, takes care of her, and even brushes her dog's teeth after Rin-Tin-Tin decides her regurgitated vittals look tasty.

One of her friend's muses, "There must be something wrong with him." Why isn't Ben married yet? But all seems well until baseball season rolls around. You see, Ben is a Red Sox fan. Big deal, right? But he is one of THOSE fans, who cannot miss a game and owns every piece of paraphernalia there is. He inherited the seats from his deceased uncle, and now it runs his life during the summer. Lindsay first views this with amusement, then surprise, then annoyance, and finally rebellion. Can these two jerk one out of the park and make this relationship work?

June 05, 2007

I Just Met Harry and the Potters!

Last night, the first ever Wizard Rock band came to my library system. And it just happened to be the most famous Wizard Rock band out there, none other than Paul and Joe from Harry and the Potters. The evening truly exceeded my greatest expectations.

The show was set to start at 7:30. The hosting library heard of the crowds this band has gathered in the past and received permission to close the library at 6 p.m. so the band could have time to setup.

The group pulled in around 5:30 p.m. It was the Potters themselves, plus their crew, a drummer, Marty (the amazing sock puppet portraitist and their roadie), and Emily, who lended a hand in taking care of sales of gads and gads of t-shirts and CDs. I bought a green "Save Ginny" shirt. They were setup by 6:15 and ready to rock. I must say, all 5 of them were very well mannered and professional.

We opened the doors around 6:45 to allow the fans in and for the sales to begin. We still are not sure how many people showed up, but the door counter added up over 700 hits last night. Fans of all shapes, sizes, and ages came and plopped down to save their spot near the stage. Some people were dressed up, but many just came in Muggle clothes.

May 28, 2007

Book Review: A Friend at Midnight by Carolina Cooney

Caroline Cooney diversifies her writing portfolio with an inspirational fiction novel for teens. I am unaware of any former ventures on the part of Cooney in writing this type of fiction. If any of my readers know of any such works, please leave them in the comments.

When the novel begins, eight-year old Michael is being told to get out of a car by an unidentified voice. He is being dropped off at the La Guardia airport without breakfast, money, luggage, or a plane ticket. We are then told the unidentified voice belongs to Michael's father. Michael has grown up living with his mother, stepfather, and brothers and sisters. When he decides to go live with his estranged father, the whole family is worried about him, especially his older sister, 15-year old Lily.

Lily receives the call from Michael, who is trapped in the airport, without any means of helping himself. She doesn't know what to do. Her mother and stepfather have left to take her older sister, Reb, to college. Lily is alone with Nathaniel, her toddler stepbrother. Finally, Lily, who is not old enough to drive yet, decides to fly herself and Nathaniel to Michael and fly them all back.

May 24, 2007

Movie Review: Away From Her

Away From Her had a sense of realism for which I was unprepared. The modern movie has so many special effects, screen touch-ups, and impossible stunts that the viewer stays in a suspended belief stage for most of the film. Movies like this are rare in this day and age. The characters could be your parents, grandparents, or aunts and uncles. This could be your life. The suspended belief is removed leaving only a raw, uncomfortable feeling.

The Notebook was another movie about a woman with dementia, but it had many elements that clearly indicated it was still a movie (perky flashbacks, recognizable actors, lots of strange camera angles, and a sun-kissed look).

Away from her is a phrase the main character uses when he is telling people how he and his wife got engaged. "I never wanted to be away from her." But that is exactly what is going to happen, for Fiona is showing the signs of forgetfulness and fading common in a person with Alzheimer's. Fiona wants to be checked into a nursing home. Grant, her husband, is clearly fazed by the thought of them being separated, but Fiona insists. I am not sure why she insists. Usually we think of family deciding they can't handle an individual, not the individual deciding she doesn't want to be handled.

Grant checks her into a nursing home. To his dismay, they have a first 30 days "no visitor" policy, which means he has to cope without her physically for a month. Gordon Pinsent, who plays Grant, is an actor with a stoic face, but under the surface we can see he is dying. This isn't a suave actor; he is a little pudgy and clumsy-looking. Julie Christie is Fiona, and she is a recognizable face, but she fades into her character so well you forget she is an actor.

May 21, 2007

Book Review: Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset sisters

Eleven-year old Cornelia is a lonely girl whose mother is a famous concert pianist. Her mother is always travelling and never takes Cornelia on the road with her. Cornelia is always left at home with just the nosy housekeeper, Madame Desjardins. Her quiet nature causes the other students in her class to alienate her, leaving Cornelia to cope in the best way she knows how: by learning loads of advanced vocabulary words. She uses these words as a wall whenever brown-nosing parents want to know more about Cornelia's mom. Cornelia just uses a big words, and POOF!, the questions stop.

Cornelia lives in a high-rise apartment building in the middle of Greenwich Village, and it looks like some new neighbors have moved in. One day, Cornelia is walking down the wall, when a black blur comes dashing out of the new neighbor's door. It is Mister Kinyatta, a black bull terrier puppy. Cornelia meets Mister Kinyatta's owner, the elegant Virginia, and her housekeeper/companion, Patel. Cornelia becomes friends with Virginia, a strange, elusive woman with a love of words and a different room in her home to represent the trips she has taken around the world with her sisters--to Morocco, France, England, and India.

Virginia shares her life with Cornelia story by story, becoming like Scheherazade from the Arabian Nights, only the stories aren't told to save her own life, but Cornelia's. Virginia has an Auntie Mame quality. She is well-travelled and very sophisticated. Her fascinating stories breathe life back in Cornelia's dowdy existence.

The stories are fascinating and entertaining. Sisters Virginia, Beatrice, Alexandra, and chubby Gladys seem to find adventure everywhere they go. For me, the story was just okay, but it was a clean read, and I could see it appealing to middle grade girls that feel isolated or long for adventure. Written by Lesley M. M. Blume. Click here for Amazon information.

May 18, 2007

Movie Stuff: Akira Kurosawa Films and Influenced Films

Last week was Akira Kurosawa week at my place. I have a deep-seated love of everything Japanese. About two years ago, I watched The Seven Samurai, which was one of the BEST movies I have ever seen, hands down. I had heard so much about this movie in pop culture but was never sure what all the fuss was about. It took me several days to get through the film, but it was heavy with meaning. It made think about what is a hero? And what is the cost of being a hero? In the Seven Samurai, poor farmers seek out the help of seven samurai to fight off bandits. The bandits regularly stop by and steal the crops they all slaved to grow. The townspeople know they need help.

They find these samurai superheroes that can kick butt, but most of them also have lovable personalities that make you want to take them home and keep them as a pet. I especially liked the leader of band (played by the amazing Takashi Shimura) and the comic character, Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifune). As the town learn how to fight and defend their homes, the whole community changes from a sniveling, helpless bunch into fearsome warriors proud of their heritage. It is amazing how the samurai and the townspeople come together. You can also see that the samurai long for some of the things that the townsmen have: wives, kids, and a home.

May 11, 2007

Book Review: Skylight Confessions by Alice Hoffman

Author Alice Hoffman is wonderful at balancing the supernatural with the ordinary. She wrote Practical Magic, which was later turned into a movie starring Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock, in which two witch sisters struggle to balance that fine line between wanting to be normal and embracing their unique gifts.
A few years ago, she wrote the Ice Queen, which was about a librarian who is hit by lightning. The librarian can no longer see the color red and is always cold. She meets a man who was hit by lightning and is always hot, and they are drawn to each other in an electric way that leads to pain and pleasure.
Hoffman's work has a fairy-tale, dreamlike quality. She writes in a genre called magical realism. In The Ice Queen, there is a character who lives in an apartment building with a lime tree out back. The lime tree is brought up repeatedly, almost like a motif in a fairy story or a myth. There is also a motif of flying or wings. Her characters are usually doomed to some horrible fate, but the writing style captivates us. Also, her characters are lovingly crafted.
In Skylight Confessions, Hoffman leads us on a journey through three generations of one family. In one moment, two characters make a decision that changes the course of their lives and the lives of their offspring. What Hoffman seems to be asking us is if that course leads to misery, does that mean it was a mistake? If you could take it back, would you or would you still make the same decision?

May 10, 2007

Book Review: American Born Chinese by Gene Yang

American Born Chinese by Gene Yang was the Printz Award winner for 2007. It's been sitting in my pile for a few months now, even though I was told it would take me no more than an hour to read. All the reviews I read about this graphic novel have been very positive, and I must agree it is a masterpiece.

But, as usual, I have a different viewpoint to bring to this discussion. We all have filters we view the world through, and this is also true of the way we approach media, whether it be books, movies, poetry, etc. My Christian faith is a large filter for me, and it impacts the way I view books.

American Born Chinese is a story told in three separate stories that eventually converge. Remember Holes? Louis Sachar did the same thing. The three plotlines came together in surprising ways that add to the enjoyment of the story. It is part of the mystery of the book.

May 03, 2007

Movie Review: Now, Voyager

Now, Voyager was a movie that made me think of my mom and watching movies with her. It was very comforting. This starred Bette Davis in what I think is her finest role--even better than her performance in All About Eve. I know many may argue, but she was so unbecoming at the beginning of this movie, I barely recognized her. 
Charlotte is a spinster with bushy eyebrows and a scared rabbit look in her eyes. Her mother has driven her to the brink of madness from too much attention and too much control. When Charlotte comes downstairs to meet Dr. Jaquith (Claude Raines ), the word that comes to mind is "trapped." Charlotte is trapped in a world of unhappiness. Her mother forces her to wear unattractive clothes, won't allow her to lose weight, and has chased away every suitor.

We find out that Charlotte was born late in life and probably wasn't wanted. The only comfort her mother takes in her birth is knowing that Charlotte will care for her when she is old. So any joy that Charlotte takes in life becomes a threat to her mother. The mother fears Charlotte will leave her alone and helpless if she gets married. Gladys Cooper plays a most detestable mother figure. Charlotte is the most pitiable of all women. She knows she is unloved, was unwanted, and she is faced with a life of eternal misery. To ease her happiness, she lives a secret life behind her closed door, smoking cigarettes and reading unsuitable books.
Dr. Jaquith immediately insists that Charlotte spend some time in his sanitarium to rest up and get her mind straight. Finally she seems well, but of course, she is resisting the idea of going home. Dr. Jaquith and Charlotte's sister conspire to send her on a pleasure cruise. When Charlotte emerges from her cabin, she looks nothing like herself. Her clothes are fashionable, including non-sensible shoes! Her brows are trimmed. Her face is perfect. And the shyness she felt is transferred into an aloof quality we know all men find irresistible.

April 30, 2007

Movie Review: The Lady Vanishes

I know most people only want to read about new movies, but I feel like it's my job as a film addict to tell you about movies that are oldies but goodies. There may be someone out there who has never seen a classic film. It is hard to appreciate the film world without a full understanding of where things come from. For instance, I was talking to a young man about the movie Disturbia. I found it to be very "disturbia" that he had no idea this was a modernized version of Hitchcock's Rear Window--sad because it elevates Disturbia to a level it doesn't deserve. One might be prone to think that Disturbia is more original than it is. And how can you survive in the world without knowing the works of Hitchcock?

It is in this spirit that I felt compelled to review Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes, a 1938 black and white picture from Hitchcock's British period. It has all of the trademarks of a Hitchcock picture. We have secrets, affairs, women who fall in love with a man they initially detest, espionage, spies, quirky dialogue, and humor.

April 23, 2007

Movie Review: Meet the Robinsons vs. Disney short venting

This past Saturday, I went to see the new animated feature Meet the Robinsons. This is a watchable, sometimes amusing flick about a genius kid named Lewis who wants to be adopted. Instead of showing his potential adoptees how cute he is, he tries to dazzle them with his latest invention. The result is disaster after disaster. The funniest case of this is when his doodad that should perfectly mix the right portions of peanut butter and jelly for a PB&J explodes, sending peanut butter everywhere. What our young scientist didn't know was that the man half of the couple is allergic to peanuts. Whoops.

This time, however, Lewis is sure his new project for the school science fair is THE one that will solve all of his problems. He will build a memory retrieval machine to remember who his mother is, meet her, and convince her to be his mom again. A mysterious, evil bowler hat man sabotages the invention during the science fair, humiliating Lewis and convincing him that the machine doesn't work.

April 21, 2007

Book Review: Haters by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez

I really wanted to like Haters. It is a school story mixed with elements of paranormal romance. The main character has a strong psychic ability. She can see things before they happen. Over at the Disco Mermaids, Eve suggested you could describe the flavor and plot of a book by combining movies. This idea appeals to me since I am a film addict. I would call this book Heathers (dangerous run-ins with popular girls) crossed with Premonition (seeing the future) crossed with a Harlequin romance (explicit sexuality and romance). No, I'm not kidding.

Part of this book I really liked. The narrator had a very snarky, hip voice that made her appealing. Pasquela Archuleta, or Paski, has just found out that her dad is moving them to California. It seems his comic book, Squeegie Man, has been optioned for a movie deal. He's going to be rich, but he has to move to California. He and Paski move to the OC; Paski must leave her dear friends and new boyfriend behind to start a new school. Before she leaves, her grandmother gives her an amulet. She tells Paski she must honor her psychic gifts or there will be trouble. Paski doesn't give a toot; she would rather be a normal girl.

Movie Stuff: Am I Alone?

Kelly over at Big A, little a had a great idea for a post. She listed the names of books that most people really loved, but she found to be just okay or mediocre. An alternative way to look at this would be to think of books you really loved but no one else seemed to care about. I listed several on her blog in the comments.

I thought it would be fun to do the same thing for movies. I can think of several movies I watched and felt deeply moved by only to discover that others did not share my opinion.

Artificial Intelligence: AI (2001) Directed by Steven Spielberg
In this heartbreaking story, the world has found a way to mass-produce loving child-robots. We meet a couple whose child has been frozen until they can find a cure for his disease. To ease their loneliness, they purchase David, a mass-produced boy that has been programmed to love his mother unconditionally. Then, the bratty son gets defrosted and gets jealous of the relationship David has with his mother. He makes it his mission to get rid of David by manipulating him into doing things that will scare his parents. David's mom decides to leave him in the woods in an effort to get rid of him. David is devastated and decides the only way he can earn his mother's love again is to become a "real boy." Yes, it has lots of allusions to Pinocchio. There is a lot more to this movie then listed here. I cried during most of this movie. Later on, I found out others were not as moved. According to them, the child had been programmed to love; he doesn't really love the mother. How can a robot really love? Should we feel for a robot? Is he like a computer or a fax machine? I found it cruel that they created this boy to love his mother, and she saw fit to get rid of him. Where was he supposed to go? What was he supposed to do? Many people found this movie to be stupid, boring, or even long-winded. I thought it was fascinating and touching. There is a wonderful scene where David is under water in a pod, moving towards what he hopes is the end of his quest: finding the Blue Fairy, who will give him a wish. Manhattan has been buried under water. It is beautifully filmed. When they stop the pod, David is sitting in front of the buried, demolished and waterlogged Coney Island Wonder Wheel crumbled in a pile under the ocean.

Lady in the Water (2006) Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
This was my favorite movie that came out last year. Most of the reviews I read responded to this movie with not just boredom, but out and out hatred. I actually avoided seeing it. Then, I went to catch it at the $1.50 theater. I couldn't believe people hated this movie. For me, it was like seeing the reality of the world reflected on the big screen. There were a lot of strange elements, but it just touched me. Here was a man who felt useless and ashamed of his past. He basically feels like a loser. Then, from out of nowhere, he is given a purpose and a mission: to protect this beautiful creature at all cost. Suddenly, he is a new man. He understands that if he doesn't do this, no one will. Then there are all of his tenants. They are such a motley crew, but it's like their lives had lead them to this place for just this purpose. All of them work together to see the lady get home. I think the world is a lot like this movie. And I think that is why people hated this movie: because it was too real. If this movie was true, then the life we are leading is false. So much of what we do benefits ourselves alone. It is only when we lay self aside and turn our energies towards others that we can be free.

If any of you have movies you feel alone in your response to, please respond in the comments.

April 17, 2007

Teen Program Idea: Library Art Trading Cards

This past Saturday, my co-worker showed our Teen Advisory Board how to create library art trading cards in the spirit of Post Secret. This was a very original idea she thought up. I just showed up and participated in the craft. This is not something I would have done on my own. Whenever I actually do crafts, I enjoy it, but graphic arts were never my strong point. My artistic side comes out in my singing and acting. I love a crowd! But now that I have made a few cards and watched others do the same, I would do this again in a heart beat.

If some you are saying, "huh?", then I apologize. It seems that a lot of people are familiar with Post Secret, so I am assuming many of you will know what I am talking about. This Frank Warren guy came up with this brilliant idea to have anonymous people mail in their deepest secrets on a decorated postcard. It can be decorated in whatever style (painting, collage, drawing, glued objects). The only requirement is that it has to be a secret the creator has never told a living soul before. He originally posted the cards on a blog/website. Then, he started compiling cards into book collections. I have read 2 out of the 3 books Warren compiled. Many of the card artists said this was a liberating experience for them. To release their secret and know that someone finally knows can be like purging painful memories from the past. I think the Post Secret idea is great, but it also makes me really sad whenever I read the cards. Some of these secrets are so painful, and to know that someone has held onto this alone seems unbearable. Many of the confessions show the deep holes some people have in their hearts. They try to fill it, and it doesn't work. I am filled with love for these people. Okay, so going back to the program . . .

April 13, 2007

Movie Review: 300

There was a time when the movie 300 would have been a perfect movie for me. I would have loooved this movie back in the day. "The day" meaning when I loved the gore movies. I used to be a huge horror movie fan, and although 300 is not a horror movie, it is filmed like one. Each scene is meant to shock and make the audience squirm.

There is this really great short story I remember, but I can't remember who wrote it. It was written by an Asian writer. Anyway, it's about this man who sees a painting of a tree. He doesn't purchase it but later wishes he had. He spends his whole life trying to find it and raise enough money to buy it. Then when he finally has it in his grasp, the painting is unveiled, and he is disappointed that it is not the same painting. The point of the story is that the painting WAS the same. It wasn't the painting that had changed; it was the man himself. He was not the same person when he saw the painting the second time, and the painting had lost its beauty.

I think that story has a very important point. What might be a great movie to one person will fizzle for another. For me, 300 did not dazzle, but I can assume it thrilled many a viewer.

For the historical information about this battle, I will send you to wikipedia. For purposes of reading this review, I will say that the movie covers a famous series of battles where a small Spartan army of 300 soldiers fights with a much larger army and kicks butt.

April 11, 2007

Book Review: Monkey Town by Ronald Kidd

I just finished reading Monkey Town: The Summer of the Scopes Trial by Ronald Kidd. This was another coming of age novel. It is supposed to be part love story, as well, but the love story is very lightly applied. It is more of an afterthought and seemed like it was there solely to get more girls to read it.

Kidd claims he wrote this book based on the true accounts he heard from Frances Robinson about her life in the town of Dayton during the Scopes Monkey Trials of 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee. He does share that Frances was actually only eight years old when this happened, although in the book, she is portrayed as being 15. He obviously thought this story would appeal more to teens, and he is probably right.

In our story, Frances Robinson is a precocious 15-year old who is in love with Johnny Scopes, a teacher at her high school. Johnny Scopes is one of those young (24 years old), cool teachers who breaks the rules of establishment only to pay for them later. He is a football coach but ends up substituting for a period of time in a biology class. While filling in for the teacher, Scopes decided to cover the topic of evolution (an illegal action in the state of Tennessee at that time) since it was in the official textbook. Frances's father, F.E. Robinson, decides to use this scandal to try to get some publicity for his beloved town. F.E. is a drugstore owner who sells Coca-Cola, claiming the drink has medicinal powers to make more money.

F.E. asks Scopes to go under trial for teaching evolution as a publicity stunt. He promises nothing bad will come out of it. All Scopes has to do is admit he taught evolution, allow himself to go through a fake arrest, and the town will take care of the rest. Scopes agrees.

April 09, 2007

Movie Stuff: Great Quotes Don't Equal Great Movies

If you read my blog regularly, you are probably wondering where the film reviews are. Zee says she is a film addict and yet she hasn't written a movie review since around March 22nd. How can she say she's a film addict? Okay, see here's the thing: I have been watching movies, but I haven't reviewed any of them because there wasn't much worth talking about.

My latest list of movies I am going through is the AFI's Top 100 Movie Quotes of All Time. I already wrote about Soylent Green (#77 for "Soylent Green is people!"), which I liked very much. Previously, I was going through just the AFI Greatest Movies of all Time. And I made one very poor assumption. I assumed that if a movie had a great quote, the movie itself would be great, or at least entertaining. For a great quote to be a great quote, doesn't it have to mean something? Doesn't it need to inspire awe and amazement? I am not really sure how these great quotes get chosen. If I said to you, "I rule, baby!" Would you call that a great quote? Maybe, if it was said by the right person at the right time. So, I can share with you what movies I have watched, including their "great quotes," and tell you what I thought of the movie.

April 05, 2007

Book Review: An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

Colin Singleton is a self-professed prodigy. He can anagram the heck out of any word combination (except a few un-anagramabble words), and he was once on a show called Kranial Kidz. He's the type of character one would call book smart but not very street smart. Colin's one big bummer in life is that he has been dumped by a procession of 19 Katherines. So he walks around looking for the next Katherine, although he is sure Katherine 19 is THE one.

When we first meet Colin, he has just been dumped by Ms. 19. His best friend, Hassan, decides to hornswaggle Colin into a summer road trip, meant to shake him out of his doldrums. They don't get too far. The boys find their nesting place in Gutshot, Tennessee, home to a factory where tampon strings are created.

April 04, 2007

Book Review: King Dork by Frank Portman

All right, 'fess up? Who was a dork at school? Anyone? Anyone? Oh, I bet everyone's got a hand raised. My horrific school time was middle school. I went through my ugly phase with a combination of large glasses and crooked teeth. I also insisted on this weird hairstyle where my hair would completely cover one side of my face. I thought I was being a skater chick. The boys all had "squeebs" that covered one eye. I thought I should have one, too! I got made fun of a lot in sixth grade. There was also this huge bully that would routinely beat my friends up. Somehow I escaped her physical wrath, but I was terrified of her.

Well, no matter what your story, I think you might have trouble outdorking King Dork. In my head, as I read, I imagined a combination of Napoleon Dynamite, Bill from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, one of those computer geeks from the 80s films, and a Will from Good Will Hunting.

Here's some really original things about this book:
  • He is picked on but has a very large ego.

  • He has a reasonably good relationship with his stepdad.

  • He doesn't wait until the end of the book to stand up for himself.

  • He is sympathetic one moment and odious the next.

I couldn't wrap my head around his character. Every time I thought I had him pegged, he surprised me, and that's what kept me reading.

March 26, 2007

Book Review: Sex God Book by Rob Bell

I really enjoyed the book Sex God by Rob Bell. I can't say enough good things about this book. It is completely unique. It compares sex to spirituality. Specifically, it compares sex to having an intimate relationship with God. Bell says you can't talk about one without talking about the other. He makes a strong case, although it is not written in a linear style. He meanders from stories to conversations to scenes from the Bible to secular quotes. His writing style is very meandering.

This is what I got out of this book: Our extreme desire for sex is really a desire for a relationship with God.

March 20, 2007

Movie Review: Soylent Green

The 1973 movie Soylent Green is often mocked for its campy look, for its overzealous actors (Charlton Heston), and its script. However, it is still a must-see for the American movie buff.

Soylent Green is set in Manhattan, New York, in 2022. The city is overcrowded. People are literally lying in the stairs, waiting for someone to die so they can have an apartment. At the beginning of the movie, we see a rather straggly young man make his way down the stairs past all the bodies. We then see this man having a private meeting with another man inside a car! This is how crowded it is. You have to meet inside a car (with open windows even) to have some privacy. The man is given a meat hook.
Next, we see one very rich man's apartment. He is obviously loaded because he has a humongous condo all to himself. No one is lying on the stairs. Rich man's mistress, named Shirl, is playing what appears to be an ancient video game. Shirl is furniture; she comes with the apartment.

March 19, 2007

Book Review: London Calling by Edward Bloor

Edward Bloor is one wacky guy. He comes up with original plots, and he knows how to execute them with skillful writing. In London Calling, our protagonist is Martin Conway, a bright, unhappy 12-year old with little drive. He is a self-proclaimed hermit. He lives in the basement, which has housed both his crazy uncle and his dad before he set the place on fire. Martin's nuclear family consists of an alcoholic dad that works for an airport steakhouse chain, an unhappy mother who works as a secretary at the private school Martin attends, and a sister who is a genius and works at an encyclopedia company as a fact checker.
Martin has only two friends at his private Catholic school, which is controlled by the Lowery family. The Lowery family claims that their ancestor, Hollerin' Hank Lowery, was a World War II hero. They have some money, and so the school kowtows to that family.

March 15, 2007

Second Life, Get a Life?

My head is spinning with the events of the day. Today was the day that I showed my co-workers the world of Second Life.  Basically, it's a virtual world where people can communicate, discuss, attend events, and buy and sell. If you want to know more than that, I will refer you to this most excellent wikipedia article. Incidentally, Dean Koontz had an author visit in Second Life today.

The plus of Second Life over other cyberspace programs is that everything is so visual. You can see other beings and thus, interaction becomes possible on a deeper level than it is in just a text-based program.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg library has partnered with Sirsi Dynix to bring this to their teens by providing Teen Second Life, free of charge, to their teen patrons. Our technology ingenieur asked me if I thought our library system should consider the same thing. In result, I ended up doing a presentation and demo to some co-workers.

March 14, 2007

Books Teens Will Love as Prizes

Recently, I was asked by my colleagues to come up with a list of books that we could give teens as cool prizes for summer reading club this summer. Rather than do just regular books, I was trying to come up with books with doodads or whatzits in them: Books that would fall apart easily if circulated at a library. This would be easier with books for younger children. But here is what I came up with so far:

Cathy's Book: If Found Call . . . by Sean Stewart
I still haven't read it, but it has multiple layers of text to appreciate, apparently. And there is a packet with lots of doodads to read (napkin, etc.) Here is a great review of it from Mother Reader.

My Secret: a PostSecret Book by Frank Warren
Originally I was going to suggest the first Post Secret book, but I think this one would be better for teens since it is exclusively teen secrets. If you haven't heard of Post Secret, it's the baby of a Frank Warren. People send in their deepest secrets on a postcard. They collage on it, write on it, draw on it, etc. Frank just asks that somewhere on the card is written something they have never told anyone before. Of course, the secrets are anonymous, but they are agreeing to let him publish the secret. It started out as a website (the 3rd most popular blog anywhere, woah, that's tight), and now he has released books! These are fascinating to look at. I would not give them to anyone under middle school for sure, since some of the secrets are graphic (cutting, rape, and molestation are discussed multiple times). Many creators of card have said that telling their secret is a huge step toward healing for them.

Pop Up Book of Phobias by Gary Greenberg

This is a trip to look at. It has a two page spread which portrays a living example of someone's worst nightmare. I haven't seen this book in awhile, but there is a spread on clowns (one of my fears!), using public bathrooms, being in a dentist's chair, being on a too tall building, and being on a plan as it is about to crash. This is a great coffee table book, and teens would enjoy looking at it in groups
With all the hoopla over Eragon (despite the most unyummy movie), I figured this might catch some interest. I haven't seen it yet, but it contains the mythical context for the books, tips for writing your own story, and dragon lore.
The Pop-Up Book of Celebrity Meltdowns by Melcher Media
Do I really need to explain why this would be appreciated by teens? Michael Jackson and Tom Cruise are lovingly portrayed on the cover . . .

So, does anyone else have some greet ideas for teen gift books? Please leave your comments. Please, please, please!