Friday, April 4, 2014

Review: The Shibboleth by John Hornor Jacobs

The Shibboleth
9780761390084
 
If you haven't read The Twelve-Fingered Boy by Jacobs, stop here. Don't even read the description of The Shibboleth, because it won't make sense to you now, and contains too many spoilers for you to enjoy the first book properly.
 
"There are certain shibboleths to our condition."
At the end of the first book of The Twelve-Fingered Boy Trilogy, Jack and Shreve are incarcerado—physically locked up. Shreve's back in the custody of the state of Arkansas, and Jack's somewhere in the clutches of Mr. Quincrux—both problems Shreve aims to rectify.
 
Cages might hold Shreve's body, but the power that's been growing since his encounter with Quincrux has reached a pinnacle. Nothing can prevent his mind from scaling the etheric heights. Freed from his body, Shreve discovers the magnitude of the evil that's stirring in the east. The wave of insomnia that's paralyzed the nation is only the beginning.
 
To save Jack—and maybe all of the humanity he no longer feels part of—Shreve has no choice but to join Quincrux and the Society of Extranaturals.
 
The Twelve-Fingered Boy started off like any number of books about a teenage boy incarcerated for something he did, in fact, do, although he is not at heart a bad kid. At first, it is just about surviving in the juvenile detention system, then slowly slips into the paranormal abilities of Shreve, Jack, and others.
 
The Shibboleth is firmly planted in the paranormal. While both boys are still under lock and key, that is almost a minor nuisance compared to what is going on in their minds, and in the minds of thousands of people across the country - some gifted with paranormal abilities, but most the victims of some as yet unnamed being. Characters from the first book reappear, and there are some twists as to who the good and bad guys are. Jacobs' writing has definitely improved - he never lost my attention as he did a couple times in the first book.
 
A trilogy worth picking up for any middle or high school library, and handing off to teens into paranormal adventures that involve more mind power than romance and renegade fae.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Review: Returning to Shore by Corinne Demas

Returning to Shore
9781467713283
 
 
Her mother's third marriage is only hours old when all hope for Clare's fifteenth summer fades. Before she knows it, Clare is whisked away to some ancient cottage on a tiny marsh island on Cape Cod to spend the summer with her father—a man she hasn't seen since she was three.

Clare's biological father barely talks, and when he does, he obsesses about endangered turtles. The first teenager Clare meets on the Cape confirms that her father is known as the town crazy person.

But there's something undeniably magical about the marsh and the island—a connection to Clare’s past that runs deeper than memory. Even her father's beloved turtles hold unexpected surprises. As Clare's father begins to reveal more about himself and his own struggle, Clare's summer becomes less of an exile and more of a return.
 
A quiet book, full of character development over action. The shifting in the relationship between Clare and her father in the amount of time they have together is believable and touching. Some secondary characters are rather superficial, but I found that realistic as well - sometimes people are in and out of our lives too quickly to give them any depth in our impressions. A solid choice for middle or high school libraries and introspective teens.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Who Wants a Job?

Following is the official job posting for a Reference Librarian position at our public library. We have two reference librarians on staff (including the open position), and a systems admin person who works some hours in reference. The staff is fantastic, our patrons are wonderful (and at times colorful), and you can't beat the climate - if you are tired of the snow in the east, give our HR department a call! (575) 439-4399.
 
P.S. I know the wage may seem low to those on the east coast, so here are some property listings to give you an idea of the cost of living in comparison.
 

 ** CITY OF ALAMOGORDO JOB VACANCY ANNOUNCEMENT **

OPEN RECRUITMENT Applications are now being accepted for an
REFERENCE LIBRARIAN
Full-Time Regular Position

APPLICANTS MUST MEET MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS OF POSITION AS ADVERTISED AT TIME OF APPLICATION

MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS:

EDUCATION:

EXPERIENCE: Master’s degree in library science, plus at least one year of library reference experience; or Bachelor’s degree, preferably in liberal arts, plus at least two years of library reference experience; or any equivalent combination of experience and training which provides the required knowledge, skills, and abilities. Have MLS or Grade II Library Certification or be able to obtain within 1st year of employment.

SPECIAL JOB DIMENSIONS: Knowledge of: current developments in the library field; principles and practices of professional library reference services, including use of traditional and computer reference sources. Skill/Ability to: Demonstrate proficiency in both oral and written communication; draft and prepare documents for the media; operate standard office equipment, including fax machine, copier, calculator, microfilm reader and computer using standard word processing, spreadsheet, and library reference software, and establish and maintain effective working relationships with co-workers, other city employees, other local libraries, community organizations, schools, vendors, and the general public.

WORKING CONDITIONS: Library/office environment. Requires standing, walking, stooping and lifting.

JOB SUMMARY: Assists library patrons in locating material and answering reference questions;

examines review sources and selects materials for purchase; maintains nonfiction,

reference, and periodicals collection.

SALARY/ WAGE: Salaried Rate: $30,436.02

Current maximum wage potential $47,940.46

POSTING PERIOD: Friday, March 28th, 2014 until Friday, April 18th, 2014

All interested applicants must apply at City Hall.

Located at 1376 E. Ninth Street, Alamogordo, NM 88310.

THE CITY OF ALAMOGORDO IS AN EQUAL OPPORTUNITY EMPLOYER

Review - The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim, by E.K. Johnston

The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim
9781467710664
 
Listen! For I sing of Owen Thorskard: valiant of heart, hopeless at algebra, last in a long line of legendary dragon slayers. Though he had few years and was not built for football, he stood between the town of Trondheim and creatures that threatened its survival.

There have always been dragons. As far back as history is told, men and women have fought them, loyally defending their villages. Dragon slaying was a proud tradition.

But dragons and humans have one thing in common: an insatiable appetite for fossil fuels. From the moment Henry Ford hired his first dragon slayer, no small town was safe. Dragon slayers flocked to cities, leaving more remote areas unprotected.

Such was Trondheim's fate until Owen Thorskard arrived. At sixteen, with dragons advancing and his grades plummeting, Owen faced impossible odds—armed only with a sword, his legacy, and the classmate who agreed to be his bard.

Listen! I am Siobhan McQuaid. I alone know the story of Owen, the story that changes everything. Listen!


I have read several alternate-world novels, but they have all seemed forced to me, and never really piqued my interest. Not so with Johnston's debut novel (and don't you just love when an author's first novel hits it out of the park? Guaranteed spot on my "order everything by" list!)
 
Johnston imagines a world just like ours - but, with dragons. Not newly arrived dragons, not always-there-but-hidden dragons, but dragons which have been here as long as people, and which have helped shape our history. Remarkably, but believably, that history is not all that different from what you may find in your textbooks - it was just shaped so by dragons (Buddy Holly's airplane, for example, went down when attacked by such). There are some larger differences - dragons being attracted to carbon emissions and large bodies of water, Michigan is pretty much a no man's land now.
 
Along with music and sports stars, this world also has dragon slayers to offer for hero worship. Most are under contract to large corporations and stationed in large metropolitan areas (after their four years mandatory government service, of course). Dragon slaying is traditionally a hereditary profession, and many slayers don't live long enough to have very many children, so the pool is dwindling rapidly.
 
One can imagine the excitement, then, when one of the most popular dragon slayers decides to semi-retire, WITH her dragon-slaying family, to a small town in Canada. This is where the tale begins, and it doesn't stop moving until the final page. Between exciting battle scenes, often humorously related, there is political maneuvering (also humorously related), character development, bonfire parties, music composition, fun teachers, intrigue, internet conspiracy theories, and blossoming relationships (but - spoiler alert - the two main characters do NOT fall in love, which is enough for me to put Johnston on my always-buy list all by itself!)
 
This does not seem to be set up as part of a series, and while my brain often imagined the screenplay as I read, there were parts that would make me shy away from that as well. No, this is simply a strong, stand-alone, enjoyable read that should be an easy sell to readers of any gender over the age of 12. A must purchase for high school libraries!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Teen Cafe - Catching Fire

Last month at Teen Café we had a very small group - 4 people - so we spent a lot of time sitting around and talking. That was fun in itself, but we wanted to plan some activities that would spark the interest of kids who haven't come before. For this month, they settled on a Catching Fire party.
 
Not knowing how many we would have, I planned activities that could be done singly or in groups, and with any number of participants.  We ended up with 9, which worked out well.
 
When kids came in, they had time to grab some snacks and form alliances if they so chose. For snacks we had Peeta's Bakery (pound cake, donuts, garlic bread sticks) and Katniss's Foraging Stash (nuts, dried fruits, beef jerky).
 
Each individual tribute or alliance group then chose a district from a stack of district seals I had printed out, and the games began.
 
First, we need food! I printed out pictures of various edible and nonedible plants, and told them this was what they could find in the arena.  
 
 
Each district took a turn picking something to eat - if it was edible, they earned five points. If not, they died. But, just for this round!
 
Now we needed shelter. I had a shortage of trees, banana leaves, and kudzu vines in my supply closet, so we made due with chairs, newspapers, and tape. Each team had twenty minutes to build a shelter at least one person could hide in.



 
These two went with sturdiness over speed:

 
It would have worked great if the had more time, but at the end they were rushed trying to assemble it all.

 
District 1 showed they weren't all about luxury, earning extra points for fitting BOTH tributes inside with nary a shoelace showing!

 
Next was weaponry. One representative from each district got a blow gun (straw) and weaponry (marshmallow). They had five shots...
 
 
...at President Snow, and earned points for each hit.

 
Let's not tell the custodian we were shooting marshmallow bits at the wall, shall we? Thanks.
 
Last but not least (and certainly not quietest), we had a tracker jacker attack! Each tribute had seven tracker jackers (colored dot stickers) that they needed to get off themselves and onto other tributes (or, onto the papers on their backs, anyway). The next ten minutes were a mix of absolute stillness as everyone stood with their backs to the wall to protect them,
 
 
and bursts of activity as everyone decided to attack at once.
 
Running from tracker jackers makes you very blurry.


Oops! Paper came off!

They call this the Tracker Jacker Dance.

 The tribute with the least number of stings at the end of ten minutes earned 20 points for that district, and then all points were tallied up.
 
 
The tribute in the yellow shirt, from District 4, was the winner, earning a hardcover copy of Catching Fire.
 
Next month: Napoleon Dynamite! And yes, there will be tater tots.
 
 
 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Cryptid Files series from Lerner, by Jean Flitcroft

I read the first two books of this series:
 
The Loch Ness Monster
9781467726023
 
     Vanessa's dreams are haunted by cryptids—mysterious creatures that may or may not exist. Her mother used to study them, gathering scientific evidence that at least some of them are real. Vanessa longs to continue her mother's research. At the moment, though, she also has more pressing concerns—like a family trip that includes her father's new girlfriend.
     But the visit to Scotland gives Vanessa a chance to explore the eerie secrets of Loch Ness. With the help of her mother's cryptid files, can she solve the mystery of the most famous cryptid of all?

and
 
The Chupacabra
 9781467734837
 
     When Vanessa visits a friend's family on their ranch in Mexico, she's expecting a relaxing summer. Instead, she enters a shadowy world of mysterious animal death, magical curses, and dark family secrets.
     Vanessa's hosts are in trouble. Their ranch is struggling; there's been no rain, and animals are being killed by an unidentified predator. Could it be the mythical creature mentioned in her mother's cryptid files—the bloodsucking Chupacabra? Or do the ranch's misfortunes have something to do with the family's painful past?
 
There is a third title, The Pacific Giants, with presumably more to come.
 
I had high hopes. Cryptids are always a popular subject, one both kids and adults can't help find intriguing. The chapters start off with brief paragraphs describing actual reports of encounters with the cryptid in question, as well as scientific information that could explain or support its existence. In just reading those, one could easily finish the book convinced that Nessie or the Chupacabra are very real.
 
Unfortunately, I didn't find the stories themselves as convincing. Most characters remained rather one-dimensional, although there is development and growth in the main character, Vanessa. The hard facts and evidence in the chapter openers give way to magic and fantasy as the 'mystery' is solved. I don't think readers who wantto finish the book convinced one way or another will find that very satisfying.
 
At the same time, the struggles Vanessa faces in her personal life came across as real, and may resonate with many readers in similar situations. I would give the series so far a B- if it was turned in by a student - a high enough grade to encourage the writer to coninue, but low enough to show there is definite room for improvement.
 
***One small issue with the second book, which I found continually jarring: the young man of the family Vanessa is visiting is named "Armado", "Mado" for short.. While Americans commonly change spellings and pronunciations of common names, traditional Mexicans (which this family is) do not. It's Armando, Mando for short. I can forgive Flitcroft, who hails from Dublin, for the mistake, but surely someone at Lerner should have picked that up? If it throws me off in reading, it may be enough to cause my New Mexican readers to put it down entirely.


Monday, March 24, 2014

Bacon Wrapped Asparagus and an Accident

One of this week's Bountiful Baskets add-ons was asparagus - 11 pounds for $16.50. Since it is currently running $3.48 a pound at the local grocery store, I bought two! This is one of the few vegetables Daddy will eat cooked, and the kids and I all like it, too - score! Before I froze most of it, I wanted to find some new (to us) ways to prepare it, so I scoured the internet for recipes - and then, as usual, ignored them all and did my own thing.
 
I saw lots of prosciutto-wrapped asparagus recipes, but I wanted bacon. We all want bacon in this household. The bacon I have is pretty thick, but I was still worried about chewy asparagus, so I cooked it a bit first:
 
1. Melt a dollop of butter in a skillet (if the word 'bacon' didn't clue you in, this is not a heart-healthy recipe.)
2. Add a lot of minced garlic (exact measurements are so important to me), a couple pounds of asparagus spears (ends trimmed), and some grape tomatoes, halved. I actually used the mini heirloom tomatoes from several baskets ago - I love how long everything lasts! - but I'm usually more likely to have grape tomatoes around. Drizzle on some lemon juice, cover, and simmer until asparagus is just tender.
 
Make sure your assistant is alert and attentive.
 
3. Let cool slightly. Line a baking sheet with foil (unless you want to be scrubbing forever). Wrap 3 spears in a slice of bacon, then sprinkle the tomatoes and garlic over the top.
 
Now, that's just purty!
4. Bake in the oven at 350, until bacon is cooked.
 
Now, here's where the accident comes in. I still had half a package of bacon, so I decided to cook the rest of it up, because - you know, bacon! And, because I am too lazy to wash more dishes than absolutely necessary, I cooked it in the same skillet that previously had asparagus, etc. in it, without rinsing out the remaining lemon juice/butter/garlic. Because, garlic goes great with bacon, and because - lazy!
 
When the first slices cooled, of course I bit into one, and - oh. my. gosh. You guys.
 
Bacon! With garlic! And lemon juice! It's AWESOME! I didn't think you could make bacon any better, but - lemon juice - whoda thunk it?! So, now you know how those famous chefs came up with their delicious but off-the-wall combinations: laziness. I cooked a whole 'nother pack the same way, and none of it made it to supper time.
 
My assistant even woke up for it!
 
As for the original recipe, it would have been perfect if I had used regular, thin-sliced bacon instead of thick-sliced. The asparagus cooked much faster, and I had to take the bacon off and finish cooking it separately, which kind of defeats the whole prettiness thing. You might also try them on a broiler pan (but baking them, not broiling) to drain some of the grease off. However you do it, though...it's bacon! So, it's all good!