Wednesday, February 29, 2012

I found that I find the things that you find important rather peculiar

I'm the first to admit that I think YA fiction is wonderful. No, really. I read it surprisingly often, and so do most of the people I know. Granted, a lot of those people are librarians, but not all of them are and that's what's important. To be 100% clear I am not talking about Twilight. My dirty librarian secret is that I've never actually read Twilight. Don't get me wrong, I have my own Super Secret Guilty Reading Pleasures (and there's more where that list comes from), but YA isn't one of them.  I'll also be the first to admit that sometimes I'm surprised to figure out that a book I'm reading is in fact YA fiction. More to the point, something I think about more and more as I feel more and more drawn to children's and youth librarianship/literacy is what books to recommend to teens and pre-teens when they ask for something "like (or not like) Twilight."

It's the age old question of what is appropriate to recommend, what is appropriate to recommend for different groups... it's a hard line to figure out. Book series I read when I was in the 13-19 year old stage were pretty varied, and ranged from Tamora Pierce to Tanya Huff to Anne Bishop (who even though I read it, I would hesitate to recommend to someone who was as old as I was when I read it).  I was lucky when I was a teen - my mom was a voracious reader, and she encouraged me to read anything and everything. I read Rohinton Mistry, Michael Ondaatje, most of the classics and pretty much anything I could get my hands on.  The thing is, when I was working with youth for Now Hear This)) I noticed that a surprising amount of parents were pretty conservative when it came to what they thought their kids should, and could be reading. Books my not only my mom, but my fairly conservative private school had no issue encouraging us to read were books that the schools and parents I was working with found "questionable."  We dealt with it on a case by case basis, one of my main objectives was to discuss with the parents and schools why they found the books "questionable" and explained to them why I thought they weren't. Since I never actually stopped reading YA fiction, both for work and pleasure, I felt (and feel) pretty confident in suggesting the following series to most teens, and most parents of teens!

Mercedes Lackey's 500 Kingdoms is one of those series. I grabbed it off the adult fantasy shelf at Chapters, and it wasn't until my roommate and I were joking we should write or edit Harlequin Romance novels to pay our way through grad school that I realized not only is this series technically a Harlequin Romance novel, but the first book off their Luna young adult label. It never occurred to me (or my roommate) that this was the case. In related news, this is a fabulous series and you should go read it. I have lent it to everyone ranging from a 17 year old girl to a 32 year old guy, and not only did neither of them realize it was a romance novel, but they both loved it so much they went out and bought their own copies of the entire series.

A friend of mine in real life introduced me to a friend of hers from Twitter who I met randomly at a TFC game then ran into at the Chapters she managed recommended the next series to me (yup. That's important.). I was hemming and hawing in the Fantasy section (over if I was going to read Patricia Briggs, something I've already discussed my being ridiculous about) and flipped out when she found out I hadn't read the Study series by Maria V. Snyder. In fairness, she was 100% right. It's a fabulously written YA series (that oh, hey, also in the adult fantasy section of Chapters). It's a series I can get behind recommending to anyone - it's historical(ish) with a little bit of... almost steampunk-ishbutnotreally with a kind of sci-fi-ish element. Tough to explain, but very much worth the read.  Very very much.

This being said, I really do think there are a ton of  books that are really YA friendly - and I'm not talking the (obvious) Tamora Pierce and Patricia C. Wrede books. Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a fabulous book, so is the entire OZ series (it's quite long, and quite wonderful). Percy Jackson I personally love, but then, it's Greek mythology, so no-brainer. Harry Potter is the old stand-by (do I date myself when I say that one of the worst work experiences I had was when I was working at an Arts Camp, I remember Harry Potter coming out and we had to stop the kids from reading so they could do crafts and play sports. It was awful, and we all felt terrible). Last (but nowhere least) the Bartimaeus trilogy is also fantastic. I tend to lean towards series when I'm recommending YA books - I find most of the readers like building a... friendship? with the characters. By readers, to be clear, I'm including myself!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Elle Me dit

If you look back (wayyyy back) to when I first started this blog it`s pretty clear I didn`t have a focus to it. I posted it kind of like my version of a memory book- I wrote recipes (which I`m tossing around posting again), pictures of where I went (I used to do way more apparently) and as a journal to the process of library school there in the end. What I didn`t talk about it seems, is what I was doing for a living. Who knows why, because at the time what I was doing was actually pretty fun. I was working in not-for-profit and I was fortunate enough to work with a pretty varied group of organizations doing everything from running Toronto Buskerfest to my personal favourite, Now Hear This)).

Now Hear This)) is a youth literacy project based out of Toronto and works mainly with the Catholic School Board (though when I was there we did private workshops, and worked with the TDSB as well) and had the purpose of bringing accessible literacy to the classroom. It`s a fabulous program - in the main program, SWAT (Students, Writers and Teachers), writers come into the classroom for about half a semester and teach students part of their English curriculum. As the site says "These workshops help develop literacy skills, cultivate talent and creativity, encourage self-expression and foster analytical and critical thought. Writers and teachers develop writing exercises together that complement course curricula and engage students in material they might otherwise find difficult and alienating."

Now Hear This)) is where my passion for literacy comes from - I believe so strongly that all people need for literacy is a chance. It's a fabulous program - I saw student after student who said they "hated to read" or "found books and writing boring" take a shift to the complete opposite direction, and, after the program was completed write, submit and have some pretty amazing works published in the Anthologies (they look slick, right!).
A big part of the reason I want to be a librarian is because of the work I did, and saw at Now Hear This)). Literacy is kind of like an invisible wall - many of the students I worked with thought they couldn't read, or that it was boring, or dumb, or whatever because they hadn't had a connection to it. When a writer came into their classroom and made it different, and therein interesting, literacy didn't seem so hard. It's one thing for a teacher to tell you to write an essay on the Shakespeare. It's another thing completely for a writer to tell you to read a graphic novel and that it's ok to write a paper on it, but oh hey, why don't you take a look the original play too, you might like it.

There are so many types of literacy - computer, math, dance, comics, and the list goes on. When you want to encourage literacy, embrace it in every form and use one form of literacy as a stepping stone for other forms of literacy.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Discovery of Witches

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness is .... possibly going to by my favourite novel. I say that a lot. That I LOVE book X or Y, and I do. Most of the books I post about on here I love, because... why else would I post about them?

Anyways the novel is full of appealing elements: Oxford, Oxford libraries hidden manuscripts, secret societies and artifacts, history, science and magic. Not to mention witches and vampires and demons (oh my.) (sorry).

The thing is, I should be annoyed at this book. The heroine is a little annoying in her denial of reality, the hero is so smugly old fashioned and the book is verging on a romance novel. But I don't hate the book. The exact opposite in fact. The other thing is every other person I've talked to about it have also loved it. One was my roommate (notoriously picky about anything fantasy related) (though we have similar tastes so...) (ok, we may or may not be reading the same copy, and may or may not be fighting over who gets it) (ok, I may or may not have kidnapped the book to Waterloo). Another was another librarian - the thing with that one though, is it happened in the middle of a job interview. I was asked what I was reading (a shockingly common (ok, not shocking at all) question in library job interviews) and when I mentioned this book the other librarian launched into how much she loved the book. And then we both proceeded to inform the other two people that they had to read it, because it is fabulous.

I'll say it again - this book is fabulous. I'm about halfway done, and already bemoaning the fact that the next one won't be published until this summer.  For the first time in a long time, I'm not just reading to read.  So do yourself a favour and go pick up this book.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Don't use words too big for the subject.

I think the thing I love the most about the book The Professor and the Madman is that its Wikipedia article's "see also" section cites crowdsourcing.

Simon Winchester is arguably (ok, not arguably) one of my favourite authors.  The first thing I read from him was Hong Kong: Here be Dragons and I quickly followed that with The River at the Center of the World: A Journey Up the Yangtze, and Back in Chinese Time (I'm not going to lie, reading these two books played no small part in my decision to go to China between my third and fourth years at university). At 17 I was bored with geography class, and being the slightest bit sarcastic, I wanted to cite something ridiculous for my final big project. The titles drew me into Winchester as an author, but what kept me going back to him is I loved how he wrote. He made these huge subject matters accessible, something I could understand. I was thrilled when he wrote The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology in 2001 (look, it's not a secret I'm a geek).

Either way, the Professor and the Madman is one of my favourite books of Winchesters - how could it not be? It's about the writing of the OED (amazing) and I found out it was basically written by an American living in a British asylum, who wrote it because he was well off enough to collect books, quite rare books and while he was deemed criminally insane because he murdered some guy in a fit of paranoia he was given enough freedom to write one of the greatest dictionaries of all time (10,000+ entries of it, at any rate), all the while having some of his rare book collection coming from the widow of the man her murdered, and thought there were small people in the floor and ceiling who came out at night to torture him.  It's also important to realize that Minor and Murray had a close friendship for over two decades - but only through correspondence. After Minor (who also, by the way was an American Doctor) sent ten thousand definitions to the dictionary, a puzzled Murray set out to visit him, and only then found out Minor was a murderer, clinically insane and locked up in Broadmoor (England's harshest asylum for criminal lunatics).

The book is brilliantly written, and the subject matter is completely fascinating. Go read it.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Immortalists

So I may or may not have a bit of a secret fascination with People Who Want to Live Forever. The idea of immortality is something I've personally never understood: as Einstein said "I do not believe in immortality of the individual" 

This being said, I do have a fascination with immortality-questors, bio-hackers and transhumanists. Blame it on my degree (or, more correctly, my roommate's take on our degree) or on my already there fascination with open source and information access, but I've always loved the idea of loving the idea of living forever. This being said, it was a no-brainer for me to have picked up this book at Chapters a few months ago. It got pushed a bit to the way-side during my last few months of only reading Urban Fantasy (judge away).

The Immortalists is about the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh and his somewhat macabre scientific collaboration with Dr. Alexis Carrel and their shared quest of conquering death and attaining immortality. It's an honest look at the two men who achieved brilliance in their own rights, trying to achieve the impossible while not ignoring the character flaws and fears the each man had. The book looks at Lindbergh & Carrel attempt to challenge nature's oldest rule, and examines the personal, professional and political consequences that this resulted in. 

I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, it reminded of one of my favourite books, The Professor and the Madman (Did YOU know the Oxford English Dictionary comes in now small part from a retired American army surgeon who was incarcerated in an insane-asylum in England?) (You really should read the book).

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Miss Rumphius

Alice is a little girl who must do three things in her life:
1) She must travel to far away places
2) She will live by the sea when she settles down
3) She must make the world more beautiful in some way.

I remember when I was younger, I used to look at maps, and read National Geographic and tell myself one day. To this day I have a list of places I'm planning on going to. Bali, Thailand, Russia, Panama, the list goes on and on and on.  I grew up reading this book, I have a very battered copy somewhere in my mom's basement, and I think a big part of why I've always wanted to travel. I love it for kids because it proves to kids that you can have hopes, and dreams, and small things make life beautiful.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


One of my all-time favorite families, who happen to be my dogs breeders welcomed their latest lovely additions the Jaspers! This is the third litter for Bonnie & Anton, two of the hands down best dogs I know!

The stone Jasper is known to lift negativity so one can fully appreciate blessings - something I know these pups will be to their new families!

Congratulations Biscay Waterdogs!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


From wayyy back this august, when Gambit was 7 months! I think. Maybe. ... ish.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Gamble Everything for Love

Time in Waterloo is always fun for Gambit, something about an acre vs. a condo being a good thing. I generally side with him on that - who wouldn't prefer some space?

I'll admit it. I love the snow. You probably hate me for it, but I miss having a good winter, with a lot of snow. Part of that may or may not be because I hate mud. I hate mud, because Gambit loves mud. I have NO USE for mud. It is not necessary. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Something other than Laurel K. Hamilton.

Look. I have nothing against her as an author. I liked Anita Blake (quite a bit) up until Obsidian Butterfly, but I felt that after that the books lost all sense of plot and were just sex sex sex. Which is fine. Her Merry Gentry series had a lot... a lot of sex, but it always felt like it worked better with the plot. Anne Bishop's Black Jewels series has a core of sex, sexual slavery and sexual control through it. But it works. It works well with the plot, and you don't feel the urge to just skip till you find the plot, like I did by the time I gave up on Anita Blake. I think it bothered me the most because I really did like Anita Blake. It was a great series, with characters I could get behind and a plot I enjoyed. Que Sera.

At any rate here are some suggestions of female authors other than Laurel K. Hamilton.

  • Anne Bishop. The Black Jewels Trilogy is fabulous. So fabulous, she kept it going (and I admittedly don't love what comes before/after the original trilogy, but the trilogy itself is wonderful. My roommate suggested I read it, and it's hands down one of my favourite series'. There is sex, and quite... intense sex at that, but it's a really really worthwhile read.
  • Ilona Andrews. On the Edge and Kate Daniels are both solid series. I personally like Kate Daniels a bit more, because I feel it's just a little bit tighter and cohesive. I randomly grabbed it off the shelf after ignoring it for a long while, which, was dumb. I started reading them about a year ago, and am excited for what's coming up next
  • Kim Harrison. Arguably the best Urban Fantasy writer out there (I feel), and at least one of the top 3. The Hollows series is brilliant, I know more then a few people who read it, and are avidly waiting for the next installment (coming soon!). Just read her, this series I can promise you won't regret it
  • Seanan McGuire. Rosemary and Rue is a fantastic series. There's nothing wrong with it, at all. Great plots, great characters, a fascinating take on Fae. This being said, I read Newsflesh (Written as Mira Grant) and did not love it. I wanted to, but didn't. I am still giving InCryptid a chance.
  • Patricia Briggs. I've really only read the Mercy Thompson series, and I kid you not I avoided it for years because I always felt the covers were too trampy. I have no clue why I thought this, but it's an oddly popular mindset. My roommate and I were discussing how we really had nothing to base that on, because compared to most of the other urban fantasy covers it's really not that bad. Like... really. Either way, it's a good series. Don't be ridiculous like I was.