Monday, August 31, 2009

Book Review: The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boyis a delightful story of four very different sisters: Rosalind, the dependable and sensible oldest sister, Skye, the wild, brash, brainy sister, Jane, the budding authoress and voracious reader, and Batty, the shy animal-loving littlest sister. The four sisters, along with their father, take a summer vacation at a cottage rented by the very strict Mrs. Tifton. What they weren't expecting was Jeffrey - Mrs. Tifton's son.

Things I Liked:
I adored the sisters - each of them was unique, interesting, and lovable in their own ways. I found myself identifying with each of the girls in different ways. The story of their summer made me want to figure out which one I was most like - and it turns out I have a little of each! The story itself is also very sweet, but has undertones of serious subjects. Jeffrey is written just as I would imagine someone in his situation would react. The relationships between the girls was what I loved the most - their family is close and loving, even those sisters who don't always get along. A perfect book for grade school girls.

Things I Didn't Like:
I wish I had this book back when I was 10 or 11. I loved the girls and the humorous stories of what they did and how they got into trouble, but it was a little too young for me to enjoy as an adult. I would have devoured it much more quickly if I had been able to still see from a child's perspective (oh, how I wish I could)! The ending was a bit too nice, but hopeful - which is what I would have wanted anyway.

The sisters reminded me of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy from Little Womenby Louisa May Alcott
A bit like a Roald Dahl or E.L. Konigsburg.

I loved what Birdsall said on the book jacket:
"Each week I'd go to the library hoping that one of my favorite authors had written something new. Or even better, maybe I'd find a new author who wrote just the kind of books I loved best. But most weeks I'd have to take home books I'd already read, some of them eight, nine, or ten times. I promised myself then that I'd become a writer someday, to give readers like me a few more books to discover and enjoy."
s-factor: none

mrg-factor: none

v-factor: none

Overall rating: ****

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Strahov Monastery Library

The next beautiful library on my list of Libraries To See is found in the Strahov Monastery. The library is not quite as old as the Klementinum, but did have the advantage of allowing no-flash photography. In order to make up for all the lost photos from Klementinum, I may have overdone it on this one :)

The outside of the library

The older hall - the Theological Hall - obviously houses a collection of theological literature. They have some very old manuscripts, one of which dates from about the 9th century!

View of the ceiling in the Theological Hall - really, how do you concentrate on reading in such a richly decorated room? Unless you happen to be studying something like this:

Some of the gorgeous illuminated manuscripts from the 15th and 16th century

Connecting the two halls they have a corridor of old books - legal, medical, and pharmaceutical literature. Not to mention gorgeous cabinets and bookshelves stuffed with old books.

This cabinet has a collection of books about trees and the spine on each one contains a sample of the bark of the tree. Very cool!

And at the other end of the corridor, we have:

the Philosophical Hall (which was unfortunately being renovated in some way - not as cool with people and construction stuff inside)

I did manage to buy a booklet, several postcards, and some posters of these halls, so I will have to scan one of those so you can see what the Philosophical Hall looks like normally.

What I found so interesting about the Philosophical Hall was the story of the abbot who built this hall in the 18th century. He didn't have the funds for bookshelves, but ended up buying them from another monastery. When they got them back home, they didn't fit. Instead of adjusting the cabinets to fit the existing library, he redid the library to fit the cabinets. An interesting but pricey choice I could consider for my own bookshelf issues.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Bookshelf Review: (In Which I Learn to Pay Attention to What I Order)

Remember back when I posted about this awesome bookshelf review opportunity? The bookshelf came in the mail while we were out of the country, and then things just kept coming up. But, I've finally assembled it and got around to posting about it now.

Anyway, I was super thrilled when I opened it, so much so that I didn't take any photos of it before assembly or during assembly. I loved the color (but that is one reason I chose it - I adore dark cherry wood) and I love the design. It was really simple to assemble, with super easy instructions. In fact, my husband pretty much didn't need the instructions to put it together. We had to undo a few screws, but only because we weren't paying close attention to the direction of the wood panels.

One thing I was slightly disappointed about was that some of the shelves were dirty. I couldn't tell what exactly was on them, but it did not come off after wiping them down. I finally figured it didn't matter aesthetically, since I would be covering the shelves with books anyway.

The trickiest part about the shelf I ordered was hanging it up. What was I thinking getting a hanging shelf? We just signed a contract for a new apartment, and they do not allow you to drill holes in the wall (surprise, surprise). Which means this shelf is somewhat useless to us as long as we live there. It requires you to drill ten holes in the wall (really, I also thought ten was a bit much), but we managed to find a way to prop it up in a corner anyway. For now, this is a working fix. Hopefully when we get into our own home, we will finally be able to properly hang it up.

This problem isn't the fault of the company, more my own thoughtlessness in purchasing this type of shelving (so much for trying something new and different). Overall, I am very pleased with the way it looks. It appears stronger than some of my other shelving (which bows in the middle) but that's probably because the shelves are not as long.

Thanks again, CSN office furniture, for allowing me the opportunity to review this bookshelf. If I had scads of money, I would definitely order more through them! (It's not that they are all expensive, it is more I really don't have lots of money!)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

There's No Place Like Home(town Library)

I must admit, while my trip to the Czech Republic was fabulous and I got to see several breathtaking libraries, I missed my very own home-grown public library. I put all of my hold requests on inactive status, so I wouldn't miss anything while I was gone. I was hoping when I returned the status to active I would have a huge flow of books. So far, I've had six.

The Lacemaker and the Princessby Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
The Seasonby Sarah MacLean
Howl's Moving Castleby Diana Wynne Jones (why ever did I wait so long?)
The Hourglass Doorby Lisa Mangum
Indaby Sherwood Smith
Wintergirlsby Laurie Halse Anderson (I'm sort of afraid to read this one!)

But, since I also happened to return home to a most welcome group of books from publishers, I don't think I will be running out of reading material soon. Here is what I got in the mail:

The Maze Runnerby James Dashner (so good - watch for my review!)
Between Me and the Riverby Carrie Host
Fortune's Follyby Deva Fagan
The Possibility of Everythingby Hope Edelman

And I also managed to win a coveted copy of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows from Maw Books Blog. YEAH!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Utahnian Book Bloggers Unite

I have the very great privilege of blogging in a state with so many other book bloggers. I had the chance to meet several of them at a get together last Saturday.

You can see a list of bloggers and authors who came at Suey's It's All About Books and Britt's Confessions of a Book Habitue (call me lazy, cause I am).

I have to admit that I am a quiet person, so I didn't do much talking. But, I enjoyed listening to the interesting conversations and stories of others.

One thing I learned was that my blog name is much too long and complex. I am not clever enough to come up with anything witty or catchy. The best I could do was shorten it to "1lbr." I admit it's much easier to type (and remember) "1lbr" than "One Librarian's Book Reviews."

And just to say I met someone famous, here I am with the very kind Natasha from Maw Books Blog, who planned the whole thing (and provided the photo). Thank you!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Book Review: The Dust of 100 Dogs by A.S. King and a Giveaway!

The Dust of 100 Dogsis the curse placed upon Emer Morrissey, feared pirate of the Caribbean, just as she and her true love are killed. She must live 100 lives as a dog and then be reborn again with all her memories intact. Now she is a teenager in the 20th century, dealing with a rotten brother, demanding parents, and the memories of Emer - and her buried treasure.

The Dust of 100 Dogs

Things I Liked:
I liked most of the Emer parts - her childhood in Ireland, the historical section about Cromwell, her piratical adventures in Jamaica. Those parts were a lot of fun to read.

Things I Didn't Like:
Pretty much, everything else. I think this book will appeal to a very particular niche of readers and I was not one of these. I was turned off by the jumping around between stories and characters. I was thrown by the third and first person narrative switching. I really had a hard time identifying with Saffron at all. I struggled with wanting to finish the story; it appeared to be going nowhere to me. I guess I was expecting more of a pirate adventure, curse of 100 dogs story and got more of an angsty teen drama with a lot of extra baggage thrown in. I loathed Fred Livingstone (but I think everyone does and I can't think of any other way for King to have depicted him). I ended up skipping lots of sections. Anyway, overall, this was just not the book for me.

I am really struggling to come up with any for this - suggestions from those who've read it?

s-factor: !@#$
It's got it all!

mrg-factor: XXXXX
Plenty of this going on - thank you Fred (ugh).

v-factor: ->->->->
Gory pirate fighting and the like.

Overall rating: **

*And because I am hoping someone else will enjoy this more, I am offering my very gently used copy of The Dust of 100 Dogs. Just leave a comment on this post if you are interested - please tell me why you like or don't like pirates - and I will draw a winner next Tuesday, September 1.*

Monday, August 24, 2009

Interrater Reliability

I was very intrigued by Shannon Hale's recent post about rating books. There are lots of interesting and insightful comments on the post and you should read over them. Here is a part of her post that I have been thinking about since I read it:
"So, I wonder if book evaluation is trumping self-evaluation. I wonder if we get so caught up in gushing or bashing, shining up those stars or taking them away, that the reading experience is weighed too heavily on the side of the book itself and not enough on the reader. After all, reader is more important than book. Reader is the one who changes from reading, not the book. Reader is the one who lives the magic of storytelling."
As a reader, I do feel like I haven't placed enough emphasis on self-evaluation. I should think more about reasons for my reactions to books, especially when I dislike a book. Those feelings and issues sometimes come out when I write a review, but I think those things are more appropriate in my head - not to mention they are much more difficult for me to express. Perhaps if I were a more skilled writer (and had more free time) I could make my reviews more self-evaluative. But, I'm not sure they would be all that helpful for someone looking for a book to read (which is one purpose for this blog).

I'd like to think my reviews are not so much "gushing" or "bashing" but more of an evaluation of what I thought of the book. I think that any review is going to be based mainly on the reviewer's subjective opinion. While I do think it is possible to objectively evaluate some elements of writing, those things are not usually why I want to read a book. I don't seek out books solely for the writer's ability to follow rules and guidelines (though good writing can be a draw, but then again what is good writing? etc etc). I read a book for enjoyment and escapism, knowledge and understanding. Those things can be found in books written with all kinds of styles and even all kinds of ability levels.

My reviews are subjective. I write them to let people know a little about the story, a little about what I liked or didn't like, and what types of possibly objectionable material may be in a book. The overall rating really is just how much I liked or didn't like it. It has no translatable objective purpose. The rating will differ from one person to the next, just as enjoyment will differ.

One of the things I enjoy about reading other book blogs is the huge range of opinions. I can read glowing reviews of a book and then mediocre ones for the same book. This doesn't confuse or aggravate me, it usually piques my interest. If a book has very strong reactions from both sides, I think that is a good indication that I should pick it up and try for myself.

Anyway, do any of you have thoughts on giving ratings or being more self-evaluative and less book-evaluative? Do you look at ratings or skip them over completely?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Klementinum Baroque Library Hall

You know you are a true bookish geek when your idea of heaven might look something like this:

(image from Prague Experience, ©Travel Experience Ltd 2009)

I had the opportunity to visit this beautiful Baroque library hall during my visit to the Czech Republic. Worth every penny of the tour. If you ever get there, make the effort to see it.

Since photos are not allowed (though, if you google it, you will find several clandestine photographers...I am a rule follower, however) I had to grab this photo from the web (though you will see I credited it).

I was super thrilled about seeing this place ever since Jo from Ink and Paper posted about this place on her Belle's library feature. We were able to visit the three parts of the Klementinum open to the public with guided tours: the mirror chapel (gorgeous), the baroque library hall (drool), and the astronomy tower (so cool). Unfortunately, no photos can be taken in any of these three places. I did get some from the top of the astronomy tower looking down over Prague. Here is what it looked like:

(view of St. Vitus' Cathedral)

Anyway, I was absolutely astounded by the baroque hall. That place took my breath away. The photo does not do it justice. It is enormous and brimming with interesting woodwork, painting, old globes, and of course, gorgeous texts. I wanted to spend most of the tour just gazing at this room. It was exactly what I imagined an old library would look like. Doesn't it just make you want one in your home?

The books collected here date from the 1600s until recently, and interestingly enough, none of them are written in Czech. This is a foreign language collection of theological literature. Lots of the books have been deposited there since the Jesuits founded the Klementinum. Apparently, the hall itself has not been changed (in appearance and arrangement) since it was completed in 1722. I guess if something is absolutely perfect, why change it, right? For more info on this place, check out (or I guess I should say Czech out...wow, that was lame) the Klementinum website.

I was too absorbed in thinking about it afterward that I forgot to get a postcard. Argh.

Stay tuned for next Sunday's visit to an old Czech library.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Book Review: Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman

Eon: Dragoneye Rebornis the exciting story of Eon, aka Eona, a girl posing as a boy in order to be chosen as the next Dragoneye apprentice - one who shares their essence with one of the twelve dragon spirits. Her deception is dangerous and could forfeit her life if it is discovered. But, when something completely unexpected happens at the ceremony, she will be responsible for more than just her own life.

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn

Things I Liked:
I love the themes of the book - Eon must come to understand her true identity and accept who she is. I thought it was very well-written and the story kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time. The supporting characters are interesting and individual - I thought they were well-sketched. I also really loved the culture of the book too - setting and details were gorgeous.

Things I Didn't Like:
I didn't really think the ending part about Lord Ido was terribly believable. It seemed too clean and complete a change to be real. I also knew pretty much what was going to happen - it made me want to slap Eon(a) several times over. How could she be so stupid? But, none of it materially changed my enjoyment of the book.

Reminded me of The Dragon Heir by Cinda Williams Chima a bit
Also a little like The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
I've heard it's also like Tamora Pierce's books (though, I have yet to read any!)

s-factor: !
maybe one or two

mrg-factor: X
some situations, but they don't lead anywhere

v-factor: ->->->
Fighting, killing, and other violent, scary stuff - not gory though.

Overall rating: ****

Thursday, August 20, 2009

(Obviously too tired to write a title)

Hey, I'm back in the U.S. again after my extended vacation! (Extended by two days, actually, since our flight home was canceled and we only got home very early this morning.) Hopefully a few of my small number of readers are still around - sorry for the dearth of posts. However, it was a glorious trip and I have lots of beautiful libraries and very old books to show you! Watch for my posts to come soon. But, for now, I must admit, I am dead tired. I may need another day to recover and catch up with my blog feeds (ah!).

It's great to be home!

Book Review: A Circle of Souls by Preetham Grandhi

*ARC provided by the author*
A Circle of Soulsis a gripping mystery that brings together several seemingly unrelated stories into one complete tale. When a child is found murdered in the small town of Newbury, an expert FBI agent is called in to investigate. In the nearby psychiatric ward of the hospital, Naya, a seven-year-old girl is having disturbing visions of the murdered child. These events draw a circle of souls together into a thrilling conclusion.

Things I Liked:
This was a book I couldn't put down. I had to keep reading, to know what happened next. It definitely kept me interested and yearning for more. I don't usually pick up thrillers or murder stories, but this one went light(er) on the gory details and more about the psychology and feelings of all the people involved. I loved Grandhi's treatment of the children in the story - it was compassionate and understanding.

Things I Didn't Like:
I was put off by some of the awkward phrasing and dialog, but it couldn't distract me for long from the story. I also got a little thrown off on some of the issues introduced very near the end that almost seemed too far-fetched. I like paranormal, but Dr. Gram's story was almost too different to fit in with the rest. Because it was an ARC, there were also some grammar and formatting issues that I assume were taken care of before the final printing.

I haven't read a lot in this genre, but it seemed similar in some ways to The Lovely Bonesby Alice Sebold

s-factor: !
surprisingly few

mrg-factor: none

v-factor: ->->->
I wouldn't call these details overly gory, but they were sometimes disturbing.

Overall rating: ***

Monday, August 17, 2009

Book Review: Larklight by Philip Reeve

Larklight: A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Farthest Reaches of Spaceis the fantastical story of Arthur and his sister Myrtle's adventures chasing and being chased through the solar system by the evil white spiders. Hovering pigs, giant crabs, enormous anemones, malevolent moths, and a frightening pirate all play a part in this steampunk novel filled with fun and adventure.

Things I Liked:
I really enjoyed the humor, the sarcastic and wry humor. The footnotes were particularly enjoyable. The variety and types of odd creatures Reeve thought up for the book was also really fun. The adventure sequences and Art's take on all these things made the whole book for me.

Things I Didn't Like:
It wasn't very engaging. The adventures, while humorous and fairly fun, were not terribly interesting. I kept putting the book down and then later remembering to finish it. I guess what I am saying is that it was not a page-turner. I think middle grade and younger boys especially will enjoy it.

Reminded me of Airborn, Skybreaker, and Starclimber by Kenneth Oppel
Also The Golden Compass and sequels a little

Samples of the laughs to be had:
"...I remember thinking that there could be no fate more horrible thant to be buried alive, and wondered what type of deranged and sickly mind could have invented such a tale. But as I lay there immobilised in a jar on the wrong side of the Moon with only a ravening caterpiller for company I realised that Mr Poe was actually quite a cheery, light-hearted sort of chap, and that his story had been touchingly optimistic." p. 56
"I don't know about you, gentle reader, but when I am reading a book and people start to blub and talk about love and such I generally think it is time to skip a few pages to the next exciting story or gory battle." p. 331
s-factor: none
they are all conveniently bl---ed out.

mrg-factor: none

v-factor: ->
more of the excitement and possibly frightening to very small children variety

Overall rating:***

Friday, August 14, 2009

Book Review: American Lion by Jon Meacham

American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White Houseis a biography of a man of opposites - both gentle and prone to anger, both compassionate and violent. Following not the entire history of Jackson's life, but with emphasis on his years in the White House, Meacham recounts a time in history that helped to shape American politics and the presidency today.

American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House (New York Times Notable Books)

Just in time for this book review, I was mentioned in a list of 100 Best Book Blogs for History Buffs (which was terribly surprising to me, but I'll take it). For more blogs with good history books, go to the list.

Things I Liked:
Andrew Jackson was a very interesting and complex individual, and I really enjoyed especially the anecdotal stories that portray his character and personality. The development of his policies and practices was interesting as well. I also like how both his good and his bad characteristics are told with equal parts - it seemed more objective that way.

Things I Didn't Like:
I found parts of the book were very dry. I suppose it is almost inevitable when doing an accurate biography of real people to not have boring sections, but there seemed to be a lot in this book. Some parts of Jackson's life were remarkably interesting and others, perhaps more when the author went on some tangents, were rather dull. I also wish it had been more chronological, especially near the beginning.

John Adams and 1776 by David McCullough

s-factor: !@
a few here and there

mrg-factor: X
spoken of, but not described

v-factor: none

Overall rating: ***

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Book Review: Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell

Song Of The Sparrowis a beautiful book in verse telling the story of Elaine of Ascolot, commonly known as the Lady of Shalott. She grew up in the army camp with Arthur, Lancelot, Gaiwan, Tristan, and others of the round table, the only girl among them, wishing that Lancelot would notice she has become a woman. Things seem to be going well for her, until the bewitching Gwynivere arrives.

Things I Liked:
The poetry is really beautiful and I love the symbolic and often lyrical use of birds, obviously sparrows, throughout the book. I think Elaine is very well portrayed and I like her as a person in the story. I love the relationships between Elaine and her family, as well as Arthur, though her interactions with Lancelot and Tristan are somewhat less appealing. (Also love the cover!)

Things I Didn't Like:
I didn't like how the story ended. It seemed too neat and pretty. I think it would have been more believable and powerful if it had ended in the way Alfred, Lord Tennyson had written it. It is more tragic, but also I think more interesting. The fairy tale ending, while happy, did not seem to quite fit in with my idea of Elaine. I like that she is a strong and interesting character, but that doesn't mean she should have a perfect ending.

Definitely read The Lady of Shalott by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
I haven't read a lot of Arthurian legend books, but I love Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur
And also any Anne of Green Gablesfan will want to watch the movie again :)

s-factor: none

mrg-factor: none

v-factor: none

Overall rating:***
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