Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Penderwicks, Jeanne Birdsall

Title: The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy
Author: Jeanne Birdsall
Published: 2007, Random House
Category: Children's Fiction
Rating: 9/10

I can't remember how I discovered this book, but I am so so so happy I did. Because I love the Penderwicks! I want to be a Penderwick with all my soul. :)

The Penderwick family consists of four sisters, their absent-minded but devoted father, and a huge and badly behaved dog. Their mother died years ago, and it's fallen to the older sisters, especially the eldest, Rosalind, to take care of the youngest, an adorable four-year-old named Batty. This first book takes place during the family summer vacation -- they rent a cottage in rural Massachusetts. When they arrive they find out that the cottage is on the grounds of a great estate called Arundel, which is owned by an icy, snobby lady whose only forgiving trait is a son named Jeffrey who quickly becomes fast friends with the girls.

The Penderwicks get into all sorts of scrapes and have many summer adventures. We get to know each sister, who are all very much individuals. The book is funny and sweet, and just completely charming.

The book has a very 1950s sort of nostalgia to it; the girls don't play video games or watch TV, they play with dolls or run around outside exploring or playing soccer. My taste in books often runs a bit to the old-fashioned (some of my favorite authors are L.M. Montgomery, Mary Stewart, Louisa May Alcot, and Eva Ibbotson). Sweet nostalgic books are my comfort -- especially in children's literature. Cozy books you want to wrap around yourself are the best.

Title: The Penderwicks on Gardam Street
Author: Jeanne Birdsall
Published: 2008, Random House
Category: Children's Fiction
Rating: 9.5/10

The second in the Penderwick series. Jeanne Birdsall's website says that she's working on a third (yay!) and there will be five books in all (yay yay!). This book picks up almost immediately after the first one -- the Penderwicks are home again, returning to school and their normal activities. One thing upsets their happy equilibrium: their aunt arrives with a letter that their mother had written before she died, telling their father that it's time he started dating again. Mr. P doesn't really want to date, and the girls really really don't want him to date. So the sisters implement the Save-Daddy Plan to sabotage his reluctant efforts at dating.

I think I might have liked this one even better than the first. My favorite part was when Sky and Jane (the two middle sisters) switch homework assignments (one's good at science and the other's good at writing) with hilarious results. I can't wait to read the next book. :)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Catch-up reviews

Did you know that root canals are really, really not fun? I do now. Sigh. Everyone thank their lucky stars for their healthy teeth -- they are so important!

Otherwise, I am enjoying my summer so far. Getting lots of good reading in. Here are some mini-reviews of books I've read over the last few weeks.

Title: Angelica
Author: Sharon Shinn
Published: 2003, Ace
Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 8.5/10
I started out not loving Shinn's Samaria series, but I have completely changed my mind. If you haven't read the series, you have to start with Archangel, or you'll really miss out. Angelica was published fourth in the series, but it actually takes place first (I think). But it should definitely be read after Archangel, Jovah's Angel, and The Alleluia Files.

More than a hundred years before Archangel, Samaria is visited at random intervals by mysterious strangers dressed all in black. They appear and disappear, leaving behind fires of utter destruction. The Archangel Gaaron is glad that his new Edori bride, Susannah, is a calm and capable woman who can help him through this crisis, while aiding him in the impossible task of controlling his wild sister Miriam. What Gaaron doesn’t know is that Susannah, who still mourns for her former lover, has a secret connection to the god Jovah—a secret that could save the whole planet. He also doesn’t know that his runaway sister has met one of the invaders and is prepared to risk everything to keep him alive.

I loved this one! So interesting. The theme is all about feeling out of place -- Susannah feels lonely and isolated among the angels and Gaaron's human sister, Miriam, feels isolated among the angels. It's so satisfying when they finally find their place that feels like "home." And the action is really exciting too.

Title: First Comes Marriage
Author: Mary Balogh
Published: 2009, Dell
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 6.5/10
The first in Balogh's new trilogy. Balogh is still an autobuy for me -- they're always comforting reads for me.

Against the scandal and seduction of Regency England, New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh introduces an extraordinary family—the fiery, sensual Huxtables. Vanessa is the second daughter, proud and daring, a young widow who has her own reason for pursuing the most eligible bachelor in London. One that has nothing to do with love. Or does it?

The arrival of Elliott Wallace, the irresistibly eligible Viscount Lyngate, has thrown the country village of Throckbridge into a tizzy. Desperate to rescue her eldest sister from a loveless union, Vanessa Huxtable Dew offers herself instead. In need of a wife, Elliott takes the audacious widow up on her unconventional proposal while he pursues an urgent mission of his own. But a strange thing happens on the way to the wedding night. Two strangers with absolutely nothing in common can’t keep their hands off each other. Now, as intrigue swirls around a past secret—one with a stunning connection to the Huxtables—Elliott and Vanessa are uncovering the glorious pleasures of the marriage bed…and discovering that when it comes to wedded bliss, love can’t be far behind.

Enjoyable, though not particularly memorable. I did like it enough to buy the second in the series, and I'm sure I'll read it next time I'm in the mood for a nice Regency. I liked the relationship among the Huxtables best (their parents died and they've taken care of each other for years) -- the romance in this one was a bit problematic. Why do the ugly ducklings always have to be so sweet and perfectly well-adjusted? I found Vanessa a bit annoying.

Title: Rachel's Holiday
Author: Marian Keyes
Published: 1998, Avon
Category: General Fiction/ Chick Lit
Rating: 6/10
I read this for a book group that met twice and then sadly died. I really enjoyed it though -- for all that I love to read, I've never been in a book club before. I might try to find another.

Twenty-seven and the miserable owner of size eight feet, Rachel Walsh enjoys two naughty habits: a lover who likes his leather pants tight, and a fondness for recreational drugs. But as Rachel learns, what goes up must come down. First she loses her job, then her lover, and then finds herself being marched off to the Cloisters, Dublin's answer to the Betty Ford Clinic. Outraged—surely she's not thin enough to be an addict!—it suddenly dawns on Rachel that it's about time she had a vacation, and where better than a place crammed with jacuzzis, gyms, and rock stars going tepid turkey? What she gets instead, however, are middle-aged men in sweaters and enough group therapy to drive her to distraction.

This was a really fast, easy read (though it was long -- her editor could have slashed at least 200 pages). It was an interesting look at drug addiction -- it seemed to capture the experience well while still being funny and not too heavy. The gradual revelations about just how sad and pathetic Rachel's life had gotten were well done. I did find her extremely annoying at times -- her naivete and denial got old. And there is a sort-of love story, which I thought was distracting from the more important story of Rachel's recovery.

Title: Heart of Gold
Author: Sharon Shinn
Published: 2000, Ace
Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 7/10
Another Shinn -- this is one of her stand-alone novels.

Two races—the matriarchal indigo and the patriarchal gulden—uneasily co-exist in a single shared metropolis. Nolan, a young indigo male, loves his job working in a biological lab, though he knows he will soon be called home to his family estates to marry his longtime fiancee. Everything in his life changes when he meets Kitrini, a high-caste indigo woman who has defiantly thrown her lot in with the gulden. Issues of class, culture, gender, prejudice, loyalty, and honor shape their choices when Nolan and Kitrini realize that he holds the knowledge that could save the life of the man Kitrini has always loved.

Not my favorite Shinn. The premise is interesting, but I found the racial drama a bit heavy-handed. And I didn't like the way the heroine is in love with someone else (a terrorist, too!) for about 3/4 of the book. Makes her look a little inconsistent. Still a good read, though.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Library School: Semester 2

I'm not sure if anyone who reads this blog is at all interested in a librarian's education. But I know that when I was trying to decide whether to go to library school or not I had lots of questions about what it would be like. So I'll add my two cents, in case anyone is in a similar pickle. Short answer: Library school is awesome! Read on for the long answer.

I'm now officially halfway through my two-year program at UNC. Woot! First semester wrap-up is here. This semester I took:

Human-Information Interactions You might be thinking, what the hell does that mean? Well, I was asking that too. This is the basic information science theory class that we're all required to take. Basic questions covered: What is information? Why and how do people seek information in different contexts? How do we assess and evaluate information? I was dreading this class because it sounded abstract and theoretical and horrible. But I actually really enjoyed it. Good professor definitely helped.

Organization of Information This class was a giant headache, though I did learn a lot about how information professionals organize information (not only bibliographic info, but all kinds, including business). Our semester-long project was to invent a system of organization for any kind of "document" we wanted -- a classmate and I did board games, which was pretty fun. If that sounds interesting, you can see the whole project here.

Management for Information Professionals This class was a bit of a joke. I understand why it's a requirement (as librarians we will probably all have to supervise people), but it all seemed very much common sense to me. But it was a really, really easy class, so I'm not complaining. My final project was a website about work-life balance (beware: it's quite bull-shitty).

Web Development My favorite class this semester! I completely love making websites. We learned XHTML and CSS (and whoa, was I creating some seriously non-standard and messy HTML before this class). We also did a little PHP, which about made my head explode because I'd never had any programming. But I think I got the important bits. I created two websites for the class (both completely HAND-CODED, oh boy!): Body Systems (a pretend gym equipment company) and Durham Speaks (a prototype that may actually be used by the Durham Public Library for their oral history project).

So next year I get to take 7 more classes, write a master's paper, and find the perfect job. Hmmm. That's several months away, though. :)

This summer I'm continuing with my job at a branch library at UNC. And I also got a really cool internship georeferencing historic maps (so that we can overlay a historic map on a current google map and people can see how areas have changed over time). It's really fun!

I've got catch-up book reviews that I'll post soon. :)

More beautiful library photos here!