Sunday, October 30, 2016

Magnus Chase: The Hammer of Thor

The Hammer of Thor (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #2) by Rick Riordan. October 4, 2016. Disney-Hyperion. 480 pages. Ages 10-18.

After preventing the release of Fenris Wolf and stopping the beginning of Ragnarok (great battle leading to the end of the world), Magnus Chase is back at Valhalla, concerned about the recent disappearance of his friends Blitzen and Hearthstone and the fact that Thor's hammer, Mjolnir, is still missing, while the giants are threatening to invade Asgard.

Magnus and his friends are joined by a new einherji, Alex, who turns out to be another child of Loki, and is gender fluid. At first Alex is angry about being an einherji and lashes out at the others, but soon becomes part of the group and develops a friendship with Magnus.

Magnus is upset to learn that as part of his latest scheme, Loki has promised Sam's hand in marriage to a giant named Thrym, despite the fact she is already happily betrothed to Amir. After discovering that Thrym possesses Mjolnir, the group decides Sam must pay the dowry and pretend to go through with the wedding in order to retrieve Thor's hammer.

Can Magnus retrieve Thor's hammer and put a stop to Loki's nefarius plan before Sam ends up married to a nasty giant, or worse??

My Thoughts 
I did not find this second installment of Riordan's Norse mythology-inspired series nearly as engaging as the first one, and had a hard time getting into it at first. Part of it was the beginning seemed a little thin, and just didn't draw the reader in as well as the first book, and I think part of it was that it had been so long since I read the first book, plus I had read several others based on Norse mythology in between, so I had trouble remember past events and characters, and confusing parts of the various storylines. I wish I had read a summary of The Sword of Summer first to refresh my memory.

This book is pretty fast-paced, with many of the same characters returning from the first, as well as a new gender-fluid character who I wasn't really sure what to make of at first, and wondered if the character was really going to be integral to the story, or window dressing. I did find I grew to like the character of Alex the relationships she/he (the character seems to prefer gender-specific pronouns) began to form with Magnus and Sam. Like the first book, this story has a great deal of humor, from the character of Magnus' dry wit, and from the way the gods are portrayed. This is definitely not your classic mythology!

I was a little surprised that Annabeth Chase did not have a role in this book as I had expected. We don't see more than a brief mention of her until the end of the book, but she does drop a line that hints we may see a certain other character from Riordan's first series in the next book, The Ship of the Dead, which will be released on October 5, 2017, concluding the series.

Other Works By This Author
This book was preceded by the August, 2016, release of a companion book for the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series, titled Hotel Valhalla Guide to the Norse Worlds, which is written in the format of a guidebook commissioned by Helgi, manager of Valhalla, in order to help orient new arrivals and answer common questions.

Rick Riordan has written many books based on Greco-Roman mythology and Egyptian mythology, including the series Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Percy Jackson and the Heroes of Olympus, The Kane Chronicles, The Trials of Apollo, numerous companion books, graphic novel versions of some of his books, and short story crossovers of Percy Jackson and the Kanes.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Some Good Scary Reads!

Since it's almost Halloween I thought I'd put together a quick re-cap of some of the books I have reviewed in the past year that are spooky, creepy, or scary in some way, since I don't have time to do a proper bibliography. These will range from middle grade through teen. Just click on the link for a full summary and review.

"Doll Bones" by Holly Black

"The Ghost of Graylock" by Dan Poblocki

"Fuzzy Mud" by Louis Sachar

"In The Shadow of Blackbirds" by Cat Winters

"Sweet" by Emmy Laybourne

Enjoy! I personally loved Doll Bones and In The Shadow Of Blackbirds.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Middle School book Club

Last week I helped the school librarian with the book club at the local middle school. Her goal is to get as many kids involved as possible, not just the avid readers. So she chooses 5 books each year, of various genres and with a range of reading levels, and recruits volunteers to help lead discussion groups. Each month a different group of kids participate, with about 12 assigned to each group, then we meet in the library and break into discussion groups for each book, lead by adult volunteers (most of us work at public libraries). 

The books for this year are Do You Know The Monkey Man? by Dori Hillestand Butler, Heat by Mike Lupica, Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix, The Ghost of Graylock by Dan Poblocki, The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan.

The Book
This month I led the discussion of Do You Know The Monkey Man? by Dori Hillestand Butler (2005). This is a good high-interest, lower reading level book that, at only 193 pages, will appeal to both reluctant readers and those who like something they can finish in one sitting.

For as long as 13-year old Sam can remember, it's just been her and her mother. A long time ago they were once a family of four, but her parents divorced following her twin sister Sarah's tragic death, and her father disappeared from her life. But now her mother is getting re-married, and wants her fiance, Bob, to adopt Sam, which brings up old memories and confusing feelings.

Sam likes Bob, and wants her mom to be happy, but she doesn't want him to adopt her when she already has a father, somewhere. She decides to try to find and contact her father, with the help of her friend Coral. But things don't go quite the way she expected, and she begins to have doubts about the story surrounding Sarah's death. She continues to investigate, and when she finally confronts her father, what she finds will turn all their lives upside down.

This book is part self-discovery, part mystery, and part family drama, and is sure to capture the reader's attention.

Discussion Questions 
I looked over some prepared questions in advance, but I just let the discussion progress naturally and let the kids lead as much as possible, proposing new questions when the discussion slowed. Some of the questions/topics we discussed, though not necessarily in order, were:

1. Do you think Sam should have told her mother she wanted to try to find her father first?[All said she should, even though most thought her mother would probably say "No"]

2. How would you go about finding a long lost friend or relative? 
[Ask friends or relatives, social media, internet, private investigator...]

3. Would you consult a psychic like Sam did? 
[Some yes, some no, some maybe] Do you think psychics are real or fake? [Some said yes, some said no, some said not sure, and some said that most are fake but some may be real.]

4. Do you think twins have a special connection?  [Maybe, probably] If so, were you surprised that Sam never felt that Sarah might be alive before now?  [Mixed answers]

5. Would you be willing to help your best friend like Coral and Angela helped Sam? 
[All emphatically said "yes", and this led to a discussion of how Angela should have been more supportive, and how her experiences with her father affected how she saw Sam's situation.]

6. Do you think Joe should have gone to jail? 
[First most said no, then all agreed that he *deserved* to go to jail, but that it was better for T.J. that he didn't, and that was more important.]

7. Do you think Sam and T.J. will be able to forgive Joe? Could you? 
[Mixed answers, very unsure]

8. Do you think Sam's mom will ever be able to forgive Joe for taking Sarah and letting her think she was dead all this time? Why or why not? 
[Most said she probably wouldn't, but would try to pretend to for T. J.'s sake.]

9. Why do you think Sam didn't want Bob to adopt her? How do you think you would feel in a similar situation? Do you think she may change her mind now that she's found her father and learned what he did and what he's like? 
[Most understood that Sam felt like she already had a father, and most commented to the effect that she could still like him and have a close relationship without him adopting her. Several thought she might change her mind now that she knows what kind of a father Joe is.]

10. Do you think T.J. and Sam will ever be close, and really be like sisters? Will she and Suzanne be able to have a mother-daughter relationship? 
[Yes, but it won't be easy and will take time.]

11. Would you want to read the sequel?  [Several already had]  Would these books make a good movie?  [Yes! They all said they would love to see a movie version, a couple said they wanted to e-mail the author and ask her to have it made into a movie and/or write a third book.]

How It Went 
I had about 10 girls, and most were very enthusiastic about the book, and some had even already read the sequel, Yes, I Know The Monkey Man, which continues the story from T.J.'s perspective. About four of them weren't even supposed to participate until next month, but they had already read the book and couldn't wait to discuss it. We had a pretty lively discussion, with all of the kids contributing, though there were 2 or 3 who were on the quieter side and did not say as much.

They all talked about how much they loved the book, and the ones that had not read the sequel already said they really wanted to. One girl happened to spot it on the shelf nearby and jumped up and grabbed it so she could check it out that day. She was one of the two girls who reported that they normally didn't read much, but that they read this book from start to finish in one day. We had a great discussion, and the several of the kids mentioned how much they enjoyed it, and one even gave me a hug, which I expect from the preschoolers, but not middle schoolers.

I had not heard of this book before, and the library I work at doesn't even have it, but I would highly recommend it for this age and found it a great choice for a class read or book club as it appeals to all readers, even reluctant ones. I personally enjoyed it as well, though did not find the sequel to be quite as good as the first one. From the title and the cover, I had expected it to be more creepy and sinister, but it isn't at all.

Thursday, October 13, 2016


So I am halfway through my first semester of library school, and I am pretty frustrated. I'm only taking one class, but it's an intro class and pretty boring, plus lots of busywork. I feel like I'm not really learning anything except an occasional fact about the history of libraries and library science, nothing of practical use. I've got an A so far, and it's not that difficult (for the most part), but it feels like a big waste of time, and I don't enjoy online classes at all. There is no instruction, just reading and assignments; I feel like I'm paying a lot of money to teach myself.

The worst part is I'm not getting that much out of the class, yet the busywork required takes time away from the things I could be doing that benefit me much more professionally. I feel like I get so much more from participating in library-related Facebook groups, reading and discussing various topics, reading other library related blogs, and writing my own. Now I have almost no time for any of that, and worst of all, no time to read anything that is not required for my class! I have a stack of books that I want/need to read, some I'd like to review, but I don't see how I can get to them. 

I think that is the part that frustrates me the most. I enjoy reading, and I try to read as much as I can, for pleasure and for RA purposes. I have the new Rick Riordan book, along with a couple of other new books I pulled at random, books for the tween book club, and the book Hidden Figures about an African-American female scientist who did crucial work for NASA, which I really want to read and will probably have to return before I can :( I don't know if I'll have time to read anything until winter break.

I hate not being able to keep up with my blogging, after I was finally starting to build up some readership, especially on my storytime site. Blogging helps me process my thoughts and keep a record of everything I've done, and I like being able to share with others. I only hope not all the classes will feel this pedestrian and impractical, but I really feel like I could learn so much more on my own. I keep telling myself it will be better when I get past these intro classes, but everyone tells me that's just how library school is.

Which begs the question, if most people feel that the MLIS degree really did not help them much, and they had to learn everything they really needed to know on their own and on the job, then what is the point?? Other than to be a money-making program for the schools?

Monday, October 10, 2016

A Day At The Desk...

The other day I when I covered the children's desk, I was expecting a typical quiet Thursday, completely forgetting the schools were on Fall Break!  I hate it when that happens; I like to be mentally prepared for whatever kind of day it's going to be. Of course, unexpected things can happen anytime, but when school's out I know to expect it to be busier and to likely have to deal with unruly teenagers or unattended children.

So instead of the fairly quiet day I had expected, I ended up having to call security before the first hour was even up! First I had a group of teenage boys come running through, and reminded them to walk, which they did. For about three steps. Then they started jogging again. Later they came back with a couple of friends and it was apparent they had been having a race, two of them taking the stairs, and two of them taking the elevator. I declared the two on the elevators the winners since the other two cheated by breaking the rules and running. Then I showed one of them where books on the Holocaust were for his school assignment.

The next group of teens, a group of girls, crossed the line and got to have a little chat with the security guard. I swear, girls act up less often than boys, but they are worse when they do! First they were just kind of joking around and giggling, then the next thing I knew, they were horsing around and one girl pulled the other's shoe off and threw it across the library into the group of boys! I called security at that point, for two reasons: (1) I expected them to to take off running up and down the stairs from floor to floor, and I couldn't leave my area to chase after them, and (2) I knew a chat with security would have more impact. 

Meanwhile, they continued horsing around, and then suddenly took off at a full run through the stacks. The next thing I knew, there was a loud crash. I decided enough was enough and told them that was it, they were to sit at the table by the desk and wait for security. One was complaining about being hurt when she ran into her friend (just a ploy for sympathy), and being a mom, I of course told her that wouldn't have happened if they had been behaving in a civilized manner. The security guard came and had a chat with them, and I didn't have any more issues with them. Our security guards are really great with kids and manage to handle these situations without being harsh.

Fortunately, the rest of shift passed without issues. I had people coming in and out, helped one young lady find some books about the history of Mexico, and I couldn't help but be a little impressed when she said it was just for her own interest, not a school assignment. A college student came in wanting to interview a library staff member and asked if I would be willing to be interviewed, but I had to decline and explain that she would have to make an appointment through the Book-A-Librarian service after first clearing it with our manager. I put in a couple of requests for another family, straightened up, pulled holds and transfers, and helped several patrons with checkouts and finding materials. All in all, it was not a bad day.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

When Things Don't Go Quite The Way You Hoped

Don't you hate it when programs don't go quite as well as you envisioned?

I recently had the opportunity to expand my repertoire and help plan and present a program on early literacy and storytime. The local school system was hosting an early education "summit" for area preschool and daycare workers to provide the opportunity for continuing education credits. They asked the library to send someone to present a session, and the task fell to my manager and I offered to help. Developmentally-appropriate educational practices is something I'm passionate about, and I'm always glad for opportunities for professional development.

We had less than two weeks to pull it together, and we both already had full schedules, but we managed. We started with a Power Point from a similar presentation someone else had done a few years ago, and re-purposed it to fit what we were asked to cover with some major revisions and reformatting to make it more aesthetically pleasing, and pulled several books and other materials for show-and-tell. I envisioned presenting it to a group of dedicated preschool teachers interested in hearing the pearls of wisdom we would present and benefiting from our experience and the ways the library could help them, asking questions and being engaged.

It didn't quite go that way. First, I didn't deliver quite as stellar a performance as I would like. I wasn't terrible, but I definitely could've been better. Luckily my boss is a better and more experienced presenter & public speaker! I kept forgetting the examples I meant to show or demonstrate, and accidentally did some of the slides she was supposed to do.  <<Oops!>> I also realized as we were doing it that the material was too repetitive and it needed to be streamlined and organized differently, with more audience participation built in.

But, the really frustrating part is that instead of an audience that was engaged and making an effort to get something out of the presentation, we ended up with an audience that seemed largely disinterested. It seemed most of them were just there because they had to get the CEU's, and really didn't care to learn anything. There were two little groups that kept talking and I was tempted to give my storytime spiel about "...listening ears, eyes up front, and catch a bubble."

The worst was 2 girls blatantly *put their heads down on the table and went to sleep!!* I know my part got a little dull and dry in the middle for a bit, but geesh, it wasn't *that* bad! (We did move on to something very interactive that required EVERYONE to stand up and participate.) There were at least a handful that behaved professionally and were really there to learn, engaging and asking questions, and thanking us at the end.

Would I ever do a similar presentation again? Yes, and I hope I get another opportunity. For one, just to prove to myself I can do it better. What would I do differently? 

  • Hopefully have more notice and thus time to plan and prepare properly!!!
  • Pick a more specific focus and purpose
  • Design our own Power Point from scratch rather than try to recycle someone else's that doesn't quite fit our topic or style, with fewer slides
  • Streamline it more and better organize so there is not as much overlap & repetition
  • Incorporate more interaction with the audience
  • Have time to really commit the presentation to memory, so I don't forget to demonstrate, show examples, and do interactive elements when I intend to.
  • Don't bring so much stuff.
  • Decide in advance how to handle talking/sleeping/otherwise distracting attendees.
  • If at all possible, don't have it first thing in the morning (this was out of our control).
  • TRY to be more relaxed

It mostly boils to having enough time to properly prepare. I think I did the best I could considering how little time we had to put it together, it was too early in the morning, and that the last time I presented to a group of adults was 25 years ago for my thesis defense! But at least a few people did seem to appreciate it and get something out of it, and I got some valuable practice and experience.

So, if it were you, how would you handle people talking or sleeping through your presentation??