Friday, July 31, 2009

What is up with my blog?

If you stopped by my blog a week or three ago, read a book review that you enjoyed, and decided to follow, you may be surprised and disappointed by my most recent posts. They have been very academic in nature, and probably not all that meaningful unless you work in the area of librarianship or education.

Please don't lose heart! I will still be regularly posting book reviews, stories about my life, and other bits and pieces. It's just that I'm trying to get on top of all my academic reading for this semester, and I'm using this blog to record my thoughts on what I read, and to list links that I might need to access for my assignments.

As an introduction to ETL504 'Teacher Librarian as Leader', I have read Chapter 14 'Leadership' in Donham, J. 2005 Enhancing teaching and learning, 2nd edn, Neal-Schuman, New York, pp. 295-305.

There was a lot of great stuff in this chapter; I'm only going to mention things that particularly stand out for me at the moment.

  • "leaders act from an internal locus of control." p. 296 Leaders know that they have the power to control their own actions and the responsibility to have a positive effect on their environment. They have a 'can-do' attitude and are proactive, looking for opportunities to make a difference.
  • Leaders should work to be the very best in their areas of special strength, pursue what they are deeply passionate about, and use this passion to generate enthusiasm and energy. They should then strive to be as good as is reasonable in other areas. This is a new idea for me, and I find it very freeing. I've always wanted to do everything very well, I've had high expectations for myself and have probably put myself under more pressure than was necessary. I love the idea that if you pursue excellence in an area that is meaningful to you, it's OK to be only 'good' in other areas. Whew! What a relief!
  • "strategic leadership as the simultaneous act of executing, evaluating, and reformulating strategies, and focusing organisational energy and resources on the most effective strategies." p. 301 In other words, as you pursue a strategy, you are constantly refining that strategy by making evaluations and adjustments.
  • A clear, easily stated vision can lead to a mission statement, which provides a focus for goals.

Perhaps the thing that stands out the most to me in this chapter is the idea of reflecting on progress towards goals, and making changes to your behaviour as necessary to improve. The idea appeals to me because it implies that you don't do everything perfectly at first, and that's OK! You can calmly and deliberately evaluate your progress and decide to do things differently. I guess I've always felt stressed by the idea that as a leader, you should be very 'together' and 'on top of things'. I really like the idea of improving as you go!

I'm eagerly waiting for two books I won to arrive in the mail. When they do, you'll be the first to know!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Developing an Instructional Website

Chapter 8 of Herring's the internet and information skills is all about instructional websites; in other words websites that have been designed by teachers or teacher librarians, are related to the curriculum, and contain links and/or multimedia features and/or interactive features. These websites have a very specific purpose and audience.

Dreamweaver and FrontPage can be used to design quite sophisticated sites.

An example of part of an instructional website for students of the Hewett School, UK.

An example of a science task for Year 7 students at Cornwallis School, Kent, UK.

Advice to students studying Hamlet from the SCORE Project in California, USA.

An instructional website on New Lanark.

Adobe Photoshop can be used to manipulate graphics.

Free graphics available from web include Design Gallery Live and Classroom Clipart.

Filamentality is a feature of the Blue Web'n subject gateway and allows teachers and TL's to create simple instructional websites. An example for Year 9 students at Dixons City Technology College, West Yorkshire, UK.

A guide to designing WebQuests.

Community High School District 99 Designing Teacher Websites.

Gardner, D.'s Tips for developing the geography department website.

March, T.'s Why WebQuests?

If you've ever designed an instructional/educational website, leave me a comment with a link to it, or just let me know anything you learnt from the process that would be useful for me.

Later in the semester I have an assignment in which I must design an electronic pathfinder either as a website or a wiki. It must clearly state its audience and purpose, provide 15 annotated resources including search engines, print and web resources, and advice to students on information literacy skills.

School Websites

Sorry folks, more uni stuff!
I'll start by letting you know a bit about what else is going on in my life.
The kids had their school athletics carnival yesterday and I went and watched. They both had a great time, competed in lots of events, and had pretty good results. They made their respective finals for the 100m sprint, but neither placed high enough to move on to the zone athletics carnival. Josh also ran in his house's junior boys 100m relay team, which won. So he might attend the zone after all to compete in the relay, I'm not sure. Both also ran the 200m and 800m (I'm not sure why, but primary school carnivals never run the 400m???) but neither placed. They both did Long Jump, coming 2nd (Joshua) and 4th (Alana) so Josh will probably go to zone but not Alana (they only take 1st and 2nd). Alana also came 4th in Discus. Overall a successful and fun day with beautiful sunny winter weather.
Alana's ballet teacher has decided that she is ready for pointe shoes. She and the other lucky (?) girls deemed to be strong enough are going on a shopping expedition on Saturday week. Lucky me, I get to pay for them!
OK, down to business now. Chapter 7 of James Herring's the internet and information skills deals with developing a school website. Though most Australian schools do have websites, some are very basic, and probably only a minority are well designed, have a clear purpose, and meet their potential.
Herring provides links to some examples of school websites:
Wood Green School, Oxfordshire, UK.
Westminster School, London, UK.
Also school library web pages and examples of how information skills are presented on school library websites:
Springfield Township High School (I'm not sure if this is a real school or just an example site).
Student Guides at St Joseph's Nudgee College, Australia.
Research Process Checklist from Melbourne High School, Australia.
Herring also discusses elements of design to be considered, and provides the following links:
Example of Storyboarding.
Xenu's Link Sleuth can be used to check links.
Royal National Institute for the Blind's Accessible Web Design.
Dreamweaver or FrontPage can be used to create more complex school websites.
HTML Tutorial can help school librarians to learn html code.
Bellingham Public Schools Designing School Homepages.
McKenzie, J.'s Home Sweet Home: creating WWW pages that deliver.
If you know of a school with a fantastic web page, please leave a link to it in your comment.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What is a Leader?

One of the biggest challenges of uni last semester was studying two different subjects simultaneously. I found that with all the other responsibilities in my life, (such as parenting and work), it was sometimes difficult to get my head around the readings and assignments for two different subjects.
This semester I am again tackling two different subjects. I have already blogged a little about ETL501 'The Information Environment'. It is now time for me to turn my attention to ETL504 'Teacher Librarian as Leader'.
This subject concerns itself with the general concept of leadership, dividing it into three main areas: organisational theory, strategic planning and communication. It is up to me, as a MEd student, to apply these topics to the role of the teacher librarian (TL). My first job is to consider what I already know about leadership.
Obviously, I don't come to this subject from a vacuum. I have experienced both being a leader and being led in many different contexts. I have also already read some of my textbook, Leading in a Culture of Change: Personal Action Guide and Workbook by Michael Fullan, and reading 1 from my study guide, 'Leadership' in Enhancing teaching and learning by J. Donham.
So, what do I know about leadership?
What is a leader?
A leader, to me, is someone who has expertise and experience in the area in which they lead, thus commanding a certain level of respect. They have vision, passion and enthusiasm for the project or organisation that they lead. They can communicate their vision, passion and enthusiasm to others. They can inspire and motivate others to participate. They work hard and lead by example. They listen to advice, feedback and criticism. They are able to incorporate new ideas into their vision, are flexible, responsive and able to change as necessary. They combine a clear statement of purpose with an ability to adapt as circumstances require.
Great leaders allow members of their organisation to develop their skills, meet their potential, and move into leadership roles. Their members share, and contribute to, the vision, values and goals of the organisation. Leaders continue to learn, grow and develop, and so do their organisations and members. They are organised, allowing them to be both focussed, and able to see the big picture. Leaders don't get stuck on details, they are able to move foward. Great leaders don't plow over the top of everyone else in the process. Leaders sometimes lead from the front, sometimes 'muck in' in the middle, and sometimes bring up the rear, making sure that noone gets left behind.
Leaders need to be able to make hard decisions and know that sometimes 'the buck stops here'.
Most importantly, leaders need to know which of these myriad skills are needed when, and respond approriately to constantly changing circumstances.
Leadership is a hard gig!
In regards to 'organisational theory' I must admit I am fairly clueless. I've always thought of myself as a well-organised person (capable of being well-organised at the very least!). I think of organisation in terms of 'everything in its place', setting goals, having lists, and being aware of relationships between different parts of the whole.
In terms of 'strategic planning' I guess this refers to the fact that leaders must plan strategies and sub-goals to achieve their vision.
It is easy to see the importance of 'communication' to leadership. Communication between the leader and the group as a whole and as individuals is vital, as is communication between members of the group, and communication between the group and the outside world.
What about me?
Simply virtue of the fact that I am both a parent and a teacher, I am a leader. I also seem to have naturally fallen into a lot of other leadership roles in my life. I've been a student leader, a youth group leader, a Bible study group leader, a Playgroup leader, a Sunday School teachers leader and a volunteer community group leader. I've also been in other groups where people have looked my way when the subject of leadership came up, but I managed to wriggle my way out of it! (Why? I can only have responsibility for so many things before I risk burnout.)
What is it about me that makes me a natural leader? What qualities do I have?
I think the most obvious are:
  • Optimism, vision, passion and enthusiasm. If I'm involved in something, it's because I truly believe in its importance.
  • Ideas. I'm good at coming up with new ideas and different ways of looking at things. I'm good at playing devil's advocate, asking the hard questions, and looking more deeply at issues than others perhaps would otherwise.
  • Work ethic. I'm responsible and get things done.
  • Communication. I'm a good talker (!) but I'm also a good listener. I really want to know what others think and what their ideas are. I really want to incorporate as much good stuff as possible.

I'm going to shut up now. I'm looking forward to any comments that come. What do you think makes a good leader?

Using Information Skills Scaffolds

Term 3 has begun, the kids are back at school, and semester 2 has begun at uni. Armed with a skinny vanilla latte from my local coffee shop, I'm settling in to do a couple of hours of solid uni-related work.
Chapter 6 of Herring's the internet and information skills concerns itself with the practicalities of using information skills models, such as his PLUS model in the classroom. He recommends the use of checklists, concepts maps and other scaffolds to focus students' attention on working systematically to meet learning goals.
Gladstone Secondary School, Canada, provides students with a checklist for research projects.
Kinnick High School, Japan, gives students search strategy advice.
Redwood High School, California, USA, has student research guidelines.
Scaffolds can be produced for all aspects of the information process; planning, developing a serach focus or strategy, reviewing resources, skimming/scanning and notetaking, writing an assignment, and self-evaluation.
As always, any and all comments are appreciated.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Am I Lucky or What?

I have won another book blog giveaway prize!!!

This time it's a copy of Club Dead by Charlaine Harris, number three in the Sookie Stackhouse or Southern Vampires Series.

My win is thanks to Velvet at vvb32 reads. Check out her blog - it's fabulous! In order to be in the running to win this prize, I had to name my favourite Elvis song. I nominated Blue Suede Shoes. What's Elvis got to do with Sookie Stackhouse? (I hear you ask...) Well you're just going to have to read the books and find out!

I haven't thought of any fun adventures for my copy of Club Dead yet. (See my post on my win of The Castaways to see what I'm talking about.) So any suggestions will be gratefully received!

Thanks again Velvet, I'm thrilled and grateful for my win!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

I'm a Giveaway Winner!

Imagine my joy and surprise when I headed over to Beth Fish Reads and discovered that I was one of the two lucky winners of a copy of The Castaways by Elin Hilderbrand!

My first ever book blog giveaway win!

The Castaways...four couples, one island, one fateful sailing accident...and the fallout. To be in the draw to win a copy of this book, entrants had to say which island they would like to visit if money were no object. I picked Tahiti, which always looks sooooo good in pictures.

Now that I've won a copy, I've had an idea for a bit of fun. Since I live on the world's biggest island - Australia - when I get my copy I'm going to have some fun with it. I plan to take some photos of my copy of The Castaways having some adventures in some scenic Australian locations. I'll post the pics every now and then, with a short description of the location shown. Hopefully my overseas readers will enjoy seeing a little bit of my part of the world.

Of course when I've read the book I'll also post a review. Many, many thanks to Beth for the opportunity to win this book.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Information Literacy

I know you're all just dying to find out what's in Chapter 5 of James Herring's the internet and information skills! :)
Chapter 5 deals, in the main, with Information Literacy. Definitions for info lit abound, but basically it is skills, attitudes and processes that allow one to find and use information to solve problems or meet needs. So information literacy includes traditional 'library skills', ICT skills, and the ability to formulate questions, plan research, evaluate the suitability of information sources and evaluate your own process.
ETL401 last semester dealt with Information Literacy in detail, but Herring's book is concerned mainly with teaching students to apply these skills and processes to finding and using information on the internet.
Again, I'm including a list of links:
Advice given to high school students in Mesquite, Texas, USA.
Online Searching Checklist from Melbourne High School, Australia.
Searching tips St Joseph's Nudgee College, Australia.
Advice on evaluating websites from Westminster School, London, UK.
Advice for students at Lovett School Libraries, Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
A lesson on evaluating websites for grade 9-12 students.
Again, please let me know if anything is helpful, or not, or if you have any suggestions for me.

Subject Gateways

Yes folks, I'm really on a roll here with the preparation for back-to-uni!
Chapter 4 of Herring's the internet and information skills concerns itself with subject gateways. Below are some (hopefully) useful links.
Geography subject gateway GEsource
As always, please leave a comment if you use any of these links to let me know how useful they were. If you have any other subject gateway links that I don't have, please let me know.

Criteria for Evaluating Websites

Chapter 3 of Herring's the internet and information skills is concerned with methods and criteria for evaluating websites; specifically educational websites.

ED's Oasis provides a table for teachers and teacher librarians to score websites.

Shrock's The ABCs of Website Evaluation

The CARS model is useful but perhaps better for university students than the school context.

College of New Caledonia Library Evaluating Websites - questions to ask

Hains Considerations for Website Users

November Teaching Zach to Think

The above links should be very helpful for my first assignment, in which I must critically evaluate two sets of website criteria, then use a set of criteria to critically evaluate four particular websites.
Please leave me a comment if you've ever dealt with these issues and have any other links that might be helpful!
Please leave me a comment if you would like to express your opinion on any of the links above!
Another exciting instalment of the internet and information skills is coming soon...

Friday, July 24, 2009

The End of Recreational Reading as I Know It

...or...Will Club Dead by Charlaine Harris be the last book I read for fun until November???

That's right folks, the party's over. Semester 2 begins on Monday, and I have some serious reading to do. So far I have read 3 out of the 9 titles in the Sookie Stackhouse Reading Challenge. Will I progress any further between now and October 26th, when my last assignment for the semester is due? Only time will tell...

In the meantime, let's talk about Sookie's latest adventures in Club Dead.

Sookie Stackhouse, pretty barmaid, telepath, and girlfriend of vampire Bill, is on a mission. She must visit 'Club Dead', a hangout for vamps, weres and other supernatural creatures, to search for clues as to the mysterious disappearance of Bill. Then, she must rescue Bill from the clutches of an evil vampire ex-girlfriend. All the while dodging biker werewolves, a jealous shape-shifter named Debbie, and two gorgeous men (one vampire, one werewolf) that want to get into her pants. No wonder she's tired...

And I got a bit tired too. A bit tired of Sookie being only inches from death, or dismemberment, or an unwise sexual adventure (!), every few pages. A bit tired of Sookie never spending any time at home, or work, or with humans!

Don't get me wrong, I'm still a fan. I'm still very keen to keep reading my way through the series. I'm still a fan of the supernatural. I'm just ready for an episode that has a bit more balance, and a bit less heart-thumping action. And I don't like it when Sookie's all beat-up and in pain.

I'm interested to hear what others think...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Searching for Information using the Internet

Every once in a while, I need to get serious and actually do some work. In preparation for second semester (starting Monday 27th July), I have recently read the internet and information skills by James E. Herring. James happens to be my lecturer for ETL501 'Information Environment' this semester. You can check out his blog here.
Chapter 2 of the book concentrates on different search engines and search techniques for finding information using the internet.
I am going to list below some helpful links:
Kartoo is a search engine which displays results as a concept map (good for visual learners like me!).
Dogpile is a meta-search engine.
AskJeeves is good for finding results relevant to school students.
Search Engine Watch can help keep you up to date with the availability and development of search engines.
Search Engine Showdown can be used in schools to consider all aspects of search engine use.
Complete Planet organises deep web sites (invisible web) by categories.
Clip Art and Image Search provides sources relating to clip art but also multimedia, paintings and photographs.
Fast Facts provides short factual answers to questions which might normally be answered by using reference works or fact books.
I haven't actually checked out any of these links myself yet! Feel free to check them out yourself - I'd really appreciate any comments you leave on what you found useful (or not!).
Good luck to all my fellow uni students, and I hope you others didn't find this too boring.

Monday, July 20, 2009

I'm an Award Winner!

An extra big thankyou to Ashley at Ashley's Library. She has awarded me the 'Let's be Friends Award' for being a friendly blogger type person. Hooray!

You can check out her 'Let's be Friends' post here.

I am now going to pass on this award to eight other friendly blogging type people, who comment, host challenges, and follow my blog. Congratulations, and display your award with pride! Please pass on the award to eight other bloggers and share the bloggy love!

My winners are:

1. Ashley at Ashley's Library. I know, I know, she already has one of these! But she really is a super friendly blogger with a fantastic blog. Right back at you Ashley!

2. J. Kaye at J. Kaye's Book Blog. She's always visiting blogs, leaving comments, and sharing the blogs she finds with others. Well done!

3. Shanyn at Chick Loves Lit. Congratulations Shanyn!

4. Velvet at vvb32reads. Thanks for all your comments Velvet!

5. Miss Remmers at Miss Remmers' Review. Love your blog!

6. Beth at Beth Fish Reads, for holding the Sookie Stackhouse reading challenge and helping us all connect through our love of Sookie!

7. Stephanie at Stephanie's Written Word, for hosting the Everything Austen challenge and helping us to bond through our love of Jane Austen!

8. All my friends studying MEd TL at CSU. You know who you are...Louise, Glenda... Put this award on your blogs and enjoy them!

Thanks again Ashley!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Rossetti Letter by Christi Phillips

I picked up this book from the library after reading about it on Beth Fish Reads. It sounded intriguing, so I thought I'd give it a go.

From the book jacket:

'Claire Donovan always dreamed of visiting Venice, though not as a chaperone for a surly teenager. But she can't pass up this chance to complete her Ph. D. thesis on Alessandra Rossetti, a mysterious courtesan who wrote a secret letter to the Venetian Council warning of a Spanish plot to overthrow the Venetian Republic in 1618...'

The Rossetti Letter is almost like two books in one, the story of Claire's attempts to locate and interpret the documents that will allow her to finally complete her paper and move on with her life, and Alessandra's story of sensuality, political intrigue and violence.

Claire's story unfolds as a textbook formula romance novel. If you've read romances then you know what I mean...honourable heroine is lonely and desperately in need of love to bring her back to life after a trauma (death/divorce) has caused her to close herself off from the world...said heroine is transported to an exotic location where she faces challenges...heroine meets two men - one is attractive and lovely (and turns out to be all wrong for her), and the other rubs her the wrong way immediately, but turns out to be much nicer than he first appeared (Mr Darcy, anyone?)...need I go on...?

Unfortunately Claire's story also suffers from an initial premise that is just not believable. What newly remarried father (whose first wife is in a mental institution after shooting him), allows his 14 year old daughter to be chaperoned for a week in Venice by a woman he has never met before??? What 14 year old girl who finds herself in this circumstance learns to like and respect her chaperone in only a day or two???

Despite these faults, I did enjoy this book. Alessandra's story feels almost like it is written by a completely different author. Perhaps Christi Phillips is more comfortable writing in the historical context?

And I must admit that Phillips was successful in making Claire a sympathetic character. I do care what happens to Claire next! Perhaps at some time in the future I will read Phillips again and find out, but I'm not rushing out to do so.

Overall, an enjoyable read if you don't look too closely at it!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Yay for me!!!

Thankyou so much to J. Kaye for listing this blog on her latest 'new blog discoveries' post!
You can check it out here.
Hopefully it means I will have some new visitors stopping by to read what I write!
If you are just 'checking me out' (!), make sure you leave a comment to let me know. Then I can return the favour and stop by your blog to 'check you out' too!

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - the movie

*** SPOILER ALERT*** This is not a review, as such, but the ravings of a completely mad Potter fan upon seeing the much-awaited new movie!
Did we enjoy it? Yes we did!
Best scenes that we enjoyed from the book and were dying to see on the screen:
1. Ron eats the love-potion-spiked chocolates sent to Harry by Romilda Vane.
OMG - can anyone do a better totally dopey love struck face than Rupert Grint!?! Physical comedy at its best!
2. Ron as Quidditch keeper - the tryouts and the match.
Again - fabulous physical comedy from Rupert Grint!
Most disappointing omitted scenes that we enjoyed from the book and were dying to see on screen:
1. Luna commentating at the Quidditch match.
Was dying to see the crowd reaction to Luna's unique take on the action!
2. Harry and Ginny's kiss in the Griffindor common room after Quidditch.
Cannot believe that this was down-graded to a stolen kiss in the room of requirement!!! Aaaaargh!
Overall, a fairly faithful rendition of the plot and feel of the book. Great special effects (as expected). A mix of comedy and action. I want to see it again.
Sometimes I wonder, when I see Harry Potter movies, if the director understands the significance of the things that he leaves out, in terms of the overall story arc? Harry Potter fans are often left wondering how these omissions are going to be dealt with in later movies. A lot of what Dumbledore tells Harry about the horcruxes is left out of this movie. How is Harry going to get this information that he needs in Deathly Hallows to succeed in his quest?
I was very disappointed in the movie's take on the Harry/Ginny relationship. In the book, once they finally got together, I got a sense of real connection between the two, and a sense of them being both emotionally and physically comfortable with one another. You get nothing of that in the movie, only one stolen kiss and one instance of Harry crying on Ginny's shoulder (when Dumbledore dies). The movie leaves you feeling that the romance is still in its very early stages, quite undefined and chaste. In contrast, in the book Harry and Ginny are unmistakably happy with each other, spend a lot of time together, talk, laugh and (yes!) snog!!! I'm disappointed with the movie's interpretation for a few reasons:
1. I'm a romantic! With all this death and destruction, give me some romance for heaven's sake!
2. It's not faithful to the book.
3. It won't make as much sense in the overall story. At the beginning of Deathly Hallows, Harry 'breaks up' with Ginny to protect her from Voldemort as he embarks on his quest. He loves her too much to allow Voldemort to get any idea that she is important to him. He knows that Voldemort would like nothing more than to hurt someone that Harry loves. I'm just not sure that this will pack the same punch in the movie as it did in the book given the movie's interpetation of their relationship.
OK, I'll stop rambling now! Any comments will be eagerly read!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Birthday Wishes and Harry Potter

Happy Birthday Chris!

It's my husband's birthday today, and we're celebrating by going to see Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince tonight.

Of course he's at work today, I hope they get him a cake!

I am still stuck at home without a car, but it's supposed to be ready to pick up this afternoon. Hooray! Club Dead by Charlaine Harris has been ready at the library for me to pick up for a day or two. A trip to the library will be among the first things I do when I've got my car back! I'll also pop in somewhere for a coffee (I am having serious withdrawal symtoms!).

Have a great day everyone...I'll let you know how the movie was tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Perfect Winter Reading

I've been seeing a lot on blogs lately about perfect "beach books" that are fun, quick and easy reads just right for summer vacation.

But here in Australia, it's winter. What I'm looking for are perfect "winter reads" - you know the thing - something just right to curl up in bed with when the weather outside is dreary.

I must admit, there's not much curling up in bed going on here. My kids are home on school holidays at the moment, and one of them has the flu. To top it off, my car is being repaired after a minor accident, so I'm trapped in my house with children that are either sick, or bored, or both!

But on to the good news! Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris, second in the 'Southern Vampires' or 'Sookie Stackhouse' series, is a perfect winter read.

Sookie is a pretty waitress in a bar with the gift (curse?) of being able to read other people's thoughts and emotions. She also has a vampire boyfriend, a shapeshifter boss, and a job to do: she is the official 'telepathic detective' to the local vampire leader, responsible for helping to solve any vampire-related mysteries using her gift.

In Living Dead in Dallas, Sookie is 'lent out' (charming, I know, but that's vampires for you) to another nest of vampires living in Dallas, to help them solve the mystery of the disappearance of one of their members. And so begins the rollercoaster ride...

Living Dead in Dallas has a (human) murder mystery, an anti-vampire cult, a secret society of shapeshifters, a wild sex party and more! (What's not to love?) And though this series is sometimes billed as 'horror', Charlaine Harris writes with a tongue-in-cheek style that has the reader laughing rather than screaming.

In some ways, this series so far reminds me a little of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series. Lovable, quirky characters, and a mystery that's wrapped up by the end of each book.

If I have a complaint about Living Dead in Dallas, it's this: Charlaine Harris gives us just a taste of new characters, or developments in the overall plot, without expanding on them. It seems obvious to me that she's just introducing them with the plan of expanding in future books of the series. I would have enjoyed a little more depth to the novel, which could have been achieved by exploring one of the new developments in more detail. (Perhaps more about Barry? - I liked him!)

Overall, I enjoyed Living Dead in Dallas very much, and I can't wait for a copy of Club Dead to be ready for me at my local library.

Happy reading everyone, I'm going to check out some of the other reviews for this book at Beth Fish Reads now!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Lost in Austen - the book

Welcome "Everything Austen" participants!

Lost in Austen by Emma Campbell Webster.

My first thought...disappointing. Sorry!

From the book:

" It is a truth universally acknowledged that a young Austen heroine must be in want of a husband, and you are no exception. Christened Elizabeth Bennet, you are tolerably beautiful and moderately accomplished, with a sharp wit and quick mind. You are the daughter of misguided but well-meaning parents and live with them and your four sisters- Jane, Mary, Kitty and Lydia- in the village of Longbourne, near the town of Meryton. You are of a happy disposition and have hitherto whiled away your years reading, walking and enjoying what limited society Meryton has to offer. A recent event, however, threatens to disturb your tranquility: a man of large fortune has let a nearby manor house. Inconsequential though this change of circumstance appears, it is the first in a long chain of events that will require you to face difficult decisions and impolite dance partners. Equipped with only your wit and natural good sense, your mission is to marry both prudently and for love, eluding undesirable suitors and avoiding family scandals which would almost certainly ruin any hope of a financially advantageous marriage for you or any of your sisters."

Sounds promising doesn't it? That's what I thought too...

Emma Campbell Webster writes with lashings of the irony and humour that Jane Austen fans love. Consider this scene where you are introduced to Mr Collins:

"He has been so fortunate as to be distinguished by the patronage of the Fight Honorable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, widow of Sir Lewis de Bourgh, whose bounty and beneficence has preferred him to the valuable rectory of the parish of Hunsford in Kent. He begs leave to apologize for being next in the entail of Longbourne estate and being the means of injuring Mr Bennet's amiable daughters, and assures your father of his readiness to make those daughters every possible amends.
You can only guess that he means by marrying one of you.

At least you'd be saved from homelessness. Collect 10 bonus Fortune points.

Your father confesses to you great hopes of finding him ridiculous and there is a mixture of servility and self-importance in his letter which promises well. Mr Collins is punctual to his time and is received with great politeness by the whole family. He is a tall, heavy-looking young man of five and twenty. His air is grave and stately, and his manners are extremely formal. During dinner Mr Collins launches into a panegyric on his patroness Lady Catherine de Bourgh and her sickly daughter, Anne, towards whom he conceives himself peculiarly bound to pay little attentions which he admits to often rehearsing.

You'd rather be homeless than married to Mr Collins. Deduct 10 Fortune points."

Campbell uses the "choose your own adventure" concept to include "diversions" from the storyline of Pride and Prejudice, which introduce characters, and borrow plots from other Austen works. She supplies notes at the end of the book, which detail which novels she is borrowing from or referencing. She also provides plenty of opportunities to test your knowledge of the life and times of Austen's heroines, answering such sticky questions as How many couples face each other when dancing a reel?

Despite these promising signs, Lost in Austen simply couldn't sustain my interest beyond and hour or two. The "choose you own adventure" concept quickly loses its novelty, and it becomes frustrating to lose the flow of the narrative by taking a 'wrong turn'. No matter how wisely I tried to make my decisions, attempting to both follow the plot of P&P and avoid some of Elizabeth's mistakes in the original, I found myself utterly unable to successfully complete my mission. (Marry prudently and for love.) I was an utter failure in Elizabeth's role!

This book may provide a short, pleasant diversion for the Austen addict, but it's not a keeper.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Why I love followers, and a book review.

Every time I turn on my computer to do some blogging, I eagerly check to see if I have any new followers. Followers feel like friends to me, people who are interested to check in and see what I've been up to, or what I've got to say today. I love it when they leave me a comment, it lets me know what they think on a topic I've written about, or just that they've stopped by.
I love to follow other people's blogs too. When I visit a blog for the first time, I have a read through some of the most recent posts. If I like what I read, I make sure that I follow. Then I add the blog to my blog list (on the right hand side of the page). It's wonderful; whenever one of the blogs that I follow has a new post, it moves to the top of my list. I can visit these blogs to see what the blogger has to say today, and leave a comment if something particularly interests me.
Please feel free to use the links in my blog list to visit some of the blogs that I follow. You might find something that you like. And please keep commenting! That way I know that you're really out there!
I recently finished reading the host by Stephenie Meyer. Here are some of my thoughts on it...
From the back cover:
"The earth has been invaded by a species that takes over the minds of their human hosts while leaving their bodies intact...Wanderer, the invading 'soul' who has been given Melanie's body, knew about the challenges of living inside a human: the overwhelming emotions, the too-vivid memories. But there was one difficulty Wanderer didn't expect: the former tenant of her body refusing to relinquish possession of her mind. Melanie fills Wanderer's thought with visions of the man Melanie loves-Jared, a human who still lives in hiding...Wanderer yearns for a man she's never met..."
the host is a long book at 617 pages. I find myself incredibly surprised that I'm commenting on the length of the book - I wouldn't normally. But I really think the book was a little too long; a bit like a 3 hour movie that would have benefitted from some ruthless editing!
Wanderer becomes a very appealing and sympathetic character. Nearing the end of the book, I found myself wondering how Stephenie Meyer was going to resolve the story in a way that gave Wanderer a satisfactory outcome. She does manage it, but after the pages and pages it takes for the rest of the story to unfold, the ending is a little too neat and too quick for my liking!
Meyer has done well to create a complete world for this story. She gives the alien species, the 'souls' a history, she describes, through Wanderer, what life is like on other planets, and creates a believable society for the humans living in hiding. If you enjoy science fiction, you will appreciate this aspect of the book.
The main thrust of the plot, when it comes right down to it, is a love story. So if you enjoy that sort of thing, and think you can get through pages and pages of set-up, then you might enjoy this book.
Don't assume that if you liked Twilight, then you'll like the host. They are completely different genres.
All in all, I'm glad this was a library book, and not one that I bought. I don't think I'll be tempted to re-read it!
If you'd like to read the review that convinced me to give the host a try, click here.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Is Listening to an Audio Book "Reading"?

In an effort to lift the tone of my blog to something a little more "academic" :) I'm borrowing this discussion topic from Skerricks.
So feel free to comment...Is listening to an audibook "reading"?
For my, it's not reading. Reading involves interpreting and making meaning from the text. When listening to the audiobook, the owner of the voice is doing the reading, not you. But that doesn't mean that listening to an audiobook isn't a wonderful, rewarding experience.
For the record, I LOVE reading aloud. Always have. I clearly remember the sniggers that greeted me when it was my first turn to read aloud from the novel we were studying in English at High School. It took me a while to work out what was so funny...didn't everyone read with expression like me? No, apparently not. And while it seemed that it wasn't "cool" to sound like you were actually engaged with the story and enjoying your reading, I couldn't help it! So I just continued on being uncool.
I read aloud to my children from birth. (By the way, both of them were reading well before they started school, and I didn't do ANYTHING to teach them other than to read aloud.) I read through the entire seven books of the Harry Potter series to them, and they loved it. (My husband, who had read them himself, said he enjoyed it too!) Sometimes I'm a bit sad that they can read so well now that they don't need me to read aloud anymore.
Audiobooks are wonderful things! When facing a long car trip with children they are a savior, and I think work even better than the in car DVD (now that's really saying something!). There's nothing like all breaking out into laughter together when the story reaches a funny part.
Audiobooks are great for reluctant readers, or for helping unconfident kids extend into chapter books. They can read along as they listen, or listen to the first book in a series, then read the next in print form. Long live the audiobook!
What do you think?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

What I'm Reading

Currently reading: the host by Stephenie Meyer and Lost in Austen by Emma Campbell Webster

I know, I know, it's terrible to read more than one book at a time. I never do it! But Lost in Austen was ready to be picked up at the library and I just took a peek...

The subtitle of Lost in Austen is Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure. It's a "choose your own adventure" book! Remember them? I do, I was at school when they first came out, and really captured the imagination of my friends and I. We used to write our own romantic versions on scraps of paper and distribute them during boring classes. We'd write up until an important decision had to be made, then let the reader tick the box that corresponded to their choice. (eg Tick here [ ] if Jessica wears her blue bikini to the pool party and here [ ] if she chooses her pink one piece swimsuit.) The reader would pass back the paper with their decision, then we'd write the next part of the story according to whichever decision they had made! (It's a wonder we learnt anything at school!)
From inside the book:
How to Play
This book is no ordinary book, and should not be read through from beginning to end. It contains many different adventures, and the path you take will depend on the choices you make along the way...your success will also depend on how well you do in the following five categories:your Accomplishments, Intelligence, Confidence, Connections and Fortune (which could mean either luck or money)....In order to increase your chances of marrying well you must try to improve your scores and gain more Connections and Accomplishments...
I found this completely irresistable, and started reading (playing) immediately!
On the "To Be Read" pile: Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris - can't wait, can't wait can't wait!!!
Leading in a Culture of Change by Michael Fullan (text for second semester - just arrived in the mail today)
the internet and information skills: a guide for teachers and school librarians by James E. Herring (also for uni)
On reserve at my local library: Club Dead by Charlaine Harris
The Rossetti Letter by Christi Phillips
Happy reading everyone!

Too cute!

My mother-in-law is a prolific sender of chain emails. My inbox is always full of jokes, cute pictures, quizzes and the like. Often I just hit "delete", but every now and then there's something that I want to hold onto!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Quick Update!

Living Dead in Dallas is ready to pick up at my local library. Hooray!
We (as a family) have decided to accept Alana's place at an academically selective high school starting next year.
I absolutely blitzed my last uni assignment for the semester, to the tune of 54.5 out of 60!!! I'm now starting to feel ready to plunge back into it for next semester.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Sookie vs Twilight

Welcome to my fellow reading challenge participants!

Because I don't write regular book reviews, I've decided to post again in regard to Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris, to share some more of my thoughts.

I prefer Sookie to Twilight. There, I've said it! (With apologies to my daughter, who is horrified at the thought of "those random, cape-wearing, fanged vampires". She likes the sparkly, gentlemanly ones better!) In fact, I think one of the main reasons that I like Sookie better is because I like the sensual, pleasure-seeking, only-out-at-night vampires in Sookie's world. To me, they're more compatible with vampire lore than Stephenie Meyer's creations.

I also really enjoyed the murder mystery aspect of Dead Until Dark. I enjoy an amateur detective as much as the next person, and love a page-turning thriller! As the body count rose, I really wanted Sookie to use her gift to solve the mystery.

There are some obvious similarities between the Twilight saga and Sookie. Vampires, mind-reading, shape-shifters...and that's just in the first book! While reading Twilight, I felt transported back to my teenage years, but Sookie I can enjoy just as I am!

I'm trying to visit everyone's posts and leave comments. With thanks to Beth at Beth Fish Reads for creating this challenge!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Review - The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen

I loved it.
The Sugar Queen is magical, surprising and thoroughly enjoyable.
From the blurb:
" ...Josey has settled into an uneventful life in her mother's house, her one consolation is the stockpile of sugary treats and paperback romances she escapes to each night...Until she finds her closet harbouring none other than local waitress Della Lee Baker...Fleeing a life of bad luck and big mistakes, Della Lee has decided Josey's clandestine closet is the safest place to crash. In return she's going to change Josey's life - because, clearly, it is not the closet of a happy woman..."
I was concerned that The Sugar Queen would be too sweet for me, but its bittersweet themes of regret, and fear of change, hit just the right note for me.
Josey doesn't start out as the most likable heroine, but she grew on me slowly as the story developed and her narrow existence began to expand. As I read, Josey's personality literally unfolded before me, and I think, before her. The whole novel has a very "present" feel to it. The action seems to be literally happening right now, and I became so involved that I didn't even think of trying to guess what was going to happen next. Perhaps that's why I was just as surprised as Josey by the unexpected twist towards the end!
I enjoyed The Sugar Queen so much that I definitely plan to read Sarah Addison Allen's other book Garden Spells.
The Sugar Queen is a quick read, but one that I have a feeling I'm going to want to return to.
Highly recommended.
With thanks to Stephanie at Stephanie's Written Word, who reviewed this book on June 17.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

What I'm Reading and Other Assorted Stuff

Currently reading: The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen.

You will notice that this book appears on my "Must Read" list on the right hand sidebar of the page, along with a link to the review that inspired me to try it. When I'm finished I intend to write my own review.
So far, I'm really enjoying it. It's had a lot to live up to, reading it as I am directly after Dead Until Dawn by Charlaine Harris. A hard act to follow! It is quite different to Dead Until Dawn, its similarities being the magical elements and the lonely heroine.
Here's a quick snapshot that will warm the heart of any book-loving girl:
"She couldn't believe this was happening. She'd just kicked Jake out after he'd admitted he'd cheated on her.
Dazed, she turned around...and tripped over a book on the floor.
She looked down at it and sighed. She'd half expected this. Whether she liked it or not, books always appeared when she needed them."
Cool, huh?
On the "To Be Read" pile: the host by Stephenie Meyer
This was ready to pick up from my local library on Monday. Again, this is one of the books on my "Must Read" list. You can check out the link to read the review that convinced me to give this a go.
On reserve at my local library: Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris
I can't wait for this one to become available! Dead Until Dark was such rollicking good fun that I'm hanging out to get my teeth into the next instalment! onto the other assorted stuff...
Alana (my 11 year old daughter) has just been offered a place at a prestigous selective high school for next year. It's a great opportunity for her, but she's not so sure that she wants to accept the place. At the moment a high school is being built within our very own suburb, only a 20 minute walk away from home. It's due to open for the start of next year, and all Alana's friends are looking forward to going there together. They will be the first group from her primary school that will be able to stay together and go to their very own high school, instead of splitting up and travelling to schools further afield. It makes it a tough decision for Alana. Wish us luck!
My last uni assignment for this semester is "in the mail" as they say. After my disastrous result last time, I'm just going to be super happy to pass!
I'm trying to find a vacancy at a caravan park for my family to take a week away over the Christmas/New Year break. Everything is already booked solid! I'll keep trying...
I bought my sister a copy of the Lost in Austen 2 disc DVD for her birthday. I'm very much hoping we can watch it together sometime, then I can count it towards the Everything Austen challenge!