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Monday, April 9, 2012

New Beginnings

As of today, I have decided to move this blog from Blogger to Wordpress. If you do not know what Wordpress is, it is another blogging site that is a bit easier to use and allows you to have complete control.

I decided to move because I wanted to do some things with my blog that Blogger wasn't allowing me to and I also wanted to have an easier way to blog. Also I had some concerns, as Google can delete or remove any blog on Blogger if they want to and I didn't want that to happen.

This is the really important thing -- even with all of the changes below, the rest of Past The Ink will be up. I transferred all the pages and posts to Wordpress so you can still go through and read the archives. 

AND this blog is staying up. I'm not deleting it. It will stay here but there will be NO new posts. All new posts will be on Wordpress. 

Okay, next, on Wordpress this blog will have some changes.

  • A New Name: Dancing Through YA. I feel like that name suits my blog better. There is an explanation on the new site as well.
  • A New Domain Name: If you want to access the site now, you must go to:

  •  New Features -- these will be coming to the blog soon and some have already been updated.
Now, how do you access the blog? On Blogger there is a handy "Google Friend Connect" button. The button looks like this:

That is not what the button on this blog looks like--there are fewer subscribers-- but you get the gist of GFC. Okay, Google Friend Connect is no longer available on non-Blogger (this means Wordpress, too) blogs.

And so how do you subscribe to the new blog? First, go to the site.

Look on the right sidebar. Right at the top is a box called META.

This is also not an exact same image. Here though, you can see the RSS button. Underneath that META box is an RSS box. There is a little orange square in the corner of the RSS box. Click that and it will take you to a screen where you can subscribe in a blog reader (Google, Yahoo, whatever floats your boat).

However, under the RSS box is this:

On the new blog the thing at the top says something else, but it's the same idea. In that little box you can type in your email address. Then, every time there is a new post on the blog, you get an email. You don't even have to go to the site to see the post -- the ENTIRE post shows up in your email.

Handy, right?

So, either:

  • Subscribe via RSS (look for the box called RSS with a little orange thing beside it)
  • Subscribe via email (type your email in the box)

See you there.

reader's letters

This is simply a fun thing that I thought of: writing letters to characters from books. I want to note that I am NOT the first to do this; there are features at several great blogs like Wear the Old Coat that feature these letters often, and if you're interested in these readers' letters check out those blogs. Instead I am going to do one long post -- this won't be turning into a series/feature/meme -- and write to some of my favorite characters. There are two parts -- sent mail (the letters I compose to the characters) and received mail (the mail that I receive from characters). 

Paige's Sent Mail

Dear Anne,


Friday, April 6, 2012

on budgets, and libraries, and maybe being a little spoiled

Today I am going to talk about -- wait for it -- library budgets.

Now, I have no personal experience dealing with library budgets. I have never had to manage a library budget or find funds for the library, though I have talked to many people (including my favorite librarians) about them. So up front I would like to put a warning: I may be wrong. I may mess up my facts. But if you are knowledgeable on this subject, please just let me know what I did wrong (via comments or email) and I will correct the error.

Now, onto the subject of library budgets.

In this more modern era, libraries are being regarded a little differently. They're still used, and used widely, but at the same time they seem to be considered "old" in the public culture and the amount of patrons they have is smaller than in past years. (This is a complete wide stroke; I know that there are some libraries that have more patrons or the same amount -- I'm basing this on what I personally know and articles I've read). However, if there are fewer patrons, one of the things that gets cut? The budget.

A simple Google search of "library budget cut" has over 53 MILLION hits. The Yahoo search with the same key words gives me 64 MILLION hits. This is a problem, and there are many saddening stories that go along with it. (Search "library budget cut" yourself and read some of the articles.)

Before I move on to more info on the budgets, I'll share my own personal story. I attended a large library, a huge one, for many years. It was one of the largest libraries in our county, had thousands of people attend it a year, and had a huge book collection. The stacks were constantly being updated and were filled with hundreds of new books a year.

This is a picture of what the library looked like from the outside. It looks small in this picture but it is quite large.

I loved that library. It was big and huge and fun, and I read tons of great middle grade literature (I was mainly reading MG at the time) and I loved seeing the new books. The library was always interesting and had something new to offer. The new book shelf was always huge, the shelves were always updated with the newest titles, I could look a book up in the catalog and check it out immediatly. It seemed like they had EVERY book ever (this is an exaggeration of course, but they did have quite a few)

And I started to get maybe a little spoiled. I mean this that I expected every library to be like this, huge and full of new books.

Then I moved three hours away, to a much smaller town. My town has a library. But it's small. Here's the teen section:

This is not the entire teen section. There is more to it. But the shelf you see in the picture on the left, with those nonfiction titles? The teen section is made up of those shelves -- thick brown shelves with books on both sides. There are three of those double-sided shelves.

And there aren't many new books in the collection. The pictures don't show it, but there is a spinning rack of new titles. Except when those new titles come in, they sit. They aren't replaced by newer titles. They sit for a month or two until someone finally puts them into the regular collection. Yes, this library is much smaller. This does not mean that it is bad or worse or better than the other library -- it's a good library, there's nice books and fantastic librarians.

And I like it just as much as the other one.

Now that I've told you about my libraries, onto the story. The first big library is part of a huge group of libraries in an especially large county, and as I mentioned, that library was one of the biggest in that county. I read an article last year talking about library budgets and one library mentioned was in fact, my old library. (This was in a professional journal, just to show you the prestige that surrounds this library). In the article, a woman was saying that she wasn't concerned about her budget, because the library had an $8 million dollar budget.

Yes, 8 million dollars. A year.

Now, back to the other library. I was talking to the teen librarian at this new library, Amy. Amy is the main teen librarian and the one who basically runs the teen section herself. She told me that she was starting to plan summer reading and that they had cut the budget for the program. Again. She had started to plan out a few events -- a writing workshop, a program on dreams and a program on the stars -- but now she was stuck. The money was nearly gone and there was hardly anything she could think of to do that didn't involve some kind of cost.

Yes, that's a huge difference.

I'm not saying that it's bad that one library received $8 million dollars a year -- they use it wisely and they serve a larger population.

But the truth is, and it's a very very real truth, is that some libraries have trouble and they have very small budgets and they just cannot afford much.

They can't buy new books or fund huge events or new technology. (The second library has a self-checkout but it barely works). Some libraries are in danger of closing because they don't receive enough patrons. The number of things that can happen go on and on -- the books and technology are outdated, people don't come, etc etc. It sounds vaguely like a zombie film.

But it's reality for some libraries, and it's becoming more and more of an issue.

And I am not suggesting that all libraries are in financial ruin -- there are some very successful libraries, like the $8 million dollar/huge one.

But it's an issue. Libraries are in danger of closing. People are in danger of losing their jobs, citizens are in danger of losing the materials they need.

And that scares me.

And I wish I could fix the problem. My librarian friend and I were thinking of some ways to solve the issue. Use old supplies from previous programs, make crafts and such that are cheap and inexpensive.

But fixing the problem will be hard. We can solve this problem at our library, but does that mean that thousands of other libraries will be out of financial ruin? No.

I'm glad to say that there are some people trying to help, that it's not completely hopeless for everyone. Check out Authors for libraries and the amazing youtube series our authors, our advocates. And those are simply two programs that deal with authors helping. There are tons of others helping, teachers and librarians and students. You may have seen this video, too. So there are people trying to help. It's a problem and one that will not be fixed easily.

But it can be fixed.
We can try.

We started to think of some solutions at our library; we can all think of solutions somehow.

We can fight to keep our libraries.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Book Review Quotes

I've been thinking on this particular topic lately, as I read through my Google Reader and sift through the many amazing posts and examine the writing styles of all these great bloggers.

Sometimes, in reviews, people will add in quotes. Now, these quotes are usually directly from the book and (usually, not always) writer uses them to prove some sort of point -- here's why the writing was bad/good, here's why this theme was explored, etc.

Here's an example of a quote (this "quote" is completely made up):

And I found Gerald's constant whining annoying. It detracted me from the story and made me dislike him, which impacted my reading as (of course) he is the main character. He whines often, and far too much, and complains in the most troubling of situations for what seems to be no reason:
"Gerald!" Melanie screamed. "Get up!""It's too hot," he said.She rolled her eyes. "GET UP."He didn't. He matched her eye roll and said, "Get me some water." Gerald snorted and walked away.Melanie grunted, trying not to scream (53)
The quotes can be formatted any way the blogger likes, and usually a page number is affixed to the quote to show that, yes, this was actually in the text.

Not every blogger does this. Some simply don't use them, or only use them when they feel the need to prove a point (like complaining about Gerald above) and some use them all the time.

These quotes can show a lot of things, like the writing, the characters, and more, if the excerpt is chosen carefully.

But does it help? Does it change your mind if you wanted to read the book on Gerald so, so badly, and then you read this quotation? Does it change your mind if you find the writing sloppy or the characters poor or any other thing that the blogger comments on? Does it change your opinion on the book?

Or are review quotes simply there, enhancing the review but never doing much to change your mind?

For me, I'm not sure. I think it depends on the content being discussed -- like if there were obvious instances of slut-shaming, I would be against reading the book, or if it showed that there was a topic I disliked (romance, moralizing) I would remove the book from my TBR.

In the end, however, it's up to every blogger, every reviewer, if they want to add quotes sometimes, all the time, never, whenever they feel is best. Everyone has their own reviewing style.

How about you? Does this impact your reading experience in any way?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Cyblis Awards

So last week I discussed the ALA Awards and what they are, how they are organized, and the criteria for the awards. I'm going to touch on this same subject again, this time with a much smaller but still very interesting award for bloggers, the Cyblis Awards.

The Cybils awards are given out every year by children and young adult bloggers for "the year's best children and young adult awards". The award is structured into two rounds and is run completely by bloggers.

The award has been given out annually since 2006 and is run by Anne Levy, the administrator of the awards.

The purpose of the award, according to the official website is, this: "to reward the children's and young adult authors (and illustrators, let's not forget them) whose books contain the highest literary merits and "kid appeal" and to "foster a sense of community among bloggers who write about children's and young adult literature, highlight our best reviewers (and shamelessly promote their blogs) and provide a forum for the similarly obssessed". So essentially this: to reward authors for their books and to foster a community of bloggers. 

The award is a bit different from the ALA Awards and is open to more categories; in that "children's and young adult" guideline there are many categories. 

The categories are the following:

  • Book Apps (this is a new category introduced in 2011)
  • Fiction Picture Books
  • Nonfiction Picture Books
  • Easy Readers
  • Early Chapter Books
  • Poetry
  • Graphic Novels
  • Fantasy and Science Fiction
  • Middle Grade Fiction
  • Young Adult Nonfiction
  • Young Adult Graphic Novels
  • Young Adult Fantasy and Science Fiction
  • Young Adult Fiction
You can view a list of the 2011 winners in all these categories here.

Now, as you can see, the award is very vast and has many different categories. The categories are all judged by two groups in two rounds: the round 1 panelists and the judges (the ones who get to decide the winners).

Anyone who contributes regularly to a blog about children's and young adult literature can participate ( they must be at least 16 and if they are under 18 their parents must sign a waiver). Regularly, according to the site, means that you contribute to the blog "pretty much  at least once a month or so, though there are always exceptions". To sign up, you fill out a form every year. Not everyone is chosen, however, and the judges are combed from the many people who enter. The judges are broken into two groups, the 1st round panelists and the final judges. There are 1st round panelists and final judges for each category. 

The criteria for judges is thus follows:
  • a demonstrated expertise in the genre
  • a demonstrated enthusiasm for blogging
  • a blog that has built a following (not necessarily a huge following -- loyalty counts)
  • the blogger's prestige

People can nominate books for the Cybils starting October 1st. After October 15th the first round judges begin their work. Their role is to "sift through scores of nominated books in your genre". They work for about a month, reading frantically and working hard, and then turn in a shortlist of 5-7 titles in the middle of December. 

Judges start at the beginning of January and announce the winners by February 12, reading all the titles on the shortlist and determining the final winner. 

And of course, it is a LOT of work.

If you want to read actual posts on the work in the Cybils, here are some posts from STACKED (a blog that has participated in the award for the last three years on different topics pertaining to the award): post cybils lifefrom the trencheswhy the awards matter, and life on the panel.

If you're interested in learning more about the Cybils, such as how to nominate titles, see past winners,  or nominate yourself to be a judge (good luck!) visit the Cybils website. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Croak by Gina Damico

Sixteeen-year-old Lex Bartelby has sucker-punched her last classmate. Fed up with her punkish, wild behavior, her parents send her to live with her uncle Mort, hoping that a few months of dirty farm work will whip her into shape.But Uncle Mort's true occupation is much dirtier than that of shoveling manure.
He's a Grim Reaper. And he's going to teach her the family business.
Lex quickly assimilates into the peculiar world of Croak, a town populated entirely by reapers who deliver souls from this world into the next. Along with her infuriating yet intriguing partner Driggs and a rockstar crew of fellow Grim apprentices, Lex is soon zapping her Targets like a natural born Killer.
Yet her innate ability morphs into an unchecked desire for justice -- or is it vengeance -- whenever she's forced to Kill a murder victim, craving to stop the attackers before they can strike again. So when people start to die -- that is, people who aren't supposed to be dying -- Lex's curiosity is piqued. Her obsession grows as the bodies pile up, and a troubling question begins to swirl through her mind: if she succeeds in tracking down the murderer, will she stop the carnage -- or will she ditch Croak and join in? 

This is just a fun book.

It's fun, and funny, and fast-paced and just all around fun to read. I had some issues with it but it was just a fun, easy, relaxing read that I needed -- and it made me laugh aloud a few times, too.

Lex is a wild girl, constantly assaulting and harming people at her school, her parents, and her principal. Every time they give her one more chance, one "last chance", she blows it. Fed up with her, her parents send her away to live with her uncle Mort, who supposedly owns a farm. But he doesn't -- he's a Grim Reaper who lives in the faraway town of Croak. He teaches her the family business of Killing, and Lex becomes a natural. But soon people start to die, and everyone is in danger as they must solve the mystery. Lex is faced with a question -- will she join in? Or will she stand back?

I really loved Lex's character. She was strong and feisty and sarcastic but at the same time was very close to her sister. She didn't annoy me at the beginning, as some reviewers had said, and I liked seeing her personal change. I also liked the arc that Damico gave her, wondering about justice and rights and wrongs and how to understand what justice really was. It's a fascinating arc and I can't wait to see how Damico takes that arc to a new level in the next book.

The rest of the characters were great, too. Driggs was funny and "intriguing" as the blurb states, and the rest of the crazy wild crew of Croak made me laugh. Uncle Mort was also a strong character who put up with nothing and wanted to protect his niece but also let her free.

In regards to the plot, I guessed the murderer right away. And I was correct. But I didn't really care, honestly, because I was enjoying the rest of the book so much. I really did like the climax, though, because it brought Lex's arc -- what is justice -- to a strong, chilling point and really forced her to rethink her beliefs. I liked how the Reaper mythology was woven through, with tales of old legends and murders (even reapers have histories!). I was a bit confused from time to time on how Killing and scything and all that worked, as it was explained quickly and the reader was trusted to understand what happened. I like that sort of trust, and I'm glad that the author felt like she could trust her readers that much, but it still confused me.

The writing was nice, funny and sweet poking through the words. I didn't quite understand why the story was in third person, as we only really were in Lex's head and no other characters', but it worked for the story and Damico is a strong emerging writer.

I honestly really loved this: it was fun, sweet, and entertaining. While not perfect it was definitely a fun ride and I'll look for the next book in September (eek! don't have to wait a year! yay!).

Four stars.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Possibilities of Sainthood by Donna Freitas

Antonia Lucia Labella has two secrets: at age fifteen she's still waiting for her first kiss, and she wants to be a saint. An official one. Seem strange? Well, to Antonia, saints are royalty, and she wants her chance at being a princess. All her life she's kept company with these kings and queens of small favors, knowing exactly whom to pray to on every occasion. Unfortunately, the two events Antonia's prayed for seem unlikely to happen. It's not for lack of trying. For how long has she been hoping to gain the attention of the love of her life -- the tall, dark, and so good looking Andy Rotellini? Too long to mention. And every month for the last eight years, Antonia has sent a petition to the Vatican proposing a new patron saint and bravely offering herself for the post. So what if she's not dead?
But as Antonia learns, in matters of the heart and sainthood, things are about as straightforward as wound-up linguini, and sometimes you need to recognize the signs. 

I think I enjoyed this book more than the first Donna Freitas book I read -- The Survival Kit -- but I still had some reservations.

This book is firmly built in Catholicism, saints, and Catholic and Italian culture. I am not Catholic or Italian, and at times it was hard for me to understand (for instance, when they elect the new pope. I don't know anything about how popes are chosen and that scene was confusing).

Antonia is a feisty, vibrant girl who was named after St. Anthony, and loves the saints. Every where she goes she prays to the saints, always knowing exactly which one to pray to. She keeps track of the saints in thick notebooks filled with mass cards and notes on the saints' powers -- ie, what to pray to them for -- and information on each saint. And every month, Antonia writes to the vatican suggesting a new saint. There's a saint for cooking? Why shouldn't there be a saint of fig trees or pasta? And every month, she suggests herself to be the new saint. Since she was eight, her biggest dream has been to be a saint. Her romantic life is just as tangled, as she decides between her crush Andy and her friend Michael.

This time, I think I enjoyed the plot more. Obviously the plot is a bit farfetched, but if someone wanted, they really could write to the Vatican and beg to become a saint. Freitas seemed to understand that her plot was farfetched as well. However, the plot was again predictable. I knew who Antonia would choose right away, as it was fairly obvious. And the ending of what happens to Antonia and her dreams of being a saint is also easy to figure out. But, I did like reading Antonia's letters to the Vatican. They were fresh and full of voice, and pretty darn hilarious. The plot was fun to read about, and I think that it would make a good "comfort read", but really the story was simply just predictable.

The reason I really enjoyed this book more than The Survival Kit was Antonia's voice. She was fresh and funny and sounded like a real (saint-crazed) teenager. She was funny, too, and her use of capitals when she became excited was funny rather than being gimmicky. I can understand how some reviewers thought that she was immature, and think that the letters were stupid, but I thought it was cute and didn't mind. The characters seemed a bit more developed here. We learned about Antonia, Michael, Andy, and Antonia's mother in greater depth. However, again some characters were not developed, like Antonia's friends (they again seemed to be pawns in the story) and Antonia's cousins (they seemed a bit too stereotypical).

So, yes, I did enjoy this book more. It would make a fun "comfort read" and it's pretty darn funny, not to mention having mouthwatering food in it. (Don't read this book before breakfast/lunch/dinner!) And above all, I found it to be more interesting than the first Donna Freitas that I read.

Three point five stars.