February 7, 2014

Moving Day!

I'm ending this blog and beginning another.

I go by @library_jim on Twitter and library_jim on Goodreads (to distinguish myself from other Jims) and I'm starting a new project with a separate blog, so it seemed a good time to start a new personal blog called Library Jim.

The new project is the one mentioned below, Sword & Laser Kids.  That is where I will post about science fiction and fantasy books for pre-K through YA but an emphasis on middle grade readers (3rd through 8th).

Library Jim will be my personal blog for whatever else I want to write about including, but not limited to life as a school librarian, my geeky interests, my funny family, photos I take, videos, and of course the grown up books I'm reading.  I follow the Sword & Laser online book club as well as the Guys Who Read book club in real life.  And now I'll be doing my own mini-book clubs with kids to get their responses on science fiction and fantasy for S&L Kids.

So if you were following this blog for kids book reviews, I would change your feed reader to following Sword and Laser Kids and do sign up for the Goodreads Group!  I'm very excited about this project.

If you were following me for other book reviews and the other random geeky stuff I have been posting about, including my job as a school librarian, then switch your feeds to follow Libray Jim.

Thanks so much for following this blog and all your comments.  I hope to keep up with you in one of the other two venues.

As always...keep on reading!

February 5, 2014

Introducing my new site for geeky parents and kids!

logo & name used w/permission
Okay, I thought about it and with much help and encouragement from the friendly folks over at the Sword & Laser Goodreads forum, I have indeed set up my own separate Goodreads group and even a website to go with it.

Introducing the Sword& Laser Kids site and Goodreads Group.

From now on you can go there for monthly discussions of science fiction and fantasy books for kids.

Read, comment, ask questions, tell all your geeky friends with kids and join me on this new journey.

Thanks to Sean Sandulak for the altered S&L artwork, to Rob for the help setting up the Goodreads forum, and especially to Tom & Veronica for creating such an inspiring mini-media empire in Sword & Laser.

Feedback on S&L Kids

logo & name used with permission
Over on the Sword & Laser Goodreads group, the forum link I set up for my S&L Kids project has gotten some good feedback.

The first suggestion was, since S&L is a podcast, why don't I do a podcast as well?  Okay then, I'll give it a shot! For next month I made a list of possible titles and am going to round up a student or two to discuss the book with.  I have no idea how this will go but will try it and see what happens.

The other suggestion was to set up our own separate Goodreads group fo S&L Kids.  The person who suggested it said something about how their kids would love it.  Well, hmmm.  I'll have to think about that one. When I first conceived of this, it was for SF/Fantasy loving parents wanting help and suggestions in the raising of young geeklings.  But yeah, a group all to itself sounds cool.  The problem right now is that I don't know anything about that and need to investigate it further.  Ideally it would have the same bookclub/podcast format as the real S&L but I'm not sure I'm ready to commit to that.  Let me figure out the podcast thing first, see how that goes, then in a couple of months I'll revisit the Goodreads group thing.  Great suggestion though and it sounds fun.

Keep the feedback coming!


February 4, 2014

How We Watch TV Now

I guess we're called "cord cutters" but we just kind of evolved into it. When my daughter was young, we had the most basic cable package, a basic TiVo and a Netflix subscription to get movies through the mail. It wasn't part of a plan, but I especially liked how my daughter wasn't growing up being pummeled by too many commercials.

When HD televisions came down in price, we got a flatscreen and switched to the cable company's (inferior but cheaper) DVR.  Netflix also started their streaming service and we got a Blu-Ray player that streamed some services like that.  As we got to like the Netflix (and Amazon Prime) streaming, in an attempt to both watch less TV and cut monthly costs, we got rid of both the cable and phone and just went with cells and streaming (and the discs in the mail).

The streaming wasn't always reliable, though, so on the advice of a techie friend I upgraded my wifi router and got a Roku 3.  Dude, it's awesome.  NOW we're cooking on the streaming and it even has Youtube, so that's cool.

In a jerk move, the cable company cut off the local broadcasting we were still getting from the physical cable attached to the TV.  So after poking around on The Google and some advice from various places, most notably Tekzilla, I tried one of these antennas.  The HD with this thing actually looks better than it did with the cable!

So we primarily stream from Netflix, Amazon, PBS and Youtube on the Roku box.  We can watch regular network and PBS and even a local 24 hour weather feed off of the antenna.  I also have a cable so if we miss a show and it's somewhere online, I can connect my laptop to my big TV and watch it that way.

The only weird thing is there's no longer a way to record anything.  I miss that TiVo but it seems silly to pay $15 a month when we only get a handful of channels.  If we miss something we just have to find it some other way or wait for the DVD.

All in all, though, I enjoy this way of watching because there's way less commercials and you have to actively choose what you want to watch.  Much less mindless flipping.

This would, however,  not be a good situation for sports fans.

The only show we can't get without cable and are too impatient to wait for on DVD is Mythbusters.  So we pay for that one on Amazon.  If you're a Prime member and pay up front for the whole season it's only around $20 (depending on the number of episodes).  Since we all enjoy it and watch them more than once it seems worth it and is still cheaper than paying for cable.

So we pay Netflix $14.99 a month for the discs and $7.99 a month for the streaming.  Some people I know just get the streaming and pay another $8.99 for Hulu Plus which is for those who enjoy streaming more recent shows.  We just don't follow enough current shows to go for that one.  And we rent or buy the occasional thing on Amazon.  All in all, way less than cable and we're happy.

So if you are someone who likes entertainment but doesn't have to keep up with certain shows and you don't like you're kids bombarded with commercials you might consider some of these options.

How do you watch TV?  Let me know in the comments.

February 1, 2014

Sword & Laser Kids February: Rump

The first fantasy pick for S&L Kids is Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff.

Here's the publisher's summary:
In a magic kingdom where your name is your destiny, 12-year-old Rump is the butt of everyone's joke. But when he finds an old spinning wheel, his luck seems to change. Rump discovers he has a gift for spinning straw into gold. His best friend, Red Riding Hood, warns him that magic is dangerous, and she’s right. With each thread he spins, he weaves himself deeper into a curse.
To break the spell, Rump must go on a perilous quest, fighting off pixies, trolls, poison apples, and a wickedly foolish queen. The odds are against him, but with courage and friendship—and a cheeky sense of humor—he just might triumph in the end.
If you're going to join the ever-popular fractured fairy tale genre then you gotta bring something new to the table and it's probably best if you don't go for one of the most well-known characters.   I don't know how "new" this is but she definitely nails the character choice.  If you don't know the story of Rumpelstiltskin by heart, refresh yourself here.  The original doesn't really make a lick of sense but it's appropriately creepy, that's for sure.

I thought this was going to be a defense from the baddy type of thing, like Scieszka's perfectly realized The True Story of the Three Little Pigs in which we get the Big Bad Wolf's winking and smirking testimony of "innocence."  But no, Shurtliff decides to go the route of the actually innocent and maligned narrator.  She's redeeming this poor misunderstood character.  It's a mite earnest but well done.

Rump's mother dies in childbirth and only gets out the partial name of "Rump..." before passing away. He knows there's more to his name but he's stuck with "Rump" until he can figure out what to do.  He goes to live with his grandmother and is undernourished on top of everything else so is small for his age.

All the elements of the original tale are there.  The spinning of the gold, the greedy miller and his dippy daughter, etc.  I like how she makes this ability of his a curse and with it comes the need for a bargain. You have to offer Rump something for him to spin the gold.  But the catch is, you can offer him whatever you like.  You could offer him an old apple core and he'd have to do it.  "It's not like you have to offer me your first born or anything," he jokes to the frantic and humorless miller's daughter one fateful night.

It's a fun genre and Shurtliff has fun with it.  I especially like the trolls.  You know all about trolls, right?  They're big, scary, lurk around at night and like to eat people.  Except when he meets them, Rump finds out this is just a bunch of misinformation the trolls themselves have been cultivating so they can be left alone.

Most people on Goodreads like it.  Laura G. says, "Liesl Shurtliff has woven a fantastic and intricate backstory behind Rumpelstiltskin's presumably abhorrent behavior and precisely how he got his strange name. Interesting (and impressive) indeed!"  Kyle K. says, "Too often books based on old stories get lost in trying to take themselves too seriously. Ms. Shurtliff has fun, and that is why I REALLY enjoyed Rump The True Story of Rumpelstilskin." And Kristen J. says, "It deserves a place on every library shelf, bookstore and in the hands of every child who loves not only a great story, but a new twist on a fairy tale they grew up loving. And just maybe they will learn by heart the best advice the story can give: “Watch your step.”"

Not everyone is a complete fan of course.  Kat H. says, "I found myself beginning to skim the story about half-way through. The plot began to meander, and the voice seemed to subtly change. It started off feeling original and clever, but that got lost somewhere along the line.  That said, the characterization was good throughout. And I really like the pixies and the trolls. I'm sure there will be a lot of kids who enjoy this book because of the adventure and some of the silly and fun things throughout. While I wasn't blown away, I thought it was a decent read and would recommend parents give it a try for older elementary and younger middle school age kids."

Kat used the word "contrived" at some point in her review but hey, this is a fractured fairy tale we're dealing with here!  Of course it's contrived!  She's right that the characterization is Shurtliff's strongest suit in this first novel.  In a note the author tells how she had to come to terms with her own odd name as a child and the teasing that ensued.  She definitely seems to have connected with her protagonist.

I had to read this as one of the nominations for our district's Reader's Rally.  I was on the committee to choose next year's titles and I'm happy to say this one made the list.  It's going to be a treat for our readers and I look forward to more books from this author. According to her Goodreads page, she has one coming out in 2015 called Jack.  Another fractured fairy tale?  Probably.
image used with permission