Tag Archives: OLLU Library

My Summer in Books – 2018 Edition

by Kristi R. Johnson

It was a hot one for those of us in south Texas this summer. So what better reason, other than the brutal summer heat, to stay inside under the air conditioning reading books? I gladly stayed inside and whittled down my ever-present ‘to read’ pile, but only to end up adding many more for the fall. It is every book nerd’s curse (and blessing).

First up is From Twinkle, With Love, Sandhya Menon’s follow-up to last year’s When Dimple Met Rishi. This time, readers follow Twinkle Mehra as she attempts to elevate her status in the minefield that is high school. One way for her to do so would be to present an awesome movie at the upcoming Midsummer Night Arts Festival. Another is to finally gain the attention of one of the most popular boys in school. Ultimately, this is a story about the insecurities that come with being a teenager, and how sometimes people are not as they present themselves.

David Arnold follows up Mosquitoland and Kids of Appetite with The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik. An avid David Bowie fan (he refers to himself as a “believer”), Noah has many obsessions, or what he prefers to call his “strange fascinations.” Then one night, everything seems to change, except these fascinations. His once DC obsessed best friend now suddenly prefers everything Marvel. The family dog is no longer slow and dying, but energetic and lively. And Noah’s mother now has a strange scar on her face that was not there before. If you can ignore the sense that a twist ending is inevitable, then you’ll have a good time with this one.

If you are looking for a story that is pure fun and a bit of a wild ride, I highly recommend My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma. It is Winnie’s senior year, and she is ready to use her manic energy to chair the annual film festival, and hopefully solidify her entry into NYU’s highly competitive film program. She may be looking forward to NYU, but she is also looking for the love of her life that will give her a happily ever after. Completely obsessed with all things Bollywood, Winnie lives her life as if it is a dramatic film and a dance number could break out any moment (and at one point during the book, it does).

The Summer Children by Dot Hutchison is the third installment of what has easily become my favorite horror/thriller series going today. Each book of The Collector Series has dealt with a serial killer, and this time, the murderer has a habit of killing abusive parents, and leaving their scared and confused children on the front porch of Detective Mercedes Ramirez. What follows is a race against time as more people die the longer it takes Mercedes and her team to figure out what is going on.

Chris Soules’ The Oracle Year is one of those books that seemed to be in every Facebook and Goodreads ad. It also does not hurt that it was chosen as a pick for the Book of the Month Club. Armed with 108 predictions about the world, struggling musician Will Dando decides to create a website and strategically publish some, while selling others to major bidders. Naturally, this makes him a target for some people, and a prophet for many others. I have mixed feelings about this one, but ultimately I think sci fi lovers can find some enjoyment in the story.

I am always so happy to pick up another collection of drawings from Sarah Andersen. Her third collection, titled Herding Cats, is just as witty and insightful as her first two, Adulthood is a Myth and Big Mushy Happy Lump. Once again, Andersen’s explores the struggles of the modern woman, the sorrows of a procrastinating artist, and the inner workings of an introvert. A good time will be had by anyone who reads this.

There was a great deal of buzz behind Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,” and rightfully so. Inside this short but powerful book is a collection of conversations between Hurston and Cudjo Lewis, who in 1927 could tell Hurston the story of the last slave ship to make the transatlantic journey to America. At 86, Lewis still had a remarkable memory that could recall harrowing stories about being captured and sold by his own people in Africa, the journey across the Atlantic, and being a slave in a strange land. Using Lewis’ own words and vernacular, Hurston lets him tell his own story. Slave narratives can be difficult, but mercifully, that is not the case with Barracoon.

Most people know of the name Lisa Genova from the award-winning movie Still Alice, which was adapted from her book of the same name. I decided to pick up Every Note Played, which follows the story of an accomplished musician who has been diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. As a classical pianist, Richard has always depended on his hands, until the muscles no longer work. Slowly, every muscle in his body begins to fail him, and the only person who can take care of him in his final months is his ex-wife, Karina. Yeah, there is crying involved when reading this one.

In 2016, Michelle McNamara, a crime blogger and wife of comedian Patton Oswalt, tragically passed away in her sleep. Two years later, her book, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer, is published. Also in 2018, the killer she had been searching for would finally be caught. McNamara details the many crimes committed by the Golden State Killer, including a few that many attribute to him though conclusive evidence has not been found. Any lover of true crime will appreciate this book.

For me, Star of the North by D.B. John was the book of the summer. I typically stay away from thrillers, specifically political ones, but somehow I ended up reading a book that deals with North Korea and the tense political climate surrounding it. And what’s even crazier, is that I loved it! Jenna Williams has spent her academic career studying North Korea, and several years ago, her twin sister disappeared off of a beach in South Korea. Jenna has never believed that her sister drowned, and knows she is still alive somewhere. Her story will intersect with that of Colonel Cho, a man who has just been promoted as part of Kim Jung-Il’s inner circle, and Mrs. Moon, a brave older woman who has decided to take her chances on the North Korean black market.

As a lifelong lover of The Simpsons (and I can truly say lifelong and mean it…the show is about to start its 30th season), it was a dream come true to read Springfield Confidential: Jokes, Secrets, and Outright Lies from a Lifetime of Writing for The Simpsons by Mike Reiss, a man who has four Emmy’s over his career on the show. The book is just as hilarious as any Simpsons lover could hope. It naturally follows the creation and evolution of the show, as well as Reiss’ work on other projects, and of course, a few anecdotes about just a handful of the many guest stars that have been on the show.

And finally, there is Legendary by Stephanie Garber, the second book in her well-loved Caraval series. While I was not crazy about the first book, and honestly, I am not all that gaga over this one either, I did like it a lot better and enjoy it more. It could be the shift in focus from Scarlett to her little sister Tella, who is much braver, though just as naive. The twists and turns can be exhausting, as well as the constant smoldering looks and casual touches and rapid heart-beats and on and on and on. But I will say this, Garber goes for it and does not hold back, which is what ultimately makes this a fun ride.

This may not be every book I read this summer, but they are the ones I look back on most fondly, and each one had something that made it stand out from the sheer amount published that book nerds had to choose from for that always enjoyable summer beach read. What were some of your summer favorites? And perhaps more importantly, which books do you plan to pick up this fall?


Word Nerd Wednesdays

by Kristi R. Johnson

This week’s WNW post will pertain to something I like to call Fun With Article Databases.

I know. To most of you out there that sounds like the least fun thing ever (and often, it is), but bear with me. A good amount of students visit the writing center with an assignment in hand, as well as a topic in mind. But then there is that one line in the syllabus that mentions the requirement of using at least five, ten, 15, sometimes 20+ outside sources to back up the student’s research paper. For a lot of students, the number alone, however high it may be, can be enough to cause panic. Plus, you have to actually find them…and read them.

At the writing center, our standard response to students looking for help searching for outside sources is to send you to the library, which really is the best place to start. And today, the WNW is going to highlight a few of this writer’s favorite article databases.

My go to databases for both my undergrad and graduate work were ProQuest and JSTOR. As a UTSA student, I could access both through the UTSA Libraries website. Here at Our Lady of the Lake, the Sueltenfuss Library homepage has Worldcat Discovery, which basically allows students to search multiple databases at once. And then of course there is Google Scholar, and many others.

So why is this post appearing in a blog column about words when article databases are all about research? Because often how effective a student’s search is can depend largely on the words they use, as well as where they are having the search engine look for those words.

For instance, let’s say you have decided to write a paper on William Shakespeare’s Henry IV plays, and want to focus on the relationship between Prince Hal and Falstaff, leading up to the ultimate rejection of the latter by the former (again, bear with me on this).  With most databases, you can enter in a bunch of keywords into the search bar and come up with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of results, the large majority of which won’t be of any use to you. I always recommend that students use the ‘advanced search’ option, which lets you add search rows, and change where you want each  keyword or phrase to be located.

Click to enlarge image

It may not do you much good to search for the words Shakespeare, Falstaff, rejection, and friendship if you ask the search engine to search for these words only in the article title. Perhaps ‘rejection’ and ‘friendship’ should be searched for in the keywords, or subject phrase. And databases like ProQuest allow you to search within an abstract, or even throughout the entire body of the article (Pro tip for ProQuest: putting quotation marks around whole phrases will keep the database from only searching for one word at a time). And if ‘friendship’ isn’t giving you the results you want, or simply not enough of them, then maybe try relationship, connection, association, link, bond, etc. In other words, play around with it. If you need 20+ articles for an assignment, then you don’t have much to lose by trying as many different avenues as you can.

Basically, the point of this post was to give WNW readers a starting point for their research. I still recommend getting familiar with your school’s library as well as making friends with those behind the information desk. It helps to have as many resources available to you as possible, whether they are in print, on a screen, or an actual human being.

In the Moment Monday: Making the Pieces Fit

This week’s post is about putting it all together. Little steps. 


by Jason F. Martinez

What is it about large projects and taking on too much at one time? Why do we often find ourselves in over our heads when trying to accomplish such tasks after we’ve waited too long?

Or maybe it’s just me…

In any case, if you should find yourself in the middle of one project, or possibly juggling multiple projects at one time, attacking the challenge with some sort of plan is key. Being able to prioritize and organize the components to be completed will usually create less stress both before and during the process. And this is a concept that many have to learn the hard way, as is the custom of all good lessons learned.

When sitting down with a student during a consultation, there is often a sense of overwhelming stress, possibly fall across their face, or perhaps I can hear it in their voice as we discuss the paper. The stress is due to several factors, and the one factor that probably takes precedence is the project’s scope.

Finally sitting town to work when the deadline is too close usually removes any confidence about the assignment and its outcomes. When this happens, most begin to panic. Panic won’t change anything, I can promise you that much. Instead, make note of the procrastination and begin planning for the next assignment. Write down what you did up to this current point of anxiety and procrastination and resolve to avoid those circumstance the next go round.

Documenting where you went wrong is the first step.But when you come across your next assignment, you should have a new plan of attack. Here is what I have done at various points in my academic career in order to have better control over my projects:

Step One – Scheduling

  • Make note of all due dates or milestones for the project(s). Use your student planner or calendar feature on your smart device or laptop to do this.
  • Annotate each entry with contact and resource info in case you should need to reach out to your professor (for assignment specific questions) or classmates (for coordination if a group project).
  • Compare the academic calendar against your work and social calendars (so to speak). This should ensure that you do not over extend yourself and commit to things that you cannot follow through with, or that will interfere with your process.

Step Two – Evaluating the Assignment or Project

  • Determine how much research your assignment may require. Make time to visit the research librarians at the library to get any assistance finding your sources and to determine the legitimacy of the research that you find.

Step Three – Engaging with the Research

  • Begin reading your research, making notes and annotations as you go along to keep track of your progress. Consider making a matrix for your research to document your process and have access to information for the future. Some information to include in the matrix (hand drawn or in an Excel spreadsheet) should be: author(s), title, year of publication, direct quotes, summary of chosen quotes, page or paragraph information, and maybe a URL or location of where you found it.
  • Depending on your learning preference, you can engage with the research you have gathered either by traditional means with printed copies, hand written notes, and use of colored pens or highlighters. Or, if you are a true student of the 21st century, you can use other digital tools, such as Adobe Reader or any other modules that can be found online.

And that’s it for this week. This may seem like it’s cut short, but there is much more to the process that requires more discussion.

Take note of this entry and look for ways to implement a more solid process for you to tackle larger assignments.

If you have the time, please take a look at this website, the Assignment Calculator, as it will help to break down the process of organizing a project. The Assignment Calculator will be covered in a future post.

As always, if you have any questions, please come see us at the MFD WC in the Academic Center for Excellence located in Library 101.

Motivational Mondays: The Dawn After the Darkness


by Jason Martinez

In this week’s post, we look beyond the difficulties and seek the possibilities.

There are times when the ground in front of us is obscured by the fog of insecurity. Each step is a step into uncertainty and fear. We look back and see what we’ve done and what has been done to us, and again, fear sets in.

For me, and perhaps you as well, this past year has been lived in a shroud of darkness and uncertainty of the future. From family medical crises to personal goals for the future, my life has been in suspended animation, to a degree. But the good news is that during that time there were periods after the tempestuous squall of emotions. Those periods of relative peace are treasured, but ultimately are moments spent preparing for the next phase of storms.

The one good thing about living through the darkness and fog of the storm is knowing afterwards that you can live through it. You’ve done what others might not have been able to do. And in effect, after all is said and done, you’ve found ways to move from despair towards hope. The hope of a new day, one that holds the promise of a better you, a more peaceful you, and a more fulfilled you.

Being able to see the dawning of a new day after a period of prolonged darkness is empowering, validating, and invigorating. There is hope waiting. Yet, for some reason, some unknown and all too human reason, when searching through the fog, bracing for the worst of the storm, we seem to forget that just on the other side of the fog of the storm is hope. It’s right there and waiting for us to just step into it. Only one step and we have hope.

Our brains have told us that we are wandering aimlessly through the storm, perhaps traversing thousands of miles, but in fact we’ve been standing in one place and spinning in the dark. And from that one position we are only one step away from hope.

Now that you know where it is, seek hope instead of the storm.


Motivational Mondays: The Coming Changes




In this week’s post, we begin to yet again determine a plan for the coming changes.

by Jason Martinez

The title is a bit of a misnomer because we all know that there is no real way to determine whether or not change is coming at a specific time. In fact, change is constant, happening every second, but our minds have to be able to perceive the change before it can be embraced or acted upon.

But at this point in the semester, it is safe to say that some change is coming, and if not, it probably should. The changes may be against you and in a negative form. Or the changes might need to come from you, and those changes might be more positive and affirming for you. At this point, it is up to you to determine which type of change you are dealing with, but first you must acknowledge the change.

Sooner than you know, midterms will be upon you. There will be a time to understand that plans must be afoot to make the necessary changes for your future success. Even at midpoint, or midterm, it is not impossible to achieve your goals, even at their basic levels. But you must acknowledge the need for a change in your study habits. Form a group, see a tutor, attend an SI session – just do something.

It’s okay to not know exactly what to do at this point, but don’t become complacent and let opportunities sneak up on you and then miss them because you’ve run out of time. Assess your grades, your goals, and the role that you play in making those dots connect for your success.

Don’t ever be okay with mediocrity. It’s one thing to plan and execute a plan that doesn’t come to its full fruition, but you must first act. It is, however, another thing entirely to sit by complacently and play the victim of circumstances when you are entirely capable of overcoming your circumstances, however negative or untenable as they may seem, so just take the first step.