Blogging for a Good Book

The Big Miracle (2012)

Blogging for a Good Book - Wed, 2014-05-21 01:01

I’m usually a sucker for animal rescue stories and films (just look at some of my previous posts, including this one.).  While vacationing at the beach last week, I was presented with the opportunity to watch this movie, and I hesitated, wondering if I wanted to spend my valuable beach time watching yet another movie about animals that need to be rescued.  Well, I was glad I did, because The Big Miracle is exceptional for several reasons:

One extremely cute family of three whales, including an adorable baby whale, that get trapped in the ice five miles from the shoreline near Barrow, Alaska, in 1988. Their desperate calls for help are very moving.

Some extremely hazardous weather conditions,  including temperatures as low as minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit , high winds, blizzards, and treacherous ice, mean that their chances of survival are slim, and make for exciting drama.

An extremely unlikely group of people join together to help these poor whales, including a Greenpeace activist (Drew Barrymore), a wealthy oil tycoon (Ted Danson), a local TV news reporter (John Krasinski), and a local Inuit tribal elder (John Pingayak).  A typical movie like this pits the good-guy activist against the bad-guy industrialist, so it’s refreshing to see them all working together for once, even if they have ulterior motives for helping.

The actions of this group bring about some amazing results.  The local TV news reporter, who first discovers the whales, does a feature report about their plight for the local Anchorage news. The story is picked up by the national news, and quickly goes international. Before long, thousands of reporters from all over the world are descending on little Barrow, Alaska.

More importantly, the news reports bring people to the town who think that they can help in the rescue operation, including two brothers from Minnesota who have invented a de-icing machine.

The situation on the ground quickly becomes desperate, as the rescuers race around the clock and face crisis after crisis to save these whales.  I won’t spoil the story, but I will say that it involves a lot of ingenuity on the ground and help from the Alaska National Guard and an icy neighbor of the United States. And I won’t say if all three of these whales make it out alive (oops, maybe I have said too much).

This exciting, feel-good movie is based on true events in 1988 as set forth in Thomas Rose’s book Freeing the Whales.  The acting is top-rate, and I especially enjoyed Drew Barrymore as the Greenpeace activist Rachel Kramer.  In one scene she dives under water to check on the health of the whales, which I found to be very memorable and sad.

I also enjoyed watching media clips from 1988 of Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather and Peter Jennings when they were still in their prime. This gives the movie a sense of authenticity (reminding viewers that this was a real story) as well as a sense of nostalgia for older viewers like myself who remember watching these famous TV news anchors.

The Big Miracle is an exciting movie that I highly recommended watching, on or off the beach.


Witchstruck, by Victoria Lamb

Blogging for a Good Book - Tue, 2014-05-20 01:01

“If she sink, she be no witch and shall be drowned. If she float, she be a witch and must be hanged.”

Fantasy blends with historical fiction and romance in this first novel of the Tudor Witch Trilogy. The story is set in England in 1554, in the time of Princess Elizabeth, who has been sent into exile at Woodstock Palace by her half-sister Queen Mary. Political tensions are running high and there is talk of treason.

Just months ago, young Princess Elizabeth found herself a prisoner in the Tower of London after being accused of conspiring to overthrow the Queen. As no true evidence can be found she is instead sent faraway to crumbling Woodstock Palace. This sets the scene for Meg Lytton, the Princess’s newest hand maiden. Meg has a powerful gift, one she must hide from all. She comes from a long line of witches and is very much one herself. But there is no room for witches in Catholic England, and should she be discovered she would be hanged.

Meg soon finds that the Princess has her own interest in the Craft, and often calls on Meg and her aunt to help her see into the future and answer the always pressing question, “Will I ever be Queen?” But Meg and her aunt must exercise extreme caution, as the famed witch hunter Marcus Dent has taken an intense interest in Meg and wishes for her hand in marriage.

Things only get worse when Meg learns that her own family is conspiring against the Queen. Meg’s association with the Princess puts Elizabeth in further danger. When it seems all is going wrong and there is no one Meg can trust, in walks Spanish priest-in-training Alejandro de Castillo.  Suddenly everything is beginning to look a little better and a whole lot more dangerous…

Check the WRL catalog for Witchstruck


Witchstruck, by Victoria Lamb

Blogging for a Good Book - Tue, 2014-05-20 01:01

“If she sink, she be no witch and shall be drowned. If she float, she be a witch and must be hanged.”

Fantasy blends with historical fiction and romance in this first novel of the Tudor Witch Trilogy. The story is set in England in 1554, in the time of Princess Elizabeth, who has been sent into exile at Woodstock Palace by her half-sister Queen Mary. Political tensions are running high and there is talk of treason.

Just months ago, young Princess Elizabeth found herself a prisoner in the Tower of London after being accused of conspiring to overthrow the Queen. As no true evidence can be found she is instead sent faraway to crumbling Woodstock Palace. This sets the scene for Meg Lytton, the Princess’s newest hand maiden. Meg has a powerful gift, one she must hide from all. She comes from a long line of witches and is very much one herself. But there is no room for witches in Catholic England, and should she be discovered she would be hanged.

Meg soon finds that the Princess has her own interest in the Craft, and often calls on Meg and her aunt to help her see into the future and answer the always pressing question, “Will I ever be Queen?” But Meg and her aunt must exercise extreme caution, as the famed witch hunter Marcus Dent has taken an intense interest in Meg and wishes for her hand in marriage.

Things only get worse when Meg learns that her own family is conspiring against the Queen. Meg’s association with the Princess puts Elizabeth in further danger. When it seems all is going wrong and there is no one Meg can trust, in walks Spanish priest-in-training Alejandro de Castillo.  Suddenly everything is beginning to look a little better and a whole lot more dangerous…

Check the WRL catalog for Witchstruck


The Amulet of Samarkand, by Jonathan Stroud

Blogging for a Good Book - Mon, 2014-05-19 01:01

This is the first installment in The Bartimaeus Trilogy. The story focuses on young Nathaniel, a magician’s apprentice beginning his training in the art of magic. From the very beginning he shows incredible promise but is unfortunately paired with a sub-par and rather boring instructor. Out of boredom and internal motivation, Nathaniel begins his own private studies, quickly gobbling up book after book in the old magician’s study.

Things would have continued slow and steady for Nathaniel, but a fateful and humiliating event leaves him burning with rage and a desire for revenge. And so he summons a powerful djinni to help him get retribution on the magician who caused him so much hurt. But the djinni, Bartimaeus, is more formidable and cunning than Nathaniel could have imagined, while his rival magician, Simon Lovelace, is even more dangerous than he expected.

A simple plan turns into a catastrophic ordeal when Nathaniel orders Bartimaeus to steal a priceless token from Lovelace, the Amulet of Samarkand. Now, around every corner lurk unseen threats and hidden perils. Worst of all, Nathaniel has done the one thing a true magician is never supposed to do: he has lost control, not only of his djinni but of everything around him.

Check the WRL catalog for The Amulet of Samarkand.


The Amulet of Samarkand, by Jonathan Stroud

Blogging for a Good Book - Mon, 2014-05-19 01:01

This is the first installment in The Bartimaeus Trilogy. The story focuses on young Nathaniel, a magician’s apprentice beginning his training in the art of magic. From the very beginning he shows incredible promise but is unfortunately paired with a sub-par and rather boring instructor. Out of boredom and internal motivation, Nathaniel begins his own private studies, quickly gobbling up book after book in the old magician’s study.

Things would have continued slow and steady for Nathaniel, but a fateful and humiliating event leaves him burning with rage and a desire for revenge. And so he summons a powerful djinni to help him get retribution on the magician who caused him so much hurt. But the djinni, Bartimaeus, is more formidable and cunning than Nathaniel could have imagined, while his rival magician, Simon Lovelace, is even more dangerous than he expected.

A simple plan turns into a catastrophic ordeal when Nathaniel orders Bartimaeus to steal a priceless token from Lovelace, the Amulet of Samarkand. Now, around every corner lurk unseen threats and hidden perils. Worst of all, Nathaniel has done the one thing a true magician is never supposed to do: he has lost control, not only of his djinni but of everything around him.

Check the WRL catalog for The Amulet of Samarkand.


One Big Happy Family, by Lisa Rogak

Blogging for a Good Book - Fri, 2014-05-16 01:01

Dogs cuddling with goats?  An owl raising a goose? A cat caring for a litter of bunnies?  So much cuteness in one book!

One Big Happy Family is a quick read that will put a smile on your face.

Author Lisa Rogak has compiled 50 examples of cross-species friendships.  She explains that the parenting instinct in these cases defied the animals’ natural predator instincts. And whether the relationship lasted a lifetime or just a few weeks, when the young animal needed assistance most the adult animal stepped up to the plate.  As Rogak writes, “in doing so they serve as an inspiration.”

The pictures are the real draw for this nonfiction book. Every few pages there are darling photos of animals.  Brief narratives describe the origins of the relationship.  These can be quickly zipped through so you can “oooh” and “aww” your way to the next picture.

In fact, let’s just show a couple of images that will convince you of the appeal more than any number of words I can use.

 

Check the WRL catalog for One Big Happy Family

 

 


Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline

Blogging for a Good Book - Thu, 2014-05-15 01:01

Orphan Train caught my eye on the New Books shelf. I had not heard about the orphan trains before and enjoyed gaining some insight through this story.

According to PBS’s The Orphan Trains, the Children’s Aid Society, a precursor to our modern-day foster care, arranged trips between 1854 and 1929 to relocate thousands of orphan children from the streets of New York to the Midwest.  The organizers believed that farmers could use these homeless children as laborers, but hoped they would also treat them as part of their family and make sure they got an education.

Kline’s story is told through Molly and Vivian.  Molly is an angry, misunderstood teen about to age out of the foster care system.  She is arrested for stealing a book from the library and has to perform community service or go to jail.  Her foster mother is fed up with her and doesn’t want to put any more effort into the relationship.  Molly’s boyfriend helps arrange a service project for an older woman, Vivian, who employs his mother.

Vivian has Molly help her downsize her belongings.  But as they open boxes in the attic, Vivian  is reminded of her past and the experiences she had losing her family and being relocated by the orphan trains.  As they talk, Molly and Vivian develop a strong bond from having had similar experiences trying to fit in with foster families.

I enjoyed Vivian’s saga, though my heart ached for all the ups and downs of her life. I especially liked the way Molly’s present-day life and Vivian’s past were similar.  The story was an enjoyable, quick read for me.  My only criticism of the book is the ending — and I love happy endings!  I just felt that everything tied up too neatly.

This book seems to be a popular selection for book groups; in fact, we have the title available as a Gab Bag.  If you want to use it for your own discussion, questions can be found on Christina Baker Kline’s web site. In talking with others who had read the book, we all agreed that it inspired us to look into the real-life events of the orphan trains.  Tying the historical fact to the fictional story would make good talking points.

Check the WRL catalog for Orphan Train


The American Heiress, by Daisy Goodwin

Blogging for a Good Book - Wed, 2014-05-14 01:01

 

I have to send a thank you to the library user who recommended this book to me.  I don’t know her name, but we had a nice chat about romance books — and she came back to the Reference desk to make sure I had the title correct.  She said she thoroughly enjoyed it.  I did, too!

The story takes place in the late 1800s.  Cora Cash is one of those rich, eligible, young women whose father makes more money than they can spend.  Her mother aspires to have the status of the Vanderbilts or Astors, and has set her sights on a titled husband for her daughter.

While riding in an English fox hunt, Cora breaks away from the pack and falls from her horse.  The handsome man who finds her and brings her to his drafty ancestral home is none other than the Ninth Duke of Wareham. Cora’s mother could not possibly object when the Duke declares his love for Cora and asks for her hand.

The marriage is less of a fairy tale.

Ivo, as the Duke is called by friends, seems to care for Cora.  But his emotions get tied up in knots over how things look.  It is not just the social customs that must be maintained, but he is also struggling to make sure that Cora is nothing like his own mother.

For her part, Cora loves the Duke.  She tries to please him by fixing up his family home, but in doing so she only fuels rumors that the Duke married the rich heiress for her money.  In addition to walking a fine line with his pride, Cora has to adjust to living in a foreign country and learning to cope with her domineering mother-in-law.  Her troubles seem especially poignant at the Duke’s home, where the servants are civil to her face, but unlikely to follow any requests that aren’t deemed “proper” (like removing the many pictures of Ivo’s mother and her former lover, the Prince of Wales, from the bedrooms).

Instead of talking to one another, the couple struggle with misconceptions that might break them apart.

While the story has opportunities to go gothic, it doesn’t.  The old home is certainly drafty, but Goodwin resisted the tired “dark and stormy night” scenarios.  Cora is surprisingly sympathetic as well.  She easily could have turned out to be spoiled and heartless, but she isn’t.  Spoiled, for sure, but she doesn’t turn out to be the shrew.  Snappy dialogue and interesting secondary characters also kept me turning the pages.  I especially liked Bertha, Cora’s maid from South Carolina.  It is through Bertha’s eyes that the book shows the “downstairs” portion of the social classes.

Goodwin’s book provides lots of details of the Gilded Age: the extravagant parties, the fashionable clothing, the social expectations.  She notes in the Acknowledgements that “When it comes to the Gilded Age, the more fantastical the circumstance, the more likely it is to be true.”

I would recommend this as a good read-alike for fans of Downton Abbey or even The Great Gatsby.

Check the WRL catalog for The American Heiress


Striking Distance, by Pamela Clare

Blogging for a Good Book - Tue, 2014-05-13 01:01

Laura Nilsson is slowly rebuilding her life after being rescued from eighteen months of captivity in the Middle East. No longer interested in being in front of the camera, Laura works as a newspaper investigative journalist in Denver. Life is not perfect, but Laura is slowly putting the pieces back together, regaining her professional confidence and trying to regain her confidence as a woman. Javier Corbray hasn’t forgotten his brief and intense weekend getting to know Laura in Dubai before her kidnapping. In fact, she is never far from his thoughts, but he keeps his distance out of respect for her trauma.

While visiting friends in Denver, Javier is surprised, but thrilled, to see Laura at a friend’s barbeque. Laura is happy to see Javier but is less certain about picking up where they left off before her kidnapping. Laura longs to be the confidant woman Javier once knew, but she has secrets that she can’t share for her and her daughter’s safety. Javier won’t be deterred; he values Laura as a friend and a woman, and when she is targeted by a bomb he makes a point to be there to protect her.

Striking Distance is a great combination of character, romance, and suspense. Laura and Javier are both adults dealing with life’s harsh realities. They respect each other as people and take the time to get to know each other. They don’t deny their sexual attraction but neither do they overlook Laura’s trauma. Instead, the focus is on romance and creating a relationship based on trust and respect. Javier is a Navy SEAL, so you’ll have to suspend a little bit of disbelief over the action sequences. Just know the action never overshadows the story nor is it way over the top. The suspense is a great counterbalance to Javier’s and Laura’s budding relationship.

Striking Distance is a part of a series and previous characters appear, but it can be read independently and is one of the best in the series. Pamela Clare is a great writer and creates characters and romance that only make the genre better.

Check the WRL catalog for Striking Distance


Some Nerve: Lessons Learned While Becoming Brave, by Patty Chang Anker

Blogging for a Good Book - Mon, 2014-05-12 01:01

Some Nerve: Lessons Learned While Becoming Brave is part self-help and part memoir and a pleasure to read. Patty Anker was fast approaching forty when she realized that she said “no” to a lot of new experiences. She didn’t say “no” because she wasn’t interested, it was because she was afraid. Not wanting to leave a legacy to her daughters of not trying new things due to fear, she took up the gauntlet to approach her fears head on. Patty learns to swim, ride a bike, and surf but she also helps her friends tackle their fears of heights and driving too.

This is not a book about surviving big fears like being lost at sea or in the desert or being buried alive. It is a story about tackling the “little” and “common” fears that can have a significant impact on our quality of life and often prevent us from enjoying some of the simple pleasures in the world, such as going to the beach or enjoying the view from above or taking a drive just because you can.

With humor and grace Patty shares her own fears and insecurities interwoven with research and interviews by psychologists, clergy, and authors. She illustrates through her own story and others how tackling fears can make life more vibrant. The confidence gained by approaching fear head on often transfers to other aspects of life. Once you’ve read Some Nerve, you’ll recognize the courage it takes to tackle the small jobs and that the rewards are great, even if you “fail.”

Check the WRL catalog for Some Nerve


The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert

Blogging for a Good Book - Fri, 2014-05-09 01:01

Alma Whittaker is born into a life of privilege just outside of Philadelphia, PA in 1800. Her mother is a wealthy, practical, highly educated Dutch woman. Her father is an uneducated, unrefined Englishman who rose from poverty to become one of the wealthiest men in the United States. Together they raise Alma as a highly educated, practical, scientific, and lonely woman. Both fiercely independent in her thinking and loyal to her family, Alma continues in the family trade of botany with her own unique focus of studying mosses. Alma doesn’t sound too interesting, does she? Don’t be deceived.

Alma both anchors and drives The Signature of All Things and as a reader I was vested in her well-being. However, this book is so much more. It is a book about science and faith. It is a glimpse at history in England and the United States in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It is a fascinating travelogue of Tahiti and adventurous ocean voyages. It is a story of how the world can change so quickly and so slowly all at the same time. It is a story about love, grief, and personal growth. It is a story that is well worth the time to read and moves so swiftly you’ll wonder how you breezed through 499 pages (or listened to 18 discs) so quickly.  I’ll admit that in the middle of the book the plot took a turn that I didn’t expect, and I almost quit reading. I wondered how anything could possibly be resolved in a satisfactory way. But if you persevere, it will all come together, just have a little faith.

Juliet Stevenson narrates the audio version of The Signature of All Things, and her narration brings to life the myriad of characters with authenticity. The characters had distinct voices, and the animation in her voice made you feel like you were right in the midst of the vigorous debates that take place in the novel. I loved her accents and especially appreciated how well she brought the men to life without making them sound too feminine or artificial. Whether you read or listen to The Signature of All Things it will be an experience that you are sure to enjoy.

Check the WRL catalog for The Signature of All Things

Check the WRL catalog for The Signature of All Things audiobook on compact discs or downloadable audio.


Dance Academy (2013)

Blogging for a Good Book - Thu, 2014-05-08 01:01

Like many little girls I took dance class as a child. Dressed up in my pink tutu, tights, and soft leather shoes, I would pirouette around the room until I would collapse in giggles on the floor from dizziness. Dance was a fun way to move around but never blossomed into a desire to be a dancer, plus I never had the passion or natural skill to commit to the endless hours of practice. Nevertheless, I remained fascinated by dancers and their dreams to pursue dance professionally, especially ballet. So when I came across the Australian television show Dance Academy, I had to check it out.

Tara Webster’s first dream is to fly, but since gravity gets in the way she takes up dancing instead, because in the moment dance feels like flying. So at age 16 Tara auditions for and is accepted to the prestigious National Dance Academy in Sydney. Little does she know that her education isn’t just about how to be a ballerina but also how to live away from home, work, love, and bounce back from disappointment. She’ll have to assess her dedication to her craft versus her desire to be a normal teenager.

Tara and her friends love to dance for various reasons and work hard to pursue their dreams. They are also typical teenagers living in a metropolitan city, testing their boundaries and their mettle to be professional dancers. The show includes the requisite girl next door, the bad boy, the catty nemesis, and the rebellious best friend, and they have the experiences of the first crush, first love, and first betrayal. But the show also illustrates the hard work and dedication it takes to succeed in dance, incorporating hours of repetitive practice and the drama of competition. Dance Academy doesn’t rely on profanity or shock tactics to navigate the challenges of adolescence. It’s a show that manages to be wholesome without being saccharine and dramatic without devolving into diabolical soap opera machinations. Enjoy this show with the dancers in your life or enjoy it for being a fun glimpse into the world of a professional dance school.

Check the WRL catalog for Dance Academy


Jaded, by Anne Calhoun

Blogging for a Good Book - Wed, 2014-05-07 01:01

Alana Wentworth is a temporary contract librarian in Walkers Ford, South Dakota. She’s always wanted to work in a library, but she has remained loyal to her family’s non-profit, putting her degree to work as their primary researcher. When the position in Walkers Ford came open, Alana couldn’t resist giving librarianship a try, and she is learning that working in a small town library is her passion. She loves helping people.

Lucas Ridgeway spent childhood summers in Walkers Ford and returned for good as the sheriff after a decade stint on Denver’s police force. Lucas was a good cop and is a decent sheriff, but his passion is less about helping people and more about enforcing the law. As Alana gets more involved in the community, she also becomes entangled with Lucas. They both know it can’t last, but for the few months Alana is in town they will make the most of their budding romance.

This is a small town contemporary romance, but Anne Calhoun has created a story that is peopled with characters that are realistic and multi-dimensional. There is no need for sinister danger lurking around the corner or a vindictive ex-lover out to sabotage a new relationship to move the plot along. Calhoun incorporates the everyday relationships and interactions in a small town to help create the foundation for romance. The secondary characters are your neighbors, friends, and family that add layers to the story. We have a hero that is a good man but is no longer willing to be vulnerable and a heroine that can’t help but get involved in the community but doesn’t consider what will happen when she has to leave. It is the interplay between Lucas’s and Alana’s personalities and their roles in the community that make you wonder how they can make their relationship work.

Anne Calhoun is an author to watch. Her small town romance has substance and style while still providing the essential happy ever after. Calhoun writes with purpose and offers a little something extra I can’t define that makes me enthusiastic to read romance again.

Check the WRL catalog for Jaded


River Cottage Veg: 200 Inspired Vegetable Recipes, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Blogging for a Good Book - Tue, 2014-05-06 01:01

Today’s post is from Janet of the library’s Outreach Services Division:

Reviewing a new cookbook always starts in my kitchen. I read the author’s introduction, flip through the chapters, read through a selection of the recipes, and then zero in on one or two to try. This macro and micro hands-on approach usually gives me a better feel for what the author is offering and helps me compare the book to others of its kind.

In March I explored River Cottage Veg: 200 Inspired Vegetable Recipes. Written by Hugh Fearley-Whittingstall, an award-winning cookbook author, British TV chef, and farm-to-table food advocate, this newest River Cottage title is suitable for vegetarians. The purpose of this title was to encourage omnivores to eat more vegetables and to make vegetables a mainstay of our diet.

Fearley-Whittingstall offers an eclectic and creative range of recipes from appetizers, soups, and salads, to entrees and desserts that provide interesting and pleasant flavor combinations and textures. Most of the ingredients should be readily available in most grocery stores. The recipes and instructions, while a challenge for novice cooks are easily handled by the average home chef. The photos are warm and inviting.

I was impressed with the quality of the dishes and the ease of making them. This cookbook was a great match for me as I try to keep most of my meals plant-based. His recipes are so good I tested ten over the course of the month, and then bought the book.

Check the WRL catalog for River Cottage Veg


Far Far Away, by Tom McNeal

Blogging for a Good Book - Mon, 2014-05-05 01:01

Christina from the library’s Outreach Services Division provides today’s review:

In the mood for a fairy tale? Far Far Away by Tom McNeal is YA fiction that fans of J.K. Rowling, Diana Wynne Jones, and Lemony Snicket will find familiar but entirely unique. From its spooky old style woodcut illustrations of baby-snatching skeletons, to its unusual narrator (the ghost of one of the brothers Grimm!) this fantasy adventure tale has light romance and clever humor mingled with a charming dark ambiance. Suitable for those who prefer their fantasy to be a pleasant dream, rather than a nightmare.

The eloquent and multilingual Grimm ghost haunts an oddball boy, nicknamed Moonbeam, who is the only one who can hear him. A bite of enchanted cake binds his feisty and beautiful classmate Ginger to their peculiar group. They are aided by the Grimm ghost to explore the ominous mysteries in their town, including disappearing persons, runaways and the rumored existence of an evil-minded power known as the Finder of Occasions.

Lovers of magical realism will enjoy this story of modern young people who deal with jerks, crushes, and school among otherworldly beings and a slew of riddles and puzzles.

If you long for the mood of a fairy tale, but want a novel you can sink your teeth into, this fantasy will take you there.

Check the WRL catalog for Far Far Away


The Impossible Knife of Memory, by Laurie Halse Anderson

Blogging for a Good Book - Fri, 2014-05-02 01:01

“Dad carried a war in his skull.”

“His soul is still bleeding. That’s a lot harder to fix than a busted-up leg.”

Hayley’s former soldier father has nightmares and rages. He drinks and he takes drugs. He can’t keep a job for more than a few days–all classic signs of PTSD.  He spent years dealing with his demons by staying constantly on the move as a long distance truck driver, with Hayley along being “unschooled.” Now they have settled in Hayley’s late grandmother’s house, and seventeen-year-old Hayley is attending high school for the first time.

This is a dramatic set up and The Impossible Knife of Memory lives up to it. Hayley has a strong voice–her depth and basic decency shine through until I was despairing at the traumas life threw at her. At high school she calls the teachers and the other kids “zombies”–lifeless apparitions with perfect exteriors who are only pretending to be human. Then she reconnects with Gracie, an old kindergarten classmate from when Hayley’s grandmother was alive. She also meets unique and funny Finn and starts to fall in love, but Hayley is terrified of trusting him. She slowly begins to learn that everyone carries their own burdens and might be able to help with hers.

Since Hayley is seventeen the war in Afghanistan has been running almost her entire life. Her earliest childhood memories are of seeing her father off to war, and welcoming him home. As her father’s physical and mental condition deteriorates she says about her early life, “My dad was a superhero who made the world safe” but she knows now that he himself is far from safe.

A heartrending but ultimately hopeful book, try The Impossible Knife of Memory if you read other wrenching teen novels like The Fault in Our Stars by John Green or if you’re interested in the effects of war on teens such as Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein. There are also details of military lifestyles like her family’s struggles to find someone to mind Hayley after her mother dies, and the camaraderie from her father’s old soldier friends.

Check the WRL catalog for The Impossible Knife of Memory.


Dark Enough to See the Stars in a Jamestown Sky, by Connie Lapallo

Blogging for a Good Book - Thu, 2014-05-01 01:01

Librarians get to see all sorts of things, but even for librarians it is unusual to have Thomas Jefferson in the library to check his email, unless of course, you are lucky enough to be located in the Historic Triangle. Our Williamsburg location is a block away from Colonial Williamsburg and we are a short drive from Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the current United States.

Based on the lives of Connie Lapallo’s ancestors, Dark Enough to See the Stars follows the life of Joan Phippen Peirce from her teen years in England to the new settlement of Jamestown. Orphaned young and with a sense of adventure, Joan Phippen set off with her husband and young daughter in a flotilla of seven ships. After a hurricane, only six ships arrived in Jamestown. Unfortunately, Joan’s husband and most of the supplies were on the seventh ship, the Sea Venture. Joan lived through the 1609-1610 Starving Time when only 60 out of nearly 500 Jamestown settlers survived the winter. Joan was a real person who didn’t leave many clues to her personality but there is no doubt that it took enormous courage to venture into and settle in an unknown and unknowable land. Author Connie Lapallo gives her a deep faith which sustained her through the many tragedies and struggles of her life.

Dark Enough to See the Stars in a Jamestown Sky is written in very short chapters with literary quotes heading each. This and the compelling and suspenseful story of survival make it a fast read. It can be distressing to think of the untimely and gruesome deaths of all these real people over four hundred years ago, but Lapallo has created a joyful portrait of a life well lived.

Lapallo says the book is based on research and records that remain from over 400 years ago and she includes many useful appendices, maps and notes. She creates a few fictitious minor characters but tries to base the main characters and their actions on what history says really happened. Acorns are listed in the historical record as a source of food during the Starving Time, so Connie Lapallo speculates that a thrifty and industrious housewife with knowledge of plants could have spent the months leading up to the winter collecting and preparing acorns against the winter ahead. The author and her daughters successfully made acorn flour to test this theory!

Dark Enough to See the Stars in a Jamestown Sky is a great book for local readers. I learned an enormous amount about the fascinating local history. It is also a good choice if you like historical fiction based on women’s lives like Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague, by Geraldine Brooks, or The Orchardist, by Amanda Coplin.

Check the WRL catalog for Dark Enough to See the Stars in a Jamestown Sky.