Blogging for a Good Book
Just moments after I literally turned to my husband and whined, “This book is beginning to feel like a Lifetime movie,” the next page I read included these thoughts from the character Sarah St. John: “Makes me think of those movies on Lifetime… ” Even the author knows what she’s done! Still, I could not put the book down and truly wanted to know how everything would turn out, just like when I’ve found myself settling onto the couch to sit through one of those afternoon family films, intensified around some very focused topic like a teenaged girl with an abusive boyfriend. I very much enjoy Kaui Hart Hemmings’ style—The Descendants is one of the most entertaining novels that I had read in ages, with unforgettable characters and highly amusing dialogue, and I just prayed that it was not a one-hit wonder. I feel that Hemmings still has a lot of great storytelling in her! The theme, characters, their dialogue, and the setup for The Possibilities all had potential for achieving the same greatness, but, unfortunately, fell a little short of my expectations for this new novel.
I do not regret reading it, however, because sometimes I can truly relate to the Lifetime movie-type themes. In fact, anyone who has grieved when a loved one dies young knows the life-changing nature of such an event. We are invited into the mind of a grieving mother whose only child, Cully, dies in a tragic accident in Breckenridge, Colorado at the age of 22. We get inside Sarah’s head, all of the uncomfortable thoughts and judgments of others that bubble up in the wake of tragedy, how her life can never really be the same again, ever. She’ll probably even have to entirely change her career, since the tourist-industry television program she co-hosts in her resort hometown now feels so incredibly shallow. Grief removes one’s facade, the games we allow ourselves to play in order to get by, and suddenly every single aspect of our lives begins to filter through a new lens attached to us by the loss. Others certainly mean well, but they just can’t imagine how their words and behavior affect the one reeling in emotional stress. Sometimes, it’s the unspoken feeling that your grief trumps the heartbreak of a friend’s divorce or a young person’s seemingly trivial frustrations, and the occasional mistake made in actually mouthing your unacceptable thoughts out loud. You eventually feel guilty for withholding your friendliness, denying others their needs, and perhaps holding on to your grief far too long.
Something at the root of this story really strikes a chord about today’s society, single mothers, and the choices regarding pregnancy out of wedlock, as Sarah contemplates her past and deals with a new crisis brought on by the appearance of Kit, a young woman who knew Cully in the months before his tragic death. The main characters go on a journey together, a theme Kaui Hart Hemmings seems to like as a vehicle for bringing everything in a story to its ultimate truth and crux. The Possibilities was a book I had highly anticipated, and I will definitely be on the lookout for Hemmings’ next book.
Check the WRL catalog for The Possibilities.
This very satisfying debut fiction from a seasoned food writer was delightful to listen to on audiobook CD. Julia Whelan got most of the parts spot on, and even though deepening her voice for the male characters is a bit comical, the lively reading of Ruth Reichl’s intriguing tale and multifarious characters kept my daughter and me engaged thoroughly. She and I enjoy sharing many of the same books, especially adult titles that also hold appeal for teens. In fact, I would not be surprised to see Delicious! turning up among YALSA’s 2015 Alex Award nominees for books published in 2014—I hope, I hope!
Billie Breslin, also known as Wilhelmina to the Fontanari family, where Sal calls her Willie, feels fortunate to have landed a competitive position at Delicious magazine (obviously inspired by Gourmet, which discontinued in 2009 and was last headed by Ruth Reichl as editor). It doesn’t take long for Billie’s extraordinary palate to be recognized; she has the uncanny talent for detecting even the most obscure ingredients and flavors and has a knack for suggesting the precise tweak needed to perfect a recipe. Yet, she adamantly claims that she is definitely no cook! Her new friends in New York soon suspect she’s harboring some darkly saddening secret, however. Meanwhile, she’s determined to work her way into food writing, which she quickly and very cleverly accomplishes.
Delicious magazine closes down, but Billie is retained to handle customer service matters, working solo in the Timbers mansion, where she stumbles upon a secret room. Mysteriously secreted letters slowly reveal the details of a World War II correspondence between a 12-year-old girl interested in cooking and Chef James Beard when he was on staff at the magazine. We’re also provided with letters written in the present, diary-like words Billie addresses to her older sister. This partially epistolary read brings the reader deeper into the thoughts of our leading lady. The plot revolves around Billie’s collaboration with Sammy and Mitch to preserve the historic letters and library before it’s too late.
Some of the most remarkable characters in Reichl’s very clever and page-turning tale are those who are not actually in this story but mentioned in the letters and by the characters, the librarians who organized the forbidden library and the legendary James Beard. Along the way, readers will learn fascinating details about war-time prejudices and the history of culinary challenges during rationing. Readers will even be taken on an architectural history tour of New York and learn historical tidbits about the Underground Railroad. Delicious! is delightful, and it is so pleasing to see one of America’s food-writing favorites succeed as a novelist too.
Check the WRL catalog for Delicious!
Or check out the audiobook, read by Julia Whelan.
Frances Mayes nurtures a sense of home wherever she travels and writes, frequently envisioning herself buying the rented house and settling in even while just visiting. Literal homes seem to blend and expand with a myriad of temporary residences as she reflects upon flavors, tastes, scents, scenes, poetry, cultures, and histories. She and husband Ed explore a rich variety of exotic as well as ordinary destinations, sweeping a wide radius from their Tuscan epicenter through a European, Mediterranean, Asian, and African playground.
Everything I pick up seems to lure me away. … A desire to go runs through me equally with an intense desire to stay at home.
The memoir hints that this year’s travel in the world is a means for Frances and husband Ed to escape the dust and chaos of the ongoing contracted work at their perpetually-being-restored ancient Tuscan home named Bramasole. Or maybe it’s the growing sense of danger, with the possibility of random violence invading their domicile in northern California that pushes them away from home.
I didn’t know how deeply refreshing the landscape could be. The place does seem familiar, perhaps at a genetic level, but in a a nourishing way. Or maybe I’m just familiar with these friends, and when one is at home with friends, the surrounding world becomes friendly, too.
Whether traveling with newly made friends or rendezvousing with dear old friends, Mayes reflects on their friendships and fond memories, predicting potential relationships with new acquaintances or expressing relief that she won’t have to sit next to such boors as some of the cruise ship passengers at each meal. I found her most humorous when describing the absurdities of cruise ships and their tendency to transform passengers into cattle, driven through crowded tourist traps. Mayes’ first choice for travel is definitely not the cruise, preferring to rent homes and literally plant roots for a while in one village.
My early impressions of A Year in the World were tainted by my annoyance with what seemed constant obsession with food, especially meat and meat by-products, all forms of dairy and excessive indulgence in pastries on the part of Ed. I could assume he is quite rotund, despite his apparent energy and enthusiasm for daily excursions, even long strenuous walks in extreme heat such as their daily hikes to see the architectural and earthly wonders along Turkey’s Lycian coast. Could they possibly eat such meals while at home and shouldn’t they be more cautious with regard to health? My perspective did begin to soften once I reached the chapter on the British Isles—as they romped through English garden after English garden, I became so interested in garden tours. I love, and now wish to adopt, their habit of taking notes for use in the improvement of their home veggie, fruit, and flower growing techniques and varieties of plants. She describes serendipitous moments, such as finally coming across roses similar to a mystery species thriving in their Tuscany garden that was inherited after 30 years of neglect.
The book comprises about a dozen or so travel essays. Each may be dipped into separately or in sequence, yet it’s not the type of book you’ll read straight through. I started it months ago and picked the book up for just a chapter or two at a time, escaping to fascinating travel spots such as Andalucia, Scotland, and Mani. Mayes’ brief yet insightful reviews of books she travels with tempt me to add her inspired selections to my personal reading list. You may find it surprising that the title belies the format; you’ll seldom be aware of the month or year of her travels, and it’s never clear whether each of these trips occurred within a single year. That doesn’t matter, since you will be mesmerized by the poetic and lyrical way in which she transports you to a place and a moment, enveloping you in her experiences.
Check the WRL catalog for A Year in the World.
WRL also owns this title as an e-book.
More than any other parenting book that I read and used while raising my now teens and young adults, this classic title made the most impact on my family’s life. Because of communication techniques learned from John Gray, my children commonly ask, “Mom, what may I do to help you?” Better yet, I often return home to find delightedly that the dishes are washed, the laundry done and put away, and the floors vacuumed or swept without even having asked the children to do it! They have learned to observe what needs to be done and to proceed to take ownership of the task. A household then becomes more efficient much in the same way a business may foster efficiency through employee ownership. Furthermore, I have found that my children love to be of service to other individuals and organizations without expectation of rewards or reciprocation, just for the joy of giving their time and effort for the benefit of others.
Something very significant in child rearing can be achieved simply by respecting kids’ opinions and viewpoints in the manner you would like to be treated, accepting who and what they truly are, listening to them well, and regarding them as innately benevolent beings who want to behave well and do the right things in a positive atmosphere. Most people realize that negative parenting can harm kids and may only achieve temporary control over children who learn to anticipate the age of 18 with a vengeance so that they can finally live the life they want! On the other hand, Children are from Heaven helps parents guide children toward a better quality of life and healthy relationships through encouragement, clearly described expectations, and positive statements that never shame, order, or demand in unreasonable tones. Children just cannot bear yelling without slipping toward rebellion. They’d truly rather be in your good graces.
A great example of how Gray’s book can help parents to elicit cooperation from their kids: “Ask but do not order.” This translates to avoiding a command such as “Don’t leave that there” by replacing it with a more positive request such as “Let’s now put our things away. Would you please put that away?” Instead of demanding, “Stop talking,” to gently say, “Let’s be quiet and listen to your mother. Please stop talking,” elicits a more enduring and peaceful compliance. Little by little, this style of communication becomes highly effective. Gradually, you discover that you no longer have to ask for good behavior as often; you simply witness it in action and will be praising your amazing children frequently! You find that this sort of gentle guidance works to develop children who begin to think on their own about how to live more peacefully and helpfully without waiting to do what they are told.
John Gray, a very experienced family counselor, happened to become a father and shares examples from the challenges of raising his children. The lovingly effective communication techniques he applies to parenting utilize much of the same psychology found in his bestselling marriage and relationship book, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. In fact, using some of the advice I read in Children are from Heaven proved quite effective in improving communication with my spouse too! There are a few tricks found here that really work well when you have a “honey-do” list and want life-changing results. I am confident that this parenting book can help you to realize the great joys of parental involvement and to enjoy a higher quality relationship with your precious children.
Check the WRL catalog for Children are from Heaven.
This novel in verse reads smoothly like prose but with an economy of words that reveal only enough detail to get you into the moments, thoughts, and emotions of the narrator’s present predicaments. Memoir-like, it is so sincere that I couldn’t imagine it not having come from the author’s true life. The author indeed experienced challenges similar to those of the book’s main character, a teen girl named Lupita living in a Texas border town.
In fact, I read it under the impression that it was a factual memoir and didn’t even realize that I was reading poetic verse, probably because I first encountered the book in e-book format. I skipped performing the rituals of reading a printed book jacket, back cover, and title page, plus flipping pages to determine what the book might have in store for me if I were to invest my time in it. Even if I noticed that the book was written in verse when I checked it out to my e-reader, I had forgotten that detail by the time I began reading, and verse doesn’t necessarily appear as such when displayed digitally. Instantly, I got hooked into the voice and story of Lupita, and I became just as eager as she was to investigate household clues, trying to learn Mami’s secret. Once known, she becomes Mami’s ally and finds herself in a family role requiring maturity beyond her age, overwhelmed with yet responsible for the welfare of her seven younger siblings while Mami and Papi struggle with the crisis.
Reading Under the Mesquite provides an authentic internal view of an ambitious and promising young girl’s family life on the edge of poverty and along the blurred ethnic and physical lines bordering Mexico and Texas, USA. A glossary of Spanish words in the back of the book provides guidance to pronunciation, cultural references, and usage. This novel is highly recommended for adults, teens, and mature younger children interested in the family lives and struggles of Latino Americans.
Check the WRL catalog for Under the Mesquite.
Or check out the ebook.
A chance encounter between a British writer and a French antiques dealer leads to an exploration of authenticity in both art and relationships in Iranian director and screenwriter Abbas Kiarostami’s marvelous 2010 film Certified Copy.
James Miller (William Shimell) is a British author who is visiting Tuscany as part of a promotional tour for his latest book, Certified Copy. In his book, Miller argues that, in art, reproductions are just as valid as the original work because it “leads us to the original and in this way certifies its value.” He believes this approach could lead to an understanding of life as well as art.
Shortly after the lecture begins, an antiques dealer (Juliette Binoche) arrives accompanied by her teenage son. Her son is restless and keeps distracting her until she finally decides to leave, but not before giving her number and address to Miller’s translator. Although the dealer disagrees with many of the points Miller makes in his book, she is eager to meet him and has purchased several copies of the book for him to sign.
The next day, Miller visits the dealer at her shop and they spend the afternoon driving through the countryside, visiting museums and debating the importance of authenticity in art. At a local café, Miller steps out to take a call, and the café’s owner mistakes Miller for the dealer’s husband. The dealer doesn’t correct the owner, and tells her that they’ve been married for 15 years. When Miller returns to the café, the dealer tells him the café owner thinks they’re married and at this point the nature of their conversation shifts. Miller and the dealer begin to relate to each other as if they have truly been married for 15 years: they discuss her son as if he is their son, and they begin to share memories and grievances. He even begins conversing with her in French instead of English. The reality of their relationship gradually becomes ambiguous, and the viewer is left to wonder if they really are a couple or simply two people copying the behavior of a long-married couple.
Certified Copy reminded me of director Richard Linklater’s series of films featuring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy: Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight. In Linklater’s films as well as Certified Copy, you’re following the development of a relationship, and all of the action and dialogue serves to move the relationship forward. Unlike the relationship between Jesse (Hawke) and Céline (Delpy) in the Linklater films, I wasn’t sure if I was seeing an authentic relationship unfold or one that was a reproduction of a 15-year marriage, but the ambiguity was quite effective in that it mirrors the philosophy of life and art Miller discusses in his lecture. Juliette Binoche’s character is also somewhat ambiguous; although her profession is discussed at length, her character’s name is never mentioned.
The film is beautifully acted. Shimell is a British opera singer in his first film role and he’s a terrific foil for Binoche, who won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the 1996 film The English Patient. They’re together in nearly every scene, and their chemistry makes the relationship between their characters engaging and convincing.
Playful and thoughtful, Certified Copy is a clever mediation on the nature of art and relationships. The film is in English, French, and Italian with English subtitles.
Check the WRL catalog for Certified Copy
Is reading in the summer any different than reading at other times of the year? So far, my summer reading has been a variety of old and new books ranging from fast-paced crime novels to history nonfiction to longer classics that require more attention (e.g. James Joyce’s Ulysses). In thinking about it, this is actually my usual mix of reading any time of year. Maybe it is just the idea of taking more time to read in the summer when the days are long and there is perhaps a summer vacation in store.
A good mystery series is always a welcome summer read. One of my favorite discoveries this summer has been M. J. Trow’s historical crime novels featuring playwright Christopher Marlowe. The series is a delightful blend of spy novel, Marlowe was involved in the shadowy world of Elizabethan espionage working for Sir Francis Walsingham, and mystery.
Trow has a great sense of place, capturing life in the Elizabethan period without overloading the reader with extraneous details. In particular, and of particular appeal to me, is setting of the stories in the world of the Elizabethan theater. As a fan of Edward Marston’s Nicholas Bracewell series, I found much to enjoy in Trow’s rendering of the competition between playwrights and in the daily lives of the actors, including a rather awkward young man named Shakespeare, just up from the country and finding his place in the London theater world.
The plots are well-crafted and the mystery will keep you reading, but it is the characters who seem the most interesting to me. The only hard part is knowing that Marlowe, who is an appealing if roguish and somewhat self-centered fellow, will meet his end in a tavern brawl (or so it is said) only a few years down the road.
If you like well-researched and carefully written historical fiction or are just looking for a good mystery series this summer, give M. J. Trow’s Marlowe series a try.
Check the WRL catalog for Dark Entry
Or try the series in ebook
On March 30, 1938, two women left their hotel in El Paso, Texas and drove out of town towards Dallas. Hazel Frome and her beautiful 23-year-old daughter Nancy were wealthy socialites from Berkeley, California on a road trip east to visit relatives. The following afternoon, their brand new Packard automobile was found abandoned by the side of the road.
Three days later, the women themselves were located. They were face down in a sandy culvert 60 miles from where their car had been found. They’d been shot in the back of the head execution style, and both showed signs of torture. The investigation into this unusual murder case is detailed in a terrific new True Crime book, Fetch the Devil: The Sierra Diablo Murders and Nazi Espionage in America by Clint Richmond.
Leading the criminal investigation was Chris Fox, the Sheriff of El Paso County. Sheriff Fox was confronted with a puzzling case rife with anomalies. The prevailing theory of a simple robbery gone bad, didn’t mesh with the fact that the women had been held and tortured for two days and expensive diamond jewelry was left behind on the bodies.
It was also strange that Hazel’s husband Weston Frome, upon being notified about the abandoned car, insisted that his wife and daughter had been kidnapped and murdered before there was any evidence that such a crime had occurred. He only reluctantly cooperated with the police during the investigation.
But perhaps the strangest facet of the case involved the ammunition used in the murders. In the middle of America’s Chihuahuan Desert, two society women had been killed with a specialized type of bullet made only in Germany for the specific use of high ranking members of the Nazi party.
Beset by contradictory witness accounts, jurisdictional in-fighting among the various investigative agencies, and stonewalling superiors in the government, Sheriff Fox pressed on, and the book becomes a real page-turner as he collects evidence and sorts through leads that hint at the involvement of some European career criminals and a cabal of international spies.
The author, Clint Richmond, does a fine job in relating this interesting bit of criminal history in a book that is clearly written, fast-paced and crowded with colorful characters. I would recommend it for anyone interested in True Crime or tales of espionage.
Check the WRL catalog for Fetch the Devil
Richard Leroy, a wine-maker, takes Etienne through the whole one-year process of creating a good wine from his vineyard in the Loire Valley region of France. Etienne learns first-hand about the fine art of pruning the vines, selecting the right kind of barrels, using the right kind and amount of natural fertilizers, and knowing which grapes to pick – and not pick — at harvest time.
Etienne gets to experience first hand the hard work that goes into making a wine as sweat is in ample supply on these pages. They are visited by an assistant of Robert Parker, the famous American wine critic and taster, who makes the long trip to France to sample several of Richard’s wines.
Etienne introduces Richard to the world of the graphic novel, a subject with which Richard is completely unfamiliar. They start by visiting Etienne’s publisher, Futuropolis, and Richard gets to see the whole process of how a graphic novel is produced. Richard watches Etienne finish making the first proofs of the novel and is taken aback by how much paper is used to get these proofs. Richard also meets and interacts with the many people involved in getting the book finished and shipped.
They have the most fun (as does the reader) when they make special trips to enhance their learning of and appreciation for their very different vocations. Richard takes Etienne on a trip to visit a vineyard in Corsica and on trips to several wine exhibitions, including one in Angers that features mostly “biodynamic” or organic wines from all over France. Etienne takes Richard to several comic book festivals and they visit several well-known graphic novelists, including Marc-Antoine Mathieu and Jean-Pierre Gibrat. It was refreshing to see how upfront and honest Richard is about his opinions, how he shares with them that he does not like many of their novels. The graphic novelists are fine with that; they agree that their graphic novels, like a type of wine, are not meant for everybody.
In the end, both of these men find that they share many common values about their work and the products that they make. They are both passionate about what they do, and both men have a hands-on approach so as to control the quality of their products. They both want their products to be enjoyed by people, “something to gather around, a link between people.”
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, my first graphic novel . The black and white illustrations of Etienne Davodeau are excellent and really helped me understand and appreciate the steps that go into making both wine and graphic novels. This graphic novel has won several awards, including Gourmand Magazine Best US wine book translation and Slate Cartoonist Studio Award nominee. It is unfortunate that this is his only graphic novel that has been translated into English.
Check the WRL catalog for The Initiates
In this young adult novel, the powerful head of a wealthy family has spent two generations playing each of his three daughters off the others – who loves me the most? Which of you is my favorite… today? Who will inherit my “kingdom”? The Boston house? Grandmother’s pearl necklace?
Cady Sinclair Eastman is the granddaughter. She spends every summer on her family’s private island, where her mother and aunts each have a house, where she and her cousins swim and boat and have clam bakes and bonfires to their heart’s content. It sounds like heaven, but there are fault lines running through all the family relationships, and Cady’s closest cousins, who call themselves “the Liars,” get tired of being pawns in the Sinclair family mind games. And for the past few summers, their close-knit group has been joined by Gat Patil, handsome and ambitious, who enters the closed, privileged world of the Sinclair family island like a catalyst for disaster. Or first love.
Cady has no memory of what happened to her two summers ago. An accident has left her with crippling migraines, and everyone in her family is acting even weirder and more dysfunctional than usual. Every time she asks—what did happen before she was found, shivering and amnesiac, on the beach?—she forgets the answer. This summer, her seventeenth, she’s going to find out the truth.
Foreboding hangs over every page of this story as bits and pieces of Cady’s fifteenth summer resurface—family squabbles, way too much alcohol, a confusing relationship with Gat—is their connection just a summer fling or something more? Punctuating contemporary suspense with passages of bloody fairy-tale retellings, author E. Lockhart presents a chilling novel very different from her previous titles. With short chapters and prose that’s almost free verse, this is a quick, summer page turner that touches very lightly on the larger issues of class and race prejudice that it raises. What did Cady do last summer? Teens will be flying through the pages to get to the awful answer.
For a similar mix of modern-day drama and prose laden with metaphor, try Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls; or try Adele Griffin’s Tighter for another suspenseful story of privileged, troubled teenagers in which nothing is exactly what it seems.
Check the WRL catalog for We Were Liars.
There is joy in Gotham! After decades of legal wrangling, the 1966 Batman TV show is finally coming to home video in November. Starring Adam West and Burt Ward as the Dynamic Duo, the series achieved pop-culture immortality thanks to its campy style and viral catchphrases, which need not be repeated here.
Confession: Adam West was my first Batman. I still love the show, but the parody wears thin, and Batman is a Batusi-dancing buffoon. For a more artistic and complex Batman experience on the small screen, I recommend that you turn your eyes and ears to Batman, The Animated Series, which aired on Fox in the 1990s.
The Animated Series was created by actual comics artists and writers, while the live-action series was not. It is stunning to look at. Don’t take your eyes off the screen, because you are bound to miss something beautiful. The 40s noir atmosphere is enhanced by the use of black backgrounds, against which Batman’s eyes are nothing more than white slits. Lead artist Bruce Timm’s characters are drawn with stark angularity: Batman’s jaw is literally square.
Does the Joker’s voice sound familiar? It is Mark Hamill, going against his heroic Luke Skywalker type. Other members of the stellar cast include Kevin Conroy as Batman, Bob Hastings as Commissioner Gordon, Efram Zimbalist, Jr., as Alfred Pennyworth, and Adrienne Barbeau as Catwoman. Adam West himself was invited on the show to play an aging superhero in the episode, “Beware the Gray Ghost.”
The storytelling is just as strong. The characters, especially the villains, are developed as real people who talk, feel and act like adults. This was not at all the norm for a kids’ cartoon show, which is how Batman was marketed. Take the Emmy-winning episode “Heart of Ice,” written by Paul Dini. Underneath his refrigerated suit, the seemingly emotionless villain, Mr. Freeze, is a grieving husband bent on vengeance. Woven into this dramatic story is a humorous and clever side plot: After being blasted by Mr. Freeze’s ice gun, Batman catches a cold, which Alfred treats with chicken soup… and if I told you what happened to the soup I would spoil the joke, so I won’t.
These episodes will keep everyone in your family happy for 22 minutes. Parents, never fear: the Bureau of Broadcast Standards scoured every scene to make sure it was suitable for children. You can read some of the creative team’s comments about the censors in the beautiful companion book to the series, Batman Animated. For example, “Censor wants us to figure out someplace for Catwoman to land other than on her face or breasts.” Or “We have to make it clear… that Batman’s kneeing the Walrus in the stomach.”
Check the WRL catalog for Batman, The Animated Series
This book starts off with the origin story of the feline felon. Early comics had her as a bored socialite who liked the taste of danger in stealing jewelry, while later comics expanded her background to mousy, expendable secretary or avenging prostitute. In all scenarios she turns to a life of crime, and despite Batman’s efforts she will not reform.
Chapters then address her costumes (tight), tools of the trade (poisoned perfume and fabulous whip, to name a few), and an ongoing flirtation with Batman. Each chapter includes frames from comics, tv shows, or movies to help illustrate the point. My favorite part of the book is the interspersed comics that show the feline arch-villain as she appeared in the 1940s through early 2000s. The book even ends with a Bob Kane “Batman with Robin” adventure featuring Catwoman.
This Catwoman book is more overview than in-depth study. It’s a purr-fectly delightful read. But Catwoman fans will have to go to another source for information about how the character was fully developed and which comic artist contributed what feature to the story.
Check the WRL catalog for Catwoman.
Batman Week, Day 3. Today’s post highlights a small sample of Batman books for the younger generation. These books are very popular at the library, so be sure to check the catalog if you don’t see these on the shelf!
Let’s start with a Junior Graphic Novel, Batman: The Story of the Dark Knight, written and illustrated by Ralph Cosentino.
This book covers the basics of the Batman story and introduces four familiar villains without going into a specific story of how they are vanquished. The layout is very similar to a picture book with many of the illustrations covering both pages. But like a comic strip, the book has word boxes and the familiar sound effects (boom! bonk! pow!). While the story talks about Batman studying hard to outsmart the bad guy, the pictures show him using his physical strength to subdue the villain.
The library also has several titles in the Junior Easy Reader series by Scholastic. I borrowed a few books for reading level 2 (reading with help) and level 3 (reading alone). These were my favorite stories:
Level 2 stories like I Am Batman and Batman Versus Bane have pictures on every page, but also tell a simple story of how Batman uses his brains and cool gadgets to battle the bad guy. These stories in particular have illustrations reminiscent of the Dark Knight movies.
The Mad Hatter, a level 3 story, has a more complex plot and fewer pictures. The pictures are more comic-like with frames and word boxes, and the story is quick moving action. Once people report that their hats have been stolen, Batman quickly figures out that the Mad Hatter is once again in Gotham City. He catches up to the bad guys at a museum, but the Mad Hatter escapes with a cryptic message: “My next adventure will be my crowning glory!” Batman knows the villain is up to something big and has to figure it out before the Mad Hatter strikes again. Brains and cool gadgets once again help Batman make the city and its citizens safe.
And finally, the Junior Fiction chapter books include a DC Super Heroes series about Batman by different writers and illustrators. I picked up The Fog of Fear. This was the most complex story of the batch I collected. Written in chapters with an occasional picture, the book features many challenges for Batman to overcome. A master criminal called “The Scarecrow” releases a fog on Gotham City. It appears to be just a nuisance until Batman discovers that water will react with the fog to create hallucinations of your greatest fears. Batman has to figure out a way to clear the dense fog from the city. And in the process, he must help a friend who gets transformed into a vicious Man-Bat!
This is definitely another action-packed adventure for young fans who are ready for a bigger reading challenge. My only gripe was the illustrations. I love Legos, but didn’t like that the Batman in this series looked like a Lego character. Probably not a big deal for the audience this is actually aimed at—but I thought the illustrations from the Scholastic series were better. I also liked the added features at the end of the book—a profile of the villain, discussion questions about the book, and writing prompts for further activities.
Check the WRL catalog for Batman: The Story of the Dark Knight
Check the WRL catalog for The Mad Hatter
Check the WRL catalog for The Fog of Fear
Batman Week, Day 2. With our regular comics blogger off at Comic-Con, we implored librarian and geek culture goddess Jen to write about a favorite Batman story arc. This one comes from the library’s collection of graphic novels for adults. — Ed.
We librarians are not known for our poker faces. We’re bad liars. So what to do when a co-worker (yes, Melissa, I am pointing the finger at you) comes to you in desperate need of a blog post. And not just any blog post: would you be willing to write a Batman blog post? What she doesn’t know is that you have an entire storage box full of classic 1980s Batman comics. You hesitate, wondering if you can get away with the lie that you know zip about Batman. She waits. After a long pause, she whips out “that’s not a no!” And there you are. Stuck with the job.
Where do you start? There is just soooo much! You can’t go into your hidden stash and pick a comic. That could take weeks and she needs this thing stat. So I did what any smart librarian would do: I went to the stacks (bookcases for you regular folks out there). And —yay me! — found a true gem of the Batman universe.
Batman: The Killing Joke was written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Brian Bolland. When you write about Batman comics you have to come to grips with the fact that many people over the years have not only told portions of his story, but many people have been tasked with drawing it. And in my mind these sometimes undervalued illustrators are just as important as the story’s writer. Actually, to be truly honest, I feel the illustrator is MORE important than the writer. Many a time I have picked up a story and put it right back down, left absolutely cold by the illustrations. I like realism in my graphic novel world. I don’t particularly care for comic-y looking illustrations, and I have a really, really hard time with jagged line artwork (not a huge Frank Miller/The Dark Knight Strikes Again fan.) Brian Bolland does a fine job and leaves it up to Alan Moore to hit the home run with his amazing story.
The story is absolute genius. We see how a normal man, hounded by the pressures of providing for his family and the continual failures at succeeding at his chosen job, yields to temptation and has “one bad day.” Interposed with the flashbacks that make up The Joker’s bad day, we see Commissioner Gordon’s “one bad day” as provided by none other than The Joker. The Joker seems bent on proving to himself and all others that what happened to him would happen to anybody. In looking at the story deeper, Moore has sprinkled it with parallels, and we get to see that Batman and The Joker are really two sides of the same coin. Both men are created from “one bad day,” and in some ways both are insane because of it. If you like Batman and you haven’t read this story yet, I highly recommend it. If you have read it, but it’s been a while, it might be time for a reread. And while you’re reading, see if you can spot the origin of one of DC’s most amazing heroes, Oracle. And while all librarians are super heroes… some of us take it to a whole new level!
Check the WRL catalog for Batman: The Killing Joke.
All week, Blogging for a Good Book honors Batman, who is celebrating his 75th anniversary this year. To lead off, Laura reviews a book that takes us back to the Caped Crusader’s early career as a detective. –Ed.
Since the basic premise of Batman is so well known, it can be reimagined countless ways and effectively applied to a wide range of storylines. In this version, Batman is not a lone crusader; he is merely the most recent member of a longstanding roster of familiar historical detectives, including Allan Pinkerton and Teddy Roosevelt.
The action begins with events that preceded the Lincoln assassination, which set loose a devious plot by an evil faction led by a southern gentleman who looks remarkably like the Joker. Like many comic bad guys, they are pinning their hopes on a remarkably intricate stratagem. This one might be a tad on the unbelievable side, even for a villain’s plan, since it will take 74 years to come to fruition.
The time lag brings the action into the modern day, which in this case is 1929. Poor little Bruce Wayne witnesses the murder of his parents and then gets sent off to boarding school for the next ten years. Fortuitously, his travels around the globe give him a chance to study a wide range of subjects, including criminology, oriental fighting techniques, and costume design, which are surprisingly useful for his later activities (although one can imagine the despair experienced by his school’s career counselor). His talents catch the eye of others, and he is quickly enlisted by the detective group. They are known to each other only by number, and as their most recent member, he is known as Detective #27. He has a lot to learn and not much time to do it, but at least he has, as always, the loyal Alfred by his side.
Will good triumph over evil? Or will the Joker’s minions rule the day? Find out next week…or just read the book. Recommended for graphic novel readers, historical fiction readers, and anyone who has spent time in Gotham and enjoyed it.
Search the WRL catalog for Batman: Detective No. 27.
Summer is a great time for a good mystery book. I always look for something with a bit of action, an interesting setting, and characters with whom you enjoy spending time. This is the sort of book I like to while away a lazy summer evening or weekend. Barbara Hambly’s A Free Man of Color, the first in her Benjamin January series, certainly fits the bill here.
Hambly’s protagonist, Benjamin January, the free man of color of the title, lives in New Orleans, where he teaches music and performs with an ensemble of mixed races. January is also a doctor by training, having studied as a surgeon in Paris, where he lived prior to returning to New Orleans after the death of his wife. January is a fascinating character, thoughtful and ethical, but with an understandable anger beneath the surface. Much of the tension in the stories comes as January walks the precarious racial lines of the city in the years before the Civil War.
Hambly ably portrays life in 1830s New Orleans, showing interactions among all levels of society, especially pointing out the distinctions between white, black, and colored, and she clearly depicts how New Orleans society is changing with the arrival of increasing numbers of Americans. In this first book in a superb series, January is drawn into solving the mystery of the murder of the colored mistress of a recently deceased plantation owner.
With its mix of history, mystery, and social commentary, Barbara Hambly’s Benjamin January series is a great summer read.
Check the catalog for A Free Man of Color
Also available in ebook format
In one of the first posts here at BFGB, I wrote about Bruce Alexander’s Sir John Fielding mystery series, set in 18th century London, and featuring the blind magistrate of the Bow Street Court, brother to novelist Henry Fielding. Alexander’s untimely death brought the series to an end in 2003, and so I was interested to recently come across a new series featuring Sir John in the library’s ebook collection.
Unlike the Alexander books, where Sir John Fielding is the primary character, Lake’s series focuses on John Rawlings, a young apothecary in London. In the first book in the series, Death in the Dark Walk, Rawlings initially comes under suspicion of murder when he comes across a body in the popular, and unruly, pleasure gardens at Vaux Hall. He is quickly cleared of wrongdoing though, and then assists Sir John Fielding in seeking out the actual murderer. Further titles in the series find Sir John calling on Rawlings’ assistance in a variety of cases across England.
Though lighter in tone than Bruce Alexander’s mysteries, Lake’s series is a pleasure to read, especially if you have an interest in 18th century England. The stories move easily from the upper ranks of society to the dark and seedy corners of London, and Lake has a good command of the language, social customs, and pastimes of the period. Lake introduces a number of fascinating secondary characters throughout the stories, both fictional and historical, including some romantic companions who complicate John Rawlings’ life, and make for fun reading. The characters are also developed in sometimes surprising ways over the course of the stories, which adds to the appeal of the series.
We have a number of the titles in the series in both our print and ebook collections, and you can get started here:
Check the WRL ebook collection for Deryn Lake’s John Rawlings series
Check the WRL catalog for the John Rawlings series
All readers know that there are times when it is hard to figure out what to read next. Authors and titles that appealed in the past have for some reason lost their sheen, and no longer seem of interest. These dry spells can be hard to break, and so we look for recommendations from friends, and we here at BFGB hope, from librarians. But there are also tools available to help readers find new authors and titles, based on what you have enjoyed in the past.
One set of tools that you can find at WRL is the Read On… series. In the interest of full disclosure, I should state that I am the series editor, and have written one of the titles, Read On Crime Fiction, for the series. The idea of the Read On titles is to introduce readers to a broad sampling of the best titles and authors available in a given genre or subject area and to offer new directions to explore in those areas. The books are each arranged into five chapters, each covering a major area of appeal for readers–Character, Story, Setting, Mood/Tone, and Language. Within each chapter, there are lists of titles arranged around common interests. So if you are a fan of history about medieval lives or fantasy featuring epic quests, you will find a list of titles that you might enjoy. One way to use these books is to search the index for an author that you like and then see what lists that author appears in and look for other authors in that list that will appeal.
Titles in the Read On series cover most major genres as well as several nonfiction subject areas, and WRL has these titles in the circulating collection, so you can check them out to use at your leisure to develop some lists of new authors to try. If you are in a reading rut, take a look at some of the titles below, or stop by the reference desk and ask the librarian to help you find some new books, we are always happy to talk to readers.
- Check the WRL catalog for Read On Audiobooks
- Check the WRL catalog for Read On Crime Fiction
- Check the WRL catalog for Read On Fantasy Fiction
- Check the WRL catalog for Read On Graphic Novels
- Check the WRL catalog for Read On Historical Fiction
- Check the WRL catalog for Read On History
- Check the WRL catalog for Read On Horror
- Check the WRL catalog for Read On Life Stories
- Check the WRL catalog for Read On Science Fiction
- Check the WRL catalog for Read On Speculative Fiction for Teens
- Check the WRL catalog for Read On Sports
- Check the WRL catalog for Read On Women’s Fiction
I have written a number of posts about collected letters, see here, here, here, here, and here. So I have an obvious affection for letter-writing, and particularly for reading letters by authors whose books I enjoy reading. I find that their letters often give insights into their fiction, even if at the same time those letters display their all too human natures.
For those reasons, among other, I have been enjoying Distant Neighbors, a collection of letters between a favorite writer of mine, Wendell Berry, and a writer with whom I am much less familiar, poet Gary Snyder. The two writers began corresponding in the 1970s, through shared connections with a San Fransisco publisher, Jack Shoemaker. Berry and Snyder shared many interests, among them poetry and language, and the early letters frequently discuss the pair’s work and the quotidian details of a writer’s life.
As the friendship quickly deepened, and Snyder came to visit the Berrys on their Kentucky farm and Berry made the trip to the Snyder family homestead in the Sierra foothills, the letters begin to expand, exploring themes that will resonate for readers of both Snyder and Berry. Community, and its central role in society, religion in its varied expressions, connections between people and the land, and the resulting sorrow with the loss of that connection are all central to the ongoing discussion that these “distant neighbors” shared.
There is some humor here and some sadness, but mostly what is delightful about this book is to see two people who share many, though by no means all, beliefs discuss their common work and thoughts in a charitable and fruitful fashion. In today’s world, where angry voices and name calling seem to have replaced discourse, this is a good reminder of how things can and should be.
Check the WRL catalog for Distant Neighbors
So (or hwaet if you prefer), you may be asking how many versions of Beowulf does one person really need to read (or review)? My answer would be at least one more. As he has been doing since his father’s death, Christopher Tolkien has brought out another previously unpublished work by his father, J. R. R. Tolkien. This time it is a translation of the great Anglo Saxon poem that J. R. R. Tolkien completed in 1926 but never thought to publish.
Tolkien’s translation is, perhaps, not as easy to read as Seamus Heaney’s more poetic version that I reviewed here. For one thing, Tolkien chose to write a prose translation rather than a metered one. The translation is by no means dry though. A scholar of Anglo Saxon, Tolkien has a feel for and a delight in the rolling rhythms of the story, and even in prose he captures that rhythm. His language and sentence structures will seem familiar in some ways to readers of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. There is a formal and almost archaic feel to some of the writing here that is mirrored in Tolkien’s own work, and he does not entirely abandon the alliterative approach that anchors Anglo Saxon poetry, viz. “great gobbets gorging down” as Grendel rends a Dane into dinner.
A welcome companion to the poem itself are excerpts from a series of lectures on Beowulf that J. R. R. Tolkien gave in the 1930s and that Christopher Tolkien has edited here as a commentary on the poem. In these lectures, the senior Tolkien discusses language, symbolism, and early poetry, helping to set his translation into time and place. Following the commentary are two short pieces that Tolkien wrote under the influence of the poem. “Sellic Spell” is a retelling of the possible mythical tale that would become Beowulf, and “The Lay of Beowulf” is Tolkien’s telling of the story in a rhymed ballad form.
Fans of Tolkien will definitely enjoy his translation of this classic poem, and readers interested in Anglo Saxon poetry will find Tolkien’s commentary of interest. While I prefer the poetic version of Beowulf created by Heaney, Tolkien’s translation is a worthy read and a fine addition to the Beowulf canon.
Check the WRL catalog for Beowulf