The Fault in Our Stars is a beautifully written story about two cancer kids that fall in love. It’s about the way we look at life and how, after a life close to us is taken away, that perspective effects the way we cope. It’s about learning that people aren’t who they seem (or who you want them) to be. People will disappoint you greatly, or perhaps surprise you into love. This book is about LIFE. Real life. Real people. Real love.
This story and the characters in it are alive in my heart and they will never leave. Reading this book brought laughter to my lips, tears to my eyes, and deep thoughts to my mind. What a marvelous combination! The way John Green writes makes me feel and think – not many writers can do that, and he does it wonderfully and fluidly. John Green, you are MAGNIFICENT.
The main two characters:
Hazel Lancaster – “I told Augustus the broad outline of my miracle diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer when I was thirteen. (I didn’t tell him that the diagnosis came three months after I got my first period. Like: Congratulations! You’re a woman. Now die). It was, we were told, incurable.” ~Hazel, page 24.
Hazel is sixteen, her favorite book is An Imperial Infliction, and she enjoys watching reality TV shows with her parents. She attends college classes and has a huge vocabulary. Because of the metastasis forming in her lungs she is constantly hooked up to an oxygen tank. She has short brown hair and is told by Augustus she looks like Natalie Portman in V for Vendetta.
She is an up-beat, sarcastic girl that has an irrepressible affection for…
Augustus Waters – Handsome and flirtatious, this guy stole that piece of my heart reserved for book boyfriends as soon as I set eyes on him. Augustus meets Hazel at Support Group and they start their relationship with a steamy stare-down, which Hazel wins. Confident, charming, tall. This guy has it all…well, I guess there’s the little detail of him having one leg due to the Osteosarcoma (bone cancer) that was in it.
Augustus is determined to leave his mark on the earth before he dies. In this way he is very different from Hazel, who is afraid to hurt anyone by leaving her mark and does all she can to prevent the pain others will feel when she herself dies. Augustus complains at one point of the book that he just wishes he could have a major impact on people. “It crossed my mind to fake a choking incident or something so that he might give me the Heimlich. Maybe then he could rid himself of this fear that his life had been lived and lost for no greater good.” ~Hazel, page 237.
She then tries to make him understand that by just living he impacts those around him: “I just want to be enough for you, but I never can be. This can never be enough for you. But this is all you get. You get me, and your family, and this world. This is your life.” ~Hazel, page 241.
They are young and in love and bring to mind a favorite quote from Doctor Who: “Life is short, and you are hot” ~Billy Shipton in the episode Blink.
Check the WRL catalog for The Fault in Our Stars
Robin Hood and the Golden Arrow, written by Robert D. San Souci and illustrated by E.B. Lewis, is a re-telling of a traditional English ballad. In this story, Robin Hood and his Merry Men once again find a way to outsmart the evil Sheriff of Nottingham. The Sheriff thought it would be clever to catch them using an archery contest as a setup, as he knew the men greatly enjoyed archery and in fact had quite a knack for it. However, Robin Hood and his men knew the contest to be a trap, and so went to it disguised and arriving individually from different directions. When a stranger triumphs over the Sheriff’s best archer, but refuses to work for the Sheriff afterwards, the Sheriff becomes angry and leaves. Later, a poem informs the Sheriff that the very man he wanted to catch that day won the contest, further infuriating him. It was a victory for Robin and the Merry Men.
This awesome story is accompanied by fabulous illustrations. The colors bring the reader back to Medieval England, and the characters look so realistic. The forest is absolutely beautiful and the costumes look period accurate. For those who love adventure, this book is for you. With lots of page-filling pictures, this book is perfect for reading to a young one.
Check the WRL catalog for Robin Hood and the Golden Arrow.
After a tough and lengthy battle against the Inviernos in book one, The Girl of Fire and Thorns, we would have thought Queen Elisa would finally have time to rebuild her kingdom and spend time with the people of her land. But alas, it is not so. Despite her hard earned, though apparently short-lived victory, Elisa now not only faces an external enemy but an internal one as well. Several of her Quorum members are showing concern regarding her decisions and seemingly making their own without her consent. Her personal taster has fallen dead and around every corner are suitors wishing to marry and align their kingdoms. Not to mention her people are beginning to riot against tax increases. What is a seventeen year old Queen, newly widowed and still the bearer of a Godstone to do? Set off on another adventure of course! With trusty Lord Hector, Mara, Ximena and a few new friends by her side, Elisa must follow the path that leads her towards her destiny and hopefully help her secure the power and strength she will need to rule. And yet, amongst all the chaos, Elisa fears she may be falling deeply and desperately in love…
Check the WRL catalog for The Crown of Embers
Crenellated towers, mysterious deaths, possible hauntings, coded letters, and a fifty-something mistress climbing drainpipes to burgle the house of hidden rubies… Within pages, I realized I was reading one of my favorite kinds of book: a nonfiction history that wants to be a gothic novel when it grows up.
Author Catherine Bailey was given permission to use the family archives at Belvoir Castle, Leicestershire, in order to examine World War I as it affected a single English community. These archives are in “the secret rooms,” where John, the 9th Duke of Rutland, died in 1940. With 356 rooms to choose from, he remained on a mangy sofa in the unheated servants’ quarters, barring doctors and servants alike as he raced to finish some mysterious project before succumbing to pneumonia. After his death, the rooms were sealed. Now, opening the files for the first time in decades, Bailey is stymied by missing letters and empty diary pages, very specific gaps from which every family member’s correspondence have been removed. Servants keep popping up behind her in passageways to say things like “these rooms are forbidden… because of the curse.” What secret, she wonders, was the duke trying to excise from the family records before he died?
After setting the scene for every possible horror—maybe the duke was hiding a murdered body in the floorboards under his sofa?—Bailey settles down, reluctantly admits that she doesn’t believe in ghosts, and gets into the meat of the story. There is no body under the floorboards, just a slice of dysfunctional aristocratic life from the turn of the century through WWI. Fortunately, I also love dysfunctional, aristocratic slice of life stories! Cross referencing letters and leatherbound account books, exploring the archives of other noble families, and enlisting the help of a cryptographer, Bailey pieces together a family history of childhood tragedies, rows over money, and misleading war memorials.
For all the letters exchanged, no one says what they mean, and the somewhat guilty pleasure of reading between the lines entertains author and readers alike. (The very best thing about the avalanche of correspondence is how often the authors repeat, “destroy this letter!”) Choose sides: is John, the young duke-to-be, a bookish lad fascinated with archaeology or a tortured soul with an unhealthy interest in exhuming bodies? Does he reluctantly assume the mantle of responsibility for an ancient estate or hide from the front lines while the other young men of Leicestershire are being gassed in Belgium? Lady Violet: loving mother, calling in every favor to protect her children, or, as one of her acquaintances described her, a “Burne-Jones Medusa,” a master manipulator who spends forty years sculpting an effigy of her deceased eldest son while ruining the life of her second son, the “spare” heir?
The back cover blurb recommends this story to fans of Downton Abbey, and the setting and time period make it a good match. Here are the grand, failing estates and the rebellious younger generation torn whether to marry for love or money. But the manor house that really comes to mind in the end is melancholy Brideshead. Is Belvoir Castle haunted? You bet! Not by ghosts, but with regrets and guilty consciences.
Check the WRL catalog for The Secret Rooms.
Pandora, written by Robert Burleigh and illustrated by Raul Colon, is an interesting rendition of the ancient Greek tale of Pandora. In this version, Pandora has a jar instead of a box, which is in fact more in keeping with the original Greek word used in the old tellings of the story. Day and night, Pandora stares at the sealed jug on the pedestal, wondering what could be inside. Despite warnings not to open it, her curiosity only grows. Eventually she opens the jar and empties it of all its contents. In a frightening display of artistic talent, the horrors released from the jar are materialized, and they are seen to be all the evils of the world. However, there was still one thing left in the jar that did not escape before it was closed again. No matter how many evils were released into the world, Pandora still had hope in her jar.
The art in this book is simply beautiful. The colors, the technique, everything is meant to bring the reader back to Ancient Greece. The details are amazing. Colon’s figures come to life on the page, especially on his two-page spread when Pandora has opened the jar, her emotions are captured with the lines and colors.
This book is highly recommended for lovers of mythology. It is most likely better for an older elementary school child to read this book for two reasons: There are a lot of words, some of which may be difficult to pronounce and some of the images and themes may be a bit frightening to younger children. Robert Burleigh’s mythological books are excellent, most of them staying as true to the original story as possible, and all of them with fantastic artwork.
Check the WRL catalog for Pandora.
Otters have got to be one of the cutest, most adorable animals in the world. They are also one of the most helpless animals when they are newborn. When a baby otter in distress is found near Monterey Bay, California, marine biologist Karl Mayer begins the long and difficult process of rehabilitating and educating this otter so that he can eventually be reintroduced back into the wild. This documentary is the story of this otter, nicknamed Otter 501 because he is the 501st otter to be rehabilitated by Mayer and other biologists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Fortunately for Otter 501, much has been learned about what works and what does not work in this type of rehab since the first otter was helped many years ago. Otters who enter the program are assigned a number rather than a name, and staff wear special suits with large welding helmets that prevent the otters from recognizing them. The star of the program is Toola, a female otter who gave birth to a stillborn pup when she was in rehab herself, and now is used as a surrogate mother to pups like Otter 501. It is quite moving to see some of the key moments in the relationship that develops between Toolah and Otter 501, which include the moment she first gains his confidence and when she shows him how to dive underwater in one of the main tanks at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Prospects for Otter 501 to survive in the wild are not great, but Toola gives him a fighting chance. I won’t give away the ending, but it is a bittersweet one — be sure to have the tissues nearby!
There is a wealth of information about otters presented here, much of it new to me. Some of it is quite sobering. One of the most depressing facts is that this animal, once prevalent from Northern Russia into Alaska and all the way down the Pacific coast of the United States, was hunted to near extinction in the late 19th century. The 2000 or so that are left (up from 50 at first count) are carefully monitored by marine biologists. The many fascinating behaviors of these endangered animals are sure to mesmerize you. My favorite one was watching them crack open clam shells with a stone on their tummies while they float on their backs in the water.
There is a lot to like about this documentary. The cinematography is excellent: the views of Monterey Bay were gorgeous and the many close-ups of otters were exceptional. I plan on watching other fine programs in the Nature Series put out by PBS; WRL has over 30 of these programs.
There is nothing like seeing these creatures live and up close. The Virginia Aquarium in Virginia Beach, VA has an otter exhibit that I enjoyed seeing a few years ago. A little further away in Atlanta is the Georgia Aquarium, the world’s largest aquarium and one of my favorite places I have visited. It has several exhibits that feature otters, it has a special Sea Otter Encounter Program, and it is actively involved with otter rehabilitation like the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
This is a great documentary, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in animals and animal rescue operations. To further entice you to see this, you can see a short video clip and nine incredibly cute pictures of Otter 501 here.
Check the WRL catalog for Saving Otter 501
Part-Time Dog, written by Jane Thayer and illustrated by Lisa McCue, is about Brownie, a dog who just wants to find his place in the neighborhood. As he makes his rounds to the different houses on Maple Street, the women who live there all tell him to go home. However, Brownie does not have a home of his own. Eventually, the women begin to realize this and so they call the dogcatcher to take Brownie away to the pound. As soon as he is gone though, the women realize how much they miss Brownie and each of them wants to take Brownie home. They agree to pick Brownie up from the pound, sharing him, so he becomes everyone’s part-time dog.
Lisa McCue’s artwork is colorful and cute, creating the image of a light and playful book. This would make an excellent book for story time, as well as for individual reading. The pictures fill most of the pages and the sentences are fairly simple, making this book ideal for early elementary school children.
Check the WRL catalog for Part-Time Dog.
Bud has found another gem hidden in the stacks:
One of the best things about working at a library is being able to wander through the stacks and find, through sheer serendipity, wonderful books that you’ve never heard of before. Higher by Neal Bascomb is an example of this. I noticed it, hidden away in the architecture section, while re-shelving and was intrigued enough by the description to start reading. It hooked me from the start.
This non-fiction book tells the story of how three of New York City’s most famous landmarks, the Chrysler Building, The Manhattan Company Building and the Empire State Building, came to be built. It’s a fascinating tale.
In the early 1920s, architect William Van Alen was asked by automobile magnate Walter Chrysler to design a skyscraper that was unique, beautiful and tall… taller than any other building in the world. Van Alen, an example of the architect as artist, was delighted, and with a virtual blank check began the design and construction on what would eventually become that art deco jewel, the Chrysler Building.
Meanwhile, across town lived another architect named Craig Severance. Severance was far more interested in the financial rewards of the construction business than its artistic aspects. He and Van Alen had formerly been partners in a successful architecture firm but had parted acrimoniously leaving them bitter rivals, both professionally and personally. Severance was not about to let Van Alen get credit for the world’s tallest skyscraper so he gathered funding from friends and investors and started work on the Manhattan Company Building at 40 Wall Street.
As the book goes on and the buildings go up we learn a lot about how the construction industry operated in the 1920s. How funding was pulled together through financial wheeling and dealing and the covert finagling involved in buying property. The construction trade was complicated and detail-oriented. Hiring work crews, the demolition of the property’s pre-existing building, the logistical problems of making sure that materials are at the right place at the right time, and the actual process of constructing a skyscraper floor by floor are all clearly explained.
You might think this kind of technical information would be boring but it’s not. The work was by its very nature costly, difficult, dangerous and exciting all at once, especially at the rapid pace the projects mandated. Remarkably, construction on both buildings was completed in less than two years despite the additional complications brought on by all the secretive architectural adjustments and machinations that Val Alen and Severance went through in order to insure that THEIR building was the tallest.
Unfortunately for the both of them these efforts were all for naught because while they were focused on each other, a group representing General Motors also entered the race and with its completion in 1931, the Empire State Building became the world’s tallest skyscraper.
I found this book to be colorful, fast-paced and well written. It makes you look at something you’ve always taken for granted, an office building that’s been standing there for 80 years, with a new eye and appreciate what a wonder it is and just how much effort went into creating it. I was also struck by the pride and optimistic, “can-do” spirit that was such a big part of America at that time. Bascher concludes the book with this paragraph:
All the exuberance, daring, romance, moxie, innovation and pride that infused the decade is seen in these pinnacles. No misfortune or turn of events could take that away. Even if these skyscrapers were ‘torn down, as others have been before them, ‘ Chrysler said at the time of the race, ‘the spirit of the men working together that they represent will build new ones.’ It was this spirit-not steel and stone- that carried these skyscrapers higher.”
I recommend Higher for anyone interested in New York City, architecture or history.
Check the WRL catalog for Higher
A planeload of Miss Teen Dream contestants crash lands on a deserted island. Faced with giant snakes, quicksand and tsunami waves, can a dozen beauties survive?
Well, at least lack of food isn’t a problem. “Ohmigosh,” says Miss Mississippi. “I am going to be so superskinny by pageant time!”
We get a quick introduction to each of the girls from her “Miss Teen Dream Fun Facts Page!” Taylor Rene Krystal Hawkins, Miss Teen Dream Texas, was voted, “Most Likely to Rule the World in a Scary Way.” It is Taylor who takes charge and insists that the group continue to drill for the pageant, even as they struggle to stay alive.
The maniacal Taylor leads a diverse group of young women who hail from coast to coast. There’s Miss Nebraska, “with an accent as flat as a just-plowed field and huge, blue, anime-worthy eyes.” She’s afraid of her own passion. There’s Miss Michigan, who came straight to the pageant from Juvenile Detention, where she’d been sent after she stole a pack of Ho Hos from a Gas-It-N-Go. Miss Colorado and Miss California are the pageant’s two minority contestants. Between the two of them their hobbies include fencing, synchronized Tae Kwon Do, gymnastics, classical piano, cello, Bollywood dancing, Indian cinema, meteorology, bowling, skiing and Nigerian drumming. They eye one another warily. No more than one minority ever makes it to the top five.
It turns out that these girls are pretty resourceful. They filter rainwater with an evening gown, high heeled shoes and a jewelry cleaning unit. They catch fish with straightening irons. Oh—and best of all—they salvage bits of the airplane to use as tanning reflectors!
Beneath their luscious hair and golden tans, each girl hides a secret. Why on earth did cynical Miss New Hampshire even want to be in a beauty pageant? Why is Miss Rhode Island so desperate to find her make-up case? And the island harbors a secret, as well. The beauty queens really aren’t alone. And even though Miss Texas says, “A girl’s best weapon is her smile,” this group is going to need more firepower than that to get off the island alive.
At times, this is a wacky, adventure story and a well-manicured satire of the beauty pageant world. At others, it is a story about a group of smart, talented girls who learn the beauty of being who they are, and not who the world wants them to be. If you are a fan of audiobooks, don’t miss this one. Bray reads it herself, and her accents are hysterical.
Check the WRL catalog for Beauty Queens
Or check out the audiobook
Every century, one is born who is chosen by God to be the bearer of the Godstone. This time, he has chosen Elisa, an unlikely princess whose primary loves are reading religious texts in their classic form and making frequent visits to the kitchen for pastries. Those who bear the Godstone are expected to carry out a mission on behalf of God at some point in their lives. However, many die young and never realize their goal, or at least that’s how history records them. Though she’s a studious scholar of the religious text, Scriptura Sancta, Elisa knows very little about the Godstone and often wonders what task she will have to perform.
On her sixteenth birthday, Elisa is married to the handsome and charming King Alejandro de Vega of Joya d’Arena. But after arriving in his kingdom, she realizes things are a bit off. He is keeping their marriage a secret and is more interested in her serving on a military council than building a life together. Elisa soon discovers it was her powerful Godstone and her father’s promise to send troops to assist Joya d’Arena that ultimately led to their marriage. Disappointed and confused, Elisa finds the only comforts to be her lady-in-waiting, the church, and of course, copious amounts of food.
The story takes an unexpected turn when Elisa is kidnapped and taken to a far-off desert town. The kidnappers know that she is the one who bears the Godstone, and they have high hopes she can help them to defeat their enemy. Because if she cannot, if she fails, all the kingdoms will fall, one by one, to the darkest and oldest of armies, the Inviernos. Yet despite the fact that everyone has put their faith in Elisa, can she find it within to have faith in herself? A good choice for fans of Graceling by Kristin Cashore.
Check the WRL catalog for The Girl of Fire and Thorns
Misery Moo, written by Jeanne Willis and illustrated by Tony Ross, is the story of a cow that has trouble seeing the beauty in life and her friend, a lamb, who does all he can to cheer her up. After what seems to be several hopeless attempts, the lamb gives up and becomes very sad. Then, the cow comes back to check on the little lamb and, discovering his misery, uses the same techniques used on her to make the lamb happy once again. In the end, the cow and the lamb realize they love each other very much and it is their friendship that brings them happiness.
Tony Ross’ artwork truly captures the moods in this book. The colors in the beginning show the foul moods of the cow and, eventually, the lamb with gray and blue tones. Later on, when both animals find happiness, the colors become more vibrant as Ross uses yellows, greens, and other bright hues. This book is great for individual reading or reading together. With its large pictures, it would also be ideal for a story time feature!
Check the WRL catalog for Misery Moo.
A Hundred Summers is set in the 1930s and takes place primarily in the town of Seaview, Rhode Island. We are immediately introduced to Lily Dane, a New York-born socialite with quite the interesting past. While all she may want is a quiet summer in Seaview, away from busy Manhattan, she is in for a shocking surprise.
After a seven-year absence she unexpectedly must share Seaview with the two people she never hoped to come across again, her once best friend Budgie Byrne and her former fiancé, Nick Greenwald. Much to the absolute dismay of the upper-class tight knit community of Seaview, Budgie and Nick have wed and return to restore Budgie’s old summertime home. Lily manages to put on a very strong air, but she is breaking on the inside. Her feelings for Nick never really went away, and the reader can infer she still cares for him deeply, maybe even loves him. For the people of Seaview the matter is even more complicated, as Lily has a six-year-old sister she is the primary caregiver for (whose skin and eyes are nearly an identical match to Nick’s). However, it soon becomes clear that all things may not be as they appear.
Told in alternating chapters between the years 1931 and 1938, the story slowly unfolds into a tale of young love, jealousy, misunderstanding and betrayal. Also included are a fair number of deeply buried family secrets that have the ability to rock both the Dane and Greenwald names and reputations.
This novel seemed much like a present to me, and as each section of wrapping was removed the contents became clearer and clearer and very much so in an unexpected way. Well-written and gently told, this book holds a great deal of appeal for anyone looking for a multi-layered story that accurately portrays both a very real period of our country’s history and a fairly realistic, though at times heartbreaking, love story.
Check the WRL catalog for A Hundred Summers.
When Thomas comes to in the box he can’t remember anything…not his hometown, not his family, not his school, not even his age. He is utterly lost and confused when the box opens and he’s suddenly surrounded by a group of unknown teenage boys in an alien environment. They introduce themselves as “the Gladers”. Much to Thomas’s shock they can’t remember anything about themselves either prior to arriving in the glade. The area itself is large and flat consisting of a homestead, farming fields, a butcher, an eating space and much to Thomas’s dismay, a graveyard. The glade is surrounded by large concrete walls decked in ivy. They open each morning and close each evening. Beyond the walls, in all four directions is an incredibly large and complex maze. The boys have spent the last two years looking for a way out, hoping to somehow solve the maze with its shifting walls and deadly creatures. But as of yet, they’ve had no success. Every thirty days a new boy is delivered to the glade. But Thomas’s arrival signals a change and the next few days bring more surprises than the boys could ever have prepared for. A mysterious comatose girl arrives with a startling message, the runners make new discoveries and Thomas begins to get the feeling he knows much more about the maze and the glade than he should. Frustration and confusion surround each day and Thomas starts to wonder how the boys will ever escape the maze…and if it’s meant to be escapable at all. But overshadowing the entirety of the novel are the questions…who would put them here? And why?
Side note: This book has been adapted into a film and will debut in September 2014.
Check the WRL catalog for The Maze Runner
Rocco and his friends are superheroes whose superpowers come from their long, unwieldy manes. One day, Rocco gets “captured” by his parents and driven to the “villain’s lair”, the barbershop. Rocco’s “powers” were stolen by the barber so he tried replacing them by putting various items upon his head where his huge mass of hair used to be. None of it worked! It turns out all of Rocco’s friends had been captured as well and their “powers” were also stolen. Rocco and his friends tried together to replace their powers but nothing worked until they saw a kid who needed their help. They saved the day and realized they were still superheroes, with or without their hair.
Super Hair-O and the Barber of Doom is a fun read all kids who have been dragged to the barber can relate to. And it sends a great message that the world will not end even after a haircut! Its unique comic book style and fantastic, colorful illustrations are sure to capture the attention of all kids ages 4-6. This book was inspired by the childhood of author and illustrator John Rocco, who is a Caldecott Honor winner for his picture book, Blackout.
Check the WRL catalog for Super Hair-O and the Barber of Doom.
Kate Kae Myers, author of The Vanishing Game, wrote on her blog, “Smart teens interested in clues and codes (and fiction, of course!) are my target market.” I may no longer be a teen, but I am definitely a fan of fiction that incorporates clues and codes. That may have been what started me reading, but what kept me reading was the atmosphere, the suspense, and the plot. It is a mystery, thriller, noir, fantasy novel all weaved into one. It is suitably eerie as well as puzzling. Most of the time I had no idea where the story would twist and turn next, and I certainly didn’t guess the ending.
The overarching mystery in the story is whether Jocelyn’s brother Jack is dead or alive. Jocelyn was told that Jack had died in a car wreck, but shortly thereafter she received a letter in the mail. It was signed “Jason December,” a code name she and Jack had created as children. The only other person who knew that name was their friend Noah. Jocelyn, Jack, and Noah had all grown up in Seale House, a foster home where they were neglected. One of their diversions was making up codes to try and stump one another. The message Jocelyn receives from “Jason December” is a newspaper clipping about a fire that destroyed Seale House. Jocelyn is sure it is a clue, especially since it was sent after Jack’s death, but first she must track down Noah. At worst she can confirm that he did not send the letter, at best maybe he’ll help her find Jack.
Now you know as much as I did when I started reading The Vanishing Game. I wouldn’t deprive you the enjoyment of finding out the rest for yourself. Myers drops you right into the middle of the action and rarely gives you time to catch your breath. I also wouldn’t recommend reading this alone at night. Myers’ story is as creepy as it is suspenseful.
Check the WRL catalog for The Vanishing Game.
I started off the week with Nick Hornby’s collected essays about books, so it seems appropriate to end the week with one of Hornby’s novels. High Fidelty is my favorite, and I recently reread it in ebook form.
As can be seen in his essays in Songbook, Hornby not only loves music, but he can write about songs, performers, and listening to music with affection and understanding. High Fidelity recounts the story of record store owner and occasional DJ, and inveterate list-maker, Rob Fleming. When the story opens, Fleming is making a list of his “desert-island, all-time, top five most memorable split ups,” which he then shares with the reader. Sadly, or not perhaps, his current breakup does not make the top five list. But it is his relationship with Laura, the current breakup, that drives the story.
Well, that and music. For Rob–and Dick and Barry, his two employees at the record store–everything comes back to music. They are forever creating and critiquing lists of songs such as “best side one, track ones of all time.” Rob’s list is “Janie Jones” (The Clash), “Thunder Road” (Bruce Springsteen), “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (Nirvana), “Let’s Get it On” (Marvin Gaye), and “Return of the Grievous Angel” (Gram Parsons) in case you wondered. These lists and the myriad other musical references provide a sound track to the novel that carries the story along.
Hornby understands how people talk about their interests, music in this case, and how those interests can sometimes slide into obsessions. In Rob’s case, his musical obsessions seem to keep pulling him away from making commitments. It is easy to just keep going back to the shop everyday and not worrying about your relationships.
Like a great song, High Fidelity pulls you in to the flow of the story, has its crescendos and decrescendos, offers some great solos, and finishes with a satisfying cadence. What more could one ask?
We have reviewed a lot of Bill Bryson’s books here at BFGB. For good reason: Bryson is one of the wittiest writers currently publishing. Whether he is writing about travel, literature, or hiking the Appalachian Trail, Bryson always has the right turn of phrase, and often it is one that leaves you laughing out loud.
But there is often a more serious side to Bryson’s writing; it is not just about the jokes. That is the side that comes out in his thoughtful and intriguing look at America in the summer of 1927. It was a busy summer, and Bryson pulls a lot of threads together as he examines what was capturing the public imagination. Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight was in May, Babe Ruth was breaking home run records while leading the Yankees to victory in the World Series, the Mississippi was flooding, and Al Capone was taking over Chicago. These are just a few of the stories that Bryson weaves into his narrative.
What makes the book more than just a dry history lesson is Bryson’s seemingly effortless ability to move from these big events back to the individual. He always can find the personal in the global, and it is the stories of these smaller lives that make One Summer: America, 1927 come alive. Part of the book’s poignancy is knowing that the Great Depression was just around the corner, and that many of the people that you are reading about will face hard times. There is an elegiac tone to the whole book.
Reading history often can tell us as much about where we are now as where we have been, and as we come out of the most recent recession, with our own big events playing out on the global and national stages, it is fascinating to compare the similarities as well as the differences between 1927 and 2014. Bryson is an astute observer and an able guide on this journey.
Check the WRL catalog for One Summer: America, 1927
Josh woke up on a Wednesday morning and had a very BIG and brown idea. He decided to wear a brown paper bag on his head all day. His mom did not think it was a good idea, and neither did any of the adults he saw at school or at soccer practice. When Josh got home, his little sister asked why he was wearing the brown bag. He revealed that he had tried to cut his own hair! On Thursday morning, Josh’s sister had a very cool and spiky idea. Instead of wearing a bag, she thought Josh should spike up his hair so no one could tell he had a bad haircut.
Baghead is a fun story time read that will keep kids’ attention because they will enjoy guessing why Josh has a bag on his head, and the surprise reveal at the end will make them laugh. Most kids can probably relate to having a bad haircut as well! This book has minimal text which makes this a great story time read for ages 4-6. The illustrations, also by the author Jarrett J. Krosoczka, are very colorful and large which makes this book a great pick for sharing with a group.
Check the WRL catalog for Baghead.
Pawn is the first in a new series from Aimee Carter, author of the Goddess Test. Set in a dystopian, futuristic United States this novel follows the popular trend of a strong female character that begins as an underdog and through unthinkable circumstances has a chance to change her fate. Kitty Doe has just received some very bad news. She’s a III. Not an average IV or a rarer V or VI, but a III. And in a hierarchal society where the number you achieve on a nationwide exam determines the rest of your life a III can only mean an existence of menial work and struggle. Hurt, disgraced and angry Kitty decides to leave the group home where she was raised (due to the law that all second children of IV’s and below must be taken from their parents and either raised in such a home or sent Elsewhere) and head for an illegal “club”. However, things take a turn for the extreme when she is taken by the family of the country’s Prime Minister and offered the rarest of opportunities. She can become a VII, a rank given only to those of the ruling family. But there’s a catch; she must take on the identity of Lila Hart, the Prime Minister’s niece. Lila died in a questionable way and the country is to be none the wiser. As long as Kitty plays by their rules, and is to be Masked (an intense surgical procedure) she can live the life others can only dream of. But nothing is at seems and beautiful Lila was actually at the heart of a rebellion to overthrow her own family’s regime. Kitty must decide…should she simply play the part of innocent Lila in the hopes the cruel Hart family will allow her to live, or, should she follow a more dangerous path, and continue the uprising the real Lila began?
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In Ten Years in the Tub Nick Hornby mentioned a number of books that sounded like ones that I would like. First on that list was Claire Tomalin’s biography of Thomas Hardy. WRL had a copy, so I took it home and dove in. While Hardy is known to most readers as a great novelist, I am more partial to his poems. In either case, readers will come away from Tomalin’s superb book with a better understanding of Hardy’s life and writing.
It is always interesting to see how much a writer’s personal life is evidenced in his or her fiction. Tomalin does an excellent job of pointing out both how Hardy’s relationships with his family, his friends, and his geographic circumstances not only informed his writing, but sometimes appeared directly in the stories and poems. It is often the case when reading a biography of an artist whose work you enjoy that you run the risk of disappointment in their personal life. Does it really matter to your enjoyment of his writing that Hardy and his wife had a difficult relationship, and that he was hardly blameless for their problems? I think that the further away in time that you get from the person the easier it is to separate out the personal and the artistic lives. So for me, the revelations about Hardy’s prickly personality set the poems and novels in a new context, but did not reduce my pleasure in them.
Thomas Hardy’s life and his creative work were both shaped by the Dorset countryside that he loved. Tomalin is an excellent biographer of place as well as of person and she leaves the reader with a clear picture of the villages, farms, and wild places that Hardy enjoyed. She also easily kept my attention from wandering throughout a long (Hardy lived from 1840 to 1928) and character-filled story. Anyone who loves Hardy’s novels or poetry, or who is interested in the writing life, will find a great deal to enjoy in this delightful biography. As a sample, here is how Tomalin ends her book:
[Hardy's poems] remind us that he was a fiddler’s son, with music in his blood and bone, who danced to his father’s playing before he learnt to write. This is how I like to think of him, a boy dancing on the stone cottage floor, outside time, oblivious, ecstatic, with his future greatness as unimaginable as the sorrows that came with it.
Check the WRL catalog for Thomas Hardy