In this tale of trickery in the Outback, Dingo catches a wombat to put in a stew. Other animals (including a platypus, an emu, and a kookaburra) hear him exulting over his prize and set out to ruin the stew before the wombat can be put in. Dingo, gleeful and clueless, readily agrees to all the suggestions for ingredients: mud, flies, gumnuts, etc. The illustrations depict these animals (who are rarely seen in picture books) fairly realistically, except for their anthropomorphized facial expressions and body language, Platypus’ hat, and Emu’s long, curly eyelashes. For storytime teach the song that Dingo repeats throughout the story: “Wombat stew,/ Wombat stew,/Gooey, brewy,/Yummy, chewy,/Wombat stew!” The simple tune is included on the final page of the book. It’s a crowd pleaser for ages four to eight and could be used with a large group. Marcia Vaughan lives on an island in Puget Sound (Washington). Pamela Lofts, an Australian author and illustrator, lived in Alice Springs, in the midst of the Australian Outback.
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Jennifer D. shares this review:
Strange things happen to Meridian Sozu. Her biggest problem does not come from boys, homework, or an unhappy family life. Her biggest problem is the fact that animals tend to drop dead around her. She believes she is causing their deaths, but in truth they just seem to find her when it is their time. Her problem was limited to animals until her sixteenth birthday. On her way home from the bus stop, a car crash occurs that kills many of her classmates. She is uninjured, but has a painful physical reaction to the event. As the strange pains send her to the brink of unconsciousness, Meridian is swept up by her parents and rushed to the bus station. This is not exactly a typical parental reaction, and it becomes clear that her mom and dad have not been entirely honest with her. They send her to live under the care of her aunt, saying that they love her, but that they will probably never see her again. Not the happiest of birthdays. But this significant birthday is the key to her new life. She is beginning to come into her powers as a Fenestra.
Your next question is bound to be the same one Meridian posed when she first heard the term…what is a Fenestra? A Fenestra is a half-angel, half-human hybrid, whose job it is to help souls cross over for the Creator. She must learn how to control her ability, or the pain she felt after the car crash will eventually kill her. Her aunt, who also happens to be a Fenestra, will train her with the assistance of a young man named Tens, who has been somehow cosmically chosen to be Meridian’s protector.
In their efforts to train Meridian, her aunt and Tens are up against a few deadlines. In addition to avoiding her own death, Meridian must learn to wield her new powers quickly to fight a new threat that is looming in town. If there are angels around to help souls cross for the Creator, there are also those whose job it is to send souls to the Destroyer, called Aternocti. They are hoping to destroy Meridian before she can fully control her powers.
A battle is looming between the Fenestra and Aternocti, and Meridian is caught in the middle. Author Amber Kizer has clearly spent much time developing the story of Meridian’s world. Meridian and the reader both learn about her abilities and the history of the Fenestra together as the story unfolds. The story is continued in the sequel, Wildcat Fireflies.
Check the WRL catalog for Meridian.
I was up late, reading The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft, and needed a snack before turning out the light. Lovecraft is heavy going, so I wanted something to restore my spirit: a grilled cheese sandwich. I found some Cabot’s Extra Sharp, bread, and butter, and fired up our trusty SuperLectric waffle iron. A few minutes later, the hideous excrescences of Lovecraft’s imagination were forgotten as I ate my hot, crispy, perfectly melted, dimpled grilled cheese.
Will it Waffle? has rocked my world. The waffle maker, which I used to haul out of storage on rare Sunday mornings, now lives in the middle of the kitchen counter, an essential part of my batterie de cuisine. It glorifies sandwiches, hash browns, fruit, and other things that I’d never thought to use it for. Right this very minute, I am thinking about trying waffleized churros for breakfast tomorrow.
Daniel Shumski is the genius who thought to ask, “What can I cook in a waffle iron besides waffles?” For several years, he has been blogging about his experiments in waffling, and Will It Waffle continues the project with a collection of 53 recipes. Any dish that is meant to be hot and crisp is better when cooked in a waffle iron — thanks to all that additional surface area. Ergo, waffled bacon, falafel, leftover mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and stuffing. These are actually some of Shumski’s less daring dishes. If you’re a thrill seeker, try throwing a soft-shelled crab or cookie dough into your waffle maker and see what happens. The book includes a short list of foods that won’t waffle, such as soup and drinks. Beyond these liquids, almost anything goes. There’s even a section where readers are encouraged to document their own waffle experiments. The message is clear: play with your food.
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The family car; one day it’s clean and the next, the sparkle is gone. But isn’t that part of the fun? Ernst has created an entertaining tale about the family car and all that it experiences. The story starts with the father who has just finished cleaning the family van. And each following page introduces a new dynamic to the car and to the travels it takes. All too soon, the car is once again ready to be cleaned. Though, this time it is the kids turn to help.
The story is framed in a rhyme that builds on itself making each page a fun memory game. Children will be able to follow the story and repeat everything that has already happened. This allows for the reading dynamic to change into a fun sing-song activity. Those reading the story aloud are able to create a game out of the book to see what the listeners can remember, which means this book is perfect for large group reading. In a smaller setting, this book is wonderful as well. Families can read the book and enjoy parallels to their own lives and family car. Even better, children can learn how important it is to help clean up messes they make, the importance of working as a group, and most importantly how fun it can be to accomplish a goal and help their parents!
This is the Van that Dad Cleaned is great for lower elementary and preschool students who are ready for a humorous, charming, and very relatable rhyming tale.
Check the WRL catalog for This is the Van that Daddy Cleaned.
Jennifer D. shares this review:
It’s the first day of holiday break and Milo Pine and his parents are all but snowed in. They operate Greenglass House, an old inn known for being a smugglers haunt. Milo is excited to spend his break in the empty inn, with no guests to please and only his parents for company. Until the doorbell rings – repeatedly. Suddenly, Greenglass House is full of guests who have braved the weather to reach its halls. And they are quite the cast of characters. The Pines are accustomed to the occasional shady customer, but each of these guests is hiding something. They all claim a strange connection to Greenglass House and a desire to uncover its secrets.
As the guests settle in, several literary tropes typical of mysteries are unveiled. Valuables go missing, a treasure map is found, the power goes out, an attic of antiquities is explored, stories are told by the fire, and several guests are revealed to be in possession of a very special set of skills. For his part, Milo takes it upon himself to figure out what brought each guest to Greenglass House. These might be mystery novel standards, but they are traditional for a reason. They add to the classic feel of the novel, and give it a timeless quality.
Greenglass House is a well-crafted mystery that held great appeal for this fan of The Westing Game and Clue. Your suspicions will change as often as the doorbell rings, and this page-turner will keep you guessing until the end. Read it on a snowy winter day to feel even more immersed in the world Milford has created.
Check the WRL catalog for Greenglass House.
Emily Anthes is a journalist who has written for many science journals including Wired, Discover, and Scientific American and also has a master’s degree in science writing from MIT. In this book, she explores the many ways in which animals are involved with the latest advances in biotechnology. She has a breezy, easy-to-understand writing style, and I was impressed with the breadth of her knowledge and research (includes over 40 pages of footnotes). I enjoyed reading about the specific contributions to this science that many animals like Jonathan Sealwart, an elephant seal, and Artemis the goat are making, and her visits to some of them were often quite humorous.
The production of genetically altered (transgenic) animals is perhaps the most controversial use of biotech. I was very interested in learning how some pretty-colored tropical fish won over a skeptical public in the U.S. to become the first and only transgenic animals sold in this country. These fish are called GloFish and they are derived from 2 types of tropical fish that are commonly sold in the US, zebra fish and white skirt tetras. What makes them unique is that they have an added dose of DNA from sea anemone or sea coral that make them glow in red, green and purple colors. I have enjoyed the aquarium hobby for years, and if GloFish can bring new people in to the hobby (like the author) all the better. I have also had my eye on one of the purple tetra GloFish and would like to add it to one of my aquariums. I just hope my 4 large angelfish don’t think he is a brightly colored dinner treat.
A much more promising use of these new animals is in “pharming,” where their DNA is manipulated so that their bodies can create medicinal properties. Transgenic goats can produce milk with elevated levels of lysozyme, which has been found to be an effective treatment for diarrhea, a deadly disease that kills over 2 million children every year. These goats have also been used to produce antithrombin, an anticoagulant that can successfully treat life threatening blood clots. It is unfortunate that none of these pharming techniques have been approved in the United States, though other countries like Brazil are taking the lead in this type of biotech.
I appreciated the author’s thorough review of the many ethical considerations in the use of transgenic animals and other types of biotech. She discounts the “Are we playing God” notion with these new animals by arguing that we have already tried to play God for thousands of years by manipulating the various types of animals through selective breeding. The results have not always been good, as is the case with canis lupus familiaris, the common dog, where we’ve created hundreds of unique breeds of dogs, many of which are saddled with crippling genetic diseases and conditions.
One of the most important factors to consider is how the biotech affects the livelihood of the animals involved. Bernard Rollin, a philosopher at Colorado State University considers their fate with his “conservation of welfare” ethic: “If you’re going to modify a line of animals, the resultant animals should be no worse off from a welfare point of view – and preferably better.” The author thinks that most pharming animals would be able to pass this test, since studies show that genetic alteration does little to curtail their longevity and overall health. But she gives numerous examples of transgenic animals that would fail this test, including transgenic mice produced in Chinese labs with thousands of different kinds of deformities caused by messing with one strand of their DNA.
If you read the book you will learn of other unique ways biotech is being used in the world of animals. You will learn why cats are far superior to dogs in the process of cloning. You will learn about a group of volunteers who helped design a prosthetic tail for a baby bottlenose dolphin after it got trapped and nearly died in a crab trap. And finally you will want to learn how a poor, lonely elephant seal got a name and got hundreds of friends on Facebook all through a sophisticated process of wildlife tracking.
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Barry shares this review:
This collection starts with the chilling classic “The Monkey’s Paw.” I remember reading this story as a child and it still sends a shiver up my spine now just thinking on it. Be careful what you wish for is the theme here. Moser includes stories from classic writers, among them, Arthur Conan Doyle’s, “How it Happened,” the story of a car accident and its aftermath and the old, ghostly ballad of Polly Vaughn, retold by Moser himself. But there are more contemporary tales as well. Madeline L’Engle’s “Poor Little Saturday” is an excellent story of how a lonely boy finds some surcease of sorrow as he explores a haunted mansion. Joyce Carol Oates, known for her dark adult fiction, contributes a story here, “The Others,” that in its lack of resolution is a great addition to the ghost story canon. Also of note, and both related to music, are “Samantha and the Ghost,” by Philippa Pearce, where a young girl frees her grandparents’ cottage from a ghostly visitor and H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Music of Erich Zann.”
None of the stories here is overly scary (well, maybe “The Monkey’s Paw” is for me), and a couple of them are pretty mild as far as ghost stories go by modern standards. But they are fun stories to read, and perhaps to read aloud. Moser’s illustrations add an extra frisson to the general eeriness.
Check the WRL catalog for Great Ghost Stories
This classic tale, brought to life by husband-wife duo, was inspired by a true story from the 1950s. The happy lion of the story has been a part of children’s literature for more than 50 years and it is clear why. This is an endearing tale of a lion that has many friends when he is in his home at the zoo, yet finds his friends react differently when he takes an adventure outside of the comfort of his zoo home. Children will enjoy the wonderful images of story that feature a simple color palette and wonderful style of sketch illustrations.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the story is the great lesson children can take away from the story; to not be afraid of those who are different. The town learns to not fear the lion when a little boy approaches him and shows that the furry creature was simply looking for company and friendship. Happiness can come from the most curiously different situations and Fatio has created a story that will show readers just that.
This book is wonderful for lower and middle elementary school students. The story is simple and easy to understand with great big illustrations that are good for large or small group reading. Children will have a roaring good time with The Happy Lion!
Check the WRL catalog for The Happy Lion.
Elizabeth Banner has returned to her hometown of Virtue Falls to study the geology of the area. It was difficult for her to return home, what with everyone’s conviction that her father, once a respected scientist-now a convicted felon, murdered her mother 20 years ago in a jealous rage. Elizabeth copes with the whispers and speculation by relying on logic and facts, both in her work and her personal life.
The everyday routine of life in Virtue Falls is literally shaken up when a large-scale earthquake hits the area. Lives are lost; secrets are uncovered. And Elizabeth finds herself investigating her mother’s murder with the help of her ex-husband, Garik, a suspended FBI agent.
The book has short chapters, a lot of action, and plenty of secondary characters to keep it interesting. I particularly liked how Elizabeth developed a relationship with her father, and through his descriptions began to understand the truth about her parents’ relationship. I’m also a sucker for a love story, and I enjoyed seeing Elizabeth and her ex-husband rekindle their romance.
Fans of James Patterson or Nora Roberts should pick up Virtue Falls. Looks like this is the first in a new series–can’t wait for the next story!
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These intriguing disaster films are reviewed by Bud:
Aviation disasters have been much in the news this past year with the most prominent stories being the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Flight 370 over the Gulf of Thailand and the loss of Malaysia Flight 17 over the Ukraine. The media made much of these tragic events and the public avidly followed the articles because, despite their grievous nature, stories of airplane accidents are inherently gripping. Air disasters occur rarely but when they do the destruction is usually so large scale and dreadful that our attention is just drawn to them.
The non-fiction DVD series, Mayday! Air Disasters shows just how riveting these occurrences can be. This documentary program, which also aired under the title, Air Emergency, profiles twenty-nine different disasters, most, but not all, aviation accidents. Some of the events covered are:
Unlocking Disaster During United Flight 811 from Honolulu to New Zealand, the door to the cargo hold spontaneously opened tearing off a piece of the fuselage in the process and sucking several passengers out of the plane. The parents of one of the lost passengers worked tirelessly to identify the cause of the accident and hold the aviation industry responsible.
Hanging By A Thread Aloha Airlines Flight 243 was flying 24,000 feet over the Hawaiian Islands when suddenly thirty-five feet of the plane’s upper fuselage peeled off, completely exposing the first five rows of passengers to the open sky. Can a passenger jet remain airborne with this much damage?
Out of Control Twelve minutes into a flight from Tokyo to Osaka Japan, JAL Flight 123 mysteriously malfunctions and for over thirty agonizing minutes plunges up and down as the anguished crew fight to regain control of the plane.
Fight For Your Life A suicidal company employee hitches a ride on FedEx Flight 705. Mid-flight he attacks the crew with hammers and a spear gun. The badly injured pilot looks for a place to land while his co-pilot, also seriously wounded, engages in desperate fisticuffs with their crazed passenger.
Falling From the Sky While flying from Kuala Lumpur to Perth, Australia, British Airlines Flight 009 begins experiencing very unusual phenomena. A strange haze drifts into the passenger compartment. A “brilliant, white shimmering light” appears to be clinging to the plane and 20-foot long flames start shooting from the engines which then proceed to shut down one by one.
Ghost Plane En route over Greece, tourist flight Helios 522 with 100 passengers on board cannot be contacted by anyone on the ground. Army jets sent to check on it find something very strange. The plane is flying normally but no one on board is moving. The plane’s occupants all appear to be unconscious or dead. What is going on?
These are just a few of the many intriguing stories covered in a series that totals 12 discs. The first part of each episode uses film footage of the actual incidents, interviews with the people involved and recreations to show what happened. The second part explains why it happened. The accident investigation process is fascinating as scientists and aviation experts try to determine exactly what went wrong.
You learn a lot about avionics, the airline industry and human behavior under extreme conditions. You also pick up some memorable, if occasionally creepy, factoids. Did you know that if you are unfortunate enough to somehow exit an airplane at 23,000 feet it will take you approximately four minutes to hit the ground?
This show proved to be compulsively watchable. It’s the best kind of reality TV because it’s both educational and entertaining and despite the potential for being lurid, is not exploitative or overtly gory. However, if you have a fear of flying, you may find it disquieting.
I’d recommend it for anyone with an interest in aviation, science or human drama.
Charlotte shares this review:
First, a caveat. To those of you who know this author only from her Gemma Doyle historical fantasies: this is not the Libba Bray you’re looking for. This is her psycho alternate-universe twin.
Cameron Smith, the narrator of this young adult novel, is an unmotivated loner who sneers at his family, mocks his peers, and blows off his responsibilities. We have met this teenager before, in many a young adult novel. Then he gets mad cow disease and goes on a road trip with a dwarf and a yard gnome.
OK, that’s new.
Plot isn’t really the selling point of this stream-of-consciousness dark comedy, but here goes: It turns out his clumsiness and intermittent hallucinations aren’t the result of casual drug use after all. Cameron has Creutzfeldt-Jakob, a neurological disorder that will kill him within weeks. He is visited in hospital by a punk rock angel in combat boots, Dulcie, who promises a cure if Cameron can find and stop Dr. X, a quantum physicist intent on releasing dark matter into the galaxy. OK so far? Find the physicist; save the world. Cameron escapes the hospital in the company of Gonzo, a germ-phobic gamer dwarf from his high school, and they embark on a road trip that starts in a New Orleans jazz club and goes a long, long crazy way. On the road, they acquire a Cadillac Rocinante and the yard gnome, who is actually the Norse god Balder. (Go ahead and say it: that’s Wyrd.)
Yes, progressive dementia is one of the symptoms of Creutzfeldt-Jakob.
And Going Bovine is progressively demented, a jazz riff on life, death, love, sex, alternate realities, reality TV, and the Meaning of It All. Where do you look for answers? Churches, philosophies, shopping malls, string theory? Or can music save your mortal soul? Maybe all you need is love. No, wait, that’s the Beatles. But somewhere along the way, even diehard smart-aleck Cameron begins to experience emotions other than scorn and derision. (And somewhere in Valhalla, a yard gnome gets his wings.)
Full disclosure: Going Bovine is a kind of wacky that I do not usually care for. Its main characters are 16-year-old boys: their humor is, by definition, sophomoric. I rolled my eyes a lot. Then I got to CESSNAB, the Church of Everlasting Satisfaction and Snack’n’Bowl, and inadvertently started to snort out loud. I have to give props to a writer who samples Cervantes and Coyote/Roadrunner cartoons on the same page, makes jokes about string theory, and re-envisions Disney’s “It’s a Small World” ride as the river Styx.
Check the WRL catalog for Going Bovine.
We all have those moments when we wonder “what would happen, if…” Delphine Chedru has done a wonderful job of illustrating the after effect of silly situations in which kids find themselves and those that families experience in everyday life. From balloons floating away from a hand and a lonely bucket left on a beach, to what a teacher does for summer vacation, this book provides entertaining answers.
One wonderful quality about this book is the opportunity it provides for interaction. The pages are cleverly designed to conceal Chedru’s answer to her “What If…” questions until the reader flips open the opposite page’s fold-out. Readers can create their own solutions and fantastic tales to answer the questions the author poses before or after seeing the solution the author provides herself. The scenarios are all so relatable and even provide comfort for children who have experienced things like losing a balloon or leaving a toy behind.
This book is ideal for a group setting because it can spark wonderful, creative discussions among children listening and can easily be used for lower elementary and preschool groups who are learning to stretch their imaginations. Similarly, this book is great for one-on-one or personal reading where the same kind of imagination and creativity can be used.
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I don’t remember why my husband and I first watched the DVD The Ice Storm, but it was probably because we were enjoying movies directed by Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Pushing Hands; Brokeback Mountain, and others). We had been through Williamsburg’s ice storm of 1998 and knew how dangerous it could be. The movie wasn’t so much about the storm itself, but about two troubled white, middle-class, nuclear families in suburban New Canaan, Connecticut, in 1973. The emotional impact of the movie was shattering.
Events take place when the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal are topics on the news. The sexual mores have loosened considerably from the constraints of the 1950s and have not yet been walloped by AIDS. The Hoods, Ben and Elena, have two teens: a boy in boarding school, Paul, and a girl in middle school, Wendy. The Carvers, Janey and Jim, have two boys: strange, pensive teen, Mikey, and pre-teen, Sandy, who likes to blow things up. Throughout the course of the Thanksgiving week, each person in each family, except Paul who is away, explores his or her sexuality with others in the other family.
But the story is much more than about sex, and the sex certainly isn’t a feast of sensual stimulation. Almost the opposite, the sexual encounters are interrupted, fumbled, “awful” or, after the fantasy of the encounters have been built up, they don’t take place at all. The real story is of the emotional relationships between each of the characters. The actors are extremely good at showing these changing relationships. The cast includes top-rated actors Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood, and Sigourney Weaver. Katie Holmes plays a rich, sort-of girlfriend of Paul’s. There are some very funny scenes, mostly of adolescents being adolescents, such as Wendy’s giving grace, “Dear Lord, thank you for this Thanksgiving holiday. And for all the material possessions we have and enjoy. And for letting us white people kill all the Indians and steal their tribal lands. And stuff ourselves like pigs, even though children in Asia are being napalmed.” Her father’s reaction, “Jesus! Enough, all right? Paul… roll?”
One of the key scenes in the movie is a neighborhood “key party,” where men put their car keys in a bowl and, at the end of the party, after much drinking, their wives pull out random keys, and, at least in theory, go home with the owner of that set of keys. Meanwhile, there is an ice storm outside. The roads are slick, the power goes out. The adults are high or drunk at the party, and their children are left at home, within walking distance of each other’s houses. What could go wrong?
After watching the movie a second time, I decided to read the book, by Rick Moody, on which it was based. Although there are a few plot differences between the book and the movie (and the name Carver is Williams in the book), both are excellent in depicting the members of these two families. Each uses a different medium to portray the individuals and the dynamics between them. Moody’s words are a joy to read. “The idea of betrayal was in the air. The Summer of Love had migrated, in its drug-resistant strain, to the Connecticut suburbs about five years after its initial introduction. About the time America learned about the White House taping system. It was laced with some bad stuff. The commodity being traded was wives, the Janey Williamses of New Canaan. The payoff was supposed to be joy, but it was the cheapest approximation of exalted feeling. It was just a demonstration of options, nothing more.”
The characters in the book, notably, are less attractive and more “real” than those in the movie, and I was thinking that if readers have to “like” characters to enjoy a book or a movie, they may want to stick with the movie. If you want to get a real depiction of changes some families were going through in the early 1970s, you may want to read the book. The language in the novel is frank and raw, but intricate and beautiful in places. Ang Lee’s theatrical adaptation, however, is also very good, distilling Moody’s words into a stunning visual portrait.
If you’re looking for plot-driven action, for big twists, or a wild climax, look elsewhere. Pete Hamill’s North River is a throwback, a lovely novel with sympathetic characters, steady pacing, a setting that feels lived in, and a story that will break your heart and then mend it again.
Set in 1930s Hell’s Kitchen, North River is the story of Jim Delaney, a doctor who was a little bit old for World War I, but went anyway, and sustained some injuries and emotional damage that stayed with him. When he came home, he found a distant wife who was angry that he had left in the first place. The two continued to drift apart, and as the novel opens, we find Delaney alone. His wife has gone missing and her status is unknown, although everyone fears the worst.
But Delaney doesn’t stay alone for long. His daughter, off on the chase for a revolutionary husband, drops off her toddler son Carlito on Delaney’s doorstep. Delaney is the kind of man who takes care of his entire neighborhood, but taking care of a baby who barely speaks English is another thing, and with help from neighborhood friends, he finds a woman, Rose Verga, to work as his live-in housekeeper and care for the child until he can convince his mother to return.
Over the course of the novel, the three begin to form familial bonds, but Hamill throws many obstacles in their way: a hostile crime boss made enemy by Delaney’s assistance to his rival, an old war friend; the differences of class and culture between Delaney and Rose; the steady, sometimes overwhelming of Delaney’s neighborhood practice and the often illiterate working class people who demand his time; the ghosts of past relationships; and the nagging possibility that Carlito’s mother will return and take him away just as Delaney and Rose have formed parental attachments.
Hamill captures the waning days of Tammany Hall politics, a time now dismissed as “machine” politics, but also an era with a positive side: people were still connected and looked out for each other in a way that modern citizens don’t often understand. These are characters who stay with you long after the book is put aside, larger than life, but completely believable. The story has crime, suspense, romance, and history, something to captivate almost every reader.
If you like audiobooks, I can also recommend that format. Henry Strozier’s voice captures Delaney’s world weariness perfectly and he does well with Rose’s Italian-immigrant English as well.
Check the WRL catalog for North River
Read North River in large print
Or try North River as an audiobook on CD
Jennifer D. shares this review:
Charlie is stranded on a desert island. She has no clothes, no supplies, no defense, and no escape. After spending days on her own, struggling to survive with little food and water and against dangerous jungle animals, Charlie finds others who have been similarly marooned. You might think that would make the plot of a pretty good book, but we’re just getting started.
Charlie disappeared while walking across a Target parking lot at midday. A portal picked her up and deposited her on the island of Nil. If the circumstances of Charlie’s relocation weren’t frightening enough, Charlie soon learns that there is much more to Nil than the island paradise it appears to be. She has exactly one year to make her way off the island by finding another portal. Three hundred and sixty-five days before she dies, just like everyone else who ran out of time.
This title is another example of excellent YA world-building. Matson has created a world with great structure and rules which hold it together. It’s a high concept novel with high payoff as long as you buy into the premise and go along for the ride. While there is little explanation regarding the whys of the world of Nil, there is hope that more backstory will come in Nil Unlocked, due out this May.
Check the WRL catalog for Nil.
Dianne Wolfer walked the Kokoda Track in 2002 and was inspired to write this picture book exploration of the complications of war after interviewing veterans. This book is recommended for older children and adults as it deals with violent and difficult themes. Photographs in the Mud follows the lives of both an Australian and Japanese solider during World War II during battles in Papua New Guinea. Wolfer and Brian Harrison-Lever balance both sides by giving the reader information about Jack, the Australian solider, and Hoshi, the Japanese soldier, and their families back home. Eventually, both men are injured in battle and lay beside each other. They share their photographs, but will they both be able to make it through the night?
The delicate, realistic pencil drawings contrast the horrors of the tale while giving life to the characters. Red paint splatters the page when both men are injured. This book is a chilling dedication to the men who fought in World War II along the Kokoda Track. Wolfer and Harrison-Lever finish the book with an inscription that can now be found along the track, “They are not dead; not even broken; Only their dust has gone back home to earth/For they; the essential they, shall have rebirth/Whenever a word of them is spoken.”
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I’m not normally a fan of the mashup. The book that started the craze, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, was well done, but in most of these projects, the best joke is in the title. Ian Doescher has created a happy exception, taking the scripts from George Lucas’s Star Wars films and translating them into iambic pentameter, making books worthy of both the Bard and the droids. It’s a fine marriage, with the melodramatic space opera of Star Wars suited perfectly for Elizabethan language.
The success of the project has encouraged Doescher to continue with the series. The Empire Striketh Back and The Jedi Doth Return are already available, and more are in process. If you know your Shakespeare even a little, you’ll catch references to his famous lines throughout the works, as in the Hamlet reference in the quote above or when Han Solo quips, “Nay not that: the day when Jabba taketh my dear ship/Shall be the day you find me a grave man.”
Doescher tackles the challenges of the project with panache. R2D2, for instance, begins speaking in iambic beeps and squawks, but then switches to Shakespearean asides to complain about the “prating tongue” of his pompous golden friend. These extras add extra dimension to the interior world of beloved characters, perhaps even improving on the original. When the action cannot be conveyed by character speeches, Doescher doesn’t fret, he brings in a chorus to inform the audience of necessary plot developments. The book is graced by illustrations in the style of Elizabethan woodcuts.
You know the story, you know the style, but this combination is clever and executed brilliantly. I suspect smart English teachers will be using these books to great effect for years to come, but why leave the fun for the classroom? Take it home yourself and enjoy the experience all over again.
Check the WRL catalog for William Shakespeare’s Star Wars
When it first arrived in 2008, Tana French’s In the Woods, the first book in her Dublin Murder Squad series, won many awards: the Edgar, Anthony, Macavity, and Barry Awards for First Novel. I’m happy to report that it’s good enough to merit all that praise.
The story concerns two young partners on the Dublin Murder Squad, Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox. The story is told from Ryan’s perspective. In his childhood, in the 1980s, Ryan and two friends were the victims of a crime near their home in the Dublin suburbs. The three went into the woods on a summer day, and two were never heard from again. Rob was found clutching a tree and unable to remember what had happened. He moved away, made a new life, and has become a relatively normal adult, a police detective hiding an important secret about his past. As the novel opens, over twenty years later, a call comes into the station. Another victim, a young girl, has been found at an archaeological dig near the same woods where Rob’s friends disappeared. Despite the danger to his hidden past, Rob convinces Cassie (who is the only one in the department who knows) that they should take the case.
The story goes two directions, alternating between the investigation into the contemporary crime and explorations of the past. Both are delicate affairs. Family may be involved in the new girl’s death, and political powers want the case cleared quickly so that property development can take place. Rob is fascinated by the possibility that the current crime is connected to his past, but must investigate gingerly for fear of being recognized by elderly and middle-aged locals who might recognize the current detective as the boy left digging his nails into a tree trunk. It’s a complex plot, but French handles it gracefully, presenting a plethora of well-drawn characters and interweaving story lines without confusion.
The relationship between Rob Ryan and Cassie is fascinating. They are professionals, and so close as partners that they haven’t quite registered that there is a romantic spark as well (or at least he hasn’t). But readers will pick up on it, and spend most of the book wondering whether the spark will ignite or the relationship will explode from all the tension.
Each book in French’s series (the fifth entry was recently released, and all have had strong reviews) is told from the perspective of a different member of the Dublin Murder Squad. It’s an approach I haven’t seen used since Ed McBain wrote his 97th Precinct series many years ago. I know that I, for one, will have to go on at least to book two, The Likeness, to hear Cassie’s side of the story.
Check the WRL catalog for In the Woods
Or try In the Woods as an audiobook on CD
The bestselling author of the Llama Llama books has another hit on her hands with Nelly Gnu and Daddy Too. In this adorable father-daughter story, Nelly and Daddy Gnu work together to create a beautiful playhouse for Nelly from a large box. After the frame is done, they have to go on an adventure to the hardware store for paint and a small flashlight, which Daddy Gnu surprises Nelly with right before bedtime. Dewdney writes, “Every night and every day, Daddy makes it all OK. He always knows just what to do…Nelly’s Daddy, Daddy Gnu.” The colorful illustrations help to drive the story, but the love between the father and daughter as they work towards a common goal make this a book worth reading.
Check the WRL catalog for Nelly Gnu and Daddy Too.
Charlotte shares this review:
All the world’s a stage, literally, in this fun romp for stagestruck teens.
ENTER Beatrice (Bertie) Shakespeare Smith, a foundling and a born troublemaker. She has grown up in the Théâtre Illuminata, a fantastical, metafictional theater housing all the Players from all the works of the stage. Bertie gets her clothes from Wardrobe, and her bedroom is a set. She’s constantly accompanied by her own comic relief: a slapstick entourage of Midsummer Night’s Dream fairies. And, like a girl in a Disney musical, at any time, the lights may come up, the orchestra start playing, and her life transform into a song-and-dance number with tap-dancing starfish.
It may be the only home she’s ever known, but Bertie is about to be kicked out of the Théâtre unless she can prove to its Manager that she has something valuable to contribute, like a sellout show. Bertie’s plan: Hamlet, but in Egypt. Cue the asps! But while Bertie is getting her Cecil B. Demille on, a rebellious yet extremely swoonworthy Ariel—I’m picturing Labyrinth-era David Bowie in this part—figures out a way to free the Players into the real world. Chaos ensues.
The Théâtre Illuminata is a fantastic conceit and debut author Mantchev has a lot of fun with it. Bertie is a lively, if romantically confused, heroine who defends herself with one-liners and, when necessary, with jujitsu (Petruchio had it coming). Hamlet and Ophelia, the revolutionary students from Les Mis, members of the Greek Chorus: they’re all here, trading theater in-jokes and Shakespearean insults. It’s a busy stage both literally and metaphorically, each character and subplot vying to upstage the others, and everything moves at a cappuccino-fueled pace. Some of the plots are resolved, but that’s an intermission curtain at the end, not a finale; Eyes Like Stars is the first in a planned trilogy.
EXIT, pursued by a sequel.
Check the WRL catalog for Eyes Like Stars.