The end of summer seems a good time to pull out some old favorite titles and enjoy a last indulgence in pleasure reading before the busy-ness of Fall picks up. On a windy day, what could be better than a novel of nautical adventure? While I enjoy Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey and Maturin series about which Charlotte has written so well, I think that my favorite 19th century sailing novels are those of Alexander Kent.
Kent’s series chronicles the rise of Richard Bolitho through the ranks of the British navy beginning during the American Revolution and continuing through the Napoleonic Wars. Like O’Brian, Kent has a deep understanding of the art of sailing and of late 18th and early 19th century naval customs and traditions, and his books are richly descriptive without being dry. Kent also gives an interesting picture of all the behind-the-scenes trades that are essential to a successful voyage: ropemaking, supplying ship’s stores, and so on.
These are character-driven stories, and Bolitho is always at the center. Over the course of his career (and the series) Bolitho often finds himself challenged by orders that conflict with his sense of honor. This conflict between following one’s duty or one’s moral code is a central theme here. The secondary characters, from newly minted sailors to the lords of the Admiralty, are all equally well-drawn. Kent’s ear for dialog shines through.
The pace here is a bit faster than that of the Aubrey and Maturin books, and Kent offers readers a thrilling blend of naval detail and action. The series should be read more or less in order to get the full story, so start with Midshipman Bolitho, the first in the series.
Check the WRL catalog for Midshipman Bolitho
Read the series in ebook format, starting with a 3-in-1 collection The Complete Midshipman Bolitho
Laura share this review:
Paige is despondent. Her family recently moved from central Virginia to Manhattan and she has to deal with acclimating herself to a new city and culture while her relationships with her parents, especially her mother, have been crumbling. She misses her old life, and her old friends, especially her best friend Diana. Paige floats around New York with a sensation of being lost, unsure of herself or what she wants.
Both her mother and father are writers (hence her unfortunate name, Paige Turner), but she is more like her grandmother, a painter. Introverted and quiet on the outside, Paige is full of life and emotions on the inside. She can’t express these feelings in words so she buys a sketchbook, determined to follow her grandmother’s rules that she came up with to teach herself to be an artist. Starting the first drawing is daunting, and brings to the surface more of her anxieties. Is she a good enough artist, what if she has nothing to draw about? Monologues of self-doubt constantly run through her head, even as the pages begin to fill up with sketches.
Entering her new school, Paige quickly falls in with Jules, her brother Longo, and his friend Gabe. The foursome is soon inseparable. Paige still struggles with self-doubt, and everything cool and fun she sees in her friends strengthens her inferiority complex, and fear that her lack of specialness will be discovered. Her inner voice promises that she can change. But how can she build a new self and remove those parts she dislikes most?
Ever practical, Paige makes a list of those aspects of her personality she dislikes the most and intentionally faces them with the help of her friends. She discovers that they too have things that they lack the courage to face, and she begins to coach them, even as she is developing and evolving herself. The image of a seed being planted and carefully tended to as it grows into a fragile shoot appears several times in the drawings and is particularly apt.
The writing is lyrical and evocative while being relatable to anyone who was unsure of themselves when they were a teenager. Paige has a knack of summing up complicated emotions using simple phrases. She states that “like fun house mirrors, different people reflect back different parts of me” and while mourning her loneliness early on, she states that she hates how all her “friends now live in picture frames.”
Recommend for young adults and graphic novel readers and anyone else who can relate to the heart wrenching process of finding yourself.
Search the catalog for Page by Paige
Loving historical mysteries as I do, I was surprised to find that I had not written about Steven Saylor’s Roma Sub Rosa series before (well, I mentioned him in this review of Lindsey Davis’s Falco series). While I like the Lindsey Davis books quite a lot for their humor and wit and a well-crafted noirish feel to the mystery, Saylor’s novels are, I think, richer and perhaps more accurately capture life and culture in early Rome.
The series lead is Gordianus the Finder, a sometime investigator in the later days of the Roman Republic. In many of the stories, Gordianus finds himself delving into the crimes that result from the struggle for power among the Roman elites. These books will interest anyone who delights in tales of political intrigue and backroom manoeuvrings. Throughout the series, Gordianus encounters historical figures — Cicero, Catalina, Caesar — and he frequently finds himself working for the state, occasionally against his better judgement.
Saylor’s mysteries venture into the darker side of human nature where Gordianus finds his sense of honor and ethics sometimes at odds with the wishes of his clients. Saylor has a firm foundation in Roman history and uses that knowledge to create a believable and realistic sense of place. The private lives of Romans of high and low birth come to life here, and the novels are an excellent introduction to the history of the end days of the Republic.
One appealing feature of this series is the way that Saylor’s characters age in a realistic fashion. In so many mystery series, the passing years have little affect on the main characters, but in the 30 or so years covered in the series, Gordianus experiences the inevitable changes that come with age.
If you like historical fiction or well-crafted mysteries, this is a series not to be missed.
Check the WRL catalog for Roman Blood
This sequel to Mr. Peek and the Misunderstanding at the Zoo is a hilarious return to the zoo on a day that Mr. Peek wants to celebrate: the arrival of his new V.I.P. (“Very Important Panda”), Lulu. He wants to host an animal parade, but the zoo must be in perfect condition first. Unfortunately, Mr. Peek is nervous and does not get all of his chores done so perfectly. After letting out the penguins, covering the turtles in black shoe polish, and forgetting to feed the lion–catastrophe strikes! Lulu is missing! Will they find her and fix the zoo before all of his customers arrive? Luckily for Mr. Peek, his son Jimmy didn’t inherit his father’s bad luck.
The funny characters and mishaps in this story combined with the beautiful and colorful illustrations of all of the animals in Mr. Peek’s zoo make this a must-read book.
Check the WRL catalog for Panda-monium at Peek Zoo.
High school freshman Jessica Walsh is a Virago—a woman warrior who must protect her hometown from danger. And in Nightshade, California, trouble is always lurking. At the town’s Battle of the Bands, Jess’s boyfriend, Dominic, and his band, Side Effects May Vary, are up against Hamlin, a band so popular, their fans follow them everywhere. Soon, the competing musicians are doing risky, illegal, and even fatal things—and claiming that they heard strange music that compelled them to do it. Can Jess and her friends track down the tuneful tyrant before it’s too late? – Book Summary
Dead Is a Killer Tune is an amazing book. It is #7 in the “Dead Is” series and follows Dead Is Just a Battlefield. The book contains music, fun, and supernatural trouble. I feel that the plot was evenly paced and the characters were rightfully portrayed. Altogether is was a great read.
Check the WRL catalog for Dead Is a Killer Tune
Did you ever pick a book up off of your parents’ bookshelves and find yourself wondering about their reading interests? It happened to me when sometime in my early teens I pulled down a copy of Flannery O’Connor’s Complete Stories and started to browse around. I was horrified. There were hitchhikers killing old ladies, grandfathers killing granddaughters, salesmen stealing hearts and prosthetic legs. Was this what my mother was reading? Well, it was, and as I grew older, I came more and more to appreciate what she found in these stories, and what I missed in my earlier reading of O’Connor.
Faith is a serious business, and it has serious implications for those who profess their beliefs. Flannery O’Connor’s fiction, both short stories and novels, is all an exploration of the way our beliefs shape our actions, for better, and for worse. In the darkest or most grotesque parts of these stories, I think that O’Connor is asking her readers to consider how the actions that might appall us seem perfectly reasonable to those who are taking them. These characters, like Martin Luther, “kann nicht anders.” They can only hope, again like Luther, that God will help them.
The stories also are about grace, and I think that this is the part that I missed when first reading them. It is through the presence of grace that a sense of redemption can be found in O’Connor’s work. For O’Connor, and her characters, grace is simply there; it is not to be earned or merited. So she calls us to live our lives open to the experience of that grace. My mother was right (as always): these are great stories that challenge us to look into our own lives and see where our beliefs are leading us, and also to be open to the daily grace that pervades the world.
Check the WRL catalog for The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor
If you enjoy sprawling stories that cover several centuries of history, you are probably already familiar with Edward Rutherfurd. He came to prominence with his first novel, Sarum, which tells the story of the land and the people of the Salisbury Plain in England over a period of about 10,000 years. He followed up that success with books set in Russia, London, Ireland, and New York, all in the same pattern. Rutherfurd uses the specific — stories of individual lives — to draw a picture of the whole; his books, as in yesterday’s post, are mosaics.
Character is at the heart of Rutherfurd’s novels, and Paris is no exception. Here, he follows the lives of four French families from the 1200s through the 1960s. He uses the ebb and flow of their personal and professional lives to track the life of the city, and does so in an eminently readable fashion. As in all his novels, Rutherfurd creates characters from all classes of society, allowing him to move smoothly from the lives and homes of courtiers and nobles to those of merchants and artists to the Paris underworld and its denizens.
Paris itself is a character here too, and the city comes to life in Rutherfurd’s telling. His attention to detail is always just right. There are no unnecessary facts cluttering up the story just to show the author’s erudition. Whether it is Paris during the two World Wars or in the reign of the Sun King, Rutherfurd creates a compelling and memorable portrait of a lively and engaging city. The fictional and historical characters blend easily together, and Rutherfurd creates dialog that rings true regardless of the time period.
Readers who like family sagas will find a great deal to enjoy here, as will fans of history, and lovers of Paris. If you cannot get away to the City of Light anytime soon, you could do worse than letting Edward Rutherfurd take you there in his book.
Check the WRL catalog for Paris
Or try the ebook version of Paris
If you’re looking for a silly “tall” tale, then When Giants Come to Play is the book for you. Older children and parents will appreciate the lyrical and imaginative story, while anyone can enjoy the comical and well-drawn illustrations. “Sometimes, on a summer morning, when the sun shines just so/and the wind blows like this and like that/on its way to somewhere else, giants come to play,” writes Beaty.
Anna is a young blonde girl who is visited by two of these giants, and they play hide-and-seek (they’re much better at seeking than hiding), marbles (with soccer balls), catch (with Anna as the ball), dolls (with Anna’s sister dressed as a baby doll), and many other games. This is a fun book to read after a day of fun in the sun.
Check the WRL catalog for When Giants Come to Play.
Jessica shares this review:
Generally, I’m a fan of fantasy and maybe even paranormal. Realistic fiction never really caught my interest. However, I must confess, Breakfast Served Anytime, has become a quick favorite. Set in Kentucky, this novel follows high school senior, Gloria, as she goes off to the Commonwealth Summer Program for Gifted and Talented Students, aka, “Geek Camp”. Each student can select their own course of study and much to her own surprise, instead of choosing her beloved Theatre, she decides on a very different major, Secrets of the Written Word. From the mysterious first letter from the professor, hand written and sealed with wax, Gloria knows this class will be a little different. Once she arrives Gloria soon discovers that Geek Camp isn’t what she expected at all and the incredible experiences and close friendships she develops help her not only decide what she wants to do with her life but also ease the pain of losing her grandmother just recently. This story is beautiful written; full of well imagined and illustrated characters and as much an ode to the author’s home state of Kentucky as it is to coming of age, surviving losses and discovering what it is you really want. If you’re in the mood for a witty, honest, and heartwarming story I highly suggest trying this debut novel.
Check the WRL catalog for Breakfast Served Anytime.
Over the past few years, I have spent a lot of time reading both fiction and nonfiction set in the early 20th century, from just prior to WW I and the years immediately following the war up to the start of WW II. There is something about that time period that I find particularly compelling. Part of it is, no doubt, trying to comprehend the horrors of the war itself and the effect that it had on individuals and on the world. In R. F. Delderfield’s great academic novel, we see how a man, scarred by his service in the British Army in the fields of France, attempts to recover through his work as a teacher, just as his country attempts a similar recovery from its devastating losses.
We first meet David Powlett-Jones, shell-shocked and still recovering from injuries suffered when an explosion buried him alive, as he catches a train into the English countryside to apply for a position at Bamfylde School. Powlett-Jones has been brought back to a semblance of health, mental and physical, by a Scottish neurologist, who encourages him to consider becoming a schoolmaster, “imparting to successive generations of the young such knowledge as a man accumulated through books, experience, and contemplation.” Although the war interrupted his education, Powlett-Jones is taken on an instructor, and the novel chronicles his rise through the school to headmaster.
I love this book for the small portraits that Delderfield paints of the schoolmasters, students, and country folk in the neighborhood of Bamfylde. In a paragraph or two or three, each person is limned with compassion and a recognition that all of us have our strengths and weaknesses. Delderfield’s mastery is in building his lengthy story — 598 pages — with a multitude of smaller pieces. As with a mosaic, you can take as much delight in studying the tesserae as in looking at the whole.
Delderfield also excels at writing about the English countryside, for which he has a clear and deep affection. Here is a description of Powlett-Jones’s approach to Bamfylde:
Already the hedgerows were starred with campion and primrose, with dog violets showing among the thistles and higher up, where the rhododendrons tailed off on the edge of a little birch wood, the green spires of bluebell were pushing through a sea of rusty bracken.
Yes, I am easily won over by lists of flora, fauna, or geologic formations.
Delderfield does not shy away from difficult situations, and Powlett-Jones experiences triumphs and sorrows as he and the school navigate the turbulent years from 1918 to the beginning of the Second World War. But through all of these ups and downs Powlett-Jones emerges as a compassionate and thoughtful teacher, the sort we would all hope for at the beginning of a new school year.
Check the WRL catalog for To Serve Them All My Days
Read the ebook of To Serve Them All My Days
Have you ever wished you could communicate more clearly on a bad cellphone line? Then maybe you need Alpha, Bravo, Charlie to learn about the phonetic military alphabet. Written as a children’s alphabet book Alpha, Bravo, Charlie is an informational book with plenty for children (and adults!) to learn, but is also very entertaining, especially for children who don’t like talking animals and prefer their picture books to be about real things. Each page, or double page spread features a letter of the alphabet along with its phonetic alphabet equivalent and naval signal flag. A military-related event or piece of military equipment is briefly described, often alliteratively. For example, S Sierra “Sailors Salute”, B Bravo “A battalion of brave soldiers get ready for battle” and F Foxtrot “Foot soldiers wear bulletproof flak jackets”. The illustrations are richly colored, active and detailed and help make a bright and attractive book including a bold blue cover and end papers decorated with navy signal flags. This is another book I used in the storytime for military families. Alpha, Bravo, Charlie is a great choice to be read aloud for military children to see pictures of what their military parent may do at work. I also recommend it for young readers who are fascinated by secret codes and love to read about construction equipment and other huge machines. There are few machines as impressive as a Navy destroyer, a Coast Guard icebreaker or a fighter plane!
Check the WRL catalog for Alpha, Bravo, Charlie.
Lizzy shares this review:
Ever since the day he helped her up after a nasty tumble, Black Magic Club member Reiko Kanazuki has been obsessed with Hunny. She is devoting all her knowledge of the dark arts to curse him and steal his soul. Will the sweetest member of the Host Club fall victim to her spells? – Goodreads summary.
Ouran High School Host Club, Volume 10, was interesting. It starts out with a bold entrance and gets bigger and bigger.
The characterization in this volume continues the path that they were going. Each character still has their own quirks, even the twins! This volume even shows a way to tell the siblings apart.
I found it interesting how part of the volume is set at Hikaru’s and Kaoru’s house. The reader is able to learn more about them and their family life. Personally, I found it to be different than I thought it would be.
I would give this volume 4 stars since I didn’t quite enjoy the ending, but altogether it was great.
Check the WRL catalog for Ouran High School Host Club, Volume 10.
What are books all about? No, not the plots, but the culture of books and readers. Are the books we choose a shortcut to our identities via our fantasies and fears? Are they instruments to demonstrate our superiority or to hide our inferiority, raise our children by, choose our friends with? If anyone’s qualified to take on these questions, it’s reader / blogger / tech geek / woman-about-town Lauren Leto.
In a series of short essays, Leto writes about testing new romantic prospects by taking them to bookstores, or by starting a conversation, and laments that the growth of e-readers makes it impossible to cover-snoop. (Barry and I used to do that at airports to pick out the librarians. Not for romance, mind you, but to see if 50 Shades of Grey went with the shoes.) Where you read what you read is another clue, as are the books and tchotchkes you’ve got on your bookshelf. And how you handle challenges from readers you don’t know – lie about reading the book? make a snarky comment dismissing the author as a hack? try one-upping the person until one or the other reveals themselves as a reading fraud? – is as important as the literary quality of your actual reading.
Leto’s writing is fresh, funny, and insightful. She is unabashed about her enjoyment of fun books, but maintains focus on the kinds of books that people who talk about books talk about. Along the way, we get some great ideas for our personal reading lists, and quite a few cutting one liners about both literary wunderkind and bestselling popular authors. (The whole book is copyrighted, but if you memorize a few and trot them out at your next dinner party, Leto probably won’t catch you. Any fair use attorneys out there?) There are entries that can make you puff your chest out one second and ponder the hole in your soul the next if you don’t follow Betty Rosenberg’s First Law of Reading, and secretly cheer when you don’t follow Orr’s Corollary to the First Law. Best of all, there’s a clarion call to change the reader’s mascot from the lowly worm to a higher form of life.
Like most collections of comic essays, these are best taken in chunks to maximize the laugh value. Some are short enough that you can read several at one sitting; others long enough that you can read comfortably at one sitting. Either way you take it, Leto’s reading life is mirrored by everyone who comes across this blog. Read it and have a blast.
It’s the dream of a lifetime for so many – pick some wonderfully historic city or region and move there for an extended time. Live elbow to elbow with the locals, find the hidden restaurants and best shops and become one with the people who lived there since the city was founded. Learn the byways and hidden jewels and play host to the friends who visit you bearing their not-so-secret envy.
That’s what Polly Coles thought she was headed for when she and her partner packed up their four children and moved from England to Venice. Ahhh, Venice, Queen of the Adriatic, hub of world trade, cosmopolitan, her ancient canals filled with … human and animal waste, garbage, enormous cruise ships, and lollygagging tourists taking all the seats on the vaporetti. A city not designed for moving your household unless you have both Atlas and Charles Atlas to carry your valuables. And when the seasonal high tides (the acqua alta) come in, your wellies had better come over your knees or you’ll be slopping through who knows what.
Perhaps worst of all is the attitude of the Venetians. There is a definite pecking order, starting with the people whose families have lived there for hundreds of years, to the newcomers who’ve only been there around a hundred years, to the people who live there but weren’t born there. Bottom of the heap, of course, are those who are only visiting for a few hours. On the other hand, there is an egalitarianism within the city itself – rich or poor, you have to walk the streets to get anywhere, and the woman in the subdued colors next to you might be a Baroness. (When you go out to the Lido, where all Venetians holiday, it’s another story. A beachfront capanna goes for around $20,000 for the season, or you can go in with your neighbors for around $7000. And the beachgoers know exactly where everyone belongs.)
There are also other currents in the social stream, including the foreign workers who commute from the mainland to the beggars who crouch humbly on the pavement and wait for alms. Coles makes an effort to understand these people, and does a wonderful job portraying the tragedies and small victories of their lives. She also delves into the culture of the common spaces, precious in a place that can’t grow outward or upward, and to the fabulous interiors hidden behind fortress-like walls and doors. And forget Carnival. Real Venetians have a much more varied festival season to mark the long history of the city, including a thanksgiving for deliverance from the Black Plague which killed 50,000 people.
There are some shortcomings: Coles frequently talks about the Venetian dialect, which is different enough from “standard” Italian to make it difficult for non-natives, but she never really explains the difference. She also repeats some of the regular complaints about tourists, which can start to grate on the reader. But her strengths shine through, from her description of the obstinate bureaucracies to some beautiful descriptions of the setting and the residents. She also follows the debate about who is a “real” Venetian, and comes to an insightful answer. Still, it makes me rethink wanting to go to a place that has become a caricature of itself, at least until I can worry about where to hang my laundry.
Check the WRL catalogue for The Politics of Washing
This month marks the centenary of the start of World War I. Such an important historical event is something children should know about, but most depictions are far too disturbing for small children. The library owns several picture books that introduce children to World War I in a more accessible, nonthreatening way, such as Christmas in the Trenches by John McCutcheon, Fly, Cher Ami, Fly!: the Pigeon Who Saved the Lost Battalion by Robert Burleigh, or The Donkey of Gallipoli: a True Story of Courage in World War I, by Mark Greenwood. Knit Your Bit is even more suitable for small children as it has minimal depictions of the front line. It came out last year and is based on a real knitting competition in Central Park in July, 1918. As the book starts Mikey’s Pop goes off to war on a steam train and Mikey wants to do something BIG to help. His mother and sister suggest knitting for the soldiers but Mikey doesn’t want to do something so girlish. Then they hear about a knitting Bee in Central Park, so the boys in Mikey’s class are challenged into setting up the Boys’ Knitting Brigade and know that they will beat their rivals the Purl Girls. During World War I the “Knit for Sammy” program was so widespread that there were even sheep on the White House lawn! The cartoonish ink and watercolor illustrations warmly capture the characters’ emotions while the endpapers include historical photographs of children knitting during World War I. Try this book for small military children to reflect their experience of an absent parent, or for historical information about World War I or just a warmhearted and interesting story.
Check the WRL catalog for Knit Your Bit.
It’s a little known fact, but the vocalist for one of the big-name bands out there also has the greatest chops as a legal novelist. And with Limitations, which the New York Times Magazine graciously published in serial form, he shows that he can even take on the novella as a frame for his characters and settings.
Limitations brings readers back to Scott Turow’s fictional Kindle County, which has been likened to Chicago, but with a smaller-town feel. It also revisits two earlier characters – attorney George Mason (Personal Injuries) and Chief Judge Rusty Sabich (Presumed Innocent, Innocent). Mason is now a judge on the Court of Appeals and is discovering that wisdom does not come with age and experience.
He’s also discovering that the black robe does not render him immune to the outside world: his wife and valued counselor of more than thirty years is under brutal therapy for cancer, he’s facing a tough re-election, and someone is sending death threats to his office and home computers. Mason wants to be frank with Patrice about his legal and political dilemma, but also wants to withhold from her messages he thinks are from a crank. Can he tell the complete truth about one and deceive her about the other?
The case he and two other appellate judges are facing is also brutal – an African-American teen was viciously raped by four white fellow students. One recorded the whole scene, but none of the people he showed it to reported anything for several years; the girl, who had been unconscious during the attack, didn’t fully understand or acknowledge the rape until the police showed her the tape. Four years after the crime, the rapists are tried and found guilty, but are appealing because the statute of limitations has passed. Or has it? That’s the question Mason must face.
There’s a more profoundly personal element to his dilemma, something that hearkens back to his own confused and frightened youth, and he believes he must reconcile that memory before he can proceed to make his judgment. But the death threats become increasingly specific, and may be coming from a powerful underground figure with the power to carry them out.
Turow explores the various shades of Limitations through one man’s life and work without drawing a giant arrow to each one. And while the story comes to a resolution, it isn’t limited to a neat wrap-up. It isn’t as involved as some of his longer books, but is a satisfying read nonetheless.
Check the WRL catalog for Limitations
Lily shares this review:
This is the 4th book of the Books of Bayern series.
As a young girl, Rin took comfort in the trees, soaking up their soothing warmth. Being the youngest in her family, she has always looked up to her brother, Razo. His visits from the city were always filled with the tales of all the adventures he’d had since his last visit. Razo insists that Rin come with him to the city for a much needed change, and she does. Being there, she realizes how much her life was missing and how much she had retreated into the safe shell of home. Rin meets Razo’s friends: Isi, Enna, and Dasha (the Fire Sisters, she nicknames them). Their talents give Rin a sense of longing to be like them.
In time she finds her strength, independence, and power…in ways she never expected.
Check the WRL catalog for Forest Born.
August 2014 marks the centennial of the worldwide convulsion we call World War I. Many of the images we collectively identify with the war came from one region of the line: Flanders. The mud and shell holes which drowned soldiers, the devastated landscapes, the ancient towns reduced to rubble, the fruitless struggle for advances that could sometimes be measured in meters all characterized the hell which started at the North Sea and ended around the French border with Belgium.
Winston Groom, he of Forrest Gump fame, has been interested in Flanders since finding a automobile touring guide in his grandfather’s attic. In writing a history of the Ypres Salient, as the continuous four year battle was known, he has drawn on contemporary accounts, historical evaluations of the battle, and the biographies of participants from private (including Adolf Hitler) up to general. But everything seems to come back to that map of his grandfather’s.
The topography of the region was perhaps the greatest obstacle that faced both sides, but especially the British. A hill – more accurately a pile of construction rubble 60 meters high – dominated the landscape and provided an observation post for the masses of German artillery. The drainage ditches which made the pre-war farms possible were destroyed, and the heavy rains were channeled into the British trenches. Those farmlands offered little or no cover for assaults which might cover hundreds of meters into well placed German defenses. But the British held the salient as the world dissolved around them. Today, over 200,000 British cemeteries are in Flanders, and a memorial remembers 90,000 more who simply disappeared over the four years.
I became interested in reading an account of the Ypres Salient when the library added The Great War Seen from the Air, an oversized and detailed collection of aerial photographs with analysis and overlays which explain what the reader is seeing. Since I didn’t know the place names and only had a general sense of the war in Flanders, I wanted to know more about what the photographs represented. I don’t know which is worse – seeing the ground-level destruction or the panorama which puts that destruction into a larger context. I am still no closer to understanding how the soldiers and civilians on both sides could allow the futile bloodletting to continue. I do know a little more about the seeds sown by the War to End All Wars, which bloomed into the history of the 20th Century. Let’s hope that kind of madness never descends on humanity again.
Check the WRL catalogue for A Storm in Flanders
As I wrote last year over two million children have a parent serving in the United States military. The world is changing and the military is changing, but what is unlikely to change is that most military children are very young and are confused about why their parent has to go away and what they do when they are away. Hero Dad will help young military children with their confusion. It is a simple picture book with one sentence per page, to be read aloud to the youngest military children. The sentences are split into two parts, with the first part suggesting a super ability that a comic book hero might have and then the second part lists the equivalent military ability. So my dad “doesn’t wear rocket propelled boots” instead “he wears Army boots”. Or my dad “doesn’t wear a cloak that makes him invisible – he wears camouflage.” The illustrations are active and warm, showing the father using his super abilities in a far-off place. The book starts with the Hero Dad saying goodbye and ends with him returning and warmly embracing his son.
A new book in series, Hero Mom, came out in 2013. This one starts with seven different children saying. “Our moms are superheroes” and follows the same pattern, so for a mechanic it says “My mom can’t transform into a machine, but she can make airplanes fly, trucks run, and tanks roll.” Hero Mom shows a mom and daughter skyping – a common and important method of communication for military families. Again the book ends with a mom and child warmly embracing after she returns.
Many of the other books depicting children who have a parent in the military (click here for a list) are too complicated for the youngest children, so I highly recommend Hero Dan and Hero Mom for the smallest military children who have short attention spans and limited experience of the world. For other small children the books can show some of the many different things parents do when they leave for work.
This is a book I used in a storytime for military families at the Williamsburg Regional Library.
Check the WRL catalog for Hero Dad.
In a recent Gallup survey, 75% of the respondents said that the Bible is the inspired word of God; about half of those said it was literally the word of God. However, even the most generous estimates are that perhaps 10% of Americans report reading the Bible cover to cover. (I’d be willing to bet that some of those who said they did were violating the Eighth or Ninth Commandment.)
Regardless of your motive, reading the entire Bible (and Plotz, a nonobservant Jew, limited himself to the Old Testament) is a taxing and enlightening project. 26 books filled with the movements of a nomadic people constantly fighting with their neighbors, begetting generation after generation, and laying down precise rules about who and what could actually approach God can get pretty tiring. Besides, your Sunday School teacher or Hollywood took the important parts and left all the rest behind, right?
One of the first things Plotz discovers is that those stories aren’t quite as straightforward as most people would like to think. Two versions of the creation story? A parade of liars, cheats, dastards and worse as the Lord’s Chosen? Wrathful and genocidal zealots committing mass murder in His name? And that’s just the first book.
It gets worse as God continually writes and rewrites the Covenant, punishes the innocent and gives passes to the guilty, and accepts child sacrifice in violation of His own law. When the Israelites come into their own in Canaan, the fun really starts. Instead of a land flowing with milk and honey, the Israelites created a land flowing with blood. (That’s according to the Bible – it’s highly unlikely that the area could have supported the hundreds of thousands of Canaanites and Israelites cited in the various stories.)
The best part of the book is that Plotz doesn’t indulge in exegesis. He’s not qualified, as he himself says. Instead, he gives a chapter-by-chapter (OK sometimes he groups chapters together when they’re related) account of the Bible as he’s reading it. His tone varies from flip to bemused to outraged to wonder-filled as he works his way through the stories, poetry, inspiration and contradictions of a book which has provided continuity to the Jewish people and has influenced Western history for 2000 years. But he also finds that knowing how the stories fit together equips him to continue a tradition of doubting and challenging a world where righteousness is no guarantee of happiness or even survival.
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