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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Each winter I try to read something from the 19th century that I have not read before. These sprawling, character-laden stories seem to be just the thing for reading the winter blues away. I had intended to get started on something over the Christmas holidays, but circumstances prevented me, so in January, on the recommendation of a colleague ~ thanks, Penelope ~ I dove into Our Mutual Friend.
Dickens’ last finished novel is, in some ways, a recapitulation of many of his earlier themes; poverty, social climbing, unscrupulous lawyers, and loving families all make appearances. It is also typical Dickens in its many plot lines that run in parallel for so long that you cannot see where they are ever going to intersect or even resolve. And, to be honest, they do not always resolve cleanly; some plots just seem to drift away and are never heard from again. Nonetheless, the story is a fascinating one, and it is worth the time to read through it.
Like Bleak House, Our Mutual Friend concerns an inheritance, in this case, one gone oddly wrong. Young John Harmon, on his way back from abroad to take up the profitable “dust” business left to him by his estranged father, is thought to have been murdered by a local boatman, and a body found floating in the river confirms that suspicion. The will stipulates that John only inherits if he marries Bella Wilfer. Needless to say, the body in the river is not John, and the story, or one of the stories, revolves around Harmon’s efforts to prove the boatman innocent of his murder, to woo the girl that his father’s will would have forced him to marry, and to come to his rightful inheritance. I told you things got complicated.
There are a lot of other tales here too: the pursuit of Lizzy Hexam, whose father supposedly killed John Harmon, by a lawyer and a schoolmaster; the trials and tribulations of the Veneerings, who are seeking to rise up in society; and the ups and downs of the delightful Mr. and Mrs. Boffin. Written in serial form, abrupt shifts of scenery, plot, and cliffhangers abound. But Dickens manages to wrap everything up at the end, pulling together the various strands of the story in sometimes surprising ways. I was delighted to meet several new characters here who will stay with me–Jenny Wren, Noddy Boffin, Mr. Riah, and Reginald (R.W.) Wilfer among them. They can join company with any of Dickens’ better-known creations. Our Mutual Friend is an excellent novel to start with if you are new to Dickens, and if you enjoyed others, you will find much to like here too.
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Nikki Beckett is a modern-day Persephone. One hundred years ago, Cole took her to the Everneath, where Everlivings like him feed off the lives of forfeits—mortals with nothing left to live for. But Nikki still had one thing left. She was supposed to retain no memory of her previous life. Forfeits shouldn’t even be able to function after they have been drained. But when Nikki woke, she was still herself. Cole realized that Nikki was very special and asked her to stay with him forever as an Everliving. Knowing that she would then be required to feed off of forfeits herself, Nikki turned him down, and her fate was sealed. Nikki would return to the Surface, but after six months she will be returned to endure a painful eternity fueling the Everneath.
When Nikki returns to the Surface only six months have passed since her family and friends thought she ran away. Now she has six months to make amends before the Everneath claims her again. All Nikki had intended was to set a few things right, say a proper goodbye, and keep to the fringes for the time she had left. But it turns out to be harder to stay uninvolved than she expected. Her father, her brother, and her best friend Jules all want answers. There is the added pressure of Cole, and his attempts to change her mind about becoming an Everliving. And there’s Jack. How can she say goodbye to the person 100 years in the Everneath couldn’t erase?
Everneath is the first in a planned trilogy that will appeal to paranormal romance and mythology fans alike. Check out the sequel, Everbound.
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I am feeling very meta-…, writing about a book that is about writing about books, some of which are about writing. I have a great affection for essays and my library at home has lots of examples from Montaigne to Abbey to McPhee to the Whites (E.B and Katherine) and many more. When I came across this collection of Nick Hornby’s essays on books he has read, written originally for The Believer magazine, on the new book cart, I checked it out, immediately realized I needed to own it, and went to the bookstore and bought a copy. Hornby’s column, “Stuff I’ve Been Reading,” has been running more or less monthly since 2003 and covers just that–books that Hornby has read in the past month. Each essay begins with a list of books purchased that month and then a second list of books read. Hornby then proceeds to discuss those two lists and anything else that comes into his agile, inventive, and always entertaining mind.
There are two ways to read books like this. First, you can look at the lists the author offers, and count how many titles you have read, or at least heard of, reveling in your superior literary tastes. This is the competitive, ego-driven option. Or, you can step back, read the essays, and start making your own lists of titles mentioned that you ought to go right out and get and read. This is, of course, the more mature way to read the book. OK, I did both.
Hornby is a font of great ideas for books to read as his interests, his own protests to the contrary, go beyond football (by which he means soccer) and rock-and-roll. From all types of fiction to a fascinating array of nonfiction, Hornby’s descriptions of his monthly reading are filled with titles I want to read right now. As The Believer‘s “About” page indicates: “We will focus on writers and books we like. We will give people and books the benefit of the doubt.” So the reviews here are generally positive, and that is great. I would much rather hear about why I should be interested in a particular book or writer than why I shouldn’t.
This is also a book about what it is to be a reader, and Hornby captures all the ups and downs of the reading life–those times when you just cannot get through a book and the times when you start a book and the next thing you know it is 3 a.m. and you are still reading. Hornby understands and conveys with humor the times when life gets in the way of reading. Spouses, children, deadlines, one’s own work, and, yes, the Arsenal vs. Manchester United match, all have a way of derailing our reading time. That being the case, it is great to have a guide as thoughtful, eloquent, and passionate as Nick Hornby to offer some possible titles to get you back on the road to reading.
Check the WLR catalog for Ten Years in the Tub
The gentleness of this story will please readers as they travel back to a simpler time. Little Lizzie lives with mama, papa, and baby in the Australian bush country during the pioneer days. Lizzie’s playful imagination keeps her and mama entertained while papa is away. Children will be amazed by the character’s ability to create such fun and uplifting diversions for herself. We all desire creativity to be ours and to witness it in Lizzie is to have insight into a true dreamer.
Check the WRL catalog for Lizzie Nonsense.
The Bravest Knight was one of the first books Mercer Mayer created. This story was originally titled “Terrible Troll” and has now been entirely redone in vivid color. It will remind parents of the Little Critter stories they have read over the years. As the main character wishes to have lived a thousand years ago, the reader goes to the land of castles, Kings, Queens, good knights and bad knights. The small boy fancies that he works for the bravest knight in the kingdom and they proceed on many brave adventures. The illustrations have numerous clever details. The ending has a twist that will have children picking up this book again and again.
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Be warned: This is one of those books that you won’t want to put down once you start reading.
The List is about… a list. You may know the kind: who is smartest, who is best in sports, who you want to kiss, who you don’t want to kiss…
At fictional Mount Washington High School it has become a tradition to post the prettiest and the ugliest girl in each grade on the last Monday of September.
The book follows the eight girls through the week following the posting. The story alternates between the characters – the new girl, the jock, the mean girl, the popular girl, the wanna-be popular girl, the outsider… It’s amazing how much you can find out about someone by observing one week of her life. And this is the week prior to the Homecoming dance, so a lot is happening.
The author manages to quickly jump below the surface labels to show the person inside. The person who is so much more than a name on a list. And as you may guess, the girls who make it on the list, whether as prettiest or ugliest, have a tough time with being singled out for her looks.
The List is fast-paced and entertaining as well as insightful. The story doesn’t end with all the pieces neatly tied up, which may frustrate some readers. But, like me, I think that many more readers will find this glimpse heartbreaking and thought-provoking. I just couldn’t put the book down until I read every word. I think this would make a great book for discussion – whether with adults or teens or a combination of both. I can promise you this, you won’t look at another list the same way!
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Time for a confession. I’ve been binge-watching the SyFy series Haven on Netflix. Haven is a fictional small town in Maine where people are cursed with unusual gifts–like being able to conjure storms when they are stressed or make monsters attack when they are frightened. It’s not spells or demon powers–it’s what residents call “the troubles.” The series has an interesting (and attractive) cast, and I like the supernatural twist on the solve-the-mystery-in-an-hour format.
In the opening credits of every episode there’s a note that the series is based on The Colorado Kid by Stephen King. So I read the book.
Newspaper intern Stephanie spends an afternoon with veteran newspaper men Vince and Dave discussing a cold case mystery. It’s a case the older men say isn’t really appropriate for a big newspaper like the Boston Globe because unlike many of the often repeated local stories–like the ghost lights or the mysterious shipwrecked boat–this one doesn’t have a clean “musta-been” explanation. For example, the ghost lights appearing above the baseball field “musta-been” a reflection off the clouds, or maybe it “musta-been” aliens. As Vince explains, the story of the Colorado Kid has too many unknown factors.
He and Dave proceed to tell Steff what little they know about how a man from Colorado went to work one morning and ended up dead on a little island off the coast of Maine only hours later. He was unidentified for months. But even when the police followed an initially missed clue and identified him, they were no closer to understanding why he was found so far from home or why he had a Russian coin in his pocket.
Nothing fits together, and that can be frustrating for some readers, but I liked the interaction between Stephanie and the old timers. It was nice to see that she was beginning to fit in with the small town community. And I liked that Vince and Dave laid out all they knew about the Colorado Kid and accepted there are just too many things still unknown to be able to give a guess, a “musta-been” explanation, as to what happened. The newspaper can’t print the story because there’s nothing but questions left at the end.
So what’s all this have to do with Haven the TV series? Some character and place names are the same, and some facts about the mystery of the “Colorado Kid” are mentioned in earlier episodes, but you really get to the meat of it in the author notes at the end of the book. King explains that not all mysteries are solvable, and “it’s the beauty of the mystery that allows us to stay sane.” Nicely put, Mr. King. And I think the reminder that everything doesn’t always have an answer is the inspiration for the television show.
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Just for fun, check the WRL catalog for season 1 of Haven
Ten years ago, Quinn was interrupted right before she walked down the aisle by her fiance’s brother, Frank. Frank felt compelled to tell her that Burke, her fiance, had had an affair (or two) while they were engaged. After calling off the wedding, Quinn and Frank leave town for a couple days of drowning sorrows and steamy sex. When Quinn comes back to her senses, she returns home alone and settles into a quiet rut. Which is where the story picks up.
Quinn has a successful business making original bridal gowns (as penance for walking out on her own wedding?) She prides herself on being able to create the perfect gown for the bride and her party.
When Dolly, the grandmother of the two brothers decides to get remarried, she comes to Quinn for her gown. And Quinn realizes she’s not as over the high school romance as much as she thought she was.
With the help of her best friend Glenn, she tries to change her life. He gives her a mission every day for a month (experience speed dating, eat breakfast out, try a new hairstyle, etc.) There are some laugh out loud moments as Quinn tries new things to shake up her perspective. (I made a mental note not to try all of Glenn’s suggestions!) And with the brothers back in town for the wedding, there is certainly opportunity to confront the past and put it behind her.
In many ways it reminded me of the movie The Runaway Bride. Like the Julia Roberts character, Quinn needs to figure out who she is before she can take the steps to be with someone else.
Harbison’s characters are imperfect, and that’s what makes them appealing. I felt like I knew people like them in “real life”–and ended the book hoping they would find their happily ever after.
Check the WRL catalog for Chose the Wrong Guy, Gave him the Wrong Finger
The narrator of this WWII historical thriller is a coward, a quisling, a traitor to her country. She has caved under pressure (okay, you might call it torture) from her Gestapo captors and blabbed everything she knows about wireless codes and English military secrets. The real Resistance prisoners she’s held with spit on the ground when she walks by.
Held for weeks in a makeshift prison in occupied France, our narrator is writing a confession of sorts for SS-Hauptsturmführer von Linden, who really wants details about English double agents and air forces, but is getting more story than he bargained for: her first flight on a Puss Moth, her recruitment as a special ops agent, and, especially, her friendship with Maddie Brodatt, a female pilot with the Air Transport Auxiliary.
And it’s weird, but in the slowly-emerging picture of our narrator’s old life… she doesn’t sound like a coward. In fact, I keep picturing Steve McQueen. Steve might be dismayed that I have mentally cast him as a tiny Scottish blonde, but there is a clear Steve McQueen vibe coming through in her attitude. Specifically, Steve McQueen in The Great Escape: cracking wise, mouthing off, locked up in the cooler with his baseball and biding his time until the next escape attempt.
And this handwritten confession has been underlined in key places–passages that describe the repurposed hotel/prison, its layout, the timing of the guards, everything you might need to know, in short, if you were planning a rescue mission.
I’ve gushed about Elizabeth Wein’s prose before, and I’ll say it again: not a word is wasted. Details about the English home front, wartime aviation, and the French resistance fly by in support of a cracking good adventure. I did not need to see the closing bibliography to know that the author immersed herself in memoirs from the time, because she uses the kinds of detail that only real life supplies to fiction. Nor did it come as a surprise that Wein has firsthand experience as a pilot. Her descriptions of England as seen from the sky are some of the book’s most moving passages.
Suspense, characters you care about, a thrilling and heartbreaking adventure. Historical fiction: this is how you do it.
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If you enjoy television shows like Criminal Minds or CSI or Cold Case, or any of the many TV dramas that involve solving criminal cases in an hour, you should pick up the YA novel The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes.
Cassie is a 17-year-old with a gift for reading people. At the beginning of the book she’s working in a diner using her gift of picking up subtle details to figure out what kind of eggs a customer might order, or if they are likely to skip on the check. She catches the attention of an FBI agent named Briggs who has developed an experimental program that uses gifted teens to help solve cold cases.
He asks Cassie to join his group of “naturals” so she can develop her skills. Cassie doesn’t have anything to lose. Her dad is serving overseas in the military and her mother, who taught her much of what she knows about reading people, was murdered years ago. With little to keep her in Denver with her grandmother and the hope that maybe she can learn something about her mother’s unsolved murder, she agrees to join the eclectic group and work for the FBI.
The “naturals” live together in a house in Quantico, Virginia, near FBI headquarters. She meets Michael, the handsome rebel who reads emotions, but doesn’t like to be read himself; Dean, the other profiler, who is the son of a convicted murderer; Lia, who specializes in deception and sarcasm; and Sloane, the computer nerd whose gift is numbers and probability. The characters are easy to distinguish and likeable–if also somewhat stereotypical.
The plot moved along quickly and kept me entertained. Interspersed with the training exercises and the teens getting to know one another (in part through a risky game of “Truth or Dare”) are chilling chapters from a serial killer–a killer who seems to be escalating in the number and brutality of murders… a killer who targets Cassie as the next victim.
The Naturals is listed as the first in a series. I couldn’t find out when #2 is due, but will stay on the lookout.
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The Love of Two Stars is a retelling of a traditional Korean legend. It tells the story of two stars, Altair and Vega – or Kyonu and Jingnyo as they are known in Korea – that meet in the Milky Way on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar year.
Kyonu, a farmer, and Jingnyo, a weaver, live in a kingdom in the starry sky. Kyonu is a good farmer and has the strongest steers in the land. Jingnyo is a good weaver and makes the strongest and most beautiful cloth in the land. One day, they meet in a garden and fall instantly in love. But they spend too much time together, and the people’s farms go unplowed and their clothes begin to wear thin. The king becomes angry with the lovers and banishes them to the ends of the galaxy – Kyonu to the East and Jingnyo to the West. They can only meet once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month.
But when the time comes to be reunited, there is no bridge or boat for them to cross the Milky Way and so their tears flood the earth – until the magpies and crows realize they can help! (But I won’t give the ending away!) The tears Kyonu and Jingnyo shed when they have to part this time are gentle tears that nourish the earth.
The author was born in Seoul, Korea, and was told the tale by her own grandmother when she was a little girl. The book is full of rich, lush acrylic illustrations and is probably best suited to children aged four to eight. It can be read individually, in small groups, or even perhaps in a story-time. The Love of Two Stars provides a nice counterpart to Western fairy- and folk-tales, particularly in our increasingly diverse classrooms. It is valuable for children to realize that those who live in or come from different countries have their own treasured stories.
Check the WRL catalog for The Love of Two Stars.