Feed aggregator

Island on Fire, by Alexandra Witze and Jeff Kanipe

Blogging for a Good Book - Thu, 2015-05-07 01:01

Some volcanoes are world famous; everyone has heard of Mount Vesuvius, which destroyed Pompeii in the time of Pliny. Iceland’s volcanoes are less known, although they were in the news a few years ago when unpronounceable Eyjafjallajokull spewed out enough ash to disrupt European air travel for weeks. Eyjafjallajokull may be more present in modern consciousness but it isn’t the only, the largest, or even the most dangerous of Iceland’s many volcanoes. Recently, scientists and historians have been focusing their attention on Iceland’s fissure volcano Laki, which evidence suggests may have disrupted world climate for years after it started erupting in 1783.

Island on Fire’s long subtitle, “The Extraordinary Story of a Forgotten Volcano the Changed the World” sums up the problem with its history: this eruption occurred in a sparsely populated part of the world before the advent of easy international travel or communication. Nonetheless new research using techniques such as ancient ice cores suggests Laki’s eruption affected the climate all over the world. This lead to crop failures and famine and, depending on how you calculate it, may have killed millions of people. In a long eruption that continued over months Laki spewed out enough toxic gases to poison the entire lower atmosphere, especially over Europe. From all over Europe numerous newspaper accounts from the summer of 1783 report a “dry fog” that made it difficult for people to breathe.

Much of the surviving eyewitness account from Iceland comes from Jón Steingrímsson the ‘fire priest’ who famously gave a sermon while lava was bearing down on his village church. His journal reports unbelievable devastation and destruction, including the horrific symptoms in people and livestock from months of exposure to fluorine gas.

A compelling, if sometimes disturbing read, Island on Fire includes plenty of maps and black and white photos. The interested reader can also find color visuals of Iceland’s wonderful landscape, and the story of Laki’s eruption in the documentary Doomsday Volcanoes. For those interested in volcanoes in general try the documentary series Mega Disasters.

For another fascinating book about the historic effects of a major volcanic eruption try Tambora, by Gillen D’Arcy Wood. And for a gripping teen trilogy about the worldwide effects of an apocalyptic eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano I heartily recommend Ashfall by Mike Mullin.

Check the WRL catalog for Island on Fire.


Managing Manure: How to Store, Compost, and Use Organic Livestock Wastes, by Mark Kopeck

Blogging for a Good Book - Wed, 2015-05-06 01:01

Having farm animals is fun. They are cute and fun to watch, but (to put it as delicately as possible) they, um, poo a lot. Managing Manure may be about an impolite topic, but to those of us who live in the long-polluted Chesapeake Bay watershed it is an important one.

Apart from the obvious problems involving shoes, manure is, as author Mark Kopecky puts it, “Brown Gold”.  From Managing Manure I learned that much of the nutrients a farm animal eats are excreted.  For example, an average of 70 to 80 percent of the nitrogen goes right through, so manure is vital for recycling nutrients.

Based on solid research from many universities, Managing Manure is filled with practical information aimed at small farmers and gardeners. It does have some mild humor, such as a chapter sub heading of “Number One or Number Two?” but generally takes its important subject very seriously. It is a small book of a hundred pages with instructions on things like how to store, compost and use your Brown Gold. It includes line drawings throughout and a useful glossary, resource list and index.

Managing Manure is from Storey, the well-regarded publisher of farm and country lore which produces go-to books for all gardening and small scale livestock enterprises. This is the very newest of their books owned by Williamsburg Regional Library. Other books in our collection to look out for include titles such as Storey’s Guide to Keeping Honey Bees: Honey Production, Pollination, Bee Health, by Richard E. Bonney and Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of All Time, by Craig LeHoullier.

Managing Manure is a great book for readers interested in gardening as naturally as possible, such as people who enjoyed Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way: 18th Century Methods for Today’s Organic Gardener, by Wesley Greene. It will also appeal to readers interested in raising livestock who pored over Link to the Past, Bridge to the Future: Colonial Williamsburg’s Animals, by John P. Hunter.  You will learn much scintillating information such as the consistency of cow manure will depend on the quality of the food the cow eats.

Check the WRL catalog for Managing Manure.


Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh, by Sally M. Walker

Blogging for a Good Book - Tue, 2015-05-05 01:01

Anyone coming from Winnipeg is well aware that the most famous of all bears, Winnie-the-Pooh, was named after that Canadian city. Many people know that the real Christopher Robin visited the real Winnie Bear at London Zoo, but London is thousands of miles away from Winnipeg, so the connection back to Canada is not well-known, even to fans of the Bear of Little Brain. Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh sets out to change this grave lack!

For the youngest of readers as well as for the staunchest of fans the book does a wonderful job of capturing the amazing details of Winnie Bear’s life. It all started during World War I when a Canadian solider, Harry Colebourn, impulsively bought an orphaned bear cub when his troop train stopped briefly in Ontario. Despite the astonishment and doubts of his officers he promised to look after their new, small, brown mascot, named Winnipeg after their regiment’s home city. Harry was a veterinarian and his job was looking after the army’s horses and to his surprise Winnie fitted in well with the normally skittish horses. Harry’s regiment took Winnie along with them on their troop ship to England, but thought France would be too dangerous for the small bear, so Winnie lived out his days at London Zoo, as a bear so friendly that children were allowed to ride on his back.

Warmly illustrated by Jonathan D. Voss, this short book is a must-read for Winnie-the-Pooh fans of all ages. It is great for the whole family to share as older readers will enjoy the author’s note and pore over the historic photographs of the real bear and his real people. Very young Winnie-the-Pooh fans will be fascinated by the connection between their bear who is a toy and a real wild animal.

Check the WRL catalog for Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh.


Coming Home, by Greg Ruth

Blogging for a Good Book - Mon, 2015-05-04 01:01

With just a few words per page Coming Home captures the excitement and the anxiety, but mostly the joy, of a military homecoming. An elementary-school-aged boy is waiting at the airport with many other families, all smiling, but with tension showing in their body language. When the plane full of military personnel lands, all the waiting families run out to the runway, and then the hugs and happiness start. As the pages turn the boy witnesses many happy reunions but he gets more anxious as he searches for and fails to find his own loved one.

The warm earth tones of Coming Home’s expressive full-page spreads contrast with the action of the boy’s red shirt. The angles of view highlight his emotions, from the close up of the anxiety on his face to his isolation as he searches through the crowd, to his joy as he finally hugs his loved one.

Coming Home is spare and hopeful in its focus on the short period of the homecoming rather than the long wait. A much darker picture book about a child’s view of military deployment is Year of the Jungle, by The Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins. Coming Home is a great book to be shared with any lap-sized child, either a small military child or any child who has ever waited for anything and finally got their heart’s desire.

If you are interested in other books about military family lifestyles, look at my website Books for Military Children.

Check the WRL catalog for Coming Home.


Revival, by Stephen King

Blogging for a Good Book - Sat, 2015-05-02 02:01

We finish our week of superb blog posts from the Outreach Services division with Tova’s take on the latest by the prolific and talented Stephen King:

Six-year-old Jamie Morton is playing in his front yard on a hot summer day when he meets Reverend Charles Jacobs for the first time. Jacobs has come to the small town of Harlow, Maine to preside over the local church, and Jamie is immediately intrigued by the enigmatic young preacher. After all, the Reverend is passionate about electricity and creates cool gadgets like a miniature landscape with a walking Jesus figurine. Reverend Jacobs peppers his sermons and youth group lectures with stories and metaphors drawn from electricity’s mysterious properties.

When a horrific tragedy befalls minister Charles Jacobs, Jacobs delivers a shocking sermon that leads to his banishment from Harlow. And, as Jamie gets on with the business of growing up, Jamie’s memory of his former minister fades. After discovering a talent for guitar-playing at the age of thirteen, Jamie eventually goes on to lead a nomadic life playing gigs across the country with a succession of rock and roll bands. Unexpectedly, Jamie meets up with Charles Jacobs again; this time Jamie is in his mid-thirties and drugged out, abandoned, and desperate. Jamie’s acceptance of Jacobs’ help, based on the former minister’s now full-blown obsession with electricity, sets both of them on a course with terrifying consequences for Jamie. The two will meet once more, but it is unclear whether Jamie will make it out alive this time.

Like so many of King’s works, this book has heart. It is just as much a story about growing up and growing old as it is a story about the consequences of one man’s dangerous obsession. The horrifying events that unfold really just serve as a backdrop for greater contemplations about the course of life. Coming of age, sex, romance, addiction, loss, faith–all of these facets of life make an appearance in Revival, and they often had me thinking about my own life’s journey. Score this book another home run for Stephen King.

I also highly recommend the audiobook, as David Morse does an excellent job of bringing the book’s characters to life.

Check the WRL catalog for Revival

Or try Revival as an audiobook on CD


A Murder of Magpies, by Judith Flanders

Blogging for a Good Book - Fri, 2015-05-01 02:01

Our week of posts from the Outreach Division continues with this entry, from Ann Marie:

Well, I had the book I was going to write about all picked out but then I read A Murder of Magpies and knew that I had to change my book. A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders is a page-turning, fun and funny mystery set in the publishing world of present-day London.

The heroine of the story is Samantha “Sam” Clair, a single, “middle-aged, middling-ly successful” book editor at the publishing house of Timmins & Ross. The story begins when Sam arrives for work and several strange things happen during her day. The first strange event is when police Inspector Jake Field shows up to speak with her to see if she was expecting a delivery of a package. A bike courier was killed in a hit-and-run accident and his deliveries were missing. Sam’s name was on the courier’s delivery list. Unfortunately Sam has no idea what the missing package could have contained. After a busy day at work, which included playing phone tag with Kit Lovell, one of her authors, the second strange event happens when she arrives home to find out from her neighbors that some workmen tried to access her apartment—workmen Sam didn’t order.

Sam finally gets in contact with Kit Lovell that night. Kit is a gossipy fashion writer whose newest book is an exposé on the death of Spanish fashion designer Rodrigo Alemán and his relationship with the fashion house Vernet. Sam finds out that Kit’s typist might have sent a copy of his manuscript to Sam via the courier who was killed that morning. Kit also discloses that his apartment had been broken into and searched. Kit feels that he is being targeted by someone who wants to stop publication of his book.

The next day, Sam becomes worried when Kit doesn’t show up for a lunch meeting and she grows increasingly frustrated and worried by not being able to get hold of him through the rest of the afternoon. When she still can’t get in touch with him the next day, Sam calls Inspector Field and fills him in on the book, the break-in, and her missing author.  When Inspector Field doesn’t seem very interested in finding her author, Sam decides to do some looking on her own.

It’s all in a day’s work as Sam discovers money laundering schemes, gets pushed down the stairs by someone who broke into her apartment, goes to Paris for a fashion show, and deals with her most successful author’s new book, which seems to need some work in order for it to be another bestseller. Sam gets help in her search for Kit from her glamorous mother, a London tax attorney, Sam’s Goth assistant, Miranda, and even Sam’s reclusive upstairs neighbor, Mr. Rudiger. Also as the investigation goes on, Sam and the Inspector discover that there is definitely romantic chemistry between them. The investigation, though, takes a serious and urgent turn when an unidentified body is pulled from the Thames and until the DNA analysis comes in, the assumption is that the body might be Kit’s.

Sam is comfortable with herself, her job and her life. She’s protective of her friends and while she might be new to the detection business, she’s determined and smart. Fortunately she seems to keep her sense of humor throughout the story and I enjoyed her wise-cracks which she keeps to herself–mostly. I don’t know if there will be more Sam Clair mysteries, but I hope so!

Check the WRL catalog for A Murder of Magpies

Also available in Large Print format


Design Star: Lessons from the New York School of Flower Design, by Michael Gaffney

Blogging for a Good Book - Thu, 2015-04-30 02:01

Eletha continues our week of diverse posts from the WRL Outreach Services division:

Floral design was on my bucket list. Flower arrangements? Why? I love making things—working with my hands keeps me from talking too much. I would spend hours making paper and silk flowers—only to have my flower arrangements look awful. I just could not get my arrangements to look resplendent, dazzling, or gorgeous.

I conquered floral design when I accepted the task of making flower arrangements, corsages, and boutonnieres for a banquet. “Since you make such beautiful flowers, this is the perfect job for you,” the banquet committee members said. However, they did not know floral arrangement was extremely challenging for me.

Design Star: Lessons from the New York School of Flower Design by Michael Gaffney was the solution to my dilemma. In this book, Gaffney demystified the art of arranging flowers. He states: “Putting flowers together in a beautiful way is much like working a Rubik’s Cube; it is a formula to be followed more than an artistic creation.”

This book has easy to understand instructions and formulas that anyone may use to make flawless floral designs. Gaffney teaches the rules of design and gives tricks and tips to make each piece unique. The “6-5-1”, wiring and taping, boutonnieres, corsages, and the triangle design lessons were lifesavers. These lessons allowed me to create everything with ease. If you want to make beautiful floral arrangements, read Gaffney’s book. This book has something for everyone from the novice to the professional florist.

Check the WRL catalog for Design Star


The Ship of Brides, by Jojo Moyes

Blogging for a Good Book - Wed, 2015-04-29 01:01

Barbara continues our week of posts from WRL’s Outreach Services Division:

At the end of the Second World War there were many Australian war brides waiting to be reunited with their new British husbands. JoJo Moyes’s newest book, The Ship of Brides, chronicles the fictionalized journey. Based on the HMS Victoria’s 1946 passage from Sydney, Australia to Plymouth, England, the 650 female passengers, expecting transport via more luxurious accommodations, find themselves aboard a naval aircraft carrier, complete with planes, arms, and naval officers, heading towards their new life.

The four central characters of the story could not be more different: Jean, a teenager; Avice, a socialite; Frances, a former war nurse; and Margaret, a pregnant farm girl. This foursome, assigned to the same berth, is suddenly thrust together in intimate living quarters and faces the long, six-week voyage to their new lives. Add all-male officers and ship crew to the mix, along with a small group of WSO (Women’s Ship Officers) sent to chaperone the War Brides, and you have an interesting setting to explore the trials and tribulations faced by the temporary residents aboard the HMS Victoria. As with all groups of strangers, each individual brings his or her past, gradually revealed as their time together elapses.

Excerpts from newspaper articles, journal entries, ship’s logs, and other documents provide historical grounding for this fictionalized account of a true event. I recommend The Ship of Brides as a book group selection. The story provides a glimpse into the war brides’ anticipatory journey, filled with the hopes, dreams, and fears in a world yet unknown to them.

Check the WRL catalog for The Ship of Brides


The Harbinger, by Jonathan Cahn

Blogging for a Good Book - Tue, 2015-04-28 01:01

Next  up in this week from our Outreach Division, is Chris:

“The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones: the sycamores are cut down, but we will change them into cedars” Isaiah 9:10

Although Jonathan Cahn’s The Harbinger is a work of fiction, it has real life connections. From 9/11 to the leading up of The Great Recession the author shows a connection between ancient Israel to a present day warning of coming destruction to America. The author stresses that before God judges a nation, He will send a warning. However, just like ancient Israel, America has not responded with repentance, but defiance which is the focus of the scripture that man has taken out of context (Isaiah 9:10)

In Cahn’s tale, a mysterious stranger who I can only assume is an angel gives a man nine harbingers.  These are the same harbingers or warnings that were given to ancient Israel before its final destruction by the Assyrians and makes a parallel between each and the events of 9/11. At some point you will put this book down and open the bible, visit your library or search the internet for more information. I still remember the first time I had to step away from this book for a day or two, when I saw numerous videos of our past and current politicians quoting a scripture with no understanding of its true meaning. After the attacks of 9/11 the politicians said, “The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones: the sycamores are cut down, but we will change them into cedars.” Fiction mirrors reality, forcing us to think about the possibility of Cahn’s story coming to pass.

Check the WRL catalog for The Harbinger


Flight of the Sparrow: a Novel of Early America, by Amy Belding Brown

Blogging for a Good Book - Mon, 2015-04-27 01:01

Connie begins a week of posts from our Outreach Division:

I’m not sure why I picked up this book to read. I like historical fiction but I was never very interested in the Puritan era. The subtitle “A Novel of Early America” and the fact that the story was loosely based on a captive narrative written by Mary Rowlandson did catch my attention.

Mary Rowlandson, a Massachusetts Bay Colony Puritan, was captured by a local Native American tribe during King Philip’s War. As a slave, her story intersects with James Printer, a Nipmuc Indian who was raised in the Puritan culture, and apprenticed as a printer. James Printer belonged to a group of Native Americans who had converted to Christianity and were known as “Praying Indians.”

I found the story mesmerizing and along with the author’s note and reader’s guide at the end, I learned more about the Puritans, Native Americans and life in Colonial America. Without giving any more of the storyline away, this fast paced and compelling book made learning about a sad and difficult period of Native American and colonial history interesting. I would recommend this book to people who like to learn about other cultures and ways of life, as well as people interested in history. I think it would make an interesting book group choice as well.

Check the WRL catalog for Flight of the Sparrow


Inside the O’Briens, by Lisa Genova

Blogging for a Good Book - Fri, 2015-04-24 02:01

The O’Briens are an ordinary Boston family. Catholics of Irish descent, they have Sunday supper together every week, and the four early-twenties children still live in their parents’ house. The father, Joe, is a life-long, dedicated Boston cop while mother Rosie raised the children and now works part-time. Into this steady but satisfying existence is thrown deadly, hereditary, debilitating, degenerative Huntington’s Disease.

Lisa Genova’s many fans will be thrilled to learn that she is back with another dramatic and wrenching tale of a family battling a disease. Like Genova’s first book, Still Alice, with its portrait of early onset Alzheimer’s Disease, the disease portrayed here is entirely inherited. Children have a fifty percent chance of inheriting the genes from a gene-positive parent, but gene-positive people will always develop the disease. It is a cruel disease that some people don’t know they have until they get symptoms in their forties.

Huntington’s Disease drives the plot of Inside the O’Briens, but the deeper story is the love, strength and resilience of the O’Brien family. Keep the tissues handy for scenes when Joe is painfully aware of his own disintegration, such as when he stops being able to hug his wife because his chorea (involuntary movements) mean that he might hurt her.

Inside the O’Briens is a must-read for fans of Lisa Genova’s earlier books such as Left Neglected, as well as other compelling, but wrenching, family stories such as The Light Between Oceans.

Check the WRL catalog for Inside the O’Briens.


How Loud is a Lion? by Clare Beaton

Pied Piper Pics - Fri, 2015-04-24 01:01

Clare Beaton has created a clever book that shows characteristics of several different African animals. Each double-page spread ends with “But how loud is a lion? Shhh! Listen!” Your children will quickly pick up this refrain and chime in.  Will everyone be ready when we finally turn the page and discover how loud the lion is? And the humor of the last page can be enjoyed by all.

The applique and embroidery illustrations give this book a friendly, folk art atmosphere. This can be the jumping off point for a lesson on descriptive adjectives. Older audiences may also find this book a great stimulus for their own art projects.

Check the WRL catalog for How Loud Is a Lion?


Categories: Pied Piper Pics

In These Times: Living in Britain Through Napoleon’s Wars, 1793-1815, by Jenny Uglow

Blogging for a Good Book - Thu, 2015-04-23 01:01

Big social histories can seem forbidding with their blocks of print, lots of footnotes, and, too often, turgid writing style. In the hands of Jenny Uglow, though, history is anything but pedantic. I have been a fan of Uglow’s history writing since I read The Lunar Men, a collective biography of five men who, as Uglow posits, were “the inventors of the modern world, 1730-1810.” Here, Uglow brings her fluid writing style and attention to detail to the lives of the inhabitants of the Great Britain at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries.

In many ways, these times do not seem so far removed from our own, as social unrest, sectarian violence, fear of war and invasion, and income inequality set the tone. Napoleon’s military successes on the European continent led to his increasing power in France and heightened fears that his next target would be the English coast. Uprisings in Ireland only exacerbated these fears. Food shortages across England left many starving and taxation to pay for the war proved unpopular, leading to civil unrest that in light of the recent deposition and execution of Louis XVI left King George concerned not only for his crown but for his neck.

In telling these stories, Uglow moves easily and with mastery from the general to the specific. She makes exceptional use of diaries, letters, and journal entries to indicate how individuals responded to circumstances and then puts those reactions into the broader picture.

With the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo coming in June, anyone interested in the Napoleonic period will find something to enjoy here.

Check the WRL catalog for In These Times.


I Dreamt I Was a Dinosaur by Stella Blackstone and Clare Beaton

Pied Piper Pics - Wed, 2015-04-22 02:01

This book will delight  whether or not you have a dinosaur fan in the group. Each page introduces one or more dinosaurs to the reader. Each dinosaur is identified and the fact that each is given a first name isn’t a major drawback. The large and larger animals are the focus of the book but be sure to look for a snail that appears on each double-page spread.

There is no plot here. We are on a walk through an ancient landscape and we check out the animals around us. But that will not discourage your audience. This is perfect for group sharing as the pictures are large and bright and the text is minimal.

Facts about the Age of the Dinosaurs and descriptions and pronunciations of the dinosaur names are included at the end of the book.  Check the WRL catalog for I Dreamt I Was a Dinosaur.


Categories: Pied Piper Pics

River of Darkness, by Rennie Airth

Blogging for a Good Book - Wed, 2015-04-22 02:01

This is a mystery which will appeal to fans of Charles Todd’s detective Ian Rutledge. Like Rutledge, the main character, John Madden, is a Scotland Yard detective struggling with shell shock in the aftermath of World War I. He is called to a small village in Surrey where an entire family has been murdered.

As he works with local police, he is bothered by the meticulous planning that appears to have gone into the massacre and starts to suspect that this is not the killer’s first murder. With help from the local police constable, the comely female village doctor, and an Austrian psychologist, Madden slowly develops a portrait of the suspect: a former soldier and psychopath who is escalating at an alarming rate. He has his next victim picked out, and Madden’s challenge is to find out who and where before it’s too late.

Although comparisons to Rutledge will probably draw Charles Todd’s readers to this title, there are major differences. Madden’s demons are a little more straightforward than Rutledge’s, and the overall atmosphere is more optimistic. Airth allows healing and happiness to dangle within his protagonist’s reach, whereas Rutledge’s fans often wonder when his creator is going to give him a break already.

The psychological aspects will also appeal to fans of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series.

Check the WRL catalog for River of Darkness


Flora & Ulysses, by Kate DiCamillo

Blogging for a Good Book - Tue, 2015-04-21 01:01

Nancy from Circulation shares a review of this 2014 Newbery Award winner:

Flora Belle Buckman, the comic-reading cynic, rescues a squirrel after an accident in the neighbor’s backyard involving a seemingly possessed super-suction, multi-terrain 2000X vacuum cleaner. The altercation leaves the squirrel, later named Ulysses, with astonishing powers of strength, flight, and a poetic awakening. The story tells of the summer adventures had by these two in attempting to prove the special powers of Ulysses, while also touching on such topics as divorce, step-parent relations, and children’s fears of abandonment.

I found this type of fantasy to have an interesting approach to how a young girl deals with the strange and sometimes difficult circumstances of her life, in particular those dictated by the adults around her. This fantasy tale includes a typewriting superhero squirrel, a nerdy and needy neighbor kid named William Spiver, and a young girl who in times of trouble seeks guidance from her one source of truth and justice, the comic book The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incandesto!

This book was a fun read. There are sections where the narrative goes into comic book style, with the verbiage sounding much like a superhero adventure story. It includes terms such as “Holy unanticipated occurrences!” and, ever so popular with both Flora and her father, “Holy bagumba!” The illustrations support this comic style by including some pages with comic book block storyline sequences and inner monologues of the squirrel in “super hero” mode. Flora makes many references to the Incandesto comic book, in particular the answer to all dilemmas section, TERRIBLE THINGS CAN HAPPEN TO YOU.  I found it interesting how the main character, Flora, being the cynic she was, was able to rationalize the events of the moment by comparing them to the adventures of Incandesto, and thus her actions made perfect sense—at least to her.

Recommended for readers ages 8-12.

Check the WRL catalog for Flora and Ulysses.


The Death of Caesar, by Barry Strauss

Blogging for a Good Book - Mon, 2015-04-20 01:01

Strange that on a fine afternoon I’m thinking of death. Especially the death that killed whatever hope remained of a free Roman Republic—not that much hope existed. Julius Caesar had crossed the Rubicon, civil war wracked Rome, and the provinces were restive under the thumbs of local governors bent on earning glory on the backs of the locals. Caesar’s hollow gestures gave the discontented Senate little public reason to oppose him. He had the power to elevate or destroy the ambitious, he controlled both the public purse and a private fortune, and he was insulated by the support of his troops.

And so, over the course of a few weeks, senators conspired (I love that word—it literally means breathed together, conjuring up images of whispering figures close enough to smell each other’s breath) to test the waters and find the like-minded who believed Caesar had to go in order for the Republic—that is, the already-powerful—to rule. And on the Ides of March, gathered in the Theatre of Pompey, the conspirators struck.

Shakespeare’s famous scene compresses events that actually took place over a period of weeks as ordinary Romans tried to figure out which faction was either in the right or stood the best chance of winning the civil war everyone saw coming. Gladiators served as bodyguards for the conspirators, while army veterans swarmed into the city to ensure their land and pensions weren’t at risk. Both sides sculpted their public events to create drama and win support, but in the end it came down to money. Who could both fulfill Caesar’s will and pay the troops who would fight the actual battles?

Strauss pulls out of the wings a number of characters who are not featured in Shakespeare’s version. One of the most interesting is named Decimus, whom Shakespeare cast in a minor role as Decius Brutus. In fact, he was one of a trio—Marc Antony and Octavian being the other two—honored in one of Caesar’s triumphs, and was widely considered a rising star. It was Decimus, not Brutus, whose betrayal was more likely to have shocked Caesar, and Decimus whose post-assassination indecisiveness cost the conspirators their opportunities. Strauss also introduces us to the politically powerful women who pushed, pulled, financed, and slept their way to positions of influence. Far from the passive skirt-clutching simps that popular imagination consigns pre-Friedan women to, these were tough, astute players who had a vision of Rome’s future and who did all but carry swords into the battle.

Shakespeare can take credit for making this the most famous assassination in history, and his drama explores deeper themes than are found in the history. But the history is fascinating, and Strauss makes it read as a drama just as wonderful as Shakespeare’s.

Check the WRL catalog for The Death of Caesar.


There’s a Billy Goat in the Garden: based on a Puerto Rican folk tale. Retold by Laurel Dee Gugler, illus. by Clare Beaton

Pied Piper Pics - Mon, 2015-04-20 01:01

This week I’m going to share books illustrated by Clare Beaton. I love her fabric applique and embroidery collage illustrations. On her web page [www.clarebeaton.com] Ms. Beaton tells us that she was brought up in North London in England and continues to live and work there. She always loved folk art and used that inspiration in her children’s book work. She works with felt and a mostly vintage range of buttons, braids, and fabric. The pictures are all hand-stitched.

 

Two young farmers want the billy goat out of the garden (think back yard in America) but flowers and laundry drying on the line are too wonderful for goat to leave. One by one the other farm animals try their best to hurry the goat out of the garden. But this is a very stubborn goat. Can you guess what animal will finally send the goat on his way?

The collage illustrations are perfect for this story which is adapted from a Puerto Rican folk tale. The cumulative nature of the narrative is echoed in the pictures.

The illustrations are large enough to share with a group. The book may also be used in a family setting.

Check the WRL catalog for There’s a Billy Goat in the Garden.


Categories: Pied Piper Pics

Fraidyzoo, by Thyra Heder

Pied Piper Pics - Fri, 2015-04-17 01:01

What could Little T be afraid of at the zoo? Her parents and big sister try to figure it out alphabetically. As the family proceeds through the alphabet, they call out a letter or a description and use their bodies and whatever is lying around to act out the animal. Children will be able to guess the animal for each letter based on these clues, but the family goes from A to Z and still cannot guess what frightens Little T.

Upon arriving at the zoo, Little T’s family finally solves the mystery. When they return home they amusingly act out Little T’s fear as well. Your readers will never guess what Little T’s fear is, but the payoff will still be great, perhaps even better for being completely unexpected.

Check the WRL catalog for Fraidyzoo.


Categories: Pied Piper Pics

The Williamsburg Novels, by Elswyth Thane

Blogging for a Good Book - Fri, 2015-04-17 01:01

If you’ve already read the Williamsburg series, you can have a good laugh at this cover, which has a very noir, “Philip Marlowe in Colonial Williamsburg” feel that is completely unlike the actual novels. (Let me take a moment to picture Humphrey Bogart in a tricorn hat… OK, moving on.)

Elswyth Thane’s old-fashioned family saga begins in our own home town of Williamsburg in 1771. Julian Day, a schoolmaster newly arrived from England, is a staunch defender of King George, but befriends St. John Sprague despite his views on colonial independence. As revolution approaches, Day’s loyalties conflict with his friendships, including one with Tabitha “Tibby” Mawes, a young girl he helps to raise from poverty to gentility. That’s right: they are enemies “even in love!”

May-December romances are a recurring theme of this series, so it’s not much of a spoiler to say that Tibby and Julian become the matriarch and patriarch of a family which the novels follow for generations. Jeffrey Archer’s Clifton Chronicles, Ken Follett’s Century trilogy, and Jane Smiley’s “Last Hundred Years” trilogy seem to be leading a return of great, multigenerational sagas, those books with family trees on the endpapers to help you remember the cast of characters. Elswyth Thane was there first, and her seven-volume series follows the entangled Day, Sprague, Murray, and Campion families on both sides of the Atlantic, from the American Revolution to the early days of WWII. (At the time Thane was writing, this was recent history.)

Genteel, involving stories, these novels are gentle reads: there is love and war, but not sex or violence. Their age (or mine) shows in places; the Civil War-era episodes have a Margaret Mitchell-like nostalgia for Southern plantation life that is not concerned with the system of slavery on which it was based. My favorite, Ever After, takes place during the Spanish American War and covers every highlight of romance and melodrama that one might wish: War! Journalism! Malaria! A locket hiding a portrait of a forbidden love! When I picked it up after a decades-long gap, I expected to find it less readable, but hours later I was still sitting in the same armchair, caught up all over again in doomed romance and tearful deathbed goodbyes.

Check the WRL catalog for Dawn’s Early Light.

The series continues with Yankee Stranger, Ever After, The Light Heart, Kissing Kin , This Was Tomorrow, and Homing.