OK, let’s get this out of the way first – the book we have in our collection is actually titled The American, which as you read the book becomes patently ridiculous. This is a movie tie-in for a George Clooney vehicle, which got middling to bad reviews from ‘ordinary’ people, but middling to good reviews from top critics. If the movie follows the pacing of the book, I can see where the thrill movie seeker would come away less than satisfied.
A Very Private Gentleman is slow, but in the way that develops tension even as the gentleman slowly allows readers into his very private world until we get a more complete view of a character who rationalizes and even elevates the evil he does. Even the nature of that work is trickled out until we fully understand that he is a master craftsman of death. Not the death-dealer, but the maker of the custom weapons the death dealers require. That doesn’t make him any less a target, and there are plenty of people who want him dead.
His craft requires subtlety, patience, watchfulness, and mobility. For this, his final job, he has chosen to live in a small Italian village under the identity of a painter of butterflies, so he becomes Signor Farfalla to the inhabitants. While awaiting the commission, he argues theology over bottles of fine wine with the local priest, becomes known at the local bars and restaurants, and a regular customer at the local brothel. Even considering his obsession with security, this is the most idyllic place he’s ever lived.
Indeed, the idyll is seductive. The kindness of people who don’t demand intimacy, the eternal feel of this ancient village, the excellent food, the romps with two beautiful girls, the landscape around his temporary home all call to him that he can maintain this identity and settle into a well-deserved (but still watchful) retirement. But his sixth sense turns up a hint of danger, and the idyll becomes less than ideal.
Signor Farfalla still has that commission to fulfill, which means meeting the client for the specifications, finding the materials, creating and testing the weapon, then making the final delivery. Each of those is a potential vulnerability, and Signor Farfalla practices his professional paranoia to the hilt. When the commission comes face-to-face with the source of his unease, it quickly becomes apparent that his professional life will cause his personal death.
Signor Farfalla addresses the story directly to the reader, even telling us that he’s withholding information that might allow us to identify him. That almost-confiding tone also conveys a sense of hubris when he claims the rightful role he believes history owes him, but involves us in his love of nature, and the good life he’s got. That personal connection makes the climax much more shocking than a genre thriller as the final revelations erupt and Signor Farfalla must make fatal decisions.
Check the WRL catalog for A Very Private Gentleman (aka The American)
Jennnifer D. shares this review:
It’s just about flu season, so it’s the perfect time to read a book about what could happen when you get your flu shot. Getting a shot is not the most pleasant experience, so here’s a little incentive. It might just give you ESP.
After getting their flu shots, twenty-two students of Bloomberg High School can suddenly read each other’s minds. Everyone’s thoughts are on display. Unfortunately, knowing that people can read your mind can make you think of all the things you’d least like others to know. That time you cheated on a test. That time you cheated on your boyfriend. These teens quickly learn that they don’t want to know what their parents, teachers, and even best friends really think about. Not that there aren’t benefits: better grades, better relationships, better futures. It’s easy to be the smartest person in the room when you know what everyone else is thinking.
Secrets might be a thing of the past for these students, but they all have one big secret to share. In the immortal words of Benjamin Franklin, “Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” The chances of twenty-two keeping a secret are next to nothing. Soon everyone from their parents to the CDC knows about their abilities and it’s time to decide. Whose thoughts do they want in their heads for the rest of their lives – their own, or everyone’s?
Check the WRL catalog for Don’t Even Think About It.
It’s a small community, tight-knit in the ways that places get when the residents watch their children grow up together. The parents have high expectations and mostly refuse to recognize that their teens are moving beyond childhood. The teens are experimenting – drugs, hair color, sex, clothing – but there’s still pressure not to go too far outside the bounds. There’s jealousy, and memories of the kid who threw up on the school bus in second grade. There’s the long shadow of past infidelities, spouse abuse, alcoholism, and divorce that hangs over these kids, who can’t name or deal with the emotions that such trauma bring. Megan Abbott couldn’t have chosen to set The Fever in a more normal place.
Until one of the bright, talented, and popular girls has a seizure in class, followed by another at home, these kids haven’t experienced the trauma of serious illness among their peers. What better way to lose that teenage feeling of immortality than seeing a familiar face twisted in rictus and a familiar body sprawled in a tangle of desks? Add to that the ubiquity of cell phone cameras and that trauma quickly spreads across the world. Scary, right?
Then it happens to another girl, and another, and another. Now the singular tragedy becomes an epidemic and people start pointing fingers. Is it something in a vaccine? A chemical spill? Abuse by the boys? The Internet proves a goldmine of information and opinions and this normal community begins to break down in fear. Is the mystery ever solved? Yes and no – but I’ll leave the reading to you.
Abbott tells this story of growing hysteria through the eyes of the Nash family. Deenie is in her first year of high school, and it’s her best friend Gabby who suffers the first episode. Older brother Eli is a sports standout and the target of aggressive girls who want to score on the popular boy. And dad Tom is a popular teacher at the school all the affected girls attend. That should make for a cohesive family, but grouped together as they are they make a convenient target for those looking for scapegoats.
Each of the Nashes is captured in their individual voice, with the concerns and qualms of each fully articulated. The tone of the rest of the community – from the girls posting YouTube videos of their symptoms and fears to the outraged parents to the authorities trying to sift through mountains of opinion for some sensible explanation – also feels truthful. Knowing that there’s nothing they aren’t seeing on a daily basis, I wouldn’t hesitate to give this to a mature young adult reader, but it’s also worth suggesting to any adult who wants to look across the chasm of time and see what those young adults are facing.
Check the WRL catalog for The Fever
Award-winning author and illustrator Kevin Henkes has created a sweet story with A Good Day, a book that tells about the events that make a little yellow bird, little white dog, little red fox, and little brown squirrel have a bad day. However, with diligence and hope, the animals’ bad day turns into a good day after all!
As always, Henkes has crafted colorful, eye-catching pictures that are framed within each page. The story is readable for beginning readers and will make a fun shared reading for emergent readers just starting out! With its timeless message and beautiful, one-of-a-kind illustrations, A Good Day is a great book!
Check the WRL catalog for A Good Day.
I’ve blogged before about one of Gabrielle Zevin’s wonderful novels, but am ashamed to say that I didn’t make the link between the two right away. It wasn’t until I was digging in to see if one of WRL’s reviewers had written about The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry that I made the connection; I certainly couldn’t tell by tone or topic, since both are very different from the earlier book.
A. J. Fikry is one of those books that book people like. It reaffirms the role that reading plays in creating community and bringing diverse people together to hold close, tear at, or speak in awe of the books that affect them. (Like most book people, I include everything from a few hours of entertainment to a fundamental questioning of one’s role in the universe as affecting the reader.)
The title character lives on an island, literally and metaphorically. Alice Island is a long ferryboat ride from the nearest town, itself a long drive from the nearest city. Fikry runs the only bookstore on the island, marking him as somewhat of an oddity among his neighbors. And he is in a black depression, mourning the sudden death of his much-loved wife. He drifts through the days, turning people away, dully watching his business fail, and frequently drinking himself into a stupor. Following one of those nights, he wakes to find his most valuable possession gone.
Shortly after, a package (OK, it’s a baby abandoned by her distraught mother) is left in the unlocked shop, and Fikry is thrown out of his self-absorption and isolation. Between the chief of police and the Social Services office following up on Maya’s case, and the women convinced that no man can possibly care for a little girl, Island Books’ doorbell and cash register are suddenly ringing again. And A. J. Fikry’s life is saved. Not only that, it takes on a new vigor, and the next thing he knows he’s grabbing at all kinds of opportunities. But life is life, and one tragedy is no inoculation against future sorrows.
The story covers about 20 or so years, with some chapters covering small steps and others making giant leaps into the future. Zevin introduces each chapter with a small annotation of short stories and novels Fikry is writing to his daughter, a literary bequest for the clever girl who is growing to be an accomplished young woman. As she matures, so does his analysis of the reading he wishes for her. The intimacy of those notes, plus Fikry’s rediscovered contact with the quirky islanders make this a tender story completely unlike the searing tale told in The Hole We’re In. Try them both (or at least read the blog entry) and you’ll see what I mean.
Check the WRL catalog for The Storied Life of A.J Fikry
Thirteen-year-old best friends, who describe themselves as “two lobes of the same brain,” visit an eccentric uncle at his Vermont mansion, and in the tradition of such vacations, end up in peril. Gregory, the smart-alecky one, warns his friend Brian that Uncle Max is eccentric, but it becomes obvious when they arrive and he has the butler burn all of their luggage. Uncle Max prefers that boys wear knickerbockers and speaks like a character out of Dickens.
Exploring the house, the boys discover a curious board game without any rules but with a layout that seems to correspond to the old, Victorian house and its grounds. As the boys solve puzzles, the board expands to reveal more pathways and tests. It’s no Candyland, though… more like Zork, with gruesome monsters lurking in the dark, trolls, and a mysterious stranger with a bladed yo-yo. Someone really should have taught these boys not to get involved in a magical game before they know the rules… or the stakes.
A bit like Narnia by way of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events, this first book in a series has marvelously despicable villains and writing that combines a real sense of malice with a wicked, nutty sense of humor.
I liked the friendship in this book. The boys are very different, but they “get” each other; Gregory’s off-the-wall sense of humor is balanced by Brian’s quieter, deep-thinking approach to problems. They may get on each other’s nerves, but neither doubts that the other will be there when it counts.
The ending has some nifty twists and sets the story up to continue in three more books.
Check the WRL catalog for The Game of Sunken Places.
Our guide to this episode of revenge is Max Wolfe, a heroic but disgraced detective constable of the London police. Reassigned after disobeying orders, he joins the Homicide squad and begins working the case of a banker killed in his office, with no clue to identity or motive of the killer. Then a homeless drug addict is killed the same way. A photo on the murdered banker’s desk provides a link between the two – they had gone to one of the most prestigious public schools in England. The photo also gives the investigators the names of five others linked with the victims, and a reason to dig into the past.
The investigation is balked at every turn. The school’s headmaster and staff, the surviving “boys,” even the families of the dead men want to put an end to it. The murderer’s weapon and method are unlike any Wolfe’s legendary boss, Detective Chief Inspector Victor Mallory, has seen, requiring special skills no potential suspect has. With a rabble-rousing blogger claiming responsibility and making oblique threats towards Wolfe and the rest of the department, the pressure to solve the case mounts.
Wolfe is a tenacious investigator, but he doesn’t have unlimited time to investigate. He’s a single dad, caring for a five-year old daughter deeply wounded by the loss of her mother. He’s also responsible for Stan, the spaniel puppy his daughter has bonded with. Parsons takes these potential weak points and turns them into strengths that give Wolfe both purpose and insight, plus inject tenderness, humor, and a little humanity into a tough character.
The Murder Man has enough red herrings to stock the fish market across from Wolfe’s house, plus some interesting behind-the-scenes views of the London police. The blend is well-balanced, making this a fun and tense mystery.
Check the WRL catalog for The Murder Man
Patricia Polacco is an author known for writing about events from her own childhood. The book Emma Kate is an homage to the imaginary elephant friend she had while growing up. It is a perfect read for young readers with large, pencil sketch illustrations and one-two sentences on each page.
Throughout Emma Kate, Polacco details what the young girl and elephant do together. They are best friends who eat pink ice-cream together, sit at lunch with each other, and ride bikes home from school. Sometimes, on school nights, Emma Kate even gets to sleep over! The only color in this book is the coloring of the little girl’s clothes, which is the same pattern Polacco uses on the end pages of her book. This color scheme was done intentionally, which readers will figure out when they see the sweet surprise “twist” at the end of the book.
Polacco reveals that friendship comes in all forms with her winning picture book, Emma and Kate!
Check the WRL catalog for Emma Kate.
Jennifer D. shares this review:
Kate DiCamillo’s work has always been quite popular, but The Magician’s Elephant is definitely my favorite. It features an eclectic cast of characters including a fortune teller, two orphans, a magician, a nun, a dog, an ex-soldier, a policeman and his wife, and an elephant.
One of the orphans, Peter Augustus Duchene, is searching for his sister. He has been told that she is dead but maintains the hope that, somewhere out there, she is alive. His hopes seem to be well-founded when he meets a fortune teller who tells him that in order to find his sister, he must “follow the elephant.” While that prospect seems to be quite the impossibility, at least the fortune has confirmed that Peter’s sister is alive. Then he overhears the most amazing story. A magician in town has performed an unbelievable trick. He has materialized an elephant out of thin air! Could this be the elephant that will lead Peter to his sister?
The Magician’s Elephant is a quirky, lovely book that quietly tells a story of, as Ms. DiCamillo puts it, “love and magic.”
Check the WRL catalog for The Magician’s Elephant
If You Were Born a Kitten is a realistic book about the way baby animals look, feel, and behave once they are born. Many animals react in different ways once they are born. For example, baby seahorses “pop out of their father’s pouch and swim away with hundreds of sisters and brothers.” Also, bear cubs are actually born with no hair at all and they must cuddle up to their mother to keep warm. In the end, the reader discovers that the narrator of the book is actually the mother of the baby to whom she is referring. “Naked as a bear cub. Soft as a porcupette. Wrinkled as a deer mouse. Free as a kitten. You.”
The realistic illustrations engage the reader and show affectionate love between the different animals. The soft, pencil drawings are beautiful.
Check the WRL catalog for If You Were Born a Kitten.
She’s one of the most memorable and enduring superheroes: an Amazon from Paradise Island sent to America to promote liberty and freedom while fighting suffering and injustice. She’s Wonder Woman (aka Diana Prince) and since her debut in 1941, her adventures have been chronicled in comic books, a daily newspaper strip, and a popular television series starring Lynda Carter. Wonder Woman’s adventures may be legendary, but the story behind her development is as incredible as any superhero story.
Wonder Woman was created by a man named William Moulton Marston, a polymath, psychologist, and huckster heavily influenced by suffragists and early feminists. The story of William Marston and Wonder Woman is a fascinating tale involving feminism, psychology, the advent of comic book superheroes, unconventional relationships, and family secrets. Historian Jill Lepore explores the complicated life of William Marston and the development of Wonder Woman in her entertaining and provocative new book, The Secret History of Wonder Woman.
Lepore’s narrative is divided into four main sections: Veritas, which recounts the early lives and education of Marston and his childhood sweetheart (and later wife), Sadie Elizabeth Holloway; Family Circle, an exploration of Marston’s family life, including his polyamorous relationships with Holloway and a former student named Olive Byrne; Paradise Island, an examination of the development and success of Wonder Woman; and Great Hera! I’m Back, a discussion of Wonder Woman’s influence and legacy. This structure allows Lepore to unpack the nuances of Marston’s life, work, and relationships and how they relate to Wonder Woman in an engaging and accessible manner.
William Moulton Marston was born in 1893 in Massachusetts. He attended Harvard University, where he became interested in the movement for women’s suffrage. He was particularly fascinated by the British suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst who, in 1911, was scheduled to speak at Harvard, but was later barred from speaking on campus.
Marston studied Philosophy and Psychology and was especially interested in determining whether or not deception could be detected by measuring systolic blood pressure. His research was instrumental in the development of early lie detector tests, and Marston testified as an expert witness in lie detection in several court cases.
After graduating from Harvard, Marston married Sadie Holloway, a Mount Holyoke graduate, and the couple stayed in Massachusetts to attend law school. They also pursued advanced degrees in Psychology.
While Holloway found work in New York as managing editor of Child Study: A Journal of Parent Education, Marston pursued a career in academia at Tufts University. At Tufts, he met Olive Byrne, niece of ardent feminist and birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger. Byrne became Marston’s research assistant and eventually moved in with Marston and Holloway.
Marston, Holloway and Byrne formed an unconventional family unit. Marston had a son and daughter with Holloway and two sons with Byrne, but they kept the true nature of Marston’s relationship with Byrne a closely guarded secret from everyone, including their sons. Byrne invented a husband named William K. Richard who died after a long illness, and wrote feature articles for Family Circle magazine using the name “Olive Richard.” In these articles, she discussed pressing issues of the day with prominent psychologist William Marston.
Over the years, Marston’s academic career fizzled, but he never stopped trying to promote his expertise in psychology and lie detection. He offered his services in the case of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, the man convicted of the kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindbergh’s son; he also appeared in an advertisement for Gillette razor blades. His efforts met with limited success until he was hired by Maxwell Charles “Charlie” Gaines, the publisher of Superman, to work as a consulting psychologist. At the time, critics were concerned about the level of violence in comic books, and Marston had a solution: create a female superhero that possessed “all the strength of Superman plus the allure of a good and beautiful woman.” Gaines was intrigued and Wonder Woman made her debut in the fall of 1941.
For several years, Wonder Woman was a major, if occasionally controversial, success. Working with artist Henry George Peter, a fellow supporter of women’s suffrage, Marston brought his vision of Wonder Woman as a “Progressive Era feminist” to comic books and a short-lived daily comic strip. She was not without her critics, who expressed concern about her costume and the pervasive use of chains and other forms of bondage. In response, Marston told his publisher that the motivation behind the imagery was to draw the “distinction between in the minds of children and adults between love bonds and the male bonds of cruelty and destruction.”
Despite the controversy, Marston’s vision remained largely intact until his death in 1947. Wonder Woman’s adventures continued, but subsequent writers and artists produced iterations of Wonder Woman that barely resembled the concept Marston had in mind when he originally created her.
Lepore’s background on Marston, Holloway, and Byrne is lengthy, but it effectively provides the social and cultural context for the development of Wonder Woman. She covers a lot of ground in these chapters and her lively writing style keeps the narrative moving at a brisk and enjoyable pace. The chapters on Wonder Woman and her legacy are similarly well-researched and include footnotes, a comics index, and extensive illustrations showing the evolution of Wonder Woman over the years.
The Secret History of Wonder Woman is a satisfying look at the making of a superhero, and the social and political changes that shaped her development.
Check the WRL catalog for The Secret History of Wonder Woman
The Search for Delicious is an old childhood favorite by Natalie Babbitt, the author best known for Tuck Everlasting. It was written with younger children in mind, and the story sounds downright silly.
The Prime Minister, DeCree, is writing a dictionary. The King and Queen are happy with “Affectionate is your dog” and “Bulky is a big bag of boxes” and “Calamitous is saying no to the king,” but take issue with “Delicious is fried fish.” No, says the King. He isn’t a fan of fish. It’s apples. No, says the Queen. It’s Christmas pudding. No, says the Queen’s brother, it’s nuts — and he storms out of the castle. The result of all this fuss? DeCree’s young Special Assistant, Galen, is tasked with travelling the kingdom and polling the people as to what they consider delicious.
At least, that’s part of it. There’s another, older story. It’s the story that began before the people came, and its characters are the dwarves, the winds, the woldweller — who lives in the exact and precise center of the forest – and Ardis. When the Queen’s brother, Hemlock, uses the poll as a way to rile up the people and pit them against each other and the King, these others only say “It’s nothing to me.” People and their kingdoms come and go.
Soon, Galen’s poll becomes impossible, and he finds himself having to track down the woldweller and the rest. Hemlock knows their story, and it’s that knowledge that’s the key to thwarting his schemes. What did the dwarves do, all those ages ago? Why doesn’t the key fit any locks? Who is Ardis, anyway?
Galen figures it out. This is a fairy tale, after all. And when he finds Ardis — a mermaid —he says:
“It’s nothing to you. But it’s much to me.”
Ardis comes through in the end, and helps defeat Hemlock — or does she? Everyone agrees on a definition for Delicious at last, so it’s peace — or is it?
The Search for Delicious is about how silly people’s arguments can be, and how much importance they can attach to meaningless things. However, it’s also about how important even those silly arguments can be when you’re right there in the middle of them. This is a sweet and funny vintage fantasy that leaves you guessing. It was fun for me to read as a child and as an adult, and I’m sure children today would like it just as well as I did.
Check the WRL catalog for The Search for Delicious
Manny’s Cows: The Niagara Falls Tale features a boy named Manny who gets out of school for summer break. But since he lives on a farm with 500 cows he never gets to go on vacation, because the cows must be attended to multiple times a day. On the last day of school, Manny’s teacher suggests that he just takes his 500 cows with him on vacation. He ponders what vacation would be like with the cows and decides to leave the next morning for Niagara Falls. He packs the 500 cows into a bus, and they are off to The Falls.
Despite all of the commotion on the way, they make it there safe and sound. Unfortunately, once they are all finished with the boat tour, the cows go to the gift shop. Manny gets upset because he cannot pay for any of the souvenirs the cows pick out. One cow decides that she is going to make butter and then, “In no time at all, Manny’s cows were up to their udders in orders for butter!” With the cows’ help, Manny was able to pay off the cows’ gift shop mess and even have enough money to “ride home in style.” The illustrations in this book are phenomenal and hilarious. Readers of any age will love this book!
Check the WRL catalog for Manny’s Cows: the Niagara Falls Tale.
When I decided to read Linger, I was both excited and a bit cautious. Shiver, the first book in this trilogy, was amazing and, in my opinion, it set a new standard for teen fiction dealing with Vampires, Werewolves, Zombies, and whatever. Would Linger live up to my expectations, or like many second, third and fourth books in a series, would it just rearrange the characters and problems ultimately telling the same story over and over? What a wonderful surprise to find that Linger is as compelling, beautifully written, and enjoyable as the first book.
Sam and Grace are still two teenagers grappling with teen problems as well as the new reality that Sam will no longer shift from human form to wolf. His internal struggle with this is amazingly believable. Grace is struggling as well, with a strange illness and with the angst of not yet being 18 and totally free to make her own choices. These are real teens who have teen problems, but who also have the determination to fight for what they want.
Isobel, a somewhat minor and unlikable character in the first book, becomes a major player in Linger. As with all of us, she too is a complex teenager whose façade of sarcasm and anger starts to crack, making her another real teen who is vulnerable and struggling with life. Stiefvater accomplishes this while retaining Isobel’s feisty approach to reality. And then there is Cole, a new character, as complicated and real as the others.
While Grace’s parents have previously been pretty nonchalant about Grace’s activities, in Linger they start reacting to some situations in a more stereotypical parental way. All of this makes all of them very real. Most people are much more complicated than they seem at first, and Maggie Stiefvater has created characters with whom we can all identify on multiple levels.
Linger is filled with subtle foreshadows and clues that let the reader speculate on the future of Grace and Sam. But somehow the author has provided just enough surprises as the reader reaches the conclusion of the book, to keep you both reading, wondering, and worrying about these people you have learned to like, respect, and love.
After reading the last page, I marveled at how much I enjoyed the book. I certainly look forward to checking out the final book of the trilogy, Forever.
Those of you who follow archaeological news may remember the 2012 Greyfriars dig. In Leicester, England, a team of archeologists uncovered the remains of a medieval friary beneath a modern parking lot. If you don’t remember the bits about the stone bench and the bits of window, you probably remember the bones — later identified as those of Richard III.The project was sponsored by screenwriter Philippa Langley. This is her account of how those bones were found.
Langley co-authored the book with historian Michael Jones. I appreciated the alternating chapters. Langley writes about the events leading up to, and during, the dig, using the present tense. I felt as though I was there beside her, meeting the scientists, standing at the side of the trench, excited and uncertain. In contrast, Jones’ chapters take readers back to the 15th century. In the past tense, he gives us the history of the House of York and the Wars of the Roses. He explains the events leading up to Richard’s 1483 taking of the throne and his 1485 defeat at Bosworth. He places the king in the context of his family and time.
Keep in mind that Phillippa Langley isn’t an archeologist, though she knows her history. She’s a screenwriter, and can be a tad dramatic. While she did her research, it was intuition, too, that made her focus on that Leicester parking lot. At times, I felt myself cringe a little with the scientists — as she insists on placing Richard’s banner over the bones as they’re removed from the site, for instance. We know in hindsight that her intuition was right all along, though, so she gets a break!
The story of Richard III is history at its most exciting. The story of the Greyfriars dig and its most famous find seems too good to be true, until you read about the research and the dedication that made it happen. This coming spring, Richard III will be reburied in Leicester — but this time, he won’t get stuck beneath a parking lot. Come on back and pick up this book to hear the whole story.
The WRL has a print copy of The King’s Grave, as well as the audiobook, read by Corrie James. James is an excellent reader — very clear and very English — and does a good job of bringing Langley’s narrative to life. Either format comes recommended.
Check the WRL catalog for The King’s Grave
Check the catalog for the audiobook
Today’s review marks the blogging debut of Meghan from Circulation Services. Be sure to check out her posts on Wednesday and Thursday, too.
There are countless books out there about languages, about their history, their grammar, and so on. But — have you ever read one about invented languages? I hadn’t, until I discovered linguist Arika Okrent’s fun little book. This is an interesting and irreverent look at the history of conlangs (constructed languages), as well as the lives of their eccentric inventors.
While she includes many interesting facts and anecdotes, Okrent keeps to a chronological order, and readers can see the trends in language invention over time, starting with 17th-century attempts to define the absolute meaning of everything and finishing with Klingon. From philosophy to world peace to Star Trek, people have quite a few different reasons to try language invention!
Some inventors and languages she mentions in passing, like Elmer Hankes and Ehmay Ghee Chah. Some, she describes in more depth, like Fuishiki Okamoto and Babm. I can’t possibly list them all here. The big ones she goes into big-time, like Esperanto. If you’ve ever heard of an invented universal language, it was probably Esperanto. Invented by Dr. Ludwik Zamenhof, “Doctoro Esperanto,” and officially published in 1887, it still boasts thousands of international speakers.
There are certainly more Esperantists then there are Klingon speakers, but Okrent looks into auxlangs too —languages invented for creative purposes. This is where Tolkien’s famous Elvish languages fit, for instance.
Does Okrent try to learn Esperanto? Yes. But, in case you were worried that this book was getting too serious, I can assure you —she also tries to learn Klingon.
In the Land of Invented Languages presents conlangs and their history in a readable and engaging way, and I highly recommend it for anyone thinking “Invent a language? How weird. Why would anyone do that?” Okrent’s book gives you some answers, and makes you laugh in the process.
Check the WRL catalog for In the Land of Invented Languages
Jeanette shares this review:
Sometimes, I come across a book that I immediately determine to read. Winter’s End was one of these. The gloomy cover with the solitary hooded character in a wintry landscape, a slight splattering of blood across the top, made this book irresistible. Novels in which seemingly powerless characters do their best to survive and bring down an unjust authoritarian regime are among my favorites. I figured that since it was originally in French and translated into English, it might be a story of broad appeal.
Helen and Milena are orphaned teenagers at a prison-like all-girl boarding school during the oppressive reign of the Phalange. Helen’s depression gets the best of her, so she requests a visit to her assigned consoler, and names Milena as her companion. The girls will be allowed out of the school for three hours. If they do not come back in time, another student, Catharina Pancek, will be punished by being placed in isolation until the girls return.
On their way to the consolers’ houses, Helen and Milena meet two students from the boys’ school, Milos and Bartolomeo. The four exchange names and construct a way to keep in touch by sending notes through the Skunk, a man who takes care of laundry for both the boys’ and the girls’ schools.
Consoler Paula and her little boy Octavo are the closest thing to a family Helen has known. They welcome Helen into their home for a few hours. Octavo shows her his homework while Paula fixes hot chocolate and delicious baked potatoes. When Helen’s visit is over, she goes to meet Milena. Instead of her friend, she finds a note saying, “Helen, I’m not going back to school. Don’t worry. I’m all right. Ask Catharina Pancek to forgive me. Milena. (Please don’t hate me).”
That is how the book starts. The four students escape from school, Milena and Bartolomeo together at first, followed several days later by Helen and Milos. On the run, the students learn about their parents: how and why they died and what they themselves can do to revive the dormant resistance movement against the Phalange. The story is told from multiple points of view: from Helen’s, Milena’s, Milo’s, Catharina’s, and from one of the Phalangist hunters sent to find them.
There is nothing clichéd in this book. The hunters use trained dog-men—genetic combinations more hound dog than man—that can walk upright, hunt, and use limited speech. There is a race of humans called cart-horses or horse-men, who take pride in finishing any task they’re asked to do or die trying. Milena’s beautiful singing voice plays a prominent role in the novel, as does Milos’s training and skill in Greco-Roman wrestling. It is the age-old struggle of a determined group fighting against a powerful regime, but the cold, repressive society Mourlevat has created is unique and darkly fantastical.
In reading this novel, I found myself immersed in the oppressive world Mourlevat created. I would recommend it to young adults as well as to adults who enjoy dystopic fiction but don’t require complex romantic relationships in their reading.
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Everything Goes: On Land is a thrilling and informative book about every type of machinery that moves. For example, cars, trucks, RVs, bikes, and motorcycles come alive on the pages. The book begins with more familiar vehicles that go and proceeds into more complex vehicles like trains. It features a father and a son who are learning all about things that go on land! Everything is labeled, and this book really puts the reader in the middle of a busy city! The book has large illustrations that inform the reader of the different types of parts and functions of the different objects. In addition, each page if filled top to bottom with exciting and colorful illustrations!
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The first word that comes to mind when picking up Rachel Rising is — macabre. Flipping through the matte black and white pages will guarantee a similar response. This tale is not for the faint-hearted or those who are not fans of Edgar Allan Poe.
Rachel was normal before this tale began; she had a good life with friends and a loving Aunt Johnny. Unfortunately, her luck runs out even before the beginning of this twisty tale when she wakes up in a grave . . . her own grave.
Instead of being a blue-eyed beauty, Rachel now has permanently blood-shot eyes and unnatural bruises around her throat to match. Not exactly the warm and friendly look she remembers. Further, she discovers that she’s been “dead” for a total of three days, and to top it all off, everyone keeps saying she’s not Rachel. With these elements in play, the story unfolds around Rachel’s investigation into her peculiar situation. A new woman in town hints at being the reason for Rachel’s new appearance, and suggests that they used to be friends.
The setting captures the essence of a small town, complete with the close ties and secrets that bind together the lives of those who abide there. Moore skillfully weaves an impending sense of doom over his characters’ heads. No one is safe from the strange events occurring in this town, and this is illustrated through the trouble that befalls Rachel’s friends. Regrettably, Rachel’s business could kill you or worse — bring you back from the dead.
Moore creates a suspenseful and dynamic tale that ponders the question of what happens when you die, and consequently incorporates timeless stories that encircle mankind. In fact, the wonderment of Moore’s story is that it feels timeless and as if this could happen in any town.
Fair warning: the work is not a stand-alone, so don’t stop after the first volume if you enjoy this tale. The ongoing nature of the series and the wait for the next issue are the only negative qualities — besides the amount of tragedy. Questions raised in the first volume will remain unanswered for a while. Overall, the series is worth the wait.
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The unrhymed poem that comprises the text of this book makes it unusual and refreshing. It is a toddler’s stream of consciousness narration of an outing in the stroller. It cleverly evokes toddlers’ energy, curiosity, and distractibility: “Mama unstraps my belt/I climb out/run behind/Mine/Mine!/My wheels pushing/Mama calls me/but I won’t bump/a baby/Hey baby!/Hi baby!” The watercolor and ink illustrations are appropriately imprecise. Many pictures are done from the toddler’s perspective. In one, grownup faces loom down toward the stroller. In the foreground, a pudgy hand reaches up: “I want to pinch their noses.” The toddler’s antics recall Little Mister and the Max and Ruby books. This is a must for toddler and preschool story times. The author is known primarily for her poetry for adults. The illustrator has said that she tries to sneak her cat into every book she illustrates. Can you find it in Baby Radar?
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