With a life like Allan Karlsson’s, who wouldn’t want to live to be 100 years old? Befriended by Francisco Franco and Robert Oppenheimer, creator of both the American and Soviet atomic bombs, drinking buddies with Harry S. Truman, consultant to Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, and rescuer of Mao Tse-Tung’s wife, smuggled in a Russian submarine, imprisoned in both the Soviet gulag and a North Korean prison, Bali beach bum, translator for an ambassador to France… All this because Allan had that most 20th Century of skills – blowing stuff up.
Now, at the age of 100 (having blown up his home) Allan is in a nursing home. He’s not finished with life, so an hour or so before the local dignitaries are coming to begrudgingly celebrate his centenary, Allan goes AWOL. Not that he has anyplace in particular to go - although that’s never been a problem – but he doesn’t have any desire to stay. He first has to get clear of his small town, so he steals an unguarded suitcase, boards a bus, and takes off into the wilderness.
To his surprise, the suitcase is stuffed with cash belonging to a motorcycle gang. The cash greases his way from one haven to the next, usually one step ahead of the bikers, until he winds up with a string of characters, including an elephant, in his wake. One, Detective Chief Inspector Aronsson, begins the case searching for a missing old man; next it appears that the old man has been murdered by bikers, then that the old man may be a murderer himself. Across the length and breadth of Sweden the ever-increasing cast runs, until they all wind up in the same place.
Interspersed with his modern-day story is Allan’s biography. For no particular reason, at the age of 34 he set off for Spain and was caught up in the Civil War. From there, he was shunted from place to place as wars and rumors of wars made him persona non grata in some places and persona most grata in others. After all, explosions are the best friends a politician ever had.
But that talent isn’t the only thing that characterizes him. In a world filled with competing -isms, Allan is devoutly apolitical and atheist. He is willing to let others talk endlessly about their beliefs, as long as they don’t try to convert him. He’s scrupulously honest about his indifference, but punctures cant when it conflicts with commonsense objectives, like blowing something up. And he can drink. Whoo, boy, can he drink.
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared is a picaresque novel, a road story in which a relative innocent disrupts the world and creates a satirical take for readers. Some people compare it to Forrest Gump, but I don’t think that’s an apt comparison. After all, Forrest was a kind of blank slate onto which people wrote their own beliefs. Allan Karlsson is his own man, blowing whichever way events take him but always living true to his code. “Never trust a man who won’t drink with you.” As a philosophy, you could do worse.
Check the WRL catalogue for The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
Rhyming text follows a boy and girl’s week of play, in which the children get covered with brown mud on Monday, purple popsicles on Tuesday, yellow Jell-O on Wednesday, and so forth. At the end of each day–such as the purple popsicle one– the text exclaims, “Dunk me in the tub, please, for purple kid tea!”
Yes, I know, that sounds a little gross. But the cartoonish illustrations of the kids submerged in different colors of bath water are a great way to help kids learn colors. And kids will love belting out the “refrain.”
This book would be fun to read and then share again with a flannel board. A color matching game would be another great follow-up.
Check the WRL catalog for Kid Tea.
Melissa shares this review:
This debut novel by Carrie Harris is fun—if, like me, you enjoy the occasional zombie book!
High school junior Kate Grable is the football team’s student trainer. She is hoping that the experience will help her get into a good medical school, but up until now she’s pretty much just been in charge of the Gatorade cart.
One afternoon she notices a bunch of unlabeled bottles in the coach’s cabinet. She suspects they are steroids until one of the players collapses at a party. Kate swears the boy is dead, until he lurches to his feet and walks away. He can’t be dead if he walked away, right?
After a few more players show the same grayish skin and dead-like symptoms (like trying to munch on other students), Kate is ready to think the unthinkable. Something has turned these players into zombies.
Before the whole town comes down with the zombie infection, Kate has to find a cure. And if she manages to get a date to the homecoming dance in the meantime—so much the better!
The books are fast-paced and easy to get into. It isn’t particularly scary reading about zombies running loose in school. And while there is a certain “ew, gross” factor, even that is handled with humor. Add that to the usual high school angst, and friendships, and crushes…. it makes a great introduction to a series of books about geeky Kate and her high school adventures. I wonder what will happen next to this aspiring medical student!
Check the WRL catalog for Bad Taste in Boys.
It was a cause celebre in France and much of the liberal Western world, a scandal that exposed cultural divisions thought to have resolved years before. It discredited a government, tarnished the honor of an entire army, and inflamed relations among already-antagonistic neighbors. It elevated some men and broke others. It brought infamy on an obscure little island off South America, and led to the creation of a new country. And it was, and is, a drama suited for a novelist such as Robert Harris. It was the Dreyfus Affair.
Harris begins his telling of the story with the degradation of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer who was convicted of espionage and treason. In it’s immediate aftermath, Georges Picquart is elevated to the decidedly sordid world of French counterespionage. Picquart’s new department had just achieved an astounding success, ferreting out Dreyfus’ plot to sell secrets to the hated Germans, and providing the evidence which convicted him. The antisemitism whipped up by leaders in all areas of French life would cool as Dreyfus was shipped off to serve his life sentence on Devil’s Island, and the Army could return to planning their next attack on Germany.
But Picquart begins uncovering inconsistencies and hidden files, and even more frightening, evidence that there is another spy in the French Army – or that the wrong man was convicted. His efforts to investigate are stymied, until it is plain that something more than a botched trial has happened. When he is disgraced and transferred to a dangerous colonial post, he becomes convinced that corruption at the heart of his beloved institution now threatens the ideals of France, and he embarks on a dangerous course.
Harris uses all of the staples of the spy thriller to unpack this story. The secret codes, forgery, surveillance, plots and counterplots, paranoia, and red herrings could easily have been created out of whole cloth. But Harris does not deviate from historical accuracy; the drama of the story stems from the inner workings of Georges Picquart’s mind and from his growing conviction that justice and balance must be restored by one courageous person. In the background is his knowledge of Alfred Dreyfus’ plight – the lone prisoner on Devil’s Island, with guards forbidden to speak to him, his tiny hut surrounded by a wall, his every letter censored or withheld at whim, the Dreyfus’ family’s unshakeable faith that his innocence will come to light – and the urgency of freeing the wrongly convicted man.
So how did the Dreyfus Affair accomplish all that I claimed in the first paragraph? It was the openly anti-Semitic fervor of the Catholic Church that led to the definitive separation of Church from the French government. The affair caused several parliamentary governments to fall, and the senior officers of the Army were forced to retire. And for one journalist covering the breaking of Alfred Dreyfus, it led to an inescapable conclusion – for Jews to be safe, they had to have their own home. Thus was born Theodor Herzl’s push for a Zionist movement, which led to the creation of Israel. All this because a few men decided that it was easier to persecute a Jew than take a few simple steps to solve a real crime.
Check the WRL catalogue for An Officer and a Spy
So, what would you give for the chance to see a dead loved one again? How about seeing them at the significant times in their lives, times you couldn’t possibly have known about? What about the chance to talk with them in their afterworld? Sixteen-year-old Zoe discovers that the price may be far more than she believed possible.
Zoe’s father died unexpectedly. Not only has she lost her beloved dad, his life insurance company has declared that he never existed (at least in their files). She and her mom are forced to move from their familiar home to a cramped urban apartment while Zoe’s mom searches for work. Zoe has a history of cutting and drug use, so her mom is always on her back.
Her sole consolation is a young man she regularly sees in her dreams. Valentine is like a brother to her, and the tree fort they hang out in is a refuge from the bizarre world beneath their feet. He listens to her, offers good advice, and is genuinely present and concerned for her. But she doesn’t have any idea if he’s real or a manifestation of something else.
While skipping school and mindlessly wandering through San Francisco, she winds up in front of an old record store specializing in punk music on vinyl. But the weird store owner has another room, one only certain people can see. Inside the room are discs that have captured the lives and souls of the dead. Zoe gets a taste of her father’s life, but she’ll have to pay with something more precious and talismanic if she wants more. When she decides she won’t pay and is cut off, she must summon her wits and her courage to find a path to the underworld.
But that underworld is a hellish landscape, a purgatory without hope of either redemption or judgment. Zoe has to negotiate her way through a bizarre parody of a city, evading vengeful spirits whipped up by hatred of the living, and searching for an exit known only to ones who would kill her, or worse.
Kadrey has created a resourceful, determined young woman who is surprised by her own strength, and set her in an eerie world filled with disturbing imagery. The tone reminded me of two other books reviewed here on BFGB – John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things and Robert Olen Butler’s Hell. Unlike the latter though, I would feel comfortable suggesting this to older teens. Most of all, it reminded me of the classic Greek stories of Orpheus and Odysseus’ journeys, and indeed the book has many subtle allusions to Greek myth. This is definitely a dark book with some heavy themes, but a good read.
Check the WRL catalogue for Dead Set
If you are looking for a fun, but quiet, action book for toddlers, this is a great one. The children can join in with the little red bird as she wakes, takes a deep breath, then scrunches under a spider web, creeps around a corner and even jumps over the cat during an early morning outing.
The text is minimal, and the bright illustrations are ideal even for a large group. Children and adults will suspect what is coming when the Early Bird happens upon the Early Worm. But never fear. This little story ends with a fun surprise.
This author has another title, Night Owl, scheduled to be released in January of 2015, and I’m looking forward to it!
Check the WRL catalog for Early Bird.
Jan shares this review:
“Daddy does not know what it is like to have to be a father to your mother. “
It is always an adjustment when a parent is deployed, but what happens when a family is held together by one parent and that parent leaves? In Joseph by Shelia P. Moses, Joseph’s father is deployed to Iraq and his mother, a drug addict, cannot cope. In fact Joseph, a boy mature beyond his years, ends up looking after her. When they are evicted he gets a chance to go to a better school although he is terrified that his new friends will learn that he and his mother are living in a homeless shelter. Joseph is torn; he is a good student who wants to do well in school and wants to take up tennis again, but he also wants to protect his mother and is suspended for three days for fighting with boys at school who insult her. Joseph’s parents were estranged before his father went away but the deployment makes it impossible for his father to offer any support to Joseph, except financial support. And that goes wrong when his mother uses Joseph’s father’s money to buy drugs rather than food or utilities. Joseph’s father knew about his wife’s problems and was trying to get custody of Joseph, but had missed two court dates because he was deployed, so may never get custody.
Joseph is a gritty book, not holding back from Joseph’s mother’s degradation and the negative effects on Joseph. Joseph’s mother is not at all likable, while his father is physically distant and therefore unable to help. Joseph is all alone. When some of his old school mates pick another fight with him: “When they read me my rights they say I can make one phone call, but I have no one to call. Daddy is halfway around the world; Momma’s cell phone is off.” p75
Ultimately it is Joseph’s Aunt Shirley who saves him until his father returns, showing the importance of extended family in this sort of situation. When a military family are in crisis like this there are programs and people who are meant to help. I know that sometimes they are not as helpful as they are meant to be, especially in a case like this where Joseph and his mother live away from a military base. Isolated families face the same pressures in having a parent deployed but it is more likely that they will fall through the cracks and be missed by the military assistance.
I recommend this book for adults and older teens who want a glimpse into the sordid life of addiction and the effects on children. It doesn’t talk a lot about what many people think of as a military lifestyle but does highlight that thousands of American children, far from military bases, have been affected by the recent wars as they have seen a parent leave.
Check the WRL catalog for Joseph
I’ve been looking a long time for someone who approached that special place Travis McGee holds in my heart. John D. MacDonald’s boat bum blasted his way through 21 colorfully-titled stories, taking down bad guys, healing broken women, and judging the modern world through his uniquely moral lens. Timothy Hallinan’s first Junior Bender mystery raises the faint hope that Travis’ successor is alive and well and living in Los Angeles.
Some differences: Trav, off the grid before anyone else had even heard of the term, only went outside the law on one of his salvage missions. Sex, surprisingly delicately described but still steamy, was a big part of his life, though he managed to hold deeper relationships at arm’s length. And his cases were always capped with detailed, though not graphic, violence. Plus, he lived in Florida.
On the other hand, Junior is a career burglar, proud of his spotless record and skill at breaking into any target. Since he lives on the wrong side of the law, he maintains an extensive network of crooks who can supply him or take things off his hands as needed. There are beautiful women around Junior, but he still longs for his former wife and wants to maintain his close relationship with his young daughter. And while Junior is capable of violence, he does his best to minimize it. Like McGee, Junior lives off the grid, but doesn’t have so much as a boat slip, moving through seedy motels and paying cash for everything. And Los Angeles is his beat.
In Trashed, Junior takes a commission to steal a painting. While the job hardly goes smoothly, it gets worse when he escapes. Junior, it seems, has been set up. He’s got two options: let the high-res video of his activities get to the victim, a man known for feeding enemies to his Rottweilers, or take on a quick undercover job for a Mob kingpin. If he fails, it’s a tossup whether the Mob or the Rottweiler guy gets him first. So he takes on the quick job of investigating the crew of an “adult film” to find the saboteur costing the producers tens of thousands of dollars a day.
Tens of thousands a day for a porn movie? This one has a special twist, because it’s going to star an American sweetheart who has fallen on hard times. Child actress Thistle Downing, whose incredible acting skill made her a fortune, lost it all to litigious family, corrupt accountants and lawyers, and a spectacularly bad business decision. Somewhere along the way, Thistle started snorting, popping, injecting, and swallowing every mood-altering substance she could find. Now, at age 22, she’s unemployable, living in a dump and trying to score day to day. Maybe it was one of those days when the producers got her to sign an ironclad contract to do a trilogy of hardcore movies in exchange for a small advance. But someone is taking increasingly desperate measures to stop her. Will it go as far as murder, or will Junior somehow keep her alive? And for what – the ultimate humiliation and the payday that will put her on a slab?
As in any good mystery, Junior must sort through a variety of supporting characters to find out who is on Thistle’s side, how to protect her, and how keep himself alive at the same time. Hallinan navigates him through the web and to a final resolution that puts both Junior and Thistle in front of a camera. Along the way, Junior covers the city of LA from the depths of Hollywood Boulevard to a surprising site atop Mulholland Drive, observing the range of humanity that peoples the city of a million dreams. If he isn’t quite as philosophical as Travis, it’s because the pacing of this story doesn’t give him quite as much leisure to think. He is more thoughtful than Poke Rafferty, Hallinan’s expat American travel writer, but then Hallinan is more thoughtful than most of the mystery writers who can write this kind of fast-paced story.
Check the WRL catalogue for Crashed
Let’s Sing a Lullaby with the Brave Cowboy is another hit story by author Jan Thomas that is sure to cause a bust out laughing reaction when read out loud to a group of children.
With good intentions, this so called, “Brave Cowboy,” tries to help his calf pals fall asleep by singing them a lullaby. The problem is, each time the cowboy is just about midway through his song he spots scary things in the dark that cause him suddenly stop to let out a long loud, “Eeeeeeek!”
Lucky for the cowboy to have such great calf pals who soothe his fears and show him that the scary items in the dark are really ordinary objects. But, are they always?
What surprise is in store for the cowboy when he finally thinks he really has nothing to fear?
Grab a copy and enjoy some laughs as you and your child discover the hilarious conclusion.
Check the WRL catalog for Let’s Sing a Lullaby with the Brave Cowboy.
Mindy shares this review:
Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a laughable and adventurous satire packed with hilarious characterization and witty dialogue mostly in the epistolary fashion using email correspondence, letters, police reports, report cards, and other documents. Modest readers might find some strong language offensive yet very in-character when utilized.
You’ll find hilarious characters, some to love, some to hate, and some to drive everyone crazy! Semple pokes fun at Seattle’s subcultures of anti-fashionable, pro-geek, tech-talking, community-oriented, hyper-diverse, ultra-green, alternative-lifestyle embracing citizens. Semple herself is a transplant to the Seattle region from Los Angeles, as is the character Bernadette, where she wrote screenplays for “Beverly Hills, 90210,” “Ellen,” “Mad About You” and “Arrested Development.”
Caution, spoilers (because the events are revealed asynchronously and non-chronologically): Bernadette Fox has escaped her failed career as a genius architect by isolating herself in a crumbling fortress of a home where she can’t sleep and torments herself with self-pity. She’s become so anti-social that she’s hired a virtual assistant to handle even the most mundane logistics of her life. For years, her precious 15-year old daughter Bee has been Bernadette’s only reason for living. Bee’s been promised this trip to Antarctica as an award for her perfect report card (Her Microsoft-guru dad can afford it). Now, she’s having a panic attack brought on by the prospect of accompanying Bee through the sea-sickening Drake passage, “the roughest and most feared water in the world,” and this leads to a series of outrageous circumstances that culminate in a final resolution that just might restore Bernadette’s artistic passion.
The narration, and actual singing, by actress Kathleen Wilhoite, is extraordinarily energetic and adds much to the listening experience of the audiobook version, which I was whizzed through completely enraptured with joyous laughter. When hearing her voicing the hysterics of the ‘gnats’ (aka the condescending moms of Bee’s classmates at Galer Street School), I was reminded of Tea Leoni’s over-the-top character in the movie Spanglish.
Check the WRL catalog for the print version, too.
Another post-WWI mystery series! This is the first entry featuring Jack Haldean, late of the Royal Flying Corps and a successful writer of mysteries. It’s pretty lighthearted compared to, say, Charles Todd’s Ian Rutledge mysteries or even Elizabeth Speller’s Lawrence Bartram series; in fact it’s almost a cozy and certainly of the English “country-house” style, in which there is a relatively small domestic circle of suspects. They all do share the need for the hero to look back to the darker days of WWI in order to solve a crime, however.
In terms of optimistic tone and relatively angst-free protagonist outlook, this is more like Charles Finch’s Charles Lenox series. Jack Haldean has the war injury but also quite a sunny outlook on life—he’s glad the war is over and is basking in the normalcy and relative peace of a 1922 Sussex country village fete on a glorious summer day. His mood is jarred somewhat when he bumps into an inebriated and much disliked former military comrade, who is writing a book about his war service, in particular a specific incident during the Battle of the Somme which destroyed careers and created heroes. He vaguely intimates to Haldean that the event was not what it seemed—and soon after is shot dead in one of the fete tents in something of a “locked-room” conundrum.
Suspects abound as it turns out that the dead man was possibly a blackmailer. Even Jack’s family members with whom he is staying in the country are not completely immune from suspicion. It becomes apparent to Jack, however, that something in the victim’s WWI service is the key, and he uses his military connections to get the bottom of it.
Jack enjoys an amicable relationship with the police; the very competent Superintendent Ashley welcomes his amateur assistance gladly, especially as it pertains to the military angle. It’s a bit refreshing to be spared the friction among bumbling police and smarty-pants amateurs which is frequently encountered in mystery stories.
Gordon-Smith is effective at conveying the atmosphere of rural post-war England and class and social conventions of the period. This book has something of the feel of Golden Age mysteries written by Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham; the reader can almost be convinced that the mystery was written during the 1920s rather than just taking place in them!
I enjoyed this atmospheric and lighthearted “manor house” mystery, and I’m looking forward to savoring the next entries in the series (7 more at this writing).
I have been a fan of Anna Godbersen’s books since she first published. Her descriptions of life in New York were amazing, and she is a graduate of Barnard College, as am I, which made me enjoy her work more than ever. When my husband brought me her latest book, I was looking for more about life in New York City more than a century ago. Boy was I wrong! The Blonde is something else entirely. This is a story set in time I remember well.
We meet a struggling Marilyn Monroe, who was a constant figure in the news and pretty much a part of the lives of movie goers and news features. She was a beautiful woman, an unhappy woman with multiple marriages and a drug problem, and someone who was a lost soul. The book shares that, but it also shares something else. In general, we also knew that Senator and later President John F. Kennedy was something of a philanderer. But this book ties Marilyn Monroe not only to his philandering, but also to the assassination of Kennedy. I had seen television shows that included Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday” to JFK, but I was probably too young to connect all the dots.
Almost everyone of school age and older remembers where they were when the news of the JFK assassination spread. People were glued to the television, watching the swearing in of President Johnson, seeing Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby. The funeral was on all televisions. What followed were investigations which somehow never seemed to completely explain what really happened.
Anna Godbersen has created her own theory. Not only is it plausible, but it is told beautifully. Sometimes the real story is, in fact, stranger than fiction. If for no other reason, read The Blonde just to enjoy a mesmerizing story that will leave you wondering.
Check the WRL catalog for The Blonde.
An unmarried woman with a teenage daughter lands a job at the local community college and moves back into her childhood home. Her parents are on an extended sabbatical, so the woman, Georgia Thackery, and daughter Madison are alone in the house… except for Sid the skeleton. Sid is an actual skeleton who just happens to be alive. He walks, talks and has a fondness for corny jokes and bone-related expletives such as, “Oh, coccyx.” This is the unusual premise of Leigh Perry’s new cozy mystery novel, the first in a proposed series.
Sid has been Georgia’s friend for about 30 years, ever since he followed her home from a carnival where he’d been a featured attraction in the haunted house ride. Her miraculously tolerant family let Sid stay and kept him a secret from the outside world for all that time. Madison knows nothing about Sid, and he wants to keep it that way for reasons that he won’t explain. Things go along swimmingly for the weird trio until Sid spots a familiar face that he can’t quite identify at a Manga convention. Yes, the skeleton does go outside, either in disguise or disarticulated in a suitcase. The sighting spurs Georgia and Sid to investigate his life as a human and they soon discover that he was murdered and that the killer is still alive and willing to kill again.
OK, the premise is so dopey it shouldn’t work, but it actually does. Sid and Georgia are both likeable, and the mystery is decently plotted with a plausible series of clues leading to the denouement. There are even a few smartly placed red herrings to keep you guessing along the way. No explanation is given for how this living skeleton came to be but, so what, just go with it and enjoy the ride. The humor is gentle with no offensive language, sex, or gore, so it’s a mystery that can be enjoyed by all ages. I particularly liked the pet dog who keeps trying to make a snack out of Sid’s leg bone. The book would be a nice choice for a Halloween film on the Hallmark Channel.
I call novels of this kind “airplane books” because they are good for long flights. They don’t require a lot of concentration, but the stories are diverting enough to distract you from the screaming toddler four rows back. The author, Leigh Perry (a pseudonym for Toni L.P. Kelner, an award-winning mystery author), has written a lightweight but engaging yarn and I look forward to the next book in the series.
Check the WRL catalog for A Skeleton in the Family.
The Wide-Mouth Frog is a pop-up book about a not so modest frog that, well, as the title says, has a wide-mouth. The wide mouth enables the frog to catch flies which he loves to catch and eat with his long sticky tongue. The size of his mouth is made all the more impressive as the story is told in the form of a pop-up book with large colorful pop-up illustrations.
The frog really likes his flies but he is also curious about what the other animals he encounters like to eat. The animals he meets are also pop-ups that provide the frog with information about the foods they like to eat.
The other animals that the frog stops to talk to are for the most part harmless to the frog that is until he meets an alligator with an even more impressive large mouth. What will the frog do? Will he ask the alligator what he likes to eat?
Check out a copy and discover the surprise ending. This is a story that is certain to entertain young listeners with its pop-up illustrations and a conclusion that will provide a fun surprise as well.
Check the WRL catalog for The Wide-Mouthed Frog.
Jan shares this review:
I found this book difficult to read, not because of the length of the book or the complexity of the language – because it is a short and quick read – but because it too realistically portrayed details of my husband’s recent deployment to Afghanistan, although he is now safely home.
Jess’s dad is in Afghanistan and she lives with her mother and toddler sister at invented army base, Fort Spencer, in Florida. She and her friends Meriwether and Sam have set up an unofficial charity to raise money in Florida to donate supplies to a girls’ orphanage in Kabul, Afghanistan. Meriwether wants to stop working on the project and spend the rest of her summer sailing and swimming like usual. But Jess constantly looks at the photos and videos of the children they are helping and feels compelled to get more money for them.
A detail this book captures, that books set earlier miss, is the immediacy of electronic communication. Soldiers have always written letters home from war, and letters from Civil War and World War I soldiers are now important and poignant historical documents. Will a transcript of a Skype session ever be seen as history? Can a Skype transcript even exist and can streaming video be saved? When you expect instant electronic communication from someone in a war zone at a certain time every day or at an expected frequency, if it doesn’t arrive, its absence carries a burden of worry. In the first few pages Jess says, “His email is there. I check the date and time of his note. As of this morning, Dad was still alive in Afghanistan.”
That turns out to be an ironic statement as they soon discover that a surge is underway and there have been several explosions in Kabul, including at the orphanage. The explosions over 7000 miles away in Kabul turn Jess’s life upside down. There are injuries and deaths and some people in her community blame her for the military being anywhere near the orphanage, endangering themselves and the orphans.
Operation Oleander is an up-to-date book that captures a slice of military child experience. A child with a deployed parent may be interested in the book’s perspective, although they may find it too raw and difficult to read, although it describes no graphic violence. And thankfully, most military children don’t have to deal with so much tragedy. It includes details about the expectations for extra responsibilities when a parent is away, such as Jess’s father teaching her specifically how to add gas to the lawn mower and turn off the water main before he goes away. For every reader Operation Oleander also asks profound questions about blame, accountability, unintended consequences and our obligation to each other as human beings.
Check the WRL catalog for Operation Oleander.
Room 1219: the Life of Fatty Arbuckle, the Mysterious Death of Virginia Rappe, and the Scandal that Changed Hollywood, by Greg Merritt
On Labor Day in the year 1921, at a bootleg booze-infused party in San Francisco, movie star Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle followed a woman named Virginia Rappe into the bedroom of room 1219 at the St. Francis Hotel and locked the door behind them. Four days later Rappe died in agony, Arbuckle was arrested and charged with manslaughter and the motion picture industry was engulfed in a major scandal. In the nonfiction book Room 1219, author Greg Merritt delves into this tawdry tale and tries to determine exactly what took place behind that locked door.
Rappe died of peritonitis caused by a rupture in the bladder, but what caused the rupture? Some of the party-goers blamed Arbuckle, but he repeatedly asserted that he had done nothing wrong. The prosecution was hampered by a lack of hard evidence and the witnesses were shady to say the least, so it took three fractious trials, two of which resulted in hung juries, before a verdict was reached.
The jury had spoken but the press and public had already made their determination. The tabloid nature of the crime led to overwhelming and appallingly sleazy publicity. All involved were irrevocably slandered. The movie industry was threatened with boycotts and censorship laws. To salvage their business, the studios tried to appease the public by hiring a censorship czar named Will Hays whose job it was to ensure the “moral purity” of Hollywood films. To show they meant business, Arbuckle was sacrificed. His films were pulled from theaters and he was forbidden to work on screen ever again. He spent the final years of his short life trying to regain his lost stardom.
This is an interesting bit of Hollywood history, and author Greg Merritt has done a nice job in bringing it to life in a book that is abundantly researched and decidedly fair and unbiased to everyone involved in the case. Beyond the incident itself and its aftermath, he also gives us detailed bios of Arbuckle, Virginia Rappe and many of the other players in the saga, along with some interesting sidelights on the history of the film industry. As to what really happened in room 1219, Merritt speculates and it sounds plausible, but there are only two people who know for sure and they are long gone. I’d recommend this for people interested in the history of cinema or true crime.
Check the WRL catalog for Room 1219.
To be fair, I was not a major fan of Meryl Streep. I know there were many who would disagree with me, but it wasn’t until Out of Africa that I was hooked. And I’ll admit that my original attraction to that movie was Robert Redford. But as I grew up, I really learned to appreciate her talent and flexibility, and I became a fan. I came across Plenty and decided to watch, and I am glad I did. She did an amazing acting job in this film.
The movie starts when she, as a young girl, is part of the Resistance in World War II. After the war, she becomes enmeshed in English politics and the good life, but something is missing. Her attempts to have a child out of wedlock fail. Her relationships with men are not easy. Ultimately she marries well, but is still dissatisfied. In some ways she is a victim of her time. During the war, women assumed new roles, but after the war they were expected to revert to pre-war roles. It was not a happy transition for many. Her attempts slowly lead her into behaviors that are not yet acceptable in society. This leads into a stronger descent to mental illness, or at least what the prim and proper consider mental illness.
This is not a happy movie and does not have a happy ending. However, I think it is a realistic view that portrays how many women felt in the times. The whole cast is amazing; every character does a superb job of acting. Plenty, in many ways, shows the real beginning of the women’s movement and foreshadows the future when women will take control of their lives. It is a bit of history we generally ignore, but our lives today were certainly changed by the characters in this film.
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Jessica shares this review:
For the scientists at Little Cam, a top-secret research compound hidden deep within the Amazon rainforest, immortality is no longer an ambition but a reality. With the creation of Pia seventeen years ago, the scientists achieved their dream after more than a hundred years of experimentation. Hidden away from the world at Little Cam, Pia has always considered her life to be perfect and absolute. But one night curiosity takes over, and she dares to venture outside the facility through a newly created opening in the fence. Once on the other side, Pia is so transfixed by the freedom of the jungle that she fails to notice a native boy, Eio, and runs right into him. Soon, Pia is discovering a new community of people, a different way of life and emotions that she never knew existed. The tropical forest and its native Ai’oan inhabitants along with handsome Eio all call to Pia in a way the compound never has. As the story progresses, the history and happenings at the research facility become strikingly more disturbing, and shocking secrets about Pia’s creation are revealed. When every ounce of her morality and humanity are questioned, Pia is torn between the life she is expected to live and the one that speaks to her heart.
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The Splendid Spotted Snake is a fun interactive concept book about a bright yellow snake that grows in length as the pages are turned. This is cleverly executed through the use of a real yellow ribbon that has been woven through the pages of the book.
As the reader turns each page, the ribbon is pulled out a little further allowing the snake to appear to be growing.
Complimenting the yellow ribbon are the bright colored spots the snake acquires.
As the snake appears to grow, new colored spots are introduced on each page.
Young listeners will be fascinated by this and it can also serve as a fun tool in teaching color identification.
Additionally, while the snake is itself brightly colored, the additional background illustrations are also bright and cheery giving the story an overall upbeat feel.
The Splendid Spotted Snake will quickly become a favorite of young children with its interactive illustrations and they will be equally entertained as they enjoy a pleasant surprise awaiting them at the end of the book.
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Horror. It’s bloody and unpleasant, the reader’s absolute revulsion at what they’re witnessing brings horror into its most satisfying perception. However, what Joey Comeau does so well, and what he does best in his novella, One Bloody Thing After Another, is that he brings the terror of horror around on its head. Sure, there’s plenty of blood and sure, there’s even a monster to terrify us between the pages, but it’s not those fears that cause sickly dread in this book. Comeau has the uncanny ability to cause our hearts to scream from within and our heads to spin all around, and only by revealing the terrifying things found within ourselves.
Comeau twists his tale around the individual lives of three people, each dealing with their own monsters — both real and imagined (or maybe they’re really the same) — and intertwining them until they can’t escape. Jackie is still grieving over the death of her mother long before, while simultaneously managing to navigate her teenage years; Ann is experiencing difficulties at home and is trying her best to ensure her world doesn’t all fall apart around her; and Charlie and his dumb dog Mitchie just want to live in peace.
Even with Comeau’s knack for horror, the author manages to maintain a note of hope. Despite everything terrifying that befalls everyone, there’s inevitably the feeling that everything will be all right in the end.
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