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March, Book One by John Lewis

Blogging for a Good Book - Fri, 2015-02-20 01:01

Congressman John Lewis has spent almost the entirety of his life fighting for justice and civil rights in America. March is a trilogy that brings to life his experiences and struggles in a deeply personal account that is both inspiring and riveting. The first volume was published in August 2013, and the second was just released in January 2015.

The story bounces back and forth in time between the inauguration of President Barack Obama and Congressman Lewis’ own history, starting when he was a young child in Alabama, the son of a sharecropper. This serves as an effective juxtaposition between how far African-Americans have come and where they were just a short lifetime ago. Congressman Lewis weaves his narrative adroitly, using stories like his experience being in charge of his family’s chicken coop to build a foundation for his ongoing dedication to non-violence. His eagerness for education sometimes chafed against the needs of his family’s farm, but Lewis pressed on in his quest for learning. Along the way, he also got an education on the social injustice that tried to keep the worlds of blacks and whites separate.

Early on, his path crossed with the older, more established Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The reader knows what the young John Lewis does not: that this initial meeting is between two men who will become icons. This part is intentionally quiet; the reader silently follows Lewis on the journey to King’s church for the meeting, feeling their nerves get tighter and tighter in anticipation along with the narrator’s. It is an exceptionally well-executed scene.

Lewis eventually joins a local pacifist group committed to non-violence in their quest for desegregation. A larger group, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, had published a comic book called Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story which helped serve as guidance and inspiration for their work. Although this item is no longer available in print, it is obtainable in full-text online through Stanford University’s Martin Luther King Jr. Papers Project. As an avid reader of graphic novels, this was a fascinating piece of literary history.

Nate Powell is a talented illustrator and took up the daunting challenge of depicting major historical figures with particular sensitivity. He is a previous winner of the Eisner Award for his book Swallow Me Whole and his work is always worth a look just on its own merits. March, was named a Coretta Scott King honor book in 2014 for co-authors John Lewis and Andrew Aydin.

Recommended for readers of American history, social justice, African-American history, and biography.

Check the WRL catalog for March, Book One.


Go to Bed, Monster! by Natasha Wing, illus. by Sylvie Kanorovitz

Pied Piper Pics - Fri, 2015-02-20 01:01

Is your child afraid of monsters under the bed? This book could be a perfect (and fun!) antidote.

The simple story is about a child named Lucy who decides to draw a monster one night when she can’t sleep. She and the monster play and play, but when Lucy decides that it’s time for bed, the monster says, “No,” and proceeds to make every excuse that every child has ever used for staying up.

First, he’s hungry. So Lucy draws him a mountain of meatballs.  “Chomp, Chomp, Chomp!”  He eats them all.  When he wails that he is thirsty, she draws him a bucket of water, which he drinks with a, “Glub, glub.”   Lucy’s crayons get lots more work, as she draws him a bathroom, pajamas, a teddy bear and more.

Children enjoy guessing what Lucy will draw to satisfy her funny green friend. That makes it a fun interactive book for story time.   For a child who is afraid of monsters under the bed, I think this book could encourage that child to draw the monster, and then draw the things that “their” monster wants in order to fall asleep. A monster that needs a teddy bear isn’t so scary, after all!

The sparing text makes this book suitable for a child as young as three. But it is engaging enough for a kindergartener.  The illustrations are large enough to use with a group.

Check the WRL catalog for Go to Bed, Monster!

 


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Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty, by G. Neri

Blogging for a Good Book - Thu, 2015-02-19 01:01

In 1994, Robert “Yummy” Sandifer was executed by fellow members of his gang. He was 11. What was his crime? In the eyes of his killers, he was bringing too much police and media attention to their part of town. Eager to prove himself to older gang members, he had shot wildly into a group of kids playing in the street, killing a 14-year-old girl named Shavon. Yummy’s murderers were only 14 and 16 years old themselves. The shocking nature of his death as well as his life landed his mugshot on the cover of Time magazine and a mention by President Bill Clinton in a speech addressing the three-fold increase in homicides in Chicago since 1980.

What would drive a child to become a hardened gang member at such a young age? Author G. Neri uses a fictitious narrator, named Roger, who is the same age as Yummy, as his vehicle for exploring the cause and provocation for his conduct. The story unfolds with few surprises: abuse, abandonment, and a lack of supervision that left Yummy to find his own amusement out on the streets. Arrested for the first time when he was 8, he quickly came up against a shortcoming of the state laws regarding juveniles. Since no juvenile could be convicted of a felony, gangs eagerly took advantage of this law, using young men to do hard crimes with no harsh consequences. Yummy was just one of a veritable army of children living on the streets and committing crimes to please their gang leaders.

Were Yummy and other juveniles in the same situation monsters or children? The authors don’t pretend to have a pat answer. Finding a solution to the spiral of violence would be ideal, but first the problem itself needs to be understood. Human troubles are always fraught with nuance and are hostile to simple resolutions. Instead, the book aims to shed light on the lives of the different players, in order to bring some humanity to what is otherwise just a grim set of statistics on youth gang life.

Designated a Coretta Scott King Award honor book in 2011, this title is a tough read, but the author brings a lot of honesty and reality to the dramatization of these real events. Recommended for readers with an interest in graphic novels, American history, and social justice.

Check the WRL catalog for Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty


Fortune Cookies by Albert Bitterman, illus. by Chris Raschka

Pied Piper Pics - Wed, 2015-02-18 01:02

Everybody loves biting off the crispy end of a fortune cookie to get to that little piece of paper inside. Will it say something exciting?

You get the same sort of fun without the calories with a read-aloud of Fortune Cookies.   The little girl in the story eats one fortune cookie a day for a week.  Inside each cookie illustration is a small tab that children can pull out to read that day’s fortune. The next day that fortune comes true!

This is one of my favorite interactive books to use with older children. Naturally, they love pulling out the fortunes and reading them.  But they also enjoy guessing how that fortune will turn out. There are only a few words on each page, and the illustrations by Raschka, a Caldecott Medal winner, are simple and wonderfully expressive.

As long as I’ve gotten approval beforehand, I like to follow this story with a special treat—a fortune cookie for everyone.

Check the WRL catalog for Fortune Cookies.

 


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Watson and Holmes: A Study in Black, created by Brandon Perlow and Paul Mendoza

Blogging for a Good Book - Wed, 2015-02-18 01:01

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson have been repeated, revived, and reimagined countless times in literature, in addition to TV and movies. Whatever dreams Arthur Conan Doyle had for his creation, I doubt he could have foreseen the wild success and immortality his work has achieved. As a mystery lover and a graphic novel lover, I was intrigued by the combination of my two favorite genres, and I love a good twist on a classic.

In this iteration, writer Karl Bollers conceives both characters as modern African Americans living in New York’s Harlem district. Watson, not yet a doctor, is an Afghanistan war vet working in a clinic. Sherlock is a dreadlocked, fedora wearing PI who steps easily into the storied role from the first “Elementary…” that passes his lips. The game is indeed afoot.

A seemingly unconnected string of murders and kidnappings brings the two together. The duo dash through the streets of New York, chasing clues and hoping to stay one step ahead of their increasingly desperate quarry. The Baker Street Irregulars make an appearance, as well as Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, although he quite understandable prefers the nickname “Mike.”

Why does Watson join Holmes in his quest? I think this is the crux of any successful remake of Sherlock: tying the two characters together not only in their interactions with each other, but making their collective motivations realistic and sympathetic to the reader. As this volume only covers the first arc of the series, much of the interaction between the two characters is a slow buildup of that relationship, and the acknowledgement that sometimes what drives you can’t be easily explained, even to yourself.

My only issue with this title is that the author did such a fantastic job of echoing Sherlock’s unique way of speaking, that I couldn’t help but hear his voice in my head with an English accent, which jarred against the setting. However, since this is such an intrinsic part of the character, I can’t really knock the authors for being too successful.

The art in this series has a rough quality, with some lines still maintaining the attributes of a sketchbook rendering. At times the faces of characters are executed in detail, at others they are kept fuzzy as the viewer’s eye is pulled back to take in more of the scene. The coloring is downright phenomenal, with scenes moving fluidly from night to day or outside to computer-screen lit inside. I eagerly look forward to a second volume.

Recommended for readers of mysteries, graphic novels, and crime fiction.

Check the WRL catalog for Watson and Holmes: A Study in Black.


The Harlem Hellfighters, by Max Brooks and Caanan White

Blogging for a Good Book - Tue, 2015-02-17 01:01

While the majority of people are (hopefully) aware of all-black regiments that have fought for America like the Tuskegee Airmen or the Buffalo Soldiers, many do not realize that there were black soldiers who fought in WWI. Highlighting a piece of our nation’s history that has been minimized, ignored, and forgotten, Max Brooks brings the story of the 369th Infantry Regiment roaring back to life. Although the account is fictional, much of the storyline and action comes directly from historical accounts. The amount of research that went into this book is readily apparent and helps ground the story in the mud-laden reality that was life in the trenches.

The first sixty pages of the story cover the forming of the regiment and their training before they are sent overseas. While this might seem like a lot of space to dedicate to inaction, it sets up the reader’s understanding of the social injustice that surrounds the men. These individuals are not just going to war, they are putting their lives on the line to help defend a country that allows them to be beaten, treated lower than dogs, and murdered without hope for justice. It then comes as no surprise that when they are finally about to go off to war, the other New York National Guardsmen, the Rainbow Division, get a parade in their honor, but the 369th are not allowed to attend because “black is not a color of the rainbow.”

Once in France, they are eventually sent to the front lines during a particularly desperate part of the war. As the narrator, Edge, explains: “while our own country didn’t want us, another country needed us.” The French called them the “Men of Bronze”, but after showing their fierceness on the battlefield, the Germans dubbed them “The Harlem Hellfighters.” Several of the characters in the book are actual historical figures, including Eugene Jacques Bullard, a pilot and veteran of both World Wars, and Henry Johnson, who was the first American, black or white, to receive the French Cross of War. The 369th spent 191 days in combat, longer than any other American unit.

The narrative is gripping and entertaining, weaving together the current story and episodes from the individual’s pasts. The characters are concurrently honorable and flawed, but their dignity in fighting both the war they volunteered for and the war on their skin tone is moving and well-executed. The illustrations are by Caanan White, an African-American artist best known for his work on “Uber”, an alternate-ending WWII horror story. White is certainly experienced in depicting scenes of war with all the grit and the violence and intensity. I was often times glad that the art was in black in white, rather than color.

Recommended for fans of military history, civil rights history, and graphic novels.

Check the WRL catalog for Harlem Hellfighters.


Cookie’s Week by by Cindy Ward, illus. by Tomie dePaola

Pied Piper Pics - Mon, 2015-02-16 01:01

Bring on the mess! Kids love mischief-makers, and Cookie the cat is a master of destruction.

In this simple, toddler-friendly story, Cookie knocks plants off the windowsill, gets stuck in a kitchen drawer, upsets the trash can and even falls in the toilet.   Each disaster happens on a different day of the week, so the book can be used to teach the days of the week, although it’s too fun to save for just that purpose.

DePaola’s illustrations frequently only show bits of the rambunctious cat, such as one back foot and a tail poking out from under a wok.   This provides opportunities for discussion. I also like to encourage storytime kids to say, “Silly Cookie!” with each mishap, though that isn’t part of the text.

It is simple enough for tiny ones, but I would even use this with kindergarteners as a break between longer stories. I’ve used a big book version of this in story time, but because the illustrations are clear and simple, I think the smaller sized book would work with a group.

Check the WRL catalog for Cookie’s Week.


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Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow, by James Strum and Rich Tommaso

Blogging for a Good Book - Mon, 2015-02-16 01:01

This week I have selected titles in honor of Black History Month. For other recommended titles that I have already reviewed, please check out Bayou, Incognegro, and African-American Classics.

Calling the life of Leroy “Satchel” Paige remarkable seems an understatement unworthy of its subject. But how else could you describe a man who, though held back by the bitter shackles of Jim Crow, embarked upon a baseball career that lasted six decades and earned accolades from fans and competitors alike. Joe DiMaggio called Paige “the best and fastest pitcher I’ve ever faced.”

Rather than a straightforward biography of Paige, the author chooses to present the story through the eyes of a man named Emmett, an African-American sharecropper from Alabama who has baseball aspirations of his own. Emmett’s story overlaps with Satchel Paige’s every few years, starting in 1929 with Paige’s early days in the Negro leagues through 1944, which is four whole years before Paige becomes one of the oldest rookies ever in Major League Baseball at age 42.

Emmett’s life and experiences as a sharecropper are filled with reminders of his place in society: daily doses of disrespect and not-so veiled promises of violence if he steps out of line. He watches Paige, a talented, cocky, showboating athlete who doesn’t seem to show the weight of society’s injustice on the mound. In this biography, Paige lets his pitching do the talking for him, tightening up his form and getting strikeouts when it matters most, whether it is in a Negro League game or a white team vs. black team barnstorming game.

This story is a well-paced, easy read, and although categorized as a children’s book, it is approachable by readers of all ages. The art is clean, although the characters aren’t particularly expressive; this serves to keep the emotional focus of the story on the narration.

Recommended to readers of history, specifically sports history and civil rights history.

Check the WRL catalog for Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow


The Ticky-Tacky Doll by Cynthia Rylant, illus. by Harvey Stevenson

Pied Piper Pics - Fri, 2015-02-13 01:01

The Ticky-Tacky Doll, by Cynthia Rylant, tells the story of a little girl and her best friend, Ticky-Tacky Doll.  They have been inseparable ever since the little girl’s grandmother created Ticky-Tacky but now, the little girl is starting school and her doll cannot come with her.

This book is great for any child who has a special stuffed friend.  It would also be good for any child starting Kindergarten.  This book would be ideal for children grades K-3.

If your child enjoyed this book he/she can also try William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow or Suki’s Kimono by Chieri Uegaki.

Check the WRL catalog for The Ticky-Tacky Doll.


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The 39 Steps, by Patrick Barlow

Blogging for a Good Book - Fri, 2015-02-13 01:01

The 39 Steps is an espionage story that has been through several incarnations. It began as a very popular 1915 book by John Buchan, the first of a series of adventures involving Richard Hannay, a resourceful engineer bored with London society, whose life takes a complete turn when someone is murdered in his London flat. Soon he’s on the run, framed for the crime by a mysterious spy organization, and in pursuit of a feisty love interest who’s attracted to him but not buying his wild story.

The novel was immortalized by suspense master Alfred Hitchcock in a 1935 film. This incarnation of The 39 Steps was one of the first films to show some of Hitch’s trademarks, a hyperdramatic style, mistaken identities, mysterious villains, a dapper hero, cross-country chases, long tracking shots, and dashes of quirky humor.

Playwright Patrick Barlow keeps Hitchcock’s plot, but injects it with a love for old-fashioned humor in the style of English music halls and a nostalgia for theater in the days of greasepaint, melodrama, and hokum. The resulting play merrily employs grand old traditions into a show that contemporary audiences will find new and fresh.

Barlow’s adaptation keeps Hannay as the protagonist, but uses just three actors in all of the other parts. One woman plays both the femme fatale and the love interest drawn into Hannay’s mad flight, while two very busy actors play all of the other characters from the film, often changing so quickly that they can’t even leave the stage. The results is a suspenseful thriller made madcap with tongue-in-cheek humor, a screwball romance, references to your favorite Hitchcock films, acrobatic antics, sinister villains, and playful re-imagining of the conventions and language of classic theater.

While I recommend reading Barlow’s play for sheer enjoyment of the language, this story needs to be seen. Barlow employs a minimal set, using just a few moving set pieces, props, light and sound effects, and pantomime to suggest locations ranging from London flats to Scottish country inns, foggy moors to campaign bandstands, even the perilous heights of a towering bridge and a moving train car. The rapid transformations of two actors into a merry-go-round of quirky bystanders, leering villains, and thick-brogued Highlanders has to be seen and heard to be believed.

The Williamsburg Players will bring The 39 Steps to the stage March 12th through 28th in a production directed by the Emmy-winning Abigail Schumann, and featuring local actors David Stallings as Hannay, Annie Lewis as Annabella and Margaret, and Chris Hull and Jordan Wentland as the two chameleon-like “clowns.” If you can’t make that, try searching for The 39 Steps on YouTube to supplement your reading.

Check the WRL catalog for Patrick Barlow’s adaptation of The 39 Steps


The Maze Runner, by James Dashner

Blogging for a Good Book - Thu, 2015-02-12 01:01

Evoking elements of The Lord of the Flies, The Hunger Games, even what was good about the silly old Saturday morning show The Land of the Lost, James Dashner’s The Maze Runner isn’t completely original–it couldn’t be in the crowded field of young adult dystopias–but it’s a fun read that deserves the attention of those who love dystopian action fiction.

The protagonist is a teenager who startles awake to find that he is riding some kind of elevator. At the top, he finds himself surrounded by other teenage boys who seem more interested in taunting than helping a new arrival. It turns out that they are the inhabitants of a small clearing they call the Glade. The Gladers (as the residents call themselves–they have developed a whole new argot) have to grow and raise all of the food they eat, supplemented only by a few supplies that arrive, sometimes with a new resident, via the elevator. It’s a tough existence, and one that has created leaders and outsiders, fast friends and bitter rivals among the boys.

They’re trapped in the Glade, which is surrounded by sheer cliffs. During the day, the cliff walls shift via some hidden mechanism, and openings allow a way out of the Glade, but only access a shifting maze that seems to go nowhere. The elite among the boys, called Runners, spend their days dashing through these mazes trying to map them and find a way out. But even the attempt is perilous. The walls shift again at night, trapping anyone who isn’t back by nightfall, when Grievers, biomechanical horrors, come out and sting or destroy anyone who hasn’t returned to the Glade.

As Thomas, the protagonist, slowly emerges from an amnesiac fog he recalls snippets of memory, in particular that the boys are part of some kind of grand experiment. Dashner unspools a twisting plot rapidly after the opening setup, and readers will find it hard to guess what is coming next. The arrival of the next person to the Glade changes all the rules and raises the stakes for Thomas, his friends, and his rivals.

The Maze Runner is followed by The Scorch Trials and The Death Cure in a trilogy. There’s also a movie series under way, which I found good at capturing the details of the terrain, but perhaps less successful at capturing the story’s suspense or character development.

Check the WRL catalog for The Maze Runner

Or try The Maze Runner as an audiobook on CD


Hell at the Breech, by Tom Franklin

Blogging for a Good Book - Wed, 2015-02-11 01:03

Tom Franklin is a logical heir to William Faulkner, or more recently, Cormac McCarthy, powerful writers who explore the violent world of the American South through character-driven historical fiction. Perhaps even more than those other two greats, Franklin derives his tales from real historical events.

The subject of Hell at the Breech is the Mitcham War, fought in rural Alabama in 1897. Comparatively wealthy townfolk had been exploiting sharecroppers, and the resulting resentment boiled over into violence when Arch Bledsoe, a man-of-the-people political candidate, was mysteriously murdered. This killing was used as an excuse for violence by the Hell-at-the-Breech gang, a secret society of thugs who had been terrorizing their sharecropper neighbors into compliance. They went into town in a series of robberies and brutal raids, which in turn inspired a vigilante posse from town to ride roughshod into the countryside, attacking anyone unlucky enough to fall in their path.

Franklin’s novel is given extra dimension by wonderful characters. Tooch Bledsoe is a country Machiavelli, a gifted manipulator of men who leads the Hell-at-the-Breech gang. Mack Burke is a 15-year-old, apprenticed to Tooch under mysterious circumstances to work at his country store. He’s trying to do the right things, but unsure of what those are, and he carries the weight of a secret about the murder of Tooch’s step brother Arch. Billy Waite is the aging, decent sheriff–one of the few power figures from town who isn’t out to exploit the sharecroppers–sent into danger to investigate Bledsoe’s murder. These are the lead characters, but Franklin populates his story with a great variety of larger than life ne’er do wells.

This isn’t for everyone. Franklin will challenge your conception of ethics. There are no easy answers and nobody in his novel is blameless. Violence is a way of life for these people. You know you’re in for a dark ride when the opening chapter concerns a boy being instructed by his mother to drown a sack full of puppies. If you can handle that kind of darkness, you’ll find this a rewarding read, a believable if operatic look at the dark heart of the wild days of early America.

Check the WRL catalog for Hell at the Breech


Coolies by Yin, illus. by Chris K. Soentpiet

Pied Piper Pics - Wed, 2015-02-11 01:01

Coolies, by Yin, is a historical fiction picture book about the immigrants who left China for America in the mid-1800s as a result of widespread famine and the Taiping rebellion.  These immigrants were hired by the Central Pacific Railroad Company to help build the transcontinental railroad.  Coolies follows two brothers, Shek and Wong, as they join up to work on the railroad.

This book would be great for a child interested in history.  This book would be ideal for children grades 3-6.

If your child enjoyed this book he/she can also try Only One Year by Andrea Cheng or The Iron Dragon Never Sleeps by Stephen Krensky.

Check the WRL catalog for Coolies.


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Goodhouse, by Peyton Marshall

Blogging for a Good Book - Tue, 2015-02-10 01:01

Being a teenage boy is tough enough but for James Goodhouse it’s a disaster. In an alternate future that readers will find very plausible, he’s a student incarcerated in one of the Goodhouse homes. These “schools” are the compulsory homes of boys whose families have genetic markers that make them supposedly prone to violent behavior. They’re supposed to be places of training and rehabilitation, but due to a cynical system that pits each student against the others in a competition for the perks given to proctors, the only training is in the very antisocial behavior the Goodhouse system is supposed to be combating. The boys are also subjected to medical experimentation.

As if this weren’t bad enough, an element of religious fundamentalism is growing in the world outside the Goodhouses. This movement, nicknamed the Zeroes, believes that even the schools are too good for genetically tainted boys. They’d like to cleanse them right off the earth, setting fires to the Goodhouse homes and committing other acts of terror. James has been relocated from an Iowa Goodhouse, burnt to the ground, a fire from which as far as he knows he was the only survivor.

His new Oregon home brings new challenges, as particularly sadistic proctors have fought their way to the top of the student pile. The best way to get by in a Goodhouse is to stay under the radar, but James is getting attention due to his contacts with Bethany, a forward girl with a quick intellect and a rebellious nature who forms an attachment to James that may save him, but more likely will just get him in big trouble.

This novel reminded me somewhat of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, with its futuristic school setting, and the sad trait shared by both books’ students: they’ve absorbed society’s unfair judgment of them and come to believe that they are, indeed, somehow inferior. But while Never Let Me Go simmers slowly, remaining a sad psychological story played in a minor key, Goodhouse explodes into action, finishing in a dizzying stream of external events that suggest sequels are to come. Peyton Marshall has written a doozy of a first novel, a great pick for those looking for the next step after YA successes like Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, Veronica Roth’s  Divergent, or James Dashner’s The Maze Runner. Readers will enjoy the blend of coming-of-age, dystopia, social justice story, and thriller.

Check the WRL catalog for Goodhouse

 


Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman, illus. by Rick Allen

Pied Piper Pics - Mon, 2015-02-09 01:01

Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night, by Joyce Sidman, is a Newbery Honor winner and a collection of poetry about the animals of the night and their lives after the sun goes down.  Each animal is written in a different style of poetry and each animal gets its own informational blurb after the poem.

This book is a great way to expose children to the different varieties of poetry in an engaging way.  Also, Rick Allen’s linoleum cut illustrations are a stunning companion to Sidman’s poems.  This book would be ideal for children grades 3-6.

If your child enjoyed this book he/she can also try Song of the Water Boatman & Other Pond Poems by Joyce Sidman or Lemonade & Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word by Bob Raczka.

Check the WRL catalog for Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night.


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The Hum and the Shiver, by Alex Bledsoe

Blogging for a Good Book - Mon, 2015-02-09 01:00

In the first decade of the new century, urban fantasy went from a blip on the genre map to a big part of the fantasy fiction market. That success was built on kick-ass heroines modeled after Buffy the Vampire Slayer, quirky casts of characters such as those found in Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series, or glib modern magicians standing in for the classic noir detective, as in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series. The novels featured the creatures of classic horror films–vampires, werewolves, and other monsters–and/or the traditions of the English faerie story–the battle of the seelie and unseelie court beneath the noses of regular mortals–all given a modern twist. At the time, these tropes were fun, and fresh, a great variation on the fat doorstops of epic fantasy.

But like any publishing phenomena, the pattern has been repeated so many times that it’s not so fresh anymore. After reading five or six series that follow the same approach, most readers feel like they had been there, done that.

That’s why it’s such a pleasure to see new takes on contemporary fantasy, and Alex Bledsoe has done just that with his novels about the Tufa people of the east Tennessee mountains. Yes, it’s another variation on the fairy courts, but by displacing the fey into the heart of the Appalachians, casting a wounded American woman soldier as the protagonist, bathing the story in mountain music, and putting Hatfield/McCoy-style feuding at the center of conflict, Bledsoe makes something entirely new.

The story concerns Bronwyn Hyatt, a young woman who went into the Army to escape the pressures of a close-knit family, her reputation as a trouble-making girl, and in particular her dangerously wild ex-boyfriend. But now she’s back from Iraq, a war hero with a shattered leg, knowing instinctually that she has to come to grips with her past and find a way to balance her own needs with her family obligation and destiny.

Two outsiders figure prominently. Craig Chess is a young Methodist preacher trying to build a congregation in the midst of people who don’t take to outsiders. There’s chemistry between him and Bronwyn, but that comes with the danger of provoking Duane, the hair-trigger violent ex-boyfriend who doesn’t want to believe that their relationship is over. Don Swayback is a reporter sent to cover Bronwyn’s return who rediscovers his forgotten family history and his own musical gift.

All of this is set in the mysterious Cloud County, a locale where roads seem to disappear or re-arrange for unwanted strangers. Family traditions run deep, with most divided into one of two feuding camps, united only in their dislike of the outside world. Music lovers will love this world, as the magic is intrinsically connected with its playing.

The story continues in Wisp of a Thing, from 2013, and Long Black Curl, due out this year.

Check the WRL catalog for The Hum and the Shiver


Never Let Your Cat Make Lunch for You by Lee Harris, illus. by Debbie Tilley

Pied Piper Pics - Fri, 2015-02-06 01:01

Pebbles is a very enthusiastic kitty when it comes to cooking. She cooks her owner breakfast all the time and even has her own signature dish; however, it is rare that the owner will not find a hair in her eggs. Also if she is late for breakfast, she will come to find that all of the bacon has been eaten by Pebbles.  On particularly cold mornings, Pebbles bakes muffins for her and warms up the whole kitchen. But this book warns you to never let your cat make lunch for you. One time Pebbles makes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for her owner who takes it with her to school. In the middle of a long school day, the girl begins to feel really hungry and is really looking forward to eating the sandwich.. Unfortunately, once she takes a huge bite out of the sandwich she realizes that something is very wrong with her sandwich. She finds that Pebbles put an anchovy in her sandwich! Pebbles has other interesting (and disgusting) lunch creations in this book that will keep readers giggling!

The illustrations in Never Let Your Cat Make Lunch for You are humorous and add to the comedy of the story.

Check the WRL catalog for Never Let Your Cat Make Lunch for You.


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Marcelo in the Real World, by Francisco X. Stork

Blogging for a Good Book - Fri, 2015-02-06 01:01

Marcelo is a seventeen-year-old who hears music in his head as a result of mild autism.  His dad, Arturo, is a lawyer. Despite Marcelo’s plans to work at Paterson, the special school he attends, and help with the stables, his father pressures him to spend the summer at his law firm in order to experience the “real world.” The deal is that after spending the summer in the law firm, Marcelo can spend his senior year at his special school or he can choose to go to the regular high school.  Arturo is betting Marcelo will want to go to the regular high school after seeing all that the world has to offer.

Marcelo understands that his parents want him to be more self-sufficient, but he is very concerned about what the “real world” involves. To him it means engaging in small talk with other people, refraining from talking about his special interests, shaking hands and looking people in the eye, doing things that have not been scheduled in advance.

The book shows Marcelo overcoming the challenges of the summer job, his friendships with Jasmine, his coworker in the mail room, and Wendell, the obnoxious, privileged son of another lawyer in his dad’s firm.  Most interestingly, though, it addresses how Marcelo responds when he realizes the law firm is protecting a shady business that has been sued due to a faulty product.

I also really enjoyed the discussions Marcelo had with his rabbi friend about various aspects of religion.  Lots of food for thought, especially as Marcelo struggles with doing the right thing once he uncovers information about his dad’s law firm. I loved how the ending really opened my eyes to what it meant for Marcelo to be a part of the “real world.”

I would recommend this book for a discussion group.  There is a lot here to consider and talk about.

My colleague Nancy recommended I listen to the audiobook.  Hearing Marcelo’s voice as he talks about himself in the third person really brought his character to life for me.

Check the WRL catalog for Marcelo in the Real World

Check the WRL catalog for the audiobook of Marcelo in the Real World


Defending Jacob, by William Landay

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

A middle-school teen living in a comfortable suburb in Massachusetts is murdered in broad daylight on his way to school. A neighborhood is in shock and the police and local assistant district attorney, Andy Barber, immediately starts investigating. Andy’s son is the victim’s classmate, but Andy doesn’t see the connection as a problem until rumors, and then evidence, suggest his son is the murderer. He is immediately taken off the case. The story is told from Andy’s perspective as his life and his family’s lives unravel. Andy has come a long way from a murky past to get to his current position – a lovely wife, fine son, highly respected job and upper middle class suburban house. He doesn’t want intrusion from his past, some of which he hasn’t even shared with his wife.
Defending Jacob has a breathtakingly fast plot, twisting and turning in all directions. The reader is left wondering what actually happened – which I think is more like real life than some novels with omniscient narrators who know more than any real person could.
Family is a huge thing to risk losing, and Defending Jacob is wrenching as it deals with issues about the relationships between spouses, parents of dependent children, children on the way to adulthood, grown children, estranged parents and more.  The book asks the questions about what is the best and moral way to relate to your own family. It even asks is the most moral course of action always the best course of action? Is it okay to keep long-term secrets from those you love best? What if the secret may be to protect them (or you) but the lack of displayed trust feels like a betrayal?
Don’t expect everything to be tied up neatly. Defending Jacob is a domestic suspense novel that is often seen as part of the Gone Girl phenomenon, the best-selling suspense novel that is now a movie. The reader is not only wondering “who did it” but since it is about everyday people we can picture ourselves in the same situation and wonder what we would do. Like several recent popular books such as The Dinner, by Herman Koch, Defending Jacob addresses the heritability of criminality. My recent non-fiction reading of books like The Psychopath Whisperer: The Science of Those Without Conscience, by Kent A. Kiehl suggest that there often is a genetic component to antisocial behavior. On the other hand I firmly believe that genetics is not destiny. These points have led to some interesting discussions with my colleagues about these books, and for the same reason I think they make great book group reading choices.

Check the WRL catalog for Defending Jacob.


Chilly Milly Moo by Fiona Ross

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

Milly Moo is a cow who lives on a large farm in the hot sun and she only wants one thing: to give the tastiest, creamiest milk; but she cannot. Milly Moo is really sad because it is so hot and when the farmer goes to milk Milly Moo, there is something wrong. Milly Moo cannot produce any milk at all! “You can’t stay here if you can’t make milk,” says the farmer. Milly Moo is ashamed as the other cows boast about their milk. Later that night Milly Moo dreams about what would happen to her if she could not stay at the farm. As she wakes from what seems to be a nightmare, she can feel that it is getting colder outside as a storm goes through. The following morning, it is freezing cold and the other cows are miserable! In contrast, Milly Moo thinks it is the most perfect weather ever! “This is your last chance, Milly Moo,” the farmer says. At first, the farmer tries and tries, but nothing happens. Then suddenly there is a huge explosion; but not the type of explosion anyone (or cow) could have imagined! It is the frostiest, chilliest ice cream and the farmer is thrilled! “I never thought a cow could do that!” he says. After that all of the other cows are so jealous, because they cannot make ice cream like Milly Moo. “Don’t be misery moos,” says Milly Moo, “We’re all special!”

The illustrations in this story are funny and can make any reader laugh! This book is recommended for all cow and ice cream lovers.

Check the WRL catalog for Chilly Milly Moo.


Categories: Pied Piper Pics