So before going into a brief summary–here are some of the book’s other appealing features:
There are plenty of interesting characters in the story. Nora, a graduate student in English Literature, is the central character. One reviewer described her as an American Hermione (from Harry Potter fame, of course). I don’t know that Nora was that studious! In fact, my one complaint about the book is the title: “The Thinking Woman’s Guide.” No doubt Nora is smart, but there were times I wanted to smack her because she seemed to miss the obvious. The main male character is the magician Aruendiel–he’s talented, but flawed. He makes no apologies for his arrogance. I would probably hate meeting him in real life, but he keeps things interesting within the pages of a book.
The setting is a mix of modern and medieval. Putting a modern woman in the medieval world creates interesting situations, some I found myself thinking about long after the book ended. I also got a kick out of the period quotes from English literature. It was fun trying to identify the literary references, and I was amused with how the author was able to fit some of these in the story.
So stop reading the review now and pick up the book if you want to avoid the plot summary.
The book begins in our modern world with Nora Fischer having a crappy day. Her advisor is unhappy with the progress on her thesis, her boyfriend dumped her for another girl, and there’s a mouse in her kitchen! Although Nora is oblivious, the reader quickly realizes that when Nora wishes for something it unexpectedly comes true. I was all ready for her fairy godmother to swoop in and tell her about her magical heritage when–SURPRISE–that didn’t happen!
Instead, Nora stumbles through a hole in the fabric of universes and ends up in a medieval world where magic and wizards exist. Nora is enchanted, literally, by the Faitoren. The spells are particularly powerful, and she is caught up in the life of these fae-type creatures who love beauty and fun. It isn’t until after she has a devastating emergency that she realizes she is in danger. She calls on the magician Aruendiel to come to her aid.
The next 500 pages of the book include magic, romance, battles, kidnappings, murders, and more!
I listened to much of this hefty story as a downloadable audiobook. AudioFile magazine gave the book well-deserved double honors—naming The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic one of the Best Audiobooks of the year in Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Audio Theater, and Alyssa Bresnahan one of Best Voices in the same category for her excellent narration.
The author has an excerpt, map, and book club guide available on her webpage.
Check the WRL catalog for The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic
This story will introduce children to the world of bird watching. It is based on a true story about a red-tail hawk that settles in New York City and hunts for his dinner in Central Park. The reader will learn how unusual it was for this bird to make his home in the city. The hawk was named Pale Male by the bird watchers who watched him from a part of Central Park called
the Boat Pond. Soon he has a friend named Lola and they build a nest. Of course, everyone waits to see if she lays eggs. The author includes a note to the reader. She gives a wonderful history of Pale Male and his New York home. This story also includes a Learn More About Central Park page that parents will find educational.
Check the WRL catalog for City Hawk: A Story of Pale Male.
Do you know which event was on the front page of The Times of London in 1953, the same day as an article about the first ascent of Mount Everest? Would you believe that the translation or “decipherment” of the ancient script of Linear B was seen as newsworthy as the heroic efforts of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay?
Margalit Fox’s The Riddle of the Labyrinth: the Quest to Crack an Ancient Code is narrative non-fiction at its best, with mystery, and high drama. I had never heard of Linear B, and don’t worry if you haven’t either. You don’t have to be a devotee of ancient languages to be sitting on the edge of your seat to find out who, how and when Linear B was deciphered. Margalit Fox’s narrative thread focuses on the American Alice Kober who was a university teacher, but who worked on Linear B in her spare time on her dining room table. The book paints a picture of the academic world in the era before computers led to instant and easy sharing. Linear B aroused great passions and rivalries among academics and lay-people, even to the extent that they hoarded ancient clay tablets and didn’t let anyone else see them for forty years. Also, as in the best nonfiction, I painlessly learned an enormous amount about Linear B, ancient languages and linguistics in general.
Linear B was written on clay tablets in the Mediterranean area that is now Greece for a few short hundred years around 3000 years ago. The Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations that used it collapsed then it was lost to the world until clay tablets bearing indecipherable text were discovered in 1900 by British Archaeologist Arthur Evans. The clay tablets and the inscriptions on them remained a mystery for the next fifty years. Many people tried to decipher them, but all failed until finally British architect Michael Ventris published his work in the early 1950s. Michael Ventris is usually the hero of this story, such as in books like The Decipherment of Linear B by John Chadwick in 1958 and The Man Who Deciphered Linear B: The Story of Michael Ventris by Andrew Robinson in 2002. Margalit Fox argues that the meticulous, painstaking and time consuming work done by Alice Kober was instrumental in him reaching his final conclusions. Alice Kober left behind boxes packed tightly with index cards systematically annotating and data-basing minute aspects of the known symbols.
Linear B was only used for administration. In the words of Alice Kober, “we may only find out that Mr. X delivered a hundred cattle to Mr. Y on the tenth of June, 1400 BC”, but the clay tablets still afford an unprecedented glimpse into the daily lives of people long gone. Only around 120 “hands” have been detected in Linear B tablets, which means not many more than 120 people knew how to write it. That contrasts to the huge gains in human development, because now it is estimated that 80% of the world population is literate!
Try The Riddle of the Labyrinth if you like riveting, historical non fiction with a touch of mystery about diverse topics such as The Professor and the Madman: a Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, by Simon Winchester or The Poisoners Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum.
Check the WRL catalog for The Riddle of the Labyrinth: the Quest to Crack an Ancient Code.
Jennifer D. shares this review:
One day after school Miki Jones rescued Janice Harper’s little sister from getting hit by a truck. That’s how Miki died. But it’s not the end of the story, it’s the beginning. Miki wakes up somewhere else. She is alive, healed, and fitted with a bracelet on her wrist. Those who are with her explain that the bracelet indicates her health level. Right now it’s green. She shouldn’t let it turn red. Miki has been called upon to help defend the planet against aliens called the Drau. If all this sounds like a video game, that’s what Miki thinks, too, until her first encounter with the Drau.
“Something comes at me, light and speed, and then it’s solid, taking the shape of a man directly in front of me. I can’t help it. I look at it, right in its eyes, mercury smooth and silvery and bright. Terrifying and beautiful. Pain explodes, eating my organs, my limbs, my brain. I feel like my insides are being ripped away, pulled out through my eyes. My legs turn to rubber. I fall to my knees. The Drau’s lips peel back, revealing rows of jagged teeth. Not human at all.”
When Miki is sent on a mission (or “pulled” as she learns it is called) she starts off in the “lobby”, a staging area where the team is assembled and weapons are distributed. Then they are sent to eliminate the mission’s target. Miki soon learns that while the set-up may seem game-like, the danger is very real.
Miki is getting a second chance, of sorts. She gets to return to her home, live as though she had never died, but with the unending expectation that her next pull might be her last.
Check the WRL catalog for Rush.
This affectionate tale will delight all ages. It begins when piglet upsets her papa and isn’t sure what to do next. The farmyard animals reassure piglet by telling her yes they love her but someone else loves her more. This story brings forth the desire we all have to feel loved. The reader will find joy in piglet’s happiness when she discovers who loves her a million times more.
Check the WRL catalog for Piglet and Papa.
Nothing speaks teatime more than freshly baked scones, slathered with strawberry jam, and topped with cream.
In my world real scones are plain and stodgy objects which I learned to bake a long time ago, first at Brownies and then as “quick breads” in Cooking class at Intermediate School. When I have made them ever since, I used my Grandmother’s ancient and annotated Edmonds Cookery Book. In the antediluvian antipodes I learned that, as the name quick breads suggests, they are meant to replace bread in a meal, not something sweet, so they are mostly flour and milk and never have eggs. But I am game to try most things once (especially if it involves baking), so tradition be hanged, I exactly followed the Basic Scones recipe from Royal Teas with Grace and Style. These were not my grandmother’s scones, but light, airy, with cranberries and a crunchy sugary top–they were well worth making (and consuming!)
Author Eileen Shafer has run teashops and tea tours for many years and it shows in this engaging idea, etiquette and recipe book. Almost half the book is hints and advice for making the perfect elegant tea party, and with chapter headings like “Setting a Beautiful Table” and “Creating an Inviting Atmosphere” there is a lot to work with. It is full of exquisite photographs of table settings, tea sets, dignified rooms and (my favorite) food. Eileen Shafer lives part of the year in Williamsburg and the book is part of Williamsburg Regional Library’s Local Author Project.
Royal Teas with Grace and Style has smaller selection of savory tea time recipes such as sandwiches, but comes into its own with a great selection of cakes, cookies and slices. I got carried away one day and made so many cookies and cakes that the chocolate cake didn’t get eaten (unusual in my teenager-filled household). The book gives the splendid idea of using the left over chocolate pound cake to make trifle, but the recipe for trifle calling for cool whip and instant pudding didn’t sound nearly so splendid. This time I stuck with tradition and used whipped cream and custard from imported custard powder for a scrumptious trifle. I also made the lemon drop cookies and they were mouthwatering – strongly lemon flavored and slightly astringent. I like lemon flavor with other flavors so I had the idea of rolling the dough out with a batch of chocolate cookie dough to make lemon and chocolate swirl cookies, with triumphant results.
Try Royal Teas with Grace and Style for great recipes and wonderful ideas about stylish teas. My colleague Janet wrote a lovely review of Eating Royally, by Darren McGrady in 2012, which features how the British Royals really eat. Royal Teas with Grace and Style may not have the British authenticity of Eating Royally but it has plenty to inspire fans of baking and fans of elegant tea parties.
Check the WRL catalog for Royal Teas with Grace and Style.
And here are some of the lemon cookies and scones that I made.
Author Maureen Johnson will be Skyping with readers at the Williamsburg Regional Library on March 21st from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Come hear the stories behind her young adult novels, including 13 Little Blue Envelopes and the Shades of London series. The visit is open to ages 13-22, and space is limited. Call the library at 757-259-4050 to sign up!
I do try to be a cool aunt, but Aunt Peg, Ginny Blackstone’s bohemian artist aunt, takes the cake. Who wouldn’t enjoy an expenses paid tour of Europe? The only problem is that Aunt Peg isn’t there to share the adventure any longer. Ginny’s “runaway aunt,” never the most reliable person, took off two years ago without a forwarding address, and the next thing her family heard, she had died overseas. As the next best thing to being there, she’s left her 17-year-old niece money for a solo plane ticket to London and 13 envelopes, each to be opened only in a certain time and place.
London, Edinburgh, Paris, Rome: in each city, Ginny has instructions. Find a particular café, fund a starving artist. When in Rome, ask an Italian boy out for cake! Obviously Aunt Peg’s posthumous mission is not only to retrace her European travels, but to push quiet Ginny out of her comfort zone. Feeling more and more ordinary without the company of her extraordinary aunt, Ginny fumbles her way through the assigned tasks. She meets the Harrod’s manager who packs Sting’s holiday baskets, is temporarily tattooed by a famous artist, and is briefly adopted by the world’s most frighteningly organized tourist family. It’s an emotional scavenger hunt: with each letter, Ginny learns a little more about her aunt’s missing two years, and that she isn’t finished grieving for her aunt… or quite through being angry that she vanished in the first place.
Teens will enjoy Ginny’s not-exactly-a-relationship with her adopted starving artist and the whirlwind tour of Europe with nothing but an oversized backpack and a bank card, but I finished this book thinking about things from the aunt’s perspective. If you wanted to lead someone through the greatest hits of your life—the places where you were the happiest, or learned the most important lessons—where would you send them?
Check the WRL catalog for 13 Little Blue Envelopes.
There’s a sequel, too: The Last Little Blue Envelope.
Finding this book was like opening a wonderful present. The author’s ability to put into words the pure joy a child gives to his or her parents makes this a touching story indeed. It will warm the hearts of young and old to share the daily moments of happiness parents feel for the wonderful, sweet child they love more than a million twinkling stars.
Check the WRL catalog for Yummiest Love.
Noreen shares this review:
In this time of werewolves, vampires, zombies, and dystopian worlds, it is refreshing to find a teen novel about real people and a real time. Allie’s story starts in 1939 when she is living with her mother in Tennessee. Her mother is suffering from brain cancer and Allie is coping as best she can. Her neighbor Sam tries to help but Allie is not sure that she wants his assistance. Sam has a crush on Allie but she is too wrapped up in caring for her mother to care. And on one of the days she does spend time with Sam, her mother dies, leaving Allie alone and thinking that if she had been there she could have saved her mother.
Allie is adopted by Miss Beatrice in Maine. After a brief transition period, the book moves to 1943. While Allie has adapted somewhat to her new life, she still holds onto her mother, her mother’s fervent belief in atheism, and her need to keep her emotions carefully hidden. She does find friends at school, and becomes somewhat close to Miss Beatrice’s older daughter. And who returns to her life? Sam, who is visiting a relative living next door to Miss Beatrice. A new relationship begins between Allie and Sam.
The book is set against the background of World War II and includes all the emotions of teens growing up and finding their place in the world. The developing relationship between Allie and Sam, while a little predictable, rings true as does Allie’s search for the meaning of life and for a way to hold on to her late mother while learning to accept the love of Miss Beatrice and her new friends.
Interrupted is a first novel by Rachel Coker who was 16 years old at the time of publication and a longtime user of Williamsburg Regional Library. As a children’s librarian at WRL for many years, it is amazing to read a book written by a young lady we’ve known as a child. Seeing a library user grow up and produce a book that has been well reviewed and is well worth reading is the perfect gift for those of us at Williamsburg Regional Library.
Check the WRL catalog for Interrupted: Life Beyond Words.
You’ve just been accused of stealing 17 yards of lace. Your trial lasts eight minutes. No one testifies on your behalf. Verdict: Guilty! Sentence: transportation to Australia. Don’t you wish you’d had a lawyer?
Set in the late 1700s, this BBC courtroom drama brings all the plot twists and cross-examinations that we have come to expect from a long line of lawyer shows, but with an entertainingly rudimentary legal system that is not yet close to what we would consider a fair trial. It’s based on the career of English barrister William Garrow, who championed such radical ideas as “innocent until proven guilty” at a time when it wasn’t even a given that you’d have a lawyer for the defense.
A Robin Hood of the legal system, Garrow speaks up for the poor and powerless, the defendants most easily steamrollered by the machinery of justice. He shakes up the status quo with his indignation and debate skills, and he doesn’t make himself any more popular by starting an affair with Lady Sarah Hill, the wife of a politician. (Lord Hill is played by the dashing Rupert Graves, whom it pains me to watch in a villainous role. Disliking Rupert Graves, even in character, goes against natural laws.)
Over three seasons, Garrow confronts corrupt thieftakers, slave traders, and the infamous “London Monster,” said to have disguised a knife in a bouquet of flowers to stab young ladies in the face as they bent to smell the roses. Many details of the cases come from the archives of the Old Bailey, London’s central criminal court. Even the pettiest cases can be life or death. Under what would later be referred to as the “Bloody Code,” an enormous number of crimes could incur the death penalty. The emphasis on crimes against property seems to defy reason: note that Renwick, the London Monster, isn’t tried for assaulting a young woman’s person, but for ripping her dress.
Enjoy the raucous, public trials; the charismatic acting; and the period Georgian sets and costumes. WRL owns all three seasons (twelve episodes).
Check the WRL catalog for Garrow’s Law.
A child’s search for a bedtime snack turns into a nocturnal adventure in Barbara DaCosta’s playful Nighttime Ninja.
A ninja is on a mission. Armed with a rope and anchor, he swings through the night sky until he reaches an open window. Carefully, with grace and precision, he enters through an open window and makes his way through the quiet house. He reaches his goal and prepares his tools when all of a sudden the lights turn on and the ninja (and reader) is greeted with a humorous surprise.
Nighttime Ninja is a simple and straightforward story highlighted by DaCosta’s confident, austere prose and Ed Young’s wonderful mixed-media collage illustrations. The text and illustrations truly complement each other. The collages are so large and expressive that too much text might overwhelm their effect. The scenes where the ninja is moving through the house are especially inventive.
Parents looking for a fun bedtime story should consider Nighttime Ninja.
Check the WRL catalog for Nighttime Ninja.
I hadn’t meant to write about The Monuments Men, which, thanks to a movie starring the dapper George Clooney, already has an impressive reserves list. But I keep running into folks who say, “I had no idea there was a book!”—a statement that brings out the evangelical librarian in me. So: there is a book! And if you’re at all interested in the intersection of art and WWII, then you’ll enjoy learning where history and the movie overlap, and where the truth has been stretched to fit a different story.
Nazi art thefts during WWII were meticulously planned and immense in scope. After the war, 400 tons of artworks removed from museums and private collections were found in salt mines and castles, the best of them earmarked for Hitler’s proposed Führersmuseum, never built. But while the scale of art plundering was unprecedented, so were the preservation efforts of museum curators and the military, especially the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives unit, known as the Monuments Men.
Eventually, 350 men and women from 13 countries served, but at the beginning, there were only a handful: as of D-Day, eight men to inspect every important monument between the English Channel and Berlin. They expected to do conservation triage—follow after the front-line soldiers, survey liberated towns for damaged sites, and organize emergency efforts to protect works from exposure or keep Roman ruins from being used as parking lots for tanks. They didn’t expect that so many masterpieces would be missing completely. As the war drew to an end, their mission morphed into a treasure hunt for artworks and other valuables stashed in hiding places throughout Europe.
Possibly the most bizarre of these was at Bernterode: underground, in a sealed room, a circle of regimental flags surrounding the coffins of Frederick the Great and former German President von Hindenburg. The most exciting cache was at Altaussee, where the paintings were a survey of Art History’s greatest hits, and the mine was packed with bombs.
Edsel’s account follows several of the Monuments Men, drawing on their writings and interviews with surviving officers. It was lonely work, each man improvising on his own without much support or even assigned transportation. The work of identifying and returning artworks continued until 1951, while questions of rightful ownership concern the courts to this day. (For a taste of postwar Monuments work, the National Archives has a fascinating article about the myriad political and logistical issues raised by those coffins alone.)
Check the WRL catalog for The Monuments Men.
The Monuments Men in Italy had a slightly different chain of command, and Edsel covers their exploits in a second book, Saving Italy.
Jennifer D. shares this review:
Stephen has been invisible all his life. No one has ever seen him – not his mother, not his father. He has grown accustomed to living among others, never to be seen. Then Elizabeth moves in next door. Entering his apartment one day, Stephen observes Elizabeth attempting to unlock her door while loaded down with shopping bags. “‘Are you really going to just stand there?’ she asks. ‘Is this fun for you?’”
Elizabeth just moved to New York City with her mother and brother. The circumstances behind their move still have her on edge. So, when the neighbor boy doesn’t seem to be particularly helpful to his new neighbor-in-distress, she snaps at him. Not the best first impression. Little does Elizabeth know that Stephen couldn’t care less what words she has just spoken. The fact that she spoke to him at all is the only thing that matters.
Why can Elizabeth see him when no one else ever has? Is she just the first? Will he soon be able to be seen by everyone? While Elizabeth’s arrival in his life prompts question after question for Stephen, she has no answers. Elizabeth has never seen an invisible person before. Working together to investigate Stephen’s strange existence, they unearth a world of curses and spells, witches and spellcasters, hiding right in plain view in modern-day New York City.
Check the WRL catalog for Invisibility.
Kate Westbrook is deeply in love… with a house. She can’t stop looking at the broad sweep of its double staircase, or keep her hands off the banisters. Sadly, the elegant home of her Mayfair relatives is not for the likes of her: Kate’s father has been ostracized by his wealthy family ever since he married (shudder) an actress. But Kate is not going to let family disgrace stand between her and her rightful place in “that glittering world of champagne and consequence.” She has ambition, studied manners, and stunningly good looks. Maybe a wealthy suitor will marry her before he notices how embarrassing her family is.
Nicholas Blackshear, longtime friend of the Westbrook family, is carrying a torch for Kate, but he knows it’s hopeless. She’s aiming for earls and above, and he’s just a barrister saddled with his own family secrets. Nick has deliberately reshaped his romantic aspirations into brotherly affection. When Kate has a brief opportunity to make her impression on London society, Nick intends to help her land the suitor of her dreams. But that lingering admiration just makes him the world’s least suitable matchmaker… or chaperone.
Language, for me, is what makes Regency novels such a pleasure to read, and Grant’s style hits just the right notes, never forced or artificial. Her sentences flow easily, whether in sharp dialogue or self-mocking interior monologues. The surrounding characters, especially Kate’s bluestocking sister Viola, add life and color to the story, rounded out with conversations about women’s rights and courtroom tactics and fannish discussions of Miss Austen’s commendable novel, Pride and Prejudice.
Grant’s A Lady Awakened was my first read of the new year; I’d meant to blog about its hilariously incompatible sex scenes, the trapped heroine who just wants to make a difference in her ridiculously circumscribed world, and lovers who warm towards one another not from any of their antics in the bedroom, but when they start discussing land management—but, it turns out Christine beat me to it. What she said!
Check the WRL catalog for A Woman Entangled.
This spring, I had the opportunity to work with the library’s technical services department, cataloging youth and young adult materials. The internship allowed me the chance to catalog books I might not otherwise notice during the course of my regular duties. One such book was Luke Pearson’s charming graphic novel Hildafolk.
The protagonist of this short, colorful graphic novel is a young girl named Hilda. One evening, while engrossed in a book about trolls, she overhears the weather report on the radio. Delighted to hear that the forecast calls for rain, she asks her mother if she can sleep outside in her tent. This is the start of a wondrous adventure for Hilda, who takes great delight in the natural world around her. As Hildafolk unfolds, the heroine encounters giants, trolls, and a very unusual figure made of wood.
I was initially drawn to Hildafolk because of the art. Pearson’s illustrations are whimsical and colorful, and Hilda’s eyes in particular are quite large and expressive. Although the story is fairly simple, Hilda’s sense of wonder and delight really brings Pearson’s narrative to life.
Hilda’s adventures continue in two sequels: Hilda and the Midnight Giant and Hilda and the Bird Parade.
Check the WRL catalog for Hildafolk.
You forget, sometimes, that there are people living in space.
During his 146-day sojourn on the International Space Station in 2012-2013, astronaut Chris Hadfield reminded me, and many others, about life in space, as well as the natural beauty of life on earth. While his crew carried out a record number of science experiments, Hadfield was also spreading curiosity and enthusiasm about life on the ISS through savvy use of social media.
He traded tweets with fellow Canadian William Shatner (“Standard Orbit, Captain. And we’re detecting signs of life on the surface”). He posted YouTube videos about working without gravity (why you can’t wring out a washcloth in space, for instance). And he used his enviable perspective from the ISS cupola to share photos, including a Valentine’s Day heart for the planet.
Hadfield’s post-retirement memoir is loosely organized around three missions in space: from his first flight to Mir on the Atlantis, both now retired; through a spacewalk from Endeavor, installing a giant robotic arm on the ISS; to his last landing, after five months on the ISS, in the Russian Soyuz—”a wild 54-minute tumble to Earth that feels more or less like 15 explosions followed by a car crash.” Mission anecdotes are mixed with advice on how to think like an astronaut, much of which boils down to extreme, obsessive preparation and attention to detail. Canada didn’t even have a space agency when 9-year-old Hadfield decided that he wanted to be an astronaut, but he set himself to acquire the flight and engineering skills that he would need, spending years as a fighter pilot and test pilot until reality caught up with his dreams.
I am too hard-headed to benefit from most self-help books, but apparently I will listen to motivational pep talks from people who have been in space. And Hadfield does have a gift for presenting his career of extreme competence without coming across as a braggart. He’s easy to relate to and has a clear calling for sharing his passion for the space program and involving readers in the sheer “wwooooww” factor of a spacewalk.
If you enjoyed Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars, you’ll appreciate Hadfield’s wry descriptions of peeing for science. Astronauts on the ISS perform scientific experiments, but also they are scientific experiments—in how the human body reacts to long sojourns without gravity.
Check the WRL catalog for An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth.
Jessica shares this review:
This fun, light and entertaining read is a great choice for anyone looking for a sweet and enjoyable journey. Meet Virginia Blackstone, aka Ginny. She’s a shy and reserved seventeen year old girl living your everyday, ordinary life. But then she receives a very special envelope with detailed instructions that changes everything. Ginny herself isn’t particularly surprised by the note but instead, the sender, her late Aunt. An eccentric, vivacious and carefree artist Ginny’s aunt lived for the moment and when they were together Ginny always felt like a different person, someone lively and outgoing, not afraid to try new things or just be herself. But that was two years ago, before Aunt moved away to London on a whim with only a note beneath her doormat. And now, Ginny has just opened Envelope #1 (of 13) with a list of instructions, rules and a good chunk of cash. After months of begging her parents Ginny is finally allowed to follow the letter, despite its questionable orders. She is to buy a plane ticket to London and a backpack. She can’t bring any additional luggage, travel guides, language dictionaries or money. Then she must take the tube to a specified location and locate a specific house. Only after she’s completed the tasks in each envelope can she open the next. And so begins a journey across Europe for a shy and reserved teenage girl, on her own, with only a set of letters to guide her and the hope that her aunt wasn’t as completely hapless and crazed as some believed. What emerges is a lovely story full of adventure and exciting, wonderful people. Truly a feel good read!
Check the WRL catalog for 13 Little Blue Envelopes
Jennifer D. shares this review:
If Apple sponsored a contest for high school students to create the next great app, would you enter? What if the winner got a $200,000 college scholarship? Public Corporation (a fictional Apple-esque company) announces just such a contest, and it’s enough incentive for Audrey. She’s got a leg up on the competition already, since she’s a tech geek, and now all she needs is a great idea. She can create an awesome app, but what should its function be? The best apps do more than just look cool, and to win the competition Audrey’s must be essential to existence.
Inspired by her desire to find true love, Audrey creates the Boyfriend App. Fill in a highly-detailed questionnaire and the app will find your perfect match. When your phone’s GPS detects you are near a match, an alert will notify you. Sounds simple, right? But, as the saying goes, “the course of true love never did run smooth”. Someone should have reminded Audrey that high school students don’t typically appreciate being told who they should and should not date.
Audrey’s app is soon turned on its head, however, when she uncovers some troubling technology hidden in her Public brand phone. What starts out as a simple high school romance novel soon becomes filled with suspicion and intrigue. Public is up to no good, but maybe Audrey can use their corruption against them. After all, $200,000 and true love are on the line.
Check the WRL catalog for The Boyfriend App.
One of the most beautiful picture books I’ve come across recently is Ari Berk’s Nightsong. It is a sweet story with large, expressive illustrations by Loren Long that capture the beauty and wonder of the night and the unknown.
Nightsong is about a bat named Chiro who lives with his mother in a cave. One night, Chiro’s mother tells him it is time for him to fly out on his own into the world. She tells him to go no further than the pond and then come home after breakfast. Chiro is scared because it is dark and he cannot always see. He asks his mother how he will find his way. His mother says he should use his good sense, which is “the song you sing out into the world, and the song the world sings back to you.” Using his good sense, Chiro embarks on a wondrous adventure that leads him to the pond and beyond before returning to the safety of his mother.
At some point, every child will have to go out into the world on their own and Nightsong presents this in a manner that is relatable for both parents and children. Ari Berk’s confident storytelling is enhanced by Loren Long’s illustrations. Long uses just the right amount of light, shadow, and color to illustrate Chiro’s adventure, and the expressions on Chiro’s face as he gains the confidence to follow his good sense and explore his world are simply delightful.
Check the WRL catalog for Nightsong.
Gilderoy (Toby Jones), a sound engineer who specializes in nature films, travels to Italy to work on the sound editing for what he thinks is a film about horses. He’s right about the horses, but it’s not a nature film. Upon viewing the opening credits, he discovers that he’s actually been commissioned to work on a film called The Equestrian Vortex, a lurid horror film about witchcraft and murder at an all-girls riding academy. To make matters worse, he barely speaks Italian, the cast hates the film, and the director, Giancarlo Santini (Antonio Mancino) won’t even acknowledge that he’s even making a horror film, insisting instead “It’s not a ‘horror’ film. It’s a Santini film.”
Homesick, but unable to get his travel expenses reimbursed so he can return home, Gilderoy stays in Italy to work on the film. As the sound editing progresses, he not only becomes more entrenched in the tense and often claustrophobic atmosphere of the studio, to the point of speaking Italian fluently, but he is unable to separate his life from his art.
Berberian Sound Studio is an inventive homage to the Italian giallo films of the 1970s. Giallo is a genre of horror that typically, but not always, combines elements found in mysteries and police procedurals with common horror tropes. Giallo films are also distinguished by their distinctive production design and sound, and a hypnotic, but incredibly creepy, score. Notable Giallo directors include Dario Argento, Mario Bava, and Lucio Fulci. Viewers who are unfamiliar with the genre will find additional background and context if they watch the special features included on the Berberian Sound Studio DVD.
Berberian Sound Studio is all about sound, and Peter Strickland keeps the focus on sound by not showing any scenes from The Equestrian Vortex aside from the opening credits. The viewer experiences The Equestrian Vortex as Gilderoy does, through dialogue, music, sound effects, and, of course, lots of screaming. Berberian Sound Studio is a meta horror film without many of the elements commonly found in horror films. Through the use of sound, Strickland manages to create moments of real tension without relying on violence to generate scares. Strickland also succeeds in crafting an impressive tribute to the art of foley, the creation of background sounds using common objects.
In addition to the use of sound, I really enjoyed the acting, particularly Toby Jones’ performance. At the beginning of the film, Gilderoy is meek and polite, in sharp contrast to the brash rudeness of Santini and his producer Francesco Coraggio (Cosimo Fusco). As work on The Equestrian Vortex progresses, Gilderoy’s personality begins to subtly change to match his surroundings, much to his chagrin. Toby Jones gives a fine performance that works well with the tone of the film.
At the beginning of Berberian Sound Studio, Gilderoy is told, “A brave new world of sound awaits you.” Strickland’s film is a clever and absorbing look at how this “brave new world” of sound is created and how it changes Gilderoy’s life.
Check the WRL catalog for Berberian Sound Studio