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Zealot, by Reza Aslan

Blogging for a Good Book - Wed, 2014-10-22 03:01

Today, we get Benjamin’s take on one of the most talked-about biographies in recent years: 

Zealot was a number one New York Times bestseller. The book has been vilified by some and praised by others. This comes as no surprise, as Zealot looks for the historical Jesus, a search that invariably causes uproar.

Aslan produces a readable exegesis on the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth.  He informs his reader at the start that he is not writing to question anyone’s faith or beliefs.  He is, however, presenting a view of Jesus as a man who lived at the beginning of the Christian Era. Jesus gained a following in the rural areas of Galilee and Judea, went to Jerusalem to rail against the establishment, and was executed on a small hill named Golgotha.

Alsan methodically explores who the man Jesus of Nazareth was in the context of the world in which he lived. This is possible because a great deal is known about how the Romans treated criminals, what constituted a crime against the Roman Empire, who had power, and who did not.  There has been extensive discussion and analysis about the Temple in Jerusalem and the Pharisees, Sadducees & Essenes (the major Jewish sects during that time). Numerous narratives of Jewish messiahs exist, including accounts of their anti-Romanism, aversion to the hypocrisy of Temple priests, nationalism, and executions.  Despite this, there is limited hard evidence for many portions of the history to draw on, so Aslan spends much of his book reaching conclusions based on interpretation and correlation. Aslan carefully and systematically forms his thesis based on what he can suppose, infer, and theorize.

Zealot does not actually contain much history that has not previously been explored. The difference between this book and other discussions of the historical Jesus may be one of style and accessibility.  As a retelling of the story of Jesus of Nazareth, it is cogent, clear, and understandable.The author’s extensive research is documented through his 50 pages of endnotes.

For me, Zealot is a book primarily about a man who lived two thousand years ago and what that person’s experiences may have been, given the culture, political reality, and existing religious environment. Aslan has crafted a well researched, thought provoking history. While Zealot is not a book for everyone, it does offer an interesting perspective that will lead many readers to contemplation the topic and perhaps some lively discussion.


Celia by Christelle Vallat, illus. by Stephanie Augusseau

Pied Piper Pics - Wed, 2014-10-22 00:01

Celia is a listener. When the people in her town have worries, troubles, or sadness, they come to Celia, whisper their sorrows into her ear, and feel relieved. Happy. After Celia listens, they repay her with colorful seeds, which Celia later transforms into large, bright balloons, shining stars, and whimsical flowers. One day, a young boy named Julian loses his seed on his visit to Celia and cannot get rid of his sadness. But when Celia finds a lost seed in the grass, she knows who it belongs to and holds on to it until their paths cross again.
When I first saw this book written by Christelle Vallat, I was mesmerized by the eye-catching cover: a black and white stencil sketch of a plump lady with light pink cheeks holding out her hands to colorful circles in various sizes. This juxtaposition of bold color against black and white sketches brings depth to the illustrations, like red berries peeking out from the top of snow in the middle of a barren January. There are some pages that feature just a mere splash of color, but the color is so rich and adds remarkably beauty even to these pages.
The most compelling aspect of Celia, however, is the nurturing relationship that emerges between an elderly lady and a young child. There are many authors who showcase the positive impact elders can have on younger generations, and Ms. Vallat is no exception with her creation of Celia. Further, this story seems to convey that, with the help of others, people have the power to transform their troubles into something good: a positive, encourage message for all readers.
To enjoy the beautiful illustrations for yourself and to read the positive message within its pages, check out Celia to experience the magic!

Check the WRL catalog for Celia.


Categories: Pied Piper Pics

13 Little Blue Envelopes, by Maureen Johnson

Read This! - Wed, 2014-10-22 00:01

Charlotte shares this review:

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.


Categories: Read This

Still Foolin’ ‘Em, by Billy Crystal

Blogging for a Good Book - Tue, 2014-10-21 00:01

In yesterday’s review of Furious Cool, Benjamin commented on the dark side of a famous comedian’s character. Today, things lighten up with this review of another comedian’s life story: 

My first memory of Billy Crystal was his character Jodie Dallas on the sitcom SOAP.  Crystal’s sense of humor, genuine intelligence, and honest delivery were evident then, as they are throughout this autobiographical memoir.  In this book he is both funny and poignant.

Crystal’s writing style is relaxed, delivered much like a comedian’s stage act.  There are jokes aplenty, and if you are familiar with his comedic style, you will recognize his characters weaved into the book.  Crystal recalls a childhood surrounded by musicians and the entertainment industry, his lifelong addiction to sports, the career impact his impressions of Muhammad Ali and Howard Cosell had, his rising star as a standup comic, and his numerous friendships with individuals whose names any reader instantly recognizes. The book is a combination of one-liners, personal and professional experiences, and commentary on getting older.

Among the vagaries of advancing age, Crystal talks about the challenges of staying physically fit, the inability to stay awake in theaters, the loss of loved ones and friends, and the joys of family.  None of this is earth-shatteringly new in concept, but Crystal’s take on it all is lighthearted and fun to read. He’s clear that he’s not done living.

Crystal notes that from a young age, he relished garnering laughs from any appreciative crowd, be it family, friends, or unknown onlookers. He recounts his career highs and lows, although his career lows are few and far between. Crystal’s dedication to craft and excellent performance, combined with his intuition and innate talent, has resulted in a nearly uninterrupted climb to the top of his profession.  If Still Foolin’ ‘Em has a flaw, it is Crystal’s constant references to well-known celebrities and not as well-known individuals with whom he has developed close and lasting friendships.  Not everyone is his friend, but through the book, he gives the impression that most people are.

Still Foolin’ ‘Em is a light memoir, examining the life of a likeable comedian. Billy Crystal has enjoyed tremendous success while staying out of the tabloids. His successful marriage, well adjusted daughters, good health, and lack of obvious foibles might make you think his memoir lacks the dirt and dish of a “good” memoir. But, really, it’s a crystal clear look at what’s right in this world.


Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him, by David and Joe Henry

Blogging for a Good Book - Mon, 2014-10-20 01:01

Our regular contributor, Benjamin, a connoisseur of pop culture, is blogging all this week. Today, he reviews an appreciative biography of Richard Pryor:

I was born too late to experience Richard Pryor in his prime. I only recall news stories about him as I was growing up, and seeing many of the movies he did during the 1980s.  So, this biography offered me the opportunity to learn a great deal more about the man.  His life was full of laughter and success, but also turmoil and violence.

While the Henry brothers are not biographers by profession (one is a screenwriter and the other a songwriter/singer) they are Richard Pryor aficionados. Furious Cool is really a tribute to Pryor. The Henrys do not offer excuses for his deviant behaviors, but rather a recounting of the high and low points of his life. Pryor was not a role model. He was not even a nice person much of the time. He was a comedian who could take his audience anywhere and everywhere using just his voice, physicality, brilliant delivery, and agile mind.

Richard Pryor was born into poverty, physical and mental abuse, a culture of drug use, and an anger toward mainstream society.  He grew up a user of hard drugs, an alcoholic, and a violent man, who surrendered to his demons, even embraced them, rather than battling them. Furious Cool also reveals that he was a comic genius who revolutionized standup comedy.  By all accounts, Richard Pryor was so brilliant live on a stage that his performances are considered the best of the best by comedians and enthusiasts. To this day, Richard Pryor: Live in Concert (1979) is heralded as among the best-ever recorded comedy concerts.

In some ways, Pryor’s lifestyle was a testament to how much self-destructive abuse a person can absorb and still survive. It seems that most “modern” celebrities who go down the path of drug addiction either come back repentant or never come back.  Pryor spent his entire life a junkie and was never particularly apologetic about it.  Although his demons had definitely gotten the better of him before he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, it was that disease that ended his life, not his questionable activities.

Readers should be aware that because Pryor’s act was irreverent, disturbing, and filled with expletives, this book includes many examples of stand-up routines laden with swears and difficult subject matter. It contains stories of drug use and other deviant behavior that were part of Pryor’s everyday life. It also reveals a tormented individual and a comic genius. That noted, Furious Cool is a well written biography for anyone looking to learn more about Richard Pryor. While reading this book you may laugh, you may cry, but you will never think of Pryor in the same way.


The light, by D.J. MacHale

Read This! - Mon, 2014-10-20 00:01

Chris shares this review:

 

The light by D.J. MacHale is the first young adult book that I have read where I became so immersed in the storyline that I could not put it down.

The story follows a 16-year-old boy named Marshall who is being haunted.  Marshall is sure of only one thing, and that is whatever is happening has something to do with his best friend Cooper who has been missing for over a week.

Marshall, along with the help of Cooper’s sister, search for clues and unravel something bigger than either one of them could have imagined.

The light is the first book in the Morpheus Road trilogy.  Next in the series is The black, followed by The blood.

Check the WRL catalog for The light

 

 

 

 


Categories: Read This

Water Sings Blue: Ocean Poems by Kate Coombs, illus. Meilo So

Pied Piper Pics - Mon, 2014-10-20 00:01

Water Sings Blue, written by Kate Coombs and illustrated by Meilo So, is the perfect seaside companion for a sunny day at the beach! Filled with ocean-themed poems and vivid watercolor illustrations, Water Sings Blue is sure to delight beach-lovers and budding poets alike!
Each page features a poem with accompanied watercolor illustrations that evoke the mood and colors of the sea. From shades of light blue swirls in the ocean to a mixture of gray, blue, and purple coloring the sky, Water Sings Blue is an aesthetic delight. Besides showcasing sky and sea, the illustrator also depicts whimsical sea creatures, such as multi-colored fish, sea turtles, and octopi.
Like the rhythmic sounds of the ocean waves, the poems in this collection are told in a way that mimics the symphony of the ocean. Some poems, such as “What the Waves Say,” actually capture the “swell and sigh, otter lullaby” of the ocean; others are told from the perspectives of various ocean creatures and cannot help but cause readers to grin, like Frank Hermit, a seashell realtor operating in the depths of the sea. Still, some poems are quite metaphorical and compare marine animals with objects; in the case of “Jellyfish Kitchen,” a jellyfish is juxtaposed with a bundt cake!
Whether you share this book with your child all at once or take your time devouring the poems inside, be prepared to take a trip to the seashore with its myriad of descriptive poems and beautiful drawings.

Check the WRL catalog for Water Sings Blue: Ocean Poems.


Categories: Pied Piper Pics

Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully

Pied Piper Pics - Fri, 2014-10-17 00:03

Emily Arnold McCully’s Caldecott Medal-winning Mirette on the High Wire is an enchanting story perfect for holding the attention of an older audience. Mirette works in her mother’s boardinghouse where one day the retired high-wire walker Bellini comes to stay with them. After Mirette sees him walking on the clothesline, she decides to try it too, in spite of Bellini’s protesting. Then she overhears some other guests saying that Bellini is really “the great Bellini” who once fried an omelet on a wire in the middle of Niagara Falls and crossed a flaming wire, blindfolded, over Naples. When Mirette asks Bellini why he stopped high-wire walking, he says that fear on the wire never leaves someone. But he can’t stand disappointing Mirette, so he concocts a plan to conquer his fear. And it turns out that Mirette may be the very thing he needs to overcome his fear of the wire for good.
This rich, detailed story is a perfect elementary school read that will introduce kids to the exciting world of high-wire walkers. Above all, Mirette on the High Wire is a book about determination and conquering fear.

Check the WRL catalog for Mirette on the High Wire.


Categories: Pied Piper Pics

Seconds, by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Read This! - Fri, 2014-10-17 00:01

Rachael shares this review:

Seconds is written by the author/artist of the Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series, and seems to be a foray into the New Adult genre.  Seconds seems to speak to the 20-something population, offering the misadventures of Katie Clay, a young chef and restauranteur who finds herself and restaurant haunted by a “house spirit” who helps Katie by giving her a crop of magic mushrooms which allow her to erase bad actions and start the following day anew, with a second chance to make a better decision.  As Katie starts to rely too heavily on this magic trick as a failsafe for curing her business & relationship problems, her past, present, and future become increasingly tangled, and by avoiding the consequences of her actions, creates even worse circumstances.

I continue to be a fan of stories that are able to lovingly laugh at and make sense of the mess that can be adulthood in your 20s. (I loved that show “Scrubs”!)  It is a time of first-time adult choices, missteps, and self-discovery that anyone from teens on up can appreciate.  This is a fun, hipster fable that was visually a lot of fun, especially in the characterization of Katie. The range of emotions and action depicted by O’Malley really stands out in his many iterations of the central character. I recommend this book for older teens and 20-somethings with a sense of humor who appreciate graphic novels.

Check the WRL catalog for Seconds


Categories: Read This

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, by Matthew Quick

Blogging for a Good Book - Fri, 2014-10-17 00:01

Leonard Peacock, age 18 today, doesn’t connect with anyone at school except for Herr Silverman, his social studies teacher. He spends his free time with a chain-smoking elderly neighbor watching Bogart films, and surfing the subway dressed in a suit, observing the workaday adults, and looking for any sign that “it’s possible to be an adult and also be happy.” He sometimes writes letters to himself from imagined loved ones from his future, as suggested by Herr Silverman to get through the daily life of his teenage experience.

Leonard is a loner, to say the least. His self-absorbed failed rock-star father is gone, and his aging model mother, pursuing a mid-life career as a fashion designer, spends most of her time in New York with an insidious “Jean-Luc.” None of these are the reasons Leonard has decided to kill himself and his once best friend Asher Beal today.

Leonard Peacock has a bitterly funny and painfully sincere perspective reminiscent of Holden Caulfield, questioning the norms of a world in which so much seems wrong. He laments a world lulled into the habit of accepting or ignoring everyday evils. But he harbors hope for the better: “Call an old friend you haven’t seen in years. Roll up your pant legs and walk into the sea. See a foreign film. Do anything! Something! Because you start a revolution one decision at a time, with each breath you take. Just don’t go back to that miserable place you go every day.”

This book is swiftly-paced, darkly humorous, and probably for the more pensive reader of realistic fiction. The darker themes may resonate more with older young adult readers, but adult readers shouldn’t miss out on this YA gem. (Quick also wrote The Silver Linings Playbook). The characters are flawed, real, and sometimes lovely. Several long footnotes/sidebars annoy at first, but seem to drop away once the main story and characters are established. Quick offers a perspective on hope and happiness in spite of terrible events, rather than for lack of them, and that happiness can require work. I really connected with this book and feel compelled to read the rest of his works–all of which have been optioned for film.

Read-alikes for Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock include Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher, Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson, or The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky.

Check the WRL catalog for Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock


The Illusion of Separateness, by Simon Van Booy

Blogging for a Good Book - Thu, 2014-10-16 00:01

As human beings we are all connected, even across time. Small acts of kindness or a single act of brutality may have repercussions down through the years and perhaps even across generations. During World War II, a baby was placed in a girl’s arms in Paris. She raised the baby as her own son and told him a romantic version of his origins. Almost two decades later as a young man in the United States, he realizes that his circumcision means that he was almost certainly Jewish and learns what that meant for his chances of survival in World War II Paris.

Simon Van Booy’s haunting novel starts in 2010 with a series of coincidental meetings. An elderly man in California cradles a new rest home patient as he dies. Then the story jumps around through disparate people in different decades and on different continents and at various points in their lives. The people portrayed in the first decades of the 2000s are largely unaware that they are connected to horrific and sometimes heartwarming events in the battlefields of WWII France sixty years earlier. It is a compelling story told through vignettes painted in sparing poetic language.  It only as you read on that you can build up the picture of the connections between the characters, in many cases connections that they themselves will never know. There is the mystery of what happened to John during the war and minor characters who suggest or carry out small acts of kindness that show how lives are entwined  throughout the decades.

The Illusion of Separateness is a quick read and a memorable story that raised the possibility of redemption, the power of love, and the healing in human connections. I recommend it for fans of  literary fiction. Read it in a quiet moment to savor the language, the story and web of connections as they build up.

Check the WRL catalog for The Illusion of Separateness.


Cinder, by Marissa Meyer

Read This! - Wed, 2014-10-15 00:01

Mandy shares this review:

Marissa Meyer reinvents the story of Cinderella as dystopian science fiction in Cinder, the first novel in her series The Lunar Chronicles.

Cinder is a teenage mechanic living and working in New Beijing.  An orphan, she lives with her legal guardian, Adri, and Adri’s daughters, Pearl and Peony.  She doesn’t remember anything about her past or the operation that turned her into a cyborg. Every day, Cinder works in the local market fixing androids and other electronic devices with her trusted android Iko by her side, returning at night to a difficult home life with Adri and Pearl.  Her lone ally in the house is the sweet and gentle Peony.  One day, the handsome Prince Kai comes to Cinder’s booth asking if she can fix an android he calls Nainsi.  An immediate attraction develops between Cinder and Prince Kai, but Cinder refuses to acknowledge her feelings because she’s afraid the prince will reject her once he finds out she’s a cyborg.

Prince Kai is also struggling with a few problems of his own.  His father, the Emperor Rikan, has been stricken with a seemingly incurable plague called letumosis, also referred to as the Blue Fever.  If Rikan dies, Prince Kai will become the Emperor and even more attractive to the Lunar Queen Levana. Before he fell ill, Emperor Rikan and Queen Levana had been negotiating an alliance.  The prince, however, is suspicious of the motives of the queen, a crafty and vain woman who was implicated in the deaths of her sister, Queen Channary, and her niece, Princess Selene, the rightful heir to the queen’s throne.  Prince Kai believes Princess Selene may actually be alive, and he’s desperately searching for any information to confirm his suspicions.

When Emperor Rikan dies of letumosis, Queen Levana travels to New Beijing to discuss the alliance with Prince Kai. Levana’s idea of an alliance includes marriage to Prince Kai, and she uses the threat of war to secure an engagement. Meanwhile, Cinder discovers information that could be useful to Prince Kai while working on Nainsi.  Will Cinder reach Prince Kai before the coronation ball, where he will announce his engagement to Queen Levana?

Cinder is an inventive twist on the classic tale of Cinderella with great characters and fast-paced action. Cinder is an appealing heroine who uses her intelligence and creativity to solve problems.  Prince Kai is a noble hero who tries to stay one step ahead of Queen Levana’s schemes.  The attraction between Cinder and Prince Kai is obvious from their initial meeting, but I liked how Meyer kept the subplot fresh by adding a few unpredictable complications.  Queen Levana is an intriguing villain who uses the power of illusion to manipulate people.  The science fiction elements of the story work really well with the allusions to the fairy tale Cinderella, especially the way Meyer handles Cinder’s preparations for the pivotal coronation ball.  Cinder is full of more characters and storylines than I could comfortably fit into the synopsis, but Meyer adeptly uses these elements to establish the basis for the next book in the series.

The Lunar Chronicles continue with Scarlet and Cress.

Check the WRL catalog for Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress


Categories: Read This

Hideous Love: The Story of the Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein, by Stephanie Hemphill

Blogging for a Good Book - Wed, 2014-10-15 00:01

As a longtime fan of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, I picked this up as soon as I saw the subtitle. The book is told in free verse–but don’t be thrown if you are not a poetry lover–from Mary’s perspective about her young life from age 14 through her early 20’s, during which she ran away with the charismatic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley to travel Europe with his coterie of fellow intellectuals and artists, and she wrote Frankenstein, before she was even 20 years old.

I fear this book won’t be very popular for those not inclined to pick up historical fiction, poetry, or the gothic classic, Frankenstein, but it is full of romance, scandal, and adventure in a format that doesn’t keep you waiting. The brief but dense poetic format offers one scandalous tidbit after another, and the title of each of the poems/entries make it easy to flip back to earlier moments in the story or character introductions. I would almost call this a celebrity gossip special, 19th-century style, if it also weren’t so beautifully written, and didn’t so carefully explore Mary’s joys and struggles as a young woman who is intellectually voracious, determined to write, and in love with an inspiring yet unstable man (did someone say “bad boy?”)

I think young women will be able to relate to Mary’s growth as a young woman, as a writer, and in her relationships with others and the world; her strength and frequent acts of informed fearlessness also make her a character to admire. Hemphill’s choice to write this book about Mary’s formative years as a writer offers the additional benefit of exploring the often raw and complicated formative years of young adulthood, and the strength and genius that can emerge from them.

Although this book seems limited to the historical fiction and YA genres, it has much wider appeal characteristics. Teens who gravitate toward gothic and/or historical drama will find this an interesting and fast read, as will anyone who enjoys celebrity drama and scandal without a lot of excess prose. This also offers appeal to both teens and adults that appreciate YA realistic fiction about the struggles and revelations of young adulthood. Young women will also admire Mary’s self-determination, even though Mary’s love affair with Shelley may be questioned by today’s higher standards for the marital and gender equality in relationships. Adult fans of Philippa Gregory and 19th century English literature will enjoy this, as well as literature buffs who may enjoy the insight that this biographical fiction may offer into readings of Mary’s written work (I couldn’t help but constantly comparing the monster/creator relationship in Frankenstein to the strained relationship between Mary and her adored yet rejecting father).

This book was interesting, packed with drama, and nicely written. I will share that there is a character list at the end of the book that may be helpful as one needs refreshing about the large cast of characters that populate the story. Enjoy this on a rainy day.

Check the WRL catalog for Hideous Love


Hooway for Wodney Wat by Helen Lester, illus. by Lynn Munsinger

Pied Piper Pics - Wed, 2014-10-15 00:01

Wodney Wat has a problem: his name is really Rodney Rat, but he can’t pronounce his r’s. All the kids at school tease him while he tells them that another name for bunny is “wabbit” and that “a twain twavels on twain twacks.” But things start to change for Wodney the day Camilla Capubara, the biggest, meanest, smartest rodent of all comes to school. All day long she steps on tails, knocks people over, and tramples the whole class on the way to recess. When Wodney gets chosen to lead a game of Simon Says, he is terrified of what Camilla will do to him. But Camilla doesn’t understand that Wodney can’t pronounce his r’s… So for instance, when Wodney says to “wake the leaves,” everyone else grabs a rake, but Camilla grabs a leaf and yells, “Wake up!” Wodney realizes that he might just be able to use this advantage to get rid of Camilla altogether…
This hilarious read is great for large groups. Preschoolers and elementary kids will appreciate the frequent wordplay. Hooway for Wodney Wat is a great read for anyone who has ever felt insecure about something, and teaches an important lesson about respect and self-acceptance.

Check the WRL catalog for Hooway for Wodney Wat.


Categories: Pied Piper Pics

In the Kingdom of Ice, by Hampton Sides

Blogging for a Good Book - Tue, 2014-10-14 01:01

Armchair explorers, add this to your bookshelf of travel and survival narratives in the cold and lonely north.

The USS Jeannette set off in search of the North Pole in 1879. Manned in large part by men who had just missed the “glory” of service in the Civil War, the expedition boasted the latest innovations, including Edison’s lights and Bell’s telephones, and was spurred on by scientific theories that the Kuro Siwo, a Pacific equivalent to the Gulf Stream current, would sweep the ship effortlessly north to a temperate polar sea. Unsurprisingly, this was not their experience.

Instead, the Jeannette was locked in a vice of pack ice for two years before its hull was crushed, and the expedition was left to make its way 1,000 miles across more ice and unexplored territory to Siberia—before winter, and before their provisions would run out. At one of the lowest points in their journey, they learned that despite days of grueling slog to the south, hauling their boats, the drift of the floating ice over which they were travelling had dragged them north, even farther from rescue than when they started.

Author Sides delves into the background of the expedition, setting the usual narrative of cold and deprivation in its Gilded Age context. Vivid descriptions, many from the letters and journals of the men involved, add to the account.

Possibly the most striking character in this story wasn’t even on the expedition: financier James Gordon Bennett, Jr., editor of the New York Herald, whose journalist was embedded with the crew. In a book filled with colorful personalities, Bennett is still, as Sides writes, “spectacularly weird,” having once abducted a musical theater company, broken off an engagement by urinating into his prospective in-laws’ grand piano, and boosted newspaper circulation by printing a fake story about New Yorkers mauled by escaped zoo animals in Central Park (“A Shocking Sabbath Carnival OF DEATH!”)

Check the WRL catalog for In the Kingdom of Ice.


The First Phone Call from Heaven, by Mitch Albom

Blogging for a Good Book - Mon, 2014-10-13 00:01

Mitch Albom, author of the best-seller Tuesdays with Morrie, continues to write inspirational books exploring faith and humanity.  I find his books easy to read with simple plots and sympathetic characters, but each also has a message that lingers.

The First Phone Call from Heaven takes place in a small Michigan town. One morning three different people receive phone calls from family members who have passed away. A short conversation–maybe just a phrase–but sending the message that they were communicating from heaven.

That same day Sullivan Harding is released from prison.

The plot jumps from the history of the telephone to Sully’s story of why he went to prison to the growing interest in these heavenly phone calls.

Sully is is trying to carve out a normal life–a life shared with his young son, Julian, but without his beloved wife; a life as an ex-convict, not a respected Navy pilot. The calls intersect directly with Sully when Julian starts questioning when he is going to get a message from his mom. Julian doesn’t see the difference between Sully going away to prison and coming back, and his mom dying and not coming back. Sully determines to get to the bottom of where these calls are really coming from so his son doesn’t hold out false hope for his mom’s return.

Meanwhile the calls themselves are gaining national attention.  A small-time reporter gets the first interview with a women who received a call from her deceased sister. The video goes viral, throwing the small town into chaos as more and more people come to witness the miracle phone calls.

The plot reminds me a little bit about the movie Heaven is for Real, which Chris reviewed a few weeks ago. The phone calls are either real or a complete hoax depending on what you believe. Albom explores the ramifications from many different angles–the individuals receiving the calls, the religious community, the news outlets, the believers, the unbelievers, the  curious. And like I said, it will leave you thinking long after you finish the book.

Check with WRL catalog for The First Phone Call from Heaven


Bats At the Beach by Brian Lies

Pied Piper Pics - Mon, 2014-10-13 00:01

Have you ever wondered what bats do at night, while all the humans are in bed? Bats at the Beach has an answer! In this enchanting, beautifully-illustrated story by Brian Lies, readers enter a world where, while everyone else is sound asleep, bats have fun at the beach. Read about how bats need their “moon-tan lotion” and how they love to eat “salted ‘skeeters” and toast “bug-mallows.” The illustrations add details to this unique bat world, as bats make kites by tying strings to themselves and chat upside-down at the “snack bar”: a ceiling where all the tasty bugs gravitate toward the light bulb. The illustrations also demonstrate how the bats don’t let their small size get in the way of having fun–they make swords out of straws and use food containers as boats. Since the illustrations are so intricate, this book is better for a one-on-one read, and while the bright, glossy pictures should captivate any audience, older readers will best appreciate the bat-related humor.

Check the WRL catalog for Bats At the Beach.


Categories: Pied Piper Pics

The Naturals, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Read This! - Mon, 2014-10-13 00:01

Melissa shares this review:

If you enjoy television shows like Criminal Minds or  CSI or Cold Case, or any of the many TV dramas that involve solving criminal cases in an hour, you should pick up the YA novel The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes.

Cassie is a 17-year-old with a gift for reading people. At the beginning of the book she’s working in a diner using her gift of picking up subtle details to figure out what kind of eggs a customer might order, or if they are likely to skip on the check. She catches the attention of an FBI agent named Briggs who has developed an experimental program  that uses gifted teens to help solve cold cases.

He asks Cassie to join his group of “naturals” so she can develop her skills. Cassie doesn’t have anything to lose. Her dad is serving overseas in the military and her mother, who taught her much of what she knows about reading people, was murdered years ago. With little to keep her in Denver with her grandmother and the hope that maybe she can learn something about her mother’s unsolved murder, she agrees to join the eclectic group and work for the FBI.

The “naturals” live together in a house in Quantico, Virginia, near FBI headquarters. She meets Michael, the handsome rebel who reads emotions, but doesn’t like to be read himself; Dean, the other profiler, who is the son of a convicted murderer; Lia, who specializes in deception and sarcasm; and Sloane, the computer nerd whose gift is  numbers and probability. The characters are easy to distinguish and likeable–if also somewhat stereotypical.

The plot moved along quickly and kept me entertained.  Interspersed with the training exercises and the teens getting to know one another (in part through a risky game of “Truth or Dare”) are chilling chapters from a serial killer–a killer who seems to be escalating in the number and brutality of murders… a killer who targets Cassie as the next victim.

The Naturals is listed as the first in a series.  Stay on the lookout for the sequel.

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Categories: Read This

Don’t Wake Up Mama! by Eileen Christelow

Pied Piper Pics - Fri, 2014-10-10 00:01

Eileen Christelow’s famous five little monkeys wake up early to bake Mama a birthday cake. They keep reminding each other, “Sh-h-h! Don’t wake up Mama!” But they soon have to deal with one noisy disaster after the next: somebody sneezes, one little monkey slips on spilled oil, the cake even burns and sets off the fire alarm! Will the monkeys’ crazy antics wake up Mama and spoil the surprise? Also, a surprise twist at the end makes the story even more fun!
Kids and parents alike will delight in seeing kids who are eager to help around the house, but who don’t always yield the best results. Preschoolers will benefit from the frequent repetition in the story, and the monkeys’ shenanigans and the frequent sound effects make this book great for a story time setting.

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Categories: Pied Piper Pics

Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card

Read This! - Fri, 2014-10-10 00:01

Rachael shares this review:

Ender is a gifted child selected at age 6 to train to be a space soldier, battling alien forces in zero gravity.  He is sent to battle school with other prodigies and must learn not only to battle but how to strategize and lead others.  I thought this book was amazing. It poses big social questions about war and violence: making violence a game, making soldiers of children, breeding violence with violence, striking first and asking questions later, and the loss of innocence, among other things. A lot of the themes reminded me of Slaughterhouse Five and Full Metal Jacket. This can be enjoyed by young adults, but I think will become more and more meaningful as the reader ages (this is the same reason I went back and read S.E. Hinton in my 20s even though I read it in 7th grade). This book does just as much in what it doesn’t say as what it does – don’t be fooled by the simple style and the Star Wars geek appeal. This is one of the best books I’ve read, and the movie was pretty decent, too.

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Categories: Read This