Every year, parents of students at suburban Australia’s Pirriwee Public School look forward to Trivia Night. The combination costume party and trivia competition is a major fundraiser and the highlight of the school’s active social scene. The competition’s theme pays homage to Elvis Presley and Audrey Hepburn; however, Trivia Night will be anything but routine this year. A late caterer, unusually potent cocktails, a rain storm, and simmering tensions among parents result in a riot and an accidental death that might really be a murder. What events could plunge an ordinary parents’ night into chaos? Liane Moriarty explores this question in her latest novel, Big Little Lies.
Everything begins rather innocently when Madeline Martha Mackenzie meets Jane Chapman, a young single mother and newcomer to Pirriwee. Both women have children starting kindergarten: Madeline’s daughter Chloe and Jane’s son Ziggy. They spend the afternoon together, and Madeline introduces Jane to Tom, the proprietor of a café called Blue Blues, and Celeste White, mother of twin sons named Max and Josh. The women bond over coffee then spend the morning at their children’s kindergarten orientation.
At first, the orientation is routine; the parents socialize while the children meet their teachers and classmates. Towards the end of the orientation, an event occurs that divides the parents and teachers, and puts Ziggy and Jane in the middle of a controversy. Amabella, the daughter of a wealthy and powerful woman named Renata Klein, accuses Ziggy of bullying her during the orientation. Ziggy denies Amabella’s accusation, and Jane and her new friends believe him, although Renata and her supporters start a petition to get Ziggy suspended from the school.
Although Jane supports her son, a secret about his father causes her to question what she knows about her son and the incident. She is not the only one with an emotionally fraught personal life.
Madeline enjoys a comfortable life with her second husband, Ed; their children, Chloe and Fred; and her teenage daughter, Abigail. However, her former husband, Nathan, has moved to Pirriwee with his new wife, Bonnie, and their daughter, Skye, who is in the same class as Chloe. Not only does Madeline have to face Nathan and his new family at school functions, but Abigail has formed a close bond with Bonnie that threatens Abigail’s relationship with Madeline.
To the casual observer, Celeste’s life with her husband, Perry, and the twins is perfect in every way; however, a dark truth lies at the heart of this seemingly charmed family.
As the school year goes on, Madeline, Jane, and Celeste balance their complicated family lives with school projects, gossip, and rivalries. The parents of Pirriwee Public School are taking sides and forming alliances, setting the stage for a fundraiser that ends in disaster.
Big Little Lies starts out as a light and frothy read about mothers navigating the tricky social dynamics at their children’s school, but it turns into a provocative exploration of the effects of bullying and domestic violence. Moriarty makes it known early in the novel that a death will occur at Trivia Night, and the clues she plants along the way heighten the effect of the events at the fundraiser.
The story primarily centers on Jane, Madeline, and Celeste and their families; however, an entertaining – but frequently unreliable – Greek chorus of fellow parents and investigators provide additional depth and context to the story.
With a large cast of characters and a nuanced narrative, Big Little Lies is a fast-paced novel that’s a quirky mix of Desperate Housewives and David Lynch’s seminal show Twin Peaks.
Check the WRL catalog for Big Little Lies
His journey begins with a trip to his local library to return two books: How to Build a Submarine and Memoirs of a Shepherd. He tells the librarian that he’s also looking for some books, and she directs him to Room 107, located in the library’s basement. When he reaches Room 107, he encounters a cantankerous old man sitting behind a desk. He impulsively tells the older man that he’s looking for books on tax collection in the Ottoman Empire, and he’s presented with three books: The Ottoman Tax System, The Diary of an Ottoman Tax Collector, and Tax Revolts and their Suppression in the Ottoman-Turkish Empire.
The boy plans to check out the books and leave the library as quickly as possible; however, he’s told that the books can only be read in the library. He’s travels down another corridor, where he meets a man wearing what appears to be sheepskin. The sheep man takes the boy to the Reading Room and the boy gets another surprise: the Reading Room is a jail cell. The old man locks him in the cell and tells him that he must spend the next month memorizing the content of the books. At the end of the month, the man will question him about the books. If the man decides that the boy has mastered the content, he will set him free.
Later that evening, the boy receives another mysterious visitor: a mute girl who brings him a gourmet dinner. Communicating through hand gestures, the girl tells him that her vocal chords were destroyed. After she leaves, he finishes the dinner and starts reading The Diary of an Ottoman Tax Collector.
The Strange Library has many elements familiar to readers of Murakami’s work: quirky characters, surreal settings, and sense of melancholy or impending loss. Murakami’s characters in this novel are nameless except for the ones mentioned in The Diary of an Ottoman Tax Collector. This approach is very effective; the boy is an ordinary boy whose seemingly routine trip to the local city library takes an unusual and ominous turn.
The lavish color illustrations highlight the surreal nature of the narrative, and the repetitive images, including birds, eyes, and insects, reinforce the unusual nature of the boy’s journey and the people he encounters along the way.
Haunting and poignant, The Strange Library is a quick read compared to many of Murakami’s works, but the engaging prose and fantastic illustrations may inspire readers to make return trips to Room 107.
Check the WRL catalog for The Strange Library
Everyone makes mistakes. Kate Banks and Boris Kulikov have created a wonderful tale about how to turn mistakes into learning experiences and even see that mistakes we are afraid to make can be just what we need.
The Eraserheads features three unlikely friends, a crocodile, an owl, and a pig, who are all erasers. These three each have their special skills. One helps a little boy with his math, another with words and letters, and the last one with anything not involving big animals. They catch his mistakes and help him to correct them. One day, the little boy drew a picture of a road but ran out of space. Crocodile decided to help and began to erase to make more space, but Crocodile accidentally erases the whole picture and the three friends are stranded on a blank paper with nowhere to go. The little boy draws them into other adventures with giant waves, tropical islands, and exotic animals. Soon the animals are stuck in a precarious situation and they have to work together to find a solution. Ultimately, they accomplish their goal and make it back home to the tops of their pencils and are ready to help the boy again with more confidence than before.
This story is a beautifully illustrated book that would be best for lower elementary students. Students will be able to creatively think about the adventure the characters go on and gain the most from the moral of the story. Young students will be able to draw parallels to some mistakes they have made and see that mistakes are part of the learning process. Read this during one-on-one reading time or group story time. For a more interactive experience, encourage the children to come up with new adventures for the characters.
Check the WRL catalog for The Eraserheads.
The Giver is a very interesting book, and is unlike what I have ever read before. It showed how being the same as everyone else is a bad thing, not a good thing. It teaches people how to copy others, but to be themselves.
The book starts out in a community where everything is the same. Jobs, families, and houses are all assigned. Joys and tragedies, such as snow, war, or sunsets, were all taken away. The only person who even knows of such things is known as the Receiver of the memory. Eventually, as the Receiver grows older, he will die, just like anyone else. The people cannot lose the memories, so they must transfer them to someone else.
A boy named Jonas is selected to become the new Receiver. As Jonas learns more and more about the past and how things used to be, he begins to want to be like that now. While Jonas was pondering about what to do, he stumbles upon a book about the art of Receiving. Jonas learns that if he, as a Receiver, crosses the border into another community, the memories will return to the people living in his community. In the middle of the night, Jonas leaves his community and runs away. The government tries to find him and stop him, but it was too late, he had gotten too far away.
I would definitely recommend this book.
Check the WRL catalog for The Giver
Check the WRL catalog for the audiobook of The Giver
Jan shares this review:
As the main character, Jody says near the beginning, “The upside of being a military kid was that you got to see a lot of cool places. The downside was that every time you made a friend, you had to move away.” And her friend Vivian adds, “My mother thinks I’m having this great international experience, but changing schools all the time is just the same horrible experience over and over.”
Jody and her two friends Giselle and Vivian live on an American Army base in Berlin in 1990, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. They are brought together by their love of music and they travel by train each week to music lessons in East Germany with Herr Muller. They are scheduled to attend a music competition in Paris and they all know it will be their last time to perform together as they are all moving away. On their way home from a music lesson they witness an attempted murder and the adventure begins, sending them across international borders as they desperately try to save the life of a young man.
Without their musical connection the three would not have been friends at all, as Giselle’s father is a general and the base commander, while Jody’s father is enlisted. Jody feels she can’t invite the general’s daughter over as even the adults in the enlisted housing area wouldn’t like it. Of course, parents’ ranks shouldn’t make a difference to the children, but this book accurately reflects that they do.
Second Fiddle is an exciting adventure that sneaks in some history about the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Cold War. Try it if you are interested in the military lifestyle and the people who lead it. It will be a great start for conversations.
Check the WRL catalog for Second Fiddle.
The brash T-Rex in this imaginative story will be a big hit with story time listeners. He talks directly to the audience throughout, boasting of his powerful physique and hunting prowess, but his attempts to hunt fail again and again. The illustrations provide a clue as to the reason for this, which parents are more likely to pick up on than children: his two front teeth are too big for his mouth. Yes, this dinosaur is about seven years old, in T-Rex years. The full-bleed illustrations are done in bold strokes and psychedelic colors, and the text is laid out in an endless variety of configurations and colors. Another book with a child narrator who addresses the audience to charming effect is Juster’s Hello, Goodbye Window. The McMullans, who jointly wrote and illustrated the book, have done a series of books with unusual narrators, most of whom are vehicles: I Stink! stars a garbage truck; I’m Dirty! is about a backhoe loader; and the forthcoming I’m Brave! is told by a fire truck.
Check the WRL catalog for I’m Bad!
There’s a little bit of the voyeur in all of us. Admit it, when you walk by someone’s house, especially at night, you glance up to the window in case someone walks in front of it. You glance over at the car next to you to see if the driver’s picking his nose. You listen, even if accidentally, to those one-sided cell phone conversations. And, if you’re like Rachel Watson, you look for the beautiful couple living in the house beside the tracks every day, and wish for their golden lives.
Rachel herself is a mess. The ride home from London is occupied by a cold, canned (blecch!) gin and tonic, the night in her rented bedroom passed with a bottle or two of wine, and the commute back with a hangover. In the aftermath of a bitter divorce, broke, drinking to the point of blackout, it’s no wonder Rachel projects her desire for a better life onto the couple she names Jess and Jason. Until one day when she sees Jess kissing a stranger in the garden. And Jess, that is to say Megan Hipwell, goes missing, so Rachel feels compelled to interject herself into the investigation.
That’s not the only place Rachel makes herself an intruder. Truth is, Rachel’s old house, where her ex and his new wife and their baby live, is only a couple of doors down from the Hipwells (Scott is the husband). Rachel spends far too much time–some of it drunk–hanging around the neighborhood, and second wife Anna Watson is first creeped out, then downright angry. Could Rachel’s hanging around, even getting close to Scott, have anything to do with Megan’s disappearance?
The story is split among three first person narrators: Rachel, who has the lion’s share, Anna, and Megan herself. Megan’s story is basically a flashback, gradually revealing to the reader what was happening in her life in the year before her disappearance. Rachel and Anna split the narrative for the present day, and their mutually hostile attitudes color the reader’s take on the story. Is Rachel the dangerous alcoholic Anna believes her to be? Is Anna the manipulative mistress who destroyed Rachel’s marriage and put her on the downward spiral?
That conflict–to which Megan’s life and disappearance provide a backdrop–is the principle mover to the story, and someone looking for a fast-moving mystery is bound to be disappointed. Nor are the revelations as shocking as those in Gone Girl, which the publisher compares it to. That doesn’t mean that it slacks off, only that the pacing is more a slow build-up to one explosion rather than a string of firecrackers.
Check the WRL catalog for The Girl on the Train
It doesn’t seem like you’d find romance, emotional conflict, and a profound cultural shift in a grease-filled garage, but Wayne Harrison has found a way to do it–and for some reason that setting gives the themes a lot of punch. I mean, who would expect that guys who spend their lives elbow-deep in transmissions, radiators, and carburetors would live deeply-felt lives?
Harrison’s story centers on Nick Campbell’s Out of the Hole garage, where legendary mechanic Nick has taken on 17-year old Justin as a Vo-Ag intern. Over the course of a summer, Justin practices diagnosing and repairing the good old cars with names like Barracuda, Chevelle, Challenger, Firebird, GTO. Those cars could be completely disassembled, re-engineered and rebuilt to burn the rubber off the fat racing tires. Think Greased Lightning or just about any Springsteen car. And Nick is a master, even written up in Road Rage magazine for his seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of just what it takes to milk that last bit of torque to create the unconquerable street car.
Nick is married to Mary Ann, a beautiful, intelligent woman who runs the business end of the shop, and with whom Justin inevitably falls in love. Even after his apprenticeship is up, Justin flees his unwelcoming school for the camaraderie of the shop, and eventually takes a job there. Old-timer Ray, Bobby the ex-con, Nick and Mary Ann are the friends and uncomplicated family Justin needs. But Nick and Mary Ann suffered a tragedy while he was gone, and it’s having an effect on the shop–Nick’s work is getting dangerously shoddy and he and Mary Ann are barely talking. Mary Ann turns to Justin for comfort, which turns into a sexual relationship. Now 19, Justin sees a perfect future in which he takes Mary Ann for himself. There’s one problem: Nick.
Justin still regards Nick as a mentor, a combination father figure, brother, and teacher. And the opportunity to work on Nick’s latest project, restoring and racing a Corvette ZL-1, one of two in existence, is irresistible. The owner also has a big dream to build a chain of shops specializing in customizing those big engines. See, the future is here. The EPA’s new emissions restrictions essentially require computerized controls, and those can’t be diagnosed by guys listening to spark plugs and tasting the gasoline. Plus they make the cars wimpy–no more living and dying on the line for cash or pink slips with the new generation.
Harrison pulls off both sides of the story with seeming ease. The world of cams and quarter-mile racing opens up even to the most auto-phobic, and the interaction between the characters is natural enough to touch the heart of any gearhead. As those worlds head towards collision, neither set of readers will be able to ignore the power of the writing.
Check the WRL catalog for The Spark and the Drive
In this corner, weighing in at three pounds, with a chemical punch that rules the body is The Brain! And in this corner, managed by clueless trainers and sycophantic followers, is Everything Else! It’s the eternal match-up of Nature vs. Nurture! Tonight’s referee is Herman Koch, but there are no rules about punching below the belt, no timekeepers, and judges who can’t score the bout until it’s way too late. Ding!
OK, that’s a poor imitation of the ongoing boxing match between those who say criminals are born and those who say they are made. As a story, The Dinner is more like a tag-team wrestling event with a fundamental questions at its heart: Does a parent’s love encompass protecting their children from the consequences of their deeds?
Herman Koch has structured his approach to the question as the progressive courses of a dinner (hence the title) between two brothers and their wives. Paul, the narrator, is a teacher; his brother Serge a politician cruising to the top of Dutch political life. We see everything through Paul’s eyes, beginning with the bitter aperitif of Paul’s loathing for his pretentious brother and ending with a horrific after-dinner drink at a nearby pub. This single viewpoint frequently breaks the action up as individuals and pairs leave the table for private conversations we aren’t privy to, or we follow along as Paul does things the others don’t know about.
Over the course of the evening we learn that Paul’s son Michel and Serge’s son Rick were involved in a terrible crime. Paul recognized the boys from security footage, but the police and public haven’t, and every day brings new and more strident calls that the criminals be brought to justice. Does Paul have the courage to confront his son, to tell his wife, brother, and sister-in-law, to expose the boys and ruin both families? And does Paul’s bitterness have roots in a deeper conflict?
Koch has successfully incorporated the technology that has rendered so much other fiction out-of-date. Swapped cell phones, stolen emails, YouTube videos, and deleted voice mails all play a significant role in bringing the conflict into the open, and in offering a solution to the dilemma. But at its core, this is a story about people, ethics, and that old battle of Nature vs. Nurture. That one’s not going away any time soon.
Check the WRL catalog for The Dinner
(Coming in Summer 2015 as a Gab Bag – I’ll post that as soon as it’s up)
Rafe had just started middle school and had decided to make it a great year. He wanted to fit in with the cool kids, unlike in the previous years. In order to do so, Rafe decides to break some rules. He pulls the fire alarm, sells gum to other students, and he even decides to run around the school without any clothes on! The school’s administration becomes fed up with it and decides to expel him for the rest of the year. At first, Rafe was excited for a break from school until he found out that he was required to go to summer school.
To find out what happens next, you have to read the second book, Middle School – Get Me out of Here. I enjoyed reading this book because it shows how most middle school students act, while keeping it comedic.
I would recommend this book to all middle school students, especially those who enjoy reading comedies.
Check the WRL catalog for Middle School. The Worst Years of My Life
Check the WRL catalog for the audiobook of Middle School. The Worst Years of My Life
Lily Brown’s love of her world infuses her paintings. She paints things she knows, like fruit at the corner market and stars in the sky. But she also changes them, so the fruit laughs and sings and stars “come down to earth to hang around in sidewalk cafes and shine when the sun goes down.” And when she changes them, she makes new worlds. Her love of her family always brings her back to their world at the end of the day. The vibrant, full-bleed watercolor illustrations combine impressionistic but mature pictures of Lily Brown with the images from her own paintings. Pair this with The Hello, Goodbye Window to focus on children’s self-expression at story time. Invite the children to paint their families and favorite things during craft time. The author is perhaps best known for her young adult novel The First Part Last, which won the Michael L. Printz Award, the highest honor for young adult literature. The illustrator, E.B. Lewis, has won numerous Coretta Scott King awards and honors.
Check the WRL catalog for Lily Brown’s Paintings.
There’s nothing so tempting to readers as the opportunity to rewrite the books they enjoy. (Even though sometimes it leads to chaos.) And how meta is it for fictional authors to give happy endings to “flawed classics?” At their best, authors exploring fictional characters from different points of view–villains reconsidered, offstage characters allowed their own voices, principal characters followed beyond the ends of the original story–increase the reader’s understanding and pleasure in the original book.
If that’s what you’re after, don’t pick up Alias Hook. If you’re interested in a story that recasts the hero in an awful light and turns the two-dimensional villain into a grievously abused victim with a tiny chance at redemption, Alias Hook is a terrific place to go.
Gifted with magic and music, leader of boys who don’t want to grow up, recruiter of girls who take all responsibility until they ask too much, what character better represents eternal boyhood than Peter Pan? At least that’s the Pan that Hook cannot escape, despite trying for 300 years. This Pan is competitive, but only on his own rules, (which include keeping Hook alive while allowing the Lost Boys to kill his crew), controlling the environment to his own advantage, and of course ruling the Indians and mermaids that live in Neverland at his pleasure.
Granted, Hook is not that nice a guy–the spoiled rich son of a merchant, he became a privateer in the 1680’s and was imprisoned as a pirate by the French enemy. Released into the poverty and bitterness, his hatred took him on a path that led him to Neverland. He still dresses as the Restoration dandy he was, but underneath all that lace and rich cloth, he longs for redemption and an end to his captivity. With the arrival of Stella Parrish–a WOMAN! in NEVERLAND!–he may just achieve that.
Jensen leads us on a trip through Neverland, including the land of the fairies, the Indian village, and the mysterious path leading to the beautiful loreleis who lure unwary sailors to their death. In each, she shows us a rich and mythical place where wisdom and adulthood are held at bay by the mercurial boy. It is plain early on that Hook (and just how did he lose that hand?) must forge his own destiny and find a way to escape Pan’s world; but how? The answer is as simple and as mythical as it is emotionally rewarding.
Check the WRL catalog for Alias Hook
Jessica shares this review:
Frank Ross, a fair-minded farmer living in Arkansas in the 1870s, tries to intervene when a barroom fight breaks out one day in Fort Smith. One of the fighters, Ross’s own farmhand Tom Chaney, takes the opportunity to kill and rob the farmer. Chaney then flees on horseback to Indian Territory.
Ross’s fourteen-year-old daughter Mattie is angry. She is beyond angry. She wants blood and she wants justice. She is going to hunt down the man what done kilt her pa.
Mattie is not stupid. She is stubborn, impatient, and unforgiving, but she is not stupid. She knows she can’t go blazing off into the frontier without help, so she goes in search of a man with enough grit to get the job done. The man who matches that description is the one-eyed Rooster Cogburn, technically on the side of the law– he is a U.S. marshal– but of very questionable repute. You don’t kill twenty-three men in four years without getting some rough edges.
Slightly more respectable is a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf, who has his own reasons for tracking Tom Chaney, but Mattie doesn’t want him interfering with her search– and LaBoeuf doesn’t want a teenaged girl interfering with his search. It is under a very uneasy truce that the girl, the ranger, and the marshal agree to pursue the outlaw together.
If you’ve seen the John Wayne movie adaptation (1969) or the Coen brothers adaptation (2010), you know what’s coming: adventure, and lots of it. There are bandits. There are fight scenes. There are more fight scenes. There are galloping horses and perilous injuries and there are snakes, lots and lots of snakes, all conveniently gathered into the pit that Mattie falls into.
I have no idea if True Grit is typical of its genre– I’ve never read another Western except for Brokeback Mountain, which probably doesn’t count– but you don’t have to be a fan of Westerns to like it. It’s an easy and fast read with tons of action. There is a lot of subtle humor that comes by way of Mattie’s contrary disposition and her colorful idioms. Children and squeamish readers would find the violence to be too intense, but it’s a great read for teenagers and adults who love a good story and who aren’t bothered by a few rattlesnakes.
This Halloween tale starts off a little scary, but ends with humor that dispels the creepy mood. Skeletons, ghosts, zombies, a werewolf, and other monsters gather for a ball on Halloween night, but flee when the trick-or-treaters arrive: “The thing that monsters most abhor/Are human niños at the door!/Of all the horrors they have seen, /The worst are kids on Halloween!” The text includes a generous sprinkling of Spanish words, but most of the English equivalents appear nearby, so the meanings are clear. There is also a glossary provided at the back. This book is sure to be a crowd-pleaser, and shouldn’t be limited to bilingual storytime use only. The painterly illustrations, each a full-bleed double-page spread, evoke a haunted night with muted colors and slightly blurred outlines. Use for a Kindergarten storytime at Halloween. The author was born in Puerto Rico, but moved around a lot as a child because her father was in the military. In addition to English and Spanish, she also spoke French. The illustrator, Yuyi Morales, had many different dreams before she became an artist. She describes herself this way on her website, http://www.yuyimorales.com/me.htm: “I tried to be a psychic; I wanted to move things with my mind. I practiced to be an acrobat too—and broke many things at home. Then I grew and became an artist and a writer. Oh, well.”
Check the WRL catalog for Los Gatos Black on Halloween.
Patrick Flanery’s Fallen Land is centered around two provocative and complex themes: the meaning of home, and the nature of the family. As he develops those themes through the book, the reader can see the inevitable collision, but can never tell where that intersection will come. We do know that the land about which he writes has its own tragic family history, and we also know that a modern crime was driven by desire for the land.
Fallen Land veers between an omniscient narrator and the first person voice of Louise Freeman Washington, an older black woman who lives on the land left to her by her own parents. Her husband had farmed the land, but she was forced to sell when he died and left her in debt. She knows every fold and hollow, and the loss is as grievous as her husband’s death. As the story opens, Louise is squatting in her old home, existing in much the same way her ancestors had. She has little left, having fought the county to keep the last bit of her family land, which was taken through eminent domain to widen a road.
The road needs widening because of the neighborhood built on the old farm. Paul Krovik, the developer who bought the land for a song, created his dream neighborhood of large houses on big lots. The neighborhood was supposed to be centered on his own home, a monstrosity where he would be the benevolent overlord. But Paul built shoddily, the land lost value in the Great Recession, and he went bankrupt amid a raft of lawsuits. Left alone by his wife and sons, Paul has literally gone to ground, living in a complex and secure bunker unknown to the rest of the world. The bunker has an access door into the house he built, and he haunts the rooms where he believes his dreams may still come true.
But the house is bought for a song by the Noailles, a Boston family relocating to this unnamed Midwestern city for Julia’s university job. Nathaniel is also transferring to a better job with his employer, a multinational corporation with fingers in every imaginable pie. Their eight-year old son Copley, bright and inquisitive but troubled by the move, is enrolled in a charter school run by the multinational under a draconian set of rules, which he accidentally breaks on a regular basis. Paul can’t even pronounce their last name (No-Ales? No-Ills?); that their name is pronounced No Eyes is a pointed commentary on their inability to see what is around them.
Of course, the Noailles don’t know that Paul is living under the house, and when he sees the changes they are making, his anger erupts into madness. Copley is caught in the middle, repeatedly telling Julia and Nathaniel that he has seen the man slowly defacing their home, but they will not believe him. As Nathaniel gradually slides under the influence of his employer’s mission, he also begins to believe that Copley is destroying the house, sabotaging his work reputation, creating a rift between father and mother, and lying to everyone.
As I said, this is a story about home and family. Flanery contrasts Louise’s grounding in the land and memories of her ancestors and husband with Paul’s obsession that his house creates his masculine identity and Nathaniel and Julia’s vision of a house as a sterile shelter from the world. Those perspectives come from the treatment the three of them survived as children, which is gradually revealed through the course of the story. As those revelations compound with the treatment Copley is receiving, the tension finally explodes.
Flanery also explores the larger intersection of home and family in the public sphere. Nathaniel’s employer has the stated goal of making people safe in their homes, watched over by a government-contracted company concerned with their health and well-being. They don’t state that it also would track consumption, movements, relationships, and thoughts, then intervene when it judges those people dangerous. Nathaniel’s passive acceptance of that vision turns him from a specialist in creating rehabilitation programs for ex-convicts to a bureaucrat trying to convert those prisoners into a corporate profit center. To do that, they must identify criminals in elementary schools, imprison them as soon as possible, monitor them after release, and incarcerate them again for the slightest of infractions. Welcome to the future of safe homes and happy families.
Check the WRL catalog for Fallen Land
Bill and Pete Go Down the Nile, by Tomie de Paola, is the adventure of Bill, a crocodile, and his friend Pete, a bird, as they go on a field trip with their class down the Nile. In their adventure, they run into Mr. Bad Guy and have to try to thwart his plans to steal the The Sacred Eye of Isis.
This book is a fun additional adventure to de Paola’s Bill and Pete series. This book would be ideal for children grades K-3.
If your child enjoyed this book he/she can also try Cornelius: A Fable by Leo Lionni or the original Bill and Pete by Tomie de Paola
Check the WRL catalog for Bill and Pete Go Down the Nile.
One advantage of our ebook collection is that we can keep older titles that are still of interest to readers without having to worry about shelf space for new items. Over the holiday break, I spent some time in our ebook mysteries reacquainting myself with some early crime writers who I had not read in a while. One of my favorites is Ngaio Marsh. Marsh is often associated with the “Golden Age” of detective fiction, along with Dorothy Sayers, Marjorie Allingham, and Agatha Christie. Marsh’s novels differ from those of Sayers and Allingham however in that her lead character is not an amateur detective but a Scotland Yard official, Inspector Roderick Alleyn.
The pleasure of these books is definitely rooted in character. Alleyn is a deeply appealing figure, bright, witty, tough when needed, but mostly solving crimes by thought rather than action. Alleyn’s aristocratic upbringing gives him connections that would not always be available to Scotland Yard, and he is often called in on sensitive cases. He is ably seconded in most of the novels by Sgt. Fox, a man with a more middle class background, but equally quick and a superb foil for Alleyn.
Although the stories do build on each other, each one can be read alone, and Death at the Bar is a fine starting point. Here, Alleyn and Fox are called to Devon to investigate the suspicious death of a noted lawyer. With artists, surly left-wing rabble-rousers, colorful pub owners, and more this is a classic British crime novel.
Jennifer D. shares this review:
It is the spring of 1768 and Matt’s father has just left him alone in the middle of nowhere. Well, not nowhere. He is on property his family has purchased in Maine territory, in a cabin he and his father just finished building. Matt’s father is making the return trip to Massachusetts to bring the rest of his family to their new home. He leaves Matt to protect their land, tend the crops, and prepare for the family’s return. Matt expects to be alone for six weeks, perhaps a bit more. Things don’t exactly go according to plan.
Matt faces many obstacles during his time alone – a thief, bees, bears, and a dwindling food supply. He is unsure whether the neighboring Indians are friend or foe, until they come to his rescue one day. Though they do not get along at first, Matt slowly builds a friendship with Attean, an Indian boy about his own age. This friendship might turn out to be the most important in Matt’s life.
It is an excellent story and well deserving of its Newbery Honor award. Classics are classics for a reason and this one is definitely worth revisiting.
Check the WRL catalog for The Sign of the Beaver
Christmas is a great time not only for ghost stories but also for mysteries. This collection, gathered by The Mysterious Bookshop’s owner, Otto Penzler, is a fine place to start if you are looking for crime fiction short stories set during the holidays.
Penzler has compiled a selection of mysteries from classic authors such as Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Thomas Hardy (of all people), Damon Runyon, G. K. Chesterton, and Ngaio Marsh, as well as contemporary masters of the crime story, including Peter Lovesey, Mary Higgins Clark, Ed McBain, Ellis Peters, Donald Westlake, and Catherine Aird. There are well-known tales here like “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” (my favorite Christmas mystery of all time), as well as a host of excellent stories I have never read before, all set in the Christmas season.
Penzler has put the stories in clever groupings — traditional tales, modern narratives, humorous stories, Sherlockian adventures, noirish pulp fictions, and of course ghost-centered mysteries. There will be something here to delight any crime fiction fan, and if you have a mystery reader on your Christmas list, you can do you shopping early this year and order a copy of The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries for the 2015 holidays.
Check the WRL catalog for The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries
The Elephant from Baghdad, by Mary Tavener Holmes and John Harris, tells the tale of Charlemagne and his white albino elephant Abu, who was a gift from the caliph of Baghdad. This book, “written” by Notker the Stammerer, Charlemagne’s real life biographer, tells of Charlemagne’s travels to and from Baghdad and his relationship with Abu. In addition to the illustrations, this book includes photographs of artifacts from Charlemagne’s era.
This would be a great book to read to a child who is interested in medieval history. It shows the similarities and differences between Germany and Baghdad during the medieval period. This book would be ideal for children grades K-3.
If your child enjoyed this book he/she can also try Twenty-one Elephants by Phil Bildner or Children and Games in the Middle Ages by Lynne Elliott.
Check the WRL catalog for The Elephant from Baghdad.