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Hillside Lullaby by Hope Vestergaard, illus. by Margie Moore

Pied Piper Pics - Wed, 2014-10-29 00:01

Looking for the perfect “good-night” book? Try Hillside Lullaby by Hope Vestergaard, a good night lullaby that is sure to evoke the sweetest dreams.
Hillside Lullaby tells the story of a “wild child not ready to close her eyes” and the mother who tucks her into bed. All around her, the animals outside are preparing for their night of slumber, too: the frogs, raccoon, deer, and rabbits.
Told in rhyme, Hillside Lullaby shows different views of mothers getting their children ready for bed. Children reading this book will be able to predict what animal’s bedtime routine is featured next, as each page reveals a small picture of the animal that will be detailed on the next pages. This picture book includes sweet, vibrant illustrations of the hillside and its creatures at night, making it impossible to fear the dark.
After all of the animals drift off to sleep, so too does the little girl “with the song of the hill in her head.”

Check the WRL catalog for Hillside Lullaby.


Categories: Pied Piper Pics

Coraline, by Neil Gaiman

Read This! - Wed, 2014-10-29 00:01

 

Barry shares this review:

Neil Gaiman is probably best known for his writing for adults, the superb graphic novel Sandman or carefully crafted fiction such Anansi Boys or his collaboration with Terry Pratchett, Good Omens. I think though that Gaiman deserves to be equally well known for his writing for children and young adults. Coraline is a sublimely creepy tale that is a perfect read on a rainy autumn evening.

As in so many tales of the supernatural, our heroine, Coraline, finds herself at loose ends. She and her parents live in an old ramshackle house that has been turned into flats. She has explored the grounds, and had encounters with the other inhabitants of the place (a pair of aging actresses and an old man who says he is training a mouse circus). On a rainy day, while exploring indoors, Coraline discovers an locked door, whose entrance, when opened, has been bricked over. The door holds a strange fascination for her though, and one day she unlocks the door to find that the bricks are gone.

Of course she goes on through, and there finds a strange version of her own world. Coraline meets her “other” parents and her strange neighbors are apparently there too, as well as a disturbing community of talking rats, who seem to have dreams of domination. Coraline quickly discovers that there are other children trapped in this seemingly pleasant, though skewed version of her home, and she takes it on herself to save them and to restore the balance of her world. She faces some horrifying creatures in her quest, and finds help where she least expected. Through his use of language and his power of description Gaiman creates a world that is both believable and chilling.

Check the WRL catalog for Coraline


Categories: Read This

Merci Pour le Chocolat (2000)

Blogging for a Good Book - Tue, 2014-10-28 00:01

The films of French director Claude Chabrol are often compared to Alfred Hitchcock’s, and in his film Merci Pour le Chocolat (based on the 1948 novel The Chocolate Cobweb by Charlotte Armstrong) there is a similar level of suspense and craftsmanship.

The film opens with the wedding of Marie-Claire “Mika” Muller (Isabelle Huppert) and André Polonski (Jacques Dutronc). Mika runs her family’s successful chocolate company in Lausanne, Switzerland, and André is a famous concert pianist. This is the couple’s second chance at love. They were previously married and divorced years earlier, and reunited after the tragic death of André’s second wife, Lisbeth, a photographer. Mika’s relationship history with André is the subject of lively gossip at the wedding, with one guest telling another, “She hates losing.”

The couple lives in an elegant mansion in Lausanne with André and Lisbeth’s son, Guillaume (Rodolphe Pauly). Shortly after the wedding, a young woman named Jeanne Pollet (Anna Mouglalis) pays the family a visit. Jeanne was born at the same hospital as Guillaume, and when André came to the hospital to see his wife and child, the nurse mistakenly brought Jeanne to him instead of Guillaume. Although Jeanne’s mother, Louise, insists that the error was immediately corrected, Jeanne is struck by the curious coincidence that she’s a pianist just like André. The purpose of her surprise visit is twofold: she would like additional coaching before an upcoming competition and she wants to see if it’s possible that she and Guillaume really were switched at birth.

André is impressed with Jeanne’s talent and offers to help her practice for the competition. He welcomes the chance to help an aspiring concert pianist since his son Guillaume is not musically inclined. Guillaume, however, is distant, suspicious of Jeanne’s motives for visiting his father. Mika is warm and welcoming, but an incident causes Jeanne to wonder if there’s more to Mika than meets the eye. While admiring some of Lisbeth’s photographs, Jeanne sees Mika deliberately spill a flask of hot chocolate she’s prepared for Guillaume. Jeanne asks her boyfriend Axel to help her investigate Mika and her reason for spilling the chocolate.

As Jeanne becomes more involved in the lives of André, Mika and Guillaume, long buried family secrets begin to emerge and Mika’s behavior grows increasingly unpredictable. Is Mika’s charm and elegance merely masking sinister intentions, and what is in the chocolate she always insists on preparing herself?

At the center of this gripping psychological thriller is a compelling performance by the always wonderful Isabelle Huppert. On the surface, Mika appears to be generous and caring. She opened her home to André, Lisbeth and Guillaume when they needed a stable place to live and she uses the profits from the chocolate company to fund anti-pain clinics. Although her behavior appears to be good, she secretly delights in doing things to catch people off guard, like spilling a pot of boiling water on Guillaume’s foot. Huppert’s performance captures the enigmatic nature of Mika and the compulsions that drive her behavior throughout the film.

Chabrol establishes a strong tone that perfectly fits the plot and characters. The film moves at a steady and deliberate pace as the secrets are gradually revealed. Music also plays an important part in the story and Chabrol’s use of Liszt’s Funérailles is effectively quite chilling.

Hitchcock fans looking for other well-crafted suspense movies should consider trying the films of Claude Chabrol.

Merci pour le Chocolat is in French with English subtitles.

Check the WRL catalog for Merci pour le Chocolat


Elsie’s Bird by Jane Yolen, illus. by David Small

Pied Piper Pics - Mon, 2014-10-27 00:02

Elsie’s Bird, a perfect read for young fans of historical fiction and/or for children who have recently relocated, tells the story of a young girl named Elsie from Boston. Elsie loves the sounds of Boston: the sounds of horses’ hooves clopping on the sidewalk, the sounds of the skip-rope songs she and her friends would sing, the sounds of fisherman, the sounds of birds, the sounds of the church bell. When Elsie’s Papa decides to move them out west to the Nebraska prairie after her mother dies, Elsie feels lonely and misses the sounds of the city.
Afraid of getting lost in the tall prairie grass, Elsie chooses to stay inside most of the time and comforts herself by singing songs to her canary, Timmy Tune. When Timmy Tune escapes, Elsie abandons her fear to search for him in the tall prairie grass and ends up making unexpected friendships.
Elsie’s Bird showcases the companionship that animals can offer to humans, especially to children, and encourages children to believe that they can overcome new and difficult situations. The illustrations by Caldecott award winner David Small will transport readers to a time long ago where they can “skip-rope” on the streets of Boston and overlook the vast prairie land of the west.
Jane Yolen’s creation is a great addition to studies of the past that even children today will be able to relate to.

Check the WRL catalog for Elsie’s Bird.


Categories: Pied Piper Pics

The Birds (1963)

Blogging for a Good Book - Mon, 2014-10-27 00:01

Halloween is on Friday, and this week I’m reviewing five films that provide plenty of horror, mystery and suspense. Today’s film is Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 horror classic The Birds.

Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) is a wealthy and free-spirited socialite living in San Francisco. One afternoon she visits a pet shop, where she meets a man named Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) who’s looking for a pair of lovebirds for his younger sister Cathy (Veronica Cartwright). Mitch has met Melanie before, but she does not recognize him. Knowing her propensity for practical jokes, Mitch decides to play one of his own and pretends to mistake her for a sales clerk. Melanie’s anger at Mitch over his joke quickly turns to interest. She makes a few inquiries and discovers he lives in Bodega Bay with Cathy and his widowed mother Lydia (Jessica Tandy). Determined to see him again, Melanie purchases lovebirds as a surprise gift for Cathy and travels to Bodega Bay to visit Mitch and his family.

Once she arrives in Bodega Bay, Melanie discovers that Mitch’s house is only accessible by boat. She also meets several of the local residents, including Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette), Cathy’s teacher and Mitch’s former lover. She rents a boat, goes to the house while Mitch and his family are out, and leaves the birds along with a note for Cathy. Just as she’s heading back, Mitch sees her on the water and watches as she’s inexplicably attacked by a seagull. He offers his assistance and invites her to dinner that evening. Melanie wasn’t planning on spending the night in Bodega Bay, but she’s interested in Mitch, so she rents a room in Annie’s house for the night and accepts the dinner invitation.

While at the Brenners’ house for dinner, Melanie bonds with Cathy over the lovebirds, and enjoys Mitch’s company. Lydia, however, is less concerned with Mitch’s new love interest than she is about the chickens she keeps on her property. The chickens won’t eat and, curiously, the neighbors’ chickens are refusing to eat as well. The dinner ends on a sour note after Mitch teases Melanie about a scandalous escapade that made the society pages. Once she returns to Annie’s house, Melanie learns more about Mitch and Annie’s ill-fated relationship, and why Annie relocated to Bodega Bay. Mitch later calls to apologize and invites Melanie to Cathy’s birthday party. After accepting the invitation, Annie and Melanie hear a thump at the front door. They open the door and discover a dead bird on the porch.

The unusual behavior of the chickens, the seagull attack, and the dead bird on Annie’s porch are not isolated and unrelated incidents: they portend dark and sinister events involving birds, including the strange death of Lydia’s neighbor and an attack on a group of schoolchildren. Melanie’s romantic getaway quickly turns into a fight for survival as the town of Bodega Bay is inundated by scores of birds whose attacks only grow in frequency and viciousness.

The Birds is frightening because the villain is not your average horror film creature. Instead of a vampire, werewolf, or ghost, the citizens of Bodega Bay are facing a threat from the natural world whose motive is unknown and whose behavior is violent and unpredictable. Hitchcock builds the tension slowly, starting with odd but seemingly random events that culminate in a harrowing night for Melanie and the Brenners.

More than 50 years after its release, The Birds remains a classic of the horror genre and one of Hitchcock’s finest films.

Check the WRL catalog for The Birds


The Demon’s Lexicon, by Sarah Rees Brennan

Read This! - Mon, 2014-10-27 00:01

 

Charlotte shares this review:

Wisecracking brothers with swords and guns, on the run from the demons that killed their father. This could have been a run-of-the-mill teenage urban fantasy with demon hunting and chase scenes, but first-time author Brennan also gives us an intriguing, sardonic narrator who hooked me into a story I didn’t expect.

Sixteen-year-old Nick Ryves is a man of few words and many weapons. His priorities are simple: to protect his brother, Alan, at any cost, and to protect their mother, but only because Alan has some weird, sappy attachment to her. In general, other people and other people’s emotions are a waste of Nick’s time.

The Ryves brothers have stayed one step ahead of the demons for years, but this time, they’re slowed down by two kids from school: Jamie, who’s unwittingly gotten himself marked for demon possession, and his devoted sister Mae, who’s willing to do anything to get him un-marked. They’re messing up the uneasy balance of Nick’s family triangle. They’re throwing off his priorities. Alan’s taking stupid risks just to help Jamie, or maybe to impress Mae, and for the first time in their lives, he’s hiding secrets from his brother. This cannot end well.

I loved Nick’s point of view. I loved watching him try to interpret the world through his brother’s reactions and facial expressions. (And then he would cross the line from grumpy and laconic to really, truly, take-the-knives-away-from-this-boy scary, and I’d wonder what I’d gotten myself into.) Brennan springs surprises throughout the fast-paced plot. Even while I was congratulating myself on predicting some plot twist, a character would sneak around my mental blind side and do something completely unexpected.

While the focus is on brothers Nick and Alan, there’s a solid ensemble cast in which each of the characters gets a moment and some Buffyesque one-liners. The Demon’s Lexicon wraps up without a cliffhanger, but it’s also the setup for what should be a fun and unconventional series.

Check the WRL catalog for The Demon’s Lexicon.


Categories: Read This

Inferno, by Dan Brown

Blogging for a Good Book - Fri, 2014-10-24 01:01

Inferno, the movie, is expected to begin filming in Florence next year. If you haven’t read the book yet, Benjamin recommends that you do:

Harvard’s extraordinary Professor of Symbology, Robert Langdon, returns as the central character in this fast paced, intellectual, thriller.  As the story opens, Langdon is waking up, disoriented, in a hospital.  The people around him are not speaking English, but Italian. While it makes one wonder if Langdon actually keeps office hours on campus (he never seems to be there), it also grabs your attention. From the initial scene there are twists, turns, surprises, danger, and discoveries. Inferno introduces readers to an entirely new cast of characters including Dr. Sienna Brooks, Dr. Elizabeth Sinskey, The Provost, and Bertrand Zobrist, who keep readers turning pages late into the night.

This is Dan Brown’s fourth Robert Langdon novel. With each book the stakes seem to grow, and as this plot unfolds the potential consequences of not solving the puzzle quickly expand beyond the lives of a few people. As the title will suggest for some, crucial to Inferno’s story is The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. The author has Langdon using his unique knowledge of symbols to examine and analyze Dante’s work, extracting clues, revealing truths, and saving lives. Langdon’s expertise and his eidetic recollection of art serve as key factors in the story.

Dan Brown’s smooth writing and attention to detail make for exciting story-telling. Brown engages his reader with vivid descriptions of historic architecture, art, geography, and society. The places, art, and history he includes in his novel are largely factual.  The narrative Brown weaves into the fact is a big part of what makes Inferno so entertaining for me.

Another part is the protagonist. I find myself awed by Langdon’s superhuman personality. He embodies a combination of being unpretentious, ethical, brilliant, driven, analytical, and confident.  Because Langdon has no significant character flaws, I think we need the suspension of disbelief that fiction allows to make the character convincing. I still can’t quite visualize Dr. Langdon, since I’ve never met a middle-aged, brilliant academic who also is extremely physically fit, and stands firm in the face of certain death. Indiana Jones showed us that archaeology and adventure are inseparably linked but, before Robert Langdon, who among us had included symbology in that cosmology?  Is it a leap to expect that someone will soon write about the exciting exploits of a suave, globe trotting, death-defying librarian? After all, librarians are pretty cool too.


How to Lose a Lemur by Frann Preston-Gannon

Pied Piper Pics - Fri, 2014-10-24 00:01

Why someone wouldn’t want to be friends with a lemur is beyond me, but the young boy in How to Lose a Lemur certainly wants to get rid of the lemur friend he has accidentally acquired. You know what they say: “Once a lemur takes a liking to you, there is not much that can be done about it.”
But he tries! He travels on bike, by train, and over mountains to lose his lemur, but his lemur just follows right along! Once he realizes that he is lost and can’t get back home, it’s up to his lemur friend – the very friend he’s been trying to escape from – that can help him find his way back!
Perfect for a discussion about friendship, How to Lose a Lemur tells an imaginative story with engaging, collage-like illustrations. The text on each page is large enough for the youngest eyes, and many high-frequency words appear throughout the book, making it a perfect interactive read-aloud for emergent readers.
To enjoy an interactive read-aloud with your little ones, share this story with them soon!

Check the WRL catalog for How to Lose a Lemur.


Categories: Pied Piper Pics

Dead Set, by Richard Kadrey

Read This! - Fri, 2014-10-24 00:01

Andrew shares this review:

So, what would you give for the chance to see a dead loved one again? How about seeing them at the significant times in their lives, times you couldn’t possibly have known about? What about the chance to talk with them in their afterworld? Sixteen-year-old Zoe discovers that the price may be far more than she believed possible.

Zoe’s father died unexpectedly.  Not only has she lost her beloved dad, his life insurance company has declared that he never existed (at least in their files). She and her mom are forced to move from their familiar home to a cramped urban apartment while Zoe’s mom searches for work. Zoe has a history of cutting and drug use, so her mom is always on her back.

Her sole consolation is a young man she regularly sees in her dreams. Valentine is like a brother to her, and the tree fort they hang out in is a refuge from the bizarre world beneath their feet. He listens to her, offers good advice, and is genuinely present and concerned for her. But she doesn’t have any idea if he’s real or a manifestation of something else.

While skipping school and mindlessly wandering through San Francisco, she winds up in front of an old record store specializing in punk music on vinyl. But the weird store owner has another room, one only certain people can see. Inside the room are discs that have captured the lives and souls of the dead. Zoe gets a taste of her father’s life, but she’ll have to pay with something more precious and talismanic if she wants more. When she decides she won’t pay and is cut off, she must summon her wits and her courage to find a path to the underworld.

But that underworld is a hellish landscape, a purgatory without hope of either redemption or judgment. Zoe has to negotiate her way through a bizarre parody of a city, evading vengeful spirits whipped up by hatred of the living, and searching for an exit known only to ones who would kill her, or worse.

Kadrey has created a resourceful, determined young woman who is surprised by her own strength, and set her in an eerie world filled with disturbing imagery. It reminded me of the classic Greek stories of Orpheus and Odysseus’ journeys, and indeed the book has many subtle allusions to Greek myth.  This is definitely a dark book with some heavy themes, but a good read.

Check the WRL catalogue for Dead Set


Categories: Read This

The Bully Pulpit, by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Blogging for a Good Book - Thu, 2014-10-23 00:01

In a feat of near-superhuman endurance, Benjamin powered through and finished The Bully Pulpit. Here’s his review:

Including the endnotes, this is a tome of 900 pages (30 CDs).  Starting with the book on CD, I knew I would not have enough time to listen to the whole book before its due date, so I put a hold on the printed copy also. Shortly after returning the CDs, I checked out the printed version and finished the book. Written by Pulitzer Prize winner Doris Kearns Goodwin, The Bully Pulpit concurrently provides detailed biographies of Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, exploring their fundamental contributions to American history from the end of the nineteenth century through the first quarter of the twentieth century.

Woven into the narrative is the fascinating history behind the rise of McClure’s Magazine, complete with intricate biographies of S. S. McClure and his famous journalists: Ida M. Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens, Ray Stannard Baker, William A. White.  That all of these characters converge is not coincidental. These men and women were at the pinnacles of talent, dedication, and intelligence of their age.

Theodore Roosevelt is a household name. TR, as he is often referred to, had a tremendous influence on this country. William Howard Taft, although not as well known, also used his prodigious knowledge and skills to impact the direction of America. Contemporaries, both men rose above their peers with growing reputations, responsibilities, and national recognition. Although different in temperament and style, they were close friends for many years. Both were moderate progressives who enjoyed affectionate marriages, and were utterly dedicated to their families. However, after Taft became President in 1909, the men became estranged.

Taft did not crave the limelight.  If it were not for his wife, who aspired to live in the White House, he would have served as a distinguished Federal judge most of his career.  He sought equanimity and impartiality in his judicial decisions. His colleagues loved his amicability, intelligence, and fairness.

Roosevelt was a born leader. Anxious to excel and adoring attention, he held interests in every topic under the sun, and was knowledgeable about most of them.  He had boundless energy and enjoyed a good debate. Unlike Taft’s spouse, TR’s wife shied away from civic life. Yet, Roosevelt was happiest when he was inordinately busy and extraordinarily public.

Goodwin’s scholarship is excellent.  In The Bully Pulpit, she brilliantly combines all the lives of the characters to retell this fascinating history of the triumphs and tragedies of two American presidents.  Goodwin’s title reflects her underlying thesis that Roosevelt’s rise to prominence was aided by this masterful stewardship of and relationships with journalists.  However, this book goes a great deal beyond that one focus. Goodwin provides an amazing biographical history of Taft and Roosevelt that not only illustrates how these men lived, but also sheds light on the birth of modern politics.


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