This post concludes an unusual week for Blogging for a Good Book. Instead of our usual fare of one great review a day, this week we’re exploring the results of the 2012 ABBC: the All-the-Best-Books Compilation. It’s a spreadsheet that tabulates all the votes from dozens of best-of-the-year lists and awards. You can download the first edition from this earlier post or come back to BFGB in the next few weeks to get further editions as we compile even more lists into the spreadsheet.
Today, we’ll look at the most frequently recognized titles in speculative fiction: fantasy, science fiction, and horror. The health of these genres is indicated by the number of different titles that have received best-of votes to date: 242. There are some great books here, although I feel the need to preface the list with this comment: speculative fiction marketed as mainstream literary fiction often rises to the top of the best-of-the-year lists because mainstream reviewers won’t give the same level of consideration to titles published by genre presses. If you love the mainstream of fantasy and SF publishing, not its haughtier cousin, download the full ABBC and look a little further down on the list.
With 17 mentions to date, the first title on the speculative list is Karen Thompson Walker’s debut, The Age of Miracles. The setting is a very near apocalyptic future where the rotation of the earth has begun to slow, but the subject matter is coming of age for 11-year-old Julia and the tribulations of her California family. Melissa reviewed this book for us at BFGB back in October and found the tale of how life goes on, even in the face of the end, equally redeeming and disturbing. As the cycle of a day slowly increases from 24 to over 72 hours, Walker does a good job of capturing the sense of loneliness, the increasing reflection of her narrator, and the discoveries and suffering of a life that’s coming to an end just as it reaches the brink of adult awareness.
I’m currently reading one of the titles in a tie for second, at 11 mentions. Alif the Unseen, the debut of G. Willow Wilson, is about an Arab-Indian hacker in an unnamed Persian Gulf state. This is a place where “hacker” has a different significance, as every computer user, every website is under close supervision by the state, and narrator Alif’s skills aren’t just used for mischief-making and financial gain (although he’s still involved in these aspects), they’re critical to hiding both his own identity and that of his clients, who are tortured and often killed if unmasked. A breakup with an illicit girlfriend leads Alif to create a program that can identify an individual by voice, word choice, keystroke rates, and other factors after he or she has typed only a few sentences. When the state hacks into his computer and takes the program, Alif realizes he has unleashed a Trojan horse that will be turned on the entire hacking community. Add the Alf Yeom, the daytime analog of One Thousand and One Nights; underworld figures that end up being from the world Alif once thought of as mythical; and several mysterious and interesting women, and you get a real winner, a truly original work of speculative fiction.
The other title with 11 mentions is Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars, reviewed here by Andrew in July. It’s set in a postapocalyptic world ravaged by flu nine years before. The protagonist is Hig, a pilot who’s trying to maintain a sense of compassion in a world where others are increasingly inured to the suffering of others. Dug in at a Midwestern airport for years with his dog Jasper and one neighbor, the ruthless and cynical Bangley, Hig is going a bit stir crazy. He decides to fly toward the source of a distress signal, trying to help the suffering, but facing dangers at every turn. Andrew liked the immediacy of the first-person narration. Other reviewers note the poetic way in which Heller finds new beginnings even at the end.
In fourth with ten mentions, and also reviewed by Andrew for BFGB, is Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. It’s about web designer, Clay Jannon, who has hit a career slump and in financial peril answers the Help Wanted ad in the window of an odd bookstore. He ends up working the night shift, selling books with languages and letters he doesn’t recognize to a small clientele of strange customers. He uses his computer skills to create a kind of inventory for the store, and what he discovers in doing so leads him down the proverbial rabbit hole. The results are kind of Haruki Murakami meets Neal Stephenson meets Borges, but perhaps less complex than any of those works, a fantastic bookstore/library adventure with a mystery at its core and lots of references to make us nerdy folk happy.
Rounding out the top 12 in this category are Lydia Netzer’s Shine Shine Shine with eight mentions to date; a four-way tie for 6th at seven mentions between the middle book in Justin Cronin’s trilogy The Twelve, Nick Harkaway’s Angelmaker, Daniel O’ Malley’s The Rook, and John Scalzi’s Redshirts; and a three-way tie for 10th at six mentions between Deborah Harkness’s Shadow of Night, N. K. Jemisin’s The Killing Moon, and Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312.
I’ll summarize other categories of the ABBC — literary fiction, historical fiction, narrative nonfiction, and biographies and memoirs — at my other blogging home, Book Group Buzz, in upcoming weeks. Come back to us at Blogging for a Good Book to get further editions of the ABBC, a resource that if it nears the level of past years, will include results from nearly 200 different great sources by the time it is finished.
A week of posts about results from WRL’s ABBC continues today with a look at the romance category. ABBC stands for All-the-Best-Books Compilation, and it’s a spreadsheet that compiles the results from many best-of-the-year lists and awards for the books published in the previous year. We count the number of mentions each book receives and document which sources mentioned each title. You’re welcome to download the spreadsheet and use it for yourself or to help other readers find great books. We do ask is that you cite Williamsburg Regional Library and Blogging for a Good Book if you republish any part of the results.
Romance fiction doesn’t get much attention in the end-of-the-year lists, and sometimes the groups that do give out romance awards can be so inclusive that almost every author published by a major house gets some form of recognition. Others don’t publish their results until after our compilation is typically finished, so it’s harder to identify clear favorites in this genre. Finding more votes for the books in this category requires digging into romance-focused blogs, and I haven’t drilled quite that deep into the list in this year’s compilation yet. I’ll annotate the top four so far, but you may want to check back with later editions of the ABBC, which won’t be fully compiled until the end of the month. Still, the four books mentioned here should offer something to most romance fans, as they come from four different corners of the genre.
Tops so far with four mentions is one of romance writing’s most familiar names, Nora Roberts. Her 200th (!) book, The Witness, was reviewed here at BFGB by Christine back in May. This time she sets her story in the Arkansas Ozarks, and follows Abigail, a woman who runs a computer security firm and tries to maintain the lowest profile she can, as she’s created a new identity after a run-in with the Russian mafia. A well-meaning sheriff named Brooks tries to draw her out of her shell, and part of her wants to give in to his pursuit, but he doesn’t understand that becoming part of the community will endanger her life. Christine praised the book’s creation of community, sense of place, and the clever interaction of the central couple, and it appears that other reviewers agree with her judgment.
To date there’s a three-way tie for second with books of three mentions each. Kresley Cole’s Lothaire is the latest in her paranormal romance series, Immortals after Dark. As usual, this tale pits different factions and powers among the creatures of The Lore against each other, and this book focuses on the ruthless and half-mad Lothaire. Lothaire captures Ellie Pierce, an Appalachian girl possessed by an evil spirit. He intends to sacrifice her to gain power for himself, but instead finds that something about her soothes his tormented soul. What’s a vampire to do? This is the 12th in a series that started back with The Warlord Wants Forever, part of a compilation, Playing Easy to Get, published back in 2006. Lothaire has figured into the stories before, so you might want to gobble down some of the earlier titles before you launch into Cole’s latest.
Tessa Dare brings us A Week to Be Wicked, the follow up to A Night to Surrender in her Spindle Cove series. This is a historical romance in which a rake, Colin, and a scientist spinster, Minerva, fake an elopement. He wants to escape financial difficulties by marrying Minerva’s more vulnerable sister, so she makes a deal with him. If he’ll accompany her to Scotland so she can collect a prize from the Royal Geographic Society, she’ll give him the prize money, as long as he leaves little sister alone. She’s cerebral, but awkward; he’s the ultimate ladies man. But as the novel progresses, both begin to unlock hidden sides. Opposites proceed to attract as they have many adventures on their 400-mile road trip, and the differences between the two lead to humorous situations and lots of fun banter.
The final member of the second-place tie is Sophie Kinsella’s latest bit of contemporary chicklit fun, I’ve Got Your Number. The setup is that Poppy Wyatt loses her engagement ring and her phone in a hotel fire drill and its aftermath. The ring is an heirloom of her fiancee Magnus Tavish’s snobby family, and since they’re already trying to stop the marriage, Poppy can’t really confess that she lost it. When she finds another phone in the chaos, she takes it, with the intention of having the hotel call her when the ring is located. Businessman Sam Roxton isn’t thrilled to find out that his phone has been appropriated, and the two wage a comic battle through email, text messages, and other means, upending each others’ lives at every turn. In the process of leading each other on a merry chase, a relationship begins to form between the two, and soon Poppy has to decide between the man she once thought was the perfect catch and the one who came into her life by surprise.
I’ll be back with one more post about the ABBC results tomorrow here at BFGB. Watch here afterwards for the final editions of this year’s compilation to get the final vote totals as we search for the best books of 2012. I’ll also be sharing results from some of the other categories at my other blogging home, Book Group Buzz, such as in this post about the results among short story collections.
Click on the individual book title links to go to the WRL catalog.
Meg Wiviott’s very first picture book is a powerful, true story. The setting is Rosenstrasse, a street in Berlin, Germany with quite a rich and tragic history during the Second World War. In this book, we follow Benno, a street cat who lives at Number 5 Rosenstrasse. This moving story tells about the events of Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, through the eyes of this cat, as his life, as well as the lives of many others, is completely changed. When the men in heavy boots march through Rosenstrasse, burning books and destroying buildings, Benno realizes that nothing will ever be the same.
Josee Bisaillon’s collage, drawings, and digital montage techniques have blended perfectly in the illustrations. They provide a very unique look, while still making some attractive pictures. The colors are particularly arresting. One page can seamlessly blend happy, upbeat tones with darker, gloomier shades to create an interesting effect. The style really captures the emotions of this time period.
Perhaps the best aspect of this extraordinary book is the way it educates children about a very terrible, yet important time in history. At the very end of the story, Wiviott devotes a couple of pages to giving an accurate account of Kristallnacht, its effects, and how other nations reacted to the event at the time. This amazing picture book makes the history accessible to even the youngest of children. This is a book that children and parents alike absolutely must pick up.
Check the WRL catalog for Benno and the Night of Broken Glass.
Coverage continues this week of results from some of the categories in the ABBC: Williamsburg Regional Library’s All-the-Best-Books Compilation, which compiles the results from dozens of different lists and awards to give you the final count on the most lauded books of the year in a single spreadsheet.
Today I’m exploring the top vote-getters in the category of graphic novels and nonfiction. Yes, these are comic books, but they’re not just kid stuff anymore (and believe me, I love the kid stuff, too!) Modern graphic artists use their art to help tell a variety of sophisticated tales and 84 different books have received mention as a best of the year so far.
Topping the list is Chris Ware, an innovative artist whose Building Stories, because of its unusual format, probably won’t be found in most library collections. The title has two meanings: first, the collection is about the residents of a Chicago apartment building; but second, each reader has to build the story for her or himself. Building Stories comes as a collection of objects: pamphlets, newspapers, game boards, and bound books that can be assembled in whatever order the reader likes. The protagonist is a one-legged woman, and the stories follow her through her difficult life as she considers her existence — past and present — and interacts with both the building and the people with whom she comes in contact. Look at a review like this one from Brain Pickings to get a better understanding of this unusual product that has been mentioned as a best of the year in 24 sources compiled so far.
Next up is Alison Bechdel, who previously told the story of her difficult relationship with her father in Fun Home, a top pick of 2006. Now she turns her eye on her mother in Are You My Mother?: a Comic Drama, which has garnered 14 mentions in the ABBC so far. Bechdel portrays the life of a reader, music lover, and actor who wanted more out of life than her unhappy marriage to a closeted gay man. That unhappiness led to a lack of intimacy between mother and daughter, in fact a rather extreme gulf that Bechdel mines with a darkly comic but deeply poignant touch.
There’s a tie for third between two works with seven mentions each. The first is Drama, a work that resides in our juvenile collection but that can be enjoyed by all ages. Writer and illustrator Raina Telgemeier — with color work from the artist Gurihiru — tells the story of drama both in front of and behind the curtain at a middle school production of a musical called Moon over Mississippi. The story is told from the perspective of Callie, a gifted young set designer with no budget and a crush on two boys in the cast. The play has a colorful cast, and that’s reflected wonderfully by the bright artwork.
The range of graphic works becomes clear when one examines the other work with seven mentions. My Friend Dahmer illustrated in a style reminiscent of Cracked magazine, tells author “Derf” Backderf’s remarkable true story as a high school friend of Jeffrey Dahmer. He’d even see the infamous serial killer on the day he probably committed his first murder. Don’t expect a grisly recreation of the murders. This is more the poignant study of the differences (somewhat slight) between one troubled kid who goes on to a successful career and another that commits crimes so heinous they can hardly be believed. When I read this book, I saw uncomfortable similarities between Backderf’s group of nerdy friends and my own high school pals. It certainly left me thinking. We don’t have this one in the collection yet, but if you’d like to see us add it, just ask! We try real hard to be responsive to as many patron requests as budgets can accommodate.
After that, the voting gets close. At five mentions to date are Brian K. Vaughan’s latest series, Saga and Mark Siegel’s Sailor Twain: or the Mermaid on the Hudson. One more vote back are Joe Sacco and Chris Hedges’ Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt; Ed Piskor’s Wizzywig: Portrait of a Serial Hacker; Hope Larson’s graphic adaptation of the Madeleine L’Engle classic A Wrinkle in Time, and Faith Erin Hicks, with Friends with Boys.
I’ll summarize the results of two more categories on Thursday and Friday this week, while others will get similar treatment at my other blogging home, Booklist magazine’s Book Group Buzz. We’ll continue to release further installments of the ABBC spreadsheet until compilation is complete at the end of March, so keep checking back to get the final word on all of the best books of 2012.
Click on the individual book title links to go to the WRL catalog.
This week we’re taking a break from the usual BFGB fare to post about the results in some of the categories from WRL’s All-the-Best-Books Compilation (ABBC) for 2012. The ABBC adds up mentions in dozens of best-of-the-year lists and awards in a spreadsheet you can download. We’re about 75 sources into the compilation, and although it’s not complete, here are the leaders so far in the category of crime fiction.
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn is not only the runaway top Crime Fiction selection this year, but the most mentioned book overall so far (38 mentions), holding a slight lead over Katherine Boo’s nonfiction title Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Gone Girl is a literate suspenseful thriller about Amy, a young wife who goes missing on her 5th wedding anniversary. Flynn leads readers through a twisty maze as they discover the secrets lying behind the facade of the couple’s marriage and try to decide if unlikable husband Nick is the killer or not. Employing devices like Amy’s diary and the novels in which her psychologist parents made her a famous case study, Flynn slowly unwraps the folds of the shroud and saves one of the best twists for last.
In second place, with 14 mentions is Tana French’s fourth Dublin Murder Squad novel, Broken Harbor. This time a father and his two children are found dead in a half-finished estate outside the city, and his wife is on the way to intensive care. It seems at first like a clear case of a financially destitute man snapping and trying to kill family and self, but further investigation yields a more complicated case. As usual, French explores the lives of her detectives a carefully as she builds the plot of the central crime, this time focusing on Scorcher Kennedy, a star detective with a lonely personal life. While these novels can stand alone, you might want to start at the beginning with In the Woods.
Ben H. Winters debuts in the third spot with nine mentions to date for The Last Policeman. It’s a blend of mystery and science fiction, a trilogy starter in which an asteroid is heading towards Earth and will end civilization in six months. Amid a spate of suicides, Detective Hank Palace latches onto a hanging that seems suspicious. While the rest of civilization focuses on the bleak future, Palace decides to keep doing his job and stays focused on the investigation. Strong characterizations and interesting philosophical questions make this mystery a cut above the usual.
The fourth spot is a three-way tie (eight mentions) between William Landay’s Defending Jacob, a psychological legal thriller; Dennis Lehane’s Live by Night, a loose sequel to his Boston historical The Given Day; and Jo Nesbo’s latest Harry Hole mystery, Phantom. Another mention back are Joe R. Lansdale with Edge of Dark Water and Lyndsay Faye’s Gods of Gotham. I’ll round out a top twelve by mentioning the crime novels with six mentions: Louise Penny’s The Beautiful Mystery, James Lee Burke’s Creole Belle; Megan Abbott’s Dare Me, and Wiley Cash’s A Land More Kind than Home. As you can see, after Gone Girl and Broken Harbor, the race in this category is tight.
We’ll post more editions of the ABBC compilation as sources are added, finishing the work later this month. Look for analysis of other categories here at BFGB and also at my other blogging home, Booklist‘s Book Group Buzz.
Click on the individual book title links to go to the WRL catalog.
Originally published in 1957, Eve Titus’ and Paul Galdone’s Anatole and the Cat, which is the second story about mouse magnifique Anatole, has remained a well-loved book for children. This story follows Anatole, Paris’ most popular mouse, who is the most important and most secret worker at Duval’s cheese factory. He is the Vice-President in Charge of Cheese Tasting, so it is his job to provide reviews of every cheese produced by the factory, as well as suggestions on how to improve bad cheeses. One day, however, M’sieu Duval’s cat sneaks into the factory while Anatole is working! Anatole must then figure out a way to continue his work, overcoming the threat of the fearsome cat, or he won’t be able to accurately review the cheeses, and Duval’s cheese factory might be finished! It will take a lot of courage from this mouse extraordinaire.
Paul Galdone’s illustrations add a classic air to this book. Most of the pictures are drawn in grayscale, and the only colors added are blue, white, and red, which just so happen to be the colors of the French flag. If that’s not French enough for you yet, Eve Titus adds to the authenticity by mixing in French words with the English sentences. Not only is this a great story, but it is also a fun and wonderful way to get your child started with learning French, or at least a few words. After reading this book, children will doubtless agree that Anatole is truly a mouse magnifique!
Check the WRL catalog for Anatole and the Cat.
This week on Blogging for a Good Book, I’ll be making a variation from our usual pattern of one review a day to highlight the results of WRL’s annual compilation of the best-of lists into one spreadsheet: the All-the-Best-Books Compilation (ABBC). I’ll look at the results to date from one of the ABBC’s 12 categories each day. The remaining categories will be covered at my other blogging home, Booklist’s Book Group Buzz, where I’ve already explored the short story category. Stay tuned here at BFGB for releases of further editions of the ABBC compilation, as I compile more lists into a spreadsheet that already includes over 70 prominent sources.
The growth in young adult publishing can be seen in this year’s results, as mentions for 174 works have already been compiled into the ABBC. We’ve already posted about some of the top titles at BFGB.
John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars has a healthy lead, with 23 mentions to date. As Charlotte noted back in January, Green writes about highly literate teenagers in stories with intelligent romance, a dose of mystery, and plenty of real emotional content. Here he tells the story of a girl who gets a terminal cancer diagnosis on her 13th birthday, but is then swept into a romance with a boy from her support group who uses his final wish to take her to Amsterdam in search of the reclusive author of her favorite book. The phrase “it will make you laugh and make you cry” may be overused, but it’s certainly true here.
Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity is in second place, with 16 mentions to date. Charlotte reviewed this one on BFGB in May. It’s a WWII thriller about a Scottish girl who has been captured by the Gestapo. In her first person narration, she confesses her involvement with the resistance movement in France to Hauptsturmfuhrer von Linden of the SS. This isn’t sugar-coated: it’s a story full of torture and other realities of war, but it’s full of twists, excitement, and some powerful poignant moments.
Third in the ABBC results is Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina, reviewed here in September by — guess who? — Charlotte. This one opens on a truce between dragons and humans in an age-old war. It’s a fantasy notable for political intrigues, dispassionate dragons, and the title character’s gift for deceptions and for a magic born from lucid dreaming. With an involving mystery at its core, Seraphina is the start of a new series.
In fourth place is Libba Bray, a mainstay at the top of young adult best of the year lists since 2003′s A Great and Terrible Beauty. A gifted and diverse writer, her 2012 offering was The Diviners, given 11 best-of-the-year mentions to date. This one’s about a Jazz Age girl Evie, who comes to live with her Uncle Will, the curator of the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult in New York City. Evie can read people’s pasts by holding their possessions and she uses this gift, in concert with those of a group of new oddball friends, to combat the perpetrator of a series of killings. This is the fun, creepy opening to a new series.
One mention behind in 5th place is David Levithan, with Every Day. It’s protagonist “A” wakes up every morning in a different body, some male, some female, but one thing remains the same: A is always in love with the same girl, Rhiannon. A’s different lives and encounters with Rhiannon range from humorous to harrowing, and as usual, Levithan uses an unusual premise to engage in philosophical explorations while still telling a good story.
The rest of the young adult top ten to date are Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys, Lois Lowry’s finish to The Giver quartet in Son, Kristin Cashore’s Bitterblue, Robin LaFevers Grave Mercy, and Emily M. Danforth’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post. These and other books are packed close enough together that positions may easily change by the time the compiling of the ABBC is complete.
Click on the individual book title links to go to the WRL catalog.
There is a saying that every boy should have two things: a dog, and a mother willing to let him have one. In Dogfish, a young boy already has a pet goldfish but still wants a dog more than anything. Unfortunately, his mother is less interested in getting another pet. The boy tries his most convincing arguments, uses his hypnotizing eyes, and gives her his best sad look but she will not be swayed. “After a bit my mom says, ‘Well, if you can’t have what you want, you could try to want what you have.’ She ALWAYS says things like that.”
So, the boy decides to do all the things with his fish that he’d planned to do with a dog. They play fetch, go for walks, and soon the boy realizes that he doesn’t just have a fish, he has a dogfish. Children will identify with the boy and his desire to have a dog. They will possibly also recognize the mother’s refusal to entertain the idea. Shields takes a very humorous, yet sympathetic approach to the boy’s situation and finds a way to give the story a happy ending even though he doesn’t get the dog he’s been pining for. Taylor’s illustrations are colorful and add to the humor of the story.
Check the WRL catalog for Dogfish.
Knitting is enjoying a resurgence, and the library owns dozens of books about it. Many are beautiful books with sparkling colorful photographs of wonderful projects of wonderful complexity. Every now and then I check one out with great intentions to knit. The last time I actually finished a project of any size was when I was pregnant (and my children are now starting to leave the nest). Back then, my late mother helped me with the tricky bits and (I am embarrassed to admit) did the tedious sewing up.
I was inspired to pull out my needles to contribute to a granny square project for a colleague’s upcoming happy event. I found it very therapeutic making granny squares and soon turned out enough squares for a Queen-sized crib (I must need a lot of therapy). I needed a new project and the word “Simple” in this book’s title grabbed me.
The book starts with basic techniques and useful line drawings. Their drawings show hands, yarn, needles and finished work as the knitter will see her own hands looking down.
The one problem I found with the directions is that each pattern gives only one brand and make of yarn to use. Many of these yarns are gorgeous! And some of them also contain mohair, angora and other luxurious fibers, which make them very expensive. Others are a discontinued line. With my beginners knowledge of yarn, I had trouble working out substitutions, although I managed with the help of Google searches. To give them credit, as in all instructions of this sort, the knitter has to use the exact yarn they suggest to get the results that they illustrated, but I am sure I am not the only person interested in substitution!
I decided to start with a small and simple project, a hat with the appealing name of “Feeling Fuzzy.” I planned it as a gift to my daughter, being aware that at my pace she may be wearing it next winter! My hat is going very slowly, but I know that displays a lack in my skill, not a lack in the book! (I will post a comment later when it is finished).
I recommend this book for people who, like me, are returning to knitting after a long break. It will also help absolute beginners. For the experienced knitter the book also offers attractive, quick projects that they may be able to complete in a weekend.
Check the WRL catalog for The Yarn Girls’ Guide to Simple Knits
The The Secret River is at once a beautiful and lyrical portrait of a marriage and a family, and also a history of a time of change, power and enormous wrongs. It portrays an unyielding clash of cultures–perhaps one Americans don’t think of often–the conflict between the English and the Aborigines during the early settlement of Australia.
It covers the lives of the Thornhill family as they are transported from London to the penal colony in New South Wales, Australia, in the early 1800s. The story begins in London with its filth, stench and desperation. The main characters are first reprieved from certain death by hanging for what seem like astonishingly small crimes. Then, if they survive the nine-month sea voyage to New South Wales, they have to adapt to the new world with its reversed seasons, harsh heat and unfriendly wildlife. Many don’t adapt and give up or take to drink. Those who do survive see the forested land outside mud-streeted Sydney either as an enemy or as an opportunity. As William Thornhill plies his transportation business up and down the Hawkesbury River near Sydney, he develops a lust for the land. None of the convicts could have aspired to be landowners at home in England, but here is a vast and seemingly empty landscape and William Thornhill sees himself as a farmer. Officially the convicts are not allowed to clear the land around the river and start farming it, but Sydney needs the food, so the Governor turns a blind eye. This is a story that is at once sad and triumphant as it becomes clear that if the English convicts use the land to find freedom and prosper, then the aborigines must lose the land and in many cases their lives. But this is not a simple blaming tale. An ironically named minor character, Loveday, sums it up for all of the convicts, “”We must grasp the nettle, painful though it may be, or else abandon the place to the treacherous savages and return to our former lives.’ There was a silence, in which they all thought of their former lives.” (Page 298). Their lives are so much better as farmers in New South Wales that they are willing to go against their own consciences and perhaps commit brutal acts to get the land.
William Thornhill craves the land, but his wife, Sal wants to stay in Sydney and dreams of returning to London. They were childhood friends and have a love so deep that she chose to be transported with him, rather than stay in London alone with their first son (although her life in London without a husband to help support her would probably have been terrible). But Sal is terrified of the Australian bush and the aborigines who are constantly rumored to be conducting “outrages and depredations.” It speaks to her deep love that she is willing to move their five children to the bush with him, but she gives him five years and makes marks on a tree to count the days.
The Secret River is the first book in trilogy. The story continues in The Lieutenant (2008) and Sarah Thornhill (2011). It was nominated for numerous awards and was a finalist for the Man Booker prize and won the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 2006. Kate Grenville based the Thornhills loosely on her own ancestors.
This is wonderful historical fiction, and also a moving and beautifully written family saga. I recommend it for readers of books like Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks, another moving and character-driven historical novel that is a fictionalized account of real events.
Check the WRL catalog for The Secret River.
“IT ALL BEGAN when Floyd’s kite became stuck in A TREE. He tried pulling and swinging, but it WOULDN’T COME UNSTUCK. The trouble REALLY began when he threw his FAVORITE SHOE to knock the kite loose…and THAT got stuck too!”
So begins the plight of Floyd. He keeps throwing things up into the tree and they keep getting stuck there. The premise might be simple, and ridiculous, but kids love it – especially as Floyd gets more and more desperate and the things he throws get bigger and bigger. At first your audience will expect that something will eventually fall out of the tree, but soon they will catch on to the book’s pattern. What goes up does not come back down. When Floyd goes to get a saw, the children might think that Floyd has finally had a bright idea, but no. The saw gets chucked up into the tree along with everything else. In a bit of irony, however, it ends up being a helpful item anyway. You see, the tree has reached maximum capacity.
Jeffers has a winner here with a humorous cumulative story held together simply by the impossibility of the items Floyd is throwing. His illustrations are also simple, depicting only Floyd, the tree, and the objects he throws.
Check the WRL catalog for Stuck.
I don’t usually watch Anime, but my daughter enthused about Spirited Away, so we sat down on the couch to watch it together on her laptop. That became a nudging, pushing, “Turn the screen this way” experience for both of us, so I was very pleased to discover that my library owns it on DVD. The library copy usually has several holds, so I had to wait. But it was worth it! This movie proves that a great story is a great story, no matter its format.
Ten-year-old Jahiro is unhappy about moving to a new house in a new town with a new school. As they are driving to their new home her father decides to take a short cut and the road ends at a strange, abandoned building. Jahiro doesn’t want to enter, but her parents seem strangely compelled. A short while later, without realizing it, they have entered a new world, peopled with odd, grotesque spirits. Jahiro is terrified, but her parents are unaware that anything is wrong and are soon trapped. From here the story gets compelling and creepier and creepier. Jahiro will need help to navigate this world and save her parents. But who is really her friend, and who is pretending to help her for their own ends?
I enjoyed the snippets of Japanese culture, that may have been so ingrained in the creators’ minds that they didn’t realize that they were showing something that might be different in other places. For example, on several occasions I noticed that in the midst of drama and action and danger, the characters stop to take off their shoes before going inside. Even in an emergency they can’t imagine running into a bathhouse with their shoes on. Other details were also intriguing, such as the night clothes and driving on the left. To me this shows that the creators were portraying what they saw around them, and not what an outsider might think a place is like.
This movie was animated the old-fashioned way with drawings, rather than being computer generated. I found the animation painterly, rather than the gaudy, flashing, flatness of some Disney movies. I loved the details – I could even recognize the bushes in the background and name hydrangeas, daphne, camellias and rhododendrons (not a quality appreciated by my family in the middle of a movie!).
My library’s double disk set included a Japanese documentary about the making of the movie. At the time the documentary was made in 2001 Spirited Away was the highest grossing film in Japanese history. It was dubbed into English without changing the original animation at all, which is unusual. The English language version won the Academy Award for an animated feature in 2003. The director, Hayao Miyazaki had his sixtieth birthday while Spirited Away was being made, but he still wrote, drew and directed for it. The documentary shows a meeting when they are working on a scene where Jahiro needs to give a pill to a dragon to save it. Miyazaki asks, “Has no one given a pill to a dog?” When it turns out only one person has even owned a dog, he mutters, “Pathetic!” and takes them all to a veterinary hospital to see all sorts of dogs dosed. I think this attention to detail shows all the way through this gripping, exciting and usual movie.
I recommend Spirited Away for everyone! It is suitable for children, but the gripping story, creepy events, great art and wonderful music will entertain young and old, even those who never watch this sort of thing.
Check the WRL catalog for Spirited Away
There is no denying it, penguins are cute! They are also intriguing animals. Despite not being able to fly, “the penguin seems to have a greater range of ways to move than any other bird. [They] paddle, porpoise and flipper through the water, rocket and surf to reach the shore, then waddle, run hop leap and toboggan over the land” (p 26).
The author, Wayne Lynch, is a Medical Doctor turned science writer and nature photographer. He describes himself as a “penguin addict” and his passion for his subject shows in this fascinating book.
Penguins of the World is detailed and scientific enough for an ornithologist reader, but is is also written in a conversational and engaging style about a fascinating, but little understood animal which everyone recognizes but few of us know many facts about.
For example, did you know that there are only seventeen species of penguin? This figure may change because some scientists think there are a few more species and some a few less because some lump several species together as one and some split one species into several. Also only seven of the seventeen species ever go near the Antarctic. They range from the Galapagos Islands, right on the equator, to deep inside the Antarctic Circle and are adapted to the greatest climate range of any group of birds.
The book is arranged in informative chapters, some with odd titles like “Sex and the Single Penguin.” They cover everything you might need to know about the biology and lifestyles of penguins. It is filled throughout with stunning photographs by the author, and you can be entertained and learn a lot without reading a word.
Penguins of the World is a great choice for bird lovers who want to find out more about this unusual bird. I also recommend it for people who love great nature writing. And of course if you cried during March of the Penguins, this book is a must read to fill in the details about the majestic Emperor Penguins and all of their relatives.
Check the WRL catalog for Penguins of the World.
Some of the best storytime books are ones where the author has taken a well-known story and put a new twist on it. Today’s title is just such a book. Every child knows the story of The Three Little Pigs, but Ken Geist has taken that story and given it fishy characters and an underwater setting. Julia Gorton’s big, bright, colorful illustrations really add to the story. They are perfect for a large storytime crowd.
In The Three Little Fish and the Big Bad Shark three fish go out to seek their fortunes but keep being thwarted by the Big Bad Shark. As with the little pigs, the first two fish are also hampered by less than stellar choices in their house-building materials. Seaweed and sand provide little protection against the Big Bad Shark. Luckily, the fish are able to swim away and hide with the third little fish who has chosen her home more wisely. As expected, the Big Bad Shark comes to a bad end, but in a unique and creative way that should please young readers. They’ll also love joining in as the little fish taunt the shark: “Not by the skin of my finny fin fin!”
Check the WRL catalog for The Three Little Fish and the Big Bad Shark.
Reading this book was like watching a car accident, I was compelled and horrified at the same time. Katherine Boo spent almost four years interviewing and living alongside some of the world’s poorest people in the slum of Annawadi near Mumbai’s international airport. She has written the results of her researches into an un-put-downable book that reads like a novel.
A myriad of characters from different religions and at different places in the hierarchy of the slum, come living, smelling, fighting, struggling and striving off the page. But don’t get too attached, as several of them die in sordid, pointless and horrible circumstances. Others are entangled in a web of police corruption that just keeps on getting worse. I found myself wanting it to be fiction so that it could have a happy ending for some of the characters, but Annawadi is a place with few happy endings.
Katherine Boo says that when she gave a character thoughts, she has based this on extensive interviews where her subjects revealed their actual thoughts about life in general or a particular incident. What makes me uncomfortable is the extremely personal nature of some of the thoughts she puts in the book. If I revealed to a friend in quite crass terms that I was annoyed with my father for being too sick to work, but not too sick to get my mother pregnant ten times, then I don’t think I’d want my annoyance–perhaps understandable, but definitely tactless–revealed to my father in a New York Times bestseller.
This book has won lots of prizes, and was suggested to me in my book club as a must-read. I agree that is an important book because it paints a picture of a life that I cannot imagine, but a real life that these people often cannot escape through no fault of their own. It is a book that puts human faces and lives on news stories of India’s growth or India’s problems of TB. This is a great book for fans of fiction about the poor of India like A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry. I also recommend it for readers who want to get a glimpse of a whole society through the lives of some of the most powerless, like in Margaret Powell’s Below Stairs, or readers of popular sociology books like The Big Necessity by Rose George. It is essential reading for anyone who wants to learn more about the underside of India. Just don’t expect to feel comfortable after you finish the book.
Check the WRL catalog for Behind the Beautiful Forevers.
Williamsburg Regional Library is once again pleased to present the best of all the best-of-the-year lists. Sure, you can consult a single source to find the best books of the year, but which list should you believe? After all, no reviewer or even organization can possibly read even a fraction of everything published in a calendar year. With the All-the-Best-Books Compilation (ABBC), you don’t have to choose. The ABBC compiles all of the major lists and awards of 2012 into a single spreadsheet (Best2012) so you can see the true consensus of critics, authors, bloggers, librarians, and other people in the know about books.
The ABBC spreadsheet includes twelve categories:
- novels–literary and mainstream fiction
- short stories–literary and mainstream fiction
- crime fiction and thrillers
- speculative fiction (fantasy, science fiction, and horror
- historical fiction
- romance fiction
- young adult fiction
- graphic works
- narrative nonfiction (but not life stories)
- biographies and memoirs
- informational nonfiction: how-to books, art books, cooking, and reference works
In each category, books are listed by the number of mentions they’ve received as a best-of-the-year. Titles and authors are given, and also a coded list of which compiled sources mention each work. The final page of the spreadsheet provides a key to the source codes and a link to the page from which the information was obtained. Thanks to the Reader’s Advisor Online Blog and Largehearted Boy, two sites which collect great link lists for best-of-the-year lists and make it easier to complete this compilation. The ABBC takes their concept one step further and compiles the results into a single document.
The ABBC comes in the form of an Excel spreadsheet (Best2012) that you can download and re-sort alphabetically by title, by author, or in any other way you choose. Libraries, bookstores, and others who promote books are welcome to re-use information from the list to build displays, advise readers, inform collection or stock development, or just share the results with your patrons. We ask that you credit to Williamsburg Regional Library, Blogging for a Good Book, and chief compiler Neil Hollands if you use information from the ABBC in print or online. Do not republish the ABBC as a whole, but instead, link to this post (http://bfgb.wordpress.com/2013/02/22/all-the-best-books-compilation-abbc-2012-first-edition) or those that follow for future editions of the list.
This first edition of the list includes 66 sources (about half of the number that will make the final edition), but it should already show the general trend of which books are likely to make the top of the list. The biggest changes are likely to occur in genre categories, where many of the genre-specific lists have yet to be compiled. Stay tuned here at Blogging for a Good Book to find future editions of the list as additional sources are compiled. The final edition of the 2012 ABBC will be completed in March as compilation takes time and we’re still waiting for some of the major awards for 2012 to be presented.
Previous editions of the list can be found at the WRL site.
To be compiled, works must have first been published (or first published in a substantively new edition or translation) in the United States in 2012. The ABBC definition of genre (particularly speculative fiction and historical fiction) may be broader than those used by some publishers, so if you don’t find a book in the list where you expect it, look in another category where it might also be placed.
I’ll be posting about results in the different categories of the ABBC at my two blogging homes, here at Blogging for a Good Book and also at Booklist’s Book Group Buzz. Check in at both sites over the coming weeks for annotated summaries of the most frequently mentioned titles and my thoughts about trends in publishing and awards. I’ll kick off coverage later today at Book Group Buzz with a quick list of the most mentioned books overall so far.
Finally, due to time constraints and the complications of figuring out which works published in Britain, Australia, and other English-speaking countries were also published in the U.S. in the same year, this year I’m not compiling all of the great lists from English, Canadian, Australian, and other international sources into the ABBC. Hopefully next year I’ll have time to put them back in the ABBC!
Enjoy! I hope you have as much fun using this list as I did in compiling it.
The plot of the story is simple—young boy spends summer with grandmother. Jim LaMarche’s illustrations that frame the plot are the highlights of this book. Nicky’s first-person narrative is expanded by the radiant and expressive pictures. At first reluctant to spend the summer away from home, Nicky discovers the wonders of nature as he and his artist-grandmother raft down the river. As the boy interacts with the animals they meet, he discovers that he, too, has a passion for the creation of art. Nicky develops closer ties to his grandmother and to nature as he experiences the freedom of exploring and connecting with nature. This is a delightful read for young and old.
Check the WRL catalog for The Raft.
I, Claudius is one of the most beloved miniseries ever made and is a wonderful, blackly funny dramatization of the Robert Graves’ novel of the same name. It tells the story of the Roman Empire from the reign of the first emperor Augustus – a reign that brought a longed-for period of peace after over a hundred years of on-and-off civil wars – right up to the rule of the infamous Nero. It romps through seventy years of Roman history, all told through the eyes of an elderly Claudius as he records the history of his extraordinary family.
The BBC miniseries stars Derek Jacobi as our eponymous hero, although he doesn’t seem like much of one. Born with a club foot and terrible stammer, Claudius is alternatively mocked and ignored by his extended family. Claudius soon realizes the value of being underestimated, and as he grows, he hides his intelligence behind his physical disabilities and avoids politics as best he can. But in this family, even the ultimate underdog can’t hide forever.
I, Claudius features Brian Blessed as Augustus and Siân Phillips as Livia, the manipulative, conniving matriarch and Augustus’ wife. Indeed, this tale is as much Livia’s story as it is Claudius’. Livia is the true power behind the throne, delicately manipulating with a rumor here and a little poison there. She is the center of the wheel, turning her family’s fortunes and fate at will. Livia desperately wants her son, Tiberius, to follow in Augustus’ footsteps and become the next emperor of Rome. The problems with that grand plan? One: Tiberius is her son from an earlier marriage, not Augustus’ biological son. Two: Augustus has grandsons by his biological daughter, Julia, who precede Tiberius when it comes to inheriting. Three: Tiberius himself has no interest in being emperor – he’s a soldier through and through. But these minor impediments certainly don’t phase the mighty Livia. Despite her sins, Phillips manages to make you understand, if perhaps not sympathize with, Livia’s single-minded pursuit of power. There is a deeper motivation here beyond mere money and influence.
The miniseries also includes a young Patrick Stewart (with hair!) as Sejanus, the corrupt and power-hungry leader of the Praetorian Guard, and John Hurt in one of his most magnificently terrifying roles as the mad emperor, Caligula.
Bribery, corruption, murder, poison, blackmail, adultery, madness, lust – I, Claudius has it all.
Check the WRL catalog for I, Claudius.
Everyone knows about the McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit in the mid-90s. Or at least, they think they know. Hot Coffee, a recent HBO documentary, strives to tell the truth about this case, and other civil lawsuits, that have been deemed “frivolous” and the impact of tort reform on the United States’ civil justice system. Sound kinda boring? I thought so too – at first.
It analyzes and discusses four cases and how each one relates to “tort reform.” It begins with the infamous Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants case in 1994, which has practically entered into urban legend. I certainly thought I knew the details of the case, but I only knew the inaccuracies and the game of Chinese whispers I had heard in the media. In truth, Ms. Liebeck was a 79-year old lady, sitting in the passenger seat of a parked car, who, while trying to add cream and sugar to her coffee, pulled off the lid and spilled the cup of coffee on her lap. Coffee that, in keeping with McDonald’s franchise instructions, had been kept at 180-190 degrees Fahrenheit. At that temperature, the coffee would cause a third-degree burn in two to seven seconds. And indeed, Ms. Liebeck suffered severe third-degree burns in her pelvic area, and the documentary does not skimp on the photographic evidence – the burns are appalling. Nor was Ms. Liebeck the first to suffer terrible burns because of their coffee – there had been over 700 prior complaints. (And these are just the individuals who made the effort to lodge a formal complaint.)
As well Ms. Liebeck’s case, the documentary goes on to discuss Colin Gourley’s malpractice lawsuit and caps on damages; the prosecution of Mississippi Justice Oliver Diaz and the buying of judicial elections; Jamie Leigh Jones v. Halliburton Co. and the growing pervasiveness of mandatory arbitration.
The documentary concludes by examining how the plague of mandatory arbitration is swiftly erasing many individuals’ ability to take complaints to the courts. Own a credit card? Cell phone? Well, if you do, it’s almost certain you have signed away your right to a civil trial in your contract and if you ever have a serious complaint and feel entitled to claiming damages, you will be forced into secret mandatory arbitration with an arbitrator who – wait for it – has been chosen by the corporation itself!
Hot Coffee is an eye-opening, jaw-dropping documentary that exposes how corporations have spent millions on a propaganda campaign to distort the average American’s view of these civil lawsuits. This documentary will forever change what you think you know about “frivolous lawsuits” – in reality, what you’ve been told by corporations and doctors afraid of being sued.
The way that the individual’s rights have been infringed upon by mandatory arbitration, caps on damages, and corporate campaign contributions is unacceptable. Hot Coffee shows how access to the courts has been blocked by greed, corruption, and the power of special interests and how the U.S. civil justice system has been changed – maybe forever.
Check the WRL catalog for Hot Coffee.
I first came across Camilla Läckberg when she was mentioned in an article on Scandinavian mystery writers in Romantic Times. I became even more intrigued when I read the review on the front of The Ice Princess from Val McDermid –“Heart-stopping and heart-warming.” “Heart-warming?” That certainly made me pause. After all, “heartwarming” is not an adjective I expect to read describing a murder mystery, and a Scandinavian mystery at that, which tend to be characterized by their wintry settings and bleak atmosphere. But after finishing this book, I couldn’t help but agree with Ms. McDermid’s review.
The two protagonists and primary investigators –Erica Falck, a biography writer, and Patrik Hedström, a local policeman – both grew up in the sleepy fishing village of Fjällbacka, Sweden. This village, overrun by visitors from Stockholm in the summer, desolate and empty during the bleak winter months, has definitely seen better days. The Ice Princess is definitely not a “cozy” mystery, but the blossoming relationship between Erica and Patrik, as well as the various familial bonds that lace the narrative, help to temper the sadness and gloom surrounding the murder.
Following the sudden death of her parents, Erica returns to her hometown and soon discovers the body of a beloved childhood friend, Alexandra Wijkner, frozen in her bathtub. As a biography writer, Erica is seized with the impulse to write about her one-time, enigmatic friend and the reasons that could drive a woman who seemed to have everything to commit suicide. But, as any seasoned mystery reader will guess, Alexandra’s apparent suicide is only the beginning. As Erica begins to delve into Alexandra’s past, Patrik begins to investigate his own suspicions surrounding her death.
A picture of the victim begins to build. Alex was beautiful, blonde, icy, and remote – everything this reader wants in a Swedish noir mystery. And, like any good victim, she was hiding a deep, dark secret that somehow seems to involve the tragic figure of the town drunk, Anders Nilsson. No one in the village can understand how these two disparate figures were connected, least of all Erica and Patrik.
The Ice Princess features tragic childhood secrets, mysterious disappearances, and bribery, all set against the backdrop of the bleak Scandinavian winter. Fans of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo will enjoy this mystery, although it focuses less on social issues and politics, and is more in the vein of a traditional mystery.
The novel has a wide cast of characters, and the author continually introduces new characters to keep her readers guessing. We meet Erica’s family, her ex-boyfriend, the victim’s family, and the motley crew of police officers at the local police station, including Mellberg, the pompous, slimy, self-obsessed monster of a police chief, who is both hilarious and horrendous at the same time.
This is a great winter read, perfect for a cold night, curled up with a blanket. Camilla Läckberg is one of Sweden’s bestselling crime novelists and The Ice Princess was her first novel. If you gobble this one up as quickly as I did, never fear! WRL has two more in the series, which have been translated into English.
Check the WRL catalog for The Ice Princess.