Kids will love this fun rhyming book about Bunion Burt who has feet that hurt. Everyone that Burt comes into contact with tries to help him feel better. They suggest home remedies like mud and ice and sun but absolutely nothing works. While most young readers won’t know about bunions, they most likely will be able to guess why it is that Burt’s feet hurt so badly.
The characters have silly rhyming names like Granny Gert, Mama Myrt, Cousin Kurt and Old Doc Smurt. The illustrations are big, bold, amusing and just plain goofy. The plot is engaging and will keep a kid’s attention right up until the end. Be sure to check this one out!
Check the WRL catalog for Bunion Burt.
On the night of August 13, 1967 two young women, Julie Helgeson and Michele Koons, were killed by grizzly bears in Glacier National Park, Montana. The girls were not mauled by the same bear; the attacks took place in separate areas of the park miles away from each other. The story of this unprecedented incident ( it was the first time in Glacier’s history that anyone had died by bear attack) is related in the terrific, nonfiction book, Night of the Grizzlies by Jack Olsen.
The story starts in the early summer months of 1967 with a series of unsettling run-ins between bears and campers. One grizzly in particular was behaving aggressively towards people, and the bears in general seemed to be losing their fear of humans. The Park Service was not overly concerned with the situation because, after all, no one had ever been killed by a bear in Glacier National Park. In fact, they inadvertently increased the interaction between people and animals by not incinerating all of the garbage that accumulated around the camp sites. At night the bears came to feed off the trash and the campers loved to watch them. Unfortunately, this complacency would lead to disaster on that hot night in August. The attacks and subsequent hunt for the man-eaters are related in fast-paced, gripping detail.
The story itself is compelling and the author, Jack Olsen, who primarily wrote about true-crime, has a knack for pacing and suspense. The tension just builds and builds to the point where (yes, I’m going to use the old cliché) you can’t put the book down. It’s a thrilling read. The attacks are described in all their gruesome detail but the gore is not emphasized. In fact, you come away with a sense of sadness and compassion for both man and animal.
In addition, to the book, the WRL also has a documentary about the bear attacks entitled, Glacier Park’s Night of the Grizzlies created by the Montana PBS. It’s an interesting follow-up to the book because you get to hear from many of the people involved in the incident and see the actual locations. Particularly poignant are the Polaroid snapshots taken of the girls the day they died. Both book and documentary are highly recommended with a caveat. If you read it before going on a camping trip in the woods, you’re not going to sleep well.
NOTE: This story was originally published as a three part article for Sports Illustrated in 1969. When it was redrafted as a book a 37 page prologue was added that details the history of Glacier National Park and provides some natural history information about Grizzly bears. It’s interesting but not required reading. Starting with Chapter One will get you right into the story.
Check the WRL catalog for Night of the Grizzlies
Picture this scene:
A beautiful young woman sits in her boudoir. Married that morning, she anxiously awaits her new husband. In he comes and makes the following statement, “There are some things I must say to you, and it is better that I should say them now at the very beginning so that there can be no misunderstanding between us.” “In public I shall be to you everything that a most devoted husband should be to his wife… I will give you courtesy, respect and apparently devotion. But you must expect nothing more from me. When we are alone I do not intend to keep up the miserable pretense, the farce of love and sentiment. Our marriage will never be a marriage in anything but name. I do not love you, I can never love you …The less we see of one another except in the presence of others the better.” The shocked girl asks him why he married her? With a bitter laugh he replies, “Since you force me to do so I must tell you the unflattering truth that your money is your only asset in my eyes.”
Although this sounds like something from a hackneyed romance novel, it’s not. This really happened to Elizabeth Drexel Lehr, and the story of her life with Harry Lehr, the gold digging cad that she was unfortunate enough to marry, is recounted in the rather astonishing autobiography, King Lehr and the Gilded Age, by Lady Decies (formerly Elizabeth Drexel Lehr).
Elizabeth was a child of wealth and grew up happy and comfortable in late 19th century New York City. Harry Lehr was also born into money, but when his father died he was left penniless, embittered and determined to make his way back into the privileged world of the wealthy. His plan was twofold, first he ingratiated himself to society matrons by being ever so engaging, witty and fun. He survived on their largesse and kickbacks from suppliers whose goods he encouraged his benefactors to purchase. Secondly, he kept an eye out for a wealthy and pliable heiress to marry. Poor Elizabeth was gullible enough to fall for his smarmy charms.
What may be surprising to modern readers is that she didn’t divorce Harry the day after the shocking wedding night declaration. Fear of shaming her mother and alienating herself from her society friends kept her bound to Lehr for decades despite the fact that he emotionally abused her and lavishly indulged all his whims with her money.
The narrative follows their unhappy life together as they travel amongst the rich and powerful in the U.S. and Europe during the early years of the 20th century. We get a decidedly jaundiced view of the American “Downton Abbey” crowd, although many of the grandees mentioned will probably be unknown to people nowadays.
Elizabeth’s story is an interesting expose of a lost world and its dubious mores and manners. The book was considered quite shocking when it was originally published in 1938. It’s an engrossing page-turner for people who enjoy social history, women’s lives or scandal among the rich and famous.
NOTE: There’s a famous photo of Lady Decies taken by Weegee. Here you see Elizabeth going to the opera in 1943. The image makes a startling contrast to the beautiful painted portrait of her on the cover of the book.
Check the WRL catalog for “King Lehr” and the Gilded Age
Every year on her birthday Cynthia wishes for a pony she can name Marigold. This year, while eating some birthday cake, Cynthia spies the present from her parents and thinks it must be a very small pony. But, it isn’t a pony at all. Can you guess by the title of the book what the present turns out to be?
Cynthia’s magical fish agrees to give her what she wishes for if she’ll take him to the lake to set him free. Since Cynthia doesn’t want him anyway, they start out for the lake. When they arrive there will Cynthia let him go or has she had a change of heart? Is it possible that Cynthia’s fish could be even better than a pony?
Check the WRL catalog for The Birthday Fish.
Wolf loved to eat. “As soon as he finished one meal, he began to think of the next.” So you can imagine how happy wolf was to spot a perfect, delicious chicken just when he was craving chicken stew. But this wolf didn’t just grab the chicken and run. He thought that a better idea would be to fatten up the bird. So far several days, he cooked and baked and left food at the chicken’s doorstep. And what do you suppose that he found when he finally arrived to pluck the chicken for his meal?
Keiko Kasza has illustrated this book with beautiful watercolors on wide open white pages. The characters of wolf and chicken are wonderfully captured by the illustrations. I especially liked the picture of wolf mixing pancake batter while holding the cookbook open with one foot.
This is a wonderful book that is filled with humor and is suitable for sharing with a small group.
Check the WRL catalog for The Wolf’s Chicken Stew.
So a businessman and his son go into a downtown Miami hotel suite to meet with a potential client who might help boost their meager income. Instead, a man with whom they have a dispute steps out, shoots the father in the knee, drags the son up some stairs, then shoots him execution-style. The father escapes, gets out the door, and bangs on the door across the hall, leaving blood in the hall, but the import-export businessman in that room doesn’t hear a thing, including the shots that then kill the father. Neville Butler, who has been held hostage in the room since before the father and son arrived, is then released.
Following Butler’s call to the police, British businessman Krishna Maharaj is detained. After waiving his Miranda rights, he makes inconsistent statements to the investigators, who hold him long enough to discover that his fingerprints are in the hotel room, and Maharaj is arrested and charged with first-degree murder for the executions of Dwight and Duane Moo Young, former associates and now rivals for Maharaj’s Caribbean newspaper. The case goes to trial. Maharaj, a flamboyant millionaire, hires the lowest bidder, Mark Hendon, as his attorney. The trial proceeds in a swift and orderly manner, except that the presiding judge is replaced after three days of testimony. Based on fingerprint evidence, a ballistics expert’s identification of Maharaj’s gun, and Neville Butler’s testimony, Maharaj is given life in prison for Dwight’s murder, and the death sentence for Duane’s.
After several years, the case comes to the attention of Clive Stafford Smith, an attorney specializing in capital cases. On his own, taking time away from his fledgling non-profit practice focusing on Louisiana death penalty cases, Smith begins reviewing the case, and this open-and-shut case turns out to have been far more complex than the trial transcript would indicate. His early investigation turns up boxes of evidence and interview materials that hadn’t been made available to the defense, prosecutors’ notes indicating that they instructed the detectives and their chief witness how to perjure themselves, and witnesses that prove that Maharaj wasn’t even in Miami at the time of the killings. Some of his basic rights—over and above their violation of his Miranda rights—were not explained to him or put into practice. Forensic evidence was questionable, but Maharaj’s trial attorney didn’t cross-examine, and even rested without calling a single witness. Confident that the reams of documentary evidence show that Maharaj did not receive a fair trial and that his counsel was (to put it mildly) incompetent, Smith heads into the appeals process.
But door after legal door is slammed in Maharaj’s face. The appeals courts won’t consider new evidence—it wasn’t presented in a timely manner and appellate courts don’t try the facts of the case. Each attempt to reopen the case takes months, if not years, to litigate, partially because a prosecutor won’t accept plentiful evidence that her colleagues convicted an innocent man. When he’s finally granted a new trial, Smith can’t introduce all the new evidence and Maharaj is again found guilty. But because the jury doesn’t prescribe the death penalty, Maharaj’s future opportunities for appeal are severely limited—capital cases usually get at least a cursory glance. Based on all the trials and appeals that go before, Maharaj’s last chance—a reprieve from Florida Governor Charlie Crist—is denied.
Unfortunately, as Smith details, Maharaj’s case is only one example of the miscarriage of justice that capital crimes nearly always involve. From personal experience and well-documented cases, Smith demonstrates that each individual misstep in the justice system that Maharaj experienced is echoed across the country, even in non-capital cases. Part of it is the culture, and he shows that from the patrol officer to the US Supreme Court, the fundamental conservatism of the law is geared towards convictions, not justice or even truth. The real poverty of this view is that convicting the innocent allows the guilty to go unpunished.
Smith’s writing is urgent, and his construction of the story maximizes both the drama and the documentation of his fundamental thesis. As he breaks the case down, the depth of the law enforcement and judicial errors becomes appallingly clear. The parallels he establishes between Maharaj’s case and convictions across the country point to the idea that the American justice system has reversed its supposed ideal. At the same time, his admiration for Maharaj (which is echoed by everyone from business associates to prison guards) as a man shines through. Even after being in prison since 1987—including 10 years on Death Row—Maharaj remains kind, gentle, and positive.
This is a timely book. States have begun to revisit their commitments to the death penalty after subsequent investigations and trials have freed other innocent people from Death Row. It is increasingly likely that people known to be innocent were executed anyway. If someone heeds Clive Stafford Smith’s plea to come forward and exonerate Krishna Maharaj, it would be a miracle; if others use his case to strengthen their calls for an end to the death penalty, it would be a huge step to ending the gaping flaws in our (in)justice system.
Check the WRL catalog for The Injustice System
Of all the villains in modern literature, Daisy Buchanan has always been one I love to hate. As F. Scott Fitzgerald describes her, she’s so insulated from the world and from the consequences of her actions that she has no sense of right and wrong, and there’s no one willing to hold her to account. And that’s when she was surrounded by her social peers. Imagine if she lived in an ordinary place with ordinary people.
Hildy Good is (or was) the top-selling real estate broker in her seaside town. The town has been discovered by Boston’s wealthy, land and house prices have skyrocketed, and the quirky old-time residents are trying to hang on in the face of the invasion. The McAllisters, one of the newcomer families, have profited enormously by Brian’s management of a hedge fund (and other money-making silent partnerships), but they’re regular folks and Hildy is glad to sell them a property and introduce them around the town. She and Rebecca are on their way to becoming friends, sharing the occasional glass of wine and conversation. Rebecca even takes Hildy into her confidence on private family matters.
Problem is, Hildy has recently done a stint in rehab for her drinking, and while the old townies pretend not to know, Hildy doesn’t imbibe in front of them. They remember, even if she doesn’t, the conviviality that turned sour, the caution they used when she got in the car, the reason her valued associate departed for a competitor brokerage. But, while she’s on her best behavior in public, that case of wine in her trunk calls to her every night and she’s answering.
Hildy tries to do the right thing—or at least avoid causing herself trouble, which for some people amounts to the same thing. She’s also on the lookout for the main chance, the big, profitable sale that’s going to put her brokerage back on top. As she travels through the town and interacts with the residents, she provides us with commentary on their quirks and problems in an acerbic and darkly comic voice. But the booze affects her judgment, and we begin to wonder how much of her commentary could be called accurate, and how much is self-protection.
One of her targets is next-door neighbor Frankie Getchell, a one-time boyfriend, and owner of a large and desirable property that Hildy keeps pressing him to sell. Frankie wants to hold on to it, mostly to store the variety of junk equipment he uses in his various jack-of-all-trades businesses. A convenient man to know, Frankie’s the guy to go to if you need your trash picked up, driveway plowed, house painted or remodeled,or stuff delivered. He isn’t socially acceptable, but under the influence of a couple of stiff drinks, Hildy decides he’s just enough to sleep with.
The story keeps coming back to Rebecca, though, and the influence she begins to have on Hildy and on other people in the town. Far from the vulnerable lonely woman she presents to the rest of the town, Rebecca has a cold core that gradually shows through in her treatment of others. Oddly enough, Frank is the first to spot it, but no one, including Hildy, will listen to him. By the time Hildy recognizes the trouble Rebecca’s causing, she’s embroiled in a crisis of her own.
I can imagine comparisons to Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, but The Good House also reminded me of another book I recently read—Tiffany Baker’s The Gilly Salt Sisters. Also set in a New England town, also dealing with the poisonous power of money, the manipulation of others, and long-held secrets coming to the fore, The Gilly Salt Sisters has a small taste of magic not found in The Good House, but I think the two might interest the same readers.
Check the WRL catalog for The Good House
This brightly colored follow-up to ABC Kids features the numbers from 1 to 20. The cartoons rendered in what Publishers’ Weekly
describes as “manga meets video game style” are easy for children to count. The left-hand page of each spread includes a large-scale numeral, the word for each number, and a line showing where this number lies in the sequence of numbers. The pictures and sentences on the right side feature animals and objects demonstrating each number. “Six greedy penguins gobble juicy jelly beans.” or “Sixteen lost clouds find their way home.”
The large size of the book makes it suitable for small groups. Larger groups can probably enjoy the numbers up to 10. After that, the size of the individuals begins to shrink.
Check the WRL catalog for Basher 1 2 3.
For a country that won their most recent war, France in the 1920s and ’30s was in bad shape, not least because they were facing an existential crisis. 1.4 million of their men had been killed in World War I, and according to contemporaneous demographers, 1.4 million babies that should have been born weren’t. Pumping up the birth rate to replace those 2.8 million souls became a matter of national security, and it suddenly became every woman’s patriotic duty to have children. In Hélène Grémillon’s debut novel, that history creates a tragic, even ominous, setting against which the lives of the four principal characters will play out.
The story actually begins in 1975, when Camille Werner opens what she believes to be a condolence letter in the wake of her mother’s death. Written in the first person by a man named Louis, it introduces her to Annie and to their childhood friendship in an unnamed town in rural France. As subsequent letters arrive, the story of their lives, and of Annie’s relationship with the childless mistress of the local chateau, unfolds. When Annie agrees to have a baby for the couple to raise, the story deepens into a web of betrayal and misunderstanding.
Camille, an editor, is at first convinced that the letters are part of a writer’s scheme to catch her attention. With each letter, though, she becomes increasingly aware that there is another motive, until a final revelation shows her that everything she thinks she knows is a lie. But the letter writer also discovers that he doesn’t know the full story, and sends Camille one last missive. In a long and detailed confession, the childless woman reveals an alternate picture, one which recasts the first story into a dark and possibly murderous plot.
The immediate drama culminates in spring 1940 as the German blitzkrieg overwhelms France. In the chaos that follows, communications go astray, people appear and disappear, unimaginable compromises must be made, and the dangers of occupation swamp all other considerations. The problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. But those problems don’t go away, even with the passage of time, and in 1975 they come home.
The Confidant is shot through with lies, misdirection, concealment, and misunderstanding. Grémillon details those in nuanced, sensuous, and beautifully evocative language, and creates a historical novel without requiring readers to understand the history. Readers will want to savor this, and to watch for subtle clues about the ripple effect these betrayals have.
Check the WRL catalog for The Confidant. We’ll be adding it as a Gab Bag soon.
I was surprised to find that no one here at Blogging for a Good Book had written about Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s runaway bestseller. After all, a tight suspenseful mystery surrounding a ripped-from-the-headlines event should have caught our attention.
Well, I finally got my copy, and in trying to write about it without giving the whole thing away I’ve learned why no one else touched it. After all, it’s a runaway bestseller about a ripped-from-the-headlines event reconstructed as a tight suspenseful mystery, which means plot twists and surprises, and if you read any further you might just find out why, and then Gillian Flynn and Crown Publishers will be mad at me for spoiling the book, but I’m on the hook because I’ve already written this much. So, there’s this guy and this girl, and she’s gone. Stop here if you don’t want me to give anything away.
Actually, the guy is Nick, and the girl is his wife, Amy. Nick is storybook handsome, with enough boyish charm to attract plenty of women. Amy is “Amazing Amy,” the inspiration for a long-running and successful series of children’s books that made her parents a fortune, gave her a huge trust fund, and got her lots of attention everywhere she went. Their meet-cute storybook romance and wedding have given way to the realities and compromises of marriage, but Amy is determined to press forward and recapture the excitement and intimacy of their early days together. At least, that’s according to her diary. Seriously, don’t read any further.
Nick, on the other hand, is a passive, self-centered guy whose failures in New York gave him an excuse to drag the cosmopolitan Amy to his Missouri hometown. His saintly mom is dying of cancer, his nasty father has Alzheimer’s, and his beloved twin sister has retreated home from her own losses. Their hometown is quickly dying in the turbulence of the Great Recession and the signs of collapse are all around. Then comes the fateful day, which is detailed through Nick’s eyes. I’m warning you—don’t go on!
On their fifth anniversary, Amy disappears, leaving behind signs of a struggle. The initial investigation and all-out search proceeds as if she’s been kidnapped, but the deeper the investigation gets, the more Nick tells us that he’s lying to the police. He has no alibi for the time surrounding her loss, he misleads them about the nature of his and Amy’s relationship, and he can’t explain why the evidence of a struggle appears to have been manufactured. And the culture of infamy begins. Unfortunate photographs, inconsistencies in his story, and the natural inclination to look to the remaining spouse as the likely guilty party trigger the interest of a scandal-mongering true-crime TV show. Shocking revelations trickle out at the worst possible times, and Nick’s efforts to steer his public image are doomed in the face of the unrelenting spotlight. OK, you’ve made your choice—let the consequences be on your head.
By this time, the reader is lost in a maze of mirrors. Do we believe the writings of the best wife a man can want, or the admissions of the worst kind of husband a woman can have? Do we trust his self-confessed failings, or his efforts to find out if someone from Amy’s past has surfaced to harm her? Does he deserve the belief that his family (and Amy’s) have in him, or are the police right to focus on him? Flynn constructs these uncertainties in a way that continually pulls the readers’ feet off what little firm ground they have to stand on. Spoiler alert!
Keep in mind that this all happens in the first third of the book. And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.
By deconstructing Amy and Nick’s marriage (with Amy’s disappearance looming in the background), Flynn also asks readers to examine the fool’s paradise that most of us construct when we try to deceive others. (And it was Sir Walter Scott, not Shakespeare, who famously reminds us of that.) There are some, though, who can construct elaborate structures to hang their lies on, and who can manipulate others by observing and anticipating normal behavior. When the lie is big enough, its sheer improbability gives it credence—who could go to such lengths to create a falsehood? Flynn finds a way to show us, even as she gradually introduces the idea that their victims sometimes can’t find a way to escape the destruction.
Neil’s comprehensive list of 2012′s Best Books shows that Gone Girl was the best reviewed mystery of the year. Based on all the stuff I can’t or won’t tell you, I have to agree with the reviewers.
Check the WRL catalog for Gone Girl
I haven’t read a lot in Young Adult Fiction, mostly because I’m overwhelmed with selections in the so-called Adult Fiction category. Along with most other readers (and editors and publishers and reviewers and booksellers and librarians), I can’t draw a bright line between what is YA and what isn’t. I just know I don’t get over to browse our “official” YA collection. So I count myself lucky that I was able to steal this from someone else’s stack of books and drop into Greg Gaines’ world.
Greg has survived until his senior year of high school by being on the fringes of everything and the center of nothing. He hides his love of film (especially the work of Werner Herzog) behind a studied indifference which also conceals his near-constant and brutal self-criticism. (He’s got some points—serious social errors, like flat out complimenting a girl for having two boobs, are enough to make anyone want to tear his own tongue in half.) His parents love him with that bumbling uncritical affection that every teen hates and he has… Earl.
Earl has shared Greg’s love of Herzog since fourth grade, when the two boys tried to film their own version of Aguirre: Wrath Of God, the masterpiece shot on location in the Amazon—kinda tough to do in the local park. Their collaboration extends to their own films: Earl: Wrath of God II, Ran II, Apocalypse Later, and still others featuring Greg’s cat. The thing is, Earl couldn’t be more different than Greg: he’s an inner-city Pittsburgh kid, bright but lost at school, surrounded by unfocused, violent, drug-dealing brothers and a mother lost in alcohol and online chat rooms. Greg’s stable home is a respite for Earl, and Earl is the only person Greg can be himself around.
And then there’s the dying girl. Greg knew Rachel Kushner in Hebrew school, with all its attendant early teen drama, but they haven’t had much to do with each other since. When Rachel is diagnosed with leukemia, Greg’s mom decides it will be a mitzvah, or good deed, for Greg to spend time with her. Awkward, right? But he does, and brings Earl along in his wake. Earl lets slip the secret of their filmmaking and next thing you know Rachel is watching their movies. Even more awkward. Suddenly Greg is open to all kinds of emotional blackmail and everyone around him takes full advantage of it. Even Greg admits that it sounds like an afterschool special—treat the different kid well and you’ll rack up points, feel good about yourself, and Learn A Lesson. But real life is messy, and even Herzog’s art can’t touch it.
Jesse Andrews gives the story a sense of immediacy despite its looking back at events. Internal monologue, conversations role-played as scripts, jump cuts to real life, and Greg’s direct addresses to an unknown audience give the book the feel of documentary, but one that allows raw and sometimes hilarious access to the filmmaker’s mind. That also means Greg’s and Earl’s casual use of insult and obscenity to each other might make the language a little rough for some readers, so be warned on that front.
Check the WRL catalog for Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Simon Basher has been producing books for the elementary student on various sciences and now has created books for the youngest learners. ABC Kids features each letter of the alphabet in upper and lower case formats. Alliterative sentences on the left side of the double-page spread include both unusual and familiar words for vocabulary enrichment. A stand-alone image is opposite.
The chunky, cartoon style illustrations are a mix of Japanese and European graphic styles. They are set on brightly colored backgrounds.
This title is equally useful with individual children or groups.
Check the WRL catalog for ABC Kids.
Compilation of the best books of 2012 steams on, and today WRL releases the second edition of our 2012 All the Best Books Compilation (ABBC) (Best2012.) Since the release of the first edition, the compilation has grown from 66 sources to 120. The spreadsheet now documents mentions of over 2200 books published in 2012. We’ll continue to fill in the grid until the final edition is released at the end of the month. The ABBC is the most extensive resource of its kind.
You’re encouraged to download the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet Best2012 and use it as you see fit: to find the best books for yourself or to promote reading to others. We only ask that you link here to Blogging for a Good Book (http://bfgb.wordpress.com/2013/03/15/abbc-2012-second-edition/) instead of reposting the entire spreadsheet and that you cite Williamsburg Regional Library’s Blogging for a Good Book and chief compiler, Neil Hollands. The newest edition of the spreadsheet is available for download, and is easy to re-sort by author, by title, or by number of mentions in any of the ABBC’s twelve major categories.
I’ve written already about the results so far in short stories, crime and thrillers, speculative fiction, romance, young adult fiction, graphic works, and nonfiction. Today at my other home, Book Group Buzz, I’m discussing historical fiction. Results in literary and mainstream fiction and biographies and memoirs will follow there over the next couple of weeks.
With over 2200 books tabulated to date, these are just the tip of the iceberg, but here are the books that have received 15 or more mentions so far:
Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn (48 mentions to date)
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in the Mumbai Undercity, by Katherine Boo (42 mentions)
Bring up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel (38 mentions)
This Is How You Lose Her, by Junot Diaz (38 mentions)
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain (33 mentions)
Wild: from Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed (33 mentions)
The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green (32 mentions)
Building Stories, by Chris Ware (29 mentions)
Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter (26 mentions)
Where’d You Go Bernadette, by Maria Semple (23 mentions)
The Yellow Birds, by Kevin Powers (23 mentions)
Canada, by Richard Ford (22 mentions)
Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein (22 mentions)
Passage of Power: the Years of Lyndon Johnson, by Robert Caro (22 mentions)
The Round House, by Louise Erdrich (22 mentions)
The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson (20 mentions)
Telegraph Avenue, by Michael Chabon (20 mentions)
Dear Life, by Alice Munro (19 mentions)
Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman (19 mentions)
The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker (18 mentions)
Alif the Unseen, by G. Willow Wilson (17 mentions)
Broken Harbor, by Tana French (17 mentions)
Sweet Tooth, by Ian McEwan (17 mentions)
Are You My Mother?, by Alison Bechdel (16 mentions)
Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain (16 mentions)
Tell the Wolves I’m Home, by Carol Rifka Brunt (16 mentions)
Arcadia, by Lauren Groff (15 mentions)
Joseph Anton: a Memoir, by Salman Rushdie (15 mentions)
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan (15 mentions)
NW, by Zadie Smith (15 mentions)
Come back at the end of the month to download the final spreadsheet and get the final word on the best books of 2012!
The Water Hole is a beautiful conglomeration of many different kinds of books. Combined between the covers are a counting book, a geography book, a book about seasonal water cycles, and a book with gorgeous illustrations of animals from around the world. In this story, animals gather at an ever-shrinking water hole (the water hole itself is a cut-out) to quench their thirst. The number of animals goes from one to 10, until all of the water is gone. Luckily, rain is on its way to replenish the hole and take care of the animals’ need for hydration.
Base draws water holes in Africa, India, South America, the Himalayas, North America, China, Europe, the Galapagos Islands, and Australia throughout the book. Children will love the counting, cut-out, and animal noises, while adults can appreciate the parenthetical comments following each animal sound.
“Eight Ladybuds meeting by the water hole.
(So in conclusion, ladies and gentlebugs, I propose we establish a sub-committee to report on the water level crisis before the end of the fiscal year. All in favor say bzui.)’”
Check out this book for a colorful and creative take on the animal kingdom!
Check the WRL catalog for The Water Hole.
This title comes about halfway through Gregson’s series featuring Superintendent Lambert and Detective Sergeant Hook of the Gloucestershire CID. I liked it so much I’ve started from the beginning, and I’m enjoying the series. An Academic Death is a straightforward cozy-type British police procedural with a minimum of personal drama. The strength of the series is the team-up of the perceptive, introspective Lambert with the reliable, comfortably stolid Hook. Where this series really shines is when Lambert and Hook interview a suspect. The action here is almost purely mental and the tension almost palpable. Lambert scrutinizes the faces and body language of the suspects closely, allowing them to guide his questioning. Hook, blank-faced, turns a page in his notebook. Suspects squirm. It’s actually high drama disguised as a plodding police interview!
In this installment, a brassy wife reports her wayward husband missing to the Gloucestershire police. She makes it clear that if they find him she doesn’t want the ol’ no-goodnik back. No one is terribly concerned until the university professor turns up dead; then Lambert and Hook focus on the campus where he worked, turning up several suspects—including, of course, the disgruntled missus.
I’ve noticed that there are rarely any surprise twists or complications in this series—Gregson epitomizes the concept of fair play in mystery fiction. The murderer generally turns out to be one of the “usual suspects;” the reader just has to figure out which one of them is lying. Where the sheer amount of jiggery-pokery in many mysteries often makes me feel disinclined to actually try solving the puzzle, the Lambert and Hook series has been stripped down to a straight, strong “whodunit” whose challenge is a bit more accessible, with just enough humor to make it entertaining along the way.
The Lambert and Hook mysteries often have a golfing theme. Although golf is not the main venue in this particular title, longtime golf enthusiast Lambert and newly initiated golfer Hook do have a few very funny scenes on the links.
I am glad I discovered these solid British police procedurals. They’re just my cup of tea!
Check the WRL catalog for An Academic Death
Global warming has caused the melting of Antarctica and the rise of sea levels across the globe. The once prosperous, show stopping city of Manhattan now finds itself a series of submerged buildings and canal-lined streets. The city is divided between those who live in the Aeries (enormously tall high-rise buildings) and those forced to live down below, in the Depth, existing on raised sidewalks and dilapidated abodes. The Aeries is home to the wealthy elite, including all those in positions of political power. The Depth is the refuge of mystics, those with supernatural abilities, who once helped to build the incredible city itself. After a “mystic spurred bombing” the mystics were forced out of the Aeries for the protection of those without power. What remains is an uncomfortable and unwelcome balance between those above and those below, each fearful of what the other’s actions could bring.
This is the world in which Aria Rose exists. The daughter of one of the most powerful and richest businessmen in the Aeries, Aria has grown up in the lap of luxury. Now, on the dawn of one of the most important elections in the city’s history, Aria finds herself engaged to Thomas, the son of the only family in the Aeries whose wealth and power rivals her own. Once they’re married, their families will be united and control all of the Aeries. But from the first page, all is not as it appears. Aria has suffered memory loss after overdosing on a drug called “Stic,” a drug she does not remember buying or taking. She also can’t remember a single moment spent with Thomas, not to mention falling in love with him. But she can remember almost everything else. The story itself takes turn after turn after turn as Aria begins to learn more about the people who inhabit the Depth below, her family’s lust for nothing but power, and the strange but gorgeous rebel-mystic, Hunter. Reminiscent of a three-way Romeo and Juliet tale set in a futuristic dystopian world on the brink of rebellion, Mystic City is sure to appeal to a variety of readers.
Check the WRL catalog for Mystic City
Fans of Will Hill’s first book, Department 19, will not be disappointed by The Rising. In this exciting and fast-paced sequel, the Operators of Department 19 are tested beyond measure when their director, Admiral Seward, reveals that the world’s oldest and most powerful vampire, Dracula, has risen once again. As the disturbing news sparks more vampire attacks and a higher level of secrecy between department members, Jamie, Kate and Larissa all struggle to keep their bond intact. Subplots abound throughout Hill’s 600-page novel, and familiar characters such as Frankenstein and the Rusmanov brothers reappear at center stage. But there are plenty of new mysteries to be solved with the introduction of a seemingly friendly, genius scientist and a wandering desert man who knows all about vampires and the inter-workings of Department 19. Readers will find many of the aspects they loved from the first book here as well, including technological super weapons, intense battle scenes, a good level of descriptive gore and moral dilemmas that call human nature into question. The Rising is written in an almost movie script-like fashion that allows the reader to visualize the story in exceptional detail. There is no doubt that Hill is once again able to captivate readers and leave them begging for more.
Check the WRL catalog for The Rising
This is a wonderful book that emphasizes a child’s desire for alone time with her father. The little girl in this story is excited to be going to the sea to spend time with her dad, but she is very disappointed that she has to share his attention and affection with many other family members.
“I’m showing Dad how I swim,
Only me and him.
Only me and him and
my brother Len,
my brother Lon,
my sister Lee.
I wish that they’d all go away
but everyone just wants to stay.”
Instead of enjoying time alone with her dad, the little girl decides to get away from it all and take a trip under the sea. In a shipwreck, the girl sees many fish and other creatures, but no other people. She soon realizes that she needs her family and returns to the surface.
The rhythm of Komaiko’s words is complemented nicely by Greene’s colorful realistic portraits and landscapes. This is a great story for a father to read with his daughter!
Check the WRL catalog for Just My Dad and Me.
Robert M. Hazen’s exciting explanations of how the Earth and its geologic and biologic systems formed and changed had my head spinning with growing knowledge and dawning comprehension. About five billion years ago—several billion years after the Big Bang, which Hazen explains well enough for me to finally grasp, somewhat—an event such as a shock wave from an exploding star caused a cloud of gas and dust to collapse into a star system, our Solar System. “Like a twirling ice-skater, the big cloud rotated faster and faster as gravity pulled its wispy arms to the center. As it collapsed and spun faster, the cloud became denser and flattened into a disk with a growing central bulge—the nascent Sun.” Scientists can’t say for sure how the planets formed, but because all the planets more or less rotate in the same direction and are more or less on the same plane, Hazen explains, most scientists speculate that the planets formed from the same rotating gas and dust as the Sun, and were not objects hurtling through space captured by the Sun’s gravitational pull, as was once thought.
The Earth has gone through many drastic changes since forming. The names of the chapters in The Story of Earth illustrate this: Black Earth: The First Basalt Crust; Blue Earth, The Formation of the Oceans; Gray Earth: The First Granite Crust; Living Earth: The Origins of Life; Red Earth: Photosynthesis and the Great Oxidation Event; The “Boring” Billion: The Mineral Revolution (Surprise: these billion years were anything but boring!); White Earth: The Snowball-Hothouse Cycle; Green Earth: The Rise of the Terrestrial Biosphere. I’ve never really imagined our planet as anything other than a grey ball of rock slowly turning blue and green as life began. This book shows how that view is far from accurate.
The Moon, too, has changed over the billions of years. Did you know that it is moving away from the Earth by about 3.82 centimeters per year? Scientists know this because Apollo astronauts left mirrors on the surface of the moon in the 1960s and 70s, and scientists measure the distance very accurately by bouncing laser beams off them. If the moon is moving away from the earth at that rate, can you imagine how close the moon was to the earth 4.5 billion years ago? It would have looked gigantic. The surface of the Moon was quite different back then, too. According to Hazen, “The early Moon was a violent body of intense volcanism, quite unlike the static silvery-gray object we see now. Its surface would have appeared black, with glowing red magma-filled cracks and volcanic basins easily visible from Earth.” Hazen explains the current theory of how the Moon was formed by what he calls “The Big Thwack,” or the giant impact theory.
4.5 billion years is an unfathomably long time. In 283 pages, Hazen is able to clarify to someone like me, who never took many science classes, the current theories of how Earth and the Moon formed, how life began, how mineralogical forces influence life and how life in turn influences mineralogy, and many other fascinating phenomena. One of the more interesting sections was of the Great Oxidation Event, something I had heard about but had never understood. He writes about how he and his colleagues figured out that many of the minerals we see today—turquoise, azurite, malachite, and thousands of others—could never have occurred without the Great Oxidation Event, and thus how such minerals would never be found on a non-living astronomical body like the Moon or Mars.
If you have an interest in this planet on which we’re living, and you want to know more about how it got here, how it has changed throughout the estimated 4.5 billion years since it formed, and where it may be going, read this book. It’s fascinating.
Check the WRL catalog for The Story of Earth
In this story, Shoba and her monkey, Fuzzy, go on a quest to attend Fuzzy’s cousin’s wedding in Mumbai, India. The two fly on Shoba’s bed to India and then journey across the country meeting many colorful characters along the way. Fuzzy tries his best to discourage all of the people they meet from going to the monkey wedding, because he wants it to be a very exclusive event.
“Fuzzy approached one of the women. ‘Pardon me, have you by chance seen a large striped tent?’
‘There’s one just down the road. Is it a wedding tent?’ she asked eagerly.
‘Yes, but it will be one of the most boring weddings in the history of the universe,’ he answered, scurrying past her.’”
While Jeyaveeran’s tale is enchanting and captures the power of imagination, it is her drawings that bring the story to life. The vibrant pinks, yellows, greens, and purples help to portray a beautiful and diverse country. A map of India and glossary of terms help introduce children and parents alike to this Asian country.
Travel with Shoba and Fuzzy to find out if this Indian monkey wedding extravaganza is everything that the two are anticipating.
Check the WRL catalog for The Road to Mumbai.