Only, the earth is going to be struck by an asteroid in six months, and everything in his investigation is colored by that fact, beginning with the question “why bother?” Does it matter if a guy hanged himself or was murdered, if everyone is likely to be dead before the year is out? Well, if you’re Hank Palace, of the Concord, N.H. Police Department: Yes. Palace does the job because that’s his job.
He’s only been a detective for 3 ½ months, promoted young because all the seasoned detectives are retiring early or disappearing without notice. Ever since the projected impact of asteroid Maia became a certainty, everyone on the planet is confronting mortality at the same time and in their own ways. The market has collapsed; some folks run pirate black-market restaurants out of abandoned McDonald’s. Workers everywhere are abandoning their jobs to pursue lifelong “bucket lists,” or just hanging themselves. (The public library, of course, responds with a display of books to read before you die.)
But while the infrastructure collapses around him, Hank Palace is pursuing leads, in coat and tie, taking notes in actual blue books like the kind you used for college exams. The only person who can distract him from his singleminded investigation is his somewhat loony younger sister, whose boyfriend has vanished while trying to expose a government coverup.
I love characters like Palace: Philip Marlowe. Sam Vimes. “You’re a policeman through and through…” says one of his interviewees. “You’ll be standing there when the asteroid comes down, with one hand out, yelling, Stop! Police!”
The Last Policeman won a 2013 Edgar award for best paperback original mystery. Although there isn’t time left to carry Palace’s story much farther, there are two more books coming in the trilogy, starting with the sequel, Countdown City.
Check the WRL catalog for The Last Policeman.
Karou is just like any other 17 year-old girl. She goes to school. She hangs out with her friends whenever she’s free from work. She’s recovering from the heartbreak of first love. But Karou is also different as much as she is the same. Her blue hair isn’t just a dye job, it grows from her head that way. Karou attends art school in Prague and hangs with her friends at the Poison Kitchen, a place known for its WWI gas masks and tables made from coffins. As for her first love, she’s getting over him even though he keeps trying to win her back by jumping from the shadows pretending to be, what else, a vampire.
As for her parents, well that’s where things get interesting. Karou doesn’t exactly have parents, she has the Chimaeras. Brimstone is larger than life with rams’ horns and the ass of a lion. Issa is apparently a Victoria’s Secret model on top but her bottom half is a little cold-blooded, being mostly serpent. Twiga has trouble with low ceilings, having the neck of a giraffe and Yasri might snap with her sharp beak. Not the kind of family you bring your friends home to meet. But the Chimaeras are the only family Karou has known and she loves them and works for them gathering teeth from all over the world using portals to move from city to city…
By this point, I hope you’re at least a little intrigued by Karou because I certainly was and am glad I opened the pages to this wonderfully fantastic and lyrical novel. With its old world aura, Prague’s atmosphere suggests that any shadowy doorway may open to an unknown and unexplored world. Adding to Prague’s mystery, and layering her story, Taylor’s exquisite writing and turn of phrase draws the reader in with her expressive style, flashes of humor, and empathy. It is easy to get lost in the pages and wake up Elsewhere… Whether in our world or another, it’s always important to find acceptance and make your own place. This book is followed up by Days of Blood & Starlight.
Check the WRL catalog for Daughter of Smoke & Bone
LOVED this book by Linda Barnes! It’s the first I’ve read by this author who has 16 previous novels, including the Carlotta Carlyle mysteries. You can be sure I’m checking to see what else the library has by her.
Em Moore is the silent, timid-but-talented writing half of a biography team. Her partner, Ted, is the charismatic, outgoing personality who handles the interviews and book publicity.
When Teddy dies in a car accident, Em needs to suck up her courage and convince her agent that she can handle finishing their current project, a biography of film director Garrett Malcolm. We are led to believe that Em needs the money, and she’ll face her fears of being in public and talking to strangers in order to keep the advance on the book.
Barnes does a fantastic job in having me feel sorry for “poor Em” all the way through the book. She has to travel to Cape Cod on her own, and the only way she makes it out of her apartment is to pretend there is a bubble protecting her from the outside world. Her first meeting with Malcolm had me cringing — his assistant is patronizing and keeps her waiting long after her appointed meeting time. Malcolm himself is self-important and intimidating. And then there’s the police detective investigating Teddy’s death. Em avoids his phone calls because she just can’t deal with one more thing on her plate.
Em has small successes facing her fears, that include surviving a confrontation with Teddy’s wife and recovering interview tapes that Teddy hadn’t sent her. And as unlikely as it seems, she and Malcolm hit it off. They begin an affair, and she is able to start writing the book in the comfort of his large Cape Cod mansion. And that’s when the story of this famous director and the tragedies in his life start to come together. All is not as it seems on the surface, however, and Em keeps digging to figure out what happened all those years ago to Malcolm and his family — and what exactly Teddy was working on before his death.
Engaging writing, clever plot twists — a recipe for a book I just couldn’t put down!
Check the WRL catalog for The Perfect Ghost
Woolbur is a delightful picture book that celebrates the joy of being unique. In this story Woolbur is a sheep that is not afraid to be different and likes to do things his own way. Woolbur likes to run with the dogs instead of staying with the herd. While the other sheep are getting sheared he runs away. Wool bur’s parents pull on their wool all night worrying. When they point out to Woolbur that he is different he replies, “I know… isn’t it great?” Woolbur’s grandpa tries to reassure his parents he will be fine. They insist Woolbur act like the other sheep. Woolbur thinks about this all night long and comes up with a perfect plan. He teaches all the other sheep to be just like him. Leslie Helakoski has written a humorous story with an important message … it’s okay to be different. Lee Harper’s illustrations are charming and capture the true spirit of Woolbur. Ideal read aloud for children ages 3 to 7.
Check the WRL catalog for Woolbur.
After “the Decline,” religions are licensed and monitored; there is an entire unit of government that is responsible for investigating supernatural claims and making sure that no faith-based movement gets a powerful following.
Justin March was a successful government investigator who saw something he couldn’t explain, except through unwelcome words that hinted of a higher power. He included his experiences in a formal report, then was exiled from The Republic of United North America (RUNA) to technology-starved Panama. He desperately wants to return home, but has no clue as to how to get back in the government’s good graces.
Mae Koskinen is a praetorian, an elite, enhanced soldier of RUNA who is reassigned from her usual security duty following an unfortunate incident at the funeral of her lover. Her new assignment is to help bring an exile back to RUNA for a special case. Of course, that exile is Justin March.
Justin and Mae are given a limited amount of time to investigate a series of five ritualistic murders. Despite the efforts of the best technicians to explain the situation with science, it looks like someone materialized out of smoke and killed unrelated victims. Justin’s skill and his willingness to explore the supernatural possibilities make him the perfect person to lead the investigation. In the course of the investigation, Justin and Mae develop a grudging respect for one another.
There are a lot of elements to keep your attention in this book: the hints of what happened to cause this anti-religion environment, the supernatural involvement of gods in the mortal world, the back-story of the main characters, and the developing relationship between Mae and Justin. I must say it took me a little while to get hooked, but when I did I couldn’t put the book down.
If you want everything tied neatly together at the end, don’t start this book yet. The mystery of the serial murders is solved, but there are many issues left hanging – you’ll just need to keep reading the “Age of X” series to understand it all. Next in the series is The Immortal Crown due out in May, 2014.
Check the WRL catalog for Gameboard of the Gods
After a brief introduction where she argues, “Geek is the new cool,” Simon breaks down girl geekdom into several categories: Fangirl, Literary, Film, Music, Funny-Girl, Domestic Goddess, and Miscellaneous Geek.
Each chapter highlights broad characteristics of the category of geekdom with a brief history, quizzes to assess your geekiness, short bios of important figures (called Geek Goddesses), and must-see websites and books/films/television shows/music to be a true master of your passion.
For the geek wannabe, it gives a great starting point to understanding the canon of the geekdom. For those that are already immersed, it’s a fun way to compare what you know with Simon’s research.
There’s also a very funny section on “Frenemies” – a brief list of characteristics to watch out for that identify the posers against the true geeks. You’ll want to make sure you aren’t making any of these faux pas!
This book came out in 2011, so I’m a little worried that as years go by, the references will be less timely, and the links to other resources will stop working. I hope Simon is working on updating the book…
Whether you read it from cover to cover, or just dip into your favorite obsession, embrace your geekiness and read this book, I think you’ll walk away with a good feeling.
Check the WRL catalog for Geek Girls Unite
The last thing you want to do with a cheating ex-boyfriend is take a ten day trip through Italy. Only one thing would be worse – missing out on the trip of a lifetime because you’re avoiding him. Jessa has just caught her boyfriend, Sean, with another girl. The next day, when some girls would be curled up crying in bed with massive amounts of chocolate, Jessa leaves on a drama club trip abroad, with both Sean and his new girlfriend.
To help her get through the next week and a half, Jessa’s best friend, Carissa, has put together 20 envelopes with directions that Jessa should open two on each day of her trip. Each envelope provides a reason Jessa is better off without Sean and an instruction. Some of the envelopes instruct Jessa to be introspective, some instruct her to reap her revenge on Sean, and some offer revelations about her ex-boyfriend that Jessa would never have imagined.
Carissa’s envelopes are intended to help Jessa get over Sean and enjoy her trip. That might be too much to ask. Rome, Venice, and Tuscany are all romantic locales which are not intended to be visited with an ex-boyfriend and your replacement.
Check the WRL catalog for Instructions for a Broken Heart.
Tiddler is an energetic fish that is constantly in motion. One day his mom has had enough of his wiggling and jiggling and decides to send him out to sea to use up some of his energy. She tells him, “Go and swim till you’re tired, but watch out for the Big Fish!” Tiddler sets out to explore the sea. Diving, gliding and leaping all over the depths of the ocean he finds many interesting sea creatures. Tiddler tries to get a starfish and crab to play with him but they scuttle off. At last he discovers a big, dark cave and his curiosity gets the best of him. He swims in and …. “SNAP! Everything goes dark.” Tiddler finds himself trapped in the belly of a big fish. Can Tiddler fidget his way out? Readers will be surprised to find out how Tiddler’s adventure ends. Fidgety Fish is Ruth Galloway’s first children’s book and her message that we are all special just the way we are will resonate with parents and children. The bright, bold pictures and action words make this a great read aloud for preschool children.
Check the WRL catalog for Fidgety Fish.
This novel reveals its story through letters. Glory, a 23-year-old, very pregnant mother of an energetic two-year-old son, picks Rita’s address from a hat at a 4-H meeting. The intent was to have women select an anonymous pen-pal to help ease the stress of their “situation,” that is, being at home while their husbands are at war. Glory introduces herself in January, 1943, and tells Rita that if they are going to correspond, they should get to know each other.
Rita replies to the letter a few weeks later and we discover she is a middle-aged professor’s wife from Iowa who loves to garden. Her husband as well as her newly turned 18-year-old son have both volunteered to serve in the war.
Both women seem to understand the same loneliness and feelings of not fitting in with their community – and they develop a deep friendship through their correspondence.
I enjoyed the intimacy of the letters. The annoying neighbors, the new friends, what grows well in the gardens, the recipes that stretch the rations, the gossip of their community, the good memories, the very ordinary details of life fill each letter. I was almost as excited as the characters to start a new letter and find out what would be revealed next.
There is also a bit of romance, lots of family drama, and heartbreak of celebrating holidays without loved ones. Be sure to have some tissues handy because some of the letters will surely break your heart.
Pick this book up if you enjoyed The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Plot-wise it is very different. But I was reminded of “Guernsey” while reading I’ll be seeing you – I suppose it’s the glimpse of what happens on the homefront and the fact that both books are written through letters being passed back and forth.
Questions for discussions and a conversation with the authors are included at the end of the book. The conversation was particularly interesting — co-authors Hayes and Nyhan wrote the book without ever having met in real life! They only knew each other through phone calls and emails. Perhaps this is what gives that sense of authenticity to Glory and Rita’s letters.
Check the WRL catalog for I’ll be seeing you
It is a truth universally acknowledged by babysitters and horror film directors: there is nothing scarier than cute little kids. At least, as Henry James explored in The Turn of the Screw, than cute little kids whose innocence is just a front for unutterable evil.
And what does Henry James have to do with this psychological thriller? Just enough, starting with the title, to allow literature students to nod their heads knowingly at the resonances to James’s classic ghost story. But not enough, don’t worry, to make homework out of this fast, spooky read.
Seventeen-year-old Jamie has a cushy job for the summer: au pair for a wealthy gentleman who’s leaving her in charge of his summer house on the resort island of Little Bly. Responsible for his young niece Isa, Jamie is relieved to get away from the calamities of the last year: a painful sports injury, a dangerous flirtation with an older man, and a spiral downwards into what her mom calls “mopiness,” without recognizing how sinister Jamie’s moods have really become. But her relaxing summer away starts unraveling with the unexpected arrival of Isa’s handsome older brother, just kicked out of school. Acts of vandalism around the house. And revelations about her predecessor, last summer’s au pair, who died in a tragic airplane accident with another local teen. Funny… because Jamie saw them just the other day. Or did she?
As readers of Turn of the Screw have wondered for years: is the governess seeing ghosts or having the vapors? We know that Jamie isn’t a reliable narrator (or babysitter!). The last thing she did before leaving for Little Bly was to steal handfuls of pills from her parents’ prescription stash. Alternately obsessed with the mystery of the last au pair and the side effects of whatever pill she last popped, Jamie careens toward an ending twist that will have you flipping back through the pages to discover exactly how you’ve been led astray.
Check the WRL catalog for Tighter.
It may be difficult to believe, but September 10 marked 20 years since the television premiere of The X-Files. For nine seasons, FBI Special Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) traveled the country investigating cases involving UFOs, the paranormal, and government conspiracies.
Over the course of the series’ run, audiences were introduced to a memorable supporting cast of characters including Mulder and Scully’s supervisor, Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi), and the main villain, the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis). Although agents John Doggett (Robert Patrick) and Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish) were added in the final seasons of the show, The X-Files never strayed too far from the central pairing of Mulder, a firm believer in the unknown and supernatural, and Scully, a rational skeptic.
Instead of reviewing the series as a whole, I thought I’d try a different approach and celebrate the 20th anniversary of The X-Files by reviewing my favorite episode: Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space.’
Originally broadcast during the third season, this episode revolves around author Jose Chung (played to eccentric perfection by Charles Nelson Reilly) who is writing a book about a case investigated by Mulder and Scully involving the possible abduction by aliens of a teenage couple out on a first date. As part of his research, Chung sets out to interview: Mulder and Scully; the couple, Harold and Chrissy; and several local witnesses to the abduction and its aftermath. Mulder is reluctant to participate, but Chung is able to interview Scully, the couple, and the witnesses. Each interviewee gives Chung an entirely different and contradictory account of what happened that night. With each account, the events of that fateful evening become more and more outlandish, culminating in the filming of a video purportedly showing an alien autopsy. A baffled Chung ultimately concludes that, “Truth is as subjective as reality. That will help explain why when people talk about their ‘UFO experiences,’ they always start off with ‘Well, now, I know how crazy this is going to sound… but…’ ”
This episode can best be described as a clever homage to Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon mixed with a hilarious satire of the 1995 alien autopsy video hoax. Unlike most episodes of The X-Files, the tone is definitely more tongue-in-cheek, but the humor serves to underscore Chung’s growing sense of bewilderment as the stories become increasingly unbelievable. By the end of the episode, like Jose Chung, I wasn’t quite sure what really happened that night, but I enjoyed seeing the different accounts of the incident unfold.
Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’ is a well-acted episode with a strong narrative structure and great, quotable dialogue. It is a highlight of the third season and worth revisiting by fans looking to commemorate the anniversary of the show.
Check the WRL catalog for first season of The X-Files TV series.
When Stillwater, a giant panda carrying a red umbrella and speaking with a “slight panda accent,” moves into Addy, Michael, and Karl’s neighborhood, he comes offering friendship and enlightening stories in Jon J. Muth’s Zen Shorts, a 2006 Caldecott Honor Book.
As Zen Shorts unfolds, each child visits with Stillwater who tells the child a short story. Addy learns about Stillwater’s poor Uncle Ry who gives his only robe to a robber. Stillwater tells Michael the story of a farmer who knows that luck is not always good or bad. Finally, the youngest child Karl hears the story of a monk who carries a burden far too long. Muth concludes with an author’s note explaining the concept of Zen and the origins of the stories featured in the book.
Zen Shorts is an accessible introduction to Zen that includes a wonderful mix of watercolors and ink drawings. The illustrations showing Stillwater’s interaction with the children are bright and colorful watercolors, while the illustrations for Stillwater’s stories are black and white ink drawings. The illustrations are vivid and complement the contemplative nature of Stillwater’s stories.
Readers who enjoy Zen Shorts may want to check out Muth’s follow up books, Zen Ties and Zen Ghosts.
Check the WRL catalog for Zen Shorts.
The format is as simple as can be. “If you see a cuddly kitten . . . say, ‘Ahhh!’ . . . If you see some slimy slugs . . . say, ‘Yuck!’” You get the idea.
Children love making the sounds. And there are a couple of unusual animals, such as a peacock and a porcupine, so those are great learning opportunities. If you like this one, author John Butler has several other similar titles shelved in the picture books.
Check the WRL catalog for If You See a Kitten.
“The Time Lord has met many aliens, cyborgs, robots, and humans on his journeys through history and across the universe.”
Doctor Who has clocked almost eight hundred episodes over thirty-three seasons. If you add in the fact that the Doctor can travel to any time in history and any place in infinity, then it isn’t surprising that it can be a little difficult to keep all the characters straight. That is where the Doctor Who Character Encyclopedia comes in very handy. With more than two hundred entries from Abzorbaloff, the greedy shape shifting humanoid to the Zygons who met the fourth Doctor, it can’t claim to cover all of time and space, but it comes close.
November marked the fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who–an extremely exciting event for Whovians. Those of us without BBC America on cable would have been left waiting for the Fiftieth Anniversary Special to come out on DVD except that, for the first time I have encountered, the Fiftieth Anniversary Special was kindly shown at movie theaters. Our closest movie theater showed it on IMax 3D on a Monday night, which is not my preferred format or time, but I had to go anyway. I didn’t dress up–unlike dozens of other Whovians young and old. They varied from around ten years old to well into their fifties or even sixties which is a very mixed fan base, but is not surprising for a show that started running before the moon landing and continues to attract fans.
The Doctor Who Character Encyclopedia is a well-organized book in which you can search for characters by name, or browse the Table of Contents where they are categorized by type such as “Alien,” “Companion,” “Cyborg,” or “Entity” with color coding matching their main entries. Each character gets a full page spread with a description, details about their origins, homeworld, which Doctors they met and how they fit into the stories. Sharp, bright photos, typical of Dorling Kindersley publishers clearly show the attributes of each character.
The BBC obviously saw publishing opportunity in the interest around the fiftieth anniversary and this is an official BBC publication. If this book is out, our library has other books of background for desperate Doctor Who fans, such as, Doctor Who: A History by Alan Kistler or Doctor Who Whology: The Official Miscellany, by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright.
The Doctor Who Character Encyclopedia is a must-read (or a must-browse) for Doctor Who fans. If you are not a fan and are wondering what all the fuss is about try my review of the TV series of Doctor Who and check out some of the series on DVD.
Check the WRL catalog for Doctor Who Character Encyclopedia.
Kate and her mother have just relocated to Eden, Michigan, the town where her mother grew up and where she intends to die after an unsuccessful battle with cancer. Kate is having trouble coming to terms with saying goodbye, and starting over as a senior at a new school compounds her worries. Ava, the school’s resident beautiful, blonde mean-girl, has taken an instant dislike to her and plays a prank that goes horribly wrong. Ava dies, and when a mysterious man suddenly appears saying he can bring her back to life— for a price— Kate is faced with a choice. Some people would think this was a no-brainer. Ava was awful to Kate, and deserved what she got. Kate, however, is wrought over the impending death of her mother, and cannot stomach someone else dying when she could prevent it. She agrees to the strange man’s request, and Ava is alive again. What has she traded for Ava’s life? The man tells her to read the myth of Persephone, and expect a visit from him on the autumn equinox. A man who has power over life and death, and has a connection with the mythical Persephone, Queen of the Underworld…three guesses who that could be.
As the story unfolds, we learn that Hades (or Henry, as he is known in this story) has been left alone and lonely in the Underworld. He always loved Persephone more than she loved him, and finally she fell in love with a mortal and Henry had to let her go. That means he’s looking for a new companion. He’s been searching for nearly a hundred years, with no luck. Love in the Underworld is harder to come by than it is on Earth. He’s not just looking for someone to love him and put up with him, he needs to find someone who can pass the seven tests, and gain the approval of the council. Eleven girls have tried, and none have succeeded. “Some of them went mad. Others were sabotaged. None of them reached the end, let alone passed the tests.” Henry is asking Kate to be his last chance. He must find a Queen soon, or fade from existence. What Henry offers in exchange is the only thing that could tempt Kate. He will keep her mother alive.
Carter takes some creative license with the traditional characteristics of the Greek gods and goddesses, but the mythological elements keep the story interesting. They’re what set The Goddess Test apart from the typical boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl stories. If you’re not too much of a stickler for accuracy, fans of Greek mythology will find this an entertaining read. Check out the sequel as well, Goddess Interrupted.
Check the WRL catalog for The Goddess Test.
As a librarian, ”Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them,” may be the best advice I have ever heard. This sterling counsel comes from children’s book author Lemony Snicket. His slim volume of silliness, Horseradish: Bitter Truths you Can’t Avoid, is full of similar useful admonitions. Lemony Snicket (or his alter-ego Daniel Handler) is most famous for his bestselling Series of Unfortunate Events, where his humor is also off beat, and always unexpected. I thought at first that this was a book of quotes from his other works, but he seems to have created original aphorisms, such as, “After you leave home you may find yourself feeling homesick, even if you have a new home that has nicer wallpaper and a more efficient dishwasher than the home in which you grew up.” As a person who tends to get left with the dishes, I judge my many past homes on the remembered quality of their dishwashers, so I consider this quite germane.
The book is arranged into thirteen chapters of advice pithy or wordy, starting with “Chapter 1: Home” and “Chapter 2: Family” and going on to “Chapter 12: An Overall Feeling of Doom that One Cannot Ever Escape No Matter What One Does.” There are many truisms to pop in and visit, no matter how you are feeling. The back cover of this book promises that its contents will not help with life’s “turbulent journey” but I beg to differ; life is always helped by laughter and a fresh perspective and Lemony Snicket can be relied upon to provide both. Try Horseradish: Bitter Truths you Can’t Avoid if you are in the mood for some frivolous fun, or you want an axiom that is more apt than usual. And remember, ”A library is like an island in a vast sea of ignorance, particularly if the library is very tall and the surrounding area has been flooded.”
Check the WRL catalog for Horseradish: Bitter Truths you Can’t Avoid.
Things have changed. Even crickets don’t chirp like they did in the old days. If you think the beat of the summer insects doesn’t sound like it used to, you could be right because the high-pitched songs of insects become inaudible to aging ears.
This is where The Songs of Insects comes in. It is a gorgeously illustrated visual guide to crickets, cicadas, katydids and grasshoppers, with each insect photographed on a natural surroundings and also on a white background, making them very easy to see and differentiate. It also promises to “shower you with auditory pleasures untold” and it lives up to this promise very well through the enclosed CD with the songs of almost eighty species of insect. The authors’ system of “electronics and sensitive microphones” that they used to record the insect songs means that we can listen to insect songs that we can no longer hear in the wild.
Before the guide portion of the book there are several pages of enlightening information about the classification of singing insects and the biology of insect songs. It includes some fascinating tidbits, for instance that some insects are left-handed vs. right-handed singers and their handedness (or wingedness?) is determined by species. Although we call them “songs,” insects have no lungs, so most rub wings or bumps or other modified body parts together to produce their chorus. Cicadas are different because their sound producing organs or “tymbals” resonate like drums, which explains how they can be so loud.
Each insect’s page includes sonograms or “sound pictures” for the technically minded. I was delighted to learn that “each species has its own distinct song, which is recognized by all individuals of the same species” and that pulse rates of songs vary by temperature and songs tend to speed up as the temperature rises so you can use the song to estimate temperature! But the best tidbit of all is discovering that there is an insect enchantingly called the Slightly Musical Conehead (Neoconocephalus exiliscanorous).
The Songs of Insects is a must-read for nature lovers, especially those who like to use books to identify the wildlife around them, like Sibley’s Birding Basics, by David Allen Sibley, or more quirkily, Magical Mushrooms, Mischievous Molds, by George W. Hudler. If you aren’t on the East Coast of North America you won’t necessarily be able to hear all these insects in the wild, but you can enjoy them on the CD. The authors’ ongoing project can be found at http://www.songsofinsects.com/
The Songs of Insects is also a wonderful book for photographers. The authors explain the equipment they used and how they photographed a living creature that isn’t interested in a modeling contract and may hop away at any moment (the answer is to use a custom made “whitebox.”)
Check the WRL catalog for The Songs of Insects.
Pay no attention to the top hat on the cover of this paranormal mystery; it looks Victorian, but the action takes place in the present day. And you’d think, if a Jack the Ripper copycat killer were going to strike in present-day London, he’d have no chance of escaping the CCTV cameras surveying the streets from every angle.
But he does.
Rory Deveaux, fresh from Louisiana, is a little starry-eyed to be spending a year abroad at Wexford, a London boarding school. Jammy Dodgers! The Tube! (“Welsh is an actual, currently used language…. It sounds like Wizard.”) But when murder victims are found near campus, marking the anniversaries of the Whitechapel killings in 1888, English history starts hitting a little too close to home.
What’s more, Rory thinks she’s seen the killer—but her roommate, who was standing right next to her, didn’t see a thing. Whatever it means, her newfound ability to see the un-seen makes her really valuable to the police investigation, and especially to its ghost-hunting unit, the Shades of London (also known as Scotland Graveyard). Unfortunately, it makes her an asset to the killer, too. And the anniversary of the last Ripper killing is only a few days away…
A more serious, suspenseful read than Johnson’s screwball Suite Scarlett series, this adventure has ghosts, historic true crime, and confrontations in unused stations of the London Underground. It’s the first of a series, the Shades of London, and is followed up by The Madness Underneath
Check the WRL catalog for The Name of the Star.
You’d think that life as a carousel animal would be all silliness and games, but the carousel Duck in this story has a dream. She longs to fly. At night, when the carousel is still, she walks around (with a hole in her back where the pole would go) and gazes at the sky. She lies on her back (this time you can see the hole in her stomach) and dreams of soaring with the stars.
But one spring day, Duck’s life changes. A tiny yellow duckling–a real one– walks up to her and says, “Quack.” The kindly carousel animal adopts the little creature and teaches him how to play in the water and hunt in the grass for bugs. They play together and they dream together under the starry sky.
But little ducks have to learn to fly. How can an earthbound carousel animal teach her little one to do that? Duck needs to find a flock of real ducks to help her little one get off the ground. When the time comes, duckling turns out to be a good flyer–and an even better friend. Come springtime, Duck is going to get the ride of her life!
Cecil’s illustrations are enchanting, but because some of the pictures are small, this book is best shared one-on-one, or with a small group. But get ready to hold back the tears at the end! And if you enjoy this one, check out Cecil’s Gator, about another one of the animals from the carousel.
This simple story is best for preschool through school-ages. It’s so nicely done that older children, and even adults, will enjoy it.
Check the WRL catalog for Duck.
Everyone knows that the phrase “David and Goliath” means big vs. small. And everyone also knows that in this Biblical story, against all odds, small won. Malcolm Gladwell famously likes to stand things on their heads and look at them from a new perspective. He starts his newest book with a historically detailed retelling of David and Goliath, and uses his wonderful storytelling skills to take the familiar and make us look at it in another light, so we see that even this well-known Biblical story has been interpreted incorrectly for thousands of years and sometimes being small or weak is a big advantage.
Malcolm Gladwell interviewed and features an assortment of ordinary people who fought their own Goliaths in a variety of ways, such as a middle school girls’ basketball team in Chapter One. They were a weak team in terms of height and usual skills, so they changed the way they played rather than trying to be better at standard basketball play. I don’t understand the strategy, being ignorant about basketball, but it involved more running than usual so the players had to be very fit and put in more effort, as Malcolm Gladwell says, ”Underdog strategies are hard.“
In another chapter he controversially argues against affirmative action in college admissions, describing how getting into a difficult college can make a student perform worse. He argues persuasively in the cases of the individuals whom he interviewed that they would have been better off in a less prestigious school because they would have been able to continue studying science, because in a prestigious college, a formerly outstanding student can become overwhelmed and discouraged. Colleges are the perfect example of big vs. small ponds and “Small Ponds are welcoming places for those on the inside.” Apparently this is especially common for science students as “more than half of all American students who start out in science, technology and math programs… drop out after their first or second year.”
Malcolm Gladwell’s books are best selling but have been criticized for making overly-broad and simplistic conclusions from single scientific papers. David and Goliath is a series of personal stories, so each story carries the authenticity which each of our own stories necessarily carry–maybe what happened in my life isn’t likely, but it did happen. But in some cases it seems he has extrapolated a personal story to too general a conclusion. For example, the story of the development of a cure for childhood leukemia is an astounding and moving story, but it seems a stretch to claim that it depended on developer Emil Freireich’s tragically early loss of his father and grueling childhood. Most people with difficult childhoods don’t excel the same way.
Certainly try David and Goliath if you enjoyed Malcolm Gladwell’s other books, but also try it if you like to be challenged by ideas that you won’t necessarily agree with. Even try it if you are usually a fiction reader, because, as always, Malcolm Gladwell, brings together disparate, and sometimes dry, facts in a very readable and entertaining way.
Check the WRL catalog for David and Goliath.