This book of short stories certainly lives up to its name; it is geektastic! Name a cult favorite, fandom, field, or following and it will at least be mentioned in this book. There might even be a whole story devoted to the topic. Star Wars, Star Trek, Buffy, RPG, MMRPG, Rocky Horror, astronomy, paleontology, academic bowl, theatre, you name it, it’s in here. As for the authors, they are a “who’s who” of popular YA writers. You’ll find stories by Scott Westerfeld, Cassandra Clare, Garth Nix, Kelly Link, John Green, and Libba Bray, just to name a few.
Some of my personal favorites include Black and Castellucci’s contribution “Once You’re a Jedi, You’re a Jedi All the Way”, which explains what might happen if a Jedi and a Klingon at a SciFi convention woke up in each other’s arms; Tracy Lynn’s “One of Us”, which is about a cheerleader who needs a crash course in all things geek to impress her football player (and closet geek) boyfriend; and finally, “The Stars at the Finish Line” by Wendy Mass, in which two rival high school students bond while finding 110 space objects in a Messier Marathon.
Some of the stories are more accessible to non-geeks than others, and even though I am geekier than some (most?), there were a couple of stories that I could not connect with. For the most part, however, the stories in this book would be enjoyable for all. Between each story there are illustrations/comics, which are particularly funny if you know enough about geeks to get the jokes. Also, be sure to read each author’s bio. Before reading this I would never have guessed just how geeky these authors are! This book was clearly written by geeks for geeks, and I highly recommend it.
Check the WRL catalog for Geektastic.
Much as the barbarians at the edges of Rome’s noble empire did, you’ll just have to get used to it. (Except that there was a seemingly never-ending supply of barbarians and this is running up on the end of Jones’ books.) So.
History. We all know who writes it, and in the case of the Roman Empire there is little doubt. Their portrayal of the people and territories they conquered is an unrelenting narrative of a superior culture overwhelming illiterate untutored savages and bringing the light of Civilization into their benighted lives. One of the ways they succeeded in creating this narrative was by destroying all evidence to the contrary. But, like murder, history will out, and medieval historian and humorist Terry Jones has taken the heavy lifting done by specialists, collated it and brought it to life in an entertaining way.
To hear them tell it, the Romans were surrounded by enemies actively seeking the destruction of their city and way of life. But looking at the maps and the archaeological evidence, it seems as though the Romans, in a never-ending quest for return on investment, were the ones actively seeking conflict. And boy, did they get it. And boy did they get their return on investment. The gold of the Celts and Dacians, wheat from Egypt, religion, knowledge, and military technology from Greece, slaves from all over the empire, foreigners brought into citizenship by enlisting in the Roman army–the benefits all flowed into the coffers of Rome. But the price to the Romans was also steep.
They required a certain amount of stability to ensure that the stream of money didn’t slow, and that the expenses of running the empire didn’t get out of hand. Conquest and prizes caused runaway inflation. And new ideas might give people dangerous thoughts that had to be controlled. The easiest way to do that was to stifle the kinds of questions that generate creativity and change. Sons were forbidden to leave their fathers’ professions. Incredible inventions were suppressed and inventors killed. The libraries of Carthage were destroyed or dispersed, the Punic language eliminated and all of Carthage’s knowledge lost to history. (Except one important element, which Rome faithfully copied.)
Culture by culture, Jones takes us around the edges of the Roman empire, showing that art, learning, technology, law, and military skill exceeded that of Rome. What those cultures didn’t have was a deep-seated need to conquer any perceived threat to their home, which was what relentlessly drove Rome on. In doing so, Rome got to tell their side of the story for nearly three millenia; now, with the benefit of skepticism, scholarship, and science, those “barbarian” contemporaries can begin to assume their place on the stage.
Terry Jones’ Barbarians was published to accompany the BBC series of the same name. Although the video isn’t widely available, the book more than makes up for the lack.
Check the WRL catalog for Terry Jones’ Barbarians, by Terry Jones and Alan Ereira
I love unreliable narrators. From the unnamed man in The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards to the clueless John Dowell in The Good Soldier to the layered unreliability of American Pastoral, to the multiple narrators in An Instance of the Fingerpost, the craft is sometimes hard to detect. Sometimes it erupts all at once, sometimes it’s given to us in the beginning, sometimes the accretion of details doesn’t add up. And sometimes, as in The Sense of an Ending, we are left overwhelmed by the possibilities.
Barnes, who deliciously skewered nostalgia in England, England, returns to the same theme, but with a dark and unnerving approach that makes the reader wonder about his or her own past. Tony Webster is in his sixties, retired from an undistinguished career, divorced without bitterness, grandfather to a baby he sees every once in a while when his daughter gets around to visiting. The highlight of his life was probably the extended trip he took across the United States after his undistinguished college career, but that was ruined by the news that a prep school friend committed suicide while Tony was away.
Adrian Finn joined Tony and his two pals in a kind of elite society of scholars, although it’s quickly clear that he is far brighter than the other three, who often mistake facile conclusions and clever tag phrases for brilliance. When the four break away onto their own paths, their friendship becomes something to reminisce about rather than restart. But Tony will cross paths with Adrian again.
While in college, Tony has a few girlfriends, but falls in love with Veronica Ford, a somewhat standoffish, somewhat snobby young woman whose tastes are far more sophisticated that Tony’s. From the heady (and bodily) excitement of their early days, they grow more comfortable with each other, until Veronica takes Tony home to meet her parents. Not long afterward, though, they have the “where is our relationship heading?” conversation, and Tony drops her. Except for one bout of breakup sex.
Fast forward a while, and Tony has a letter from Adrian asking his permission to go out with Veronica. Tony dashes off a witty postcard, and that’s the end of the matter–until Adrian emulates the ancient Romans and slashes his wrists in a warm bathtub. Tony grieves for a while, then goes on with the next forty years of his peaceable life.
Then one day an official letter arrives. It seems that he’s been willed a tidy sum of money and some documents by, of all people, Veronica’s mother. Although the money is easy to collect, Veronica has the documents–Adrian’s diary–and no legal effort can pry them away from her. So Tony searches her out himself and asks for the diary via email. She sends him one page that includes ruminations, a mathematical formula with bizarre variables, and ends with, “So, for instance, if Tony “. Puzzled by this introductory phrase, Tony presses Veronica for details, until she at last consents to meet him.
The problem with their initial meeting and those that follow, is that Veronica won’t interpret any of it for him. She tells him repeatedly, “You just don’t get it. You never did and you never will.” On their final meeting, she takes him to a neighborhood in London and shows him something that he still doesn’t get. But Veronica also shows him something that blasts his self-image. That witty reply to Adrian’s letter was actually the invective-laced diatribe of a petty boy seeking to hurt the two of them as deeply as he could. So much for Tony’s memory.
What else does he get wrong? What else had he done or not done, seen or overlooked, heard and misconstrued? Barnes doesn’t tell us. Frustratingly, appallingly, he doesn’t tell us. Perhaps that is why the Intertubes are filled with discussions of The Sense of an Ending, each with a plausible development of the plot, resolution to the equation, and the end of the mysterious sentence. But most of those interpretations are contradictory, because Barnes just doesn’t give us enough. We just don’t get it. We never did and we never will.
It would seem that such an indefinite ending would consign the book to obscurity or subject it to harsh critical reviews. But Barnes’ language is so evocative, so simple, so perfect in tone that within 150 pages he makes an inoffensive nonentity realize the devastating effect he had on many lives. It becomes a powerful story of memory, and of the way we change our memories to meet our own self-image. That may perhaps be an ordinary idea, but in Julian Barnes’ hands it becomes a brilliant novel.
Check the WRL catalog for The Sense of an Ending
Is your toddler or preschooler learning about colors? Does he or she love trains? If so, Freight Train is a must read! It is a classic, Caldecott award winning, concept book written and illustrated by Donald Crews. With only a few simple words to a page and vibrant primary colors, Crews tells the story of a train from the beginning to the end. Crews also labeled the train cars to help children learn more about the different components that make up trains. Lastly, Crews does an incredible job blending the colors of each car together to represent the rapid movement of the train, which provides vibrant, bright illustrations for the children and parents!
If you have not read this classic book, check it out. I guarantee you and your child will be reading it time and time again.
Check the WRL catalog for Freight Train.
Livingston creates an engaging, quick fantasy with a satisfying touch of romance in this novel.
Kelley Winslow is a 17-year-old actress working as an understudy in an off-off-off-off Broadway production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She gets her lucky break when the lead actress busts her ankle and Kelley has to step in and play the fairy queen Titania. Turns out the part fits Kelley more accurately than she expected.
Sonny Flannery is a mortal who was stolen by faeries many years ago. He now serves as a guard for the king of the Unseelie Court, Auberon. When he runs across Kelley practicing her part in Central Park, he is almost convinced she is part fae. After she saves a kelpie from drowning, he is certain she’s something from that Otherworld.
As Kelley and Sonny unravel the mysteries surrounding her past, they feel a growing attraction. But with dark treachery threatening the mortal world, they can’t spend much time pursuing a relationship.
This book, told from both Kelley’s and Sonny’s points of view, weaves legends of faeries cleverly into present day and develops the sweet beginning of a love story. Thankfully, Livingston continues Kelley’s adventures in Darklight.
Check the WRL catalog for Wondrous Strange.
First, a series of confessions. This book isn’t in the library’s collection, so I don’t have a link to it. I’ve written about Jones’ take on Chaucer before, so I may be replowing the same field. And, even though my wife doesn’t understand it, Terry Jones makes my heart race.
Like his work with Monty Python’s Flying Circuses, Jones takes a flying leap feet-first into a settled world and turns it on its head. Chaucer’s Knight was almost universally praised by Chaucerians. After all, look at how Chaucer begins his description:A Knyght ther was, and that a worthy man, That fro the tyme he first bigan To riden out, he loved chivalrie, Trouthe and honour, fredom and curteisie.
Along with calling him “a verray, parfit gentil knyght,” there was, in the minds of literature scholars, little else that Chaucer could have done to hold the Knight up as the noble ideal in a journey filled with rogues, moneygrubbers, and climbers. Not only an ideal of the nobility, but a brave crusader who fought for the Christian faith, and who embarked on his pilgrimage to Canterbury immediately on his return from overseas. Pious, courageous, humble, courteous – except for his long-winded tale, he truly is a role model for the ages. What could Jones possibly object to?
His career, for one. Line by line, Jones goes through the list of places Chaucer and the other travelers hear that the Knight has been–from Egypt to Spain and up to Russia–and shows that it is actually a catalog of atrocities and brutal warfare not at all characteristic of the noble Crusader. If fact, in some of the places the Knight has been, the fighting was between Christian and Christian; in others he served Muslim rulers during their internal battles. His signature victory at Alexandria was marked by the massacre of innocent civilians, looting of the city, and the immediate retreat of the English knights, leaving their commander to lose the prize to the returning Muslims. His record of jousting violated every norm of that “sport,” in which the death of a combatant was considered a crime. And in a time when England was under near constant threat from France and internally, and in which desperate battles were fought, the Knight was conspicuously absent, even in direct violation of King Edward III’s order that warriors could not travel abroad.
From his career, Jones follows Chaucer’s description of the Knight’s income, his conduct, his retinue, his horse, and his dress. At every turn, he cites the writers and mores of the time to demonstrate that Chaucer was satirizing the conduct of a man who could only have been a mercenary fighting wherever money was to be made, booty to be seized, or a reputation for upholding his contracts could be made. The problem for modern readers is that the definitions of the words Chaucer uses have changed over the centuries so that we have taken them at face value rather than studying the context Chaucer’s listeners would have implicitly understood. He also digs into that interminable story of Palomon and Arcite the Knight tells, pulling out the details that show the Knight was more comfortable with the language of battle and despotism than the courtly language of love a true nobleman would have used to tell the story. How many generations of undergraduates would have paid good money to learn that it was a parody designed to be laughed at?
I don’t know how formal Chaucer scholars received the work, except in a few cases where his interpretation was dismissed. As a medieval historian at Oxford, Jones acquired firsthand knowledge of both the work and of the contemporary writers with whom Chaucer would have been familiar, and it seems to me that his view from outside the specialty may give him insight into the work. As a comic writer himself (and I quote a friend of mine who says, “Smart people aren’t always funny, but funny people are always smart”), he has a built-in eye for the fun Chaucer poked at each of the other pilgrims. And although the work is a serious piece of scholarship, it never bogs down.
Last confession: I learned about this book from a professor I had in college, and I dearly wish I could remember his name. The pebbles he dropped in his classroom continue to ripple to this day–that’s the mark of a good teacher.
Sorry, can’t check the WRL catalog for Terry Jones’ Chaucer’s Knight. If you are interested in it, try interlibrary loan. Any decent university library should have it.
Oh, get your mind out of a Hemingway novel. There are more important things to be discussed–like earthmovers that outdo the largest mechanical monsters every hour of every day with no maintenance required.
Some people get creeped out by these denizens of the humus and loam that builds up underground, but to writer Amy Stewart it is plain that few human endeavors would be possible without the earthworm. They are undoubtedly responsible for much of the fertile land that produced crops abundant enough for people to settle into communities and build cities. They are responsible for the gradual settling that preserves so many archaeological sites. And they may be one of myriad ways we can solve our current problems with treating contaminated soils and other human wastes, including human waste.
What’s strange is that earthworms attract little or no serious scientific attention. At the time of Stewart’s writing, one of the few people involved in creating a taxonomy of earthworms supported himself with a variety of jobs, including a stint as a truck driver. Another wants to create a website where people can buy the naming rights to any of the unnamed worm species, much as people used to be able to name stars. The trouble is that, despite the few people making a career of oligochaetology (possibly because your in-laws can’t spell it), a dozen uncatalogued earthworm species can turn up in a single trip, with specimens left sitting in a lab waiting to be analyzed and named by the scientist. How can their impact be assessed if researchers can’t even put a name to the subject?
Yet no less a scientific luminary than Charles Darwin turned his fascination with earthworms into the last book of his career. After observing their habits for decades, even setting aside cataloguing his collection from the Beagle to study them, Darwin finally put those observations in print. He wrote of worms’ movement in the soil, of the castings they leave behind to enrich the dirt, even of the work they do to pull objects from the surface into their burrows. (They like triangular shapes best.) He credited them with intelligence and with a dignity that surprised a world that regarded them as pests. (And, Stewart notes, they can be. When a well-meaning fisherman dumps his remaining bait worms into a different habitat, they can have an adverse effect on the environment.)
Stewart mingles the history and current studies with her own experiences as a vermicomposter. I can’t imagine anyone publishing a plain book on earthworm history, or earthworm studies, although books about raising earthworms are popular. The way Stewart turns it into a readable, thoughtful, and at times funny book shows how an odd little topic can change the way people view it. Kind of like an earthworm changes the world.
Check the WRL catalog for The Earth Moved
Benjamin Franklin, Dragons, and Pigs, oh my! Read All About It! by Laura and Jenna Bush is a great book for school-aged kids and younger children who enjoy listening to a longer story. Tyrone Brown, the main character, rules the school at Good Day Elementary. He is great at math, science, the monkey bars, and he enjoys just about everything about school except reading. However, his teacher tells him, “You never know who you are going to meet in a good book.” Tyrone does not believe his teacher, until one day, characters start appearing in his classroom! One of the characters eventually goes missing, and Tyrone and his friends go on a search in the school to find the missing character! Read Read All About It! to find out which character goes missing, if they find the character, and where they find the character.
Denise Brunkus does wonderful, colorful illustrations. For those not familiar with her work, she has illustrated many books including the popular Junie B. Jones series.
Check the WRL catalog for Read All About It!
Wintergirls is a “problem” book, a dark, intense exploration of what it’s like to live with anorexia, and between the vivid writing and the immediacy of the first-person, present-tense narration, I was compelled to turn page after page.
Lia is eighteen years old, a veteran of rehab for eating disorders; she’s been engaged for years in competitive weight loss with Cassie, her oldest and closest friend. When Cassie dies, horribly and alone, Lia’s stepmother is almost relieved that she’s no longer around to drag Lia down.
But Lia’s spiralling down anyway. Methodically weighing ten raisins (16 calories) and five almonds (35) against the need to, say, drive somewhere without passing out, Lia tinkers with the scale, plays her divorced parents against one another, and leaves a false trail of lies and plates with crumbs on them to hide her slow, deliberate unravelling. Whether Lia is literally being haunted by her ex-best friend, or whether her brain is merely tormenting her with convincing delusions, this is a horror story. It’s haunting enough to be trapped in Lia’s brain, with its funhouse mirror misperceptions of reality, viewing her own body as so much clutter, a load to be lightened.
Everything else aside, this is a strong piece of writing, playing with word association and typesetting and mythic metaphors from Persephone to Sleeping Beauty to Charlotte’s Web. Wintergirls isn’t a plot so much as a mind-set, an immersion by words into Lia’s strange, angry world. There’s no definitive answer to “why?” or “whose fault?” Lia’s point of view is a dark, dangerous place to put yourself as a reader. I came out of this book in somewhat of a daze, not sure what to do with this story, other than collar all of the young people in my life and remind them that they are beautiful and beloved.
Check the WRL catalog for Wintergirls.
Yawn, stretch, snore, run, slide, slip, slap are just some of the many action words in Snore Dinosaur Snore, written and illustrated by John Bendall-Brunello! This fun book is perfect for younger children, toddlers, and preschoolers with the colorful pictures, big easy to read words, and action words. Not only is this a great book to read, but it also is a great book to act out. It is sure to leave both parents and children laughing, especially if your family can relate to these persistent baby dinosaurs that try and try to wake their mommy up! It seems as if the baby dinosaurs have tried everything…will these baby dinos succeed? Be sure to read Snore Dinosaur Snore to find out!
Check the WRL catalog for Snore Dinosaur Snore.
When we first meet Nyuki the honeybee, she is still a sightless, shapeless larva, but soon she will transform into a mature worker. To begin the transmogrification, she must enter a cocoon, which she will build by producing silk from the spinnerets in her mouth and mixing it with her own feces.
It’s just amazing the things you learn in the course of this graphic novel, though I promise that most of them aren’t as gross as that silk-and-poo thing. You”ll learn about hive construction, bee swarming, pollination, reproduction, predation, defense, territorialism, and lots more.
And then more on top of that. And then a bit more. Author and illustrator Jay Hosler can’t help himself. He’s a honeybee neurobiologist.
He’s also a wonderful storyteller. You’ll get a thorough education in honeybees, but you won’t even notice it happening because you’ll be caught up in Nyuki’s life story. The science-y bits blend seamlessly with Nyuki’s adventures, from her romantic matchmaking efforts on the behalf of two flowers to her near-death encounter with a praying mantis.
I’m choosing to think of the book as whimsical nonfiction, though you could call it fiction with a whole lot of facts thrown in. I’m also choosing to think of it as an adult book, because I am an adult and I really liked it, but it’s quite suitable for teens and older elementary students. The crisp black-and-white drawings will appeal to all ages, and the drama will make you put the book down and sniffle in private. I, uh, heard. That didn’t happen to me or anything. Nope.
Check the WRL catalog for Clan Apis
I have been interested in myths and urban legends ever since a preteen sleepover introduced me to the story of the The Hook (You know, the one about the couple at the local makeout spot who hear a strange scraping noise on the car. They get scared and drive quickly home — only to find a bloody hook hanging from the car door handle). I have since learned to be skeptical of these stories — though it sometimes is hard to tell what is based on fact and what is fantasy.
I picked up Albert Jack’s book, and skimmed several stories before sitting down to read it cover to cover. I was pleased to find many a tale I hadn’t heard before.
Did you hear about the scorned woman who stuffed seafood in the curtain rods throughout the home just before her ex-husband and his new wife put it up for sale? No one could find the source of the growing odor, and no one wanted to buy the home. After several months the man sells his share of the house to his ex-wife very cheaply just to get it off his hands. And when the woman goes back to claim the house, she finds it stripped of all the fixtures — including the curtain rods. Her ex had taken everything to be installed in his new home! See “The Seafood Effect” in the book.
Or what about the woman who put her Winnebago on cruise control, then walked into the back to make herself a cup of coffee? After the vehicle left the road and overturned, she supposedly tried to sue Winnebago for not making it clear in the owner’s manual that cruise control, as she understood it, was not a feature in the vehicle. See “Winnebago Whiner” in the book.
Read Jack’s book to replenish your collection of stories to share around the water cooler — and maybe find the glimmer of truth in a few of these tales. It’s very entertaining reading.
Check the WRL catalog for Phantom Hitchhikers and Other Urban Legends.
Sarah Piper is alone in the world. She’s working for a temp agency in post World War I England. One rainy afternoon she gets a call to meet a potential client at a coffee shop. While this is a bit unorthodox, she needs the rent money, and so goes to the meeting.
There she meets handsome Alistair Gellis, a ghost-hunter. He needs her to make contact with a potential ghost that apparently does not like men. While scared of the prospect of seeing a ghost, Sarah agrees. It’s the most excitement she’s had in her life, and she’s more frightened to disappoint her employer than she is of the ghost.
The ghost story turns into an investigation of another crime – and Sarah, Alistair, and his other assistant Matthew are in danger as they try to solve the mystery of Maddy Clare.
I enjoyed the setting of England between the World Wars. I thought the author brought in enough detail to give a taste of the period. The author did a good job explaining why the war had such a profound effect on her main characters without having them go on and on about their hellish experiences.
I like being a little bit scared – and the description of Maddy haunting the barn where she hung herself was creepy, not keep-the-lights-on scary.
I liked Sarah. She’s smart and practical yet she isn’t afraid to run screaming from a particularly difficult encounter with an angry Maddy. And who wouldn’t be freaked out by the arrival of hordes of ravens? Those human reactions helped me balance the other-worldliness of the ghost story.
And then there was the love story… The novel could have survived well without it, but I enjoyed Sarah’s budding romance with Matthew. In my opinion, it never hurts to have the promise of a happy ending!
The Haunting of Maddy Clare recently won two Romance Writers of America’s RITA Awards: Best First Novel and Novel with Strong Romantic Elements.
Check the WRL catalog for The Haunting of Maddy Clare
Is your child learning to tell time, count or understand rhyme? If so, Hickory Dickory Dock, written and illustrated by Keith Baker, is the book to read! While based on the familiar nursery rhyme titled, “Hickory Dickory Dock,” Baker creates his own version of the nursery rhyme with one busy mouse and lots of crazy animals. Be sure to read Hickory Dickory Dock to have fun counting, singing, rhyming, and of course to see what keeps the teeny tiny mouse busy every hour!
Toddlers and younger elementary school students will enjoy this colorful and easy to read book.
Check the WRL catalog for Hickory, Dickory, Dock.
Through the stories of two aristocratic families, the Shermetevs and the Golitsyns, author Douglas Smith details what happened to the once mighty Russian nobility when the Communists came into power in the early 20th century.
The pattern was depressingly consistent, dispossession followed by displacement and often death. First, their wealth and property were taken from them. Secondly, those who didn’t leave Russia willingly were exiled to remote areas of the empire. Relentlessly exploited as symbols of decadence and oppression by their government, nobles were classified as “Former People” and never allowed to fully integrate into regular Soviet society. Eventually, many of them ended up dying in prisons or gulags.
You can’t really call this sad, non-fiction book upbeat, but it is well-researched and a timely reminder about the depredations of communism and the danger of all-powerful governments.
Check the WRL catalog for Former People.
Miranda was planning a quiet summer vacation at home in New York City. She needed time to get over her cheating ex-boyfriend, and was looking forward to an internship at the Museum of Natural History. Then she receives word that her grandmother has passed away, and that her mother has inherited the family home on Selkie Island in Georgia. Her mother needs Miranda’s logical mind and organizing skills to put everything in order to sell the house. Miranda’s mom had been estranged from her mother ever since she married Miranda’s father (from whom she is now divorced). There is a history there with which Miranda is completely unfamiliar, but she’s about to learn all the sordid details.
Selkie is an island with strange mythological ties. It is said to have been founded by the descendants of mermaids and mermen, a claim Miranda does not entertain, relying as she does on science and reason. Instead, she focuses her attention on acclimating to her new environment. Selkie is very different from NYC, and the people she meets, her mother’s old childhood friends, and their children, are not what she is used to. They are summer tourists to the island, and while they are welcoming, they have different expectations of Miranda than her friends in New York. One important rule Miranda learns is, don’t mingle with the locals. Selkie Island is a vacation destination for affluent Atlantans, and those who live on the island year round, who make their living fishing, are deemed unworthy of their attention. But Miranda finds more in common with one local fisherman’s son than these summer residents. His name is Leo and they meet on the beach, the spot where most of their interactions take place. Leo calls the beach “the great equalizer”, as it is the one place where townies and tourists can interact as equals.
What could, at this point, remain a traditional summer love story instead becomes a romance mixed with mystery and a touch of the supernatural. Miranda has suspicions about Leo’s background, and despite her logical mind, finds herself getting caught up in the mythic qualities of Selkie. She must also deal with the fallout from her mother’s tense past with her grandmother, and her late grandmother’s own involvement with a townie. Miranda soon finds that she has more in common with her grandmother than she ever could have imagined.
Check the WRL catalog for Sea Change
The story starts five years after Jamie’s sister Rose was killed in a terrorist attack in Trafalgar Square. His dad promises they are making a new start – but it’s a new start without their mother who has stayed in London to live with a man from her support group. Jamie and his big sister, Jas (Rose’s twin), have hopes that maybe it will be different in this new town. But then their dad puts the gold urn with Rose’s remains on the mantel, and they realize nothing has really changed.
Jamie has quite a few typical – and not so typical – challenges to overcome as a newcomer to this small town. He has to start a new school and while it is a relief not to be identified as “poor Rose’s brother” it’s still difficult to make new friends. He doesn’t seem to fit in with anyone, except a Muslim girl named Sunya. But being friends with Sunya would make his dad mad because his dad blames all Muslims for the terrorist attack.
Jamie would also have you believe he didn’t care that he hadn’t seen his mother, yet he can quickly count off how many days it had been since she walked out. And he faithfully wears the Spiderman t-shirt she gave him for his birthday every day in case she visits so she’ll see how much he loves it.
You may need to have some tissues handy, but the story isn’t told in an overly sentimental manner. Coming from Jamie’s perspective you understand why losing his sister when he was five-years-old isn’t as real to him as making friends at school or making the winning goal of a soccer match. And it’s heartbreaking when Jamie finally understands the grief his parents must feel after losing Rose.
I would recommend this book for all ages. While Jamie sees things in a very kid-like fashion, the issues he deals with – abandonment, loss, grief, friendship, racism, bullying – can be understood from all ages. As an adult I ached as well as rooted for him and his sister, two decent kids trying to make it without the solid support of either parent. And at the end they do seem to be in a better place.
The printed book was checked out when I selected it but I absolutely loved hearing the audiobook read by Scottish actor David Tennant of Dr. Who and Harry Potter fame. Tennant did a superb job making me believe I was listening to Jamie.
I’m looking forward to reading more from this author.
Check the WRL catalog for My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece
Check the WRL catalog for the audiobook My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece
This book was very different than I expected. Given the description of a book featuring a camera that can take pictures of people who aren’t there, wouldn’t you expect a scary story? After all, it is called Ghost Town. But no, there’s not a spooky page to be found in this book. This isn’t really my usual type of reading material, obviously, since I was expecting a different type of book, but Ghost Town turned out to be an excellent story. It is an irreverent, off-beat sort of tall tale, featuring well-drawn characters and an interesting plot.
Spencer Honesty and his mom are the only two people left in Paisley, Kansas. Everyone else in town has moved away, in search of better economic opportunities. Spencer’s mom is a postal worker, and is kept on by the government to sort through all the mail that continues to arrive in Paisley. To keep himself and his imaginary friend Chief Leopard Frog entertained, Spencer salvages his father’s old camera from a junk pile and spends his days taking pictures. When his pictures are developed, mixed in with his extreme close up shots of bees, are photos of Paisley’s former residents. Spencer cannot explain this phenomenon, but he does enjoy seeing his old neighbors again, particularly Maureen Balderson, his best friend’s sister.
Unfortunately, Spencer’s photography must be put on hold when he takes a fall while climbing the side of the old supermarket. He is laid up for weeks, and spends his time reading other people’s junk mail. One particular catalog sparks Spencer’s interest, Uncle Milton’s Thousand Things You Thought You’d Never Find. One of Milton’s thousand things is a ghost camera, and Spencer strikes up a correspondence with Milton when he writes to find out more about the strange object. Milton eventually agrees to publish a book of Chief Leopard Frog’s poetry, in exchange for some of the Chief’s hand carved talismans which (unbeknownst to the Chief) bring the owner bad luck. Spencer never expected a book of Native American poetry written by an imaginary friend, sold by someone as “reputable” as Uncle Milton, to be a bestseller that would send a reporter to his ghost town asking questions.
There is a lot going on in this book, but Jennings layers it all together perfectly. I wasn’t familiar with Richard W. Jennings’ work before reading this book, but now I’m anxious to see what else he has to offer.
Check the WRL catalog for Ghost Town
Emily remembers her childhood as chaotic and full of drama. She has worked hard to make her adult life as different from her wacky mother’s as possible. She is finally living the stable, organized life she always dreamed of — and, though boring, this is exactly what she wants. She thinks she has fallen in love with “Mr. Right,” a transplant surgeon named Grant. His family is full of all the tradition and respectability that hers is not. She can’t help but feel a little intimidated by their perfect lives.
Emily and Grant are tying the knot at his family’s long-time favorite vacation lodge in Vermont. It will be a dream come true. They arrive at the lodge a week before the wedding to make last-minute plans and visit with family. The heirloom dress will fit (serious dieting will make sure of that); the wedding will go off without a hitch (if she keeps her mother away from her future mother-in-law); and Emily and Grant will live happily ever after (despite a friend’s warning that Emily will never have her honeymoon because of Grant’s demanding, important job).
Only that’s not how it turns out. Her ex-husband, Ryan, shows up out of the blue and makes Emily question whether she’s marrying the right man.
The plot isn’t full of unexpected twists. You could probably fill in how the story ends just by knowing that Emily’s ex showed up before the wedding. But I liked the way Kendrick works the plot to the inevitable conclusion. She has a playful, light hand with developing characters, from the brassy mother of the bride to the conservative mother of the groom. And I was happy to see those passive-aggressive older sisters get their comeuppance! Read the book to find out how.
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Once your little one starts growing, nothing is more exciting than turning another year older. Then once your little one is a year older, what is more exciting than growing a half year older and celebrating being 2 and a half or 3 and a half? Growing up can lead to excitement, questions, and maybe even a little nervousness. If your little one is growing older, asking questions, or feeling a little nervous, he or she will easily be able to relate to Pomelo, the growing, pink little elephant in this story. Pomelo realizes that he has started growing. He is bigger than his dandelion plant, strawberries, and even a teeny tiny potato! Woo hoo – he is very excited that he is taller and maybe even stronger. But then, he starts asking questions such as, “Will I grow equally all over?”. Growing up is making him a little nervous! Be sure to read Pomelo Begins to Grow to find out what Pomelo thinks of growing up in the end!
In addition to the fun, relatable storyline written by Badescu, Benjamin Chaud does some beautiful illustrations with bright drawings. It is truly a great book for your growing toddlers.
Check the WRL catalog for Pomelo Begins to Grow.