Frances Mayes nurtures a sense of home wherever she travels and writes, frequently envisioning herself buying the rented house and settling in even while just visiting. Literal homes seem to blend and expand with a myriad of temporary residences as she reflects upon flavors, tastes, scents, scenes, poetry, cultures, and histories. She and husband Ed explore a rich variety of exotic as well as ordinary destinations, sweeping a wide radius from their Tuscan epicenter through a European, Mediterranean, Asian, and African playground.
Everything I pick up seems to lure me away. … A desire to go runs through me equally with an intense desire to stay at home.
The memoir hints that this year’s travel in the world is a means for Frances and husband Ed to escape the dust and chaos of the ongoing contracted work at their perpetually-being-restored ancient Tuscan home named Bramasole. Or maybe it’s the growing sense of danger, with the possibility of random violence invading their domicile in northern California that pushes them away from home.
I didn’t know how deeply refreshing the landscape could be. The place does seem familiar, perhaps at a genetic level, but in a a nourishing way. Or maybe I’m just familiar with these friends, and when one is at home with friends, the surrounding world becomes friendly, too.
Whether traveling with newly made friends or rendezvousing with dear old friends, Mayes reflects on their friendships and fond memories, predicting potential relationships with new acquaintances or expressing relief that she won’t have to sit next to such boors as some of the cruise ship passengers at each meal. I found her most humorous when describing the absurdities of cruise ships and their tendency to transform passengers into cattle, driven through crowded tourist traps. Mayes’ first choice for travel is definitely not the cruise, preferring to rent homes and literally plant roots for a while in one village.
My early impressions of A Year in the World were tainted by my annoyance with what seemed constant obsession with food, especially meat and meat by-products, all forms of dairy and excessive indulgence in pastries on the part of Ed. I could assume he is quite rotund, despite his apparent energy and enthusiasm for daily excursions, even long strenuous walks in extreme heat such as their daily hikes to see the architectural and earthly wonders along Turkey’s Lycian coast. Could they possibly eat such meals while at home and shouldn’t they be more cautious with regard to health? My perspective did begin to soften once I reached the chapter on the British Isles—as they romped through English garden after English garden, I became so interested in garden tours. I love, and now wish to adopt, their habit of taking notes for use in the improvement of their home veggie, fruit, and flower growing techniques and varieties of plants. She describes serendipitous moments, such as finally coming across roses similar to a mystery species thriving in their Tuscany garden that was inherited after 30 years of neglect.
The book comprises about a dozen or so travel essays. Each may be dipped into separately or in sequence, yet it’s not the type of book you’ll read straight through. I started it months ago and picked the book up for just a chapter or two at a time, escaping to fascinating travel spots such as Andalucia, Scotland, and Mani. Mayes’ brief yet insightful reviews of books she travels with tempt me to add her inspired selections to my personal reading list. You may find it surprising that the title belies the format; you’ll seldom be aware of the month or year of her travels, and it’s never clear whether each of these trips occurred within a single year. That doesn’t matter, since you will be mesmerized by the poetic and lyrical way in which she transports you to a place and a moment, enveloping you in her experiences.
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WRL also owns this title as an e-book.
More than any other parenting book that I read and used while raising my now teens and young adults, this classic title made the most impact on my family’s life. Because of communication techniques learned from John Gray, my children commonly ask, “Mom, what may I do to help you?” Better yet, I often return home to find delightedly that the dishes are washed, the laundry done and put away, and the floors vacuumed or swept without even having asked the children to do it! They have learned to observe what needs to be done and to proceed to take ownership of the task. A household then becomes more efficient much in the same way a business may foster efficiency through employee ownership. Furthermore, I have found that my children love to be of service to other individuals and organizations without expectation of rewards or reciprocation, just for the joy of giving their time and effort for the benefit of others.
Something very significant in child rearing can be achieved simply by respecting kids’ opinions and viewpoints in the manner you would like to be treated, accepting who and what they truly are, listening to them well, and regarding them as innately benevolent beings who want to behave well and do the right things in a positive atmosphere. Most people realize that negative parenting can harm kids and may only achieve temporary control over children who learn to anticipate the age of 18 with a vengeance so that they can finally live the life they want! On the other hand, Children are from Heaven helps parents guide children toward a better quality of life and healthy relationships through encouragement, clearly described expectations, and positive statements that never shame, order, or demand in unreasonable tones. Children just cannot bear yelling without slipping toward rebellion. They’d truly rather be in your good graces.
A great example of how Gray’s book can help parents to elicit cooperation from their kids: “Ask but do not order.” This translates to avoiding a command such as “Don’t leave that there” by replacing it with a more positive request such as “Let’s now put our things away. Would you please put that away?” Instead of demanding, “Stop talking,” to gently say, “Let’s be quiet and listen to your mother. Please stop talking,” elicits a more enduring and peaceful compliance. Little by little, this style of communication becomes highly effective. Gradually, you discover that you no longer have to ask for good behavior as often; you simply witness it in action and will be praising your amazing children frequently! You find that this sort of gentle guidance works to develop children who begin to think on their own about how to live more peacefully and helpfully without waiting to do what they are told.
John Gray, a very experienced family counselor, happened to become a father and shares examples from the challenges of raising his children. The lovingly effective communication techniques he applies to parenting utilize much of the same psychology found in his bestselling marriage and relationship book, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. In fact, using some of the advice I read in Children are from Heaven proved quite effective in improving communication with my spouse too! There are a few tricks found here that really work well when you have a “honey-do” list and want life-changing results. I am confident that this parenting book can help you to realize the great joys of parental involvement and to enjoy a higher quality relationship with your precious children.
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The Great Lollipop Caper is a perfect book for the whole family. Adults admire Mr. Caper’s acidic earthiness and kids love lollipops that are sweet and tangy. What could go wrong? Dan Krall tells a very funny story of how Mr. Caper decides to get the children to love him instead of Lollipop. But it doesn’t work out quite the way he expects it to and Lollipop must save him. Share this one with your children and you will enjoy it as much as they do, I always read this at my school age story times and we brainstorm first about what a caper might taste like.
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Matt wakes up in a hospital bed in Iraq. He remembers being on patrol, and he remembers an explosion, but he is blurry about what befell Ali, an orphaned Iraqi boy who had befriended him. In the hospital he can’t remember what day of the week it is, forgets words like “trash,” and gets headaches that are a “bolt of pain.” The medical staff tell him he has TBI (a Traumatic Brain Injury). Usually mild cases get better on their own, and he’ll be back with his patrol in a few days. Matt struggles to remember what happened, but at the same time is terrified to recall, in case he remembers the unthinkable – that he purposely shot a child.
Purple Heart is marketed and classified as a teen book as Matt is only eighteen and enlisted straight from high school. His hometown girlfriend writes him letters about school football games and pop quizzes. She even says she is “sooo scared” of a bio pop quiz. This highlights the divergence of their experiences and the disconnect between Matt’s old life and his new life. Purple Heart is not a comfortable book and asks profound questions about war, as one of Matt’s buddies says, “We came over here to help these people and instead we’re killing them.” And Matt thinks, “This is what war is all about. It wasn’t about fighting the enemy. It wasn’t about politics or oil or even about terrorists. It was about your buddies; it was about fighting for the guy next to you. And knowing he was fighting for you.”
Patricia McCormick says, “It isn’t an anti-war book. It isn’t a pro-war book. It’s an attempt to portray how three children ─ two eighteen-year-old Americans and a ten-year-old Iraqi boy ─ have been affected by war.”
Purple Heart asks (perhaps unanswerable) questions about the morality of war and how it changes people. I recommend it for readers of other Young Adult books about war, such as Sunrise over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers.
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This novel in verse reads smoothly like prose but with an economy of words that reveal only enough detail to get you into the moments, thoughts, and emotions of the narrator’s present predicaments. Memoir-like, it is so sincere that I couldn’t imagine it not having come from the author’s true life. The author indeed experienced challenges similar to those of the book’s main character, a teen girl named Lupita living in a Texas border town.
In fact, I read it under the impression that it was a factual memoir and didn’t even realize that I was reading poetic verse, probably because I first encountered the book in e-book format. I skipped performing the rituals of reading a printed book jacket, back cover, and title page, plus flipping pages to determine what the book might have in store for me if I were to invest my time in it. Even if I noticed that the book was written in verse when I checked it out to my e-reader, I had forgotten that detail by the time I began reading, and verse doesn’t necessarily appear as such when displayed digitally. Instantly, I got hooked into the voice and story of Lupita, and I became just as eager as she was to investigate household clues, trying to learn Mami’s secret. Once known, she becomes Mami’s ally and finds herself in a family role requiring maturity beyond her age, overwhelmed with yet responsible for the welfare of her seven younger siblings while Mami and Papi struggle with the crisis.
Reading Under the Mesquite provides an authentic internal view of an ambitious and promising young girl’s family life on the edge of poverty and along the blurred ethnic and physical lines bordering Mexico and Texas, USA. A glossary of Spanish words in the back of the book provides guidance to pronunciation, cultural references, and usage. This novel is highly recommended for adults, teens, and mature younger children interested in the family lives and struggles of Latino Americans.
Check the WRL catalog for Under the Mesquite.
Or check out the ebook.
The Emperor’s Cool Clothes is a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s famous tale but this one stands out as a new classic! First there is the vain emperor who just happens to be a penguin. Then we have the two rogues of the very cool, new store in town, Two Rogues Cool Clothing. The emperor wants to be the coolest dressed emperor so he hires the Rogue brothers to make him some cool clothes. The brothers decide to pull the traditional scam of invisible but really cool clothes. The emperor parades around town and realizes he is in fact naked but what’s an emperor to do but just go with it. The Emperor’s Cool Clothes has the best characters that stay true to their personalities. Lee Harper has brought the famous tale up to date and used polar animals to do it.
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A chance encounter between a British writer and a French antiques dealer leads to an exploration of authenticity in both art and relationships in Iranian director and screenwriter Abbas Kiarostami’s marvelous 2010 film Certified Copy.
James Miller (William Shimell) is a British author who is visiting Tuscany as part of a promotional tour for his latest book, Certified Copy. In his book, Miller argues that, in art, reproductions are just as valid as the original work because it “leads us to the original and in this way certifies its value.” He believes this approach could lead to an understanding of life as well as art.
Shortly after the lecture begins, an antiques dealer (Juliette Binoche) arrives accompanied by her teenage son. Her son is restless and keeps distracting her until she finally decides to leave, but not before giving her number and address to Miller’s translator. Although the dealer disagrees with many of the points Miller makes in his book, she is eager to meet him and has purchased several copies of the book for him to sign.
The next day, Miller visits the dealer at her shop and they spend the afternoon driving through the countryside, visiting museums and debating the importance of authenticity in art. At a local café, Miller steps out to take a call, and the café’s owner mistakes Miller for the dealer’s husband. The dealer doesn’t correct the owner, and tells her that they’ve been married for 15 years. When Miller returns to the café, the dealer tells him the café owner thinks they’re married and at this point the nature of their conversation shifts. Miller and the dealer begin to relate to each other as if they have truly been married for 15 years: they discuss her son as if he is their son, and they begin to share memories and grievances. He even begins conversing with her in French instead of English. The reality of their relationship gradually becomes ambiguous, and the viewer is left to wonder if they really are a couple or simply two people copying the behavior of a long-married couple.
Certified Copy reminded me of director Richard Linklater’s series of films featuring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy: Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight. In Linklater’s films as well as Certified Copy, you’re following the development of a relationship, and all of the action and dialogue serves to move the relationship forward. Unlike the relationship between Jesse (Hawke) and Céline (Delpy) in the Linklater films, I wasn’t sure if I was seeing an authentic relationship unfold or one that was a reproduction of a 15-year marriage, but the ambiguity was quite effective in that it mirrors the philosophy of life and art Miller discusses in his lecture. Juliette Binoche’s character is also somewhat ambiguous; although her profession is discussed at length, her character’s name is never mentioned.
The film is beautifully acted. Shimell is a British opera singer in his first film role and he’s a terrific foil for Binoche, who won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the 1996 film The English Patient. They’re together in nearly every scene, and their chemistry makes the relationship between their characters engaging and convincing.
Playful and thoughtful, Certified Copy is a clever mediation on the nature of art and relationships. The film is in English, French, and Italian with English subtitles.
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Mindy shares this review:
My family discovered this story a few years ago during a road-trip stop at a popular restaurant and gift shop franchise where you can actually rent audiobooks on CD then return them at another location anywhere in the country. It delighted us that this alternative take, or prequel, on the lost boys, Peter Pan, pirates, magic, plus mermaids and a jealous fairy was equally appealing to the males and females, young and old, riding in our car. No one wanted to miss a single word as our car rolled along and it really helped pass the time! We even couldn’t wait to get up the next morning from our hotel beds to hit the road and continue listening!
My kids have since taken up the reading of the complete series of five tales that concluded publication in 2011. This first audiobook is nine hours long. I’d say this is the best road-trip audiobook ever and have recommended it to a lot of grandparents and parents seeking something to please whole carloads.
The book has boundless high-seas adventure, a mystery, and a heroic quest complete with a strong teen female character named Molly plus plenty of swashbuckling danger. Readers will learn the origin of the stardust that enables Peter and his friends to fly, and we get to know characters who feature in the timeless J.M. Barrie story Peter and Wendy. Humorist and novelist Dave Barry is a great storyteller and has ensured that the laughter almost never stops; Ridley Pearson’s skill with fantasy and fast-paced suspense is as adept in this young adult title as in his many books for adults.
Is reading in the summer any different than reading at other times of the year? So far, my summer reading has been a variety of old and new books ranging from fast-paced crime novels to history nonfiction to longer classics that require more attention (e.g. James Joyce’s Ulysses). In thinking about it, this is actually my usual mix of reading any time of year. Maybe it is just the idea of taking more time to read in the summer when the days are long and there is perhaps a summer vacation in store.
A good mystery series is always a welcome summer read. One of my favorite discoveries this summer has been M. J. Trow’s historical crime novels featuring playwright Christopher Marlowe. The series is a delightful blend of spy novel, Marlowe was involved in the shadowy world of Elizabethan espionage working for Sir Francis Walsingham, and mystery.
Trow has a great sense of place, capturing life in the Elizabethan period without overloading the reader with extraneous details. In particular, and of particular appeal to me, is setting of the stories in the world of the Elizabethan theater. As a fan of Edward Marston’s Nicholas Bracewell series, I found much to enjoy in Trow’s rendering of the competition between playwrights and in the daily lives of the actors, including a rather awkward young man named Shakespeare, just up from the country and finding his place in the London theater world.
The plots are well-crafted and the mystery will keep you reading, but it is the characters who seem the most interesting to me. The only hard part is knowing that Marlowe, who is an appealing if roguish and somewhat self-centered fellow, will meet his end in a tavern brawl (or so it is said) only a few years down the road.
If you like well-researched and carefully written historical fiction or are just looking for a good mystery series this summer, give M. J. Trow’s Marlowe series a try.
Check the WRL catalog for Dark Entry
Or try the series in ebook
Lizzie shares this review:
Dead is a Battlefield is the 6th installment in the Marlene Perez’s Dead Is series. In this book, Daisy passes the point of view to Jessica. I found it interesting how Jessica was mentioned in the first five books before becoming the main character.
The plot begins with Jessica entering high school as a freshman. Her best friend, Eva, joins the mix as you learn more about what Jessica has been thinking while we’ve been following Daisy. As the plot continues you learn more about the new characters that belong to her generation.
The character’s personalities are laid out right in front of us from page 1. Jessica is characterized as the popular girl, but after reading a little more, you see her quirks. All together the characters have general personalities, but the author added little differences.
The setting is a small town named Nightshade. The town is located in the state of California, which gives it a beach-y feel. Not only is the beach theme great, but Slim’s Diner is still included in the story. Slim’s is a classic diner with it’s own invisible man!
Since Jessica is only just entering high school, one of the themes seems to be trying to fit in. Jessica was the most popular girl in her middle school, so she’s unsure what her place is in her new school.
The only problem with this book and series is that the story moves too fast. The reader could get lost and confused if the page isn’t reread sometimes.
I would give this book 4 stars. The characters are given great personalities along with interesting backgrounds. The plot drags the reader in from start to finish. The setting fits the story. Altogether, this book is a great read.
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I love classic stories retold by the supposedly evil character! In Seriously, Cinderella Is So Annoying, the wicked stepmother gets her chance to tell what really happens. All the poor woman wants to do is get married and live happily ever after. But after the wedding, the new hubby leaves her with a dirty house and Cinderella. According to the stepmother, all Cinderella does, night and day, is talk, talk, talk. The house is a wreck and Cinderella talks to birds. The meals need cooking and Cinderella talks to squirrels. She tells stories about everything! Trisha Speed Shaskan does a great job with this book. It’s one that stays on my story time shelf.
Check the WRL catalog for Seriously, Cinderella is so Annoying.
On March 30, 1938, two women left their hotel in El Paso, Texas and drove out of town towards Dallas. Hazel Frome and her beautiful 23-year-old daughter Nancy were wealthy socialites from Berkeley, California on a road trip east to visit relatives. The following afternoon, their brand new Packard automobile was found abandoned by the side of the road.
Three days later, the women themselves were located. They were face down in a sandy culvert 60 miles from where their car had been found. They’d been shot in the back of the head execution style, and both showed signs of torture. The investigation into this unusual murder case is detailed in a terrific new True Crime book, Fetch the Devil: The Sierra Diablo Murders and Nazi Espionage in America by Clint Richmond.
Leading the criminal investigation was Chris Fox, the Sheriff of El Paso County. Sheriff Fox was confronted with a puzzling case rife with anomalies. The prevailing theory of a simple robbery gone bad, didn’t mesh with the fact that the women had been held and tortured for two days and expensive diamond jewelry was left behind on the bodies.
It was also strange that Hazel’s husband Weston Frome, upon being notified about the abandoned car, insisted that his wife and daughter had been kidnapped and murdered before there was any evidence that such a crime had occurred. He only reluctantly cooperated with the police during the investigation.
But perhaps the strangest facet of the case involved the ammunition used in the murders. In the middle of America’s Chihuahuan Desert, two society women had been killed with a specialized type of bullet made only in Germany for the specific use of high ranking members of the Nazi party.
Beset by contradictory witness accounts, jurisdictional in-fighting among the various investigative agencies, and stonewalling superiors in the government, Sheriff Fox pressed on, and the book becomes a real page-turner as he collects evidence and sorts through leads that hint at the involvement of some European career criminals and a cabal of international spies.
The author, Clint Richmond, does a fine job in relating this interesting bit of criminal history in a book that is clearly written, fast-paced and crowded with colorful characters. I would recommend it for anyone interested in True Crime or tales of espionage.
Check the WRL catalog for Fetch the Devil
Richard Leroy, a wine-maker, takes Etienne through the whole one-year process of creating a good wine from his vineyard in the Loire Valley region of France. Etienne learns first-hand about the fine art of pruning the vines, selecting the right kind of barrels, using the right kind and amount of natural fertilizers, and knowing which grapes to pick – and not pick — at harvest time.
Etienne gets to experience first hand the hard work that goes into making a wine as sweat is in ample supply on these pages. They are visited by an assistant of Robert Parker, the famous American wine critic and taster, who makes the long trip to France to sample several of Richard’s wines.
Etienne introduces Richard to the world of the graphic novel, a subject with which Richard is completely unfamiliar. They start by visiting Etienne’s publisher, Futuropolis, and Richard gets to see the whole process of how a graphic novel is produced. Richard watches Etienne finish making the first proofs of the novel and is taken aback by how much paper is used to get these proofs. Richard also meets and interacts with the many people involved in getting the book finished and shipped.
They have the most fun (as does the reader) when they make special trips to enhance their learning of and appreciation for their very different vocations. Richard takes Etienne on a trip to visit a vineyard in Corsica and on trips to several wine exhibitions, including one in Angers that features mostly “biodynamic” or organic wines from all over France. Etienne takes Richard to several comic book festivals and they visit several well-known graphic novelists, including Marc-Antoine Mathieu and Jean-Pierre Gibrat. It was refreshing to see how upfront and honest Richard is about his opinions, how he shares with them that he does not like many of their novels. The graphic novelists are fine with that; they agree that their graphic novels, like a type of wine, are not meant for everybody.
In the end, both of these men find that they share many common values about their work and the products that they make. They are both passionate about what they do, and both men have a hands-on approach so as to control the quality of their products. They both want their products to be enjoyed by people, “something to gather around, a link between people.”
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, my first graphic novel . The black and white illustrations of Etienne Davodeau are excellent and really helped me understand and appreciate the steps that go into making both wine and graphic novels. This graphic novel has won several awards, including Gourmand Magazine Best US wine book translation and Slate Cartoonist Studio Award nominee. It is unfortunate that this is his only graphic novel that has been translated into English.
Check the WRL catalog for The Initiates
Lily shares this review:
This is the 3rd book of the Books of Bayern series.
Razo has been underestimated his whole life because of his height and seemingly careless personality. Even he believed that all he was really good for was giving people a good laugh. That is, until burnt corpses start showing up, implying that the military company he is in has a fire witch in their midst. The Captain of the Guard notices that Razo has an uncanny ability of observance and employs him as a spy.
My personal favorite of Hale’s Books of Bayern, River Secrets is an epic tale full of mystery, adventure, humor, and romance.
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Horace and Glenda Pork-Fowler are off on an exciting free weekend at Eatum Hall! As they approach the hall through the forest, they are still clueless as to why they have been invited. Dr. Hunter is nowhere to be seen and the mystery of the weekend grows. But look very closely at the illustrations because they tell the real story of the weekend. Horace and Glenda have a grand time and leave well rested and still clueless but what has happened to Dr. Hunter? His friends are about to find out! The Mystery of Eatum Hall by John Kelly and Cathy Tincknell is so much fun and it stays on my story time shelf. I use it with school age children and it’s always great.
Check the WRL catalog for The Mystery of Eatum Hall.
In this young adult novel, the powerful head of a wealthy family has spent two generations playing each of his three daughters off the others – who loves me the most? Which of you is my favorite… today? Who will inherit my “kingdom”? The Boston house? Grandmother’s pearl necklace?
Cady Sinclair Eastman is the granddaughter. She spends every summer on her family’s private island, where her mother and aunts each have a house, where she and her cousins swim and boat and have clam bakes and bonfires to their heart’s content. It sounds like heaven, but there are fault lines running through all the family relationships, and Cady’s closest cousins, who call themselves “the Liars,” get tired of being pawns in the Sinclair family mind games. And for the past few summers, their close-knit group has been joined by Gat Patil, handsome and ambitious, who enters the closed, privileged world of the Sinclair family island like a catalyst for disaster. Or first love.
Cady has no memory of what happened to her two summers ago. An accident has left her with crippling migraines, and everyone in her family is acting even weirder and more dysfunctional than usual. Every time she asks—what did happen before she was found, shivering and amnesiac, on the beach?—she forgets the answer. This summer, her seventeenth, she’s going to find out the truth.
Foreboding hangs over every page of this story as bits and pieces of Cady’s fifteenth summer resurface—family squabbles, way too much alcohol, a confusing relationship with Gat—is their connection just a summer fling or something more? Punctuating contemporary suspense with passages of bloody fairy-tale retellings, author E. Lockhart presents a chilling novel very different from her previous titles. With short chapters and prose that’s almost free verse, this is a quick, summer page turner that touches very lightly on the larger issues of class and race prejudice that it raises. What did Cady do last summer? Teens will be flying through the pages to get to the awful answer.
For a similar mix of modern-day drama and prose laden with metaphor, try Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls; or try Adele Griffin’s Tighter for another suspenseful story of privileged, troubled teenagers in which nothing is exactly what it seems.
Check the WRL catalog for We Were Liars.
Milo the Magnificent was not magnificent at all. In fact, his whole magic show was a disaster. Milo needed to clean up his act! On his quest for a better trick, Milo meets a talented and flexible bear who might just help him go from bad to brilliant!
I’ve read this book aloud at least a dozen times and it never gets old! Each time, my group is giggling and laughing right up to the very end. In typical Jon Agee fashion, this story is hilariously written with its clever and quick witted text and the illustrations are expressive and filled with subtle humor. A perfect book for school aged children in grades K-3.
Check the WRL catalog for Milo’s Hat Trick.
Laura shares this review:
If there are graphic novel fans out there who really like Scott Pilgrim but would prefer a little less plot and a lot more fighting and jokes, this book was made for you. Sharknife, Stage First is a frenetic, fun, and sassy volume filled with game references, youth culture, eggroll-seeking monsters, and a fortune-cookie powered superhero. Any pretense of seriousness is immediately put to rest on the first page when a character breaks the fourth wall to introduce herself and the town she lives in.
Chieko Momuza is a self-described “spazz-banana living in a cyclone of hyper.” Her father Raymond owns a Chinese restaurant that had the misfortune of becoming THE place to be in town. Why is this unfortunate? Because formerly the hottest spot in town was a smoke shop owned by a man named Ombra. Occupation: gangster. Like any respectable bad guy, Ombra can’t pass up the opportunity for a revenge plot. In the spirit of the best James Bond villains, his plan is ridiculous, obsessive, and bizarre: he plants mechanical monsters into the walls of the restaurant that come alive when they smell food.
Fortunately, the Momuzas have a bus boy, Ceasar (sic), who turns into a powerful being named Sharknife when he consumes one of Chieko’s fortune cookies. He fights off the bad guys and Ombra sends more, better ones. That’s it, the whole of the plot. This is a fun story, folks, not a deep one. These fights, which take up most of the space in the volume, are what you are paying the price of admission for. Interspersed in the action are sly gaming homages such as health bars, power ups, and key combinations for special attacks.
The lettering for the sound effects reverberates throughout the art with each crash and hit performing the sound for you through movement and line energy. Characters even step (or are thrown) in front of the sounds, and the text occasionally layers on top of several panels, fully integrating into the noisy landscape.
This is certainly a fast read with the only disappointment coming at the end of the book when you run out of pages. Fortunately there is also another volume to consume.
Recommended for fans of Scott Pilgrim and other hyper-but-clever teen literature. Not recommended for anyone who would grit their teeth at hearing someone say “oh noes!”
Search the WRL catalog for Sharknife.
There is joy in Gotham! After decades of legal wrangling, the 1966 Batman TV show is finally coming to home video in November. Starring Adam West and Burt Ward as the Dynamic Duo, the series achieved pop-culture immortality thanks to its campy style and viral catchphrases, which need not be repeated here.
Confession: Adam West was my first Batman. I still love the show, but the parody wears thin, and Batman is a Batusi-dancing buffoon. For a more artistic and complex Batman experience on the small screen, I recommend that you turn your eyes and ears to Batman, The Animated Series, which aired on Fox in the 1990s.
The Animated Series was created by actual comics artists and writers, while the live-action series was not. It is stunning to look at. Don’t take your eyes off the screen, because you are bound to miss something beautiful. The 40s noir atmosphere is enhanced by the use of black backgrounds, against which Batman’s eyes are nothing more than white slits. Lead artist Bruce Timm’s characters are drawn with stark angularity: Batman’s jaw is literally square.
Does the Joker’s voice sound familiar? It is Mark Hamill, going against his heroic Luke Skywalker type. Other members of the stellar cast include Kevin Conroy as Batman, Bob Hastings as Commissioner Gordon, Efram Zimbalist, Jr., as Alfred Pennyworth, and Adrienne Barbeau as Catwoman. Adam West himself was invited on the show to play an aging superhero in the episode, “Beware the Gray Ghost.”
The storytelling is just as strong. The characters, especially the villains, are developed as real people who talk, feel and act like adults. This was not at all the norm for a kids’ cartoon show, which is how Batman was marketed. Take the Emmy-winning episode “Heart of Ice,” written by Paul Dini. Underneath his refrigerated suit, the seemingly emotionless villain, Mr. Freeze, is a grieving husband bent on vengeance. Woven into this dramatic story is a humorous and clever side plot: After being blasted by Mr. Freeze’s ice gun, Batman catches a cold, which Alfred treats with chicken soup… and if I told you what happened to the soup I would spoil the joke, so I won’t.
These episodes will keep everyone in your family happy for 22 minutes. Parents, never fear: the Bureau of Broadcast Standards scoured every scene to make sure it was suitable for children. You can read some of the creative team’s comments about the censors in the beautiful companion book to the series, Batman Animated. For example, “Censor wants us to figure out someplace for Catwoman to land other than on her face or breasts.” Or “We have to make it clear… that Batman’s kneeing the Walrus in the stomach.”
Check the WRL catalog for Batman, The Animated Series
This book starts off with the origin story of the feline felon. Early comics had her as a bored socialite who liked the taste of danger in stealing jewelry, while later comics expanded her background to mousy, expendable secretary or avenging prostitute. In all scenarios she turns to a life of crime, and despite Batman’s efforts she will not reform.
Chapters then address her costumes (tight), tools of the trade (poisoned perfume and fabulous whip, to name a few), and an ongoing flirtation with Batman. Each chapter includes frames from comics, tv shows, or movies to help illustrate the point. My favorite part of the book is the interspersed comics that show the feline arch-villain as she appeared in the 1940s through early 2000s. The book even ends with a Bob Kane “Batman with Robin” adventure featuring Catwoman.
This Catwoman book is more overview than in-depth study. It’s a purr-fectly delightful read. But Catwoman fans will have to go to another source for information about how the character was fully developed and which comic artist contributed what feature to the story.
Check the WRL catalog for Catwoman.