The novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is about a freshman boy who lives on an Indian reservation. His family is very poor. His best friend is the rez bully, but he is very nice to the boy named Junior. Junior goes to a poor school on the reservation where there are not many students that ever do anything with their lives. However, Junior has promise and he wants to do something with his life and get off the reservation and find hope. After an interesting conversation with a teacher on the reservation, Junior decides to go to a school off the reservation where he thinks he will find hope and through a series of ups and downs this novel does a wonderful job of telling the story of Junior’s freshman year.
Check the WRL catalog for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Barry has written about Wendell Berry and the Port William Membership in earlier posts, and while I’m usually reluctant to encroach on another WRL blogger’s turf, in this case I must. Full kudos to Barry for introducing me to Berry.
Watch with Me is a collection of short stories centering on Ptolemy “Tol” Proudfoot, a reticent man proud of his farming skill, but without the need to expand beyond the beautiful and successful farm he can run by himself. The last leaf of his family tree, he doesn’t have the joyfully rambunctious persona that Port William remembers of the Proudfoots (Proudfeet?), but he does have deep feelings whose few expressions become affectionate stories shared among his neighbors. His late-to-wed wife, Miss Minnie, is the pole star of his life, and Berry’s descriptions of their wagon rides together are simple and affecting. Tol has a mischievous side that emerges in one particularly funny tale of deadpan revenge. But the story that gives the collection its name is a tension-filled hike through the mountains and valleys around Port William as Tol and several neighbors try to keep an emotionally distraught man from harming himself. The fact that Thacker “Nightlife” Hemple is eating and quenching his thirst while the followers go without adds a measure of humor, but Berry sustains the suspense.
Berry’s descriptions of Tol—how his clothes are eternally rumpled no matter how well Miss Minnie cares for them, the hair that pokes out in all directions regardless of his grooming, his quiet strength, his steadfastness—are accomplished in brief passages that nonetheless give the reader a lasting impression of Tol. Miss Minnie is better known to us by her actions than her physical presence, so I always thought of a younger Aunt Bee when I read about her.
The narrator relates these tales with an intimacy that pulls the readers in and makes them part of the Port William community, even if only for a short time. The outside world intrudes very little, but Tol and Miss Minnie use their innate grace to recover when it does. Those incidents only serve to remind us that people who are regarded as unsophisticated hayseeds really do have a place in this world, even if it is shrinking.
Check the WRL catalog for Watch With Me.
Read Amy Beth Bloom’s first book for young readers! Little Sweet Potato is the story about an endearing, little sweet potato that gets lost and learns to appreciate others and himself! When he gets lost, he needs to search for a new patch. However, he realizes that not all vegetables and flowers are so nice. However, he keeps his spirits up, and he continues to look for a new patch. School-aged children are sure to enjoy reading about Little Sweet Potato’s happy ending. Read Little Sweet Potato in order to find out how he finds his new home and new friends.
Additionally, one cannot help but smile at the bright, colorful illustrations by Noah Z. Jones. Jones considers himself an author, illustrator, and animator. Not only are the colors visually appealing, but he also does a great job evoking the expressions conveyed in this children’s book.
Check the WRL catalog for Little Sweet Potato.
Bunny days, written and illustrated by Tao Nyeu, is the tale of 6 endearing bunnies who run into mishaps in each of the stories. Luckily their neighbor, the bear, is always willing to help the bunnies. One of the unique features of this book is that Nyeu breaks the book up into three separate stories. Therefore, this is perfect for toddlers and preschoolers who prefer shorter stories as well as school aged children who prefer longer books. Read Bunny Days to find out what trouble these bunnies get into and how bear helps!
Additionally, Nyeu creates gorgeous illustrations using water-based ink. She uses mainly blues, oranges, browns, and greens in her illustrations. In her first book, Wonder Bear, her illustrations won the Founder’s Award from the Society of Illustrators. Using a similar type of illustration in Bunny Days, her award is one testament of her artistic ability.
Check the WRL catalog for Bunny Days.
In a world filled with dozens of planets to inhabit, hover trays, and stars as far as the eye can see, the Icarus, an enormous spaceship zooming through hyperspace, carries the most lavish and privileged people in the galaxy. Among those tens of thousands of passengers is Lilac LaRoux, the red-haired daughter of the wealthiest man in the universe, and Tarver Merendsen, a war hero who feels quite out of place on the Icarus. As soon as Tarver picks up Lilac’s glove, they click like a button.
After Lilac is reminded by her cousin, Anna, that Tarver and Lilac could never be involved romantically due to his lack of money, the ship vibrates with a jolt. A quick announcement informs everyone to immediately make their way to an emergency pod.
After Lilac’s tumble over a railing, Lilac and Tarver end up inside a crew’s pod as the ship is sucked into a planet’s gravitational pull. Fortunately, Lilac manages to detach their pod from the ship, and they are forced to watch as the Icarus crumbles and falls.
As the pair make their journey across the planet, they seem to be the only survivors, so they work together to trek across the planet to find help. However, it seems like Tarver and Lilac aren’t alone on the planet, and there is mystery lurking around every corner. But they first must overcome their disdain for each other to survive on a mysterious, perilous planet.
I absolutely loved this book. The characters were phenomenal, the setting was beautiful, and the plot was completely unexpected with a major twist at the end. I couldn’t put this book down, and now I’m impatiently waiting for the sequel!
If you are a fan of sci-fi, you absolutely must pick up this book. It incorporates sci-fi, romantic, and a bit of supernatural elements into one to create a fantastic novel!
Read These Broken Stars to see if Tarver and Lilac can make it over rolling plains, jagged mountains, and mounds of debris to reach their final goal: rescue.
Check the WRL catalog for These Broken Stars
Connie Willis is a favorite of the staff here at Williamsburg Library. She combines interesting science fiction scenarios with literary sensibilities. Her characters are quirky but believable, and she has an eye for the odd bit of detail that helps a story rise above cliché. Her pace isn’t for readers that need one bit of action after another, but for those who like a steady, suspense-building progression. She mixes humor and drama well.
That’s especially true in Doomsday Book, a novel that keeps the reader in suspense about the outcome of its central epidemic-and-time-travel adventure while inducing giggles at odd bits about demanding American bell ringers, a lusty student and his overbearing mother, or an intrepid young teen navigating difficult times with a strange, fearless grace. Then it stops you in your tracks and wallops you with an emotional finish that underlines the great heartbreak that an epidemic can produce.
The story concerns Kivrin, a young Oxford history undergraduate in an alternate near future where limited forms of time travel are possible. Kivrin’s desire to visit the Middle Ages is somewhat exploited by a don who takes too little care with the lives of time travelers. So as she makes her voyage back in time, it’s against the protests and warnings of Dunworthy, a more careful man who is the story’s other narrator. Dunworthy prepares Kivrin as best he can, but as the time machine is deployed, apparently successfully, he can’t escape feelings of dread. As a Christmas-time epidemic descends on Oxford, with the time machine operator one of its first victims, and Kivrin’s location in time cannot be confirmed, his fears grow.
The story alternates between Kivrin’s narration in the past and Dunworthy’s efforts to bring her back in the present. Epidemics figure prominently in both story lines. I won’t say more than that to avoid spoilers, but its a well-plotted story with just enough humorous detail to add variety. The historical detail is just about perfect, and it captures an aspect of history seldom addressed in books like this: everyday struggles of regular people, with the currents of war, politics, and violence present, but in the background, not the foreground.
Check the WRL catalog for Doomsday Book
I’ve become accustomed to a certain kind of contemporary story about high school and college sports. It involves programs where wealthy donors court spoiled players and break school and NCAA rules with impunity, where a jaded professional attitude infects even young players and every resource is put into creating stars. There are good and bad examples of this story, but it’s getting a bit familiar. In the end, I feel a little jaded after reading about another collection of athletes with disproportionately high opinions of themselves.
Muck City isn’t like those stories. It’s about Glades Central High School and a few other neighboring schools around Belle Glade, Florida, a place that is legendary for the athletes it produces on a regular basis (28 NFL players to date), but where there is no money to pour into the team. Belle Glade is a broken sugar town, a place where poverty, drugs, AIDS, violence, broken families, and unemployment are the rule, not the exception. Almost none of the players on the team have two-parent families. While Glades Central often wins or compete for state championships, its players are often in ragtag uniforms, drinking pickle juice on the sideline where other teams drink Gatorade, still playing both ways because the team can’t afford to travel a big squad.
Yes, the recruiters are after the Belle Glade kids, but Mealer’s book shows a squad driven as much by desperation as by fame. Football will be the only way out for most of these kids. Everyone in the community seems to have an opinion about how the team should be run, not just because they are sports-obsessed, but because the team is one of the few bright spots in a bleak place.
Mealer was given good access to the team and he uses it to good advantage, but focuses on half a dozen main characters. Quarterback Mario Rowley is a minor talent hiding major injuries, but through sheer force of will he competes for a college scholarship and to ease the memory of his dead parents. Jonteria Williams is a cheerleader trying to do something nobody at Glades Central does, make a better future through academics instead of football. Other players rise to the occasion, surprising their coaches and themselves, while at least one major talent falls prey to too much attention and not enough work ethic. Coach Jessie Hester, a former NFL player with his own demons, is trying to keep the team together while fending off a thousand second guesses and pressure to win at all cost.
And while other sports stories can turn into repetitive accounts of one game after another, leading inexorably to the big game that you know from the start the team will win, Mealer’s book is more about life, about what sports can solve and what they cannot solve. About the many tragedies that can befall those who live in the world’s forgotten places and the hard-won triumphs that occasionally can be scratched out. Yes, there are plenty of game accounts, but the real game here is life. That’s what makes Muck City a book not just for football fans, but for anyone who cares about the human drama.
Check the WRL catalog for Muck City
If you like writers as diverse as Joseph Heller, Neal Stephenson, Douglas Adams, Kurt Vonnegut, or Charles Dickens, you’ll want to run to the novels of John le Carre’s son, Nick Harkaway. I can get away with that much name dropping in one sentence because Harkaway is that good.
His first novel, The Gone-Away World, takes place in a near future after some kind of event has left only a narrow band of land habitable, protected by the mysterious chemicals from a pipeline. In Harkaway’s tour de force first chapter, we discover that this pipeline has been breached and the refinery that fills it is aflame. A misfit crew of mercenaries, including the unnamed narrator and his lifelong friend Gonzo Lubitsch, is asked by a powerful bureaucrat to fix the problem.
After that, the story alternates between exploring the narrator’s adventures in the present and the past. Slowly, we discover the twisty story of how the world came to an end, how the narrator was rendered unreal, and how he attempts to recover his life. This plot is impossible to condense, but the astonishing thing is that although this story is halfway in fantasy, halfway in reality, half serious and half parody, and loaded with characters like pirates, ninjas, and mimes, in the end it all makes a perfectly bizarre kind of sense. There are plot twists you won’t see coming in a million years, enough eccentrics to populate a small country, and enough madcap but spot-on social observations to make every page an adventure.
This is a dense read. Expect a challenge. But whether you enjoy science fiction, literary fiction, or humor, I think you’ll find it truly rewarding, a book that’s worth the effort for vivid style, biting social commentary, audacious metaphors, and imaginative world building. Don’t expect a standard post-apocalyptic dystopia, expect a weird, bumpy ride through a surreal landscape. Strap in and enjoy!
Check the WRL catalog for The Gone-Away World
Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.
I was a little late jumping on the bandwagon of The Fault in Our Stars. I’m usually not one to read what is popular, but rather what appeals to me content-wise. There was about a 10% chance that I would read a book about cancer, and less so one about kids with cancer. As many people have been touched by the hands of cancer, it still is a difficult subject to think about and talk about, let alone read about.
This was my second venture into listening to audiobooks, as I felt a greater sense of story while listening to Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater than the first time I read it. So I felt that I should try The Fault in Our Stars in audio book format, as I could multi-task while listening.
However, John Green’s words had other plans for me.
The Fault in Our Stars was engaging and witty, sharp-tongued and unique. I adored the way Augustus called her “Hazel Grace” instead of just “Hazel.” I was surprised with the sincerity that John Green wrote Hazel’s character, and the honesty of Augustus’s life and metaphors. There was a true appreciation of young adults in this novel that is hard to find, and John Green does it perfectly. He wrote two extremely smart teenagers that were realistic and three-dimensional. Young adults are the intellectuals of our generation. They feel everything and say what they mean with earnestness. This book tore at my emotions, something books rarely do for me, and I do think that this was enhanced by the wonderful performance given by narrator Kate Rudd.
This was the very first book I’ve read/listened to by John Green, and I can’t be more excited for the movie version of The Fault in Our Stars to be released in June 2014.
Check the WRL catalog for The Fault in Our Stars
Or check out the audiobook
Squid and Octopus: Friends for Always is a unique children’s book written and illustrated by Tao Nyeu. Squid and Octopus are friends for always! Even when the pair disagrees about whether they should wear mittens or socks on chilly days or they are feeling glum, they always cheer each other up. Nyeu writes about the friendship of Squid and Octopus as four short stories in one book. This makes it a great book to break up into short segments or to read all the stories at once. Given the structure of this book, it makes it a fine book for preschoolers and school-aged children.
Not only does Nyeu write four stories to celebrate Squid and Octopus’ friendship, but she also does beautiful, colorful illustrations with water-based ink and colored pencil that capture the Squid and Octopus’ endearing nature.
Read Squid and Octopus: Friends for Always to discover the tales of Squid and Octopus! You are sure to fall in love with this duo, too.
Check the WRL catalog for Squid and Octopus: Friends for Always.
James Garfield is an American president most don’t know more about than that he fell victim to an assassin. That’s a shame, because unlike so many of our presidents, whose lives stand up poorly to scrutiny, Garfield was a truly admirable man. If you read Candice Millard’s book Destiny of the Republic: a Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President, you’re guaranteed to finish with a much better knowledge of a great American and the times in which he lived.
The book begins at the Republican convention of 1880, and reading about it will make readers understand how completely the political process has changed. Garfield is there to give the nominating speech for his fellow Ohio Senator John Sherman, the major competitor to the machine-backed Ulysses Grant. His speech is so good, that when the convention is deadlocked between the other two candidates, the little known Garfield sneaks onto a few ballots as a compromise choice. With each ballot, his support grows, until despite Garfield’s stunned objection, he finds himself the Republican nominee for President. Back then it was considered distasteful to stump for oneself much, so Garfield returned to his Ohio farm for the duration of the election, where he indulged his love of books, learning, farming, and family while others campaigned on his behalf.
Soon Garfield was President, but not without enemies. The powerful Roscoe Conkling, whose candidate Grant had been beaten by Garfield wanted someone his political machine could control. He even managed to get his stooge, Chester Arthur, a man with no real qualifications, on the ballot as Garfield’s VP. More dangerous to Garfield was the deranged Charles Guiteau, a failed commune dweller, lawyer, street preacher and writer, who was convinced that his support of Garfield during the election entitled him to an important appointment. When that wasn’t forthcoming, Guiteau started hearing voices that told him to shoot Garfield, and even imagined that he would be made a hero after he did it.
The book isn’t just about Garfield. It’s just as much about the medical practices of the time, and the lack of support for antiseptic techniques that killed Garfield more slowly and surely than Guiteau’s bullet. It’s about Alexander Graham Bell and his feverish attempt to create an invention that would locate the bullet in Garfield’s body exactly. It’s about the now hard-to-fathom practices that allowed a US President to travel without accompaniment or much attention in public. The pages are full of fascinating minor characters and detail that brings this little known period of history to vivid life.
Pair this with Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation, another look at the unknown details of presidential assassination or Millard’s other great work of popular history, River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey.
Check the WRL catalog for Destiny of the Republic
What if you built a machine that could receive messages from the future? What messages would you like to receive? Probably your first answer would be winning lottery numbers. But what if, along with the winning numbers, you also received an SOS? Tane and Rebecca receive just such a message, and they sent it to themselves. Something horrific is about to happen to their New Zealand home, and they must decipher their own messages to stop it. They follow the directions they receive to the best of their ability, but they still don’t know exactly what they’re up against. Early attempts to carry out their instructions don’t go exactly as planned, and when the threat does become clear, it might be too late.
A mist has begun moving South through New Zealand. At first, it is centered mostly over farmland, wilderness, and uninhabited land. The first reports from populated areas indicate that it rolled in without warning and then began to thicken. It moves at no consistent rate of speed and moves against the wind. The transmissions end there, and when backup is sent in, they are also never heard from again. Everyone who encounters the mist seems to simply disappear. If this is the danger Tane and Rebecca warned themselves of, how will they ever be able to stop it?
Falkner has written a suspenseful science fiction horror story that kept me turning the pages. While the reasoning behind the creation of the mist seems a bit heavy handed, I suppose that there had to be some sort of back-story for the “villain” of the piece. I won’t give it away, but it works as well as any for this type of sci-fi thriller.
Check the WRL catalog for The Tomorrow Code
Dinosaurs as pets?! Yessiree, the little boy in Natasha Wing’s How to Raise a Dinosaur convinces you that dinosaurs make great pets. In this fun to read children’s book, you can learn how to pick out the right size dinosaur and all the important things you need to take care of a dinosaur. For example, did you know that dinosaurs need to eat 10 times a day, and they need to be walked 5 times a day?
Find out what else you need to know in order to take care of a dinosaur by reading How to Raise a Dinosaur!
Preschoolers and school-aged children will love this interactive book as the author has included flaps for the children to lift. Illustrator Pablo Bernasconi does an incredible job with his colorful illustrations that are sure to keep children entertained and laughing.
Check the WRL catalog for How to Raise a Dinosaur.
I’m the kind of hardcore theater devotee that reads the scripts of plays as pleasure reading. Sure, I’d rather see a good production, but given the economics of modern theater, if you don’t live in a large city where there is enough demand that theater companies can draw an audience with some new or lesser-known plays, you most likely won’t get to see many of these shows on stage.
Besides, plays make for good reading. The time limits of the stage mean that a play is a quick read, something one can squeeze into a day if need be. I enjoy playing the game of imagining which of my favorite actors would be good in the roles as I read them. Even more fun, reading a play is an invitation to project yourself into the role of actor, even if you’d never go near a stage in real life. Plays are full of cracking good dialogue, meaty conflict, and even the heavy dramas often contain real belly laughs.
So it is with Seminar, a play headlined first by Alan Rickman then by Jeff Goldblum a couple of years ago on Broadway. Four aspiring young writers have pooled their money to schedule a private seminar from a literary icon, an event held at one of their homes. In her preface, playwright Theresa Rebeck notes that part of her pleasure in writing this play was to create a chance for an older actor take some younger actors to school. The writer Leonard is sour, used up, and manipulative, but one can’t help but stifle a nasty laugh at the way he finds the vanities and insecurities of the pretentious students and dissects them after reading a few sentences of their writing. He doesn’t have their best interests in mind and uses them in every way imaginable, but in the end, each learns something valuable from the contact.
If you’ve ever shaken your head at some of the blowhards that seem to populate the world of modern literary fiction, I think you’ll enjoy the way that Leonard puts a pin in the pomp of these four young writers while facing his own demons. Give this Seminar a look.
Check the WRL catalog for Seminar
I enjoy the work of children’s book author and illustrator Chris Van Allsburg, particularly his 1984 book The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. This is not your average children’s picture book; instead, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick is a series of 14 exquisitely detailed, black and white illustrations, each accompanied by an enigmatic title and caption. Alternately whimsical and haunting, the illustrations in this book inspired me (and countless other readers) to invent stories to explain what was going on in the pictures. Recently, I had the opportunity to revisit a cherished part of my childhood by reading The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, an illustrated short story collection in which 14 authors, including Stephen King and his wife Tabitha King, Sherman Alexie, Lois Lowry, Gregory Maguire, and Cory Doctorow, have contributed stories inspired by the illustrations in The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.
All of the stories are original to the collection with the exception of Stephen King’s “The House on Maple Street,” which originally appeared in his 1993 book Nightmares & Dreamscapes. The stories themselves are not linked by any recurring characters or situations, so readers shouldn’t feel that the stories need to be read in any specific order. Like Van Allsburg’s illustrations, each story has its own unique tone and style; some are dark, like Jules Feiffer’s “Uninvited Guests,” while others, such as Louis Sachar’s “Captain Tory,” are sweet and poignant.
One of my favorite stories in the collection was M.T. Anderson’s “Just Desert,” the tale of a boy named Alex who, on the eve of his 10th birthday, discovers that nothing in his world is as it appears. I felt the authors did a fine job of capturing the surreal atmosphere found in Van Allsburg’s illustrations. Lemony Snicket’s introduction is also a real hoot.
The Chronicles of Harris Burdick is a good, quick read that should appeal to readers who grew up intrigued by The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.
Check the WRL catalog for The Chronicles of Harris Burdick
Check the WRL catalog for The Mysteries of Harris Burdick
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer is as heart-wrenching as you’d expect from a book about a deadly disease, but it is also a majestically hopeful story because of its descriptions of the great strides in treatment. Practicing oncologist and researcher, Siddhartha Mukherjee, covers the vast sweeping history of cancer and its treatment, while focusing on a huge range of real people who played a role in cancer’s study, research and burgeoning cures. He always comes back to real individuals with cancer whom he has treated or studied and how their own struggles with their own disease are impacted by improvements in treatment. This is definitely a book about a disease but Siddhartha Mukherjee comes across as a deeply humane man writing a deeply humane book.
The earliest mention of cancer that the book talks about is a quote from scroll written by the Ancient Egyptian physician Imhotep over 4000 thousand years ago. The scroll gives a perfect description of breast cancer, but unfortunately for breast cancer sufferers from that time up until recently Imhotep concluded that there was nothing that could be done to help. Two centuries ago the standard treatment became a mastectomy without an anesthetic which is horrible to even contemplate. Today a range of options including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation mean a much higher survival rate.
Siddhartha Mukherjee points out that cancer is actually more than one disease and survival rates for some forms of the disease have improved rapidly, while others haven’t changed much. One joyful and astonishing story is the treatment of some common forms of childhood leukemia which went from a 5-year survival rate of less than 10% in the 1960s to a 5-year survival rate of over 90% today.
The Emperor of All Maladies is very readable and extremely compelling. It won the Pulitzer Prize for non fiction in 2011. Unless you are an oncologist be prepared to learn a lot from this 500-page epic of human ingenuity in overcoming a horrible disease that has caused untold suffering. I learned some astonishing facts, for instance that a chemical similar to mustard gas, the World War I trench horror, is used in chemotherapy.
As you’d expect from a reliable scientific book, The Emperor of All Maladies includes extensive notes with references, a glossary and an index. It also has some black and white photographs and drawings of notable people, events and procedures in the fight against cancer. The Emperor of All Maladies is a good choice if you like Oliver Sacks for his deep compassion for the people he treats and his profound knowledge of his area of expertise.
Check the WRL catalog for The Emperor of All Maladies.
“Hi, Pizza Man!” by Virginia Walter, with illustrations by Ponder Goembel, was inarguably the biggest hit of the pizza-themed toddler storytime I led last spring. My listeners loved the story’s humor and frequent opportunities for audience participation. Since then, I have read this book to a variety of groups, and it has never let me down. At the beginning of the story, young Vivian and her mother are waiting for a pizza to be delivered to their house. Every page spread in the book features a view of the same room in Vivian’s house, with her front door (sometimes closed, sometimes open) always appearing on the right-hand page. To pass the time while they wait, Vivian’s mother asks her what she’ll say when the doorbell rings and she opens the door. The girl’s answer is, “Hi, Pizza Man!” These words are accompanied by a picture of a man standing in the open doorway, holding a pizza box. On the next page, the door is closed again, and Vivian’s mother asks, “What if it’s not a pizza man? What if it’s a pizza woman? Then what will you say?” The answer, of course, is “Hi, Pizza Woman!” and is accompanied by an illustration of an elegant woman delivering a pizza. Vivian’s mother then invites her to imagine a variety of comically-dressed animals delivering the pizza. Vivian plans to greet each animal by making its sound. For example, to the cat wearing a top hat and cape, she’ll say, “Meow meow, Pizza Kitty!” This book offers listeners lots of opportunities to practice waving and making animal sounds to greet each imaginary pizza deliverer. At the end of the story, the doorbell rings. The pizza has arrived, and the reader finally gets to find out which person or animal is delivering Vivian’s dinner. This book’s silly humor appeals to young children. Animals don’t deliver pizza or wear fancy clothing, so it’s funny to see them doing these things in the story. “Hi, Pizza Man!” is a great read-aloud for toddlers and preschoolers, either in a group or one-on-one. I plan to read this sure-fire winner to many young listeners in 2014.
Check the WRL catalog for “Hi, Pizza Man!”
Talmadge is a lonely man, living quietly in his orchard, enjoying the quiet rhythms of the seasons and nursing the loss of his mother and the unexplained disappearance of his sister decades earlier. When two feral and visibly pregnant girls steal fruit from his market stall, he is intrigued rather than angry. Talmadge manages to befriend the girls, but only on their own terms. He shelters the girls and tries to protect them from imminent danger, but an evil man appears from their past with shockingly tragic consequences.
A powerful story, deep and quietly told, The Orchardist entraps the reader into its world. First time novelist Amanda Coplin breaks tradition by leaving out quotation marks, and telling some events from multiple viewpoints, and she succeeds in creating a compelling novel that exquisitely captures a time (around 1900) and a place (the Pacific Northwest). But she most effectively captures the lives of ordinary individuals caught in extraordinary circumstances. The Orchardist is a moving portrait of people who are damaged but who remain remarkably resilient. The characters, like real people, would be better off if they could put the past behind them, but also like real people, some of them cannot forgive and they must survive however they can.
Try The Orchardist if you like to get caught up in a sweeping historical novel with hardship and misfortune, but also with burgeoning hope, such as The Light Between Oceans, by M. L. Stedman or Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks .
I listened to part of The Orchardist and I highly recommend Mark Bramhall’s reading as his gravelly voice captured Talmadge’s gruff personality and the slow unfolding melancholy of the story.
Check the WRL catalog for The Orchardist.
Check the WRL catalog for The Orchardist on CD.
Emerson can see dead people. Or, to be more precise, she can see people from the past. Sometimes they are easy to identify—the Scarlett O’Hara wannabe in the hoop skirt was easy to peg—but others look just like the living. It’s not until she brushes against them, or tries to interact with them, that she realizes they aren’t really there. It has become especially problematic now that more and more of the past is bleeding into her present. Where she would once see only individuals, now objects and entire scenes from the past are visible. Emerson’s visions began just before the tragic death of her parents, and now her brother and legal guardian Thomas is determined to find Emerson some help. She’s tried shamans, psychics, therapists, and nothing has worked. When she is heavily medicated the hallucinations stop, but she can’t function in that zombified state forever.
Enter Michael, a consultant from The Hourglass, who Thomas has hired to work as Emerson’s mentor. Michael is surprisingly unfazed by Emerson’s visions, and even has terminology for the things she can see. He calls them Rips, short for Ripples, and is adamant that The Hourglass can help her. Michael is slow to reveal his secrets, but Emerson soon realizes that Thomas’s hiring of Michael wasn’t exactly coincidental. She (and her ability) would be extremely useful to Michael’s latest project.
Hourglass is the first in a series, and I’m looking forward to reading more stories set in the world McEntire has created. She spends a bit of time setting up the rules that her characters must live by, and dropping hints for future novels, but succeeded in leaving me wanting more. There is enough going on that McEntire could have left out one of the romantic rival sub-plots (which has hopefully been permanently resolved) but that ultimately amounts to only a minor annoyance.
Check the WRL catalog for Hourglass.
The World’s Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family, by Josh Hanagarne
This sometimes ludicrous, but always poignant memoir is in part a love poem to public libraries and in part a moving account of living with Tourette’s Syndrome. Josh Hanagarne is a librarian in Salt Lake City Public Library who starts his book by describing his workplace as “a giant pair of glass underpants” and pointing out that in the collection of a public library “there’s something to offend everyone.” He keeps up the literary theme with chapter headings labelled with Dewey Decimal Numbers and a sprinkling of the names of books to make his points.
At the same time that is is a celebration of libraries, Hanagarne’s book is also the story of a life lived with the involuntary tics, movements and vocalizations of Tourette’s Syndrome. Hanagarne’s tics started when he was a small boy and made a misery of his teenage years as he dealt with a a difficult and–above all–visible disease. His early adulthood was a story of never being able to settle as he went in and out of jobs and school programs. As the subtitle points out this is also the story of the Power of Family and Josh’s family–parents, siblings, and wife–always supported him through Tourette’s Syndrome, schooling, life, struggles with infertility, and the various types of physical training which he attempted in order to control his tics. He is a large man who works his way up to a 590-pound dead lift (I am not sure what that is, but it sounds incredibly impressive), but from reading his memoir his true strength isn’t physical, rather it is his strength of character and strength as a human being that shines through.
Try The World’s Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family if you like memoirs about overcoming adversity. Other books in our library about living with Tourette’s Syndrome include: Front of the Class: How Tourette Syndrome Made Me the Teacher I Never Had, by Brad Cohen with Lisa Wysocky or Against Medical Advice: a True Story, by James Patterson and Hal Friedman.
Don’t assume this is a dark book, because Hanagarne is able to bring humor even to the description of library patrons throwing up in trash cans or his classmates jeering at him for his Tourette’s tics. And best of all for a librarian is the paean to public libraries: “I had faith in the library long before he walked in and told me what I already knew: A library is a miracle.”
Check the WRL catalog for The World’s Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family.