Knowing that David Quammen was such a great science writer I wanted to read his timely update about Ebola. In the introduction, Quammen acknowledges that this book is adapted from his 2012 book Spillover that I blogged about yesterday but Ebola is a much quicker read. It is still well worth reading even if you have read Spillover because of the updates. In early December as I write this, the current Ebola outbreak has killed over 6000 people (CDC – 2014 Ebola Outbreak in West Africa – Case Counts). This means that this outbreak has killed more people than all previous outbreaks combined. Quammen’s expert and readable style is very matter of fact and it paints Ebola as a terrifying and largely unknown disease, even if it doesn’t spread much to countries outside the continent of Africa. It has “a case fatality rate ranging from 60 to 75 percent. Sixty percent is extremely high for any infectious disease (except rabies); it’s probably higher, for instance, than fatalities from Bubonic plague in medieval France at the worst moments of the Black Death.”
Ebola is currently being studied furiously but there is still much that scientists don’t know. For one, they are not sure what causes “the transitory nature of the disease within human populations. It disappears entirely for years at a time. This is a mercy for public health but a constraint for science” and why “Ebola viruses barely showed themselves anywhere in Africa for fifteen years (1976-early 1980s).” Quammen concludes that “We don’t even know if the past is a reliable guide to the future–that is, to what degree history and science can illuminate the Ebola events of 2014.”
There is sobering information like, “The higher the case count goes, the greater the likelihood that Ebola virus as we know it might evolve into something better adapted to pass from human to human, something that presently exists only in our nightmares.” This is terrifying when coupled with information like “the virus was mutating prolifically and accumulating a fair degree of genetic variation as it replicated within each human case and passed from one human to another.” We can only fervently hope that Quammen’s apt metaphor doesn’t come to pass: “Every spillover is like a sweepstakes ticket… Sometimes the bettor wins big.”
Oddly, even Ebola has facts that I found quirky: apparently when an Ebola patient develops the commonly annoying but harmless condition of hiccups, it usually means death is near.
Try reading Ebola if you like the history of science and history of disease books that I mentioned yesterday. If you previously read the bestseller The Hot Zone, by Richard Preston, Ebola is a good update. Sadly, for the 6000 victims of this dread disease who have already died, and those yet to die, you may also be interested in reading Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus if you want to read about the scientific background of large events in the news.
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Zoonotic diseases are in the news and the news is not good. Sixty percent of human diseases are zoonotic–that is they are spread to humans from animals (at least at first). This includes terrifying rabies that everyone knows comes from the bite of an infected animal to diseases like flu that we think of as human. The evocative title of this book, “Spillover” is the actual scientific term used by disease ecologists for the moment when a pathogen passes from members of one species into another. I like books about animals. I’m all over cute and fluffy and I’m fascinated about the role that we play in animals’ lives. Spillover is a book about the role animals play in human lives and you may not sleep peacefully after reading it.
David Quammen spent almost a decade gallivanting around the world, interviewing hundreds of scientists, doctors and disease survivors as well as researching and writing Spillover. It is almost 600 pages, but I was unable to put it down as he talked about the SARS outbreak in 2003, and the origins of AIDS and ebola. I learned an enormous amount about virology, natural history and epidemiology. And if you are obsessed and super-nerdy (like me) you will enjoy Spillover’s 25-page bibliography of scientific studies that you can look up in PubMed.
Quammen has a gift for making the scientifically complicated understandable to the everyday reader. He has a poetic turn of phrase about viruses–“They can’t run, they can’t walk, they can’t swim, they can’t crawl. They ride”–that just highlights how scary they can be. I learned odd facts for instance that certain types of moths and tent caterpillars have outbreaks on trees some years. The caterpillars die back because they are killed by viruses that cause them to ‘melt’ onto leaves, and then the other caterpillars just eat them (yuk!) Thankfully, unlike the insects, we can change our behavior to protect ourselves from viruses!
I think the best quote from Spillover sums up human knowledge and control over zoonotic diseases in general. We think we’re ahead but we might not be. When asked a lot of questions about the Hendra virus in Australia, scientists answered: “We don’t know but we’re working on it.”
Spillover is a sure bet for readers who are fascinated by the role of diseases in human history. For nonfiction readers who have tried The Ghost Map, by Steven Johnson, or Rabid: a Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus, by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy. Or for fans of fiction such as Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague, by Geraldine Brooks.
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In this tale of trickery in the Outback, Dingo catches a wombat to put in a stew. Other animals (including a platypus, an emu, and a kookaburra) hear him exulting over his prize and set out to ruin the stew before the wombat can be put in. Dingo, gleeful and clueless, readily agrees to all the suggestions for ingredients: mud, flies, gumnuts, etc. The illustrations depict these animals (who are rarely seen in picture books) fairly realistically, except for their anthropomorphized facial expressions and body language, Platypus’ hat, and Emu’s long, curly eyelashes. For storytime teach the song that Dingo repeats throughout the story: “Wombat stew,/ Wombat stew,/Gooey, brewy,/Yummy, chewy,/Wombat stew!” The simple tune is included on the final page of the book. It’s a crowd pleaser for ages four to eight and could be used with a large group. Marcia Vaughan lives on an island in Puget Sound (Washington). Pamela Lofts, an Australian author and illustrator, lived in Alice Springs, in the midst of the Australian Outback.
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Jennifer D. shares this review:
Strange things happen to Meridian Sozu. Her biggest problem does not come from boys, homework, or an unhappy family life. Her biggest problem is the fact that animals tend to drop dead around her. She believes she is causing their deaths, but in truth they just seem to find her when it is their time. Her problem was limited to animals until her sixteenth birthday. On her way home from the bus stop, a car crash occurs that kills many of her classmates. She is uninjured, but has a painful physical reaction to the event. As the strange pains send her to the brink of unconsciousness, Meridian is swept up by her parents and rushed to the bus station. This is not exactly a typical parental reaction, and it becomes clear that her mom and dad have not been entirely honest with her. They send her to live under the care of her aunt, saying that they love her, but that they will probably never see her again. Not the happiest of birthdays. But this significant birthday is the key to her new life. She is beginning to come into her powers as a Fenestra.
Your next question is bound to be the same one Meridian posed when she first heard the term…what is a Fenestra? A Fenestra is a half-angel, half-human hybrid, whose job it is to help souls cross over for the Creator. She must learn how to control her ability, or the pain she felt after the car crash will eventually kill her. Her aunt, who also happens to be a Fenestra, will train her with the assistance of a young man named Tens, who has been somehow cosmically chosen to be Meridian’s protector.
In their efforts to train Meridian, her aunt and Tens are up against a few deadlines. In addition to avoiding her own death, Meridian must learn to wield her new powers quickly to fight a new threat that is looming in town. If there are angels around to help souls cross for the Creator, there are also those whose job it is to send souls to the Destroyer, called Aternocti. They are hoping to destroy Meridian before she can fully control her powers.
A battle is looming between the Fenestra and Aternocti, and Meridian is caught in the middle. Author Amber Kizer has clearly spent much time developing the story of Meridian’s world. Meridian and the reader both learn about her abilities and the history of the Fenestra together as the story unfolds. The story is continued in the sequel, Wildcat Fireflies.
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I was up late, reading The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft, and needed a snack before turning out the light. Lovecraft is heavy going, so I wanted something to restore my spirit: a grilled cheese sandwich. I found some Cabot’s Extra Sharp, bread, and butter, and fired up our trusty SuperLectric waffle iron. A few minutes later, the hideous excrescences of Lovecraft’s imagination were forgotten as I ate my hot, crispy, perfectly melted, dimpled grilled cheese.
Will it Waffle? has rocked my world. The waffle maker, which I used to haul out of storage on rare Sunday mornings, now lives in the middle of the kitchen counter, an essential part of my batterie de cuisine. It glorifies sandwiches, hash browns, fruit, and other things that I’d never thought to use it for. Right this very minute, I am thinking about trying waffleized churros for breakfast tomorrow.
Daniel Shumski is the genius who thought to ask, “What can I cook in a waffle iron besides waffles?” For several years, he has been blogging about his experiments in waffling, and Will It Waffle continues the project with a collection of 53 recipes. Any dish that is meant to be hot and crisp is better when cooked in a waffle iron — thanks to all that additional surface area. Ergo, waffled bacon, falafel, leftover mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and stuffing. These are actually some of Shumski’s less daring dishes. If you’re a thrill seeker, try throwing a soft-shelled crab or cookie dough into your waffle maker and see what happens. The book includes a short list of foods that won’t waffle, such as soup and drinks. Beyond these liquids, almost anything goes. There’s even a section where readers are encouraged to document their own waffle experiments. The message is clear: play with your food.
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The family car; one day it’s clean and the next, the sparkle is gone. But isn’t that part of the fun? Ernst has created an entertaining tale about the family car and all that it experiences. The story starts with the father who has just finished cleaning the family van. And each following page introduces a new dynamic to the car and to the travels it takes. All too soon, the car is once again ready to be cleaned. Though, this time it is the kids turn to help.
The story is framed in a rhyme that builds on itself making each page a fun memory game. Children will be able to follow the story and repeat everything that has already happened. This allows for the reading dynamic to change into a fun sing-song activity. Those reading the story aloud are able to create a game out of the book to see what the listeners can remember, which means this book is perfect for large group reading. In a smaller setting, this book is wonderful as well. Families can read the book and enjoy parallels to their own lives and family car. Even better, children can learn how important it is to help clean up messes they make, the importance of working as a group, and most importantly how fun it can be to accomplish a goal and help their parents!
This is the Van that Dad Cleaned is great for lower elementary and preschool students who are ready for a humorous, charming, and very relatable rhyming tale.
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Jennifer D. shares this review:
It’s the first day of holiday break and Milo Pine and his parents are all but snowed in. They operate Greenglass House, an old inn known for being a smugglers haunt. Milo is excited to spend his break in the empty inn, with no guests to please and only his parents for company. Until the doorbell rings – repeatedly. Suddenly, Greenglass House is full of guests who have braved the weather to reach its halls. And they are quite the cast of characters. The Pines are accustomed to the occasional shady customer, but each of these guests is hiding something. They all claim a strange connection to Greenglass House and a desire to uncover its secrets.
As the guests settle in, several literary tropes typical of mysteries are unveiled. Valuables go missing, a treasure map is found, the power goes out, an attic of antiquities is explored, stories are told by the fire, and several guests are revealed to be in possession of a very special set of skills. For his part, Milo takes it upon himself to figure out what brought each guest to Greenglass House. These might be mystery novel standards, but they are traditional for a reason. They add to the classic feel of the novel, and give it a timeless quality.
Greenglass House is a well-crafted mystery that held great appeal for this fan of The Westing Game and Clue. Your suspicions will change as often as the doorbell rings, and this page-turner will keep you guessing until the end. Read it on a snowy winter day to feel even more immersed in the world Milford has created.
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Emily Anthes is a journalist who has written for many science journals including Wired, Discover, and Scientific American and also has a master’s degree in science writing from MIT. In this book, she explores the many ways in which animals are involved with the latest advances in biotechnology. She has a breezy, easy-to-understand writing style, and I was impressed with the breadth of her knowledge and research (includes over 40 pages of footnotes). I enjoyed reading about the specific contributions to this science that many animals like Jonathan Sealwart, an elephant seal, and Artemis the goat are making, and her visits to some of them were often quite humorous.
The production of genetically altered (transgenic) animals is perhaps the most controversial use of biotech. I was very interested in learning how some pretty-colored tropical fish won over a skeptical public in the U.S. to become the first and only transgenic animals sold in this country. These fish are called GloFish and they are derived from 2 types of tropical fish that are commonly sold in the US, zebra fish and white skirt tetras. What makes them unique is that they have an added dose of DNA from sea anemone or sea coral that make them glow in red, green and purple colors. I have enjoyed the aquarium hobby for years, and if GloFish can bring new people in to the hobby (like the author) all the better. I have also had my eye on one of the purple tetra GloFish and would like to add it to one of my aquariums. I just hope my 4 large angelfish don’t think he is a brightly colored dinner treat.
A much more promising use of these new animals is in “pharming,” where their DNA is manipulated so that their bodies can create medicinal properties. Transgenic goats can produce milk with elevated levels of lysozyme, which has been found to be an effective treatment for diarrhea, a deadly disease that kills over 2 million children every year. These goats have also been used to produce antithrombin, an anticoagulant that can successfully treat life threatening blood clots. It is unfortunate that none of these pharming techniques have been approved in the United States, though other countries like Brazil are taking the lead in this type of biotech.
I appreciated the author’s thorough review of the many ethical considerations in the use of transgenic animals and other types of biotech. She discounts the “Are we playing God” notion with these new animals by arguing that we have already tried to play God for thousands of years by manipulating the various types of animals through selective breeding. The results have not always been good, as is the case with canis lupus familiaris, the common dog, where we’ve created hundreds of unique breeds of dogs, many of which are saddled with crippling genetic diseases and conditions.
One of the most important factors to consider is how the biotech affects the livelihood of the animals involved. Bernard Rollin, a philosopher at Colorado State University considers their fate with his “conservation of welfare” ethic: “If you’re going to modify a line of animals, the resultant animals should be no worse off from a welfare point of view – and preferably better.” The author thinks that most pharming animals would be able to pass this test, since studies show that genetic alteration does little to curtail their longevity and overall health. But she gives numerous examples of transgenic animals that would fail this test, including transgenic mice produced in Chinese labs with thousands of different kinds of deformities caused by messing with one strand of their DNA.
If you read the book you will learn of other unique ways biotech is being used in the world of animals. You will learn why cats are far superior to dogs in the process of cloning. You will learn about a group of volunteers who helped design a prosthetic tail for a baby bottlenose dolphin after it got trapped and nearly died in a crab trap. And finally you will want to learn how a poor, lonely elephant seal got a name and got hundreds of friends on Facebook all through a sophisticated process of wildlife tracking.
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Barry shares this review:
This collection starts with the chilling classic “The Monkey’s Paw.” I remember reading this story as a child and it still sends a shiver up my spine now just thinking on it. Be careful what you wish for is the theme here. Moser includes stories from classic writers, among them, Arthur Conan Doyle’s, “How it Happened,” the story of a car accident and its aftermath and the old, ghostly ballad of Polly Vaughn, retold by Moser himself. But there are more contemporary tales as well. Madeline L’Engle’s “Poor Little Saturday” is an excellent story of how a lonely boy finds some surcease of sorrow as he explores a haunted mansion. Joyce Carol Oates, known for her dark adult fiction, contributes a story here, “The Others,” that in its lack of resolution is a great addition to the ghost story canon. Also of note, and both related to music, are “Samantha and the Ghost,” by Philippa Pearce, where a young girl frees her grandparents’ cottage from a ghostly visitor and H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Music of Erich Zann.”
None of the stories here is overly scary (well, maybe “The Monkey’s Paw” is for me), and a couple of them are pretty mild as far as ghost stories go by modern standards. But they are fun stories to read, and perhaps to read aloud. Moser’s illustrations add an extra frisson to the general eeriness.
Check the WRL catalog for Great Ghost Stories
This classic tale, brought to life by husband-wife duo, was inspired by a true story from the 1950s. The happy lion of the story has been a part of children’s literature for more than 50 years and it is clear why. This is an endearing tale of a lion that has many friends when he is in his home at the zoo, yet finds his friends react differently when he takes an adventure outside of the comfort of his zoo home. Children will enjoy the wonderful images of story that feature a simple color palette and wonderful style of sketch illustrations.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the story is the great lesson children can take away from the story; to not be afraid of those who are different. The town learns to not fear the lion when a little boy approaches him and shows that the furry creature was simply looking for company and friendship. Happiness can come from the most curiously different situations and Fatio has created a story that will show readers just that.
This book is wonderful for lower and middle elementary school students. The story is simple and easy to understand with great big illustrations that are good for large or small group reading. Children will have a roaring good time with The Happy Lion!
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Elizabeth Banner has returned to her hometown of Virtue Falls to study the geology of the area. It was difficult for her to return home, what with everyone’s conviction that her father, once a respected scientist-now a convicted felon, murdered her mother 20 years ago in a jealous rage. Elizabeth copes with the whispers and speculation by relying on logic and facts, both in her work and her personal life.
The everyday routine of life in Virtue Falls is literally shaken up when a large-scale earthquake hits the area. Lives are lost; secrets are uncovered. And Elizabeth finds herself investigating her mother’s murder with the help of her ex-husband, Garik, a suspended FBI agent.
The book has short chapters, a lot of action, and plenty of secondary characters to keep it interesting. I particularly liked how Elizabeth developed a relationship with her father, and through his descriptions began to understand the truth about her parents’ relationship. I’m also a sucker for a love story, and I enjoyed seeing Elizabeth and her ex-husband rekindle their romance.
Fans of James Patterson or Nora Roberts should pick up Virtue Falls. Looks like this is the first in a new series–can’t wait for the next story!
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Charlotte shares this review:
First, a caveat. To those of you who know this author only from her Gemma Doyle historical fantasies: this is not the Libba Bray you’re looking for. This is her psycho alternate-universe twin.
Cameron Smith, the narrator of this young adult novel, is an unmotivated loner who sneers at his family, mocks his peers, and blows off his responsibilities. We have met this teenager before, in many a young adult novel. Then he gets mad cow disease and goes on a road trip with a dwarf and a yard gnome.
OK, that’s new.
Plot isn’t really the selling point of this stream-of-consciousness dark comedy, but here goes: It turns out his clumsiness and intermittent hallucinations aren’t the result of casual drug use after all. Cameron has Creutzfeldt-Jakob, a neurological disorder that will kill him within weeks. He is visited in hospital by a punk rock angel in combat boots, Dulcie, who promises a cure if Cameron can find and stop Dr. X, a quantum physicist intent on releasing dark matter into the galaxy. OK so far? Find the physicist; save the world. Cameron escapes the hospital in the company of Gonzo, a germ-phobic gamer dwarf from his high school, and they embark on a road trip that starts in a New Orleans jazz club and goes a long, long crazy way. On the road, they acquire a Cadillac Rocinante and the yard gnome, who is actually the Norse god Balder. (Go ahead and say it: that’s Wyrd.)
Yes, progressive dementia is one of the symptoms of Creutzfeldt-Jakob.
And Going Bovine is progressively demented, a jazz riff on life, death, love, sex, alternate realities, reality TV, and the Meaning of It All. Where do you look for answers? Churches, philosophies, shopping malls, string theory? Or can music save your mortal soul? Maybe all you need is love. No, wait, that’s the Beatles. But somewhere along the way, even diehard smart-aleck Cameron begins to experience emotions other than scorn and derision. (And somewhere in Valhalla, a yard gnome gets his wings.)
Full disclosure: Going Bovine is a kind of wacky that I do not usually care for. Its main characters are 16-year-old boys: their humor is, by definition, sophomoric. I rolled my eyes a lot. Then I got to CESSNAB, the Church of Everlasting Satisfaction and Snack’n’Bowl, and inadvertently started to snort out loud. I have to give props to a writer who samples Cervantes and Coyote/Roadrunner cartoons on the same page, makes jokes about string theory, and re-envisions Disney’s “It’s a Small World” ride as the river Styx.
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Jennifer D. shares this review:
Charlie is stranded on a desert island. She has no clothes, no supplies, no defense, and no escape. After spending days on her own, struggling to survive with little food and water and against dangerous jungle animals, Charlie finds others who have been similarly marooned. You might think that would make the plot of a pretty good book, but we’re just getting started.
Charlie disappeared while walking across a Target parking lot at midday. A portal picked her up and deposited her on the island of Nil. If the circumstances of Charlie’s relocation weren’t frightening enough, Charlie soon learns that there is much more to Nil than the island paradise it appears to be. She has exactly one year to make her way off the island by finding another portal. Three hundred and sixty-five days before she dies, just like everyone else who ran out of time.
This title is another example of excellent YA world-building. Matson has created a world with great structure and rules which hold it together. It’s a high concept novel with high payoff as long as you buy into the premise and go along for the ride. While there is little explanation regarding the whys of the world of Nil, there is hope that more backstory will come in Nil Unlocked, due out this May.
Check the WRL catalog for Nil.
Charlotte shares this review:
All the world’s a stage, literally, in this fun romp for stagestruck teens.
ENTER Beatrice (Bertie) Shakespeare Smith, a foundling and a born troublemaker. She has grown up in the Théâtre Illuminata, a fantastical, metafictional theater housing all the Players from all the works of the stage. Bertie gets her clothes from Wardrobe, and her bedroom is a set. She’s constantly accompanied by her own comic relief: a slapstick entourage of Midsummer Night’s Dream fairies. And, like a girl in a Disney musical, at any time, the lights may come up, the orchestra start playing, and her life transform into a song-and-dance number with tap-dancing starfish.
It may be the only home she’s ever known, but Bertie is about to be kicked out of the Théâtre unless she can prove to its Manager that she has something valuable to contribute, like a sellout show. Bertie’s plan: Hamlet, but in Egypt. Cue the asps! But while Bertie is getting her Cecil B. Demille on, a rebellious yet extremely swoonworthy Ariel—I’m picturing Labyrinth-era David Bowie in this part—figures out a way to free the Players into the real world. Chaos ensues.
The Théâtre Illuminata is a fantastic conceit and debut author Mantchev has a lot of fun with it. Bertie is a lively, if romantically confused, heroine who defends herself with one-liners and, when necessary, with jujitsu (Petruchio had it coming). Hamlet and Ophelia, the revolutionary students from Les Mis, members of the Greek Chorus: they’re all here, trading theater in-jokes and Shakespearean insults. It’s a busy stage both literally and metaphorically, each character and subplot vying to upstage the others, and everything moves at a cappuccino-fueled pace. Some of the plots are resolved, but that’s an intermission curtain at the end, not a finale; Eyes Like Stars is the first in a planned trilogy.
EXIT, pursued by a sequel.
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Jennifer D. shares this review:
Anthony Horowitz may be best known in the book world for his Alex Rider adventures. I, however, first became aware of him through his Diamond Brothers Mystery series. Set in London, the books are narrated by Nick Diamond, kid brother to “detective” Tim Diamond. I put detective in quotes because he is rarely able to actually detect anything. His real name is Herbert Timothy Simple, and he was fired from the police force before becoming a private eye. Although Nick is the younger brother, he is the real brains of the operation.
Their first story is The Falcon’s Malteser, an obvious play on the Maltese Falcon. It is the story of a box of Maltesers, or malted milk balls, that once belonged to a criminal by the name of The Falcon. See what Horowitz did there? The box is left in the care of Tim, but when the man who pays him to look after it turns up dead, Tim is suddenly a suspect. Nick must take over the case to prove Tim’s innocence, protect the box of Maltesers from all of the shady characters after it, and discover why The Falcon prized a box of candy so much. It is an update on a classic noir, with mystery, suspense, and humor.
Check the WRL catalog for The Falcon’s Malteser.
As my fellow youth services librarians will attest, I am a pretty organized person. You know the old adage, “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” That’s me. That is perhaps what initially drew me to a book called 100 Cupboards. I would love to have a wall covered with 100 cupboards, as that would mean 100 places in which I could compartmentalize things! The book’s cover, depicting a few of the 100 compartments, cupboards, drawers, and cabinets that line one attic wall, is certainly eye catching, as well.
For those less interested in organization, the second best thing about the book is that each cupboard leads to a different place, different time, or different reality. As you can imagine, this could easily lead a young boy to adventure. The boy’s name is Henry York, and he has just come to live with his aunt, uncle, and three female cousins after his parents were taken hostage in Colombia, South America. Hey, it could happen.
In his attic bedroom, Henry discovers the aforementioned wall of cupboards hidden behind a wall of plaster. After removing all of the plaster, and making quite a mess, he begins to explore the cupboards and where they lead. The cupboards are controlled by two knobs in the center of the wall, which work like compasses. The doors will open according to the direction the knobs are facing. And that is just the beginning. There is also a door in the house that is locked, and cannot be opened by anything, including a chain saw. There are the letters which come through one of the cabinets, which is really a small post box. And there is the numbered diagram in the front of the book, depicting all of the cupboards with notes regarding where and to when they lead. There are still so many cupboards to explore! You’ll be anxious for more by the book’s end, so be sure to check out the sequel, Dandelion Fire.
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Jessica shares this review:
Greg Heffley is being forced by his mother to keep a journal (“but if she thinks I’m going to write down my ‘feelings’ in here or whatever, she’s crazy”). Except we really probably ought to call it a diary, since that’s what it says on the cover, despite Greg’s instructions to his mother (“when Mom went out to buy this thing I SPECIFICALLY told her to get one that didn’t say ‘diary’ on it”).
Since Greg is a sixth grader, he writes a lot about his classes and his friends and his activities in school. He’s not one of the jocks or the cool kids (“the best I can figure is that I’m somewhere around 52nd or 53rd most popular this year”) but he’s high enough on the social hierarchy that he feels comfortable running for Class Treasurer. He would have had a shot at it, too, except that the principal made him take down his campaign posters against his opponent.
“Remember in second grade how Marty Porter had head lice?” asks one of the posters. “Do you really want him touching YOUR money?” In the middle of the words is a picture of Marty vigorously scratching his head.
It’s the pictures that make the book so good. I really like Greg’s diary writing—he says a lot of funny things—but his pictures are just hysterical. There’s at least one drawing on practically every page. The artwork is more sophisticated than stick-figure drawings, but only barely, which is probably why I like it so much.
My colleagues over in Youth Services inform me that the Wimpy Kid series is really popular with young men and I understand why—the hero is someone you can relate to, and it’s funny while still being realistic—but I’d like to encourage people outside the demographic to give it a chance. I am a female who hasn’t been in the sixth grade for a long time, but I’m racing through the books. Give this a try even if you aren’t a sixth-grade boy.
Check the WRL catalog for Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Jennifer D. shares this review:
While you seldom come across a book that has something for everyone, Distant Waves: a Novel of the Titanic truly does. It has history, philosophy, and science, suspense, romance, and action, all mixed in with elements of the supernatural. It is the story of five sisters, born to a mother who makes her living as a medium, despite the fact that she may or may not actually be psychic. The story begins in New York City, where the girls are trying to make do following the death of their father. On the advice of one of their mother’s clients, the family decides to relocate to Spirit Vale, New York which is a spiritualist haven modeled after the town of Lily Dale. Before they can leave town, however, they have a fateful interaction with scientist Nikola Tesla. The girls are swept up in the wake of Tesla’s new earthquake vibration machine, which he is testing for the first time. This will not be the last time they meet Tesla, and his theories shape many aspects of their lives.
Our main character, Jane, is particularly influenced by her interaction with Tesla. She follows his work throughout the next decade, and becomes something of a fan. His work in the realm of science influences her beliefs in the supernatural, with particular regard to her doubt of her mother’s psychic talents. While Jane does not wish to be suspicious of her mother’s behavior, she is nevertheless skeptical that one can communicate with the dead. In a community like Spirit Vale, this is not a particularly popular opinion, so most of her struggle is shared only with us, the readers. Her uncertainty is compounded by the fact that Jane’s twin sisters, Emma and Amelie seem to possess genuine psychic abilities. They have been channeling, going into trances, and sleepwalking themselves into dangerous situations, such as onto the roof, or into the ocean. The twins become strangely averse to the ocean, and the idea of sea travel in particular.
When a secret is uncovered about her sister Mimi’s parentage, Jane and Mimi impulsively travel back to New York City, whereupon another fateful meeting takes place. Jane reconnects with Tesla, and meets his attractive young assistant Thad, while Mimi meets Benjamin Guggenheim and befriends his mistress, Ninette. Ninette sweeps Mimi off to Europe as her traveling companion, and introduces her to Victor, Guggenheim’s handsome valet. Events are set into motion which, at this point, you may have guessed, particularly if you are aware of the fact that Guggenheim, Ninette, and Victor were all passengers on the RMS Titanic. Through the course of the story all five sisters also find themselves on board the maiden voyage of the doomed ship.
Distant Waves: a Novel of the Titanic is entertaining, particularly if you have an interest in the turn of the century. Many historical figures of the era make cameo appearances, from the Astors, to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, from W. T. Stead to Harry Houdini. Suzanne Weyn makes us care about these five sisters, and tension builds as the Titanic’s journey comes to its inevitable end. I was pleased to find that only a small portion of the story takes place aboard the Titanic, and emphasis is definitely placed on Jane and her sisters, rather than the story we all know.
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Charlotte shares this review:
I’ve literally grown up—grown older, anyway—with E.L. Konigsburg. We share a love of artists and beautiful things. Mine might have started, in fact, with From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the Newbery award winner that made me, and a generation of readers, want to run away and live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Every once in a while, I rediscover how much I love Konigsburg’s deceptively simple prose, the sharply-observed details, the way her nonconformist characters manage to rebel and resist without ever being rude.
The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place is about art and rules and civil disobedience, whether you’re up against a homeowners’ association or a clique of bossy 12-year-old girls at summer camp. Margaret Rose Kane, rescued by her uncles from a miserable camp experience, arrives at their home just in time to witness the end of an era. For 45 years, while their neighborhood has grown and changed, Margaret’s Old World Hungarian uncles have been adding on to their backyard Towers—pipe scaffolding, painted in sherbet colors and hung with pendants of colored glass. Depending on how you look at them, the Towers are a work of art, a labor of love, a neighborhood landmark… or an eyesore, a hazard, a threat to property values. (Margaret looks at them from the inside: If you stand in the center and spin, it’s like being inside a kaleidoscope.)
By the time Margaret arrives, her uncles have already fought City Hall and lost. Zoning ordinances dictate that the structures have to come down. But Margaret, having just retreated from one battlefield, isn’t willing to give ground a second time. She starts her own campaign to save the Towers. (Being a Konigsburg child, she arms herself by conducting research, marching to City Hall herself, and requesting a copy of the relevant city council records.)
Konigsburg characters, as a rule, are grammar obsessed and word-curious. Among other things, Outcasts contains one of my all-time favorite puns, when Margaret and her uncle decide that she has not been precisely “disobedient” at camp, but rather “anobedient:”
“…which would mean without obedience—which is not the same thing as disobedience. I would say that anobedience is related to words like anesthetic, which means without feeling.”
“Or anonymous, which means without a name.”
“Or anorexia, without an appetite or anemia, without blood.”
“Or Anne Boleyn, without a head.”
Check the WRL catalog for The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place.
Or try the audiobook.
Jennifer D. shares this review:
This is the story of Cass and Max-Earnest, but those are not their real names. The story of what happened to them is a secret, but the author of The Name of this Book is Secret was never very good at keeping secrets. He advises you, therefore, to forget what you have read as soon as you finish reading the book. Following Mr. Bosch’s lead of trying very hard not to give too much away, I will attempt to summarize the tale in such a way as to keep you safely in the dark regarding certain dangerous matters.
Cass and Max-Earnest live in (insert the name of your hometown here) and attend (insert the name of your school here). They crossed paths with a pair of rather unsavory characters, Dr. L and Ms. Mauvais, when a local magician passed away. While at an antique store, Cass discovers a box labeled “The Symphony of Smells” among the magician’s donated belongings. A message in scent leads Cass, with the assistance of Max-Earnest, to investigate the magician’s home. There they encounter the two villains and uncover the magician’s hidden notebook. What happens afterward is not my secret to tell, but Mr. Bosch’s. He will try to discourage you from reading the book, and may not share quite the entire story, but The Name of this Book is Secret is a fun and quirky read. Fans of Lemony Snicket in particular will find it enjoyable, with similarities in the use of the author as a narrator. In my opinion, however, it is far better than the Series of Unfortunate Events series, and this book is actually the start of its own series.
Check the WRL catalog for the availability of The Name of this Book is Secret.