When we first meet Nyuki the honeybee, she is still a sightless, shapeless larva, but soon she will transform into a mature worker. To begin the transmogrification, she must enter a cocoon, which she will build by producing silk from the spinnerets in her mouth and mixing it with her own feces.
It’s just amazing the things you learn in the course of this graphic novel, though I promise that most of them aren’t as gross as that silk-and-poo thing. You”ll learn about hive construction, bee swarming, pollination, reproduction, predation, defense, territorialism, and lots more.
And then more on top of that. And then a bit more. Author and illustrator Jay Hosler can’t help himself. He’s a honeybee neurobiologist.
He’s also a wonderful storyteller. You’ll get a thorough education in honeybees, but you won’t even notice it happening because you’ll be caught up in Nyuki’s life story. The science-y bits blend seamlessly with Nyuki’s adventures, from her romantic matchmaking efforts on the behalf of two flowers to her near-death encounter with a praying mantis.
I’m choosing to think of the book as whimsical nonfiction, though you could call it fiction with a whole lot of facts thrown in. I’m also choosing to think of it as an adult book, because I am an adult and I really liked it, but it’s quite suitable for teens and older elementary students. The crisp black-and-white drawings will appeal to all ages, and the drama will make you put the book down and sniffle in private. I, uh, heard. That didn’t happen to me or anything. Nope.
Check the WRL catalog for Clan Apis
I have been interested in myths and urban legends ever since a preteen sleepover introduced me to the story of the The Hook (You know, the one about the couple at the local makeout spot who hear a strange scraping noise on the car. They get scared and drive quickly home — only to find a bloody hook hanging from the car door handle). I have since learned to be skeptical of these stories — though it sometimes is hard to tell what is based on fact and what is fantasy.
I picked up Albert Jack’s book, and skimmed several stories before sitting down to read it cover to cover. I was pleased to find many a tale I hadn’t heard before.
Did you hear about the scorned woman who stuffed seafood in the curtain rods throughout the home just before her ex-husband and his new wife put it up for sale? No one could find the source of the growing odor, and no one wanted to buy the home. After several months the man sells his share of the house to his ex-wife very cheaply just to get it off his hands. And when the woman goes back to claim the house, she finds it stripped of all the fixtures — including the curtain rods. Her ex had taken everything to be installed in his new home! See “The Seafood Effect” in the book.
Or what about the woman who put her Winnebago on cruise control, then walked into the back to make herself a cup of coffee? After the vehicle left the road and overturned, she supposedly tried to sue Winnebago for not making it clear in the owner’s manual that cruise control, as she understood it, was not a feature in the vehicle. See “Winnebago Whiner” in the book.
Read Jack’s book to replenish your collection of stories to share around the water cooler — and maybe find the glimmer of truth in a few of these tales. It’s very entertaining reading.
Check the WRL catalog for Phantom Hitchhikers and Other Urban Legends.
Sarah Piper is alone in the world. She’s working for a temp agency in post World War I England. One rainy afternoon she gets a call to meet a potential client at a coffee shop. While this is a bit unorthodox, she needs the rent money, and so goes to the meeting.
There she meets handsome Alistair Gellis, a ghost-hunter. He needs her to make contact with a potential ghost that apparently does not like men. While scared of the prospect of seeing a ghost, Sarah agrees. It’s the most excitement she’s had in her life, and she’s more frightened to disappoint her employer than she is of the ghost.
The ghost story turns into an investigation of another crime – and Sarah, Alistair, and his other assistant Matthew are in danger as they try to solve the mystery of Maddy Clare.
I enjoyed the setting of England between the World Wars. I thought the author brought in enough detail to give a taste of the period. The author did a good job explaining why the war had such a profound effect on her main characters without having them go on and on about their hellish experiences.
I like being a little bit scared – and the description of Maddy haunting the barn where she hung herself was creepy, not keep-the-lights-on scary.
I liked Sarah. She’s smart and practical yet she isn’t afraid to run screaming from a particularly difficult encounter with an angry Maddy. And who wouldn’t be freaked out by the arrival of hordes of ravens? Those human reactions helped me balance the other-worldliness of the ghost story.
And then there was the love story… The novel could have survived well without it, but I enjoyed Sarah’s budding romance with Matthew. In my opinion, it never hurts to have the promise of a happy ending!
The Haunting of Maddy Clare recently won two Romance Writers of America’s RITA Awards: Best First Novel and Novel with Strong Romantic Elements.
Check the WRL catalog for The Haunting of Maddy Clare
Is your child learning to tell time, count or understand rhyme? If so, Hickory Dickory Dock, written and illustrated by Keith Baker, is the book to read! While based on the familiar nursery rhyme titled, “Hickory Dickory Dock,” Baker creates his own version of the nursery rhyme with one busy mouse and lots of crazy animals. Be sure to read Hickory Dickory Dock to have fun counting, singing, rhyming, and of course to see what keeps the teeny tiny mouse busy every hour!
Toddlers and younger elementary school students will enjoy this colorful and easy to read book.
Check the WRL catalog for Hickory, Dickory, Dock.
Through the stories of two aristocratic families, the Shermetevs and the Golitsyns, author Douglas Smith details what happened to the once mighty Russian nobility when the Communists came into power in the early 20th century.
The pattern was depressingly consistent, dispossession followed by displacement and often death. First, their wealth and property were taken from them. Secondly, those who didn’t leave Russia willingly were exiled to remote areas of the empire. Relentlessly exploited as symbols of decadence and oppression by their government, nobles were classified as “Former People” and never allowed to fully integrate into regular Soviet society. Eventually, many of them ended up dying in prisons or gulags.
You can’t really call this sad, non-fiction book upbeat, but it is well-researched and a timely reminder about the depredations of communism and the danger of all-powerful governments.
Check the WRL catalog for Former People.
Miranda was planning a quiet summer vacation at home in New York City. She needed time to get over her cheating ex-boyfriend, and was looking forward to an internship at the Museum of Natural History. Then she receives word that her grandmother has passed away, and that her mother has inherited the family home on Selkie Island in Georgia. Her mother needs Miranda’s logical mind and organizing skills to put everything in order to sell the house. Miranda’s mom had been estranged from her mother ever since she married Miranda’s father (from whom she is now divorced). There is a history there with which Miranda is completely unfamiliar, but she’s about to learn all the sordid details.
Selkie is an island with strange mythological ties. It is said to have been founded by the descendants of mermaids and mermen, a claim Miranda does not entertain, relying as she does on science and reason. Instead, she focuses her attention on acclimating to her new environment. Selkie is very different from NYC, and the people she meets, her mother’s old childhood friends, and their children, are not what she is used to. They are summer tourists to the island, and while they are welcoming, they have different expectations of Miranda than her friends in New York. One important rule Miranda learns is, don’t mingle with the locals. Selkie Island is a vacation destination for affluent Atlantans, and those who live on the island year round, who make their living fishing, are deemed unworthy of their attention. But Miranda finds more in common with one local fisherman’s son than these summer residents. His name is Leo and they meet on the beach, the spot where most of their interactions take place. Leo calls the beach “the great equalizer”, as it is the one place where townies and tourists can interact as equals.
What could, at this point, remain a traditional summer love story instead becomes a romance mixed with mystery and a touch of the supernatural. Miranda has suspicions about Leo’s background, and despite her logical mind, finds herself getting caught up in the mythic qualities of Selkie. She must also deal with the fallout from her mother’s tense past with her grandmother, and her late grandmother’s own involvement with a townie. Miranda soon finds that she has more in common with her grandmother than she ever could have imagined.
Check the WRL catalog for Sea Change
The story starts five years after Jamie’s sister Rose was killed in a terrorist attack in Trafalgar Square. His dad promises they are making a new start – but it’s a new start without their mother who has stayed in London to live with a man from her support group. Jamie and his big sister, Jas (Rose’s twin), have hopes that maybe it will be different in this new town. But then their dad puts the gold urn with Rose’s remains on the mantel, and they realize nothing has really changed.
Jamie has quite a few typical – and not so typical – challenges to overcome as a newcomer to this small town. He has to start a new school and while it is a relief not to be identified as “poor Rose’s brother” it’s still difficult to make new friends. He doesn’t seem to fit in with anyone, except a Muslim girl named Sunya. But being friends with Sunya would make his dad mad because his dad blames all Muslims for the terrorist attack.
Jamie would also have you believe he didn’t care that he hadn’t seen his mother, yet he can quickly count off how many days it had been since she walked out. And he faithfully wears the Spiderman t-shirt she gave him for his birthday every day in case she visits so she’ll see how much he loves it.
You may need to have some tissues handy, but the story isn’t told in an overly sentimental manner. Coming from Jamie’s perspective you understand why losing his sister when he was five-years-old isn’t as real to him as making friends at school or making the winning goal of a soccer match. And it’s heartbreaking when Jamie finally understands the grief his parents must feel after losing Rose.
I would recommend this book for all ages. While Jamie sees things in a very kid-like fashion, the issues he deals with – abandonment, loss, grief, friendship, racism, bullying – can be understood from all ages. As an adult I ached as well as rooted for him and his sister, two decent kids trying to make it without the solid support of either parent. And at the end they do seem to be in a better place.
The printed book was checked out when I selected it but I absolutely loved hearing the audiobook read by Scottish actor David Tennant of Dr. Who and Harry Potter fame. Tennant did a superb job making me believe I was listening to Jamie.
I’m looking forward to reading more from this author.
Check the WRL catalog for My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece
Check the WRL catalog for the audiobook My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece
This book was very different than I expected. Given the description of a book featuring a camera that can take pictures of people who aren’t there, wouldn’t you expect a scary story? After all, it is called Ghost Town. But no, there’s not a spooky page to be found in this book. This isn’t really my usual type of reading material, obviously, since I was expecting a different type of book, but Ghost Town turned out to be an excellent story. It is an irreverent, off-beat sort of tall tale, featuring well-drawn characters and an interesting plot.
Spencer Honesty and his mom are the only two people left in Paisley, Kansas. Everyone else in town has moved away, in search of better economic opportunities. Spencer’s mom is a postal worker, and is kept on by the government to sort through all the mail that continues to arrive in Paisley. To keep himself and his imaginary friend Chief Leopard Frog entertained, Spencer salvages his father’s old camera from a junk pile and spends his days taking pictures. When his pictures are developed, mixed in with his extreme close up shots of bees, are photos of Paisley’s former residents. Spencer cannot explain this phenomenon, but he does enjoy seeing his old neighbors again, particularly Maureen Balderson, his best friend’s sister.
Unfortunately, Spencer’s photography must be put on hold when he takes a fall while climbing the side of the old supermarket. He is laid up for weeks, and spends his time reading other people’s junk mail. One particular catalog sparks Spencer’s interest, Uncle Milton’s Thousand Things You Thought You’d Never Find. One of Milton’s thousand things is a ghost camera, and Spencer strikes up a correspondence with Milton when he writes to find out more about the strange object. Milton eventually agrees to publish a book of Chief Leopard Frog’s poetry, in exchange for some of the Chief’s hand carved talismans which (unbeknownst to the Chief) bring the owner bad luck. Spencer never expected a book of Native American poetry written by an imaginary friend, sold by someone as “reputable” as Uncle Milton, to be a bestseller that would send a reporter to his ghost town asking questions.
There is a lot going on in this book, but Jennings layers it all together perfectly. I wasn’t familiar with Richard W. Jennings’ work before reading this book, but now I’m anxious to see what else he has to offer.
Check the WRL catalog for Ghost Town
Emily remembers her childhood as chaotic and full of drama. She has worked hard to make her adult life as different from her wacky mother’s as possible. She is finally living the stable, organized life she always dreamed of — and, though boring, this is exactly what she wants. She thinks she has fallen in love with “Mr. Right,” a transplant surgeon named Grant. His family is full of all the tradition and respectability that hers is not. She can’t help but feel a little intimidated by their perfect lives.
Emily and Grant are tying the knot at his family’s long-time favorite vacation lodge in Vermont. It will be a dream come true. They arrive at the lodge a week before the wedding to make last-minute plans and visit with family. The heirloom dress will fit (serious dieting will make sure of that); the wedding will go off without a hitch (if she keeps her mother away from her future mother-in-law); and Emily and Grant will live happily ever after (despite a friend’s warning that Emily will never have her honeymoon because of Grant’s demanding, important job).
Only that’s not how it turns out. Her ex-husband, Ryan, shows up out of the blue and makes Emily question whether she’s marrying the right man.
The plot isn’t full of unexpected twists. You could probably fill in how the story ends just by knowing that Emily’s ex showed up before the wedding. But I liked the way Kendrick works the plot to the inevitable conclusion. She has a playful, light hand with developing characters, from the brassy mother of the bride to the conservative mother of the groom. And I was happy to see those passive-aggressive older sisters get their comeuppance! Read the book to find out how.
Check the WRL catalog for The Week Before the Wedding
Once your little one starts growing, nothing is more exciting than turning another year older. Then once your little one is a year older, what is more exciting than growing a half year older and celebrating being 2 and a half or 3 and a half? Growing up can lead to excitement, questions, and maybe even a little nervousness. If your little one is growing older, asking questions, or feeling a little nervous, he or she will easily be able to relate to Pomelo, the growing, pink little elephant in this story. Pomelo realizes that he has started growing. He is bigger than his dandelion plant, strawberries, and even a teeny tiny potato! Woo hoo – he is very excited that he is taller and maybe even stronger. But then, he starts asking questions such as, “Will I grow equally all over?”. Growing up is making him a little nervous! Be sure to read Pomelo Begins to Grow to find out what Pomelo thinks of growing up in the end!
In addition to the fun, relatable storyline written by Badescu, Benjamin Chaud does some beautiful illustrations with bright drawings. It is truly a great book for your growing toddlers.
Check the WRL catalog for Pomelo Begins to Grow.
Jake is a delightful character who is not interested in a varied diet, quite
the opposite. He turns down everything except peanut butter. As a true peanut butter lover I fell in love with this book! This story is engaging as you follow his parents’ frustration. Then they hatch an ingenious plan to solve Jake’s finicky eating habits. The rhyming storyline will keep young children listening and wondering what Jake will eat next. Adults will be
entertained by the phenomenal pictures in this book. The layers of humor in the pictures are a definite highlight in Jake Goes Peanuts.
Check the WRL catalog for Jake Goes Peanuts.
Anyone who watched The Expendables is destined to make time for the second installment of this high adventure, low dialogue, complete fluff, action movie. Starring some of the most prolific action movie stars of the last quarter century, there is so much testosterone in Expendables 2, I am convinced it could power a small nation, or half of Manhattan, for at least three days. The actors acknowledge their respective ages, make light of it, and then use movie magic to present themselves as super-humans, bordering on invulnerable heroes. As with the first Expendables, there is an over-abundance of violence in this movie (although relatively little swearing). If you dislike movies that feature bullets, fists, and aircraft hitting everyone and everything in nearly every scene, avoid this movie. If that’s your sort of thing, Expendables 2 is a good match.
The Expendables are a group of hardcore mercenaries who are nearly unstoppable and always ready for a fight. They specialize in risky rescues. While they are black-ops trained soldiers, they do not kill without cause and they never attack anyone except their enemies. The stage is set for Expendables 2 when a job goes wrong. Following the death of one of their own, the leader of the Expendables, Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), sums up the plot of the rest of the movie, saying, “Track him, find him, kill him.” He’s referring to Vilain (very subtle name—played by Jean-Claude Van Damme), the head bad guy who murdered their compatriot. From there the movie follows this directive without deviation. There’s no need for any deep thought or much introspection. This movie is about getting revenge and exacting damage. The Expendables are a team with a mission and they will not be stopped.
As you might expect from a movie like Expendables 2, the dialogue is contrived. In this case that’s a good thing. It is hard not to laugh when the actors ham it up by directly lifting lines from the box office hits that made half of them into household names. Certainly these verbal cues are included on purpose to amuse anyone familiar with their earlier movies. Having seen most of the action titles being referenced, I found the dialog to be a hoot. With costars Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris, Bruce Willis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, the movie is a quintessential example of the action hero genre on an exponentially larger scale. There isn’t a scene in it that doesn’t shout, “Tough guys kick butt.”
For people looking for movies that feature unrealistic escapism mixed with trite catch phrases and buff/gruff protagonists, Expendables 2 might well appeal. All together, these elements make the movie entertaining in a “this is so ridiculous it’s fun” kind of way. But, if you miss this movie, don’t worry. Rumor has it Expendables 3 is in the works, so you can be sure they’ll be back.
Check the WRL catalog for The Expendables.
Jessica thought her life was going pretty well. She had adopted parents who loved her, a best friend, and a crush who actually seemed to share her desire for a relationship. Until, on her first day of senior year, Jessica hears her name being whispered at the bus stop. Not the name Jessica, but her birth name, Antanasia Dragomir.
Jessica always knew she had been adopted following the deaths of her parents, but she soon discovers there is much more to the story than what she has been told. These secrets come to light with the arrival of Lucius Vladescu, a man from her homeland of Romania. Lucius makes many claims which Jessica finds unbelievable. He claims that he and Jessica are both Romanian royalty, that they are from warring clans, and that their betrothal at birth, once fulfilled, will bring peace to their people. But that’s not the craziest thing Lucius says. He believes that both he and Jessica are vampires. Jessica wants nothing to do with Lucius and finds his declarations impossible to believe and his attention entirely unwanted. Her parents, however, are not so quick to write him off as a lunatic. Perhaps they need to explain to Jessica a bit more about their time studying the native peoples of Romania.
Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side offers romance, drama, suspense, and quite a few laughs. Lucius’s attempts to acclimate to life in a rural Pennsylvania high school provide for some very entertaining observations delivered with wit and humor. This is a great read-alike for Twilight fans, particularly for those readers who would like a feistier, less swoon-y heroine than Bella. Another plus? In a genre filled with series and sequels, this appears to be a stand-alone novel. Although, if you enjoy it as much as I did, more of Jessica’s story would be welcome.
Check the WRL catalog for Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side.
For people familiar with British comedy, the name Stephen Fry is one that often brings a smile to one’s face or mention of any number of British shows with which he’s been involved. Known for his unique look and style, Fry bolsters his reputation as a man of eclectic intellect and delightful humor in this, his second autobiography. Before getting into details, the author warns his reader of his penchant for wordplay, “rambling” sentence structure and involved linguistics. His vocabulary is broad. There were plenty of words I could not immediately define. Despite what might be considered a complicated text, I found his writing to be engaging and entertaining.
To reveal the twists and turns of his life from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, Fry employs an articulate, stream of consciousness writing style, sometimes going off on tangents, but not without reason. I am tempted to say the style is contrived to entertain and amuse the reader, since Fry only ever slips off for a paragraph or two before jumping right back into the middle of his main topic. Plus, when he does drift, he always has a cogent point to make. He’s not really changing the subject, just expanding on it to make the point all the more clear. I wonder if the stream of consciousness style is actually quite practiced and deliberate. Fry admits he enjoys language, its sounds, its formation, and its meaning.
While Fry mentions his childhood and teenage troubles in passing, he focuses this autobiography on his formative late teens and early twenties. He jumps forward and backward on occasion, but much of The Fry Chronicles focuses on his years as a college student at Cambridge and immediately thereafter. It was during college that he discovered his love of acting and comedy overshadowed his enjoyment of teaching. He spent most of his college years either acting in plays or hanging out with other actor friends between performances. It turns out that since college Fry has been chums with modern British comedic and acting luminaries such as Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson, and Rowan Atkinson. Upon meeting, he and Hugh Laurie became instant mates and now have worked together professionally for decades.
Fry intertwines his college and post-college shenanigans and adventures with revelations of self-doubt, disappointments, and insecurities. He discusses his obsession with computers, his efforts to pursue a personal form of conspicuous consumption (buying cars, gadgets, a country house, etc.), and his adoration of radio. Fry has an ability to convey thoughts in a manner that requires the reader to pay attention. He incorporates a supreme honesty into his writing, admitting “…the business of autobiography is at least to strive for some element of self-revelation and candour” (pg. 224). The Fry Chronicles achieves this aim as far as I am concerned. This autobiography richly delves into the life and times of Stephen Fry, as perceived and presented by Fry himself. I do hope he pens his next installment soon (as he closed the book on a cliffhanger), but in the mean time I can enjoy this honest, earnest, irreverent, and wholly entertaining autobiography.
Check the WRL catalog for The Fry Chronicles.
If, hypothetically, someone completely neglected to read comics in her childhood like she was supposed to, how would this person, now a grownup, become familiar with the superheroes?
I posed this entirely hypothetical question to a geek friend of mine, explaining that the reader, hypothetically, was intimidated by superhero books because she wasn’t familiar with the decades’ worth of backstory associated with each character. Where should the newbie begin?
“Uhm,” said my geek friend. “You should. Um. Start with… Er. Um.”
He was stumped, but rallied gamely a few days later by suggesting a graphic novel by Brad Meltzer. And though I (hypothetically) had never cared for Meltzer’s traditional thrillers, I found him to be quite engaging in Identity Crisis. (Which I read for no real reason; it’s not like there was a great big gaping hole in my knowledge, or anything like that.)
Identity Crisis features several superheroes of the DC variety. (This means that Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are fair game, but not Spiderman, who is Marvel. To me this does not seem fair.) The spouse of one of the superheroes– I am not going to tell you which one– has been murdered. It’s a locked-room mystery, with no signs of entry or egress, no forensic evidence, and in fact no evidence of a crime at all, except for the bit about there being a dead body.
But the whodunnit bit was not the primary appeal. Instead I liked the story because I got to know and enjoy the characters. Meltzer draws them with depth, metaphorically, and artist Rags Morales draws them with grace, literally. Having read the book, I am proud to announce that I have formed my first tentative, independently-reached conclusion about a superhero, to wit: I think Green Arrow is kind of cool and funny, and if somebody can recommend some other Green Arrow books, I’m listening.
There are some violent moments, but there’s nothing too awfully bloody, and the very worst parts are left to the reader’s imagination. Also, all of the women are busty and tall and gorgeous, which might make the female reader feel, in comparison, like a dumpy old cow– but even inexperienced readers of superhero books know to expect that, I suppose. Hrmph.
Check the WRL catalog for Identity Crisis
I read this book on the heels of Ben Macintyre’s Double Cross, which turned out to be a nice coincidence. The titles obviously share a common World War II focus, but they also have overlapping themes of secrecy, deception, saving lives, and unsung heroes. In addition, like Macintyre’s book, The Pope’s Jews is very well written, easy to digest, thoroughly researched, and examines in detail events that rarely have been documented before this history.
Thomas is clear from the outset that he has an agenda. He maintains that Pope Pius XII has been unjustly criticized for his unwillingness to directly condemn Hitler and the Nazi atrocities as they were being perpetrated. Thomas wants to correct the impression that Pius XII was Hitler’s Pope. In fact, the author illustrates in amazing detail the extraordinary efforts to which the Pope worked to protect and save as many people as he could during World War II; Jews, allied soldiers, and anyone in harm’s way.
The book begins with some Papal background and continues through the German occupation of Italy, ending with the liberation of Rome by the Allies. Along with his historical narrative of events, the author weaves into the text portraits of those living in the Jewish Ghetto; members of the Italian, German, Allied, and Vatican governments; and a selection of Rome’s citizens.
Thomas reveals how rather than abandoning the Jewish people, the Pope used his resources to protect Jews all over Europe. Prior to the German invasion of Italy, the Pope covertly ordered priests and nuns to do everything in their power to protect and save Jews, including paying for visas and providing fake baptismal certificates to thousands of non-Catholics. Papal properties including churches, monasteries, convents, and the Vatican itself were used to hide Jews from the Nazis. When Rome was occupied by German troops, the Pope worked within his network to secretly deliver food and supplies to those hiding around the city. He used Catholic hospitals to keep Jews safe and expended church funds to save lives.
That said, circumstances also saved lives in Rome. The Germans did not occupy Rome until late in the war, by which time their resources were limited. That meant the Nazis could not transport as many Jews to concentration camps as they might otherwise have moved. While unquestionably horrible, the timing of events saved many of Rome’s Jews.
After reading The Pope’s Jews I have a renewed appreciation of the Vatican as a political entity. The actions taken by Pius XII definitely reflected his beliefs in the sanctity of human life, however, they also revealed the political and diplomatic power with which the Vatican is imbued. I understand the criticism that Pius XII did not directly oppose Nazi atrocities, yet also recognize the limitations the Pope saw on his actions and the overwhelming desire to avoid all violence. He was guided by the belief that a public denunciation of the Nazis would result in more deaths among the Jews and, it should be noted, the Catholics. One researcher estimates that Pope Pius XII’s actions saved over 700,000 Jews across Europe. While that number is difficult to substantiate, Thomas’s book makes it obvious that Pius XII used the church’s resources to protect and save as many Jews he could.
Check the WRL catalog for The Pope’s Jews.
The importance of family order has been proven. Who we become has its
origins in our birth order. This sweet, funny and oh so telling story will
ring true for the reader. As we follow Gladys, Hilda and Rose we will
relate to them as they live their days together. One favorite page for me
is when the two younger sisters are in bed and they watch big sister in her
own room staying up late at night, laughing and being important. Of course,
the younger sisters become tired of bossy big sister Gladys. The plan they
make is beyond anything you would expect and the silliness of it makes this
a fun story to share with your family.
Check the WRL catalog for Eating up Gladys.
I admit it. I had preconceived notions of how a movie directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp might flow. Sometimes I really enjoy their collaborative efforts (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Edward Scissorhands), but more often their combined work doesn’t interest me (Alice in Wonderland and Sweeney Todd). I was pleased to find that Dark Shadows falls into the former category for me, rather than the latter one.
Actually, the flow was not so different than I expected. But, the topic was kooky enough that it worked. Dark Shadows is a movie adaptation of a soap opera of the same name that aired in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It features the Collinses, a stalwart family of long lineage, who have fallen from grace and have many secrets. The patriarch, Barnabas Collins (played by Depp), is a vampire. Buried in a coffin for almost 200 years, Barnabas is accidentally freed, whereupon he discovers there’s something fishy in his family’s town of Collinsport. Namely, the family home, Collinswood Manor, is in disrepair and the seafood business is in ruin, put to shame by a competitor. Barnabas is determined to rebuild the family, the business and their fortunes.
It turns out that the “present day” Collins family nemesis, Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green) is the same witch who, once spurned by Barnabas, cursed him and turned him into a vampire. This was after Angie had killed Barnabas’s true love, Josette. The movie is based on a soap opera, so what did you expect? It doesn’t actually get too much more complicated than this, but there are a few more twists and turns.
Given many of the roles Johnny Depp has played, playing the part of a vampirical, out-of-time, looking for love, former fishing empire mogul really isn’t a stretch for him. If you know Depp as an actor, he plays the part just as you would expect. For me there were no standout performances, although I liked Chloë Grace Moretz’s role as the overwrought, underappreciated teenager Carolyn Stoddard.
Although Dark Shadows seemed more comedy than horror in content and story, it should be noted that the story does involve regular inclusion of supernatural events and undead creatures. It might be funny, but if you don’t care for monsters and ghouls, this movie is not for you.
I would not say that Dark Shadows was an incredible movie, but it was a fun Friday night movie to watch with family or friends. If you’re really interested and motivated you can make a marathon of it and watch the original series also. The cult classic soap opera is in the library’s collection as well.
Check the WRL catalog for Dark Shadows.
Check the WRL catalog for the original series of Dark Shadows.
Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is a quick read. Turn each page to follow the protagonist Eric Calhoun (nicknamed Moby, like the whale) as he moves with wit, compassion, and purpose through his senior year of high school. Understand his protective feelings for his childhood friend, Sarah Byrnes. As a toddler, her face was severely scarred by an accident in the kitchen; her father refused reconstructive surgery. Although damage was done to her psyche as well as her body, Sarah pursues academic excellence. Eric/Moby suffers from obesity until he swims pounds off on the high school swim team. Then, instead of developing a tapered swimmer’s body, he decides to overeat and stay a “misfit” with his friend, Sarah. Eric eventually discovers Sarah’s dark secret. Since for him “what’s known can’t be unknown,” he is propelled into saving Sarah’s life although it may sever their friendship, and puts them both in danger. This story features drama, destruction, change, and hope, and emphasizes the value of help from buddies and caring adults.
Crutcher draws on his experiences as a family therapist to develop his characters. Readers should be prepared for some foul language, unflinching portrayals of abuse of family members, bigotry, hatred, depression, and even death. Crutcher’s characters also consider other serious social issues, including religion and abortion. Be prepared to think about how YOU treat others. Finally, be prepared to cheer for the survivors in Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes.
Check the WRL catalog for Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes
This tale about a dragon, Ultimon, is a wonderful book for elementary-aged children who are interested in dragons or astronomy. GrandPré’s beautiful illustrations full of muted purples, greens, and blues steal the show in this bedtime book. Ultimon is so sad to be the last dragon on earth, but he is called into the sky and becomes the constellation Draco the Dragon, which can be found close to the North Star.
The entirety of the story flows with a rhythm meant to lull the reader to appreciate the stargazing suggested at the close. Burleigh writes, “Walk out, reader,/In the blackest night—/Gaze up where the stars/Are crisp and bright./Next to the polestar/That guides with its beams—/See! A dragon/Constellation gleams.”
Check the WRL catalog for Flight of the Last Dragon.