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The Easter Bunny’s Assistant by Jan Thomas

Pied Piper Pics - Mon, 2014-04-28 01:01

What happens when the Easter bunny takes on an assistant that just happens to be a skunk? A whole lot of fun and lots of giggles that’s what!

Jan Thomas has done it again with this comical new story that is perfect for the Easter holiday but stands on its own anytime of the year for a good laugh.

The Easter bunny enlists the help of a skunk in a “how to” demonstration on making beautiful Easter eggs. The only problem, Skunk is way too excited and, well, things get rather smelly when the Easter bunny tries to explain the process of making the eggs. What can the Easter bunny do? How will he ever explain each step involved in making Easter eggs if his assistant keeps interrupting him with his ‘excitement?” Get a copy and find out.

The illustrations are presented in bright pastel colors. The characters with their amusing expressions aid the story through to its hilarious conclusion.

Bonus: Though the story itself tells how to make Easter eggs, there is an additional set of instructions that are easier to follow at the end of the book. You and your child can enjoy an afternoon of fun making your own beautiful eggs.

Check the WRL catalog for The Easter Bunny’s Assistant.


Categories: Pied Piper Pics

Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy and Hard Times, by Jennifer Worth

Blogging for a Good Book - Mon, 2014-04-28 01:01

Call the Midwife is a fascinating mix of social history and medical memoir, as well as a vivid portrait of a time and place, but that description (glowing as it is) hardly does justice to a book that made me laugh out loud one minute and sob in sorrow the next, and even look forward to my commute so I could enter the book’s world and hear what happened next.

Jennifer Worth (known as Jenny) was a young nurse in the 1950s and she became a midwife with a order of nuns in the slums of the East End of London. Her memoir was published in 2002 so, from the distance of five decades she is in a good position to talk about how medicine and the world have changed. Some of the changes are bad, like the breakdown of families that she has seen among poor people in London, but so many things changed for the better, like medical knowledge and standard of living (plumbing for one thing!). When she started as a midwife most births were at home, attended only by a midwife and as a 23-year-old nurse who was often the only professional present. This was a great step up from no antenatal or birth care, which she says was common prior to 1950 for the poor people of London.  If you are squeamish, this may not be the book for you: many births are described in detail. A glossary of medical terms is included at the end to help the uninitiated.

The humor throughout comes from the hijinks of young nurses and foibles of the nuns, several of whom had nursed through World War I. Worth expresses deep sorrow at the devastating conditions of the workhouse or the fourteen-year-old Irish runaway who is manipulated into working as a prostitute. Jennifer Worth is a memoirist who doesn’t put herself at the center of her story, but tells the stories of others who she came to as an outsider: a non-Catholic living with nuns and a middle-class woman among the Cockneys. She always strives to understand their lives on their terms, rather than imposing her views and even creates a 14-page appendix “On the difficulties of writing the Cockney dialect.” Her talent is capturing the diverse characters on the page, and making the reader care about them.

This book should appeal to watchers of Downton Abbey for the historical domestic British connection. For those like to hear about the lives of real and everyday people it will grab readers of Below Stairs, by Margaret Powell; Nella Last’s War, edited by Richard Broad and Suzie Fleming; or a new book, Minding the Manor: The Memoir of a 1930s Kitchen Maid, by Mollie Moran. I also recommend it for anyone who is interested in memoir, medical history, women’s lives or social problems.

Check the WRL catalog for Call the Midwife.

Check the WRL catalog for Call the Midwife on CD read wonderfully by Nicola Barber.

I haven’t had a chance to view the BBC series adapted from the book, but it has great reviews, so it is on my list. Check the WRL catalog for the BBC adaptation of Call the Midwife.


Between the Lines, by Jodi Picoult & Samantha Van Leer

Read This! - Fri, 2014-04-25 01:01

Melissa shares this review:

This is a fairy tale romance, but with a twist.

Mother/daughter team Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer explore what it might be like for characters when the book closes. Do they just stand around and wait for the reader to pick up where he or she left off, or do the characters have their own lives between the pages? In this story, the answer is that the characters live out their own lives until the book opens and they play their parts.

Delilah’s “real life” isn’t that great. She is in high school now, but still doesn’t have many friends—and her mom is always busy with work. Her main pleasure is reading. She particularly loves the story of Oliver and his quest to save Seraphima from a wicked magician. Even though the fairy tale is really meant for younger readers, Delilah reads the book again and again. It makes her happy to read how Oliver overcomes various challenges by using his wits. What she finds particularly appealing is that Oliver had to grow up without a father and so did she.

One day she is more than surprised when she notices a change in one of the illustrations.  She’s certain she would have remembered that design in the sand in the hundreds of times she read the book before…

When Oliver realizes that Delilah noticed the chess board he accidentally left in the sand during a break in the reading of the story, he is determined to make a connection to her. He shouts out—and Delilah hears him! At last he has a chance to leave the story and make his own adventures.

The rest of the story is Delilah and Oliver building a relationship despite coming from such different backgrounds (he is a prince, after all) and exploring ways for Oliver to leave the confines of the story. Can the magic of the story be altered to let a character escape to live his own life—or, once something is written, is it always the same?

I admired the story for not making a simple solution to the problem. Oliver can’t just write himself out of the book. And it doesn’t work out so well when Oliver tries to write Delilah into the story. On top of all that, Delilah is talking to a character in her book like he’s a real person—is she going crazy?

Between the Lines is an original, entertaining story about young friendship/love and a quest to be together. The story is cleverly split three ways: the original fairy tale story, Oliver’s point of view, and Delilah’s point of view. It is obvious when you’re reading the book which person’s perspective is being told. I also listened to this on audiobook and was easily able to follow the different voices. I hope to see more collaborative efforts from this team of writers!

Check the WRL catalog for Between the Lines.

Check the WRL catalog for the audiobook of Between the Lines.


Categories: Read This

Wiggle Waggle by Jonathan London, illus. by Michael Rex

Pied Piper Pics - Fri, 2014-04-25 01:01

This book is a great cure for restless toddlers who can’t sit through another story. Wiggle Waggle will have them wiggling like a duck, clomping like an elephant, snuffling like a pig, bumbling like a bear and even galumphing like a camel. No sitting required!
The illustrations are colorful and huge—and the text is simple and fun, so this works one-on-one or with a large group. There’s lots of variety in the movements required, and the animals range from cat to kangaroo. This will even work with babies, because parents can bounce, wiggle or bumble their baby to imitate each animal.

Check the WRL catalog for Wiggle Waggle.


Categories: Pied Piper Pics

The light, by D. J. MacHale

Blogging for a Good Book - Fri, 2014-04-25 01:01

We end the week with a Young Adult review by Chris from the library’s Outreach Services Division:

The light by D.J. MacHale is the first young adult book that I have read where I became so immersed in the storyline that I could not put it down.

The story follows a 16-year-old boy named Marshall who is being haunted.  Marshall is sure of only one thing, and that is whatever is happening has something to do with his best friend Cooper who has been missing for over a week.

Marshall, along with the help of Cooper’s sister, search for clues and unravel something bigger than either one of them could have imagined.

The light is the first book in the Morpheus Road trilogy.  Next in the series is The black, followed by The blood.

Check the WRL catalog for The light

 

 

 

 


Mama Makes Up Her Mind: And Other Dangers of Southern Living, by Bailey White

Blogging for a Good Book - Thu, 2014-04-24 01:01

 Today’s post is from Eletha  of the library’s Outreach Services Division:

Who can resist good family stories?  Anyone who knows me knows that I have plenty of family stories — many of which people wish I would keep to myself.  But, Bailey White’s collection of short stories, Mama Makes Up Her Mind: And Other Dangers of Southern Living, is an irresistible collection about family and daily living.  It is a great laugh aloud book – something that you would like to reread and share with others. The stories are quirky, funny, and most enjoyable.

The book features characters with plenty of personality, especially the mama stories.  White’s mother is featured in many of the stories, and mama’s quirkiness seeps through the pages. Mama is opinionated, stubborn, and very adorable. She enjoys life, and she gets what she wants, even if it puts everyone else in danger. Other characters in the stories are handfuls, just like mama, especially her aunt and uncle. White has plenty of personality, too — she can be very sassy.

Mama Makes Up Her Mind: And Other Dangers of Southern Living proves as we age, life gets more interesting, especially when we focus on what is most important — the family.

Check the WRL catalog for Mama Makes Up Her Mind


Don’t Squish the Sasquatch! by Kent Redeker, illus. by Bob Staake

Pied Piper Pics - Wed, 2014-04-23 01:05

Kids enjoy funny words, and they like to yell. That makes this book an instant hit because every couple of pages, the kids get to holler, “Don’t squish the sasquatch!”
The storyline is simple. A claustrophobic sasquatch (he’s green and very leggy), takes a bus ride, after warning the conductor, Mr. Blobule, that he does not like to get squished. As the bus makes its rounds, an odd assortment of characters boards the bus one by one, until things get really crowded.
The kids get to holler the refrain each time a new passenger boards. And the passengers are a strange bunch—each one a combo of two creature types, such as Mr. Octo-Rhino or Miss Loch-Ness-Monster-Space Alien. The illustrations are slightly on the small side, but I’ve used this book with two kindergarten classes in the room, and everybody enjoyed the pictures.
This one works with a monster theme, or it’s a great way to jazz up a transportation story time.

Check the WRL catalog for Don’t Squish the Sasquatch!


Categories: Pied Piper Pics

Unspoken, by Sarah Rees Brennan

Read This! - Wed, 2014-04-23 01:01

Charlotte shares this review:

“Sorry-in-the-Vale, Sorriest River, Crying Pools,” said Jared. “Is the quarry called Really Depressed Quarry?”

“Yes,” Kami answered. “Also I live on the Street of Certain Doom.”

Many young children have an imaginary friend, but not many teenagers. Kami Glass doesn’t advertise the fact that she hears someone else’s voice in her head. She doesn’t want the rest of her home town, Sorry-in-the-Vale, to think she’s crazy. She’d prefer they think of her as an intrepid investigative reporter tracking leads for her next big story. But her latest act of journalism, an investigation into the aristocratic Lynburn family—just returned to their ancestral manor after a generation’s absence—brings her face to face with someone even she didn’t believe existed: Jared, the guy who’s been sharing her thoughts for seventeen years.

For someone she’s been talking to her whole life, Jared isn’t what she expected. And although she’s predisposed to trust him, everyone else, even the boy’s mother, is warning her about his mysterious past and his violent temper. Meanwhile, something’s going on in Sorry-in-the-Vale: foxes killed in the woods, young women attacked in town. The investigation is getting deadly, and Kami really needs to know who she can trust.

Kami as telepathic Nancy Drew is a great, self-rescuing heroine with an entertaining entourage of friends. Author Brennan writes great villains of all stripes, some absolutely steeped in villainy and others conflicted with twinges of regrettable morality.

Set among the woods and lakes of the English Cotswolds, this first of a series plays with all of the elements of Gothic novels: the town full of secrets, the brooding rebel, and the foreboding house, with its motifs of drowned women and doorknobs shaped like clenched fists. If you were filming it, you’d have a hard time choosing one color palette: the atmosphere varies from lighthearted, Scooby Doo-style clue-hunting to shadow-drenched menace. The combination of adventure, smart-aleck commentary, heady emotional confusion, and one very dysfunctional family reminded me of Holly Black’s Curse Workers series, and readers of one should definitely try the other.

Check the WRL catalog for Unspoken.


Categories: Read This

Dead Man’s Fancy, by Keith McCafferty

Blogging for a Good Book - Wed, 2014-04-23 01:01

Ann Marie of the library’s Outreach Services Division provides today’s review:

Apparently the hand-tied bits of thread, feathers, and hooks that fly-fishermen use can have really colorful names, such Platte River Special, Vegas Showgirl, and Dead Man’s Fancy. You don’t have to be a fisherman, though, to enjoy the mystery Dead Man’s Fancy by Keith McCafferty. I found it to be an engaging, suspenseful story with colorful characters and a spectacular setting.

Set in the great outdoors of Madison Valley, Montana, the location is an integral part of this mystery series featuring Sean Stranahan. A former private detective from the East Coast, Sean now lives in Montana working as a fly-fishing guide and artist. Local Sheriff Martha Ettinger finds Sean’s skills very useful and occasionally employs him to assist the small sheriff’s department.

The book begins with a search for a missing woman who was called “the Fly-Fishing Venus.” Red-haired Nanika Martinelli worked as fly-fishing guide who seemed to attract fish and customers wherever she worked. Nanika fails to return from a trail ride, sending Sheriff Ettinger and her team on a search in the mountains for her. Ettinger doesn’t find Nanika but she does find a fellow ranch worker who had been searching for Nanika impaled on a dead bull elk’s antler. The dead elk had been claimed by a wolf pack so was the worker’s death caused by a human or by an animal? Where is Nanika and was she attacked by a wolf?

The politics of the wolf’s role in the West and the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park is the central theme of this mystery as Ettinger and Sean find themselves in the middle of the wolf-lovers and the wolf-haters. In her youth, Nanika had been part of an animal-rights group called the Clan of the Three-clawed Wolf and had been involved with the group’s charismatic leader, Fen Amorak. With the continued disappearance of Nanika, Sean is hired by Asena, Nanika’s Canadian sister to find her and to find out if Amorak was involved in Nanika’s disappearance.

As with many investigations, Sean and Ettinger have to start in the past to find out what happened in the present. Details of Nanika’s life with her trapper father start to come out as well as her eco-terrorist activities with the Clan of the Three-clawed Wolf. Sean also starts to question Asena’s motivation—is she really interested in finding her sister or is she more interested in seeking revenge against Amorak?

Sean gradually sifts through the clues figuring out which ones are pertinent and which are not. He uncovers the facts of Nanika’s life, finds Amorak, and of course, gets to do some fishing along the way. The case comes to a dramatic conclusion on the shore of a lake located high in the mountains of Yellowstone.

Dead Man’s Fancy is actually the third in this series. If you likes to start at the beginning of a series, try The Royal Wulff MurdersSecond in the series is The Grey Ghost Murders. (And yes, Royal Wulffs and Grey Ghosts are fishing flies, too.)

Check the WRL catalog for Dead Man’s Fancy

 


A Permanent Member of the Family, by Russell Banks

Blogging for a Good Book - Tue, 2014-04-22 01:01

Babette from the library’s Outreach Services Division provides today’s review:

Russell Banks’ new collection of short stories, A Permanent Member of the Family, is one of the best books I have read recently. The characters and the moral dilemmas in which they find themselves entangled continue to simmer in my mind.

Intentional or not, as a reader, I noticed the theme of death emerge as I read this collection of short stories. That being said, I must report that reading this collection of stories is not depressing, but rather a thought-provoking experience. Whether we like to acknowledge this or not, death is a permanent member of every family. Death reveals itself in an array of forms: death of a person or animal, death of a relationship, an image, a dream, a fabricated life, and so on.

Banks’ writing engages the reader swiftly into the lives of the characters presented in each of the stories who find themselves in a variety of perplexing situations.

Here is a sample of some of the situations… In Former Marine, adult siblings realize their father has committed an outrageous crime and ask themselves, “Can this be my dad?” The story Blue presents a woman alone and inadvertently locked overnight in automobile sales lot with a ferocious pit bull dog… is she a criminal or victim, how will this situation end? Top Dog explores the effects of success bestowed on one member of a group and the repercussions to the dynamics of their longstanding friendship.

The twelve stories in this collection encompass a diverse selection of characters from a cross-section of society. A Permanent Member of the Family is a satisfying read. Be sure to add it to your reading list.

Check the WRL catalog for A Permanent Member of the Family


A Short Guide to a Long Life, by David B. Agus

Blogging for a Good Book - Mon, 2014-04-21 01:01

This week’s reviews come to you from the library’s Outreach Services Division, starting with a recommendation from Connie:

If you are interested in trying to live a healthy life, but are confused about the abundance of medical information out there, this is the book for you!

Dr. David Agus, a cancer specialist, is often seen on TV commenting and interpreting medical studies for the masses. He is also the best selling author of The End of Illness.

Agus attempts to distill the medical research from that book down to a prescriptive list of his 65 health rules, hence the title – A Short Guide to a Long Life.

Some of the rules seemed obvious like #11 Practice Good Hygiene or #16 Get Off Your Butt More.  Some rules are not always practical like #7 Grow a Garden, #47 Have Children, or #49 Pick Up a Pooch. Some rules are expensive (#20 Consider DNA Testing).

The book is compact and concise. The author’s goal is to give the average person a set of health guidelines based on the science available today. He feels everyone should really think about their lifestyle and the choices we make every day. Each of us, according to the author, has the ability to take more control over the future of our health. Dr. Agus suggests examining his guidelines and implementing the choices that match our own individual values, ethics, and situations.

In addition to his “rules,” he offers a decade-by-decade list of preventative steps to consider and discuss with your doctor. The key to a healthy life is prevention. Of course, the younger you are, the more impact these guidelines will have. However, it’s never too late to take more control of your life.  I can’t think of a more useful general health book.

Check the WRL catalog for A Short Guide to a Long Life


The Ask and the Answer, by Patrick Ness

Read This! - Mon, 2014-04-21 01:01

Neil shares this review:

My friend and colleague Charlotte previously recommended the first book in Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy, The Knife of Never Letting Go. If you haven’t read that book, you ought to stop here and read it before continuing on. Spoiler alerts for anyone who reads on in this post! Still, this series is so good that it deserves a second entry.

The second book picks up with Todd and Viola waking to discover that Mayor Prentiss has arrived at Haven and holds them separately captive. The Mayor has changed tactics somewhat, and is now working to win Todd and Viola over to his cause. What follows are chapters full of subtle psychological games, as Todd and Viola try to confirm each other’s safety and reunite, while the Mayor plays both good cop and bad cop in his nasty but subtle style.

The unusual conceit of the series is that a virus left men on this planet unable to hide their thoughts from others. In their heads, each can hear what everyone else is thinking. Women don’t broadcast their thoughts but can hear those of men, an inequality that makes Mayor Prentiss particularly hard on them as he struggles to maintain control. Some residents of Haven give in quickly to his armed dictatorship, but others begin to engage in vicious guerilla warfare, hiding under the mysterious moniker of The Ask. The Mayor responds with his own Gestapo-like organization, The Answer. Not just Todd and Viola are at risk, everyone in Haven is in danger, and the future of the whole planet’s up for grabs, as another wave of colonizing ships is due soon. To make matters worse, the Mayor has discovered a method of masking his thoughts at times, using them like a weapon at others.

Todd, along with the Mayor’s bullying, ne’er-do-well son Davy, is put to work rounding up the planet’s other species, the strange Spackle, and monitoring their forced labor. Viola must recover from injuries, then begins to learn healing arts herself, all the while searching for both Todd and those with whom she could ally to fight the Mayor.

Ness writes masterfully, leaving the reader unsure of whom to trust. Todd, in particular, undergoes a dark journey in this novel, suffering manipulations that lead him to behaviors that give him great shame. The suspense of the outcome of the ongoing war becomes almost secondary to the question of whether Todd can even save his own soul. If you’ve ever wondered how people can become twisted enough to perpetrate the heinous deeds committed during wartime, this book will provide an unforgettable example. There’s drama, suspense, action, and an enduring romance at the core of a series, which should be enjoyable to all adults, whether they’re young or not.

Check the WRL catalog for The Ask and the Answer


Categories: Read This

Fran’s Flower by Lisa Bruce, Illus. by Rosalind Beardshaw

Pied Piper Pics - Mon, 2014-04-21 01:01

This is my favorite spring story for little ones! Fran’s Flower tells a simple, but engaging tale about a little girl’s first experience growing things.

Initially, it doesn’t go well. Fran finds a flowerpot filled with soil and a tiny bud peeking out. She takes it home and tells it, “Grow flower.” But nothing happens.

The flower must be hungry, she decides. So she feeds it a slice of pizza. The next day she tries a piece of cheeseburger, and the day after that she stuffs the pot with two chocolate chip cookies and a large spoonful of strawberry ice cream. Naturally, children find this hilarious.

Fran gets frustrated with the tiny plant and tosses it outside. Mother Nature takes over from there, and a few weeks later, Fran gets a delightful surprise.

This is a wonderful book for a springtime or gardening story time, and it is a natural lead-in to a discussion of how flowers grow. Beardshaw’s large, colorful illustrations are ideal for sharing with a group. WRL owns this under the title listed above, but the book also appears to have been released under the title Grow, Flower, Grow.

Check the WRL catalog for Fran’s Flower.


Categories: Pied Piper Pics

Wait for Me, by An Na

Read This! - Fri, 2014-04-18 01:01

Melissa shares this review:

Wait for Me is a novel about a Korean girl caught up in her mother’s expectations of success. Mina has no hope of achieving all that her mother desires for her. But instead of living with her mother’s angry, resentful disappointment, Mina tells lie upon lie to create the image her mother expects. It was easy to start the lies, easy to make her mother believe them, once she got the help of Jonathon Kim, the only son of the mother’s longtime friend.

Mina has a plan, based on more lies, for how she will escape from her mother once she graduates from high school. Once she is on her own, she’ll tell her mother the truth.

Mina has a younger sister, Suna, who has a hearing disability. Sometimes Suna takes out her hearing aid so she can find quiet and comfort in her own world. Suna’s observations interspersed with Mina’s chapters give another perspective to events during that hot summer before Mina’s senior year of high school, the summer Mina meets Ysrael and her perspectives change.

Wait for Me will appeal to anyone interested in other cultures, as well as anyone who has felt overwhelmed by someone else’s expectations. This is also a love story, and a story about sisters, and a story about growing up.

The book is beautifully written by An Na, who won a Printz Award for her first novel, A Step from Heaven. The audiobook is read by Kim Nai Guest. She does an excellent job in bringing Mina and Suna to life.

Check the WRL catalog for Wait for Me

Check the WRL catalog for the audiobook Wait for Me


Categories: Read This

What! cried Granny: An almost bedtime story by Kate Lum, illus. by Adrian Johnson

Pied Piper Pics - Fri, 2014-04-18 01:01

Patrick is having his first ever sleep-over at his Granny’s house and as bedtime gets closer, he turns on the stalling tactics. “I don’t have a bed,” or a pillow, or a blanket or a teddy bear he cries. His Granny is at the ready and works almost the entire night chopping trees, plucking chickens and shearing sheep to correct all of these bedtime obstacles. Is she going to be able to beat the sunrise so Patrick will actually get some sleep?

Kids are going to love hearing Granny yell “what?” every time Patrick thinks of a new problem that gets in the way of going to sleep and the story will ring true to adults who are oh so familiar with kids like Patrick.

Check the WRL catalog for What! Cried Granny: An almost bedtime story.


Categories: Pied Piper Pics

The Deed of Paksenarrion, by Elizabeth Moon

Blogging for a Good Book - Fri, 2014-04-18 01:01

Elizabeth Moon’s first trilogy of novels about Paksenarrion, a farmer’s daughter turned mercenary, then paladin, is one of the great works of epic fantasy fiction. These books, now issued as a single volume, The Deed of Paksenarrion, describe a satisfying character arc as Paks, as she’s known to friends, grows from good-natured naif to seasoned campaigner to a powerful heroine who has earned her scars.

The story begins as Paks escapes an arranged marriage by joining Duke Phelan’s mercenary company. She learns that war isn’t all adventure, and encounters the frightening powers of magic for the first time. She experiences friendship and sacrifice, and learns self discipline, and has a run-in with some scoundrels in her own company.

The second book is more exotic. Paks has left the company, as there are parts of its philosophy that she can’t make fit with her moral code. She trains to become a paladin, mixes with dwarfs and elves, and takes part in a great quest to an ancient stronghold. Ultimately Paks becomes the victim of some evil magic wielded by dark elves, and as the book ends she has lost her skill at combat and her courage, endangering her future as a paladin and even her life.

Moon brings everything together gracefully in the third book, which I won’t say much about to avoid spoilers. At its core, it involves Paks’s attempt to restore her courage and a quest to restore a missing king to power.

What makes this special? Paks is one of my favorite lead characters in fantasy, right up there with Frodo Baggins and Patrick Rothfuss’s Kvothe, and in many ways Moon’s development of her character more thoroughly builds a complete person than even those other favorites. The pacing is excellent throughout, with a great balance of action, suspense, and moral philosophy. Moon incorporates descriptions of the physical world and the details of horsemanship and fighting smoothly into her writing. Finally, I like that there’s a clear hero to get behind here, but still some gritty details. Paks earns her status.

Since publication of these books, Moon has written both prequels and sequels to this original trilogy. So while the original books are completely satisfying in and of themselves, unlike Tolkien there are more novels to continue your experience in a world you’ll probably grow to love.

Check the WRL catalog for The Deed of Paksenarrion


East of Eden, by John Steinbeck

Blogging for a Good Book - Thu, 2014-04-17 01:01

I’m a big fan of John Steinbeck. He’s a great blend of philosophical content, strong storytelling, intriguing characters, and an awareness of the effect of the natural world on people. He’s a great and important novelist, with all that implies, but he’s also still entertaining to read. Until recently, my list of favorite Steinbeck would have been 1) Cannery Row; 2) Of Mice and Men; and 3) The Grapes of Wrath. Now I have a new favorite: East of Eden.

East of Eden re-tells the biblical story of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, but moves the action to California. It starts in Connecticut just after the Civil War, where young Adam Trask goes through a difficult childhood with a domineering father and a violent brother. He eventually marries Cathy, a woman whom he wrongly idealizes. Something isn’t right in Cathy–a modern person would call her a psychopath.

Adam takes Cathy, against her desire, to northern California’s Salinas Valley. There she gives birth to twins, Cal and Aron, but then deserts the family and assumes a much different life, working in and ultimately running a brothel. His fantasy marriage obliterated, Adam flounders, but is ultimately saved by contacts with a neighboring family, the Hamiltons, and particularly with Lee, a Chinese-born man of high intelligence who hides behind a facade of the stereotypes people want to see in a Chinaman. The boys grow up, at first believing their mother dead, then each slowly discovering the family history in their own ways. Cal is the stand-in for Cain, and Aron is Steinbeck’s Abel.

That’s enough plot. Ultimately, one can overstate the allegorical nature of this story. It’s certainly there, but one could enjoy the book without knowing the bible story. Steinbeck adds additional elements to the tale, but is more sympathetic to Cal and his struggle to do good things than he is to Adam or Aron and their sometimes unconsidered idealism. The result is an epic moral tale, but a fun book too, with elements of romance, suspense, and humor.

I loved the characters in this novel, especially the neighboring patriarch and inventor Sam Hamilton and the slyly wise servant Lee, who becomes such an important part of the Trask family. Cal’s internal struggle is fascinating, and even Cathy, for all her evil, becomes something different to a modern reader, an intelligent woman trapped in a world made for men.

Another strong point here is Steinbeck’s love for the natural world of California. It shines through in his writing, even as he recognizes that the natural world can be cruel.

The library owns two film versions of this story as well, both entertaining, but neither quite as good as the book. The 1955 James Dean film is a classic, and still great fun to watch, but it condenses the story somewhat to make it fit into the length of a feature film. There’s also a 1981 miniseries, which does cover the entire book, if less vividly.

Check the WRL catalog for East of Eden


The Liars’ Club: a Memoir, by Mary Karr

Blogging for a Good Book - Wed, 2014-04-16 01:01

Mary Karr’s family was the family in your neighborhood that your parents warned you away from when you were a child. They’re volatile people, emotionally toughened one and all. Still, to get to know them through youngest daughter Mary’s 1995 memoir is a bittersweet pleasure for readers who can handle a walk on the dark and gritty side.

The Liar’s Club takes place in the 1960s in the Texas oil town of Leechfield and a few months in Colorado. Mary is nine and she and her twelve-year-old sister Lecia are wise beyond their years. They’ve been through some rough stuff: watching a sanctimonious grandmother die from cancer, sexual abuse from playmates and babysitters, and endless fights with other kids in their tough town.

Dad, doesn’t help. He’s an oil man who can be a wonderful father, but when life gets the most challenging he often turns into a distant, hard-drinking man known as the most dangerous man in town. He hangs out with the titular Liar’s Club (although by implication, this title also applies to the whole Karr family), men who tell tall stories with hard truths hidden inside them.

But Mom is the most problematic of all the Karrs. She’s a creative, independent, city woman trapped as a housewife in the 1960s in a small town. She’s carrying secrets from a painful past, details that aren’t revealed until later in the book. She tries to mask her pain with alcohol abuse, but that isn’t enough to dull her dark streaks. Her relationship with her husband alternates between passionate romance, sullen distance, and outright ugliness. For her daughters she is sometimes like a streetwise older sister, sometimes just plain dangerous.

As you can tell, this isn’t an easy book, but the lives feel authentic, and Karr leavens the pain with some hard-bitten humor. I’m often skeptical of childhood memoirs: Can authors really remember their youth in that much detail? I was at times dubious of a somewhat similar book, Jeanette Walls’ The Glass Castle, which I enjoyed but took with a grain of salt. There’s a subtle difference in Karr’s approach that makes me trust this book more. She admits at times that her memories differ from those of her sister’s, or sometimes she just tells us when recall fails and she’s working from after-the-fact speculation. And don’t forget, this is The Liar’s Club; even when the absolute truth is stretched, there is painful but sparkling and hard-won honesty at the core of the story. Read the scenes where Mary’s mother starts to burn the contents of the house or where she fails to cope under the combined pressure of a hurricane and the last days of her mother, and you’ll understand what I mean. If you like this, go on to her other memoirs, Lit and Cherry, both of which have also received high critical praise.

Check the WRL catalog for The Liar’s Club


Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan

Read This! - Wed, 2014-04-16 01:01

Andrew shares this review:

One of my colleagues and I were looking over a cart of books when I pulled this from the shelf. “Sounds too magical-realist,” she said doubtfully. I was still intrigued by the title, and decided to give it a few pages. I took it home and immediately plunged into Clay Jannon’s world, which Robin Sloan writes with anything but magical realism.

Clay’s career is stuck in neutral, a bad place to be in cutting-edge San Francisco’s Web-design world. Along about the time the last of his savings is headed to pay the rent, Clay is desperate enough to take anything. A sign in the window of a dim little shop (overshadowed by the neon of the strip club next door) advertises “Help Wanted,” and Clay enters Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.

If the store is surviving on actual, you know, book sales, Clay can’t tell it. Working the overnight shift, he rarely has any customers except a girl from the club dropping in for the latest bestseller, which Mr. Penumbra doesn’t stock. What he has, in his queerly shaped store, are tall shelves packed with volumes written in languages and letters Clay can’t decipher. Odd people sometimes duck in to pick up select volumes and duck back out after putting them on their special accounts.

With nothing much to do overnight, Clay starts building a virtual copy of the Bookstore to aid him in finding stuff from the collection. Then he starts adding data from past circulations and finds a pattern that amazes him and astonishes Mr. Penumbra. His discovery leads to another, and another, and the whole chain of discoveries leads Clay right back to the place he really started.

Sloan does a great job with the characters, from the friends who support and encourage Clay to the avuncular Mr. Penumbra. The characters play off one another, co-operating and offering their skills as Clay carries out his quest. But it’s the idea behind the story that really intrigued me—that there’s an exciting new frontier at the intersection of print and technology, and that advocates of both need to remember it. And even if writing about books on a blog is only building a little cabin on the edge of that frontier, well, that’s enough for me right now.

Check the WRL catalog for Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore


Categories: Read This

Cornelius P. Mud, Are you ready for bed? by Barney Saltzberg

Pied Piper Pics - Wed, 2014-04-16 01:01

This is a great book that demonstrates the importance of reading the illustrations as well as the text. “Yes” Cornelius tells his mom, “I’ve put away my toys.” Only by reading the pictures will you notice he’s put them away in the refrigerator! Fed your fish? “Yes,” but look closely and you’ll notice he’s fed that fish a chocolate chip cookie.

As Cornelius gets ready for bed, the reader will continue to laugh at all of his silly antics. The big colorful illustrations are delightful and you’ll be left with no doubts that “bedtime at Cornelius’s house is no ordinary event!”

Check the WRL catalog for Cornelius P. Mud, Are You Ready for Bed?


Categories: Pied Piper Pics