Melissa shares this review:
Charlie Bucktin is a loner. He’s a smart, bookish boy who doesn’t have many friends in his small Australian hometown in the 1960s. He’s working his way through his father’s library of classics when a knock sounds on his bedroom window. Charlie is surprised to find Jasper Jones, the town’s “bad boy,” asking him to slip away into the night and lend him a hand.
The story unravels a mystery and the events lead to Charlie uncovering many adult secrets. The knowledge forces him to grow up quickly in the face of racism, adultery, abuse, and disappointment.
“I would have been free of all this. I would have stayed safe in my room. I might have read a little longer. Then I would have slept like I used to. I would have woken as I normally would have. None the wiser. Much the lighter. I’d never have known Jasper Jones, I’d never have shared his story, I’d never have known this awful brick in my stomach. Misery and melancholy and terror would just be words I knew, like all those gemstones I collected in my suitcase that I never knew a thing about.”
Jasper Jones is a Printz Honor Book. The plot is well-developed and the characters are complex. The mystery is interesting, but it’s Charlie’s personal growth that makes it memorable. There were many passages I wanted to slow down and reread in the book. Observations about how people behave, questions about his actions, doubts about what he thought he could count on. Passages that made me stop and think or just had a unique turn of phrase that made a particularly vivid picture in my head.
I started listening to this as an audiobook and loved the performance by Matt Cowlrick. Cowlrick has a lovely Australian accent that really brought Charlie to life. I was so interested in finding out how the book ended that I also checked out the book so I could finish it without having to drive around and around the block.
Reviewers have listed this as appropriate for ages 12 and up. There is some bad language and appropriately stupid puns. The topics covered are definitely of an adult nature. There’s a lot here to facilitate a good book discussion for both young adults and adults.
Check the WRL catalog for Jasper Jones.
Check the WRL catalog for Jasper Jones in audiobook format.
Flora has lost her blanket and no one is going to sleep until it’s been found. Every parent will be able to identify with the bunny family as they search the house from top to bottom, inside and out for that special bedtime comfort item. As the bunny family searches, see if your listeners can predict the ending. Will they find the blanket? Where has it been? Will Flora have to sleep without it?
This book’s simple text and charming illustrations are sure to make it a family bedtime favorite.
Check the WRL catalog for Flora’s Blanket.
Scott Lynch is in the top tier of epic fantasy writers who are stretching the genre in new directions. Red Seas under Red Skies, the second book in his Gentleman Bastards series, like the first, The Lies of Locke Lamora, combines gritty epic fantasy with a buddy story and a heist crime story line. It’s a cinematic combination loaded with great banter between the lead characters, a twisty, suspenseful plot line, and exotic settings. The series is probably best experienced in sequence, but you could read the second book alone and have a satisfying reading experience.
Master thieves and swindlers Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen have gone on the run after their exciting and ultimately tragic adventures in the first book of the series, finally landing in Tal Verrar, a city state made rich by gambling. As the book opens, we find Locke and Jean in the midst of an elaborate scheme to rob the Sinspire, a seemingly impregnable fortress of a casino with increasingly exclusive action on each higher floor. To rob the most powerful players at the top, Locke and Jean first have to run a long con, winning at enough complicated games of chance to gain access to the upper floors.
But somehow their cover is blown and they come to the attention of Tal Verrar’s powerful political leader. I won’t give away too many plot points, but he traps Locke and Jean and forces them to pose as pirates in another elaborate scheme that will solidify his tenuous hold on power in the city state. There are some great comic scenes as the landlubber thieves try to learn enough seamanship to pretend to be seasoned sea dogs. Of course things go wrong, and the ruse becomes a kind of reality as the duo play for higher and higher stakes. They’ll have to survive pirates, politics, poison, a love triangle, and more, just to get back to the city where they hope to pull off an impossible crime that becomes as much about revenge as it does money.
It’s a complicated plot, but Lynch fills his books with so many great action sequences, so much razor-sharp repartee, so much good-natured derring-do, that it’s easy to forgive any moments where the story stretches credibility. He wraps up enough of these complicated plot lines cleverly that you will be more excited than you are bothered that there are cliffhangers leading to the third book, Republic of Thieves (which was published in late 2013 and has had great reviews as well). I know I’ll be among the readers following this masterful yarn to its conclusion.
One caution: this series is very much part of the gritty school of fantasy. These are street-toughened characters leading a violent and dangerous life, and readers should expect language and levels of violence that realistically match that setting. It’s leavened with plenty of charm and humor, but come prepared for lots of colorful cursing and bloody action.
Check the WRL catalog for Red Seas under Red Skies
Or try the story on audiobook on compact disc
Having taken Latin all through high school, I was a bit familiar with Ovid, at least with the less steamy pieces of writing (Sister Lawrence never had us translating the Ars Amatoria), including some of the stories from Metamorphoses. These tales, drawn from mythology, all tell stories of strange transformations that result from an excess of passion. Ted Hughes, who was poet laureate of England from 1984 until his death in 1998, presents his versions of 24 of these stories in Tales from Ovid.
Hughes is a superb poet, with a clear voice, who was early in his writing career much influenced by the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Like Hopkins, Hughes frequently writes about the natural world, but his poems are often darker than those of Hopkins. He also frequently writes about passion, and how it shapes our lives for better or for worse. Throughout his writings, Hughes often made use of images and themes from mythologies ranging from Classic to Celtic. The Tales from Ovid seem a natural progression from his previous works, since Ovid’s poems explore the transformative nature of passion.
There are some familiar stories here, at least for folks who have read some Roman mythology: the tragic tale of Actaeon, the sad tale of Arachne the weaver, and the mournful Pyramus and Thisbe (in fact none of these stories ends well for the participants). Hughes does not give a straight translation, slavishly trying to capture the Latin stresses and rhythms. Rather, he uses the original as a starting point for telling the story in clear, vibrant English. Here is a sample from “Echo and Narcissus”
The moment Echo saw Narcissus
She was in love. She followed him
Like a starving wolf
Following a stag too strong to be tackled.
And like a cat in winter at a fire
She could not edge close enough
To what singed her, and would burn her.
So, drawing on my memory of Latin class, now almost 35 years ago, I can only say “Tolle, lege.”
Check the WRL catalog for Tales from Ovid
A beautifully, richly illustrated story with rhyming text. This book makes a great read aloud – ideal for older pre-schoolers, K, and first grade. It contains a positive message about the love of books. It begins in the woods of Burrow Down where every creature is wondering about the mystery of the disappearing bedtime stories. The storybooks just disappear – even the smallest squirrel has a book taken! Is there a bedtime story thief? Eliza Brown, a brave little rabbit, is determined to catch this pest.
“She planned one night to lie in wait and use a pile of books as bait”
She is successful and the small flying creature she captures red handed is a snatchabook – he admits to being wrong too.
“Can’t you see I’ve got no-one to read to me!
Eliza realizes that the snatchabook just needs someone to read to him – “then he might behave alright!”
He agrees to make amends and return all the stolen bedtime stories. He can now join in happily, listening on someone’s bed to bedtime stories every night like the rest of the residents of Burrow Down.
Check the WRL catalog for The Snatchabook.
Jessica shares this review:
“If she sink, she be no witch and shall be drowned. If she float, she do be a witch and must be hanged.”
Fantasy blends with historical fiction and romance in this first novel of “The Tudor Witch Trilogy”. Set in England in 1554 readers are immediately placed in the time of Princess Elizabeth, who has been sent into exile at Woodstock Palace by her half-sister Queen Mary. Political tensions are running high and there is talk of treason. Just months ago young Princess Elizabeth found herself as a prisoner in the Tower of London after being accused of conspiring to overthrow the Queen. As no true evidence can be found she is instead sent faraway to crumbling Woodstock Palace. And so sets the scene for Meg Lytton, the Princess’s newest hand maiden. Meg has a powerful gift, one she must hide from all. She comes from a long line of witches and is very much one herself. But there is no room for witches in Catholic England and should she be revealed she would be hanged. However, Meg soon finds the Princess has an interest in the craft all her own and often calls on Meg and her aunt to help her see into the future and answer the always pressing question, “Will she ever be Queen”? But Meg and her aunt must exercise the most extreme measure of caution as the famed witch hunter Marcus Dent has taken an intense interest in Meg and wishes for her hand in marriage. Things only get worse as Meg learns her own family is conspiring against the Queen and her association with the Princess puts already exiled Elizabeth in further danger. When it seems all is going wrong and there is no one Meg can trust, in walks Spanish priest in training, Alejandro de Castillo and suddenly everything is beginning to look a little better and a whole lot more dangerous…
Check the WRL catalog for Witchstruck
Ted Kooser was Poet Laureate of the U.S. from 2004-2006, and is one of my favorite writers of short verse. He has often been compared to Robert Frost and Edgar Lee Masters for his ability to take the day-to-day events of rural and small town life and use those to explore the breadth of the human condition.
One of the things that I like the best about these poems is that they are always understandable. Kooser never resorts to obscure language or strange combinations of words. The titles of his poems give you a sense of Kooser’s topics: “The Red Wing Church,” “Furnace,” “A Frozen Stream,” “In an Old Apple Orchard.” And he writes about these things in clear language. But, Kooser then takes these familiar themes and all of a sudden opens up a new way of looking at the world. It is these flashes of insight that make any poem, and particularly Kooser’s, worth reading.
Here is one favorite, “The Grandfather Cap”
Sometimes I think that as he aged,
this cap, with the stain in its brim
like a range of dark mountains,
became the horizon to him.
He never felt right with it off.
Check the WRL catalog for Flying at Night
This is a funny, simple story about a dog’s life from the dog’s perspective. Large format digital illustrations make this suitable for group readings for pre-schoolers, a quick, funny reading to older kids, or inclusion in a dog-themed story time. The text is basic, short, and could be used for children learning to read. The story is about a loveable family dog – (mongrel, of course) and how busy his doggy life is!
“I wash dishes. Slurp! Slurp!”
“I inspect the trash for anything I can recycle. Munch! Munch!”
“I keep the humans warm since they don’t have any fur”
He doesn’t know how his family would manage without him! He epitomizes the dog that thinks he is, well, human!
Check the WRL catalog for A Dog’s Life.
Jennifer D. shares this review:
What Leena expects to be a perfect senior year at boarding school begins to fall apart from the first moment she sets foot back on campus. She’s excited to be living in Frost House with her two best friends, and will have a room to herself until their other friend returns from a semester abroad. Leena can’t wait to be out of the dorm, and moving into Frost House is a special treat because it was repurposed as women’s housing just for her and her roommates. Her excitement is soon dulled, however, by the news that she will be sharing her sanctuary with a roommate after all.
Celeste is eccentric, arty, and attention-seeking. So when she starts to complain about Frost House, Leena doesn’t quite know what to believe. Leena loves living in the old house and feels completely at home. Celeste feels like she is being watched, claims her belongings are being tampered with, and swears it smells like something died in her closet. Could Celeste be making it all up or is there really a presence in the house that Leena can’t sense? Why would Leena feel so comfortable in the house if there was really something wrong? Celeste certainly has a history of being unreliable, but even Leena can’t argue with the strange, if disparate, effect Frost House seems to have on them both.
Frost is not your usual haunted house story, and you may end the story with as many questions as you began. With that said, I enjoyed the layers author Baer built, each one adding more and more depth to the story than the last. Are the events of the story the result of a character’s psychological deterioration, a haunting, or something more mundane?
Check the WRL catalog for Frost.
Getting back into reading poetry can be daunting. You go to the shelves in the 811 section of the library and there are all these thin books by people you have never heard of. How do you know who is going to be interesting rather than tedious? One great way to get started is to try a poetry anthology. There are lots of books of collected poems in the WRL collection. Some focus on specific types of poetry, e.g. The 100 best love poems of all time, An anthology of modern Irish poetry, or The Oxford book of war poetry. Others are broader collections that cover centuries of poetry. Often, these are arranged chronologically to give the reader a sense of the sweep of poetry through the ages (the best of these is Oscar Williams’s anthology Immortal poems of the English language, a tattered, 35-year-old copy of which sits on my nightstand, thank you Sister Anna Jean!).
William Harmon takes a different approach in The classic hundred. Here, Harmon gathers together the 100 most-anthologized poems in English. The idea being that these are the poems that “have achieved the greatest success for the longest time with the largest number of readers.” These are, for the most part, shorter poems (though Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is included), and they offer readers new to poetry or those trying to rekindle an interest in poems some excellent choices. From William Blakes “The Tyger” to Yeats’s “When You are Old,” these are poems that avoid any hint of intentional obscurity or condescension. In these pieces, Harmon has put together a firm foundation for any further poetry reading.
Each poem receives a brief, but useful, introduction from the editor, placing the poem, and the poet, in their historic, literary, and cultural context. There is also a Notes section that has definitions of words and place names and sometimes a bit more information on the poetic form. All in all, this is an excellent place to start if you are looking for poems to read or to memorize. Here is one to start on, “Ozymandias,” by Percy Bysshe Shelley:
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Check the WRL catalog for The Classic Hundred
April is poetry month, so turning from Grant and the Civil War, the rest of this week’s posts will look at poetry and poets. As I have written about before, there are lots of reasons to memorize poems. The act of memorization is good for the brain, and I think that memorizing poetry is also good for the spirit. Poems are meant to be recited more than just read. One of the delights of poetry is hearing, not just in the mind’s ear but in your actual ear, the roll and flow of the words and rhythms. And there is nothing better than being able to recite a poem from memory.
So if you are looking to expand your poetry repertoire, Hollander’s book gives ample choices. Compiled by Hollander and a distinguished advisory board that included poets Eavan Boland, Robert Pinsky, Anthony Hecht, and Mona Van Duyn among others, the poems here are arranged to some extent by type. The book starts with Sonnets, and includes some classics like Shelley’s “Ozymandius” and several of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Songs are next, followed by Counsels, Tales, and Meditations. In each of these sections, there is a thoughtfully chosen mix of older and newer poets. All of the poems here are formalist in style. As the editor notes, free verse is by its nature hard to memorize. That is an appeal for me, as I am a fan of poems that have some elements of structure to them.
So, for April, find a poem and memorize it, and then recite it for someone you know. It will strengthen your brain, no doubt, but it will also strengthen your spirit. Hollander’s collection is a great place to start looking for options.
Here’s is a short poem to get started on, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Concord Hymn.”
By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the world.
The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.
On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set today a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.
Spirit, that made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.
Check the WRL catalog for Committed to Memory
Every so often, I feel the need to revisit older books that have been sitting on the shelves for a while unread. When my mother was doing some cleaning up at her house, she offered me a box of books that she was going to get rid of, and among them were several of Bruce Catton’s magisterial works on the American Civil War. A few years ago, I read Terrible Swift Sword (first published in 1969), part of Catton’s Centennial History of the Civil War. This past week, I picked up Grant Takes Command, the third book in the Ulysses S. Grant trilogy, started by Lloyd Lewis and completed by Catton.
Grant Takes Command follows the career of General Ulysses S. Grant from the Battle of Chattanooga in November of 1863 through the end of the war and Lincoln’s assassination. Over the course of the book, we see Grant revealed as both a superb, and often lucky, commander as well as a family man, who wrote regularly to his wife, and had her with him at various points of the campaign. Catton does not shy away from pointing out Grant’s failures as well, but compared with the rest of the Union generals, it seems clear that it was Grant’s confidence and tenacity that brought the war to a close. Grant appears to be one of the few generals on the Union side who managed to walk the treacherous line between politics and the war. The close relationship between Lincoln and Grant comes through here; Grant was the only commanding general who Lincoln seems to have completely trusted, and Grant clearly respected Lincoln.
Catton does an excellent job of portraying both the macro- and the micro- aspects of wartime for soldiers and commanders alike. He makes use of diary accounts and of the voluminous correspondence surviving from the war, not only official communiques but letters from officers, enlisted men, politicians, and civilians. These vignettes help us see beyond the maps showing sweeping troop movements, illuminating the daily lives of those at war.
I think that a particular interest here for me is that when Grant became commander of all the union forces he moved his headquarters to the Army of the Potomac, fighting Lee in Virginia. The last two thirds of Grant Takes Command are, as a result, set in Virginia, and knowing the places that Catton writes about, and in some cases having walked the ground, added an additional dimension to the story.
Catton is an able historian, and better yet, is an excellent writer of narrative. You may know how the story ends, but the journey from Chattanooga to Appomattox with Catton as your guide is one not to be missed.
Check the WRL catalog for Grant Takes Command
Lizzy shares this review:
Drew, the voice of the book, is a seventh grade sidekick in training. Drew, aka “The Sensationalist”, goes through middle school while fighting crime. Or at least he would be if his “super” would do anything besides drink in a bar. But besides that, life is awesome for Drew. He also has to deal with his crush on his best friend, Jenna. After getting a kickball to the face a year ago, he finally confessed he likes her. Sadly though, all those plans must go on hold as soon as a super villain escapes from prison. Is the Dealer coming back? Between listening to bad advice and learning right from wrong, Drew carries quite a load on his shoulders. With hilarious characters and great descriptions, Sidekicked is truly an amazing book.
Check the WRL catalog for Sidekicked.
Tony Ross has created more than one hundred books for children. Drat that Cat! is a humorous story illustrated with comic pen and ink watercolors. The book is about a beautiful white, furry cat with big blue eyes called Suzy. Suzy is always getting into trouble. She piddled on Dad’s golf bag and the smell would not go away. When Mom bought a bright new yellow sofa, Suzy loved to sharpen her claws on it. Everyone complained, “Drat that Cat!” But that was until Suzy refused to eat or drink! “She just lay on the bed.”
Check out this book to see how her owners bent over backwards to help her get better. And what did Suzy confide to Charlie Dog next door after she spent two days at the vet’s?
Check the WRL catalog for Drat that Cat!