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Billy Lynn’s Long Half-time Walk, by Ben Fountain

Blogging for a Good Book - Mon, 2014-03-31 01:05

Excoriating. Funny. Philosophical. Cynical. Crude. Lyrical. Obnoxious. Charming.  Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk manages to be all of these and more in a powerful story that encompasses about five hours in the life of one nineteen year-old boy/man.

It’s Thanksgiving Day, and in Texas Stadium eight enlisted men are sitting in the freezing rain waiting for the biggest moment of their young lives.  Along with Destiny’s Child, Bravo Squad (which isn’t its real name, but that’s what everyone calls them) are to be featured in the Dallas Cowboys halftime show.  Why this particular group of eight?  Because they were involved in a brief firefight in Iraq, Fox News caught in on videotape, and they are now bona fide All American Heroes, complete with medals pinned on by President Bush himself.  A two-week national tour to build support for the war, a few hours with their families, the halftime show, and Bravo is headed back for the war zone.

It’s hard to think of these men as men – they indulge in the timeless adolescent male hobbies of insults, play wrestling, lusting after women, and eating and drinking everything in sight.  There’s no question that Iraq has changed all of them, but Billy in particular has matured beyond his nineteen years.

A restless, somewhat rebellious and indifferent student, Billy was no star in high school, and when he committed an act of vandalism he was told to join the Army to avoid prosecution.  But whatever it was – training, maturing, innate courage – Billy was a leader in the firefight and was awarded the Silver Star.  But he also lost a friend and mentor, and while the fight itself seems unreal he remembers every detail of Shroom’s death.  Now Billy is questioning everything he sees in his country.

Because there’s no question that Bravo is being used.  Used by politicians looking for a cheap way to bolster their troop-loving images, used by the Cowboys’ owner to prove his patriotism, used by a movie producer looking for a big score, used by a megachurch preacher looking for street cred (this guy? Fountain doesn’t exactly say), used by ordinary people to demonstrate their love of country.  All this, as Billy points out, for a bunch of guys making under $15,000 a year.  It’s hard to tell which is the most insidious, but Bravo rolls with the attention in their best All American Hero fashion, revealing their true selves only in front of each other.

In some ways, Billy’s interior monologue sounds a little too mature, but I doubt he’d be able to articulate the things he’s thinking.  He’s observant and aware, understands that there is much he doesn’t know (like how someone can just up and buy a professional football team), and understands just as well that there’s no way he is ever going to move in the rarefied circles of people who attend state dinners with Prince Charles, own huge corporations, or even those who will pay $700 for a leather jacket with the Cowboys logo on it.  He’s also hungry for relationships that mean as much as the love he carries for Bravo’s dead and wounded, and there’s a remote possibility that he may have found it in Texas Stadium.

Billy is an unforgettable character, partially because he has an uncomfortable way of looking at his fellow Americans and partially because the reader wants so much for him to survive and succeed.  Ben Fountain gives him some wonderful lines (“Somewhere along the way America became a giant mall with a country attached.” And of Texas Stadium, “Give bigness its due, sure, but the place looks like a half-assed backyard job.”).  Fountain also renders the conversation of the people Billy meets in a phonetic shorthand offset from the regular text, just as the flow of cliches must sound to someone who hears them ad nauseum.  The story’s pacing makes it difficult to put down – it’s as fast a read as any thriller – but Fountain’s language deserves close examination, or even multiple readings, to catch his observations and intentions.  One warning for those who might mind: Billy and his comrades are pure id – all those insults and all that lust is as crude as you can imagine.

Check the WRL catalog for Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

It will also be available as a Gab Bag in April 2014.

Asylum, by Madeleine Roux

Read This! - Mon, 2014-03-31 01:01

Lizzy shares this review:

For sixteen-year-old Dan Crawford, the New Hampshire College Prep program is the chance of a lifetime. Except that when Dan arrives, he finds that the usual summer housing has been closed, forcing students to stay in the crumbling Brookline Dorm—formerly a psychiatric hospital. As Dan and his new friends Abby and Jordan start exploring Brookline’s twisty halls and hidden basement, they uncover disturbing secrets about what really went on here . . . secrets that link Dan and his friends to the asylum’s dark past. Because Brookline was no ordinary mental hospital, and there are some secrets that refuse to stay buried. –Book Summary from Amazon.com

Asylum is a thriller unlike anything else. The book draws you in with its real life photographs and plot. The setting, an old asylum turned into a dorm, is perfectly used. The characters change throughout the book, making your mind even more curious. The plot moves through visions to murder. The reader feels the emotions each character is feeling. Beware! This book is hard to put down.

Check the WRL catalog for Asylum.

Categories: Read This

Surfer Chick by Kristy Dempsey, illus. by Henry Cole

Pied Piper Pics - Mon, 2014-03-31 01:01

Surfer Chick, written by Kristy Dempsey and illustrated by Henry Cole, is the cute story about a baby chicken who wants to learn how to surf for the first time. She goes to the surf shop with her dad and buys a shiny new pink surfboard, but the real fun begins when the chick goes out onto the water for the first time. She soon discovers that it’s harder to stay on the board than she previously thought. Eventually though she gets the hang of it, and has the time of her life riding the biggest waves.
With bright, colorful, and super cute artwork, this book is great for all ages. Whether a child reads or listens to the story, this book is a lot of fun. It is a good read for the summer time, or maybe to take along on a beach vacation. So definitely check this book out!

Check the WRL catalog for Surfer Chick.

Categories: Pied Piper Pics

Lucid Food, by Louisa Shafia

Blogging for a Good Book - Fri, 2014-03-28 01:01

Lucid Food isn’t strictly vegan like the four cookbooks reviewed earlier this week.

Its focus is on sourcing food more ecologically and conscientiously. This makes it an excellent resource for omnivores bothered by factory farming practices and their impact—square with the slow food, clean eating, sustainable agriculture, and locavore movements. I did find Lucid Food to be decidedly vegetable-focused and the many creative vegan recipes included are full of exquisite flavors. Author and catering chef Louisa Shafia really backs up in her life what she writes about in this cookbook by the way she does business; her catering company is also called Lucid Food and practices an innovative waste-free approach.

…more than eighty-five healthful, seasonal recipes that will guide you toward making earth-friendly choices about what you prepare for meals…

Shafia suggests ways to choose fish and seafood more thoughtfully. I learned that the farming of mussels actually inspires cleaner coastal marine stewardship without the use of antibiotics and chemicals, about wild-caught species that are caught using methods that don’t kill unwanted animals in the process, and other safer choices for the eco-conscious eater. We can consume less by using seasonings to add briny flavors associated with fish dishes to tofu, tempeh, beans, and other proteins, still satisfying taste buds without adding to the imminent crisis predicted—that worldwide fish and seafood populations may disappear before mid-century.

This is a beautiful book and I can’t wait to cook more of its fine, elegant recipes that are a fusion of tastes and cultural traditions.

Check the WRL catalog for Lucid Food and Louisa Shafia’s latest cookbook The New Persian Kitchen.

The Gathering, by Kelley Armstrong

Read This! - Fri, 2014-03-28 01:01

Melissa shares this review:

This is the first in Kelley Armstrong’s Darkness Rising trilogy.  It’s a compelling story about a teenager who seems to be developing some special abilities.

Maya lives in Salmon Creek.  The town was built by a medical research facility to house the employees and their families.  There are less than 70 students in her entire school.

For her sixteenth birthday, her parents agree to let Maya get her paw-shaped birthmark inked in as a tattoo.  Instead of being a happy occasion, Maya has a strange encounter with an old woman at the tattoo parlor who calls her a witch.

With the exception of the tragic swimming accident that killed her best friend, growing up in the small community has been pretty normal for Maya.  All that is about to change — and I don’t want to give too much of the plot away.

As Maya searches for answers about what the old woman said she experiences a stronger than normal connection to animals: dreaming about running with cougars, feeling the memories of a wounded animal she’s nursing back to health, experiencing heightened senses.  Her friend Rafe offers her an answer that seems too impossible to believe.  But when she sees the impossible with her own eyes, how can she doubt the truth?

The Gathering has a very exciting ending that leaves you breathless for the next story – The Calling

I listened to this on audiobook and enjoyed the reading by Jennifer Ikeda.  Her voice fit perfectly with what I thought Maya would sound like.  And that’s what I liked most about the book — Maya.  She is smart and likeable.  Her relationships  seem like real relationships — from her overprotective best friend to the girl she doesn’t get along with so well.  This is definitely a book setting up a paranormal situation, but none of the characters’ decisions or plot twists made me roll my eyes in disbelief.  I’m looking forward to seeing how this develops through the next two books.

Check the WRL catalog for the audiobook of The Gathering

Check the WRL catalog for The Gathering

Categories: Read This

King Midas and the Golden Touch by Charlotte Craft, illus. by K.Y. Craft

Pied Piper Pics - Fri, 2014-03-28 01:01

King Midas and the Golden Touch, told by Charlotte Craft and illustrated by K.Y. Craft, tells the story of an ancient Greek king, greedy for all the gold he can get his hands on. One day, King Midas is granted one wish, so he wakes up the next day and everything he touches turns to gold. After having his initial fun, an unfortunate accident happens due to his new ability. King Midas must choose wealth or family, but don’t worry, it doesn’t have a tragic ending.
The artwork is beautiful, with its rich colors and gold that stand out. The drawings are very nearly realistic, truly drawing the reader into the world of the myth. This book is enjoyable for all ages, but is better when read together because of the amount of text and larger vocabulary. This book is for anyone looking for an interesting story with a universal lesson.

Check the WRL catalog for King Midas and the Golden Touch.

Categories: Pied Piper Pics

Ripe from Around Here, by Jae Steele

Blogging for a Good Book - Thu, 2014-03-27 01:01

Vegan and locavore enthusiast Jae Steele aims to educate us about food’s origins—that is, how far it might have traveled to reach your local grocery market. She wants to equip us with the know-how to minimize our impact on the planet and its inhabitants when shopping for plant-based food locally.

First, and foremost, she clearly values and encourages the infusion of fun and joy into your lifestyle, wherever you live. In her book, I finally met a vegan who acknowledges that there are eaters who just don’t like each and every vegetable—no force feeding here! You’ve only gotta eat foods you like.

It’s not enjoyable if you’re feeling shamed or guilted into it, so let’s focus on doing the best we can—and doing it joyfully.

Packed with useful information, Jae becomes an irresistible friend motivating you to thoughtfully plan weekly meals and seasonal produce shopping, and she makes it all so fun! Learn how to explore a variety of veggies and fruits seasonally. You already knew that folks are asking questions at the farmer’s market, but if you’re feeling tongue-tied, Jae will arm you with the knowledge to get out there and get to know your food and the farmers who grow it more intimately. She includes great details for creating an indoor composting system using red wriggler worms, which I seriously might try, because I’m not quite ready to garden beyond my deck and in pots, let alone start tilling the yard.

Recipes are supplemented with fact-filled charts on individual plants’ versatile uses and health benefits. Woven into Jae’s very clear instructions are tips that most cookbook authors fail to provide such as a thoughtful hint to zest the lemon before you slice into it for juicing—I tried to get the zest from an already-squeezed lemon once and have the scars to prove it!

Check the WRL catalog for Ripe from Around Here.

Hercules by Robert Burleigh, illus. by Raul Colon

Pied Piper Pics - Wed, 2014-03-26 01:01

Hercules, written by Robert Burleigh and illustrated by Raul Colon, is an exciting retelling of the myth of Hercules’ last labor. Hercules, the great hero, must take the fearsome, three-headed dog Cerberus from Hades, using nothing more than his bare hands. In the end, Hercules is able to return to his village, victorious and celebrated, and then he is allowed a much-needed rest.
The artwork in this book is fantastic, in true keeping with the glory of this myth and its hero. The colors and the style bring the reader back to ancient Greece, right in the thick of Hercules’ heroic labors. It would certainly appeal to the child who loves adventure and excitement. This book is ideal for a later elementary school children, as there are some larger, harder to pronounce words. Parents could also read this to younger children who have an interest in mythology. Robert Burleigh’s rendition of an ancient tale is sure to appeal to a wide audience.

Check the WRL catalog for Hercules.

Categories: Pied Piper Pics

Main Street Vegan, by Victoria Moran

Blogging for a Good Book - Wed, 2014-03-26 01:01

Here, in the middle of the week, I’d like to address you middle-of-the-roaders about a book that ensures that veganism is not only for celebrities, that you mustn’t wait until you’re making big bucks to take the vegan plunge.

Victoria Moran gently instructs in the ways of being vegan, without judgment, without scolding those who claim to be vegans who eat fish (you either are or you aren’t a person who doesn’t eat animals), with only a subtle amount of coercion through the storytelling she feels obligated to impart, as a witness to the deaths of animals at slaughter and the horrific conditions of the dairy, poultry, pork, and other animal product industries. Some may have heard it all before—a lot of shocking videos circulate the internet—but for those of you who’ve been oblivious to this media outrage, her essays may cause you to pause before you order that next chicken sandwich.

Even if you’re already convinced that vegan is best, you feel handicapped by the outrageous price difference between organic, locally grown produce at the trendy farmers’ markets and the genetically modified, pesticide-coated, homogenous assortment in your supermarket and discount store grocery aisles! What to do???

Forty brief chapters with facts, personal stories, and guidelines introducing you to vegan concepts and cooking techniques each conclude with a recipe. It’s meant to make plant-based cuisine possible for every kind of eater with any kind of income, not just the elite many of us believe are the only folks who can actually afford to live a vegan, organic, eco-conscious, locavore’s lifestyle. Basically, the book is for those of us who live “main street” lives, not “Fifth Avenue” existences. Moran addresses the fact that wherever you are with these goals, it’s okay; you don’t have to do everything perfectly from the beginning.  Our heartstrings are often pulled by myriad causes. She nudges us in the most compassionate direction, and seems to want us to prioritize minimal impact on the animal world above concerns for our individual health if we truly wanna go vegan—are we okay with that? She challenges us to think about such things as we progress.

But you can only do what you can do, especially if you’re raising a family, and stretching paychecks has become an acrobatic feat.

For example, though we are encouraged to support the organic movement, which she says will become more affordable as demand increases (put your money where your mouth is), she’s realistic about such dilemmas as eating organic all the time being terribly more expensive. She helpfully elucidates a “dirty dozen” list of produce to avoid if not organic and a “clean 15″ list of more economical fruits and vegetables you can buy without worrying over the lack of an organic label (sourced from Environmental Working Group).

A very comprehensive collection of appendices provide additional resources and bibliographies for those who want to take things to the next level, from where to go online for further research to where to buy your clothes, shoes, and household cleaning supplies without harming animals. This book is worth picking up even if it’s just for the to-die-for-yet-guiltless Chocolate Mousse recipe—putting together the unexpected ingredients required a leap of faith but I was astounded by the results.

Check the WRL catalog for Main Street Vegan.

The Testing, by Joelle Charbonneau

Read This! - Wed, 2014-03-26 01:01

Jennifer D. shares this review:

There’s always room for another Hunger Games read-alike, right? Particularly these days when that series can be hard to come by at the library. And especially if, like The Testing, it’s excellent in its own right.

Author Joelle Charbonneau has created a dystopian version of the United States as it might look after years of bombardment by both human warfare and natural disasters. As the country attempts to recover from the Seven Stages War, Cia Vale is anxious to use her innate mechanical talent to help rebuild. She desperately wants to follow in her father’s footsteps and go to the University. The only way to do that is to successfully complete The Testing. Competition is cut-throat, and Cia soon learns that one wrong move could mean not just failing at her dream, but losing her life.

Another aspect of this series that I love is its expedited release schedule. Book two, Independent Study came out a mere six months after The Testing, and Graduation Day comes out this June. Waiting six months between installments is much preferred to the usual year-long wait for a sequel. Once you read The Testing, you’ll be glad you don’t have so long to wait either.

Check the WRL catalog for The Testing.

Categories: Read This

Vegan Cooking for Carnivores, by Roberto Martin

Blogging for a Good Book - Tue, 2014-03-25 01:01

Personal chef to Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi, Roberto trained as a master chef, not a master vegan chef! He learned to substitute meatless ingredients in his first week of employment with the celebrity couple who’d gone vegan. All I’m thinkin’ is: not vegan, doesn’t cook vegan, Ellen and Portia determined to live vegan, Roberto must have been spectacular in their eyes (and his references’) despite a lack of experience! I imagine a shortage of truly vegan chefs at this point in culinary history, so I suppose a truly fine chef can adapt. The proof is in the… truly tasty dishes you can create with his cookbook. Perhaps your favorite will be Red Beans and Rice—it’s Ellen’s—served each Monday.

Packed with “meaty” and “cheesy” recipes substituting vegan ingredients while aiming for equivalent texture and taste, vegans with a fond taste for burgers, quesadillas, pizza, pasta, and pork will find much to love. Now, in my household, in addition to trying to please the meat-lovers in my family with plant-based no-meat-or-dairy recipes, I’m avoiding refined sugars plus seeking real, cleaner food. And while some of the commercial ingredients need scrutiny, Roberto’s ingredients are fairly easy to identify, making vegan cooking more convenient for us busy folks. The “Breakfast” section delighted me by using no sugar other than natural fruits, Agave nectar, and pure maple syrup. Folks, it seems to me that going vegan shouldn’t equal loading up on sugar daily! “Desserts” will satisfy those who desire to live it up occasionally with such treats as the incredibly simple Pumpkin Pie and fiercely scrumptious chocolate cake, Vegan la Bête Noire (The Black Beast).

Very useful is the section “Condiments, Sauces, and Dressings,” recipes that should adequately substitute for some of the staple ingredients of meat-milk-and-cheese-eating culture, including cream cheese spread (using cashews, tofu, and savory seasonings), sweetened condensed nondairy milk with cornstarch, sugar, almond milk, and vanilla (used in “Desserts”), and a very passable Caesar Dressing with no eggs, anchovies, or cheese. I’d been looking for better natural salad dressings made without sugar or corn syrup and Roberto provides a variety.

This is a handsome book—well, Roberto’s on the cover, so that was easy—with color photos of real food, not fancy or over-garnished—how real [vegan] celebrities might eat on ordinary days in the privacy of their homes! Plus, this book helps you feed the true carnivores at your table without sacrificing your vegan principles. The text addresses ordinary cooks who love good food, family time, and entertaining. I absolutely love it when nearly all recipes are complemented with visuals to aid those of us without a personal chef. There are sweet photos of Roberto, his wife, and their son cooking together. Ellen wrote a nice afterword for their chef’s book and features him on her television show. Portia’s story told in the foreword brought tears to my eyes and may convert many a carnivore to veganism.

Search the WRL catalog for Vegan Cooking for Carnivores.

Night Knight by Owen Davey

Pied Piper Pics - Mon, 2014-03-24 01:07

Looking for a new bedtime story? Look no further. Night Knight by Owen Davey is a new k-nighttime quest for you and your little adventurer to embark upon.

Come along as a modern knight gets ready for bed, as he rides through forests, battle crocodiles, and climbs the tallest tower. “For a knight like me, going to bed…is a great adventure.” Each aspect of bedtime, climbing the stairs, taking a bath, brushing teeth, and climbing into bed, is given a knightly equivalent. The stairs become a mountain, our knight’s beloved hound becomes a fire-breathing dragon, and before bed he makes sure to put away his cherished toys in their treasure chest. Recreating these pre-bedtime rituals through the eyes of an aspiring knight is encouraging and affirmative, and great preparation for sleep.

For the illustrations, British author Davey uses a striking theme of reds, oranges, and yellows, and has created images composed of cut-paper collages. The double page spreads are visually striking and very stylized.

Night Knight is best suited to younger children, aged two to five, and it would work perfectly for repeated bedtime readings, thanks to its brief narrative. This book would be a great addition to any child’s bedtime routine.

Check the WRL catalog for Night Knight.

Categories: Pied Piper Pics

Pure Vegan, by Joseph Shuldiner

Blogging for a Good Book - Mon, 2014-03-24 01:01

This week, Mindy highlights titles from the rapidly growing universe of vegan cookbooks.

Embark on a culinary adventure with this mind-blowingly beautiful showcase of very elegant vegan cuisine, artfully presented in jewelescent photography and a very eye-pleasing graphic design format. I love the subtle color-coding of warmish pastel-tinted recipe pages that distinguish “morning” from “afternoon” and “evening,” closing with “late night” and “very late night” (for your midnight cravings). It’s refreshing—not the usual categories of breads, soups, salads, entrées, etc…, no entire meal plans either, just fine examples of fancy vegan recipe standouts to fall in love with.

Shuldiner wants his readers to venture into previously unexplored territory, recommending we give any intimidating or obscure items a first go even though it’s possible to substitute some ingredients with more familiar items. Thankfully, hard-to-find food items don’t predominate, but a few did have me searching online for definitions and sources: agar, yuba, sumac, and pomegranate molasses, not your every-day staples. A list of mail-order and online resources is included. Some of the exotic cooking implements he suggests I was not inclined to acquire—Shuldiner has a recipe for Chocolate-Tahini Timbales cooked in timbale (aka baba) molds, which will surely taste just as exquisite cooked in mini-muffin or popover tins (though not nearly as cute as the pictured “corks” or “bouchons” as they’re called). I’ll cook just about anything with the word “chocolate” involved.

Shuldiner doesn’t use this book to engage in any political or environmental debates about veganism. He merely aims to share his supreme vegan creations for those who want to enjoy imaginative plant-based recipes and to dispel any imaginings of vegan blandness. Gourmet-literate cooks who want to impress guests with fancy vegan food can’t go wrong with this lovely book, and there are many unique and appealing appetizers to try. Vegans, regardless of whether they consider themselves purist, can take their usual fare to the umpteenth level of class with these recipes.

Check the WRL Catalog for Pure Vegan.

The Impossible Knife of Memory, by Louise Halse Anderson

Read This! - Mon, 2014-03-24 01:01

Michelle B. shares this review:

Hayley Kincain spent the formative years of her life cross-country traveling with her veteran father who upon returning from Iraq became a truck driver. Hayley’s father’s experiences in Iraq left him with severe PTSD and as a result Hayley has to take care of him more than he takes care of her.

One day Mr. Kincain decides that for her senior year of high school Hayley should attend a “real” school so they stop traveling and settle down. Hayley hates school, in part because she is afraid of what will happen to her father without her constant presence at home. While she is very hesitant to trust anyone, she finds friendship in Finn, and for the first time, a person she can confide in.

Written in first person, The Impossible Knife of Memory impressively captures the ascerbic wit of a memorable teenager while also handling sensitive topics such as PTSD, abuse, neglect, and addiction remarkably. Anderson includes the harsh realities of these problems in the context of fully fleshed out characters which allows me to empathize more with the characters and see them as people who could be just like me, rather than people with “problems.” Simultaneously hilarious and tragic, The Impossible Knife of Memory is recommended to all lovers of romance and realistic fiction, particularly to those who loved The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

Check the WRL catalog for The Impossible Knife of Memory.

Categories: Read This