Friday, September 30, 2011

A Long, Long Sleep

by Anna Sheehan
Somerville, Mass. : Candlewick Press, 2011.

Rosalinda Samantha Fitzroy wakes up from stasis to find a boy with his lips on hers. Okay, it's not exactly like Sleeping Beauty because stasis froze her body, and he thought she wasn't breathing. But she's been asleep for over sixty years: her parents are dead, her world has changed, and she is the heiress to an interplanetary company, UniCorp. She has to learn to cope with this world as well as learn what has happened in her absence.

I picked this book up entirely because of the cover. It's mostly white, with a roses and thorns in shades of pink, on the front, back, and even the spine. Very eye-catching and attractive, even when it's on a shelf amongst other books, and it led me to believe this would be a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. It's not. Instead, this is Rose's story of coping after waking, and we find out bits and pieces of what happened to her before, and what's changed in the world. In the beginning, it confused me to keep threads of the story straight, as Rose's past and present are my world's future. Other times, like Rose's history class in school, information about what happened after she was put in stasis seemed to be a bit of an information dump. But Rose is a compelling character, and the mystery surrounding her circumstances is a compelling one. Though the story ends satisfactorily, it leaves some possibility open for a sequel, and I do hope that's the case.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Penny from Heaven

by Jennifer L. Holm
narrated by Amber Sealey
New York : Random House/Listening Library, p2006.

Penny's real name is Barbara, but she's always been called Penny after the song lyric, "pennies from heaven." She lives with her mother and grandparents; her father is dead, but on his side of the family is a large, loving Italian American extended family complete with grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins. The summer she is eleven-going-on-twelve is in the 1950s, and Penny gets a chance to work at her uncle's butcher shop.

I found Penny to be a really likable heroine, and her story is charming. Amber Sealey is an excellent narrator, not only capturing Penny's voice, but also managing a bunch of Italian-accented English that still sounded like individual characters (though not having any Italian relatives, I couldn't tell you how accurate the accent was!). Penny's interactions with her various family members are realistic, and easily relatable. Though this is technically historical fiction, it's based at least partly on the author's own experience growing up, and the history is more of a fact of her life - such as her grandfather's experience in the war - rather than a lesson. A really enjoyable read that I highly recommend.

Monday, September 26, 2011


by Veronica Roth
New York : Katherine Tegen Books, 2011.

In a future society, the five factions - Abnegation, Dauntless, Candor, Amity, and Erudite - have ended war. At the age of sixteen, each of their children is given an aptitude test for the traits that the factions most prize, and choose which faction they wish to join. Beatrice has grown up in Abnegation, but her aptitude test is inconclusive. She is Divergent - a rare person who could choose equally between a few factions. Sound good? The woman giving her the test says it's dangerous, but won't explain why. Beatrice's choice of a faction may be more far-reaching than she can imagine.

Wow, what an adrenaline ride! I started reading this book late last night, intending to only read a little before going to bed. Two hundred pages later, at nearly midnight, I went to bed only to pick up the book again first thing this morning. Beatrice, or Tris, as she renames herself, is a compelling, complex character. She narrates her story as she discovers that the original good intentions, such as the end of war, selflessness, courage, and intelligence, have been manipulated and becomes warped by a capacity for evil that humans can never entirely eradicate. The story ends well - a few loose ends, but no cliff-hangers - but even after 482 pages, I was left wanting more.

Friday, September 23, 2011

On the Wings of Heroes

by Richard Peck
narrated by Lincoln Hoppe
New York : Random House/Listening Library, p2007.

Davy Bowman can divide his life into two parts: before the war, and during. During World War 2, he and his family are affected by rations, drives for materials such as paper and metal, and by Davy's brother Bill going off to fly B-17's.

Something about Richard Peck's writing fit perfectly with an audio format. Though the subject of war makes this story a bit more sober in tone than others I've read (like A Year Down Yonder and Here Lies the Librarian, his trademark humor and focus on small-town life with quirky characters still shines through. Lincoln Hoppe was an excellent reader, sounding like he was smiling through most of the story, if not about to laugh during the funnier parts. Whether you like humor, historical fiction, or just a good old-fashioned story, I highly recommend this book.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Whose Body?

by Dorothy L. Sayers
New York : Harper, c1923.

Lord Peter Wimsey loves a thumping good mystery. When a body shows up in a vicar's bath tub, his mother the Dowager Duchess - who can never quite admit that her second son is an amateur detective - asks him to help discover its identity. Then his friend Parker turns up with a second mystery: Reuben Levy is missing. The body is certainly not Levy, but the two men decide to help each other in their investigations.

I didn't know quite what to expect of Lord Peter, since my only other introduction to his sleuthing was in a collection of short stories. In some ways, I was a little surprised that this was the first book in the series - we're not really introduced to people, such as Parker, as if this was the first time we have encountered them. Instead, we're thrown in to Lord Peter's discussion with his mother, told that he's dabbled in detecting before, and even given references to past cases. There are intriguing hints of the past that I hope are explored further as the series goes on. Lord Peter was really quite funny, and I generally enjoyed this tale, even though I figured out who and just a bit of how the murder was done before he did. I was a bit bothered by the antisemitism inherent in some comments regarding Reuben Levy. This was generally confined to the beginning of the book when we're told he has a good character, while "despite..." is implied. The particular copy from my local library was, I think, a 1923 first edition which was a little nerve-wracking (I was a little afraid it would fall apart in my hands, as the spine was damaged and had been repaired at least once), but neat.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night

by Joyce Sidman
illustrated by Rick Allen
Boston [Mass.] : Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2010.

The look of this Newbery-Honor winning book is deceptively simple. It is the size of a picture book. Instead of a linear story, however, the text is made up of poems tracing the course of night from dusk to dawn by focusing on varying aspects such as nocturnal animals, trees, and the moon. Each poem is on the left-hand side of the page, with a small illustration; a larger illustration fills most of the opposite page. On the far right of the illustration, in smaller font that could easily be ignored when reading to a younger or restless audience, is a short paragraph filled with fascinating tidbits about the subject of the poem.

I confess I was so focused on the text - poetry and nonfiction - that I glossed over the illustrations at first. Then, I read about the process on the title page, which made me take a second look. The method used is relief printing, a process in which a drawing is transferred to wood which is then carved, covered in ink, and printed onto paper. In order to create colorful prints as are in this book, this process of carving, inking, and printing must be done multiple times in multiple colors - and aligned perfectly. Think that sounds like a lot of work? Read on: "The prints for Dark Emperor were each printed from at least three blocks (and in some instances as many as six) and then hand-colored with strongly pigmented watercolor called gouache." Wow. And I had thought of them as fairly simple! I had to page through again, this time in awe of the amount of work it took to create each illustration. This is a truly lovingly crafted book of poetry, nonfiction, and illustration.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

I Shall Not Hate

by Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish
New York : Walker & Co., 2011.

*NOTE: This review refers to the book I received through LibraryThing Early Reviewers. As per the rules, I receive a free book in return for a review, and whether it's positive or negative has no affect on my receiving books in the future.*

Dr. Abuelaish is a Palestinian infertility doctor who worked in an Israeli hospital. Through hard work and education, he has come a long way from his poverty-stricken childhood in a refugee camp in Gaza. When Israelis attacked the Gaza strip in 2009, a tank shot rounds into his daughters' bedroom, killing three of his daughters and a niece, and gravely injuring more family members. But as Dr. Abuelaish insists, he will not take revenge; instead, he hopes that this will pave the way to true peace, built on mutual respect and understanding of similarities between Palestinians and Israelis.

It's impossible not to have respect for this man, who lost three children, yet continues to hold tight to the belief that there can be a better way, that good comes from bad, and that there can be peace if people would come together and begin a dialogue. I was a little more mixed in my reaction to his book, primarily because I know so little of the history of the conflict that I was reluctant to take Dr. Abuelaish's interpretation as the absolute truth without hearing an alternate point of view. His wording is sometimes stilted or repetitive, but this was a much smaller quibble in the face of a passionate cry for change. His description of the events that changed his life and his family's lives forever was absolutely heartbreaking. I admire him for continuing to campaign for peace in the face of personal tragedy.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Love That Dog

by Sharon Creech
New York: Scholastic, 2003 (orig. published in 2001).

Jack doesn't want to write poems, because that's girl stuff. But as he continues writing in his English journal over the course of the school year, he records his reactions to what he's learning, talks to his teacher, and - yes - even writes a poem or two.

Despite Jack's protestations, the whole novel is in verse and took me less than an hour to read. It's a fairly simple story that incorporates both famous poetry and the story of Jack's dog. The poems read by Jack's teacher that he reacts to in his writing are included in the back, making it easy to use this as an introduction to poetry for elementary school kids. Overall, it strikes me as a book that would tend to appeal more to adults than children.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Pictures of Hollis Woods

by Patricia Reilly Giff
narrated by Hope Davis
New York : Random House Listening Library, p2003.

Hollis Woods is a foster child, and she's been billed as trouble. Ever since the past summer, she's run away from homes when she gets tired of being there. She's given a new chance, however, when she goes to live with an older woman named Josie, who connects with Hollis through their artistic ability. In between the chapters narrating "The Time with Josie," Hollis slowly explains what happened that caused her to start running.

Because of the similarity in plot - an independent heroine in search of a place to belong - I couldn't help but compare and contrast Hollis' story to The Great Gilly Hopkins. But after awhile, I stopped the mental comparison. Hollis has a different personality and different desires from Gilly. Even though she's "trouble" because of her running, Hollis shows kindness in her unwillingness to leave Josie alone when it becomes clear that the older woman has become more than normally forgetful. She does want a family, but she makes one where she is instead of trying to recreate the past. I really enjoyed this story, and I cheered for Hollis all the way.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

In the Teeth of the Evidence

by Dorothy Sayers
New York, Harcourt, Brace and Company [c1940]

I admit, I have never read a Lord Peter Wimsey novel. But since I have heard about them so much on LibraryThing lately, when I saw this collection of short stories on the library sale's "fill a bag for a dollar" day, I thought it would be worth a try.

The first two stories involve Wimsey. Having, as I said, not read any of the rest, I couldn't tell you where they fit into the chronology of the novels. Even with this lack of knowledge, I didn't find them hard to follow. Mostly, I enjoyed the humor and am even more curious to see how her mysteries are fleshed out in a longer story. The rest of the short stories in this collection are mostly mysteries; one is a creepy, almost Gothic sort of story. In some ways they remind me of O. Henry stories, having a similar plot arc, but with different characters and circumstances, each with an unexpected revelation or twist. I enjoyed trying to guess where she was going with the stories and was nearly equally delighted when I'd figured it out as when I was surprised. Though it may have been an unconventional introduction to Sayers, In the Teeth of the Evidence made me impatient to try her Lord Peter Wimsey stories.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

St. Paul's Cathedral in Wartime, 1939-1945

by W.R. Mathews

When I went to England this summer, one of the highlights of the trip was St. Paul's Cathedral.

It's just a beautiful place with a long history, designed by Christopher Wren and built after the "Old St. Paul's" burned in the Fire of London in 1666. To me, one of the most amazing parts of its history was how it withstood World War 2 and the bombing of London by the Luftwaffe, and the people who volunteered as the Fire Watch to keep it from being destroyed. So, when I came back, I was determined to read up more on this history.

I first heard of this account when I read the introduction to the short story "Fire Watch" by Connie Willis. By far my favorite of the short stories in the collection by the same name, "Fire Watch" compelled me to add this nonfiction account to my TBR list. But this is a tough little cookie to track down - I was able to get it on interlibrary loan from not my local system, not my state system, but across the country. This is a short book and an interesting account. The Watch slept in the crypt, sometimes participated in lectures, and learned the many confusing ways in which to get around the church and into the dome in the event of a fire or bombing. Mathews, the former Dean of St. Paul's celebrates their dedication and patriotism, , and his account often has the folksy sort of tone of a small-town history. I found it all the more charming since I have seen the church, have been in awe of its sheer size, and am very grateful for those volunteers who made it possible for me to visit.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

In the Time of the Butterflies

Once four sisters - Patria, Dedé, Minerva, and Mate - lived in the Dominican Republic. They grew up during the rule of Trujillo, a ruthless dictator. Each of them became involved with revolutionaries seeking to end his regime. At the beginning of their story, we meet the living sister, Dedé, and soon learn that the other three have been murdered by Trujillo. The narration, however, is made up of all four sisters' points of view, to show their lives, their motivations, and especially their hearts.

This is an incredible piece of historical fiction that absolutely floored me. As I got towards the end, I didn't want to finish the story - I had grown to care so much about the four women that I didn't want them to be dead. Alvarez, whose family fled to the United States to escape Trujillo's rule when she was ten, has crafted a truly powerful story that will stay with me for a long time.

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Trick of the Light

by Louise Penny
New York : Minotaur Boooks, 2011.

The day is finally here: Clara Morrow's solo show at the Musee d'Art Contemporain, and all the big wigs of the art world, as well as her friends from Three Pines, have come to her vernissage, followed by a party at her house to celebrate her success. But then a dead body shows up, in Clara's garden. At first, no one seems to know her, but as the investigation goes on and her identity becomes known, it turns out quite a few people disliked her. Now, she seems to be on the straight and narrow, even a nice person. So who was she - cruel or kind? Can people really change?

In many ways, this book is a study in contrasts: good and bad, light and dark. Forgiveness. Revenge. Clara really comes into her own as a main character. She has always been a central person in the town, but this is about her shining moment, as well. I kept wondering to myself, as she deals with sudden publicity and fame, reviews for her previously obscure and unknown art, how much of herself Ms. Penny put into Clara. I don't mean that I think Clara's personality is like Louise Penny's, just that she makes a clear comparison between the struggle of Clara as an artist and the struggle of writers. I think many of Clara's hopes and fears, the vulnerability she has now that she has become "known" outside her circle of friends, must be similar to what the author herself experienced as her series became better known and began receiving accolades. The more well-known you are, the more you have to lose with bad reviews, and judgments made on your writing or yourself.

As I was reading it, I couldn't help but compare my response to that of the previous book in the series, Bury Your Dead. Then, the complex mysteries and many-stranded story held my interest throughout as I struggled to put the pieces together to find out what happened to Armand Gamache. In A Trick of the Light, I read more slowly and introspectively (though I admit, I still read the book in only two days). I was carried along by the internal struggles of the characters I have come to know and care about. Did I nearly cry over Bury Your Dead? This book made me cry twice, and not only that, but laugh and cry at the same time in the end. While the story, and my reading experience, is completely different from Bury Your Dead, in many ways it was a supremely fitting follow-up. This is a series I couldn't recommend more highly, and it keeps getting better.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Reading Expectations

Have you ever had the experience when someone else's ideas of your reading taste differed from your own? I've been thinking lately about these expectations we have - of ours or others' reading, and how that frames how we think of them as readers, or not.

I had two experiences recently that brought this to mind. The first was when I told someone I was reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. She loves the book, so I expected enthusiasm, but her response was, "'s different from what you normally read." (Now, having read both Crime and Punishment and Twilight and quite a few books in between, I was a little surprised.) "What do I normally read?" I asked her. The answer: middle school fantasy. Which is true, to a point. It's a favorite genre of mine, and I read a lot of it. Plus, in many of my interactions in the children's room where we both work, I've recommended a lot of fantasy titles to patrons looking for ideas, because I am the librarian that reads that genre.

The second experience was at my other job, where my supervisor made a comment that I read poetry. I thought to myself, "Sure, during National Poetry Month, but not regularly." This time, I didn't bother to argue since at that very moment I had a collection of John Donne's poetry in my hand to check out. I figured that argument would sound a little weird: "Yes, but generally only once a year. This book? No, it's nothing, not a large Norton Critical Edition of a famous poet's work."

But neither of those interactions really capture what I read. I think it both cases, people have seen a part of what I'm interested in and made more general assumptions of what I like and what I read.

I wonder if we do that to our patrons, to our children. How often has a parent come in looking for a book to read for their kid who "Doesn't read" or "Only likes..." and talking to the child himself (or herself) brings up a totally different picture? I've had many an interaction with a patron who wanted recommendations for their child, and what they really wanted wasn't what the child wanted to read, but what the parent wanted them to read. Making both patrons - parent and child - happy is a balancing act that I admit I haven't fully mastered yet. Because I think the main issue - the expectations parents have of a child's reading - need to be treated carefully. I've thanked my mother several times lately for never telling me "That book is too easy for you" or "You've read that series five times now, let's look for something else." Rereading is a joy in itself. Reading books that are "too easy" boost confidence and still help children become stronger readers. But how do I communicate this in such a way that I'm coming alongside a parent trying to encourage their child to read, instead of placing myself at odds with them?

I still reread. I read children's, young adult, and adult books. I read classics and I read fantasy. I read broadly enough that I can be "mistaken" for both a fantasy and a poetry reader (and, granted, neither of them are fully off-base). Most of all, I'm thankful that I was given the freedom to explore books without expectations.