Wow, I’ve had this blog for three years and I have published over 200 posts on it. I have been pretty proud of myself for reading more adult books in the last couple of months. I’ve been on a bit of a reading lull after I finished one really good nonfiction, but it looks like it is starting to pick up again. I am finally (after months of waiting) listening to The Blood of Olympus (Heroes of Olympus, #5) by Rick Riordan, the last book in the series. His books are just so fun to listen to, and I can’t wait to read/listen to his newest series on Norse gods. I am currently reading an advanced reader’s copy of Damien Lewis’s Judy: A Dog in a Million, an English Pointer who was most likely the only canine prisoner of war and helped comfort POWs in Japanese Internment Camps during World War II. Ooh my other great piece of book news is that I had recently entered a contest to win some Gail Carriger (one of my favorite writers, does steampunk books for YA and adults) signed books, of her first series The Parasol Protectorate and some other swag and I am one of the winners! So hope to be getting that in the mail in the next month or so.
I’ve finally started the Nobel Prize Challenge that I mentioned last month. I am currently looking up book recommendations from other people to decide what to read from the list of prize winners. I’m just hoping my library has most of these or I’m gonna have to use Interlibrary Loan (ILL) again or maybe buy some of them. Ah well, at least it will be good literature (at least in theory). My yearly reading total is up to 290 out of 321, so not bad. Granted most of those are picture books but can’t be helped when you’re a children’s librarian who does storytimes plus has a 3 year old. As usual I rate books on a scale of 1 – 5 stars, with one being the lowest and five the highest. I will add pictures from books I like.
Bear’s New Friend written by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman
I love the Bear books! This book was super cute as well. Bear hears a noise in the trees and then on the ground while heading to the swimming hole to meet his friends. He thinks it is one of his friends. Just Whoo is it? Eventually they discover that it is a little burrowing owl who is too shy to come out of his hole until convinced to do so by Bear and his friends. Then they all go off to play together and swim. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars.
Hug Me written and illustrated by Simona Ciraolo
My son and I loved this book! Even describing this book to others made them think it was adorable. Felipe is a young cactus who is part of a very traditional cactus family. They must remain respectable and are firm believers of personal space. Felipe only wants a hug, especially after he accidently puts his friend Balloon in the hospital and is shunned by his family. He decides he must leave, but is not welcome anywhere (for obvious reasons). He is living all by himself until one day when he hears someone crying and knows just what to do to make her feel better. After that, Felipe and Camilla (the rock) are the best of friends! My son loved looking at the end pages and telling me exactly what they were doing in all the pictures. Recommended for ages 3-6, 5 stars.
Little Owl’s Orange Scarf written and illustrated by Tatyana Feeney
My son loved this book and I did too. Little Owl’s mom knits him an orange scarf but he really doesn’t like it and tries his best to lose it at every turn. When he manages to get rid of it at the zoo, his mother is determined to make him another, but this time he is to help. He picks a better color and falls in love with it. I would love to use this for a Toddler Storytime on Owls. Recommended for ages 3-6, 5 stars.
Penguin written and illustrated by Polly Dunbar
I rather enjoyed this book though I didn’t think it was right for the storytime I had originally selected it for. My son enjoyed it as well. A young boy named Ben is given a penguin for a present and he does everything with it. He tickles it, sings and dances with it, stands on his head, and even sticks out his tongue at it, but no response from the penguin. He tries to offer it to a passing lion in his frustration, but the lion won’t take it. He eats the boy instead. Only then does the penguin respond by biting the lion’s nose. Once rescued and unharmed, the penguin explains in pictures all the things the boy and him did together and how much he enjoyed them. They are friends from then on. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3-1/2 stars.
The Tiny King written and illustrated by Taro Miura
My son adored this book and asked me to read it over and over again. I loved the big bright illustrations and the simple story. The Tiny King has a huge castle, lots of food, a giant army and a giant bed. But he is lonely. One day he meets a Big Princess, falls in love and they are married. They have 10 children and soon his large castle and bed are full, he can eat all the food on his table, and he dismisses his army. He is so happy. I can’t wait to read the book about the Big Princess! Recommended for ages 3-6, 5 stars.
The Really, Really, Really Big Dinosaur written and illustrated by Richard Byrne
My son adored this book! Jackson is a small dinosaur who is counting out jelly beans for himself and his friend. Suddenly a bigger and much ruder dinosaur barges over and demands the candy because he is bigger and stronger. Jackson politely refuses and says that he has a really really really big dinosaur friend. They go back and forth until Jackson dares him to go into a cave, which the bigger dinosaur does only to be trapped in a much larger dinosaur’s mouth. He is let go though as the really really really big dinosaur is nice, and the bigger dinosaur is humbled. It is a great book for kids that might be dealing with bullies. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars.
Quest written and illustrated by Aaron Becker
The two children from the Caldecott Honor winning book “Journey” are back on another adventure. Waiting under a bridge, the boy and girl are surprised by a king who pops out of a hidden door and hands them two keys. They open the door he’s come from and start gathering up all the colors and manage to save the king at the end. It is amazing that so much storytelling can be done with a gorgeous wordless picture book. I liked this one even better than the last one. Recommended for ages 4-7, 5 stars.
Neo Leo: The Ageless Ideas of Leonardo da Vinci written and illustrated by Gene Barretta
This book is all about how Leonardo da Vinci came up for the idea for many modern inventions back in the 15th and 16th centuries, 400 years before they were invented properly in the 19th and 20th centuries. The book discusses his plans and drawings for the first man-powered aircraft, a glider, contact lenses, a projector, a single-span bridge, tanks whose designs were based off of turtles and other war paraphenalia (such as grenades, machine guns and a giant catapult called a trebuchet) , the helicopter, and he improved upon the designs of scuba gear. Leonardo also figured out how blood travels through the heart, steam power and air pressure, and robots and automobiles. The book talks about modern inventors who uses his notes to create prototypes of his inventions. It’s pretty crazy to think that we still haven’t found 2/3 of his notes and just think about all the things we discovered about him already! Recommended for ages 5-10, 4 stars.
I find Leonardo da Vinci to be an amazing artist and inventor. I’ve been to Leonardo’s museum in Vinci and was fortunate to see a lot of his inventions as they were revealed in his copious notes. So when I found out about his involvement in the development of robots, the topic for my latest DiscoveryTime (Preschool Storytime + STEM), I had to add a page from the book to the storytime. Leonardo was the first person to create robots in the late 15th or early 16th century in the form of a robot knight and the drawings for a mechanical lion. There is actually a full adult book on Leonardo’s robots, but it is pretty technicial, so couldn’t use that volume.
The Sandman and the War of Dreams (The Guardians of Childhood, #4) written and illustrated by William Joyce
I recently watched Rise of the Guardians, the movie based on Joyce’s books, which I loved. This re-peaked my interest in the Guardian series and I remembered that I hadn’t yet read this book. This version of Sandman was a lot quieter but a bit more in the front view as compared to the movie. Joyce is such an excellent storyteller, I sometimes forget that this book is intended for children, it is that good.
Lord Pitch, the Nightmare King, has abducted Katherine and the Guardians don’t know how to proceed until the intervention of the mysterious Sandman. We learn the entire back story of Pitch and his family (yes he had a wife and daughter), even more about Nightlight, and of course Sandy (who is more formally known as Sanderson Mansnoozie – great name right?). Will Sandy be able the free Katherine from Pitch’s clutches? To find out, read this fantastic fourth book in the “Guardians of Childhood” series. Recommended for ages 7-11, 5 stars.
Waistcoats & Weaponry (Finishing School Book the Third) by Gail Carriger
Code Name Verity (Code Name Verity #1) by Elizabeth Wein, narrated by Morven Christie and Lucy Gaskell
The book is about a young Scottish woman called Queenie (not her real name) who is part of the British Special Intelligence, aka a spy for the Allies during World War II. After she is captured by the Germans in a small French town, her story comes from having to retell it in “a confession” to the commanding officer of the Gestapo headquarters. She is tortured by the Gestapo and the other prisoners see her as a snitch for talking to the Germans. So the first half of the book we get to know Queenie’s family, find out how she gets into spy work, and how she meets her friend Maddie and how she is involved with her coming to France. The second half of the story is narrated by Maddie, an English pilot for the Air Transport Auxiliary, which is essentially the civilian branch of the Royal Air Force. Recommended for ages 16+, 5 stars.
I think this may be one of my favorite books read this year. The topic was so fascinating and unlike any teen World War II book I’d ever read. The torture scenes, which I honestly wasn’t expecting, were pretty graphic and somewhat hard to read. The narrators were fantastic, especially Morven Christie. I had never heard of the Air Transport Auxiliary before and it was cool to know that so many British and European women helped with the Allied War effort by flying planes. I also found the whole part of the story about the French Resistance intriguing and it’s kind of crazy what they managed to get away with right under the noses of the Germans.
Rose Under Fire (Code Name Verity #2) by Elizabeth Wein, narrated by Sasha Pick
The book picks up about 6 months after the events of “Code Name Verity”. Rose Justice is an American female pilot who comes to England to be part of the Air Transport Auxiliary during World War II. She knows Maddie, the English Pilot we met in the first book of the series. She ends up flying a plane to the Front and gets picked up by the Germans on her flight back to England. They put her in Ravensbruck Concentration Camp in Germany for six months. It is here where she discovers women she would never dream about meeting including medical experiment victims, a Soviet female pilot, and a documentary filmmaker. These women change her life and become her family through the course of her ordeal, as they must work together to survive. Recommended for ages 16+, 4 stars.
My biggest gripe about this book was that it moved so slow in the beginning, which almost made me give up on it. I never expected the second main character to be an American. I wasn’t too sure about the narrator when the book first started, but she did a good job on all the different accents and there were many. This book was almost as graphic as the first, in covering difficult topics, this time about the medical experiments done by the Nazis. I had heard about the experimentations on twins by Dr. Mengele, but the ones they did in this book, to illustrate the science of death/dying – said to be helping soldiers, but really just finding a better way to kill people. I was a little disappointed there wasn’t more storyline on Maddie, as the first book really just touches on her story. I loved hearing about the Soviet “night witch” pilot. I had no idea that women were even allowed to fly planes in the Soviet Union. I’m hoping the author continues the series beyond this book as it is nice to see strong female characters, especially portrayed in an era where women by and large didn’t work.
City of Lies: Love, Sex, Death and the Search for Truth in Tehran by Ramita Navai
I’ve been fascinated with Iran/Persia for awhile now, so when I saw this book in the new Nonfiction section, it definitely caught my attention. The author is a British-Iranian foreign affairs journalist, so she definitely knows what she is talking about. The book follows eight very different individuals who live in Tehran, the capital city of Iran. There is a Iranian-American extremist who is part of the MEK group (the Mojahedin-e-Khalq, the Warriors of the People) who has come to the city for an assassination , a teenage girl from a very traditional family who has no problems wearing the hejab/hijab and marrying her cousin (it is considered very auspicious to do so in Iranian culture), and a young man confronted by the Revolutionary judge responsible for having his parents killed because of their according to the government “un-Islamic” leanings. There is also a member of the local gun-selling ring and small time crook, a prostitute/porn actress, a gay member of the local basij – groups of young men who regulate vice, get rid of protesters and enforce virtue, an elderly retired gangster with his reformed showgirl wife, and a female widowed member of the upper aristocracy. All in all a very interesting group of characters. I think my favorite and the most interesting stories were the teenage girl from a traditional family and the gay member of the basij. 4 stars.
The Silmarillion: Volume 1 by J.R.R. Tolkein, narrated by Martin West
Review of Volume 1 (4 discs unabridged):
I have tried reading this book 3 times but could never get more than about 50 pages into it before I thought my head would explode. It is one of those really dense books that requires absolute quiet to read in, but I could never get that to properly concentrate on it. The book reads like an Icelandic Creation story with so many names thrown at you that you need a character list to keep them all straight. I could see elements of Christianity, along with Norse mythology and what sounded like maybe some Pre-Columbian names thrown in for good measure. Once it got through the introductory part of the story (the creation of the earth and the Ainur) and the races of elves and men started establishing themselves, the story was starting to get really fascinating. Of course, that was about the time that Volume 1 ended. I know there’s a second volume but of course my library doesn’t have it. Thankfully, I have a paper copy of the book so assuming I can figure out where I left off, I can read the rest. For a more detailed description of this book, check out this website: http://lotr.wikia.com/wiki/The_Silmarillion 3 stars.
Sula by Toni Morrison, narrated by the author
The story starts off in 1919 and finishes up in 1965 in an Ohio town called Medallion, more specifically in the African-American section called the Bottom. We first learn about Shadrack, a shell-shocked Veteran of WWI, who is returning to his hometown. The main part of the book focuses on two families, the Peace family and the Wrights. Helene Sabat marries Wiley Wright and they have a daughter named Nel. Respectability and a high position in the community are of utmost importance to Helene, something she tries to pass on to her daughter. Eva Peace is the one-legged head of the other family. She is abandoned by her husband BoyBoy early in their marriage and must raise her two children Plum and Hannah, along with adopted children The Deweys (three boys) on her own. Hannah is considered a bit of a harlot by the community, and they think even less of her daughter Sula. Sex is very loose at their house, a complete opposite to that of the Wright’s home. Despite all this, Sula and Nel become fast friends. Their relationship makes up the bulk of the story, or rather the consequences of their friendship.
I picked this story out of Toni Morrison’s bibliography because it sounded the most interesting, and it definitely didn’t disappoint in that regard. I would be curious to read some more of her work in the future for comparison. The author won the 1993 Nobel Prize. The book is narrated by the author and she has a very quiet voice, so much so that I had to crank the volume way up to even be able to understand what she was saying (and even had to re-listen to some parts). I will admit that I’ve been putting this review off for awhile because it was such a bizarre story, at least in my opinion, and I wasn’t 100% sure I knew exactly what it was really about. I will also admit that my exposure to African-American writers has been limited to poetry, The Color Purple, and some Children/YA books. Overall, I enjoyed the story but there were points that I was pretty shocked at and not at all sure what the author actually meant by them (especially the episodes concerning Sula’s mother and uncle). 3 stars.
Graduates in Wonderland: The International Misadventures of Two (Almost) Adults by Jessica Pan and Rachel Kapelke-Dale
Jessica and Rachel went to college together at Brown University. After graduation, Jessica decided to move to China without much of a plan and Rachel went to New York City to work in a gallery. The book chronicles journal-like emails between the two as they decide what they want to do with their lives, one ultimately getting married and studying journalism, while the other pursues a Masters and then Ph.D in film history. This book reminded me a lot of me and my best friend because we have been friends for what seems like forever (17 years) and as I was living in different countries and at different points in our life, similar to the main characters. 4 stars.
Serving Grandfamilies in Libraries: A Handbook and Programming Guide by Sarah Gough, Pat Feehan and Denise R. Lyons
I picked up this book in particular because it was completely written by graduates and a faculty member of my masters’ alma mater, University of South Carolina. Not to mention I did an independent study with Denise, so I was curious to see what they had to say about the subject. I knew Denise had done work with grandparents in Houston, which is well-documented in the book, before she came to the SC State Library. Here are some interesting factoids taken from the book. According to page 5, “One in ten children lives in a household that includes at least one grandparent. Of that number, four in ten, were being raised primarily by their grandparents.” I have of course noticed the increase in children being raised by or assisted-in-raising by grandparents in these so-called “grandfamilies”, especially after moving to Arizona. About fifteen pages later, the book mentions how beneficial it is to have intergenerational programming and I believe that to be true. The book specifically points out grants that can be obtained by the library, resources to locate statistics (in order to gain support for such grandparent-related programming), Community Partners that are available, and how you can build your collection. The book sites specific examples in South Carolina and how individual libraries set aside space or special chairs/couches for grandparents’ uses. 3 stars.
Bella: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice by Paula Byrne
I had seen the trailer for the movie and thought it would be an interesting. So when the book came out, I was intrigued. There was next to no material about Dido Elizabeth Belle, the person about whom the book and movie is based (which was rather sad as her story is so unique), so I was curious to see how they would talk about the book. They put her in the context of the slave trade, in particular the manufacturing of sugar in the Caribbean. I knew how precious sugar was in the 18th century but not the extent to which slavers and slaves were involved with the trade. The book also discusses the Lord Chief Justice, uncle and adopted father of Dido, and his role in legislation that helped outlaw slavery in Great Britain and its Caribbean colonies. I was especially fascinated and a little bit horrified with the ideas of the 18th century in regards to African women and their sexuality, and how white men should act towards them. I had picked up bits and pieces in the past, but it was discussed with much greater detail since the main character was a black female. 4 stars
Inglorious Royal Marriages: A Demi-Millenium of Unholy Mismatrimony by Leslie Carroll
This book was so dense with such tiny writing that even though the subject matter was fascinating – arranged marriages for political reasons: I was especially intrigued by the marriage of Queen Mary Tudor and Philip II of Spain, I could only get through about 40% of it before I gave up. 3 stars.