Archive for September, 2014

Book Reviews Sept 2014

I haven’t done one of these posts since July and I’m still not caught up in my book reviews, though I am trying. I have pretty much given up on the Caldecott and Newberry Challenges. Not exclusively because I am bored with them, but also because I just want to do something different. I’ve also been keeping fairly busy with advanced reader’s copies. I am currently reading a book from a local author called The Risk of Sorrow: Conversations with Holocaust Survivor, Helen Handler. I’m also listening to Sula by Toni Morrison, which is a very odd read and I’m still not 100% sure I know what is going on all the time. I think I will have to pick up some kind of guide to double check, definitely before I’m going to write the review. I’ve decided to try to read all the Nobel Prize winners for Literature, because it is always good for me to read more adult and international book. The only thing is that from what I’ve observed from my list and starting to search for some of the books in my library, most of the books seem rather depressing. I’m not sure if this is a case of  all great writers create hard-to-read masterpieces or what. For this Nobel Prize Challenge, there are 110 winners and I’ve only read a book from 5 of them (and 1 poem from another). So this will probably take me forever, but should provide some interesting material.  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. I promise I have been reading more adult books, and will add them to next month’s reviews.


Herman the Helper written by Robert Kraus, illustrated by Jose Aruego and Ariane Dewey


This is a great book to show toddlers how to be a good helper. Although the story is a bit simple, I love it because of Aruego and Dewey’s illustrations; they make such a great team with Robert Kraus. Herman the octopus loves to help everyone: his parents, his friends, even his enemies. Once he is home for the day, he helps himself to some dinner. Recommended for ages 2-5, 4 stars.

Tea with Grandpa written and illustrated by Barney Saltzberg

This book would make a great companion to Tea Rex by Molly Idle, as part of a teatime storytime. This was a cute book about a little girl having tea long-distance with her grandfather. I love the interactions between them, you never would guess it was between two computer screens. Recommended for ages 2-6, 3 stars.

Something to Do written and illustrated by David Lucas

This was an overly simplistic book, but with cute illustrations. Baby Bear is bored and there is nothing to do, that is until his Papa Bear finds a stick and then they start using their imagination to create their own fun all day. Then Baby Bear is hungry so they go home to Mama Bear. Recommended for ages 2-6, 2 stars.

Lola Love Stories written by Anna McQuinn, illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw

One of the books I looked at for a Toddler Storytime on Imagination, I rather enjoyed this one. It could also be used in a Reading/The Library theme as well. Little Lola loves getting books from the library and hearing the stories read to her by her parents. Everytime she is read to, she uses that story to influence her play afterword, like her mother reads to her about tigers and she spends the next afternoon chasing her friend through the jungle. Recommended for ages 2-6, 4 stars.

Hugs From Pearl written and illustrated by Paul Schmid

Hugs from Pearl

I would love to use this book as part of a porcupine storytime. It is so adorable! Pearl loves giving hugs to the other animals in her class, and they love receiving them, even if they get ouchies from them. Pearl feels bad about this, so sets about to creatively solve the problem. Recommended for ages 2-6, 4 stars.

Petunia Goes Wild written and illustrated by Paul Schmid

After reading the first Petunia book, I couldn’t wait to read this one. Super cute illustrations, though I liked the first book better. Petunia is convinced that she is a wild animal and doesn’t want to be human because it means you are “too clean, have to have good manners and too many haftas”. She is determined to ship herself to Africa until she hears her mother singing in the kitchen. She realizes how much she would miss that and determines that being human isn’t so bad, as long as you get to wild every now and then. Recommended for ages 2-6, 3 stars.

Me Want Pet! written by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Bob Shea

Me Want Pet

I picked this book for my first Toddler Storytime. It was the cute story of a young caveman who wants a pet but his family is not enthused with his choices of Wooly Mammoth, Saber Tooth Tiger, and a Dodo. These animals come in handy though when the family is attacked. So Cave Boy gets three instead of one pet. Loved the illustrations, they were very cute. Recommended for ages 2-6, 3 stars.

You Will Be My Friend! written and illustrated by Peter Brown

You will be my friend

I know this is supposed to be a children’s book, but you definitely need to be a bit older to get the sarcasm in the book. I loved the illustrations in this book. Lucy, a young bear, is determined to make some friends in the forest. Her forceful personality is preventing her from doing so in the way she wants, and nothing seems to be going her way. She tries to befriend frogs, rabbits, a giraffe, and a beaver, though she shies away from befriending little kids. She has almost completely given up when a lonely flamingo boy finds her and asks to be her friend. They do somersaults, enjoy a picnic, and have a dance party. They are the best of friends. Recommended for ages 3-7, 4 stars.

Children Make Terrible Pets written and illustrated by Peter Brown

Written in the same vein as You Will Be My Friend, this book has underlying sarcasm that makes it more palatable for parents reading the books to their kids. Lucy, a young bear, desperately wants a pet though her mother warns that she must take of it herself. She finds a young human boy and decides to take it home as her pet, even though her mother warns that “children make terrible pets”. They do everything together until one day he runs off back home to be with his own family and Lucy doesn’t have it in her to take him back. Recommended for ages 3-7, 3 stars.

Risky Rails! (Thomas and Friends) written by Wilbert Awdry, illustrated by Tommy Stubbs

Normally I hate Thomas books for being too wordy. This one was the exception. Based off the Thomas movie The Blue Mountain Mystery, we learn the true story of a young Narrow Gauge engine named Luke (which my son has at home, but I’d never heard of him before) and how he believes he is responsible for the yellow engine’s fate. As Thomas investigates, he learns the truth and goes to help his new friend Luke from Diesel’s treachery. Recommended for ages 3-7, 4 stars.

Machines Go to Work in the City written and illustrated by William Low

Machines Go to Work in the City

This was obviously a well-loved book (from the number of taped pages) that we picked up after DiscoveryTime at one of the branch libraries. My son is fascinated by this book, might have to pick it up for him. It talks about all the cities that work in the city and even gives little info bits on each vehicle in the back end pages. The kids learn about trash trucks, bucket trucks (which my son automatically names telehandlers – thank you “Dinosaurs Dig!”), tower cranes, commuter trains, airplanes, and baggage carriers through nice fold-out spreads. This would be a great book to use for a Transportation DiscoveryTime. Recommended for ages 3-7, 5 stars.

Before You Were Mine written by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by David Walker

I was searching for a book to use with my Pet ToddlerTime, when I came across this book. I absolutely love it, though it is too long for toddlers. It is about a young boy talking about his dog, who he absolutely loves. He wonders about what life was like for his dog before they picked him. I nearly cried when they talked about the child’s previous dog dying and getting to pick up a new dog from the shelter. Such a great story and it is great for introducing a child to the concept of adopting shelter animals. Recommended for ages 4-8, 5 stars.

The Octonauts and the Sea of Shade written and illustrated by Meomi

I liked this book but it just didn’t have the flow of the other books and my son quickly got bored with it, as did I. The Octonauts realize that there are no shadows anywhere in the ocean, and go beseech the King of the mythical Sea of Shade to release the shadows back into the world, as they have been missed. Recommended for ages 5-8, 2-1/2 stars.

The Octonauts and the Frown Fish written and illustrated by Meomi

The Octonauts and the Frown Fish

I love the Octonauts, but this book dragged a little bit. The Octonauts are having a gloomy rainy day at the bottom of the ocean when they happen upon a new species of frowning fish. They try everything that makes them happy, including baking, playing on the playground, reading, singing/making music, all in an attempt to make him smile. My favorite parts was probably a couple of the Octonauts trying to deciper “Frownese” and reading in Professor Inkling’s library. The ending was surprising. Recommended for ages 5-8, 3 stars.

The Octonauts and the Great Ghost Reef written and illustrated by Meomi

The Octonauts and the Great Ghost Reef

This is probably my favorite book in the Octonaut series. The Octonauts go on holiday to Great Reef City, only to discover it abandoned and colorless. They find one lonely inhabitant, Mr. Slowtache the turtle, for whom they try to help find different accommodations for. As a result,we get to see many different kinds of ocean and freshwater habitats for turtles. In the end, he decides to stay in his home and the Octonauts decide to help find out why the reef has no color. They soon realize that the entire reef has organisms living in it, which have been completely covered by the buildings, which block out the sun and drains the color. They remove some of the buildings and soon the reef explodes in color again. As usual, I loved the illustrations and the way they presented the facts. Recommended for ages 5-8, 4 stars.

Fractions in Disguise: A Math Adventure written by Edward A. Einhorn, illustrated by David Clark

Young Adult

The Door in the Mountain by Caitlin Sweet

Lockwood & Co., Book 2: The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud


The Legend of Sheba: Rise of a Queen by Tosca Lee

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

The Mad Sculptor: The Maniac, the Model, and the Murder That Shook the Nation by Harold Schechter

I have been feeling like some narrative nonfiction and so when I saw this, I snapped it up. I always enjoy a good true crime story as they examine how someone came to be the way they are and why they did it. I’ve never heard of this case, but found it fascinating. The title refers to Robert “Bob” Irwin, a brilliant but mentally disturbed sculptor, who in 1937 brutally murdered his former landlady Mary Gedeon, her model daughter Veronica, and an English boarder named Frank Byrnes.

The author set up the story by explaining that Beekman Place, the location of the triple murder, was the site of two previous murders in the past year and we are introduced to the man who would become Irwin’s lawyer, the undefeated Samuel Leibowitz. We get a very thorough look at Irwin’s parents and how their religious fanaticism impacted his childhood, in particular Pentacostalism. His two brothers both ended up in prison. He showed artistic tendencies early on and went to work for some famous American sculptors, though he never stayed long at any job due to his violent temper and crazy ideas. The most prominent idea was “visualization” in which he tried to remember minute details of particular piece of art, though this eventually led to him believing he could harness energy and become a god. In any case, it was a major reason why people avoided him and part of the reason, along with Congenital Syphilis, why he was institutionalized several times before committing the murders. Once he moved to Manhattan, he became obsessed with Edith Gedeon, the daughter of his landlords. This obsession lasted for the rest of his life, and was the reason he killed Edith’s mother, sister and Frank Byrnes.

The majority of the book is about Irwin’s capture by the police, which took several months, and his subsequent trial and sentencing. The book goes into great detail about the sensationalism of the press, particularly newspapers, in exploiting everyone involved (including the murder victims). I thought the section on how to determine if a defendant could plead insanity or not was particularly fascinating, as well as the fact that both Irwin’s attorney and the prosecutor both agreed that Irwin should be imprisoned for life. 4 stars.


Banned Book Week 2014: In Cold Blood

In Cold Blood

Banned Books Week is Sept 21 – 27th. Ever since I took a class on Young Adult Literature in Graduate School, I’ve been interested in why books are banned and how I can  get people to read these banned/challenged books in protest of the censorship. I found this Ray Bradbury quote the other day, which is rather appropriate: “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” For that YA class, I did a paper on Chris Crutcher’s book Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, an awesome book, that has been challenged by at least one school district. My way is by getting the word out there is via book reviews, as the main purpose of the week is to celebrate freedom to read whatever you want.

Smith and Hickock Mugshots

Perry Smith (above) and Dick Hickock (below)

I have chosen to read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood for my review this year. Most people have at least heard of the book through the movie they made a year after the book’s release, in 1967, or the 2005 biopic Capote starring the late Seymour Hoffman. I have seen neither film, although the Capote film does interest me as it is the author’s story of researching for the book. I picked this book this year because I enjoy narrative nonfiction (especially true crime) and this book is supposed to be the birth of the true crime genre. The author had this to say about the book “This book was an important event for me. While writing it, I realized I just might have found a solution to what had always been my greatest creative quandary. I wanted to produce a journalistic novel, something on a large scale that would have the credibility of fact, the immediacy of film, the depth and freedom of prose, and the precision of poetry.” The book was an instant sell-out and made the author incredibly famous, though he already had a taste for that when the studios nabbed his short novel Breakfast at Tiffany’s and turned it into a movie.

All that being said, I rather enjoyed reading the book. Obviously this book has been reviewed a lot since its serialized release in 1965 and book release in 1966, but I will give a brief summary to those who have no idea what I am talking about. On November 15, 1959 Perry Smith and Richard “Dick”  Hickock broke into the Clutter Family’s home in Holcomb, Kansas in the middle of the night after being told by a fellow inmate months before that the Clutters were really rich and possibly had a safe on property. Dick planned on robbing the prosperous wheat farming family, and I believe brought Perry along as muscle, using him to tie up their hostages. When they realized that the Clutters only had about $54 in cash at the house, as Mr. Herb Clutter only paid for things by check, they killed Herb and his wife Bonnie, along with his 16-year-old son Kenyon and their 17-year-old daughter Nancy with a shotgun blast to the head. They evaded capture for about six weeks before the inmate that had tipped them off about the money also decided to collect a reward by tipping them off to the police.


Yes, it was a bit hard to read due the literally cold-blooded reaction to the murders by the men.  The crime scene photos, which were not in the book, are particularly horrifying even 50 years later. But it was fascinating and overall I enjoyed the book. You really felt like you were there with Alvin Dewey, lead investigator for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, the team in charge of the Clutter murders. You can see him getting frazzled as he hasn’t been able to find any leads in the case and is smoking 60 cigarettes a day and not eating anything. You see the easy going attitude of Dick Hickock as he is not fazed by the newspaper reports on the murders, how paranoid Perry Smith is in contrast. While Smith has no trouble with violence, he thinks Hickock is disgusting in the way he cannot control himself sexually around young girls, and even goes so far as to say to Dewey that he threatened to beat Hickock up before he would let him rape Nancy Clutter. We even learn a little about the Clutter family, the victims in this case. Herb Clutter was well-respected in his community and at church and Bonnie was a shy woman and spent most of her adult life moving from hospital to hospital to cure her “nervous disposition”. Nancy was friends with everyone and though she was incredibly busy, always spent time helping others out. She wanted to go to college with her best friend Sue and study art together. Her brother Kenyon was shy like his mother, and spent most of his time driving around with his “Coyote Chaser” and building furniture in his basement workroom. They were simple country folk who met an untimely end. The two murderers, Hickock and Smith, were hung about five years after the murders.

Now for the censorship part of the post. According to the ALA’s Banned and/or Challenged classic book list, In Cold Blood was “banned, but later reinstated after community protests at the Windsor Forest High School in Savannah, GA (2000). The controversy began in early 1999 when a parent complained about sex, violence, and profanity in the book that was part of an Advanced Placement English Class.” According to the Marshall University Library, there was a challenge again in 2012 in Glendale, CA when the “Unified School District officials and parents attempted to block a request by a high school English teacher to add the text to the district’s advanced English curriculum because the nonfiction book was “too violent for a young audience;” the school board voted 4-0 to approve the book for Advanced Placement students.”

Bitter Greens

Bitter Greens

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

To be published: Sept 23, 2014


Charlotte-Rose de la Force, a middle-aged woman, is being shipped off to a French nunnery against her will, by the Sun King Louis XIV. Her story starts out with her as a young girl, an impoverished French noblewoman who becomes a lady-in-waiting at the French court. It is through her scandalous affairs and writing that she ends up in her current situation. In order to survive at the convent, Charlotte-Rose begins listening to one of the Sisters tell the story of Persinette, a young Italian girl from 16th century Venice. The girl was taken from her family and imprisoned by a witch. The storyteller reveals not only the story of the girl Margherita, but also that of her captor, the courtesan sorceress Selena Leonelli. Charlotte-Rose later takes this story and fashions it into her own version called Petrosinella, which inspires the Grimm Brothers to later write Rapunzel. 3-1/2 stars.

I almost didn’t finish this book because it was so long-winded in the middle. It’s not that it wasn’t interesting. In fact, I found it incredibly fascinating, but it just seemed like the author was trying to squish too much into the book. I love detailed-orientated books but it was overwhelming in this instance. It’s hard to tie in stories of three different women whose stories intertwined over the course of 200 years, and I think Charlotte-Rose’s story got a bit bogged down in the retelling. All three women were imprisoned in one way or another, either in actuality and/or the will of the society at the time. One thing this book did make me glad for is living in the time period I do because I would’ve gone crazy in Charlotte-Rose’s situation, especially in regards to the King. My favorite story was that of the witch Selena and her involvement with the painter Titian.

Disclaimer: I received the advanced reader’s copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

The Whispering Skull

Lockwood & Co., Book 2: The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud

Published Sept 16, 2014

Starting six months after the events of The Screaming Staircase, this second volume of the Lockwood & Company series starts off with a bang. Lockwood, Lucy and George have had nominal success with cases, but they still keep getting them stolen by Quill Kipps and his Fitts Agency team. Incredibly frustrated with this, Lockwood challenges Kipps to a contest. Whoever solves the next case the quickest, the loser must admit his defeat and do it publicly in the Times newspaper for all of London to see. Shortly thereafter, Lockwood & Co are engaged by a Mr. Saunders to help with the excavation of a Victorian doctor named Edmund Bickerstaff. Everything is going well for the team until George encounters the ghost of the dead man, is distracted by an artifact in the coffin, and is nearly frozen. Once back at their base, Lucy berates him for not paying attention, but is interrupted by a voice coming from the mysterious skull in the jar George had been messing with since the last book. Before they can investigate this further, they are called to DEPRAC (Department of Psychical Research and Control) – the governing body of the ghost hunting agencies – to join with Kipps in an attempt to find out more about Edmund Bickerstaff and his artifact (which has been stolen since they were at the grave). Will they be able to solve the mystery of whispering skull and figure out just who Bickerstaff was and what his artifact was for? To find out, read the exciting second book of the series. Highly recommended for ages 13+, 5 stars.

I devoured this latest book from Jonathan Stroud. It was great to see Lucy, her kick-ass abilities, and learn more about her and Lockwood’s past lives, though I will admit the cliff-hanger ending did totally drive me crazy. The story was creepy and fast-paced. The book was full of the author’s awesome sense of humor and the jar’s comments in particular cracked me up. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series!

Disclaimer: I received this book as an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher. It did not affect my review of the book.

I have been composing this post for a couple of days, ever since Thursday night when I was gathering music for DiscoveryTime, and afterwards was listening to the songs I had downloaded off of Freegal. For those, who have no idea what I’m talking about, here is the description: “Freegal is a downloadable music service from your library. All you need is your library card number and, if your library requires it, a PIN. Freegal offers access to about 3 million songs, including Sony Music’s catalog of legendary artists.” While this E-library music program is not without its problems, i.e. hard to search and only Sony artists, I am enjoying get free legal music. I was actually listening to Weird Al Yankovic’s song Word Crimes off his most recent album Mandatory Fun, which by the way I think is one of the best and funniest of all his music. The way he rhymes is just incredible and although I’m sure some people will be offended by the song, others like those who appreciate correct words and spelling will enjoy it.

Spike Jones

I have been listening to parody music for ages. When I was little, my dad had Spike Jones albums and those were pretty hilarious. My favorites were the opera parodies of Bizet’s Carmen and Leoncavallo’s Il Pagliacci. Spike Jones influenced other comedians like Dr. Demento, who later influenced Weird Al, so I guess moving to him was a natural progression for me. I started listening to Weird Al probably when I was about ten or eleven. My younger brother, probably courtesy of my dad, was the first one to listen to him. We started watching the music videos and bought a couple of the video tapes. Honestly, for awhile there, if it wasn’t for Weird Al’s parody versions of songs, I probably wouldn’t have listened to the originals. For example, “Eat It” was better than Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”, “I Love Rocky Road” in my opinion is better than Joan Jett’s “I love Rock ‘n Roll” , “Like a Surgeon” was better than Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”, and “Pretty Fly for a Rabbi” instead of The Offsprings’s “Pretty Fly for a White Guy”. If anyone is interested, here’s a full list of his parody songs and polka mash-ups.


My favorites of his are “Smells Like Nirvana” (parody of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”) and “Amish Paradise” (parody of Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise”). Weird Al mentions on his website that he asks permission from the artist before doing all parody versions, and Nirvana commented that they “knew they had made it after hearing about his parody of their song”. In all honestly, I never listened to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” until after lead singer Kurt Cobain killed himself, and really not until my undergraduate years when I had friends that listened to that kind of music. The marble part of the song makes me laugh every time. As for “Amish Paradise”, it’s all about Florence Henderson, Amish guys rapping and butter churning. Need I say more? My new third favorite is “Word Crimes,” a parody of the very controversial “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke. I will admit the original song is really catchy, despite its subject matter, which makes the parody version even more awesome. For other great songs on his newest album Mandatory Fun, check out the artist’s homepage and scroll down a bit.

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