The Book Challenge discussion

46 views
Ningerbil's 2012 Book List

Comments (showing 1-18 of 18) (18 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by April (new)

April Helms | 197 comments 1. CLEOPATRA. Histories, Dreams and Distortions, by Lucy Hughes-Hallett. This was a fascinating read. Hughes-Hallett doesn't write so much on the history of Cleopatra -- much of which is veiled partly by mystery and partly by propoganda -- but the various perceptions and interpretations of her character. Indeed, how we perceive Cleopatra probably is more of a reflection on society and the various authors rather than her. A lot of information about her has been through the filters of propaganda: the Egyptian queen's and the conquering Octavius'. There have been many movies dealing with Cleopatra, Julius Caesar and Marc Antony, ranging from drama to high camp. While there isn't much known historically about her, there were some tidbits mentioned I thought were interesting and surprising. One, while Cleopatra is often depicted as a femme fatale, she probably wasn't physically attractive (although she was almost certainly very charismatic). Also, the legend of her death by asps is probably not true (if it was snake bite, the author states, it was probably a cobra). There was one mistake and one thing that left me scratching my head. The mistake: when she's describing the famous movie starring Elizabeth Taylor, she describes the golden gown she wears as gold lame. From everything I've read and heard, the golden gown she wore was cloth of gold. There is a BIG difference between gold lame and cloth of gold. The thing that left me puzzled was the author also happened to mention another movie - Cat on a Hot Tin Roof - that Elizabeth Taylor also starred in. Hughes-Hallett compares Maggie (the main female character in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof") to Cleopatra, and says that Maggie is a fast woman who tries to get another man's husband. Now a disclaimer: I've never seen the movie version of Tennassee Williams' work. But I've read the play and seen a staged version of it, and while it's possible the movie has deviated (a LOT) from the original play, from the movie descriptions I have read this characterization of Maggie seems a huge stretch, at best. Despite these setbacks this was still an informative and insightful read.

2. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs. I finished this fast-paced book in one evening. The book, from what I read, got its start from the collections of actual photographs, and the story morphed from there. Jacob feels he is just an ordinary kid, a bit of a loner at school. He is close to his grandfather, and loved hearing about his fantastic stories growing up -- even if he questioned some of the elements of the stories. But after his grandfather's sudden death, Jacob finds a mysterious letter that sends him to a remote Welsh Island for summer vacation. His aim is to find out more about his grandfather's past, and he discovers that his grandfather's wild "fairy tales" were all true. For example, the children that Jacob's grandfather showed him in a collection of old photographs were not only real but are still alive. His life changes forever when he finds them.

3. The Good Guy, by Dean Koontz. Listened to this on CD. A very gripping story with some unexpected twists. Tim Carrier is an average guy, a mason, who enjoys his quiet life. One day, when enjoying a beer at his favorite bar, he is approached by a nervous guy who hands him an envelope stuffed with cash and the picture of a woman. Tim is told that he will "get the rest when she's gone." This guy leaves, and a short time later, another guy comes in and sits next to Tim. Tim quickly figures out this guy, Krait, is the actual hired killer, and Krait mistakes Tim for the client. Tim hands Krait the envelope with the money, but pockets the picture, and tells the assassin that this is a fee for not doing anything, and that he has changed his mind. Tim then sets off to find this mysterious woman to warn her that someone is out to kill her. Tim and Linda, a writer, wind up on the run as they try to keep one step ahead of Krait and try to figure out why someone wants her dead in the first place. Tim and Linda are a very likeable duo, and their banter is often darkly comic. Krait really steals the show. He is truly a scary villain, with a cold calculated demeanor only outmatched by his ego. There is one scene, which is extremely dark but funny, where Krait occupies a house he thinks will be empty for a while-- only to have a string of unexpected visitors.

Currently reading: Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela (Very, very good so far!)


message 2: by April (new)

April Helms | 197 comments 4. Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela. "Wow" best sums up my thoughts after finishing this long but very moving, very captivating story of Nelson Mandela (Madiba), from his early days in rural South Africa to his taking the reins of a nation newly freed from apartheid. I get the impression of a very intelligent, pragmatic man who is willing to listen to others opinions, even if he doesn't agree with him. His story is told very well, and is easy to follow. I learned a lot about Mandela and South Africa from his autobiography, and it makes me realize how little I know about Africa. I love how he relates his growth into becoming an activist- how he watches and observes for a while, then slowly is molded into becoming a reformer for his country. I think this quote illustrates Mandella quite well: "Nonviolent passive resistance is effective as long as your opposition adheres to the same rules as you do. But if peaceful protest is met with violence, its efficacy is at an end. For me, nonviolence was not a moral principle but a strategy; there is no moral goodness in using an ineffective weapon." Very pragmatic, very rational. This is an inspiring book, I highly recommend it.

5. Five Flavors of Dumb, by Antony John. This was one of those books I wound up finishing in an afternoon without quite meaning to because I didn't want to put it down. It's a fun story, and the main character Piper is an endearing, honest character. The story is a wee bit predictable at times: Girl Who Thinks No One Understands Her Comes to Find Out She's Respected and Liked More Than She Knows, and The People She Wrote Off As Jerks in the Beginning Turn Out To Be A-OK After All pretty much sums it up. But there are enough twists and character depth to keep this theme from being tired. Along with Piper, I really liked Kallie, Tash and Piper's brother Finn. Did want to slap the parents at the beginning (I don't like giving out spoilers but they do something at the beginning I find unpardonable, given the circumstances; I'm glad they are called on the carpet a bit for it). Piper, through chance and a few choice words, is picked to be the manager for the high school's band, Dumb. She has one month to put her money where her mouth is and get a paying gig for the group. Three problems: she doesn't care for the band members. She isn't all that familiar with the music scene. And she has no real way of telling whether the band is good or not because by the way, did I mention that Piper is deaf? Still, as she tries to get the band to come together as a group and attempts to find paying gigs (so she can raise money for college), she surprises herself, and those around her.

6. The Pirate of Kindergarten, by George Ella Lyon, illustrated by Lynne Avril. Was a bit mixed with this book, although I think it's mostly positive. In this story, Ginny loves her class and loves story hour, but has trouble with several things, such as reading, cut and paste projects and even sitting in her chair. During a routine school eye exam, she is diagnosed with double vision (diplopia). She is taken to an ophthalmologist, who gives her glasses and an eye patch. She finds herself now able to read, play and work with ease alongside her classmates. The illustrations are wonderful, and creatively give a taste of what Ginny sees. My issues are nitpicky. The biggest one is I wish there was a bit more information in the back about the condition. I might be speaking for myself, but when I think eye issues and patches, I think amblyopia (which is what I have in my left eye, to a minor degree). An afterwards clarification would have made this good book stronger. Another issue (and this is very minor), I think most teachers, after a week or two of seeing a student struggle to the extent that Ginny was, would have been on the horn to the parents to encourage them to see an eye doctor. This book would be excellent for a class who has a student going through vision difficulties and who may be wearing a patch, to show why it's being used and that it's not "weird." The book doesn't touch on the teasing a student may get after the eye patch is in place, and I wonder if what she goes through after one eye is patched comes across as a "cure." I would think most students, while they would have an easier time, would still have vision issues (depth perception comes to mind).

7. Jimi Sounds Like a Rainbow: a Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix, by Gary Golio, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe. I admit to being skeptical when I saw there was a children's picture book on the life of Jimi Hendrix, but Golio pulls it off. Hendrix, of course, is arguably the best guitar player ever seen (and I'm sure there are people who would object to the qualifying "arguably"). He's also, tragically, known for his rough home life and for dying far too young (27) from a mix of prescription drugs and alcohol. One wonderful thing about this book is not only does it have a nice list of references for Jimi Hendrix, but a list of drug and alcohol abuse prevention references as well. The Story itself, good for second through fourth (maybe fifth) grade, sticks to the younger period of Jimi's life, where he learns to play guitar and finds his voice through music. Through the words and illustrations, Jimi is seen learning to paint pictures with music. The illustrations capture the gritty nature of his surroundings as well as the flow and color of the music. My one complaint is that the text is rather small and is hard to read sometimes.

8. Black and White: The Confrontation between Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene "Bull" Connor, by Larry Dane Brimner. This is an excellent book for older grade school and up. It offers a look at Birmingham, Alabama, during the Civil Rights movement, concentrating on the antagonistic relationship between the Rev. Shuttlesworth, a contemporary and friend of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and a powerful advocate for Civil Rights, and Commissioner Connor, who was determined to keep segregation and Jim Crow in place. The book includes many pictures and notes, along with sidebars on other pertinent issues to the time (such as the struggle Autherine Lucy went through to attend The University of Alabama.) The struggles for desegregation was a constant one step forward, one step back. Shuttlesworth, along with other Civil Rights activists, was attacked on several occasions; his house was firebombed at one point. The book includes a nice index and source list. One of the more interesting items included is a photograph/copy of a list of rules for protestors, which emphasizes being orderly and polite whenever possible.

9. Interrupting Chicken, by David Ezra Stein. This is a hilarious story, where young chicken begs her papa to read her a story- but then she keeps interrupting with her own ending. Hansel and Gretel, Chicken Little and other stories get "chickenfied." The illustrations are very colorful and zany, the characters almost abstract. This will appeal to preschool and younger grade school. I mean, come on, who hasn't thought "gee how different the story would have been had *I* been there to help!" I can see a lot of good activities being done in connection with this story, such as how readers would change their favorite stories, if they could be in that world.

10. Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same, by Grace Lin. Ling and Ting are sisters, and most people think they are exactly the same. But as this story progresses, the reader can see the differences in their personalities, through several short stories. This is good for second grade and up. The illustrations are clean and vivid.

11. We Are in a Book, by Mo Willems. The latest in the Gerald and Piggie books. These always make me smile, they are so whimsical and clever. Here, Gerald and Piggie break the fourth wall, as it were, and interact with the reader (I can so see this one read during a story hour). This also is a nice way to point out some of the features in a book, such as the dialogue balloons and the page numbers. I've enjoyed all of the Gerald and Piggie books but I think this one is my favorite.

12. Bink and Gollie, by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile. A very cute series of short stories about two good friends, Bink and Gollie. This is good for more advanced grade school readers, or teachers wishing to teach their students new vocabulary words. Both girls are adventurous and imaginative, although Gollie tends to be more sophisticated, and Bink more impulsive. Gollie is sometimes embarrassed by Bink (who seems more like a younger sister). But together they learn to compromise and work out their differences.

13. A Sick Day for Amos McGee, by Phillip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead. A very charming story that should appeal to preschool and up. Amos McGee is a longtime and well-loved zookeeper who likes to spend time with the animals. But one day, he gets sick- so the animals visit him instead. The illustrations remind me of the clean, simple and muted tones popular when I was a child. Much attention is given to McGee and the animals, both in the words and the illustrations.

14. Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave, by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Bryan Collier. This is a neat bit of history, told in an easy to access picture book format. Not much is known about Dave, a potter who was a slave during the 1800s in South Carolina. What is known is that he was a potter - his pots are considered highly collectible and prized today - and he could write, and wrote brief lines of poetry on his pots. Both are very unusual traits for a slave during that time. The story part of the book is good for younger grade school; there is a nice "afterwards" section that goes into more about Dave's life. A teacher or parent can help younger grade schoolers out with this section.

15. Finger Lickin' 15, by Janet Evanovich. This one is slightly different, in that Lula winds up being the target, while Stephanie often is the hapless collateral damage. Lula witnesses a beheading of someone who turns out to be a well-known chef. Lula cooks up the plan to enter in the late chef's annual grilling contest to see if they can find the two killers. The problem is that Lula and Grandma Mazur's cooking skills are worse than mine (and that is saying something!) Stephanie and her family are forced to eat their concoctions, which range from utterly inedible to downright dangerous. The cooking scenes are hilarious, and the ending is almost anti-climatic.


message 3: by April (new)

April Helms | 197 comments 16. Punkzilla, by Adam Rapp. I really didn't care for this book at all. I will admit, the writing style is good. It's stream of conscious, but still easy to follow. It's also short (a good thing because another 40-50 pages I'm not sure I would have bothered finishing it.) But the biggest problem I have with it is that the main character, 14-year-old Jamie (aka Punkzilla) isn't all that likeable. I understand this is YA lit, and the protagonists aren't supposed to be angels. That's fine. I don't mind controversial material if there's a point to it. And I like the honesty a lot of the modern YA novels convey. But to me, Jamie is little more than a loathsome little cockroach with few redeeming qualities. A story portraying its characters with cigarettes, alcohol, drugs... that's one thing. But at one point, early on, Jamie describes how he knocks out people in the local park to steal their iPods and other items. He describes who he targets, and shows little remorse for it. Later in the story, he punches a woman and cusses her out, with little provocation. Again, no remorse. No punishment. That crosses a line with me. What's worse is his older brother's seeming "ha ha, boys will be boys" attitude to his younger brother's confessions. Yikes. We're not talking about getting a candy bar at the local drug store on the five finger discount. We're talking assault and battery. At any rate, the premise of the story is that Jamie has found out his older brother is dying of cancer so he goes on a cross-country quest to get to him before the end. Along the way he meets an assorted allotment of characters, some kind to him, some creepy.


message 4: by April (new)

April Helms | 197 comments 17. Bad News for Outlaws, by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. This book, good for gradeschool age, relates the story of Bass Reeves, a deputy marshal in the days of the Wild West. He was born a slave, but as a deputy marshal, he was known for making more than 3,000 arrests in his three decades of service. A great story on a little-known American hero.

18. Monstrumologist, by Rick Yancy. A good book for high schoolers who are fans of the vampire/zombie/monster genre. This story is set in a world where Monstrumology is a more-or-less accepted field of study (more on the less side). Will Henry has been an apprentice to Dr. Warthrop, a monstrumologist, since the unfortunate death of his parents. The work had always been difficult with the temperamental doctor, whose work schedule and drive in the name of science is bizarre and all-encompassing. Things take a dangerous turn when a grave robber shows up in the wee hours, with a very gruesome find. This is a long but fast-paced book, with great characters. It's interesting the point driven home, that even though the monsters that Will Henry and the doctor pursue are terrifying, sometimes the human "monsters" they work with are worse (it is debatable as to whether the doctor himself falls under this category). Don't try to eat anything while reading it, however, because parts of it have very graphic (and gross) description. The detail that goes into explaining the monster in this book is impressive and well thought out.

19. Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi. Another good read for high schoolers. Set in a dystopic future on America's gulf coast, the story concentrates on Nailer, a teen who works on a crew that makes their livelihood scavenging metals and other precious materials from the ships in the gulf. One day, he and another of his crew discover a fancy yacht that sank during a recent storm. While looting it, they discover one of the passengers, a girl, is alive. Their decisions about the girl wind up changing their lives in whys they did not foresee. The story is stark, the descriptions paint a brutal world, populated by many who live hand to mouth, hoping only to strike it rich. There are parts that are disturbing, such as when Nailer debates the pros and cons of letting the girl live, versus just quickly killing her.


message 5: by April (new)

April Helms | 197 comments 20. Tales of the Madman Underground, by John Barnes. A very good story, great for older teens and adults. Karl Shoemaker holds several after-school jobs to support himself and his alcoholic mother. He's trying to make this year, the start of the school year in 1973, a year when he tries to be normal, and distance himself from his friends, who all have been undergoing counseling together for a long period of time. This year, there is a new girl, Marti, who he slowly develops a friendship with. The story takes place over the period of a few days, while Karl realizes that like it or not, life will never be "normal" - but by the end, he's made his peace with it. The characters are all very well developed. The reader sees the story entirely through Karl's eyes ... and he often has a very jaded view of life (understandable, given his family situation). But as the reader, you realize that Karl sometimes comes down a bit too hard on others, especially the adults. He does come to realize this himself. Karl's mother is well-written. You almost want to hate her, but she manages to remain somewhat sympathetic. There was one part, however, one story thread, I wish would have been left out. The overall tone of the book is pretty gritty: drugs, alcohol abuse, sexual situations, language... but this one issue - involving a cat, sex and a character, Darla (whom, if someone like her existed, would be in a psychiatric hospital)- came very close to crossing a line.

21. The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. Finally got my hands on this one, and it was worth the wait. The story takes place in 1960s Mississippi and is told through the eyes of three women: Aibileen, a servant and nursemaid at the Leefolt house; Milly, the maid to newcomer Celia Foote and former maid to the mother of Hilly Holcombe, the town Queen Bee; and Skeeter, a young white woman who has just returned home from college and is best friends with Hilly and Elizabeth Leefolt. Aibileen has been helping raise young white children most of her life, and grows very fond of her current charge, Mae Mobley - a good thing because you get the impression that Elizabeth Leefolt married and had children merely as a social obligation and not because she has any interest in her offspring. But she has also become bitter and disillusioned after the death of her son, and how his medical care was handled (or, not handled) by his superiors in Jim Crow south. Minny is regarded as the best cook in town, but is also considered too sassy to be a maid and struggles both to keep a job and to keep her dignity both on her job and with her increasingly abusive husband. Skeeter is growing increasingly disenchanted with the town she grew up in and her mother's insistence that she marry, as is expected. But Skeeter has other ideas, including the wish to be a serious writer. She comes up with the idea to talk to the town's maids, to get their perspective on what life is like for them. However, Skeeter has little idea of the can of worms she is opening when she first approaches Aibileen with the idea. Eventually, Aibileen and several other maids agree to participate in the story project after a series of incidents persuade them for the need for a change in the status quo. The results when the book is published are bittersweet- there are changes, both for good and bad.

Currently reading: The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson.


message 6: by April (new)

April Helms | 197 comments 22. The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson. This should be required reading for students of 20th century American history. This was recommended to me by a co-worker, and I'm glad he did because this was a fantastic read. Wilkerson obviously put in many years of time and effort into this. The book itself is about the Great Migration of African Americans from the south to the north and west, and the impacts of that movement even to this day. But this isn't a straight history book. The Migration, which took place from about 1915 to about 1970, is told primarily through three ordinary and different people who were part of the Migration. Through a series of interviews, Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, George Swanson Starling and Robert Joseph Pershing Foster relate their backgrounds, what prompted each to move from the south and their lives after the move. These three provide an interesting cross section: Ida Mae and her husband were sharecroppers who moved after an unpleasant incident involving a family member; George, who had some college, moved after his efforts to get his fellow crop pickers to band together and demand better wages put his life in jeopardy; Robert, the best educated, moved so he could be a practicing doctor and surgeon (he was the personal physician to Ray Charles). Each has their successes, failures, triumphs and heartaches. Peppered throughout are the surveys conducted as to why people had moved, such as the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and their reactions, as well as the stories of people like Arrington High and Henry Brown, both of whom escaped the south (at different time periods) through harrowing and unconventional methods. The book is easy to follow and read, and while it covers a lot of history, it never comes across as dry or soporific. It also, through research, seeks to dispel a lot of myths, including some about "white flight." All in all, a fantastic and informative read.

23. Timeline, by Michael Crichton. Crichton had a talent for making the science in his books sound plausible and accessible, and it's obvious he put in a lot of research in both quantum physics and the Medieval period with this fun, if not perfect, story. A man is found wandering around in an Arizona desert muttering in rhyme and dressed in strange garments. Meanwhile, on a dig site in France, a team of archeologists make a stunning discovery, which takes some of them back to the United States and to one of the buildings of a large but secretive organization that has been funding said dig. The archeologists find themselves in the fight for their lives as they attempt to rescue one of their members -- from about 600 years in the past. This nearly 500 page novel reads very quickly, and Crichton struck a good balance with explaining enough history and science without weighing down the plot. I especially found the historical aspects and the language information interesting. There's a large cast of characters, and sometimes they are a bit hard to tell apart in the beginning. One of my two nitpicks is that with a couple characters Crichton switched sometimes with calling a character by his or her first name, then last name, then back again in the story, which can get confusing. That's a pet peeve of mine. Authors should stick to either the first name or last name (I'm not referring to dialogue situations of course) with their characters, when referring to them. Also, I thought the fates of two of the characters mentioned in the beginning- a nurse and a police officer- were a bit too unresolved, although that could have been due to the necessity of keeping the story focused. Also a bit mixed on the ending, and the fate of the company president. Yes, he's a jerk and all but what happens to him just ... I don't know. I don't think the punishment fit the crime. Also, it was a bit too pat. A good book for the general storyline, though.


message 7: by April (new)

April Helms | 197 comments 24. My Infamous Life, by Albert "Prodigy" Johnson. Prodigy, one half of the rap duo Mobb Deep, published his autobiography (with Laura Checkoway), which includes his background as a child, his struggles with sickle cell anemia, his music success, his stint in prison and release. I am really not sure how I feel about this one. I'd never really heard of Mobb Deep before this; this was a book sent to me at work and I thought I'd give it a go, for something different. The book flows well, and I imagine this being a hit on the Young Adult shelves. But it's not for the easily offended. Prodigy doesn't hold a lot back on his experiences with drugs, sex, alcohol, and (arguably the most disturbing) the violence in his life. This was... an eye-opener. Prodigy admits his mistakes in a very pragmatic, matter-of-fact tone. How remorseful and apologetic he truly is, who knows?

25. A Time of Miracles, by Anne-Laure Bondoux. A beautiful story. Blaise Fortune grows up with a woman, Gloria, in the Republic of Georgia in the 1990s, when several former Soviet countries were declaring their independence. Blaise and Gloria subside by begging and living off their wits, but the residents of the Complex, at least for a while, form a tight-knit community which even includes a schooling system. Blaise's favorite thing is to listen to Gloria's story on how he was found on a train that had derailed nearby and how Gloria found him. When Blaise is older and the strife around them intensifies, they make a cross-country journey to France. For Blaise, Gloria says, is actually a citizen of France and therefore the two of them can seek sanctuary (she would take Blaise's mother's passport.) During the journey Blaise begins to question who he really is, and begins to wonder about Gloria's stories about him. He finds out the truth can be more remarkable than fiction. This was a neat story, taking place in a time and location not often used, and the themes of finding one's way and identity, not to mention ultimately forgiveness, are well done here. The map of Blaise's travels is a nice touch.

26. Nothing, by Janne Teller. This story has been compared to Lord of the Flies, and it has a very similar, dark, horrific feel. The story starts when a student, Pierre Anthon, announces during the first day of classes that there is no meaning in life so what is the use of anything? He then leaves the classroom and takes up residence in a tree, where he taunts his classmates for the next several weeks. His classmates, all under 15, decide to prove him wrong -- that life and many things do have meaning-- and thus coax him down from his tree (his high horse). They decide to contribute an item that means something to them to this pile of meaning. After some thinking, the students decide each one of them would select a student and decide what that student must add to the pile. The decisions become darker and more macabre as the story goes on, and the consequences have a tragic effect. Nothing is an excellent, haunting and lyrically told story, but I recommend following it with a comic chaser.

27. Soldier Bear, by Bibi Dumon Tak, with illustrations by Philip Hopman. A sweet story, good for older grade school and middle school (could be used for second grade and up, but I'd recommend parents and teachers read along with younger children; there are one, maybe two chapters younger and more sensitive readers may find upsetting). This is based on the true story of Voytek, a bear who is adopted by a group of Polish soldiers as a cub. Voytek, along with the other animal mascots, causes his share of trouble in the unit -- hogging the shower water, and mooching for food, beer and cigarettes. But his antics and empathy win him a lot of fans. Among other things, the bear helped carry artillery shells, once cornered a spy and in general helped the morale of the soldiers. Voytek eventually becomes an enlisted member of the Polish Corps. The pictures in the back of the book are a nice addition, and lead credence to this remarkable story.

28. The Lily Pond, by Annika Thor. This is a sequel to A Faraway Island. Stephie and her younger sister Nellie has adapted to life on a Swedish island to escape the dangers of Nazi-occupied Vienna. But Stephie, now 13, is leaving the island for the mainland to go to school, a chance given to her thanks to a scholarship and an arrangement with the Soderbergs, the family who stayed on the island during the summer as temporary lodgers, to allow Stephie to stay at their residence. Stephie is thrilled at the chance to attend school and go back to a city life again. However, she must navigate the new mores and politics of the city, and she still worries about her parents back in Vienna. Stephie also is falling in love with Sven, the Soderberg's son. But he has secrets of his own. Fans of A Faraway Island will like this sequel. It is a sweet coming-of-age story.

29. Departure Time, by Truus Matti. An interesting story... actually, two stories in one. The first tells of a girl who is coming to grips with the recent loss of her father. The second is of a girl who doesn't remember who she is. It turns out the two stories are related as the tale progresses. The second girl finds herself at a hotel, whose only occupants seem to be a fox and a rat. Bit by bit, she starts to remember her past and who she is. This was an interesting story on many levels, as the reader finds out more about both girls. However, there was one point where the story went from one girl to the other mid-chapter, which I found jarring. Had that happened more than once I would have seen it as a progression of the story, the stories merging. But it just happened once so it looked more like either an accident or something got lost in translation. Also, the resolution with the second girl went on a bit too long; my interest started to wane some. I did enjoy the resolution of the first girl's story, however.

Currently reading: Social media for business : 101 ways to grow your business without wasting your time, by Susan Sweeney and Randall Craig.


message 8: by April (new)

April Helms | 197 comments 30. The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, by Helen Grant. "My life might have been so different, had I not been known as the girl whose grandmother exploded." That's the opening line in this book - this has got to be one of the best opening lines ever. The heroine Pia becomes a bit of a pariah in her small town, with only the other most unpopular child at her school left to serve as her sole remaining friend. Indeed, it it weren't for the fantastic stories of the elderly Herr Schiller, life would have been bleak and boring for Pia. But then, young girls start disappearing, starting with Katharina, who vanishes during the town's Karneval parade. Pia and Stefan take it on themselves to investigate the disappearances, which they believe might be supernatural in nature. This story neatly blends local lore into real-life day-to-day small town issues. I actually got the solution as to what/who made the girls disappear early on (curious if anyone else got it as quickly as I did) but the story was still very enjoyable. The story is bittersweet; as well as the larger, more shocking horror of the disappearances, Pia faces an increasingly tense household, as her parents' differences come out more and more through the story.

31. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, by Aimee Bender. A coming-of-age story with a bit of a twist: Rose has an unsettling talent that presents itself shortly before her ninth birthday. She finds out that she can taste the emotions - the true emotions - of people in whatever food they've prepared. She finds out after eating a slice of her mother's lemon cake. Her mother, whom Rose had always viewed as happy, outgoing and talented mother is depressed and full of despair. Eating becomes a unique quandry for Rose, but she learns to fine-tune her talents and soon can detect where each ingredient came from. But she also must learn to deal with the deep-buried secrets in her family, which come out with each bit she eats in the house. A very interesting story, well told with a lot of warmth and feeling.

32. Girl in Translation, by Jean Kwok. Kimberly Chang and her mother immigrated to the United States from Hong Kong. Once here, Kim must learn to navigate life at school and at the factory, where she and her mother work for her Aunt Paula (a real piece of work), who helped them get to America. After reading the author's brief bio, I wonder how much of the story is autobiographical. Regardless, this was an engaging story, with some unexpected twists (OK, a part of me would have really liked to have seen Aunt Paula get more of a comeuppance but...)

33. Social Media for Business, by Susan Sweeney and Randall Craig. A very handy guide overall to the various types of social media outlets out there. The book concentrates on the largest ones, such as Facebook, Twitter, Myspace and YouTube, but also goes over several lesser-known social media sites. It goes over the advantages and disadvantages of each, and how to best utilize them. Also, at the end of each chapter, there is a list of books and websites which offer more information on the social media site in question. This is well laid out and organized, with occasional pull-out boxes with additional tips or "Watch Out" moments. It also outlines early how social media can be useful- and when, perhaps, it won't help. The authors stress having a social media plan and goals in place before delving in for the best result.

Currently reading: The Reapers are the Angels, by Alden Bell.


message 9: by April (new)

April Helms | 197 comments 34. The Reapers are the Angels, by Alden Bell. I'm not much for the "zombie apocalypse" fad but found myself enjoying this book a lot more than I thought I would. Indeed, this is artfully written. In the story, 15-year-old Temple lives in a world that is fast dying due to the rise of zombies. How the zombies came to be is left very much up in the air, but Temple has known no other life than the kill or be killed existence she has eked out. Ironically, through the story, the zombies never are more than a background, lurching and overshadowing threat- one fairly easily avoided by the street smart orphan. It's the human survivors that are a bigger threat. After Temple is forced to escape from a safehouse after one of the men tries to force himself on her, the man's brother pursues her seeking revenge. While on the run, Temple comes across a mute man and decides to undertake a journey to find his family - and possibly redeem herself after a terrible tragedy - which she blames herself for -results in the loss of her adopted brother. The trip and book ends in a way I -- and I suspect most readers - did not expect. What really makes this book is Temple- she is a fascinating character who is mature well beyond her 15 years. She is a strange blend of spiritual and pragmatic, and she keeps an ice cool head under pressure. The dynamic between her and Moses Temple is well crafted. My one nit is I would have liked to have known more about how the mutants came to be- vague hints are given, but little else. Otherwise, for those who like a bit of a different twist in their horror, this book is for them. I'd save this for older teens due to the violence and mature themes.

35. Haunted Savannah, by James Gaskey. This is one of the books I bought while in Savannah. This is a great read for those who like local ghost stories and legends. Gaskey does a good job clarifying which are pure myth (such as the stories on Rene Rondolia) and which stories have some credibility. The author has even had his own ghostly encounters. The book is organized by location, and includes snippets of history about the locations and Savannah in general. It includes a list of Savannah's squares and ghostly stories connected with them. It even has one or two amusing non-ghost stories. A nice addition are the photographs. There is a lot of information that repeats, such as voodoo lore and "haint blue," but this book was designed more or less to be read by chapter- or the place someone is interested in - so that didn't bother me. The book did need a more thorough proofing, though- there were several typos throughout. All in all, I enjoyed this book. I'd save this for older grade school (as long as they aren't easily scared), as well as teens and adults interested in the supernatural and Savannah history.

36. Seafaring Women, by David Cordingly. This is a very dense book on the history of women and their connection with the sea. It's a pretty thorough book, covering a lot of angles- not just on the many roles of women but on the background and history. Those interested in maritime history would do well to include this book on their shelf. The stories of the women themselves cover a vast range. There are the heroes, such as Grace Darling, who, along with her father, a lighthouse keeper, rescued the passengers from the wrecked steam paddler Forfashire during a wicked storm; and Mary Patten, whose skill at navigation helped her take charge of her husband's ship, Neptune's Car, when her husband fell gravely ill. Then there are stories of women who disguised themselves and men and served on military ships, such as Hannah Snell and Mary Anne Talbot. There are stories of sailors' wives, sailors' mistresses and the "women of the evening" who made successful careers with sailors. Of course no book on women and the sea would be complete without some mention of notorious female pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read. The book has a nice glossary of terms in the back, as well as an index for quick referencing. But it does assume a certain level of nautical history and know-how (it mentions the Cutty Sark and Mutiny on the Bounty, although the latter is explained in another part of the book, after it is mentioned, for example). There also is, in the middle section of the book, several illustrations and portraits that are referenced throughout the book (I guess my one nit is I wish the pictures would have been placed near where they are referenced, or with the chapters where the people portrayed are discussed.)This would be good for older teens and adults. One, as I said, this is a pretty dense book. Also, while it's not overly graphic, the author doesn't mince descriptions on the hard lives of the sailors, including some of the gruesome diseases they could catch, the injuries they could sustain and the horrific punishments meted out to rule-breakers.

37. Shipwreck Detective, by Richard Platt and Duncan Cameron. An interactive book, which includes little books within books, envelopes with letters and even a compass. This one is fantastic. The storyline is that Duncan receives an old chest and a cryptic letter from his uncle, who recently passed away. The uncle, through the letter, tells of a treasure he had found at one of his shipwreck dives. He had not been able to retrieve the treasure at the time, and never could go back for it. So the uncle leaves a series of clues - various sunken ships and word clues -- and a deadline for Duncan and his twin sister to find the treasure. This story, as is typical with these interactive books, blends fiction with facts on various sunken ships, on diving, on marine life, navigation and much more. Indeed, this is one of the best interactive books I've seen. I love how the ending does NOT tell you which ship had the treasure trove (you have to go to a website- listed on the book - to find the definitive answer.) But the clues are all there. Very clever! Good for older grade school and above.

38. Alienology, Dygald A. Steer (editor.) Another interactive book, this one one of the official "ology" books. This one has a different feel from the others. Here, a scientist, Alan Gray, is investigating aliens on Earth. The reader is invited to become a member of S.P.A.C.E. (the Society for the Promotion of Alien Contact with Earth), in preparation for a sinister alien invasion by a highly destructive species. There also are mind games scattered throughout- tough, too! I am not well versed in alien movies and novels, so I have a feeling a lot of the references and "inside jokes" sailed over my head. Still, it's a nice read, with the descriptions of various aliens and their personalities, as well as information about the galaxy and the solar system.


message 10: by April (new)

April Helms | 197 comments 39. God Sleeps in Rwanda, by Joseph Sebarenzi. A very moving and powerful book. Sebarenzi had been sent to the Congo to further his education, and thus his life was spared during the 1994 Rwandan genocide- but his parents and most of his immediate family were slaughtered. Later he became the speaker of Rwandan's parliament (by his own admission because of his youth and lack of political experience; those in power hoped to manipulate him,) but once again had to flee his country with his family after he ran afoul of the country's vice president (later president) Kagame. Turned out he wasn't so easy to manipulate and wasn't willing to be just a sycophant for those in power. It's an interesting look inside of Rwanda but it's a more fascinating look at Sebarenzi, as he goes from (understandably) grief-stricken and bitter to someone who moves past the incredible atrocities and moves to the forefront in trying to restore peace in his country. He has an incredibly potent message about the importance of forgiveness and moving on. It's a sad story, too, though, because it shows how fragile a democracy can be, with the wrong people in power.

40. Guest of Honor, by Deborah Davis. Davis looks at a piece of history that most people probably don't know about. One fateful evening, Theodore Roosevelt, the new president of the United States, invited Booker T. Washington to dinner with his family and a couple of others. Now, to the modern reader, this might not seem to be a big deal. After all, Roosevelt was a young, dynamic president brimming with ideas, inviting one of his advisers, Washington, who was among the most influential African Americans of his day and the founder of the Tuskegee Institute. No big deal, right? But this is the early 1900s, what should have been an innocuous invitation for a business dinner turned into a scandal that impacted both men. There were many who thought the dinner was a great step in positive racial relations. There were, however, a lot of loud critics -- both black and white -- of both men who thought the invitation breached a social line that should never have been crossed. The dinner spawned nasty political cartoons and songs, political maneuverings and gossip for several years afterwards. The dinner itself isn't covered until the final few chapters, with much of the book leading up to the event, including information on each man's background, the political climate and well-known contemporaries of the two men. History buffs should definitely add this one to their to-read list. I might have to check out Davis's other books as well.


message 11: by April (new)

April Helms | 197 comments 41. 11/22/63, by Stephen King. King fans familiar with his horror stories may have found this one to be a surprise (although King has written in other genres before). Here, King delves into historical fiction, asking that intriguing and tantalizing question: What if we could go back and change history. Here, that bit of history is the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Jake Epping, a high school teacher, is shown a portal where he is taken back in time to September 9, 1958. He is told he could spend days, weeks, even years in there, but when he comes back it is only two minutes later. And each time he goes back, time resets itself. He is sent by a dying friend to the past to stop the assassination of Kennedy and, hopefully, change the future for the better.
There is a lot to like in this story. One, are all the little nods to previous King classics, such as Christine and It. There's a lot of detail about the time, and one thing I liked is that while the innocence and simplicity of the time are captured, the ugly side of that time period (such as racism and the lack of attention to spousal abuse) also is shown. It's way too easy to look at the 50s and early 60s through rose-colored glasses and forget it was not a happy time for all, nor was it perfect by any stretch of the imagination. But I digress.
Near the end, when Jake sees the result of his actions, almost ruined it- some things were just a bit over the top. I don't want to give away any spoilers, but it was so bizarre it took me out of the story. However, I thought the very end was fitting, if bittersweet. All in all I really enjoyed this one. Even people who don't like most of King's other works may want to give this one a shot.

42. Sizzling Sixteen, by Janet Evanovich. Not the best book in the series involving intrepid bounty hunter Stephanie Plum, but still fun. In this installment - shorter than the previous books - Vinnie, Stephanie's cousin and the owner of the bonding agency Stephanie works for has been kidnapped. Vinnie has run afoul of mobsters by running up a six-figure gambling debt. So Stephanie, Lula and Connie plot to get Vinnie back, safe and reasonably sound. The funniest moments involve the alligator and the Hobbit-con (which brings back one of my favorite characters, Mooner).

43. In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson. I read Larson's Devil in the White City and really enjoyed it. This is another hit, and a must-read for history buffs, especially those who study World War II. It's 1933 in Germany, Hitler is Chancellor, and the Nazi party's power is on the rise. William E. Dodd has just been appointed as the ambassador to Germany from the United States. Much of the story is told through his letters, journal entries and correspondence. Another large part of the story is told through Dodd's daughter Martha, through her letters. Ironically, William Dodd took the post in hopes that he would be able to take a break from his demanding university teaching schedule to work on a book series detailing the South. Instead, he and his family had front-row seats into a Germany that grew darker and more militant with ever passing year.
Dodd was, as described by a contemporary "a square academic peg in a round diplomatic hole." He's an interesting character study, a bit of a fish out of water in his position. He made several mistakes, although most of those were mistakes in hindsight. Tragically where he seemed to run most afoul with the establishment was the fact that he was middle class in a world of multi-millionaires, a self-described Jeffersonian Democrat who hated the lavish and regular parties thrown by the others in the diplomatic circle, who loathed the opulent settings he lived in and who eschewed the conspicuous consumerism of the others. He insisted on living within his modest salary and protested the extravagance of his staff. Dodd either walked or drove his own car, an old Chevrolette. He didn't believe early reports about the dangers the Nazi regime posed and, like many, thought that the Nazis would fizzle out. That was a common theme- no one took Hitler seriously. Martha compared him to Charlie Chaplin, looks-wise. No one seemed overly impressed or overly worried with this average-sized, overly excitable hothead. Yet as time went on, Dodd started to pick up the banner of those who advised caution and nipping the Nazi's rise in the bud, a theme he'd lecture and counsel on even after his ambassadorship and up to his death. In general, I came away with the view that Dodd was a good man caught in an incredibly bad situation, a situation no one could have appreciated at that time.
His daughter, on the other hand... I understand I have benefit of hindsight here, but her behavior was more fitting a young teenager rather than a woman in her mid-20s. Martha was a young woman possessing a plethora of beauty and a paucity of sense- a bad combination. Her dalliances with the "young and handsome men" - including some top Nazi officials -- would raise eyebrows even today. It wasn't until much later she realized the danger the Nazis posed.
The book also looks into how many clues there were even early on as to Hitler's intentions. The persecution of Jews, violence even against tourists for not saluting or observing the SS military parades had already started even then. Even after "Operation Hummingbird," or as it is more commonly known, the Night of the Long Knives in the summer of 1934, where Hitler executed his infamous purge of traitors, world reaction was muted and Germany's reaction largely positive. Again, only a few (including by this time, Dodd) saw the dangers.
Again, a very good read -- it's long, but well-paced and reads very quickly.

44. Pop, by Gordon Korman. Probably the most serious and nuanced of Korman's books (at least of the one's I've read). There's still a lot of Korman's quirky humor (including one hilarious scene towards the end involving a major football game and the passing around of equipment) but the overall tone is bittersweet.
The story is mostly told from the point of view of Marcus, who just moved to town in the middle of summer with his mom. His mother and father (whom Marcus refers to as Comrade Stalin) have just divorced, and his mom has moved to take a job with a local paper and to work on her photography book. Marcus spends much of his time practicing football by himself at a local park in hopes of getting into his new high school's championship-winning football team. One day, however, a middle-aged man Charlie comes by and starts practicing- and teaching- Marcus. Turns out that Charlie is Charlie Popovich, a well-known ex-NFL player nicknamed "The King of Pop" for his bruising tackles. However, Marcus finds himself as a bit of an outsider after the high school quarterback takes an instant dislike to Marcus, especially when the quarterback's ex-girlfriend Alyssa starts flirting with him. To make the situation even stickier? This star quarterback is Troy Popovich, Charlie's son. Even more aggravating to Marcus is Charlie's odd behavior -- never showing up on time for their sessions in the park, letting Marcus seem to take the fall for a couple pranks gone wrong and more. Charlie seems to be a big kid at times.
What I really like is that Troy and his sister come off as jerks at first, until you realize what is going on with their father, and the secret is heartbreaking. Some parts of the book briefly tell the story from their point of view. The ending had me wanting to cry.

45. Peeps, by Scott Westerfeld. A very different take on the vampire genre. Or, pardon me, peeps, or parasite positives. In this world created by Westerfeld, a condition resembling vampirism is caused by a parasite. Cal Thompson is a carrier for the parasite - he has it and can spread it, and even feels some of the benefits from it (such as greater strength and night vision). But he doesn't suffer from some of the nastier effects, such as eating people, avoiding the night and detesting things they once loved, such as Garth Brooks and Elvis. Cal is hired by the Night Watch, a sort of secret society that monitors and captures peeps, to track down and capture his old girlfriends whom he unwittingly passed on the parasite to. He also tries to find the woman who gave the parasite to him during a one-night stand. Along the way, he meets Lace, a journalism student, and the two together uncover some discomforting truths - including things that seem to contradict what Cal has been taught by the Night Watch. This was a fun, fast read. Westerfeld intersperses the story with tidbits on actual parasites, and among other things offers a believable explanation behind some of the tropes involving vampires. Despite the topic, it's fairly light on the gross-out and darkness factors. Much of the tone of the book is darkly comic, with Cal trying to figure his way around this new world he has been thrust in.

Currently reading: The Strange Death of Father Candy, by Les Roberts.


message 12: by April (new)

April Helms | 197 comments 46. Zen Shorts, by Jon J. Muth. This is an utterly charming story (actually stories) within a story. Three children meet a giant panda, Stillwater. One by one, they become good friends with the gentle and wise panda, who relates stories to them. I think my favorite story was the one of the monk who carried a proud and ungrateful princess over a puddle. When the monk's companion, some hours later, fumed why the monk had not reacted and scolded the ingrate, the monk replied "I put her down hours ago. Why are you still carrying her." Something I need to remember at times (don't we all?)I love the illustrations, which are done beautifully in watercolor. Just gorgeously rendered! A good story for one-on-one reading with 3 to younger grade school, or for a library or school storytime.

47. The Three Questions (based on a story by Leo Tolstoy), by Jon J. Muth. Another beautifully rendered story by Muth. This one centers on a boy, Nikolai, who wants to be the best person he can be, but is unsure how to go about it. His friends try to answer his questions but he remains unconvinced. He goes to talk with Leo, the wise turtle, and in the process of his time with the turtle winds up answering his three questions: What is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do? Another good story for one-on-one reading with 3 to younger grade school, or for a library or school storytime.

48. The Strange Death of Father Candy, by Les Roberts. This was a fast read, brutally paced and doesn't pull any punches. Fans of noir mystery will most likely devour this; I know I needed a bit of a comic chaser afterwards. Roberts introduces the reader to Dominick Candiotti, a Vietnam veteran who grew up in Youngstown. To say he is not close to his family would be an understatement. He is neutral in his memories of his now- deceased parents, but his feelings towards his brother and sister are less ambiguous- he loathes them and not without reason. His brother Alfonso is a dishonest police officer who, like most of the neighborhood, is rather cozy with one of the two Mafia families. His sister Teresa is just bitter and unpleasant. The only other family member Dominick kept in contact with after moving to Chicago to escape the lawlessness of Youngstown was Richard, the well-respected and well-loved minister nicknamed "Father Candy." And Father Candiotti is dead of apparent suicide. Nick starts asking questions about the death- after all, why would a young, handsome and loved priest kill himself? What he gets at first are roadblocks from everyone, who tells him to just go back to Chicago if he can't behave himself. But Nick chips away at the walls and uncovers a lot of skeletons -- and decides to take matters into his own hands. Nick is not a nice, or even very likable character, but his motivations are somewhat understandable if a bit ironic in a way. It made me think of Michael Corleone's efforts of trying to escape his mob family, only to get sucked into it to avenge the attack on his father.

49. Of Thee I Sing, by Barack Obama, illustrated by Loren Long. A very sweet picture book, written as both a letter to President Obama's two daughters as well as introducing a nice cross-section of famous Americans, ranging from George Washington and Abraham Lincoln to Georgia O'Keeffe and Cesar Chavez. Each of the people mentioned represent a quality (courage, strength, creativity, etc.) It doesn't get into a lot of depth of the famous people covered (there is a nice appendix at the end which gives brief biographies) but it offers a nice, easy-to-digest taste of history to the younger set. Thanks to my lil sis for recommending this one!

50. Maria, My Own Story, by Maria Von Trapp. I've read The Story of the Trapp Family Singers a couple times, and thought I'd check out a couple more books about the von Trapp family. This is a nice complement to The Story of the Trapp Family Singers; indeed, I am left with the impression that this includes a lot of the memories that did not make it in the first book, as well as adding her memories and life after the end of the previous installment. Much of it covers her life in the von Trapp's lodge in Stowe, Vermont. Maria strikes me as a very honest, straightforward woman who had her own (very strong) way and ideas of doing things. By her own admission, she could be difficult. I guess when asked if she was as difficult at the Nonnberg Abbey as portrayed in the movie and stage play "The Sound of Music," she replied that she was much worse. Even in her later years she wasn't afraid of trying new things. She took up skiing and horseback riding in her 40s, and had her first cross-country skiing venture when she was in her 60s. An enjoyable read, and fans of The Sound of Music should consider picking it up for the real story of the von Trapp family (while I will always enjoy the musical, it does take a LOT of "artistic liberties")

51. Memories Before and After The Sound of Music, by Agathe von Trapp. Another interesting look at the real von Trapp family, this time through the memories of the oldest daughter Agathe. Agathe, who died less than two years ago at 97, tells the stories of the von Trapp family before Maria came into their lives, as well as about the concerts and tours that would change their lives and fortunes. In addition to her memories, told in an engaging style, there are many photographs of the family and Agathe's own sketches included (she was a good artist) throughout. Again, fans of The Sound of Music should give this a read. I find it amazing that there were so many fantastic singers in one family- and not only a family whose members could sing, but could sing in five and six part harmony as well. From reading the chapter at the end about what happened to "the children," it looks like several of the grandchildren have inherited the musical gift as well. I know one thing the family had objected to in the play was the portrayal of the father, Capt. Georg von Trapp. In the play, he's a cold, distant authoritarian figure. In real life, both Agathe and Maria write, he was actually very kind and compassionate. Also, in real life the children all had been taught music, and at least the five older ones could play at least one instrument, before Maria came. Those are just a couple of the discrepancies between the play and real life.

52. Issac's Storm, by Erik Larson. Larson uses his storytelling skills to relate the catastrophe that was the 1900 Galveston, Texas hurricane, told mostly through the eyes and correspondence of Issac Cline, a senior U.S. weather bureau official. This was - and remains - the deadliest hurricane to ever hit the US shore.
The Gilded Age was a period of time marked by an explosion of scientific discoveries and technologies, and with that followed a notable plethora of hubris. Like with the Titanic sinking, which would take place 12 years later, there was a lot of ego here that led to the terrible result of the powerful hurricane. As "God couldn't sink this ship," man was incapable of being seriously harmed by hurricanes with the new technology, according to the opinions of the time. Cline had even written a paper about how Galveston would be safe from hurricanes because of the way it was positioned (of course AFTER the hurricane further studies showed that contrary to that wildly optimistic proposition, Galveston was actually extremely vulnerable to cyclonic activity). Actually, however, Cline was actually moderate in his beliefs and became alarmed about the strange weather he was seeing days before the storm. His opinions came more from a lack of knowledge; he didn't know what he didn't know. But the top brass of the weather bureau at the time had ego to spare, not in which the least was muzzling Cuban meteorologists who had predicted the strength and scope of the hurricane before it hit and devastated THAT country. The weather bureau wanted to be the only source of weather-related bulletins, and that led to disaster. Actually, it's amazing that the weather bureau, given its shaky start, got off the ground at all. I remember thinking that it was just as well the leadership did NOT get exposed for the idiots they were because it might have been decades before the weather bureau got any sort of start again (there were a lot of calls to have it shut down).
This story meanders; all of the information was interesting although I'm not sure all of it was needed (such as the story of Columbus' fourth trip to the new world, a wonderful example of karma coming back to haunt one). The maps included were a nice touch. I also liked the stories of the people who went through the hurricane; I would have liked to have seen even more of that.
And there were a lot of personal stories, a lot of tragedies. This hurricane would have been a Category 4 storm, with readings that were unheard of before that time. It's estimated at least 6,000 people died in Galveston alone (some place the figure as high as 10,000) and destroyed a large part of the city. Whole families were lost, and Cline suffered his own personal tragedies, not in the least of which was an estrangement from his younger brother, who also worked for the bureau and more accurately predicted the severity of the storm. Not Larson's best, but a good, informative and quick read.


message 13: by April (new)

April Helms | 197 comments 53: Party of the Century, by Deborah Davis. After the success of his novel, In Cold Blood, Truman Capote decided to celebrate with a huge masked ball, inviting his friends, associates and some of the biggest names of the day. The theme was that everyone had to wear black or white- no other color - and a mask. The book covers a bit of Capote's background (interesting bit of trivia- Capote was good friends with Harper Lee, and was the inspiration for the character Dill in To Kill a Mockingbird). The bulk of the text covers the preparations for the party, plus information on some of the guests, particularly Capote's bevy of swans - rich, beautiful and accomplished women. The party itself was considered a hit by most, panned by some, and still talked about (and sometimes imitated) today. The book features numerous photos and sketches of the party and the garments worn. It's a bit amusing to read how seriously some took this fete. Getting in invitation - or NOT getting one- was a huge deal. Tens of thousands were spent by some to get just the right look (although I loved the bit about how Capote's own mask was well under a dollar- I don't have the book handy and don't recall the exact price). This was an interesting read, not just for the party, but the outlook of that time period, and the changes going on during that time.

54. Smokin' Seventeen, by Janet Evanovich. The last book was a bit disappointing but this one made up for it. Poor Stephanie. She's still trying to choose between Morelli and Ranger- and now her friends and family try to force her hand. Actually, her family is trying to hook her up with a third party- a former football star who is a great cook. The bail bonds company is operating as best as it can from Mooner's van, and the business is losing money. So Stephanie is sent out to bring in the usual oddballs who have failed to appear in court. My favorite is the generally toothless old man who is convinced he is a vampire. But what Stephanie Plum novel would be complete without another lost car (a great line from Ranger, about him writing in her destroying his cars as entertainment), and a threat to her life? A very funny read.

55. Guys and Dolls, by Damon Runyon. This was actually a collection from three short story collections: Guys and Dolls, Blue Plate Special and Money From Home. Runyon's stories inspired (among other things) the Broadway musical Guys and Dolls. This collection contains numerous short stories on such colorful characters like Dave the Dude, Rusty Charlie, Benny Southstreet, The Brain, Good Time Charley, Nathan Detroit, Big Jule and many others. Most of the stories are darkly humorous (and more than a few have a touch of O. Henry irony). The language and rhythm takes some getting used to; a little Runyon-ese goes a long way. Still, Runyon captures the heart and eccentricity of his world very well, and it was interesting to read some of the stories that inspired the musical. There was one story, Madame La Gimp, I could see being turned into a short play (actually, this story was the basis for a movie, Lady for a Day).


message 14: by April (new)

April Helms | 197 comments Just realized I forgot to update this list from last time, so double-posting:

56. Gods and Soldiers, by Rob Spillman. Came across this while getting ready to move. We get all sorts of books due to the nature of the job. Many are duds, but sometimes we get a gem. I'd put this in the latter category. This is an anthology of contemporary African writing, ranging from short stories and essays to snippets from longer works. Works include both fiction and nonfiction. The quality varies but for the most part I found it enjoyable. There was only one story I found irritating; the author had a severe case of "run-on sentenceitis." I kid you not- one sentence ran more than three pages. A pity because the story itself was somewhat interesting but it was hard to follow. The stories are organized by regions and cover writing from much of the African continent. I especially enjoyed the darkly funny "The Manhood Test" and "Voice of America," and the gripping, tragic "Half a Yellow Sun," a fictional account of the civil war in Nigeria.

57. The Healing of America, by T.R. Reid. This should be required reading for anyone interested in a serious, intelligent discussion on how to fix the health care mess in the United States. Reid, on a quest to investigate other health care systems - both for general knowledge and for feedback on the best treatment for his "bum shoulder" - traveled to several different countries to observe how health care was handled in other parts of the world. Reid combines a fun, lively writing style with a lot of facts, and those facts cast a harsh light on how screwed up our health care system (or non-system) really is. Two of the best features of this book are it not only dispels a LOT of the myths about health care in other countries, but points to various models - and solutions -that could work here (personally I liked the Bismark model, which is what France, Japan and Germany use in some form). The sobering truth: The United States spends more -- far more -- in health care, yet ranks poorly compared to other industrialized nations in terms of longevity, quality of life, fairness and infant mortality (the US was ranked 22 in that last category). A big reason, Reid writes, is the country's insistence on a private, for-profit model in its insurance companies. No other nation does this, he writes. In other countries, insurance companies are nonprofit entities. Another reason is the digitization of records. In France, which consistently ranks high in health care outcomes, health records are on a microchipped card issued to its residents. There's no office staff, no filing cabinets- because none are needed. Reid does point out the things that the US does well -its state-of-the-art facilities in its larger cities can provide treatments not offered anywhere else in the world. If someone has money, or a generous insurance plan, the most advanced medical services are available. The problem is with the significant part of the population that does NOT have money or insurance (or inadequate insurance). Those people are little better off than someone who becomes ill in a developing country- they get sick and stay sick, or they go bankrupt - a phenomenon unique to the United States, compared to other wealthy countries. Reid also points out the problems that other countries face with health care: low wages for doctors in France and Japan -- although the flip side is that their education is free or very low cost, and their malpractice insurance is miniscule compared to a doctor who practices in the U.S. One doctor- I think it was in Germany - said her malpractice insurance payments per year were about what U.S. doctors pay in a month, and she had never been sued in her 20+ years of practice. I do wonder if it means that doctors are really that competent, or if it's just impossible to win a case and most people don't bother to try. I get the impression that is what happens in Great Britain for example. So the question for me is - how are incompetent doctors exposed and weeded out? Then there's the waits - not exaggerated, for non-urgent cases - in Canada for more than basic care. Still, again- these countries get more bang for their buck when it comes to health care- less expense, better result (although costs are rising everywhere, Reid points out). And the spooky specter of "socialized medicine"? Mostly a myth. Indeed, two forms of U.S. medical care - Medicare and the medical care offered through Veterans Services - are more socialized than anything found overseas, Reid writes. The U.S. actually has smatterings of health care service, depending on the population: complete care for 65 and older, another system for veterans, a third system for Native Americans, another for renal care patients, yet another for those considered at or below the poverty line, one for those whose employers provide health care - and of course the out of pocket "solution" for those without insurance and who are veterans, seniors or Native Americans. I did find it interesting, too, how fast the U.S. doctor recommended a surgical solution (joint replacement) to Reid's shoulder, and how reticent doctors elsewhere were in recommending surgery. Reid said he found the best treatment wound up being a form of massage therapy in India, plus injections from Japan, which, while not a cure, eased the pain and increased his range of motion in his shoulder significantly. Hmmmm.

58. M is for Myanmar, by Elizabeth Rush, illustrations by Khin Maung Myint. Stumbled across this book while looking for something else. I know where I live has a high population of Myanmar refugees, so I decided to check out this book to see what I could learn. It's geared, I think, for older grade school (more on this later). This is an okay book. The positives: there's a lot of good information, and it is written in both English and Burmese. The story involves an older sister telling her younger sister about Myanmar, which they are visiting. This book would be good for students - both of Burmese descent, who might have moved when they were young to the United States and might not have memories of the country, or for non-Burmese students curious about the culture. It was neat seeing examples of Burmese writing, which is like no writing I've ever seen before. The illustrations are nice, very colorful, although they tend to be a bit small (I blame it on the book format). The big problem is with the text. One, it's rather small (to fit both the English and Burmese in). But two, some words are set off in a different font, and sometimes quotes are set off in speech balloons, with no rhyme or reason to either. I think whoever was putting this together was trying to be creative with the text, but the result was just confusing and annoying. This would be a good book for older grade school, or younger children with an adult to help with the advanced vocabulary. But this isn't a good book for a story hour- the illustrations and text are too small to make that practical.

59. Baltimore: The Plague Ships, by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden and Ben Stenbeck. Fans of dark comic series will love this one- vampires, fungus zombies and dark, tragic backgrounds galore. This is a good start to what looks to be a riviting, if bloody, series. The time is in an alternate universe, just after World War I. The war has ended because a plague of vampirism is devastating humanity. Lord Baltimore, a former soldier, has sent himself on a mission to hunt down and kill vampires, specifically the one who killed his family. The illustrations are well done; graphic, but not overly so (I've seen far worse). This would be good for teens and older.

60. Anya's Ghost, by Vera Brosgol. I really liked this graphic novel, a good book for younger teens. Anya is a teen struggling with her self image, her Russian heritage and her first crush (the author herself was born in Moscow.) One day, while coming home from school she goes to a nearby park to blow off some steam, and falls into a deep hole. There, she meets up with a ghost, who tells her that she, too, had fallen in nearly a century ago. Anya escapes and the ghost is able to follow. At first, Anya's spirit friend seems to be a great boon to the shy, reclusive teen. But after discovering things aren't often what they seem, Anya begins to wonder if her ghostly friend is so benign. The illustrations are straightforward and clean, and done in black and white- a bit unusual. Anya is a flawed but likable heroine. She's not perfect - she smokes, cuts school, is a mediocre student who is not above cheating and thinks (at first) that the bullying and teasing of another student - Dima, a nerdy Russian teen- is justified because of his naivety (part of this could be because her mother is trying to make her be friends with Dima because of their shared heritage). Through the book, Anya begins to change her beliefs and her attitude.

Currently reading: A is for Alibi, by Susan Grafton.


message 15: by April (new)

April Helms | 197 comments 61. A is For Alibi, by Sue Grafton. Mom got me hooked on this series on our trips to Savannah and D.C. She likes listening to books on CD on her road trips. This was the first of a long series. The intrepid hero Kinsey Milhone is a former police officer who is now working as a private detective. Most of her cases have been pretty routine, until Nikki Fife, who was just released from prison for killing her husband, approaches her about trying to find the real killer and clearing her name. Kinsey's a fun character, very practical and has good instincts, but she has a lot of quirks that border on neurotic. The world in which she lives is very well-defined and easily pictured. The story is well-paced and the ending was very surprising. Only quibble was one of her first dealings in the story with Lt. Con Dolan. She asks him for records on the murder case, which he reluctantly gives to her, saying he's really not supposed to do that. But the records he gives her would have been open under the Sunshine Laws, with anyone wanting or needing to have access to them able to review them. I do call this a minor quibble though, because this type of response is not atypical in police departments.

62. Nerds: Who They Are and Why We Need More of Them, by David Anderegg. This was a very good book in many ways. One, it supports what I've said for years: The United States has NEVER taken education very seriously. He goes more into why, and just how pervasive it is. He draws on some interesting anecdotes and arrives at some intriguing solutions. The premise is that America's anti-intellectualism is not only impeding the academic process of individuals, but impeding the country's progress as a whole. No argument from me here on that point. He points out how subversive -- and how accepted-- our ridiculing nerds, geeks and others who don't quite fall on that bell curve of life is, including society's over-pathologizing said individuals. He makes a strong case for why this mindset needs to change if we want to graduate more educated individuals -- which won't be an easy challenge in a country that has always admired the "rugged individual" and, as Anderegg puts it, people of action, as opposed to those who are "merely" scholars who have never gotten their hands dirty. And I agree about the power of words and associations: cold, hard rigid "facts" - what math and science depend on -- can be seen as inflexible and not-fun, not cool. Or, as the author put it (this cracked me up) to "harrrd!"
This book is not perfect, although most of the flaws are minor. One, he tries to make a case in the Bush/Gore 2000 presidential election that Gore lost because he was an intellectual, a "nerd" who espoused his knowledge at any opportunity, while Bush was more the friendly, joking "everyman" who seemed more comfortable in his own skin. This race was razor close, and Gore actually won the popular vote (by a slim margain), so this conclusion seems a stretch, at best. Two, he compares the rankings of the test scores of students in the United States, versus other developed countries, and, predictably, America's results are rather dismal. Now, I'm NOT saying there isn't room for improvement, and there's nothing we can't learn from other countries. Far from it. We really need to implement year-round schooling among many other changes, and give education the attention it really deserves. However, I really hate the comparisons with other countries because it is not comparing apples with apples. One, the United States makes an effort to educate- and test- every student. This does not happen in other countries. Two, education here is free and public (with private options available). That is not the case with all countries; I recall talking with an exchange student from South Africa once, who said tuition to a typical school in her country was about a year's wages for the typical laborer. In short, these other countries are testing their best and most affluent populations. I recall reading some time ago that if you broke down the test and only looked at the top 10-20 percent or so of students in the U.S. compared to the top 10-20 percent of students in other countries, the United States does a lot better in the rankings (not sure this is still true; this was back in the late 90s I believe). Also, I recall Anderegg making a comment about how the "jocks" and the very pretty students don't have trouble with being teased and stereotyped. That's just not true. Dumb Jock? Ditzy Blonde? The "beautiful people" have their advantages, probably more than the more average souls. But they can be discriminated against as well. No one is immune from "labels."

Currently reading: Metamaus, by Art Spiegelman


message 16: by April (new)

April Helms | 197 comments 63. Metamaus, by Art Spiegelman. Fans of Spiegelman's Maus graphic novels will probably be checking out this very dense, fact-filled book, which is primarily an interview with the author about the inspirations behind the ground-breaking Maus. It answers- why the Holocaust, why comics and why mice? His answers are very interesting. There is a lot of information in this book- both its strong point and its weakness. It was information overload; I admit my attention started drifting about three-quarters of the way through, and this is after reading it bit by bit over about two weeks or so. Still, there were many fascinating facts within. I didn't know so many of his illustrations were based on historical images and propaganda. I knew this was a memoir- both for him and his father. But I didn't appreciate how much effort and research went into Maus. The book also includes a CD-ROM (which I didn't get a chance to go over as of this time). So I do recommend this for Maus devotees, graphic novel fans and history buffs - just be prepared to just read it a bit at a time.

64. Where Things Come Back, by John Corey Whaley. An OK story, although how it won two awards is beyond me. Didn't really do anything for me. The characters are likeable enough but the pacing was a bit slow. Also, towards the end there's a major flashback (more of a rewind) that seemed to come out of nowhere and I found jarring. It took me a while to realize- "oh, this is a flashback here..." The story starts with the death of Cullen's cousin by drug overdose. Cullen, the main protagonist, has an eventful and life-changing summer. Besides the death of his cousin, his brother disappears and a once believed extinct woodpecker reappears, the so-called Lazarus woodpecker(ie, the Ivory-Billed woodpecker; there are a lot of similarities, and the setting in Arkansas I'm sure is deliberate). There's a b story as well that eventually ties in to the main story. The ending was a bit of a letdown, a bit anticlimatic.

65. The Midwife of Hope River, by Patricia Harman. Very enjoyable. Harman, who herself was a midwife, covers a lot of territory with her novel, which is set in the 1930s, during the beginning of the Great Depression. Patience Murphy (actually an alias) is more or less thrown into the role of the town midwife after her mentor dies unexpectedly. She feels completely out of her depth, but gradually comes to trust her own strengths and instincts. It takes place over a year, and includes a mining accident, racial tensions, economic woes, and domestic abuse. Patience herself harbors many secrets, which are revealed a bit at a time. But she also finds trust, new friends - sometimes from unlikely sources - and new love. The various beliefs about maternal care and childbirth were fascinating. I did find it interesting that Patience was pretty progressive but even she sometimes fell into wrong beliefs (more of a reflection of the time, not to mention the advantage of reader hindsight). The book is well paced, with the action and character development believable and well done.

Currently reading: Whiskey Island, by Les Roberts, and The Buzzard: Inside the Glory Days at WMMS, by John Gorman.


message 17: by April (new)

April Helms | 197 comments 66. Whiskey Island, by Les Roberts. The latest in the Milan Jacovich series. This was a fun read. One, the storyline is taken straight from the local headlines. One of those situations where the names have been changed, but you'll still recognize where the influences came from, especially with Bert Loftus. Loftus, a longtime Cleveland Councilman, approaches Jacovich and his new assistant Kevin O'Bannion about providing protection for him. Loftus is in trouble with the federal government for a lot of bad behavior while holding office - and now Loftus is convinced someone is trying to kill him. Jacovich very reluctantly agrees to take the case, but doesn't take the councilman seriously until a call girl connected with Loftus is found dead near the zoo. I couldn't figure out whodunit until the end. What I really liked though was the rapport between the old-school and veteran Jacovich and O'Bannion, and the chemistry between Jacovich and Cincinnati transplant Tobe Blain, a detective who now works for the Cleveland police in homicide. I'm very curious to see how things pan out with both O'Bannion and Blain. I'm not sure whether Jacovich are going to become strong allies, rivals or even adversaries. I noticed one prominent character missing from this story who has been in most (if not all) of Roberts' other books, and I wonder if that character might be a factor. Time will tell. Blain is a great addition to the series, a fun character who Jacovich can banter with - and possibly be happy with. It was nice seeing things end on a more or less positive note for Jacovich; he was rather dumped on in the previous two books (although to be fair, a lot of the dumping in The Cleveland Creep was his own darn fault.) All in all, I think fans will really enjoy this latest installment.

67. The Buzzard: Inside the Glory Days of Cleveland Rock Radio, by John Gorman and Tom Feran. I admit, I don't recall a lot about this era other than the ubiquity of the Buzzard logo (I was too young) so this was a nice local history lesson. Gorman relates the days of WMMS, from when he joined - in the days when FM was new and, to the more jaded in the industry, stood for Find Me - to his departure. WMMS went from the neglected company stepchild into a nationally-known station. An amusing story was when the management was looking over the radio ratings numbers, and lamenting how the flagship station in Cleveland wasn't doing well, then saw a station that was doing incredibly well- then realizing the station doing so well was one of theirs. There are some great stories - one of my favorites involves a tray of doctored brownies. I also enjoyed Gorman's tales of how he and the other staff one-upped the other radio stations. The ending is rather sad, where Gorman details how things began to splinter (basically due to bad corporate management).

68. Politician Extraordinaire: The Tempestuous Life and Times of Martin L. Davey, by Frank P. Vazzano. This was an interesting look at two people, actually: Martin L. Davey, who was Kent mayor, served in the U.S. House of Representatives and was Ohio governor; and his father John Davey, who pioneered the concept and techniques of tree surgery and arboreal studies, and founded the Davey Tree Company in Kent. John Davey was seen as the town eccentric for his passion for tree preservation, and his family was often poor. Martin Davey, from these roots, became a driven person and learned how to become a competent, even gifted salesman, to help his family, starting with selling family produce as a young teen. That salesman gift and talent for reading people, along with his love of a challenge, led to his career in politics. He served well as mayor, taking the city from a backwater to a modern town and did well in Congress, but the governor role I think may have ruined him. Davey, as described by Vazzano, was a staunch Democrat but was known to be a maverick who even exasperated and worried Franklin D. Roosevelt, who also was regarded as a bit unconventional himself. Vazzano gives the reader a detailed look at all the wheelings and dealings in politics, as well as a good background of the eras covered. One thing about the books is the organization, especially with the chapters: it jumps around too much with the years. It starts off, for example, saying how tough it was for Kent and the Daveys during the Great Depression, then a few paragraphs later jumps unexpectedly back a few years, then comes back to the current topic, then goes back, etc. That made a lot of the middle part of the book hard to follow. It should have been more linear. Also, I think I caught a mistake, a small one but I'm surprised it wasn't caught in editing. There's a passing mention about Summit County Council; Summit County did not form its charter form of government, with a council, until the 1980s; before then I'm pretty sure Summit County would have still been governed by the county commissioner system. Martin Davey died in 1946, long before a Summit County Council was formed. Other than that, though, this was a nice read, and a pretty thorough look at not only this area but that time in general.

69. Above and Beyond: Tim Mack, The Pole Vault and the Quest for Olympic Gold, by Bill Livingston. This was a very inspiring book. Tim Mack, the 2004 gold medalist in the pole vault at the Athens Olympics, got there through a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Mack, who grew up in the Cleveland area, learned pole vaulting in high school, where he showed some competency but never any signs of super talent at the sport. He was never seen as a "natural." His talent lay more in his determination, his doggedness and his methodical nature- and this not only gets him the gold, but sets an Olympic record. Mack made a lot of sacrifices to get to that point, including working several low-paying jobs to keep training. Livingston also goes into other well-known pole vaulters, the history of the sport and some of the controversies (such as the safety requirements). There are a lot of interviews from key people in the sport, including Sergey Bubka, the Ukrainian pole vaulter who continues to hold the all-time world record for highest vault. It helps to know something about track and field; there is a glossary towards the back but I found a could of the terms and the numbers a bit confusing. But for anyone looking for a good inspirational read, looking for a book that shows the power of dedication, this is the best thing I've read.

70. There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra, by Chinua Achebe. I admit I never heard of Achebe until I came across this book; I think it was one that was sent to the office. Also, save for a short fictional story I had read in Gods and Soldiers, I was unfamiliar with the Biafra and Nigerian war. Achebe relates his own account of his time growing up under British-controlled Nigeria, to the British leaving and, essentially, chaos slowly taking hold. The new government, says Achebe, started to discriminate heavily against the Igbo people, of which Achebe is a part of. As a result, they attempted to split off from Nigeria and formed their own short-lived country Biafra. This started what in essence was a civil war, the repercussions of which are still felt. It's very sad, and it just makes me thankful that, when the colonies here rebelled against the British we had the leadership we did. So many revolutions fail because, alas, there are more Idi Amins and Mugabes then Nelson Mandelas. Achebe laments the lost potential, the lost resources, the lost human capital, and the brutal blockades that resulted in the deaths of millions, mostly children and mostly from starvation. He includes several of his poems, a copy of the most moving one, Mother in a Refugee Camp, can be found here: http://ghpoetryplace.blogspot.com/201... That one really got to me. Wow. It is hardly an unbiased account, but then it is not meant to be. It is a thoughtful, nuanced and researched account. All in all, an excellent read. I might have to check out his other writings.


message 18: by April (new)

April Helms | 197 comments 71. The Invisible Man, by H.G. Wells. I really enjoyed this classic. I was expecting it to be more of a horror story- and it was towards the end. But I was surprised at how darkly funny it was at the beginning. The story centers on Griffin, a young scientist who plays with the theories of optics and manages to find a way to make himself invisible. Thrilled at first, he discovers quickly the many drawbacks to his state and is horrified when he finds he can't reverse the procedure. His coming to Iping, a small provincial town, at the beginning to do his work in peace is the source of much of the comedy, as the villagers try to figure out who their mysterious and abrasive guest is. But when he runs into a former college associate, Griffin shows a darker, murderous side and the town finds itself pitted against a clever man bent on a reign of terror who cannot be seen. It made me think; it's curious how it seems that most scientists - Dr. Jekyll, Dr. Frankenstein, Griffin and others - are portrayed as men bordering on the edge of sanity, and individuals bent on pushing the envelope too far. One can see this as a lesson, or as a reflection of a society afraid of change. You can argue either way.

72. Losing My Cool, by Thomas Chatterton Williams. This was an interesting autobiography, one that offers insights on the pervasive influence of the hip-hop culture. Williams even subscribed to many of the negative ideals taught by the culture, but credits his father's early influence and insistence that Williams study hard (even in the summer he assigned his two sons homework and reading material) and go to college in making him an eventual success. Williams described his college years as an awakening for him, as he discovered new and better ways of thinking. Williams also goes into the segregation and treatment his father had to face under Jim Crow, and how he worked to give his sons chances he never had.

73. It Came From Ohio, by James Renner. I would have never pictured Ohio as a hot spot for paranormal activity (the Mansfield Reformatory notwithstanding), but this book is filled with short stories strange goings on in the Buckeye state. The stories range from well-documented to the campfire story told to scare new campers, and all are pretty entertaining. Each short story also has asides, set off in a gray box, related in some way to the main story. Most people are familiar with the Mothman legends, courtesy of the movie "The Mothman Prophecies." Lesser known stories include the Loveland frogs, the Mellon heads, werewolf sightings, Bigfoot sightings and even a couple well-documented UFO sightings (one of which inspired the UFO chase scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. A quick and entertaining read for those interested in the more unusual aspects of Ohio's history.

74. Charlie's Gingerbread House, by Melissa Staehli and Amy Rottinger. This is a very cute, whimsical picturebook aimed at preschool and early gradeschool. The large, vibrant pictures and simple text follows the adventures of a mouse, Charlie, who stumbles across a gingerbread house. He munches his way through the sweets until the house is no more. This will appeal to childrens' imaginations. Who among us haven't dreamed of finding a lifesize Gingerbread house, a la Hansel and Gretel, and dining on the sugary goodness (without the Wicked Witch, of course!)

75. Faith and You, vol. 2, by Terry Pluto. Terry Pluto is a local sports columnist who also writes a regular column on faith and religion. This is an interesting read for people of all faiths - whether they be athiest or agnostic, Muslim, Jewish or Christian. Pluto never comes across as preachy and he tells from the beginning that his columns are not meant to convert people, but rather to make them think. He covers a lot of family aspects - marriage, relationships with parents, frienships, as well as issues of jealousy, handling a crisis such as the school shootings or a diagnosis of illness. His writing style flows well and is easy to read, very conversational. He shares many anecdotes from his life - his relationship with his parents (especially his father), and his wife, and is not ashamed to confess his personal shortcomings. A side note, he is a very popular author. When I was done reading this book for an article, two coworkers asked to borrow my review copy.

76. Damn Right I'm From Cleveland, by Mike Polk. This is a very tongue in cheek "travelers guide" for Cleveland, really meant for the residents already here and familiar with this city's quirks and foibles. The author, a comedian who is known for his Hastily Made Tourism Video and Factory of Sadness video on YouTube, this time decides to write a book, complete with a lot of pictures and graphics, detailing Cleveland lowlights. He includes information on low moments in Cleveland sports (the funniest segment; he has his friends recreate the scenes), cheap dating tips, local bars and more. It's a quick read and pretty funny, and most Northeast Ohioans will nod and chuckle at the satire. Fair warning - keep this out of the hands of the kiddies. The humor is very adult (and at times a bit sophomoric).

77. Young and Courageous, by Marilyn Seguin. Grade schoolers looking for an idea for history figure to profile - or anyone interested in history - will enjoy this collection of short stories that briefly relate young women who, in their own way, make their mark on history. The stories are fictionalized and documented, and the author includes a brief afterwards on each person and their life following the events that made their mark. Most people will know the story of Sacagawea, who helped Lewis and Clark navigate the new American territories. Lesser known stories include the tale of sisters Abbie and Rebecca Bates, who managed to fool an entire British army, during the Revolutionary war. Or the story of Belle Boyd, a Confederate spy who risked jail and even getting shot. Or Minnie Freeman, a young schoolteacher who risked her life to save her students when a freak snowstorm struck the area.

78. Heroes of the Negro Leagues, by Mark Chiarello and Jack Morelli. In the 1990s, watercolor artist Mark Chiarelli made a series of baseball cards dedicated to the players who played in the Negro Leagues. The images of these cards have been compiled into a book, along with brief profiles of the players who played the sport during a time when the Major Leagues did not accept black players (indeed, one of the profiles includes Frank Grant, who was was named the Best Player in Buffalo History for his Major League playing - before being shown the door). There are 60 profiles in all, ranging from well-known greats such as Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays and Satchel Paige to those who might not be as well known. This is a good book for reluctant readers; the bios are short, barely a page, and the watercolor renderings of the players are gorgeous. This book also includes a DVD, Only The Ball Was White, which I plan to check out in the future.


back to top

unread topics | mark unread