Monday, April 27, 2009

The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman

Our bookclub chose this one - and I can't wait for discussion tonight. This is a truly beautiful, lyrical book that will make you laugh one minute and rip your heart out the next.

The true story of the Warsaw Zoo and its part in the Polish underground during WWII, it's a fantastic story about a couple who gladly include both people and animals alike into their family and home.

The perspective ebbs and flows, back and forth from the general scene across the European theater to Poland's unique position, to Warsaw's part in the action and then to the smaller picture of the zoo and the everyday lives of the villa's inhabitants. This nicely allows a world perspective of the bigger picture, then humanizes it into something the reader can imagine and absorb.

I listened to part of this book on audio, then went back and read the whole thing in hardcover. I think because I listened to part of it, I really got a better picture of the poetic language used in the descriptions of the trees, landscape and animals. It's really well done - not overlong and distracting as I sometimes find this type of "scene setting."

I think the animal stories, and the perspective they add to the tale, make this a truly unique and approachable look at the Nazi invasion.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Rolling Along by Nancy J. Martin

I'm always looking for new ideas and inspirations on quilting with pre-cut fabrics (those charms and strips that are so popular right now). This book contains all patterns that are "jelly roll friendly."

I was slightly disappointed with the massive "quilt 101" in the front of the book - it takes up nearly 1/3 of the pages. I thought it was too much - if a new quilter needs that much help, they can look to other quilting basics books for that info.

In all, I thought there were some cute ideas here. But there's only one pattern I'm tempted to make. Overall, I think there are better jelly roll books available.

Fuse It and Be Done! by Barbara Campbell & Yolanda Fundora

I'm always looking for fun, fast ways to get great results without hand stitching - so I'm already familiar with fusible products. And this book has some great, inspired ideas on projects to fuse, including a couple that I hadn't even considered before. Even if I don't make any of the projects exactly like they're listed, the book has opened a few doors and windows in my mind that may take me a new direction.

The best part of the book though is the dozen-or-so pages at the beginning that explains different types of fusible and different techniques for using it. Wonderful!

I also enjoyed the fact that all templates from the book are available on an enclosed CD. For those of you who do pursue projects as they're detailed, you'll enjoy the convenience of printing out your templates rather than photocopying or tracing.

Ant Farm by Simon Rich

"Short story" doesn't begin to explain these vignettes - some are less than a page. They're like ironic, sour, incredibly funny comedy sketches.

Rich is a former Harvard Lampoon president, and that type of humor certainly shines through. If you love skewed looks at the everyday world, you'll love this.

But don't read it all at once. The book is only 139 pages long, but it's best consumed in smaller morsels - three or four stories at a time. That way you get the biggest impact, without the comedy numb that happens when you overindulge.

A Book by Mordicai Gerstein

This would be a great picture book for slightly older kids - perhaps those just about to read themselves. There's not much "storyline" but lots of little bits of text and engaging details on each page. Perfect for exploration, but maybe not great for younger kids.

We see the action in this book from above - like we're looking down on a tiny land contained within the book. We learn that when we close a book, it's night and bedtime inside the book: the action only happens when we have the book open.

The girl in our story doesn't think she has a story. Everyone else has a story, but she's trying to find hers. Her search leads us through several different literary genres and introduces the reader to the "stock characters" in each genre.

It's cute, and done well. It'll make you think, "hmmm, what do my favorite characters do when I'm not reading them?"

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Addition by Toni Jordan

Grace Lisa Vandenburg (19) counts everything. Compulsively. Her whole world gets turned on its ear one day when she discovers only nine (9?) bananas in her shopping cart at the checkout. To makes it right (it must be 10!) by snagging one banana from the unsuspecting shopper behind her - only to get busted later by the very same (handsome!) shopper, who would like to know if she wants one of his apples too, while she's at it.

Strangely, the only time Grace isn't counting is when she's wrapped up with banana-man: Seamus Joseph O'Reilly(19 also - it must be fate). Eventually, he figures out what it is that drives Grace - and offers to help her make it right.

But "normal" and Grace don't get along so well. She gets stuck in therapy with the hand-washers, and the drugs split her brain into two separate brains - who fight about what to say during conversations, must rally the troops just to move a leg, and can't seem to coordinate enough to enjoy sex.

I really enjoyed this book - at times, it's laugh-out-loud funny. And I especially enjoyed Larry, Grace's niece, who seems to be the only one who really loves Grace just as she is.

The Eye of Jade by Diane Wei Liang

A great read for fans of what I call "non-mysteries:" I'm talking about books like Alexander McCall Smith's "No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" series ... no big who-dunnit or lurking evil butler, rather just everyday questions and unusual problems that need answers.

Much to the dismay of her family, Mei Wang left an honorable ministry job and started her own business. Since it's illegal in Beijing to be a private investigator, she's listed herself as an information consultant. When she's called on by an old family friend to research the existence of a relic believed to have been destroyed in the cultural revolution, she also begins to learn there's more to her mother that she'd ever suspected.

The tale unfolds slowly, with beautiful pacing. Gradually, we get Mei's personal story in pieces: a lost love, her missing father, her curious resignation from the ministry. Additionally, the reader gains insight about Beijing in the late 1990's and how the past still influences modern life.

I listened to this book on CD, and I thoroughly enjoyed the narration by Cindy Cheung. Hearing the unfamiliar sounds of Chinese pronunciation really added an extra flair to the story.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson

While this is the kind of not-too-distant future, sci-fi novel that overflows the teen genre, Jenna Fox's humanity gives this an edge over other books in the pool of "scientific ethics" books.

Jenna's told she was in an accident, but she doesn't remember it. She's healing, but she's not sure where. And she feels funny, but she doesn't know what that means. As Jenna's memories return and as she slowly unravels her curious situation, we readers also slowly discover that there's something different about Jenna.

I enjoyed the fact that Jenna's is the only voice we hear: what she doesn't know, we don't know. For both of us there are a million small surprises - and a couple of really big ones. I'll be recommending this book to teen readers, especially during out summer library program, and it would be a great title for discussion.