Monday, October 24, 2011

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

A twist on the traditional antebellum novel, The Kitchen House is the story of a white orphan girl indentured at the ship captain's estate to pay for her now-deceased family's fare to America.

Lavinia is raised in the kitchen house, and enfolded into Mama Mae's family - a close-knit, proud and loyal negro slave family on the Pyke plantation. She's completely accepted as a member of the family, yet she doesn't understand why sometimes things are different for her; she truly doesn't see that she's any different from any of her playmates or workmates.

Equal parts wise and naive, Lavinia is pushed and pulled along the course of her life, sometimes based on fate and other times due to her actions. Sometimes I just wanted to shake her, but I also know we do our best based on the information we have at-hand.

The library's book discussion group chose this book, and I really had to scramble to finish it in time. But it's actually a quick read, and I found it completely captivating. The audiobook is narrated by two women, Orlagh Cassidy and Bahni Turpin, as chapters alternate viewpoint between Lavinia and her surrogate mother Belle. Both women are excellent narrators (Turpin was also part of The Help's audio team), and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with them.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Little Goblins Ten

by Pamela Jane, illustrated by Jane Manning

It is definitely the season for goblin related books. In my search for something "slightly scary", I came across this new counting book. Counting books can be a lot of fun when reading with little ones. I think my favorite part of this book is that each number features a different ghoul and his/her children, but each one appears to be a single parent. So often children's books feature multiple adults in the lives of children, but this author recognizes that there is a distinct group of kids that have only one parent at home. The illustrations are purely fun; all these characters that could be scary are simply cute in this story.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The lamb who came for dinner

by Steve Smallman

Wolf is very hungry. He really doesn't want plain vegetable soup on such a cold winter's night. Luckily, the morsel of his dreams happens to knock on the front door. Can the big, bad wolf follow through on his dastardly plan when the sweet, timid lamb starts to warm his heart?

So often, wolves are depicted as horrible creatures in children's literature. It's nice to see one experience a bit of remorse before carrying out his scheme. This would be a fun story time read. In fact, the only thing I didn't enjoy was the fact that the wolf's name becomes, "Woof". I'm a stickler for using that "L" when pronouncing "wolf". Joelle Dreidemy's illustrations are sinister and sweet in all the right places. I particularly enjoyed the wolf's stripey socks.

What will fat cat sit on?

by Jan Thomas

Fat cat is looking for somewhere to sit. Unfortunately, he looks at each of his friends first. Who will find a reasonable solution before someone gets squished? This book ends with another question about the next thing fat cat is looking to do.

A humorous look at the adventures of a few select animals that every child will know. The illustrations are simple enough to make this a great choice for a toddler story time.

The Fox Inheritance by Mary E. Pearson

Somewhere about 300 years from now, a couple of teens are adapting to their bodies - but not in the way you may think: Kara and Locke's brains have been uploaded from long-term storage into brand-new (and slightly improved) bodies. But how exactly did they get here, in this strange future, and what are Dr. Gatsbro's intentions for his progeny? And what ever happened to their friend, Jenna?

I'm not always excited for sci-fi, but I LOVE this series' treatment of ethics and the moral gray areas that technology and medical developments can present. If you could be a stronger, better person ... should you? And at what point is a "being" a person ... or a non-person?

But it's not a heavy-handed lecture. Instead, we get a relate-able character in Locke: he wants to be liked, he wants to enjoy his new-found future, and he just wants things to be all good. Locke doesn't know much about how the world works in this technologically advanced society, and we learn right along with him.

On the other hand, Kara just seems to want revenge. And by the way, where IS Jenna?

I really enjoyed this book. It's a pretty quick read, but certainly not the kind of book you leave behind once you've closed it. (Days later, I'm still pondering the implications of Dot's metamorphosis!)

The natural world close-up

by Giles Sparrow

I placed a hold on this book thinking that it would give me tips on macro-photography. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be intense magnification of ordinary animals, plants, water and more. Some photos are so close-up they require a microscope. Others are simply very detailed macro photography. A zoomed image of a dragonfly's wing is exactly as it appears to your eye. However, the foot of a gecko is covered in tiny hair-like fibers. This is an astonishing view of the smallest parts of our world.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Death Echo

by Elizabeth Lowell

Emma is ex-CIA, but she got tired of the political machinations that make getting the job done, shall we say, sticky. She's now, officially, in the business of high end insurance repossession. Unofficially, she's pretty much still an operative. St. Kilda consulting has sent her on a mission to find a missing yacht. However, that "boat" is likely to be carrying some dangerous cargo. Emma works well with her partner, sniper, Mac Durand, to solve the puzzle and stop the plot against a world superpower.

Lowell started out as a romance writer, but she kept the sentiment to a minimum in this book. Although the entire novel spans just nine days in the characters lives, the story does not move at a breakneck pace. The characters are masters at their jobs, but we learn little about their lives away from this mission.

Monday, October 17, 2011

F in Exams by Richard Benson

A compilation of (supposed) real test answers - really, really BAD and pretty funny test answers.

Most answers fall into a couple categories: the smartass, the dumbass, or the clueless. The Smartass is attempting to get points for creativity. The Dumbass thinks they know the answer but they're really, really wrong. And the Clueless have an answer that's in the ballpark of right - if you didn't know better (mostly mis-heard words or something close, but no prize).

This is a funny book, and a quick browse. But what bothered me is that it makes no claims about where the answers came from - it doesn't say if they polled teachers, if they setup a website for submissions, if they had a panel they culled answers from, etc. There's absolutely no validation that they're truth.

City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare

Five books into this series, and I could not be more disappointed. I'm starting to feel like I'm wasting my time.

This time, it's supposed to be Simon's story - the "Daylighter" vampire discovers what it's like to be a vampire and makes adjustments to his new life. But honestly, he's been backburnered even in his own book. It's all about Clary, Clary, Clary! And despite the fact she's got this awesome talent to use (and isn't), and despite the fact she's taking Shadowhunter butt-kicking classes, Clary spends most of this book wringing her hands and acting like an angsty wimp, a boring old damsel waiting for a white knight to remove her from harm. Irritating, and boring.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Rah, Rah, Radishes

by April Pulley Sayre

Children's librarians (and teachers, parents, grandparents, etc.) the world over try to make vegetables exciting. Sayre has finally found a way to make adults excited to read about vegetables, which in turn might make kids excited to, dare I say it, EAT them. This full-color photographic look at some of the most flavorful morsels found in our gardens is satisfyingly enhanced by a jazzy chant. You cannot help reading this in a cheerleader's voice. Especially nice is the final page which give adults a few suggestions to make vegetables an even more spectacular part of every day.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Along the Watchtower by Constance Squires

Lucinda's an army brat, newly stationed in Germany, and on an emergency mission to find her dad - who has forgotten to make any kind of accommodations for his arriving family. Mom's having a meltdown, the kids are hungry, and he forgot to apply for housing so they're in crummy temp housing. In the next hour, she earns a nickname, finds her dad, discovers German pastry, falls in love and then ruthlessly leaves him standing in the cold.

This is an incredibly well-written book about family, growing up and making-do in a military family. It's not a book where a lot happens, unless you count Lucy's eventual maturity.

The reason I picked up the book - and one reason I loved it so - is that music becomes Lucy's saving grace and a beacon in her uncertain life. She begins with an interest in pop music (don't we all?) and then, cassette by cassette, Lucy discovers the classics, which lead her to punk, metal, and true rock.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen

The cat got mad at me while I was reading this book because I kept jostling her when I laughed; Janzen's stories about her family, her disastrous marriage and its breakup, and her medical mishaps are truly and amazingly hilarious.

But be warned: she's a fan of big words, and knows how to use them! On her mother's farting: "One of the great surprises to proximate auditors was her contribution of hortatory flatulence. Loud and astonishing were her expostulations, like the speeches of Daniel Webster." (This is one of the passages where the cat abandoned me.)

But there is a more serious side to the book, and there's a fair amount of spiritual discussion as Janzen explores and analyzes her beliefs concerning her Mennonite childhood, chafing against that restrictive lifestyle, and then her return for an extended stay at her parents' home during her adult "rebuilding" phase.