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Librarians

A Ray of Hope

A Ray of Hope

posted by:
May 18, 2012 - 5:01am

The Testament of Jessie LambBiological terrorism, precarious scientific boundaries, and the personal cost of saving the human race intersect in Jane Rogers' heartfelt dystopian novel, The Testament of Jessie Lamb.  Set in Manchester, England somewhere in the near future, Maternal Death Syndrome is a reality; the ubiquitous rogue virus is killing pregnant women around the world.

 

Trying to be a normal teenager in these times is impossible for 16-year-old Jessie Lamb, whose  "testament" or diary opens the story.  Idealistic, determined and enlightened by her scientist father, Jessie wants only to live on the planet in a less greedy, destructive way.  She and her activist friends ponder whether the virus is really payoff for human-engendered ills, like global warming and the oil shortage.  When she learns from her father that a new vaccine enables young women (called "sleeping beauties") to give birth to healthy children she decides to volunteer. Unfortunately for Jessie, it also means entering into a coma and never waking up, something her father will not allow.

 

Rogers' writing, evocative and straight forward, raises the specters of medical research, self-sacrifice and the fine line between being delusional, a naive martyr, or courageous heroine.  Alternating between her journal entries and events leading up to her decision, Jessie's voice is authentic and poignant. Rogers take the time to develop complicated characters in Jessie and her father.

Long-listed for the 2011 Man Booker Prize, Rogers' first foray into science fiction recently earned her the UK's Arthur C. Clarke award.  Like Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go or Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, Rogers' work is a compelling read for literary dystopia fans.  Teen fiction readers will also find plenty to like here.

Cynthia

 
 

The Pioneer Woman Does It All

Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food From My FrontierCharlie the Ranch DogBlack Heels to Tractor Wheels

Ree Drummond is a successful blogger, Food Network star, and author.  Her down-home comfort foods have really struck a chord with readers and cooks from all walks of life. Drummond’s success began with her blog The Pioneer Woman, which has a legion of followers, receiving 24 million hits monthly.  The blog covers her family life on an Oklahoma cattle ranch, her efforts to homeschool her children, and of course, cooking.  The recipes are delicious and easy to follow, and readers love that Drummond illustrates them with step-by-step photos.

 

It seemed like a natural transition for Drummond to publish cookbooks.  Her most recent, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from My Frontier, is filled with tasty recipes color photos, and Drummond’s anecdotes and comments.  You’ll want to try the recipes for yourself when you see her homemade glazed doughnuts, cowgirl quiche, and “Knock You Naked” brownies!  The book quickly became a bestseller, and there are now more than 480,000 copies in print.

Drummond recently started filming the second season of her Food Network show “The Pioneer Woman”.  Like her blog, the show features her life on the ranch, her family, and her favorite recipes.  Viewers will also be interested to know that she has published a picture book called Charlie the Ranch Dog that features her family’s beloved basset hound.

 

It’s not all about the recipes, though.  To learn more about Drummond’s life, try her memoir Black Heels to Tractor Wheels: A Love Story, which tells the story of how she met her husband Ladd Drummond who she affectionately calls Marlboro Man in the book and her blog.  Ree originally planned to go on to law school, but everything changed when she met Ladd.  She shocked her family by marrying him and moving to the ranch. The rest, as they say, is history.

Beth

 
 

Baseball's Odd Couple

Driving Mr. YogiFor Yogi Berra and Ron Guidry spring training is a renewal of their friendship. Every spring former Yankees’ pitching superstar Guidry drives to the Tampa airport and picks up former Yankees’ catcher and Hall of Famer Berra. The two go the ballpark, watch games, eat dinner together, and trade stories.  Every day for the next month follows the same pattern. Driving Mr. Yogi is the story of the bond between two men who on the surface appear to share only baseball in common.   The catcher from a poor Italian neighborhood in St. Louis and the pitcher from Cajun swamp country were born a quarter of a century apart, and yet today Guidry calls Berra his best friend.  New York Times reporter Harvey Araton first shared this story last year in an article in the paper and expands on it in this humorous and thoughtful narrative. 

 

It all began in 1999, when Berra was reunited with the Yankees following a 14 year self-exile that began when he was fired by George Steinbrenner.  The rift between the two men led Berra to cut all ties with the Bronx Bombers. The Boss finally offered an apology and Berra went back to spring training where Guidry befriended him. Berra had been a clubhouse mentor during Guidry’s playing days and Ron knew the young players would benefit from Berra’s impressive knowledge of the game and its history. Sure enough, Berra’s casual batting tip changed Nick Swisher's season, and the new ballplayers savored the anecdotes about famous old-timers such as Ted Williams and Don Larsen.    

This is a story of baseball and the rituals of spring training, but it is also a funny and affectionate story of friendship that transcends generations. And yes, it is the Yankees, but even the most ardent Orioles fan will appreciate this engaging story of two likeable sportsmen!

Maureen

 
 

Horten Finds a Clue

Horten Finds a Clue

posted by:
May 16, 2012 - 1:11am

Horten's Miraculous MechanismsSummer is off to a doleful start for 10-year old Stuart Horten. Stuart is the pint-sized son of exceptionally tall, exceptionally brilliant parents (his mother is a doctor and his father is a crossword puzzle constructionist). Clever as they may be, Stuart’s parents aren’t always the most sensible sort of people. This can surely be the only explanation for why they’ve chosen to uproot young Stuart just at the start of summer vacation, to move to nobody-knows-where Beeton. With the start of the school year and any reasonable opportunity of meeting kids his own age a far removed prospect, Stuart prepares to settle in for a very long, exceptionally dull summer.

 

Beeton does have one claim to familial fame and Stuart’s interest. It was here that his great-uncle Tony developed a dazzling career in magic, before mysteriously disappearing fifty years ago. However, those magical days are long gone; the mystery of Uncle Tony’s disappearance unsolved and mostly forgotten. Until this summer, that is.

 

Stuart resigns himself to exile in Beeton. However, he wasn't prepared for the meddling triplet girls next door, or the seriously spooky encounter with an out-of-order telephone booth. With one mystifying phone call, Stuart is set on a path of puzzles and clues, designed by his great-uncle Tony to lead the “right sort of boy” to an altogether splendid secret workshop filled with marvelous – perhaps even miraculous – mechanisms. With clues afoot, newfound friends at his back, and even a hint of danger in the air, Stuart’s summer is swiftly turning into the adventure of a lifetime.

 

Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms is perfect for children ages 9-12 and in particular for children who enjoy elements of mystery and puzzles in stories. Parents will also appreciate the expansive introduction to vocabulary provided by the dialogue of Stuart’s crossword clue-dropping father. Additional recommendations for those who have enjoyed this story include The 39 Clues series (various authors) as well as the Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Meghan

categories:

 
 

The Bee's Knees

UnBEElievablesThe Honeybee ManBackyard beekeeping continues to rise in popularity and two recent children’s titles spotlight these buzzy critters and their importance to our world.  In UnBEElievables by Douglas Florian, this award-winning poet of the natural world offers 14 lively poems.  The subjects of his verses range from bee anatomy, to the different types of bees, to the collapse of bee colonies in recent years.  He uses his trademark wordplay and puns, but also manages to sneak some information into the poems as well.  A paragraph offering further explanation follows each verse and the illustrations bring the words to life. Working in gouache, colored pencils, and collage on paper bags, Florian captures the essence of the world of bees. This is a fun and visually appealing book that comes complete with a BEEbliography.

     

In her children’s debut, Lela Nargi shares the story of Fred from Brooklyn in The Honeybee Man. Every morning, Fred climbs to his rooftop and greets his beloved bees, “Good morning, my bees, my darlings!" His honeybees travel across Brooklyn searching for flowers all day and return with nectar to store in their wax rooms.  At the right time, Fred makes honey which the entire neighborhood enjoys. This beautifully written story accompanied by Kyrsten Brooker's collage-style illustrations offers an inside look at the life of a sweet beekeeper and the honey-making process.  An afterword of "amazing facts" explains more about apiarists, bees' life cycles, and more.  Even the endpapers provide a learning opportunity with labeled diagrams of bees and beekeeping materials. This is an unusual glimpse of beekeeping in an urban setting inspired by two neighbors in Nargi’s New York community.  

Maureen

 
 

Jean Craighead George, 1919-2012

Julie of the WolvesMy Side of the MountainPopular children's book author Jean Craighead George has died at the age of 92. A long-time resident of the Washington DC area, she was best known for her naturalistic writing for children. George won the Newbery Medal in 1972 for the Julie of the Wolves, and was also well-known for My Side of the Mountain, among countless other works.

Todd

 
 

Edith Wharton Meets Page Six

Edith Wharton Meets Page Six

posted by:
May 15, 2012 - 5:01am

GossipIn Gossip, Beth Gutcheon tackles the wily world of female friendships developed over four decades. The main players meet at Miss Pratt’s School in the 1960s where Lovie Walker is the poor scholarship student from Maine struggling to fit in.  Avis Metcalf is the daughter of distant yet wealthy New York parents, and Dinah Wainwright is loud, proud, and confident.  Lovie remains friendly with both following graduation, but Dinah is resentful of Avis due to a perceived insult.   

 

Lovie is the owner of a swanky dress shop on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and floats on the edge of the high society circle in which Dinah and Avis are entrenched.   Lovie also embarks on what becomes a decades-long relationship with an older, married man who loves her but refuses to leave his wife.  Dinah and Avis both marry and have children. Dinah's marriage produces two sons but falls apart following her husband’s infidelity while Avis slowly distances herself from her alcoholic husband.  The ladies continue working, lunching, and shopping and deal with the passage of time.  Things come to a head when Dinah’s son (and Lovie’s godson) Nick falls in love with Avis's daughter Grace.  Dinah, still angry at Avis, tries to usurp her role in Grace’s life and put a wedge between mother and daughter. 

 

Lovie serves as an engaging narrator and many of the novel’s most important incidents are revealed to her second-hand.   She hears things through another friend or listens to chatter in a doctor’s office, at a restaurant, and especially in her shop.  This is the gossip of the novel’s title and the gossip that ends up controlling all of these ladies’ lives as confidences are broken or secrets are not shared.  Years pass, complications ensue, and beloved characters die. Gutcheon is an expert at conveying the passage of time and weaving significant cultural events into the fabric of the story while still maintaining her strong characters.   These ladies and their tragedies and triumphs will stay with you long after you finish the last page.    

Maureen

categories:

 
 

It’s Not Easy Being...Different

The PeculiarsBeing different from everyone is never easy.  Lena Mattagascar has struggled with this situation her entire life. She was born with extremely long and narrow hands and feet.  Her digits each have an extra section giving her hands a long spider-like appearance.  Lena attempts to hide this abnormality by wearing gloves and keeping her feet hidden by long skirts. At an early age the family physician diagnosed her condition as “goblinism” and ever since then she has been anxious that she may, in fact, be a Peculiar. 

 

The Peculiars by Maureen Doyle McQuerry is a fun combination of fantasy and steampunk, self-discovery and adventure. On her 18th birthday, Lena decides to leave her home in the City to travel to Scree, a remote and sparsely populated wilderness region to the far north. It is rumored that Peculiars, the outcasts of society, reside there. Her quest is to find her father who abandoned the family when she was only 5. He was rumored to have been a Peculiar, and if this proves to be true it will confirm her worst fears. Lena has been told that Peculiars have no soul, have wild thoughts, and a temper. She worries her goblin genes will overtake her in her sleep and watches closely for changes in her behavior.

 

Is she or isn’t she, the question keeps presenting itself throughout the novel. Are her physical characteristics just an anomaly or signs of the dreaded genetic disease? Is being a goblin a physical condition or just a term for evil behavior? This unique story, with likable characters and stunning descriptions, is an adventure that will have you re-evaluating your own definition of acceptance and what it means to belong.

Jeanne

 
 

Three Wise Men?

Three Wise Men?

posted by:
May 14, 2012 - 9:05am

Unholy NightMost people know the biblical tale of the birth of Jesus, including the visitation of the baby by three wise men.  Very little is known about these men, not even their names.  Seth Grahame-Smith has taken these undeveloped characters and given them life in Unholy Night.  Warning: history is toyed with and turned upside-down by Grahame-Smith’s wickedly twisted mind.  This is not your typical bible story. 

 

The leader of the trio is Balthazar, an infamous thief and murderer, who finds himself in King Herod’s dungeon with two other criminals awaiting execution.  The three men execute a daring escape disguised as holy men, and as they run for their lives they encounter a young couple with a newborn baby in a stable in Bethlehem.   Soon discovering that they share a mutual enemy in Herod, an unlikely pact is formed and the group sets off across the desert toward Egypt.  Along the way they meet Roman soldiers and zombies, magic and miracles, friends and betrayers.   Other historical figures surface throughout, such as John the Baptist and Pontius Pilate, but it is on Balthazar and his hidden past that the story focuses.

 

Grahame-Smith is the best-selling author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and both the novel and the screenplay Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.  He has also written Tim Burton’s new film Dark Shadows.  The audiobook version is masterfully read by Peter Berkrot, winner of an AudioFile Earphones Award.   

Sam

 
 

Spiritual, But Not Religious

Christianity After ReligionBaltimore-born Diana Butler Bass has written extensively about the state of matters of faith in America over the past thirty years. Now, in Christianity after Religion: the End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening, she argues that we are once again in a spiritual upheaval in the United States. This, she posits, is yet another in the line of spiritual “awakenings” that has gripped people of faith during times of change, such as today - the early 21st century.

 

Bass discusses some of the religious changes that have taken hold in the United States: the falling away of many from the faiths of their parents and ancestors; the loss of membership among large Christian denominations, such as Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant groups; and the current rise in self-made spirituality. A surprising piece of information is how megachurches, which grew out of the most recent spiritual awakening of the 1970s, have largely plateaued in popularity over the past decade. Testimonies, analyzed polls, and quotes from religious scholars and leaders comparing the beliefs of Americans over the decades are interspersed throughout, lending considerable validity to her arguments.

 

The current awakening the author describes is the way in which Christianity is evolving beyond traditional religious structures. Our global connectedness and increased access to communication has allowed individuals to choose spiritual elements from many religious backgrounds, such as prayer, yoga, meditation, and joyful traditions to create their own connection with a higher power. These faiths are also instilled with valuable information coming from the secular world, such as environmental and social considerations. This is a provocative and eye-opening work from one of today’s top religion writers.

Todd