Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Top Ten Books I Want My Nieces to Read

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme started on the Broke and the Bookish blog.
They set the topic, we make the lists. Visit their site to see more on this topic

I am so lucky to be able to say that I have two beautiful nieces. I was so excited to begin picking out books for them, it was one of the first things I did when I heard they were arriving. Thank god for libraries, but I have a feeling you guys already knew that. Fortunately their parents have been raising them with a healthy love of reading and books.

If I had the time I would take my nieces row by row, sharing every last picture book we have with them. But kids have “naptimes” and I have a “job” so that’s not possible. Instead I often pull out my favorites and share those. Of course there are plenty of classic picture books that they already love, but new amazing books are being published every day and I can’t wait to share those as well.
So, check out a couple of more recent titles, all of which I have shared, or can’t wait to share with my nieces.

The Dark by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Jon Klassen
I love Jon Klassen’s artwork, and he is probably my favorite children’s book illustrator. I would be tempted to put his books as half of my list but that that wouldn’t make for an interesting list. So instead I’ll recommend his collaboration with one of my favorite children’s authors, Lemony Snicket. The Dark tells the story of a little boy who is afraid of the dark. To get over his fear, he decides to go visit the dark where it lives, in his big scary basement. He ends up discovering that maybe the dark isn’t so bad after all.

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddley
Young girls are in need of positive female role models and representation in children’s literature. Who better to promote girl power than the Notorious RGB? I Dissent is a biographical picture book that covers the life of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one dissent at a time.

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
If you haven’t seen any of Beaty’s picture books I highly recommend you check them out. Recently she’s been working on a series of books about some talented kids who are all in a class together. The most recent installment is Ada Twist, Scientist. Ada was a very quiet girl growing up, but she soon began asking that all important question “why?”  Her inquisitive nature leads her on a mission to find the source of a terrible smell in her home. Definitely check this out if you are looking for STEM themed picture books for your kids.

Stuck by Oliver Jeffers
I like to take this one when I need a book for slightly older kid because it always gives them a good laugh. Floyd gets his kite stuck up in a tree. In an attempt to knock it down, he starts throwing other objects up into the tree. It ends up getting a little crazy and let’s just say that I am impressed with Floyd’s upper body strength.

The Bad Seed by Jory John, illustrated by Pete Oswald
Sometimes I like a book just because it’s so much fun to read out loud. This is one of those books. Oh no, watch out! Here comes the bad seed. He doesn’t put things back where they belong and cuts in line! But this seed doesn’t want to be bad, and decides that he wasn’t to make a change and be happy!

Paige is adamant that she can see just fine. Paige cannot see just fine. She can no longer see the chalkboard at school or her sheet music during practice. She needs glasses, but is afraid of going to see the doctor. Her mother takes her to the eye doctor where she takes an eye exam and then gets to pick out her frames from a wide selection of styles.

The Whispering Town by Jennifer Elvgren, illustrated by Fabio Santomauro
I usually try to pick happier books for little ones, but I also think it is important to teach kids about the less than bright parts of our history. Those who don’t learn from their past and all that. Due to its subject matter, this is a book I will save for my nieces till they are older. The Whispering Town is based on a true story and tells the story of a little girl whose family is hiding a Jewish family in Nazi-occupied Denmark. The entire town works together, whispering directions to guide the family to safety.

I Am Yoga by Susan Verde, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
I love books that encourage kids to get up and moving. I wouldn’t recommending sitting with your kid and reading this book. Instead, you should get up and follow along with all of the yoga poses. A nice stretch will do you good.

Blobfish Throws a Party by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Maggie Caton
Poor little Blobfish, he lives at the bottom of the ocean and just wants some friends. He decides to throw a party, but when he calls out to the shore his message gets distorted. After a game of telephone his message ends up helping in an unexpected way.

Home by Carson Ellis
We each have our own little space that we call home. And while each of our homes can make us feel safe and welcome, they all look very different. This book explores different types of dwellings, from realistic to fantastical. While the story might not be the most exciting, Ellis’s illustrations are out of this world.

And now, which books do you want to give to the kids in your life?


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Librarians' Line-Up: Books that Haunt Us

Happy Halloween! For this month's Librarians' Line-Up, our librarians are discussing books that have haunted them. Take a look and share yours below!

Doll Bones​ by Holly Black is one that has stuck with me. You wouldn't expect a middle grade book to be scary, but Black manages to weave a story of friendship and growing up with some seriously creepy elements. Zach, Poppy and Alice are three friends who love to make up stories together, but one day Poppy claims she is being haunted by a murdered girl whose ashes have been hidden inside a china doll. They set off to lay her ghost to rest, but they continue to encounter strange and unexplained events as they journey to her grave.

So let’s be real for a second, the past is a pretty scary place. We humans have done a lot of crazy and messed up things, and we often times discover that truth is stranger than fiction.
With that in mind, I’d recommend checking out The United States of Absurdity. Comedians Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds compiled a book featuring some of the weirdest stories from their American history podcast, the Dollop. And while there are plenty of true and outrageous stories in the book the one that still haunts me is the story of Dr. Walter Freeman, the guy who came up with the ice pick lobotomy. While I won’t go into too much detail (for those of you who are faint of heart) I will note that Dr. Freeman even took his show on the road, performing ten minute lobotomies out of his van which would later be referred to as the “Lobotomobile.”
Like I said, the past is terrifying. 

 A book that haunts me is Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris. I read this book in 2016 and it was actually featured on this blog as my choice for the best book I read that year. The story is about a seemingly perfect couple whose relationship is not at all what is appears to be from the outside looking in. There is very little violence but the mental abuse Jack conflicts on his wife Grace, is truly haunting. There were moments in this book where my heart was racing and I was desperately hoping for Grace to win in the end. This story has stuck with me and I continue to recommend it to people who like a good psychological thriller.

I’m not a horror enthusiast, probably thanks to the last scary book I read: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz. Practically everyone my age was exposed to this collection of stories based in American folklore when we were young, and I know I’m not the only person to be traumatized by it. The funny thing is, the stories themselves aren’t even scary—they’re cheesy and actually kind of funny. (The only one I can remember with some clarity involves a phantom looking for his big toe.) The illustrations, on the other hand….  Nope. Scarred for life.

 Under a Graveyard Sky by John Ringo. Zombies! Somebody released a virus that causes the infected to go crazy and try to kill anyone near them. They are not quite zombies (because they are still alive), but they have no higher cognitive functions. The question: Do you kill your infected daughter/son/mother/father/friend/wife just because they are trying to kill you?  Is it ethically acceptable to harvest semi-living beings to make a vaccine? As the infected start to take over the world, where and how do you survive? Where do you go? And, once you've gone, how do you go about recovering from the Zombie apocalypse? Do you risk what is left of your family to take back the USA?  This book/series is a romping good read. Great characters, kick-butt women, tons of adventure, survival at its best, and loyalty abounds. But, the psychological and ethical questions keep me up at night. 
~Mary P.

I first read Edward Gorey’s Amphigorey when I was about five years old (I found it by accident on my parents’ bookshelf). Seriously the creepiest thing I’ve ever seen, even now. “The Gashlycrumb Tinies” still gives me nightmares.
~John F. 

The big thing when I was a kid were Goosebumps, both the books and the show. All us little kids wanted a big scare. So I read many of those books, but the one that I still think about is The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight by R.L. Stine. I cannot drive by a field without being reminded of this story where the scarecrows come to life. Scarecrows are creepy, guys.

Those are our creepy reads. What still haunts you?

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu

While some may describe the title of Joshua Hammer’s latest book as sophomoric and overwrought, as a librarian (once described by a former professor as “smart ass”) and with my background in art history specializing in medieval manuscripts, the title of the book had me at the get-go. I was further intrigued by the setting: Timbuktu – that faraway, forsaken place where my mom threatened to send me when I misbehaved. Was Timbuktu a real place?  

Once I opened the book, I learned that Timbuktu is indeed a very real place named for a woman called Bouctu, “one with the big belly button,” referring to the watering hole 20 km north of the Niger River in the country of Mali. In the 15th and 16th centuries during its Golden Age, Timbuktu flourished not only as an important commercial center, but also as the intellectual hub of the sub-Saharian world, where Islamic scribes copied surveys of mathematics, science, medicine, and astronomy as well as religion and philosophical texts. Africa traded slaves, spices and gold with Europeans for tea and cloth. The history of Timbuktu fluctuated between periods of prosperity and peace with those of intolerance and repression.

In the modern age, Timbuktu was making a comeback as a cultural center as one man, Abdul Kader Haidera, recovered nearly 377,000 manuscripts held mostly by private families and instituted a national library to secure them. The region also held international music festivals attracting famous musicians. Through Haidera’s unique vision and with the aid of a band of librarians, these precious manuscripts were smuggled out of Timbuktu - right under the noses of the jihadists who invaded northern Africa after the Libyan defeat of Qualdafi. 

While the book could have included visual illustrations, such as a detailed map and photographs of some of the manuscripts, the cloak and dagger operation, nonetheless, is packed full of palpable detail, also describing the region’s struggle to rid itself of rebels, colonialists, and extremists. For me, this journalistic account was an eye-opener. Why did the mainstream media not highlight the atrocities in Northern Africa? This vexing question resonates today as we are only beginning to be told about the occurrences in neighboring Niger.


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Best Two-Person Literary Costumes

It’s been two years since I last compiled literary Halloween costumes to spotlight on this blog. That’s how long it has taken me to recover from the sheer cleverness and creativity of those bookish ensembles. But recover I have, and now I’m hungry for more!

The aforementioned blog entry featured a costume of Dr. Watson, earning the “Best Supporting Costume” for excellence in accepting the role as living prop. What I failed to realize at the time was that I had unintentionally spotlighted Sherlock Holmes as well. That’s right. My “Top Ten” is really a “Top Eleven,” and I could have been sharing twice as much costumey goodness the whole time!  Well, I’ve learned from my mistake this year. Prepare yourself.

Good vs. Evil

One way to make your two-person costume set memorable is to pair up a protagonist with their antagonist. This works well for all ages and all types of relationships. That said, you better be comfortable in your relationship before you suggest that your significant other personifies absolute Evil for Halloween. Here are a few of my favorite literary Good Vs. Evil costumes:

Queen Jadis and Aslan from The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis

Many people are familiar with The Chronicles of Narnia, but I’ve found that The Magician’s Nephew, the first in the series, doesn’t get a lot of love. As a prequel, it focuses on the roles that Aslan and the evil Queen Jadis (who later becomes the White Witch) play in the creation of Narnia. Lewis wrote it shortly after completing The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to answer a friend’s question about the conspicuously modern lamp-post in Narnia. I guess it’s easy to forget about the prequel once the Pevensie children burst through the wardrobe, gallivant around Narnia, and become kings and queens.

These costumes take inspiration from the movie adaptations, but I don’t fault them for that. What I appreciate about this set is that, separately, each individual has a great costume. No need to stick by each other at all times so that others will get it! Of course, Aslan would just be a lion at that point.

Ursula and Ariel from The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen

Most people are familiar with The Little Mermaid from the popular 1989 Disney adaptation, which these costumes epitomize. That’s probably for the best, as Hans Christian Andersen’s original tale is much darker than its animated counterpart. In fact, I would advise anyone who loves happy endings to keep some distance from Andersen’s works. They tend to be downers.

These costumes, however, are delightful. The only thing better than being a villain for Halloween is making your little sister be the villain for Halloween!

But, in all seriousness...  Can you imagine the patience and perseverance one must possess to even attempt to completely paint a toddler’s face like that? 

Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf from the classic children’s fairy tale

One surefire way to make an impression on Halloween is to dress as a character that is immediately recognizable to everyone. Fairy tales are ideal for this tactic, because they have been handed down through the generations for centuries. Red Riding Hood, for example, was popularized by the Grimm Brothers, but its origins can be traced back to a 10th century Italian folk tale. Stories don’t hang around that long if they don’t make an impact.

We have another sibling rivalry on our hands with these costumes, and again the younger child is the arch adversary. At this point, I think it’s safe to say that this a tried-and-true recipe for adorableness. If these two were trick or treating at my house, I would probably upend my candy bowl into their bags and call it a night.

On the Same Side

Another workable option for a 2-person costume set is to be teammates! Whether your aim is to display closeness and camaraderie or simply to discourage animosity among small children, being on the same side as your costumed companion can be just as fun as pretending to be enemies. Here are a few examples of what I mean:

Thing One and Thing Two from The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

As the younger of two children in my family, I am very familiar with Thing One and Thing Two. Those were among the nicknames used by my parents for my sister and me (and the parents of all two-child households, I imagine). You can’t really fault them, as the Things are the spirit of young children cast in ink—wild and carefree, with a penchant for chaos. As long as parents don’t store their children in a large red crate like the Cat does, it’s all good.

Check out these little ladies’ interpretation of the Things. I love when people get creative by adding their own flair to a character’s appearance while remaining loyal to the original design.

No, the Things did not wear bows or tutus in the book, but now I kind of wish they had.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Books Where the Main Character is a Law Enforcement Officer

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme started on the Broke and the Bookish blog.
They set the topic, we make the lists. Visit their site to see more on this topic
This could be a pretty straightforward list, since a large proportion of the mystery novels published have this as a feature. At points I’ve tried to interpret my brief kind of expansively, if only because I think it will make things a bit more interesting, but at an even more basic level I’ve tried to find books that do something either different than the run of the mill in this genre, or do it better than them. It’s easy to write a detective novel (just come up with the ending and work backward). Writing something that takes the reader somewhere new within this format is something else altogether.

1. P. D. James, Devices and Desires
P. D. James was probably the best known British mystery writer of the 20th Century (not named Agatha Christie). A very large proportion of her books were dramatized by the BBC, in addition to being pretty much instant bestsellers. Her main character, Adam Dalgliesh, is a poetically inclined police commander. He’s interesting because he’s more soulful than your average homicide cop, with a team of crack investigators working with him. Devices and Desires is set on the bleak Norfolk coast and is one of those novels about otherwise respectable people living lives of quiet desperation (or lingering hatred) who finally snap, but do so in secret. As with all of James’s novels (this is the 8th Dalgliesh novel but you don’t have to read them in order) it’s carefully plotted, but more about looking into human souls and finding out what motivates people. Of all the detective series in the world, this gets my vote as the best.

2. Dan Fesperman, Lie in the Dark
This is one of those books that I try to recommend to as many people as possible, since it seems to have flown under a lot of people’s radar. It’s set in Sarajevo during the Bosnian war, an interesting place to set a murder mystery since at that point the value of individual human lives was at a pretty low ebb. Vlado Petric is a homicide investigator living in a partially bombed out house and trying to keep his department functioning in a society that’s falling apart. The central problem of this book is the question of what counts as a murder in the middle of a war and how can people be held accountable to civilized law at times when occupying armies can decide to ignore laws altogether. This is a dark book that stretches the concept of the murder mystery in interesting ways.

3. Craig Johnson, The Cold Dish
Set in the fictional Absaroka County, Wyoming, Johnson’s The Cold Dish is the first in his series centered on Sheriff Walt Longmire. I really love these books (and the television series first done by A&E and then picked up by Netflix). They have a sense of place that suffuses every pore. The county seat adjoins a Western Cheyenne reservation, and Johnson’s books draw a lot of interesting material from the ways that the problems of the reservation and those outside it interact. If you’ve ever wondered what it was like to live in the small town west, or if you’ve ever lived there and want to go back, these are great books to get you there.

4. Kim Stanley Robinson, New York 2140
New York 2140 is a work of speculative sci-fi, set in a point in the medium term future in which the seas have risen to such a point that the lower half of Manhattan has been swamped. Robinson includes several overlapping plotlines, one of which centers on an NYPD inspector, Gen Octaviasdottir, tasked with investigating corruption in a city in which the rising seas have created some question about which rules apply where. This is one of the leading exemplars of a new genre that’s being called “climate fiction,” in which sci-fi engages in the thing that it does best, throwing out ideas about how future changes might interact with the way that people live now. New York 2140 moves at the pace of a thriller, and it has a lot of interesting stuff over and above the law enforcement, but it all fits in to the theme of how the rules of the game will change when the board it’s being played on gets rearranged.

5. Ian Rankin, Knots and Crosses
Getting back to the soulful detective theme, Ian Rankin’s John Rebus is one of those beautifully flawed characters that are a feature of modern detective fiction. He’s a former paratrooper who has problems with alcohol, perhaps not so bad as others one could name (such as the occasionally comatose Jack Taylor from the series of novels by the Irish writer Ken Bruen), but it does complicate matters. He also has serious problems with authority, and negotiating his relationship to his superiors is a big theme of these books. He has remarkably expansive taste in music. Lots of homicide investigators are portrayed as listening to jazz as a shortcut to making them seem deep. Not that many are shown passing out to the dulcet tones of Mogwai. Knots and Crosses is an entertaining mystery with a creepy serial killer at its center and the dank and dirty street of Edinburgh as its backdrop. Another great thing about this book is that, if you like it, there are 20 more in the series.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Top Ten Books on Mary and Ariel's Fall TBR List

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme started on the Broke and the Bookish blog.
They set the topic, we make the lists. Visit their site to see more on this topic

Secrets in Death – JD Robb
Just out September 5, is Robb’s 45th In Death book… and I have read each and every one of this futuristic police romance series. The series revolves around Eve Dallas, a NYC police lieutenant. In Secrets in Death, Eve is having dinner with a colleague when Larinda Mars, gossip columnist and blackmailer, is murdered in the restaurant. Even though Eve disliked Larinda, she is intent on finding the murderer and seeing justice done. (FYI: JD Robb is a pseudonym for Nora Roberts.) 

Empty Grave – Jonathan Stroud 
On September 12th, the fifth book in the middle-grade Lockwood & Co. series was released. Lockwood and Company, the preteen ghost hunting agency, wants to know if Marissa Fittes’ body is in the family mausoleum or if there is something nefarious going on. So, the group is going to break in and see if the body is still there or whether is it an "Empty Grave." The Lockwood and Co. books are a fun romp following a group of preteen ghost hunters (because only the young can see ghosts) and it is entertaining watching them try to handle the duplicitous world of ghosts and adults. 

Archangel’s Viper – Nalini Singh 
September 26th heralds the release of the 10th book in Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunter series. These paranormal romances follow the relationships between New York City’s humans, vampires, and the archangel who rules them all. Archangel’s Viper takes a look at Sorrow, a human who was bitten by a deranged angel and who now is developing strange unknown powers, and Venom the vampire charged with watching and protecting her. While these books should probably be read in order, I anticipate the 10th book in the series to be a wonderful, fun, well-written, slide into romance.   

This Darkness Mine – Mindy McGinnis 
Oooooh. I love Mindy McGinnis. She has an amazing way of writing dark fiction and I am breathlessly anticipating her new teen contemporary novel coming out on October 10th.  In This Darkness Mine, Sasha Stone loves her perfectly normal life. The only abnormal thing that has happened to her occurred before she was born, when Sasha absorbed her twin sister in the womb. But, soon Sasha starts having blackouts, losing time, and having memories of things she would never do. What is happening?  How did Sasha’s life become not quite so perfect? 

Language of Thorns – Leigh Bardugo 
Leigh Bardugo is known for writing image rich fiction, which tell fantastic tales that stir the soul. Language of Thorns is Bardugo’s collection of 6 short fairy tale retellings. I am very excited to see what tales she is going to twist up into well-written and engaging pretzels. 

Into the Bright Unknown – Rae Carson 
October 10, the 3rd (and final) book in the Gold Seer Trilogy (Teen) is going to make an appearance. This fantastic historical fiction series is set during the Gold Rush, where Leah Westfall’s ability to sense gold has helped her and her friends find rich land in California Territory. But, people want to use Leah’s ability and keeping the land they have staked will be a dangerous adventure. I really enjoyed the first two books in this series. I don’t normally like historic fiction, but the characters and adventure keep you reading. I am really looking forward to seeing how this series concludes. 

John Green is one of my favorite people in existence, so I’m pretty excited to read his newest novel when it comes out in October. Like his mega-hit The Fault in Our Stars, this books centers around a teenage girl who is struggling with illness. In this case, the protagonist, Aza Holmes, is investigating the disappearance of a billionaire with her best friend Daisy, while also coping with obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety. It should be a fascinating read, as Green revealed in 2015 that he has struggled with these exact illnesses since childhood. I anticipate that Turtles will be his best novel yet.

This one has been on my TBR since it came out in May. Touted as Pretty Little Liars meets The Breakfast Club, the book starts with five students entering detention, each representative of a different high school stereotype. However, instead of bonding and giving each other makeovers to the tune of cheesy '80s music, one of the students winds up dead by the time detention is over. Each of the other four students has a plausible motive, so they become the prime suspects. As the title suggests, one of them is not being entirely truthful. Who doesn’t love a good mystery?

When I was in middle school, I went through a phase where I was obsessed with space. This obsession was dashed one day when, looking up at the night sky, I felt an overwhelming claustrophobia and had a mini existential crisis. Then, I took a physics class in high school and discovered it’s not exactly my strong suit. Nowadays I just love learning, and I think I’m ready to tackle the topic of space again. Like Carl Sagan and Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson is devoted to explaining the wonders of science in layman terms, so I trust him to guide me on this journey!

Stephen Colbert’s Midnight Confessions by Stephen Colbert
This humorous book is based on the popular recurring segment from The Late Show, where host Stephen Colbert pokes a bit of fun at his real-life Catholic faith by “confessing” his “sins” to his audience, under the pretext that his busy celebrity status prevents him from going to real confession on a regular basis. Of course, these confessions are really jokes for a comedic late night television show. For example, one of my favorites is: “If I'm really honest with myself, I'm never quite ready for some football.” It’s one of my favorite segments on any show, so you can imagine how excited I was to learn there will be a book that collects and illustrates some of Colbert’s favorite confessions as well as confessions submitted by his audience members.  

Rhett & Link’s Book ofMythicality by Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal
I am super excited about this one, you guys. Every morning, I am among the hundreds of thousands of people who tune in on YouTube to watch Good Mythical Morning—a daily talk show made by the “Internetainers” Rhett and Link. Now, these award-winning best friends and comedians are putting out their first book! With the subtitle “A Field Guide to Curiosity, Creativity, and Tomfoolery,” you know you’re in for a good time.