Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Lullaby & Kisses Sweet (2015)

Board Book: Lullaby and Kisses Sweet: Poems To Love With Your Baby. Selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins. Illustrated by Alyssa Nassner. 2015. Harry N. Abrams. 44 pages.

I really, really LOVE some of the poems included in this board book collection. The poems are arranged in five different sections: FAMILY, FOOD, FIRSTS, PLAY, and BEDTIME. I probably loved a poem or two (or three) from each section.

In FAMILY, I really loved "Grandma" by Prince Redcloud and "Car Seat" by Jude Mandell. Here's "Grandma":
When she takes my hand
and begins to sing
I love her more
In FOOD, I really loved "Spaghetti" by Laura Purdie Salas.

In FIRSTS, I really loved "First Word" by Joan Bransfield Graham

In PLAY, I really loved "Blocks" by Ann Whitford Paul and "Sandbox" by Stephanie Salkin.
Sand on my fingers, on my toes,
Sand on my chin, my ears, my nose,
Sand on my elbows, neck, and knees.
Take me out of this sandbox--
In BEDTIME, I really loved "Read to Me" by  Lee Bennett Hopkins.

There were so many good poems in this collection. I would find it very easy to recommend this one.

The illustrations complement the poems very well! They are very sweet--though I wouldn't say they are "precious." The illustrations are all of animal families. (There are lots of cat families which make me smile!)

Emil & Karl (1940)

Emil and Karl. Yankev Glatshteyn. Translated from the Yiddish by Jeffrey Shandler. 1940/2006. Roaring Book Press. 208 pages.

I love the idea of loving Emil and Karl by Yankev Glatshteyn. Emil and Karl was written in 1940 in Yiddish. It is set in Austria. It is the first--or at least among the very first--book written for children about the persecution Jews were experiencing from the Nazis.

Emil and Karl have always, always been best friends. Emil's Jewish. Karl's the son of socialists. Both are "orphans" in a way because of the Nazis. The book opens with intensity: readers first glimpse of Karl is haunting. Karl's mother has been taken away by the Nazis. He's witnessed this: not only the arrest, but the beating too. He's alone in the apartment, feeling very alone, very frightened, very worried. For they told him they'd be back to take him too. He doesn't know what to do next, where to go, who to trust. He decides to run to Emil's house. Emil's world has also been devastated within the past day or two. His father was taken and killed. His mother is grieving and shattered.

Karl and Emil are very much on their own it seems. The two stick together no matter what. They'll face danger and be put into difficult situations time and time again. There are many scenes that stay with you.

But while I find the premise of this one fascinating, it isn't the absolute best book about the holocaust. It may be among the first, but, that doesn't make it among the best of the best. Worth reading? I think so if you already have an interest in the subject. But if you only read one book on the subject, I'd have to recommend you go with another book.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

How To Catch A Bogle (2013)

How To Catch A Bogle. Catherine Jinks. Illustrated by Sarah Watts. 2013. HMH.

  I enjoyed reading How To Catch A Bogle a Victorian fantasy novel by Catherine Jinks. Birdie, the heroine, is an apprentice to Alfred the Bogler. She's bogle bait. Bogles are monsters who consume children. The action begins quickly in this one. Readers soon see Alfred and Birdie hard at work at this one. Birdie sings beautifully, baiting the trap if you will. Alfred carefully waits until just the right moment... Dangerous work it is. Is it too dangerous? One of Birdie's new acquaintances says it is. Miss Eames is something. She is very curious about bogles, about boglers. She wonders about the different types and classes of bogles--monsters or creatures. Where they live, how they live, what they eat, likes and dislikes, etc. She has a different approach than Alfred. Alfred is practical and skilled, but, not curious or scientific. Miss Eames is more interested in his work than he is in her work. She comes to really care for Birdie.

Miss Eames is not the only person interested in bogles. And there is one person whose interest is unethical....

Plenty of action and a bit of mystery!!! I enjoyed this one very much.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Call the Midwife (2002)

Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times. Jennifer Worth. 2002/2009. Penguin. 340 pages.

I have now read all three of Jennifer Worth's memoirs. Yes, I read the first book in the series last because that's how the library fated it. This actually worked out okay because I was familiar enough with the television adaptation. First, I want to mention that I loved, loved, loved, LOVED the tv show. Did I enjoy the books as much, did I enjoy them equally well? Probably not. I loved the show more, I did. I'll be honest about that from the start.

But did I enjoy the books? Yes. I definitely did. But was the first book my favorite? I can't say that it was. There were things I liked/loved about all three books. And. There were things I didn't quite like about all three books.

What didn't I enjoy? Well. In this first book, for example, there are several chapters where the focus is on prostitution, the focus shifts in the narrative because Jenny Lee has met a pregnant prostitute, Mary, who's trying to escape her pimp and find somewhere (relatively) safe to keep her baby. As you might expect, it's a dark, ugly, nightmarish world she's describing. I don't fault her for being realistic and matter of fact. But the amount of detail involved in the telling is a bit much at times. I think it could have been retold with a little less detail and still conveyed the same impact.

What did I enjoy? Well, there was plenty to enjoy! Most of the chapters were enjoyable enough. Many of these chapters have been adapted as episodes for the show--though not all, I believe. And in some cases, the book presents a much fuller picture.

As far as the trilogy goes, there is in some ways a lot less focus on romance when compared to the adaptation. (Jane's romance being an exception in the second book.) But the trilogy is worth reading, maybe not for ALL fans, but for many fans. (I will say that the book is more graphic in description than the tv show.)

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The 100 Dresses (1944)

The 100 Dresses. Eleanor Estes. Illustrated by Louis Slobodkin. 1944/2004. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 96 pages.

Two girls learn a little bit about empathy in Eleanor Estes' classic story The 100 Dresses. Wanda Petronski wears the same dress day after day. For the record, it is always clean. But still the other kids in her class--particularly the girls--can't help teasing or bullying her. She has a "weird" last name; she always wears the same clothes; she talks about having a 100 dresses at home. Peggy and her good friend, Maddie, the heroine, started the "game" of teasing her. But Maddie and Peggy both realize the error of their way, Maddie especially. But will their change of heart come too late? Will they be able to tell Wanda how very sorry they are for how they've treated her? Will she forgive them?

I liked this one very much. I'd definitely recommend it. I enjoyed both the text and the illustrations.

Have you read The Hundred Dresses? What did you think?

By The Shores of Silver Lake

By the Shores of Silver Lake. Laura Ingalls Wilder. 1939. HarperCollins. 291 pages.

As a child, By The Shores of Silver Lake wasn't my favorite of the series. I blame Jack's death for that. But as an adult, I've come to appreciate By The Shores of Silver Lake more, seeing it as more than just a transition between On the Banks of Plum Creek and The Long Winter.

In By the Shores of Silver Lake:
  • Mary goes blind, Laura is "asked" to be her eyes
  • Pa is offered a new job, a job with the railroad, which he takes
  • He goes by wagon, Jack dies BEFORE Pa's departure
  • The rest of the family travels most of the way by train
  • They continue the rest of their journey (a day or two or three) by wagon
  • They settle in for a while, Pa talks about the claim he hopes to claim later that year or whenever his job is finished and he's able to go out seeking a claim of his own
  • Pa's job isn't always safe; he's the paymaster for the railroad, and he has to calm down an angry mob in this one.
  • They meet the Boast family
  • They spend the winter in the 'biggest' house Laura has ever lived in
  • Winter may be lonely (no neighbors, no town) but the spring will see plenty of people come and go. EVERYONE stops at their house on their way west
  • The family learns that there is a school for the blind, they all decide Mary should go there.
  • The family decides to claim land near De Smet, South Dakota
  • Laura catches the tiniest glimpse of Almanzo Wilder's horses
I definitely am enjoying rereading these books. By The Shores of Silver Lake may not be my favorite of the series, but, I'm glad I reread it.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Les Miserables (2015)

Les Miserables The Epic Masterpiece by Victor Hugo, Retold and Illustrated by Marcia Williams. 2015. Candlewick. 64 pages.
It has come to my attention that you citizens known as "Les Miserables" believe that your wretched state of poverty and hunger is an excuse to flout the laws of France. You are mistaken. Every citizen must obey the law, and those who fail to do so will be punished.
Not a loaf of bread nor an apple from a tree will go missing without my learning of it. I will hunt down every criminal--rich or poor. The law shows no discrimination and no compassion.
I also warn all members of the revolutionary republican group "Les Amis de l'ABC" that your days are numbered. Should you seek to lead the miserable underdogs of our society to repeat the Revolution of 1789, you will fail!
The true citizens of France will not support you, and France will never again be a republic. King Louis XVIII is our monarch. He and the laws of France must be obeyed.
Inspector Javert
Les Miserables is one of my favorite classics. I love, love, love it. So I was quite excited to receive a review copy of this adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic. What did I think of it? Well, I liked it very much. At the very least, it does as good a job as any movie adaptation I've seen in capturing the story and the characters. So if you're looking to enjoy the story in its most basic form, this picture book adaptation wouldn't be a bad choice. Or, if you're looking to share this one with young readers, perhaps before seeing one of the movies, this one would be a fine choice.

I love the story. I love the characters. And Marcia Williams does a good job at remaining faithful to the story and the characters, of capturing why the story matters. The story is told through narration and dialogue (speech bubbles).

That being said, while it is a much shorter read--I read it in one sitting--it is not as wonderful as the original. One could argue it is more straightforward and focused and that it doesn't ramble. It doesn't have thousands of asides that take readers away from "main" story. But there is something beautiful in the original, even in the rambling. One of the things that I love most about original novel is the richness of it--the beauty of the language, the richness of the writing, the great attention to humanity. That is lost in this adaptation for the most part.

The Octopuppy (2015)

The Octopuppy. Martin McKenna. 2015. [March] Scholastic. 32 pages.

First sentence: Edgar wanted a dog. But Edgar didn't get a dog. He got Jarvis. Jarvis couldn't do anything a dog could do. But Edgar couldn't deny that Jarvis was clever.

Premise/Plot: Edgar, the hero, isn't pleased to receive an octopus instead of a puppy. He wants Jarvis to act just like a dog would. Jarvis is smart, and, now and then, Jarvis tries to act like a puppy. But he can't keep it up, Jarvis always goes back to being Jarvis. Edgar doesn't really appreciate that until it's too late. Jarvis does NOT want to stay where he's not wanted. Now that he's gone, Edgar regrets his behavior. Will these two be reunited.

My thoughts: What a strange, strange book. The good news? Well, readers can see for themselves and judge this book by its cover. The strangeness is not at all subtle. Did I like it? Not really. In fact, I really didn't like it at all. I found the scene where Jarvis flushes himself down the toilet to be disturbing!!! Will other readers like this plot twist? Perhaps! Who knows? But this book is not a good match for me.

Text: 2.5 out of 5
Illustrations: 2.5 out of 5
Total: 5 out of 10

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Ship of Brides

The Ship of Brides. Jojo Moyes. 2005/2014. Penguin. 464 pages.

Did I love absolutely everything about Jojo Moyes' The Ship of Brides? No, I can't say that I did. But I enjoyed it enough to read it in two days. I'll start with what I loved.

I loved the subject. I loved the idea of reading about a group of women--war brides--sailing together into the unknown. The book is about a ship full of Australian women--all war brides--sailing to England in 1946. It isn't any ship either. It's an aircraft carrier. The potential to mingle with the navy is definitely there, though obviously discouraged. There are over 600 women on board, though readers only get close to four women who share a room: Jean, Avice, Margaret, and Frances. They are sailing into the unknown in a way because they've never been to England, they've never met their in-laws, and they haven't seen their husbands in months or even years. Take into consideration, that some of these couples only knew each other a few weeks before they got married, and, yes there is plenty of unknown ahead. Even if they felt like they *knew* their husbands when they got married, they don't know how the war has changed them, if the war has changed them. The time on the ship is an in-between time: the first taste of a big change in all their lives. Will they be happy? Will it all work out? Are they still loved? Are they still wanted? Several women receive messages--telegrams, I believe-telling them NOT to come.

I liked the narration, especially of the time on the ship. The days/weeks are chronicled, and, one gets a sense of the experience, of the journey. The anxiety, the awkwardness, the heat, the opportunities, the stresses, etc. I thought the setting was well done, for the most part.

Did I love the characterization? Not as much as I hoped initially. I don't know if there was any one character that I loved. And some of the characterization felt a bit uneven.

What I didn't quite love was the framework. The beginning and ending felt a little off to me. Readers first meet a grandmother and a granddaughter on their trip in India. The two just happen to stumble upon a ship about to become scrap. It is THE ship, and it overwhelms the grandmother to see it. The rest of the book is about the four women--really, just three women if I'm honest--and tries, I suppose, to keep readers guessing which of the three is the grandmother of the future. The ending is part of that framework: readers finally knowing how it all fits together.

I liked it. I'm glad I read it. I am. I'm interested in the subject. I would be happy to read more books like it. But it wasn't love for me.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. Rachel Joyce. 2012. Random House. 320 pages.

The novel opens with Harold Fry receiving a letter in the mail from a former friend, Queenie Hennessy; it is a goodbye letter. Though they haven't seen each other in decades, she wanted to tell him that she was dying of cancer. He's shocked, to put it mildly. Though in all honesty he doesn't think of her all that often, now that her letter is in his hands, he is remembering the woman he once worked with and what she once did for him. He writes a reply and prepares to mail it, but, on his way to the mailbox, it doesn't seem enough, not nearly enough. His reply is so short and inadequate. So after a brief conversation with a stranger about cancer, he decides to have a little faith and embark on a pilgrimage. He will walk to see Queenie in her hospice home. In his mind, logical or not, he's connected the two: walking and healing. He'll do the walking, but will it work?

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a character-driven, journey-focused read. From start to finish, readers are given a unique opportunity to walk with Harold Fry, to really get inside his head and understand him inside and out. It's a bit of a mystery as well. Since readers learn things about Harold chapter by chapter by chapter. The book is very much about Harold making sense of Harold: that is Harold coming to know himself better, of making peace if you will with the past and present.

I liked the book very much for the chance to get to know Harold and even his wife. (At first, his wife thinks he's CRAZY. Crazy for thinking up the idea, crazier still for acting on it. It just does not make any sense at all to her. WHY WALK OVER 500 MILES TO SEE A FORMER COWORKER YOU HAVEN'T SEEN IN TWO DECADES?!

It was a very pleasant read. Harold meets people every single day of his walk, and the book is a book of conversations.

It is set in England.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Last Jews in Berlin

The Last Jews in Berlin. Leonard Gross. 1982/2015. Open Road Media. 343 pages.

The Last Jews in Berlin was a good read. It was oh-so-close to being a great read every now and then. What I loved about this one were the personal stories. These stories were the heart of the book. Readers get to meet dozens of people and follow their stories. As you can imagine, these stories can be intense.

Instead of telling each person's story one at a time, one after the other, the book takes a more chronological approach. The book is told in alternating viewpoints. Is this for the best? On the one hand, I can see why this approach makes it more difficult for readers to follow individuals, to keep track of each person's story. Just when you get good and attached to a certain person's narrative, it changes. It takes a page or two perhaps before you reconnect with the next narrator and get invested in that unfolding story. On the other hand, telling the story like this sets a certain tone, increases tension and suspense, and avoids repetition. So I can see why it makes sense. The method of storytelling didn't bother me.

Probably the one thing I learned from reading this is that there were Jews working with the Nazis and turning other Jews in. That there were Jews betraying one another trying to survive. One simply didn't know who to trust.

At the same time, the book shares stories of people who were trustworthy, people who were willing to risk their own lives to help Jews. Life was hard for everyone: but some were willing to share their food and open up their homes at great risk. The book did show that not every person supported the Nazis and their philosophy. There were people who disagreed and were willing to do the right thing.

It's an emotional book, very intense in places.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Case of the Cursed Dodo

The Case of the Cursed Dodo: A Jungle Noir (Endangered Files #1) Jake G. Panda. 2014. Wooly Family Studios. 180 pages.

More jungle noir, please! More, more, more! So yes, it's safe to assume that I loved "watching" Jake G. Panda in The Case of the Cursed Dodo. The book is written in movie/script format. Which could just have easily failed as succeeded, but, in this case worked quite well.

What did I love about The Case of the Cursed Dodo? Well, I loved, loved, loved the writing. More specifically the descriptions. Practically perfect in every way. I'll just share a few favorite bits:
That's Gloria. A dizzy grizzly who runs the front desk of this bunkhouse. She's a one of kind dame.
"Thanks, Gloria," Jake says, taking the letters. She gives him a big wink.
"Anytime, Honey."
I wish she wouldn't call me that. It makes me feel all sticky. Besides, if there's one thing I ain't, it's sweet. (13)
Ernie's the hotel driver. A thick-skinned pachyderm with a chip on his shoulder. He lost his tusks in a hunting accident. And he's not the kinda guy to quickly forget. But I had a soft spot for the big fella. He had a lead foot and worked for peanuts. (21)
So the premise if you haven't guessed it is that the hero is a detective. Jake G. Panda is "in the protection racket. I'm the Last Resort's house dick. The hotel snoop. The resident fuzz. It's my job to keep the guests safe and outta harm's way" (9). The first case involves a missing hare (Professor Harry), a mysterious long-buried suitcase, and a 'cursed dodo.' Plenty of action and humor. Just a treat to read.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Farewell to the East End

Farewell to the East End. (Call of the Midwife #3) Jennifer Worth. 2009/2013. HarperCollins. 336 pages.

I still haven't read the first book in the Call The Midwife series by Jennifer Worth, but, I have watched and enjoyed the first two series of the show, an adaptation of the books. I loved the second book, Shadows of the Workhouse. I'm not sure I "loved" the third book, Farewell to the East End. I suppose you could say I found it equally fascinating and disturbing. The stories are definitely darker and heavier--dismal and bleak. Mixed in with stories are a handful of research chapters about various topics.

Highlights (not highlights because of 'hope') include several chapters focused on twins Megan and Mave, several chapters focusing on the Masterson family, several chapters focusing on the Harding family, and several chapters focusing on Chummy.

One of the most haunting stories, in my opinion, is "The Captain's Daughter." Chummy is called aboard a merchant ship to tend a woman with stomach cramps. The woman believes she's just had too many apples. But it soon becomes apparent to Chummy that all is not right. The woman is in fact pregnant and in labor, and, the father could be any of the crew including her own father, the Captain. Chummy learns that she's been on board and servicing the men--keeping them all happy--since the age of fourteen, soon after her mother's death. Chummy is a bit shocked--who wouldn't be--but very practical and down to earth. The birth is challenging and quite memorable.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Meet Inspector Barnaby

The Killings At Badger's Drift. (Inspector Barnaby #1) Caroline Graham. 1987/2005. Felony & Mayhem. 272 pages.

I'm so glad I checked out The Killings at Badger's Drift on a whim!!! It's always a good thing to browse in the library!

The Killings at Badger's Drift is the first book in the Inspector Barnaby mystery series. Readers meet Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby and Sergeant Troy (his assistant). I definitely liked Inspector Barnaby!!!

The first character readers meet is Miss Emily Simpson, a spinster who stumbles upon something she shouldn't see in the woods. That knowledge will lead to her death...readers however are not told exactly what she saw--or WHO she saw...leaving plenty of mystery and suspense for the rest of the book.

Readers next meet another spinster, Miss Lucy Bellringer, Miss Simpson's best, best friend. She is convinced that her friend was MURDERED. And she is seeking out Inspector Barnaby. The doctor may not be convinced that there was a crime, but, she is out to convince Barnaby and Troy to investigate and see for themselves. (They do take the case).

Plenty of characters are introduced and described throughout the book, throughout the investigation. Most, if not all, are potential suspects. Some seem more obvious than others. But. All are flawed in one way or another...making it just plausible enough that they could be guilty...

I definitely enjoyed this one. It was a quick read. I definitely HAD to know what happened.

Death of A Hollow Man. (Inspector Barnaby #2) Caroline Graham. 1989/2006. Felony & Mayhem. 306 pages. [Source: Library]

Death of a Hollow Man is the second book in the Inspector Barnaby series by Caroline Graham. I definitely liked it, even though I had some reservations. Why? Well, I know I'm in the minority, but, I prefer my fiction to be on the clean side. It's not necessarily the content so much as the description involved--if that makes sense. That being said, I liked this one. I never once seriously thought of putting it aside.

Death of a Hollow Man is set in a small-town theatre world. Most of the characters--suspects and victim--are actors for their local theatre. (Inspector Barnaby's wife is among the actors--though not the list of suspects.) Amadeus. That is what they'll be performing. Over half the book occurs BEFORE the crime, setting the stage for the oh-so-dramatic on-stage murder. Lest you think I'm spoiling things dreadfully, it's mentioned on the jacket copy. I won't be mentioning WHO the victim is OR who the top suspects are. That would definitely be spoilerish. After all, I like my mysteries to stay mysteries.

I liked the writing for the most part. There are SO many characters. Some I liked, some I didn't like at all.

My library only has one more book in this series. But I've decided to start watching Midsomer Murders for more Inspector Barnaby fun.