Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Hallucinations - Oliver Sacks

Anne Fadiman wrote in Ex Libris that every bibliophile has a shelf (or shelves) of books that is somewhat off-kilter from the rest of their taste.  Mine might be my theology shelf, or my theatrical history shelf, but I think the books (few as they are) most likely to surprise the casual observer would be those on neurology.

When I told my Dad I'd bought and read Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks (after he'd spotted a review and told me about it), he asked "But will you be writing about it on your blog?"  "Of course," thought I - it hadn't crossed my mind that I wouldn't.  But I pondered on it, and thought - would blog-readers used to my love for 1930s novels about spinsters drinking tea also want to read about phantom limbs and Delirium Tremens?

Believe me, you will.  I have almost zero interest in science in all its many and varied forms.  I stopped studying it when I was 16 (except for maths) and found it all very dull before that point.  (Apologies, science-lovers.)  Biology was far and away my least favourite subject.  And yet Hallucinations is absolutely brilliant, as fascinating and readable as his popular work The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat.  A predilection for scientific books is definitely not a prerequisite.  Sacks is just as much a storyteller as a scientist.

Before starting Hallucinations, I thought they were mostly terrifying, felt real, and came chiefly with a fever or drug abuse.  While hallucinations can be all these things, I was surprised to learn how often they are benign (even amusing or comforting) and easily recognised as fake.  Strangest still, I hadn't realised that (under Sacks' definitions) I had experienced hallucinations myself.

That's not quite true - I knew I'd had them when I had an extremely high temperature during flu, but I hadn't known that what I'd had repeatedly as a child were hypnagogic hallucinations - those that people get just before going to sleep.  Aged about 5, I often used to see chains of bright lights and shapes (and, Mum remembered but I did not, faces) in front of me - whether my eyes were open or closed - at bedtime.  It turns out hypnagogic hallucinations are very common, and (Sacks writes) rarely unnerving for the hallucinator.  Well, Dr. Sacks, aged five I found them incredibly frightening, and usually ran to mother!

There are so many types of hallucinations that Sacks has witnessed in decades of being a neurologist, encountering hundreds of people and hearing about thousands from his colleagues.  This book just includes the ones who gave him permission.  It would necessitate typing out the whole book to tell you all the illustrations he gives, but they range from fascinating accounts of Charles Bonnet Syndrome (basically seeing hallucinations, often highly detailed, for long or short periods) to hallucinated smells, sounds, and even a chapter on hallucinating doppelgangers.

Almost all of these hallucinations act alongside lives which are lived otherwise normally, and do not suggest any terrible neurological condition.  It is somewhat chilling that Sacks recounts a study which revealed that 12 volunteers, with otherwise 'normal' mental health histories, were asked to tell doctors they were hearing voices - and 11 were diagnosed with schizophrenia.  Sacks is keen to point out how many patients with hallucinations, even when voices, are not suffering from schizophrenia or any other sort of mental illness.  He is deeply interested in how people manage their lives when seeing hallucinations at any hour of the day, and offers up humble praise to those who take it in their stride.

This is what makes Sacks so special.  A few of the blurb reviews describe him as 'humane', which I suppose he is - but the word feels a little dispassionate.  Sacks, on the other hand, is fundamentally compassionate.  He never treats or describes people as case studies.  The accounts he gives are not scientific outlines, interested only in neurological details, but mini-biographies filled with human detail, humour, and respect.  Here's an example of all three factors combining:
Gertie C. had a half-controlled hallucinosis for decades before she started on L-dopa - bucolic hallucinations of lying in a sunlit meadow or floating in a creek near her childhood home.  This changed when she was given L-dopa and her hallucinations assumed a social and sometimes sexual character.  When she told me about this, she added, anxiously, "You surely wouldn't forbid a friendly hallucination to a frustrated old lady like me!"  I replied that if her hallucinations had a pleasant and controllable character, they seemed rather a good idea under the circumstances.  After this, the paranoid quality dropped away, and her hallucinatory encounters became purely amicable and amorous.  She developed a humour and tact and control, never allowing herself a hallucination before eight in the evening and keeping its duration to thirty or forty minutes at most.  If her relatives stayed too late, she would explain firmly but pleasantly that she was expecting "a gentleman visitor from out of town" in a few minutes' time, and she felt he might take it amiss if he was kept waiting outside.  She now receives love, attention, and invisible presents from a hallucinatory gentleman who visits faithfully each evening.
And with this respect and kindness definitely comes a sense of humour - the sort of humour exemplified by many of the people he met.  This detail, in a footnote, was wonderful:
Robert Teunisse told me how one of his patients, seeing a man hovering outside his nineteenth-floor apartment, assumed this was another one of his hallucinations.  When the man waved at him, he did not wave back.  The "hallucination" turned out to be his window washer, considerably miffed at not having his friendly wave returned.
Although Sacks does not compromise his scientific standing, Hallucinations is definitely (as demonstrated by me) a book which is accessible to the layman.  In the whole book, there was only one sentence which completely baffled me...
When his patient died, a year later, an autopsy revealed a large midbrain infarction involving (among other structures) the cerebral peduncles (hence his coinage of the term "penduncular hallucinations").
I'll take your word for it, Oliver.

But, that excerpt aside, Hallucinations was more of a page-turner than most detective novels, paid closer attention to the human details of everyday life than much domestic fiction, and certainly left me with more to think about than many books I read.  I hope I've done enough to convince you that, even if you think you won't be interested, you probably would be.

I have wondered whether my interest in neurology might, in fact, just be an appreciation of Oliver Sacks.  I've started other books in the field and not finished them, though I will go back to one on synaesthesia that I recently began.  Perhaps no other author combines Sacks' talents as scientist and storyteller... but I'm happy to be proven wrong, if anyone has any suggestions?

For now, though, I'm going to have to hunt out my copy of Sacks' Awakenings...

Congrats to My Brilliant CP!

SQUEEEEEE!!! My ridiculously talented critique partner, Amanda Foody, has an agent!

The second I finished I reading her amazing YA fantasy "ACE OF SHADES", I knew she was going to make it. And make it she did. HARD.

She just signed with Molly Jaffa from the Folio Agency!

No one deserves an awesome agent like Molly more than Amanda. She actually eats, breathes and poops words (nope, that didn't sound creepy at all). If you've heard of the expression "work until you're bleeding from your eyeballs", Amanda's that times a thousand.

I'm going to buy all her books, sprinkle them like candy all over my friends, family and coworkers, and when she's famous, I can be like "I knew her when..."

So please head on over to Amanda's blog and congratulate her :)

Little Critter: Bedtime Stories (Boxed Set) by Mercer Mayer -- ESSENTIAL

Mayer, Mercer Little Critter: Bedtime Stories 144 pgs. HarperFestival, Jan. 2013. $11.99. PICTURE BOOK.

Reissues of six different Little Critter books, kept together in a convenient Velcro-sealed box with a handle. Contains paperback editions of The Best Teacher Ever; The Best Show & Share; Bye-Bye, Mom and Dad; The Lost Dinosaur Bone; Just a Little Too Little; and Just a Little Music. Also comes with a small poster and a sticker sheet.

Each of the six books is filled with the antics of Little Critter, a young creature whose impish ways get him in trouble but ultimately help him save the day. $2 per book is hard to beat, especially for adorable books that are sure to draw a lot of students. These editions are not particularly sturdy and will not hold up to hard wear, but they would would make a great addition to a classroom collection or leveled library. Library binding is also available for some of these titles when bought on an individual basis.

PreK, EL (K-3) -- ESSENTIAL. Reviewer: Caryn

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Out of Reach by Carrie Arcos -- NOT RECOMMENDED

Arcos, Carrie Out of Reach 250 pgs. Simon Pulse, 2012. $16.99. Content rating: R (Numerous swears, including multiple f-bombs, and graphic depictions of drug use.) Rachel is used to being the good girl in the family, especially when compared with her meth-addicted older brother Micah. When Micah disappears, she chalks it up to his drug habit and carries on with her life. But an anonymous email telling her that he's in trouble sparks a trip with one of Micah's friends. Together they plan to search for him and bring him home. But the trip isn't as easy as what they've planned, and Micah may prove to be harder to reach than Rachel feared.

I wanted to like this book. Not only does it not glorify the use of drugs, but it includes a lot of scary facts about them, and depicts addiction in many unattractive ways. Unfortunately, these details sometimes came across as lectures. That, paired with teen characters who talked and though like very wise adults, could turn off many teen readers. In addition, I had trouble connecting with the main character, who lied to her parents about where she was, who she was with, what she was doing, and even the fact that her car was stolen on the trip. The very graphic portrayals of drug use may be quite disturbing for many, while drinking and smoking were considered acceptable, making this one risky for a school session. Maybe in a public library, or for older students who are looking to understand a loved-one's drug addiction. HS -- Not recommended. Reviewer: Caryn

No Bears by Meg McKinlay -- ADVISABLE

McKinlay, Meg and Leila Rudge No Bears 32 pgs. Candlewick Press, 2012. $15.99. PICTURE BOOK.

Ella likes a lot of things about the book she's writing. It contains princesses and fairies and castles and a lot of other elements she considers essential to a story. Best of all, it has NO BEARS. But what Ella doesn't notice is that behind each new page she draws, there's a motherly bear gently helping Ella's nice characters succeed and working to vanquish the evil ones.

The fun premise and beautiful, action-packed illustrations make for an enjoyable read, and new details pop out every time I revisit the story. Many kids will have fun pointing out the bear sneaking onto each page, even as Ella declares, once again, that her book doesn't have any bears at all. The bear is never directly acknowledged, which adds to the fun, but younger elementary students may not notice her, and even if they do they may have difficulty understanding the wink-wink-nod-nod joke at the heart of the story. Some explanation from an adult will go a long way to help them understand the humor, however, and the illustrations and protagonist are still enjoyable even if the subtext is lost.

EL-ADVISABLE. Reviewed by: Caryn

Readalong Reviews

Do keep discussing in the previous post - a fascinatingly wide range of opinions there, all supported with excellent points - and here are a bunch of Cheerful Weather for the Wedding reviews appearing around the blogosphere.  If you link to your review in the comments on the previous post, I'll add them here...

Alex in Leeds
The Captive Reader
Chasing Bawa
Claire Thinking
Desperate Reader
Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings 
Leaves and Pages
Pen and Pencil Girls
Reading 1900-1950
Tale of Three Cities
We Be Reading
A Work in Progress

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Magicalamity by Kate Saunders –NOT RECOMMENDED

Saunders, Kate Magicalamity 320 pgs. Delacorte Books for Young Readers , 2012. $11.42.  (Rating: Violence PG13, Language G, Sexual PG13)
Tom, an 11 year old, finds out that his parents are in danger –all because of a family secret he didn't know about. His dad is a fairy and is on the run, Tom’s mother missing. Relying on the lackadaisy help of his aging Fairy godmother’s, Tom learns about his own magical heritage and the world he never knew about.
Keep it at the above description and you have a really good read. But add a unhealthy excessivedose of sexual innuendo and an 11 year old sleeping with a loaded gun under his pillow and you have a book that I can’t recommend under any circumstance. Freud would have a field day with this author. Enough said.
Elementary –NOT RECOMMENDED Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

Cheerful Weather for the Wedding: Readalong

Right, books at the ready!  I've re-read Cheerful Weather for the Wedding ahead of seeing the new film (which I'll be doing in one week's time, at The Phoenix in Oxford, which has a one-night-only screening) and I'm opening up this post for discussion.  It won't be one of my usual reviews, because I've actually already reviewed the novel (novella?) here, but more of a hub for conversation about it.

But I'll give you a quick overview of my thoughts on re-reading Cheerful Weather for the Wedding.  It might be worth popping over and reading my thoughts in 2009, if you'd be so kind... basically I loved every moment, particularly the hilarious secondary characters.  Most memorable were mad Nellie (who spouts irrelevant conversations she has had with the plumber, while addressing the tea-tray) and brothers Tom and Robert, who come to a contretemps over the latter's unorthodox emerald socks.  (I'm assuming that everyone knows the basic plot by this point - Dolly is uncertainly preparing for her wedding to Owen, with a houseful of eccentrics helping and hindering her - and a bottle of rum within reach.)

This time around, I found the novella a little less amusing, but mostly because I already knew where all my favourite bits were coming.  It is testament to Strachey's humour that Nellie, Tom, and Robert have remained firmly fixed in my mind, down to their individual lines ("Put your head in a bag" still makes me grin) but inevitably surreal moments of humour heavily rely upon novelty.  Her cast of near-grotesques were still a delight, but not quite as much the second time around.

This, however, left me more able to appreciate other aspects to Cheerful Weather for the Wedding (and not just that sublime cover - I kept closing the book just to stare at it for a bit longer.)  I'd appreciated Strachey as a comic writer, but hadn't really noticed how gorgeous some of her other writing is.  Her propensity to describe every character's eyes when they arrive on the scene was slightly unnerving, but depictions of buildings and countryside were really lovely, and contrasted well with the surreal descriptions of people.  I couldn't resist this excerpt...
Dolly's white-enamelled Edwardian bedroom jutted out over the kitchen garden, in a sort of little turret.  It was at the top of the house, and reached by a steep and narrow stairway.  Coming in at the bedroom door, one might easily imagine one's self to be up in the air in a balloon, or else inside a lighthouse.  One saw only dazzling white light coming in at the big windows on all sides, and through the bow window directly opposite the door shone the pale blue sea-bay of Malton.

This morning the countryside, through each and all of the big windows, was bright golden in the sunlight.  On the sides of a little hill quite close, beyond the railway cutting, grew a thick hazel copse.  To-day, with the sun shining through its bare branches, this seemed to be not trees at all, but merely folds of something diaphanous floating along the surface of the hillside - a flock of brown vapours, here dark, there light - lit up in the sunshine.

And all over the countryside this morning the bare copses looked like these brown gossamer scarves; they billowed over the hillsides, here opalescent, there obscure - according to the sunlight and shadow among their bronze and gauzy foldings.
It can't just be me who wants to move in immediately?  But I couldn't leave you without a moment of Strachey's wonderfully wicked humour...
"How are your lectures going?" asked Kitty of Joseph, a kind of desperate intenseness in her voice and face.  This was her style of the moment with the male sex.
And now over to you!  If you post a review of Cheerful Weather for the Wedding during the week, please pop a link in the comments (I'll probably do a round-up later in the week) but I'd also like this to be a place for discussion - do reply to each other's comments, and I'll join in, and it'll be FUN.  I won't post for another two or three days, to give everyone a chance to see this.

Here are some questions to start things going:

  • Did you enjoy the novel, for starters!?
  • What do you think Julia Strachey was trying to achieve - what sort of book was she trying to write?
  • Why do you think Strachey made it so short?  Would it have worked as a longer novel?
  • Who were your favourite characters?
  • If you're re-reading, how did you opinion change this time?
  • How do you think it will translate to cinema?

Cordially Uninvited by Jennifer Roy -- ADVISABLE

Roy, Jennifer Cordially Uninvited 250 pgs. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2012. $15.99. (Content: PG)

Eleven-year-old Claire travels to England for what is supposed to be her favorite cousin's fairy tale wedding to a prince, but Claire has more in mind than her role as a junior bridesmaid in the biggest wedding of the century. She's never met the prince, and is concerned that he may not be good enough for her cousin. Worse, someone is trying to sabotage the wedding. Is it Pandora, the junior bridesmaid with the bad attitude...or someone else? Add in a cute boy and plenty of mishaps as Claire negotiates the customs of a new country, and Cordially Uninvited is a royally fun read.

A cute story with plenty of fancy details thrown in, this book should appeal to fans of weddings, England, and all things royal. Claire is a character to root for, as she genuinely wants what's best for her cousin -- even if it means interrupting the wedding of the century. The romantic elements add a little fun without being over-the-top for the age group.

EL, MG -- ADVISABLE. Reviewed by: Caryn

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Stacking the Shelves #17

Stacking the Shelves is a meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews, where people like me can showcase our new books of the week and make you jealous!

I finally got these Elder Races books!! I've been waiting to read them forever :P

Kindle Freebies!:

Check the price of the freebies before buying, they change prices very quick! What did you get this week?

Song for a Sunday

This week's song is suggested by special guest Susan!  You'll probably know her as Susan in TX - one of most beloved members of the blog-reading community, I'm sure you'll agree.  Here is a song her family have been listening to, Kicking and Screaming by Third Day.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

House of Silence - Linda Gillard

The aftermath of A Century of Books definitely seems to be a sudden dash towards 21st century books, particularly those I've had on hold for a while.  And few books have hovered more determinedly around my consciousness than Linda Gillard's House of Silence (2011).  I'd read her first three novels, and enjoyed them all - one to this-is-incredibly-I-love-it standards. Although I've never met Linda Gillard, we used to be in the same book discussion list, and we're friends on Facebook, so I'm putting this kind gift in Reading Presently.  Them's my rules.  And it's not even the first time she's given me a copy of the book.

As many of you will know, Linda Gillard is a runaway Kindle bestseller - we're talking 30,000 copies of House of Silence here, let alone her other Kindle titles - and has a devoted audience around the world.  And then, lolloping up behind them, wearing too many belts and clearly thinking the calculator in his hand is a mobile phone, comes me.  I don't have a Kindle, or any of the other-ereaders-are-available.  I don't want one even a tiny bit.  The only advantage they have, in fact - and this has quite genuinely appeared on my mental pros/cons list - is access to Linda Gillard's novels.

Yes, yes, I know.  Kindle-for-PC.  I downloaded it; Linda kindly gave me a download of House of Silence.  I tried to read it.  I read the first page every now and then... and got no further.  It was like standing outside a bank vault and not having the combination - because, try as I might, I couldn't bring myself to read an e-book.  It took me months to read the one my good friend had written, which even thanked me in it.

And then - praise be! - Linda published it as a POD paperback, and sent me a review copy of that.  Huzzah!  I read it, and, dear reader, it was good.  Which is just as well, after all that.

(Incidentally, isn't the cover gorgeous?  Unlike most self-published authors, Linda Gillard goes the extra mile with design and aesthetic, paying a designer for this beautiful look.  What a shame that easily her best novel, A Lifetime Burning, should also have easily her worst cover... but the new cover for the Kindle edition is beautiful.)

House of Silence has been advertised as Rebecca meets Cold Comfort Farm - both traits I could identify, and which can definitely be no bad thing - but, more than that, it felt reliably Gillard to me.  In terms of period, event, and even genre Linda is versatile - but certain ingredients stand out as characteristic.  The most dominant of these is the feel of the book and the characters, vague as that sounds - with Linda Gillard's novels, you know you're going to get strong emotions and passionate people, trammeled by everyday experience, but refusing to lie entirely dormant...

Guinevere (known as Gwen) works alongside actors, in the wardrobe department.  Already, I'm sold - you might know how I love books which feature actors, and Gillard uses Gwen's knowledge of fabrics to ingenious effect as the novel progresses.  It is in this role that she first meets Alfie, who is having some issues with his breeches... one thing leads to another, and they end up dating.  Which, in turn, leads to her spending Christmas with him and his family, at beautiful old Creake Hall in Norfolk.  He's a little reluctant for her to join him, but eventually is persuaded.

And what a group of eccentrics they find!  Chief amongst them - although appearing very little on the scene - is Alfie's mother Rae.  Her mind is wandering, and her grasp of time and people is never strong, but she is still regularly producing her series of children's books about Tom Dickon Harry.  This little chap has made her famous - and is based on Alfie himself, who (in turn) rose to notoriety after appearing in a documentary about the books when he was eighteen.  The irony is, Alfie explains, that he actually grew up with his father, who divorced Rae - and now he only sees his sister and half-sisters once a year, at Christmas.

Those sisters include loveable, scatty Hattie - who is forever making quilts, and babbling away without any real sense of boundaries.  Viv is less open, but still welcomes Gwen into the family.  Throw in two visiting sisters, in varying states of life-collapse, and things are bound to be interesting.  And Creake Hall is a wonderful setting.  Who doesn't love an Elizabethan manor for a mysterious, slightly unsettling novel?  What makes it most unsettling is that the reader shares with Gwen the feeling that Alfie isn't telling us everything... why was he so reluctant for her to stay?  What secrets does he hide?  What secrets are hidden by the house of silence?

Gwen is rather younger than Linda Gillard's previous heroines - she is in her mid-twenties, in fact.  At no point does she come across as that young, though - which I thought might be a failing on Gillard's part, until I got to the part where she asked Marek to guess her age:
"Older than you look.  Younger than you sound."
One of the main aspects of Gwen's personality is that she has had to be old before her years.  I suppose that's what happens when you lose your entire family during adolescence - to drugs, alcohol, and AIDS - including finding your mother, dead, on Christmas.  Yup, Gwen has had it tough.

Oh, and Marek, you ask?  He is the gardener, known as Tyler to everyone (because every gardener has been known as that) and is warm, a good listener - he used to be a psychiatrist - and generally a safe place for Gwen to retreat.  He's also (I quote Lyn's review) 'gorgeous, sexy, and irresistible.'  I have mental blocks for big age gaps with fictional couples - even Emma and Mr. Knightley is a combination which makes me wince a bit - so I'll sidestep any potential entanglements here, and leave those quandaries to your imagination.  I will say that Marek reminds me a lot of Gavin from Gillard's Emotional Geology, that he lives in a windmill (far from the only thing which reminded me of Jonathan Creek), and plays the cello - which led me in the direction of this beautiful piece.  It's Rachmaninov's Sonata in G Minor, Opus 17 No.3, Andante.  (Sorry, I have no idea how one is supposed to phrase the titles to music.)

I refuse to give any more of the plot away.  I've left it all deliberately vague, because it's the sort of novel where the plot does matter.  One of the reasons it reminded me of an episode of Jonathan Creek, in the best possible way, is that you're desperate to find out what happens - and twist upon twist come, so that everything is plausible but unguessable.  The 'reveals' are entirely consistent with people's behaviour throughout the novel; character is never sacrificed to plot - indeed, the explanation of what has happened is also an explanation of why the members of this family are the way they are.

It's all beautifully, addictively done.  I stayed up far later than I should, devouring the second half of the novel. I was unsure, in the beginning, whether it would match up to the compulsive quality of Gillard's other novels, and the action doesn't quite kick into gear until we've arrived at Creake Hall - but, after that, hold onto your hats.  It is a mark of Linda Gillard's talent that her novels are both versatile and identifiable - no matter what genre she turns her hand to (and I believe her next was a paranormal romance), I would be able to recognise a Gillard at a hundred paces.  And, although she may be one of the new wave of successful Kindle authors, thank Heaven she's found a way for the Kindless to enjoy the dizzying, thoughtful extravaganza that is House of Silence.

Others who got Stuck in this Book:

"House of Silence is a compulsively readable book. It’s a compelling story of family secrets & lies, set in a crumbling Elizabethan mansion at Christmas in the depths of a freezing Norfolk winter." - Lyn, I Prefer Reading

"This is a book in which it is so easy to lose yourself, at once emotional and mysterious." - Margaret, Books Please

"The book has romance, bubbling away underneath, it deals with mental health issues so effectively and considerately that you actually do not realise until reflecting back on the book." - Jo, The Book Jotter

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday #108 - The Oathbreaker's Shadow by Amy McCulloch

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking The Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

My Pick: The Oathbreaker's Shadow (The Knots Sequence #1) by Amy McCulloch
Fifteen-year-old Raim lives in a world where you tie a knot for every promise that you make. Break that promise and you are scarred for life, and cast out into the desert.

Raim has worn a simple knot around his wrist for as long as he can remember. No one knows where it came from, and which promise of his it symbolises, but he barely thinks about it at all—not since becoming the most promising young fighter ever to train for the elite Yun guard. But on the most important day of his life, when he binds his life to his best friend (and future king) Khareh, the string bursts into flames and sears a dark mark into his skin.

Scarred now as an oath-breaker, Raim has two options: run, or be killed.

A gripping YA action-adventure fantasy, the first part of a planned duology.
Male POV :) Sounds like an interesting idea!

June 6th 2013 by Random House Children's Publishers

The Winter Book - 99p!

Another rush by - just wanted to pass on the info (to which Linda Gillard alerted me) that Tove Jansson's The Winter Book is Amazon's Kindle deal-of-the-day, for 99p: click here.  Unless you're ethically against Amazon and whatnot, but at least you can make a fully-informed decision now!

This collection of short stories is my favourite Jansson book, and she is one of my favourite writers, so you can imagine how much I love it!

[this is probably for UK readers only... not sure...]

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

First Mothers by Beverly Gherman –ADVISABLE

Gherman, Beverly and Illustrated by Downing, Julie First Mothers 64 pgs. Clarion Books, 2012. $11.55.  (Rating: PG –mention of marital affairs)
Every president of the United States had to have a mother, but we never hear much about them. Well this is every one of them, with quirky titles, interesting portraits that are fully of personality, fun facts, tidbits, and more. For example Rose Kennedy is listed as the “savvy mother”, and her pages feature even a little comic strip.
This was a fun book to read! The pages and illustrations are laid out with such variety and creativity, that it doesn't fail to keep the reader’s attention. The biographical text is short and sweet and balances factual stuff with fun stuff for a perfect combination. This is a great way for students to get to know more about the president’s childhood's and the lives of some historical and important women.  
Elementary –ADVISABLE Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

Little Cub by Olivier Dunrea –ADVISABLE

Dunrea, Olivier Little Cub 32 pgs. Philomel, 2012. $11.55.  (Rating: G)
A Little Cub is lonely and hungry, lost and alone. A Old Bear was also lonely and alone, but he wasn't lost and had too much to eat. When Old Bear finds Little Cub, the two of them are a perfect pair.
This book features adorable Fall themed artwork and is great for a lesson on opposites, and finding your own family.  
EL –ADVISABLE Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

Who Needs Love? by Elise Primavera –NOT RECOMMENDED

Primavera, Elise and Illustrated by Park, Lauren Who Needs Love? 48 pgs. Robin Corey Books, 2012. $12.74.  (Rating: G)
This is the story of two alligator best friends, Scarlett and Simon. They run into an evil witch, who turn one into a donkey and the other into a singer who can’t find anything. There is the added complication of a tree who wants a silver dollar. Will the two friends ever see each other again.
This was one of the oddest pictures books I have ever read. It was flat of bizarre. This story didn't flow, was kind of cold and off-putting. It really just didn't make sense –not even in a quirky kind of way. The artwork was unappealing as well, watercolor that was washed out and boring.
EL –OPTIONAL Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

Rain & Fire by Chris & Jay D’Lacey –OPTIONAL

D’Lacey, Chris & Jay Rain & Fire (Companion to the Last Dragon Chronicles) 304 pgs. Graphia, 2012. $16.99.  (Rating: G)
Everything a fan of the Last Dragon Chronicles would love to know, from detailed biographical information about the author, the ideas and inception of the series, character lists, book synopsis, and more.
This sounds great, for a fan, but it’s actually pretty dry. There are only a couple black and white pictures. Fans would really love to see more, like images of the author just having fun, more of the inspiration dragon pottery art, more concept art. Only purchase this book if your students are huge fans.
Elementary, MS –OPTIONAL Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

Janitors 2: Secrets of New Forrest Academy by Tyler Whitesides

Whitesides, Tyler, Janitors 2: Secrets of New Forrest Academy. Shadow Mountain, 2012. pgs. 368 Language: G, Violence: PG, Sexual Content: PG

In a world where invisible monster crawl amongst schools feeding off kids brain waves and making them stupid, nothing is as it seems. Normal kids can't see them, but Spencer and Daisy can. Dez, he mostly came along for the ride. With the BEM hot on their tail and are after a package Spencer's dad supposedly left him, but he never received. In terrible danger, him and his friends, Daisy and Dez get sent by the rebel janitors to New Forrest Academy, a place believed to be controlled by a fellow rebel. When the trio get there, however, they couldn't be more wrong. Slick, one of the Bureau of Educational Maintenance's minions, has taken over and his only goal is to capture Spencer. In order to achieve his means, he's found a way to make these monster as big as Godzilla and he's been creating lots of them. To make matters worse, shortly after arriving, Spencer finds himself cut off from the rebel janitors. He also discovers a dumpster that has been sealed by Glop, a magical substance used usually to defeat the invisible monsters, and only the sealer can open it. Unable to contact their rebel janitor friends, the trio are on their own. Can they save the dumpster prisoner and stop the BEM?

A fun, action-filled book for avid and reluctant readers. The characters are funny and likable. The plot is well-developed and fast-paced. The level of imagination that went into creating this book's alternate world is amazing and is easy for readers to follow. Readers who like fantasy, adventure, action, and the idea of saving a school will enjoy reading this book. It is recommended, however, that you read the first one. EL (4-6), MS. ADVISABLE. Reviewer: Kira M, Youth Services Librarian, WHI Public Library.

Comments (again)

Just to say, I'm afraid I've put word verification back on.  I didn't mind getting lots of spam when Blogger detected it (although it was tiresome deleting them all from my inbox), but now they're getting through to the page.  Sorry if word verification means some people have trouble commenting, but needs must!

Book Review: Lumberjack In Love by Penny Watson

Series: Lumberjack in Love #1
Author: Penny Watson
Published: September 2012
City slicker Ami Jordan was just dumped by her back-stabbing boyfriend, has no job prospects, and can't find a decent cup of coffee in the entire state of Vermont. The last thing she needs is a sexy, bearded lumberjack complicating her life. Even if he’s smart, talented, and has the hottest ass she’s ever seen.

Tree house builder, environmental champion, and Bulldog owner Marcus Anderson has no patience for flatlanders with an attitude. But when landscape designer Ami Jordan shows up at his log cabin, he suddenly develops a hankering for a high-maintenance city gal. Now his house looks like a jungle, his recycling is in disarray, and his libido's on fire.

He's a lumberjack in love.
I love Penny Watson. I read her Klaus Brothers series and it became one of my favorites so naturally I wanted to read Lumberjack in Love. It didn't disappoint me!

Ami is a city girl with attitude!! She's visiting her sister in Vermont and the last thing she was expecting was to complicate her life with a sexy bearded lumberjack! She wears sexy boots, tight jeans and likes good coffee,  so she doesn't really understand how her sister could live here...

Marcus is hot! I never thought bearded man could be sexy until I read this book hehe. Of course he's also smart and doesn't like flatlanders like Ami, but he can't resist her either. He was very sure of himself but had such a tender heart for Ami. This made their relationship more interesting, because while Ami was struggling with decisions about her life, Marcus was waiting for her and getting hurt. But leaving aside that, they were on fire together! Just like the kind of relationships I like :P

Overall, I absolutely love this book! It was funny and hot, and Ami and Marcus are the perfect couple. If you're looking for a sassy romance, you should read this!

More about this book at pennywatsonbooks.comGoodreads, Amazon.

PD: The green cover was the original cover. I think it's a better match for the story, but the new cover is too cute to not like it!  :)

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Beautiful Lady: Our Lady of Guadalupe by Pat Mora -ADVISABLE

Mora, Pat and Illustrated by Johnson, Steve and Fancher, Lou The Beautiful Lady: Our Lady of Guadalupe 48 pgs. Clarion Books, 2012. $12.74.  (Spanish edition provided, purported to be a great translation per a teaching-aide)
Rose loves to hear her Grandmother tell the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, as they make paper flowers each December in her honor. This book tells the story of a Juan Diego as he tries to fulfill the request of the Lady. She would like a church built in her honor and keeps sending him to the Bishop to request it. Finally she provides him with a sign. Rose’s in winter, and her image on a cloak.
I have reviewed a couple of books about Saints, and these religious icons are very interesting since they are a huge part of the cultures they belong to. This one is based in Mexico, so this book can help to broaden your collection on the heritage of that country. The Illustrations are large and have a dreamy quality to them.
EL, Elementary –ADVISABLE Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

Spirit Seeker: John Coltrane’s Musical Journey by Gary Golio -ESSENTIAL

Golio, Gary, and Illustrated by Gutierrez, Rudy Spirit Seeker: John Coltrane’s Musical Journey 48 pgs. Clarion Books, 2012. $16.19.  (Rating: PG –drug & alcohol abuse)
This is the story of John Coltrane’s life. From his childhood full on inspiration and heartache to his own personal journey for spirituality and knowledge to his battle with addiction, everything is here -simply and beautifully told. Featuring big bright illustrations that set the tone for each page of the story.
I cannot stress enough how amazing this book is. The illustrations are so stunning that I am blown away. They are like John’s music captured in artwork. This book could easily be used for a biography, but even better, combine it with a lesson on how artwork portrays mood, emotion, movement, and music. I also really liked John’s spiritual journey and how it affected his life and music. Top Notch!
EL, Elementary –ESSENTIAL Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

Tea Cakes for Tosh by Kelly Starling Lyons -ESSENTIAL

Lyons, Kelly Starling Tea Cakes for Tosh 32 pgs. Putnam Juvenile, 2012. $12.72.  (Rating: G)
Even more than Tosh loves his Grandma’s tea cakes, he loves her stories. She tells him about the history of the tea cakes, all the way back to her ancestor who made them; a slave, who would bravely make extra’s for the slave children. When Grandma starts to lose her memory, it’s going to be up to Tosh to remember, and make tea cakes for her.  
I love that even though this story appears short and simple, it’s actually very multi-faceted, and incredibly well written. It’s a wonderfully poignant story that spans generations and is a must have for a school library.
EL, Elementary –ESSENTIAL Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

Everything Goes: In The Air by Brian Biggs -ESSENTIAL

Biggs, Brian Everything Goes: In The Air 56pgs. Balzer + Bray, 2012. $10.94.  (Rating: G)
A giant book stuffed to the gills with illustrations about almost everything that goes in the air from planes to hot air balloons. Also shows lots of airport fun. Features extra large pages with big bright illustrations, tons of little notes and tidbits. 
Although this wouldn't be a book for a storytime, its a fantastic one to have to have on hand for those students interested in planes. There is so much to see and learn in this book that a student who loves planes could be entertained (and learning) for hours. 
EL –ESSENTIAL Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

How to drive your sister crazy by Diane Shore -NOT RECOMMENDED

Shore, Diane and Illustrated by Rankin, Laura How to drive your sister crazy 48 pgs. Harper Collins, 2012. $3.99.  (Rating: G) 
Bradley plays a series of well-planned out pranks on his older sister Abby. Including going into bathroom while she is showering, scalding her in the shower, and stealing her towel so she has to run through the house naked. It gets worse from there.
 I love nothing more than a good prank, but I felt seriously bad for this older sister. She was being tortured. Not cool and not really that funny. The artwork has a dated feel as well. Students may snicker, but parents won’t be thanking you should these ideas be put into action.
EL –NOT RECOMMENDED Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

Justin and the Bully by Tony Lauren Dungy -ADVISABLE

Dungy, Tony and Lauren Justin and the Bully 32 pgs. Harper Collins, 2012. $15.99.  (Rating: G)
Justin is so excited to play soccer, but when a bigger girl on his team puts him down, he is upset and wants to quit. Luckily he also knows it’s time to talk to his parents and the coach. After a lecture on bullying, Justin learns how to deal with bullies, scores a goal, and finds acceptance. 
This book has some great lessons on bullying. Justin goes to adults he trusts as well as speaking up to the bully when the taunting starts again. Soccer books are a big drawn, so this book is a great way to get an important lesson to younger students.
EL –ADVISABLE Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

Fancy Nancy: Too Many Tutu’s by Jane O’Connor -ADVISABLE

O’Connor, Jane Fancy Nancy: Too many Tutu’s 32 pgs. Harper Collins, 2012. $16.99.  (Rating: G)
Fancy Nancy is having a tutu overload, her closet won't even close, and her mom has had enough. So Nancy chooses some to exchange at her school clothing swap, where she learns to let others have a chance.
I really liked this story. The way that introduces “big” words is really adorable. I am charmed by Fancy Nancy’s unique style and personality. Students can’t get enough of her, so this one is a good one to add to your collection.
EL –ADVISABLE Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

Mia and the Tiny Toe Shoes by Robin Farley -ADVISABLE

Farley, Robin Mia and the Tiny Toe Shoes 32 pgs. Harper Collins, 2012. $16.99.  (Rating: G)
Mia is in charge of the new ballerina’s, students even younger than herself. They aren't learning the moves very well. But Mia turns things around when she helps them turn their weaknesses into their strengths.
This is actually a pretty cute little early reader book, I like that even though Mia is a really young character, she is teaching and the simple lesson found here. Students will love the dancing component and so will I, since ballet books are a huge request!
EL –ADVISABLE Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

What are you reading?

An Interior With A Woman Reading - Carl Larsson
Just so you know that I'm not dead in a ditch - just rather wiped out from a cold that doesn't feel like going away - I thought I'd ask you all what you're reading at the moment?

I've just finished a very gripping modern novel (more anon) and started Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks, who is being reliably fascinating so far.

And over to you!