Friday, May 28, 2010

What We're Reading: Tracy

Faces of the Moon, by Bob Crelin, illustrated by Leslie Evans.

Good children's non-fiction books successfully blend factual and lyrical writing, and the best pair this text with perfectly suited illustrations and an inspired design. This difficult accomplishment is rarer than one might suppose, and so we take note when an exceptionally good example arrives.

One such recent title is Faces of the Moon, a wonderful introduction to the moon's phases. The text is actually a poem, which describes the changing phases, or "faces", of the moon. The tone is appropriately dreamy and gentle, but the content includes succinct scientific explanations and proper terminology. Beautiful illustrations reminiscent of old woodblock prints accompany the story, and die-cut moon shapes and index tabs provide quick visual references. A short appendix offers more in-depth science, a simple diagram, and "Moon Memo-Rhymes: a Fun Way to Remember Moon Facts."

The closing is particularly lovely:

"As long as we have watched the skies,
this nearby world has drawn our eyes
in singer's song and poet's rhyme,
across our globe and throughout time.

The moon reminds us of our place:
a spinning world in endless space.
Each month her ever-changing face
is right outside your door.

So every time you spot the Moon,
at dusk, or dawn, or midday noon,
you'll know her by her friendly phase
and watch her change through all your days."

Highly recommended for moongazers of all ages.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

What We're Reading: Edward

Conspirata: a novel of ancient Rome
by Robert Harris
Tiro, slave secretary to Cicero, begins this second installment of a trilogy about Rome in 63 B.C. Cicero is about to become Consul, when the body of an eviscerated boy is found in the Tiber. Is this an omen for Cicero's term as consul? Tiro tells of the battles that Cicero fights to keep Rome a republic. Powerful forces are trying to change the face of Rome. Pompey, Crassus, and Julius Caesar all want power for themselves. But are working together for right now. Will Rome turn into a dictatorship? Cicero uses his ability to stir the masses with his speeches to keep Rome a republic. But Cicero finds himself marked for assassination. Will he and the republic survive?

What We're Reading: Jan

Faces of America with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Our country is a "melting pot" of immigrants as everyone knows. However, each American has his or her individual and unique story about their heritage. How did immigrants shape our nation and how did our ancestors shape who we are? These questions are the premise of the PBS series, Faces of America. In the series, distinguished Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. explores the family histories of eleven prominent citizens using genealogical resources, travel around the world and newer genetic techniques. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Doctor Mehmet Oz, Author Malcolm Gladwell and Actress Meryl Streep are some of the guests and each one helps Professor Gates to illustrate a goal of the series: "Know Thyself."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What We're Reading: Tracy

Definitely Not for Little Ones: Some Very Grimm Fairy-Tale Comics, by Rotraut Susanne Berner.

This latest entry into the "Grimm for Grown-Ups" genre is ghoulishly delightful. Retold and illustrated by an award winning German graphic designer, the quirky illustrations are perfectly suited to the colorful, comic book style layout. The stories include rarely seen titles like "Mother Holle" and "Hans the Hedgehog," and are retold in all their gory detail, complete with a Big Bad Wolf disembowelment and a princely eye gouging (so parents, you'll want to heed the title warning).

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What We're Reading: Edward

Hothouse Orchid
by Stuart Woods
Holly Hunter was a military policewoman, a small town Florida police chief, and is now a CIA agent in this her fifth adventure. Holly is on forced vacation after she fails to capture the ex-CIA killer, Teddy Fay. While at home in Orchid Beach, she learns that the new police chief is her nemesis from her days in the military. Holly tries to save her former department from sexual harassment claims. Unknowingly, Teddy has moved nearby. He hopes to settle in for a while. Is Orchid Beach big enough for these three? Will someone have to move or die?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

What We're Reading: Tracy

Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon, a biography by Leonard S. Marcus.

May 23 marks the one hundredth birthday of Margaret Wise Brown, the legendary creator of such classic children's works as Goodnight Moon and the Noisy books. Her deceptively simple stories featured remarkable rhythm and lyricism, along with a dream-like quality that remains difficult to describe.
Brown's personal life, in contrast to her seemingly simple, happy books, was quite complicated and marked by sorrows. With her death at the relatively young age of 42, children lost a vocal defender and empathetic friend, one who frequently argued that "in this modern world where activity is stressed almost to the point of mania, quietness as a childhood need is too often overlooked. Yet a child's need for quietness is the same today as it has always been -- it may even be greater --for quietness is an essential part of all awareness."
Take a Brown book home tonight, read it in a quiet moment, then drift to sleep to "goodnight noises everywhere."

Friday, May 21, 2010

What We're Reading: Edward

Among Thieves

by David Hosp

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum of Boston had several paintings stolen in 1990. The current estimated value of the the still missing paintings is over a half a billion dollars.Scott Finn was a borderline criminal who turned his life around and became a lawyer. An old acquaintance, Devon Malley, asks for his help when he is caught in a high end clothing robbery. Luckily, Malley is in jail when several of his criminal friends are brutally murdered. Malley realizes that he is next. The killer is an IRA operative who he helped get into the Gardner Museum for the theft of the paintings. The return of the paintings for the insurance money never happened. Now the IRA wants the money but does not know where the paintings are hidden. The IRA's man is holding Malley's daughter in exchange for the location of the paintings. Will Finn and Malley be able to outsmart the IRA's killer? Will the paintings be returned to the Gardner Museum?

What We're Reading: Edward

True Food: 8 simple steps to a healthier you
by Annie B. Bond, Melissa Breyer, Wendy Gordon
Over the last few years all of us have heard messages about changing our eating habits. Eat locally. Eat organically. Eat whole foods. Watch your G.I. True food takes all that you have heard and puts them into 8 simple steps. Each of these steps has its own chapter in the book. Each of the chapters now only tells you what to eat, but the best times and place to find the foods. Recipes for the foods are also included. Solid entry in a crowded field. Eat better for yourself and the planet!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What We're Reading: Edward

Crisis: a Dan Lenson Novel
by David Poyer
Naval Commander Dan Lenson has been assigned to the Tactical Analysis Group. Dan has a history of doing things outside the box. He has admirers and detractors in the chain of command. Dan and his group are sent to the Red Sea to see if the Navy's patrol craft can be used more widely and effectively. Crisis comes in the form of a nation at the brink of civil war. Drought, famine, tribal rivalry, and religious fanaticism are pushing the nation over the edge. Dan and other United States agencies work to keep people alive. Chaos leads to crisis after crisis. Poyer challenges the reader to think about the realities of war and peace. How far should we get involved to save lives?

Monday, May 17, 2010

What We're Reading: Rita

Seasonal Fruit Desserts: From Orchard, Farm, and Market by Deborah Madison

Madison has covered desserts in her other cookbooks (Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone; Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating From America's Farmers' Markets) but this is the first time she has devoted an entire volume to sweets. This is a great book to look at for inspiration before heading to the many farmers markets that are starting up or expanding with the beginning of the growing season. There are several delicious recipes using fruits that are available locally now or ripening in the coming months (Baked Rhubarb with Vanilla, Orange & Clove; Berry & Peach Cobbler with Corn Flour Cobbles; Apricot Fold-Over Pie), but this is a book that can be used year-round. The Cranberry Tart, for example, which uses both fresh and dried cranberries, would be a stunning finish to any winter dinner and if you're wondering what to do with those persimmons that you see in markets in the fall, try the recipe for Persimmon Pudding. The recipes are easy to follow and suggestions for substitute ingredients are provided. Additionally, the author includes descriptions of many of the fruits used in the recipes and offers tips on how to choose the best varieties.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

What We're Watching: Abby

The Tudors: The Complete First, Second and Third Seasons
divorced beheaded died
divorced beheaded survived

That's how I remember what happened to the six wives of Henry VIII. This Showtime series goes way beyond the simplicity of that poem to delve into the world, the Court and the women
in the life of Henry VIII (1491-1547). The sets are spectacular. The costumes are opulent and extravagant and the acting is amazing. Even though Jonathon Rhys Davis doesn't physically look like Henry VIII, his acting is powerful enough to make it believable. This show is not G rated - in fact it is quite the opposite. Besides the many women in the King's life there are also many beheadings as well as other grotesque means of killing used at that time, all graphically depicted. But this story isn't just about the wives, there is the question of divorce that ultimately leads to a break with the Catholic Church establishing the Church of England. There are wars in the background and relations with France and Rome are always strained. The line of succession is always discussed and the wish for a son is tantamount in the King's frustration with his wives.
His third wife, Jane Seymour did produce a male heir, Edward but the two daughters from his two previous wives will play much more prominently in history, Mary I of England and especially Queen Elizabeth I.

The fourth and final season is airing now on Showtime. The first three seasons are available here in the library. (They have not decided on a date for the release of the final season on DVD as yet). It has definitely sparked an interested in the subject and a desire to read more about it on my part.

Friday, May 14, 2010

What We're Reading: Edward

Last Surgeon

by Michael Palmer

Dr. Nick Garrity works on the Helping Hands RV, a mobile clinic that gives medical aid to the homeless on the streets of Baltimore. Nick is looking for Umberto, the soldier who saved his life in Afghanistan. Both are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Umberto disappeared three years ago. He said that he was being recalled to go on a secret mission. Jillian Coates, a nurse from Virginia, is looking for Nick. She believes that he has some connection to the death of her sister, who was also a nurse. Looking for that connection leads them to a specialty hospital that does plastic surgery. Soon they are both being stalked by a murderer. He specializes in making his murders look like accidents. Will Nick and Jillian be able to find that connection before the murderer finds them?

What We're Reading: Mary

The Female Brain
by Louann Brizendine, M.D.

Dr. Brizendine follows the development of the female brain through the whole life span, starting with fetal development, all the way through the chapter she calls the "Mature Female Brain."

According to Dr. Brizendine, "Until eight weeks old, every fetal brain looks female." It is after a huge surge of testosterone, beginning in the 8th week, that the male brain begins to develop different general strengths and weaknesses from the female. Differences resulting from testosterone, include a smaller communication center, and larger sex and aggression centers. Needless to say, these differences have many lifelong repercussions. Her particular emphasis in the book is the influence of hormones on the brain, which affects both its development, and day to day functioning. She describes which hormones are major players at which developmental milestones. She goes into depth about hormones involved in pregnancy and childbirth, such as oxytocin, which are responsible for the feelings of caring and bonding that most mothers have towards their children. Also included are many references to animal studies, and related male hormonal influences.
Her writing is factual, yet includes many interesting people stories to exemplify the hormonal effects she is talking about. Overall, it's a very engaging read. It will be interesting to see more from the other side of the story in her latest book: The Male Brain.
The differences she sees between the two can be partially summarized by comparing the two book covers:
The female brain image is produced by coils of telephone cord; whereas the male brain is depicted by an artwork of duct tape.

What We're Reading: Edward

Wolf at the Door

by Jack Higgins

A synchronized series of attacks on members of the British Prime Minister's "Private Army", fails to kill any of the secret operatives. Sean Dillon, in this seventeenth thriller, begins to investigate. Who could have planned the wide ranging series of attacks? All the clues point to Vladimir Putin. The army has thwarted many of his plans. So begins a deadly game of cat and mouse. Will Sean and his fellows be able to foil the next attack? Will they be able to cut off another arm of Putin's army?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What We're Reading: Tracy

Last week I acquired a box full of old Big Little Books, most of which are from the 1930s. They're in rough shape, clearly having been well-read and loved, but they're still a fantastic find. The little books serve as a time capsule of children's interests from the '30s and '40s: space travel, cowboys, adventure, planes, cops & robbers, secret agents, superheroes.

As I browsed through the titles, I was surprised to see how much they still appeal, some 70 years after their publication dates. Escapism never grows old, I guess, and the opening paragraphs of each book were carefully crafted to catch and hold the reader's attention.

The excerpts below feature samples of some of the most evocative passages. Read on, and find yourself rocketing towards Mongo with Flash Gordon, riding along a creek bed with the Lone Ranger, piloting a plane through a fog bank above the Pacific Coast mountains, confronting an evil spy ringmaster in a dark castle, and taking down criminals with Detective Higgins of the Racket Squad. (Click on the pictures to see an enlarged view.)

Excerpt from Flash Gordon in the Water World of Mongo, Chapter One: The Sea of Mystery:
"High in the gaseous envelope which encloses the planet Mongo, a giant rocket ship sped through a murky fog. Within the craft were three strangers to Mongo -- three wayfarers from the distant planet known as Earth."

There were lots of westerns in the box. Here are two of the best ones.

Excerpt from The Lone Ranger and the Black Shirt Highwayman:
"It was practically impossible for the two horsemen to see more than a couple of feet ahead in the intense darkness of an impending storm. They rode silently along the bank of Powder River; the only sound above the steady clump of horses' hoofs was the occasional rumble of thunder. The jagged flashes of lightning gave brief glimpses of the trail they followed."

Here's one of the oddest titles in the box: Invisible Scarlet O'Neil, all about "the girl who possesses the power to transform herself into an invisible being by merely pressing a strange nerve in her left wrist." (Wouldn't that be a great power to have?)

The box held lots of adventure books, including several about pilots. These featured some of the most gripping opening chapters, including this excerpt, from Brad Turner in Transatlantic Flight:
" ' Ceiling zero. Visibility zero. Barometer twenty-eight point four two. Wind...' Ten thousand feet above the peaks of the Pacific Coast Range, a silver shape roared through the endlessly swirling wall of fog. Twin motors hammered their song of might, a faraway drone to the two men inside the great airplane's control cabin."

Some of the most intriguing covers were on these, a couple of spy/secret agent titles, illustrated front and back. Check out the heroic chin on Dan Dunn, Secret Operative 48!

Excerpt from International Spy: Doctor Doom Faces Death at Dawn:
" ' Doctor Doom! So, he matches wits with us again, eh?' In the gloomy and forbidding chamber, Count Arnheim, the war minister of Merovia, sat hunched over his massive desk and pointed his stubby finger at the tall, cloaked figure before him. His beady eyes smouldered with rage."

There were lots of crime related titles in the box, with illustrated backs as well.

Excerpt from Detective Higgins of the Racket Squad:
"Detective Higgins swung his two hundred pounds of muscle and bone into action. His arms, working like trip-hammers, pounded down the once sneering face of Tuffy Haynes...he sagged down like a pricked balloon before the merciless fists of Detective Sergeant Higgins, of the Racket Squad."

That's all for now; Flash just rescued the queen of Mongo's underwater city, and I have to see what happens next:

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What We're Reading: Brenda

First Dog by J. Patrick Lewis and Beth Zappitello with Illustrations by Tim Bowers, Now Hiring: White House Dog by Gina Bazer and Renanah Lehner with Illustrations by Andrew Day, and Which Puppy? by Kate Feiffer with Illustrations by Jules Feiffer

These three books each tell the story of the First Family's search for a dog from a slightly different angle. Try them all and decide which one is your favorite!

First Dog tells the story of a dog who wanders around the world searching for the perfect home. He visits ten different countries in all and in each place meets a different breed of dog native to that country. For example in France he meets a Poodle, in China he meets a Shar-Pei and in Mexico he meets a Chihuahua. Each of the dogs have different habitats and qualities but none of them meet his needs. He returns home to the states to discover that the First Family is looking for a dog and finds his perfect match there! The dog in this book is absolutely adorable and the different locations are wonderfully depicted. The illustrator has included famous landmarks from some of the countries visited and that along with the dog breed information given for the ten dogs on the end pages of the book make this an educational as well as fun story to read! The authors also include a note on the last page highlighting the importance of pet adoption and the book even manages to incorporate the "Yes We Can" slogan. This is definitely my favorite out of the three!

Now Hiring: White House Dog is the story of two little girls who live in the White House and have been promised a dog by their parents. Tired of waiting they decide to take matters into their own hands and post a sign on the front lawn advertising for a pet. Soon all sorts of dogs start to show up to apply for the position and the girls have to scurry to hide the dogs until after their parent’s big dinner party. The choice is obvious once one of the girls starts sneezing but the book has a happy ending in that jobs are found for all of the applicants! The illustrations in the book are delightful and the pace moves along quickly. What I liked best about this book is that each of the dogs describes their own personalities and traits in clever little rhymes that are fun to read out loud! This book also helps to introduce children to the process of selecting a pet and how to take initiative to get what you want!

In Which Puppy? when the word spreads that the First Family is looking for a dog animals all over the world are interested in the position. Nobody knows what kind of puppy the family is looking for so it is decided that a contest will be held. There are races, barking matches and hoop jumps and a winner is decided but after displaying unsportsmanlike conduct that dog is disqualified. Next a lottery is held but it turns out that it has been rigged! Finally, it is revealed that "ancient custom dictates that a true presidential puppy" must have three certain physical characteristics. Since no one dog has all three features two dogs and one guinea pig are chosen to go to Washington! What happens when they get there is a bit of a let down but the book does end on a happy note. This is a cute story to read out loud but it would also be good for children who are starting to read on their own. The illustrations remind me of an editorial cartoon and are a refreshing change from your typical children's book. A fun book to read!

All three of these titles are a great way to introduce the concept of the President to young children and get them involved in current events!

Monday, May 10, 2010

What We're Reading: Alice

Innocent by Scott Turow

Although Presumed Innocent was a blockbuster bestseller in the 1980's, and translated to film in 1990 starring Harrison Ford, it has taken Scott Turow 23 years to publish a follow-up. The author reasoned that he wanted enough time to pass so that many people familiar with the original work might now be curious about Rusty Sabich.

Some of the events in Innocent eerily echo Rusty's experiences in Presumed Innocent. Rusty Sabich, now 60, chief judge of an appellate court and candidate for the state supreme court, is accused of killing his wife, Barbara. He is also engaged in a second affair.

Turow says that his motivation for these familiar circumstances was to show how people are sometimes compelled for reasons they don't understand to keep repeating the same mistakes.

If you enjoy riveting courtroom dramas, read this sequel and you'll agree that Turow is better than ever. And if this one also makes it to the screen, Harrison Ford may be available.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

What We're Reading: Laurie

Will Grayson, Will Grayson written by John Green and David Levithan.

Two teens, both named Will Grayson, who live on the outskirts of Chicago meet in the most unlikely of places. Their paths cross and their lives become intertwined and take them in unexpected directions. The two Will Graysons learn a lot about themselves, love, friendship and life and get to take part in an epic production of one of the most fabulous high school musicals of all time.

What We're Watching: Laurie

A Serious Man written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Starring Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed and Sari Lennick.

This black comedy centers on physics professor Larry Gopnik (Stuhlbarg) and his quest to find meaning and answers in his life. Gopnik's world suddenly unravels without notice: his wife is having an affair with his best friend, someone is sending very unflattering letters about him to his boss, his brother is an unwelcome guest in his home, his children are ungrateful and unappreciative of him, and one of his students offers him a substantial bribe for a passing grade. Gopnik turns to his faith in hopes of finding guidance and wisdom, but the three rabbis who council him only dole out platitudes. Dark, humorous and interesting as are most of the Coen brothers films. Rated R.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

What We're Reading: Edward

Capitol Betrayal: a novel

by William Bernhardt

This is the 18th and final Ben Kincaid novel according to the author. This novel is both a thriller and a courtroom drama. Ben is in the Oval Office with the President. Suddenly everyone in the room is escorted to the bunker beneath the White House. The United States is under attack by a Middle Eastern dictator. He threatens the country with our own ballistic missiles. The President is acting strangely and the Vice-President seeks his removal from office. Ben sets up a trial on the question of whether the President is fit for office. In less than two hours, before the next missile attack, Ben must prove the President fit and find the traitor in the room. Meanwhile outside the White House, a CIA operative, Seamus McKay, is chasing terrorists who have stolen a nuclear suitcase bomb. The terrorists are working for the Middle Eastern dictator. Both Ben and Seamus must be successful to save the United States.

What We're Reading: Edward

Her Highness' First Murder
by Peg Herring
King Henry VIII is concerned when the second beheaded young woman is found in London dressed in a nun's habit. When a nobleman's daughter and a Lady-in-Waiting to Princess Elizabeth are found in the same condition the investigation turns serious. Hugh Bellows of the King's Guard enlist the help of Simon Maldon, the son of an ex-Royal Physician. Princess Elizabeth also takes an interest in the case. Each of the three partners uses different methods to gather information about the grizzly deaths. Are the deaths the work of a madman or a plot against the King? Good historical detail of the period and interesting psychological insight into the future Queen Elizabeth. This will be a series to read and enjoy!

Monday, May 3, 2010

What We're Reading: Tracy

Tomart's Guide to Radio Premium and Cereal Box Collectibles: Including Comic Character, Pulp Hero, TV and Other Premiums, by Tom Tumbusch.

One of the best guides available for collectors of old radio show premiums, Tom Tumbusch's work lists virtually every item known, arranged by character or show name. Useful background information accompanies most entries. The bulk of the item photos are black and white, but a large color insert section presents an incredible treasure trove of vintage premiums. Fun to browse, this book should appeal to beginning collectors as well as serve as a useful reference tool for those more advanced in the hobby.

What We're Reading: Tracy

Radio & TV Premiums: A Guide to the History and Value of Radio and TV Premiums, by Jim Harmon.

While not a comprehensive guide to old radio and tv show premiums, this volume makes a great companion to such works. Harmon's intimate essays and interviews provide invaluable background information and insider scoops on dozens of beloved shows, from crime fighters like the Green Hornet to western heroes like the Lone Ranger and space travellers like Flash Gordon. Those who grew up with such shows, as well as those discovering them for the first time, will enjoy this nostalgic trip down "memory lane."

Saturday, May 1, 2010

What We're Reading: Edward

SPQR XIII: the year of confusion
by John Maddox Roberts
Senator Decius Metellus is married to the niece of Julius Caesar. In this the thirteenth mystery of the series, Caesar directs Decius to supervise the implementation of a new calendar for Rome. Twelve astronomers and astrologers have come to Rome to work on this project. No one in Rome is happy with the shortened year before the new calendar is implemented. First one and then another of the astronomers is killed. Decius investigates the murders with the help of both his wife and his freedman. Were the astronomers killed because of the calendar? Did they use astrology to lighten the coin purses of citizens? Or was it their involvement in Roman politics that caused their deaths? Decius has a lot of trails to follow.The best thing about this series is that Decius is man who has his own measure.
My FAVORITE series featuring the Roman Empire!