Wednesday, November 25, 2015

530 (2015 #87). Today is the Day

by Eric Walters,
illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes

Based on a real girl named Mutanu at a real orphanage in Kenya, this book describes the birthday celebration for orphans who often don't know their real birthdays.  Run by the Creation of Hope, founded by the book's author Eric Walters, the book also includes some photographs, information, and a map at the end.  Eugenie Fernandes' acrylic on paper illustrations are colorful and heartwarming, and the Zemke Hand typeface makes the large amount of text easier to read.  The dust jacket doubles as a poster, and a portion of the book sales will go to Creation of Hope.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[I received this hardbound book from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program in exchange for a fair review.  It will be donated to my university library collection.]

Saturday, November 14, 2015

529 (2015 #86). I'll Be Home for Christmas

by Lori Wilde

The latest in Lori Wilde's romance series set in Twilight, Texas (aka Granbury, my home town), at Christmastime once again.  The hero in this story is Joe Cheek, younger brother to Sam Cheek of The True Love Quilting Club.
Restless former troublemaker Joe (he has ADHD) is running his grandfather's Christmas tree farm while the latter recuperates from a stroke.  Although Granbury doesn't have such a farm, there is one just north of the next town north of here, although  it doesn't look anything like the one on the book's cover (especially with all that snow we don't usually have here in Twilight).

The plot set-up seemed a little far-fetched to me - but hey, it's Christmas, the season of magic!  Joe's sister Katie meets law school dropout Gabrielle "Gabi" Preston on a snow globe board on Pinterest (love the way Lori incorporated this social media sensation into the story).  They become friends and share their needs for a change of pace.  Then, as fans of the movie The Holiday (which I haven't seen), they decide to swap houses sight unseen just as the main characters do in that movie.  For the three weeks just before Christmas, Katie heads to Gabi's condo near the beach in Los Angeles, while Gabi gets Katie's yurt (yes!) just outside Twilight and across from the Christmas tree farm.

Of course Joe and Gabi meet, and sparks fly, and romance ensues.  It's a sweet story and I love how characters from other novels in the series pop up in minor roles in this one.  However, it's not necessary to have read those other books before reading this one.  Katie's backstory is interesting, and I would bet the next Twilight, Texas novel will be about her!

© Amanda Pape - 2015

526-528 (2015 #83-85). 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea - Three Versions

by Jules Verne,
abridged children's version adapted by Diane Flynn Grund,
audio English version read by Michael Prichard,
unabridged translation by Emanuel J. Mickel

I wanted to read this classic because it was being read by the main female character in Anthony Doerr's  All the Light We Cannot See, and there were references to it in the story that were unfamiliar with me. Although often considered a children's book (for reasons that will be made clear soon), I hadn't read it, probably because I wasn't interested in science fiction and adventure stories as a girl.

I first read the children's abridged version pictured at left, which I borrowed from the juvenile fiction section at my local public library.  It's part of a series called "Treasury of Illustrated Classics" originally published in the 1990s that took long classics (some considered appropriate for children, some not), drastically abridged them, added (rather poorly done) black-and-white uncredited illustrations, printed them on poor quality paper and bound them with a colorful cover designed to attract the kids.

Even so, it was enough for me to understand the basic plot of the novel and how it related to Doerr's book.  I did want to read a more complete version of the book, however.

So next, I borrowed an e-audiobook from another public library.  Although this version is definitely longer (11 hours, 23 minutes duration) and its description in the library catalog describes it as unabridged, it turns out it is not (although I did learn from the description that Nemo is Latin for "no one" - how appropriate!)

I do agree with a 2003 AudioFile review that "Michael Prichard's deep, pleasant voice does no accents for the three languages involved [English, French, and the language invented by Captain Nemo for his crew] but, nevertheless, captures the action and drama of this classic novel."  I do feel Prichard did well distinguishing between the four main characters (the French professor Pierre Arronax, his servant Conseil, the English-speaking Canadian harpoonist Ned Land, and Nemo).  However, the quality of the audio was poor.  Nevertheless, the book met my need to understand a little more of the story.

Finally, I compared some passages in this so-called unabridged audiobook to a 1991 translation by Emanuel Mickel of Verne's original work (written in French and published in 1869 and 1871), available at my university library.  I found a lot had been cut in the audiobook.

Indeed, Mickel explains (near the end of his 63-page introduction) that  Verne's work was drastically cut, 25% or more, in translations and in French in 1928, after his death.  Hardest hit were long scientific passages where he names or describes fish and other marine life, as well as archaelogy, geology, and exploration history, and much of the dialogue (some of which is humorous).  According to Mickel (page 61-62),

These sections are so severely truncated that the emphasis of the novel is shifted in a fundamental way.  Those chapters and parts...that deal with scientific topics give the novel its weight and balance.  They draw the reader away from the fast-paced adventure narrative to issues of greater intellectual significance.
Mickel's unabridged version also has chronologies (of Verne's life and of the events in the book) as well as an eleven-page bibliography, and extensive footnotes throughout the text.  The latter are especially helpful in explaining names and places Verne mentions with which the modern reader might not be familiar.

Verne's novel is remarkable for the way it predicted some technologies we take for granted today.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

Monday, November 02, 2015

524-525 (2015 #81-82). A Couple Blah Children's Books

[This is post number 500 on this blog!]

Felicity the Dragon, by Ruthie Briggs- Greenberg, is a fantasy picture book sent to me to review by the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It has a nice message about being yourself and helping others even if you are "different," but the forced rhyming and unremarkable amateurish illustrations make it mediocre at best.  I'll be adding it to my university's curriculum collection, but only because I didn't have to buy it.
I recently selected the audiobook of the 2014 Newbery Medalist, Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, by Kate DiCamillo for my university library's collection, and this one falls into the "unfinished" category.  I'm not really surprised, because I HATED DiCamillo's other Newbery Medalist (in 2004), The Tales of Despereaux.

Although I LOVED actress Tara Sands' reading of The Language of Flowers, her voice really started to grate on me with this audiobook.  So much so, combined with the annoying characters and ridiculous plot, that with the last sentence of chapter 43 (on page 144 of the hardbound print copy), when the main character, ten year old Flora, describes her mother's romance writing to her pet squirrel Ulysses as "sickly sweet nonsense" and realizes "yes, it was treacle," I realized I was tired of this treacle too, and gave up on the book.

I suppose that the silliness of this book will appeal to young readers, but I cringe to think that this was considered "the most distinguished American children's book published" in 2013.  The print copy of the book has a number of whimsical pencil illustrations by K. G. Campbell, and I suppose those add to the book's appeal for most children.  Some of the illustrations are in comic book format, and the audiobook narration adds superhero music and a description of what is occurring in those sparsely-texted panels that would be helpful for struggling readers.  The book is written at about a fourth-grade reading level.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[I received a hardbound copy of Felicity the Dragon through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program in exchange for a review.  It will be donated to my university library, which is also where I borrowed and returned both a print and audiobook copy of Flora & Ulysses.]

Saturday, October 24, 2015

520-523 (2015 #77-80). Four Books on Aging

Just this past week, my mother turned 87, and my father is 86.  My mother has a lot of health issues and has had a part-time caregiver for a number of months.  Lately my spare-time reading (outside of audiobooks) has turned from recreational to the serious, as I try to learn more to be able to help them - and myself.

They're Your Parents Too!  How Siblings Can Survive Their Parents Aging Without Driving Each Other Crazy, by Francine Russo, helped me better understand why some of my five siblings seem to be unaware - or uncaring - about my parents' aging and health issues.  We each had different relationships with our parents as well as with each other, that impact how we interact today.  Each chapter has case studies and helpful suggestions at the end on dealing with these situations.

The Eldercare Handbook:  Difficult Choices, Compassionate Solutions, by registered nurse and nursing home administrator Stella Mora Henry, focuses on professional care (assisted living and nursing homes) when home care is no longer an option.  It too is full of case studies and great advice.

Chapter 2, "Red Flags: Ten Signs To Watch For In Your Parents," is an excellent tool to help childreb make a plan and ideally involve their parents in the process.  The author also walks the reader through the process of selecting a long-term care facility as well as all the concerns that come with that decision, including medical, financial, and legal matters.  Most eye-opening for me was the need to do the research into assisted living and nursing homes NOW, because often a hospital will give as little as 24 hours notice that a patient will be discharged and cannot return home,

I heard Dr. Tam Cummings, the author of Untangling Alzheimer's: The Guide for Families and Professionals, speak at a recent caregiver's conference.  If I hadn't, I would not have been able to make it through this book, because the numerous and frequent grammar and syntax errors and obvious lack of editing detract from what would otherwise be quality material.  Someone unfamiliar with the author might find it hard to take her book seriously due to this poor quality.

While the book focuses on Alzheimer's, it does touch on the many other forms of dementia, and their signs and symptoms as well as stages.  Each chapter ends with a helpful summary of five or six main points to remember.

If I hadn't received the book for free, I would have been more upset about the poor editing.  I do hope the author publishes an update or revision soon with better editing, as the information she shares is so worthwhile.

The Elder Care Helper Guide:  Making Sense of Long-Term Care, by Susan Cherco, was probably the most useful book of the four.  The book describes the types of elder care available - home care, assisted living, nursing homes, and continuing care retirement communities - their costs and who pays, and the appropriateness of each for a given situation. Checklists and lists of best practices help the reader evaluate local providers of the appropriate type.  Most of the information in this book is available on Cherco's web site,  However, the book is organized in a way that makes it easier to read, and also includes mini case studies.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[The first and last books were borrowed from and returned to the local public library.  The other two books were received at a caregivers conference in Austin, Texas, in late September 2015.  I will be hanging on to them for a while.]

519 (2015 #76). We Never Asked for Wings

by Vanessa Diffenbaugh,
read by Elea Oberon and Robbie Daymond

I loved Vanessa Diffenbaugh's The Language of Flowers, so when I saw she had a new book out, I had to read it.

Once again Diffenbaugh deals with a number of social issues in her book: illegal immigration and undocumented workers and children, teenage pregnancy and single motherhood, bullying and poverty, and differences in educational opportunities.

Letty Espinosa is an American citizen born to illegal immigrant Mexican parents in the San Francisco area.  She was able to attend the better Mission Hills high school and was a shining star in science - but then she got pregnant.  She didn't want to hurt the chances of her equally bright Mission Hills boyfriend, Wes, and never told him she was pregnant, just quit returning his calls.  Ultimately Letty's life spirals downward as she drinks heavily, has another child (this one with an unknown father), and works as a bartender.  Her mother Maria Elena takes over raising her children.

This works fine until Letty is 33 and her grandmother dies in Mexico.  Her father Enrique, an artist who makes pictures with bird feathers, returns there but doesn't come back, and Maria Elena follows him.  Now Letty is left to raise her children, fifteen-year-old Alex, and six-year-old Luna, on her own.  Alex is bright like his parents, but doesn't have much of a future in the poor area where they live.  Neither does his girlfriend Yesenia, an illegal immigrant and daughter of another single mother, Carmen.

Letty gets a lot of help from her wealthy friend Sara and a fellow bartender named Rick to get her family moved into Mission Hills.  Alex thrives in the new environment, getting into an honors science class, having his project involving his grandfather's feather collection chosen for the science fair, and developing a relationship with his father.  Yet he is still torn by his concern for Yesenia back in his old neighborhood, and it leads him to trouble.

The story is told in third person from the viewpoints of Letty and Alex, alternating each chapter.  This worked especially well with the audiobook, as it was always clear who was narrating.  Actors Elea Oberon (Letty) and Robbie Daymond (Alex) have voices with just the right blend of youth and maturity to fit their characters.

However, in contrast to The Language of Flowers, I had trouble liking the characters in this book.  So many of them are either self-centered (Letty, Enrique, Maria Elena, Wes) or a bit unbelievable in different ways (Sara. Luna, Rick, Alex, Yesenia, Carmen).  Too many things start going right for Letty too quickly.  And for a smart kid, Alex does something really stupid.   Still, I am glad to have read the book.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[The audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to my university library and my local public library respectively.]

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

518 (2015 #75). Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule

by Jennifer Chiaverini

This is the fourth of Jennifer Chiaverini's historical fiction / biographical novels featuring lesser-known women of the Civil War era.  It is most similar to the first in that group, Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker, in that it's about a President's wife and a black woman.  Unlike that book, the black woman in this one is not a free woman.  I was surprised to learn that Julia Dent Grant, the wife of Union General and later President Hiram Ulysses S. Grant, came from a slave-holding family in Missouri.

Apparently, Mrs. Grant was often accompanied by a "favorite slave" when she joined her husband at various military outposts, according to the author in an interview, in reference to her research.  Little is known about this woman, except that her name was also Julia (and she was often referred to as "Black Julia,") and that another Dent family slave described her as a "tiny ginger-colored maid."  Chiaverini uses these two details to build an almost-entirely fictional character (and her related experiences).

I found the story of the novelized Mrs. Grant to be far more interesting.  I also learned a lot about Ulysses S. Grant and his career from this book.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[This book was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]