Tuesday, May 17, 2016

552 (2016 #18). An Armadillo in New York

by Julie Kraulis

Arlo is a very cute little armadillo (from Brazil - which I did not realize had armadillos), who loves to travel.  Author/illustrator Julie Kraulis' first book had him traveling to Paris, this one takes him to New York City.

Arlo's grandfather Augustin wrote travel journals that help Arlo plan his trips.  The journals refer to a "Lady Liberty" Arlo will meet, with lots of information about her.  Some of the references, though, are a bit vague ("she has had a few opera cameos"?  "often spotted at the [Yankees baseball] games"?).  The book ends with Arlo gazing up at the statue of liberty (in a double-page spread that is oriented at 90 degrees), plus a few additional facts about the statue.

This book reminds me of the old series of "This Is..." travel books by M. (Miroslav) Sasek that I loved growing up, as well as the Bluebonnet the Armadillo series by Mary Brooke Casad, featuring an armadillo traveling to interesting spots in my home state of Texas.

The author used oil paint and graphite pencil in her illustrations.  The inside of the dust jacket doubles as a poster promoting the book.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[I received this hardbound book though the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It will be added to my university library's collection.]

Sunday, May 15, 2016

551 (2016 #17). Heart of a Champion

by Ellen Schwartz

The internment of Japanese-Canadians during World War II forms the backdrop to this middle-grade novel that's more about family and perseverance.

Nine-year-old Kenny (Kenjo) Sakamoto lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, with his father, a  World War I veteran who owns a camera shop, his homemaker mother (the only family member not born in Canada), a younger sister, Sally, and an older brother, 16-year-old Mickey (Mitsuo), a baseball star. Mickey plays for the Vancouver Asahi, a (real) Japanese-Canadian baseball team that won the Pacific Northwest League championship from 1937 through 1941.  Kenny emulates his older brother, but a supposed heart murmur forces him to pursue his dream to play baseball in secret.

The book starts in early September 1941, just after the Asahi win their last championship.  Kenny gets into a fight in school when he defends his classmate Susana when she is called a Kraut by another boy.  Susana and her family, best friends with the Sakamotos, are Jewish, and fled Germany when the Nazis took over.  The parallels will be obvious to most readers.  Already, Canadian citizens of Japanese descent have to carry identity cards.

Everything changes for the Sakamotos when Japan bombs Pearl Harbor.  Keith, the same boy who fought Kenny earlier calls him a dirty Jap, and teacher Miss Morfitt uses the incident as an opportunity to show how nearly all the Japanese students in the class were born in Canada, just as nearly all of the the non-Japanese students were, except for Susana - and Keith (born in Ireland).  But this is followed by the closure of Kenny's Japanese language school and Sally's odori dancing school.

Further humiliations, such as registration as an enemy alien, turning off the light in the World War I Japanese Canadian memorial, and a curfew, lead to more serious repercussions.  Kenny's father must close his business, as no one of Japanese descent can possess a car, camera, radio equipment, or firearms.  Soon after, he is sent to a work camp, and later, the rest of the family into internment.

Conditions at the camp are dismal, but Kenny discovers strengths he didn't know he had.  With the support of a sympathetic Mountie, he takes on a project that ultimately unites the exiles.

Other books for children have been written on this subject (baseball in the internment camps), but author Ellen Schwartz has created characters the reader will really care about.  The book is appropriately aimed at grades 4-6, ages 9-12.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[I received a hardbound copy of this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It will be added to my university library's collection.]

Thursday, May 12, 2016

550 (2016 #16). Circling the Sun

by Paula McLain,
read by Katharine McEwan

Circling the Sun is historical fiction novelizing the early life of Beryl Markham, who - before I listened to this audiobook - I knew only as an early aviatrix.

The book's prologue and epilogue retell her famous flight on September 4, 1936, when she became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west, against the prevailing winds.

In between, the book covers Beryl's early life - from her family's arrival from England to Kenya in 1904, when she was two, through the death of her soulmate, pilot and big game hunter Denys Finch Hatton, in 1931.  Shortly after his death, she obtained her pilot's license.

I didn't realize, until I read this book, what an interesting life Beryl had.  Her mother could not take living in Kenya (then a British colony), and abandoned Beryl and her father there when Beryl was only four.  Beryl grew up rather wild, playing with the native children, and followed in her horse trainer father's footsteps, becoming the first licensed female racehorse trainer in Kenya, at age 18.  She also wrote a memoir in 1942, West With the Night, which Ernest Hemingway described as “bloody wonderful.”  I'm eager to read that.

What I most enjoyed about this book, however, were Paula McLain's descriptions of Kenya.  Someone close to me is moving there at the end of this month, for at least a year, and I particularly enjoyed learning more about this beautiful country.  This book makes me want to go there too.  Katharine McEwan's British voice is perfect in the audiobook for Beryl Markham, who tells her story in first person.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[I obtained this electronic audiobook from Audible with a free 90-day trial membership.]

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

549 (2016 #15). Shylock Is My Name

by Howard Jacobson

Shylock is My Name is The Merchant of Venice retold - the second in the Hogarth Shakespeare series of books where bestselling authors are commissioned to retell stories from Shakespeare.  Howard Jacobson did this one - unfortunately, I'm not familiar with his other work.

I have to admit that at first I did not see it with this book.  But then, The Merchant of Venice is less familiar to me than many of Shakespeare's other works.  In all the years (ten!) I watched Shakespeare in the Park in the Seattle area (four different plays per year). The Merchant of Venice was only performed once. I had to re-read my Folger Shakespeare Library edition of the play to more clearly see the parallels.

Plury in Jacobson's story is Portia from Shakespeare's, and instead of the three caskets (gold, silver, and lead), she tests her suitors with a Porsche Carrera, a BMW Alpina and a Volkswagon Beetle.  Plury's suitor Barnaby is Portia's suitor Bassanio. and the art dealer D'Anton is the parallel to the merchant Antonio, the one who has to give over the pound of flesh (or maybe it's an ounce - the price here is a circumcision).

The differences?  Shylock (who, along with his daughter Jessica, retains his name from Shakespeare's play) is NOT the villain.  Instead, it's another Jew named Simon Strulovitch, who, like the Shylock of the play, has a daughter (Beatrice, a parallel Jessica) who gets involved with a Gentile.

Unfortunately, none of the characters are particularly likable, and the conversations between Strulovitch and Shylock on what it's like to be Jewish became especially tiresome.  I like the idea behind the book, though, and look forward to reading others in the series.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[I received this advance reader edition through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It will be passed on to someone else to enjoy.]

Saturday, April 30, 2016

548 (2016 #14). Garden Spells

by Sarah Addison Allen,
read by Susan Ericksen

A fun blend of magical realism and romance set in a small town in the South, Garden Spells was a delight.  This is the first book in what is called the Waverley Family series, and I'm certainly planning to read any subsequent books.

Claire Waverley is a 34-year-old single woman running a catering and baking business specializing in edible flowers and floral flavorings - and the magical effects they can produce.  She lives alone in a large Queen Anne that belonged to the grandmother she grew up with, in the fictional small college town of Bascom, North Carolina.  Claire's mother abandoned her there along with her six-years-younger sister Sydney, and disappeared.  Sydney too left town in imitation of her mother, but comes back at the beginning of this story along with her five-year-old daughter, Bay.

It's not a deep book and is rather predictable (particularly the romance), but the plot is enjoyable and the characters are quirky yet endearing.  This was author Sarah Addison Allen's first book, and her others sound interesting to me, too.  Susan Ericksen does a fabulous job as the audiobook narrator.  I especially liked her voices for Claire's and Sydney's elderly cousin Evanelle (who is compelled to give people things they later find useful), and the evil wealthy Southern matron Ariel Clark.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

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

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

547 (2016 #13). Behind the Canvas

by Alexander Vance,
read by Erin Moon

A fantasy/mystery with a 12-year-old narrator/heroine, Behind the Canvas has an interesting premise - another world behind the scenes of famous paintings.  While I'm not much for either fantasy or mystery, I did enjoy some of the funny characters (especially Cash, the bulldog from the Dogs Playing Poker painting series), as well as the entertaining (and educational) quotes from the fictional art encyclopedia that separated many chapters.  Erin Moon was a perfect narrator, as I really felt she could be heroine Claudia Miravista.

Author Alexander Vance has a helpful chart on his website listing the artists, artworks, and art topics that appear in the book, down to the page number.  A real art encyclopedia would best accompany this audiobook so the listener could take a look at the images and concepts described in the story.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[I received this audiobook through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It will be added to my university library's collection.]

Sunday, April 24, 2016

546 (2016 #12). A Very Dangerous Woman

by Deborah McDonald and Jeremy Dronfield

A Very Dangerous Woman: The Lives, Loves and Lies of Russia's Most Seductive Spy is a biography of Maria (Moura) Ignatievna Zakrevskaya Benckendorff Budberg (ABT 1891 - 1974), a Russian aristocrat turned spy, who had affairs with various famous men:  British diplomat Bruce Lockhart, Russian writer Maxim Gorky, and British author H. G. Wells.  I'm not sure I'd describe her as "very dangerous," though, as it seems her "spying" consisted mostly of passing along gossip.

The subject is not a particularly likable woman, and between that and the excessive detail about her life, I had a hard time finishing this book.  It just didn't grab me.  However, the authors certainly did their research, with 43 pages of end notes supported by an eight-page bibliography (most of Budberg's letters to Lockhart, Gorky, and Wells had been preserved), and there is also an eight-page index.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[I received this paperback through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It will be passed on to someone else to enjoy.]