Wednesday, December 23, 2015

534 (2015 #91). When Santa Was a Baby

by Linda Bailey and Genevieve Godbout


This is a wonderful picture book about Santa as a baby and child.  It works in all the Santa mythology as well as a subtle message that it's okay for kids to be different.

The retro-style illustrations are done with pastels and colored pencils.  This is a great addition to any family's Christmas book collection.


© Amanda Pape - 2015

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

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

533 (2015 #90). Eldercare in Texas

by Jenny Wilcoxson Davis

There is good advice in this book, aimed at Texas residents.  Chapters cover community resources (governmental, private, and religious), practical concerns (legal, financial, and governmental aid programs), and the continuum of care options, from family caregiving and in-home services, senior centers and adult day care, and long-term care in assisted living or skilled nursing/special care units.  There's a section on "quality of life" (residents' rights, elder advocacy, and making the most of your visits), as well as end-of-life issues (hospice services and funeral planning).

Chapters are interspersed with "points to ponder" checklists or summaries, and each chapter ends with service directories or resource lists.  Besides the table of contents, there is a helpful glossary, five appendices with further resource or contact lists, and an index.

The only problem with this book is that it was published in 2003, so resources and contacts listed may no longer be available.  The website for the book, listed on the back cover, now redirects to a home health care agency in the state.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

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

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

532 (2015 #89). Back in the Game

by Lori Wilde,
read by C. J. Critt

This is the first book in Lori Wilde's Stardust, Texas series, which features daughters from the Carlyle family of the mythical East Texas town of Stardust, and baseball players from the mythical Dallas Gunslingers team.  I read the second book in the series, Rules of the Game, about six months ago.

Wilde has woven fewer romance tropes (which I've italicized) into this story than some of her others I've read.  Billionaire athlete playboy Rowdy Blanton is a tortured hero, essentially having an office romance with Breeanne (who he hires to ghostwrite his autobiography), a virgin with physical scars from numerous operations for a heart condition.

Perhaps for that reason, I liked this story a little better.  Oh sure, I knew everything would work out in the end, but it was a little less predictable.  Some of the events in the story were a bit unrealistic, but it was a fun, light read.

This time I stuck with the audio version performed by actress C. J. Critt.  Her reading was fine although a bit slow, and I enjoyed her giving characters appropriate Texas accents.


© Amanda Pape - 2015

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

Monday, November 30, 2015

531 (2015 #88). The Good Lord Bird

by James McBride,
read by Michael Boatman

This 2013 winner of the National Book Award for Fiction is sorta about abolitionist John Brown.  The main character, though, is Henry "Onion" Shackleford, who is a ten-year-old black slave in Kansas when the book opens in 1856.  His father is accidentally killed and Brown "frees" Henry, mistakenly thinking he is a girl, and nicknames Henry as "Onion" (because Henry eats Brown's lucky one).

Onion continues to pretend to be a girl over the next three years, in Kansas and in Virginia with Brown (including at the Harper's Ferry raid), and on his/her own living in a brothel in Missouri in between.

James McBride works in real historical events and people (such as Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, both of whom actually met or worked with Brown) into his novel.  Enough so that I was compelled, as I am with any historical fiction, to find out what was true and what was not.  Onion is totally fabricated.  There isn't a lot of action in Brown's life in 1857, so Onion's sojourn that year in Missouri (a slave state at the time) provides an opportunity for insights into slavery.

McBride freely admits the book is primarily satire, and the picture he paints of Douglass in particular is not pretty (although there is speculation that Douglass had a German mistress).  The book is too long and drags a bit in places (with the scenes of the Harper's Ferry raid being especially flat).  However, I listened to the audiobook, which was extremely enjoyable thanks to the vocal talents of reader Michael Boatman, who was especially good at making "The Old Man" Brown, as Onion calls him, sound right on the cusp between religious fanaticism and abolitionist zeal.



© Amanda Pape - 2015

[This audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my university library.  An e-book for reference was borrowed from and returned to a public library.]

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 current 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

[This book was borrowed from and returned to a library e-book collection.]

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 four 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 children 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, eldercarehelper.com.  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.]

517 (2015 #74). All the Light We Cannot See

by Anthony Doerr,
read by Zach Appelman

I can see why this book won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the 2015 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.  It is superb.

Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a 12-year-old blind French girl living in Paris when the German occupation of World War II begins in 1940.  Her widowed father is a locksmith for the Museum of Natural History, which supposedly has a priceless but cursed diamond.  They flee to the walled city of Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast (it is pictured on the book cover) and the home of her great uncle Etienne, a radio enthusiast (he has eleven sets).  Marie-Laure doesn't know that her father is carrying either the diamond or one of three exact replicas, to keep it out of German hands.

Werner Pfennig is a 14-year-old German boy living with his younger sister Jutta in an orphanage in the coal-mining town of Zollverein.  He has an aptitude for science, especially radios, and when he fixes one for a German commander, he is sent to an elite (but brutal) military school where he learns to track Resistance radio broadcasts.  Werner begins to question what he's doing.

Their path cross four years later, in August 1944, during the Allied bombing of Saint-Malo.  Anthony Doerr also has interesting storylines for a number of minor characters, that reach their climaxes just before, during, and long after this period.

Listening to this book in audiobook format is especially appropriate.  Because of Marie-Laure's blindness, Doerr is very detailed in his descriptions, and I could really "see" the settings, especially Saint-Malo.  Actor Zach Appelman does an outstanding job with the reading.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[The audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my university library.]

Sunday, October 04, 2015

516 (2015 #73). Girl Waits With Gun

by Amy Stewart 

What a romp!

Amy Stewart's first foray into fiction is a lot of fun.  Just the kind of book I like, too - one based on an actual incident and real people.

In 1914, a car driven by a silk factory owner named Henry Kaufman ran into a buggy with the three single Kopp sisters in it.  They weren't hurt, but the oldest, 35-year-old Constance, asks Kaufman to pay $50 to repair the buggy.  Henry and his band of thugs instead race away, and later harass and threaten the sisters with bricks thrown through the windows of their isolated farm, and even a fire.  The local sheriff ended up giving the women revolvers and taught them how to shoot.

Stewart ups the suspense with subplots about a secret in the sisters' past (fortunately revealed pretty quickly), and a completely fictional factory worker also being harassed by the factory owner.

According to an interview, Stewart got the idea for the book while researching for her previous one, The Drunken Botanist (self-described by Stewart as "a book about booze," which I now want to read).  She was checking old newspapers for information about a gin smuggler named Henry Kaufman, and found numerous articles about the silk manufacturer's interactions with the Kopp sisters (maybe he was the same guy?).  Constance, who was six feet tall, particularly intrigued her.

In a post for Ancestry.com's blog, Stewart said she used the site, as well as city halls, courthouses, cemeteries, historical societies, and libraries, to piece together the Kopp family and to find descendants, who provided even more information.

The book title comes from a headline of  a story that appeared in numerous newspapers of the time.  The novel is a bit long and drags in parts, and ends rather abruptly - setting up for a sequel that Stewart acknowledges she is writing.  I will definitely be reading that.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[I received this advance reader's edition through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  I might keep it for a while and then pass it on to someone else to enjoy.]

from The Evening Times (Pawtucket, Rhode Island),
November 23, 1914, page 13
On her website, Stewart describes this as "a classic (if not
terribly accurate) newspaper illustration from the Kaufman case."



Saturday, September 26, 2015

Hood County Library 2015 Summer Reading Challenge Book #25 - Award Winner


All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr

Won the Pulitzer and Carnegie Prizes.

Review to come.

I DID IT!  I read 25 books in ten weeks!

© Amanda Pape - 2015

Friday, September 25, 2015

515 (2015 #72). Bug in a Vacuum

by Mélanie Watt

This is a wonderful picture book that not only has an amusing story about an insect (and a dog's toy) sucked up into a vacuum cleaner, but also a primer on the Kübler-Ross model of the five stages of grief, as the bug (and the dog) go through denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance in turn.

This book could be used with many ages to explain the stages of grief and help one going through death or another loss, disappointment, or traumatic event.  The very first page (even before the title page) sets the stage:

Bug (buhg)
  • An insect
  • An unexpected glitch

Vacuum (vak-yoom)
  • A cleaning machine
  • A void left by a loss


Each stage of grief is presented as a household item.  Denial is a can of repellent spray that “wipes out the ugly truth.” Bargaining is a box of detergent to “wash away your troubles.” Anger is a frozen dinner that is “quick and messy.” Despair is a book with "an unfair tale with an unhappy ending." Acceptance is a box of "gentle and comforting" facial tissues.  Then the reader sees the bug's reactions to each stage inside the vacuum cleaner, and the dog's reaction just outside it.

Mélanie Watt uses mixed media to create a winsome bug (and dog) against a background of old-style furnishings and equipment (like the vacuum cleaner). Children will enjoy spotting items, on the floor in the earlier pages, inside the vacuum cleaner (and used in delightful ways by the bug) as the story progresses.


© Amanda Pape - 2015

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


Monday, September 21, 2015

514 (2015 #71). Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

by Benjamin Alire Saenz

A story of coming out and coming of age in El Paso, Texas, in the late 1980s, Aristotle Mendoza and Dante Quintana are two third-generation Mexican-American boys.  Ari is quiet and upset that his parents, a teacher and a Vietnam vet postman (himself very quiet), won't tell him anything about his much-older brother who is in prison.  Dante is more outgoing, but just odd enough that he is a loner too.  He's an only child whose father is an English professor.  The two boys meet in the summer when they are fifteen, and become friends.

This book won four major awards in 2013.  It was named a Printz Honor Book as it "exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature."  It also won the Pura Belpré  Author Award for the narrative that "best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth."  Other awards included the Stonewall Book Award for "English language books that have exceptional merit relating to the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered experience," and the Lambda Literary Award for best LGBT Children’s/Young Adult.

This book is considered a "high-low" book because it has a reading level (late second-grade) much lower than the average reading ability of the intended age range of its readers (high school). This book's shorter sentences and simpler vocabulary would work well for struggling or reluctant readers with an interest or need to read about the serious issues in the story.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[This book was borrowed from and returned to my university library.  The Hood County Library has it on order for its young adult section.]

513 (2015 #70). The Midwife's Apprentice


by Karen Cushman

The Midwife's Apprentice won the Newbery Medal in 1996 as "the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children." Only 122 pages, it packs in a lot of historical detail, an engaging heroine, and a story of perseverance.

Brat is an orphan girl found on a dung heap by Jane, a medieval village midwife in England, who takes her on as a helper and calls her Beetle.

Beetle has lots of experiences that illustrate typical life in the 1300s, as well as increasing her self-confidence and her determination of what her "place in this world" should be.  Eventually she names herself Alyce, and even learns to read.

Despite its short length, the reading level (6.0) and some of the subject matter (women and animals giving birth) make this book more appropriate for middle school and up.  A number of other Newbery Medalists are set in this era and could be used in a history unit on the Middle Ages.

The copy of the book I got at the Hood County Library had the cover pictured above.  This would be the Alyce cover.  The one just below, from my university library, would be the Beetle cover.



© Amanda Pape - 2015

Saturday, September 19, 2015

512 (2015 #69). To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

I first read this book in the eighth grade, and we discussed it in my literature class.  I was even one of three students to be among the first users of our K-8 Catholic school's closed-circuit TV and tape system, recording a program about the novel, where I discussed the story from Scout Finch's point of view.

I'm not going to try to review this well-known novel.  In re-reading it 45 years after I first read it, and shortly after reading Harper Lee's recently released Go Set a Watchman, the precursor to this book, I can say that what I most noticed was the wry humor of Scout's recollections of her childhood.  Yes, there was this serious trial going on, but much of it is a story of an otherwise rather idyllic childhood. in mid-1930s Mississippi.

A couple examples of the humor:

On page 16, Scout talks about her first grade teacher:

"...I am Miss Caroline Fisher.  I am from North Alabama, from Winston County."  The class murmured apprehensively, should she prove to harbor her share of the peculiarities indigenous to that region. (When Alabama seceded from the Union on January 11, 1861, Winston County seceded from Alabama, and every child in Maycomb County knew it.)  North Alabama was full of Liquor Interests, Big Mules, steel companies, Republicans, professors, and other people of no background.

And later, on page 18, Jem calls the "new way they're teachin' the first grade...the Dewey Decimal System."

The book begins in the summer of 1933 when Scout is six and her brother Jem is ten- there's a reference to Roosevelt's nothing "to fear but fear itself" speech on page 6, and to The Gray Ghost on page 13, published in book form about 1926. (The book is also referenced in the last two pages of To Kill a Mockingbird.)  It ends in the fall of 1935 - there are references to Hitler on pages 244-247, ending with Scout's observation about her third grade teacher:

"Miss Gates is a nice lady, ain't she?"
"Why sure," said Jem...
"She hates Hitler a lot..."
"What's wrong with that?"
"Well, she went on today about how bad it was him treatin' the Jews like that.  Jem, it's not right to persecute anybody, is it?  I mean have mean thoughts about anybody, even, is it?"
"Gracious no, Scout.  What's eatin' you?"
"Well, coming out of the courthouse that night [after Tom Robinson's trial], ... I heard her say it's time somebody taught 'em a lesson, they were gettin' way above themselves, an' the next thing they think they can do is marry us.  Jem, how can you hate Hitler so bad an' then turn around and be ugly about folks right at home--"

I'd also like to note that Atticus Finch wasn't really some perfect non-racist in this book.  He treats Calpurnia, the housekeeper who is practically raising his children, quite well - but not as an equal.  He's appointed to defend Tom Robinson - he doesn't volunteer.  He defends Tom because he believes in the law, and because he believes there's very good evidence Tom did not commit rape.  Heroic, yes, particularly because it was dangerous for him to do so at the time, but it doesn't make him an anti-racism god.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[I own this copy of the book.]

Hood County Library 2015 Summer Reading Challenge Book #24 - Freebie


Girl Waits With Gun, by Amy Stewart

I would recommend this book to a friend!

Review is here.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

Friday, September 18, 2015

511 (2015 #68). The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate

by Jacqueline Kelly,
read by Natalie Ross

This is a sequel to The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, Jacqueline Kelly's 2010 Newbery Honor Book, but you don't need to have read it in order to enjoy this one.

It takes up right where the previous book left off - the beginning of the year 1900, in the Tate home in Fentress, Texas.  Twelve-year-old Calpurnia Virginia ("Callie Vee") Tate, the middle child among six brothers, is thrilled to find it snowing - a rarity in Central Texas in the winter.

This book continues the Darwinian theme with epigraphs for each chapter from Charles Darwin's The Voyage of the Beagle.  Fitting, too, because this time, Callie's scientific explorations - mostly conducted with her grandfather - focus on animals instead of plants, as well as the weather and stars.

Callie's younger brother Travis (all but the oldest brother are named for various early Texas heroes) plays a big part in this book, with his quest to find the ideal pet.  He adopts a series of inappropriate ones - an armadillo, a blue jay, a raccoon - and finally a half-coyote dog he names Scruffy. Callie's involved in (trying to) help him keep them hidden from their parents, and in caring for them when they are ultimately discovered.

In an interview, Kelly said she'd wanted to write a sequel,  "but our big old house in Fentress, Texas, which served as the inspiration for so much of the first book, was struck by lightning and burned to the ground in 2010.  It was a horrible experience and it took me some time to get over it."  She also said she "drew a lot of inspiration from our dog Laika, a stray living near the San Marcos River, who we are pretty sure is half-Chow and half-coyote." Laika is the inspiration for Scruffy.

Kelly, who lived for a while in Galveston, works the 1900 hurricane that devastated that city into the story. Callie sees a coastal gull that's flown far inland, and her grandfather has her build a homemade barometer and make observations.  They predict the big storm and try to warn their family in Galveston.  After the storm, Callie's father and oldest brother go to help, and return with Callie's older cousin Agatha who comes to live with the Tates for a while - getting the bed in Callie's room while our heroine sleeps on the floor - while her family home is being rebuilt.  They are accompanied by a veterinarian who sets up practice in Fentress.  Callie assists him with some of his patients, and is frustrated by 1900s customs that would seem to prevent her from becoming a veterinarian herself.

The gentle reminders that girls didn't have the kinds of opportunities in the early 1900s that they do today, plus Callie's interest in science, encouraged by her grandfather (she even dissects a worm and a frog, and builds astrolabe to learn about latitude and longitude), make this book especially appropriate for girls age 11 and up, as well as "all nature lovers, and all curious kids, and all strong readers," according to Kelly.

Once again, the beautiful silhouette on the cover was designed by the talented Beth White.  And native Texan Natalie Ross also reads this audiobook, with her soft but musical Southern-accented voice, perfect for Callie, who tells her own tale.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[The audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my university library.]

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Hood County Library 2015 Summer Reading Challenge Book #23 - #WeNeedDiverseBooks


Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

This multiple-award-winning book has Latino characters whose close friendship ultimately develops into a romance.

Review is here.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

Saturday, September 12, 2015

510 (2015 #67). The Lady and the Unicorn

by Tracy Chevalier

The book cover initially caught my eye.  It has two cut-outs, through which you can see the Lady and the Unicorn of the famous six Middle Ages tapestries upon which this historical fiction novel is based.  The blurb on the back of the paperback says, "The Lady and the Unicorn is Tracy Chevalier's answer to the mystery behind one of the art world's great masterpieces."

Little is known of the background of the tapestries, but Chevalier has taken those bits of information and supposition and woven an imaginative tale about the creation of the tapestries around them.  For example, they were likely woven in Flanders, the center of expertise in the millefleur style of that period (1480-1520), which is when the tapestries were likely made.

The story has multiple narrators: Nicolas des Innocents (ironic as he's not at all innocent), the (fictional) painter who designed the tapestries; Claude Le Viste and Genevieve de Nanterre, the (real) oldest daughter and wife of the wealthy Paris man who wanted the tapestries made; as well as the fictional weavers and and artist in Brussels who made them a reality:  master weaver Georges de la Chapelle, his wife Christine du Sablon and daughter Alienor de la Chapelle, and the cartoon painter Philippe de la Tour.

Nicolas is a vain womanizer who probably sees himself as the unicorn (although it supposedly symbolizes Christ).  The women in the story end up appearing in some of the tapestries, which each represent one of the five senses, plus a sixth called "À Mon Seul Désir" (To My One Desire).  The book is fascinating with its detailed descriptions of the art and process of weaving, and Chevalier's story is clever. I liked the way she used the names of religious seasons (Lent, Easter, Whitsuntide, May Day, Septuagesima) to mark the passage of time over the two years it took to create the tapestries.

My paperback features six full-color plates with detail of the lady and the unicorn from each tapestry.  The hardbound copy I got at the library for comparison does not have those plates, but underneath the dust jacket (with cutouts like the paperback has) is a reproduction of "À Mon Seul Désir" that wraps around to the back of the book:



© Amanda Pape - 2015

[I own my copy of this book, but it is also available at the Hood County Library.]

509 (2015 #66). Little Bee

by Chris Cleave

I've had a paperback copy of this book sitting on my TBR (to be read) pile for a while - I think I picked up the copy, which was water damaged, for a quarter somewhere.

The Little Bee of the title is a Nigerian refugee in England.  Mistakenly released after two years in an immigration detention center, she seeks out the only two people she knows in England, journalists Andrew and Sarah O'Rourke.

The three met on a beach in Nigeria, and terrible things happen.  Andrew and Sarah thought Little Bee was dead, but when she turns up at their home, more terrible things happen.

The story is told alternating between Sarah's and Little Bee's viewpoints.  Little Bee is likable, Sarah not particularly so - too naive and self-absorbed.

Author Chris Cleave worked briefly at a detention center in the early 1990s, and says that is why he wrote the book.  "I knew I had to write about it, because it’s such a dirty secret. And I knew I had to show the unexpected humour of these refugees wherever I could, and to make the book an enjoyable and compelling read – because otherwise people’s eyes would glaze over."

A few quotes from the book (all by Little Bee) that I liked:

page 9:  "...a scar is never ugly...We must all see scars as beauty...a scar does not form on the dying.  A scar means, I survived."

page 131:  "I could not stop talking because now I had started my story, it wanted to be finished.  We cannot choose where to start and stop.  Our stories are the tellers of us."

page 182:  "Even the missionaries had boarded up their mission.  They left us with the holy books that were not worth the expense of shipping back to your country.  In our village our only Bible had all of its pages missing after the forty-sixth verse of the twenty-seventh chapter of Matthew, so that the end of our religion, as far as any of us knew, was My god, my god, why hast thou forsaken me?  We understood that this was the end of the story."

I love the silhouette-style cover of this book. Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich designed it as well as the similar American covers for Cleave's other books, Gold and Incendiary.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[I own my copy of this book, but it is also available at the Hood County Library.]

508 (2015 #65). Absolutely Normal Chaos

by Sharon Creech,
read by Kate Forbes

If you've read Sharon Creech's 1995 Newbery Medalist, Walk Two Moons, you might recognize some characters from that one in Absolutely Normal Chaos, Creech's 1990 novel, which is built around the journal assignment that also appears in Walk Two Moons. The Finney family, as well as some of Phoebe and Sal's classmates from Walk Two Moons, made their first appearance in this book.  Absolutely Normal Chaos did not seem to have much press until after Creech won the Newbery, which is why many seem to think it was written after Walk Two Moons.  Nope.  It came before.

Mary Lou Finney, the second of the five children, is the journal writer in this book.  And what a journal it is!  She writes "on and on" sometimes, just like her best friend Beth Ann talks "on and on" about her latest boyfriend.  I would hope thirteen-year-old Mary Lou just got caught up in the journal writing and didn't really intend to turn all this in to her teachers.

Author Sharon Creech says the inspiration for the book came when she was living in England and missing her family.  Just like Mary Lou, she actually has three younger brothers named Dennis, Doug, and Tom, but the book characters' behavior is fictional, just like those of her parents, older sister, and cousin (the latter two not named Maggie and Carl Ray in real life).  Creech "did have a cousin who came to live with us when I was Mary Lou’s age, and he was quite like the character Carl Ray is," and "Mary Lou gives her address in this book as 4059 Buxton Road—and that was my real address," although it was in South Euclid, Ohio, and not the fictional Easton of the book.

While some of the plot isn't too plausible (especially Carl Ray's story), the portrayal of family life at the unnamed time is.  I think there's a bit of timelessness in the setting of this novel that makes it appealing even today, 25 years after it was written, and nearly 60 years after the author was Mary Lou's age.  For me, the only real clue it's not set in the present is the many references to telephones that are *not* cells (or smart) - the kids call each other and don't text.

The book addresses some serious issues - death (the next door neighbor, who is not elderly) and poverty (Mary Lou travels with Carl Ray back to his home in Appalachia - no electricity, no flushing toilet).

Besides the summer journal to keep, Mary Lou also has a summer reading list.  She picks out a book of poems by Robert Frost and the Odyssey to read, and makes comments and writes notes about them in this book as well.  Her commentary is quite amusing.

Probably the funniest part of the book for me was the stretch in the journal where Mary Lou's mother tells her to stop saying "God," "stupid," and "stuff" so much, and to expand her vocabulary.  So Mary Lou uses a thesaurus to find synonyms and starts using those instead, even in her journal.  The results are hilarious (from page 139):

Not much elixir happened today.  Alex had to work all day, so I stayed home, watched Tommy, read some more Odyssey, and quintessence. 
Mrs. Furtz came over again, all crying and nub, about some cabbageheaded letter she got....I do feel sorry for her and all, I really do, but Omnipotent!


Actress Kate Forbes does a fine job narrating the audiobook - she makes a perfect Mary Lou for the first person diary entries.  The audiobook has the cover illustration pictured at the beginning of this post, which I prefer (with its flying pages and pages of journal-writing).  The second illustration (just above) is from the print book cover, and it's not clear to me if the boy pictured sitting next to (the girl I assume is) Mary Lou on the front step is her cousin Carl Ray, or her boyfriend Alex.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[The audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to the Hood County Library and my university library respectively.]

Friday, September 11, 2015

Hood County Library 2015 Summer Reading Challenge Book #22 - Banned or Challenged Book


The Midwife's Apprentice, by Karen Cushman

The ACLU in Texas does a report on books banned and challenged in Texas schools every year, using information requested funder the authority of the Texas Public Information Act, Texas Government Code Ch.552 (commonly known as the Open Records Act). I've always thought it interesting that a number of these books are Newbery Medalists, an award given for "the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children."

The Midwife's Apprentice was challenged in the 2007-08 school year at Coldspring Intermediate School in the Coldspring-Oakhurst Consolidated Independent School District for sexual content and mysticism or paganism, apparently because of  a "reference to 'a roll in the hay' as well as unspecified pagan ideas (or at least ideas in conflict with Christianity)."  At the time the report was published, action (whether or not to ban or restrict the book) was pending.

Review is here.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Hood County Library 2015 Summer Reading Challenge Book #21 - From Childhood


To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

I first read this at age 13, as required reading in eighth grade.  It affected me profoundly then, but I have a much greater appreciation for it now.

Below is an article from the student-created newspaper, The Troubadour, from my K-8 school, St. Francis de Sales in Houston, Texas.  I was the news editor, but I'm not sure if I wrote this article, as it doesn't have my byline.  The article appeared on the top of page 2 of the December 18, 1970 issue.

Review is here.

© Amanda Pape - 2015



Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Hood County Library 2015 Summer Reading Challenge Book #20 - Set in Texas


The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly.

Historical fiction set in Fentress, Texas, in 1901-02.

Below is a 1911 map of the Fentress area.  You can also see towns of Lockhart and Prairie Lea which are mentioned in the story, as well as the San Marcos River that plays a part.  The map is from the United States Geological Service (USGS) Historical Topographic Map Explorer.

Review is here.

© Amanda Pape - 2015




Saturday, September 05, 2015

Hood County Library 2015 Summer Reading Challenge Book #19 - From the FOL Bookstore

The Lady and the Unicorn, by Tracy Chevalier

I bought this at the Hood County Friends of the Library book sale in October 2006, mostly because I liked the cover and the blurb on the back.

The cover has two cut-outs, through which you can see the Lady and the Unicorn of the famous six Middle Ages tapestries upon which this historical fiction novel is based.  I'd never heard of this masterpiece until I read the blurb on the back of the book.  That, the cover, and the price (it was among a number of books I filled a box with on the last day of the sale for only $5) are what inspired me to buy it.

At the time, I'd only read Chevalier's Girl With a Pearl Earring, and this sounded similar.  Since then, I've read two more of Chevalier's books, and now I finally got around to this one, which had been sitting on my TBR (to be read) shelf for while.

Review is here.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

Monday, August 31, 2015

507 (2014 #64). Big Stone Gap

by Adriana Trigiani

This book was much better than I expected.  It's 1978, Ave Maria Mulligan is about to turn 36, and it's been a tumultuous year for her in her hometown of Big Stone Gap, Virginia.  Her beloved mother has died, and she learns her mother's secret a few months later.  This throws her life into upheaval, and suddenly this long-time spinster is thinking of marriage and moving.

The book is full of small-town characters and quirky happenings, including one event based on a real-life incident in the real Big Stone Gap, author Adriana Trigiani's hometown in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia - a campaign stop visit by actress Elizabeth Taylor and her then-candidate husband John Warner.
This book isn't especially deep, but it's funny and enjoyable to read.  Some of the descriptions in it are quite lovely. From page 56, about Big Stone Gap:

...it is fall, our most luscious season.  The mountains around us turn from dark velvet to an iridescent taffeta.  The leaves of late September are bright green; by the first week of October they change to shimmering gemstones, garnet and topez and all the purples in between.  The mountains seem to be lit from the ground by theatrical footlights.  Autumn is our grand opera.  It even smells rich this time of year, a fresh mix of balsam and hickory and vanilla smoke.

And here's another, from page 256, of Italy:

There is a peachy golden haze over Italy that makes green fields more vivid, gives brown earth a depth and people a romantic glow....I think there is something different about the light.  When the sun goes down, the sky turns a vivid blue-black, the stars seems closer, and the edges don't fade out toward the horizon.  The same saturated blue hems the skyline that nestles the moon.

The hardbound book from the library is pictured at the top of this post.  I prefer the cover on the paperback book group edition pictured below it.  That book also included part of chapter 1 from the sequel to Big Stone Gap, entitled Big Cherry Holler.  From what I read, I definitely want to read that and the rest of the books in the series.  And maybe even see the movie version of this book, which is supposed to come out in October 2015.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[The hardbound book was borrowed from and returned to the Hood County Library.  I already had the paperback and will hang on to it for a while.]

Hood County Library 2015 Summer Reading Challenge Book #18 - Own But Never Read



Little Bee, by Chris Cleave

This one has been sitting on my TBR (to be read) shelf for some time.

Review is here.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

Sunday, August 30, 2015

506 (2015 #63). The Storm in the Barn

written and illustrated by Matt Phelan

This graphic novel won the 2010 Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction written for children or young adults.  It was also a Texas Bluebonnet Award nominee in 2011-2012.

It's set in Dust Bowl Kansas in 1937, and it hasn't rained in four years, since now-11-year-old Jack would have been old enough to help around on the family farm.  Since there's no farming possible, Jack's father seems to perceive Jack as being useless.  Being picked on by the town bullies doesn't help.  The general store owner tells him stories of Jacks of folklore to bolster him.  His sister Dorothy suffers from dust pneumonia, and it seems the only bright spot is when she reads aloud from some of Frank Baum's Oz books. Like Oz, the only illustrations in the book that are not monochrome occur when Jack's mother reminisces about the past.

Otherwise, Phelan's pencil, ink, and watercolor drawings use muted tones, browns and beiges in the daytime, and blues and grays at night, inside the barn, and during the rain that finally comes.  In an author's note at the end, Phelan says some of his inspiration was the black-and-white images of Works Progress Administration photographers of the era such as Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans.  He wrote,  "I began to imagine what the experience of living in the Dust Bowl must have been like through the eyes of a kid. Without the complicated explanation of the history of over-planting, soil erosion, and other factors, a young boy or girl would only know ... The rain had gone away. But where?"

While graphic novels are often good for struggling readers, the sparseness of the text in this story might be difficult for some.  I had problems interpreting what was going on in a few of the textless panel sequences.  For this reason - and because of a (thankfully not-too-graphic) section about killing off jackrabbits that were overwhelming the area - I'd recommend this book for somewhat older readers, age 11 and up.  I didn't really care for the fantasy element in the book (the "storm in the barn" pictured on the cover), but that will make the book more appealing for children.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[This book was borrowed from and returned to the Hood County Library.]

505 (2015 #62). Rifles for Watie

by Harold Keith

This book won the Newbery Medal for "the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children" in 1958.  Unlike most Civil War novels, it is set on the western front, specifically in (what is now) Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, and Arkansas.

Jefferson Davis "Jeff" Bussey is sixteen-year-old farm boy in Linn County, Kansas, when the war begins in 1861.  Inspired by his admiration for Abraham Lincoln and an attack on his family by pro-slavery Missouri bushwhackers, he joins the Kansas Volunteers at Fort Leavenworth.

Jeff is eager to see battle, but has only a background role initially.  Later he learns the harsh realities of combat, moves from the infantry, to an emergency participation in the artillery, to the cavalry, and becomes a scout.  His time "undercover" on the Confederate side was one of the most interesting parts of the book.  He learns that the Rebels are people just like him, and when he falls in love with a Confederate Cherokee girl, he feels torn between the two sides.

Although I'm not much for war fiction, this book held my interest throughout it.  It's well-written and provides much insight into the day-to-day life of soldiers in the Civil War's western front.  The reading level and content of this book makes it more appropriate for grade 6 and up.

Author Harold Keith, a native Oklahoman who had a master's degree in history, interviewed 22 Confederate veterans then living in Oklahoma and Arkansas as part of his research for the book.  He also read diaries and journals of mostly Union veterans, and hundreds of letters, including many from the mixed-blood Cherokees who participated in the war, such as family members of the Confederate general Stand Watie of the title (although there is no evidence Watie ever attempted to get the repeating rifles of the title and the fictional plot).

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[This book was borrowed from and returned to the Hood County Library.]

Saturday, August 29, 2015

504 (2015 #61). InvisiBill

by Maureen Fergus,
illustrated by Dušan Petričić

This is a cute and funny book that not only addresses feelings of being ignored, but also the distractions of modern life (tablets, telephones, televisions) that often keep parents and siblings from paying attention to each other.

In Maureen Fergus' story, middle child Bill turns invisible one day when his busy family doesn't pass the potatoes at the dinner table when he asks for them.

Dušan Petričić's caricature-like illustrations, rendered in pen and ink and colored in Photoshop, add greatly to the humor - and message - of the tale.  I especially liked the way he placed his illustrations on square or rectangular backgrounds that sometimes overlapped in interesting ways.

This book should appeal to all children - those who wonder what it might be like to be invisible, and those who sometimes wish they were noticed a little more.


© Amanda Pape - 2015

[This book was received through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.   It will be donated to my university library.]

Hood County Library 2015 Summer Reading Challenge Book #17 - Young Adult Book


Absolutely Normal Chaos, by Sharon Creech

The audiobook is shelved in the Young Adult section at the Hood County Library.

Review is here.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

Friday, August 28, 2015

Hood County Library 2015 Summer Reading Challenge Book #16 - Turned Into Movie


Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani.

Coming to theaters on October 9.

Review to come.

© Amanda Pape - 2015