Saturday, November 14, 2015

Liars! 3 books

CrenshawThe books I have read in the past few days all revolve around lying - lying to survive, lying to hide hard facts from oneself, lying to avoid confrontation - lots of untruth telling going on.

In The False Prince, by Jennifer A. Nielsen,  Sage's survival depends on how well he can lie.   In an attempt to save the kingdom of Carthya, (or so they are told), Sage, Tobias and Roden are being groomed to impersonate the lost prince, Jaron.  Their training is a fight to the death.  The boys not chosen as Prince will meet an awful fate.  Trickery, dishonesty, secret passages, dungeons are followed by a jaw-dropping master stroke.  This is the first in a trilogy.

In Crenshaw, by Katherine Applegate,  Jackson has been homeless before and he knows that his parents are struggling, again.  The return of his imaginary friend, Crenshaw, a six foot tall cat, does nothing to calm his fears.  The lying in this book is the "everything is all right" kind, harmless on the surface but nasty and dangerous, nonetheless.

Dear Hank Williams by Kimberley Willis Holt, is a novel in letters.  Tate P. Ellerbee decides that the rising star, Hank Williams, will be her penpal for her class penpal project.  She is more than faithful in writing to Mr. Williams, and in return she receives three signed photographs.  And the reader learns just how Tate spins tales to make herself feel better about her absent parents and other difficulties.  All is revealed in the end, in this clever and emotionally satisfying book.  Set between 1948 and 1949, this is also a well-researched look at rural America in the aftermath of WWII.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Orbiting Jupiter

I read Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt the other night.  I could NOT put it down.  The pages turned themselves.  Then I got to the end.  And threw the book across the room.

I can't tell you much about the book, really.  The advance press tells you all you need to know about the story. 

 There is this.  Married to a caseworker who spent most of his working life in Children and Youth,  I hate books with social workers in them, because most social workers are portrayed as uncaring.  The social worker in THIS book is freaking awesome.  Really, she's wonderful.  Thank you for that, Gary D. Schmidt.

Foster parents also get a bad rap.  These foster parents are so wonderful.  Thanks again, Mr. Schmidt.

Indeed, there is so much about this book that I loved.  I still threw it across the room.  Read it please and tell me if you agree I had the right to do that.

Monday, October 26, 2015


Get a load of these wonderful book-themed costumes over at Seeker of Happiness:  SOOOO CUTE!!

Photo property of Karen Maurer Copyright 2012
Keep in mind that the Lehigh Valley Storytelling Guild is holding TWO Scary Stories for Halloween events.  Click here for details.

AND I am doing a Halloween Family Storytime at the Allentown Public Library on Wednesday at 6:30 pm (my regular Family Storytime time slot).  I am reading three of my absolute favorite scary-ish Halloween stories.  Room on the Broom,  The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything and  Ghosts in the House.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Gon. Backson

I was gone.  Now I am back.  And while I was gone I read OLD books; two by G. K. Chesterton and two by L. M. Montgomery - because I visited Prince Edward Island on my travels.

Chesterton's books were full of the politics of the Empire and, since they were pre-WWII, some of the reasoning seemed very Old Boy network.  Still, they were intriguing looks into a mindset that is probably better done away with.

Montgomery's books were full of light and cheerfulness - as is her wont.  The first, Pat of Sugar Bush, ended as if there would be more to the story.  And I hope there is, somewhere.  The other, A Tangled Web, was written for adults and read like a daytime soap opera.  Six or more couples, friends and lovers, struggle to find out what went wrong - or how to connect - or whatever.  The last line in the book is a glaringly racist remark and soured things for me.  But I recognize the time period and context and just wish people were more thoughtful.  I enjoyed the book except for that.

Obviously, I enjoyed L. M. Montgomery's books more than Chesterton's.  I don't even remember the names of Chesterton's books, oh wait, The Man Who Knew Too Much, was one title.  That book was upsetting because the hero of the short stories finds himself letting felons go unpunished for the good of the Empire - in every single instance.  Also, some anti-semitic rhetoric in one story made me cringe.

Oh well, I came home to Orbiting Jupiter by Gary Schmidt.  I will read it and let you know what I think.

Saturday, September 19, 2015


The Not-Just Anybody FamilyThe first time I read The Not-Just-Anybody Family, I knew I was reading genius. Betsy Byars uses exactly the right number of words to show her readers what is going on.   There was Junior on the barn roof; Maggie, his sister, was doing her toenails; Vern, his brother, was on the ground watching.  I have not picked up the book in twenty years but Maggie's lack of interest and Vern's almost ghoulish anticipation of a fall mixed with the hope that Junior really could fly are permanently imprinted in my brain.

Byars has won awards for several of her other books.  But for me, The Blossom Family will always be my favorite Betsy Cromer Byars titles.

So what is so great about Betsy Byars' books?  They are so accessible - which is a thing these days - accessibility.  They run the whole range from funny to heart-wrenching.  She writes for all ages but most impressively for that age group that can determine if a person becomes a life-long reader or not - middle grades.  Her characters are believable.  They get in trouble of all sorts.  They all learn something from their adventures - although not always what adults might want them to learn.

Herculeah Jones, Bingo Brown, Junior, Maggie and Vern Blossom, Cracker Jackson, Ant and his Brother, - these are just a few of the likable, quirky and totally normal kid characters that Byars created.

Pick up a Byars book next time you are in the library.  You won't be sorry.

Thursday, September 17, 2015


The League of Unexceptional Children by Gitty Daneshvari is a welcome change.  No magical, undiscovered world-changing super-talented children here!  No half human, half immortal orphans!
Nope, this book revolves around two children so bland, so mediocre, so unremarkable as to be almost invisible to the world around them.

And that makes them PERFECT for the secret work that The League of Unexceptional Children does.

When the Vice-President is kidnapped in the middle of the night, Jonathan and Shelly are recruited to go undercover to find him before the VP can disclose the nation's most valuable nuclear codes.   Jonathan and Shelly don't actually need to go undercover.  They are so unremarkable that Jonathan's teacher thinks he's a new student almost every day.  No one even hears Shelly when she talks.

After a slow start involving an incompetent security guard and a short villain, the book turns into a spy thriller heavy on spycraft-ish talk and trappings and with more comic escapades than thrills.

To say much more will tell you almost all.  This is a quick fun read in which two ordinary kids fumble through saving the country.  They even compete with two superspy kids from Europe.

The best thing about this book - for me, anyway - is the way the characters of our heroes develop.  They may look and act boring to the world at large but, given a task that challenges them, they show some spunk, if not much talent.  Hmmmm, could there actually be a redeeming message in this silly book?  ....... Nope, probably not.

Key words:  Quick, Funny, Slapstick, Spies!