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Wee Librarian Book Reviews

   Jan Yardley is a retired teacher who has read an uncountable number of books in her lifetime. She will be sending in some of her favorites, with a short review, to whet your appetite for a good read.
   Jan maintains a lending library on her front lawn at Broadway and South State Parkway. So if you are without a book, head over to the book cubbies. There is one for children also.



The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara - June 2019


    Fantastic! No wonder it won a Pulitzer Prize! This was so realistic! If you like American history, this is a great read. Even Ken Burns, the filmmaker of The Civil War said it was "A book that changed my life… I had never visited Gettysburg, knew almost nothing about the battle before I read the book, but here it all came alive."
    This book is divided into sections: the day before and each of the three days of the Battle of Gettysburg. We see chapters that give us the viewpoints of the different officers, and there are lots of maps to illustrate locations and troop movements. There are reminders on what this war was about, really about. The Killer Angels describes the combat vividly and accurately. As the reader, you are taken into the minds and hearts of the soldiers of both sides. You know their frustrations, fears, dedication, sense of duty, and courage. You feel like you are there in the heat, dirt, blood, and smoke.
    I don't know how else to convey how moved I was by this book. I want to visit Gettysburg now. I will keep this book on my shelf rather than pass it on. I like history, but this is more; this is feeling. There is an afterword where we find out what happened to the main characters. Consider that The Killer Angels was written in 1974, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1975, and was made into the movie, Gettysburg, in 1993.
    It has been required reading, at various times, at the US Army Officer Candidate School, The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, the U.S. Army War College, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the U.S. Army Special Forces Detachment Officer Qualification Course, The Basic School for Marine Officers (TBS) and Saint Joseph's University. It is one of only two novels (the other being Once an Eagle by Anton Myrer) on the U.S. Army's recommended reading list for Officer Professional Development. I believe that once you read it, it will stay with you forever.


The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown - May 2019


   I wanted to stand up and cheer! I was holding my breath; my heart was pounding in my chest! I felt a real connection to these boys. I love this book! No wonder it was on the best sellers list for over a year!
   Nine working class boys, the sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, were the team from the state of Washington defeated the elite eastern universities whose teams were comprised of the sons of bankers, lawyers, and senators. They also defeated the English rowers from Cambridge and Oxford. In so doing, they proved that it was everyone pulling together would achieve their goal. Merit outweighs birthright. They gave hope in those hard times that grit, determination, and optimism would prevail.
    While this book does tell the tale of the boys, it does focus on one boy in particular: Joe Rantz. He had been abandoned by his family at the age of 10 and left to fend for himself. Through rowing he learned to trust in others and to rebuild his self-esteem. You don't have to know a lot about rowing. This book gives you the basics, and even explains some technique changes that happened in rowing around this time period. The Boys in the Boat is not cut and dried recitations from a difficult period in our history. This book lives and breathes as we watch Joe and the other boys evolve into this amazing team.
    I have included videos from YouTube that are footage from the American Experience on PBS from July 2016. The second link is shorter and focuses on the race. The third one is Joe Rantz’s granddaughter sharing information about Joe Rantz. PBS Video - Race Video - Joe Rantz video.


Mr. Lemoncello Series by Chris Grabenstein - April 2019


   “The world's most famous game maker, Luigi Lemoncello, has just designed a brand-new, state-of-the-art library in his hometown, and he's invited 12 lucky seventh graders to stay the night just before its grand opening. Avid gamer Kyle Keeley jumps at the chance to meet his idol and see a real live library.
   After the previous library's demolition, this is the first library this small town has had in 12 years. Kyle is elated when his essay is chosen, and he gets to be among the first to wander the halls of one of the most interactive libraries ever.
    Kyle and the other contestants have 24 hours to find a secret exit out of the building and win a spectacular prize, and when the doors shut, the games really begin. Love of literature is a must if you want to escape. Librarians will fall in love with Mr. Lemoncello's library. This title is filled to the brim with witty literary references, an education on the Dewey Decimal System, and zany word puzzles.
    Narrator Jesse Bernstein expertly brings to life each character from the whimsical Lemoncello to the pretentious bully Charles Chillington. Insatiable readers who pick up on all the references will adore this book, as will general puzzle and mystery enthusiasts. The antics are similar to Patrick Carman's Floors while the puzzles are relatable to Blue Balliet's Chasing Vermeer.” - Amanda Schiavulli, Finger Lakes Library System, NY.


Book Scavenger - March 2019


    BOOK SCAVENGER is a book lover's delight: It weaves in mysteries, puzzles, and secret treasure with the real histories of beloved authors. Emily, the main character, is an admirable and relatably flawed character for book worms. She gets caught up in the stories she loves, sometimes to the detriment of her real-world relationships. In this series, readers are encouraged to break codes and solve puzzles alongside Emily, consider the history of famous authors in a new light, and navigate relationships with friends and loved ones as they move in and out of the world of books and the world we inhabit every day.
    This was a read aloud in my 4th grade classroom. They loved working on the puzzles as we read. Some students went on to read books about codes or about the codetalkers of WWII. At the end, the students had to follow the rules of the game and break codes in order to find books that I had hidden for each one of them in the school-- with help from my co-workers. Bertman used bookcrossing-- check it out!-- as the basis for Mr. Griswold's game. In real life Bertman has hidden 50 copies of her book, one in each state.
    Back to the story: When Emily Crane, a book enthusiast and puzzle-solver, moves into her new apartment, she meets James Lee, a cipher-solving whiz with a cowlick he’s named Steve. For years Emily has moved from state to state with her parents and older brother, and she longs for stability. She doesn’t allow herself to get attached, unlike James, whose Chinese-American family has lived in the same apartment building for decades. When Griswold is attacked, Emily fears for his life and the future of Book Scavenger, her beloved online geocaching-like game for books. After a disappointing book hunt at the Ferry Building, Emily finds an unexpected hardcover, The Gold-Bug, near where Griswold was attacked. Believing the book is Griswold’s pre-launched game, she becomes obsessed with solving its hidden messages while dodging two thugs and risking her friendship with James. Puzzling out the clever ciphers fascinates and adds dimension and curiosity to each quest.
    "The book could engage otherwise reluctant readers, as it shows that the life of the mind can be plenty exciting in real life while reinforcing the engrossing escape books can offer. It also features definitions in the back, with resources for real-life Book Scavengers that readers can participate in."-- Tracy Moore of Common Sense Media


Gary Paulsen Books - February 2019


   Jan recently did a Golden Age Center Book Club and reviewed this author.
   Born May 17, 1939, Gary Paulsen is one of America's most popular writers for young people. Although he was never a dedicated student, Paulsen developed a passion for reading at an early age. After a librarian gave him a book to read - along with his own library card - he was hooked. He began spending hours alone in the basement of his apartment building, reading one book after another.
   Running away from home at the age of 14 and traveling with a carnival, Paulsen acquired a taste for adventure. A youthful summer of rigorous chores on a farm; jobs as an engineer, construction worker, ranch hand, truck driver, and sailor; and two rounds of the 1,180-mile Alaskan dogsled race, the Iditarod; have provided ample material from which he creates his powerful stories.
    Paulsen's realization that he would become a writer came suddenly when he was working as a satellite technician for an aerospace firm in California. One night he walked off the job, never to return. He spent the next year in Hollywood as a magazine proofreader, working on his own writing every night. Then he left California and drove to northern Minnesota where he rented a cabin on a lake; by the end of the winter, he had completed his first novel.
    Living in the remote Minnesota woods, Paulsen eventually turned to the sport of dogsled racing, and entered the 1983 Iditarod. In 1985, after running the Iditarod for the second time, he suffered an attack of angina and was forced to give up his dogs. "I started to focus on writing with the same energies and efforts that I was using with dogs. So we're talking 18-, 19-, 20-hour days completely committed to work. Totally, viciously, obsessively committed to work, the way I'd run dogs....I still work that way, completely, all the time. I just work. I don't drink, I don't fool around, I'm just this way....The end result is there's a lot of books out there."
    It is Paulsen's overwhelming belief in young people that drives him to write. His intense desire to tap deeply into the human spirit and to encourage readers to observe and care about the world around them has brought him both enormous popularity with young people and critical acclaim from the children's book community. Paulsen is a master storyteller who has written more than 175 books and some 200 articles and short stories for children and adults. He is one of the most important writers of young adult literature today, and three of his novels - HATCHET, DOGSONG, and THE WINTER ROOM - are Newbery Honor Books.
    His books frequently appear on the best books lists of the American Library Association. Paulsen has received many letters from readers (as many as 200 a day) telling him they felt Brian Robeson's story in HATCHET was left unfinished by his early rescue, before the winter came and made things really tough. They wanted to know what would happen if Brian were not rescued, if he had to survive in the winter. Paulsen says, "I researched and wrote BRIAN'S WINTER, showing what could and perhaps would have happened had Brian not been rescued." In Paulsen's book, GUTS: The True Stories Behind HATCHET and the Brian Books, Paulsen shares his own adventures in the wild, which are often hilarious and always amazing: moose attacks, heart attacks, near-misses in planes, and looking death in the eye. A movie based on HATCHET was made in 1990 and called A CRY IN THE WILD.


By Mouse and Frog by Deborah Freedman - February 2019


    I love this picture book! Mouse works to set up his house to have a pleasant day when in crashes his friend, Frog. Frog is impulsive and spouts wild ideas, interrupting and changing Mouse’s plans. You must know someone like that. I know someone like that and on occasion I have acted like that myself. But… Mouse and Frog discover that if they work together and are willing to compromise and LISTEN to each other, then a beautiful garden of stories can grow. I laughed aloud and enjoyed the pictures heartily.


Plainsong by Kent Haruf - January 2019


    This book was a great find. It’s all about change, family, tribulations, and tenacity in the interlocking lives of the inhabitants of a small town on the Great Plains of Colorado. It’s how seven extraordinary members of this tiny prairie community--two dedicated teachers, two young boys wise beyond their years, a pair of wonderfully idiosyncratic rancher brothers and a pregnant high school girl--come together, in the face of great difficulties, to form the most appealing extended family. My favorite characters are the old bachelor brothers.


Backlash by Sarah Darer Littman - December 2018


    As you can see from the cover, this is an iPhone or similar device, and very much a part of today’s society. Children today are so involved with texting or posting updates to their social media groups. Facebook was the place to be, and so it is for this story. This is a story that a parent would read and/or discuss with their child. Being a teenager, forming relationships with peers, and dealing with technology is difficult without the complications of technology.
    Lara, the main character, is a fifteen-year-old girl that has been the recipient of hurtful posts from Christian. She thought he liked her and was going to ask her out to the school’s homecoming dance. In middle school she had been overweight, depressed, and had isolated herself from most everyone except Bree, who is tired of constantly listening to Lara’s problems. Lara has tried hard for a new start: she’s lost weight, tries to be happy, and has made some new friends. She has been “talking” with Christian for weeks when he makes harsh, hurtful posts on her wall for the whole world to see.     Cyber-bullying, with twists you wish didn’t exist. The backlash from the collision of online and real life is devastating.


The Cuckoo's Egg by Cliff Stoll - December 2018


    Tracking a Spy through the Maze of Computer Espionage.
    I found this book back in the early 1990s when I was first learning how to use a computer, mostly for word processing. Recently, I went back to reread this gem of a book and noted in the acknowledgements that Chris Stoll was ten years old when Ernst Both of the Buffalo Museum of Science invited him to look through a telescope. Chris wondered if he would ever be able to thank Ernst properly for opening up the universe of astronomy. I looked at this and thought: we never know just how far reaching some action of ours will affect a child’s life.
    Many of us use the internet daily. We have had experience dealing with hackers and phishing, or we know someone who has. I found this quote from the Smithsonian to be quite accurate: “Before the Internet became widely known as a global tool for, one perceptive U.S. citizen recognized its ominous potential. Armed with clear evidence of computer espionage, he began a highly personal quest to expose a hidden network of spies that threatened national security. But would the authorities back him up? Cliff Stoll's dramatic firsthand account is "a computer-age detective story, instantly fascinating [and] astonishingly gripping."
    Cliff Stoll was an astronomer turned systems manager at Lawrence Berkeley Lab when a 75-cent accounting error alerted him to the presence of an unauthorized user on his system. The hacker's code name was "Hunter”. Somehow Hunter invaded U.S. computer systems and was stealing sensitive military and security information. Stoll began a one-man hunt of his own: spying on the spy. It was a dangerous game of deception, broken codes, satellites, and missile bases - a one-man sting operation that finally gained the attention of the CIA...and ultimately trapped an international spy ring fueled by cash, cocaine, and the KGB.


Vanishing Act by Thomas Perry - November 2018


   I’m not sure how I found this particular author and the books starring Jane Whitefield, but I was looking for something related to this area of New York. Thomas Perry was born in Tonawanda, NY, and he was a television writer and producer for Simon & Simon, 21 Jump Street, and Star Trek: the Next Generation. I liked these programs, so I gave it a try.
    The first book of his that I read was Vanishing Act which had been chosen as one of the "100 Favorite Mysteries of the Century" by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association in 1994, I believe. The main character, Jane Whitefield, is a Native American guide who leads people out of the craziness created by enemies who want you dead. She is in the one-woman business of helping the desperate disappear. She is a member of the Wolf Clan of the Seneca tribe. She has learned to fool any pursuer, cover any trail, and then provide her clients with new identities, complete with authentic paperwork. Out of necessity, Jane has utilized all the tricks she knows and invented others.
    When she returns home one day, she finds an intruder waiting for her. He's an ex-cop suspected of embezzling (John Felker) and wants Jane to do for him what she did for his buddy Harry Kemple: make him vanish. But as Jane opens a door out of the world for Felker, she walks into a trap that will take all her heritage and cunning to escape. I was caught. I had to read more about Jane and this life of hers.
    Other Perry books about Jane include: Dance for the Dead, Shadow Woman, The Face Changers, Blood Money, Runner, Poison Flowers, and A String of Beads.


The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyers - November 2018


    The cover caught my eye in the bookstore: definitely not human foot in a woman’s red high-heeled shoe. The title Cinder and my mind jumped to Cinderella or something being burnt to cinders. Next I checked out the burb and find that this book is the first of The Lunar Chronicles that are futuristic retellings of classic fairy tales. In CINDER, a teenage cyborg (half human, half machine) must deal with a wicked stepmother, start a rebellion against the evil Queen Levana, and decide how she feels about a handsome prince. I loved seeing this tale transformed!
   In the second book, Cinder forges an alliance with Scarlet, a spaceship pilot who is determined to solve the mystery of a missing loved one - with the help of a magnetic street fighter named Wolf.
   Cress (full name: Crescent Moon), is a computer hacker who is imprisoned all alone on a satellite by the wicked Queen Levana. Her job is to help Lunar ships, but she secretly works against the queen. Look at the long braid on the cover and I’m sure you’ll recall her fairy tale.
   Fairest is a prequel. It is about Levana during the period when she is 15-25 years old and how ugly her life is. She is abused physically and mentally by her older sister, and her parents are murdered. Nature or nuture? Which will be foremost in her development when it is her turn to rule?
   Princess Winter, who's in love with a commoner, is Queen Levana’s stepdaughter. Can you guess which fairy tale this is? Winter is much admired for her grace and kindness. She is somewhat lacking in beauty - her face is scarred - although it was said that her beauty surpassed her stepmother’s. She’s not as weak as Levana thinks and Winter has been undermining Levana for years. Has it all come together? Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter save the kingdom and the world?

    Stars Above is a collection of novellas set in this universe.


Mr. Squirrel's Adventures - October 2018

       
   These three picture books are by Sebastian Meschenmoser. He has others, but these are ones that I have decided to keep. (I must admit that picture books are great for all ages, and I love to read aloud.) Look closely at the details in his work. Some pages are a wordless two - page spread, but are so evocative in their depictions that the reader understands. Don’t forget to check out the end papers - they add to the story!
   A friend shared Waiting for Winter with me and I was entranced with the pictures and laughing all the while! What adult with children cannot identify with a little sleep deprivation? Mr. Meschenmoser has captured the squirrel’s movements and attitude that parents can enjoy while reading to their young ones. Mr. Squirrel has never seen snow, and doesn’t want to hibernate until he has. Can Mr. Squirrel and his friends identify snow just from Deer’s description? Will they be able to stay awake until that first flake arrives?
    In Mr. Squirrel and the Moon, he awakens to find the moon in his tree. He becomes frantic and tries to remove it before someone thinks he has stolen it and puts him in jail. Check out how Squirrel tries to solve this problem. Will the moon ever be the same?
    My latest acquisition was It’s Springtime, Mr. Squirrel is true friendship and understanding. What friend wouldn’t help his BFF win his lady love’s heart. Mr. Squirrel knows all about love, what ladies like, and how to be a hero!


In the Blood - October 2018


    In the Blood is the first book in a mystery series by Steve Robinson and features an unlikely main character named Jefferson Tayte. He's tall, overweight by his own admission, and has a scar from a dog bite he received while prowling around looking for burial plots. He's a genealogist for hire.
    In this story, Jefferson Tayte is hired to solve a puzzle in a family tree. They have traced the roots of their loyalist family that fled to England to escape the American revolution and then vanished. The American family wants Tayte to find out what happened to their ancestors. When Tayte begins his search, that is when a killer tries to stop him. Tayte goes to Cornwall, England where he uncovers a series of hidden crimes and discovers a dark secret, all the while a killer is looking for the same answers.