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Archive for the ‘Audiobook’ Category

signatureAlma Whittaker is born into a life of privilege just outside of Philadelphia, PA in 1800. Her mother is a wealthy, practical, highly educated Dutch woman. Her father is an uneducated, unrefined Englishman who rose from poverty to become one of the wealthiest men in the United States. Together they raise Alma as a highly educated, practical, scientific, and lonely woman. Both fiercely independent in her thinking and loyal to her family, Alma continues in the family trade of botany with her own unique focus of studying mosses. Alma doesn’t sound too interesting, does she? Don’t be deceived.

Alma both anchors and drives The Signature of All Things and as a reader I was vested in her well-being. However, this book is so much more. It is a book about science and faith. It is a glimpse at history in England and the United States in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It is a fascinating travelogue of Tahiti and adventurous ocean voyages. It is a story of how the world can change so quickly and so slowly all at the same time. It is a story about love, grief, and personal growth. It is a story that is well worth the time to read and moves so swiftly you’ll wonder how you breezed through 499 pages (or listened to 18 discs) so quickly.  I’ll admit that in the middle of the book the plot took a turn that I didn’t expect, and I almost quit reading. I wondered how anything could possibly be resolved in a satisfactory way. But if you persevere, it will all come together, just have a little faith.

Juliet Stevenson narrates the audio version of The Signature of All Things, and her narration brings to life the myriad of characters with authenticity. The characters had distinct voices, and the animation in her voice made you feel like you were right in the midst of the vigorous debates that take place in the novel. I loved her accents and especially appreciated how well she brought the men to life without making them sound too feminine or artificial. Whether you read or listen to The Signature of All Things it will be an experience that you are sure to enjoy.

Check the WRL catalog for The Signature of All Things

Check the WRL catalog for The Signature of All Things audiobook on compact discs or downloadable audio.

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CallTheMidwifeCall the Midwife is a fascinating mix of social history and medical memoir, as well as a vivid portrait of a time and place, but that description (glowing as it is) hardly does justice to a book that made me laugh out loud one minute and sob in sorrow the next, and even look forward to my commute so I could enter the book’s world and hear what happened next.

Jennifer Worth (known as Jenny) was a young nurse in the 1950s and she became a midwife with a order of nuns in the slums of the East End of London. Her memoir was published in 2002 so, from the distance of five decades she is in a good position to talk about how medicine and the world have changed. Some of the changes are bad, like the breakdown of families that she has seen among poor people in London, but so many things changed for the better, like medical knowledge and standard of living (plumbing for one thing!). When she started as a midwife most births were at home, attended only by a midwife and as a 23-year-old nurse who was often the only professional present. This was a great step up from no antenatal or birth care, which she says was common prior to 1950 for the poor people of London.  If you are squeamish, this may not be the book for you: many births are described in detail. A glossary of medical terms is included at the end to help the uninitiated.

The humor throughout comes from the hijinks of young nurses and foibles of the nuns, several of whom had nursed through World War I. Worth expresses deep sorrow at the devastating conditions of the workhouse or the fourteen-year-old Irish runaway who is manipulated into working as a prostitute. Jennifer Worth is a memoirist who doesn’t put herself at the center of her story, but tells the stories of others who she came to as an outsider: a non-Catholic living with nuns and a middle-class woman among the Cockneys. She always strives to understand their lives on their terms, rather than imposing her views and even creates a 14-page appendix “On the difficulties of writing the Cockney dialect.” Her talent is capturing the diverse characters on the page, and making the reader care about them.

This book should appeal to watchers of Downton Abbey for the historical domestic British connection. For those like to hear about the lives of real and everyday people it will grab readers of Below Stairs, by Margaret Powell; Nella Last’s War, edited by Richard Broad and Suzie Fleming; or a new book, Minding the Manor: The Memoir of a 1930s Kitchen Maid, by Mollie Moran. I also recommend it for anyone who is interested in memoir, medical history, women’s lives or social problems.

Check the WRL catalog for Call the Midwife.

Check the WRL catalog for Call the Midwife on CD read wonderfully by Nicola Barber.

I haven’t had a chance to view the BBC series adapted from the book, but it has great reviews, so it is on my list. Check the WRL catalog for the BBC adaptation of Call the Midwife.

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Junkyard DogsJunkyard Dogs is the sixth book in the Walt Longmire series of mysteries by Craig Johnson. I started here, listening to the mystery on audiobook on compact disc (The library has earlier entries in the series in print or as downloadable audiobooks). Ideally one would start at the beginning with The Cold Dish but there’s enough continuity between characters that I had no trouble following the action or enjoying the characters jumping into the series in the middle.

Sheriff Walt Longmire of little Durant, Wyoming is a great character, perhaps the kind of man that it’s more fun to read about than to try to get along with in real life. He’s got a stubborn streak a mile wide, a sarcastic sense of humor, and he likes doing things his way. Fortunately, his way works most of the time, at least when it comes to solving crimes. He’s surrounded by a great supporting cast too: his lifelong friend Henry Standing-Bear; his dog (named Dog); and most important in this book, a squeamish deputy named Santiago Saizarbitoria; and his on-again, off-again love interest Victoria (also a deputy).

Junkyard Dogs begins with a run-in with the Stuart family, an odd collection of country bumpkins who run the local junkyard. Grandfather Geo is the seemingly indestructible family patriarch. His grandson Duane and granddaughter-in-law Gina are screw-ups always on the verge of trouble with the law. And then there are the two huge wolf-like dogs they own–the more obvious referents of the book’s title. The Stuarts have an ongoing feud with developer Ozzie Dobbs, who’s in money trouble over the failure of a huge development. Ozzie would love to get rid of the eyesore junkyard next door (and develop the land while he’s at it). The feud would get even worse if Ozzie discovered that Geo and his mother have a bit of a romantic liaison going on.

I won’t give away too much of the plot. A thumb, no longer connected to its owner, becomes an important plot point, as do Walt’s status with Victoria and Santiago’s continuing ability to function in his job. Over the course of the book, Sheriff Longmire takes about as much physical damage as a body can but Johnson has a unique ability to transform pain, ornery behavior, and the terse speech patterns of westerners into high comedy. The mystery puzzle is solid, if not brilliant, but that’s not really the point here. The reason to read this series is for the characters, the atmosphere, and the humor, and on all of those accounts, Johnson is masterful.

If you listen to audiobooks, by all means experience this book that way. I’m not usually a fan of George Guidall, but his voice and characterizations are perfect for this series. I haven’t seen it, but I hear that the television series based on Johnson’s books, Longmire, is also a pleasure.

Check the WRL catalog for Junkyard Dogs

Or try Junkyard Dogs as an audiobook on compact disc.

 

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Red Seas Under Red SkiesScott Lynch is in the top tier of epic fantasy writers who are stretching the genre in new directions. Red Seas under Red Skies, the second book in his Gentleman Bastards series, like the first, The Lies of Locke Lamora, combines gritty epic fantasy with a buddy story and a heist crime story line. It’s a cinematic combination loaded with great banter between the lead characters, a twisty, suspenseful plot line, and exotic settings. The series is probably best experienced in sequence, but you could read the second book alone and have a satisfying reading experience.

Master thieves and swindlers Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen have gone on the run after their exciting and ultimately tragic adventures in the first book of the series, finally landing in Tal Verrar, a city state made rich by gambling. As the book opens, we find Locke and Jean in the midst of an elaborate scheme to rob the Sinspire, a seemingly impregnable fortress of a casino with increasingly exclusive action on each higher floor. To rob the most powerful players at the top, Locke and Jean first have to run a long con, winning at enough complicated games of chance to gain access to the upper floors.

But somehow their cover is blown and they come to the attention of Tal Verrar’s powerful political leader. I won’t give away too many plot points, but he traps Locke and Jean and forces them to pose as pirates in another elaborate scheme that will solidify his tenuous hold on power in the city state. There are some great comic scenes as the landlubber thieves try to learn enough seamanship to pretend to be seasoned sea dogs. Of course things go wrong, and the ruse becomes a kind of reality as the duo play for higher and higher stakes. They’ll have to survive pirates, politics, poison, a love triangle, and more, just to get back to the city where they hope to pull off an impossible crime that becomes as much about revenge as it does money.

It’s a complicated plot, but Lynch fills his books with so many great action sequences, so much razor-sharp repartee, so much good-natured derring-do, that it’s easy to forgive any moments where the story stretches credibility. He wraps up enough of these complicated plot lines cleverly that you will be more excited than you are bothered that there are cliffhangers leading to the third book, Republic of Thieves (which was published in late 2013 and has had great reviews as well). I know I’ll be among the readers following this masterful  yarn to its conclusion.

One caution: this series is very much part of the gritty school of fantasy. These are street-toughened characters leading a violent and dangerous life, and readers should expect language and levels of violence that realistically match that setting. It’s leavened with plenty of charm and humor, but come prepared for lots of colorful cursing and bloody action.

Check the WRL catalog for Red Seas under Red Skies

Or try the story on audiobook on compact disc

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supremesNancy from Circulation recommended this book to me.  In particular, she said the audiobook was really enjoyable — and she was right — I loved it!  It is narrated by two different women playing the role of the main characters.  The voices were perfect for the story, and  I was quickly drawn in.  But I don’t think I would have picked it up without her glowing review. Here’s what Nancy has to say about this book:

In the small southern town of Plainview, Indiana, there are three female childhood friends, Odette, Clarice, and Barbara Jean, who have lived through the 1960s, one adventure after another. Nicknamed “The Supremes” at an early age due to their looks, attitude, and regular meetings at the same table at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat diner.

The story begins as the girls reach middle age. Their group includes their husbands, and they meet regularly after church for dinner at Earl’s, now managed by his son. You soon find out Earl’s is much more than the first black-owned business in a racially divided town. It is a place of refuge, peace talks, and forgiveness.

The first of the wonderfully charismatic, strong-willed women you meet is Odette who is the “say it like it is and don’t take no guff off of anyone” member of the trio. I fell in love with her sense of humor and her realistic viewpoint when she describes an early morning bout with hot flashes and her refrigerator remedy.  She states, “I opened the refrigerator door to get the water pitcher and decided to stick my head inside.  I was in almost to my shoulders, enjoying the frosty temperature, when I got the giggles thinking how someone coming upon me, head stuffed into the refrigerator instead of the oven would say, ‘Now that’s a fat woman who is completely clueless about how a proper kitchen suicide works!’” Her adventures include visits from her pot-smoking mother and Eleanor Roosevelt (who, by the way, are both dead), and a life-altering event that requires the strength of her family and friends to get her through.

Clarice is the wife of a charming, handsome, but unfaithful, husband. He probably loves her, but can’t seem to manage to be monogamous. She realizes she is following in her mother’s footsteps–and struggles with the thought of how her life might be without him.  She has the perfect marriage in the public eye, but a not so private truth has to be faced eventually.

Beautiful Barbara Jean, the last of the trio, seems to be the one who has dealt with many of her life decisions poorly and struggles to hide her drinking as a result.  The loss of her first love, marriage to a much older man, and losing a child are things even the best of friends cannot always fix.  Luckily for her, Clarice and Odette don’t give up trying.

The story is told by intertwining tales from the past with the current lives of the three and the multitude of friends and family characters they encounter daily. The author invites you to step into the lives of these amazing women as they face racism, greed, emotional and physical tragedy, all the while demonstrating the bond of true friendship. There will be tears of joy and sorrow shed for the characters one minute, and the next you’ll get the giggles–as Odette would say.

Check the WRL catalog for The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat

Check the WRL catalog for the audiobook of The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat

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TheOrchardistTalmadge is a lonely man, living quietly in his orchard, enjoying the quiet rhythms of the seasons and nursing the loss of his mother and the unexplained disappearance of his sister decades earlier. When two feral and visibly pregnant girls steal fruit from his market stall, he is intrigued rather than angry. Talmadge manages to befriend the girls, but only on their own terms. He shelters the girls and tries to protect them from imminent danger, but an evil man appears from their past with shockingly tragic consequences.

A powerful story, deep and quietly told, The Orchardist  entraps the reader into its world.  First time novelist Amanda Coplin breaks tradition by leaving out quotation marks, and telling some events from multiple viewpoints, and she succeeds in creating a compelling novel that exquisitely captures a time (around 1900) and a place (the Pacific Northwest).  But she most effectively captures the lives of ordinary individuals caught in extraordinary circumstances. The Orchardist is a moving portrait of people who are damaged but who remain remarkably resilient. The characters, like real people, would be better off if they could put the past behind them, but also like real people, some of them cannot forgive and they must survive however they can. 

Try The Orchardist if you like to get caught up in a sweeping historical novel with hardship and misfortune, but also with burgeoning hope, such as The Light Between Oceans, by M. L. Stedman or Year of Wonders,  by Geraldine Brooks .

I listened to part of The Orchardist and I highly recommend Mark Bramhall’s reading as his gravelly voice captured Talmadge’s gruff personality and the slow unfolding melancholy of the story.

Check the WRL catalog for The Orchardist.

Check the WRL catalog for The Orchardist on CD.

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keithBeatles or Stones? Yes! This fall, about 50 years after the founding of the two bands, we’re seeing a new crop of books about their early years, including Tune In, the first volume of Mark Lewisohn’s planned mega-biography of the Beatles, and Beatles vs. Stones, a historian’s look at the public images of the two groups. But I doubt that any book published this year will have the impact, or the sales, of Keith Richards’s autobiography, which came out in 2010.

Life has to be one of the best books ever about the cultural and political explosion that happened in the mid 1960s—witnessed from the epicenter by a kid who just wanted to play blues guitar and ended up a pop superstar in the Rolling Stones. The book is raw and rude. Keith disses a lot of well known people, and reveals without apology the depths of his bad behavior: the groupies and girlfriend-swapping, the endless hard drugs and booze, the arrests and trials, the wild parties and trashed hotel rooms.

“Some of my most outrageous nights I can only believe actually happened because of corroborating evidence…  The ultimate party, if it’s any good, you can’t remember it.”

Fortunately, Keith is just as revealing about his music, documenting how he created his epic guitar riffs, and almost effortlessly wrote hit song after hit song with Mick Jagger. He has collaborated with everyone who is anyone in music, and tells good stories about his encounters with Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, George Jones, Tom Waits, and many others.

If possible, don’t read Life in print; listen to the audiobook version instead. Its offbeat, somewhat laid-back production is oddly suited to the story and to Keith’s distinctive style. There are three narrators, each taking a turn at reading in the voice of Keith : Johnny Depp (a close friend and admirer of Richards), the Irish rocker Joe Hurley, and Keith himself.  This is disorienting for the listener, since the narration switches without warning from Depp, reading quite neutrally in his American accent, to Hurley, who does an over-the-top interpretation of Keith: slurring words, chuckling, and mumbling in a South London accent. At first I was put off by Hurley’s reading, but it grew on me and eventually I settled in to enjoy it. Keith narrates the final section of the book, covering his recent years, which are comparatively uneventful—oh, except for the time he fell out of a tree in Fiji and suffered a life-threatening brain injury.

Some parts are better than others, but the book, like a good album, opens with its strongest number. Superbly narrated by Depp, this is the story of the 1975 arrest of Keith, fellow band member Ronnie Wood, and two friends while driving a Chevrolet Impala packed with illegal drugs and weapons through Fordyce, Arkansas. This legendary culture clash between rural southern law enforcement types and long-haired British rockers can be read as hilarious farce, complete with a drunken judge and a victory parade for the bailed-out musicians. But there’s a dark heart to the story, a reminder that this was the Vietnam Era, the always-present backdrop of songs like “Street Fighting Man” and “Gimme Shelter.”

What a drag it is getting old… For years now, the Stones have endured writings in the press making fun of their withered appearance and calling on them to retire, for decency’s sake. So far, neither the band nor their fans are ready to pack it in. In the summer of 2013, the Stones rocked out in electrifying sets in Hyde Park and at the Glastonbury Festival before screaming crowds spanning three generations. You know what they say, baby: listen to your elders.

Check the WRL catalog for the audiobook version of Life

Check for the print version

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cuckooLula Landry, a beautiful mixed-race supermodel, has fallen to her death from her third-floor flat onto the snow-covered walk in a posh section of London. The paparazzi and press go wild; everyone in the world is shocked. A woman who lives in the same building swears she heard a male voice arguing with Lula right before the fall, but the police investigate and determine Lula’s death a suicide. The witness, they conclude after lengthy investigation, is either a delusional coke-head or is in it for the publicity; she could not have heard anything through the triple-glazed windows of the high-end flats.

Three months later, young Robin Ellacott, newly engaged and newly arrived in London, is working for a temp agency as a secretary and is thrilled to find that her new assignment is for a private investigator, as she has always secretly wanted to be a private eye. Her first encounter with her new boss, the large, hairy, one-legged veteran of the war in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike, however, is not a pleasant one, and she learns on the first day of her week-long assignment that Strike is in a great deal of debt, is getting death threats from a former client, has only one current client, and is apparently living in his office.

It is fortunate, then, that a new client shows up at Strike’s meager office. The brother of Lula Landry, John Bristow, is convinced that Lula’s fall was not suicide, and has come to hire Strike to investigate. Strike at first says no; his conscience tells him he cannot take the money to investigate something that he is confident has been so thoroughly looked into that any investigation on his part will change the outcome. Bristow, fuming, says he had been willing to pay double Strike’s fee. Strike relents, his debts and living conditions weighing into the decision.

J.K. Rowling can create wonderful characters, and many populate this mystery novel. Almost anyone Strike and Robin look into in the course of their investigation could be a suspect: Lula’s rock star ex-boyfriend Evan Duffield; film-producer and neighbor Freddy Bestigui; Rochelle, a down-and-out friend Lula met in rehab; Guy Somé, a designer for whom Lula modeled; American rapper Deeby Macc who was supposed to stay in the flat below Lula’s the night she died; relatives, drivers, doormen, fellow models, and even strangers could have had a motive. As I listened to this audiobook, I was constantly changing who I believed the killer was, or even if there was a killer.

The reader for the audiobook, British actor Robert Glenister, is excellent. Though I am no expert on British accents, from my point of view, he nailed the various accents. I could easily tell who was speaking, and his inflections added so much to the story that I would recommend listening to the audiobook over reading the book for the immersive pleasure of Glenister’s outstanding storytelling.

According to news reports, a sequel is planned for publication in 2014. I am hoping Rowling, either using her own name or that of her pseudonym, Robert Galbraith, will continue what promises to be an excellent mystery series where the complex, very likable, and extraordinarily adept Cormoran Strike and his proficient and enthusiastic assistant Robin Ellacott investigate many more cases.

Check the WRL catalog for the print version of The Cuckoo’s Calling.

Check the WRL catalog for the compact disc audiobook version of The Cuckoo’s Calling.

Check the OneClickDigital catalog for the downloadable audiobook version of The Cuckoo’s Calling

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mysisterI listened to this award-winning debut novel by Annabel Pitcher and was quickly drawn into 10-year-old Jamie’s world.

The story starts five years after Jamie’s sister Rose was killed in a terrorist attack in Trafalgar Square.  His dad promises they are making a new start – but it’s a new start without their mother who has stayed in London to live with a man from her support group.  Jamie and his big sister, Jas (Rose’s twin), have hopes that maybe it will be different in this new town.  But then their dad puts the gold urn with Rose’s remains on the mantel, and they realize nothing has really changed.

Jamie has quite a few typical – and not so typical – challenges to overcome as a newcomer to this small town.  He has to start a new school and while it is a relief not to be identified as “poor Rose’s brother” it’s still difficult to make new friends.  He doesn’t seem to fit in with anyone, except a Muslim girl named Sunya.  But being friends with Sunya would make his dad mad because his dad blames all Muslims for the terrorist attack.

Jamie would also have you believe he didn’t care that he hadn’t seen his mother, yet he can quickly count off how many days it had been since she walked out.  And he faithfully wears the Spiderman t-shirt she gave him for his birthday every day in case she visits so she’ll see how much he loves it.

You may need to have some tissues handy, but the story isn’t told in an overly sentimental manner.  Coming from Jamie’s perspective you understand why losing his sister when he was five-years-old isn’t as real to him as making friends at school or making the winning goal of a soccer match.  And it’s heartbreaking when Jamie finally understands the grief his parents must feel after losing Rose.

I would recommend this book for all ages.  While Jamie sees things in a very kid-like fashion, the issues he deals with – abandonment, loss, grief, friendship, racism, bullying – can be understood from all ages.  As an adult I ached as well as rooted for him and his sister, two decent kids trying to make it without the solid support of either parent.  And at the end they do seem to be in a better place.

The printed book was checked out when I selected it but I absolutely loved hearing the audiobook read by Scottish actor David Tennant of Dr. Who and Harry Potter fame.  Tennant did a superb job making me believe I was listening to Jamie.

I’m looking forward to reading more from this author.

Check the WRL catalog for My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece

Check the WRL catalog for the audiobook My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece

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InfidelCoverOn the surface Ayaan Hirsi Ali and I have a lot in common: we are very close to the same age and we both read The Famous Five as little girls in the 1970s.  We both have one brother and one sister, and both lived in Holland in the late 1990s, after traveling the world in our early twenties.  Beyond that our lives diverged completely.

I grew up in a stable, prosperous English-speaking country while she spent her childhood fleeing her native Somalia to spend years in Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya.  She began to cover herself as a teen to show her deeply-felt piety to Islam.  She was sent around the globe for an arranged marriage to a man she hardly knew, and ended up a Dutch member of parliament.

Ali is probably most famous in America for making the short film Submission with Dutch film maker Theo Van Gogh.  Submission portrays four young women talking about their husbands’ abuses.  The actress portraying all four has verses from the Koran written on her naked body which can be glimpsed through a see-through Muslim covering garment or chador.  After the film was shown on Dutch television in 2004 Theo Van Gogh was murdered by a Dutch Muslim fanatic as revenge for what he saw as the film’s insults to Islam. This caused a fire storm in Holland and led to the dissolution of the Dutch parliament.  Due to threats on her life, Ayaan Hirsi Ali was forced to go into hiding and eventually left Holland to move to America.

Ali is a controversial figure who called the book Infidel because that is what she has become in some people’s eyes as she went from an obedient Muslim girl to outspoken defender of women’s rights and strong critic of practices like female genital mutilation.  Whether you agree with her or not, Infidel is a heartfelt and moving portrait of an extraordinary life.  Her life started in Mogadisu, which I think of as a war-torn hell-hole, but she knew as a beautiful city of stone and brick buildings and white sand beaches.  She went on to live in several countries, squeezing more adventure into a few years, than most people fit into a lifetime.  She now lives in the United States and has a husband and small child.

Try Infidel if you enjoy biographies with the drama of novels, particularly those which cover true stories of women caught up in large historical events like Marie-Thérèse: Child of Terror, by Susan Nagel or Nella Last’s War, edited by Richard Broad and Suzie Fleming.

I listened to Ayaan Hirsi Ali read her own story.  Occasionally her accent made words hard to understand, but I strongly recommend the audiobook as a way to meet her.

Check the WRL catalog for Infidel.
Check the WRL catalog for Infidel as an audiobook on CD.

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PiperReedPiper Reed is irrepressible.  In the vein of children’s literature’s girl-heroes like Ramona Quimby or Pippi Longstocking she faces life with strong opinions and some crazy ideas, but a good heart.

As it says in the subtitle, Piper Reed is a Navy Brat. Her father is a Naval aviation mechanic and Piper has fully embraced the military family lifestyle, even referring to her father as “the Chief.”

At the beginning of the book, during her family’s weekly pizza night, her father announces that he has received new orders.  Piper adds, “Chief always says ‘we’ when he talked about being assigned somewhere even though he was really the only person in the family being assigned to a new base.  He would say, ‘When a man joins the Navy, his family joins the Navy.'”

In the Navy or not, Piper finds it difficult to pack up in San Diego and drive all the way to the other side of the country to Pensacola, Florida, especially as the middle child, with an increasingly moody older sister in middle school and an annoying younger sister who considers herself a genius.  When they first get to Pensacola, Piper is moved to write “My Why-I-Wish-We’d-Never-Moved List,” including things like “I had my own room in San Diego” and “I had a tree house in San Diego.”  But Piper can’t be held down for long and she soon cooks up a scheme to make new friends involving her sister pretending to be a fortune-teller.  As time passes she discovers the joys of Florida in the form of a new family dog, the nearby beach, and the Blue Angels demonstration planes.

Like Piper Reed, National Book Award winning author Kimberly Willis Holt says “I’m a Navy brat that lived all over the world, including Guam.”  There are many details of military family life here that ring true:

  • Piper hasn’t seen her extended family for two years, and when they visit her grandparents on their cross-country car trip, she can’t imagine living down the street from grandparents like her cousins do.
  • Piper’s little sister, Sam, is distraught when Annie the doll is inadvertently packed in a box during the move from San Diego to Florida.
  • The family’s new house in Florida is smaller than their old house and Piper asks “Why can’t we live in one of those big houses with the screen porches?” and her father replies “That’s the officers’ housing.”
  • The book ends as Piper’s family farewell’s her father for six-months, as he is regularly at sea for that long.

If you remember Ramona Quimby fondly (she first appeared in print in 1955) then stop in to visit Piper Reed and you’ll find her just as funny and character driven as Ramona.  Even if you don’t remember Ramona, read Piper Reed, Navy Brat for a portrait of a strong, resilient family weathering life’s ups and downs.

Check the WRL catalog for Piper Reed, Navy Brat

Follow Piper’s further adventures in:

2. Piper Reed, the Great Gypsy

3. Piper Reed Gets a Job

4. Piper Reed, Campfire Girl

5. Piper Reed, Rodeo Star

6. Piper Reed, Forever Friend

If you are interested in other books about military family lifestyles, look on my website Books for Military Children.

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PurpleHeartMatt wakes up in a hospital bed in Iraq.  He remembers being on patrol, and he remembers an explosion, but he is blurry about what befell Ali, an orphaned Iraqi boy who had befriended him.  In the hospital he can’t remember what day of the week it is, forgets words like “trash,” and gets headaches that are a “bolt of pain.”  The medical staff tell him he has TBI (a Traumatic Brain Injury).  Usually mild cases get better on their own, and he’ll be back with his patrol in a few days. Matt struggles to remember what happened, but at the same time is terrified to recall, in case he remembers the unthinkable – that he purposely shot a child.

Purple Heart is marketed and classified as a teen book as Matt is only eighteen and enlisted straight from high school.  His hometown girlfriend writes him letters about school football games and pop quizzes.  She even says she is “sooo scared” of a bio pop quiz.  This highlights the divergence of their experiences and the disconnect between Matt’s old life and his new life.  Purple Heart is not a comfortable book and asks profound questions about war, as one of Matt’s buddies says, “We came over here to help these people and instead we’re killing them.”  And Matt thinks, “This is what war is all about.  It wasn’t about fighting the enemy.  It wasn’t about politics or oil or even about terrorists.  It was about your buddies; it was about fighting for the guy next to you.  And knowing he was fighting for you.”

Patricia McCormick says, “It isn’t an anti-war book. It isn’t a pro-war book. It’s an attempt to portray how three children ─ two eighteen-year-old Americans and a ten-year-old Iraqi boy ─ have been affected by war.”

Purple Heart asks (perhaps unanswerable) questions about the morality of war and how it changes people. I recommend it for readers of other Young Adult books about war, such as Sunrise over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers.

Check the WRL catalog for Purple Heart.

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My family discovered this story a few years ago during a road-trip stop at a popular restaurant and gift shop franchise where you can actually rent audiobooks on CD then return them at another location anywhere in the country. It delighted us that this alternative take, or prequel, on the lost boys, Peter Pan, pirates, magic, plus mermaids and a jealous fairy was equally appealing to the males and females, young and old, riding in our car. No one wanted to miss a single word as our car rolled along and it really helped pass the time!  We even couldn’t wait to get up the next morning from our hotel beds to hit the road and continue listening!

My kids have since taken up the reading of the complete series of five tales that concluded publication in 2011. This first audiobook is nine hours long.  I’d say this is the best road-trip audiobook ever and have recommended it to a lot of grandparents and parents seeking something to please whole carloads.

The book has boundless high-seas adventure, a mystery, and a heroic quest complete with a strong teen female character named Molly plus plenty of swashbuckling danger. Readers will learn the origin of the stardust that enables Peter and his friends to fly, and we get to know characters who feature in the timeless J.M. Barrie story Peter and Wendy. Humorist and novelist Dave Barry is a great storyteller and has ensured that the laughter almost never stops; Ridley Pearson’s skill with fantasy and fast-paced suspense is as adept in this young adult title as in his many books for adults.

Look for Peter and the Starcatchers in print or audiobook in the WRL catalog.

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LightBetweenOceans

The Light Between Oceans is the story of the bonds between parents and children. It explores the implacable strength of these bonds, but also their possible destructive power, and the deep sorrow if these bonds are broken. It is about betrayal and forgiveness and people trying to do the right and moral thing, but inadvertently causing more suffering.

Tom has just returned to Australia from the trenches of World War I. He chooses the isolation of lighthouse keeping to have time to be quiet and not think about the wounds he carries on his soul. He expects to stay alone, but he meets bubbly Isabel who is happy to live with him on isolated Janus rock. They only see other people every three months when the boat brings supplies, and only get shore leave once every three years. Their life is happy until Isabel has three miscarriages. After a storm, a boat washes up on shore containing a dead man and a tiny baby. Isabel and Tom assume that both parents are dead and it seems to Isabel that God has brought them a gift to replace their dead children and that they will be able to keep the baby forever as their own daughter. Then with a Shakespearean sense of impending and unavoidable tragedy, the events unfold.

The calamitous shadow of World War I looms over the story, even in a small Western Australian town, and even in the late 1920s. Of his war experiences Tom will only say to Isabel, “Trying to describe it would be like passing on a disease.” Isabel is her parents’ only surviving child as both her brothers were killed, which was typical of Australia, even though it is so far from the battlefields of Europe.

The Light Between Oceans is a haunting and wrenching story filled with a pervasive sense of loss. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to happen as all the possible outcomes seemed to be flawed and tragic. Despite this, it is a moving portrait of family bonds (“There is no defending yourself from the love of a baby”) and a wonderful lesson in the power and necessity of forgiveness, when Tom says, “To have a future, you have to give up hope of changing the past.” Plunge in to this book if you like compelling, character-driven literary fiction such as The Orchardist or more fantastically, The Night Circus.

Check the WRL catalog for The Light Between Oceans.

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A 2013 Alex Award winner (meaning its a book in the adult section found to be highly appealing to teen readers), Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a laughable and adventurous satire packed with hilarious characterization and witty dialogue mostly in the epistolary fashion using email correspondence, letters, police reports, report cards, and other documents.  Modest readers might find some strong language offensive yet very in-character when utilized.

You’ll find hilarious characters, some to love, some to hate, and some to drive everyone crazy!  Semple pokes fun at Seattle’s subcultures of anti-fashionable, pro-geek, tech-talking, community-oriented, hyper-diverse, ultra-green, alternative-lifestyle embracing citizens.  Semple herself is a transplant to the Seattle region from Los Angeles, as is the character Bernadette, where she wrote screenplays for “Beverly Hills, 90210,” “Ellen,” “Mad About You” and “Arrested Development.”

Caution, spoilers (because the events are revealed asynchronously and non-chronologically): Bernadette Fox has escaped her failed career as a genius architect by isolating herself in a crumbling fortress of a home where she can’t sleep and torments herself with self-pity.  She’s become so anti-social that she’s hired a virtual assistant to handle even the most mundane logistics of her life.  For years, her precious 15-year old daughter Bee has been Bernadette’s only reason for living.  Bee’s been promised this trip to Antarctica as an award for her perfect report card (Her Microsoft-guru dad can afford it).  Now, she’s having a panic attack brought on by the prospect of accompanying Bee through the sea-sickening Drake passage, “the roughest and most feared water in the world,”  and this leads to a series of outrageous circumstances that culminate in a final resolution that just might restore Bernadette’s artistic passion.

The narration, and actual singing, by actress Kathleen Wilhoite, is extraordinarily energetic and adds much to the listening experience of the audiobook version, which I was whizzed through completely enraptured with joyous laughter.  When hearing her voicing the hysterics of the ‘gnats’ (aka the condescending moms of Bee’s classmates at Galer Street School), I was reminded of Tea Leoni’s over-the-top character in the movie Spanglish.

Check the WRL catalog for the print or large print versions, too.

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parrySecondFiddle

Second Fiddle is a story of adventures in exotic locales. From the outside it may seem that this is always true of military family life. It is accurate that I have lived in six countries and four states. And I have the annoying habit of being able to trump just about anyone’s extreme temperature stories, having lived in both one of the hottest cities in the world, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and one of the coldest, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. But the appeal of exotic travel chronicles only part of the experience. The constant moving of military families is an important theme in Second Fiddle and the book does a great job of capturing the sense of loss, while at the same time, even the thirteen-year-old characters appreciate that they are also receiving a gift.

As the main character, Jody says near the beginning, “The upside of being a military kid was that you got to see a lot of cool places. The downside was that every time you made a friend, you had to move away.” And her friend Vivian adds, “My mother thinks I’m having this great international experience, but changing schools all the time is just the same horrible experience over and over.”

Jody and her two friends Giselle and Vivian live on an American Army base in Berlin in 1990, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. They are brought together by their love of music and they travel by train each week to music lessons in East Germany with Herr Muller. They are scheduled to attend a music competition in Paris and they all know it will be their last time to perform together as they are all moving away. On their way home from a music lesson they witness an attempted murder and the adventure begins, sending them across international borders as they desperately try to save the life of a young man.

Without their musical connection the three would not have been friends at all, as Giselle’s father is a general and the base commander, while Jody’s father is enlisted. Jody feels she can’t invite the general’s daughter over as even the adults in the enlisted housing area wouldn’t like it. Of course, parents’ ranks shouldn’t make a difference to the children, but this book accurately reflects that they do.

Author, Roseanne Parry based Second Fiddle on her own life experiences as she says that she moved to Germany in 1990 with her soldier husband. While the details of girls’ adventures can at times seem melodramatic, the book does a wonderful job of capturing the feel of military life. She mentions details that I recognize or have heard from my children and other people. For example, impending doom in the smell of moving boxes; the constant absence of Jody’s Dad; Jody not minding moving so much when she was younger; finding the question of where are you from impossible to answer; living in one place for three years for the first time and feeling unnatural in knowing her way around; and also remembering the time of an event in your personal history from where you lived (“I was seven so it must have been Missouri”).

Second Fiddle is an exciting older children’s adventure that sneaks in some history about the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Cold War. Try it if you are interested in the military lifestyle and the people who lead it.  I also recommend it for military families, both older children of around ten and up and their parents. It will be a great start for conversations about the lifestyle.

Check the WRL catalog for Second Fiddle.

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seriesNot to stretch a naval metaphor, but I’ve been in a reading doldrums. Nothing satisfies. At these times I fall back on one of two tried-and-true authors: Terry Pratchett or Patrick O’Brian. Pratchett pops up pretty regularly on Blogging for a Good Book, but I am amazed to see that we have never written about O’Brian, whose 20-volume Aubrey-Maturin series fills an entire library shelf.

Set in the world of the royal navy during the Napoleonic wars, O’Brian’s novels are first and foremost the portrait of a lifelong friendship between Jack Aubrey, affable and resolute ship’s captain, and Stephen Maturin, surgeon, naturalist, and intelligence agent. The series pretty easily finds its audience of men (and women) who are interested in age-of-sail adventures on the high seas; I’m not sure it always finds its audience of women (and men) who enjoy Jane Austen’s prose style, well-crafted sentences and characters, or the complications of Regency-era manners.

sailsThe New York Times may have called them “the best historical novels ever written,” but I avoided this series for years based solely on the infernal diagram of sails that opens every volume. No one wants to have to memorize sailing terminology just to get into a good story. Even as I began to be won over by O’Brian’s carefully-chosen words and dry humor, I simply refused to care which sail was a spritsail.

Fortunately, there is so much more than sails to care about as you turn the pages: there are also debauched sloths. Battles, mutinies, French prisons, typhoons, desert islands, music, birds, rich vocabulary, and a whole Dickensian roster of colorful secondary characters. There is indeed a lot of naval jargon, but the reader is not beat about the head with it, or if he is, he has a sympathetic ally in his ignorance in the person of Stephen Maturin. Stephen is also a landlubber, an outsider looking in to the regimented world of the royal navy, and he does not care any more about how many masts a ship has than I did.

Jack is famously lucky at sea, a skilled, courageous ship’s captain who will take, burn, and destroy the enemy at every opportunity, while on land, he is easy prey for speculators or a pretty face. Stephen is an Irish-Catalan physician with a passion for natural philosophy, and is forever cluttering Jack’s ship with beetles, wombats, and diving bells. If you cross him, he will fleece you at cards. If you double-cross him, he will find you, he will shoot you, and then he will dissect you. Their world of naval battles and subversive intelligence work occasionally collides with the domestic sphere and the polite drawing rooms of Jane Austen, usually with disastrous results, and then they are back to sea to escape debt, lawsuits, wives, sweethearts, and mothers-in-law.

And if you do begin to care about spritsails, there are many fine books to help you explore Aubrey and Maturin’s world, whether you’re interested in the vocabulary, the geography, the ships, or even, heaven help you, the food (probably the only cookbook in the library with a recipe for rats in onion sauce).

Check the WRL catalog for Master and Commander.

Or try the audiobooks. Patrick Tull and Simon Vance are both fantastic readers.

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Mawson

Crunch crunch crunch crunch tang tang tang tang crunch crunch.

Tang is the sound your boots make when you are stomping about in the Antarctic, and suddenly you are no longer stomping on solid ice, but rather on a thin layer of snow disguising a crevasse of unknown depths. Sometimes the snow “lids” are thick enough that you can walk over these pits without danger. Sometimes they aren’t.

Crevasses are the essential theme of Alone on the Ice, a riveting account of Douglas Mawson’s 1911-1914 Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE). The AAE was contemporary with Scott’s and Amundsen’s race for the South Pole; when Scott and his men were dying in their tent in the middle of nowhere, Mawson and his men were tentbound in the same blizzard in another part of nowhere. Geologist Mawson and his band of Australians and New Zealanders were not interested in the South Polar holy grail, however; they were in Antarctica for science. Amassing specimens and data, they scattered across the inner blank of the continent in several parties, mapping, geologizing, and falling into crevasses in every direction.

Irrepressible young photographer Frank Hurley, who would later take such memorable photographs of Shackleton’s Endurance expedition, actually admires the “unearthly beauty of the abyss” while he hangs about awaiting rescue. Mawson, starving and alone in his crevasse with no one to rescue him and no strength to haul himself up, has one great regret: that he didn’t eat all of the rest of his food the night before.

The first of Mawson’s sledging companions, Belgrave Ninnis, drops into a gaping abyss along with the strongest of the dogs, the tent, and nearly all of the food. Xavier Mertz succumbs to starvation, or possibly to vitamin A poisoning from eating dogs’ liver. Mawson continues on. Despite having no real hope of survival, he saws his sledge in half with a pocket knife and rigs a windsail out of his dead comrade’s trousers. He even gets out of his crevasse, quoting Robert Service as he climbs: “it’s dead easy to die, it’s the keeping-on-living that’s hard.”

Meanwhile, at base camp… Mawson’s men build their winter base in, literally, the windiest place on earth (you can watch them struggling in Frank Hurley’s silent film). Against all odds, they manage to erect a radio tower and establish rudimentary communications with the men staffing an almost equally cold and lonely outpost on Macquarie Island, but! in a Hitchcockian turn, the only man who knows how to operate the radio begins to lose his mind. Descending into paranoia, he accuses his companions of hypnotising him, threatens them with death and lawsuits, refuses to wash, and begins to collect his urine in small bottles.

Roberts, the author of several books on mountaineering, quotes from letters, diaries, and Mawson’s account, The Home of the Blizzard, to tell this story. Exciting, horrifying, and full of human interest, it’s a great read for anyone who enjoys tales of exploration, and especially for Shackleton fans, who will recognize many of the expeditioners. That’s right… some of them went back!

Check the WRL catalog for Alone on the Ice.

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