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Archive for the ‘Melissa’s Picks’ Category

catwomanFavorite villain of all time: Catwoman.  And here’s a whole young adult graphic novel devoted to her!

This book starts off with the origin story of the feline felon. Early comics had her as a bored socialite who liked the taste of danger in stealing jewelry, while later comics expanded her background to mousy, expendable secretary or avenging prostitute. In all scenarios she turns to a life of crime, and despite Batman’s efforts she will not reform.

Chapters then address her costumes (tight), tools of the trade (poisoned perfume and fabulous whip, to name a few), and an ongoing flirtation with Batman. Each chapter includes frames from comics, tv shows, or movies to help illustrate the point. My favorite part of the book is the interspersed comics that show the feline arch-villain as she appeared in the 1940s through early 2000s. The book even ends with a Bob Kane “Batman with Robin” adventure featuring Catwoman.

This Catwoman book is more overview than in-depth study. It’s a purr-fectly delightful read. But Catwoman fans will have to go to another source for information about how the character was fully developed and which comic artist contributed what feature to the story.

Check the WRL catalog for Catwoman

 

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batman1

Batman Week, Day 3. Today’s post highlights a small sample of Batman books for the younger generation.  These books are very popular at the library, so be sure to check the catalog if you don’t see these on the shelf!

Let’s start with a Junior Graphic Novel, Batman: The Story of the Dark Knight, written and illustrated by Ralph Cosentino.

This book covers the basics of the Batman story and introduces four familiar villains without going into a specific story of how they are vanquished. The layout is very similar to a picture book with many of the illustrations covering both pages. But like a comic strip, the book has word boxes and the familiar sound effects (boom! bonk! pow!).  While the story talks about Batman studying hard to outsmart the bad guy, the pictures show him using his physical strength to subdue the villain.

This one is recommended for grades 1-3. If you like the look of this book, Cosentino has written about Superman and Wonder Woman as well.

The library also has several titles in the Junior Easy Reader series by Scholastic.  I borrowed a few books for reading level 2 (reading with help) and level 3 (reading alone).  These were my favorite stories:

Level 2 stories like I Am Batman and Batman Versus Bane have pictures on every page, but also tell a simple story of how Batman uses his brains and cool gadgets to battle the bad guy. These stories in particular have illustrations reminiscent of the Dark Knight movies.

The Mad Hatter, a level 3 story, has a more complex plot and fewer pictures. The pictures are more comic-like with frames and word boxes, and the story is quick moving action. Once people report that their hats have been stolen, Batman quickly figures out that the Mad Hatter is once again in Gotham City. He catches up to the bad guys at a museum, but the Mad Hatter escapes with a cryptic message: “My next adventure will be my crowning glory!” Batman knows the villain is up to something big and has to figure it out before the Mad Hatter strikes again. Brains and cool gadgets once again help Batman make the city and its citizens safe.

batman3 And finally, the Junior Fiction chapter books include a DC Super Heroes series about Batman by different writers and illustrators. I picked up The Fog of Fear. This was the most complex story of the batch I collected. Written in chapters with an occasional picture, the book features many challenges for Batman to overcome. A master criminal called “The Scarecrow” releases a fog on Gotham City. It appears to be just a nuisance until Batman discovers that water will react with the fog to create hallucinations of your greatest fears. Batman has to figure out a way to clear the dense fog from the city. And in the process, he must help a friend who gets transformed into a vicious Man-Bat!

This is definitely another action-packed adventure for young fans who are ready for a bigger reading challenge. My only gripe was the illustrations. I love Legos, but didn’t like that the Batman in this series looked like a Lego character. Probably not a big deal for the audience this is actually aimed at—but I thought the illustrations from the Scholastic series were better. I also liked the added features at the end of the book—a profile of the villain, discussion questions about the book, and writing prompts for further activities.

Check the WRL catalog for Batman: The Story of the Dark Knight

Check the WRL catalog for The Mad Hatter

Check the WRL catalog for The Fog of Fear

 

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onebighappyDogs cuddling with goats?  An owl raising a goose? A cat caring for a litter of bunnies?  So much cuteness in one book!

One Big Happy Family is a quick read that will put a smile on your face.

Author Lisa Rogak has compiled 50 examples of cross-species friendships.  She explains that the parenting instinct in these cases defied the animals’ natural predator instincts. And whether the relationship lasted a lifetime or just a few weeks, when the young animal needed assistance most the adult animal stepped up to the plate.  As Rogak writes, “in doing so they serve as an inspiration.”

The pictures are the real draw for this nonfiction book. Every few pages there are darling photos of animals.  Brief narratives describe the origins of the relationship.  These can be quickly zipped through so you can “oooh” and “aww” your way to the next picture.

In fact, let’s just show a couple of images that will convince you of the appeal more than any number of words I can use.

dalmation bunny

 

Check the WRL catalog for One Big Happy Family

 

 

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orphantrainOrphan Train caught my eye on the New Books shelf. I had not heard about the orphan trains before and enjoyed gaining some insight through this story.

According to PBS’s The Orphan Trains, the Children’s Aid Society, a precursor to our modern-day foster care, arranged trips between 1854 and 1929 to relocate thousands of orphan children from the streets of New York to the Midwest.  The organizers believed that farmers could use these homeless children as laborers, but hoped they would also treat them as part of their family and make sure they got an education.

Kline’s story is told through Molly and Vivian.  Molly is an angry, misunderstood teen about to age out of the foster care system.  She is arrested for stealing a book from the library and has to perform community service or go to jail.  Her foster mother is fed up with her and doesn’t want to put any more effort into the relationship.  Molly’s boyfriend helps arrange a service project for an older woman, Vivian, who employs his mother.

Vivian has Molly help her downsize her belongings.  But as they open boxes in the attic, Vivian  is reminded of her past and the experiences she had losing her family and being relocated by the orphan trains.  As they talk, Molly and Vivian develop a strong bond from having had similar experiences trying to fit in with foster families.

I enjoyed Vivian’s saga, though my heart ached for all the ups and downs of her life. I especially liked the way Molly’s present-day life and Vivian’s past were similar.  The story was an enjoyable, quick read for me.  My only criticism of the book is the ending — and I love happy endings!  I just felt that everything tied up too neatly.

This book seems to be a popular selection for book groups; in fact, we have the title available as a Gab Bag.  If you want to use it for your own discussion, questions can be found on Christina Baker Kline’s web site. In talking with others who had read the book, we all agreed that it inspired us to look into the real-life events of the orphan trains.  Tying the historical fact to the fictional story would make good talking points.

Check the WRL catalog for Orphan Train

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americanheiress

I have to send a thank you to the library user who recommended this book to me.  I don’t know her name, but we had a nice chat about romance books — and she came back to the Reference desk to make sure I had the title correct.  She said she thoroughly enjoyed it.  I did, too!

The story takes place in the late 1800s.  Cora Cash is one of those rich, eligible, young women whose father makes more money than they can spend.  Her mother aspires to have the status of the Vanderbilts or Astors, and has set her sights on a titled husband for her daughter.

While riding in an English fox hunt, Cora breaks away from the pack and falls from her horse.  The handsome man who finds her and brings her to his drafty ancestral home is none other than the Ninth Duke of Wareham. Cora’s mother could not possibly object when the Duke declares his love for Cora and asks for her hand.

The marriage is less of a fairy tale.

Ivo, as the Duke is called by friends, seems to care for Cora.  But his emotions get tied up in knots over how things look.  It is not just the social customs that must be maintained, but he is also struggling to make sure that Cora is nothing like his own mother.

For her part, Cora loves the Duke.  She tries to please him by fixing up his family home, but in doing so she only fuels rumors that the Duke married the rich heiress for her money.  In addition to walking a fine line with his pride, Cora has to adjust to living in a foreign country and learning to cope with her domineering mother-in-law.  Her troubles seem especially poignant at the Duke’s home, where the servants are civil to her face, but unlikely to follow any requests that aren’t deemed “proper” (like removing the many pictures of Ivo’s mother and her former lover, the Prince of Wales, from the bedrooms).

Instead of talking to one another, the couple struggle with misconceptions that might break them apart.

While the story has opportunities to go gothic, it doesn’t.  The old home is certainly drafty, but Goodwin resisted the tired “dark and stormy night” scenarios.  Cora is surprisingly sympathetic as well.  She easily could have turned out to be spoiled and heartless, but she isn’t.  Spoiled, for sure, but she doesn’t turn out to be the shrew.  Snappy dialogue and interesting secondary characters also kept me turning the pages.  I especially liked Bertha, Cora’s maid from South Carolina.  It is through Bertha’s eyes that the book shows the “downstairs” portion of the social classes.

Goodwin’s book provides lots of details of the Gilded Age: the extravagant parties, the fashionable clothing, the social expectations.  She notes in the Acknowledgements that “When it comes to the Gilded Age, the more fantastical the circumstance, the more likely it is to be true.”

I would recommend this as a good read-alike for fans of Downton Abbey or even The Great Gatsby.

Check the WRL catalog for The American Heiress

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thinking I enjoyed this debut fantasy by Emily Croy Barker. And I’m torn with how to write this review–because a big part of what I liked about the book was not expecting the plot twists.

So before going into a brief summary–here are some of the book’s other appealing features:

There are plenty of interesting characters in the story. Nora, a graduate student in English Literature, is the central character. One reviewer described her as an American Hermione (from Harry Potter fame, of course). I don’t know that Nora was that studious! In fact, my one complaint about the book is the title: “The Thinking Woman’s Guide.” No doubt Nora is smart, but there were times I wanted to smack her because she seemed to miss the obvious. The main male character is the magician Aruendiel–he’s talented, but flawed. He makes no apologies for his arrogance. I would probably hate meeting him in real life, but he keeps things interesting within the pages of a book.

The setting is a mix of modern and medieval. Putting a modern woman in the medieval world creates interesting situations, some I found myself thinking about long after the book ended. I also got a kick out of the period quotes from English literature. It was fun trying to identify the literary references, and I was amused with how the author was able to fit some of these in the story.

So stop reading the review now and pick up the book if you want to avoid the plot summary.

The book begins in our modern world with Nora Fischer having a crappy day. Her advisor is unhappy with the progress on her thesis, her boyfriend dumped her for another girl, and there’s a mouse in her kitchen!  Although Nora is oblivious, the reader quickly realizes that when Nora wishes for something it unexpectedly comes true. I was all ready for her fairy godmother to swoop in and tell her about her magical heritage when–SURPRISE–that didn’t happen!

Instead, Nora stumbles through a hole in the fabric of universes and ends up in a medieval world where magic and wizards exist. Nora is enchanted, literally, by the Faitoren. The spells are particularly powerful, and she is caught up in the life of these fae-type creatures who love beauty and fun. It isn’t until after she has a devastating emergency that she realizes she is in danger. She calls on the magician Aruendiel to come to her aid.

The next 500 pages of the book include magic, romance, battles, kidnappings, murders, and more!

I listened to much of this hefty story as a downloadable audiobook. AudioFile magazine gave the book well-deserved double honors—naming The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic one of the Best Audiobooks of the year in Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Audio Theater, and Alyssa Bresnahan one of Best Voices in the same category for her excellent narration.

The author has an excerpt, map, and book club guide available on her webpage.

Check the WRL catalog for The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic

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coloradokidTime for a confession. I’ve been binge-watching the SyFy series Haven on Netflix.  Haven is a fictional small town in Maine where people are cursed with unusual gifts–like being able to conjure storms when they are stressed or make monsters attack when they are frightened. It’s not spells or demon powers–it’s what residents call “the troubles.” The series has an interesting (and attractive) cast, and I like the supernatural twist on the solve-the-mystery-in-an-hour format.

In the opening credits of every episode there’s a note that the series is based on The Colorado Kid by Stephen King.  So I read the book.

Newspaper intern Stephanie spends an afternoon with veteran newspaper men Vince and Dave discussing a cold case mystery. It’s a case the older men say isn’t really appropriate for a big newspaper like the Boston Globe because unlike many of the often repeated local stories–like the ghost lights or the mysterious shipwrecked boat–this one doesn’t have a clean “musta-been” explanation. For example, the ghost lights appearing above the baseball field “musta-been” a reflection off the clouds, or maybe it “musta-been” aliens. As Vince explains, the story of the Colorado Kid has too many unknown factors.

He and Dave proceed to tell Steff what little they know about how a man from Colorado went to work one morning and ended up dead on a little island off the coast of Maine only hours later. He was unidentified for months. But even when the police followed an initially  missed clue and identified him, they were no closer to understanding why he was found so far from home or why he had a Russian coin in his pocket.

Nothing fits together, and that can be frustrating for some readers, but I liked the interaction between Stephanie and the old timers. It was nice to see that she was beginning to fit in with the small town community. And I liked that Vince and Dave laid out all they knew about the Colorado Kid and accepted there are just too many things still unknown to be able to give a guess, a “musta-been” explanation, as to what happened. The newspaper can’t print the story because there’s nothing but questions left at the end.

So what’s all this have to do with Haven the TV series? Some character and place names are the same, and some facts about the mystery of the “Colorado Kid” are mentioned in earlier episodes, but you really get to the meat of it in the author notes at the end of the book. King explains that not all mysteries are solvable, and “it’s the beauty of the mystery that allows us to stay sane.” Nicely put, Mr. King. And I think the reminder that everything doesn’t always have an answer is the inspiration for the television show.

Check the WRL catalog for The Colorado Kid

Just for fun, check the WRL catalog for season 1 of Haven

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