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fireopalI picked up this Young Adult book for the new themed book discussion we have going at the library.  April’s topic was Elizabethan England. The English invasion of Ireland, and Ireland’s support by Spain provide important plot points for the book.

Maeve is the daughter of a fisherman. One night while walking home, she sees a lady in white who gives her two potions – one to protect her mother and the other to protect herself.  An unfortunate encounter with the town bully breaks the bottle with her mother’s potion. Without the potion to protect her, Maeve’s mother eventually falls into a coma-like state. When her sister succumbs to the same condition, Maeve must go on a quest to save them.

Maeve’s quest to free her mother and sister is intertwined with an ancient conflict between the goddess Danu and the Valkyrie warrior Uria. The  story was made richer by these elements of Irish folklore.

The book has a lot going on. Her brothers join the resistance fighting English solders; a Spanish ship is wrecked off the coast, and Maeve nurses one of the sailors back to health. On top of it all she keeps firm her belief that her mother will get well. All the little details and descriptions made the story more enjoyable for me.  And I liked the way the myths and Maeve’s current day mixed and influenced one another.

Looking for books with quests, princesses, or mythology? You may also enjoy:

Check the WRL catalog for The Fire Opal

whatiremembermostWhen I’m in the mood for a good story that will make me laugh as well as cry, I check to see if Cathy Lamb has written anything new. After finding this 2014 publication that I had missed somehow, I eagerly settled in for an escapist read.

Grenadine Scotch Wild decided to disappear from her old life. She left her husband, her house, her job, and her high society lifestyle after she was arrested for aiding her husband in questionable business investments.

She picked a small town in Central Oregon to start over.  It didn’t take long for her to find a job as a bartender and make a few friends.

It did take some time and a bit of luck to earn enough money to afford to live somewhere besides in her car. But once that was settled, her talent for design and outgoing personality took her to a new level of success. If only that court case, made worse by her husband’s demands to move back home, wasn’t hanging over her head…

I liked the supporting characters of the book — from the quirky bar patrons to the hunky boss to the unscrupulous husband to the creepy killer. This outstanding cast complemented the page-turning story.

Lamb skillfully weaves back story with current story to complete a tapestry of Grenady’s life. This is more than one woman’s search for career success, it’s her search for answers and justice. I liked Grenady, and rooted for her all the way to the last page.

Check the WRL catalog for What I Remember Most

cleanThis urban fantasy/science fiction novel started as a free serial on the Ilona Andrews web site. The authors — Ilona Andrews is the pen name of a husband and wife writing team — wanted readers to have a chance to comment on the story as it developed. They published the weekly entries as a book in 2013.

Dina Demille runs a bed and breakfast in a small Texas town. When she pulled out her broom to fight off an intruder, I assumed she was a witch. But the story surprised me. The Inn is lodging for otherworldly visitors, and Dina is an Innkeeper, someone whose duty is to provide sanctuary.

When something evil begins killing family pets, Dina encourages her new neighbor (whom she suspects is a werewolf, another alien lifeform) to take care of his territory. The arrogant (and handsome) man pretends he doesn’t know what she’s talking about, so Dina takes it upon herself to get involved even though it means risking her neutrality. She can’t sit by and let a vicious killer hurt her human neighbors.

Dina discovers that the enemy forces are too powerful for one person to handle. She ends up forming an alliance with her werewolf neighbor and a vampire soldier to kill the intruders and find out who sent them to Earth.

This was a quick read with lots of fast-paced action and witty banter. The unexpected alien aspect of the story was engaging. Part of me wanted to keep reading just to figure out how all this galactic stuff fit together. And part of me kept reading just because Dina was such a “normal” character in extraordinary circumstances.

The second book of the Innkeeper Chronicles is being developed on the web site, but catch up on the story by reading Clean Sweep first.

Check the WRL catalog for Clean Sweep

Drama HighThe subtitle of Michael Sokolove’s Drama High reveals many of the reasons one might like it: “The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town, and the Magic of Theater.”

The brilliant teacher is Lou Volpe, a forty year veteran of the teaching wars, nearing the end of his career, a man who took over a drama program even though he had no experience as an actor or in teaching acting. He simply loved the theater, and taught himself how to mount major productions. By the time of his career on which the book focuses, he is so accomplished that major Broadway producers like Cameron Mackintosh ask him to test edgy or complicated shows to see if they can be licensed to high schools and small theaters.

The struggling town is Levittown, Pennsylvania, a former steel town struggling to maintain its economy and population. It’s a surprising place to find a great drama program. Usually that elite status is reached only by private schools with lots of wealthy and talented parents who can pay for expensive production elements and donate their time to teach top level skills. But Volpe’s students aren’t the typical drama kids, the edgy and emotional types, and they certainly aren’t affluent. They’re working class kids who make choices like whether or not to continue with a sports team or underdogs who struggle to be in a show while they keep a part time job that helps out the family. This gives them an affinity for some characters that wealthy, artsy kids can’t always find. They’re also the kind of students Volpe has and knows, and he makes the best of them. He’s built a program so good that many of his students find their way to scholarships and professional careers.

The magic of theater is displayed through the productions that Volpe stages during the year in which author Sokolove is a regular presence in the classroom. Where most high schools are still performing the same twenty shows that schools were performing in the sixties or seventies, Truman High is tackling contemporary theater. In particular, there’s Spring Awakening, a musical with a historical setting but very modern teen morals, and Good Boys and True, an edgy drama that Volpe’s students hope to perform well enough to take to national competition. (I won’t spoil the story and tell you whether or not they make it.) Rising to the occasion of performing well in emotion-laden, high-quality productions puts a lot of pressure on the kids, but most of them grow and even flourish with the challenge. If there’s one weakness to this kind of book, it’s that it will leave you wishing you could see for yourself the productions that Sokolove describes.

There’s also a “can you go home again?” appeal to this story. Sokolove was a student of Volpe’s long ago, in days when Volpe was a young, charismatic and influential English teacher, not yet a drama teacher. He remembers when Volpe was married to a likable woman (that status has also changed, but again, I won’t spoil the story) and motivating students like himself to journalistic careers. Volpe’s subject has changed, and Levittown has declined since Sokolove’s youth, and his own attempts to come to grips with the changes are part of the drama.

If you like theater, or underdog stories, or inspirational tales of any kind, you’ll find something to like in Drama High.

Check the WRL catalog for Drama High

Island on FireSome volcanoes are world famous; everyone has heard of Mount Vesuvius, which destroyed Pompeii in the time of Pliny. Iceland’s volcanoes are less known, although they were in the news a few years ago when unpronounceable Eyjafjallajokull spewed out enough ash to disrupt European air travel for weeks. Eyjafjallajokull may be more present in modern consciousness but it isn’t the only, the largest, or even the most dangerous of Iceland’s many volcanoes. Recently, scientists and historians have been focusing their attention on Iceland’s fissure volcano Laki, which evidence suggests may have disrupted world climate for years after it started erupting in 1783.

Island on Fire’s long subtitle, “The Extraordinary Story of a Forgotten Volcano the Changed the World” sums up the problem with its history: this eruption occurred in a sparsely populated part of the world before the advent of easy international travel or communication. Nonetheless new research using techniques such as ancient ice cores suggests Laki’s eruption affected the climate all over the world. This lead to crop failures and famine and, depending on how you calculate it, may have killed millions of people. In a long eruption that continued over months Laki spewed out enough toxic gases to poison the entire lower atmosphere, especially over Europe. From all over Europe numerous newspaper accounts from the summer of 1783 report a “dry fog” that made it difficult for people to breathe.

Much of the surviving eyewitness account from Iceland comes from Jón Steingrímsson the ‘fire priest’ who famously gave a sermon while lava was bearing down on his village church. His journal reports unbelievable devastation and destruction, including the horrific symptoms in people and livestock from months of exposure to fluorine gas.

A compelling, if sometimes disturbing read, Island on Fire includes plenty of maps and black and white photos. The interested reader can also find color visuals of Iceland’s wonderful landscape, and the story of Laki’s eruption in the documentary Doomsday Volcanoes. For those interested in volcanoes in general try the documentary series Mega Disasters.

For another fascinating book about the historic effects of a major volcanic eruption try Tambora, by Gillen D’Arcy Wood. And for a gripping teen trilogy about the worldwide effects of an apocalyptic eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano I heartily recommend Ashfall by Mike Mullin.

Check the WRL catalog for Island on Fire.

ManagingManureHaving farm animals is fun. They are cute and fun to watch, but (to put it as delicately as possible) they, um, poo a lot. Managing Manure may be about an impolite topic, but to those of us who live in the long-polluted Chesapeake Bay watershed it is an important one.

Apart from the obvious problems involving shoes, manure is, as author Mark Kopecky puts it, “Brown Gold”.  From Managing Manure I learned that much of the nutrients a farm animal eats are excreted.  For example, an average of 70 to 80 percent of the nitrogen goes right through, so manure is vital for recycling nutrients.

Based on solid research from many universities, Managing Manure is filled with practical information aimed at small farmers and gardeners. It does have some mild humor, such as a chapter sub heading of “Number One or Number Two?” but generally takes its important subject very seriously. It is a small book of a hundred pages with instructions on things like how to store, compost and use your Brown Gold. It includes line drawings throughout and a useful glossary, resource list and index.

Managing Manure is from Storey, the well-regarded publisher of farm and country lore which produces go-to books for all gardening and small scale livestock enterprises. This is the very newest of their books owned by Williamsburg Regional Library. Other books in our collection to look out for include titles such as Storey’s Guide to Keeping Honey Bees: Honey Production, Pollination, Bee Health, by Richard E. Bonney and Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of All Time, by Craig LeHoullier.

Managing Manure is a great book for readers interested in gardening as naturally as possible, such as people who enjoyed Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way: 18th Century Methods for Today’s Organic Gardener, by Wesley Greene. It will also appeal to readers interested in raising livestock who pored over Link to the Past, Bridge to the Future: Colonial Williamsburg’s Animals, by John P. Hunter.  You will learn much scintillating information such as the consistency of cow manure will depend on the quality of the food the cow eats.

Check the WRL catalog for Managing Manure.

WinnieAnyone coming from Winnipeg is well aware that the most famous of all bears, Winnie-the-Pooh, was named after that Canadian city. Many people know that the real Christopher Robin visited the real Winnie Bear at London Zoo, but London is thousands of miles away from Winnipeg, so the connection back to Canada is not well-known, even to fans of the Bear of Little Brain. Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh sets out to change this grave lack!

For the youngest of readers as well as for the staunchest of fans the book does a wonderful job of capturing the amazing details of Winnie Bear’s life. It all started during World War I when a Canadian solider, Harry Colebourn, impulsively bought an orphaned bear cub when his troop train stopped briefly in Ontario. Despite the astonishment and doubts of his officers he promised to look after their new, small, brown mascot, named Winnipeg after their regiment’s home city. Harry was a veterinarian and his job was looking after the army’s horses and to his surprise Winnie fitted in well with the normally skittish horses. Harry’s regiment took Winnie along with them on their troop ship to England, but thought France would be too dangerous for the small bear, so Winnie lived out his days at London Zoo, as a bear so friendly that children were allowed to ride on his back.

Warmly illustrated by Jonathan D. Voss, this short book is a must-read for Winnie-the-Pooh fans of all ages. It is great for the whole family to share as older readers will enjoy the author’s note and pore over the historic photographs of the real bear and his real people. Very young Winnie-the-Pooh fans will be fascinated by the connection between their bear who is a toy and a real wild animal.

Check the WRL catalog for Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh.

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