Archive for January, 2011

Review of A Brief History of Montmaray

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

A Brief History of Montmaray

by Michelle Cooper

Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2010. 296 pages.
Starred Review
2010 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #3 Other Teen Fiction

With a lonely castle on the front, I expected some kind of medieval romance, but that’s not what I got at all. Instead, I found a historical adventure, with suspense and mystery and danger, and some teens needing to be resourceful.

The book is the diary of Sophia Margaret Elizabeth Jane Clementine FitzOsborne, princess of Montmaray, begun on her sixteenth birthday, as World War II was brewing in Europe.

Montmaray is a fictional island in the Bay of Biscay, off the coasts of Spain, France, and the United Kingdom. Sophia’s Uncle John is king of the island nation — but he is, frankly, insane. Her older brother Toby, the heir to the throne, is going to school in England. She has an older cousin Veronica, and a ten-year-old sister Henry who wishes she were a boy. Their parents are dead, and they live in the castle with the housekeeper tending to their Uncle John.

There aren’t many villagers left on Montmaray, and they don’t have ships come by terribly often. They still try to keep up the trappings of royalty, but Sophia’s aunt wants her to come to England. If she did, who would watch things at Montmaray? But then when some Germans show up, Sophia wants to find out what they’re looking for. And if they don’t find it, what can the royal family do to defend themselves?

It’s very hard to explain this book. I’d heard it described as a romance, which doesn’t really fit, even though Sophia does talk about her crush on the housekeeper’s son. But there’s a lot more here than that. It’s a historical novel that feels real and draws you in. It gives us a delightfully unorthodox situation, quirky and fascinating characters, and a situation that seems all too real. What would you do if you were alone in the middle of the ocean with a kingdom everyone is leaving? When a war begins in Europe, would you be able to keep from taking sides? What if the larger countries don’t care which side you take?

One thing I can tell you about this book: It’s a good read! I highly recommend it.

Wonderful! Looking up the links to this book on Amazon, I just learned that a sequel is coming out in April 2011: The FitzOsbornes in Exile! Huzzah!

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/montmaray.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of This Is Not the Story You Think It Is…

Friday, January 28th, 2011

This Is Not the Story You Think It Is…

A Season of Unlikely Happiness

by Laura Munson

Amy Einhorn Books (Penguin), New York, 2010. 343 pages.
Starred Review
2010 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #1 True Stories

I read this book months ago, but put off reviewing it because it was not a library book (and therefore wasn’t due back) and I hardly knew where to begin. However, now I’m trying to catch up and get reviews for all of my 2010 Sonderbooks Stand-outs posted — and this was easily the nonfiction book that most stood out in my mind this year.

A year or two before, I’d read an e-mail that had been circulating with an essay by Laura Munson, and I’d been touched and impressed. It told how her husband had informed her that he didn’t love her any more, and wanted out. But she didn’t buy it. And she chose not to suffer. They went through a summer where he sometimes came around and sometimes didn’t. And in the end, he came back to her and realized how much she and the family meant to him.

When I discovered she had expanded the story into a book, I ordered it from Amazon as soon as possible. I was not disappointed. All the wisdom of the original essay was there, with much more background. The book is powerful. I’m strongly recommending it to anyone whose husband is going through anything remotely like a midlife crisis. Or anyone who has heard those awful words, “I don’t think I ever really loved you.”

Laura Munson wrote this book as a journal during her crisis. It comforts me that she let out some of her frustration to the journal! However, I can see that she’s also talking herself into being rational. She has chosen not to suffer, and she’s helping herself stick with that choice by writing out her reasoning. Here’s a section from the first chapter:

“At this moment in my life, I am not sure where my husband is. He left last night to bring the trash to the dump after announcing that he’s not sure he loves me anymore, and hasn’t come home. He isn’t answering his cell phone. He isn’t responding to texts.

“But I don’t buy it. The part about him not loving me. As much as it’s devastating to hear, I believe there’s more to the story. I believe he’s in a state of personal crisis. I believe this is about him.

“I’m going to give you a challenge here. I’m going to give both you and me a challenge here. Let’s try in all this not to take sides. Because how does it feel to take sides? Do we get to be right? Self-righteous? I think there’s more suffering in self-righteousness than most of us are willing to fathom.

“I see it like this: we all have our seasons of personal woe. I’ve certainly had mine. I know how much he hates his job, how much he punishes himself for not making enough money and not knowing where to go next with his career; how stuck and desperate he feels, especially in our small mountain town where the high-paying jobs are NOT plentiful. I know that he’s suffering intensely. I know because I’ve been there. I feel his pain and I’ve told him so.

“But he’s not hearing my voice. His own is too thunderous. He has to come to the end of it by himself…. And I know it’s more helpful to practice empathy here. Not anger. Or fear. Even though his words were like sharp sleet.

“It’s like when teenagers scream ‘I hate you’ and slam the door in their parents’ face. Does that ‘I hate you’ have credibility? Or does the parent know instinctually that something upsetting happened at school? That it’s not about the parent at all? I’m not saying that my husband is acting like a teenager. (Or, God forbid, that I’m his parent!) I’m just saying that I think there’s more to the story.”

She writes on about all her personal struggles with this. It’s not coming easy for her, and if she pretended it had, this book would have lost its power. I like this part, later in that first chapter:

“Now, I know, dear reader, there’s a strong possibility that you’ve got your hackles up. You want to tell me I’m being a fool to put up with this unacceptable behavior. You want me to fight….

“But I’m opting for a different strategy, and I’m going to believe it will work in a way that fighting, persuading, and demanding never have. Because whether or not he comes back to me, I will be ultimately empowered by my commitment not to suffer. It’s a way of life. A way to life. And it’s about many and no religions. Plug it in wherever it meets your life. We all want to be free, don’t we?

“And yes — this strategy is new to me, too. I’m sure it’ll be shaky at times. But I’m going for it. And I’m going to write my way through it. Both for my process. And for yours. For anyone in any situation in which one is tempted to go into panic mode, or worse, victim mode, rather than taking responsibility for one’s own well-being.”

She goes on and takes us through the next several months, as well as giving us the background of their marriage and life, and her own recent crises. She has some setbacks. But mostly she handles some awful situations with incredible grace. I love the scene where they have a “talk.” Because she responds brilliantly. She keeps asking the question (which she has practiced with her therapist), “What can we do to give you the distance you need without damaging our family?”

When he answers that he can get his own place in town, she asks him, “What would that look like?” And she talks to him. By asking questions, she gets him to realize that he hasn’t thought this through. Her conversation is brilliant and wise — and I love how she puts in italics what she would have really liked to say! He insults her and accuses her, but they work out that he will look into a studio apartment over the garage and still stay with the family.

As I was reading this book, I started feeling sad that I hadn’t come across it when my husband’s crisis started. That I did not react so beautifully and calmly. But you know what? I was comforted somewhat when, despite her wise and loving reactions, her husband did awful things and blamed her.

She said something perfectly reasonable: “Our son looked out the window this morning and said, ‘Oh look. Dad’s truck is in the driveway.’ And I didn’t like that to be a surprise — for him or for me.” His response is not even close to reasonable. He swears at her, slams the door, and sleeps in another room. She says:

“Here’s what inspires me to fall to sleep finally: he heard those words. He reacted like a child. He knows it. I didn’t say or do anything wrong. He got triggered by the truth. He doesn’t want to be who he’s being. His anger is real and it’s scary, but it’s anger toward himself. It’s not my fault.

“And here’s what I am convinced of. In fact, I think it’s the key to a relationship. Any relationship.

“If you get out of someone’s way, they will fight and they will kick, but eventually, there’s nothing they can do but look at themselves and get real. Very, very real. Or totally self-combust in a life of lies. Or that dear opiate, denial.”

What encouraged me about this was that even when she was reacting so well, her husband acted just like other men in midlife crisis. A light dawned in my brain. It really is all about him.

Mind you, I am sure that Laura Munson saved herself excruciating hours upon hours of suffering. But I don’t think that it was necessarily her good reactions that saved her marriage. If her husband had another woman who was egging him on, who knows what might have happened. Here’s another insight about the treatment she was given:

“All abuse is just bait. To get you to the be one who freaks out. So the other person doesn’t have to deal. Doesn’t have to take responsibility. Oh look — she’s the one with the black eye. She’s the one crying in the corner. She’s the one leaving. What a bitch.

Later on, in another incident where her husband yells at her, she says what she would like to say, and then reflects:

“But I stay silent and practice not taking the bait — not being resentful. Letting it wash over me. Because when I stay here I am powerful. Very, very powerful. Take note of this. Let him have the middle-aged tantrum. Just be sure to duck!”

It’s about him. It’s about him. This was so much easier to see in someone else’s story than in my own! And it helped to see that just because your husband yells at you does not necessarily mean that you deserve it. It also helped to see that even when treated badly, a wife can remember that this is a man she loves.

And they get through it. By the end of the summer, her husband was back in their home, spontaneously telling her that he loved her. I’m not sure if Laura Munson realizes that a midlife crisis only three months long is a minor miracle all by itself, and that it could have gone much, much worse. But I am sure that even if the situation had lasted years instead of months, she would have handled it with grace, and she would have continued to choose not to suffer.

In the beginning, Laura Munson tells about her Author’s Statement taped above her desk.

“It says: ‘I write to shine a light on an otherwise dim or even pitch-black corner, to provide relief for myself and others.’

“That’s what this book is all about. Maybe it will help people. Maybe even save marriages, and jobs, and children’s hearts from breaking. I wish I had this book on my bedside table right now. If only just to know that I am not alone.

“If my husband and I come out the other side, together, in love, still married, and unsuffering, then this summer will have been worth it. This book will be worth it.

“And even if we don’t, then I know I will be a better person for living this way.

“So stay with me. Like a gentle friend. Maybe we will both learn something that will change our lives. I’m willing to try. On our behalf.”

Take it from me: Laura Munson succeeds beautifully in her goals. She inspires you to keep going, whatever the outcome of your husband’s crisis. She reminds you that suffering simply isn’t worth it. You can love him, but you don’t have to take the bait.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/not_the_story.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a book I purchased from Amazon.com.

Review of Coronets and Steel, by Sherwood Smith

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

Coronets and Steel

by Sherwood Smith

DAW Books, 2010. 420 pages.
Starred Review
2010 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #1 Fiction

I love Sherwood Smith’s books, and this was my favorite novel for adults I read in 2010. It’s got a touch of fantasy, with grad student Aurelia seeing ghosts during her European adventure, but mostly it’s swashbuckling action, intrigue, and romance in modern-day Europe, in the style of Anthony Hope’s Prisoner of Zenda.

Aurelia is in Vienna trying to track down her grandparents’ families. Her mother was only two when she and Aurelia’s grandmother left Paris during the war, and her grandmother never talks about her life before Paris. Then she starts meeting people who act like they know her. A handsome young man, who looks like Mr. Darcy, sits next to her at the opera, and the next day runs into her again.

She thinks he’s quite charming, until he drugs her drink, abducts her, and sticks her on a train.

This book has mistaken identity, family secrets, hidden treasure, and royal plots to take over a small country. It’s tremendous fun, and I was delighted to read that Sherwood Smith has planned more books in this series.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/coronets_and_steel.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a book I ordered from Amazon.com

Review of A Bedtime for Bear

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

A Bedtime for Bear

by Bonny Becker
illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton

Candlewick Press, 2010. 48 pages.
Starred Review
2010 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #3 Picture Books

I fell in love with Bear and Mouse in Bonny Becker and Kady MacDonald Denton’s first book about them, A Visitor for Bear. The book worked beautifully for reading aloud to a group of school aged kids up to 3rd grade at a summer childcare center — and equally well at preschool storytime. It was a whole lot of fun to read, with fun repetition that built suspense as well as a chance for the reader to indulge in drama. And all along, I’ve loved the expressive pictures that tell the story and subtext so brilliantly.

After they make friends in A Visitor for Bear, Mouse shows Bear how nice a birthday can be when you celebrate with a friend in A Birthday for Bear, which is in Easy Reader format. This third installment goes back to the format and almost the formula of the first — resulting in fun repetition that builds suspense, as well as a chance for the reader to indulge in drama.

Now Bear and Mouse are taking their friendship to another level: Bear is having a sleepover. However, everything has to be just so for Bear’s bedtime. Most of all, it had to be quiet — very, very quiet.

I love the way Bear has learned about friendship, but is still the same persnickety Bear underneath. He tries so hard to be polite at the noise Mouse makes at the beginning! You can see clearly on his face how hard this is for him:

Bristle, bristle, bristle. Bear heard a noise. It was Mouse, brushing his teeth.
“‘Ahem!’ Bear cleared his throat in a reminding sort of way.
“‘Most sorry,’ said Mouse.”

You can already guess what will happen, though what gets Mouse going was a surprise to me. I just love Bear’s big blow up, with the words printed huge across the page: “Will this torment never cease!” wailed Bear.

Honestly, it makes me want to run a Read-Aloud Bedtime Stories program just to get to read this book!

But that’s not the end. There’s a nice little twist when all is quiet and Mouse is asleep… but Bear hears something. Turns out it’s nice to have a friend when you hear scary noises at night.

I hope I’ve conveyed how much I love this book, but to truly appreciate its charm, you really need to get a copy and read it yourself — better yet, grab someone to read it aloud to, at bedtime. And like all great bedtime books, it ends with the characters fast asleep – and one of them is snoring.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/bedtime_for_bear.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of The New Policeman, by Kate Thompson

Monday, January 17th, 2011

The New Policeman

by Kate Thompson
Performed by Marcella Riordan

Recorded Books, 2007. 6 compact discs, 6.5 hours.
Starred Review
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: #1, Children’s Fiction

I’d heard about this book for a long time, probably since it was first published. So, like so many other books I’ve been meaning to read but have never quite gotten around to, I decided to listen to it on my way to work.

I was completely enchanted. This book is all the more delightful on audio, because it is set in Ireland and has much about Irish music. So the narrator’s Irish accent adds to the enjoyment, and I especially liked the Irish tunes played between each chapter. I only wish the library had the next two books in audio form. I found the book haunting me, and the Irish tunes made me feel transported to that world even as I drove through this mundane world to work.

The book is not what I expected. There’s a new policeman in the Irish small town, but the story isn’t so much about him. The story is more about J.J. Liddy, a 15-year-old in a family with a long heritage of being musicians.

Time is getting shorter and shorter. No one ever has enough. Because of that, people are expected not to waste time by playing music at all hours. J.J.’s mother says what she really wants for her birthday is more time, and J.J. decides to get it for her. He finds his way to the land of Tir na n’Og, the land of the ever-young, where time never passes and nothing ever changes, and the inhabitants are always ready to make music that lifts the heart like nothing from our world.

There are problems in Tir na n’Og, too. Time is actually passing. Extremely slowly, but it is passing. The sun is beginning to set. J.J. discovers there’s a time leak. Time from our world is leaking into Tir na n’Og. It’s bringing changes and eventual death to those people, and a horrid lack of time to our world. Can J.J. figure out how to stop the leak?

This book reminded me of the fabulous Momo, by Michael Ende. Both books have a magical explanation for the reason why the more you try to save time, the less you have. Both books have a child who can find out what’s going on and save the world. Both books are definitely worth taking the time to read!

I do highly recommend listening to the audio version of this book. The Irish accents and the Irish music interludes make the experience completely captivating.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/new_policeman.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Library Advocacy Through Books

Saturday, January 15th, 2011

I think this is an awesome story, and a wonderful thing to come out of writing Sonderbooks:

Last June, I read and reviewed Marilyn Johnson’s wonderful book, This Book Is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All. At the time, our county library system had just undergone $2,673,257 worth of budget cuts, losing 70 positions, most of them librarians. This was on top of 18% cuts the previous fiscal year, so any fluff was already gone.

My own job was one that was cut. The county transferred me to another county agency, to a position in the same paygrade. The new position had much less responsibility, was much less challenging, and did not require a Master’s degree (I have two, and a Librarian position requires one). Yet it was the same paygrade, or was then — that position has since been upgraded.

To add insult to injury, months later the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors met to decide what to do with a $24 million “carryover.” This was EIGHT TIMES the amount cut from the library system — so it showed that devastating the library system with drastic cuts in hours and staff had not actually been needed, did not actually make a difference in the big scheme of things. Another affront was the millions given to the schools after the budget process because they threatened to cut certain programs that helped low-income students. Surely the board could have “found” $2.67 million just as easily if they had realized the true importance of libraries to Education and to Human Services, which they claim are priorities.

As I said in my review, “In the campaign to convince the community and particularly the Board of Supervisors that public libraries are essential services, not luxuries, I became more and more proud to be a librarian.

“We were not successful, and I’m very sad to leave the job I love, and very sad for the community. The people who will be particularly hurt by the budget cuts are students who don’t have internet access, people out of work looking for jobs, people who need to learn English, homeless people who want somewhere to stay and learn during the day, young moms who want to get their children comfortable around books, and so many others.”

On New Year’s Day, I announced my 2010 Sonderbooks Stand-outs, and definitely chose This Book Is Overdue!. (It’s brilliant!) This week, I got the Sonderbooks Stand-out seal on the page of the book review.

Apparently the change put my review on Marilyn Johnson’s Google Alert, so today I got an e-mail from her thanking me for the enthusiastic review. (My pleasure — She should be thanked for writing such a great book!)

In my review, I said, “This book is indeed overdue! I wished so much that I could afford to send a copy to each member of the county Board of Supervisors! Marilyn Johnson looks at many different aspects of librarianship and explains why we need librarians more than ever in the information age, as well as in a recession.”

So here’s the awesome part: Marilynn Johnson told me that the book is just coming out in paperback, and she has some extra copies of the hardcover. She will send me copies of the book to send to the Board of Supervisors!

I’m jumping the gun a little by mentioning this now. I’m going to participate with the various Library Friends’ Groups to send the books, making it from the group, not simply from one individual. We will try to get as much publicity as possible when we are ready to send the books.

I do not expect the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to restore Library funding any time soon. But I want to point out that the budget cuts already in place have hurt the community far more than they have helped. The Board claims that their priorities include Education and Human Services, yet libraries provide both of those things — and to EVERYONE in the community, not just those at certain age levels, and not just those who qualify.

I think many times well-off people assume that because libraries are a luxury to them, something they can do without, that’s how it is for everyone. They don’t think about the seniors trying to file their taxes on the internet for the first time because the government isn’t mailing forms. They don’t think about people learning English without a lot of money for classes and courses on CD. They don’t think about people who don’t have internet access and need to apply for jobs or do their homework on the library computers. They don’t think about families with young children who come to the library to give their children a good start and preparation for learning to read. They don’t think about how Summer Reading Programs keep children’s skills current during the summer. They don’t even think about people who can’t afford to buy the latest bestsellers and now have a longer wait before they can read a library copy.

Marilyn Johnson’s book points out so many of those things. I’m hoping that with enough publicity, once they have a book in hand, the Board members might even read it. And then they might, just maybe, realize that public libraries are one of the most cost-effective ways to provide for Education and Human Services in Fairfax County.

In a personal happy ending for me, I am now back working in a library, and I am so glad. I’m at a different branch, and now I’m seeing more people who are homeless using our services, as well as more people pursuing important research. (It’s a bigger and busier branch.) The library is tremendously busy, and if hours were restored, would simply be filled longer. As Eleanor Crumblehulme has said, “Cutting libraries in a recession is like cutting hospitals in a plague.” Support Education. Support Human Services. Restore Library Funding.

Note: This is my own personal blog, and I am writing this entirely on my own time. The opinions expressed are entirely my own. Any action we take is NOT an official act of my employer and does not imply any sponsorship by Fairfax County Public Library.

2010 Sonderbooks Stand-outs Page Posted!

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

I’m still maintaining www.sonderbooks.com, a website of more than a thousand book reviews along with this blog. I announced the 2010 Sonderbooks Stand-outs on New Year’s Day on the blog, and now I’ve got a page just for them on sonderbooks.com.

I decided to do a gradual roll-out instead of fixing all the links from all the past years and for all of the featured books. So today I added two new nonfiction reviews and gave the Sonderbooks Stand-outs a special seal on their pages. I’m hoping I can finish adjusting all the pages by this weekend. But for now, here’s the list in a nice format:

2010 Sonderbooks Stand-outs

Happy Reading!

ALA Youth Media Awards

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

Here’s a link to all the ALA Youth Media Award titles.

If you look at my earlier posts, you can see that I did not do a good job of predicting the winners. I hadn’t even read the Newbery winner (yet), so of course I wasn’t rooting for it. I am looking forward to reading it, though.

I do trust the committee to do a good job, but I also realize that a different committee might well make different choices. And I’m glad that there are other awards out there. My personal favorite, A Conspiracy of Kings, by Megan Whalen Turner, was a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor book, and of course a Sonderbooks Stand-out! And the same is true for The Dreamer, by Pam Munoz Ryan, which picked up the Pura Belpre Award as well.

I had expected One Crazy Summer to win the Newbery Medal, but it “only” got an Honor. However, since it won the Coretta Scott King Author Award and the Scott O’Dell Historical Fiction Award, Rita Williams-Garcia definitely got much-deserved recognition.

And don’t forget to pay attention to the Cybils, the Blogger Kidlit Awards. I learned on Sunday that the goal of the Cybils Panelists (first round judges) is not just to pick the best books, but to have a good LIST of recommended books — with variety and something for many different tastes. I think they have succeeded in that goal. The winners in each category will be announced on Valentine’s Day.

And sorry for my slowing down on posting. I know I said I’d try to post to Sonderbooks.com weekly. Well, the first post of the year needs to have a new page for the Stand-outs, with lots of links changed, the Sonderbooks Stand-outs seal put on the pages of those books, as well as making pages for the new reviews I posted last week. What with working full-time, and doing things like watching the Newbery announcements, it’s going slowly. This week, I’m working 6 days in a row, but I hope that on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I will finally get the posting done, and then go to a routine of every week.

In other news, did I ever announce on this blog that I am a Librarian again? Back in November, they transferred me back to the Library after 6 months in another county agency (due to library budget cuts), and I am LOVING being back! On top of that, I just finished revising the middle grade novel I’ve been steadily working on for a very long time, so I’m ready to start sending out queries to agents. Life is good, and so far I’m loving 2011!

Thanks to my experience with library budget cuts, the part of the Awards where I cheered loudest was the public service announcements at the beginning, where authors spoke up for libraries. Library budget cuts are BAD for the public! Thank you, authors, for supporting libraries! You can view the videos at ourauthorsouradvocates.org.

Award Announcement Excitement

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

Tomorrow the ALA media awards will be announced, including the well-known Newbery and Caldecott Medals. I’m definitely planning to watch the webcast.

I think the time posted is wrong. It will start at 7:45 PST, which I believe is 10:45 EST, but it says 11:45 EST. I hope that I am right, because if it starts at 11:45, I will have to get to work.

I posted my Newbery predictions below, under my post on 2011 plans. Today I went to a meeting of the DC KidLit Book Club (for adults who love children’s books), and we talked about Caldecott possibilities. The discussion got me behind a book I’d already looked at recently, because it’s on the Cybils shortlist: Chalk, by Bill Thomson. It is truly a brilliant book, and Pam Coughlan of Mother Reader pointed out that all the exquisite illustrations are hand-done, not computer generated. And what’s nice is that it isn’t only pretty pictures — they tell a compelling and excellent story.

So we shall see.

I do love it that the country is talking about children’s books for awhile when the awards are announced. I wonder how many authors and illustrators will sleep with a phone right by their beds tonight?

Oh, check this fun poem by Susan Kusel about the anticipation!

Review of Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers

Saturday, January 8th, 2011

Zeitoun

by Dave Eggers

narrated by Firdous Bamji

Recorded Books, 2009. 9 compact discs. 10.5 hours.
Starred Review
2010 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #3, True Stories

I have to thank my friend Intlxpatr for reviewing this book, since her review convinced me to read it (well, listen to it). Her review is excellent, so I will only add a few comments.

Zeitoun is the true story of a successful Syrian-American businessman and his misadventures when he stayed in New Orleans to protect his property and help recover in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. The author does a great job of dramatizing his story so that we feel like we know Zeitoun and his wife and children, and we understand that he would want to stay to take care of his property and the properties of his clients. He owns a painting and contracting business, and Dave Eggers takes plenty of time setting the stage to show Zeitoun’s character — hardworking and dedicated and kind.

Listening to the book, there were many times when I was completely absorbed in the story. The author artfully changes perspectives among the people involved and gives us the wife’s perspective for the three weeks when she had no idea where her husband was before shifting to tell us what happened to him. Unfortunately, when I was listening to this, I had several things in my own life to worry about — so listening to this book only made me more tense, wondering what had happened to Zeitoun.

This is not a pleasant story. He was arrested in the aftermath of Katrina when in his own property. He was arrested without a warrant and was not given a phone call, so his wife had no idea what had happened to him. He was then treated barbarically and not even told the charges against him. He had not done anything wrong. He had helped rescue several people after the storm.

Basically, the book reads like something that might happen in a third-world country under martial law. I was simply horrified that this happened in the United States. Can our fundamental human rights be taken away in the aftermath of a natural disaster? This should not have happened.

However, I do think it’s important that this story gets out. May this never ever happen again in America.

This book tells a gripping story of a good man caught up in a broken system. The story makes an absorbing read and talks about an important issue as well.

Buy from Amazon.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.