Archive for February, 2014

Review of Rose, by Holly Webb

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

Rose

by Holly Webb

Sourcebooks, 2013. 234 pages. Originally published in Great Britain.
Starred Review
2013 Cybils Finalist

Rose lives in an orphanage. She wants nothing more than to get out of the orphanage and go into service some day. She wants to do a good job as a maid, and have nobody notice her.

So when she’s selected to be underhousemaid at a grand house, the home of an important alchemist, she thinks her dreams have come true. But why does it feel like the walls and stairs are moving, like she can talk to the plants, and how can she hear the cat talk to her?

Strange things happen around Rose, and she’s terribly afraid she’s not the ordinary person she wants to be. But then some children in the neighborhood mysteriously disappear, including Rose’s best friend from the orphanage. She’s determined to find her friend, even if it means using magic to do so.

This is a warm and sparkling story, with a lot of heart. You can’t help but like Rose, with her humble aspirations, excitement at living in a grand house, and loving desire to help her friend.

My one quibble is that the rules of magic in that world aren’t clear. (Though they aren’t for Rose either.) At her level, it seems like she can do anything she wishes for hard enough. I hope as the series goes on, those things will become more clear. But even with that quibble, I enjoyed every bit of this book.

We’ve got the below-stairs look at a grand English house — with magic thrown in. The result is a lot of fun.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/rose.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 copy I received as a judge for the Cybils Awards.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

2013 Stand-out Authors: Maeve Binchy

Monday, February 17th, 2014

I’m featuring Stand-out Authors: Authors who appeared previously on my Sonderbooks Stand-outs and are back for 2013.

Two authors appeared for the fifth time this year. But one of those makes me sad, because this will presumably be her last appearance. Maeve Binchy died in 2012, so her 2013 Sonderbooks Stand-out, A Week in Winter, which was #5 in Fiction, is her last book. (Though there are a few I missed, so maybe she can still be on the list posthumously.)

A lot more of Maeve Binchy’s books are my favorites than just five, but I began reading her work before I ever started writing Sonderbooks. In fact, she first showed up on the list in my second year of doing them, 2002, with the book Quentins, which was #2 in Fiction for Grown-ups. Quentins tells about the proprietors of a restaurant in Dublin, and I love that it’s mentioned in almost all her later books.

She consistently continues to appear every few years. In 2004, it was Nights of Rain and Stars, which was #1 in Literary Fiction. In this book, a group of tourists witness a tragedy in Greece, and they form a bond. We learn what’s going on with each person. I also love that some of these characters are referred to in later books. Maeve Binchy’s books are like big family gatherings. You don’t have to know the earlier references, but there’s extra richness if you do.

I think I skipped a couple books there, because the next Maeve Binchy Stand-out is #4 in Fiction in 2009, Heart and Soul. This book features people who work in a heart clinic in Dublin. Again, she gets us inside the heads and hearts of a wide variety of people.

Finally (before this year), we have #2 in Other Fiction in 2011, Minding Frankie. Minding Frankie is about a little girl whose mother dies, and the community of people who come together to care for her.

Community. Getting inside people’s heads and hearts. Maeve Binchy’s books get under my skin every time. She is sadly missed already.

Review of Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves, by P. G. Wodehouse

Monday, February 17th, 2014

Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves

by P. G. Wodehouse
read by Jonathan Cecil

BBC Audiobooks America, 1992. 5 hours, 11 minutes, on 5 CDs.
Starred Review

There’s nothing like a P. G. Wodehouse audiobook to make a long drive seem short! I so love his understated humor, Bertie Wooster’s way of speaking and outrageous similes. And Jeeves! Always, he saves the day.

P. G. Wodehouse books remind me of a Seinfeld episode. Several different threads all get entwined together, and at the end, Jeeves works them all out. And you laugh hard along the way.

I have lost track of which Jeeves and Wooster books I have read and which I haven’t, and on top of that, I’ve watched the wonderful Jeeves and Wooster BBC video series. So I was very happy when it turned out that this book comes after the events in the series, and I’d never read it before. I was familiar with all the characters, but this was further adventures, with Bertie going back to Totleigh Towers, because it looks like the marriage of Gussie Fink-Nottle and Madeleine Basset is in jeopardy — and Bertie knows that if that happens, Madeleine will insist on marrying him. And at the same time, Stephanie Bing has a little job she wants Bertie to do for her, which can never be good.

All the same characters are there from Bertie’s previous narrow escape from Madeleine Basset, but he’s in an entirely fresh fix.

Of course, Shakespearean actor Jonathan Cecil reading this book is the only thing that could make it even better than the print version. This audiobook is an absolute delight.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/stiff_upper_lip_jeeves.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 Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Sonderling Sunday – Ken Kiang and Hoagland Shanks

Sunday, February 16th, 2014

It’s time for Sonderling Sunday, that time of the week when I play with language by looking at the German translation of children’s books. This week, I’m back with my stand-by, the book with the most bizarre phrases of all, The Order of Odd-fish, by James Kennedy, Der Orden der Seltsamen Sonderlinge.

Last time, we left off at the start of page 202 in the English edition, Seite 254 auf Deutsch.

Have you ever wondered how they decide which phrases to put in a phrasebook? Well, think of this as a set of phrases that have actually been used! So surely English-speaking travelers to Germany could find a use for them, nicht?

“former life” = ehemaligem Leben

“petty” = armselig (“pathetic”)

“to leave anything undone” = etwas unerledigt zu lassen

“loathed” = verachtete

“repulsed him” = widerte ihn an

“unbearable disgust” = unerträglichem Ekel

“smug” = Selbstgefälliges (“self-pleasing”)

“self-satisfied” = Selbstzufriedenes

“vowed” = schwur

This isn’t as melodious:
“happy-go-lucky handyman” = unbekümmerte Faktotum (“unencumbered factotum”)

Here the alliteration was preserved:
“humdrum happiness” = fade Fröhlichkeit

“guessed” = vermutete

Here’s a good one:
“wild pleasures” = ausschweifendsten Vergnügungen (“extravagant pleasures”)

This whole sentence needs to be translated:
“That is, what if Ken Kiang gave Hoagland Shanks unlimited access to any kind of pie he wanted?”
= Was wäre, wenn Ken Kiang Hoagland Shanks unbegrenzten Zugang zu jeder Art von Kuchen gewährte, nach der ihn gelüstete?
(“What would be, if Ken Kiang Hoagland Shanks unbounded access to each kind of Cake granted, after which he lusted?”)

“addicted” = süchtig

“generosity” = Großzügigkeit

“a changed man” = ein verwandelter Mensch

“desperate things” = verzweifelte Dinge

“but at best would serve to numb him against his sordid existence”
= sondern höchstens noch dazu dienten, ihn gegen die Erbärmlichkeit seiner Existenz abzustumpfen
(“but at highest still served to, him against the wretchedness of his existence to blunt”)

“suicidal quest” = selbstmörderische Aufgabe

“encroached upon every idle moment” = sich in jedem winzigen Moment an ihn heranschlich
(“in each tiny moment on him sneaked up”)

“unquenchable emptiness” = unfüllbare Leere

“a ravenous nothing” = ein alles verschlingendes Nichts (“an all devouring nothing”)

“jerk back” = zuckte er zurück

“mounting terror” = steigendem Entsetzen

“fantasized” = ausgemalt (“painted”)

“pity” = Mitgefühl (“with-feeling”)

And that’s it for Chapter 16! We are now more than halfway through the book!

There are some good phrases to try to work into your conversation this week! If you find you have steigendem Entsetzen when confronted with ein alles verschlingendes Nichts, you have all my Mitgefühl!

Review of The Rithmatist, by Brandon Sanderson

Sunday, February 16th, 2014

The Rithmatist

by Brandon Sanderson
illustrations by Ben McSweeney

Tom Doherty Associates Books (Tor), New York, 2013.
Starred Review
2013 Cybils Finalist

The Rithmatist is a fantasy story set in an intricately detailed alternate reality. The world isn’t slightly different from ours; it’s drastically different. In the front, there’s a map of “The United Isles,” a collection of large islands with shapes and names similar to our states. It’s like America would perhaps look if sea level were a lot higher or the land was a lot lower.

We follow the fortunes of Joel, essentially a charity student at Armedius Academy. He’s obsessed with Rithmatics, and in his job as messenger, manages to sneak into some Rithmatic classes. He talks about historical Rithmatic battles and can draw a nine-point circle better than the Rithmatic students.

Joel wants to study his summer elective with Professor Fitch, a Rithmatics professor. But Fitch gets challenged to a duel and then demoted to tutor. Which does give Joel an opportunity to study with him – along with Melody, a remedial Rithmatics student, who can draw chalklings incredibly well, but can’t manage a circle to save her life.

We gradually learn about that world, where magic is done by Rithmatists with chalk drawings and diagrams that they can animate. They spend their final year of study on the Isle of Nebrask, fighting the wild chalklings, which can eat people.

Rithmatists are chosen by the Master, but because of his father’s death, Joel missed his chance to be chosen.

And Rithmatic students begin disappearing, with traces of blood and strange new patterns drawn in chalk near the scenes of the attacks. Professor Fitch is in charge of the investigation, and Joel eagerly tries to help him put the pieces together.

As I read this, I was trying to decide if it was a clever use of math – with the geometry of the Rithmatic lines – or if it was just silly. I decided, in the end, that it was clever, and only a tiny bit far-fetched. I was never pulled dramatically out of the world by a logical inconsistency.

Now, I always dislike bullies in children’s books, or characters that our hero just knows are up to no good (like the whole house of Slytherin). This book has some of that, which may have helped the characters feel a little cardboard to me. But the book included a nice solution to the mystery, a nice moment of triumph for our heroes, an introduction to a fascinatingly complex world, and plenty of threads to lead us into sequels. I will definitely want to find out what happens next.

brandonsanderson.com
inkthinker.net
tor-forge.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/rithmatist.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 my own copy, which I got at an ALA conference.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

2013 Stand-out Authors: Juliet Marillier

Saturday, February 15th, 2014

Last year, after posting my Sonderbooks Stand-outs, I did a series on Stand-out Authors, and I’m going to do it again. I will highlight people whose books are Sonderbooks Stand-outs this year, and not for the first time.

This year, there was only one author who appeared more than once — and she appeared four times! Last year, Juliet Marillier had a total of six Sonderbooks Stand-outs to her name. This year, she has ten!

I already featured her earlier books, so let’s just look at the four I read this year.

She had #2 and #3 in Fiction with further books in the Sevenwaters series, The Seer of Sevenwaters and Flame of Sevenwaters. (I couldn’t really decide which one was better, so I just put them in order!)

In Teen Fiction, she had #5, Raven Flight, the sequel to last year’s Sonderbooks Stand-out, Shadowfell.

After reading those, I decided it was high time I catch up on the books she’d written before I discovered her. Now, lately I spend most of my reading time reading books written in the current year. But Juliet Marillier’s Heart’s Blood was well worth making an exception for, and ended up #6 in Fiction.

So not only did Juliet Marillier end up with the most Sonderbooks Stand-outs this year, she’s got twice as many total as the person with the next most.

I definitely need to start calling her one of my favorite authors. And I’ll be seeking out more of her backlist this year, so I have a feeling her name is going to be prominent among 2014 Sonderbooks Stand-outs as well.

Which of her backlist should I read next? Please let me know in the comments!

Review of Humans of New York, by Brandon Stanton

Saturday, February 15th, 2014

Humans of New York

by Brandon Stanton

St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2013.
Starred Review

This book is completely fascinating and delightful. I sat down to just glance through it — and ended up reading the whole thing.

Brandon Stanton explains the process that got him started writing the blog, Humans of New York. He lost his job as a bond trader, and I like his explanation of why he turned to photography:

I lost my trading job that July and immediately decided I wanted to be a photographer. I had enjoyed my time as a trader. The job was challenging and stimulating. And I’d obsessed over markets in the same way that I’d later obsess over photography. But the end goal of trading was always money. Two years of my life were spent obsessing over money, and in the end I had nothing to show for it. I wanted to spend the next phase of my life doing work that I valued as much as the reward. Photography seemed like an obvious choice. Like I said, it felt like a treasure hunt. And that seemed like a pretty good way to spend my time.

He began taking photos in Chicago and Pittsburgh. His plan was to do a photo tour through several major American cities. Here’s how things developed:

I repeated the process in Philadelphia. I spent my days combing the streets for interesting photographs, and each night I deposited the photos in a Facebook album. I named this album “Bricks and Flags.” My photos remained similar to those I’d taken in Chicago and Pittsburgh, but with one notable exception. I was starting to take more and more pictures of people. I’d begun to move beyond candid shots, and was actually stopping strangers on the street. The resulting portraits seemed to be the most compelling of my photographs, so I focused more energy on seeking them out.

I arrived in New York in early August. I planned to spend a week in the city before hopping on a plane for the West Coast, but I ended up staying for the rest of the summer. I remember the moment my bus emerged from the Lincoln Tunnel and I saw the city for the first time. The sidewalks were covered with people. The buildings were impressive, but what struck me most were the people. There were tons of them. And they all seemed to be in a hurry. That night, I created a photo album for my New York photos. I called it “Humans of New York.”

This book is full of those photos, from three years of work on the streets of New York. They are wonderful and amazing. Some just say where they were taken, but at least half have captions from what the person said. These add so much. And the people! Flamboyant, quiet, old, young, the eye of Brandon Stanton’s camera shows you that people are beautiful.

A few of the captions that made me smile:

“I look like God. Don’t I?”

(This picture is of an old man in a wheelchair whose face looks exactly like the face of God as painted on the Sistine Chapel.)

I love the one of a man with three dogs on leashes smiling at a boy on a leash, which is held by his father. The caption reads, “I saw them walking on two opposite ends of the plaza, and started praying that they’d end up in the same place.”

Another one is a side view of two boys with Mohawks. One boy is taller, and has a bigger Mohawk. The caption says, “One day you will grow to be like me.”

But the one that made me laugh out loud and show my son was a picture of a man facing away from the camera with a giant costume head of Elmo slung over his shoulder in a net bag, with more parts of the costume coming out the top. The caption says, “Something horrible has happened to Elmo.”

Those are some of the funny and clever ones. The majority, though are simply beautiful. Beautiful, striking, and fundamentally human.

This book takes less than an hour to read, but you will think about it for much, much longer.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/humans_of_new_york.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 Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of Sidekicked, by John David Anderson

Friday, February 14th, 2014

Sidekicked

by John David Anderson

Walden Pond Press (HarperCollins), 2013. 373 pages.
Starred Review
2013 Cybils Finalist

Reading this book makes me especially glad that I got to be a Cybils Middle Grade Speculative Fiction judge this year, because I probably wouldn’t have picked it up without that motivation. And I’m so glad I did.

This is a superhero book, which I’m not necessarily a fan of, but it has a lot of depth, an exciting plot, and realistic enough details, you can believe it would happen that way.

Andrew Bean is a sidekick, the Sensationalist. The book opens with him hanging over a pool of acid next to his best friend, Jenna, in her sidekick identity as the Silver Fox. Fortunately, Jenna’s Superhero comes and saves them both. Drew’s Super, the Titan, has never shown up when Drew needs him.

I suppose you’ll want to hear about where I come from, and where I got my powers, and what radioactive bug I was bitten by, and all of that junk. You’ll want to know that my father was a researcher for a top-secret government program studying the properties of dark matter or that my mother was really an Amazon princess blessed with godlike powers. But the truth is, my father is an accountant — not a fake accountant masquerading as a costumed vigilante, but a real honest-to-god, dull-as-a-dictionary accountant with a closet full of white shirts and a carefully managed pension. My mother is an aide at Brookview Elementary — an aide because she got pregnant with me while in college and never finished her teaching degree. Neither of them has any superpowers, unless you count my father’s ability to calculate tips instantly or my mother’s uncanny ability to forget I’m not four anymore, sometimes still wiping the corner of my mouth with a napkin damp with her own spit the way she did when I was a toddler.

The truth is, I was born the way I am, without gamma rays, without cosmic intervention, without a flashback episode explaining my secret origins. I was born with a condition — doctors were careful to call it a condition and not a disease — called hypersensatia, which basically just allows me to see and smell and hear things better than most people. And when I say most people, I mean better than six billion other people. In fact, there are apparently fewer than five hundred people who have this condition, and none of them to the same extent as me. That makes me special, I suppose, though I prefer to think of myself as one of a kind.

Drew is part of a program at Highview Middle School for training Sidekicks called H.E.R.O. – Highview Environmental Revitalization Organization. Their job is to keep trash off the streets. (“Sometimes it’s the thing that’s right in front of you that you keep looking over.”)

Now, Drew’s super power of extraordinary senses isn’t the greatest in a fight. He has a utility belt, but that’s only useful if he’s wearing it. A new kid named Gavin has joined the program. He sweats a substance that encases him in protective rock-like armor. Gavin is a member of the football team and seems to be impressing Jenna, while Drew is working on distinguishing the difference between certain smells.

Meanwhile, the Dealer, a supervillain everyone thought the Titan had killed years ago, comes back from the dead (apparently) and breaks his surviving henchmen out of prison — the Jack of Clubs, the Jack of Spades, and the Jack of Diamonds. Drew finds the Titan — in a bar — but he refuses to help. And one by one, the superheroes of the city of Justicia get removed. Only Jenna’s superhero, the Silver Fox, seems able to deal with them.

But then the Jacks go after the sidekicks of H.E.R.O., apparently trying to use them as bait to catch their heroes. Of course with Drew that doesn’t work, but he almost dies along the way. But how did the Jacks know their secret identities? Who leaked that information? Whom can they trust?

It all works out to a thrilling conclusion that will keep the reader turning pages. I liked the realistic touches. Like our protagonist would have a superpower that doesn’t help him much in a fight. And Drew has regular middle school concerns like what is being served in the cafeteria, getting out of gym class, and what to wear on his first date. This book makes fun reading with a whole lot of suspense thrown in.

johndavidanderson.org
harpercollinschildrens.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/sidekicked.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 Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

My Pascal’s Triangle Shawl

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

I finished my Pascal’s Triangle Shawl!

I’m very happy with how it turned out!

In fact, I was disappointed by how the top edge curled — until I wore it, and it forms into a sort of collar! Perfect!

I already explained the math behind the shawl in great detail.

So now I’ll just say that this is a color-coded representation of Pascal’s Triangle, with a color for each prime factor, and each number represented in a diamond with its prime factorization shown.

In Pascal’s Triangle (at least when it’s shown with the point down, as above), each number is the sum of the two numbers beneath it, with 1 on all the ends. So 1 is white in my shawl.

The color scheme I used for the rest was:

2 is turquoise.
3 is yellow.
5 is red.
7 is purple.
11 is pink.
13 is light blue.

I took it up to the 15th row. After that, entries had more than 6 factors, so it wouldn’t be as easy to get them all in.

Take a moment to enjoy the flow. 🙂 Each time we get to a prime, every number in that row has that prime as a factor.

And the next row has that prime factor in all but the ends, and so it continues, forming an inverse triangle of that color. (This is because of the distributive law, as I explained in my earlier post.)

Looking at this shawl simply makes me happy. And I’m tremendously proud of it. I think it’s safe to say that this is the first Pascal’s Triangle Shawl ever knitted. 🙂

But it won’t be the last! As I began the shawl, I wasn’t sure it wasn’t a bit too garish with all the bright colors right next to each other. At least in the prime factorization blanket, I had rows of white in between the numbers. Though now that it’s finished, I completely love it.

Anyway, I decided to make a second one — this time using shades of pink and purple, with only subtle differences, going from light to dark. The first one will be easier to use for explaining the math, but I think the second one may be prettier.

And last night, I got another idea about how to make the second one different. Instead of having blocks of color for each factor, I’m planning to alternate rows. I think that will blend the colors as you look at the shawl — and I think it will be very beautiful! Stay tuned!

My posts on Mathematical Knitting and related topics are now gathered at Sonderknitting.

Review of The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees, by Sandra Markle

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees

A Scientific Mystery

by Sandra Markle

Millbrook Press, Minneapolis, 2013. 48 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s a nonfiction book about practical science, involving an important mystery that’s happening today. Facts about bees are presented, with plenty of photos.

The author starts with the problem. She looks at a scene from a particular day in October 2006 with a specific beekeeper, Dave Hackenberg. He went to his hives and found thousands of worker bees missing. They weren’t even dead, but without the worker bees, the untended brood (developing young) also died.

Next, the author goes on to explain why honeybees are so important and how they work to pollinate plants. We learn about the queen bee, the drones, and the worker bees, along with their different jobs in the hive.

Then she looks at the current mystery. What are the suspects that might be causing CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder)? Could it be a change in habitat? Could honeybees be overworked? Could widespread use of cell phones be causing the problem? Could mites be the killer? Could a deadly fungus be killing honeybees? Could pesticides be the problem? The book looks at each of these possibilities and explains how they may hurt colonies of bees.

As you can tell, there are many possible causes, and some of them may be working together in certain cases. The last third of the book looks at strategies beekeepers are using to attempt to end CCD.

Throughout the book, large full-page pictures, with informative details work hand in hand with the clear text. There’s more helpful information (websites, tips for helping, glossary, index) at the back.

lernerbooks.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Nonfiction/vanishing_honeybees.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 Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.