Keep Your Eye on Laura Amy Schlitz

Laura Amy Schlitz is a children’s author whose work deserves attention.

I first became aware of Schlitz when she won the Newbery Award in 2008 for Good Masters! SweetLadies! Voices from a Medieval Village.  The backstory is appealing: a middle school librarian, she wanted a play for her students to perform about the Middle Ages and, not finding what she had in mind, wrote it herself.  It is a series of monologues “so that, for three minutes at least, every child could be a star” (from jacket notes).  My favorite has two characters, Jacob Ben Salomon (the Moneylender’s son) and Petronella  (the Merchant’s daughter), who manage to forget the animosity between Christian and Jew for a half hour as they skip rocks across the local stream.

Wonderfully written as it is, this book fits into the category of Newbery books, chosen by adults, which have limited shelf appeal to children.  No such problem for Schlitz’s The Night Fairy, which was published in 2010 and has been flying off the shelf (pun intended).  Anything about fairies has been popular lately, but heroine Flory stands out from the crowd.  She loses the ability to fly after an unfortunate collision with a bat.  Plucky and only as tall as a couple of acorns, she adapts to life in the garden where she is stranded, befriending a squirrel and eventually casting off her innate selfishness to rescue a hummingbird.  (For those of you readers who live in Orange County, CA, an adaptation of The Night Fairy is running until June 9 at South Coast Repertory as part of their Theater for Young People series!)

So what about Schlitz’s latest publication, Splendors and Glooms, which was a Newbery Honor Book in 2012?  How popular will it be?  The jury is still out, but I think it will find readers who like a bit of dark fantasy.  The central characters are three children in Victorian London.  Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are orphans who work for a shady puppeteer named Grisini.  Clara is a lonely young lady who persuades her wealthy father to hire Grisini’s troupe for her fateful twelfth birthday party.  Not only does Grisini kidnap her, he turns her into a puppet.  All three children become embroiled in the conflict between the evil puppeteer and a witch named Cassandra who needs the children to break free from the spell of a powerful fire opal that has granted her many wishes, but is tormenting her last days.  Loyalty and strength of character allow the young people to triumph in the end.    


Every Cloud . . .

“Once upon a time . . .” are the four great words to begin every good fairy tale.  Pat would like to think this was his life, a fairy tale, ending in happily ever after.  The dream ending concludes with Pat and Nikki holding hands as the sun sets.  Only something is not quite right with Pat’s mind.  He can’t seem to remember everything and he has misplaced over four years of his life.  Is he mentally ill, or is he suffering from a trauma that is too horrifying to remember?  Who is this girl Tiffany and why is she interested in him?  And why in the world would his therapist suggest that adultery is therapeutic?
Many of you by now, I am sure, would recognize many similarities between this plot line and the academy award nominated picture Silver Linings Playbook, directed by David O. Russell.  And while the movie may very well have been a superb piece of filmmaking, it is based upon the novel Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick, a work worth a look in its own right.

It intelligently explores the life of Pat Peoples the man who believes that life, as it does in the movies, should have happy endings.  He has had too much “away time” from his wife for this reprieve from the mental institution to be the happy ending he has envisioned with his wife.  He is seeking his own silver lining.
While we are slowly introduced to the somewhat unhinged life of Pat Peoples, Matthew Quick delicately exposes his audience to the world of mental illness.  Spending a great portion of my life connected to people who have suffered or are suffering through various stages of illness, I recognize Quick’s brilliance at bringing his audience into this world filled with rationalization and chaos, along with beauty and optimism.  As with any good novel, his protagonist’s life gets far more complicated before it straightens itself out.

Along with delving into the life of Pat we are also exposed to the lives of other colorful characters, frequently with as many issues as the man who is supposed to be mentally ill.  There is the long-suffering mother who cannot handle the emotionally stunted father, whose every moment is dictated by the Jets football season.  There is the therapist Cliff who often acts more like a friend than a therapist, shouting Jets’ football cheers at the end of every therapy session.  Ronnie, the best friend, cannot be his own person outside his wife, Veronica.  And finally there is Tiffany, the guilt-ridden emotionally torn apart and sometimes violent dancer who seems to have designs on Pat that we are constantly questioning.
With all of these “normal” people surrounding Pat, it is a wonder that he ever wants to be normal.  One begins to wonder what he is “improving” himself for.  But in the end one believes in Pat and the silver linings he is hoping for, even if they are not exactly what he expects.  I wholeheartedly recommend Silver Linings Playbook.  Read it, and begin to see the beauty of life’s silver linings, both the expected, and the unexpected.


What is Your Favorite Book You Have Read So Far in 2013?

We are already almost halfway through 2013. At the beginning of the year I gave myself a challenge to read 100 books this year. I am a bit behind in regards to reaching that total but I have read lots of books so far. I’ve read some duds, but I have also read some really great books in the first few months of 2013. Here is my favorite book I have read in 2013:

Bossypants by Tina Fey – This book is Tina Fey’s autobiography. Instead of reading the print version, I listened to the audiobook which I highly recommend. The audiobook is narrated by Tina Fey so every line is read just as she meant it to be read. Underneath all the humor, sarcasm, and funny stories is a smart and charming biography. From stories of her childhood, tales of her early days performing in comedy clubs, to discussions on motherhood to her advice on being the boss, Bossypants is so amusing and charming it becomes immediately obvious why Tina Fey is so popular. I found the book to be laugh out loud funny and entertaining.

What is your favorite book you’ve read in 2013? Leave a comment and let me know. Based on your recommendations maybe I’ll discover my next favorite book of 2013.


Paranormal Action - Part 3

Paranormal Action - Contemporary Fantasy Part 3

Hi! It’s time for part three of our Paranormal Action (not romance) book bomb –Contemporary section.

I'm starting with Katayna Price’ Grave Witch series.  Alex Craft doesn’t just see dead people.  She talks to them.  Ever since she was little, she’s had a working relationship with Death, starting with when she threw a clipboard at him in her mother’s hospital room.  Now that she’s an adult, things have gotten a little more complicated.  It seems that the incarnation of death is a Hottie, with a capital H.  He’s also learned that he can touch the physical world when he’s touching Katayna.  So far, all they’ve shared is coffee.
     Katayna, like many of our heroines, is a PI and due to her unique grave witch abilities will be raising a ghost to take the stand to give testimony in a murder trial for the first time.  The book has a nice new magic style, a neat mystery, comic relief given by a Chinese crested named PC, which is short for Prince Charming, and it doesn’t lose steam as the series continues.

Next on my list is Kat Richardson’s Greywalker series.  Harper Blaine is, you guessed it, a PI.  She takes what she thinks is just another case until the man she is investigating kills her.  The world she wakes up to is different from the one she left.  She now sees the world literally in shades of grey.  She’s able to see and speak to ghosts and manipulate some magical energy.  Ghosts, vampires, and other supernatural entities flock to her because she’s no longer defined as human, and she can now help them with their problems.  The normal craziness and hilarity ensues as she’s aided by Mara, an Irish witch, Ben, a paranormal researcher, and Will, a sexy antiques dealer as they solve mysteries and missing persons cases for the local vampire community and try to find out what happened to Harper’s dad decades ago.

Trixa Iktoma is a woman who looks as if she were designed to blend in.  Slightly frizzy hair, café au lait skin, a splash of freckles, and green, slightly tilted eyes, she looks as if she could be a part of every ethnic group or a part of none, which in a way makes her welcome in all.  Of course, it doesn’t really matter for her day job as an information dealer in her bar in Las Vegas.  It matters even less at her night job slaying demons.  With her apprentice demon slayers Zeke and Griffin, who are actually stray foster kids with major psychic powers, Trixa enjoys the night life of Vegas where demons and angels are real, and Demons are the ones with empathy. Trick of the Light is the first one in this really good series with a twist towards the end by Rob Thurman.

I have to admit that I haven’t read the first book in this series by Laura Bickle.  The first book is Embers.  I mistakenly started with Sparks.  On the other hand, I liked the second book well enough that I’m going to go back and read the first.  During the day the protagonist, Anya Kalinczyk, is an arson investigator with the fire department. (Yay!! Not a PI!) What I really liked is that she takes the job seriously.  In a lot of urban fantasy, the protagonist officially has a day job, but never seems to spend any time there.  In this series, Anya has a day job, it ties into the plot, and they describe her working at it in detail.  She takes finger prints, takes photos, analyzes clues, wears big, bulky hazmat suits, and does everything your average CSI fan would want someone to do.  It’s set in Detroit with all the history and current economic situation that ties into that city.  By night, Anya hangs out with a mismatched bunch of ghost hunters.  She’s a special type of medium and has an adorable familiar, Sparky, who is a fire elemental shaped like a salamander.

Nikki Glass only really answered the phone call because she wanted to get out of an awful blind date her sister set up.  She really should have stuck it out.  So begins the book Dark Descendant by Jenna Black.  Always lucky at finding things, Nikki never realized it was due to her being a descendant of the goddess Artemis.  Because of a client’s unfortunate method of suicide, Nikki is caught up between the Olympians and the Descendants, all of whom are descended from a variety of Gods and have mysterious powers.  Neither side trusts her motives, and she doesn’t believe that either side is anything but insane.  After all, who would truly believe that they were descended from Kali?  When the so-called good guys send a lust wielding child of Eros after her, who can she turn to?

The city of Boston was once known as Beantown; however, after a bizarre plague causes all of the people in mid-town to drop dead and rise again as zombies, it becomes known as Deadtown.  Although the plague is no longer contagious, humans are naturally scared of the unknown, and they no longer consider those risen to be fully human.  As werewolves, shapeshifters, and vampires come out of the closet, Deadtown becomes a paranormal ghetto, full of those with few to no legal rights.  Victory Vaughn is a demon fighting shapeshifter and, while she’s completing what should be a boring dream demon, she stumbles upon the trail of her nemesis, the demon who killed her father.  The first book in this series is Deadtown.  The series is written by Nancy Holzner.  It does have an interesting commentary on the rights of the oppressed in society and what it means to be truly human.

To Lara Jansen, the truth is music to her ears, literally.  Throughout her life if someone tells her a lie, a falsehood, or even a little white lie, her nerves jangle as if a person raked their nails down a chalkboard.  Her quest for trueness comes through in how she decorates her house and in her work as a tailor.  At home everything is harmonious, and at work she’s on the verge of completing her master work in bespoke tailoring three years early due to her ability to see the perfect way a suit should fit together from fabric to fit to buttons.  All of that changes when her best friend spontaneously introduces her to the local weatherman named Dafydd ap Caewyn, and she meets a man who can hide the truth from her without lying.  She ends up on a time traveling trip between worlds looking to clear the name of an elf for a murder that didn’t happen.  Truth Seeker by CE Murphy is the final entry in this month's Paranormal Action Book Bomb.  Next month I'll introduce you to some of the wonderful ladies of Steampunk, as well as explain what the heck it is.


Like "A Game of Thrones?" You Might Also Like...

The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson: This fourteen-book epic series features dark fantasy elements, complex characters, and a deep socio-political system. The story follows Rand Al’ Thor, a sheepherder-turned-messiah whose arrogance might save or destroy a world that requires his aid, but fears his power.

Book 1: The Eye of the World

The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss: This dark fantasy trilogy features a protagonist who firmly believes that the ends justify the means. Kvothe the Bloodless will do anything to find a way to destroy the Chandrian—ancient and powerful beings that killed his family and friends when he was young—including abusing his own powers to cheat, steal, and even kill. As he learns more about the world around him and the secrets that lie within, the question is: will he use his knowledge and power for good, or will he destroy those around him to exact his vengeance on the Chandrian?

Book 1: The Name of the Wind

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson: This is the first book in what Sanderson expects to be a ten book series titled The Stormlight Archive. The story follows four main characters: Szeth, a disgraced Shinovari who is forced to use his powers and martial prowess to kill innocent people; Kaladin, a peasant soldier who is sold into slavery after refusing a gift from his commanding officer; Shallan, a minor noble’s daughter who decides thievery is the only way to restore her family’s fortunes; and Dalinar, uncle to the king, brilliant battlefield general, and seer of dark visions for his country’s future. Though they come from different classes in society, and even different parts of the world, they all come to find that the perpetual war that plagues their world is caused by something much more sinister than hate and greed.

                                  Book 1: The Way of Kings

The Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind: Like Game of Thrones, the good guys don’t always win in this dark fantasy series. The story follows Richard Cypher, a common woodsman who is thrust into a world of war, torture, and dark magic. He becomes a Seeker of Truth, not because he wants to, but because he must use this new-found power to stop the evil wizard Darken Rahl from attaining ultimate power over the world. 

Book 1: Wizard’s First Rule

The Broken Empire series by Mark Lawrence: Much like the characters in Game of Thrones, the protagonist of this chilling series makes morally ambiguous choices (and many that are not so ambiguous). The story follows Jorg Ancrath, a young prince who uses the memory of his mother and brother being murdered to justify the thievery and murder that his band of outlaws commit. But when he must move back to his father’s castle to fulfill his destiny to become king, he finds that there is more to fear than just memories of death.

Book 1: Prince of Thorns

The Dark Tower series by Stephen King: Of course any fantasy series written by the Master of Horror is going to be a dark fantasy! The Dark Tower follows Roland of Gilead, a Gunslinger (think medieval knight with two revolvers instead of a sword) whose kingdom is destroyed by treachery, and whose world is literally falling apart. Roland follows the Man in Black; the evil sorcerer who betrayed Gilead and put into motion the events that saw Roland’s family and friends dead. He hunts the Man in Black for vengeance as much as for the fact that he no longer has a place to call home. Roland walks through the barren wastelands, treacherous forests, and ruined cities of a world where time and space have stretched to the point of breaking. Through his journey, he finds companionship in other lost souls, and discovers a dark truth behind the breaking of his world; and, possibly, a way to save it.

Book 1: The Gunslinger


Love and Acceptance

Ask the Passengers by A.S. King is about Astrid Jones who has a big secret that even she needs to grasp. She is a senior in high school and lives in a small town with her family. Astrid desperately wants guidance from someone about coming to terms with her secret, but because her mother and younger sister are judgmental, her dad is inattentive and all three are unloving, she lies on top of a picnic bench in the backyard sending her questions and love to the passengers who fly overhead. The story is told in first person, but as Astrid asks her questions, fascinating short passages of the passengers’ stories are intermittently woven into the book.

What’s also great about this book is that even though it is about a girl who is confused about her sexuality, the issues Astrid faces are common among many teens: bullying, sex, cliques, sibling rivalry, etc. Astrid considers herself a bookworm and philosophy nerd, while grappling with her issues she is also learning life lessons from her philosophy class. She conjures up Frank Socrates who shows up randomly when she needs him. Frank, of course, is an imaginary embodiment of Socrates, in full garb. While this is a coming out story about Astrid and it is a tale that has been told before, Ask the Passengers is ultimately about unconditional love and acceptance.


Laughing With the Mennonites


With so much bad news seeming always to dominate the media --  the economy or global warming, worldwide atrocities, grizzly cases of childhood abduction, or highlights of graphic murder -- it was fun to find a book that just made me laugh out loud. 

If you enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert's comical insight into the next journey after marital heartbreak, Rhoda Janzen's Mennonite in a Little Black Dress should appeal to you.  It is launched from a similar situation, but is less self-absorbed. Janzen provides a hilarious look at her Mennonite heritage after her seemingly perfect world turns upside down at the age of forty-three.  If a hysterectomy gone wrong that leaves her with a leaky pee bag for months is not enough of a set back, her perfect husband of fifteen years leaves her shortly after gaining back her continence and a celebratory move to an expensive lakefront home.  He leaves for a guy named Bob that he met on, and within a week Rhoda is seriously injured an automobile accident.

Thus begins the story of her return from Michigan for a holiday and sabbatical stay in the California community where she was raised. Her observations about her family are comical but with loving insight from her writer's attention to detail. There is her mother (who has no neck but looks don't count in the Mennonite faith), the ultimate spokesperson for an unselfconscious mixture of earthy observations about life, religion, and body parts who suggests that Rhoda fix her life by marrying her first cousin who has a good work ethic.  He drives a tractor after all and is therefore a better choice than the religious pothead who wears pajamas that she is dating (but might be OK if she waits two years).  Meanwhile, her mother and her house will serve the lord, thank you. There is her father, the tall and attractive preacher, who commands perfect leadership both in church and in the home. And there is such a cast of other family characters and community friends that I frequently had to turn back the pages to keep track, meanwhile wishing that I was reading this on an e-reader and could jump back to the introductions.

The story casts insight into the Mennonite culture, frequently confused with the Amish who were a break-off from the Mennonites who were considered too liberal. Rhoda's family is typically transitional between the old world and the new.  Her father has not quite accepted cell phones, but happily keeps interrupting her work to see the dancing e-cards or amazing pictures and clever sayings that he has discovered on his computer.

So the question of this story, which I'll leave to the reader to discover while they laugh their way through one comical scene after another, is whether Rhoda can find comfort and stability in embracing her Amish roots and what lessons such a differing historic culture  has to offer.  Although much understanding is embedded in the story there is a most helpful history primer added after the biographical narrative ends.

This  book is available through the Orange County Libraries in hardbound book, paperback, or large print format.  The author's website can be found here. Readers who enjoy such humor might also enjoy the books of Garrison Keillor, David Sedaris, Bill Bryson, or the humor genre suggestions on the Book Talk page. As the Reader's Digest notes, laughter may be the best medicine of all.


Wit and Wisdom from Women Ages 60 to 90

Turning sixty can be a difficult milestone.  At this age physical changes become more pronounced, and people are more prone to illness and injury.  Major lifestyle changes often occur during this decade resulting in increased mental and emotional stress.   Having always lived an active and full life, Sam Dawson struggled with getting older.  Curious to learn how others of her generation felt about aging, she embarked on an ambitious project to interview 70 women older than age sixty. Broad Appeal: Wit and Wisdom from Women Ages Sixty to Ninety is the culmination of her candid conversations with these mature women.

The women portrayed in this book are not rocking-chair grannies.  They’re vibrant and active, positive and life-affirming.  They offer sage advice, along with doses of humor, accumulated from lifelong learning and experiencesJudy (age 62) still hikes 7-8 miles and only gets grumpy at the last one-and-a-half: I hike steep grades as quickly as my husband, who is seven years younger.  I have some hearing loss in my right ear, which is a great excuse to ignore him if I feel like it. Marilyn (age 70) tells us to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. Take that trip or take that chance. Don’t put things off. Live to the limit, whatever that is.  This book has definite broad appeal.  Older readers will find insights they can relate to, and younger readers will find attitudes to emulate. 

Sam Dawson will share some wit and wisdom when she speaks about her book at the El Toro Branch Library on Friday May 17th at 1pm.  This program is free and open to the general public. Click here for more information.


Title Drop! Biblio-Nerds Only

An earlier post listed children’s books about reading and libraries. Click here to check it out.

It's a bit strange, admittedly, to want to read stories that feature book- or library-related themes, but for me personally it might have a great deal to do with the passion for literature and literacy that is inherent in most avid bibliophiles.  There's a nostalgia these kinds of stories evokes that reminds you of things when you first fell in love with reading, things you may have forgotten, like the hush of old libraries and bookstores, or finding a book that excites you when you aren't looking for it, or the urge to knock on that one mysterious-looking door, on the off chance that it will open unto something unexpected.  Don't lie - I've done it, too (like just the other day in fact - hey, you never know!). 

So, I thought it would only be fair to have a list of such titles for the older set.  Here is my list of books about books, books about libraries, and books about librarians!

A young web-designer loses his job and finds work as a night-shift clerk in what appears to be a dilapidated bookstore, except its regular patrons don’t actually buy anything but instead borrow tomes written in strange cipher connected to a mysterious society of bibliophiles. Technology and text meld in a mystery with clues to the secrets of immortality hiding in plain sight. (Adult Fiction)

The Archived by Victoria Schwab
A girl, trained from a young age to keep bodies - called Histories - stored in an otherworldy library known as The Archive from awakening and ravaging the mundane world, discovers unsettling truths about the system and its strange librarians and keepers. (Teen Fiction)

Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde
Fforde’s intricate and literarily (literally?) complicated series follows a woman who is a Literary Detective, someone who specializes in literature-related crime. Time-travel is so mundane that it must be policed, cloning extinct creatures for pets is an everyday hobby, and literature is so important that it not only inspires gang wars, it can bleed into the real world (with many characters from well-known classics joining the fray). (Adult Fiction)

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.
A man, as a young boy, is introduced to a secret library called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and as an initiate he must choose a single title to protect for the rest of his life. Selecting a book called The Shadow of the Wind draws him as an adult to search for the truth behind its tragic story and its author, and the strange methodical destruction of its copies by a mysterious stranger. (Adult Fiction, Foreign)

Lirael by Garth Nix
A girl discovers that she will never develop the prescient abilities common in her female clan of seers and instead devotes herself to her work as a library assistant, in a vast library holding ancient mysteries the least of which are contained in books (such as the Disreputable Dog, which may or may not be a dog).  Lirael is the second novel in Nix’s Old Kingdom trilogy. (YA Fiction)

The Grand Complication by Allen Kurzweil.
A New York Public Library reference librarian with peculiar obsessions is hired by a wealthy gentleman to research a cabinet of curiosities that once belonged to an ingenious 18th-century inventor. Filled with various little objects that somehow narrate the inventor’s life, one of the curious objects appears to be missing, and it is the librarian’s job to discover what the object was and where it disappeared to. (Adult Fiction, Mystery)

A chubby, underachieving, and headache prone vegetarian takes a full-time job as a librarian in the humdrum Irish town of Tumdrum, only to find that he will not be the curator of a brick and mortar immobile library as he was led to believe, but the driver of a derelict puttering mobile library (technically a van with books in it) and unofficial investigator of local crime. (Adult Fiction, Mystery)

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
A woman raised in a bookstore is offered a chance to write the truth of an author’s life, as the author is a famous liar who has told many tales not a one of them true. Twelve stories that were thought untrue but with the telling of the thirteenth, the line between truth and lie and the writer’s freedom to embellish and twist blend to create what really took place. Maybe. (Adult Fiction)

The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman
An apathetic little-town librarian makes a careless wish and is struck by lightning, surviving only to find that her emotionless state now feels physically cold, and she is unable to see the color red. The incident brings her to discover other survivors like her, who now live with strange abilities, and to the person who is fire as she is ice, thawing her once-frozen heart. (Adult Fiction)

The Giant's House by Elizabeth McCracken
A shy introverted librarian befriends an “over-tall” eleven-year-old, and as the years pass, the boy grows taller (six feet five inches at age twelve, then seven feet, then eight), and their friendship grows by the same leaps and bounds, in this odd but poetical romance. (Adult Fiction)

Magic Ex Libris series by Jim C. Hines
A young man, a member of a secret organization - founded by Johannes Gutenberg - of people with the ability to reach into books and draw out objects from their stories, investigates paranormal crimes and defends against magical threats (some of them from the pages of familiar books). (Adult Fiction)

Alphabet of Thorn by Patricia McKillip
A young orphan, found by the royal librarian of a kingdom on the edge of the world, is trained to translate languages that no one else knows how to read. Books with words like swimming fish, and words like tangled thorns, one such book takes her into the distant past where, as the thorns spell out a story that only she can read, ancient history and the present intertwine to form a looming danger that brings with it the secrets of her past. (Adult Fiction, Fantasy)

The Silver Bough by Lisa Tuttle
Three American women, at different stages of their lives, have come to the small old-traditions-following Scottish town of Appleton to rediscover themselves. When the town’s only road to the outside world is cut off by a landslide, the origin of its otherworldly tales and traditions suddenly becomes apparent as the fantastic comes out of hiding. (Adult Fiction)

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
In a future where human thought and independence is manipulated and controlled by propaganda and endless broadcast entertainment, where books are things to be burned, as well as the houses that keep them, a fireman (someone whose duty it is to destroy books by fire) begins to see his empty, meaningless life for what it is, and the knowledge and cerebral freedom that exist in the things he once enjoyed destroying. (Adult Fiction, Dystopian, Classic)

Previously blogged related books:

Click on any of the titles to visit the OC Public Libraries website and reserve a copy today!


Bringing Up Puppy

In five weeks, my husband and I will be adopting a Blue Picardy Spaniel puppy, initiating my first real experience with dog training.  Several weeks ago, I began perusing the numerous dog training guides in the OC Public Libraries collection, finding many that I feel would be valuable to new puppy owners.  

I chose first to read The Art of Raising a Puppy, by the Monks of New Skete.  For more than forty years the monks at the New Skete community have bred, raised and trained German Shepherds.  They have written several well-received books about dogs, and in 2011 published an updated edition of The Art of Raising a Puppy. 

In this guide, the monks discuss their positive puppy training methods -- methods which are designed to strengthen the bond between owner and dog -- in a very clear manner.  They begin with house-training, leash-training and establishing yourself as your dog’s “pack leader”, and then progress to teaching the basic commands such as “stay” and “come”, etc.  Discipline is also covered.  But this is not simply a training guide.  Feeling that insight into what puppies experience before  adoption is important, the monks spend time reviewing the early developmental stages of puppyhood.  They also offer tips on selecting the right breed for your lifestyle, grooming, feeding and the basic equipment needed for puppies.
I feel that The Art of Raising a Puppy would be an excellent starting point for any puppy owner.  The monks explain their training techniques in an easy-to-understand style, reiterating key points.   Photos of the training exercises, showing the correct positioning of dog and owner, augment the text in a helpful way.  The monks have decades of experience and use a research-based training program which coincides with many other dog training courses.  The book is also great as a quick reference, due to its comprehensive index and detailed table of contents.
At the risk of sounding dramatic, I have to note that I actually feel changed after reading this guide.  Woven throughout the text is a fundamental philosophy about the truly special nature of the dog-owner connection.  I am left with a new recognition of how important we are to our dogs, and of the time, love and caring guidance which we owe them in return.  I highly recommend The Art of Raising a Puppy to anyone who is bringing a new puppy into their life.


All in the Family

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” – Leo Tolstoy

The setup for Herman Koch’s novel, The Dinner, seems simple enough.  Paul and his brother and their wives are meeting for dinner.  Their sons have committed a crime (no

worries—I won’t give any spoilers here) and the parents have come together to try and figure out the best way to handle it.  However, the novel quickly skids off the beaten track and smashes us into uncommon novelistic ground.  The narrator, Paul, is unreliable and unlikable.  His brother, Serge, is self-serving and arrogant.  Serge’s wife, Babette goes from helpless to hysterical.  And Paul’s wife, Claire, is a Machiavellian, par excellence. 

I went through different stages as I was reading this book.  First, I wondered what I might do, if I were put into a similar moral dilemma.  Is it “right” to urge your child to turn himself in and face the consequences of his actions, or is it “right” to protect your child at all costs, even when he is in the wrong?  Then I began to question the parents’ motives.  Are they really trying to protect their sons, or just themselves?  By the end, I was glad I was reading alone, because I’m sure my mouth must have been gaping open in disbelief. 

Paul spends the novel trying to justify and rationalize his actions and those of his son, Michel.  In spite of everything they go through, he tries to convince us that he, Claire and Michel are still one of the “happy” families.  What he is really showing us are the ugly things that families do to and for each other.  Yet in spite of this, it was refreshing to read a novel that departs from the norm in so many ways.  I didn’t like the protagonist; he’s definitely not a hero.  I didn’t side with any of the characters as the action was unfolding.  I was slightly appalled by the ending.  And even so…  I’m so glad I read this and can’t wait until I can get my hands on more books by Koch!


China Miéville

When an author’s writing really sticks in your mind, it makes you want to keep track of what they have published lately.

Case in point:  In 2007 I was captivated by Un Lun Dun, which was the first book for young readers by British author China Miéville.  I was drawn into the world he created of modern London in parallel with an absurdist underworld in which discarded milk cartons and umbrellas come to life, and whose denizens are waiting for a special girl to fulfill a prophecy.   Plucky Deeba, who is not the “Chosen One” (but is her friend) has to persevere through a number of thrilling setbacks in order to defeat the shadowy forces of evil.  I thought it was a literary work of great originality and imagination.

In the ensuing years he has concentrated on adult science fiction and fantasy, picking up a few Hugo awards along the way.

Then last year Miéville aimed for a teen audience with the novel Railsea.  Once again he has vividly imagined an alternate world.  Trains of all descriptions do battle on a landscape heavily crisscrossed by rails.  Some of them, such as the moletrain on which protagonist Sham Yes ap Soorap is a doctor’s assistant, hunt the massive, dangerous and elusive giant moles who tunnel beneath the earth.  His captain is obsessed with a particular extremely large mole with unusual light fur.  (Any references to Moby Dick are strictly intentional.)  When Sham discovers an intriguing artifact that suggests there may be life beyond the railsea, he sets off on a quest of his own. 

Like Miéville’s earlier fiction, this book explodes with crackling writing, lots of action and memorable characters.   I hope younger readers are not put off by the rich vocabulary and stylistic quirkiness (such as using “&” instead of “and”).   Railsea is a fictional realm that is well worth visiting.



Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site is Sherri Duskey Rinker’s first book. It is a wonderful, not just for boys, bedtime story for any young fan of big machinery.  The book has great rhyming, and a clever storyline that creates a lulling, rhythmic environment, making it a perfect read for the end of the day. The use of the actual name and function of each machine, teaches children what they do, in a calming language and tempo.

The book’s gorgeous illustrations by Tom Lichtenheld, add to the charm, and seamlessly suit the story, while the light, humorous touches such as the sleeping moon, and the neighbor complaining of Dump Truck’s loud snoring, add to the book’s whimsy.   The fuzzy, painting images, perfectly set the stage for the energetic, then sleepy thematic components, of the tired trucks, diggers, and lifters who are ready to go to sleep.

The repetition of "goodnight goodnight" for each vehicle is very calming, and reinforces the message of preparing for sleep after a long work day. In these tired machines, drawn in detail and given a face and personality, the reader finds friends they can identify with.  Many other soothing details such as Cement Mixer taking a bath, and going to sleep with his blankie, Crane Truck tucked with his teddy bear and star nightlight, and Bulldozer sleeping in a dirt bed with his pillow, also point to the bedtime theme, in this great read-aloud picture book.