Category Archives: Reviews

The Accidental Alchemist by Gigi Pandian

pandianWhile I’m not usually a mystery reader, this book caught my attention because of its beautiful cover. After reading the back, it seemed to be almost a mystery/science fiction crossover. The story begins by introducing us to Zoe Faust who is a 300 year old accidental alchemist. She has lived on the road for most of her years, and if finally settling down in a fixer upper in a quaint small town. When unpacking her items in her new house, she finds that she has brought along a gargoyle named Dorian that is seeking her help. He not only speaks many languages, but happens to be an excellent French chef. Dorian needs Zoe’s help in making sure that he remains alive with a mysterious alchemy book that he has brought along with him.

The antics begin when Zoe comes home from a walk to find not only Dorian’s book missing, but a dead contractor on her front step. This brings Detective Liu to her door and the wayward youth Brixton to help along the way. Zoe is still trying to determine at this point whether Dorian may have had a hand in the murder, but eventually realizes him to be an ally in their investigation.

This story could be very entertaining, but seems to fall short in its storytelling. The author reminds the reader of key points multiple times within the storyline, and it becomes exhausting at some points for the reader. Also even though we know Zoe is 300 years old, she for the most part behaves and thinks like your normal twenty year old.  Even though the story did have multiple shortcomings, I did continue it through to the end because I was interested to see who had stolen the books and committed the murder. This may be a good pick for food mystery lovers, and there is even a bonus section in the appendix of recipes mentioned in the book. This book had all the pieces but just failed to connect them into a successful mystery.

Formats available: Book, E-book

Reviewed by Sara, Okolona Branch

The Mockingbird Next Door

Interest piqued by the recent announcement that American literary legend Harper Lee will be publishing a new novel? Want to know what the author of one of the most widely read books in America has been doing for the past 50+ years? Marja MillsThe Mockingbird Next Door: Life With Harper Lee is just about the only option you have, but fortunately it’s an excellent one.

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Lee, who was last in the public eye in the mid-1960s, has eschewed numerous opportunities to be recognized for her literary masterpiece, a book that helped fuel the progress of Civil Rights era reforms and whose hero, small town attorney Atticus Finch, continues to inspire readers today. Her motivations, as outlined by Mills, are certainly relatable: a desire to protect her own privacy and of those she loves; a distrust of those wishing to capitalize on her opus; and a general distaste for constantly being in the spotlight.

When writing Harper Lee’s biography, journalist Mills had to work hard to gain the author’s trust. The Chicago Tribune writer moved to Monroeville, AL with the intention of getting a few interviews and slowly developed earnest friendships with both Lee and her sister. Why did Lee lift the veil on her life now, why not live the rest of her days enjoying her privacy? Mills offers a few explanations. First, she wanted to have the story of the Lee family told by someone she trusted. Second, she wanted to set the record straight on a few things, namely any controversy that remains over who actually wrote To Kill a Mockingbird (Truman Capote, Lee’s childhood friend, had once claimed credit) and some allegations levied by Capote regarding Lee’s mother. Lee and Capote’s friendship had a long history and had even blossomed into a professional collaboration when she traveled to Kansas with him in the early 1960s to do research for what would later become In Cold Blood. The pain of betrayal Lee experienced with Capote is palpable in Mills’ pages.

So how does (Nelle) Harper Lee spend her days? For much of her adult life she spent half of her year in New York, where she enjoyed anonymity and the cultural offerings of a great city. The other half she spent in her hometown in Alabama, hanging out with friends and her beloved sister Alice, who in her 90s was still practicing law and being recognized for her work in social causes. Mills makes Lee’s days of fishing, storytelling and visiting cemeteries in her corner of Alabama sound as stimulating as her days in NYC must have been.

Mills’ unauthorized biography of Lee paints a picture of a woman true to herself and her values, who had to struggle against renown in order to live the life she wanted. The author maintains a professional detachment in reporting her story and spent enough time with Lee to know her as a person, not simply a literary legend.

Still, she confesses to occasionally feeling starstruck during those moments in Lee’s company when she realized, “Oh my god, I’m fishing/visiting/shopping for groceries with Harper Lee!” Dearest to the biographer’s heart were their morning coffee dates at Mills’ kitchen table, commenced by the phone ringing and Harper Lee’s voice on the other end saying, “Hi hon. You pourin’?”

Formats Available: Book (Regular Print and Large Type), eBook

Reviewed by Valerie, Iroquois Branch

Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by Dr. David D Burns

feelingoodWinter months can seem to drag on forever.  With all the gray gloom it’s easy to start feeling glum.  It’s rare I recommend a self-help book — or even read one myself — but if you find this winter is taking its toll on you, try Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by Dr. David D. Burns.  Dr. Burns has been studying cognitive therapy and mood fluctuation for decades.  When Feeling Good first hit the shelves in 1980, no one knew much about cognitive therapy or how successful it could be as a means to treat depression and low self-confidence.  Now, many years and revised editions later, Feeling Good has sold millions of copies and is recommended by mental health professionals over and over.

Don’t let the topic scare you, this book is a wonderful reminder for us on how to be kind to ourselves whether you need a little winter pick-me-up, or are suffering with long term negative thoughts.  In studies, the ideas Dr. Burns discusses in Feeling Good are proven to work better than many other methods currently used to help improve mood and confidence.  Feeling anxious with life?  Work?  School?  Life?  These are all things which can bring people down and make them feel unsure.  The main focus of Dr. Burns research is that all thoughts create feelings.  Further, if we are able to turn initial negative thoughts around – and look at things more objectively – then our feelings will be more positive.  Sounds simple but for many of us it’s not.

Don’t let the winter months get you down, if you need a break from the cold but can’t afford a trip to warmer climates, try Feeling Good By Dr. Burns instead – and maybe mentally you can find your beach oasis.

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton

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The tragic loss of a small child drives Annie into herself. Her husband can do nothing to console her, but readily points the finger at their surviving son, Kevin, who is smothered by guilt, but unlike his mother is aware of the need to move on. The decision is made for mother and son to leave Indiana for Annie’s family homestead in the Appalachian mountains, where readers find out that this was not the first premature or violent death visited upon the Peebles bloodline; Annie’s mother died as a complication of her birth, while her grandfather was targeted as an early activist for miner’s rights. When Annie returns to her father’s home, he too has known grief and is ready to give his daughter and grandson the space to heal.

Pops Peebles has commanded a great deal of respect amongst the inhabitants of fictional Medgar, Kentucky. He entertains his closest friends most every night with front porch talk and colorful stories, always accompanied by glasses of sour mash in engraved crystal. Like his father, who stood up for safe working conditions for his fellow miners, Pops is also concerned with fighting for what he thinks is best for his community that has slowly degraded due to surface mining practices.

Medgar was once thriving and proud, but in 1985, its beauty has been scarred, its waters polluted, and its economy has slowly trickled to almost nothing. Decline and loss are a painful terrain from which The Secret Wisdom of the Earth‘s youngest characters develop; some who triumph and others only add to the devastation. Kevin, who for most of the book holds back on revealing the circumstances of his brother’s death, finds himself with open-ended days to wander the forest around his grandfather’s home. There he meets Buzzy, a local boy near his own age, and they spend their days exploring the wilderness, navigating bullies, and admiring the opposite sex. The two become inseparable until another tragedy strikes, and the boys are forced to weigh allegiances over conscience.

Whether you’re a fan of regional stories, have an interest in mountaintop removal, or just appreciate a great coming-of-age tale stocked with colorful characters, I encourage you give this first literary effort by Christopher Scotton a top place on your reading list.

Formats Available: Book, eBook

 Reviewed by Natalie, Crescent Hill

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

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After just finishing Joe Hill’s book Horns and also watching the movie based on the book, I was eager to dig into more of his novels. Alas, I found just what I was looking for to read during the Christmas season. NOS4A2 combines the best of the horror genre with a Christmas topping in a wonderfully horrible world called Christmasland.

Meet Vic, the only girl who ever escaped from the notorious criminal Charles Manx. Victoria or Vic has a special power. She can find any lost thing that she wishes to. By hopping on her bike and traveling across a bridge that she can only see, she is transported to the exact location where the item resides. This talent delivers her right into the hands of notorious child kidnapper Charles Manx. Manx also has a special power, draining the life out of children and transporting them to a different reality that only he can visit, Christmasland. While Christmasland sounds like a delightful place to visit, it truly is something out of your worst nightmare including children wanting to eat you for their next meal.

Fast forward several chapters within in the book, we learn that Vic has grown into a mess of a person because of both her talent and her previous kidnapping by Charles Manx. Manx has been in a coma for several years within a hospital due to Vic’s testimony, but when he dies his body suspiciously disappears from the morgue. By way of an old friend and scrabble tiles, Vic learns that Manx is on the move again and coming straight for her and her family. What follows is a wild ride between good and evil that has lasting effects on every character in the story.

Hill does an excellent job at forming his characters and by the end of the story the reader has formed a connection with both Vic and her family. Horror readers will see the connection between the classic vampire story and a more modern that Hill has created in NOSS4A2. The book is daunting at over 700 pages, but I guarantee you will enjoy the wild ride in the back seat of a 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith with a license plate of NOS4A2.

 

Formats Available:  Regular Type, eBook, Graphic Novel

Reviewed by Sara, Okolona Branch

The Plot According to Dinner – The Dinner by Herman Koch

“If I had to give a definition of happiness, it would be this: happiness needs nothing but itself; it doesn’t have to be validated…unhappy families – and within those families, in particular the unhappy husband and wife – can never get by on their own. The more validators, the merrier. Unhappiness loves company. Unhappiness can’t stand silence – especially not the uneasy silence that settles in when it is all alone.”  - Paul Lohman, narrator, The Dinner

With some novels, the plot is discernible in the first few pages, while with others, it is issued forth piecemeal, in bites that, if well-written, are greedily devoured by the reader. The Dinner, written by the internationally-renown Dutch author Herman Koch, belongs with the latter and certainly possesses the sort of narration that propels the reader forward along with the unfolding tale.

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The setting in which the majority of the story takes place is an unnamed (“…because next time it might be full of people who’ve come to see whether we’re there.”), fashionable (“…the lamb’s-neck sweetbread has been marinated in Sardinian olive oil and is served with arugula..”) restaurant in Amsterdam where two couples are having dinner, cleverly emphasized with the five sections of the book named for stages of the meal: Aperitif, Appetizer, Main Course, Dessert, Digestif.

The night in which the dinner takes place finds two couples meeting for some specific reason that remains initially unknown. As the story progresses, it is revealed that the two men are in fact brothers, Serge and Paul Lohman, brothers who could not be more different, as brothers seem very often to be. Incidentally, both couples have fifteen-year-old sons, close cousins whose shared actions have the potential for absolute ruin, and this is the reason for their culinary endeavor.

As the evening marches on and details come to light, the niceties and early conversation dominated by light topics disappear, and what emerges are parents desperately devoted to their sons and intent on securing their futures in the way they are convinced is best, whatever the cost. Tension can find its source in all manner of things, and at times, it is the unseen undercurrent that vexes the reader most – it is known that something is there, something is terribly wrong, but what exactly it is defies instant revelation.

The Dinner offers the reader prose of the first order and a top notch mystery, not a mystery in the Agatha Christie sense, but a mystery of just what exactly happened, who is to blame, and what is to be done. Truth can be a tricky thing, especially in a realm in which familial love and devotion is the rule of the day.

“It’s like a pistol in a stage play: when someone waves a pistol during the first act, you can bet your bottom dollar that someone will be shot with it before the curtain falls. That’s the law of drama. The law that says no pistol must appear if no one’s going to fire it.”  - Paul Lohman, narrator, The Dinner

Formats Available:  Book (Regular Type), eBook, Audiobook (CD)

Reviewed by Rob, Crescent Hill

The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu

Everyone knew all the rumors about Alice.

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I mean, she’d had sex with two boys in one night, right? But can you really believe everything that you hear? Sometimes you should just go with your gut.

The events that surrounded Alice Franklin’s eventual fall from popularity are some that had me thinking that teenagers are so superficial. Supposedly, Alice sleeps with two boys at a party and before you know it, the rumor has spread around town. Everyone knows about it. But, to make matters worse, the popular quarterback dies in a car crash and she is also blamed for his death.

As a teenager, I wouldn’t say that I was a social outcast. I wasn’t a part of the popular clique, but I was a cheerleader, so everyone knew who I was. But, I didn’t have a car or wear the latest designer clothes, so in that aspect, I could almost relate to just about every character in this book.

This book is told from the point of view of four different people that are either directly or indirectly involved with Alice. There is Elaine, who was the on and off girlfriend of Brandon, one of the guys that Alice is rumored to have slept with and also the guy that passes away. There is Kelsie, Alice’s former best friend, who was once a social outcast. She turns her back on Alice once the rumors begin to swirl. Then there is Josh, Brandon’s best friend and Kurt, the school nerd, who harbors deep feelings for Alice.

Masterfully written, The Truth About Alice is a teenaged cliché, woven into the book pages. It brings to light those rumors we heard as children, about words not hurting and crushes them into tiny dust particles. Words can sting to the core. I felt strange emotions for Alice and wanted to hug her and tell her that things would eventually work themselves out. I like how the author told the story from different perspectives and allowed each character to have their own reasons as to why they treated Alice the way that they did. My favorite character above all was Kurt. He won my heart because no matter what people thought about him, he simply didn’t care.

I’m giving this book five stars. Why? Because it deserves them. It is by far one of the best young adult books that I read in 2014. Great job, Ms. Mathieu!

Formats Available:  Book

Reviewed by Damera, Okolona Branch

In Defense of Comics, pt. 2: Take the Challenge!

In a previous article, In Defense of Comics, I closed with a challenge to those who do not normally read comics to try one out.  Of course, picking a title to get started on can be difficult for the novice.  But as I was working up a best of list for this year’s graphic novels, it struck me that this could be a perfect opportunity to assist the those who would like to take me up on that challenge.

The list below comprises some of my favorite comics which I read in the past year (whether or not they were published in 2014).  There are twelve titles in alphabetical (rather than rank) order.  Many of the titles are ongoing series so I have just named each series as a whole rather than any specific volume.  I have separately given both the author and main artist for each title (except for those titles where the author and the artist are the same person). 

To make it easier still, all of these works can be checked out from LFPL.  You can click the title and it will take you to the item’s record in our catalog.  If it is not available at the branch you wish to go to, you may have the item shipped there by placing a request (using the button on the right hand side of the entry). 

I suggest that one volume (or series) be read each month in 2015 so that you can become comfortable with the medium.  Notice I said medium not genre.  The works below span several genres – and only two can be said to be of the superhero genre – but they are all clearly using the comic medium.

So, here goes:

Bandette by Paul Tobin & Colleen Coover

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Bandette is a teenaged thief but she’s the most stylish and fun thief you’ll ever meet.  Watch as she defies both the police and the criminal underworld with her wits and panache in this giddy adventure appropriate for children but charming enough to capture adult hearts.  Line art by Colleen Coover is in the Franco-Belgian style and colors are applied in a painterly manner harking back to America’s (then-contemporary) view of Paris in the late 1950’s or 60’s.

 

Battling Boy by Paul Pope

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Son of a fierce warrior god, Battling Boy comes to Earth for his initiation rites.  He lands in Acropolis as it is menaced by a series of monsters and quickly becomes its latest hero (now that the city’s former defender, vigilante Haggard West, has recently died).   Paul Pope, both author and artist, brings his edgy punk rock style to this tale that will appeal to superhero, fantasy, and manga fans alike.

 

Fatale by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

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Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips continue their award-winning approach to this tale of crime noir (of course) mixed with horror in the vein of H.P. Lovecraft.  The book’s title gets its name from the main character, femme fatale Jo, who is stalked across the 20th Century by an ancient evil power.  The art is perfectly pulpy and creepy as befits a tale filled with crooked cops, Nazi spies, Satanic cults, snuff films, and other dark matter.

 

Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel

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Ghostopolis is a boy’s adventure tale.  The protagonist, Garth Hale, is accidentally zapped to the spirit world by failing ghost hunter, Frank Gallows.  In the spirit world, Garth meets his grandfather’s ghost, Cecil, and the two go on a quest to find a way back home for Garth.  Along the way, the evil ruler of Ghostopolis tries to take control of our hero as Garth has manifested powers that the spirits do not have.  TenNapel‘s art is energetic and the page layouts are well-designed to keep the reader engaged in the story and ready to flip to the next page.

 

The Grand Duke by Yann & Romain Hugault

grandduke

The Grand Duke, gorgeously rendered by Romain Hugault, is a non-fiction tale set in the waning days of World War II.  It centers around a unit of the Luftwaffe and the Night Witches, a real life women’s air corps that flew for the Soviet Union, as they battle it out in the skies over Eastern Europe.  Despite knowing how history turns out, the author keeps the reader engrossed as both sides raggedly pursue war’s end against great material odds and low morale.

 

Hopeless Savages by Jen Van Meter & Christine Norrie

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The perils of punk rock parenting in suburbia with romance, intrigue, and reality TV are explored in this quirky, hip collection of tales.  Due  to the number of artists that have worked on the series over the years, there is no one style that dominates other than it’s all in black and white.  

 

Lazarus by Greg Rucka & Michael Lark

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Lazarus is a dystopian tale set in the near enough future that it sometimes feels scary, as if all that it would take for the events in the story to happen is a few bad years where government breaks down and corporations step into the void.  Lazarus’ main character, Forever Carlyle, is her family’s main protector and enforcer of the harsh set of formal and informal rules that keep them in power.  While in many ways a stereotypical strong female protagonist, Forever comes across as very real.  Rucka deftly shows us how her contradictions and weaknesses form Forever’s motivations.  Michael Lark‘s art combines science fiction and crime elements in a perfect blend with colorist Santiago Arcas‘ subtle use of shade and tone.

 

Peter Panzerfaust by Kurtis Wiebe & Tyler Jenkins

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Peter Panzerfaust is a retelling of the J.M. Barrie classic story.  The setting is World War II and the charismatic Peter helps a band of orphans survive the German invasion of France.  Soon the group is pursued by an SS officer that Peter wounded in their escape but they are also given assistance by members of the French Resistance, including the alluring Tiger Lily.  Tyler Jenkins manages to blend fantasy art and combat action art into a style akin to noir but which is much more lively and fantastic in tone.  His composition moves the story along effortlessly, shifting from standard panels to open space with ease.

 

Scalped by Jason Aaron & R.M. Guéra

scalped

Scalped is a dark crime noir story that takes place mostly on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, home to the deeply impoverished Oglala Nation (also known as the Lakota).  This is a sordid environment where the very worst in people is explored during an undercover assignment taken on by the reservation’s own prodigal son, F.B.I. Special Agent Dashiell Bad Horse.  Readers are witness to harrowing drug and alcohol addiction, ultraviolence, and spiritual desolation as Bad Horse attempts to bring to justice the reservation’s Chief Lincoln Red crow, a former Native American radical now turned mob boss.  Grim and dirty – even ugly at times – art by R.M.  Guéra helps convey the sense that the world the characters live in is terribly damaged.

 

The Superior Foes of Spider-Man by Nick Spencer & Steve Lieber

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Spider-Man is one of the quintessential characters that people think of when they think of superheroes. However, this is not your quintessential superhero book. In fact, neither Spider-Man nor any other superhero appear in the tale much at all. No, this is character-driven book that looks at the other side of the equation, what it would be like to be a supervillain.  Much like another recent Marvel title, Hawkeye, this comic rests on a sturdy foundation of humor and rough art to convey the working class nature of its characters (i.e., the Sinister Six) as they clumsily attempt to carry off a variety of criminal jobs.

 

Thief of Thieves by Robert Kirkman & various artists

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This is a straight up heist tale about a veteran thief working a last big score with his crew, the comic equivalent of Ocean’s Eleven. One twist is that this veteran, Redmond, is not just working for himself but to save the life of his wannabe yet ne’er-do-well son, Augustus, from a major crime boss to whom Augustus is heavily indebted. The art varies (as different artists were utilized over the run of the series so far) but as a whole, it is a mix of noir and mainstream comic styles that are appropriately gritty.

 

Watson and Holmes by Brandon Perlow & Paul Mendoza

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Sherlock Holmes and John Watson together again!  Sort of.  This time, they are a pair of African-Americans who investigate crimes in New York City.  The art is not easy to pigeonhole into one genre though the use of color and setting do clearly give it the feel of a mystery.  Everyone from Doyle‘s classic tales, from Inspector Lestrade to Sherlock’s Irregulars, makes an appearance at some point as the duo are embroiled in a case that involves drugs, gangs, and guns.

Reviews by Tony, Main Library


If you are interested in discussing these titles or other works of sequential art, please join us at one of the following LFPL book discussion groups:

Graphic Novel Discussion Group @ Main

Meetings are held at the Main Library on the second Monday of every month, starting at 6:00 PM.

Graphic Novel and Comic Book Discussion @ Fairdale

Meetings are held at the Fairdale Branch on the first Tuesday of every month, starting at 6:00 PM.

The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs

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I confess a deep, lifelong love of dinosaurs. I had a stuffed Tyrannosaurus rex as a kid, instead of a bear, and it still sits on my dresser. I read just about everything I can find on them, from bird identification guides, to blog posts and papers by paleontologists. I am very, very picky about dinosaur books. There’s a system, you see.

Katherine’s Guide to Evaluating Dinosaur Books:

1.  Accuracy. If it’s a non-fiction book, it had better be well researched by people who know what they’re doing. No excuses for using shoddy or old research or perpetuating outright falsehoods. For dinosaur books, there is one special consideration:  

It should at least know what a dinosaur is. This might seem obvious, but, when I hit the shelves, I’m always surprised at the number of “dinosaur” books that call the wrong things dinosaurs.

What is a dinosaur? Dinosaurs are all of the descendants of the single common ancestor of modern birds and Triceratops. They are archosaurs (all the relatives of themselves and crocodiles) with hips that fit upright legs. A chicken’s legs don’t sprawl like an alligator’s. Dimetrodon, Pteranodon, Icthyosaurus, Plesiosaurus – these are not dinosaurs.

A Black-Capped Chickadee is a dinosaur:

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“Black-capped Chickadee” by Brendan Lally – Own work.  Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Black-capped_Chickadee_1.jpg

(It’s all in those scaly little legs: they fall straight from the hip socket. Note also adorably teensy claws.)

2.  Illustrations. There is no substitute for a scientific illustrator. Shoddy computer graphics abound in dinosaur books for children and adults, yet good, clear, hand-drawn illustrations do the job far better, and bring out details that are easily botched by cheap computer graphics, such as feathers. This is definitely one case in which a picture is worth a thousand words.

3.  Focus. A clear, tight focus can really help a book, especially one that covers a topic as expansive as dinosaurs. Dinosaurs were around for a really, incredibly long time. To put the Mesozoic – the “Age of Dinosaurs” – in perspective, it ended 65 million years ago. The Cretaceous alone, the last of the three periods of the Mesozoic, lasted 80 million years, longer than everything that has happened since. It’s easy for a book to lose sense of this perspective, or for information to get muddled without a well-defined focus.

The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs definitely knows what a dinosaur is. The book knows what several hundred dinosaur species are. It is exactly as it says in the title – a field guide – with detailed, accurate, informative illustrations on every page, thorough introductions to each group, and information for every species introduced, including size, estimated weight, characteristics, distribution and habitat, and notes.

Even better, it’s by a scientific illustrator who is also a dinosaur researcher. Every page is crammed with line drawings and silhouettes of skeletons, beautiful muscle studies, and sensitive life restorations. The author – Gregory S. Paul – helped lead the charge for changing the visual interpretation of dinosaurs, from tail-dragging, cold-blooded, saggy-skinned mega-lizards, to the warm-blooded, and much more alert and dynamic creatures that populate today’s research and even motion pictures, in accord with advances in scientific knowledge. Especially striking in The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs is the restoration given for the chicken-sized Anchiornis huxleyi – the coloration of which has been determined: it was gray, with black and white banded arm and leg feathers, and a reddish crest on its head. On the other side of the coin, Gregory S. Paul uses a robust, informed imagination in the life restorations to suggest possibilities for dinosaurs that dry bones cannot. The zebra-striped feather crest and cassowary-like wattles on Dryosaurus altus bring the animal to vibrant life.

Organized by phylogeny, with species notes that indicate possible relationships, or insufficient data, The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs is easy to browse or use for reference – never losing its clear focus as a reference for the general public. Keeping an eye to context, the book opens with an introductory section that details the history or dinosaur research, changes in the field, dinosaur natural history, and even an overview of details such as diseases or injuries known from dinosaur fossils.

Whether your six-year-old has dinosaur fever, or the six-year-old in you does, a great dinosaur book like this one is indispensable.

Formats Available:  Book

Reviewed by Katherine, Highlands-Shelby Park Branch

The Allied Invasion of Normandy and the Liberation of Paris

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This year was the 70th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy and liberation of Paris. Writers have been busy marking the occasion!  Many readers have heard of All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, the story of a convergence of two lives on either side of the conflict: a Parisian girl and a German youth with a gift for electronics.   His beautifully written tale has earned spots on numerous best of lists for 2014.

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The only thing that can make a great piece of historical fiction better is a highly readable work of non-fiction to go with it.  To that end, I invite you to try When Paris Went Dark: the City of Light Under German Occupation, 1940-1944 by Ronald Rosbottom.   He tells the story of the city’s occupation from a variety of perspectives: from its people (German commanders to Parisian street vendors) to its high schools (one in particular was a breeding ground for Resistance fighters—I’d watch that teen drama series) and apartments (the labyrinth of interweaving corridors and doorways of Parisian housing played a major role in hiding those at risk).  Rosbottom explores the effects of the Occupation on the French psyche as a nation ponders what it did to resist and if that was enough.

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If Doerr and Rosbottom’s books sound appealing, I also encourage you to read Agnes Humbert’s wartime journal Résistance: A Woman’s Journal of Struggle and Defiance in Occupied France (1946), the story of her years in the French Resistance and as a prisoner in a forced labor camp in Germany.  A curator at the Musée de L’Homme, Humbert was among the first group of organized opponents of the Occupation.  We share her sadness and fear as her beloved city is occupied, its museums violated and its citizens arrested. But like the heroine of a favorite work of fiction, she never loses her spirit. Determined to make her internment productive for the Resistance, she sabotages the parachutes she is forced to make for the German war effort, all the time recognizing the irony of being forced to make artificial silk, a new technology that her mother had invested in before the war.

Despite her circumstances, Humbert keeps her sense of humor and refuses to surrender her humanity.  At one point during her years in slave labor, she ponders what Descartes would think of the factory’s rayon-making machines and the thoughts one has as one is at them.   After her liberation she spends her time helping the American army bring Nazis to justice and coordinating efforts to feed and house residents of the village that enslaved her.  Humbert’s journal reads like an adventure story and I found myself cheering for its inspirational heroine throughout.

Formats Available: Book (Regular Print and Large Type), Audiobook (CD), eBook

Reviewed by Valerie, Iroquois Branch