Wednesday, September 30, 2009

City of Thieves by David Benioff

City of Thieves by David Benioff

2008 Penguin Group

War books always make me ask myself what I would do in certain situations. What would I do to make sure I lived to see the next day? Would I become a prostitute if others were starving to death all around me? Would I betray my friends in order to have a few peaceful moments? It is nice to believe that I would always take the high road, that I would always follow my moral compass and do what is right. But I am resolved to not lie anymore and must admit that I will do anything to survive. I would sacrifice all my beliefs to live an extra day. Lev Beniov, the main character in CITY OF THIEVES, must deal with this same issue day after day.

CITY OF THIEVES is the story of two young men trying to survive the Nazi siege of Leningrad. Lev Beniov finds himself thrown into jail with Kolya, an army deserter, and tasked with finding a dozen eggs for a Soviet colonel's daughter's wedding cake. Lev and Kolya live in a city without the most basic food supplies and trying to stave off hunger with "library candy".

"The boy sold what people called library candy, mad from tearing the covers off
books, peeling off the binding glue, boiling it down, and reforming it into bars
you could wrap in paper.The stuff tasted like wax, but there was protein in the
glue, protein kept you alive, and the city's books were disappearing like the

Lev and Kolya are prisoners and have to do whatever it takes to survive to see the next day.

I picked up a copy of CITY OF THIEVES because it is the book discussion choice for the state this year. We are reading it in my library book discussion group, my nephew had to read it for his summer reading assignment and there will be staged readings of some scenes at city parks this fall. Based on the blurb on the back of the book I would not have read this book. I would have put it back on the shelf and kept on moving. And I would have missed a great book. CITY OF THIEVES is one of the best books I have read and one I know I will be returning to time and again.. It is one of those books that sneak up on you, making you cry when you least expect it and finding joy in situations that in any other book would be ridiculous. This book took me the full gamut of emotions and left me emotionally drained but satisfied.

CITY OF THIEVES is a decidedly adult novel. It is not for young adults or immature adults. There is some heavy material in here that requires a lot of life experiences to fully make sense. When reading this with my nephew, who has just turned 15, I realized that the only parts he and his friends understood were the death scenes. They were not understanding the sacrifice that the characters go through because they, for the most part have not had to sacrifice anything in their lives. They condemned certain characters without understanding the situations involved. For example, there is a scene where Lev and Kolya find themselves in a Nazi run Russian brothel. Lev finds himself attracted to the healthiness of the girls, seduced by the fat elbows of a prostitue, while Kolya is repulsed and without sympathy. It is easy to hate the young girls, to be disgusted by thier new profession. It is harder, however, to put oneself in their shoes, to be a young unprotected female in a world where the people with power are the enemies and you have to follow their orders or die. Who can say which is the bet choice; a noble death or a tarnished life.

Other Reviews:
Entertainment Weekly - Screenwriter David Benioff's splendid new novel, City of Thieves, opens as a screenwriter named David, curious about his grandparents' experiences in Russia during World War II, visits the retired couple in Florida and records cassette after cassette of his grandfather's tales. Finally, wearily, the old man ends the conversation. ''A couple of things still don't make sense to me — '' Benioff persists.
''You're a writer,'' answers his grandfather. ''Make it up.''
And so, apparently, he has. Exactly how much of this novel is true, and how much imagined, matters not a whit. The surreal wartime journey of 17-year-old Lev Beniov unfolds like a crazy and vivid dream (and, at times, a nightmare), but it has the rich texture of lived experience.
The story opens in the winter of 1942 during the crushing Nazi siege of Leningrad. ''You have never been so hungry; you have never been so cold'' are Lev's first words to us. A nervous virgin with a gift for chess and a bashful crush on his cello-playing neighbor, Lev watches the corpse of a German parachutist float down from the sky, ''his silk canopy a white tulip bulb above him.'' Lev drinks the dead man's cognac, steals his knife, and is promptly nabbed by the police for looting.
Lev hasn't yet learned how to make his way in the world. But while in jail, he meets the consummate operator: Kolya, a handsome, irrepressible, Zorba-like soldier who was arrested for going AWOL from his regiment. You can tell Benioff is a screenwriter, because Lev and Kolya are a comic odd couple from a long Hollywood tradition. You're ''a bit moody, in the Jewish way, but I like you,'' Kolya announces, and thereafter treats Lev as his soul mate. For Kolya, Lev feels a combination of envy, fascination, and suspicion. The colonel holding them prisoner offers them a deal: He'll set them free if they can track down a dozen eggs for his daughter's wedding cake.
This ragtag pair hits the road, telling each other ribald stories, bantering about literature, and getting on each other's nerves. In ravaged Leningrad, they discover willing young women and charnel-house horrors, but no eggs. They venture out of the city and into the frozen countryside, where they spend the night with a cabin full of courtesans, briefly join a band of partisans, and are captured by the German army. Guns are fired, throats slashed, a love affair launched, and eventually, at a staggering price, eggs acquired. By listening carefully — and making the rest up — Benioff has produced a funny, sad, and thrilling novel. A-

City of Thieves Trailer

City of Thieves by David Benioff

I found this on YouTube and found it amusing. While I dont think the writer really understood or enjoyed the book it is not a bad review.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Read a Book -Clean Version

This is the funniest thing I have seen in a while. One of my students forwarded this to me (didn't know they had email in the third grade) and I had to post it. Hope you enjoy it!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

B is for Beer by Tom Collins

B is for Beer by Tom Robbins

2009 HarperCollins

It is no secret that I love "The History of..." books. So far I have read the histories of salt, penicillin and cotton this year. I found B IS FOR BEER completely by accident. I was wondering arond the library, randomly picking up and putting down books, probably driving some poor librarian crazy and somehow I came home with this book.
B IS FOR BEER is hilarious. The front cover is correct this book can be either a children's book for adults or a grown-up bookl for children. Either group could read it and be amused. As an adult I found this book fun to read.
B IS FOR BEER is the history and semi how-to manual for beermaking as told to 5 year old Gracie by the Beer Fairy.(Apparently, the Beer Fairy only comes to you when you've been drinking. I think she and I dated when I was in college.)Besides telling young Gracie the fundamentals of a great beer the beer fairy also gives great advice. My favorite: But there are times, I think you'll agree, when false courage is better than no courage at all.How true that is. There are days when I run on nothing but false courage. But I digress.
I would not recommend that this book be read by children under the age of 15. There is a lot of innuendo and vague references that only adults would understand and appreciate. However, if one were beginning a research paper on the istory of beer I would start here.
FYI: Did you know that beer really originated in Egypt?

Other Reviews:

From Publishers WeeklyIn his children's book for grown-ups/grown-up book for children, Robbins (Even Cowgirls Get the Blues) takes readers on a whimsical tour of all things beer, written in the language of a bedtime story. Factoids about everything from how beer is made to the number of gallons of beer sold globally each year (36 billion) are woven into this story about six-year-old Gracie Perkel, who craves time with her beer-guzzling Uncle Moe. When Moe disappoints Gracie, she reaches for a drink and is visited by the Beer Fairy, who flies her through the Seam and offers an education about life and, of course, beer. The drive to inform the reader about malt and hops is sometimes relentless, and the language can be frustratingly dumbed-down (If you're unfamiliar with the word podiatrist, you're not alone. Fortunately for Gracie [and now for you], Uncle Moe was quick to define podiatrist as a doctor who investigates and treats disorders of the feet. A foot specialist). Still, the premise and execution of this unique book lends itself to moments of real humor. (Apr.) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Stowaway by Karen Hesse

Stowaway by Karen Hesse

2000 Aladdin Paperbacks

STOWAWAY was an interesting read. Initially I picked this book up because I planned to read all the New York Times Bestsellers I could stand. This book is another reason that the NYTB list annoys me to no end. I cannot figure out what it is about this book that would make thousands of people read it. It was an ok book, nothing special and yet thousands of people spent $6.99 on it.

I found that STOWAWAY didn't hold my attention. It is the story of Nicholas Young, a stowaway on the H.M.S Endeavor that sails from England to Tahiti, New Zealand and Australia. The plot sounds like it should be interesting; a young boy accompanying an expedition to discover the unknown world. Yet the writer mishandles which should be an easy sell.

STOWAWAY is surprisingly slow. It spends quite a bit of time on needless information and sometimes glosses over the scenes that could be entertaining. The author assumes that the reader has a lot of historical and geographical knowledge. There were times in the book that I could identify the location of the ship because I had just read about it in the National Geographic. It seems that the author does not know who their audience is. Is it adult history buffs or thirteen year old boys? It is never quite clear. Overall, the book was a 3 out of 5 if I had to rank it. It was not terrible but it wasn't great, or even moderately good.

Other Reviews: Review:

To 11-year-old Nicholas Young, the tall masts of the exploratory ship Endeavour look like an answer to his fervent prayers. On the run from his demanding father and the cruel butcher who employed him, Nick finds adventure beyond his wildest imaginings when he stows away on the ship of legendary Captain James Cook. Once he is discovered and put to work, Nick becomes party to some amazing sights. He meets indigenous natives of Tahiti, New Zealand, and Australia, wonders at the sight of kangaroos, and shudders with horror when confronted with cannibalism. Nick survives a hurricane, a near shipwreck on the Great Barrier Reef, and a deadly bout with typhoid to become one of the few original crew members to successfully circumnavigate the globe with Cook and arrive safely back in England. He notes in his worn journal shortly before sighting his homeland's shore: "We have truly led the way, charting the path for all who come after. I don't know I shall ever feel so again as I feel now. That any of us shall."
Newbery Medal-winning Karen Hesse's story is based on actual Endeavour stowaway Nicholas Young, about whom little is known. Using the real 1768 diaries of Captain Cook and shipboard naturalist Joseph Banks, Hesse has changed Young from a forgotten footnote into a living, breathing person with red hair and a penchant for pork chops. So authentic you can feel the sea spray, this fine fictionalized diary is a nautical treasure for landlubbers young and old. (Ages 10 and older) --Jennifer Hubert

From Publishers Weekly:

Sparkling with humor, poignancy and adventure, Newbery Medal-winner Hesse's (Out of the Dust) historical novel, told in diary form, was inspired by a real boy who stowed away aboard Captain James Cook's ship Endeavour on its 1768 voyage. The author bases the story on what little is known about 11-year-old Nicholas Young (he could read and write, for instance, and was made an official crew member in April 1769 when the ship reached Tahiti) and spins an imaginative tale firmly anchored in fact. The brief diary entries adhere to the ship's actual itinerary and detail Nick's adventures (and misadventures), among them his ongoing run-ins with a vindictive midshipman (also documented), the excitement and danger of rounding Cape Horn and the captain's disappointment in the view of Venus's transit across the sun (one of the main reasons for the voyage). Nick grows into young manhood irrevocably shaped by the three-year voyage, teaching an illiterate shipmate to read, befriending a Tahitian boy and witnessing cannibalism as well as a share of tragedy while helping to nurse a crew ravaged by accident and disease. His lively observations (on seasickness: "I can say now that Gentlemen heave the contents of their stomach same as eleven-year-old stowaways") keep the action sailing smoothly forward, while Hesse's impeccable research buttresses the narrative with a wealth of detail. A sprinkling of Parker's pen-and-ink illustrations adds an additional layer of texture, while an author's note and extensive glossary round out this compelling volume. Ages 10-14. (Nov.) Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen

I curse my book budget every time I find a new trailer. This, also, is on my library wish list. Review: Imagine what it might be like to realize that the person you love is, in fact, not the person you love but a doppelgänger: or, what Leo Liebenstein coolly terms a "simulacrum" of his wife Rema at the outset of Atmospheric Disturbances. David Byrne's infamous cry that "this is not my beautiful wife" seems the most likely response, but Leo's reaction to this sea change takes unpredictable and dazzlingly plotted turns in the story that follows. Leo's journey to recover the "real" Rema is nothing short of byzantine; among its many mysteries is the delightfully inscrutable Dr. Tzvi Gal-Chen, a master meteorologist who in cleverly constructed flashback sequences takes up residence in the daily rhythms of Leo and Rema's marriage and becomes as much a focus of Leo's obsession as his wife's whereabouts. (Think Vertigo but directed by Charlie Kaufman.) Make no mistake: this is dizzying debut fiction, bursting at the spine with beautifully articulated ideas about love, yes, but also--and with maddening resonance--about the private wars love forces us to wage with ourselves. Be sure to keep a pen or pencil handy: it's impossible to resist underlining prose this good. --Anne Bartholomew--

From Publishers: In this enthralling debut, psychiatrist Dr. Leo Liebenstein sets off to find his wife, Rema, who he believes has been replaced by a simulacrum. Also missing is one of Leo's patients, Harvey, who is convinced he receives coded messages (via Page Six in the New York Post) from the Royal Academy of Meteorology to control the weather. At Rema's urging, Leo pretends during his sessions with Harvey to be a Royal Academy agent (she thinks the fib could help break through to Harvey), and once Re- ma and Leo disappear, Leo turns to actual Royal Academy member Tzvi Gal-Chen's meteorological work to guide him in his search for his wife. Leo's quest takes him through Buenos Aires and Patagonia, and as he becomes increasingly delusional and erratic, Galchen adeptly reveals the actual situation to readers, including Rema's anguish and anger at her husband. Leo's devotion to the real Rema is heartbreaking and maddening; he cannot see that the woman he seeks has been with him all along. Don't be surprised if this gives you a Crying of Lot 49 nostalgia hit. (June) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Museum of Human Beings by Colin Sargent

Museum of Human Beings by Colin Sargent

2008 McBooks Press

Lately I have found myself displeased with the quality of book I am finding in the library or, when funds allow, in the bookstore. There don't seem to be anymore books that touch my heart, that make me feel as if I have found a kindred spirit. There don't seem to be very many books that I would read and reread over and over until I have almost every line memorized.I was wrong. MUSEUM OF HUMAN BEINGS touched me in the same way that Atlas Shrugged or The Handmaid's Tale has. I read this book everywhere. I read it in the doctor's office, at football practice, even in the car while stuck in traffic. I carried this book in my purse for almost two weeks because I liked to read certain passages over and over.

MUSEUM OF HUMAN BEINGS is the fictionalized biography of Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, the child of Sacagawea and interpreter Toussaint Charbonneau, and raised in the home of William Clark. The book follows Baptiste as he is raised in the home of Clark, thinking he is no different than the white children but quickly learning that his heritage will always separate him from his "father" and from his native people. He goes to Europe as an example of the New World's native people, returns home to confront the family that rejected him, the family he rejected and to try and make a place for himself. The book ends with his death as an old man who seems to have discovered who he really is. The most moving part of this book is that Baptiste always acknowledges that he does not know himself, even when he thinks that he has learned something new he really is discovering things he already knew.

This book is really a discussion about the definition of a person. It asks: Who determines who we are? Is one defined by their heritage? By their skin tone? By their cultural upbringing? Baptiste is a renaissance man. He speaks several languages fluently, a few more passably, plays the piano and violin professionally, has traveled the world and yet he is consistently treated as a 'savage' and not as a real human being. It is only when he begins to discard the self-loathing he learned at the hands of his adopted family and those he was raised around that Baptiste is able to become his own person and learn to be comfortable as he is.

As a person of color I can relate to Baptiste. It is easier sometimes to allow people to define you and to fall into those definitions rather than being whoever it is you want to be. As I have aged I have learned that only I can define myself and limit myself but it is a difficult lesson to learn. More books should be as honest as MUSEUM OF HUMAN BEINGS and explore the prejudices and attitudes that lead to hatred and self-loathing.

Other Reviews:

From Publishers WeeklyPlaywright Sargent's debut novel is a stylish look at the fate of Sacagawea's baby son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, the first Native American to tour Europe—as a curiosity and entertainment, of course. Twenty-four-year-old Sacagawea, though married, becomes William Clark's lover while helping guide the Lewis and Clark Expedition; after she dies on the trail, Clark adopts her son, Baptiste. Soon, Clark establishes his home in St. Louis, as well as a garish museum dedicated to his expedition, and sets to educating his new son. Soon, Baptiste is traveling Europe under the protection of Duke Paul, a cruel man who, when he isn't exhibiting the boy to royal courts, repeatedly rapes young Baptiste. Six years later, Baptiste returns to America (astonishingly, still accompanied by Paul), where he confronts Clark over his mother's mysterious death; unsatisfied and restless, Baptiste heads west and finds work as a fur trapper, an Army scout and gold prospector. Increasingly haunted by his mother, Baptiste revisits her in memories and visions that lend themselves nicely to Sargent's lyrical prose. With historical cameos (Beethoven, Kit Carson, Washington Irving) and an impressively rounded portrait of the laid-back, introspective, nomadic Baptiste, this novel will satisfy fans of American history. (Nov.) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Gone by Michael Grant

Lord of the Flies: Urban Edition?

These are two reviews that I have read. Unfortunately I can't get my hands on this book yet but as soon as I do I will let you know what I think.

From School Library Journal: One minute the teacher was talking about the Civil War. And the next minute he was gone." Just vanished—along with everyone else over the age of 13 in a 20-mile radius around Perdido Beach, CA. The children left behind find themselves battling hunger, fear, and one another in a novel strongly reminiscent of William Golding's Lord of the Flies. Things go from bad to worse when some of the children begin exhibiting strange powers, animals show signs of freakish mutations, and people disappear as soon as they turn 14. Though an excellent premise for a novel, Gone suffers from a couple of problems. First, it is just too long. After opening with a bang, the initial 200 or so pages limp along before the action begins to really pick up. Secondly, based on the themes of violence, death, and implied sexual intimidation, this is clearly written for an older teen audience who may not appreciate the fact that no one in the book is older than 13. In spite of its faults, Gone is a gripping and gritty read with enough creepy gruesomeness to satisfy readers who have a taste for the macabre. Give this one to the readers who aren't quite ready for Stephen King or Dean Koontz.—Jane Henriksen Baird, Anchorage Public Library, AK Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist: It’s a scenario that every kid has dreamed about: adults suddenly disappear, and kids have free reign. In this case, though, it’s everyone 14 and older who disappears, and the harsh reality of such unreal circumstances isn’t a joyride after all. A girl driving with her grandfather plunges into a horrific car wreck; gas burners left on ignite a home with a young child trapped inside; food and medical supplies dwindle; and malicious youths take over as the remaining children attempt to set up some form of workable society. Even stranger than the disappearance of much of humanity, though, are the bizarre, sometimes terrifying powers that some of the kids are developing, not to mention the rapidly mutating animals or the impenetrable wall 20 miles in diameter that encircles them. This intense, marvelously plotted, paced, and characterized story will immediately garner comparisons to Lord of the Flies, or even the long-playing world shifts of Stephen King, with just a dash of X-Men for good measure. A potent mix of action and thoughtfulness—centered around good and evil, courage and cowardice—renders this a tour-de-force that will leave readers dazed, disturbed, and utterly breathless. Grant’s novel is presumably the first in a series, and while many will want to scream when they find out the end is not the end, they’ll be glad there’s more in store. Grades 6-9. --Ian Chipman

Friday, September 4, 2009

Here Be Monsters by Alan Snow

2005 Aladdin Paperbacks

I am so mad that I have not read this book before. HERE BE MONSTERS is one of the best children's books that I have ever read. The illustrations were well done and could have easily told the story without any words. I read this book in less than a day. It is a fast and enjoyable read that is funny without being vulgar.Granted there are a lot of characters and a lot of silly names that feel as if you are in the middle of a "Say this 3 times fast" contest. But once you get a handle on the names, the creature/ characters and the villain then the book goes really fast.

HERE BE MONSTERS is a thick book, 529 pages, but the book is filled with illustrations so the reading really comes down to at least half of the book. FYI: Teachers would find this a great book to read aloud and act out.

The story is fairly simple. A boy goes out in search of food for himself and his ailing grandfather, gets himself in trouble while being nosy, has to rely on strangers for help and eventually solve the mystery that exonerates his falsely accused grandfather. Sounds simple so far. This plot sounds like at least 10 different books I could name right now. Now add in a boxtroll, some cabbageheads, the Ratbridge Nautical Laundry, and sheep-like cheese. Doesn't it sound like fun already? HERE BE MONSTERS reminds me of Roald Dahl and the way that he made language adventuresome and humor droll.

Other peoples opinions:

From School Library Journal: Ratbridge is populated by a variety of odd creatures and equally unusual humans. Underlings, including boxtrolls (shy trolls that wear boxes) and cabbageheads (they worship cabbage and wear them tied to their heads), live in tunnels and caves beneath the city. A boy named Arthur emerges from his subterraneous home and discovers an evil plot. The shady members of the Cheese Guild, led by an unpleasant fellow called Snatcher, are kidnapping underlings and plotting to take over the town. Arthur's allies against the Guild include underlings, a man in iron socks, and the pirates and rats who run the Nautical Laundry. There's a great deal of inspired silliness throughout, which may appeal to fans of Roald Dahl and Lemony Snicket. Although the characters are not particularly well developed through words, numerous high-quality, black-and-white illustrations bring Ratbridge and its citizens to life, accentuating the comical tone and helping to pace the tale. The action is clearly played for laughs rather than suspense, as when the heroes repulse an attack on their ship by firing balls of bilge-pump gunk using catapults made of knickers. Some readers might lose interest in the sometimes-rambling series of events, but the short chapters, intriguing creatures, quirky humor, and engaging art make this book a good choice for youngsters who enjoy lengthy and lighthearted fantasy.–Steven Engelfried, Beaverton City Library, OR Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. -

From Booklist: Wearing a flying contraption that consists of leathery wings and a box with a crank, Arthur quietly flutters across the night sky above the town of Ratbridge. He liberates a bunch of bananas from the greenhouse of "a very large lady with a very long stick" and escapes, only to spot an illegal cheese hunt, give chase, and land in a peck of trouble. Soon the plucky lad allies himself with boxtrolls, cabbageheads, pirates, rats, a retired lawyer, and the sadly imprisoned Man in the Iron Socks in a mighty struggle against a pack of scurrilous villains. Snow, who has written and illustrated droll picture books such as How Santa Really Works (2004), provides small, detailed, crosshatched drawings on nearly every page of the novel. Helpful in creating the settings and bringing the more fantastic characters to life, the illustrations, which are often amusing, also make the book accessible to younger children who like lengthy books. Snow's inventive fantasy, somewhat reminiscent of Roald Dahl's work, combines stout hearts, terrible troubles, and inspired lunacy. Carolyn PhelanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved