Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
Reviews for “Ripper: a novel” by Isabel Allende intrigued me, since this is a total departure from all of her previous work. I’m a fan of Allende and have read other novels by her, which fall more into the magical realism and historical fiction categories.
But this is a mystery, and much more besides, and it’s definitely hard to put down. The main characters are both strong and striking. Amanda, a brilliant high school senior, is something of a misfit who plays an online game called “Ripper” (as in Jack) with several other like- minded teenagers around the world, as well as her grandfather. Amanda’s parents are divorced but still very much in her life. Her mother, Indiana, is a good hearted healer who’s involved with two very different men- one a Navy SEAL with a past, and the other an independently wealthy man about town. Amanda’s dad is San Francisco’s deputy chief of homicide. When Amanda and her cyber friends start investigating a series of murders they believe are related (but no one else thinks so) things really heat up. Richly drawn and engaging characters add a lot to this fast paced thriller.
I hope that author Allende gives us more like this one!
Ripper: a novel
This is based on a true story. It is World War II and a group of Polish soldiers who are escaping the Germans and Russians by way of Iran purchase a tiny, half-dead orphaned bear cub from a boy. The soldiers name the bear cub Voytek, which means “Smiling Warrior.” Voytek is cared for by Peter and Stanislav and Junusz and Lolek and Pavel… they explain to their sergeant that the bear is their new ‘mascot.’
The soldiers join the British army. The story follows the soldiers and Voytek from camp to camp for five years watching the many different soldiers’ reactions to Voytek. Voytek is a sweet bear. Peter is his keeper and there are a few instances where he aids the soldiers: he carries bombs, he corners a spy, and he entertains. Voytek provides comfort amid the horrors of war. The soldiers have a few other animals: Kaska, a monkey, who rides on the back of a big dog named Stalin and Dottie the Dalmatian.
Soldier Bear has been translated from the Dutch into English by Laura Watkinson. Soldier Bear received the Margaret Bachelder Award, an American Library Association Award given to the most outstanding children’s book originally published in a language other than English in a country other than the United States, and subsequently translated into English for publication in the United States.
You may know Walter Kirn from the novels and short stories he has written, but it is more likely you have heard of him because of the movies Up in the Air starring George Clooney and Thumbsucker that are based on his novels of the same name. Since I spend a lot of time reading book reviews, I know he is also a hotshot reviewer.
Now he has another claim to fame; manipulated dupe of impostor and murderer Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, a.k.a. Clark Rockefeller.
Desperate for money as a struggling writer who had gotten in too deep buying a ranch in Montana, he agreed to drive a disabled dog from Montana to New York City to aid in its adoption by Clark Rockefeller, member of the immensely wealthy Rockefeller family. Kirn needed the money and was hoping to maybe find in this eccentric person a subject to write about or base a character on in a future novel.
This was the beginning of a long, bizarre relationship during which Kirn actually decides not to write about Rockefeller in deference to their friendship. But this all changes when his friend Clark is brought up on murder charges and investigations start to reveal that the whole relationship has been a string of lies.
You will be stunned by what Christian Gerhartsreiter was able to get away with in Kirn's new memoir/true crime book Blood Will Out.
Blood Will Out
Clive Cussler and Jack Du Brul have written another book, Mirage, filled with the adventures of the crew from the ship the Oregon. This time it’s all about invisible ships and magnetic blue beams. A Navy ship sailing out of Philadelphia disappears and somehow an inventor named Nikola Tesla is involved. Give it a read at KPL.
In this book we received just last year, Eric Chaline indicates that his survey of iconic machines goes back not "to the invention of the hand ax or wheel, but begins in 1801, with the first successful application of automation to weaving, which had until then been the preserve of the skilled artisan." Among the 50 machines profiled with brief historical treatments and artwork are the Singer sewing machine, Underwood No. 1 typewriter, diesel engine, Kodak camera, Westinghouse AC system, Model T Ford, Black and Decker electric drill, Saturn V rocket, Magnox nuclear reactor, GE top-loading washing machine, Atari 2600, Sony Walkman, IBM PC 5150, and the Hubble Telescope. This is informative and entertaining at the same time. I was hoping to see my old friend/nemesis the Regiscope included, but didn't find it. Maybe it will be in the next edition.
Fifty machines that changed the course of history
Zoe loves cupcakes and she loves princesses, what a combination. She loves making pink cupcakes with sparkles, and she really loves her playhouse where she has tea and cupcakes with her favorite stuffed animals. But of course there is a problem: Zoe’s older brother, Ralph, also loves cupcakes. He wants to eat them and so do all his friends – they want all of the cupcakes and Ralph never asks to eat them he just does! All the cupcakes – GONE.
But the next day, Zoe makes cupcakes and she wishes really hard about being a princess and hopes her wish becomes part of the batter. When she is done baking, frosting and decorating the cupcakes they do look magical. One bite and Zoe realizes they are sweet and sparkly - they are Princess cupcakes and Zoe has become a princess! Her playhouse is now a castle and the tea party is real, her guests (the favorite stuffed animals) can talk. While they are out exploring the magical kingdom the evil Prince Ralph steals the cupcakes, but Zoe plans a special surprise for him. And as the day ends so does the magic.
The next day Zoe works very hard making green cupcakes. Again she wishes very hard for some special magic. When Ralph and his friends rush in for cupcakes something amazing happens. Hum – little green frogs – but Zoe says not to worry – cupcake magic only lasts for a day.
The last page includes the recipe for pink cupcakes and frosting. A fun activity for reader and listener to share after the story ends.
The story and illustrations are just right for a little princess imagination. The cover art with lots of pink, sparkles and a crown on Zoe’s head will surely call to young readers who can never get enough stories about princesses.
Pink Cupcake Magic by Katherine Tegen, illustrated by Kristin Varner
Looking at the illustrations in this picture book, I get some reassurance that we might yet see spring here in Michigan!
A boy in Pakistan competes in Basant, the annual kite festival; whoever captures the most kites becomes “king” for a day.
The story is full of excitement and the artwork adds lovely details, combining to present an exuberant celebration of wind and flight.
King for a Day
Copernicus threw us for a loop by putting the sun at the center and us off to the side. Kant (pronounced like “font”) changed the way we perceive the world by putting the mind at the center and the external world off to the side. For us to perceive reality and know about it, reality must conform to our minds—not the other way around.
What? Let’s back up. In the 1700s there were two major schools of thought. One, the so called empiricism of Locke and Hume: that the external, physical world is “out there,” that when we are looking at a tree we are pretty much looking at an “exact copy” of the tree that exists outside our perception of it; in other words, our eyeballs are windows to reality and our senses/mind represent things accurately. On the other hand, the so called idealism of George Berkeley: that the external, physical world is a baseless assumption, that we don’t really need it, that all the things we perceive are actually “in our mind” so to speak, impressions directly implanted by God (cut out the middle man!—matter). Sure it sounds odd, but consider: when we are dreaming it seems like there is an external reality “out there”—but there’s not, it’s all in our head.
The genius of Kant at age 47 was to bring together the two schools of thought; both are right and both are wrong. Yes there is a reality, an external world that exists completely separate from our perception of it (separate from dogs’ perception of it, whales’ perception of it). But the mind recreates reality, filters reality, represents reality in a particular human way (space and time are even filters of the mind!). By the time our minds go to work on it, who knows what’s really out there—we know nothing about what’s out there. That’s how Kant blew everyone’s mind. He suggested that when we refer to “reality,” we are really talking about the world as we perceive it. When we refer to the external world, we are really talking about the unknowable, unperceivable; metaphysical speculation, God, freedom, beauty—stuff like that. The point of his book, as he says, was to “do away with knowledge in order to make room for faith.”
Kant shook my world and I hope he shakes yours. Check out my book display on the 1st floor of the downtown, Central Library—IgeekPhilosophy. (Also, follow my personal blog at jesusmeetskant.blogspot.com which of course is not affiliated with KPL).
Critique of Pure Reason
Can fruits and vegetables be beautiful? Yes they can! Set in August when's it's "steamy hot", Cheers for a Dozen Ears is a colorfully illustrated counting book that celebrates a family's trip to the farmers' market. This book will make you hungry for fresh tomatoes and beans, watermelons, peaches, and more. I could see using this book to build excitement about visiting the market and the farmers who bring their produce for sale to we lucky consumers here in Kalamazoo. A trip to the market is ripe with opportunities to see text and numbers in action. Why not start with this cozy counting read-along?
Cheers for a Dozen Ears
Isabelle, a young dancer, is the newest girl in the American Girl series. Isabelle by Laurence Yep is the first book in the series, 2 others: Designs by Isabelle and To the Stars, Isabelle have also been published.
The first book, Isabelle, sets up the characters, her family, friends and the setting. Isabelle is excited about starting her first year at the Anna Hart School of the Arts, a prestigious school for the arts in Washington D.C. She can’t help comparing herself to her older sister, Jade, who also attends Anna Hart and is an amazing ballerina. Actually all the kids at Anna Hart are exceptionally talented. Isabelle questions her dance ability and wonders if she can navigate the new school.
As Isabelle prepares with her class for the Fall Festival, she continues to doubt her own ballet ability. What she doesn’t doubt is her desire and sense of style for designing Jade’s and her own costumes for the program. As the Fall Festival draws closer, Jade gives Isabelle some spot on tips for her dancing that allows for her to finally give the performance she has been dreaming of. And Jade and her both have amazing costumes as well. Both Jade and Isabelle are noticed by a professional Director and dancer and are asked to perform in the Nutcracker – a dream come true.
Fans of American Girl will enjoy this new series. The books are fun and read quickly.