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April 2009 Staff Book Reviews

As the children's rhyme says: "April showers bring May flowers!"

The rainy days of April are not all gloomy, though.  After taking a fun romp through the puddles in some rain boots, we suggest coming inside to dry off and read a book.  This month the staff has shared their picks for some great books (all are four or five stars).  So choose a book to enjoy while sitting in a comfy chair as the rain pours outside.  

book jacket for The Little Giant of Aberdeen CountyThe Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker
four stars
Reviewer: Jennifer Flygare, Norman Public Library

The novel begins with the birth of Truly Paice who is so big she is blamed for the death of her mother. She must live with this guilt and endure a childhood of embarrassment and shame with her ever-expanding size. Her sister, Serena Jane who is beautiful, petite and considered to be the standard of feminine perfection, is the complete opposite of Truly.

After the death of their mother, their father turns to alcohol and gambling and is unable to care for the girls. Serena Jane is taken in by the town's minister and his wife, while Truly is sent to live with the Dyerson's, who live in poverty and are the town's social outcasts. The book chronicles Truly's struggle for love and acceptance in a community that, for the most, part rejects her. She must also break free and find her own path in life.

This is a debut novel by a gifted writer. The story, rich and well written, explores the struggle of those who don't fit into society's rigid definition of beauty. The main character reminds me of the heroines in Ursula Hegi's Stones From the River and Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and hope to see more from Baker soon.

book jacket for The Hope ChestThe Hope Chest by Karen Schwabach
four stars
Reviewer: Mary Lea Wallace, Norman Public Library

The fight for women's right to vote was a fierce struggle to the end. The "hope chest" is a car that belongs to Violet's older sister. It was her sister's ticket to freedom from a domineering father. As eleven-year-old Violet goes to New York in order to search for her sister, other young runaways are caught up in her adventure. Civil rights and political persecution enter into the fast pased plot set in 1918.

book jacket for Once Again to Zelda: the stories behind literature's most intriguing dedicationsOnce Again to Zelda: the stories behind literature's most intriguing dedications by Marlene Wagman-Geller
a must read
Reviewer: Cindy Stevens, Center for Reader's Services

Have you ever read the dedication in a book and wondered why or to whom it was dedicated? Well, if you have - this is the book for you! Wagman-Geller examines the dedication of fifty of the most well known pieces of literature: Frankenstein, Moby Dick, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and The Great Gatsby, for which this book was titled, to name a few.

This is actually a collection of short "biographies" about the author and the person, or persons, to whom the work was dedicated. These authors lived fascinating lives and had wide and varied love interests. One author dedicated her masterwork to her husband and her long time lover! Many dedications are to spouses that encouraged the author to finish their magnum opus. There are a couple of dedications to beloved pets. All are a glimpse into the inner workings of the author's heart, life and psyche. This was a very interesting, amusing and easy to read book packed with fascinating tidbits of literary history. You may not have read the book, but you can still enjoy reading about the dedication!

book jacket for Outtakes from MarriageOuttakes from a Marriage by Ann Leary
five stars
Reviewer: Susan Gregory, Norman Public Library

Julia Ferraro is the loving wife of Joe, a newly crowned celebrity whose acting talent has finally been recognized after years of struggle, and who is now nominated for a Golden Globe. She's delighted to see her partner win recognition and tries to balance her pride in his achievement with being a conscientious mother to teenaged Ruby and three-year-old Sam. She thinks that her biggest decision will be what to wear on the red carpet for the Golden Globes but when she mistakenly picks up Joe's cell phone one day and listens to the messages, she's stunned to hear a sultry Southern voice recounting in graphic detail what a talented lover Joe is. Suddenly, her world it tilted on its axis.

She's stifled her own dreams to navigate marriage and motherhood in Manhattan, thinking that she's investing in a secure future with her husband. That future will be damaged beyond repair until she finds out whether her husband is trustworthy. Can she accept his human failings and build a new, yet fragile future with him? Can she rescue her own dreams, nurture her needy children and still be a functional partner in the marriage? Can she tolerate the pain when her lips explode from a badly placed Botox shot? And, finally, will she ever find a dress to wear to the Globes?

If you're a fan of comedian Denis Leary, as I am, you'll be charmed to discover that his wife, Ann, is a gifted writer with a wry sense of humor and a keen eye for the pitfalls of celebrity culture. She misses no chance to expose the underside of life not only in Hollywood but in contemporary New York City. Her description of the pretentious "multi-cultural" pre-school that their toddler attends is reason enough to read the book: the hostile headmistress is so obsessed with being politically correct that even Kwanzaa is banned.

Ann Leary is a delight to read. It's fun to try to decide which events are from her real life as Denis Leary's wife and which are a figment of her wonderful imagination. This is her second book, the first being a memoir of their son's premature birth in London entitled, An Innocent, A Broad.
I hope a third book from her will be forthcoming soon!

book jacket for Machers and Rockers: Chess Records and the business of rock and rollMachers and Rockers: Chess Records and the Business of Rock and Roll by Rich Cohen
five stars
Reviewer: Steven Streetman, Norman Public Library

movie cover for Cadillac RecordsReleased in late 2008, Cadillac Records is a music biopic about Chess Records, the Chicago-based label that was, it can be convincingly argued, the most important imprint in the history of rock music. The film was inspired by Rich Cohen’s excellent book Machers and Rockers: Chess Records and the Business of Rock and Roll, published in 2004.

In the late 1940s, a Polish Jew named Leonard Chess (born Lezjor Czyz) saw potential in what was then called “race music” – newly-electrified blues brought up from the Mississippi Delta by artists with evocative stage names like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. He began to record and distribute their music, along with a driving, sped-up strain of blues by artists like Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry soon to be christened “rock and roll,” with great success.Chess Records made lots of money throughout the 1950s and 1960s – but very little of it made it into the hands of the musicians, which created considerable strain and mistrust between Leonard and his stable of artists.

Cadillac Records is an enjoyable, engrossing film –Jeffrey Wright does a great job as Muddy Waters, and if Beyonce’ Knowles wasn’t already a star, her portrayal of Etta James would have made her one – but it’s a watered-down telling of the Chess tale. Machers and Rockers is a much richer and more fulfilling version, with many fascinating characters and back stories left out of the film, and paints a vivid picture of how record executives laughed all the way to the bank while the artists, despite all their fame and airplay, ended up with relatively little to show for it.

The importance and influence of the Chess catalogue on American music cannot be overstated; without Chess, there would have been no Eric Clapton, no Rolling Stones, no Jimi Hendrix, no Led Zeppelin, and none of the legions of artists that they in turn inspired. Cadillac Records, and particularly Machers and Rockers, are well-rendered documents of a critical facet of the history of American culture.

Recommended further reading:

book jacket for to Kill a Mocking birdTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
five stars
Reviewer: Cindy Stevens, Center for Reader's Services

I was totally captivated by this book! I have to admit that I was not expecting to enjoy it as much as I did and encourage everyone to read this incredible classic and enjoy the many Big Read activities that are taking place this month throughout Pioneer Library System.
To Kill a Mockingbird is loosely based on Harper Lee's childhood. She grew up in a small, southern town, had an older brother, and her father was a lawyer. The character, Dill, was based on her childhood friendship with Truman Capote who spent summers with a relative that lived next door to the Lees.

Most people are familiar with the story due to the Academy Award winning movie with Gregory Peck. I loved the movie and have seen it several times. The movie is extremely true to the story, but the book gives so much more depth to the relationships, the culture of the town and the south at that time. Although taking place in the late 30s the themes are relevant today. What are you willing to stand up for? What beliefs do you hold dear? What is the nature of humanity and what do we all share?

People may be offended by some of the terms used in this story. To Kill a Mockingbird has been challenged and some would like for it to be removed from schools and libraries. Yes, the words used are harsh and ugly, but they represent the culture of those troubled times. How far we have come since those cruel and inequitable days!

I understand now why this book is a classic and a required read in many schools. I am so glad that Pioneer Library System chose this book for their 3rd Big Read. I laughed and cried through this book and am enriched by reading it.

book jacket for Lament: the faerie queen's deceptionLament: The Faerie Queen's Deception by Maggie Stiefvater
five stars
Reviewer: Valerie Kimble, Center for Reader's Services

Deidre Manghan is shy, sixteen and a gifted harpist. James, her best friend and loyal supporter, is a piper. Luke is a handsome stranger who suddenly appears to accompany Deidre during an important music competition. One is a cloverhands, a human who sees fairies, one is a human who loves truly, and one is a gallowglass, a soulless assassin. Can any of them survive this encounter? A dark fairy tale and a teen romance, Lament is a great debut novel with broad appeal.

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