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Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Giant Rat of Sumatra

The giant rat of Sumatra : or, Pirates galoreThe Giant Rat of Sumatra by Sid Fleischman
Children's Fiction

Reviewed by Max

My book report is on Sid Fleischman's historical adventure, "The Giant Rat of Sumatra, or Pirates Galore." Well, it's actually the story of my adventure with Mexican Pirates.

My names is Edmund Amos Peters, and I am a 12-year-old boy from New England. The pirates nickname my "Shipwreck" because they find me after my stepfather's ship sinks. I am the only survivor.

The other main character, Captain Gallows, decides to save my life and puts me to work on his ship. As cabin boy, I polish boots and get pirates things they need.

Captain Gallows' ship is called "The Giant Rat of Sumatra" because it has a rat as its figurehead. Usually, ships have ladies or mermaids as their figureheads, but ours has a rat with emerald eyes and huge fangs.

When I meet him, Captain Gallows wants to give up being a pirate, so he sails his ship to San Diego, California, to find his long-lost love, a lady bandit called "Senorita Wildcat." The year is 1846, so San Diego is still part of Mexico.

I learned some Spanish words from this book. "Senorita" is the Spanish word for Miss and "Don" is not just a name, it is also a Spanish title, which means "Mr." The Captain is now calling himself Don Alejandro, and has new clothes and a new business - buying leather.

I am still with him and he has given me his treasure to hold - the emerald eyes of the Giant Rat, which are worth a fortune. They are sewed into my coat.

Then an American warship comes into San Diego harbor because the United States is at war with Mexico. The Captain tries to use his old pirate ship to stop the Americans, but he can't, and the Americans claim the city.

Although Senorita Wildcat robs the Captain, she doesn't get the emeralds from me until he marries her.

I go back to New England to live with my mother when other American ships come into the harbor. Then I resume my life as a typical American boy.

I like this story of my adventures because it is about ships and pirates. It also taught me some American history I didn't know.

My favorite part is when the American warship battles the Giant Rat of Sumatra. The only thing I didn't like is the romance between Captain Gallows and Senorita Wildcat. I wish he'd stayed a pirate.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Hidden Lives of Wolves

The hidden life of wolvesThe Hidden Lives of Wolves
By Jim and Jamie Dutcher

Reviewed by Karen

The Story of the Sawtooth Pack

This is a book about a husband and wife who took on the life of living within a compound of their own making for 6 years and raising wolf pups from the time they opened their eyes. They bottlefed the pups and gained the confidence of the wolves by living with them. For 6 years they watched and filmed these magnificent animals, learning how the pack lives and takes care of the young, old, and injured of the pack. This book is a rare look into the family structure of the pack. How the Alpha Male and Female look out for the pack and the Omega is the lowers of the hierarchy and is the one that gets picked on all the time. The Omega is also the clown who instigates a game of "Catch Me if You Can." the pack is also good for the ecosystem.

Movie Review: The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain

The Englishman who went up a hill but came down a mountain The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain
Review by Gerti

In sharp contrast to the movie "A Month by the Lake" which I recently reviewed is "The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain." It is everything the former movie wanted to be but wasn't. Both movies have breathtaking scenery, a nostalgic setting, and big name actors in the lead role. But "Mountain" (shall we call it) has a wit and charm that "Lake" is sadly lacking.

Heartthrob actor Hugh Grant starts as the eponymous Englishman, sent on a geological survey of Wales' largest (and allegedly first) mountain. He is only the assistant to the master measurer, played perfectly by British character actor Ian McNeice, but as that gentleman is often drunk and invariably surly, it is Grant with whom the locals interact. The cartographers arrive on Sunday when the town residents are at prayer, save for randy local innkeeper, nicknamed "Morgan the Goat" more for his sexual habits than for his looks. He is played by Colm Meaney, known to sci-fi fans as Chief O'Brien in several "Star Trek" series. Meaney is currently starring in the cable series "Hell on Wheels," but I have found him unwatchable in that how. Yet her, his ribald charm oozes off the screen. He obviously enjoyed himself playing a Welsh lothario!

His inn is the social center of the small town, Ffynnon Garw, and the men come by to place bets on the height of their mountain. Welsh geography is inextricably linked with its national mythology, and the locals are very proud of this mountain, (actually Garth's Hill!) But trouble starts when the initial survey determines it to be about 20 feet below 1000, too short to accurately be called a "mountain" by the map makers. This information galvanizes the town, including "the Goat" and Reverend Jones, the local pastor, who determines that enough has already been taken from the during WWI, and their hill must be a mountain, no matter what. A local lad sent back home shell-shocked, reveals how they used to dig trenches, and her reasons that building up the mountain is also possible - just that process in reverse. It is heart-warming to see the whole town, from elderly villagers to young children taken out of school, pitch in with buckets and wheelbarrows of dirt, all in an attempt to save their mountain and their pride.

To incent the Brits to stay a few days longer, "the Goat" has one of his lovely girlfriends from the big city of Cardiff visit the inn to charm the surveyors. While the older Brit is her intended target, Miss Elizabeth, or "Betty" as she's called, can't help by be charmed by the much younger and better-looking Hugh Grant. "The Goat" must resort to the dirty trick of disabling their car to keep the Brits in town long enough for the locals to build a mound atop their hill. There is more trouble, a monsoon quality rainstorm, and tragedy, the pastor dies on the hill, but ingenuity and heart win out. The hill becomes a mountain again, and Hugh Grant gets the girl. What a charming romantic romp! Great writing and great to look at.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


Conquistadora a novel Conquistadora by Esmeralda Santiago
Adult Fiction

Review by Mary Ellen

A novel about the Spanish Conquistadors conquering Puerto Rico. A Spanish author, Esmeralda read Ana Larrago's diaries from 1844. Diaries from a Spanish lady who traveled with two conquistadors.

They traveled across the ocean with the explorer Ponce de Leon. Ana married one of the conquistadors at eighteen years old. She and her husband lived on a sugar plantation in Puerto Rico during Spanish Rule. There was a revolt. Ana did not want to give up her plantation. Life was not peaceful for Ana when she fell in love with another man.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Weasels by Elys Dolan

Picture Book
Age Range: 5-8
Grade Level: K-3

Submitted by Tina

The little animals did not eat frogs, rabbits, and mice, but used computers to dominate the earth.  It is silly and funny, for children aged 5 and up.  The author is a very creative storyteller.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

Reading Level: Adult Fiction
Submitted by Gerti

When you choose a novel that’s a Pulitzer Prize winner, you know you’ve got a good one, and even though this is a very old work (1927) by a very old author (1897-1975), I was hooked from the opening line. “On Friday noon, July the 20th, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated 5 travelers into the gulf below.” The book lives up to its hype, and is a truly great effort from the author.

Thornton Wilder’s novel takes that simple “fact” (it is actually fiction), and weaves it into a fascinating look at the lives of the people who died in that event, as researched and pulled together by a local monk who was trying to use their deaths to illustrate that God punishes the wicked. But what the story actually shows (and why the original copy of Brother Juniper’s work is destroyed by the church) is that their lives are not evil at all, but that the lives are ended for no fathomable reason. Young, old, good, evil, loving and innocent, the 5 people who died are not the worst in all Peru, and that is a mind-blowing concept to Brother Juniper, who so desperately looked for a divine plan to human life and death.

The 5 people are thoroughly fleshed-out characters, brilliantly drawn by Wilder. The first biography is of the Marquesa de Montemayor, who is not only a gifted writer, but a woman who loves her only child (a daughter) with an open, generous heart, even though that child never returns her affection, and in fact seems to go out of her way to plague and annoy her. Luckily, the daughter is married to a man (in faraway Spain) who appreciates the old lady, and saves the beautiful letters the Marquesa writes to his wife, letters which turn into classics of Spanish literature. The Marquesa dies accompanied by her servant and companion, Pepita, who was raised in a convent and has been given to the Marquesa so that the Mother Superior can prepare her to take over the many good works affiliated with their order. Pepita’s death shows the aged Mother Superior that despite her vain belief that the church hospital and school are important, God does not care if those good works continue after her death.

Also killed in that accident is Esteban, brother to another orphan dropped off at the Convent of Santa Maria Rosa de las Rosas. The twin boys grow up with their own secret language, and are very close to one another, until the one named Manuel falls in love with a local actress. This love pulls the brothers apart, as Manuel won’t confess his love to the woman, as he can’t imagine his brother living without him. Manuel then becomes very ill and dies, and Esteban is forced to live without him anyway. But his life has lost its meaning, and he tries suicide. A famous ship captain tries to interest him in life and the world again and he is on the journey to join that ship when God takes his life by having him fall off the bridge. Ironically, the man who trained the actress his brother was in love with also dies in the bridge accident, along with the young actress’s sickly son.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Wicked Bugs – The Louse That Conquered Napoleon’s Army & Other Diabolical Insects by Amy Stewart

Reading Level: Teen Non-Fiction
Submitted by Gerti

This is the 2nd book of Amy Stewart’s that I have finished reading, starting with “Wicked Plants” and here reading her “Wicked Bugs.” I don’t know which she wrote first, but they are very similar in design and execution, although I must admit I like “Wicked Bugs” better. I am still working on a third book of hers, “The Drunken Botanist”, but I haven’t managed to finish it yet. It isn’t nearly as interesting as these other two if you don’t plan to brew your own moonshine!

Like “Wicked Plants”, “Wicked Bugs” is full of strange and unusual facts about insects, arachnids and other creepy crawlies (like scorpions). Like her other book, the creatures descriptions are arranged alphabetically for ease of use, and there is a tab on the upper right corner of the page that indicates whether it fits various categories, like “deadly” or “painful.” While for the plants, I was upset that there were no actual full-color pictures of the plants to help humans avoid them, here I don’t mind the sepia-toned drawings of the insects, etc., mainly because so few of them reside in the US!

Unlike “Wicked Plants,” the drawings in this book don’t bother me, mainly because they are of the creepie crawlie in question, and not of some bizarre nightmare or a psychedelic state the bug bite might cause. It was actually fun showing my kids the pictures of the various bugs, some of which appear to show the creatures actual size, which is pretty creepy when they are 5 inches or larger! I don’t know whether the pictures accurately represent their actual size, only that the size of the drawing of a particular bug seems to mimic the size range the author mentions. Actual entomologists might quibble about it, but I don’t care that much! I’m really just counting eyes and legs when I look at bugs!

Is it worth reading? Yes, like “Wicked Plants”, “Wicked Bugs” is probably even worth purchasing for the home library, since it talks about how dangerous various critters can be. I would especially buy it if I were planning to head to South America or Africa or some other site where the bigger, deadlier things lurk. Fortunately, here in the United States, it seems all I have to watch out for are eating raw pork (she does include a section on parasites) and getting bitten by a brown recluse. Still, this book makes me glad that I spend most of my time indoors!