Sunday, December 1, 2013
Submitted by Gerti
With a title like that, how could I refuse this book? I did not know that Lincoln's mother had been killed by a weed found on their Indiana farm! But I also didn't know that one of the boys in my daughters school could get his hands ruined (and miss a school trip!) because he had been squeezing limes, and then went out in the sun. It's in here, too! And I thought I had it bad when I had to cut onions!
I won't call this a good book, but "Wicked Plants" is a book full of strange and unusual facts that if you are anything like me, you won't know about plants either. I like that the plants are arranged alphabetically, and that there is a tab on the upper right corner of the page that indicates whether a plant fits categories, like "deadly" or "illegal." My only quibble is that there are no actual full color pictures of plants, but instead drawings of the plants, which make it hard to distinguish scale and color. I wouldn't want to try to identify poison ivy based on one of these drawings!
I am also but off by the collection of really bizarre pictures in the book that I can't even quantify. Perhaps they only occur in the chapters on illegal and psychedelic plants, but they are disturbing to say the least. People with leaves growing out of their head are the mildest form. Others have limbs growing out of other places, and it's just plain weird. Despite their obvious artistic merit, I would have preferred a nice glossy photo of what the plant and its variations really look like than either the botanical illustrations or trippy etchings.
Is it worth reading? Yes, it's probably even worth purchasing for the home library, since it talks about how dangerous your carrots, limes, and potatoes can be, as well as those lovey things that grow out in the garden called flowers. I think it's good information to have if you have kids or pets who could be hurt by eating things you didn't even know were dangerous, and therefore planted in your yard or flower box for their pretty color or smell. Frankly, I was astonished by how many plants are "wicked," as author Amy Stewart call them. As she says in her intro, I naively thought the natural world was benign, but it is downright scary out there! This book makes me glad that I spend most of my time indoors!
Saturday, November 30, 2013
(4 out of 5)
You know that this is going to be a fun book when it is written by Punky Brewster! Soleil Moon Frye doesn't disappoint. I think I oh'ed and ah'ed over every page. Her party ideas are fun, affordable, and they can be adapted for library programs. I absolutely loved all the color pictures. Most of you know I love my picture books!
If you are looking for new ideas for party planning check this book out!
Friday, November 29, 2013
Submitted by Gerti
Robin Cook is one of my favorite authors, so it comes as not surprise that I really enjoyed one of his recent books, called Death Benefit. It involves (briefly) several of his stock characters, New York Medical Examiners Laurie Montgomery and Jack Stapleton, who are some of my favorites. But in this book, the protagonist is Pia Grazdani, a Colombia University medical student, who finds herself in the middle of a murder mystery while working in a lab on campus. Both the professors running the lab die, and everyone else assumes they are killed by germs they have been working on, but Pia can't buy that.
The subplot involves a pair of Wall Street hotshots who have created a company that buys back life insurance policies from sick, elderly people, and their profits would be down if the Columbia professors work growing human organs were successful. So they solicit some Albanian mobsters to kill the professors, and make it look like they were killed by their germ experiments, while in reality they have radiation poisoning.
Pia and the medical examiners get together while she is trying to find out whether the professors bodies are giving off alpha radiation, but her interference causes the mobsters to kidnap her and shoot another fellow from the lab. It seems like all the loose ends have been tied ups, until the New York Albanians discover that the girl they've kidnapped is related to an Albanian mobster from New Jersey, and then they turn on the Wall Street guys.
If it seems complicated, it is, but there is enough of both medical information and spy drama to make for a rollicking read. There are some mysteries left unresolved, especially regarding the workmen who spend days working on the air conditioning in the lab. Are they mobsters? One of the fellows does talk to Pia about her Albanian-sounding name, but it is never made clear that they are mobsters and that was when the radioactive material was planted in the professor's office. Except for the question mark, I think "Death Benefit" was well written and will please any true Cook fan, just as it pleased me.
Thursday, November 28, 2013
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
But never fear we only have another year to wait to see Mockingjay part 1! I still can't believe they are splitting the book into two movies. They just love to torture us.
If you have seen the movie leave a comment letting us know how you thought it compared to the book.
Friday, November 15, 2013
Friday, November 8, 2013
Submitted by Gerti
Back in the days when I taught a short story class to college freshmen, Sandra Cisneros was one of the authors the school chose for me to teach them. The story they chose of hers was called “The House on Mango Street,” and it comes from this collection of vignettes, published back in 1984. I never liked it as much as some of the other stories I had to teach, and I was amazed every semester that the students I taught at the New Hampshire technical college always responded so well to it.
Cisneros writes this story collection about the daily life, dreams and encounters of a young girl growing up in the Latino section of Chicago. We see the house she lives in, and meet her family, neighbors, friends and teachers, and despite her simple “young girl” language, the characters are distinctly if not completely drawn. We meet the landlord, the crazy cat lady, and the teenaged neighbor girl who does the baby sitting who is desperate to escape that street and that life. We see the desperation and “harsh reality” of the area, symbolized by a beautiful hidden garden that gradually gets filled with junker cars after the hard-working Asian family who tended it moves away. We see the girl Esperanza’s shame at the shabbiness of her house, and her growing desire to exceed expectations and leave the area to become someone different from her own mother, someone who lives up to their dreams and is not burdened by raising children.
The critics still like this book more than do I, and they heap praise on Cisneros’ writing. “Marvelous… spare yet luminous” reads the blurb from the San Francisco Chronicle writer, although I would only agree with the word “spare.” “Deeply moving” writes the critic from the Miami Herald, and once again, I disagree. I find too much of Cisneros’s anger in the vignettes, and am uncomfortable with her obviously biographical “voice”. I find it more poignant than delightful, as spare as poetry but without a poet’s skill. I don’t find her “one of the most brilliant of today’s young writers” as Gwendolyn Brooks says, and find the pictures Cisneros’ draws as difficult to access and understand as a blue period Picasso.
The only story that sings for me (with the clever line “Today we are Cinderella”) is the one where Esperanza and her sisters are given second-hand shoes to wear. The young girls run up and around the neighborhood wearing the fashionable footware, until they realize that the high heels have turned them into sexual objects to the men in the neighborhood, and then they hide the shoes away until they are thrown out. Only in this story do I hear the shrill note of the neighborhood, and feel the fear and sobriety that is the undercurrent of living there.
I don’t like it, and I wouldn’t want to read more by Cisneros in this style. But at least I can say now that I’ve read the whole book, and “it’s not her, it’s me.”