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Category Archives: Reviews – Staff

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The Wind In The Willows – A Review

Posted on August 21st, 2014 by Anna in Books, Reviews - Staff
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The Wind In The Willows

The Wind In The Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Read by: Anna/Central Teen Room

In 1908 Kenneth Grahame published a book based on letters he’d written to his son. These letters contained the exploits of several animals that lived in the Wild Wood and along the nearby river bank. They were Mole, the River Rat, Badger, Mr. Toad and others. These animals have adventures in caravans, crash sports cars, get lost in the woods, and above all, make friends with those they live near.

No one is ever too old to enjoy a children’s book. That’s what I always say. And it seems to be true with this book. Over one hundred years after this book was first published, adults and children alike, flock to it’s pages. However, while I found it to be extremely well written, I also found it to be exceedingly boring. I had been sure I’d read this as a kid, and rereading it I was reminded that yes, I did read it, and I was also reminded why I didn’t like it back then either. Not much happens. In the early chapters the most exciting thing to occur is a car running the horse drawn caravan off the road and Toad’s subsequent need to own a car rather than a caravan. As much as I wanted to like this classic, it just wouldn’t hold my attention.

If you’re looking for a good story about human-like animals, I highly recommend reading the Redwall series by Brian Jacques, starting with the first two books: Redwall and Mossflower. Here, the woodland creatures go on high adventures searching for friends, battling evil rats, and saving those they hold dear. This is a series I’ve enjoyed since I was in middle school, and I’m still enjoying them to this day.

redwall                              mossflower

The Crystal Cave – A Review

Posted on August 13th, 2014 by Anna in Books, Reviews - Staff
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The Crystal Cave

***FYI, our TBOM book discussion group for teens will be meeting on August 28th at 3pm in the Teen Room to discuss this book. All teens are welcome to join us!***

The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart

Read by Anna/Central Teen Room

Everyone has a basic understanding of who Merlin is. Right? He was the famous wizard who raised King Arthur and helped him when he finally became king. However, what most people don’t know, is how Merlin was born and raised and how he grew into his position as king’s prophet. This first book in Mary Stewart’s series of Arthurian Saga starts us off when Merlin is a small boy, the son of a princess who refuses to reveal who Merlin’s father is. It is speculated that his father is the Prince of Darkness, a demon who came into his mother’s room late at night and left her pregnant with Merlin. Merlin is shunned as a bastard son, but fate leads him on an amazing path from learning “magic” to helping not just one king in love and war, but several.  He is able to move on past his childhood. He makes friends and enemies, but always stays true to himself.

While this telling of Merlin’s life is based on a real person who lived around the year 470 A.D. (when it is suspected that King Arthur was born), in her Author’s Note at the end, Mary Stewart is quick to recognize that her work is complete fiction. There is much we don’t know about the great prophet and prince, or King Arthur for that matter. Yet that should not hinder anyone from enjoying a good story. I was enchanted right from the very first page which begins with Merlin in old age preparing to tell the story of his early years. He has an easy going manner in the way he tells his story, drawing you in and not letting you go until the story is complete. And while he is technically telling the story as an old man, you often forget he is recalling his childhood because it seems as if you are there, right beside him as he gets into trouble as a young boy, as he grows up and goes in search of his father. He is a character you cannot help but love and this is a story you cannot help but enjoy.  I highly recommend this novel for those who enjoy historical fantasy, with the knowledge that Merlin wasn’t a wizard as we think of them today. He did not have a magic wand or a pointy hat. He considered himself a prophet and was never in control of his visions. He could not tell the future upon command. As long as you aren’t expecting Harry Potter, you’ll enjoy this fun read.

The 2nd and 3rd books in this series are also told from Merlin’s POV, while the 4th and 5th take place after his death. They are as follows:

Book Two: The Hollow Hills (Merlin’s POV)

Book Three: The Last Enchantment (Merlin’s POV)

Book Four: The Wicked Day (focuses on Mordred)

Book Five: The Prince and the Pilgrim (focuses on Alexander)

Wilfred Owen: A New Biography – A Review

Posted on July 28th, 2014 by Anna in Books, Reviews - Staff
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Wilfred Owen biogrpahy

Wilfred Owen: A New Biography by Dominic Hibberd

Read by: Anna/Central Teen Room

Wilfred Owen was a young poet who believed that ones personal experiences made for the best poetry. He was born in 1893 and spent a good portion of his teenage years teaching English in France. His mother was Evangelical in her religion and so was Wilfred for most of his life. He began to question the beliefs of the church after spending a year as a parish assistant, eventually cutting the job short and moving to France. In a new country, he learned a good deal more about the ways of life, however, the Great War was just starting up and he began to feel guilty for not serving his country. In October 1915, he joined the British Army in a regiment known as The Artists’ Rifles, which had begun life  as a Volunteer Corps for actual artists. There, they trained him to become an officer. In joining the Army, he met other poets who were able to put him in touch with bookstores and publishers. He began to write more and more poetry, basing it on his new experiences in the army and on some of the work by his new friends. His work grew steadily better and everyone was talking about the new promising poet. A few of his poems were published in magazines. He also spent a good deal of time with suspected homosexuals such as Oscar Wilde and Scott Moncrieff, the latter being attracted to Wilfred enough to write him poems. And though Wilfred doesn’t seem to return the affection toward Scott Moncrieff, he does send his affection and hero-worship toward another male poet and soldier, Siegfried Sassoon. Yet, there is nothing to suggest that any of his relationships were of a sexual nature. Wilfred was in and out of action during the war, suffering from shell shock, or what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. His poetry reflects what he has seen and cuts no corners. They are as truthfully written as ever they could be. However, in 1918, in the middle of the very last battle, when Wilfred had finally made up his mind to be a full-time poet after the war, the unthinkable happened. Wilfred was helping his men cross a canal when he was shot and killed. He was only 25.  He may have died an early death, but his poetry still lives on, and is still just as relevant nearly 100 years later, as it was when he first put it down on paper.

There are many things we will never know about Wilfred. When he went into the Army, he gave his mother a sack of papers, presumably letters to friends and family and drafts of poems too private to show anyone. He told her to burn the sack should anything happen to him and she did. Also, his younger brother, Harold, held many grudges against Wilfred and went through the surviving letters and other papers, editing them to suit his needs. Never-the-less, this biography is the most complete biography of Wilfred Owen, to date, though Hibberd does acknowledge that there may be other papers of Wilfred’s in an attic or two between England and France, waiting to be discovered. Before this book was published there were several others, though Hibberd notes that they were distinctly lacking in many facts, mostly due to family interference. (There appears to be a new biography published in March 2014, though how it compares to this one, I cannot say, as I have not read it yet.)

I enjoyed this biography a lot. It’s very long and detailed, going over every inch of Wilfred’s life. But by the end, I felt as if I had met him and had time to chat with him awhile over a cup of tea. Finishing the book felt like leaving a good friend. I did my best to read this one chapter a day, so yes, it took me awhile to get through it. But it was totally worth it in my opinion. The only thing I would have liked the author to do, was to have given translations to the French. There were several lines copied from French poems that were not translated into English, so what they said, I do not know. Otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed this biography, especially as it included many pictures of Wilfred, his family and friends, and others mentioned within the text. It also included several maps of the battles Wilfred was involved with to help the reader orient themselves while reading the details of what was going on. All in all, this was a very well researched and well written book. If you have need to read a biography and have the time to get through this one, I highly recommend it.

I also recommend getting a copy of Wilfred’s poems, so that you can read them as they are mentioned in the biography. One should not read the biography without having some knowledge of his poetry. I recommend The Poems of Wilfred Owen edited by Jon Stallworthy, as it contains most of the poems mentioned in the biography. Below, I have included one of his most popular poems that speaks on the horror of war.

Anthem for Doomed Youth

By Wilfred Owen

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
      — Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
      Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
      Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
      And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
      Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
      The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

 

Source: The Poems of Wilfred Owen, edited by Jon Stallworthy (W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1986)

The Eyre Affair – A Review

Posted on July 15th, 2014 by Anna in Books, Reviews - Staff
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The Eyre Affair

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

Read by: Anna/Central Teen Room

Thursday Next is a Literary Detective. She tracks down stolen books. But this isn’t your garden variety detective novel. It’s easy to slip into a book and meet the characters. Likewise, it’s easy for characters to slip out of books and into our world. So, what happens when Jane Eyre gets kidnapped from her novel? Thursday Next is on the case and ready to get her back.

I started this book with high hopes. I love books. I love detective novels and mysteries. Putting them together, should then be a no-brainer for a fantastic book. Or a series. Unfortunately, right from page one, this book wasn’t doing anything for me. Jane Eyre doesn’t actually go missing until page 300 (out of 374). This baffled me, as the title suggests the first thing to happen on page one would be Jane going missing. A lot happens before she does go missing, though I felt like someone threw me in a bottle of soda and shook me up a little what with the time traveling, flash backs, visiting characters in books, book characters coming out of books, moving, meeting family, chasing a bad guy, getting shot, meeting old friends, meeting new coworkers… you get the idea. I also felt like I needed to research different events in history I was unfamiliar with, in order to understand whether the characters were talking about an altered event or the actual thing as it happened, and that threw me out of the story as well. If you’re a history buff, you shouldn’t have a problem with this aspect of it. That being said, I know people who have read, and enjoyed, the entire series. It seems to be one of those series you either like or you don’t. Someone said the reader probably needs to be in the right “head space” to read this and maybe that was part of my problem. I’m not really sure. All I know is that I just couldn’t get into it, and therefore, I ended up not enjoying it as much as I’d hoped to.

Man o’War: A Legend Like Lightning – A Review

Posted on July 7th, 2014 by Anna in Books, Reviews - Staff
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Man O War

Man o’War: A Legend Like Lightning by Dorothy Ours

Read by: Anna/Central Teen Room

This is the story of one of the greatest racing horses to ever live. His name was Man o’War, and he was born in 1917. But this book isn’t just about the great horse, also known as Big Red for his colorful coat. Because surrounding him are the people that made his racing career happen and the other horses who raced against him. Everyone had a hand in his career, whether they were directly related to his farm or not. This book chronicles every race he ever participated in, whether he won or lost, giving minute details so his victories are well understood to have been above and beyond what the other horses were doing.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading about this horse and his triumphs as I am an avid horse lover. However, this is not the book for a casual reader as the information can be quite dense and maybe even hard to get through at times. Nevertheless, if horses and horse racing is your thing, this is a fantastic read. Ours gives enough information to explain things to those who are not entirely familiar with horse racing, before rushing on to discuss the races, almost as if the book were a race itself. But it’s not a race. It is a slow read, though for sure the parts describing each race will have the reader on the edge of their seat. In short, I enjoyed it immensely, but it was not an easy read.