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Wilfred Owen: A New Biography – A Review

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

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)

A Study in Scarlet – A Review

Posted on June 30th, 2014 by Anna in Books, Reviews - Staff

Study in Scarlet

A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Read by: Anna/Central Teen Room

Sherlock Holmes is one of the most famous literary detectives of all time and this is the book that introduced him to the world in 1887. It’s hard to believe that this character, along with his sidekick Dr. John Watson, continue to be just as popular over 100 years later, but two current television shows and many movies easily prove that these characters are as enduring as time itself.

A Study in Scarlet starts us off with Dr. John Watson, having returned to London from the war in Afghanistan he is in need of a place to live and can’t afford one on his own. A friend of his recommends Sherlock Holmes as someone who is also seeking a roommate. John knows nothing about the police profession or the science of deduction, but he’s about to learn when the local police ask for Sherlock’s assistance in solving a most bizarre murder. A man is found dead, with no apparent wounds on his person. Just how did he die? And who is the murderer? Sherlock doesn’t reveal his clues until the end, but the story takes us all the way to Salt Lake City, Utah and back to London again before the end.

This was a fantastic murder mystery that easily shows just how important all the little details at a crime scene are. Through John Watson, we learn how Sherlock solves crimes using what he terms the Science of Deduction. It’s also a very short book, split into two parts, each seven chapters long. It was a breeze to read. The only thing I’m still not sure about, was the abrupt shift from London to Utah without any heads up. Then we’re stuck in Utah for five chapters before we get back to London. However, everything does tie neatly together in the end. I highly recommend this for anyone who enjoys reading murder mysteries. This is not a book to miss out on!

This book is also on the Boston Public Schools Grade 9-12 summer reading mystery list, for anyone searching for a good read for school.

 

 

The Face Of Fear – A Review

Posted on June 24th, 2014 by Anna in Books, Reviews - Staff, Teen Services

The Face Of Fear

The Face of Fear by Dean Koontz

Read by: Anna/Central Teen Room

Graham Harris was once a strong mountain climber, risking his life on the toughest mountains around the world. But one fall from Mount Everest has ruined his climbing career. His new found fear of heights has taken over his life. However, Graham is now clairvoyant. Ever since that fall he realizes he can see things before they happen. Gruesome things he would rather know nothing about. When he starts seeing the death of more women to a stalker known as The Butcher, the police seek out his help. Then he sees a vision of his own murder.

This was creepy as all heck. Creepy, dark, mysterious, and scary. All of the above. The Butcher is not someone you want to meet in daylight, much less in dark. Who is the butcher? I can’t tell you that or it would spoil the story. But I can tell you he’s someone you wouldn’t hesitate to let into your house if you didn’t know his secrets. Much like Dean Koontz’s other works, The Face of Fear is a fast paced read that cannot be put down. If you enjoy suspense, and a dash of gruesomeness, this is the book for you. Koontz knows how to spin words to keep readers in their seats and staring at the pages as they fly by.

Something Wicked This Way Comes – A Review

Posted on June 18th, 2014 by Anna in Books, Reviews - Staff

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

Read by: Anna/Central Teen Room

This is the story of two best friends: Will and Jim, both thirteen-years-old. When a carnival comes to town, Jim, ever the adventurous one, is drawn to it in a way that scares Will. For there is something indescribably WRONG about this carnival, though neither of them can figure out what it is. They only know that it threatens the very fabric of their lives. But how? How does it threaten them? And can they seek help from their parents? From their teacher? From the police? Who will believe them? Perhaps no one. But that’s a risk they might have to take.

It took me a bit to get into the novel, a few chapters at least, before I felt like I was submerged enough not to want to put it down. Aside from this, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Have you ever had disagreements with your best friend? Those times when, in public, your friend rushes off to do something you feel is terribly wrong? Or maybe you’re the one who wants to rush off to do something and your friend is trying to hold you back? That was a lot of this book. Where Will is proud to prevent bad things from happening, Jim views that prevention as cowardice. Will only wants to protect Jim and the rest of the town, but Jim doesn’t want that protection. As they argued, as one rushed off and the other called after him to stop, I felt as if I were there with them, feeling what it must have felt like for Will when Jim wanted to go his own way in the world, directly into darkness. The carnival was creepy. And it took my favorite ride, the carousel, and turned it into something that should never exist in this world. I’ll never ride a carousel again without thinking of this book. Yes, this is a dark, mysterious, story full of suspense and wonder. But it’s not magic that saves the day, that drives back the darkness, and that was the clincher as to why I really liked this book. Of course, it was also well written, and carried you along on a rough tide until it finally deigned to set you down on the beach feeling storm tossed, ragged, and glad to see the sun shining again.

This is a horror/suspense novel that can be found on the BPS Summer Reading 9-12 grade Mystery list for 2014.

A Big Little Life – A Book Review

Posted on July 16th, 2012 by Anna in Books, Reviews - Staff

A Big Little Life: A Memoir of a Joyful Dog by Dean Koontz

Read by: Anna/Copley Teen Room

This is the story of Trixie Koontz, the beautiful, smart, funny, and generally awesome dog belonging to well known author, Dean Koontz. All these years, I’ve heard about Trixie, but I didn’t realize just how special she was until I read this book. That dog was great at calming other dogs down in the middle of a vet hospital visit. She refused to throw up on a hard-to-clean carpet. She was a perceptive dog  who knew when on the tennis ball hunt that one had been left behind.

This was an amazing story of an amazing dog. I laughed out loud until I cried. And then I cried so hard I sobbed. A truly wonderful book that any dog lover should read. Even if you’re not a Dean Koontz fan, you’ll love this book, and you’ll hopefully come to realize (if you haven’t already) just how special dogs really are. Especially dogs like Trixie Koontz.

A final note, for those who are keeping track, this is the third book out of eight in my personal summer reading list. Wondering myself if I can make it to the eighth book by the end of August… crossing my fingers!