“Princess in Black”

The Princess in Blackby Shannon hale and Dean Hale. This week book #1 of the Princess in Black series has entered the NY Times Best Sellers list for middle-grade readers. Princess Magnolia appaers to be a prim, proper, and pink princess until…. her monster alarm goes off warning her that her monster-fighting skills are in need. The husband-wife Hale writing team along with the Freckleface Strawberry illustrator, LeUyen Pham, have created a non-typical princess. Her alter-ego, the Princess-in-Black, stops monsters, but must also preevnt the nosy dutchess from finding out who she really is. “Some of her favorite monster-fighting moves are the Sparkle Slam and the Princess Pounce.   Her number-one fan is Duff the goat boy, who admires her  ninja skills.” I would recommend it for a younger audience, however- K-3rd graders.

“The Last Anniversary” by Liane Moriarty

The Last Anniversary This is one of the author’s older books written before her splash on the NY Times Best Seller’s list. Set in Australia, a small island has a “Mary Celeste” like mystery: a baby found abandoned by 2 sisters living on a small island. What happened to the parents? The tea kettle was still warm, a small patch of blood found on the floor- a mystery never solved. Fast forward 70 years or so and the residents of the island and family who adopted the baby (now in her 70’s) have made a business of the famous ‘Munro baby’. Almost 40 Sophie had dated one of the family members of the island. Now the old woman has died and left her a house on the island. Could this be the answer to her dreams of ending her single, childless days? Not quite as good as her other novels. a little choppy- but entertaining.

All Our Names


All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu takes place in the 1970s in Uganda at the end of colonialism and at the beginning of the bloody battles for dictatorship. It also takes place a few months later in the mid-west where Isaac has fled the violence of Uganda and arrives as an exchange student. He falls under the care of Helen, a social worker. They begin a difficult romance. It is difficult because Isaac is a black man and Helen is a white woman in the mid-west during the post-civil rights era when laws have changed but attitudes have not. Isaac is also an enigma. He does not share his past or much of who he is. It is told in alternating chapters from two points of view. Helen’s point of view is in the present and Isaac’s is in the past. We need Helen’s story to break up the tedium and violence of Isaac’s story.

The characters were well developed and the story well-written. The descriptions of Uganda and the violence will stay with me. This novel kept my attention but I don’t give it a strong recommendation.

Ten Tips for a Good Book Discussion

An article by Thom Barthemess in the November-December issue of the Horn Book Magazine offers tips for a good book discussion.The author of the article has worked in public libraries across the country and is a lecturer at Dominican University for the Graduate School of LIS in Illinois, according to his bio. Since the Mock Caldecott and Mock Newbery discussions are coming up in January for the RCLS children’s librarians, I thought I would see what he had to say. His tips include the following:

1. Trust your opinion. You bring value to the discussion, regardless of your level of expertise.
2. Question your opinion. Remember to keep an open mind and listen to what others have to say.3. Follow the criteria. It is helpful in maintaining everyone’s focus and also provides a frame for the discussion.
4. Ignore the criteria. Don’t ” follow a rule off a cliff.”  Sometimes one’s expectations need to be relaxed a bit in order to see the whole picture.
5. Trust the process. Don’t allow your decisions to be influenced by how others in the group may react to them.
6. Do your homework. This seems like a no-brainer. Take detailed notes and cite specific examples to prove your points.
7. Talk about the books (not yourself). Instead of relating your feelings, stick to how how the author or illustrator was able to demonstrate the book’s excellence.
8. Be specific.Choose your descriptives carefully in describing the ways the book distinguished itself from others in the group.
9. Play nice. Healthy debate is fine, but stop short of being rude or overly argumentative.
10. Accentuate the positive. I think this should have been rule #1. It’s often been stressed to start with the positives, and eventually bring the negatives up in the discussion, instead of the other way around. It is easier to find fault than to find the positive qualities. Barthemess suggests thinking about the books as “hot- air balloons”, with our job being to choose the title that flies the highest by identifing the qualifiers that make it so.

“A Five Star Life”

741360538566_p0_v2_s114x166  I can’t ever recall staying at a five star hotel, so this well-done Italian movie gave me a glimpse into what reviewers look for when rating these hotels.  The movie centers on Irene played by Margherita Buy.  She is a fortyish career woman who travels extensively, and stays at only the best hotels.  She has a keen eye and is constantly evaluating the staff and the service at only the very best hotels.

Her job is very glamorous, but as we look more closely at her life, the viewers and Irene see that something is missing.  When she meets a very successful, independent woman while visiting a Berlin hotel, Irene begins to question her life.  When this woman suddenly dies, Irene does some soul searching.

Well acted and beautifully filmed, “A Five Star Life” is a very enjoyable movie.