Engaging Methuen Readers

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One Minute Book Review: Jackaby by William Ritter

In Jackaby, Abigail Rook, who has recently arrived in New Fiddleham, becomes assistant to R. F. Jackaby.  Jackaby is an eccentric detective of supernatural and inexplicable occurrences, whose last assistant has been turned into water fowl.  Jackaby’s home houses himself, a ghost named Jenny, Douglas, the aforementioned assistant turned duck, and now Abigail. The author does an amazing job of introducing us to the characters while still shrouding them in mystery.

With a string of murders occurring in New Fiddleham, Jackaby and Abigail set out to discover who, or what, is committing them. With the help of Officer Charlie Cane, they discover a banshee who reveals the next victim.  While keeping the identity and species of the killer in question, Ritter keeps it interesting and fast paced, never leaving a dull moment. He leads readers on an adventure with plot twists and even a few things that go bump in the night. It is a great read for anyone looking to be scared or for lovers of lore.

∼ Bistany, Library Page

by William Ritter
Chapel Hill, North Carolina : Algonquin, c2014





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Review: A Wrinkle in Time (Graphic Novel)

Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time adapted and illustrated by Hope Larson

Madeleine L’Engle’s classic, A Wrinkle in Time, was originally published in 1962. Although we can now marvel at the fact that a juvenile science fiction novel with a female protagonist was written at that point in time, L’Engle had a lot of difficulty getting it published. The countless rejections she faced finally gave way to its publication though, and it proceeded to win the Newbery Medal. This modern adaptation of the work by Hope Larson sheds new light on the story.

Meg Murray’s father disappeared mysteriously while working for the government. Everyone in town talks about him leaving his family, but the Murrays still hold out hope that he will return. When strange new ladies move into an abandoned house nearby, Meg, her little brother, and an eager friend are shown the way to find him and rescue him. On a planet called Camazotz their father is trapped by IT, a dark, evil thing. Can they save him?

Done entirely in monochromatic blue, this graphic novel adaptation by Hope Larson has the feel of an old-school comic book. It looks like the time period during which the novel was originally written. I thought I would get bored with the images, but the limited color scheme works well here and the verbage was well done.

Age Range: 10-12 years

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Review: The Princess in Black

The Princess in Black by Shannon & Dean Hale

Princesses do not wear black. Princesses do not run. And princesses certainly do not fight monsters. Princess Magnolia, however, does all of these things.

While dining with Duchess Wigtower, Princess Magnolia’s monster alarm goes off. She has to sneak away from the Duchess to stuff a monster back down the Monster Hole or he is going to start eating goats left and right. She manages the task, but while she is gone the Duchess has been snooping through the palace. Will Princess Magnolia’s secret be discovered?

The theme of The Princess in Black is what I love so much about this book. Princess Magnolia can be a princess, but she can also be a superhero. While it is potentially problematic that she cannot show people that she is also a superhero, the message to the reader is that she is good at being both. She even maintains the tiara while she is doing her superhero duties which indicates that her personality overlaps between the two jobs. This is a strong heroine who doesn’t have to choose between being a princess or being a superhero because she is great at being both.

This chapter book is ideal for children 2nd-4th grade who are interested in princesses. It is heavily illustrated and contains short chapters. This is definitely a princess book, but one with pizzazz that shows the strength of the female lead. She needs no rescuing, she will rescue you.

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Atmospheric Mysteries

Recently I finished the Tana French mystery series set in Dublin. A strong part of its appeal is the glimpse into modern Ireland today, with its uneasy mix of rich but tragic history and twenty-first century commercialism and economic problems. That got me thinking about how crucial atmosphere is to the success of many of the best mystery series today, along with strong plotting and memorable characters.

There are so many great series out there that it’s hard to know where to start, but here are a few:

Donna Leon’s Guido Brunetti series, set in Venice

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Colin Cotterill’s series starring crime reporter Jimm Juree, set in Thailand

The Scandinavians, including Steig Larsson, Henning Mankell, and Jo Nesbo:

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Alexander McCall Smith, who has evocative series in settings as disparate as Botswana and Scotland

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And there are many, many more…what other mystery series stand out to you because of their setting?

My Real Children


A Path Diverged…

It’s 2015 and the nurses’ note clipped to her bed says that Patricia Cowan is “confused today”.  It is true that Patricia is very old and sometimes she remembers having four children by her husband Mark, but also, she distinctly remembers raising three children with her partner, Bee.  In My Real Children, author Jo Walton asks what if you could travel down both of Frost’s paths diverged in a wood?   A splitting apart of lives from one pivotal point so that two lives are lived in two parallel worlds?   Alternatively, the loves, losses, triumphs and sorrows of Patricia’s two lives are explored against a changing backdrop of world events.   Very interesting, speculative fiction, securely anchored in the understanding of human relationships.  For fans of Kate Atkinson’s terrific best seller, Life After Life, and other alternative histories mirroring our own society.

cover image of the book "Kingdom of this World"

The Kingdom of this World by Alejo Carpentier

As hundreds of thousands of people designated Haitian in the Dominican Republic are facing imminent deportation and the unknown, it’s an appropriate time to remember Alejo Carpentier’s The Kingdom of this World. First published in 1949, this brief, lyrical novel is one of the works usually pointed to as kicking off the genre magical realism. The fantastical and historical meet in this work about the origin of modern Haiti. It renders before, during, and after the Haitian Revolution in the late 18th to early 19th century through the eyes of Ti Noel.

Ti Noel serves as a cook and a slave on the sugar plantation of Lenormand de Mezy when the novel begins. There he is drawn into a vast network of resistance by Macandal, a fellow slave and a leader in the revolt, whose stories create a community with a shared past among the displaced and dispossessed people taken from Africa to work the plantations in the Caribbean. Macandal is a messianic character with a talent for working miracles from the harm done to him. When his hand is mangled early on in the story, Macandal returns with greater magic beginning a cycle of meeting devastation with regeneration.

Through contact with Macandal, Ti Noel develops a reverence for nature, knowledge, and action. Although by his own account not a good person, Ti Noel finally, like Macandal, gains the power of transformation. However, he and Macandal do not use this power to the same ends. At the end of his life and after the rule of the infamous Henri Christophe and the re-stratification of social class based on skin color, Ti Noel uses transformation to escape human society altogether.

Ti Noel is both a witness to history and a participant in the revolution. Like Carpentier himself, Ti Noel experiences the liberation of his home in exile. This absence from Haiti can easily be read to represent the trauma at the heart of the book, something too awesome or terrifying to be seen or remembered accurately. The victory literally unseen by Ti Noel reflects the tension between the unimaginable and wonderful feat of a slave revolt trouncing French and Spanish military might and then forming an autonomous nation, a unique event in history in many ways, and the dismal failure of liberation to bring anything better than a reenactment of the old power structures under colonialist rule. These facts cannot be reconciled, and instead they are overlayed.

In some ways Carpentier is telling his own story and the story of the Caribbean in which he lived. The novel speaks to his own struggles with identity, displacement, and statelessness. After his first period of exile escaping persecution in Europe, Carpentier visited Haiti where he encountered a real sense of the marvelous before returning to his home country of Cuba. Just as magic overlays fact and triumph overlays defeat in this novel, the present overlays the past. The reader is asked to accept layer after layer of complication and contradiction. Carpentier’s Haiti is a bridge to many places, and the myth of origin he creates is an attempt to reclaim its narrative outside the official history.

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Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America

1543551 One of the best written and most thought-provoking nonfiction books I’ve read so far in 2015 is Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy.  This New York Times bestseller, written by an experienced journalist, focuses on the senseless and seemingly endless murders of young black men by other young black men. The story of a LA  detective determined to solve the murder of a colleague’s son is both a fascinating true crime tale and a horrifying look at all the other murders that go unsolved and taken for granted. Reviewers have praised its “gritty reporting” (Los Angeles Times) and called it “a searing indictment of legal neglect” (Boston Globe).  Ghettoside is certainly not a beach read but it will get you thinking and questioning our criminal justice system.  

Beth, our Nevins Buzz co-editor, has since moved on to a new position at another library.  We congratulate her and wish her the best in future endeavors.  Beth has graciously left us a legacy of posts before departing the Nevins Memorial Library. A big “thank you” to Beth for helping to get this blog started and for writing many interesting posts.