Thursday, September 6, 2012

New Website, Same RSS Feed

Please see our new website, still at www.apl.org/staffpicks for content that used to be published here. If you would like to double-check your settings, the content feed has remained http://feeds.feedburner.com/aplstaffpicks.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Artemis Fowl series

This summer the latest and most-likely last (hopefully not!) installment of the Artemis Fowl series, by Eoin Colfer (pronounced Owen), was released; as usual, I loved it. The 8 books follow Artemis’ adventures with the Fairy world: dwarves, trolls, goblins, centaurs, pixies, and more; they all live under the earth’s surface but pop up every now and then. Artemis is a young, criminal mastermind, determined to steal Fairy gold to fund the search for his missing father and to refill the family fortune’s rapidly emptying coffers. He comes face to face with elf Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon unit and hilarity ensues. I particularly love Butler, Artemis’ bodyguard and best friend; Foaly, the centaur; Mulch Diggums, the dwarf… Really, they are all fantastic. I highly recommend listening to the books on audiobook (I technically haven’t read a single book in the series). However, if you do listen there is an edition of the sixth book that, if you get it, will bring an unwelcome shock: there is a different reader and, by this time, the characters are supposed to sound a particular way (be sure to get this one)! The standard reader, Nathaniel Parker, does an excellent job and provides the perfect -- and necessary -- Irish accent.

Audio/books in the Artemis Fowl series are available both in the Children’s and Teen sections, but, of course, I recommend them also for adults who like Fantasy and love to laugh at extraordinarily likeable characters (even the bad-guys are likeable).  I also highly recommend two of Colfer’s books outside the Artemis Fowl series: Airman and Half-Moon Investigations – again, perfect for listening. (My husband for some reason didn’t really like Half-Moon, but my sister and I both laughed and laughed!) Each of these also have a great audiobook reader.  In my opinion, you should stay away from Plugged, Colfer’s ‘adult’ book. I hated it and stopped listening after the second disc; the characters were all highly unsavory, unlikeable, and the storyline was not at all compelling.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Atlantis Beneath the Ice: The Fate Of The Lost Continent

In this completely revised and expanded edition of When The Sky Fell, Rand and Rose Flem-Ath show that 11,000 years ago vast areas of Antarctica were free from ice and home to the kingdom of Atlantis, a proposition that also solves the mysteries of ice ages and mass extinction. Using the theory of earth crust displacement, the authors used scientific methods to explain the changes that resulted in the demise of the kingdom of Atlantis 11,000 years ago. A great flood occurred (not the flood of Noah) but the one caused by the displacement of the earth’s crust and mantle. Many people and animals died but some escaped to high ground and moved to other areas like Egypt and South America. Evidence found on very early maps showed that ancient peoples knew of Antarctica and the survivors of the deluge migrated to other areas to avoid the newly frozen mountain plateaus of Antarctica.

I have been interested in Atlantis and have read many books on this subject. This book was well written with many citations to provide data for their findings. The book studies the events that occurred and uses the sciences to prove or disprove their findings. The book is hard to understand at times and offers alternate opinions of their study. I recommend this book for people interested in ancient history. Atlantis first became popular with stories by Plato and remained of interest to us this very day. It also makes you think of some of the things that are happening today, like ocean levels rising and more severe earthquakes happening. Good reading !

Atlantis Beneath the Ice: The Fate of the Lost Continent, by Rand and Rose Flem-Ath (1995, 2012)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Listening Is an Act of Love: A Celebration of American Life


If you listen to NPR on Friday mornings, you may be familiar with the interviews from David Isay’s StoryCorps Project.  Shortly after 9/11, David Isay decided he wanted to record an oral history of America.  Not just any history, mind you, he set out to capture the lives of everyday Americans --- your average John & Jane Doe, not the elite upper-crust celebrities that traditionally dominate the media.  He set up a recording booth in Grand Central Station in New York City where family members and friends can record interviews with each other.  It became so popular that now there is a traveling recording booth as well that makes stops in cities all around the USA.  Copies of the interviews are given to the participants and also archived in the Library of Congress.  In short, the StoryCorps project is archiving the incredible oral history of the people who make up our great nation. 

Listening Is an Act of Love contains excerpts from some of these interviews.  You will find tales of senior citizens recounting what it was like to grow-up in the “old days” and a son reunited with his birth mother.  There are stories from survivors of Hurricane Katrina and the attacks on the World Trade Center.  You will also hear from people who have first-hand experienced prejudice or severe illness and the profound effects this had on them.  Simply put, this is a human interest story that places you in the shoes of those who have walked before us, or have taken a different path.  It is amazing, touching, sad and heart-warming all at once.  This is truly a book for everyone.

Listening Is an Act of Love: A Celebration of American Life from the StoryCorps Project, by Isay, David (2007)

Monday, August 20, 2012

Dead Reckoning

Two strong young women are traveling through the dangerous Wild West of the late 1800s. Jett came from a wealthy New Orleans family, whose wealth and home were destroyed during the Civil War, so she hates Yankees. She doesn’t believe her twin brother Philip is dead, and is traveling the West by horseback to find him.  In order to be safe she dresses like a male gunslinger, and earns her way by gambling, though she longs to return to her old life.

Honoria Verity Providentia Gibbons is a genius, raised by a father who never seemed to notice she was a girl. She believes everything can be explained by science, and travels in an Auto-Tachypode (steam-powered horseless carriage with powerful defenses) to research mysterious disappearances in the area. White Fox, an Army Scout who was raised by Indians after his family’s wagon train was attacked, is on his way to discover what happened in the small town of Glory Rest when he comes across her camp.

Jett is caught in a zombie attack on the small town of Alsop and barely escapes with her life. Riding quickly through the night she stumbles into their camp. Though Gibbons and White Fox don’t believe her story of zombies decimating the town, they decide to go with her the next day to discover the truth.

Where are the zombies coming from, and why?

Dead Reckoning, by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill (2012)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Wrecking Crew: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll's Best-kept Secret


You might ask…what is Rock and Roll’s Best-kept Secret? Read this book and find out! Here’s a clue…most of the finished product from studio recordings were performed by behind the scenes session musicians. Some of those musicians ultimately became famous in their own right. Think Glen Campbell, Leon Russell, and Neil Diamond, to name a few. Hartman leads us through the stories behind Phil Spector’s wall of sound, and Sonny and Cher’s rise to fame with their signature song, I Got You, Babe. Learn about the metamorphosis of the popular 60s television program, The Monkees. Did you know that Stephen Stills and Gary Lewis auditioned to become a part of America’s take on the fab four before Davy Jones, Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork, and Mickey Dolenz were chosen? From Brian Wilson to Frank Sinatra, Hartman’s fascinating account makes for a breezy read.




Monday, August 13, 2012

Anya's Ghost

It's got the right number of syllables, so:

I wish that I had Anya's Ghost
I wish that I had Anya's Ghost
I want Anya's Ghost,
Where can I find a Ghost like that, like
Anya's Ghost

That's right, you just got Rick-rolled in a book review. Mark the date.

Vera Brosgol's graphic novel Anya's Ghost, which feature's Neil Gaiman's proclamation of it being a masterpiece on the cover, is pretty masterpiecey. Anya is a high school student at a private school that her Russian immigrant mother struggles to pay for, which seems tragic given Anya's angsty behavior at home. She's got weight issues, has one friend who she doesn't always get along with, is expected to be friends with the other Russian immigrant student who's a dork that gets bullied, and is not so good at school herself.

Then she falls down a well. And lands next to a skeleton. Then she commences shouting, lives off her lunch for three days, is found, and brought home safe but for a sprained wrist.

But I'm skipping the ghost part--this Casper-friendly girl ghost pops out of the skeleton area of the well--she's tied to the skeleton and can't go very far. Lucky for her, Anya accidentally gets a bone in her bag as she's grabbing her stuff, so we're on to buddy-film territory as Anya is hassled by this ghost who turns out to be helpful in school both socially and academically and they become friends and Anya vows to help find the murderer who put her ghosty friend in that well so that she can move on to the afterlife.

That's what you expect. That's what I expect. That's not what happens, and I'm not going to tell you what happens. It's more complicated than that, and this makes a simple ghost story into something honest and real.

It's a graphic novel, not too long, and you can read it in one sitting (a metric sitting--it's shorter and more European than the standard Imperial sitting use in the US) so you have no excuse for wanting me to tell you more of the story.

Also, I like the artwork, but that's a subjective thing. You may or may not like it yourself, but again, it's short. If you don't like the artwork, I recommend you work out your issues with it in and just enjoy the ghost story Vera Brosgol tells.


Anya's Ghost, by Vera Brosgol (2011)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Long Earth


Having been a longtime fan of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see him (and Stephen Baxter) create a new sandbox to play in. In fact they didn't disappoint. They created millions of parallel universes. As soon as I saw the book was about a multiverse I thought that it would be steeped in technical jargon. In reality there is none, no explanation at all for the new phenomena of multiple Earths; as someone who prefers a story to a physics lesson this is just fine with me.

Wisconsinites should enjoy that a substantial portion takes place in Madison, which is interesting since both Pratchett and Baxter are Brits. Considering they are not native they do a good job getting the city right. I only offer one caveat, if you are looking for the sharp and playful dialogue of the Discworld books you won’t find much of it here. Terry Pratchett’s sense of humor still comes through at times but is much more subtle in this story.

All in all I would recommend The Long Earth as a quick, fun read that only bends the brain a little bit.  

The Long Earth, by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter (2012)

Monday, August 6, 2012

Blue Asylum

This was a very interesting book for me.  The setting, Sanibel Island, is close to my idea of paradise, so viewing it from this perspective was quite a switch.  The island itself was a major character for me.  I don't know if there truly was an asylum there or not; I will have to explore that.   I was recently plunged into this time period for another reason, and found the historic aspect of the Civil War familiar.  All the details felt right; the characters came alive and I wanted that junonia shell! This is not a comfortable, feel good book, but a love story woven amidst the horrors of physical and psychological wounds.  A good read.

Blue Asylum, by Kathy Hepinstall (2012)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Gallery of Regrettable Food

This is, hands down, the funniest book I ever read.  The author, James Liliks, scoured cookbooks of the 1950s and 60s, searching for photos of the most horrendous food items he could find.  And boy, did he find them!  The pictures themselves are awful enough, but it’s the wide-eyed, horror-filled, and wildly snarky comments that lead to the laughter.  Consider, for example, just a few of the chapter headings:  “Submit to the Power of Ketchup”; “Famous Chefs Forced to Use Marshmallows”; “It's the 1950s and Everyone's Human But Mom.”  You’ll never look at Jell-O the same way again.

The Gallery of Regrettable Food, by James Lileks (2001)

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Scarlet Contessa

The Scarlet Contessa is a fast-paced historical novel about Caterina Sforza, a brave and determined Contessa in Renaissance Italy. Told through the eyes of her lady-in-waiting, Dea, the tale spans from their childhood in the home of the Duke of Milan through Caterina's marriage to Count Girolamo Riario, to the battles Caterina bravely fought to maintain her lands against the Borgias. Roderigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI, is a major player, as is his son Cesare.  The Medicis also play a role in Caterina's tale, so readers will get a taste of many of the great political players of the time.  Passion, intrigue, espionage, and violence are all a part of the mix in this gripping story. The Scarlet Contessa is definitely not a scholarly read, but a very entertaining look at Renaissance Italy.

The Scarlet Contessa, by Jeanne Kalogridis (2010)