Valerie Hansen is the Stanley Woodward professor of history at Yale. She teaches Chinese and world history. In her recent book, The Year 1000: When Explorers Connected the World and Globalization Began, Hansen provides readers with background based on her thirty years of research. In order to complete the book, Hansen not only researched the history of travel and trade, she also consulted artifacts, archaeologists, other scholars and experts.
Hansen shows readers that by the year 1000, global trade was already well under way. The chapter titles give readers a guideline to the contents. Here are a few samples: “The World in the Year 1000,” “Go West, Young Viking,” and “Surprising Journeys.”
In “Surprising Journeys,” Hansen describes the need for spices “in a world in which few people bathed and most meals were simple.” Spices with their tantalizing aromas and the spike they added to foods became much in demand.
Hansen shows that language becomes a clear indicator of travelers reaching foreign lands. For example, “Malagasy turns out to be in the same language froup as Malay, Polynesian, Hawaiian, and the indigenous language of Taiwan.” Thus, there had to be travelers between these lands in order to share the languages. Further, modern DNA tests show connections between today’s people in Madagascar who have ancestors from both Southeast Asia and Africa.
Hansen offers extensive notes to back up her research. Readers will find The Year 1000 a readable history of globalization. Learn more about Professor Hansen on her site: http://valerie-hansen.com/.
Chris Ferrie is a Senior Lecturer for Quantum Software and Information at the U of Technology Sydney. His degrees include a master’s in applied mathematics, a bachelor’s in mathematical physics, and a PhD in applied mathematics. He began writing children’s books for his own four children and then started publishing them. Check out his Web site: https://csferrie.com/.
Lindsay Dale Scott, illustrator, adds brightly colored animals to create a delightful book for parents and children. Discover more about Scott and her art on her site: http://www.lindsaydaleart.com/.
I received a copy of My First 100 Nature Words by Chris Ferrie from Sourcebooks in exchange for an honest review. The book is a colorful and joyous exploration of nature words. It starts with plants and moves to animals and wetlands and continues with other words related to other landscapes. Children will enjoy identifying animals and plants as they learn about each type of landscape. My First 100 Nature Words offers a colorful introduction to important words for a child’s vocabulary. Scott has made the words come to life on the page as well.
Are you looking for an absolutely delightful picture book to read to a child or grandchild? I’ve got a recommendation for you: No Reading Allowed: The Worst Read-Aloud Book Every by Raj Haldar and Chris Carpenter, illustrated by Bryce Gladfelter. It is a hoot!
Haldar and Carpenter have created a book to satisfy those who love word play and plays upon words. The book begins with a disclaimer: “You can’t believe everything you hear! Did you know that a single word can have many different meanings, and sometimes words that sound alike can be spelled completely differently? In this book, Ptolemy predicts you’ll find that two sentences may sound exactly the same, but they can mean hilariously different things!”
Then Haldar and Carpenter go on to prove that opening correct and with very funny results. For example, here are two of my favorite sentences for comparison:
“We were all astonished by the fowl feat.” In this case, a duck attempts the high jump.
“We were all astonished by the foul feet.” The picture shows a bull wearing extremely stinky shoes as identified by the expressions on other animals’ faces and by the apparent stink coming off the shoes.
Just so you know the examples above are not alone. Take a look at the two that follow.
“We see the queen’s burrow thanks to our ant hill.” The picture shows an ant hill inside a glass enclosure.
“We see the Queensboro thanks to our Aunt Hill.” This time, the children ride in a convertible with Aunt Hill who is showing them Queensboro.
The illustrations are bright and colorful. I especially like the fact that children of many ethnicities are depicted. That creates extra appeal.
At the end of the book, readers will find a glossary with definitions of words used throughout the book. I am also impressed with the note at the very end: “We’re just having some fun here, but the truth is that our language is always changing. Did you know that hundreds of new words are added to the dictionary each year? Maybe a word that you made up will be next!”
Raj Haldar is also known as rapper Lushlife. He has found a new outlet for his creativity in writing children’s books. The first book, P is for Pterodactyl: The Worst Alphabet Book Ever, started as a joke, but it has been well received.
Chris Carpenter has had a varied career as a software developer and now children’s book author.
Bryce Gladfelter enjoys people-watching, creating art and music.
Thank you to Sourcebooks for sending me this copy of No Reading Allowed: The Worst Read-Aloud Book Ever. It is delightful and will make parents, grandparents, and children laugh out loud and find humor in each page over and over again.
Jon Klassen, illustrator, book cover, Sara Pennypacker, author
On impulse, I purchased a copy of Pax by Sara Pennypacker because the cover intrigued me. Too, Pax had been long-listed for a National Book Award. Sara Pennypacker has written a number of children’s books. Learn more about her on her whimsical Web site: http://www.sarapennypacker.com/.
Jon Klassen provides black and white with shades of gray illustrations scattered throughout the story. Klassen, a Caldecott Medal winner, also illustrated I Want My Hat Back, This Is Not My Hat, and We Found a Hat.
Peter is the boy who has rescued Pax when the fox was just a kit. The two have been pals since. Suddenly, Peter’s life changes and is turned upside down. His father enlists in the military and tells Peter that Peter now must live with his grandfather. Sadly, Peter’s mother had passed away some time earlier.
Peter then learns that his father will abandon Pax in the woods, leaving Peter bereft. Peter’s grandfather lives three-hundred miles from where Pax is left in the woods near Peter’s home.
Heartbroken, Peter determines that he must find Pax and be reunited with him.
Meanwhile, Pax is bewildered about being abandoned. He has always lived with his boy. He is uncertain how to take care of himself. He must learn and learn quickly in order to survive. He also thinks about finding his boy, Peter.
Pennypacker tells the story in two parts: from Peter’s perspective and his adventures and from Pax’s perspective and his adventures. Both Peter and Pax experience many difficulties and dangers. Each hopes to find the other.
Read Pax to discover the lengths a boy will take to find a much beloved pet and then see what happens through the course of a tough journey for both Peter and Pax.
Parents and grandparents looking for a terrific picture book to help cure the fear of bedtime monsters should check into The Ultimate Survival Guide to Bedtime Monsters by Mitch Frost and illustrated by Daron Parton. I am grateful to Sourcebooks for the free copy in exchange for this unbiased review.
Mitch Frost lives in Canberra. Always a lover of stories and writing, Frost especially enjoys stories that “empower children to embrace their inner resilience and strength.” While Frost does work as a part-time monster researcher, he also has a Doctorate in Monster Studies from the Australian Monsters University. Thus, readers know they can trust the information found in The Ultimate Survival Guide to Bedtime Monsters!
Illustrator Daron Parton enjoys variety in his life. His illustrations not only enhance The Ultimate Survival Guide to Bedtime Monsters, they also extend the story. Born in the UK, Parton now lives in New Zealand.
Many children experience a fear of nigh-time monsters. Those scary beings hide under the bed and in the closet. Now, The Ultimate Survival Guide to Bedtime Monsters can put those fears to rest.
With illustrations to accompany each rule to follow to rid one’s room of monsters, children will be reassured that monsters will be banned. The rules are clearly laid out and easy to follow. Also, the rules address all kinds of monsters such as “round monsters, square monsters, and even carrot monsters.” The book offers a definite guarantee that by following the rules, monsters will be banished forever.
Thanks to Sourcebooks for a clever, colorful way to rid a child’s room of monsters.
Luckily for me, I discovered Sourcebooks, an independent book publisher located in Naperville, IL. When I read that Sourcebooks’ “mission is to reach as many people as possible through books that will enlighten their lives,” I knew I had found an excellent resource. I have been fortunate to review books that I’ve received free from Sourcebooks.
Today’s book review is of Free Write: A Poetry Notebook by Kwame Alexander. The book provides prompts for young writers to experiment with writing all types of poetry. It is a writer’s notebook designed to inspire young writers and to give them a bit of guidance in writing poetry.
For each exercise, Alexander provides a clock face which “tells you how many minutes each #Jumpstart activity takes. But you can use as much time as you want!” The opening exercise is on similes. Alexander provides a definition of similes as well as examples. Then the young writer takes a turn at writing similes.
Scattered throughout the book, writers will find “Freewrite” at the top of the page. Following the simile exercise, the freewrite page instructs writers to “just write. A poem (a short one). A story about your pet. A letter to your best friend. A whatever about anything. Only rule is you gotta include at least THREE similes. Got it? Then get to it.” I like the friendliness of the language.
I also find the quotes that Alexander has sprinkled through the pages. See several of my favorites below:
“A poem is a cup of words open to the sky and wind in a bucket.” Naomi Shihab Nye
“I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” Shannon Hale
“Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.” Neil Gaiman
Each activity provides examples and “Jumpstarts.” The activities act as guides to stimulate creativity and help children unleash their own ideas. Kwame Alexander has produced a book that young writers can enjoy and use to show off their own skills.
Kwame Alexander, poet, educator, and author, has a number of books to his credit. He has also been shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal. Alexander is also a regular contributor to NPR’s Morning Edition. Alexander’s Website, https://kwamealexander.com/, offers more information on the author and his work.
Always looking for the next book to read, I listen to friends’ recommendations as well as checking reviews here and there. My friend Monte mentioned Eat Cake by Jeanne Ray in a Facebook comment and also included that Ray is Ann Patchett’s mother, I felt compelled to request Eat Cake from the library.
Ruth and Sam Hopson live in Minneapolis sharing their home with their teenage daughter Camille and Ruth’s mother Hollis. Son Wyatt is away at college. Sam is a hospital administrator while Ruth stays home to care for the family. In a period of two days, their lives are not only upturned, they are shredded. How will the family cope?
Sam comes home to say he has lost his job when a for-profit hospital chain purchased the hospital where he worked and he has been made redundant. The very next day, Ruth’s father, an iterant pianist, calls from Des Moines to say he’s been seriously injured in a fall and needs to come live with Ruth and her family.
Adding to the distress is the fact that Hollis and Guy Nash have been estranged for years, since Ruth was a tiny child. Guy never took his responsibilities as husband, father, and provider seriously. He just skipped off and played piano in bars across the country, occasionally dropping in to see his daughter. Now, he needs a place to live and extensive help because both wrists are shattered and he has pins in his arms. He cannot even feed himself, dress, or take care of other needs. What’s a daughter to do?
Sam drives to Des Moines to bring Guy back into the house. At the same time, Sam is trying to find out what he wants to do because he clearly needs a job with a son in college, a daughter almost ready for college, a mortgage, and so on and so on.
When Florence Allen, physical therapist, comes from the hospital as a favor to Sam to work with Guy, Ruth feeds Florence cake which Ruth has made. Florence declares the cake is magical and she suggests that Ruth start a baking business.
Ruth mulls the idea over for a time and then the whole family gets into the act so that Ruth takes the plunge into baking. Camille creates business cards:
Fine Desserts by
Hollis, Ruth’s mother, creates boxes for transporting the cakes. Each box is a work of art; then customers open the box to discover cake art. Even Guy helps Ruth in getting started. He calls managers of restaurants where he has played piano and gets appointments for Ruth to show off her cakes. The business takes off with everyone’s help.
Hollis and Guy even rekindle their relationship, shocking Ruth by telling her they never got around to getting divorced. They move into an apartment together, continuing to help with the cake business, but also choosing to take jobs playing the piano and singing on cruises. Hollis is also a gifted pianist.
The story has a happy ending. To be honest, with the pandemic still in full swing, I almost stopped reading the book at the beginning when I knew Sam was going to announce that he had lost his job. I was not interested in a downer of a book. Turns out, a family can survive job loss and accidents. Take a chance on Eat Cake; you’ll even find some fancy cake recipes in the back of the book.
Am I reading more because of the pandemic or am I simply paying closer attention to what I read? I have a long list of books I hope to read. At the same time, I have a list of twenty-three books nominated for the spring 2021 book talks for Books Sandwiched In (BSI) sponsored by the Friends of the Tulsa City-County Libraries. Clearly, I cannot read all twenty-three in the weeks between nominating and selecting. I have read ten, including two nonfiction nominations, and I have a little time to read one or two more before the selection date. Nonfiction is not my favorite genre. Still, I do try to be fair in reading the nominated books by sprinkling a few nonfiction titles into the mix.
All that to say The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett came onto my reading radar because my friend Theresa had told me about it and she nominated it for the Books Sandwiched In consideration. I had seen The Mothers on many reviews and lists, but I had not read it. Reading The Vanishing Half became a pressing need, so I requested it from the library and read it in two days. To say that I am still processing the story would be an understatement.
Identical twin sisters Desiree, older by seven minutes, and Stella Vignes live in the tiny black town of Mallard, LA, near Opelousas, LA. This town is unique in that the black people who live there are all light-skinned, looking white. Of course, everyone in the area considers them black regardless of how white their skin may be.
As young children, Desiree and Stella experience the horrifying sight of seeing white men from the nearby community grabbing their father and killing him for so-called misdeeds toward the white men. The explanation Willie Lee a man in Mallard gives Desiree and Stella for their father’s murder makes no sense to the girls. Willie Lee says, “White folks kill you if you want too much, kill you if you want too little. You gotta follow they rules but they change ‘em when they feel. Devilish, you ask me.” Did the girls’ father bid lower on a job than the white men, so they killed him to eliminate the competition?
At sixteen, Desiree and Stella must leave school, at their mother’s behest, and go to work in a wealthy white family’s mansion in order to help their mother with bills. Stella, especially, is disheartened by this change because she wants to go to college. One morning, Desiree tells Stella they are leaving for New Orleans and they flee, leaving no note or explanation for their mother.
In New Orleans, they find menial work until Stella manages to get a secretarial job. One day, she disappears again, but this time without Desiree. Desiree eventually goes to DC and finds a job reading fingerprints for the FBI. There she meets a handsome black man, Sam Winston. They marry and have a daughter Jude. Unfortunately, Sam is not just verbally abusive, but he becomes dangerously physically abusive. On another impulse, Desiree packs a few clothes for herself and Jude, takes money from Sam’s wallet, and flees again. This time, she returns to Mallard and her mother.
Desiree feels certain her return to Mallard will be short-term. Another factor in staying there is that Jude is very black like her father, so she stands out in Mallard. The other children in school tease and bully her, but she is strong and manages to survive through high school.
Jude earns a track scholarship to attend college in CA. Living in CA will bring other changes to her life.
The story begins with the girls living with their widowed mother in Mallard, follows them to New Orleans where they split up. Then Bennett provides Desiree’s story intertwined with Jude’s. Readers, of course, want to know what happens to Stella. That’s when readers will discover many discomfiting moments in the book.
Stella has married her boss from the job in New Orleans. She keeps her past a secret telling him her parents died in an accident and she is the only family member still alive. As far as he knows, she is white. Blake, her husband, continues to rise in his job and the family now consisting of a beautiful blonde daughter, Kennedy, moves to CA.
The family lives in a large home and Stella wants for nothing. When a black family moves in across the street, Stella is outraged. She fears she will be “outed.” At the home owners’ association meeting, she objects strenuously to the black family’s being allowed to buy the home. In the end, the family does move into the neighborhood. The scenes when Stella objects so loudly, unlike her usual quiet demeanor, are some of those discomfiting times. There are others.
As one might guess, the two sisters must meet again. How they meet and why and how their daughters are involved will create reasons to keep reading. The book spans years from the 1950s to the 1990s, covering a lot of ground, both physically and emotionally. Read the book!
Brit Bennett, https://britbennett.com/, has created a story of family, desire, and an exploration of what it means to pass for white in a country still experiencing a racial divide. Bennett herself is from southern CA where she graduated from Stanford and then received an MFA in fiction from the U of MI. She is definitely a talent to follow.
Always on the hunt for that next great book to read, I stumbled upon The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman. It is a book I will be recommending to others frequently. I truly enjoyed it and am looking forward to The Thursday Murder Club 2 coming out next year.
Richard Osman’s debut mystery The Thursday Murder Club puts together four retired people living in an upscale retirement community in England. The four meet in the Jigsaw Room on Thursdays to discuss cold case murders, thus the name of their club. Red Ron Ritchie has long been a rabble-rouser, a known socialist. Ibrahim Arif, retired therapist, adds some class to the group. Joyce, newly added to the group, constantly seeks male attention. Elizabeth is perhaps the most enigmatic of the quartet. We are not quite sure about her past, but she certainly has talents and connections.
Penny Gray, former police Detective Inspector, is most likely the instigator of the club since she had saved copies of files from her days in the police. Sadly, she has become gravely ill, bed-ridden, and unable to speak. Elizabeth still visits her and talks about cases with her even though Penny cannot respond. All the while, John, Penny’s husband, sits by Penny’s bedside reading every day.
PC Donna DeFreitas comes to Coopers Chase Retirement Village to give her standard “Practical Tips for Home Security.” She thinks she can deliver the talk without really taxing herself and then rush off to a nice lunch before returning to the station. DeFreitas, however, is in for a rude surprise when the retirees tell her they don’t need a talk on cybersecurity, keeping their doors locked, or refusing to give up information to strangers over the phone. They are interested in much more salient topics. Elizabeth asks about “institutional sexism in the police force.”
Elizabeth, Ron, Ibrahim, and Joyce take Donna to lunch. She does not realize it, but they are interviewing her and they will be using her soon. However, that plan will turn out to suit Donna who has come from London and craves excitement. She wants to solve murders, not be on general duty and give talks to old folks.
Joyce, the newest member of the group, is also the scribe—Dr. Watson, if you will. She records what the group decides to do and discovers as well as keeping track of her own thoughts. Elizabeth reminds readers that “memory was the bogeyman that stalked Coopers Chase. Forgetfulness, absentmindedness, muddling up names.”
Readers will quickly realize that the Thursday Murder Club consists of four sharp individuals, each with talents that complement the entire group.
Investigating cold cases has allowed the group to use their thinking skills and other individual talents to come to conclusions. Then a current murder occurs on their doorstep followed by another murder and the uncovering of a long-buried body in someone else’s grave. Now, the four have much to discuss.
Elizabeth, Ira, Joyce, and Ron have manipulated the police into putting Donna on the case. Now, they have a contact with whom they can share information.
The dialog is witty and fun. Osman develops the characters slowly, giving readers new clues about backgrounds and personalities through the story. Readers have much to learn about the characters, but Osman is deliberately vague about Elizabeth’s background. I look forward to new revelations in book 2.
Of course, it is no secret and no spoiler to recognize who solves the murders. The real story lies in the way the Thursday Murder Club goes about finding evidence and sharing it, bit by bit, with the police.
The Wall Street Journal calls The Thursday Murder Club “witty, endearing and greatly entertaining.” People describes it as “an amusing debut that finds gold in getting older.” Both descriptions are accurate and on target. The Thursday Murder Club will delight readers.
The Thursday Murder Club is Richard Osman’s debut mystery. Up to now, Osman has been a producer and TV presenter. In the UK, TV viewers know him for Pointless and Richard Osman’s House of Games. In addition, he has worked as executive producer on a number of other shows including Deal or No Deal, 8 Out of 10 Cats, and Have I Got News For You.
When I read a book, I also write a review of it. Either while I am reading or after I finish, I look up information on the author. What I discovered in looking up Allison Montclair who wrote The Right Sort of Man, a historical mystery, is that Montclair is a penname. Although The Right Sort of Man is billed as a debut novel, the Allison Montclair has written other historical mysteries along with fantasy, science fiction, and horror, but under another name or other names. Technically, then, The Right Sort of Man IS a debut novel by Allison Montclair.
Now, to the reason I read The Right Sort of Man and its review. As a book club junkie, I belong to several book clubs—number undisclosed. Marie who leads Cover to Cover, the book club sponsored by the Broken Arrow Library, chose The Perfect Wife by JP Delaney for our October discussion. She chose The Right Sort of Man to follow The Perfect Wife for our November discussion. The two books could not be more different, but I like the thought of those titles working in tandem.
The book opens in post WWII London. Miss Iris Sparks and Mrs. Gwendolyn Bainbridge, two unlikely friends much less partners, have opened a marriage bureau in a building that survived the bombings in London. The two women come from different worlds. Iris is spunky, tough, and street smart as well as Cambridge educated. Gwen has grown up privileged and spent the war with her husband’s wealthy family outside of London and safe from the bombings. Sadly, though, her husband dies in the war leaving her a young widow with a son.
The Iris and Gwen meet at a wedding reception for a mutual acquaintance. They develop an unlikely friendship and decide to open the marriage bureau to help men and women find mates after the horrors of war. Iris has a number of secrets related to her work during the war; these are secrets that she still keeps close to the vest. That work during the war has left her scarred too. At the same time, Iris had a number of useful contacts whom she can call upon. That turns out to be useful.
So how do two women running a marriage bureau get involved in a murder mystery? Tillie LaSalle, one of their clients, is murdered shortly after signing up with the agency. The first date The Right Sort of Marriage Bureau sets up for Tillie is with Dickie Trower. Unfortunately, Trower is immediately arrested for Tillie’s murder even though he never got to meet her. The police do not believe Trower’s story and a bloody knife found under Trower’s bed seals his fate. Or does it?
Gwen and Iris are convinced that Trower is innocent. They also had some inkling that Tillie had not been quite honest with them. They suspect she had some unseemly connections, perhaps to the black market. Post war England still suffers from many shortages. For example, even to purchase clothing, one must have government-issued clothing coupons. That creates a black market for forging coupons.
Iris and Gwen become deeply involved in searching for the real killer in order to save Trower and also to put The Right Sort of Marriage Bureau back on track as well. They put themselves in danger to locate evidence and discover the truth. Gwen faces another danger of losing her son because her dragon-like mother-in-law disapproves of Gwen’s work with Iris. Too, Gwen has suffered from deep depression after her husband’s death. As result, her in-laws with their money and connections have gained legal custody of Gwen’s son Ronnie. Gwen very much wants to regain that custody so she has control over where her son goes to school and to be his mother.
The Right Sort of Man leads readers through several harrowing situations that Iris and Gwen manage to survive through their quick-witted actions. Iris also calls on a long-time friend, Salvatore Danielli, “Sally,” whom she has known since they were both at Cambridge. Sally is a large man, so he provides muscle when needed by Iris and Gwen.
I found The Right Sort of Man to be intriguing and absorbing. Iris and Gwen are terrific characters, and I look forward to their future development. Monclair published A Royal Affair in July 2020 and A Rogue’s Company will be available in June 2021.