Monthly Archives: March 2015

The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm – Review

I’ve spent a lot of time this month on books for adults, so this week I’m going to take a turn into a younger category. With a small child at home I spend a lot of time reading children’s books, perhaps more than I spend reading adult books! So this week I’ll talk about the latest edition to my child’s library.

Last year I was excited to see a Kickstarter to do a Reading Rainbow reboot to take it online and bring it to schools around the country. I very happily backed this as Reading Rainbow was one of my favorite shows as a kid and I’m a big fan of LeVar Burton, both from that show and from Star Trek. One of the great rewards I received was an autographed copy of his new children’s book: The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm. So not only do I get to give my child a beautifully illustrated book, but a signed one no less! Maybe this will set her down the road I’ve been on, collecting signed firsts.

But enough of the back story. The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm is a lovely story about friendship, sorrow, anger, and how we deal with them. It begins in a very meta way with a little mouse feeling afraid of the storm raging outside her home. Her family had been made homeless the year before by just such a storm. Papa Mouse, seeing his daughter’s distress, pulls out our book and begins to read.

Just like baby mouse, Rhino loses his home to a tremendous storm. In his fear and anger he yells up at the storm and swallows it whole, ending the torrential downpour, but metaphorically bottling all his fear and anger inside. The story is his journey to release that anger with the help of his friends.

Although the writing is a little rough at times the story is sweet and a good lesson for a young child in how to deal with anger and fear before it gets bottled up inside and causes problems. The illustrations are gorgeous and engaging and I think any young child will enjoy The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm. But, to quote LeVar Burton, “You don’t have to take my word for it.”

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The Man Booker Prize – Reader’s Shelf

Last week I wrote about The True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey. This winner of the Man Booker Prize (Carey’s second) was a joy to read and makes me want to share some of the other winners of the prize.

1988 saw Carey win his first Booker Prize for Oscar and Lucinda, a story of an Anglican priest struggling to reconcile his fear of damnation with his addiction to gambling, and a rich heiress, owner of a glass factory in Sydney, Australia. The two meet on the boat from London to Sydney, and when Lucinda bets Oscar he cannot transport a glass church up the coast their lives are changed forever.

The Ghost Road by Pat Barker, 1995’s prize winner, is the third in a trilogy following the tale of a group of shell-shocked World War I British officers. This tale focuses on a working-class man who has made officer, Billy Prior, and his relationship to real life psychoanalyst William Rivers, allowing Barker to explore World War I through eyes both fictional and actual.

No Booker Prize overview would be complete without Salman Rushdie, one of the English speaking world’s greatest authors. Longlisted multiple times Rushdie won the prize for Midnight’s Children in 1981, and the Best of the Booker in 2008. Combining magical realism with historical fiction, Midnight’s Children is a postcolonial work examining India’s independence through the biography of a telepathic “midnight child” – a child born at midnight on the eve of India’s independence.

Last year saw author Richard Flanagan win for The Narrow Road to the Deep North. The title is taken from one of the most famous works by Japanese poet Basho and is centers around the tale of one of the darkest incidents in Japanese history, the building of the Thailand-Burma Death Railway during World War II. Epic in scope it encompasses a century of Australian history, following wartime love affairs and the post-war lives of Japanese prison guards and Australian Far East Prisoners of War.

Judges and dates for this year’s prize have been set. The Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2015 is chaired by Michael Wood, with judges Ellah Allfrey, John Burnside, Sam Leith and Frances Osborne. The longlist will be announced on Wednesday July 29, 2015, with the shortlist following on Tuesday September 15, 2015. The winner will be announced on Tuesday October 13, 2015. I’ll write more here about the nominees when they are announced.

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The True History of the Kelly Gang – Review

In The True History of the Kelly Gang (Booker Prize winner 2001) award winning Peter Carey brings to us the story of Ned Kelly, Australian bushranger and outlaw. In prose both illiterate and beautiful Kelly tells us of his life of crime in Victoria, Australia through the eyes of a man about to hang leaving his legacy to a daughter he barely knows. “I lost my own father at 12 yr. of age and know what it is to be raised on lies and silences my dear daughter you are presently too young to understand a word I write but this history is for you and will contain no single lie may I burn in Hell if I speak false,” writes Kelly.

In this book Carey rivals American author Cormac McCarthy (a personal favorite of mine who will most certainly make an appearance here) in the beauty of his prose and the wonder of the outlaw wilds of an untamed land. While both authors may be difficult to approach at first due to their unique writing style I guarantee that if you give The True History time you will be engrossed. When I read this in 2006 I finished it in a matter of days and immediately posted my recommendation on the shelf, featuring it in a display of award winning books of the previous 10 years.

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The Revolution in Seattle – Review

“Strike Call all unions to go out” reads the newspaper clipping that composes part of the cover of “Revolution in Seattle” by Harvey O’Connor. From the early utopian settlements in the area to the general strike of 1919 and the Everett Massacre the Revolution in Seattle presents an engaging picture of the movement from the turn of the 20th century through the early 1920’s.

Using a mixture of narratives from local labor leaders and newspaper clippings from the era, O’Connor takes you through an engaging and sometimes shocking ride through the struggles of labor in early Seattle. Although O’Connor was himself an activist and is perhaps slightly biased in his retelling the stories he presents still give great historical background of what it took to earn the 40 hour work week, the minimum wage, and the right to organize.

As a former labor activist myself (I was a bargaining unit rep to the ILWU and an active member of Jobs With Justice) I can’t help but relate to O’Connor’s tales. The struggles today are perhaps not as violent as days past but are present nonetheless. Seattle is making good progress with a large increase in the minimum wage and work towards paid maternity leave for city workers, but other areas of the country are seeing massive hits to workers’ rights and ability to organize. Perhaps “The Revolution in Seattle” will inspire new movements across the country to reclaim the middle class and rejuvenate the American dream.

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Reader’s Shelf – The Hugo Award

Awarded every year since 1955, the Hugo Awards represent one of the top awards for science fiction and fantasy. Winners include such big names as Neil Gaiman (American Gods 2002), J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire 2001), Neal Stephenson (The Diamond Age 1996), and William Gibson (Neuromancer 1985). We all know most, if not all, of these winners. But what about the runners-up? Here we’ll take a look at some of the Hugo Award Nominees from years past.

Most know Cory Doctorow for his somewhat controversial stance on copyright and his blog BoingBoing. However, he is also a prolific writer of science fiction. Despite being targeted at young adults, Little Brother garnered a nomination in 2009. It follows the story of a teenage hacker combating the Department of Homeland Security after a terrorist attack and the ensuing crackdown.

Canadian author Robert J. Sawyer, previous winner of both the Hugo and Nebula awards, was nominated in 2008 for his work Rollback. In order to help her translate an alien message, Sarah Halifax and her husband Don are both given a treatment called “rollback” to rejuvenate their octogenarian bodies and give them a new lease on life. Unfortunately, Sarah’s treatment is unsuccessful and the couple are left to negotiate Don’s new 25-year-old body and the complications to their relationship that result.

In 2005, China Miéville received his third Hugo nomination for Iron Council, the third in the trilogy started by 2002 Hugo Award nominee Perdido Street Station and continued in 2003 nominee The Scar. The novels are both set in Miéville’s unique steam-punk-meets-magic world, Perdido in the city of New Crobuzon (a city built around the remains of some ancient, unknown beast), The Scar on the forbidding ocean, and Iron Council on the wider continent. All three mix Miéville’s political views and potent imagination with a compelling story that will keep you turning the page.

Jumping back in time a bit to 1990 we have Grass by Sheri S. Tepper. In a distant future where humans have spread across the galaxy, the planet Grass (so named because that is practically all that grows there) is the only planet immune to a mysterious plague that is destroying humanity.

Last but not least, we’ll visit 1970, the year when Ursula Le Guin won her first Hugo for The Left Hand of Darkness. Also up that year were Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut and Up the Line by Robert Silverberg (not currently in our inventory – please use our offline search feature, although we do have a selection of his other works). Up the Line features Judson Daniel Elliott III, a Time Courier who takes tourists on trips to the past, while Slaughterhouse Five follows a World War II vet who has become “unstuck in time” from his time in the war to his future in an alien “zoo”.

 

 

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