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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Book Review: Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke

The best work of James Lee Burke, an American author who grew up in Louisiana, probably justifies the belief of the Denver Post that he is “America’s best novelist” working today. A great example is the Tin Roof Blowdown (2008), a novel that is meticulously textured and as vibrant and vital as the thick, green stands of fern and white and purple irises of the Louisiana swamps and bayous.

 This is the 16th novel in the author’s award-winning Dave Robicheaux series, a tale of sin and redemption set in the nightmare world of Hurricane Katrina. It just might be the most complete work he’s ever written. When Detective Robicheaux’s department is assigned to investigate the shooting of two looters in a wealthy neighborhood, he learns they ransacked the home of New Orleans’s most powerful and ruthless mobster. Now he must find the surviving looter before others do and in the process learn the fate of a priest who disappeared in the ill-fated ninth ward trying to rescue his trapped parishioners.

  The author’s luxuriant prose draws the reader into a swamp of greed and violence. Grace and perdition touch each of the characters and the final outcome of the struggles they face is never quite certain, much like what occurred in the aftermath of Katrina. Mr. Burke often uses Louisiana more as a character than a setting in the Robicheaux novels and this time the approach works wonderfully to convey the true horrors and add another dimension to the tale.

Review by Peter Critchley from the Vernon Branch

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Book Review: Starting Now by Debbie Macomber

       Last week I was spending some time checking up on my favorite authors looking for any new titles that may have snuck through and been published without my noticing… and I found a title by Debbie Macomber called “Starting Now” that had been published back in April of 2013. To my delight I had not in fact read it (I am very paranoid about this right now…) and began picking it up to read a couple of pages whenever I had a few minutes.

         The story focuses on a woman who has spent her life trying to attain a partnership in a law firm and who suddenly finds herself unemployed, packing on some excess poundage, and in serious need of a lifestyle re-evaluation. As she begins to navigate this new life without the debilitating demands of her career; she learns what truly gives her life meaning and joy. It is by no means a truly enlightening novel (the messages in the story are important but predictable) but the characters and storylines are enjoyable. It is a perfect “weekend-away” or “beach-read.” For those who are familiar with this author- it is a part of the “Blossom Street” series.

         So if you are looking for a nice and gentle story that you can pick up and read quickly, or one you want to savour slowly over a week or two- this might be one to try. Copies are available at the library and I am quite certain you can find it for your e-reader/e-device, or at a local book store. It is not necessary to have read any of the other titles in the series- but if you enjoy it there are several others you can try!

Book Review by Diana McCarthy, Community Librarian for Falkland

Friday, July 4, 2014

Beware of Summer Brain Drain!

Assistant Community Librarian Raphael Desjarlais.
     Raphael not only works at the Westbank and Mission branches of the Okanagan Regional Library, but she is also the School Librarian at Our Lady of Lourdes Elementary School in West Kelowna; consequently, Raphael is a great person to ask about book recommendations for school-age kids!
     Raphael and her family have lived in the Lakeview area of West Kelowna for the past 17 years.

Beware, Summer Brain Drain!
     A disturbing but well documented fact is that children’s academic performance declines by approximately one month during the summer. This loss, called Summer Slide, or Summer Learning Loss, or Brain Drain, is cumulative over time. Children who do not read during the summer can have their reading skills slip entire grade levels during the course of their elementary years.
     Children often stop learning in the summer and instead focus on indoor activities that are sedentary and involve electronic devices like video games, television and social media sites. Research shows that if they participate in summer reading programs they can actually make academic gains over the summer. In order to stem academic decline children need to be exposed to high-quality summer learning opportunities. The catch is, where to find these opportunities?
     One easy, free method is to simply visit the library. We offer a variety of programs, materials and electronic resources that expose children to learning and cultural experiences. The Westbank Library‘s Summer Reading Club offers weekly reading activities and cultural programs including a magic show, clown, drawing class, puppet show and balloon art. There are also weekly contests with prizes.
     Every study recommends taking children to the library to stem reading loss, so please visit the Westbank branch either in person or online this summer!

Series Recommendations for Summer Reading:

Kung Pow Chicken by Cyndi Marko
This series is an early chapter book for children who have just become independent readers. Low vocabulary but high interest content with illustrations on every page.

Bad Kitty by Nick Burel
Again a high interest, low vocabulary book with lots of illustrations. Appealing to both boys and girls this book is for emergent readers that can decode information from illustrations and contextual clues.

Nancy Clancy by Jane O’Connor
Transitioning from picture books to chapter books, the Fancy Nancy character with her excellent vocabulary now includes educational themes in her story lines.

Land of Stories Series by Chris Colfer
Aimed at pre-teens and written by “Glee” actor Chris Colfer this series is an entertaining and imaginative story of kids in a fairy tale world. Even though some of the books reviews have been critical of Colfer’s writing, I have not found a child who did not enjoy the book.

Did You Know?
The Okanagan Regional Library’s website features educational databases as well as an online catalogue where children can browse for library material. One recommended database is TumbleBook Library for Kids. TumbleBooks is an online, multilingual tool that allows children to read electronically. The site offers story books, chapter books, math stories, puzzles, educational games and a library of animated books that is an excellent tool for emergent or beginner readers. Access this database free with your Library card!

Elena Dobel is the Branch Head for the Westbank Branch of the Okanagan Regional Library. Her columns run monthly in the Westside Weekly newspaper.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Science Fiction Book Talk!

     The genesis of science fiction can be traced directly to the publication of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley more than two centuries ago. It grew so popular in the decades that followed to where today the genre  greatly influences modern popular culture through movies, television, books and a myriad of computer games.
     It is not every reader’s cup of tea but some science fiction authors are terrific storytellers and their work is easily accessible to readers of other genres, especially when time travel is used as a device to drive the story. Everyone can identify with the thought of travelling time.
      Blackout and All Clear (2010), a stunning two-volume work, clearly illustrates multiple prize-winning author Connie Willis well deserves the critical acclaim she’s earned as an incomparable storyteller. The first novel in the series is an enormously entertaining tale of time travel, war and the deeds—great and small—of the ordinary people who shape history.
     Oxford in 2060 is a chaotic place, with scores of time-travelling historians being sent into the past. Michael Davies is preparing to go to Pearl Harbor, Merope Ward is struggling with a group of bratty 1940s evacuees and Polly Churchill’s next assignment will be as a shopgirl in the middle of London’s Blitz. But the time-travel lab is now cancelling assignments for no apparent reason and switching everyone’s schedules.
     When Michael, Merope and Polly finally travel to World War II it only grows worse. They face blackouts, unexploded bombs, dive-bombing Stukas, rationing, shrapnel, V-1s and two of the most incorrigible children in all of history, to say nothing of a growing unease that not only are their assignments but the war and history itself are spinning out of control. The once-reliable mechanisms of time travel are showing significant glitches and the three heroes begin to question their most firmly held belief that no historian can possibly change the past.
     Blackout and All Clear reveal a side of World War II seldom seen before: a dangerous desperate world where there are no civilians and everybody, from the Queen to the lowliest barmaid, is determined to do what they can to help a beleaguered nation survive.
     The Map of Time (2011) by renowned Spanish author Felix Palma is a riveting thriller that explores the impact of time travel in three intersecting narratives. The opening chapter of the story, set in 1896 England, starts out like a tragic Victorian romance. Andrew Harrington plans to take his own life, despondent over the death years earlier of his lover, the last victim of Jack the Ripper. Meanwhile, 21-year-old Claire Haggerty plots to escape her restrictive role by escaping to the future via Murray’s Time Travel, a new commercial concern that offers such a trip for a hefty fee.
     Finally, Colin Garrett of Scotland Yard believes a weapon from the future could only have caused a fatal wound on a murder victim. H.G. Wells, the author of The Time Machine, becomes involved and serves to link all three stories. The Map of Time is a wonderful blend of genres, including science fiction, steampunk, mystery and romance, and will appeal to a wide range of readers even if they seldom read science fiction.
    The Accidental Time Machine (2007) by Joe W. Haldeman is an unusually insightful and evocative tale that shines. Matt Fuller, a likeable underachiever stuck in a rut as a lab research assistant at MIT in the near future, is startled when a calibrator he has built begins to disappear and reappear, apparently springing forward in time for progressively longer intervals. The young research assistant eventually develops a time machine but when he claims to have done so it costs him his job, girlfriend and possibly his freedom.
     A keen curiosity and a series of unfortunate accidents hurtles Matt through different futures and he gradually becomes more adaptable and resourceful as the experiences hone his character. The young woman he rescues from a techno-religious dictatorship offers him a chance to develop a mature relationship. He also teams up with an AI that intends to press on to the end of time and this forces Matt to decide what he truly wants from life.
     The Accidental Time Machine is a brisk cautionary fable that ultimately spins a humorous, provocative tale that in tone is reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys, another bewitching tale. It is also easily accessible and well worth the effort.

Reviews by Peter Critchley from the Vernon Branch

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Summer Reading Club Kicks Off With a Lot of Funny Business!

Branches throughout the Okanagan Regional Library district are now taking registration for the 2014 Summer Reading Club!

No need for kids to be bored this summer. There will be a lot of funny business going on this summer for kids aged 5 to 12. Best of all – it’s free!

Registration in the ORL Summer Reading Club includes an awesome reading log, chances to win great prizes, lots of special events including magician Leif David, and great programs in the library to help your kids enjoy the world of reading. The theme for this year’s Summer Reading Club is “Funny Business” and our librarians have developed a summer full of opportunities for your kids to laugh out loud. Find out more information about Summer Reading Club here, and discover the details in your area here.

Travelling around a bit this summer? Kids are welcome to drop in at any branch of the ORL to take out books, get stickers on their reading logs and participate in the special events. Please note that some events require preregistration because of space restraints. Please call the branch to preregister your child

Some branches are also offering teen reading clubs and preschool storytimes – check out your branch page for more information.

We hope your kids have a lot of fun at the library this summer!

Monday, June 16, 2014

2014 Summer Reading Club Community Story Award Winner

All Summer by Beverley Rintoul from Rossland Public Library

"All summer we had a delightful 8 year-old boy attend the Summer  Reading Club. He came every time, took part in everything, helped  with clean-up and almost cried when told our student was going back  to university.

However, he struggled to read. We spent time finding books that were interesting but not difficult to read. And still he struggled.

Last week I ran into his mum and we talked about what fun he'd had. She said she was frustrated by the lack of improvement in his  reading until the day before, when suddenly, out of a clear blue sky, he read recipe instructions to his dad without stumbling or stopping to sound out words.

She believes it was because we spent the time, making him believe that there were books out there for him."
What's your Summer Reading Club story? Has your child or someone you know been positively impacted by the program? Let us know in the comments section!
For more information about the Summer Reading Club and fun programs happening through the Okanagan Regional Library system please click here.


Friday, June 13, 2014

National Aboriginal Day Book Recommendations

Saturday, June 21 is National Aboriginal Day, so this month I thought I would recommend some great local First Nations authors that I’ve enjoyed reading recently:

I See Me by Margaret Manuel

This baby book is filled with images of baby eating, sleeping and playing. Little ones love to see pictures of other babies! A PDF file of all the words in Okanagan (Sylix) is also available for download at Theytus Books ( Margaret Manuel was born in Kamloops, raised in Merritt, and is of Okanagan and Shuswap heritage.

Dancing with the Cranes by Jeannette Armstrong

This is a gentle story for families about love, loss and the circle of life. Chi’s momma is expecting a baby, but Chi is having a hard time being happy about it. Chi misses Temma (her grandma), who has passed away. Chi’s momma and daddy help Chi understand life and death as part of nature. Armstrong’s language evokes beautiful imagery and, as a nature lover myself, I loved the descriptions of the cranes’ migration. Jeannette Armstrong is from the Okanagan Nation and was born and raised on the Penticton Reserve. We have many of her books at the Library, including Slash, which is recognized as an important work of literature and studied in high schools, colleges and universities. Illustrator Ron Hall is an Aboriginal artist of Okanagan and Thompson ancestry and is a member of the Osoyoos Band.

Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

I loved this novel, a Canada Reads selection in 2013. Saul Indian Horse is dying in a hospice. He looks back on his life as a northern Ojibway, when as a young boy he was taken forcibly from the land and his family and sent to a residential school. Salvation comes for a while through his incredible gifts as a hockey player. But in the harsh realities of 1960s Canada, he battles obdurate racism and the spirit-destroying effects of cultural alienation and displacement. Although from the Ojibway Wabasseemoong First Nation in northwestern Ontario, Wagamese now lives, writes and teaches in Kamloops. His newest book, Medicine Walk, was just released in April 2014 and you can find copies of it on the Library’s Quick Reads (7 day loan) shelf! 

Nature Power: In the Spirit of an Okanagan Storyteller by Harry Robinson; compiled & edited by Wendy Wickwire

This second edition features stories of the shoo-MISH, or “nature helpers" that assist humans and sometimes provide them with special powers. The concept of nature power is central to most Native cultures and is based on the understanding that a form of spiritual energy animates all things in the natural world. Robinson’s short stories capture the oral storytelling tradition. One of my favourite stories, “You Can’t See Me, But Just Listen,” tells of a man who goes hunting and hears a voice predicting future development. Robinson was a highly respected Okanagan elder who spent his life in the Similkameen Valley. He was one of the Okanagan people’s greatest storytellers.

Stories from Westbank First Nation Women and More Stories from Westbank First Nation Women
These DVDs, produced by Rick Sagayadan in cooperation with BC Museums Association, look at the role of Aboriginal women, whose voices are often under-represented. The first DVD includes a tribute to the late elder, Lala San Pierre, for her contributions to the preservation of cultural and traditional practices, especially through oral storytelling.

Part two celebrates the strength and fortitude of four generations of First Nation women, many of whom have faced the challenges of raising families while trying to make a living under extreme circumstances. Both films emphasize the vital role indigenous women play in maintaining cultural and traditional practices within their communities.

Be sure to ask at the Library for other recommended reads by local First Nations authors!
Check out these booklists on the ORL Catalogue for more recommendations:
        ORL Reads - Okanagan First Nation history, stories & legends
        ORL Reads - Kids - First Nations Books
Learn more about National Aboriginal Day here.

Recommendations by Elena Doebelle, Librarian at Westbank Branch