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Monday, September 29, 2014

Book Review: First Love by James Patterson & Emily Raymond

            This month I have something a bit different to recommend; a Young Adult novel written by James Patterson and Emily Raymond: First Love.

            This title was published earlier this year and tells the story of two teenagers who embark on an amazing journey of discovery. Axi is a sixteen year old girl who has suffered much through her life: a younger sister who died of a cancer that she herself is battling, a mother who chose to leave her family after the sister’s death and Axi’s diagnosis, and a father who is slowly drinking away his sorrows. Axi was always the good-girl; predictable, responsible, and eager to please others…until one day she decides it is time to break free of her good-girl ways and drag her best friend Robinson off on an adventure across the United States. Robinson’s good humour, bad-boy ways, and incredible magnetism helps Axi break free from her fears and find the courage to ask for what she wants most in the world.

            I would recommend this title to teens (or adults) who have enjoyed stories written by author Lurlene McDaniel, Jodi Picoult, or even Nicholas Sparks. The storyline is perhaps a bit predictable, but it cleverly mirrors the main theme of the book: It really is about the journey- not the destination!

            So grab some ice cream or chocolate (or whatever your go-to comfort food of choice may be,) and sit down for a few minutes with this title. I don’t think you will be able to put it down for very long! The library has many copies of this book available and it is also available as an eBook.
Review by Diana McCarthy, community librarian in Falkland

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Book Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

        I am happy to report that I have just finished reading Diana Gabaldon’s eighth title in the Outlander Series: “ Written in my own Heart’s Blood.” This title takes place directly after book seven and features more of the characters, adventures, joys, and sorrows dedicated readers of this series love. But for those who aren’t interested in this series, or haven’t yet caught the reading bug for these stories; I would like to introduce you to something a little bit different.
         “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” (also available as an ebook) was published back in 2011 by Ransom Riggs (this being his first novel) and is considered to be a children’s chapter book. I read this title last year and was thoroughly impressed with the storyline, themes, and characters. I see that Tim Burton is working on a movie version of this story set to be released sometime next year…and that a sequel to this story was published this past January.
         The main character, Jacob Portman, witnesses his tall-tale-telling grandfather’s death at the hands of a hideous monster that apparently only Jacob can see. Shortly after, Jacob travels with his father to a small island near Wales which is near the orphanage that his grandfather had lived in for a time when he was a child. Jacob sets out to explore the remains of the old orphanage but instead encounters far more than he could ever have imagined. (The plot is rather twisty and complex so I won’t explain it all and ruin the magic for you!)
         If you like adventure stories with a bit of “spooky” this would be a great choice. I would recommend this title to adults, young adults, and kids alike (though some younger kids might find the book a bit disturbing…but with some parental discussion they should manage just fine!) If you want to beat the rush that will likely happen when trailers for the movie start coming out; pick up a copy today! The library or a good bookstore should be able to provide you with a copy of this amazing story.

Book Review by Diana McCarthy, Community Librarian in Falkland

Monday, September 15, 2014

Book Review: The Black Count by Tom Reiss

The Black Count (2012) by Tom Reiss tells the extraordinary true story of General Alex Dumas, the
forgotten hero who inspired such classics as The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. The man is virtually unknown today but his story still resonates because his son Alexandre Dumas used it to create some of the best-loved heroes of literature. The story of his father, of mixed racial and cultural heritage born in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) to a slave mother and a French nobleman father, is almost completely lost to history solely due to his race.

 But Reiss brings this remarkable man to life in The Black Count. The book is brilliantly researched and the author draws on the material Alexandre Dumas incorporated into his own novels and memoir. The work explores the life of his from the time he arrived in France, through his schooling as a sword-fighting member of the French aristocracy and his subsequent rise from a lowly private in the dragoons to a respected general who marched into Egypt at Napoleon’s side.

 Dumas came of age at a unique time in history during the French Revolution, a brief period of equality in the French empire. During this period numerous opportunities arose for the son of a slave that would not have emerged 20 years before or even 20 years later. Dumas, a dynamic individual of tremendous courage and physical gifts, took full advantage of the opportunities and ended up commanding armies at the height of the Revolution in campaigns across Europe and the Middle East, only to one day face an implacable enemy he could not defeat. 
Also available as an audiobook.

Review by Peter Critchley of the Vernon Branch

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Book Review: The 900 Days by Harrison Salisbury

A great American author once wrote that truth is stranger than fiction. In fact, truth is sometimes far stranger than any fiction ever created. 

If you dare, read The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad, is a riveting narrative nonfiction epic by Harrison E. Salisbury about one of the harrowing and heroic chapters in the annals of history. In nine hundred days, beginning in 1941 when a German army blockaded the city, as many people died in Leningrad as the entire war losses suffered by the United States in the whole of its history – nearly a million and a half men, women and children. They died fighting in citizen militias on the front line, fell to the incessant German shelling that pounded the streets and avenues of city, starved in their unheated apartments and hospitals and froze to death in the frigid cold and deep snow of the brutal Russian winter.
It is also believed that some even died to feed a thriving market in human flesh that sprang up in The Haymarket, a great peasant market before the war but now operated by fat, oily, steel-eyed men and women, the most terrible people of their day. There is no question people practiced cannibalism on a large scale during the darkest and most desperate months of the siege: the evidence clearly shows that people butchered corpses on a widespread basis.

More people died in the Leningrad blockade than ever died in a modern city – anywhere and anytime. But 600,000 people remained when the Russians finally broke the siege and Salisbury weaves the stories of these survivors, and those who died in this city of ice and death, through the fabric of this searing narrative.
Review by Peter Critchley from the Vernon Branch of the ORL

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Importance of Early Literacy

Storytimes resume in September, so this seems like a good time to talk about the importance of early literacy.

Early literacy is defined as the pre-reading skills children acquire from ages 0-5, which help them prepare for and succeed in school.

Children are born with 100 billion brain cells, the same number as adults, and 85% of those cells are developed before kindergarten.  Brain researchers liken brain development to building a house, and the first three years are vital to building a strong foundation and framework. The bonds a child forms in his early years are crucial to future learning and success. Parents are children’s first teachers, so at the Library we work to educate parents on the importance of shared reading and learning experiences. The Library’s programs and collections emphasize the five early literacy practices, as outlined in the American Library Association’s “Every Child Ready to Read” program: Sing, Talk, Read, Write and Play.

Singing (which includes nursery rhymes) increases children’s awareness of and sensitivity to the sounds of words. It doesn’t matter if you are a “good singer” – children will respond to your voice before all others. Have fun with silly songs and bounces, or soothe children with lullabies and gentle swings. The Library has a great collection of children’s music CDs and nursery rhyme books.

Talking with children helps them build their vocabulary and learn oral language. Self-expression and narrative skills are crucial to communication and developing interpersonal relationships. Talk to your child about your day together, ask them questions, and narrate your activities (e.g.: “Now we are putting on our shoes, so we can go and play at the park”). The Library is a great place for your child to interact with others his or her own age!

Reading together, or shared reading, remains the single most effective way to help children become proficient readers. Expose children to a variety of books and authors – your library card allows you to borrow up to 100 items for 3 weeks at a time, so borrow away! Our board book collection is intended for our youngest readers – the thick cardboard, laminated pages stand up to exploring hands (and teeth!). Let your child practice turning the pages, point out pictures together…let your child have fun with books. It’s also great to be a reader role model – if your child sees you enjoying books and newspapers, they will learn that reading is an enjoyable pastime.

Writing, scribbling and colouring all help children learn fine motor skills and learn that written words stand for spoken language. Pick up your weekly colouring sheet at the Library and help your child practice writing his or her name. Point to words when you read together. Use alphabet magnets to put together sounds and words on the fridge.

Playing helps children put thoughts into words and think symbolically, so they understand that spoken and written words represent real objects and experiences. Play develops their imagination, creativity and social skills. Children will often mimic real life situations (grocery store shopping or “playing library”), helping them make sense of their world.

Storytimes for babies through to preschoolers are held at branches across the region!
Details about these programs, and others, can be found on our website:
Have fun visiting the Library and exploring these early literacy practices with your child.


Written by Elena Doebele, Head Librarian for Westbank Branch

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Book Review: Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson

Battle Cry of Freedom (1988) by James M. McPherson is an indispensable modern interpretation of
the American Civil War by one of its leading historians. In fact, this volume is now considered the standard one-volume history of the great conflict – a war that killed more Americans than all of the country’s wars combined. It is also considered the most readable one-volume history. The author deftly melds the latest research with a traditional understanding of the issues to produce an incredibly concise and brisk narrative that seamlessly integrates the political, social and military events of two decades that began with the outbreak of one war with Mexico and the ending of another at Appomattox. 

This dramatic, thoroughly researched work vividly recounts the momentous events that preceded the Civil War – the Dred Scott decision, the Lincoln-Douglas debates, John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry – and shifts into a stunning chronicle of the war itself. The battles, strategic maneuvering, politics and personalities serve as a framework for an insightful discussion of the political, economic, social and diplomatic events. And MacPherson’s innovative views on such fundamental questions as the slavery expansion issue in the 1850s, the origins of the Republican Party, the causes of secession and anti-war opposition in both the North and South are more than noteworthy and deserve the full attention of the reader.
Review by Peter Critchley from the Vernon Branch