Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ten Authors of Series Jen Loves to Reread: Part I

[Editor's Note: Three of the following series are also among Nif's November 2010 Picks.]

Terry Pratchett mixes fantastic silliness with biting political satire.
- Tiffany Aching, starting with The Wee Free Men (HarperCollins, $6.99)
- Discworld series, Night Watch thread, starting with Guards! Guards! (HarperCollins, $7.99)
- Discworld series, Witches thread, starting with Equal Rites (HarperCollins, $7.99)

Laurie King brings Sherlock Holmes out of retirement (with some help from her protagonist).
- Mary Russell series, starting with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (Picador, $15.00)

[Further Note: The Beekeeper's Apprentice is also one of Claudia's February Picks.]

Ursula Le Guin explores the limits of power.
- The Annals of the Western Shore, starting with Gifts (Harcourt, $7.95)
- Earthsea series, starting with A Wizard of Earthsea (Random House, $7.99)
Note: there are now six books in this series, and if you’ve only read the trilogy, it’s time for your world to be turned upside down!
- Catwings, starting with Catwings (Scholastic, $4.99)
Okay, the Catwings series is not as much about power. And yet…

Catherine Gilbert Murdock maintains a perfect voice.
- D.J. Schwenk series, starting with Dairy Queen (Graphia, $8.99)

Scott Westerfeld goes steampunk!
- Leviathan series, starting with Leviathan (Simon & Schuster, $9.99)

[Penultimate Note: Leviathan is also one of Jen's June Picks.]

See here for Part II.

July 2011, Jennifer Sheffield

Friday, July 29, 2011

Erica’s Five Maptastic Reads to Help You Find Your Orientation

I’ll be honest, maps make me anxious. In order to read them they require two very important things: 1) that you know where you are and, 2) that you know where you’re going. This is a surefire way to send me into an existential crisis. I am that girl who hears the Mahogany theme song every time she steps out the door: Do you know where you’re going to?/ Do you like the things that life is showing you?/ Where are you going to?/ Do you know? So, here are several map collections, real and imagined, guaranteed to point me, I mean you, in the right direction.

You are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination by Katherine Harmon (Chronicle, $24.95)
“Fake” maps galore in gorgeous color plates including a Map of Lovemaking and New Map of the Land of Matrimony -- charting stormy seas no doubt.

Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will by Judith Schalansky (Penguin, $28.00)
I’m not planning to set foot on these islands either, but I like that Schalansky’s research and beautiful illustrations provide me with highly esoteric (and highly entertaining) knowledge of seldom visited locales in the event that I find myself in a Robinson Crusoe type situation.

Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas by Rebecca Solnit (University of California Press, $24.95)
Solnit is a master of blending the personal and the historical. Her atlas explores San Francisco thematically, politically and above all personally, while elucidating our modern notions of place.

Transit Maps of the World by Mark Ovenden (Penguin, $25.00)
Yes, a map of Philadelphia’s transit system is featured and it feels quaint and old-timey with its reference to the regional rail lines by their old call numbers (e.g., R7, R8). The Philly map suffers however, from being featured opposite a photo of the Prague subway system which, with its squat train carriages and futuristic tunnels, looks as if you’re shooting toward your destination in a DeLorean.

[Editor's Note: Transit Maps of the World is also one of Jen's June 2010 Picks.]

The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen (Penguin, $16.00)
12 year-old cartographer T.S. is probably the only character I’ve ever met who can map a dinner conversation. His brilliant, inventive illustrations haunt the margins of this quirky, charming novel.

July 2011, Erica David

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Janet’s Five Choices for School Required Summer Reading (OR Does the Philadelphia School System EVER Change the Reading Lists?)

Actually, yes they do. Having three copies of The Color of Water in our house because no one bothered to check the bookcases, I wondered once again whether the school system had ever heard of Alice Walker or James Baldwin or Maya Angelou or... yes, they have. And yes, everyone should read The Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird at least once in their lives, but what about the incredible array of new young adult literature available to us today?

Current young adult authors address issues relevant to our teenagers of the computer age in ways that are engaging, heart-rending, TRUE and resolvable. So here are a few of the classics, a few "are they really still on the lists?" and one relatively current choice. We carry them all and more. Please check out Jen's YA book group for an exceptional selection of new arrivals.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (Little, Brown and Company, $6.99, ©1945)

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (Grand Central Publishing, $7.99, ©1960)

The Learning Tree by Gordon Parks (Ballantine Books, $6.99, ©1963)

The Color of Water by James McBride (Riverhead Books, $15.00, ©1996)

Tangerine by Edward Bloor (Harcourt, $6.95, ©1997)

July 2011, Janet Elfant

Monday, July 25, 2011

Nif's Five Books to read to Micah (age 5 months)

Look! Look! by Peter Linenthal (Penguin, $6.99)
Detailed, high contrast images made this the first book Micah really enjoyed.

I Kissed the Baby by Mary Murphy (Random House, $6.99)
All the animals want to meet, greet, and help take care of the baby. High contrast pictures! Big kissy noises! I find this one really fun to read.

Mommy, Mama, and Me by Lesléa Newman (Random House, $7.99)
Maleka gave us this one and it is super cute! I love love LOVE that this toddler's routine with lesbian moms is so very ordinary. No preachiness here, just genuine family life. To properly capture our family dynamics, we substitute "Mummy" wherever it says "Mommy" and "Mommy" wherever it says "Mama."

But Not the Hippopotamus by Sandra Boynton (Simon and Schuster, $5.99)
Bright primary colors and the rollicking rhythm of the rhymes make this one quite appealing now that Micah is a bit bigger. It's like singing him a song, only with pictures and no tune. Sandra Boynton's Barnyard Dance (Workman, $6.95) is pleasing for the same reasons.

[Editor's Note: Barnyard Dance is also one of Janet's August 2010 Picks.]

Little Composter by Jan Gerardi (Random House, $6.99)
We had to get this one because I'm a compulsive composter. It rhymes! There are flaps to lift in all different directions! Micah likes it.

July 2011, Jennifer Woodfin

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Jen's Five Fictional Women Disguised as Men (Plus One Book of Nonfiction)

Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce (Simon & Schuster, $6.99)
Alanna of Trebond will earn her knighthood.

Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett (HarperCollins, $7.99)
Polly Perks will bring her brother back from the war.

Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt (Simon & Schuster, $6.99)
Dicey Tillerman will get her family a home.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld (Simon & Schuster, $9.99)
Deryn Sharp will fly.

Blindspot: A Novel of Art, Passion, and Politics in the Age of the American Revolution, by a Gentleman in Exile and a Lady in Disguise by Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore (Spiegel & Grau, $15.00)
Fanny Easton will learn portraiture.

NOTE: While all the other books on this list are suitable for teens or younger kids, Blindspot ... not so much.

And also . . .
No Girls Allowed: Tales of Daring Women Dressed as Men for Love, Freedom and Adventure by Susan Hughes, illustrated by Willow Dawson (Kids Can Press, $16.95 hardcover, $8.95 paperback)

June 2011, Jennifer Sheffield

Sunday, July 10, 2011

5 Books that help Claudia not to sweat the small stuff

The humid, sweltering summer days are upon us, which translates, yes into sweat
(especially in Philadelphia). The following books will help you to "keep your cool" : in the heat, in life's ups and downs, transitions, daily routines etc., etc., etc. If the high temperatures make you suffer, at least you do not want to sweat over the small things in life.

Radical Acceptance: Embracing your life with the heart of a Buddha by Tara Brach (Bantam, $16)
I recently heard a talk with Tara Brach in Philadelphia. She pointed out how important it is to learn to love yourself and by doing so becoming more forgiving. Throughout the day put your hand onto your heart, whisper I love you and forgive the person who is honking the car horn at you.

The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh (Broadway Books, $14.95)

The Vietnamese Buddhist monk, poet and peacemaker applies Buddha's teachings to your daily lives.

Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh (Pantheon Books, $9.95)

This is one of my dearest reads and I take it always to the beach with me. The author shares her pearls (or may I say shells) of wisdom about youth and age; love; peace and transitions with gentle tenderness. After reading the chapter about the Moon Shell you feel calm and peaceful and more kind. Read it!!!

Loving Kindness by Sharon Salzberg (Shambala Classics, $14.95)
Have you finished book no.3 ?! Good! Then go and top off your gained wisdom with this insightful exploration of the deepest meaning of empathy and caring. Your heart will overflow with goodness and equanimity and you might want to hug the person who honked the horn at you and show him that its not worth to sweat the small stuff.

Zen Birds by Vanessa Sorensen (Adventure Publications, $8.95)

If you favor delicate and beautiful illustrations you definitely want to take a peek at this little booklet. Inspired by traditional Asian brushwork and haiku this pearl will calm you down and soften your heart.

Please devour the recommendations and you will never lose your cool.

June 2011, Claudia Vesterby

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Erica’s Top 5 Illustrated Wonders

I have had it with words this month. Seriously, it’s too hot for them. I had a My Fair Lady moment the other day: “Never do I ever want to hear another word/ There isn’t one I haven’t heard.” As a result there are several authors I’d like to shake vigorously (I’m talkin’ to you Henry James, you elaborate comma-splicer)! So I give you five books where pictures are the gracious, graphic and anything but garrulous stars.

Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss (Harper Collins, $29.99)

Breathtaking and genre-bending, this illustrated biography—for lack of a better term—blends history, science and art, weaving the Curies’ personal anecdotes with scientific fact into one seamless, startlingly romantic tale.

Ramayana: Divine Loophole by Sanjay Patel (Chronicle Books, $29.95)

Patel brings us a beautifully drawn and easy-to-digest version of the Ramayana, the epic legend of a blue-skinned prince which lies at the heart of Hindu mythology. His fanciful drawings remind me of Genndy Tarktakovsky’s mythic animated series Samurai Jack, with their heavy lines, sharp angles and flat two-dimensionality that makes them read almost like paper-cut artwork on the page.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Illustrations by Camille Rose Garcia (Harper Collins, $16.99)
Garcia’s illustrated Alice is a spidery-lashed maiden with kohl-rimmed eyes who seems to exist at the visual crossroads where goth and rockabilly meet. Is she a troubled innocent at the mercy of the Queen of Hearts or a Grade A mischief maker whose pointy teeth indicate a vampiric nature? Garcia’s beautiful plates make you wonder.

Robot Dreams by Sara Varon (First Second, $16.99)
My latest book crush. There’s something undeniably tender about this graphic novel, completely devoid of speech bubbles and dialogue, that just gets me all choked up. Maybe it’s because it’s about an ill-fated friendship between two of my favorite kinds of “almost-people:” dogs and robots. Sometimes “almost-people” are even more human than real people, especially when they dream.

The Steampunk Bible by Jeff Vandermeer with S.J. Chambers (Abrams, $24.95)
Everything you always wanted to know about steampunk but were afraid to ask has been collected in this splendiloquent visual compendium which charts the influence of this fantastical genre in fashion, literature and art. A perfect read for those long, cross-country dirigible trips.

June 2011, Erica David