by Natalie Robins and Steven M. L. Aronson
A must read for all who thrive on true crime stories, Savage Grace is a stimulating and fascinating chronicle of how a wealthy family's saga ended in brutality and sadness. The Baekeland family is at the center of this story. Leo Baekeland created a form of plastic known as Bakelite in the early 20th century and the manufacture of that material became the source of his family's vast wealth. Savage Grace is the story of Leo's son Brooks, his wife Barbara and their son Tony. Even though Brooks never worked as an adult, he and his family led a luxurious life as they wandered from one American or European locale to another with their lifestyle financed by his inheritance. This gypsy life took its toll on Tony; his education was scattered and erratic, while his family life became wildly unorthodox. His troubled life created terrible consequences for the Baekeland family. Robins and Aronson do a masterful job of telling this sad and murderous tale through interviews with friends and family members of Brooks, Barbara and Tony Baekeland, diary entries of those involved, police records and many other sources. Savage Grace is a gripping chronicle of this family and the tragic events which they suffered.
January 2009 Archives
by Natalie Robins and Steven M. L. Aronson
The House in the Night,
by Susan Marie Swanson
And the Award goes to....
The Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association has picked picture book The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson as this year's Caldecott Winner. Fans of Goodnight Moon will love Swanson's soothing text featuring a small house where the light used in the illustrations by Beth Krommes explores its rooms, books, and the night sky. Check out the ALA website for a list of previous Caldecott winners for most distinguished illustrated book in children's literature.
The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman
The Newbery Award for 2009 is The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman for his story of an "average" boy named Nobody Owens who happens to be raised by ghosts. Gaiman is also the author of Coraline, the spooky book about a girl who walks through the door in her house to find an alternate world where her "other" family is waiting. Past Newbery Awards for distinguished contribution in children's literature can also be found on the ALA website.
The Houdini Box,
by Brian Selznick
If you are a fan of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Selznick's Caldecott winner from 2008, this reissue of Selznick's 1991 story The Houdini Box is sure to please. An "I Can Read" book aimed at young readers, this is a story that will please lower elementary age readers and reluctant older readers. Selznick weaves a mystery about a young boy who finds a box that may contain Houdini's secrets. Includes Selznick's trademark sketch drawings, as well as interesting facts about Houdini's life.
Knucklehead: tall tales & mostly true stories about growing up Scieszka , by Jon Scieszka
Jon Scieska's tales of growing up in a family of 6 boys gives an insight into why this guy is so funny! The author of the Time Warp Trio series, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, and The Trucktown series tells hysterical stories of Catholic school, his parents and of course growing up (and wrestling and tricking and playing) with his brothers. 3rd grade to middle school readers
by Elise Broach
The Shakespeare's Secret author writes a tale about a beetle who is truly an artist. Melvin discovers his talent when he uses a pen and ink set to create a beautiful sketch of the world outside the window of the apartment where he lives with his beetle family. The apartment belongs to humans, including eleven year old James, who becomes friends with Melvin. The sketch brings the two together and sets them on an adventure and mystery when priceless artwork is stolen from the Metropolitan Museum of art. 3rd grade to middle school readers.
by Allan Ahlberg
I love this picture book about a pencil who creates a humorous world of characters who demand to be painted, named, fixed and what happens when an eraser enters their world. Preschool and elementary school children will laugh out loud. Ahlberg is the author of many popular picture books for children including the Runaway Dinner, The Adventures of Bert and the recent Baby in the Hat.
The Midnight Meat Train
Based on Clive Barker's short story of the same name (from his critically-acclaimed Books of Blood collection of short stories), The Midnight Meat Train tells the tale of Leon, a New Yorker who discovers nefarious goings-on aboard the late-night subway train. Following the clues surrounding a string of disappearances leads Leon to a mysterious man named Mahogany who is a cattle butcher by day and... something else by night. I don't want to spoil the story for you by revealing much more, but I will say that the movie shares a theme often found in others of the same genre: if you chase the darkness long enough, you just may find it chasing you.
While there are some departures from Barker's original story, the movie version does manage to stay true to the spirit of the original, though admittedly there is less explanation of the origins and purpose of those behind the disappearances than I would have liked. But apart from any script shortcomings, Ryûhei Kitamura's excellent direction combines with a solid cast and some nail-biting cinematography to provide a film experience that horror aficionados everywhere are sure to enjoy.
Three Cups of Tea ,
by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
Three Cups of Tea has gained world-wide interest in Greg Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute he founded. With the help of journalist David Oliver Relin, Three Cups of Tea is an inspirational and very well-written tale of how Mortenson became determined to help educate the young children who live in the wild, mountainous regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. An avid adventurer and mountaineer, Mortenson originally set out to climb the notoriously dangerous K2 in 1993. Failing to achieve his goal, Mortenson became totally lost in the Karakoram Mountains of northeastern Pakistan. Found and aided by local tribesmen, he ended up in the village of Korphe. While Mortenson was disappointed with not climbing K2 successfully, he became totally enamored with Korphe and its population. In particular, he noticed the lack of schools and availability of education for Korphe's children. He was became dedicated to the goal of building schools in this area as the way to combat the extreme, fundamentalist religious training that has contributed to the violence in the world. Following this goal, he organized the Central Asia Institute and through it, he has built numerous schools throughout the mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Three Cups of Tea is a great reading experience and is highly recommended. For those readers who become interested in this story, it is suggested that they visit www.ikat.org to see great photographs of that area of the world and read more about Mortenson's mission.
The Dark Side : The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals,
by Jane Mayer
This is an extremely timely, readable and fascinating study of the Bush administration's response to the 9/11 attacks. The Dark Side has received much praise and it is so-well deserved! Mayer's book grew out of a series of articles she wrote for The New Yorker, for which she is a staff writer. The subtitle so aptly describes the book: "The inside story of how the war on terror turned into a war on American ideals." Indeed, as Mayer shows, much of the response was led by Vice President Dick Cheney as he and his staff created procedures to arrest anyone who was the suspected, in even the remotest way, of knowing anything about the attack. Habeas corpus was clearly disregarded as were any international treaties or agreements regarding the treatment of individuals suspected of international war crimes. Mayer documents these developments in detail; footnotes are provided as well as an extensive bibliography. Looming over her study is the question of the use of torture on those captured. The actual methods of torture used are described in detail. Additionally, the origin of the use of the Guantanamo Bay camp as a prison for those suspected terrorists is also documented. With these two topics so hotly debated in current politics, The Dark Side becomes an extremely important source of information. Mayer has written a remarkably important book and is highly recommended.
The Other Queen,
by Philippa Gregory
For those who have already enthusiastically read Philippa Gregory's books in her Tudor series, with The Other Boleyn Girl being her most popular, The Other Queen will be a real treat of pure reading enjoyment. And, for those readers who have not read Gregory's books, this should entice them to read her other fine works, especially those historical novels associated with the Tudor era of English history. "The Other Queen" is Mary, Queen of Scots who, as a cousin to Queen Elizabeth I, had what many in England considered a claim to the English throne that was more valid than that of Queen Elizabeth I. As the book begins, Mary has been exiled to England from Scotland and is literally under house arrest by Elizabeth as a way to control her movement and limit her ability to campaign for the English throne. Her "hosts" are the Earl of Shrewsbury and his wife Bess of Hardwick. Gregory uses three voices to tell her story : those of the Earl, Bess and Queen Mary. The Earl and Bess are at first delighted to be chosen by Queen Elizabeth to house Mary. They think this is a true sign of wonderful recognition and favor by their Queen. Yet, reality sets in as Elizabeth keeps Mary captive at their house and they have to cover much of the expense involved in that situation. Their life is further complicated when the Earl begins to fall in love with Mary. Thus, resentment sets in as their time guarding Mary drags on. The third voice is that of Mary, who is desperate for freedom and the crowns of England and Scotland that she adamantly believes are hers. Gregory is a master at creating terrifically readable, well researched and enjoyable books. For those who want to read a more detailed life of Mary, Queen of Scots, Antonia Fraser's Mary Queen of Scots is highly recommended.
Bad Blood, by Linda Fairstein
In her ninth mystery featuring Alexandra Cooper as a Manhattan assistant district attorney, Fairstein has written a fast-paced and intriguing story involving, in part, long simmering family disputes among those who build water tunnels below New York City. Fairstein obviously did her research well and the details about these tunnels are not only fascinating, but come into play as Cooper uncovers decades-old murder crimes. Other threads of the story involve the murder trial of a well known New Yorker accused of murdering his wife and aspects of Cooper's private life. Above or below ground, New York City comes alive with Fairstein's great writing and she provides a highly-recommended reading experience.
by Mark Alpert
Mark Albert, a contributing writer to Scientific American, makes a great debut as a book author with his thriller Final Theory. Albert has created an intriguing character in David Swift, a physics professor at Columbia University who has also written about Albert Einstein and his famous theories. Swift is dramatically called to the bedside of an older theoretical physicist who received a brutal beating from a mysterious intruder in his home. This physicist, who had worked with Einstein, confides in Swift before he dies, that Einstein's unified final theory had been fully developed by Einstein, contrary to the belief that it had not. Swift is also given clues as to how to find this theory. As the story develops, there are many competing factions, government agents and terrorists along with Swift who are searching for the facts about Einstein's final theory. Albert's great skill is to make the scientific theories, which are a great part of the story, understandable to the layman. This is a great, fun thriller to read.
April in Paris,
by Michael Wallner
In his first novel, Michael Wallner has written a highly readable tale set in Nazi-occupied Paris during World War II. Corporal Roth, a young soldier in the SS, speaks such perfect French he can pass as a true Parisian. While he serves as a translator for the SS during brutal interrogations, he also wanders the streets of Paris searching for escape from the horrors he sees while on duty. He meets a charming French girl, Chantal, and falls in love. With Wallner's good writing skills, even the bleak conditions of occupied Paris can be a romantic background for a love story. Yet, the novel takes many twists as Roth discovers more about Chantal and her links to the resistance. Thus, his situation becomes more complex as he serves the SS and grows deeply in love with Chantal. With the ending, yet another unexpected turn of events leaves the reader hooked on this story. April in Paris is a highly enjoyable book.
Trial by Journal,
by Kate Klise
12 Year-old juror Lily Watson puzzles through the case of Perry Keet, a classmate who has disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Will she crack the case and reveal the truth? Newspaper articles, illustrations, and court documents provide the clues in this clever mystery thriller.