Sunday, October 26, 2008

Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron (with Bret Witter)

I don't read a lot of non-fiction, and I definitely don't read about cats, but I do love libraries so I bit the bullet and requested a copy of this book for review- boy am I glad I did! This book is a must-read for anyone who loves cats, libraries, Iowa, or just a feel-good story about normal people working through the hard times.

Found half frozen in the book return slot after the coldest night of the year, Dewey becomes the official cat for the local library in Spencer, Iowa and helps keep people entertained for the next 19 years. As the town reeled from the economic and social impact of the farm crisis of the 1980s, Dewey served as a touchstone, dedicating his energies to those who really needed the love and attention only he could provide.

Author Vicki Myron's love for Spencer and for Dewey shines through every page of this story, and her own inspiring story of overcome a troubled early marriage and finishing her education mirror the story of the town itself. Vicki's tireless dedication to making the Spencer library a vibrant and valuable member of the community speaks volumes; every small town librarian should take heart and find inspiration in her successful efforts.

I loved the anecdotes about Dewey's spreading fame (a Japanese documentary? really?) and his love for rubber bands, but it was the stories of people whose lives were touched by Dewey that really powered the narrative for me. I confess to tearing up at the very end, even though it was clear Vicki made the choice that was best for Dewey. When Dewey died in 2006, his obituary appeared in over 250 newspapers- after reading this book, I understand why...

All in all, I highly recommend this book!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

My Father's Paradise by Ariel Sabar

Though Ariel Sabar may regret that his relationship with his father was so contentious, readers have cause to rejoice because that fractured relationship led Sabar to pen this elegant tale of his father's life and language.

Yona Sabar, a Jewish Kurd, grew up speaking Aramaic, an ancient language now all but lost. He is also a celebrated linguist who has worked tirelessly to document his language before it dies. This book traces that effort, weaving a colorful tapestry of Jewish life in Iraq, Kurdish life in Israel, and immigrant life in America.

Though the portions of the book dealing with Ariel himself were less compelling, the tales of Yona's early life in Kurdistan are hypnotic- I had a difficult time putting this book down. The writing is excellent and the character of Yona breathes throughout the book. The book is never technical about linguistics; the story of Yona's work is presented as I believe he experienced it- a treasure hunt generating excitement with each new clue.

Highly recommended!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Where Is Home Little Pip? by Karma Wilson

Little Pip is a small baby penguin, one who always listens to her parents when they tell her to stick close and then sing about home. One day though, she chases after a black feather, so lovely against the white snow, and soon finds herself lost and alone. Trying to find her home, she asks a whale and a gull and some huskies how to find home, but none of them can help. Eventually, cold and sad, she sings her song about home to try to feel better and her parents, following the sound of her song, find her and reunite the family.

This book is well written and beautifully illustrated. The penguins are all extremely expressive and the landscape sets the stage perfectly for the story. The rhymes about home capture the attention of younger children and will help older children read along. I lent this book to my mom to read to her kindergarden class and it was extremely popular.

A wonderful book that stresses the importance of home and family and leaves readers with a smile. I hope we see more books about Little Pip in the future.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sarah's Key by Tatiana Rosnay

Before reading this novel, I knew little about the efforts of the French government to round up and deport Jews from Paris; reading this fictional account was a chilling reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust. As modern-day protagonist Julia unravels the sad tale of Sarah, a ten year old Jewish girl taken from Paris during the Vel' d'Div', she also unravels the story of her French husband and his family. Working through unexpected life changes (including her husband's infidelity) and struggling still for acceptance as an American living in Paris, it is Julia's work to discover Sarah's story that gives her focus and meaning.

This is a beautifully written account of a tragic and horrifying incident in French history. Sarah's story is heart-wrenching and though it is always harder to drum up sympathy for Julia in light of that backdrop, both characters are richly drawn. The story unwinds in a logically messy fashion, but the end of the book seemed contrived which is why I didn't give it five stars. All in all, a wonderful read!

Monday, October 20, 2008

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

Apart from the similarities to the current White House, I found this book to be an interesting look at the complexities of a marriage. The majority of the book focuses on the non-political portion of Alice's life, laying a solid foundation early on for the decisions she makes later in life. I believe the last section dealing with her time as First Lady was the weakest, and the very end was quite disappointing to me (can't say more without being a spoiler). In the end, I couldn't give five stars because no matter how well-imagined her character and motivations, I just could not bring myself to like Alice. Definitely worth a read regardless of your political opinions.