joanWhen I read the description for THE BOOK OF JOAN, I thought, “oh, interesting, a science fiction retelling of Joan of Arc.” But that’s maybe the most basic a description that could possibly be attributed to Yuknavitch’s book. Not to be trite, but this story is about the nature of humanity and love, and whether those two concepts can ever really coexist.

Humanity has nearly come to an end. Aboard the space station CIEL, the remainders of Earth’s population work to find a way to survive. As they’ve been exposed to radiation from the atmosphere, humans are pale and hairless. Standard interpretations of sex and gender have become irrelevant. They can no longer reproduce. For means of entertainment, they turn to extreme body modification, aka “grafts”.

Grafts come in different types, including elaborate skin grafts that replicate 17th century French powdered wigs. The higher one’s status, the more extreme the graft. Different artists on CIEL create these grafts. Christine is one of these artists and specializes in branding stories into skin. On her body, she has branded the story of Joan.

Joan is a rebel who fights against the leader of CIEL, Jean de Men. Joan’s story, as you can imagine, mirrors the life of Joan of Arc. As a little girl, Joan has a strange encounter where she more or less connects spiritually to a tree. From this encounter, she receives a glowing light on her right temple. This light defies all explanation; no doctor can discover where it originates. But it connects Joan to the Earth and grants her power over nature.

On CIEL, the official story is that Joan was burned at the stake for being an eco-terrorist. (In this future world, even executions are theatrical events.) But Christine discovers that Joan escaped and lives on the wasteland of Earth below. Both Joan and Christine fight against the sadistic Jean de Men, but in different ways. As the stories of Christine and Joan spiral together, the book comes to a dramatic, though not uplifting end.

More than anything, THE BOOK OF JOAN is a piece of feminist science fiction. Yuknavitch deals with bodily autonomy, reproductive rights, and gender expression in what I would describe as lurid detail. I have to admit, this is not a book I’d recommend to everyone. It’s definitely a book for readers who don’t mind a bit of the grotesque. There are scenes that vividly describe torture of various kinds, including human experimentation. Yuknavitch pulls no punches. But if you’re brave enough to give it a chance, THE BOOK OF JOAN will provide you with a lot to think about.

One of the great pleasures of my job is unpacking the new materials that arrive daily at the library. Books, DVDs, CDs – you name it, I get my hands on it fresh out of the box. Because I’m fortunate enough to receive this first look, I come across treasures that otherwise might not appear on my reading radar.

One such treasure is “Fanny in France,” a children’s book – juvenile fiction, to be precise – written by the esteemed chef and restaurateur, Alice Waters, with Bob Carrau. This delightful work is comprised of a series of vignettes about the food, friends and fun that Waters’ daughter experienced in France as a child.

Whether she’s describing a daylong effort making bouillabaisse at a Marseille vineyard, an impromptu picnic when becoming stranded while harvesting wild oysters, or making delicious cheese from the freshest of sheep’s milk, Fanny’s adventures and narrative voice enchant the reader with her honesty and sense of wonder.

Join her in the excitement of Bastille Day in Paris, eat sea urchin pulled from the ocean moments before, and get lost in a bustling outdoor market in Nice. Meet characters like Monsieur Poilane, a traditional baker who offers Fanny a “kid-size bubbling apple tart” straight from the huge brick oven in his basement, or Alice Waters’ artist friend Martine, who scours flea markets for special dinner party accoutrements and feeds a crowd of nine with one roast chicken.

Pick up valuable culinary tips. Learn to select fish by looking at the eyes; “if the fish’s eyes are shiny and clear and they look right back” at you, it’s good to eat. Cook like a chef by putting together a mirepoix, “a special mixture of carefully chopped vegetables and herbs that French people use to start lots of things they cook.” When making pizza dough, handle it tenderly, only stretching it as far as it wants to go; “let the dough guide you,” Fanny instructs.

In addition to anecdotes, “Fanny in France” contains recipes for the dishes mentioned throughout the book. Looking for light meal ideas? You might try the Watercress or Garlic Soup, or even a Salade Nicoise, an omelet or a Croque-Monsieur, also known as a grilled cheese sandwich. Want to wow dinner guests? Consider the Couscous Royal with Chermoula, a spicy North African herb sauce, or the Roasted Herbed Rack of Lamb. Craving something sweet? Throw together an Almond Brown Butter Cake or Chocolate Souffle for a decadent treat.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the glorious, adorable artwork by Ann Arnold. Its colorful detail adds a wealth of richness to “Fanny in France.”

Finally, lest you think you’d need a few years of high school French to read this book, never fear. There is a glossary in the final pages of “Fanny in France,” and the author does a great job of casually translating as she goes along. Nevertheless, I found to my delight that I’d retained enough of my six years of French to understand everything.

You can find “Fanny in France” in the Children’s Department of the Joplin Public Library.  I hope you relish it as much as I did. Happy travels, and bon appetit!

 

Reviewed by Tammie Benham

I’ve been reading my way through the Mark Twain nominees.  There are several excellent selections this year.  The book that has made the biggest impression so far has been, The War That Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.

This story of human resilience in the face of the adversity demonstrates what that determination can change the course of a human life.

Ada cannot remember ever leaving the one-bedroom apartment where she lives with her younger brother, Jamie and her mother.  She isn’t sure of her age and her mother refuses to tell her.  Her best guess is she’s less than ten years old.

Crippled with a club foot and her mother’s shame, Ada’s life consists of constant emotional and physical abuse and neglect until one day when news of the evacuation of children from London reaches her.  Although her fear is more of a life lived from a chair beside a window than impending bombing, Ada uses this opportunity to escape the only life she’s known.

When the children arrive in the country they find themselves being selected by families to be fostered.  Ada is so filthy that she doesn’t recognize herself when she looks into a bathroom mirror and Jamie is no better. They are left out of the selection process.  However, the local gentry organizing foster families refuses to give up on Ada and Jamie, taking them to a house in the country where Ada falls in love with a horse at first sight.

The woman who grudgingly takes in the children is named Susan and she is grieving a great loss.  She is bullied into doing her duty to take care of the children and shows them what she believes to be a minimal amount of attention.  Having been neglected for so long, the children flourish in the little attention they receive.

Susan glimpses the past lives of the children in some of their odd behavior but understands she cannot get Ada the operation she needs on her club foot without the permission of Ada’s mother.  However, her letters to the children’s mother go unanswered and war comes to the village.

When Ada’s mother finally shows up at Susan’s house she is quick to point out the only reason she’s there is because she’s being forced to pay for the upkeep of her children if they stay in the country.  How will Ada and Jamie ever go back to living the life they once escaped?

Based on actual events during WWII, this work of historical fiction is a 2016 Newbery Honor Book and a 2016 Schneider Family Book Award Winner.

ocdaniel

Reviewed by Tammie Benham

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), rules Daniel’s life.  When the “zaps” hit, he gets stuck in a self-destructive pattern that can last for hours.  The zaps are particularly relentless at bedtime when he believes if he doesn’t complete his “routine,” he will die.

In this coming-of-age story, Daniel’s best friend since grade school, Max is the star quarterback for the Erie Hills Elephants.  Daniel spends most of his time as the Substitute Kicker trying not to be noticed and arranging cups of water for his team mates.

Despite his many idiosyncrasies, Daniel is a typical middle-school aged boy.  There is a girl he likes who may like him back.  Max encourages Daniel’s blossoming friendship with Raya while holding off the less-than-nonchalant advances of Clara.

Just when things between Daniel and Raya are beginning to turn into the possibility of something more, Psycho Sara, who talks to no-one at school and doesn’t even speak to her own mother, starts to talk to Daniel.  Daniel might have ignored Sara if not for her cryptic naming of him as a fellow, “Star-Child.”

Afraid that he may be just as crazy as Sara has been labeled, intrigued that Sara isn’t nearly as crazy as everyone believes her to be,  and feeling a strong sense of belonging with Sara that he doesn’t feel as strongly with Raya, Daniel is caught between what’s familiar and what might be an exciting adventure.

As the state football finals approach, Daniel is caught in another dilemma.  The starting Kicker is suddenly ill and he is placed into the spotlight.  Through a series of events, the pressure and expectations on Daniel continues to increase, along with his anxiety.  Finding it more and more difficult to hide his “zaps,” he wonders how long he can keep his craziness hidden.  The only person who seems to see the hidden Daniel is Psycho Sara.

OCDaniel is an interesting look into the world of someone suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  Anyone who is not familiar with how debilitating OCD can become will have their eyes opened by this inside look.  Children wondering about their inability to control certain patterns in their behavior may see themselves.  Ultimately, this is a book for those who are feeling different and looking for a place to belong.

dust bowlWith March Madness in full swing and the winning streak of the Connecticut Huskies women extending to 107 games, Lydia Reeder’s new book on another record setting basketball team is a timely addition to our collection.

Depression era Oklahoma was not the first place I thought of when talking about women’s basketball. Dust Bowl Girls: The Inspiring Story of the Team That Barnstormed Its Way to Basketball Glory has changed my perception. It’s the story of the Oklahoma Presbyterian College Cardinals and their 1931/1932 championship season.

The author has combined family, social, and sports history to bring this remarkable team to life. Reeder’s great-uncle, Sam Babb, was coach, recruiter, and fund raiser for the Cardinals. He joined OPC, a tiny junior college located in Durant, in 1929 as professor and basketball coach.

When Babb recruited he looked for players with talent and character. He found both qualities in prolific shooter Doll Harris. She joined the Cardinals in the fall of 1930 and for the first time in team history they were invited to the American Athletic Union (AAU) National Tournament.

Doll was named an All-American and they brought home a trophy – for sportsmanship. The Dallas Golden Cyclones led by Babe Didrikson won the championship. Babb knew his team could do better so he took to the road travelling to farming communities in Oklahoma.

He offered the young women the opportunity to go college for free and play basketball for OPC. The Depression was worsening and many of these players worked family farms that were struggling to survive. The decision to leave, even for a free education, was not easy. Babb was persuasive and 35 players accepted scholarships.

Women’s basketball in the 1930s was much different than what we see today.  It wasn’t until 1970 that the game changed to what is played now. Then women were considered too delicate for such a vigorous sport so they played half court with 6 members to a team.

Some believed even this level of competition was too much. Reeder explores the history and attitudes on women and competitive sports throughout the book.  It’s interesting and highlights the difficulties for teams especially with funding.

The AAU encouraged competitive sports for women whereas most colleges emphasized less vigorous activity. Many of the teams in the AAU were sponsored by companies and college teams like the Cardinals needed donations and gate receipts to survive.

Babb was very good at fund-raising and managed to pay for scholarships but a barnstorming tour over Christmas break was needed to fund the team. Practice was every morning from 4am -6am (they used Southeastern State’s gym when the men didn’t need it). They also had to run at least 1 mile and shoot 100 free throws each day. Their first game was in December when they scrimmaged with a high school team.

By the time of their barnstorm tour through Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas the rigorous practices in addition to school commitments had reduced the roster to 16. The tour started in Celeste, TX for the first of 17 games. Three weeks later they had won every game including one in Dallas with last year’s national champions. They finished the season undefeated and were invited to the national tournament.

Much of the story of the team and season is related by 2 of the players, Doll Harris and 16-year-old Lucille Thurman. Through Doll and Lucille you feel the drive, dedication, and camaraderie develop as they become a team.

You also see the conflict of being a woman and an athlete. News coverage gave as much emphasis to how they looked as to how they played. The biggest trophy awarded at the tournament was given to the winner of the player beauty pageant.

The record books tell us they won the AAU national championship becoming the first college team to hold the title. From 1931-1934 they won 2 championships and 89 straight games. What Reeder tells us is who Sam Babb and the OPC Cardinals were and how they did it.

If you enjoyed “The Boys in the Boat”, you will definitely want to read “Dust Bowl Girls”.

index.aspxAs Tennyson had it, “In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” Well, around our house, that’s “thoughts of gardens.” In light of the rapid approach of spring on the 20th, it’s once again time to finish up (or start, for procrastinators) plans for what to plant this year. With that in mind, I present you with Victory Gardens for Bees: A DIY Guide to saving the Bees by Lori Weidenhammer.

As you probably know, there’s a crisis in the bee world. Over one-third of edible crops and three-quarters of flowering plants are pollinated by bees, and honeybees and most other bees are in drastic decline. At least four native species of bees have become extinct, and over fifty others are endangered. Why is this happening? Answers are complicated, but include climate change (which alters the timing of blooms so that they no longer coincide with bee needs), pesticides, habitat loss and parasites. Obviously, some of these things are out of the average person’s control, but we can help provide food and habitat for bees in our own yards. This book aims to help people do just that while also providing nice gardens for ourselves.The concept of a Victory Garden goes back to wartime and helping the war effort by growing food for one’s own household to free up resources for the war effort. The author has carried the concept over to helping in the “war” to help the bees survive and thrive.

Let us begin with the bees themselves. Most of us probably just think about honeybees (when we think of bees at all), but there are over 4,000 known bee species in North America alone! That does not, by the way, include honeybees. They are native to Europe. Not all bees make honey or live in hives, but all are pollinators, so all are important. There are pictures and information on a number of bees here, and tips for how you can help each of them in your yard whether for food or habitat. If you have trouble growing a lush lawn, you may be happy to know that one way to help a number of species of bees is to leave bare patches of ground because they nest in the ground and prefer it grass-free. Once you have gotten your fill of bee species information, you can move on to the enormous information on bee-friendly plants.

There are numerous seasonal charts of plants both for nectar and pollen. Perennials, shrubs, trees, meadow/pasture, natives, vegetables, herbs, plants “with benefits” (those that attract other beneficial insects, deter pests, are edible, etc.), and “weeds to leave” (“I’m not lazy—I leave dandelions for the bees!”) are all charted here. The charts are very detailed and useful, including hardiness zones, whether native or not, blooming period, what bees (and other beneficial insects) are attracted to them, heights and various plant notes.

Also included are a number of adaptable planting designs to help make attractive as well as useful landscapes. Whether you have a small patch to plant or acres and acres, you can find useful designs here. There are lots of photos of plants as well as bees, the aforementioned charts and designs, and the layout is varied and very attractive. I’d say this is an excellent resource for anyone interested in giving the bees a helping hand. By the way, if you are interested in perhaps providing a home for bees of your own (and getting some honey out of the deal), we also have a number of books on beekeeping to round out your education on bees. Buzz on in and check them out! (Sorry, couldn’t help myself).

If youWires and Nerve’ve been anywhere near fiction written for teens in the past few years, then you are aware of Marissa Meyer’s highly popular series, The Lunar Chronicles, where fairy tales meet science fiction.  If you haven’t heard of The Lunar Chronicles, then go check them out.  Right now.  You’ll be glad you did.  They’re deliciously addictive and easily devoured.

The series is set in a distant future where the moon is populated with telepaths ruled by a vicious queen bent on taking over Earth.  Cars levitate magnetically, space travel is commonplace, ID chips are implanted into humans, and robots are ubiquitous.  Four familiar fairy tale characters are introduced over the course of as many novels, each named for one of these heroines—Cinder (a cyborg mechanic living in China), Scarlet (a French farm girl who sports her favorite red hoodie and lives with her grandmother), Cress (an extraordinarily skilled computer hacker with extraordinarily long hair who has been locked away since childhood), and Winter (a telepathic Lunar who refuses to use her powers and happens to be the evil queen’s stepdaughter).  Meyer adds a compelling, rounded cast of strong secondary characters to her sci-fi/fantasy mix then throws in plenty of adventure and a dash of romance to create an amazing epic.

Just when you think she’s finished her tales, Meyer plucks a secondary character—one of the ubiquitous robots—to headline a graphic novel series set in the Lunar universe.  Wires and Nerve, Volume 1 seamlessly picks up where the adventures in the Lunar Chronicles stopped.  But before we continue, if you are currently reading the Lunar Chronicles or plan to do so for the first time in the near future please note that this next chapter lies in spoiler territory.  The beginning pages of Wires and Nerve introduce the leads of the original series and continue its plotline—details of which will disappoint readers who have yet to complete (much less begin) the series.

If that’s not a concern to you, then Wire and Nerves is a great read all on its own—no Lunar backstory is necessary to follow and enjoy Meyer’s first graphic novel (an item checked off her bucket list, according to her website).  She focuses on Cinder’s android pal, Iko, for this book to great effect.  An important character in the original series, Iko sometimes took a back seat to the humans.  Here, Meyer places Iko front and center.  Although the other characters are featured, it’s Iko’s story from the start.  She has been assigned to round up packs of rogue, engineered, wolf-Lunar hybrids from their hideouts on Earth and deliver them back to Luna for trial.  Because she’s an android, she can complete the job quicker, easier, and with fewer injuries than her Earthen and Lunar colleagues.  However, Iko’s personality chip has become more human over the years (a version of Pinocchio’s inward journey to becoming a real boy) which has left her delightfully sassy although vulnerable to vanity, jealousy, and doubt.  Iko gives her best effort to the mission, but will it be enough?  After some entertaining fight scenes and witty dialogue plus suspense (Ambush! Kidnappers!), Marissa Meyer leaves Iko and readers dangling with an ominously-toned cliffhanger.  I wanted a sequel the minute I turned the final page.

Iko’s outward journey is as captivating and action-packed as anything in the Lunar Chronicles.  Her inward journey makes the story even more appealing.  Within that quickly-moving plot, Meyer sets up an exploration of the price of fame as well as what makes us human.  She started the exploration in Cinder, considering the outcome of mixing mechanical and electronic parts with human flesh; here, Meyer takes the idea further by encasing human emotions in an android.  Don’t worry—the author doesn’t spoil the fun.  All of these Big Thoughts are kept palatable and entertaining although no less thought-provoking.

The graphic novel’s somewhat cartoony art—closer to Lumberjanes than to Peanuts—helps keep the Big Thoughts grounded and accessible.  The action moves beyond the limitations set by drawing the story in panel format.  The characters appear expressive, particularly in their facial expressions.  The entire book is done in bluetone (think sepia tone but using a few shades of blue), and the cumulative effect of it reminded me of blue-screened, backlight electronics.  Characters are drawn lively, vibrant, and engaging; they drew me in from the start.  Yet, they don’t look like the ones I pictured as I read the original series.  If that really bothers you, then definitely read the original books first and possibly think twice about the graphic novel.  Honestly, the art is so engaging that you can easily move past it.

You can find Wires and Nerve, Volume 1 in the library’s Teen Department along with the rest of the Lunar Chronicles.  I hope you enjoy it!