This blog is dedicated to the amazing staff at the New Canaan Public Library in New Canaan, Connecticut.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Ape House by Sara Gruen, 2010, * * *

Sara Gruen's last novel, the enchating circus-set Water for Elephants in 2006, became a bestseller primarily through word of mouth, and I expect that most book clubs in America have read it.  As this book opens, a family of bonobos is happily ensconced at the fictional Great Ape Language Lab at the University of Kansas.  They are adoringly cared for and studied by Dr. Isabel Duncan, who calls them her family.  Gruen delicately and profoundly brings life to that oft-quoted statistic -- Bonobos and humans share 98.7% of their DNA.  In this book, when it comes to the bst human qualities -- empathy, good humor, the ability to adapt, loyalty -- the apes win easily.  Gruen gives each of her apes a distinct personality, and just as with people, it gets to the point where all she has to do is to described a behavior, and we know which member of the pack she is talking about.  She exquisitely depicts their gentleness, humor and curiosity, as well as their tendency to pettiness.  The plot, however, doesn't really matter.  It involves a misguided animal rights group, a nasty explosion, a reality TV show, a journalist and a would-be author. Yet it is truly about the aples, the humans and their interactions and similarities -- sometimes mouth-gapingly shastly, sometimes hold-your-sides hilarious.  Gruen must have picked up a thing or t wo about the circus from Water for Elephants as she navigates the tightrope above the minefield topics of animal rights, evolution, and seriouis vs. tabloid journalism and more.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Still Life by Louise Penny, 2005, * * * *

The residents of a tiny Canadian village named Three Pines are shocked when the body of Miss Jane Neal is found in the woods on Thanksgiving. Miss Neal, the village’s retired school teacher and a talented amateur artist, has been a good friend to most of the townsfolk, so her loss is keenly felt,  At first, her death appears to be a tragic accident … it is after all, deer hunting season and it appears that a stray hunter’s arrow killed her.  Some folks, however, are suspicious and Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, of the Montreal Surete is called in to investigate.  His team soon finds that the seemingly peaceful and friendly village hides some dark secrets.  This is the first is yet another series that I was late to the game on and I can’t wait to read the second in the series A Fatal Grace.  The characters are delightful and Louise Penny makes mayhem seem delightful.  Still Life introduces readers to an engaging series hero in Inspector Gamache, who commands his forces - and this series - with integrity and quiet courage, but produces a new writer of traditional mysteries in the person of Louise Penny.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Good Night, Mr. Tom by Michelle Magorian, 1981, * * * * *

Not everybody had a good time as an evacuee during the Second World War, but for eight-year-old Willie Beech, suddenly transferred from a deprived London background into the heart of the country, it is literally a lifeline. Willie is dumped on grumpy old Tom Oakley, the sharp-tongued widower, but he soon finds that Mister Tom is fair and friendly. Tom had heard of “ungrateful” and “wild” but Willie is different. He is so malnourished he can’t keeper a proper meal down, he wets the bed, he can’t read or write and he shivers and trembles a lot. Willie's needs are clear. And, to the intense interest of the entire village of Little Weirwold, Tom Oakley's stern manner melts slowly away as he takes on the task of raising Willie Beech. It's a voyage of discovery for both of them. Willie learns how it feels to have a proper home and friends, and Tom confronts the grief of bereavement which caused him to withdraw from village life all those years ago, when his young wife and baby son died.  The whole project nearly founders when Willie's mother recalls him to London. Returning reluctantly, Willie faces unspeakable horrors before he is rescued by Tom,  who travels through an air-raid in London to search for him.  This book is a gentle and moving story about the developing relationship of trust and love between Willie and Tom and is an engrossing and poignant story with sunlight to balance the darkness. I was amazed that I had never heard of the book before but would highly recommend it for adults as well as young readers.