Friday, December 27, 2013

December Reads

I'm writing this on December 19 (to be published on December 27), so this is not actually everything I've enjoyed in December.  I'm hoping to squeeze in a few more reads before the end of the year! 

Nate's Story continues the fun-filled adventures at Camp Wolf Trail; this time, camper Nate is featured (the first title featured first time camper Zack). Nate is worried that his fellow campers will make fun of his fear of horses and his hobby of drawing birds.  Horseback riding is a standard feature of camp, of course, and Nate is forced to conquer his fear in an emergency situation.  When the camp dog steals his drawing journal (it smelled strongly of the tacos enjoyed with his cabin mates the night before), his passion for birds is revealed to his friends.  As in Zack's Story, the hi jinks are plentiful and believable, while the friendships among the boys never resorts to vulgarity or meanness.  I love this series!

I INHALED this biography, as will any Broadway fanatic.  Bob Fosse was the creative genius behind The Pajama Game, Sweet Charity, Chicago, and the groundbreaking films of Cabaret and All That Jazz. Despite his many successes, he was stymied by his fear of failure, his infidelities, and his nicotine addiction. Fosse's unsupervised early adolescence as a performer in trashy burlesque houses during the decline of vaudeville was a key factor in his mental development, which affected him greatly throughout his life. His complicated relationship with women (including his wife and muse, Gwen Verdon) is intimately explored, as is his obsession with time and death; Wasson brilliantly evokes this by naming his chapters with the years (and finally, hours) left in Fosse's life.  The highlights of this fabulous biography (at least, for me!) were the discussions of the creation of the film version of Cabaret, the "Liza With a Z" television event,  and the original stage production of Chicago.  Fosse's rivalry with choreographer Michael Bennett (A Chorus Line, Dreamgirls) is also explored, which was made more intense when A Chorus Line dominated the same Broadway season in which Chicago premiered.  As I walked to work the morning after I finished Fosse, I thought about how these two shows have fared after their original productions; the film version of A Chorus Line was a financial and critical disaster, and its recent revival has shown that aspects of the show are dated for its cultural references, its 70s inspired orchestrations, and its depiction of a Broadway that really no longer exists (which is probably why the recent revival was set in the 1970s, the era in which it was created).  Chicago, on the other hand, with its satire on murder trials being turned into entertainment and spectacle for the American public (20 years before the OJ Simpson trial), was clearly ahead of its time, remains astonishingly relevant, had an enormously successful revival (due to Fosse paramour Ann Reinking), and resulted in a film version that was critically and financially popular during a time in which movie musicals were thought to be DOA (as was Fosse's Cabaret; of course, Fosse was gone long before the new appreciation of Chicago). Fosse has appeared on several "Best of 2013" lists, and deservedly so.

First of all--that's a great cover. Guaranteed to draw in 3rd-5th grade girls. Luckily, the story is an endearing novel about a young girl coping with the deportation of her mother to Honduras.  Gaby's class is required to perform service hours, so she finds solace in working at the animal shelter.  She quickly bonds with a shelter cat, but is caught between her father's indifference and the indecisiveness of the cat's owner.  Gaby, Lost and Found focuses on issues of illegal immigration without moralizing or preaching; although the reconciliation between Gaby and her father seems a bit pat (especially after his marked indifference), I highly recommend this sweet and sensitive novel.

Lulu and the Cat in the Bag continues this darling easy chapter book series by Hilary McKay.  Lulu and friend Mellie find a cat wrapped in a bag. Unfortunately, Lulu's grandmother, who is babysitting Lulu while her parents are on vacation, is not an animal lover, especially of cats!  Will Lulu's grandmother and the cat win over each other? You can guess the outcome in this cheerful and funny story; luckily, McKay has further adventures planned for Lulu!

I wish I enjoyed food memoirs and travelogues more than I do, but there's something about many that puts me off, for some reason. Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing is a special case, mainly because it's not centered on rapturous descriptions of food.  That would be difficult to do when you're discussing the foods and memories of your childhood spent in the former Soviet Union.  Centered around a unique idea concocted by Anya von Bremzen and her mother--memorializing the foods of Russia and the Soviet Union through dinner parties hosted by the two women--von Bremzen evokes the excess of czarist Russia, the scarcity of the USSR, and the absurdities of post-Gorbachev Russia through heartfelt and heartbreaking depictions of food, family history, and Russian history (the World War II sections are horrifying).  The discord between the communist ideals and Lenin worship taught at school and her mother's strong anti-Communist leanings is fascinating, and the bewilderment experienced by the family when they immigrate to the United States is eyeopening.

Thank You for Your Service is a raw, no-holds barred look at the psychological impact of war, including PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) on veterans.  Through the experiences of families first depicted in The Good Soldiers, David Finkel portrays the marital discords, employment difficulties, depression and suicide, survivor's guilt, and everyday life difficulties of veterans who have returned home from the war.  This is an emotionally draining read at times, but a worthy one.

It's time to start my Best of 2013 lists! Look for that at the beginning of January. I'll also make my Newbery and Caldecott predictions soon!

Happy New Year!  Looking forward to more great reads in 2014.

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library

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