Banned Books #7 And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell with Chrissi Reads

Published January 26, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

In the zoo there are all kinds of animal families. But Tango’s family is not like any of the others. This illustrated children’s book fictionalizes the true story of two male penguins who became partners and raised a penguin chick in the Central Park Zoo.

bannedbookslogo designed by Luna’s Little Library

Happy New Year and welcome to a new year of Banned Books that I’m participating in with my sister and fellow blogger Chrissi Reads. We’ll be looking at why the book was challenged, how/if things have changed since the book was originally published and our own opinions on the book. This is what we’ll be reading for 2015 – the post will go out on the last Monday of each month so if you’d like to read along with us, you are more than welcome.

JANUARY

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell (illustrated by Henry Cole)

Chosen by : Chrissi

FEBRUARY

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Chosen by : Beth

MARCH

Crank by Ellen Hopkins

Chosen by : Chrissi

APRIL

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

Chosen by : Beth

MAY

What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones

Chosen by : Chrissi

JUNE

Bridge To Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Chosen by : Beth

JULY

Detour for Emmy by Marilyn Reynolds

Chosen by : Chrissi

AUGUST

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

Chosen by : Beth

SEPTEMBER

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Chosen by: Chrissi

OCTOBER

Forever by Judy Blume

Chosen by : Beth

NOVEMBER

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Chosen by : Chrissi

DECEMBER

Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes

Chosen by: Beth

But back to this month….

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell (illustrated by Henry Cole)

Chosen by : Chrissi

First published: 2005
In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2012 (source)
Chosen by: Chrissi
Reason: homosexuality and unsuited to age group

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH: Absolutely not. This was such a sweet story about two penguins that fall in love and happen to be male. It’s a picture book with some beautiful illustrations that I think children will love, especially children who are fond of animals. It was published fairly recently (2005) and in this modern world that we live in, I can’t understand why it could be challenged. Nothing about it is unsuitable or inappropriate.

CHRISSI: No!!! I am really angry that this book has been challenged. I think it is an adorable look at the different family structures that we can have. It is such an important book. I can totally see myself using it in a classroom or with a child that does come from an ‘unconventional’ family.

How about now?

BETH: Definitely not. It could be such an important book for use in schools to teach children that there are more relationships in the world than Mummy/Daddy and that this is normal. Maybe some of the hatred towards homosexuality comes from the fact that these people were taught that it was wrong. If we ban/challenge these books aren’t we automatically sending a message to children that homosexuality is a bad thing?

CHRISSI: It’s educative and supportive. No. Just no.

What did you think of this book?

BETH: I absolutely loved it. I think the fact that it’s based on a true story makes it even cuter. I’m really glad that these penguins were given a chance to sit on an egg and look after their own baby (Tango). Also, I really want to go to New York and see their little family for myself now!

CHRISSI: I was so impressed. It’s so cute and simple and explores homosexuality in such a gentle way for younger children.

Would you recommend it?

BETH: But of course!

CHRISSI: Without a doubt!

BETH’s personal star rating (out of 5):

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Please join us again next month when we’ll be discussing I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou.

 

The Neurotourist: Postcards From The Edge Of Brain Science – Lone Frank

Published January 21, 2015 by bibliobeth

The Neurotourist: Postcards from the Edge of Brain Science

What’s it all about?:

Discover the true heart of humanity: the brain. Your brain shapes your world, but you can also shape your brain. From the God helmet to the No Lie MRI, award-winning journalist Lone Frank embarks on an incredible adventure to the frontiers of neuroscience, revealing how today’s top scientists are reinventing human nature, morality, happiness, health, and reality itself. Interlacing bizarre experiments, cutting-edge research, and irreverent interviews, The Neurotourist is an unforgettable tour of the mind-bending revolution underway in the new age of the brain. A critically-acclaimed journalist, science writer, and TV presenter, Lone Frank also holds a PhD in neurobiology and has worked as a research scientist in Denmark and the US. Apart from a particularly ‘cute’ corpus callosum she has an expert’s word that her brain is quite unremarkable.

What did I think?:

I was quite excited when I saw this title at my local library as my favourite non-fiction books are usually science-based and I’m fascinated with the whole area of neuroscience which is constantly changing as we learn more about the mysterious goings-on of our brains. Looking at the contents page also provides some scope for excitement with intriguing titles such as “Finding God in the synapses: your own personal Jesus,” “Happiness is a cognitive workout,” and “Lies, damn lies – the prints are all over your cortex.” So, interesting content and a science writer with a sense of humour… sounds like my perfect book but in reality I’m afraid it fell slightly flat.

This is not to say that this is a bad read because it definitely isn’t and I guess it just depends what you’re looking for from the book. It’s chock-a-block with interesting facts and figures and I enjoyed reading about the number of studies that have been carried out in the name of neuroscience, bad or good depending on the answers it gave the researchers and in many cases, from the author’s personal (and often strong) opinion! One particularly mind-boggling and often controversial example is the area of religion when associated with the brain.

Basically, from a very young age, our surroundings and parental beliefs have a direct impact on what is hard-wired into the brain in much the same way that we learn the complexities of language. Having a large amount of serotonin (that happy hormone) in our brains affects the extent to which a person is spiritual and researchers have shown that actual spiritual experiences can be induced by increasing the brain’s natural supply of our own personal opiate system. One of my favourite experimental examples related to this is “The God Helmet.” This was a piece of apparatus developed by scientists Koren and Persinger to study events occurring when the temporal lobe of the brain was stimulated. Our author was the perfect test subject as she noted the feeling of a “presence,” when wearing the helmet. Persinger has confirmed that for several subjects “mystical experiences and altered states,” were reported but what does this mean for religion? Is it just because our temporal lobe has been stimulated that we are aware of the presence of God? Other scientists seem to think so and have quite a lot to say about religion: Boyer called it “a parasite on our cognitive apparatus,” and more recently the loud and proud atheist Richard Dawkins said it was “comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate.” Yikes, I may not be a religious person but harsh words, Mr Dawkins!

I think the above chapter on religion was probably my favourite point of the entire book as other chapters focused on economics, ethics and marketing which although easy to read became slightly dull and are not really my cup of tea. Perhaps I was expecting too much from this book as unfortunately I didn’t really find out anything I didn’t know already. Although some parts were humorous I did also feel that the author tended to get on her soap box and was rather close-minded when discussing a personal opinion of her own that she was convinced was correct/the only possible explanation. Saying that, her passion for the subject area cannot be faulted and may be a writing style that can be appreciated by a different reader.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

Talking About The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton with Chrissi

Published January 19, 2015 by bibliobeth

The Miniaturist

What’s it all about?:

On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. But her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming. Johannes is kind yet distant, always locked in his study or at his warehouse office-leaving Nella alone with his sister, the sharp-tongued and forbidding Marin.

But Nella’s world changes when Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist-an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways . . .

Johannes’ gift helps Nella to pierce the closed world of the Brandt household. But as she uncovers its unusual secrets, she begins to understand-and fear-the escalating dangers that await them all. In this repressively pious society where gold is worshipped second only to God, to be different is a threat to the moral fabric of society, and not even a man as rich as Johannes is safe. Only one person seems to see the fate that awaits them. Is the miniaturist the key to their salvation . . . or the architect of their destruction?

Enchanting, beautiful, and exquisitely suspenseful, The Miniaturist is a magnificent story of love and obsession, betrayal and retribution, appearance and truth.

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: Did this book draw you in from the start, or did you take a while to get into it?
 
BETH: From the first page, I could tell that this was going to be a good book, the writing is absolutely beautiful, but it did take a while before I was fully immersed in the story. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it from the start, but that it was a bit of a “grower,” before I really appreciated what the author was trying to do.
BETH: Describe the relationship between Johannes and Nella and how it develops through the novel.
 
CHRISSI: I was very intrigued by the relationship between Johannes and Nella. Nella obviously struggles with the lack of attention Johannes pays her at the start. She expected to have an attentive husband and that is not what she got! I don’t think Nella ever anticipates the twist (won’t spoil) to the relationship. Their relationship becomes incredibly dramatic as time goes on and secrets are revealed. I thought Nella came across as incredibly mature, despite her young age.
 
CHRISSI: Nella starts this novel young and new in unfamiliar surroundings. How does her character grow and develop throughout the novel? 
 
BETH: Nella is only eighteen when she comes to live with her new husband in Amsterdam and hasn’t really had much life experience so is quite naive and gullible when it comes to certain things. She learns pretty early on through her relationship with Johannes and his sister Marin that if she wants to survive she must develop a thicker skin. Several incidents in the novel certainly give her the chance to do that!
BETH: Did you like the character of Johannes? Was he believable?
 
CHRISSI: To be honest, I didn’t really have a strong opinion of Johannes. He irritated me at times and I never really come to like him despite the fact that he had a horrible turn of fate! I didn’t find him overly believable as a character, but that could be down to my lack of connection with him.
CHRISSI: The replica house that Johannes gives to Nella is the key that the plot revolves around. What do you feel that the cabinet symbolises?
 
BETH: The miniature house that Johannes gives to Nella as a wedding gift represents their own home and Johannes encourages Nella to decorate it with bits and bobs as she sees fit. At first, Nella is outraged, seeing it as little more than a play-thing for a child and sends off for pieces that may be seen as a bit controversial, like a miniature lute that Marin has banned her from playing. When the miniaturist who makes these pieces starts sending her other things, especially things she hasn’t requested things start becoming a bit eerie as it is if the maker has predicted the future for the occupants of the house. I think for me the cabinet symbolises the fact that you cannot make a completely accurate likeness of anything – people, life and chance are always going to surprise you.
 
BETH: What did you think of the relationship between Marin and Nella?
 
CHRISSI: I think it was incredibly intriguing. I wasn’t sure how it was going to develop. Marin is so mysterious but so cold towards Nella at the beginning and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen or what secrets Marin was hiding. I enjoyed reading about their relationship even if it was a difficult, complex relationship. 
CHRISSI: Was there a character that intrigued you? Why?
 
BETH: There were some great characters in this novel and quite a few that intrigued me but I’ll pick Marin. Marin is Johannes sister who has never married and before Johannes married Nella she was mistress of the household. Therefore it probably wasn’t easy for her to give way to a new mistress especially one a fair bit younger than she was. I started the novel determined to hate her for the cold way that she treated Nella but in the end she surprised me and reminded me that people are not always what they seem.
BETH: Would you read another book by this author?
 
CHRISSI: I want to say a tentative yes. I thought the writing was good, but I wasn’t blown away by the story. I think I was expecting more about The Miniaturist and I found it to be rather lacking in that area! 
Would WE recommend it?:
BETH: But of course!
CHRISSI: Yes!
Star rating (out of 5):
BETH:
four-stars_0
CHRISSI:
 3 Star Rating Clip Art

Silver Bay – Jojo Moyes

Published January 16, 2015 by bibliobeth

Silver Bay

What’s it all about?:

When Mike Dormer heads out from London to a small seaside town in Australia to kick-start a hotel development, he expects just another deal. But Silver Bay is not just any seaside town, and the inhabitants of the eccentric ramshackle Silver Bay Hotel – the enigmatic skipper Liza McCullen, her ten-year-old daughter, and her legendary shark-catching aunt Kathleen, as well as the crews of the local whale-watching boats – swiftly begin to temper his own shark-like tendencies. He is left wondering who really has the greater right to the bay’s waters. As the development begins to take on a momentum of its own, and the effect on the whales that migrate past the bay begins to reveal itself, Mike’s and Liza’s worlds collide, with dramatic results. New, unforeseen hazards emerge to confront both the creatures and the McCullen women. How close can you get, before you end up destroying what you love?

What did I think?:

I’m setting myself a bit of a challenge by reading the back catalogue of some of my now favourite authors, Jojo Moyes being one of them after I fell in love with her (not literally) when reading the wonderful Me Before You. Silver Bay is a beautiful, thought-provoking story involving whales, family/old traditions, gut-clenching life-changing decisions and of course, love. The novel kicks off by introducing our main character, Mike Dormer who works for a developer in London. He is incredibly ambitious and hopes to rise further in the company which shouldn’t be a problem as he is engaged to the manager’s daughter! The relationship is a tad shaky on Mike’s side however, he appears to be a bit of a commitment phobic and enjoys secret trysts with the secretary from time to time. His new project is to work on developing a major leisure complex in a tiny town in Australia called Silver Bay. His boss makes no secret of the fact that his future in the company is 100 percent secured if he manages to clinch this deal but first he has to go over there and scope out the possibilities.

The other characters in this novel are based in Silver Bay, a beautiful and remote area that relies on the whale and dolphin watching expeditions it offers to attract the tourists. Kathleen, who runs the local inn and less visited museum is somewhat of a local celebrity, known as “shark girl,” for catching the largest shark on record at that time. Her niece, Liza who is a single mother to Hanna, runs the whale and dolphin tours. One of the other threads of this story is the secrets that this family seems to harbour. Liza and her daughter arrived from London some years back to stay with Kathleen after something terrible happened. What exactly, the reader has to wait to find out but Liza has become very introverted, deeply unhappy and ridiculously overprotective of Hanna as a consequence. The only pleasure she gets from life is out on the ocean with the whales and it appears to be the only time when she is at peace.

When Mike arrives at Silver Bay, he decides it is indeed the perfect spot for development and sets the ball rolling back in London, not thinking about the effect a re-development of the area will have on Kathleen and her inn, Liza’s business or indeed the wildlife in the surroundings. Well, maybe he has some idea as he chooses to keep schtum about all these things, leading the women to believe he is a regular English tourist out to see some whales. As he spends more time with the family however, he starts to understand a few things about nature, about life and about love. This puts him in quite a precarious position though as not only are the wheels already in motion on the project, he could lose everything he has every worked for if he brings it to a halt (even if he could).

This is another beautiful story by Jojo Moyes and I’m really starting to congratulate myself on rummaging through her back catalogue as there are definitely some hidden gems. I’m a big fan of anything nature-related as well and have had the pleasure of swimming with dolphins so that gets another thumbs up from me, especially when it’s told in such a sensitive and intelligent manner. The characters, as always, are intriguing and occasionally infuriating, in a way that makes the reader just want to know more and I loved that it was told from multiple points of view so you got an insight into each individuals mind and emotions. I wasn’t very enamoured with Mike to be honest when the story first began, but his character went on such a journey I may have warmed to him slightly… There’s love triangles, secrets, tragedy, old love, young love, love “just for the sake of it” love and moments of pure heart-break that made this novel such a joy to read. Jojo Moyes, I salute you. You’ve done it again.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT JOJO MOYES READ: Honeymoon in Paris – coming soon!

Short Stories Challenge – A Terribly Strange Bed by Wilkie Collins from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Published January 15, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s A Terribly Strange Bed all about?:

A Terribly Strange Bed tells the story of a young man in Paris when after having a lucky break at a gambling table has a rather less than restful night’s sleep.

What did I think?:

As I mentioned in the previous reviews of this collection Stories To Get You Through The Night is split into little categories that may evoke different moods. A Terribly Strange Bed is the first story in the category: Stories to send a shiver down your spine and as I do like a bit of “creepy,” I was excited to get to this one. Our narrator is looking back on a time when he was a young man in Paris and living “a wild life,” with a friend. One night he becomes bored of the same old places and wants to experience something a bit darker and less upper-class i.e. somewhere where he can really let his hair down. This turns out to be a small (and unknown to but a few) gambling house:

“as blackguard a place, by all report, as you could possibly wish to see.”

The author sets the mood almost immediately as the men enter the room – they wanted blackguard? Well, they certainly got it in abundance, but it is a different kind of blackguard where the quiet and menace in the room was undeniably horrid. Our narrator is obviously a man who does not need to worry about money and gambles purely for his own entertainment but as he begins to play Rouge et Noir he wins. Again and again and again. Bitten by the bug, he cannot bear to leave even when his friend has had enough and wishes to go home. Our narrator plays on but by this time he has attracted the attention of an old soldier who eggs him on believing he has the possibility to ruin the croupier. After breaking the bank and amassing a hefty weight of gold, he sits down with the soldier and they drink, toasting each other with two bottles of champagne before he becomes quite drunk. Even after the soldier buys him some coffee, our narrator feels too unwell to go home so the soldier suggests he stays at the gambling house with him for the night as in his drunken state, he is likely to be robbed if he ventures onto the streets. There’s some wicked people out there after all…

Our narrator settles himself into bed but tosses and turns through the night unable to sleep. Then, all of a sudden, he notices that the top of the bed appears to be getting lower and closer to him on the mattress below. At first, he thinks it is a trick of the light or that he is still drunk and imagining it but unfortunately for him, he is not. The top of the bed continues to lower and our narrator quickly realises that shortly he will be engulfed and suffocated between the two halves.

So does our narrator escape the bed’s deadly embrace? Well, that would be telling. Did this story do what it promised – send a shiver down my spine? Well, maybe there was a slight cold feeling, I thought the build-up to what happened in the bedroom was both surprising and a little eerie and it was certainly written very well. The character of the soldier was probably the most intriguing and I would have liked a deeper insight into him, although I appreciate there are probably limits when writing a short story. It has to pull the reader in almost immediately, hold the interest and then cut them off wanting more. For me, it was a novel story for its time with a bit of a difference (in a good way) and I always admire any author who manages to surprise me. My only criticism would have to be the ending which had the potential to be so much better!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

NEXT SHORT STORY: Mrs Todd’s Shortcut by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

Aw…. BIBLIOBETH turns 2 – GIVEAWAY RESULT

Published January 15, 2015 by bibliobeth

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Hello everyone. My giveaway for my blogoversary as ended and the lucky winner is…. (drumroll please)

Kellyjo Walters!!

Congratulations Kelly. You have won four books of your choice from Amazon/Book Depository depending on where you are in the world. Check your email for a message from me. To everyone else, thank you so much for entering and hey, there’s always next year!

Under A Mackerel Sky – Rick Stein

Published January 14, 2015 by bibliobeth

Under a Mackerel Sky

What’s it all about?:

The wry, perceptive, and strikingly evocative memoir of a much-respected chef

Rick Stein’s childhood in 1950s rural Oxfordshire and North Cornwall was idyllic. His parents were charming and gregarious, their five children much-loved and given freedom typical of the time. As he grew older, the holidays were filled with loud and lively parties in his parents’ Cornish barn. But ever-present was the unpredictable mood of his bipolar father, with Rick frequently the focus of his anger and sadness. When Rick was 18 his father killed himself. Emotionally adrift, Rick left for Australia, carrying a suitcase stamped with his father’s initials. Manual labor in the outback followed by adventures in America and Mexico toughened up the naive public schoolboy, but at heart he was still lost and unsure what to do with his life. Eventually, England called him home. From the entrepreneurial days of his mobile disco, the Purple Tiger, to his first, unlikely nightclub where much of the time was spent breaking up drink-fuelled fights, Rick charts his personal journey in a way that is both wry and perceptive; engaging and witty.

What did I think?:

Rick Stein is best known here in the UK as a chef with many thriving and successful restaurants under his belt, but he has also written a number of cookery books and presented shows on television, including Taste Of The Sea and Rick Stein’s French Odyssey. Under A Mackerel Sky follows the same pattern as your average autobiography – a few tales from childhood, the troubles of adolescence/young adulthood and the serenity of “clued-up” happy, adult life. For the most part, this is how Stein’s story reads. We hear about his childhood which was idyllic up to a point, the shadow over everything being his father’s mental illness and the effect that it had on him personally, more so when his father sadly took his own life when Rick was just 18. Uncertain what to do with himself, he travels round Australia, picking up work when he can which is often strenuous manual labour, meeting new people, drinking quite a bit and generally having a good time.

When he comes home, he attempts several ventures, including a mobile disco and a nightclub – which he eventually loses the licence for after it becomes quite a rough place, notorious for its drunken fights. Throughout all his life experiences however, food played a big part in Rick Stein’s life and he decides to open up a seafood restaurant. After a while and a lot of hard work, the restaurant becomes a great success and before long Rick Stein appears on our TV screens as a guest chef in Keith Lloyd’s series Floyd On Fish before he is given the chance to head his own series accompanied by his loyal canine friend, Chalky who became a bit of a star of his own!

Unfortunately, I wasn’t a big fan of this book for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I would have liked to see the emotional side of Rick a bit more. He didn’t really go into too much depth about the death of his father which he may have had his own reasons for (fair enough) but I would have felt a slightly better connection with him if he had opened up a bit more. That was my other problem. I don’t feel that we got to see the real Rick Stein through this book, more his public persona with a few juicy tid-bits here and there. I found his stories about travelling around Australia and Mexico more readable and there were certainly parts of his life at Oxford that compelled me to read on but other parts, especially the second half of the book just felt like a list of his accomplishments. I would just have preferred to read about the man himself and what made him tick, although I’m sure fans of his cookery series and books would enjoy reading about his rise to fame. I’m afraid this just wasn’t the case for me.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

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