One-Minute Book Reviews

September 3, 2009

‘Catie Copley’ – A Friendly Labrador Retriever Greets Guests at a Boston Hotel in a Children’s Book Inspired by a Real Dog

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:26 am
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Reviews of children’s books normally appear on this site on Saturdays, but I couldn’t post last weekend because of technical problems, so I’m catching up.

Catie Copley. By Deborah Kovacs. Pictures by Jared T. Williams. Godine, 32 pp., $17.95. Ages 3 and up.

By Janice Harayda

Anyone who enjoyed Robert McCloskey’s classic Make Way for Ducklings will find an interesting bit literary cross-referencing in this picture-book inspired by the real-life black Labrador retriever who greets guests at the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston. Catie Copley became the “Canine Ambassador” for the hotel after eye problems kept her from her intended work as a guide for the blind. In this book, she performs a different service when her excellent sense of smell helps her find a teddy bear lost by Tess, a young female guest. Before the missing Milo turns up, Catie and Tess visit the Public Garden – the spot McCloskey’s ducklings were trying to reach when a policeman stopped traffic for them.

Deborah Kovacs tells a fast-paced story from Catie’s point of view in serviceable prose with some weak spots. Kovacs says, for example, that “all the hard work in the hotel” goes on in downstairs rooms such as the kitchen and laundry – as though the upstairs maids, valets, and concierges don’t work hard, too. But Jared Williams offsets some of her lapses with engaging watercolors that invest both human and animal characters with warmth. And his dynamic endpapers draw you in to the book with dozens of images of Catie holding a teddy bear in her mouth in different positions.

Best line/picture: Williams’s pictures of Catie are expressive and realistic without anthropomorphizing her, especially the full-face images on the cover and elsewhere.

Worst line/picture: Kovacs’s workmanlike prose runs to lines such this one that might have appeared in a Zagat guide: “The food is great and my bed is comfy.”

Recommendation: Catie Copley or its sequel could be a good gift for a preschooler who has a labrador or plans to visit Boston. It could also help to prepare children for a visit to a fancy hotel.

Published: May 2007. Catie Copley has inspired sequel that came out in March 2009, Catie Copley’s Great Escape, also published by David R. Godine.

Furthermore: Children who enjoy Catie Copley can e-mail Catie at an address listed on the dust jacket.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com and www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

June 24, 2009

Why Do We Keep Reading Mystery Series That Are Running Out of Gas? Maureen Corrigan on Robert B. Parker’s ‘Spenser’ Novels

Filed under: Mysteries and Thrillers — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:46 am
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Why do we keep reading novels in mystery or other series long after their plots have become formulaic and their characters have begun to repeat themselves? Sometimes the answer is simple: We hope their authors will regain their form.

But I’ve stayed with series after I knew that wouldn’t happen and continued to enjoy them. And Maureen Corrigan offers a possible explanation for why in a discussion of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels in Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books (Vintage, 240 pp., $14.95, paperback). Corrigan says she started reading the Spenser series in part because it “helped to transform the macho politics of the private eye and also the profession’s monkish lifestyle” with by having a male hero who has a mostly monogamous relationship with a female therapist.

“When I began reading them the Spenser novels were pretty much out there in terms of their depiction of utopian alternatives to the traditional nuclear family,” she writes.

The series has changed a lot since its launch, with The Godwulf Manuscript, in 1973, but she’s stayed with it. Corrigan writes:

”Whenever a new Spenser novel appears, usually every spring, I still read it in one or two sittings. By now, the plot is almost beside the point. Instead, I read the latest greatly diminished Spenser novels to check in with his extended alternative family: I’m curious about what Hawk is up to these days and about Paul’s ongoing search for love and Susan’s latest home purchase. Reading the Spenser novels now is a little like reading one of those chatty holiday letters that come tucked in Christmas cards. The story lines are predictable, but still, it’s nice to keep up with who’s lost weight, gotten married, or had a set of brass knuckles smashed into his face.”

www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

March 26, 2009

Brendan Halpin’s ‘Losing My Faculties’ — A High School Teacher Tells All

Filed under: Memoirs,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:49 am
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It’s odd how few good memoirs there are by high school teachers, especially compared with the many by professors. A worthy exception to the pattern is Losing My Faculties: A Teacher’s Story (Villard, 256 pp., $15, paperback). In this lively book, Brendan Halpin reflects on his years as young teacher in inner-city and suburban public schools in the Boston area in the 1990s. His tone can be smart-alecky, but he’s a passionate teacher who has grounds for complaint about apsects of his work: hostility from older teachers, a poorly designed truancy program, patronizing advice dispensed to teachers by consultants with no classroom experience. Halpin has also written a good memoir of his first wife’s breast-cancer treatments, It Takes a Worried Man, and young-adult or crossover novels, including Donorboy and new I Can See Clearly Now (Villard, 288 pp., $14).

(c) 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 17, 2008

A Colorful Irish Politician Gets Another Hurrah in a Fine Biography

Filed under: Biography — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:59 pm
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Many people know the flamboyant Irish politician James Michael Curley only through Edwin O’Connor’s novel The Last Hurrah or its excellent film version, which starred Spencer Tracy in one of his greatest roles. But the four-time Boston mayor (who spent part of his last term in jail) has also inspired a fine biography, Jack Beatty’s The Rascal King: The Life and Times of James Michael Curley (1874–1958) (DaCapo, $22.50). Did people really sing “Vote often and early for Curley” as in John Ford’s film? Beatty deals with this and other provocative questions in a lively and well-paced account that holds its own against the many good books about Irish politicians who are better-known, including the Kennedys. Any mayor who is leading a parade today would be lucky if, several decades from now, a biographer as conscientious as Beatty decided to start looking into some of the myths about his or her life.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

November 25, 2007

Airport Grammar Delays Affect Thousands of Travelers As Logan Sends Message to Visitors to the U.S.: Welcome to America, Land of the Free and the Home of the Sub-Literate

 

The grammatically challenged Boston airport needs help from Patricia O’Conner’s bestseller

By Janice Harayda

Airports had record delays this year, and their grammar isn’t doing well, either.

I wrote an extra post over the weekend about the Bad Sex in Fiction Award, so I was going to take the day off today. But I realized that I was looking at a literary emergency when I got to the baggage claim section at Logan International Airport yesterday and saw these lines on large, permanent signs above a carousel:

“Many bags look alike, compare your claim stubs with the tag on your bag.”

“Oversize items and pets may be claimed at the Baggage claim.”

The first line is a run-on sentence — specifically, a comma splice or comma fault, which joins two independent clauses with a comma. And the structure isn’t parallel, because if you had “stubs,” you’d have “bags.”

The second line is scarcely better. Does the line mean that you can claim oversize items and oversize pets at the “Baggage claim”? If so, where do you claim the regular-sized pets? Wouldn’t it have been clearer to say, “Pets and oversized items …”? Why is the “B” in “baggage claim” capitalized? When did “Baggage” become a proper noun? And, yes, that “oversize” in the second line should be “oversized,” too.

My first instinct was to blame Continental Airlines for these examples of turbulence hitting the English language. But the baggage carousel Newark Airport got it right: “Many bags look alike. Please match the claim number on your ticket to the tag on your bag.” That “please” was nice, too.

So problem lies not with Continental but with the Massachusetts Port Authority www.massport.com, which runs Logan, and, I guess, its executive director, Thomas J. Kinton, Jr., who hasn’t sent a posse to clean up the mess. A book that could help is Patricia T. O’Conner’s Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English (Riverhead, $14, paperback) www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2006/12/30/. A former editor of the New York Times Book Review, O’Conner www.grammarphobia.com also wrote the new Woe Is I Jr. (Putnam, $16.99, ages 9–12), illustrated by Tom Stiglich. It offers “jargon-free explanations and entertaining examples (Shrek, Count Olaf, Garfield, and Harry Potter all put in appearances,” School Library Journal said.

I haven’t read Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation (Gotham, $11, paperback), but that might do the trick, too. Truss www.lynnetruss.com has also written a children’s book on punctuation, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Why, Commas Really Do Matter! (Putnam, $15.99, ages 4–8).

Why not leave a comment if you see airport or other signs that show millions of people – many of them arriving the country for the first time — that America is the Land of the Free and the Home of the Sub-Literate?

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

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