Monthly Archives: August 2007

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I’m a sucker for a good vampire novel and Meyer makes monsters romantic again in this third episode of the Twilight series. The passion-colored ribbon snaking across the cover of Eclipse is a harbringer of rift and bloodshed to come. Bella Swan, ordinary high school student, is still madly in love with beautiful vampire Edward Cullen, but it’s complicating her friendship with Jacob Black (the one who was there to pick up the pieces when Edward removed himself from her life). Jacob just happens to be a werewolf, and werewolves and vampires are sworn enemies. In addition to the “which boy will she pick” dilemma, a parallel conflict is created when a series of brutal murders in the northwest indicates a rogue vampire pack is on the move, and the Cullens are going to be facing a major showdown soon. Per usual, Bella is wrapped up in the middle of it, and in mortal danger.

The best parts of the book are a long storytelling session in which Billy Black tells the myth of the Third Wife. The attention to detail and careful styling are excellent. A scene in which the love triangle are forced to spend a night in a tent together reveals more character than the previous 500 pages. The allusions to Wuthering Heights elevate the plot and are a nod to the tradition of gothic literature, and may even inspire some teens to pick up a classic.

Frustratingly, Bella remains little more than a pawn in this book, trying to please everyone but herself. Much of this tome is taken up with her obsessing over the events of the backstory, and looking to her future, and whether or not she wants to be married, deflowered, turned, or all three, and when. Although she is a terrible role model for young women (marry young, girls are possessions, let your mate control your life, there is only One True Love, etc), the palpable (and chaste) longing will keep fans of the series swooning.

Eclipse is a must-have for YA collections, in spite of the fact that I personally wanted to throw the book across the room when I finished it. See, I’m holding out hope that in the next book, Breaking Dawn, slated for release next year, Bella snaps out of it and ends up with the RIGHT guy–for the right reasons. The debate on WHICH guy that will be rages on.

Leonardo’s Shadow: Or, My Astonishing Life as Leonardo da Vinci’s Servant by Christopher Grey

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Leonardo’s Shadow: Or, My Astonishing Life as Leonardo da Vinci’s Servant by Christopher Grey

Grey, Christopher. Leonardo’s Shadow: Or, My Astonishing Life as Leonardo da Vinci’s Servant. Atheneum, 2008. ISBN 978-1416905448 400 pp. $13.99

Inspired by Leonardo’s Notebooks, author Grey creates a portrait of the famous painter and inventor, imaginatively seen through the eyes of his faithful young servant Giacomo. Much of the plot concerns the completion of the painting of the Last Supper. The artist, two years past deadline, cannot pay his ever more impatient creditors, and shrouds himself and his motivations in mystery, while glib Giacomo is left to make excuses to merchants, to aristocrats, and to the clergy. Meanwhile, Giacomo is struggling to find answers to his own questions, too: why won’t da Vinci teach him how to paint? What is the real reason for the delay of the Last Supper? And, most importantly, what is Giacomo’s true parentage? 

Giacomo’s voice is the major strength of this first novel. He recounts his adventures in 15th century Milan in a conversational way that makes the city come alive with sights, smells, and sounds. Historical details like what clothing people wore are woven into to a trip to the tailor shop. Giacomo’s wide-eyed observation and participation on everything from the annual street fight between servants and apprentices to how paint is made draw the reader in.

Grey cleverly brings in details of da Vinci’s real life, naming the servant Caterina after his mother, making his medusa-esque portrait a commissioned work that outrages the duke’s mistress, and alluding to the legend that the same model was used for Jesus and Judas.

The book is aesthetically pleasing too. Sketches of da Vinci’s decorate the verso of the title page, the cover has the look of an aged painting and the rough cut edges give an antique feel that fits the setting. Slip off the dustcover to reveal a print of the Last Supper to refer to as the denoument blossoms.

Even years after Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (Doubleday, 2003), interest in the topic remains high; references to the infidelities within the Italian court and da Vinci’s questioned sexuality may be too earthy for younger readers in spite of the accessibility of the story and engaging narrative. 

An author’s note lists several text and web resources, and an excellent short film to promote the book is hosted at http://www.youtube.com/user/LeonardosShadow.

Gooey Jellyfish by Natalie Loomis (No Backbone! the World of Invertebrates series)

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Loomis, Natalie. Gooey Jellyfish. Bearport Publishing, 2007. ISBN 978-1597165105. 24 pp.

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Part of the No Backbone! series on invertebrates, Gooey Jellyfish presents facts about these spineless sea creations in clear short sentences, using analogies children will be familiar with, such as by defining size range from the size of a grape to the size of a person. Each two-page spread contains text on the left with a photo on the right, and an additional fact or two in a bubble. The information is arranged logically, first introducing the concept of invertebrates, then talking about jellyfish specifically, covering variety, how they eat, and how they sting.

Gorgeous full color photos show the range of size and color of jellies. Some have labels but none are captioned, although there is a long list of photo credits on the verso of the table of contents.  Vocabulary related to marine biology appears in bold, and are fully defined with both pictures and text, in a short glossary. The index is complete in scope, and three other titles appear in a list of further reading. The author thanks a consultant from the New England Aquarium, but no sources are cited.

Although too brief to be very useful for reports (there are over 2,000 species of jellyfish, and only the most dangerous one is named) this is a solid introduction to the subject, and a website for the series offers more information, such as what to do (or not do!) if you find a jellyfish washed up on land, and also has games and activities teachers may find useful, such as a fact sheet and crossword puzzle. Recommended for larger collections.

Review by Beth Gallaway

Fur-tastrophe Avoided: Southern Sea Otters by Jeanette Leardi

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Leardi, Jeanette. Southern Sea Otters: Fur-tastrophe Avoided. Bear Claw, 2021 (reprint). ISBN ‎ 978-1636910550. 24 pp. $10

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Written in an engaging narrative, Leardi draws the reader in with a scientist’s account of discovering this thought-to-be-extinct species. She backtracks to provide a little history, discussing the hunting of otter for fur that made southern sea otters believed to be gone forever. An explanation of subsequent efforts to such up a refuge along the California coast and the passing of laws enacted to protect sea otters from hunting and fishing, follows. Leardi brings the reader up to present day, when the largest threat to marine life is pollution, especially oil contamination. The final pages include a fact sheet on southern sea otters, and a page or two on other endangered sea animals. The narrative is uncommonly well written for an animal nonfiction book designed for school reports, with appeal for browsing readers as well.

Full color photos–at least two in each two page spread–catch sea otters at play, researchers checking the animals, and images of beach cleanups and sea otter predators. An excellent map shows the habitat of the species in the past and present. 

Words that may be unfamiliar appear in boldface and are defined, with pronunciations, in a glossary. The index is complete in scope, photo credits are listed, and there is a  brief bibliography and list of further reading. Recommended for large collections, or where reports on endangered species are de rigueur.