Audiobook Review: Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus

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Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus
By Tom Angleberger
Narrated by Mark Turetsky, Tom Angleberger, Ali Ahn, Julia Todd Gibson, Jennifer Ikeda, Jonathan Ross, and Greg Steinbruner
Ⓟ 2014, Recorded Books
3.6 hours
CHILDREN 8-12/MIDDLE GRADE/GENERAL FICTION

The final installment in Tom Angleberger’s Origami Yoda series, sees kids from McQuarrie Middle School go on a field trip to Washington, DC. For those unfamiliar with the series, it centers around a loser named Dwight who folds a paper Yoda figure that dispenses wisdom and advice to his classmates. Seemingly divorced from Dwight himself, the paper figure achieves a certain mystic aura among most students, suspicion to some (’cause there’s always at least one person like that,) and frustration for all of the teachers. As the series goes on, more paper figures are introduced, all from the Star Wars cast of characters. It’s fun, and while the print books are heavily illustrated, the audio works surprisingly well on its own. The production value across the series is a little uneven (splicing the different narrators’ sessions together seems to be a recurring issue resulting in some extra long pauses in some of the titles); but “Emperor Pickletine” seems to have had a better post engineering on it than the other titles.

Tommy, the principal chronicler of the series is voiced by Mark Turetsky, who, as always, turns in a performance great for capturing the tone of a middle-grader (as opposed to sounding like an adult mimicking a child.) He does an awesome Chewbacca impression (check out The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee), which sadly wasn’t called for this time; but to make up for it, Dwight actually speaks in this book, and he is perfectly rendered by Tom Angleberger himself!

Even if you haven’t listened to the others in the series, the book is entertaining and fun; and I’m sad to see it end.

Great for family listening 🙂


OrigamiYoda
10:44am (February 3, 2015)
@dogearedcopy Thanks!!! I’ve been afraid to listen to it!

mturetsky
10:47am (February 3, 2015)
@dogearedcopy @OrigamiYoda Have you heard our interview @recordedbooks? You can rlly tell Tom does more interviews!

Recorded Books’ Interview with Tom Angleberger and Mark Turestsky:
Tom and Mark talk about the fun of narrating an audiobook, the imagination sparked by the Origami Yoda series, and of course, we geek out on some Star Wars trivia.

OTHER: I received a CD library edition of Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus (by Tom Angleberger; narrated by Mark Turetsky et al) from Recorded Books in exchange for a review. I receive no monies, goods (beyond the audiobook) or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post. I have donated my copy of the audiobook to Ashland Middle School in Ashland, OR which is currently rebuilding their audio collection. If you have a middle grade audiobook (CD edition(s)) in good or better condition that you would like to donate, please contact me at dogearedcopy@gmail.com

EDIT: 02/03/2015 – To add Tweets from Mark Turetsky and Tom Angleberger; To add Sound Cloud link to Recorded Books’ Interview

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Armchair Audies: Best Audiobook for Children Ages 8-12: Wrap Up Post

Judging the Armchair Audies category of Audiobooks for Children ages 8-12 was an extremely interesting, revelatory and educational experience for me! I have no experience producing children’s audiobooks much less reviewing them; but I felt that I was more than up to taking on this challenge armed with my secret weapon: Actual Children Aged 8-12! That’s right, I conscripted my daughter and her friends to a series of audiobooks, samples and questions; prepped the listening experience months in advance by listening to other children’s audiobooks; and finally taking Heidi’s (Bunbury in the Stacks) and my own assessments in hand before making a call!

by Laura Amy Schlitz
narrated by Davina Porter
12 hours, 2 minutes

This was the first book that we listened to for the Armchair Audies and personally my favorite: the production quality is edge-to-edge and the narration irreproachable. I was, however taken aback by how dark the story is. I wondered if the Gothic feel of this book might be attributable to the influence of other successfully dark books like Neil Gaiman’s Coraline; if it might be a hearkening back to the rather frightening dark tenor of the of the original fairy tales or; if, as someone in a group thread mentioned, it might be a matter of manifesting fears in a way that children could face and cope with them (ref. Bruno Bettleheim The Uses of Enchantment.) Regardless, there is quite a bit of morbidly scary imagery that a sensitive child may not care for. Anyway, my own daughter’s take was that she like the narrator’s accent and the scenes with the puppets performing; but that she wasn’t quite clear what was going on in some parts. She would, however, recommend the book to her best friend who is a more advanced reader and likes stories with witches and magic and such.

by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright
narrated by Katherine Kellgren and Robin Sachs
  2011, Listening Library
4 hours, 16 minutes

I had extremely high hopes for this book, but it proved to be a bust. From the opening screech to the last, I found the pitch and pace annoying. I was hoping that the talking animals would appeal to my daughter but she tuned out from the start; and the many literary references and puns went over her head. To be fair, not many kids her age would be familiar with Dickens and The Tale of Two Cities, Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White and/or William Makepeace Thackeray and his pepper problems; but there is nothing in the story to indicate that these people should be of interest or even real-life characters. Eventually, my daughter tuned out the words like so many adult conversations and became increasingly interested in iPad app games and the radio 😦
written and narrated by Silas House and Neela Vaswani
  2012, Candlewick/Brilliance
5 hours, 47 minutes
One thing that I learned listening to this audiobook is that children do not care about the narrator matching the age of the character that the narrator is reading! Appropriate casting is very much a top priority with me; but of course the number of narrators aged 8-12 is pretty small and; kids seem to hear their own voices in the intent and delivery of the narrator, not in the pitch. So, while I found Silas House’s narration “too old” for the character of River Justice in Same Sun Here, my daughter could not have cared less. Another thing that I learned is that often books for this age group, even chapter books, contain illustrations that are part of the reading experience. Sometimes you notice and sometimes you don’t. If you don’t notice, that’s a pretty good sign of a well-written book and a better audio experience as there is no sense of having been bereft for having chosen the audio over the print. There are illustrations in the print edition of Same Sun Here, but I didn’t realize it until I went to go check on the spelling of “Masoorie” that the authors used! That said, even though my daughter was more engaged with this book than with Splendors and Gloom and The Cheshire Cheese Cat, when I realized that she thought “Dadi” and “Daddy” were the same person and “Masoorie” was the way she thought Neela Vaswani was pronouncing “Missouri,” I also realized how important visual cues can be with a story :-/



by R.J. Palacio
narrated by Diana Steele, Nick Podehl and Kate Rudd
 2012, Brilliance Audio, Inc.
8 hours, 6 minutes


Man, oh man! I cannot tell you how this audio experience broke my heart! The story is amazing, but it could have been, should have been a better audio production. Nick Podehl was great; but Diana Steele sounded like Marge Simpson, Kate Rudd didn’t pre-read the book (or didn’t pay attention if she did) and one or two minor editing issues drove this to the bottom of the favored-to-win the Audie list. My daughter was interested in the story; but will be reading it in print instead.

The Freedom Maze
by Delia Sherman
narrated by Robin Miles
  2012, Listening Library
8 hours, 34 minutes
I didn’t have to listen to this for very long before I had heard enough to rank it over  Wonder and The Cheshire Cheese Cat! Despite some sibilance issues which may have been a matter of bad de-essing or compression processes, Robin Miles’ soothing voice was very welcome. I then created a chart of “Pluses” and “Minuses” for each title in the category which effectively ruled out Splendors and Glooms. When it came down to the final two choices The Freedom Maze had a much more intriguing premise than Same Sun Here and, I suspect my daughter found the magic in The Freedom Maze more palatable than in Splendors and Glooms. Heidi, over at Bunbury in the Stacks had already come to the same conclusion as to the winning entry so we had a consensus decision as to the winner of the Armchair Audies Best Audiobook for Children Ages 8-12: The Freedom Maze
You can check out my reviews of the titles above by clicking on the title beneath each cover (except for The Freedom Maze for which I have not written a review yet) and, Heidi’s reviews over at Bunbury in the Stacks:

Wonder



Wonder
by R.J. Palacio
narrated by Diana Steele, Nick Podehl and Kate Rudd
 2012, Brilliance Audio, Inc.
8 hours, 6 minutes
Children, Ages 8-12

The world is a hard place. And people are bastards. And kids are cruel. Especially to kids like Auggie Pullman.

August “Auggie” Pullman was born with a severely mal-formed face and raised in the relative shelter of his home and neighborhood environs – which is not to say that he has been shielded from public scrutiny or the visceral reactions he provokes upon those who chance on him. From outright screams of horror to glances stolen peripherally, Auggie is all too aware that he is a freak show and an outcast. But after years of home schooling, Auggie’s parents decide to send their son to a private school in Manhattan. Entering fifth grade as a new kid is a challenge anywhere at anytime for anyone, but for Auggie, without proven social skills and a history of ostracism, the prospect is particularly daunting. Wonder tracks Auggie’s first year in school from several perspectives: from Auggie himself; his sister, Olivia (“Via”); his best friend Jack; Via’s boyfriend, Justin; and from Via’s best friend, Miranda. What follows is a chronicle of the failings and triumphs of Auggie and the people close to him as he struggles with the transition to a wider world and proves that while “the universe has not been kind to Auggie,” the scales are not irredemptively tilted against him either:

 “…it’s not all random, if it really was all random, the universe would abandon us completely. and the universe doesn’t. it takes care of its most fragile creations in ways we can’t see. like with parents who adore you blindly. and a big sister who feels guilty for being human over you. and a little gravelly-voiced kid whose friends have left him over you. and even a pink-haired girl who carries your picture in her wallet. maybe it is a lottery, but the universe makes it all even out in the end. the universe takes care of all its birds.”

Wonder is a poignant story that well illustrates personal triumphs as well as a sort of karmic justice in play. Issues are all resolved as a testament to adversity-forged character, direct action or good fortune. If anything, perhaps Wonder is a little bit overly optimistic, reaching for that feel-good moment at the expense of reality; but then again, to a middle-grader it may prove to be a vaccine inoculating against the worldly cynicism and darkness that has crept into our common culture. Auggie’s case is extreme and rare so it may take a mentor to make the correlation for the young listener between Auggie and other “outsiders” that are more commonplace.
Wonder is an amazing story and should have been well served by an audio edition; but unfortunately, it wasn’t. While casting women in the roles of young boys in audio/voice-over is not uncommon, the purpose of doing so is to match the soprano voice of the unchanged male voice. Diana Steele’s voice may have matched the range and been delivered in with the raspiness that the text mandated; but she could not let go of her feminine sensibilities enough to deliver the narrative convincingly enough as that of a young boy. One felt that these sections were being read by Marge Simpson – an idea that, once you’ve heard it, you can’t “unhear” it. Kate Rudd, on the other hand, delivered the story’s sections from Olivia and Miranda’s point of view with earnestness, though she often rendered Auggie has having a voice of a mentally handicapped person rather than one with a damaged/repaired oropharnyx. As the text takes pains to indicate that Auggie not slow and that he has a raspy voice, Ms Rudd’s choice was unfortunate and all the more glaring. Nick Podehl, while not the voice of a fifth grader, delivered his sections (Jack and Justin) truthfully and well. There aren’t may textual cues to define Justin, so the challenge was in distinguishing Jack, a boy from the “other” side of Broadway. While initially, Nick Podehl’s choice of an old-school New York accent for Jack was disconcerting, he does dial back after the first impression and the tone is effectively set.

The only other issues with the audio were minor production quibbles: the processing on Diana Steele’s voice for the quotes before her sections sounded oddly “metallic;” during one of Kate Rudd’s sections as Olivia there was an egregious edit (end of one word/beginning of next word had zero interstitial space) and, in the same (Olivia’s) section there seems to be silences inserted in between some sentences which made for an odd cyclical wave sound. [To be fair though, I won’t discount that there was something awry with my listening set-up. Even though I chased down cables and checked for sources of interference, I could not determine the source of what might have been a bizarre grounding issue.]

Other Stuff: I purchased a digital dnload edition of Wonder (by R.J.Palacio; narrated by Diana Steele, Nick Podehl and Kate Ruddfrom iTunes. I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

This is an Armchair Audies review 🙂


See Also:
Heidi’s review of Wonder (by R.J. Palacio; narrated by Diana Steele, Nick Podehl and Kate Rudd) at Bunbury in the Stacks!

My review of Same Sun Here (written and narrated by Silas House and Neela Vaswani) and Heidi’s review at Bunbury in the Stacks 🙂

My review of  The Cheshire Cheese Cat (by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright; narrated by Katherine Kellgren and Robin Sachs) and
Heidi’s review at Bunbury in the Stacks!

My review of Splendors and Glooms (by Laura Amy Schlitz; narrated by Davina Porter) and Heidi’s Review of the same at Bunbury in the Stacks 🙂



Same Sun Here

Same Sun Here
written and narrated by Silas House and Neela Vaswani
  2012, Candlewick/Brilliance
5 hours, 47 minutes
Children, Ages 8-12

Same Sun Here is an epistolary novel featuring the correspondence between two 12-year old pen pals: Meena, an illegal immigrant girl from India living in a rent control apartment (without the landlord’s knowledge or consent) in New York City and; River, a Kentucky boy from a rural coal mining area. Both first find common ground in their shared love of mountains, but their friendship grows as they promise to always write truthfully as to what their respective thoughts and  feelings are.

Meena and River are both face challenges in their lives unique to their area: Meena lives a furtive life fearing eviction from her family’s apartment while River’s environment is being ruined by mountain top removal operations that threaten the health and safety of the area’s inhabitants. What Meena and River have in common is having to confront the social injustices that force them into the role of victims. However, as Meena’s parents patiently go through the steps of becoming U.S citizens and River’s grandmother spearheads a grass roots movement to draw awareness to the coal mining company’s devastation of the area, both kids are inspired to persevere in their own ways and find hope in their futures.

Same Sun Here is an excellent exposition of commonplace social inequity that infiltrates The Land of Opportunity and how, despite suffocating odds, small actions can provide the force for change. The letters are dated 2008-2009, which places the context of conditions during Obama’s election campaign, victory and swearing-in to office. As such, there is a liberal flavor to the book, though there is no slamming of political conservatism or of Obama’s political rivals.

The authors, Silas House and Neela Vaswani narrate their own work. Silas House has a voice that’s a bit too mature to be playing that of a middle-grade student; but his native Kentuckian accent, his earnestness and, the fact that most kids don’t care about the age of the narrator relative to the character, all work in his favor. Neela Vaswami has a girlish voice and her accented English poses no issue in terms of being understood. That said, young listeners may become confused without the visual prompts of the text to be able to distinguish between “Dadi” and “Daddy” and, what sounds like “Missouri” with what is actually “Massoorie.” There are illustrations in the book, but the audio narrative does not suffer for not being able to display them.


Other Stuff: I purchased a digital dnload edition of Same Sun Here (written and narrated by Silas House and Neela Vaswanifrom iTunes. I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

This is an Armchair Audies review 🙂

See Also:
Heidi’s Armchair Audies Review of Same Sun Here (written and narrated by Silas House and Neela Vaswani) at Bunbury in the Stacks

My review of  The Cheshire Cheese Cat (by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright; narrated by Katherine Kellgren and Robin Sachs) and
Heidi’s review at Bunbury in the Stacks!

My review of Splendors and Glooms (by Laura Amy Schlitz; narrated by Davina Porter) and Heidi’s Review of the same at Bunbury in the Stacks 🙂


The Cheshire Cheese Cat


The Cheshire Cheese Cat
by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright
narrated by Katherine Kellgren and Robin Sachs
  2011, Listening Library
4 hours, 16 minutes
Children, Ages 8-12


Skilley is a cheese loving tom cat prowling the alleys of Charles Dickens’ London in search of a safe haven. As it happens, The Cheshire Cheese, a local pub renowned for the excellence of its eponymous dairy product, is in search of a mouser! It seems to be a match made in heaven, but there are certain challenges that must be met in order for Skilley to secure the position – a rival tom cat, an erudite mouse named Pip, a stranded Raven of the Tower of London, a cleaver-wielding cook and a keenly intuitive kitchen servant…

The Cheshire Cheese Cat explores the difficulties of being different, of having friendship tested, of the adversities that individuals face but that ultimately shape character. Skilley has certain traits that are decidedly un-catlike and, his ego in trying to construct and preserve his cat image affects his relationships with others. Evolving self-awareness and reconciling his true nature with his public face show how the individual can change and grow rather than be inhibited by perecived stigmas. It’s easy to make the comparison of Skilley’s social dilemas with the challenges a child might face in terms of self-identity (embracing that which makes us unique) and social interaction (what it means to be loyal and the consequences of betrayal.) The scenes on which these ideas are explored are an opportunity for the child to make the correlation between the anthropomorphized animals and themselves and, require a bit of thoughtful listening.

The Cheshire Cheese Cat has an interesting hook to the story in that Charles Dickens and a couple of other literary luminaries of the time make an appearance in the story. Dickens’ himself is given interstitial passages that provide a third person point-of-view to the goings on at the pub. Wilkie Collins and William Makepeace Thackery also make an appearance, though not given voice. Deedy and Wright have also provided some Easter Eggs for those familiar with the mid-19th century authors, e.g.The story opens with the line, “It was the best of toms, it was the worst of times” and we bear witness to Dickens struggling to find the opening lines for A Tale of Two Cities. Given that not many children are familiar with 19th-century authors and their works, these references may go over their heads.

There are some gruesome bits in The Cheshire Cheese Cat: Mice are eaten and nearly boiled alive and, the description of rodent infestation (multitude and aroma) were a bit nauseating for those who have experienced the like (see “Mice“); and while the overall feel of the book is not dark, if your child/-ren has/have a sensitivity to descriptions of animal suffering, you may want to be prepared.

Katherine Kellgren is the British-American narrator who voices the majority of the novel, providing the world view from Skilley’s point-of-view. The book provides numerous opportunities to show off the narrator’s talent with characterizations; but fair warning: The opening scene sets the tenor of the narrative with a screech and the story is delivered at near-breakneck speed.
Robin Sachs, the late British-American actor, narrates the sections from Dickens’ point of view and though infrequent, are nice reprieves from the pitch and pace from the rest of the narrative.


Other Stuff: I borrowed a CD edition of The Cheshire Cheese Cat (by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright; narrated by Katherine Kellgren and Robin Sachs) from the Jackson County Library System (Southern Oregon.) I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.


This is an Armchair Audies review 🙂

Check out Heidi’s Armchair Audies review of The Cheshire Cheese Cat at Bunbury in the Stacks!

See also: My review of Splendors and Glooms (by Laura Amy Schlitz; narrated by Davina Porter) and Heidi’s Review of the same at Bunbury in the Stacks 🙂



Splendors and Glooms


Splendors and Glooms
by Laura Amy Schlitz
narrated by Davina Porter
Recorded Books. Inc.2012
12 hours, 2 minutes
Children, Ages 8 -12

The Phoenix Stone is a fire opal that grants great power, and a great curse, upon the person who possesses it. Cassandra, an aged woman and witch, has it and wants to get rid of it. Grisini, a wizard and puppeteer in London, wants it but can’t get it. Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, Grisini’s apprentices in fantocini, don’t care about it, but are used as pawns in the wizard’s scheme to acquire it. And Clara is the victim of enchantments and a kidnapping plot as her fate aligns with that of the others and to that of the Phoenix Stone. Actually, all of the characters are victims in this  tale of intrigue taking place in London, 1816: Cassandra and Grisini are prey to their greed and ambition; Lizzie and Paresfall to the vicissitudes of being orphans at time when poverty and workhouses were common and; Clara of a survivor’s guilt dating back to the death of all of her siblings.

Splendors and Glooms is a fantastic tale with magic and thrills and, rich in detail of setting and thought; but it is also a rather dark and sophisticated story. It is ostensibly aimed at children, ages 8 -12, presumably because the story features children in that age range. The story provides a number of opportunities to explore a different time, place and culture. Listeners actually of the target demographic might benefit from the insight of a more mature reader to more fully explain subjects as death masks, memento mori, London fog, child exploitation, cholera, … than is addressed in the book itself. There is also some rather frightening imagery described in the story: witches burning, a lurid monkey-shaped bell pull, a scene in a crypt, a bit of violence and blood… in fact quite a bit more gloom than splendor overall. There is a trend in children’s literature that encourages walking on the dark side, indulging in the more gothic themes that harken back to the original fairy tales, and Splendors and Glooms follows this trend.

Davina Porter is the British narrator whose work on this book is irreproachable. Her cultured voice, distinct characterizations, her ability to disappear into the text, mark her as a master narrator. In Splendors and Glooms, Davina Porter voices the POVs of an aged crone, an old, sleazy man, a pre-adolescent girl with theatrical training, an illiterate street urchin (boy) and a little rich girl, all with seeming ease. Splendors and Glooms is a relatively long book for children’s fare, but the narrator’s pace never flagged and was as strong at the end as it was in the beginning.

Other Stuff: I dnloaded a digital copy of Splendors and Glooms (by Laura Amy Schlitz; narrated by Davina Porter) from iTunes.  I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

This is an Armchair Audies review 🙂

Check out Heidi’s Armchair Audies review of Splendors and Glooms at Bunbury in the Stacks!

Coraline (10th Anniversary Edition)

Coraline
10th Anniversary Edition
Illustrated by Dave McKean
Published 04/24/2012
Coraline discovers an alternate reality though a small door that at first, seems to open onto a bricked  up wall in the new house that her family has moved into; but in fact leads her to her Other Mother and Other Father. Coraline’s Other Parents extend a tempting invitation to remain in this Other place which is very much like the one she has left; but much better in terms of the food, care and, attention from parents that Coraline craves.

There is a temptation to view Coraline as something of a dark and distorted version of Alice in Wonderland: there is the young female protagonist, a looking glass, an enigmatic cat, a prandial setting in which the absurd reigns… and yet, to insist on this analogy would diminish Gaiman’s work as merely derivative —- which it certainly is not, at least not in the pejorative sense. There are certainly multiple influences, literary in form and style that have come to bear in this young adult tale; but it would be more apropos to consider Coraline as the extension of literary tradition. e.g. that of the Knight’s Tale or even of the troubadour tradition.

The tenth anniversary edition of Coraline also includes interviews with Neil Gaiman at the end of the book: the first set of questions & answers are from when the book was first published and the second set of questions & answers are on the occasion of the book’s tenth anniversary. Gaiman mentions that Coraline is a book about bravery and it is; but more than that, though Gaiman himself does not draw the correlation, Coraline speaks to the classic tales of heroism and quest that are usually reserved for boys. Coraline is a Knight’s Tale for girls: Coraline is an Everygirl who wants for nothing extraordinary, but is cast upon a mission or quest for three things – three things that will engender True Love from a Mother figure and, who ultimately must confront a dragon. The leitmotif of the dragon is introduced in the epigraph by G.K. Chesterton and reinforced with descriptive phases in regard to the antagonist and again underscored in the interviews.

Fairy tales are more than true; not because
they tell us that dragons exist, but because
they tell us that dragons can be beaten. 

                            — G.K. Chesterton 

Coraline is a fairy tale, a Knight’s Tale, a very dark tale that draws on some fine literary traditions; but presents the reader with novel and creative images that make it uniquely the work of Gaiman.

For parents: The imagery in Coraline is very dark and may not be appropriate for children who are prone to fearfulness or nightmares, especially of rats, actors and/or the door in your house that leads to the crawl space. Parents may also have to answer questions about parental love, neglect and abuse, smother love, abstract concepts of creativity and parallel universes.

See Also:
Mr. Bobo’s Remarkable Mouse Circus
Coraline.com

Other Stuff:
I purchased Coraline, 10th Anniversary Edition (by Neil Gaiman; with illustrations by David McKean) from the Barnes & Noble in Medford, Oregon. I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing this product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

This post is part of the Murder, Monsters, Mayhem feature being hosted by Jennifer L. at her blog, http://www.jennsbookshelves.com