A Severed Wasp

by Madeleine L’Engle

A Severed Wasp tells the story of Madame Vigneras, a retired pianist who finds herself developing unlikely relationships with the members of an Episcopal community in the heart of New York city. Vigneras hopes for a quiet retirement with time to come to terms with her past: Instead, she finds herself preparing to give a benefit concert at the Cathedral, and she quickly becomes embroiled in the fears, dramas, and problems of those around her. Somehow, amidst a strange mix of new friends, disturbing phone calls, and daydreams about her youth, she not only unravels the truth about strange events at the Cathedral, but also finds some peace about her past.

I have mixed feelings about the book. On the one hand, I respect the skill and imagination of Madeleine L’Engle: She tells an interesting story with a tone and style that befit the New York setting. Her characters certainly don’t fall flat; they come with an intriguing mix of history and emotion. And I enjoyed L’Engle’s careful observations about a musician’s unique outlook at life.

But despite the smooth writing, I found myself somewhat bored with the story. I felt as if I were attending one of the numerous dinner parties described in the book; I was mildly interested in the people around me, but ultimately just wanted the event to be over.

In the end, my reading experience with A Severed Wasp was reminiscent of attending a concert: Though I didn’t feel captivated by each note echoing through the hall, the overall effect was still pleasant enough. And I have a feeling that some of the deeper melodies will float through my mind for awhile.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle

When it comes to board books, it’s hard to go wrong with anything illustrated by Eric Carle. The bold colors and interesting textures seem to capture my son’s attention every time we pick up this book.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? has a great cadence, with the text following a simple pattern throughout the entire book. Each page depicts a brightly colored animal, and though Noah is too young to know his colors just yet, this book will be a fun teaching tool once he’s old enough to start learning them.

I find that my one-year-old has distinct preferences about books, even at this young age. With a great combination of animals, colors, and rhythm, this one is a winner every time we pick it up.

I Know A Rhino

This has quickly become a favorite for both me and my son. I’m a big fan of Charles Fuge’s illustrations, and in this book we see his delightful renderings of a little girl and her animal friends. The text is a wonderful poem telling about the various activities she shares with a rhino, an ape, and other assorted creatures. At the closing page, we see a fun little twist as the girl lays sleeping in bed–surrounded by stuffed animals that correspond to all the scenes depicted throughout the book.

My son is only one, but he seems to enjoy the bright colors and the rhythm of the text. There’s just the right amount of text on each page.

“I know a giraffe, and we laugh and we laugh, blowing hundreds of bubbles as we take a bath.” With cheerful prose like that, what’s not to love about this little book? I highly recommend it as part of any baby or toddler’s collection.

The Chase

by Susan Wales and Robin Shope

The Chase introduces us to Jill Lewis, an investigative reporter attempting to uncover a story of political scandal. But just as her story breaks, the shady senator she was attempting to expose comes up with some fabricated documents to clear his name, leaving Jill without a job or much of a reputation.

The rest of the story unfolds in Jill’s hometown of Delavan, Wisconsin, where Jill settles for a job at the local paper while trying to unravel the tangled threads of her story. A little romance unfolds when Jill meets her new boss, Craig Martin, and turns to him for help with her investigation.

At first, I had a difficult time getting into this story. I found Jill’s character to be a little unbelievable (would a hard-nosed investigative reporter really spend so much time daydreaming about a small-town newspaper editor?). There was a tendency toward overwriting in the first few chapters of the book, and the authors spent a little too much time setting up the romance, losing some of the suspense that one hopes for when they pick up a mystery.

Thankfully a strong plot developed and eventually won me over. In the end, this became a book that I had to stay up late reading because I just couldn’t put it down. Unlike many suspense novels, where the mystery’s solution is painfully obvious to the reader well before the main character realizes it, this book provided enough twists and turns to keep me guessing. The mystery pieces were put together well in the end, but unfortunately the romantic sub-plot resulted in an incredibly cheesy and unbelievable scene at the end of the book.

All in all, this was a decent effort for the authors’ first attempt at a novel. I’ll be interested to see how their writing develops in coming books. For those of you who like some light suspense and don’t mind a heavy dose of romance mixed in, The Chase may be just right for you.