Our blog about books, authors and reading

Voodoo, Blues, and Wandering after the Great Flood

ISBN: 
9780062225009

This first novel by an Asian-American has already created a lot of buzz.  First, it has an intriguing topic: Mississippi after the great flood of 1927. Secondly: the main characters are compelling--they are very poor African-Americans under the yoke of the white inhabitants. Finally, it shows exquisite writing.  William Ferris said, “Bill Cheng embraces the region’s 1927 flood, voodoo, blues, and race with breathtakingly beautiful prose.”

Southern Cross the Dog starts with a group of black children playing “Little Sally Water” in the rain—the rain that caused the great flood. Soon the story focuses on the character of Robert, the second born child of Etta and Ellis. Before long, you discover that his family has just suffered an immense tragedy. White vigilantes had hung the oldest son Billy for loving a white girl.

Bill Cheng captures the chaos and hardship after the flood. Dead bodies floated past.  Men with boats offered rides but also stole the food and valuable keepsakes of the displaced families. Robert’s family began this journey together, but ended up in a refugee camp. Because Etta has lost her mind over Billy’s death, she needs constant care. Ellis makes a difficult decision: to send young Robert off with someone to work in another town. Ellis thinks this is the only way all three of them will survive but he mistakenly does not tell his son why he is sending him away. Read more »

Rosie Nominations and Historical YA Fiction

Between Shades of GrayQuick! Name one thing you know about the Crimean War! Nothing? Florence Nightingale maybe?

Brief history lesson: The Crimean War was fought between Russia and an alliance of France and England over the declining Ottoman Empire in what is now part of the Ukraine.  This war pre-dates World War I, and is often considered as the first modern war. It is also famous for Florence Nightingale who drastically improved nursing practices while caring for wounded British soldiers.

Sounds exciting, right?  Ok, maybe not the most promising backdrop for a YA book, but In the Shadow of the Lamp has enough to keep you turning pages. Molly has been framed for theft and fired from her job as a parlor maid at a fancy London home. She decides to sneak her way onto a ship headed east when she hears that Miss Nightingale is looking for nurses. Even though she doesn’t have any training, Molly is headstrong and is willing to work hard. She is found out by Miss Nightingale, but her hard work and natural inclinations at nursing and caring for people proves her worthy. In fact, Molly's abilities are even a bit magical. The magical elements aren't played up too much and Molly is a likeable character as she struggles with defining her future, both professionally and personally. Whether during the Crimean War or now, trying to figure your way in the world is a timeless endeavor. Read more »

Books Plus June

WildJoin us on Sunday at Books Plus to discuss Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed at 2:00 p.m.

This memoir/adventure book recalls Cheryl's odyssey on the longest and most difficult of North America's long-distance hiking trails. With no experience and little planning, she encounters immense heat, rattlers, bears, cliffs, and raging snowstorms. But her journey is internal as well as external. Shortly before leaving her mother died and her marriage broke apart. This book describes what she learned about hiking, nature, and particularly herself during this journey.

More information about upcoming Books Plus discussions below. Read more »

Parenthood, Birth, and Other Transformations

ISBN: 
9781594487958

In A Guide to Being Born, Ausubel’s narrative voice is strong and unique.  She takes chances in her fiction yet unlike some modern authors, she still includes distinct narrative threads. You can tell she is an independent-minded author just from the layout of her collection--four sections titled: Birth, Gestation, Conception, and Love. Notice the order of her subjects, the reverse of what you might expect.

I fell in love with the first story “Safe Passage.” It begins this way, “The Grandmothers—dozens of them—find themselves at sea.” This boat full of older women find themselves adrift with hundreds of crates; they open them to see if any of the items will allow them to save themselves. The story is funny, whimsical, and fantastical all at once. Plus, it conceals a deeper level that you won’t discover right away. The grandmothers find shipping containers full of yellow roses, and they fill their arms with them despite the fact that the thorns leave blood tracks on their hands.

Another fantasy-rich story is “Chest of Drawers.” Toward the end of the wife’s pregnancy, her husband suddenly grows live drawers on his chest, a problem that necessitates many medical appointments and tests. Yet, the compartments come in handy for carrying things such as his wife’s lipstick and a bunch of tiny diversity dolls. Read more »

Photographing Loss

ISBN: 
9788857215570

Some books break your heart with their beauty; others break your heart with their sadness. Mighty Silence: Images of Destruction does the latter. In these days immediately following the highly destructive Oklahoma tornadoes of 2013, ripped homes, buildings, and schools are on our minds. This beautifully-produced book showcases many striking photographs of the Tohoku region of Japan where the massive tsunami struck two years ago.

The photos are large, some even opening into more than a two page spread. But the main thing that struck me about them is how seldom they include any people. I noticed only one person in the whole collection, a solitary utility repairman high in a crane over demolished houses and smashed cars. Animals are mostly missing also, except for one murder of crows crisscrossing the wires of one empty city, and a strange cat with radioactive-mutated whiskers near Fukushima. Read more »

Afoot and Lighthearted

ISBN: 
9780870716836

It's spring, the weather is warming fast, and when you can't go hiking, what could be better than reading about the world's best walks? In Walking Distance you'll find trails you may never be lucky enough to traverse yourself, but you can still image and enjoy the photographs. The locations are gorgeous: Peru, New Zealand, Australia, the Alps, Alaska, and Sweden among others. The book also shares many inspiring quotes such as this one from Thoreau, "It is a great art to saunter." Walt Whitman wrote in a poem, "Afoot and lighthearted / I take to the open road," which I used above for the blog title.

Also included is a history of walking where the authors describe how the Romantic writers adopted walking and hiking enthusiastically as Europe turned increasingly polluted and gritty due to the Industrial Revolution. Did you know that it's estimated that Wordsworth walked over 180,000 miles in his lifetime? Dickens, too, spent no less than four hours on most days walking - this is how he filled his novels with such interesting characters and authentic details. Read more »

Maker Days Summer Program Series

Maker Days 2013 headerMakers are all about the do-it-yourself culture, often with the creative addition of technology. Come learn, discover, and create at your library with maker experts from around our community. We have Maker Days programs for all ages. Registration is open now, but hurry, as many of these programs have limited space! Read more »

Garbage! Water! Or Why I Love Non-fiction

GarbologyI read a lot of narrative non-fiction - historical, microhistory, natural sciences, travel, and environmental. I read these to be better informed, but also for pleasure so my ultimate test for a narrative non-fiction book is whether it would have made a better magazine article. I hate finishing something that I think was interesting, but could have been boiled down into a 20 page magazine article with the same impact. I've recently read two non-fiction books passed the magazine article test and then some. 

The Big Thirst: The Marvels, Mysteries & Madness Shaping the New Era of Water by Charles Fishman isn't about how to make changes in your lifestyle with regards to water conservation. It isn't a how-to book for urban or rural planners. It is a book that will challenge what you think you know about water from the big picture including where it comes from and what do we really mean by "clean". This book will also identify our emotional connection with water and will put those assumptions to the test. Near the end of the book, an economist presents a model for future water use that makes sense for both dry places like Las Vegas and Australia should also be considered for wetter places like Atlanta and even Bloomington. There are pages and pages of research, calculations and notes at the end, but the book was captivating, accessible and provides much food for thought. Read more »

2013 Edgar Awards

Live by NightThe Edgar Awards were announced last week and because I am not normally a mystery reader, I usually only give a cursory glance at the winners. But this year, not only are there several winners and nominees that are pretty high on my to-read list, but I've even read one of the winners. 

The Mystery Writers of America present the Edgar Award to the best mystery books every year in a few different categories. This year there looks like many good choices. Who knows, maybe I'll be a mystery reader yet! Check out the entire list of winners and nominees at the Edgar Award website.

Best Novel: Live by Night by Dennis Lehane

Best First Novel: The Expats by Chris Pavone

Best Paperback Original: The Last Policeman: A Novel by Ben H. Winters

Best Fact Crime: Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China by Paul French

Best Juvenile: The Quick Fix by Jack D. Ferraiolo

Best Young Adult: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Light between Oceans

ISBN: 
9781451681734

When we lived in Alaska, every summer we rode the Alaska state ferries past some islands--rocky, bird-filled--that had only one sign of civilization, the bright revolving lighthouse. Each time I wondered about this way of life that had almost faded. This wonderful novel fleshes out what life was like for a family in the 1920s off the east coast of Australia.

If you ever wondered about this vocation, Stedman captures the isolation and the magic of being far from the crowd, the joy certain light house workers found in a solitary working environment where the people you served--the sailors and merchant shipmen--relied totally upon you even though you would never meet.

The Light between Oceans begins with young Tom Sherbourne riding a boat to Partageuse on the east coast of Australia after having recently been discharged from the military. He'd won some medals in WWI and was now assigned to be a temporary lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock. While in town getting his papers processed, he meets Isabel, a girl of nineteen, who invites him to feed bread to the ducks at the dock. When he thanks her later, she says, it's just a silly thing, but he replies that he enjoyed it very much. Tom is scarred by the violence of the war and by his family life before when his mother abandoned him and his father and brother. In fact, Tom refuses to speak to his dad over what happened. Read more »

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