Information, Answers & Reviews

Orphan Train

ISBN: 
9780061950728

I had a personal connection to this novel because my mom was raised as an orphan in Chicago. Luckily, she never had to experience adoptions or sharing foster homes with unloving parents but she did start out on her own at age sixteen working as a salesgirl in the Chicago Loop.

This touching intertwined story of two orphans: one contemporary and one from depression era days, was a quick and touching read. It begins with Goth-looking Molly, a young, half-Native America girl from Maine who just got busted for stealing a book from the public library.  Really? Well not every detail in a novel has to be 100% authentic.   

In case you’re curious, Molly took the third and the most beaten-up copy of Jane Eyre. Read more »

Once in the West

ISBN: 
9780374227012

Several best poetry lists of the year include this seventh title by Christian Wiman, former editor of the well-renowned Poetry Magazine, who now teaches at Yale Divinity School.

His interest in theology and his experience as a person with a terminal disease bring a unique focus to his writing as these lines attest: “A soul / extrapolated // from the body’s / need // needs a body / of loss.”  In another poem “The Preacher Addresses the Seminarians” he shows the power of the right words to hone in, “I tell you some Sundays even the children’s sermon / --maybe especially this—sharks your gut // like a bite of tin some beer-guzzling goat / either drunkenly or mistakenly decides to sample.”  

As he did in his memoir My Bright Abyss about life after a bone marrow transplant, Wiman dives deep. There is no surface skimming for him.  Several poems celebrate his Read more »

Deep Down Dark

ISBN: 
9780374280604

Even though I knew the ending before I opened this book, this in-depth, emotionally and factually rich story of 33 miners trapped under the earth for sixty-nine days was a real thriller.

The book opens with a photograph of the 33 men who survived two months deep underground. Thirty-two were from Chile, and there was one young miner from Bolivia who had the amazingly bad luck to be stuck in a mine collapse on his very first day of work.

In his fourth book, journalist Tobar presents not only the San Jose mine but an overview of modern Chilean life. He begins with a rich description of many of the miners and their families, some of whom travelled almost the whole length of Chile for their jobs. Read more »

The Prestige

ISBN: 
9780788868856

Opening Lines:  “Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called "The Pledge.” The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course... it probably isn't. The second act is called "The Turn." The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you're looking for the secret... but you won't find it, because of course you're not really looking. You don't really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn't enough; you have to bring it back. That's why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call "The Prestige."

While growing up in Bloomington, I had the pleasure of knowing a professional stage magician.  He made a small living performing at various conventions and meetings around the United States.  As a small boy of 10, I found him fascinating.  He took me under his wing for a while and gave me what he called a beginning magic kit.  It wasn’t the type you found in magic stores. This was something special.  Read more »

Claire of the Sea Light

ISBN: 
9780307271792

This Sunday at 2 p.m. in Room 2B, join our Booksplus discussion about Edwidge Danticat’s Claire of the Sea Light.  In honor of Black History month, we will discuss this luminous book set in Haiti just before the cataclysmic earthquake of 2009.

Danticat, who emigrated from Haiti as a child, has won many awards including the MacArthur Award (nicknamed the genius award).

If you like folklore and learning about other cultures, Claire of the Sea Light is the book for you. It tells the tale of a young girl whose mother died just after her daughter’s birth. According to Haitian folklore, this makes Claire a revenan, a child who battled with her mother’s spirit and won.

On each of her birthdays, Nozias, Claire’s father, takes her to visit her mother’s grave. In the cemetery they meet Madam Gaelle, a fabric store owner and wealthy widow in town, who lost her own daughter on the same date as Claire’s birthday. Read more »

Everything I Never Told You

ISBN: 
9781594205712

The story opens with the death of 16-year-old Lydia. Her family has gathered for breakfast on a busy May morning. It’s the usual chaos, two kids running in and out of the kitchen gathering homework and school bags and eating on the run.

It’s the 1970s and the father, James, is a history professor in a small town in Ohio; the mother, Marilyn, an unwilling homemaker.

Celeste Ng’s luminous first novel deals with issues of race, sex discrimination, and a parent who places burdensome academic expectations on a child. Read more »

Best Short Stories of the Year

ISBN: 
9780345807311

I love anthologies, particularly of short stories. But I must confess I never follow the editor’s carefully thought-out arrangement.

Certainly, I hit pay dirt with this year’s O. Henry prize collection.  The very first story I dove into “Good faith” by Colleen Morrissey wowed me on first reading and ended up being my favorite.

What made it so good? Snake handlers, religion, a summer road-trip, girls coming of age, family conflict, romance, and camping out under the stars. It tells the story of a religious family travelling the south who meet two rich young men on the road.

That night the leading character Rachel does snake handling, not for entertainment, as she tells the more serious young man, Mr. Pattinson, but as part of her faith and religious practice. Read more »

Stars, Planets, Moon

ISBN: 
9781770853256

I know the title sounds like an oxymoron, but if astronomy excites you, don't let living in the heart of town make you give up exploring the night skies.

I myself have seen countless meteors and conjunctions, a changing panoply of shining planets, and many constellations right from town. There was also the night of the bright red aurora borealis that I first mistook for a major fire when I was biking home from work. To say nothing of lunar eclipses and "super" full moons.

Written by the vice-president of Britain's Society of Popular Astronomy, this handy guide  is very applicable in the states. What I like best about it is, Scagell's can-do philosophy, not only can you feel awe when looking at planetary bodies, but he invites the reader to do actual astronomical research and to participate as a citizen-scientist.

And don't think you need to spend massive amounts of money for the highest tech equipment.  He recommends a good pair of binoculars for sky-viewing and reports that they even have many advantages over telescopes. He does recommend telescopes too--aperture and field of view should be the deciding factors.

He also advises the city astronomer on things and props he can use to cut or eliminate light pollution, such simple things as simple as a black cape to wear over you and your telescope to cut out glare.

In eight well-researched chapters, Scagell pours his passion for the least earthbound of sciences. Chapter 4 covers the targets of star search. All the usual ones: sun, moon, the near and far planets, the constellations but also other astronomical phenomena such as zodiacal light, noctilucent clouds, artificial satellites, double stars, clusters, nebulae, and deep sky objects.

Although not necessarily geared for the beginner, all terms are so well explained that the guide can work for both the 25-year amateur astronomer and the neophyte. A four page table at the end lists many deep sky objects that can be seen even from cities.

So, on these dark, clear nights, grab your black cape, your binoculars or telescope, and delve into this fascinating science that connects us to other mysterious worlds.

The Invention of Wings

ISBN: 
9780670024780

Two young women characters guide the reader back to 19th century South Carolina where the institution of slavery affected everyone’s life and relationships. Hetty (nicknamed Handful) is a skinny wisp of a girl with amber eyes and wild braids in her hair. 

At the age of ten, the Missus gives her to her middle child, Sarah, who has just moved up from the nursery.  In this society it’s normal to have your own slave, and one who can mend and sew is highly valued.

At an elegant birthday party attended by the privileged young of Charleston society, Sarah refuses this lady’s maid/slave.  Sarah does not believe in the institution although her family’s life centers around its abuse and brutality.  The Missus walks everywhere with a cane, but the slaves know its real use—to hit them on the head should they bring this lady displeasure. Read more »

100 Essays I Don't Have Time to Write

ISBN: 
9780865478145

This collection of mostly mini-essays is a great find for anyone interested in either writing or theatre. Ruhl, a Pulitzer Prize finalist for her play “In the Next Room,” displays her skills at language, views of playwriting, and her both playful and utterly serious response to the stage.

Several titles display her marvelous sense of humor: “Bad Plays and Original Sin,” “On Nakedness and Sight Lines,” and “Watching My Mother Die on Stage.” (Her mother is an actress.)  Others are more philosophical: “God as Audience: A Non-syllogism,” “Is There an Ethics of Comedy, and Is It Bad When Comedies Make People Laugh?” “On Knowing,” and “On Lice.”  Whoops, the last one isn’t philosophical, but very practical.

The smallest essay is three words not including the title. I quote in full from “An Essay in Praise of Smallness”: “I admire minimalism.” Read more »

Syndicate content