Historical

Helen Keller in Love

Just after college I worked as a social worker at an agency for the blind in New Orleans. I remember one client particularly well. He was totally blind and deaf--an older fellow who spoke in a modified sign language and by spelling letters lightning-fast into your palm. Pat, who had worked there for years, was his favorite person to communicate with, but when she was gone, he'd come to me. Occasionally, while biking home from work, I'd see him from a distance crossing four lanes of traffic on St. Charles Ave.--usually against the light--his white cane held like a sword before him. He was always too far away for me to help, but my stomach would clench, and I'd hope that he'd make it across safely another time.

Reading Helen Keller in Love gave me a fresh awareness of what blind people endure especially the deaf and blind. When I was young, The Miracle Worker played in movie theaters (with Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft) and this movie painted Helen in saint-like tones. How refreshing and humanizing is this biographical novel. In her first novel, Rose

The Sisters Brothers: A Most (Un)usual Western?

SistersBrothersI've worked in libraries for years including a few in Texas, so it is a wonder that I've never read a western.  Part of the problem then with reading your first book in a genre is that you lack the language to properly describe it or make comparisons.  Now I wonder if I shall ever read another for the fear that the next one won't hold up to The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt.

It is the gold rush years and the infamous Charlie and Eli Sisters are riding from Oregon City to San Francisco on orders from the Commodore to kill Hermann Kermit Warm.  There is trouble with horses, whores, a red bear pelt, excessive brandy drinking, a man named Mayfield, a witch and a mysterious magical formula. Large sums of money come and go. The characters are unique, but without a lot of overall development.  Is this usual for a western? Is the level of violence similar to other westerns?  Is this a parody of the genre, a homage or both?

What's an Alex Award?

In ZanesvilleWarning! Don't look for these books in the Young Adult section! These are "Adult Books," written for adults. Teens beware!

Ok, now that I've got your attention, let me also say that these books are just great for teens. So great, in fact, that the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) made an award just for them, and named them after a famous Baltimore librarian - sort of. Her name was Margaret A. Edwards, but her friends called her Alex, and that's where we get the Alex Awards. The 2012 Alex Awards feature ten books written for adults, but with special appeal to teens.

Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith

flygirlIda Mae Jones is a young African-American woman living with her family in Louisiana.  Her father who taught her to fly a small crop duster has passed away, and her brother has signed up to serve in World War II.  It is not surprising that Ida Mae feels caught between her family obligations and her love of flying.  She learns about the Women Airforce Service Pilots -- a civilian organization that served to fly airplanes under the military with the goal of freeing up qualified men to serve in combat.  The WASP pilots transferred planes and equipment from assembly plants to military bases and often trailed targets in the air for anti-aircraft artillery practice. 

Not only was the WASP a highly selective group that underwent rigorous training, but Ida Mae faces even more difficulty because she knows she can't sign up as a black woman.  Her fair skin allows her to pass for white, but the stress of this combined with the training proves difficult.  On the positive side, the friends Ida Mae makes in WASP training are fantastic and provide support for Ida Mae even if they don't know her secret for sure. 

High Seas Adventure (and so much more)!

HeartSamurai"An action packed historical novel set on the high seas!" claims the book jacket for Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus.  Normally these aren't quite the descriptors I am looking for in a good book, but this Young Adult novel has amazing visual appeal and lying underneath the "high seas adventure" is a true heart of gold. 

Preus tells a fictional account of a true story: Manjiro, a young man from a small fishing village, becomes the first Japanese person to set foot in America.  Japan at the time had closed borders and a deep distrust for anything foreign.  When Manjiro is rescued with his friends after being shipwrecked on an island by an American whaling ship, his life is changed forever.  Captain Whitfield sees that Manjiro is a quick study, both in language and sailing and takes him under his wing.  The more Manjiro sees outside Japan, the more he wants to learn and explore eventually ending up attending school in New Bedford, Massachusetts living with the Whitfields.

Train Dreams

I don't read many novellas but this one, Train Dreams, by Denis Johnson made several "best new book" lists recently.  And it got rave reviews from quite a few other writers.

Grainier's first memory of trains is of being sent on one as a young child, with a fare receipt pinned to his shirt.  His destination was Fry, Idaho, but he never knew his parents or even the origin point of this trip. One older cousin said that he came from Canada and that the French language had to be whipped out of him. Another cousin said that family had sent him from Utah where he had spent his first years as a Mormon. But all his life, he had only trains and their tracks for the history of his early childhood.

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