Five Book Friday!

And many very happy Free For All Birthday wishes to Frida Kahlo, born on this day in 1907!

Kahlo in 1932, photographed by her father Guillermo Kahlo

Kahlo was born in Coyoacán, Mexico City, Mexico to a German father and a mestiza mother (the word “mestiza” a term traditionally used in Spanish-speaking countries, Latin American countries, and the Philippines to refer to a person who is of native and European descent).  Though she suffered from polio as a child, Kahlo recovered, and was well on her way as a promising medical student.  However, in 1925, at the age of eighteen, Kahlo and her boyfriend were on their way home from school when the wooden bus they were riding collided with a streetcar. The accident killed several people and caused near-fatal injuries to Kahlo herself, including  fractured ribs, two broken legs, a broken collarbone, a fractured pelvis, and the displacement of three vertebrae, which would cause her lifelong pain.  During her recovery, she started to consider a career as a medical illustrator, in order to combine her love of science and art, and she had an easel made specifically for her that enabled her to paint in bed, and a mirror was placed above it so she could use herself as a model.  

By 1927, she was able to leave her bed, and Kahlo had the opportunity to rejoin her friends, who by this time had joined a number of political organizations and student groups.  She herself joined the Mexican Communist Party and, in 1928, she met Diego Rivera, whom she would marry that same year.  Both would have extra-marital affairs, Together, the two traveled around Mexico and the United States, and Kahlo began to develop her own artistic following.  Her adoption of traditional  indigenous Mexican peasant clothing to represent her mestiza heritage became a signature wherever she visited.  She taught at the National School of Painting, Sculpture, and Printmaking in Mexico City, and was a founding member of the Seminario de Cultura Mexicana.  She also held her own solo exhibition in 1953.

Although Kahlo was remembered for some time only as “the wife of Diego Rivera”, recent generations of historians have been working to reclaim her memory and her remarkable individuality, as well as her significant contributions to art, to the Chicano Civil Rights Movement, to feminism, and to the LGBTQ community.  Those looking to learn more about Kahlo’s work and life would do well to check out Frida Kahlo, 1907-1954 : Pain and Passion by Andrea Kettenmann, as well as Frida Kahlo : The Painter and Her Work by Helga Prignitz-Poda.

And now, beloved patrons, on to the books!  Here is just a small selection of the titles that have struggled through the heat to slide onto our shelves this week:

The Cabin at the End of the World: It’s here!  The latest novel from the sensational Paul Tremblay has arrived, and is already giving us nightmares.  Seven-year-old Wen and her parents, Eric and Andrew, are vacationing at a remote cabin on a quiet New Hampshire lake. Their closest neighbors are more than two miles in either direction along a rutted dirt road.  One afternoon, as Wen catches grasshoppers in the front yard, a stranger unexpectedly appears in the driveway. Leonard is the largest man Wen has ever seen, but he is young and friendly, and Wen agrees to play with him until Leonard abruptly apologizes and tells Wen, “None of what’s going to happen is your fault”. Three more strangers then arrive at the cabin carrying unidentifiable, menacing objects. As Wen sprints inside to warn her parents, Leonard calls out: “Your dads won’t want to let us in, Wen. But they have to. We need your help to save the world.”  Thus begins an unbearably tense, gripping tale of paranoia, sacrifice, apocalypse, and survival that escalates to a shattering conclusion, one in which the fate of a loving family and quite possibly all of humanity are entwined.  Tremblay’s horror asks some incredibly deep, searching questions, and while they are unsettling, they are also addictive.  Publisher’s Weekly agrees, having given this book a starred review and noting “The apocalypse begins with a home invasion in this tripwire-taut horror thriller. . . .[Tremblay’s] profoundly unsettling novel invites readers to ask themselves whether, when faced with the unbelievable, they would do the unthinkable to prevent it.”

Unbound: Transgender Men and the Remaking of Identity:  In this insightful and ground-breaking work, award-winning sociologist Arlene Stein takes us into the lives of four strangers who have all traveled to the same surgeon’s office in Florida in order to masculinize their chests.  Ben, Lucas, Parker, and Nadia wish to feel more comfortable in their bodies; three of them are also taking testosterone so that others recognize them as male. Following them over the course of a year, Stein shows how members of this young transgender generation, along with other gender dissidents, are refashioning their identities and challenging others’ conceptions of who they are, despite the very real risks and dangers they face in doing so.  This is a timely book that considers not only trans-men’s identity in today’s culture, but also the political, medical, and social dimensions of their lives, making for an emotional, as well as an educational work that earned a starred review from Kirkus Reviews, who noted, “This significant book provides medical, sociological, and psychological information that can only serve to educate those lacking understanding and awareness of an entire community of individuals who deserve representation. A stellar exploration of the complexities and limitations of gender.”

The Secret Token: Myth Obsession, and the Search for the Lost Colony of RoanokeIn 1587, 115 men, women, and children arrived at Roanoke Island on the coast of North Carolina with the goal of establishing the first English colony in “the New World”.   But when the colony’s leader, John White, returned to Roanoke from a resupply mission, his settlers were nowhere to be found. They left behind only a single clue–a “secret token” carved into a tree. Neither White nor any other European laid eyes on the colonists again.  For over four centuries since their disappearance, historians, archaeologists, and countless others have tried to puzzle out the story of the settlers at Roanoke.  After a chance encounter with a British archaeologist, journalist Andrew Lawler determined that solid answers to the mystery were within reach, and set off to unravel the enigma of the lost settlers. In the course of his journey, Lawler encountered a host of characters obsessed with the colonists and their fate.  This book is both his own hunt for the secrets of the Lost Colony, and the host of fascinating, erudite, and eager searchers he met along the way.  It is also a study on why Roanoke remains such an important part of the American story that continues to be referenced to this very day.  This is a book for history lovers of many stripes, and has been earning a number of very positive reviews for its accessibility and its insight, including from Publisher’s Weekly, who described it as
“Part detective novel, part historical reckoning, Lawler’s engrossing book traces the story of—and the obsessive search for—the lost colony of Roanoke…a thoughtful and timely discourse about race and identity…. Lawler makes a strong case for why historical myths matter.”

Rainy Day FriendsFan favorite Jill Shalvis is back with another story of humor, loss, love, featuring a marvelously happy doggy on the cover who is making my day.  Six months after Lanie Jacobs’ husband’s death, it’s hard to imagine anything could deepen her sense of pain and loss. But then Lanie discovers she isn’t the only one grieving his sudden passing–her husband was a serial adulterer, who convinced each women in his life that she was his one-and-only wife.  Lost and deeply shaken, Lanie is desperate for a new start, and  impulsively takes a job at the family-run Capriotti Winery.  Though she begins by feeling like an outsider in this boisterous family, it isn’t long before the Capriottis take Lanie under their wing–particularly Mark Capriotti, a gruffly handsome Air Force veteran turned deputy sheriff.  But when River Brown arrives at the winery, and takes a job there, as well, Lanie finds her position and her new-found happiness threatened in ways she could have never imagined.  This book has been winning praise from many of Shalvis’ long-time fans, as well as newcomers, and also earned as starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, who  declared, “With a fast pace and a lovely mix of romance and self-discovery, Shalvis’s novel is chock-full of magnetic characters and seamless storytelling, rich with emotions, and impossible to put down.”

The Secrets Between UsReaders of Thrity Umrigar’s beloved novel The Space Between Us will no doubt be delighted with this sequel, but new readers will find plenty to enjoy in this powerful and compelling story, as well. Bhima, heroine of The Space Between Us, faithfully worked for the Dubash family for more than twenty years.  Yet after courageously speaking the truth about a heinous crime perpetrated against her own family, the devoted servant was cruelly fired. A woman who has endured despair and loss with stoicism, Bhima must now find some other way to support herself and her granddaughter, Maya.  Bhima’s fortunes take an unexpected turn when her path intersects with Parvati, a bitter, taciturn older woman. The two acquaintances soon form a tentative business partnership, selling fruits and vegetables at the local market. As they work together, these two women begin confessing the truth about their lives and the wounds that haunt them, forging an unlikely, but wonderfully redemptive friendship.  Library Journal gave this book a starred review, noting that while this will hold special appeal for Umrigar’s fans, ” this title easily stands on its own. It chronicles the triumph of women’s friendships and fortitude in the face of considerable obstacles—poverty, homophobia, illiteracy, gender discrimination, ageism, and sexual assault. It further displays Umrigar’s insights into the deep resilience of the human heart.”


Until next week, beloved patrons–Happy Reading!

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