The Romance Garden!

Here is the monthly update from the Romance Readers of your library staff, bringing our love of romance into the light of day, and reveling in that dirt that so helps our minds to grow….



Made for You by Lauren Layne3583385

Did you ever read a book that was so good, so pitch-perfect and on-point and fun that you wish you could discover it all over again?  This second book in Layne’s Best Mistake series is just that kind of book for me.  Here, we meet Brynne, who was billed in the series opener as the heroine’s “perfect older sister”, who succeeds at everything she undertakes.

In this book, however, we learn that life for Brynn is no picnic.  She grew up feeling awkward and heavy and ugly, and has never gotten over those feelings, or the pain of being overlooked because she was smart without being clever.  As a result, Brynn spends all her time being everyone else’s version of perfection.  The only time she rebelled was the night she spent with Will Thatcher, her sister’s best friend.  On the outside, Will is the definition of a ‘bad boy’, with a devil-may-care attitude that he uses as a shield to hide the fact that he’s been in love with Brynn for as long as he can remember.  But he knows that, unless she can learn to live on her own terms, there is no hope of winning her heart.  So he does what any good romance hero would do–he moves in next door to Brynn.
However, from this point, this book veers wildly from the expected trope.  Will doesn’t hound Brynn, or try and come over and hang out, or try and make her change in any way.  Instead, he gives her the space to be herself, to come to her own conclusions, and to make her own mistakes. I loved that the primary message of this book wasn’t that the love of a good man (or woman) will magically make everything better; it’s a personal and ongoing journey (see Brynn’s impulsive tattoo for more details!). Additionally, Will and Brynn’s sister can be platonic friends who genuinely care about each other, which is not something you see in romances every day.



3578590Outlander by Diana Gabaldon:

Due to the new Starz TV series you might be familiar with this title, but as is true in most cases, I promise you the book is better. First published 24 years ago, Outlander is a winning mix of romance, time travel and adventure that takes place in a mix of post-World War II Scotland and Scotland at the time of the Jacobite uprising. After years separated by the war, English nurse Claire Randall and her husband, Frank, embark on a trip Scotland in an effort to reconnect with each other. While there, Claire finds herself whisked back in time through the mythic stone circle of Craigh na Dun. The world of the 1700s is vastly different than that of the 1940’s, and Claire must quickly learn what it takes to survive as an Englishwoman in Scotland in this earlier incarnation of her world where the English are at war with the Scots. Luckily, she has the help of Jamie Fraser, a young and charismatic Scottish landowner, who will not only save her life many times over, but will show her love like none she has ever known.

Jamie and Claire are complex characters, each with strengths and flaws that make them utterly human, and utterly sympathetic to readers. Despite their love for each other, outside forces make happiness hard-won for the Frasers. They have many enemies, the most threatening of which is Black Jack Randall, an ancestor of Frank’s who suspects Claire is a spy and who has a history of violent encounters with Jamie and his family. What makes this book so powerful is the way that Jamie and Claire look out for and take care of each other in the face of these dangerous and difficult circumstances. Jamie and Claire are each brave, strong, and admirable individuals but, as is true of the best romances, they are stronger and better together. Readers will root for these characters every step of the way, but bring a box of tissues for the journey. This is a romance riddled with darkness and sadness, not a Regency romp, so be prepared.



A Widow’s Hope by Mary Ellis3199778 (1)

I certainly do enjoy discovering new authors of Amish fiction romance.  Mary Ellis has been writing Amish romances since at least 2009, but she’s still new-to-me.  After reading A Widow’s Hope, I will definitely be checking out some of her other titles (Never Far from Home, Abigail’s New Hope, A Family Reunion, A Little Bit of Charm).

Widows and widowers finding love again, even when they don’t think they want it, is a common theme in Amish romances and Ellis has taken that plotline and created a sweet story from it.  Hannah Brown (the widow of the titles) sells the farm she and her husband ran before his death and moves in with her sister’s family.  She brings with her a large and slightly unweilding flock of sheep.  Hannah hopes this move with both allow her to help her sister, who suffers from arthritis, and to put some distance between herself and a scandal she caused in her home church district.  Somehow, however, Hannah keeps getting on the wrong side of her brother-in-law, who is a strict deacon in her new church.  The deacon strongly disapproves of his sister-in-law’s opinions, her sheep and his wife’s desire to play matchmaker between Hannah and his widower brother.  Hannah and the deacon’s brother-in-law, Seth, are intrigued by each other, but face a string of misunderstandings that plague almost all potential couples in romance novels.  Meanwhile, Hannah again finds herself in hot water with the church leadership, while she also tries to help Seth’s daughter, who remains grief stricken over the death of her mother.

It’s Hannah’s believability as a character that really shines in this novel.  Unlike so many romantic heroines, Hannah is far from perfect.  While it first appears that it is her willingness to flout Amish convention that lands her trouble with her church’s leaders, it eventually becomes clear that Hannah’s real problem is her knee-jerk tendency to run away at the first sign of a conflict rather than attempting to work things out.  Her sister eventually calls her on this and Hannah must decide between fleeing from her problems yet again or facing them and taking a chance on finding love.  Ellis manages to create in Hannah a character who is overall very likable, but flawed enough to cause flashes of irritation in readers who cheer when her sister finally calls her out.

Summer Reading, off the list

We’ve had a number of readers come in looking to fulfill their summer reading lists lately, and it got me to thinking…..When I was in school, I hated summer reading lists.  Loathed them with a passion it is difficult to put into words.  This is mostly because I refused to be told what to read, and under what time restrictions.

But now that I am…well, older than I was then…the problem is that there are so many books to choose, and so many lists and suggestions and conversations going on about them that sometimes the decision is just impossible!

More than anything, in the summer, I want to read a book that I’ve never heard of previously; that is completely different from what I read normally; that is surprising and challenging and will make my summer thoroughly memorable.  And it turns out that there are those of you out there who feel the same way (This is why I love my job, in case you were wondering)!

So here, without further ado, is a list of off-the-beaten track suggestions for your summer reading list.  Stay tuned to this list for updates and opinions to follow!

CarterCarter Beats the Devil 

Glen David Gold wanted to write a biography of Carter the Magnificent (aka Charles Carter), but was unable to assemble enough information, and so he turned his sights on an historic thriller.  I don’t want to give away too much, but the reader gets to follow Carter from his first performance to his last, from his show for Warren Harding to his acquaintance with Houdini, from the development of his stagecraft to his lifelong search for his true love, who was foreshadowed by a gypsy during his early vaudeville days.  If you enjoyed this heartbreaking, redemptive, and constantly surprising novel, be sure to check out Gold’s mind-bending Sunnyside, featuring Charlie Chaplin, too!

2616459How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone

I heard Sasa Stanisic speak at the Harvard Book Store when this book was released, and it remains one of the absolute highlights of my linguistic existence.  He got up to read, looked at everyone and said, “I can’t wait to read this!  I haven’t seen this translation before, so I’ll be reading it for the first time with you!”  And his eagerness, his sheer delight, is evident in every page of this book.  Stanisic’s book is a loosely biographical tale about a child refugee from Bosnia, named Alexander, growing up in Germany, whose Grandmother makes him promise to “remember when everything was all right and the time when nothing’s all right”.  But Alexander is also a story-teller, so you never quite know where his memories end and his fantasies begin.  Stanisic is one of those writers who can break your heart and make you giggle hysterically in the same breath and his book is pure magic.  And he made a collection of things his readers had forgot.  And my contribution made the list. Woot.

2313323The Vesuvius Club

Dr. Who screenwriter and general all-around genius Mark Gatiss has crafted quite possibly one of the greatest series ever written in this spy-spoof and general send-up of Victorian literature, featuring the irresistible Lucifer Box of 9 Downing Street.  In this installment, we learn of his adventures in 1890’s Italy and London, and his illicit affairs across the continent while investigating the strange goings-on around Pompeii.  The second installment is set  in Switzerland following the First World War and made me weep openly on a bus, but more about that some other time…

jacketRelic & Reliquary

This series by the dynamic duo of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child has been making the rounds of the staff and patrons this summer, because they are insanely suspenseful and wonderfully, deviously creative, and scary and utterly ridiculous, all at the same time.  These first two books feature monsters in t
he New York Museum of Natural History, the subway, and a gloriously magnetic, enigmatic FBI Agent named A.X.L. Pendergast who arrives to save the day.  These aren’t books that are easy to describe (mostly because you end up feeling very silly saying “I’m reading about about monsters in the New York Subway), but I promise you will have no trouble diving in for more Pendergast!

2608134I, Lucifer

Glen Duncan offers the Prince of Darkness a chance to speak for himself in this unsettling, thought-provoking, and fascinating work.  Somewhat guilty over their centuries-long sparring, God has offered Lucifer something of a do-over.  He gets the chance to inhabit a human body and try to redeem its soul.  They agree on a trial period, and down goes Lucifer into the form of writer Declan Gunn (hardy har har).  What follows is an account of Gunn/Lucifer’s reawakening that is sometimes a little-overenthusiastic in its extremes, but also full of some remarkably interesting insights into humanity and the real nature of Good and Evil.  There’s no way the book can end without feeling somewhat predictable, but the final scene between Lucifer and Raphael makes the entire book worth every minute.  For a debut, this is, ahem, one hell of a novel.

Hope this list gives you some inspiration for the upcoming holiday weekend, and be sure to keep the recommendations coming!



Rather than venture out to the movies this week, I thought instead we could take a ‘staycation’, as they are called, and flip on the TV instead to watch what is promising to be a stellar mini-series event: Poldark on Masterpiece Theater.

In my family, historic dramas such as this are measured on the ‘Hornblower Scale’, developed one stultifyingly hot week in the summer when everyone was too sweaty and tired to argue with me when I said we should all go sit in the cool basement and watch the Horatio Hornblower mini-series (which, naturally, I took out from the library).  My parents, who, up until then, supported my love of costume dramas, but didn’t necessarily enjoy them, were shocked to realize how much this series not only caught their interest, but kept it through every battle, every duel, and every cry of “black, bloody mutiny!”.  To this day, all period pieces are measured against Hornblower, and it is because Poldark rated so high on that scale that I bore you now with this tale.

After watching the first episode last Sunday, my father declared that this new adaptation, starring Irishman Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson (who appeared in the stellar series Death Comes to Pemberley), is “like Hornblower…with horses”.  Essentially, though this series takes place on land, and thus features neither warships nor fears of mutiny, the characters are exceptionally compelling, the drama is relatively fast-paced and engaging, and the end of each episode leaves you hungry for a little more.

TV-Programme-Poldark-Ross-played-by-Robin-Ellis-and-Demelza-Played-By-the-devine-Angharad-ReesLongtime fans of British drama may remember the first Poldark adaptation, which first aired on the BBC in the in 1975, starred Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees as Ross Poldark and Demelza (compare their photos at left to the modern adaptation above…the tradition is similar, but there is no doubt in my mind that that hair has more 1970’s than 1780 in it).  The series was wildly successful, making stars out of its lead actors, and earning some 14 million viewers a week; some pastors were even rumored to have canceled Sunday services so as not to clash with the airing of the episode, in those dark days before DVRs and the internet.  Considering the success of the original series, it’s understandable why it took so long to remake Poldark, but, thus far, the results seem quite promising.

2881327Both the 1970’s and the 2015 miniseries take their inspiration from Winston Graham’s Poldark novels, which begin with the return of Ross Poldark to his native Cornwall in 1783.  Ross was a soldier in the British Army during the American Revolution, and considered dead by many at home–including his beloved Elizabeth, whom he had expected to marry upon his return.  Instead, Ross finds his estate in utter disrepair, his fortunes depleted, and Elizabeth engaged to Ross’ wealthy cousin.  Furious, but undaunted, he focuses on restoring his name and his fortunes alone, and though he marries and has children, a part of his heart always belongs to Elizabeth.  Their tortured love affair is at the heart of many books in this series.

1157522Like C.S. Forester, author of the Horatio Hornblower series (which is told out of chronological order, so start with Mr. Midshipman Hornblower), Winston Graham lived during the Second World War, writing at a time when the present seemed horribly dark, frightening, and alien.  Both authors attempted in their books to re-create a lost world and a time when human beings were…human; flawed and passionate and courageous in a way that they both missed terribly.  Forester had attended the Royal Naval College, and thus his hero was sent to sea.  Graham lived in Cornwall for some thirty years, and thus, Ross Poldark and his family inhabit that same area, and make it their own.  Both series stand the test of time, grabbing readers attention and forcing their heroes and heroines to confront tests, trials, heartbreak, and danger, without providing easy answers, and letting them make mistakes in a way that isn’t common in contemporary literature.

Though Forester stopped publishing books about Hornblower in 1967 (with The Last Encounter), Graham continued publishing stories about the Poldarks up until 2002, finishing the twelve-book series with Bella Poldark, a tale of Ross and Demelza’s headstrong younger daughter, set in 1820.  Along the way, he tackled some of the most noteworthy events in European history, including the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, and the epic Battle of Waterloo, which has a tragic effect on the Poldark family.  Each novel is stirring, and makes for fantastic summer reading, so come by and take Ross Poldark (and Horatio Hornblower) with you on your next getaway–I promise they will make your journey that much more memorable!

Saturdays @ the South: Children’s Books Revisited

dont-pigeon-hole-meAs I am an adult (in theory, anyway), I hadn’t read children’s books in quite some time. But having worked here at the South Branch for over a year now, I’ve found myself reacquainted with the art of the kids’ book. Talking to kids about what they like, reading the new books as they come in, finding new options for story times are part of what makes my job so amazing. In terms of the kids’ books, quite frankly, I’ve been enchanted and in a much different way then when I was reading those books as a kid. There is an enormous amount of talent out there from new authors who not only “get” kids, but can appeal to adults, too. Many modern children’s book authors seem to be able to give the adult, who will often be reading to the child, a quick “wink, wink” in a joke, or break the fourth wall or do something that little kids won’t always notice, simply because they don’t have the life experience to do so yet. This is what made shows like the Looney Tunes cartoons or The Muppet Show so successful. Adults and kids could enjoy them, and still do. (If you’ve ever searched Netflix to see if Bugs Bunny or Garfield cartoons are available, you know exactly what I’m talking about.) Kids’ books can have that same appeal.

The sheer variety of different types of kids’ books out there is staggering and this is a good thing! (Well, maybe not for those of us who have to pare down the list of truly great books to fit within our budget, but for readers it’s a good thing.) I’m a staunch proponent of letting kids read whatever they want. As long as they’re spending time enjoying reading, that’s what’s most important. The variety of kids’ books allows kids the opportunity to express themselves as readers and increases the likelihood that something will be there for them to connect with. Authors seem to be recognizing this more and more and are engaging kids in creative, genuinely fun ways.

But why on earth, on a blog that’s largely going be be read by adults, would I be touting the appeal of children’s books? Don’t I have any sense of who this audience is? What I think is that the people who come to this blog are open-minded readers, regardless of age. Having rediscovered the art of the picture book and the joyful simplicity of a kids’ story, I’ve come to realize that kids’ books should not be limited only to children (or only to those adults who have children) and here are a few reasons why:

1) Kids books are fun to read! Not only are children’s books broaching an incredible variety of topics, but they are designed to engage a reader. It doesn’t matter if your 5, 50 or 105; a good story is a good story. At least once a year, the Classics book group revisits a children’s classic (Charlotte’s Web and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe are among the titles we’ve discussed) and we always find these discussions to be lively and meaningful. Not only that, but we often find interpretations we couldn’t possibly have picked up on as kids, but are there nonetheless. It brings these books to a whole new level. Had we just left them in our childhood memories, we would never have discovered the pleasure and new themes that revisiting a kids’ book can bring.

2) Kids’ books are easy to read! Let’s face it, we all have those times when we want to read something about as challenging as a catalog. Children’s books are a great way to shift gears from an intense read or just to take a break from adulthood for a bit. (There’s a good reason why Classics schedules the children’s read for December, during the peak of holiday madness.) Silly stories are often the best for this type of a break and if there’s one thing that kids’ books know how to do well, it’s make someone laugh. The best ones will make you laugh while making you just a little uncomfortable for laughing at such a thing. Plus there’s no pressure to write a book report when you’ve finished.

3) Kids books are art! Children’s literature is not written or illustrated by kids (usually). Children’s literature is created by adults: adults who have sophisticated views of the world and who are talented enough to crystallize complexity into something simple and meaningful. Illustrators are artists, many of whom have higher education to achieve such skills. If your starting to second-guess me on this one, please feel free to check out The Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Western MA. Named after picture book creator and legend Eric Carle, this museum celebrates picture books not only as literature that can engage children (and adults- lest we forget the point of this post) but as honest-to-goodness art that deserves to be put in such a location and admired both in and out of it’s picture book context. Need more proof? Celebrated picture book creator Mo Willems (and all-round, utter genius, at least in my humble opinion) has had exhibits of his work at the R. Michelson Galleries (also in Western MA) and is currently on display at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. As a matter of fact, not all of his art on display is even related to picture books, further supporting my statement that illustrators are artists in their own right. If you still don’t believe me, check out Don’t Pigeonhole Me: Two Decades of the Mo Willems Sketchbook, a brilliant book of Willems’ art designed for adults and definitely not suitable for children, but has all of the qualities that make his children’s books so amazing.

If I’ve convinced you to try a children’s title or two, here are a few places you can start; and if I haven’t convinced you, here are a few books that I think adults can easily enjoy:


Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis

3246428Pearls before Swine cartoonist Stephan Pastis wrote a book (actually a series of books) and just like his comic strip, they are hilarious. Timmy Failure (yes, that’s his last name) is just trying to make his private detective business be the most successful ever, but things like school, his mom and his friends seem to keep getting in the way. His best friend is a polar bear named Total (yup, Total Failure). Is he an imaginary friend? Does Timmy really tame and befriend a polar bear? These are things that kids may not pick up on, but adults probably will. Regardless of the polar bear’s status, he’s my favorite character in the book. It got me laughing out loud and as far as I’m concerned, that makes it a good read at any age.


I Totally Funniest by James Patterson

3583107Love him or hate him for his adult fiction, James Patterson actually writes some pretty decent kids’ fiction. It’s funny, it’s charming, it covers problems kids may actually have to deal with in there lives, but there’s a certain level of an adult perspective here that is appealing. There’s also a certain level of fantasy that keeps the problems from hitting too close to home. It’s a well-crafted book and worth giving a a try.


That Is Not a Good Idea by Mo Willems

3320283This is a lesser known work of Willems’s but like all of his books, it’s written with a rare combination of glee, sophistication, silliness and surprise. Where else can you find a silent film style picture book with fairy tale-like critters and a punchline that will leave even the most jaded adult cracking up. Whatever the book might tell you, Mo Willems is ALWAYS a good idea.


I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klaussen

3132745This book and its similar but not-quite-a-sequel This Is Not My Hat are amazingly sophisticated works. Funny, poignant and with great artwork, these books will also leave adults doing a bit of a double take wondering: “That didn’t really just happen in a kids book, did it?” Do I have you intrigued? Good! Go read it.


One of the best things about libraries is that you can read whatever you want in a judgment-free zone. So go forth this weekend and experiment. Read a chapter book, laugh at wacky picture book antics and indulge in a bit of nostalgia. You’ll be glad you did.

Five Book Friday!

Happy Friday, Beloved Patrons!  As most of you are planning long weekends or holidays by the seashore, or, like me, are contemplating what to read on an upcoming plane ride, this week’s Five Book Friday features some fiction to keep you entertained as you soak up the sun…or keep you from fidgeting until you get there, wherever ‘there’ might be!

3634625Royal Wedding: A Princess Diaries Novel: Princess Mia is all grown up in this first ‘adult’ installment of Meg Cabot’s best-selling Princess Diaries series.  Set five years after Mia’s college graduation, this book not only deals with the plans of Mia’s wedding with Michael, but the royal scandals that threaten far more than their big day.  Reviewers and fans alike seem genuinely pleased with this addition to the series, and the way that Mia not only fulfills her royal obligations, but also finds a way to fulfill her own dreams, as well. Kirkus gave this book a starred review, saying “Fans who grew up with Mia will relish this opportunity to spend more time in her world. This funny, heartwarming story is royally perfect from start to finish.”

3605806The Long Utopia: Following the heartbreaking death of master storyteller Terry Pratchett, it is probably safe to speculate that this Long Earth book, as ever co-written with the great Stephen Baxter,  may very well be the last.  Set in the 2040-2050’s, this fourth  sci-fi series installment sees characters attempting to adapt to life on Datum Earth grapple with the changes fate has thrown in their path, until an alien population emerges, determined to conquer the Long Earth.  A review from the Guardian say “if the pace of plotting is gentle, the restless inventiveness more than compensates”, which sounds like the perfect book for those looking to do a little escaping this weekend.

3621509Death and Mr. Pickwick: The premise of this novel is a bit difficult to grasp, but the result, according to sundry reviewers and readers, is stellar.  Essentially, author Stephen Jarvis not only re-creates the origins of Dickens’ classic Pickwick Papers, looking not only at Dickens himself, but his characters and publishers, as well, but he also looks at the world that Pickwick created.  Told in a series of vignettes, scenes, and stories, this hefty book is packed with historic research, fantastic details, and is rich with imagination and dedication.  For fans of Dickens and Anglophiles of all stripes, this certainly seems like a book not to be missed.

3605807Love May Fail: Fans of Matthew Quick’s beloved Silver Linings Playbook are sure to find lots to love in this book–it seems to embody a similar spirt, with that same quirky, moving, plot line, told with a light and deft touch.  In this tale, Portia Kane’s existence is turned upside down when she leaves her cheating husband and ritzy Florida life and returns to her roots in South Jersey, and redeems herself by working to save her former English teacher.  This is a tale that might well be close to Quick’s heart–a former teacher himself, Booklist notes that he “…nails the symbiotic student-teacher relationship, with all of its attendant baggage, squarely on the head in this engaging slice-of-life dramedy with definite big-screen potential.”

2140799Light in August: Corrected Text:  Though clearly not a new book, we have had to order a number of new copies of this book to fill the supply for our Discussion Series beginning on June 29 at 7:30pm!  Faulkner’s 1932 classic is certainly one of the most unique works of American fiction, and Professor Theoharis is one of the most insightful, engaging, and welcoming speakers you will ever hope to meet.  His discussion series is sure to change your perception of the text, not to mention life, the universe, and everything else in the process.  The result is a series not to be missed, so make sure to register for this event, and check out your copy of this text as soon as possible!

Safe and happy travels!  Seriously, remember the sunscreen!

Seriously, where is that map?…Another wanderer’s If/Then….


It is really, truly one of the highlights of my day when a patron comes in and shares that they are enjoying our little endeavor here with this blog.  It makes my week, if not my whole month, when they share their own suggestions in response to some of our posts.  And it seems that last week’s If/Then post inspired some of our beloved patrons to share their own picks for books about exploration…generally exploration gone wrong…and adventuring.

It was also pointed out that most of our selections last week dealt primary with tropical, or at least, extraordinarily hot, climates.  Thankfully, we have some remedies for this, as well, for those of you who prefer the air conditioning to the sultry summer sun, or the alien expanses of the Arctic tundra to the otherworldly environs of the jungle.  I don’t know about most of you, but I find the descriptions of these frozen terrains far more unsettling…the emptiness of these landscapes, and what that silence can do to people is often more terrifying than the constant energy of the tropics–but it is out of such material that some of the best adventures are made!

So, without further ado, here are your picks, beloved patrons, for another round of books to settle your wanderlust….

If you liked last week’s post regarding books about exploration (and disaster), Then check out…

3458717Annihilation: The first book in a genuinely unique trilogy, Jeff Van Der Meer’s book is a very strange, but fascinating blend of sci-fi, speculative fiction, and horror that wraps the reader up and holds them captive.  Set in the mysterious land known as Area X, a land beyond civilization, full of disease and unknown peril, this is the story of the twelfth expeditionary party–comprised exclusively of women–sent to map the terrain and collect specimens.  However, as each member of the party documents the world around them, and the changes going on in the group itself, it grows harder and harder to tell whether the contamination lies in Area X, or in the people who have travelled there.  If you enjoy this book, be sure to check out Authority and Acceptance, to find out what happens in the rest of this bizarre adventure!

2323750River of Doubt: Candice Millard is a remarkably gifted story-teller, and this account of Theodore Roosevelt’s trip down an uncharted tributary of the Amazon following his defeat in the 1912 election is a harrowing, inspiring, and utterly gripping tale that has been hailed by library staff and patrons alike.  Though there are aspects of Roosevelt’s biography and his attitudes towards contemporary issues that make him something of a problematic subject, but there is no doubt that what he accomplished on this journey, both personally and publicly is admirable and remarkable.  Not only did he change the map of the Amazon forever, Roosevelt was forced to confront his own mortality during this journey–a moment that Millard is able to capture with subtlety and power, setting this story apart from many other works of popular history.  For those who enjoy audiobooks, the recording of this book also comes very high recommended!

2643713At the Mountains of Madness: This was a selection from the Main Library’s Classics Book Group several years ago that I simply adored.  H.P. Lovecraft has always been a favorite of mine, but this book was something different from his usual fare.  Lovecraft suffered from night terrors, and used the visions he saw as the basis for his stories.  As a result, the monster and other horrors he describes are usually intense and vividly described.  The terror in this book, however, lies in his manipulation of the reader’s imagination.  The story is told through the eyes of Dr. William Dyer, the head of a doomed expedition to Antarctica, describing the odd buildings, strange writings, and inexplicable horrors that he and his partner witnessed–and it is that very inexplicability that makes this story so chilling.  In forcing the reader the render their own nightmares, this book can be anything you want it to be–or anything you dread that it might me.

1592720Into Thin Air: This is another recommendation from one of our patrons…In 1996, journalist Jon Krakauer was sent to cover an expedition to the top of Mount Everest, an experience he had always dreamed of accomplishing.  The reality of the trip, however, was truly dreadful.  Krakauer was present during the ‘Mount Everest Disaster’, when eight climbers were killed and several other stranded in the overwhelming storms that raged across the slopes.   Oxygen deprivation at the time, and grief following the event colored Krakauer’s initial piece, leading to a number of tragically false errors.  This book is his attempt to set the record straight in terms of what happened on Everest during that trek, as well as an explanation of the inhuman conditions of Everest, and the super-human effort it takes to climb it.  This is a book that will leave you gasping, exhausted, and exhilarated; even for those with a knowledge or memory of the events described will find plenty here to learn, and plenty of moments over which to marvel.

3105391Into the Silence : the Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest: For those of you who can’t get enough of Everest, here is another tale of heroism and disaster to read in the safety of your own armchair.  On June 6, 1924, Colonel George Mallory, Britain’s premier mountain climber, and his comrade, Sandy Irvine, disappeared somewhere near the top of Mount Everest (it is for Mallory that the final approach to Everest’s summit is named).  This is the story not only of this expedition, but of the world that Mallory left behind to climb the mountain–a world that had recently been ravaged by the First World War, and was desperate for hope and for heroism.  Mallory’s courage and resiliency, both in the war and on Everest, captured the imagination of Great Britain, making his disappearance that much more significant.  This is a book for history buffs and adventurers alike, providing a story that is both touchingly sympathetic and intellectually fascinating.

Keep those recommendations coming, and keep exploring, beloved patrons!

Wednesdays @ the West: Go tiny & go home

Note: The  Think Big, Go Small: The Tale of a Massachusetts Tiny House program at the West Branch has been rescheduled for Thursday, August 6th at 7pm.

Whether you currently live in a 800 square foot apartment, a 1,400 square foot townhouse or a 2,600 square foot house, would you ever consider downsizing to a home of 84, 116, 210 or even 360 square feet?  A growing number of people are doing just that and in the process becoming part of what’s known as the tiny house movement.

Who exactly would want to live in a tiny house (and the definition of tiny varies, but is usually considered under 400 or 500 sq feet)?  This infographic from 2013 provides one of the first and only snapshots of the people who currently make up the tiny house community.  But their numbers are growing.  And they are attracting attention.  There are now two television shows dedicated to houses of the tiny variety:  the FYI network has Tiny House Nation and HGTV has debuted Tiny House Hunters.


Chris Page’s tiny house

Since the Peabody Institute Library is on a quest to make sure that you, our beloved community, are kept well informed about all matters important, interesting and fun, the West Branch is hosting its own tiny house event.  Chris Page of Andover will be at the West on Thursday, July 16th at 7 pm for Think Big, Go Small: The Tale of a Massachusetts Tiny House.  The owner of a 210 square foot home, Chris will talk about his process of researching, building and living in a tiny house.  Chris will discuss building costs, systems, and lessons learned over the course of the project.  A question and answer period will follow.  If you’d like to join us for this event, you can sign up at the West Branch events calendar.

How did tiny houses first cross our radar?  Well, your friendly West Branch Librarian (i.e. me) is, unabashedly, a huge tiny house geek.  While the tiny house movement has really been gaining steam over the past few years, I was first intrigued ten years ago when I came across a company selling tiny houses.  These particular homes were called wee houses and looked very much like a shipping container converted into a house (and there is a type of tiny house now that is exactly that).  Then Jay Shafer started Tumbleweed Tiny Houses, which despite their diminutive size, actually look like real houses.  And the Tiny House Blog was launched and fed my obsession even more.  Today, tiny house enthusiasts, and there are more than you might think, can lose entire days to websites like Tiny House Swoon or Tiny House Listings.  Not that I’ve ever done that.

Motivations for going tiny vary depending on the individual’s or family’s situation.  Often cited reasons include the desire to not have a mortgage payment, the freedom to move your house at will and/or concern about your environmental impact.  Noble goals, all of them, but jumping into tiny house living isn’t easy.  One of the major stumbling blocks for potential tiny housers is the issue of where to park their domiciles.  Most tiny houses are on wheels and are legally considered RVs.  In fact part of Chris Page’s tiny living story is his search for a community that will legally allow him to live in his 200 square foot home.  Perhaps now that he’s gotten some ink in the Boston Globe about his search, he will find his dream location.  The newly formed American Tiny House Association, which advocates to change local zoning laws, is also hoping to help tiny house dwellers like Chris.

And in fact, Chris Page isn’t the only tiny houser with local ties.  The Greater Boston Tiny House Enthusiasts Meetup Group has 624 members.  And one teacher from St. John’s Prep is actually living the tiny dream.  His story was also shared this year in the Globe.

Anyway, if you are as intrigued by small space living as I am, you will, of course, wish to dive into the available media.  You could start with  the “classics” of tiny houses: Tiny, tiny houses by Lester Walker (published back in 1987) or Tiny Homes: simple shelters by Lloyd Kahn.

Then you may wish to move on to the stories of people who have taken the plunge and gone tiny themselves.  For this, you should start with:

bigtinyThe Big Tiny a memoir by Dee Williams




tinythemovieAnd then you’ll want to move on to the documentary about tiny house living: Tiny: a story about living small


One you’re ready to join the fun personally, and start dreaming and living tiny, check out:

tinyhousefloorplansTiny House Floor Plans by Michael Janzen




tinyhouselivingTiny House Living: ideas for building and living well in less than 400 square feet by Ryan Mitchell



tinyhomesonthemoveTiny Homes on the Move: wheels and water by Lloyd Kahn



If nothing else, you’ll be well informed when tiny houses start appearing in a neighborhood near you.

"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free." ~Frederick Douglass