Suspend Disbelief! Magical Realism!

Today we jump into on of my favorite genres of fiction and that is Magical Realism! So what is it you ask? Well, magical realism is defined by a style of fiction that paints a realistic view of the modern world while also adding magical elements. Essentially this genre is a matter-of-fact inclusion of fantastical or mythical elements that suspends our disbelief from the “norm”!

Originating from Latin America, this genre was spearheaded as a genre of political subversion. Authors used the fantastic and magical elements to portray an alternative to reality which can be used against oppressive political climates. Italian author Massimo Bontampelli used his writings to create a “collective consciousness” and inspire an Italian nation under a fascist ruler!

If you’re pulled in by any of that then here are some titles to start you off on your magical journey into the genre of Magical Realism!

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
Arguably the most famous out of the genre, One Hundred Years of Solitude is novel that tells the story of the Buendia family, and chronicles the irreconcilable conflict between the desire for solitude and the need for love—in rich, imaginative prose that has come to define an entire genre known as “magical realism.”

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, but after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its owner might suggest.

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
Things have never been easy for Oscar, a sweet but disastrously overweight, lovesick Dominican ghetto nerd. Unfortunately, he may never get what he wants, thanks to the Fukœ—the curse that has haunted the Oscar’s family for generations, dooming them to prison, torture, tragic accidents, and, above all, ill-starred love.

Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night. Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.

Kafka on The Shore by Haruki Murakami
This story is a tour de force of metaphysical reality, is powered by two remarkable characters: a teenage boy, Kafka Tamura, who runs away from home either to escape a gruesome oedipal prophecy and an aging simpleton called Nakata, who never recovered from a wartime affliction and now is drawn toward Kafka for reasons unknown. Their odyssey, as mysterious to them as it is to us, is enriched throughout by vivid accomplices and mesmerizing events.

Happy Reading!

Remembering Boston’s Great Molasses Flood

Via the Associated Press,

On Jan. 15, 1919, a tank of molasses stored in Boston’s North End, ruptured, sending a cascading wave of the thick, sugary syrup down the streets. This “Great Molasses Flood” killed 21 people, numerous animals, and injured 150.

The tank was built to be a holding vessel for molasses until it could be transported to a nearby distillery, where it was converted into industrial alcohol for World War I munitions.  Because the war was over, it was expected that the molasses would be shipped on to a distillery to produce rum.  As historian of the event Stephen Puleo explained in an interview with WBUR, the residents of the area–one of Boston’s busiest economic districts–knew the tank was structurally unsound before it ruptured:

There were signs that the tank was faltering, but the people of the North End had gotten used to its instability.

“There were often comments made by people around the vicinity that this tank would shudder and groan every time it was full, and it leaked from day one,” Puleo said. “It was very customary for children of the North End to go and collect molasses with pails.”

So on the day of the flood, despite leaks and groans, no one anticipated that the tank was about to burst, unleashing a wave of 2.3 million gallons of molasses that would move 35 miles an hour down Commercial Street.

While we don’t have any hard and fast answers as to why the tank failed, a number of theories and facts have come to light.  One of the first rumors to be circulated was that an anarchist’s bomb had broke the tank open, but no proof has ever been found to verify that rumor–which, admittedly, was largely fear-based and shows the effects of the First World War on people’s consciousness at the time.

As reports, the tank itself

More recent investigations suggest several fundamental problems with the structure of the tank. Designed to hold 2.5 million gallons of liquid, it measured 50 feet tall and 90 feet in diameter. But its steel walls, which ranged from 0.67 inches at the bottom to 0.31 inches at the top, were too thin to support the weight of a full tank of molasses, found a 2014 analysis by Ronald Mayville, a senior structural engineer in the Massachusetts consulting firm of Simpson, Gumpertz & Heger.

Temperature also had an effect on the tank.  A new shipment of molasses had arrived days before, and that liquid was warmer than the air outside.  The weight of the molasses as it hardened further strained the walls of the tank.  Apparently, when the company received complaints that the tank was leaking, it painted the tank brown to disguise the leaks rather than repair them.  As it roiled down the street, the hot molasses congealed, trapping people, cars, trolleys, and everything else in its path.

The force of the wave was enough to buckle and destroy the elevated railway that ran through the North End at the time:

Via Wikipedia Wikicommons

Researchers from the University of Massachusetts Boston recently used ground-penetrating radar to determine the location of the giant molasses tank that caused the Great Molasses Flood of 1919.  Today, colored flags marked the site of the tank as city officials and history buffs gathered at Langone Park in the North End to mark the 100th anniversary of the disaster.

Looking to learn more about the Great Molasses Flood of 1919?  Check out these books!

Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919: Probably the best known (at least ’round these parts) book about the Great Molasses Flood, reporter Stephen Puleo brings readers into the world of Boston at the time, and makes the smallest details of the date come to live.  But, as he also points out, the molasses flood was more than an isolated event. Its story overlays America’s story during a tumultuous decade in our history. Tracing the era from the tank’s construction in 1915 through the multiyear lawsuit that followed the tragedy, Dark Tide uses the drama of the flood to examine the sweeping changes brought about by World War I, Prohibition, the Anarchist movement, the Red Scare, immigration, and the role of big business in society.  Puleo is a friend of the Peabody Library, so we love to promote his super-terrific text.

The Great Molasses Flood : Boston, 1919: Written for a younger audience, Deborah Kops’ book places the Molasses Flood in its historical context with fascinating results.  She discusses the influenza epidemic that embroiled the city, as well as the recently ended First World War.  As she notes, January 1919 was a hopeful time. Schools had reopened. So had the soda fountains, where kids went to buy Cokes. On New Year’s Eve tens of thousands of cheering, singing Bostonians gathered to ring in the new year. They jammed the city’s cafés and hotels and overflowed into the streets. Everyone seemed thrilled that life in this old port city was returning to normal.  But the molasses flood would change the mood and focus of the city, and have repercussions that would linger for decades to come.

A Head Full of GhostsPaul Tremblay’s book isn’t really about the molasses flood, which should be fairly evident from the book’s description, but it does incorporate it into the plot.  Marjorie Barrett, the focus of the book, is a story teller, who understands the power of narrative to shape our ways of thinking.  One of the first ways that we learn this is in her rendition of the molasses flood–a horribly visceral telling that names one of the real-life victims of the disaster, and portends the terrible events of the book that will unfold.  If you want to talk about the power of history to terrify even today, then don’t miss this pitch-perfect novel!

Starting Some New Habits: Podcasts

As we mentioned last week, we here at the Free For All don’t believe there is a bad time to start a good habit.  And there is no habit better than learning and expanding your mind.


The Library offers a multitude of ways for you to learn and experience more, both ‘in house’, so to speak, as well as online.  Online platforms such as Hoopla, Overdrive, and apps like Libby offer you, our beloved patrons, ways to read, watch, listen and learn from our materials in the comfort of your own home, in the car, and while traveling far afield.

But there is a world full of knowledge, and we cannot hope to contain every single molecule of it.  So this year, we wanted to offer you some other ways to be educated and entertained for free.  We start today with podcasts.

Image result for old time radio

Podcasts function much like radio shows of the past.  Then tend to be serialized–some tell a continuous story across multiple episodes, while others feature the same format and/or cast, but change topic regularly, based on a theme.  They can be found on the internet, and listened to on the computer, or downloaded to an MP3 player to take with you on the go.  The word ‘podcast’ itself is a portmanteau word that combines ‘iPod’ (the device for which they were originally developed) and ‘broadcast’ (like the radio shows of yore).

Most podcasts are entirely free.  They succeed by monetizing–that is, selling ad space in their podcast, and usually offering listeners an incentive to check out their sponsors.  Anyone who is used to television commercials, YouTube or Netflix ads will be familiar with these ads, and, for the most part, they aren’t very obtrusive at all.

Anyone with internet access and some recording implement can make a podcast.  As a result, there is a very wide array of topics, themes, genres, and presenters from which to choose–a concept that is both exciting and a little intimidating for first time users.   So where to begin?  That’s where we, your friendly Public Service Library Staff come in.  We’re busy curating a list of podcasts that make us laugh, wonder, shiver, or inspire us to create, and we wanted to share those with you.  Below is our first selection of podcasts, along with links to access episodes.  Feel free to try them, and let us know what you think!


Just a note: these podcasts are not run by, or in any way affiliated with the Peabody Library–or any library.  You don’t need a library account to listen to them, either.  They are freely available to all listeners on the internet.  These selections are, however, ones that staff members of the Peabody Library greatly enjoy.  For those of you with an iTunes account or similar smart phone app, you can also search for these podcasts and download them that way.  If you would like help with this process, just let us know!

And, by the way, if you have any suggestions for podcasts that you enjoy, be sure to let us know!  We’re always looking for recommendations ourselves.

Off Book: The Improvised Musical:

This podcast features hour-long episodes featuring hosts Jessica McKenna and Zach Reino, pianist Scott Passarella, as well as drummer Dana Wickens , who are joined by a special guest for each epsiode, including such comedy and musical luminaries as Rachel Bloom and Paul F. Tompkins.  Together, they create a Broadway-style musical on the spot.  The results are delightfully wacky and startlingly clever.  Take, for example, the entire spoof on the Law and Order franchise, entitled ‘Law and Order: Restaurant Unit’!  Click the box below for more information about this podcast and to check out new episodes.

Off Book: The Improvised Musical

Welcome to Night Vale:

Perhaps one of the most well-known podcasts out there is this series, created in 2012 by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor.  This twice-monthly podcast is presented in the style of community updates for the small desert town of Night Vale, featuring local weather, news, announcements from the Sheriff’s Secret Police, mysterious lights in the night sky, dark hooded figures with unknowable powers, and cultural events.  This Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds, but…weirder.   This franchise has bloomed into two full-length books, several scripts, and spin-off podcasts over the years.  So for listeners who want a fully-developed world to discover, look no further than the odd little town of Night Vale.  Click the box below to access episodes.

My Favorite Murder:

Anyone who was a fan of the NPR series Serial can attest to the allure of true crime stories, to the haunting nature of the unsolved, and the dark intrigue of exploring the darkest shades of history.  If such tales are for you, and especially if your humor runs to the black, then be sure to check out this podcast, hosted bystand-up comedian and television writer Karen Kilgariff and Cooking Channel writer and host Georgia Hardstark.  In each episode, each host selects a single murder, true crime story, or survivor story to recount and discuss, occasionally sharing additional “hometown murder” stories submitted by friends and fans.  Rather than dwelling on the gruesome or the visceral, both hosts strive to emphasize compassion for both the victims and perpetrators of the crimes they discuss, actively combatting the more problematic aspects of the true crime genre, such as misogyny, victimization, and dangerous stereotypes about sex workers and the mentally ill or struggling.  The result is a surprisingly funny, consistently interesting series that has been earning a wide and very, very loyal fan base.  Click the box below to find out more.

And stay tuned, beloved patrons, for more podcast selections from your favorite Public Service Staff members in the near future.  Happy Listening!

Five Book Friday!

We know plenty of people who have had their fill of celebrations over the past month or so, dear readers.  For many of us, the beginning of January is a terrific time to build a pillow fort and snuggle up with a good book and some comfort food.  If, however, you are looking for some fun ways to keep the party going, here are a few suggestions for some quirky national days in January to celebrate.

January 6: National Shortbread Day: Check out the Walker’s Shortbread website for more information, and here for a quick shortbread recipe to try yourself!

January 11: National Milk Day: Said to commemorate the day that  the first milk deliveries in glass bottles began in the United States in 1878, as stated by Alexander Campbell of the New York Dairy Company.  In 1915, The International Association of Milk Inspectors submitted a request, but the day was never officially ratified.  Nevertheless, any day is a good day for a celebration, right?

January 13: National Rubber Duck Day: According to a 1973 Sesame Street calendar, Rubber Duckie’s Birthday is January 13 so around the country it’s National Rubber Ducky Day!

January 14: Ratification Day: Commemorating the ratification of the Treaty of Paris, which ended the American Revolution.  Every year in honor of this day, there is a ceremony at the State House in Annapolis, Maryland where the treaty was signed, and a flag in the design that was displayed at the time of the signing of the Treaty of Paris flies over the State House.

January 21: National Squirrel Appreciation Day: Established by by Christy Hargrove from Asheville, North Carolina on January 21, 2001, because squirrels need some love, too!

And now, on to the books, dear readers!

The Frame-Up: Meghan Scott Molin launches a new mystery series in style in this fun and delightfully nerdy new novel.  MG Martin works as a writer for the comic book company she idolized as a kid. But despite her love of hooded vigilantes, MG prefers her comics stay on the page. But when someone in LA starts recreating crime scenes from her favorite comic book, MG is the LAPD’s best—and only—lead. She recognizes the golden arrow left at the scene as the calling card of her favorite comic book hero. But superheroes aren’t real. Are they?  When too-handsome-for-his-own-good Detective Kildaire asks for her comic book expertise, MG is more than up for the adventure. Unfortunately, MG has a teeny little tendency to not follow rules.  And her off-the-books sleuthing may land her in a world of trouble. Because for every superhero, there is a supervillain. And the villain of her story may be closer than she thinks.  This is a book for mystery lovers and comic book fans alike that earned a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, who called it a “stellar first novel…Molin’s clever humor enhances the inventive plot. Readers will eagerly await the sequel.”

The Big Empty: Stan Jones and Patricia Watts bring the remote beauty of Alaska to life in their mystery series featuring Chukchi police chief Nathan Active.  In this sixth outing, Active is asked to investigate a plane crash by his close friend, Cowboy Decker.  Evie Kavoonah, a young mother-to-be, and her fiancé, Dr. Todd Brenner were flying when their bush plane ran out of gas and hit a ridge, instantly killing them both.  Evie was like a daughter to Cowboy, who trained her to fly, and he insists there’s no way his protégée made a fatal mistake that day. Nathan reluctantly plays along and discovers that Cowboy’s instincts are correct—the malfunction that led to the crash was carefully planned, and several people in the village have motives for targeting the pair.  Meanwhile, Nathan’s wife, Gracie, is pregnant, but so scarred by memories of domestic abuse that she isn’t sure she should have the baby. Nathan must support her and their adopted daughter, Nita, while managing an increasingly complex and dangerous murder case.  Though this is an ongoing series, new readers will find a good amount to enjoy here.  Booklist gave it a favorable review, noting “Jones’s and coauthor Watts’s prose has been called muscular and stark, but it has an inviting, cinematic quality to it as well. A well-constructed mystery recommended for fans of C.J. Box and Craig Johnson.”

Eighteen Below: Another mystery series with a great sense of place, Stefan Ahnhem’s Fabian Risk novels transform the beauty of Sweden into a character in and of itself.  This third book in the series opens on a hot summer’s day, as the police chase a speeding car through the streets of Helsingborg. When they reach the bridge, the driver keeps going straight into the cold, dark waters of the Öresund strait.  The body recovered from the wreck is that of Peter Brise, one of the city’s richest tech entrepreneurs. Fabian Risk and his team are confident this is suicide. Young, rich, successful―Brise just didn’t know how to ask for help. But then the autopsy reveals something unexpected. Brise was already dead when his car crashed. He’d been brutally murdered two months ago. His body frozen in perfect condition, at eighteen degrees below zero…Something doesn’t match up. And when a string of other odd murders and unusual behavior come to light in the area, Fabian Risk takes the case. This is a case that grows darker and darker with each twist, giving Kirkus Reviews cause to cheer, “Hats off to Ahnhem for creating a villain more powerful than the franchise team charged with bringing him in.”

HousegirlThis is a new-to-us book that we’re really excited to feature here today.  Michael Donkor’s work is a moving and unexpectedly funny exploration of friendship and family, as three women forge their way in a complicated world.  Belinda knows how to follow the rules. As a housegirl, she has learned the right way to polish water glasses, to wash and fold a hundred handkerchiefs, and to keep a tight lid on memories of the village she left behind when she came to Kumasi.  Mary is still learning the rules. Eleven-years-old and irrepressible, the young housegirl-in-training is the little sister Belinda never had. Amma has had enough of the rules. A straight-A student at her exclusive London school, she has always been the pride of her Ghanaian parents―until now. Watching their once-confident teenager grow sullen and wayward, they decide that sensible Belinda is the shining example Amma needs.  So Belinda must leave Mary behind as she is summoned from Ghana to London, where she tries to impose order on her unsettling new world. As summer turns to autumn, Belinda and Amma are surprised to discover common ground. But when the cracks in their defenses open up, the secrets they have both been holding tightly threaten to seep out. NPR provided a fascinating review of this novel, explaining, “I hate novels because too often, I know exactly where the story is heading, where the characters are heading. I loved Housegirl because Michael Donkor’s storytelling and character building were so exquisite…Two days after I finished the book, I found myself actually missing [them]. This is a rare accomplishment.”

It Takes Two to Tumble: Cat Sebastian’ historical m/m romances are always an emotional, funny, and clever, and this newest addition to her Seducing the Sedgewicks series is no exception, turning a beloved romance trope on its ear with rare skill.  After an unconventional upbringing, Ben Sedgewick is perfectly content with the quiet, predictable life of a country vicar, free of strife or turmoil. When he’s asked to look after an absent naval captain’s three wild children, he reluctantly agrees, but instantly falls for the hellions. And when their stern but gloriously handsome father arrives, Ben is tempted in ways that make him doubt everything.  Phillip can’t wait to leave England’s shores and be back on his ship, away from the grief that haunts him. But his children have driven off a succession of governesses and tutors and he must set things right. The unexpected presence of the cheerful, adorable vicar sets his world on its head and now he can’t seem to live without Ben’s winning smiles or devastating kisses.  Amidst the turmoil of runaway children, a plot to blackmail Ben’s family, and torturous nights of pleasure, Ben and Phillip must decide if a safe life is worth losing the one thing that makes them come alive.  Booklist gave this title a starred review, noting “Sebastian’s latest elegantly and eloquently written Regency historical… slowly unfolds into an unforgettable love story that manages to be both sweetly romantic and sizzlingly sensual at the same time, demonstrating once again why Sebastian is one of the brightest new stars in the romance genre.”


Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

Resolve to Read in 2019!



We’re not terribly big fans of New Year’s Resolutions in general, beloved patrons, as I think we’ve mentioned here previously.  If you want to make a change in your life, there is no better time to start than right now(ish), regardless of the date or time.  And there is no reason to feel pressured to make changes if you don’t feel the need or desire to do so, no matter what anyone tells you.  We think you’re terrific.

That being said, there’s no time like the present to indulge in some good habits, right?  And in that spirit, we wanted to let you know about some of the phenomenal reading challenges and book lists for 2019 that will help you expand your reading horizons, walk a mile in some new shoes, and find some new kinds of storytelling the the new year.

A good place to start is right inside the Main Library, where we have some book displays to get you started.  Check out our “Resolve to Read” Card Catalog Display, which features some of the titles listed below, as well as the “Broaden Your Horizons in 2019” Display, which has books to help you become a better human; we have books to help you learn how to cook, how to fix things, about understanding your rights in the workplace, and about our brains and bodies, how they work, and what they can do, all of which have been organized to help you find some new skills or new facts to store in your brain for the perfect upcoming occasion.


In addition to our curated lists, we also encourage you to check out Book Riot’s 2019 Read Harder Challenge, an enormously popular reading resolution list that provides (according to BookRiot) “24 tasks designed to help you break out of your reading bubble and expand your worldview through books. With new genres, new authors, and new points of view, the challenge will (hopefully) help you discover amazing books you wouldn’t have otherwise picked up.”  We had great fun following this list in 2018, and are looking forward to doing the same this year, as well!  For those of you interested, here is a discussion of the challenge, and the list as assembled by our friends over at BookRiot:

“We encourage you to push yourself, to take advantage of this challenge as a way to explore topics or formats or genres that you otherwise wouldn’t try. But this isn’t a test. No one is keeping score and there are no points to post. We like books because they allow us to see the world from a new perspective, and sometimes we all need help to even know which perspectives to try out. That’s what this is—a perspective shift—but one for which you’ll only be accountable to yourself.”

The BookRiot 2019 Read Harder Challenge:

  1. An epistolary novel or collection of letters
  2. An alternate history novel
  3. A book by a woman and/or AOC (Author of Color) that won a literary award in 2018
  4. A humor book
  5. A book by a journalist or about journalism
  6. A book by an AOC set in or about space
  7. An #ownvoices book set in Mexico or Central America
  8. An #ownvoices book set in Oceania
  9. A book published prior to January 1, 2019, with fewer than 100 reviews on Goodreads
  10. A translated book written by and/or translated by a woman
  11. A book of manga
  12. A book in which an animal or inanimate object is a point-of-view character
  13. A book by or about someone that identifies as neurodiverse
  14. A cozy mystery
  15. A book of mythology or folklore
  16. An historical romance by an AOC
  17. A business book
  18. A novel by a trans or nonbinary author
  19. A book of nonviolent true crime
  20. A book written in prison
  21. A comic by an LGBTQIA creator
  22. A children’s or middle grade book (not YA) that has won a diversity award since 2009
  23. A self-published book
  24. A collection of poetry published since 2014

Let’s see what we can accomplish together with this list, beloved patrons!


We hope these lists and challenges have provided you a good place to begin on your reading resolutions for 2019, beloved patrons!  We’ll be offering some reviews and suggestions as the year goes on from these lists, and, of course, sharing with you some of the titles that have made our 2019 “Best Of” lists.  So stayed tuned, stay well, and keep on reading in the New Year!