Tag Archives: Author Days

Five Book Friday!

And a very happy Free-For-All Birthday to American novelist, essayist, and poet, Willa Cather!

Image result for willa cather poem public domain
Via Academy of American Poets

Willa Cather was born in Virginia on December 7, 1873. Her family moved to Nebraska in 1883, ultimately settling in the town of Red Cloud, where the National Willa Cather Center is located today. She attended the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

Cather moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1896 to pursue a career in journalism and work for the women’s magazine Home Monthly.  She also taught English, and pursued a career in writing.   In 1906, she moved to New York City to take an editorial position at McClure’s Magazine, which published her first collection of short stories.  In the 1920’s, unhappy with the way in which Houghton Mifflin was marketing her books, Cather turned to the young publishing house run by Alfred A Knopf, Sr, and his wife Blanche.  Especially impressed with Blanche’s capability (and skilled managing of the switchboards during her lunch break), Cather eventually published most of her novels with the firm.

via WikipediaAlthough enormously popular for a time, Cather’s works fell out of public appreciation during the Depression and the Dust Bowl, as her work no longer felt relevant to the dire difficulties of the age.  Disheartened and defensive, Cather destroyed a number of her manuscripts and put a clause in her will stating that her letters never be published.   Nevertheless, in April 2013, The Selected Letters of Willa Cather—a collection of 566 letters Cather wrote to friends, family, and literary acquaintances such as Thornton Wilder and F. Scott Fitzgerald—was published following the death of Cather’s nephew and second literary executor, Charles Cather.  Today, her work remains a critically important part of the canon of American literature, and research into her fascinating life continues to this day!

In honor of Willa Cather’s birthday, please enjoy this poem, which appears in Cather’s famous novel My Antonia: 

Prairie Spring

Evening and the flat land,
Rich and sombre and always silent;
The miles of fresh-plowed soil,
Heavy and black, full of strength and harshness;
The growing wheat, the growing weeds,
The toiling horses, the tired men;
The long empty roads,
Sullen fires of sunset, fading,
The eternal, unresponsive sky.
Against all this, Youth,
Flaming like the wild roses,
Singing like the larks over the plowed fields,
Flashing like a star out of the twilight;
Youth with its insupportable sweetness,
Its fierce necessity,
Its sharp desire,
Singing and singing,
Out of the lips of silence,
Out of the earthy dusk.

And now…on to the books!

The Darkness: Fans of Nordic noir really need to discover Ragnar Jonasson and his compulsively readable Icelandic mysteries.  In this newest release, a determined and insightful detective puts her life on the line for a woman no one else seems to remember.  The body of a young Russian woman washes up on an Icelandic shore. After a cursory investigation, the death is declared a suicide and the case is quietly closed.  Over a year later Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir of the Reykjavík police is forced into early retirement at 64. She dreads the loneliness, and the memories of her dark past that threaten to come back to haunt her. But before she leaves she is given two weeks to solve a single cold case of her choice. She knows which one: the Russian woman whose hope for asylum ended on the dark, cold shore of an unfamiliar country. Soon Hulda discovers that another young woman vanished at the same time, and that no one is telling her the whole story. Even her colleagues in the police seem determined to put the brakes on her investigation. Meanwhile the clock is ticking.  Jonasson’s thrillers are always well-crafted and gripping, but he is also deeply compassionate toward his characters, giving emotional depth to these dark and twisty stories.  Kirkus Reviews loved this book, cheering,  “If you think you know how frigid Iceland can be, this blistering stand-alone from Jónasson has news for you: It’s much, much colder than you’ve ever imagined.”

All the Lives We Never Lived: Man-Booker-Prize-nominated author Anuradha Roy blends personal history and sweeping historical narrative into this novel, that deals with the nation of India during the Second World War, as well as about one son’s attempts to understand his mother’s story.  Growing up, Myshkin was known as “the boy whose mother had run off with an Englishman.”  Even though the man was, in fact, German, as Myshkin explains, “in small-town India in those days, all white foreigners were largely thought of as British.”  For years, that was all that Myshkin knew about his mother, Gayatri, a rebellious, alluring artist who abandoned parenthood and marriage to follow her primal desire for freedom.  Though freedom may be stirring in the air of India, across the world the Nazis have risen to power in Germany. At this point of crisis, a German artist from Gayatri’s past seeks her out.  What follows is her life as pieced together by her son, a journey that takes him through India and Dutch‑held Bali. Excavating the roots of the world in which he was abandoned, he comes to understand his long‑lost mother, and the connections between strife at home and a war‑torn universe overtaken by patriotism.  Roy manages scale expertly in this book, creating a large-scale landscape while still providing a deeply moving and detailed portrait of one man and his remarkable mother.  Library Journal agrees, saying in their review, “This novel has an epic feel but also portrays the feelings of an abandoned child and captured woman while strongly evoking the sounds, scents, plants, people, and social structures of India at the time.”

Babel: Around the World in Twenty LanguagesEnglish is considered the world language, but most of the world doesn’t speak it.  As Gaston Dorren points out in this intriguing work, only one in five people does.  Furthermore, Dorren calculates, to speak fluently with half of the world’s 7.4 billion people in their mother tongues, you would need to know no fewer than twenty languages.  He sets out to explore these top twenty world languages, which range from the familiar, like French and Spanish, to the those to which we have little exposure, like Malay, Javanese, and Bengali, taking readers on a delightful journey to every continent of the world, tracing how these world languages rose to greatness while others fell away and showing how speakers today handle the foibles of their mother tongues. Whether showcasing tongue-tying phonetics or elegant but complicated writing scripts, and mind-bending quirks of grammar, Babel vividly illustrates that mother tongues are like nations: each has its own customs and beliefs that seem as self-evident to those born into it as they are surprising to the outside world.  This is a book that travelers and language-lovers of all stripes will find fascinating, and may very well change the way you think about the words you use every day!  Publisher’s Weekly gave this book a starred review, delighting in the fact that “Dorren always succeeds in sharing his delight at the intricacies and compromises of human communication . . . Whether he is debunking common misunderstandings about Chinese characters or detailing the rigid caste distinctions ossified in Javanese, Dorren educates and fascinates. Word nerds of every strain will enjoy this wildly entertaining linguistic study.”

Nine Perfect Strangers: This came out a little while ago, dear readers, but due to popular demand, we’ve got more copies on the shelves for you! Fans of Lianne Moriarty’s Big Little Lies are going to delight in this newest of her novels, which brings her talent for creating complex characters with a classic mystery trope.  Nine people gather at a remote health resort. Some are here to lose weight, some are here to get a reboot on life, some are here for reasons they can’t even admit to themselves. Amidst all of the luxury and pampering, the mindfulness and meditation, they know these ten days might involve some real work. But none of them could imagine just how challenging the next ten days are going to be.  Frances Welty, the formerly best-selling romantic novelist, arrives at Tranquillum House nursing a bad back, a broken heart, and an exquisitely painful paper cut. She’s immediately intrigued by her fellow guests. Most of them don’t look to be in need of a health resort at all. But the person that intrigues her most is the strange and charismatic owner/director of Tranquillum House. Could this person really have the answers Frances didn’t even know she was seeking? Should Frances put aside her doubts and immerse herself in everything Tranquillum House has to offer – or should she run while she still can? It’s not long before every guest at Tranquillum House is asking exactly the same question.  Twisty, turny, and utterly engrossing, this novel is getting plenty of praise from the likes of Oprah and Stephen King, and earned a starred and boxed review from Publisher’s Weekly (no easy feat), which read in part, “A cannily plotted, continually surprising, and frequently funny page-turner and a deeply satisfying thriller. Moriarty delivers yet another surefire winner.”

How Long ‘Til Black Future Month?Nebula-award-winning author N.K. Jemisin’s first book of short stories is a rich and and intriguing collection that equally challenges and delights readers with thought-provoking narratives of destruction, rebirth, and redemption. Dragons and hateful spirits haunt the flooded streets of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In a parallel universe, a utopian society watches our world, trying to learn from our mistakes. A black mother in the Jim Crow South must save her daughter from a fey offering impossible promises. And in the Hugo award-nominated short story “The City Born Great,” a young street kid fights to give birth to an old metropolis’s soul.  Fans of Jemisin’s phenomenal science fiction novels will love these stories, and those looking to introduce themselves to her ground-breaking work should look no further than this volume, which earned a starred review from Kirkus Reviews, who praised the ways in which Jemisin  “[E]loquently develops a series of passionately felt themes… one of speculative fiction’s most thoughtful and exciting writers.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

From Our Archives

Today, we are honored to bring you this post, which originally appeared here in 2015, but is sure to help you get in the literary holiday spirit!

We had elaborate plans for a post today….And then I found this recording of Neil Gaiman reading Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  And I realized I could never, ever, top that.  So here, for your listening pleasure, and as a salvation to your Monday (and Tuesday.  It’s grading period, sorry!), is Neil Gaiman reading A Christmas Carol, with unending gratitude to the New York Public Library for making this happen, and offering it to the Internets.

PS: Anyone else wondering if the good Mr. Gaiman borrowed his top hat from our Blog’s mascot, Theophilus?

Five Book Friday!

And a very happy Free-For-All birthday to Italian poet, prose writer, editor, translator, and 1975 Nobel Prize Laureate Eugenio Montale!

From Poets.org:

Eugenio MontaleEugenio Montale was born into a family of businessmen in Genoa on October 12, 1896. During World War I, he served as an infantry officer on the Austrian front. Originally, Montale had trained to be an opera singer, but when his voice teacher died in 1923, he gave up singing and concentrated his efforts on writing. After his first book, Ossi di seppia (Cuttlefish Bones), appeared in 1925, Montale was received by critics as a profoundly original and experimental poet…He was dismissed from his directorship of the Gabinetto Vieusseux research library in 1938 for refusing to join the Fascist party. He withdrew from public life and began translating English writers such as ShakespeareT. S. EliotHerman Melville, and Eugene O’Neill. In 1939, Le occasioni(The Occasions) appeared, his most innovative book, followed by La bufera e altro (The Storm and Other Things, 1956). It was this trio of books that won Montale the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1975…Montale was also a prolific essayist, writer of stories and travel sketches, distinguished music critic, translator, and amateur painter.  He died in Milan in 1981 at the age of 85.

Visit poets.org to read more about Montale and read his stunning work!

And now: on to the books!

Small Country: A new arrival to our shelves, Gaël Faye’s novel is already a prize-winner France, and has been longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.  Set in Burundi in 1992, the book tells the tale of  ten-year-old Gabriel, who lives in the idyllic expatriate neighborhood of Bujumbura with his French father, Rwandan mother and little sister Ana.  These are carefree days of laughter and adventure – sneaking Supermatch cigarettes and gorging on stolen mangoes – as he and his mischievous gang of friends transform their tiny cul-de-sac into their kingdom. But dark clouds are gathering over this small country, and soon their peaceful existence will shatter when Burundi, and neighboring Rwanda, are brutally hit by civil war and genocide.  This is a story that focuses on some of the darkest aspects of recent African and, indeed, global memory, but also the potential for healing that came after it, make Faye’s ability to balance darkness with light is precisely what makes this work so compelling.  The Guardian agrees, calling this work
“Luminous… This is a book that demanded to be written, not only to mark the lives lost in Burundi and Rwanda, but also to show the way in which violence can take hold of a nation. With a light touch, Faye dramatises the terrible nostalgia of having lost
not only a childhood but also a whole world to war.” 

Invisible: The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America’s Most Powerful Mobster: While I inherently resent books that call any aspect of history “forgotten”, there is no denying the significance of the story that Stephen Carter has told in this new book.  Eunice Hunton Carter, Stephen Carter’s grandmother, was raised in a world of stultifying expectations about race and gender, yet by the 1940s, her professional and political successes had made her one of the most famous black women in America.  A graduate of Smith College and the granddaughter of slaves,her triumphs were shadowed by prejudice and tragedy. Greatly complicating her rise was her difficult relationship with her younger brother, Alphaeus, an avowed Communist who―together with his friend Dashiell Hammett―would go to prison during the McCarthy era. Yet she remained unbowed.  And without the strategy she devised, Lucky Luciano, the most powerful Mafia boss in history, would never have been convicted. When special prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey selected twenty lawyers to help him clean up the city’s underworld, she was the only member of his team who was not a white male.  Publisher’s Weekly gave this remarkable history a starred review, describing how “Carter’s enthusiasm for his grandmother’s incredible fortitude despite numerous setbacks is contagious; Eunice Carter’s story is another hidden gem of African-American history.”

A Dream Called Home: A Memoir: When Reyna Grande was nine-years-old, she walked across the US–Mexico border in search of a home, desperate to be reunited with the parents who had left her behind years before for a better life in the City of Angels. What she found instead was an indifferent mother, an abusive, alcoholic father, and a school system that belittled her heritage. With so few resources at her disposal, Reyna finds refuge in words, and it is her love of reading and writing that propels her to rise above until she achieves the impossible and is accepted to the University of California, Santa Cruz.  Although her acceptance is a triumph, the actual experience of American college life is intimidating and unfamiliar for someone like Reyna, who is now once again estranged from her family and support system. Again, she finds solace in words, holding fast to her vision of becoming a writer, only to discover she knows nothing about what it takes to make a career out of a dream.  Reyna Grande’s remarkable memoir The Distance Between Ushas has become required reading in schools across the country, and this moving addition to her story helps us see another side of her, as well as a moving aspect of the immigrant experience overall.  Kirkus Reviews loved this book, calling it “Candid and emotionally complex, Grande’s book celebrates one woman’s tenacity in the face of hardship and heartbreak while offering hope to other immigrants as they “fight to remain” and make their voices heard in a changing America. A heartfelt, inspiring, and relevant memoir.”

The Best of the Best Horror of the Year: A perfect selection for All Hallows Read, this collection features ten year’s worth of essential short horror fiction from some of the most acclaimed names in the genre. For more than three decades, editor and anthologist Ellen Datlow, winner of multiple Hugo, Bram Stoker, and World Fantasy awards, has had her finger on the pulse of the horror genre, introducing readers to writers whose tales can unnerve, frighten, and terrify. This anniversary volume, which collects the best stories from the first ten years of her annual The Best Horror of the Year anthology series, includes fiction from award-winning and critically acclaimed authors Neil Gaiman, Livia Llewellyn, Laird Barron, Gemma Files, Stephen Graham Jones, and many more.  Booklist loved this collection, describing it as “A survey of some of the best horror writing of the last decade. . . . highly recommended for anyone interested in contemporary horror and dark fantasy, as well as anyone looking for a collection of some of the best and most horrifying short fiction currently available.”

The Golden StateIn Lydia Kiesling’s razor-sharp debut novel, we accompany Daphne, a young mother on the edge of a breakdown, as she flees her sensible but strained life in San Francisco for the high desert of Altavista with her toddler, Honey. Bucking under the weight of being a single parent―her Turkish husband is unable to return to the United States because of a “processing error”―Daphne takes refuge in a mobile home left to her by her grandparents in hopes that the quiet will bring clarity.  But clarity proves elusive. Over the next ten days Daphne is anxious, she behaves a little erratically, she drinks too much. She wanders the town looking for anyone and anything to punctuate the long hours alone with the baby. Among others, she meets Cindy, a neighbor who is active in a secessionist movement, and befriends the elderly Alice, who has traveled to Altavista as she approaches the end of her life. When her relationships with these women culminate in a dangerous standoff, Daphne must reconcile her inner narrative with the reality of a deeply divided world. A keenly observed, emotional tale, Kiesilng’s novel was awarded a starred review by Publisher’s Weekly, who noted, “Kiesling’s intimate, culturally perceptive debut portrays a frazzled mother and a fractious America, both verging on meltdown . . . Kiesling depicts parenting in the digital age with humor and brutal honesty and offers insights into language, academics, and even the United Nations. But perhaps best of all is her thought-provoking portrait of a pioneer community in decline as anger and obsession fray bonds between neighbors, family, and fellow citizens.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

 

Five Book Friday!

And a very happy Free For All birthday to James Tiptree, Jr., also known as Alice B. Sheldon!

Via Wikipedia

Bradley was born on this day in 1915 in an upper-class suburb of Chicago.   Her father Herbert, was a lawyer and naturalist, and her mother Mary Hastings Bradley, was a prolific fiction and travel writer.  As a result, Mary had to opportunity to travel extensively from a young age.  Between trips to Africa, she attended several schools in Chicago, Lausanne (Switzerland), and New York.  At the age of 19 she dropped out of Sarah Lawrence College to marry William Davey, her first husband–a move that was largely driven by feelings of familial duty rather than love–became a graphic artist, a painter, and art critic for the Chicago Sun.  

In 1942, following her divorce from Davey, she joined the United States Army Air Forces and worked in the Army Air Forces photo-intelligence group, rising all the way to the rank of major.  In 1945 she married her second husband, Huntington D. Sheldon, and following her demobilization, the two set up a small business together, and Alice began publishing her short stories in magazines around the country.  Although she and her husband were both invited to join the CIA, Alice worked for the institution for only three years before resigning and returning to college.  She susequently graduated from American University in 1959,  and earned her doctorate at George Washington University in Experimental Psychology in 1967.  She also continued her science-fiction writing James Tiptree Jr., in order to protect her academic reputation.  The name “Tiptree” came from a branded jar of marmalade, and the “Jr.” was her husband’s idea. In an interview, she said: “A male name seemed like good camouflage. I had the feeling that a man would slip by less observed. I’ve had too many experiences in my life of being the first woman in some damned occupation.”

Tiptree’s work is marked by her lifelong feminism.  She worked across genres, forms, and styles, producing everything from space opera to hard science fiction.  It was only in 1977 that it was announced that James Tiptree, Jr. and Alice Bradley were one and the same person.  The James Tiptree Jr. Award, created by Karen Joy Fowler and Pat Murphy in 1991, is given in her honor each year for a work of science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender.

And, as ever, what better way to celebrate than with more books!  Here are just a few of the titles that meandered onto our shelves this week:

Scarface and the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness, and the Battle for Chicago: In 1929, thirty-year-old gangster Al Capone ruled both Chicago’s underworld and its corrupt government. To a public who scorned Prohibition, “Scarface” became a local hero and national celebrity. But after the brutal St. Valentine’s Day Massacre transformed Capone into “Public Enemy Number One,” the federal government found an unlikely new hero in a twenty-seven-year-old Prohibition agent named Eliot Ness. Chosen to head the legendary law enforcement team known as “The Untouchables,” Ness set his sights on crippling Capone’s criminal empire.  Max Allan Collins and A. Brad Schwartz utilized decades of primary source research—including the personal papers of Ness and his associates, newly released federal files, and long-forgotten crime magazines containing interviews with the gangsters and G-men themselves, and have crafted a compelling and engrossing history out of their epic fight for the streets of Chicago.  Fans of Sara Parestsky’s work will no doubt be intrigued to hear that she contributed a blurb for this book, calling it “an extraordinary achievement. The writing is riveting, the research impeccable—including material never published before—and the history of a city and a country teetering on the brink of total lawlessness is a sober warning for our own age.”

The Sea Queen: Fans of Linnea Hartsuyker’s The Half-Drowned King will be all aboard for this riveting sequel.  Six years have passed, and Ragnvald Eysteinsson is now king of Sogn.  But fighting battles for King Harald keeps him away from home, as he confronts treachery and navigates a political landscape that grows more dangerous the higher he rises.  Ragnvald’s sister Svanhild has found the freedom and adventure she craves at the side of the rebel explorer Solvi Hunthiofsson, though not without a cost. She longs for a home where her quiet son can grow strong, and a place where she can put down roots, even as Solvi’s ambition draws him back to Norway’s battles again and keeps her divided from her brother.  As a growing rebellion unites King Harald’s enemies, Ragnvald suspects that some Norse nobles are not loyal to Harald’s dream of a unified Norway. He sets a plan in motion to defeat all of his enemies, and bring his sister back to his side, while Svanhild finds herself with no easy decisions, and no choices that will leave her truly free.  Their choices will have repercussions not only for them, but for Norwegian history as a whole.  Critics have been loving this series from its beginnings, and Library Journal gave this book a super review, noting “Hartsuyker is a wonderfully descriptive writer equally adept at penning truly horrifying battle scenes as depicting life in ninth-century Norway. Fans of History Channel’s Vikings should find this novel equally compelling.”

The Reservoir Tapes: If you’ve not read Jon McGregor’s Booker-Prize-nominated Reservoir 13, we first, highly suggest that you do that.  And then pick up this book, which returns readers to the world of that same English village, and the community that is trying to grapple with the loss of one of its own.  A teenage girl has gone missing. The whole community has been called upon to join the search. And now an interviewer arrives, intent on capturing the community’s unstable stories about life in the weeks and months before Becky Shaw vanished.   Each villager has a memory to share or a secret to conceal, a connection to Becky that they are trying to make or break.  With each interview, a fractured portrait of Becky emerges at the edges of our vision―a girl swimming, climbing, and smearing dirt onto a scared boy’s face, images to be cherished and challenged as the search for her goes on, and the deep ties that bind and strangle these villagers together become clear.  This book adds stunning detail to the world that McGregor created in his first book, and the Los Angeles Times called it “scary stuff, this book, pounding as it does again and again with the insistent menace of people who go missing. But as the chapters accumulate, you begin to build a mental and emotional map of what’s left behind: a wounded town, fully specific enough to be engrossing but also slyly universal enough to make one consider their own common ground.”

Our House: Louise Candlish is a wizard at creating nightmares out of the most familiar scenarios, and this newest release puts all her talents on display. When Fiona Lawson comes home to find strangers moving into her house, she’s sure there’s been a mistake. She and her estranged husband, Bram, have a modern coparenting arrangement: bird’s nest custody, where each parent spends a few nights a week with their two sons at the prized family home to maintain stability for their children. But the system built to protect their family ends up putting them in terrible jeopardy. In a domino effect of crimes and misdemeanors, the nest comes tumbling down.  Now Bram has disappeared and so have Fiona’s children. As events spiral well beyond her control, Fiona will discover just how many lies her husband was weaving and how little they truly knew each other. But Bram’s not the only one with things to hide, and some secrets are best kept to oneself, safe as houses.  This book has been getting starred reviews across the board, with Booklist calling it a “twisty domestic thriller that features everything readers enjoy about the genre: dark secrets, unreliable narrators, a fast-moving plot, and a terrifyingly plausible premise. This could be summer’s breakout hit.”

Bone on Bone: Pulitzer-prize-winning author Julia Keller is back with another installment in her Bell Elkins series.  After a three-year prison sentence, Bell Elkins is back in Acker’s Gap. And she finds herself in the white-hot center of a complicated and deadly case — even as she comes to terms with one last, devastating secret of her own.  A prominent local family has fallen victim to the same sickness that infects the whole region: drug addiction. With mother against father, child against parent, and tensions that lead inexorably to tragedy, they are trapped in a grim, hopeless struggle with nowhere to turn.  Bell has lost her job as prosecutor — but not her affection for her ragtag, hard-luck hometown. Teamed up with former Deputy Jake Oakes, who battles his own demons as he adjusts to life as a paraplegic, and aided by the new prosecutor, Rhonda Lovejoy, Bell tackles a case as poignant as it is perilous, as heartbreaking as it is challenging.  This is series with a devoted following, and this installment itself has been winning over readers’ hearts and minds.  Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred review and noted “This thoughtful, painfully empathetic story will long linger in the reader’s memory.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons–Happy Reading!

Five Book Friday!

And many very warm Free-For-All birthday wishes to Francesco Petrarca, commonly referred to as Petrarch, who was born on this day in 1304.  Quite literally the first Renaissance man, Petrarch was a scholar, poet, ambassador, professional tourist, epic correspondent, and intellectual who helped establish the period known as the Renaissance–specifically because he defined the “Dark Ages” as the period before his birth.

Petrarch himself, via Wikipedia

But despite Petrarch’s being upheld throughout time as a leading light of intellectualism, art, and the humanities, but let’s, for a few moments, focus on something a little more…human.  Petrarch loved his cat.  In fact, he loved his cat so much that when it died, he had it embalmed and placed in a glass case in his house in Arqua, Italy.  Below the case, is a marble slab with a poem written in 1635 by the next owner of the house as a joke of sorts, mocking Petrarch’s affinity for his feline friend.  Indeed, there are those who claim the whole thing, from cat to display case, is a kind of hoax meant to entice tourists.  You can still see it today if you visit Petrarch’s house in Arqua, or in the photo below (a note: we’re not sure quite why the cat is hairless.  Perhaps it’s because of the embalming process, or perhaps it’s the result of wear and tear over time.)  You are welcome to decide for yourself.

Petrarch’s Cat, via http://www.open.ac.uk/blogs/literarytourist/?p=59

And while we’re on the subject, let’s have a talk about other literary matters, shall we?  Especially about the new books that have crept in, like the fog, on little cat’s feet, and are currently waiting on our shelves for your arrival!

The Calculating Stars: Mary Robinette Kowal has an imagination as wide as the cosmos, and in this new novel, she turns her talent to creating an alternate history of spaceflight that will appeal to all fans of Hidden Figures.  On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space, and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process. Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too. Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her. This is a book that is being celebrated by reviewers and readers alike, including Publisher’s Weekly, who gave it a starred review and noted “Readers will thrill to the story of this “lady astronaut” and eagerly anticipate the promised sequels.”

The Mere Wife: Maria Dahvana Headley’s book is, simply, a re-telling of the ancient epic Beowulf, about a knight who defeats a monster and his mother before being destroyed by a dragon.  However, in Headley’s capable hands, this is also a story about contemporary America, motherhood and identity that is as prescient as it is timeless.  From the perspective of those who live in Herot Hall, the suburb is a paradise. Picket fences divide buildings―high and gabled―and the community is entirely self-sustaining.  But for those who live surreptitiously along Herot Hall’s periphery, the subdivision is a fortress guarded by an intense network of gates, surveillance cameras, and motion-activated lights. For Willa, the wife of Roger Herot (heir of Herot Hall), life moves at a charmingly slow pace. She flits between mommy groups, playdates, cocktail hour, and dinner parties, always with her son, Dylan, in tow. Meanwhile, in a cave in the mountains just beyond the limits of Herot Hall lives Gren, short for Grendel, as well as his mother, Dana, a former soldier who gave birth as if by chance. Dana didn’t want Gren, didn’t plan Gren, and doesn’t know how she got Gren, but when she returned from war, there he was. When Gren, unaware of the borders erected to keep him at bay, ventures into Herot Hall and runs off with Dylan, Dana’s and Willa’s worlds collide.  Booklist is just one of the outlets to give this title a starred review, calling it “[A] stunner: a darkly electric reinterpretation of Beowulf that upends its Old English framework to comment on the nature of heroes and how we ‘other’ those different from ourselves… A strange tale told with sharp poetic imagery and mythic fervor.”

To the Bridge: A True Story of Motherhood and MurderOn May 23, 2009, Amanda Stott-Smith drove to the middle of the Sellwood Bridge in Portland, Oregon, and dropped her two children into the Willamette River. Forty minutes later, rescuers were able to save seven-year-old Trinity, but were unable to save four-year-old Eldon, whose body was recovered from the scene.   Stott-Smith was convicted and sentenced to thirty-five years in prison; but journalist Nancy Rommelmann remained convinced that there was more to the story: What made a mother want to murder her own children?  Embarking on a seven-year quest for the truth, Rommelmann traced the roots of Amanda’s fury and desperation through thousands of pages of records, withheld documents, meetings with lawyers and convicts, and interviews with friends and family who felt shocked, confused, and emotionally swindled by a woman whose entire life was now defined by an unspeakable crime. At the heart of that crime: a tempestuous marriage, a family on the fast track to self-destruction, and a myriad of secrets and lies as dark and turbulent as the Willamette River.  This is a difficult, challenging book that seeks in some way to understand that which seems incomprehensible, and to see through the eyes of one whose actions seem indefensible and unforgivable.  It’s not an easy read by any sense, but Rommelmann’s stunning insight, empathy, and journalistic excellence makes it a compelling and important work.  Robert Kolker, author of Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery, wrote a beautiful blurb for this book, explaining that “Nancy Rommelmann takes what many consider the most unforgivable of crimes—a mother set on murdering her own children—and delivers something thoughtful and provocative: a deeply reported, sensitively told, all-too-relevant tragedy of addiction and codependency, toxic masculinity, and capricious justice. You won’t be able to look away—nor should any of us.”

Celestial Bodies: How to Look at Ballet: As much as we all might enjoy the classical music that accompanies ballet, and no matter how fundamental to our humanity dancing might be, the art of ballet itself can often seem inaccessible to those not in “the know”.  In this engaging and accessible book, dance critic Laura Jacobs makes the foreign familiar, providing a lively, poetic, and uniquely accessible introduction to the world of classical dance. Combining history, interviews with dancers, technical definitions, descriptions of performances, and personal stories, Jacobs offers an intimate and passionate guide to watching ballet and understanding the central elements of choreography.  None other than Misty Copeland herself wrote a review of this book for The New York Times Review of Books, saying in part, “Jacobs’s book opens the door, offering a meticulous introduction to the art form and welcoming readers to have a seat and stay a while…. It’s from this insider’s perspective that Jacobs is able to offer an all-encompassing guided tour behind the curtain, then circling back to the auditorium where the balletomane, the occasional fan and the newcomer sit side by side as they interpret the performance according to their individual experiences and beliefs.”

Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray: From the artistic to the natural, physics researcher Sabine Hossenfelder’s newest book seeks to complicate our understanding of nature by accepting and reveling in all its messiness, rather than attempting to hold nature to our transient and shifting standards of ‘beauty’.  The belief in beauty, Hossenfelder argues, has become so dogmatic that it now conflicts with scientific objectivity: observation has been unable to confirm mindboggling theories, like supersymmetry or grand unification, invented by physicists based on aesthetic criteria. Worse, these “too good to not be true” theories are actually untestable and they have left the field in a cul-de-sac. To escape, physicists must rethink their methods. Only by embracing reality as it is can science discover the truth.  This is a book for math and science lovers, but it is also one that laypeople can enjoy, and learn from, as well.  As Popular Science encouraged readers, “Eavesdrop on accessible and frank conversations in Hossenfelder’s Lost in Math, which wrestles with big questions of quantum mechanics and beauty in a fun, fascinating way.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons–Happy Reading!

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!

Five Book Friday!

We also wouldn’t want the day to pass without acknowledging the loss and legacy of Harlan Ellison, who passed away yesterday at the age of 84.  Ellison was a prolific writer of science-fiction; including more than 1,700 short stories, novellas, screenplays (including the Star Trek episode “The City on the Edge of Forever”) and edited volumes.  He was also notoriously contentious and argumentative–a trait that made him seem unapproachable.  Twitter, however, featured a number of tributes from authors who received kindness, guidance, and honest support from Ellison, showing that all people are complex and fascinating, and often possess the potential to surprise from the better.

Via The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2018/jun/29/harlan-ellison-where-to-start-reading

If you’re looking to learn more about Ellison’s work, The Guardian has an excellent primer to get you started.

And for those looking for some more stellar reading choices, here are some of the new books that leapt onto our shelves this week, and can’t wait to share your summer adventures with you!

The Melody: On the surface, Jim Crace’s newest novel is a melancholy story about love and loss–but in short order, it opens up into so much more…a story about social issues, outsiders, poverty, class, and humanity that is both eye-opening and moving.  Aside from his trusty piano, Alfred Busi lives alone in his villa overlooking the waves. Famed in his town for his music and songs, he is mourning the recent death of his wife and quietly living out his days, occasionally performing the classics in small venues – never in the stadiums he could fill when in his prime. On the night before receiving his town’s highest honor, Busi is wrested from bed by noises in his courtyard and then stunned by an attacking intruder–his hands and neck are scratched, his face is bitten. Busi can’t say what it was that he encountered, exactly, but he feels his assailant was neither man nor animal.  As the people of the town begin to panic, remembering old stories about an ancient race of people alleged to be living in the forests, and threaten to take action, Busi, weathering a media storm, must come to terms with his wife’s death and decide whether to sing one last time.  This is a powerful and emotional story that is resonant on a number of levels.  Publisher’s Weekly agrees, calling this book “Haunting and transfixing . . . Like the simple but subtle song from which the novel takes its title, The Melody’s effects linger, coloring the reader’s feelings about the thin border between the natural world and human society.”

Number One Chinese RestaurantLillian Li’s debut novel is probably not one to read when you’re hungry.  The restaurant in which it’s set sound precisely like the kind of place you want for dinner.  The Beijing Duck House in Rockville, Maryland, is not only a beloved go-to setting for hunger pangs and celebrations; it is its own world, inhabited by waiters and kitchen staff who have been fighting, loving, and aging within its walls for decades. When disaster strikes, this working family’s controlled chaos is set loose, forcing each character to confront the conflicts that fast-paced restaurant life has kept at bay.  Owner Jimmy Han hopes to leave his late father’s homespun establishment for a fancier one. Jimmy’s older brother, Johnny, and Johnny’s daughter, Annie, ache to return to a time before a father’s absence and a teenager’s silence pushed them apart. Nan and Ah-Jack, longtime Duck House employees, are tempted to turn their 30-year friendship into something else, even as Nan’s son, Pat, struggles to stay out of trouble. And when Pat and Annie, caught in a mix of youthful lust and boredom, find themselves in a dangerous game that implicates them in the Duck House tragedy, their families must decide how much they are willing to sacrifice to help their children.  This is an energetic, exuberant novel that is as tangible in its scenic details as it is honest about its human characters, all combining to make a novel that earned a lovely review from Kirkus who praised it as follows: “Evoking every detail of [this restaurant] with riveting verisimilitude . . . Li’s sense of the human comedy and of the aspirations burning in each human heart puts a philosophical spin on the losses of her characters.”

Confessions of the FoxJordy Rosenberg’s historical novel sounds like a pitch-perfect blend of speculative history, mystery, love, and identity that will make it an ideal summertime adventure-read.  Jack Sheppard and Edgeworth Bess were the most notorious thieves, jailbreakers, and lovers of eighteenth-century London. Yet no one knows the true story; their confessions have never been found.  Until now. Reeling from heartbreak, a scholar named Dr. Voth discovers a long-lost manuscript—a gender-defying exposé of Jack and Bess’s adventures. Dated 1724, the book depicts a London underworld where scamps and rogues clash with the city’s newly established police force, queer subcultures thrive, and ominous threats of the Plague abound. Jack—a transgender carpenter’s apprentice—has fled his master’s house to become a legendary prison-break artist, and Bess has escaped the draining of the fenlands to become a revolutionary…but is the manuscript an authentic autobiography or a hoax? Dr. Voth obsessively annotates the manuscript, desperate to find the answer. As he is drawn deeper into Jack and Bess’s tale of underworld resistance and gender transformation, it becomes clear that their fates are intertwined—and only a miracle will save them all.  For all the fun in this book, there are a lot of big and important questions being explored here, giving this story critical depth and emotional gravity.  Entertainment Weekly agreed, saying of it “An ambitious, thought-provoking novel [that] explores everything from gender identity to mass incarceration, moves between centuries, and even features footnotes. . . . You’ll find yourself immersed, and maybe even changed.”

Pandora’s Box: A History of the First World War: As someone who reads a lot of the First World War history, this is a good one (if a heavy one!).  It’s even more compelling because it’s written by a German historian, who offers a perspective on the global war that we English-readers don’t often get.  Jörn Leonhard treats the clash of arms with a sure feel for grand strategy, the everyday tactics of dynamic movement and slow attrition, the race for ever more destructive technologies, and the grim experiences of frontline soldiers. But the war was much more than a military conflict, or an exclusively European one. Leonhard renders the perspectives of leaders, intellectuals, artists, and ordinary men and women on diverse home fronts as they grappled with the urgency of the moment and the rise of unprecedented political and social pressures. And he shows how the entire world came out of the war utterly changed.  Combining close-source analysis as well as grand strategy, this is a book that Professor Robert Gerwarth noted “stands out as the most comprehensive recent book on the First World War in any language… From the microcosm of the trenches to the home fronts, from the big battles in the East and the West to violent upheavals after 1918, Leonhard’s treatment of the war is wide-ranging while also giving ample space to the different layers of war experiences.”

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World: If you’re like me, and never really got over your complete obsession with dinosaurs (and not really the Jurassic Park monsters, but, like real dinosaurs…), then this is the book for you.  In this captivating narrative (enlivened with more than seventy original illustrations and photographs), Steve Brusatte, a young American paleontologist who has named fifteen new species in the course of his career, tells the complete, surprising, and new history of the dinosaurs, drawing on cutting-edge science to dramatically bring to life their lost world and illuminate their enigmatic origins, spectacular flourishing, astonishing diversity, cataclysmic extinction, and startling living legacy.  In addition to tracing the evolution of dinosaurs from their inauspicious start as small shadow dwellers into the dominant array of species we are more familiar with seeing, Brusatte also relays some of the tales of his fieldwork adventures, bringing readers along on the finds of a lifetime and making the world of dinosaurs startling, wonderfully real.  Library Journal gave this book a starred review, declaring it “should not be missed. Highly recommended for the dinosaur obsessed and anyone even mildly curious about the evolutionary importance of these iconic creatures.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons–Happy Reading!