Tag Archives: Author Days

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!

Five Book Friday!

The world of letters lost an icon this week when author Philip Roth passed away on Tuesday.  Roth has been eulogized, remembered, and discussed this week by literary giants such as Zadie Smith, Elaine Showalter, and Louise Erdich, and while he remains a controversial figure in literature for his portrayal of women and the topics he chose to discuss, there is no doubt that he made his mark in American literature.  A number of outlets have been offered guides for those who are looking to read more of Roth’s work, or to discover him–you can find some excellent ones at Vox, Slateand The New York Times.

Via i24news.tv

And so, in the spirit of great literature, let’s take a look at some of the sensational new books that have ambled onto our shelves this week and are eager to make your acquaintance!

Also, a note: the Library will be closed on Saturday May 26, Sunday May 27 and Monday May 28 in observance of the Memorial Day holiday.  We will resume our regular hours on Tuesday, May 29.  Have a lovely weekend, dear readers, wear sunscreen, and we’ll see you next week!

West Like Lightning: The Brief, Legendary Ride of the Pony ExpressOn the eve of the Civil War, three American businessmen launched an audacious plan to create a financial empire by transforming communications across the hostile territory between the nation’s two coasts. In the process, they created one of the most enduring icons of the American West: the Pony Express. Equally an improbable success and a business disaster, the Pony Express came and went in just eighteen months, but not before uniting and captivating a nation on the brink of being torn apart.  Jim DeFelice’s book is the first comprehensive history of the Pony Express, the daring misfits who it employed, and the well-known historical figures who helped establish its legend in American history.  This is a book that history enthusiasts, lovers of westerns, and anyone who likes getting mail will be able to savor.  The Tombstone Epitaph, Arizona’s oldest continually published newspaper, loved this book, and since that august paper focuses on the legacy of the “Old West”, we can only bow to their authority when they call it “Fresh and engaging. … A wild ride. … West Like Lightning is sure to stand amongst the great popular histories of the west.”

The Elizas: Fans of Pretty Little Liars will be delighted to hear that Sara Shepard is making her adult fiction debut with this mutli-layered guessing-game of a thriller.   When debut novelist Eliza Fontaine is found at the bottom of a hotel pool, her family at first assumes that it’s just another failed suicide attempt. But Eliza swears she was pushed, and her rescuer is the only witness.  Desperate to find out who attacked her, Eliza takes it upon herself to investigate. But as the publication date for her novel draws closer, Eliza finds more questions than answers. Like why are her editor, agent, and family mixing up events from her novel with events from her life? Her novel is completely fictional, isn’t it?  The deeper Eliza goes into her investigation while struggling with memory loss, the closer her life starts to resemble her novel, until the line between reality and fiction starts to blur and she can no longer tell where her protagonist’s life ends and hers begins.  Here is a perfect summer time thriller for those of you looking for your newest twisty, turny adventure that blends layers of fiction with chilling effect.  Kirkus Reviews loved how Shepard “pays close attention to cinematic details, practically projecting Eliza’s descent into personal nightmare, where she cannot be certain of her own memories, onto a silver screen: Scenes are carefully framed, and a soundtrack even bubbles along…A delicious Southern California noir riddled with muddled identities and family secrets.”

Rough Animals: Rae DelBianco’s newest book is drawing comparisons to both Breaking Bad, for its unflinching view  of the darkest aspects of rural life, and No Country for Old Men for its bleak, yet gripping, road trip–so fans of both, as well as those looking for a fascinating and utterly unique tale…look no further.  Ever since their father’s untimely death five years before, Wyatt Smith and his inseparably close twin sister, Lucy, have scraped by alone on their family’s isolated ranch in Box Elder County, Utah. That is until one morning when, just after spotting one of their steers lying dead in the field.  The shooter: a fever-eyed, fearsome girl-child who breaks loose and heads into the desert. Realizing that the loss of cattle will mean the certain loss of the ranch, Wyatt sets off on an epic twelve-day odyssey to find her, through a nightmarish underworld he only half understands; a world that pitches him not only against the primordial ways of men and the beautiful yet brutally unforgiving landscape, but also against himself.   This novel is earning starred reviews from any number of outlets, including Publisher’s Weekly, who called it “Furious and electric . . . The novel succeeds as a viscerally evoked and sparely plotted fever dream, a bleakly realized odyssey through an American west populated by survivors and failed dreamers.”

The Pisces:   This is a summer for unique novels, dear readers, and Melissa Broder’s novel–part mythology, part romance, part flight-of-fancy, is a perfect example of this delightful, eccentric trend.  Lucy has been writing her dissertation on Sappho for nine years when she and her boyfriend break up in a dramatic flameout. After she bottoms out in Phoenix, her sister in Los Angeles insists Lucy dog-sit for the summer. Annika’s home is a gorgeous glass cube on Venice Beach, but Lucy can find little relief from her anxiety – not in the Greek chorus of women in her love addiction therapy group, not in her frequent Tinder excursions, not even in Dominic the foxhound’s easy affection.  Everything changes when Lucy becomes entranced by an eerily attractive swimmer while sitting alone on the beach rocks one night. But when Lucy learns the truth about his identity, their relationship, and Lucy’s understanding of what love should look like, take a very unexpected turn.  Fans of The Shape of Water will gobble up this book, and anyone looking for a quirky, compelling love story should definitely check out this book.  As The Washington Post noted in its review, “For an author who has primarily written poetry and nonfiction, and who is clearly comfortable with a confessional voice, Broder uses the fantastical elements to complicate and deepen her novel. The climactic conclusion works because of its strangeness, because of its imaginative reach and implications.”

Imperial Twilight : The Opium War and the End of China’s Last Golden Age: When Britain launched its first war on China in 1839, pushed into hostilities by profiteering drug merchants and free-trade interests, it sealed the fate of what had long been seen as the most prosperous and powerful empire in Asia, if not the world. But internal problems of corruption, popular unrest, and dwindling finances had weakened China far more than was commonly understood, and the war would help set in motion the eventual fall of the Qing dynasty – which, in turn, would lead to the rise of nationalism and communism in the 20th century.  Award-winning historian Stephen Platt sheds new light on the early attempts by Western traders and missionaries to “open” China – traveling mostly in secret beyond Canton, the single port where they were allowed – even as China’s imperial rulers were struggling to manage their country’s decline and Confucian scholars grappled with how to use foreign trade to China’s advantage.  This is a book for anyone who wants to know more about the history of globalization, finances, the drug trade, or imperial history, and is told with such energy and well-researched insight that Booklist gave it a starred review, noting “Platt brings to life the people who drive the story, including the missionaries desperate to learn more about China and its language, the drug smugglers who made so much money they still have name recognition, the officials desperate to handle a growing crisis of widespread opium addiction, and even a pirate queen and Jane Austen’s older brother.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

Five Book Friday!

And very happy Free for All birthday wishes to Anna Marguerite McCann, art historian, and the first American woman to work in underground archaeology!

Via Wikipedia

McCann was born on May 11, 1933, in Mamaroneck, New York.  In 1954, she graduated from Wellesley College with a degree in art history with a minor in Classical Greek.  She was awarded a Fulbright  Scholarship to attend the American School of Classical Studies at Athens for a year, before beginning her studies at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts.  She began diving with Jacques Cousteau early in the 1960’s off the coast of Marseille, France, where they explored ancient Roman shipwrecks.  Underwater projects like this were new at the time, and, like so many other fields, largely populated by, and controlled by, men.  Nevertheless, McCann’s acumen, insight, and enthusiasm helped her carve out a career for herself, but also made her an excellent teacher.  She lectured in colleges across the country, as well as at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and even contributed to a children’s book in order to inspire a new generation of archaeologists and divers!  Her book, which was an expansion of her Master’s Thesis, entitled The Portraits of Septimius Severus, A.D. 193–211, is still considered the best and most authoritative text in the field.  McCann married her childhood friend Robert Dorsett in 1973.  She passed away on February 12, 2017.   Today, we celebrate her curiosity, adventurous spirit, and lifelong devotion to education and learning!

And what better way to celebrate than by taking a look at some of the new books that have sauntered onto our shelves this week!

The Lost Pilots: The Spectacular Rise and Scandalous Fall of Aviation’s Golden CoupleIn June 1927, an Australian woman named Jessie Miller fled a loveless marriage and journeyed to London, where she fell in love with the city’s energy and the decadence of the interwar elites.  There, she met William Lancaster, who had served with the Royal Air Force during the First World War, and was determined to make his name as famous as Charles Lindbergh, who had just crossed the Atlantic.   Lancaster wanted to fly three times as far – from London to Melbourne – and in Jessie Miller he knew he had found the perfect co-pilot.  By the time they landed in Melbourne, the daring aviators were a global sensation – and, despite still being married to other people, deeply in love. Keeping their affair a secret, they toured the world in style until the 1929 stock market crash bankrupted them both.  To make ends meet Jessie agreed to write a memoir, and selected a man named Haden Clarke as her ghostwriter.  As Corey Mead shows in this fast-paced, detailed book, Clarke’s arrival changed everything for Miller and Lancaster, leading to a crime that was as infamous as they were renown.  This story takes us around the world–and through the skies–all the way to 1962, with the wreckage of a plane in the Sahara Desert, in a wonderfully engaging work of narrative non-fiction that Kirkus Reviews calls “A brisk, entertaining history of daring and passion.”

The Destiny Thief: Essays on Writing, Writers and Life: A collection of essays, addresses, and writings from beloved writer Richard Russo is a treat not only for his fans, but for bibliophiles in general.  From a commencement speech he gave at Colby College, to a comprehensive analysis of Mark Twain’s value, this collection shows Russo in all his thoughtful, emotional, and humorous glory.  These essays are personal, as well as literary, exploring his journey with a friend undergoing gender reassignment surgery, as well as how an oddly placed toilet made him reevaluate the purpose of humor in art and life, allowing us to appreciate a respected author in a new light–and perhaps helping readers find a new storyteller to follow!  Booklist agrees, noting in its review: “For aspiring writers, Russo’s musings on the art and craft of the novel are a trove of knowledge and guidance. For adoring readers, they are a window into the imagination and inspiration for Russo’s beloved novels, screenplays, and short stories. . . . Few authors seem as approachable in print and, one suspects, in person as acclaimed novelist Russo.”

The Saint of Wolves and Butchers: Those of you who loved Alex Grecian’s historical mysteries will know he is a writer with a terrific sense of place and a keen observer of emotion–and both these talents come to the forefront in his newest contemporary thriller.  Travis Roan and his dog, Bear, are hunters: They travel the world pursuing evildoers in order to bring them to justice. They have now come to Kansas on the trail of Rudolph Bormann, a Nazi doctor and concentration camp administrator who sneaked into the U.S. under the name Rudy Goodman in the 1950’s and has at last been identified.  But Goodman has some influential friends who are more than willing to stick their necks out to protect him–and the work that he has continued to this very day.   Caught between these men is Kansas State Trooper Skottie Foster, an African American woman and a good cop who must find a way to keep peace in her district–until she realizes the struggle between Roan and Bormann will put her and her family in grave peril.   This is an unsettling, unrelenting book that has drawn comparisons to both John Grisham and Stephen King.  Booklist gave it a starred review, calling it “A breathtaking thriller with plenty of action and some very clever twists . . . the grimly satisfying conclusion makes it worth it for both characters and readers. Fans of David Baldacci and John Grisham will enjoy the unpredictability and unrelenting suspense.”

Asymmetry: Lisa Halliday’s debut novel has left readers and critics alike spellbound and fascinated with her ability to weave storylines together into a single narrative that is prescient, engaged, and timeless.  Told in three distinct and uniquely compelling sections, the book explores the imbalances that spark and sustain many of our most dramatic human relations: inequities in age, power, talent, wealth, fame, geography, and justice.  From the story of Alice, a young American editor, and her relationship with the famous and much older writer Ezra Blazerduring the early years of the Iraq Wa to the first-person narrative of Amar, an Iraqi-American man who, on his way to visit his brother in Kurdistan, is detained by immigration officers and spends the last weekend of 2008 in a holding room in Heathrow, these seemingly disparate stories  interact and overlap in ways that are hard to see coming and impossible to forget.  There are heaps of praises coming in for Halliday’s novel, including from The New York Times Review of Books, which called it  “Masterly…As you uncover the points of congruence, so too do you uncover Halliday’s beautiful argument about the pleasure and obligations of fiction…It feels as if the issues she has raised — both explicitly and with the book’s canny structure — have sown seeds that fiction will harvest for years to come.”

That Kind of MotherRumaan Alam won a number of devoted fans with his first novel Rich and Pretty, and this newest book features the same gentle humor, compassion, and wit that earned such accolades.  This story focuses on Rebecca Stone, a white woman who has just given birth to her first child.  Struggling to juggle the demands of motherhood with her own aspirations and feeling utterly alone in the process, she reaches out to the only person at the hospital who offers her any real help, a Black woman named Priscilla Johnson, and begs her to come home with them as her son’s nanny.  In their time together, Priscilla teaches Rebecca not only about being a mother, but about navigating a world rich in privilege, prejudice.  When Priscilla dies unexpectedly in childbirth, Rebecca steps forward to adopt the baby. But she is unprepared for what it means to be a white mother with a black son. As she soon learns, navigating motherhood for her is a matter of learning how to raise two children whom she loves with equal ferocity, but whom the world is determined to treat differently.  Filled with timely observations and rich with sympathy, this is a novel that is both heartbreaking and redemptive.  Vogue gave it a glowing review, noting how Alam “expertly and intrepidly blends topics of the zeitgeist, including race, privilege, and motherhood, without sacrificing elegant prose and signature wit.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons–Happy Reading!

Five Book Friday!

And many very happy Free For All birthday wishes to writer, philosopher, and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft!

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Wollstonecraft was born on this day in 1759.  Though her writing career was a comparatively short one (it is assumed she died of sepsis following the birth of her second child, Mary, at the age of 38), her career was an illustrious one.  She wrote novels, philosophical and political treatises, a travel narrative, a history of the French Revolution, a conduct book, and a children’s book.  But, by far, her most famous work was A Vindication on the Rights of Women.  In this seminal publication, Wollstonecraft essentially argued that men and women were born as, and meant to be equals, but that society, by refusing to educate women’s brains and care for their bodies properly, were forcing women into a subservient role, and ensuring that they would never be anything more than a pretty face.

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Mary herself survived an upbringing in an abusive household, striking out on her own at the age of nineteen after her father squandered her inheritance on speculative deals and alcohol.  Though a successful and respected teacher, Wollstonecraft nevertheless took the enormous social and financial risk of leaving her teaching position to become a writer–a highly exception choice for women at the time.  She eventually moved to France and, in 1792,  penned A Vindication on the Rights of Women, which served as a follow-up to her 1790 pamphlet A Vindication on the Rights of Man. In this seminal work, she argued that “females…are made women…when they are mere children”, meaning that girls were taught from a very young age that their only worth lay in physically attracting a man.  The result was that women were forced to remain like children for the rest of their lives.  It was not their natural inclination to be so, but the way in which they were brought up:

False notions of beauty and delicacy stop the growth of their limbs and produce a sickly soreness…and thus weakened …how can they attain the vigour necessary to enable them to throw off their factitious character?—where find strength to recur to reason and rise superiour to a system of oppression, that blasts the fair promises of spring? This cruel association of ideas, which every thing conspires to twist into all their habits of thinking, or, to speak with more precision, of feeling, receives new force when they begin to act a little for themselves; for they then perceive that it is only through their address to excite emotions in men, that pleasure and power are to be obtained. Besides, the books professedly written for their instruction, which make the first impression on their minds, all inculcate the same opinions. Educated then in worse than Egyptian bondage, it is unreasonable, as well as cruel, to upbraid them with faults that can scarcely be avoided…when nothing could be more natural, considering the education they receive, and that their ‘highest praise is to obey, unargued’—the will of man.

This is not to say that Wollstonecraft’s work was and remains utterly unassailable–A Vindication on the Rights of Women is full of class and gender assumptions, many the result of religion, that date the work considerably.  But her argument for the absolute equality of human beings remains a remarkable and moving statement that, largely, is still relevant today.

In you are interested in Mary Wollstonecraft’s legacy, check out the Mary On The Green campaign, which is working to promote Wollstonecraft’s legacy, and to erect a statue in commemoration of her life in London.

More locally, our Library has a wealth of new books that you can check out this weekend–here are a few of the titles that have sauntered on to our shelves this week:

Our Little SecretThe summer thriller season is upon us, and Roz Nay’s debut is an early smash hit.  Angela Petitjean is the focus os a police investigation, focused on the disappearance of the wife of Angela’s high school sweetheart, HP. She has vanished.  The detective in charge of the case is convinced that Angela has the answers that will solve the case.  But Angela has a different story to tell. It began more than a decade ago when she and HP met in high school in Cove, Vermont. She was an awkward, shy teenager. He was a popular athlete. They became friends, fell in love, and dated senior year. Everything changed when Angela went to college. When time and distance separated them, and when Saskia entered the picture.  That was eight years ago. HP foolishly married a drama queen and Angela moved on with her life. Whatever marital rift caused Saskia to leave her husband has nothing to do with Angela. Nothing at all. Detective Novak needs to stop asking questions and listen to what Angela is telling him. And once he understands everything, he’ll have the truth he so desperately wants…This is a psychological thriller that will appeal to fans of Paula Hawkins and Ruth Ware.  Kirkus Reviews loved this book, calling it a “mesmerizing debut…Nay expertly spins an insidious, clever web, perfectly capturing the soaring heights and crushing lows of first love and how the loss of that love can make even the sanest people a little crazy. Carve out some time for this riveting, one-sitting read.”

The Only StoryJulian Barnes manages to cross genres with apparent ease, moving from success to success–now, this contemporary love story already is being hailed on several ‘best of’ lists.  One summer in the sixties, in a staid suburb south of London, Paul comes home from university, aged nineteen, and is urged by his mother to join the tennis club. In the mixed-doubles tournament he’s partnered with Susan Macleod, a fine player who’s forty-eight, confident, ironic, and married, with two nearly adult daughters. She is also a warm companion, their bond immediate. And they soon, inevitably, are lovers. Clinging to each other as though their lives depend on it, they then set up house in London to escape his parents and the abusive Mr. Mcleod.  Decades later, Paul looks back at how they fell in love, how he freed Susan from a sterile marriage, and how–gradually, relentlessly–everything fell apart, and he found himself struggling to understand the intricacy and depth of the human heart. Publisher’s Weekly wrote a heartfelt review of this book, noting “[This] deeply touching novel is a study of heartbreak. . . . By revisiting the flow and ebb of one man’s passion, Barnes eloquently illuminates the connection between an old man and his younger self.”

Gateway to the Moon: Mary Morris’ latest novel is a fascinating historical investigation and a contemporary study of how the scars of the past can persistently effect the present.  In 1492, the Jewish and Muslim populations of Spain were expelled, and Columbus set sail for America. Luis de Torres, a Spanish Jew, accompanies Columbus as his interpreter. His journey is only the beginning of a long migration, across many generations. Over the centuries, de Torres’ descendants travel from Spain and Portugal to Mexico, finally settling in the hills of New Mexico. Five hundred years later, it is in these same hills that Miguel Torres, a young amateur astronomer, finds himself trying to understand the mystery that surrounds him and the town he grew up in.  Entrada de la Luna is a place that holds a profound secret–one that its residents cannot even imagine. It is also a place that ambitious children, such as Miguel, try to leave. Poor health, broken marriages, and poverty are the norm. Luck is unusual. When Miguel sees a flyer for a babysitting job, he jumps at the opportunity, and begins work for a Jewish family new to the area.  Interwoven throughout the present-day narrative are the powerful stories of the ancestors of Entrada’s residents, highlighting the torture, pursuit, and resistance of the Jewish people.  This is another compelling work that earned a starred review from Booklist, who described it as “[An] enthralling saga . . . The story glides effortlessly between viewpoints and vibrant settings ranging from Lisbon to Tangiers, the Caribbean, and Mexico City. With prose as clear as the star-strewn night sky, Morris’ novel explores people’s hidden connections.”

The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster: Sarah Krasnostein’s profile of Sandra Pankhurst is a multi-layered and complex study.  Sandra Pankhurst was many things: husband and father, drag queen, gender reassignment patient, sex worker, small businesswoman, trophy wife.   But Pankhurst found her calling as a trauma cleaner, going to the places where no one else would go, and providing her patients the care and dignity she was so often denied.  But as a little boy, raised in violence and excluded from the family home, she just wanted to belong. Now she believes her clients deserve no less.  This is a compelling, humane biography, and a powerful study about the compassionate work of a trauma cleaner.  Sarah Krasnostein followed Pankhurst into some of the most horrible of living conditions and watched her bring order and care to both the living and the dead.  Her compassion is extraordinary, and this book, though harrowing, is also a moving reminder about the power of an individual in a world of pain.  Booklist gave this engrossing study a starred review, noting “Through countless encounters with the fetid, the neglected, and the downright tragic, Parkhurst has found meaning and peace, and [author] Krasnostein a singular subject whom she approaches with well-deserved awe.”

Vogue Knitting: The Ultimate Knitting Book: Anyone with knitterly aspirations, from the novice to the seasoned professional, will find things to learn in this massive and marvelous book.  The good people at Vogue Knitting have updated, revised, and expanded their seminal guide to include a new library of stitches, details on hat, shawl, sock, and sweater construction, more than 1,600 photos and hand-drawn step-by-step illustrations.  With so many knitting guides, how-to’s, and illustrated help books out there, it’s hard to call any book ‘comprehensive’, but this one comes darned close.  With easy-to-read directions, helpful footnotes and cross-references, and oodles of updates, it’s not difficult to see why Library Journal gave this book a starred review and called it “An essential addition to the knitter’s bookshelf.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

Five Book Friday!

And a very happy Free For All Birthday to Armenian poet Daniel Varoujan.

Varoujan was born Daniel Tchboukkiarian in what is now Sivas, Turkey, on April 20, 1884.  He was educated in Turkey, and later in Venice.  In 1905, he enrolled at the University of Ghent, in Belgium, where he studied literature, sociology and economics.  He returned home in 1909 and worked as a teacher, and married Araksi Varoujan in 1912.

In 1914, Varoujan and several friends established the Mehean, a literary magazine and social group dedicated to Armenian literature and language.  At the time, Armenia was not a country, but a group of people bound together by a common culture, language, and religion, most of whom lived together within the bounds of the Ottoman Empire.  There was also a sizable population of Armenians in the Russian Empire (see the map below this paragraph for a visual).   As a group, Armenians became a target of political and personal violence when the Young Turks came to power in 1907.  The Ottoman Empire (to put it very simply) had been a site of religious and cultural tolerance for most of its history, however, the Young Turks imagined an empire led by those who identified as Turkish, who spoke Turkish, and who practiced the Muslim religion.  As outsiders in this vision, Armenians found themselves in danger of persecution.

Via Wikipedia, By YerevanciOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

With the outbreak of the First World War, and especially with the Ottoman entrance into the war in 1915, Armenians came under even more intense persecution.  As Christians who lived in both the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire (two empires on different sides of the conflict), Armenians were demonized as enemies of the Ottoman state.  On April 24, 1915, the Ottoman government authorized the arrest of Armenian intellectuals, religious and community leaders.  This event is recognized as the beginning of the Armenian Genocide.  Varoujan was among those arrested and later deported.  While on route, eyewitness testimony states that Varoujan and four other Armenian men were robbed, stripped, and tortured by Turkish police officers until they died.  Though his work was confiscated during the genocide, his unfinished work, The Song of the Bread ( in Armenian: Հացին երգը) was rescued by allegedly bribing Turkish officials.  Today, we bring you one of Varoujan’s poems as a tribute to the man, and in commemoration of the Armenian Genocide, which is commemorated this coming week:

ANDASTAN *

At the Eastern part of the earth
Let there be peace…
Let sweat, not blood, flow
In the broad vein of the furrow,
And at the toll of each hamlet’s bell
Let there rise hymns of exaltation.

At the Western part of the earth
Let there be fecundity …
Let each star sparkle with dew,
And each husk be cast in gold
And as the sheep graze on the hills
Let bud and blossom bloom.

At the Northern part of the earth
Let there be abundance …
In the golden sea of the wheat field
Let the scythe swim incessantly
And as gates of granaries open wide
Jubilation let there be.

At the Southern part of the earth
Let all things bear fruit…
Let the honey thrive in the beehive
And may the wine run over the cups
And when brides bake the blessed bread
Let the sound of song rise and spread.

Daniel Varoujan 1914

Translated by Tatul Sonentz (via armenian-poetry.blogspot.com)

*Name of the ritual of the Ceremonial Blessing of the 4 corners of the earth — a Sacrement of the Armenian Apostolic Church

The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives: Pulitzer Prize–winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen called on 17 fellow refugee writers from across the globe to shed light on their experiences.  This book brings together stories of writers from Mexico, Bosnia, Iran, Afghanistan, Soviet Ukraine, Hungary, Chile, Ethiopia, to name just a few.  Together, they are a formidable intellectual force: MacArthur Genius grant recipients, National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award finalists, filmmakers, speakers, lawyers, professors, and New Yorker contributors—and they are all refugees, many as children arriving in London and Toronto, Oklahoma and Minnesota, South Africa and Germany.  These essays reveal moments of uncertainty, resilience in the face of trauma, and a reimagining of identity, forming a compelling look at what it means to be forced to leave home and find a place of refuge.  The Economist wrote a glowing review of this book, noting, in part, that “…[Viet Thanh Nguyen] gives ordinary Westerners a heart-wrenching insight into the uprooted lives led in their midst…the collection succeeds in demonstrating that this dispersed community in some ways resembles other nations. It has its founding myths, but its citizens all have their own tragedies, victories and pain—and each has a story to tell.”

The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind: My Tale of Madness and RecoveryIn January 2015, Barbara Lipska—a leading expert on the neuroscience of mental illness—was diagnosed with melanoma that had spread to her brain. Within months, her frontal lobe, the seat of cognition, began shutting down, and she began exhibiting dementia- and schizophrenia-like symptoms that terrified her family and coworkers. But just as her doctors figured out what was happening, the immunotherapy they had prescribed began to work, and repair the damage that had been done to Lipska’s brain and mind.  Just eight weeks after her nightmare began, Lipska returned to her version of normal–with one difference: she remembered her brush with madness clearly and nearly completely.  In this book, Lipska describes her extraordinary ordeal, explaining how mental illness, brain injury, and age can change our behavior, personality, cognition, and memory. She also shares what it is like to experience these changes firsthand, while contemplating what parts of us remain, even when so much else is gone.  This is a remarkable book that looks at illness from the view of both a physician and a patient, told by a scientist and writer of impressive talent.  Science Magazine hailed this book, writing that “Lipska’s evolution as scientist, patient, and person explores the physiological basis of mental illness, while uplifting the importance of personal identity…. Lipska’s prose soars when narrating her experiences… her story is evidence that rich personal narratives offer value to an empirical pursuit of neuroscientific investigation.”

Napa at Last Light: America’s Eden in an Age of CalamityJames Conaway has spent decades covering the Napa region, and in this eye-opening work, he compares the origins of this utopia of wine, started by family vintners and dedicated farmers, and the present-day reality, marked by multinational corporations and their allies who have stealthily subsumed the old family landmarks and abandoned the once glorious conviction that agriculture is the highest and best use of the land.  Inherent in that conviction is the sanctity of the place, threatened now by a relentless drive for profits at the expense of land, water, and even life.  A story about power, money, land, and, most of all, wine, Conaway’s book is an engaging, honest, sometimes unsettling account of an industry and a place undergoing fundamental change–and the people who are caught in the middle.  Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred review, declaring, “This is a stunning and sad look at how an idyllic community became a victim of its own success…fascinating and well-researched.”

Lawn Boy: Jonathan Evison manages to balance a moving, small-scale coming-of-age story with a large-scale discussion of class and success that is successful in everything it does.  For Mike Muñoz, a young Chicano living in Washington State, life has been a whole lot of waiting for something to happen. Not too many years out of high school and still doing menial work—and just fired from his latest gig as a lawn boy on a landscaping crew—he knows that he’s got to be the one to shake things up if he’s ever going to change his life. But how?  Though he tries time and again to get his foot on the first rung of that ladder to success, he can’t seem to get a break. But then things start to change for Mike, and after a raucous, jarring, and challenging trip, he finds he can finally see the future and his place in it. And it’s looking really good.  This is a book that has been added to a number of “Best Of” lists for its frank look at the persistence and pernicious nature of the ‘American Dream’, and also earned a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, who cheered, “Evison convincingly evokes the small disasters and humiliations that beset America’s working poor. Mike’s gradual growth into self-awareness is punctuated by moments of human kindness and grace that transpire in and among broken-down trucks, trailer parks, and strip malls. Focusing on the workers who will only ever be welcome in gated communities as hired help, Evison’s quiet novel beautifully considers the deterioration of the American Dream.”

CirceWe readers have been spoiled by a resurgence and re-imaging of ancient classics of late, and Madeline Miller continues this trend in fine fashion with the tale of Circe, a supporting character in The Odyssey, but the heroine of this fascinating and insightful tale.  The daughter of the all-powerful Titans, Circe is an outsider–not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power–the power of witchcraft.  Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology.  But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.  Fans of Greek mythology, epic adventures, and deeply emotional tales will delight in this tale that has been receiving glowing reviews from around the country.  One such review came from The Washington Post, which reads in part, “”One of the most amazing qualities of this novel [is]: We know how everything here turns out – we’ve known it for thousands of years – and yet in Miller’s lush reimagining, the story feels harrowing and unexpected. The feminist light she shines on these events never distorts their original shape; it only illuminates details we hadn’t noticed before.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons: Happy Reading!

Five Book Friday!

And a very happy Free For All Birthday to  Czech poet, author, and painter Josef Čapek!

Via Weimarart.blogspot.com

Čapek was born on this day in Hronov, Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) in 1887.  We was originally trained as a painter,  and his works were representative of the Cubist school, with lots of geometric shapes and lack of depth perception (you can see an example of his work below this paragraph).  He also wrote plays and essays, especially on the subject of art, and the worth of art produced by those who were considered “unartistic,” especially children and natives in imperial countries (whose work was considered “primitive”).  In addition, he collaborated with his brother Karel on a number of plays and short stories.  One of those plays, which we’ll discuss in just a moment, brought the word “robot” into modern parlance.  Because of Čapek criticism of national socialism and Hitler specifically, he was arrested following the German invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939 and was sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.  He wrote He wrote Poems from a Concentration Camp there before his death, which was assumed to be in 1945.  Though his wife and friends searched after the war, his remains were never recovered.

Piják by Josef Čapek, (1913)

It was the Čapek brothers’ 1920 play R.U.R. which popularized the international word “robot”.  For years, it was assumed that Karel Čapek had developed the word, he wrote a short letter in reference to an article in the Oxford English Dictionary etymology in which he named Josef as the word’s actual inventor.  In a a later article published in 1933, Karel also explained that his idea was to call the creatures laboři (after the Latin word for labor). It was Josef, he said, who suggested roboti (robots in English), from the Czech word robota, which means, literally, “serf labor”, or “hard work”.

So today, let’s celebrate the courage, convictions, and creativity of Josef Čapek–and what better way that enjoying the remarkable books available to you at the Library (we don’t have robots, but we have books!).  Here are some of the great ones that shuffled onto our shelves this week:

Picasso and the Painting that Shocked the World: Since we’re celebrating a Cubist artist today, Miles J. Unger’s book on the origins of Picasso’s  Les Demoiselles d’Avignon seemed like an ideal selection today.  Picasso arrived in Paris in 1900, living and working in a squalid tenement known as the Bateau Lavoir, in the heart of picturesque Montmartre.  Slowly, painstakingly, he built his reputation, and amassed a wealth of avant-garde comrades and friends whose collective artistic influence is being felt to this day.  In 1906 Picasso began his early masterpiece known as Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Inspired by the groundbreaking painting of Paul Cézanne, as well as African and tribal sculpture, Picasso’s work was seen as a defining image of modernity.  The painting proved so shocking that even his friends assumed he’d gone mad. Only his colleague George Braque understood what Picasso was trying to do. Over the next few years they teamed up to create Cubism, the most revolutionary and influential movement in twentieth-century art.  Unger’s book looks at the individuals, the interactions, and the influences that helped Picasso create this seminal work in a well-research and wonderfully readable book that earned a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, who called it “Riveting. . . . This engrossing book chronicles with precision and enthusiasm a painting with lasting impact in today’s art world.”

Broad BandThe Untold Story of the Women Who Made the InternetOh hey, and speaking of technology, how about Claire L. Evan’s book that re-frames the history of modern computer technology as female;  from Ada Lovelace, who wrote the first computer program in the Victorian Age, to the cyberpunk Web designers of the 1990s, female visionaries have always been at the vanguard of technology and innovation. In fact, Evans points out, women turn up at the very beginning of every important wave in technology. They may have been hidden in plain sight, their inventions and contributions touching our lives in ways we don’t even realize, but they have always been part of the story.   Seek inspiration from Grace Hopper, the tenacious mathematician who democratized computing by leading the charge for machine-independent programming languages after World War II. Meet Elizabeth “Jake” Feinler, the one-woman Google who kept the earliest version of the Internet online, and Stacy Horn, who ran one of the first-ever social networks on a shoestring out of her New York City apartment in the 1980s.   Join the ranks of the pioneers who defied social convention to become database poets, information-wranglers, hypertext dreamers, and glass ceiling-shattering dot com-era entrepreneurs. This inspiring history shines a light on some of the bright minds that have as yet gone unrecognized in the history of computer sciences that The Wall Street Journal called  “a celebration of the women whose minds gave birth to the motherboard and its brethren…. an engaging series of biographical essays on lesser known mathematicians, innovators and cyberpunks.”

The Coincidence Makers: Israeli author Yoav Blum’s debut novel is now available in English, and is an idea blend of genres for anyone looking for something completely novel.  What if the drink you just spilled, the train you just missed, or the lottery ticket you just found was not just a random occurrence? What if it’s all part of a bigger plan? What if there’s no such thing as a chance encounter? What if there are people we don’t know determining our destiny? And what if they are even planning the fate of the world?  Enter the Coincidence Makers―Guy, Emily, and Eric―three seemingly ordinary people who work for a secret organization devoted to creating and carrying out coincidences. What the rest of the world sees as random occurrences, are, in fact, carefully orchestrated events designed to spark significant changes in the lives of their targets―scientists on the brink of breakthroughs, struggling artists starved for inspiration, future soulmates?  When an assignment of the highest level is slipped under Guy’s door one night, he knows it will be the most difficult and dangerous coincidence he’s ever had to fulfill. But not even a coincidence maker can see how this assignment is about to change all their lives and teach them the true nature of fate, free will, and the real meaning of love.  This quirky and heartfelt story earned a starred review from Booklist, who said in its review, “Artfully blending elements of thriller, romance, and fantasy in a beautiful prose, Blum’s novel is a flight of imagination that will echo in readers’ minds long after the last pages have been turned.”

Promise: Rooted in historical events, Minrose Gwin’s journey through the heart of the Depression-era South is evocative, insightful, and probing, offering fans of any time period plenty to savor.  A few minutes after 9 p.m. on Palm Sunday, April 5, 1936, a tornado struck the thriving cotton-mill town of Tupelo, Mississippi, killing more than 200 people.  This figure does not include the town’s Black citizens, one-third of Tupelo’s population, who were not included in the official casualty figures.  When the tornado hits, Dovey, a local laundress, is flung into a nearby lake. Bruised and nearly drowned, she makes her way across Tupelo to find her small family.  Slowly navigating the broken streets of Tupelo, Dovey stops at the house of the despised McNabb family. Inside, she discovers that the tornado has spared no one, including Jo, the McNabbs’ dutiful teenage daughter, who has suffered a terrible head wound. When Jo later discovers a baby in the wreckage, she is certain that she’s found her baby brother, Tommy, and vows to protect him. During the harrowing hours and days of the chaos that follows, Jo and Dovey will struggle to navigate a landscape of disaster and to battle both the demons and the history that link and haunt them.  Library Journal wrote a beautiful review of this book, which it called an “atmospheric whirlwind of a book. A memorable, dreamlike narrative…that vividly conveys what it was like to survive the fourth most deadly tornado in U.S. history; it also brings to light the vast disparity in the care and treatment of white vs. black residents.”

The Affliction: Beth Gutcheon’s second novel featuring Maggie Detweiler and Hope Babbin has all the dark humor and dastardly deeds that have made this duo a fan favorite.  Since retiring as head of a famous New York City private school, Maggie Detweiler has been keeping busy.  Most recently, she’s served as the chair of a team to evaluate the faltering Rye Manor School for girls, and determining what future (if any) the school might have.  With so much on the line for so many, tensions on campus are at an excruciating pitch, and no one  seems more keen for all to go well than Florence Meagher, a star teacher who is loved and respected in spite of her affliction—that she can never stop talking.  Florence is one of those dedicated teachers for whom the school is her life, and yet the next morning, when Maggie arrives to observe her teaching, Florence is missing. Florence’s husband, Ray, an auxiliary policeman in the village, seems more annoyed than alarmed at her disappearance. But Florence’s sister is distraught. There have been tensions in the marriage, and at their last visit, Florence had warned, “If anything happens to me, don’t assume it’s an accident.” Two days later, Florence’s body is found in the campus swimming pool.  When she is asked to stay and coach the new head of the Rye Manor School, Maggie determines to get to the bottom of what happened to Florence.  She’s joined by her friend Hope, who has been desperate for a reason to ditch her local bookclub, anyways.  There are plenty of secrets buried in this idyllic small town, and Hope and Maggie certainly have their work cut out for them if they are to get to the bottom of all the nefarious work that’s afoot, including Florence’s silencing.  Booklist loved this follow-up mystery, noting, “Humor and suspense in equal measure make for a delightful read in this second outing…for the well-heeled duo of Maggie Detweiler and Hope Babbin.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!