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Five Book Friday!

And a very happy birthday to Vietnamese poet, Tản Đà!

Nguyễn Khắc Hiếu (who used the pen name Tản Đà), was born on this day in 1889 in what is now Khe Thuong, close to Hanoi.  His father was Mandarin, Chinese, and, as a result, Tản Đà learned to speak and read Chinese, which provided him the opportunity to read a wealth of Western literature in translation (which weren’t available in Vietnamese).  His mother was a well-known singer, and it is from her that Tản Đà learned a love of the theater, and also of poetry.  Tản Đà would go on to write a number of plays, poems, and essays, and also translated a number of Chinese works into Vietnamese in order to share his love of literature with others.  His poetry, especially, is recognized today as “transitional”–that is, he blended traditional forms of poetry, images, and tropes, with Western forms of poetry, particularly from France (who controlled the area we now know as Vietnam).

Today, in honor of Tản Đà’s birthday, we wanted to share one of his poems with you (in translation).  We hope you enjoy!

The Hanoi Botanical Gardens, Courtesy of Vietnamtourism

A Stroll at the Flower Nursery

(The Hanoi Botanical Gardens)

Its distance from Hanoi’s streets is near, not far,
Could there be anything more delightful than the flower nursery?
Having a chance I stroll to cheer myself up,
Go up there at noon for some fresh air, sit and hum a tune.
Sitting, I sadly remember the stories of old:
The capitol Thang Long built long, long ago.
Were there castles, monuments, and palaces here,
Or just a few trees, patches of grass, and some flowers?
But it’s certain that since the Westerners came,
We’ve gotten an iron cage to enclose and tend the animals:
Strange beasts, beautiful birds, and shade trees,
Wide, splendid roads, and pleasant views.
During the three months of summer, many people stroll through,
Especially on cool afternoons, there are crowds of all stripes.
Monsieur, Madame, Japanese, and Chinese,
Magistrates, secretaries, old scholars, servants and nursemaids.
Cars, horses, people all come by,
Standing here, going there, talking a little with a laugh.
Butterflies take to wing, the color of fluttering shirts,
The fragrance of magnolia spreads like a perfume.
The afternoon’s late, the funlovers all have left,
At the tree’s root, sighing, I sit alone.
Of the Ly, Tran, and Le kings, all is lost,
But the sight of deer leisurely taking their stroll.

And now…on to the books!

The Fact of a Body: It took Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich years to write this “true crime memoir”, and years longer to find a publisher, but, to judge by all the popular and critical acclaim that she has received for her work, the wait was well worth it.  The child of two lawyers, a younger Marzano-Lesnevich took a summer job at a law firm in Louisiana, working to help defend men accused of murder.  She believed herself to be staunchly against the death penalty–the moment convicted murderer Ricky Langley’s face flashes on the screen as she reviews old tapes.  As soon as she hears his voice, she is overcome with the feeling of wanting him to die. Shocked by her reaction, she digs deeper and deeper into the case. Despite their vastly different circumstances, something in his story is unsettlingly, uncannily familiar.  finds herself thrust into the complicated narrative of Ricky’s childhood. And by examining the details of Ricky’s case, she is forced to face her own story, to unearth long-buried family secrets, and reckon with a past that colors her view of Ricky’s crime.  But another surprise awaits: She wasn’t the only one who saw her life in Ricky’s.  A story about hope and forgiveness, and whether a single narrative can ever actually access “truth”, this is a tale as complicated as human interactions, strikingly honest, and unlike anything you’ve read before.  Publisher’s Weekly gave the book a starred review, calling it “Haunting…impeccably researched…Her writing is remarkably evocative and taut with suspense, with a level of nuance that sets this effort apart from other true crime accounts.”

New Boy: Shakespeare re-tellings are all the rage, and no one is enjoying themselves more than Hogarth Books, who are publishing a whole series of re-tellings, including this work by beloved author Tracy Chevalier that re-imagines Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello in a school yard in 1970’s Washington, DC.  In Chevalier’s world, diplomat’s son Osei Kokote knows he needs an ally if he is to survive his first day in another new school.  He knows he’s fortunate to hit it off with Dee, the most popular girl in school. But one student can’t stand to witness this budding relationship: Ian decides to destroy the friendship between the black boy and the golden girl. By the end of the day, the school and its key players – teachers and pupils alike – will never be the same again.  Though Chevalier’s work initially seems like it’s on a smaller scale than Shakespeare’s epic, this work still carries the weight of international politics, decades of racial tension, and the true horror of bullying, making this story about so much more than childhood mistakes and inherited prejudices.  Booklist agrees, saying that in Chevalier’s hands, “the playground is as rife with poisonous intrigue as any monarch’s court… Chevalier’s brilliantly concentrated and galvanizing improvisation thoroughly exposes the malignancy and tragedy of racism, sexism, jealousy, and fear.”

How to be Human: To understand this book, you should probably know that London is full of foxes, and they are really quite friendly (I lived in terror of the one in my backyard for months before realizing it wasn’t going to savage me).  Anyways, that fact becomes very important in Guardian columnist Paula Cocozza’s debut work, where Mary lives in a London suburb beset by urban foxes. On leave from work, unsettled by the proximity of her ex, and struggling with her hostile neighbors, Mary has become increasingly captivated by a magnificent fox who is always in her garden. First she sees him wink at her, then he brings her presents, and finally she invites him into her house. As the boundaries between the domestic and the wild blur, and the neighbors set out to exterminate the fox, it is unclear if Mary will save the fox, or the fox save Mary.  Partially a picture of a mental breakdown, partially a social commentary, and wholly fascinating, this is another book that will have you questioning reality and truth and identity, but in wholly unique ways.  The Times Literary Supplement loved this book, calling in, in its review, “Enchanting… For all its suggestiveness and sensuality, Cocozza’s narrative is artfully restrained . . . In this startling debut, Cocozza seems to be saying that, no matter how lonely the city becomes, through an open window a mass of life is listening back.”

Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently: Beau Lotto is the world-renowned neuroscientist, who studies the biological, psychological, and computational methods of human perception–that is, what the brain takes in, what is does with that information, and how it processes it into a form of understanding in the context of the world in which it lives.  In his infectiously fun and infuriating first book, Lotto tackles all the problems our brains have with perception, and proves, with a whole bunch of optical illusions, illustrations, and examples, that we aren’t seeing the world “as it is” at all–we are seeing what our beautiful, amazing, not-quite-unbiased brains are telling us to see.  But realizing the mechanisms that our brain uses to process information, and to understand why it makes the errors it does, is to come to love your brain even more, especially in a book like this one, that takes such delight in its subject matter.  Kirkus Reviews loved this book too, calling it a “sprightly look into the nature of things…Lotto’s provocative investigation into the mysterious workings of the mind will make readers just that much smarter.”

Becoming Ms. Burton: From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women: When her five-year-old son was killed by a van driving down their street, Susan Burton had no access to grief counseling or other forms of professional help.  As a result, Susan self-medicated, becoming addicted first to cocaine, then crack.  As a resident of South Los Angeles, a black community heavily targeted by the “War on Drugs”, it was but a matter of time before Susan was arrested. She cycled in and out of prison for over fifteen years, and was never offered the chance of rehabilitation until she found it on her own.  Once she got clean, Susan dedicated her life to supporting women facing similar struggles.  Her organization, A New Way of Life, operates five safe homes in Los Angeles that supply a lifeline to hundreds of formerly incarcerated women and their children—setting them on the track to education and employment rather than returns to prison.  In this book, Ms. Burton not only shares her own story with journalist Cari Lynn, but also lays out her ideas and policies for helping formerly incarcerated people live a life of dignity and fulfillment.  Susan Burton has been praised by artists, CEOs, and activists alike, and this book makes it easy to see why.  Publisher’s Weekly  stated in its review that “Susan Burton is a national treasure . . . her life story is testimony to the human capacity for resilience and recovery.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

Five Book Friday!

And for those of you celebrating today, Happy Mother’s Day!

In our family, Mother’s Day was celebrated with my Grandfather, who managed to be both a mother and father while my Mom was growing up.  As a result, I learned early on that “Mothers” could embody any number of identities–in fact, I’ve had any number of mothers in my life, both literary and physical.  From Marmee in Little Women, who told her daughters to be angry (as long as they used that anger to good purposes) and to be happy to Carson Drew, from the early Nancy Drew mysteries, who let his daughter think for herself…to my own Moominmamma, who gives the best hugs, and always has her purse on her arm.  I hope each and every one of you, literary and real, have a lovely weekend.

And now, on to the books!

House of Names: Colm Tóibín is one of the finest story-tellers working today, and in this work, that re-imagines the story of Clytemnestra, he puts all his talents to use.  Judged, despised, cursed by gods she has long since lost faith in, Clytemnestra reveals the tragic saga that led to her infamous, bloody actions: how her husband deceived her eldest daughter Iphigeneia with a promise of marriage to Achilles, only to sacrifice her because that is what he was told would make the winds blow in his favor and take him to Troy; how she seduced and collaborated with the prisoner Aegisthus, who shared her bed in the dark and could kill; how Agamemnon came back with a lover himself; and how Clytemnestra finally achieved her vengeance for his stunning betrayal—his quest for victory, greater than his love for his child.  Clytemnestra’s tale has become something of a feminist touch-stone recently, and here, Tóibín brings a modern sensibility and language to an ancient classic, and gives this extraordinary character new life, so that we not only believe Clytemnestra’s thirst for revenge, but applaud it.  The Washington Post echoes this in their review, which praises the book, saying “Despite the passage of centuries, this is a disturbingly contemporary story of a powerful woman caught between the demands of her ambition and the constraints on her gender…Never before has Tóibín demonstrated such range, not just in tone but in action. He creates the arresting, hushed scenes for which he’s so well known just as effectively as he whips up murders that compete, pint for spilled pint, with those immortal Greek playwrights.”

Cave Dwellers: Richard Grant’s new espionage novel is billed as “an eleventh hour attempt to overthrow Adolf Hitler”, but there is so much more going on here, and much more emphasis places on these unique characters’ identities, secrets, and connections, that even those who aren’t big into spy thrillers will find plenty to enjoy.  In late 1937, the young lieutenant Oskar Langweil is recruited to this cause while attending a party at the lavish home of a baroness. A high-ranking officer in Germany’s counterintelligence agency brings Oskar into the fold because of their mutual involvement in a patriotic youth league, and soon dispatches him to Washington, D.C., on a perilous mission. Despite his best efforts, Oskar is compromised, and must immediately find a way to sneak back into Germany unnoticed. A childhood friend introduces him to Lena, a Socialist and fellow expat, and they hatch a plan to have Oskar pose as her husband as they cross the Atlantic on a cruise ship filled with Nazis and fellow travelers. But bad luck follows them at every turn, and they find themselves messily entangled with the son of a U.S. Senator, a White Russian princess, a disgraced journalist, an aging brigadier, and a gay SS officer as the novel races toward an explosive conclusion.  Kirkus Reviews gave this book a starred review, praising it as “An understated, entertaining [and] exceptional period thriller focused on homegrown opposition to Hitler. . . . Grant builds tension slowly, then ratchets it up with fine pacing.  The main characters are well-drawn, but the minor ones are also memorable, from a White Russian princess in an ancien régime Berlin salon to a cabaret mentalist.”

The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell:  The subtitle of this book will probably give you the best insight into what’s between the covers:Tales of a 6′ 4″, African American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mama’s Boy, Dad, and Stand-Up Comedian.  But if that isn’t enough, let me describe some of this book to you: It’s a humorous, well-informed take on the world today, tackling a wide range of issues, from race relations and the state of law enforcement today to comedians and superheroes; from politics and failure to Bell’s interracial marriage; from  his up-bringing by very strong-willed, race-conscious, yet ideologically opposite parents to his own adventures in fatherhood; from his early days struggling to find his comedic voice to why he never seemed to fit in with the Black comedy scene . . . or the white comedy scene; and how it took his wife and an East Bay lesbian to teach him that racism and sexism often walk hand in hand.  Those who have enjoyed Bell in his wonderful show United Shades of America will love these essays, and those who have yet to discover his unique voice will find much to enjoy here…or, as Publisher’s Weekly put it: “Those unfamiliar with Bell’s work or expecting a lighthearted read from a popular comedian will be surprised by the book’s breadth and depth…This informative read will be illuminating and worthwhile for aspiring comedians and general readers.”

The Song and the Silence: In 1966, Yvette Johnson’s grandfather, Booker Wright, who owned his own business, and also worked evenings serving white diners at a local restaurant, appeared on the NBC documentary Mississippi: A Self-Portrait, and explained what life was truly like for Black people in the segregated world of Greenwood.  His act of truth and courage became a beacon for the civil rights movement; but Yvette herself was born a year after Wright passed away, and grew up in a wealthy San Diego neighborhood.  As such, she never had to confront race the way Southern Blacks did in the 1960s. Compelled to learn more about her roots, she travels to Greenwood, Mississippi, a beautiful Delta town steeped in secrets and a scarred past, to interview family members and townsfolk about the real Booker Wright. As she uncovers her grandfather’s compelling story and gets closer to the truth behind his murder, she also confronts her own conflicted feelings surrounding race, family, and forgiveness.  An astonishing work about history, identity, and the potentially hopeful future we can forge, Johnson’s memoir is a fascinating and heartfelt piece that won a starred review from Booklist, which stated, “In addition to beautiful, evocative descriptions, a great strength of Johnson’s writing lies in her unique ability to absorb and relay several dimensions of conversations about painful and emotional topics.”

Less Than a Treason: Readers of Dana Stabenow’s mysteries featuring native Aleut Private Investigator Kate Shugak will know by now that very little can stop Kate in her pursuit of the truth.  For those who don’t know her, Kate Shugak is a native Aleut working as a private investigator in Alaska. She’s 5’1″ tall, carrires a scar that runs from ear to ear across her throat, and owns a half-wolf, half-husky dog named Mutt. Resourceful, strong-willed, defiant, Kate is tougher than your average heroine—and she needs to be, to survive the worst the Alaskan wilds can throw at her.  In this, her 21st adventure, Kate is recovering from a gunshot wound, enjoying some hard-earned solitude when some unwelcome visitors pass by, begging for Kate’s aid after discovering a heap of human bones on their trail. The intrepid Kate packs up the scanty remains, which a variety of animals have picked clean, and heads for the nearest town. But this case is much more deadly than a simple cold case.  2,000 people go missing in Alaska’s inhospitable terrain a year–is Kate about to become one of them?  Booklist loved this one as well, saying “Starting a Kate Shugak book is like going somewhere everybody knows your name, given the warmth and familiarity of the Niniltna cast, even to readers new to the series. The twenty-first series installment…maintains Stabenow’s reputation for concise prose, pithy dialogue, full bodied characters, and intriguing plotting. Crime fiction doesn’t get much better than this.”

Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

Six Book Sunday!

First off, dear readers, some sincere apologies for missing you this week.  A Kafka-esque combination of end-of-semester stress, a random power-outage, and plain old poor time-management skills meant that we didn’t get a chance to celebrate our new releases this past Friday.  So, as a means of making amends, we present you here with The List That Should Have Been, along with an extra book to make the alliteration complete.  We sincerely hope it gets your week started off on best of footings!

And now, without further ado, here are some of the excellent books that have traipsed up onto our shelves this week:

The Book of JoanLidia Yuknavitch’s newest release was listed on some of the literary world’s “Best of the Year” awards even before its release, and it seems that the reading world has similarly embraced this powerful and provocative novel.  In the near future, world wars have transformed the earth into a battleground. Fleeing the unending violence and the planet’s now-radioactive surface, humans have regrouped in a vessel hovering over their former home, lead by a ruthless and charismatic cult leader who turns life onboard into a kind of paranoid police state.  A group of rebels unite to dismantle his iron rule—galvanized by the heroic song of Joan, a child-warrior who possesses a mysterious force that lives within her and communes with the earth.  But when Joan becomes a martyr, no one—not the rebels, their enemy, or Joan herself—can foresee the way her story and unique gift will forge the destiny of an entire world for generations.  Yuknavitch’s willingness to explore themes of power and resistance, gender, sex, and love in her detailed futuristic world is a pitch-perfect blend of genres and philosophies that NPR called “[A] searing fusion of literary fiction and reimagined history and science-fiction thriller and eco-fantasy. . . Yuknavitch is a bold and ecstatic writer, wallowing in sex and filth and decay and violence and nature and love with equal relish.”

The Stars are FireAnita Shreve’s newest book turns to a real-life event–the 1947 fire that became the largest in the history of the state of Maine (and which, incidentally, is also prominently featured and fictionalized in Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot).  In October 1947, after a summer long drought, fires break out all along the Maine coast from Bar Harbor to Kittery and are soon racing out of control from town to village. Five months pregnant, Grace Holland is left alone to protect her two toddlers when her husband, Gene, joins the volunteer firefighters. Along with her best friend, Rosie, and Rosie’s two young children, Grace watches helplessly as their houses burn to the ground, the flames finally forcing them all into the ocean as a last resort. The women spend the night frantically protecting their children, and in the morning find their lives forever changed: homeless, penniless, awaiting news of their husbands’ fate, and left to face an uncertain future in a town that no longer exists.  But in the midst of such devastation, Grace finds a freedom she never dreamed existed–and one she may not have the strength to keep.  In it’s own way, this, too, is a story about growing in the face of adversity, as well as being a study on love, loyalty, and self-hood that Library Journal (who also named this book an Editor’s Pick) stated categorically: “This is sure to be a best seller. Shreve’s prose mirrors the action of the fire, with popping embers of action, licks of blazing rage, and the slow burn of lyrical character development. Absolutely stunning.”

The Last NeanderthalClaire Cameron’s newest release is set in a world perhaps even more alien to us that any futuristic one–she begins 40,000 years ago with some of the last Neanderthals (a sibling species to homo sapiens).  After a crushingly hard winter, their numbers are low, but Girl, the oldest daughter, is just coming of age and her family is determined to travel to the annual meeting place and find her a mate. But the unforgiving landscape takes its toll, and Girl is left alone to care for Runt, a foundling of unknown origin. As Girl and Runt face the coming winter storms, Girl realizes she has one final chance to save her people, even if it means sacrificing part of herself. In the modern day, archaeologist Rosamund Gale works well into her pregnancy, racing to excavate newly found Neanderthal artifacts before her baby comes. Linked across the ages by the shared experience of early motherhood, both stories examine the often taboo corners of women’s lives.  By uniting the past and the present in such a concrete and tangible manner, Cameron offers the premise that, even though their features and habit may have changed, the human heart, its ability to feel and to break and to change the world around itself, is a thing that never alters.  Publisher’s Weekly gave this book a starred review, noting that “[The] book’s greatest strength [is] its ability to collapse time and space to draw together seemingly dissimilar species: ancestors and successors, writer and reader.”

Ice Ghosts : The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin ExpeditionI’l not ashamed to admit that the news of the discovery of the HMS Terror–the ship that carried the doomed Franklin Expedition in their quest to locate the Northwest Passage–in 2016 was perhaps my favorite news story of the year.  A journalist by training, Watson was on the icebreaker that led the expedition that discovered the HMS Erebus in 2014, and he broke the news of the discovery of the HMS Terror in 2016, and in this book he weaves together an account of the legendary Franklin Expedition of 1845 (whose two ships, the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror, and their crew of 129 were lost to the Arctic ice) with the modern tale of the scientists, researchers, divers, and local Inuit behind the recent discoveries of the two ships, and the way that oral tradition provided the information scientists needed to find one of the most famous wrecks in modern history.  Booklist calls this work “Riveting. . . . An engrossing chronicle of a legendary doomed naval voyage and the nearly 200-year effort to bring the Franklin Expedition to a close.” I can’t wait to read it–how about you?

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage murders and the birth of the FBI In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, they rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe. Then, one by one, the Osage began to be killed off. The family of an Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, became a prime target. Her relatives were shot and poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more and more members of the tribe began to die under mysterious circumstances. As the death toll climbed to more than twenty-four, the FBI took up the case. It was one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations and the bureau badly bungled the case. In desperation, the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including one of the only American Indian agents in the bureau. The agents infiltrated the region, struggling to adopt the latest techniques of detection. Together with the Osage they began to expose one of the most chilling conspiracies in American history.  Journalist David Grann is an excellent researcher, and a master at spinning gripping, suspenseful yarns that brings a chilling, under-researched piece of American history to light in a work that USA Today calls “A shocking whodunit…What more could fans of true-crime thrillers ask?”

Incendiary: The Psychiatrist, the Mad Bomber, and the Invention of Criminal ProfilingIt’s a good week for true crime in American History books, dear readers, and Michael Cannell’s newest book about New York in the 1950’s, and the bomber whose actions changed the world of detection is being hailed as a fascinating piece of research work and storytelling.   For almost two decades, no public place in New York City seemed safe from the man who signed his anonymous letters “FP” and left his lethal devices in phone booths, storage lockers, even tucked into the plush seats of movie theaters.  Desperate to end the threat before any more innocent people were maimed, Police Captain Howard Finney sought the help of a little known psychiatrist, Dr. James Brussel, whose expertise was the criminal mind. Examining crime scene evidence and the strange wording in the bomber’s letters, he compiled a portrait of the suspect down to the cut of his jacket. But how to put a name to the description? Seymour Berkson―a handsome New York socialite, protégé of William Randolph Hearst, and publisher of the tabloid The Journal-American―joined in pursuit of the Mad Bomber. The three men hatched a brilliant scheme to catch him at his own game. Together, they would capture a monster and change the face of American law enforcement. Cannell paints a fascinating portrait of place and time in this book, making the race to trace down the villainous ‘F.P.’ into a richly detailed exploration of New York City.  Publisher’s Weekly agrees, noting “Cannell is at his best in making the impact of F.P.’s crimes palpable: he conveys in detail the dangers faced by the members of the NYPD Bomb Squad . . . and aptly captures the state of terror created by explosions in random places such as movie theaters and train station restrooms.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

Five Book Friday!

And a very happy birthday to Turkish novelist, poet, and playwright Murathan Mungan!  Mungan, who was born this day in 1955, to an Arab father and a Bosnian  mother, is one of Turkey’s most respected and well-known writers, as well as being a champion of LGBT rights in Turkey.  His works deal with topics such as the Kurdish conflict, political Islam and gender issues.  You can read some of his beautiful poetry (in translation) via the Words Without Borders website.

Murathan Mungan, courtesy of FotoKritik

In 2014, Mungan sat down for an interview with Qantara.de, an Internet portal that represents the concerted effort of organizations within the German Foreign Office to promote dialogue with the Islamic world.  In the interview, which you can read in its entirety here, Mungan talks about language, about optimism, and about the potential for creating a better future through dialog.  In honor of his special day, we thought we’d share a few of his insights here with you.  And just a note, remember that this interview took place in 2014, right around the time that then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan became President.  Perhaps these words have even more meaning for all of us now:

You say you don’t like the word optimistic, but in general you always seem optimistic when it comes to developments in Turkey. At the same time, you once said that you can do anything in Turkey, but you’re not allowed to disgrace yourself. Do you still feel as positive following the accusations of corruption against representatives of the AKP, which so far have not been followed up?

Mungan: First of all, I have to say that, as far as my own life goes, I’m no butterfly happily fluttering around. But I try not to think in terms of categories like optimistic, pessimistic, happy, unhappy, hopeful, hopeless; I try to find an objective yardstick, to see the entire picture, the whole process.

There’s a quote from a French thinker, whose name I can’t remember, who said: my experiences make me pessimistic; my will makes me optimistic. That’s the best way to describe my attitude. We have to find new paths of resistance. And I think the greatest resistance is to do what you do best. The system can take everything from me, but my ability and my belief in what I do best will always remain.

And speaking of doing what we do best, here’s some of the books have marched across our shelves this week for your reading pleasure!

Ararat: I know I’ve been waiting to meet this book for a while now, so it was lovely to see all the terrific reviews that have been pouring in for Christopher Golden’s newest novel!  When an earthquake reveals a secret cave hidden inside Mount Ararat in Turkey, a daring, newly-engaged couple are determined to be the first ones inside…and what they discover will change everything.  The cave is actually an ancient, buried ship that many quickly come to believe is really Noah’s Ark. When a team of scholars, archaeologists, and filmmakers make it inside the ark, they discover an elaborate coffin in its recesses. Inside the coffin they find an ugly, misshapen cadaver―not the holy man they expected, but a hideous creature with horns. Shock and fear turn to horror when a massive blizzard blows in, trapping them thousands of meters up the side of a remote mountain.  I’m in love with Josh Malerman’s cover blurb, so I’m going to share it with you here: “Let the other blurbers tell you how thrilling, how frightening, how robust this book is. They’re right to do it. But the thing that struck me deepest about Ararat is how timely this tale is for the world right now. The men and women in the book are treated as equals; in strength, in smarts, in power. Muslims are set to marry Jews. Scientists and Christians are working on the same edgy project. And yet, they all fear the same way. And they hope the same way, too. If ever we could use a story that reminds us that we’re together, a singular race, in religion and gender, that time is now. Bravo, Christopher Golden, for sewing such enormous themes into a nail-biting, exhilarating book.”

Finding Gideon:  Eric Jerome Dickey is one of those writers whose books are taut, exciting, daring, and envelope-pushing (if that’s a phrase), but they also focus on a number of issues that don’t normally get discussed–at least so overtly–in mysteries.  In this fifth outing for Dickey’s much-beloved hitman Gideon, the job is taking its toll. Neither Gideon nor the city of Buenos Aires has recovered from the mayhem caused during Gideon’s last job. But before the dust has settled and the bodies have been buried, Gideon calls in backup—including the lovely Hawks, with whom Gideon has heated memories—to launch his biggest act of revenge yet…one he believes will destroy his adversary, Midnight, once and for all.  Yet Midnight and his second-in-command, the beautiful and ruthless Señorita Raven, are launching their own revenge, assembling a team of mercenaries the likes of which the world has never seen… and Gideon isn’t their only target. Gideon will need all of his skills if he is to save not only his team, but his family as well.  This is a story, and a series, that blends soap-opera levels of drama with plenty of action, suspense, and vivid characters that is sure to keep readers enthralled.  Booklist certainly was, as they noted in their review “Dickey steadily generates a taut, deadly atmosphere throughout the book, and readers will not be able to predict who will be the last man standing”.

American War: Journalist Omar El Akkad’s debut novel, which is part dystopian sci-fi, part social commentary, and part action-thriller, has been winning acclaim from readers and reviewers alike, for good reason.  Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, that Louisiana is half underwater, and that unmanned drones fill the sky. When her father is killed and her family is forced into Camp Patience for displaced persons, she begins to grow up shaped by her particular time and place. But not everyone at Camp Patience is who they claim to be. Eventually Sarat is befriended by a mysterious functionary, under whose influence she is turned into a deadly instrument of war. The decisions that she makes will have tremendous consequences not just for Sarat but for her family and her country, rippling through generations of strangers and kin alike.   El Akkad’s own courage in defying genre expectations from start to finish, and his willingness to examine the darkest parts of our current interactions has earned him a great deal of attention, with The Washington Post cautioning ““Follow the tributaries of today’s political combat a few decades into the future and you might arrive at something as terrifying as Omar El Akkad’s debut novel, American War. Across these scarred pages rages the clash that many of us are anxiously speculating about in the Trump era: a nation riven by irreconcilable ideologies, alienated by entrenched suspicions. . . . both poignant and horrifying.”

Notes on a Banana: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Manic Depression: Any time I hear that someone loves Julia Child as much as I do, I want to hear their story, and James Beard-Award winner David Letie’s story is a truly remarkable one that speaks to readers on a number of levels.  Born into a family of Azorean immigrants, David Leite grew up in the 1960s in a devoutly Catholic, blue-collar, food-crazed Portuguese home in Fall River, Massachusetts. A clever and determined dreamer with a vivid imagination and a flair for the dramatic, “Banana”, as his mother endearingly called him, fell in love with everything French, thanks to his Portuguese and French-Canadian godmother. But David also struggled with the emotional devastation of manic depression. Until he was diagnosed in his mid-thirties, David found relief from his wild mood swings in learning about food, watching Julia Child, and cooking for others.  This is a story about self-acceptance, perseverance, and determination, and about using your talents not only for others, but to save yourself, and is winning reviews from psychologists, cooks, and readers alike, with Booklist calling it “Warm, witty…sometimes heartbreaking . . . Fans of the author’s James Beard Award-winning website, Leite’s Culinaria . . . won’t be surprised by his wonderful sense of humor and his keen powers of observation . . . candid and charming.”

H. H. Holmes: The True History of the White City DevilIf you’ve read Eric Larson’s seminal work Devil in the White City, you’ll have heard plenty about H.H. Holmes, the super-villain of Larson’s work.  But in this new book, Adam Selzer, host of the Mysterious Chicago blog, delves into Holmes’ biography to create a true-crime book that aficionados will savor.  Though Holmes has become just as famous now as he was in 1895, a deep analysis of contemporary materials makes very clear how much of the story as we know came from reporters who were nowhere near the action, a dangerously unqualified new police chief, and, not least, lies invented by Holmes himself.  The cover blurb notes that “Selzer has unearthed tons of stunning new data about Holmes”, and while I’m not sure if that’s a metric measurement or a gross exaggeration, he certainly is earning plenty of acclaim from other true-crime authors, and Publisher’s Weekly had this to say: “When the unprecedented success of Erik Larson’s Devil in The White City stirred up renewed interest in serial killer H.H. Holmes, Selzer made it his mission to painstakingly research Holmes’ life, family, and crimes with intense determination and doggedness. The result is this comprehensive, compelling, and surprising biography of Holmes, written in a conversational style, as if we are passengers on one of Selzer’s tours…Using thousands of primary sources to draw the most accurate picture of this American villain yet, Selzer keeps the delicate balance of salacious (and mundane) details maintained with solid facts. What emerges is a picture of a terrible but intriguing man, one who continues to capture our imagination over a century later, and one whose story leaps off the page in Selzer’s uniquely suited hands.”

Until next week, beloved patrons, happy reading!

Five Book Friday!

The Library is closed today, dear readers, but we’ll be open tomorrow to help you with all your literary, audio, visual, and technological-related needs before the long weekend (hooray!).  There’s been a bumper-crop of new books being released into the wild over the past few weeks, so let’s lose no time in savoring all the lovely books that have waltzed their way onto our shelves this week!

And whatever you celebrate, from Easter to Passover, to gardening, to sunshine, to staying in bed for a few extra minutes/hours, we wish you a very peaceful and fulfilling weekend!

Long Black VeilJennifer Finney Boylan’s newest book has been drawing a number of comparisons to Megan Abbott, Donna Tartt, and, most impressively, Shirley Jackson.  On a warm August night in 1980, six college students sneak into the dilapidated ruins of Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary, looking for a thrill. With a pianist, a painter and a teacher among them, the friends are full of potential. But it’s not long before they realize they are locked in—and not alone. When the friends get lost and separated, the terrifying night ends in tragedy, and the unexpected, far-reaching consequences reverberate through the survivors’ lives. As they go their separate ways, trying to move on, it becomes clear that their dark night in the prison has changed them all. Decades later, new evidence is found, and the dogged detective investigating the cold case charges one of them—celebrity chef Jon Casey— with murder. Only Casey’s old friend Judith Carrigan can testify to his innocence.  But Judith is hiding secrets of her own–secrets that could destroy the life she’s built since that haunting night.  Boylan’s first foray into fiction is winning praise from readers and reviewers alike, with Publisher’s Weekly  calling it a “madcap thriller full of hidden identities…And embedded in the whodunit is a heartwarming midlife love story, in which hard-won candor, tenacity, and a generous sense of humor are the most saving of graces.”

No One Is Coming to Save Us: And speaking of impressive comparisons, Stephanie Powell Watts’ debut has been drawing comparisons to The Great Gatsby, and that is no mean feat.  In this story, JJ Ferguson has returned to his roots in Pinewood, North Carolina, to build his dream house and to pursue his high school sweetheart, Ava.  But with the furniture factories of his childhood in decline, and the area’s latent racism becoming increasingly visible and unsettling, Ferguson begins to wonder if he can ever find the place he left behind.  JJ’s return—and his plans to build a huge mansion overlooking Pinewood and woo Ava—not only unsettles their family, but stirs up the entire town. The ostentatious wealth that JJ has attained forces everyone to consider the cards they’ve been dealt, what more they want and deserve, and how they might go about getting it.   This is a book that captures the hope, heartbreak, and beautiful humanity, nestled in a part of America that is bleakly believable and hauntingly real.  Kirkus Reviews gave this book a starred review, saying “Watts spins a compelling tale of obsessive love and dashed dreams…Watts’ gently told story, like Fitzgerald’s, is only superficially about money but more acutely about the urgent, inexplicable needs that shape a life.”

The Ashes of London: Andrew Taylor is a master of twisty, controversial mysteries, and his ability to create a historic setting is pretty darned impressive.  Now, he turns those powers to creating London in September 1666, during The Great Fire that destroyed, and, eventually, revolutionized the city.  Amidst this horror, where even the impregnable cathedral of St. Paul’s is engulfed in flames, stands Richard Marwood, son of a disgraced printer, and reluctant government informer. In the aftermath of the fire, a semi-mummified body is discovered in the ashes of St. Paul’s, in a tomb that should have been empty. The man’s body has been mutilated and his thumbs have been tied behind his back – the sign of a Regicide, one of those who signed Charles I’s death warrant during the English Civil War some two decades earlier. Under orders from the government, Marwood is tasked with hunting down the killer across the devastated city. But at a time of dangerous internal dissent and the threat of foreign invasion, Marwood finds his investigation leads him into treacherous waters – and across the path of a determined, beautiful and vengeful young woman.   British reviewers loved Taylor’s newest book, with the Financial Times saying that he “presents a breathtakingly ambitious picture of an era … the multiple narrative strands are drawn together in a brilliantly orchestrated finale”, and readers on this side of the proverbial pond are sure to love it, as well!

The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple: It’s a tricky thing to talk about a book that talks about a cult leader, especially one as notorious as Jim Jones, but Jeff Guinn’s book is so thoroughly researched, and has been getting such high praise from so many diverse quarters, that is seems worth bringing up here.  In the 1950s, a young Indianapolis minister named Jim Jones preached a curious blend of the gospel and Marxism. His congregation was racially integrated, and he was a much-lauded leader in the contemporary civil rights movement. Eventually, Jones moved his church, Peoples Temple, to northern California. He became involved in electoral politics, and soon was a prominent Bay Area leader.  But there was another side to Jones, and a darker tale of drug addiction, extramarital affairs, and fraud that would culminate in the decision to move his followers to the jungles of Guyana, South America, and, finally, the death of over 900 people who were forced to swallow a cyanide-laced beverage.  Guinn brought all his investigative skills to bear on this book, examining thousands of pages of FBI files on the case, traveling to Jones’s Indiana hometown, as well as to the Jonestown site, and working with Jonestown survivors.  The result is a book that is troubling, insightful, and already being hailed as the definitive book on Jonestown, with Publisher’s Weekly calling it “Magisterial. . . . Guinn’s exhaustive research, shrewd analysis, and engaging prose illuminate a monstrous yet tragic figure–and the motives of those who lost their souls to him.”

The Lowells of Massachusetts: An American Family: Think fast–what’s the address of the West Branch?  That’s right…it’s the street named after the Lowells of Massachusetts, a family that settled in “the New World” in the 1600s, and were instrumental in shaping the new nation that emerged in the 1700s.  Their prosperity grew as the family became merchants and manufacturers, building prosperity in the 1800s, and scientists and artists flourishing in the 1900s. For the first time, Nina Sankovitch tells the story of this fascinating and powerful dynasty that has left its stamp on American history, Massachusetts state history, and the history of our own city, as well!  Sankovitch’s well-researched and fascinating story is epic in its scope, engaging not only with the history of one family, but with the Industrial Revolution, the Civil War, the history of American arts and letters, and some of the biggest personalities that touched each of these moments in time.  Library Journal recognized this achievement, noting “Sankovitch’s use of interpretative passages breathe color into descriptions of the home life and various Lowells, adding an artistic dimension to the account. Her ability to switch focus among family members while keeping readers fully engaged in the narrative is a significant achievement.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

Five Book Friday!

And welcome, dear readers, to another Friday!

Technology seems to be conspiring against us today at the Library, so in the interest of sharing these great titles with you, let’s get right to the books that have galloped up onto our shelves this week–come on in and check them out soon!

 

The Spaceman of BohemiaThere are some books that happen along that, quite literally, defy description. Jaroslav Kalfar’s debut novel is one of them.  But I would argue it makes for a more entertaining and thought-provoking read, when you quite literally have no idea what is going to happen next.  Orphaned as a boy, raised in the Czech countryside by his doting grandparents, Jakub Procházka has risen from small-time scientist to become the country’s first astronaut. When a dangerous solo mission to Venus offers him both the chance at heroism he’s dreamt of, and a way to atone for his father’s sins as a Communist informer, he ventures boldly into the vast unknown.  Alone in Deep Space, Jakub discovers a possibly imaginary giant alien spider, who becomes his unlikely companion. Over philosophical conversations about the nature of love, life and death, and the deliciousness of bacon, the pair form an intense and emotional bond.  For all that this might seem like a highly theoretical book, it’s actually really charming, surprisingly light, funny, and empathetic, and clever, and a definite must-read for anyone who thinks there is nothing new under the Sun (or near Venus).  RT Book Reviews agreed, having given this book a Top Pick status and saying in their review, “Kalfar’s novel is a work of beautiful contradictions: Though simple in its structure and gently playful in its narrative, Kalfar manages some remarkably complex connections with searing insight and disarming honesty…Remarkably, all of these contradictions combine into a surprising, thought-provoking whole that is wry, poignant and wholly unique.”

The Lawrence Browne AffairLate last year, Avon Books became the first major publisher to put out a male-male romance…and a male-male historical romance, at that.  Now, Cat Sebastian returns with her second book about two heroes defying conventions (and the law) in their quest for true love.  Lawrence Browne, the Earl of Radnor, is mad. At least, that’s what he and most of the village believes. A brilliant scientist, he hides himself away in his family’s crumbling estate, unwilling to venture into the outside world. When an annoyingly handsome man arrives at Penkellis, claiming to be Lawrence’s new secretary, his carefully planned world is turned upside down.  Georgie Turner is a swindler and con man who has fled to the wilds of Cornwall for his own safety. Pretending to be a secretary should be easy, but he doesn’t expect that the only madness he finds is the one he has for the gorgeous earl.  Sebastian’s love stories are just plain good romances, with believable characters (with real problems, not just, you know, issues), and sensational chemistry.  Library Journal agrees, giving this book a starred review and cheering “Sebasitan has crafted an epic romance in which Lawrence and Georgie share incredible chemistry. Profoundly romantic and highly recommended.”

Enduring Vietnam: An American Generation and Its War:  James Wright is a history professor as well as a veterans’ rights advocate, and in this book, he puts those two identities together to create a timely and engaging story about a conflict that changed the way the American public thought about violence, service, duty, and its place in the world.  The Vietnam War is largely recalled as a mistake, either in the decision to engage there or in the nature of the engagement. Or both. Veterans of the war remain largely anonymous figures, accomplices in the mistake. Critically recounting the steps that led to the war, James Wright’s book does not excuse the mistakes, but it details the experiences of those who served, and recounts the experiences of the families who grieved those who did not return.  The work has received praise from military officials, veterans, and critics alike, with Publisher’s Weekly praising “Wright’s worthy effort is a tribute to Americans who saw the worst that the Vietnam War offered, combined with a broad look at the domestic and geopolitical factors that led to the U.S. getting involved in the long, controversial conflict.”

Mister MysteryLooking to get away from things for a little while?  How about an escape to Paris at the end of the 19th century?  This sensational mystery is the perfect get-away for armchair adventurers and time-travelers alike!  In Paris in the year 1899, Marcel Després is arrested for the murder of his wife and transferred to the famous Salpetriere Asylum. And there the story might have stopped.  But the doctor assigned to his care soon realizes this is no ordinary patient: Marcel Després is a man who cannot forget. And the policeman assigned to his case soon realizes that something else is at stake: For why else would the criminal have been hurried off to hospital, and why are his superiors so keen for the whole affair to be closed?  This crime involves something bigger and stranger than a lovers’ fight, something with links to the highest and lowest establishments in France—but the answers lie inside Marcel’s head. And how can he tell what is significant when he remembers every detail of every moment of his entire life?  This is not only a fascinating mystery, but a really interesting study of 19th-century psychology, criminology, and society overall.  Publisher’s Weekly loved this book, too, giving it a starred review and saying “Fin de siècle Paris provides the backdrop for this outstanding thriller…Sedgwick thoughtfully explores fundamental questions about the relationship of memory and identity.”

Border Child: Michel Stone’s beautifully crafted novel is both an insightful tale of family and an unflinching consideration of the perils of immigration in today’s current political climate.  Young lovers Héctor and Lilia dreamed of a brighter future for their family in the United States. Héctor left Mexico first, to secure work and housing, but when Lilia, desperate to be with Héctor, impetuously crossed the border with their infant daughter, Alejandra, mother and child were separated. Alejandra disappeared. Now, four years later, the family has a chance to reunite in Mexico, where they try to reclaim a semblance of normal life, with a toddler son and another baby on the way. Then they receive an unexpected tip that might lead them to Alejandra, and both agree they must seize this chance, whatever the cost.  This tale doesn’t look at politics or grand scale issues, but rather focuses on a small group of finely-wrought characters in whom readers can utterly empathize.  The result is a story that Kirkus Review calls “A gripping and politically savvy look at the human impact of current immigration policy and an honest examination of the perils facing desperate immigrants as they travel north.”

Until next week, beloved patrons, happy reading!

Five Book Friday!

And so we come to the end of another week, and the arrival of another snow storm, dear readers.  Though I am sure many of your yearn for spring and the chance to garden, or head to the beach, or not wear socks when you go outside, there are some benefits to snow fall.  You have a guaranteed, old-as-time excuse to stay in with a book, or dvd, or audiobook, and simply enjoy.

So come into the Library before the flakes begin to fly and pick up one of these new books that have tip-toed onto our shelves this week!

New York 2140: The title of Kim Stanley Robinson’s newest release provides the date and location of the setting right up front.  The world itself is one where the ice caps have melted, flooding the earth and turning New York into a submerged city.  But humanity adapted, building bridges between skyscraper islands, and developing a new social hierarchy and economy to enable them to thrive. But as the rules of civilization change, a few insightful inhabitants of one residential building will figure out just how those rules can be manipulated, creating ripple effects in this drowned city that will prove that no change is ever permanent, and no evolution is ever complete.  This story is as much a cautionary tale for our own time as it is an imagined view of the future, and Robinson’s excellent characters make what could be a terrifying dystopia into something engrossing and entertaining.  RT Book Reviews agrees, making this book a Top Pick and saying, “Robinson embraces the darkest visions of the future, mixing it with wry humor, inexhaustible creativity and incorrigible excitement to create a world that is surprisingly recognizable, utterly immersive and unexpectedly hopeful. As much a critique of contemporary capitalism, social mores and timeless human foibles, this energetic, multi-layered narrative is also a model of visionary worldbuilding.”

Edgar and LucyVictor Lodato, a playwright by training, is, perhaps not surprisingly, a master of dialogue, and that talent serves him very well in this surprising and hypnotizing novel.  Eight-year-old Edgar Fini remembers nothing of the accident people still whisper about. He only knows that his father is gone, his mother has a limp, and his grandmother believes in ghosts. When Edgar meets a man with his own tragic story, the boy begins a journey into a secret wilderness where nothing is clear: not even the line between the living and the dead. In order to save her son, Lucy has no choice but to confront the demons of her past.  Critics and readers alike have been hailing this book, and calling it addictive and joyful, despite its tough themes, mostly as a result of Lodato’s writing skills.  The New York Times Book Review is one such source–their review says, in part, “On every page Lodato’s prose sings with a robust, openhearted wit, making Edgar & Lucy a delight to read…Lodato keeps us in his thrall because his grip on the tiller stays reassuringly firm. Not to mention the supporting cast he’s gathered, a group so eclectic and beguiling that many of them could carry an entire novel of their own. A riveting and exuberant ride.”

Ill Will: Dan Chaon’s thriller is a fascinating and complex tale of memory, time, and the sins both can hide that is getting a great deal of good press.  A psychologist in suburban Cleveland, Dustin is drifting through his forties when he hears the news: His adopted brother, Rusty, is being released from prison. Thirty years ago, Rusty received a life sentence for the massacre of Dustin’s parents, aunt, and uncle. The trial came to epitomize the 1980s hysteria over Satanic cults; despite the lack of physical evidence, the jury believed the outlandish accusations Dustin and his cousin made against Rusty. Now, after DNA analysis has overturned the conviction, Dustin braces for a reckoning.  Meanwhile, one of Dustin’s patients has been plying him with stories of the drowning deaths of a string of drunk college boys. At first Dustin dismisses his patient’s suggestions that a serial killer is at work as paranoid thinking, but as the two embark on an amateur investigation, Dustin starts to believe that there’s more to the deaths than coincidence. Soon he becomes obsessed, crossing all professional boundaries—and putting his own family in harm’s way.  Chaon walks a tightrope here between horror and mystery, keeping the tension good and tight from the outset of this story, resulting in a book that that Chicago Tribune called “Powerfully unsettling . . . There’s a lot going on under the surface of Ill Will—more than one reading will reveal. Going back and reading this oddly compelling book again will only provide more pleasure.”

A Colony in a Nation: From the editor of The Nation, Chris Hayes, comes a book about crime in America, about the way in which we think about crimes and criminals, and proposed a new way of thinking about the American justice system that incorporates race, economics, and location in wholly unique ways, and asks how a country founded on justice now looks like something uncomfortably close to a police state.   Examining the surge in crime that began in Nixon’s America and peaked in the 1990s, and the unprecedented decline that followed, Hayes draws on close-hand reporting at flashpoints of racial conflict, as well as deeply personal experiences with policing; from the influential “broken windows” theory to the “squeegee men” of late-1980s Manhattan, this book shows how fear causes us to make dangerous and unfortunate choices, both in our society and at the personal level. With great empathy, Hayes seeks to understand the challenges of policing communities haunted by the omnipresent threat of guns and, surprising, offers hope by locating examples of justice and the potential for positive change.  Activists, academics, and everyday readers alike have praised Hayes’ work, and The Christian Science Monitor writes “Hayes is a forceful and eloquent writer…. He offers a clear and useful framework for understanding the current dysfunctions of American society. It’s a brilliant diagnosis, [and] more urgent than ever.”

Richard Nixon: A Life: And speaking of Nixon, John Farrell’s new biography makes a case that we are living in the world he created, emphasizing the importance of Nixon’s presidency as a whole.  Nixon’s sins as a candidate were legion; and in one unlawful secret plot, as Farrell reveals here, Nixon acted to prolong the Vietnam War for his own political purposes. Finally elected president in 1969, Nixon packed his staff with bright young men who devised forward-thinking reforms addressing health care, welfare, civil rights, and protection of the environment. But Nixon aspired to make his mark on the world stage instead, and his 1972 opening to China was the first great crack in the Cold War.  He also left America divided and polarized. His bombing of Cambodia and Laos enraged the antiwar movement. It was Nixon who launched the McCarthy era, who played white against black with a “southern strategy,” and spurred the Silent Majority to despise and distrust the country’s elites. Ever insecure and increasingly paranoid, he persuaded Americans to gnaw, as he did, on grievances—and to look at one another as enemies. Finally, in August 1974, after two years of the mesmerizing intrigue and scandal of Watergate, Nixon became the only president to resign in disgrace.  Farrell shows us not only the man in the office, but the country that developed around him, making for a fascinating counterpoint to our own political observations.  Kirkus Review gave this work a starred review, calling it “Full of fresh, endlessly revealing insights into Nixon’s political career, less on the matter of his character, refreshingly, than on the events that accompanied and resulted from it.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!