Tag Archives: Five Book Friday

Five Book Friday!

And a helpful note, beloved patrons…

As part of our grand moving and renovation scheme here at the Library (the Library Lindy Hop? the Bibliotheque Ballet?), we will need to close down parts of the Library next week in order to perform some much needed dance steps:

As a result, at the Main Library (at 82 Main Street in Peabody, pictured below), the Main Reading Room will be closed to the public on Monday, June 18 and Tuesday, June 19 . The Library will be open and visitors are asked to use the Courtyard entrance or the Children’s Room entrance.  Public Computers and Public Services will be available in the Teen Room.

The West and South Branches will be unaffected by this closure, and patrons are welcome to visit those lovely sites at any time.

We thank you in advance for your patience with our dance moves, and we hope that we will be able to bring you a better library when it is all complete!  As always, if you have any questions or concerns, you can call us at (978) 531-0100.

And just because we’re moving things around doesn’t mean we aren’t constantly welcoming new books onto our shelves.  Here are just a few that have hopped into our melee this week, and are eager to make your acquaintance!

Invitation to a Bonfire: Adrienne Celt’s newest work of historical fiction is a fascinating, sensual chess match inspired by the relationship between Vladimir Nabokov and his wife, Vera.  In the 1920s, Zoya Andropova, a young refugee from the Soviet Union, finds herself in the alien landscape of an elite all-girls New Jersey boarding school. Having lost her family, her home, and her sense of purpose, Zoya struggles to belong, a task made more difficult by the malice of her peers and her new country’s paranoia about Russian spies. When she meets the visiting writer and fellow Russian émigré Leo Orlov–whose books Zoya has privately obsessed over for years–her luck seems to have taken a turn for the better. But she soon discovers that Leo is not the solution to her loneliness: he’s committed to his art and bound by the sinister orchestrations of his brilliant wife, Vera.  This is a complex, treacherous web of interwoven relationships, identities, and loyalties that is a delicious blend of mystery, suspense and human intrigue that is earning stellar reviews, including this one from Nylon, who declared, “On a sentence-by-sentence level, Adrienne Celt’s seductive, searing novel . . . is one of the most brilliant books I’ve read in some time . . . her words have a rhythm and cadence …which further draws the reader in close, all the better to totally lose yourself in…the complicated ethics of fidelity, and what horrible and beautiful things we give ourselves permission to do, all for the sake of the sublime.”

The Terrible: A Storyteller’s Memoir:  Yrsa Daley-Ward’s memoir is a fascinating study of a human life, as well as a beautiful showcase for her lyrical talents.  Here, in a combination of prose and verse that is both captivating and haunting, we learn about Yrsa and all the things that happened—“even the terrible things. And God, there were terrible things.” From her childhood in the northwest of England with her beautiful, careworn mother Marcia; the man formerly known as Dad (half fun, half frightening); and her little brother Roo, who sees things written in the stars, to the pain, power, and revelations of growing up.  This is a story whose form is as important as its message, and which earned a starred review from Kirkus, who called it “A powerful, unconventionally structured memoir recounting harrowing coming-of-age ordeals . . . Daley-Ward resists classification in this profound mix of poetry and prose. . . . [She] has quite a ferociously moving story to tell.”

The Weather Detective: Rediscovering Nature’s Secret SignsAt what temperature do bees stay home? Why do southerly winds in winter often bring storms? How can birdsong or flower scents help you tell the time?  Peter Wohllenben’s newest work not only answers these questions, but helps readers to learn to detect and decipher nature’s own secrets for themselves.   This book is the product of Wohllenben’s twenty years spent working for the forestry commission in Germany.  He now runs an environmentally friendly woodland, and his passion for forests, and his joy for the wonders they contain comes across in every sentence of this lovely work.  Kirkus savored this book, as well, calling it, “A guidebook on how everything we need to know about the weather can be learned by paying close attention to our natural surroundings in general and our gardens in particular…You’ll never look at your garden the same way again.”

Convenience Store Woman: A charming comedy of manners, a slyly cynical look at human interactions and relationships, and an award-winning novel, Sayaka Murata’s captivating English-language debut is a delightful one-sitting read.  Keiko Furukura had always been considered a strange child, and her parents always worried how she would get on in the real world, so when she takes on a job in a convenience store while at university, they are delighted for her. For her part, in the convenience store she finds a predictable world mandated by the store manual, which dictates how the workers should act and what they should say, and she copies her coworkers’ style of dress and speech patterns so that she can play the part of a normal person. However, eighteen years later, she is still in the same job, has never had a boyfriend, and has only few friends.  When a similarly alienated but cynical and bitter young man comes to work in the store, he will upset Keiko’s contented stasis―but will it be for the better?  This is a book of many layers, all of which are wise, insightful, and unexpectedly enjoyable.  Booklist agrees, having given this book a starred review and noting, “Murata, herself a part-time ‘convenience store woman,’ makes a dazzling English-language debut in a crisp translation by Ginny Tapley Takemori rich in scathingly entertaining observations on identity, perspective, and the suffocating hypocrisy of ‘normal’ society.”

Because I Come from a Crazy Family: The Making of a Psychiatrist: When Edward M. Hallowell was eleven, a voice that came from no identifiable source told him he should become a psychiatrist. At the time, Edward (Ned) took it in stride, despite not quite knowing what “psychiatrist” meant. With a psychotic father, alcoholic mother, abusive stepfather, and two so-called learning disabilities of his own, Ned was accustomed to unpredictable behavior from those around him, and to a mind he felt he couldn’t always control.  Now, decades later, Hallowell is a leading expert on attention disorders and the author of twenty books.  In his memoir, he tells the often strange story of a childhood marked by alcoholism, mental illness, and politeness, and explores the wild wish that he could have saved his own family of drunk, crazy, and well-intentioned eccentrics, and himself.  Though not always an easy read, Hallowell’s compassion, insight, and genuine love for his work makes this a fulfilling book for anyone interested in psychology, for lovers of memoir in general.  Library Journal concurs, noting in its review that “Hallowell’s many followers will seek out this account. Those unfamiliar with his work will find much to appreciate and absorb in his clear-eyed retelling of a life path that easily could have gone a different way.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

Five Book Friday!

And a wealth of congratulations to Kamila Shamsie, who was awarded this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction for her novel, Home Fire!

Shamsie’s novelreworks Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone to tell the story of a British Muslim family’s connection to Islamic State was hailed by the judges of the prize as “the story of our times”.   According to the 2018 Chair of Judges Sarah Sands, said: “This was a dazzling shortlist, it had depth and richness and variety. We were forcibly struck by the quality of the prose. Each book had its champions. We loved the originality of mermaids and courtesans, we were awed by the lyrical truth of an American road trip which serves as a commentary of the history of race in America, we discussed into the night the fine and dignified treatment of a woman’s domestic abuse, we laughed over a student’s rite of passage and we experienced the truth of losing a parent and loving a child. In the end we chose the book which we felt spoke for our times. Home Fire is about identity, conflicting loyalties, love and politics. And it sustains mastery of its themes and its form. It is a remarkable book which we passionately recommend.”

It’s a good day for books, beloved patrons, so let’s keep celebrating by taking a look at some of the other super-terrific stories that have swung up onto our shelves this week, and are eager to make your acquaintance!

The Death of Mrs. Westaway: I don’t know about you, but Ruth Ware’s psychological thrillers are some of the highlights of my summer reading, so it’s with great pleasure that we introduce her newest novel, about a tarot card reader named Hal.  When Hal receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes very quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person—but a tarot reader needs to be talented at reading people and adapting to their needs, so Hal decides to take matters into her own hands.  But at the funeral of the deceased, it dawns on her that there is something very, very wrong about this strange situation and the inheritance at the center of it.  This book especially has earned Ware a number of comparisons to Agatha Christie, but there is also something delightfully modern about her unsettling plots and crafty, surprising heroines.  It’s also been earned starred reviews left, right, and center, including one from Booklist, who cheered, “The labyrinth Ware has devised here is much more winding than expected, with reveals even on the final pages… a clever heroine and an atmospheric setting, accented by wisps of meaning that drift from the tarot cards.”

Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York: With the release of some 19th-century and early 20th-century medical records, it’s becoming possible to tell new, more compassionate, and insightful histories of madness, medicine, and the people who were caught up in medical and state institutions.  In this book, Stacy Holt uses narratives from the inhabitants of Roosevelt Island–once known as Blackwell’s Island, a stretch of land in New York’s East River that was the site of a lunatic asylum, two prisons, an almshouse, and a number of hospitals.  This was a site of terrible overcrowding; prisoners were enlisted to care for the insane; punishment was harsh and unfair; and treatment was nonexistent.  Yet despite the aching human tragedies and horror that Holt describes, there are also stories of hope, including the work of Reverend William Glenney French, who devoted his life to ministering to Blackwell’s residents, battling the bureaucratic mazes of the Department of Correction and a corrupt City Hall, and testifying at trials, all while wondering in his diary about man’s inhumanity to man.  This isn’t an easy read by any means, but it’s a significant one that asks a lot of pressing questions about today’s mental health treatments, as well as illuminating the past.  Publisher’s Weekly agrees, describing this book as “a vivid and at times horrifying portrait of Blackwell’s Island…Horn has created a bleak but worthwhile depiction of institutional failure, with relevance for persistent debates over the treatment of the mentally ill and incarcerated.”

The Art of the Wasted DayAn ideal read for the summer, Patricia Hampl’s book is a delightfully different kind of travel story, describing her journeys to the homes of those who made repose a goal, even an art form.  She begins with two celebrated eighteenth-century Irish ladies who ran off to live a life of “retirement” in rural Wales. Her search then leads to Moravia to consider the monk-geneticist, Gregor Mendel, and finally to Bordeaux for Michel Montaigne–the hero of this book–who retreated from court life to sit in his chateau tower and write about whatever passed through his mind, thus inventing the personal essay.  In the midst of this study, Hampl also recalls her own personal relationship with leisure, from her childhood days lazing under a neighbor’s beechnut tree to the joys discovered in quietly falling in love, which led to the greatest adventure of her life.  A thoughtful, emotional study about the joys found in thinking, in wandering, and in exploring, this is a book for all of you armchair explorers who are looking for a new kind of escape.  The Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote a glowing review of this book, calling it,  “A wise and beautiful ode to the imagination – from a child’s daydreams, to the unexpected revelations encountered in solitary travel, meditation, and reading, to the flights of creativity taken by writers, artists, and philosophers.”

The Order of Time: Carlo Rovelli’s study, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, made scary science into something accessible, beautiful, and downright enjoyable, and now he is back to study time.  We all experience time, but the more scientists learn about it, the more mysterious it remains. We think of it as uniform and universal, moving steadily from past to future, measured by clocks. Rovelli tears down these assumptions one by one, revealing a strange universe where at the most fundamental level time disappears.  Weaving together ideas from philosophy, science and literature, Rovelli suggests that our perception of the flow of time depends on our perspective, better understood starting from the structure of our brain and emotions than from the physical universe.  It’s a concept that makes sense when you consider that it was humans who made time and clocks and such things, but this journey ties those inventions into a much deeper, richer understanding of the world that will have you rethinking all the basic tenants of time that you thought you knew.  Scientific American loved this book, noting in its review how “Rovelli, a physicist and one of the founders of loop quantum gravity theory, uses literary, poetical and historical devices to unravel the properties of time, what it means to exist without time and, at the end, how time began.”

Social CreatureHere’s another thriller to keep your summer sizzling–in fact, Tara Isabella Burton is already drawing comparisons to Gillian Flynn and Tara French, so fans of those compulsively-readable authors should be quick to add this to their summer reading list.  Louise has nothing. Lavinia has everything. After a chance encounter, the two spiral into an intimate, intense, and possibly toxic friendship.  They go through both bottles of champagne, and as they drink, Lavinia tells Louise about all the places they will go together, when they finish their stories, when they are both great writers-to Paris and to Rome and to Trieste…but Lavinia will never go. She is going to die soon.  A modern twist on Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, this book takes a razor-sharp look at our social conventions, all while telling a story that is addictive, dark, and scintillating in the ways of all good summer thrillers.  Kirkus Reviews gave it a starred review, praising “Burton’s exceptional character work…every individual is both victim and villain, imbuing their interactions with oceans of emotional subtext and creating conflict that propels the book toward its shocking yet inevitable conclusion…At once a thrilling and provocative crime novel, a devastating exploration of female insecurity, and a scathing indictment of society’s obsession with social media.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

Five Book Friday!

And a very happy June to you, beloved patrons!

We hope you are enjoying the more pleasant weather and longer days, and that you have some summertime adventures planned.  In case you are looking for some national holidays to celebrate (the quirkier, the better, of course!), here are just a few worthy of your consideration:

June 1: National Donut Day: Doughut Day?  However you spell it, today’s a day to celebrate this much-loved pastry.  The Boston Public Library’s Blog has a whole post devoted to donuts (doughnuts?), which you should definitely check out!

Via Fake Library Statistics: https://twitter.com/FakeLibStats

June 4: National Cheese Day: It might only be an unofficial holiday, but if there’s cheese involved, that’s good enough for me.

June 6: National Drive-In Movie Day: This day honors the opening day of the first drive-in, by Richard M. Hollingshead Jr. of Camden, New Jersey. Hollingshead’s drive-in opened in New Jersey on June 6, 1933.  If you’re looking to celebrate this day, here is a map with all the drive-in theaters still operating in the United States!

June 12: National Loving Day: Commemorating  the anniversary of the 1967 United States Supreme Court decision Loving vs. Virginia, which struck down anti-miscegenation laws that banned inter-racial marriage in the United States.

June 17: National Turkey Lover’s Day: Apparently, in April 2016, this holiday was submitted by the National Turkey Lover’s to the National Days Calendar, and is celebrated the third Sunday in June.  So it’s a real thing.  And if turkey is your thing, we hope you enjoy this day!

And, as always, there is never a bad time for a good book–so let’s take a look at some of the new titles that have processed onto our shelves this week and are eager to make your acquaintance!

Lighting the Fires of FreedomDuring the Civil Rights Movement, African American women were generally not in the headlines; they simply did the work that needed to be done. Yet despite their significant contributions at all levels of the movement, they remain mostly invisible to the larger public.  Beyond the work of a few “remarkable” or “exceptional” women, most Americans would be hard-pressed to name other women leaders at the community, local, and national levels.  Thankfully, Janet Dewart Bell’s book begins to remedy this situation.  In wide-ranging conversations with nine women, several now in their nineties with decades of untold stories, we hear what ignited and fueled their activism.  Published to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1968,  this book, and these voices offer personal and intimate accounts of extraordinary struggles for justice that resulted in profound social change, that deserve to be remembered.  Booklist agrees, calling this work  “A fresh and revealing oral history of the civil rights movement as told by nine African American women . . . striking and fascinating stories that greatly enrich our appreciation of the crucial roles women of diverse backgrounds played in the pivotal fight for civil rights.”

Tip of the Iceberg: My 3,000 Mile Journey Around Wild Alaska, the Last Great American FrontierIn 1899, railroad magnate Edward H. Harriman organized a most unusual summer voyage to the wilds of Alaska: He converted a steamship into a luxury “floating university,” populated by some of America’s best and brightest scientists and writers, including the anti-capitalist eco-prophet John Muir. Those aboard encountered a land of immeasurable beauty and impending environmental calamity.  More than a hundred years later, travel writer Mark Adams set out to retrace the 1899 expedition. Using the state’s intricate public ferry system, the Alaska Marine Highway System, Adams traveled three thousand miles, all the way to the Aleutians and the Arctic Circle. Along the way, he encountered dozens of unusual characters–and a couple of very hungry bears, as well!  This book is the story of that remarkable voyage, as well as an investigation into how lessons learned in 1899 might relate to Alaska’s current struggles in adapting to climate change.  Told with flair, humor, and no little wonder for the incredible sights he took in, Adams’ book is a spectacular travel narrative for any armchair wanderer.  Outside magazine described this book as “Great nonfiction…takes a topic you thought you knew well and makes it new again…[Adams’] storytelling is guaranteed to make you want to get off your beach towel and book passage somewhere in the great wild north.”

Star of the NorthD.B. John’s gripping and timely thriller begins in 1988, when a Korean American teenager is kidnapped from a South Korean beach by North Korean operatives. Twelve years later, her brilliant twin sister, Jenna, is still searching for her, and ends up on the radar of the CIA. When evidence that her sister may still be alive in North Korea comes to light, Jenna will do anything possible to rescue her–including undertaking a daring mission into the heart of the regime.  At the same time, several other narratives, focused on the lives of North Korean citizens and officials, begin to unfold, progressing to a conclusion that is as creative as it is surprising.  A British writer, John’s novel has been receiving praise on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, with The Guardian noting “The best thrillers offer something more ambitious than simply raising the pulse rate of the reader. In Star of the North it is geopolitical complexity…This is a masterly evocation of life under the Kim Jong-un regime.”

Love and Ruin: Fans of real-life characters in historic fiction, this one’s for you.  In 1937, twenty-eight-year-old Martha Gellhorn travels alone to Madrid desperate to prove her journalistic skills by reporting on the atrocities of the Spanish Civil War.  Through her work, she becomes drawn to the stories of ordinary people caught in the devastating conflict.  But she also finds herself unexpectedly—and uncontrollably—falling in love with Ernest Hemingway, a man on his way to becoming a legend.  In the shadow of another World War, and within the turbulent, vivid, and unforgettable cities of Madrid and Cuba, Martha and Ernest’s relationship and their professional careers ignite.  But when Ernest publishes the biggest literary success of his career, For Whom the Bell Tolls, they are no longer equals, and Martha must make a choice: surrender to the confining demands of being a famous man’s wife or risk losing Ernest by forging a path as her own woman and writer.  This isn’t your run-of-the-mill historical romance, nor is Martha your typical heroine–and in bringing her to life, Paula McLain has crafted a story that is as heartrending as it is redemptive.  The New York Times Book Review said it beautifully in their review, noting that “McLain does an excellent job portraying a woman with dreams who isn’t afraid to make them real, showing [Gellhorn’s] bravery in what was very much a man’s world. Her work around the world . . . is presented in meticulous, hair-raising passages. . . . The book is fueled by her questing spirit, which asks, Why must a woman decide between being a war correspondent and a wife in her husband’s bed?”

The Optimistic Decade: Although Heather Abel’s novel is set in a utopian summer camp in the 1990’s, this is very much a story for (and, in some ways, about) today.  In this camp live five fascinating people: There is Caleb Silver, the beloved founder of the back-to-the-land camp Llamalo, who is determined to teach others to live simply. There are the ranchers, Don and his son, Donnie, who gave up their land to Caleb and who now want it back. There is Rebecca Silver, determined to become an activist like her father and undone by the spell of both Llamalo and new love; and there is David, a teenager who has turned Llamalo into his personal religion.  Although the story is set in Colorado, Abel uses this summer camp as a symbol of the settlement of Israel, and to think about the act of building dreams on other people’s land.  As each character grapples with how best to more forward, they begin to realize that maybe, it’s not about the land at all.  Publisher’s Weekly gave this book a starred review, describing it as a “politically and psychologically acute debut… A strong sense of time and place anchors the story, and Abel’s well-crafted plot brings all the strands of the story together into a suspenseful yet believable conclusion. Without landing heavily on any political side, and without abandoning hope, Abel’s novel lightly but firmly raises questions about how class and cultural conflicts play out in the rural West.”

 

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!

Don’t forget, beloved patrons–tomorrow is PILCON, the Peabody Institute Library’s 2nd Annual all-ages Comic Con!  The event is 100% free to all, and the day will be chock full of exciting and creative workshops, crafts, and hear presentations by artists, podcasters, and gamers for all ages.   You can learn more (and reserve your free tickets at the PILCON website!   We look forward to seeing you there!

And even while PILCON is underway, there will be any number of new books, movies, music, and audiobooks for you to enjoy.  Here are just a few of the new books that flew on to our shelves this week that are eager to have an adventure with you!

Ursula K. Le Guin : Conversations on Writing: The world lost an enormous talent when Ursula K. Le Guin left us this past January.  But her works and her words live on.  In this insightful, funny, and delightfully varied series of interviews with David Naimon, Le Guin discussed the craft, aesthetics, and philosophy in her fiction, poetry, and nonfiction respectively, as well as  the genre wars, the patriarchy, the natural world, and what, in her opinion, makes for great writing.  With excerpts from her own books and those that she looked to for inspiration, this volume is a treat for Le Guin’s longtime readers, a perfect introduction for those first approaching her writing, and a tribute to her incredible life and work.  Publisher’s Weekly penned an lovely review of this book, calling it “An enlightening conversation about the writing process. Both authors adopt the tone of artisans discussing their craft, and each’s delight at debating with a like-minded professional is evident throughout. . . [Le Guin’s] expansive knowledge of the SF genre provides, most strikingly, a sharp perspective on how its female practitioners have too often been forgotten in favor of their male contemporaries. Her rapport with Naimon results in an exchange that is both informative and charming.”

The Life of Mark Twain: And speaking of great writers, we are also pleased to present the first in Gary Scharnhorst’s new three-part biography of Samuel Longhorn Clemens, perhaps known better as Mark Twain.  This installment cover  Clemens’s life in Missouri, along the Mississippi River, and in the West, using recently-discovered and under-used documents from private and public archives around the country.  This is only the beginning of a series that is already being hailed as a definitive and masterful biography of a man whose influence on American literature is still being felt and discussed to this day.  Many Twain biographers have contributed positive blurbs for Scharnhorst’s work, including Bruce Michelson, author of Printer’s Devil: Mark Twain and the American Publishing Revolution, who said, “With the facts about Sam Clemens’s life scattered through countless volumes and archives, we have long needed a biography that brings them together, winnowing out the myths, and telling the true story with clarity and grace. Gary Scharnhorst has taken up this prodigious task, and as a veteran Mark Twain scholar still at the top of his game, he’s certainly right for the challenge. Clear and engaging, Scharnhorst’s prose keeps you rolling happily through this consummate American adventure.”

Tin Man: Tender, heartfelt, and beautifully engaging, Susan Winman’s newest novel is sort of a love story…but only sort of.  Ellis and Michael are twelve-year-old boys when they first become friends, and for a long time it is just the two of them, cycling the streets of Oxford, teaching themselves how to swim, discovering poetry, and dodging the fists of overbearing fathers. And then one day this closest of friendships grows into something more.  But then we fast-forward a decade or so, to find that Ellis is married to Annie, and Michael is nowhere in sight. Which leads to the question: What happened in the years between?  The answer lies in a story that is emotional and eloquent, and speaks to how we let ourselves as humans love.  This is a book that is charming readers and reviewers alike, and earned a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, who called it “[An] achingly beautiful novel about love and friendship…Without sentimentality or melodrama, Winman stirringly depicts how people either interfere with or allow themselves and others to follow their hearts.”

The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century: True crime devotees, history fans, and and naturalists alike will find something to savor in this compelling, bizarre tale of passion and theft.  On a cool June evening in 2009, after performing a concert at London’s Royal Academy of Music, twenty-year-old American flautist Edwin Rist boarded a train for a suburban outpost of the British Museum of Natural History. Home to one of the largest ornithological collections in the world, the Tring museum was full of rare bird specimens whose gorgeous feathers were worth staggering amounts of money to the men who shared Edwin’s obsession: the Victorian art of salmon fly-tying. Once inside the museum, the champion fly-tier grabbed hundreds of bird skins—some collected 150 years earlier by a contemporary of Darwin’s, and escaped into the darkness.  Two years later, Kirk Wallace Johnson was waist high in a river in northern New Mexico when his fly-fishing guide told him about the heist. He was soon consumed by the strange case of the feather thief: what would drive someone to such a theft–and what had happened to him after the crime?  In his search for answers, Johnson was catapulted into worldwide investigation over the course of several years.  He reveals all in this fast-paced, thoroughly well-told tale that has reviewers around the globe delighted.  In fact, the Christian Science Monitor called it “One of the most peculiar and memorable true-crime books ever. . . . Johnson is an intrepid journalist . . . [with] a fine knack for uncovering details that reveal, captivate, and disturb.”

Second Wind: A Sunfish Sailor, an Island, and the Voyage that Brought a Family TogetherYou might know Nathaniel Philbrick as the award-winning author of such works as In the Heart of the Sea and Bunker Hill, but he is also a national sailing champion, and in this book, he tells his own tale about trying to reclaim his title.  In the spring of 1992, Nat Philbrick was in his late thirties, living with his family on Nantucket, longing for that thrill of victory he once felt after winning a national sailing championship in his youth. Determined to find that thrill again, Philbrick earned the approval of his wife and children, and used the off-season on the island as his solitary training ground.  He sailed his tiny Sunfish to Nantucket’s remotest corners, experiencing the haunting beauty of its tidal creeks, inlets, and wave-battered sandbars. On ponds, bays, rivers, and finally at the championship on a lake in the heartland of America, he sailed through storms and memories, racing for the prize.  But, as with all good stories, this isn’t just about championships and competition.  This is a book about self-discovery and life-changing revelations that sailing fans, nature lovers, and those in need of a good story can all enjoy.  Booklist agrees, noting in its review, “Describing his races tack-by-tack and gust-by-gust, Philbrick crosses the finish line with sure-to-be satisfied readers interested in sailing and the personal life of this highly popular author.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons–Happy Reading, and we hope to see you at PILCON!

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!

As many fans of the film franchise Star Wars will know, today is a linguistically significant day–so don’t be surprised if someone comes up to you with the greeting “May the Fourth be with you!”

According to CNN:

As legend has it, and according to the origin story recognized by Lucasfilm, the phrase was first used on May 4, 1979, the day Margaret Thatcher took office as UK Prime Minister. The Conservative Party reportedly placed an ad in the London Evening News that read, “May the Fourth Be With You, Maggie. Congratulations.”

Via TVNZ

With social media, the line has grown in popularity and prevalence, so for those fans out there, May The Fourth Be With You.

There are plenty of other fun days to observe in May, too!  Check out a few of the more quirky and entertaining national days to celebrate soon:

May 5: Free Comic Book Day! For more information, check out the Free Comic Book Day website, and follow the #FreeComicBookDay!

May 6: National Lemonade Day: Started in 2007, this is a day aimed at teaching young people how to start, own and operate their very own business via a lemonade stand.  For more information, check out lemonadeday.org!

May 12: National Miniature Golf Day: Tee up, and learn more about other devotees of everyone’s real favorite sport via #NationalMiniGolfDay.

May 21: National American Red Cross Founder’s Day: Marking the the anniversary of the American Red Cross, which was founded in 1881 by Clara Barton.

May 25: National Tap Dance Day: Honoring the birthday of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, this is a perfect day to get your dancing shoes polished and ready to go!

And, as we all know, there is no day that is not perfect for finding a new book to savor!  Here are just a few of the stellar titles that have paraded onto our shelves this past week:

America is Not the Heart: Elaine Castillo’s debut, a multi-generational epic, has been featured and praised in magazine and on websites across the country, and hailed not only for its insight and honest, but for its humor, as well.  When Hero De Vera arrives in America–haunted by the political upheaval in the Philippines and disowned by her parents–she has already well experienced at rebuilding her life from scratch.  Now, she is starting anew once again, living in her uncle’s home in the Bay Area.  Her uncle’s younger wife knows enough about the might and secrecy of the De Vera family to keep her head down. But their daughter–the first American-born daughter in the family–can’t resist asking Hero about her damaged hands.  The tale that is revealed is a sprawling and soulful one about three generations of women in one family struggling to balance the promise of the American dream and the unshakeable grip of history.  Kirkus Reviews gave Castillo’s work a starred review, and offered a beautiful analysis of her book, saying in part: “Castillo is a vivid writer, and she has a real voice: vernacular and fluid, with a take-no-prisoners edge. At the same time, she complicates her narrative by breaking out of it in a variety of places—both by deftly incorporating languages such as Tagalog and Ilocano and through the use of flashback or backstory . . . Beautifully written, emotionally complex, and deeply moving, Castillo’s novel reminds us both that stories may be all we have to save us and also that this may never be enough.”

Losing the Nobel PrizeWhat would it have been like to be an eyewitness to the Big Bang? In 2014, astronomers wielding BICEP2, the most powerful cosmology telescope ever made, revealed that they’d glimpsed the spark that ignited the Big Bang. Millions around the world tuned in to the announcement broadcast live from Harvard University, immediately igniting rumors of an imminent Nobel Prize. But had these cosmologists truly read the cosmic prologue or, swept up in Nobel dreams, had they been deceived by a galactic mirage?  In this fascinating book, Brian Keating, inventor of the BICEP (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization) launches readers on a thrill ride through the high-stakes, ruthless world of modern science, discussing the development of mind-boggling technology and the hope for bigger, better, and more awe-inspiring discoveries.  He also argues that the Nobel Prize, instead of advancing scientific progress, may actually hamper it, encouraging speed and greed while punishing collaboration and bold innovation, and offers clear-sighting ideas for how to fix this process, as well.  Science and technology writers have penned splendid reviews of Keating’s book, praising his prose as well as his acumen.  Among them was ScienceNews, who noted how the book “dissects the error-prone humanity of science, but cuts the ugly details with beauty… Charming and clever, Losing the Nobel Prize bounces between clear explanations of nitty-gritty science, accounts of personal relationships and historical lessons.”

First Person: Man-Booker-Prize winning author Richard Flanagan is known for bending the rules of reality in his fiction, and this book, about a ghost writer and a conman is a stunning example of that talent.  Kif Kehlmann, a young, penniless writer, is rung in the middle of the night by the notorious con man and corporate criminal, Siegfried Heidl. About to go to trial for defrauding the banks of $700 million, Heidl offers Kehlmann the job of ghost writing his memoir. He has six weeks to write the book, for which he’ll be paid $10,000. But as the writing gets under way, Kehlmann begins to fear that he is being corrupted by Heidl. As the deadline draws closer, he becomes ever more unsure if he is ghost writing a memoir, or if Heidl is rewriting him–his life, his future. Everything that was certain grows uncertain as he begins to wonder: Who is Siegfried Heidl–and who is Kif Kehlmann?  As time runs out, as Kehlmann’s world feels it is hurtling toward a catharsis, one question looms above all others: What is the truth?  Twisted, unsettling, and delightfully creative, Flanagan’s newest release received as starred review from Booklist,who called it “An acerbic exploration of how the contemporary world came to be defined by lies, deceit, and obfuscation . . . Full of hilarious asides, this sonorous, blackly comic novel offers searing insight into our times.”

Empire of Guns: The Violent Making of the Industrial Revolution: Here in Massachusetts, we often learn about the Industrial Revolution in terms of mills, looms, and Lowell.   Priya Satia’s thoroughly researched and rich history offers a different take on this seminal moment in human history by arguing that  war and Britain’s prosperous gun trade was at the heart of the Industrial Revolution and the state’s imperial expansion.  She opens with the story of a scandal: Samuel Galton of Birmingham, one of Britain’s most prominent gunmakers, has been condemned by his fellow Quakers, who argue that his profession violates the society’s pacifist principles. In his fervent self-defense, Galton argues that the state’s heavy reliance on industry for all of its war needs means that every member of the British industrial economy is implicated in Britain’s near-constant state of war.   From there, Satia considers the role and effect of firearms in the construction of western hegemony, challenging not only out thinking about the past, but its effect on our present and future, as well.  Booklist praised this work for (among other things) its “Tremendous scholarship. . . . Satia’s detailed and fresh look at the Industrial Revolution has appeal and relevance grounded in and reaching beyond history and social science to illuminate the complexity of present-day gun-control debates.”

The Great Stain: Witnessing American SlaveryNoel Rae’s work looks at slavery from the angle of contemporary, first-hand accounts of the practice, and its effects on enslaved people and those who enslaved them, creating a book that is difficult at times to read, but vitally necessary precisely because of the intimacy.  From the travel journals of sixteenth-century Spanish settlers who offered religious instruction and “protection” in exchange for farm labor, to the diaries of poetess Phillis Wheatley; from Frederick Law Olmsted’s book about traveling through the “cotton states,” to the accounts by enslaved peoples themselves, including Solomon Northrup and Mary Reynolds, this is a book that is eye-opening in its scope and research, and painfully prevalent even today.  David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, provided a blurb for this book, noting that “In the historical discussion, we often talk about the institution of slavery. We examine the debate over the legal question concerning slavery and its expansion in the United States, its role in the origin and conduct of the Civil War, but works such as The Great Stain bring us back to the human level, allowing us to hear what the institution meant for an individual.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons–Happy Reading!