Tag Archives: Five Book Friday

Five Book Friday!

And a very happy Free For All birthday to Jamaican-American poet and author Claude McKay!

McKay was born in Jamaica in 1889, and educated by his older brother, who had a considerable collection of English literature and scientific texts.  In 1912, McKay published a book of verse called Songs of Jamaica, recording his impressions of black life in Jamaica in dialect. That same year, he traveled to the United States to attend Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. He remained there only a few months, leaving to study agriculture at Kansas State University.

During the 1920’s, McKay became a devoted Communist, and was invited to Russia by Lenin to aid in the rebuilding of the country after the Revolution.  From Russia, McKay went to France, returning to the US, and Harlem, in 1934. Losing faith in Communism, he turned his attention to the teachings of various spiritual and political leaders in Harlem, eventually converting to Catholicism.  McKay’s viewpoints and poetic achievements in the earlier part of the twentieth century set the tone for the Harlem Renaissance and gained the deep respect of younger black poets of the time, including Langston Hughes. His remarkable range of work run the gamut from sonnets to modernist novels, making McKay a true original in the history of American and African American literature.  Today, we share one of his poems with you in honor of his special day.

The White House

Your door is shut against my tightened face,
And I am sharp as steel with discontent;
But I possess the courage and the grace
To bear my anger proudly and unbent.
The pavement slabs burn loose beneath my feet,
And passion rends my vitals as I pass,
A chafing savage, down the decent street;
Where boldly shines your shuttered door of glass.
Oh, I must search for wisdom every hour,
Deep in my wrathful bosom sore and raw,
And find in it the superhuman power
To hold me to the letter of your law!
Oh, I must keep my heart inviolate
Against the potent poison of your hate.

And now, on to the books!

Sing, Unburied, SingNational Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward, has returned to grace us with a book that echoes Toni Morrison, William Faulkner and Homer in this tribute to Southern literature.  Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, and the occasional presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Leonie is simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high; Mam is dying of cancer; and quiet, steady Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. When the white father of Leonie’s children is released from prison, she packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, on a journey rife with danger and promise.  This is a timeless story, and yet one that is startlingly immediate, dealing with identity, race, loss, and the opioid epidemic, in remarkable ways.  Buzzfeed wrote a glorious review of this book, which reads, in part, “The heart of Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing is story — the yearning for a narrative to help us understand ourselves, the pain of the gaps we’ll never fill, the truths that are failed by words and must be translated through ritual and song …. Ward’s writing throbs with life, grief, and love, and this book is the kind that makes you ache to return to it.”

 

The Cooking Gene : a journey through African-American culinary history in the Old SouthMichael W. Twitty is a highly respected culinary historian, and in this wonderful book, he tackles the incredible divisive issue of race in a new, intriguing, and beautifully insightful way–through food!  Southern food is integral to the American culinary tradition, yet the question of who “owns” it is one of the most provocative touch points in our ongoing struggles over race.  Twitty takes readers to the white-hot center of this fight, tracing the roots of his own family and the charged politics surrounding the origins of soul food, barbecue, and all Southern cuisine.  From the tobacco and rice farms of colonial times to plantation kitchens and backbreaking cotton fields, Twitty not only tells his family’s story, but suggests that there is a hope for healing in Southern food, and embracing the discomforts of the past.  Positive reviews have been pouring in for this book, including a starred review from Kirkus, who said “Twitty ably joins past and present, puzzling out culinary mysteries along the way… An exemplary, inviting exploration and an inspiration for cooks and genealogists alike.”

Are You Sleeping?: Were you a loyal listener of Serial?  Did you adore the twists and turns that podcast presented?  If so, then Kathleen Barber’s new psychological thriller is for you.  Josie Buhrman has spent the last ten years trying to escape her family’s reputation. After her father’s murder thirteen years prior, her mother ran away to join a cult and her twin sister Lanie, once Josie’s best friend, betrayed her. Now, Josie has finally put down roots in New York, and is desperate to make a life with her partner Caleb.  But when investigative reporter Poppy Parnell sets off a media firestorm with a mega-hit podcast that reopens the long-closed case of Josie’s father’s murder, Josie’s world begins to unravel. Meanwhile, the unexpected death of Josie’s long-absent mother forces her to return to her Midwestern hometown where she must confront the demons from her past—and the lies on which she has staked her future.  This is a novel that will keep you guessing, re-thinking, and doubting everything you think you knew about each of these characters and their motivations.  Publisher’s Weekly loved this book, giving it a starred review and calling it an “inventive debut…The intense plot and character studies are enhanced by the emotional look at the dynamics of a family forever scarred by violence.”

A Legacy of Spies: There are plenty of us who are mourning the Cold War, if only for the dearth of high-tension, intellectual spy novels.  But weep no more, dear readers, for John Le Carré has returned to his immortal Smiley, bringing us his first novel from the Circus in a quarter century.  Peter Guillam, staunch colleague and disciple of George Smiley of the British Secret Service, otherwise known as the Circus, is living out his old age on the family farmstead on the south coast of Brittany when a letter from his old Service summons him to London. The reason? His Cold War past has come back to claim him. Intelligence operations that were once the toast of secret London, including George Smiley and Peter Guillam himself, are to be scrutinized by a generation with no memory of the Cold War and no patience with its justifications.  By interweaving past and present, Le Carré reminds fans just why they fell in love with his work–and presents a whole new generation of readers with the deliciously gray world of espionage.  This book is making headlines all over the place, and The Atlantic raved “Le Carré is such a gifted storyteller that he interlaces the cards in his deck so they fit not simply with this book, but with the earlier ones as well.”

The Clockwork Dynasty Another thriller that blends the past and present, but Daniel H. Wilson’s tale is one where automatons are hidden amongst humanity, biding their time…In the present, June Stefanov, a young anthropologist specializing in ancient technology, uncovers a terrible secret concealed in the workings of a three-hundred-year-old mechanical doll.  With her career and her life at stake, June will ally with a remarkable traveler on an around-the-world adventure and discover breathtaking secrets of the past.  Meanwhile, in 1725, in the depths of the Kremlin, the tsar’s loyal mechanician brings to life two astonishingly mechanical beings;  a brother and sister fallen out of time, possessed with uncanny power. Struggling to blend into pre-Victorian society, they are pulled into a legendary war that has raged for centuries.  This is a story that will have fans of steampunk and gothic, as well as techno-fans, and readers in need of a great female lead, singing with delight.  Kirkus loved this book too, noting “It may wear its influences on its sleeve but it’s also a welcome treat for steampunk and fantasy fans. A thrilling mix of influences, much like Sylvain Neuvel’s Sleeping Giants and HBO’s Westworld, that creates a captivating scenario begging for many sequels.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons….happy reading!

 

Five Book Friday!

And a very happy Free For All birthday wish to one of my favorite poets, Siegfried Sassoon.

Sassoon was born in 1886 to a wealthy Jewish family who had made their fortune as traders within the British Empire.  He enlisted in the British Army in advance of European War, and was serving with the Sussex Yeomanry when Great Britain declared war against Germany on August 4, 1914.  For three years, Sassoon threw himself into soldiering.  He earned the nickname “Mad Jack” for his willingness to accept and carry out acts that seemed near-suicidal.  Not only did Sassoon enjoy the excitement, but it also prevented any of the men under his command, or around him, from taking on such a task themselves.  According to his friend Robert Graves, “He went over with bombs in daylight, under covering fire from a couple of rifles, and scared away the occupant…instead of signalling for reinforcements, he sat down in the German trench and began reading a book of poems which he had brought with him.”  On July 27, 1916, he was awarded the Military Cross “For conspicuous gallantry during a raid on the enemy’s trenches. He remained for 1½ hours under rifle and bomb fire collecting and bringing in our wounded”.

But Sassoon’s unswerving loyalty to the men with whom he served almost brought him into an infamous confrontation with military authorities.  Following the death of a dear friend in battle, Sassoon published a letter (an image of which appears at left) he had already sent to his commanding officer entitled Finished with the War: A Soldier’s Declaration, which read, in part “I believe that the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it”, stating that he refused to fight.  Thanks to the intervention of several friends (including Graves) and the unwillingness of the war office to condemn a decorated soldiers as a traitor, Sassoon was declared to be suffering shell-shock, and was sent to Criaglockhart, a mental hospital for officers run by Dr. William Rivers.  In the interest of brevity, let us say that the friendship that emerged from Rivers’ treatment of Sassoon changed both their lives.  While at Craiglockhart, Sassoon also met and worked with Wilfred Owen, who is perhaps the most celebrated of the so-called “War Poets”.

Sassoon survived the war, and his poems and memoirs of his service remain among the most well-known and cited to come out of the postwar period.  He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1951  continued writing until his death from stomach cancer one week before his 81st birthday.

Sassoon’s poems appear consistently in anthologies of First World War literature–you can hear a recording of him reading one here.  But those poems represent only a very small percentage of his incredible output, so today, I wanted to share with you one of his lesser-known war poems, written in 1919 while he was waiting to embark for Egypt:

Memory

When I was young my heart and head were light,
And I was gay and feckless as a colt
Out in the fields, with morning in the may,
Wind on the grass, wings in the orchard bloom.
O thrilling sweet, my joy, when life was free
And all the paths led on from hawthorn-time
Across the carolling meadows into June.

But now my heart is heavy-laden. I sit
Burning my dreams away beside the fire:
For death has made me wise and bitter and strong;
And I am rich in all that I have lost.
O starshine on the fields of long-ago,
Bring me the darkness and the nightingale;
Dim wealds of vanished summer, peace of home,
And silence; and the faces of my friends.

And now…on to the books!

Letters to his Neighbor: Marcel Proust wrote some of the most profound philosophical works of the 20th century.  He also wrote a number of letters to his noisy neighbor, Dr. Williams, who plagued his existence with his noise, which Proust could hear in detail thanks to the cork walls that divided their rooms.   Things only got worse when Williams married and had children.  Recently discovered among Proust’s correspondence, these ever-polite letters, written mainly to Mrs. Williams, which were often accompanied by flowers, compliments, books, even pheasants are frequently hilarious, especially when Proust couches his fury in a gracious tone.  But they are also genuinely engaging–for Proust found an odd affinity with Mrs. Williams, and while we are lacking her responses, making this correspondence incomplete, there is still an enormous amount to enjoy here.  Additionally, Lydia Davis’ translation is delightful, making Proust’s life accessible to those of us who are not devotees, and penning a wonderful afterward that helps put these letters into context of his life and his writings.  The Village Voice loved this little volume, noting that it is “brilliantly translated by Lydia Davis, is inadvertently hilarious in hyper-genteel poise; we see Proust at his most desperate, charming to the extreme, an effect no doubt amplified by Davis’s elegant prose.”

The Ways of WolfeJames Carlos Blake’s Wolfe series brings readers right into the dusty, dangerous, morally dubious, and ruthlessly compelling world of the Wolfe clan, whose roots run deep on both sides of the United States-Mexico border, and whose prevailing interests straddle both sides of the law.  Twenty years ago, college student Axel Prince Wolfe―heir apparent to his Texas family’s esteemed law firm and its “shade trade” criminal enterprises―teamed up with his best friend, Billy, and a Mexican stranger in a high-end robbery that went wrong, and where Axel was left along to shoulder the blame and the fall-out among his family.  Now, Axel has exhausted thoughts of revenge.  His own goal is to survive his remaining sentence and find the daughter who continues to ignore him.  When the chance comes to escape in the company of Cacho, a young Mexican inmate with ties to a major cartel, Axel takes it, provoking a massive manhunt along the Rio Grande, and sending Axel on an unintended journey of discovery and reckoning many, many years overdue.  This award-winning series has been hailed by critics across the country for its brutal, fast-paced noir style and his insightful character development that elevate these books into something unique.  Publisher’s Weekly gave this series installment a starred review, saying “Blood loyalty, forgiveness, and the consequences of violence all figure in Blake’s outstanding fourth Border Noir featuring the Wolfes . . . Tough, muscular prose complements Blake’s powerful storytelling.”

Black Rock White CityThe winner of the 2016 Miles Franklin Literary Award (Australia’s most prestigious literary award), A.S. Patric’s debut novel is one of those stories that brilliantly shifts focus, telling a huge, epic tale of dispossession and displacement among a whole people, and yet, a beautifully wrought tale of one family’s struggles in an unfamiliar suburbia.  Jovan and Suzana have fled war-torn Sarajevo, having lost their children, their standing as public intellectuals, and their connection to each other. Now working as cleaners in a suburb of Melbourne, they struggle to rebuild their lives under the painful hardships of immigrant life.  During a hot Melbourne summer Jovan’s janitorial work at a hospital is disrupted by mysterious acts of vandalism. But as the attacks become more violent and racially charged, he feels increasingly targeted, and taunted to interpret their meaning. Under tremendous pressure the couple struggle to keep their marriage together, but fear that they may never find peace from the ravages of war.   Dark and devastating at times, this book is also the story of those who continually chose to carry on, and find ways to endure, making it also a story of resilience–and one that is wholly unforgettable.  The Miles Franklin Literary Award Citation reads:  “A fresh and powerful exploration of the immigrant experience and Australian life, Black Rock White City explores the damages of war, the constraints of choice, the possibility of redemptive love and social isolation amid suburbia.”

Eastman Was Here: Alex Gilvarry’s book is a war story set during the Vietnam War, but unlike so many war stories, this one isn’t about a combatant.  Instead, it’s about Alan Eastman, a public intellectual, critic, philanderer, whose wife has taken their children and left, and who is facing an ever-deepening existential crisis.  So when he receives a call from an old professional rival offering him the chance to go to Vietnam to write the definitive account of the end of America’s longest war, Eastman leaps on the opportunity, seeing it as his chance to earn back his wife’s love and his flagging career in one fell swoop.   But instead of the return to form as a pioneering war correspondent that he had hoped for, he finds himself in Saigon, grappling with the same problems he thought he’d left back in New York.  Gilvarry writes with enormous compassion and insight, but he is also always ready to see the humor, both the dark and the absurdly funny, in his characters and his stories, defying the conventional trappings whatever genre into which he writes, and instead presenting a character who is both repellent and fascinating, and providing a story as heartbreaking as it is funny.  The Boston Globe agrees, saying in its review “Gilvarry has given us a portrait of toxic masculinity—one that feels as if it both belongs to a certain time and is still familiar. His Eastman is a riveting, loathsome presence who demands to be loved and remembered.”

Reincarnation Blues: As soon as I read Kirkus Reviewblurb for this book, I was hooked–and plenty of readers and critics alike have been coming up with wonderful praise for Michael Poore’s second novel of life…death…and whatever comes after.  Because in this world, we get a few more tries to get it right.  10,000 more tries, to be exact.  But Milo has been having some trouble, and is now left with only 5 chances left  to earn a place in the cosmic soul. If he doesn’t make the cut, oblivion awaits. But all Milo really wants is to fall forever into the arms of Death. Or Suzie, as he calls her.  More than just Milo’s lover throughout his countless layovers in the Afterlife, Suzie is literally his reason for living—as he dives into one new existence after another, praying for the day he’ll never have to leave her side again.  Every journey from cradle to grave offers Milo more pieces of the great cosmic puzzle—if only he can piece them together in time to finally understand what it means to be part of something bigger than infinity.  Kirkus Reviews is not alone in making the comparison it did when it described this book as “Tales of gods and men akin to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman as penned by a kindred spirit of Douglas Adams”, and the more comparisons are made to those two greats, the more eager I am to dive into Poore’s work!

 

Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

Five Book Friday!

And the beginning of what we all hope is a very happy Labor Holiday Weekend for you all, dear readers!  Just a reminder, we’ll be closed this Saturday and Monday (September 2 and 4) in observation of the holiday, but that still leaves plenty of time to come in and grab a few books to take along on your long-weekend excursions!  Here are a few that have ambled onto our shelves this week and are eager to make your acquaintance!

Glass Houses: Fans of Louise Penny’s Armand Gamache novels will be delighted to hear that his fourth adventure–one that will force the Canadian police inspector to do quite a bit of soul searching.  When a mysterious figure appears in Three Pines one cold November day, Armand Gamache and the rest of the villagers are at first curious. Then wary. Through rain and sleet, the figure stands unmoving, staring ahead.  Gamache suspects the creature has deep roots and a dark purpose. Yet he does nothing, hoping his discretion is the right decision.  But when the figure vanishes overnight and a body is discovered, Gamache struggles with actions he set in motion that bitter November, even as an accused prisoner is brought to trial. As the court case wears on through the sultry summer, Gamache will find his own conscious under intense examination, as well.  This series is a favorite among a number of our patrons (all of whom, clearly, have excellent taste), and they will thus be pleased to know that critics are hailing this book as a triumph of an already sensational series.  Library Journal, for example, gave this book a starred review, noting “The award-winning Penny does not rest on her laurels with this challenging and timely book. Though touched by the evils of the outside world, Three Pines remains a singular place away from time.”

My Absolute DarlingI have to say, whenever I see a Stephen King blurb on the front of a book, I sit up and take notice.  Whenever I heard that the King blurb in question came unsolicited because he just loved the book that much, I consider it a must read.  This is just such a book.  In this stunning debut Gabriel Tallent tells of Turtle Alveston, fourteen trained survivor who roams the woods along the northern California coast. But while her physical world is expansive, her personal one is small and treacherous: Turtle has grown up isolated since the death of her mother, in the thrall of her tortured and charismatic father, Martin. Her social existence is confined to the middle school and to her life with her father–until Turtle meets Jacob, a high-school boy who tells jokes, lives in a big clean house, and looks at Turtle as if she is the sunrise. And for the first time, the larger world begins to come into focus. Motivated by her first experience with real friendship and a teenage crush, Turtle starts to imagine escape, using the very survival skills her father devoted himself to teaching her.  This book has been making some very serious waves, not only for the writing style, but for Tallent’s ability to create a heroine who is unlike any you’ve ever met before.  As Stephen King put it, “The word ‘masterpiece’ has been cheapened by too many blurbs, but My Absolute Darling absolutely is one.”

Rogue heroes : the history of the SAS, Britain’s secret special forces unit that sabotaged the Nazis and changed the nature of war: Britain’s Special Air Service—or SAS—was the brainchild of David Stirling, a young, gadabout aristocrat whose aimlessness in early life belied a remarkable strategic mind. Where most of his colleagues looked at a battlefield map of World War II’s African theater and saw a protracted struggle with Rommel’s desert forces, Stirling saw an opportunity: given a small number of elite, well-trained men, he could parachute behind enemy lines and sabotage their airplanes and war material. Paired with his constitutional opposite, the disciplined martinet Jock Lewes, Stirling assembled a revolutionary fighting force that would upend not just the balance of the war, but the nature of combat itself. He faced no little resistance from those who found his tactics ungentlemanly or beyond the pale, but in the SAS’s remarkable exploits facing the Nazis in the Africa and then on the Continent can be found the seeds of nearly all special forces units that would follow.  This fantastic story of real-life espionage finds an excellent narrator in Ben McIntyre, who has already brought some of the spy world’s best stories to light.  The Boston Globe agrees, calling this work “a thrilling saga, breathtakingly told, full of daring and heroes…One of the many virtues of this volume… is the surprising small asides tucked into these pages, tiny truths that give the book depth along with derring-do.”

Ghost of the Innocent Man: A True Story of Trial and RedemptionIn the summer of 1988, Willie J. Grimes, a gentle spirit with no record of violence, was shocked and devastated to be convicted of first-degree rape and sentenced to life imprisonment. A quarter-century later, Grimes’ was an innocent man, thanks to an investigation spearheaded by his relentless champion, Christine Mumma, a cofounder of North Carolina’s Innocence Inquiry Commission. The  commission, founded in 2006, remains a model organization unlike any other in the country, and one now responsible for a growing number of exonerations.  In this well-researched and equally well-told story, Benjamin Rachlin presents Grimes’ story, the botched evidence and testimony that led to his incarceration, and the quest for the truth that set him free.  Though Rachlin focuses on the details of the case with a precise legal eye, there is also a lot of big-picture commentary on the American criminal justice system that kept and held Grimes unfairly for so long.  Publisher’s Weekly gave this debut work a starred review, praising it as “An absorbing true-crime saga . . . Rachlin’s debut combines a gripping legal drama with a penetrating exposé of the shoddy investigative and trial standards nationwide . . . His narrative offers a moving evocation of faith under duress.”

The Golden House: Salman Rushdie’s newest book is already being hailed as a modern American epic, and drawing comparison’s to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby–a comparison not easily made.  Set during the inauguration of Barack Obama, the story follows Nero Golden, a strangely named, and untraceable enigmatic billionaire who takes up residence in the architectural jewel of “the Gardens,” a cloistered community in New York’s Greenwich Village. The neighborhood is a bubble within a bubble, and the residents are immediately intrigued by the eccentric newcomer and his family.  Golden has brought along his three adult sons, all of whom exhibit elaborate phobias, harbor explosive secrets, and spark with talent.  Our guide to the Goldens’ world is their neighbor René, an ambitious young filmmaker. Researching a movie about the Goldens, he ingratiates himself into their household, diving deep into their mystique, their quarrels, and their reality, even as reality outside begins to shift treacherously.  Critics all agree that Rushdie remains one of the foremost authors of our times, bringing magnificent insight and and an irrepressible love to every story and ever character he creates.  Booklist gave this newest release a starred review, cheering that it is “A ravishingly well-told, deeply knowledgeable, magnificently insightful, and righteously outraged epic which pos­es timeless questions about the human condition.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons, happy reading!

Five Book Friday!

And a very happy Friday to you, dear readers!

There are only a precious handful of days left before “summer” is “officially over”…theoretically and emotionally, if not actually meteorologically.  So we’ll keep it simple today, and simply hope that you have the opportunity to enjoy every last delightful, carefree, memorable moment of summer.  And that you wear sunscreen.  And bring a hat.  And a book–perhaps like one of the ones listed here!

 

See What I Have Done: A huge hit in the UK and Australia, Sarah Schmidt’s  fictionalized study of the Lizzie Borden trial has already caused a lot of feelings among the Library staff.  When her father and step-mother are found brutally murdered on a summer morning in 1892, Lizzie Borden – thirty two years old and still living at home – immediately becomes a suspect. But after a notorious trial, she is found innocent, and no one is ever convicted of the crime.  Meanwhile, others in the claustrophobic Borden household have their own motives and their own stories to tell: Lizzie’s unmarried older sister, a put-upon Irish housemaid, and a boy hired by Lizzie’s uncle to take care of a problem.  Schmidt uses this well-known, but still under-studied trial to ask questions about violence, feminism, and history that has been gaining attention around the world–and been compared to Shirley Jackson, which is some incredible praise.  The Guardian weighed in, as well, noting that “Schmidt’s unusual combination of narrative suppression and splurge makes for a surprising, nastily effective debut.”

Emma in the Night: Wendy Walker’s twisty, dark psychological thriller is sure to have fans of Ruth Ware and Paula Hawkins delighted, and fulfill all your desires for a creepy, jaw-clenching investigation.  One night three years ago, the Tanner sisters disappeared: fifteen-year-old Cass and seventeen-year-old Emma. Three years later, Cass returns, without her sister Emma. Her story is one of kidnapping and betrayal, of a mysterious island where the two were held. But to forensic psychiatrist Dr. Abby Winter, something doesn’t add up. Looking deep within this dysfunctional family Dr. Winter uncovers a life where boundaries were violated and a narcissistic parent held sway–and where one sister’s return might just be the beginning of the crime.  Though Walker’s story is a good-time thriller, she also considers very seriously the effects of mental illness and personalities disorders within families, making this book all the more gripping and unsettling for it’s close description of real-life troubles.  Publisher’s Weekly agrees noting in their starred review of this novel, “In this searing psychological thriller…Walker’s portrayal of the ways in which a narcissistic, self-involved mother can affect her children deepens the plot as it builds to a shocking finale.”

Yesterday: Hailed as “the thriller of the summer”, Felicia Yap’s book is another novel of dark psychological suspense, but this book looks to a future where memory itself is a precious commodity, and class is defined by who gets to remember.  Those on the top are permitted two days worth of memory, while most are afforded only one.   The only way to understand your spouse or your child or your mother is to jog your brain with daily e-diaries. And then imagine someone is murdered. How do you find a killer when all who are involved have their memories constantly reset? Claire and Mark are a surprising mixed-marriage that on the surface seems brilliant. Claire is a conscientious Mono housewife, Mark a novelist-turned-MP Duo on the political rise. But when a woman turns up dead, and she is then revealed to be Mark’s mistress, their perfectly constructed life begins to fall apart.  Yap’s debut changes perspectives with a rare deftness that makes this story richer, rather than more confusing, and she challenges convention and genres with impressive confidence.  Newsweek declared this book “A 2017 literary event”, which, considering how saturated the market on psychological dramas becomes every summer, it quite an impressive statement.

Good Booty: Love and Sex, Black and White, Body and Soul in American Music:  American culture has a soundtrack–from every film, every documentary, every memory that is mass-produced, there is a score to accompany it.  And those songs, almost always, have to do with the body and with sex.  In this fascinating study, Ann Powers explores how popular music became America’s primary erotic art form. Powers takes us from nineteenth-century New Orleans through dance-crazed Jazz Age New York to the teen scream years of mid-twentieth century rock-and-roll to the cutting-edge adventures of today’s web-based pop stars.  In her dizzying tour through American music and gender history, she continually demonstrates how eroticism—not merely sex, but love, bodily freedom, and liberating joy—became entwined within the rhythms and melodies of American song. This cohesion, she reveals, touches the heart of America’s anxieties and hopes about race, feminism, marriage, youth, and freedom, making for a book that will have all fans of pop culture, music, gender, history, and art, sitting up to take notice, and has critics, academics, and artists singing it’s praises.  One such outlet is Library Journal, which gave this book a starred review, noting “With precision and wit, and across multiple musical genres, Powers contextualizes the complicated interplay of gender, sex, and race inherent in popular music within and against the backdrop of America’s puritanical founding.”

Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World: In the wake of the September 11 attacks and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Suzy Hansen, who grew up in an insular conservative town in New Jersey, was enjoying early success as a journalist for a high-profile New York newspaper. Increasingly, though, the disconnect between the chaos of world events and the response at home took on pressing urgency for her. Seeking to understand the Muslim world that had been reduced to scaremongering headlines, she moved to Istanbul.  Hansen arrived in Istanbul with romantic ideas about a mythical city perched between East and West, and with a naive sense of the Islamic world beyond. Over the course of her many years of living in Turkey and traveling in Greece, Egypt, Afghanistan, and Iran, she learned a great deal about these countries and their cultures and histories and politics. But the greatest, most unsettling surprise would be what she learned about her own country–and herself, an American abroad in the era of American decline.  Her memoir is an insightful, deeply moving, and strangely bittersweet tale, not of violence or prejudice, but of heartbreak, pain, and self-discovery, not only for her, but for the nations she considers, as well.  This book is earning not only glowing, but passionate reviews from across the world, with Booklist declaring that “”Hansen’s must-read book makes the argument that Americans, specifically white Americans, are decades overdue in examining and accepting their country’s imperial identity . . . Hansen builds her winning argument by combining personal examination and observation with geopolitical history lessons. She is a fearless patriot, and this is a book for the brave.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

Five Book Friday!

And a very happy 19th Amendment Day!  On this date in 1920, the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted, making it illegal to deny any citizen the right to vote on the basis of sex.  Though it was the culmination of the first wave of feminism in the United States, it was by no means the end of the fight for voting rights–for example, the 19th Amendment did not extend to the US territory of Puerto Rico, and women who could read and write were only allowed to vote in 1929 (the franchise would be extended to all women in Puerto Rico in 1935).  The 19th Amendment also only applied to the Federal government, and many states and citizens took it upon themselves to prevent many from casting their votes.

New York Suffrage Parade, courtesy of The National Archives

Nevertheless, the adoption of the 19th Amendment remains a watershed moment in American history, and the culmination of a grass-roots movement that brought women across the country–indeed, across the world–together to fight for their rights as citizen.

You can learn much more about this history here at the Library.  Or, you could come check out some of these titles that have sprung up onto our shelves this week, and are eager to share this (potentially dreary) weekend with you!

The World Broke in Two: Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster and the Year That Changed Literature:  Willa Cather wrote that the world “broke in two” in 1922 “or thereabouts”–and, speaking in literary terms, she was rather spot-on.  That year, James Joyce published Ulysses, a book that was already having profound effects on the way people thought of the novel.  T.S. Eliot also published The Waste Land, a poem that deals intimately with brokenness.  These works, and the others discussed in Bill Goldstein’s new work, would give structure and definition to the emerging modernist movement.  Though it had begun in the years before the First World War, and developed in the trenches and hospitals by those seeking for a way to describe the indescribable, as Goldstein shows, modernism got its definition and its shape in 1922, thanks to the works, the personal experiences, and the hardships of Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, E. M. Forster, and D. H. Lawrence, all over the span of one seminal year.  But while this book is certainly about literature, it’s also about the lives of these remarkable writers.  As NPR explains, “In letting these four writers speak in their own words―their own witty, gossipy, often waspish words―Goldstein…sacrifices historical sweep and gravitas for something much more grounded and intimate. In his hands, these literary lions prove surprisingly―and bracingly―catty.”

The Amber Shadows: Lucy Ribchester’s second book is an historic, psychological thriller that has critics and readers alike raving.  We open in 1942 at Bletchley Park, where Honey Deschamps sits at her type-x machine, tediously transcribing decrypted signals from the German Army, doing her part to assist the British war effort.  Leningrad is under siege, and some of the world’s most important art work, from paintings to the fabled Amber Room, is in threat of being destroyed.  As reports begin filtering into Bletchley Park about the stolen loot, Honey receives a mysterious package, hand-delivered from a man that she has never seen before who claims that he works at the Park as well. The package is postmarked from Russia, and inside is a small piece of amber. It is just the first of several such packages, and when she examines them together she realizes that someone, relying on her abilities to unravel codes, is trying to tell her something.  Is Honey being tested?  Is someone at Bletchley Park trying to use her?  Or has she unwittingly become a part of something much, much bigger?  Ribchester is a marvel at weaving a suspenseful plot that keeps both the characters and readers on the most perilous of edges, and for all that her book is a send-up of the wartime spy novel, it’s also a beautiful addition to the genre, and earned a ‘Pick of the Month’ rating from Library Journal, calling it “a fascinating historical mystery that explores issues of secrecy, trust, and families but never impedes the element of almost Hitchcockian suspense. A sure-bet for fans of the PBS series The Bletchley Circle, Susan Elia MacNeal’s “Maggie Hope” series, and Rhys Bowen’s In Farleigh Field.”

When the English Fall: Yes, this book is about life after a solar storm initiates the collapse of modern civilization, but the apocalyptic novel has been getting more and more elevated and thought-provoking recently, and this book is far less a science fiction work than it is a study of humanity itself.  When the solar storm began, the Amish community in which Jacob lives was able to endure unaffected.  But as the English (the Amish name for all non-Amish people) in the cities become increasingly desperate, they begin to invade nearby farms, taking whatever they want and unleashing unthinkable violence on the gentle communities.  This book is Jacob’s diary, written as he tries to protect his family from the encroaching, and increasingly violent, strangers, as he wrestles with how to remain peaceful in a world that has grown so alien, and what survival in such times really means.  Critics have been lining up to praise this work, and it’s already been celebrated as one of the best books of 2017, with Kirkus giving it a starred review and praising it as “A standout among post-apocalyptic novels, as simply and perfectly crafted as an Amish quilt or table. Lyrical and weirdly believable.”

North Haven: Sarah Moriarty’s debut novel is set both close to home (on an island off the coast of Maine), but also deals with emotions, loyalties, and heartache that we all know well–what makes this book remarkable, however, is how she spins her tale.  It’s the Fourth of July, and it’s the Willoughbys’ first summer without their parents, in their crumbling house.  When a substantial offer is made on the estate, the two brothers and two sisters are forced to confront issues they had hoped to keep hidden, the secrets that lay scattered throughout their childhood, and the legacy of the parents they only now realize they may never have known at all.  Rich with scenic and personal details, this is a book that will envelope you from the first scene, and linger in your mind even after you’ve left.  Library Journal loved this book, saying in its review,  “A gifted author of singular talent, Moriarty has captured the unbearable rifts of a family under emotional stress. A magnificent debut.”

Goodbye, Vitamin: Another debut dealing with grief, yet Rachel Khong’s work is unique, utterly original–and surprisingly funny despite (and perhaps because of) it’s heavy subject matter.  Freshly disengaged from her fiancé and feeling that life has not turned out quite the way she planned, thirty-year-old Ruth quits her job, leaves town and arrives at her parents’ home to find that situation more complicated than she’d realized. Her father, a prominent history professor, is losing his memory and is only erratically lucid. Ruth’s mother, meanwhile, is lucidly erratic. But as Ruth’s father’s condition intensifies, the comedy in her situation takes hold, gently transforming her all her grief.   Told through Ruth’s diary entries, this book is both an oddball comedy and a poignant picture of families at their best and worst, that has earned rave reviews in publications across the board, from The Wall Street Journal to Entertainment WeeklyBuzzFeed was also among its biggest fans, calling it “one of those rare books that is both devastating and light-hearted, heartfelt and joyful, making it a perfect and unique summer read. Don’t miss it.”

 

As always, beloved patrons, Happy Reading!

Five Book Friday!

And a very happy Friday to you, dear readers!

As you’ll see from today’s Google Doodle, today is the 44th ‘birthday’ of Hip-Hop, a subculture and art movement developed by African-Americans and Puerto Ricans from the South Bronx in New York City.

Learn more at https://www.google.com/doodles/44th-anniversary-of-the-birth-of-hip-hop

On August 11, 1973 DJ Kool Herc was the DJ at his sister’s back-to-school party. He extended the beat of a record by using two record players, isolating the percussion “breaks” by using a mixer to switch between the two records. Herc’s experiments with making music with record players became what we now know as breaking or “scratching“.  His house parties soon gained wider popularity, moving to outdoor venues where more and more guests could hear his unique brand of music–and begin to create their own, establishing culture around hip-hop that not only provided a lot of young people an outlet for their energy and expression, but also gave a number of minority artists a voice to speak on social issues.

If you want to learn more about this fascinating and highly diverse art form, come check out some hip-hop recordings from the Library–or some books on its history and influence!

And speaking of books…here are just a few of the many new titles that sashayed up onto our shelves this week, and are eager to be part of your summer adventures!

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4 Years Old: Any fans of A Man Called Ove should seek this book out immediately.  It’s another book that celebrates longevity, irresistibel humor, and the insight of the…vintage members of our community.  Hendrik Groen may be old, but he is far from dead and isn’t planning to be buried any time soon. Granted, his daily strolls are getting shorter because his legs are no longer willing and he has to visit his doctor more than he’d like. Technically speaking he is…elderly. But surely there is more to life at his age than weak tea and potted geraniums?  So sets out to write a shocking tell-all book about life in his Amsterdam nursing home, including his comrades in the the anarchic Old-But-Not-Dead Club. And when Eefje, Hendrik’s longtime, far-off love, moves in, he sets out to win her once and for all, with heartbreaking and hilarious consequences.  Though there may be some cultural differences between our world and Hendrik’s, as Publisher’s Weekly points out in its review, some things are universal.  As they put it: “Hendrik’s diary gives a dignity and respect to the elderly often overlooked in popular culture, providing readers a look into the importance of friendship and the realities of the senior care system in modern society.”

The Kelloggs: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek: Howard Markel is a medical historian, and since the Kellogg’s started out as homeopathic ‘health reformers’, he is in the perfect position to shed new light on these complex, dynamic…and surprisingly eccentric brothers.  The Kelloggs were of Puritan stock, but turned their back on their considerably large and wealthy) family in order to follow one Ellen Harmon White, a self-proclaimed prophetess, and James White, whose new Seventh-day Adventist theology was based on Christian principles and sound body, mind, and hygiene rules.  The Whites groomed the young John Kellogg for medical school, and together, he and his brother set out to cure the American malady of indigestion, experimenting with wheat, corn, malt, and eventually developing an easy-to-digest product known as “corn flakes” for their patients and consumers.  John Kellogg also opened world-famous Battle Creek Sanitarium medical center, spa, and grand hotel attracted thousands actively pursuing health and well-being.   This book is a fast-paced, well-researched, and highly entertaining trip through a cast of 19th century celebrities, industrialists, policy-makers, and the men who treated their guts.  Kirkus called it “Delightful . . . Markel refreshingly resists the temptation—not resisted by films and novels—to deliver caricatures . . . A superb warts-and-all account of two men whose lives help illuminate the rise of health promotion and the modern food industry.”

Drinks With Dead Poets: Glyn Maxwell is a both an acclaimed poet and a teacher, and this novel allows him to bring all his formidable talents to bear in a fascinating and joyful literary fantasy.  Poet Glyn Maxwell wakes up in a mysterious village one autumn day. He has no idea how he got there―is he dead? In a coma? Dreaming?―but he has a strange feeling there’s a class to teach. And isn’t that the poet Keats wandering down the lane? Why not ask him to give a reading, do a Q and A, hit the pub with the students afterwards?  Soon the whole of the autumn term stretches ahead, with Byron, Yeats and Emily Dickinson, the Brontës, the Brownings, Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, Wilfred Owen, and many more all on their way to give readings in the humble village hall.  Though poetry and Brit-lit lovers are sure to devour this novel, there is plenty in here for those who haven’t discovered–or enjoyed–these authors previously.  It’s a big, beautiful, exuberant book about life, literature, love, and the wonder of teaching that earned a starred review from Booklist, who said “This novel packs so much truth and so many conspicuously educational moments―along with character studies of 12 major nineteenth-century poets and writers―that it defies classification. An intoxicating blend of fiction, memoir, and literary criticism.”

Drunks: An American History: Though the title of Christopher M. Finan’s work sounds flippant, his subject matter–the cultural history of alcoholism and sobriety in the United States–is really quite a serious, and a seriously overlooked, one.  From Native Americans whose interactions with European settlers led to a new and problematic relationship with alcohol to John Adams, who renounced his son Charles for his inebriation, to Carry Nation, who destroyed bars with a hatchet out of fury for what alcohol had done to her family, to Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, who helped each other stay sober and created Alcoholics Anonymous together, this book reframes the American experience as one constantly searching for liberation from vices of its own making.  Well-researched and well-told, this is a book that sheds light on a number of unsing heroes and nearly-forgotten struggles that deserve to be told.  Publisher’s Weekly agrees, calling it “An appropriately harrowing account of booze and its discontents…A worthy treatment of recovery movements in American history, unsung heroes and all.”

Dead on Arrival: If you can stomach any more doomsday-type narratives, Matt Richtel’s newest release is turning a number of heads, and drawing comparisons with Michael Crichton and Stephen King to boot.  The story focuses on Flight 194, which lands in a desolate Colorado airport–and finds that everyone who wasn’t on board appears to be dead.  While they were in the air, a lethal new kind of virus surfaced, threatening mankind’s survival, and now Dr. Lyle Martin, a passenger on Flight 194, and once one of the most sought-after virologists on the planet—is at the center of the investigation.  This is a techno-thriller that not only dazzles with fancy-schmancy locales and high-end gadgets, but also takes into account our own dependence on digital wizardry…and turns it against us in some pretty interesting ways.  It’s earned a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, who enthused, “Richtel grabs his audience by the throat from the start of this intelligent nail-biter.”

Five Book Friday!

And a very happy August to you, beloved patrons!

We may be, meteorologically speaking, in the doldrums, but for those of us who enjoy celebrating all that there is to be celebrated, August is far from a dull month.  Here are just a few of the holidays that you can savor this month:

August 8: National Sneak Some Zucchini On To Your Neighbor’s Porch Day

This is not a joke.  It’s in the Farmer’s Almanac, so clearly, it must be true.  August is high season for zucchini, and some people are lucky to have an over-abundance of the lovely green squashes, which can grow really quite mammoth if not picked, and really don’t store very well.  As a result, Pennsylvanian radio host Tom Roy designated August 8 as a day to off-load some of your zucchini by until the dead of night and quietly creeping up to your neighbors’ front doors, leaving plenty of zucchini for them to enjoy.

August 9: National Book Lover’s Day

This is not a drill.  It’s a whole day to celebrate you–and me–and all of us who measure our lives in pages and chapters.  So get out there and celebrate bibliophiles!  Or, better yet, come into the Library and visit with some treasured volumes!

August 24: National Waffle Day

The first U.S. patent for a waffle iron was issued in the U.S. on August 24, 1869 to Cornelius Swarthout of Troy, New York.  The first recipe for waffles (or, at least, a food recognizable as waffles) was written in the 14th century, so indulge in some history as well as some brunch today, and don’t skimp on the maple syrup!

August 30: National Toasted Marshmallow Day

Sponsored by the National Confectioner’s Association of America, this day is reserved for the blazing glory and the smoky deliciousness that is the toasted marshmallow.  Mind you, it’s not National Smores Day….that’s August 10th.  This day is for the marshmallows alone.

And every day in August is a good day for books!  So let’s take a look at some of the new titles that have paraded onto our shelves this week for your reading pleasure!

The Unwomanly Face of War: Nobel-Prize Winner Svetlana Alexievich’s stellar 1988 book is finally available in translation, and has lost nothing of its power or insight over the years.  Alexievich traveled thousands of miles and visited more than a hundred towns to record the oral histories of women who fought, worked, and served in the Second World War. nurses and doctors, pilots, tank drivers, machine-gunners, and snipers. They battled alongside men, and yet, after the victory, their efforts and sacrifices were forgotten.  In this collection, this symphony of voices reveals a different aspect of the war—the everyday details of life in combat left out of the official histories, and the remarkable, every day women who made history.  This is an incredibly important work, and a huge book for anyone interested in military history, women’s history, human interest stories, and storytelling in general.  The Guardian summed it all up beautifully, calling this book “A monument to courage . . . It would be hard to find a book that feels more important or original. . . . Alexievich’s account of the second world war as seen through the eyes of hundreds of women is an extraordinary thing. . . . Her achievement is as breathtaking as the experiences of these women are awe-inspiring.”

Among the Living and the Dead: A Tale of Exile and Homecoming on the War Roads of Europe: Another fascinating tale of women in the Second World War, this one from Inara Verzemnieks, whose grandmother Livija and her grandmother’s sister, Ausma, were separated when they fled their family farm. They would not see each other again for more than 50 years. Raised by her grandparents in Washington State, Inara grew up among expatriates, scattering smuggled Latvian sand over the coffins of the dead and singing folk songs about a land she had never visited.  When Inara discovered the scarf Livija wore when she left home, this tangible remnant of the past points the way back to the remote village where her family broke apart.  This book is the interwoven story of Grandmother Livija’s life as a refugee, Ausma’s harrowing exile in Siberia under Stalin, and Inara’s quest for her family’s story, all coming together to form a beautiful, haunting tale of resilience, love, and profound loss, not only of one family, but of a nation and a generation.  Booklist called this work “Spellbinding and poetic, this is a moving tribute to the enduring promise of home.”

A Dark So Deadly: Beloved thriller-writer Stuart MacBride is back with a fascinating, fast-paced standalone story of an erstwhile group known as the Misfit Mob. It’s where the Scotland police dump the officers it can’t get rid of, but wants to: the outcasts, the troublemakers, the compromised. Officers like DC Callum MacGregor, lumbered with all the boring go-nowhere cases. So when an ancient mummy turns up at the Oldcastle tip, it’s his job to find out which museum it’s been stolen from.  But when Callum uncovers links between his ancient corpse and three missing young men, life starts to get a lot more interesting. The “real police” already have more cases than they can cope with, so, against everyone’s better judgement, the Misfit Mob are just going to have to manage this one on their own.  No one expects them to succeed, but right now they’re the only thing standing between the killer’s victims and a slow, lingering death. The question is, can they prove everyone wrong before he strikes again? Clever, funny, and full of sensational atmosphere, this is an ideal way for new readers to discover MacBride’s talent.  Library Journal agrees, praising this novel’s  “Wickedly twisty plotting and dazzling displays of black humour”.

The Half-Drowned King: It isn’t often that we get a fiction debut about mythical Vikings, but here one is, and we couldn’t be more excited!  Ragnvald Eysteinsson grew up believing that he would one day take his dead father’s place as chief of his family’s lands. But, sailing home from a raiding trip to Ireland, the young warrior is betrayed and left for dead by men in the pay of his greedy stepfather. Rescued by a fisherman, Ragnvald is determined to have revenge for his stepfather’s betrayal and rescue his beloved sister Svanhild. Meanwhile, Svanhild is desperate to escape the arranged marriage her stepfather organized–but when freedom comes at the hands of her brother’s hatred rival, will she have the courage to take it?  A fascinating adventure with lots of rich characters and deep questions, this is a book for all the adventurers out there seeking new literary lands to explore.  Kirkus Reviews loved this one too, saying in their review “While Hartsuyker’s prose is straightforward, the plot is as deliciously complex as Game of Thrones. And, in an era so dominated by the tales of men, it’s nice to see a complicated, cunning heroine like Svanhild swoop in and steal the show. Hold on to your helms and grab your shields—Hartsuyker is just getting started.”

The Seventh Function of Language: If you, like me, like your literature quirky and insolent, then look no further than Laurent Binet’s newest release.  This book has elements of a Dan Brown caper, but with the French intelligentsia as its cast of characters.  We begin in Paris, 1980, when the literary critic Roland Barthes dies―struck by a laundry van―after lunch with the presidential candidate François Mitterand. The world of letters mourns a tragic accident. But what if it wasn’t an accident at all? What if Barthes was . . . murdered?  Jacques Bayard is the hapless detective sent to investigate the case, who finds himself in search of a lost manuscript by the linguist Roman Jakobson on the mysterious “seventh function of language.”  Filled with secret societies, French philosophy, mayhem, and a love of language, Binet’s story is a bizarre and wonderful adventure that earned as starred and a boxed review from Publisher’s Weekly (no mean feat, that), who called this tale “[A] loving inquiry into 20th-century intellectual history that seamlessly folds historical moments . . . into a brilliant illustration of the possibilities left to the modern novel.”

Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!