Tag Archives: Holidays

Five Book Friday!

We know plenty of people who have had their fill of celebrations over the past month or so, dear readers.  For many of us, the beginning of January is a terrific time to build a pillow fort and snuggle up with a good book and some comfort food.  If, however, you are looking for some fun ways to keep the party going, here are a few suggestions for some quirky national days in January to celebrate.

January 6: National Shortbread Day: Check out the Walker’s Shortbread website for more information, and here for a quick shortbread recipe to try yourself!

January 11: National Milk Day: Said to commemorate the day that  the first milk deliveries in glass bottles began in the United States in 1878, as stated by Alexander Campbell of the New York Dairy Company.  In 1915, The International Association of Milk Inspectors submitted a request, but the day was never officially ratified.  Nevertheless, any day is a good day for a celebration, right?

January 13: National Rubber Duck Day: According to a 1973 Sesame Street calendar, Rubber Duckie’s Birthday is January 13 so around the country it’s National Rubber Ducky Day!

January 14: Ratification Day: Commemorating the ratification of the Treaty of Paris, which ended the American Revolution.  Every year in honor of this day, there is a ceremony at the State House in Annapolis, Maryland where the treaty was signed, and a flag in the design that was displayed at the time of the signing of the Treaty of Paris flies over the State House.

January 21: National Squirrel Appreciation Day: Established by by Christy Hargrove from Asheville, North Carolina on January 21, 2001, because squirrels need some love, too!

And now, on to the books, dear readers!

The Frame-Up: Meghan Scott Molin launches a new mystery series in style in this fun and delightfully nerdy new novel.  MG Martin works as a writer for the comic book company she idolized as a kid. But despite her love of hooded vigilantes, MG prefers her comics stay on the page. But when someone in LA starts recreating crime scenes from her favorite comic book, MG is the LAPD’s best—and only—lead. She recognizes the golden arrow left at the scene as the calling card of her favorite comic book hero. But superheroes aren’t real. Are they?  When too-handsome-for-his-own-good Detective Kildaire asks for her comic book expertise, MG is more than up for the adventure. Unfortunately, MG has a teeny little tendency to not follow rules.  And her off-the-books sleuthing may land her in a world of trouble. Because for every superhero, there is a supervillain. And the villain of her story may be closer than she thinks.  This is a book for mystery lovers and comic book fans alike that earned a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, who called it a “stellar first novel…Molin’s clever humor enhances the inventive plot. Readers will eagerly await the sequel.”

The Big Empty: Stan Jones and Patricia Watts bring the remote beauty of Alaska to life in their mystery series featuring Chukchi police chief Nathan Active.  In this sixth outing, Active is asked to investigate a plane crash by his close friend, Cowboy Decker.  Evie Kavoonah, a young mother-to-be, and her fiancé, Dr. Todd Brenner were flying when their bush plane ran out of gas and hit a ridge, instantly killing them both.  Evie was like a daughter to Cowboy, who trained her to fly, and he insists there’s no way his protégée made a fatal mistake that day. Nathan reluctantly plays along and discovers that Cowboy’s instincts are correct—the malfunction that led to the crash was carefully planned, and several people in the village have motives for targeting the pair.  Meanwhile, Nathan’s wife, Gracie, is pregnant, but so scarred by memories of domestic abuse that she isn’t sure she should have the baby. Nathan must support her and their adopted daughter, Nita, while managing an increasingly complex and dangerous murder case.  Though this is an ongoing series, new readers will find a good amount to enjoy here.  Booklist gave it a favorable review, noting “Jones’s and coauthor Watts’s prose has been called muscular and stark, but it has an inviting, cinematic quality to it as well. A well-constructed mystery recommended for fans of C.J. Box and Craig Johnson.”

Eighteen Below: Another mystery series with a great sense of place, Stefan Ahnhem’s Fabian Risk novels transform the beauty of Sweden into a character in and of itself.  This third book in the series opens on a hot summer’s day, as the police chase a speeding car through the streets of Helsingborg. When they reach the bridge, the driver keeps going straight into the cold, dark waters of the Öresund strait.  The body recovered from the wreck is that of Peter Brise, one of the city’s richest tech entrepreneurs. Fabian Risk and his team are confident this is suicide. Young, rich, successful―Brise just didn’t know how to ask for help. But then the autopsy reveals something unexpected. Brise was already dead when his car crashed. He’d been brutally murdered two months ago. His body frozen in perfect condition, at eighteen degrees below zero…Something doesn’t match up. And when a string of other odd murders and unusual behavior come to light in the area, Fabian Risk takes the case. This is a case that grows darker and darker with each twist, giving Kirkus Reviews cause to cheer, “Hats off to Ahnhem for creating a villain more powerful than the franchise team charged with bringing him in.”

HousegirlThis is a new-to-us book that we’re really excited to feature here today.  Michael Donkor’s work is a moving and unexpectedly funny exploration of friendship and family, as three women forge their way in a complicated world.  Belinda knows how to follow the rules. As a housegirl, she has learned the right way to polish water glasses, to wash and fold a hundred handkerchiefs, and to keep a tight lid on memories of the village she left behind when she came to Kumasi.  Mary is still learning the rules. Eleven-years-old and irrepressible, the young housegirl-in-training is the little sister Belinda never had. Amma has had enough of the rules. A straight-A student at her exclusive London school, she has always been the pride of her Ghanaian parents―until now. Watching their once-confident teenager grow sullen and wayward, they decide that sensible Belinda is the shining example Amma needs.  So Belinda must leave Mary behind as she is summoned from Ghana to London, where she tries to impose order on her unsettling new world. As summer turns to autumn, Belinda and Amma are surprised to discover common ground. But when the cracks in their defenses open up, the secrets they have both been holding tightly threaten to seep out. NPR provided a fascinating review of this novel, explaining, “I hate novels because too often, I know exactly where the story is heading, where the characters are heading. I loved Housegirl because Michael Donkor’s storytelling and character building were so exquisite…Two days after I finished the book, I found myself actually missing [them]. This is a rare accomplishment.”

It Takes Two to Tumble: Cat Sebastian’ historical m/m romances are always an emotional, funny, and clever, and this newest addition to her Seducing the Sedgewicks series is no exception, turning a beloved romance trope on its ear with rare skill.  After an unconventional upbringing, Ben Sedgewick is perfectly content with the quiet, predictable life of a country vicar, free of strife or turmoil. When he’s asked to look after an absent naval captain’s three wild children, he reluctantly agrees, but instantly falls for the hellions. And when their stern but gloriously handsome father arrives, Ben is tempted in ways that make him doubt everything.  Phillip can’t wait to leave England’s shores and be back on his ship, away from the grief that haunts him. But his children have driven off a succession of governesses and tutors and he must set things right. The unexpected presence of the cheerful, adorable vicar sets his world on its head and now he can’t seem to live without Ben’s winning smiles or devastating kisses.  Amidst the turmoil of runaway children, a plot to blackmail Ben’s family, and torturous nights of pleasure, Ben and Phillip must decide if a safe life is worth losing the one thing that makes them come alive.  Booklist gave this title a starred review, noting “Sebastian’s latest elegantly and eloquently written Regency historical… slowly unfolds into an unforgettable love story that manages to be both sweetly romantic and sizzlingly sensual at the same time, demonstrating once again why Sebastian is one of the brightest new stars in the romance genre.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

A Poem for the New Year

The Passing of the Year

By Robert Service (1874-1958)

My glass is filled, my pipe is lit,
My den is all a cosy glow;
And snug before the fire I sit,
And wait to feel the old year go.
I dedicate to solemn thought
Amid my too-unthinking days,
This sober moment, sadly fraught
With much of blame, with little praise.

Old Year! upon the Stage of Time
You stand to bow your last adieu;
A moment, and the prompter’s chime
Will ring the curtain down on you.
Your mien is sad, your step is slow;
You falter as a Sage in pain;
Yet turn, Old Year, before you go,
And face your audience again.

That sphinx-like face, remote, austere,
Let us all read, whate’er the cost:
O Maiden! why that bitter tear?
Is it for dear one you have lost?
Is it for fond illusion gone?
For trusted lover proved untrue?
O sweet girl-face, so sad, so wan
What hath the Old Year meant to you?

And you, O neighbour on my right
So sleek, so prosperously clad!
What see you in that aged wight
That makes your smile so gay and glad?
What opportunity unmissed?
What golden gain, what pride of place?
What splendid hope? O Optimist!
What read you in that withered face?

And You, deep shrinking in the gloom,
What find you in that filmy gaze?
What menace of a tragic doom?
What dark, condemning yesterdays?
What urge to crime, what evil done?
What cold, confronting shape of fear?
O haggard, haunted, hidden One
What see you in the dying year?

And so from face to face I flit,
The countless eyes that stare and stare;
Some are with approbation lit,
And some are shadowed with despair.
Some show a smile and some a frown;
Some joy and hope, some pain and woe:
Enough! Oh, ring the curtain down!
Old weary year! it’s time to go.

My pipe is out, my glass is dry;
My fire is almost ashes too;
But once again, before you go,
And I prepare to meet the New:
Old Year! a parting word that’s true,
For we’ve been comrades, you and I —
I thank God for each day of you;
There! bless you now! Old Year, good-bye!

Teen Takeover! Cozy Stories and Hot Chocolate: The Perfect Pair!

One of the best things to do during the winter months is snuggling up with your favorite blanket, a cup of cocoa, and a good book. Lucky for you we’ve got the best reads picked out matched with a complimentary cup of cocoa!

Trapped by Michael Northrop

The day the blizzard started, no one knew that it was going to keep snowing for a week. That for those in its path, it would become not just a matter of keeping warm, but of staying alive. Scotty and his friends Pete and Jason are among the last seven kids at their high school waiting to get picked up that day, and they soon realize that no one is coming for them. For a chilling adventure we recommend pairing with a hot cup of peppermint hot chocolate!

The Chaos of Standing Still by Jessica Brody

Ryn finds herself trapped in the Denver International Airport on New Year’s Eve thanks to a never-ending blizzard on the one-year anniversary of her best friend’s death, fate literally runs into her, and his name is Xander. When the two accidentally swap phones, Ryn and Xander are thrust into the chaos of an unforgettable all-night adventure, filled with charming and mysterious strangers, a secret New Year’s Eve bash, and a possible Illuminati conspiracy hidden within the Denver airport. This story is full of sweet fluff and a beautiful message of acceptance, moving on, and creating new relationships. Pair with a BIG mug of dark chocolate hot cocoa with an extra scooping of marshmallows!

Let It Snow by John Green & Maureen Johnson & Lauren Myracle

Sparkling white snowdrifts, beautiful presents wrapped in ribbons, and multicolored lights glittering in the night through the falling snow. A Christmas Eve snowstorm transforms one small town into a romantic haven, the kind you see only in movies. Well, kinda. After all, a cold and wet hike from a stranded train through the middle of nowhere would not normally end with a delicious kiss from a charming stranger. And no one would think that a trip to the Waffle House through four feet of snow would lead to love with an old friend. Or that the way back to true love begins with a painfully early morning shift at Starbucks. For stories this sweet and bright we recommend warming up with a orange flavored hot cocoa for a cozy atmosphere.

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on a favorite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. But is Dash that right guy? Or are Dash and Lily only destined to trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations across New York? Could their in-person selves possibly connect as well as their notebook versions? Or will they be a comic mismatch of disastrous proportions? For a whirlwind of excitement and adventure pair this exciting read with some sweet white chocolate hot cocoa topped with whipped cream and sprinkles!

My True Love Gave to Me by Various Authors

If you love holiday stories, holiday movies, made-for-TV-holiday specials, holiday episodes of your favorite sitcoms and, especially, if you love holiday anthologies, you’re going to fall in love with My True Love Gave To Me: Twelve Holiday Stories by twelve bestselling young adult writers, edited by international bestselling author Stephanie Perkins. Whether you enjoy celebrating Christmas or Hanukkah, Winter Solstice or New Year’s there’s something here for everyone. So curl up by the fireplace and get cozy. You have twelve reasons this season to stay indoors and fall in love. With this book we recommend one of the best things you can do during the holidays…invite over friends and family! Get yourself together with friends, set out a hot chocolate bar for guests, and read aloud with each other!

Happy Holidays lovely readers!

 

To find recipes for the hot cocoas and a video on how to make the ultimate hot chocolate bar check out the links below!

The Ultimate Hot Chocolate Bar

Peppermint Hot Chocolate

Dark Chocolate Hot Cocoa

Orange Hot Cocoa

Funfetti Hot Chocolate

 

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!

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!

Welcoming the Spring

“Walpurgis Night, when, according to the belief of millions of people, the devil was abroad – when the graves were opened and the dead came forth and walked. When all evil things of earth and air and water held revel…It took all my philosophy, all the religion I had been taught, all my courage, not to collapse in a paroxysm of fright.”

(Bram Stoker, Dracula’s Guest)

It’s an auspicious time, beloved patrons, especially for those who delight in dark stories, things that go bump (or worse) in the night, and those who believe in the power of the unseen.  Let’s take a look at some of the feasts and holidays being celebrated over the course of this week, and some of the reading you can do to learn more!

Walpurgisnacht

Image result for walpurgaOn the night before the first of May, people in European countries including the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Sweden, Lithuania, Latvia, Finland, and Estonia observe Walpurgisnacht, which is the eve before the Feast of Saint Walpurga (pictured at left), an 8th century British abbess who traveled to what is now Germany as a missionary.  Walgpurga was renowned for her medical abilities, and her abbey in Germany was considered “a center of culture” where people came to learn as well as to seek aid and spiritual guidance.  Following her death in 777, and subsequent  canonization, people prayed to Saint Walpurga to repel the effects of witchcraft on their bodies and their possessions.  On May 1, 870, her relics were relocated to Eichstätt, a town in the Bavarian area of Germany, and local stories note that miraculous cures were reported as her remains traveled along the route.  Over time, the evening before Walpurga’s feast day on May 1 was seen as the night when all the evil in the world had free reign–a time that ended with Walpurga’s Day.

That is why, when Jonathan Harker travels through Hungary to Romania in the opening chapters of Dracula, he sees bonfires burning, and is told to fear the things he may encounter in the darkness during his journey.  For more information on Dracula, and Bram Stoker’s study of the paranormal, the occult, and the superstitions that made up his classic novel–and plenty of other fascinating historical facts, too, check out Jim Steinmeyer’s Who Was Dracula?:  Bram Stoker’s Trail of Blood.

Beltane
Image result for BELTANE
Via North Edinburgh News, Credit: Jon Kendrew

In Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man, the feast of Beltane (traditionally observed on or around May 1) marked the beginning of summer and was when cattle were driven out to the summer pastures. Rituals were performed to protect the cattle, crops and people, and to encourage growth.  Bonfires were lit to protect both the cattle and people from predators–both the animal and the supernatural kind.  Traditionally, all household fires would be extinguished, before being re-lit with sparks and flames from a Beltane fire, so that the house would also be protected, as well. There were also any number of rituals performed to keep the the aos sí, or the fairy folk, happy; from leaving out bowls of milk for them to sip on, to offering sacrifices and presents at fairy forts (areas that were believed to be inhabited by the aos sí, identified by natural oddities like a circle of rocks, trees, or a hill).

Angela Bourke’s The Burning of Bridget Cleary, a Free-For-All favorite, is a sensational historical account of the superstitions and folklore of nineteenth century Ireland.  It also tales the story of Bridget Cleary, the last women to be burned to death on the supposition that she was possessed by fairies.  The case is a fascinating one, that highlights the shifting ways of life in Ireland that was unsettling the population and individual families, as well.  For those looking for fiction, Hannah Kent’s The Good People offers a similar insightful look into the power of superstition and stories on Irish women.  This novel is based on a true account of the death of a child in Ireland in the 1820’s–again, fairy possession was believed to be the cause of the child’s affliction.  Kent’s story is an unsettling, troublingly honest look at life in a rural community, the pain of loss, and the damage of distrust that blends real historical detail with modern day empathy to make for an unforgettable story.

May Day
Image result for may day maypole
Via The Independent UK

In much of the northern hemisphere, May 1 is known as May Day, a traditional spring holiday when winter is officially banished and the promise of a long growing season is welcomed.  Originally a pagan holiday to celebrate the change of seasons, May Day became a secular celebration that was observed by dancing around a May pole.  Nevertheless, plenty of rituals still exist around this day that harken back to the superstitions and supernatural powers of old.  May Day was associated with fears of butter stealing. Cows were safe-guarded by attaching flowers around their heads;  sometimes red ribbons or bits of rowan were tied to their tails. This was believed to offer them protection from the malign glance of those with the evil eye. The churn was especially vulnerable at this time so often similar items or iron objects were placed underneath it.  Similarly, crowns of flowers were woven for children to keep them safe, and flowers were laid on doorsteps to keep the evil eye from falling on one’s house.

The Arrival of Missives

A wonderful book that captures the promise and mystery of May Day is Aliya Whiteley’sThe Arrival of Missives (available through the Boston Public Library). In the aftermath of the Great War, Shirley Fearn dreams of challenging the conventions of rural England, where life is as predictable as the changing of the seasons.  As the village prepares for the annual May Day celebrations, where a new queen will be crowned and the future will be reborn again, Shirley encounters Mr. Tiller, a scarred war veteran, whose arrival in her life will change her world as profoundly as spring changes the world around her.  This dreamy, surprising little story is a perfect read for a lazy spring afternoon.

 

So, happy spring, dear readers, no matter how you chose to celebrate it!

International Women’s Day!

Today we revisit a post from last year that look at the history of International Women’s Day!

New York, 1908

Some sources cite the first ‘Women’s Day’ as taking place in 1908 when 15,000 women marched through the streets of New York in support of shorter hours, better pay and voting rights, but one year later, in 1909, the Socialist Party of America declared a National Women’s Day on Sunday, February 28–the day was specifically chosen to allow even working women to participate (and let’s just remember here that a Socialist party is not a Communist party, and the goals of one are by no means the goals of the other).  And one year after that, and the second International Conference of Working Women. which was held in Copenhagen, Clara Zetkin of Germany suggested an International Women’s Day. The day, as she proposed, would be recognized in every country, to advocate for issues critical to all women.   The next International Women’s Day, in 1911, was recognized by nine countries.

In 1913, the Russian Socialist Party moved the celebration to March 8, the day on which it is still observed today.  During the First World War, women’s work in international pacifist organizations used this day to promote work across borders and above international hostilities to make life better for human people everywhere. Though they didn’t bring the war to an end (though not through lack of trying), in 1917, women in Russian went on strike with a message of “peace and bread”–and four days later, the Tzar abdicated, signaling an end to Russia’s involvement in the First World War.

Bread and Peace Strike, Petrograd, 1917

Though the UN officially recognized IWD in 1975, it hasn’t been a big thing for quite some time…..until, in 2011, President Barack Obama declared March ‘Women’s History Month’, and the nine countries around the world that first celebrated IWD developed national programs to promote education and opportunities for young women.  This year, IWD will be celebrated in the following countries: Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China (for women only), Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar (for women only), Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nepal (for women only), Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zambia.

So what can you do to celebrate?  If you want to go big, pledge to support the equality of human life worldwide by sponsoring universal education and access to fundamental resources.  And then do something about it.  Teach a kid to read.  Donate to a local charity.  Tell a young person in your life, regardless of gender, that their contribution to the world is important.  Listen more.
And then, come into the Library and check out some books that have been selected from around the world for this year’s International Women’s Day!

From London’s Evening Standard:

The Handmaid’s TaleMargaret Atwood:
Set in the near future, Canadian author Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel follows the story of Offred, a young handmaid to a powerful commander, who is a lynchpin in a totalitarian Christian theocracy which has overthrown the United States government. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. What unfolds is a story of female subjugation at the hands of a male dictatorship, and the desperate hope of a young woman who clings to the memories of her former life and identity. As unpleasant as it is brilliant, this cruel and bone-chilling story will stay with your for the rest of your life – not just because it’s terrifying, but because it’s terrifyingly possible. 

From Australia’s Reading Australia:

Lilian’s Story by Kate Grenville:
Lilian Singer was born in 1901, a time when the education of women was considered unnecessary, even dangerous. Intelligent, resilient, and with a burning desire for independence, Lilian rejects the life deemed “acceptable” by society. Instead, she becomes an eccentric – energetic, happy and true to herself. This story is all the more captivating for being inspired by the real-life Bea Miles, a familiar figure to Sydney-dwellers, who lived on the streets and recited Shakespeare in exchange for money.

From TheCultureTrip:

A Woman in the Crossfire : Diaries of the Syrian Revolution by Samar Yazbek
Samar Yazbek’s writing takes many different forms: novels, short stories, cultural criticism and scripts fill her résumé, and she has even been responsible for editing a feminist e-zine, entitled Women of Syria. What unites all of her writing is a deep-seated political and social awareness and engagement with contemporary issues, which she weaves throughout her work. Her most recent work A Woman in the Crossfire: Diaries of the Syrian Revolution (2012) is a brutal account of her involvement in the protests against the Assad regime, before her eventual escape and exile to Paris. The book was awarded the PEN Pinter Prize, awarded yearly to an international writer who has been persecuted for their work.

In a survey by The Guardian on their readers’ favorite books by women:

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
“Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s book Americanah has moved me like no other in recent memory…It’s an honest book about race, identity and the constant longing and nostalgia one feels for this metaphorical place called home…Reading this has made me realise that some of the most powerful narratives in contemporary fiction have been written by young, highly educated female African writers, who are tired of the old clichés frequently bandied around about Africa. Ngozi Adichie is a new, powerful and incredibly talented voice; her novel Americanah is the expression of a different African tale, of a continent and its people that have many more magnetic stories to tell, as well as critiques to raise about the so-called enlightened West.”

From the Center for Southeast Asia Studies:

Soul survivors : stories of women and children in Cambodia by Carol Wagner
Soul Survivors gives voice to women and children in Cambodia who survived the genocide (1975 – 1979), when nearly two million people died from execution, starvation, or disease. Through their detailed personal stories, fourteen people reveal the brutality of Pol Pot’s regime, how they managed to survive, and what it took to rebuild their lives afterward. This new edition is updated and contains recent historical events and an epilog telling what happened to the survivors since the first edition was published in 2002. It also includes information about the two charitable humanitarian organizations (friendshipwithcambodia.org and artinabox.org) the author and photographer were inspired to create to help the poor in Cambodia.

From SugarStreetReview:

Women of Algiers in Their Apartment by Assia Djebar
The elder stateswoman of Francophone literature, Djebar is one of the most distinguished writers in the Arab world, although she herself comes from the Algeria’s significant Berber minority.   Djebar, whose real name is Fatima-Zohra Imalayène, has written about the role and repression of women in Algeria in many of her novels and says “Like so many other Algerian women authors, I write with a sense of urgency against misogyny and regression.” …A number of her novels have also been translated into English from the French, and all are more than deserving of your time. We particularly recommend Women of Algiers in Their Apartment, if you can rustle up a copy from somewhere.

From Msafropolitan:

Part of My Soul Went With Him by Winnie Mandela:
For insight into the life of one of the most revolutionary, African female figures of our times, this semi-autobiographical book is a must read. Winnie has achieved more for Africans, female and male; and for women, of all ethnicities, than others could dream of. Her life is one full of sacrifices, personal and political, and yet one gets the sense that if she were to choose, she would do it all over again. Through the collection of conversations, letters, supplementary speeches and anecdotes, it becomes clear exactly how much in debt we are to her.

In solidarity, readers.  Happy International Women’s Day!