Blogging for a Good Book
Amid the anger, confusion, and chaos that reigned in the days following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968, a white priest provided unforeseen direction for a group of young black men. With riots breaking out across the country, Father John Brooks set out to recruit black students to the College of the Holy Cross, an all-male Irish Catholic institution in Worcester, Massachusetts. A theology professor at the time, Brooks had previously been involved in progressive recruitment efforts that yielded little results. He decided the time for discussion and planning was over.
With an enrollment of approximately 2,200 students, Holy Cross typically admitted two black students per year and had eight black students in April 1968. Wanting to bolster that number as soon as possible, Brooks persuaded the president of Holy Cross to authorize Brooks to offer scholarships on the spot to qualified black students, bypassing the lengthy admissions process. As a result, 20 black students entered Holy Cross in the fall of 1968 while Brooks assumed a new role as vice president for academic affairs and dean. Brooks became president of Holy Cross in 1970.
Brady focuses on five of those students and their relationships with Father Brooks and each other. The author draws in readers immediately by recounting where those figures were when King was killed and how that affected them. Brady deftly weaves the common threads of their stories through that event and their experiences on campus. On top of the experiences of adjusting to college life any incoming student has to make and issues associated with discrimination and racism, the specter of the Vietnam War and draft procedures loomed large for these young men.
Solidarity was important for these students even as they dealt with individual issues. Clarence Thomas found himself on a Catholic campus months after he left the seminary, which created problems at home. Ted Wells lost his desire to play football because he felt it detracted too much from his studies. Eddie Jenkins, later drafted by the Miami Dolphins, lost the majority of his first varsity football season after a hepatitis outbreak decimated the team. Basketball player Stan Grayson’s career came to an abrupt end when he suffered a knee injury. Ed Jones struggled as a math major before finding his calling as a writer and switching to English. Through it all, the students learned to lean on Father Brooks and each other.
Long before embarking on successful and influential careers, these men had to navigate campus life at Holy Cross. The formation of a Black Student Union was a key step, and shortly thereafter the BSU lobbied for and was granted a black corridor among student housing. Thomas was the lone dissenter on the issue of a black corridor, although some BSU members avoided the vote. Despite his dissension, Thomas decided to live in the black corridor in a sign of solidarity and later viewed the corridor as a de facto fraternity.
That solidarity was most evident in late 1969 when all but three or four of the 68 black students (41 enrolled in 1969) threatened to drop out of Holy Cross because of what they deemed racist disciplinary action after a protest on campus that included black and white students. After a long few days of campus meetings in which Father Brooks advocated for the BSU position, the president of Holy Cross gave amnesty to all the students disciplined, and all the black students remained in school.
Although Father Brooks did not always agree with the viewpoints of the black students and as president could not grant all their demands, he always had understanding and compassion for how they felt. Through Father Brooks and the students he recruited to Holy Cross, Brady captures not only the events of tumultuous times, but also the breadth and depth of the emotions associated with them.
Check the WRL catalog for Fraternity
Ferragosto: a major Italian holiday, celebrated August 15, that involves an elaborate meal. The majority of the population goes out of town for a few days. (Americans, think “Thanksgiving weekend”)
Pranzo: lunch or dinner
Youth, beauty, materialism, and other facets of contemporary culture permeate the cinema landscape today. Mid-August Lunch (2008), a gem of a movie, is the antithesis of these themes and should not be missed. The storyline is gentle, uncomplicated but rich, and leaves the viewer with considerable substance on which to ponder long after the film is over.
The movie begins with Gianni, a middle-aged man who lives with and cares for his elderly mother in her small apartment in Rome. Gianni inadvertently finds himself providing respite care for three additional elderly women, whose families have gone away on holiday to celebrate Ferragosto. Initially displeased with their disposition, after being dismissed to the care of a complete stranger, the women and Gianni try to make the best of this rather awkward situation. Liberated from the confines of their prescribed roles within their families, the women’s more youthful, true personalities begin to emerge as the afternoon evolves. Later that evening, one of the women confides to Gianni, “We live on memories. Without memories what would you do?” The following day the women and Gianni prepare their own Pranzo di Ferragosto celebration meal, creating new memories for each of these new friends.
Mid-August Lunch is a directorial debut for Italian actor and screenwriter Gianni Di Gregorio who also plays the central character of this film. The calculated simplicity of this story and the cinematography, which features close-ups of the actors, images of the delicious meals prepared, and quintessential scenes of Rome work together to create a rich story. The viewer readily connects with the characters, seeing the individual within each of the women, as well as the caring and generous Gianni. Foreign language film viewers who oppose subtitles should not dismiss this movie. The dialogue is not complex and moves at a comfortable pace; the viewer quickly forgets she is reading subtitles. Charming scenes of the story unfold during the final credits… do not shut the DVD player off too quickly. I urge you to see Mid-August Lunch, and, if you are like me, you will tell your friends and family to do the same.
Check the WRL catalog for Mid-August Lunch (Pranzo di Ferragosto)
Virginia can proudly claim a number of records in United States history — having the first permanent English settlement, the birthplace of eight U.S. Presidents, and the oldest Executive Mansion still occupied by a state governor.
This year marks the bicentennial of Virginia’s Executive Mansion and the beautiful book First House, Two Centuries with Virginia’s First Families tells the interesting history of the mansion. Written by Mary Miley Theobald, the book is published by the Citizen’s Advisory Council for Interpreting and Furnishing the Executive Mansion and the Library of Virginia. It shows how the mansion combines being a historic site and a place for business and receptions, with being a home for the governors and their families.
The story of Virginia’s Executive Mansion actually begins in Williamsburg. During the Revolutionary War, both Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson lived in the former Royal Governor’s Palace. When the British landed in Portsmouth, the legislators decided that Richmond would be a safer location for the Capitol of Virginia. So in May 1780, Jefferson packed up what was left of the Palace’s furnishings and moved to Richmond.
For 32 years Virginia’s governors made due with a neglected house purchased by the state near the new Capitol Building. Finally in 1811 the monies were acquired to build a new house for the governor. The house was completed two years later. Governor James Barbour of Orange County, his wife Lucy, and their three children were the first family to live in the Executive Mansion.
Author Mary Theobald chronicles the house’s story as each governor moves in and adapts and decorates the house to their own needs. The well-used house has endured two fires — the first one during the burning of Richmond in the Civil War and the second one in 1922 when the retiring governor’s 5-year-old son’s sparkler set a Christmas Tree on fire — and several renovations and an addition. The last major renovation of the house was under Governor James Gilmore III (1998-2002). The renovation returned the historic portion of the house to its 1830s appearance while improving mechanical and technology systems and strengthening the structure.
In addition to the chronological narrative, Theobald has chapters on the gardens, distinguished visitors, the First Families and their pets, Christmas, and the staff who work behind the scenes to make the mansion run smoothly.
The book is beautifully designed and has wonderful photos, prints, and engravings. There are also little sidebars of trivia and information that are fun to read, like the story of the painting given to the mansion by Nancy Langhorne Astor, the first female member of the House of Commons, as well as the stories of the mansion’s ghosts.
One of Virginia’s recent First Ladies called the Executive Mansion “a happy house” and that happiness certainly comes across in this book. It doesn’t matter whether you are a Democrat, a Republican or an Independent, any Virginian will find this book fascinating because the story of the Executive Mansion is also the story of Virginia.
Check the WRL catalog for First House, Two Centuries with Virginia’s First Families
Gran Cocina Latina (Great Latina Kitchen) is just that — big, rich, and fun to explore. In over 900 pages this new, award-winning cookbook by restaurateur and food historian Maricel Presilla brings together the diverse cooking traditions of Central and South America and the Spanish-speaking countries of the Caribbean.
Beautifully laid out, with a balance of recipes, background and equipment notes, and photos, cooks and armchair travelers alike will savor this comprehensive collection of recipes from a geographically and culturally “big” region.
Recipes are not arranged by country, but are grouped according to ingredient or type of food. Chapters introduce you to the layers of flavors that make up Latin America cooking. Here you can explore the variety of indigenous ingredients including chilies, squashes, corn, quinoa, beans, and potatoes that dominate the cuisine. You can also learn about the unique types of dishes that come from countries such as Argentina, Peru, Columbia, and Cuba such as empanadas, secos, tamals, ceviche, ollas (soups), moles, and dulce latino (sweets).
So get beyond the familiar Tex Mex tacos, refried beans, and salsa and journey through the complex flavors — but not complex cooking — of Latin America.
Check the WRL catalog for Gran Cocina Latina
This debut novel by Andrea Thalasinos attracted me for two reasons; it was about dogs and another culture that I didn’t know anything about. For me, An Echo Through the Snow was a win-win!
The story alternates between two settings and characters.
In present day Wisconsin, a struggling young woman named Rosalie, rescues a Siberian husky, which profoundly changes the course of her life. As she becomes more involved with dogs and the world of dog sled racing, her future looks brighter despite the odds against her.
Alternately, in 1929, a Siberian Chukchi woman, Jeaantaa, tries to
save her people’s Siberian huskies as the Russians force the Chukchi to give up their traditional lifestyle.
The story lines converge at the end, and I found both to be compelling. The book left me wanting to know more about some of the people in Rosalie’s world, as well as Jeaantaa’s people.
The author has rescued and raised Siberian huskies, and learned how to be a musher training dogs to run a dogsled team, so she knows her subject well. Her research on the little known Chukchi people and the history of the dog breed added to my enjoyment of the story.
Check the WRL catalog for An Echo Through the Snow
King City is more than a comic book, it’s a love letter to all of geekdom. Every drawing overflows with detail, containing little Easter eggs tucked into the background that make readers search each page before turning to the next one. A city setting is naturally dense, and artist/writer Brandon Graham doesn’t let any opportunity pass by to include a sly off-color pun, so everything from signs, graffiti, and character’s t-shirts are used as a canvas for amusement. This cacophony can be distracting, but it makes multiple re-reads an enjoyable requirement.
The story follows Joe, a ninja/spy/thief, who has recently returned to California after a few years away. During those years, he trained to become a Catmaster, and the main tool of his trade is a cat named Earthling whom he carries around in a bucket. But this is no ordinary cat; depending on the injection Joe gives it from a collection of syringes he carries around on his belt, the cat can transform into a variety of tools or weapons. Armed with his feline and his knowledge of the Way of the Cat, Joe travels the city.
Lest one think Joe is an anomaly in an otherwise normal population, we are introduced to a host of other misfits. Pete, Joe’s best friend, is a wrestling mask-wearing petty thief who falls in love with a water-breathing alien woman and embarks on a quest to free her from her captors. Anna, Joe’s ex-girlfriend, paints large and often intricate mustaches on billboard faces. And then there is Anna’s current boyfriend, Max, who is a veteran of the recent Xombie wars and is fighting the drug addiction he picked up in order to cope with his memories.
The artwork could be described as ska-punk manga and it is busy and sometimes manic. The plot twists over itself like a Moebius strip with no pretense of plausibility, so readers shouldn’t get caught up on the hows or whys of some situations while reading this book. Where Joe gets the syringes he needs to inject Earthling and who pays Anna to paint mustaches on billboards are questions that never get answered. There is sex and violence, but they play a secondary role to humor, taking the edge of seriousness off of both. Originally released as a serial, King City doesn’t really lend itself to that format. However, as a book, it is an engrossing experience, though definitely not a quick read. Recommended to readers of comics and humor.
Check the WRL catalog for King City.
A vicious intergalactic war rages on in this epic fantasy vs. sci-fi standoff. The inhabitants of Landfall, the largest planet in the galaxy, bear vestigial wings and are technologically advanced. They have forever been in conflict with the population of Wreath, Landfall’s moon, who have horns like sheep and a mastery of magic. Each side recruits other planets and races to join their side in the battle, constantly expanding the battlefield throughout the universe.
Alana was a Landfall soldier, sent to guard prisoners on the distant planet of Cleave. Marko was a foot solider for Wreath, but surrendered as a conscientious objector and was sent to Cleave. Within twelve hours of meeting each other, Alana and Marko flee together. Their union produces a daughter named Hazel, who serves as occasional narrator to the story, and has both wings and horns.
Treachery such as theirs can’t go unpunished, and soon both sides are tracking the new parents, who want nothing more than a peaceful place to raise their child. The fragility of the new life they have created strengthens their resolve to, somehow, survive. Landfall sends Prince Robot IV, a humanoid with a television set for a head, to bring them to justice while the Wreath military hires a freelance bounty hunter named The Will. For reasons yet unknown, the Wreath side wants Hazel brought back alive. Another bounty hunter, a former lover of The Will, is also sent by the Wreath forces to track down Alana and Marco. Prince Robot IV and The Will are soon at odds, with The Will swearing to destroy his blue-blooded nemesis.
The writing and the artwork for this series successfully contrast the tenderness and intimacy between the parents against the violence of the worlds around them. There are a lot of ideas introduced in this first volume, which can be tricky to maintain, but Brian K. Vaughan is an experienced writer and this volume is a promising beginning. Fiona Staples’s artwork is simple yet striking, and she manages to make several different, distinct alien worlds, bathing the images in contrasting teals and oranges and greens. Recommended for fantasy and science fiction readers, and anyone who enjoys an against-the-odds romance.
Check the WRL catalog for Saga.
If you’ve ever picked up a book by Mike Mignola, author of the Hellboy series, you will know what to expect: a Victorian gothic adventure set against crumbling ruins with elements of steampunk and the supernatural. This is the second book Mignola has co-authored with Christopher Golden. The first, Baltimore, or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire, has also been released as a series of graphic novels that are definitely worth checking out. Both Joe Golem and Baltimore are billed as illustrated novels, which mean the images are less integral to the consumption of the story compared to graphic novels, but they enhance the atmosphere of the narrative.
In this alternative history, New York City is hit in 1925 by several cataclysmic earthquakes, flooding half of the city three stories deep. Wealthy residents who survived the tremors moved up to the higher part of town, called Uptown. The lower, waterlogged Downtown section is often referred to as the Drowning City. Those poorer residents who remain Downtown eke out a living as best they can, navigating the broken, fallen buildings and the canals created between them.
By necessity, residents of the Drowning City are self-reliant, and 14-year old Molly McHugh is certainly a product of her environment. A magician called Felix Orlov, who works under the stage name Orlov the Conjuror, employs her. Orlov is retired from the stage, but still accepts clients interested in his talents as a psychic medium. When a séance goes wrong, Orlov is abducted by strange human-like creatures wearing masks, leaving Molly terrified, but determined to free her friend.
Fleeing from one of the monsters, she runs into Joe Golem, an imposing man built like a boxer, with grey eyes and a stony countenance. Joe knows little of his past, but he and his partner, Simon Church, keep watch on the paranormal activity in the city and they do not like what they have been seeing lately. From here the story takes a decidedly Lovecraftian turn, and Molly has to figure out whom she can trust, and who can best help her free Orlov.
This novel is an enjoyable, quick read. Recommended for fantasy and horror readers, both adult and YA.
Check the WRL catalog for Joe Golem and the Drowning City.
Sometimes it’s good to hit the reset button. Bram Stoker didn’t invent the vampire, but he carved the archetype: a creature of power, terror, and ruthlessness hidden under a veneer of charm. Vampires have been popular recently, both in fiction and movies, but the trend has been to smooth over their edges, making them suave, stylish, even glittery, in a way that doesn’t sit well with many fans of horror.
Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque decided to go back to basics. In Skinner Sweet they re-created the vampire, one who commands visceral fear, not existential angst, who is bloodthirsty, vicious, and brutal. And then they threw in a twist: their vampire would be uniquely American, born and bred in the Wild West. As such, he would not be like any of the vampires that had come before him. Unlike all the European vampires, Sweet is unaffected by exposure to the sun. As the character himself explains “Sometimes, when the blood hits someone new, from somewhere new, it makes something new. With a whole new bag of tricks.”
The first story begins in Nevada, during the construction of the Boulder Dam (now called the Hoover Dam). As the construction expands, so does the vice in nearby Las Vegas. Where there is vice and money, there is blood, and where there’s blood, there’s vampires. Sweet, living under the name Jim Smoke, is running a brothel called the Frontier. In life, Sweet was a murderer and a thief, with a knack for riling up pretty much anyone he interacts with. As a vampire, he’s even worse. When a man turns up drained of every drop of blood after dating one of Sweet’s girls, the law begins to take an interest. But do they have any idea who, or what, they are dealing with?
Pearl Jones, a vampire created by Sweet in Volume 1, is still struggling to come to terms with the consequences of her new life. Desperate to live as normally as possible, she shuns her vampire side, feeding on blood without killing. But she is forever tied to Sweet, and the people who want him dead have decided that she just might hold the key to getting rid of him for good. Pearl, along with her husband Henry, is also featured in a shorter second story in this volume. Although each of the stories has a conclusion, the reader is always somehow left feeling like none of the stories actually end. They are just pieces of a larger narrative that slowly builds with each vignette.
Snyder’s writing ratchets up the tension, and the angularity of Albuquerque’s drawings enhances the sharpness of the vampire’s bite. For the first volume, Snyder approached Stephen King with his idea for Skinner Sweet wanting a forward, but King was so enthused with the character he ended up guest writing the origin story himself, based on Snyder’s outline. If a stamp of approval from one of the biggest American horror writers wasn’t enough, American Vampire won the 2011 Eisner and Harvey Awards for Best New Series. Recommended for fans of horror and westerns.
Check the WRL catalog for American Vampire.
If you asked people what they think of when they hear the term “American mythos” many would undoubtedly call to mind Cowboys and Indians and other aspects of the Wild West, unaware of the vibrant and complex stories and traditions of Southern Folklore. Bayou is a beautifully-rendered Alice in Wonderland-style fairytale set in Mississippi during the Depression. It is a uniquely Southern world, filled with mud and Spanish moss, concurrently embracing and fighting against the legacy of slavery.
The story centers on Lee, a young black girl, who is friends with Lily, the white daughter of the woman who owns the farm where Lee and her father live. Lily is snatched and swallowed by a monster from the bayou, named Cotton-Eyed Joe, and Lee’s father makes a convenient suspect for the local law officers when she is reported missing by her mother. In an effort to get her friend back, and free her father before he gets lynched, Lee follows the monster into the brackish water, and finds herself in an alternate but parallel world. The inhabitants of this world are human-like, but their physical bodies have been replaced by various characters drawn from Southern myths. She meets Bayou, a swamp dweller who, despite his giant stature, is cowed into submission by the Bossman and his lackeys through their brutal enforcement of the law. Despite his fear, Bayou sees the need and determination of Lee to find her friend Lily and decides to help her, although not without trepidation.
Any story that starts with a lynching and exposes the varied responses of people to such brutality isn’t going to pull punches. But what is most chilling about its narrative is that Bayou doesn’t make the humans into caricatures. The people in the normal world are just that: normal. They are all believable products of their time and environments, and that is clearly reflected in the social interactions between the characters. Young and old, black and white, rich and poor, everyone seems to know who is in power and the potential consequences of any action that might upset the current balance. In the parallel world, characters are taken to their extreme with Jim Crows, Golliwogs, and Confederate officer hounds, but it’s the similarities rather than the differences between the two worlds that are most striking.
Bayou’s injections of race, religion, poverty, and the blues contribute to an important and uniquely Southern voice in fantasy and graphic novels. The storyline and imagery can be disturbing and unsettling, but these aspects give meaning and power to the book’s message. Both written and drawn by Jeremy Love, the use of color enhances the atmosphere, bathing the images in deep gold, dusky pink, and brownish-green. Recommended to readers of fantasy, graphic novels, and southern fiction.
Check the WRL catalog for Bayou
I had mentioned to a friend that I hadn’t read any books by Nelson DeMille and she raved over his 1990 novel, The Gold Coast, saying it wasn’t a typical DeMille, but was the best he had written. DeMille has written several detective/espionage thrillers — and The Gold Coast doesn’t follow that type of plot. But being the best? I think that may depend on what you’re looking for in a novel.
John Sutter and his wife, Susan, are comfortable, and perhaps a bit bored, with their life on Long Island’s North Shore, an area “that once held the greatest concentration of wealth and power in America.” They live in the guest house of a 55-room mansion owned by Susan’s parents. While wealthy, they aren’t in the strata of the wealthiest, like their new neighbor, mafia don Frank Bellarosa. But they have respectability, and Frank certainly doesn’t.
Frank does have a certain dangerous appeal, and Susan and John find themselves dining with their neighbor and gradually becoming seduced by the power and charisma of the mafia don.
As John becomes more disenchanted with his “normal” life and superficial friends, he also finds himself making reckless decisions which eventually lead him to representing Frank in criminal proceedings.
There were many parts of this novel that I enjoyed.
I liked the main character, John Sutter. John has a sarcastic wit, which surprisingly doesn’t get him in trouble as often as it should. He gets away with saying what’s on his mind with seemingly no personal regrets.
I enjoyed the exciting courtroom scene toward the end of the book where John has to find where Frank is being arraigned on murder charges. There is a great back-and-forth tension between John and the Attorney General.
My favorite part of the novel is the sense of place. DeMille does a good job describing the mansions on the Gold Coast. And not just the mansions in their former glory, with the recreated libraries and Roman temples, but the reality of the abandoned homes and neglected gardens. DeMille portrays the reactions of the neighbors when these expensive historic homes are sold off for tract housing or bought by foreign investors. It was a fascinating glimpse into an unbelievably wealthy world.
We read this as a recent selection for my book group. Reactions were mixed. Some liked the book for the same reasons I did, others said the plot dragged and they found the characters unlikeable.
DeMille wrote a sequel in 2008, which picks up John, Susan, and Frank’s son Anthony a decade later. We have both The Gold Coast and The Gate House in the library collection.
Check the WRL catalog for The Gold Coast
Check the WRL catalog for sequel, The Gate House
She writes, “Prayer is talking to something or anything with which we seek union.” And whether you believe in the Christian God, or Allah, or Buddha, or Earth Mother, or some other Great Being, simple variations of these prayers cover just about every situation.
It’s hard to describe the writing in this book. It is almost a stream-of-consciousness style – thoughts and insights as well as practical advice about how we can communicate with a higher power, and why it can make us a better person to do it.
Lamott is not preachy, nor does she write exclusively for one religion over another. She doesn’t give steps to follow in order to pray the “right” prayer. Through her examples you realize she is advocating that anything goes as long as the feelings or words come from your heart.
Some thoughts from the author
Praying “Help” means that we ask that Something give us the courage to stop in our tracks right where we are, and turn our fixation away from the Gordian knot of our problems. (p. 40)
“Thanks” can be the recognition that you have been blessed mildly, or with a feeling as intense as despair at the miracle of having been spared. (p. 46)
When we are stunned to the place beyond words, when an aspect of life takes us away from being able to chip away at something until it’s down to a manageable size and then to file it nicely away, when all we can say in response is “Wow,” that’s a prayer. (p. 73)
This is a short book, easily read in one sitting. But I think you’ll find that it is better to take it in small sips. There’s a lot to absorb in these pages. I’d recommend this for discussion with a book group.
Check the WRL catalog for Help, Thanks, Wow
I have found a new series to follow in K.A. Stewart’s Jesse James Dawson novels.
Dawson is a modern day samurai, a black belt in karate. He is a husband, father, and part-time employee for a hip clothing store in the mall. But his most important job, and the one that really doesn’t pay very well, is being part of a loose organization of champions that fight demons to take back someone’s soul. How does a champion win the soul back? By negotiating a trade — take the champion’s soul in exchange for the other person’s — then fight the demon to the death. It goes without saying that the stakes are very high if you lose…
In A Devil in the Details, an aging baseball player, Nelson Kidd, makes a deal to give up his soul if he regains the skills he had as a younger ballplayer. It works, Kidd has a breakthrough season and his team makes it to the championship. But after the winning, Kidd starts to have second thoughts about what he will have to give up. Like most people, he wants to get out of his “deal with the devil.” He knows a friend of a friend who puts him in touch with Dawson.
In the midst of making the negotiations to win back Kidd’s soul… and recovering from injuries received from the previous demon battle… and dealing with the smarmy baseball agent who is trying to discredit him, Dawson learns that some of the other champions, including a close friend, have gone missing. He and all the other champions are put on alert to watch for anything unusual.
So why do it? Why put myself on the line for people I don’t know, and like even less? Because it needs to be done. It’s not even a choice for me.”
The story is fast-paced and grounded in everyday events, not a whole lot of otherworldly happenings. Sure, the demon fighting is pretty paranormal (and his wife is a practicing wiccan), but you won’t see fairies, vampires, or werewolves in this story. I found it really appealing that the good guy might be someone you might see around the neighborhood – or at the mall. Just a regular person who needs to buy his mom a birthday present…
And I didn’t see the plot twist coming. Love it when an author surprises me! Hoping the rest of the series stays true to this form.
Check the WRL catalog for A Devil in the Details
The plot synopsis sounds like the saddest story ever. Lennie and her sister Bailey were abandoned by their mother when both were quite young. They live happily with their quirky grandmother and uncle, believing that one day their mom will wander back into their lives.
Lennie is an introvert and band geek who lives in her vibrant sister’s shadow. She likens herself to the companion pony that walks beside the sleek racehorse to keep it calm before a race. And suddenly Bailey dies.
Lennie thought she was happy walking behind Bailey, letting Bailey make decisions on what to do, and now Lennie is floating through each day without that anchor.
That’s the sad part. And believe me, you’ll need to keep some tissues handy. Why put yourself through that? Because you’ll quickly come to realize Lennie is more than just Bailey’s little sister. She has to work through her grief – and reconnect with friends – and fall in love – and forgive herself for feeling happy again. But that discovery is compelling, I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. Some of it is like watching a train wreck, but it ends in a good place (I promise!).
The coolest thing about this book is the poems and brief memories that Lennie writes on walls, paper cups, homework assignments, books, benches… These memorabilia are described every few chapters, along with where Lennie left them. How cool would it be to find a piece of someone’s life like this? It is so much more honest and revealing than “Lennie was here” or other typical graffiti.
The book is certainly worth waiting on a long hold list for — so if you can’t pick it up right away, keep it in mind once you hear the movie hype.
FYI – the movie option was purchased by Selena Gomez’s production company. The Disney star is set to play the main character, Lennie. I haven’t seen anything that gives more details than the movie is “in development.”
Check the WRL catalog for The Sky is Everywhere
I was looking for something easy to listen to and picked up the YA book Rot & Ruin without really knowing what it was about — except that it was about zombies. I was expecting a pretty typical “run from the monsters” plot and was completely surprised by the sympathy the author evoked for the zombies. Don’t get me wrong, there’s action, plenty of “uh-oh the monsters might catch me” suspense, but I was surprised at who was the real monster.
The world has been changed by a cataclysm – some sort of medical or environmental disaster that caused some people, including Benny’s parents, to turn into zombies. And as people turned to zombies, they infected others until their sheer numbers overran cities large and small…
Groups of survivors gathered in outposts with fences and patrols to keep the zombies out. Most people don’t venture into the “great Rot & Ruin” – the zombie- infested expanse separating the outposts from each other.
That’s the post-apocalyptic world Benny Imura has grown up in. And he hates zombies with a white hot passion. His older brother, Tom, is a zombie hunter, supposedly one of the best. But Benny doubts it. His earliest memory is of Tom running away when his parents were turned to zombies. Benny hasn’t forgiven Tom for not staying to fight.
Benny goes to school and hangs out with friends. But some of Benny’s favorite times are when the “real” zombie hunters like Charlie Pink-eye and the Motor City Hammer tell stories of how they fought zoms in the Rot & Ruin. It sounds so cool when they tell the stories.
In the fall after Benny turns 15 he has to find a job or face having his rations cut. When he runs out of options, he reluctantly approaches his brother about going into the family business. But hunting zombies is not what Benny thought it would be.
There’s depth to this story, as well as lots of nail-biting tension and some really heart-wrenching revelations. Rot & Ruin is the first in a series. I can’t wait to see what happens next to Benny and his friends!
Check the WRL catalog for Rot & Ruin
Check the WRL catalog for the audiobook of Rot & Ruin
It is always interesting when you discover that an author you enjoy for one type of writing also writes in other forms. For many fiction writers, this second form seems to be poetry. Wendell Berry and John Updike, though better known for fiction, are fine poets, and I was pleased to discover while browsing the new books here that Ursula K. Le Guin, whose fiction has been a favorite of mine for years, is also an eloquent poet who has been writing poems for over 50 years. This collection brings together some of Le Guin’s best poetry from 1960-2010.
Like her prose, Le Guin’s poetry is carefully made and reflects a joy in words and ideas. Her poems are precise and crystalline, and there does not seem to be a word used that was not carefully chosen and thoughtfully placed. Le Guin writes equally well about nature (“Wild Oats and Fireweed”) and about the world of the mind (“Learning Latin in Old Age”).
There are some themes that resurface throughout the collection. Loss—of friends and family, places, and abilities—is a recurrent theme, particularly in some of the later poems, but it is balanced by a palpable joy in living that is apparent in even the darkest moments in Le Guin’s verse. The roles of women too are studied here—daughter, wife, lover, mother, Maenad or shepherdess. These are themes that Le Guin has explored in her fiction as well, and it is fascinating to see them here distilled to poetry.
If you only know Ursula K. Le Guin as a fiction writer, you should have a look at these poems as well, and if you are not familiar with her writing at all, the poems here are a fine place to make her acquaintance.
Check the WRL catalog for Finding My Elegy
Irish writer Seamus Heaney is one of my favorite modern poets, and I have also found much to enjoy in the work of some of the earlier 20th century Irish poets, Patrick Kavanagh and Louis MacNeice in particular. So as I was browsing the poetry collection here, I was delighted to come across this anthology of modern Irish poets. I have discovered here a wealth of new writers to read.
There are poems here about the Troubles and about the history of the Irish people, but what mostly strikes me as I read through these poems is the love of language that seems to be the hallmark of all of the poets here. Here is an example:
She pushed the hair out of her eyes with
her free hand and put the bucket down.
The zinc-music of the handle on the rim
Tuned the evening
(from Eavan Boland’s “The Achill Woman”)
I love the phrase “zinc-music.”
I saw magic on a green country road–
That old woman, a bag of sticks her load,
Blackly down to her thin feet a fringed shawl,
A rosary of bone on her horned hand,
(from Michael Harnett’s “Thirteen Sonnets”)
This is a substantial collection with over 900 pages of poems, from over 50 poets. The poems here are all in English, though some were translated from Gaelic, and each poet’s section begins with a short, but thorough introduction to the author and his or her work. If you have any interest in the poetry of Ireland this is a indispensable collection.
Check the WRL catalog for An Anthology of Modern Irish Poetry
I was introduced to Albert Goldbarth through his wonderful poem “Library” (thanks Neil!), that describes what various books have done for and to Goldbarth and others in the course of their existence. It starts off with “This book saved my life” and proceeds through “This is a book of prohibitions; this other, a book of rowdy license. They serve equally to focus the prevalent chaos of our lives” and “This book is guarded around the clock by men in navy serge and golden braiding, carrying very capable guns” to “This book is going to save the world.”
Goldbarth delights in words, and his poems draw the reader into that delight. He also invests his poems with much humor, though these are by no means light verse. The poems here are frequently long, do not rhyme, and often appear dense on the page. But once you get into them, the way Goldbarth plays with language can leave you breathless. He seemingly effortlessly combines personal stories with bits and pieces of facts about everything from the Bible and literature to physics and the natural sciences. He revels in unusual words and made-up words and in “imperfect knowledge.” He can also be pretty blunt about sexuality, as he notes in “The Singing,” “I have (as colleague X once said) an offensively salty mouth.”
Nonetheless, Goldbarth’s poems are worth the effort of close reading. He plays with words the way a good horn player plays with the notes in a jazz tune. You start off thinking you are listening to an old standard, but by the end you see the piece in a new way. Goldbarth’s poetry opens up new vistas and very well may be being read “in 500 years.”
Check the WRL catalog for To Be Read in 500 Years
Two Aprils ago, I wrote about poet Jane Kenyon’s last book, Otherwise. Today’s post is her husband Donald Hall’s moving and powerful collection of poems about Kenyon’s illness, death, and the days and months following, as Hall begins life without her.
Hall is a superb poet, and I have always enjoyed his writing, grounded in the New England granite where Hall lives on his family’s farm. His poems are earthy, substantial pieces, that move easily from the personal to the universal.
The poems in Without reflect Hall’s deep grief over the illness and death of Jane Kenyon: ”Remembered happiness is agony; so is remembered agony” (“Midwinter Letter”). At the same time, they move with grace to explore the necessity of living with that grief, and the possibility of doing so.
These are not easy poems, but no one said that reading poetry (or reading anything else for that matter) should be easy. They are, however, important poems to read as we try to make sense of the human condition, and that is what all of our reading does for us.
Check the WRL catalog for Without
It is poetry month, and this week, Blogging for a Good Book will look at several books of poetry, both anthologies and works of individual poets. We hope that you will take some time this month to read a poem or two. Read them aloud, as poetry is meant to be heard not just read. And if you are ambitious, try to memorize a poem or two: here are some good ones to start with.
Through his Writer’s Almanac programs on public radio, Garrison Keillor has done a great deal to refresh poetry’s place in American letters (at least for those who listen to NPR). His programs each morning conclude with a poem. In selecting his poems, Keillor goes for pieces that express “a little humanity” and that will not send readers away feeling that they have just encountered “a puzzle with no right answers.”
Springing from the Writer’s Almanac, Keillor has edited several anthologies of outstanding poems, old and new. In Good Poems, American Places, Keillor has sought out poems with a strong sense of place; poems that take the reader somewhere, be it Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Central Park (“Retired Ballerinas, Central Park West”), Sarah Freligh’s Tonawanda (“City of Tonawanda Softball Championship”), May Sarton’s “Monticello,” or Donald Hall’s Mt. Kearsarge (“Mt. Kearsarge Shines”). Additionally, there are poems that explore more intimate, private space—the farm fields plowed by Joyce Sutphen’s father (“H”) or John Haag’s resting place of a ’37 Chevy pickup (“Homesteader”).
Keillor has a fine ear for verse, and his selections here represent some of the best American poetry around. The collection includes a mix of well-known writers—Billy Collins, Maxine Kumin, Charles Wright—as well as many poets new to me whose work I look forward to exploring.
America is truly present in this book, in the hard work that is done in the factories and farms, in the constant movement from city to rural land, in the bright lights and dark spaces, and in the births and deaths and the in-betweens of the people in these poems. Good Poems, American Places is a superb collection for anyone interested in poetry or America.
Check the WRL catalog for Good Poems, American Places