Blogging for a Good Book

A Murder of Magpies, by Judith Flanders

Blogging for a Good Book - Fri, 2015-05-01 02:01

Our week of posts from the Outreach Division continues with this entry, from Ann Marie:

Well, I had the book I was going to write about all picked out but then I read A Murder of Magpies and knew that I had to change my book. A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders is a page-turning, fun and funny mystery set in the publishing world of present-day London.

The heroine of the story is Samantha “Sam” Clair, a single, “middle-aged, middling-ly successful” book editor at the publishing house of Timmins & Ross. The story begins when Sam arrives for work and several strange things happen during her day. The first strange event is when police Inspector Jake Field shows up to speak with her to see if she was expecting a delivery of a package. A bike courier was killed in a hit-and-run accident and his deliveries were missing. Sam’s name was on the courier’s delivery list. Unfortunately Sam has no idea what the missing package could have contained. After a busy day at work, which included playing phone tag with Kit Lovell, one of her authors, the second strange event happens when she arrives home to find out from her neighbors that some workmen tried to access her apartment—workmen Sam didn’t order.

Sam finally gets in contact with Kit Lovell that night. Kit is a gossipy fashion writer whose newest book is an exposé on the death of Spanish fashion designer Rodrigo Alemán and his relationship with the fashion house Vernet. Sam finds out that Kit’s typist might have sent a copy of his manuscript to Sam via the courier who was killed that morning. Kit also discloses that his apartment had been broken into and searched. Kit feels that he is being targeted by someone who wants to stop publication of his book.

The next day, Sam becomes worried when Kit doesn’t show up for a lunch meeting and she grows increasingly frustrated and worried by not being able to get hold of him through the rest of the afternoon. When she still can’t get in touch with him the next day, Sam calls Inspector Field and fills him in on the book, the break-in, and her missing author.  When Inspector Field doesn’t seem very interested in finding her author, Sam decides to do some looking on her own.

It’s all in a day’s work as Sam discovers money laundering schemes, gets pushed down the stairs by someone who broke into her apartment, goes to Paris for a fashion show, and deals with her most successful author’s new book, which seems to need some work in order for it to be another bestseller. Sam gets help in her search for Kit from her glamorous mother, a London tax attorney, Sam’s Goth assistant, Miranda, and even Sam’s reclusive upstairs neighbor, Mr. Rudiger. Also as the investigation goes on, Sam and the Inspector discover that there is definitely romantic chemistry between them. The investigation, though, takes a serious and urgent turn when an unidentified body is pulled from the Thames and until the DNA analysis comes in, the assumption is that the body might be Kit’s.

Sam is comfortable with herself, her job and her life. She’s protective of her friends and while she might be new to the detection business, she’s determined and smart. Fortunately she seems to keep her sense of humor throughout the story and I enjoyed her wise-cracks which she keeps to herself–mostly. I don’t know if there will be more Sam Clair mysteries, but I hope so!

Check the WRL catalog for A Murder of Magpies

Also available in Large Print format


Design Star: Lessons from the New York School of Flower Design, by Michael Gaffney

Blogging for a Good Book - Thu, 2015-04-30 02:01

Eletha continues our week of diverse posts from the WRL Outreach Services division:

Floral design was on my bucket list. Flower arrangements? Why? I love making things—working with my hands keeps me from talking too much. I would spend hours making paper and silk flowers—only to have my flower arrangements look awful. I just could not get my arrangements to look resplendent, dazzling, or gorgeous.

I conquered floral design when I accepted the task of making flower arrangements, corsages, and boutonnieres for a banquet. “Since you make such beautiful flowers, this is the perfect job for you,” the banquet committee members said. However, they did not know floral arrangement was extremely challenging for me.

Design Star: Lessons from the New York School of Flower Design by Michael Gaffney was the solution to my dilemma. In this book, Gaffney demystified the art of arranging flowers. He states: “Putting flowers together in a beautiful way is much like working a Rubik’s Cube; it is a formula to be followed more than an artistic creation.”

This book has easy to understand instructions and formulas that anyone may use to make flawless floral designs. Gaffney teaches the rules of design and gives tricks and tips to make each piece unique. The “6-5-1”, wiring and taping, boutonnieres, corsages, and the triangle design lessons were lifesavers. These lessons allowed me to create everything with ease. If you want to make beautiful floral arrangements, read Gaffney’s book. This book has something for everyone from the novice to the professional florist.

Check the WRL catalog for Design Star


The Ship of Brides, by Jojo Moyes

Blogging for a Good Book - Wed, 2015-04-29 01:01

Barbara continues our week of posts from WRL’s Outreach Services Division:

At the end of the Second World War there were many Australian war brides waiting to be reunited with their new British husbands. JoJo Moyes’s newest book, The Ship of Brides, chronicles the fictionalized journey. Based on the HMS Victoria’s 1946 passage from Sydney, Australia to Plymouth, England, the 650 female passengers, expecting transport via more luxurious accommodations, find themselves aboard a naval aircraft carrier, complete with planes, arms, and naval officers, heading towards their new life.

The four central characters of the story could not be more different: Jean, a teenager; Avice, a socialite; Frances, a former war nurse; and Margaret, a pregnant farm girl. This foursome, assigned to the same berth, is suddenly thrust together in intimate living quarters and faces the long, six-week voyage to their new lives. Add all-male officers and ship crew to the mix, along with a small group of WSO (Women’s Ship Officers) sent to chaperone the War Brides, and you have an interesting setting to explore the trials and tribulations faced by the temporary residents aboard the HMS Victoria. As with all groups of strangers, each individual brings his or her past, gradually revealed as their time together elapses.

Excerpts from newspaper articles, journal entries, ship’s logs, and other documents provide historical grounding for this fictionalized account of a true event. I recommend The Ship of Brides as a book group selection. The story provides a glimpse into the war brides’ anticipatory journey, filled with the hopes, dreams, and fears in a world yet unknown to them.

Check the WRL catalog for The Ship of Brides


The Harbinger, by Jonathan Cahn

Blogging for a Good Book - Tue, 2015-04-28 01:01

Next  up in this week from our Outreach Division, is Chris:

“The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones: the sycamores are cut down, but we will change them into cedars” Isaiah 9:10

Although Jonathan Cahn’s The Harbinger is a work of fiction, it has real life connections. From 9/11 to the leading up of The Great Recession the author shows a connection between ancient Israel to a present day warning of coming destruction to America. The author stresses that before God judges a nation, He will send a warning. However, just like ancient Israel, America has not responded with repentance, but defiance which is the focus of the scripture that man has taken out of context (Isaiah 9:10)

In Cahn’s tale, a mysterious stranger who I can only assume is an angel gives a man nine harbingers.  These are the same harbingers or warnings that were given to ancient Israel before its final destruction by the Assyrians and makes a parallel between each and the events of 9/11. At some point you will put this book down and open the bible, visit your library or search the internet for more information. I still remember the first time I had to step away from this book for a day or two, when I saw numerous videos of our past and current politicians quoting a scripture with no understanding of its true meaning. After the attacks of 9/11 the politicians said, “The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones: the sycamores are cut down, but we will change them into cedars.” Fiction mirrors reality, forcing us to think about the possibility of Cahn’s story coming to pass.

Check the WRL catalog for The Harbinger


Flight of the Sparrow: a Novel of Early America, by Amy Belding Brown

Blogging for a Good Book - Mon, 2015-04-27 01:01

Connie begins a week of posts from our Outreach Division:

I’m not sure why I picked up this book to read. I like historical fiction but I was never very interested in the Puritan era. The subtitle “A Novel of Early America” and the fact that the story was loosely based on a captive narrative written by Mary Rowlandson did catch my attention.

Mary Rowlandson, a Massachusetts Bay Colony Puritan, was captured by a local Native American tribe during King Philip’s War. As a slave, her story intersects with James Printer, a Nipmuc Indian who was raised in the Puritan culture, and apprenticed as a printer. James Printer belonged to a group of Native Americans who had converted to Christianity and were known as “Praying Indians.”

I found the story mesmerizing and along with the author’s note and reader’s guide at the end, I learned more about the Puritans, Native Americans and life in Colonial America. Without giving any more of the storyline away, this fast paced and compelling book made learning about a sad and difficult period of Native American and colonial history interesting. I would recommend this book to people who like to learn about other cultures and ways of life, as well as people interested in history. I think it would make an interesting book group choice as well.

Check the WRL catalog for Flight of the Sparrow


Inside the O’Briens, by Lisa Genova

Blogging for a Good Book - Fri, 2015-04-24 02:01

The O’Briens are an ordinary Boston family. Catholics of Irish descent, they have Sunday supper together every week, and the four early-twenties children still live in their parents’ house. The father, Joe, is a life-long, dedicated Boston cop while mother Rosie raised the children and now works part-time. Into this steady but satisfying existence is thrown deadly, hereditary, debilitating, degenerative Huntington’s Disease.

Lisa Genova’s many fans will be thrilled to learn that she is back with another dramatic and wrenching tale of a family battling a disease. Like Genova’s first book, Still Alice, with its portrait of early onset Alzheimer’s Disease, the disease portrayed here is entirely inherited. Children have a fifty percent chance of inheriting the genes from a gene-positive parent, but gene-positive people will always develop the disease. It is a cruel disease that some people don’t know they have until they get symptoms in their forties.

Huntington’s Disease drives the plot of Inside the O’Briens, but the deeper story is the love, strength and resilience of the O’Brien family. Keep the tissues handy for scenes when Joe is painfully aware of his own disintegration, such as when he stops being able to hug his wife because his chorea (involuntary movements) mean that he might hurt her.

Inside the O’Briens is a must-read for fans of Lisa Genova’s earlier books such as Left Neglected, as well as other compelling, but wrenching, family stories such as The Light Between Oceans.

Check the WRL catalog for Inside the O’Briens.


In These Times: Living in Britain Through Napoleon’s Wars, 1793-1815, by Jenny Uglow

Blogging for a Good Book - Thu, 2015-04-23 01:01

Big social histories can seem forbidding with their blocks of print, lots of footnotes, and, too often, turgid writing style. In the hands of Jenny Uglow, though, history is anything but pedantic. I have been a fan of Uglow’s history writing since I read The Lunar Men, a collective biography of five men who, as Uglow posits, were “the inventors of the modern world, 1730-1810.” Here, Uglow brings her fluid writing style and attention to detail to the lives of the inhabitants of the Great Britain at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries.

In many ways, these times do not seem so far removed from our own, as social unrest, sectarian violence, fear of war and invasion, and income inequality set the tone. Napoleon’s military successes on the European continent led to his increasing power in France and heightened fears that his next target would be the English coast. Uprisings in Ireland only exacerbated these fears. Food shortages across England left many starving and taxation to pay for the war proved unpopular, leading to civil unrest that in light of the recent deposition and execution of Louis XVI left King George concerned not only for his crown but for his neck.

In telling these stories, Uglow moves easily and with mastery from the general to the specific. She makes exceptional use of diaries, letters, and journal entries to indicate how individuals responded to circumstances and then puts those reactions into the broader picture.

With the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo coming in June, anyone interested in the Napoleonic period will find something to enjoy here.

Check the WRL catalog for In These Times.


River of Darkness, by Rennie Airth

Blogging for a Good Book - Wed, 2015-04-22 02:01

This is a mystery which will appeal to fans of Charles Todd’s detective Ian Rutledge. Like Rutledge, the main character, John Madden, is a Scotland Yard detective struggling with shell shock in the aftermath of World War I. He is called to a small village in Surrey where an entire family has been murdered.

As he works with local police, he is bothered by the meticulous planning that appears to have gone into the massacre and starts to suspect that this is not the killer’s first murder. With help from the local police constable, the comely female village doctor, and an Austrian psychologist, Madden slowly develops a portrait of the suspect: a former soldier and psychopath who is escalating at an alarming rate. He has his next victim picked out, and Madden’s challenge is to find out who and where before it’s too late.

Although comparisons to Rutledge will probably draw Charles Todd’s readers to this title, there are major differences. Madden’s demons are a little more straightforward than Rutledge’s, and the overall atmosphere is more optimistic. Airth allows healing and happiness to dangle within his protagonist’s reach, whereas Rutledge’s fans often wonder when his creator is going to give him a break already.

The psychological aspects will also appeal to fans of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series.

Check the WRL catalog for River of Darkness


Flora & Ulysses, by Kate DiCamillo

Blogging for a Good Book - Tue, 2015-04-21 01:01

Nancy from Circulation shares a review of this 2014 Newbery Award winner:

Flora Belle Buckman, the comic-reading cynic, rescues a squirrel after an accident in the neighbor’s backyard involving a seemingly possessed super-suction, multi-terrain 2000X vacuum cleaner. The altercation leaves the squirrel, later named Ulysses, with astonishing powers of strength, flight, and a poetic awakening. The story tells of the summer adventures had by these two in attempting to prove the special powers of Ulysses, while also touching on such topics as divorce, step-parent relations, and children’s fears of abandonment.

I found this type of fantasy to have an interesting approach to how a young girl deals with the strange and sometimes difficult circumstances of her life, in particular those dictated by the adults around her. This fantasy tale includes a typewriting superhero squirrel, a nerdy and needy neighbor kid named William Spiver, and a young girl who in times of trouble seeks guidance from her one source of truth and justice, the comic book The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incandesto!

This book was a fun read. There are sections where the narrative goes into comic book style, with the verbiage sounding much like a superhero adventure story. It includes terms such as “Holy unanticipated occurrences!” and, ever so popular with both Flora and her father, “Holy bagumba!” The illustrations support this comic style by including some pages with comic book block storyline sequences and inner monologues of the squirrel in “super hero” mode. Flora makes many references to the Incandesto comic book, in particular the answer to all dilemmas section, TERRIBLE THINGS CAN HAPPEN TO YOU.  I found it interesting how the main character, Flora, being the cynic she was, was able to rationalize the events of the moment by comparing them to the adventures of Incandesto, and thus her actions made perfect sense—at least to her.

Recommended for readers ages 8-12.

Check the WRL catalog for Flora and Ulysses.


The Death of Caesar, by Barry Strauss

Blogging for a Good Book - Mon, 2015-04-20 01:01

Strange that on a fine afternoon I’m thinking of death. Especially the death that killed whatever hope remained of a free Roman Republic—not that much hope existed. Julius Caesar had crossed the Rubicon, civil war wracked Rome, and the provinces were restive under the thumbs of local governors bent on earning glory on the backs of the locals. Caesar’s hollow gestures gave the discontented Senate little public reason to oppose him. He had the power to elevate or destroy the ambitious, he controlled both the public purse and a private fortune, and he was insulated by the support of his troops.

And so, over the course of a few weeks, senators conspired (I love that word—it literally means breathed together, conjuring up images of whispering figures close enough to smell each other’s breath) to test the waters and find the like-minded who believed Caesar had to go in order for the Republic—that is, the already-powerful—to rule. And on the Ides of March, gathered in the Theatre of Pompey, the conspirators struck.

Shakespeare’s famous scene compresses events that actually took place over a period of weeks as ordinary Romans tried to figure out which faction was either in the right or stood the best chance of winning the civil war everyone saw coming. Gladiators served as bodyguards for the conspirators, while army veterans swarmed into the city to ensure their land and pensions weren’t at risk. Both sides sculpted their public events to create drama and win support, but in the end it came down to money. Who could both fulfill Caesar’s will and pay the troops who would fight the actual battles?

Strauss pulls out of the wings a number of characters who are not featured in Shakespeare’s version. One of the most interesting is named Decimus, whom Shakespeare cast in a minor role as Decius Brutus. In fact, he was one of a trio—Marc Antony and Octavian being the other two—honored in one of Caesar’s triumphs, and was widely considered a rising star. It was Decimus, not Brutus, whose betrayal was more likely to have shocked Caesar, and Decimus whose post-assassination indecisiveness cost the conspirators their opportunities. Strauss also introduces us to the politically powerful women who pushed, pulled, financed, and slept their way to positions of influence. Far from the passive skirt-clutching simps that popular imagination consigns pre-Friedan women to, these were tough, astute players who had a vision of Rome’s future and who did all but carry swords into the battle.

Shakespeare can take credit for making this the most famous assassination in history, and his drama explores deeper themes than are found in the history. But the history is fascinating, and Strauss makes it read as a drama just as wonderful as Shakespeare’s.

Check the WRL catalog for The Death of Caesar.


The Williamsburg Novels, by Elswyth Thane

Blogging for a Good Book - Fri, 2015-04-17 01:01

If you’ve already read the Williamsburg series, you can have a good laugh at this cover, which has a very noir, “Philip Marlowe in Colonial Williamsburg” feel that is completely unlike the actual novels. (Let me take a moment to picture Humphrey Bogart in a tricorn hat… OK, moving on.)

Elswyth Thane’s old-fashioned family saga begins in our own home town of Williamsburg in 1771. Julian Day, a schoolmaster newly arrived from England, is a staunch defender of King George, but befriends St. John Sprague despite his views on colonial independence. As revolution approaches, Day’s loyalties conflict with his friendships, including one with Tabitha “Tibby” Mawes, a young girl he helps to raise from poverty to gentility. That’s right: they are enemies “even in love!”

May-December romances are a recurring theme of this series, so it’s not much of a spoiler to say that Tibby and Julian become the matriarch and patriarch of a family which the novels follow for generations. Jeffrey Archer’s Clifton Chronicles, Ken Follett’s Century trilogy, and Jane Smiley’s “Last Hundred Years” trilogy seem to be leading a return of great, multigenerational sagas, those books with family trees on the endpapers to help you remember the cast of characters. Elswyth Thane was there first, and her seven-volume series follows the entangled Day, Sprague, Murray, and Campion families on both sides of the Atlantic, from the American Revolution to the early days of WWII. (At the time Thane was writing, this was recent history.)

Genteel, involving stories, these novels are gentle reads: there is love and war, but not sex or violence. Their age (or mine) shows in places; the Civil War-era episodes have a Margaret Mitchell-like nostalgia for Southern plantation life that is not concerned with the system of slavery on which it was based. My favorite, Ever After, takes place during the Spanish American War and covers every highlight of romance and melodrama that one might wish: War! Journalism! Malaria! A locket hiding a portrait of a forbidden love! When I picked it up after a decades-long gap, I expected to find it less readable, but hours later I was still sitting in the same armchair, caught up all over again in doomed romance and tearful deathbed goodbyes.

Check the WRL catalog for Dawn’s Early Light.

The series continues with Yankee Stranger, Ever After, The Light Heart, Kissing Kin , This Was Tomorrow, and Homing.


Hausfrau, by Jill Alexander Essbaum

Blogging for a Good Book - Thu, 2015-04-16 07:01
Poet Jill Alexander Essbaum transits into the fiction genre with the precision of Swiss clocks and indeed Swiss trains — ushering in a new Madame Bovary, an Anna Karenina for the 21st century. Her name is Anna Benz, and she lives in Zürich with the Swiss banker she met in America. “It’s not just an adage, it’s an absolute fact: Swiss trains run on time.” Anna doesn’t know how to drive her family’s car. She barely knows a soul beyond her mother-in-law, three children, and a few acquaintances; she maintains no contact with American relatives. Anna barely speaks German, endures life with no fire of spirit, and performs her duties as spouse and parent through unvaried routine, weekly circuiting her usual shopping points. Following initial bewilderment nine years ago, she has mastery over the intricacies of Zürich’s rail network. The author shows us Anna’s clumsiness occasionally, making her so real. She dresses impeccably, even fashionably— her clothes seem to me like an attempt at self-preservation–yet usually has no place to go, no plans, no one to see. Anna was a good wife, mostly. Anna has slipped into infidelity, incapable of suppressing the least suggestion by each man in a series of extramarital trysts. She fails to sever these liaisons against her better wisdom. Erotic reverie is a drug that distracts and pacifies her. The narration gradually reveals Anna’s mind, what she’s read, heard or wonders, her moods, her perception of others’ moods. Essbaum invites us into Anna’s hollow soul where we are initially uncomfortable yet intrigued, appalled yet sorrowed, anxious yet horrified at her inability to accept, embrace, or even experience a life many might feel grateful to live. Clearly, Anna withholds details from her Jungian analyst Doktor Messerli; yet, the reader glimpses truth in Anna’s actions, in a diary entry: The utter sameness just drags on….I am beholden to my own peculiar irony: to survive I self-destruct…. Anna’s insightful internal voice show her to be intelligent, discerning, never oblivious yet she finds no will to extricate herself. Then, Anna remarkably makes a genuine female friend. Mary represents for Anna an unexpected opportunity to confide in someone trustworthy, to explore possibilities, but does she avail of it? The accurate phrasing of painful emotions will have many readers relating easily to Anna’s psyche despite the fact that they’ll wish to shake Anna into shaping up and reviving herself from the mess she’s made. I absolutely loved its style of presentation, and its use of Swiss words intrigued me and enhanced the setting. Once you read the end, you realize how exquisitely tuned the poet author has made it and immediately return to the first page and begin it again, with Anna. I look forward to more good things to come from Jill Alexander Essbaum. Check the WRL catalog for Hausfrau

Resume Empower: Shattering the Paper Ceiling, by Tom Washington

Blogging for a Good Book - Wed, 2015-04-15 01:01

Whether you’re new to job hunting, or you have been searching a while, you will definitely need a resume. That much is well-known; the next step may not be so easy, but we can help! Williamsburg Regional Library has an extensive collection of books and instructional DVDs to help get you started on your resume or polish up your existing document. General purpose books like Resume Empower: Shattering the Paper Ceiling cover lots of standard advice like having multiple resumes prepared for the multiple jobs that you apply for. Others are geared towards specific careers such as Expert Resumes for Teachers and Educators, by Wendy S. Enelow or specific situations such as McGraw-Hill’s Resumes for the 50+ Job Hunter.

Did you know we also offer a list of local employers, computer classes and events to help you in your job search? If you didn’t know this – today’s post will help you learn about it!

On April 21, 2015 Ed Joyner from Colonial Williamsburg is coming to the Williamsburg Library Theatre to tell the public about the hiring process from a Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Recruiter’s perspective, sign up early for this extremely useful and entertaining event. We have several other financial literacy events next week for Money Smart Week, including investing and applying for financial aid.

Searching and applying for jobs can be a daunting and lonely task, but remember Williamsburg Regional Library is here to help!

Check the WRL catalog for Resume Empower.

Check the WRL catalog for Expert Resumes for Teachers and Educators.

Check the WRL catalog for Resumes for the 50+ Job Hunter.

Check the WRL catalog for an instructional DVD about job hunting  Effective Resumes and Job Applications.

To ask about these or if you have any questions call us on 259-4050 or stop by the Adult Services desk.


The Antagonist, by Lynn Coady

Blogging for a Good Book - Tue, 2015-04-14 01:01

Gordon “Rank” Rankin, Jr., is incensed when he starts to read a novel by a college friend, Adam Grix, whom he hasn’t seen in twenty years, and finds himself unmistakably but very imperfectly portrayed in the novel. He sits down at his computer and fires off email after angry email to his old friend, over a three month period, trying to set the record straight, trying to put into words the events of his life that led to the fateful night in their second year of college when Rank left their circle of friends and never went back.

Rank is particularly incensed that Adam mentions, in the early part of his novel, that the character’s mother had died. “It did nothing,” Rank writes to Adam. “[i]t was just a thing that had happened to this guy – his mom died, by the way. Background information. It’s mentioned once and never again.” Rank is furious that his mother’s death could be portrayed as no big deal.

Rank was always big. His size led those around him to see him more as an intimidating physical presence than as a deeply thinking, caring soul. When he was young, everyone perceived him to be older. Inside the body of a man, his teenage self hadn’t matured into someone who could stand up to those who wanted to use his bulk for their own purposes. His “tiny screaming lunatic” father, hopping around and complaining about the “punks” who frequented his Icy Dream ice cream parlor, got Rank to intimidate older classmates who would, simply by being teenagers, scare off family type clientele.

One of Rank’s punches in the Icy Dream parking lot, when Rank was fifteen, resulted in brain damage to a “smart-ass town punk” he’d known all his life. That moment, when Rank heard the sound of Mike Croft’s head crack against the pavement, was the beginning, he realized later, when the gods started messing with him. His life became like the board game from the seventies, Mouse Trap, where a “series of random plastic doodads” were “set up to interact with one another in frankly stupid and unlikely ways (the boot kicks the bucket, out of which falls the ball, which rolls down the ramp), and at the end of this rickety and dubious process, down comes the mousetrap.”

Rank’s emails to Adam are at times hilarious, but often, and in the long run, downright heart-breaking. Rank can’t escape his body and can’t escape how people react to his bulk. He gets a hockey scholarship to college – based on his bulk and on a letter from his high school coach and social worker, Owen Findlay, the social worker assigned to him after he busted Mike Croft’s head – and still his life seems scripted by uncaring gods playing around to see what he would do. He feels forced to give up that scholarship when he’s asked to butt heads with the opposing team; he will not relive the experience with Croft. He falls in with a group of friends — geeky, frail Adam in particular — with whom he shares stories from his life. He tells Adam about Mike Croft, about his mean little father, about his mother and about her death. He now writes to Adam: “I pulled off hank after bloody hank of flesh and just handed them over and you were so coy, you averted your eyes and pretended to be embarrassed like the rest of them when really you were squirreling away all those hanks and secretly stitching them together and building Frankenstein’s monster.”

We never read what Adam writes back to Rank, but we know he stops replying soon after Rank starts. It’s okay, though. We let Rank write his life’s story to his once-friend, and read the “bloody hanks of flesh” that make up his life. Rank gets it all out, all the anger, all the history. It’s tempered with love, but you don’t notice it until you’re finished and you sit there stunned and almost in tears.

I listened to this book as an audiobook download. The narrator, Macleod Andrews, is a perfect reader for the book. The book itself lacks some of the normal punctuation one would normally expect in a novel, but this is a series of emails – relatively well-punctuated and correctly-spelled emails — but still emails where the tense and voice may change depending on the tone. On second listening, and in skimming the text, I have to say this has become one of my favorite books of all time. It’s probably one of the most entertaining and raw portrayals of a character I’ve ever encountered.

Check the WRL catalog for The Antagonist (Book) and OneClickDigital The Antagonist (Downloadable Audiobook).


Three Minutes in Poland: Discovering a Lost World in a 1938 Family Film, by Glenn Kurtz

Blogging for a Good Book - Mon, 2015-04-13 01:01

This is a powerful history. It is a story of survival, loss, atrocity, renewal, guilt, luck, sadness, and hope. Three Minutes in Poland is a painstakingly-researched book that grew out of a home movie made by David Kurtz, the author’s grandfather. In 2009, Glenn Kurtz happened upon the movie in a family closet. Having emigrated to the United States years before, David, his wife, and friends toured Europe in 1938, just before the outbreak of World War II. David Kurtz, with his 16 mm movie camera, sporadically recorded the excursion, including three minutes documenting a small Polish town from which the family had come.

The significance of those three minutes in 1938 was immediately clear to the author. Within a year the Holocaust had started. By 1942 most of the 3000 Jews from the town had been murdered. This short record offered a rare pre-war snapshot of the Jews of Poland, happy and thriving. With unrelenting determination, Glenn Kurtz undertook a project to identify the faces captured in his grandfather’s home movie. He wanted to learn more about the small town, what it meant to his grandfather, his extended family, and the Jews who lived there. Kurtz’s book not only chronicles that research, it brings to life again some of the lost souls who died during the Holocaust.

In writing this book Kurtz traveled around the globe. He followed leads throughout North America and made friends and discoveries in Israel, Poland, and England. Despite how few people survived, Kurtz assembled an extensive network to identify and interview individuals with first-hand knowledge of the town and its people. He focused on the survivors to reconstruct this town documented in his grandfather’s home movie. In particular, the author spent many hours talking with Morry Chandler (whose granddaughter identified him as one of the waving children in the home movie).

Three Minutes in Poland is an intimate portrait of how many Jewish families were devastated, and yet some managed to survive. Throughout his well-crafted book, Kurtz weaves a story of past, present, and future that engages the reader. The personal element of reconstructing his heritage notwithstanding, much of Three Minutes in Poland also is a reminder to never forget the victims of the Holocaust. Through intelligence, perseverance, and skill, Kurtz presents a compassionate history that will move and inspire almost any reader.

Check the WRL catalog for Three Minutes in Poland


The Graveyard Book, Volume 1 by Neil Gaiman

Blogging for a Good Book - Fri, 2015-04-10 01:01

The Graveyard Book was originally published as a novel in 2008 to a flurry of well-deserved praise, eventually earning the Newbery Medal, Carnegie Medal, and Hugo award. The story follows a boy named Nobody Owens, nicknamed Bod, who, as a very young child, flees to a graveyard after his parents are murdered by a man named Jack. The ghosts, after a heated discussion, extend to Bod the Freedom of the Graveyard, which protects him and allows him to interact freely with the dead. Of course, there is a limit to what a ghost can do, so Bod is assigned a Guardian, named Silas, who is neither living nor dead, and who can go out into the world of the living and procure the supplies that the boy needs. He begins his new life amongst the stones and tombs, protected from harm as Jack continues to search for his missing victim.

The story is wistful and haunting. The reader feels the great loss that Bod has experienced, yet he is himself too young to understand it fully. It’s not that the ghosts make bad parents; it’s just that a bit of emptiness haunts the margins of the book: the reader’s knowledge of the family life and friends that this little boy has been denied by virtue of his situation. This sense of longing can’t easily be shrugged off. Even leaving the graveyard puts him in serious risk, as the killer Jack can reach him if he wanders outside the gates.

The novel has been adapted by P. Craig Russell, who has won Harvey and Eisner awards for other projects, and who also created a exceptional graphic adaptation of a previous Gaiman book, Coraline. In this instance, the adaptation was done by Russell, but he only drew one of the chapters himself. Each chapter is done by a different artist, seven in all, and the illustrations are stunning. Sometimes having multiple artists can adversely affect the continuity of the visual storytelling, rending it difficult to recognize a character from one section to the next, but not in this case. Each section is unique, but all of the artists do a remarkable job of capturing the atmosphere of the book.

Recommended for readers of science fiction, horror, and graphic novels. Although the book is marketed as being for young teens, it is appropriate for adult readers as well.

Check the WRL catalog for The Graveyard Book, Volume 1


The Shadow Hero, by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew

Blogging for a Good Book - Thu, 2015-04-09 01:01

Refreshing and reinventing old superheroes has become somewhat fashionable recently, with rather mixed results. Some characters, like Batman, have seen so many iterations that it is difficult to separate them all, or find new ground to cover without being completely repetitive or utterly discarding canon. One good thing that has come out of this trend is the resurrection of old characters that never caught on, but were worthwhile for one reason or another.

The Green Turtle was a World War II superhero with a very limited run. He was created by a cartoonist named Chu Hing, who was one of the first Asian-Americans to enter the American comic book industry, a business with limited diversity, especially back in 1944. Hing obscured the face of his protagonist so that, even if he was not allowed to make his character officially of Chinese descent, there is enough obfuscation for the reader to make their own decision about his heritage.

It is this character that has been brought back to life in The Shadow Hero. Living in Chinatown are two immigrants and their son, Hank. Each parent brings with them shadows of their old life and unfulfilled expectations from their new life. Hank is the reluctant heir to a melting pot of their issues. There certainly isn’t any early indication of his superhero future, as he is quite content to work in his father’s grocery store, nursing the hope to eventually pass it on to his own son someday. But no superhero comes to being without some trauma, and his parent’s legacies eventually, violently, come to alter their offspring’s future in unimagined ways.

Gene Luen Yang, author of the Printz Award winning American Born Chinese, brings a strong sense of time, place, and culture in this story. I don’t think I’ve ever read a superhero story where family and cultural heritage is this central to the creation and continued development of the character. The people surrounding Hank encompass a wide range of types without sinking in to caricature. His mother is especially complicated, being infuriating and relatable in equal measure. Parents want what’s best for their child, but so often their view of what is best is founded on what they perceive to be missing from their own life.

Recommended for readers of graphic novels, superhero stories, and anyone with an interest in stories about family dynamics.

Check the WRL catalog for The Shadow Hero.


I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly and JM Ken Niimura

Blogging for a Good Book - Wed, 2015-04-08 01:01

Barbara is a fifth-grader who lives with her big sister and her older brother. She sticks out from her peers for myriad reasons: she wears a different pair of animal ears every day; she is completely unable to interact with people in a normal manner; and she is obsessed with her quest to kill giants. She tells stories of many bloody, violent battles with the monsters, and sees signs of an impending attack that no one else notices. Armed with Coveleski, the Giant Slayer (the name she gave her war hammer), she is tough, smart, and in many ways completely unlikable. When finding herself cornered, either physically or emotionally, she lashes out with a vicious intensity.

Offsetting her brutal ferocity is Sophia, a sunny, gentle girl who is new to the neighborhood and is fascinated by Barbara’s stories of giants and the imminent war. As damaged as Barbara so obviously is, she cannot completely cast Sophia aside, and the reader gets glimpses of what looks like desperation for normalcy peeking through her façade. But Barbara is pretty expert in keeping people from hurting her emotionally, and even Mrs. Molle, the school psychologist, finds Barbara a tough case to figure out.

Heavy in the air is a secret, something so terrible that it is driving Barbara into a world of fantasy in order to find some solace. So strong is her emotional shutdown, that even people’s words are blacked out whenever the topic is mentioned. Bit by excruciating bit, her secret is revealed to the reader, as she finds herself unable to keep things contained and her raw pain is brought to the surface

Graphic novels can be a fantastic medium for delving into tough, sensitive topics, as the art can make a reader comprehend those quiet moments of complete emotional devastation better than any possible combination of words. The illustrations by JM Ken Niimura are subtle and explosive as appropriate. Joe Kelly’s writing is nuanced and tense. Recommended for readers of graphic novels, and anyone who likes journeys of self-awareness or coming-of-age stories.

Check the WRL catalog for I Kill Giants.


Mush! Sled Dogs with Issues, by Glenn Eichler and Joe Infurnari

Blogging for a Good Book - Tue, 2015-04-07 01:02

As someone once quipped, “they don’t have issues, they have an entire subscription.” Six dogs of varying breeds make up this sled dog team, and each has their own flavor of neurosis. Dolly is the lead dog, and is consumed with an existential crisis, constantly wondering why she was chosen to lead, and whether or not she has the skills to be successful. Winston is a purebred Samoyed, and bears the heavy burden of his blue blood with mounting desperation as his chances of passing on his valuable genes seem slimmer as each season passes. Buddy, a strong but not particularly bright wheel dog, has been used several times for mating, but this has confused him about his exact relationship with the mother of his pups. Venus, Buddy’s unwilling partner in puppy making, has to fend off his amorous advances and her increasing frustration with her lack of choice in these matters. Guy is determined to take over the lead position from Dolly and is willing to manipulate the other dogs into helping him. And finally there is Fiddler, part philosopher, part devil’s advocate; he seems to be able to figure out everything, except what he actually wants for himself. The owners of this motley crew are a man and a woman who intentionally moved far away from all other people, and are dealing with their enforced solitude with varying levels of success.

The dogs live to run, and it is only in their long stretches of down time that they are forced to turn to social drama as an antidote to boredom. Buddy flirts, Venus rebuffs, Dolly questions, Guy plots, Winston preens, and Fiddler philosophizes. For all the soap opera-like drama as they jockey for their rightful place in the world, either real or perceived, the dogs are relatable and quite often funny. Somewhat gloomier is the relationship between the humans, who each only have one other person they can interact with. For both parallel stories, nerves can only fray so much before something drastic will occur.

The story is an engaging, quick read. Some of the humor is more appropriate for an older crowd, especially Buddy’s repeated attempts to compliment Venus based on her litter-making skills. Recommended for readers of graphic novels and character-driven stories.

Check the WRL catalog for Mush! Sled Dogs with Issues


The Stuff of Legend: Book 1: The Dark, by Mike Raicht and Brian Smith, Illustrated by Charles Paul Wilson III

Blogging for a Good Book - Mon, 2015-04-06 01:01

A lot of admonishments are made about not judging a book by its cover. But as I was browsing our shelves, I came across this dark little volume and was immediately intrigued. Mimicking a dinged up, ink spattered journal, its rather grandiose title The Stuff of Legend was set above the drawing of a stuffed bear. Its face set with a sense of purpose, the bear steps towards the reader as if walking towards its destiny, glancing at the toys behind it with a look of either challenge or warning. It is an arresting image, but despite the ominous subtitle, The Dark, I picked up the book fully expecting the fluffy cuteness of the bear to be the reader’s companion through the story, juxtaposed against whatever low-level gloom the authors threw at the character. After just a few pages I realized I was entirely off base.

The story has some familiar elements: a young boy and some toys that come alive, but only when humans are not there to witness the transformation. One of the toys is even a piggy bank, but this book is definitely not a Toy Story knock-off. Set in 1941, with the boy’s father off fighting in the war, a great and unexpected evil is about to invade the world. Straight out of every child’s nightmares, the Boogeyman is in the closet. One night his nightmarish tentacles emerge from behind the door to snatch the boy, leaving the toys behind in shock. Should they venture in after him to save their owner? Or should they maintain their directive of non-interference?

Obviously, if all the toys decided that discretion is the better part of valor, this story would have ended after only a few pages. Instead we follow a few brave toys who volunteer (or get volunteered) to go into the darkness after the boy. The world on the other side of the door is truly transformational, and the long quest begins.

When I finished book 1, my only thought was that I needed to get book 2 as soon as possible. The story is gloomy, yet riveting and absorbing. The artwork is appropriately dingy in sepia with dark shadows staining every scene. So far, four books in the series have been published, and there is a promise of a fifth volume later this year. Recommended for readers of graphic novels, light horror, an adventure books.

Check the WRL catalog for The Stuff of Legends