Book Buzz

Staff Review: The Night Sister

Next Book Buzz - October 9, 2015

Book cover for The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahonYou know those writers whose work is so captivating that you’d read their grocery lists? Jennifer McMahon is definitely one of those writers for me. As one half of a pair of sisters, I’m also sucker for a book where sisters play a prominent role, so it’s likely “The Night Sister” would’ve ended up on my bedside table one way or another. If you enjoy mysteries that feature multiple timelines, numerous points of view and the setting of a deliciously creepy house (or in this case, hotel-as-castle), then this book might be for you as well.

“The Night Sister” begins in the present with sisters Piper and Margot receiving the shocking news that childhood friend Amy has brutally slain almost her entire family and herself, with only her daughter escaping. Then the novel turns back half a century to the childhood of Amy’s mother and aunt. Rose and Sylvie live in the Tower Motel, built like a castle complete with tower. Sylvie dreams of escaping to Hollywood and becoming an actress, while Rose is caught up in the stories their grandmother told them of mares, shape-shifting monsters hidden inside regular-seeming people.

The bridge between these two story lines is the summer of 1989, where Piper and Amy test their fledgling adolescence against the backdrop of the disused Tower Motel. Despite little-sister Margot tagging along behind Piper and future-police-officer Jason keeping watch over his crush Amy, the two enjoy sufficient freedom to learn enough about themselves — and the mysteries of the Tower Hotel — to change their friendship forever. But can Piper’s knowledge of the past help her piece together what really happened in the recent tragedy?

The Night Sister” has the fast pace and plot twists I expect in psychological thrillers, as well as clean, vivid writing. Though there are more than a couple of characters, the straightforward delineation of dates and points of view make it easy to keep track of who’s who.

And luckily for me, there are still a couple Jennifer McMahon novels I haven’t read yet, so she won’t be hearing from me asking for her grocery list just yet.

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Categories: Book Buzz

Race in America

Next Book Buzz - October 5, 2015

Book cover for Just Mercy by Bryan StevensonThe library recently added a copy of “The Ferguson Report” to the collection, and it is very much worth reading. The report covers an in-depth investigation into both the police department and the judicial system in Ferguson, Missouri where black teenager Michael Brown was killed by a white police officer. The report shows a systemic and “implicit bias” in these institutions. For those who have had to live as the targets of this system, this is not news and not isolated to this one municipality. The report is very critical, but it also offers specific recommendations, such as a publicly accessible database to track use of force.

For a broader understanding of race in America, pick up one of these excellent, recently published books.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” by Bryan Stevenson

“Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”

This book was recently the winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. Of all the books on our justice system that I have read lately, this is one of the very best. It definitely puts a human face on it, case after heartbreaking case.

Book cover for Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi CoatesBetween the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates

“But all our phrasing—race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy—serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.”

“Between the World and Me” is such a beautifully written and lyrical book. Just read it. And then read it again; it’s not that long. And when you think you understand Coates’ perspective, read it again. We have a lot to learn.

Book cover for Citizen by Claudia RankineCitizen: An American Lyric” by Claudia Rankine

“Yes, and the body has a memory. The physical carriage hauls more than its weight. The body is the threshold across which each objectionable call passes into consciousness—all the intimidated, unblinking, and unflappable resilience does not erase the moments lived through, even as we are eternally stupid or everlastingly optimistic, so ready to be inside, among, a part of the games.”

This powerful and visually striking book of poems, essays and images won the National Book Critics Circle Award, the NAACP Image Award, PEN Open Book Award and the LA Times Book Prize.

For more on Race in America, see the wonderful books in this catalog book list.

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Categories: Book Buzz

Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The October 2015 List

Next Book Buzz - September 28, 2015

Halloween is around the corner, but the list of books publishing in October that librarians across the country love isn’t scary. Well, unless you fear your to-read pile growing too tall. This month’s LibraryReads list includes novels from big names in literary fiction, like Geraldine Brooks (“March,” “Caleb’s Crossing“), David Mitchell (“Cloud Atlas,” “Bone Clocks“) and Margaret Atwood (“The Handmaid’s Tale,” MaddAddam Trilogy) – perfect for longer nights and cooler days. Enjoy!

Book cover for City of FireCity on Fire” by Garth Risk Hallberg
“WOW! An excellently executed work with intricate plot lines and fascinating characters. It’s a story of how the stories of many different people of New York City in the late seventies crash into each other like waves on rocks. This work may encapsulate the whole of New York City, as it has wealth, love, filth, passion, aimless angst and a myriad of other aspects of humanity swirling in that amazing city.” – Racine Zackula, Wichita Public Library, Wichita, KS

Book cover for After You by Jojo MoyesAfter You” by Jojo Moyes
“I loved ‘Me Before You‘ and thought it ended in the perfect place, but any doubts I had about continuing the story were quickly erased when I started this sequel. Jojo Moyes is a master at tugging on your heartstrings. I laughed, I cried and I nearly threw my Kindle against the wall at one point. Give this to anyone in your life who has experienced a tragic loss. With a box of tissues.” – Joseph Jones, Cuyahoga County Public Library, Cleveland, OH

Book cover for A Banquet of ConsequencesA Banquet of Consequences” by Elizabeth George
“Still reeling from a previous fall from grace, police detective Barbara Havers has a chance to redeem her standing–if she can unravel the very twisted threads that led to the murder of a prominent English feminist. Meanwhile, her superior officer Thomas Lynley pursues a love interest even as he keeps a sharp lookout for any slip-ups by Havers. This is the strongest addition to the series in years.” – Starr Smith, Fairfax County Public Library, Falls Church, VA

Here are the remaining October titles for your holds-placing pleasure!

The post Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The October 2015 List appeared first on DBRL Next.

Categories: Book Buzz

Staff Review: The Aeronaut’s Windlass

Next Book Buzz - September 25, 2015

Book cover for Aeronaut's WindlassThe Aeronaut’s Windlass” by Jim Butcher

Why I Read It: Jim Butcher + Steampunk = Gimme. Now.

What It’s About:  Humanity lives in huge, stone Spires that rise above the surface and the monster-filled mists that cover it. Society is ruled by aristocratic houses that develop scientific marvels and build fleets of airships to keep the peace.

Captain Grimm commands the merchant ship, Predator. Loyal to Spire Albion, he has taken their side in the cold war with Spire Aurora, disrupting the enemy’s shipping lines by attacking their cargo vessels. But when the Predator is severely damaged in combat, Grimm is offered a proposition from the leader of Albion – to join a team of young, untried agents, an imperious cat and an utterly insane etherealist on a vital mission in exchange for fully restoring Predator to its fighting glory.

Why I Recommend It:  Jim Butcher is a wonderful storyteller. This is the first book of a series, and he has laid some excellent groundwork for this new world. He doesn’t explain everything all at once. You slowly learn about the history, landscape and politics of the Spires as Butcher builds to intense action scenes.

Rowl. If you took away the incredibly imagined world, the riveting battles and the promise of future intrigues, you would be left with several interesting and well-drawn characters, not the least of which is Rowl. He is a warrior and heir to Clan Silent Paws, and he’s a cat. He is ridiculously smug and demanding, but I don’t think anyone who has ever interacted with a cat would be surprised. When a cat is one of the heroes of the story…I mean, come on. You’ve got to be interested.

What To Read While You Wait:
Furies of Calderon” by Jim Butcher
Storm Front” by Jim Butcher
Boneshaker” by Cherie Priest
Retribution Falls” by Chris Wooding

The post Staff Review: The Aeronaut’s Windlass appeared first on DBRL Next.

Categories: Book Buzz

Classics for Everyone: Fahrenheit 451

Next Book Buzz - September 21, 2015

Book cover for Fahrenheit 451As I read this year’s One Read selection, “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel, I repeatedly thought of the Ray Bradbury classic, “Fahrenheit 451.” In my mind, the two books convey many of the same ideas, yet in much different ways.

In “Station Eleven,” a plague has decimated the population. Those who remain are left with a world where infrastructure and social systems have collapsed. The characters in “Fahrenheit 451” have everything Mandel’s lack: health, ample food, material comforts, advanced technology. But I believe Bradbury’s characters suffer more.

The motto for the Traveling Symphony in Mandel’s book is “Survival is insufficient.” The members have lost almost everything, except what keeps them human. Through music, art and literature they forge bonds and find meaning.

“Fahrenheit 451” gives us a world where books are forbidden, where the only music is that which numbs emotions rather than stirring them, a world devoid of meaningful connection. The book’s title refers to the temperature at which paper burns. The main character, Guy Montag, is a fireman. His job is to burn houses and buildings where books are found.

At the beginning of the story, Montag loves his job. The adrenaline rush he experiences at a fire makes him feel alive. But several events shake his world view. His wife attempts suicide and later acts as if nothing happened. An old woman chooses to stay in her home and burn with her books. Montag meets an elderly former professor who remembers the days before books were outlawed. A 17-year-old free spirit shares her joy in defying convention. Soon, Montag is consumed with the desire to see for himself what is inside the books he’s burning, and he begins to pocket one or two at each call.

First published in 1953, “Fahrenheit 451” contains many surprisingly accurate predictions about future developments. There’s a televised police chase, filmed from a helicopter. People own wall-sized flat-screen televisions and use a version of earbuds. Robots sniff out contraband. One area where Bradbury missed the mark was that of gender roles. All of his men have paying jobs while the women are homemakers.

If ever anyone has doubts about the value of literature and the arts, said skeptic should read “Fahrenheit 451” to get some idea of what life would be like without them.

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Categories: Book Buzz

The Gentleman Recommends: Laurent Binet

Next Book Buzz - September 14, 2015

Book cover for HHhH by Laurent BinetAs I perch at my word processor stroking my mustache, adjusting my top hat and considering how to write a blog post recommending a historical meta-fictional novel that is nearly as concerned with how to tell the story of the plot to assassinate monstrous Nazi Reinhard Heydrich as it is with telling the story, I have a eureka moment: I simply needed to stop massaging my elegant mouth parka and making minute adjustments to my headgear and start typing words.

I wonder how to convey that, though time is spent with the author during his research and his periods of doubt, and that we hear quite a bit about the problems inherent in writing historical novels, the story never loses its considerable propulsion. A good recommender would give some sort of proof, but for some reason my head is in tremendous pain and also my top hat is way too tight, so I’m just going to muscle on and assume that my audience knows that they should always trust a gentleman, and that I am one, which is obvious because I am wearing a top hat, and I say I’m a gentleman, and a gentleman never lies, unless it is a white lie and meant to spare someone’s feelings.

So, “HHhH” (the abomination known as Heydrich had a nickname: “Himmlers Hirn heist Heydrich,” which translates to “Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich”) by Laurent Binet is the gripping true story of Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubis working to assassinate the horrifyingly evil Reinhard Heydrich. The momentum is sustained through the many asides wherein the author worries about how to approach his subject matter and how much to fictionalize the story when the true details are not available. (What color was Heydrich’s car? Which side of the train did he sit on?) As Binet says in the novel, “I just hope that, however bright and blinding the veneer of fiction that covers this fabulous story, you will still be able to see through it to the historical reality that lies behind.”

And a fabulous story it is. Fascinating throughout, the novel culminates with a sequence as riveting as that in any thriller. It is fascinating because we are given a thorough look at the monstrosity known as Heydrich and the horror he propagated, at the brave men commissioned to end his life, and at the process of writing the meticulously researched story of these men.

I debate how to end this recommendation and decide to do so with one further sentence of encouragement to read this book if you have any interest in the atrocities in Europe circa World War II, and the story of two heroes helping to end them. Then I remember it would be a shame not to give a tip of the top hat to the translator. Read this book if you have any interest in the atrocities in Europe circa World War II and the story of two heroes helping to end them. Also, I’d like to give a tip of the top hat to novelist Sam Taylor, who, as far as I can tell given that I don’t read French and didn’t read the French version of this novel, did a tremendous job translating it.

The post The Gentleman Recommends: Laurent Binet appeared first on DBRL Next.

Categories: Book Buzz

Author Brian Katcher Visits October 14

Teen Book Buzz - September 7, 2015

Teen Read Week Banner

Teen Read Week: Author Brian Katcher
Columbia Public Library
Wednesday, October 14 • 7-8 p.m.

Come meet award-winning author Brian Katcher  and hear about his writing process as well as his latest project. Brian’s debut novel, “Playing With Matches,” was nominated for the Gateway Readers Award in 2011. Seventeen-year-old Leon Sanders has a face that only a mother could love. Fortunately, he has a good sense of humor to help him make friends. When he befriends Melody Hennon, a classmate who was seriously burned in a childhood accident, he begins to worry what others will think of their relationship.

In “Almost Perfect,” Brian’s second young adult novel, Logan Witherspoon falls for his friend Sage Hendricks. After kissing her, he learns a secret that forever changes the nature of their relationship. This book won the American Library Association’s prestigious Stonewall Award. This honor is given annually to a book relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered experience.

Brian will wrap up his author visit with a discussion of his most recent book, “The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak,” a hilarious he said/she said romance about two teens recovering from heartbreak and discovering themselves on an out-of-this-world accidental first date at a science fiction convention.

Books will be for sale from Barnes & Noble before and after the program and Brian will do a book-signing session. For more about Brian’s books, check out this interview he shared with us not long after winning the Stonewall Award.

Originally published at Author Brian Katcher Visits October 14.

Categories: Book Buzz

Celebrating the Life and Works of Oliver Sacks

Next Book Buzz - September 2, 2015

Book cover for The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a HatThere are some writers you wish you could befriend, they seem so warm and endlessly fascinating. You want them at the table during dinner parties. You want to meet up with them for long walks or coffee. Oliver Sacks is one of those writers.

The neurologist and author passed away this weekend of cancer at the age of 82. Sacks was curious – always investigating – and a wonderful storyteller. Even after learning his time on this earth was nearing its end, he continued to write. He became introspective, focusing “on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life – achieving a sense of peace within oneself,” as he states in his final piece for the New York Times.

Sacks’ books about the workings of the brain are full of vivid writing and detailed portraits of his subjects. His delight in scientific discovery runs through all of his books. His enthusiasm is palpable.

If you are new to Sacks, try “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales,” one of his earlier books (and the one with my favorite title). Sacks presents a series of stories about men and women who, representing both medical and literary oddities, raise fundamental questions about the nature of reality.

Book cover for The Mind's Eye by Oliver SacksOther Sacks’ works center on a single theme, like “Musicophilia,” which explores the complex human response to music and how music can affect those suffering from a variety of ailments. Sacks investigated sight in “The Mind’s Eye,” telling the stories of six people whose lives have been profoundly altered by changes to essential senses and abilities, including a pianist who lost the ability to read scores and a novelist whose ability to read was destroyed by a stroke. “Hallucinations” investigates the types, causes and cultural significance of hallucinations generated by everything from intoxication to injury and illness.

Sacks’ most recently published book is an autobiography titled “On the Move,” and he certainly was. Always studying and researching, his mental energy and curiosity defined him until the end. In the February 15, 2015 New York Times piece in which Sacks announced his terminal diagnosis, he ended with the following words. I cannot think of better words to remember him by.

I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.

Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.

The post Celebrating the Life and Works of Oliver Sacks appeared first on DBRL Next.

Categories: Book Buzz

Labor Days

Next Book Buzz - August 31, 2015

Book cover for Working by Studs TerkelThe death throes of summer will soon be marked by Labor Day weekend. Many of us will spend that time barbecuing or taking advantage of Great Labor Day Savings! This was not the original purpose of Labor Day. The intended meaning of the day was to honor “the social and economic achievements of American workers.” This purpose has mostly been lost, except most American workers do get a free day off. Unless they are one of the over 4,500,000 employed in retail.  Then they are probably helping people take advantage of those Labor Day sales.

We spend so much time working that it’s surprising there aren’t more more books on the subject. There’s a constant stream books about job interviews, changing careers or finding fulfilling work, but books that evocatively capture this experience that composes so much of our lives are rare. There are some good ones, and even some classics, but the number days we spend laboring isn’t really matched by the books out there.

Book cover for The Jungle by Upton SinclairThe Jungle” is a classic many of us probably had to read in high school. The book tells the story of a poor immigrant family that tries to make a living working in the Chicago stockyards. The  descriptions of the unsafe and unsanitary conditions became a catalyst for the passing of the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food Act.

I’m not sure if Studs Terkel’s “Working” is technically considered a classic (who makes these decisions?), but it should be. Terkel conducted interviews with people from all walks of life about their jobs. You don’t just get insight into what the routine tasks of their jobs are, but you also learn how their time spent at work makes them feel.

Harvey Pekar adapted “Working” into a graphic novel. Pekar was a perfect fit for the job. In his long-running series “American Splendor,” Pekar wrote about the mundane details of his life in Cleveland in an unexpectedly compelling way. Many of those stories involve his job as a file clerk at the Cleveland’s Veterans Administration Hospital.

When Philip Levine died earlier this year, exhausted workers looking for breakfast after the late shift lost representation in American poetry. Many of his poems described the prosaic details of the lives of working people. Levine grew up in Detroit, and while working in the auto plants there he decided to give voice to the people with whom he worked.

Book cover for Blue Collar, White Collar, No CollarBlue Collar, White Collar, No Collar” is a collection of short stories about work.  It’s edited by Richard Ford, who also contributes a story. It’s fitting that a writer who won a Pulitzer Prize for a book about a real estate agent should edit such a collection.

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit” details a man’s struggle with his inane PR job as he tries to provide for his family. It is often cited as an inspiration for the television show “Mad Men” because of their shared themes of a restless veteran trying to adapt to his working world and find his identity.

Then We Came To The End” tells the story of a Chicago advertising firm as a dysfunctional family that is gradually shrinking to nothing due to layoffs. It is a funny, insightful and empathetic examination of workplace culture.

In “Looking for A Ship,” John McPhee accompanies a merchant marine on a 42-day trip to South America. The book describes the difficulties of making a living as a merchant marine and is filled with seafaring stories that illustrate the dangers of this job. Might make a nice accompaniment to “Deadliest Catch.”

If you’ve ever been asked to do something at your job and wanted to respond, “I prefer not to,” then I suggest you take a look at Herman Melville’s enigmatic short story, “Bartleby, the Scrivener, A Story of Wall Street.” A man who is essentially employed as a human copy machine gets a sort of paper jam in his brain and keeps repeating that phrase.

Finally, whether you’re barbecuing, shopping or (sadly) working this Labor Day weekend, the Smithsonian has some sweet Labor Day jams for you.

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Categories: Book Buzz

Let’s Learn American History with Sarah Vowell

Next Book Buzz - August 24, 2015

When I was in school, history was not my favorite subject, but Sarah Vowell has convinced me I didn’t give it a fair chance. Vowell’s chatty books about American history relate the stories of our country in a way that brings alive the figures involved and paints a vivid picture of the times in which they lived, with the bonus of showing how past events still affect our lives today.

Book cover for Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah VowellUnfamiliar Fishes,” a volume about Hawaii, opens with these words: “Why is there a glop of macaroni salad next to the Japanese chicken in my plate lunch? Because the ship Thaddeus left Boston Harbor with the first boatload of New England missionaries bound for Hawaii in 1819.” Vowell makes a pretty good case for giving Hawaii the ‘Most Multicultural State’ award. As she explains how this came to be, she examines the effects of 19th century missionaries plus vacationing sailors on the island culture. It wasn’t all roses and butter, we discover. The story of Queen Lili’uokalani, Hawaii’s last reigning monarch, makes for compelling – if heartbreaking – reading.

Book cover for The Wordy ShipmatesIn “The Wordy Shipmates” Vowell shows us the Puritans as interesting, complex human beings with more layers than the earth’s core. Much of the narrative centers on John Winthrop, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, along with his best frenemy, Roger Williams. The ins and outs of their friendship proves junior high drama predates the existence of junior high and can present itself in the cloak of religious disputes. After Winthrop banished him from Massachusetts, Williams founded Rhode Island. He was soon joined there by the remarkable and also exiled upstart, Anne Hutchinson, who had convinced her husband to pack up their 15 children and follow the clergyman John Cotton across the ocean to the colonies.

Book cover for Assassination VacationSpeaking of travel, what’s a dedicated historian’s dream vacation? Visiting landmarks associated with assassinations, of course. “Assassination Vacation” is a road trip book like no other, focusing on sites important in the lives and mostly the deaths of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley. Vowell speaks not only of the facts of the events, but explores how legends surrounding these political murders have been used to shape and sometimes exploit culture and politics. Also, a fascinating bit of trivia about Robert Todd Lincoln.

The future of history includes Vowell’s forthcoming book, “Lafayette in the Somewhat United States,” due out in October. I can’t wait to find out everything I don’t know about the French general who played such a large role in the American Revolution.

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Categories: Book Buzz

Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The September 2015 List

Next Book Buzz - August 19, 2015

Library Reads LogoThe kids are back in school, and the September LibraryReads list is here! Time to brew a cup of tea and enjoy a freshly published book. Here are the books hitting shelves next month that librarians across the country recommend, including the latest from the hilarious, refreshingly honest, irreverent, library-loving Jenny Lawson, also known as The Bloggess. “Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things” has gone immediately on to my personal holds list. Add a few of these forthcoming titles to your list, and enjoy!

Book cover for The Art of Crash LandingThe Art of Crash Landing” by Melissa DeCarlo
“At once tragic and hilarious, this book is a roller coaster of a read. You’ll find yourself rooting for the snarky and impulsive but ultimately lovable Mattie. At the heart of this tale is a beautifully unraveled mystery that has led Mattie to her current circumstances, ultimately bringing her to her first real home.” – Patricia Kline-Millard, Bedford Public Library, Bedford, NH

Make Me” by Lee Child
“Jack Reacher is back. Jack gets off a train at an isolated town. Soon, he is learning much more about the town, and its residents are learning not to mess around with Jack Reacher. Readers new to this series will find this book a good starting point, and fans will be pleased to see Jack again.” – Jenna Persick, Chester County Library, Exton, PA

House of Thieves” by Charles Belfoure
“Belfoure’s intriguing novel is set in Gilded Age New York City. John Cross, head of the family, finds an unexpected talent for planning robberies, while his wife and children also discover their inner criminals. The historical details and setting evoke old New York. I enjoyed every minute of their escapades.” – Barbara Clark-Greene, Groton Public Library, Groton, CT

And here is the rest of this list with links to the catalog for your holds-placing pleasure.

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Categories: Book Buzz

The Gentleman Recommends: Jesse Ball

Next Book Buzz - August 17, 2015

Book cover for a Cure for Suicide by Jesse BallWhile making for the nearest suitable reading cubby, I hold my chosen novel aloft as a means of recommending it without the need for electricity or wires (though, to be fair, I often employ a complicated series of large wires and pulleys to ease the burden of its weight upon my musculature and indeed have been researching the possibility of adding an electric motor to my contraption). This month’s recommendation did cause me some consternation, though. Fine book though it is, “A Cure for Suicide” is a title apt to raise eyebrows among those that don’t wish to see you dead. I bypassed this conundrum by merely regularly exclaiming, “Fear not for my well-being – this is a novel. I do not intend to curtail my glorious traversal through this magnificent existence!” My calls, in addition to allaying concerns and dispelling confusion as to why such a distinguished gentleman might consider cutting short his glorious traversals, earned me wide, respectful berths, providing me expedited arrival to the nearest cozy chair or nest of pillows and wigs (wigs are soft) that I’ve secreted around town so that I might recline comfortably with my reading material.

Onlookers’ dismay aside, reading Jesse Ball’s newest novel was a pleasure. Not only was it a fancy book, indicated clearly by the significant amount of blank space between most of the paragraphs, but it was also good. And that blank space wasn’t just indicative of fanciness and the author’s and publisher’s contempt for trees but was actually a useful style choice that emphasized the elegiac tone of the work and its fable-like qualities.  And, as time passes, this novel continues to provide fodder for my mind monkeys to vigorously pull their various levers and add coal to their various furnaces. (Editor’s note: this book made the gentleman think.)

The premise is: a man, known initially only as the “claimant,” awakens with no memories. His “examiner” is at his side. Her task: to teach him the names of objects, how to interact with people and generally how to exist. We watch the claimant improve and regress and some twisty psychological drama enters the stage: there are injections, creepily idyllic villages and villagers, the claimant goes to sleep in one house and village and wakes up in a different house and village, etc. There is a great deal of discussion about the “whys” of things, sure to please the philosophy buffs that, as I understand it, make up much of our modern civilization. Then we come to perhaps the novel’s best section, the one that explains why our claimant is here, why he was driven to spoiler alert seek a cure for suicide. This relatively lengthy chapter foregoes the lovely blank space that dominates the rest of the novel, the better with which to gently bludgeon you with heartbreak. Later we return to the previous format and tone and are left with a doozy of a closing section and a complex query that might have the reader lingering in their nest of pillows and wigs, contemplating several facets of existence while they conceal the title from onlookers (as the reader is too deep in thought to be capable of calling out an explanation for the title of the work they hold, and so must hide it to ensure no one is concerned for their well-being).

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Categories: Book Buzz

Voting Begins for 2015 “Teens’ Top Ten”

Teen Book Buzz - August 17, 2015

The “Teens’ Top Ten” is a list of recommended reading sponsored by the Young Adult Library Services Association. In fact, it’s the only reading list with titles nominated and voted on by teens.

How does it work?

Vote for the “Teens’ Top Ten!”

  • Sixteen young adult book clubs from libraries nationwide are responsible for narrowing down a list of nominees for teens to consider. (Does your book club want to get involved? Learn how.)
  • Based on the recommendations of these teen book clubs, the list of this year’s 24 nominees was announced in April during National Library Week.
  • Throughout the summer months, teens are encouraged to read as many of these titles as humanly possible.
  • Readers ages 12-18 are invited to vote online through October 17.
  • After Teen Read Week, October 18-24, the 10 most popular titles will be announced as the official 2015 “Teens’ Top Ten” list. Don’t forget to subscribe to our blog updates to have this and other teen book news delivered to your email inbox!

Originally published at Voting Begins for 2015 “Teens’ Top Ten”.

Categories: Book Buzz

Staff Book Review: Traitor’s Blade

Next Book Buzz - August 10, 2015

Book cover for Traitor's BladeTraitor’s Bladeby Sebastien De Castell

Why I Checked It Out: Three best friends, roaming the kingdom, looking for justice and purpose? With swords? I’m in.

What It’s About: In the European-esque, medieval setting, the Greatcoats greatly resemble Jedi Knights. These men and women are skilled warriors, but they are more concerned with upholding the King’s Law and keeping peace among all the ambitious dukes and duchesses of the land. Or at least they were, until the death of the King and the end of his enlightened law.

Now Falcio, Kest, Brasti and the rest of the Greatcoats are disgraced and scattered, taking what work they can and struggling to finish the enigmatic final tasks left to them by the King.

Why I Recommend It: I read this book in a day. And then I could not start another book because I was convinced nothing would be as good.

The story begins by launching the reader directly into the action and never really lets up.  The reader learns of the rise of the King, the formation of the Greatcoats and their subsequent fall, all through flashbacks that span the entirely of the book. These flashbacks are well-timed and an excellent device. By the time you learn how the King died, you care for him as much as Falcio did, and his loss is all the more heartbreaking.

While there is plenty of death and loss in “Traitor’s Blade,” and Falcio and the others have definitely been shaped by tragedy, the book is not dark. De Castell has crafted a fun read, filled with smart humor and likeable characters. There are intricate political intrigues and swashbuckling adventures. The action scenes are incredibly descriptive, owing to the author’s training as a fight choreographer.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced adventure with well-rounded characters and hint of magic, I cannot recommend this book enough.

Warning:  This is the first book in a quartet, but luckily for us all, the second book is already out.

What To Read Next:

Theft of Swords” by Michael J. Sullivan

The Three Musketeers” by Alexander Dumas

Storm Front” by Jim Butcher

The post Staff Book Review: Traitor’s Blade appeared first on DBRL Next.

Categories: Book Buzz

Take a Hike: Books About Long Walks

Next Book Buzz - August 7, 2015

Book cover for A Walk in the Woods by Billy BrysonIn 2014, Reese Witherspoon starred in the movie adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild,” her memoir of self-discovery and survival as she hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. This September, another movie about a long walk – this time along the Appalachian Trail – hits the big screen. “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson is a laugh-out-loud misadventure but also manages to share the trail’s history and argue eloquently for the preservation of our undeveloped forests, trails and parks. Read this funny travelogue before seeing the film this fall.

Want more books about long walks? Read on.

Book cover for Happiness for BeginnersHappiness for Beginners” by Katherine Center
This fast-paced charmer follows newly divorced 32-year-old Helen who signs up for a wilderness survival course, thinking it will propel her out of her rut. Never mind that she isn’t really athletic or outdoorsy. Then she learns that her younger brother’s best friend Jake will also be a part of this group spending three weeks in the mountains of Wyoming, and her hopes of finding herself by herself evaporate. Snappy dialogue, an entertaining cast of characters and sparks of romance make the hike through this book a quick and enjoyable one.

Book cover for Grandma Gatewood's WalkGrandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail” by Ben Montgomery
Think all grandmas spend their time baking cookies, golfing or playing bridge? Think again. Emma Gatewood, at the age of 67, hiked the Appalachian Trail. And then she did it twice more. Journalist Montgomery creates a detailed portrait of of Gatewood, her difficult and abusive marriage, and the attention her hikes brought to a system of trails in great need of care and maintenance.

Book cover for The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold FryThe Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” by Rachel Joyce
Harold Fry receives a letter from a former coworker and friend named Queenie, informing him that she is dying of cancer. Harold writes Queenie a response and begins walking to the mailbox to send his letter. But then he passes up the first mailbox and walks toward the next. He keeps walking. He reflects on his troubled past and the shaky state of his marriage, and falls into a bit of magical thinking – perhaps if he delivers this letter to Queenie in person he can save her. Thus begins his journey of nearly 600 miles and this quirky, moving novel.

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Categories: Book Buzz

Nautical Adventures

Next Book Buzz - July 29, 2015

Book cover for Two Years Before the MastAs the summer heats up, many of us find that a great way to cool off is to head to the water. The swimming beach at Stephens Lake Park is a favorite place for my family to spend the afternoon, and we also enjoy canoeing at Finger Lakes State Park. In a figurative sense, one can cool off by reading great books about traveling on water, and the library has many that fit the bill. Let’s take a look at a few new and classic titles.

In the spring of 1834, Richard Henry Dana Jr. was a young man recently dropped out of Harvard University because of poor health and looking for something to do while recuperating from his illness. He signed on with the Pilgrim, a ship that launched from Boston. Dana recounted his experience in arguably the greatest work of maritime nonfiction, “Two Years Before the Mast.” The Pilgrim spent a great deal of time on the coast of colonial California, and Dana’s writing about these explorations is one of our best documents of the very early settlement period there. Dana also examines at length the injustices imparted upon common sailors. “The captain, in the first place, is lord paramount. He stands no watch, comes and goes as he pleases, and is accountable to no one,” writes Dana.

Dana was also obsessed, as were most sailors on these multi-year voyages, with the offerings of food and drink. “Food at Sea: Shipboard Cuisine From Ancient to Modern Times” by Simon Spalding is a detailed look at the history of food found on ocean-going vessels. On a ship like the Pilgrim, the fare was described in the following way by a common sailor: “the mush is never cooked, the beans are awful, and the Cape Cod turkey, or in plain English, the codfish, is the meanest mess of all.”

Book cover for ShackletonDozens of books have been written about Ernest Shackleton and his expeditions to the Antarctic, but two stand out in the crowd for their uniqueness. The first is the graphic novel “Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey” by Nick Bertozzi. Historically accurate and concise, grabbing from Shackleton’s and other expedition members’ diaries, this thin volume will delight readers young and old. “Shackleton’s Boat Journey” authored by Frank Worsley, the captain of the Endurance, is also of note. In order to save his crew, Shackleton made a harrowing journey from Elephant Island to South Georgia Island. Shackleton’s eight men almost miraculously made it across this stretch of the Southern Ocean in a 12-foot boat, mainly due to Worsley’s uncanny skill at navigating by dead reckoning. This ocean journey is an accomplishment with few modern corollaries and was indeed performed near the apex of Antarctic winter. As Edmund Hillary wrote in the introduction: “It only confirmed the view of his friends that Shackleton was ‘the greatest leader that ever came on God’s earth, bar none.’”

On a more local level, for a look at the historic navigation of the Missouri River, I suggest “Wild River, Wooden Boats” by Michael Gillespie. Gillespie says: “The untamed Missouri was as close to a living thing as a river could get.” In the chapter “Sudden Death” Gillespie catalogs a whole range of terrible ways that human beings could perish on steamships: “The steamer Big Hatchie blew her boilers at Hermann, Missouri on July 25, 1845. Thirty-five unidentified victims are buried in the cemetery there.”

Modern day Missouri has an incredible network of smaller rivers and creeks perfect for boating. “A Paddler’s Guide to Missouri” offers lots of information about these waterways. This handy guidebook was created by the Missouri Department of Conservation, and it includes a full listing of navigable rivers and streams in the state. It even has mile markers, maps and difficulty ratings for each section of the river run. Happy paddling this summer!

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Categories: Book Buzz

The League of Outsider Baseball

Next Book Buzz - July 27, 2015

Book cover for The League of Outsider BaseballSports are big business. The athletes are treated as commodities, and they are salesmen. They aren’t just coached on how to play their sport, but also on how to speak to the press. (It’s in cliches and non-answer answers. Really riveting stuff.) Sometimes it seems the true measure of an athlete’s accomplishments isn’t how many rings they win but the number of sponsorships they get.

Beneath this veneer of brand-spokesman blandness, corporate PR and the talking hairdos on 24-hour sports networks, something weird is still going on. The rules are arbitrary, the feats of physical accomplishments are freakish, and this slick business culture is built on a simple obsession over games. Yes, the fans can get obsessive, but the athletes themselves? They need an intervention. Ridiculous salaries for a few can make us forget how many people there are still playing their sport for very little. How many players in the Minor Leagues are sharing small apartments with teammates compared to Major League players with shoe contracts? Or Olympic athletes training early in the morning before work? It gets under their skin, and they have to play the game. Weird.

The League of Outsider Baseball” captures some of that obsessive weirdness. Author and Illustrator Gary Cieradkowski has put together a collection of beautifully illustrated profiles of baseball players. Some are household names, like Babe Ruth, but most are lesser known or forgotten players, like the ones you meet in the chapter, “The Could-Have-Beens.” Some of these players could have been household names too, but dumb luck or bad life choices derailed their promising careers. Take Pistol Pete Reiser, whose combination of physical skill and unbridled enthusiasm for the game gave him a penchant for playing through serious injuries and running into outfield walls. Once he was knocked unconscious so long a priest performed last rights. The chapter, “The Oddballs” is populated with unlikely contributions to baseball history from a one-armed pitcher, a hunchbacked orphan, one team composed entirely of brothers and another from an apocalyptic sect. This is the scruffy underbelly of baseball, and it’s fascinating reading.

This project started for Cieradkowski as a way of coping with the loss of his father. Swapping stories of obscure baseball players several times a week was one way they stayed connected. When his father died unexpectedly, Cieradkowski realized he didn’t have anyone to share this obsession with. He started a blog, The Infinite Baseball Card Set, to honor that relationship with his father and share his passion for these forgotten players with the rest of the world. Reading “The League of Outsider Baseball” is akin to a friend sharing their prized collection of baseball cards with you.

See Also
A few more books that give you a tour of baseball’s scruffy underbelly (The titles say it all):

Outsider Baseball. The Weird World of Hardball on the Fringe, 1876-1950,” by, Scott Simkus.

The Summer of Beer and Whiskey. How Brewers, Barkeeps, Rowdies, Immigrants, and A Wild Pennant Fight Made Baseball America’s Game,” by Edward Achorn.

Book cover for Big Hair and Plastic GrassBig Hair and Plastic Grass. A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ’70s,” by Dan Epstein.

Who’s on Worst? The Lousiest Players, Biggest Cheaters, Saddest Goats and Other Antiheroes in Baseball History,” by Filip Bondy.

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Categories: Book Buzz

Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The August 2015 List

Next Book Buzz - July 24, 2015

The August LibraryReads list – the top 10 titles publishing next month that librarians across the country recommend – includes plenty of novels for summer’s last hurrah. (And for you true bibliophiles out there, columnist Michael Dirda delivers “Browsings,” a charming collection of essays about reading, genre fiction, book stores, famous pets in fiction and even library book sales!)

Book cover for Best Boy by Eli GottliebBest Boy” by Eli Gottlieb
“What happens when someone on the autism spectrum grows up, and they aren’t a cute little boy anymore? Gottlieb’s novel follows the story of Todd Aaron, a man in his fifties who has spent most of his life a resident of the Payton Living Center. Todd begins to wonder what lies beyond the gates of his institution. A funny and deeply affecting work.” – Elizabeth Olesh, Baldwin Public Library, Baldwin, NY

Book cover for The Nature of the Beast by Louise PennyThe Nature of the Beast: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel” by Louise Penny
“Louise Penny set the bar high with her last two books, but she had no trouble clearing it with this one. All our old friends are back in Three Pines where a young boy with a compulsion to tell tall tales tells one true story with disastrous results. But which story is the truth and why is it so threatening? Exquisitely suspenseful, emotionally wrenching and thoroughly satisfying.” – Beth Mills, New Rochelle Public Library, New Rochelle, NY

Book cover for A Window Opens by Elisabeth EganA Window Opens” by Elisabeth Egan
“Alice Pearce has a pretty great life. She has a loving family and works part-time as an editor for a magazine. When her family’s financial situation takes a drastic turn, Alice finds that she needs to step up to the plate and contribute more, and she finds this comes at a cost. I think many women will see themselves in Alice’s character. I recommend this book to moms who need a little time to themselves; they might realize that maybe things aren’t so bad for them after all.” – Rosanna Johnson, Chandler Public Library, Chandler, AZ

And here is the rest of the list for your holds-placing pleasure! Be one of the first people in line for these anticipated titles.

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Categories: Book Buzz

The Gentleman Recommends: Jeff VanderMeer

Next Book Buzz - July 20, 2015

Book cover for Annihilation by Jeff VandermeerDo you like to read weird things? I suspect anyone who has read more than one of this gentleman’s posts probably does. Granted, I write in the conventional, easily parsed and comforting voice of a modern nobleman, but I often recommend novels wherein there is at least a modicum of the weird: perhaps there is a murderous tortilla chip or a ghost delivering a message to the wrong twin or a carnival full of haphazardly genetically modified human attractions. But this time I’m going to get real weird with it: I hereby recommend Southern Reach, the gripping trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer.

Book cover for Authority by Jeff VandermeerIs it weirder than murderous snacks? Yes. After all, I sometimes feel, particularly after a sixth sack of candied bacon, that my snacks have it in for me. But I’ve never been on a classified expedition into a mysterious wilderness surrounded by a force-field that obliterates anything that touches it unless it enters through one particular (and invisible) entrance. Once there I’ve never encountered a “tower” that extends underground rather than above it, its walls harboring a massively creepy, moderately comprehensible never-ending sentence etched in otherworldly fungus. Nor have I taken a closer look at that fungus only to inhale a spore which imparts a “glowing” feeling and increasingly takes hold of my mind and body. Likewise, I did not later discover the harrowing extent of the hypnotic cues imparted on me before I began my journey. Never have I discovered that a previous expedition had ended in a bloodbath caused by its highly trained members turning on each other. Not once have I ventured to a lighthouse to find evidence of carnage and a tremendous cache journals whose content is more disturbing even than the fact that there are significantly more of them than the official count of expeditions into “Area X” would account for. And I have not experienced any of the other strange shenanigans that populate the remaining two books in the trilogy and which, as is my custom, I will not spoil.

Book cover for Acceptance by Jeff VandermeerHowever, if you prefer to have your reading material more thoroughly examined, I will provide a link to this glowing review. Here, have another. Want someone to more thoroughly elucidate what’s weird about this trilogy? Fine.

The book jackets and reviews compare this trilogy to “LOST.” One of the above reviews says it’s like “LOST” if H.P. Lovecraft had been brought in as a script doctor. And while there is an unfortunate lack of a jump-kicking Matthew Fox, I daresay anyone that enjoyed the show for any length of time will delight in these books. But, again, there is no jump-kicking Matthew Fox; maybe I am wrong.

There is more to recommend this trilogy than its strange and startlingly fun content. For one, there is an abundance of pretty nature writing: nature lovers might be inspired to lace up their nature boots for a more tangible look at nature. It could be argued (and is argued in one of the linked reviews) that there are some fancy metaphors embedded in this series. Also, while other authors harangue their readers for being too eager for the next volume in their massive book series, VanderMeer published this trilogy in two month intervals, which gave readers respites to digest the content and crave more. And, delightfully, at this point all three are published and you need not exercise the same restraint as some doctors recommend be paired with candied bacon.

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Categories: Book Buzz

Mark Twain Wrote Fanfiction

Next Book Buzz - July 15, 2015

Book cover for A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's CourtUsually, when people throw around the term fanfiction (fanfic for short), they mean the stories you find on websites such as or quotev, pieces written by fans of an original comic/novel/movie/TV show, using characters from that universe, and shared with other fans. The quality of the writing can vary wildly, but the level of enthusiasm remains consistently high. In the past couple of years Kindle Worlds has allowed fanfic authors to garner pay for their work through a licensing structure that keeps everyone on the legal side of the copyright line, something that can be a nebulous issue. Legalminimum supplies some good guidelines for using established fictional characters. Since most fanfic is created out of a desire to celebrate and promote the original, rather than to make money or compete with it, many writers are happy to allow their characters to lead alternate lives.

Though the Internet has helped to popularize fanfiction, storytellers have been borrowing from their forebears for century upon century. Mark Twain wrote fanfiction. Yes, it’s true. In “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” he used recognized characters from Camelot in a new tale of his own. William Shakespeare often repurposed figures from Greek, Roman and Celtic legends to populate his tales. Think of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “The Tempest.”

In the past fifty years or so, many established authors have found publishing success by continuing this tradition of literary borrowing. “Wicked” by Gregory Maguire takes an adult look at L. Frank Baum’s Land of Oz, providing a sympathetic portrayal of the Witch of the West. Totally fanfiction. Similarly, Jean Rhys took up the cause of Jane Eyre’s antagonist, the purportedly insane Mrs. Rochester, in her 1966 novel, “Wide Sargasso Sea.” The continually growing spate of Jane Austen spin-offs contains too many titles too list. Meanwhile, James Deaver and others are keeping Ian Fleming’s James Bond alive.

My point is, if you enjoy reading and/or writing fanfiction, don’t be shy about it. Don’t feel it’s something less worthy than “real” literature. You’re in the company of Mark Twain and Shakespeare, after all.

Note: Why yes, there is a list in our online catalog.

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Categories: Book Buzz
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