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Review: A Garden of Marvels

August 1, 2014

Book cover for A Garden of MarvelwDo you enjoy mysteries? Do you like plants? If you answer “yes” to both of these questions, then Ruth Kassinger’s “A Garden of Marvels: How We Discovered That Flowers Have Sex, Leaves Eat Air, and Other Secrets of Plants” is just the book for you. Think about it – few things around us are more mysterious than plants, and Kassinger does a great job writing about them in an engaging and entertaining way. She talks about plant evolution, the history of botany and the people who propelled it forward (as well as the techniques they used). She describes her visits to universities where contemporary scientists shared their knowledge with her. And she shows the inner workings of plants: the way they breathe, propagate and survive adverse conditions (this information is arranged in three separate chapters: roots, leaves, and flowers). Kassinger even explores the world of competitive giant pumpkin growing, and she takes her readers to an annual fall festival in Maine, where pumpkin lovers turn pumpkins into competitive racing boats.

At the end of the book, the author touches on the possible benefits of the genetic engineering of food plants and the use of plants as biofuel. One of the readers described “A Garden of Marvels” this way: “I highly recommend this book to everyone – even if it means I’m no longer the only one in the room who knows the difference between collenchyma and sclerenchyma, and I lose my Look-How-Plant-Smart-I-Am edge in cocktail party small talk.” :)

P.S. If you like “A Garden of Marvels,” don’t miss another book by Kassinger: “Paradise Under Glass: An Amateur Creates A Conservatory Garden.”

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Reader Review: Lionheart

July 31, 2014

Book cover for Lionheart by Sharon PenmanLionheart” is about King Richard the Lionheart of England and his time in the crusades. I love this author, Sharon Kay Penman, particularly her historical mystery novels, but I also fell in love with this series with the first book, “When Christ and his Saints Slept.” It can be a bit much to read these all in a row, but if you like historical fiction, her books are incredibly well-researched and I even enjoy her author’s notes where she talks about her research. I get to learn and be entertained at the same time! This book is no different from her others and brings King Richard to life, presenting him as a much more complex character than his legend.

Three words that describe this book: entertaining, historical, balanced

You might want to pick this book up if: You like well-researched historical fiction.

-Trish

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Science Fiction Graphic Novels

July 30, 2014

Graphic novels can be great to read if you don’t have a lot of time or if you don’t consider yourself much of a reader. With more images and fewer words than a regular novel, graphic novels make it easy to get drawn into the author’s world. Science fiction in particular is a great genre to read in graphic novel form because the images help bring the story to life, giving real depth to aliens, monsters and spaceships. I went through DBRL’s collection of science fiction graphic novels, which is pretty large, and picked out five popular and interesting series to tell you about.

Book cover for Tune by Derek Kirk KimTune by Derek Kirk Kim
Lighthearted and funny, “Tune” is great read. This graphic novel is going to be more fiction and a little less science. It’s about an art college student named Andy who finds himself in desperate need of a job. The only offer Andy gets is to be an exhibit at an alien zoo. Not only is this graphic novel full of witty humor, but it is also drawn well, easy to read and hard to put down. Currently, there are only two books in the series, but with the way the second book ends, there is no doubt that more are going to come.

Book cover for the graphic novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Chris Roberson
This series is the prequel story to Philip K Dick’s science fiction novel of the same name. If you enjoyed that read, then this graphic novel is definitely worth checking out. It follows two different story lines that slowly grow together and begin to intertwine. With an android trying to hunt down other runaway androids, an empath trying to control his power and a scientist trying to save the human race from dying out, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep has it all.

Book cover for the graphic novel SagaSaga by Brian K. Vaughan
The series Saga starts by throwing us into a Romeo and Juliet-esque romance where a couple from two warring races are having a child together. What better way to start a graphic novel than that? With characters like a teenage ghost, a robot prince, a dad with magic and a mom with wings, it’s hard not to love Saga. Just beware, you won’t find the same lighthearted sense of humor here that is present in Tune. There are currently three volumes published in the Saga series.

Book cover for the graphic novel Y, the Last ManY, The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan
When I found out that the series Saga and Y, The Last Man were written by the same author, I wasn’t too surprised. Y, The Last Man shares the same serious and slightly violent feeling that Saga does. In this graphic novel series, the plague doesn’t turn people into zombies; it kills off every living creature with a Y chromosome, minus, of course, one spunky escape artist, Yorick, and his male monkey, Ampersand. While Yorick, a secret agent, and a scientist try to find a way to save mankind, the trio gets caught up in a lot of scary situations. With 10 volumes in this series, it will keep you turning pages till the very end.

Book cover for the graphic novel The Manhattan ProjectsThe Manhattan Projects by Jonathan Hickman
The Manhattan Projects was my least favorite series of the five. The story was based around an alternative history involving scientists and aliens. It is well written, and the art style is original and different. It is set right after the fall of Hitler and Nazi Germany. A group of scientists have created a special lab, The Manhattan Projects, where they investigate portals to alternative worlds, nuclear bombs and computers that can think on their own. It is an interesting concept, but because it is based in real history, I had a hard time not questioning the plausibility of what was occurring. If you’re interested in scientists and history, though, then this is the science fiction graphic novel for you.

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Reader Review: Material Witness

July 29, 2014

Book cover for Material WitnessCallie Harper lives in the Amish community of Shipshewana, Indiana and she owns the quilters shop left to her by her late aunt. Since she arrived in this little community she has made friends, English and Amish. She has also been accused of murder and found an unlikely ally on the police force. Now the unthinkable happens: someone murders her competitor in front of Callie’ s own shop. To make matters worse, her friend Melinda’s wheelchair-bound son is the only witness. Will the Amish community help in the investigation or will they protect the murderer?

I do not typically pick up Amish books but I do love a clean mystery. This book was great on both counts!

Three words that describe this book: Amish, mystery, Christian

You might want to pick this book up if: You enjoy clean, fun mysteries with a Christian slant to them.

-Stefanie

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Seventh Summer Reading Gift Card Winner Announced

July 29, 2014

TrophyCongratulations to Margie, a Fulton patron, for winning our seventh Adult Summer Reading prize drawing of the summer.  She is the recipient of a $25 gift card from Well Read books.

Our final drawing of the summer will be this week, so keep your fingers crossed.  You can still submit book reviews  to increase your chances of winning.

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The Sounds of Science

July 28, 2014

Schoolhouse Rock CD cover image“I got science for any occasion
postulating theorems formulating equations.”

That excellent rhyme is from the Beastie Boys’ song, “The Sounds of Science” off their classic album “Paul’s Boutique.” While not technically about science, the song does refer to Isaac Newton, Galileo, the theory of relativity and Ben Franklin’s famous kite experiment. The Beastie Boys are using science as a metaphor for their expansive skills and knowledge.

Science doesn’t just pop up in music for clever wordplay and braggadocio (although that is pretty awesome, right?). Many songs are inspired by science. In some that inspiration is implied, and in others it’s explicit. Scientists also have a fascination with music, on how and why it has an effect on us. Here are a few of the more interesting items in the library catalog where science and music intersect.

Schoolhouse Rock: Science Rock
This is a collection of science songs from the iconic TV show. It’s an ideal soundtrack for a certain generation longing nostalgically for the lost, lazy Saturdays of their youth. Or it could be the ideal soundtrack for that generation’s children to learn about electricity, gravity and the human body.

CD cover art for Here Comes Science by They Might Be GiantsHere Comes Science” by They Might be Giants
It’s probably no coincidence that Misters Flansburgh and Linell turned their talent for writing fact-based pop songs into educational children’s songs around the time they each became parents. They haven’t let that niche audience hamper their unique style in these songs. They are as enjoyable for the childless TMBG fans as for those cranking this CD in their minivan full of kids. And if you’ve been looking for inventor Nicolai Tesla’s impact on the world encapsulated in a pop song, then check out “Tesla” from their album “Nanobots.”

This is Your Brain on Music” by Daniel J. Levitin
Daniel J. Levitin is a former session musician, sound engineer and record producer. He is now a neuroscientist who runs the Laboratory for Musical Perception, Cognition and Expertise at McGill University. When the book jacket says this is “the first book to arrive at a comprehensive scientific understanding of how humans experience music,” you at least know the author has the bona fides to tackle such an ambitious subject. I’m not qualified to say how comprehensive the book is, but it is a fascinating and wide-ranging look at one of our great obsessions. Levitin begins with the fundamentals of what music is. He then expands out to questions like the evolutionary origins of music and why we like the music we do.

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain” by Oliver Sacks
Oliver Sacks is probably best known for the movie “Awakenings,” which is based on his book of the same name. He writes that it was seeing the effects music had on the patients in “Awakenings” that prompted him to think and write about music. In “Musicophilia” he writes about the effect of music on several different patients. There are stories of musical seizures, musical hallucinations, musical dreams and a man who became obsessed with Chopin after being hit by lightning.

The Marriage of True Minds” by Matmos
You might have to file this one under pseudoscience, but there’s no denying the band used the rigorous parameters of a science experiment in making these songs. Matmos re-enacted an experiment called the GANZFELD experiment, designed to create a scientifically verifiable way of investigating ESP. They isolated subjects in a room and used sensory deprivation techniques on the subjects. The subjects were instructed to clear their mind and try to receive any incoming psychic signals. Meanwhile, a band member sat in an adjacent room and tried to transmit “the concept of the new Matmos album” into the mind of the subject in the other room. They used the results of these experiments as source material, blueprints or restrictions in the creation of this new Matmos album.

Science is Fiction: 23 Films” by Jean Painlevé
Jean Painlevé was a biologist and filmmaker who started filming undersea documentaries in the late 1920s. In order to do this, he encased his camera in a custom made waterproof box. Although he did not consider himself a Surrealist, the influence of that movement can be seen in both the style and the subject matter of his films. The result is something like Jacques Cousteau meets the oil projections that used to play behind Grace Slick as she sang about Alice in Wonderland. Naturally, some of these films needed a live score. In 2001 the band Yo La Tengo wrote a score for 8 of Panlievé’s short films and performed them live at the San Francisco Film Festival. This collection of films includes a live performance of the score from 2005, as well as an interview with the band. Caution: the music for “The Love Life of the Octopus” might melt your brain.

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Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The August 2014 List

July 25, 2014

Library Reads logoNeed a thriller or a romping romance to take your mind off of the school year’s approach? How about losing yourself in an imagined world via Sci-fi or historical fiction? This month’s LibraryReads list has you covered. Here are the top 10 books being published in August that have librarians buzzing.

Book cover for One Kick by Chelsea CainOne Kick
by Chelsea Cain
“Kick Lannigan survived being kidnapped as a child. Now, at 21, determined never to be a victim again, she has reinvented herself. Martial arts and weapons handling are just a few of the skills she has learned over the years. Kick catches the attention of John Bishop, a mystery man with access to unlimited funds, and together they go after a cabal of child pornographers. A read-in-one-sitting, edge-of-your-seat thriller.”
- Elizabeth Kanouse, Denville Public Library, Denville, NJ

Book cover for Lucky Us by Amy BloomLucky Us
by Amy Bloom
“Is a family the people you are born to or the people who you find along the way? That’s what Bloom explores in this novel set in pre- and post-WWII Ohio, Los Angeles, New York and Germany. The story follows resourceful Eva, who was abandoned by her mother at an early age, and her sister Iris, an aspiring actress who tries to find love at a time when her kind of love must be secretive. Every character is beautifully drawn, warm and believable.”
- Kathryn Hassert, Henrietta Hankin Branch Library, Chester Springs, PA

Book cover for Heroes Are My Weakness by Susan PhillipsHeroes Are My Weakness
by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
“Any Susan Elizabeth Phillips novel is going to make it onto my must-read list, but this one is particularly wonderful, and here’s why: she creates, then cheerfully destroys, the romance cliche of the brooding hero with a dark secret who lives in a crumbling mansion and captivates a plucky heroine. The hero is a horror novelist, and the heroine a failed actress-turned-puppeteer. This warm, witty, comedy-drama is a perfect summer read.”
- Donna Matturri, Pickerington Public Library, Pickerington, OH

And here is the rest of the list with links to the catalog for your hold-placing pleasure!

 

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Reader Review: The Inheritor’s Powder

July 24, 2014

Book cover for The Inheritor's PowderThe Inheritor’s Powder” follows the case of the 1833 alleged murder of George Bodle, a wealthy man with a complicated will. Unfortunately, it first had to be proven that he was murdered before his murderer could be sentenced, and forensic science was in its infancy. Interspersing trial details with scientific developments, Sandra Hempel details both the progression of arsenic detection in the nineteenth century and the lives that meanwhile hung in the balance. Though captivating, you might want to take notes to keep track of all the names!

Three words that describe this book: fascinating, concerning, and ominous

You might want to pick this book up if: you like crime drama and forensic history.

-Anonymous

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The Great War: One Hundred Years Later

July 23, 2014

Book cover for Poetry of the First World War“Some die shouting in gas or fire;
Some die silent, by shell and shot.
Some die desperate, caught on the wire;
Some die suddenly.  This will not.”
- Rudyard Kipling

June 28, 2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I (also known as the First World War). While dozens of military histories have been written about the Somme, Passchendaele and Verdun, great literature and social histories have also emerged about the war. These books try to answer some of the following questions. What remnants of civilized society did soldiers bring with them to these terrible and unearthly battlefields? What were their thoughts? What happened to the cohort of men who lived through combat (known after the war as the “Lost Generation”)? Where and how did European culture survive during and after the war? Look no further than your library for answers to some of these questions.

Book cover for Paris at the End of the WorldParis at the End of the World:  The City of Light During the Great War” by John Baxter is a good starting point. Paris remained a cultural oasis and respite from the trenches for the thousands of  soldiers who passed through the city during the war. “Few people could have felt more lost, more in need of a friendly word, a loving hand,” writes Baxter.  Although the city was quickly pulled under by the currents of war, with many residents fleeing as the Germans advanced in September 1914, “Once the front stabilized, cafes, cabarets, shops, and brothels reopened to brisk business as soldiers were rotated home on leave and Paris swelled with the bureaucracy of war.” Indeed, even in the face of the privations and terror of those years, Pablo Picasso and Eric Satie staged avant-garde performances in several Paris theatres to large and enthusiastic audiences.

Book cover for Good-Bye to All ThatAfter the war ended, a diaspora of British veterans, many of them from the officer class, scattered across the face of the globe, vowing never to return to their homeland. Robert Grave’s “Goodbye to All That is still the classic exemplar of a WWI memoir, with Grave’s time in the trenches as the centerpiece. Graves despised the British class system almost as much as the army, but the working class men who fought under his command loved him. What makes the book so remarkable today is its first-hand and unflinching examination of trench warfare, coupled with a sly humor. “Cuinchy bred rats. They came up from the canal, fed on the plentiful corpses, and multiplied exceedingly,” he writes of his first, pest-infested billet. Graves left for Majorca in 1929, after years of attempting to come to grips with life in post-war England and the terrible wounds and shell shock he suffered.

Soldiers on the front also wrote poetry. Several classic books of WWI poetry have been released over the years, but the most recent arrival is “The Poetry of the First World War: An Anthology.” Romanticism met head-on by the mechanized warfare of the early 20th century generated a vivid amalgamation of terrifying, moving verse. The works of Siegried Sassoon, Thomas Hardy and Wilfred Owen are included in this compilation.  “Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, / Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, / Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs / And towards our distant rest began to trudge,” go the first harrowing lines of  “Dulce et Decorum Est,” written by Owen in 1917, shortly before his death.

Six years ago, near the end of her life, Doris Lessing gave us her very last book, “Alfred and Emily.” The first part of the book is fantasy, imagining what it would have been like if her father, Alfred, had never fought and the war had never existed. In reality, her father, maimed by shrapnel, was among the diaspora of veterans mentioned above, ending up in southern Africa where Lessing lived for a great part of her early life. Lessing says, “Even as a child I knew his obsessive talking about the Trenches was a way of ridding himself of the horrors. So I had the full force of the Trenches, tanks, star-shells, shrapnel, howitzers—the lot—through my childhood, and felt as if the black cloud he talked about was there, pressing down on me.”

Finally, we turn to Richard Rubin’s book “The Last of the Doughboys.” In a long push that started in 2003, Rubin interviewed dozens of American veterans between the ages of 101 and 113. The last WWI veteran, worldwide, passed away in 2012. Near the end of the book, Frank Buckles, the last American survivor and a native of Bethany, Missouri, is asked what had changed most in his lifetime, what events transpired that had had the most impact. Rubin writes: “He (Buckles) didn’t hesitate: ‘That little instrument you have there in your pocket,’ he said. My cell phone. I had forgotten to turn it off, and it had rung while we were talking.”

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Reader Review: Under the Eagle

July 22, 2014

Book cover for Under the Eagle by Samuel HolidayI was drawn to “Under the Eagle” simply to fulfill an idle curiosity I had about the Navajo culture and the Code Talker program. But this book gave me way more than I bargained for.

“Under the Eagle” is a personal story of a quiet, dignified man. It is also a study of Navajo spiritual and cultural traditions and a US history lesson as well, with gripping first-person accounts of the battles for the Pacific Islands of Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and others.

As a reader I was immediately drawn in by the unusual format. The introduction (something I don’t usually read but found invaluable in this case) explains that this book is a written oral history. What you read is Samuel Holiday’s story in his own words with no flowery narration to ease transitions or add extra details. Co-author Robert S. McPherson transcribed and edited many hours of recorded interviews with Mr. Holiday, so that what you read is what he said.

Mr. Holiday credits surviving the war to his strong faith  in the Navajo way. As a result, each chapter begins with a Navajo legend important to a particular stage in Mr. Holiday’s life. The legend is followed by Mr. Holiday’s story. Finally, each chapter concludes with a “commentary,” an overview of world events surrounding the eyewitness accounts.

As I read the book, I was appalled (once again) by the way our country has treated minorities. But, I was also amazed and humbled by the way Mr. Holiday and his family adapted to the hardships they encountered. I was impressed how the Navajo spiritual and cultural traditions forged Mr. Holiday into a physically fit young man who was eager to defend his country – the very country who did not treat all of her citizens as equals.

Throughout the war and the many years of suffering in silence from what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Mr. Holiday maintained a quiet dignity. I would be honored to shake this man’s hand and thank him for sharing his story with the world. Books like this remind us that there are quiet heroes all around us. It also keeps us from forgetting the many who didn’t make it back.

Three words that describe this book: Heroic, Historic, Riveting

You might want to pick this book up if: you are interested in World War II history and native American mythology.

-Melanie

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The Gentleman Recommends: Daniel Woodrell

July 21, 2014

Book cover for The Maid's Version by Daniel WoodrellConsecutively devouring ten books by the same author is not without its hazards. That such an undertaking insisted on itself proves it worthy, and surely being squarely in the grip of a master yarn-spinner is nothing to raise a fuss over. But might the immersion in such a distinct style cause a gentleman to subconsciously drift toward a foolish imitation unworthy of the inspiration? Might the constant brutality perpetrated by hill-folk not warp one’s perceptions until they find themselves cowering from anyone with a downhome drawl or countrified attire? Perhaps one would find themselves either desperately craving or spectacularly repulsed by squirrel meat.

Anyhow, at the risk of extending an unkindness to three, I’d venture that seven of Daniel Woodrell’s books are masterpieces. The three I’d omit from this designation make up “The Bayou Trilogy,” his first, third and fourth books. Focusing on the ex-boxer and current detective Rene Shade, these books are fun, fast reads and about as good of a character study as you’ll find filed in the crime section of a place that obsessively segregates their genres. They just don’t pack the wallop of his other works.

I’d judge his second book to pack a mighty punch. “Woe to Live On” is narrated by a Civil War rebel. Despite his allegiance and tendency to murder boys because “pups become hounds,” Woodrell, as great writers do, earns the reader’s empathy.

After completing “The Bayou Trilogy,” Woodrell began writing about the seedier, grislier aspects of his home, the Ozarks. “Give Us A Kiss: A Country Noir” is the blood and booze-soaked ride its subtitle implies. “Tomato Red” chronicles the hazards of vandalizing a golf course and a drifting, meth-dabbling lifestyle. “The Death of Sweet Mister” tells of a particularly troubled spell in a 12-year-old boy’s life, offers maybe my second favorite of Woodrell’s voices, and ends with a devastating sentence I’d like to talk about but for my aversion to goose-pimples. His most well-known book, “Winter’s Bone,” is such in large part because of the award-winning film adaptation. But I’d urge you to read it regardless of your familiarity with the movie. I reckon the dread conjured on its pages cannot be replicated by city-folk and their fancy lights and transparent plastics. “The Outlaw Album” is a collection of short, brutal stories.

His most recent book, the one with my favorite of his voices and the one that lead me down Woodrell’s backwater rabbit-hole, is “The Maid’s Version.” A fictionalized recounting of a real dance hall explosion in a small Missouri town, this novel attached me to characters in a matter of sentences before whisking them away and into pieces. If you’re the sort to deface books, there are sentences worthy of a highlighter. The perils of that act would be facing a dried-up highlighter and a thoroughly emphasized text.

Woodrell’s characters often behave downright ungentlemanly, what with the murder, spousal abuse, robberies and squirrel eating, but this grisliness is rendered in prose poetry so sharp you’ll have a gamy taste in your mouth, a hankering for mid-morning rum and a healthy suspicion of anyone from down Ozarks way. (I’ve read they’re apt to steal your prescriptions.)

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Sixth Summer Reading Gift Card Winner Announced

July 18, 2014

TrophyCongratulations to Xander, a Columbia patron, for winning our sixth Adult Summer Reading prize drawing of the summer.  He is the recipient of a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card.

You can still register for Adult Summer Reading at any of our branch locations or Bookmobile stops or register online.  Also, don’t forget that submitting book reviews increases your chances of winning the prize drawings.  We have two drawings left this summer, so keep your fingers crossed.

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Dracula, and Other Literary Pet Names

July 18, 2014

Photo of a dog with a bookAs you may already be aware, we have a lot of books here at the library. The number of books the library has on different niche subjects always amazes me. We have books on topics that I didn’t even know existed! For example, I recently discovered that we have a few books dedicated to naming one’s pets. Inspired by these books, as well as a recent post on the literary blog BookRiot, I decided to come up with some literary names for pets (with the help of some coworkers and friends). Here is the resulting list of book-inspired animal names. Feel free to steal them.

Literary names for dogs (Bonus game: if you don’t already know, guess which books these names came from. Click on the links to see the answers.)

  • Rooster - Mattie, the protagonist of this book would also work, or even Portis, the author’s last name.
  • Primrose - if I ever get a tiny terrier, I volunteer as tribute to use this name!
  • Snowy - another good name for a (white) terrier.
  • Oliver - a pet name with a literary Twist!
  • Daisy - a classic pet name that could also be a reference to a classic book.
  • Atticus, or, of course, Scout.
  • Charley - for the French poodle.
  • Hank - perfect for a cowdog!

Literary names for cats

  • Photo of a cat on a bookshelfCrookshanks - Hermoine Granger’s cat, which is part Kneazle. (Kneazle wouldn’t be a bad name either.)
  • Pete - an obvious one, but still pretty cute.
  • Seuss or Hat, though that might get confusing.
  • Jane - for classic book lovers.
  • Dracula! I am definitely using this one if I ever get another cat.
  • Langston - a great writer with a great name.
  • Franny or Zooey.
  • Ramona or Beezus.

Literary names for fish

  • Coraline, but really, what Neil Gaiman character doesn’t make a good pet name? Shadow, Mazikeen, Thorn - if you’re a Gaiman fan, then you’ve got lots of options.
  • Babel -  just don’t try to stick it in your ear!
  • Walden - you know, like the pond.
  • Kilgore Trout - the disgruntled prolific science-fiction author.
  • Dorian - for your Wilde little pet!
  • Captain Ahab - or you could call it Ishmael.

Do you have a perfect literary pet name? Let us know in the comments!

Photo credits
Dog photo: betta design via photopin cc
Cat photo: Mandee Carter via photopin cc

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Reader Review: What Should We Be Worried About?

July 17, 2014

whatshouldwebeworriedaboutIf you think you’ve already got plenty of things to worry about, think again. The “worries” presented in this book will give you a whole new flock of ideas that never crossed your mind before. A compilation of mini-essays by scientists, professors, journalists and other great minds, this book poses the question, “what should we be worried about?” and shares answers – sometimes enlightening, sometimes nearly ridiculous.

The topics in this book cover everything - artificial intelligence, space exploration, technological innovation, human interactions, global warming, and the list goes on. Yet even those subjects which may seem dry and worn out are presented with a fresh perspective, and for every potential item of worry that one contributor may find especially concerning, it is often countered with an opposing opinion.

This broad array of opinions and ideas makes for a fascinating read, but overall, I think this book could have been about half the length. You can only cover the topic of worry and of why we should or shouldn’t be worried about this or that so many times before it starts to feel old and worn out. I enjoyed it, but I was ready to put it down quite a few pages before it was over.

Three words that describe this book: science, ideas, problems

You might want to pick this book up if: You like picking the brains of other great thinkers and stretching your mind with hypothetical situations, and if you don’t mind a bit of redundancy in thematic material.

-Mary Beth

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The Sixth Extinction: Are We Engineering Our Own Demise?

July 16, 2014

Book cover for The Sixth ExtinctionIt all started with “Titans of the Ice Age.” This past winter my son and I watched this Imax film at the St. Louis Science Center. It depicts life on earth approximately 14,000 years ago, when giant mammoths, saber-toothed tigers and other ferocious creatures roamed frozen North America. Though the reasons are still speculative, these and other megafauna were extinguished when this most recent ice age ended and the glaciers retreated. Toward the end of the film, the narrator ponders whether the megafauna of our present times (elephants, bison and tigers) will go the way of their ancient cousins due to human-induced climate change and habitat destruction.

This film set me to wondering about extinction and its causes, and since I lean toward worry about the state of our planet and whether it can sustain all of our human habits, I started rooting around for information. I discovered that extinctions have occurred many times over the course of the last four billion years, including five massive events. It brought me odd comfort to know that the causes of these massive die-offs couldn’t have been prevented and were caused by external forces (e.g., a meteorite hitting earth and intensive and prolonged volcanic activity). Amazingly, each time life was virtually wiped from the face of the earth, new and different forms were born and proliferated.

Now we are presented with the possibility of another mass extinction event. This time though, the cataclysmic force is not external but brought on by humankind’s extreme alteration of the planet. In her book, “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History,” Elizabeth Kolbert’s research tracks the disappearance of species millions of years ago. And she documents what is currently taking place – the loss of specific life forms, at alarming rates – by visiting research stations around the world and querying scientists who are carefully monitoring these vanishing animals.

Book cover for The Fate of The SpeciesIn “The Fate of the Species: Why the Human Race May Cause its Own Extinction and How We Can Stop It,” Fred Guterl addresses a number of circumstances that could lead to human demise, including superviruses and climate change. He explains how our success with technology brought us to this precipice, and how using technology will be our best chance of saving ourselves.

If you need a visual aid to demonstrate the profound human-induced planet change that has occurred, watch “Manufactured Landscapes,” a documentary on the art of Edward Burtynsky. His photographs are exquisitely beautiful compositions of devastation done to Mother Earth in the name of economic progress. His range covers oil fields and refineries, quarries, dam building, mounds of trash and so on. Although he makes a point not to politicize his work, leaving it up to the viewer to draw his or her own conclusions, to me the message is clear: humankind has and continues to drastically alter the earth in harmful and unsustainable ways.

If you’re less inclined to read about the earth’s mass extinctions you could learn about them by watching the television series “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey,” hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson. In the second episode (“Some of the Things That Molecules Do”), he takes the viewer on a visit to the Halls of Extinction and explains the cause of the “Great Dying” (or “Permian Holocaust”) that occurred 251 million years ago. This was the whopper of the five mass extinctions with nine out of 10 animals being erased from the planet and was likely the result of massive and sustained (over thousands of years) volcanic activity in Siberia. This activity generated heat and toxic fumes so intense that the seas dried up and most land animals suffocated. Tyson covers a lot of material in this episode, and I was hoping for information on the other mass extinctions, but he alludes to these being covered in future episodes.  I’ll have to check out the rest of the series over the course of the summer–the computer-generated graphics and animation are amazing!  And I can peruse DBRL’s collection for other DVDs on extinction, and you can, too.

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Reader Review: Oryx and Crake

July 15, 2014

Book cover for Oryx and Crake by Margaret AtwoodIn a terrifying future world, Jimmy (“Snowman”) tells the story of the downfall of mankind and his part in that fall. I enjoyed Margaret Atwood’s narrative style and lush imagination. “Oryx and Crake” reads as a cautionary tale. The world she imagines could come to fruition if humanity stays the present course. Word of warning: this book contains significant profanity and adult themes. No children please!

Three words that describe this book: evocative cautionary tale

You might want to pick this book up if: You enjoy post-apocalyptic imaginings and dark humor. Also, if you don’t mind some rather prolific profanity.

-Jennifer

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What’s New and Local at Your Library: Into the Dark Places

July 14, 2014

Book cover for Everyone Dies in the EndBook cover for The Weight of BloodI could call this post “What’s New and Sinister at Your Library,” as I’ll discuss two Mid-Missouri authors who have decided to lead us on journeys through the dark side.

If you missed Laura McHugh’s author talk in June, you’ll have a chance to catch her at the Columbia Public Library on September 18, when she’ll be leading a book discussion of this year’s One Read selection, “The Boys in the Boat.”  Her own book, “The Weight of Blood” is hyper-local, much of it having been written in the Quiet Reading Room at the Columbia Public Library. The novel centers around two cases of missing persons, a generation apart.

Lucy Dane’s mother disappeared when Lucy was a small child. Rumors about Lila Dane, a mysterious outsider who married a local, have swirled around the tiny Ozarks town of Henbane ever since. Years later, when Lucy is in high school, her friend Cheri vanishes, as well. Unlike Lila, Cheri turns up eventually – dead. In a small town where everyone seems to know everyone else’s business, nobody has answers for Lucy about what happened to either young woman. But she is determined to find out.

McHugh looks at parts of American life that many of us would be happy to ignore. The story is told from multiple viewpoints, both present and past. The tension builds as the two timelines draw together to reveal the scope of what has been, and still is, happening.

Everyone Dies in the End” by Brian Katcher is equal parts dark and funny. Imagine if H.P. Lovecraft wrote a romantic comedy. This young adult novel relates what a student journalist finds when he digs too deep. And by deep, I mean think about undead creatures that dwell underground.

Sherman Andrews has goals, dreams, ambitions. And he packs them all along with him to the Missouri Scholars’ Academy the summer before his senior year of high school. There he becomes involved with an ace library assistant (the love interest) who helps him investigate a series of unsolved deaths and disappearances from the 1930s. There are obstacles, of course – threats from people who don’t want the truth uncovered, a source who might or might not be delusional, the occasional supernatural manifestation…

Both books contain a scare factor as the characters encounter evil in different forms, but both also have characters who stand up to the evil and shine a light into the darkness.

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Fifth Summer Reading Gift Card Winner Announced

July 14, 2014

TrophyCongratulations to Kim from Hartsburg for winning our fifth Adult Summer Reading prize drawing of the summer.  She is the recipient of a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card.

All it takes to be entered into our weekly drawings is to sign up for Adult Summer Reading. You can do this at any of our branch locations or Bookmobile stops or register online.  Also, don’t forget that submitting book reviews increases your chances of winning.  We are half way through our prize drawings, so keep those reviews coming.

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Reader Review: Tiger’s Curse

July 11, 2014

Book cover for Tiger's CurseYoung Adult fantasy lovers rejoice. Another fun adventure awaits with a unique twist: India and Indian mythology. “Tiger’s Curse” is the first in a four book series, and each book is better than the next. I found “Tiger’s Curse” to be a treat with a few bumps – mostly due to the fact that this was the author’s first book. I felt the plot was a little shaky, getting protagonist Kelsey to India. But once she was there, the story unfolded smoothly and was rife with ancient quests, were-tigers, delicious foods and complex characters. Grab a lemon water and mango yogurt and enjoy the ride…er, read.

Three words that describe this book: Quest loving fun

You might want to pick this book up if: You like YA fantasy, mythology (especially Indian) and weres.

-Anna

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Reader Review: The Invention of Wings

July 10, 2014

Book cover for The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk KiddI thought Sue Monk Kidd’s “The Invention of Wings” was a little slow at the beginning. (This could be because I have read three other books about this same topic in the past year.) This book is based on actual people, but is a mostly fictional account of the lives of Sarah Grimké and her sister Angelina. It is a story of two sisters fighting to free slaves and for equal treatment of free slaves and women. Once I got into the book, I loved it. There is a lot of complexity to this book and a lot of symbolism also, which I love. It was very inspiring to read about Sarah wanting to figure out her place in life and follow her dreams, even though at times she thought about giving up and giving into what society thought she should be. I liked that this book was based on actual people even though the book was fictional. I did get very emotional at the end of Denmark’s part of the story, and it actually made me literally sick to my stomach. That was the first time I have felt a connection to a situation in a book where I had a reaction other than tears. I really felt for Handful and Denmark and the others in that moment and could feel the tension and the strength they had.

Three words that describe this book: inspiring, historical, educational

You might want to pick this book up if: You enjoy historical fiction.

-Lea Ann

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