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Heroic Women of Historical Fiction

June 29, 2015

book cover for The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie NewtonThis summer we’re exploring heroes, from crime-fighting superheroes to everyday folks just making a difference in their communities. Heroes can also be found within the pages of great literature. Historical fiction, which often chronicles the imagined experiences of real-life events, is a genre that is especially filled with heroes. I will admit I’m partial to stories of women in these historical settings. I know my own life is very different than those of the women who came before me. In fact, the life I lead has been very much shaped by those brave women from earlier centuries. The heroic women of historical fiction provide a glimpse into the challenges women of the past faced and how their bravery shaped today’s world. Here are a few of my favorite historical novels featuring strong women.

The years before the Civil War were tumultuous, especially in the Kansas Territory where abolitionists struggled to gain a stronghold and help the state enter the Union as a free state. Jane Smiley’s “The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton,” features a Midwestern young woman who finds herself thrust into the upheaval of “Bleeding Kansas.” Lidie heads out to the territory with her abolitionist husband and (to be frank) completely unrealistic expectations of what the Kansas prairie will be like.  The story, filled with Lidie’s dry wit, is at times laugh-out-loud funny, and at others is quite sobering in its portrayal of the horror of slavery and violence of those years. I think Missouri residents will find this read especially interesting given all the Missouri locales that Lidie visits during her travels.

Book cover for Shanghai Girls by Lisa SeeThe experience of Chinese immigrants in WWII-era Los Angeles features in Lisa See’s “Shanghai Girls.” Pearl and May are sisters living exciting lives as models in glamorous Shanghai. When WWII breaks out, they find themselves in arranged marriages to sons of a Chinese-American merchant. Pearl and May are forced to leave China for the United States, landing first in the Angel Island Chinese immigration station and then in Los Angeles’ Chinatown. The sisters, bearing the weight of their own painful secrets, struggle to adjust to life under a domineering father-in-law and a society that is highly prejudicial against Asian-Americans. See’s novel, based in part on her own family’s experiences, provides a captivating look at the immigrant experience in this country.

Book cover for Year of WondersA small town’s struggle to survive during the Plague is chronicled in Geraldine Brooks’ “Year of Wonders.” The story is based on actual events — a small Derbyshire town called the village of Eyam quarantined itself in 1666 in order to prevent the plague from spreading further. Anna, a young maid, finds herself tasked with learning herbal remedies and midwifery when her village is overcome by the devastating disease. She becomes an important healer but faces many challenges, including the superstitions of the very people she is working to save. The novel is a beautifully written journey of self-discovery as Anna realizes strength and determination she did not know she possessed.

Happy reading!

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Next Month: Cosplay Costume Con for All Ages

June 26, 2015

Cosplay Banner 1

Cosplay Costume Con for All Ages
Come to the library dressed as your favorite character! Whether superhero, anime, sci-fi or your own original design, we want to see you as you usually aren’t! Prizes will be given for costumes in different age categories, and participants can pose for some great photo ops. This program is for all ages! No registration required.

Columbia Public Library
Wednesday, July 22
at 6:00 p.m. Callaway County
Public Library
Thursday, July 30
at 6:30 p.m. Southern Boone County
Public Library
Tuesday, August 4
at 6:30 p.m.

Photos by Flickr User Marnie Joyce. Used under creative commons license.

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Second Summer Reading Gift Card Winner Announced

June 26, 2015

TrophyCongratulations to Laura J., a Columbia Public Library patron, for winning our second Adult Summer Reading prize drawing.  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.  There are plenty of chances left to win this summer, so keep those reviews coming.

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Reader Review: Trigger Warning

June 25, 2015

Book cover for Trigger WarningAs much as I adore Gaiman’s work, I just am not as thoroughly a fan of short stories (and generally even less of poetry). It feels like short fiction too often relies on cleverness as opposed to genuine moving prose to make its mark. With all that said, I still enjoyed reading these 300 pages. My favorite tale was definitely the aged Sherlock piece. I could happily read a novel in that world. In fact I could happily read a novel of just about any of these stories should they be expanded. And…I think I might like them more if they were allowed the room to breathe. The Doctor Who story was quirky and the Shadow tale was mildly gripping. I just inevitably find myself wanting more.

Three words that describe this book: fantastical, abbreviated, varied

You might want to pick this book up if: you’re a fan of Neil Gaiman. His style is distinct and is on full display here.


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Back Beat: Docs about Musicians in the Background

June 24, 2015

20 feet from stardomThere is always a story behind every piece of music. Sometimes those stories are featured prominently, but other quieter stories can exist behind the music as well. Check out these docs that focus on the musicians who’ve worked hard in the background with little recognition.

20 feet from stardom20 Feet From Stardom” (2013)

They are the voices behind the greatest rock, pop and R&B hits of all time, but no one knows their names. Now, in this award-winning documentary, director Morgan Neville shines the spotlight on the untold stories of such legendary background singers as Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer and more.

girls in the bandThe Girls in the Band” (2014)

This film tells the poignant, untold stories of female jazz and big band instrumentalists from the late 1930s to the present day. The challenges faced by these talented women provide a glimpse into decades of racism and sexism in America.

standing in the shadows of motownStanding in the Shadows of Motown” (2002)

Director Paul Justman’s music-infused documentary chronicles the reunion of the Funk Brothers — the anonymous backup group that from 1959 to 1972 provided the music for nearly every hit produced by Berry Gordy’s famous Motown Records.

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Reader Review: Star Island

June 23, 2015

Editor’s note: The following review is by a library patron and contributed as part of this year’s Adult Summer Reading program. Want to submit reviews of your own? Sign up and get started today!

Book cover for Star Island by Carl HiaasenStar Island” is about the underbelly of showbiz, the paparazzo and big money land investments that contribute to destroying the natural environment of Florida, to speak in general terms. Hiaasen’s hero who appears in many of his books (Skink or Captain or former Governor of Florida – showing himself in his normal ragged, dirty trench coat, braided beard, bald head), tries to right the wrongs of society as well as continue with his mission of saving the Everglades and Florida’s natural habitat. The twisted, intriguing story is based around a young singer who can’t carry a tune and her exciting life as an addict in habitual need of upscale recovery centers. I liked the intricate weavings of the various characters’ lives and the extensive epilogue at the end.

Three words that describe this book: Celebrities, intricate, energy

You might want to pick this book up if: you enjoy a very good story, books about a chivalrous knight dressed up as a giant body guard with a weed whacker in place of one of his hands, and a swamp monster type homeless looking man. Carl Hiaasen, my current favorite author, weaves a really good, complicated, satirical story with amazing insight into the workings or the not-so-well workings of society, government and human nature, especially in Florida.


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June 22, 2015

Book cover for The Dark Knight ReturnsThe superhero. The origin story, the nemesis, the team up, the world-saving, etc. Oh, and the reboot. Never forget the reboot. We’ve seen it before, and we’ll see it again. The superhero is an enduring trope that has permeated pop-culture. Inevitably, writers and artists started creating comics that critique, satirize and subvert the idea of the superhero. What might have started as efforts to tell a new story in a well-worn genre morphed into creative examinations of the concept of the superhero. Despite any high-minded genre dissections, the basic thrill of superhero stories is in these titles. These creators work in the genre because they ultimately love it, warts and all.

In 1986 two series premiered which are now touchstones for the re-imagining of the superhero story: Watchmen, and The Dark Knight Returns. The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller tells the story of a 55-year-old Bruce Wayne who must return from retirement (spoiler alert!) as Batman. Gotham has turned into a bit of a dystopian nightmare in the 10 years since Batman retired. Batman is not so nice and not very stable. His reemergence brings some of his arch rivals out of retirement as well, which adds to the chaos in Gotham. In addition to being a different take on an iconic character, “The Dark Knight Returns” satirizes the media and political atmosphere of the 1980s.

Cover for The Watchmen graphic novelWatchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons also offers a critique of the 1980s, specifically the Cold War hysteria of the time. It examines political themes buried in comics, such as the line between vigilantism and fascism, and what a government might really do with superpowered beings. Moore’s original idea started as a murder mystery involving characters from Charlton Comics, which DC Comics had just purchased. Although Moore was persuaded to create original characters for the story, it maintained it’s very meta take on comics, what Gibbons referred to as “a comic about comics.”

An unfortunate trend followed the success of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. Many comics appeared that tried to replicate their success with darker, more violent superhero stories, but they lacked the substance that made those comics lasting works. However, some darker comics followed whose quality is comparable.

The series Marshal Law by Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill first appeared in October 1987, when the final issue of Watchmen was published. It’s a darkly satirical story where the superheros are misguided government experiments and shell-shocked war vets wreaking havoc in a crumbling San Francisco, now called “San Futuro.” Marshal Law is a legally sanctioned superhero hunter (“I’m a hero hunter. I hunt heroes. Haven’t found any yet,” is his tag line). He’s trying to round up all the rogue heroes to make the city safer. From superheros.

Cover for the graphic novel The BoysThe Boys by Garth Ennis also deals with out-of-control superheros with a dark, satirical tone. In this case the superheros are an amoral and entitled variety that play a public role as “heroes” while in reality show a complete disregard for others. The Boys are a CIA-backed group who have lost loved ones, or otherwise had their lives ruined, by the negligence and misbehavior of superheroes. They are given injections of the same compound that creates superheroes and tasked with holding the “‘supes” accountable. They do so with a vengeance.

The series Irredeemable and Incorruptible by Mark Waid tell two sides to the same story. Irredeemable is the story of Plutonian, a god-like superhero from another world (like Superman) who loses it. He lays waste to much of the world, and the survivors live in terror of him. The story traces the cause of his meltdown, while also following the uphill battle surviving superheros have in their attempt to stop the most powerful being on Earth.

Incorruptible follows super villain Max Damage after Plutonian’s meltdown. The horror inflicted by Plutonian and the state the world is in give Max a crisis of conscience. The series follows him as he tries to change his ways and do right in this broken world.

Cover of the graphic novel Death RayDaniel ClowesThe Death Ray examines the “with great power comes great responsibility” line from Spider-Man, asking “what might a misfit teenager really do if he had superpowers?” Andy is growing up in 1970s Chicago and suffering at the hands of bullies. He discovers that smoking cigarettes gives him super strength. Naturally, he arms himself with a ray gun and looks for revenge. Andy is neither good nor evil but a realistic portrait of a mixed-up kid given some unrealistic abilities. The story is told with the mix of melancholy, humor and cynicism that has made Clowes one of the most critically acclaimed cartoonists of our time.

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Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The July 2015 List

June 19, 2015

Library Reads LogoCan we all just agree to take the month of July off to sit around in our hammocks sipping iced tea and reading until our eyeballs break? The LibraryReads list highlighting books publishing next month (and inspiring librarians across the country to entertain similar fantasies) includes not only the expected breezy romances but also a new historical fiction from Paula McClain (“The Paris Wife“) and a confident debut that will delight foodies with an appetite for character-driven novels. Bon appétit!

Book cover for Kitchens of the Great MidwestKitchens of the Great Midwest” by J. Ryan Stradal
“This novel is quirky and colorful. The story revolves around chef Eva Thorvald and the people who influence her life and her cooking. With well-drawn characters and mouthwatering descriptions of meals, ‘Kitchens of the Great Midwest’ will appeal to readers who like vivid storytelling. Foodies will also enjoy this delicious tale.” – Anbolyn Potter, Chandler Public Library, Chandler, AZ

Book cover for Circling the SunCircling the Sun” by Paula McLain
“I couldn’t stop reading this fascinating portrayal of Beryl Markham, a complex and strong-willed woman who fought to make her way in the world on her terms. McLain paints a captivating portrait of Africa in the 1920s and the life of expats making their home there. Highly, highly recommended.” – Halle Eisenman, Beaufort County Library, Hilton Head, SC

Book cover for Kiss MeKiss Me” by Susan Mallery
“As always, Ms. Mallery has given us a fantastic read. As soon as I pick up her titles, I can’t put them down until I have finished them. They are feel-good, heartwarming — I need more synonyms. I love seeing all the previous characters, the friendships and families that have formed since ‘Chasing Perfect’ came out five years ago. Thanks, Ms. Mallery, for another amazing read.” – Jenelle Klavenga, Marshalltown Public Library, Marshalltown, IA

Here is the rest of the July list with links to the library’s catalog. Place your holds now!

Second Chance Summer” by Jill Shalvis
Speaking in Bones” by Kathy Reichs
Those Girls” by Chevy Stevens
Maybe in Another Life” by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Crooked Heart” by Lissa Evans
Love Lies Beneath” by Ellen Hopkins
Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day” by Leanne Brown

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First 2015 Adult Summer Reading Gift Card Winner Announced

June 19, 2015

TrophyCongratulations to Kerri G., a Columbia Public Library patron, for winning our first Adult Summer Reading prize drawing.  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.  There are plenty of chances left to win this summer, so keep those reviews coming.

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