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For the Love of Food

December 17, 2014

Book covers for The Language of Baklava, Garlic and Sapphires, and Mastering the Art of French EatingIt’s hard to find a good subject for a book column in December. It’s not a good time for serious subjects. (Who has the time to concentrate at the height of a shopping season?) It’s too early for books about reinventing yourself (wait till January) or humor (better for April :) ). So, after contemplating my options, I decided to write about books that revolve around food. (We do eat a lot this time of the year :) .) These are not plain cookbooks, mind you, but books that describe places many of us would love to travel to and lives that have been marked by memories of food.

The first book I’d like to feature (also my personal favorite) is “The Language of Baklava” by Diana Abu-Jaber. It is a touching memoir of a girl coming of age in two worlds: the American world of her mother and the Jordanian world of her father. Growing up without a clear sense of belonging is very disorienting for Diana, but she is not the only one who feels disoriented. So does her immigrant father, who doesn’t seem to be able to decide where he – and his family – should live. He tries to hold on to his identity by cooking his native dishes, and for his daughter, that food becomes a trail she can follow down memory lane. With recipes for all occasions – festive and sorrowful – Abu-Jaber’s book is a joy to read and a joy to use in the kitchen.

Book cover for Biting Through the Skin“There is something to be done at this season,” begins Nina Mukerjee Furstenau in her book “Biting Through the Skin,” as she contemplates which holiday or festival she – a person born into a family of Bengali immigrants and a raised in the American Midwest – should celebrate. Like Diana Abu-Jaber, Furstenau struggles to define her identity and her culture and to bring order to her life. She solves her longing by cooking, and – later in her life – by embracing the faith and traditions of her ancestral country. Filled with the flavors and aromas of India and peppered with recipes, Furstenau’s book is a pure sensory pleasure, as well as an eloquent meditation on one person’s life.

Would you like to go to dinner with a New York Times food critic? If you said, “Yes,” then let me introduce “Garlic and Sapphires,” by Ruth Reichl. Reichl, a Los Angeles restaurant critic, takes a similar job at the New York Times. Now in New York, she finds herself in a position that can make or break a restaurant reputation, which means that many fashionable restaurants try to prepare for her visit. To make sure that she is not recognized, Reichl decides to wear disguises: wigs, fake jewelry, etc. This allows her to see restaurants through the eyes of their average customers. Unobserved, she witnesses the rudeness of the staff, notices different portion sizes (higher-status customers get bigger portions) and even different menus (unimportant customers are offered fewer dishes). Sincere and entertaining, Reichl’s book is an eye-opener on the world of New York restaurateurs.

No food column can be complete without mentioning French cuisine, and Ann Mah’s “Mastering the Art of French Eating” is just the book to show it off. Food writer Mah comes to France with her American diplomat husband, but she soon finds herself in Paris alone, for her husband is called to Iraq. To quell her loneliness, Mah travels around the country researching its iconic dishes like cassoulet, steak, andouillette sausage and crepes – ten in all. Mah talks to butchers, restaurant owners, chefs and other food aficionados, and she learns how the history of different regions of France is reflected in the evolution of their food. Liberally peppered with French expressions and recipes (I tried her steak recipe and it worked very well!), Mah’s book is a true ode to French food.

If you like spicing your food with stories, try “Secrets of the Tsil Café” by Thomas Fox Averill or “Cinnamon and Gunpowder” by Eli Brown. And, if you want to add a little mystery to your plate, don’t forget about experienced literary chefs like Diane Mott Davidson, Joanne Fluke and Tamar Myers. Whatever your food preference, you can always find a taste of it at your public library. As they say in the restaurants, “We’re here to serve you!”

The post For the Love of Food appeared first on DBRL Next.

Categories: Book Buzz

The Gentleman Recommends: Michel Faber

December 15, 2014

Book cover for The Book of Strange New Things by Michel FaberThe best way to read a book is to read it without knowing anything about it. But of course there’s only so much time to read, so it’s nice that there are gentlemen out there recommending awesome books. A gentleman doesn’t review a book, he merely recommends it and maybe adds some details about the book so his posts aren’t just absurd rambles or thinly veiled political rants or pointless introductions. But the book review industry is, in large part, in the business of summarizing works and spoiling as much fun as possible. And the book review industry is an unstoppable behemoth that eats books and poops cash and then doubles back to grab some of the cash. Yes, I’ve got a finger or two clasping at the beast’s tail. How else would I be able to afford the tremendous amount of pancakes a gentleman requires to start and end his day?

I’m going to tell you some stuff about a great book, but really you should just close this page, then open and close it several more times, electronically mail the link to all your friends (encourage them to open and close it several times), regular mail it to all your enemies, post the link on your social medias, shave the URL into your hair and read “The Book of Strange New Things” by Michel Faber. Really, one of the most satisfying things about this novel is the way details and plot are slowly released. If you prefer blog posts to novels or you like to know more about a book before you read it or you’re my mom, then keep reading. Might as well grab a snack. The gentleman recommends pancakes.

Michel Faber wrote this book, about a man and wife separated by immense distance, while his wife was dying of cancer. Pretty intense. Here’s a nice article if you want more details about Mr. Faber and the creation of his book.

The Book of Strange New Things” begins with a husband and wife on the way to an airport. The husband will be whisked away for a substantial time, and though both parties see it as a necessary (glorious even) whisking, they are terribly sad to be separated. Then, matter of factly, we learn the man is going away because he’s to do some missionary work on a distant planet. Peter gets into one of those moist bed things that helps science fiction characters sleep whenever they must travel incredible distances. Bea goes home to their cat and their church. Peter arrives on Oasis (named by a contest held by the corporation that owns it) to minister to the aliens. Turns out he’s the third pastor they’ve had.

Since I didn’t read a bunch of reviews I had no idea whether the aliens were friendly or disturbingly hungry or basically just a bunch of pasta that some corporate bigwig thought it would be funny to have a pastor talk at. I also didn’t know what happened back on earth while Peter was ministering to the Jesus-loving aliens (whose faces resemble something like a walnut crossed with a couple of fetuses). I also didn’t know how Peter would acclimate to his new planet while natural disasters and human cruelty made a devastating mess of life on earth. The book is haunting and sad, but not hopeless. Kinda like eating a pancake without an absurd amount of toppings, except much more fun to consume.

I never wanted the book to end, but great things must. Also, as much as I’d like to mention pancakes again, this post must end. Have a great day, Mom!

The post The Gentleman Recommends: Michel Faber appeared first on DBRL Next.

Categories: Book Buzz

What to Read While You Wait for Gray Mountain

December 12, 2014

Book cover for Gray Mountain by John GrishamOne extremely popular title on the New York Times best seller list this fall is the legal thriller “Gray Mountain” by John Grisham. Like in all great thrillers, there is a hero pitted against a villain. Grisham’s hero is Samantha Kofer, third year associate with the prestigious Lehman Brothers law firm in New York until the financial crisis of 2008 upends her life and transplants her to the Appalachian coal country of Brandy, Virginia. There she works as an intern for the Mountain Legal Aid Clinic. While defending the citizens of the county and meeting the handsome litigator, Donovan Gary, she stumbles onto deadly secrets surrounding Big Coal mining!

This highly sought after title has created a rather lengthy waiting list at the library. So, if you are currently on this list, you might like to try these titles! (Publisher’s descriptions included)

Raylan” by Elmore Leonard
When Federal Marshall Raylan Givens squares off against a known offender, he will warn the man, “If I have to pull my gun I’ll shoot to kill.” Except this time he finds the offender naked in a bathtub, doped up and missing his kidneys. Raylan knows there’s big money in body parts, but by the time he finds out who is making the cuts, he is lying naked in a bathtub himself, Layla, the cool transplant nurse, about to go for his kidneys. It turns out all the bad guys Raylan is after are girls this time.

Book cover for Stand Up That MountainStand Up that Mountain” by Jay Erskine Leutze
This is the true story of an outdoorsman living alone in Western North Carolina who teams up with his neighbors and environmental lawyers to save a treasured mountain peak from the mining company. One day the author got a call from a young woman, Ashley, and her Aunt Ollie. Ashley and Ollie said they had evidence that Clark Stone Company was violating the Mining Act of 1971 up on Belview Mountain, one of the most remote and wildest places in the eastern United States. They wanted Jay, a non-practicing attorney, to sue the company to put a stop to their mining operation. This is an underdog David vs. Goliath story with lots of good guys you love, and bad guys you love to hate. Not only did the case against the Clark Stone Company set groundbreaking legal precedent, but also the good guys won a complete victory. How they did it is chronicled in this book.

Book cover for The Perfect Witness by Iris JohansenThe Perfect Witness” by Iris Johansen
She had the perfect life. She had the perfect cover. She was the perfect witness, until they found her. From the blockbuster bestselling author of the Eve Duncan novels comes a new, stand-alone thriller about a woman with a photographic memory who has lived her life in the Witness Protection Program. What she once saw put her entire family in jeopardy and now, years later, her cover is blown. She’s on the run, and the lives of those she holds dear hang in the balance.

The post What to Read While You Wait for Gray Mountain appeared first on DBRL Next.

Categories: Book Buzz

Classics for Everyone: Starring “Ulysses” as “The Most Dangerous Book”

December 10, 2014

Book cover for The Most Dangerous Book by Kevin BirminghamThe Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses” by Kevin Birmingham tells the story of how one of the great novels of the 20th century almost didn’t come to be. Birmingham provides a look at Joyce’s life and work in the larger social context of the early 1900s. Though the contents of “Ulysses” would hardly cause an eye to bat in the present day, during the time the Irish author was writing the book censorship was thriving in the United States and Europe. In the U.S., the Comstock Act prohibited the circulation of obscene materials through the mail. Only a small handful of men were charged with defining obscenity, and their definitions tended to be broad.  In addition, “Ulysses” was challenged under the Sedition Act, with the accusation that it promoted anarchy.

Book cover for Ulysses by James JoycePortions of “Ulysses” first appeared in a Chicago-based literary magazine, The Little Review. The periodical was publishing the book in installments, right up until the editors were arrested for doing so. Fortunately for literature, Joyce had many supporters who were determined to make his novel available to the world. Ezra Pound, who called Joyce “probably the most significant prose writer of my generation,” coordinated efforts on both sides of the Atlantic.

Your Classics Maven admits that “Ulysses” can be a difficult work of literature. But she urges interested parties not to shy away from the book without at least trying. She herself has enjoyed it in the way you might enjoy being around an eccentric relative you don’t always understand, yet who supplies enough golden moments to make the occasional confusion worthwhile.

Everyone who reads fiction should know why “Ulysses” is considered important. Birmingham says the book “changed people’s ideas about what a novel is and what it can do.”  The title is taken from the main character in Homer’s ancient Greek classic “The Odyssey,” and different sections of the story mirror bits of that epic. But instead of taking place over a period of decades, all of the action happens in one day. This was a new idea at the time, although it’s a familiar framing device today. Also new was Joyce’s stream-of-consciousness narration, reflecting the way people actually think, instead of tidy summations. Some passages aren’t intended to be understood so much as experienced; the Sirens’ song from Homer is represented by a string of words chosen for sound rather than meaning.

Even if you only read about Joyce’s “Ulysses” instead of working your way through its text, you’ll see its influence in other novels. Some contemporary authors dispense with quotations marks. Joyce has been there, done that.  David Mitchell experiments with structure in a Joycean way. Jenny Offill’s “Dept. of Speculation” changes format several times as scenes shift, which we completely accept because Joyce first showed it could be done. So even if you haven’t read “Ulysses,” by reading contemporary fiction, you’ve read “Ulysses.”

The post Classics for Everyone: Starring “Ulysses” as “The Most Dangerous Book” appeared first on DBRL Next.

Categories: Book Buzz

Remembering Author Kent Haruf (1943-2014)

December 8, 2014

Book cover for Plainsong by Kent HarufIn 2002, the Daniel Boone Regional Library decided to start the community-wide reading program we now know as One Read. I was excited when it was announced that the first book selection was “Plainsong” by Kent Haruf. Kent Haruf was a former teacher of mine. This connection allowed me the opportunity to interview him for the library and to chauffeur him between readings and other events. Essentially, I was paid to spend time with the man. It was the best job I’ve been given in my time working for the library.

Photo of Kent HarufIn every class I had with him he’d start the semester with a short speech to give the class an idea of the kind of writing he did. He told us about the town of Holt, Colorado, which existed only in his books. He said Holt was the kind of small town where everyone knew each other, “from the town drunk to the town mayor.” When he said that before a One Read event in Columbia, he got a little flustered. Columbia’s mayor at the time, Darwin Hindman, was there. Kent said he realized this was the first time he’d delivered that line with an actual mayor in the audience. Before a reading in Fulton, an elderly farmer and his wife approached Kent to tell him how much they liked his book. The farmer could especially relate to a scene where a cow gallops into the character Bobby and knocks the wind out of him. He’d had that exact experience many times himself.

Now I understand the true feat Kent accomplished in the classroom. We’re talking about short stories written by people in their late teens and early twenties. (I hope I’ve burned all evidence of mine.) Class after class. And he never seemed tired of us. He never made us feel like we didn’t have the potential, and he never made us think it could be easy.

For one of his classes we read Melville’s “Bartleby The Scrivener.” After we had all shared our impressions, he told us his. He told us about a former student at another college who was very isolated. The character Bartleby reminded him of that student. The last time he had heard about the student he was working at a bakery, living in an apartment above it, and spending very little time outside of those two places. I don’t know how many years it had been since he’d had that student in class, but you could hear the concern in his voice. You could tell he felt some regret that he wasn’t able to help the young man more.

That capacity for empathy made him such a good teacher, and a great writer. He cared about all his characters deeply, and he worked hard to bring them to life. Holt was based on the different small towns in Eastern Colorado he’d grown up in. Reading his books you can tell he had a real affection for the people in those towns. His writing focused on the small moments, the ordinary. His prose was spare but illuminated the moments he described. I think reading one of his novels makes our ordinary lives feel as significant as the lives in an epic or fantastic story. Maybe more so, for their being so familiar to us.

I was a little surprised by my reaction when I found out he had died. I admire him. I value the time I got to be around him, but I had only been in touch a handful of times since I graduated, and the last time was almost seven years ago. I haven’t become a published writer. I don’t teach English. I thought he was a part of my life that had passed. But the news was a real gut punch. Despite the lack of contact, I felt this sudden hole where he used to be. I realized the lasting impression he made. Then I felt sadder for not being able to tell him that. These kinds of common experiences – unexpected loss, small regrets – are what he wrote about so eloquently. I can’t help thinking as I try to put them into words, “Kent could have said it better.”

Kent Haruf wrote his seventh novel, “Our Souls At Night” before he passed away. It’s scheduled to be published in June.

The post Remembering Author Kent Haruf (1943-2014) appeared first on DBRL Next.

Categories: Book Buzz

Ask the Author: An Interview With Marlene Lee

December 5, 2014

Book cover for Limestone Wall by Marlene LeeRemember those good old childhood days of playing card games in a pretty old house while drinking hot chocolate and looking out the window at the limestone wall of a prison? Well, that might not be a typical childhood memory, but it gave local author Marlene Lee plenty of inspiration for her latest book, aptly titled “Limestone Wall.” The house that overlooked the prison, which happens to be the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City, belonged to one of Lee’s father’s patients, and he would take her with him to visit the woman who lived there. In “Limestone Wall,” the main character, Evelyn Grant, moves into this very house in Jefferson City.

DBRL: Your most recent book, “Limestone Wall,” is about a recently widowed woman who goes to find her estranged mother, who is in jail for murdering twin babies. It seems like there are some pretty heavy themes in this book. Could you talk about your inspiration? I know that before becoming a full-time writer you worked as a court room reporter. Did that influence your work?

Photo of the Missouri State PenitentiaryML: I should make clear that my mother never killed anyone or went to prison!  When I was a girl in Jefferson City, however, she died, and I’ve always wished I could see her again. This novel was a fictional way to think about what it is like to remember the past and to bring someone back to life and then to find firm footing between reality and wish-fulfillment.

My 30 years as a court reporter no doubt influenced the novel. The scene with Evelyn in the courtroom was easy to write because I’ve been in so many courtrooms. I also sat in that empty courtroom in the Cole County Courthouse so that I could describe it accurately and better imagine what it felt like for Evelyn to sit there, lost in thought about her mother’s trial.

DBRL: The excerpt from the book on your website describes a prison waiting room in vivid detail. Did you visit any prisons as research?

ML: The prison waiting room is not based on a real waiting room. I took a private tour of the Missouri State Prison with two people who are knowledgeable about the old penitentiary and life behind the walls. At the time it was being emptied out because the prison was moving to its new site; thus, the prison in “Limestone Wall” is nearly empty of inmates because that was its condition when I saw it. I’ve visited several other prisons in other locations. Once in the state of Washington I reported the deposition of a prisoner who was going through an appeal process. I don’t pretend to know very much about prisons. I used the setting of the Missouri State Penitentiary to help build my story rather than to inform readers about the prison.

Photo of a latteDBRL: I heard that you’re a regular at Lakota Coffee. Do you have a favorite drink there?

ML: My drink at the Lakota is the same every morning: a single-shot, skim-milk latte.  It never fails to satisfy!

DBRL: Have you read any good books recently which you would like to recommend to our readers?

ML: I love the writing of Edward St. Aubyn. His semi-autobiographical novels about the character Patrick Melrose are magnificent. He has mastered the ability to make the reader feel as if she or he is living the life of the main character, both in the small details and the large events. Patrick’s life is troubled, courageous, and he fights the good fight for self-control and self-knowledge. I love Marilynne Robinson‘s wise and compassionate novels.  William Styron has always been a favorite of mine. All three of these writers have a sensitive, insightful writing style that I admire. There are too many wonderful writers to include in one short list!

Marlene Lee, along with other local authors, will be speaking on a panel at the Columbia Public Library on December 13th at 1 p.m. in the Friends Room. These authors (including David Collins, Ida Fogle, Elaine Stewart, Lori Younker, Nidhi Khosla, William A. Wolff and Wayne Anderson) will be talking about their contributions to the recently published anthology of fiction and non-fiction, “Uncertain Promise.” To check out Marlene’s other events and to keep up-to-date on  her writing, please visit her website.

photo credits
Missouri State Penitentiary: Spanish Dilettante via photopin cc
Cup of coffee: Infomastern via photopin cc

The post Ask the Author: An Interview With Marlene Lee appeared first on DBRL Next.

Categories: Book Buzz

‘Tis the Season

November 24, 2014

Yes, it’s the holiday season, but it is also awards season. Each fall we are treated to not only best-of-the-year book lists but also the Man Booker prize-winner and National Book Award titles, among others. If you have readers on your holiday shopping list, consider giving them one of these excellent books. (Book descriptions provided by their publishers.)

Book cover for RedeploymentRedeployment” by Phil Klay
Winner of the National Book Award for fiction
This collection of stories takes readers to the front lines of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, asking us to understand what happened there, and what happened to the soldiers who returned. Interwoven with themes of brutality and faith, guilt and fear, helplessness and survival, the characters in these stories struggle to make meaning out of chaos. These stories reveal the intricate combination of monotony, bureaucracy, comradeship and violence that make up a soldier’s daily life at war, and the isolation, remorse and despair that can accompany a soldier’s homecoming.

Book cover for Age of Ambition by Evan OsnosAge of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China” by Evan Osnos
Winner of the National Book Award for nonfiction
From abroad, we often see China as a caricature: a nation of pragmatic plutocrats and ruthlessly dedicated students destined to rule the global economy – or an addled Goliath, riddled with corruption and on the edge of stagnation. What we don’t see is how both powerful and ordinary people are remaking their lives as their country dramatically changes. As the Beijing correspondent for The New Yorker, Evan Osnos was on the ground in China for years, witness to profound political, economic and cultural upheaval. In Age of Ambition, he describes the greatest collision taking place in that country: the clash between the rise of the individual and the Communist Party’s struggle to retain control.

Book cover for The Storied Life of A. J. FikryThe Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” by Gabrielle Zevin
LibraryReads favorite title of 2014
A.J. Fikry’s life is not what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is failing, and his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. He is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island and from Amelia, the Knightley Press sales rep who refuses to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore that gives A.J. the ability to see everything anew. It doesn’t take long for the locals to notice the change; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.’s world.

Book cover for The Narrow Road to the Deep NorthThe Narrow Road to the Deep North” by Richard Flanagan
Winner of the Man Booker Prize for fiction
A magisterial novel of love and war that traces the life of one man from World War II to the present. In 1943, Australian surgeon Dorrigo Evans is haunted by his affair with his uncle’s young wife two years earlier. His life, in a brutal Japanese POW camp on the Thai-Burma Death Railway, is a daily struggle to save the men under his command until he receives a letter that will change him forever. This is a savagely beautiful novel about the many forms of good and evil, of truth and transcendence, as one man comes of age, prospers, only to discover all that he has lost.

Book cover for Ordinary Grace by Williams KruegerOrdinary Grace” by William Krueger
Winner of the Edgar Award for best mystery fiction
Looking back at a tragic event that occurred during his thirteenth year, Frank Drum explores how a complicated web of secrets, adultery and betrayal shattered his Methodist family and their small 1961 Minnesota community.

For more inspiration, check out the awards lists in your library’s catalog!

The post ‘Tis the Season appeared first on DBRL Next.

Categories: Book Buzz

Ask the Author: An Interview With Eric Praschan

November 19, 2014

Book cover for Blind Evil by Eric PraschanI am excited to introduce a new series here at DBRL Next: Ask the Author. In these posts we will interview writers in our library community. Do you know of a local author from whom you’re dying to hear? E-mail us and we’ll see what we can do!

Our first interview is with author Eric Praschan. Praschan launched his writing career after suffering from a reoccurring illness that left him temporarily mute and unable to feel his extremities. In order to process this traumatic event, Praschan decided to turn this experience into research for his writing. Three years later, he self-published his first full-length novel, “Therapy for Ghosts,” which he later turned into a trilogy following protagonist Cindy James on her quest to uncover her past and reconcile with her family’s dark secrets. The author has now sold over 16,000 books. His latest book, “Blind Evil,” was published earlier this year.

DBRL: One of your first books, “Therapy for Ghosts,” was inspired by your battle with mute paralysis, as well as your experience with cognitive behavioral therapy. Your latest book, “Blind Evil,” is a psychological thriller about a police detective whose best friend is a primary subject in a double homicide. Can you talk about some of your inspirations for this book?

EP: Strangely enough, the initial idea for “Blind Evil came to me almost eight years ago on my honeymoon. My wife and I booked an inexpensive “beachside cottage” in Florida, but when we arrived at night, we discovered that the cottage was several miles into the woods surrounded by head-high grass. The cottage didn’t have window curtains and the cottages next door didn’t have curtains, either. There were cars parked nearby, but no lights were on, and no one was around. The moonlight trickled in through the trees, and it was dead silent. It was very creepy. My wife and I looked at each other and said, “I don’t think so.” We got out of there like our pants were on fire and drove back into town to stay in a resort. After we were safe in a room fully furnished with curtains and working lights, we laughed about it and said that that cottage was the kind of place from a horror movie “where people go to die.”  Lesson learned – don’t go cheap on your honeymoon.

The image of that creepy cottage stayed with me, and over the years, the story started to emerge.

I could still envision that chilling moonlight, the eerie stillness and our skin crawling. Then the characters began to come to life. In terms of the psychological aspects of “Blind Evil,” the subject of psychology is fascinating to me – how the human mind works, how we react to each other and how we respond in difficult circumstances. I wanted to see what would happen if three close friends, whose lives had been entangled in a complicated manner while growing up, were placed in a psychological pressure cooker.  John, a police detective, doesn’t know if he can trust his best friend, David, who is now the prime suspect in a double homicide. Emily, the woman they both have loved, is caught in the middle, and the tension rises. My motto for writing is: the more conflict, the better!

DBRL: All of your published books, with the exception of your short story “The Furrowed Brow,” are set in Missouri. As a local Columbia, Missourian, you understand the advantages and limitations of living in mid-Missouri. What are some things you like most about living here?

EP: I love the geography of Missouri.  The forests, hills and rivers provide rich texture to the landscape, and I’ve always found great story inspiration from nature. There’s haunting allure and mystery hidden in the picturesque Missouri scenery. I enjoy the close proximity of rural and urban territories in Missouri. If you’re in a city, just drive 10 or 15 minutes in any direction and you’ll probably end up in the country surrounded by farms, fields and majestic horizon lines. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Devil's Icebox - photo by Mike Tigas via photopinColumbia, Missouri is particularly inspiring for me because it is located near Rock Bridge Memorial State Park  and other natural landmarks that can fuel the imagination. For my most recent novel, I actually hiked one of the trails and descended into the Devil’s Icebox cave at Rock Bridge State Park to do some research for a scene. The experience was thrilling, and I took pictures and notes in the darkness of the cave with only the light of my cell phone, all the while trying to keep my feet steady on the slippery, wet rocks. The people around me probably thought I was crazy, but I just smiled. Authors do crazy things for their stories, I suppose!

I also enjoy living in Columbia because it offers a great artistic community. There are so many wonderful writers I’ve had the opportunity to meet and become friends with, and it’s been invaluable to share stories, resources and experiences with them. Writing can often feel like a solitary journey, so it’s encouraging to have a writing family around you, and Columbia certainly provides that sort of environment.

DBRL: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers in our area? Are there local resources they should consider taking advantage of?

EP: The best piece of advice I have is simply this: don’t give up. Everyone has an idea for a book, but the difference between an idea and an actual book is the willingness to commit to your idea, to shut out distractions, to dedicate yourself to developing your craft and to sit in the chair and pound out the pages until the story is done. Discouragement, self-doubt, fear of failure, fear of rejection and fear of negative criticism will loom like a dark cloud threatening rain, but it’s your job to ignore the cloud and keep those words coming, even writing through the rain, if you must. The only person who can make you stop writing is you, so never give up and never stop growing as a writer.

For writers in Columbia, I would recommend taking advantage of several local resources:

DBRL: Have you read any good books lately that you would like to recommend to our readers?

EP: Recently, I’ve read and would highly recommend Laura McHugh’s “The Weight of Blood,” which is set in the Ozark Mountains. With deeply developed characters, a rich atmospheric setting and a barn burner of a plot, it’s a literary thriller you won’t want to miss. I also recently finished Daniel Woodrell’s “Winter’s Bone,” which is set in the Ozarks as well. Woodrell’s novel showcases the landscape of Missouri in an unforgettable manner, and his main character, Ree Dolly, is a heroine for the ages.

More information about Eric Praschan can be found on his website. Check out “Blind Evil” or “Therapy for Ghosts” from the library today! His other books are available from Amazon.

photo credit: mtigas via photopin cc

The post Ask the Author: An Interview With Eric Praschan appeared first on DBRL Next.

Categories: Book Buzz

The Gentleman Recommends: John Darnielle

November 17, 2014

Book cover for Wolf in White Van by John DarnielleThese days many people like to do more than one thing with their lives. The results are often generously deemed unspectacular. For every brilliant acting performance by political savant Arnold Schwarzenegger, there are three ill-advised folk or jazz albums by some actor who found the time to buy a guitar or piano and grow a beard on the downtime from his day job. For everybody that grimaces at the idea of Stephen King directing a movie, or Wolf Blitzer babysitting their kids, or catching a glimpse of Terry Bradshaw, there is understandable trepidation caused by a novel by an acclaimed rock and roller. But John Darnielle is not your typical song and dance man. His acclaim hasn’t been generated by facial paints or scandalous dance moves but by the quality of his songcraft. Indeed, the author bio on the back flap of the magnificent “Wolf in White Van” proclaims he’s “widely considered one of the best lyricists of his generation.” Now granted, not everyone that can pen pretty lyrics can craft a decent novel. But consider this: Darnielle’s acumen for fiction is made evident by the fact that his band is called “The Mountain Goats” when in fact it is comprised often times by only a single human, Darnielle himself, and never by any non-human mammals. Also, a big hat tip to the interns here at the Next Blog for pointing out the band’s inability to scale the sheerest rock faces.

Wolf in White Van” is a powerful book, dense with pretty sentences you can imagine Darnielle setting to music. Darnielle, in addition to shaming Sir Elton John’s tennis game, has written the sort of page-turner character study that most novelists don’t have in them. It’s a melancholy and sometimes grim look at the early life of a damaged man. While a teenager, the narrator survived a gunshot that left his face radically deformed. The novel flashes between Sean’s present and his past, eventually coming all the way back to the night when a bullet changed his future. To deal with living inside his head during his hospital stay, and with the loneliness that sticks with him indefinitely, Sean has created a mail-in role playing game. There are frequent asides from inside the post-apocalyptic world its players must navigate. Completing the game is impossible, which, given its subscription based nature, is just good business sense. This perhaps hints at a third talent Darnielle could unleash; I’m sure Pat Sajak is somewhere gritting his teeth right now.

John Darnielle will write and perform more songs. It seems likely he’ll write more novels. Here’s hoping he has plenty of time to do both and that fewer athletes open restaurants.

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Categories: Book Buzz

Best Books of 2014

November 14, 2014

This time of year is a list-lovers dream. 2014 won’t be over for weeks, but lists naming the year’s best books are already cropping up, just like Christmas trees appearing in department stores well before Thanksgiving.

Last week Library Journal weighed in with their top 10 titles, as did Publisher’s Weekly.  “Only 10 books?” scoffs Amazon.com. How about 100?

These lists have some sleepers and some surprises, but there is something here for every reader. Below are just a few books receiving rave reviews, along with their publishers’ descriptions.

book cover for A Brief History of Seven KillingsA Brief History of Seven Killings” by Marlon James
A lyrical, masterfully written epic that explores the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in the late 1970s. Deftly spanning decades and continents and peopled with a wide range of characters – assassins, journalists, drug dealers, and even ghosts – “A Brief History of Seven Killings” is the fictional exploration of that dangerous and unstable time and its bloody aftermath, from the streets and slums of Kingston in the ‘70s, to the crack wars in ‘80s New York, to a radically altered Jamaica in the ‘90s.

Book cover for Everything I Never Told YouEverything I Never Told You” by Celeste Ng
“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” So begins the story of this exquisite debut novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee – their middle daughter, a girl who inherited her mother’s bright blue eyes and her father’s jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue – in Marilyn’s case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James’s case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the center of every party. When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together tumbles into chaos, forcing them to confront the long-kept secrets that have been slowly pulling them apart.

Book cover for On ImmunityOn Immunity: An Inoculation” by Eula Biss
Upon becoming a new mother, Eula Biss addresses a chronic condition of fear: fear of the government, the medical establishment, and what is in children’s food, mattresses, medicines and vaccines. Biss investigates the metaphors and myths surrounding the conception of immunity and its implications for the individual and the social body. As she hears more and more fears about vaccines, Biss researches what they mean for her own child, her immediate community, America and the world.

Book cover for Station ElevenStation Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel
An audacious, darkly glittering novel about art, fame and ambition set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse. One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time – from the actor’s early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains – this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet.

Book cover for Thirteen Days in SeptemberThirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David” by Lawrence Wright
A gripping day-by-day account of the 1978 Camp David conference, when President Jimmy Carter persuaded Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat to sign the first peace treaty in the modern Middle East, one which endures to this day. With his hallmark insight into the forces at play in the Middle East and his acclaimed journalistic skill, Lawrence Wright illuminates the issues that have made the problems of the region so intractable, as well as exploring the scriptural narratives that continue to frame the conflict.

And if you are anti-best-of-book-lists, you might try some titles that appear on Kirkus Reviews’ list of most overlooked books (so far) of 2014.

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Categories: Book Buzz

Recommending YAFA (Young Adult Books for Adults)

November 10, 2014

Photo of a readerThere’s been a lot of controversy lately about adults reading young adult fiction (YA). Many argue that adults should be ashamed for reading books written for children, while others say it shouldn’t matter. If you enjoy reading YA, that’s all that’s important. I have to agree with the latter argument. Telling adults they should be ashamed to read YA is absurd, but then again, telling anyone they should be ashamed to read ANYTHING is absurd!

Sure, YA books are novels aimed at readers aged 12 to 19, but YA is more than that. Many books for teens are written in a style meant to keep these readers engaged, and thus much of YA is full of more direct language, faster pacing, action scenes and emotional turmoil. These features appeal to many people (not just teens!!) because of the other media they love with similar plots or pacing – movies, TV shows, Twitter and Instagram.

Enjoying this style of book isn’t just something teens can do. Everyone can.

Now, that being said, I don’t think the classics are dead, or adults should read only YA. That’s also crazy talk. Everything has its place and time. Everything is important to someone. But should an adult feel ashamed for not wanting to be bogged down with what they might see as superfluous language or ambiguous endings? Hardly. Everyone has their preferences.

If you have read YA fiction and thought it was immature, then maybe you haven’t read enough YA. Just like in any genre or category of books, there is the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful. You can’t judge an entire type of book based on one work, or even two.

My series of YAFA posts will suggest YA books that will, I hope, appeal more to adult readers. And they won’t be books already enjoying big buzz like “The Hunger Games” or “The Fault in Our Stars.” Here is my first recommendation.

Book cover for Grave Mercy by Robin LaFeversGrave Mercy” by Robin LaFevers

“Grave Mercy” is a historical fantasy. It follows Ismae, a daughter of Death, as she trains to become an assassin. When the Duchess is killed, Ismae must pretend to be Gavriel Duval’s mistress and hope to find the truth behind what happened. Used to always having Death on her side, Ismae must question everything she’s learned and save the soon-to-be Duchess Anne’s life.

Full of political intrigue, historical references and a mature love interest, “Grave Mercy” has more adult elements than teen ones. Ismae sounds like a narrator above her years, and LaFevers’ language is beautifully balanced, descriptive yet direct. Longer than the average YA, “Grave Mercy” is the first in a trilogy. Each book follows a different daughter of Death. “Dark Triumph” is book two (also amazing!), and book three is yet to be released, titled “Mortal Heart.” (I have it on hold!)

No matter what anyone says, if you enjoy reading something, no matter what it is, be happy and READ!

photo credit: Cayusa via photopin cc

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Categories: Book Buzz

Better Know a Genre: Weird Fiction

November 3, 2014

Stacks of books by Thomas GalvezOur first Better Know a Genre post was in the realm of nonfiction. In this installment, we turn our attention to fiction. Earlier this year, I read “Annihilation,” the first book in Jeff VanderMeer’s wonderfully unsettling Southern Reach Trilogy. At just over 200 pages, it was a slight book, but it lingered in my mind for many weeks. I did a little research and discovered that this book was in a genre known as “weird fiction.” I was excited to learn that not only did this genre have a name, but also that it contained some of my favorite authors. I liked weird fiction and hadn’t even known it!

So what is weird fiction? As one would guess from its name, it is unusual. Before we (society) had genres, we just had stories, and some of these stories had ghosts and vampires and swamps and mysterious deaths, but they were still just stories. Later, we (publishers) had to make it easier for readers to distinguish among all the possible books to purchase, and genres became established.

H.P. Lovecraft, a famous and early writer of weird fiction, wrote that these stories have a “certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread.” These are not traditional ghost stories, but they do have a supernatural element. The stories can be horrific, but they are often psychologically terrifying instead of gory or violent. The stories are different from science fiction because they do not contain the world building that is present in much of sci-fi. The setting is often our world (or something very close to it). There might be a tentacle or two.

If you are like me, you probably have read some weird fiction and not even realized it. Edgar Allan Poe, Daphne du Maurier, Franz Kafka, Shirley Jackson and Ray Bradbury have all contributed unsettling tales to the genre. The aforementioned Jeff VanderMeer is considered one of the foremost writers of the New Weird – a recent resurgence in weird fiction. He and his wife, Ann VanderMeer, are editors of “The New Weird,” an anthology containing some of the most recognized authors of the genre. You could start there, or you could jump in with a single author. Pick up a novel by China Mieville, or take our gentleman’s recommendation and check out Kelly Link’s short story collections. As Jeff and Ann VanderMeer write in the introduction to the anthology, “Because The Weird is as much a sensation as it is a mode of writing, the mostly keenly attuned among us will say ‘I know it when I see it,’ by which they mean ‘I know when I feel it.’”

photo credit: ToGa Wanderings via photopin cc

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Categories: Book Buzz

Terrifying “Funny Books” for Halloween

October 29, 2014

Book cover for Just as a vampire needs the blood of the living to sustain it, or a zombie needs brains, comic books might have faded from existence without the chewy, pulpy sustenance of horror stories. This same subject matter was also almost their undoing, but such are the risks when you dabble in the dark arts.

For a look at the early days of horror comics check out “The Horror! The Horror!” This collection contains numerous covers and complete horror comics from the pre-code 1950s, (before such comics were censored). Commentary and informative text provide some context for the stories.

Action! Mystery! Thrills!” is a great look at the weird world of old comic book covers. Most of these depict scenes intended to simultaneously shock and entice you.

The Weird World of Eerie Publications” is another fine collection of old horror comics and a history of the industry. It tells the story of the eccentric, ethically challenged and at times scary owner of Eerie Publications.

Book cover for If you don’t know what a pre-code comic is, you should check out David Haju’s “The Ten-Cent Plague.” This book explores the censorship campaign against comics like those in the collections above. That campaign led to the Comics Code Authority, which many people feel hamstrung creativity in comics for decades. Even after reading some of the horror comics of the time, it’s shocking the lengths people went to stop them. This book is both a fascinating history of a moment in American pop culture and a frightening look at hysteria.

Not all horror stories are held in low esteem. More than a few are now considered classics. If you’d like to look a little more highbrow while scaring yourself with comics, pick up a graphic novel adaptation of “Dracula,” “Frankenstein” or the works of H.P. Lovecraft.

Richard Sala’s style shows the influence of classic illustrators of the macabre Charles Addams and Edward Gorey. Sala has a knack for drawing grotesque caricatures that are just cartoonish and humorous enough. His stories maintain an eerie mood but still wink at the reader letting them know it’s just a comic book, right? “Delphine” is a retelling of the story of Snow White from Prince Charming’s perspective. This is based on the original fairy tale and not the Disney film, so it’s a darker story told by a master of them.

Book cover for Scott Snyder currently writes Batman, but his strongest work is another series about a bat-human hybrid. “American Vampire” tells the story of a new breed of Vampire (originating in America) that can not only walk in daylight, but also is made stronger by the sun. He’s a particularly viscous vampire too. Not only does he fight with the requisite vampire hunting organization, but he also doesn’t get along well with the old-school vampires either. The series is an ongoing epic that starts in the late 19th century and sets each story arc in a different period of the 20th. It’s a new take on a classic horror trope.

Baltimore” is another fresh take on the vampire story by novelist Christopher Golden and comic book artist and writer Mike Mignola (best known for “Hellboy“). Originally a novel co-written by the two with illustrated pages by Mignola, the character of Lord Henry Baltimore has found continued life in comics. This alternate history tells the story of an ancient race of vampires brought back to life by the blood soaked battlefields of WWI. Lord Henry Baltimore is a soldier who has a confrontation with one of these vampires during the war, which sets his life on a course for revenge.

Dylan Dog” is Italy’s most popular comic book. It describes the adventures of the eponymous “Nightmare Investigator.” Dylan is a former Scotland Yard detective who lives with his sidekick Groucho (who looks exactly like Groucho marks and loves puns). He is also a penniless, poetry quoting hopeless romantic who can only play one song on the clarinet. In this collection of interconnected stories, Dylan deals with zombies, mad scientists and an axe murderer. It’s a quirky combination of surrealism, humor and horror, but the story is executed in a way that is sure to appeal to many.

Have you heard of “The Walking Dead“? I’ll bet you have. It’s a hugely popular television show that got its start as a comic book. If you like the show and haven’t read the comics, you should check them out. If you don’t like the show but like stories of surviving a zombie apocalypse, you should still check out the books.

Afterlife With Archie” is indeed about the famous Archie and his hometown of Riverdale. When Jughead’s dog is hit by a car, he calls on Sabrina to bring the dog back. As is always the case (Will we never learn?!) the dog comes back wrong. Zombie contagion ensues. A lot of people would turn this idea into an easy joke or a way to mock Archie Comics. Instead, the creators take the subject seriously and use the familiarity of the characters as a way to make the story more frightening and emotionally affecting.

Book cover for Perhaps all the monsters, darkness, terror and gloom have got you down at this point? Then let me end with a story of romance. This being a list for Halloween, it’s a romance involving a sea creature. In much the way John Gardner’s novel “Grendel” took the epic poem Beowulf and told the story from the monster’s point of view, “Dear Creature” takes the classic “sea monster terrorizes beach goers” story and tells it from the sea monster’s point of view. The sea monster, Grue, has been finding bottles stuffed with Shakespeare’s writings. This subdues his appetite for beach goers and kindles his romantic interest in the source of the bottles. How could anything go wrong?

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Categories: Book Buzz

Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The November 2014 List

October 27, 2014

Library Reads LogoThis November, librarians are loving genre fiction. Maybe during these longer nights we like the comfort of familiar series or predictable plot structures. This month’s LibraryReads list, the top 10 books publishing this coming month that librarians nationwide recommend, includes a police procedural, historical romances and more than one mystery. Enjoy!

Book cover for Us by David NichollsUs
by David Nicholls
“Every once in a while you stumble upon a book that makes you wish you could meet the characters in real life. This is the case with “Us,” the poignant story of a middle-of-the-road British family spiraling out of control, and one man’s attempt to win back their love. Quirky, delightful and unpredictable, the novel delves into what makes a marriage and what tears it apart.” – Kimberly McGee, Lake Travis Community Library, Austin, TX

Book cover for Never Judge a Lady by Her CoverNever Judge a Lady by Her Cover: The Fourth Rule of Scoundrels”
by Sarah MacLean
“Having lost her innocence in a teenage love affair, Lady Georgiana is a social pariah. Trying to save the tatters of her reputation, she must marry and marry well. By night, she is Anna, the most powerful madame in London, and a powerful seductress in her own right. Will Georgiana succeed in re-entering society, or will her past catch up with her once and for all?” - Emily Peros, Denver Public Library, Denver, CO

Book cover for Lives in RuinsLives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble
by Marilyn Johnson
“Johnson takes a fascinating look at the field of archaeology, profiling a number of archaeologists at work. She visits sites as diverse as an army base, Rhode Island, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and Peru, but the best part of this book is learning about the archaeologists and their passions. A fun, interesting read that may cause an uptick in field school applications.” - Jenna Persick, Chester County Library, Exton, PA

And here is the rest of the list with links to our catalog, so you can place holds on these forthcoming titles.

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Categories: Book Buzz

The Gentleman Recommends: Graham Joyce

October 20, 2014

Book cover for Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham JoyceThere should be a word for the feeling one gets when wooed by an artist from beyond the grave. After several seconds of  consideration, I propose “melanarsabsentia.” Graham Joyce gave me a severe case of melanarsabsentia. He died on September 9th, and I didn’t read him until a few days later. The first thing I read by him, a blog post in part concerning his impending death and the beauty of living, made clear his large heart, fine wordsmanship and my need to read his novels. Of course, it’s not like if I’d have read him while he was living that we would’ve gathered for snacks shared over a tedious board game, though I can’t rule it out. Regardless, there will be no yogurt-covered pretzels and monopoly for us, unless he comes back to haunt me and/or my ability to communicate with the spirit world finally manifests. If I were a character from his novels, I might very well have such a haunting, or at least my sanity might bend in such a way as to believe I’m being haunted. But as I’m a character from some other novel with no perceptible ghosts and a narrative that can’t be bothered to skip a single bathroom break or dull moment, I guess I’ll never meet Mr. Joyce. But melanarsabsentia is only just barely about the elimination of the unlikely possibility of meeting the artist; it’s more about an artist whose work deserves to be appreciated by everyone inclined to appreciate their sort of work being robbed of having such persons appreciate them while they’re still alive to appreciate it, even though the appreciation directed the artist’s way almost certainly won’t be perceivable.

Some Kind of Fairy Tale” is sort of a kind of tale about fairies, but mostly about a family of humans. Joyce needs only a few hundred words to deeply invest you in his characters so you feel their shock when, during the novel’s opening scene, a man answers the door to find his daughter, gone missing 20 years ago, returned and not aged a day.

The Silent Land” follows a couple who, after an avalanche during their ski trip, finds their resort empty and then the resort town empty and then that they are unable to leave the town. Their compass spins, food doesn’t rot, burning candles don’t diminish. They come to the conclusion that they’ve died in the avalanche and go about trying to make the best of a strange afterlife.

The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit,” renamed for the American audience from “The Year of the Ladybird” (because sharply dressed ghosts are much more rad and freedom-y than ladybirds, and what kind of tea-taxing duffer comes up with the codswallop of calling a ladybug a ladybird?), is a story about a young man who takes a summer job at a resort and is menaced by a ghost in an electric blue suit and an absurd amount of ladybugs.

Graham Joyce was a prolific writer, and Daniel Boone Regional Library carries several of his works. He wrote the sort of novels you might suspect from someone who, as a child, was advised by his reluctantly psychic grandmother to simply cuss out a ghost if one ever gave him trouble. It should be common knowledge that ghosts cannot abide a coarse tongue and will peacefully leave upon encountering one. If Joyce’s ghost shows up, I plan to speak bloody politely.

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Categories: Book Buzz

Jack the Ripper: Case Closed?

October 13, 2014

Book cover for Naming Jack the Ripper“Jack the Ripper Murders Solved!” “Identity of Jack the Ripper Proven by DNA Evidence!” For a couple of days, I saw headline after headline proclaiming the serial murder case that has befuddled investigators for more than 120 years had finally been cracked by modern forensics. This flurry of discussion was prompted by the publication of a new book, “Naming Jack the Ripper” by Russell Edwards, a London history buff who came into possession of a shawl worn by one of the victims. He claims some DNA left on the material matches the DNA of a descendant of Aaron Kosminski, a London hairdresser and long-time resident on the suspect list. Additionally, Edwards quotes a detective who worked the case as saying he believed Kosminski was the culprit. Case closed. Right?

Soon enough articles started popping up, saying, in essence: “Not so fast.”  They point out that even if the DNA is Kosminski’s, it doesn’t mean he killed the owner of the shawl, only that he had some contact with it. Maybe he sneezed on it while standing next to her. Then, too, the garment has changed hands many times. A lot of people have handled it over the years. And Edwards is not the first person to have “named” the killer.

There’s an “Autobiography of Jack the Ripper,” published from a purportedly found manuscript, penned in 1920, containing the author’s recollections of the time in his life when he was on a murder spree. Or possibly it’s an anonymously-written work of historical fiction. Or an outright hoax. The book includes notes – some skeptical – by Paul Begg, who has made a career of writing about the case.

Patricia Cornwell, known primarily for fictional crime stories, tried her hand at solving the real-life mystery a few years ago. She, too, thought she’d solved the old case using contemporary techniques. In her 2003 book “Portrait of a Killer,” she concludes the guilty party was an artist named Walter Sickert. Her case hinges on “the successful use of DNA analysis to establish a link between an envelope mailed by the Ripper and two envelopes used by Sickert.” Well then.

It seems everyone claims proof of the murderer’s real identity, but in each case it’s a different person. In 2011, the Whitechapel Society – named for the area in which the murders took place, and devoted to investigating the crimes and their surrounding social context – published a book compiling the cases for and against several suspects. “Jack the Ripper, the Suspects” mentions Cornwell’s book and addresses some of its points directly. In the chapter on Kosminski, they speculate one of the reasons he drew so much focus from detectives was because of a tendency in the police department at that time toward anti-Semitism. Beyond speaking about suspects and evidence, this book explains some of the societal factors at play that made the investigation of the case difficult. The only conclusion I was able to draw was that we might never know the truth.

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Categories: Book Buzz

Staff Book Review: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

October 10, 2014

Photo of Silent Hill Down The Path by Michael ShaheenThemes of dystopia and survival in a post-apocalyptic world run heavy through popular fiction. Readers have ventured into The Hunger Games series, which presents a world in which children must participate in a televised fight to the death. Max Brooks’ “World War Z” examines the chaos that would erupt under a worldwide threat such as a zombie invasion.  Even older novels, such as Stephen King’s “The Stand,” give readers the chance to ponder “what if?” from the comfort and safety of their own non-apocalyptic world.

The RoadThe Road” by Cormac McCarthy is another tale in the apocalyptic, dystopian sphere. McCarthy’s story follows a man and his young son as they venture through a barren, desolate wasteland on a journey to the ocean. What exactly happened to the land they venture through is never stated, but I think one can surmise. And in the end it’s not really important how this terrible thing happened – something bad occurred that made life on the planet mostly unlivable. A few people have managed to survive, but doing so has often meant living by unspeakable means.

The father and son’s journey is fascinating, but what really drew me in is their relationship. Throughout their perilous travels, the two share many discussions about life, often centering around the question of what it means to be good or bad. These talks allow McCarthy to flesh out the two characters, allowing readers to connect with and get to know them better. The father clearly adores the boy, doing everything in his power to keep the child safe and secure. And the boy loves this man who has served as his guide and protector. At one point in the book, McCarthy sums up their relationship perfectly, describing the pair as being “each other’s world entire.” In many ways, their love for each other is the only good thing remaining in their world.

McCarthy uses a sparse, poetic writing style. This makes the novel fairly compact, but it still packs quite a punch. I listened to the audiobook version, which is narrated by Tom Stechschulte. He is a masterful reader, jumping from the voice of the man to the voice of the child with apparent ease. The story moved me deeply; I’d be lying if I did not admit that this story is often incredibly sad. But it is also one of the most hopeful stories I’ve read because of McCarthy’s exploration of the bonds of love and family and how they can manage to survive even in a world that has been burnt down to little more than ashes.

photo credit: Mike Shaheen via photopin cc

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Categories: Book Buzz

If You Enjoyed Boys in the Boat…

October 6, 2014

Book cover for Seabiscuit by Laura HillenbrandBook cover for Boys in the BoatWe have a bit of a One Read hangover around here. After spending an intense month exploring Daniel James Brown’s “The Boys in the Boat” through numerous programs celebrating Olympic sport and the American spirit, we find ourselves feeling a little bit down and a little adrift. What next? If you are in the same boat (ha, ha), here are some reading suggestions to fill that One Read-shaped hole in your life.

A no-brainer read-alike for this year’s community read is “Seabiscuit” by Laura Hillenbrand. Also set during the depression, this work of nonfiction is another inspiring look at an unlikely winner, a racehorse that made history despite his short legs and knobby knees.

Many of our readers surprised themselves by not only enjoying the moving story of Joe Rantz but also becoming deeply curious about the sport of rowing. In “The Amateurs,” David Halberstam profiles the struggles of four unknown young men who compete to represent the U.S. as its lone single sculler in the 1984 Olympics. Like in Brown’s book, the athletes’ stories and descriptions of their singular dedication make for compelling reading, as do richly described rowing competitions. While not rowing-related, Halberstam’s “The Teammates” – which follows the friendship of Boston Red Sox teammates Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio and Johnny Pesky from their playing days in the 1940s to Ted Williams’ death in 2002 – would also be a great choice for sports fans.

Maybe you loved how Brown wove extensive research into his book. You may find other works of historical narrative nonfiction appealing. Like Brown, Lawrence Goldstone uses extensive research in “Birdmen: The Wright Brothers, Glenn Curtiss, and the Battle to Control the Skies” to present Orville and Wilbur Wright and their rival as complex and fully-formed characters. Goldstone weaves the history of aviation into his narrative and creates a palpable sense of the spirit of innovation that infused the dawn of the 20th century.

What works of narrative nonfiction would you recommend? Let us know in the comments.

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Categories: Book Buzz

Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The October 2014 List

September 29, 2014

Library Reads LogoIt’s nearly October. The days grow shorter and the temperatures colder. Halloween is on the horizon. So it seems appropriate that a ghost story of sorts tops this month’s LibraryReads list, the top 10 books publishing this month that librarians love. Make a cup of hot tea, curl up under your favorite blanket and lose yourself in one of these titles.

Book cover for A Sudden LightA Sudden Light
by Garth Stein
“Garth Stein has given us a masterpiece. This beautiful story takes readers on a thrilling exploration of a family estate brimming with generations of riveting Riddell family ghosts and secrets. This is a true exploratory novel, taking readers through secret passageways, hidden rooms and darkened corridors that engage all of the senses.”
- Whitney Gayle, James Blackstone Memorial Library, Branford, CT

Book cover for Leaving TimeLeaving Time
by Jodi Picoult
“Leaving Time is a love story – love between mother and child, love between soulmates and love between elephants. The story is told from a variety of narrators, all of whom are broken and lost. Jenna is searching for answers to the disappearance of her mother and seeks the help of a retired police detective and a psychic. Alice, Jenna’s mom, disappeared after a tragic accident at the elephant sanctuary, and her work with the elephants is fascinating and touching. The book is an ode to motherhood in all its forms – the good, bad and the ugly – and it is brilliant.”
- Kimberly McGee, Lake Travis Community Library, Austin, TX

 inconceivable tales from the making of The Princess BrideAs You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride
by Cary Elwes with Joe Layden
“Even if you don’t have a crush on Cary Elwes, you’ll enjoy this vivid behind-the-scenes account of the making of The Princess Bride. His stories, especially those involving Andre the Giant, will leave you in stitches. Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Billy Crystal and others also recount their experiences. An amusing account of a group of performers who came together to make a heartfelt film that is loved by many.”
- Emily Weiss, Bedford Public Library, Bedford, NH

Here’s the rest of the October list with links to these on-order titles in our catalog for your hold-placing pleasure. Happy reading.

The post Top Ten Books Librarians Love: The October 2014 List appeared first on DBRL Next.

Categories: Book Buzz

Classics for Everyone: Maya Angelou

September 22, 2014

Book cover for I Know Why the Caged Bird SingsI like to think of Maya Angelou as a native Missourian, although she spent only a small percentage of her life in the state.  She was born in St. Louis in 1928 with the name Marguerite Anne Johnson. Upon the break-up of her parents’ marriage when she was three years old, she and her older brother Bailey were sent to live with their paternal grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas.

This is where her story begins in the memoir “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” The most well-known of her books, it follows her life through the age of 17, ending with the birth of her son. She shared more about her remarkable life in subsequent volumes, conducting readers on a tour of the circuitous route that led to her achievements as an author, poet, performer, activist and San Francisco’s first black streetcar conductor. It’s a truly American story:  a scared little girl feeling abandoned by her parents grows up to present an inaugural poem for one president and receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from another.

But some details show less pleasant aspects of the country, including troubled race relations.  Angelou describes her grandmother’s worried anguish when by-then teenaged Bailey fails to come home on time. “The Black woman in the South who raised sons, grandsons and nephews had her heartstrings tied to a hanging noose.”

Maya and Bailey found themselves shuttled back and forth a few times among parents and grandparents. It was during their second St. Louis sojourn that one of the most disturbing events of the book happened – 8-year-old Maya was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. The child stopped speaking to anyone but her brother. But after they returned to Arkansas, something inspiring occurred. Her grandmother’s neighbor and friend, Mrs. Bertha Flowers, helped her regain her voice through the power of literature, inviting the girl to read great books with her.

Eventually Maya’s parents both migrated to California, and the two kids followed. This is where the story wraps up, but not before some major learning and growth on Maya’s part, including a short stint as a runaway living on the streets. She fell in with a group of other homeless teens, who provided her first experience of true cooperation and equality among different races. The influence was lasting, and her words about it seem like a good place to conclude, as they describe so much of her life’s work: “After hunting down unbroken bottles and selling them with a white girl from Missouri, a Mexican girl from Los Angeles and a Black girl from Oklahoma, I was never again to sense myself so solidly outside the pale of the human race. The lack of criticism evidenced by our ad hoc community influenced me, and set a tone of tolerance for my life.”

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Categories: Book Buzz
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