Friday, March 17, 2017

Avenue of Mysteries

Juan Diego, an aging and well-established author, is taking a trip to the Philippines to fulfill a promise to someone from his past. During his journey, he takes a trip of a different kind: he messes up his heart medication, which causes him to have vivid dreams and strange experiences. Memories of his childhood in Mexico, living at the dump and then an orphanage, and then a circus, overwhelm him. He meets two unusual women who then pop in and out of his journey and seem real and ghostly at the same time. I haven't read John Irving in awhile. I forgot how much I like his characters and his unique touch and way of looking at the world. This is a splendid book about religion, fate, dreams, literature, memory ... all the big things. It's a bit too long, and could have been edited a bit more tightly, which may turn off some readers. But if you commit to reading it, you will be rewarded. The typical oddities of an Irving book are here: a circus, transgender characters, an orphanage, and quirky but thoughtful people. You will laugh out loud at times, blush a few times (at least I did), and ponder your views on organized religion, sexuality, the meaning of dreams, and the power of good literature.

Kelly Currie

Monday, March 13, 2017

Magdalen Girls by V.S Alexander

A horrific story about girls being sent away to The Sisters of the Holy Redemption due to being unwed mothers, being involved in prostitution, or in Teagan Turnan's case, being beautiful.  This historical fiction takes place in Dublin, Ireland in the early 1960's.

Teagan who met a VERY handsome priest at a party finds herself being sent away because of his lust for her.  She was stripped of everything she knew and had, even her name, and was to have no contact with anyone from the outside world.
The Mother Superior who claims to punish in the name of love has a nasty little secret of her own. It shows in her unwavering contempt towards Teagan. 

Teagan befriends a hot spirited fiery girl, Nora, whose plan was to escape the moment she set foot in the Magdalen Laundries and Lea, who has been there for some time. The three girls band together to plan an escape.  
The Magdalen Girls is a sinfully delightful story about friendships, hope, forgiveness, and courage.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

I discovered Neil Gaiman rather recently, but am no less an ardent fan for this delay.  To quote a fellow librarian, “if [Gaiman] published a phone book, I would read it,” and Norse Mythology is a far cry from such a dry litany. My prior knowledge of Norse lore was scant and unformed. In my mind, the birthplace of Scandinavian legend was one where chiseled Marvel heroes and goofy Cressida Cowell creations frolicked through a wintry and forbidding landscape. So, the terrain covered in this book was a fairly novel one for me, and I was eager to give Gaiman’s take on it a look.  I was not disappointed.  As in all of his works, the characters, however fantastical, are made real.  A reader is able to look into the eyes of even the most uncommon of giants, and see him or herself reflected back. 

The book is structured as a series of mostly chronological stories involving the Norse Gods, leading up to Rangnarok, i.e. the Nordic apocalypse. Some of these characters I had met before in some form (Thor, Odin, Loki), while others were new to me (Hel, Balder, Frey, Freya). Several of the tales have the feel of a creation myth about them: the origin of fall feasting, the source of poetic inspiration, and the gates of Hell; others are wry re-tellings of the various exploits of the Gods. Gaiman brings these ancient heroes to life with his characteristic insight and wit. His passion for the Norse tales of old becomes your own by the novel’s end.  I would highly recommend this novel to lovers of myth and fantasy.

-Jennifer Wilson

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Evening Road by Laird Hunt

The Evening Road is ostensibly about the events surrounding a lynching in the fictional town of Marvel, Indiana, but it is really the story of two very different women, Ottie Lee Henshaw and Calla Destry, who are changed by the events of the day.

Ottie Lee is at her job in an insurance office when her boss tells her to put her things away, they’re going to a “rope party”. Everyone in the office is aflutter with the excitement. Ottie and her boss pick up her husband and begin a very circuitous trip to Marvel on which they see two dogs wearing neckties, get threatened by a Civil War veteran, and meet many other colorful characters. They also learn more about themselves and each other than any of them expected.

Calla comes home from a picnic only to find that her foster parents and many neighbors have left Marvel. She sets off to find them and finds a good amount of trouble along the way. Calla’s story, much like Ottie’s, is both funny and sad, but also carries with it an overarching sense of fear. As a person of color so near to a lynching, Calla is in danger from the minute she walks out the door. While both women’s stories occur at roughly the same time and even overlap in strange ways, their experiences of the day could not be more different.

Hunt does not use the terms “cornsilk” and “cornflower” as racial epithets. While this could have easily been a hokey literary device, it was instead a way to encourage the reader to slow down and think. By removing known words for race from the vocabulary of the characters, Hunt forces the reader to think about what words we ourselves use that so often reduce someone to one aspect of their personhood. Each time a character refers to someone as a cornsilk or cornflower, the reader is confronted with the assumptions that are being made about that person and why.

The Evening Road is inspired by real events that happened in Marion, Indiana in 1930. A photograph of the Marion lynching was the inspiration for the song “Strange Fruit” written by Abel Meeropol and made famous by Billie Holiday. 

-Portia Kapraun

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

IQ by Joe Ide

IQ is a mystery/suspense novel by Joe Ide.  It is his first book. Isaiah Quintabe (IQ) lives in South Central Los Angeles.  He is a high school dropout who solves crimes, mostly neighborhood problems the police department have no interest in.  Payment is whatever the client can afford.
Isaiah lived with his brother in an apartment while attending high school.  He idolized Marcus and took in all his advice and words of wisdom.  But when his brother is accidentally killed in a traffic accident, the pain and depression are so hard for him to bear, he drops out of school.  And when his brother's money runs out, he can no longer afford to live in the apartment.  His need to make money leads him down two two different dangerous paths.  The first involves his long time friend Dodson who likes the easy way to make money and the second is a case where a rich rapper may be losing his mind.
The case he takes involves a "rap god" who has had several attempts on his life including one where a huge dog was let into his home and programmed to kill him.  This incident proves the man is not losing his mind.  As often betrayed in this music world, there are drugs, guns and wealth. Also many hangers-on and an ex-wife, all with a motive to kill Calvin Wright known as Black the Knife.  More importantly to the case is the question of why someone would breed a huge dog and train him to kill.  Will IQ's determination and intelligence solve this case before someone gets killed?  There are many tense moments, but also some funny ones.  Everyone in the story speaks  the local dialect except for IQ and his brother.  This adds authenticity to the characters. 
Joe Ide is an Asian American who grew up in the South Central area.  He is a scriptwriter which is evident in the way the book begins with a crime in progress.  IQ is a book for those who want to experience life in a different world.