Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Bang by Barry Lyga

One of my favorite authors of young adult literature has always been Barry Lyga. I have enjoyed every book of his that I have read and his stories have a habit of consuming my life until they are finished so I was ecstatic when Bang arrived on my desk a couple months ago. Yet again, Barry Lyga has provided me with a powerful, well-written and unique story that I recommend to older teens and adults.  

This emotional roller coaster begins with the main character, Sebastian, discussing his younger sister and why there are no traces of her around the house. No photos of his sister can be found around the house, no girl clothes in the laundry baskets, no baby dolls strewn about after being played with because she was killed when she was four months old by a pistol. A pistol that was used by Sebastian.

Bang tells the story of a young man who is struggling with the loss of a sibling and with being responsible for her death. Although he was just a small child himself, Sebastian feels guilty and it encapsulates his entire existence. It was difficult to read the story as Sebastian and see how depressing his life was and the thoughts that ran through his mind while dealing with the aftermath of the tragedy. How would you face your mother every single day knowing that you killed her baby? How could you accept her love and not feel horrible for what you took from her? Does she secretly hate you? These were all questions I had while thinking about his situation.

When Aneesa moves into town, Sebastian finally finds a new friend and she brings a new sense of purpose into his life by helping him make Youtube videos about making different kinds of pizza. Just when things seem to be looking up for Sebastian, the story heads into a different direction and leads to an unexpected ending that left me in tears. This story begins and ends with a bang.

Recommended for fans of Barry Lyga, young adult literature or realistic and contemporary fiction.


-Lauren

A Jew Must Die by Jacques Chessex

   



This title completely and utterly offended me when I glanced at it. My curiosity of why Monsieur Chessex titled this book, A Jew Must Die, stupefied me. It compelled me to find out what could possibly be on these few pages so here we begin.....

 The author, Jacques Chessex, was only eight at the time, and awakens the dark secrets of Payerne, Switzerland in his novel, A Jew Must Die. 

Agitator, Philippe Lugrin a Nazi sympathizer gathered a band of vagabonds to do the unthinkable; a plot to murder Arthur Bloch, a Jew, a few days before Hitler's Birthday as a tribute to the Nazi Empire.  Of course, Mr. Lugrin didn't want to do the dirty work so he sent Ferdinand Ischi to lead the heinous crime. It was so well written I felt as if I was standing in the room watching this evil act. Regrettably, this is one of many true stories of what the SS regime and Nazi sympathizers did to innocent people who were not of a "pure race".  This book is an eye-opener to Europe's dark history.


     On his grave stone it reads,  GOTT WEISS WARUM 

(God knows Why).

Dani Green

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Rush of Blood by Mark Billingham

Mark Billingham usually writes the "DI Tom Thorne" suspense/mysteries, but his last two books have been standalone with Tom just peeking in at the end.  In this book, three British couples meet and hang out together at a Florida resort.  They become somewhat friends, eating, drinking, and sunbathing together. A single woman with her handicapped daughter, Amber Marie, is often at the pool as the girl likes to swim.  On their last day, Amber Marie is reported missing.  Her mother frantically searches for her to no avail.   Detective Jeff Gardner is assigned to the case.  Statements are taken from everyone at the resort, and the three couples are allowed to return home on schedule.  The poor mother stays in a nearby hotel for months until her daughter's body is found in the mangroves by fishermen.
Once Angie and Barry, Marina and Dave, and Sue and Ed return to England, they decide to meet for dinner at each other's homes in an attempt to remain friends.  The first dinner is at Angie and Barry's home.  From the beginning, the disappearance of Amber Marie hangs over them and is a topic of discussion.  Everyone is uncomfortable, and as the dinners continue, it is evident that they all have secrets and that they all lied to the Florida detective.  As they continue to meet, we get to know each of the couples as individuals and the secrets they hide.  When another girl is found dead in England and there are similarities to Amber Marie's killing, a local detective begins to tie the two murders together.  The tension ramps up until it explodes!

Mark Billingham's books are character and plot driven, and these standalones can be read quickly.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Trusting Grace by Maggie Brendan

Set on a farm in Gallatin Valley, Montana, Grace Bidwell who longed to have children had unexpectedly lost her husband. Broken, she had to run the farm and take care of her father, Owen, who is sick.  She needed help and fast.  She placed an ad for a hired hand hoping that someone would respond quickly.

Meanwhile, handsome Robert Frasier arrived with three meager children Tom, Sarah, and Becky.  However, they were not his own.  After he lost his farm and newly wed wife, Ada, Ada's sister burst into the court room with the children. Robert surprised and angry packed his belongings, his newly found out children and traveled to wherever there was an available job.  When he arrived in Gallatin Valley to pick up a few items he noticed Grace's ad and immediately inquired about the job. 

Robert, however, purposely didn't tell Owen or Grace about his children and hid them in the wood which made things a little complicated, especially when Grace found out.  Grace gave Robert no choice to leave the children unattended in the woods but to come live on the farm with her and her father. Robert knew to comply. If not, it could cost him his job.  

Grace immediately fell in love with the children. Robert saw her nurturing side and how she interacted with the children and started to grow feelings towards Grace.  However, Robert vowed that he would never fall in love let alone trust another woman after what Ada had done to him.  Both Grace and Robert both realized they needed to stop looking into the past, a past filled with hurt, anger, and resentment to find peace and a future they are both longing for.

For those who love historical fiction, pick up this charming and lighthearted story about faith, trust, and unexpected love.  

Dani Green 


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Barkskins by Annie Proulx


 Annie Proulx’s sprawling saga, Barkskins, is at once a cautionary tale and an epic testimony to the force of will. The story follows the lives and descendants of two indentured servants, René Sel and Charles Duquet, who land in New France with the crude social climber Monsieur Claude Trépagny. Shortly after discovering the true nature of his master’s plans, Duquet runs off, taking his chances in the forest-choked landscape of modern day Canada. René Sel stays behind, letting winds of fate decide his destiny.

Duquet survives his trek and begins to make a name for himself among the fur traders.  With an eye for business and a desperate need for status, he expands his scope to including the burgeoning timber industry.  Suddenly, before cementing his status as a man of worth (after starting life as a street urchin in Paris), the patriarch mysteriously disappears. His progeny continue to expand the venture, bringing fortune and recognition to the “Duke” family name, with two or three members of each generation inheriting his drive and acumen.

Rene, far less driven, stays put on the Trépagny land and is forced into a marriage with Trépagny’s mi’kmaq cook Mari. Their children, along with her previous children, wander the land of New France, some spreading as far as New England. Mixed-raced, they live on the fringe, working as barkskins (lumberjack). Several attempt to flee the white man’s influence, and are constantly being pushed west and north as new settlers arrive, devouring the land like locusts.


Impeccably researched and told without the heavy gloss that tends to romanticize colonial times, Barkskins is a masterpiece of historical fiction.

Jennifer Wilson

Monday, May 22, 2017

Marlena


A well-written first novel about two girls who find and then lose each other. Although this is a familiar plot, good girl meets bad girl who changes her life, Buntin makes it fresh and new. The setting is northern Michigan, in a bitterly cold and harshly poor small town. People there seem in a downward spiral, and drug and alcohol use are rampant. It's a dreary picture, and although we know right up front how things end (badly), Buntin carefully and patiently draws us through the story, flipping between Cat's adult, present day New York and her teenage past in Michigan. It's really shocking the kind of life her friend Marlena finds herself stuck in, but sadly it's probably not unusual. Drugs and poverty do battle with people's souls, and more times than not, the souls lose. Cat herself does not emerge unharmed, but by the end we can see how hard she's trying. Highly recommended for readers who don't mind darkness in their books. 

Kelly Currie

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Underground Fugue by Margot Singer

In a London neighborhood, the lives of four characters quickly become entangled over a few months in 2005. Esther has fled her marriage and life in New York to care for her mother, Lonia, as she battles cancer. As the disease takes hold, Lonia begins to spend more and more of her time in a dream-like state, remembering her escape from Czechoslovakia at the beginning of WWII. Next door is Javad Asghari, a neurosurgeon who fled Iran as a young man to escape the ayatollah’s fundamentalist regime. Javad’s 19-year-old son Amir is a college student struggling to find himself and reconcile his Iranian heritage and British upbringing. Over the long summer Esther and Javad form a friendship that has a possibility of blossoming into romance. When the London Underground is bombed by Islamic fundamentalists, Esther must make a decision that will change her, Javad, and Amir’s lives forever. 

A musical fugue is a piece of music where a musical theme is repeated or imitated throughout the piece by multiple voices, with the parts building onto and weaving in and out of sync with one another. In psychology, a fugue is a dissociation or loss of the self. In her debut novel, Margot Singer masterfully reflects both definitions in one unforgettable story. The fugue theme is prevalent throughout without feeling heavy-handed or forced. It is easy to see the differences among these four characters, and yet their lives are often reflections of one another’s. With plenty of tension and intrigue, Underground Fugue is a stark look at loneliness and isolation that reads like a thriller.

-Portia Kapraun

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret George




Nero is known for being ruthless, murderous, and a man who indulged in every sensual pleasure.  In Margaret George's book, The Confessions of Young Nero, she writes about a different side of Nero.  A lonely boy who was almost murdered by his uncle, has a love for music and arts, and becomes a devoted husband and father.

Growing up in a household of scandal, plot, and unexplained deaths was not easy for young Nero nor did he understand it until he grew to be a young man. He asked his mother, after she killed her husband, how she could do such a thing and she told him one does not grow up to be a murderer, it just happens.
Later, when his mother plotted to kill him, Acte, a slave, saved him from this egregious crime. This complicated story of love, passion, fear, and guilt will give you an understanding of why Nero became the most notorious ruler of all time. Was it for love, the fear of being killed, or the fear of being hated by the people?  Read it to find out you will not be disappointed.

~Dani Green

Friday, April 28, 2017

Rot and Ruin by Johnathan Maberry

Zombie stories have never been appealing to me but I have had a few patrons recommend this series to me and was ready to give it a try. Pleasantly surprised from the start, this story is filled with action, adventure and emotion that I did not expect. Some stories that I have tried to read before that involved zombies had a confusing premise and did not explain how the zombies came to be or how the world has changed, but this story did not leave me confused. I enjoyed the plot, characters, setting and world-building. If you like books that are intense, fast-paced, and slightly scary, Rot and Ruin would be a good series to engage in.

This book can be categorized as post-apocalyptic and features a future America where zombies have taken over most of the country and roam free. The setting is a small town that has been able to keep zombies out since First Night, when the zombie invasion started. Benny Imura is a teenager who has reached the age where he needs to choose a profession and begin working. He tries out many different positions and is unhappy with them all and decides he will try to train with his brother, who is a bounty hunter. The position of bounty hunter is much different than what we are familiar with, in Bennys world it means finding loved ones who were turned into zombies and killing them humanely for their loved ones who have not been infected. Nobody wants to imagine their family or friends forever roaming as a zombie in the Rot and Ruin outside of town.

Benny has not gotten along with his brother Tom for most of his life, even though Tom has raised him since he was orphaned during First Night. Tom is my favorite character in this story and I immediately fell in love with him and his mysterious, talented, and kind-hearted ways. Although Benny could be annoying at times, I still enjoyed his character and was rooting for him to succeed but can he handle being a bounty hunter? Would he survive out in the Ruin where zombies run free? Full of action, adventure, and intense scenes, this book will captivate you until the end where you will need to have tissues handy. Come pick up this book from the Teen section today!

-Lauren

Friday, April 21, 2017

File Under: 13 Suspicious Incidents

If you or your children have read Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, then you probably know it was recently adapted into a series on Netflix. Having been a fan of the series throughout my middle school years, I couldn't wait to watch the entire first season upon its release. However, since the episodes released so far only cover the first four books in the series, they were just enough to remind me how much I loved the world Snicket created in those books and long to return to it. Luckily, I found that we carry other series and standalone works by "Lemony Snicket," the pen name used by author Daniel Handler for his works in youth literature. I chose to read his book File Under: 13 Suspicious Incidents because it can be read as a standalone work, or as an introduction to his All The Wrong Questions series.

This book takes place long before the Baudelaire's story he recounts in his more famous series, and focuses on Lemony Snicket's childhood as an inductee to the top secret organization that eventually leads to the unfortunate events the Baudelaire orphans face. As an apprentice to an adult member of the VFD, Snicket leads the reader through 13 mysteries he's tasked with solving in the shady town of Stain'd-By-The-Sea. In true Snicket fashion, the children are by far the stars of the stories, and openly show their disappointment at being patronized by the few adults left in the town. The mysteries themselves are written in such a way that the reader really steps in as a co-detective in the cases, as each one ends by directing the reader to a page in the back of the book where Snicket has filed the conclusion under code names.

File Under: 13 Suspicious Incidents is great for those new to Snicket's work as well as those fans of A Series of Unfortunate Events. The reader can use it as an introduction to the world in which Snicket's series are set and move forward from this book into his All The Wrong Questions series followed by A Series of Unfortunate Events, or view it as a prequel to provide context to the already well-known Baudelaire series. The writing style and format also lends itself to be read individually by a child beginning to read chapter books, or as a family read.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Conclave

Robert Harris writes very compelling accurate historical fiction covering subjects from ancient Rome to the Nazi era.  Several of his books have been made into movies including Fatherland and Enigma.  In this book he focuses on the traditions and maneuverings that precede the election of a new pope. 
The current pope is found dead in his bed by Cardinal Wozniak, and uncommonly there is a delay of several hours before others are informed.  A timeline is drawn and the apartment is sealed to inhibit rumors and gossip among staff and reporters. 
The Conclave begins almost three weeks after the Pope's death.  The 118 Cardinals arrive and are locked in the Sistine Chapel  until a Pope is selected.  Three of the most ambitious of them have factions of supporters inside the electoral college-Bellini who is the favorite of the liberals, Tremblay who has ties to the third world, and Adeyemi who could become the first black Pope.  Managing the election is the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Jakopo Lomeli.
During the course of the next 72 hours, many secrets will be revealed and expectations will fail.  As the other cardinals become more aware of the attitudes, and  views  of their fellow cardinals it seems to become harder to elect one. Five ballots are cast, but no one has the necessary two-thirds majority needed to become pope.  Tensions mount after the death of Cardinal Wozniak and it is rumored that one of the cardinals had been fired just before the pope died.  Then a terrorist attack occurs.  This inspires the group to work together and the most unlikely of candidates is chosen  
This book would be of interest to anyone who attended Catholic school where the person of the Pope is much revered.  This book makes it very clear that they are just men, with all the wants and needs of the average man.  One of the interesting additions is quotes from the diaries of real popes such as John XXIII and Pius VI.  Tidbits from the lives and deaths of the popes are interspersed throughout.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Passage by Justin Cronin

The last few years I’ve been putting off reading Justin Cronin’s remarkable saga, The Passage. This procrastination resulted from no perceived flaw in the book, but rather my desire not to begin the much lauded trilogy until the final book, City of Mirrors had been published. It has been out for nearly a year, but like many a reader, I had become distracted by other fare. After finally checking it out last week, I finished the 766 page book in three days. It was that good. Unlike many post-apocalyptic/sci-fi novels, The Passage doles out its plot with reserve. This suits me. Unlike many novels fitting within the aforementioned genres, wherein the first 20 pages outline and foreshadow nearly every plot development, Cronin’s work is a masterpiece of suspense, a real page-turner.

The story begins to unfold through a series of emails. A scientist, Jonah Lear, relays updates on a daring journey to discover the cure for everything in the South American jungle. He is chagrined to admit to his friend that he has received funding for the expedition from USAMRIID (US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases). Soon he finds his expedition co-opted by the military, for reasons he cannot ascertain. The emails then begin to take a troubling turn as the team nears their destination.

Fast-forward some months. FBI agent Wolgast has been tasked with retrieving death row inmates for an experiment in the Colorado mountains. It soon becomes apparent to the reader that the subjects of the experiment have developed a power more insidious than is perceived by their keepers. Lear sends Wolgast on one final mission. He and agent Doyle are sent to claim one more target, a six year-old girl, Amy, abandoned by her mother at a convent. Wolgast, who lost a daughter of his own, develops a bond with the girl. One that will prove fateful for them both when the 13 original subjects break free from their captors and unleash an apocalyptic terror upon the continent, and possibly the world.

Some years later the reader is introduced to one of the last surviving colonies in North America, possibly the only enduring colony. They have scraped together a semblance of a life, by finding an ingenious way of keeping the “smokes” at bay. But time is running out, and some members of the colony appear to have fallen under the sway of a presence who has invaded their sleeping minds. Several brave members strike out across the Dark Lands in order to find both answers and solutions. The discoveries they make on their journey are unsettling and never predictable.


This book kept me up nights and I’m eager to get a start on the second installment, The Twelve. Any fans of suspense, sci-fi, horror, or just plain well-written novels would do well to take a look at what the New York Times hailed as "A blockbuster…astutely plotted and imaginative." This work is available for check-out as an EBOOK, 12-disc audio book, and hardback novel.

-Jennifer Wilson

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Golden Hour

by T. Greenwood

Struggling artist Wyn Davies resides in New York and makes a paltry living painting art pieces which are composed of birch tree sceneries. She lives in one half of a duplex ; her ex (also an artist) living in the other and between the two, they raise a young daughter.

When Wyn receives word that Robby Rousseau, (a man who was accused and found guilty of a horrific crime against her) may be released from prison due to new DNA evidence, she flees to Maine, for her and her daughter's safety and to concentrate on her painting.

Acting as caretaker for a friend's recent property purchase, Wyn discovers a box of film canisters in the basement of the house and soon embarks on a journey of piecing together the mystery of the young woman (pictured in many of the photographs) while attempting to come to terms with an assault which took place twenty years previously.

~ Cathy Kesterson

Our Short History

Single mother Karen is dying of ovarian cancer. This is not a spoiler, because it's no surprise to the reader from the very beginning. Karen and her son Jake are visiting Karen's sister Allison on Mercer Island, WA, as part of Karen's plan for preparing Jake to live with his Aunt Allie and her family after Karen passes on. Another part of her plan is to write this book for Jake, to tell him about his early life and give him some guidance for the future. Jake is a great kid. He's funny, smart, and very warm and loving towards his mom. But he surprises her, and throws a bit of a tantrum about wanting to meet the man who is his father. Karen is torn between wanting to keep Jake for herself, and wanting to give him what he wants. This book is not only a love letter to Jake, but an exploration of the complicated feelings that are involved in all relationships, especially those from which a child is born. The author has a way of poking at things gently and then peeling back the layers to get at what Karen is feeling, and what we all might feel at critical junctures in our lives. Highly recommended for those readers who enjoy character-driven stories that make you think.

Review by Kelly Currie

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Fun Home: a family tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

Fun Home is a graphic novel memoir centered around Bechdel’s father and their sometimes close, sometimes strained relationship. Bechdel’s father, Bruce, was a passionate restorer of their Victorian home, a high school English teacher, a part-time funeral home director, and a man who tried to hide his true self from friends and family. His relationship with his wife and children was often strained, and when he commits suicide he and Alison are barely on speaking terms. While the subject is often bleak, Bechdel has a knack for finding both humor and beauty in difficult times.
Before picking up Fun Home, I had not read a graphic novel since middle school. While I enjoy a number of comic strips, I never understood the idea of an entire book told in comic form. Now I cannot imagine this story being told any other way. The imagery and languages work together to immerse the reader so deeply into Bechdel’s life that it’s impossible not to feel the complicated mix of emotions she herself felt for her father: adoration, disgust, trust, betrayal, love, and heartbreak. Woven throughout are comparisons of her family members to characters from literature especially Daedalus, the ancient Greek inventor, and his son Icarus, the boy who flew too close to the sun. In Fun Home, Alison and Bruce take turns as parent and child to one another, at times pushing each other to great heights, and at others falling into the depths. And much like the tales of Greek mythology, Fun Home is a tale that sticks with you long after the story has been told.
Fun Home has won a number of awards including the Eisner Award for Best Reality-Based Work, Lambda Literary Awards for Biography / Autobiography, and the Stonewall Book Awards: Israel Fishman Nonfiction Award. In 2013, it was adapted for the stage winning the 2015 Tony Award for Best Musical, Best Original Score, and others.  

- Portia Kapraun

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.   

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay dedicates this collection of short stories "for difficult women, who should be celebrated for their very nature." While it remains unclear what qualifications a woman must meet to be dubbed a "difficult woman," that is a term many of us have heard at least a handful of times in our lives. Perhaps this is why I found the short stories in this collection so personal, relatable, and emotional while at the same time shocking, distant, and sometimes repulsive. These stories delve into the lives and inner workings of a vast cross-section of those classified as "difficult women."

Gay gives us these women, and the other characters who fill the spaces of their lives, all at once. From the sisters recovering from a childhood nightmare or the woman married to her true love's evil twin, to the girl who grew up a part of her father's affair or the surprisingly diverse members of a gated Floridian community, the reader is dropped into the middle of these stories and brought up to speed throughout. It's disorienting at first, familiarizing yourself with your new host and realizing very quickly that something is...off. There is always some behavior or thought process the reader just can't quite understand, something difficult about this woman. By the time the reader has watched the scene play out and gotten a peek behind the curtain, the lines that would define this character to the outside observer are too blurry to even recognize. 

I made a resolution at the beginning of this year to read more materials about people and situations I don't understand, or don't think I could personally relate to. Surprisingly, this collection fit that bill. Though at first glace I thought I couldn't relate to many of these characters, by the end of their stories I either saw myself in them or at the very least understood why I couldn't. I recommend this collection to any woman who has been called "difficult," as well as any person who knows someone who has. If you approach it with an open mind, it can certainly open your eyes as well.

Children of the New World

     I have often wondered what our society will look like years down the road as technology is moving at breakneck speeds, and is, after all, so much a part of our lives.
     In the dystopian novel, Children of the New World, there are thirteen tantalizing and thought-provoking stories that will leave you feeling curious and alarmed about the direction a society may be heading.
     The first story introduces you to a family story, "Saying good-bye to Yang," where the father had to take his teenage son to get help after the son repeatedly smashed his face into a breakfast plate.  The son is actually a robot purchased to take care of his younger sister, Mika, who was adopted from China.  Yang was programmed to teach his little sister about her cultural heritage, but was outdated and classified as scrap metal. Despite being a robot, Yang's father mourns after him as he reminisces about the times they have spent together.  This short story is indicative of how we can become so attached to our "technology " that, after losing it, we are left emotionally compromised.

     The most heart-wrenching story in this book is entitled, "Rocket Night." In it, an annual fall school event takes place where families and staff get together and send the least-liked child into orbit.  The child, Daniel, who had a habit of picking his nose and wiping it on his clothes, chewing his pencils, and also wore hand-me-down clothes, was chosen.  Frightened, he clung to his mother's leg, unwilling to get into the rocket.  The narrator explains, "..and so we let our children loose. I watched my daughter pry the boy's fingers..and dragged him away." Daniel was placed into the capsule where his parents were assured there were enough supplies stocked for a long time into the future.

These stories beg the question, "Can this really happen?"

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Pulitzer-winning author, Viet Thanh Nguyen, makes a powerful return to fiction with the February 7th, 2017 publication of his short story collection, The Refugees. The book, comprised of eight unconnected short stories, explores the experiences of those who fled Vietnam following the collapse of the Southern Vietnamese government in 1975. Nguyen, himself a “boat person,” brings both first-hand knowledge and impressive literary skill to bear in this collection.

His stories of immigration, eerily relevant in this new year, focus on the refugee experience in all but one of the vignettes; the exception being the story of an American family whose daughter flees to Vietnam. The contents of each chapter vary effortlessly through space, time, and gender: from poignant ghost story, to a wife coming to grips with her long-time spouse’s dementia, to the struggles of youth with the obligations of filial piety. I have always believed that a truly talented author could make me believe anything of anyone, but I am also aware that a writer who draws on personal experience can lend a special sort of authenticity to their fiction. The Refugees has this in spades, and I would heartily recommend it to lovers of short stories and character-driven fiction.

Jennifer Wilson

Friday, January 27, 2017

Everything You Want Me to Be: a Novel by Mindy Mejia


Hattie Hoffman, a teenager residing in a small farming community in rural Minnesota, has the world by the tail. Intelligent, lovely, and genuinely sweet, she's the epitome of the perfect child for most parents. Her love for acting has given her big dreams for her future, a future that involves moving to New York and hopefully staking out a career on Broadway. However; those dreams are dashed when her body is discovered in a barn, a victim of a horrific stabbing. 

Local Sheriff Del Goodman and trusty sidekick Jake (deputy) go above and beyond to put the pieces of this puzzle together by gathering crime scene evidence and searching through her personal computer and cell phone for clues. It's soon discovered that Hattie had been involved in a secret online relationship.

Interviews are conducted of potential (and very obvious) suspects. Among these suspects are bumbling football jock Tommy Kinakis (Hattie's boyfriend) as well as handsome new English teacher Peter Lund, who was currently in the midst of a drifting marriage and rather unhappy about his living arrangement on his ailing mother-in-law's farmstead. My personal list of less obvious suspects were Mary Lund, the slightly angry and detached wife of Peter Lund ; Portia Nguyen, Hattie's best friend; and last but not least, Winifred Erickson, the elderly pipe-smoking friend of Mary Lund's family who had shot and killed her husband twelve years previously (a character whom I would have liked to have seen more of).

You'll undoubtedly experience a "Wow" moment towards the ending of this particular novel, with its twists and turns, but as much as one might enjoy this book, the ending was unfortunately a bit predictable. 

Cathy Kesterson

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Last Night: stories by James Salter


Last Night is a collection of 10 meticulously-crafted stories of betrayal, secrets, and lies. Reminiscent of Raymond Carver and J.D. Salinger, Salter creates characters who are unhappy, hurtful, and wholly unlikeable. Yet they are also flawed in completely recognizable ways. Even when their actions are unfathomable, the thoughts and emotions that lead them to make bad choices are the same that motivate most people’s decisions: love (or the idea of it), fear, loneliness, and desperation.


Fear and loneliness are heartbreakingly revealed in the story “Such Fun” where three women have drinks, gossip, and complain about their (privileged) lives while ultimately revealing very little of their true selves or motivations. In the end, one of them ends up leaving the party early and telling her cab driver that she’s just been diagnosed with inoperable cancer. Salter doesn’t reveal why she keeps this from her friends and chooses to tell a stranger, instead the reader is left to form their own conclusion.

Each story is distilled down to only the most necessary information, giving the reader a feeling that they’ve walked in on the middle of a private conversation. The penultimate entry “Arlington” reveals the decline and fall of a young army officer’s promising career in just two short scenes. A tale that might have taken hundreds of pages for another author is expertly whittled down to just 7 pages.

For me, a truly great short story is like a painting where only a brief moment in time is captured but so much emotion can be revealed. Like the paintings of Edward Hopper, Last Night is melancholy, haunting, vaguely lonely, and stays with you long after you walk away. 

-Portia

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Reflective fiction is a popular genre for many but was not one that I typically read from. I am glad I gave this book a chance as I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Jude and Noah are thirteen year old twins who have always been incredibly close to each other and can feel where the other is at. They know everything about each other and can trust each other with their secrets. It is nice being able to have someone there for you all the time and have that deep bond with another human being. Being total opposites didnt drive them apart but made them a better team.

Three years and one giant family tragedy later, everything has fallen apart for Jude and Noah. They are no longer each others best friend and hardly even speak to each other and do not know how to deal with their depression and pain. This is a story of growing up, coming to terms with difficult things that life throws your way, and relationships with those around you.

What I liked about this story is the alternating viewpoints of the twins. We hear Noah narrating at the beginning of the book when they are 13 and the story switches to Jude three years later. The reader can tell how Jude struggles with depression and a little mental illness during the story. She sees and speaks to her dead grandmother and believes there is another spirit trying to sabotage her art in school. Jude has also boycotted dating boys after a terrible sexual experience when she was younger. Seeing her grow and become more comfortable with herself as she opens up to the world.

If you enjoy realistic fiction where we see the main character eventually grow and change things for herself, you would enjoy this book. It does include romance and will make you laugh and cry throughout the story. It is difficult to read about their misfortunes and see them struggle at times but the book is beautifully written and worth reading.

I typically prefer more action to emotions but I very much enjoyed this book and plan to try more authors from the reflective category.


-Lauren

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

The Mistletoe Murder

I'm not one for reading short stories, particularly Christmas ones. But I have enjoyed P.D. James over the years and so decided to check this title out.  Lo and behold I discovered that at least three of the stories are an homage to Agatha Christie, and two of the four stories star Adam Dalgliesh, James's own detective.
Story one is told by a best-selling crime writer fifty-two years after the murder occurred . Typical of Christie, it takes place in a large atmospheric house where all but one of the guests invited for Christmas are related but have not met before. The one remaining guest is a coin dealer who is there to value coins the family wants to sell.  After the locked door murder, it is up to the crime writer to determine who did it and how.
The second story involves a law clerk, pornography, and murder.  A surprising one for me, neither Agatha Christie like or one I would have attributed to James.  The clerk discovers a deceased colleagues' stash of porn, which leads him to becoming a voyeur of an affair in the apartment across the alley.  When the murder occurs he has more than one reason for not going to the police.
The next two stories involve Dalgliesh, first as a young Sargent detective and the other as a Chief Superintendent.  In my favorite, the "Boxall Inheritance," a Canon has inherited a great deal of money and wants the Superintendent to investigate whether the woman who left him the money had murdered his grandfather many years ago.  This story is a delight with many twists and turns.  The last story is again set in a huge old mansion where the owner has supposedly committed suicide.  Dalgliesh is stopped while driving by and becomes involved in solving the murder. P.D. James and Agatha Christie are the grande dames of the large manor house, family secrets, and locked door murders.
Both wrote about respectable people who resort to murder. Beware though, these are not cozies.