Tuesday, October 18, 2016

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running  895.635 Murakami

Earlier this month I found myself standing around on a sunny Labor Day morning at the Cuyahoga Fairgrounds, listening to German pop music and watching guys in lederhosen circulate through a crowd of people in running gear. I was going to run in the Cleveland Oktoberfest 5K, the first time I’d done something like that in…well…a very long time.

I used to do a lot of this sort of thing when I was in high school, but then I got more into team sports (first soccer, then rugby in college, competitive cycling, then soccer again). I’m used to having a bunch of teammates around me. But here I was, alone and trying to figure out how I was going to find my way through this thing. The starter called us to the line. I stood there, waiting for the gun in a crowd of strangers. And at that moment I was struck by a realization: this is exactly where I am supposed to be.

I got back into running about a year ago. It should come as no surprise that, as a librarian, I am kind of bookish and my normal mode of finding my way through something new is by reading about it. I’d read a few books about training, one or two about diet, and a few about the overall process, but I hadn’t really found anything that caught my imagination. Then one afternoon I was nosing around literary memoirs here at the library and I ran across What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by the Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami. I’ve always loved Murakami’s novels (especially The Great Sheep Chase and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle). Murakami’s books have a really odd perspective, and I don’t think that it’s just a matter of cultural translation between the Japanese and us. But they’re also humane and beautiful and once I start one I usually can’t put it down.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running intertwines the story of Murakami’s writing and his running. As in his novels, Murakami has an eye for interesting detail, as when he relates the story of deciding to write his first novel while lounging around the outfield bleachers at a Yakult Swallows game in 1978. For Murakami the process of becoming a novelist and that of becoming a runner had some important similarities. In both cases it took him a while before he realized that he was going to get serious about it. In both cases he was extraordinarily successful, becoming a world famous novelist and getting himself the point that he could run marathons (which only a relatively small proportion of runners ever do).

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Books We've Missed: To Kill a Mockingbird

As I think I've mentioned before, I somehow managed to miss that point in life where everyone read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I just never had to read it in school, and never picked it up on my own. The Monday Night Book Club decided they wanted to read a classic this year, and that's what they chose. So I've finally read it!

I'm guessing, like me, you knew the basic plot of the story, but I'm going to do a brief synopsis here, so bear with me. Scout Finch is a little girl living in Depression-era Alabama with her older brother Jem and her attorney father Atticus Finch. The novel centers around the childhood of Scout and Jem: the games they play, their experiences at school, and their observations of life in Maycomb. The two children are fascinated by a reclusive man, Boo Radley, who lives down the street from them. Together with their friend Dill, they spend much of their time trying to either lure him out or trick him into showing himself.

Atticus Finch, a man who had his children late in life, is a single father and a very respected lawyer in Maycomb. In the course of the novel, he is assigned a case defending a black man against a white woman's claims of rape. This is a turning point in the small 1930s town, and opens Scout and Jem's eyes to the very real racism of their hometown.

Reading this book felt like being transported back to a different time. Harper Lee did an excellent job of immersing the reader in the time and place of the story. Descriptions of the town abound, but don't overwhelm. There are a lot of secondary characters introduced over the course of the book, and these just added to the charm of the story. The "small town gossip" element was fully at play as the book progressed, and the inclusion of the different neighbors improved upon the environment depicted.

Going into the book, I thought that the trial would be a bigger part of the story, based on what I'd known prior to reading it. So I was surprised that the trial did not happen until well into the second part of the book. Also, in discussion, I found that there were some things interpreted differently by different readers, which gave the book that element of interpretation.

Overall, I'm glad that I had a chance to catch up on this "book I missed" and I can definitely see why this book is a lasting classic. The story is still just as accessible today as I imagine it was when first published in the 60s. It is also very easy to read, even with the dialects given. I can also see why some people have tried to ban this book over the years, if only for language. However, the language very much adds to the setting of the story, and I think it would be disingenuous otherwise.

I did a lot of research on this book and Harper Lee prior to leading the book discussion on it, and I have to say I have no desire to read Go Set a Watchman.

I did listen to the audio for part of this story, and I have to say that Sissy Spacek as a narrator was AMAZING. She did an excellent job with the accents and voices.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Fall TBR List

I've been in the midst of moving and craziness of late, so I am super behind on my reading. That is, the arbitrary goal I've set for myself. Even so, here are some of the books I am very much looking forward to reading this fall!

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme started on the Broke and the Bookish blog.
They set the topic, we make the lists. Visit their site to see more on this topic

Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh (October 27)
FINALLY! Our adoration for Brosh's first book Hyperbole and a Half is well documented (see here, here, herehere, here and here), so of course we have been waiting (quite impatiently) for her follow-up. The publication of this has been pushed back not once, but twice, so the fact that the book is finally out thrills me. The first book is an exploration of the author's life, including her childhood, struggles with her pets, and her battle with depression. Simply put, the book is amazing. Funny and at times completely ridiculous, but amazing. I can only hope the new book is half as awesome.

Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in Between by Lauren Graham (November 29)
I adore Lauren Graham. This love of course came from her stint as Lorelai Gilmore, but I have also enjoyed her work in other shows and movies, and I really liked her fiction book Someday, Someday, Maybe. This new memoir by her is sure to be a good one. I'm interested to see where she started, and her take on her life thus far. I'm also counting on it being a funny read.

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood (October 11)
Recently, there's been this revival of sorts for classic books. You may have heard of the retellings of Austen's works by Alexander McCall-Smith, Curtis Sittenfeld, and others. Well, the Hogarth Shakespeare Project is doing the same for the Bard. Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler came out earlier this year, a retelling of Taming of the Shrew (also on my TBR list), and now Margaret Atwood has joined the game, with this retelling of The Tempest. I admit, The Tempest is not one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, but nonetheless, I enjoy Atwood's style of writing and I am intrigued to see where she takes this.

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick (November 15)
Another celebrity memoir, yes. I really enjoy Anna Kendrick's acting and her sense of humor. I follow her social media accounts (Twitter, Instagram) and this lady is funny. So I'm hoping for a light memoir filled with that same type of humor!

P.S. I Like You by Kasie West (July 25)
A friend of mine on Goodreads raved about this sweet YA romance, and now I have to read it to see what all the buzz was about. I haven't read a YA read recently, so I'm looking forward into diving into this one about anonymous pen pals, school crushes, and high school life.

American Witches: A Broomstick Tour Through Four Centuries by Susan Fair (August 23)
There's something about reading about witches that is decidedly autumnal to me. I'm intrigued by this historical non-fiction book, and fascinated by the history of witches personally, so I think this will be a winner.

The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan (September 20)
This book is definitely one of those book-lover's books that are so fun to find. The main character calls herself a "literary matchmaker," pairing people with books they'll love. Unfortunately, she's lost this job and moves to a new city, starting a bookmobile to keep her passion for reading and "matchmaking" going. This book sounds positively adorable and just cozy. I can't wait to snuggle up with this book under a blanket this fall!

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley (May 31)
I don't think this book has stayed on the shelf since we got it at the library. It's been one of those ultra-popular reads this summer. The book is about the aftermath of a plane crash where 11 people took off, and only two came back. The passengers' secrets all come out as the reader goes along for the journey to find out what really happened. This sounds like one of those books that is going to have a lot of twists and turns.

The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman (September 13)
This children's book is about a lost boy who winds up becoming the apprentice to an old crotchety wizard who is a little bit evil, but mostly just grumpy. It's an unlikely apprenticeship because the wizard won't let the boy leave, but he also isn't going to teach him any magic either. So he's kind of an indentured servant, but he finds a way to learn about magic in order to help Wizard Smallbone fight his nemesis. The book sounds like a lot of fun, reminiscent of Nimona by Noelle Stevenson to me, and I'm excited to see where the story goes.

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven (October 4)
I very much enjoyed the heartbreaking book All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, so I feel compelled to read her next book. Much like All the Bright Places, this book is about two teenagers with mountains of problems finding discovering friendship and love and belonging. Even though I'm sure she's going to break my heart a little, I'm going to read Niven's next book this fall.

What are you looking forward to reading this fall?


Thursday, September 15, 2016

Novel Sequels

Sequels. It seems like everything is part of a series these days. Harry Potter was seven books, eight movies, and a play. A Song of Ice and Fire fans are patiently waiting for books six and seven as HBO’s Game of Thrones surpasses the novels this year. Sue Grafton, who started her Kinsey Millhone mysteries in 1982 with “A” is for Alibi, is nearing the end of the alphabet with X (expect Y in 2017 and Z in 2019). Frankly, keeping up with these never-ending series can be exhausting.

What happened to good old fashioned novels, I find myself asking…myself? Well, actually, most of the books that come into the library are standalone stories. But sometimes characters resonate and you wonder what happened to them after that final page. Occasionally authors have the same feeling and that’s when we get unexpected sequels. This is a list of continuations to books that aren’t part of lengthy series. But writing the unexpected sequel can be tricky business. Sometimes the story comes as a natural progression, enhancing the original story. Other times, it reads as a shameless cash grab, making you completely question your judgment of the first book. Authors, tread carefully.

Here are some recent sequels that you may (or may not) want to check out:

Glory over Everything by Kathleen Grissom (2016, sequel to 2010’s The Kitchen House) I read The Kitchen House with my book club groups here at the library, and that book was a very powerful read. Set in the late 1700s, a young Irish immigrant is taken in as an indentured servant, and raised by the slaves on the property. We grew with her over the course of the book until she is a married adult, seeing how harsh pre-Civil War south was. Glory Over Everything follows a character introduced in the first book, Jamie, who was born to a slave and her master. Years after the events of The Kitchen House, Jamie is living in Philadelphia, passing as white and struggling to keep his past a secret. But as you can imagine, it comes back to bite him since America in the 1830s is still not very accepting. Not your average sequel, as you could quite easily read this without the other, but a satisfying glimpse into the characters’ lives from the first novel. ~CW

After You by Jojo Moyes (2015, sequel to 2012’s Me Before You) – With the film version of Me Before You just out of theaters, I hesitate to give too much of this story away. Let’s just say that Clark struggles to readjust to life after the events of the first book. Clark’s maturity in the sequel makes for an appealing compliment to the original book. ~MT
First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen (2015, sequel to 2007’s Garden Spells) Allen’s books exist mostly in the same world, so you’ll occasionally catch a glimpse of a character from Garden Spells in The Peach Keeper, but First Frost is her first proper sequel. Ten years after the events of Garden Spells, we check in with the Waverley sisters whose settled lives might be upended by the appearance of a mysterious stranger. ~MT

Hostile Takeover by Shane Kuhn (2015, sequel to 2014’s The Intern’s Handbook) The Intern’s Handbook was a breezy thriller with a fairly definitive ending, making the appearance of a sequel somewhat surprising (see review here). In Hostile Takeover, John Lago is back at it with his “special” skills. In the first book, John is dictating instructions to a new “intern” (read: assassin) about how he got to where he is. The second book finds him working closely with someone from the first book who we don’t entirely trust. Friend or foe? ~MT

Stand-Off  by Andrew Smith (2015, sequel to 2013’s Winger) I found Winger to be an unexpectedly poignant YA novel about a boy, Ryan Dean West, finding his place among his classmates at a private school. I know John really connected with it. So the sequel was a little bit of a letdown. Rugby was a large part of the first book, but didn’t play too much of a role in Stand-Off to the detriment of the story. It also seemed like Smith didn’t have as strong a handle on his characters as he did in Winger.~MT

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion (2014, sequel to 2012’s The Rosie Project) Here’s an example of a bad sequel. The Rosie Project was an unexpected delight, a bestseller in Australia before being released in the US. The Rosie Effect, on the other hand, was literally one of the worst books I’ve ever read. Every character acted like they had recently received a lobotomy. The Rosie Effect makes me physically angry just thinking about it. Hard pass. ~MT (although CW 100% agrees)

The Love Song of Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce (2014, sequel to 2012’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry) I loved The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (you can see how much here), so I was pleasantly surprised to see a sort-of sequel to this story. Instead of a traditional sequel, taking place after the events of the first novel, The Love Song of Queenie Hennessy takes place in the same timeline as Harold Fry, just from Queenie’s perspective. I wanted to love this book, but in revealing Queenie’s past, I felt like I lost a little bit of the magic from the previous book. (full review) Even so, if you liked the first book, the second is sort of a necessary read. 

Have you read any unexpected sequels that we've left out? Good or bad?  

~Meredith and Cailey

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Five Books Worth Reading: Epic Fantasy 2016

High fantasy or epic fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy that is set in invented or imaginary worlds. This is one of Mary's favorite genres to read, and she reads a lot of them. Check out her list of the best epic fantasy books that she has read this year! 

Promise of Fire – Amanda Bouchet  (Epic Paranormal Romance)
Griffin, a warlord searching for someone to help him hold his newly conquered kingdom, decides on and then kidnaps Cat, a powerful seer/magic user, who sees truth whenever someone lies. In a world where magic is powerful, the gods interfere in everyday life, and creatures of every shape and size can be found, not just a kingdom, but their very survival is on the line.

I loved this book. The characters were flawed, yet engaging. The secondary characters were well developed. The world building was interesting. The romance was entertaining. And, while Cat's "secret" identity is pretty blatant, the story is just so well written that it doesn't matter.
This book is my favorite of the year (so far).

Uprooted – Naomi Novik  (Adult Fairy Tale Retelling)
Agnieszka loves her valley home, but only the wizard, Dragon, can keep the corrupted, evil Wood near her home at bay. His price: one of the local women must serve him for ten years… many of whom are never seen again. Soon, the new woman will be chosen, and that choice will change both Agnieszka’s life and the safety of her beloved valley forever.

I loved Uprooted. It was such a different story. Even though it is a fairy tale retelling, as a Polish fairy tale, it is not one I had ever heard before, so the storyline was totally fresh. I have never really read anything quite like it. It was engaging, really well written, and thoroughly enjoyable. It has good characters, great world building, and good pacing.
This is one of my favorite reads of the year.

Emperor’s Arrow - Lauren D.M. Smith  (Epic Paranormal Romance)
Summary: Evony of Aureline, archer and warrior, has been sent to compete in a competition designed to find the Emperor a wife.

Mary’s Snarky Summary: Fanatically loyal Amazonian-like warrior is forced to compete in a bachelor-like competition while traitors and rebellion surrounds her (and the emperor) on all sides.
Even though this story line has been done before, this is one of the best iterations I have come across. The main characters are compelling and strong. The world building is fantastic. I thoroughly enjoyed this story… and it’s a stand-alone novel, which is rare in epic fantasy. (only available on e-book)

The Novice – by Taran Matharu  (Teen)
Fletcher, an orphan and blacksmith apprentice, finds a spell book which shows him how to summon a demon, which is not as horrible as you might think... It also makes him a valuable commodity in the war against the orcs.
While this story did remind me a little of World of Warcraft, the characters and constant action pulled the story together, into a very enjoyable read.

Grave Mercy – Robin LaFevers  (Teen)
Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from an arranged marriage to the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain where she will be trained as an assassin - and to serve Death Himself. But, how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon targets whom she is not sure deserve it?
The novel is driven by mystery, romance and subtle skullduggery. The characters are well developed and grow throughout the story. This is a story/series well worth reading!

~Mary P.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Like a Prayer: a Review of My Best Friend's Exorcism

Did you ever huddle up with a group of friends watching The Exorcist in the middle of the night because you knew your parents wouldn’t let you see it otherwise? Yeah, I did too. Do you remember staying up way too late eating junk food and singing pop songs into your hairbrush? If you put those things together, you get an approximate feel for Grady Hendrix’s new book, My Best Friend’s Exorcism. It’s an odd, yet enjoyable mix of teenage nostalgia and body horror.

It’s 1988 and best friends Abby Rivers and Gretchen Lang are sophomores at the prestigious Albemarle Academy in Charleston, South Carolina. After a night of skinny dipping gone awry, Gretchen starts acting wrong. At first, it’s small things, things her parents and classmates don’t even notice. She curses; she talks back to her mom. Soon she gets worse and Abby becomes concerned for her best friend’s health and safety. Abby has to find a way to help Gretchen before she can destroy herself and everyone around her.

Hendrix has created a vivid trip down memory lane; you can all but smell the United Colors of Benetton and Aqua Net wafting off the pages. He ends up developing an accurate, yet not exactly subtle, metaphor between adolescence and demonic possession. It’s done so heavily, that about halfway through the book; I thought it could’ve gone either way. (Spoiler – it’s totally a demon).

My favorite part was a school assembly where the students gathered to watch The Lemon Brothers Faith and Fitness Show, which basically boils down to four muscle-bound brothers punching cinder blocks and talking about the power of Christ’s love. It wasn’t until reading that scene did I remember sitting through almost the same exact show in middle school (I think they ripped phone books). I was delighted to learn that not only did I NOT imagine such a presentation, but that similar events are pervasive enough to be included in a book like this.

My main complaint was a non-starting plot thread involving a dilapidated shack, Bell telephone wires, and the body of a missing girl. I thought it had a lot of potential (evil phone company!) and seemed like it was going to play into the conclusion of the story, but it got dropped without ever being mentioned again.

But it’s the strength of the friendship between Abby and Gretchen that really carries the narrative. Even when Gretchen is at her worst, lowest point, Abby still wants to be there for her best friend. Everyone else writes Gretchen off as acting like a psycho, but Abby knows there’s something more going on. I wanted so badly for Abby to be able to save her friend because you could really feel how much they cared for each other. And that’s what friendship is, right? When the chips are down, you stand by one another whether you’re facing homeroom or hellspawn.

Looking for something a little more frightening? Try Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone by Stefan Kiesbye.

Want some more 80s horror nostalgia? Check out Stranger Things on Netflix. Minus the scares? Read Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell.


Thursday, August 18, 2016

What type of reader are you?

Presumably, if you are following this blog, you love books. We all love books. But everyone loves and reads books in their own way. I thought it would be fun to attempt to put names to some of the different types of readers out there.

#1. The Serial Series Reader
This person loves a good series. They may even go so far as to reject stand-alone novels all together. They love to get lost in a world built up through as many books as the author is kind enough to write. The characters become their friends and they just don’t want to let go.

#2. The True Bibliophile
This type of reader loves all books and everything that has to do with books. They can read any genre and will finish EVERY book they start. Not only do they read books but they read about books, make book crafts, they may even wear articles of clothing with books on them.

#3. The Book Deserter 
This is the reader that loves to start new books but can’t quite seem to finish them. It may be because they are a picky reader or they may just simply grow bored with the plot or characters and move on to the next book on their list.

#4. The Adult YA Reader
These readers are fans of YA books and they aren’t afraid to show it. They love the engaging stories and the dynamic characters. This person will tell you (and they will be right) that YA books can be great reads, even for adults!

#5. The Genre Reader
Similar to the series reader, this person sticks to their favorite genre when choosing their next read. Whether it be mystery, romance, or science fiction, they rarely stray from their comfort zone.

#6. The Relaxed Reader
This reader will pick up their next book on a whim. They may like the cover, have heard of it in passing, or it may be a completely random choice. They will finish it if it’s enjoyable but will set it aside if it’s not. They don’t mind to cross genre barriers or try new author debuts.

I have always aspired to be a “true bibliophile”, spanning book genres and easily finishing any and all books I begin even if I am not totally enjoying it. But I have come to terms with the fact that I am just not that type of reader. I am much more of a “relaxed reader” type with a hint of “book deserter.” I will give any book a try, and I have enjoyed books in most genres, but I won’t force myself to read something I am not fully enjoying. Unfortunately, that means that I sometimes feel like I abandon more books than I finish but it also means I mostly love all the books I do finish.

Obviously, this list is not exhaustive. You may be a combination of these types of readers or a type all your own. So, what type of reader are you?

~Ragan S.