Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Mary P’s Top Ten books of 2017

We're getting to the end of 2017! Where did the time go? Today, Mary counts down her top ten reads of the year (and she read well over 100 books this year, so this wasn't easy!). 

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

1. Warcross – Marie Lu. Set in the near future, Warcross is about a destitute hacker girl who gets pulled into the worldwide Warcross (a virtual reality video game) Gaming Championships. She is tasked by the game’s creator to find the terrorists trying to destroy the championships, the game, and the game’s designers. This book has mystery, adventure, virtual reality, hacking, gaming, and great characters. I loved this book. It was my favorite of the year. 

2. Strange the Dreamer - Laini Taylor. Lazlo Strange, orphan and junior librarian, has always been obsessed with the city of Weep, which one day just stopped interacting with the world… and then its name disappeared… from minds, books, and song… everywhere. When a caravan comes from Weep, Lazlo is finally able to visit the fabled city and try to figure out the mystery. This is a very slow starting book, but... definitely give it a chance, because.... WOW, what a book. What a wonderful story. This was my second favorite of the year.

3. All the Crooked Saints - Maggie Stiefvater. Stiefvater is known for writing “different” books. Her books are never what you expect and often have strange twisting plots, but they always give you something to think about. All the Crooked Saints is a modern fairy tale set in the 60's. It’s about a family of reluctant saints who can perform “miracles” on people who ask, but then those people have to figure out how to accept the consequences of that miracle and heal from it. I loved this story. It was just odd enough, fantastical enough, and heartbreakingly lovely enough to catch your heart strings. It will leave you thinking about the provenance of miracles... and what one must do to deserve them.

4. Breath of Fire - Amanda Bouchet. This is the second book in the Kingmaker Chronicles. In this epic fantasy (with a hint of romance), the gods, their descendants, and two kingdoms are in desperate need of a leadership change; Cat, a clairvoyant Kingmaker, and Griffin, a barbarian warlord, are the change the world needs… if only they can set aside their differences and embrace their destiny. Great characters, interesting plot, with a helping of romance thrown in makes for a fun, engaging read. 

5. Etched in Bone – Anne Bishop. The fifth book in The Others series. In a world where the Others control most areas of Earth and uppity humans are sometimes hunted down as prey, the Others are trying to decide if Humans are worth keeping, just how much humanity they want to keep, and why one tiny human female prophet has made such a huge impact on their world. This is one of my all-time favorite series. I wait with bated-breath for each new installment. Every book in The Others series is a tightly plotted story with engaging characters, monsters who are not so monstrous, and a slow burning romance destined to keep the reader’s interest. 

6. Volatile Bonds – Jaye Wells. This is the fourth book in the Prospero's War series. This series is an urban fantasy police procedural with its own take on magic. When a dirty magic explosion and dead body appear on Kath Prospero’s beat, she and her partner Morales need to look at the relationships between the dirty magic covens (mob/gangs), try to figure out who the new players are, and what exactly is going on. I really like the characters in this series and recommend starting at the first book Dirty Magic to get a good feel of what is going on.

7. Empty Grave – Jonathan Stroud. This is the fifth (and possibly final) book in the mid-grade series Lockwood & Co. Since only children can see ghosts, they are tasked with protecting the world from the violent spirits and Lockwood and his companions are very good at their job. But now they are on the hunt for where the ghost problem originated, and how Marissa Fittes (the first real ghost hunter) fits into the mystery. So they open up her tomb… only to find something they really did not expect. A fun horror story intended for preteens that can hold the interest of adults.

8. Shattered Court - M.J. Scott. The first book in the Four Arts series. This book came out in 2015 (which I missed), but popped onto my radar when the second book came out this year. Lady Sophia Kendall is thirty-second in line to the Anglion throne, a lady-in-waiting, and a potential royal witch. When the Anglion court is attacked, Sophia escapes with a royal guard trying to find a safe haven. This book is a super easy, quick, no-brainer, fun paranormal romance read with good characters and a location that is almost, but not quite, familiar. 

9. Hardcore Twenty-Four – Janet Evanovich. The 24th book in the Stephanie Plum series. The Stephanie Plum series is my guilty-read mystery series. I’m not sure why I keep reading it, but I can’t keep my hands off of the series when a new one comes out. In Hardcore Twenty-Four, when inept bounty hunter, Stephanie Plum, encounters zombies in New Jersey, inane acts, funny scenes, and car destruction ensues. If you are looking for a quick read – something short, fun, with moments of hysterical laughter (and, in book 24, it is literal potty/outhouse humor), then this series is for you.  

10. Cuckoo’s Calling - Robert Galbraith (which is a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling). This adult mystery was written in 2013, but I read it for the first time this year. Private detective Cormoran Strike investigates a supermodel's suicide at the behest of her brother. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book and the two books that came after it. And, while there may have been too many characters, they were well written and engaging characters embroiled in an interesting and intriguing mystery. I really enjoyed it.

That’s it. Those are my top ten reads of the year. So, tell me what you’ve read this year or comment on how you liked my top ten of the year. Happy Holidays!

Mary P. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

10 Bookish Places I’d Like to Visit

10 Bookish Places I’d Like to Visit

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

I’ve interpreted this a little bit freely. Most of the things that came to mind are the kind of places (like London) that have seemed attractive to a lot of people as the setting for novels. I really like a book with a good sense of place, so I tried to think of books that I’d read that evoke something special about the place in which they’re set. And I also love hobbits, but that’s another story.

1. Edinburgh: I’ve been there actually, but only briefly and it’s the setting for so many interesting books that I’d really like to go back. Fans of the Rebus detective novels by Ian Rankin will well remember the maze of streets and alleys, laden with some kind of obscure history. But Edinburgh has been the setting for so many great books, from Walter Scott’s Heart of Midlothian to Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting and a lot in between. The weather there is generally pretty frightful, but I’m sure one could find something there to make a person forget about it.

2. What holds for Edinburgh holds for London in spades. The list of important literary figures that haunted its streets would make a pretty extensive list of its own. I’ve always loved books set there, especially the numerous Sherlock Holmes stories set in London (of course some take place elsewhere), and Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere which takes a really different approach to the city (and which is one of my very favorite books).

3. I’ve never been to Barcelona, but after reading Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind and The Angels Game, I really want to go there. From what I’ve heard, Barcelona retains a lot of its old world charm, having not been bombed during the Second World War, or otherwise damaged during the Franco era. Zafon’s novels have a tremendous sense of place, and Barcelona seems to have a lot less of the sort of modern reconfiguration of, for instance, Madrid. Anyway, I’d love to find out.

4. Is there anywhere interesting to go in Wyoming? If there is, I haven’t found it yet. I haven’t really spend a lot of time there, mostly just transiting through on cross country drives at various times. But having been a big fan of Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire mysteries, set in the fictitious Absaroka County, hard by a Northern Cheyenne reservation. Both the books and television series (done first by AMC and then by Netflix) do a great job of conveying life in the wide open plains and the challenges (but also the enjoyments of that life).

5. Middle Earth, New Zealand. People who know me know that I am fascinated to the point of obsession with Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. The movies were, sad to say, a little disappointing. On the other hand, the decision to retain (or reconstruct since I think some of them were torn down) some of the sets, and particularly the village of Hobbiton is something that I completely support. I don’t really know how I’m gonna hack the 14 hour flight down to New Zealand, but somehow love will find a way.

6. Prince Edward Island: Is it weird that I like Anne of Green Gables? Well I do. My friend went on vacation up on PEI and said it was really nice. I’ve been to the west coast of Canada, but never the eastern maritime provinces. I looks like they’ve preserved a lot of the traditional flavor up there. Anne of Green Gables has a really pleasant hominess to its story, and it’s one of those things that I read in childhood and never quite got over.

7. Glamis Castle: It’s one of the key locations in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, which isn’t really one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, but still retains some interest. Actually, I’m kind of curious to do the whole castles in Scotland thing, especially since another of my favorite books in childhood was Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley, in which the hero sort of gets lost in a magical landscape of the lost Gaelic world of the Scottish highlands. Ok, Glamis is near Aberdeen, which is not the highlands, but you get my point.

8. Davos, Switzerland: Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, in which the main character goes to visit his cousin in a sanatorium there and ends up staying for seven years, is not everyone’s cup of tea. But I do like it in the sense that it’s about isolating yourself and taking the time to think through things (among a lot of other themes). I’ve always kind of thought that if I moved to some higher altitude I might get a better perspective on the world, and there are a lot worse places to spend your time than the Swiss alps.

9. North Africa: A few years ago a friend turned me on to Paul Bowles’s hypnotically beautiful novel, The Sheltering Sky. Bowles used the backdrop of North Africa to investigate the complicated relationship among his characters in a way that was rich with metaphor, but also had a richness and immediacy that was quite captivating. Sadly, a lot of North Africa has gotten kind of dangerous these days, give the current geopolitical circumstances, but I’d love the opportunity to wander as the characters in Bowles’s book did and soak up the local culture.

10. Dublin: There are a lot of reasons I want to visit Dublin, some literary, some not. I’m not one of these people who wants to go around to all the spots that they hit in Joyce’s Ulysses (although some people that I know have done it to good effect). But I am attracted by the way the city is portrayed in books like Roddy Doyle’s Star Called Henry or in the mystery novels of Tana French. There was a long time when Dublin was kind of dingy and down at the heels, but it’s much nicer and now and the kind of place where someone with a literary cast of mind can find a lot to entertain them


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Top Ten Books I’m Thankful For

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

Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey – If we’re talking about books I’m thankful for, I’m going to have to go all the way back to some of the earliest books that I remember encountering. Make Way for Ducklings is one of the first picture books I remember my dad reading to me. The thing that makes it special is that my dad never just read to me. Ducklings takes place in Boston, the city my father grew up in, so as we would go through the book, he used to point out all the places he recognized and tell his own stories about his time there.

Tuesday by David Wiesner – A picture book without words, Tuesday is a story about a night when frogs are able to fly. Once again, it’s a book I have vivid memories of my dad reading to me. How did he read a book without any words? Well, I don’t mean to brag, but my dad made the absolute best sound effects. One page that sticks in my mind is a bunch of frogs watching TV while a suspicious cat looks on. 

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder – I don’t think I need to reiterate my adoration for The Little House on the Prairie series. It was one of the first books I remember reading where I really identified with the main character. Sure, my life was nothing like Laura’s, but it didn’t stop me from dreaming of life in the wide, open prairies.

Matilda by Roald Dahl – Dahl was one of the first authors I had to read EVERYTHING by, but Matilda is the one that stuck with me the most. Dahl had a way of capturing childhood without shying away from black humor. He let children be smarter than the adults and question the way things were.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath – The next couple books are ones I encountered in high school. I was a junior when I explored the melancholic world of Esther Greenwood. I finally felt like I was reading books by authors who were reflecting my own experiences even though it was written by Plath forty years earlier.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith – This is a book I’m thankful for because it has been one that I’ve been able to revisit since the first time I read it. Smith’s novel is a sprawling tale that follows the Nolan family, particularly 11 year old Francie. A young girl living in poverty, Francie was always able to find the beauty in life.

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut – It was around this time when I was discovering “classic” novels outside of ones that were assigned to me in school and I was beginning to learn that they weren’t all boring slogs to read like Great Expectations. Cat’s Cradle is one of the funniest, smartest books I’ve read.

The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles – Not a book I would recommend to everyone, but it’s important to me because of all the time I spent with it. The Sheltering Sky was the book I wrote my final thesis on in college. It’s the story of three travelers who slowly shed their identities as they cross the brutal landscapes of North Africa.
Attachments by Rainbow Rowell – We’ve talked about our love of this book a lot, (see here, here, and here) but I want to make a point of saying how thankful I am for the audiobook version of Attachments. I’ve listened to this book during car trips at least a half dozen times and it always makes the time pass enjoyably.

The Infinite Wait by Julia Wertz – This was one of the first graphic novel memoirs I read and it solidified my love of the genre and for small press comics. I’ve attended the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland four years in a row now (having met Julia Wertz the first time) and I’ve discovered a lot of hard working comics artists whose work I probably wouldn’t have found otherwise.


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Top Ten Books I Want My Nieces to Read

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

I am so lucky to be able to say that I have two beautiful nieces. I was so excited to begin picking out books for them, it was one of the first things I did when I heard they were arriving. Thank god for libraries, but I have a feeling you guys already knew that. Fortunately their parents have been raising them with a healthy love of reading and books.

If I had the time I would take my nieces row by row, sharing every last picture book we have with them. But kids have “naptimes” and I have a “job” so that’s not possible. Instead I often pull out my favorites and share those. Of course there are plenty of classic picture books that they already love, but new amazing books are being published every day and I can’t wait to share those as well.
So, check out a couple of more recent titles, all of which I have shared, or can’t wait to share with my nieces.

The Dark by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Jon Klassen
I love Jon Klassen’s artwork, and he is probably my favorite children’s book illustrator. I would be tempted to put his books as half of my list but that that wouldn’t make for an interesting list. So instead I’ll recommend his collaboration with one of my favorite children’s authors, Lemony Snicket. The Dark tells the story of a little boy who is afraid of the dark. To get over his fear, he decides to go visit the dark where it lives, in his big scary basement. He ends up discovering that maybe the dark isn’t so bad after all.

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddley
Young girls are in need of positive female role models and representation in children’s literature. Who better to promote girl power than the Notorious RGB? I Dissent is a biographical picture book that covers the life of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one dissent at a time.

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
If you haven’t seen any of Beaty’s picture books I highly recommend you check them out. Recently she’s been working on a series of books about some talented kids who are all in a class together. The most recent installment is Ada Twist, Scientist. Ada was a very quiet girl growing up, but she soon began asking that all important question “why?”  Her inquisitive nature leads her on a mission to find the source of a terrible smell in her home. Definitely check this out if you are looking for STEM themed picture books for your kids.

Stuck by Oliver Jeffers
I like to take this one when I need a book for slightly older kid because it always gives them a good laugh. Floyd gets his kite stuck up in a tree. In an attempt to knock it down, he starts throwing other objects up into the tree. It ends up getting a little crazy and let’s just say that I am impressed with Floyd’s upper body strength.

The Bad Seed by Jory John, illustrated by Pete Oswald
Sometimes I like a book just because it’s so much fun to read out loud. This is one of those books. Oh no, watch out! Here comes the bad seed. He doesn’t put things back where they belong and cuts in line! But this seed doesn’t want to be bad, and decides that he wasn’t to make a change and be happy!

Paige is adamant that she can see just fine. Paige cannot see just fine. She can no longer see the chalkboard at school or her sheet music during practice. She needs glasses, but is afraid of going to see the doctor. Her mother takes her to the eye doctor where she takes an eye exam and then gets to pick out her frames from a wide selection of styles.

The Whispering Town by Jennifer Elvgren, illustrated by Fabio Santomauro
I usually try to pick happier books for little ones, but I also think it is important to teach kids about the less than bright parts of our history. Those who don’t learn from their past and all that. Due to its subject matter, this is a book I will save for my nieces till they are older. The Whispering Town is based on a true story and tells the story of a little girl whose family is hiding a Jewish family in Nazi-occupied Denmark. The entire town works together, whispering directions to guide the family to safety.

I Am Yoga by Susan Verde, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
I love books that encourage kids to get up and moving. I wouldn’t recommending sitting with your kid and reading this book. Instead, you should get up and follow along with all of the yoga poses. A nice stretch will do you good.

Blobfish Throws a Party by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Maggie Caton
Poor little Blobfish, he lives at the bottom of the ocean and just wants some friends. He decides to throw a party, but when he calls out to the shore his message gets distorted. After a game of telephone his message ends up helping in an unexpected way.

Home by Carson Ellis
We each have our own little space that we call home. And while each of our homes can make us feel safe and welcome, they all look very different. This book explores different types of dwellings, from realistic to fantastical. While the story might not be the most exciting, Ellis’s illustrations are out of this world.

And now, which books do you want to give to the kids in your life?


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Librarians' Line-Up: Books that Haunt Us

Happy Halloween! For this month's Librarians' Line-Up, our librarians are discussing books that have haunted them. Take a look and share yours below!

Doll Bones​ by Holly Black is one that has stuck with me. You wouldn't expect a middle grade book to be scary, but Black manages to weave a story of friendship and growing up with some seriously creepy elements. Zach, Poppy and Alice are three friends who love to make up stories together, but one day Poppy claims she is being haunted by a murdered girl whose ashes have been hidden inside a china doll. They set off to lay her ghost to rest, but they continue to encounter strange and unexplained events as they journey to her grave.

So let’s be real for a second, the past is a pretty scary place. We humans have done a lot of crazy and messed up things, and we often times discover that truth is stranger than fiction.
With that in mind, I’d recommend checking out The United States of Absurdity. Comedians Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds compiled a book featuring some of the weirdest stories from their American history podcast, the Dollop. And while there are plenty of true and outrageous stories in the book the one that still haunts me is the story of Dr. Walter Freeman, the guy who came up with the ice pick lobotomy. While I won’t go into too much detail (for those of you who are faint of heart) I will note that Dr. Freeman even took his show on the road, performing ten minute lobotomies out of his van which would later be referred to as the “Lobotomobile.”
Like I said, the past is terrifying. 

 A book that haunts me is Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris. I read this book in 2016 and it was actually featured on this blog as my choice for the best book I read that year. The story is about a seemingly perfect couple whose relationship is not at all what is appears to be from the outside looking in. There is very little violence but the mental abuse Jack conflicts on his wife Grace, is truly haunting. There were moments in this book where my heart was racing and I was desperately hoping for Grace to win in the end. This story has stuck with me and I continue to recommend it to people who like a good psychological thriller.

I’m not a horror enthusiast, probably thanks to the last scary book I read: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz. Practically everyone my age was exposed to this collection of stories based in American folklore when we were young, and I know I’m not the only person to be traumatized by it. The funny thing is, the stories themselves aren’t even scary—they’re cheesy and actually kind of funny. (The only one I can remember with some clarity involves a phantom looking for his big toe.) The illustrations, on the other hand….  Nope. Scarred for life.

 Under a Graveyard Sky by John Ringo. Zombies! Somebody released a virus that causes the infected to go crazy and try to kill anyone near them. They are not quite zombies (because they are still alive), but they have no higher cognitive functions. The question: Do you kill your infected daughter/son/mother/father/friend/wife just because they are trying to kill you?  Is it ethically acceptable to harvest semi-living beings to make a vaccine? As the infected start to take over the world, where and how do you survive? Where do you go? And, once you've gone, how do you go about recovering from the Zombie apocalypse? Do you risk what is left of your family to take back the USA?  This book/series is a romping good read. Great characters, kick-butt women, tons of adventure, survival at its best, and loyalty abounds. But, the psychological and ethical questions keep me up at night. 
~Mary P.

I first read Edward Gorey’s Amphigorey when I was about five years old (I found it by accident on my parents’ bookshelf). Seriously the creepiest thing I’ve ever seen, even now. “The Gashlycrumb Tinies” still gives me nightmares.
~John F. 

The big thing when I was a kid were Goosebumps, both the books and the show. All us little kids wanted a big scare. So I read many of those books, but the one that I still think about is The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight by R.L. Stine. I cannot drive by a field without being reminded of this story where the scarecrows come to life. Scarecrows are creepy, guys.

Those are our creepy reads. What still haunts you?

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu

While some may describe the title of Joshua Hammer’s latest book as sophomoric and overwrought, as a librarian (once described by a former professor as “smart ass”) and with my background in art history specializing in medieval manuscripts, the title of the book had me at the get-go. I was further intrigued by the setting: Timbuktu – that faraway, forsaken place where my mom threatened to send me when I misbehaved. Was Timbuktu a real place?  

Once I opened the book, I learned that Timbuktu is indeed a very real place named for a woman called Bouctu, “one with the big belly button,” referring to the watering hole 20 km north of the Niger River in the country of Mali. In the 15th and 16th centuries during its Golden Age, Timbuktu flourished not only as an important commercial center, but also as the intellectual hub of the sub-Saharian world, where Islamic scribes copied surveys of mathematics, science, medicine, and astronomy as well as religion and philosophical texts. Africa traded slaves, spices and gold with Europeans for tea and cloth. The history of Timbuktu fluctuated between periods of prosperity and peace with those of intolerance and repression.

In the modern age, Timbuktu was making a comeback as a cultural center as one man, Abdul Kader Haidera, recovered nearly 377,000 manuscripts held mostly by private families and instituted a national library to secure them. The region also held international music festivals attracting famous musicians. Through Haidera’s unique vision and with the aid of a band of librarians, these precious manuscripts were smuggled out of Timbuktu - right under the noses of the jihadists who invaded northern Africa after the Libyan defeat of Qualdafi. 

While the book could have included visual illustrations, such as a detailed map and photographs of some of the manuscripts, the cloak and dagger operation, nonetheless, is packed full of palpable detail, also describing the region’s struggle to rid itself of rebels, colonialists, and extremists. For me, this journalistic account was an eye-opener. Why did the mainstream media not highlight the atrocities in Northern Africa? This vexing question resonates today as we are only beginning to be told about the occurrences in neighboring Niger.