Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Librarians' Line-Up: Favorite Recent Non-Fiction Read

For this round of the librarians' line-up, we're talking non-fiction. We mostly talk about fiction books on here, but I promise, we do read non-fiction too. Check out our favorite recent non-fiction reads below!

Pirate Hunters by Robert Kurson. Two famous treasure hunters search for pirate Joseph Bannister's sunken ship. With only one other pirate ship ever positively identified, finding and diving a shipwreck takes courage, perseverance, intelligence, and a love of history. With two years and a million dollars on the line, this highly engaging, adventurous, and character driven story will make you root for the pirates and the men looking for what remains of them. Pirate Hunters is a wonderful, historical detective true story which I highly recommend to any reader.  
~Mary P.

The third volume of William Manchester’s biography of Winston Churchill, The Last Lion, Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965 is long, so long in fact that Manchester himself didn’t live to complete it. That task fell to Paul Reid, but the transition is seamless. It is a compelling read, especially Manchester’s narration of the years 1940 and 1941, when Britain stood alone, breasting the storm of Nazi aggression. Churchill was a peculiar fellow, but also arguably the greatest statesman in living memory. If you’re thinking about seeing the films Churchill or Dunkirk, read this first.

~John F.

The best nonfiction I’ve read recently is the award-winning March trilogy by Congressman John Lewis. I get goosebumps when I think about these books, that’s how good they are! In this set of graphic novels, Lewis gives an accessible, personal account of his experiences during the civil rights movement. Eye-opening and inspiring, to say the least.
~Ariel J.

When Jackie Saved Grand Central: The True Story of Jacqueline Kennedy’s Fight for an American Icon by Natasha Wing, illustrated by Alexandra Bioger
My pick for best non-fiction of the year is When Jackie Saved Grand Central. First Lady Jackie Kennedy was born and raised in New York. She loved everything about her city, including Grand Central Station. But one day the owners of Grand Central Station wanted to tear it down to build a skyscraper. Jackie knew that she had to stop them and save the iconic landmark, and she took her fight all the way to the Supreme Court. 

I personally was not familiar with this story, and it’s always wonderful to learn something new. I would say the best part of the book is the artwork. I’m a sucker for watercolor and gouache illustrations, and the blue, red, and gold themes are both reminiscent of Grand Central Station and tie in with the patriotic themes of the story. 
~Marilyn W.

Earlier this summer I visited some of the historic sites in the Hudson River Valley. One location in particular I found fascinating was Val-Kill, the home of first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. I wanted to learn more about her, so I picked up Eleanor Roosevelt, Volume 1: The Early Years, 1884-1933​ by Blanche Wisen Cook. Full disclosure, I haven't yet finished this 600-plus page biography, but this first book covers Eleanor's privileged upbringing through the beginning of FDR's first term as president. In particular interest to me was her rocky marriage to FDR, which ended up leading her to an independent life of political activism. 
~Meredith T.

The New York Times calls Edward McLelland's How to Speak Midwestern "a dictionary wrapped in some serious dialectology inside a gift book trailing a serious whiff of Relevance." That's a pretty apt description. The first half of the book contains several short essays that are organized regionally--McLelland divides the Midwest into The Inland North (upstate New York, lower Michigan, and southeastern Wisconsin), Midland (western Pennsylvania, Ohio, most of Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, and Oklahoma),  and North Central (central and northern Wisconsin, the U.P., Minnesota, and the Dakotas)--while the second half is glossary of Midwestern terms. It makes for a relatable, rollicking experience. This was on full display during McLelland's recent visit to MPL as part of our author series, which kept the audience laughing and eagerly sharing their own lingual anecdotes all night.
~Travis F.

I've been trying to read more non-fiction the last few years, and I've read some stand-outs in the last year. My most recent favorite is Theft By Finding by the ever-entertaining David Sedaris. It is a collection of his diary entries from 1977 to 2002. Spanning from his twenties to mid-forties, as a reader I was able to watch Sedaris grow into the affluent writer he's become. His popular works have focused primarily on his upbringing, and this collection felt like much of the same. It was interesting to see the beginnings of the writer in his diary entries, before that even became his pursued path. The way he sees the world is intelligent as well as humorous, and I already can't wait for the next installment of these diary entries. 
~Cailey W.

My favorite recent non-fiction is Body Love by Kelly LeVeque. This is not a diet book! The author says so right up front and after quickly flipping through it, I believe her. Like many others, I have dealt with the constant struggle to eat healthy. It can all seem expensive, time-consuming, and just overwhelming in general. This book breaks down the science behind how our bodies process the food we eat in a way that is easy to understand. There is advice on how to eat in a balanced way that maximizes energy and minimizes cravings, all without obsessing over food. And if you like smoothies, there are several pages of recipes that look amazing!
~Ragan S.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Christmas in July!

We’re halfway through the year and that means there are 153 days until Christmas! You never can get started too early when it comes to celebrating the holidays, so here are my picks for entertainment to get you in the Christmas spirit.

1) Sufjan Stevens Songs for Christmas and Silver & Gold – For me, the Christmas season doesn’t start until I break out my holiday playlist. I’ll probably end up listening to “All I Want for Christmas Is You” about 100 times between November and January. But always in my rotation are Sufjan Stevens’ Songs for Christmas and Silver & Gold. Between the two albums, Stevens recorded 100 tracks, some original, some traditional. He approaches the carols in a variety of way, covering classic Christmas songs that make them fresh and fun to listen to.

2) Kelly Clarkson Wrapped in Red – Normally when choosing a Christmas album to listen to, I prefer musicians perform covers of Christmas songs I already know. But Wrapped in Red is in a totally different league. Clarkson sings a bunch of really great, original Christmas songs that have the potential to become holiday staples for years to come.

3) Debbie Macomber Dashing Through the Snow – This book is bonkers. I don’t really know what more to say about that other than it involves a young woman trying to get home for the holidays, but also she’s being pursued by FBI agents who think she’s a terrorist. In 2015, the Hallmark Channel made this into a movie. Still kind of bonkers, but in a good way.

4) Truman Capote A Christmas Memory – A nostalgic short story about a man reminiscing about the last Christmas he spent with his cousin. Buddy bonds with his older cousin baking and delivering fruitcakes and they have a wonderful time – a short reprieve from his days spent with indifferent adults. Their story is continued in the sequel, The Thanksgiving Visitor.  

5) Christmas in Boston – Honestly, is there anything better during the holidays than settling in for the night to watch a made-for-television Christmas movie? I’ve already covered my top ten Hallmark Christmas movies, so try this one. Aired in 2005 on formerly ABC Family (currently Freeform), Christmas in Boston stars Marla Sokoloff who is finally ready to meet her long time pen pal. Of course, everything goes awry, but things have a way of working out during the holidays.


Friday, July 21, 2017

Eisner Awards 2017

Comic Con is in full swing and that means the Eisner Awards are coming. These are the awards given out for creative achievement in American comic books, named for the pioneering writer and artist, Will Eisner. Here are my picks from this year’s nominees. (I've listed all the categories they are nominated for, and I hope they all win something!)

Mockingbird (Best New Series, Best Writer) – Written by novelist Chelsea Cain with art by Kate Niemczyk, this eight issue series about scientist/special agent, Bobbi Morse was on the top of my best-of list last year. It was a funny, feminist, and sharply written series. I cannot recommend this comic highly enough. John and I discuss Mockingbird on our most recent podcast – check it out

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (Best Publication for Teens) - Doreen Green AKA Squirrel Girl is about to make a big splash. The character is slated to appear in Marvel’s New Warriors a show premiering next year on Freeform, but for the past two years, Squirrel Girl has starred in her own solo series written by Ryan North and drawn by Erica Henderson. It’s a colorful, clever series that is easily enjoyed by any reader.

Wonder Woman: The True Amazon (Best Graphic Album, Best Painter/Multimedia Artist) – With the release of the blockbuster adaptation of Wonder Woman, DC has published a few new standalone graphic novels to try and introduce Wonder Woman to a new group of readers. Wonder Woman: The True Amazon is a retelling of her origin with both art and story by Jill Thompson. It’s a great place to start if you’re looking to get into Wonder Woman comics and it also boasts some of the most beautiful interiors of any graphic novel I’ve read.

Paper Girls (Best Continuing Series, Best Writer, Best Coloring) – Written by one of our favorite comic authors, Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Cliff Chiang, this series takes place in a 1980s Cleveland suburb. It’s a mystery/science fiction story starring four paper girls who face some sort of alien invasion from the future. If you liked Netflix’s series, Stranger Things you will definitely want to check this comic out.

Mooncop (Best Graphic Album, Best Writer/Artist, Best Lettering) – A lonely police officer on the moon is stuck patrolling a near abandoned colony. Mooncop captures the exhaustion and melancholy of our culture. Though Author and artist Tom Gauld takes a minimalist approach to his story, he manages to pack quite an emotional punch.

These are my picks; we'll see tomorrow if they win!


Thursday, July 13, 2017

A New Addition to The Laundry Files: The Delirium Brief

Bob Howard (not his real name) has overcome a lot of things in the course of his work for the British government’s secret occult services agency, the Laundry. From a magic-wielding sect of modern SS revivalists, to fiendish mind-controlling cosmetics makers, to a demon-driven televangelist with designs on world power, Howard has faced down threats to human civilization. He’s also faced your garden variety zombies, vampires, and even the occasional unicorn (trust me, they’re a lot nastier than you think). He’s managed to do it while keeping his paperwork in order, navigating the complexities of a modern bureaucracy, and only sort of losing his soul.

In the Laundry Files novels, the British author Charles Stross has created world that is an entertaining mix of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files books and the George Smiley novels by John LeCarré. To stay interesting over the course of a number of volumes, a series needs a good hook. Stross’s is his knowledge of life in the world of offices. You might think this would be dull, but his mastery of the lingo of the corporate world, from deliverables to leaning in to the muppet shuffle, gives his books a combination of bite and comic flavor. Stross adds to this an ability to riff on other writers in ways that give his books depth and variety. From Lovecraft to Tolkien, from Flemming to Deighton to Anthony Price, Stross has digested a wide range of writers and genres. The result is a narrative in which each new story is fresh and compelling.

At the center of it all is Bob Howard, the model of the sort of resigned yet determined British civil servant that has kept the island running since the end of the Second World War. Like many of the lower level operatives of the Laundry, Howard stumbled into the job. In the world of the Laundry Files, magic is a form of mathematics and doing the wrong formula, algorithm, or computer program can open the world up to the sort of eldritch horrors from beyond space and time that Lovecraft was fond of describing. In graduate school, Howard wrote a program that nearly summoned a malevolent major deity. After that, the Laundry made him an offer he couldn't refuse.

The last two novels in the Laundry Files have gone a little off model. In The Annihilation Score (2015), the main character is Howard’s wife, Dr. Dominique “Mo” O’Brien, another forcible inductee to the Laundry. It was not one of my favorites in the series, although it had some interesting plot points related to the ability of middle-aged women to become invisible (or to be rendered invisible by the male gaze). The Nightmare Stacks (2016) centered on another character entirely, and while it had a pretty entertaining take on Tolkien and elves, it didn't quite work for me in the way that some of the earlier ones did. I must admit to having been a bit worried about where this was all going.

The Delirium Brief, which was released just this week, brings it all together in a way that makes the previous books more interesting but also tells a compelling story in its own right. Stross brings back one of my most/least favorite villains, the demonically possessed televangelist Raymond Schiller. When last we left Schiller, he was trapped on a dead alien world after his failed attempt to raise a demonic entity known only as The Sleeper in the Temple. Now he’s back, and attempting a hostile takeover of the British government. Meanwhile, the Laundry is in crisis. The events of The Nightmare Stacks (only three months previous) left a significant body count and a swathe of destruction in the center of Leeds (neither one of which is good news for a secret government agency). Bob Howard and his fellow civil servants are faced with one of those “lesser of two evils” choices as their agency is privatized out of existence and the end of the world looms.

I originally thought of writing that this book was a return to good form for this series. But after thinking about it, I decided that it’s better than that. The Delirium Brief is an excellent book on its own merits. But, over and above that, it has the quality of making other books in the series better. If you’ve ever dreamed of saving this world, or if you’ve ever sat in a meeting that you thought was being run by a brain eating alien, Charles Stross’s Laundry Files series has a lot to offer.

~John F.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Five Books Worth Reading: Best Books I've Read in 2017 (so far)

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor – Lazlo Strange has dreamed of the lost city for his entire life. When the name of the city is ripped from the world (and Lazlo’s mind), he becomes obsessed. Then, travelers from the forgotten city come looking for help… and Lazlo is chosen. This story starts off slow, but, wow, what an amazing story it becomes. This was a five-star read for me and my favorite of the year, so far.

A Madness so Discreet by Mindy McGinnis – Grace Mae is unjustly sent to a mental asylum in 1890. When a visiting doctor sees something special in Grace, he recruits her into helping him investigate criminals and the psychology behind them. This book starts off unbelievably dark, but finds a small ray of hope to shine a light on the power of friendship and illuminate the mind of a killer. This is a great read… once you plow past the horror and sadness of the beginning chapters.

The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis –Three years after Alex Craft’s sister was murdered, someone tortured and killed her accused attacker. Who did it? Can vengeance and vigilantism be justified? How does the horror of a close family member being murdered change the psyches of surviving relatives? Can love forgive past horrible acts? McGinnis writes a great dark tale and The Female of the Species is another amazing example. This book will keep you thinking well after you have finished reading it. Highly recommended read. (see John and Meredith's crosstalk on this book here)

When by Victoria Laurie - Maddie knows when people are going to die because she sees death dates on the forehead of everyone she meets... and she will tell you When… for a price. Would you want to know? When is a very entertaining, suspenseful, and well written story about growing up, bullying, high school, a serial killer, and Maddie’s strange ability. Very enjoyable read. Highly recommended.

Missing by Kelley Armstrong - Winter Crane is looking forward to graduating and leaving her podunk little hometown… and not coming back. When she finds Lennon, battered and half-dead, in the forest, Winter begins to wonder about all the other kids who have left and have never been heard from again. Did they really leave or is there something more sinister going on? Then Lennon disappears again… Missing is an engaging, character driven, exciting thriller. Author Kelly Armstrong is moving from writing paranormal romance to thrillers and Missing is a good example of how a good writer is just a plain good writer no matter the genre.

~Mary P.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Top Ten Series I've Been Meaning To Start But Haven't

I read a lot, obviously, but no matter how much I read, my "to-read" list is always longer than the list of books I've finished. Also, sometimes it is so daunting to jump into an existing series, because I then feel pressured to read all of them, so I don't start the first one. Until just a few years ago, I'd never even started the Harry Potter series (see more on that here), so sometimes it just takes me a while to come around. Here's a list of ten series I've been meaning to start (I swear!) but haven't.

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

March Trilogy by John Lewis
I've heard so much about this trilogy, but haven't yet picked it up. These non-fiction graphic memoirs follow the life of civil rights activist John Lewis. Through many years and many protests, his conviction shines through.

Cavendon Hall by Barbara Taylor Bradford
This series is reminiscent of Downton Abbey, showing the two sides of those that live at the affluent Cavendon Hall, both the residents and those who are employed there. I checked this out once before but was turned off by a violent scene in the first book. I've been promised the story gets better, so I intend to revisit it.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
How many times have I picked this book up but never read it? Countless. As someone who prides herself on their knowledge of teen literature, I'm a bit ashamed I haven't picked up this creepy series yet.

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff
So many people have told me to read these books! And I mean to, I really do. It's a futuristic tale that covers corporate greed and mass plagues. The story is told completely through "found" documents, such as emails, notes, corporate memos, etc. I'm told this makes the whole book go quickly. I'll get to it soon!

Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Cliff Chang
My only graphic novel collection on this list. I am a fan of Vaughan's work because of my reading of Saga (which is brilliant if you haven't read it!), so I've been meaning to pick up this series. It's completely different from Saga, taking place in the late 1980s, surrounding the lives of several young women who work in newspaper delivery.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Here's another that I just started at the wrong time. I really want to dive into this series about two young women in Italy, exploring their friendship and the ups and downs of their lives. And I really will read it someday. Promise.

Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine
I'm not a huge sci-fi/fantasy reader. So for me to pick up a book like that I have to be in the right mood and it has to interest me in just the right way. This series has all the correct markers, including being very library-focused (yay!), so now I just need to be motivated enough to start the series.

The Selection by Kiera Cass
This is one of those book series that was all the rage here for awhile amongst our teens. I think interest in it has declined some, but I still want to read this series about the selection process for the next princess. It's like a fairy tale with a dystopian twist. Right up my alley.

Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Maberry
ZOMBIES! For some time there, I read lots of zombie-lit. It was a fascination that came in part from my interest in dystopian literature. I'm not really about the monsters. This zombie tale is supposed to be different. The series follows two zombie-hunter brothers and is really more about them (with action and zombies thrown in).

The Cherry Cola Book Club by Ashton Lee
Every once in a while, I look for a cozy read. Something simple and sweet, but still interesting. I'm particularly drawn to this series because it features librarians (ahem) and book clubs, both of which I'm quite familiar with. The series starts out with a young librarian trying to help boost interest in her library, so she starts a book club. It takes place in the south, which is inherently cozy to me. I'll get to this one sooner rather than later.

Okay, so which series have you put off til now?


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Crosstalk: The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis

Author Mindy McGinnis will be visiting MPL next Tuesday, June 20 at the main branch. In light of her coming visit, Meredith and John revisit one of her works that very much affected them, The Female of the Species (2016). 

John: Mindy McGinnis’s The Female of the Species is a story about high school kids (girls primarily) in a small Ohio town. It’s got to be one of the most intense books ever to come out as a YA title. The story centers on a girl named Alex whose sister has been murdered and it looks at the ways that that experience alters her. I remember the first time you described the plot to me I really could hardly believe it. What was it that first drew you to this book?

Meredith: A couple of superficial reasons, actually. First of all the title, The Female of the Species, is odd in a way that I found attention-grabbing. It gives you the sense that teen girls are some sort of mysterious creatures that need to be studied in order to be understood. And then there’s the first line of the jacket, “Alex Craft knows how to kill someone. And she doesn’t feel bad about it.” This book ends up covering a few different topics, one of which is female anger. That’s something I find endlessly fascinating: the way girls are socialized to internalize their anger so as not to upset the people around them. Our protagonist Alex, understandably, has a lot of anger. Her sister was brutally murdered and the killer went free because of a lack of evidence. So Alex is left to deal with all of those feelings and one way she copes is with catastrophic violence. John, the way the book unfolds leaves the reader with a lot of doubts regarding Alex’s reliability as a narrator. Did you get the same feeling?

John: Absolutely. The narrative structure of the book is really interesting. It’s told in alternating and overlapping bits by the three main protagonists (Alex, Peekay, and Jack) and in the present tense, which leaves the story open for revision. But as far as Alex goes, yeah, you’re left in some doubt about how much of what she’s saying is true and how much is sort of...aspirational. It’s especially interesting because the things that she’s thinking and talking about have a pretty profound influence on the kind of person she is. McGinnis does a great job of contrasting her internal monologue with the external view that her friends have of her. This is important especially because of the role that violence plays in the book. Alex’s life is shaped by violence, and it has changed her into the kind of person who is ready to use violence in ways that can be quite startling. What did you think about how violence played out in this story?

Spoilers ahead! Click "Read More" below to continue this Crosstalk.