An Embarrassment of Riches

An Embarrassment of Riches is a blog about the best the library has to offer. From audio books to movies, from novels to zines, library staff and guest bloggers will tell you about their latest library discoveries. Read. Watch. Listen. Chat.

Freddie and MeMusic fans! FANS with a capital F, you know your own history in relation to your favorite music or band, right?  Wouldn’t you love to look at an illustrated timeline of that relationship? I would. The other day as I was listening to Queen on the way to work and it made me reminisce about my own relationship with the band and the book Freddie and Me: A Coming-of-age (Bohemian) Rhapsody. It tells the story in graphic novel form of Mike Dawson’s love of Queen and how their music intertwined with his life. There is a beautiful timeline of Mike Dawson’s life in connection with the albums of Queen in his comic book memoir! The timeline is a two page spread with family photos and covers of Queen albums. I can remember album covers of my favorite bands with certain snapshots of my life.  Mike Dawson did this in a really thoughtful way.

I love that he made this memoir in a loving tribute to his life and his favorite band. It is such a thoughtful book. I think it is time to pick it up again. And if you haven’t had the chance to read a comic book memoir here’s a list to get you started.

 


 

It’s been a rough few years personally: divorce, grad school, auto theft, dog death, ancient cat pissing indiscriminately throughout the house. I may be tough, but sometimes enough is enough. Give a girl a break already. Times like these make me contemplate running away. Before I chuck it all in and move to an undisclosed location, I thought I’d make a list. Why? Because lists soothe my virgo soul. Also list making is legal. And free. I shall call it my escapist list for hard times. On it will be absorbing things that don’t make me think too much, books that make me laugh out loud on public transport, hilariously ridiculous films, and music that puts a smile on my face and makes me move and groove involuntary of my mood (or talent).

There, you see, that’s better. Things are looking up already.

Can you guess what was the first Western television series to air on Soviet Television?  Here’s a hint:  it was also the first series to air on HBO - still stumped?   Fraggle Rock starring Jim Henson's Muppets. Yes, before The Sopranos, before the Game of Thrones, there was Fraggle Rock.

    

In Jim Henson, a biography, by Brian Jay Jones, we see how Jim was born into a big family  where holidays and birthday gatherings were marked by laughter and stories of growing up.  His creativity and ideas were encouraged by his family- especially by  his Grandma Dear.  But he knew from  the time he was a young man he knew he wanted to work in television.  He  mourned the fact that television’s great potential was  was used to sell products and to dull minds. It  was important to him that television be used 

 to educate and excite people- adults as well as children. Jim had  that  type of single- mindedness that showed him what to do, and the  tireless creativity to do it.

 Hence his creations- muppet and otherwise, reach out  to us like real living breathing people. He also had that rare gift of attracting innovative  and inventive artists like himself and giving them the power and opportunity as well, to be experiment, to dream, to create.

  Jim  saw television as a mighty instrument for change.  And change it did - Sesame Street helped to change the way children were taught- in fun short segments that kept them engaged and attentive.  It was entertaining to adults as well as children, so  it encouraged the whole family to sit and watch together. It mixed sophisticated humor with just plain sillieness that was hard to resist.  Sesame Street was such  a wild success that it led to the prime time program The Muppet Show and then to HBO’s Fraggle Rock. They all shared the  value  of inspiration through entertainment- pure and simple-but again appealing to both adults and children.
 
 

If  Jim Henson were still alive now what would he be doing?  Something tells me that he wouldn’t be putting  the muppets on Survivor unless it was to show how they could all live on a desert island together.  But best of all we would still  be experiencing the fresh  creativity of a  man who was able to achieve what no amount of political  diplomacy has achieved before or since-stimulating our  minds by  touching our hearts with laughter and song and love.  As it is, he left us with a unique legacy.   One that his favorite invention allows us to still enjoy.  As Uncle Matt says in Fraggle Rock:   "The magic is always there."

car sick book jacketGoing my way?

Hitchhiking is the blind dating of the highway. Strangers meet based on mutual intrigue and spend a brief period getting to know each other. Much like a date,  chemistry, perceived sanity, and direction each is headed determines how long the relationship will last.  However, stranger danger looms.  Most drivers pass up the chance to court the unknown ride seeker, leaving both parties to wonder what if...

Armed with scraps of cardboard scrawled with fading sharpie, film director John Waters set out from his Baltimore home thumbing his way to San Francisco. Told in three parts, Carsick imagines the best and worst possibilities, and the true tale of his trip. In classic Waters’ fashion the absurd blends with everyday reality. Alien tentacles, serial killers, old friends, and poor hotel lighting become fodder for an engrossing road trip.  Oozing with pop culture references of the cult variety, the trip also serves as a vehicle for memoir-esque moments of clarity amidst the search for a lift.

Carsick is a fun adventure with one of America’s camp treasures.  Take a look inside. You'll be glad you picked him up.

 

Whether or not you’ve ever been to Italy there are inevitable mental images that are sure to manifest. The sumptuous food, the iconic history and architecture, the picturesque landscapes manicured with vineyards and olive groves, the eccentric personalities of each major region, the famous post WWII films and the familiar stars birthed by them, or the operatic display of the tumultuous national calcio team, the Azzurri. These are the usual hallowed foundations conjured by La Bella Figura. Right now I could throw a rock out the window and hit a travel guide to Italy or a remaindered copy of Under the Tuscan Sun, but there are other dubious treasures to be had from the peninsula too...and there may be dragons.

Lesser known perhaps are the numerous fiction contributions to world literature by Italian authors, or at least translated modern works (no disrespect to Dante or Boccaccio, two entirely different blog entries). Older Gothic successes emerged from European authors writing about their dreams or experiences traveling to Italy, such as Ann Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian, or Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto. This gave way to more poetry, drama, and novels in the first half of the twentieth century from famous scribes like Pirandello, Grazia Deledda, and Carlo Vittorio.

 

Beyond Hellboy

The creative boom came post-WWII with the scattered viewpoints of many authors, resulting from the constant struggle between their fierce nationalist loyalty and Mussolini’s fascist, oppressive policies. Writers such as the husband-wife team of Alberto Moravia and Elsa Morante, Italo Calvino, Ignazio Silone, and Curzio Malaparte wrote smoldering novels of their experiences living through such a polarizing period. These important works paralleled the cinematic, neo-realist purge of post-war emotions from directors such as Pier Paolo Pasolini, Rossellini, and Fellini.

More modern contributions have included an explosion of genre fiction including the crime/noir creations of Massimo Carlotto, Andrea Camilleri, and Gianrico Carofiglio, comics from Lorenzo Mattotti and Tiziano Sclavi’s Dylan Dog, plus the unique originality of the fantasy and horror tales of Dino Buzzati, Iginio Tarchetti, and our own Hellboy creator Mike Mignola. If you have ever desired to explore the bountiful fiction created from Italian writers, try this book list featuring an extensive range of styles and voices from the boot of hypnotic magnificence. Buona lettura!

 

It's summer and time for a little light reading!  (At least that's what I told myself when I read the 21st Stephanie Plum book.  Upon hearing me snicker repeatedly while reading, my husband said "You're reading that series with the ditsy bounty hunter and the dueling romances again aren't you?" "Yes! Yes I am!") There's also a bit of fluffy fun to be found in urban fantasy (although with fewer dueling romances), so here are a couple of light suggestions from new series in that subgenre.

Charming book jacketI was considering the second book in a sort of OK series and in the back of the book was a sample chapter for Charming by Elliott James. "Chapter One" it read "A Blonde and a Vampire Walk into a Bar...".  I was sold right there. John Charming is part of a long family line under a geas to keep the Pax Arcana.  Any supernatural being that breaks the peace and risks exposure is slaughtered without mercy.  John isn't fully human: at the end of her pregnancy his mother was bitten by a werewolf so he was never completely trusted and, in the end, he had to flee. I knew it probably wasn't going to be the classiest book ever (and it wasn't) but that the author knew his audience and had a sense of humor (occasionally pretty juvenile). I've got book two, Daring, on hold as I write this.
The Shambling Guide to New York City book jacket
Mur Lafferty has two books out in a series about an out of work travel editor who finds a new position writing travel guides for the supernatural community.  In The Shambling Guide to New York City, Zoe Norris has moved to New York City after things fell apart in her former home.  She finds work with Underground Publishing as the only human employee and in the process of telling the story, the reader sees excerpts of her guidebook for the supernatural. Book two takes the reader on the Ghost Train to New Orleans where  Zoe learns more about her newly supernatural world.

Tama describes the story of a woman who wants to reconcile with her dad, a mountain man who's not that interested in maintaining a relationship. Sound compelling? Find Gone Feral: Tracking my dad through the wild and the author's first book, Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer at a library near you.

 

 

2014 is notable for at least two anniversaries:  World War I began 100 years ago and the last of the Baby Boomers turn fifty.  That means there are a whole lotta women going through the change right now.  Sandra Tsing Loh and Annabelle Gurwitch both live in California, both are in the performing arts, both turned 50 about the same time, both went through menopause at the same time their children were going through puberty, and both have at least one aging parent who needs help.  And now, both have written about the whole sad, sorry and sometimes unexpectedly humorous experience in books published in guess what year - 2014!

The Madwoman in the Volvo book jacketThe Madwoman in the Volvo: My year of raging hormones starts with Loh's ill-advised extra-marital affair at 46 that left her living in a dumpy apartment without either her husband or her lover.  Things can only look up, right?  Whoa nelly!  Watch out for year 49!  Failed happiness projects, attempted weight loss, dealing with dad and his decades younger, but more decrepit wife, are just some of the joys Loh experiences in the lead up to 50.  And yet (spoiler alert!), she survives and lives to tell the tale in a very funny fashion.
 
I See You Made an Effort: Compliments, indignities, and survival stories from the edge of fifty is a series of personal essays on Gurwitch'sI See You Made an Effort book jacket mid-life experience.  While she doesn't have an affair, she does dream about men who are decades younger than she is.  Gurwitch also talks about the reality of being fifty in show business (yes, I can play a medieval crone), the challenges of being the menopausal mother of an adolescent son, and the fun of lying awake at 4:00 a.m. with no hope of sleep.
 
So for all you Boomers born in 1964:  Fifty - bring it on!  And good luck.

Raising my son, Elan, has been a truly educational experience (also fun, scary, hard, or easy depending on what stage he and I happened to be in at the time). In some ways, he has qualities that remind me of myself and there are other parts that seem directly attributable to his dad. And then there are other things that are totally and uniquely his. One of those is his love of performing and specifically making hip hop music. I am simply in awe of Elan - he has been able to "work a crowd" since he was in middle school and his live performances have only become more and more inspiring over the years.

I’ve been asked to find books on hip-hop for numerous patrons so I decided to have a list of the best books on this subject ready for the next time I’m asked.  I thought Elan would be my best source for coming up with a definitive list from the MCL catalog and in the course of formulating his list, he also wrote a brief essay on how he developed his love for hip-hop music.

Guest blogger Elan: From casual listener to hip-hop addict

When I first began listening to hip-hop at around eight, my drive may have been to distance myself from my parents’ music: The Beatles, John Hiatt, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, etc. My classmates were discovering that the radio contained a station that played exactly what they wanted - the mainstream rap of the late 90s. These were good days.

Blazing Arrow It cannot be understated how much of an effect our peers truly have during adolescence. Three of my friends were making the leap from listener to participant and between rapping, beat making, and DJing, they had half the elements of hip-hop covered by sixth grade. A pivotal album was heard that year, Blazing Arrow, by the duo Blackalicious. We were blown away by the originality, the musicality of Chief Excel's production, Gift of Gab's insane lyrical dexterity, and the cohesiveness of the album itself. After only a single listen, we knew that contributing to this art form would be a life-long love affair.

In high school, making music became our escape from the mundane curriculum we were subjected to. It became my only creative outlet as we began putting on local shows for Can't Stop Won't Stopour peers. Although I was actively seeking out new artists to enjoy and learn from, my hip-hop education came from Vursatyl and Rev. Shines of the Portland hip-hop trio, The Lifesavas. Vursatyl and Shines held an afterschool class at Jefferson High School called You Must Learn. That's when I began studying the rich history of this culture. Books like Jeff Chang’s, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop, and the writings of Michael Eric Dyson and Tricia Rose, helped me realize how BIG this thing we call Hip-Hop truly is.

These days I’m still making music, still reading, still putting on local shows, and I’m harnessing hip-hop as a tool for education and empowerment through my work with the non-profit, The Morpheus Youth Project.

If you’d like to do your own exploration of hip-hop culture, check out some of these books.

Salt by Mark Kurlansky is about the history and uses of salt. Today salt is cheap and easy to buy, but it was not always so. The ancient Chinese developed salt production and financed much of their government through salt taxes. If you can control salt, you can control much more. The British had a firm grip on India's salt which is why Gandhi staged a salt march as a protest. If you like history and politics you will enjoy Salt.
 
Salt book jacketSalt can do much more than make food taste good, it also can preserve food. Before the 20th century and refrigeration, salt was widely used as a preservative.  The history of salted food was my favorite part of the book. Read Salt and you may find yourself making sauerkraut.
 
Salt production is fascinating. It was needed, rare and valuable. Its value led to many creative methods of production. Most of the methods involve evaporation. Some salt is mined. Many different ways have been used over time. The end result is many kinds of salt for different uses. There is more to salt than table or sea salt.
 
This is a fun and enjoyable book. It has remained popular for over 10 years. The reason I waited so long to read it was I never thought salt could be interesting.

Two of the books I’ve read this year involve travel by unusual vehicles.

In the thoughtful The Man with the Compound Eyes Atile'i lives on the imaginary and fastastical island of Wayo Wayo, where second sons are exiled into the sea, never to return, and probably to die. Atile'i washes up on a floating island of garbage — the non-imaginary Great Pacific Garbage Patch, rendered fantastically stable enough to support a young man. He has no words for the things that carry him — he has never seen a plastic bag, or a plastic toy, or a plastic anything. The gyre carries him to Taiwan, to an eroding coast and a woman who cannot accept several of the cornerstones of her reality, including the fact that her house is falling into the sea.

In the much poppier Shovel Ready our hero Spademan is a hitman. Generally his hits are simple, because in his world most of the people spend their lives in wired sarcophagi, their consciousness moving through a sophisticated virtual reality (the ‘limnosphere’) while their bodies lie fallow. Spademan eschews this escape, living in the concrete world made miserable by a series of dirty bombs. However, before the book is over he has to travel into the limnosphere himself — and finds it has miseries of its own.  

Check out some other books with unique modes of travel in the list My other car is a….

(Image from Le Voyage de M. Dumollet by Albert Robida.)
 

Photo of figures reading trivia questions from booksAs a child, my favorite toy and tireless trivia companion was a robot named 2-XL.  Ok, he was actually an 8-track player, shaped like a robot and designed by the Mego Toy Corporation to ask trivia and then offer up scripted retorts based upon my answer.  We spent many rainy afternoons testing my knowledge of Babe Ruth’s batting average and who exactly is buried in Grant’s Tomb. You know, the kind of thing all third graders ought to know.

I still love trivia, but nowadays I discover it in reading, rather than memorizing 8-track recordings.  There are some books brimming with so many fascinating facts, I have to put them down momentarily to share. In 2-XL's absence, my husband provides a patient ear but what these books really ought to have is their very own trivia night dedicated to them.  

Does a ‘mouche’ worn on a man's left cheek in 1790s England reflect his political leanings as a Whig or a Tory?

When filming Sometimes a Great Notion on the Oregon Coast, which local beer did Paul Newman consider to be 'the closest substitute' for his beloved Coors?

Can you name the feather-friendly fashion designer who created the original costumes for the ongoing Las Vegas review 'Jubilee!'?

Already know the correct answers?  

To quote my old pal 2-XL: "It is amazing that big brain of yours fits into the head of a child. Nice answer.”

Discover the answers to these trivia questions and more with books on this list.

After checking out more cookbooks than any one can realistically get through, I’ve acquired a fair number of repeatable recipes. I wanted to share these finds in the event that you too have gotten bored of your usual go-to’s. These cookbooks have more to offer than just one recipe, but here’s what lured me into the kitchen:

L.A. Son book jacketKorean-inspired Dumplings from L.A. Son by Roy Choi: Well-seasoned (garlic, ginger, scallions, and hot pepper powder), and meaty (tofu, beef, and pork), these pot stickers taste revelatory. Double the recipe and freeze some for later!

Roast Chicken with Caramelized Shallots and Fingerling Potatoes from 150 Things to Make With Roast Chicken, and 50 Ways to Roast It by Tony Rosenfeld: There are so few ingredients and so much flavor packed in this recipe. I love that you get a main entree and a side dish all in one.

Kidney Bean Masala from The Great Vegan Bean Book by Kathy Hester: In this recipe, boring ole kidney beans get transformed intoGreat Vegan Bean Book book jacket a delicious garlicky, gingery curry.

Chandra Malai Kofta from Isa Does It by Isa Moskowitz: Crispy zucchini-chickpea patties are added to a creamy curry sauce. Even if you didn’t want to go through the trouble of making kofta, make the sauce and add roasted cauliflower. Just do it.

Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone book jacketMushroom Lasagna from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison: When I need a shake-up from macaroni and cheese, I have to make this white sauce lasagna. No boil lasagna noodles never got so fancy.

Stay tuned for my next installment toward the end of the year. I’ll lug more cookbooks home and try them out so you don’t have to!

 

I'm a library geek, so of course I was disappointed when  someone in the press asked Michelle Obama if she and Barack still read to Sasha and Malia at bedtime, and she replied, “No-- the girls are old enough to read their own books themselves now."  The Obama girls were about 8 and 11 at the time.  I know that the President and his wife are very busy, and they seem to be pretty wonderful parents, but I was still a little sad.

Working in the library, I am often asked to help parents find books to start with when their children are ready to begin listening to chapter books. And don't get me wrong, I'm very enthusiastic about Charlotte's Web and The Boxcar Children. But I'm always especially excited to get a question about read-alouds for older children, kids who are at least 8 or 9 years old. Reading to older kids is a great way to keep your bond with them strong, and it's so much fun! They get the jokes. They're more able to feel compassion for the characters, to follow an intricate plot, to feel surprised by what happens, more likely to be moved and delighted by a story in the same exact way that you are, which is such a pleasure. 

I basically decided to have children so that I could read to them, and reading books together has been a deep and sustained joy, just as good as I imagined it would be. My younger child, who is 10, still lets me read to him if I find something that grabs him right from the start. I finished reading Neil Gaiman’s Fortunately the Milk to him just last night. This rollicking little book features the following: a brilliant, time-traveling scientist who is also a stegosaurus; pirates, vampires, a volcano, snotlike green aliens with a penchant for redecorating new planets, and two innocent children who are in desperate need of something to pour over their cereal at breakfast. At one point, we were laughing so hard that if we’d been drinking milk, it would have squirted out our nostrils. We laughed so hard that we cried.  I couldn’t read the next line until we settled down after a full five minutes of helpless laughter-- at which point, we started all over again. When I thought of it this morning, I started laughing out loud in the shower.

It won't last forever, but reading books at bedtime has been a wonderful thing to share with my kids. Here’s a list of great read-alouds for you to enjoy with the not-so-little children in your life.

 

ThrillersA dark and stormy night. A toppled lamp with an outstretched hand lying on the floor by its base. A knock on the door when you are least expecting it. All of these elements can add to a great thriller. I have been reading thrillers for more years than I care to count. I devour them. I do branch out and read other types of books, but I am always drawn back to the thriller. As it says in my My Librarian profile, I like it when bad things happen, but I prefer them to stay on the page. Sometimes I wonder, why is that?

Perhaps spending my childhood reading through every Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and Trixie Belden mystery sparked my interest. Aside from a brief foray into science fiction and vampire lit (a requirement for every teen, I've come to believe), I stuck with suspense. As I got older, the books only got darker, more intriguing, and, yes, sometimes a bit violent. I'm a pretty perky person by nature, and sometimes folks are surprised to hear that I most enjoy reading about terrible things happening to people. I just figure that I get to relieve all of my dark tendencies on the pages of my books, and that leaves room in my heart and my head to enjoy the life that surrounds me!

If you've never given thrillers a chance, might I be tempted to persuade you? If you like to become attached to a character, you are not alone. Series thrillers are abundant, and allow you, dear reader, to become involved with the often colorful cast of characters. Seeing as it is summertime, why not start a new series, preferably read by flashlight in your backyard tent late at night.

 

Tell it like it Tiz!This last Saturday I went to the Portland Zine Symposium at the Ambridge Event Center.  I get so excited attending this event every year. Going to the Zine Symposium has me thinking about zines again. This is where I wish I could read everything. Now that would be a superpower. Reading and absorbing what you are reading at the speed of light!


I digress. What is a zine you might ask? A zine is an independent publication or, as a 6th grader told me, it’s a “homemade magazine.” Want to read something different? Something perhaps cutting edge? Off the grid? Zine authors are the voices that typically aren’t heard in the mainstream press. We have a large collection of zines you can find at Holgate, Belmont, North Portland and Central Library. There are zines about food, religion, politics, health, pets, comics and really just about everything. I made a list of some basic zines for you. Check them out. And let me know if you find out a way to get that reading superpower, okay?

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett is a classic of children’s literature, and as such, I feel a little guilty admitting I’ve never read it. It’s true. I felt even more so and a bit foolish when I finally got around to reading The Making of a Marchioness. It seems wrong to have ignored such a charming story for so long. It is a Cinderella story for grown ups. I can’t quite believe I’m championing Cinderella for adult women, but there you are. I think perhaps that particular fairy tale gets a bad wrap. I’m a feminist, I get it, but there are times in a grown woman’s life that call for just that (I know because I’m having one just now).

cover image of the making of a marchionessEmily Fox-Setton is a strong capable woman in her own right who has her default set to happy. She is a character you can admire and one for whom you wish all good things. It may not be politically correct, but it does have the power to make you forget you’ve been working as hard as a scullery maid yourself and only just making it. Yes, it is a love story and yes she essentially becomes a kept woman. Is it a practical or wise thing? No, possibly not. But it makes her exquisitely happy while it lasts, and let’s admit it...it is nice to have things taken care of once in a while. There is nothing wrong with a happy ending, and when you can’t quite pull one off in real life—try fiction, it’s easier.

Buffalo SoldiersToday I wanted to showcase the prolific versatility of the great storyteller, Joe R. Lansdale. Known primarily for his mystery and suspense novels including the Edgar Award-winning The Bottoms, A Fine Dark Line, Edge of Dark Water, The Thicket, and his Hap and Leonard  series, the consistently entertaining East Texas author started out writing in every other genre, mainly horror, sci-fi, and Weird Westerns. I champion writers who continue to create the short story and Lansdale is a master of the form, using its limitations to sharpen his reliable trademarks of great dialogue, suspense, irony, violence, humor, and diverse, breathable characters.  His novella Bubba Ho-Tep  was adapted into a hilarious film starring Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis.  

 As of this post Multnomah County Library has over 130 materials featuring his words. They include seven graphic novels, twenty-one digital titles (two are e-book only), one young adult novel, and his stories are featured in no less than fifty-eight  anthologies, four as editor. It was difficult to choose which type of booklist I was going to compile for this post, as there are so many wells to siphon in his body of work. In my opinion, Lansdale perfected the Weird Western tale and I highlighted his offerings in an earlier blog post and booklist(s). His mystery-suspense canon would take up at least four to five lists so I decided to show MCL’s collection of his horror tales and comic scriptsContains "The Nightrunners"

No matter the setting, characters, plot, or pace, Lansdale writes with a blazing, maverick style and he will make sure you get your money’s worth. But his narratives aren’t cheap, lazy, or hacky, his characters you can relate to whether you love or hate them. He is a breed of storyteller that you want spinning yarns by the campfire on a spooky wilderness night or one that reminds you of a vibrant, jolly uncle who always has a tale at the ready. Buy the ticket and explore them all, his imagination has a selection for all readers.  

 

 

rook book cover

 

Ever wake up and feel... different?

Myfanwy (pronounced like "Tiffany" with an "M") Thomas knows the feeling.  Waking in the rain with black eyes and bruises, she has no memory. Is this the plot of the best Lifetime movie you've never seen starring former Saved by the Bell starlet, Lark Voorhies?  Sadly, no. However, thanks to a recommendation via twitter during a reading rut it’s the main character in Daniel O'Malley's The Rook , one of the most fun and engaging books I’ve read in the past six months.

 

Armed with an envelope of instructions, Myfanwy learns three things about her former self:

1. Someone is trying to kill her.   

2. Things are not always what they seem

3. She works for a secret organization dealing with the supernatural

Part thriller, mystery, and Ghostbusters, The Rook is an addictive adventure.  The more Myfawny delves into her former self, the more complicated life becomes as she exposes corruption and herself to the person who’d love to see her dead. Myfany's fate is in her hands.  If she wants to live, she better make some quick decisions .

Dear Summer Vacation,

What is it about you that makes my children bound out of bed at 6:00 a.m., ready for action and aiming their destructive laser beams at any hilariously misguided idea I had for a few minutes of extra sleep? School Year never did that. 

All is entropy and my house looks like that not-so-mythical gyre of plastic garbage in the Pacific Ocean: Nerf darts, boomerangs, water balloons, molecule models, yo-yos, pieces of Risk and Stratego and little Monopoly houses and those dastardly Danish blocks I fully expect will one day require surgical extraction from one or both my feet. 
 
And the sopping wet piles of clothing and towels--what's up with that, Summer V.? My children don't even bother with swimsuits any more. Because they're not going swimming. At some point during the day, every day, they just go outside and turn the hoses on one another while fully clothed. Because they can. Because of you, Summer Vacation.
 
Of course you have your good points, S. V. You've got your trips away, and dinner on the grill almost every night (mostly, it must be said, because the cook can park her rear in a lawn chair outside with a book and ignore the screaming children in the house), and ice cream, and that holiday with its permissions to play with fire and blow things up. Hello, sticky s'mores and raspberries growing in the backyard and fuzzy bumblebees in the lavender.
 
If I had any skills in photography I would take pictures before you get away again, Summer Vacation. There are a million books I could read, but looking at pictures seems the right thing to do now, while the sun shines and gifts us all with extra daylight. Here are a few recommendations should you find yourself in an Adirondack chair under a leafy tree with a tall glass of iced tea (or, like me, caught between a grill of burning hot dogs and a leaking half-full kiddie pool soup of toys and grass and dead or dying insects while holding someone's drippy purple popsicle):
 
Summer Food book jacketSummer Food: New summer classics by Paul Lowe is that rare cookbook--photography gorgeous in its own right, with the added bonus of recipe after delicious-sounding recipe. The recipes are simple and straightforward without a bunch of strange "where the hell do I get that and what is it anyway" ingredients. I want to make almost everything in this book. But even if I never do, the pictures are enough. Just don't eat the book. I'll want to check it out again.
 
This Is the Day: The March on Washington is a striking photo-essay by Leonard Freed documenting the historic March for Jobs and This is the Day book jacketFreedom on August 28, 1963 which included the "I Have a Dream" speech Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave at the Lincoln Memorial that day. Freed's images seem illuminated from within by a moral beauty and the human dignity so central to the civil rights movement. This book is not about Dr. King or his speech or famous events but about the ocean of ordinary people who marched in peace for justice and ultimately carried the day and the movement.
 
Once Upon a Playground book jacketOnce Upon a Playground: A celebration of classic American playgrounds, 1920-1975 by Brenda Biondo is a time capsule. Careful: you may be transported to that park that you could walk to by yourself when you were nine, the one with the giant metal rocket you could climb. This book is a visual tribute to the iconic play structures rapidly vanishing from the collective cultural landscape. The book juxtaposes contemporary photos of structures along with vintage catalog advertisements, postcards and photographs of the same structures. The result is a ride on a haunted merry-go-round.
 
I can't decide whether I want you to spin faster or slow down, Summer Vacation. Just don't ever disappear.

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