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.

Beethoven portraitIf you could be magically transported back in time to any concert, what would it be? The Vienna concert of 1808 in which Beethoven premiered not only his fifth and sixth symphonies, but his fourth piano concerto as well? Incredible! The first complete performance of Wagner’s Ring Cycle in Bayreuth, Germany in 1876? Awesome! The world premiere in 1913 of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring that nearly caused a riot at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris? Scary!

Carnegie Hall Concert CD jacketAs amazing as it would be to witness any of those events, I would choose to be in New York City on the evening of January 16, 1938 at Carnegie Hall. My ticket would put me front and center with one of the most extraordinary assemblages of jazz greats of all time. Led by clarinettist and bandleader Benny Goodman, the night was a virtual parade of some of the most talented and popular musicians of the day -- Goodman, Harry James, Lionel Hampton, and “The Liltin' Miss (Martha) Tilton” -- to name just a few. The climax of the evening was the 12-minute performance of Louis Prima’s Sing, Sing, Sing (with a Swing), punctuated by the steady drum beat of Gene Krupa and topped off by the piano solo of  Jess Stacy. Wow -- check it out!

What about you? Is there a concert that you would love to be teleported to? Or maybe you would like to bring together some musicians who never were able to link up -- Bach and Bartók, Bing Crosby and Lady Gaga, Elvis and Caruso? Tell us about it!

http://multcolib.bibliocommons.com/search?utf8=%E2%9C%93&t=smart&search_category=keyword&q=lives in ruins&commit=Search&author=JThe online Free Dictionary defines ‘serendipity’ as, "the faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident." I thought about serendipity when I picked up my books on hold and found out that instead of Light in the Ruins  by Chris Bohjalian (featuring an Italian detective who is investigating a gruesome new case by digging into the past of the murder victims as well as her own buried past), I had mistakenly reserved  a similar title: Lives in Ruins by Marilyn Johnson, subtitled Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble. Now that involves digging of a whole different kind!

Marilyn Johnson was curious about what drives archaeologists since the work is often hazardous to their health and there is little profit or fame in it. After reading her introduction I was curious too.

In her effort to unearth an archaeologist's passion, Ms. Johnson decides to go on digs with them, interview them, listen to, and live with them.  She writes about uncovering hidden battle sites, exhuming secret cemeteries, and excavating on a deserted island.

Here are a couple  of the subjects:

Patrick McGovern, an expert on the archaeology of  ‘extreme beverages’,  his term for beer, wines, ale and mead.

Volunteer archaeologist Erin Coward, who helped sort through the remains, human and otherwise, of the World Trade Center site after 911

Intrigued I sat down with my cup of hot coffee in hand and  began to read. An hour later, I was  still sitting there, my mind buried in in the remants of shipwrecks, Revolutionary War graves and the unoffcial saint of archaeologists, Indiana Jones.  My coffee had gone long since gone cold and my husband was asking,  "Don't you have to go to work today?"

Putting the wrong book on hold  was a ‘fortunate accident’ indeed!  

 

 

 

 

Popular book jacketThis summer I was over at my mom's going through some things from my youth and found several diaries from middle and high school.  I glanced through the entries that mostly consisted of "Went to the football game", "Hung out at the mall", "Stalked the cute guy who works at the bowling alley".  Given my lack of meaningful (or even remotely interesting) teen years writing content, I am always somewhat suspicious when I see teen memoirs. What could they possibly have to write about in their short lives? Well plenty it turns out!  In her brand, spankin’ new book, Popular a memoir: Vintage wisdom for a modern geek, Maya van Wagenen tells us about the school year she spent figuring out the meaning of popularity and trying to achieve it.  At first, this sounds like what many middle and high school students attempt, but here’s the twist:  she used a book written for teens in 1951 for her popularity experiment! 

When Maya’s family was clearing out the house one month, she came upon a book her dad had bought at a garage sale, Betty Cornell’s Teenage Popularity Guide, and thus was born an exciting but scary idea.  Each month of her 8th grade year she would read a chapter and then put into practice Cornell’s advice.  Hilarity ensues as she buys and wears a girdle, tries out a bunch of different hairstyles including a Princess Leia-esque do (“Love your buns, Maya!”), and infiltrates different cliques at their lunch tables.  Does Maya go from being an introverted sort-of-slob to a neat-as-a-pin, pearl-wearing popularity princess?  Can advice from the 1950s still be relevant to today’s teens?  Read Popular and find out!

Take a look at this list for some memorable teen memoirs.

Generation V book jacketThere are a lot of vampire novels out there.  Some are good.  Some are okay.  Some are very, very bad. If you'd enjoy a fresh take on vampires, I've got a series for you. M. L. Brennan has a new trilogy (so far...) of vampire novels that begins with Generation V. At the time of writing this blog entry, I've only finished the first two books.  I've got the third sitting unread on my shelf.  I liked the first two so much I think the third will be a great diversion from my misery the next time I get sick. I find this series has had enough charm and fun that I think I'll be totally distracted from pitying myself.  I'll be almost happy to be unwell!

Fortitude Scott is a young slacker in a dead end job avoiding the family business and trying very, very hard to pretend he's a normal guyIron Night book jacket and not the youngest child of a merciless alpha predator.  Vampires in this universe aren't undead humans.  They're a separate species really, and Fortitude is trying desperately to pretend that he loves vegetarian food and that his roommate's leftover steak doesn't smell really, really good. Raised by humans, Fortitude remembers that his foster parents loved him, that they would do anything to protect him, and that they were brutally murdered in front of him.  Their murder was by his mother's order when his foster parents thought to try to run away with him to protect him from his mother and whatever she had done to traumatize their beloved son so.  So, as the saying goes, Fortitude doesn't have issues - he has entire subscriptions.

Tainted Blood book jacketFortitude's mother is a survivor and remorseless as a shark.  Vampires in this world do age and die - eventually. As vampires age, they become less and less able to eat solid food until blood is the only thing that they can still digest. Thus they are still "vampires" as per the standard mythos.  Vampire reproduction is... interesting and probably the creepiest part of this series.  As vampires tend to have very few young, Fortitude's mother stands out for having three surviving offspring. She has indulged her odd youngest instead of killing him as a weakling. Fortitude's older brother is kind to him in a distant sort of way. He's also kind to his wives as he kills them slowly, eating their life a bit at a time, one after another after another. Fortitude's sister is as brutal as her mother and seems to delight in tormenting Fortitude like a cat with a mouse.

This series is more for the urban fantasy fan than for readers of horror or paranormal romance. Sex and violence are side notes, although still there, in this heavily character-driven story.

Cover image of Ship of MagicPeople have been telling me over and over again that I should read the Patrick O’Brian series of nautical-historical fiction, and they’re probably right. But ... I don’t know. Months and months at sea, with nary a bit of land in sight? Ship’s biscuit? Ship’s medicine? Sounds pretty wet and unpleasant to me. Now, add a sea serpent in, and maybe some swordfights, and perhaps a curse of one sort or another... that's another story.

Case in point: Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb. This is another author that I’ve been told I should read, and I’m glad that I finally did.

The setting for the book is the lands and oceans around Bingtown, populated by pirates and sea-traders, monks and slavers. And sea serpents. The most successful trading families are the ones who own liveships, sentient ships made of wizardwood that are bonded with their owners. Althea Vestrit is the headstrong daughter of a liveship trader, but she has been denied the ship that should be hers. Captain Kennit bitterly wants to capture a liveship and rise above the petty thuggery of pirate life. They and many more characters (including sea serpents and the ships themselves) are swirled into a maelstrom of greed, romance, deception, and brutality. It’s Game of Thrones on the high seas, and the writing, pacing, and character-development are all top-notch.

And, also like Game of Thrones, it is, of course, only the first book in a series. The good news is that the remaining books in this trilogy (Mad Ship and Ship of Destiny) have already been written! Check them all out, and get ready for many nights of staying up past your bedtime to find out what happens next.

Andrew Proctor, Literary ArtsAndrew Proctor is the Executive Director of Literary Arts, a nonprofit literary center that serves thousands of readers and writers each year. Ann Patchett says of the organization, "there are no readers more passionate than Portland’s, and no organization better at bringing readers and writers together than Literary Arts." 

Reading is essential to my well being.  It lifts me out of myself and gives me perspective. Aside from the facts that might appear in a book, it is the opportunity to be in someone else's narrative that ultimately teaches me who I am and how I can be a more empathetic and stronger person.  And a confession: I might be the world's worst speller.

Here are ten books that inspire me:

  1. Underworld by Don DeLillo

“Longing on a large scale, that’s what makes history.”  This might be my favorite book written in the 20th century.  I love DeLillo intense prose style and use of voice.  He is unafraid of big ideas, and capable of rendering them in beautiful prose.

  1. Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

The first truly subversive book I ever read, given to me by a high school English teacher.

  1. Voss by Patrick White

A magisterial novel by the Australian Nobel Prize winner.  This novel is an unusual and exciting mix of Victorian prose and modernist sensibility.

  1. The World and Other Places: Stories, by Jeanette Winterson

I read “The Green Man” in Harpers when I was in college and was completely blown away by Winterson's use of language. These are some of my favorite short stories.

  1. Tremolo: Poems by Spencer Short

I keep this on my desk and dip into it all the time to shake myself out of my “thinking ruts.”  His associative powers are unlike any I have ever seen.

  1. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

Possibly the greatest modernist novel of all time because Woolf has all the force of intellect of Joyce but is a better storyteller.

  1. The Residue Years by Mitchell Jackson

This year’s Everybody Reads pick.  This really is a novel every Portlander needs to read.  It’s a modern day Grapes of Wrath in its unflinching look at society.  Jackson’s mix of street and literary language is electrifying. 

  1. Consider the Lobster: Essays by David Foster Wallace

Wallace is the only essayist that has made me cry, I was laughing so hard.  Why do such tragic lives often produce humor?  This question comes up again and again in these essays in moments from the sublime to the ridiculous.

  1. Herzog By Saul Bellow

      I just love his book for its voice and humor, and its painful honesty.  I so admire Bellow for his work.  He was constantly experimenting and taking risks.

  1. Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back by Andrew Zoli

I read a fair number of business books. This often comes as a surprise given what I do. But running an independent nonprofit is the same as running another business, only with a social mission.  I loved this book and I think about its lessons a least once a week as we build Literay Arts into a world class literary center that is at the leading edge of innovation.  Zoli’s central premise: All resilient organisations have three defining characteristics: they are dense, diverse, and distributed.  I will leave you to read the book to learn what he means.

My Librarian and our featured guest readers are made possible by a grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation to The Library Foundation, a local non-profit dedicated to our library's leadership, innovation, and reach through private support.

 

 

Book jacket: Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera2014 is almost over and I’m calling it.  My favorite book of the year was Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera. Shortly after I finished it, I sent a Facebook message to the author gushing that her book was one of the most beautiful things I'd ever read. I never do that. Here are 5 reasons why this one stands out to me among the other fantastic books I enjoyed this year:

1.    It’s transportive: While the book’s characters are complex and still linger in my mind, Island of a Thousand Mirrors is the story of a country first and foremost. This book transported me completely to the island of Sri Lanka with a winter craving for coconut milk and curry that traces directly back to the author's delicious descriptions of food.

2.    It’s short:  OK brief doesn't immediately translate to beauty. Munaweera however, does write in a beautifully minimal style, but still manages to tell a sweeping multi-generational story that's lush with detail and emotion without ever feeling rushed.  

3.    It has both a map and a family tree: These are seemingly small details, but ones which I love. It’s hard to keep track of geography and relationships in any family saga and more so when the names are unfamiliar. Wait, where is Jaffna located again? Who was Yasodhara’s grandfather? A quick flip to the front pages and you’re back on track.

4.    It taught me something new: We don’t hear much about Sri Lanka in our news and I certainly knew very little about the country when I picked up this book. Munaweera’s novel really brings to life the complexities of the decades-long Sri Lankan civil war with an intricate story that follows two girls caught on either side of the conflict.

5.    It strikes that perfect balance between devastating heartbreak and beauty:  I was often caught startled by Munaweera’s forthright descriptions of the horrors that accompany war, but was left equally stunned by the beauty of her writing.  In fact, I can't seem to resist a story that breaks my heart and then shows me great beauty. If this formula appeals to you too, here's a list for you!

I’m living more of a Little House on the (Urban) Prairie life these days, but when I was a kid, I didn’t want prairies, chores, or family togetherness. I was looking for the entrance into a magical world, like the Pevensie kids found to get into Narnia, or perhaps a cyclone to take me into Oz.

Quentin, the main character of Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy, was, like me, obsessed with finding his way into magical worlds-- but unlike me, he manages to do it. After that, the books are chock-full of unpredictable pleasures. Quentin flies to Antarctica as a goose, makes deals with a dragon, takes a voyage in a magical boat to the end of the world, and lives through what I believe is the best post-breakup smackdown in literary history. Finally, In The Magician’s Land, the third and last book of the series, which came out this year, he stops being kind of a jerk and turns into a man.

Excuse me for a moment while I push past the coats into this big old wardrobe. Feel free to check out my list of genre-bending fantasy novels while I’m gone. 
 

I Never Met a Story I Didn't Like bookjacketI like my music to tell a story and that's exactly what Todd Snider’s songs do. His memoirish book, I Never Met a Story I Didn't Like: Mostly True Tall Tales is full of stories. I can listen to Todd's (he's such a down-to-earth kind of guy that I feel he'd want me to call him by his first name) music all day. And then his live shows are great not only because he plays his fabulous songs but also because he has hilarious stories to tell. In his book, he sets down some of those entertaining stories plus a whole bunch more. It's great to hear the (mostly true) stories behind his songs and how he ended up in the singer/songwriting world. You get to hear about some of the inner workings of the music business and the inner life of a fallible, creative guy.

“I thought about what I wanted, knowing that I’d probably fail to get it. And I decided that I wanted most to fail at being a singer in a band .  .  . That’s what I wanted to fail at in this life. And, oh brother, have I. Over and over again. Spectacularly.”

As a bonus, Todd's a local boy; he grew up in Beaverton and he has several songs that feature Portland prominently. He's got a great voice, and I'm not just talking about how he sings; you get a real sense of who he is as a person in his songs and his stories. Now instead of having to wait for his next show, I can read a chapter of this book, pop in one of his cds, and pretend I'm sitting in a club right next to the stage while Todd Snider performs.

Golden Son: Book II of the Red Rising Trilogy

by Pierce Brown

Book 2 of the sci-fi sensation Red Rising that takes place on Mars. Fast-paced, gripping and well written. For fans of Hunger Games, Enders Game and Game of Thrones. A film is coming out. Place your hold now.

War of the Wives

by Tamar Cohen

Two wives married to the same man--and they just found  out he's dead. With dark humor and wit, it is a story of betrayal and love.

Gateway to Freedom: the Hidden History of the Underground Railroad

byEric Foner

Foner, a Civil War specialist, relates the dramatic story of fugitive slaves and the abolitionists who helped them to freedom in spite of the law.

Whipping Boy: the Forty-Year Search for My Twelve-Year-Old Bully

by Allen Kurzweil

The author takes the reader around the world in his search for his childhood tormentor. The trail he follows reads like a John Le Carre novel as he discovers his bully is involved in federal crimes  with unbelievable real-life characters that supports the saying that "truth is stranger than fiction". A memoir of obsession, recovery and courage.

 

cover image of The Other TypistI was forever waiting for this one, first on the hold list and then once I found a copy of my own, I still waited to read it. Why? I suppose I have read so many duds of late, I was loathe to even pick it up. Here we go again, I thought, another flapper fiasco. It’s going to be trite, it’s going to be a slog. But I started reading it and tra la! It sparkled!

We have Rose, our unreliable narrator—and who doesn’t love an unreliable narrator—and Odalie. Both are typists for the New York Police Department in the 1920s and both are keeping secrets. Surely one of these fine ladies must be genuine...

dead pic veneta live cover

I never planned to Like the Grateful Dead. 

Shaped by easy punchlines, alarmist tales of parking lot antics via local news outlets and teenage stubbornness,  I used to think of the Dead and their followers as a sea of tie dyed drifters. However, both times and I have changed.

Luckily, no miracles are required to get your Dead fix at Multnomah County Library. A library card is the only ticket required. Hoopla, available with a Library card has 120+ streaming Dead albums including numerous live shows. Looking for the complete studio recordings? The extensive collections The Golden Road and Beyond Description have you covered in two box sets. Additional live sets and exhaustive books are also available. Check them out here.

If that’s not enough, the Grateful Dead Archive at The University of Santa Cruz has what you need.  This growing archive is “a socially constructed collection comprised of over 45,000 digitized items drawn from the UCSC Library’s extensive Grateful Dead Archive (GDA) and from digital content submitted by the community and global network of Grateful Dead fans”.  

 Is there tie dye tinged light at the end of this tunnel?  Perhaps, but I’ll pass for now...

Wanting to add to your cocktail expertise?  Or maybe you are interested in the history of spirited beverages? Perhaps you just wonder what your literary hero drank?  If you said yes to any of these questions then I have the list for you.  My coworker Jeanne has been studying cocktail and spirited beverage history for awhile now, and she gathered together this list of wonderful books for you.

Lately I’ve been obsessed with Coco Chanel.  This is thanks in part to my own couturier aspirations (Is there life beyond pajamas?) and to a new novel I recently read by C.W. Gortner, a writer of historical fiction who has conceptualized the lives of many historical figures including Catherine de Medici, Elizabeth the First and Isabella of Castille.  In Mademoiselle Chanel,  Gortner sets his sights on Gabrielle Chanel, the self-taught seamstress from a small town in France who became a cultural icon.  

Mademoiselle Chanel book jacketBorn into poverty and abandoned by her father, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel spent her childhood in an orphanage.  Blessed with exceptional sewing skills and unstoppable ambition Gabrielle left the convent at eighteen to become an assistant seamstress by day and a cabaret singer by night.  She discovered a passion for millinery work and when she met the powerful playboy Etienne Balsan, his money and connections provided her with the freedom to pursue her minimalist designs.  Through Balsan, Coco met Arthur “Boy” Capel, another wealthy and well-connected benefactor who turned her designs into a profitable business and became  the love of her life.  Coco ultimately branched out into clothing, jewelry and her signature Number Five scent.  

Coco’s life was not without controversy.  During World War II and the Nazi occupation of Paris, Chanel closed her shops.  She moved into the Ritz Hotel, began a romantic liaison with a German officer and became involved in military intelligence.  After the war she spent nine years in Switzerland, hoping to escape the memory of her wartime activities.  She returned to France in 1953, re-entered the fashion world, and continued to work on her collections until her death in 1971.  

As a designer Coco Chanel left behind a lasting legacy.  She had the courage to challenge the fashion rules of the day and create clothes for women to live in.  Her fluid jersey garments and famed tweed suits combine style with practicality and freedom of movement.  Her little black dress was simple yet fashionable and her signature scent Number Five was designed to embody the liberated woman.  

Chanel the company still maintains a boutique in Paris at 31 rue Cambon,  the same building acquired by Coco in 1918.  Despite her checkered wartime history Coco Chanel’s accomplishments and ambitions are unparalleled.  She went from poor orphan to global icon and along the way changed the way women saw themselves and lived.  She is considered by many to be the most important fashion designer of the twentieth century.  And by the way, Chanel is also known for her pajama designs.  They are elegant, sophisticated, and very chic.  Much like Coco herself.

The Miniaturist book jacketBefore learning that I had a Dutch great-grandfather, I wasn't particularly interested in the Netherlands.  Since then, though, I have taken a trip to Holland, found a new appreciation for Edam cheese, and read a number of books about the place.

Two excellent novels published in 2014 are set in 17th century Amsterdam. The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton follows the first months of Nella Oortman's marriage to Johannes Brandt, a wealthy merchant who is rarely around.  He pays scant attention to her when she arrives at his home in Amsterdam after a very brief marriage ceremony months earlier in her own town.  Weeks after her arrival, Nella is still waiting for Johannes to come to the marriage bed.  Roaming around a big house with two servants and her dour sister-in-law and only rarely seeing her husband is not how she thought marriage would be.  In order to make up for his inattention, Johannes purchases a wildly expensive dollhouse, or cabinet, for Nella to furnish that is an exact miniature replica of their home. When the furniture and dolls begin arriving from the miniaturist, Nella becomes intrigued (and slightly concerned).  The miniaturist sends objects that Nella has not requested and seems to know things that only someone living in the merchant's house would know!

The Anatomy Lesson by Nina Siegal is told by several people who were involved in the story of Rembrandt's painting, The Anatomy Lesson of Nicolaes Tulp. The Anatomy Lesson book jacketThis exquisitely told tale throws us right into the day Adriaen Adriaenszoon (aka Aris the Kid and - spoiler alert - the corpse in the painting) is hanged for being a thief. As the events of the day unfold, we see Rembrandt working in his studio, Aris contemplating his life, and Aris's lover making her way to Amsterdam in order to try and save him or at least bring his body home if he cannot be rescued.  French philosopher Rene Descarte and Jan Fetchet, the man charged with preparing the body for the anatomy lesson, also make appearances.  I was so absorbed in the novel that when I looked up from my e-reader, I was surprised to find that I wasn't walking out in the cold, flat Dutch countryside or on a canal in the middle of Amsterdam.  I was, however, happy to be secure in my home knowing that I didn't have to face the hangman or figure out how to paint a hand on a corpse that was missing one!

For more books - both fiction and non-fiction - about the Netherlands, check out this list.

 

Each year at Multnomah County Library, staff members volunteer to participate in a “best books of the year” forum where they inform staff and patrons about their favorite works within a particular genre. For 2014, I was privileged to be one of the reviewers for science fiction. Many years ago I read a great deal of SF, but graduate school and professional obligations kept me from reading as much as I wanted until very recently, so for me, it was a real treat to reacquaint myself with what was new in the genre.

The Joys
The Martian book jacketWhat I discovered was that modern science fiction is more vibrant and of higher quality than I expected. The breadth of works is astonishing and run a gamut of styles and varying degrees of scientific accuracy—yes, as someone who leans toward “hard SF,” that accuracy is important to me. I found this epitomized by Andy Weir’s The Martian, a work where the science matters but doesn’t stop us from enjoying a great story with a strong protagonist. I also enjoyed Daniel Suarez’s Influx, which is something new for me: a science fiction techno-thriller—think Robert Heinlein meets Tom Clancy. I don’t recall anything quite like it fifteen or so years ago when I was reading a lot more SF.

The Frustrations
I also discovered that finding a science fiction book not part of a series is nearly impossible. I can understand the reasons for this. First,Proxima book jacket authors often go to a lot of effort to create a rich and realistic universe for their story. It must be difficult to work so hard for a single tale when so many other stories could be told within that new setting. Also, the reality of the publishing world means that a series will potentially sell more books as readers come back to see what happens next to their favorite characters. For me, however, it’s frustrating to either see a title that looks interesting but discover that it’s #4 in a series or to read a book and reach the end only to find that none of the central mysteries of the story are resolved. An example of this is Stephen Baxter’s Proxima, a novel which drew me in and I really enjoyed until it was over and there was very little resolution. It felt like the author had reached a certain page count, decided “That’s enough,” and simply stopped with a brief, unsatisfying wrap-up. There are plenty of series that provide some closure at the end, such as Ann Leckie’s fantastic novel Ancillary Justice, which is part of why I find Baxter’s book so aggravating. Some might say he has written an effective cliff-hanger, but I find it irritating and a bit manipulative.

So, overall, I’ve been very happy to reacquaint myself with a genre that meant a lot to me for a long time. I’ve already volunteered to read for the 2015 “best books” forum, so my exploration shall continue. I’m sure I will continue to be surprised.

When I was a little girl, I loved to sit with my great grandpa and put together jigsaw puzzles. He told me:” first you turn over the pieces, and separate out those that belong in the frame. Once the frame is put together, then sort the pieces into colors and  put the picture together.”

Reading a mystery by Kate Atkinson is like following that advice in reverse. First, she dumps the pieces of her stories in a big, dramatic heap: murders, kidnappings, mistaken identity, loyalty, country music, lost dogs, little sisters, misunderstood characters. Then, slowly, she turns over the pieces one by one and fits them together until the whole picture begins to emerge. Private detective Jackson Brody is a major piece in that picture. However, until the frame is in place and the picture is clear and bright, the reader isn’t quite sure. Brody  seems to be the hero, but….sometimes he seems to be the problem too.

Then she gives the reader side pieces that  begin to put together the frame.  Here is a train wreck that brings several characters of the story together; here is a dog that Brody rescues and then finds his owner was a mafia thug; here is a retired police detective who spontaneously steals a child and doesn’t know what to do with her.  Closer and closer we get, piece by piece the picture becomes sharper, the colors fit together- and out pops the picture-  in a way that could never be seen at the beginning.

One more thing about putting a puzzle together with my great grandpa is this:  My great grandma always snuck a few pieces out and hid them in her apron pocket. Kate Atkinson does that too. The pieces that are  missing belong to Jackson Brody’s own personal puzzle. When will she put them in place? I can’t wait for her next book- maybe it will be the one that finally puts the whole puzzle of his past together.

Don’t you love it when you find a new series to read? I found myself just reading Regency Romance and decided to branch out. I am now reading a romance series set in the broader Georgian era (1714-1830) called Maiden Lane by Elizabeth Hoyt. If you like historical fiction that comments on the social conditions of the times, that has a family of characters with secrets, mystery, great writing, and romance then I think you might love the Maiden Lane series.  

The setting is the worst neighborhood in London: St. Giles and the orphanage that Temperance Dews runs with her brother. Lord Caire needs a guide to help him solve a mystery in the neighborhood. Temperance needs money and a sponsor for the orphanage. A deal between the two is struck. Inquiring minds want to know can Lord Caire and Temperance forgo the attraction that is brewing? You’ll have to read it and find out!

I made a list called Good Reads in Historical romance with Wicked Intentions the first in the Maiden Lane series and historical romance titles that cover 1714-1901. Hope you find the list swoon worthy.

Sharon Harmon is the director of the Oregon Humane Society. An integral part of her work is to advance animal welfare through leadership, education, advocacy and project development. While not working or enjoying the company of her pets, she reads. Here are some of her favorites:

I work and play with equal passion and drive. I'm lucky to have a job that brings great satisfaction in that it is intellectually challenging and emotionally fulfilling. Change is not only constant, it is embraced. Days are fast-paced, start early and end late and I'm often wondering where the time went when my dogs Sunny and Mac nudge my elbow telling me it's time to go home. It hardly feels like a job most days. I work with an incredibly dedicated team and meet the most interesting people who also want to see a better world for companion animals. Did I mention I get to play with kittens?  

As the seasons change, so do the books that occupy a portion of my coffee table. Although most of its surface is covered by a large and eternally bored cat who delights in shoving things over the edge to get my attention, these volumes survive his commentary on my literary choices.

I was fascinated with Dan Pallotta's TEDtalk on the restraints put on nonprofits so I picked up his book Uncharitable. Nonprofits are often judged by the balance of expense spent on administration and fundraising whereas similar expenses in for-profit businesses are viewed as smart investments. Thought-provoking -- I momentarily envisioned changing my title to Chief Executive Overhead but decided to stay employed...

Adam Braun’s book, The Promise of a Pencil tells the tale of his entrepreneurial approach to founding an organization dedicated to building schools, and along the way, the human potential of communities in some of the most impoverished places in the world. He suggests eliminating the term 'nonprofit' and substituting 'for-purpose', because any charity worth supporting always has a purpose and can't bleed red ink endlessly to achieve it.   

Rounding out the business books is Steven M.R. Covey's The Speed of Trust. In these days of multipage contracts attached to almost every deal, this is a refreshing reminder that exhaustion at the end of a negotiation likely stems from starting from a position of distrust. I think if this book could required reading there would be a lot less need for legal counsel. Not that I have anything against attorneys; I would just rather spay a bunch of cats than pay for an 18 page contract review.

When not at my desk, you are likely to find me in my four season garden, watching birds, hiking, fishing and this time of year, mushroom hunting.

Looking for mushrooms is both meditative and an endurance exercise.  The steep, remote portions of the Cascades are full of edible funghi. That means that at the end of the day you have some outstanding ingredients for dinner and you've gotten a workout while focusing on a small plot of ground at your feet. Chances are you will see something new every time you go, perhaps a new flower or a millipede or a cast-off feather. David Aurora’s Mushrooms Demystified is a constant companion on these foraging forays into the wild lands. Better safe than waiting for a liver transplant.

While Tyler the cat rules the coffee table, my German Shepherds Sunny and Mac are my constant companions, whether attending endless meetings at work, running amok while mushroom hunting or guarding the house from unknown things that go bump, or not, in the night.  Did I fall in love with the breed watching Rin Tin Tin reruns on TV? Maybe it happened after reading local writer Susan Orlean's Rin Tin Tin: The life and the legend.  It's a great story about a great dog(s) and the bond between people and the canine heroes in our world.

This last book is one where I have the first copy I read but have given away many others. Cheryl Strayed's Wild: From lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail speaks to me on so many levels. She is one tough woman and I loved following her personal journey while visiting many of the places I've been or would like to visit. Oregonians writing about place while showing reverence for the wild lands will always have a place in my heart, and my coffee table, if the cat agrees.  

My Librarian and our featured guest readers are made possible by a grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation to The Library Foundation, a local non-profit dedicated to our library's leadership, innovation, and reach through private support.

I’m a flighty and unfaithful reader. I can’t resist the call of a buzzy debut novel or the allure of reading a book set in a country I’m unfamiliar with.  This means that all too often, it takes me years to get around to reading award winning books that I know I’ll probably like. When it comes to reading,  I nearly always prefer to roll the dice than spend my time on a sure thing.  

There are two exceptions to this pattern and their names are Gail Tsukiyama and J. Maarten Troost. Two very different writers, but I never hesitate to read anything by either one.  

 

Book jacket: The Samurai's Garden by Gail TsukiyamaTsukiyama’s writes quiet books set in turbulent times in Japanese and Chinese history. Her stories are reflective and leisurely unravel the struggles of people living in bleak times of war and oppression. Her books could easily be real downers. Instead they’re absolutely beautiful. Tsukiyama is who I turn to for absorbing historical fiction with characters I gradually grow to really care about.

 

Book jacket: The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost

In contrast, J. Maarten Troost writes books that are anything but quiet. He’s fiercely smart and just as fiercely funny. In describing his adventures overseas, Troost offers a perfect balance of earnest curiosity, historical context, and sardonic wit.  Whether living as a slacker on an atoll in the South Pacific or traipsing through China, I’ll follow him anywhere. I’ll even tag along through his new found sobriety because, while I did have my doubts, it turns out he’s still funny off the kava

 

If you’re looking for quiet reflection and history, try Gail Tsukiyama. Start with The Samurai’s Garden, or jump in anywhere. Feeling more boisterous? Check out The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost. Or maybe you feel like rolling the dice on something unknown?  In that case, just ask me.

 

Pages

Subscribe to