Blogs

Welcome to our new contributor Ross, who grew up in the woods outside Oregon City, where he had ample time to read and re-read every book he could find, making him an omnivorous reader. Science fiction, fantasy, classic literature, poetry, street lit, biographies, comics - you name it, he’ll read it. He loves finding connections between wildly different works. His favorite poem is “Used Book Store”, in the collection My Noiseless Entourage by Charles Simic.

Last November, thanks to Multnomah County Library’s Read the Classics program, I made an important discovery: The Iliad is the best story ever written. I quit after 15 pages when I tried to read it in middle school, but - whether it was the translation that I read this time (by Robert Fagles), or the enlightening introduction (by Bernard Knox), or the 20-so years of life experience since my first reading - this time something clicked. The beauty of the images and metaphors, the simplicity and yet incredible depth of the story, the oh-so-human and identifiable characters. The utter symmetry of it. I don’t think any book before has moved me so much or stuck in my mind, like a bronze spear point, with so much force. 

Since developing this Iliad-philia, I have been noticing related works everywhere I turn: 

British poet Christopher Logue eschews simple translation of Homer, and instead has been retelling the books of the Iliad in his own radically modern verse. The Husbands is his adaptation of books 3 and 4, and the cover alone makes me want to read it. 

Ransom is a new literary novel by David Malouf in which he retells the events of book 24 of the Iliad, where King Priam goes to Achilles and tries to ransom the body of his son, Hector. 

Margaret George’s Helen of Troy is a novelization of the war from the perspective of the woman who caused those thousand ships to be launched. 


The War that Killed Achilles by Caroline Alexander presents a new reading and analysis of the Iliad, and argues that the primary purpose of the poem is to convey the utter devastation of war. 

Achilles by Elizabeth Cook is a short novel, almost a prose poem, about the entire life (and death) of that legendary hero, and the reverberations of his story. 


And in Ilium by Dan Simmons, inspired by Shakespeare’sThe Tempest as well as The Iliad, these classic works of literature are building blocks for a complex science fiction epic: the gods live on Mars, a race of sentient robots has specialists in literature, and the battle of Troy is being fought once again.

I am sure that this is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg, the vanguard of the legion. What are your favorite Iliad-inspired works? 

I saw Frozen River many months ago and the story has continued to simmer to the surface of my mind. So last night I put the kids to bed, made some popcorn, and sat down to watch it again. I'm glad I did.

Ray and Lila are two minimum-wage earning mothers caught in the shadowy world of smuggling illegal immigrants across the St. Lawrence River via the Mohawk territory between Quebec and New York. Ray wants the double-wide with the decent bathtub she saved for before her husband disappeared with the money days before Christmas. Lila wants to raise the baby son her mother-in-law has taken from her. Ray's dead-end part-time job at Yankee Dollar and Lila's employment at the reservation bingo parlor are no match for the lure of cash in exchange for a quick drive across the frozen river. The two women form an uneasy partnership built on a rusting Dodge Spirit with a push-button trunk. 

It is a midwinter story of desperate circumstances, but the remainder is that of spring; reckoning and resurrection, and a thaw. Behold the miracle of mud: it may not be what you planted, but something green will grow.

Now that the unpronounceably named volcano from Iceland has settled down, let's turn our attention to other unpronounceable acts that Iceland has released upon the world.

First up is probably Iceland's biggest musician, Ms. Guðmundsdóttir, better known as Björk. Initially the lead singer for The Sugarcubes, Björk has been around long enough to become a worldwide musical icon. Her inventive style often includes a great deal of innovation as well. Sometimes she's screaming, sometimes she's grunting, but every little thing she does is very musical. She even was the lead in a musical called Dancer in the Dark. It's pretty and depressing. Actually some would say it's pretty depressing. Bring your box of tissues.

From the other side of the island comes the all-male musical group, Sigur Rós. I love this band, and not just because they sing in a mixture of Icelandic and Vonlenska, an unintelligible language they created. Their range in music goes from a lilting tune to a deeply introspective piece in a heartbeat. I actually saw them play at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall where they ended the concert by spraying the entire audience with confetti. The film Heima, chronicles their journey home where they gave free concerts to the people of Iceland. It showcases their music perfectly, but also features the wonderful imagery that inspired them. 

I recently stumbled across yet another musical act from Iceland, Múm. They are a collective of musicians who also perform experimental electronic music. I wonder what it is about being from Iceland that inspires such unique music...perhaps it’s the volcanoes!

I savored My Life in France by Julia Child for months.  I didn’t want it to end. Julia and Paul Child were inspiring people.  They loved food, wine, art, travel, friends, family and France. They loved with gusto! 

Julia met Paul Child when they worked for the United States government during World War II. After the war they parted ways only to discover that they didn’t want to be apart. To make a sweet story short they married. After the war Paul continued working for the United States government in Europe: France, Germany and Norway. Mrs. Child accompanied her husband to his new postings. Julia decided to go to the cooking school Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and found her calling as a chef,  best selling writer and TV personality.


This memoir is peppered with Paul’s photographs and touching stories about their life together. Join the crowd and make a reservation for My Life in France. And while you're waiting, find books, movies and more about and by the lovely Julia here.

Looking for true love?

Get yourself a sweet puppy -

Parade down the street

In The New Yorkers by Cathleen Schine, a cute dog can make anyone seem more lovable.

That sound you hear? That would be me, in the corner, curled into a ball,whimpering gently. I just finished Changes, book 12 of the Dresden Files. Based on past publishing patterns it will be a year before I find out

 what happens next to Harry Dresden...

Have you read the Dresden Files yet? Harry Dresden is a both a P.I. and a wizard. The Chicago he inhabits is populated with vampires, werewolves, all manner of Fae, beings that claim to be demons and angels (nobody sanewould argue with them) and pretty much any other stripe of magical creature you can think of. The Dresden Files is the series other urban fantasies want to be when they grow up. They are fairly light quick reads but they really do need to be read in order, starting with Storm Front.

Several years ago, I bought the first two on a whim. I forgot about them until my husband came to me with book two in hand to ask if there were any more and could I go get them right now please? Huh. Obviously I was missing something. I started reading them myself. I was hooked. Now I snatch up each new installment on the release date and finish it before bedtime. This is my absolute favorite series. I've seen it enjoyed by both male and female readers. I've talked mystery/detective story readers into giving it a try despite the fantasy elements and they've enjoyed it.

A few years ago I heard the author speak at a convention. He was charming and witty. When asked how many books were planned he said he had a twentyyear mortgage. At this point I'm not sure how it will end. Harry Dresden may die horribly or finally see a moment of untarnished happiness - probably right before dying horribly. I'm not sure which I'm rooting for. He's done dubious things for good reason, he's allied with not nice beings for a good cause, he's made mistakes, some with bloody, tragic prices.  But so far, Harry Dresden keeps getting back up and trying again.  He's got a lot of flaws, headed up by a smart mouth, although it's sarcasm rather than cynicism.

And while it may sound like these are twelve grim volumes of unremitting gloom, they are frequently very funny. The characterization is truly top notch. I care what happens to Harry, I care a lot at this point. But I can't really describeanything that happens in book twelve without venturing into spoiler territory. What I can tell you is that on October 26th Butcher is releasing a book of short stories called Side Jobs.  It contains the collected Dresden Files short stories from various anthologies plus a few new ones. One of them is written from the perspective of a secondary character and is set immediately after the end ofChanges. I am pre-ordering Side Jobs because I can't wait until next April. The author is an evil, cruel, and terrible man and I need a hint of what happens in book thirteen right now.

PS, the tv show?... Meh, it was OK. If you like genre TV and want to watch something on DVD you'll like it well enough. But it doesn't hold a candle to the books. 

Oh no - yet another book I don't want to return to the library! I think I'll have to go out and buy it. I love Country living : A Bit of Velvet and a Dash of Lace : the Fabulous Interiors of  Magnolia Pearl by Robin Brown with Jason Boyd.

As a new homeowner I like to browse the interior decorating books in the library. I've found that many of them don't have a personal voice or narrator. If they do they can come across as clinical and cold. This is not the case in this book! Brown offers the reader a warm invitation to the "Magnolia Pearl" style of decorating. She also shares stories about her upbringing in 1960s California with her artistic parents. 
I'm not usually attracted to the funky, Bohemian-Victorian style but Brown makes it appealing. And it's wonderful to see Brown's style beautifully portrayed on each page by Steven Radazzo's stunning photographs. Though I might use elements of the Boho-Victorian style, there's no way I could make my entire home reflect this dedication to interior decoration.

Perhaps you'd like to add these elements of style to your home? Luckily this book includes a guide for those who would like to do just that. Some of the projects included in the book are weaving flowers in your hair, building a gate from a bed frame and making pet beds.  If you are looking for a visual treat along with great storytelling try the lovely book A Bit of Velvet and a Dash of Lace. You won't be disappointed. 

Welcome to our new blogger Cathy, who says of her reading tastes, "I love all kinds of books, music, films, comics, zines and web stuff. Basically, I eat from all 5 food groups, including junk food." More about Cathy and all of our bloggers here.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, if someone called you the L word, if it didn’t refer to your sexuality, it meant you’d been outed as a liberal. But that L word is so last century. In today’s hallowed halls of Web 2.0, the latest 12th-letter indictment is Luddite. So why is Jaron Lanier, a Silicon Valley visionary, musician, and one of the web’s big supporters in the 1980s, now having to fend off that label? Lanier’s recent book You Are Not a Gadget- a self-proclaimed manifesto - is his answer to all the mudslingers. 
I love how this book asks lots of “taboo” questions about the Web. His FAQs preface the book by saying “it ought to be possible to criticize aspects of digital experience without criticizing the whole of it.” Here are just some of the provocative issues he raises:

 

  • Computer scientists create a standard, like storing information in files. It makes sense while their system is small, but when the system expands (think Microsoft), it gets “locked in” - now we all must use it, whether it’s outdated, inefficient, or unaesthetic. What happens when the ‘lock-in” is your personal profile, on a social network like Facebook?
  • Regarding crowd decision-making on the Web: “Collectives can be just as stupid as any individual – and, in important cases, stupider. The interesting question is whether it’s possible to map out where the one is smarter than many." 
  • It has been a decade since music migrated to the Web. Are musicians actually better off? What does the online music world forecast for other fields, like journalism?
  • Why was advertising the villain in the 1960s and 1970s, but now can do no wrong? Lanier’s answer is because it’s what pays for the Web, and what allows content to be available for free. So what happens to culture when advertising is sacrosanct? 

Lanier is no naysayer; he’s open to debate, and he proposes intriguing alternatives. This book's guaranteed to start great discussions, whether you’re a computer geek or a rank and file Web user.

 

Sometimes I think that I am drawn to books of sorrow. Rather, maybe, I am more attracted to how people survive and work out their grief. 

Perhaps it was too soon for the author to write of his daughter Amy's untimely death from heart failure at age 38.  Making Toast: a Family Story by Roger Rosenblatt is so filled with raw sorrow, a touch of bitterness and tender stories of helping to raise three young grandchildren. The children call him, Boppo, and his wife, Ginny becomes Mimi as their lives are forever changed.

Roger Rosenblatt may be familiar from his columns in The Washington Post or Time Magazine. He is also a Professor of English and Writing at Stony Brook University and the author of the hilarious novel, Lapham Rising

Facing this terrible loss is torture, but caring for the children becomes a joy. 

Always the teacher, Boppo gives the children a new word each morning to mull and savor. These 'Word of the Morning' stories sprinkled throughout the book and the quiet way that the Rosenblatts instill a love of reading are some of my favorite parts of this memoir. Bubbies, the youngest child, is just under two. One evening just before bedtime, Bubbies points to one of the books in the den and says, "book." It is a copy of The Letters of James Joyce, but Boppo takes the book down and instead reads a story of Bubbies' adventure on the playground. 

    "I try to put back the book, but he detects an implicit announcement of his bedtime, and he protests. "Joyce!" he says. Eventually, he resigns himself to the end of his day. He puts the book back himself, and quietly says, "Joyce."

Ginny puts her feelings into the startling poem "Arch of Shade" as she grapples with leading her daughter's life by caring for the children. 

    Arch of Shade

    Rachmaninoff and Mozart
    Sift through the haze
    On River Road.
    Two hatted women wait 
    In the heat for the Ride-on-Bus.
    The Wii is the summer wish
    Come true.
    Your babies' crib is disassembled
    And taken away 
    Accepted
    With gratitude
    To be the bed for a new life.

    I am turning 
    To the camp carpool line
    Only thinking of you.
    The arch of shade hovers
    The hot July sun rays
    Dapple the leaf arch
    To highlight the darkness. 

    I am here.

Roger astutely comments on his wife and her poetry; "Her graciousness distracts people from noticing that she is alert to life's dark places. She prefers it that way. Her poems hit their mark, but gently. They crack the egg without breaking it."  

Making Toast will both break your heart and show you what is possible in dealing with grief.

Many mystery novels feature figurative and sometimes literal skeletons in the closet, but there are a number of titles where the skeletons are out of the closet and into the ground. The Crossing Places is one of those, and it's a good mystery in a brand new series by Elly Griffiths. Ruth Galloway is a late thirty-something, overweight archaeology professor teaching at a new university in the county of Norfolk, England. When the bones of a young girl show up in the salt-marsh close to her home, DCI Harry Nelson asks for her help in figuring out how old they are. Turns out, they belong to an Iron Age girl, but it's not long before a much more recent skeleton appears. Are these the bones of the girl who went missing a decade ago?  Nelson's desperate to solve that mystery and help the parents get on with their lives. The ending is a bit melodramatic, but I liked the book and especially the atmospheric setting and unusual character of Ruth. I'm looking forward toThe Janus Stone, the second in the series coming out in the fall of 2010. For two other mysteries with forensic anthropological and archaeological bents, read Haunted Ground by Erin Hart and Old Bones by Aaron Elkins, one of my favorite mysteries ever.

I just read a really good debut novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin. So often trying a new author is a hit or miss proposition, but this was a solid hit. Yeine Darr is a half-breed. She was raised in the hinterlands. Although she was raised to rule and her father was the prince of his little country, she's still the half-savage, unfashionable, rude barbarian with no grasp of civilization. At least that's what her mother's courtiers think of her. She's too short and she looks different. Nobody, least of all she, is happy that her grandfather the emperor has summoned his granddaughter to court where his potential heirs are competing.  She's nearly murdered within the first few hours and it doesn't get any better from there. This novel is the first in a series but it does stand alone quite well. The author has said that each new book will center around a new main character and the characters from other books will become side notes. So it's not the usual fantasy commitment of at least three novels to try out this new author.

I've always liked a good ghost story, but zombies leave me cold. I mean, how can anything with rapidly decomposing brain cells moving at the speed of a sloth possibly be scary? Why don't the living in

 these movies stick out their tongues and dance circles around them? It's because zombies are relentless, say some; they never tire. Yeah, but I could just pull a Will Smith on them and create a Manhattan penthouse fortress, the way he does in I am Legend, based on the book by the same name.

It seems as though writers and directors have finally figured out that slow-as-molasses zombies aren't all that frightening. The director of Dead Snow has certainly turned up the horror. A group of medical students spends the weekend at a remote skiing cabin in Norway. Throw in a strange old codger with stories about evil lurking in the hills, and the problem of having to go to the outhouse in the dark, a horror in itself, and you've got a pretty good start. But then add...wait for it...Nazi zombies!  Yes, it's a great concept but it's a bit over the top when legions of them start popping out of the snow to eat our protagonists' vital organs. The problem is that, as with many zombie movies, when you try to escalate the fear it seems inevitable that you stray into caricature or satire. Or maybe that's the point - the appeal is knowing the whole conceit will eventually dissolve into the absurd.

One movie that embraces the absurd from the outset is Zombieland- sure to become a cult classic. An obsessive-compulsive, agoraphobe hooks up with a pugnacious, zombie hating Twinkie-loving cowboy, played by Woody Harrelson. They make their way across the wasteland that is America after the zombie apocalypse. It's great laugh out loud fun, and personal thanks to the director who realizes that we only need to see the undead munching on a body part once or twice to get the point. Our imaginations will fill in the blanks. This and another low-comedy zombie flick, Shaun of the Dead would make for a great movie night, providing vegetarian food is served.

A recent interest in all things zombie means that there's plenty of fodder for fans. The book World War Z by Max Brooks recounts the story of the zombie wars that almost put an end to life as we know it. If only all zombies would heed David Murphy'sZombies for Zombies: Advice and Etiquette for the Living Dead. Find more zombie related material with the keywords "zombies" and "fiction", "zombies" and "humor". Oh, and be careful out there.

I don’t remember the day I first saw music video for "Around the World" by Daft Punk, but I do know that it was the beginning of a torrid love affair with acclaimed director Michel Gondry. At the time, I didn’t know who the director was, but I would watch the video for hours, trying to memorize each component. The video shows mummies, robots, skeletons, and synchronized swimmers all dancing around a stage built to look like an LP. It wasn’t until I checked out a series of DVDs called Directors Label that I discovered the genius behind Gondry’s directorial skill. Basically a collection of music videos, advertisements, and short films, The Work of Director Michel Gondry highlights some of the best and most imaginative creativity I’ve ever seen. Some excellent commentary in the director’s thick French accent gives you a tiny glimpse into his crazy little mind.

It only makes sense that given a bigger budget Gondry’s feature films are that much more brilliant. One of my favorites is Be Kind Rewind. Starring Jack Black, Danny Glover, and a surprisingly talented Mos Def, this film was filmed and takes place in Passaic, New Jersey. A video store owner faces eviction if he doesn’t retool his business. After a freak accident erases all the videotapes, the store must recreate every movie using people and props from the local neighborhood. The new business booms until a fast-talking lawyer tries to shut the entire operation down. Will the community rally to save their local video store?

It’ll be interesting to see what Gondry comes up with on his next project. He’s currently filming The Green Hornet, a superhero movie based on the radio and character of the same name.

There is something about digging in the dirt, planting a garden and pulling weeds that is nurturing and healing. For me, reading about it is an equally healing experience especially when the writing is as visual and thoughtful as the writing of David Mas Masumoto. I have read and reread his book, Four Seasons in Five Senses: Things Worth Savoring. He is a third generation Japanese-American peach farmer and his description of life on his farm is such sensual writing that you can almost taste the peaches.

One hundred years ago his grandparents arrived in America with dreams of owning land, farming and raising a family. They rented land, planted fruit trees and grape vines; survived the Great Depression and continued with their work of raising food and family. But December 7, 1941 and the bombing of Pearl Harbor changed their expectations of a better life in America. The family was interred in the Gila River relocation camp in the Arizona desert and lost everything. 

Then Masumoto's father was drafted. "Lock up our family behind barbed wire in the middle of a desert and then draft me?" He was on his way to Europe when Germany surrendered. In 1950, he took a chance and bought a small farm in the Central Valley near Fresno, California. He lavished care on his trees and vines. 

"Good pruning is really the art of taking away, like a sculptor chiseling at a rock, working to uncover life inside. Dad paced around the grapevine, paused and clipped, leaning in and cutting: eyes darting back and forth, searching for the strong canes, locating spurs for next year's growth. He worked with the past and saw the future--adding to a living timeline."

In his biography, Wisdom of the Last Farmer, Masumoto writes, "As we move on, we leave behind our stories in interior and exterior landscapes. The looming fog of death, the passing of time, the nature of change all lead us to greater self-awareness, and to a final transformation We mourn the loss of our people and miss them. But we continue to tell their stories." 

This, indeed, is the continuing story of how the family cared for his father after a stroke, how working on the land even in a limited way was healing and life-giving, how the family continues to raise organic, juicy fruit. 

This book stirred up so many of my own memories. Everybody has a junk drawer in the kitchen or the garage that collects odd bits of wire, screws, batteries and small tools, but this is nothing compared to my Dad's barn of objects too good to throw away because 'I might need it sometime to fix something.' And he most often found a use for many of his treasures. I was tickled by the chapter "Perfect Junk" in which Mr. Masumoto talks about the farmer's junk pile at a farm conference. An old farmer responds, "Out here we don't call them 'junk piles'. We call them 'inventory'." 

Masumoto writes a whole chapter on the varieties of heritage flavorful peaches. It reminded me of the grocer in our small town calling my mother to say, "Lois, the Elberta's are in." We girls then knew it was time to bake pies, to peel and can and sample a few rich juicy morsels of the Elberta peaches. I remember, too, the Red Haven and Hale peaches. Now I long to taste a fresh Sun Crest peach straight from one of the Masumoto trees.

 

Welcome to our new contributor Deb, a youth librarian and consumer of just about anything readable. In her words, "I like to read all sorts of things, especially young adult novels, speculative fiction and oddball fantasy, pop science essays, nonfiction that reads like fiction, tales set in places I’ve been or hope to visit, glimpses into other cultures, retold fairy tales, wry memoirs, and field guides. Also anything my sister recommends."

I grew up in an active family. We hiked, gardened, went camping, and (in between reading) generally were seldom idle. What we did not do is play organized sports, and so I never learned how. In elementary school I found that the other kids already knew the rules to the games, whereas I, in confusion, would invariably kick the ball or smack the puck or flubble the gimlet to exactly the wrong person and everyone would holler at me in disgust. Unsurprisingly, in my own personal iteration of that familiar bookworm's story, I developed an aversion to sport. It wasn't until my Ultimate Frisbee days in graduate school that I tapped my latent athletic streak.

This is all to say that I do not read sports books. I am not versed in sports strategy or history, my heroes aren't sports figures, and sporty play-by-play bores me. So hear me, my people, the sporty and the unsporty alike, when I tell you that to my astonishment Michael Lewis' book The Blind Side--a book about football* -- was one of the best books I read in 2008. 


I understand that the movie (I haven't seen it yet) plays up Sandra Bullock's role as the mother who takes in a disadvantaged young football player, but in the book her whole family's role, while interesting, is merely part of the framework for the real meat of the story. Or should I say, stories: One thread follows the unlikely tale of Michael Oher, a huge and athletically talented African-American kid (and a natural left tackle, even though he doesn’t know it) who grew up destitute in the Memphis ghettos and through a weird series of events was essentially adopted by a rich white family. The other thread -- and I kid you not, sports non-fans, it's absolutely fascinating and clear as a window -- explains the development of the passing game in football, and why it led to quarterback sacks (usually by the pass rusher), which in turn led to the increasing importance of the left tackle, whose job it is to guard the quarterback’s blind side.

I can see your eyes glazing from here, non-football fans. But trust me, and treat yourselves, and get in line for a copy of The Blind Side. (Both the book and the downloadable audiobook are available at the library.)

* So why did I pick up a book about football in the first place?, I hear you cry. Because I saw it listed among the Alex Awards of 2007, and I have found that the Alex Awards can point you toward some very fine reading.

Are you turned off by the phrase “Author Reading”? I was until I actually went to one. The phrase conjured up a picture of authors standing at a podium reading word for word from their latest book for an hour or more. That seemed terribly boring to me. Since going to that first “reading” I have been to a number and only one author spent most of the time reading from her latest book. 

Actually, many of the authors are rather entertaining. They will often tell you something about the book and read a short passage before they open up the floor to questions. Two of the authors of culinary mysteries each baked up a recipe included in the book they were “reading” and shared the goodies with the audience. Talk about going the extra mile…

Now, I haven’t had a chance to read the following two books, but I thought that I would share what I learned.

I went to a very entertaining author reading by Douglas Preston. His latest book, written withouLincoln Child, is Impact. In it, three different people in three different locations, Maine, Cambodia, and California, are involved in three different facets of the story. Yes, he does tie all of the parts together in the end. Listening to him speak about his experiences in life, you realize that his inspiration comes from his own, rather interesting life. Not only has he written thrillers, but he has contributed a variety of articles to publications such as Audubon, Smithsonian, National Geographic, Harper’s, Natural History, New Yorker, and Travel and Leisure. His brother is Richard Preston, who has also written thrillers.

On January 27th, I heard  Elizabeth, whose latest book is The Swan Thieves. She read some of the book to us. It involves two artists, one a young woman, Beatrice, and Olivier, her uncle.  She is very attracted to Olivier and feels that she has to fight that attraction. The novel takes place in France, where Kostova went to research the book. Her use of language is quite appealing. She said that the authors who influenced her the most were Dickens, Tolstoy, Henry James, and Virginia Woolf.  Like her first novel, The Historian, Swan Thieves is rather long, but it sounds quite interesting.

The next book I've read. You may find that you will enjoy it despite the fact that it may give you goose-bumps.

I  searched the Bram Stoker award winners (horror) to find a book to read outside my “area of comfort” and found Creepers, by David Morrell. Creepers are urban explorers who get pleasure from wanderingaround in abandoned buildings in an urban setting to see what they can find (through breaking and entering).  In New Jersey, a small group of people chose an abandoned hotel that at one time housed the eccentric owner, an agoraphobic who also had hemophilia. He was a recluse somewhat reminiscent of Howard Hughes. Early on it is evident that some of the “creepers” are not who they represented themselves to be when their adventure began. Soon they realize that they are not alone. They encounter the son of the former owner who turns out to be quite the villain and they encounter yet another small group of “creepers” who give them cause for concern. The book straddles several genres - horror, thriller and adventure - for you see, the villain really “puts them through the wringer”.

Here at the library authors come to talk about their work in a program called Writers Talking. Attend one and maybe the phrase "author talk" will become a cause for celebration.

Welcome to our new contributor Heidi, an SF and fantasy aficionado. Look for her recommendations on great authors in these genres.  

I've been reading fantasy and science fiction for about twenty-five years (I rather suspect my dear mother still regrets buying me that first paperback all those years ago when I asked oh so very politely for it as a well earned treat...). I read roughly 1-3 novels a week depending on the week. If I have an entire glorious day to myself with no other responsibilities I will read 1 or 2 novels in a day. That doesn't happen nearly as often as I'd like it to. At that rate I go through quite a few books in any given year. In my blog entries I intend to point out some of the best of what I've been reading. If I find any chuck it across the room stinkers I'll warn you.

I'd like to start out by mentioning a few of my favorite newer authors.
Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind is good.  It's really good, as in "Dear Reader,  The Name of the Wind is the most brilliant first fantasy novel I have read in over thirty years as an editor..." good. I've been reading fantasy for nearly that long and it's by far the best debut novel I've ever seen.  If I had to sit down and make a list I'd probably put it in my top 5 fantasy novels.  The language is rich, the character is interesting, the world is well developed, the plot engaging…  It's the story of Kvothe (pronounced "quothe"), a wizard in hiding in a high fantasy world. He's telling the story of his life over three nights to an archivist who hunted him down - while the inn he's running is under threat from demon like monsters. The only bad thing I have to say is that book two is still in the works. 

Brandon Sanderson is now writing the last books of the Wheel of Time after Robert Jordon's death. He had written several books before being picked to finish off the Wheel of Time. His debut novel was Elantris.  Sanderson's strength is in world building. Both this and his Mistborn trilogy take an interesting concept and run with it. In the Mistborn trilogy the evil overlord won a thousand or so years ago. InElantris the gods have lost all their powers and can't die no matter how horribly they suffer.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch is probably the technically weakest of these three novels but it's really just great good fun and it stands alone well. Locke Lamora and his comrades are con artists and thieves, with some of the most entertaining and colorful language. Why use a dull and common obscenity to add color to the language of your roguish characters when you can come up with some of the phrases this author uses? It's a fun read, it reminds me of a light heist movie. Book two is also out and book three is in the works. Seven books are planned.

It's been too long since I've felt like locking my kids in a closet so I could finish a book. I do the next best legal thing, which is give myself an extended bathroom break. That door is so rarely locked that it brings momentary stunned silence to the yelling and swirling vortex of boy energy I seldom escape.

"Mama?"
"Mama!"
"Mommy! I can't find my spelling words and I hurt my knee!"
"What are you doing in there?"
"What's for dinner? I hate Brussels sprouts, so I hope it's not those Brussels sprouts on the counter!"
"Mama! Hold you and READ THIS BOOK!"
"Mama?"
"Mommy? Why aren't you answering me?"

The noise swirls from tentative to insistent and back to tentative as small fists tap an impatient rhythm on the door and smaller fingers poke beneath it like the legs of exploratory spiders. The spiders push Maisy Cleans Up, a book I have read 437 times in the last week, under the bathroom door. I know it's 437 times because I have been carving decorative marks into my own arm at each reading like a prison tattoo. I ignore the cheerful white mouse and her vacuum cleaner and her cupcakes and her crocodile friend Charley. (Why do they mop and vacuum the floor BEFORE eating cupcakes? And why doesn't Charley just eat Maisy and put me out of my misery?)

The New York Times has already told you to read this book that is inspiring me to neglect my children, so you probably don't need me telling you as well. But I'll tell you anyway because I can't stop myself and really it's no use trying.

Read The Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore. Yes, you may wait a long time for a library copy. But you will wait longer for another book that will knock your fictional character-driven socks off. I want to weep when I read a novel this compelling, this rich. It gives you that elusive combination of both story and story-telling when so often these days you get one or the other and maybe not so much of either most of the time.

It gives you a gift. So open it. And ignore the fat little finger worms wiggling under the door for a few minutes. It won't be hard.

Yes, I know it's the middle of February, but I just can't wait till December to tell you about the U. K.'s poet-laureate, Carol Ann Duffy's Christmas poem, Mrs. Scrooge.  Duffy and her illustrator Beth Adams serve us a mashup of Dickens' classic story with a contemporary twist: Mrs.S., in modern dress, is a practicing environmentalist of the 21st century. But she's still a bit of a Scrooge - with a green stripe.    

She hated waste, consumerism, Mrs. Scrooge, foraged in the London parks for chestnuts, mushrooms, blackberries, ate leftovers, recycled, mended, passed on, purchased secondhand, turned the heating down and put on layers, walked everywhere drank tap-water, used public libraries, possessed a wind-up radio, switched off lights, lit candles (darkness is cheap and Mrs. Scrooge liked it) and would not spend one penny on a plastic bag.

The story opens with Mr. S. (who was beloved) described as "doornail-dead" and Mrs. S. living all alone in a building scheduled for imminent demolition. She's begun to lose heart about her belief inthe possibility for great change. As night falls, she, as Ebenezer before her, visits the Christmases past, present and future and experiences a similar renewal of hope. Duffy's language is light and crisp, the narration reminiscent of Alan Bennett. Don't miss it, even if you decide to read it in summer. I had a great experience once reading A Christmas Carol in the middle of July! Oh, and by the way, in this story the word humbug refers to the lovely striped candy.

If I say 'women in the wild west' what do you picture? For me it's an image of a beautiful young woman tied to the railway tracks as the train looms, a villainous mustachioed man lurking somewhere in the background. And that's too bad because there are plenty of Wild West stories with female characters who determine their own destiny.

True Grit was a great read long before John Wayne rode into the film version as Rooster Cogburn.  As a young teenager I reveled in the story of Mattie, a 14 year old girl who enlists the mean as dirt U.S. Marshal to help her find her father's killer and avenge his death. For girls growing up in the late 60's and 70's, female characters with gumption were few and far between, with the exception of Pippi Long stocking. It was a relief to see that there was room in the world for characters like Mattie Ross.

Another story of the vengeful female protagonist is the strangely compelling Caprice by George Bowering. A school marm turned vigilante sets out to avenge her brother’s death at the hands of two-bit criminals. Caprice is a stunning red head, over 6 feet tall, and a fine hand with a bull whip. She saddles up and chases the perpetrators across the west, circa 1890’s. The book is both a satire of the traditional western and a celebration of it, complete with no good varmints, honorable gentlemen and two Native American characters who observe the goings-on and provide philosophical commentary.

If there's any theme here, it's that women can be just as vengeful as their male counterparts. Jane Fonda starred in the incredibly campy Cat Ballou in 1965, an era in which women rarely played the lead role in a western. Cat hires a gunman to protect her father's ranch, and then later to avenge her father's death. When the hired man fails miserably at his job, Cat takes matters into her own hands. In between scenes, a comical pair summarize the plot in song.

If you're looking for a less satirical picture of women in the west, take a look at Molly Gloss's The Hearts of Horses. Set in 1917, when many of the men in Eastern Oregon have gone to war and ranch hands are in demand, Martha sets out to find work breaking horses. But her method is not to ‘break’ them so much as gentle them. Martha begins as an outsider, drifting in and out of the lives of people as she works with their animals. Eventually she becomes connected to the people and must let go of her comfortable perch as an observer from the saddle.

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