Blogs: Adults

Portland author Nicole Mones’ novels are so interesting. You get well-developed characters, a bit of romance, and good writing, but you also get to share in her wealth of knowledge including, but not limited to, all things Chinese. Ms. Mones owned a textile business for many years that required her to spend a lot of time in China. Between that and the research she's done for her books, she is such an expert on China that she’s now a member of  the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. Her novel, A Cup of Light is full of information about Chinese porcelain, and The Last Chinese Chef offers an introduction to the fascinating philosophy that guides Chinese cuisine.

Her new book, Night in Shanghai, introduced me to an astonishingly interesting and vivid city. Shanghai in the 1930s was an open port, with a thriving International District. It was full of money, jazz clubs, dangerous women and political intrigue. Communists jockeyed for position against Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalist party, powerful crime gangs fought each other, and the Japanese army had long been an increasingly menacing presence in the city. Black American jazz musicians came in multitudes because in China, they could escape from the racism and segregation they left behind in the United States and could earn a fair living. Shanghai also came to be a haven for Jews fleeing Nazi Germany, mostly because of one man, Ho Feng-Shan, a Chinese diplomat in Vienna. Jews were desperate to flee Austria, but no one was issuing visas for Jews anymore, and they were not allowed to leave without a visa. Shanghai, as an open port, did not require visas, but in order to help thousands of Jews escape, Ho set his staff to creating fake ones, as fast as they could, in spite of the fact that his superiors were ordering him to stop. His heroic actions didn’t do much for his career, but he is still honored in Israel for them.

In this exciting city, a  romance blossoms between Thomas Greene, a classically trained pianist turned jazz musician, and Song, an indentured servant and secret communist.  It’s ever more obvious that World War II is coming, and as Japan allies with Germany against the United States, we wonder if Greene will get out in time, and will Song go with him, or if she’ll stay in China to fight with the communists. And what will happen to all those Jews who have found refuge in Shanghai now that Germany is demanding that the "Jewish Problem" is addressed there?

Mones writes beautifully in this book about music, how it feels to improvise, and how music can change the world. More Portlanders should know about this local author. Give her books a try!

Remember Mary Stewart?  She may be best known for her Merlin Trilogy, which I devoured in school.  Recently however, her other novels have been re-released as rediscovered classics. These rediscovered classics involve a female heroine, an exotic locale, a little bit of mystery, and a gentle romance. They are just the thing for reading whilst on holiday, commuting on mass transit, are something fun and light for those summer days, and cozy enough for a winter evening.  In short, they are just about perfect anytime, anywhere. cover image of Wildfire at Midnight

Several of these novels are now available with new cover designs, but my current favorite is Wildfire at Midnight. A young divorcée from London escapes to a remote hotel in Scotland for a much needed break and discovers that not only has there been a strange murder on the nearby mountain Blaven, but one of the hotel’s guests is none other than her estranged husband. Some holiday!

Samuel Delaney’s 1966 novel Babel-17 centers on a language where the meaning is so perfectly expressed in so few words that it accelerates thought. This perfection makes it possible to solve previously insurmountable problems in a nanosecond. It is not just a language — it is a weapon.

Babel 17

In Jo Walton’s tor.com blog post about Babel-17 she relates that the plot grew out of a linguistic theory that was in vogue at the time. Called the strong Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, it posited that language shapes perception so deeply that thinking in a different language gives you a different perception. This has apparently been disproven.

Disproven or not, I find this theory deeply intriguing. If you have lived in another language, you know that translating is, well, a little lie. When you live in a language you live in a culture, and quickly need to transition from converting words using an equation to understanding the words as they are.

So, how do the words we use shape what we are capable of imagining? How deeply are we divided by culture and language? And, if the only tool we have to communicate are words, can we ever understand someone from another planet?

I’ve made a booklist of novels where the plots are driven by some of these questions, or by wonderfully playful insights into words and the nature of narrative: The words are the plot

And, incidentally, Jo Walton's blog posts on classic science fiction and fantasy, like the one linked above, have been collected into a new book called What Makes This Book So Great. She is insightful, informative, and has a contagious love of the genres. If you are looking for fodder for your summer reading, look no further.

Adventure Time, a cartoon series created by Pendleton Ward on Cartoon Network, could easily be a favorite for all members of your family. Your kids might like how creative and goofy it is and you might appreciate some of the positive messages and varied references. Watch Finn, a human boy, and his shape-shifting brother/dog, Jake, save or be saved by friends in the land of Oo and other dimensions.

One of my favorite episodes,“Box Prince,” is about how Finn and Jake project their views of an ordered society onto a group of cats that appear to be living in the Box Kingdom. Who is the true Box Prince? If you look closely you might catch references to My Neighbor Totoro and the internet cat celebrity Maru. That season hasn't been released yet on DVD, but seasons one, two, and three, are ready to go.

I love the range of immature (fart) jokes to adult-ish jokes (Jake calls sweat pants "'give up on life' pants.") I can appreciate that it's a kid’s show with strong female characters and endless amounts of cute and colorful animation. Watching an episode of Adventure Time can be some of the best 11 minutes of my life.

If you’re just starting the first season, why not also read the first volume of the comic at the same time? The comic is cleverly written by Ryan North, author of Dinosaur Comics, whose humor remains true to AT style.

The DVD Adventure Time: It Came from the Nightosphere is a must watch for people who want to hear some indie pop. Sure, Finn can auto-tune like the best of them, but don’t miss out on one of Marceline the Vampire Queen’s best hits, “The Fry Song.”

If you could use a shake up, check out the graphic novel, Adventure Time with Fionna & Cake, a comic based off the episode “Fionna & Cake.” In this alternate version, all the main characters change genders and the characters are so good you wish it was a regular thing.

Whether want to share something with your kid/teen or you want to nurture your inner child, Adventure Time is worth checking out.

I love the Columbia River. I spend much of my free time on or near it and enjoy its beauty and grandeur. When I travel, I am reminded that most other rivers are not in its league.  The Columbia River defines this region. Without the Columbia River, Portland would not be an important port. There would be no Columbia Gorge and also no Bonneville Power Administration. These four books help to capture what the Columbia River was and now is.

Sources of the River book jacketI always like to start with history. Sources of the RIver: Tracking David Thompson Across Western North America by Jack Nisbet tells the story of David Thompson. He explored western North America from 1784 to 1812 and was the first person to chart the entire route of the Columbia River. Two hundred years ago he was one of a handful of white Europeans and Americans to explore the area which was home to many Native American tribes. He was looking for better fur trading routes and ended up helping to expand trade and settlement in the Northwest.

The Columbia River was a wild and free flowing river until the Bonneville and Grand Coulee dams were built in the 1930s. They were A River Lost book jacketthe first of fourteen dams that changed the river into the relatively tame river it is today. A River Lost: The Life and  Death of the Columbia by Blaine Harden looks at the modern river. He tries to explain what has happened to the river and how it is perceived by those who live near it and depend on it for their livelihoods.

Voyage of a Summer Sun book jacketThe book that opened my eyes to how dams change a river is Robin Cody’s Voyage of a Summer Sun: Canoeing the Columbia River. It is a journal of his trip down the entire river, from the headwaters to the ocean by canoe. His voyage is down a modern managed river whose ecology has been greatly damaged. It is a river that David Thompson would hardly recognise.

Wanting to end on a happier note, my last book is by Sam McKinney, an Oregon native and a  respected maritime historian. He has written several books about the Columbia River. Reach of Tide, Ring of History: A Columbia River Voyage is about his journey up the lower Columbia River from the mouth to Portland. He tells about the towns and places along the way and the people who lived and worked on the river. Most of the towns have faded into obscurity, but the lower Columbia being is still free flowing and is most like the river it used to be.

These books will give you much to ponder while you hike, sightsee and go boating on the Columbia River this summer. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

A frequent question we receive via our “Ask the Librarian” service is “How do I return my OverDrive e-books early?” Here are some helpful tips!

 

If you read OverDrive e-books in your browser, here is how to return them early:

1.       Sign in to OverDrive.

2.       Tap on the Person icon to access your Bookshelf.

3.       Tap on Return Title.

 

See below for the instructions on to return Overdrive e-books from the most popular devices:

 

Android, Nook

Returning an EPUB E-book  or OverDrive MP3 Audiobook Early:

1.       Open the OverDrive App.

2.      From your in-app bookshelf, tap and hold a title to display the return options. (If you are using an older version of the app, tap the + next to a book, then tap Return/Delete to show return options.)

3.     You can Return a book to the library, which also deletes it from your device, or you can Delete a book from your device, but  you will still have it checked out to your library account.Tap on Return and then Delete

 

 

Iphone, Ipod Touch, Ipad

Returning an EPUB E-book  or OverDrive MP3 Audiobook Early:

1.      Open the OverDrive App.

2.      On  your bookshelf, tap and hold your finger down on the book cover until an option bar pops up.

3.      You can Return a book to the library, which also deletes it from your device, or you can Delete a book from your device, but  you will still have it checked out to your library account.

 

Kindle devices, Kindle app

1.      Visit Manage Your Kindle on your Amazon account page.

2.      Next to the book that you want to return, click Actions, and then select Return This Book.

 

If you read OverDrive e-books on your computer with Adobe Digital Editions, or use ADE to load them to your Kobo, Nook Simple Touch or Sony e-reader:

1.      On your computer, open Adobe Digital Editions (ADE).

2.      Click on the Library View icon to display your library.

3.      Under Bookshelves, choose the title you would like to return

4.      Click on the title icon, and an Item Options arrow will appear in the upper left-hand corner of the book.

5.      Click on the Item Options arrow and choose Return Borrowed Item.

6.      Click Return to verify that you want to return the e-book.

Officially I live in a land called the United States of America.  But much of my time is spent in the somewhat gritty, dangerous land of the BBC mystery. It is a cold place and people speak in a number of interesting and different accents. Their words are the same as mine but they mean different things. They say things like ‘have any joy?’ and ‘are you takin’ the piss out of me?’

The detectives keep their emotions to themselves, have horrible homelives or none at all. They drink too much and throw things around when they get frustrated. They repeatedly flaunt the rules, their supervisor and common sense. But they find evil wherever it is hiding and root it out. The bad guy may seem to gain speed, and bodies may turn up in unexpected places, but in the end Vera Stanope, Jane Tennison, Inspectors Morse and Lewis, Cordelia Gray and Jackson Brodie will win

They will win with grace and style, and just when I think I will go crazy if I don’t see another episode of Vera, or Prime Suspect, Inspector Morse, Cordelia Gray or Case Histories, I come back to myself here in the United States where I rush to the library website to check out books featuring these and other favorite detectives.  Maybe it will hold me over untill the next season comes out.

Check out my complete list of gritty and dangerous BBC mysteries.

Self portrait paintingBefore I became a parent, I was a painter. When my son was born, I imagined a mini easel propped up next to mine, where we would paint together. If anybody has actually made this work for longer than three minutes, I’d love to hear about it. I will also suspect you are lying through your teeth.Book Jacket: One Painting a Day by Timothy Callaghan

Now that my son is more self-sufficient, I think I’ve simply stalled out and I need an assignment to help jump start my art.  I already went back to art school in my thirties, so this time I'm taking a different and less costly approach.  My first course is One Painting a Day by Timothy Callaghan. The 42 exercises in this book center around painting ordinary things, but the examples from contributing artists are far from mundane. There is no muse more accessible than your every day surroundings and I am already looking ahead to day 11: Paint a storage still life.

Next quarter, I'm considering How to be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith.  I bought this book for my (then) 12-year-old niece with the intention of hanging on to it until she was a little older. In theBook Jacket: How to Be An Explorer of the World by Keri Smith end, I gave it to her anyway because I’m disorganized and found myself otherwise empty-handed on her birthday. It turned out not to matter that Exploration #26: Becoming Leonard Cohen, didn’t strike a familiar chord. Her interpretations of Exploration #9: Case of Curiosities and #34 Interesting Garbage, completely blew me away.

I hope to graduate this time, with a renewed and regular art habit. Feel free to join me. Admission is open year-round and you only need to dust off your art supplies and pull out your library card to get started with your first assigment!

 Why do I recommend Astro City to people who don't read superhero comics? Two reasons.  Reason 1: It isn't a superhero comic. It's a comic about a city (that happens to have superheroes in it).  Reason 2: I have to tell you a story.
 
There were these two guys who loved superhero comics. But they didn't like what they saw them turning into... dark, ironic, gritty and grim slashfests loaded with gun-toting anti-hero vigilantes. So they decided to do something about it. They designed their own worlds, complete with histories and futures. They created adventures featuring fallible, interesting human beings, some of whom happened to have impossible abilities. They examined big questions such as 'what does it mean to be human?' and 'what does it mean to be a hero?'. One of those guys (me) played to an audience of five, doing this all via a superhero role-playing game called Champions.  The other, Harvey and Eisner Award-winner Kurt Busiek, was kind enough to share his far more engaging world with us all. Thank goodness!
 
Astro City book jacketAstro City is the series and the setting. There is no one star, no central person or group we follow, but if you consider the city to be the main character, then what we have is a collection of vignettes that illustrate its 'life'. It changes, it grows, it has good features and shady ones, and joy is in the discovery. One of my favorite bits is a story about a family moving to the city and their eventful trip with a cheerful cabbie who wouldn't live anywhere else. Superheroic battles rage in the background, but the real story happens in the cab. Will they be scared away by the cosmic forces battling in the skies? 
 
Another tale features a city teen sent to stay with her country cousins, rolling her eyes at the small-town hero helping the locals. She sees REAL heroes back home, OMG! But is there more to the story? Why does this 'Roustabout' seem so interested in her family? 
 
There are certainly stories that focus on the heroes, but even those are far more than biff-pow action spectaculars. One shows a day in the life of Samaritan, whose free time consists of stolen moments between emergencies. What he dreams of is flying free, just for the joy of it.
 
The graphic novel collection Life in the Big City is a great place to start, although most collections are self-contained story arcs. For those who love this as much as I do, there are lots more, and Kurt is now releasing new Astro City stories again. (Yess!)
 
If you'd like to see this 'human's eye view' applied to superheroes you may already know, check out Busiek's Marvels: Eye of the Camera, where he follows Eye of the Camera book jacketthe history of the Marvel Universe through the eye of news photographer Phil Sheldon, who saw it all from Day One. Or have a look at his take on the first superhero (DC's 'Superman') as he confronts the effects on humanity of his Always Having Been There to Save the Day.
 
Kurt unfailingly finds the human element in superhuman worlds. Astro City would make a great setting for a Champions campaign... (grin)....

Just because a mystery is cozy doesn’t mean it isn’t spicy or hot.

BBC mystery series Rosemary and Thyme is a cozy village mystery series that is both spicy AND hot. It stars Felicity Kendal as Rosemary Boxer and Pam Ferris as LauraThyme: women who are too smart and too curious and too feisty to take what any man (or woman) tells them at face value. Rosemary is a college professor specializing in botany and landscaping who got  the boot in favor a male colleague. She describes herself as ‘more bookworm than earthworm’  As for Laura Thyme, her husband left her for a much younger, more shapely woman. “To hell with men” she tells Rosemary, then as an afterthought “although some are lovely…”

Rosemary’s free-lance landscaping jobs give her the opportunity to peer around bushes and trees to listen in on secret conversations. Laura Thyme balances her out with logic and straight forward practicality. Though they are shot at, lied to and run off the road they keep each other’s spirits up with laughter and of course solve the mystery in the end.

Rosemary and Thyme made me think about other crime solving women- on TV and in books too. I was pleasantly surprised by the number and variety of choices there are. To take a look at what I found check out my list.

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