I’ve wanted to write a little something about Roald Dahl for a long time.  Yes, everyone knows him for his children’s books: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, The Witches, and Esio Trot seem to always have a permanent place on the bookshelves of many young readers.  Yet there is more to Dahl than his beloved children’s books.  His short stories for adults are among the best around. They are highly original, deeply engaging and filled with unusual characters who stand out from the ordinary but seem strangely familiar.  

Roald Dah's Collected Stories book jacketThe titles of Dahl’s stories suggest something of the intrigue to come.  Someone Like You and Lamb to the Slaughter, which can be found in his Collected Stories, suggest stories filled with unexpected twists and dark humor and they never fail to deliver both. In Lamb to the Slaughter’s title story, a disgruntled wife kills her husband with a frozen leg of lamb and then feeds the roasted meat to the investigating policeman. In The Landlady, an unsuspecting traveler falls prey to a landlady who prefers stuffed guests. Dahl’s dark and often macabre stories are beautifully written and always contain at least one moment of absolute surprise that pulls the rug out from under the reader’s feet.

Dahl has been around for the long time, rising to eminence long before J.K. Rowling and writing before the days when series fiction was needed to draw young readers in.  Roald Dahl appeals to children because he takes them seriously and endeavors to treat them well.  Dahl created worlds where magic lived just along the edges of ordinary life and where a shove in any direction would turn that life upside down.

Dahl’s personal life was filled with its own share of the unexpected. His autobiographical books including Boy and Going Solo detail his early school daysGoing Solo book jacket through his wartime service as a fighter pilot. After being shot down, Dahl eventually landed a post working in Washington D.C. at the British Embassy where he hobnobbed with Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn and played poker with Harry Truman. He also met C.S. Forester who encouraged him to write. Dahl started with short stories and magazine articles and eventually branched into his well-known children’s books and often overlooked adult works.  Roald Dahl’s stories are the kind that can be read over and over.  Lucky readers will discover new and exciting details with each reading.

I fell in love in Africa once. On horseback. Surrounded by giraffes and impala. My boyfriend and I were backpacking around southern Africa, and that’s when I knew my heart was his.

Reader, I married the guy. We moved to Portland and acquired jobs, a mortgage, and two kids. It’s great, really, but I miss traveling. I miss that sense of not knowing what the day before me will bring, and I dream about going back to Africa.

Paula McLain, whose Paris Wife was a big success in 2011, has just published Circling the Sun, a new novel about Beryl Markham, the pilot, horse trainer, and author of West with the Night. West with the Night is an awfully good memoir that I’ve owned forever and finally read after finishing McLain’s book. Hemingway said of it that "this girl, who is to my knowledge very unpleasant and we might even say a high-grade bitch, can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers ... it really is a bloody wonderful book." (The story goes that Hemingway wanted to sleep with Markham and she refused him!) 

It must be said that both books skirt the very real issue of how British colonists treated the natives-- but I still couldn’t help being beguiled by their descriptions of Kenya in the early 20th century.  I long to join all the expats on Karen Von Blixen's veranda to sip gin and tonics and watch the hills in the distance turn a darker and darker shade of purple as the sun goes down. I want to go riding along Lake Elementaita in the early morning, scattering  thousands of flamingos who take to the sky as we draw closer, and I want to go on safari again and see lions stalking a kudu in the long grass.

Paula McLain is so good at putting my fantasies on the page. Someday I'll get to travel the world some more, but until then, Circling the Sun offered a great escape, one I think you might enjoy. 

I have always been fascinated by the number of artists who are 'twice -gifted'.  For example: musicians who started out in art school- John Lennon, David Bowie,or Joni Mitchell.  Or Ethan HawkeStephen Fry, and Whoopi Goldberg are actors who are also authors.

Author, Daniel Handler (AKA Lemony Snicket) sings in  a band, so does  Stephen King and Amy Tan.

Guess what?  There  is  a whole group of 'twice-gifted' mystery writers-they  are musicians and songwriters too!

Books with musical CDs

The Merry Band of Murderers is a collection of mystery stories written and edited  by mystery authors who also have musical talent.  Some of the stories even have a musical theme. But listen to this! The included CD  features the authors singing and  performing original music related to her/his story.

As a bonus at the end of each story,  the author answers questions such as  ‘What 3 people, living or dead, would you invite to dinner?’ or ‘Which would you rather do- read or listen to a favorite piece of music?’

My favorite story Shuffle Off This Mortal Coil  by Rupert Holmes, is about a man who puts his mammoth record collection on his iPod and finds that it begins to give him secret coded instructions using the shuffled titles of its songs. Sounds exactly like something that would happen to me!

To check out The Merry Band of Murderers and other books with CDs, see my list below.




Challenger Deep book coverThe National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that 1 in 25 Americans live with a serious mental health condition. Teens that are  facing these challenges--mental and physical--or caring for someone that is, know that they are very real and intense.

Teens want to understand, and to be understood.

The Hollywood Teen Council focused a month of reading on books that explored both mental health conditions and physical disabilities. One book that stood out was Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman, illustrated by his son Brendan Shusterman.

Sienna Lesher, Grant High School student and Hollywood Teen Book Council member, wrote this review:

“The bottom of the trench is only scratching the surface of the earth.”

Caden Bosch suffers from severe mental illness, causing him to live most of his life in a false reality, he sees himself on a boat sailing for the deepest point on earth: Challenger Deep in the Marianas Trench. His life on the boat is hard, but really, life outside was no better. Though hard to understand at first, this book is beautiful and surreal, and I would definitely recommend this to another teen.”

Everybody Sees the Ants book cover

In A.S. King’s, Everybody Sees the Ants, Lucky has been having dreams where he visits his grandfather in a POW camp in Vietnam. Soon he starts to have daily visions of a Greek-Chorus-like group of ants that start to weigh in on the events of his life where he is dealing with severe bullying and his parents potential break-up.  

Alisa Folen, Grant High School student and Hollywood Teen Book Council Chair, created this playlist inspired by “The Ants.”



Hiding Tonight by Alex Turner

Hero by Family of The Year

Take A Walk by Passion Pit

Cigarette Daydreams by Cage the Elephant

Getting to Know You by Spazzkid

Oblivion by Grimes

The Hunt by Youth Lagoon

Silhouettes by Colony House


The aliens slip into our universe through holes 1” by 2”.

Video game cartoon alienThe aliens have no legs.

The aliens have their mouths under their arms.

The aliens have half of their brains in their arms.

The aliens change colors at will.

The aliens can open locks without using tools..

Woman scuba diver and octopus

The aliens can tell what you’ve been eating, drinking, and what drugs you’ve been exposed to just by touch.

We call the aliens octopuses. They broke off from our evolutionary line back when we were barely protozoa. Yet they’ve developed an amazing brain and a complex body. And, according to author Sy Montgomery, they can connect with us in a deep way. Sy herself has spent many hours with an octopus holding her arms with its many suckers,  even ending up with an “octopus hickey.”

If this fascinates you, join Montgomery in her new book, The Soul of an Octopus, as she dives heart and soul into the world of octopuses. For some great photography, or to share with children, follow it up with her newer children’s book, The Octopus Scientists.

No alien lover or animal lover should miss these latest works by this prolific author. In fact, while you're waiting for the octopus books, try some more of Sy Montgomery's titles for both adults and chidren.

What is gentrification?

Gentrification is the process by which neighborhoods undergo a rapid increase in value as properties are purchased and improved upon by wealthier people than those currently living in the community. This most often occurs in poor and working-class urban neighborhoods resulting in the displacement of those residents. In recent years the signs of gentrification in Portland are easily identifiable and abundant. Properties are purchased and improved upon or torn down and rebuilt, rents go up dramatically, wealthier people move into the neighborhood, and area businesses become more upscale. All this means that less wealthy, long-time residents can no longer afford to stay.  In fact, a 2015 study by Governing Magazine found that Portland, Oregon has experienced this gentrification process more severely than any other U.S. city since 2000. This has had a profound impact on many Portland neighborhoods as housing costs continue to rise.  More and more people are unable to remain in long lived in neighborhoods and some are unable to find affordable housing within the city limits at all.

What causes gentrification?

Gentrification can happen in any neighborhood where property values suddenly rise as newer, wealthier residents move in, invest in improvements and/or new construction then displace those who have previously lived there. Often, gentrification is a legacy of past policies that restricted people of color to certain neighborhoods and denied them access to financing. This process occurred through redlining. This excerpt from the documentary Race: The Power of an Illusion illustrates how redlining worked:



In Portland, African Americans were largely restricted to North and Northeast Portland, so it is no surprise that those are two parts of the city undergoing the most rapid gentrification. The Oregonian’s “Roots of Gentrification” series provides an excellent overview of the changes in the city that have greatly contributed to the gentrification of North and Northeast Portland.  Also, the city’s State of Housing in Portland report provides a good overview of the scope of the problem.


What has been the result?

While gentrification has affected areas across the city, among the most impacted has been North and Northeast Portland, the long-time center of the city’s African American population. The impact on that community has been profound. Largely priced out of their homes, the city’s black residents are increasingly moving into east Multnomah County where housing is less expensive. This has meant there is far less diversity in traditionally black neighborhoods. Gentrification also contributes to the rapid increase in rent. A recent study showed Portland's rents rose at  the nation's sixth-fastest rate over the last five years.


What is the solution?

That all depends on who you ask, but because gentrification is not the result of a single, simple cause, there is likely no single, simple solution. It is an issue intimately tied to other challenging social problems surrounding race, class, and economic opportunity. The City of Portland has prepared a study of gentrification risk that identifies different strategies to address the issue. Recently, the Portland Housing Advisory Commission recommended a significant increase in the amount of public money spent on affordable housing. In August 2015, city leaders announced new projects in Northeast Portland to provide jobs and subsidized housing. A coalition of community groups has recommended a comprehensive 11-point plan to combat gentrification but still recognize that there is “no silver bullet” that will solve the problem. To address the issue of high rent, the Portland Renters Assembly organizes meetings across the city and would like to take direct action against the rising cost of rent. Clearly, a variety of tactics are needed to ease the most damaging effects of gentrification. It is impossible to know now what will ultimately be the result.

Our guest blogger is Memo. Memo works at the Central Library. Besides reading history and literature about Latinos, workers, and immigrants, he enjoys re-reading the great literary works of nineteenth and twentieth-century realist writers.

The Collected Works of Langston Hughes book jacketI had never read the literary works of Langston Hughes before coming across The Collected Works of Langston Hughes at the North Portland Library.  I knew of him as a great poet and poetry was not my favorite genre.  Nonetheless, I leafed through the seventeen volume set on the shelf and I immediately was hooked on the works of one of the literary lions of the Harlem Renaissance.

Not sure where to begin, I skimmed through the volumes on poetry.  I read quickly a few poems, tried to digest others, but it was his prose that truly beckoned me.  I paused skimming midway through his oeuvre and read the first two short tales in depth.  I knew then, as I do now, that I had found a literary gold mine because weeks later, I’m still digging through the Simple stories in volumes 7 and 8.

Originally published in the Chicago Defender from 1943 to 1965, the Simple stories read more like weekly columns on race relations in the U.S. The tales are narrated in a conversational form to engage readers on multiple levels.  On one level, the stories are comical and reader-friendly, designed to show the human soul of Jesse B. Semple, or Simple as he is known, and draw the reader in.  Readers get to see and feel Simple’s failures and successes as well as his frustrations and dreams.  On another level, the stories portray the complex world that evolved in the Jim Crow era in a non-antagonizing way.  Simple’s conversations with his bar buddy not only lured readers into the national dialogue over race, but they also engaged readers in a constructive conversation over racism—the ideological foundation that defined the racial boundaries of Simple’s life and, by extension, African Americans.

Though it has been sixty-five years since Langston Hughes published the first Simple stories in book form, the ideas in these tales still resonate.  Racial progress has been made, but we still have a long way to go.  Both fictional characters would probably nod their heads.  Yes, over a cold beer.  Still, such ideas, now more than ever, need to be part of a national discourse.


The Water Knife book jacketI’ve been thinking a lot about climate change lately. It isn’t surprising, I suppose. After all, it was a very dry winter and spring here followed by one of the hottest summers in Portland history. What sparked these thoughts, however, wasn’t the weather but a book, The Water Knife, by Paolo Bacigalupi. The novel is set in a near future Phoenix where prolonged drought has left the American Southwest a place where states compete for what little water remains and refugees from climate disasters in Texas eke out a bare existence. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great book and I highly recommend it, but you need to start it knowing a few facts: the story is dark; and it’s brutally violent; and it’s all too plausible.

It isn’t like I’m a newcomer to apocalyptic stories. As one of my earlier reading lists will attest, I grew up in the 1980s convinced the world would end in a nuclear holocaust. I’ve reveled in apocalypses from a variety of causes, comet impacts, plagues, alien invasions, you name it, but this one has bothered me more than others. It isn’t even like this is the first Paolo Bacigalupi novel I read in which climate change is a major point. So why has this one stayed with me? I think I’ve figured it out, at least in part. First, not only did I grow up in Arizona and Texas but I still have friends and family in both places. Thus what Bacigalupi describes has a certain familiarity. Also, while it has been around for a long time, there have been an increasing number of books in this cli-fi (climate fiction) genre. Most disturbing, though, is the fact that the book seems more and more prescient. Many scientists are saying that the worst-case scenarios of climate change are not only increasingly likely but will occur much faster than expected. In other words, The Water Knife has shown me the future and it scares me.

While some people think the new cli-fi could be beneficial and lead to positive change, I’m going to have to take a break from this sub-genre and other dystopias for a while. It has been like a cloud hanging over me for weeks now and I’m in need of some sunshine. Maybe you can suggest a book that will brighten my day? I could really use something with a hopeful ending.

For more cli-fi, check out this list.

Multnomah County Library's Lucky Day service includes books for kids, teens and adults.  Lucky Day copies are available for spontaneous use and are not subject to hold queues.  Nobody can place holds on these items; it's first come, first served.  That means you might not have to wait at all for the most popular new titles!  You never know what you might find at your neighborhood library - it just might be your Lucky Day!

Seveneves book jacketWhen they announce they end of the world, they’ll do it at Crater Lake. Or at least that’s how Seattle author Neal Stephenson envisions it in his hefty new hard SF tome, Seveneves.  So how is the world ending this time? When the Moon explodes due to some unknown force, it’s shocking at first, but quickly becomes an astronomical edutainment show. The pieces are even given cutesy names such as Potatohead and Mr. Spinny. But then two fragments collide and become three, and three become four. Astronomers start running simulations and discover that life on earth is going to come to an end in about two years’ time. The continued fragmentation will create a massive debris cloud called the White Sky and a catastrophic meteor storm dubbed the Hard Rain (perhaps after this appropriately dire and prophetic Bob Dylan song?).  After this, Earth will be a flaming ember for at least 5,000 years. S’mores, anyone?

Our heroes are the astronauts of the International Space Station, who must transform it into a self-sustaining habitat capable of supporting as many people as can be launched off the ground during the two years before the Hard Rain. These launches are hasty and kludgey… (although I kind of enjoyed it when a Walla Walla vineyard got taken out by an errant rocket). Yes, there’s a lot of engineering and orbital mechanics involved, but this is a tense, sad, and harrowing read, and I couldn’t put it down. Later some humor surfaces, and the story is not without a glint of far-future hope, but the beginning is just wrenching. If you like (or at least don’t mind) your nail-biting human drama salted with delta vees, mass ratios, and Tsiolkovskii equations, this is the book for you.


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