February Staff Picks

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Craeft: An Inquiry Into the Origins and True Meaning of Traditional Crafts by Alexander Langlands
Langlands is an archaeologist and medieval historian, and Craeft presents a history of both making and being through traditional crafts like haymaking, thatching, tanning, and others.  Craeft is itself an Old English word that means something more than just making–it’s a worldview and a knowledge, a connection to a place and to materials.  Through Langland’s examination you realize how different a world it was when we were by necessity connected to our environments and natural human inclination toward making.  It’s a really delightful book!
–Marie

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver
I don’t know why it has taken me so long to get around to this book since I adore Barbara Kingsolver. I don’t usually read memoirs, but as I’m thinking about spring and planning my garden, this started to call to me. I loved it! More than a memoir, the book delves into the family’s year-long commitment to eat totally local, including much they grow themselves. I’m hoping to accomplish a similar goal this year, though on a much smaller scale. Kingsolver presents the facts of conventional farming and meat production in a way that really hit home for me. It wasn’t exactly new information, especially these days, but it made me never want to eat anything but grass-fed meat again. Not only for ethical reasons but because grass-fed, happy, healthy animals are drastically more nutritious. I felt like the last few chapters were a little extra like the book could have ended with the successful fall harvest and left it at that. Didn’t really need to know so much about turkeys. But, Kingsolver is a lovely writer and funny. The asides from her husband and daughter were nice additions.
–Cayla

The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley (Flavia de Luce #9)
I’m not sure what to make of this one, it has a very inconclusive ending. Without giving too much away, it was unusual. If you are new to the series, best start at the beginning with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. It was nice to see Flavia growing up a little and learning to ask for and accept help from others. It is also nice to see her relationships with her sisters improving as they grow up. It definitely has the much-loved Flavia wit and cleverness, her turn of phrase and resourcefulness never disappoint. The secondary characters are fantastic as always. This series is great in that it has a familiar formula without feeling formulaic and boring. I like the set-up for the next book, it was just what I hoped would happen, so I’ll look forward to that.
–Cayla

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
It’s a classic I’d had–unread–on my shelf at home, but I wanted to get to it before the movie comes out. It’s a quick and easy read, and I can see the appeal for young-adult readers. Although it’s classified as science fiction–and there is a bit of serious science in it–the focus is really on the power of love and faith.
–Diane

Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan
I really liked this.  Following the death of her best friend, Corrigan tried to find a better way to grapple with those difficult conversations that personal crises demand.  Anchored by a dozen phrases–including “tell me more”–Corrigan gently, and with abundant self-deprecating humor, illustrates how we can better listen to each other.
–Diane

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Marie’s Reading Thrillers: “Tips for Living” and “The Lying Game”

I always want to read thrillers and suspense in late winter.  It’s a great time of year to hunker down with books, and something about the cold and dark lends itself to darker stories.  I’ve been reading a lot of Minette Walters, as well as re-visiting Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad books.

Here are two thrillers that got me through some dark and snowy afternoons recently!

In Tips for Living, Nora has finally gotten her life back on track after her husband’s affair and their subsequent divorce.  But then her ex-husband and his new wife move into Nora’s adopted small town.  Shortly thereafter, the two are found murdered in their home.  Even worse, Nora is a sleepwalker suffering a relapse, and cannot remember her whereabouts on the night of the murders.  Nora has to clear her name while all the while wondering if, in fact, she did commit the crime.

As a bonus, I think anyone who lives in a small community with a large summer population will totally understand a lot of the snarkiness displayed in the newspaper article subplot of the book (the “Tips for Living” of the title).  There’s great small-town atmosphere, that sense of community that’s sometimes claustrophobic and insular.

Ruth Ware’s The Lying Game is less of a who-dun-it mystery than Tips for Living, and more of a thriller with many layers of deception.  It’s about four friends who have been hiding a secret for years, only to have it come back to bite them.  The scene-setting is great and the characters are interesting–Ware has a talent for atmosphere and dialogue.  If you like Paula Hawkins and S.J. Watson, you might like Ware’s books.

Though I enjoy whiling away winter afternoons with thrillers, I’m definitely looking forward to springtime and being able to read them with more sunshine and an open window!

–Marie

Marie’s Reading: “The Cellar” by Minette Walters

CellarThough the blog doesn’t reflect it, I’ve been on a Minette Walters kick lately.  I like her unlikeable characters, and I like her feel for misdirection.  The Cellar is different than her other books, and it’s a dark, sad, creepy story.

A family of African immigrants brought along their slave, Muna, to England.  She has been with them since she was eight years old, when they stole her from an orphanage.  Muna is forced to live in the cellar, to cook and to clean, and to endure all manner of abuse from the Songali family.  And all this time, she’s been plotting her revenge.

There’s a slow, creepy build to this story.  At the start, one of the sons of the family has gone missing, which brings police to the door.  To cover Muna’s true place in the household, she’s finally given real clothes and a bedroom.  As the tale continues, you discover how much Muna knows and understands–from the fact she can speak English to the lengths she’ll go to to exact some vengeance on this family.

There’s no one to like in this novel, but you can certainly understand how tragic and twisted poor Muna is.  Even in the more grotesque moments, it’s hard to feel much but a sick pity for her.  This is one of those horror stories that unwinds the disturbing truths slowly, and stays with you for a while after reading it.

If you enjoy claustrophobic horror stories and tales of revenge, give this a look.  But if the winter darkness already has you in a funk, maybe put this one off until summertime!

–Marie

Marie’s Reading: “The Perfect Nanny” by Leila Slimani

perfect nannyThis French thriller is a slim, quick read, but it packs an emotional punch.  The story is about a nanny named Louise, hired by a French couple to care for their two children.  Over time, and via flashback, it becomes clear that Louise is not as wonderful a find as her employers supposed.

This novel is quite understated and character-focused.  Readers who are tired of rote police procedurals and lots of heinous crime will likely find the style and tone refreshing.  The reader is also aware from the first page of both the crime and who did it, and the narrative does not focus on an investigation nor the gory details.  Instead, we get a glimpse into this family and into Louise’s life, and can intuit the reasons behind the tragedy that opens the book.  The story is compelling and unsettling, with lots of dark corners.

The Perfect Nanny has less to do with a crime and investigation than it does with motherhood and with caregiving, and how oppressive those roles can be even as they bring a lot of joy.  Slimani also examines the tensions of class.  Readers who enjoy intensely focused, character-centered novels should give this one a look!  I’d also suggest it to readers who enjoy old-school domestic thrillers.

–Marie

January Simply Books! List

Here are the books we shared at our latest Simply Books! book club meeting at the library!

“Four Swans” by Winston Graham–a novel in the “Poldark” series, set
in Cornwall in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This particular
story deals with the “four swans”–four women in Ross Poldark’s life.
It’s a bit of an old-fashioned soap opera, but so much wonderful
scene-setting and lots of context of the times. Very enjoyable.

“The Association of Small Bombs” by Karan Mahajan–set in India, this
novel follows both the victims and perpetrators of a terrorist
bombing. The characters are three-dimensional, you really get into
their heads, especially the terrorist who eventually feels empathy for
his victims. The language is wonderful, really creative descriptions.

“Manhattan Beach” by Jennifer Egan–this novel follows a young woman
at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War II, with an ambition to be
a diver. It’s her life story, with all its trials and tribulations,
including an absent father and a gangster boyfriend. It’s very
informative fiction, you really get a sense of getting into these
characters’ lives.

“Ruthless River” by Holly Fitzgerald–a true story of survival in the
Amazon. It’s inspiring to know that people survived an ordeal like
this. It’s a story of a couple who becomes lost on a rafting trip in
the Amazon, and nearly die. It’s incredibly emotionally intense–way
too intense in places!

“Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English” by Natasha Solomons–this novel is
set in England during the decades around World War II, and follows a
German Jew who escaped Germany just ahead of the war. He’s determined
to follow all the rules to becoming a proper Englishman, but has a lot
of trouble being accepted into English society. The writing is very
evocative, and the book is fascinating–it takes a little while to
narrow down what it’s all about, but it’s worth it in the end.

“Zami: A New Spelling of My Name” by Audre Lorde–Lorde called this
book a “biomythology”–a nod to the fact that while she’s telling her
life story, she takes a few liberties. She writes like a poet about
her childhood in Harlem and about her coming of age and activism.

“The Jersey Brothers” by Sally Matt Freeman–Freeman is the daughter
of one of the brothers of the title. She set out to find out more
about her father’s youngest brother, a man nobody in her family really
talked about. He was a Japanese POW in the Philippines during World
War II, and his brothers (also in the military in different roles)
tried to figure out what happened to him.

“Personal History” by Katherine Graham–a memoir by the publisher of
the Washington Post, all about her upbringing around the paper and her
eventual ownership of it. She was the leader during the paper’s most
famous period, the release of the Pentagon Papers (and the most
exciting part of the book). An incredible read that won the Pulitzer.

“Bury Your Dead” by Louise Penny–one of the Inspector Gamache books,
this is a favorite so far. Interesting construction, with three
storylines at once. In one Gamache is dealing with the aftermath of
having to make a decision that he’s haunted by, as well as a case he
thought was closed. Another storyline is about an historian obsessed
with Champlain, and trying to find his remains.

“Jungle of Stone” by William Carlsen–this nonfiction book is about an
expedition to South America in the 1830’s, taken by John Stephens and
Frederick Catherwood. They were trying (and succeeded!) in finding
long-lost Mayan ruins in the jungle. Stephens wrote a book about the
experience accompanied by beautiful illustrations by Catherwood. The
book talks about their trip, their friendship, and a bit about the
Mayan culture they helped to uncover.

If you’d like to join us at a Simply Books! meeting, we hold them the fourth Saturday of every month at 2pm at the library.  If you’d like to be on our email list (for meeting reminders and meeting summaries), please send me a message at mstickney@librarycamden.org.

–Marie

 

 

 

 

January Staff Picks

Wear-1

A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney.
This book is quite unique as it is really one of the first to really examine the friendships female writers had, in their historical contexts. These authors point out that unlike the studies of the male literary friendships in history (ie Hemingway and Fitzgerald, Byron and Shelley) these friendships were multifaceted in that they served as a support for each of these women but in most cases there was rivalry and competition as well due to their time periods and the lack of support society had for female authors. A fabulous read for anyone who loves these authors or is fascinated with women’s studies.
–Stephanie

Ravens in Winter by Bernd Heinrich.
Bernd Heinrich was a former Professor of Zoology at the University of Vermont, who now lives in the western mountains of Maine. Maine winters can be long, but this book will take you on an outside adventure without leaving the warmth of your house.

“On a cold Maine day in 1984, Bernd Heinrich saw a flock of ravens sharing their food and apparently summoning other ravens to join in…Bernd’s adventures in the teeth of the Maine winters over the next four years, make an exciting detective story complete with false leads, apparently contradictory clues, and finally hard evidence.”
–Sarah
Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America by Michael Ruhlman.
Who knew grocery stores could be so fascinating?  Ruhlman blends a history of American grocery stores with a look at our current health issues and the way we interact with our food.  His style is funny and personable, and he’s very passionate about consumer education and about food.  Valuable insight into how food is marketed and sold in our country.
–Marie
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
This is a story about a young girl raised by a witch, a swamp monster, and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon who must unlock the powerful magic buried deep inside her. It was an easy read with some great insights into magic even for old timers :).
–Sandra
Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark T. Sullivan
Although the book is fiction, it is based on the true story of Pino Lella, a 17 year old in Milan during WW II. After the bombings begin in Milan, his parents send him to a camp he used to attend as a child, where the priest in charge of the school sends him off to hike a different route everyday. This is practice for when he finally helps guide Jews who are fleeing Italy over the Alps into Switzerland. When he turns 18, his parents fear that he will be sent to the Russian Front so they force him to join the German army. By some stroke of luck he becomes the chauffeur for General Leyers. In this role he brings his observations back to the resistance which is then relayed to the allies.
–Mary
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, narrated by Stephen Fry
As I’ve said before, I generally don’t “do” audiobooks; I usually just can’t stay engaged.  But I am absolutely hooked on The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes read by Stephen Fry.  Fry’s reading is so lively yet subtle that I find myself picking up my headphones every chance I get.  (Even just the way he has Sherlock Holmes say, “ah,” is part of the characterization.)  And if that audiobook merely whets your appetite for Stephen Fry, you’ll find his reading of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy laugh-out-loud great!
–Diane

Marie’s Reading: “The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer” by Sydney Padua

lovelace and babbageI loved The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage.  It’s consistently charming, hilarious, smart, and incredibly informative.  What a great way to give Lovelace and Babbage a wonderful adventure and a happy ending.

Based on the very real friendship and partnership between Ada, Countess of Lovelace and Charles Babbage, this graphic novel takes place in a “pocket universe” where the two of them actually built the Difference Engine (Analytical Engine, if you want to be precise, but as Padua notes, Difference Engine sounds cooler).  Adventures and hijinx ensue, with tons of cameos from famous Victorians.

analytical_engine

Padua’s writing and art are both delightful, lively and entertaining.  The footnotes and endnotes are extensive and fourth-wall-breaking.  Padua does a great job of explaining and contextualizing the history of computer science and mathematics (and pocket universes). This book grew out of her webcomic, which you can find here.  Her site is great, chock-full of fun extras and an adventure that didn’t make it into the book.

If you enjoy a blend of humor and history, and/or if you’re a Kate Beaton fan, you should give this a look!  Steampunk fans might find a lot to like, too.

invention of geek

–Marie