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The Gorgeous Agony of Becoming a Better Person

By Danielle Schapaugh

I know a novelist who can take your heart places it never wanted to go, while still making you happy you took the journey.

The first book I read by Lori Lansens, simply called “The Girls,” is the story of conjoined twins, told alternately by each sister. As shocking and uncomfortable as the tale gets at times, detailing the struggles, heartaches, and yearnings of the two longest surviving craniopagus twins, Lansens never forgets to circle back to the joy of living. You’ll be hooked from the start. The book begins with a poem written by Rose, one of the sisters:

“I have never looked into my sister’s eyes. I have never bathed alone. I have never stood in the grass at night and raised my arms to the beguiling moon. I’ve never used an airplane bathroom. Or worn a hat. Or been kissed like that. I’ve never driven a car. Or slept through the night. Never a private talk. Or solo walk. I’ve never climbed a tree. Or faded into a crowd. So many things I’ve never done, buy oh, how I’ve been loved. And, if such things were to be, I’d live a thousand lives as me, to be loved so exponentially.”

After being charmed and heartbroken by “The Girls,” I decided to keep exploring. Next, I picked up “The Wife’s Tale” by Lori Lansens.

The Wife’s Tale” features a minor character from “The Girls,” their neighbor, Mary Gooch. Mary is the depressed and morbidly obese wife of a gregarious high school football star. She is at the lowest point of her life when she is forced to confront her fears and begin an agonizing journey of self-discovery. This book is filled with so much awkwardness that it makes the entire tale feel like a big, cathartic release.

For example, at one point Mary steps on a shard of glass after locking herself out of the house, naked, in a thunderstorm and her body will not allow her to reach her foot to remove the glass or staunch the bleeding. You will breathe a giant sigh of relief when everything turns out ok. This story will remind you to be thankful for the little things that go right in your life, and thankful that the tale ends happily.

Lori has two more books, although I recommend taking a break rather than reading them back-to-back. As enjoyable as it is dive into these heartbreaking stories and discover new things about your inner world, devouring them back-to-back could be a little rough on your psyche. You might want to pause and read a little Jude Devereaux (romance) or maybe a book from the Agency series by Y.S. Lee (Y.A. mystery) before continuing.

When you’re ready, it’s time to read “Rush Home Road.” Images from this book will stay with you for the rest of your life. I still think about Mum Addy teaching Sharla how to clean out the bathtub or Sharla climbing up to steal cookies from the top shelf. This is actually Lansen’s first novel and tells the story of two women who become family. Sharla is a five-year-old who is abandoned at Addy’s trailer-park doorstep. Addy is a seventy year old woman who shut herself off from her past. Together, they provide the love and support each has needed in order to heal.

Lansens’ latest novel, “A Mountain Story” also carries the theme of personal discovery and healing, but this time with a heavy dose of adventure and suspense. A series of missteps strands a group of hikers together in the wilderness. They band together to survive, and as the story turns more desperate they form an inextricable bond.

Lansens’ writing transforms the scale of daily living and brings the small details into focus. You will not be able to tear your eyes away from the text and you’ll begin experiencing your days in more vivid detail. You can really taste that morning coffee, feel the humidity cling to your skin, pay attention to the way your feet slide in the bathtub. Lansens’ books have a wonderful, transformative power to make you stop and appreciate things. For that fact alone, I would recommend them.  However, her books also give insight and empathy that help make the reader a better person. You should add them to your list immediately.

 

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The Summer Reading List Begins

By Jennifer Bergen, Children’s Services Manager

On your mark, get set…READ!  The library’s annual summer reading program has begun. Everyone, from babies to seniors, can participate by keeping track of reading and earning prizes or tickets for prize drawings. So, what is on your summer reading list?  Here are a few on mine:

Pax by Sara Pennypacker

The author of the Clementine series has written a very different kind of story, switching from her spunky, comedic, Ramona-like character Clementine, to what looks like a quiet, thoughtful, and likely sad tale about a boy and his pet fox.  Booklist gave this a starred review, saying “Pennypacker’s expert, evenhanded storytelling reveals stunning depth in a relatively small package.” It sounds like Pennypacker is able to switch gears with skill and finesse.

We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement that Defied Adolf Hitler by Russell Freedman

Freedman has won many awards for his nonfiction writing, and I have enjoyed several of them. I prefer my nonfiction to read like a novel, and Freedman’s well-researched accounts always deliver that element of storytelling. Hans Scholl and his sister Sophie were Hitler Youth who turned against Hitler, forming the White Rose opposition.  They sacrificed everything to work against the Nazis. Seems like a worthy and important read.

Soar by Joan Bauer

Bauer’s books are always worth a read, and this one sounds inspiring.  Jeremiah Lopper is a baseball fanatic, but he hasn’t been allowed to play since he had a heart transplant two years ago at the age of 10.  When he and his adoptive dad move to Hillcrest, Ohio, Jeremiah simply decides to find a baseball team to coach instead. Words reviewers used to describe this story are “motivating,” “triumphant,” “largehearted,” and “irrepressible.” I will grab this when I need some lifting up.

Forest of Wonders by Linda Sue Park

Another author veering off into new genre territory, Linda Sue Park has written the first in a fantasy series called Wing & Claw.  Previous books like A Long Walk to Water, Project Mulberry, and Newbery Medal-winning A Single Shard are realistic or even based on true stories.  Now she enters the realm of magic and talking animals. Raffa Santana is a young apothecary who seeks out a rare vine in the Forest of Wonders to create a cure for an injured bat. Unexpectedly, the bat not only recovers but also acquires the ability to speak. Gregor the Overlander comes to mind, and I am in.

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

Sometimes, I admit I judge books by their covers. When I saw this one with its intriguing gold-lettered message facing out, I had to read the cover. Then I had to quickly place a hold on the book. To top that off, Publisher’s Weekly mentions two favorite books of mine in its review of Wolf Hollow: “Echoing the tone and themes found in To Kill a Mockingbird and Summer of My German Soldier, this WWII story traces the unlikely friendship between a country girl and a shell-shocked veteran.” It is sure to be a good one.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: The Official Script Book of the Original West End Production by J. K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany

Well, I wouldn’t be much of a children’s librarian if this was not on my list, would I?  Coming out on July 31 (Harry’s birthday, of course), this play script features Harry’s middle child, Albus Serverus Potter. As expected, there is much news and a plethora of opinions about this “eighth story” in the Harry Potter series that was supposed to end with book seven.  We will see if the Harry Potter craze continues, and if it lives up to the hype. Not much chance I will see the play anytime soon, since it is in London and is sold out through May 2017.

Stop by the Children’s Room to sign up for summer reading, and let us know which books you are hoping to read under a shady tree this summer! While you’re here, check into our weekly clubs and storytimes, vote for a winner in the Tournament of Books, and register a teen to attend the “After Hours” party at the library this Saturday for an Iron Chef-inspired culinary competition. It’s sure to be hopping at the library with lots of good options for everyone.

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Debut Authors to Freshen Up Your Reading List

by Rhonna Hargett – Adult Services Manager

We’ve put away the coats and sweaters and pulled out the sandals and shorts. It’s time to tuck winter away and breathe in the fresh air of spring. Along with the new leaves, flowers, and grass, this is a great time to freshen up your reading with new authors. At Manhattan Public Library we have some fantastic books by debut authors that will invigorate your transition into summer.

In Dodgers by Bill Beverly, East, 15-year-old gang member from LA is sent on a road-trip to kill a witness in Wisconsin. Traveling in a minivan with three other gang members, including his younger brother, he is unprepared for the lessons forced upon him about his own identity and how he fits into the world around him. This bildungsroman/crime/road novel will appeal to fans of HBO’s The Wire.

Julie McElwain delivers mystery and romance with A Murder in Time. While FBI agent Kendra Donovan attempts to wreak revenge upon the criminal who killed her fellow agents, she is accidentally transported to 1815. She attempts to adapt to her surroundings, jumping in to offer her assistance in solving a murder. Described by Library Journal as “absolutely captivating,” McElwain leaves us in anxious anticipation for sequel.

When a naked newborn girl is found in the snow, 8-year-old Aurelia Vennaway takes her home and insists that her wealthy and unkind parents take the baby in. As they grow, Aurelia and the newly named Amy Snow grow to be the best of friends. When Aurelia dies unexpectedly, she leaves a letter that sends Amy on a treasure hunt to unlock a long-held secret. Set in Victorian England, Amy Snow by Tracy Rees delivers a tale of friendship and intrigue.

On a lighter note, Nine Women, One Dress by Jane L. Rosen shows how one little black dress brings a bit of magic to the lives of nine women. From a Bloomingdale’s sales clerk mooning over her ex to a Brown grad with no job but a fabulous fake life on social media, all their lives are touched in this laugh-out-loud delight of a book. A great read for those who adored the movie Love Actually.

In We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenridge, Laurel Freeman is recruited by the Toneybee Institute to use their sign language skills to teach a chimpanzee named Charlie to speak. She and her family welcome Charlie into their home, not realizing how the relationship will interfere or the questionable background of the institute. Exploring issues of race, religion and communication, Greenridge’s novel exhibits her deft storytelling skills.


Rush Oh!
by Shirley Barrett takes us back to 1908 in New South Wales, Australia. Mary Davidson is responsible for the care of her five younger siblings, as well as cooking for the members of her father’s whaling crew. In this view into the domestic side of whaling, Barrett shares some of the nitty-gritty details, humorous tales, and Mary’s romance with a former Methodist minister on her father’s crew.

Shelter by Jung Yun explores the dilemma of Kyung Cho, a college professor who is drowning in debt. He resists moving his family to live with his wealthy, abusive parents, but is beginning to accept this as his best option. When his parents are the victims of a brutal crime, they instead move in with him, creating a stew of resentment and tensions. Booklist calls Yun’s debut “a work of relentless psychological sleuthing and sensitive insight.”

Yaa Gyasi’s saga Homegoing covers seven generations in Ghana and the United States, starting with the half-sisters Effia and Esi. Alternating chapters tell the stories of Effia’s life married to a British colonizer and Esi’s captured into slavery in the American South and of the descendants that followed them. Reminiscent of Alex Haley’s Roots or Lalita Tademy’s Cane River, Homegoing is painful at times, but Gyasi’s beautiful use of language skillfully considers how individual lives can shape the fabric of a nation.

Find out more about these titles at www.mhklibrary.org. If you would like to get the scoop on upcoming titles, go to our Books page to sign up for newsletters that we email out each month.

 

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 “Weirdo Fiction with a Shot of Southern Gothic Influence”

By Danielle Schapaugh

Not often will you find a witty, southern gothic, heartfelt, fiercely-loving, mystery story featuring Hindu mythology, but that’s just what Joshilyn Jackson’s latest novel “The Opposite of Everyone” has to offer.

Jackson is one of my favorite writers, always surprising readers with plot twists and engaging us with the kind of irreverent humor it takes to overcome hardship.  Her characters are authentic and original, and if you like to get wrapped up in a good story, she is a perfect author for you to explore.

“The Opposite of Everyone,” published in 2016, is the story of Paula Vauss, a smart and smart-mouthed divorce attorney who transformed herself after getting her gypsy-spirited mother arrested and imprisoned. Paula was only ten at the time and she was left to finish growing up in foster care with a new identity shaped by regret.  Her emotional armor expresses itself as sarcasm and outlandish behavior, but never does she seem crass or uncaring.  She’s someone you’ll want to meet. Paula’s mother has many secrets, but her love for her daughter and her unique approach to life and storytelling leave a deep imprint.

Then one day, her mother’s most treasured secret arrives on Paula’s doorstep and she is forced to crack open her armor to search for clues to her past and discover her mother’s whereabouts. This touching story has sharp edges, strong bonds, and a big heart. Paula is actually one of the minor characters from one of Jackson’s earlier novels “Someone Else’s Love Story,” which brings me to my next recommendation.

“Someone Else’s Love Story” is focused on Shandi Pierce and William Ashe.  Shandi is a young woman trying to raise a three-year-old genius, finish college, and keep her complicated life from jumping the rails—when she falls for William, an older man she meets at a gas station hold-up. As funny and “meet cute” as that sounds, this touching story is full of heartbreak, loss, and forgiveness, as well as humor.

None of Jackson’s characters is a flat stereotype, and that might be what I like most about her work. William Ashe, the hot, older-guy-hero Shandi falls for in “Someone Else’s Love Story,” is not just a good looking guy. William is a genetic scientist with Asperger’s. With the help of his best friend from high school (Paula Vauss from “The Opposite of Everyone”) he has learned to adjust. The chapters told from his perspective are full of the mental calculations he performs in order to read social situations, and they are never boring.

Jackson cares about her characters, and never does them the disservice of making even the minor players one-dimensional. In fact, she has another pair of novels that swap characters, and I think you will be interested to read them. Just between us, you should start with these if you are new to Jackson’s work.

The book that made me fall in love with Joshilyn Jackson’s writing is actually her very first novel, “Gods in Alabama.” This is a whopper of a story full of southern charm, grit, and sincerity.

godsThe tale begins with pressure. Arlene Fleet vowed never to return to Alabama, in fact, she made a deal with God about it. If He kept that dead body hidden, she would never again set foot in her hometown, never again see her family, and never again do the things that landed her in the predicament in the first place. Arlene goes about living a good life in Chicago, but unfortunately, neither party is able to hold up their end of the bargain.

Arlene’s family begs her to return. Her long-time boyfriend demands to meet her family.  Then Miss Rose Mae Lolly, who happens to be the former girlfriend of the dead body, shows up at Arlene’s doorstep looking for her lost love.

When you’ve finished “Gods in Alabama,” it’s time to pick up “Backseat Saints” and learn about the life of Miss Rose Mae Lolly. Rose is a hero in her own right, and Jackson will also show you another side of the dead quarterback. She proves, once again, that humans are more complicated and fascinating than we like to assume.

I can’t say enough about Joshilyn Jackson and I want to sum up my esteem for her saying, she’s just a great storyteller and I think you should start exploring her books immediately. Look for her books on the first floor of the Manhattan Public Library in the fiction section or find them at your local bookstore.

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The Growth of an American Icon:  Georgia O’Keefe in Fiction

By Marcia Allen, Manhattan Public Library

I’ve always been fond of fictional books like Nancy Horan’s Loving Frank, the story of Mamah Borthwick Cheney’s affair with and influence on Frank Lloyd Wright.  Equally appealing to me was Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife, which vividly conveyed the early marriage and the fractured relationship between Ernest and Hadley Hemingway.  What is it about such books?  Probably the intertwining of fact and fiction in telling the lives of famous artists.

And now I’ve discovered another jewel of a book.  Georgia: A Novel of Georgia O’Keeffe by Dawn Tripp is a masterful retelling of the love affair between O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz, the famed American photographer who promoted O’Keeffe’s art and eventually married her.  I would highly recommend this new title to readers who are also drawn to similar tales for a variety of convincing reasons.

First, the author does an incredible job of developing O’Keeffe’s style.  Those familiar with her stark New Mexico landscapes and striking flower paintings will note the development of her talent throughout the story.   Her initial efforts promised talent, but her gradual creation of a totally new modern art form didn’t come until later.  Stieglitz recognized her potential early on, and encouraged her work, showing and selling it in his gallery.  The novel conveys this through vivid descriptions of settings that compelled the painter, as well as her frustration with pieces of art that she felt were unsuccessful. Vivid colors and open spaces are key throughout the book.

O’Keefe’s character is equally well rendered.  Always a very independent woman, she fought for her own style.  Extended stays in New Mexico gave her the opportunity to experiment with color and light, and she began collecting bones and rocks that inspired her.  A gradual realization that that landscape was essential to her work led to her many lengthening trips to the area and also to the most famous landscape paintings of her career.  Author Tripp’s descriptions of journeys to the Southwest and her lovely references to O’Keeffe’s favorite sites help us better see her creativity in progress.

More important to the book is O’Keefe’s relationship with Stieglitz.  Following a brief correspondence with him, the painter traveled to New York to show him her work.  The two formed an instant bond, and soon they became lovers, despite his marriage and the wide age gap between them.  A very messy divorce allowed the two to marry later.   As their relationship strengthened, Stieglitz arranged displays of her work and encouraged her to explore different mediums.  He also took the famous photographs of O’Keefe, both clothed and nude, that are still considered classics.  Because of Tripp’s careful research and her talent with the writing, we readers witness the intimacy and complexity in the relationship of two very talented and strong-willed individuals.O'Keeffe photographic portrait by Halsman

Tripp’s account of O’Keeffe’s mental breakdown is heartrending.  This collapse took place in the 1930s when a series of events became unbearable.   A contract to paint a mural in Radio City Music Hall fell through when the construction failed to meet deadlines. Stieglitz’s ongoing love affairs became blatant, and O’Keefe could no longer accept his assurances that she was the love of his life.  She found, too, that his insistence on dominating the direction of her career stifled her independence.  The passages in the book that convey this turmoil are fraught with helplessness and despair.  O’Keeffe experienced a grief that became a physical one, because of the death of her long relationship with Stieglitz.  There’s a sad healing realization toward the end that she had to be alone to fulfill her talent.

Like all books that are so well written and so revealing, this one has sparked my curiosity about the life of O’Keeffe.  I plan to re-read Roxana Robinson’s memorable Georgia O’Keeffe: A Life in the near future.  Author Tripp cites it as one of her research sources for this lovely fictional rendition.  You just might wish to do the same.

 

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 Discover Your Passion

by Brian Ingalsbe, Youth Services Library Assistant

Spring break officially begins tomorrow, and most – if not all – of our children are ready for a FULL WEEK of relaxation. What will they do with that week? If they’re like me, they’ll spend the first few days splurging on all of their favorite activities and pastimes. But what then? Take them to Manhattan Public Library to discover their next great passion. How? Well, I have just the answer for you!

Have fun

During the week of spring break the Youth Services department is having several fantastic programs that both you and your child can enjoy. You can find information about any of these events in three ways: 1) visit our website at mhklibrary.org and click on the events tab, 2) grab a March monthly calendar at any of our service desks, or 3) ask any of our staff!

Take a book trip

If you think that you need to physically move to go on a journey, then you have never read a good book. Stories of all kinds can transport you to vast worlds – both imaginary and real. Half of the fun of reading is escaping your humdrum routine for something a bit more exhilarating. As a lover of fantasy fiction, I understand this as well as anyone. If this is the kind of read you love, here are a few great books for you.

Savvy by Ingrid Law – For generations, the Beaumont family has inherited a magical secret. Each family member is endowed with “Savvy”, a special ability on their thirteenth birthday. On the eve of Mibs’s birthday, her father is in a terrible accident. Determined to prove her magic can save him, she hitches a ride on an ordinary bus, which is headed in the wrong direction.

School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani – Agatha and Sophie live in a world outside of the magical forest. Agatha is always glum and gloomy; Sophie is cheery and happy as can be. When these two unlikely friends are abducted to the School for Good and Evil they learn that appearances are not always what they seem.

If you don’t fancy fiction, nonfiction is another viable option. It is always fun to choose a geographic location and immerse yourself in a culture and way of life. Here are some great nonfiction series that accomplish this.

Scholastic’s Enchantment of the World – This series focuses on different countries around the world. This series is great because it addresses many of the different factors that makes each country unique – including its people, land features, religious practices, and even national pastimes! This series is broken up with numerous pictures, which makes it much less intimidating for children.

America the Beautiful This series – also published by Scholastic – focuses on the diversity of the each of our 50 states. Each book addresses the state’s basic information – such as history, government, and economy. I love this series because it utilizes fun fact trackers including graphs, FAQ’s, wow factors, and travel guides. You and your child will love learning about a new state with this fun and engaging series!

Learn a new skill

When you’ve had your fill of travel, you can come back to MPL and grab some amazing books to explore your next great hobby or pastime – or just satisfy your thirst to learn something new. When I think about exploring a new hobby, there are several activities and books that pop into my head!

Learn to Draw – This series is great for children who crave creativity. Each book in the series explores different ways to draw various subjects – including animals, transportation, and even your favorite Disney characters! These books not only teach you how to draw well, they also include mini quizzes and fun facts on every page. How cool is that?

Easy Menu Ethnic Cookbooks – This series of cookbooks features authentic and easy-to-replicate recipes from all over the world. Cooking is something fun that you can do with any of your loved ones, and what better way than to explore a new cuisine together?

No matter what their passions may be, MPL has something for your children! Our staff is always ready to help you find your next great read, explore the online world, or answer any question you may have. You can contact the Youth Services Department staff at kidstaff@mhklibrary.org or (785)776-4741 ext. 400.

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YA for Adults

by Rachael Schmidtlein, Young Adult Librarian

Because I’m a twenty something, when people find out that I read YA, I sometimes receive a lot of ridicule. Many times I receive questions along the lines of, “Aren’t you a bit old for that?” or comments like, “Oh, so you don’t read REAL books”. When I respond by explaining that I actually make a living by finding new ways to get YA lit into people’s hands, the reaction is usually humorous befuddlement coupled with a subtly offensive question about what I “actually do”.

So, why do I love YA lit as an adult? Because YA lit is bursting with hope, humor, and optimism. After I read a YA book, my faith in humanity is temporarily restored. Yes, there is sometimes hokey romance. Yes, the characters can be over the top. Yes, sometimes the premise of the book is so unrealistic that it’s laughable. But you know what? Sometimes that is not a bad thing!

If you love YA or haven’t had the chance to take the plunge yet, these reads may be just what you need.

Fantasy

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

Ten years after the royal family was murdered and the kingdom cursed, Finnikin and his guardian go on an incredible journey to find the heir to the throne. This high fantasy is an epic journey of hope. But don’t let the YA nature of this book fool you: Finnikin of the Rock does not sugarcoat the characters treacherous journey. The plot is intricate and filled with magic.

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Since Katsa was eight, she’s been a thug for her uncle, the king. She has very little expectation that her life will ever change much, until she meets someone else who is graced with combat skills similar to hers. Graceling is about Katsa learning to redefine herself and learning to trust other people. If you are a fan of Tamora Pierce, then you should definitely read this book.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Every November the water horses rise from the sea, and the Scorpio Races begin. Riders compete to keep control of their water horses and make it to the finish line. This year, Puck is determined to be the first girl to enter and win the competition. The Scorpio Races may be a fantasy with universal themes of loyalty and strength strewn artfully though the book.

Contemporary

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were Liars is about a beautiful girl, a damaged boy, four friends who call themselves the Liars, and a secret. I really can’t tell you much about this book without giving away the whole thing, but if you must know something then know this: it’s a mystery and it’s amazing. E. Lockhart totally nailed it with this book.

On The Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Taylor dreams of a boy in a tree, of death and of Jellicoe Road. The story takes place at a school where the territory wars take place. A mixture of reality and dream world, Jellicoe Road can be a challenge, but the sarcastic and powerful nature of the character’s voice will guide the reader through. It also takes place in Australia, which is awesome.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Over the course of a year, Eleanor and Park ride the bus together. They know that first love almost never works, but their lives makes them desperate to try. Eleanor and Park is about being brave and trusting yourself. If you like Gayle Foreman or Stephen Shobsky, then you need to real this Rainbow Rowell book.

Historical

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity is the story of, Maddie and Queenie, who go on a secret mission behind enemy lines in occupied France in WWII. This book started out as a story of women who could fly planes in WWII and turned into a story about friendship and the importance of people and relationships.  The first half of the book can be confusing, but it’s worth it in the end.

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Andi and Alexandrine are girls who live two centuries apart, but they’re also the same. Andi is angry and tired until she stumbles upon Alexandrine’s diary and her life comes into perspective.  This is the perfect read for someone who loves it when the past mixes with the present.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Lina is a fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl living in 1941. Her life is torn apart when she is ripped from her family and sent to a work camp in Siberia. Her journey is long, about 6,500 miles, but with the help of her art, she might just be able to regain the life that was stolen from her. Between the Shades of Gray is beautiful, bleak and gritty. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Escape Holiday Stress with an Adventurous Book

by Danielle Schapaugh

Because this time of year is extra stressful (plus the weather is getting bleaker and the days ever shorter), it’s the perfect time to escape into a can’t-put-it-down fantastic story.  The books below will whisk you away to other worlds and great adventures, some are gritty and others uplifting, and each one is worth a try.

Pierce Brown’s debut novel, “Red Rising,” will grab you from the first page and take you on a daring, action-packed journey into the future and across planets.  The best part is, it’s also full of heart.  The story begins deep in the mines of Mars with Darrow, the youngest drill specialist or “helldiver” in recent memory.  After a torturous betrayal, his need for vengeance drives him to become a revolutionary with the hope of changing the entire caste system of his society.  Driven to seek social justice by his indestructible love of family, he transforms himself and becomes more than he ever thought he could be.  Like Rocky Balboa, he possesses an inhuman ability to endure, and you will love Darrow soon after the first line, “I would have lived in peace but my enemies brought me war.”

Book two in the Red Rising series, “Golden Son,” does not suffer from the typical sophomore book slump.  I was grateful to be able to pick it up immediately after finishing the first book and am now anxiously awaiting the third installment, “Morning Star,” which is due to be released on January 12.  I recommend Brown’s books to everyone I meet, including my dental hygienist, mail carrier, and all of my coworkers.  Universal Pictures purchased the screen rights for seven figures, so it looks like a new blockbuster is in the works.

Next, for an adventurous tale that is both gritty and poetic, try “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doer.  This is the story of two young people on opposing sides of WWII in occupied France.  Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a young blind woman left alone in a house that is crumbling around her.  As the bombs drop, you follow her journey while she hides, drinks the dusty water from a bathtub, and discovers a last can of food that is miraculously filled with peaches.  Your heart may forget to beat as you turn the pages.

Marie-Laure’s counterpart, Werner Pfennig, is a German orphan who loves fixing things.  When an officer discovers Werner’s uncanny ability to repair radios, he finds himself recruited by the Nazis and plugged into the war machine.  You will long for the war to end but for the book to continue forever.

Finally, in “The Signature of All Things” by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love,” you will find yourself becoming strangely fascinated with the study of moss.  The journey in this book is largely internal, but oh, what an immense and powerful journey it is.  Plain-faced Alma Whittaker moves from infancy to old age and discovers truths about herself which only time can reveal.  The visceral details of 19th century life, the struggles between identity and expectations, and the passion with which Alma approaches her scientific study of mosses will have you immersed in another world and begging for more.

Accepting someone’s book suggestion requires a certain amount of trust.  You wouldn’t trust the opinion of someone you don’t know, but I would like you to think of your local librarians as your “book fortune tellers.”  Librarians are trained to identify the “appeal factors” of a book in order to recommend the right book for the right person.  So, if ever you find yourself in need of a reliable suggestion, a librarian will help assess your preferences and give you a list of books you are sure to love. The next time you’re here, ask a librarian about getting a personalized reading list.  You can also call the library at (785) 477-2735, or email us at refstaff@mhklibrary.org.

 

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Promising Books from New Authors

by Marcia Allen, Collection Development Librarian

We all know that Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman is the book to read this summer.  We’ve seen the reviews, both good and bad, that make the title very tempting, and the high number of requests at the library attests to the demand for this newly published tale about Maycomb, Alabama. We’ve also seen the latest by perennial favorite authors such as Daniel Silva, Mary Higgins Clark, and Stephen King.   The newest spy thrillers, puzzling mysteries, and shocking tales of horror are readily available from those old favorites. But there are also lots of promising new stories from authors who may not be so familiar to readers looking for something different.  A sampling of fiction titles just received at the library reveals the following potential hits:

 

  • The Wild Inside by Christine Carbo. This one’s a nice selection for those who are fans of the Nevada Barr series.  Special Agent Ted Systead, who works for the Department of the Interior’s National Park Service, is one of few trained to investigate crimes committed in parks in the western half of the U.S.  He has a particular interest in homicides, like the one that has just brought him to Glacier National Park.  His trouble is that he witnessed the mauling and death of his own father during a grizzly attack some years ago.  This recent murder would also seem to have the same savagery of that long ago grizzly attack, but the victim is found tied to a tree.  Ted will have to deal with his own nightmarish memories, as well as the reticence of the locals.  Author Carbo has a clear talent for realistic descriptions of the Glacier setting, so this mystery’s rich with atmosphere.

 

  • Buell: Journey to the White Clouds by Wallace J. Swenson.  In the Idaho territory of 1873, young gunman Buell Mace has become something of an outcast and heads off to the gold fields to offer protection to those whose claims are threatened.  Buell is hired by Emma Traen to protect her gold interests, but there are lots of others willing to seize her claims in desperate ways.  Buell has new friends on which to rely, but they, too, are in danger, and he will learn what loss is.  This is a violent western, depicting a young man’s struggle in an untamed country.

 

  • The Lost Concerto by Helaine Mario.  Here’s a thriller from a debut author.  The book  opens with the doomed flight of a mother and her small son.  Their brutal follower  manages to kill the mother to regain the boy, but in the confusion and mist of the mountain shrine where the runaways are cornered, the youngster disappears.  The        boy’s godmother, Maggie O’Shea was a famed pianist, but recent losses of loved ones have sidetracked her career.  The discovery of a photo of the missing boy leads her on a journey that will reveal lost artifacts as well as another chance for a fulfilling life.  Romance, intrigue, and new discoveries make this an unforgettable read.

 

  • The Flicker Men by Ted Kosmatka.  Eric Argus is a quantum physicist with a serious problem:   He was at the top of his game as a university research physicist, but the work dragged him through a serious breakdown.  Now he’s been given another opportunity to do research with an old friend.  In the course of his experiments, he discovers impossible truths:  until an observer notes results, the result remains only probability.  Hence, we have terms like “retrocausality” that are of major concern.  This is a thoughtful work of science fiction, one that questions the nature of the real and the role of human understanding in the universe.

 

  • One final title worth mentioning is Nina George’s The Little Paris Bookshop.  This lovely piece of fiction has made various bestseller lists,  and it has to be among the most heartwarming books of the summer.   It concerns one Monsieur Perdu, the proprietor of a floating bookstore, who helps customers select purchases based not on wants but on what he feels  those readers need in their lives.  A remarkable book.

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The Best New Books!

By Marcia Allen, Collection Development

There’s always a bounty of wonderful new adult books at the library in the spring.  With so many to choose from, it’s difficult to narrow your picks to just a special few.  Here’s a very limited sampling of what has recently arrived:

  • “Inside the O’Briens” by Lisa Genova. Genova, who has a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard, became an instant celebrity when she released “Still Alice,” a heartbreaking novel aboutAlzheimer’s disease.  This time, she focuses on the effects of Huntington’s disease, often called  the “cruelest disease known to man.”  Joe O’Brien, a veteran Boston police officer, earns his family’s concern when he begins stumbling and when he exhibits wild mood swings.  Once diagnosed, he learns that there is a 50% chance that his four grown children may also develop symptoms.  This novel is a realistic look at a fatal disease with horrendous effects.

 

  • “Reykjavik Nights” by Arnaldur Indridason is the latest from one of Iceland’s most recognized mystery writers. A number of well-written mysteries about Inspector Erlendur have featured the patient detective unraveling tales of murder, but this book differs in time period.  This story, the puzzling account of two perhaps unrelated murders, features a much younger Erlendur when he was a police officer.  Already displaying the dogged curiosity and interest in missing persons that Indridason’s many readers enjoy, our determined officer wants to know why a misplaced earring, a missing woman, and the drowning of an old alcoholic are connected.
  • “The Siege Winter” by Ariana Franklin is a nice piece of historical fiction. Franklin, the author of the bestselling “Art of Death” mystery series, wrote this new tale to convey the horror and uncertainty of the year 1141, when King Stephen and Empress Matilda fought each other for the throne of England.  It is now the year 1180, and the dying Abbot of Perton has arranged for a scribe to record the events that took place some forty years earlier.  Important players in the story from the past include Gwil, an archer bent on revenge, and Penda, a brutalized child who becomes a very talented archer.

 

  • “Bill O’Reilly’s Legends & Lies of the Old West” by David Fisher serves as a companion piece to the Fox News series for the Bill O’Reilly docudrama. This is a must-have for those readers who can’t get enough about the real West.  Colorful characters like David Crockett and Doc Holliday have dedicated chapters, while O’Reilly and Fisher expose the myths and answer mysterious questions about the now-famous westerners.  We learn, for example, more about Crockett’s self-promotion, as well as the probable cause of his unwitnessed death at the Alamo.

 

  • “Into the Nest” by Laura Erickson and Marie Read is absolutely outstanding. If you like birds, this book will entrance you for hours.  Subtitled “Intimate Views of the Courting, Parenting, and Family Lives of Familiar Birds,” this is an encyclopedia of photographs and descriptions of all our favorites.  The passages on the Ruby-throated hummingbird, for example, describe the dive displays the male uses to court the female.  It also displays a typical nest, often located 40 feet above the ground atop a branch.  And these swift little birds, we learn, migrate an amazing 500 miles when autumn nears.
  • “The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough needs no introduction. This is the long-awaited next title from the author of such magnificent books as “Mornings on Horseback” (National Book Award title) and “John Adams” (Pulitzer Prize winner).  Lauded by “The New York Times Book Review,” “Publishers Weekly,” and “The Economist,” this book is destined, like so many other McCullough titles, to become an instant bestseller.

 

Still puzzled by what to read next?  Come browse the new book shelves in the adult collection to find your next winner.  You’re bound to find something that grabs your attention.

 

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