Heartwarming Reads from Local Authors
by Rhonna Hargett, Adult Services Manager, Manhattan Public Library
I know it’s the season to be jolly, but sometimes that’s difficult. Sometimes the world is overwhelming and it seems like hope is futile. I have found that often a good story can change my outlook and help me to believe in the good in the world. Luckily I have found two local authors who have shared their stories of community and family connections guaranteed to warm the heart.
It’s probably not a surprise that is nearly impossible for me to resist a book about Carnegie libraries, let alone one that has a picture of the original Manhattan Public Library on the inside cover, but I enjoyed “To the Stars Through Difficulties” by Manhattanite Romalyn Tilghman even more than I expected to. This delight of a novel is centered around the old Carnegie library in fictional New Hope, Kansas. The building was repurposed as an arts center when the library moved into a newer building, but it still acts as the heart of the community. The story focuses on a collection of women who meet there for the “No Guilt Quilters Guild.” Angelina comes to town to finish her dissertation on Carnegie libraries and to connect to memories of her beloved grandmother who had lived in the town. Traci escapes an overwhelming situation back east to take a job providing educational opportunities at the arts center, even though she really isn’t qualified. Gayle comes to the quilting group for something to force her to get out while she recovers from the destruction of her home in a nearby town. These women, along with a host of other engaging characters, work through challenges and kindle a spirit of community that spreads far beyond the limestone walls of the center.
Tilghman’s story contains history and a bit of romance, but is really the story of women getting things done. From the women in the early 1900’s working to get a Carnegie library in their community to the current day women saving their community centers, the characters use their strength and talents to accomplish what seems to be impossible. They are very different from each other, and don’t always get along, but they work together and support each other along the way. This is a good selection for those who have enjoyed Jan Karon’s Mitford series or for anyone with a passion for Kansas communities and history. Or if you love libraries, obviously.
In “My Little Valentine: The Story of a Mother and Daughter’s Lost Love,” local author KelLee Parr tells the true story of his search for his mother’s birth mother. Although she had lived a happy life in a loving family, Wanda June always wondered about the woman who gave birth to her. When Parr visits the Kansas State Historical Society to do some research for his 3rd grade class, he had the spark of idea for another angle to help with his mother’s search and started a meandering journey toward answers that changed the lives of his entire family.
The account of his search warms the heart, but when he flashes back to his newfound grandmother’s tale, I was not able to put the book down. The struggles she faced in her life and the agonizing decision she had to make add a complexity to the book that causes it to linger long after the last page is turned. Sprinkled with colorful characters and stories of small-town life, this touching narrative gives reason for optimism in the midst of situations that seem hopeless.
If your spirits need a bit of a boost this holiday season, some authors with strong connections to our very own community have provided just the right medicine – stories of community and family working through life’s challenges together.