Mercury Column

by Luke Wahlmeier Luke Wahlmeier No Comments

On Becoming a Librarian

On Becoming a Librarian

By Bryan McBride, Learning and Information Services Librarian

In 2012, Stephen King finished the thirty-year journey of writing his Dark Tower series, which influenced my own journey to become a librarian. My love of reading was ignited long ago by this epic tale of good versus evil, with its western feel and a touch of weirdness, and I still love such a story as this.  King says, “Think of the gunslingers of Gilead as a strange combination of knights errant and territorial marshals in the Old West.” He built Roland’s tale from Robert Browning’s poem, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came.”

Book one, “The Gunslinger,” introduces us to Roland Deschain of Gilead, now the Last Gunslinger, a solitary figure who is on a mission to save Mid-World, and the other worlds attached to Mid-World, which are all deteriorating. In the second book, “Drawing of the Three,” Roland builds his ka-tet of three traveling companions that have fallen through the portals from our world into Mid-World.

I borrowed these first two books from my older brother, read them, and thought they were okay. (King would recommend you read a later, more complete edition of “The Gunslinger.”) My brother then strongly recommended the third book, “The Waste Lands,” which, unfortunately, he did not own. What could a recent college graduate with little income do? I visited my neighborhood library branch, got my first library card for the Lincoln Public Library, and checked out “The Waste Lands.” This book introduced me to the idea that there really is such a thing as a book you can’t put down.

After years of college textbooks and journals, I was discovering a love of pleasure reading. Huzzah! I began to wonder if I could combine my newfound love of reading with my career path in public service. So began my volunteer experience at the same library branch where I had checked out “The Waste Lands.” About a year later, I moved to Manhattan, and the volunteer library experience in Lincoln was key in landing a full-time job at the North Central Kansas Library.  

It was then that after six long years of waiting, King picked up the tale of Roland with the fourth book in the series, “Wizard and Glass.” Blaine the Monorail reluctantly carries the ka-tet through the waste lands and crashes in Mid-World’s alternate version of Topeka, Kansas. (My journey brought me to Kansas just a few months prior to the release this book.) Following the train crash, while journeying on a deserted I-70, Roland tells his ka-tet a tale from his youth. With “Wizard and Glass” King actually managed to write a tragic romance that hooked me. Amazing! As the epic tale continued to gain steam, my own tale began to pick up steam as I started working on my master’s degree in Library Science at Emporia State University.

Enter the “The Wind through the Keyhole.” While sheltering out the aftermath of a ferocious storm called a starkblast, Roland tells his ka-tet another story from his youth, when his father sent Roland and Alain to investigate a series of savage murders in a rural community.  I found this book uniquely interesting as it is a story inside a story inside a story. In “Wolves of the Calla,” along their journey to the Dark Tower, Roland and his ka-tet save a rural community from the wolves of Thunderclap that raid Calla Bryn Sturgis roughly every twenty years. The fearful townspeople have no idea why the wolves abduct one newborn twin and return it later as a sterile, senseless teenager, only to die before age 40. This story has connections to several earlier King books and is darkly suspenseful. It is my favorite book of the series. In “Song of Susannah,” Roland visits our world for the first time as his ka-tet has business to take care of here in their quest to save the Dark Tower and all the connected worlds. Roland has no idea of modern city life, and seeing him react to New York City is amusing.

The epic series concludes with long-awaited “The Dark Tower.” I will say no more about this final book, as it brings to a conclusion the tale of Roland Deschain’s journey. But it might be fair to say that were it not for Roland and his journey to save the Dark Tower, I might not have begun my own journey to become a librarian.  Weird, but I think Stephen King would be pleased.

by Luke Wahlmeier Luke Wahlmeier No Comments

Read Together, Laugh Together

Read Together, Laugh Together

By Chelsea Todd, Children’s Services Librarian

Laughter is contagious- especially when it begins with a child. The sound of delighted giggles as they learn something new, or experience something funny, can hardly fail to bring a smile to the lips of everyone else in the room. Having recently endured a long and chilly winter inside, a good laugh and a good book to read together may be just what everyone needs.

Perhaps one of the most appealing aspects of children’s literature is its capacity to reflect the humor found in both fantastically imaginative situations such birds wanting to drive buses (“Don’t Let Pigeon Drive the Bus”) and Rapunzel mishearing the prince (“Falling for Rapunzel”); as well any real life situation such as going to school for the first time or dealing with emotions like sadness and anger. Stories that allow for laughter provide levity, and, an opportunity. One of the major tenets of early literacy is the need for children talk about what they read. And when both adult and child are reading the same book, it opens up the opportunity to learn, reflect, and laugh together.

Not sure where to start? Here are a few recommendations to get you started (and hopefully allow you a smile or two):

Picture Books:

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates” by Ryan T. Higgins: Meet Penelope Rex, a dinosaur who is very nervous about her first day of school. She learns pretty quickly that eating your human classmates does not make you any friends. Nor does eating the class pet.  This humorous representation of the first day jitters offers up the chance to discuss and reflect on your child’s feelings toward a new situation, and at the same time enjoy a story about dinosaurs.
Neck and Neck” by Elise Parsley: Leopold the Giraffe enjoys all the attention he gets at the zoo, knowing that he is indeed the very best animal around. Until he sees a little boy and his giraffe shaped balloon, which is promptly declared “better than the real thing.” Leopold vehemently disagrees, and in a series of silly antics attempts to persuade the boy otherwise. Any child that has been to the zoo will enjoy this one.

The Big Bed” by Bunmi Laditan: This book represents a struggle that many parents will find themselves nodding their heads at as they laugh along. A determined toddler tasks herself with explaining to her mom that she needs to continue sleeping in her parent’s bed with her mother, rather than in her own bed.  With a series of inventive arguments this little girl tries just about everything to get her way, including proposing that her dad could sleep on a cot next to the bed by himself.

Chapter Books:

The Timmy Failure series by Stephan Pastis: The opening lines alone of this series are enough to clue you into the fact that there is humor ahead. Take for example, book #1: “Mistakes Were Made.” The first lines of the book are: “It’s harder to drive a polar bear into someone’s living room than you think.”  Meet our protagonist Timmy Failure and his polar bear partner, Total.  Together, outside of school and home, they run a private detective agency that ironically draws from names of both detectives: Total Failure Detective Agency. Sounds like just the place you would go to for help, right?
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing” by Judy Blume: Of course, one of the other best parts of reading together with children is getting to share with them stories from your own adolescence. Originally published in 1972 by Judy Blume, came the much loved story of a boy named Peter who is constantly overshadowed by his mischievous little brother Fudge. If you like this one, you will like the sequels too.

Hamster Princess Harriet the Invincible” by Ursula Vernon:  Who doesn’t want to read a story about a hamster princess that knows just how awesome she is? Princess Harriet would much rather go on an adventure than act in any way like a princess, much to the dismay of her parents.  And that is exactly what she does, because until she turns twelve and is claimed by a sleeping curse, she is free to do as she pleases. That’s right, this is a Sleeping Beauty retelling; just with a hamster instead of a human. Harriet’s humorous experiences will keep you smiling. Need some more suggestions? Stop by the library and let us know! We have tons of books just for you.

by Luke Wahlmeier Luke Wahlmeier No Comments

Learning a Language

Learning a Language

By Jared Richards, LIS Technology Supervisor

A common thread throughout my life has been language. Which is true for billions of people, so it’s not really that noteworthy, but it remains a thread nonetheless. I have spent decades now trying to develop a passable level of proficiency in the English language. Being a native speaker makes that endeavor easier, and much less impressive, but I have also tried my hand at other languages. I have dabbled in various computer-related languages, most recently HTML and CSS to work on a website. Starting in elementary school, I took several years of Spanish (with a brief, misguided attempt at Latin along the way), but unfortunately I was never terribly committed.

There is still a hint of that commitment issue, but I am trying to do better in my latest effort to learn French. I am taking a multipronged approach, and the Manhattan Public Library facilitates two of said prongs. The first is the use of the Pimsleur audio French course. I was unfamiliar with the Pimsleur method before this course, but I have heard a lot of people swear by it, and for good reason. It starts out with a simple but intimidating conversation, that is then completely deconstructed, even down to individual syllables. And you’re not just training your ear: you’re repeating what you hear, so you’re also training your mouth to form new words (and new ways of pronouncing the letter ‘R,’ which is by far the trickiest thing I’ve encountered). Within the first few minutes, I was speaking French, slowly building to a full conversation, which is a lot more fun than just memorizing grammar rules.

We have ten different languages using the Pimsleur method in our audiobook collection at the library. There is also a whole series of “Little Pim” videos available on Hoopla, one of our online resources. It is a series developed for kids by the daughter of Dr. Pimsleur, which is helpful for building vocabulary, regardless of your age.

The second library-affiliated prong in my language-learning odyssey is the use of Mango Languages, another one of our online resources. Mango Languages offers access to over seventy different languages, from Arabic to Yiddish. You can access it from your computer or smartphone, and you can create an account (for free) to save your progress.

I always struggled at the beginning of a school year when we would spend so much time reviewing what we had already learned. My mind would wander to more interesting things, often not making its way back before new material started, leaving me lost. One feature I really like about Mango Languages is that it starts with a placement test. I needed to start from square one, obviously, but if you already have some experience with a language, you can take the test, and Mango will start you at the appropriate place, hopefully skipping over the stuff you already know.

There are several other small features that I like about Mango Languages. One is how they will show you a sentence in English and the language you’re learning, and then color-code each part, so you can easily connect the translation. This is especially helpful when one word in one language translates to multiple words in the other. Mango also shows you the understood translation, as well as the literal translation. Cultural notes are spread throughout the lessons, and these give you further insight into the language and these translations. An example early on is the translation of ‘tiens,’ which literally means ‘hold it,’ but is used colloquially as an exclamation meaning ‘oh.’

Another helpful aspect of Mango Languages is that when you hover over a word in the language you’re learning, it will show you how to pronounce it phonetically. To put it in musical terms, trying to sight-read French, at my current level of understanding, is a train wreck. But I’m slowly learning the rules, and getting better every day.

This thread of language will forever be intertwined with my general curiosity in learning new things, which I get to do on a daily basis at the library. Whether I’m helping someone find information, or figuring out novel ways to accomplish work-related tasks, every day is interesting. Most of the knowledge I acquire is fleeting, maybe lasting long enough to be an interesting tidbit in a random conversation if I’m lucky, but it is always worthwhile. And I love that the library has a wide variety of resources to supplement each new curiosity, for me and our patrons.

by Luke Wahlmeier Luke Wahlmeier No Comments

Home as Sanctuary

A Reading of Pam Houston’s Deep Creek

By Marcia Allen, Collection Services Manager

What a please it can be to discover a favorite new author!  For me, Pam Houston has been a tremendous new discovery, and I’ve enthusiastically recommended her books, especially her latest, to other readers.  Hopefully, these titles will appeal to you as well.

Cowboys Are My Weakness is a book of short stories that came out in 1992.  This collection, mostly written when Houston worked as a river and hunting guide, explores the differences in relationships between men and women.  Houston’s women characters have frequently made bad choices in men, choices that have resulted in dangerous situations or at least glaring misunderstandings.  In the title story, for example, a narrator who could well be Houston herself, stays at an isolated ranch house while her wildlife specialist boyfriend studies the behavior of whitetail deer and explores romances with other women.  When our narrator meets a cowboy who might offer her a more stable relationship, the two arrange to meet at a dance, and she contemplates how closely this new cowboy resembles the fantasy man of her dreams.  Other stories in this book offer equally flawed relationships, often in wickedly funny ways.

Contents May Have Shifted is a novel Houston published in 2012.   The story is a series of episodes taking place in various parts of the world. Tucked among those episodes are experiences on airline flights, some alarming, some reflections on natural beauty.  Throughout, the narrator (another Houston-like character) seems to be seeking a life worth meaning, one that she discovers only in the freedom of travel and new experiences. Some of the author’s short episodes are quite funny, but there is also the realization that life is not without pain and the unexpected.  A flying experience with a pilot named George in a plane held together with duct tape, for example, turns into a panicky situation when the plane runs out of fuel.  Turns out that George was just having a little fun and laughingly switched over to the other tank after a short glide above unbroken wilderness.

My favorite Houston title is her latest book.  Just published to rave reviews is her memoir entitled Deep Creek.   Within the pages of this lovely book, Houston tells of her many journeys to locate her perfect home.  It isn’t until she locates the town of Creede, Colorado that she discovers what home really is.  With little money, she makes a down payment on a 120-acre ranch and begins life in an old ranch house.  Within its walls, she realizes a peace she’d never experienced before.  And her views of the adjoining wilderness could not be better.

To be sure, she came to the ranch with little experience.  She knew she wanted horses, dogs and chickens, but she knew little about their care.  Fortunately, she was befriended by kind neighbors who quickly educate her about animal feeding and care, as well as extra steps to be taken before the arrival of a harsh winter.  And her learning experiences, sometimes painful as they are, make her a better rancher and a better conservationist.

Hers is not an idyllic life.  She faces the loss of beloved animals, and the discovery that she must leave responsible individuals in charge when her university teaching duties require her to return to California.  She comes to understand the terrible losses that an uncontrolled fire can bring.  She learns of the cruelty that others may bring, like the thoughtless slaughter of wild animals by poachers.

Interspersed with chapters describing ranching life, we read of flashbacks to Houston’s childhood.  It is there that we realize what created in her a restlessness and a terrible yearning for a special home.  Without sentimentality, she describes the horrible sexual abuse she endured at the hands of her father and the cold indifference she learned from her alcoholic mother.  We also read of the years of therapy she underwent during her recovery from the damages of bad parenting. 

Houston is a gifted writer.  She has managed to merge hauntingly beautiful descriptions of her wilderness home with horrendous childhood experiences that made her who she is.  You’ll find that a couple hours reading her memoir allows you a whole new perspective on home and healing.

by Luke Wahlmeier Luke Wahlmeier No Comments

Jane Austen

Jane Austen

By Rhonna Hargett, Learning and Information Services Associate Director

Jane Austen probably would have been very surprised to find that her novels are still being read, analyzed, and reinterpreted over 200 years after their original publication. I sometimes hear them described as romance novels, but that’s not really what they are about. Austen was the master of observing her society and encouraging the reader to see things in a different light. On the surface her most famous novel, “Pride and Prejudice,” is the story of Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet falling in love. When we focus in, though, we see a young woman that is learning the difference between manners and goodness, the limited options for women in 19th Century England, and a society that can be scathing in its punishment for any missteps.

This story contains so many facets that authors have analyzed it from all different angles of it throughout the years. The most recent attempt that I have encountered is “Mary B” by Katherine J. Chen. Chen shares the story from the perspective of Mary, the serious sister with a penchant for regularly displaying her limited musical talent. We get to read her thoughts about their awkward cousin Mr. Collins, her shame at the behavior of her sisters, and her true feelings about being the “plain” sister. The story really picks up where “Pride and Prejudice” ends, when Mary is invited for an extended visit with Elizabeth. At Pemberley she finds an unlikely path to a hopeful future and an unexpected ally.

I’m enjoying getting a glimpse into the context for some of Mary’s more obnoxious moments and her reflections on what is going on around her. Chen’s Mary is reminiscent of what we know of Jane Austen herself – always watching, able to observe unnoticed, able to analyze the workings of society, but powerless to change her place in it. She even has a wicked sense of humor like Austen – Mary just keeps it to herself. Her journey of finding her place in the world and gaining understanding makes for a rewarding read.

Longbourn” by Jo Baker has been around a few years but is a stand-out in the world of “Pride and Prejudice” spin-offs. Baker focuses on the Bennets’ pleasant maid, Sarah. Through her eyes we get the scoop on the lives below-stairs in the Bennet home. This novel illuminates the lives of the characters that make possible the ease that the family experiences. We get to experience their hopes and dreams, as well as the realities of their working existence. For instance, Elizabeth’s muddy petticoat is less charming to those that have to make it sparkling white again. The perspective of the servants is reminiscent of the appeal of “Downton Abbey,” making it clear that there is just as much intrigue, drama, and passion for those that are often forgotten.

I haven’t gotten ahold of it yet, but I’m looking forward to reading “Unmarriageable” by Soniah Kamal, a retelling of “Pride and Prejudice” set in modern-day Pakistan. As Library Journal describes it “Pride and Prejudice” in Pakistan may seem like an unusual pairing to some, but the rich cultural backdrop only enhances and breathes new life into Jane Austen’s classic.”

“Pride Prejudice and Other Flavors” by Sonali Dev coming out in May.

Jane Austen once famously said, “If a book is well written, I always find it too short.” Her many fans have also felt that her books were too few, but they have solved this dilemma by looking at her novels from different angles, setting them in different places and time periods, and using different media. Her timeless themes of dysfunctional families, self-discovery, humanity’s foibles, and of course love, will continue to intrigue readers for centuries to come.  

Whether you like Austen in print, digital, or movies – the original works or a reinterpretation, the staff at Manhattan Public Library will be sure to have something to satisfy.

by Luke Wahlmeier Luke Wahlmeier No Comments

Three Book Discussions Explore “A Woman’s Place”

Three Book Discussions Explore “A Woman’s Place.”

By Linda Henderson, Learning and Information Services Librarian

Image result for their eyes were watching god

Mark your spring calendars!  Join us at Manhattan Public Library for three afternoon BookTalk discussions.  The theme is A Woman’s Place.  What is a woman’s place, and who makes that decision?

The discussion of women’s roles in society has advanced rapidly in the last two hundred years, and the books in this series each reflect a different period’s perspective on that dialogue.  Each author explores how women have developed personal strength of character, while dealing with their society’s and their loved ones’ perceptions of who and what they ought to be.  The stories they tell dramatically reveal the constant tensions between mothers and daughters, wives and husbands, careers and family. Humanities Kansas’s Talk About Literature in Kansas book discussions draw on our diverse literatures to help us see more clearly who we are as people.

Their Eyes Were Watching God, an American classic by Zora Neal Hurston, is the luminous and haunting novel about Janie Crawford, a black woman of the 1930s’ South.  Her journey from free-spirited girl to independent woman of substance has inspired readers and authors ever since.  The story is a tribute to a black woman who made herself heard despite the strictures of the times. 

Michaeline Chance-Reay will lead the discussion on Thursday, March 28, at 2:00 p.m.  Dr. Reay taught courses in Women’s Studies and Education at Kansas State University, and holds a Ph.D. in Humanities Education and an MSW in Social Work from Ohio State University.  Her research resulted in a 1998 exhibition at the Riley County Historical Museum, with an accompanying book: Land Grant Ladies: Kansas State University Presidential Wives.  Her current research deals with the Harvey Girls, the independent young women who served as waitresses along the Santa Fe Railroad in the 1880s. 

The Joy Luck Club, a remarkably imaginative and moving book by Amy Tan, continues to speak to many women, mothers, and growing daughters about the persistent tensions and enduring bonds between generations and cultures.  The mothers, all Chinese immigrants, tell about grueling hardships, as well as the tyranny of family pride and the fear of losing “face.”  The daughters, in turn, must try to reconcile their personalities, shaped by American surroundings, with the discordant expectations of their mothers. 

Anne Hawkins will lead the discussion of The Joy Luck Club on Thursday, April 25, at 2:00 p.m.  Hawkins teaches American History at Washburn University, as well as U.S. and world history to homeschooled children across northeastern Kansas.  She received her M.A. in History from the University of Kansas.  She has published numerous historical articles and scripts, and also performs as pioneering women, like abolitionist Mary Jane Ritchie of Topeka and author Louisa May Alcott.  She has led discussions for the Kansas Humanities Council since 2012.

A Lost Lady, by Willa Cather, centers on Marian Forrester and her husband Captain Daniel Forrester.  Mostly told from the perspective of Niel Herbert, a young admirer of Marian, it recounts their lives in the small western town of Sweet Water on the Transcontinental Railroad.  As he describes the decline of both Marian and the old West in which they reside, a tale of the shift from pioneering spirit to corporate exploitation emerges.  Exploring themes of social class and modernization, A Lost Lady is considered to be a major influence on the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald. 

The discussion of A Lost Lady will be led by Margy Stewart at Manhattan Public Library, May 23, 2019, at 2:00 p.m.  Dr. Stewart previously taught English at Washburn University, and is co-founder of the Prairie Heritage Institute, a non-profit corporation devoted to preservation of the tallgrass prairie and the culture of the Flint Hills.  She received her Ph.D. in English from the University of Wisconsin, and has published numerous essays on many topics, including Flint Hills history, prairie ecology, writing education, American literature, and the birds of Kansas.

All three books are now available to check out at the 2nd floor Reference Desk at Manhattan Public Library.  Take a look, and join us for these lively afternoon discussions, sponsored by Humanities Kansas and the Manhattan Library Association. 

by Luke Wahlmeier Luke Wahlmeier No Comments

New Picture Books to Share With Your Young Ones

New Picture Books to Share With Your Young Ones

By Jennifer Bergen, Program and Children’s Services Manager

With so many new books coming out each month, it is hard to keep up with the wonderful stories and illustrations in children’s picture books. Here are a few new titles to check out for the little ones in your life.

All the Animals Where I Live by Philip C. Stead

Caldecott winner Stead’s books are always a treat, filled with his graceful sketches, enhanced with quiet hues and textures, alongside carefully chosen words to tell a story that requires you to slow down and absorb it. There is not really any plot, just the narrator’s account of memories, animals in the backyard, and a very special teddy bear from Grandma Jane. To read it silently to yourself is a disservice; this story is meant to be read aloud, and if possible, shared.

Ira Crumb Feels the Feelings by Naseem Hrab & Josh Holinaty

What does it feel like to have your happy-go-lucky day with your best friend ripped out from under you? Ira and Malcolm do everything together. They always laugh together, eat together and play together…until everyone else wants to play tag except Ira. This is what happens when the emotions sneak up on you: “My tummy hurts. My chin is wibbling. My eyes are leaking. Even my feelings are feeling feelings!” Read this one out loud to your child when you want to explore how sadness feels, and what you can do about it. Warning: telling fart jokes might help, so if that’s something that will always cheer your child up, this is the book for you.

Small Walt and Mo the Tow by Elizabeth Verdick and Marc Rosenthal

This picture book caught my eye with its nostalgic nod toward Virginia Lee Burton (Katy and the Big Snow, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel), a favorite author/illustrator from my childhood. In Verdick’s second “Small Walt” book, driver Gus and snow plow Walt are taking action from the get go, and Rosenthal’s friendly illustrations will draw kids right in. There’s been a blizzard and it’s time to plow and spread the salt. “Wipers, swish the slush! Tires, turn that snow to mush!” When he sees a car slide into the ditch, Gus calls for help from Mo the Tow and his driver, Sue. It’s not easy work. It takes tools and lots of great sounds like “Rugga-brum-brum, HUMMAROOOM!” This will satisfy truck lovers and lead perfectly into a Mike Mulligan reading up next.

What Do You Do With a Chance? By Kobi Yamada and Mae Besom

This third book in a series of picture books about abstract ideas is another treasure. A child encounters a bright, shining, yellow “chance”, but isn’t sure what to do with it, and the chance is lost. As life continues, more and more chances drop into the child’s path, and each time the chance seems a little too scary to actually take it. Finally, the child decides to grab the next chance, but it seems none are coming anymore. What can be done? It may take even more courage and determination to seek it out, to chase it down and to make sure it doesn’t get away. This time, everything is right for taking the big chance. This metaphor will not be lost on young children, and it’s something to refer back to when a real opportunity comes along for your child. Feeling a little scared is normal, but sometimes you can be brave and just go for it! Check out their first two titles as well, What Do You Do With an Idea and What Do You Do With a Problem.

Hush, Little Bunny by David Ezra Stein

Award-winner Stein’s sweet and tender illustrations create the perfect bedtime book, which can actually be sung to the tune of “Hush, Little Baby.” Share this with your toddler for a reassuring lullaby that shows little bunny’s parent always being there for him. “And when the spring has come and gone, I’m still gonna love you all year long.” This would make a great gift for baby showers and first birthdays. Looking for more great books to share? Stop by the library and visit with our children’s librarians, browse the library shelves, or sign up for the monthly e-newsletter featuring new picture books at under Reading & Research – Newsletters.

by Luke Wahlmeier Luke Wahlmeier No Comments

Guy Friendly Romance Novels that aren’t Fifty Shades of Grey

Guy Friendly Romance Novels that aren’t Fifty Shades of Grey

By John Pecoraro, Associate Director


  OK men, Thursday is Valentine’s Day. If you are looking for a gift for that someone special a little more creative than the usual flowers and chocolates in a heart-shaped box, look no further than the library. Choose among the wide assortment of romance novels to read, share, and impress.

     Thousands of new romance titles are published every year. To help make sense of the overwhelming number and variety of romance fiction available, here are a few of the more guy friendly selections.

      A mysterious plague has taken over the quaint English village of Meryton, and the dead are returning to life, as zombies. This is the premise of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” by Seth Grahame-Smith. The author maintains the structure and language of Jane Austen’s original. Elizabeth Bennett is still beautiful and intelligent, but now is an expert in the “deadly arts.” She is determined to destroy the zombie menace. Enter the arrogant Mr. Darcy, who distracts Elizabeth from her quest. As much comedy and satire as romance, there is enough blood spilled in this book to satisfy everyone.  

     Librarian Henry DeTamble suffers from Chrono-Displacement Disorder. He travels involuntarily through time. His wife, artist Clare Abshire’s life follows a natural course. This is the impossibly romantic trap in which these lovers find themselves in “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” by Audrey Niffenegger. Henry and Clare tell the story from their own perspectives at various times in their lives. In Henry’s time travels he visits Clare as a little girl and later as an aged widow, and explains how it feels to be living outside the constraints of time. Both fantasy and love story, this creative tale explores the themes of fate and the belief in the bonds of love.

     Agnes Crandall is a food writer and cookbook author whose future with her fiancé, Taylor Beaufort looks rosy in “Agnes and the Hitman,” by Jennifer Crusie. They’ve bought an old house owned by widowed mob wife Brenda Fortunato, and promised to host a Fortunato family wedding. Maybe that’s where things began to go wrong. Someone broke into the house, fell down the stairs into a hidden basement, and died. Enter hit men, Shane and Carpenter to investigate. Who sent the intruder? Who sent the hit men? This is a romantic comedy mixed with a measure of action adventure.  

     British spymaster Robert Grey came to France to track down Annique Villiers, the notorious spy known as Fox Cub. In “The Spymaster’s Lady,” by Joanna Bourne, the spymaster and the spy must enter into a reluctant partnership to escape from prison. Grey must get the Fox Cub back to London to thwart Napoleon’s plans to invade England. But Annique is determined to block him at every turn. She’s never met a man she couldn’t deceive, but has she finally met her match?

    “How to Fall in Love with a Man who Lives in a Bush,” that’s the problem faced by Julia in the novel by Emmy Abrahamson. Julia lives a life of waiting: waiting to think of an original story, waiting to quit her job teaching English. She is convinced that she is content with her dull life, until she meets Ben. Ben is younger, Canadian, strong in his conviction that he is going to marry Julia, and he lives in a bush. Julia’s life from that point on takes a turn stranger than any fiction she can imagine. 

     In “No One Like You,” by Kate Angell, we find Beth Avery running away from her past and landing in the beach community of Barefoot William. She is out of money, but maybe not completely out of luck. Baseball star Rylan Cates needs a personal assistant to organize his life, and to take care of his four dogs. Beth loves the dogs, and Ryan feels safe from romantic entanglement because Beth isn’t his type. But Cupid has another opinion.

     And, of course, anything and everything by Jane Austen. So maybe not guy friendly, but a great way to impress that special someone in your life. Also, Austen’s novels are the closest I’ve ever come to reading Romance.

by Luke Wahlmeier Luke Wahlmeier No Comments

New Short Story Collections at MPL

New Short Story Collections at MPL

By Mary Swabb, Learning & Information Services Supervisor

Stories are diverse and varied, but all seek to make something tangible to the reader. It may be a feeling, a place, an experience, or something else. Traditionally, the medium of the short story seeks to portray a story in fewer words (less than 30,000), with fewer characters (one or two), and with a single basic plot. Fewer words to depict a story means that particular care has to be given to each one. Many authors go so far as to see how few words they can utilize to render a story, which is called short, micro-, or flash fiction. Lydia Davis is one author who dabbles with sentence long stories. Other author’s continue to evolve the medium by playing with, different motifs, styles, and genres. Regardless of the type of story that intrigues you, there exists a short story for you. Manhattan Public Library has an assortment of short story collections available to fulfill readers’ interests. Here are a few that came out within the last year:

In her book “The Sound of Holding Your Breath,” Natalie Sypolt illuminates fourteen tales of small town life in present-day Appalachia. Sypolt’s characters live in a small town called Warm, “a place where no one cares if you live in a trailer,” and they struggle with secrets, losses, and the complexities of family. Tragedy and violence coerce Sypolt’s characters into wrestling with who they are in a challenging world. In “Stalking the White Deer,” a woman attempts to come to terms with the life she’s chosen, the man she’s chosen to be with, and the town that they will never leave. Other characters in “The Sound of Holding Your Breath” include siblings who struggle with the death of their sister-in-law, who’s been killed by their brother; a teenage boy who loves his sister’s husband; and a pregnant widow who spends the holidays with her deceased husband’s family. “The Sound of Holding Your Breath” is a collection of haunting stories that deal with emotional conflict depicted through powerful imagery.

Kimberly Lojewski has written eleven bittersweet modern fairy tales about growing older in her debut short story collection entitled “Worm Fiddling Nocturne in the Key of a Broken Heart.” Lojewski’s tales feature evocative imagery and elements of magical realism and bildungsroman. In her titular story, Lemon, a young girl who lives in the swamps with her uncles, seeks the attention of her best friend, an alligator wrestler named Sweets, who only has eyes for an albino beast called Swamp Ghost. In “Baba Yaga’s House of Forgotten Things,” authoritarian grandmas, who “sit on their porches and rock through the night, setting a hair-raising rhythm with the clickety-clack of their knitting needles and the wet, juicy chomping of their toothless gums,” run a summer camp that supposedly reforms juvenile delinquents. “Worm Fiddling Nocturne in the Key of a Broken Heart” is a collection of enchanted stories of change featuring mainly female protagonists.

Death at Sea” by Andrea Camilleri showcases Camilleri’s famous character, Inspector Montalbano, in eight new mysteries set in the fictional town of Vigata, based on the author’s home town in Sicily. Montalbano is a middle-aged, easily annoyed man who is passionate about food, and extremely loyal to his ragtag police team. Camilleri’s stories feature tricky situations and crimes that are not always solved by traditional police work. This short story collection is a fine introduction to readers new to Camilleri’s work.

A debut short story collection by Maxim Loskutoff illustrates an alternative present where an armed occupation of a wildlife refuge is escalating to civil war led by libertarian Western Separatists.  In twelve linked stories, Loskutoff illuminates a rural northwest experience where nature and violence exist in a symbiotic relationship. “Come West and See” showcases the tension between civilization and nature and explores the loneliness, fragility, and heartbreak inherent to love. Fans of dystopian works may be intrigued by this collection. The modern short story continues to evolve, encompassing a variety of motifs and styles. These are just a few of the varied short story collections to be found at Manhattan Public Library. If short stories do not interest you, do not worry – as always, the library has numerous lengthier tomes to delight your interests.

by Luke Wahlmeier Luke Wahlmeier No Comments

High Wizardry in Children’s Books

High Wizardry in Children’s Books

By Jennifer Bergen, Program and Children’s Services Manager

Reading magical fantasy is just fun. You never know where an author will take you, and that unlimited imaginative possibility is what keeps readers coming back for more. When Harry Potter swept the literary world into a wizard frenzy, many adults rediscovered the excitement of reading children’s literature. Why stop there? Here are some magical tales, old and new, that will whisk you away to enchanting adventures, no matter your age.

The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell combines excitement with creepiness and humor. Readers who enjoy Roald Dahl may want to give it a try. “Once there was magic,” it begins, but now Warriors work tirelessly to rid the world of all magic, good or bad. What will happen if the very worst kind of magic sneaks back in? Cowell’s illustrations throughout are also a delight.

The Train to Impossible Places: A Cursed Delivery by P. G. Bell wastes no time. She hooks the reader from the very first railroad track being laid down the center of Suzy’s living room floor. If Suzy is to understand anything ever again, she knows she must find a way to get on the Impossible Postal Express.

If you like your tales to sound magical as you roll the words off your tongue, try Garret Weyr’s new book, The Language of Spells. Weyr’s mesmerizing writing easily transports you to the time of Grisha’s birth in 1803, a time when dragons were not so scarce. Grisha is an ordinary dragon who meets Maggie, an ordinary girl. “Magic is funny in that way: It chooses those who might not choose themselves,” writes Weyr. “In fact, one of the many rules governing the world of magic is that if you pay attention, you will understand how magic has chosen you. And why.” Such an invitation is hard to resist.

The Wizard’s Dog by Eric Kahn Gale puts a spin on the Merlin legend by telling the story through the eyes of Nosewise, Merlin’s pet dog. When Morgana puts a magical amulet around his neck for fun, Nosewise is surprised to hear his thoughts come out as actual words. Now that he can speak, what else can he do, and will it be enough to save his master?

In Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend, Morrigan is cursed, and everyone knows it. Anything unfortunate that happens in her village is immediately blamed on her, and she must write an apology — “one to the Jackalfax Jam Society for a ruined batch of marmalade,” for example. The worst part of the curse is that Morrigan is doomed to die on her eleventh birthday…until Jupiter North arrives.

Diana Wynne Jones was one of the great fantasy authors who wrote classics for kids, teens, and adults. In the Chronicles of Chrestomanci, a series of six books and four short stories, the Chrestomanci is a sort of supervisor for the magical version of England. The first one written is Charmed Life, but another good entry point is Witch Week, which takes place in a world very much like ours. Wynne Jones’s Dalemark Quartet, beginning with Cart & Cwidder, consists of three seemingly unrelated books taking place in a vaguely medieval fantasy world, and a fourth book set in the present that ties them all together in mind-blowing ways.

For a more modern fantasy that blends with science, try Diane Duane’s Young Wizards books. The first book, So You Want to be a Wizard, introduces Nita and Kit, young teens who have just discovered wizardry and are on their “ordeal,” a big quest that each new wizard has to complete. In Duane’s world, the purpose of wizardry is to fight entropy, and their spells are full of mathematical calculations. The tenth book in the series, Games Wizards Play, is the most recent, and she’s still writing.

For some magic in Manhattan, join us at the library to celebrate J. K. Rowling’s wizard phenomenon on Harry Potter Book Night, February 7, from 6:00-8:00. Kids are invited to dress in character if they wish and enter Hogwarts on the library’s 2nd floor. Each House will be represented, as well as many different classrooms. Librarians and members of the local chapter of the Harry Potter Alliance will present activities, crafts, snacks and photo ops to create a magical experience for Harry Potter book lovers.