by Douglas Nichols
It felt like I kind of went through a bad patch there…lots of reading, but, nothing I particularly cared to recommend…(except for liking the Elly Griffiths crime series featuring archeologist Dr. Ruth Galloway) Now I’ve just finished something which is definitely not for everyone, but, I found it quite remarkable! It takes place in the 13th century in the winter in the northwest of England. A small troupe are trying to travel south before they are stranded by heavy winter snowfall. The tale is told from the point of view of a young orphan, Hob, who has traveled with this group for only a bit over a year. These are remarkably compelling characters! Leading the group is Molly, whose music and healing arts are widely known and make her welcome everywhere. Although her hair is silver-grey it is often worn loose and Molly, who is also known as Queen Maeve, is an active, vibrant woman. Her grand-daughter, Nemain is a young teenager with wild red hair and seems destined to follow in Molly’s footsteps as a healer and a woman of power. Rounding out the group is a great hulk of a man, Jack, whose speech is much compromised because of a battle-wound to his throat is Molly’s sometimes lover and always her loyal guardian and warrior. Molly and Nemain sense that something, something dangerous and evil, seems to be stalking them. A mountain pass closed by a landslide sends them back to a recent lodging, where they discover that everyone there had been murdered by…something. Some creature.
I am not, customarily, a reader of horror but this was absolutely a page turner! The author is a prize-winning poet and the language is beautiful and very well-crafted. One difficulty in the reading is the author’s use of medieval speech forms. His knowledge of 13th century buildings, weaponry, crafts, music and food is most impressive.Spend a little time in a completely different century with fascinating characters and a story that will thrill you!
Staff Picks June 2012
Kristine’s June Picks:
I can’t narrow it down to just one! I just read three consecutive GOOD ONES in a row…something that hasn’t happened in quite some time!!! In fact, I’ve been having a hard time even coming up with something I even wanted to recommend for some months, here. Now I’ve got three!
1222 by Anne Holt. It starts with a train wreck. It continues with a blizzard. It ends with the sun breaking through and the murder mystery solved. The central character, Hanne Wilhelmsen, is not the most likeable character you will ever encounter. She’s short-tempered, impatient, irascible, proud, and ungrateful for assistance. She’s also wheel-chair bound as a result of a shooting incident that also ended her police career. Her implacable intelligence, however, is utterly compelling and the story will keep you turning pages. Anne Holt is a Norwegian writer who Jo Nesbo calls “the godmother of modern Norwegian crime fiction.” She has also worked as a journalist and news anchor, spent a couple of years on the Oslo Police Dept, founded her own law firm and served as Norway’s Minister of Justice in the late 1990’s. More titles from the Hanne Wilhelmsen series are being translated and released in the U.S. If you enjoy Scandinavian crime fiction, add Anne Holt to your list of must reads!
The Burning by Jane Casey. Part police procedural, part psychological thriller, this well-told tale of the investigation of a serial murderer…and a coincident killing that just MIGHT be a copycat crime, is another intelligent, interesting page turner that will keep you turning pages and create permanent interest in the career of DC Maeve Kerrigan. Next in the series, The Reckoning, just arrived at the library!
Deadlocked by Charlaine Harris. Although I don’t want to believe it, since I’ve been following the series from the beginning, Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse vampire/werewolf/faerie/shape-changer novels are drawing towards their conclusion. I guess we’d know if the Deadlocked title really WAS the last, but, Harris gives us another great story, another great adventure for Sookie, and seems to be starting to wrap the story into a closer bundle, something that she could satisfactorily and satisfyingly bind off. I love this series because it’s exciting, fun, doesn’t take itself too seriously and Sookie is just a wonderful character who might not be the smartest girl who ever walked, but, she has exceptional native intelligence, is feisty, fearless, fierce and loyal to those she loves. Oh, yeah…and she can read minds. But, not vampire minds….
Mary Ann’s June Pick-
Brilliant: the Evolution of Artificial Light by Jane Brox. In the caves of Grotte De Lascaux France, were found shallow carved stones used as lamps. The stone lamps burned animal fat to provide the light to the individuals who made the many drawings found in the cave. The drawings have been dated to about 15,000 years ago. Since that time man has been seeking the means to provide more illumination. Dirty, smelly crude lamps and tallow candles confined man’s work to the daylight hours. The discovery of whale oil and spermaceti as a fuel for lamps spurred man to hunt these mammals in every ocean to the brink of extinction. The gas made from crude oil was used in lamps with sometimes explosive consequences. Gas lamps lit up the night streets and thereby changed the way man lived and slept. Thomas Edison’s light bulb accelerated man’s quest to light his world 24 hours a day. The cities were the first areas to benefit from electricity generation for light and to run machines. More and more machines were invented to replace manual labor and provide leisure entertainment. The chapter on rural electrification is profound in illustrating how it changed the lives of rural Americans. The farm housewife’s life was profoundly changed from a dawn to dusk day of back-breaking labor. We are living in a world dependant on an aged electric grid system that leaves us very vulnerable to power failures as we use and demand more and more power. This is a very readable, compelling story. How will we light our future?
Brook’s June Pick-
Two Whole Cakes: How to Stop Dieting and Learn to Love Your Body by Leslie Kinzel.I knew, just by glancing at this book’s cover (two delicious looking cakes) that it must have something to do with “The Battle of the Bulge.” To my surprise, this book went well beyond the confessions of yo-yo dieting, meal planning and exercising…or lack there of. Instead, the author reflects on her experiences of what it’s like to live in HER body. Kinzel makes the point numerous times in the book that self-respect and self-esteem are not something that comes with a certain look or image. The author writes: “….your body is not a tragedy. It is the only one you get, no matter how much it may challenge, confound, frustrate, or thrill you, and fighting your body isn’t worth the hurt and the divide.”
It was a breath of fresh air to read something so positive, uplifting, and humorous. I like the idea of body acceptance and knowing that it’s okay to be “less-than-perfect”. What is perfect anyway?
Staff's Spring Favorites
I watch a lot of movies, I do. It has, however, been a long time since I’ve seen a movie that I really, really liked, without equivocation. (with the possible exception of The Ides of March.) I just saw, and really, really liked, The Way, starring Martin Sheen and written and directed by his son, Emelio Estevez, who also has a small role in the film.
Martin Sheen plays Tom, an L.A. ophthalmologist who plays golf with his cronies in his spare time and is disgusted with his almost-40ish son who prefers traveling the world to settling down with his advanced degree. While on the golf course, Tom learns that his errant son died in a freak storm on his first night out on El Camino de Santiago, the old pilgrimage trail through the French and Spanish Pyrenees. Tom goes to claim his son’s body, and then impulsively decides that he will follow the pilgrim trail and sprinkle his son’s ashes on the route he would have taken. Along the way Tom encounters other pilgrims, has many adventures, grapples with his own demons and makes peace with his son.
The scenery is outstanding and just may leave you hankering to walk the pilgrim trail! I highly recommend this film for all viewers and especially those who are working through grief or a spiritual snag. It is honest, raw and, in the world according to me, entirely satisfying.
Mary Ann’s April Pick
The Statues that Walked: Unraveling the Mystery of Easter Island by Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo. The statues(moai) of Easter Island(Rapa Nui) have always been a mystery ever since the island was discovered by Europeans on Easter Sunday in 1722. What they found was a sparsely populated wasteland. The theory held by many has been that the island population that carved the huge, majestic moai inland, then cut down the island’s palm forest to transport these huge statues to the island’s shorelines where many were placed on platforms(ahu) facing seaward. Over time, there began a series of conflicts between island groups which ended in open warfare that depleted the island’s resources and caused the collapse of a culture that once numbered hundreds of thousands of individuals.
In 2001, the authors went to the island to do archaeological studies. Their observations seemed to point to a completely different theory. They believe that the huge statues quarried inland were walked upright to the coastlines on roads by a small number of individuals. The islanders even have a word for this process: neke-neke. The authors also believe that the number of people that inhabited the islands was not as large as many theorize. They could find no artifacts that one could call weapons, so they think that wars were not fought by the islanders. The islanders they feel were actually ingenious environmental stewards that found ways of sustaining a much smaller population on an island that has poor soil and climatic conditions. Devastation of the palm forests they feel happened over a great number of years.
The author’s theories could hold many truths, but ultimately the whole truth of the history of Easter Island may always remain a mystery.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Yes, I’m one of those people that never read this book before but I’m now also one of those people that can say they are glad they finally did. The story is set in 1902 – 1919 Brooklyn, New York. Francie is the storyteller growing up in the immigrant tenements. It could be said that nothing spectacular ever happens to Francie yet it is about everything that happens to Francie and brings you right into what life was like during that period of time. Francie and her brother are the only two children of Johnny and Katie Nolan. Johnny never wanted a family and Katie does everything in her power to try to better their life. She works as a janitor in the tenement so that they have a place to live while Johnny sometimes gets work as a singing waiter. Times are very hard. At a very young age Francie has to learn how to fend for herself and her brother. I had a hard time putting this book down. This is a classic that transcends time.
My Pizza: The Easy No-Knead Way to Make Spectacular Pizza at Home by Jim Lahey.
My family LOVES pizza! We have traveled all over Northern Wisconsin and beyond in search of the best pizza. One thing I rarely attempt to do is create my own pizza at home. The few times I have tried to make homemade pizza I have not been satisfied with the quality of my homemade crust. I am looking to create the restaurant-style flavor, that we've become addicted to, in my own kitchen. I think I may have found the secret to making great pizza at home.
Make homemade pizza that exceeds your wildest expectations—yet couldn’t be simpler—with Jim Lahey’s groundbreaking no-knead dough and inventive toppings.
The secret to incredible pizza is a superb crust—one that is crisp yet chewy, and slightly charred around the edges. Jim Lahey, the baking genius behind New York City’s celebrated Sullivan Street Bakery and Co. pizza restaurant, has developed a brilliant recipe that requires no kneading and produces an irresistible crust in any home oven—gas or electric—in fewer than five minutes. My Pizza shares this revolutionary technique and the creative pies that put Co. on the map, as well as recipes for salads, soups, and desserts to make a meal complete.
The pizzas in this book aren’t your usual, run-of-the-mill pies. In fact, Jim’s unique topping pairings—such as Corn and Tomato, Coppa and Fennel, and Potato and Leek—reinvigorate this American favorite. His whimsy is apparent in his Pepperoni Pie, which doesn’t include the cured meat we have all come to expect; instead, riffing on “pepperoni” as the Italian plural for “pepper,” Jim offers a pie with red pepper puree, ground lamb, and pecorino cheese. To round out dinner, My Pizza also has recipes for starters and side salads—such as Cannellini Bean Toast, Pea Soup, and Bibb and Roasted Squash Salad—and sweet finishes, from Milk Chocolate Sundae to Banoffee Pie.
With gorgeous color photographs and helpful tips on equipment and techniques, My Pizza unlocks the secrets of great, easy pizza for home cooks everywhere.
Early Spring: an Ecologist and Her Children Wake to a Warming World by Amy Seidl. Through the eyes of Amy and her two daughters we visit the small town of Huntington, in the heart of the Green Mountains. As an ecologist and environmental scientist, she asserts that even if one does not believe in global warming brought on by man, climate changes. Amy observes how the climate has changed where she lives. Her neighbors traditions and lifestyles have been impacted by these changes. Some of her observations include spring flowers blossoming before pollinators arrive, ponds no longer freezing, and animals beginning migration at unexpected times. Climate change requires change by plants and animals. They can expand or move to areas in which they can exist. They can change genetically to adapt to climate change. The worst case scenario is extinction. Her book tells how her neighbors share resources like maple syrup, orchard fruits, garden produce, milk products, wool, etc. Her community is experiencing climate change and changing how they live to meet this change. Amy has seen climate change in her lifetime and wonders what world climate will be like for her daughters.
Diane’s Pick:Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool. There’s a saying that says never judge a book by its cover. I have found that this is not always true. And in fact this book is one I picked by the cover and title. The story is based on a real town in southeastern Kansas during the depression. The main character is a twelve your old girl named Abilene Tucker who is sent to the town of Manifest by her father. She is on a train but chooses to jump off right before arriving. If there’s one thing Abilene knows is it is best to get a look at a place before it gets a look at you. Abilene has grown up hearing many stories about Manifest from her father who lived there as a boy. It is her hope that she can discover more about her father while she is there. Abilene is to stay with Shady Howard, saloon owner and former bootlegger now turned preacher. On her first night there she discovers an old cigar box full of mementos including some old letters hiding under the floorboards in her room. It is this discovery that sends her on an adventure that not only helps her discover her father’s boyhood history but actually helps the townspeople once again become proud of their town. As the sign once said: Manifest: A Town with a Rich Past and a Bright Future. This is a beautifully written book with characters you will love. It is the 2011 Newberry Medal Winner.
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka. This is a story about the American Dream from a Japanese woman's perspective. The story begins with a hopeful group of Japanese mail-order brides who are on a boat from Japan heading for San Franciso, in the1920s, to meet their new husbands and begin their new lives.
"On the boat we were mostly virgins," Otsuka begins. "Some of us came from the city, and wore stylish city clothes, but many more of us came from the country and on the boat we wore the same old kimonos we'd been wearing for years." The first thing the girls did on the boat was compare photos of their husbands. They were giddy to see them. The husbands "were handsome young men with dark eyes and full heads of hair and skin that was smooth and unblemished." They wore Western-style suits and posed by their American cars and American houses.
But when they reached port in San Francisco, the girls did not recognize the men waiting for them on shore. Who were these men? These men were older, darker, and poorer. The photos they sent were pictures of their cousins or old pictures. The girls were shattered.Otsuka traces the lives of these extraordinary women and the challenges they face. From learning a new language and adapting to a new culture to raising their children, who will ultimately reject their heritage and their history.
THE SISTERS BROTHERS
by Patrick deWitt
This curious book IS a Western, although it certainly doesn’t come from the Louis L’Amour mold! There are cowboys and horses and shoot-outs. There’s whiskey and women in “the trade.” There’s the formal, almost stilted patterns of speech those of us who saw True Grit will find familiar. And there’s a rambling tale of avarice and adventure.
The Sisters brothers, Charlie and Eli, are stone killers. When they first started working for The Commodore they were given jobs collecting past due sums. As it became increasingly clear that they, especially Charlie, would do anything for money, they were assigned the work of, well, murdering The Commodore’s enemies. For this particular job they travel to San Francisco looking for one Herman Warm, thought to be out there, somewhere, working the gold fields.
I will say that I found it compelling and kept turning pages. Compelling, funny, shocking, historical…it was all of those things. Worth a look if you enjoy Westerns…and aren’t too determined that they sound like something Zane Grey might have written.
Mary Ann's Pick:
THE COLD DISH by Craig Johnson. This is the first book by award winning Western mystery writer Johnson. The setting is Absaroka County, Wyoming. One can view the majestic Bighorn Mountains. People tend to know each other and get together to enjoy Rainer beer at the local bars. Two years earlier a Cheyenne girl with fetal alcohol syndrome was sexually tortured by four members of the local high school football team. The boys were lightly punished which did not sit well with the residents of the Cheyenne Reservation. Cody Pritchard, the least remorseful of the four, is found shot to death. Sheriff Walt Longmire has trouble thinking of anyone who didn’t have a motive. The sheriff tries to find the killer while also trying to find answers in his own troubled personal life. His wife Martha died three years ago and his grown daughter Cady, whom he loves deeply, never seems to call. Fortunately he has his long time friend Henry Standing Bear to help him find his way in life. The problem is his friend is a relative of the molested girl and very capable of being the shooter. Sheriff Longmire is methodical in his crime solving. There is a mix of humor and melancholy to his thought processes. The reader becomes familiar with the local residents and the members of the tiny Absaroka County sheriff’s office. Johnson has written seven Walt Longmire mysteries so far.
SISTERHOOD EVERLASTING by ANN BRASHARES
This is yet another sequel to The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.
I have to admit I only read the first two of these books and did enjoy them. Although this book follows the sisterhood it can certainly stand on it’s own without reading the previous books. I would suggest that you at least read the first book so that you have a better background on the characters.
The girls in the sisterhood are now going to be turning thirty. They have lost contact with Tibby for over two years after she moved to Australia with her boyfriend. Then out of the blue she sends them all plane tickets to meet in Greece for a reunion. Upon their arrival in Santorini, Tibby is nowhere to be found and they finally contact the police. The police arrive to tell them that Tibby’s body is found by a fisherman in the sea, she had drowned. Everything that the sisterhood had been is gone. They all return to the states and grieve in their own way and without each other. But Tibby still has plans and left them all letters to be opened on certain dates. This is a beautifully written book about grief and what ultimately happens to the remaining sisterhood.
Brook’s pick:Fireworks Over Toccoa by Jeffrey Stepakoff. Fireworks Over Toccoa is a sweet love story, not to be missed by those who enjoy a good romance novel. The story begins with the discovery of a long-lost gift given to Lily Davis Woodward. Lily, who is now 84, begins to tell the story of four days in 1945 that changed her life forever. We find ourselves dropped into an amazing story of Lily’s youth one summer while waiting for her husband Paul, whom she’s only been married to for two weeks before he left, to return from WWII. While preparing for Paul’s return she meets Jake Russo, an Italian Pyrotechnician just back from the war, who is visiting the small town of Toccoa, Georgia to produce a beautiful fireworks show for the 4th of July celebration. Jake and Lily are instantly drawn to one another. But Paul is returning in a few days and Lily must decide between living the life she knows everyone expects of her and following her heart
Kristine's Pick: Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko. This book was on the docket for Redbery Book's Chapter and Verse reading club. I admit that I approached it with something akin to dread. A kid's book. Set in 1935. On Alcatraz Island. I am happy to report that I was ALL WRONG. I was sucked into the story from page one...and found it fascinating...and delightful...and VERY readable! I would recommend this book to anyone! I especially loved how resourceful the kids were. Fun!
Kristine's Top Reads for 2009 - Wow, I did a lot of reading in 2009...and read a lot of books I liked. Some that I REALLY liked, in the order that I'm remembering them (vs. the order in which I read them or liked them) are: The Girl Who Played with Fire by Steig Larsson, Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow, The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff, Drawing in the Dust by Zoe Klein, The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin, (Mary Ann's recommendation!) Dead and Gone by Charlaine Harris (my guilty pleasure) and The Long Fall by Walter Mosley, first in another series by a master of the "hard-boiled" genre.
Mary Ann's Pick: Homer and Langley by E.L. Doctorow. This book is a fictional narrative about two real-life brothers, Homer and Langley Collyer. They were the sons of a New York gynecologist and an opera singer. Homer is our storyteller. Homer gradually goes blind at an early age and relies on his brother Langley, for his care. Langley is himself physically damaged from a mustard gas attack during WWI. Following their parents death during a flu epidemic, the brothers become recluses in the family’s palatial Fifth Avenue townhouse. Homer spends his days in the world of music and sounds. Langley sinks into a “mad scientist” world where he collects all manner of objects discarded by others. As the years pass, every room in their house is filled from floor to ceiling leaving narrow paths to navigate. The real Collyer brothers died in 1947. Homer starved to death because Langley had been crushed to death by a suitcase and bale of newspapers, just 10 feet away.
Mary Ann’s Top Ten Reads for 2009
In no particular order, they are Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin, Outliers: the Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell, Wild Thing by Mike Harrison, Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney, K.I.S.S. Guide to Yoga by Shakta Kaur Khalsa, Hot House Flower and the 9 Plants of Desire by Margot Berwin, Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick, and Flushed: How the Plumber Saved Civilization by W. Hodding Carter.
Diane's Pick: Blind Your Ponies by Stanley Gordon West. Montana Indian Legend is that the Crow Indians were camped along the Yellowstone River. The Warriors returning from a long hunting trip found the camp decimated by smallpox. Their wives, mothers and children were all dead. The Warriors were so overcome with grief they blinded their ponies and rode them off a sixty-foot cliff sure they would join their loved ones in another life. As Coach Sam Pickett tells this story to rally his 6 man basketball team, he points out they probably went over the cliff shouting. The courage and faith it would take for such an end. They believed!
Coach Sam moved to a small Montana town after a horrible loss to try to rebuild his life. In Willow Creek he was the high school English teacher and also given the job of basketball coach. The team has not won a game in over five years. Due to the size of Willow Creek it takes all the boys in the high school plus the Norwegian exchange student to create a team. This is Stanley Gordon West at his best. I fell in love with every character in this book. If you want a book to lift your spirits and warm your heart this is it!
Kristine’s October pick:
The Girl Who Played with Fire by Steig Larsson.(translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland.) This follow-up to The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo is, in my opinion, even better than the original. Central character Lisbeth Salander is part-heroine, part-villain and completely fascinating. We were introduced to her world-class computer hacking skills…and violent tendencies…in the first book. We learn more about that, and the dark secrets that shadow her past, in this novel. Although she has broken off all contact with Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist who hired her and learned to value her skills, he works to prove her innocence when she is accused of murder. He knows she’s capable of it. He just doesn’t believe that she’s guilty this time. Don’t start this when you have to get up early the next morning! It’s an exciting read that’ll keep you turning pages until you reach the amazing conclusion.
A third novel in this series, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is due out in June of 2010. (hope I can wait that long.) Sadly, it will be the last of them, as Larsson died of a heart attack shortly after delivering these outstanding manuscripts to his publisher!
Mary Ann’s October pick:
Drawing in the Dust by Zoe Klein. Archaeologist Page Brookstone has spent 12 years unearthing bones on an ancient battleground in Israel. She believes that bones speak, yet none have given her the message she seeks. She is intrigued by a young Arab couple, who want her to excavate under their house because their
house is haunted by the ghosts of two lovers. Page takes on this excavation and soon a coffin is discovered with two entwined skeletons, plus an intact scroll. The text of the scroll challenges the centuries old story of the prophet Jeremiah. Page risks her life and reputation to bring the words of the scroll of Anitiya to the world. An interesting, well written story.
Diane’s October pick:
ASTRID& VERONICA by Linda Olsson. This first novel is a very moving book about an unusual friendship between two women with different backgrounds and ages. Veronica is a young writer that rents a house in a small village in Sweden. She arrives in the middle of winter and plans to write a book about a recent tragedy in her life. Astrid who is often described as “the neighborhood witch” lives next door. Astrid does take notice of the young girl next door and when she does not see Veronica on her routine morning walk for several days she goes over to her house finding her sick. Astrid cares for Veronica during this short illness and a friendship transpires. Astrid begins to join Veronica on her walks sharing information about the land and then into her painful past. Veronica finds that the book she came to write is suddenly not what she thought but writes an entirely different story. This is a very beautiful story about the power of friendship.