Listen Up! New Music Arrivals for October

Black Violin Cover

Grab some hot new albums to warm up your fall nights. These are my top new arrivals for October: place your holds now!

Black Violin – Stereotypes (Classical Crossover) an engaging fusion of classical, hip-hop, funk, and RnB. Thought-provoking lyrics are layered over a rich tapestry of classical arrangements, driven ever forward by an ebb and flow of hip-hop beats. Playful instrumental tracks make the closet dancer in me want to find a choreographer to start planning some routines. This album has so much to offer such a wide spectrum of listeners that I can’t help but love it

Girlpool CoverGirlpool – Before The World Was Big (Wichita Recordings) Rocker duo Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad prove that less is more in their latest release. Before the World was Big manages to be bright, airy, and delightfully ragged around the edges: part punk, part folk. All of this is accomplished with a guitar, bass, and sans drums. Girlpool reminds me just a bit of some of The Breeders’ later material: simple and wonderful.

Apollo Saturday Night CoverVarious – Apollo Saturday Night/Saturday Night at the Uptown (Real Gone Music) This collection is absolutely packed full of classic soul hits from the 1960s. I love the raw energy of the live performances, amped up a notch because you can hear the young crowd wildly screaming and singing along to their favorites. It’s so easy to close your eyes and imagine how much fun it must have been to be on the dance floor at one of these shows.

Julio Bashmore CoverJulio Bashmore – Knockin’ Boots (Sony Music Entertainment) for long-term veterans of the electronic music scene, house music never went away; for the general public there’s a revival of sorts going on right now. Julio Bashmore is one of the happy byproducts of this renewed interest. This album isn’t another rehashing of well-worn stylistic elements to pander to old-school purists;  it pulls from a wide range of electronic music genres to create tracks that are a fresh look at the synthy Warehouse-style house music of the 80s.

Arcs Cover ImageThe Arcs – Yours, Dreamily (Nonesuch Records) A smooth, blues-rock and RnB album that’s hard to pin down. Yours Dreamily is an apt title for the vibe. It meanders its way through psychedelic and trip-hop bursts from track to track, always with gritty reverb-soaked overtones to punch things up a notch.

Spot-Lit for October 2015


Click here to see all these titles in the library catalog, read reviews, or place holds. Or click a book cover to enlarge it or to view the covers as a slide show.

The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey

Oregon Trail

Please don’t laugh at me, but The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker Buck is currently my favorite book. It’s hard to explain, but let me try. The book is hilarious while being thoughtful and packed full of history. There are scenes that are so hair-raising that I had to keep checking to make sure the author really made it to Oregon.

This work is a deeply moving and beautifully written memoir that tells the story of making a modern-day 2,500 mile trip with a mule driven covered wagon along the path of the Oregon Trail. While making his journey, Buck relates: the history of the Oregon Trail, Mormons in the West, and of mules, the pitfalls of wagon purchasing from the Amish, the kindness of strangers in the American West, and why so many children are being raised by their grandparents in Nebraska. More than this, it is Rinker Buck’s description of his complicated and unresolved relationship with his driven father that serves as the emotional trail-heart of this book. I loved every page. This book is a great way to “see America slowly.”


I recently drove the Oregon Trail (quickly!) while travelling from Washington State to Idaho and back. I snapped this photo of what you typically see while driving the old Oregon Trail these days: two straight lanes of highway dotted with semi trucks and passenger cars. It’s a relatively easy drive these days, unless you encounter foul weather over the Blue Mountains. I especially love driving in Idaho where the posted speed is 80 miles per hour. While in Idaho, we were lucky enough to watch the largest non-motorized parade in the west. There were young girls riding bare back and without bridles, and countless old wagons and buggies pulled by mules, horses, and ponies. I’ll include my video of the twenty mule team pulling no less than five wagons here:

Here are some other interesting materials on the Oregon Trail that can be found at the library. They will surely round out your knowledge of that complex and colossal migration.

indexThe Oregon Trail: An American Saga by David Day is the definitive one-volume and complete history of the Oregon Trail from its earliest beginnings to the present. It’s chock full of maps, photographs, diary excerpts and illustrations that give a very detailed picture of this American saga. As the book blurb says: “Above all, The Oregon Trail offers a panoramic look at the romance, colorful stories, hardships, and joys of the pioneers who made up this tremendous and historic migration.”

For an original recording made in Portland, Oregon in May of 1941 by Woody Guthrie, be sure to check out the Columbia River Collection. Guthrie was hired by the Bonneville Power administration to write music for a film about power and the Columbia River. Songs include: The Oregon Trail, Roll on Columbia, and Hard Travelin’. We unfortunately don’t have a photo of this CD in our library catalog, but the music is fantastic.

index (3)If you want to eat like the early pioneers, Wagon Wheel Kitchens: Food on the Oregon Trail by Jacqueline Williams is the book for you! This book puts you squarely on the Oregon Trail: baking bread in a Dutch oven over a campfire, searing buffalo meat, and trading for fresh vegetables and fish. Through emigrant diaries and recipes of the day, the author reconstructs meals that fed the emigrants as they crossed the Plains. To understand the contribution of trail women to the migration, simply try one of Williams’s ‘pinch and a handful’ recipes – and do it over an open fire in a rainstorm.

index (1)The Oregon Trail: A Photographic Journey is by Bill & Jan Moeller. The authors meticulously traced and captured on film the remnants of the Oregon Trail-surprisingly intact in many places.The resulting full-color photographs, accompanied by selected entries from emigrant diaries, evoke for the modern reader the frontier: strange, harsh, and beautiful-as the emigrants saw it.

index (2)Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire: A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival by Peter Stark came highly recommended by a friend when he learned that I loved Buck’s Oregon Trail book. This story is simply a good adventure! It features a ship journey with threat of hostile boarding, wicked storms and the political ambition of Jefferson combined with the global trade scheme of Astor. It also features an overland journey with mountain passes, raging rivers, threat of native attack, and near starvation. In the end, the colony did change the trajectory of settlement on the west coast. It paved the way for the Oregon Trail, coming as it did just a few years after the Lewis and Clark expedition.

To travel the Oregon Trail from the comfort of your own home, come on down to the library and check out these wonderful materials! See you there.

Crazy Fall Publishing Part 5: September 29th

Hey there. What’s up with me? I’m drowning in new books. NBD! The things I do for you, dear reader. Yep, I’m definitely coveting and eventually reading all these books for you. No need to thank me, but if you do you can forward your good words straight to my boss. Performance appraisal time is just around the corner and a good word from you is sure to go a long way.

Anyway, I’ve been counting the days since these new books arrive, and I hope you’ll want to read them, too. Check them out–literally!

all american boysAll American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
Summary: A bag of chips. That’s all sixteen-year-old Rashad is looking for at the corner bodega. What he finds instead is a fist-happy cop, Paul Galuzzi, who mistakes Rashad for a shoplifter, mistakes Rashad’s pleadings that he’s stolen nothing for belligerence, mistakes Rashad’s resistance to leave the bodega as resisting arrest, mistakes Rashad’s every flinch at every punch the cop throws as further resistance and refusal to STAY STILL as ordered. But how can you stay still when someone is pounding your face into the concrete pavement? But there were witnesses: Quinn Collins—a varsity basketball player and Rashad’s classmate who has been raised by Paul since his own father died in Afghanistan—and a video camera. Soon the beating is all over the news and Paul is getting threatened with accusations of prejudice and racial brutality. Quinn refuses to believe that the man who has basically been his savior could possibly be guilty. But then Rashad is absent. And absent again. And again. And the basketball team—half of whom are Rashad’s best friends—start to take sides. As does the school. And the town. Simmering tensions threaten to explode as Rashad and Quinn are forced to face decisions and consequences they had never considered before.
Why I’m stoked: As previously mentioned on this blog, I’m from Alton, IL, a small town across the Mississippi from Ferguson, MO. I don’t think I have to tell you how upset I’ve been to see my neighbors, friends, and family rocked by community violence and mistrust. Books like this one are necessary and welcome. I plan to read it and The Ferguson Report back-to-back. I may be known for my preference for fluffy and frivolous reads, but this is one I know will be difficult for me–and I honestly can’t wait.

madlyMadly by Amy Alward
Summary: When the Princess of Nova accidentally poisons herself with a love potion meant for her crush, she falls crown-over-heels in love with her own reflection. Oops. A nationwide hunt is called to find the cure, with competitors travelling the world for the rarest ingredients, deep in magical forests and frozen tundras, facing death at every turn. Enter Samantha Kemi – an ordinary girl with an extraordinary talent. Sam’s family were once the most respected alchemists in the kingdom, but they’ve fallen on hard times, and winning the hunt would save their reputation. But can Sam really compete with the dazzling powers of the ZoroAster megapharma company? Just how close is Sam willing to get to Zain Aster, her dashing former classmate and enemy, in the meantime? And just to add to the pressure, this quest is ALL OVER social media. And the world news. No big deal, then.
Why I’m stoked: Fantasy and humor. Romance and adventure. And a cover that launched a thousand Instagram posts (if you didn’t see this pop up in your feed in recent weeks you are following the wrong people, my friend). Oh, my goodness. And it’s also book one in a series. Be still my beating heart. I just know this is going to be a fantastic read.

sanctuarySanctuary by Jennifer McKissack
Summary: After the untimely death of her aunt Laura, Cecilia Cross is forced to return to Sanctuary, a rambling, old French-Gothic mansion that crowns a remote island off the coast of Maine. Cecilia is both drawn to and repulsed by Sanctuary. The scent of the ocean intoxicates her, but she’s also haunted by the ghosts of her past–of her father who died at Sanctuary five years ago, and of her mother who was committed soon after. The memories leave Cecilia feeling shaken, desperate to run away and forget her terrible family history. But then a mysterious guest arrives at Sanctuary: Eli Bauer, a professor sent to examine Sanctuary’s library. Cecilia is intrigued by this strange young man who seems so interested in her — even more interested in her than in the books he is meant to be studying. Who is he and what does he want? Can Cecilia possibly trust her growing feelings for him? And can he help her make peace with her haunted, tragic past?
Why I’m stoked: I know the two plots are not the same at all, but reading this synopsis reminded me so strongly of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir that I felt compelled to put it on my TBR. While I love ghost stories, I confess it’s been an age since I’ve read a good Gothic. And the fact that a personal library plays a prominent role in the book kind of makes me crave reading it even more.

zeroesZeroes by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti
Summary: Ethan, aka “Scam,” has a way with words. When he opens his mouth, whatever he wants you to hear comes out. But Ethan isn’t just a smooth talker. He has a unique ability to say things he doesn’t consciously even know. Sometimes the voice helps, but sometimes it hurts – like now, when the voice has lied and has landed Ethan in a massive mess. So now Ethan needs help. And he needs to go to the last people who would ever want to help him – his former group of friends, the self-named “Zeroes” who also all possess similarly double-edged abilities, and who are all angry at Ethan for their own respective reasons. Brought back together by Scam’s latest mischief, they find themselves entangled in an epic, whirlwind adventure packed with as much interpersonal drama as mind-bending action.
Why I’m stoked: On the plus side, I’ve never read a Scott Westerfeld book, so this makes me feel pretty adventurous. On the downside, I almost across the board loathe dystopian novels. However, the abilities the Zeroes posses make me second-guess my dystopian disgust. This one is going to be book one of at least a trilogy, so if I really love it I can look forward to delving into more stories later.

I should probably take a photograph of my TBR for dramatic effect. However, it would be so much taller than me it may topple over and land me with an injury that may prevent me from reading. Tragic!

It’s All About That Death

meearldyinggirlOh, Jesus. Not another girl dying from cancer book. It seems like I just got over John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and now I’ve decided to pick up a book about a teenager with leukemia? That is what I thought when I took home Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews. Why’d I take it home then? I’m a sucker for a good death. Or even a bad one. But as I got into it (and it is a FAST read) I found that this book is SO not about another dying teen girl. This book is about a goofy kid who sees himself as little more than a complete screw up.

The novel begins with Greg telling his story by writing a book. He’s in his senior year of high school and doing fine living on the periphery of things, not really having friends but o.k. with every group at school: the Goths, the jocks, the stoners, the theatre kids, etc. He has a sometime friend named Earl who he likes to make films with.

Earl is in my top ten favorite book characters. He’s a ghetto kid living in a falling apart house with half a dozen half siblings while his mom drinks from morning to night, keeps herself confined to an upstairs room and spends hours in online chat rooms. Earl is a foul-mouthed runt. No wonder I liked him so much. Here’s an Earl sampling:

  • Mr Cubaly want you to do some test while you in here but I got no idea how that supposed to happen so my advice is don’t worry about it
  • Oh I went to see your girl again
  • She got a bald-ass head right now
  • She look like Darth Vader without the helmet
  • Chemo is no joke, son

Greg’s feeling on top of the world because his senior year isn’t turning out as awful as he expected and then his mom tells him his former friend Rachel has leukemia. Rachel was someone he went to Hebrew school with when they were both 11. She had a little crush on him. He liked a girl with big boobs. Greg and Rachel stopped being friends (even though they had a couple of classes together and sat right next to each other) so he has a hard time trying to explain to his mom that it’d be more than awkward for him to show up and say “Hey. You have cancer. My mom said I had to be nice to you.”

He decides to go over to her house anyway, no matter how weird it might be. He makes her laugh. There’s no spark or feeling of long-lost love. She’s a girl he used to know who has cancer and now he’s forced to be nice to her because his mom told him to. And then he finds himself looking forward to hanging out with her.

Meanwhile, Greg and Earl make terrible films that only Greg’s family knows about. One of them is about Greg’s cat but cats aren’t cooperative actors. Who knew? Soon Earl comes along on Greg’s visits to Rachel. On one of these visits, while he and Greg are accidentally high, they tell her that they make films. They swear her to secrecy because they already feel their movies are crap and they don’t want anyone else to know how crappy they are. Greg hangs out on the edges of life, he’s failing school; Earl’s brothers are in gangs, selling/doing drugs; Rachel is dying. Life is falling apart.

Greg can’t get out of emotional tight spots by being funny (You can’t? I am so screwed.) My favorite line from the book sums up my life pretty accurately:

This book probably makes it seem like I hate myself and everything I do. But that’s not totally true. I mostly just hate every person I’ve ever been.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is an unsentimental look at death, high school, and the question of “What the hell am I going to do with my life?” (If anyone knows the answer to that last question please let me know because I’m still trying to figure it out.) Underneath a sarcastic and hilarious shell, this book is all heart and hope, but not the smarmy “Life’s going to be great!” kind of heart and hope. I wouldn’t force that kind of book on you guys.

Crazy Fall Publishing Part 4: September 22nd

What time is it? New book time! Despite the fact that I usually blog about books that are not new and often not even hot, I am making up for lost time this fall. Each week I’m bringing you my totally subjective list of books to squee about. And of all the weeks thus far in the fall publishing season, I am most looking forward to this one.

Ritter_BeastlyBones_jkt_COMP.inddBeastly Bones by William Ritter
Summary: In 1892 in New Fiddleham, New England, things are never quite what they seem, especially when Abigail Rook and her eccentric employer R. F. Jackaby are called upon to investigate the supernatural. First, a vicious species of shape-shifters disguise themselves as a litter of kittens, and a day later, their owner is found murdered with a single mysterious puncture wound. Then in nearby Gad’s Valley, now home to the exiled New Fiddleham police detective Charlie Cane, dinosaur bones from a recent dig mysteriously go missing, and an unidentifiable beast starts attacking animals and people, leaving their mangled bodies behind. Charlie calls on Abigail for help, and soon Abigail and Jackaby are on the hunt for a thief, a monster, and a murderer
Why I’m stoked: One of the best books I read this past winter, Jackaby helped get me through the long wait for Libba Bray’s Lair of Dreams, the sequel to the stunning book The Diviners. How’s this for irony? I am definitely going to read Beastly Bones before Lair of Dreams. I mean, I’ve waited this long. What’s another week? Or day. I’ll probably read Beastly Bones in a day. A day with no sleep. And lots of excited exclamations punctuating the pure silence with which I like to read.

dreamlandDreamland by Robert L. Anderson
Summary: Odea Donahue has been able to travel through people’s dreams since she was six years old. Her mother taught her the three rules of walking: Never interfere. Never be seen. Never walk the same person’s dream more than once. Dea has never questioned her mother, not about the rules, not about the clocks or the mirrors, not about moving from place to place to be one step ahead of the unseen monsters that Dea’s mother is certain are right behind them. Then a mysterious new boy, Connor, comes to town and Dea finally starts to feel normal. As Connor breaks down the walls that she’s had up for so long, he gets closer to learning her secret. For the first time she wonders if that’s so bad. But when Dea breaks the rules, the boundary between worlds begins to deteriorate. How can she know what’s real and what’s not?
Why I’m stoked: I just finished reading the totally awesome and completely engrossing Arkwell Academy series by Mindee Arnett. The protagonist is a Nightmare, which means she feeds off people’s dreams by entering them. Since I’m still so reluctant to let that world go, I am beyond thrilled to get my hands on Dreamland. Don’t get me wrong: if I knew you were dipping in and out of my dreams I would freak out. But since it’s fiction I’m on board for the thrills.

sleeper and the spindleThe Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman
Summary: On the eve of her wedding, a young queen sets out to rescue a princess from an enchantment. She casts aside her fine wedding clothes, takes her chain mail and her sword and follows her brave dwarf retainers into the tunnels under the mountain towards the sleeping kingdom. This queen will decide her own future – and the princess who needs rescuing is not quite what she seems. Twisting together the familiar and the new, this perfectly delicious, captivating and darkly funny tale shows its creators at the peak of their talents.
Why I’m stoked: Despite following him all over social media and loving every quote of his I’ve ever read out of context, I’ve never actually read a Neil Gaiman book. I know, I know. I’m in line now to return my nerd card. Hopefully the line moves slowly enough that I can check out this book and actually read it before the revocation. I love it when fairy tales get turned on their sides, and a battle-ready female character speaks to my Dungeons & Dragons self. That’s right. I think my fighter Aida will be smitten with this book.

unquietThe Unquiet by Mikaela Everett
Summary: For most of her life, Lirael has been training to kill—and replace—a duplicate version of herself on a parallel Earth. She is the perfect sleeper-soldier. But she’s beginning to suspect she is not a good person. The two Earths are identical in almost every way. Two copies of every city, every building, even every person. But the people from the second Earth know something their duplicates do not—two versions of the same thing cannot exist. They—and their whole planet—are slowly disappearing. Lira has been trained mercilessly since childhood to learn everything she can about her duplicate, to be a ruthless sleeper-assassin who kills that other Lirael and steps seamlessly into her life.
Why I’m stoked: I think every time I confess to not finishing a series, be it book or TV, a gremlin gets fed after midnight. Wait. Angel and wings? Nope, most definitely gremlin. This is a poor segue into me confessing to loving TV series Fringe but never actually finishing it. This book screams Fringe at me so much I’m waiting for bangs to sprout on my forehead (the Anglophile in me thought that joke was hilarious). Maybe after I read this I’ll pop those DVDs back in and see what’s going on with Walter. The good Walter. Not the bad Walter. The bad Walter is just too scary to handle sometimes.

Sleep is for the weak. And this week I’m all out of sleep. Wait…what was I saying? That’s right: tell me what books you’re most looking forward to reading. If I get enough replies I can “write it up” as a blog post and give myself more time for reading. Or sleeping. Man, I need to put the book down and get some– zzzzzzzzzzzz.

Best Music of 2015 … So Far

album montageWhile it might seem to some, myself included, that I’ve embarked upon my dotage, I do try to remain current in the music realm. Thus I eagerly await the Beatles reunion tour and wonder what Beethoven’s got cooking. But I jest. So here we are at the ¾ mark for the year and I’ve discovered a bucket full of outstanding albums put out this year. So many, in fact, that this will have to be a two-parter (Will Buck survive Ming’s deathray and carnivorous weasels?) … Well, maybe not a cliffhanger per se.

So, in no particular order, here are some of my favorite albums of 2015 thus far!

Down on Deptford Broadway by Skinny Lister
Skinny Lister’s music features ethereal Celtic folk melodies melding gracefully with rollicking rock and roll. As a reference point think of Dexy’s Midnight Runners at their best, and then think a bit better. These lads and lass, based out of London, have had a fair amount of success since their inception in 2009, and one listen to this album will show you why. 3 stars. Out of 3.

This is The Sonics by The Sonics
This album I’ve already blogged about extensively, so simply buy it, memorize my earlier post and pick your jaw up off the floor. Best album of the year. 3 stars. Out of 3.

No Cities to Love by Sleater-Kinney
Filed under Local Music, these riot grrrls are still putting out an aural assault worthy of a jumbo jet liftoff. Oh, and they write great songs too. Question: What happens when a local punk/indie/riot grrrl band plays together for nearly 20 years? Answer: This album. If you like it edgy and fast, then giddy up and go. 2.5 stars. Out of 3.

So Delicious by Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band
Perhaps my most surprising find of the year, this demon in the rough features a bluesy old-timey group that delivers fun and frivolity and furniture. Without the furniture. Imagine a pig caller shouting the blues while his band of hobgoblins lays down swamp boogaloo pulled from the very depths of hell. If you can imagine this you might want to seek therapy as soon as possible. But Reverend Peyton does bring music from the land of smoky kudzu-infested nights filled with passion, disappointment and whiskey. Check it out and expect to be mesmerized. 3 stars. Out of 3.

It’s Too Late Darling… by Guantanamo Baywatch
It’s very seldom that I find music I’ve never even heard of and get blown away. Enter Guantanamo Baywatch. Granted, my attraction to this album was the band’s name (hey, I’m a superficial guy), but without knowing the genre or anything about the lads and lasses, I discovered a new favorite. And this is one of the beauties of the library, looking into unknown works at no cost to yourself. Expect surf mixed with 50s/60s fun pop/rock. 2.5 stars. Out of 3.

Sundown Over Ghost Town by Eilen Jewell
One of the greatest voices currently putting out music,her gorgeous country music takes you to wide open spaces where the sun sets over hot-baked dirt, followed by crazy nights in crowded honky tonks. 3 stars. Out of 3.

Tune in for more 2015 albums in the near future. And keep your dune buggy off of my lawn, young whippersnapper!