Into The Grey by Celine Kiernan

intothegreyI wanted to have a twin when I was little. Even last week I was thinking to myself: ‘You know who would get that joke I just told?  My twin.’ If she got stuck with a needle I’d feel it too. If my heart was breaking and I was choking on the pieces I’d have her with me, hurting just as much and helping me plan revenge on the person who tore my heart into bits. But then I thought: ‘Is it really a good idea having two of me stumbling through the world?’

No.

In Celine Kiernan’s YA novel Into the Grey, it’s 1974 and Patrick’s grandmother has burned the house down. Not on purpose. She’s got dementia but back in 1974 they called it senility or having a fit as in ‘Granny put her bra on the outside of her blouse today.’ The short stories and novel Pat had been working on? Gone. Dom’s drawings and sketches? Gone. Their mom and dad hate each other and now that their house has burned down, they hate each other more. The family couch surfs for a couple of weeks before going to a seaside cottage they rent once a year while on holiday.

Patrick and Dom think they’ll die from boredom, surrounded by a closed fairgrounds and the sea. It’s beyond cruel to have a fairground within walking distance only to find that it’s closed for the season. Nothing to look at but tourist shops, the sea, pubs, the sea. What’s that over there? Oh yeah. The sea. One day the boys are out for a walk when they see an old man being ejected from a bar. He’s singing an English tune in an Irish pub. Not a good idea. He gets thrown out of the pub with a warning: “If you come in here again singing your old army songs and wearing your old army poppy, I will have you disappeared.”

Pat and Dom watch the old drunk reel around. The man’s not only close to black out drunk but he seems almost…haunted. And he is. The old man walks into the sea to drown himself. Pat and Dom go in after him, nearly drowning themselves. They manage to get him to the shore and get help from a woman in a small shop. She tells them the old man’s name is James.

So, finding a majorly depressed old drunk who was a soldier in WWI  is kinda on the weird scale of things. But Pat begins to have vivid dreams that aren’t his own, nightmare images of muddy trenches. Dom begins to have nightmares too, only he becomes a ghost of himself. Something wanted Dom and Dom was wide open for a spirit to slip in. Dom says his name is Francis and that Patrick is named Lorry. One night Patrick wakes up in the bottom bunk and sees a small pale hand gripping the sides of Dom’s upper bunk.  It’s a boy. “Maybe ten years old.  White face.  Dark, dark eyes, underscored with deep lines, surrounded by purple shadows.”  I saw that creepy little kid from The Grudge when I read the description of the small boy.

Soon Dom is lost to Patrick and Patrick thinks Dom’s soul has flown the coop never to be seen or felt again. Francis, a soldier from WWI, has hijacked his body and isn’t going to give it up.

I don’t do spoilers. I won’t ruin a book for anyone.  Unless I hate them. Then I will blast the entire plot on a boom box and hold it over my head at my enemy’s house a la John Cusack in that one movie that I can’t remember the name of but I remember being annoyed by the movie but confused because I really liked John Cusack. What was I saying?  Celine Kiernan has written a seemingly simple young adult novel about the relationship between siblings. It’s not a simple book at all. It reads like a fast paced thriller but it’s about what you would do for your brother or sister, how far would you go to keep them safe and sound. Evidently, battling for your sibling’s soul is pretty high on the list of “Hey, brat. I rescued you from purgatory. Now gimme your fries.”

Inquiring Minds

whatifAccording to tradition, curiosity is a bad thing. If you’re a cat, curiosity kills and if you’re Pandora your curiosity releases all the evils of humanity. A tad harsh if you ask me. Luckily curiosity has a lot of defenders, especially among those that are scientifically minded. It makes sense since questioning and experimentation are at the heart of the scientific method. As Mr. Einstein said: “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”

The best thing about curiosity is that it can take you to some really weird places. I’ve always liked those incredibly odd hypothetical questions curious people ask that seem to come out of left field. There is a problem if you like these types of questions though. Rarely does anyone take them seriously enough to try to answer them. Imagine my delight then, when I saw this title while perusing the new nonfiction books here at the library: What if?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe. Time to investigate.

Randall Munroe is the author of a popular webcomic, xkcd, and a former NASA roboticist. The fans of his webcomic are an inquisitive bunch that enjoy sending him all sorts of hypothetical questions that range from the intriguing to the downright scary. Monroe receives so many of these questions that he has set up a separate blog, what if?, to answer many of them and share them with the world. This book is a collection of some of the best of these questions and answers as well as lots of material not on the blog itself.

So how odd are the questions? Here are a few examples to give you an idea:

What would happen if everyone on Earth stood as close to each other as they could and jumped, everyone landing on the ground at the same instant?

If you suddenly began rising steadily at 1 foot per second, how exactly would you die? Would you freeze or suffocate first? Or something else?

How much Force power can Yoda output?

Which U.S. state is actually flown over the most?

And my personal favorite:

What is the farthest one human being has ever been from every other living person? Were they lonely?

Each question is answered by Munroe using all the powers of reason, science, creativity and lots and lots of humor. As you might guess, the author sprinkles each answer with hilarious, and often informative, illustrations of the concepts he is trying to get across. Whatever you do, don’t skip reading the footnotes. They are the opposite of the usually arcane explanations found in academic journals and Munroe’s dry wit really shines through. His footnote for the sentence “The periodic table of the elements has seven rows” reads:

An eighth row may be added by the time you read this. And if you’re reading this in the year 2038, the periodic table has ten rows but all mention or discussion of it is banned by the robot overlords.

The thing that surprised me the most about this book was that in addition to it being quirky and really funny, I found myself learning a lot. While the questions are definitely outlandish, the concepts used to answer them are grounded in many diverse fields such as physics, mathematics, geology, astronomy and many others I usually find difficult to absorb. It’s amazing what you can learn about fluid dynamics when the author is trying to explain what would happen if a rainstorm dropped all of its precipitation in one giant raindrop.

So ignore all those archaic dire predictions and let your curiosity run rampant while reading What If? Inquiring minds want to know.

Bad Good Guys

Based on a scientific analysis conducted by consulting my own opinion, I have determined that protagonists are typically good guys or heroes.

Except when they aren’t.

It’s easy enough to like a likable character (Einstein wrote a paper on this), but less easy to like a jerk. Why would you want to read an entire book about someone unsympathetic or nasty? Creating compelling stories where the reader cares about a psychopath or a twit is a challenging undertaking.

I seem to have run across my fair share of such stories of late, and here are a few unlikable people you might like to meet.

Spellman FilesThe Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz
This book is the first in a series about a family of detectives, the Spellmans. Izzy, the middle daughter, is the protagonist, a self-destructive, defiant, irritable and sarcastic example of humanity. David, her eldest sibling, is annoyingly perfect in every way which simply highlights Izzy’s shortcomings. Their parents, in misguided attempts to reign in Izzy’s destructiveness, resort to techniques (i.e. planting listening devices in her bedroom) which are not found among Dr. Spock’s parenting tips. The only person unaffected by the family’s general craziness is Izzy’s much younger sister Rae. And in this highly dysfunctional family, Izzy is the queen of maladjustment, seemingly lacking in all virtuous qualities.

The narrative ricochets through time, starting in the present with Izzy at age 28 and Rae missing. The author admirably fills in backstory in a non-linear fashion as we learn family history and the events leading up to Rae’s disappearance. Izzy matures along the way but never really becomes a likable character.

Yet I still found the book hard to put down. This family might be crazy, but they’re interesting and the drama around finding Rae, which stretches through most of the book as the narrative jumps around in time, is compelling. Author Lisa Lutz makes me want to read about her unpleasant hero.

fast-one-1952Fast One by Paul Cain
This little-known gem, written in 1932 and currently on-order at EPL, was referred to by Raymond Chandler as “… [representing] some kind of highpoint in the ultra hardboiled manner!”  What Ray meant is that the writing style is extremely choppy and pared down. There is dialogue and action, action and dialogue, but very little description. Although you learn about the characters, it is through (wait for it) dialogue and action only.

Our protagonist, Gerry Kells, is a man who is ostensibly a detective, but who in the past had intimate connections with the slimy underbelly of society. As this story of crime lords vying for control of Los Angeles unfolds, Kells throws his hat in the ring and rapidly shifts from a seemingly good guy to a really bad guy. It’s difficult to say much more without giving the story away, but suffice it to say that Kells is perhaps the least sympathetic protagonist you’ll ever meet. Yet once again I couldn’t put the book down until the end.

You can listen to some of Cain’s other writings in The Black Mask Audio Magazine Volume 1.

Black Mask

Shovel ReadyShovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh
A final example is found in Spademan, a former sanitation worker living in a near-future New York City that has been devastated by a nuclear bomb. Most survivors leave the city, but those who stay behind do whatever it takes to stay alive. Spademan becomes a guy-with-a-box-cutter-for-hire. Perhaps it’s harder to define hero and anti-hero in this world where the concepts of right and wrong no longer rigidly apply, but a guy killing people with a box cutter for money is not someone you’d bring home to meet your Meemaw. Moving amongst poor people living in tent cities and rich people plugged into a happier virtual world, Spademan searches for his latest target, a famous televangelist’s daughter. While hunting he falls in love with her and transcends the role of assassin, but never fear, there is still plenty of brutality and violence.

Books are filled with other great anti-heroes such as Dexter and Serge Storms, and what fascinates me is that we want to read about these people. So, “Bravo!” to their authors for creating stories where we readers connect with these undesirable types. If only I could feel so well-disposed towards their real-life counterparts.

Give Homemade: The DIY Guide to Gift-Giving

Don’t let this holiday season get the better of you! I say start now, gather supplies and ideas, and get to crafting the perfect DIY gifts for friends and family. The library is a great place to start looking for inspiration. No matter the recipient, I guarantee you can find a great DIY gift idea at the library.

Set1

Whether you’re looking for your baby’s first holiday gift or you want to dazzle a mom-to-be, you need to check out Cutest Ever Baby Toys to Knit by Val Pierce. For adorable toys, check out Tusker the Elephant (cover image; project starts on p.86), Rainbow Butterfly (p.92), and Freddy Fox (p.78). For other cute baby items, try Little Bunny Bag (p.39), Goody Two Shoes (newborn booties-p.36), and Under-the-Sea Mobile (p.83). My favorite project by far has to be the Soft and Squishy Playbook (p.22). It’s a knitted play book with a different object (car, teddy bear, etc.) on each page. Research shows it’s never too early to introduce children to books and this is a sweet way to begin.

If you’ve always wanted to dabble in chemistry look no further than Homemade Nail Polish by Allison Rose Spiekermann. I’d never really considered what would go into making your own nail polish at home, but apparently it begins with a good face mask so the solvents don’t send you face-down on the work bench before you even get to the color mixing part. And speaking of colors, I learned you can use eyeshadow as a color base for nail polish and that there are many different types of glitter. Who knew?! There are sections in the back for troubleshooting and perfecting your mixes as well as tips for applying the perfect manicure and designing your own nail art. So maybe if you don’t have time to make your own nail polish you can at least set up a lavish manicure to pamper your BFF.

Do you know your away around a pair of pliers? Have you always wanted to use your butane torch on something other than crème brûlée? Then you’ll want to check out The Jewelry Maker’s Design Book: an Alchemy of Objects by Deryn Mentock of Something Sublime. The first section of the book contains descriptions of all the tools you’ll need, as well as techniques you’ll want to become familiar with before you start selecting beads. The bulk of the book, however, is packed with specific projects to help focus your efforts on a balanced and beautiful piece. I was really thrilled to see old pieces of jewelry, like brooches, used in designs for necklaces. I have a large amount of inherited jewelry that I don’t know what to do with–but now a plan is forming, and I think I like it.

set2

The pouches, bags, blankets, clothing, and accessories in Project Teen: Handmade Gifts Your Teen Will Actually Love by Melissa Mortenson definitely appeal to me, someone who hasn’t been a teen since The Cranberries were popular. Melissa is the genius behind The Polka Dot Chair, one of my favorite DIY blogs. Even if her book is checked out you can always hit up her blog for an amazingly creative selection of projects that range in both difficulty and time required. And, much like her book, there’s truly something for everyone. In particular, who wouldn’t want one of her Swim Bags (p.20)? The wide opening and flat bottom make this tote bag ideal for book lovers as we cart home our latest selection of library books each week.

Not ready to take up a needle and thread or put the pedal to the floor with a sewing machine? No Sew Love by Ashley Johnston of Make It, Love It is just what you need. There are 50 projects that require zero sewing and the finished products look stellar. The Fabric Wristlet Key Fob (p.122) is a cheery, practical gift that you could personalize for pretty much anyone on your gift list. The Leather Fringe Necklace (p.110) looks simple and chic enough to make for my entire gaggle of girlfriends. But the project that really has me sold is the Basic Skirt (p.130). It’s a skirt that requires no sewing, has an elastic waist, and is a decent length. Not only could I make a bunch for my friends but I could totally practice my technique on skirts for myself. Total win-win!

Bibliophiles and librarians alike will adore something from the Little Book of Book Making: Timeless Techniques and Fresh Ideas for Beautiful Handmade Books by Charlotte Rivers of Lottie Loves. From simple binds to complex fold-and-cuts, there are a wide variety of projects inside this book. You’ll not only learn the skills to bind books, but you’ll also find beautiful and sometimes quirky designs for the cover. There are also interviews with artists where you’ll find even more inspiration. The one that really caught my eye was Cathy Durso (p.84) who specializes in embroidered book covers. If you’ve ever done embroidery or know someone who has, you understand how very special this is. The cutest image of one of my favorite animals, the narwhal, is featured on the opposite page. Mom, are you reading this? I would love a book embroidered with a narwhal, please!

set3

Got Sharpies? I have dozens of colors at home and plan to use them all to create projects found in Make Your Mark. Before diving in, you should pay attention to the suggestions for testing your pens on different materials before you get rolling. What looks great on glass may bleed like crazy on wood. For those of you experienced at what I call free-handed doodling, you shouldn’t have any problems. People like me, however, who dream of being an artist but tend to not quite have a brain for creating patterns will enjoy the pattern templates scattered throughout the book. I’m dying to make something like the Kitchen Word Canvas (p.32) because it looks like it could be a quick, simple, and inexpensive project that will cheer the home. The best part is that it’s completely customizable, so I could make a holiday-specific one, one for a guest bedroom, and the list just goes on. The ornaments on page 52, with their stark white-and-blue color combination and modern patterns, look like something someone would have hanging in their home year-round.

No DIY or crafting post would be complete without mentioning gifts created from mason jars. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know mason jars have made a huge comeback in recent years as the popularity of home canning has grown. However, you may be unaware that there are so many cute and creative ways to use them, including as gifts. DIY Mason Jars by Melissa Averinos and Mason Jar Crafts by Lauren Elise Donaldson cover everything from soap dispensers to terrariums. I feel like these are crafty gifts that will hold up over time, as that mason jar silhouette is just simply timeless.

In fact, you should really pay attention to this terrarium idea and check out the episode of DIY Dammit where Joselyn Hughes and Tyler Oakley made these adorable and portable pieces of earth. You’ll really get a feel for the technique, as well as how important it is to keep your sense of humor whenever crafting.

UCU

If for some reason your best-laid plants don’t come to fruition or if you have to give gifts on a large-scale, you may want to check out the Urban Craft Uprising winter show, December 6th and 7th at Seattle Center. My friends and I go every year and I usually end up buying gifts for everyone on my list (and way too many for myself). Everything at UCU is handcrafted by artists and designers, most local to the Pacific Northwest. You can support the indie craft revolution happening in your own backyard!

Now if you’ll excuse me I need to unearth my hot glue gun, spray paint, and torch. It’s gift-makin’ time, and I mean business!

Heartwood 4:6 – Pushkin Hills by Sergei Dovlatov

Pushkin HIllsIn Sergei Dovlatov’s entertaining Pushkin Hills, Boris Alikhanov is a struggling writer who takes a job as a tour guide at Pushkin’s estate. The book begins with his journey there and his interactions with the other guides and cultural functionaries. He gets settled into a squalid room with a raging alcoholic known as Misha for a landlord (whose drunken babblings include some great non sequiturs and neologisms). Boris learns what he has to in order to give tours and he seems to enjoy it, despite having to put up with ignorant tourists. He stays away from offers to go out for a drink, remarking that it’s easy for him to say no to the first one but once he starts he’s like a train without brakes.

Boris has a wife, he’s semi-separated from, who wants to emigrate to America with their daughter, but he doesn’t want to leave Russia, saying it would be a disaster for an author to be removed from speakers of his native tongue. You get the idea that Boris doesn’t write much but he has managed to publish a number of pieces in literary magazines and they have caught the eyes of Soviet censors. The news of his wife’s emigration plan causes Boris to fall off the wagon in a big way, and his spontaneous candor in a phone conversation with her after she has left the country raises the question of whether or not they will ever be getting together as a family again (yet he seems like a guy whose various transgressions are frequently forgiven).

This is a stylish and snappy piece of writing that surprises the reader with unexpected turns and an episodic storyline. Dovlatov is fond of witty dialogue and of aphorisms, such as “You want justice? Relax, that fruit doesn’t grow here.” There’s something both straightforward and enigmatic in his concise sentences. He leaves you wanting more – in a good way – and he tempts you to reread him for the pleasure of his prose, in this case, capably translated by his daughter Katherine. This is a short, comic, satisfying novel that should appeal to most readers.

__________

Masha Gessen, writing in the New York Review of Books, says in Russia Dovlatov “went from being a writer known to very few to a household name and, finally, to the status of a classic. Dovlatov is to Russian vernacular what Casablanca and Mark Twain are to American speech.”

Just the Facts, Ma’am

Warmth of Other Suns coverThe other day I was walking out with an armload of books on CD, and Richard our audio book selector got all excited because he thought I was getting non-fiction (something he’d like to see checked out more). Shamefacedly I had to admit that it was all fiction, and that I had been slacking a bit on listening to anything factual. His enthusiasm for promoting our non-fiction audio books inspired me to put some of my selections back and browse the other shelves.

I’ve always been a big non-fiction reader, but for some reason this passion hasn’t translated well to audio books. I have a long commute and like to pass the time listening to stories. I’ve found them to be easier to listen to in the little 35 minute drives I have to do throughout the week because I don’t have to pay too close attention to make sure I’m not missing any important points. It’s also easier to pick up where I left off if I haven’t listened in a while because we’ve been using the other car; often with non-fiction audio books I have to rewind a bit to refresh my memory. The only things that combat these issues for me when listening to non-fiction books is to find ones that are written in a very narrative style and have great readers.

With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of non-fiction audio books that I’ve listened to recently that have kept me enthralled from start to finish.

The Warmth of Other Suns: the Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson (read by Robin Miles). I guess if you need a place to start, choosing a Pulitzer Prize winning book generally isn’t a bad idea. Wilkerson tells the story of the Great Migration by tracing the paths of four African-Americans who migrated north and west to escape the Jim Crow world of the South. Because the author interviewed all four individuals, the book is rich with dialogue and personal stories. Miles does an excellent job of reading Wilkerson’s work, making each individual’s personality shine through, and adding appropriate emphasis and emotion to some of the more difficult passages.

Mushroom Hunters coverThe Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of an Underground America, by Langdon Cook (read by Kevin R. Free). Foodie, traveler, hiker, lover of the Pacific Northwest – no matter what you consider yourself to be, you’ll probably find something to enjoy about this title. Mushroom Hunters reads like investigative journalism mixed with Food Network programming (in the best way possible). Cook tells the story of his quest to learn about the secret not-always-legal world of commercial mushroom harvesting in the Pacific Northwest. I really enjoyed driving back and forth on Highway 2 as Free described the kinds of lush rainy mountains that surrounded me, and all the secret things that may be happening in them.

Detroit cover imageDetroit: an American Autopsy, by Charlie LeDuff (read by Eric Martin). This is a book that I would have loved even if Mickey Mouse was reading it, but Eric Martin’s narration took it from good to perfection for me.  Martin’s gravelly no-nonsense delivery perfectly matches the tone of LeDuff’s vignettes of the rough, hard-working, beautiful, disturbing, hopeful, and troubled City of Detroit. This book isn’t another work of ruin porn aimed at exploiting what befell Detroit after the decline of its industrial might. It’s the honest collected experiences of a journalist who has spent his entire career covering every side of a city that seems to be almost universally hated and feared by the rest of America. No predictions are made about the future. No excuses are made for the past. It’s just the facts as he saw them happen, and it’s dark, light, and magnificent.

Naked coverNaked, by David Sedaris (read by the author and his sister, comedian/actress Amy Sedaris). Ending on a lighter note, I just have to say I’m a sucker for David Sedaris in any format, but I think experiencing his writing performed by himself is always the best. Whether it be appearances on This American Life, or full-length readings of one of his many titles, you’d be hard-pressed to not be entertained. Well, at least you would be if you and I share a similar sense of humor. In Naked, Sedaris tells stories about his upbringing; considering that his family spawned two comedians, you know things had to be unorthodox.  Even though he may be describing something completely ridiculous, his sense of humor remains dry and ironic. This tone is amplified when you hear him perform his work. His readings are so well-timed and pitch perfect that it’s almost impossible to later read something of his without hearing his voice in your head.

I hope some of these recommendations inspire you to treat yourself to some of the many excellent non-fiction audio titles we have in our collections. I know I’ll continue exploring!

Spot-Lit for November 2014

Spot-Lit

Here are some of November’s fiction releases you may want to have on your radar. Click the titles below and then the Full Display button to read summaries or reviews or to place titles on hold.

General Fiction / Literary Fiction  

Book of STrangeMermaids in ParadiseUsMap of BetrayalLet Me Be Frank with You

The Book of Strange New Things  by Michel Faber
Mermaids in Paradise  by Lydia Millet
Us  by David Nicholls
A Map of Betrayal  by Ha Jin
Let Me Be Frank with You  by Richard Ford

First Novels / Fiction

Bed of NailsPetite MortBad CountryForty DaysPreparation

Bed of Nails  by Antonin Varenne
Petite Mort  by Beatrice Hitchman
Bad Country  by C.B. McKenzie
Forty Days without Shadow  by Olivier Truc
Preparation for the Next Life  by Atticus Lish

Crime Fiction /Suspense

Burning RoomWink of an EyeKiller Next DoorMidnight PlanMurder of Harriet Krohn

The Burning Room  by Michael Connelly
Wink of an Eye  by Lynn Chandler-Willis
The Killer Next Door  by Alex Marwood
The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man  by W. Bruce Cameron
The Murder of Harriet Krohn  by Karin Fossum

SF / Fantasy / Horror

Three-BodyPeripheralDreamer's PoolRevival

The Three-Body Problem  by Cixin Liu
The Peripheral  by William Gibson
Dreamer’s Pool  by Juliet Marillier
Revival  by Stephen King

Romance

Before We FallAll Broke DownBlood MagickKraken King

Before We Fall  by Courtney Cole
All Broke Down  by Cora Carmack
Blood Magick  by Nora Roberts
The Kraken King  by Meljean Brook

 To see all on-order fiction, click here.