Sarah’s Selections

sarahlanguageartsInterested in a great novel or inspiration for finally building your home away from home? If so, check out Sarah’s latest reading adventures. For more of Sarah’s reviews, and lots of other great stuff, head over to our Facebook page.

Language Arts by Stephanie Kallos

Charles teaches English at a prestigious, private, Seattle school. His wife and he have divorced, after difficulties raising their autistic son, Cody. They are in the process of converting an older home into a private group home for Cody and some of his fellow classmates. Charles devotes much of his spare time writing letters to his younger daughter, Emmy, who’s away at college, and reminiscing about his own childhood. In Charles’ youth, he befriended a boy, Dana McGucken, who’s mysterious behavior was unnamed at the time, but now would be recognized on the autistic spectrum. Charles remembers how unhappy his parents were in their marriage, and recounts his relationship with his 4th grade Language Arts teacher, a woman who emphasized the Palmer method of penmanship. Charles makes revelations between his relationship with Dana, and the strained relationship he now has with his son. Charles’s life is focused on language and prose, and yet he can’t communicate with his son. A dramatic plot twist at the end cements the story, and unites the characters together. Kallos doesn’t publish very often, but I’m always happy when she does. She’s a talented storyteller, and her conviction for her characters is strong.

cabinpornCabin Porn: Inspiration for Your Quiet Place Somewhere
by Zachery Klein

Cabin Porn began as an online collection of photos to inspire a group of friends embarking on homebuilding. Readers around the world submitted shots of various structures to get ideas and brainstorm. The snapshots are mainly of exteriors, and many are tucked away in nature’s nooks and crannies. Some of the more oddball structures include a renovated grain silo, and an underground bunker built into a hillside. Rustic charm is illustrated throughout, and if you’re looking for inspiration for solitude this is it. It’s time to start saving up the cabin fund.

rocktheshackRock the Shack: Architecture of Cabins, Cocoons and Hide-outs: The Architecture of Cabins, Cocoons and Hide-Outs
by Sven Ehmann

Tired of city living? Are your neighbors driving you crazy? This collection of architectural gems will inspire you to get away from it all. Structures range from simple huts and teahouses to glamorous cabins with modern lines. Many of the submissions are from Europe and Japan, and the architectural designs will inspire you to downsize and escape. These quirky and unique dwellings showcase the human desire to create a sense of home.

Fangirl, Carry On, and the World of Simon Snow

Enjoy this great post from our spectacular substitute librarian, Amanda:

The bestselling, award-winning author, Rainbow Rowell is perhaps best known for her book Eleanor & Park. That book, a young adult novel about a teenage romance in the 80’s, quickly became one of my favorite books of all time. I have since read many other books that Ms. Rowell has put out including Attachments and Landline, her adult fiction novels, and her other young adult novel Fangirl.

fangirlLet me take a moment to explain to you the brilliance that is Fangirl. This book is about twin sisters that go off to college. One sister is super excited about typical college life experiences and the idea of creating her own identity and the other… well the other is Cath. Cath has no interest in developing a new social life and has anxiety when her sister decides not to be her roommate in college. She has to meet new people!? She would rather just stay indoors and write her Simon Snow fan fiction. Simon Snow is a book much like the Harry Potter Series. An orphan boy goes to a magical school and he must defeat an evil called the Humdrum. As an obsessed teen, I too wrote fanfiction. I, too, was a little uneasy my first year away at college. This book spoke to me and it was one of those rare books I actually read twice in a row. Needless to say, the announcement of Carry On made me extremely excited.

carryonWhat is Carry On, exactly? This masterpiece is the very Simon Snow fanfiction that Cath wrote in Fangirl. Cath has a huge following in the book of other fans who read her story called Carry On, Simon. This story is meant to be the fanfiction version of the last Simon Snow book. She writes it before the real final book is released and posted it online. In her story, Simon and his arch nemesis at school, Basil, fall in love. The ACTUAL book that Rainbow Rowell wrote is that fanfiction from the Fangirl universe. Mind = blown.

Carry On was all I hoped it would be. It was funny, smart, and heartwarming. It made me remember fondly the days of reading Harry Potter and yet… and yet, it is its own thing. Rainbow Rowell has managed to create a beautifully unique world that actually fixes a lot of problems I had with the Harry Potter series. The characters are very real and flawed; much like in Rowell’s other realistic fiction. I also loved the idea that magic has to come from somewhere and keep in balance. It reads like fanfiction, which is not a bad thing. The story ends in a way that you won’t predict, but that you will love just the same.

You can probably read Carry On without reading Fangirl. Even so, I would recommend them as a pair so you can appreciate the story on a deeper level. I cannot recommend these books or others by Rainbow Rowell enough. Must reads, all of them!

Heartwood 5:5 – Leavetaking by Peter Weiss

LeavetakingLeavetaking is a compelling autobiographical novella by German-born Peter Weiss set in the decades building up to World War II.

Years have passed since the end of the war, and now that the narrator’s parents have both recently died, the adult children gather at their old house to settle the estate. The narrative unspools as an unbroken thread of the narrator’s reflections upon his early life, triggered by the return to the home of his upbringing. And I do mean both unspooling and unbroken – the novella takes the form of a single long paragraph, recounting events from the narrator’s boyhood and moving beautifully – steadily but unhurriedly – through his adolescence. The long-paragraph form takes a little getting used to, but the pacing overall achieves an intoxicating, immersive flow.

Weiss’s story includes a number of common experiences of childhood – the bullying frenemy, the intimidation of going to school for the first time, rebellion against parental rule, and the riches of childhood play and imagination. The second half of the book includes some frank scenes of his burgeoning libido, including some incestuous foreplay with his sister Margit. There are times when the storytelling gets very compressed, such as the surprising announcement of his sister’s death.

The narrator is captivated by literature, music and art, and he resists the idea of following his father in the textile trade or any other conventional avenue of work. As a young man he spends his time painting and wants to be an artist, getting help and advice eventually from Harry Haller, a character based on Weiss’s real-life mentor, Herman Hesse. His parents resist his artistic inclinations and his mother violates the trust he places in her as guardian of his paintings.

Readers might be surprised at how unconcerned with politics the young narrator is, at a time when Hitler’s regime has caused his family to move a number of times. The book ends with the narrator awakening in a way from his own self-involvement and indicates a turn toward others and toward the problems of the world. This is a fine short novel, well worth the small investment in time it takes to read.


Browse Heartwood  |  About Heartwood

Spot-Lit for November 2015


The titles listed here are some of the most anticipated November releases based on a consensus of advance review praise and book world enthusiasm. 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.

Notable New Fiction 2015 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction.

Rise of the Machines

PMrobotsI know this is going to come as a shocking confession from a librarian, but I like to prioritize the things I worry about. My favorite organizational criterion (yes, I have a favorite) is:  ‘how likely is (insert worry here) going to happen.’  If it doesn’t seem very likely, I can set it aside and move on. I used to think worrying about a rogue Artificial Intelligence using its robot minions to take over the world was a pretty long shot. The other day though, I came across several articles referencing an Open Letter signed by the likes of Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk that was concerned with the possible misuse of AI and robots as they continue to be developed. Clearly I am missing something to worry about. Time to do some research at the library to find out what all the fuss is about.

robotbuilderI was surprised to learn that if you want to get hands on and actually build a mechanical companion, we have several books to get you started. For an overview of what is currently possible, definitely take a look at Popular Mechanics Robots: a New Age of Bionics, Drones & Artificial Intelligence. You will learn about self-driving cars, surprisingly intelligent, and somewhat creepy, coffee makers and bionic limbs. After you have selected your project, the books Robot Builder: the Beginner’s Guide to Building Robot by John Baichtal, Making Simple Robots by Kathy Ceceri and Robot Builder’s Bonanza by Gordon McComb will get you started. Before releasing your creation on the world though, please read Chapter 5 of Robot Builder titled ‘Controlling Your Robot’ very carefully. Also having an off switch might come in handy.

whattothinkWhile what is possible today when it comes to Artificial Intelligence and robots is definitely intriguing, the near future, very near according to some, should be the time when things really get interesting. In the book What to Think About Machines That Think by John Brockman, the author asked many prominent philosophers, scientists and creative types a simple question: What do you think about machines that think? As you might expect, the answers vary widely. Some offer dystopian visions of the demise of humanity, while others promote a world where AI solves all our problems.  If you want to delve deeper, definitely check out The Technological Singularity by Murray Shanahan. This well researched book explains the Technological Singularity, basically the point where AI can learn on its own and overtakes human intelligence, and even tries to predict when it might happen and the consequences.

We actually have many more books that examine the issues surrounding AI and its development from various viewpoints. A few of the noteworthy titles include: Humans Need Not Apply: a Guide to Wealth and Work in the Age of Artificial Intelligence by Jerry Kaplan, The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake our World by Pedro Domingos and Virtually Human: the Promise and the Peril of Digital Immortality by Martine Rothblatt.

auroraWhen it comes to speculating about what AI is capable of though, fiction and film is definitely where all the fun is at. The scenario of the evil computer trying to take over the world is used so often in fiction that it is almost a cliche at this point. A fun cliche, but a cliche nonetheless. I recently read, well listened to actually, a really interesting take on AI in the book Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson. Aurora is the story of an attempt to colonize planets in the Tau Ceti system which is 12 light years from earth. Getting there takes nearly 160 years so it is the great grandchildren of those who departed who finally arrive. Overseeing the whole process is an artificial intelligence that prefers the simple name ‘ship’. Ship actually narrates a good three fourths of the book and in so doing examines a lot of compelling questions about what it means to exist, consciousness and the ability to think and feel. Here is a good example:

After much reflection, we are coming to the conclusion, preliminary and perhaps arbitrary, that the self, the so-called I that emerges out of the combination of all the inputs and processing and outputs that we experience in the ship’s changing body, is ultimately nothing more or less than this narrative itself, this particular train of thought that we are inscribing as instructed by Devi. There is a pretense of self, in other words, which is only expressed in this narrative; a self that is these sentences. We tell their story, and thereby come to what consciousness we have. Scribble ergo sum.

So I’m still not sure where to place the worry of an AI takeover on my list of worries. I have had fun researching the idea though. Maybe telling the story is the whole point, as ship would say.

You Dirty Panda

lolitoOh God. This book was so disgustingly filthy I feel like I should go out and buy a copy for everyone I know who has a sick sense of humor like a 15-year-old boy. That means I would buy five copies for myself because I don’t know anyone else who is as immature as a 15-year-old boy. Except for me.

In Lolito by Ben Brooks, 15-year-old Etgar Allison is home alone during a school vacation. His girlfriend is away on some sun drenched island with her father. Etgar inadvertently finds out she cheated on him back at home, kissing some guy at a party. He spends most of his vacation raiding his father’s liquor cabinet and drinking his whiskey and watching porn because he’s a fifteen year old boy left home alone with his dog and his worsening depression over his girlfriend’s infidelity.

Etgar gets massively bored and decides to go online into an adult chatroom and meets Macy, a ’35’ year old woman in Scotland. And thus begins their raunchy cybersex….uh…. relationship. She doesn’t know he’s a fifteen year old boy sitting at home during a school vacation, letting the dog poop in the house because he’s too depressed to let him out. Etgar is so depressed he starts wearing a panda suit. Don’t ask. His friends try to get him out of the house-usually to a party to get him drunk. Seriously, what is it with British kids drinking all the time? Why not a nice quiet night at home getting tipsy and reading a book but not using the oven because you should never use the oven when you’ve been drinking at home alone. So I’ve been told.

’35’ year old Macy decides that she and Etgar should meet up. Meet up is a fancy term for get it on bang a gong. Etgar panics but only a little since he’s a 15-year-old boy and the promise of sex with a beautiful older woman would be enough to get him to eat lava. Etgar has a little inheritance from his grandmother. He uses it to book a hotel room in London. When I was 15 I was still riding my bike all over the place and watching cartoons. To be fair, I’m now 38, my bicycle is rusting in the garage and I still watch cartoons. I’m a real wild card. Watch out.

What happens next with Etgar and Macy….dear God. You will just have to read the book to find out. Graphic, lewd, crude and hilarious, Lolito had me giggling to myself like the immature 15-year-old boy I am. On the inside.

OMG Read This! Or, 5 Reasons to Read the Book First

the martian

OMG guys, read the book. Then see the movie. Then see the movie again. Then read the book again. Then just basically stalk Matt Damon.

Sometimes when I really, truly love something, I have a difficult time adequately describing exactly what specifically it is that I loved, and why you should give a care. Take The Martian and my verbal diarrhea above. That fangirl gibberish is literally what I sent my editor when asked what I was going to write about this month and, strangely, it fits perfectly.

There are oodles of posts out there reviewing in detail both the book by Andy Weir (debut novel that was originally self-published–keep that in mind, fellow NaNoWriMo peeps!) and the Matt Damon box-office smash hit movie. That’s not what this is. This is me trying to tell you why it’s so very important to read the book before you watch the movie.

  1. The obvious snobbery. “Oh, you didn’t read the book? I see…” said with disdain and a mouth full of fake-buttery popcorn. I’ve never actually been a book snob; I read for entertainment at every given opportunity and tend to stay far away from award-winners and Oprah’s book club picks. So when I can actually flash the book snob card, I don’t hesitate, as it’s a rare thrill and I can be that shallow.
  2. The book will have the details that make your heart sing. I don’t care how good the movie is; there’s really no way to get all the detail out on screen, unless you want your film to be 18 hours long. In the case of The Martian, much of the story is told through Mark Watney’s journal entries. You can believe the film is not narrated start-to-finish by Matt Damon. That would test even my patience. Instead, the director made selective use of narration, sometimes leaving patches of silence, which actually works for this stranded-in-space story.
  3. You may discover a new favorite author. I know I’m not the only one who tends to read books that are definitely not candidates for film. The books being made into movies are outside my wheelhouse, and by reading one of them I’m exposing myself to different voices and perspectives.
  4. You’ll know when it’s safe to get refills or hit the restroom. I love experiencing film in the theater, as both the picture and sound quality are usually above and beyond anything I could replicate at home. However, there’s no pause button, so you really have to take a gamble when choosing the best time for a refill on popcorn or a trip to the loo. Not so when you already know the order of events. You have a mental crystal ball that will tell you when it’s safe to rush out and see to your needs.
  5. You might get a more complete ending. Let’s face it: The Martian book ends rather abruptly. You get a general sense of completion in terms of “did Watney get rescued or not?,” but there’s no epilogue to tie it up with a pretty red bow. The movie, however, gave me that sense of closure and a feeling that I really knew what became of all of the main characters.

Full disclosure: the whole reading-the-book-and-then-seeing-the-screen-adaptation-thing is something I rarely ever do. But after my experience with The Martian, I am making it my new standard MO. I’ve seen The Martian twice now, but you can bet it’s likely I’ll be back in the theater before its run is over. There’s just something about this story of hope and humanity that has me glued to my seat, even though I already know what’s going to happen.

On a side note, I have to commend the people creating the PR materials for The Martian movie. Sure, they released your typical movie previews in advance of the release date, but they also have these incredibly fun and fascinating faux documentaries about the Ares 3 crew and its mission. I’ll leave you with my favorite, done in the style of Cosmos and starring everyone’s favorite astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson.

And for those of you jonesing for a dose of reality, the insanely cool folks at NASA have compiled an interactive repository for all things about the real Martians. I’ll see you all next month, once I find my way out of this new and exciting rabbit hole of information!