Summer Reading, Having a Blast!

Book and StonesI’ve signed up for the Adult Summer Reading Program at the Everett Public Library and I’m super happy about my reading stack this summer. I’ve only read three so far, but I’m excited to get some time to read and also to share the whole pile with you. Here goes!

indexIf you’re pining for the old days when you could ride your pony to the candy store, I recommend Elizabeth Lett’s book The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, the Horse that Inspired a Nation. This book tells the dramatic odyssey of a horse called Snowman, saved from the slaughterhouse by a young Dutch farmer named Harry. Harry and Snowman went on to become America’s show-jumping champions, winning first prize in Madison Square Garden. Set in the mid-to late-1950s, this book also includes a fair amount of history of the horse. I dare you not to cry when Snowy dies.

indexUnder the Wide and Starry Sky is the fictionalized account of the relationship of Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson and his spunky, older American wife Fanny. It is beautifully written and meticulously researched. This novel met all of my criteria for good historical fiction: believable characters, atmospheric setting, and it leaves you wanting to know even more about the people, places, and events. Besides, the boat that they adventured in is right here on the waterfront in Everett.

index (3)Shadows in the Vineyard: the True Plot to Poison the World’s Greatest Wine is by Maximillien Potter. On the surface, it is a true story of an extortion plot against the world’s greatest vineyard, a tiny patch of land in Burgundy, France which grows the universally acclaimed best wine in the world. But it’s also the story of the family that grows the wine: the generations that have owned and run the vineyard, treating the vines like their own children, back to when they bought it after the French Revolution. Cheers!

index (1)A Hero of France: A Novel by Alan Furst is set in Paris,1941. Mathieu leads a small group of Resistance fighters. They help British airmen stranded in occupied France to make their way to Spain and then return to England. It’s dangerous work. Mathieu has to rely on his instincts to know who he can trust. He also needs to build a network of people he can rely on and be able to rapidly improvise when things don’t go according to plan (which is pretty much all the time). Meanwhile, a top German detective has arrived in Paris tasked with identifying and arresting members of the Resistance.

index (2)Seinfeldia: How a Show about Nothing Changed Everything by Jennifer Armstrong is about nothing and everything. If you are a Seinfeld fan this is a MUST READ! It goes in depth on the genesis of Seinfeld from its main characters, the writers and the real-life situations that inspired most of the insane plot lines. It follows the show from it’s inception to finale, including the “reunion” on Curb Your Enthusiasm as well as the effect that Seinfeld has on pop culture even to this day.

index (3)I am listening to Here’s To Us by Elin Hildebrand and it looks like the perfect summer read, doesn’t it? Deacon Thorpe was a famous bad boy chef. When he dies at his Nantucket house, his agent calls his three ex-wives together to the house to say goodbye. The story is told by several characters and switches from the present to the past. Secrets are revealed and at the end the family learns to forgive. This is a quick read with some interesting characters.

index (5)I’m also listening to The National Parks: America’s Best Idea by Ken Burns because we recently drove down to Rainier. Burns and Dayton Duncan delve into the history of the park idea, from the first sighting by white men in 1851 of the valley that would become Yosemite and the creation of the world’s first national park at Yellowstone in 1872, to the most recent additions to a system that now encompasses nearly four hundred sites and 84 million acres. There’s a lot of history and adventure here to be enjoyed. Going to Glacier? Grab these CD’s for the car ride.

index (6)Everyone Brave is Forgiven is by Chris Cleave, the best-selling author of Little Bee.  The plot centers on three Londoners (Mary, Thomas and Alistair) and how the war orchestrates the choices they make. The story is loosely based on love letters between the author’s grandparents. The beauty of this book is not so much the plot, but how the story is told with beautiful prose, cleverly placed humor, and a quiet urgency. It would make a good book club book.

index (4)And lastly, a co-worker suggested Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart the gal who wrote The Drunken Botanist. It is a novel based on the forgotten true story of one of the nation’s first female deputy sheriffs. Apparently it’s “really good”, so good, in fact, that there will be a sequel titled Lady Cop Makes Trouble. I haven’t actually gotten my hands on this one, but will have to wait. Without a gun.

Well, gotta go. I hear a hammock calling my name. What’s on your reading list this summer? Come on down to the library and check out these and other great summer reads. See you there!

Nostalgia and the New Mexican Desert

Enjoy a review from Katie as she continues to work through her Reading Challenge:

ultimaNostalgia is a funny thing. I tend to get swept up in that warm, slow, nap-in-the-afternoon feeling far more than I should, but I can’t help it. Remembering the better days seems to be an involuntary reaction that will inevitably lead to me being a little old lady regaling my grand-nieces and nephews with long stories having no point and no plot—kind of like this sentence.

I recently went back to Phoenix after a year of living in Washington to watch my youngest brother graduate from the high school I attended. I would be seeing family and good friends after more than a year of being away, and there was also the possibility of seeing some of my old high school classmates. (Spoiler Alert: I actually did not see any of my old classmates so they were unable to see how adult and hot I’d become.)

When I was in high school I participated in Academic Decathlon which is basically the Nerd Championships consisting of seven tests (arts, science, music, math…), an interview, a memorized and impromptu speech, and an essay surrounding a particular topic each year. In my sophomore year of high school the topic was Mexico, and the book we had to collectively read was Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya. This is why I have chosen this novel as my “Book I Have Not Read since High School.”

I was excited about this book because AcaDeca (as we called it) holds a lot of good memories for me. Rereading books is an opportunity to recall specific memories as I find that books hold impressions and thoughts and feelings so I don’t have to. Bless Me, Ultima is also a coming-of-age story which perfectly sets the mood.

Antonio Marez is constantly caught in the middle of his parents’ plans. His mother wishes him to become a priest to bring honor to her farming family. His father wishes for Tony to become a vacquero (cowboy) like he himself was long ago, and to live in the Llano (the New Mexican desert). Tony does not know what he wants, but he does know that he loves Ultima. She is a curandera (a person who is a mix between a priest and a witch) who has come to live with Tony’s family and to use her magic to heal the town folk. The intense mix of religious superstition and magic creates an interesting dynamic which fuels much of the story’s conflict.

The entire book teems with magical realism as Tony struggles with his parents’ wishes, with growing up, religion, and navigating the complicated social network that is his circle of friends. Anaya’s cast of colorful characters and detail-oriented descriptions draw you deeply into the story, causing you to feel as Tony feels. He even makes the desert sound like a desirable place to live which (for me) is quite the task.

High school was a difficult time for a lot of people. I got through relatively unscathed (college is another story), and books like Bless Me, Ultima made everything a whole lot easier. While it was true that books were my constant companions, the character study I was able to conduct enriched my life beyond words. I would recommend Bless Me, Ultima to those who want to remember what it was like being a kid — the drama that was real and the drama that was blown out of proportion. As I struggle to be an actual real-life adult, it’s nice to remember that it was hard to be a kid too sometimes, but it was worth it.

Listen Up! June/July New Music Arrivals

Album Art Collage

I took a little break last month, so I’ve got a lot of new arrivals to recommend. Place your holds now and start exploring!

Joseph Bertolozzi – Tower Music (Innova) – Lively but minimalist (if that’s at all possible). This almost comes off as born-digital electronic music, even though the sounds were all produced using one very large analog instrument: the Eiffel Tower. I would love to hear the remixes that could be made from these pieces.

Boulevards – Groove (Captured Tracks) – Funk with a side of hip hop. Fans of Prince and Rick James will be into this.

Musiq Soulchild – Life on Earth (My Block; Entertainment One U.S.) – Dance floor friendly soul, RnB, and smooth slow jams.

uKanDanz –Awo (Buda Musique) –  Hailing from Addis Ababa and Lyon, uKanDanz classifies themselves as “Ethiopian Crunch Music.” What that means is that listeners are treated to a thoroughly satisfying mashup of metal and hard rock guitar riffs and power chords; a blues and jazz horn section; and amazing vocals that expressively wail, croon, and keen.

Debo Band – Ere Gobez (FPE Records) – Bluesy, jazzy, sultry, a little funky – almost torch songs, but with Ethiopian pop overtones.

Case/Lang/Veirs (ANTI-) – Dreamy, beautiful, and engaging vocals, with a bit of twang. Melancholy, moving, powerful, harmonious.

Miles Davis and Robert Glasper – Everything’s Beautiful (Columbia: Legacy) – A re-imagining of Davis’s catalog with the help of a star-studded lineup of jazz, hip-hop, and RnB collaborators.

Garbage – Strange Little Birds (Stunvolume) – In their 10th studio album, Shirley Manson and the band return to their roots by drawing on their musical influences, as well as the sounds that made them a hit in their 1995 self-titled debut. Strange Little Birds has a decidedly nostalgic feel, but is by no means stale.

William Bell – This is Where I Live (Fantasy) -Classic southern soul and RnB with a little bit of rock and roll mixed in.

Imarhan – Imarhan (City Slang) – Traditional Tuareg and pan-African ballads blended with rock and funk rhythms and a healthy love of bass.

Maxwell – Black Summers’ Night (Columbia) – In a long-awaited return 7 years in the making, this album is full of funky, smooth, even jazzy elements with some stand-out drum work.

A-Wa – Habib Galbi (S-Curve Records) – Three sisters with a love for electronic music, reggae, and Yemenite women’s chants. Sound like an odd mix? Only if you’re not into dancing, fun, and on-point harmonizing.

Whitney – Light Upon the Lake (Secretly Canadian) – Upbeat, bright, rock album with distinctive vocals. This debut is chock-full of short but polished tracks that show the well-honed skills of duo Max Kakacek (Smith Westerns) and Julien Ehrlich (Unknown Mortal Orchestra).

Ólafur Arnalds – LateNightTales (Night Time Stories Ltd.) – Down-tempo, ambient, beautiful dreamscapes. Some trip hop beats interspersed. Fans of Bjork, Prefuse 73, and Sigur Rós would probably be into it. ‘Icelandic’ would be the best adjective to describe this one.

What to Read for a Readathon

24 in 48 readathon

This is exactly as heavy as it looks! TBR stands for To Be Read and mine is varied and mostly fun fluff. The dots on my sweater and all the writing was done in the Litsy app, which is like Instagram and GoodReads had an adorable baby that’s impossible to put down.

Even if you’ve never heard the term before in your entire life, you can probably infer what a readathon actually is. It’s a glorious time where you pledge to read for a certain amount of time on a particular day or days. Participants are encouraged to take to their social media streams to share what they’re reading, favorite quotes, beverages they’re consuming to help get them through any reading slumps, etc. I’ll be participating in the 24 in 48 Readathon this weekend, which just means that in the 48 hours of Saturday & Sunday I will read for 24 of them. I can break it up however I like, and break it up I shall.

While it’s true I’ve never participated in a readathon before, I have researched enough to (hopefully) know what I’m doing. The key to everything, I’m told, is to have a variety of reading material at hand so if I start to get burnt out on one format I can switch it up and give myself a second wind. With that in mind, I present to you some stellar examples of each preferred readathon format.

Graphic Novels
You already know about my love of comics and graphic novels. As I reported last month I had a giant stack of single issue comic books at home that I just hadn’t gotten around to reading. I’m happy to say I have plowed through most of them, but some of the larger story arcs and single release graphic novels remain. Nimona is on the very top of the list, partially due to Alan’s recommendation last year and also since it was a National Book Award finalist. It’s by Noelle Stevenson, one of the creators of Lumberjanes (I love Lumberjanes!). Hot Dog Taste Test by Lisa Hanawalt gets into foodie culture with witty observations and hilarious illustrations. I’ll probably use the graphic novels as a segue from one book to another, though due to having a pretty hefty backlog of some Marvel comics I might read a whole series run in one go. We shall see!

Poetry
I recently learned that poetry doesn’t have to be boring. Yes, I know I sound like a 12 year old but thanks to an education that forced me to find obscure (and often manufactured) meaning in poems I pretty much have avoided them as an adult. All of that changed when I read Milk and Honey which is written and illustrated by Rupi Kaur. This extremely personal collection of autobiographical poems takes you deep into Rupi’s soul as she rips her heart out and lays it bare for all to read. There’s love, loss, family, heartache, sex, and what it means to be a woman. If you’re looking for something lighter, try Quarter Life Poetry: Poems for the Young, Broke, and Hangry by Samantha Jayne. While these poems also seem to burst forth from the poet’s life, there’s a decidedly different tone. Colorfully illustrated, these funny and irreverent poems will resonate with adults young & not-so-young.

Essays
I recently discovered the book that changed my reading life. Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by local author Lindy West turned my world upside down. You see, much like poetry, I had the gigantic misconception that feminist works had to be dry, dull, or just not written well. Shrill changed it all for me and led me down the road to Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay. I had mistakenly assumed that Bad Feminist would be a book entirely about feminism. It’s more like a look at life — feminism included — through someone else’s eyes. I just checked out The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley. It promises to combine the two biggest parts of me — nerd and feminist — and I can’t hardly wait to dive in. Plus, there’s a dinosaur on the cover. I can’t pass up a good dino! I’ve also got all of Mary Roach’s back catalog that I purchased when she was in town in April. She autographed them all, and I felt guilty telling her I’d never read her books. However, I did immediately follow that up with how excited I was to read them and now is the perfect opportunity.

mary roach and the ellisons

My husband and I got to chat with bestselling author Mary Roach when she visited Everett in April as part of EPL’s Ways to Read. Did you get to meet her, too? Our library is the best!

Short Stories
A few months back I had the (surprise) pleasure of reading and falling in love with Warlock Holmes by G.S. Denning. While I knew it was going to be a crazy retelling of Sherlock Holmes with magic and beasts, I didn’t realize (although I should) that it would be more of a collection of short stories, just like the original Sherlock Holmes books were. You can read a story, move to another book, and come back to Warlock Holmes and read the next story. You can pretty much read them in any order you want after the first story that sets up the world. I have also checked out Chainmail Bikini: the Anthology of Women Gamers. It’s in graphic novel format but it’s truly short, autobiographical stories of girl geeks I can’t wait to read.

Novellas
I confess I had forgotten that I owned Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley. It came in one of those literary subscription boxes and I didn’t know what I had. Someone just told me it’s about a bookmobile, which, hello wheelhouse! I usually don’t go for novellas because I tend to want more when I’m finished: more characterization, more plot, more everything. However, I’ve been told this one is perfect the way it is and so I will go into it with that in mind.

Bookshots
If you’ve been following us on social media and/or been to a grocery store in the last few months you’ve heard about and/or seen Bookshots. Bookshots are the newest James Patterson creations that are taking the reading world by storm. Bookshots’ aim is to change people’s minds and habits by convincing them that their excuse, “I’m too busy to read an entire book!” isn’t true at all. These books are short and I would consider them novellas. Multiple Bookshots titles are published each month so there’s always a variety to choose from. Be sure to check out the Quick Picks collections when you’re at the library as most of the Bookshots titles are going into that wonderful grab-and-go, no-holds-allowed collection.

You’ll notice most of the books I’m writing about aren’t featured in my readathon TBR photo above. That’s because I’ve already read them and wrote this just for you, to encourage you to sign up and join the reading fun. A few people have told me that they really want to participate but are pretty sure there’s no way they can fit 24 solid hours of reading into their weekend. That’s totally okay! The whole point is to schedule some reading time into an otherwise hectic life and maybe connect with some other readers along the way. You can follow along with me if you like. I’m on Twitter & Instagram as bildungsromans and on Litsy as Carol. Ready? Set? Readathon!

Let’s Get Sleazy!

SoHo SinsI need a bath. Maybe a shower too. And some steel wool. I might never feel clean again. But that’s kind of the point of reading pulp, to slither through filthy streets, vicariously partake of forbidden fruit and get really, really slimy.

The Hard Case Crime books are a contemporary series of pulp / detective / noir books, some reprints of old stories, some newly written ones. Many are gems. Today we look at a brand spankin’ new hard case, a trashy, delicious, disgusting, amazing story by first-time novelist Richard Vine called SoHo Sins.

I read a lot of pulp. Truth be told, there’s not a lot of variety in the genre. The beauty typically comes in the language, the prose. Stories tend to borrow liberally from the tried-and-true, with minor variations. Not so for SoHo Sins. What I like about this book is the ways in which it stretches the standard pulp template. The main character/narrator is a wealthy art dealer, not a detective (neither professional nor amateur). He is close friends with a P.I. but their friendship is never explained nor explored (which I quite enjoy). This P.I. asks the art dealer for help in investigating a murder that on the surface seems to be an open-and-shut case. So we do have a murder, a suspect (who is possibly being framed) and an investigation, all typical pulp fare. However, the way that things unfold is anything but typical.

The detective, usually the focal point of pulp novels, is almost a minor character in SoHo Sins. Instead, our narrator, the art dealer, is the story’s focus. He’s the one who carries out most of the investigative legwork. And this detecting occurs at an almost leisurely pace, pausing for months while the art dealer deals art. It’s a lovely technique for freshening up a well-trodden path.

As the investigation meanders along, the detective focuses on a suspected child pornographer, and we meet a 12-year-old girl who is the daughter of a friend of the art dealer (try to keep up with me here). The girl, along with her mother, moves into the same building as the narrator and she starts referring to him as her boyfriend. This does not bother him, a man of some years, as much as it should. The detective asks him to investigate the pornographer (who is obviously interested in the 12-year-old), which requires him to pose as a fellow … pervert? Thus begins the descent into the slime.

Perhaps you can see why it’s bath time.

SoHo Sins will be published on July 19 and it will soon join the EPL collection of Hard Case Crime novels, along with the titles pictured below:

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Bowie Has Left the Planet

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10 years of nothingness had passed when seemingly out of nowhere David Bowie released The Next Day. People assumed he’d retired from music, the album came as a complete surprise. Although it took two years to record, Bowie made sure it was kept entirely secret. If I’d been paying attention to his career, had known he was still capable of making incredible music, I would have been thrilled! But the release passed me by, unnoticed. Until now.

When I think of Bowie, I tend to think of Suffragette City and other songs in that vein. If one approaches his later work with the expectancy of Ziggy Stardust rocking out, one will be disappointed. Unlike mosquitos filled with dinosaur DNA, artists are not bugs captured in amber. Their work evolves over time. People age, their capabilities change. In the case of David Bowie, his voice is the most noticeable difference, no longer as flexible, no longer as energetic or dynamic. Yet … still amazing. Melodies tend to be a bit more monotone, tempos slower, dynamics softer. But this isn’t better or worse, it’s just new.

The Next Day includes songs that range from full-on rockers ([You Will] Set The World on Fire), to the slow and delicate (Where Are We Now?) to standard anthems (How Does the Grass Grow?) to chaos infused with fits of stability (If You Can See Me). Styles are incredibly varied. This is classic Bowie yet innovative. While you might find some tarnish amongst the glitter, the album is certain to please.

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The following year, 2014, saw the release of Nothing Has Changed, a career-spanning collection of greatest hits reaching back to 1969 and wrapping up with selections from 2013’s The Next Day. All phases of Bowie’s career, other than Tin Machine, are covered in this comprehensive release. If you’re looking for an introduction to 45 years of music, Nothing Has Changed is an excellent choice.

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And finally, all too soon, I come to that which I’ve been putting off, the acceptance of mortality. Perhaps when I was unaware of his later work I didn’t care as much, but now I’m truly sorry I’ve heard the last of David Bowie. His music will always be there for me, but it is complete, finite, there will be no more.blackstar

In my research for this series of posts I made an intriguing discovery: every David Bowie album has a picture of Bowie on the cover. Sometimes it’s a fairly simple photo, other times a cartoonish drawing, a stylized scenario, or even, as in the case of The Next Day, the re-use of a previous album cover (Heroes) with Bowie’s photo obscured by a white square. Every cover sports a picture of Bowie except for the cover of his final album. Blackstar features the image of a black star. This seems significant. We could ponder the symbolism of a black star or the clues found in the album’s lyrics, but instead of dwelling upon the sadness of death, let us rejoice that Blackstar is a stunning collection of music.

Somewhat in the same vein as The Next Day, the album features songs varying in style tremendously, laid-back vocals and a quiet/ethereal/sparse mood. It’s one of the best efforts from Bowie’s later career, a thoroughly satisfying and lush listening experience. The opening song, Blackstar, is simply gorgeous. Beautiful keyboards, a dark mood and a story well-matched by its music. Sue is an unsettling song filled with discomfiting music. Wild, crazy percussion and bass play frantically beneath sparse, languishing vocals. The album concludes with a celebratory mood in I Can’t Give Everything Away, a wonderful career-ending song.

And then, Bowie left the planet.

Reading for Empathy

indexThe 2016 summer reading assignment for Whitman College freshmen  is to read the book Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison. It is a collection of essays that explore empathy, beginning with her experience as a medical actor who was paid to act out symptoms for medical students to diagnose. Jamison’s essays ask essential questions about our basic understanding of others: Why should we care about each other? Is empathy a tool by which to test or even grade each other? How can my child become more empathetic? How important is reading fiction in socializing children? How does reading literature move people in a different way than non-fiction reading?

Researchers at The New School in New York City have found evidence that literary fiction improves a reader’s capacity to understand what others are thinking and feeling. And a Cambridge University study by Maria Nikolajeva, professor of education, found that “reading fiction provides an excellent training for young people in developing and practising empathy and theory of mind, that is, understanding of how other people feel and think.” Finding the right book is the first step to helping children understand what their peers may be thinking and feeling.

index (1)I once had a father who wanted a book for his young son who was starting to bully another boy in preschool partly because the new boy was from another country. I came up with I’m New Here by Anne O’Brien, in which three children from Somalia, Guatemala, and Korea struggle to adjust to their new home and school in the United States. It is positive and uplifting, as they do all make new friends and succeed at the end of the book.

index (2)The book that I thought of after the father had walked away was Children Just Like Me by Anabel Kindersley. Photographs and text depict the homes, schools, family lives, and cultures of young people from around the world. Children will enjoy reading about the dreams and beliefs, hopes and fears, and day-to-day events of other children’s lives. Children are encouraged to participate in a special pen pal arrangement, so they may share their own experiences with children in other countries.

index (1)Another book along these lines is A Life Like Mine: How Children Live Around the World by DK Publishing. Wonderful photos show children from all over the world leading their lives in completely different and fascinating ways. They speak different languages, look different, and face all kinds of challenges every day. Although they live thousands of miles apart, in so many ways their needs and hopes are alike. Meet these special children in this book and other books created by UNICEF and DK Publishing.

index (2)A fascinating ‘look-at’ book is What the World Eats by Peter Menzel. This is a  photographic collection exploring what the world eats featuring portraits of twenty-five families from twenty-one countries surrounded by a week’s worth of food. The resulting family portraits give an interesting glimpse into the cultural similarities and differences served on dinner plates around the world.

index (3)One of my favorite picture books is Stella’s Starliner by Rosemary Wells. Stella is perfectly happy living in her silver home until a group of weasels tease her for living in an air stream trailer. Her bubble is burst but her parents help her by moving the trailer to a new setting where she meets two bunnies who think that her home is awesome and that she must be really rich to live in a silver home. You’ll just love Stella and her story.

indexLast Stop on Market Street won both the Caldecott Honor Award and the Newberry Medal this year. Every Sunday after church, CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town. But today, CJ wonders why they don’t own a car like his friend Colby. Why doesn’t he have an iPod like the boys on the bus? How come they always have to get off in the dirty part of town? Each question is met with an encouraging answer from grandma, who helps him see the beauty–and fun–in their routine and the world around them.

Reading is a great way to understand another’s situation or feelings. When you read, you walk a mile in another’s shoes and get an idea of his feelings and situation. I hope that these books (and others that we have at the library) will help your child empathize with others.