Down in Savage Land

It’s a universal truth that we can pick on our siblings and tease them mercilessly. In my case, my oldest brother used to chase me around the house wearing this hideous chicken mask with neon green curls. Can you guess what I might have talked about during a few therapy sessions in my 30s?

But God help anyone outside the family who teases or threatens our siblings in anyway. I’m the baby of the family with two older brothers. This means that in the span of one day I could have my brother sit down on me and fart and then he would get off the school bus before me so he could go toe to toe with a bully who’d been making noise about pushing me around.

That’s what siblings do.

In Sadie by Courtney Summers, there’s nothing Sadie won’t do for her little sister Mattie and that includes seeking revenge on the man who killed her.

Radio personality West McCray, who airs a wildly popular crime podcast, gets a telephone call from a stranger begging him to help find 19 year old runaway Sadie Hunter. West contends there are girls who runaway all the time. There’s no mystery there. Until the stranger tells him Sadie has runaway to seek revenge on the man who killed her 13 year old sister Mattie. West’s boss is convinced there is a story there and sends West off on the hunt to find the truth.

A year before, 13 year old Mattie’s body was found savagely mutilated next to an abandoned schoolhouse being eaten by fire. Someone had tried to destroy his handy work by setting the school ablaze; no doubt hoping it would incinerate any evidence on Mattie’s body along with the school.

Sadie has been like a zombie for the last year, going through the motions of living. Their mother is an addict who disappeared a few years ago and Sadie has brought up her little sister almost single-handedly with the help of a surrogate grandmother/neighbor May Beth. She’s the woman who called West McCray and said, “I can’t take another dead girl.”

When Sadie’s mother was around, flying high on pills or nearly comatose with alcohol, there would usually be a man around the house, one she picked up at a bar.  Some were harmless. Others tipped the creepy scales. But one man in particular was evil incarnate. Sadie didn’t realize just how predatory the man was or how far his monstrous ways reached until she began to hunt him.

Told in alternating transcripts of McCray’s podcast and Sadie’s own story of tracking the killer down, Sadie is not your average revenge tale. It’s not even about right and wrong or being alone in the world and having absolutely nothing to keep you here. It’s about the love between siblings and a life on hold until the job of revenge can be completed.

They say revenge is a dish best served cold. But what they (whoever they are) don’t know is that revenge is a white-hot agonizing fire coursing through you, a fire that can only be doused and even then it smolders and lingers like a tire fire. Sadie will feed your need for close siblings, vengeance, and the downfall of the evil that men do.

Treasure! Pirates! Danger! Giant Squid!

I would never in a million years do this: dive to the depths of the ocean in search of shipwrecks; then, once found, weave through the wreckage to find clues as to why it sunk. I’ve seen enough stuff on TV and in the movies to know it’s no picnic under the waves. And when things go wrong, they go horribly wrong. Plus, there are all those giant squid watching you with their bowling-ball sized eyes. I know this from Discovery Channel specials I should never have watched.

Luckily, someone else has done all the diving, researching and dodging giant squid for me while searching for a long-lost pirate ship, the Golden Fleece. And Robert Kurson has written all about it in Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship in which he chronicles the treasure hunt by diving superstars John Mattera and John Chatterton.

Mattera and Chatterton scuttle their plans for a major dive after they are contacted by a world-renown and very successful treasure hunter (we’ll call him Mr. Smarty-pants) who is obsessed with finding the lost ship of John Bannister, pirate extraordinaire. The divers will get a cut of what they find, but there is a short window of opportunity to find it. The Dominican Republic is on the verge of signing the UNESCO international treaty that would put a stop to private shipwreck hunting in their waters.

The Golden Fleece is the holy grail of pirate shipwrecks. It sunk in June of 1686 when Bannister and his crew fought a two-day battle with two British warships. England had been embarrassed many times by Bannister and they were determined to put an end to his pirate shenanigans. But Bannister wasn’t captured and the Royal Navy ships limped back to England, further adding to Bannister’s swashbuckling reputation.

The only thing is, the two divers agree to search only where Mr. Smarty-pants says the shipwreck of the Golden Fleece must be. So, with their state of the art equipment and two other experts on board, they comb the waters off the white sandy beaches of Cayo Levantado for months and months and months. They start running out of time and money and realize they’re never going to find the wreckage if they continue to do what Mr. Smarty-pants tells them to do. Mattera decides to strikes out on his own and uncovers clues that point in another direction. He finds these clues IN A LIBRARY(!!) and they are able to pinpoint where the wreckage lies.

This is a choppy but satisfying ride of a book. You don’t have to be a good swimmer to enjoy it and you may even find yourself holding your breath in a couple of places. And those giant squid? Turns out, they’re only in the really, really deep ocean. Can you blame me for reading between the bubbles?

Did you Know? (Crocodilian Edition)

That the jaws of most crocodiles and alligators can be held closed with a rubber band?

Their jaws close with tremendous force and sink into prey with tons of pressure (alligator = 2,980 psi [pounds per square inch] –Crocodile = 5,000 psi), but the muscles that open the jaws are weak. I found this information on page 14 of the book Incredible Crocodiles by Barbara Taylor. I also discovered that we mostly only have alligators in the United States, because they are the only crocodilians that can survive cooler temperatures and live outside of the tropics. But, as with everything else, there are always exceptions. The American Crocodile lives in zoos and the wild in southern Florida, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The book Alligator and Crocodile Rescue by Trish Snyder talks about the differences between crocodilians. One of the most visible differences are their snouts: crocodiles have a pointy snout and an alligator has a rounded one. If one of them starts swimming after me, however, its snout is the least of my concerns! In this important book we find out what is being done to protect crocodilians and their habitats.

A billabong is one place you might see a crocodile. A billabong is an Australian term for an oxbow lake, an isolated pond left behind after a river changes course. Billabongs are usually formed when the path of a creek or river changes, leaving the former branch with a dead-end…. And I thought a billabong was only a brand of surfer clothes!

‘See you later alligator, (after ‘while crocodile)’ was written by Louisiana songwriter Robert Charles Guidry and first recorded by him under his professional name “Bobby Charles” in 1955. Star Rocks for Kids has a cute version to listen to, and we have the book The 1950’s that has the lyrics printed out.

The rubber band was invented on March 17, 1845 by Stephen Perry. He initially sold them to newspapers that put them on before delivery and then they really caught on. I’ll bet they never thought a rubber band could be used on a crocodile! Now, we use rubber bands all the time and never think much about them. But Lance Akiyama does. He wrote Rubber Band Engineer which has plans for a catapult, a crossbow and many other contraptions.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter what kind of contraption you build, I highly recommended that you DO NOT try it on a crocodilian.

The Teenage Brain is a Frightening Place

School’s back! I guess I’m at a funny age. I’m old enough to fool myself into thinking I miss the excitement of a new school year, but I’m also young enough to remember all of the terror, uncertainty, and anxiety that I experienced throughout middle and high school. Because of my job, I’m also fortunate to spend a lot of time with tweens and teens, both in the library and when I visit schools, and I am constantly amazed at how many teens seem so much more articulate, organized, and driven than I feel now, let alone compared to my own teenage years. I guess all of this is to say, WOW the adolescent years can be weird!

61x0HVYEP9L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Noah Oakman, the 16-year-old narrator of David Arnold’s The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotikseems to understand this fact better than most. Noah certainly has his quirks: inspired by his favorite poets and philosophers, Noah has taken to wearing the same outfit every day, what his friends refer to as his “navy bowies” (navy pants and a David Bowie shirt). It’s not just that Noah likes these clothes. He also appreciates that they allow him to avoid wasting time and energy deciding what to wear. Noah also tends to get lost in his own thoughts and has peculiar obsessions which include an old man he sees walking the same route each day, a strange yet wonderful YouTube video, and a photo dropped by a local rock star. These are a few of Noah’s titular strange fascinations.

Outside of his unique interests, Noah leads a fairly normal life. He has loving parents, two great friends, seems just popular enough to float by in high school, and is a good enough swimmer to garner some serious scholarship interest from colleges. But Noah is also supremely stressed out. His senior year is beginning bringing with it the end of an era for him and his two long-time friends. He doesn’t fully understand his little sister and worries how she will fit in with those around her. And despite being a good swimmer, he secretly loathes the sport and has no idea how to tell those around him. Rather than confront this final problem he is faking a back injury, a lie that seems to be leading him into an ever-deepening hole of deceit.

All of these stresses are wearing Noah down, which is why he finds himself drinking far too much at an end of summer party and following home a strange young man who promises to help him “exit the robot.” When Noah wakes the next morning, everything seems to have changed: his DC obsessed friend now only reads Marvel comics; his mother has an old scar on her face that was not there the day before; his old, useless, and mute dog has regained its youth and its shrill yap. Noah does not understand what has happened and fears for his sanity. As he tries to gain some level of comprehension, he discovers that his fascinations seem to be the one constant between his old life and new. He hopes that understanding the connections between these fixations might be the key to a return to normalcy or at least the closest thing he has ever known to that.

Though at times Noah is a bit pretentious, perhaps even mopey, I found it easy to root for him. He is a bundle of anxiety and self-doubt and genuinely seems to struggle to understand the value he offers to those around him. Arnold has shown in his previous work that he has a keen understanding of the teenage years and the impact that the strange mix of social pressure, ennui, feelings of isolation, and turbulent emotions can have on a developing brain and this latest work is no different. It is as odd and disorienting as it is genuine and warm-hearted. If you’re looking for a strange trip through a teen-aged mind, buckle up and grab The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik.

Northland

Of the many great things about visiting the library, one of my favorites is being able to browse the collection. You can throw caution to the wind and select a title based on whimsical things like the look of a cover, an interesting title or even the number of pages. Blame it on the whole ‘being a librarian thing’ but I usually like to do a bit of research on a title before borrowing it. Every so often, however, I succumb and just can’t resist a title I see while out in the stacks. Happily, a recent impulse borrow introduced me to a really great book.

Northland: A 4,000 Mile Journey Along America’s Forgotten Border by Porter Fox initially drew me in with its interesting cover. The fact that I’m also a sucker for borders, weird I know, and partial to the northern climes, sealed the deal.

The basis of the book is Fox’s three year journey traveling along the U.S. and Canadian border from Maine to Washington. But this work isn’t a simple travelogue (even though the characters and incidents he encounters would be worth reading about on their own). Instead, the author intersperses his travel experiences with the surprisingly contentious history of the border as well as contemporary issues unique to each northern region that he visits. In this way, Fox brings out a lot of intriguing and vital facts about this often forgotten border that you may not know:

12 % of Americans live 100 miles from the border, 90% of Canadians do.

A 2010 Congressional Research services report stated that U.S. Customs and Border Protection maintains “operational control” over just 69 miles of the 3,987 mile border.

The border cuts the Akwesasne Mohawk Indian reservation, Niagara Falls and the Haskell Free Library and Opera House in two.

In the end, however, the human element is what makes this book so worthwhile. Whether visiting with lodge owners in Maine, bulk carrier captains on the Great Lakes, fishing guides and adventurers in Northern Minnesota, members of the Sioux nation protesting the XL TransCanada pipeline in North Dakota, or the leader of a ‘constitutional militia’ in Idaho, Fox captures the unique feel of sharing a border and the experiences of those living in the Northlands.

Northwest Rocks!

The Pacific Northwest is filled with brilliant musicians who create spectacular albums. Some of those albums find their way into the Everett Public Library local music collection. And on Saturday, September 15 at 2:00 pm, I will present a talk on some of those local musicians.

But wait, there’s more!

After the presentation, Everett’s own Oliver Elf Army will play some rock and roll tunes that shock and assault the senses. In a good way. And there will be much rejoicing.

“So,” you might say to the version of me that lives in your head, “what can I expect at this so-called talk?” Wellsir, we will delve into the history of northwest rock, attack the ever-present confusion surrounding genre definitions and witness interesting (and perhaps boring) stories about local musicians. But perhaps most importantly, we will listen to snippets of songs by various northwest artists.

Here is a preview of some of the groups that will be discussed. They appear here more or less chronologically, with a nod to their approximate genres.

Prepare to behold the instrumentals of The Frantics, garage rock from The Sonics and early local punk from The Accident.

Group1

Thrill to the power pop of Seattle’s The Heats, proto-grunge from the U-Men and the dawn of riot grrrl punk from Olympia’s Bikini Kill.

Group2

Bow down to the experimental offerings of Anacortes’s Mount Eerie, to the post-punk brilliance of Seattle’s Blackouts and to the wide open spaces of Nevada Backwards and their dark country musings.

Group3

Need a breather? There is no time for breathers! Behold the majesty of your northwest heritage!

Prepare to be aurally assaulted by the heavy, heavy sound of Montesano’s own Melvins, get down to the dark cabaret of Bellingham’s Pirates R Us and swing, yes swing, to the rockabilly of Seattle’s Hard Money Saints.

Group4

Dance like a dancer to the synth pop of Seattle’s Perfume Genius, foxtrot to the old-timey swing of Bellingham’s Birch Pereira and the Gin Joints and boogaloo to some raucous garage rock with Bellingham’s Clambake.

Group5

What of Everett, you say? Pogo with Sleepover Club, get blue with Ryan LaPlante and go electronic with goawaysun.

Group7

And finally, weighing in at 325 pounds, Everett’s own Oliver Elf Army will present their brand of sinister pop in a live performance.

Oliver

 But wait! We got books:

GroupB1

GroupB2

We got DVDs!

GroupD1

We even got audio books!

AudioBook

So come see what’s happening with local music at the Everett Public Library. In the words of The Presidents of the United States of America:

It’s gonna blow… Volcano!

900 Words about Vox

As someone who is a loud supporter of reading for fun and the joys of happy story endings, it came as a complete shock to me that I very much enjoyed reading a dystopian novel that had me yelling out loud and, at one point (sorry, colleagues!) throwing the book across the room. Literally threw it like it was on fire. One of the most powerful books I’ve read this summer is set in a dystopia. I’m still grappling with this reality.

Dystopian novels are not known for happiness and wit, but the discerning reader can find both in Vox by Christina Dalcher.

This dystopian mind-f*ck posits a creepily plausible near future where the American government has created a series of laws restricting women. Women are no longer allowed to travel outside the United States. They can’t work or hold political office and their daughters are only taught basic math and home keeping in schools. Their brothers, however, get a robust education including religious indoctrination and bias-affirming readings that brainwash them into seriously believing men are superior to women and that keeping women silenced and in the home is for the betterment of society.

The absolute worst part? All American women (yup, kids and babies too) now have to wear a locked wrist device that monitors their words. Each female is allowed 100 words per day–this includes sign language, gestures, and other non-verbal communication. If you speak past 100 words before your device resets at midnight you get a shock. Another word? Another shock–only stronger this time.

It’s a damn nightmare.

The book is told through the eyes of Dr. Jean McClellan. Before the silencing, she was a well-respected linguistic scientist. During the silencing Jean is like every other American woman, which is to say she is held hostage in her new role: being a nearly-wordless woman whose only job is to serve her husband and raise her kids. When the book opens we’re about a year into the silencing and though Jean feels that bucking the system is an impossibility, she is strong of spirit and still possesses the quick-witted mind that made her the incredibly renowned linguistic expert she was before society imploded. She wants a better life for all women, but especially for her three-year-old daughter who is growing up with this as her reality.

The narrative switches back and forth from present day to the past. I often find this jarring in books but Dalcher does this nearly seamlessly and the slow burn reveals of the past, along with foreshadowing of the horrors that are to come, keep the suspense building even when you think you know what’s going on.

Jean reflects throughout the book on her previous complete political apathy. Back in college she scoffed at her roommate’s attempts to get her involved in grassroots political rallies against social injustice, preferring instead to study and focus on her boyfriend, her future. She bathed in privilege but, as privilege goes, was so cocooned from marginalized and concerned folks that she didn’t even realize how sheltered she was. Her future was guaranteed, so why should she spend time worrying about it or fighting against the mere possibility that future society could go sideways? She thought it was pointless to vote–a waste of precious time–and considered it completely unlikely anyone so overzealous would be voted into the Presidency in modern times.

Jean also discovers that monsters aren’t born, they’re made–and often through no ill intentions, but through apathy. In particular, she’s horrified to recognize her oldest son has evolved into a monster. In flashbacks we see him slowly over time vocalizing increasingly demeaning opinions about the girls in his class and women in general. Back when she could talk, sometimes Jean would challenge him at the dinner table. He’d then mention the readings they were doing in school and how religion is now a required class. Jean would think “School is weird now” but never questioned the school administration about requiring misogynistic opinion to be taught as the law of nature or why one specific religion was taught as a required class in a public school

Her husband wasn’t much help either. He often brushed off Jean’s comments as ‘boys will be boys’ but the saying silence is acceptance proves true here. By the time Jean realizes what her son has started to believe, she literally doesn’t have enough words to talk him back off the ledge because she’s required to wear that damn wrist device. Like Jean, I refuse to call it a bracelet and diminish the horrifying evil the device represents: both in the physical pain it creates but especially in representing the completely upside-down reality that made this device a legislated mandate.

This is all to say that the flashbacks peppered in with the book’s current reality are a great way to let the reader see how the dystopian society got to where it is and allows us to draw parallels between that fictional America and the one we’re living in today.

Creepily. Plausible. Near. Future.

Despite this dark tone, the very first line of the book gives you hope throughout this thrilling adventure through a desolate society. If it seems unlikely that one essentially enslaved woman among millions would be able to bring about the downfall of a patriarchal society, well, dear reader…just pick this one up and thank me later.