Our blog about books, authors and reading

The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon

ISBN: 
9780307378415

In the bustle and tensions of the holiday season, it was great to take a couple of nights off and travel to Botswana in Alexander McCall Smith’s latest book in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Series. As usual the mysteries--there are two of them here--are interwoven with descriptions and a philosophy of living a moral life in Africa.  Grace Makutsi, who scored an amazing 97% on her secretarial school final exam, is married now and expecting a baby yet she has not yet talked to Precious Ramotswe about taking any leave. Before she does, her little son arrives along with a pesky aunt, the matriarch of the family who swoops in to take charge of Grace’s household.

While Grace is gone, giving birth and settling into motherhood, Mma Ramotswe faces two problems: an acquaintance has opened a new beauty salon, the one of the title, but she is receiving daily threats from an anonymous source. Whoever is doing it is scaring away all her customers and this threatens the business. Also, a female lawyer has contacted the “traditionally built” detective about an inheritance issue: a nephew is supposed to inherit a farm from a famous politician, but is Liso the actual nephew or someone posing as him? Precious discovers that if Liso is not who he claims to be, the lawyer will inherit the bulk of the estate.  Coincidentally--or maybe not--this lawyer was having an affair with the politician Mma Ramotswe discovers. Read more »

Dispelling Dark Myths

ISBN: 
9781451693416

Did you ever hear the story of “Typhoid Mary” as a child? I remember a gaggle of us neighborhoods kids scaring each other with stories of the woman whose myth lived long after she died.  It’s not a person we learned about in school, yet just the mention of her name culled up disease, darkness and death.  That’s one reason I was happy to come across this sympathetic portrait of an Irish-American woman who was much maligned by the press.

Not a biography, this fictional account relies on many true-to-life details to make its story highly believable. Young Mary Mallon emigrated from Ireland at age fifteen to stay with an aunt. She soon went to work and started as a laundress--hot dirty work that offered no hope of advancement. Being smart and clever, Mary noticed that the cooks were paid much more and had more freedom. She also liked the creative aspect of crafting fine meals for the wealthy of early 1900s New York City.

Mary got her big break as a substitute cook, and she turned one success into a career. By the time she was 17, she received an excellent summer gig in Oyster Bay, but unfortunately fever swept through the summer place leaving the baby she loved and several other members of the household dead. Read more »

how i live now

ISBN: 
0385746776

If you are looking for an antidote to the Hunger Games mania, as I was this past week, this less-action-oriented Young Adult dystopia might be worth a read. A 2004 Printz Award and British Guardian Children's Fiction Prize winner, the story is written from the perspective of Daisy, a 15 year-old girl from a not-too-distant future set New York City, who is sent to live with her cousins in the English countryside to get away from her father, her unliked stepmother, and their newborn child. Almost as soon as she is there, the country is invaded and war breaks out, leaving Daisy and her cousins to fend for themselves in what can only be said, without spoiling the plot, to be a truly harrowing experience. Read more »

A House in the Sky

ISBN: 
9781451645606

This memoir is as compelling as any thriller, and much better written than most. In it a young Canadian describes how she escaped her family’s poverty and dysfunction in a small town in Alberta by reading National Geographic mags cover to cover. The family was so poor that she had to earn money to buy the used magazines herself, but while reading them she not only discovered the world, but was able to dream of a better, more interesting life.

Amanda didn’t have the money for college, so instead she became a waitress at high-end clubs and restaurants in Calvary when the money from oil and gas was flowing. She soon began to travel internationally to South America, India, Pakistan, and Nepal. Edgy, dangerous places appealed to her and those far off the tourist track. She went to Read more »

Nicole Mones and The Power of Words

NightShanghaiIt isn't too late to make plans to see award winning author Nicole Mones speak this Saturday, November 16 at the Buskirk-Chumley theater in downtown Bloomington!

Nicole Mones is the author of three books, A Cup of Light, Lost in Translation, and The Last Chinese Chef. Her setting is always China, but her incorporation of the universal theme of being caught between tradition and modern life makes for really compelling reads. Her unforgettable characters are often on the outside and are struggling to make sense of their place within different cultures, various families and the world.

The Friends of the Library invite you to hear Mones at the Buskirk-Chumley theater for free. She will talk about her work in China, her characters, and her upcoming book due out this spring entitled Night in Shanghai.

Her free talk is followed by a meet-the-author reception in the Monroe County Public Library atrium with live jazz, champagne, and gourmet hors d'oeuvres. Premium tickets for the reception are $50 and include preferred seating at the Buskirk-Chumley. Reception tickets must be purchased in advance.

For more information about Nicole Mones, including videos, interviews, book discussions please visit mcpl.info/powerofwords. There you will also be able to find information about tickets and our sponsors.

The Best American Essays 2013

ISBN: 
9780544103887

The Best American Series may seem like a boring reading choice, but whenever I choose a volume from it, I am rewarded to discover new and unfamiliar authors. Plus, reading this series helps me to nudge my book selections in fresh directions. Wilderness writer Cheryl Strayed edited The Best American Essays 2013 and her intriguing selections offered lots of surprises.

Here are examples of a few of the titles: “Free Rent at the Totalitarian Hotel,” “Highway of Lost Girls,” “My Father’s Women,” “I’m Jumping off the Bridge,” and “Confessions of an Ex-Mormon.”  In “I’m Jumping off the Bridge” Kevin Sampsell, a bookseller at Portland’s Powell Books—my favorite bookstore in the world, described dealing with a suicidal patron and how artfully he handled it. But as the essay continues, you realize that the bookseller had considered suicide himself.

In the chilling “Highway of Lost Girls” Vanessa Veselka decided to investigate the murder of some female hitchhikers in the 1980s. During that time period, she had a terrifying experience while hitchhiking.  A truck driver had exited the highway and transported her down a back road. He stopped and pulled out a knife demanding that she climb in the Read more »

Knocking on Heaven's Door

ISBN: 
9781451641974

If you are taking care of a very sick parent or other close relative, this is the book for you. Katy Butler, a journalist, tells the end-stories of both her parents. She lived on the left coast; they, in Connecticut when one day her father, Jeffrey, suffered a severe stroke.  Shortly after the stroke, his cardiologist recommended a pacemaker, and her mother and Katy agreed. This was without talking about any of the ramifications while he was well and could understand the consequences. His GP was against it; he had seen too many patients with hearts “outliving” the rest of their bodies.

Jeffrey recovered somewhat but by this time his type A wife has made him surrender both his belt and his wallet.  The former Wesleyan history professor was bored silly. During a week visit, Katy arranged for her dad to be picked up by a special van and brought to the pool where he used to swim.  Katy made the journey with him two days to show him the ropes, and bought him a new watch that thrilled him. His wife had also hidden his nice silver watch.  Katy’s dad loved the cheap watch and the sense of independence it gave him. After Katy left, he continued the van/swimming trips for a long time.

The book also covers Katy’s extremely difficult relationship with her mother. Did you guess that there were issues?  Katy’s two brothers took little part in caretaking their Dad because they did not get along with their mother either.  She was very controlling about their diet as adults, their haircuts, their clothes, and especially their failures in life. Read more »

Read-A-Likes for These Is My Words: the Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901, Arizona Territories by Nancy Turner

ISBN: 
9780061458033

In August 2013, the Books Plus library book club read the book These Is My Words: the Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901, Arizona Territories by Nancy Turner. The book is very loosely based on her grandmother’s memories of moving to the Arizona Territory and what life was like there on the frontier.  Fast paced and character driven, the author brings to life the hardships of ranching before electricity and cars. Sarah is a no nonsense woman who survives and thrives through happy times and sad.

 Other books featuring pioneer women include:

 A Lantern in Her Hand by Bess Streeter Aldrich. Written in 1928, this has become an American classic and was a best seller at the time of publication. The story is also based on the author’s ancestor, in this case her mother who traveled by covered wagon to Nebraska in 1865. Another woman who was not broken by hardship and strife on the great plains.

Boone’s Lick by Larry Mc Murtry. Beginning in 1865, Mary Margaret Cecil is ready to call it “quits” with her freight hauler husband, but first she has to find him. With her extended family of kids, Pa, brother-in-law and others, they head West from Missouri.

And just for fun, How the West Was Won by Louis L’Amour. Noone writes sweeping sagas like L’Amour. You may remember the 1962 movie starring some of the biggest names of the day. It won three Oscars. The book is even better. Remember Linus Rawlings, survivor of Indian Country or Lilith Prescott who ran away from home and married a gambler. The book features many characters with great stories.  

Compared with the challenges faced by these women, the stories in the books makes frozen computers, cars that won't start and clogged up drains seem like a minor inconveniece.

Bride of the Sea

ISBN: 
9781619021198

If you like the sea, especially bordering isolated northern islands, this novel might appear to you. It’s atmospheric and literary with beautiful descriptions of the light, the beach and the Atlantic. Throughout the book, the sea is more threatening than warming.

It’s also very similar to a modern fairy tale.  A literature professor, who by the way studies fairy tales, falls in love with his young student. He invents an end-of-term party to get to know her better and then begins to date her. In fine restaurants, she is half-wild and licks her fingers and then his while eating lobster.  She is mum about her past and her family.  She often arrives with wet hair that is so blond it looks white; he later discovers that she has webbed feet. They marry, but without any family or friends to witness it. Her choice of a honeymoon spot is the wild Orkney coast where it is cold, rainy and remote.

Richard is obsessed with his young wife who is never named.  Instead of working on his new book, he gazes at her through their vacation cottage’s wide windows. She spends most of her days outside wandering the beach or just watching the sea.  Nights they have sex, and then she wakes up terrified by her dreams. Read more »

Would You Kill the Fat Man?

ISBN: 
9780691154022

Here’s the scenario. Walking across a bridge over a railroad one day, you notice that five people are tied to the tracks below. Worse, you also spot a speeding train approaching, with no sign of slowing down—it’s sure to plow through the five people, killing them. Suddenly you see the only possible way to save them: an exceptionally large man—large enough to derail an oncoming train, it just so happens—is leaning on the bridge’s railing above the tracks, resting. Now’s your chance: do you push the man over the railing, killing him, but saving the five people tied to the tracks? Or do you refrain from pushing him, thereby sparing his life but effectively allowing the five below to die? Read more »

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