Thursday, July 31, 2014

New Magazines Coming to Your Kirkwood Public Library

Starting in September, be on the lookout for these new magazines lining the shelves of your Kirkwood Library! And don't worry; we've kept all your favorites like People, This Old House, Cooking Light and more!











 

Not in the library? Check out digital copies of magazines using Zinio -- free with just your library card!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell, 328 pgs


by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor and Park is a moving love story between two teens who feel like outsiders. 

Throughout the book, both Eleanor and Park grapple with their identities and home lives. Eleanor must face off against her abusive step father and negotiate her feelings for her mother and siblings based on their relationships with this man, as well as her embarrassment over her family's lower socioeconomic status (which affects her clothes and appearance, something she's already uncomfortable with). Park struggles to connect with his all American, traditionally masculine Dad, since Park prefers punk music and eyeliner unlike his more American-looking, physically bigger, football playing little brother.   

Also, each of them, in teenage fashion, struggle with his  appearances: Eleanor describes herself as a larger woman and hates her wild, red hair, and Park bemoans his smaller stature and can't imagine himself attractive because of his Korean heritage (he argues that in America, Asian girls are seen as exotic, and Asian men as puny or weak). 

However, in the face of all this teenage angst and familial drama, Eleanor and Park find respite in each other. While the book can get a bit gooey, I appreciate that it takes you back to what it felt like to be sixteen, and Rowell's language can be quite beautiful, if overworked at times (which again, feels quite appropriate to the topic). 

Celebrate The Dog Days of Summer




                Caring For Your Best Friend...


  

  

  

  



Dog Tales...

  

  

  

  

Fiction Featuring Fidos...

  

  

  

    



Dogs In Starring Roles...


  


























Sunday, July 27, 2014

Wonder, by RJ Palacio, 315 pgs


by RJ Palacio

Let me begin by saying, Wonder is a wonder of a book that I would certainly recommend to others. 

Fiction books often aren't written about disability. While you may come across non-fiction or memoir books cataloging the experiences of those differently able, rarely do you come across the topic in fiction (though I like to think it's increasing). I think it's because most representations in fiction fall back upon majority groups. If it isn't explicitly stated in a book, we assume the character is able bodied, straight, and white. It's the same discussions going on in children's literature right now (http://www.slj.com/2014/05/diversity/childrens-books-still-an-all-white-world/#_).

Therefore, the very existence of this book, and that it has blown up on the literary scene and in the library world, speaks wonders as to what this book is doing. Can you name the last time you read a book with a disabled person? Especially one so prominently figured as Auggie in Wonder? Wonder tells the story of Auggie, a 12-year-old boy with a medical condition that deeply disfigures his face. The novel shifts in narration from Auggie to those around him, providing readers with various perspectives on how people deal with difference, in this case Auggie's face, and forces readers to ask themselves penetrating question-- "What is normal?" "How do you respond to difference?" 

By allowing Auggie to tell his own story, she gives readers a glimpse into Auggie's life, humanizing those we not give full subjecthood (by pitying them or fearing them, thus making these disabled people "othered"). Auggie is a boy. He loves Star Wars and his dog, Daisy. He's more than his appearance. But Palacio doesn't shy away from showing the challenges faced by Auggie on a daily basis and how small things we take for granted are made overwhelmingly difficult for someone with Auggie's condition (mainly made that way by those around him, not by his actual condition). Getting ice cream at an ice cream parlor leads to stares and rude comments. Halloween being the best holiday to Auggie because he can hide his face and people can just get his personality, without having to deal with the prejudice against his looks. 

With such a beautiful context, it's hard to criticize such a book. However, I didn't always find the children's voices believable--sometimes Auggie's reflections seemed too mature for him, or more like didactic lessons learned about life as reflected on by the author (a middle-aged woman). I felt like just experiencing these events in Auggie's life were enough to get those points. But this may have to do with the genre of children's lit, where one can't always be as subtle (but kids are SMART and I think we all need to give them credit for getting things in books)

But this is minor in the scheme of things. It's a thin line--negotiating between representing disability realistically and making a novel about disability, if that makes sense. You want to show diversity without harping on diversity. Walter Dean Myers expresses this a lot better than I could, making a case for racial diversity in children's fiction (that also applies to diversity in general in all fiction): "Books transmit values. They explore our common humanity. What is the message when some children are not represented in those books? Where are the future white personnel managers going to get their ideas of people of color? Where are the future white loan officers and future white politicians going to get their knowledge of people of color? Where are black children going to get a sense of who they are and what they can be?"    

If you're interested, here's a short list of books that explore disability:

Friday, July 25, 2014

Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare p384


Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare

I have read a few of Tessa Dare's books in the past. Unfortunately, have found them uncreative and unoriginal in plot construction. She does often have strong heroines which I do like though.  Her new book, Any Duchess Will Do, is a 2014 RITA finalist so I thought that I would give it a try.  Again, I was disappointed with the lack of creativity as it has many strong familiar themes of Cinderella and Pretty Woman running throughout.  

We meet the hero, Griffin York, the Duke of Halford, having been drugged and kidnapped by his mother.  She is demanding that he choose a wife from the many eligible young ladies in "Spinsters' Cove".   Grif's mother said that she will turn any woman that he chooses into the next Duchess.  Grif chooses Paulina Simms, unsuspecting bar maid who has been taking care of her simple minded sister. Grif promises Pauline 1000 pounds if she does not become the Duchess that his mother is determined to turn her into within 6 days.  She is hesitant but she has been dreaming of owning a bookstore and sees this as her only opportunity to earn the funds to fullfil her dreams.  Throughout the week, Pauline causes one catastrophe after another.  However, she becomes the belle of the ton with her sassy tongue and kindhearted nature.  Everyone loves her including the one person she did not expect, the Duke himself.  

If you like strong and sassy heroines, take a look at this book.  Otherwise, you can bypass this for your favorite author. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline 278 Pages


The Orphan Train  is this month's book selection for the Adams Place Senior Living Book Club. And this book is also coming soon to KPL's collection of Book Club Kits. This is a work of fiction based on historical fact, the story of thousands of orphan children who were shipped from the east coast to the mid west and western United States for adoption. Most were basically sold into servitude, but  some, like the youngest, were the more fortunate as they were easily adopted and absorbed into families.

A young Irish girl immigrates with her family to America, shortly thereafter, her family dies in a tenement fire, only the young lass surviving. Part of an orphan train, she is then sent to Minnesota. And her life forever changes. Now ninety-one, she recalls her memories with a troubled teen as the teen tries to straightened out her life.

A good premise for a story but I feel the author bailed on the ending. Let me know what you think.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Power Play by Danielle Steel 339 Pages


Danielle Steel steers away from her usual formulaic plots and tries a new style of writing. Unfortunately, she is not successful and this book is a work of tedious boredom. It took a lot of perseverance on my part to get through this book. And then I am disgusted with myself for the wasted time.

The premise of the book is this: males who are at the pinnacle of the business world believe their power enhances their charisma and becomes their drug of choice. Only to have it ultimately blow up in their faces. In this case, numerous affairs and a second hidden family. Females, in the same position, where power and success anesthetizes them and dulls their sexuality, lead very lonely personal lives. 

Who cares?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry p156

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

p 156
Grades 3-5 (but truly for anyone)

While working at the library I have been exposed to so many great books that I have not had the opportunity to read in school.  So I am taking the time now.  I started out with Lois Lowry's Number the Stars.  This Newberry award winning book gives a wonderful insight into how Christians and Jews conspired to resist the dominance of the Nazis in Denmark and how a young friendship can stand the test of time.

The intended audience of Number The Stars is middle school aged children, however, it can make an impact on anyone.  I was pulled into the "ordinary" lives of the Danish people during World War II through the authors words and felt that I was viewing the characters experiences first hand. Ms. Lowry works her magic by describing how attending school and playing with friends for those within middle school intertwines with more grown up realities of food rations, German soldiers on the street corner, and mandatory curfews.  

This is an amazing story that I would recommend for anyone.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Girls of August by Anne Rivers Siddons 221 Pages


I don't quite remember how I discovered Anne Rivers Siddons, but it was late rather than early in her literary career. And I fell in love with her Southern landscapes and not so genteel Southern characters. Saying this, I was somewhat disappointed in her latest novel, The Girls Of August, besides the lackluster plot, it is so short I consider this a novella rather than a novel. 

She tells a story of four friends, wives of doctors who met when the husbands were in their residency at Vanderbilt (Vandy) Medical Center in Nashville. The women started a ritual where the wives-only vacationed one week in August every year at the beach. They christened themselves The Girls of August. Due to divorce and death the number dropped to three, but now there are four again, and the new wife is 20 years younger, nubile and without an ounce of cellulite. The three old friends have their baggage, extra pounds, wrinkles and secrets. Despite decades long friendships, can they still trust each other?

Maybe the book should be called The Girls of Anguish?



Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Silkworm, Robert Galbraith, 455 pages


by Robert Galbraith

Wow. What an amazing ride! I will start by admitting that mysteries are usually not my genre of choice, but I will read anything written by JK Rowling (Surprise! If you didn't already know, Robert Galbraith is JK Rowling's pen name for her Cormoran Strike mystery series.). 

Her prose often comes off very crisp and workman-like, leading to criticism that she's not a good enough or "literary" enough writer. On the contrary, she's not trying to do anything new or explosive here. This is really a beautiful exercise in executing a literary genre. She's mindful of the generic expectations of private detective novels, and she's making the most of those stylistic mores. She's playing this genre like a virtuoso. However, every now and then she writes these beautiful lines, normally out of place in a boiler plate mystery, that take you aback and remind you of what a brilliant writer she is, no matter what genre she's doing (British school novel mixed with fantasy in HP, quasi-Victorian social issues novel with The Casual Vacancy). 

But to cut to the chase, I would say that while I liked the first book in this series, The Cuckoo's Calling, I LOVED this book. The pacing problems of the first novel are non-existent in this, and we've come to be more and more committed to this series's main characters, Cormoran and Robin. JK Rowling is especially delicious in this one when she's skewering the literary world, one which seems like is hard to live in (having to choose a gender neutral name for her books to appeal to boys, having to use a pen name to get a fair reading by critics, and having her writing called "pedestrian," "plodding," and "heavy on cliche").  

Do yourself a favor and read this book; it's a summer read at its best.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Matchmaker by Elin Hilderbrand 357 Pages


Warning! Warning! This is a tear jerker!  But I haven't read such a novel that was so complex, it's characters such a mess, the book was just fantastic! With references to Erich Segal's Love Story, this is a story of old loves, new loves, forgiveness, and an untimely death. It is a page-turner. I failed at prolonging the enjoyment of the book, thus I am writing this on little sleep. It is that good.

Elin Hiderbrand's thirteenth novel takes place on Nantucket with native Nantucketer Dabney Kimball Beech set to kick-off the annual Daffodil Weekend. She is the head of the Nantucket Chamber of Commerce and she is also a matchmaker, not professionally, but she has 42 successful matches under belt. You see, if she sees a rosy aura, it's good, really good. If it is a green fog, it is really bad. Divorce-is-in-your-future bad. Dabney receives an email from her one and true love 27-years after he left her and their daughter for the far east. He is returning. Tomorrow. Dabney's daughter is coming with her much disliked fiance for dinner tonight. And Dabney is not feeling very well, at all. Oh, and did I mention she is OCD and an agoraphobic. She can't stand to leave Nantucket due to a childhood trauma, unless her life depends on it. Dabney is a walking poster board for Nantucket, a wonderful friend and mother, and she is not-so-passionately-in-love and married to a famous economist. Her lover is coming back home, and did I mention she is not feeling so great? This is all in the first chapter.

I can't say enough fabulous things about this novel. This author is at the top of my list for the best writers in the women's fiction genre today. Brava! Brava!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Maddaddam Trilogy, Margaret Atwood, 1199 pages







Over the course of the last month, I tackled Margaret Atwood's ambitious dystopian Maddaddam trilogy. All of Margaret Atwood's "speculative fiction,” such as The Handmaid’s Tale or The Blind Assassin, is so intricately plotted and deeply philosophical, all while feeling eerily realistic. What I mean is that I agree with her preferred term for her work-- not “science fiction,” but "speculative fiction;" which she defines as “stories set on Earth and employing elements that already exist in some form." Her works really impact me as a reader because I could image them happening, and thus it helps me relate to both the characters and the situations. 

The Maddaddam trilogy hypothesizes a world in which humanity has destroyed the planet. The novel’s employs ecocriticism to consider what if major corporations governed our country, top scientists are kidnapped or murdered, and the environment is genetically altered or harmed for profit. At the heart of this story is personal perspectives on what the world was like before and after a mysterious plague that wipes out the majority of the population.

Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood happen simultaneously but present different points of view on this catastrophic event.

Oryx and Crake follows Snowman (or Jimmy as he is known before the plague) as he grapples with the fact he may be the only human left, as he watches over the Children of Crake, a genetically altered, “evolved” human race, and reflects on his life (particularly with the enigmatic love interest Oryx and the childhood friend turned influential scientist Crake) and how it led him to his chaotic present.

In my opinion, this is the least successful book of the bunch. While Jimmy is an interesting, well formed character, he is not that sympathetic, and the conclusion/climax of the novel feels rushed, compared to the amount of time spent building up Jimmy’s childhood. While this may be intentional on the part of Atwood, giving the sense of how quickly and painfully it happened to Jimmy--the person we’re receiving the action through--it didn't work for me as a reader. Also, I believe Atwood succeeds more fully when she crafts a female narrative voice, as she does in the later books. That’s not to say Jimmy isn’t a powerful narrative voice, but whether it’s because I am a female reader or because Atwood is such a feminist powerhouse, I prefer the later books.  

The Year of the Flood shares its narration between Toby and Ren, at one time both members of the God’s Gardeners, a group seeking to oppose the current ecopolitical situation before the plague. We as readers witness how each woman comes to the group and how the group affects them as individuals. I can’t praise enough the voice Atwood crafts for these women; each woman comes off as a distinct character, and I for one was deeply moved by each of their experiences. In this harsh world of the novel, women really suffer at the hands of powerful men, and Atwood doesn't shy away from depicting these injustices, but more essentially, she shows how these women stand up to these injustices in the ways that they can. Toby especially shines as a narrative voice, and I welcomed her as the main narrator of the final book of the trilogy. In my opinion, this book is the best of the bunch—rare that the second in a trilogy is the best.


Maddaddam moves beyond the events of the first two novels to depict how the survivors, Snowman-the-Jimmy and the God’s Gardeners, come together to face the challenges of the post plague world. While at times the novel feels a little too precious (all these people happen to have met each other in the pre-plague world), and there is too heavy a focus on a threat from a group of Painballers (I’ll leave you to read the novel to see who these villains are), I appreciate the questions Atwood raises in this novel about how to face a world undone and the ways in which the humans interact with the Children of Crake. The ways in which the Children of Crake change and evolve in ways their creators couldn't have expected provide particular readerly pleasure. While it’s hard to be funny in the face of potential annihilation, Atwood succeeds in making this book quite funny at times, especially when she shows the interaction between Toby and the Children of Crake, as she tries to tell them stories of the world and the people they know (the God’s Gardener members, Jimmy) in ways that the Crakers can understand. We often get this mystified, mythical stories told to the Crakers, then the actual lived experience from the people the story depicts. It’s a fascinating practice in what is truth and what is fiction, and how do they overlap.  

While it's a commitment to get through the whole series, I highly recommend it to those looking for excellent writing and a unique plot. Also, as a bonus, it was just announced in the news that HBO will develop a drama series based on the books with Oscar-nominee Darren Aronofsky at the helm. 


Friday, July 11, 2014

For All Time by Jude Deveraux 383 pages


Jude Deveraux brings us another book from the series Nantucket Brides . She seamlessly picks up from the last novel with the continuation of the start of a wedding. Her books in this series figure prominently, of course, with a wedding, but also with a mystery, where the main characters seem to be able to see or go back in time to the early 1800's to fix a family-wrong on Nantucket. The author writes so realistically you actually feel that this is possible and the anticipation gives you shivers.

Bridesmaid Toby and Graydon (cousin of the groom and Royal Prince of Laconia) meet at Jared and Alix's wedding. Graydon is an identical twin, and legend has it the woman who can tell the twins apart will be one of the twin's true loves. Toby is having none of it and tries to keep her distance. But Graydon is on a mission to win her and her heart. And so is the house and spirits across the street.

I love this series. Although I was expecting it to be on the sugary side, Deveraux manages to keep the saccharin level at a minimum.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Beekeeper's Ball by Susan Wiggs 360 pages


The second book in the Bella Vista Chronicles series, the author continues with the family saga of the Johansens. This time featuring Isabel Johansen, sister of Tess (The Apple Orchard), a renowned regional chef  and the family caretaker. But who is there to take care of Isabel? Writer Cormac O'Neill comes on the scene to write a biography of family patriarch Magnus Johansen and family secrets and intrigue come to see the light of day, ending the book with a wedding and another mystery. Another good reason to look for the next book in the series, probably next year.

Fans of Susan Wiggs will gobble this one up, wishing that the next book is just around the corner. If you haven't read the first book in the series, that won't be a problem as most writers tend to write their series books as if you haven't. But I recommend you do. She's that good.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Girl Who Came Home by Hazel Gaynor 359 pages


Another fictional account of the sinking of the Titanic, I wondered how many different ways can the same story be told, especially when you already know how it ends. So when I read a short blurb of the book: Titanic survivor tells story 70 years after the fact to great-granddaughter in order to help her find direction in her life, I was intrigued.

The story alternates back and forth between April 1912 and 1982, with seventeen-year-old Maggie Murphy (the great-grandmother) leaving Ireland with her Aunt Kathleen, and 12 others from her town of Ballysheen. Grace Butler, Maggie's great-granddaughter, suddenly loses her father, and finds herself adrift with no purpose to her life. A black carrying case found in Maggie's attic reveals the story of the sinking of Titanic and how Maggie became one of only 705 survivors.

Not an overly complicated book, the story tended to be told a bit too simplistic. Enough that you wanted to start skipping sections, my attention waning. But the story did tend to pick up some steam by mid-book. A different approach, with an expected ending, no surprises here.