Another Turn of the Page: Hail to Librarians! It’s National Library Week

“Libraries raised me.”
― Ray Bradbury

“Librarians…possess a vast stone of politeness. These are people who get asked regularly the dumbest questions on God’s green earth. These people tolerate every kind of crank and eccentric and mouth-breather there is.”
Tatyana Eckstrand, The Librarian’s Book of Quotes

“Nonsense,” said another voice-Dr. Rust. “We’re librarians. When we don’t find what we’re looking for in the first place we look, we don’t give up.
We keep looking.”

― Polly Shulman

“That’s how librarians are. They just can’t help it.”
― Carla Morris

“It’s still National Library Week. You should be especially nice to a librarian today, or tomorrow. Sometime this week, anyway. Probably the librarians would like tea. Or chocolates. Or a reliable source of funding.”
― Neil Gaiman

Calvin and Hobbes copyright, Bill Watterson

Yes, it is National Library Week and being a retired librarian I have a soft spot in my heart for libraries and librarians. That’s why I just couldn’t stop with one quote for my header this month. Every librarian I have known is described accurately by Polly Shulman’s quote. They not only keep looking for the answer, they keep looking till they find the perfect answer. The internet stops as soon as it finds something that satisfies the question.

The hunt, the chase, to find an answer was one of my favorite parts of being a librarian. It was like solving a mystery or getting the answer to riddle. Especially when the question was one like this,

” I need that book that’s called Shakespeare, but it’s spelled with a “Ch” and the author starts with M…”
This wasn’t one of mine but the librarian who actually got this question figured out the patron wanted the book Chesapeake, written by James Michener. Fiction questions like that always depended on the librarian being well-read and knowing how to question the patron. Even today the internet would be hard-pressed to answer that one.

Today fact based questions are much easier to answer with Google. Before the internet I got a question I’ll never forget, “How do you get the smell of a dead body out of a car?”

Back then, instead of calling the cops, after finding some material on cleaning and disinfecting, I referred the person to the health department but today you can get 41,000,000 hits if you ask Google that same question. Still, you might need a librarian to find the answer that most suits your particular odor and situation. In the reference interview a good librarian would have to find out whose body it was. The dog? The cat? The neighbor?

So here’s to those Masters of Information! Bring yours a nice gift this week like Neil Gaiman suggests. And here’s the books we read last month, many, thanks to librarians.

 

  1. Radio Girls by Sarah-Jane Stratford (2016) 384 pages. The Great War is over, and change is in the air, in this novel that brings to life the exciting days of early British radio…and one woman who finds her voice while working alongside the brilliant women and men of the BBC. Goodreads
  2. Pax Romana by Adrian Goldsworthy (2016) 513 pages. A history about how the Romans were able to maintain a fairly stable empire for so many centuries with only a handful of notable rebellions. The term “Pax Romana,”  literally means “Roman peace,” and refers to the time period from 27 B.C.E. to 180 C.E. in the Roman Empire.
  3. The Color of Lightning by Paulette Jiles (2009) 349 pages. Set in North Texas, this is the fictionalized version of, Britt Johnson, a slave freed immediately following the Civil War. His wife and children are kidnapped by Kiowa Indians and he rescues them single-handedly. Contains some graphic and bloody scenes.
  4. Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans (2014) 284 pages. A heartwarming story about a ten-year old boy called Noel orphaned and evacuated from London to the small town of St. Albans during the blitz after the death of his guardian.
  5. Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin (2007) 394 pages. First in a series, this mystery is set in medieval Cambridge; its heroine, Adelia, is a “medical expert” or what we would term, a coroner. In this one she is called to examine the death of four children who the locals believe were victims of Jewish sacrifice.
  6. Tradition of Deceit by Kathleen Ernst (2014) 360 pages. Chloe Ellefson Mystery #5. A nice combination of  three different storylines. Roelke is in Milwaukee, and out of his jurisdiction, trying to find out who murdered his former partner. Chloe is in Minneapolis helping a fellow curator and restoration expert with the old Washburn Flour Mill, when the body of one of the local historians is found in the abandoned mill. Finally there is a flashback story to the late 1900’s of a Polish immigrant family, who worked in the mill. All three intersect in the end.
  7. A Separation by Katie Kitamura (2017) 231 pages. The narrator in this novel has separated from her cheating husband, Christopher, but her in-laws are still in the dark about their new status. So when she gets a call from her mother-in-law saying Christopher has gone missing while researching a book in Greece, she feels obligated to go looking for him. This has been touted as the next ‘Gone Girl’, but our reviewer didn’t find any similarities. She also found the book a bit slow.
  8. Dark Corners by Ruth Rendell (2015) 228 pages. Ruth Rendell has written mysteries for years and has been well liked, with a huge following. This is her last book before passing away in 2015. The publisher describes this book as “…an intriguing cat-and mouse-game of blackmail and murder. From diet pills, homeopathic cures, a desperate man who needs cash, a tenant, a friend, an opportunist, and a jealous neighbor. ” Unfortunately our reviewer found it disappointing.

Cookie Book Cookies: Savory

img_0014For Christmas my son gave me Dorie’s Cookies by Doris Greenspan. It is a cookie recipe book. It was an especially nice gift because he had heard about it while listening to a podcast on Public Radio. Yes! I knew I had raised him right. The book itself is quite beautiful, great cover, lots of pictures ( my kind of recipe book!) and it weighs a ton.

bookThat poundage is because there are 160 cookie recipes in this book. While my son was home he mentioned that he was interested in the savory cookies and sure enough Dorie has a section called Cocktail Cookies that looked pretty interesting. So since the weather outside for the last week or so has certainly been nasty I decided it was time to try two of the savory selections. Half for us and half to be mailed to Nathan.

 

My first choice was Cranberry Five Spice Cookies. Chinese five-spice powder is a blend that includes star anise, Sichuan peppercorns, cinnamon, cloves and fennel. Dorie loves this spice and says it is equally good in sweet or savory dishes. She likes it best when paired with something tart or tangy so that’s why she has put cranberries into the mix. Here’s the recipe:

Makes about 50 cookies

5 Tbls sugar
1/2 C fresh or frozen cranberries, coarsely chopped
1 3/4 C flour
1 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut in chunks, room temperature
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 large egg
1/2 C salted peanuts ,coarsely chopped

Coarsely chopped cranberries and nuts

Coarsely chopped cranberries and nuts

Mix 1 Tbls sugar and cranberries in a bowl, set aside.

Whisk flour and five-spice powder together.

In another large bowl with a mixer or by hand, beat the butter, remaining sugar and salt together till smooth and creamy. Add the egg and beat for one minute. (The mixture will look curdled, that’s ok.) Add flour mixture all at once and mix till it becomes a dough. Spoon the cranberries (drain off any liquid first) and the nuts into the dough and mix just to incorporate. You can do this with a spatula or with your hand. I found my hand worked great. Turn dough out onto counter and knead gently. Divide in half and pat each into a disk.

Put disks between parchment paper and roll to about 1/4 inch thickness. She says then freeze for about an hour. I found this too long. You need the dough firm to cut out cookies but if it is frozen you have to wait till it softens enough to get your cutter through it. Use your judgement.

Preheat oven, 350°, line cookie sheet with parchment paper. Using approx. 1 1/2″ cookie cutter, cut and place cookies on sheet. Bake 12 -14 minutes, rotating sheet half way. Cookies should be lightly brown on edges and just firm to touch. Mine needed about 18 minutes.

Cutting out Cranberry Five-spice dough

Cutting out Cranberry Five-spice dough

Repeat with remaining dough and don’t forget to use the scraps as well.

Recipe #2 was Smoky, Cheesy Cookies.

Makes about 45 cookies.

1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces
4 ounces cold smoked Gouda, cut into tiny cubes
2 ounces shredded sharp cheddar
3/4 tsp fine sea salt
1/4 tsp freshly grd black pepper
pinch of cayenne
1 1/4 C all purpose flour

Put the cold butter, Gouda, Cheddar, salt, black pepper and cayenne in a food processor and pulse until butter is in bits and mixture forms small curds. Add the flour and with long pulses mix until dough is moist and forms large popcorn-like curds. (Should be noted, mine took forever to get large popcorn-like curds. They never really were large but the dough finally started to combine and it felt moist so I just turned it out and scrunched it together and then kneaded it.)

Shape into ball, divide in half and do the same rolling, freezing and cutting as above with the Cranberry Five-spice cookies. Put on parchment paper or silicone sheet.

Almost ready for oven

Almost ready for oven

Bake 350 degrees. Bake 16 -18 minutes, rotating half way through. Mine went a little longer here too.

The verdict?

In the Cranberry Five-Spice, I couldn’t detect the five-spice flavoring that Dorie gets all excited about but the nuts and cranberries come through nicely, especially the nuts. She suggested sprinkling salt on the tops before baking and I did this for half. Both are good but my husband prefers the ones with salt. I also think they were better on the second day.

Left: Smokey-Cheesy Right: Cranberry 5-Spice

Left: Smokey-Cheesy
Right: Cranberry 5-Spice

On his initial taste of the Smoky, Cheesy ones my husband said, Cheez-its. Oh no! I went to all this trouble and they taste like Cheez-its. But not really. Yes, they may give you that at first bite but then the smokiness of the gouda comes through. These are quite nice with a little sausage and a glass of red wine or with eggs and bacon for breakfast.

I will definitely be trying more of Dorie’s recipes.

My son’s share went into the mail today. Hope I packed well.

Another Turn of the Page: Last Books of 2016

“We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.”
Edith Lovejoy Pierce

ruthsbookshelfWe ended our year with ten readers. Some were heading out to warmer points south soon and others were planning to leave after Christmas. All will continue to read but won’t need hot chocolate and thick socks. The rest of us will gather throughout the winter and share our literary finds with each other. It is good to come together and leave most of the crazy world behind and bury ourselves in the books. One of the reasons I continue to blog about our books is so the Snowbirds can keep up with the group. The other reason is everyone likes to get a suggestion for their next good read. So, eclectic as ever, here is what we read in December.december1. Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham (2015) 344 pages. This is a story of Lawyer Sebastian Rudd who represents people who no one else will touch such as drug dealers and murderers. The novel follows his life and the cases he is working on. Feels more like a short story collection than a novel.

2. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch (2016) 342 pages. On the way home from the local bar, Jason Dessen is kidnapped by an unknown assailant in a mask. After being injected with something, Jason wakes up in a world he does not recognize. I have to quote a review from Goodreads which sums this book up perfectly: It is the perfect balance of suspense, action, sci-fi, romance, and WHAT THE HECK!?!?” Best SF I’ve read in years.

3. Chasing Lincoln’s Killer by James Swanson (2009) 194 pages. Based on rare archival material, obscure trial manuscripts, and interviews with relatives of the conspirators and the manhunters, this book is about the twelve day pursuit and final capture of John Wilkes Booth.

4. The Mistletoe Secret by Richard Paul Evans (2016) 320 pages. Our charming Christmas book of the year, this is the third in Evan’s Mistletoe Collection. The first two being The Mistletoe Promise and The Mistletoe Inn. All standalone stories.

5. True Crime in Titletown, USA: Cold Cases by Tracy C. Ertl & Mike R. Knetzger (2005) 203 pages. Mike, a Green Bay, Wisconsin police officer, and Tracy, a police dispatcher, offer profiles of three historic unsolved crimes including a 1931 bank robbery, an extortion case and a restaurant murder.

6. The Ringmaster’s Wife by Kristy Cambron (2016) 356 pages. Spanning the years from 1885 to 1929, this novel reveals the true nature of life “Under the Big Top’, behind the sparkle and glitz of the performances.

7. Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom (2015) 512 pages. Music, the narrator of this book, tells the story of Frankie Presto—the greatest guitar player who ever lived—and the six lives he changed with his six magical blue strings.

8. Memory of Muskets by Kathleen Ernst (2016) 408 pages. Chloe Ellefson is a Curator at Old World Wisconsin and her supervisor wants her to plan a major Civil War battle enactment.  However, when a reenactor’s body turns up on one of the farms the celebration becomes more complicated.

9. Galway Bay by Mary Pat Kelly (2010) 551 pages. A historical fiction tale about what the Irish went through during the Potato Famine, and what led many to emigrate to America.

10. Cooking for Picasso by Camille Aubray (2016) 400 pages. A fictional story of Picasso’s stay in the French Riviera in the spring of 1936. In those few months he had a lasting impact on Ondine, the seventeen-year-old who cooked for him, and the generations that followed.

Another Turn of the Page: Back to Sanity, Back to Books

“Loyalty to country ALWAYS.

Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”
Mark Twain

A book for every state.

A book for every state.

It’s been a pretty tough week and I still can’t watch the news or open the newspaper but as I promised at the end of my last post, we are going back to the books. The November gathering was just this past Thursday so I’ve got two months of titles. October will be the main entry and I’ll give you a brief summary of the November titles at the end. Yes, another two-fer. What can I say? The Cubs, politics, working the Big Book Sale at my local library, plus still doing all that physical therapy on my knee just put the blog posts way down on the priority list. Well except for the ones I had to write to clear my head.  My quote this month is from Mark Twain. I felt it very appropriate for where I am right now and then I found the book map. Sorry about the tiny states, that is as clear as I could make it. However this link will take you to the source page and a list. A book in every state. There is fiction, nonfiction and children’s. Books will bring us together.

Here’s our October.

sept1. The Final Frontiersman: Heimo Korth and His Family, Alone in Alaska’s Arctic Wilderness by James Campbell (2004) 320 pages. James Campbell, Heimo’s cousin, writes an amazing account of the family’s nomadic life in the harsh Arctic wilderness.

2. Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole (2013) 290 pages. Elspeth, a published poet, receives a fan letter one day in 1912 that leads to correspondences with a young man that spans World War I and World War II.

3. Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson (2011) 359 pages. Christine, a middle-aged woman wakes up every morning with no memory of her life, she has a rare amnesia; every night she falls asleep and forgets everything. The husband she doesn’t know when she awakes helps her through the day, but what if he can’t be trusted?

4. Luck, Love & Lemon Pie by Amy E. Reichert (2016) 320 pages. When MJ’s husband starts spending more time at the casino than with her, she decides something needs to be done. That something is taking up gambling herself. But soon she gets pretty good and is the one spending more time at the poker table.

5. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985) 311 pages. Atwood’s terrifying dystopian novel where pollution and man-created viruses, have caused fertility rates to be so low that the few fertile women (the Handmaids) are now communal property. They are moved from house to house to be inseminated by men of power under the watchful eye of their wives. A future where women can only be the Wives, domestics (the Marthas), sexual toys (the Jezebels), female prison guards (the Aunts), wombs (the Handmaids), or, if they are unsuited for any of these roles, Unwomen who are sent off to the Colonies where they harvest cotton if they are lucky or clean out radioactive waste if they aren’t.

6.Gray Mountain by John Grisham (2014) 368 pages. Not one of Grisham’s best. His heroine, a young Manhattan lawyer, takes on the dangerous world of coal mining in Appalachia.

7.14th Deadly Sin (Women’s Murder Club #14) by James Patterson (2015) 384 pages. The return of SFPD Homicide Detective Lindsay Boxer and her friends that call themselves the Women’s Murder Club. If you follow this series, you’ll want to read it. Otherwise it is best to start at the beginning with 1st to Die.

8. The Last One by Alexandra Oliva (2016) 304 pages. It begins with a reality TV show. Twelve contestants are sent into the woods to face challenges that will test the limits of their endurance. While they are out there, something terrible happens in the real world but the contestants are made to believe it is all part of the game.

9. The One Man by Andrew Gross (2016) 416 pages. America is in a race with Germany to develop the atomic bomb. However the Allied effort is lagging behind in their so-called Manhattan Project. The one man who has the necessary knowledge to complete this task is a Polish physicist, Alfred Mendl. The only problem, he has to be rescued from Auschwitz first.

10. A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell (2004) 442 pages. A moving story of Italian resistance during WWII, including the incredibly brave efforts of Italian Catholics to save Jewish refugees.

11. A Famine of Horses (Sir Robert Carey mystery #1) by P.F. Chisholm (1994) 268 pages. The first in a series of historical mysteries based on Sir Robert Carey, a real life character who was a courtier in Queen Elizabeth I’s court. Set along the English/Scottish Borderlands in 1592.

12. Curious Minds (Knight and Moon #1) by Janet Evanovich (2016) 336 pages. The first in a new series of thrillers by Evanovich complete with her quirky sense of humor and unique characters.

 And now a quick recap of November:

Nonfiction: Indians of the far West (1891), The Erie Canal, an artist and sequel to The Final Frontiersman.

Nonfiction: Indians of the far West (1891), The Erie Canal, an artist and sequel to The Final Frontiersman.

Mysteries & Thrillers: Talking sheep, Walt Longmire, Survival when all electricity is gone, Adventure, Buried treasure

Mysteries & Thrillers: Talking sheep look for missing shepherd, Walt Longmire, Survival when all electricity is gone, and Buried treasure

Novels: From the author of "A Man called Ove", a Romantic comedy drama, and Characters in a small college town

Novels: From the author of “A Man called Ove”, a Romantic comedy drama, and Characters in a small college town

Another Turn of the Page: Turn Off the TV and Read

“I find television very educating.
Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”
Groucho Marx

tvI like television. I do not remember not ever having a television unlike my husband who did not have one in his early childhood. I am a great lover of fiction so drama, science fiction, medical and legal thrillers, etc. are what I watch. I do enjoy sports as well, particularly football. But in the US, the political season has taken all the joy out of my television watching. Every commercial break has some Super PAC commentator telling me something despicable about everyone running for office. How did these people get elected in the first place? The commercials make it sound like they all should be in prison. My mute button is starting to wear out. And of course tonight is the next “debate”. It will pre-empt two of my favorite shows, Madam Secretary and Elementary. Thank the TV Gods, the Green Bay Packers will be playing opposite the Trump/Hillary smack down.

Now I usually have a book handy even when I have the TV on, just to fill up the time when there is a break in the action to sell me something. But lately I have been forgetting to turn the sound back on. The book is so much better. I am also a night owl who watches a lot of late night TV but frequently I just go curl up in bed with a book. Much more calming for my brain. I’m sure I’ll go back to my normal TV habits after the election, I just hope I won’t have to be familiarizing myself with Canadian television. If you are also looking for a diversion, here are the books my group read last month.sept-copy1. Boar Island by Nevada Barr (2016) 374 pages. Anna Pigeon #19. Anna, a National Park Service Ranger, has to deal with cyber-bullying and stalking. Very little about the park so not one of the best in this series.

2. Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (2015) 179 pages. Addie is a widow seeking companionship. She makes an intriguing proposal to her neighbor, a widower named Louis. She asks him to come over to her place and share her bed. It is just to talk and fall asleep together and break the loneliness.

3. We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates (1997) 454 pages. This book is about a large family, the Mulvaneys, living all happily until something terrible happens to the sole daughter. This book is basically about this event and the aftermath.

4. Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America by T.J. Stiles (2015)
608 pages. All anyone knows about Custer is the fight at Little Bighorn, this biography covers his time in the Civil War, his time trying to make a fortune on Wall Street, his marriage and many other areas.

5. Chasing the Last Laugh: Mark Twain’s Raucous and Redemptive Round-the-World Comedy Tour by Richard Zacks ( 2016) 464 pages. A rich and lively account of how Mark Twain’s late-life adventures abroad helped him recover from financial disaster and family tragedy.

6. The Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe (2016) 379 pages. A historical novel based on the true story of Anita Hemmings, the first black student to attend Vassar, who successfully passed as white.

7. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (2011) 352 pages. The author starts with a compelling idea–taking vintage photographs with unusual subjects–and using them to weave a supernatural story of children who possess unusual abilities. A very strange and fantastic read.

8. Elephant Company: The Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Hero and the Animals who Helped Him Save Lives in World War II by Vicki Constantine Croke (2014) 368 pages. The remarkable story of James Howard “Billy” Williams, whose uncanny rapport with the world’s largest land animals transformed him from a carefree young man into the charismatic war hero known as Elephant Bill.

9. Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan (2014) 474 pages. Historical fiction featuring Robert Louis Stevenson and his American wife, Fanny.

10. Proof Positive by Phillip Margolin (2006) 320 pages. A legal thriller about the way CSI evidence can be misused by a killer to serve his own twisted sense of justice.

11. Iceberg by Clive Cussler (1974) 340 pages. An early Dirk Pitt (#2). Frozen inside a million-ton mass of ice-the charred remains of a long missing luxury yacht, vanished en route to a secret White House rendezvous. The only clue to the ship’s priceless-and missing-cargo: nine ornately carved rings and the horribly burned bodies of its crew. -Goodreads

12. Comfort Food by Kate Jacobs (2008) 336 pages. Augusta Simpson is turning 50, has two 20-something daughters, and her own cooking show which is experiencing a ratings slump. The story revolves around her need to heal from tragedy and develop better relationships with her children. Not up to the author’s usual standards.

13. Casualties by Elizabeth Marro (2015) 288 pages. The Casualties tells the story of the people living on a little street in Edinburgh, in the final weeks before an apocalyptic event which only a few of them will survive.

Another Turn of the Page: Checkout a Library Book

“A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people.
It is a never failing spring in the desert.”
Andrew Carnegie

“Without the library, you have no civilization.”
Ray Bradbury

shelveBefore I bring you our August selection of books I want to say a few words about libraries and library books. I am always gratified and amazed at how many members of this round table book group are reading library books. I say this because for years I have read that paper books will be gone tomorrow. Yep, nobody reads actual books. Audio books or digital books on Kindle and Nook is the future. I’ve been hearing that for over 20 years. Far as I know, it still hasn’t happened. And anyone who really wants a printed paper book will just buy it. (Sure, but they ain’t cheap)  Who goes to libraries anymore? Well, a  lot of people go to libraries and it is not just the retired or the “elders.”  Granted, my book group is composed of retired people. After all, who else can meet on a Thursday at 10am in a coffee shop to discuss books? And even though this group brings books they have purchased, books they read on Kindle, books they have listened to, they also are users of the library. Of the twelve books presented last month, I believe at least ten were library books. Mine was, and I listen and buy as well. Don’t get me wrong, if you are reading I don’t care how you get your books but if you aren’t reading because books are too expensive or you don’t know how to download an audio book, well damn! you’re missing the best deal in town. Libraries have these amazing people called librarians who will teach you how to download a book or will move heaven and earth to find any book you want to read. Hey! you retired people, since you are going to the library anyway, take those grandkids along. Best way to get them started reading – young. And it’s all free! No excuses. Get thee to a library. (full disclosure, I was a librarian for 30 years)

Here’s what we read. All obtainable at your local library.

August1. Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl (1984) 176 pages. Roald Dahl’s autobiography. He is the author of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG  and James and the Giant Peach.

2. Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty (2016) 415 pages. Six responsible adults. Three cute kids. One small dog. It’s just a normal weekend. What could possibly go wrong? Warning: You will either love Moriarty or just find her books so-so, but give her a try.

3. The King’s Deception by Steve Berry (2013) 612 pages. This book has everything you need in an adventure; an old secret, a secret society, American agents, British agents, two old ladies and a thief. This is #8 in the Cotton Malone series.

4. Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult (2005) 426 pages. A family drama centered on a “kidnapping” that occurred 28 years earlier.

5. Dietrich & Riefenstahl: Hollywood, Berlin and a Century in Two Lives by Karin Wieland (2013) 640 pages. Marlene Dietrich and Leni Riefenstahl, born less than one year apart, lived so close to each other that Riefenstahl could actually see into Dietrich’s Berlin apartment. Coming of age at the dawn of the Weimar Republic, both sought fame in Germany’s burgeoning silent motion picture industry.

6. Mary Anne by Daphne Du Maurier (1954) 351 pages. Written in 1951, this is a fictionalised account of the life of Mrs Mary Anne Clarke, who was the author’s great-grandmother, and who is famous principally for being the mistress of Frederick, Duke of York (second son of King George III). Not a great read. Try one of Du Maurier’s more suspenseful books, like Rebecca, for your first taste of her writing.

7. Grant Park by Leonard Pitts, Jr. (2015) 400 pages. A nice mix of thriller and a historical novel, Grant Park begins in 1968, with Martin Luther King’s final days in Memphis. The story then moves to the eve of the 2008 election, and cuts between the two eras as it unfolds. A kidnapping and a plot to kill the newly elected President Obama keeps you turning the pages.

8. Walking Home: A Pilgrimage from Humbled to Healed by Sonia Choquette (2014)
384 pages. In order to regain her spiritual footing, Sonia turns to the age-old practice of pilgrimage and sets out to walk the legendary Camino de Santiago, an 820-kilometer trek over the Pyrenees and across northern Spain. Written in a daily “diary” style.

9. The Two Mrs. Grenvilles by Dominick Dunne (1985) 374 pages. This book is a fictional account of the real life story of William and Ann Woodward. William came from a rich and powerful family in New York and Ann was just of ordinary lineage. When Ann (Grenville) “accidentally” shoots William, thinking he was a prowler, the matriarch of the family, Alice Grenville, stands behind her to avoid any scandal, but the family suffers from this decision.

10. The Pursuit by Janet Evanovich (2016) 320 pages. Fox and O’Hare series #5. Nick Fox and Kate O’Hare have to mount the most daring, risky, and audacious con they’ve ever attempted to save a major U.S. city from a catastrophe of epic proportions. Just another fun read from Evanovich.

11. The Excellent Lombards by Jane Hamilton (2016) 288 pages. This coming of age on an apple farm story is full of wonderful descriptions — of life on a farm, as a child looking in on the adult world and family relationships. It reads more like a memoir than a novel.

12. Britt-Marie was Here by Fredrik Backman (2016) 336 pages. “A heartwarming and hilarious story of a reluctant outsider who transforms a tiny village and a woman who finds love and second chances in the unlikeliest of places.” – Goodreads

When is a Comic a Graphic Novel?

Gather ’round class. Today’s topic is COMICS!

I'm not sure if I was the focal point of everyone's attention or the kingfisher who flew behind me every once in awhile.

I’m not sure if I was the focal point of everyone’s attention or the kingfisher who flew behind me every once in a while.

Sunday I gave a brief talk to my friend’s Salon Group about the difference between Comics and Graphic Novels. The talk was only about twenty minutes so this was not an in-depth investigation into the history of comics but more like a quick overview followed by Show & Tell.  I figured getting a little more mileage for my effort was in order so here, dear followers, is the basic difference between the two, with a bit of comic book history thrown in.

One thing I did discover in my research is that there is a lot of disagreement and a lot of different definitions but these are the ones I settled on. Comic books are basically periodicals. They are produced monthly or maybe bi-weekly. The action is the most important element because it progresses the story to the next issue, making you want to go back to the comic book store as soon as the next issue is released. Now comics as we know them, didn’t get their start till the 1030’s. Before that “comics” were the funnies you read in the newspaper, mostly on Sunday.  That’s what I’m showing above in picture #2, a book containing full-page spreads of Little Nemo in Slumberland from the New York Herald, circa 1901 -11.

Little Nemo in Slumberland 8-5-1906

Little Nemo in Slumberland by Winsor McCay 8-5-1906

These were amazingly detailed and colorful. Nemo’s adventures were fantastic but he always managed to wake up in the end. The only thing resembling a comic book as we know it came about in 1938 when a bunch of comic strips from the newspapers were put together in a book called “Fabulous Funnies”.

But then in 1939 DC Comics released Action Comics featuring this really strong dude by the name of Superman and he was a big hit.

erThis was followed by Batman in 1940 and then Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Archie and others in the early 40’s. The Golden Age of comics had begun and everything from war stories to detective thrillers to westerns started to appear in comic book form.

So we march on to the 60’s, early 70’s,
The Silver Age: Lots of superheroes like the Flash, Fantastic Four ( Stan Lee), Spiderman (Steve Ditko). I personally liked The Jaguar (’61), The Fly and of course, Flygirl! (’62) The Fly always got top billing even though she was just as strong and way cuter.

I wanted to be Flygirl!

I wanted to be Flygirl!

Stan Lee started getting into it around this time too. You know him today as the guy who shows up for ten seconds in all of the Marvel movies mainly because he is responsible for a lot of those characters like the X-men, Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and more.

Fantastic Four 1961: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby

Fantastic Four 1961: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby

Bronze Age: (70’s, 80’s) Small presses and Underground Comics, featuring anti-heroes like Elektra and much darker plots.

Elektra Assassin; 1986, Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz

Elektra Assassin; 1986, Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz

And from then (80’s) on to today, The Modern Age!

Now here is where things get hazy. Publishers started putting a series of comics into one edition. These editions had really nice paper, not that flimsy newsprint. Slick covers and even volume numbers. Basically they were creating trade paperbacks but they called them Graphic Novels and of course charged a lot more. I think the publishers thought they were legitimizing comics but many writers just saw it for what it was, a way to make more money and frankly the writers weren’t ashamed of comic books. My favorite quote is from Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite authors of comics, books, short stories, essays.

When told by a reviewer that he didn’t write comic books but rather graphic novels Gaiman said, he.. “meant it as a compliment, I suppose. But all of a sudden I felt like someone who’d been informed that she wasn’t actually a hooker; that in fact she was a lady of the evening.”

So, what indeed are Graphic novels? Well they are essentially books. They have a beginning, a middle and an end. The story is told primarily if not entirely in pictures. Granted, some modern “graphic novels” or “trade paperbacks” read that way as well because writers started getting savvy and wrote their comic book plots with editions in mind. But they still originally came out one issue at a time. One writer referred to them as “comic strip books.”

Examples of real graphic novels? Will Eisner is credited with using the term graphic novel for the first time on the cover of his book, A Contract with God and Art Spielgelman’s Maus pretty much defined it further and gave the term legitimacy.contrctmausOr how about the really true graphic novels by Lynd Ward? The stories are told entirely in woodcut prints, no words, no captions.

Cover and two pages from Wild Pilgrimage; 1932

Cover and two pages from Wild Pilgrimage; 1932

So class, your quick and dirty look into the world of comics is over. If you were here I’d let you look and even handle some of my favorites but alas, that is impossible. All I can say is, “get ye to a comic book store!” There are some really great storytellers and illustrators out there and you’re missing them all if you think they are “just comic books.”

Old and new, here are some I enjoy. Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter, The Dark Knight Returns ( Frank Miller), Akira, Sandman (Neil Gaiman), Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Get Jiro, Batman: The last Angel and Batman: Arkham Asylum.

Old and new, here are some I enjoy. Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter, The Dark Knight Returns (Frank Miller), Akira, Sandman (Neil Gaiman), Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Get Jiro, Batman: The Last Angel and Batman: Arkham Asylum.

Another Turn of the Page: Hot and Now

“I always read. You know how sharks have to keep swimming or they die?
I’m like that. If I stop reading, I die.”
Patrick Rothfuss

tumblr_o6mue2D9qT1qzb5wzo1_1280After missing two months in a row (April and May), I am now making up for that by posting July’s books on the same day as the meeting. Yep, hot off this morning’s discussion. And I almost didn’t make it due to a doctor’s appointment that went long. Because of that I missed Rikki’s presentation on Jan Karon. In a short recap, Rikki told me she wanted to talk about the author of the wholesome Mitford and Father Tim books because Karon’s life was anything but stable or ordinary or wholesome. Briefly she dropped out of school at 14, got married (you could do that legally in South Carolina), had a baby at 15, two years later her husband was paralyzed from a gun accident and she was ultimately divorced and a single parent by 18. And it goes on from there. Sorry I missed it.

Since the table was packed with people (14) I have a lot of books to cover so I am going to get on that now. For your July reading pleasure:
july1. Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good by Jan Karon (2014) 511 pages. After five hectic years of retirement from Lord’s Chapel, Father Tim Kavanagh returns with his wife, Cynthia, from a so-called pleasure trip to the land of his Irish ancestors.

2. All Over Creation by Ruth Ozeki (2003) 432 pages. A warm and witty saga about agribusiness, environmental activism, and community. The author also wants you to learn about the evils of GMOs.

3. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri (2016) 340 pages. Two brothers, born fifteen months apart in Calcutta, India, are inseparable until the 1960’s when their interests begin to diverge. Udayar becomes a follower of Mao’s revolutionary politics but Subhash goes to America to continue his studies. A book you must stick with to discover how the lives of the two affect family and friends.

4. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (2003) 400 pages. This book is touted as an international bestseller. Well that may be true but our reviewer was less than enthusiastic about it. Kevin is a teenage mass murderer. And as one review stated,”It is a family saga that features a sordid tragedy, filled with abhorrent, compelling, wretched, titillating detail.” I suggest you read a lot of reviews before you consider it for your bookshelf.

5. Zero Day by David Baldacci (2011) 434 pages. #1 in the John Puller series. John Puller is a crackerjack military investigator, who heads out of the DC area to the south, to check out the death of a senior officer in unsavory conditions. It’s a goodie and you’ll be glad there are more in the series.

6. Steel Kiss by Jeffery Deaver (2016) 496 pages. Lincoln Rhyme #12. The “Steel Kiss” of the title is the name of a manifesto from a domestic terrorist, a man who is brutally murdering those he calls “Shoppers” by using the intelligent data chips in their own consumer appliances against them and sending rants to the newspapers about materialism and greed.

7. Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce (2014) 352 pages. This novel is a parallel story to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. Why would Harold walk 600 miles to see Queenie before she dies? In this story we discover what is happening with Queenie while Harold walks, the reason he walks, the present life of Queenie and their interlacing history. PS: The Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is really good so read it first.

8. Avenger by Frederick Forsyth (2003) 352 pages. An older thriller by one of the masters. Forsyth is the author of The Day of the Jackel. In this adventure we get to know the Avenger, a Vietnam vet who uses his unique set of skills to hunt down and bring to justice those who prey upon the innocent. Pure escapism.

9. General Patton: A Soldier’s Life by Stanley Hirshson (2002) 826 pages. Our reviewer found this book to be a very well written and very satisfying look at the American military icon, General George S. Patton, Jr. He said it revealed information about some of the myths and some of the unusual truths about Patton.

10. A Different Kind of Normal by Cathy Lamb (2012) 416 pages. A novel about a boy named Tate. He is seventeen, academically brilliant, funny, and loving. He’s also a talented basketball player. However Tate has been born with Hydrocephalus, the medical term for a very large head and facial features that don’t really line up.  Dealing with the mean-spirited people in the world is only part of his problems.

11. Where the Bodies are Buried: Whitey Bulger and the World that Made Him by T.J.English ( 2015) 448 pages. The story of James “Whitey” Bulger, the notorious Boston crime boss.

12. Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg (2015) 293 pages. On the eve of her daughter’s wedding, June Reid’s life is completely devastated when a shocking disaster takes the lives of her daughter, her daughter’s fiancé, her ex-husband, and her boyfriend, Luke—her entire family, all gone in a moment. June is the only survivor.

13. The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman (2016) 522 pages. A great collection of nonfiction essays on a variety of topics—from art and artists to dreams, myths, and memories—told in Gaiman’s amusing, and distinctive style. A good book to own so you can pick up whenever you have time to read one or two entries.

14. Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (2016) 492 pages. This book is the fourth in the Austen Project. This Project pairs six bestselling contemporary authors with Jane Austen’s six complete works: Sense & Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Pride & Prejudice, Emma, Persuasion and Mansfield Park. Taking these stories as their base, each author writes their own unique version. Eligible is Pride and Prejudice.

 

I’m Reading as Fast and as Slow as I Can

Reading creates a roller-coaster of emotions. If you are strictly a non-fiction reader or a reader of periodicals you probably never have experienced the apprehension that occurs when nearing the end of a really good book of fiction. In a good book you become personally invested in the story, there are characters you really care about, they feel like friends that you have been with through thick and thin. As their story comes to the end you start reading faster…what’s going to happen? Will they survive? Will they realize their dream? And then you remember that the faster you read, the faster this story, that you have loved for 400 pages will be over, done, finished. The End!

So you start to slow down. I’ve even put a book down and done a chore, like the dishes, and then come back and read one more chapter, then went and folded the laundry, and then back for another chapter. Here’s your treat Jeanne, good girl! Of course this only works so long and you slowly come to the end or you just give up and read it all. And there you are. The tale is done, your characters have finished their journey. But you can’t call them in a few days to go to lunch and you can’t “friend” them on Facebook. There will be no headlines in the paper about their harrowing adventure, no obituary in the Times.3121473

This just happened to me twice in one week. I usually have 2 – 3 stories going at once. This past week I happened to be reading Windigo Island, the fourteenth book in the Cork O’Connor series by William Kent Krueger and I was listening to the third book in Stephen King’s Bill Hodges trilogy, End of Watch.

In the former, Cork O’Connor is a sheriff in a small town in Northern Minnesota. He is part Irish/part Ojibwe so his friends, his cases, his family cross over to the reservation area. We meet his kids, his wife, her family. Over the course of 14 books, his family grows, his job changes, he finally becomes a private investigator and, as in any mystery series, he deals with more murders and unusual cases that any real small town sheriff or PI ever would. There is also a wonderful spiritual aspect to these books because of Cork’s Ojibwe blood. Many times he seeks advice from Henry, a Mide, a spiritual leader in the tribe. There are visions and sweat lodge experiences and ritual. Wondeful stuff. But now I’ve read the last book! Wait, no! These people have been living with me since early 2015 when I read the first book, Iron Lake. Of course back then, when I was nearing the end of one book I quickly looked up the next one and reserved it through the library so it was ready when I finished the current one. That’s the upside of discovering a series that is mostly written. This time there was no next book until recently when I discovered he was writing #15 Manitou Canyon, due out in September. Ah, big sigh of relief.

First and currently last in the Cork O'Connor series

First and currently last in the Cork O’Connor series

The other book I finished was End of Watch. Since I came to this trilogy as King was writing it, it took three years before I came to the end and the wait between books is always agonizing. In 2014 King released Mr. Mercedes, a straight up mystery/crime/thriller. It was so good. Frankly, I think Stephen King has been writing some of his best work in the last five years. Anyway, on to 2015 and Finders,Keepers came out. Crime novel, private eye stuff again but with a twist, a Stephen King twist, some woo-woo stuff that I love but damn!!!! I had to wait another year for End of Watch. So here I am in the third year, get the book right after it comes out and I am reading like crazy only…..WAIT. ONE. MINUTE. This has been a three-year love affair with a story and characters and I am about to gulp it down. I slowed a little but all good things must end. This one even brought out a few tears, not because the trilogy was over but because of the story, yes I get very involved with my characters. (no spoilers for you folks, read it!).

Bill Hodges Trilogy

Bill Hodges Trilogy

So I mourn a little a story ends but then the search is quickly on for another book. Right now I am doing a stand alone, LaRose by Louise Erdrich and I know already I am going to get close to the characters but at least I won’t have to wait for a sequel to finish the story.  Hey anyone want to recommend a good series?

 

Another Turn of the Page: Jump to June

“Come with me,’ Mom says.
To the library.
Books and summertime go together.”
Lisa Schroeder, I Heart You, You Haunt Me

books_shelf_cartoon

Well in my rush to pack and get ready for a mini-vacation ( all that birding I wrote about) I missed April’s booklist. Then I was on that vacation in May, no books from that month, so let’s Jump to June! Of course there were others on vacation this month but we still had a lively group of ten. Bea presented the author, W. Bruce Cameron, who writes humor. For most of the presentation she read straight from his autobio on his site because it was just funny good and she felt paraphrasing it would just not work. It is from 2013, just before his book, The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man, came out. Great title. Another funny thing this month is two of us brought the same book as two others of us. So the first on in the clockwise round table got to speak about their book while the other two, me included, had to scramble for an alternative. Fortunately we all read like fiends so it wasn’t such a hardship. So let’s jump to the June books.

June1. Fall of Giants by Ken Follett (2010) 985 pages. #1 of The Century Trilogy. This is a huge novel that follows five families through the world-shaking dramas of the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and the struggle for votes for women. However the 985 pages move along quickly.

2. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (1999) 198 pages. Lahiri’s collection of short stories deals mainly with the experience of Indian immigrants in America. They often deal with a more specific experience: a young married couple moves to America shortly after being married so the husband can work at a university, so the two have to navigate the new worlds of their marriage and the United States.

3. LaRose by Louise Erdrich (2016) 372 pages. Note: This is not a spoiler. Right in the beginning we know that there is an accident that causes the death of a child. In Native American culture this requires an act of atonement, so Landreaux Iron, the perpetrator convinces his wife Emmaline to give their young son Larose to Peter and Nola, the parents of the dead child. This act sets off a chain of events that will take years to overcome.

4. Guilty by David Baldacci (2015) 672 pages. This is the 4th book in David Baldacci’s Will Robie Series. It continues with the life of the government assassin as he finds himself at a crossroad in his life.

5. Last Painting of Sara Vos by Dominic Smith (2016) 304 pages. Three stories intertwine in an amazing way. In 1631 Sara de Vos is the first woman painter to be admitted to the Guild of St Luke’s in Holland. She paints a landscape usually forbidden to women. In 1958, an Australian grad student in New York, Ellie Shipley, trying to make ends meet, agrees to paint a forgery of De Vos’ landscape. In 2000, the forgery and the original are about to meet at a prestigious art exhibit with interesting consequences.

6. Stone Necklace by Carla Damron (2016) 288 pages. Clawing chest pains and a fiery car crash take one life and change the destiny of four others. The Stone Necklace braids together the stories of a grieving widow, a struggling nurse, a young mother, and a troubled homeless man.

7. Curve of the World by Marcus Stevens (2002) 320 pages. This fast-paced novel blends the past and present story of a victim of a plane hijacking who becomes lost in the Congo. The story moves back and forth from the man’s struggle to survive and his wife’s search for him.

8. Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer (2016) 280 pages. An inspiring and fascinating account of one man’s quest to find thousands of ancient Islamic manuscripts, hidden away among the desert communities of Mali, and then to remove them to safety as Islamic militants take over large parts of the country.

9. Trickster’s Point by William Kent Krueger ( 2012) 329 pages. In this, #12 in the series, Cork O’Connor sits at the base of a tree next to a huge pillar of stone called Trickster’s Point. Next to him is Jubal, an acquaintance and friend from his youth, the man is slowly dying from an arrow lodged in his chest. The arrow belongs to Cork, and from this point on he is the prime suspect in Jubal’s murder.