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Author Archives: Aimee Owen
While my summer reading list was often full of nonfiction, despairing memoirs, and dystopian nightmare scenarios, sometimes I just need to escape into a quick summer beach read. In this case, my interlude came in the form of “mommy lit” – stories about mothers of young kids; sleep-deprived mothers who are running on coffee and dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets; moms who love their little ones dearly, but occasionally fantasize about long-ago child-free spa weekends – you know, someone I can relate to.
If you aren’t familiar with Bumni Laditan, she’s the creator of The Honest Toddler, a blog-turned-book written in that voice we all secretly think belongs to our own children. Confessions of a Domestic Failure is Laditan’s first novel, and it centers around Ashley Keller, a newly minted stay-at-home-mom (by way of corporate layoff).
Ashley is smart and resourceful – she was an ace at her marketing job before the layoff, and she can fashion an emergency diaper out of items in the backseat of her car – but she is also failing spectacularly at creating the blissful family life she thinks is expected of her. Her house is a mess, she hasn’t lost the baby weight, her daughter rarely makes it out of pajamas (so much for all those cute baby clothes!), and she is struggling to be supportive of her husband’s decision to quit his own corporate job to start a new company.
Ashley is determined to be a Pinterest-perfect mother with an Instagram-worthy home and a huge circle of supportive mommy gal pals… if she can ever peel off her Cheerio-crusted yoga pants and find the energy to shower. Laditan perfectly and hilariously captures the isolation and exhaustion of new motherhood and the pressures social media creates to project perfection.
Ashley is offered a chance to compete in a “Motherhood Better” competition held by superstar mommy-blogger Emily Walker. She stumbles through each challenge, and madcap antics ensue – from accidentally mooning the other competitors during a live video conference, to lying her way into a breastfeeding support group (though her daughter takes formula) while trying to make mom-friends, to nearly setting her house ablaze while “crafting”. But somehow she makes it to the finals and gets to meet her idol Emily. Will she win the contest and push her jogging stroller into the sunset… or will the pressure of domestic perfection cause her to crash and burn?
I first encountered Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s work when I was shopping for a baby book, back in those pre-kid days when I could still leisurely shop. The pale yellow book I chose was quirky and funny, with just enough sarcasm to balance out the preciousness that is the first year of your kid’s life. (Amy created several guided journals, and she was also a prolific children’s book author; one of her better known titles is Duck! Rabbit!)
Her latest “grown-up” title, Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal, came out on August 9th, 2016. On September 6th, 2016, Amy was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She passed away just last month on March 13th, 2017.
I’d had this book on my to-read list for a while, and I wish I’d read it sooner. It is a follow up to her 2005 memoir, Encyclopedia Of An Ordinary Life; she comments that it was only appropriate to follow an encyclopedia with a textbook. It is a short, fast read, with lots of white space. The book was meant to be “interactive”; Amy offers a cell phone number readers can text, so that at certain points in the book you can send her notes and photos and maybe even win a freshly-baked pie. Texts sent while Amy was alive were kept and added to the book’s website.
Amy writes of moments, of everyday occurrences. She makes the mundane experiences we all have seem both hilarious and absolutely heartbreaking. She talks of how fleeting life is and how, even if she were to live to 80, the number of times she could cut up an apple, or look at her children, wouldn’t be enough. There was no way she could have known, as she was writing those words, how small that number would become. There is no way for any of us to know, and I’m trying to remember that every day and live by her words: “Make the most of your time here.”
If you are already an “AKR” fan, tomorrow (April 29th) would have been her birthday. There is a Facebook group, #MoreForAKR, that you can check out if you’d like to pay tribute to Amy’s memory this weekend with acts of kindness.
I am a boy-mom. (Or at least I was until we welcomed a baby girl into our house almost 2 years ago. 2?!? How is she almost 2? Wait… where was I? Ah, yes, boys.) I am inclined to fall in love with realistic fiction centered on boys, probably because I can see my own son living these adventures and learning those early-life lessons. I felt especially enamored recently with the 3 friends that narrate Ms. Bixby’s Last Day. Topher, Steve, and Brand are 6th graders, finishing out their last year of elementary school.
Ms. Bixby is one of those rare teachers that is a “Good One”. She has a pink streak in her hair and spouts endless inspiring quotes, or “Bixbyisms”. She sees what’s special in each of her students and helps them to see it too. But Ms. Bixby suddenly takes ill and can’t finish the school year. When she has to miss her good-bye party at school, our three heroes decide to skip school and take the party to her in the hospital.
Each boy’s perspective colors the nature of their scheme. Topher, the artist and story-teller, is playing out a military-grade mission in his mind. Brand is determined to do for Ms Bixby what he never could do for his own injured father. And Steve is just worried about how much trouble he’s going to be in for ditching school.
Their quest is fraught with peril, as good adventures are wont to be, and the boys find themselves, and their friendship, put to the test. Will they be able to give Ms. Bixby the last day she deserves? It’s an incredibly moving story, both laugh-out-loud funny at times, and sob-inducing at others. This boy-mom highly recommends!
Anderson, John David (2016). Ms. Bixby’s Last Day. New York: Walden Pond Press.
A fast-moving plague has set the world ablaze, quite literally. The “Dragonscale” spore marks its hosts with intricate tattoo-like patterns, which just happen to also cause them to spontaneously combust. Whole cities watch in terrors as their inhabitants burn to death, no cure in sight. To protect themselves, some citizens band together into “cremation squads” and hunt down those carrying the disease.
Before the local hospital ignited, Nurse Harper cared for the infected in her New Hampshire town. She and her husband Jakob made a pact to kill themselves if they ever caught the spore. Now Harper’s on the run from the cremation squads and Jakob, having discovered her own dragonscale markings… and her pregnancy.
This is the second book by Joe Hill I’ve read, the first being NOS4A2 (which I loved). It lived up to my expectations, and I will seek out more of his work. It wasn’t until I finished this book that I realized that Joe is the son of Stephen King, writing under a pseudonym so that his writing could stand on its own merit (which it does). If you’re in the mood for a fast-paced horror/thriller novel, this is it!
Friday Reads: Bloody Jack, Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary “Jacky” Faber, Ship’s Boy by L.A. Meyer
I made a new friend this summer. Jacky Faber is many things – fierce pirate, skilled sailor, cunning thief, loyal friend, talented musician, and… a girl. Mary “Jacky” Faber is left on the streets of London in 1797 after an illness takes her parents and sister. After watching too many fellow orphans be done in by the mean streets, she cuts her hair, dresses as a boy, and talks her way into a ship’s boy position on a British naval vessel. For more than 2 years she pulls off her “deception,” despite her maturing body and a blossoming crush on a fellow shipmate, Jaimy. During this time, she earns her nickname “Bloody Jack” after a skirmish with pirates, as well as a promotion to midshipman, before being discovered as female and packed off to a Boston finishing school. Things don’t always go well for Jacky – there are certainly darker elements to her story, as she must avoid lecherous sailors and the hangman’s noose – but she maintains a positive demeanor and always manages to “bob back up.” Readers will gain much in nautical terminology as well as historical facts.
If you have the option of listening to the audio version, I’d highly recommend that route. Kathryn Kellgren’s treatment of Jacky Faber has often been compared to Jim Dale’s narration of Harry Potter – she really brings the characters to life. Her wonderful voice has led me to have more than a few “driveway moments.”
Bloody Jack is the first of a 12 book young adult historical fiction series which follows Jacky around the globe as she tries to make her way in the world and reunite with her beloved Jaimy. I am currently partway through the tenth book and will sorely miss Jacky when the series ends.
Meyer, L.A. Bloody Jack: being an account of the curious adventures of Mary “Jacky” Faber, ship’s boy. San Diego: Harcourt, 2002.
You may be familiar with Elizabeth Bennett and her sisters Jane, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia; their mother desperate to make them good matches, and their father smart enough to try to stay out of the way. But what if Liz Bennett was a magazine writer, Jane a yoga instructor, Mary focused on her online degree, Kitty and Lydia into CrossFit, and the family lived in Cincinnati circa 2013?
Meet Curtis Sittenfeld’s 21st century Bennett family. In this retelling, Liz and Jane have moved to New York City to pursue their careers, but the rest of the girls still live at home in Ohio, where Mr. and Mrs. Bennett belong to the local country club and ignore the decay of their Tudor home, their rapidly dwindling fortune, and the failing state of Mr. Bennett’s health. After their father ends up hospitalized, the older daughters return home, and Mrs. Bennett wastes no time in trying to set up one of her girls with reality television star-slash-ER-doctor Chip Bingley.
While a romance blossoms between Chip and Jane, Liz finds herself fending off advances from tech-whiz Cousin Willie and trying to save her family members from themselves. Enter neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy and…well, if you’ve read Pride and Prejudice, you already know how this one goes…
Sittenfeld, Curtis. Eligible. New York: Random House, 2016.
The Library Commission has a range of books that are looking for a good home. There are volumes of Nebraska history, poetry books, library science texts, reference works, titles by local authors, and much more. All are free for Nebraska librarians to browse, request, and keep! A small set of titles has been highlighted on our website: http://nlc.nebraska.gov/ref/giveaway.aspx.
Should any of these interest you, email the Information Services team with your requests. There is no charge if you are able to pick up the books. Books can be mailed to you for a small suggested donation to cover postage Next time you stop by the Library Commission, ask to have a look at the shelf – who knows what treasures you will find!
Friday Reads: How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy, by Stephen Witt
How do you listen to music nowadays? Do you still buy CDs? (…did you ever buy CDs? I might be showing my age here…), download digital files, use a streaming service online? Did you ever wonder how exactly we got from the “good old days” of recording mixed tapes to having any song available at our fingertips? How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy by Stephen Witt answers this question and more. From the invention of the MP3 format to the role of the music industury executives in the demise of their own business, this is a fascinating history of an industry turned on its head. Witt focuses on 3 individuals who couldn’t be more different, yet who each played a crucial role in changing how we access music.
In Germany, an audio engineer, Karlheinz Brandenburg, and his team developed the MPEG3 data compression format and fought for its acceptance over rival formats, a largely political battle. When not adopted by the industry, the team released the MP3 format to the public as a free conversion tool and music player.
In North Carolina, Dell Glover was using his job at a CD manufacturing plant to become the leading music leaker in an elite online community. What had been a tedious task of burning individual cds to sell from the trunk of his car on weekends became vastly simplified with the introduction of the MP3 format and the ability to upload music easily and quickly to the internet. (Mr. Witt also published this piece about Dell Glover in the New Yorker in April 2015.)
In New York, Doug Morris, the CEO of Universal Music Group, was too concerned with signing the next big rap artist to pay much mind to the growing portable music revolution. Morris and other executives failed to grasp the significance of the MP3 format (and the piracy it enabled), leading eventually to a litigative nightmare and the downfall of the music industry as we knew it.
Whether or not you were online in the heyday of Napster, this book tells a compelling tale about a fascinating part of our recent history.
For 2015 I set a personal reading challenge of 120 books. It seemed like an attainable goal; in 2014 I completed 100 books, and I read for the Golden Sower Awards voting committee, so I go through a LOT of intermediate-level books in the spring. And really, what’s 10 books a month, right? But life happens, as it always does, and sometimes life hands you a newborn that kicks books out of your hands when you try to read in the evenings… I got a little behind in my reading pace over the summer. I got back on track and finished my 120th book on December 31st.
I read for pleasure mainly, but also for enlightenment, or distraction, or because my son or husband beat me to the remote control. I’m not a picky reader: there were memoirs, mysteries, poetry, science fiction, fantasy, classics, humor, short stories, political issues, historical fiction, information science, chick lit, and graphic novels. There was a book on economics, (Adam Smith, anyone), several on parenting, one about dressing better, many about celebrities, and also many about mice and their adventures (I read to a 5 year old). I read in all formats – good ol’ print, eBooks, and audio. The beauty of such a lofty goal (for me) was that I didn’t allow myself to be choosy. If it piqued my curiosity, I read it. Quite a few titles I waited months on reserve for at my local library, but just as many were impulse grabs. Only a couple earned me fines for late return…
Out of 120 books, there were bound to be a few that I loved and some that I could have done without. I’ve shared a couple so far this year in our Friday Reads feature (Ready Player One, After the Golden Age), and here I will mention a couple more:
If you want to laugh until you cry: Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things, by Jenny Lawson. The author is deeply depressed, but doesn’t let it get her down. (New York: Flatiron Books, 2015. ISBN 1250077001)
If you just want to cry: Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This book made me sad for all of humanity. I took a couple of days off from reading after this. (New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2015. ISBN 0147520509)
If you want to cringe: The Nest by Kenneth Oppel. This one had me listening for the buzzing of small insects. Aimed at the upper-elementary set, but creepy enough for us older kids too. (New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2015. ISBN 148143232X)
If you want to cheer for the underdog: The Martian, by Andy Weir – read it before you see the movie. Or better yet listen to it -the Brilliance Audio version has R.C. Bray narrate to great effect. (Grand Haven, MI: Brilliance Audio, 2014. ISBN 9781491523216)
If you loved “one of the greatest love stories ever told”: As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From the Making of The Princess Bride, by Cary Elwes. First watch the movie, then read the book. Then watch the movie again. I went the audiobook route again – narrated by the author. (New York: Simon & Schuster Audio, 2014. ISBN 9781442383456)
Did you set a reading goal this past year? Are you aiming for a certain number in the year to come?
Happy New Year everyone – looking forward to many more great books in 2016!
Check out the Nebraska Library Commission’s newest page: Creative, Innovative, and MakerSpaces in Nebraska! Here we list Nebraska libraries that have purchased 3D printers, as well as public and private “creative spaces” throughout the state – places you can visit to take classes, work with technology, make art, write poetry – whatever your creative outlet, we want to help you find a space for it!
This page is a work-in-progress and will be constantly updated as we discover more resources. If you have, or know of, a space we have not listed, please contact the Information Services Team.
I’m not sure I consider myself a child of the 80s, but I’m certainly old enough to appreciate the vast majority of the pop culture references in Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One. From Ferris Bueller to Geddy Lee, Max Headroom to Dungeons & Dragons, Monty Python to Back to the Future, there’s a bit of 80s nostalgia for everyone in this story. I listened to the audiobook (one of the pleasures of a long daily commute), narrated by Wil Wheaton.
The year is 2044. Our hero, Wade, is an 18-year-old orphan living in the stacks – an overgrown trailer park where the mobile homes are literally stacked sky-high. Things are not going so great for Wade “IRL” (in real life), but that’s OK! Wade spends most of his waking hours in the OASIS, a sprawling online utopia that most of the population of Earth relies on to escape the crumbling mess that the real world has become. When the OASIS’s creator, game designer James Halliday, passed away, he promised control of the OASIS and his vast fortune (in the hundreds of billions) to the first person who can find the “Easter Egg” he has hidden inside this virtual world. The catch? The egg hunters or “gunters”, as they’ve been come to be known, must possess enough knowledge of 1980’s trivia to decipher the clues Halliday has sprinkled throughout the OASIS. It’s been 5 years and no one has found the first clue that will begin the game and lead to the ultimate prize… Until one day Wade stumbles upon it, putting his name at the top of the game’s scoreboard and making him both a legend among gunters and a target for the ruthless corporation that has its sights set on taking over the OASIS.
If you enjoy fast-paced humorous science fiction (even if you’ve never picked up a joystick), grab this one before it hits the big screen in the not-too-distant future.
This year’s Summer Reading Program is “Every Hero Has a Story” (or “Escape the Ordinary” for us older folks). After the Golden Age caught my eye as I passed a display of hero- themed books at my local library. I’m not typically a reader of graphic novels or the Marvel Universe, but I enjoy fantasy and science fiction, and this book has a bit of romance and family drama thrown into the mix.
It takes super powers to be a hero. At least that’s what Celia West assumes. After all, she’s the daughter of Captain Olympus and Spark, the superhuman crime-fighters that lead Commerce City’s vigilante team, the Olympiad. Much to their disappointment, Celia didn’t inherit her father’s super strength or her mother’s pyrokinesis. Instead, she seems destined to be a target for city’s villains; she’s been kidnapped so many times, she wonders if she should change her name to “The Captive Wonder.”
After a youthful indiscretion, Celia tries to make a normal life for herself as a forensic accountant, away from her parents and out of the Olympiad’s shadow. Our story begins when Celia is asked to assist with the tax-evasion trial of The Destructor, the city’s most notorious supervillain and her parent’s archenemy. Will Celia be able to take down the criminal mastermind that neither her parents nor the police could ever defeat? Or will her involvement in the trial be just the public distraction the mayor needs to rid Commerce City of its meddlesome superheroes? It’s up to Celia to save the day.