Category Archives: Books & Reading

New State Agency Publications Received at the Library Commission

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New state agency publications have been received at the Nebraska Library Commission for July and August 2015.  Included are titles from Colleges and Universities, Emergency Management, Highways and Roads, and the Department of Insurance, to name a few.

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Friday Reads: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

The_Goblin_Emperor_coverIt’s the story of the unwanted, unloved fourth, and extra son of an elven Emperor, who unexpectedly, violently, becomes the next emperor. With no training and no one to trust, he’s thrust into a fully imagined court and political wrangling of a complex government that he hasn’t even been fully educated about. On top of all that, he is half Goblin, a distrusted minority in his country. The unexpected part of the story is that, of course, that living with a greedy, selfish, violent guardian has taught him survival skills that he can use. And he has more than a few. And despite all the difficulties, the story is a hopeful one.

The author has not only packed the story with the edgy subject of race, and all the differences that can mean, but many other lines that she handles well. The accident that ends his father, the emperor’s life, and the lives of his three older half brothers, was aboard an airship (dirigible). Two people are set to guard the emperor at all times, one his soul and the other his body. But the one who guards his soul can also cast what we would call spells. New ideas are part of the difficulties the new emperor must deal with, including a new bridge. There is also an ongoing investigation into the deaths of his father and half brothers, which threads through the story, as well as 2 assassination attempts.

The world building is wonderful. One can tell where the origins of many of the foundations come from, but the author handles them in ways that seem fresh. While magic and steam punk flourishes exist, the story, the politics, the struggles, and the people are more interesting. In many ways though, it feels more like a historical story, than a fantasy, despite that fact that the character’s ears move to indicate their emotional state, much like a cat’s.

Katherine Addison, is actually a pseudonym for Sarah Monette.

The novel has received the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel and nominated for the Nebula, Hugo and World Fantasy Awards.


Strange Horizons: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, reviewed by Foz Meadows
Building Bridges: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison reviewed by Liz Bourke





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Librarians Encouraged to Promote New NET Production “Yours, Willa Cather” on Radio, Television and Digital

Willa Cather wrote some of the most unforgettable fiction of the 20th century including the novels My Antonia and O Pioneers!  But the voice of the private Willa Cather tells a much more personal story. Until recently, many scholars believed that Nebraska author Willa Cather burned most of her letters before her death. Not so. In the new NET Television documentary and NET Radio series, the private person is revealed through letters that survived, hidden away in drawers, trunks and archives.

Yours Willa CatherThe NET Television premiere is 9:00 – 9:30 p.m. CT, Monday, Sept. 21. The NET Radio series begins Saturday, Sept. 5 and runs through Sunday, Sept. 27.  Nebraskans can listen Saturdays at 9:35 a.m. CT (Sept. 5, 12, 19 and 26) and Sundays at 4:35 p.m. CT (Sept. 6, 13, 20 and 27) on NET Radio.

Based on the 2013 book The Selected Letters of Willa Cather, co-edited by University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor Andrew Jewell and Texas scholar Janis Stout, the NET project has created original video, audio, photography, and commentary. New digital resources including a companion website and e-book will soon be launched. Visit later in September.

The documentary was produced by NET’s Christine Lesiak who also contributed to the 2005 American Masters production of “Willa Cather – The Road is All,” which aired nationally on PBS. The voice of Willa Cather is read by actress Marg Helgenberger of Fremont, known for her Emmy-nominated role on the commercial television series “CSI.”

“Yours, Willa Cather” is funded in part by the NET Foundation for Television, Humanities Nebraska and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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What’s Sally Reading?

Refresher for Series Reading

The Recaptains website reminds you what happened in a book to get you ready to read next book in series.  As it states on their web page, “Yay! The next book in your favorite series is coming out soon! But hey, wait a second… what was it that happened in book 1 again? Did they kiss? Did they beat the bad guy? Did they have to run for their lives and was there a Cliffhanger with Capital C?”  Now you can find out quickly and easily what happened in the previous book.

It contains Goodreads summaries and with a click on “read more” you can access more detailed information.  There it includes an “In Short” paragraph, a “What Went Down” bulleted list of actions that occurred in the book, and “How Did It End.”  I just read through the information on The Diviners by Libba Bray since I plan to read the sequel Lair of Dreams this weekend.  It did a great job of reminding me who the characters are and what events happened in the first book.  It doesn’t cover everything, I just searched for Terry Pratchett and he is not on their author list, still I’m going to be using this site often.

Shurtliff003My highlighted book this time is Jack: The True Story of Jack & the Beanstalk by Liesl Shurtliff; I heard the author speak at the Norfolk Public Library’s 21st Annual Literature Festival held on July 25, 2015, which is a great opportunity to hear authors talk about their writing processes and get a book signed!  (Their next Festival is scheduled for July 30, 2016.)

In the book, Jack’s 7-times great grandfather was the famous Jack the Giant Killer and this Jack wants to imitate him, except that there are no giants.  But then two giants come down from the sky and take everything – the entire town – and Jack is soon up in their land to find his father and slay some giants.  Things are not that easy.  Full of adventure this twist on the fairy tale is logical and fun – with a bit of a message about greed.  Fans of her book Rump: The True Story of Rumplestiltskin (one of the Golden Sower nominees for 2015-2016) are sure to grab it.  This book is written for grades 3-6.

(The Nebraska Library Commission receives free copies of children’s and young adult books for review from a number of publishers.  After review, the books are distributed free, via the Regional Library Systems, to Nebraska school and public libraries.)

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NCompass Live: NeBooks Project

NCompass live smallJoin us for next week’s NCompass Live, “NeBooks Project”, on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 10:00-11:00 am Central Time.

The NeBooks Project is content created through a partnership between schools, state agencies, and non-profit organizations across Nebraska. Using the free apps, iBooks Author and Book Creator, students and teachers can create ebooks on a variety of topics with the common purpose of providing quality instructional materials. Come learn about the project, what it takes to get started and examples of completed works made by students.

Presenter: Kristina Peters, eLearning Specialist & School Library Liaison, Nebraska Department of Education.

Upcoming NCompass Live events:

  • Sept. 9 – Your Digital Footprint: Managing Your Online Identity
  • Sept. 16 – Board in the Stacks: Developing a Board Game Collection for your Library
  • Sept. 23 – Who Done It? And Who Figured it Out? The NLC Booktalks Mysteries
  • Sept. 30 – NCompass Live: 2015 One Book One Nebraska: Death Zones & Darling Spies

For more information, to register for NCompass Live, or to listen to recordings of past events, go to the NCompass Live webpage.

NCompass Live is broadcast live every Wednesday from 10am – 11am Central Time. Convert to your time zone on the Official U.S. Time website. The show is presented online using the GoToWebinar online meeting service. Before you attend a session, please see the NLC Online Sessions webpage for detailed information about GoToWebinar, including system requirements, firewall permissions, and equipment requirements for computer speakers and microphones.







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Friday Reads: Boys Don’t Knit (In Public), by T.S. Easton

boysdontknit“Meet Ben Fletcher: Accidental criminal. Liar. Master of mohair.” So proclaims the cover of UK author T.S. Easton’s delightfully silly YA novel Boys Don’t Knit. Ben Fletcher is a 17-year-old good kid and worrier, who gets drawn into an act of juvenile delinquency by his misfit friends. Ironically, considering he was the most reluctant participant, and due in part to a series of unfortunate circumstances, Ben winds up in the most trouble when they’re caught. Placed on probation, Ben is required to keep a journal (hence the diary-format of the novel) and to take an evening class at the local community college.

Due to limited choices, he winds up as the only male student in an introductory knitting class. (Other options included a car maintenance class taught by his father; pottery taught by the mother of a female classmate he has a crush on; and Microsoft Office for beginners, which he describes as being “for grannies and people who’ve just arrived in civilization after having been raised by wolves in the Appalachians.”) The challenge for Ben is how to keep his participation in the knitting class a secret from his father, who wants Ben to share his manly interest in soccer, cars, and World War II, and his classmates.

Of course, Ben winds up being a natural talent at knitting, so much so that he is drafted to participate in the regional heat of the All-UK Knitting Championship, in the junior category. He also ends up REALLY LIKING knitting, not only the social aspects of class, but also the calming effect it has on his mind. It begins to take over his life: He listens to knitting podcasts; furtively reads knitting magazines at the store (hiding a girly magazine inside the knitting magazine when he sees his friends approaching so they’ll think that’s what he’s really looking at, when it’s actually the other way around); and even sets up an Etsy shop. Eventually, despite his best efforts, he’s “outed” at school by an administrator wanting to capitalize on his success as a young entrepreneur. As you can imagine, this leads to constant ribbing from friends and enemies alike, and while it is painful to Ben it makes for amusing reading.

There is a lot of humorously cringe-worthy material in this book (intentional on the part of the author) which we, the readers, get to experience along with Ben (though as readers we are in a better position to be tickled by it than Ben). This includes conversations between Ben’s parents, which are filled with food-based double entendres that used to go over Ben’s head but now cause him no end of psychic pain. We also get to read excerpts of his friend Joz’s horribly-written novel-in-progress, titled Fifty Shades of Graham, which he’s having Ben proofread. It contains winning lines such as “Her large chest heaved angrily at me.” All in all, Ben has a lot of crosses to bear. His voice, as he shares his experiences with us via his diary entries, is as delightful and appealing as can be, making this a wonderful romp of a read.

Easton, T.S. Boys Don’t Knit (In Public). New York: Feiwel and Friends, 2015.

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Friday Reads: All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot SeeAnthony Doerr’s book “All the Light We Cannot See” (Simon & Schuster) won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2015. I listened to the audio version on a long road trip and read parts of the text version. I tend to avoid hyperbole but I’ll venture without reservation that this is an extraordinary book and I enjoyed it. I’ll go further and say that Doerr’s writing is exquisite. A New York Times bestseller for many months, it is deserving of the attention it has received. World War II and Nazi occupied France provide the setting for “All the Light We Cannot See.”

The book follows the lives of a blind French girl named Marie-Laure and a gifted German boy named Werner who has a special talent for radio technology. Their stories run parallel and eventually converge. Doerr devoted ten years to writing the book and wrote two others during that time.  Doerr’s extensive research is notable. The book is sentimental, and in a good way. This is a lyrical and intricate book with a highly readable format. I’ll be interested in whatever he publishes next.

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Friday Reads: Consumed by Fire, by Anne Stuart

CoverConsumerbyFireFrom the publisher’s blurb: “As an assassin for the Committee, a covert agency dedicated to stamping out international crime, [James Bishop] had no business even thinking about marriage. But it was the only way to protect Evangeline after she’d unwittingly wandered into his operation against a group of human traffickers.”

Not all blurbs sum up a book that well, but this one tells a potential reader what she needs to know. Does he desert her, and then return to rescue her because he just can’t resist her any longer? Of course. Is she hurt and angry and suspicious of him, but so in love that she’ll forgive him?  Was it really a question?

Anne Stuart is known for bad boy heroes. She’s also known for snappy dialog, fast-paced plotting, steamy interludes, and pushing the envelope. The book read so quickly that I didn’t think about the general improbability of it all and just enjoyed the ride. I’d recommend it to James Bond fans.

This title, the first in the new “Fire” series, continues the world of Ms. Stuart’s popular “Ice” series. It carries the Montlake Romance imprint, part of Amazon publishing. It’s available for Kindle, in audio, or in paperback.

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Friday Reads: The Missing Ink

I don’t usually read mysteries. I’m more into sci fi/fantasy. But, I am willing to go outside of my usual tastes when something interesting catches my attention. That’s how I ended up with The Missing Ink, and its sequels, on my bookshelf.The Missing Ink: A Tattoo Shop Mystery

The Missing Ink is the first book in the Tattoo Shop Mysteries, by Karen E. Olson. There are four books in total in the series, and yes, I’ve read them all.

What drew me to these books? Well, the main character is a woman, Brett Kavanaugh, the owner of a tattoo shop in Las Vegas. That was pretty much all it took. Strong, independent female lead, owns her own business, which just happens to be a tattoo parlor. I was cautiously hooked. As I said, I don’t usually go for mysteries, so that was a bit of a stretch for me. And I was also concerned that some annoying romance factor would be awkwardly shoehorned into the books, just because ‘that’s what women like to read about’. Well, no, not me. But, it looked like a quick read, so I decided to try it out anyway.

And, I liked it! I’ve seen this series described as ‘cozy mystery’ – since I’m not a regular mystery reader, I wasn’t exactly sure what that should mean. But, it was definitely fun and fast paced – yes, a real ‘page-turner’ as they say. The Las Vegas setting was well developed and the intricate plot really drew me in. And although there was a hint of ‘romance’, it wasn’t Brett’s main concern in life, it was actually portrayed much more realistically, in my opinion. As an aside, not something that she becomes stupidly obsessed with. Because you know, there are murders happening, and that’s what the story is really about.

At the end of this book, I definitely wanted more. Unfortunately, I read The Missing Ink soon after it was first published in 2009, so I had to wait impatiently for the sequels. But the series is complete now – as far as I can tell, Olson isn’t planning on writing any more Tattoo Shop Mysteries. So, you’re in luck – you can read the entire series all at once!

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Friday Reads

I recently finished A School for Brides by Patrice Kindl, a new companion title to her Keeping the Castle which came out in 2012.  I might be cheating by talking about two books, but they certainly go hand-in-hand.

Kindl011Keeping the Castle is reminiscent of Pride and Prejudice with a touch of Cinderella – due to stepsisters.  Seventeen-year-old Althea knows the only way to save her family’s decaying castle, its grounds, and their tenants for her widowed mother and much younger brother is to marry well.  The two unkind stepsisters living with them could contribute funds to reduce the costs but choose to complain instead.  Althea has an unfortunate habit of speaking her mind which makes finding a suitor much more difficult; she would prefer to remain single if it wasn’t so necessary to wed.  She does what she can to aid her new friend, Miss Vinchy, in finding a match, but doesn’t seem to make any progress for herself.  Readers will see the possibilities long before Althea does, which adds to the fun.  Romance, proper behavior of the time and surprises are included.

A School for Brides is set in the same time and place – the early 1800sKindl084 in the town of Lesser Hoo in Yorkshire England – and some of the characters from the first book make secondary appearances here.  The eight young ladies of the Winthrop Hopkins Female Academy study their lessons in math, French, comportment and stitching; but their real purpose at the school is for each to find a husband.  Too bad Lesser Hoo has only one sort-of-eligible bachelor.  Things look up when a young well-to-do gentleman is thrown from his horse.  A broken leg necessitates his stay at the school and soon some of his friends come to visit.  Manners of the day, social standing, treatment of household staff and the winning or losing of ladies’ hands are all addressed.  A couple of mysteries and some ne’er-do-wells in the mix make a humorous and gratifying tale.

I greatly enjoyed both books, the setting, the humor, and the writing; the author has provided two enjoyable Jane Austen-like capers.  They are a fun and lovely change from the many teen dystopia and/or killer suspense novels I have been reading lately.  They will be enjoyed by teens and adults.

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NPR Readers Pick Favorite Romance Novels

npr-homeNPR Books is offering a list of “100 Swoon-Worthy Romances,” including “a printable list to take to your local library,” so there may be some romance readers browsing the stacks with list in hand.  The list was created with the results of a poll asking NPR readers to tell about their favorite romances.  Historicals seem extremely well represented on the list, but it includes books in Historical, Classics, YS, Suspense, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Paranormal, LGBTQ, Inspirational, Erotic, Contemporary, and Category areas.  Some of the books are older, since participants were voting in the poll for their all-time favorites, but it might be a good collection development tool if your library would like to beef up its romance section.

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Nebraska Writer Featured in Newseum Exhibit “Reporting Vietnam”

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July 29, 2015

Mary Jo Ryan

Nebraska Writer Featured in Newseum Exhibit “Reporting Vietnam”

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the start of the Vietnam War, and the Newseum marks the date with a new exhibit exploring how the media reported the country’s first televised war. Photos, news footage, historic newspapers and magazines, music, and artifacts tell the story of a divided nation, and debunk some myths about the era. Nebraska writer Beverly Deepe Keever, author of the 2015 One Book One Nebraska: Death Zones & Darling Spies: Seven Years of Vietnam War Reporting is featured in one of the lead panels in this exhibit in Washington, DC. Keever, who was born and raised in Hebron, NE, was the longest-serving American correspondent covering the Vietnam War and earned a Pulitzer Prize nomination for reporting.

Set to a soundtrack of protest songs, the exhibit opens with an exploration of the culture clash that emerged in the 1960s as seen through mainstream and counterculture publications of the day. “Reporting Vietnam” challenges perceptions that linger fifty years after U.S. troops arrived in Vietnam, and poses the question “Did the press lose the war?” Find out more about the exhibit at

The Nebraska Center for the Book, Humanities Nebraska, Nebraska Library Commission, and other statewide organizations sponsor One Book One Nebraska to demonstrate how books and reading connect people across time and place. For information about One Book One Nebraska, see or join us on Facebook at

The Nebraska Center for the Book is housed at the Nebraska Library Commission and brings together the state’s readers, writers, booksellers, librarians, publishers, printers, educators, and scholars to build the community of the book, supporting programs to celebrate and stimulate public interest in books, reading, and the written word. The Nebraska Center for the Book is supported by the Nebraska Library Commission. As the state library agency, the Nebraska Library Commission is an advocate for the library and information needs of all Nebraskans. The mission of the Library Commission is statewide promotion, development, and coordination of library and information services—bringing together people and information.


The most up-to-date news releases from the Nebraska Library Commission are always available on the Library Commission Website,

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Friday Reads: After the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn

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.

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Friday Reads: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, by David Wroblewski

Sometimes we choose a book; sometimes a book finds us. The latter is what happened with David Wroblewski’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. An elderly neighbor who had recently lost his wife and who was cleaning out the house before moving to Florida offered me two books including this one. Sawtelle

This novel tells the story of Edgar, son of parents who raise and train a breed of dog named after the family. For no explicable reason Edgar can hear but is unable to speak. Because of this he trains dogs using signs (and sign language), while his mother uses voice commands.

The story revolves around the death of Edgar’s father (in which Edgar suspects his uncle, Claude) and the accidental death (in which Edgar had a part) of a beloved veterinarian who cares for the family’s dogs. The latter event impels Edgar to run away for two months with three dogs he has raised. His survival in a wilderness area, the appearance of another character who helps him, and his eventual return home to confront his uncle all lead the story along at a good pace for the reader.

Perhaps the most fascinating part of the book is when the author, employing the “omniscient” voice, tells part of the story from the dog’s perspective. This is especially poignant when Almondine (present at the birth of Edgar and with whom Edgar has a special bond), is facing the end of her life, wondering why her beloved Edgar has left and not returned. It is heart-breaking, but then I am a lover of dogs, so that may have something to do with it. (Note that the author read up on canine cognition in preparing to write the book.)

This book was a 2008 selection of Oprah’s Book Club. (All of us in the library field owe Oprah a debt of gratitude for her support and promotion of book clubs.) If you like dogs and a good mystery, you’ll enjoy this book.

If you are interested in this title for your book club, the Commission has it available for check out. Go to following link to accomplish that:

Richard Miller

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New State Agency Publications Received at the Library Commission

NEState SealNew state agency publications have been received at the Nebraska Library Commission for June 2015.  Included are titles from Nebraska Department of Agriculture, Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, Public Power, and University of Nebraska Press, to name a few.

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What’s Sally Reading?

Booktalk Database

If you are interested in book talks but don’t have time to write them all yourself, visit Nancy Keane’s website.  Click on “New This Month” on the left and you will find ways to search the database on the left.  You can choose searching by author or by title, as well as a subject list.  If you are more interested in seeing what is new to the site you can click on the month by month listing in the main area of the page.  She welcomes everyone to contribute a book talk and to use any that are there.  Some books have several book talks written by different people.  There are plenty of titles, picture books on up to young adult choices.

The Library Commission owns several titles about booktalks by Joni Richards Bodart, the first person to write about booktalking, including Booktalk!,  Booktalk! 2, and the more recent Booktalk! 5, about how to write booktalks and how to present them as well as having samples if you are looking for something to help you get started.  Good luck!

Dyckman029In Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman, the Bunny family finds a basket on their doorstep with a wolf cub in it.  Mom & Dad are thrilled.  Daughter, Dot, exclaims, “He’s going to eat us all up!” but the parents continually ignore her.  Finally, one day at the market, it looks like her prediction is coming true (by this time Wolfie is wearing a pink bunny suit) but instead it is bear who wants to eat Wolfie.  Dot to the rescue!  Sibling rivalry, cleverness and courage, and family love are at the heart of this story.  This picture book will capture readers’ attention, especially when the bear appears!

(The Nebraska Library Commission receives free copies of children’s and young adult books for review from a number of publishers.  After review, the books are distributed free, via the Regional Library Systems, to Nebraska school and public libraries.)

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Friday Reads: Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Sweetness-cvr-thumbIf you enjoy mysteries, chemistry, sibling rivalry, and an unforgettable protagonist, then Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley is for you! Flavia de Luce, an 11 year old, roams the old English countryside of about 1950 in hopes of clearing her father in a murder investigation. Flavia is found interviewing suspects, gathering clues, and compiling research at the library, always staying ahead of Inspector Hewitt and the police department. She specializes in toxins and goes as far as to slightly poison her sisters’ lipstick. The country manor home has many-an-interesting character working in it, surrounding it, or as part of its history. If you are a stamp collector you may have knowledge of the Penny Black stamp which plays a vital role in the capture of the true killer. You will laugh out loud as you follow Flavia through her deductions, and maybe you will beat her to the “solution” I sure did not. I understand that our amateur sleuth will be with us for a while as this is the first in a proposed 10-book series

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Friday Reads: Leaving the Pink House: A Memoir, by Ladette Randolph

randolph_cvr_revFriday Reads: Leaving the Pink House: A Memoir, by Ladette Randolph

The voyeur in me loves to read a good memoir and to snoop through other people’s houses. Even though I may talk a lot about the recent Masterpiece Theatre public television offering, House Hunters is one of my secret guilty pleasures. Leaving the Pink House: A Memoir by Ladette Randolph offers both the great memoir and the opportunity to poke around in various houses that the author lived in throughout her life. And it offers a lot more. I’ve read other books by this author so I was prepared for her careful, sparse, lovely writing. I might not have been prepared for how much the story of her life grabbed me and touched me.

I devoured the sections of the book that detail the remodeling project that compelled Randolph and her husband to leave the pink house (their previous remodeling project). The realistic descriptions of the planning, decision-making, and execution required in the remaking of their country home seem to mirror the internal remaking that was going on in their family. And anyone that has undertaken a home remodel can identify with that. Not to get all “pop-psychology” here, but our images of house and home really might reflect our sense of self—as suggested by Freudian and Jungian dream analysis.

“Renovating a house requires intimacy with a building. By time you’ve stripped wallpaper, pulled up carpets, removed cabinets, washed, sanded, and painted walls and woodwork, you know the lines and features of a house as you might the body of a lover. Our level of approaching intimacy with the country house, though, was less like that of a lover than like that of a forensic scientist.” (P. 61)*

I love that the sections on the remodeling project are interspersed with chapters that inform us about the author by reflecting on her life in previous homes. On the surface, the story seems to progress through the various homes that Randolph inhabited throughout her life, but below the surface she explores the relationships those homes sheltered and the different person she was as she lived in each of those homes. I know the author—a little bit—and I confess that might make this memoir even more enticing. I only know her as a snapshot in time. The revelation of her past life in the chapters of this book really surprised me. It reminded me that we may not really know that much about our acquaintances and colleagues. It reminded me that delving into another person’s life can uncover depths of beauty, but sadness too. Learning about another person’s journey can help us examine our own. Could that be the real appeal of House Hunters?

*Leaving the Pink House: A Memoir, by Ladette Randolph, University Of Iowa Press; 1 edition (September 1, 2014)

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Friday Reads: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo

kondobookI am pretty much what my grandmother used to call a “mess pot.” Despite dozens of bins, drawer organizers, labeled shelves, color-coded files, and all my good intentions, my place is mostly a jumble. So, hope springing eternal, when I heard about this book, I knew that I had to read it.

Yes, I was looking for a silver bullet—that one quick, easy, wonderful thing that would transform my life, or at least keep shoes from accumulating under the coffee table. Any book that offered “life changing magic,” well, it wasn’t a wand from Olivander’s, but I was ready to try it.

It’s a little book, didactic (perhaps the result of the translation from Japanese) and charming by turns. Taken literally, I thought it was kind of nuts. Ms. Kondo requires things to be done in very specific ways—and her ways wouldn’t necessarily fit with my mental processes or lifestyle. There are YouTube videos, and plenty of articles and reviews that illustrate. But the spirit of her advice resonated for me:

  • Decide what you are going to keep, don’t decide what you are going to discard.
  • Keep only those things that “spark joy.”
  • Many things are not meant for forever. If something’s time has passed, it’s okay to discard it.
  • Most papers can be thrown away.
  • Tackle organizing and purging by category of items, not by location.
  • Appreciate the things you have and care for them.
  • Store things in ways that make them easy to find and access.
  • Develop habits that make it easy to maintain orderliness.

I felt that the underlying message was to practice mindfulness, to not be overly materialistic, and to make sure that possessions were working for me, not burdening me. So for me, the attitudes were more valuable than the specific methods—although her way of folding and organizing an underwear drawer was pretty slick.


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Friday Reads: Big Bad Love by Larry Brown

bigbadlove2Two of my favorite authors are Raymond Carver and Charles Bukowski. Both are blue collar writers who encapsulate the mundane, disturbing, hapless, and tragic parts of everyday lives. Often, there is a great deal of humor underneath or simultaneously with these tragedies. Until recently, I had no idea that there is a term for this style and type of writing. It’s called “dirty realism.” The writing focuses more on the pain and suffering rather than the warm and fuzzy; the unhappiness rather than the happy; the trivial rather than the substantive. Both Carver and Bukowski have a very distinctive L.A. feel; although Bukowski was more skid row than Carver. Listen to some Tom Waits while you read either and you’ll feel right at home (I’d recommend Frank’s Wild Years and/or Swordfishtrombones). Now, before I get to rambling (or to put an end to it here and now), this Friday Reads isn’t about Carver or Bukowski. The problem is that I’ve already read their stuff (they are both dead), and for years have been searching for something with a similar feel. I finally found it when I discovered Larry Brown. Unfortunately, Larry Brown also died in 2004, but since I have yet to read any of his stuff, I feel refreshed. Well, sort of.

Like much (if not all) of Carver’s work, Larry Brown’s Big Bad Love is a collection of short stories. There are similarities, but Brown lived in Oxford, Mississippi, so the stories have a different, non-California feel to them. The stories are written from a male perspective, filled with alcoholics, depression, and tales of dysfunctional or failed relationships. I found the stores to be relatable (on some levels) and often hilarious. There is, however, a fine line between laughing at another’s misery and laughing with them. I had the latter feeling. There is something to say about retaining your sense of humor during life’s tragedies, and I think Brown aptly captures that, at least in part 1. Part 2 of the book consists of a longer story. I wouldn’t even recommend reading it. Compared to part 1, it’s a bore. Here’s a quote from part 1 that provides a snippet of Brown’s style:

“I didn’t know why something that started off feeling so good had to wind up feeling so bad. Love was a big word and it covered a lot of territory. You could spend your whole life chasing after it and wind up with nothing, be an old bitter guy with long nose hair and ear hair and no teeth, hanging out in bars, looking for somebody your age, but the chances of success went down then. After a while you got too many strikes against you.”

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