Tag Archives: FridayReads

Friday Reads: The Perfume Thief by Timothy Schaffert

The Perfume Thief: A Novel by [Timothy Schaffert]

I’m reading the new WWII novel, I’m reading the new perfume novel, I’m reading the new WWII perfume novel, and it’s delightful and I don’t want it to end.

I’ve been looking forward to reading The Perfume Thief by Timothy Schaffert, and it’s finally here! The publisher describes the book as “A Gentleman in Moscow meets Moulin Rouge.” I’m ready to follow Clementine, a raconteur in tailored suits, who’s spent her seventy plus years living life her way—while happening to break all of society’s rules. Now she’s facing a big change in her life—the Nazis are threatening to destroy Paris, including the vibrant underground scene she loves. It turns out she has some very exceptional skills, honed over decades of her refined and indecent life, that can help hand defeat to the Nazis. She just has to thread the needle carefully, with the finest silk, of course.

I imagine a few agents in Hollywood are getting calls about playing the part of Clem in the movie that must happen. I can see Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep fighting over the part, but I can see Jamie Lee Curtis owning it. Of course Cate Blanchett or Tilda Swinton, although they are a bit young for the part—isn’t that refreshing? Casting suggestions are welcome in the comments, of course. (Not just for Clem, but also for Zoe St. Angel, and also the villain, Oskar Voss.)

Did I mention Clem is from Nebraska? Did I mention Schaffert painstakingly researched Paris life, down to the weather reports on every day in the book? Did I mention it’s a page-turner? Excuse me while I get back to enjoying The Perfume Thief.

(We did write about The Perfume Thief here as well–yes, we’re fans! And yes, our Book Club Kit is available for Nebraska libraries to check out, and details are at that link.)

Schaffert, T. (2021). The Perfume Thief.

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Friday Reads: Post-Apocalyptic Nomadic Warriors by Benjamin Wallace

What does a librarian do after the apocalypse? He becomes a post-apocalyptic nomadic warrior, of course!

Post-Apocalyptic Nomadic Warriors, by Benjamin Wallace, is the first book in a series, the Duck & Cover Adventures. There are 5 novels in the series, plus an anthology of short stories.

You would think that, seven years after nuclear bombs and chemical weapons destroyed civilization, there would be plenty of work for such a person. Chaos reigns, food and medicine is scarce, mutants and cannibals are around every corner! And don’t forget the Super Smart Bears. Right? That’s what we’ve all been told an apocalypse would bring.

But, no, not this apocalypse. Things are actually going…OK. Most people have gathered together into safely walled communities, growing plenty of food, governing themselves with few issues. The Librarian believes that they need his help anyway, and travels from town to town with his female mastiff, Chewy, offering to save them from whatever they might need saving from. He tries to convince the town of New Hope, Texas that they need to hire him. But, he’s told they’re doing just fine and don’t require the Librarian’s services, literally throwing him out the front gate.

The Librarian isn’t the only post-apocalyptic nomadic warrior around, though. His rival, Logan, has also come to New Hope. And he tells the town that there actually is a roving band of killers out there, and they may be on the way to New Hope next.

Will the Librarian or Logan be the savior of New Hope? Is there really a silver lining in an apocalypse? And how smart are Super Smart Bears anyway?

If you’re looking for a quick, fun read that doesn’t take the apocalypse too seriously, this book is for you.

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Friday Reads: World War Z by Max Brooks

Yes, Max Brooks is Mel Brooks’ son. No, World War Z is not anything like Spaceballs or Young Frankenstein. Just get that out of your head right now. No comparison. None.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War brings the zombie apocalypse to life through the shared stories of military personnel, medical professionals, filmmakers, rescue workers, submarine operators, political figures, and other key players of the Zombie War. The book has been out since 2006, but the zombies are more real today then ever before. I learned more about global politics and human relations from this Oral History than I did in a semester’s worth of World Politics in college. The zombies were an added bonus to my global education.

The audiobook version of World War Z is narrated by a full cast of characters who personalize each story as their own. I listened to the chapter narrated by Allen Alda twice because he has seen war! I may have also re-watched a couple episodes of M.A.S.H. in between. Alda was acting in M.A.S.H. The zombies are here today. There’s a difference.

Each chapter takes you to a new part of the world. Travel to Japan, China, Korea, Denver, the open ocean, and more. See the world from every perspective and hear from the people on the front lines of the zombie war. These people made sure the world kept spinning, even as loved ones turned into flesh-eating zombies, decimating the global population. It’s a messy job, but somebody’s got to do it.

The global travels begin with patient zero in China, through the initial spread and panic, and on to the perseverance of the human population. I won’t spell out the ties to the current pandemic, but it’s not a great leap to link the two together. I’m sure there will be high school and college papers written on the topic for years to come.

Read World War Z to escape the current pandemic and learn about the real world from different perspectives. If you’ve read the book before, give it a listen. Close your eyes and embrace the chaos. Consider it a practice run.

Brooks, Max. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. New York: Crown, 2006. Print.

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Friday Reads: The Anthropocene Reviewed Essays on a Human-Centered Planet, by John Green

If you have never heard of John Green where have you been, living under a rock? Just kidding, but seriously this man is prolific writer of young adult fiction, creator of video content with his brother Hank, and is a great philanthropist. His books always seem to land on the New York Times bestsellers lists, winning numerous awards, and a number of them have been adapted for the screen. The video ventures he does with his brother Hank, specifically “Crash Course”, have won the highest acclaim of teachers who use their YouTube content in class. I could go on and on, so to learn more about John start with his website at https://www.johngreenbooks.com/

“The Anthropocene Reviewed” is a departure from his other works as it is not strictly geared towards young adults and, probably more importantly, it is his first work of nonfiction. John has taken his wonderfully cozy prose writing style to share his thoughts our modern age, specifically the current geological age – the Anthropocene, by rating the seemingly most mundane things on a five star scale. Everything from diet Dr. Pepper, to sunsets, to Super Mario Brothers gets a chapter. He uses the Anthropocene as a lens to focus the reviews as it the first age in which humans have played a huge roll in how the world is shaped.

I loved everything about this book! The writing style makes me feel like I’m back on my grandma’s lap listening to her read me a story, but the content makes you think and look at the world differently. John’s choice of items to review, his silly little footnotes1, and how each chapter is a story unto itself is just perfect.

Covid-19 and quarantine have probably affected every single person on the planet. The “Anthropocene Reviewed” is the first book that I have read where the author is aware of this and shares its effect on themselves, to remind us that we are not alone in what is shaping our world right now.

I give “The Anthropocene Reviewed” by John Green four and three quarters stars.

_____

1 The footnotes are probably the best thing about this book! Do not miss his footnote on the copyright page that reviews… well, the copyright page! I give John’s use of footnotes one million stars out of five.

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Friday Reads: The Oracle Code

I have discovered that part of my pandemic coping is more quick reads. For me, that means comics and graphic novels. Looking back over the last year, most of my Friday Reads have been graphic novels. Here’s another one I really enjoyed.

I like when I’m surprised by a book that isn’t what I thought it was going to be. The Oracle Code, written by Marieke Nijkamp and illustrated by Manuel Preitano, is a new story about Barbara Gordon, aka Batgirl, aka Oracle. But, it’s definitely not what you may be expecting. It’s not your typical superhero story.

Teenager Barbara Gordon has recently been accidentally shot and is paralyzed from the waist down. Her father, Commissioner Jim Gordon, has sent her to the Arkham Center for Independence to help her adjust to life in a wheelchair.

Barbara is struggling with her new situation, and at first pushes away any of the other teens who try to befriend her, clinging to her previous life and her friend outside the Center, Ben. But slowly, as she participates in her therapies and the other teens refuse to give up on her, she becomes more confident and makes new friends. The other teens at the center are a very diverse group, showcasing a range of disabilities, races, and genders.

But, something’s not right at the Center. Children are disappearing – the staff claim they have just moved on to other places for their therapy. But, Barbara is suspicious – her instincts tell her that they are being lied to.

And….is that a ghost?

Using her skills as a talented computer hacker, and with the help of Ben and the other residents at the Center, Barbara attempts to solve the mystery of what’s happening to the children. At the same time, Barbara works on her own puzzle of who she was, and who she is now.

The Oracle Code is an empowering story about Barbara overcoming her feelings of grief and anger to become a strong, independent heroine.

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Friday Reads: The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult

If I were still a reader’s advisor, I would prescribe this book to anyone about to make a major life decision. Someone who is rifling through the archives of life, pondering what might have been if life had pivoted in another direction. There has been plenty of time for this during Covid, so it is sure to be a good read! With one caveat I will mention towards the end of this review.

This book opens with Dawn Edelstein plummeting to the ground in a crashing plane. She is a death doula, working with the dying as they transition out of life. With a husband and daughter at home, she hadn’t expected to shepherd herself along this journey quite so quickly. As Dawn braced for impact, she thought of Wyatt, an Egyptologist she worked with in graduate school.

Dawn survived, but she crash landed in a midlife crisis. The airline offered to send the survivors anywhere they wanted to go in the world. With a head full of memories and the clothes on her back, Dawn went to Egypt to find the one that got away. So it begins.

I assure you, this is not a supernatural story. Dawn is indeed still alive, she does go to Egypt, and Wyatt is doing a dig during the off-season. As it turns out Dawn is a former PhD student studying the Book of Two Ways, an ancient Egyptian map to the afterlife.

As Dawn digs into her past, she uncovers pieces of life that are not so rosy. The death doula has a few skeletons in her closet. Again not supernatural. She didn’t kill anyone and her murdered lovers do not come back to haunt her. The fact that I feel the need to reassure you of this probably speaks more to the other books I have been reading than this one.

Anyway, as the real Book of Two Ways shows there are multiple paths to the afterlife, this book proves that life has options too. The hard part is choosing what will lead to your most fulfilling life. What does that look like? There are too many paths and they all ultimately lead to death. Death permeates this book like a promise.

Alternating between darkness and light, The Book of Two Ways proves that you only live once. So please, go on a journey with Dawn into the past. It’s the only way to make a better future. I won’t say whether she winds up with the one that got away. That’s part of the journey. 

So here’s the caveat. Dawn is a former PhD. She speaks ad nauseam about Egyptology, and a bit about quantum physics. If your eyes gloss over and you skim over the meat of these sections, the world is not going to end. Often, when I talk to real PhDs, this sometimes happens. Their eyes light up and words spill out to form a new theory about the world. The info. dumps about Egyptology are realistic, but make this book about you. Read what matters to you.

The Book of Two Ways carves out a path to explore life. There is no point in ruminating on how it ends. Find yourself between the pages. Choose the experiences you truly want to live.

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Friday Reads: The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

“Between life and death there is a library,” she said. “And within that library, the shelves go on for ever. Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived.”

This is the idea behind The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. I debated how to write this review without giving too much of the story away and a pro/con list seemed the best way to do that.

Pros:

-An easy read. I had it finished in just a few sittings.

-There are some beautifully written passages that just envelop you.

-The characters are very relatable.

Cons:

-Those beautifully written passages? For me they sometimes felt misplaced and would totally take me out of the story.

-The plot leads you in such a way that you don’t necessarily want to take the time to read everything fully, you just want to get to the next plot point.

-Everything about the book feels very unoriginal and overdone. It seems more like something you’d see someone write for a short story class in college, not from a well-known author.

During the pandemic reading, for me, has become more of a chore than being enjoyable. For every book I do manage to finish there are ten that I don’t, or don’t even really start. It was nice to find a book that caught my attention enough to stick with it and even with all its faults it wasn’t a burden to read.

Would I suggest rushing out and buying it? No, but if you happen across it in the library someday maybe check it out.

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Friday Reads: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

The God of small things

I just started The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, and I’m so glad I did. Over a foot of snow on the ground outside calls for some entertainment set in warm climes. Summer in India reads really well right now.

I bought this book a few years ago, when it was required for a class I was taking, and then the school changed the professor for the class, and that new professor changed the books. This book was the one from the original slate that I was looking forward to the most. I was happy to take it off the shelf this week. It’s the story of twin boys and their connection to each other, as their family, which is already going through some things, welcomes visiting relatives who have their own problems. It’s lush and full of surprises from the beginning, and yet never goes out of rhythm.

This is Roy’s first novel, and it follows her training as an architect and her work as a production designer. There’s a lot going on in this book, but we’re in good hands. Roy knows her details and characters and shares them with us luxuriously, but never overwhelms us. Her vision is clear, and her characters are wonderfully flawed, and their relationships are familiar, yet unexpected, in their complexity.

And of course, The God of Small Things won the Booker Prize, which is always a good recommendation. If you like well-planned sprawling stories about families full of interesting characters, and not a snowdrift in sight, you will want to check it out.

Roy, Arundhati. The God of Small Things. New York: Random House, 1997. Print.

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Friday Reads: Shadow of the Batgirl

This probably isn’t the Batgirl you think it is.

Shadow of the Batgirl, written by Sarah Kuhn and illustrated by Nicole Goux, is another re-imagining of an iconic origin story, this time of the lesser known Batgirl, Cassandra Cain. I’ve read the previous comic series about Cassandra, and I’ve always enjoyed her more edgy style.

This version of Cassandra Cain is similar to her original story, but a bit lighter in tone. I still really liked this new take on her beginnings and evolution into Batgirl. And much of the story takes place in Gotham Public Library, which makes it a perfect read for the librarian in me!

Cassandra has been raised as an assassin, and she knows nothing of the world outside of her training. During an encounter where she is supposed to kill a man, she has a startling realization about herself and doesn’t follow through with her assignment. She runs away from her former life, determined to figure out who she is and who she wants to be.

With the help of ramen restaurant owner Jackie Fujikawa Yoneyama and librarian Barbara Gordon, Cassandra learns about her own past and tries to find out what happened to Batgirl, who has mysteriously disappeared. And Barbara just happens to use a wheelchair, which readers of another Batgirl may recognize. No spoilers!

This well-written stand-alone graphic novel leaves you wanting more. I hope to see this Cassandra Cain in the future.

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Friday Reads: Tempest Tossed

September is Library Card Sign-up Month! And ALA has named Wonder Woman as this year’s Library Card Sign-up Month Honorary Chair.

To celebrate, I read the new graphic novel, Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed, written by Laurie Halse Anderson and illustrated by Leila Del Duca.

Tempest Tossed is a re-imagining of Wonder Woman’s origin story. While it is part of DC’s Graphic Novels for Young Adults imprint, it is definitely a book for all ages.

Some of the story is familiar. Unlike the other Amazons who were created on Themyscira as adults, Princess Diana was molded out of clay as a baby by her mother, Queen of the Amazons. So, she is the only person on the island who actually grew up, through the terrible toddler years and into teenage puberty. Since none of the other Amazons have gone through this, the changes that Diana experiences are very confusing to them. Mood swings, her body developing, acne, growth spurts making her awkward and clumsy. This causes some of the other Amazons to call her the Changeling. Definitely something that anyone reading this book will identify with.

As she reaches her 16th Born Day, rafts full of refugees fleeing their war-torn country break through holes in the barrier protecting Themyscira, and Diana goes against Amazon rules to help save a group from drowning. But, she ends up trapped outside the barrier on the refugee’s raft and cannot return to her home. She becomes a refugee herself.

The raft eventually finds land, and Diana is thrown into a new and foreign world. We follow her personal experience navigating the refugee process, as she learns about the struggles and failures of the immigration system. She also makes new friends and works with them to fight new injustices – homelessness, poverty, food insecurity, child trafficking. Through Diana’s eyes readers are exposed to the harsh realities of being poor in our world.

On a lighter note, I also really enjoyed the version of Steve Trevor in the story. No spoilers! I won’t give anything away, but it’s one of the most unique portrayals I’ve read and perfect for our times.

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Friday Reads: Find Me Unafraid: Love, Loss and Hope in an African Slum

This past year has slapped us all in the face. Now more than ever, it is apparent that the world has problems. But we can’t stop there. The world has solutions too.

Today I am reviewing Find Me Unafraid: Love, Loss, and Hope in an African Slum by Kennedy Odede and Jessica Posner. It’s a love story centered around extreme poverty in Kibera, the largest slum in Africa.

Honestly, I read it to get out of my head and see the world from other perspectives. Part of me cringed at the title, expecting to find another sob story, simply trying to make me feel guilty for existing in comparative luxury. But it wasn’t like that. The story was frank and unapologetic.

This is the story of Jessica Posner, a student at Wesleyan University who went on a study abroad trip to Africa. It was here that she insisted upon staying with Kennedy in Kibera. The description of Kibera was too real. I could see and smell the stinking scent of poverty, accented by the behavioral and economic forces perpetuating the cycle.

I felt a pang in my heart as Jessica witnessed new traumas. But she also brought new hope. Kennedy had been doing the long, slow work of economic development in Kibera. He brought people together over things as simple as soccer, then escalated to women’s rights. It was hope that drew Jessica to Kennedy, and visa versa.

Much of this story is about the school for girls that the two built together. It is about Kennedy finding a path towards education, and attempting to bring prosperity back to Kibera. This book shows that the road to change and forward momentum is slow. Achingly slow. But the work is worth doing.

I did get out of my head while reading this book. I held paper differently, and appreciated my ability to read. I thought about Kennedy learning to read from scraps of newspaper in the garbage. There was no other alternative there.

I shopped for groceries differently and considered food waste. Before, I rarely thought about the supply chain and how goods arrived at my doorstep. Many of them in under two days. This book made me reconsider my life and how I live it.

But a large part of that was because of the events of this year. Covid, climate change, black lives matter, massive unemployment, and a bit of gender equality for good measure. Problems are mounting. 

If Jessica and Kennedy can build a school and change the lives of girls who were dealt an unfair hand in life, what am I doing? All I know is that it could be more. Read this book and try new things. Find words and stories that keep you going.

“It always seems impossible until it’s done” – Nelson Mandela.

Odede, Kennedy and Jessica Posner. Find Me Unafraid: Love, Loss, and Hope in an African Slum. HarperCollins, 2015.

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Friday Reads: Star Wars: Ahsoka

I am simultaneously mourning the end of The Clone Wars animated series and thrilled over the announcement that Rosario Dawson may be playing the live-action version of Ahsoka in season 2 of The Mandalorian.

So, in honor of both of those events, I am sharing the novel Ahsoka, by E.K. Johnston. It is part of the new series of novels that are being published in conjunction with the new films and TV shows.

Ahsoka Tano is my favorite Star Wars character, after the Rebel Princess Leia. She first appeared in the Star Wars world in The Clone Wars animated movie and series, as Anakin Skywalker’s padawan, training under him to become a full Jedi.

Ahsoka takes place a year after the end of The Clone Wars and Order 66, the order enacted by Chancellor/Sith Lord Palpatine declaring Jedi as traitors to the Republic and ordering their execution, which was carried out by their own clone troopers. Ahsoka was one of the few Jedi to survive. The novel explores how Ahsoka dealt with her personal fallout from that devastating event. And reveals how she ended up as a secretive but integral member of the Resistance 14 years later, in Rebels.

Being a huge fan of Ahsoka, I was thrilled to learn what happened to her between her two series appearances. And I was not disappointed. It is a well written story, portraying Ahsoka’s struggle to find her place in the galaxy and decide what her future will look like.

The book was published in 2016, before the final season of The Clone Wars was released this year. So, there are some references and specific dialogue in the book that does not match up exactly with the ending of the series. But, I find them minor issues that do not detract at all from my enjoyment of both the book and the final season of the show.

And the audiobook is narrated by none other than Ashley Eckstein, the voice of Ahsoka in The Clone Wars and Rebels. Bonus!

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