Book Reviews

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When the Kansas City Public Library’s annual Adult Winter Reading Program returns in January 2011, it will be sporting its new Altered States theme – which has already inspired several readers amongst Kansas City Public Library staff members.

Before getting to staff picks and recommendations for Winter Reading, a definition of the Altered States is needed:

The timeline of human history presents innumerable crossroads, junctions where individual actions proved decisive – perhaps even more so if these actions were altered even slightly. This premise has proved irresistible for authors of such stature as Mark Twain, Margaret Atwood, and Ray Bradbury. Novelists habitually manipulate time and transform our world, twisting its shape and cultures and characters to conform to their own imaginations and authorial ambitions. The resulting conflicts are insightful and rewarding – and the best examples ring true.

The Altered States theme has already inspired several readers amongst Kansas City Public Library staff members.

When we’re coming up to the Christmas season, my wife and I spend a lot of our TV time watching Christmas-themed movies – I bet we have about dozen such films we watch every Christmastime. For this month’s Classics Reviewed blog, then, I wanted to pick something that was seasonally appropriate – but not too obvious.

Dickens’ novella, A Christmas Carol, was out; most people are already quite familiar with it. Racking my brain, I came up with this epyllion (mini-epic) of the 14th c.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight comes to us from a single manuscript (Cotton Nero A x [contact me for more information on the name]), owned by the same man who owned our only copy of Beowulf (a.k.a. Cotton Vitellius A xv), Sir Robert Cotton. In addition to this poem, the manuscript also contains some short poems, “Pearl,” “Purity,” and “Patience.” The unknown author of Gawain is sometimes called the Gawain poet, and sometimes the Pearl poet. 

What’s fantasy, you ask? There’s no single, accepted definition, but the giveaway is usually magic. Whether it’s The Lord of the Rings or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, if the world described in the book features some difference from Earth that is the result of magic or other unexplained phenomena, you’re probably holding a fantasy novel.

Drawing inspiration from sources such as 1984 and The Running Man, as well as the gladiatorial games in ancient Rome, Suzanne Collins raises the bar in the dystopia genre with her gripping trilogy about survival and mass media gone too far.

In the not-too distant future, society has collapsed. Risen from its ashes is Panem, a collection of city-states, “districts,” held together under iron-fisted totalitarian rule. Districts close to the capital benefit from that nearness by having a higher quality of living, faster services, and luxuries. But life in the outer, poorer districts is a grim scramble just to meet basic needs, to make it from one week to the next.

Don't go there. Seriously, don't go there. Wondering where to take your next road trip or how to squander those frequent flyer miles? Instead of suggestions for where you should visit, how about a list of places to avoid?

Catherine Price has cobbled together a host of hotspots (not) on the road less traveled, and best they stay that way. If you're one of those travelers who prefers to go off the beaten path you need 101 Places Not to See Before You Die.

Some of these locations will require a passport and some simply an overactive imagination. Price has listed some actual places in her travelogue of decidedly untropical locales, and some she’s made up or can’t prove exist. Such as “The Room Where Spam Subject Lines are Created” or “Hell.”

Price is fairly certain that there must be some staff lounge somewhere with too much Mountain Dew and three hyper guys thinking up intricate ways English can be manipulated to capture your attention while scanning your email. And she doesn’t know about you, but she has no plans to visit Hell or any of its circles any time soon.

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