My Book of Life by Angel, by Martine Leavitt

There is no easy or delicate way to present the subject of My Book of Life by Angel, by Martine Leavitt. Angel is a sixteen-year-old girl who has left her old life to be with Call, someone she thought would take care of her. Angel thinks that Call is her boyfriend, but in reality he is her pimp. When her best friend disappears and Call begins to make new demands of her, Angel forms a plan to get out – one way or another.

Angel describes lonely nights in Call’s apartment, horrifying evenings spent with customers, and the desolate times walking the streets in search of business. She often thinks of her old life, her little brother Jeremy, and holds on to a lingering hope that her father or someone from her old life will come and save her. Angel is not a pathetic character who soaks up attention and requires pity – she is merely honest about her choices and how her life came to be this way.

Leavitt speaks to us through Angel with a quiet sadness. While the story itself is not graphic in detail, it is depressing and painfully clear what kind of life Angel is leading. She believes Call and follows him into the world of adults and prostitution without looking back. She is thoughtful but hollow – it seems as though she feels nothing, and has given in and given up control over her own life.

It isn’t until Melli shows up that Angel again feels the spark of existence. Something is awakened inside of her when Call tries to force Melli into the same line of work as Angel. Melli is only 11 years old, and Angel is determined to protect her from the unending line of sleazy clients. In a way, you see Angel’s shielding of Melli as a reflection of herself – she thought Call was her protector, someone to give her a better life, and yet she ended up selling her body for money. She’s hoping to spare Melli the same fate, going so far as to earn enough money for both of them by sacrificing herself on the streets.

Angel’s responsibility for Melli triggers feelings in Angel. Feelings that she cannot ignore. She begins to think that maybe her life is not so hopeless after all, and that maybe Melli is her own second chance to make things right. Is there life beyond prostitution? Can Angel ever regain the person she used to be?

After reading this novel, I attended a book discussion where questions like these and others were brought up. The end of this story is a bit ambiguous, and everyone had their own opinion about what really happened. Some of us questioned not whether Angel was able to escape, but was her life in fact worth living? In a life that seems so hopeless and endless, what does Angel have to look forward to? There is value in every life, no matter how worthless it may appear to be. Just because Angel was not able to help herself and her own situation, it didn’t mean she didn’t care for others and was no longer capable of love. Although difficult to read, My Book of Life by Angel by Martine Leavitt still showcases the idea of courage and second chances.

About the Author

Megan Garrett

Megan Garrett is the librarian at the Sugar Creek Branch of the Kansas City Public Library. She also writes book reviews for the Independence Examiner newspaper.

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Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson

In Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson, Christine Lucas wakes every morning to a fresh, new day, literally. She suffers from amnesia and every night all of her memories, long and short term, reset and in the morning she wakes up as a blank slate, not knowing anything about her self.

Every morning Christine wakes up with her husband, Ben, who has to reassure her that she is in her home and that he belongs there, too. Nothing looks familiar to Christine, not the furniture, the momentos, the photos, not even her clothes spark recognition as being hers.

Ben goes through their morning routine (as he assures her) making a bit of breakfast, telling her what to expect from the day, and then he heads off to work. Left alone, Christine is unsure how to proceed until a phone call decides for her.

The man on the other end of the line identifies himself as her doctor, Dr. Nash. He says they have been working together on rebuilding and restoring her memory. He asks to meet and Christine, led by a desire to discover more and an innate sense of trust in Dr. Nash, agrees.

He hands her a package: a brown, leather journal. Dr. Nash explains that over the past few weeks Christine has been keeping a record of who she is and has been using the journal as a tool to build from each day.

As Christine settles in to read the journal, she realizes unlike everything in the home she is living in, this is a version of her story that belongs to her alone. The pictures, the words she has from that morning, all come from Ben and his definition of her and her condition. Within the journal is her own account of her life and, quite clearly, there on the first page below her name in all capital letters is: “DON’T TRUST BEN.”

It is a premise too remarkable not to read. S. J. Watson is a first-time novelist, but Before I Go To Sleep reads as the finest noir. The play between memory and the perception of truth will excite any afficianado of novels and for movie fans who enjoyed the film Memento, the premise is familiar and fresh at the same time.

About the Author

Melissa Carle is a Support Specialist with the KC-LSP and thinks life is too short to read a book that doesn't excite you in the first 40 pages. She likes cooking, herb gardening, and, of course, reading and thinks all good books, fiction and non-fiction alike, share one thing in common: they're just a good yarn.

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Readin' O' the Green

Ireland is a country full of storytellers. It seems every citizen of the Emerald Isle was born with a golden tongue and a quick mind. KCPL has pulled together a Pinterest board of some of Ireland's most famous writers and poets. It's the Readin' O' the Green for March!

About the Author

Kaite Stover

Kaite Mediatore Stover is the Director of Readers’ Services at the Kansas City Public Library. She is a regular guest on KCUR's Book Doctors segment and moderator of The Kansas City Star’s FYI Book Club. She can tap dance, read tarot cards, and doesn’t bite.

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American Canopy by Eric Rutkow

They provide shade on a hot summer day. They grow fruits and nuts for eating. They supply material for building, paper, fuel, and many other items. Trees play an important role and have helped influence the course of United States history.

Eric Rutkow in American Canopy: Trees, Forests, and the Making of America examines trees and their impact on America. The author states that England became interested in the New World for their vast reserves of forests. Over the centuries, England used up their supply of trees for fuel, housing, and shipbuilding. To keep up, the Royal Navy needed timber. Colonies were established in Virginia and Massachusetts in part to send raw goods back to the mother country. This abundance of timber helped the colonists build shelters and furniture as they began to settle the new land. Some trees were designated Liberty Trees and became symbols in the fight for independence.

After the end of the Revolution, trees became even more important. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are among early leaders who sought out the best species for their plantations. Others such as Lewis and Clark explored the vast botanical flora of the new country. Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman) became an early legend for the United States as he went out planting apple trees. The giant redwoods in California inspired awe and wonder for their size.

As the nation grew westward, the use and exploitation of the forests moved with it. The trees of New England were replaced by those around the Great Lakes, the South, and the Pacific Northwest. Railroads, housing, and fuel used up the vast stands of trees that dotted the landscape. However, after the Civil War, individuals began to speak up for the conservation and preservation of trees. J. Sterling Morton began the annual observance of Arbor Day to promote tree planting and the idea spread throughout the country. John Muir, Theodore Roosevelt, and Gifford Pinchot advocated for the designation of National Forests. A gradual awareness came as many realized the value of the natural resources.

Trees proved to be invaluable as they were necessary resources to win both World Wars. The military helped ensure the availability of timber to supply the war effort. Between the two conflicts, the New Deal along with the Civilian Conservation Corps, built roads and planted trees in the National Forests. Another idea for the Midwest included the planting of forest strips throughout the Great Plains to act as windbreaks for farmers. These forest strips had limited success but many doubted their value.

The end of World War II meant the rise of suburbs throughout the United States and wood became the primary building material. Other consumer products such as paper towels gained in popularity as well. Tree farms also sprang up to keep a steady supply of trees and timber to meet the demand. Leisure and recreation activities also arose in the National Forests as individuals explored them. The environmental movement started in the late twentieth century as Earth Day spread around the world. Other effects sought to preserve rain forests and combat climate change.

In the future, trees will continue to shape the American story. Their resources may yet yield new discoveries. The United States will remain dependent on them for houses, paper products, and much more. Trees may provide shade during the summer, but their value cannot be calculated.

I never thought about trees in reference to American history, but I can see the author’s point of their value to the nation. I learned of federal programs like Shelterbelt in the Great Plains during the Dust Bowl that had escaped my history classes. Though filled with material, this book proved to be an interesting read for either a nature or history buff.

About the Author

Judy Klamm is a reference librarian in Central Reference. She has written book reviews for Library Journal and various Presbyterian publications.

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The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

In The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty, Louise Brooks is a young free spirit who doesn’t care what society thinks of her. Cora Carlisle, on the other hand, is a middle-aged married woman with unflinching morals. In 1922, Louise makes an important trip to New York with Cora as her traveling companion. It is a journey that will profoundly change both women forever.

In the late 1920s, everyone knew Louise Brooks as a world-famous silent film star. She was beautiful. She was troubled, and she was the woman who made the “bob” haircut a cultural phenomenon.

But in 1922, Louise was a 15-year-old girl who hated living in Wichita, KS, because it was old-fashioned, restrictive, and one big dead end. It was a feeling that Cora Carlisle didn’t share. She mostly found Wichita comforting with its small-town attitude and sense of community.

That summer, with Cora as her chaperone, Louise escapes to New York to attend classes at the Denishawn School of Dance. Louise's ambition is to become a member of the Denishawn Dance Company so that she does not have to return to Wichita.

Cora's purpose, however, and real reason for coming to New York is to find the identity of her birth parents. As a small child, Cora had been dumped at the Home For Friendless Girls in New York, residing there until she was eventually put on an orphan train and shipped off to Kansas for adoption.

As an eight-year-old girl, the trip had frightened Cora, and now as a thirty-six-year-old grown woman, she wanted answers. By the end of the summer, both women are successful at reaching their goals, but things will not turn out as either woman planned.

Before you begin reading The Chaperone, you should know that the novel mostly focuses on the fictional character Cora with Louise as almost a secondary character. The Chaperone is not a biography of Louise's life, but author Laura Moriarty does do a great job of blending Cora's fabricated life with fascinating details of Louise's true story.

The Chaperone, which was published in 2012, has also been divided up into three chronological sections that easily flow into each other, and the writing style has an elegant ease that makes the book feel seamless when reading it. In fact, it is that easy writing style that makes the book hard to put down.

The author of The Chaperone, Laura Moriarty, lives in Lawrence, KS, and teaches creative writing at the University of Kansas. She is the author of several other novels including The Rest of Her Life and While I'm Falling.

So, if you are still looking for an absorbing novel to round out your winter reading list or perhaps looking to read a novel by a local author, then The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty is it. Simply go to the library’s online catalog and reserve a copy today.

Additionally, if you want to learn more about Louise Brooks, check out LuLu In Hollywood from the library, which is the autobiography of Louise Brooks.

AMY MORRIS

About the Author

Amy Morris

Amy Morris is a librarian technical assistant at the Westport Branch. She earned a B.A. in English, with an emphasis in creative writing, from Avila University. Besides reading and writing, Amy enjoys traveling, art, being creative, and spending time with her family. She also writes her own blog at livingkansascity.blogspot.com

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Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross

In the 16th century, a man of infinite faith and superior education questioned both and penned a classic of spiritual reading that resonates today.

St. John of the Cross wrote Dark Night of the Soul while he was in prison. In his review of Winter Reading selection Dark Night of the Soul, Bluford Branch library staffer Bernard Norcott-Mahany talks about the poem and the commentary St. John included with it upon publication. Bernie has been reading the poem during the month of February and blogging his observations and struggles and invites further commentary from other readers.

The annual Adult Winter Reading Program runs from January 7 – March 17. The 2013 program offers a chance to win one of four e-readers as well as the opportunity to see Winter Reading featured author Laura Lippman in person on February 25 at the Central Library, where she will discuss her new book And When She Was Good.

The theme for Winter Reading, While the City Sleeps, entices readers to explore fiction and nonfiction, the interplay of light and dark, the shadows of the human soul and the brightness of the human spirit.

Get Bernie’s take on Dark Night of the Soul, and check out other Suggested Readings.

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About the Author

Kaite Stover

Kaite Mediatore Stover is the Director of Readers’ Services at the Kansas City Public Library. She is a regular guest on KCUR's Book Doctors segment and moderator of The Kansas City Star’s FYI Book Club. She can tap dance, read tarot cards, and doesn’t bite.

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Words of Love

Looking for more books about good love gone bad, bad love that feels good and love in all the wrong places?

Check out our KCPL Pinterest page, Books of Love.

There are classic and contemporary romances, nonfiction about the various unusual passions folks may harbor for sports, cities, and stuffed animals from childhood, short stories full of epic tragedy and eternal devotion, and stories of otherwordly love.

Reading never felt so right.

About the Author

Kaite Stover

Kaite Mediatore Stover is the Director of Readers’ Services at the Kansas City Public Library. She is a regular guest on KCUR's Book Doctors segment and moderator of The Kansas City Star’s FYI Book Club. She can tap dance, read tarot cards, and doesn’t bite.

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Love is Many Splendid Things

For women, it’s not about the stuff, it’s about the love. All-consuming love is just too intoxicating to ignore and after years growing up in the afterglow of the ERA and that “woman-man-fish-bicycle” mantra, we’re finding new targets for our passions. Hence, some women’s compulsive devotion to cats, firefighting, and shopping. Our personal obsessions make us who we are and you have to love us for them. Check out some of the books about what some women love and why.

Susan Allen Toth’s passion is so big she needs another country to hold it. In My Love Affair with England, Toth adoringly describes a night of badger watching in Dartmoor, her secret obsession with royal family life gossip rags and a staunch preference for English breakfasts (hold the kippers). So great is Toth’s ardor for the mother country. she took her then-boyfriend James to England to see if he could love England the way she did. He could and they married.

Tiko is in love with Joanna. Before he can court her, he must build a home for her and the space under the credenza might work. Ornithologist Joanna Burger shares a unique bond with the Amazon Parrot she adopted and adores in return. “Birds are my passion, but parrots are my weakness,” she confesses in The Parrot Who Owns Me, an absorbing account of the unusual human-like relationship between Tiko and Burger. So strong is their connection that Burger admits to missing her feathered companion as much as her human one when she must travel.

Becky Bloomwood’s shopping obsession is her undoing. Becky's fever-pitched consumer excursions in Confessions of a Shopaholic serve as warnings for us all as she wields her credit cards with demonic possession. Both delightful and shocking, Becky lives out every woman's shopping fantasy and confirms the fantasy after falling in love with a rich man who pays the bills.

No column on lusts in life can ignore Nancy Pearl. Her desire for books is palpable in Book Lust. Each page of reading recommendations is a literary swoon and Pearl admits to being lucky enough to combine her love and her labors into a single passion. Ahh, living your obsession, nice work if you can get it.

About the Author

Kaite Stover

Kaite Mediatore Stover is the Director of Readers’ Services at the Kansas City Public Library. She is a regular guest on KCUR's Book Doctors segment and moderator of The Kansas City Star’s FYI Book Club. She can tap dance, read tarot cards, and doesn’t bite.

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Atlantic by Simon Winchester

Water makes up most of planet Earth. However, does one every really think about the ocean without standing on its shore?

Simon Winchester in Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Discoveries, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories examines the broad expanse of the Atlantic Ocean which has fascinated him for years.

This ocean which lies between Europe, Africa, and the Americas has seen battles, shipwrecks, and been eulogized in literature and art. The ocean began millions of years ago when the continents known as Pangaea began to separate into their present forms. Since then, the Atlantic has been growing. For much of its existence Europeans did not realize another land mass stood in the way of Asia. The Vikings are now credited with being the first people to reach what became known as North America.

On the other hand, Christopher Columbus felt he had reached India and did not dream that something like another continent stood in his way. The Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci named the two continents on the far side of the Atlantic Ocean and its history began. European explorers crossed it as they learned about what became known as the New World. People started settlements along the sea setting the stage for the expansion of Western Civilization.

The history of this ocean includes naval battles from the Battle of Trafalgar, the War of 1812, both World Wars, and the Falkland Island conflict. Many immigrants braved its crossing as they sought a new and better life. Its darker past includes the slave trade between Africa and the Americas. This history also includes meeting of legislative bodies beginning in Iceland in the tenth century.

Commerce has been the lifeblood of the Atlantic. Fishing and whaling have almost depleted species even though there seemed to be an unending supply. Laws have been written to protect fish from extinction. Ships carry cargo across the ocean using shipping containers constructed for this purpose. Air travel keeps lanes busy in the sky with planes going across.

The debate over climate change is ongoing sea levels continue to rise bringing the threat of storms and the flooding of coastal communities. The author examines the question of whether humans are the ones responsible for global warming but does not reach any conclusions.

Just like the Atlantic Ocean formed years ago, Winchester sees its eventual end. Some time millions of years in the future, the continents will come together leaving no room for this body of water. This ocean which has affected thousands of years of history has been a vital body of water for much of human history.

This is a good work for those interested in the seas. I loved learning about this ocean and its expansive history feeling the waves rolling as I read. I never realized how a body of water can affect historical events and I hope the Atlantic Ocean will continue to play a role in human history for millions of years to come.

About the Author

Judy Klamm is a reference librarian in Central Reference. She has written book reviews for Library Journal and various Presbyterian publications.

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Tigers In Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann

Written by the great-great-great granddaughter of literary genius Herman Melville, Tigers In Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann is a mystery drama that follows a prominent East Coast family through three decades of dysfunctional relationships, unearthed secrets, stinging betrayal, and eventually acceptance.

The novel takes its name from a line in the poem, Disillusionment at 10:00 by Wallace Stevens and opens at the end of WWII. Nick and Helena are cousins spending the summer together at Tiger House, the family home on Martha’s Vineyard. Nick is preparing to leave for Florida to rejoin her husband, Hughes, a serviceman returning from the war. Helena is also soon leaving, setting off for Hollywood to marry a promising producer.

As the years pass, each cousin has a child and the family expands. Nick and Hughes’ daughter, Daisy, grows into a stubborn, independent and free-spirited young woman. Helena’s son Ed, however, is quite different. He is a loner with a dark mind and a twisted heart.

Each year, the family members return to Tiger House for the summer season. While there, the painful frailties, flaws and fears of individual characters come to light, including those of Nick and Helena. Neither cousin finds life or marriage as promising or fulfilling as they expected, and the women must secretly find ways to cope with their bitter disappointment.

Tigers In Red Weather has many layers. This is partly because the book is divided into five sections, with each part being told from the viewpoint of a different character. This approach gives great insight into each person’s mindset and actions. But at the same time, this structure sometimes makes the story feel choppy and confusing.

The novel also has some interesting plot twists, especially involving Helena’s son, Ed, but it also has a certain predictability to it that depletes some of the excitement from the story.

As far as the historical fiction aspect of Tigers In Red Weather, it is strong, delving into three different decades with confidence and giving us glimpses into the Post WWII America of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s.

Tigers In Red Weather, which was published in 2012, is the first novel for Liza Klaussmann. She wrote the book in London, where she lives and received a master’s degree in creative writing from Royal Holloway, University of London. Klaussmann was also a journalist for the New York Times for more than a decade.

Overall, Tigers in Red Weather delivers to its audience in a quiet, sleeper kind of way. It has enough “meat on its bones” to be a solid book club choice or to be an addition to your Kansas City Public Library Winter Reading Club booklist.

Copies are available at several library branches, so head to your nearest location and check out a copy of Tigers In Red Weather today.

About the Author

Amy Morris is a librarian technical assistant at the Westport Branch. She earned a B.A. in English, with an emphasis in creative writing, from Avila University. Besides reading and writing, Amy enjoys traveling, art, being creative, and spending time with her family. She also runs her own blog at livingkansascity.blogspot.com.

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Apologia pro Vita Sua by John Henry Cardinal Newman

I'll be spending 2013 reading biographical materials: autobiographies, biographies, diaries and letters. Over the course of the next twelve months, I'll be reading and discussing three items in each of those four categories. It isn't just that the people who are the focus are important, and that their stories are fascinating, but biographical material itself poses its own questions – how is the life of a real person constructed in narrative? What is included? What is left out?

To begin, I'd like to look at John Henry Cardinal Newman's spiritual autobiography, Apologia pro Vita Sua ("A Defense of His Life"). When someone writes the story of his/her life and offers it to public view, I wonder – why did this person feel the need to write about his/her life? If the person was still alive when the book was published (as in this case), what point is chosen as an end point? In what way is the person's life, not yet lived to completion, seen and presented as a whole?

Newman (1801-1890) early in his adult life had been a bright light in the Anglican Church and an important member of the Oxford Movement. The Oxonians were highly critical of what they saw as an increasing liberalism within the Anglican Church, a liberalism that was losing sight of the church's tradition; they felt that a renewed emphasis on ritual practice similar to that found in the Roman Catholic Church would reinvigorate the Anglican church, and so emphasized the similarities and continuities of the two denominations in the larger context. Though still disturbed by what they saw as corruption and tyrannical control by the Pope, the Oxonians worked for a return to many of the traditions from the time when the Church of England was part of the Church of Rome. Over the course of a few years, Newman and other Oxonians published a series of tracts (Tracts for Our Time) in which they outlined their ideas, which were largely welcome, at least until Newman wrote Tract 90, in 1841.

In that tract, Newman looked at the "39 Articles," a key statement of principles in the Anglican Church, to determine if there was anything in those articles which blocked greater union with the Catholic Church. He found nothing standing in the way. He found criticisms of errors in the Roman church of the 16th century, but nothing that would make ecumenism impossible. Though his bishop did not forbid the publication of this tract, it became clear to Newman that his views were not welcome to his superiors, who, he felt, somewhat betrayed him. No further tracts were published, and Newman chose to retreat from his parish duties and the public eye to sort his own position out.

Once he had decided that the via media ("middle road") he once thought possible between the two denominations was no longer practicable, he made the decision to join the Roman church and became a priest in that denomination in 1845. As he was a public figure of some note in Anglican theological circles, such a defection was taken hard. A fellow Anglican priest, Charles Kingsley, began attacking Newman in the press. Kingsley stated that Newman had always secretly been a Catholic, and that he used his position at Oxford and afterwards as a member of the Oxford Movement to advance a secret Catholic agenda, thereby undercutting the Anglican church.

Newman responded to Kingsley's charges in his own series of articles, but then decided to expand his scope into what eventually became this book. As the title suggests, this is composed as a defense of his life. Part of the book is devoted to specific charges made by Kingsley, and part is devoted to setting the story straight by describing his spiritual journey in the 1830s and 1840s as Anglican priest and theorist, and finally as Catholic theologian. As someone raised Catholic, I was always aware of the importance of Newman to English Catholics, and to Catholics at colleges and universities – most public universities in the US have a Newman Center which serves as something of a parish center for Catholics on campus. And I was glad to have the chance to learn more about Cardinal Newman and why he became a Catholic. But this book is likely to be a bit difficult for most non-Catholics, and even for some brought up in that tradition.

On the level of pure enjoyment, however, I found Newman's sharp statements about Kingsley something of a guilty pleasure. For example: In accusing Kingsley of bad faith in attacking him and suggesting that he was dishonest, as he had never consulted with Newman to learn his mind, he responds to an hypothetical question: How was Kingsley to know that Newman was genuine and not some slick operator? Newman states that Kingsley "should know by that common manly frankness, if he had it." In other words, Kingsley is an ill-mannered punk who doesn't give Newman the benefit of the doubt. And elsewhere, Newman suggests that Kingsley is not attacking out of malice, but because of his limited intellect. "He appears to be so constituted as to have no notion of what goes on in minds very different from his own, and moreover to be stone blind to his ignorance." At times, it felt like the O’Reilly Factor produced for Masterpiece Theatre.

If you do not have an interest in Anglo-Catholicism, the occasional sharp retorts may provide little enjoyment for you. But if you have such an interest, this is a very well written book dealing with one man’s spiritual journey.

For other spiritual autobiographies, you might try St. Augustine's Confessions, and Thomas Merton's The Seven-Story Mountain.

BERNARD NORCOTT-MAHANY

About the Author

Bernard Norcott-Mahany, a library technical assistant at the Lucile H. Bluford Branch, is our resident connoisseur of classic literature. He is also the leader of the Black Classics and In the Heat of the Night book groups.

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Something Red by Douglas Nicholas

I love stories about things that go bump in the night. There is just nothing better than entering into another world full of unknowable dangers and getting lost there.

There is a primal urge, the rush of adrenaline you feel, when the noise—the bump—happens. Maybe the sound is almost just beyond the perception of hearing and your senses, nurtured by millennia of species’ survival, perks up your ears; or maybe it’s the loud crash that startles you and then settles into the silence of the evening, making you question if you ever heard it in the first place. The unknown is a terrifying topic, unless it is neatly contained within the covers of a book.

Something Red by Douglas Nicholas is perhaps the quintessential story of things that go bump in the night. Set in the Dark Ages, a time of superstition, it is darkly atmospheric. The story opens with a young boy, fifteen, named Hob. He is part of a travelling party of four who is led by Maeve, a wise woman proficient with healing herbs and who is perhaps more than slightly magical.

They are on a journey down from the mountains and across the plains. It is early Spring and the cold and bite of winter are far from over. The small party meets other travelers on the road—some on pilgrimage, some looking to return to far-away homes—and continues their journey. But the peacefulness of their lives is beset along the way by a shape in the shadows, maybe a fox, maybe a wolf, that tears at the flesh of men and lays waste and destruction where it goes.

Maeve’s party realizes they are being tracked, and after witnessing the terrible destruction of the unseen creature, seek refuge in the castle of the Sieur de Blanchefontaine. During a few nights of hospitality, the threat of the beast in the shadows comes to a head, and Maeve and her small band are tested in the fire of the conflict.

Douglas Nicholas is an award-winning poet and Something Red reflects his craft. This is his first novel, although he has published several poetry collections, and it is a dynamic read. Full of ambience, Hob’s emotional landscape as he witnesses spectacular things is articulately described.

Nicholas utilizes an economy of description that pulls and teases the reader into the world, and allows the reader to dance along on the text. It is a delightful thing to find a tale that can create that surge of adrenaline, that thump of your pulse in your temples, and Nicholas delivers.

About the Author

Melissa Carle is a Support Specialist with the KC-LSP and thinks life is too short to read a book that doesn't excite you in the first 40 pages. She likes cooking, herb gardening, and, of course, reading and thinks all good books, fiction and non-fiction alike, share one thing in common: they're just a good yarn.

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Living with the Bomb

A serendipitous (and sometimes tangential) time-travel adventure inspired by the library

It all started when I met a group of Cub Scouts and their parents down in Kirk Hall of the Central Library. When I asked them if there was anything in particular that they wanted to see on their tour, one pointed to the back of the library and said, “That.” “That” was the Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow exhibit. I hadn’t yet made it up there, so I was pleased to have a chance to take a look at it. There’s some crazy stuff in there—more than just a picture of the “duck and cover” drills for school children, which is perhaps laughable to us now, but it was deadly serious in the aftermath of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War. Some of the items I found most interesting were the comic book covers featuring Atomic-inspired characters and the Kix Cereal Atomic Bomb Ring. The exhibit is open to the public during library hours until January 6, though information about it can be found at the following link beyond that time.

After touring the exhibit, I finally picked up the book Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—The World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, by Steve Sheinkin, that I had pulled to read for Kansas City’s Mock Printz Awards (KC area librarian’s attempt to forecast what the real Printz committee will deem in early January the best young adult book of the year). I’d been passing it over for the last couple of weeks in favor of fantasy novels, but now I’d had my fill, and was ready for a little non-fiction. The serendipitous experience had begun.

Every time I’d looked at the cover, I kept saying to myself, “Steve Sheinkin. I wonder if it’s the same Steve Sheinkin that did the Rabbi Harvey series?” that I’d just plowed through a couple of months previously. Perhaps there are not so many Steve Sheinkin’s in the world after all. One and the same. That series is graphic novels that combine Jewish wisdom and folklore with a Wild West setting—think Rabbinical sheriffs who duke it out with outlaws using wisdom tales rather than pistols. What was fun for me was that I have heard many of these tales since delving into the world of storytelling. And when I was a kid, I read my way through the my hometown library’s collection of Louis L’Amour titles as fast as I could get my hands on them. My worlds collide.

The Making of the Atomic Bomb book cover

Back to Bomb. This book for young adults is a page turner. It focuses on three storylines—the Americans’ race to build an atomic bomb (with help from the Brits); the Allies’ attempts to thwart German efforts to create a bomb of their own; and the Russians’ attempts to steal the Americans’ plans to use to create a bomb for themselves. I was right in the middle of the Americans feverishly working to get a bomb ready to test while I was riding the bus to work during the December 20th snow storm. As they were talking about the care they took to bring the various pieces of it together, I looked up in time to beg the bus that had the right away not to insist upon because the probability of our stopping for the red light was not looking good. (It started up with the light change, then noticed our plight and stopped just as we slid to a halt slightly past our target.) Perhaps that upped the tension of the story a bit, but there’s plenty of it in this book all on its own. Sheinkin lists all of his sources for his story at the back of the book. He bills Richard Rhodes book The Making of the Atomic Bomb “the bible on this whole subject,” so if you want to go deeper, there’s the first one to consider.

The description of the desert surrounding the bomb once it was detonated reminded me of two things, a book and a movie. The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages is a children’s fiction book that focuses in on the daughter of one of the scientists working on “the gadget,” the code name for the bomb. The story of Dewey Kerrigan is set against the backdrop of Los Alamos during the race to build the bomb. The movie is Sweet Home Alabama which has nothing to do with the bomb race. It features Josh Lucas as a glass sculpture artist who makes his creations by sinking metal rods in the sand whenever lightning storms are forecast. The force of the lightening melts the sand into glass, which is exactly what happened in the New Mexico dessert back in 1945. This 2002 movie may be a bit difficult to get your hands on, but if you want to see an example of what extreme heat does to sand, it’s got it.

The youth librarians at Central offer a history program for the Kansas City School District 5th graders and we’ve been looking to make it a more interactive presentation. As I’m reading Bomb, I’m thinking to myself, “Okay, maybe there’s a local history piece to this — I mean it’s big right — and we could get kids interested in creating their own stories about this if there are some resources in the Missouri Valley Collections.” I will not say how long it took me to have my “duh” moment; I will only say that it happened about the time that Sheinkin mentioned the “senator from Missouri” who was nosing around trying to figure out how the government was spending hundreds of millions of dollars on something nobody was talking about. “Knowledge of the atomic bomb was available on a strictly need-to-know basis. Harry Truman did not need to know.” Yet.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet book cover

A few days into the books, I was talking with my mom on the phone and was telling her about it and she told me that a girl about her age lived in the same apartment building when they were growing up and that her father had worked at Oak Ridge, Tennessee in the plant that was working with uranium to send to Los Alamos. She thought that working there had lead to an early death for him. After reading about what was going on there — that “need to know” had limited the information given to the workers to such a degree that they had created a very dangerous workplace. To the point that Oppenheimer, the director of the atomic bomb project, sent one of his scientists to educate them on what they were doing and how to do it more safely.

All of this focus on World War II reminded me of another book I read a couple of years ago, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford. This wonderful book is set in Seattle. It relays the story of a boy of Chinese descent who falls in love with a girl of Japanese descent during the time right before the Japanese-Americans were rounded up and placed in prison camps. He struggles to stay connected with her against the wishes of his parents but ultimately they prove too powerful and he loses track. The story captures both the time around the war and much later when the main character is an older man remembering his first love.

Right in the midst of this journey back in time, I was brought back to the present by the massacre that happened in Newton, Connecticut. Somehow all of this seems to be related for me. For the most part we don’t think about atomic weaponry and what could happen if some country with the capacity decides to use it. The smaller scale horror of what we all just experienced is still too big for us to really take in. And yet there are huge rays of humanity and caring that shine through what has happened in Newton and also in the bombs race as captured by Steve Sheinkin. Maybe our connection and ultimately our salvation is to be found in our stories. They are at least a good place to start.

Jamie Mayo is the Manager of the Central Youth Services Department. She is a storyteller who enjoys history and graphic novels. And apparently still likes a good western. Who knew. How her mind works is a mystery. Why she is willing to reveal glimpses in writing is no less so.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

When I started this journey of books involving travel a year ago, I did so, in part, because I knew that Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey was going to be released in theaters on December 14. Consequently, with The Hobbit as my December book, I worked backward and filled the year with other books of travel.

This was my second go at reading The Hobbit. The last time, I was in college, and thought that I should read the work prior to my reading The Lord of the Rings. A good friend of mine would wax poetic whenever she talked about THE TRILOGY (I believe she had read it 19 times by the time we graduated from college). I took her advice very seriously; so, you see, I had to read TLOTR. As a relative rookie in reading series, I made the mistake of starting at the beginning. I started with The Hobbit, and I found it fell far short of the heights of my friend’s enthusiastic praise. When I told her that Tolkien’s Hobbit wasn’t measuring up, she gave me THE LOOK, which soon changed to a look of pity. She told me that The Hobbit was not a good introduction to the trilogy, as it was a children’s book, and so, without further ado, I shelved The Hobbit and began on The Fellowship of the Ring.

I’m glad now that I have finally read The Hobbit, but I have to admit that it does provide a much less grand vision than we get in TLOTR. It is quite likely that Tolkien had not even the inkling of his great work at the time he wrote The Hobbit, as the episode “Riddles in the Dark” would suggest – Gollum was willing to give Bilbo the ring in the original edition. (Listen to Tolkien reading from the revised version of this incident – “Riddles in the Dark”.) The first edition of the work came out in 1936, at which time Tolkien was a young professor at Oxford. He had already made a name for himself with a lecture on Beowulf entitled “The Monsters and the Critics,” in which he took to task the then-dominant school of Old English scholars who valued Anglo-Saxon works only as a repository of historical information. The monsters were superfluous distractions. For Tolkien, and for most scholars afterwards (his essay was very influential), the monsters have been seen as crucial for understanding the Anglo-Saxon world view. Tolkien brought his knowledge of that world and those works to bear when he wrote The Hobbit. And we have a great dragon in this work every bit as mean and dangerous as that in Beowulf.

Tolkien wrote The Hobbit as a children’s book, and, as you read, you get those familiar asides to the reader that you often find in children’s literature. And he intended the work primarily as a boys’ adventure story. Though Bilbo Baggins (the uncle of Frodo in TLOTR) is fully grown (he’s 50 years old and very settled in his ways), hobbits are quite small, and, in that way rather like boys. In addition, Bilbo’s father was a Baggins, very respectable and predictable, but his mother was a Took, and the Tooks were known for being mischievous and unpredictable. To put it another way, the Tooks have a little Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn in their makeup. It is the Took side that gets Bilbo to agree to accompany the dwarves on their quest to regain their gold, and it is the Took side that helps Bilbo remain flexible in difficult circumstances and allows him to think quickly on his feet.

The Hobbit IS a children’s book, and it lacks the Catholic gravitas of the trilogy, but that does not mean it lacks seriousness or that it fails to raise some serious questions. Remember that Tolkien wrote the work in 1936, a rather momentous year. That was the year of the Berlin Olympics, and also the year in which the Spanish Civil War broke out. A staunch Catholic, Tolkien was a supporter of Franco, but he found the Nazis reprehensible. He found the problem of totalitarianism the most pressing issue of the day (as for Franco, Tolkien saw him as someone opposing the oppressive Loyalist [Communist] government of Spain). And it may be why he made little Bilbo Baggins his hero, and did not choose to make Bard the Bowman, a man of Lakewood, his hero. It took the heroic king, Beowulf, to slay the dragon in Beowulf, and that action resulted in his own death, and the likely collapse of his society. We do not have such an operatic ending in The Hobbit. Rather, in Bilbo, we have someone who might be described as a “typical Englishman” in Hobbit attire. And such a figure is exactly the sensible, occasionally mischievous, hero Tolkien felt was needed in the 20th c. as the world began its slow march towards war.

About the Author

Bernard Norcott-Mahany, a library technical assistant at the Lucile H. Bluford Branch, is our resident connoisseur of classic literature. He is also the leader of the Black Classics and In the Heat of the Night book groups.

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Holy Bones, Holy Dust by Charles Freeman

The Middle Ages are considered a dark period of history, a time of peasants, knights, and the Black Death. The Church played a large role in peoples’ lives by way of feast days, miracle plays, church attendance, and the display of relics. What are relics and how did they become such a large part of medieval culture?

Charles Freeman in Holy Bones, Holy Dust: How Relics Shaped the History of Medieval Europe examines the long use and veneration of items from Biblical times and from those considered to be saints after that. A relic could be a body part from an individual that the Church or others considered to be holy. They could include the head of John the Baptist, the Virgin Mary’s dress or a piece of the True Cross. These objects began to be collected in the first centuries after Christ’s death. Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, traveled to the Holy Land in search of the places where Jesus and the disciples walked and brought back the True Cross on which Jesus died. Other individuals joined the hunt for artifacts that belonged to Jesus, His mother, the disciples, and other saints from the early Christian era.

Many churches built shrines to house these precious treasures. People claimed special powers from items that had belonged to Jesus and other holy figures. Relics cured disease and a visit to them earned time out of Purgatory. Pilgrims traveled far and wide trying to visit as many as possible. Some rulers like Charlemagne and Louis IX of France acquired a vast collection of relics. Constantinople had a large collection that other nations felt free to loot. The Vatican, Chartres Cathedral, Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, and Santiago de Compostela in Spain are among some better known medieval shrines. Rome and Venice held the largest collections. Many legends and stories were written to spread the word about miracles attributed to a particular saint. Many bodies even gave off a sweet fragrance when moved to a new tomb.

In the Middle Ages, relics were big business as churches became wealthy from visitors to see decorated reliquaries. Artifacts became associated with a particular city and disputes arose over who owned what piece or item of a saint with theft of artifacts not uncommon. Some cities created their own saints that had a cult following before the Church attempted to shut them down.

During the Middle Ages, some scholars questioned the value and authenticity of the relics. This doubt became more widespread with the Protestant Reformation. The Reformers held that relics represented idolatry and destroyed many of them in their zeal for a new understanding of Christianity. However, at the Council of Trent, the Roman Catholic Church affirmed the veneration of relics and the practice continued. Relic worship represented a large portion of a believer’s faith during the Middle Ages as people sought help and comfort from daily hardship. They also felt the necessity of getting to heaven without spending as much time in Purgatory. These holy objects represented the faith for individuals during the days of medieval Europe and many still survive to this day.

This book demonstrated the high value that those of the Middle Ages placed on the veneration of relics and the power that people felt that had. It also reminded me of those who see images of the Virgin Mary or Jesus in the bark of a tree or a potato chip. This books provides a new perspective on life in medieval Europe for anyone wishing something outside of a traditional historical narrative.

About the Author

Judy Klamm is a reference librarian in Central Reference. She has written book reviews for Library Journal and various Presbyterian publications.

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