Sunday, July 5, 2015

Staff Review: The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin

I do not consider myself a connoisseur of science fiction, but I think it is safe to say The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin is a classic in that genre. Written in 1974, the story follows the life of Shevek, a (literally) universally-renowned physicist who grows up on the anarchist planet of Annares. As the book opens, he is leaving his home for the first time to visit his ancestral planet of Urras, where "utopian" capitalism still reigns.  As someone who does not habitually read science fiction, I took me a few chapters to get my bearings with the unfamiliar planets and the discussions of physics theory, but I was hooked before long. Le Guin sets the scene so thoroughly, believably, and fascinatingly that the strangeness quickly disappeared and I was just reading a good book about lovable characters and important problems.

Shevek's views are scorned by most of Urras' inhabitants, but he is not ready to give up his outlook, despite his personal struggles with his homeland, Annares. On Urras he indeed encounters a type of paradise, but it cannot completely mask the deception, intrigue, and unpleasant truths that make him question everything he knows. Le Guin weaves a tight story, with chapters alternating between Shevek's past and present. Both plot lines are interesting to follow - Does Shevek ever reunite with his partner? Can pure anarchy be successfully attained? Is capitalism really so bad after all? Who and what holds power and can that be changed? - and each plot line becomes more suspenseful as the two converge at the end of the book.

Le Guin raises questions of social structure, gender, poverty, partnership and ultimately humanity that characters - and readers - grapple with because their lives depend on it. Despite the contrasting settings, characters on both planets are quite relatable and leave readers evaluating their own relationships, governments, and even language. It is fascinating to read intimate details of two completely different societies, and to find each of them enchanting and comforting in their own way. If you are a fan of philosophy, space travel, or social justice, this book will draw you in and make you a fan of the others.

~Rachel, Circulation

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

#WCW WomanCrushWednesday: Cheryl Strayed

No author has affected my life in the past few years as much as Cheryl Strayed has.
Photo found at

I loved Strayed before I knew her name. is an online magazine whose advice column, Dear Sugar, was a favorite of mine because of its honest, humorous, and heartfelt offerings. The column was done anonymously, but a few years ago, it was revealed that Strayed was Sugar. Some of my favorite Sugar-given advice is, “Every last one of us can do better than give up”; “The only way out of a hole is to climb out”; and “Be brave enough to break your own heart”. Tiny Beautiful Things is a collection of her Dear Sugar columns and I highly recommend you read it.

A few years ago, when I finished the first chapter of her memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, I put the book down and with tears in my eyes, said out loud to no one, "If the rest of the book is like that, I cannot handle it." In the book, Strayed's mom dies of cancer and at the time, my mom was four years cancer-free. I didn't want to read about a mom, anyone's mom, dying of cancer. I did get through the book and it remains a favorite of mine. I'm a person who prefers not to feel emotions and that book made me feel so immensely that I should have thrown it across the room and instead, I embraced it. I embraced it so much that when a friend told me his mom didn't like Wild because Cheryl Strayed wasn't prepared for the hike she takes in the book, I actually told him to tell his mom to come say that to my face. No one says anything bad about Cheryl Strayed around me.

When my mom was rediagnosed with cancer in mid-2013, I could not look at my copy of Wild (sometimes just a glance at the book would make me tear up), but I frequently turned to Tiny Beautiful Things and a poster with Dear Sugar quotes I had on the wall above my computer. I can't say I always took to heart sayings like "The thing about rising is we have to continue upward. The thing about going beyond is we have to keep going", "The unifying theme is resilience and faith", and the above-mentioned "Every last one of us can do better than to give up", but I wanted to. As I'm sure many other people who've read Strayed's work can attest, Strayed makes you want to hope, makes you want to try. Some days, I would see "The only way out of a hole is to climb out" and think, "Maybe today, it's okay for me to stay in my hole, but tomorrow, I'll get started on climbing out of it."

My mom died in October 2014 and again, Strayed helped me, this time with her advice of "Let yourself be gutted. Let it open you. Start there." "Gutted" is the perfect word to describe how I felt when my mom died and one of the reasons I'm not curled up in a ball on the floor is Cheryl Strayed and her advice. For that, she's my WomanCrush.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

New Item Tuesday

via Instagram

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Staff Review: Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire

Cookies and milk, chocolate and peanut butter, mac and cheese, some things are just better together.* So when I realized that one of my favorite authors, Seanan McGuire, had the audiobooks for one of her series narrated by one of my other favorite authors, Mary Robinette Kowal, well, I purchased and downloaded a copy immediately.

If you enjoy character-driven Urban Fantasy and dark humor, you too should check out Rosemary and Rue, the first book in the October Daye series. And yes, we do have the audiobook! The story is set in a San Francisco with a hidden underworld populated with a dizzying variety of Fae characters (my favorites were the rose goblins, a cross between a cat and a rosebush). October Daye, or Toby, is a changeling, a person born from one human parent and one fae, who has inherited a small amount of magic and a seemingly endless amount of trouble.

Without spoiling too much, Rosemary and Rue starts with Toby at a very low point in her life. She's barely scraping by with a terrible job and has almost completely isolated from her friends and family (aside from her two cats). Toby considers herself a failure and is punishing herself accordingly, until an old friend reaches out with a job she can't refuse. You see, Toby is a sworn knight to the Duke of Shadowed Hills, which translates in the modern world as something like a magical private eye.

The mystery makes for a fast-paced plot, though the amount of world-building and the complex relationships between all of the characters can be overwhelming at times. Bear in mind that this is the first in a series, so many elements are set up for pay offs in future volumes.

Mary Robinette Kowal's narration is clear, and the many characters were easy to distinguish. Some of the characters sounded a little cartoony, but this helped to lighten a story that was at times very dark. I'm not sure how many times Toby almost died, but I hope that as she learns to deal with her depression she gains a more cautious approach to risk.

When not writing Urban Fantasy, Seanan McGuire wears a variety of hats, including musician, author Mira Grant (the pen name she uses for her zombie fiction), and the person behind one of my favorite tumblrs. Her reblogged gifs are the entire reason I marathoned Leverage last year.

When she isn't narrating audiobooks, Mary Robinette Kowal writes the Glamourist Histories series (a series which I've mentioned loving before), works as a professional puppeteer, and offers writing advice and guidance. Speaking of which, I'm happy to announce that Mary will be coming to Carnegie-Stout Public Library in Dubuque, Iowa this October! I'll be sharing more details as the event approaches, but if you want to make sure you're up to date on all the events offered to adults at Carnegie-Stout, be sure to sign up for our new monthly newsletter.

~Sarah, Adult Services

*Why yes, it is almost my lunch break. However did you guess?

Monday, June 22, 2015

Staff Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You, a 2014 novel that has garnered a long list of highly favorable reviews, awards, and other accolades, delivers a punch in its very first line: “Lydia is dead.” Lydia is Lydia Lee, the favored middle child of a mixed-race couple. Her father, James, a college professor, is American born of Asian descent, and her mother, Marilyn, a wannabe doctor who wound up a housewife, is white. Both parents dote on teenaged Lydia while also burdening her with the relentless expectation that she will fulfill all their own unmet dreams and needs.  Marilyn intends for Lydia to become a doctor, while James wants her to be popular and pretty.

The book opens with Lydia’s disappearance and subsequent discovery at the bottom of a lake near her Ohio home. Upon this tragic foundation, Celeste Ng builds an intricate structure of aftermath and backstory, deftly weaving characters and events spanning twenty years, from the 1950s to the 1970s, into a tight and increasingly oppressive and dysfunctional framework. The story's perspective shifts among family members in alternating chapters.

The big question, of course, is “What happened!!??” How did their beloved daughter drown? Was it foul play? Suicide? Some horrible accident?  We don’t find out until the end of the book. The author lays a trail of hints, clues, and suspects, one possible culprit being the wild and unsupervised son of a local divorcee, who was among the last to see Lydia alive.

Ng’s writing is fine and evocative, the societal circumstances she describes timely and fresh: the bigotry faced by Asians in America in the latter half of the twentieth century. We are now so accustomed to thinking of academic excellence, the surging Chinese economy, and the distinctly Asian flavor to our more multicultural cities, that it surprised me to realize that even educated, professional, American-born Chinese faced terrible discrimination (exacerbated in part by the Vietnam War) in so recent a past.

Ng excels at crafting sentences and at building (and resolving) an intricate plot. It is in the family dynamics she creates that I found my credulity stretched. Why is Lydia so favored, yet her older brother, Nath, an ardently-aspiring astronomer, elicits only rage or indifference from his parents? How can any parents consistently ignore a child, as the Lees do their youngest, Hannah? How could Marilyn abandon her family for months, not even leaving a note, in an early, aborted attempt to complete her education?  Is it the parents’ favoritism that causes the siblings to turn on each other?

These questions pile up and as they did, I found myself liking the Lees less and less -- every one of them -- and unlikeable characters make for a less compelling story. The more I read the novel, the more I wanted to flee its characters. But, reading through the reviews, it appears my reaction constitutes a minority view. Read the book for yourself and see what you think!

 ~ Ann, Adult Services