Tuesday, September 1, 2015

New Item Tuesday

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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Staff Review: The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

Ouch! This book hurts. It’s also dazzlingly beautiful, but the more you succumb to the beauty of the prose and of the remote island setting where the story unfolds, the more the plot rips your heart out. At least this was my experience.

But let me back up. The Light Between Oceans is a 2012 debut novel by Australian author M. L. Stedman. Many people read it; most loved it (approximately 156,000 reviews on GoodReads at last count). Then, DreamWorks acquired the film rights and a movie was made, starring Michael Fassbender and Rachel Weisz among others. The movie’s set for release in 2016. I don’t know if I’ll be able to handle the story again.

The main characters are Tom Sherbourn, a stalwart and upstanding but emotionally ravaged young World War I vet, and his free-spirited, newlywed wife, Isabel, who set up house (or lighthouse, to be precise) on isolated Janus Rock off the west coast of Australia, where Tom has signed on as light-keeper.

The book’s opening chapters are idyllic. Janus is the perfect place for these starry-eyed lovers to hole up and for Tom to heal. They both love the sea, the solitude, the silence. Some of the novel’s most gorgeous passages capture the fluctuating water, altering sky, and shifting light. But Isabel yearns for a baby. Over several years she suffers two miscarriages and an agonizing stillbirth.

Then one day a small boat washes up on the island’s remote side, carrying a dead body and a tiny living infant. Tom’s position requires that he record and report every happening on Janus Rock, but, very reluctantly, he allows Isabel to persuade him that the infant is now likely an orphan and might just be a gift bestowed by the universe after all the heartbreak they’ve suffered in their attempts to make a child. So, Tom buries the dead man and sets the boat adrift while Isabel begins caring for the infant, who instantly wins their hearts and completes their family.

The chapters that follow continue the idyll: Tom, Isabel, and Baby Lucy compose a near-perfect happy family who thrive in their exquisite life on Janus Rock. Only Tom suffers pangs of conscience -- over what he has allowed to take place, what he has omitted from his reports, an omission that could end his light-keeping career and lead to formal charges. And indeed Tom’s misgivings bear fruit. The idyll ends and the pain begins.

The moral of the story (and this is quite courageous on the author’s part) seems to be that we inhabit a moral universe, the truth will out, and wrong acts will have their full repercussions. Stedman unfolds the rippling consequences of the Sherbourns’ wrong act in a slow and meticulous way that is absolutely wrenching for the reader, who watches in horror as the family on Janus Rock is slowly ripped asunder. Sure, justice is ultimately served – and I’m 100% for justice – but in this instance I’m afraid I was rooting for the wrong: for Tom, Isabel, and stolen Baby Lucy in their island paradise rimmed by dolphins and whales.

~Ann, Adult Services

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Staff Review: Homespun Mom Comes Unraveled by Shannon Hayes

If you're looking for a quick, uplifting read with a little more substance than your usual summer flicks, I have a recommendation for you! Homespun Mom Comes Unraveled is a heartwarming and thought-provoking collection of essays from self-proclaimed radical homemaker Shannon Hayes. I was particularly enthused to read this new publication of hers after finishing Radical Homemakers, Hayes' thesis in which she explores the lives of communities and individuals living and thriving on extremely low incomes. Hayes and her family follow this lifestyle as well: they grow and produce as much of their own food as they can, they give homemade gifts, use home remedies for most of their healthcare, and play their own music for entertainment.

Hayes shies away from nothing in Homespun Mom, covering topics ranging from neighborhood drama, to trying to make a living at farmers market every Saturday, to sex education for her home-schooled daughters. While these subjects may seem mundane or irrelevant in our fast-paced world, Hayes' humor and poignancy leave readers with no doubt that the struggles she faces every day are ones we can all relate to. Her family's dedication to living simply is a breath of fresh air in our culture so overwhelmed with flashy technologies that seem to change every time we blink.

Their lives are not, however, boring in the least. The stories Hayes tells are of a raucous, joyful, and complex young family who work hard to juggle the projects they've taken on, and whose lives are filled with love, meaning and adventure. Their everyday routines may indeed be radical to many readers, but Hayes has me convinced that a home made in this way is the most vibrant and fulfilling home possible.

~Rachel, Circulation

Thursday, August 20, 2015

ThrowbackThursday The Cholera

"The health of the city of Dubuque was never better. While neighboring cities have been visited by that enemy of our race, the Cholera, Dubuque, with the exception of two or three strangers who died of it, has thus far escaped unharmed."
July 22, 1854

"The health of our city still continues excellent - with the exception of occasionally a case of Bilious derangement, our citizens are enjoying absolute immunity from sickness and pain."
July 29.1854

"There have been a few cases of Cholera in Dubuque, confined principally, to the floating population - and some few have died. To our knowledge there has been no panic or excitement whatever in regard to it, and we have not heard of any of our citizens flying from it - if any have done so, we can assure them, that they can, with perfect safety, return to the bosoms of their anxious families, and expectant friends, as there has not been a case of Cholera in Dubuque for several days past. Our friends at Hazel Green, who have been thrown into such a state of excitement about the ravages of Cholera in Dubuque, may rely upon the truth of our statement as avoe given."
August 18, 1854
Dubuque Weekly Observer, July 29, 1854
In 1854, 1424 people died of cholera in Chicago, and in fact, thousands would die across the nation during the nineteenth century cholera pandemicsCholera is a bacterial infection that causes intestinal distress and can lead to death from dehydration or other complications. Over the centuries it has killed millions of people throughout the world, and is still a significant danger in many parts of the world today. Thousands have died from cholera infections in Haiti since the earthquake in 2010.

You can read more about the history of cholera and its impact on the world in The Ghost Map: the story of London's most terrifying epidemic--and how it changed science, cities, and the modern world by Steven Johnson. Johnson tells the story of Dr. John Snow whose research led to our modern understanding of how cholera and other diseases spread, and what we can do to help stop them from becoming devastating outbreaks.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

New Item Tuesday

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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Staff Review: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

After hearing so many glowing reviews of the 2012 novel Beautiful Ruins from library patrons and friends and reading rave reviews in the media ("a literary miracle,” says NPR; a “masterpiece,” says Salon, “superb,” “brilliant,” “near-perfect,” “genius,” and so on), I decided I’d better check it out for myself.

And while I didn’t completely incandesce as I read the book, I’m really glad I read or, rather, listened to it. The audio version is so well-done; it was Audible.com’s Best Audiobook of 2012. Performed by Edoardo Ballerini, whose Italian and English are flawless, the audiobook navigates its way through all sorts of accents and a multiplicity of characters of all ages in such a fluid way it’s transporting.

Hmmmm, how to summarize the plot? Jess Walter worked on this book for years and years and completed other novels during its construction. His architectural diligence shows: Beautiful Ruins is a marvel of literary engineering, with a whole lot of story threads running through multiple locations over 50 years, intersecting and interweaving and resolving in such a way that not a thread is dropped. When you reach the final page, the tapestry is complete.

In a nutshell though, the book opens in 1962 on a part of the Italian coast known as the Cinque Terre (click and prepare to gasp). A lovely young actress named Dee Moray disembarks from a boat and enters the life of young innkeeper Pasquale Tursi. Dee has been performing in the scandal-plagued, filming-fiasco Cleopatra, which stars that boozily-tumultuous couple Liz Taylor and Richard Burton.

She has also been ill-treated in a shocking way by the film’s fictional producer, Michael Deane, a hilarious Hollywood grotesque whose decades of facelifts and skin-plumps leave him, at age 72, with “the face of a 9-year-old Filipino girl.” (The book is laugh-out-loud funny in parts.) Pregnant by way of an on-set affair with an actor, Dee has been hoodwinked by a corrupt movie-set doctor. Told she has cancer, she's sent away from the set to have her "growth" removed. The moment she arrives at his inn (the inn's less-than-optimal location within this coastal paradise wins it the name Hotel Adequate View), Pasquale is smitten.

From there we spin from the Cinque Terre to Hollywood, Seattle, London, Edinburgh, Idaho, and Rome -- as well as back and forth through five decades -- to trace the furiously-flawed lives of a host of intersecting characters, one of whom is the future son of our lovely actress. (The father’s name I will not reveal.)

My only minor quibble with the book (and this does not seem to have been an issue for many others) is that I did not equally enjoy all parts of it. Some story-lines are funnier and more absorbing than others, but Beautiful Ruins is gorgeously-written and shines the funniest -- and most unflattering -- light on Hollywood and the twisted minds within its glittering hills who make its crassest films (and its increasingly unsavory reality shows – more of the Duggar family or Honey Boo Boo, anyone?).  The novel is also tender and poignant, intelligent and imaginative, and, best of all, strikingly original. I’ve never read anything quite like it.

~Ann, Adult Services