Category: MPL Reads

Free Samples Every Day

What do you give to the reader who doesn’t know what they like to read?  Is it possible to give a book to someone who claims they don’t read?  How do we know what will satisfy someone else’s reading tastes?

Welcome to the library, your free source of books and information.  The friendly librarians can direct you to a wealth of subjects and authors.  Every day at the library is like free sample day at Sam’s Club or Costco.  There aren’t going to be sample stands at the end of every aisle of books but there will be people who are eager to point you in the right direction.  Better yet; there’s no mess, no fuss, and no trash even if you don’t like something we suggest.  Books not to your taste are placed back on the shelf ready for the next customer.  Have no fear, there’s no commission involved so you won’t be followed around the building by an unwanted, over-eager, book-pusher.  Librarians will not be upset if you don’t like what they offer; they simply ask that you give them the chance to find the right book for you.

When you consult the book experts remember this:  some books do not have a long list of similar titles available.  Kathryn Stockett’s The Help is one such book.  Due to the many nuances of the story, it’s not easy to find another title that readily compares to it.  Novels like The Color Purple, To Kill a Mockingbird, We Are All Welcome Here, or Mudbound are often cited as comparable stories but a recent book by Laura Lane McNeal, Dollbaby, has risen to the top of the suggestion pile.

This novel is about a girl named Liberty Bell (Ibby) who is unceremoniously deposited at her grandmother’s house by her mother after her father dies in a freak bicycling accident.  Fannie (not to be called grandma) has a large home in New Orleans that is staffed by some delightful characters.  Queenie, the cook, runs the house and takes care of Fannie with the help of her daughter, Dollbaby.  When young Ibby arrives at the house in New Orleans, Queenie instructs her in the ways of living with Miss Fannie while Doll guides her behind the scenes.  Though Miss Fannie is the mistress of the house, the “help” are clearly her family.

It’s a time of civil unrest and racial tension.  The city is slowly and reluctantly desegregating.  Meanwhile, Miss Fannie’s house and past are shrouded in mystery and tragedy.  Although Queenie and her family hold these secrets close, the events of the past are inevitably revealed.  Ironically, it is these very things that keep this family safe and whole.  This is a wonderful story of friendship and family not to be missed.  If you liked The Help, this book is for you.  Come to the library and try a free sample.  It’s easy-simply open the book.

dollbaby

You can take the girl out of the Midwest; but why the heck would you want to take the Midwest out of the girl?

patty jane lornaEver since my sister recommended Patty Jane’s House of Curl, I’ve been a big fan of author Lorna Landvik.  This book is one of my all-time favorite reads and something I can recommend to almost any female patron who was looking for a new author or something different.  One could compare the familial relationships in this book to another favorite at our library, Whistling in the Dark by Lesley Kagen.  Both of these authors have created a perfect blend of sisterly love vs. sisterly angst in these books and have developed settings to which the average reader can relate.  Mix in a generous dose of humor and dark days and you have a story that you want to share with your sister.  These books resonate with readers because they reflect the real human experience.

It’s fun to dive into these book and picture the people that these authors create.  The dialogue and actions of the characters are true to their Midwestern settings.  One can imaginlorna best to laughe a former pastor, neighbor, or friend doing and saying the things that these authors put onto paper.  They are authentic portraits of the people we interact with every day.

Lorna Landvik’s latest book, Best to Laugh, has taken the Midwestern girl and placed her in Hollywood, CA.  The author does not allow the Hollywood setting to overshadow or change her unique character, Candy.  Candy doesn’t fall in with bad Hollywood influences nor does she experience a meteoric rise and catastrophic fall as is often played out in “naive girl goes to Hollywood” type stories.  Instead, Candy meets the many unique and wonderful people who live in a Hollywood landmark apartment building, Peyton Hall.  She grows to love the various odd individuals, many of whom have lived there for decades, and the reader does too.  One learns that this aspiring comic from the Midwest is not so different from the (formerly) elegant nightclub owner or the Romanian fortune-teller as Candy develops a group of friends who love and support her.

Once again, Lorna Landvik has created a story that is all heart.  These unique individuals develop into characters that the reader cares about.  You’ll cheer for Candy as she bonds with her neighbors, navigates the world of temporary employment, and conquers the world of comedy.  You might also be inspired to bake someone a cake; or simply borrow a cup of sugar in an attempt to meet a new neighbor.

 

Best Firsts

cold dishDear Author,

Do you mind if I gush?

Gruff, plain-spoken, abrupt, commanding, tough, decisive, pragmatic, these are all words that could be used to describe Craig Johnson’s popular character, Walt Longmire.  He’s a hero with flaws.  A man with a past.  He has rough edges.  One might say he is “a man’s man”, the type of guy that most men can relate to on some level.

Sherriff Longmire is supported by a cast of characters that are equally interesting.  The small town is itself a character.  It’s a place where everyone knows your name and most of your personal business.  If you want to keep secrets, you’ll need to bury them deep.  You know where to go to buy a beer, a gun, and a good meal and that’s all you need.  It’s definitely not Mayberry.

As tough as Walt is, he allows the women around him to take care of him to a certain degree.  He inspires both love and loyalty in most of the people around him but finds it difficult to reciprocate.  He even keeps his best friend (and only real friend) at a distance.  Henry responds to this behavior by meddling in Walt’s life in a variety of ways.

The Walt Longmire series is the revival of the cowboy in a modern West.  This cowboy happens to ride around in a truck, but he still carries a gun and he knows how to use it.  He may not say much, but there’s a lot going on under that Stetson.  Start with the first book in the series, The Cold Dish, and you’ll be hooked.

iron lake 2And if you are a fan of the Longmire series, check out William Kent Krueger’s Cork O’Connor series.  Cork is a former Chicago cop living in a  small Minnesota town where he moved for peace, quiet, and a lot less crime.   Unfortunately, his short tenure as sheriff did not go well and he’s lost everything he cares about.

In Iron Lake, the first in the O’Connor series, we see Cork struggling to get by since his life has disintegrated.  A shocking murder and a secret that hits to close to home jolts him out of his apathy.  Cork must battle himself and the elements to put things right.

These authors have both created gritty, down-to-earth characters and placed them into settings where the average person has worked and played.  They’re imperfect; they have numerous flaws.  They’re real.  They need to write faster.

Different is Good

attachmentsLast year The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion had us in stitches while cheering the hapless Don on to romantic happiness.  Although it’s never stated outright in the book, Don clearly had issues.  Personal issues, social issues, all kinds of issues in relating to people and the world in general, and yet his one desire was to create a connection with another human being.  Loneliness forced him out of his self-imposed, solitary prison.  (Compare the warmth of this character to Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory.)

Reading Simsion’s book led me to The Attachments by Rainbow Rowell.  Set in the 1990’s, this story is about another lonely soul.  Lincoln has been paralyzed by the crushing break-up with the love of his life.  He doesn’t have any interest in developing personal relationships with anyone aside from his mother and his D&D friends.  He believes himself to be satisfied being a loner.

Lincoln happens to be a highly intelligent person with more than one college degree to his credit who chooses to work evenings as an internet security officer at a local newspaper.  In the beginning he’s happy with the job, he’s being paid and can avoid interacting with people.  What does the job actually entail?  Lincoln is paid to read emails and report anyone who is violating company policies.  (Compare the neediness and cute nerdiness of this character to Leonard from The Big Bang Theory.)

This leads him to the emails of Beth and Jennifer, who should be flagged and possibly fired.  However, he becomes so engaged in the content of their gossipy, girl-pal emails, he can’t bring himself to do it.  Eventually,  clues in the emails lead Lincoln to put overcome the agony of his long-ago break-up and start working on a new romantic possibility-Beth.

Is Lincoln the first creepy Internet stalker to emerge during the 90’s?  Will Beth call Human Resources with a complaint?  Is there a restraining order in Lincoln’s future?  Is he actually a Dexter-type character toying with an unsuspecting victim?  Filled with light, funny, irresistible characters, these books herald the dawn of a new era in books:  cute nerd hero.  (Think about it, Dr. Who definitely fits the bill.)

And if you like The Attachments, check out Fangirl, a great teen read also by Rainbow Rowell but with a refreshingly adorable nerdy female lead.fangirl

The Awakening

This is an unusual story.  One might believe that the focus of the story is the tale of an escaped convict and a female recluse who inexplicably find love.  However, although there is passion, this is not a passionate love story.  It’s about the many facets of love and the role of love in our lives.  What makes this concept work is the fact that the narrator is a thirteen-year-old boy who is just beginning to understand the complexities of love.  His idea of love is taking care of his mother and encouraging her to leave their house on errands in their small community.  The concept of romantic love is just a glimmer on the horizon of Henry’s adolescent mind until that fateful Labor Day weekend.

Henry is beginning to understand that he can never make up for the loss his mother Adele suffered when his father left them.  Although he has chosen to live with her and hot his father, he is not equipped to heal her pain.  The additional hurt caused by his father’s remarriage and start of a new family has caused his mother to almost completely shut herself away from the world.  This isolation means that Henry has become his mother’s sole companion.

Enter into their lives, the desperate escaped convict.  At this point the reader expects things to turn dangerous and violent.  What unfolds instead is the coming together of two lonely souls.  Frank enters Henry and Adele’s lives and proceeds to take care of them both.  Henry realizes that this is the adult companionship his mother has been longing for which he could never provide.  Although Henry feels some resentment towards Frank, he is pleased that Adele is happy.  The advent of their relationship contributes to Henry’s own adolescent awakening.

Unfortunately for Henry, this awakening leads him to meet a girl over Labor Day weekend who is the complete opposite of the selflessness the reader sees in Frank, the convicted murderer.  What unfolds is the betrayal of Henry, not by his mother Adele or Frank, but by this other lost soul.  This girl who is so caught up in her own hurtful world, she tells Henry that love is only pain and a means of manipulation.  This belief about love and life leads her to willingly betray all three of them to ensure her own happiness.  Joyce Maynard’s Labor Day is a riveting story of love lost and restored.

labor day

Less than Perfect

heroesWhat is a hero?  A person of outstanding qualities and noble character who is admired for their courage and achievements?  Someone who is brave and true of heart like the mythical knight in shining armor?  Readers of romance would answer in the affirmative and explain that typically, they expect all of the qualities mentioned above as well as a description of a handsome face and body to match.  Author Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ strength lies in creating heroes and heroines that fit the romance requirements listed above but yet are just a bit…..off.

For example in her latest book, Heroes are my Weakness, she creates characters who are carrying some pretty hefty real life baggage in their psyche.  This is part of what creates the “romantic problem” the two characters must overcome.  (After all, it’s a bit difficult to fall in love with a person that you believe tried to kill you when you were a young teen.)  For the reader, the difficulty lies in working past the inner narrative that Anne, the heroine, has with her puppets during the first third of the book.  It may be a somewhat jarring device on the part of the author but it is effective.  Eventually the reader begins to understand that the author is using this device to reveal the deep-seated and long-standing insecurities of her heroine that she must overcome in order to be in a healthy relationship.  About the time that the reader learns to accept hearing puppet voices as part of the heroine’s personality, they start fading into the background and become ordinary objects.  Annie’s relationship with Theo, the hero, has taken center stage.  The reader happily realizes that the heroine is recovering her sense of self.

As for our hero, Theo plays a wonderful, dark and brooding “Mr. Rochester” type character to the insecure and desperate heroine.  The secluded Maine island populated by interfering islanders who may or may not want the outsiders to be there adds some humorous complications to the two main character’s relationship woes.  The islanders’ selfishness is the final catalyst that opens Annie’s eyes to Theo’s true character, that of a true hero.  Annie also learns that she has the potential to rescue others as well.

This author’s stories and characters are customarily quirky and funny; filled with snappy dialogue that keeps the pace of the story moving.  She engages the reader’s interest and manages to keep the tone light, even when addressing darker topics.  Her heroes may have to rescue the “fair maiden” from a jam occasionally but usually, as in this book, they rescue one another.

Invisible Deadly Enemy

outbreak2Remember the film Outbreak?  A tiny monkey transports a deadly virus from Africa to the United States and all manner of chaos and death ensues.  A multitude of ethical questions arise.  Who deserves to be saved?  What is the most effective way to stop the spread of a virus for which there is no vaccine?  How many people need to be quarantined?  Can experimental drugs be used?  Should families be separated?  Do we consider the option of eliminating a small number of people if we believe it is for the greater good?  Can we abandon sick people to their fate?  These decisions may save lives and stop the virus or become the cause of greater suffering.

hot zoneThe ensuing terror is the fear of the unknown.  You can’t see the virus, but you can see what it is doing to the people who have the misfortune to be exposed to it.  Medical staff are faced with daunting task of locating patient zero and finding everyone that came into contact with that person.  Further detective work must be done in order to determine how the virus is being spread from one person to the next.  Once the severity of the outbreak is known, the goal becomes containment.

In The Hot Zone, the reader learns that although there are a vast array of viruses in the world, many are not that easily contracted when precautions are taken.  Problems arise when a virus displays symptoms that may be similar to other, less deadly diseases.  Medical personnel may then become another source of exposure as they treat a series of patients with only basic medical precautions being taken.  Through these avenues, a patient or medical staff may unwittingly expose a multitude of unsuspecting victims.  Poor medical practices, such as reusing needles, further exacerbate these problems.  Thus the hospital or clinic may no longer be a place of relief but rather becomes the epicenter of torment.

The author describes in horrifying detail what the Ebola virus (and its various strains) does to the human body.  It is the stuff of nightmares.  Ebola virus disease (EVD) was formerly known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever.  The description of the victims’ suffering is unbelievable.  Starting with a fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, the initial symptoms do not appear to be severe or life-threatening.  However, as the virus progresses,  unexplained visible bruising manifests on the patient’s body and internal and external bleeding grows increasingly worse.  The patient becomes unresponsive and death follows as the body slowly shuts down.

contagioncookUnlike medical thrillers such as Michael Crichton’s Andromeda Strain, or Robin Cook’s Contagion, the scenario described in Richard Preston’s book is based upon an incident which occurred in the United States.  It is a stomach-churning cautionary tale that strikes terror into the heart and mind of the reader.  For it becomes clear very quickly that although medical technology has taken leaps and bounds since the last time Ebola visited our shores, we are not immune.

 

 

 

Daughter, Days, Dreams…..a perfect fantasy world

 

smoke and bone In the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, the reader may originally assume that the story is about angels (good) and demons (bad). However, it soon becomes apparent that this is not about angels and demons as we understand them but rather about two races who are locked in a deadly struggle for survival.  As their war escalates and the fight for survival becomes more desperate, it appears that they have tapped into the world of humans for resources.

We meet Karou, the beautiful blue-haired orphan girl who lives alone, attends art school, and disappears on mysterious errands.  Her only human friends are Zuzana, a tiny, fierce girl and Mik, Zuzana’s boyfriend.  Although they express concern about Karou, they have learned that there are certain things she won’t (or can’t) share.  They provide both comedy and comfort in a trilogy that could have been dark and desperate instead of an inspiring and rewarding read.

Karou appears to consort with monsters and have an angel for an enemy. Akiva, the angel hunting her, appears to be haunted by his past and lost love. He is tortured by his past and a desire for revenge, she is determined to save her demon friends.  It soon becomes apparent that the demons are not entirely demonic nor are the angels completely angelic. They are two separate races who despise one another.  Karou and Akiva’s relationship is the source of unending heartbreak in the past and blossoming hope for a future.

It is this relationship that is the driving force behind the books.  Karou is strong, intelligent, and brave, never whining or fearful.  Although Akiva’s personality is originally dark, brooding and somewhat vengeful, it becomes lighter, as though he comes back to himself, through his renewed contact with Karou.  Even in times of tears and pain, the author manages to portray a  relationship that is well developed, building upon a tender back story with hope for an uncertain future that they are struggling to create together.

Throughout the trilogy, the author takes the reader on a journey that destroys assumptions and opens the mind.  This is not merely a love story between two otherworldly creatures. This trilogy is about longing, forgiveness, understanding and redemption.  We come away believing in the world that the author has created.  A highly recommended teen read that adults will love.

 

 

This is how we do it…. but what do we do?

What do librarians do all day?  This is the image that may come to mind to the average reader:

At left is the image most female librarians would like the public to conjure up when they mention librarians. The truth is most likely an interesting combination of these three images. These days you won’t find librarians climbing ladders to reach books because it’s dangerous and the Internet and ebooks have greatly reduced the number of books being kept on library shelves. Likewise you won’t find librarians running around in high heels, shorts, and low-cut blouses because, well, it would probably be very uncomfortable while also being highly unprofessional.  There is one similarity in all of the images. The librarian is reading a book. Many people believe that librarians have the privilege of being paid to read books all day.  Unfortunately, it’s just not true.
We invite authors to visit our library.  For example, Paula DeBoard, the author of The Mourning Hours will be visiting our library on Monday, April 14th at 6pm to talk about her book. The book is set in rural Manitowoc County which makes the reading experience interesting for locals as they attempt to match fictional locations with real ones.  The story itself is a mix of heartbreaking tragedy and family resilience that resonates with the reader long after you’ve finished the book.  The tone of the book is similar to Wingshooters or Whistling in the Dark.   Librarians also help readers by recommending books and authors similar to ones they’ve enjoyed. We choose books for library-sponsored book discussions and after we’ve used them, make them into book discussion kits with questions that local book groups can check out for themselves.
We buy books, movies, and music that our patrons want.  We are notin the business of telling people that they haven’t lived unless they’ve read classics like Pride and Prejudice or Of Mice and Men.  We are in the business of making classic titles available to readers all while in the process of reading book reviews and purchasing the latest hot titles. We don’t judge.  If you want something similar to 50 Shades of Grey, we’ll point you in the direction of Sylvia Day or Maya Banks.
We have summer reading programs for children and adults.  Yes, even though it doesn’t feel like summer outside, the librarians are all hard at work planning fun activities and inviting presenters to the summer programs. Once summer is planned, we start working on fall activities and presenters, usually around May.

Lego reproduction of librarian in chicken costume for story time.

Now, take all of these various duties and activities (which are only a few of the many things we do) and throw children into the mix.  A children’s librarian gets to play with toys and design creative crafts to go with story time. Sometimes they’ll even dress up in a costume for story time.  They’ll read several picture books in one sitting in order to find the perfect ones for story time or a school visit.
Librarians reading all day among the bookshelves or running around telling everyone to be quiet is an urban myth.  Libraries are fun places full of activities and events for the entire family.  We show movies for a variety of audiences and help people with their electronic devices.  We locate information.  We download books. We hardly ever get to read when we’re at work….but we try to sneak in a chapter or two when we can.
Visit your local library and help us celebrate National Library Week April 13th-19th in 2014.

Almost There

What to think about when spring still isn’t spring:
Where to turn for a good laugh:
Who can inspire:
How to win back your castle and surrounding territories:
Can’t “think spring”?  Think books and escape from the final edge of winter’s blast.  Immerse yourself in garden plans, memoirs, or something else entertaining.  March is a great time to read Don Haskins’ Glory Road or maybe pull out your DVD of Hoosiers.  Take the time to listen to your favorite musical soundtrack like Annie or try the latest Zumba fitness fad.  Take up a new hobby or simply start filling your bird feeder and battling it out with the squirrels.  Use your imagination and live like there isn’t snow out there.