Category Archives: Reviews

The Mayor’s Book Club Is Reading “State of Wonder” by Ann Patchett

The Mayor’s Book Club 

This book discussion group meets at the Main Library on the third Wednesday of the month, from noon to 1:00 p.m.

Brown-bag lunches are welcome.

The book club’s next reading will be:

AUGUST 20, 2014 - State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

State of Wonder
2012-05 – Paperback
Harper Perennial
9780062049810
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State of Wonder
By Patchett, Ann
Award-winning, New York Times-bestselling author returns with a provocative and assured novel of morality and miracles, science and sacrifice set in the Amazon rainforest.

TOP PICK FOR BOOK CLUBS
Ann Patchett, the best-selling author of the acclaimed Bel Canto and four other novels, returns with a darkly fascinating story about the nature of scientific inquiry. In State of Wonder, pharmaceutical researcher Marina Singh is tasked with finding out what happened to her co-worker, Anders Eckman, who died in the Amazon jungle after joining a research team. Contending with snakes, heat and mosquitoes, Marina connects with the field team, which is led by Annick Swenson, an ambitious gynecologist researching a tribe whose females have remarkable childbearing abilities. Annick was once Marina’s mentor, and encountering her brings back a past Marina is trying hard to escape. Giving readers access to the recondite world of drug research while exploring the impulses that motivate us all, Patchett has crafted an intriguing novel, filled with complex issues that will generate lively book club discussion. © 2011, All rights reserved, BookPage
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Publisher Comments
In a narrative replete with poison arrows, devouring snakes, scientific miracles, and spiritual transformations, State of Wonder presents a world of stunning surprise and danger, rich in emotional resonance and moral complexity.As Dr. Marina Singh embarks upon an uncertain odyssey into the insect-infested Amazon, she will be forced to surrender herself to the lush but forbidding world that awaits within the jungle. Charged with finding her former mentor Dr. Annick Swenson, a researcher who has disappeared while working on a valuable new drug, she will have to confront her own memories of tragedy and sacrifice as she journeys into the unforgiving heart of darkness. Stirring and luminous, State of Wonder is a world unto itself, where unlikely beauty stands beside unimaginable loss beneath the rain forest’s jeweled canopy.
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Landline by Rainbow Rowell

landline

 

Georgie McCool has a lot going for her. She has a job writing for a hit sitcom in Los Angeles, two young daughters, and a stay at home husband who handles the domestic details while Georgie focuses on her career. Landline begins as Georgie is getting the opportunity she’s waited for after years of writing comedy, the chance at having her own television show. So what’s the catch? To get a shot she’ll have to work through Christmas and sacrifice celebrating with her family. Her husband begrudgingly agrees she should go for it, but in Georgie’s mind there’s no debating it. And that’s where the cracks begin to show.

Have you ever accidently left your cell phone at home then it just makes your entire day feel off? Georgie’s cell is broken and being unable to get in touch with her husband causes her wonder not only if her marriage is failing, but maybe her perception of reality is going as well. The latter isn’t helped by the fact that she encounters a telephone that allows callers to time travel. With the help of an old-fashioned landline Georgie begins to explore the state of her marriage taking readers back to when it first began.

Thirty-somethings are the projected audience for Landline, but Rowell’s works Eleanor & Park and Fangirl, both published in 2013, target teens while striking the hearts of a broader swath. Rainbow Rowell romances the underdog in us all by giving her quirky, unpopular characters exactly what they need, each another. Bestseller Eleanor and Park perfectly romanticizes the nature of young love and the rights have been recently been acquired by Dreamworks for a film adaption. Fangirl is a coming-of-age story that starts with two twins going off to college one ready to cannonball into the pool and the other left standing on the diving board.

eleanorparkfangirl

To hear about other projects by the author visit her website:  http://rainbowrowell.com/

Formats Available: Book (Regular Print)

 Reviewed by Natalie, Main Children’s

 

Over-Dressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth L. Cline

“If you find what you like, buy it in several colors.” — Elizabeth L. Cline

overdressed

In 2009, author Elizabeth Cline found herself in a clothing crisis.  Following that advice, she purchased several cheap pairs of shoes from a powerhouse national discounter, the same pair of shoes in many different colors.  But only a few weeks later the pairs that hadn’t been worn to pieces were collecting dust in her closet now out dated and replaced by the next trend.  The author of Over-Dressed decided to take a hard look at what consumer shopping habits are, where are clothes come from, and the impact these changes have on a global economy.

The largest change has been the inclusion of foreign manufacturers.  Once New York and LA employed hundreds of garment workers; the United States boasted quality skills and material and created beautiful garments that aged well.  Some companies still employee domestic workers, but nothing like the heyday of American made fashion.  Cheaper labor overseas means companies can save large amounts of money, savings which encourage less investment domestically.

With costs lowering for garments, consumer’s mentalities towards clothing began to change.  We once had to labor for our clothing.  A single suit or dress would take an entire week’s wages.  Those that couldn’t afford to spend a week’s wages made their own clothing.  Consumers knew mending skills, sewing skills, how to use patterns, how to recycle material.  In an entire generation all of those skills are gone.  Ms. Cline discusses growing up with a mother and grandmother who sewed, hemmed, and patched, but she knew none of that.  She is not alone.  Clothing prices have dropped so low that most consumers would rather buy a new shirt than fix a detached button.

Not fixing clothing could also be attributed to not only cost, but construction of the clothing most people wear these days.  Ms. Cline examined all of the top brands and found that in the race for cheaper clothing the overall quality has dropped dramatically.  At one point the author discusses how just ten years ago doll clothing was better made than anything people wear today.  Consumers today have been taught not to care about construction, simply what is in trend.  Trends are so cheap to produce that even if a garment falls apart after a few wears, we can just go buy something new.  This is exactly what fast fashion stores want from consumers.

Fast fashion stores are the big clothing retailers that have revolving product…which all seems to look the same — twenty of the same dresses but in different bright colors; the same shirt in five different patterns — these are the staples of fast fashion stores.  Fast fashion retailers are those that when you begin to look over the racks and racks and racks of cheaply made clothing, you understand exactly how right Ms. Cline is — we are all walking around in the same clothing cheaply made junk.

The garment industry is now a global problem.  Consumers domestically hardly realize how many jobs have been shipped overseas and what that impact has on them locally.  Consumers likely don’t think about the treatment foreign workers receive while producing their cheap garments.  All they know is that they paid a steal for their new clothes.  Nor do they probably realize that with each new piece of clothing they buy because their old ones are not quality enough to last, millions of tons of garbage pile up in landfills.  All of that cheap fashion has to go somewhere.

This seems like a gloomy place to leave consumers (and readers!).  Many of which can’t afford the higher cost of quality, responsibly made clothing while continuing the habits society has created.  Ms. Cline offers simple changes to impact any wardrobe while also being more responsible shoppers.  Look at the material your clothing is made from.  Where is the garment you’re about to purchase made?  If a button falls off- can you learn to replace it?  Mend a seam?  Hem a pant?  Would you look through your closet and downsize?  Do you need five blue tank tops?  Seven dress shirts that all look the same?  If something doesn’t fit just the way you want, learn to take it in, let it out, shorten, and tighten.

Ms. Cline is compelling and down to Earth.  Your wardrobe and wallet will likely thank you for reading Over-Dressed.

 Formats Available: Book (Regular Print)

Reviewed by Lindsay, Southwest Branch

A Belated Review of Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut

“Those who live by electronics, die by electronics. Sic semper tyrannis.” – Ed Finnerty, Player Piano

The following is a selection of articles recently published in well-known publications:

When it is neither possible nor practical to perform an experiment to either prove or disprove a hypothesis or question, one still has an option at his or her disposal: the thought experiment, which involves the theoretical examination of a situation and the use of logic to determine the accompanying results that are possible or even likely.

playapiaNO

In 1952, Kurt Vonnegut published his first work of fiction entitled Player Piano that employed the method mentioned above.  Specifically, Mr. Vonnegut imagined a future for the United States in which labor has been replaced entirely with automated machines, a situation that certainly would have required the power of imagination at the time of its publication.  In this imagined future, consumer need for the entire country is determined by a central computer that directs industry accordingly, thus producing the supply that matches the calculated demand.

American society finds itself divided in to two classes: the engineers and managers, a patrician minority that oversees the machines, and the remainder of the population consisting of a plebeian majority that is in the paid service of the government performing menial work.  For the plebs, life has become meaningless and pointless, since they are unable utilize those innate skills and talents that they would so desperately like to use; disillusionment and despondency is universal.

However, although a sequestered elite, all are not true believers among the engineers and managers.  Dr. Paul Proteus, the son of the chief designer of this Second Industrial Revolution that had relegated so many to listless lives, cannot quash his qualms about the state of society and its division of class.  Through acquaintances both new and old, Proteus navigates the ruthlessly competitive world in which he finds himself a part and becomes involved with the “Ghost Shirt Society” and the rebellion that is brewing.

Despite having been published in 1952, Mr. Vonnegut paints a disturbing and visionary picture of what life could resemble in a world dominated by machines, and when one considers the ever-evolving role of technology in every aspect of life today, there is a good deal to consider.

“And a step backward, after making a wrong turn, is a step in the right direction.” – Dr. Paul Proteus, Player Piano

Formats Available:  Book (Regular Type), eBook

Reviewed by Rob, Crescent Hill

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

pariswife

Most people are familiar with Ernest Hemingway’s works of fiction, but many don’t know much about the man behind the stories. Hemingway was married a total of four times throughout his life.  According to many biographies, his first wife, Hadley, was the only one that he truly loved.  The Paris Wife tells Ernest and Hadley’s story from beginning to end in first person from Hadley’s point of view.

Mclain weaves her story from researching biographies, letters, and personal accounts of Hemingway’s life.  She recounts tales from the couple’s move to Paris, France in the 1920s during the era of the Left Bank artists.  The reader gets Hadley’s perspective of many of the famous artists and writers of the era including Ezra Pound and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  The reader also gets a glance of one of Hemingway’s favorite pastimes at the bullfights in Pamplona, Spain which goes on to be a back drop of one of his first novels.

The romance between Hadley and Ernest gradually begins to fade as Ernest gains popularity for many of his short stories and novels.  Hadley struggles with her self-esteem seem to grow even larger, and Ernest’s sudden interest of a new woman in his life that eventually becomes his mistress.  Hadley eventually decides to give Ernest a divorce that allows him to marry his mistress.  However by many accounts, this was one of Ernest’s greatest regrets in life.

Mclain weaves a beautiful fictitious picture of the marriage of Ernest and Hadley, including many true stories from their time together.  While the characters can be confusing sometimes due to so many nicknames, the story still flows effortlessly.

This title is available as a book discussion kit.

Formats Available:  Book (both Large Type and Regular Type), eBook, Audiobook (CD), Book Discussion Kit 

Reviewed by Sara, Okolona Branch

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

penumbra24

 

Times are rough for Clay Jannon.  As a single male, he finds himself desperately trying to survive in San Francisco’s lackluster job market.  Working as a social media specialist for New Bagel Company, he attempts to draw more people in, to little avail, by offering coupons.  As things go wrong the company folds and the owners are off to another country.

Now, following in the footsteps of other unemployed workers, he searches through the online newspaper classifieds, in the hopes of finding employment and becoming a successful, accomplished young adult.  Walking around the streets keeping a vigilant eye out for stores with HELP WANTED signs displayed.  Clay spots a bookstore with a sign in the window:

HELP WANTED
Late Shift
Specific Requirements
Good Benefits

Thus begins a new chapter in Clay’s employment career as Mr. Penumbra, a little old shop keeper, reminiscent of Mr. Magoo sans visual impairment, hires him on the spot.  Filled with adventure and secret societies, the bookshop isn’t your typical bookstore, People from the community visit it to take out a book without ever having to pay for it.

While the late night shift turns slowly, one after the other, Clay decides to make a model of the bookstore, down to the exact dimensions of its contents, using his laptop.  When he finally completes the 3D blueprint of the store, secrets are revealed, which lead not only himself, but his friends and Penumbra on a through-provoking adventure.

Though this book may be labeled as Science Fiction, disregard the genre and immerse yourself as a fellow bibliophile ready to see what happens next in Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.

Formats Available:  Book (in both Regular Type and Large Type)

Reviewed by Micah, Shively Branch

Laika by Nick Abadzis: The World’s Saddest Graphic Novel

Laika

 

Have you already read The Fault in Our Stars and need another tear jerker?  Look no further – this is it.  I started Laika in a coffee shop but I had to leave when the water works started.  I finished the book in private where no one would judge me crying over a graphic novel about a dog.  It was…an awkward moment.

You’ve been warned.

Before humans went into space, before chimps, there was Laika – the first living creature to go into orbit around the Earth.  Laika went up in Sputnik II; a rushed second satellite launched by the Soviets in 1957.

Laika was a loveable and loyal terrier mix who ended up going from home to home, even being a homeless stray, before getting caught by the dog catcher and given to the Soviet space program for experimentation.   Through all of it she was an upbeat dog, even loving the scientists who put her through such experiences like  being in the centrifuge at 4 G’s or strapping her into special dog space harnesses.   Those who worked with her came to love her so dearly, and author Abadzis really conveys the pain of the scientists who knew what they were doing – sending the dog on a one way trip into space.

Abadzis not only shows us what the stressed out and overworked Soviet scientists went through, but also lets us see the world through Laika’s eyes.  We see her confusion, her love, and in the end her pain.  This is story is not sugar coated – and it will break your heart.  Even if the story of Laika is familiar to you, this is a recommended read.

Formats Available:  Book

Reviewed by Lynette, Highlands-Shelby Park Branch

Six Months Later by Natalie Richards

sixmolater

 

Ever heard your-self say, “I don’t remember what I did yesterday?”  Imagine waking to find that you have lost six months of your life and in the interim you have changed into someone you don’t even recognize.

It was May when Chloe drifted off to sleep in detention class but when she awoke it was November, snow falling outside the dark cafeteria window.  Her fingernails were caked with dirt, the knees of her jeans, too, were dirt packed.  Then he was there, behind her, asking why she had called him. Called him? Never in her right mind would she have called Adam Reed, the quintessential bad boy at school. Was this a nightmare or reality?

Chloe, formally an average student, was now at the top of her class, her boyfriend was Blake Tanner the most popular guy in the school and her best friend, the reason she had gotten detention, hated her. She had everything her parents ever wanted for her, grades that could get her into the best college, a boyfriend who was the catch of the school, friends that were from the best families in town and yet, something was definitely wrong.

When had she and Adam Reed had become more than just friends?  Why had a family that had lived here since the beginning moved away and why did Chloe care?  Even Adam and Blake seemed to have secrets between them that centered around her. Then, the psychiatrist she had gone to for answers turns up dead. Chloe had better find answers soon or she could very well be next.

The characters are brought to life with all their imperfections. Some you may want to hug, some you may want to cry for, some you may want to shake some sense into and some you just want to choke. There is intrigue and mystery, murder and mayhem, romance and friendship and a whole lot of questions. In the end, one of the most important questions is left up to the reader to decide for themselves. “How could this have happened in the first place?”  Get ready to curl up in a warm spot because Six Months Later could make your blood run cold.

Formats Available:  Book, eBook

Reviewed by Katy, Shawnee Branch

Jackie Ormes: The First African American Woman Cartoonist by Nancy Goldstein

jackieormes

Jackie Ormes: The First African American Woman Cartoonist is a strange bird of a book.  On one hand, it is a reverent – albeit short – biography of a mostly-forgotten forerunner of modern black women in comics.  Cheryl Lynn Eaton (creator of the web-comic Simulated Life and founder of the Ormes Society), Rosario Dawson (co-creator of Occult Crimes Taskforce), Afua Richardson (artist for Genius), and Jackie Broadnax (creator of the Black Girl Nerds blog) all owe a huge debt to Jackie Ormes‘ trailblazing comics.  Ormes authored and drew four different strips from 1937 to 1954 which appeared in African American newspapers, particularly the Pittsburgh Courier and the Chicago Defender.

This was a time, of course, when opportunities for African Americans and women, let alone African American women, were limited in the comics industry.  In addition, the series were – mostly – not the kind of simple gag strip that was a major part of the industry.  They expressed many moods and dealt with topics often not touched by other comics.  Her work Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger was very direct in taking on racism and McCarthyism. Another strip, Torchy in Heartbeats followed an educated African-American protagonist as she not only navigated romantic options but also issues of race, environmental activism, and even foreign intrigue.

Due to Ormes’ outspoken political beliefs and activism on their behalf, she was targeted by the FBI during the late 1940’s and 1950’s.  Goldstein has appended excerpts from the FBI file.  These primarily consist of several different interviews that were conducted over the years due to her leftist leanings and the anti-Communist hysteria of the times.  Ormes consistently stated (and nothing to the contrary was definitively documented by the FBI) that she was not a Communist though sympathetic to the Party’s anti-racist and pro-worker principles.

But on the other hand, author Nancy Goldstein was previously known for having written histories of dolls. It is Goldstein’s initial interest in dolls that lead to the creation of this biography. Jackie Ormes developed a positive African American doll, produced by the Terri Lee Doll Company, in the late 1940’s.  An examination of the doll’s creation, marketing, and impact – a small part of Ormes’ artistic output – takes up a large portion of the book.

The Patty-Jo dolls were based on the younger sister of her most prolific strip.  Patty-Jo was not as glamorous as her older sister, Ginger, but she was the one given all the pointed dialogue in the strip.  As a doll, though, Patty-Jo had many outfits and hair that was able to be easily styled.  This made her an appealing toy to young African-American girls who had – at that time – very few choices for African-American dolls that were not stereotypical or demeaning.

For readers primarily interested in the comic side of Ormes’ work, there are copious illustrations from her strips, some early drawings, and other sketches.  Her line work is typical of the time in that it is solid, clean, and mostly realistic.  Sometimes the perspective of the human body is odd but oddly enduring at the same time.  I found great joy in just flipping back and forth over the illustrations.

Goldstein knows that this book is somewhat incomplete in documenting the impact of Jackie Ormes and acknowledges so in the Conclusion.  Some of this is due to the general lack of archives for old African-American newspapers in many library collections.  To help rectify this problem, she calls for renewed donation of materials to and funding for several main collections of comic material such as the Cartoon Research Library (Ohio State University) or the Comic Art Collection (Michigan State University).

 Formats Available: Book

Reviewed by Tony, Main Library

Vagabond by Inoue Takehiko

Author’s Note:  For consistency, all Japanese names in this review will be in traditional order – surname first, and given second.

 

13Vagabond

 

Inoue Takehiko has created a masterpiece in Vagabond – not just for the breathtaking artwork, but for the story as well. A loose retelling of Yoshikawa Eiji’s 1935 novel Musashi, in turn loosely based on history, this manga series follows Miyamoto Musashi as he follows the way of the sword, testing his skill in mortal combat, ultimately transforming him through introspection into a more whole and compassionate human being. Yet, despite the action-heavy premise, characters drive the plot and interest.

 

Slam Dunk

 

The author’s previous experience with the high school basketball saga Slam Dunk informs the fight scenes with the crackle of tension and physical struggle, yet the characters and their development through slow growth and sudden insight hold just as much interest, if not more, as duels to the death. Tightly plotted encounters and fleshed-out characters illustrate facets of the journey to enlightenment in the way of the sword. What to do with pain and rage or even kindness in an unfair and often violent world – this question, and the success different characters have in answering it, lies at the heart of the story. Is it possible to run away forever, from pain and responsibility, as Matahachi tries to do? What if rage grows unchecked, as it does for Gion Toji? Grief, love, and death stand as open and complex questions underpinning the plot. Despite characters’ places in the story as questions or foils, they each grow, or fail to, thrive, or die, in a vivid and electrically realistic way.

Inoue has taken liberties with the original novel, but even those update and refresh aspects that would not be as relatable to a modern audience. The character Otsu, for example, while a blank, rather flat archetype of a love interest in the original novel – is a much more developed, complex person in Vagabond, struggling to transcend her own abandonment and rejection, first by her birth parents, then by her fiancée, and even her own adopted mother.

21Vagabond

It takes a lot of guts for an author to adapt a classic and acclaimed work of literature from the past for the present. In addition to the pitfalls inherent in re-telling a well-known story (how to keep it fresh?), every decision the author makes comes under microscopic scrutiny (what to change, what to keep?). Even more challenging, then, is an adaptation across media, such as turning a Shakespeare play into a film. Adapting a beloved work of the modern literary canon for a comic book, however, is audacious, bordering on career suicide. Yet, Inoue Takehiko has done just this, and triumphed. Whether you love manga already, or if you have never tried the medium, Vagabond is a thrill to read – intelligent, sophisticated, and driven by the sensitive depiction of its characters.

 

Editor’s Note:  If you are new to the Japanese format of manga (or its sister format anime), check out the author’s FAQ (which is also available on the Reader’s Corner’s Comics and Manga page).

Formats Available:  Manga

Reviewed by Katherine, Highlands-Shelby Park Branch