Category Archives: Reviews

Katherine’s Bookshelf – The American Woman’s Encyclopedia of Home Decorating

The title of the book on the spine in gilt letters.
The cover isn’t very exciting. It’s green. That’s it.

This book from Katherine’s Bookshelf is, exactly as the title suggests, an encyclopedia of interior design… from 1947. Hmm. So, what were fashionable home interiors like in 1947? Let’s see:

What's rose and green and colonial all over? This living room.
If that sofa pattern qualifies as “a soft plaid”, I don’t think I can handle a bold plaid.

Having flashbacks to grandma’s house yet? In 1947, Colonial is in. Nothing says 18th Century Colonial like a giant plaid sofa. Also: ashtrays, ashtrays everywhere. There’s an ashtray on every single table and end table in this picture. I like the rug though. I can definitely appreciate a nice hooked rug. It’s huge. All you need to make a hooked rug is a small crochet hook, some burlap, yarn, and time – lots and lots of time.

Chartreuse walls and some kinda weird painted window border instead of moulding.
Baffling as it is now, the paint job here must have taken ages. Even with a stencil, this represents a monumental undertaking. Look at the figures on the closet door! Also, I can’t figure out how the window curtain works here. There’s no blind, so I guess sunlight just blasts through it. There must be a rail on the bottom too so that the whole thing can be pulled aside? I don’t know.

Basically, the entire book is exactly like this, which points up the problems with many interior decorating and home improvement books. If it’s incredibly fashionable, it’ll go out of fashion eventually. On-trend rapidly mutates into dated, exactly because it’s so evocative of the time period in which it was popular. Warm gray wall paint and white tile are headed that way very soon.

Another interesting aspect is that it’s fundamentally aspirational. Nobody buys a book on home improvement if their home is already improved. You don’t need advice for painting if you’ve already painted. Everything in this book is about how things should be, but aren’t yet. In the same sense that the styles shown within might be evocative of grandma’s house, few people in 1947 actually had houses that already looked like this. Like us, they made do with hand-me-down furniture and their walls were already painted. Not everyone was moving into new houses in Levittown. Some people had apartments, and some people had 1920s Cape Cod houses, or Victorian era townhomes, or shotgun houses. It’s important to read books like The American Woman’s Encyclopedia of Home Decorating to remind ourselves that the actual Mid-Century as it was actually lived in wasn’t entirely Mid-Century Modern. For every hilarious Uranium Red Fiestaware plate, there’s a whole lot of very bland porcelain teacups. Cultural memory is highly selective, filtering through only the most novel and iconic designs. The past as we remember it is not the past as it was lived.

— Article by Katherine, Shawnee

The Art of Simple Living: 100 Daily Practices from a Japanese Zen Monk for a Lifetime of Calm and Joy

“Does for mental clutter what Marie Kondo has done for household clutter.”

Publishers Weekly

This sounds like a pretty heavy book, in length and depth. It is the latter. But it is “simple” heavy in its depth. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be reading it. I have a great interest in Zen, but most books are beyond my ken. I am 55 years old, and I have endured a great amount of suffering, physically and emotionally (lesson 76). Thus, I often feel that I have a lot of the Buddha within me without learning terminology, sutras, and koans. I’ve learned a little of Zen and Taoism via other authors such as Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, and Hanshan.

The author here, Shunmyo Masuno, breaks down 100 practices into small segments that are easy to digest and also, easy to put down and pick right back up without losing a beat. Because of chronic pain, my life has become a very cluttered existence. Both in the brain and all around me physically. So I saw this new book laying on a cart and with its sky blue cover, I was drawn it. And like a Satori, I realized that I need this book. And so I picked it up.

We are born with nothing. NOTHING! But along the way, we pick up attachment after attachment and we don’t realize the weight we are carrying within and without. And until they weight us down so much that we live in fear and anxiety, we are not mindful of how big a burden we carry with everything from ideas to cars and houses.

After reading half of this book, I realized that WOW, I KNOW all these lessons. And it is true that these lessons are simple to understand and if you have lived long enough, you may know them as well. So, for me, these lessons are a reminder to put to use what I already know. Be mindful of your life. Every second of it.

America, Louisville, and often your workplace are full of anxiety. Learning to be calm has been helping me with all three. I tune out the world and all its trivial news and problems. I now worry only about what is in front of me. I cannot change the past, and can only change the future by being calm and seeking within. The best way to calm yourself is to be in Nature. Go take a hike. If you cannot hike, lay on a blanket in the park. Stare at flowers.  But you need to find time alone and away from the cares of the world. Empty the Mind of all the woes and worries that the world puts in it. Let go of attachments. But when you buy something, treat it with love. Respect it.

This small book can help you on your journey to finding ENLIGHTENMENT. All the answers are within you. Seeking them outwardly is not the solution. I personally have trouble with ‘being positive.’ I usually hate people when they point this out. But after reading this book, I am trying hard to be POSITIVE without advertising it to anyone. Work hard to be happy in the moment. And BE IN THE MOMENT! Or as Ram Dass put it: BE HERE NOW. This book will make you think about how you spend/waste your time. And in the end, that is what life is.

We have this book both in Hardcover and in eBook. Reserve it here!

Reviewed by Tom, Main Library

Freefall by Jessica Barry

What happened? He’s dead. His face is gone. The plane looks like a crushed tin can.  A short business trip turned into a coffin for him and stranded her in a rocky mountain wilderness. With an injured leg, bruises, and sprains, Allison Carpenter had to gather what she could to survive.

Somnublaze, an antidepressant developed by the Prexaline Company, had been facing some scrutiny for its questionable results. Ben, Allison’s fiancé, had been a chief executive of the company. Now he was dead, the plane wrecked, and Allison thought to be dead as well.  Was the plane crash an accident or had someone wanted both Ben and Allison out of the way permanently? As Allison made her way down to a distant water hole, Ben’s words of warning came back to her, “if he thinks you’re on to him he will come after you. Be prepared to run.”

Maggie had been making bread when she got the news that the plane Allison was on had crashed in the Colorado mountains, her daughter presumed dead. Allison and Maggie hadn’t spoken in more than two years, but she wouldn’t accept that her daughter was dead. Distrusting others to find her daughter, Maggie decided that she was going to undertake a search.

Learning more about the company her daughter and Ben worked for, Maggie questions whether the plane crash was indeed an accident or meant to silence the two of them.  She reaches out to possible contacts that might have some insight into what had happened, even making a stop at Prexaline to learn more.  She won’t believe her daughter is dead. Maggie has let their estrangement go too long so she needed to find Allison and bring her home again.

The story plays out in alternating voices, Allison and Maggie, as author Jessica Barry takes us back through the past to the present.  Allison isn’t a clean wholesome character, but she has a strength she’ll need to survive and reunite with her mother.  Maggie hasn’t always made good choices either. 

The story begins with action, is filled with suspense, rocky adventures, and enough mystery to keep you looking over your shoulder until the end. As this is Barry’s debut thriller novel, she sets the tone for what I hope to be more book releases in the future.

Rumor has it Freefall may be headed for the big screen.

Micah Followay – St. Matthews

Lover by Taylor Swift

Ladies and gentlemen…Taylor Swift. At 29 years old, Ms. Swift has just dropped her seventh full length album.

Taylor has been in the game a long time. She was signed with a subsidiary of RCA Records at the age of 14, and then switched record labels when she met Scott Borchetta, who was more confident in her marketability, starting the long relationship between Taylor Swift and Big Machine Records. Taylor hits the ground running with her first record in 2006, and over the course of six albums, becomes one of the most recognized and successful household names in all of American Pop and Country music. In 2019, Forbes recognizes Taylor Swift as the #1 highest paid celebrity, beating Kanye West, Cristiano Ronaldo, The Eagles, and Dr. Phil.

I’ve generally always been a fan of Swift, and it wasn’t until her 2017 album Reputation that made me question the legitimacy in her efforts. The singles — End Game, Look What You Made Me Do, and …Ready For It? — were uninspired and boring. The sounds seemed disingenuous, borrowing from any other radio hit from 2016-2017. The lyrics were obnoxious, shooing away haters or romancing over some handsome fellow – an approach she was known for, sure, but this time with an artificial and glaring chip on her shoulder. Taylor pushed a narrative that she is misunderstood and a force to be reckoned with, fabricating a dangerous or dark side of her image with a flat and unoriginal sound.

Coming from one of the most successful musicians in our time, this comes off as annoying and lazy. I hate to judge a book by its cover, but the album artwork is very telling. I’m sorry, but that haircut and outfit just isn’t working, and the newspaper font is cheap and cheesy.

I had hopped off the T Swift train, only to reminisce over hits like Picture To Burn, Mean, and We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together. I was only mildly interested in the new album until news broke that she had left Big Machine Records for Republic Records. Apparently, some guy named Scooter Braun purchased Big Machine Records, transferring the rights of ALL of Taylor’s music overnight. Taylor accuses Scooter of bullying her in the past and thinks that Scooter purchased her catalog to continue to bully her. Taylor made a blog post about this but still no longer has ownership of her old music while Scooter holds it hostage. At Republic Records, she entered a new contract that grants her full ownership of her new music, so I was excited to see how this unfortunate and complex event would influence her new album.

The album art and title are already an improvement from her 2017 efforts. With a well-suited hairstyle, playful makeup, and dreamy backdrop, she invites us in for a very colorful experience. With a title like Lover, her heart seems to be in the right place… at least a little less preoccupied with the haters. She dropped four singles leading up to the release on August 23, 2019: Me!, You Need To Calm Down, The Archer, and Lover. Taylor brings a bold attitude to some of these tracks while leaving much to be desired on others. She continues this trend for the entirety of the album, creating an inconsistent product.

At 18 tracks and nearly 62 minutes of run time, the amount of fluff makes for a long-winded event. If the album was the best 10 tracks of the list, I’d call her a comeback queen. With both production and writing credits, nearly every inch of this record is with the help of Jack Antonoff, a member of fun. and Bleachers. If those names don’t ring a bell, I’m sure the song We Are Young will, a chart-topper from 2011-2012 (one that seemed to mark a critical shift in Pop songwriting). With that immense success, Jack has gone on to help the likes of Lorde, Lana Del Ray, Carly Rae Jepsen, and more.

The record starts off very strong with I Forgot That You Existed, with an expressive vocal performance and an effectively minimal, funky, and blissful production. The next track, Cruel Summer, features Annie Clark, a.k.a. St. Vincent, as a co-writer, and Annie’s innovative mind adds a lot to Taylor’s intuition. These cuts along with Paper Rings, I Think He Knows, Death by a Thousand Cuts, Soon You’ll Get Better, Lover, and Me! have quite a bit to offer.

Some are playful and tightly constructed, while others exhibit an honest and emotional Taylor. Me! tows the line between self-empowerment and self-obsession, but the confidence is refreshing and crystal-clear. She even brings in The Dixie Chicks for Soon You’ll Get Better for a real tear-jerker, letting more Country roots and honesty come through on Lover.

Cuts like The Man, Cornelia Street, False God, and Afterglow are lacking life. Much like her previous album, there is an abundance of unfounded drama and imitation in these tracks, reproducing conventions found in her contemporaries or trendy 80’s synth. You Need To Calm Down is still obsessed with the haters, and The Archer is out of place, forgettable, and lacks compelling lyrics.

Combined with predictable structures, these songs cannot escape their fate of sounding like a Target commercial or the playlist you might hear shopping at Forever 21. This album was released with FOUR DIFFERENT DELUXE EDITIONS, each with their own set of diary entries and photographs, and they were EVEN SPONSORED THROUGH TARGET. With that in mind, this album can sound like a Target commercial at times because…well…it is a Target commercial.

All in all, I’m happy that Taylor is back in the game. With this new record deal with optimistic implications, I’m excited to see what the future will bring. Perhaps this record is a stepping stone to an even brighter magnum opus in another couple of years. It takes time to come off a stressful event like the one spearheaded by Mr. Scooter, and this is an honorable next step as a more independent artist. Taylor Swift puts a little more shine in her swagger as the most successful artist this year with a well deserved seventh album.

Here is a link LFPL’s copy of the new CD, if you wish to put a reserve on it and have a listen for yourself.

In Conversation with Alanna Nash and Will Oldham

Main Library, Thursday, November 14, 7 PM

Renowned songwriter and performer Will Oldham and celebrated music journalist Alanna Nash share a hometown (Louisville, of course), a love of Kentucky music, and a penchant for insightful observation.

In this on-stage conversation, Oldham and Nash will delve into their long careers and reflect on growing up in love with music in Louisville.

This program is free. To register, visit the online form or call the ticket line at (502) 574-1623

Today in Hip Hop History:


Black Thought (a.k.a. Tariq Luqmaan Trotter) of The Roots was born October 3, 1971

Talib Kweli (a.k.a. Talib Kweli Greene) of Reflection Eternal and Black Star was born October 3, 1975

Talib Kweli has an interview in this collection:
Reach : 40 black men speak on living, leading, and succeeding. Edited by Ben Jealous and Trabian Shorters

Make sure you check out the library’s catalog for these exciting artists’ works, both solo and with others!

The Hottest Best Selling Books… From 125 Years Ago

The gross, time worn cover of The Shuttle.

I just so happen to own a dusty, crusty, musty old copy of The ShuttleHere it is. I have read it, and I assure you that it is incredibly boring soppy domestic melodrama, cover to cover. It does not read well to post-modern sensibilities, aesthetic or moral. Will the Gilded Age American heiress marry into English nobility?? Spoiler alert: of course she does. I keep it as a curiosity, a piece of historical flotsam because I personally post-date atomic weapons by forty years (exactly: 1945 – 1985). I just can’t get emotionally invested in this.

Ever wanted a time machine, but for what people thought and felt in the past? To be able to imagine what it was like to live in the head-space of English-language readers before the Great War? Through the magic of digital archives, record keeping, and a healthy dash of imagination, you can try, but ultimately, you can’t. From our perspective, we know that the Great War will be just the first of two World Wars.

I found, on Project Gutenberg, a list of the top ten best-selling books of every year, from 1895 – 1923. With links to those that they have in digital form for free download. Nice. Intriguingly, these seem to be derived ultimately from the Publisher’s Weekly lists. How, exactly, Publisher’s Weekly compiles these lists is a trade secret, so I wouldn’t completely trust it. However, it’s still very, very interesting. The New York Times would begin keeping their own best sellers list in 1931, in case you were wondering.

Please, feel free to go to Project Gutenberg’s Bookshelf of American Bestsellers, and have an extensive look. If you want to read them in paper form, you might have to luck out and discover one at a book sale, and check our collections, although most of them will be very hard to find. How, exactly, best selling books end up falling so far into obscurity is another question, so here are my own observations of the list. I’ll cover the earliest ones, from 1895 up until WWI, in 1914.

I haven’t even heard of most of these books.

It’s true. Most of them are completely unfamiliar to me. Even if it’s a smash hit in its own time, a book can clearly just drop off the popularity cliff and into the void in the course of a few generations. That’s a sobering thought. Maybe it’ll happen to Game of Thrones or Harry Potter or anything by James Patterson or Steven King too, just like it did to 1900’s Red Pottage by Mary Cholmondeley. I know it sounds impossible, but clearly it can happen.

The ones I have heard of.

Special Case: The Shuttle

Oh, hey, it’s The Shuttle. I only know it exists because I found a copy super cheap once. I didn’t realize it was that popular in its time. I think I’ll write a Reader’s Corner post about it. And now you’re reading it. Awesome.

Aside from this one, there’s three rough categories the other books I know fall into: famous author, famous book, and movie books.

Famous Author

People clearly just ate up whatever Winston Churchill wrote. Not too familiar with the books, but I do know about Winston Churchill. Other authors I’ve heard of, although I’m not familiar with these particular titles on Project Gutenburg: J. M. Barrie, Rudyard Kipling, and that’s pretty much it.

The Book  Itself is Famous – A Timeless Work of Literature?

Alright, now for the actually famous works in here, and what they’re famous for. If I can recognize a book by title, not author, and I can give you a rundown of what it’s about even if I haven’t read it, it’s on the list. These are the elite few that are still in print, over a century later:

  • The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. It’s short, sweet, and set during the American Civil War. I remember reading this one in middle school, and probably a lot of you did too.
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the classic Sherlock Holmes novella – a perfect short read for Halloween!
  • The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, classic social commentary novel about the hypocrisy of upper-crust moral rectitude.
  • The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. Mostly famous today for the meat-packing plant scene. Everybody likes sausage leaf lard, but nobody wants to see how sausage leaf lard is made. Arguably contributed to the formation of the FDA. Lovely. If you’ve read it at all, it was probably for history class.
  • Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter. I know about this one, but haven’t read it. Named after its endlessly-optimistic heroine… which isn’t necessarily seen as a heroic quality these days, which tells you a lot about why the rest of these books are so obscure. Calling someone a Pollyanna is not a compliment.

Cultural drift over time has made the majority of the books on the list very boring and/or difficult reads.

Movie Books

Continuing on the theme of cultural drift, there’s the third, weirder category. This time period coincides with the rise of cinema, so there are a handful of books that are definitely still sort-of-well-known to very-well-known, but they’re famous for the movie that’s based on them, no longer necessarily in their own right. Ultimately, the movies are more famous than the book.

  • First, there’s The Prisoner of Zenda, which is also the most obscure, being a clutch of movies that were themselves adaptations of the book, play, and then other movies, for decades. IMDB suggests that the most recent adaptations were a very straight 1984 TV miniseries, and a sports-comedy adaptation in 1993. Weird.
  • Second, The Clansman, is arguably the most famous of these movie-books, because the film it was made into – The Birth of a Nation – is standard watching in film classes, for the fact that this movie represents the invention of modern film editing. As for the story, it’s awful, gut-churningly racist propaganda about the KKK being heroes. In case anyone wanted to plead “but morals were different back then” – no, I’m going to nip that in the bud right here. The director, D. W. Griffith, immediately made another film – Intolerance – to try to absolve himself of contemporary accusations of racism, so, for the record, it was definitely seen as racist at the time. His efforts didn’t work, in large part because The Birth of a Nation was, by far, the most popular, and overshadowed everything that he did after, and also because as a rebuttal after all that, Intolerance was incredibly weak, and also a flop so catastrophic that it ruined him. So, ultimately, the answer is that racism was incredibly popular in 1911.
  • Third, The Virginian. This is a very quirky book, and arguably the first true literary Western. Before, there were plenty of Westerns, but they were relegated to dime-novel adventure stories and cheap entertainment. This book was adapted to a play, several movies, and in very broad-strokes terms, a well-known 1962 television show.

Whether for pop-cultural or historical reasons, nearly as many books survive as movies as they do as books. Maybe this will be the fate of books like Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, where the book was certainly popular, but the movie franchise even more so. Only time will tell.

The Path to Timelessness?

So, in the end, only very few of these best-selling monster smash hits actually managed to pass a full century in the public imagination. I’m also fairly sure it must have been difficult to predict which of these works would make it. Let’s not forget that nearly half of them are known purely because they had the good fortune to be made into movies. And remade. Lots. If you ever hear people complain about how today’s movie theaters are stuffed with bland safe remakes, remember this: a quick search for the title “The Prisoner of Zenda” on IMDB turns up no less than eight movies or TV series with that exact title. This isn’t a new problem, really.

Ultimately, if you want your book to become a true classic, you need luck, specifically the luck to treat a major concern of your own time, which also will go on to be a major concern of the future, or at least be relevant to future history classes. How was Frances Hodgson Burnett to know in 1907 that the phenomenon of American heiresses marrying English nobility would represent an entire world killed stone dead by two whole world wars bookending a global financial collapse? She couldn’t have known. Nobody really could in her day. Even the list-dominating book is a pinball in the arcade of history. Only few people can claim a spot on the eternal literature high-score list. But, if you want to give luck an extra boost, though, definitely sell the movie rights if you can.

— Article by Katherine, Shawnee

Fiction Books Written By Scientists

In 2019 two scientists wrote novels. Even more interesting is the fact that they were written by women scientists. While scientists are known for collecting data and writing informative and research-based papers, it isn’t often that you find one that takes that data and uses it to speak so powerfully about the human condition. Both stories are a fascinating look at the way human nature emulates the nature of our environment through the lives of insects and birds. Both books beg the question of our humanity and our connection to the micro-relationships of the natural world.

It is noteworthy that while experts in their field, these women authors are not defined by only their expertise but use their knowledge to cross literary genres. They each move from the often cold and clinical scientific realm to a prose that sometimes lacks scientific authentication to create a unique voice. Merging scientific fact with fiction creates a refreshing genuine voice for the reader that speaks a truth about our basic instincts.   

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Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens takes place in a cove on the North Carolina coast. It is a study of the nature of humans and isolation as well as a stunning look at the ecosystem of a marsh.

Kya Clark, often known as Marsh Girl, has lived in the swamp all her life alone and often lonely until a murder in the swamp brings the eyes of the whole community. When Chase Andrews is found dead, people start questioning Kya’s connection and whether this wild beautiful girl is to blame. Even Kya knows that she has been changed by the seclusion and remoteness of the swamp.

 “She knew the years of isolation had altered her behavior until she was different from others, but it wasn’t her fault she’d been alone. Most of what she knew, she’d learned from the wild. Nature had nurtured, tutored, and protected her when no one else would.”

— Delia Owens, Where the Crawdads Sing

Owens explores the dynamics of families and relationships through Kya and the marsh. Kya’s family has abandoned her one by one. Her mother is the hardest and most unexplained loss. Kya spends many years mourning this loss and trying to understand it. The reader will feel Kya’s desperation and determination in her wary attempts to connect and be part of a human relationship; experiencing hurt and returning time and time again back to the comfort of the marsh.

“Sometimes she heard night-sounds she didn’t know or jumped from lightning too close, but whenever she stumbled, it was the land who caught her. Until at last, at some unclaimed moment, the heart-pain seeped away like water into sand. Still there, but deep. Kya laid her hand upon the breathing, wet earth, and the marsh became her mother.”

–Delia Owens, Where the Crawdads Sing

This isn’t just a haunting tale of love and murder but a story of our natural instincts and how we become not just human but how that humanity informs our ideas of right and wrong. It explores the notions of survival versus life and living. Kya has few teachers in this and yet there are those that look beyond the wild to see her heart. Kya’s teacher is the marsh and Owen uses her knowledge to show us how both science and art create the most complete and beautiful picture.

“Her collections matured, categorized methodically by order, genus, and species; by age according to bone wear; by size in millimeters of feathers; or by the fragile hues of greens. The science and art entwined in each other’s strengths; the colors, the light, the species, the life; weaving a masterpiece of knowledge and beauty that filled every corner of her shack. Her world, She grew with them–the trunk of the vine–alone, but holding all the wonders together.”

–Delia Owens, Where the Crawdads Sing

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Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah is set in rural Illinois and makes comparisons about nesting birds and the relationships between an ornithologist, a recluse egg salesman and a young mysterious girl. 

Joanna Teale spends long and tiring days studying the nesting birds of rural Illinois. She works herself weary so as not to dwell on the recent death of her mother from cancer. She has little time for anything else and thus finds herself in a sticky situation when a young girl, Ursa, appears at her cabin claiming to be an alien who has come to earth to study humans. Joanna enlists the help of her neighbor and recluse, Gabriel Nash. Together they fall in love with this strange little girl while trying to find out where she came from and how to help her.

Vanderah uses nesting birds and their habits to help explore the dynamics of Joanna’s grief and Gabriel’s anxiety. Both characters are afraid of leaving the protective nests they have built for themselves. It is only when Ursa, a girl with her own mysterious past, makes them choose comfort or a chance of something bigger than themselves. Like Owens, Vanderah emphasizes the connection to the natural world.

“Maybe it has something to do with how they can turn their backs on the comforts of society for long periods of time. But it’s not just that they can forgo society, it’s more like they need to. For people like that, the natural world is vital, a spiritual experience.”

— Glendy Vanderah, Where the Forest Meets the Stars

Ursa speaks of coming from the stars and viewing the earth as a being, not of the earth. It is interesting how Vanderah uses this analogy to speak to issues of grief, anxiety, and trauma that both her characters and we, as human beings, face,

Ursa hiding in the stars, Jo and Gabriel separating themselves from human contact; each character creating a way to be in the world but not of it. They are all viewing life and their natural surroundings like scientists, disconnected. It is only when they are forced together that they themselves become part of the living.

Like Owens, Vanderah speaks to the connection of our natural world and the art we make. In her book, she writes, “Art is supposed to represent how you see the world, not exactly copy it,” inspiring us all to find the beauty and our place in the complex weaving of nature and life itself.

– Review by Catherine, Main Library

The Little Shop of Found Things

Have you ever looked at an old house, an ancient tree, or a piece of antique jewelry, and wished it could share what it has seen through the years? As a young child, Xanthe found that when sometimes she touched an old piece, she would become aware of its history.

Xanthe and her severely arthritic mother, Flora, had recently purchased an old antique shop. One day while adding stock, Xanthe came across a silver chatelaine (a set of short chains attached to a woman’s belt, used for carrying keys or other items) that spoke to her very powerfully. It not only had a story attached but the vengeful spirit of Margaret Merton. Margaret would stop at nothing, even murder, to get Xanthe to do her bidding. 

So begins Xanthe’s mysterious adventure of time travel, injustice, and a romance that will span the centuries.

In 1605, a servant girl named Alice was accused of being a thief and had been hanged. Using the silver chatelaine, Margaret sends Xanthe back in time so she can rescue Alice. While in the past, Xanthe also meets a grave young architect, Samuel Appleby, to whom she is strongly attracted, who helps her in her mission. By saving Alice from the hangman’s noose, Xanthe knew she was already risking the future but what choice did she have? Margaret’s spirit was in control and Xanthe would be trapped in the past if she didn’t prevent Alice from dying. Xanthe needs to return to her own time, knowing Flora might die without her help.

Xanthe is a quirky outspoken young woman whose vintage clothing, Doc Martens, compassion for others, witty sense of humor make her quite a character. The kind of person you’d want to travel back in time with on this adventure. Flora, her mother is a loving, smart woman who does not let her ailments and arthritic pain stop her from working and becoming a part of their new situation in Marlborough. Samuel is a renaissance man, who surprisingly overcomes his caution to befriend Xanthe who’s fighting for justice in an unjust time.

There are other characters who come to life with a few swipes of author Paula Brackston‘s pen. They will live on after the last page ends. Brackston shares stories that bridge the centuries, mysteries, one mother’s love for her daughter beyond the grave, injustices of the times, and a daughter’s commitment to her mother.

The second installment of the series, The Secrets of the Chocolate
House
, is due to hit the streets on October 22, 2019.

Available Formats: Book & Ebook

Review by Micah, St Matthews

Maps and Legends by Michael Chabon

Comics, horror, noir crime, sword and sorcery, and YA lit are all brought to the fore in Michael Chabon’s Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands. This collection of short essays riffs on the gamut of genre fiction, finding interesting ways to defend genre fiction and to connect it to “high” literature. Chabon brings his own insights on writing – a process often obscured by one’s experiences as a reader – as he alchemically unites diverse and disparate topics from Norse epics to Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg!  Not just dry literary theory here, no sir. 

In the essay from which the book derives its name, Chabon regales readers with a childhood tale of his family’s move to an unfinished subdivision. Rather than the typical narrative of being stifled by suburban newness and sterility, Chabon imparts a feeling of awe at such open opportunity. It is an awe that motivates him to fill a sketchy map of the subdivision with wonders, as if drawing out secrets from the air. Readers are able to vicariously feel that rush of power inherent in the creative process, one which leaves you in its afterglow wondering how you have gotten from start to finish.

Filling in the map is – to the author – part of a more general aesthetic of writing from the vantage point of exile. As he sees it, both Jews and lovers of genre fiction are vibrant communities often excluded from the mainstream of society and literature respectively. It is this position of exile which tethers Chabon to his Jewish roots and to genre fiction as a collective whole.

Other pieces are, in some ways, meditations on loss of youth and its closely-associated sense of adventure. Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is characterized in such a manner. The only criticism in this laudatory essay is that the heroine of the trilogy, Lyra Belacqua, becomes a much flatter, less interesting character as she moves from unbounded agency to dutiful fulfillment of destiny. In essence, Chabon views Pullman as much greater at exploring the map of his richly developed tale than in reaching the story’s destination.

Maps and Legends is for fans of genre fiction, particularly those who do not mind blending and blurring of genre’s boundaries, or of writing about writing. 

Formats Available: Book

Review by Tony, Main Library