Category Archives: Reviews

Relic by Alan Dean Foster

They call him Ruslan, the last human. Rescued from Seraboth by the Myssari, he does not remember his real name. Humanity all but destroyed itself due to violence. The once far-reaching human empire of many worlds eventually succumbed to the Aura Malignance, a contagious infection caused by a biological weapon that was developed by humans, which killed only humans and could not be stopped.

Ruslan has been kept alive by the Myssari for many years as a highly valued and well respected, last human specimen. The Myssari are more honest, kind, friendly, trustworthy and less violent than humans. Ruslan respects those qualities and appreciates their care. Still, he does not control his own destiny. The Myssari wish to preserve the record of human civilization and restore the species while he thinks it is a waste of time and resources. Ruslan believes that humans deserved their fate. He views humans as opportunistic exploiters of just about anything. The Myssari offer to search for any other living humans and to try to find the planet Earth. Together, they travel to several different worlds in search of humans and encounter many obstacles, competing species and a variety of unusual outcomes.

Any reader who lasts through Chapter 8 may wonder why the story is so long and drawn out and may be tempted to quit there. But it gets more interesting fairly quickly. The characters are well developed and this is a good story that has a surprise ending.  Relic could be adapted as a very interesting movie.

– Review by Elaine, Main Library

A Spring of Poetry

A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language.”

W.H. Auden


Nothing Gold Can Stay Robert Frost

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

During quarantine I became immensely comfortable with my couch and by extension my television. Many hours were lost to Netflix, Amazon Prime and Apple TV. One series that surprised and delighted me was Dickinson. It is a comedy which follows a young Emily Dickinson as she observes the constraints of gender, society and family in the 19th century. Hailee Steinfeld leads the cast as Emily and her portrayal brings to life the poet whose presumed life choices has overshadowed her poetry. Her poetry, or poetry itself, is the crux of my rambling – after watching an episode I went to my bookshelf to find The Poems of Emily Dickinson so I could read her words again.

I find reading poetry immensely energizing, it brings me great joy, so I leap at the opportunity to share it. Lucky for me a whole month is dedicated to celebrating it; April is National Poetry Month* and this year is the 25th anniversary. Unfortunately, this year’s celebration looks different from past years – there may not be as many public readings or SLAM performances, but you can have your very own poetry reading from the comfort of your couch. You can celebrate the occasion by reading a poem-a-day, picking up a book of poetry from the bookstore or library, or watching famous and local poets perform their work on YouTube.

There are also abundant resources to help you celebrate on Poets.org.

The Library has opened its doors just in time to celebrate, come browse our shelves and discover the world of poetry.

Below is the inspirational Tedx Talk “Poetry: Why it is Important” with Scott Griffin. Griffin is the founder of the Griffin Poetry Prize which promotes excellence in Canadian and International poetry.


*National Poetry Month was created by the Academy of American Poets; a national, member-supported organization that promotes poets and the art of poetry. The nonprofit organization was incorporated in the state of New York in 1934.

– Article by Carolyn, Main Library

Dutch Girl by Robert Matzen

Warning: This review contains allusions to disordered eating, parental emotional abuse, trauma and PTSD.

With the release in December 2020 of the recent documentary, Audrey, providing a personal glimpse into internationally beloved actress and humanitarian Audrey Hepburn, fans of her activism, her iconic style and her legend will likely find themselves reaching for other works to provide insight and a feeling of closeness to her. I cannot more strongly recommend Robert Matzen’s Dutch Girl, an addicting biography of Hepburn’s adolescence in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands that reads like historic fiction written by your favorite World War II scholar. It is a marriage of emotion and adrenaline, crafted by a historian whose awe of his subject is apparent throughout the work, and in this intimate tribute to the origins of Hepburn’s legacy of empathy and philanthropy, it doesn’t take readers long to see his point.

Meticulously researched and assembled with the care and sentiment of a personal scrapbook, Dutch Girl is a window into Hepburn’s childhood, defined by parents whose Nazi sympathies nearly destroyed her family and contributed to the occupation and abuse of the Netherlands by Germany during World War II. We are treated to the story of a child of respectively absent and dominant personalities in a wealthy, titled family that had already begun to decline by the time Adolf Hitler rose to power, and how far that family had still to struggle. To say young, mild-mannered Audrey (so-called Adriaantje in Dutch) is the perfect perspective for readers to experience life in the Netherlands as it existed under German occupation is an understatement, and Matzen’s detailed yet fluid writing style adds to the sensation that you’re simply reading a novel about a young girl set during this time. As someone for whom ADHD makes focusing on sitting through an entire book difficult, it surprised me how quickly and easily I was sucked in to this wartime account. Even before Matzen compares the two, it’s easy to see through the story of another girl experiencing the same events from a different perspective why Otto Frank initially asked Hepburn to portray his daughter Anne when her famous diary was made into a film.

Dutch Girl sometimes veers away from a focus on Hepburn to describe significant military maneuvers by Allied or German troops and what their operations meant for Velp, the town in which Hepburn’s family relocated to try to survive the war and unwittingly placed her in both extreme danger and as privy to some of its major events in the Netherlands. But these digressions into what the S.S. was also up to at a certain time or Hepburn’s mother’s lineage and what it meant for her rarely feel distracting: Matzen is an experienced biographer who spins his historic narrative with its seemingly-unrelated factual events in an engaging way that you barely mind, and sometimes forget about Audrey Hepburn the fifteen-year-old a bit in the middle of all the excitement. When we steer back to her it is as a palate-cleanser from the adrenaline of an exciting wartime account and the emotional anchor of the book. As Hepburn’s son Luca Dotti notes in his foreword, after reading the biography, “Even I immediately forgot that there would be a happy ending for Audrey. As I read, I realized that bomb, that bullet, that German truck and its load of prisoners could simply be The End.”

We are led with Hepburn on a journey as she witnesses atrocities experienced by Jewish friends and neighbors; experiences her uncle being murdered by the SS in an assassination that would become infamous; volunteers as an errand-runner for members of the Dutch Resistance; and experiences the “Hunger Winter” of 1945 in brutal detail. But these are just the major placeholders between dozens of everyday accounts that fill the book, curated from the few occasions Hepburn ever spoke of the war and from others in her immediate community who gave accounts as well. Matzen’s thoroughness in bringing multiple facets of her experiences to life through others introduces us in depth to figures like Hepburn’s mother, the complicated and flawed Ella van Heemstra, who transitions from an outspoken supporter of Hitler’s genocidal plans to someone who finds her mind changed when it’s her own family impacted, bombed and starved, and her sons are in hiding from the threat of being drafted while she struggles to keep her daughter safe from German soldiers.

We also learn about everyday heroes of the Dutch Resistance active in Velp that Hepburn had links to: especially Dr. Hendrik Visser ‘t Hooft, an illegal-motorcycle-riding, Nazi-evading, charismatic figure in the Resistance for whom Hepburn volunteered at his hospital and who was likely the person through whom she worked with the Dutch Resistance. I have never heard his name in a history class or anywhere else, and I’m sure most people haven’t, but it was just plain fun reading about this everyday hero who used his privilege in his own community to work to safeguard his Jewish neighbors and facilitate efforts to resist fascism, even with Nazis actively marching down his streets. I now have about six books on the Dutch, German and French Resistances lined up to read, and it’s completely his fault.

From “Dutch Girl”, Robert Matzen. Somebody arrest this man…for stealing my heart.

A wide collection of works documenting the life of Audrey Hepburn as a starlet and later ambassador have been produced, but as the kids say, Dutch Girl just hits different. It tells the story of a complete human whose world was so much more than many know, and relatable at every turn despite taking place nearly a century ago in what likely felt like a completely different world. Artists and performers pushing themselves physically to the limit to pursue their dreams around multiple side-hustles can see themselves in Matzen’s account of Audrey’s post-war struggles, newly arrived in a different country and flinging herself from ballet to theater while still a teenager in order to earn enough money to support herself and her mother. Her complicated, lifelong relationship with food first as a child studying a physically intensive sport, nearly starving along with her entire family on “war rations”, and joyfully, chronically overeating when once again able and describing herself as a “…swollen, and unattractive, as a balloon…” when from a lifetime of photographs we know this to be an untrue perspective on her own body, will resonate with many. Children of domineering parents may recognize the origins of Hepburn’s self-criticism in her mother early on in this account of her childhood, only to be proven right towards the end of the book at Hepburn’s self-deprecating account of her mother’s casual, backhanded insults of her even at the height of her Hollywood career.

While it is impossible for those of us living in 2021 to comprehend the horrors of World War II, it feels almost familiar to read, over a year into pandemic quarantine, of a young girl forced to shelter in a basement with her family, sneaking out for a bit to get some sun in the backyard one day (and almost getting bombed by the war literally playing itself out in her backyard). It feels like a balm, or even a promise, to read about that time in her life when hope was in short supply and then celebrate with her as Matzen describes the final liberation of Velp by Canadian troops with accounts of joyful reunions with long-lost neighbors and families reuniting to rebuild. The war never ended for Audrey Hepburn in many ways that she barely let on in her lifetime, but her actions as a tireless advocate for those devastated by wars and disasters speak more loudly than the quiet interviews that earned her a reputation for mystery ever could.

Review by Sarah, Middletown Branch

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!”

When I first read a review of Fresh Water For Flowers, I found myself drawn to the protagonist, a woman named Violette Toussaint who tends to a cemetery in modern-day France.  Despite the setting (or perhaps because of), I was intensely interested in how the author, Valerie Perrin, would develop this fictional character in such a setting.  I was not disappointed.

Initially, the reader learns of Violette’s childhood as an orphan and how she met the love of her life, Phillipe, and while this was engaging, a broken plot was introduced that provided glimpses of the past and present, from varying viewpoints, in which several storylines and additional characters emerged.  And it was clear that somehow they were all connected – but how?  This drove me to almost frantically read this book, as I became almost desperate for answers to questions that seemed to multiply as the story progressed.

Employing lovely prose, Ms. Perrin examines the lives of characters propelled by pasts and emotions that are simply too powerful to suppress or ignore.  What I find incredible is how the author introduced a seemingly simple story and then added layers, which created a wonderful sense of mystery that left the reader guessing until the very end.  I suppose, it felt as though one were slowly ascending a plot with uncertainty at its summit that then leads to the other side and a slow descent to resolution – although, resolution in this case is not equivalent to a happy ending.

A best-selling author in her home country of France, Fresh Water for Flowers is the first novel by Ms. Perrin to be translated in to English. Hopefully, this will not be the last.

– Review by Rob, Crescent Hill Branch

The Remaking by Clay McLeod Chapman

Gather round all who would hear the tale of Ella Louise Ford and her daughter Jessica, the witches of Pilot’s Creek (Kentucky). Ella Louise born into a well-to-do family but was ever the strangest of children. She used dried tobacco leaves to make charms, keep bees in jars under her bed and even talked to opossums. After a time, folks began to shun the Ford family. So, when Ella Louise became of age her mother was determined she be the grandest debutant at the dance in a beautiful gown of pink. On the night of the big dance though, Ella Louise entered with her dress in rags, covered in mud and leaves in her hair. For her long-suffering parents, it was the end; they banished her from their life.

Ella Louise went to live in the woods outside Pilot’s Creek in a small cabin where nine months later she gave birth to her daughter, Jessica. All the town’s people dubbed Ella Louise and her daughter witches but that didn’t stop them from visiting the small cabin in the dark of night for potions and herbs. A pregnant woman’s death was laid at the door of Ella Louise and Jessica. Without proof, the law could do nothing, but a small band of men thought otherwise. They drug Ella Louise and Jessica from their home and burned them alive. Separated in death, Ella Louise was buried far from her daughter deeper in the woods, while Jessica’s bones were sealed in a vault buried in the ground and surrounded by metal crosses that were meant to keep the little girl in her grave.

In 1971, Lee Ketchum, a director, who had heard the stories as a young boy, felt compelled, to retell the witches’ story in a movie. This was the curse of the town’s people of Pilot’s Creek, which they should never forget what had been done on that long-ago night in 1931; the story must live on. Rife with problems from the beginning it would also disrupt Amber’s life, the young girl who plays Jessica.

 In the 1990’s, Amber, still known for playing the role of Jessica in the film “Don’t Tread on Jessica,” is appearing at comic conventions all these years later. She is offered by an ardent fan the role of Ella Louise, rather than Jessica, in a remake he wishes to shoot. Haunted during filming by Jessica and Ella Louise, their desire to be together again, can she face Pilot Creek, Ella Louise, and Jessica once more?  

Filled with suspense, reading from multiple points of view, along with diverse storytelling, Clay McLeod Chapman released The Remaking as his second adult novel last October. An author of various children’s books he engages the reader to keep turning the page in the novel wondering what happens next and how all the characters fit together. If you are interested in learning more about The Remaking and Clay McLeod Chapman, I recommend checking out this episode from the Reading Glasses podcast where he was interviewed not only about his books but his reading quirks and what he enjoys reading.

Review by MicahSt Matthews Branch

A Brief Look at 2020 in Music (or a Quarantine in Music)

Like every facet of life, 2020 also made music a little strange. Primarily, this came at the expense of observing live music. Virtually every concert or tour that had been planned was cancelled, so many active musicians were suddenly faced with inactivity (like the rest of us). Though, isolation can also conjure a variety of new emotions and ideas. With a little extra time on their hands, it was also the perfect time for artists to create something that was a little different from their norms; something that was bold and adventurous or even something just for fun. So in this piece, I’d like to point out a handful of releases that were a result of the quarantine lifestyle, to praise their work ethic and creativity in an unusually hard year. Some of these will be available to check out through our system, though like many operations around the world, our catalog of 2020 music is yet to be complete, so I’ll also include a couple blurbs about some interesting music that hasn’t yet hit our shelves.

Free Love by Sylvan Esso

Sylvan Esso has been on the scene since 2013 and this marks their 3rd full length album. I’ve always admired this band for their harmonious chemistry, effortlessly producing their best art. This is a duo, consisting of Nick Sanborn and Amelia Meath. They’ve made successful music elsewhere, but what is exciting about their ventures together is that they come from very different musical backgrounds. Nick Sanborn has been making music for a long time, namely in Indie Rock bands like Decibully, Headlights, and Collection of Colonies of Bees. Nick also has made Dance/Electronic/IDM music under Made of Oak, which has his most bold efforts as a solo musician. Amelia Meath, on the other hand, is recognizable in a group called Mountain Man, which specializes in Appalachian Folk tunes! Much of their style is very traditional, focusing on vocal harmonies and old standards found in Country and Bluegrass.

So what happens when these two forces collide? Well, this isn’t noodly Indie Rock… this isn’t the purist Electronic… and this definitely is not Appalachian Folk. Instead, these are very dancy, yet minimal Indie Pop tunes with Sanborn bringing a wide variety of production and Meath bringing honest and heartfelt expression through unabashed vocal delivery and story telling; likely a skill that is learned in the Folk and Country traditions. Very colorful, fashionable, and striking electro that will produce robotic dance movements and a couple tears. I find a lot of this comparable to something like Tune-Yards, St. Vincent, Phantogram, Glass Animals, MGMT, etc… but their chemistry provides something that is unique to the genre, something that puts emotion on the forefront instead of just fancy production tricks. That chemistry is surely the reason they married half way through their career, but this is one married couple that knows how to channel their love into their music as well as their relationship.

This newest album is reminiscent of and cohesive with their image, but I kept getting glimpses of plinkerpop listening to this new one. That isn’t an incredibly blossoming term, but it describes electronic and plunderphonic music that sounds tiny! A lot of efforts have exhibited this sound: The Notwist, Lali Puna, Pram, Múm, I Am Robot and Proud, etc. Sylvan Esso has yet to make a bad record, and this new one is on par with the others! Check out the track Ring for a particularly lovely attempt from this album.

The extra time lent this band to revisit an idea that they had from 2019. They assembled a tour that year that translated their sound to a full orchestra setting, bringing along multiple musicians to create these digital ideas in acoustic ways. That album was also released in 2020 called WITH, but they did another orchestral rendition of Free Love at the very end of 2020 called WITH LOVE. Both are pretty amazing.

Folklore by Taylor Swift

Oh …. really? More Taylor Swift commentary? Doesn’t Noah talk about anything else?

Listen, I know most of my publications have included commentary about Taylor Swift, but this one fits the bill! Taylor Swift completely blindsided the world with this release and perfectly encapsulates the time that quarantine gave us. Taylor made her debut in Pop Country, dropped the Country eventually and became a Pop icon, but this one marks a third era. This album does not have any club bangers, any bubblegum bass, or any fierce attitude. This album is thoughtful, slow, sad at times, and really… not even Pop at all. This is… Folk… Orchestral… Singer-Songwriter… It’s romantic, airy, melancholic. But, somehow, it’s all still Taylor. Even with such a substantial change in sound, the song writing and vocal delivery still sounds like her. It doesn’t sound like she is emulating much conventions either. This Indie Folk trend is prevalent in a lot artists over the past ten years, but Taylor makes it her own!

Like her previous efforts, she does surround herself with other well known musicians to help write, produce, and generally direct the moods of the music. This time she adds Aaron Dessner of The National and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. Glimpses of The National and Bon Iver are present here, with the dark, majestic, and morose sounds they are both known for. But it is so surprising that Taylor was able to use their help to make a drastically different sound from what Taylor is known for but… somehow… it created one of Taylor’s best records. The Last Great American Dynasty was my favorite track.

You know what’s even crazier? This album was released in July of 2020, but she releases ANOTHER album in December, Evermore. Another Folky interpretation of Taylor’s identity. There is a part of me that wants to scoff at incredibly popular musicians continuing to gentrify the Folk stratosphere but… darn it… She’s pretty good at it.

[Editor’s note: Folklore won a Grammy last night and also broke a new record. For more info, click here.]

How I’m Feeling Now by Charli XCX

Charli XCX has had a whirlwind of a career. For years, I saw Charli only in the recesses of whatever Pop convention was trendy for that season. She seemed like an artist who, to be frank, was lucky enough to become visible but really didn’t have an image or identity to capitalize on. For instance, most people that had an eye on commercial music around 2012/2013 probably recall Icona Pop’s I Love It, because it was everywhere. Retail commercials, video games, blockbuster movies, and likely over the intercom of Speedway while pumping your gas. Well, Charli helped write it. But songs like that are so fleeting and estranged from the identity of the artist, that they usually go down as “that one song” instead of an addition to a discography. That was Charli’s identity for years, from my perspective. She pops up in the credits of Iggy Azalea songs, Selena Gomez songs, and a handful of others. Generally, I skipped over these.

She had put out a couple of underwhelming Pop albums in the early 2010’s, but eventually ran into the PC Music crowd and found a relationship that would become a home. PC Music is a label; a collective; an ever morphing ideology. A large handful of young English electronic producers spearheaded a new wave in production that focuses on experimentation and sound palettes that come across as a rare alien language. In recent years, the term hyperpop has been coined and that is arguably entirely credited to the music that PC Music had pumped out in the mid 2010’s. 100 Gecs and Dorian Electra are on that front as well, and it seems that all of these musicians are friendly and inspirational with each other. Anymore, many of the PC Music musicians have found their own homes to grow their identity, but “PC Music” and “hyperpop” has remained the nomenclature for this brand new sound in electronica. Sophie is one of the leaders in that sound, and she is the one that produced Charli’s 2016 EP Vroom Vroom, a record that shifts Charli’s sound for the better. Charli cultivates these new relationships over the next few years and releases one of 2019’s best electronic album’s Charli, an ambitious effort that is polished and complex.

Then quarantine came. And Charli decided to make a more DIY effort while in isolation, mainly using tools that were accessible in her home. A.G. Cook, another PC Music veteran, was there for much of the production, bringing in the hyperpop flavor. The end result is magical. It’s raw, it’s fun, it’s lo-fi, and really expresses the idle, listless, and confused quarantine emotions. A lot of the lyrical content focuses around living with her partner and the roller-coaster that the relationship had to offer while in isolation. Thus, the emotions here are palpable and cathartic. Yet, it’s so anthemic! Every part of this album is catchy, the slow and sad parts as well as the hyped up dance tracks. It has the same satisfaction as a “breakup” album or ballad’s reminiscent of the 80’s, but the production is throttling. One moment it sounds like music to shop to, and the next moment sounds like the blistering chaos of Aphex Twin. But it’s the honesty that really sells this album. This is a an unfiltered look at the mind of Charli, and her genius is really showing. Claws is my most listened song of 2020, and this is my favorite album from 2020

I have to take a moment to remember Sophie, who tragically passed away a few weeks ago in an accident. Her presence as a leader in new electronic music was monumental, and it seemed as if her career had only begun. Here is a link to her 2018 album, a tour de force. R.I.P <3

Honorable Mentions from The Internet

As I mentioned, our catalog is always growing, but there were a few favorites I found from 2020 that we don’t yet offer. So I’ll blitz through some, bullet point style!

  • Atlas Vending by METZ – Canadian 3 piece making Noisy, Hardcore, Post-Punk. Exhilarating stuff, good for punching holes in walls and driving fast. There is a band making similar sounds that has gotten a lot of exposure recently, Idles. Honestly, I like the METZ interpretation a little more.
  • Spirituality and Distortion by Igorrr – While there are moments in Igorrr’s catalog that I adore, there are other moments that come across as if he bit off more than he could chew, but with such an ambitious sound, I usually give it a pass and just observe the absolute insanity and creativity that he has to offer. Blending an affection for lightning speed Breakcore, avant-garde and extreme Metal, and Classical Music/Opera (yes, Opera), this is music you can’t find anywhere else. I can’t promise you’ll like it, but a quick peek will certainly intrigue.
  • Beneath by Infant Island – There were a handful of Punk and Hardcore releases, but Infant Island came through as some of my favorite. Their blend of Screamo and Black-Metal is really spot on, especially when those combinations were kind of overplayed after Deafheaven released Sunbather in 2013. This newer band is bringing some vitality in these genres.
  • Forever In Your Heart by Black Dresses – This was released just a few weeks ago, but written and produced through 2020, and I love it so much that I have to bend the rules to include it. Devi and Ada come back after a brief yet tumultuous break-up to make one of their most effective albums yet. Industrial influenced Heavy Metal that can still be called Pop and Electronica. This thing is FIERCE, SEXY, NOISY and absolutely amazing. They make music individually too, check those projects out. For fans of 100 Gecs, Poppy, Grimes, and OTEP.

— Reviewed by Noah, Bon Air

When Books Went to War by Molly Guptill Manning

“The stories that helped us win World War II”

Ever wonder why Mass Market Paperbacks became a thing? Why books that were some enough to fit in a pocket or be easily toss in a bag become so popular?  If you are like me it probably never crossed your mind, you just read the books. What lead to production of mass market paperbacks? Or the event that turned The Great Gatsby into an American classic? Those questions and more are answered in When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning. 

I’m a bit of a WWII history nerd but I didn’t know about the push to get books to the troops. Nor did I know about the Armed Services Editions that would eventually become our modern day mass market paperbacks. Who would have thought that a World War would change how the average person consumed books? After reading this it should have been obvious that soldiers, sailors, and Marines would have been desperate for a mental break, and what better way to escape than in the pages of a book. Isn’t that why most readers read?  I should have known from my dad’s own experience in Beirut in the early 80s as part of the peace-keeping force where he said books made the time more bearable when letters from home were few and far between. Books let him escape for a while, because they were the only option for downtime he had. He still has his dog-eared and taped up copy of the Lord of the Rings trilogy that got him through it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a foxhole in WWII or in a tent in the desert, books are precious and are a welcome escape from the world. Reading about servicemen and their earnest desire for books made a war one only reads about in the pages of a history book made it more real. It allowed me to walk in their shoes if only for a moment.  

I enjoyed reading this book and learning about the role that libraries and librarians played in the efforts of collecting books.  Even if, thanks mostly to the general public, the books weren’t useful to the military. Because even today people see donating books to the library as getting rid of books they themselves don’t want,  not realizing that it might not be able to used, much like what was happening during WWII. When what the boys overseas wanted was books to escape they wanted novels. And that’s where the publishers and magazine houses came into play to get easy to transport books to the troops. 

Thanks to the Armed Services Editions making readers were that hadn’t been before. That plus the GI Bill helped to create a literate postwar middle class.  

– Reviewed by CarissaMain Library

Ultima Thule by Davis McCombs

From the Yale Series of Younger Poets, Ultima Thule is a lovely and worthy read penned by Kentuckian Davis McCombs, especially recommended now during African-American History Month.

The hero of the first sequence of poems is the enslaved Stephen Bishop, the early explorer and cartographer of Mammoth Cave. A trusted guide, indeed the master of an underground world, his skill meant he was relied upon completely by educated, wealthy, powerful, white men and women who visited the Cave in its early years as a tourist attraction, yet Bishop was always aware of his station as property of another. The imagined voice McCombs summons in these beautiful, quietly musical, unrhymed sonnets allows us to appreciate the man as more than what was recognized in his own time. Here he is philosopher and naturalist, observer, entertainer, lover…a complete human denied that recognition of his humanity during his lifetime, his voice unheard by the world that benefited from his talents. The credit for his exploits and his fame was co-opted by his master, the Doctor.

Click here to read more about Stephen Bishop.

In the second and third cycle, McCombs pivots to verse inspired by his own life, including his own time spent as a ranger at Mammoth Cave. No less lyrical, these poems are deeply rooted in the importance of place. The natural beauty of the Commonwealth pours from the pages and invites city-dwellers, confined by routine, a pandemic, and winter storms to plan our own small explorations.

Here’s a taste:

Stephen Bishop’s Grave

“It took four summers here for me to realize

the cave looped back under the Old Guide

Cemetery, that what was mortal floated

in a crust of brittle sandstone or leaked

into the darkest rivers and was caving still.

I went that drizzling night to stand

where the paper-trail he left had vanished:

woodsmoke, mist, a mossed-over name.

I knew enough by then to know that he,

of all people, would prefer the company of rain

to my own, but I went anyway, thinking

of my pale inventions, and stood a long time,

vigilant for his shadow in my own,

his voice as it differed from the wind.”

– Review by Scott, Main Library

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

Four friends living in an upscale retirement village who solve cold cases for fun are put to work when the village developer turns up dead. If it sounds a bit like The Golden Girls meets Miss Marple that’s because  it is, but in the best way.

Elizabeth is a retired intelligence agent, bored and desperate to keep her mind sharp. Ibrahim is a retired therapist who keeps his old client files close at hand. Joyce is a retired nurse who is struggling to rebuild a relationship with her highly successful and driven daughter. Ron is a former labor organizer and rabble rouser whose stay at the posh retirement home is paid for by his famous boxer son. Four friends with little in common on the surface except for an interest in murder and solving cold cases.

Their group used to have a fifth member named Penny, a retired police officer. Penny is now in a coma, but her old files have kept the group busy as they try to solve cold cases. When the greatly disliked developer of their little village is found dead with a mysterious picture by his side, the friends get to work, teaming up with a pair of police officers who are charmingly mismatched and amused by this quartet.

What makes this book so delightful is not the mystery, though this is a fun “whodunit” that will keep you guessing until the end. Rather, Osman has done a wonderful job of developing each character and giving us a glimpse of their life before they ended up in Cooper’s Chase, luxury retirement village. They are not elderly tropes, or caricatures of senior citizens, but rather fully developed humans who, as senior citizens, are often overlooked and ignored. Osman lets us know that’s shame because this crew has quite a bit to offer. The story is witty and fun and I found myself deeply attached to the folks at Cooper’s Chase. Lucky for me this is to become a series.

If you like mysteries in the vein of Louise Penny, Agatha Christie, or Robert Galbraith, give this one a try.

– Review by Jenny, Middletown Branch

Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics

Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics by Dolly Parton and Robert

From her Imagination Library program to her recent donation of a million dollars for COVID research, Dolly Parton’s fame is more than just her music. She is a song writer, business woman and philanthropist with a whole lot of charisma. Her book Dolly Parton, Songteller is everything a fan could hope for and more, complete with photographs, song lyrics and stories that will have you reminiscing about family and community and how we become who we are.

The book dives into her professional relationship with Porter Wagoner. It includes anecdotes about Dolly and some of Country music’s top performers but mostly it’s about Dolly. It’s about her work ethic and talent. It’s about the people who helped her along the way and about her foundation, her family.

Her songs tell her story. Songs like Coat of Many Colors and My Tennessee Mountain Home tell the story of her childhood. Songs like Jolene and Tomorrow is Forever are about her marriage to Carl Dean. Some of her songs are just from her imagination but some tell us about her love of butterflies and eagles.

It’s hard to choose between the book and the audio book. Listen to the audio book and Dolly Parton will sing to you and tell you about her life with an accent straight from the hills of Tennessee. If a song didn’t make a lot of money, Dolly might tell you it “didn’t set the woods on fire” and that left her “poor as Job’s turkey”. Check out the book and you will be delighted with full page, never before seen photos of Dolly and her family, copies of original lyrics, photos of outfits, concert fliers.

Dolly may already be a legend, but she is far from done. Heartstrings, her Netflix show is producing new episodes based on her songs, she is releasing songs every year and won a Grammy in 2020 for a collaboration with For King and Country on the song “God Only Knows”, Dolly’s 11th Grammy win. Dollywood, her park, welcomes three million guests each year and her Imagination Library has given out over 130 million books to children across the world. She celebrated her 75th birthday on January 19th and doesn’t show any signs of stopping. Is she the new Betty White? It’s possible.

Pair this book with She Come by it Natural by Sarah Smarsh and check out Dolly’s music at the library.

– Review by Catherine, Main Library