Tag Archives: Catherine

When Setting Matters

We all know that setting is important to every story but in some books it takes on a life of its own. There are books where the setting feels like an extra character, not just an extra character, a vital character. There are proper terms for these sort of settings, integral setting, symbolic setting, and antagonist setting to name some. If you are seeking authors who know how to create a scene, look no further. Check out these books below.

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The Guest List by Lucy Foley

The Guest List is set on the wild and isolated Cormorant Island off the coast of Ireland. Guests arrive for the wedding of glamour couple, Julia Keegan and Will Slater but things take a dark turn when a storm starts brewing and guests are left stranded. The setting is eerie with a Lord of the Flies vibe. You can almost feel the dread in the air. The guests and the islands secrets start to come to light and emotions run high in this dark and twisted tale.

Mexican Gothic - Wikipedia

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Mexican Gothic is set in 1950’s Mexico. Strong-willed, Noemí Taboada travels to the countryside after her father receives a concerning letter from her newly married cousin. Married to a wealthy Englishman, her cousin, Catalina lives in High Place, an estate set high in the hills tucked away from the small village. Catalina’s husband and family are serious and menacing. Noemi works to uncover the cause of her cousin’s illness and strange behavior and in turn exposes deadly family secrets.

The Sun Down Motel

The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

The Sun Down Motel takes place in upstate New York. The timeline shifts between 2017 and 1982. Carly Kirk arrives in Fell, New York to investigate the disappearance of her Aunt Viv. Viv disappeared in 1982 while working at The Sun Down Motel and Carly is looking for answers. As part of her investigation, Carly begins working at the Sun Down Motel. She retraces her Aunt’s movements and begins to uncover some disturbing events. The hotel seems to be trying to tell her something important. Will she figure it out before it’s too late?

Ghost Wall

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

Ghost Wall takes place in the northern England countryside. Silvie and her family join some of her father’s fellow professors and their students in an anthropological reenactment. The group must live and work as if they are part of the Iron Age, gathering roots and hunting from the surrounding forest and bog. Things take a turn when the group decides to build a ghost wall like those of their ancient counterparts. The spiritual turn provides a perspective into the role of ritual and lore and it’s consuming power.

Tokyo Ueno Station by Miri Yu

Tokyo Ueno Station takes place at a park in Tokyo, Japan near Ueno Station. It spans from 1964 to 2011 and is the story of Kazu and his life living homeless in the park. In the story Kazu is our ghost guide who leads us through his life, the history of the park and his friends that live in the park with him. Kazu’s story is one of thousands and yet unique to him. The park is both a refuge for those that call it home and a constant upheaval. A National Book Award winner, Miri takes us on a spectral look at the outcast of society.

– Review by Catherine, Main Library

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

A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

“It is hard to have patience with people who say, ‘There is no death’ or ‘Death doesn’t matter.’ There is death. And whatever is matters. And whatever happens has consequences, and it and they are irrevocable and irreversible. You might as well say that birth doesn’t matter.”

― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

In 1961, C. S. Lewis published A Grief Observed, a book about the death of his wife and his journey through his grief.  Nearly sixty years later, people are still connecting with Lewis’  words.  I read A Grief Observed last January, a few years after losing a dear friend.  Lewis affirmed my thoughts and feelings again and again and I wished that I had read it years before when I was in the midst of my grief. Death affects all of us. The loss of a loved one is at some point brought before us and yet still we often fumble in our interactions about grief and with the griever. I think Lewis says it best when he says:

“I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they’ll ‘say something about it’ or not. I hate if they do, and if they don’t.”

― C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

You can’t help but feel Lewis’ deep love and subsequent anguish at the loss of his wife. His words ring true as he describes the anguish, the emptiness, the anger and finally the desideratum surrounding a life partner taken too quick. Lewis puts words to an experience all face but few can articulate in quite a poignant manner. He writes:

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing. At other times it feels like being mildly drunk or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.”

– C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

How often have those who have been in a period of loss felt that restlessness with a listlessness that makes it hard to be? You can’t really sit still because you need to move before you drown further in the sadness that has grabbed hold of all of you. If you are there and you need help facing life after death, I highly recommend A Grief Observed. I recommend it for anyone who wants to witness fierce love and loss and becoming who you will be without, all that you were before.

“Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.

But no, that is not quite accurate. There is one place where her absence comes locally home to me, and it is a place I can’t avoid. I mean my own body. It had such a different importance while it was the body of H.’s lover. Now it’s like an empty house.”

― C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

– Review by Catherine, Main Library

What the Night Sings by Vesper Stamper

 “I am dead to the world’s tumult

And I rest in a quiet realm

I live alone in my heaven

In my love and in my song.”


-From What the Night Sings by Vesper Stamper

Who are you when everything is stripped away? Who do you become when your possessions, family, and dignity have disappeared and you are left bare? The future can seem impossible when you start with nothing.  

In What the Night Sings, Gerta has endured two long years in a German concentration camp. Surviving with her is the hint of a song and her dream to sing. In front of her is her heritage, a people she doesn’t know and overwhelming decisions about who she is to become. Gerta didn’t even know she was Jewish and now that empty part of her past makes moving forward even more difficult.

Gerta befriends Lev, a traditional Jewish man who represents Gerta’s personal struggle to shed the traditions of a people and follow her dreams, to be free of others’ rules and sanctions for her. Can her personal dreams survive a Holocaust and thousand year old customs? Will it become another prison? Music has sustained through all the horrors. Will it be part of her future?

Stamper embeds ink wash illustrations within the text. In the Author’s Note she describes how she took some direction from “slow cinema” to tell her story, using elements from directors like Tarkovsky and Tarr to create haunting pieces of art. These gorgeous additions add to the already powerful story. Her use of language and the role of music in Gerta’s life makes this story stand out in a sea of Holocaust books.

Review by Catherine, Main Library