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People who work in libraries tend to be fond of reading. For us, the old saying "So many books, so little time" resonates all too well. Below are book reviews from some of our staff covering a sampling of the many books we have enjoyed over the years.
This is a slim book of short stories that is well worth reading even if you are typically not a huge fan of short stories. The stories are interconnected through the title character Olive so the book reads more like a novel. At first glance, Olive appears to be a rather gruff, unlikeable character but as the stories progress, the reader discovers a tender, funny, and very human side of Olive. These richly written stories set in a small coastal town in Maine are sorrowful and humorous, depressing and hopeful...ultimately a great read!
A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr is so brief it is difficult to describe without giving away all the surprises. Because, at its heart, it is a book about surprise – the surprise of the narrator at the quiet joy of discovery, the surprise of the reader at the powerful feelings the author creates in so few words. The book is set in northern England in the year following the Great War; the narrator is a veteran of that war, working his way back to humanity while uncovering a lost masterpiece. Carr creates images with deft strokes, drawing you into the world of the narrator. His redemption becomes yours, bringing you to an emotional discovery of your own.
Nothing yet written creates the Christmas world like A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. If you have lost the happiness Christmas used to bring, A Christmas Carol will help you find your way back; if you feel overwhelmed by the deluge of advertisements facing you, this book will sweep you into a world focused on the peace and wonder of the season; if your budget this year means Christmas will be simple, frugal even, A Christmas Carol will make it rich and remind you how little is needed to create Christmas joy. At every reading, you start out as Scrooge, follow his journey through the past and end the book laughing with new delight at the miracle of Christmas. Give yourself the best present possible this year, read A Christmas Carol and find home.
This lyrical novel tells the stories of Japanese women who came to California as “picture brides” between the two world wars of the 20th century. Early on, as the women try to make sense of their new surroundings, they are told, ”You now belong to the invisible world.” It is this world of the immigrant maid, farm worker, wife, and mother that we are led into by Otsuka’s captivating prose. Written in the first person plural and using brief passages, Otsuka takes the reader on a journey of shared experiences—“They gave us new names. They called us Helen and Lily. They called us Pearl.” Yet she conveys just enough detail about the women’s lives to make for a rich and often heart-breaking narrative.
For thousands of years, religions have held massive influence over societies. Rulers have risen and fallen because of religions; economies have been built around them; and people continue to govern their day lives according to their rituals and theologies. The theme throughout this book is that while religions have many similarities, they are not the same and to declare so is “dangerous, disrespectful, and untrue.”
The author, Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University, examines some of the most influential world religions (Islam, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Yoruba, Daoism, and Atheism). He looks at how each of these religions addresses specific human problems, such as Islam with the problem of pride and the solution of submission or Christianity with the problem of sin and the solution of salvation.
This is not a book on the history of religions, nor does it provide an in-depth perspective on these religions. Rather it encapsulates the core beliefs and gives insight as to how they continue to rock the world.
If you've always been intrigued by multiple personality disorder (or dissociative identity disorder), this is the novel for you. Set This House in Order is a quirky, complicated, and very engaging story of self-discovery, growth, and healing.
The protagonist, Andy Gage, and the many other personalities that share an imagined house in his head are often delightful, occasionally despicable, but always interesting. And to make matters even more intriguing it turns out that Penny Driver, Andy's new coworker, is also a multiple personality.
There is a lot going on in this book and in the hands of a less skilled writer, this novel could devolve into confusion and chaos. But Matt Ruff, a talented writer from Seattle, rises to the challenge and creates a beautifully written book that offers a fascinating and sensitive glimpse into mental illness. The book might take a little bit of patience to get into but it is well worth the effort.
The second in a trilogy, Bring up the Bodies covers the period during King Henry the VIII’s reign when Henry once again seeks to remove his current queen, Ann Boleyn, in order to marry Jane Seymour.
While the story has been told often, and sometimes very well, Mantel focuses not on Henry or Ann, but on Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s advisor, and, according to Mantel, the true brains behind many of Henry’s policies and deeds.
As she did in the first book of the trilogy, Wolf Hall, Mantel paints a vivid portrait of Tudor England, conveying the physical elements—the food, the clothing, the decorations of the living quarters—along with the politics, social conflicts and personal strengths and weaknesses of her characters.
The day after his twin sons were born, Anthony Doerr received the letter telling him he had been awarded the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and with it a stipend and writing studio in Rome for one year. Six months later, laden with diapers, baby food, two baby carriers, two cribs, two of everything, he and his wife Shauna left with Henry and Owen for the adventure that is living in Rome with twin baby boys. Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World celebrates that adventure in exquisite detail. Italian food, customs, ancient villages, medical practices, the writings of Pliny the Elder – Doerr describes sensuous experiences, excruciating exhaustion and the funeral of Pope John Paul II so vividly you feel you are present. The only experience better than reading this book is going to Rome!
If you enjoy historical mysteries, See Delphi and Die (set in A.D. 76), will not disappoint! This is the seventeenth of twenty books in the Marcus Didius Falco series by Lindsey Davis.
Falco is a private detective/informant/spy hired by the Roman Empire to investigate gruesome murders that occur throughout the land. Although he doesn’t enjoy his line of work, particularly when it involves dead people, mortal danger to himself or family, or reporting back to his cheapskate employer, Falco is good at solving mysteries.
In See Delphi and Die, Falco is on a business trip when he gets entwined in a pair of unsolved murders at the ancient site of the Olympic Games. Was it someone from the unconventional traveling group, the curious foreign foods, or the gods themselves who knocked off these two young Roman women?
Davis’ tongue-in-check humor and unique storyline will leave you reaching for the next Falco book in no time!
The Rapture has come and gone, leaving behind an assorted group of survivors. Civilization limps on, but the emotional and psychological damage inflicted on the “leftovers” is what Perotta focuses on. The loss of loved ones weighs heavily on some, while the more religious find their beliefs in tatters—why were they not chosen? Why were others--sinners, non-believers, Muslims, Hindus—taken?
The responses of those left behind vary. Some join newfound cults. Some try to carry on as before, but always the sense of loss pervades their lives.
This absorbing novel about the possibility of human extinction could be a prequel to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. The story begins conventionally enough, with the marriage of former flight attendant, Jiselle, to a pilot who is a widower with three children. At first Jiselle thinks she has stepped into a perfect world, but things change quickly as she grapples with her new roles as full time stepmother and wife to a mostly absent husband. Added to the family’s stress is the growing presence of a pandemic, dubbed the “Phoenix flu.”
The flu and its rising death toll spread throughout the world, and the family is forced to alter routine activities and behaviors — first in minor ways, then more severely as food and fuel become scarce, ATMs stop dispensing money, schools close, and finally, communication and power sources function only intermittently. As a result of their rapidly deteriorating circumstances, the family members gradually grow into a productive community and at times discover beauty amid the horror and loss.
Fans of speculative fiction will find Kasischke’s vision of the disintegration of everyday life and the resulting breakdown of society both disquieting and poetic.
When was the last time you read a book that was screwball funny, poignant, thought provoking and emotionally satisfying all at the same time? Set in Seattle, Where’d you go, Bernadette by Maria Semple is such a book. Dysfunctional families are the norm in fiction, but this family is unique and Ms. Semple, whose credits include writing for Mad About You and Arrested Development, hooks you in the first chapter with the imagination and wit of her characters. Jonathan Franzen’s jacket blurb said, in part, “I tore through this book with heedless pleasure.” I couldn’t put it better myself!
Yet another zombie apocalypse story? Perhaps, but in Whitehead’s telling, we are presented not so much with murder and mayhem caused by the carnivorous undead, but the psychological damage inflicted on those left to deal with them. Told through the eyes of Mark Spitz, (not the character’s real name, but one he uses, and an inside joke not explained until well into the novel) we see the loneliness and the psychic toll of living in a constant state of alertness and fear.
If you are looking for a fast-paced, action-packed, summer-fun read, The Orchardist is probably NOT the book for you. On the other hand, if you're searching for a thoughtful, quiet, beautifully written novel to savor, check out The Orchardist. Set at the turn of the century in the state of Washington, the book introduces us to William Talmadge who lives a quiet, solitary life tending his orchards until two pregnant girls appear on the scene. The compelling story that unfolds is terribly sad and wonderfully touching. The evocative descriptions of the Northwest and the remarkable strength of the characters make this book hard to put down. Amanda Coplin, a Portland author, has written an amazing first novel and we can only hope that she has many more tales to tell.
– Joni Roberts, Librarian (Thanks to Gretchen Moon, Professor of English, for recommending this book to me!) (6/13)
A young wife disappears, and her husband becomes the primary suspect in her disappearance. Both narrate the story, she from the past, he from the present, until past and present meet. Neither person is who they initially seem, and the development of what really happened is only one of the many strengths the author displays in her writing.
Vincent Van Gogh sold one painting during his lifetime, was reviled by many artists and critics of his time, died at age thirty-seven, few people attended his funeral. Yet his work changed painting in ways that are still being explored. Van Gogh: The Life is an engrossing, fascinating biography of this mercurial artist that will stand as the definitive work for many years. The authors’ analysis of his life experience and descriptions of every work of art he created – showing how his painting style often matched the emotional trauma he was experiencing at the time – provide a depth of information that deserves careful, thoughtful reading. If you value art and an understanding of the importance of Van Gogh’s influence, this book is worth your time and effort. Then, listen to Don McLean’s Starry, Starry Night.
Love, friendship, religion; being a son, brother, pastor, husband, father; reminiscences, life experience, explaining a spiritual journey – Marilynne Robinson’s narrator in Gilead mines each of these emotional experiences to explain his life to his son. And, as you share his life with him, you find yourself exploring each emotion of your life to discover what your life means as well. Set in the Mid-West in the 1950’s, the narrator’s letter to his son becomes a treatise on the choices we make and the consequences we live with, yet it is not melancholy or sad. Despite the sorrow he expresses at certain outcomes in his life, his ultimate expression of joy and love comes in my favorite line of the book, “There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.” Let Gilead help you find your reasons. It is worth the journey.
Winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, The Orphan Master's Son is a big brute of a novel. It is not an easy read but eventually it grabs a hold of the reader and refuses to let go. The story is set in North Korea and offers a fascinating glimpse into this enigmatic country. The protagonist, Pak Jun Do, provides a variety of different services (tunnel soldier, kidnapper, spy) to the state and introduces us to a host of interesting characters along the way. The bleakness and desperation of Jun Do's life is offset by moments of beauty, kindness, and even love. And although this story of oppression and violence is often difficult to read, Johnson manages to interject humor to help lighten the darkness. Adam Johnson has written an unusual, fantastical novel; this complicated and compelling tale stays with the reader long after the last page has been turned.
Physical fitness is a major force in today’s society with countless types of exercise equipment, television shows like the "Biggest Loser," and specialized diets such as gluten-free. In the U.S., over $20 billion dollars is spent on gym memberships and fitness-related products each year. Shelly McKenzie’s book, Getting Physical, provides an excellent historical overview of fitness as well as offering insights into the future direction of fitness in the United States. Most people don’t realize that our modern emphasis on exercise stems back to the Cold War! This is a well-researched book and an enlightening read.
An updating of The Scarlet Letter with an intertwining of The Handmaid’s Tale, this novel is set in a religiously fundamentalist future where crime is punished by melachroming, or genetically dying the skin, of the perpetrators. The so-called “chromes,” color coded according to their crimes (yellow for minor infractions, blue for child molesters, and red for murderers), are then released into society as a vivid reminder of their crimes. Hannah’s crime is murder, for aborting the unborn child conceived from a relationship with the pastor of her megachurch. Refusing to name him as the father, and additionally unwilling to implicate the abortionist, she tries to make her way through a hostile world.
Set in contemporary Mumbai, this novel traces the lives of two women—Sera, an upper middle class Parsi widow, and Bhima, Sera’s long-time domestic servant. Over the years, the two women have come to rely on each other in complicated ways that transcend their respective positions. Both women have suffered through marriages that began well and then unraveled. Both have experienced the joy and heartbreak of parenthood. However, always present is the space between them—both literally and figuratively. It is this space that Umrigar explores so well as the story of each woman’s life unfolds.
Bhima navigates a world full of contrasts as she travels daily from her current home in the slums of Mumbai to Sera’s modern apartment. When the adult granddaughter whom Bhima has raised reveals that she is pregnant, Bhima’s life becomes increasingly insecure, and the pregnancy ends up having lasting repercussions for both Bhima’s and Sera’s families.
Sera’s life is prosperous and comfortable, yet she is haunted by memories of the unhappiness and pain she suffered while trying to be a loving wife to her husband and a dutiful daughter to her mother-in-law. And while Sera’s successful daughter and son-in-law now live with her, the family’s seemingly contented life is more fragile than it appears.
Umrigar weaves their stories into a dramatic conclusion where social class proves stronger than the attachments created through gender and friendship.
Cooked is a thorough examination of cooking, not cooking, and the impact of each on our lives. Pollan is not afraid to point out the damage that modern industrial food has done to our environment, culture, and health, but doesn’t dwell on it. Rather than condemn or condescend, Pollan tells the story of his own education into how food is “cooked” now, as well as how it used to be cooked. His tales of bread made and leavened by hand, whole hogs roasted over oak coals, and backyard brewing, punctuate and inform his ideas about the way that cooking your own food can nourish your relationships and soul just as well as your body. One part history, one part autobiography, one part cookbook, and a dash of philosophy, Cooked makes for an informative, fun, and ultimately inspiring read.
If you are intrigued by rare maps, archives, or libraries, Michael Blanding’s The Map Thief is the book for you. A tale of map treasurer gone thief, The Map Thief unveils the true story of Forbes Smiley, who was caught stealing maps from archives and libraries less than a decade ago. Blanding’s haunting tale puts the historian and archivist on edge, revealing hundreds of maps swiped from folders and razored out of four-hundred-year-old books. Smiley had once been a map dealer, academic, and map collection volunteer. Blanding shares what went wrong to cause Smiley to steal from the very libraries to which he devoted his time and resources. The Map Thief is a quick, insightful read, feeling more like fiction with Blanding’s attention to character, scene and detail.
-- Ashley Toutain, Archivist (11/14)
The Wizard Heir by Cinda Williams Chima
Call Number: (Available through Interlibrary Loan)
Sixteen-year-old Seph McCauley has found trouble at every private school he has attended. He has money, looks, talent, and power. But the latter is what keeps landing him in trouble. Seph’s mysterious powers are almost magical, but he doesn’t know how to control them. And people are starting to get hurt because of him. His parents are long dead and what precious little Seph knows of them comes from a legal firm in charge of his education until he turns eighteen. His last chance may be in the form of a secluded boys’ school in Maine where the head master promises to help train Seph in exchange for assistance with his own personal agenda. The Wizard Heir is Book Two in the thrilling Heir Chronicles series by author Cinda Williams Chima.
This book (comic? textbook?) explains the visual and textual tools that comics and graphic novels use to create meaning. The genius of the book comes in its format: Understanding Comics is itself a comic! Demonstrating his mastery of the form, McCloud draws and writes himself into the story, explaining and entertaining his way through each of the components of a comic and the interplay between them. How does a static image communicate movement? What happens in the space between panels, and what can we learn from it about art in general? Understanding Comics doesn’t shy away from the tough theoretical questions, and the art is so effective and compelling that you simply must turn the page to see where McCloud will take you next. Whether comics and graphic novels are a previous interest for you or not, Understanding Comics is worth a read.
Bad Monkey is almost worth it for the title alone. Andrew Yancy, on forced leave from the Monroe County Sherriff’s department for assaulting his girlfriend’s husband with a vacuum cleaner (it only gets better), is asked to deliver an arm severed in a boating accident to the Miami police. Said arm turns out to be an ongoing problem for Yancy, and eventually results in run-ins with a scamming husband and wife team, a voodoo priestess, and the before mentioned monkey. Hiaasen exhibits a somewhat dark sense of humor along with his obvious love for Florida and his concern with the continuing ecological problems facing the state. Gruesome, yet funny…well worth the ride.
Pixar has become a dominating force and model company in the movie industry, but the company's survival and growth came from the careful planning and management by Pixar's leaders. Author Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation, brings the rich history of Pixar to life, from the founding members to the purchase and sale of Pixar by George Lucas and later acquisition by Steve Jobs and ultimately Disney. Catmull also delves deeply and honestly into the hurdles that the corporation has faced. He discusses the solutions employed to resolve these issues, and talks about these solutions at a level that is both practical and applicable to any industry. There is also a touching section on the late Steve Jobs, which provides clear personal insights into Steve's life and personality. The last section includes a list of practical starting points for managing a creative culture. This book hits on such a wide variety of topics, from creativity in the arts to leadership and management that there is really something for everyone in this book.
Kurt Vonnegut is a giant of American fiction, no question about it. Few writers can claim they have written a masterpiece, but Vonnegut wrote several. A Man Without A Country comes to us from his later years, and is one of his few published works of non-fiction. This collection of personal essays gives us a short foray into Vonnegut’s mind, touching on writing, politics, family, and other topics without taking any of them too seriously. His famous wit is ever-present and I found myself chuckling aloud at times. Reading this book alongside or after Slaughterhouse-five (one of his masterpieces), you’ll get even more from A Man Without A Country. If you can forgive an old man a few off-color remarks, you’ll love this funny, fast, and above all wise little book.
A Tale for the Time Being is a quirky, fascinating, complex, weird, and ultimately wonderfully readable novel. It takes a while to get into and the reader should be prepared for a lot of philosophical discussions of time and being (hence the name) but what a story! The book has two narrators…one is Nao, a sixteen-year old Japanese girl living in Tokyo, writing in her diary, and contemplating suicide. The other is Ruth, a novelist living in a remote coastal area of British Columbia who finds Nao’s diary in a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed up on the beach. These two imperfect but likeable characters and their intriguing views of the world around them provide enough of a reason to read this book but there is much more to this novel than just these two delightful protagonists. Throw in bullying, Buddhism, World War II, 9/11, the 2011 tsunami, technology, cats, communication, quantum physics, origami, big city living, tiny town living, relationships between fathers and daughters and between husbands and wives, and top it all off with a 104 year old Buddhist nun, and you’ve got a whale of a tale! A thought provoking, creative, horrifyingly sad but strangely funny novel, A Tale for the Time Being is well worth reading.
Call Number: Popular Reading PS3623.E432449 M37 2014
The Martian is a high-tension science fiction novel that primarily takes place on Mars. Six astronauts have been on Mars for a few days when a huge dust storm forces NASA to scrub the mission and order the astronauts immediate evacuation back to Earth. During their scramble to the launch site in 170 mph winds, astronaut Mark Watney is thought to be fatally wounded by flying debris and becomes separated from his crew. Watney survives only to discover that the crew left the planet and he is now the sole resident of Mars. To make matters worse, the main satellite dish for communicating with Earth has disappeared in the dust storm.
While there is a decent amount of food and water left over from the scrubbed mission, it will eventually run out. His only chance to survive is to leave Mars. Watney’s quick wit and steely will power, combined with his specialized engineering and botany skills, gives him hope to survive seemingly insurmountable odds and return to Earth. This is an ultimate story of survival that is truly gripping and will leave readers wanting to know what happens next.
Lydia Davis’s work came to my attention a few years ago when she came to campus and read a few of her gorgeous stories live in Cone Chapel. Davis is a true original, a modern master of the short(est) story. I was ecstatic when I saw that we had the collection of all of her previous work in one volume. It seems like some kind of magic that one woman could consistently produce such consistently amazing work over three decades, but you can flip to any page and read stories that might slap you in the face, hug you warmly, wink at you, or all three at once. Some stories are a sentence or less, one story is over forty pages, but all of them are poignant and impactful. At her best, she can take something you see every day and completely take for granted (like a sock, for example) and completely transform your view of it in less than a paragraph. If you’re someone who loves a good short story, read Lydia Davis for some of the greatest. – Dillon Peck, Staff (10/15)
The Periodic Kingdom takes readers on a different approach to learning about the periodic table of elements. The table is introduced as a virtual kingdom and the author delves into the more predictable lands that have been tamed for centuries such as sodium. He branches out to lesser-known geographical areas by applying what is known about the neighboring elements and positions within the periodic table. The author even hints that there may still be some undiscovered “islands” beyond the main land.
The book describes the fascinating people who discovered the various regions (“cartographers”), the natives who inhabit the land, and the regional administrators who rule over the land (policy makers and government officials who regulate an element’s use). It also explores the strange alliances made among neighboring elemental clans. Throughout the journey, readers are exposed to the various elements in products that we commonly use.
The creative writing style and humor of the author will keep readers engaged throughout the entire book. This book provides a fun change of pace from the traditional take on the periodic table and offers a read that is both entertaining and educational. –John Repplinger, Librarian (11/15)
This debut novel offers the reader a glimpse into the life and death of Kweku Sai, a gifted African surgeon and a not-so-successful husband and father. At an early age, Sai leaves Africa and his family behind to study and eventually become a successful doctor in the United States. His immigrant experience and his struggles to fit in and find his place, make for a compelling read. The stories and experiences of his four children and his ex-wife add another layer of complexity to this rich and sorrowful tale. The author’s ability to skillfully shift time, setting, and perspective is impressive; this beautifully crafted novel should be on everyone’s reading list. -- Joni Roberts, Librarian (12/15-1/16)
Originating as an online cartoon on the author’s website, this is the second collection of Hark! A Vagrant published in book format. The book is actually a gathering of cartoons, rather than a full-length graphic novel. Its varied content, dealing with popular culture, history, literature, and any other topic that the creative mind of Beatty can find to twist to her absurd and hilarious will, actually caused this reader to laugh out loud. Without the visuals, it’s difficult to convey the substance of the book, but topics include female superheroines, mashups of Gothic romances (Wuthering Heights meets Pride and Prejudice), and a retake on Cinderella, all from a skewed, and very funny perspective. Well worth the read! – Ford Schmidt, Librarian (2/16)
If the author of this book’s name seems familiar to you, it’s because Scott Nadelson is one of Willamette’s fantastic professors. He teaches creative writing in nearly all of his courses, and it’s not hard to see what qualifies him when you read Aftermath, which explores the ambiguity of love -- and love lost -- we all face at some time in our lives. Nadelson’s writing is shot through with such absolutely raw honesty that doesn’t shy away from the mundane/extraordinary pain of personal loss, and it’s that honesty that forced me to see myself in his characters even at their most cruel or selfish or hurt. Every page brings pangs of recognition that keep you riveted and pull you through the story. This book feels like one everyone should read; it is a book that will touch, entertain, and teach something essential. If you find yourself needing some solidarity in that strange feeling that comes after a personal tragedy, or if you’re just in the mood for some beautifully melancholy stories, Aftermath should top your list. – Dillon Peck, Staff (3/16)
Water is essential to life but it is often taken for granted. We use it to grow crops, create hydropower, and for a variety of recreational purposes. We honor the historical and religious connections of Native American tribes and we work to manage the survival of aquatic species. So what happens in times of drought when there is not enough water to go around for all of the competing demands?
This book explores the drought of 2001 throughout the Klamath Basin region, an area that spans parts of Oregon and California. It investigates the rich history leading up to when the headgates of a federal irrigation project were closed due to serious drought conditions. The authors look at the event through the lens of the various affected stakeholders and we learn about their various reactions including protests and vandalism. The book describes the general confusion regarding the water regulation policies throughout this region. It also reports how those controlling the headwaters handled the situation and explains the intriguing short and long-term solutions proposed for this area. – John Repplinger, Librarian (4/16-8/16)
The Country of Ice Cream Star offers a dystopian view of a future USA, in which a pandemic called “posies,” has left a society where everyone dies by the time they are 20. As in most stories of this type, there is a quest, this time for the cure to posies (a disease reminiscent of the plague), involving the title character and a Russian or “roo” soldier. Although a serious novel, there are some, at least to this reader, very funny bits where the characters interpret customs and artifacts left by the pre-plague occupants of America. That and the narration being in a very changed (yet oddly poetic) form of English, reminiscent of both Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange and Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker, make this an entertaining yet challenging read. -- Ford Schmidt, Librarian (9/16)
I was a little wary of Red Rising at first, because I know that many novels that begin like Red Rising have fairly predictable plots. I’m glad I decided to stay with it, because the story goes in all sorts of unexpected directions. While it’s true it has lots of familiar ingredients from recent bestsellers (set on Mars, young people split into opposing factions in a cruel and fatal game, a society ruled by a small group with absolute power over the lower classes), Brown has managed to take common elements and make them into something original and engrossing (not to mention extremely relevant to our own unequal world).
The book is not without its flaws and Brown is clearly a new author, but he is just as clearly a gifted one who knows how to use the reader’s expectations of the standard sci-fi plot to his advantage and also knows how to break these expectations to strengthen his novel. I especially appreciated the way that Brown’s women characters are complex and interesting, with depth, motives, and desires that aren’t centered on the male protagonist…very refreshing in the sci-fi genre. Overall, Red Rising and the rest of the Red Rising Trilogy are excellent stories that I would recommend to any science fiction fan looking for a fun read. – Dillon Peck, Staff (10/16)
According to recent Gallup Polls, most Americans are very concerned about the environment. Concerns include pollution of water systems, extinction of plants and animals, and global warming. In The Decline of Nature, emeritus professor of Geology and Environmental Science at Willamette University Gil LaFreniere, takes on these concerns through an in-depth look at civilization’s historical use and abuse of nature and the Western philosophies that continue to feed these destructive acts against our environment.
The Decline of Nature begins in the early Near East with Ancient Greece and Rome. Readers progressively walk through the history of Medieval Europe, the Enlightenment Period, and eventually to our modern society. Our current Western philosophies of nature have largely been founded on misconceptions of Christian religion, and the early European colonization and exploitation of natural resources according to LaFreniere. To make matters worse, the Industrial Age led to readily available products and the devaluation of the environment, which helped fuel the concept of discontent and dissatisfaction with what individuals own. Despite the gravity of the subject matter, the author offers some hope that all is not lost as long as our society can change our outlook of nature. – John Repplinger, Librarian (11/16)
This graphic novel offers an alternate (or parallel) history that echoes many of our myths, legends, and most beloved stories. Greenberg’s simple woodcut-style art and handwritten text match the simplicity of the stories; they are stripped of distracting detail, leaving only the beauty. The muted watercolors and playful tone of the writing work together to keep the reader invested in the characters and the world of the book without taking any of it too seriously. At times, Greenberg even pokes fun at herself, pointing out that she uses a few plot devices, “that will never be explained, so deal with it.” Overall, I had a great time with this well-drawn and well-written book, and by the end I felt like I was a kid again listening to an entertaining friend tell a story to cheer me up. If you have a spare hour or two and like mythology, I highly recommend The Encyclopedia of Early Earth.—Dillon Peck, Staff (12/16-1/17)
Among popular science writings A Sea Without Fish: Life in the Ordovician Sea of the Cincinnati Region is a jewel. It vividly invokes a world so unlike the modern one that it could be a dream. The use of scientific names and vocabulary enhances the work without making it feel like a textbook. Chapters build upon each other to create a slice of an ancient ecosystem. The authors interlace the Ordovician sea life and environment with the stories of the geologists who put that story together. Often the geologists are just as complicated as the creatures they study. This book is a fun and inviting way for all fossil-lovers to delve into the earth’s past. – Selicity Icefire, Staff (2/17)
Chimamanda Adichie has written a fascinating novel that offers the reader a glimpse into life in Nigeria and America as seen through the eyes of the intelligent, courageous, imperfect, but somehow always endearing Ifemelu. Ifemelu spends her childhood in Nigeria but immigrates to the U.S. to attend college. She spends many years in America as a writer of a provocative and popular blog called "Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black" before eventually returning to Nigeria. Ifemelu struggles to understand and fit into American society; the racism she experiences around every corner is heartbreaking but Adichie's deftness as a writer balances the bleakness with humor and hope. A captivating story about race, class, and love, Americanah is well worth the read! -- Joni Roberts, Librarian (3/17)
Recent high school graduate Kelsey Hayes has no plans for her summer other than finding a job to pay for college. The job placement agency in Salem, Oregon offers her a temporary position with a travelling circus at the local fairgrounds. Her job? Helping to look after a mysterious white tiger named Ren. Kelsey’s bond with Ren deepens as she travels to India and becomes involved in an attempt to break a 300-year old curse, one that has bound an Indian prince to the life of a tiger. Kelsey finds herself falling for Ren in the midst of deadly quests and mystic trials that test both her and Ren’s hearts. Just when you think you have things figured out, the plot twists and pulls you in for more adventures.
Colleen Houck is a local writer from Salem, Oregon, who self-published the first two books of the Tiger’s Curse series which topped the New York Times Bestseller, USA Today Bestseller, and Publisher’s Weekly bestseller lists. . – John Repplinger, Librarian (4/17)
In the genre of micro fiction, word economy is the point. Micro fiction: an anthology of really short stories is a gorgeous bouquet of mini stories that can nudge the reader’s feelings just as well as great literature can, without staying around long enough for anyone to lose interest. Reading Micro fiction is intimate and fleeting, but that doesn’t mean that the authors shy away from telling fully fleshed-out stories. Though many focus (as you may expect) on a single moment, a few manage to tell the story of someone’s entire life! While I read these stories, I was reminded of the way that photographs and paintings can seem to suggest much more beyond the moment they frame, a larger context that is understood rather than explained. Micro fiction proves that you don’t need more than 250 words to tell a story, and that what is not said can be more important than what is. If you haven’t encountered a super-short story before, Micro fiction: an anthology of really short stories is a great place to start.—Dillon Peck, Staff (5/17)
Foodies takes a long and sharp look at the way that so-called “gourmet” food and the people who eat it operate today. Gone are the days when French cuisine was understood as the world’s best food, the standard by which all other foods were judged, and authors Johnston and Baumann explore what we’re left with in the absence of this overt snobbery. How do self-described foodies decide what “good” food is, and why are they allowed to do so? What makes a dish “authentic” or “exotic” and what does this mean for the people that made it? Now that the age of the housewife has largely passed in wealthy countries, how is cooking and food used to perform gender? All of these questions are explored and answered in detail using interviews, surveys of cookbooks and food blogs, gourmet publications, and more. The writing is academic which may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but for me Foodies should be on anyone’s bookshelf if they’re interested in how the culture of food fits into our lives and the world.—Dillon Peck, Staff (6/17)
Ransom Riggs’ trilogy--Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Hollow City, Library of Souls--is fun for all ages. The story centers around fifteen year old Jacob Portman. As with most young adult fiction of the fantasy genre, the twists and turns of life send Jacob on a quest. In this case, the quest is to find the peculiar children of his grandfather’s stories. When he successfully locates the children, Jacob discovers that all of his grandfather’s stories were true and so are the dangers he described. The author paints vivid, relatable pictures of different times and different people, all supported by the wonderful pictures included in the books. Riggs explores fear, difference, the definition of family, and the consequences of choices. The books are a seamless story and a continuous read of the entire series is recommended.—Selicity Icefire, Staff (7/17-8/17)
Hollow City: Popular Reading PZ7.R4423 Hol 2014 Library of Souls: Popular Reading PZ7.R4423 Lib 2015
The first thing that caught my eye about this little book was the fantastic cover design. It’s tough to miss this one; the electric blue and white of the spine stands out among the beiges. The entire book is put together with a sharp eye for beauty, which adds a lot to the experience of reading it. In Glyph, each punctuation mark and common symbol is given it’s own spread with examples and a short blurb explaining how different fonts have dealt with commas, periods, and exclamation points across styles and history. The story of how design conventions for each has changed over the centuries adds depth and intriguing narrative without getting too technical. It only took me a little over half an hour to read through this one, and I came away with some fun facts and a new appreciation for the art of punctuation. Whether you’re a terrible artist (like me) or an accomplished one, this book is perfect for anyone who likes good graphic design.—Dillon Peck, Former Staffer and WU Alumnus (9/17-10/17)
The Lost Hero is another book in the series of Greek and Roman fantasy adventures that are based off of the popular Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. Jason wakes on a bus with no memory, and holding hands with a girl he does not remember. He quickly discovers supernatural demigod powers, and finds himself on a perilous quest to save the world with friends Piper McLean and Leo Valdez. The three friends work together and not only learn about each other, but also about themselves. The entire novel covers only a few days time, so it is action packed and filled with unforgettable characters. It is also written so that new readers of Rick Riordan’s books won’t be confused, yet is allows previous fans to revisit a familiar world from a different perspective. If you liked the Percy Jackson series, you will enjoy The Lost Hero, the first book in The Heroes of Olympus series! – John Repplinger, Librarian (12/17-1/18)
Did Amazons of Greek legend really exist? If so, who were they? These are the questions asked and answered by Adrienne Mayor in the book The Amazons: lives and legends of warrior women across the ancient world. By bringing together oral histories, classical mythology, classical art, non-Greek written sources, and archaeology, the author determines that the Amazons really did exist. Mayor starts at the beginning, from the name Amazon itself and follows several threads of the Amazons in myth, history, and archaeology to ultimately present the Amazons not as myth but as real people who lived, fought, and died. The extensive cross-referencing can become cumbersome in a cover-to-cover reading but that should not deter anyone interested in Greek myth, Asian cultures, or general anthropology from enjoying this book. – Selicity Icefire, Staff (2/18)
After three major hurricanes hit parts of the United States far from Oregon last year, it might be timely to revisit one of the best novels ever written about surviving a hurricane. Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward was her first novel to receive the National Book Award in 2011.* Hurricane Katrina figures only in the last chapter of the book, which tells the story of a 14 year old African-American girl called Esch, who lives outside of the coastal town of Bois Savage in southern Mississippi. Only her hard-drinking father is worried about the coming hurricane. Esch and her brothers live a hardscrabble life of rural poverty, yet the book is filled with lyrical depictions of their childhood games played in the dried-out pond on their property. Her younger brother, Skeetah, passionately cares for the puppies of China, their white pit bull dog. Esch is pregnant, yet her thoughts are filled with the myth of Medea from Edith Hamilton's Mythology. The children play, the father worries, and Katrina looms throughout the book, but the experience of reading this book is like one's first reading of To Kill a Mockingbird--a wonderful, rich envelopment in a Southern and universal classic.-Doreen Simonsen, Librarian (3/18)
*Her recent novel, Sing, Unburied, Sing, just won another National Book Award in 2017, making Jesmyn Ward the first woman author to win two National Book Awards. Ward was also awarded a MacArthur genius grant in 2017.
Roy and Celestial are a young, successful African-American married couple living in Atlanta and contemplating starting a family. Then one day while visiting Roy’s parents in a small town in Louisiana, Roy is falsely accused of a horrific crime and their seemingly storybook life is changed forever. Tayari Jones takes a close look at the often grim reality of what it is like being black in America. This is a novel about race, class, criminal justice, marriage, friendship, and family. The flawed but nonetheless appealing characters take turns moving the story forward (often through letters) and the reader is completely pulled into the novel from the very beginning. This is not a courtroom drama or legal thriller but rather an intimate look at how quickly the lives of two people and that of their family and friends can change in an instant. This thought provoking and skillfully written novel is well worth the read.--Joni Roberts, Librarian (4/18)
In this combination alternative history/dystopian novel, slavery is still legal in four states of the United States. Borrowing from the euphemistic term “underground railroad” and updated to current travel technology, we have “underground airlines,” and a former slave working for the U.S. Marshal’s office to track down runaways. An interesting perspective, in that the typical dystopian novel generally doesn’t portray racial issues or how they might be important factors in a bleak future. Recommended.—Ford Schmidt, Librarian (5/18-8/18)
When I saw John Pickrell’s Weird Dinosaurs in the stacks it held out the promise of an interesting read just begging to be picked up. I am happy to say the book did not disappoint. From the discovery of a semiaquatic dinosaur with very strange wings to dinosaurs living at the poles, Pickrell delves into the latest and oddest dinosaur finds from around the world. The author also tells just as fascinating stories of the people who found the fossils and the places where the discoveries were made. Paleontology is one of the most dynamic scientific fields and a single discovery can dramatically change our understanding of past environments and the animals that lived in them. Weird Dinosaurs gives an excellent glimpse into the surprises of times past.—Selicity Icefire, Staff (9/18)
The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is arguably one of the most influential books in the history of the English language, so it is only natural that an enthralling story of murder and insanity lies just beneath its covers. Written by Simon Winchester, an author and award-winning newspaper columnist, The Professor and the Madman tells the story of the roller coaster ride of how the OED was initially conceived, abandoned, and ultimately published. While hundreds of volunteers spent over seven decades researching and compiling this momentous resource, two men in particular are credited with much of the content: Professor James Murray and Dr. William Chester Minor. Professor Murray, a tall and grave man with a bright red beard, served as the editor of the OED. Dr. Minor, a former American Civil War surgeon and an inmate in England's harshest asylum for the criminally insane, submitted thousands of definitions. By chance, these two very different, yet similar men cross paths and The Professor and the Madman offers a fascinating glimpse of their unique relationship. – John Repplinger, Librarian (10/18)
Martin Marten is a lovely coming-of-age story of two wonderful individuals. Dave is a young man growing up in a small mountain community in Oregon and Martin is a marten, a small animal of the otter/mink family, growing up in the same area. Their paths often cross in the telling of this story and each character provides their own unique view of life on the mountain. Along the way we meet a host of interesting secondary characters both human and animal and we are treated to lovely descriptions of the Mt. Hood area. Brian Doyle’s love of nature and Oregon comes through powerfully in his writing; sadly, Doyle died of a brain tumor in 2017 at the age of 60. Imaginatively and beautifully written, Martin Marten is a terrific read. -- Joni Roberts, Librarian (11/18)
The Book of Joan is a particularly poignant read in today’s political and environmental climate. It tells of a future featuring an environmentally devastated Earth, a planetary casualty of the great wars of humanity, and a small group of wealthy elite who escaped into a space station to live out the final years of humankind. The primary narrator is working to build a resistance movement through art and storytelling in the present and at the same time, she reflects back on what she feels was the last stand on Earth - the leadership of rebel Joan of Dirt. As she works, the narrator muses on the nature and failings of humanity in the recent past and in their current sterile, genderless state, their bodies having been altered by a kind of perverted evolution. This is a book about rebellion and power, about art and nature and time, a book that takes the implications of the word ‘apocalypse’ to an entirely new place. Although this poetic, haunting, at times horrifying and surreal story is permeated with a feeling of utter hopelessness for society, there is still beauty to be found in the final moments of life on and above Earth. – Sabrina George, CLA Student and Library Student Manager (12/18-1/19)
When the first dinosaur bones were found, studied, and reconstructed they were shown to be slow, dim, reptiles. After over 120 years, our understanding of dinosaurs has grown by leaps and bounds. Dinosaurs are reptiles, yes, but not like any on earth today. Slow? Some certainly took their time but others were quick predators. Dim? They were smart enough to survive in the varied environments of Mesozoic earth. Over the years, scientists have discovered all sorts of new information about dinosaurs and Feathered Dinosaurs: the Origin of Birds explores some of these findings that the early researcher could never have conceived. For instance, it is now accepted that birds are the decedents of dinosaurs. Feathers, the quintessential bird trait, is not a bird trait, but a dinosaur one. Feathered Dinosaurs takes a new look at several well-known species from this new perspective. No longer are dinosaurs depicted as just having skin, but having feathers as well. This book was published in 2008, and there have been many discoveries and advances since but it is still one of the best titles out there for showing how us how dinosaurs looked. One only hopes that Hollywood will catch up!—Selicity Icefire, Staff (2/19-3/19)
Big Questions by Anders Nilsen
Call Number: PN6727.N56 B53 2011
This massive tome of a graphic novel, written over the course of ten years, is understandably intimidating at first glance. It deals with heavy ideas too: the absurdity of life, the meaning of existence, the power of love and of hate. I meant to take my time with it (twenty pages or so at a time seemed reasonable), but the subtle art, compelling plot, and black humor pulled me along until, much to my surprise, I had finished it in an afternoon. Nilsen’s characters are almost all birds, but their questions, their relationships, and their fears are very human. I still find myself thinking about the strange twists and turns in Big Questions. When you pick up Big Questions, be sure you have the rest of the day to read it, because this curious masterpiece won’t let you go until you’ve made it to the end.--Dillon Peck, Former Staffer and WU Alumnus (4/19)
Emotions are powerful forces that can synergize or doom the productivity of an organization. In Primal Teams, Willamette’s very own Chief Information Officer, Jackie Barretta, explores how emotions can be harnessed to create extraordinary performance. The strategies offered in the book can be applied to just about any situation, from small one-on-one encounters to large corporations. It contains a lot of common sense, and can also be incredibly useful for self-improvement. Examples of contemporary neuroscience and psychology research are used to examine and support how powerful our emotions can be. For instance, did you know our emotions can literally produce physical phenomenon that can be felt by others in the same room without any visual or auditory cues? Primal Teams offers many strategies to help control and turn around damaging emotions and galvanize teams into greater productivity and achievement. – John Repplinger, Librarian (5/19-8/19)
If you’ve been avoiding The Art of Fielding because you’re not a huge baseball fan and you think this is just another book about baseball, think again! This book is about much more than baseball—it’s about friendship, family, self-discovery, competition, redemption, exploration, college life, love, and yes, baseball! Set at a small, liberal arts college on the shore of Lake Michigan, The Art of Fielding explores the trials and tribulations as well as the joy and excitement of campus life. The tale is larger than life and at times a little over the top, but the author writes with a wonderful warmth and sense of humor about all the strange things that make up the college experience. Funny, poignant, and well worth reading. - Joni Roberts, Librarian (9/19)
On Jenna’s tenth birthday, she discovers that she is the daughter of the king and queen who were assassinated shortly after her birth. Secreted away after the assassinations, Jenna was raised by a family of poor wizards (the Heap family) and believed to be the only sister of six older rambunctious brothers. She never knew of her true royal lineage until the ExtraOrdinary Wizard, Marcia Overstrand, literally bursts into her life and prevents her assassination. In an effort to keep Jenna safe, Jenna, Marcia, and the mysterious Boy 412 travel to various places and encounter magical creatures, objects, and people who both try to help and harm her. This book is packed full of adventure and incredible "magyk," and once you finish reading it, you’ll definitely want to read the next book in the series! This is the first of seven young adult fantasy novels in the Septimus Heap series. -- John Repplinger, Librarian (10/19)