Thursday, November 1, 2018

Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart

My husband bought me Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart because, in his words, “It looks like it has a strong female lead and I think it’s something you’ll like.” He was absolutely right, and protagonist Constance Kopp is the epitome of a strong, independent, feminist character who is now my new role model.

Set in 1914 New Jersey, the three Kopp sisters are considered a bit of an oddity in that they live alone on a farm in the countryside (three woman living by themselves, the horror!). Middle sister Constance Kopp keeps a close eye on the family’s dwindling savings as she fends off her brother’s threats to make the sisters move in with him so they can have a proper male guardian. Her older sister, Norma, draws into her pigeon-keeping habit while the youngest, 18-year-old Fleurette, dreams of becoming an actress while finessing her sewing skills.

Their world is turned upside down when while driving their horse and buggy into town, they are hit at an intersection by a local silk factory owner irresponsibly driving a motorcar. When Constance dares to get reparation for damages from the powerful factor owner Henry Kaufman, he unleashes a dangerous campaign against all three of the Kopp sisters, ranging from threatening letters, gunshots in the night, and bricks thrown through windows. Despite roadblocks and cautions that a simple woman can’t possibly take on a powerful silk baron, Constance teams up with Sheriff Heath to expose Kaufman’s unethical practices within his factories and against her family.

Intertwined in the main conflict is the tale of how the three sisters came to live an isolated life in the country in the first place, including a mystery about Fleurette’s true parentage and her relationship to her sisters. This pain hidden in her past pushes Constance to help find the child of one of Kaufman’s factory workers, who was lost as a “strike orphan” in New York a year beforehand.

Girl Waits With Gun is based on a true story and is pulled straight from the headlines of the day. Shortly after the events related in the book, the real Constance Kopp became the first female police deputy in the United States. Constance Kopp emerges as an unlikely voice for the underprivileged before such movements were established, fighting for equal rights of women, of workers, and those that had so little agency in 1914.

Lucky for everyone who discovers this wonderful book, there are three more books in the series, all of which are held at Billings Public Library. Following Girl Waits With Gun, you can check out Lady Cop Makes Trouble, Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions, and Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit. I’ll definitely be reading through the series as fast as I can to discover the further adventures of the Kopp sisters.  -Carla

Reserve this book and the rest of the series!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Figure It Out! Drawing Essential Poses: The Beginner’s Guide to the Natural-Looking Figure by Christopher Hart

Who here likes to draw? Are there any of you who raised their hands like to draw, but aren’t very good at it? Yeah, same. I am an artist and I like to think I’m proficient at numerous mediums. However, if you hand me a piece of paper and pencil and tell me to pull something out of midair, you’ll be disappointed. I’m terrible at drawing realistically without a point of reference. Christopher Hart orchestrated a fantastic book that helped me fine-tune my drawing skills considerably. It’s called Figure It Out! Drawing Essential Poses: The Beginner’s Guide to the Natural-Looking Figure.

Mr. Hart provides detailed, instructive step-by-step guides that can benefit anyone who wishes they could draw better. I’ve spent hours with this book and I am now a lot more confident with my drawing skills. Below, I’ve provided a few side-by-side examples for you. Obviously, I took a few artistic liberties, but you’ll see the similarities.

If you are struggling to draw, I hope you’ll give this book a chance. I promise you’ll see results!

Happy drawing and reading!  -Lena

Friday, October 19, 2018

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson/The Haunting (1963, dir. Robert Wise)

"No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality;  even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.  Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood for eighty years and might stand for eighty more.  Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone."  -first paragraph of The Haunting of Hill House

Reading this justifiably famous passage was a revelation for my teen-aged self,  a chilling and succinct piece of description that set the tone and place for this psychological ghost story which planted little piece of itself in my imagination that persists to this day.  Netflix has just released a gorgeous and scary new interpretation;  whether or not you treat yourself to their ten-part miniseries, I encourage you to seek out both the book and the 1963 movie starring Julie Harris  and Claire Bloom (with apologies to the stellar cast of the 1999 Jan de Bont version, it can't compete at all with the book or these other films).

At surface level, the story of Hill House follows an often used horror trope, centering on an investigation into a notorious "bad place", which in its turn was inspired by true life investigations conducted by paranormal research societies around the height of the spiritualist movement.  Dr. John Montague hopes to redeem his academic standing by inviting a team of psychics, sensitives, and researchers to Hill House for his investigation.  As the book begins, he only has three volunteers:  Theodora, a world-wise psychic; Luke, the nephew of the house's owner who has been charged with keeping an eye on the investigators; and Eleanor, a psychologically fragile woman who uses the trip to escape her family's control. Their arrival sparks a series of frightening events, but the reader is left to make up her mind how much of what happens is real, and how much perception influences the characters.

Jackson uses this framework as character study, especially of Eleanor, and as satire which exposes both gothic trappings (as when Theo punctures housekeeper Mrs. Dudley's pronouncement that they will be all alone "in the night.  In the dark.") and the vapidity of some spiritualist practices.  Side by side with these elements, though, she creates several memorably scary sequences, rendered in clean prose that adds to the eerie atmosphere of her set pieces by making them seem believable as a part of the real world.

Wise's 1963 film stays true to the feel of the book, and adds memorable visual flair to the house itself.  This Hill House is a Victorian pile, a maze of windows, gothic stonework, and chimneys, a quintessential haunted house which is impossible to forget.  Also impossible to forget is Harris' Eleanor as she becomes increasingly obsessed with the house and convinced that it wants her to stay.

Whether or not Eleanor gets her wish for a home in Hill House is left for the reader to decide. So tell me, do you believe that "Journeys end in lovers meeting"?  -Barb

Reserve this book and/or movie

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Tambora: The Eruption That Changed the World by Gillen D'Arcy Wood

On April 10th, 1815, the volcano Tambora on Sumbawa Island in what is now Indonesia erupted with an intensity previously unknown to recorded history, with a Volcanic Explosivity Index of 7.  The explosion was heard on Sumatra, more than 1600 miles away. It was four times as bad as the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa, but because in 1815 there was not yet a world-wide telegraph system, the eruption was mostly undocumented outside the local area.  The effects, however, were world-wide and long lasting.  In "Tambora: The Eruption That Changed the World", author Gillen D'Arcy Wood explores the effects of this horrendous eruption, both immediate and over time.  One of the effects was the 1816 Year without a Summer, several successive years of crop failures around the world, and epidemics.

Author Wood does an excellent job of exploring all the results of the biggest historical volcanic eruption ever.  His description of the eruption itself is suitably dramatic, and brings out the immediate personal cost to the local residents (basically,they mostly all died), and how the eruption and consequent tsunami caused thousands of casualties not just on Sumbawa, but on many other islands in the East Indies. He then goes into a reasonably detailed description of the long-term aftermath, which lasted through the 1820s with famines, epidemics, and economic dislocations.

Wood links all the world-wide effects back to the volcano through citation of original sources.  His documentation is very thorough, and in some cases his translation is the first into English of various sources writing about the after-effects of the eruption.  He also does a compare & contrast with other large volcanic eruptions, and compares weather following the eruption with other disruptions to weather patterns into modern times.  In all cases, he manages not to bog the reader down in jargon, and explains technicalities very clearly for the lay reader.  He also discusses how the eruption gave rise to meteorology as a science, and how much has changed when it comes to predicting the weather.

All in all, this is a very good book about a world-scale natural disaster that reflects what could happen if a major volcanic eruption occurred tomorrow. ---Lynne

Reserve this book.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Poe: Stories and Poems, a Graphic Novel Adaptation by Gareth Hinds

As we are now in the second week of October, we approach my favorite season of Halloween!  What better way to celebrate the ghoulish and ghastly holiday than to read and appreciate the master of the macabre, practitioner of the phantasmagoric, the horror hound Edgar Allen Poe.  This week I recommend Poe: Stories and Poems, a Graphic Novel Adaptation by Gareth Hinds.  The classic texts of Poe contain depth in death, disease, and human darkness, and Hinds manipulates the terror Poe wrote and gives a visual representation to enhance the disturbing subject matter.  Hinds’ chosen stories and poems include: “The Masque of the Red Death,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” “Annabel Lee,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Bells,” and “The Raven.”  These select works give a whole sense of Poe’s horror!

At the beginning of the graphic novel, Gareth Hinds makes note the themes and motifs that Poe uses in his stories and poems.  Hinds correlates each topic, such as disease, death, insanity, etc., with a symbol like a raven and a rat for creepy animals, or a dagger in a skull for murder.  Each story or poem contains a title page, and Hinds inserts a specific symbol that relates to the particular work.  This device helps aid the reader to choose what they are most interested.

Utilizing the graphic novel style, Hinds achieves tension with color, emotions of characters through illustrated faces, and detailed scenes with no text.  A quick summary of “The Masque of the Red Death,” during the bubonic plague a prince locks up his castle with nobles to celebrate a masquerade until the sickness passes.  Each room in the party is a different color to be a different party in each room essentially.  There is a clock in the far apartment that each time the hour strikes, the partygoers halt what they are doing almost mesmerized by the deep tone, but resume the fete after the hour passes.  Late in the party, a new member arrives shrouded in bloody clothing.  The narrator of the tale reveals the figure is the plague, and everyone at the party dies.  The color is a critical portion of Poe’s story, and Hinds’ illustration intensifies the color theme of each room.  As each room contains a different hue, when the shrouded Death figure arrives, the contrast of the red on the clothing versus the blue, orange, green create tension in the story.  The red stands out loud as well as the “Grim Reaper” appearance of the shrouded figure.  Hinds furnishes the emotions of the awe-struck party members showing surprise, shock, and anger to provide the feelings Poe intended in his writing.

Another example of tension created is in the absence of text.  Because this graphic novel is an adaptation, it does not include all narrative.  Hinds often uses little-to-no writing to give a summary of the story.  In “The Pit and the Pendulum,” a man is arrested by Inquisitors and put into a pitch black prison cell.  Hinds starts the story with two lines of narrative to summarize the first portion of the story that explains a man’s trial and judgment in the Inquisition.  He then utilizes visual rhetoric to portray the anxiety of the man in six pages of illustration with no words.  Hinds uses white drawings of the man and his surroundings over small black frames.  It depicts the helplessness pitch black can give someone, the loss of sight creates pure disorientation.  Hinds uses written sounds and onomatopoeias to aid in the perplexity of the scenes, but no descriptive writing.  The absence of narrative text eliminates more than half of the story, but the narrative is given through the actions the man such as searching the pitch black room.

Hinds’ adaptation aids in the interpretation of Poe’s stories and poems.  The graphic novel style also aids in giving visual horror to the text.  Using mixed mediums is an increasing trend of authors, as well as the demand by readers.  Using multiple mediums to enjoy traditional texts intensifies the feelings the author, such as Poe, intended for the reader.  An enhanced effect I recommend is to listen to the stories and poems while reading this graphic novel.  Most stories and poems may be found through Montana Library 2 Go on the OverDrive app or using LibriVox which uses free recorded readings of texts in the public domain.  Poe’s works are in the public domain being over 100 years old.  I believe the mix of audio, visual content of illustrations, and the text of the works give a deeper enjoyment of the classic tales and poems.  When reading “The Raven,” my strong recommendation is to find the recording of Christopher Lee to give you a chill down your spine this haunting season!  -Patrick

Reserve this graphic novel.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

My son told me, after finishing this book last month for his high school English class, that it had ruined his afternoon.  My older son read it for school as well, and we had some great conversations about it. As I experienced the novella vicariously through them, I realized that I had never read it myself, though it's a story that had been a part of my psyche for most of my life. I must have absorbed  it through the pop culture ether.  Banned Books Week has given me an opportunity to rectify this oversight, since this slim but powerful book has long been on the list of most challenged.

In spare prose, Steinbeck tells the story of George and Lenny, two migrant farm hands in Depression-era California.  Lenny is big, strong, and simple; George is small and quick, and he watches out for his friend and shares with him his dream of having a little piece of land that they could call their own where George could be his own boss, and Lenny could help with the rabbits.  Trouble is, Lenny "does bad things" sometimes because he doesn't know his strength or he panics, forcing them to be always on the road.  When they arrive at a ranch run by a pugnacious and insecure bully with a flirtatious and bored young wife, their lives take a tragic turn.

Published in 1937, popular and critically acclaimed from the beginning, challenges to this book date back to the 1950's, and originally focused on its use of profanity and Steinbeck's political views.  More recent challenges cite its treatment of African-American and female characters and its depiction of the developmentally disabled Lenny.  I don't want to sweep away any of these difficult aspects of the book, as all readers will have to come to terms with, for example, encountering the n-word many times in its 100 pages.  But Steinbeck's intent here is not to write a derogatory book, but to accurately depict the world of California in the 1930's, and the ways that his characters fit into their "bindlestiff" lives.  This is a rough and cruel world, but I feel that the author has empathy for most of his characters, and allows them moments that explain their worldviews in memorable ways.  This is not an easily forgotten story, and one that I am glad to have finally read.  -Barb

Reserve this as a book or audiobook

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Hello, fellow readers! As you may have gathered, this week is Banned Books Week, which means that we at the library are taking this opportunity to revel in our right to be heard and sing praises to the “controversial.” Granted, I don’t want to read everything on the banned book list, nor do I find all of it agreeable to my literary taste. Nevertheless, I am thrilled to be participating in this celebration of literary freedom that our society has worked tirelessly to achieve.

Now that I’ve gotten my usual formalities out of the way, I’ll offer a brief look into George Orwell’s 1946 novella, Animal Farm. The story can be an interpreted (and was intended to be) as an allegory for totalitarianism and the Russian Revolution. Totalitarianism means to have complete subservience. There is not tolerance of differing of opinion, and there is control over freedom, will, thought, and all aspects of social life. That sounds like a horrible way to live if you ask me. I thrive on my right of choice; who doesn’t?

Our story takes place on Manor Farm, which starts out as an ordinary working farm. Its owner, Farmer Jones has become careless in his operations by staying out late drinking. One night, he forgets to feed the animals. This oversight is the last straw for the farm’s animal patriarch, Old Major, who then gathers everyone together for a meeting. He expresses his desire that the animals should break free from their bonds and form a mutiny against Farmer Jones and humanity as a whole. Not long after his moving speech, he passes away. The rallying of the troops is left to the pigs, led by Snowball and Napoleon. They heed Old Major’s words and their rebellion is successful. Farmer Jones disappears and the farm’s name is changed to Animal Farm.

The animals seem to be flourishing in their newfound sense of freedom. Ground rules are established and everyone (except the pigs, who think they are better suited to supervise) works hard to maintain the farm. However, there is a power struggle looming in the background between Snowball and Napoleon. They can’t agree on anything and both are hungry for more authority. This is an obvious nod to the Russian Revolution, as conflicting dual power was one of the main aspects and roots of it.

Eventually, Snowball is banished and Napoleon is now in charge. Discipline becomes harsher; the pigs start finding loopholes in the rules and altering them. Rations are decreased so the pigs can eat more, and the animals work unreasonably long hours. Napoleon, with his charisma and influence, leads everyone to believe that all of this is for the greater good of Animal Farm and its residents. They would be punished for believing otherwise.

The story continues to go downhill from there. Since this is a blog, I can’t, unfortunately, write a full dissertation on this book, although it certainly deserves one. If you want to delve into this story more, you’ll just have to check it out sometime! There are a few feature film adaptations, one of which is a 1954 British animated film, which is in our collection, as well.  -Lena

Happy Reading, and Happy Banned Books Week!