Monday, July 24, 2017

The Pain Eater by Beth Goobie

Canadian author Beth Goobie wanted to become a writer since she was a young child. She didn’t start writing until her late twenties when she attended the University of Alberta. Since 1991, she has had 24 books published, all but four
were written for young adults. A number of her books explore difficult topics such as bullying, domestic violence, and sexual assault. Goobie’s latest novel, “The Pain Eater”, is a finalist in the young adult category of the High Plains Book Awards.

In “The Pain Eater”, author Beth Goobie provides a rape victim’s view of life after rape with main character Maddy Malone who was gang raped by three high school boys. Maddy comes face to face with one of her attackers in her sophomore English class where she is forced to work on a group project with one of the boys involved in the rape.

Maddy’s story unfolds along with a novel the sophomore English students are required to write as a class project. Maddie, like the “pain eater” which is the main character in the novel, internalizes her suffering and is unable to express her pain to others. While Maddy struggles to come to terms with her victimization, she remains silent in order to avoid reliving the trauma of being raped. She copes with her emotions by putting out cigarettes on her body and cutting herself with her fingernails.

This novel brings to life the horror of a rape victim’s struggle to report the crime and remaining silent to protect herself from reliving the terror. Goobie’s novel is well-written, relatable and realistically depicts of the pain and emotional turmoil of the young victim. --Jennifer

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Monday, July 3, 2017

I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong

Most of Earth’s living diversity, and much of you or me, is tiny organisms that exist on larger, more obvious creatures. We contain more microbial separate lives (mostly harmless “germs”) than human cells, and are legion with teeming life invisible to our senses. This intro to microbiology tells how our lil’ riders interact. 

“All zoology is ecology,” Yong writes, because every living organism exists only in relation to the succession of many other species that grow on, in or around it. Each of us is an archipelago - our right hand shares just a sixth of its microbial species with our left hand. We have not yet identified many of the species on and in us, but we don’t exist as individuals apart from the symbioses and cascading effects of our germy relationships.

Because microbes create miniature ecosystems - microbiomes - throughout us, medicine will eventually consider only systems, instead of seeking linear solutions to isolated problems. Microbes not only digest all our food, produce our vitamins, and kill each other; their relationships influence our behavior and sense of self in myriad ways.

Scientists give an “Overselling the Microbe Award” to those who pretend to know more about our microbiota than we actually do. Yong says we can’t mess with our germs without then hosting even more unpredictable, cascading effects. --Jon 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China By Jung Chang

Empress Dowager Cixi is undoubtedly one of the major figures in Chinese history. I’m a history buff, and I had never heard of her before. What an astonishing woman. As a girl from a high-ranking family, the young Cixi was considered fortunate to become a concubine of Emperor Xianfeng in 1841 at the age of sixteen. She was even more fortunate to bear him a son. When the emperor died, her five-year-old son was named the new emperor, with a council of regents. Cixi and her close friend Empress Zhen, risking their lives in doing so, essentially mounted a coup to oust the council. The two of them, now both known as Empress Dowagers, ruled China in the young boy’s stead, with Zhen taking on routine administrative duties, and Cixi handling major policy and diplomatic roles. 

Mostly uneducated and excluded from power by her sex, Cixi managed to consolidate authority and rule China for decades from quite literally behind the throne. As a woman, she wasn't even allowed to meet directly with men, and sat behind a screen of yellow silk. The fact that she was able to gain and retain power, and in so doing begin to modernize China much against its will is a testament to her determination and fortitude. She could be utterly ruthless, but she also forgave enemies and turned a number of them into fervently loyal supporters.

Cixi fought against strong objections to modernize China, creating industry, building railroads, adding telegraphs, and establishing a modern military. She put an end to footbinding, and medieval means of execution. When her son came of age, she retired from public life. Her son was not as interested in modernization, and her efforts went into abeyance for some time, but her son was also in poor health. 

Cixi had to find a successor (her nephew), another small child, and Cixi found herself back in the forefront of tumultuous times. These included wars with Japan, the incursions of the European nations seeking footholds of territory to establish themselves in Asia, the Boxer Rebellion, and more. Cixi was a consummate politician in difficult times and against overwhelming odds.
Chang’s history reads like a novel of an extraordinary life, and the author is obviously a fan of her subject. Cixi’s reputation in China is apparently less stellar, as she suffered from efforts to discredit her. If you are interested in biographies, interested in imperial China, or if you just like to read history this is a fascinating choice.  -DeeAnn

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

When in French by Lauren Collins

When in French is a delightful account of the author's adventures in learning a second language.  A monolingual North Carolinian working in London, she falls in love and marries a Frenchman, but can communicate with him only in English.  When they move to francophone Geneva for his work, she often feels disconnected and left out of conversations, like an adult seated at the kids' table.  She finally resolves to learn French when her husband tells her that talking to her only in English is like touching her with gloves on.

Those who have studied another language know that not everything translates word-for-word. Idioms can produce awkward misunderstandings, and sometimes there are unfamiliar shades of meaning embedded in words and expressions.  For example, after meals, Collins told waiters, "Je suis finie," unaware that being "finished" in French is to be dead.

Homonyms and words with multiple meanings add challenges, and then there is the gender issue.  Nouns in French and many other languages are either masculine or feminine.  But Collins points out absurdities therein:  a man's shirt (une chemise) is feminine and a woman's shirt (un chemisier) is masculine.

On the staff of the New Yorker, the author is a talented writer and an artful wordsmith.  I was awed by her extensive vocabulary.  The book is more than her personal, often humorous journey to become bilingual; it is a seriously academic endeavor.  She wonders if each language has its own worldview and whether or not language actually influences culture.  Further, she speculates that a great many diplomatic disasters may have happened throughout history simply because of linguistic blunders.

Word lovers are called logophiles.  If you are one, you will enjoy this book.  ~Margie

Reserve this title in print, audio or as an e-book.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

I don't normally review a book I haven't finished reading, but I am making an exception this month for an enthralling fantasy novel, The Name of the Wind.  This is the first of a planned trilogy called The Kingkiller Chronicle; the first two volumes and a novella have been published and a tv show and movie projects are currently being planned around the series.

The protagonist, Kvothe, takes on many roles over the course of the book, but he begins in a troupe of traveling performers, the son of its leaders.  He is talented and quick, and when he is given the opportunity to study magic (called "sympathy" in this book) with an itinerant mage, he proves almost dangerously adept.  His teacher calls off his training but encourages him to make his way to the University to continue his studies when he is older. Kvothe's life takes a tragic turn shortly afterwards, however, as his parents and their entire troupe are killed.  The killers' leader is a cloaked man who may be a Chandrian, a creature that most believe to be just a fairy tale figure. Kvothe does eventually make it to the University, but only after many years of struggling to survive and with nothing to his name but two shirts and a book given to him by his old teacher.  He must prove his worth and make his way.  And he must find out the truth about the Chandrian.

Rothfuss takes an ambitious approach to his storytelling structure in his debut novel by splitting his narrative into a framing story and a life history.  The reader first encounters Kvothe as the owner of a backwater inn, who is persuaded to tell his own story to an insistent chronicler.   Throughout the book, we go back to the older Kvothe and his listeners, which lends suspense to the origin story as the author teases us with details.  Why has he named his sword "Folly" and hung it over his bar?  Who and what is his young apprentice, really, and how did they meet?  Why did the chronicler seek out this quiet, retired man?  I have a feeling that I will not know the answers by the end of this novel, but I'm excited to continue this unexpectedly thoughtful and well written ride!  -Barb

Reserve this book and the others in the series.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

I Found You by Lisa Jewell

I’m a huge fan of Lisa Jewell and I could not wait to read her newest novel I found you. As usual she did not disappoint, it was a great read with suspense, mystery and relatable characters.  
Alice Lake, single mother of 3 looks out her window and sees a man sitting on the beach, in the rain, staring out at the ocean. She tries to ignore him but after he has been out there all day her curiosity gets the better of her and she heads to the beach to offer him a coat. Upon meeting him she quickly discovers that something is not right, he has no idea who he is or how he got to the beach. Although she knows it is probably a bad idea she invites him into her home. At the same time hours away in the suburbs of London a young wife, Lily Monrose is waiting for her husband to return from work, he is late, and he is never late. After a couple of hours she is frantic with worry so she calls the authorities and reports him missing. After he has been reported missing, she soon discovers that Carl Monrose does not exist.
Twenty-three years earlier Gray and Kirsty are on holiday with their parents when they meet a mysterious young man who takes an interest in 15 year old Kirsty. At first he seems harmless to everyone but Gray who has had a bad feeling about him from the moment they met. As the days go by the whole family starts to feel uncomfortable around him though because his pursuit of Kirsty turns into an obsession. The culmination of these two stories reveals 20 years of secrets which are shocking for everyone involved.

I love to read Jewell because her characters are real and relatable, they are tragic, dark, caring and messy and they embody everything that it is to be human. In this book and many of her others she pairs these wonderful characters with complex story lines that have lots of twists and turns, often flipping back and forth from the present to the past. I also love how she includes the perspectives of most of the characters in the story, it gives it more depth while continuing to add to the mystery.

This book is a true page turner that will keep you guessing until the end!  - Cassie

Friday, May 12, 2017

North of Crazy by Neltje

Artist and writer Neltje was at Billings Public Library on Friday, May 5th, for a reading in front of a packed room. Her book, North of Crazy, was sitting on my coffee table at home. It’s a terrible admission for a librarian, but I just hadn’t gotten around to opening it before the reading. She was such a great storyteller, and the selections she read at the program were so intriguing, that I went straight to the book when I got home, and pretty much kept my nose in it until I finished it, with minor exceptions like coming back to work on Saturday and the occasional break to feed the pets.

Prior to reading her memoir, I had known Neltje’s name as an abstract expressionist painter whose works could be seen at the Yellowstone Art Museum from time to time. How little I knew about her! As the daughter of publisher Nelson Doubleday, she grew up in New York and on a South Carolina plantation in a privileged family, with hard-drinking and neglectful parents who favored their son over a mere daughter, and regularly shuffled off both children to relatives and paid staff. At the age of nine, a family friend abused her. She married very young, to an ambitious man who saw the value of marrying the daughter of his boss, and had two children of her own.  She moved to northern Wyoming only for the short residency required for a divorce, but ended up staying, establishing a ranch, restoring the Sheridan Inn, and eventually coming into her own as an artist and a determined feminist. 

Along the way, she led an extraordinary life. Her family’s literary connections took her on some adventures that are sprinkled through the book, where readers will find mentions of Daphne DuMaurier, Bennett Cerf, W. Somerset Maugham, and other notable writers. Other experiences she relates include cocktails with the royal family of Britain and marching behind Martin Luther King Jr. from Selma to Birmingham.

The memoir is imperfect in its introspection of her life and experiences, but an altogether absorbing read.    -DeeAnn

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