Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee

As morbid as it sounds, I find disease fascinating.  To be perfectly honest, I find most everything related to medicine to be fascinating, but that's neither here nor there.  There's just something about the nature of diseases, their inner machinations and terrifying effects on human bodies (not to mention the effect on human lives), that is inherently interesting.  To be sure, part of the interest lies in my almost complete lack of general knowledge on such subjects.  To that end I am grateful that books such as The Emperor of All Maladies get written, and in this case get written so wonderfully.

The Emperor of All Maladies is, just as it touts, a biography of cancer.  That is, we learn what cancer is, where it comes from, what it does, and more importantly in this case what is being done to it (or about it, or to cure it, etc.).  Therein lies the true marvel of this book: it takes an incredible complex topic, both medically and scientifically, and makes it understandable.  Even the most challenging aspect of cancer that is discussed ( the genetics of cancer) is handled deftly and straightforwardly.  Simply put, I learned loads from this book and always wanted to keep reading.  It seemed like every other page had some medical marvel or discovery about cancer or treatment breakthrough that was almost too incredible to believe.

The only real mark against the book is that the middle section, which details the political and social "War on Cancer" movement, lulls a bit.  But this is only because the other parts of the book, those that deal with the genetics, history, and treatment of cancer, were more exciting and interesting to me.  Each part is essential and helps develop a more robust understanding of cancer and how we view it as a society, so it's difficult to call this a fault.  On the whole, this is a book that shouldn't be missed.--CA

Reserve this book.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Help for the Haunted by John Searles

Our library’s LitCentric book discussion group had a rockin’ awesome evening being charmed by best-selling author John Searles (via Skype) over his newest novel, Help for the Haunted.  Here are some thoughts from last night’s discussion:

Although we thought we knew each of the characters and their motivations at the beginning of the book, much of what we thought we knew turned out to be quite different by the end.

Parts of the book were scary and disturbing, but not for the reasons we initially thought.

We loved the details, like the totally creepy doll, the lovely wallpaper book, Dereck’s seven fingers, Sylvie’s horses, the weird uncle, and the Tudor house.

Maybe lodging disturbed people in your home’s basement isn’t the best place to put them.

Our minds were toyed with, but in the best possible ways.

Overall the book was compelling, compulsively readable, and the multiple timelines really, really worked!

Help for the Haunted wasn’t just a crime novel, or a ghost story, or a coming-of-age story, or a literary book, but it was all those things twined perfectly together!

In essence, we loved the book and now we’re all happily smitten with John, our new favorite author, and ready to go out and read the rest of his work!  -JW

Reserve John’s other books.
You can learn more about John by visiting his website or his Facebook page.
He also wrote a great little article for the New York Times.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Elfhome (Elfhome, #3) by Wen Spencer

Elfhome - a world of powerful magic, beautiful elves, man-eating trees, frost-breathing wargs, and god-like dragons.  Pittsburgh - a city stranded deep in virgin forest by a technomagical accident; a city that must now stave off an invasion by the merciless oni. Now, its population of 60,000 humans and a handful of elves are pitted in a war that will only end in genocide. But the good guys are led by Wolf Who Rules Wind, elven viceroy of the Westernlands, and his wife, consort, and consulting genius Beloved Tinker of Wind, until recently Alexander Graham “Tinker” Bell, owner/operator of a Pittsburgh salvage company. Winter is coming. Supplies are running low. All political ties are fraying. Hidden somewhere in Pittsburgh's crumbling neighborhoods, a vanguard of oni are growing in number and attacking from the shadows.  And children are disappearing. In the melting pot of humans, elves, half-oni, and the crow-like tengu, Tinker and Oilcan hasten to find and protect the missing children, even though by elven reckoning they are themselves only children. Tinker, Oilcan, and their allies may be outnumbered, but they’ll never be outclassed. 

This is the third book in the series, of which the first two were “Tinker” and “Wolf Who Rules”.  I think Tinker and her cousin Oilcan (aka Orville Wright) are just adorable, and they can both kick bad guys' behinds with the best. This installment concentrates more on Oilcan than Tinker, but there is enough of both of them to keep things hopping. It really expands Oilcan's role in Tinker's life, and how her transition to elf affects his life. This book also clarifies and expands the role of the elven clans in the lives of elves in general and elves in the Westernlands (aka Pennsylvania) in particular. Spencer has a very fully realized vision of her worlds, and how they fit together, that makes for fascinating reading. A very lively, fun read.  -LP

Reserve this book.  Billings Public Library also has the other volumes in this series, as well as more by Wen Spencer.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Dead Wake by Erik Larson

Bestselling author Erik Larson's newest work, Dead Wake, is a vivid account of the Lusitania's last voyage.  The book's release coincides with the 100th anniversary of the catastrophic sinking, one of the early events of World War I that eventually helped pull the United States into the European conflict.

With no particular interest in military naval history, I found this book fascinating.  It is like an intricately woven tapestry, the threads of which include survivor recollections, pre-war politics in the U.S. and Britain, and President Woodrow Wilson's private struggles and reluctance to enter the war.  Another significant thread is the perspective of Walther Schweiger, the German submarine captain who fired the fatal torpedo.  From his own war log entries, we know his thoughts and reasoning process prior to the attack.  Particularly chilling are his references to sunken tonnage as evidence of his professional success.

The Lusitania's demise still haunts us with unanswered questions about Britain's lack of rescue support and Winston Churchill's mysterious role in the tragedy, given his stated hope that the U.S. would be drawn into the Allied effort.  Questions remain about the massive amount of ammunition the ship was carrying to Liverpool along with its almost 2,000 passengers, and researchers are still unsure what caused the second explosion that sank the Lusitania in just 18 minutes.

Perhaps the story is so striking and memorable because of the author's amazing variety of research material.  In addition to the German war logs, archived telegrams, Britain's secret intelligence, and even love letters from President Wilson's fiancĂ©e provide details that make the Lusitania's story come alive for us today.  Larson's words do the job quite effectively; no video necessary.  -MS

Reserve this New Title 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Yoga for Runners by Christine Felstead

As an experienced, long-distance runner who has been plagued by injuries,
Christine Felstead combines two of her passions, running and yoga, in Yoga for Runners. Suffering from hamstring and hip injuries, Felstead decided to try yoga
in 1996. This transition made a major difference in Felstead’s life; her posture improved and she could run pain-free. As a result of her interest in yoga, she became a certified instructor, teaching classes exclusively to runners. In addition to her book, Felstead stars in two DVDs, Christine Felstead’s Yoga for Runners: the Essentials and Yoga for Runners: Intermediate Program.

In Yoga for Runners, Felstead provides a well-researched guide to using yoga as an integral part of running. Felstead clearly defines how runners can become more mindful when running and illustrates how to use yoga to prevent running injuries such as knee pain, shin splints, iliotibial band syndrome and other running ailments. Since many running injuries are caused by imbalances of the body, yoga helps prevent these issues by strengthening weak muscles. 

Additionally, Felstead provides an abundance of well-written information for runners plagued by injuries as well as providing information to those who want to prevent injuries. Furthermore, Felstead has written chapters on yoga for different body parts and lists step-by-step instructions for each pose. She also includes photographs illustrating each exercise. 

Overall, this book is a good addition to any runner’s library providing solid, well-supported information pertaining to yoga, running and injury prevention. The book can be used as a stand-alone guide to yoga or incorporated into a routine that can be used in conjunction with Felstead’s DVDs. –JK

Reserve this book.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Needle in the Right Hand of God: The Norman Conquest of 1066 and the Making and Meaning of the Bayeux Tapestry by R. Howard Bloch

Summary:  The Bayeux Tapestry is the world’s most famous textile–an exquisite 230-foot-long embroidered panorama depicting the events surrounding the Norman Conquest of 1066. It is also one of history’s most mysterious and compelling works of art. This haunting stitched account of the battle that redrew the map of medieval Europe has inspired dreams of theft, waves of nationalism, visions of limitless power, and esthetic rapture. In his fascinating new book, Yale professor R. Howard Bloch reveals the history, the hidden meaning, the deep beauty, and the enduring allure of this astonishing piece of cloth. (From Goodreads)

Review:  I have read at least 4 or 5 other books about the Bayeux Tapestry; I own a book that is photos of the tapestry in fold-out pages from end to end. That said, this is the BEST book I have ever read about the Bayeux Tapestry. It covers the history, evolution, preservation and stitches used in a comprehensive and entertaining way. Author Bloch explains why the Tapestry is not just an enduring work of art, but a primary source for Norman & Anglo-Saxon history that still has meaning for today's world. He links the Tapestry to cultural traditions from Norway to the Middle East & Byzantium, with documentation to support the links based on the pictures embroidered on the cloth itself, turning in an excellent and very entertaining history.    -LP 
A section of the Bayeux Tapestry