Monday, February 23, 2015

Review: Don't Let Him Know by Sandip Roy

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):  In a boxy apartment building in an Illinois university town, Romola Mitra, a newly arrived young bride, anxiously awaits her first letter from home in India. When she accidentally opens the wrong letter, it changes her life. Decades letter, her son Amit finds that letter and thinks he has discovered his mother's secret. But secrets have their own secrets sometimes.

Amit does not know that Avinash, his dependable and devoted father, has been timidly visiting gay chat rooms, driven by the lifelong desires he never allowed himself to indulge. Avinash, for his part, doesn't understand what his dutiful wife gave up in marrying him -- the memories of romance she keeps tucked away.

Growing up in Calcutta, in a house bustling with feisty grandmothers, Amit has been shielded from his parents' secrets. Now he's a successful computer engineer, settled in San Franscisco yet torn between his new life and his duties to the one he left behind.

Moving from adolescent rooftop games to adult encounters in gay bars, from hair salons in Calcutta to McDonald's drive-thrus in California, Don't Let Him Know is an unforgettable story about family and the sacrifices we make for those we love. Tender, funny, and beautifully told, it marks the arrival of a resonant new voice.

And here's what I thought:   This was one of those stories that sometimes made me smile, and sometimes get a lump in my throat in the next chapter.  As you can see from the summary, many of the characters have secrets in this story.   The characters were all pretty clear, although I admit that I sometimes had to remind myself who was who.   This is because the timeline in the book isn't in a straight line; you go back and forth at times, and the viewpoints change between the characters. While I didn't feel a strong connection with all of the characters, their stories were all compelling. This is an interesting story of how choices sometimes get made for us, and we have to deal with the consequences.  

First lines:  "Ma," said Amit, "I have to talk to you about something."  Dinner was over.  Romola and Amit were alone in the kitchen.  She was putting away the leftovers while Amit wiped the kitchen counters.  June was upstairs with Neel and his homework.  The last traces of a California evening still dappled the neighbourhood in tranquil honeyed light.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Review: The Pocket Wife by Susan Crawford

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):   An amazing talent makes her debut with this stylish psychological thriller—with the compelling intrigue of The Silent Wife and Turn of Mind and the white-knuckle pacing of Before I Go to Sleep —in which a woman suffering from bipolar disorder cannot remember if she murdered her friend during a breakdown.

Dana Catrell is horrified to learn she was the last person to see her neighbor Celia alive. Suffering from a devastating mania, a result of her bipolar disorder, Dana finds that there are troubling holes in her memory, including what happened on the afternoon of Celia's death. As evidence starts to point in her direction, Dana struggles to clear her name before her own demons win out.

Is murder on her mind - or is it all in her head?

The closer she comes to piecing together shards of her broken memory, the more Dana falls apart. Is there a murderer lurking inside her . . . or is there one out there in the shadows of reality, waiting to strike again? A story of marriage, murder and madness, The Pocket Wife explores the world through the foggy lens of a woman on the edge.

And here's what I thought:  I picked up a galley of this book at the ALA Midwinter conference on Saturday, opened it on the train ride home, and finished it this morning.   Can you tell I had a hard time putting it down?   I found I kept turning the pages, worried for the main character, and wondering what would happen by the end of the book.

As you can see from the summary, Dana is a woman who has issues, and this makes her into a somewhat unreliable narrator.  At times, you have a difficult time telling if something is really happening or is in her mind.  I also felt like I couldn't quite get to know her well as a character, like I was seeing her out of the corner of my eye, but never complete and in focus.   However, I found that I enjoyed that, and how it kept me feeling a bit off balance throughout the story.   It's hard to tell what's real, and who might be telling the truth or lying, and combined with the steady pace, it made for a great thriller.

I do not have any personal experience with bipolar disorder, so I cannot speak to how accurately Dana's character is portrayed.  However, she felt real enough to me that I worried about her, and felt like at times, I was on edge right with her.  I can't say that I really liked her as a character, but I did feel sympathetic towards her.   I actually don't feel it necessary to like characters; what I need is to find them interesting, or the story interesting.   In this story, the off-balance quality that seemed to be careening steadily towards falling off the edge completely kept me reading.

First lines:  The ambulance is still miles away when Dana awakens to the near dark of evening.  It wails ribbon-thin in the smog over the highway as she opens her eyes where she lies sprawled across her couch in a suburb of Paterson, a stone's throw from Manhattan but in a different world entirely.  She wakes to a headache throbbing at the backs of her lids, a library book lying beside her.  She sits up and reaches for the book, marking her place with a tiny corner fold, giving it a little pat as she sets it on the coffee table.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Review; The Magician's Lie by Greer MacAllister

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads): Water for Elephants meets The Night Circus in The Magician’s Lie, a debut novel in which the country’s most notorious female illusionist stands accused of her husband's murder --and she has only one night to convince a small-town policeman of her innocence.

The Amazing Arden is the most famous female illusionist of her day, renowned for her notorious trick of sawing a man in half on stage. One night in Waterloo, Iowa, with young policeman Virgil Holt watching from the audience, she swaps her trademark saw for a fire ax. Is it a new version of the illusion, or an all-too-real murder? When Arden’s husband is found lifeless beneath the stage later that night, the answer seems clear.

But when Virgil happens upon the fleeing magician and takes her into custody, she has a very different story to tell. Even handcuffed and alone, Arden is far from powerless—and what she reveals is as unbelievable as it is spellbinding. Over the course of one eerie night, Virgil must decide whether to turn Arden in or set her free… and it will take all he has to see through the smoke and mirrors.

And here's what I thought:  This is one of those books that is a nearly perfect combination of lyrical writing, great storytelling, and compelling characters.  I got caught up in the story right away, and found I was putting aside other responsibilities (like vacuuming, and reading books for work) so I could steal a few more minutes of reading.   There is a great pace here, with a constant tension and release going on throughout the story.   I also loved that the author mixed in factual details into the story, so it felt very realistic.   For example, she adds in a character, Adelaide Herrmann, who really existed.   Another detail was including the Iroquois Theatre fire in Chicago, and having Arden's performance set during the fire.  

I admit that I may have found this book captivating because I have always enjoyed learning about magicians, illusionists, circus performers, etc.   However, even if Arden hadn't been an illusionist, I would have still found her story compelling.   Part of what I enjoyed reading about was a woman who had to overcome several obstacles in her life, and make her way on her own.    

This is a great book to pair with any of these other books, not just for the subject material, but also because of the storytelling:  The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman, and Rain Village by Carolyn Turgeon.   I would note that the last two books do have elements of the real/historical in them.

First lines:   Tonight, I will do the impossible.   The impossible is nothing new to me.  As I do every night, I will make people believe things that aren't true.  I will show them worlds that never existed, events that never happened.  I will weave a web of beautiful illusion to snare them, a glittering trap that drags them willingly with me into the magical, false, spellbinding world.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Ask the Librarian: My library never has the books I want!!

Yes, Lego Librarian!
I'm going to try something new in 2015, which is posting about some of the questions and complaints that I hear from people about libraries.

Are libraries perfect?  Heck, no!  But, there are always solutions.   

So, today's complaint is:  My library never has the books I want! or They don't have anything by the author I like!

Here's some help:  Maybe your library doesn't always have the books you want (like, maybe their science fiction section is really small, or they never seem to have books by an author you love).  The thing is, you need to speak up.  Don't walk away just because you don't see something on the shelf.   ASK a staff member for help!  The thing is, the book could be in the library's collection and just not be on the shelf, or in the right place (or, there could be a computer glitch and it's not showing up in the catalog).  Library staff can see if the library owns it --- and if they don't, ask if they can get it through interlibrary loan.   Hint: The Library of Congress is one of the few places that seems to own everything under the sun.  For the rest of us libraries, we rely on sharing things with each other.   Interlibrary loan usually takes about a week (or less) and doesn't cost you a thing! 

And here's another idea:  ask if you can suggest a purchase.   At my library, we're always happy to receive suggestions from people about things to add to our collection.  We can't guarantee that we can buy everything that everyone suggests, but we do the best we can. And we never assume that we know about every single book that gets published.  We work hard to stay on top of publishing, but we don't ever claim to know about all the books that come out every year.   That's why we like it when people give us feedback and suggestions.

See how easy that was?  

Libraries rely on input from our patrons to make our library great.  So, we provide tons of ways for people to contact us:  phone, email, instant message, and even comment cards that people can write on and drop into boxes around the library.   

And so, I'm asking anyone reading this to leave me a comment ----  like, is this a worthwhile thing to post about?  Do you have any questions/complaints you'd like me to address in the future?
Thanks for your input!

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Boy Who Killed Demons by Dave Zeltserman

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):  “My name’s Henry Dudlow. I’m fifteen and a half. And I’m cursed. Or damned. Take your pick. The reason? I see demons.”

So begins the latest novel by horror master Dave Zeltserman. The setting is quiet Newton, Massachussetts, where nothing ever happens. Nothing, that is, until two months after Henry Dudlow’s 13th birthday, when his neighbor, Mr. Hanley, suddenly starts to look . . . different. While everyone else sees a balding man with a beer belly, Henry suddenly sees a nasty, bilious, rage-filled demon.

Once Henry catches onto the real Mr. Hanley, he starts to see demons all around him, and his boring, adolescent life is transformed. There’s no more time for friends or sports or the lovely Sally Freeman—instead Henry must work his way through ancient texts and hunt down the demons before they steal any more innocent children. And if hunting demons is hard at any age, it’s borderline impossible when your parents are on your case, and your grades are getting worse, and you can’t tell anyone about your chosen mission.

And here's what I thought:  I really enjoyed this book, and found it to be a nice mix of a believable main character, an interesting take on the whole seeing-demons idea, and a bit of wry humor. Although the main character seemed a bit mature for his age, I reasoned that that was because of what was going on his life.   As you can see from the summary, Henry can see demons, and as a result, is determined not only to educate himself about them, but to hunt them down.   Henry has a clear voice, and by that, I mean that you can completely envision this kid in your head.   He makes observations not only about demons, but about high school life, his parents, girls, etc.  I liked that he thought out a lot of his approaches to the issue of seeing demons.   For example, he wants to educate himself about them, so he starts to learn German so he can translate an antique book about demons.   He's on his own with this whole thing, as no one else around him seems to notice that there are demons living in their midst.

I will admit, though, that this wasn't a super-scary book.    I worried about what was going to happen to Henry, and the people around him, but I never felt really scared.   This is technically a horror book, so maybe it's just because I'm desensitized by Buffy, Constantine, etc etc.    However, overall, it was an enjoyable story and a page-turner.

First lines:  My name's Henry Dudlow.  I'm fifteen and a half, and I'm cursed.  Or damned.  Take your pick.   The reason?  I see demons.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):  Most people want to avoid thinking about death, but Caitlin Doughty—a twenty-something with a degree in medieval history and a flair for the macabre—took a job at a crematory, turning morbid curiosity into her life’s work. Thrown into a profession of gallows humor and vivid characters (both living and very dead), Caitlin learned to navigate the secretive culture of those who care for the deceased.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes tells an unusual coming-of-age story full of bizarre encounters and unforgettable scenes. Caring for dead bodies of every color, shape, and affliction, Caitlin soon becomes an intrepid explorer in the world of the dead. She describes how she swept ashes from the machines (and sometimes onto her clothes) and reveals the strange history of cremation and undertaking, marveling at bizarre and wonderful funeral practices from different cultures.

Her eye-opening, candid, and often hilarious story is like going on a journey with your bravest friend to the cemetery at midnight. She demystifies death, leading us behind the black curtain of her unique profession. And she answers questions you didn’t know you had: Can you catch a disease from a corpse? How many dead bodies can you fit in a Dodge van? What exactly does a flaming skull look like?

Honest and heartfelt, self-deprecating and ironic, Caitlin's engaging style makes this otherwise taboo topic both approachable and engrossing. Now a licensed mortician with an alternative funeral practice, Caitlin argues that our fear of dying warps our culture and society, and she calls for better ways of dealing with death (and our dead).

And here's what I thought:  This book would make a good companion to Stiff by Mary Roach.  I had read Stiff a while ago , and this book gave an interesting, first-person experience that further widened what I learned about customs surrounding the deceased.   Caitlin Doughty has a writing style that is warm (and sometimes humorous), but she's very respectful about death.  She gives a lot of information about the history of different traditions, and also explains why things are done a certain way (like, how bodies can be prepared, etc.).

I don't know if this book would be for all readers, but I enjoyed it.   I felt like I learned a lot, and it was an interesting read.  Doughty has a no-nonsense approach to her writing, and a good sense of humor about what crematory professionals and morticians can encounter in their work.

First lines:  A girl always remembers the first corpse she shaves.  It is the only event in her life more awkward than her first kiss or the loss of her virginity.  The hands of time will never move quite so slowly as when you are standing over the dead body of an elderly man with a pink plastic razor in your hand.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The value of a public library

I'm sure there are a lot of readers out there who know the value of their public library.  I'd like to assume that all people who read a lot are active library users.   However, I know better than to do that; I know that there are a lot of people who are active readers who don't visit their libraries often.

As a librarian, I have encountered many people who say things like, "I didn't know I could get that at my library," or "I didn't know I could do that at my library."    Libraries do their best to get the word out about all they offer, but sometimes, it helps to get a bit of a boost.   This article addresses the value of public libraries in many ways, focusing on how libraries not only educate and entertain, but how they provide access to everyone.

If you haven't been to your public library lately, I'd encourage you to make that a New Year's resolution.   You just might be surprised at what you find!

Yes, you can find Legos in the Library

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Reading Harder in 2015

I had told myself I wouldn't do any book challenges this year.   After all, it's rare that I finish them ... and in 2014, I got bogged down with other stuff and just wasn't blogging ... and I forgot I had a challenge.

But then, I saw the 2015 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge.   If I'm determined to get back into blogging in 2015, then this challenge  might just be the kick in the pants that I need.    And, just to up my own ante, I joined the group on Goodreads.

Reading challenge accepted!!!    Happy New Year, everyone!
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