Book Reviews

City of Fortune - Roger Crowley

During the Middle Ages, a city on the sea enjoyed many advantages such as easy access to a trade route. Water meant transportation and trade that could lead to wealth. One city on the sea gained and lost an empire during the medieval period.

Roger Crowley in City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas examines the rise and fall of this municipality at the edge of the Adriatic Sea.

Venice, surrounded almost entirely by water, came to depend on trade with the East and Muslim lands for its survival. Its economy and way of life developed from a set format for trade and industry. Bells signaled the start and end of each work day. Ships knew which port to go to and how long to remain. Nearly all citizens depended on trade for their livelihood in one form or another. The sea provided the good life for the aristocrats and jobs for everyone else.

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

Standing as a primitive log structure atop a small rise, the round house was built as a sacred place for special Ojibwe ceremonies and Native American gatherings. But in 1988, when Geraldine Coutts emerged from the abandoned building beaten, raped, and doused with gasoline, it became known as the scene of a crime that would forever alter Geraldine, her husband, Bazil, and their thirteen-year-old son, Joe.

Told from the viewpoint of an older Joe reflecting back on the spring of his mother’s attack and reading as a combined crime drama/coming-of-age tale sprinkled with Ojibwe customs and stories, The Round House by Louise Erdrich is a novel loaded with complexities, depth, injustice and the frustrations of being a Native American in contemporary America.

The story centers around the Coutts family, who live on a Ojibwe reservation near Hoopdance, North Dakota. One Sunday afternoon, Joe’s mom, Geraldine, leaves to run a quick work errand and doesn’t return. Concerned, Joe and his father begin to search. When they find her, she is covered in vomit and gasoline and has been brutally violated.

Cavendish's Life of Cardinal Wolsey and Roper's Life of More

It seems appropriate, during Lent, and with the selection of Pope Francis I, to look at two famous biographies of two famous Catholics, Cavendish's Life of Cardinal Wolsey and Roper's Life of More.

Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson

In Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson, Christine Lucas wakes every morning to a fresh, new day, literally. She suffers from amnesia and every night all of her memories, long and short term, reset and in the morning she wakes up as a blank slate, not knowing anything about her self.

Every morning Christine wakes up with her husband, Ben, who has to reassure her that she is in her home and that he belongs there, too. Nothing looks familiar to Christine, not the furniture, the momentos, the photos, not even her clothes spark recognition as being hers.

Ben goes through their morning routine (as he assures her) making a bit of breakfast, telling her what to expect from the day, and then he heads off to work. Left alone, Christine is unsure how to proceed until a phone call decides for her.

The man on the other end of the line identifies himself as her doctor, Dr. Nash. He says they have been working together on rebuilding and restoring her memory. He asks to meet and Christine, led by a desire to discover more and an innate sense of trust in Dr. Nash, agrees.

He hands her a package: a brown, leather journal. Dr. Nash explains that over the past few weeks Christine has been keeping a record of who she is and has been using the journal as a tool to build from each day.

They provide shade on a hot summer day. They grow fruits and nuts for eating. They supply material for building, paper, fuel, and many other items. Trees play an important role and have helped influence the course of United States history.

Eric Rutkow in American Canopy: Trees, Forests, and the Making of America examines trees and their impact on America. The author states that England became interested in the New World for their vast reserves of forests. Over the centuries, England used up their supply of trees for fuel, housing, and shipbuilding. To keep up, the Royal Navy needed timber. Colonies were established in Virginia and Massachusetts in part to send raw goods back to the mother country. This abundance of timber helped the colonists build shelters and furniture as they began to settle the new land. Some trees were designated Liberty Trees and became symbols in the fight for independence.

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

In The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty, Louise Brooks is a young free spirit who doesn’t care what society thinks of her. Cora Carlisle, on the other hand, is a middle-aged married woman with unflinching morals. In 1922, Louise makes an important trip to New York with Cora as her traveling companion. It is a journey that will profoundly change both women forever.

In the late 1920s, everyone knew Louise Brooks as a world-famous silent film star. She was beautiful. She was troubled, and she was the woman who made the “bob” haircut a cultural phenomenon.

But in 1922, Louise was a 15-year-old girl who hated living in Wichita, KS, because it was old-fashioned, restrictive, and one big dead end. It was a feeling that Cora Carlisle didn’t share. She mostly found Wichita comforting with its small-town attitude and sense of community.

That summer, with Cora as her chaperone, Louise escapes to New York to attend classes at the Denishawn School of Dance. Louise's ambition is to become a member of the Denishawn Dance Company so that she does not have to return to Wichita.

Cora's purpose, however, and real reason for coming to New York is to find the identity of her birth parents. As a small child, Cora had been dumped at the Home For Friendless Girls in New York, residing there until she was eventually put on an orphan train and shipped off to Kansas for adoption.

Dark Night of the Soul book cover

In the 16th century, a man of infinite faith and superior education questioned both and penned a classic of spiritual reading that resonates today.

St. John of the Cross wrote Dark Night of the Soul while he was in prison. In his review of Winter Reading selection Dark Night of the Soul, Bluford Branch library staffer Bernard Norcott-Mahany talks about the poem and the commentary St. John included with it upon publication. Bernie has been reading the poem during the month of February and blogging his observations and struggles and invites further commentary from other readers.

The annual Adult Winter Reading Program runs from January 7 – March 17. The 2013 program offers a chance to win one of four e-readers as well as the opportunity to see Winter Reading featured author Laura Lippman in person on February 25 at the Central Library, where she will discuss her new book And When She Was Good.

The Parrot Who Owns Me by Joanna Burger

For women, it’s not about the stuff, it’s about the love. All-consuming love is just too intoxicating to ignore and after years growing up in the afterglow of the ERA and that “woman-man-fish-bicycle” mantra, we’re finding new targets for our passions. Hence, some women’s compulsive devotion to cats, firefighting, and shopping. Our personal obsessions make us who we are and you have to love us for them. Check out some of the books about what some women love and why.

Susan Allen Toth’s passion is so big she needs another country to hold it. In My Love Affair with England, Toth adoringly describes a night of badger watching in Dartmoor, her secret obsession with royal family life gossip rags and a staunch preference for English breakfasts (hold the kippers). So great is Toth’s ardor for the mother country. she took her then-boyfriend James to England to see if he could love England the way she did. He could and they married.

Atlantic book cover

Water makes up most of planet Earth. However, does one every really think about the ocean without standing on its shore? Simon Winchester in Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Discoveries, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories examines the broad expanse of the Atlantic Ocean which has fascinated him for years.

Tigers At Red Weather examines the complicated relationships within families

Written by the great-great-great granddaughter of literary genius Herman Melville, Tigers In Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann is a mystery drama that follows a prominent East Coast family through three decades of dysfunctional relationships, unearthed secrets, stinging betrayal, and eventually acceptance.

The novel takes its name from a line in the poem, Disillusionment at 10:00 by Wallace Stevens and opens at the end of WWII. Nick and Helena are cousins spending the summer together at Tiger House, the family home on Martha’s Vineyard. Nick is preparing to leave for Florida to rejoin her husband, Hughes, a serviceman returning from the war. Helena is also soon leaving, setting off for Hollywood to marry a promising producer.

As the years pass, each cousin has a child and the family expands. Nick and Hughes’ daughter, Daisy, grows into a stubborn, independent and free-spirited young woman. Helena’s son Ed, however, is quite different. He is a loner with a dark mind and a twisted heart.

Each year, the family members return to Tiger House for the summer season. While there, the painful frailties, flaws and fears of individual characters come to light, including those of Nick and Helena. Neither cousin finds life or marriage as promising or fulfilling as they expected, and the women must secretly find ways to cope with their bitter disappointment.

Apologia pro Vita Sua by John Henry Cardinal Newman

I'll be spending 2013 reading biographical materials. When someone writes the story of his/her life, I wonder – why did this person feel the need to write about his/her life? To begin, I'd like to look at John Henry Cardinal Newman's spiritual autobiography, Apologia pro Vita Sua.

Something Red by Douglas Nicholas

I love stories about things that go bump in the night. There is just nothing better than entering into another world full of unknowable dangers and getting lost there.

There is a primal urge, the rush of adrenaline you feel, when the noise—the bump—happens. Maybe the sound is almost just beyond the perception of hearing and your senses, nurtured by millennia of species’ survival, perks up your ears; or maybe it’s the loud crash that startles you and then settles into the silence of the evening, making you question if you ever heard it in the first place. The unknown is a terrifying topic, unless it is neatly contained within the covers of a book.

Something Red by Douglas Nicholas is perhaps the quintessential story of things that go bump in the night. Set in the Dark Ages, a time of superstition, it is darkly atmospheric. The story opens with a young boy, fifteen, named Hob. He is part of a travelling party of four who is led by Maeve, a wise woman proficient with healing herbs and who is perhaps more than slightly magical.

Bomb by Steve Sheinkin

A serendipitous (and sometimes tangential) time-travel adventure inspired by the library. It all started when I met a group of Cub Scouts and their parents down in Kirk Hall of the Central Library...

The Hobbit book cover

Tolkien wrote The Hobbit as a children’s book. It provides a much less grand vision than The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but that doesn't mean it lacks seriousness or that it fails to raise some serious questions.

Holy Bones, Holy Dust book cover

Charles Freeman in Holy Bones, Holy Dust examines the long use and veneration of items from Biblical times and from those considered to be saints after that, an interesting perspective outside of a traditional historical narrative.