sbowman's blog

Civil War Fiction

Killer AngelsThis summer will be the 150 year anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, one of the deadliest periods of the Civil War.  The three days saw record causalities and is also considered one of the turning points of the war.  Instead of breaking out a dusty nonfiction tome, consider The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. This fiction book does a good job at adequately describing the events that did occur, but shines at getting into the heads of the major players. We meet Lee, Longstreet and Chamberlain and start to understand their thoughts, positions, opinions and fears as they prepare and head into battle.  This is well researched, and really readable.  The maps give you a good visual perspective as well.

One of the things I love most about history is not only learning the outcomes and the details of the events that took place, but investigating the other possibilities, thinking about the what-ifs, and figuring out the decisions that went into what really happened.

Classics as Graphic Novels

Interested in revisiting an old favorite classic in a new way?  Consider the graphic novel version of your old familiar favorite novel.  I recently read The Hound of the Baskervilles reimagined as a graphic novel by Ian Edginton and was pleasantly surprised.  This is the famous story of Sir Charles Baskerville who has suddenly died and Henry Baskerville, his nephew and the heir to his estate.  Henry is being warned of danger that might befall him as he takes ownership of the manor on the moor.  Sherlock Holmes and Watson travel with Henry to the moor to investigate the threat, made complicated by an escaped murderer, jealousy, mysterious family dynamics, and a possible hell hound. The characters were visually well represented including Watson, Dr. Mortimer and Mrs. Stapleton.  They mystery, though well known, has enough twists and turns to keep any reader going. The visual look and use of color does well to represent the haunting and atmospheric feeling of the moor and the danger lurking everywhere. For fans of dense novels, there is still quite a bit of dialogue which is slowed down further (for a modern reader!) by the original style.  I really loved the look of this graphic novel edition which often reminded me of an animated movie.

Beasts of Burden

Making yourself read outside your comfort zone can end up with some total misses and some excellent surprises. In all likelihood I would have missed Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites, a graphic novel about a talking pack of animals that solve supernatural mysteries in their seemingly sweet suburban neighborhood of Burden Hill. That description wouldn't peak my interest, but also doesn't do the graphic novel justice either.
The storytelling is episodic, in that there are chapters that are a complete story into itself which makes for a fast read. There is a pack of animal friends, all dogs and one orphan cat who start uncovering supernatural cases in their neighborhood. They eventually become apprentices in the Wise Dog Society to further their training in fighting these evil forces. The supernatural stories cover a wide range from an evil coven of cats, a rain of mutant frogs, werewolves, magical earthen golems, ghosts, and more.

New to Me Only 3(+) Years Later!

I try to stay familiar with new books coming out, but also keep a list (on goodreads.com) so I don't miss anything great either.  I recently read two great books that either were published in 2010 or enjoyed a resurgence in 2010.  These two books don't have too much in common, but I missed them then, maybe you did too!

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan is a complicated contemporary novel that follows many different characters, but centers around Bennie and Sasha, who work in the music industry. We meet both of them at different points in their lives, from teenagers to older parents and the novel stretches from the Bay Area, to NYC, to Africa and Naples. Each chapter focuses on a particular character at a specific time and place with no real instruction to the reader on the how and why. Through the strength of Egan, this doesn't break down the narrative. I really enjoyed all of the voices, varied narrative structures, and cried during a chapter told as a powerpoint told by a 14 year old character previously un-introduced. This book is risky, edgy, intellectual, unafraid of emotion, and requires a lot from the reader.  With all that said, it was also highly enjoyable!

Your Voice in My Head

Your Voice in My Head"Can I tell you what it's like to live inside Millais' painting of Ophelia"? asks Emma Forrest in her memoir, Your Voice in My Head.  Forrest is already a published author and journalist when in her early 20s moves from London to New York.  Her professional rise as a writer coincides with her extreme struggles with self-cutting, an eating disorder, mania, a suicide attempt, and depression. 

Forrest credits a lot of her survival to psychiatrist, Dr. R.  So when Dr. R dies suddenly, and then a famous Hollywood actor dumps her via text message shortly after, Forrest is left alone to pick up the pieces of her heartbreak and loss. 

This isn't the type of memoir I usually read, but I'm glad I did.  Forrest walks well the line of artistic genius and insanity.  You care for her, even when the choices she makes are hard to understand.  Rounding out the sympathetic characters are Dr. R, and Forrest's own parents who deal the best they can from London. 

Local Reviews

Do you have a favorite book you'd like to share with other Monroe County Public Library patrons?  Impressed by the idea of a review that you wrote showing up in the library's catalog for other patrons to find and read? If you are the kind of person who doesn't just want to read good books, but also write about good books then we've got something new for you.

It is now possible for patrons who want to write reviews of library materials to do so.  Visit the Create Local Review page and let us know what you think of your recently read book or ebook. Maybe you listened to an audiobook, a music cd or even watched a movie you'd like other patrons to know about.  Write as much or as little as you'd like, and give a rating of 1-5 stars.  Once the reviews are published, they will show up in the catalog under the record for the selected title.  The complete list of local reviews can be found together on our website as well. 

Library staff will continue to write reviews here on this blog, but now you can share your voice too.  Happy reviewing!

Travels in Siberia

This is exactly what I am looking for in a travel book. Frazier does an excellent job in combining extensive historical research and personal travel details and interweaves them into an immensely enjoyable book. Ignore the fact that Travels in Siberia is about 600 pages long, and travels to someplace you may never get to or wish to visit.

Frazier spent several years and several trips to various parts of Siberia, and this remains the main focus of this book.  The engaging factor is that none of these are just trips, and he allows for the Russian Far East to become part of his life, his passion.  Supplementing the daily details of the trips, including what they ate, where they camped, what they wore, and how they suffered the army of mosquitoes, is a rich history of Siberia and the overall international implications that stem from that vast region. 

Three Day Road

I read a review of Three Day Road, Joseph Boyden's first novel of World War I, which mentions that this isn't necessarily an anti-war novel.   I had to read the sentence in that review several times to make sure I wasn't misreading or misunderstanding.  Does a war novel have to come out and specifically declare a stance? 

Really, Boyden includes anti-war elements right up to the breathtaking ending: senseless killings, madness, morphine addiction, shortsighted military leadership, dehumanization, and the day to day terror.  The characters in this book do seemingly impossible and horrible things in the name of combat.  Is that not stance enough?  Is it even important?

It is true that this book is about more than the descent into the hell of trench warfare.  It is a really poetic story of Xavier Bird and Elijah Whiskeyjack, Cree Indians who have grown up in Canada near Hudson Bay.  They have spent their childhood patiently hunting, skills which serve them well as snipers in some of the worst battles of World War I, including around Vimy Ridge and the Somme.  Maybe it needs to be said, but being good at killing moose to survive the winter is different than being good at killing Germans. Xavier and Elijah react differently, but equally destructively, to war.

Hurricane Books

I hope everyone on the east coast is staying safe after the destruction of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Sandy.  Today's storms are met with an overload of information: pictures on social media, non-stop news coverage, live reporting and high tech computer models of the storm's projected path.  But if you are in the mood for a more in-depth read about storms, check out a few of these titles.

The 1900 Galveston Hurricane was one of the deadliest on record.  Over 6,000 people died in this massive storm, which was complicated by the lack of technology and a complete understanding of weather patterns.  Erik Larsson is an excellent non-fiction author and in Isaac's Storm he tells the detailed story of the storm, but also of the meteorologist, Isaac Cline who failed to make the best use of the information he saw.  The historical details of weather prediction combined with the suspense of the building storm make for an excellent read.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption

Unbroken tells the amazing true story of Louie Zamperini, a rascally little boy who grows up in Southern California to Italian immigrant parents. As a child, Louie is constantly in trouble and has a restless energy. His saving grace is being introduced to long distance running by his older brother. Louie ends up running in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and is focused on the 4 minute mile and another chance at the 1940 Olympics.

Back home, he enrolls in USC and continues running when the War interrupts. Louie joins as a gunner in the Army Air Forces. He is eventually sent to the Pacific theater and after a few successful missions, his plane crashes in the Pacific during a search mission. Three members of the aircraft team make it to two small liferafts and his unbelieveable story continues. Louie's 40+ day survival on a life raft seems impossible. Then he is shot at and captured by the Japanese and unofficially is held in horrible war camps. Here too, his survival is seemingly impossible.

Louise does survive, his spirit is damaged, but also hopeful. Louie's story will stay with you. I kept thinking of him and his story well after I finished the book.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - sbowman's blog