sbowman's blog

High Seas Adventure (and so much more)!

"An action packed historical novel set on the high seas!" claims the book jacket for Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus.  Normally these aren't quite the descriptors I am looking for in a good book, but this Young Adult novel has amazing visual appeal and lying underneath the "high seas adventure" is a true heart of gold. 

Preus tells a fictional account of a true story: Manjiro, a young man from a small fishing village, becomes the first Japanese person to set foot in America.  Japan at the time had closed borders and a deep distrust for anything foreign.  When Manjiro is rescued with his friends after being shipwrecked on an island by an American whaling ship, his life is changed forever.  Captain Whitfield sees that Manjiro is a quick study, both in language and sailing and takes him under his wing.  The more Manjiro sees outside Japan, the more he wants to learn and explore eventually ending up attending school in New Bedford, Massachusetts living with the Whitfields.

Wild & Other Hiking Related Books

The Pacific Crest Trail is a 2,663 mile long trail reaching from the Canadian border in northern border in Washington, through Oregon, to the Mexico border in southern California.  Hiking this trail can take 4-6 months and it purposefully avoids civilization.  The Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountains make for both difficult hiking and beautiful unspoiled scenery.

After a trying few years after the death of her mother, author Cheryl Strayed started her PCT trail hike despite her outdoor inexperience.  Her book, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail chronicling her hike came out this past spring and was well reviewed. I promptly put this book on my to-read list as doing a long hike lingers at the bottom of my life to-do list.  

Looks like I will have to wait to read this memoir a little bit longer as this past week Oprah selected Wild as the first title of her new Oprah Book Club 2.0.  As of this morning there were quite a few holds on this book, but I'm thinking the wait just might be worth it.

Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

Grace Brown, a 20 year old skirt factory employee, was murdered in 1906 just outside an Adirondack mountain resort by Chester Gillette.  Gillette was arrested soon after Grace's body was recovered in a lake and he was later executed in a New York prison. 

This gruesome true story serves as part of the backdrop for the very non-gruesome and excellent young adult novel, A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly.  The main character, Mattie Gokey, receives a bundle of letters from a guest at the resort and makes a promise to burn them.  But when Grace's body is later pulled out of the lake, Mattie becomes unsure what the right thing to do.  Maybe the letters hold answers? 

Mattie is also torn between her duty to her family and her dream of going to college.  Her family lives in a rural area and they work extra hard making a living off of the land, made especially difficult since her mother has passed away and there are three younger girls to look after. 

Books Plus for June

In Caleb's Crossing, Pulitzer-Prize winner Geraldine Brooks returns to the seventeenth century setting she captured so well in Year of Wonders, but this time around she's chosen the New World for her location. The novel tells the story of a deep friendship between a young Pilgrim servant girl, Bethia, and a member of the local Native American tribe, Caleb Cheeshahteaumauck, who later became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard.

Before becoming a novelist, Brooks was an investigative reporter who covered the international beat. She brings her investigative and research skills to this novel, and a sense of narrative developed by writing many pieces of journalism and several nonfiction books.

Please join us this Sunday as we discuss this novel with its historical American themes. Here's what the New York Times said about it: "Caleb's Crossing could not be more enlightening and involving. Beautifully written from beginning to end, it reconfirms Geraldine Brooks' reputation as one of our most supple and insightful ­novelists."

Books Plus meets the first Sunday of each month. All are welcome. Join the discussion or simply come to listen.

No registration necessary. Drop in.

2 p.m., First Sundays

See the full summer schedule below.

We All Scream for Ice Cream!

Memorial Day weekend is right around the corner and hot days are near. For many people this means firing up the grill.  Interested in shaking up your grill routine?  The library has loads of cookbooks with many new ideas -- for both meat eaters and vegetarians.

Maybe grilling isn't your thing.  Once the weather turns hot, and the fresh fruits start arriving at the Market and the grocery stores all I want to do is make ice cream.  I recently checked out the excellent Ice Cream and Frozen Desserts by Peggy Fallon and marked about 20 pages of interesting and often easy recipes to try including Chocolate Chipotle Ice Cream, Black Forest Frozen Yogurt with Chocolate and Cherries, and Quick Caramel-Pecan Light Ice Cream.  There are also chapters on sorbets and non-dairy frozen desserts.

The Ultimate Ice Cream Book by Bruce Weinstein delivers over 500 recipes covering many different types of ice creams, sorbets and granitas.  He also gives ideas for recipe variations and toppings.  Pictures aren't included, but this serves as a fairly straight forward reference and would be great for beginners. 

Blood, Bones & Butter

Before I became a librarian, I worked in the restaurant industry for 10 years.  I learned to cook from my dad and had dreams of going to culinary school to become a chef.  Career changes happen, but I am still drawn to cooking shows and spend a lot of time reading books about food, food policies, eating, and food history --think Bittman, Kurlansky, & Kingsolver.  When it came out recently, I knew I had to read Blood, Bones & Butter: the Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton. 

Hamilton is owner and head chef at Prune, a well-reviewed and established restaurant in New York. This book sets out her love of food from her parents to her on-the-fly education in New York City catering.  Her path to recognition and establishment later in life is both gory and determined. Being a woman in this business can be ugly and Hamilton both investigates and dismisses this fact.  What she does well is understanding the connection between food and family and what it means to be part of this process on both an intimate and grander scale.     

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

In 1885 the year of its US publication, a number of public libraries banned The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from their stacks. According to the American Library Association, it was the fifth most-frequently-challenged book in the United States in the 1990s. Despite strong arguments that the book supports positive racial themes, Huck Finn has been controversial from the beginning.  Last year NewSouth Books published a sanitized edition, effectively keeping this book in the news and on the minds of both those who have loved and hated this classic American book.  When was the last time you visited Huck Finn? Interested in learning more and sharing your ideas?

Join us next week for a panel discussion of this story that continues to both attract and repel members of our community. Does Huckleberry Finn belong in the literary canon and in our schools? What does it reveal about race relations, art and the power of language?

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

SwamplandiaThe Pulitzer Prizes were awarded this week with the announcement that there will not be a fiction winner for 2012.  This isn't the first time that there was no prize, but the announcement still comes as sort of a shock.  Three finalists had already been announced, Train Dreams by Denis Johnson, Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, and The Pale King by the late David Foster Wallace. 

While Sig Gissler, an administrator for the Pulitzer Prize awards says "it is not a statement about fiction in general -- just a statement about the process", Ann Patchett disagrees.  Patchett who is an author, reader and book store owner wrote an op-ed in the New York Times criticizing the lack of award.  She argues that there were actually many deserving books this year and the excitement created for both readers and sellers of books is something that is desirable and necessary. 

Tinkers by Paul Harding

When Tinkers won the Pulitzer Prize, I put it on my to-read list where it lingered for two years.  I had a hard time summoning enthusiasm after reading the description every time I went looking for a book.  A few months ago, I deleted it off my to-read list acknowledging that I would probably never read it.  
Last week I thought I would give it another shot and now I wonder why I waited so long. Paul Harding's first novel sucked me in right from the hallucinatory beginning and I didn't want it to end.  The banalities are such: George is dying and reflective on his life, family and career.  The narrative alternates to a time when George is very young and focuses on his father, a man who ends up being unfairly defined by his grand mal seizures.  In between these paragraphs, there are excerpts from the fictional book called The Reasonable Horologist and other shorter paragraphs that seem nonsensical at first, but end up working at the end.  Time and memories are the main theme and this book has a rural New England setting.

Split by Avasthi

Some of the best fiction books take a situation of which you have very little first-hand knowledge and through sympathetic characters and solid storytelling create some sort of understanding of what living that life would be like.  Swati Avasthi's first Young Adult novel about domestic violence and abuse, Split, is a great example. Avasthi is able to allow the reader to care about the main character and his struggles with both the violence of his father and the legacy he is hoping to avoid.

Teenage Jace leaves his parents' house with almost nothing after a particularly brutal fight with his father.  He sets off from Chicago with his camera and the New Mexico address of his older brother who disappeared several years earlier.  Jace's brother Christian is less than thrilled to see him with a bruised face despite having come from and escaped the same back ground.  Their transition is rocky and a lesser book would have trivialized this time. Instead their difficulties felt genuine.

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