Reviews

Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith

Ida Mae Jones is a young African-American woman living with her family in Louisiana.  Her father who taught her to fly a small crop duster has passed away, and her brother has signed up to serve in World War II.  It is not surprising that Ida Mae feels caught between her family obligations and her love of flying.  She learns about the Women Airforce Service Pilots -- a civilian organization that served to fly airplanes under the military with the goal of freeing up qualified men to serve in combat.  The WASP pilots transferred planes and equipment from assembly plants to military bases and often trailed targets in the air for anti-aircraft artillery practice. 

Not only was the WASP a highly selective group that underwent rigorous training, but Ida Mae faces even more difficulty because she knows she can't sign up as a black woman.  Her fair skin allows her to pass for white, but the stress of this combined with the training proves difficult.  On the positive side, the friends Ida Mae makes in WASP training are fantastic and provide support for Ida Mae even if they don't know her secret for sure. 

True Crime + Graphic Novels

A graphic novel about Jeffrey Dahmer? I am not a true crime reader. I am not even a fake crime reader, so I didn't think I would be interested. Boy, was I wrong. Last week I took My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf home based on a few coworker recommendations. I started reading fairly late one night and didn't put this book down until I was finished.

This book is sad, surprising and gross. But there is more than just morbid entertainment here. Backderf went to high school with Jeffrey Dahmer in Ohio in the 70s. His personal insight combined with meticulous research and interviews create a story that isn't really sympathetic, but does feel complete and informative. Backderf is a career comic artist, so the black and white illustrations feel like a natural way for this story to be told. He also includes some original drawings of Dahmer that he had done in high school. This isn't an easy read, but it is more than just shock value.

A Deeper Sleep

Recently, I had to do some long-distance driving so I did something I rarely do, listen to a book.  I chose A Deeper Sleep, a mystery by Dana Stabenow.  I wanted something both absorbing and light while I was negotiating the long interstates of Illinois.

This book was spot-on. It's set in and around Denali National Park. If you like your sleuths both tough and appealing, Kate Shugak is the detective for you. She's part Aleut, has lived on the outskirts of the great national park all her life and has a good deal of street (or should I say trail cred) with the natives, most of whom are her relatives.

Near the small community of Niniltna, an evil guy, Louis Deem, has killed his wife and attacked several girlfriends--one way to get rid of your exes. Kate and Trooper Jim Chopin work together to locate the evidence that will seal his fate. But though they manage to arrest him several times--he's a sly, cagey murderer, and a jury (swayed by an excellent Anchorage defensive attorney) releases him.

The Red House by Mark Haddon

Like many readers, I loved loved loved The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.  And I had high hopes for Mark Haddon's follow up, A Spot of Bother but was generally let down. That was years ago, and Haddon had sort of fallen off my radar when I recently came across his newest, The Red House

The premise is simple. Wealthy doctor, Richard invites his estranged sister, Angela, her unemployed husband and their three children to share a vacation house in the Welsh countryside knowing she cannot pay for a trip on their own.  Joining Richard is his new wife and her willful teenage daughter.  Their trip initially brims with the hope of forgiveness and family bonding, all nicely tucked away in a cozy modern pastoral setting.  But secrets, resentments, pain and confusion -- both old and new -- follow everyone. The complicated dynamics of this family and their often awkward attempts to set things right are at the crux of this novel.  Can't we all relate?  Being in a family is hard. 

Snobs

Whether you're inside enjoying the cool air or outside braving the weather at pool-side, consider that small country across the pond. Yes, England, and we're not talking about the Olympics but a Downton-Abbey type novel set in contemporary times. Are the rich really different from you and me? Screenwriter, novelist, and actor, Julian Fellowes tackles this subject in Snobs, a novel about a middle-class woman named Edith who would love the wealth and title of the Earl, Charles Broughton, whom she'd love to marry. 

Fellowes knows about castles and big estates. He's the son of a diplomat, and he visited many of the estates he writes about. He's also known struggling actors who aren't sure how they will pay next month's rent. As New York Times reviewer, Jonathan Ames said, Snobs is a "field guide to the behavior of the English aristocracy."  Ames also wrote, "When you read a book, you're lost in time. All the more reason to read Snobs.  It will distract you pleasantly. It's like a visit to an English country estate: breezy, beautiful and charming."

Making Babies: Stumbling into Motherhood

Making Babies is a delightful book about mothering--not all flowers and grace--but a truthful and somewhat sardonic account about the joys and frustrations of new parenthood. Irish novelist Enright and her husband, Martin, a playwright, had been married eighteen years before having a child. In this book, she details the whole process, from the week she decided that they should try to have a child soon (when she was already pregnant) to the period after her second child was born.

Enright describes a photo of herself taking immediately after the birth. She looked "pragmatic and unsurprised," but then later when they moved the baby to their room down the hall, she noticed that, "The child looks at the passing scene with alert pleasure...She is saturated with life, she is intensely alive. Her face is a little triangle and her eyes are shaped like leaves, and she looks out of them, liking the world."

Contrast this with the chapter titled "Milk" where Enright discusses the absurdity of starting a new biological function in her late thirties. She also remarks that there's no quicker way to clear a room than to begin breastfeeding there. It's not the sight of the breast so much, as the loud raucous sounds coming from the infant.

Michael Koryta's The Prophet

Local author Michael Koryta's new book isn't coming out until August 7 but you can already place a hold in our catalog.  The Prophet is a straight up thriller that stars two brothers, one as an upstanding high school football coach and the other as a fringe bail bondsman.  The brothers are estranged after the devastating fallout resulting from the kidnapping and brutal murder of their sister many years earlier.  When a similar murder happens, the brothers must learn to work together before the murderer strikes again. 

Master thriller author Dennis Lehane says, "The Prophet is a relentless, heart-in-your-throat thriller about ordinary people caught in the middle of an extraordinary nightmare."  And Kirkus reviews praises Koryta's newest as  "a brilliantly paced thriller that keeps its villains at a tantalizing distance, a compelling family portrait, a study in morality that goes beyond the usual black-and-white judgments, and an entertaining spin on classic football fiction. A flawless performance."

Incarceron

"Incarceron" refers to a sentient prison that seemingly randomly punishes or ignores the hundreds of thousands of inmates contained in its vast walls. Nobody escapes (though many have tried to make their way Outside), and life is constant war -- nasty, brutish, and short. Both the prison and its inmates fight over scrap bits of technology to make their lives easier (or in the case of the prison, to make new prisoners out of the dead). Finn can't remember anything from his childhood except a few visions of a different world glimpsed during strange seizures, but is convinced he was born Outside the prison.

Unpublished

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.

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