“Everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their life because we all overcometh the world.” -Auggie, "Wonder"
Whenever I’m handed a book with the promise “This will make you cry,” I’m always a little skeptical. A montage of dogs seeing their owners after they get back from deployment, I am bawling, but it is the rare book that makes me break down and cry. So when "Wonder" by R.J. Palacio was handed to me and I was told that it was a tearjerker that might become the Lawrence Public Library's Read Across Lawrence book, I was skeptical.
Was this book really as good as I had been hearing for years? Would it really appeal to kids and teens and adults? Yes. Although I wasn’t overcome with gut-wrenching sobs while reading it, I can unequivocally say that "Wonder" has real emotional impact. It leaves you with profound gratitude. The overarching message of self-love and that there’s a little “wonder” in all of us bubbles through you, and even though the book is filled with cruelty and hardship, "Wonder" uplifts.
Auggie Pullman is much like other 10-year-olds: he’s obsessed with "Star Wars," he loves his dog and he’s nervous about attending middle school. But there’s one thing that very much sets Auggie apart. His face. He’s had 27 different surgeries to correct facial abnormalities, but he still doesn’t look normal. He “won’t describe what he looks like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.”
We do get insight from other people in Auggie’s life, as he is not the only narrator of "Wonder." Auggie’s sister Via, his friends from school and others all lend their voices to tell Auggie’s story at a crucial moment in his life: when he goes to school for the first time. Middle school. I bet a lot of you cringed when you read that. Can you imagine? Auggie has no hope of fitting in with a face that immediately sets him apart. He’s quickly labeled with several vicious nicknames like Freddy Krueger, Freak and Lizard-Face.
But here’s the thing. Auggie is cool. He’s funny, he’s smart, he’s clever. He has one of those personalities that makes him endearing. He’s one of those people you just want to befriend. But because of his face, no one will touch him. I don’t just mean that figuratively.
At one point in the book, there’s a game called "the plague," wherein if anyone touches Auggie they “catch a disease.” Even though this book is now six years old, the bullying that Auggie and his friends face rings as true in 2018 as it did in 2012. While many middle-grade books cover the upheaval of transitioning from elementary to middle school, bullying and the potential for all-out cruelty of kids that age is glossed over. Palacio shines a bright light into the dark corners of the middle-school experience of many children, but she does it in a way that never leaves the reader without hope.
So far "Wonder" sounds pretty grim, but throughout Auggie’s struggles to fit in, make friends and pursue life as a normal kid, Palacio weaves in unforgettable characters and utterly quotable lines and ultimately creates a message that will resonate with everyone: “When given the choice between being right or being kind. Choose kind.”
The library couldn’t have picked a better Read Across Lawrence book. There’s so much to dissect, discuss and dig through. It resonated with 27-year-old me, and it resonates with kids as well (I have rarely seen it on the shelf in my two-year tenure at the library). "Wonder" may not have made me cry, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t feel different after reading it. Palacio’s fantastic novel is moving, and I bet you’ll be moved too.
Grab a copy on Jan. 15 at 1 p.m. in the library auditorium and read along with us! Look for Read Across Lawrence programming throughout February and March as well. Since the book is so quotable, I started with one, so I might as well end the same way. Here’s one of my favorites:
“The real, real, real, real truth is: I missed seeing your face, Auggie. I know you don’t always love it, but you have to understand. I love it. I love this face of yours, Auggie, completely and passionately.”
— Lauren Taylor is a youth services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
It’s typically a rare case for me not to finish a book. At some point, I think I convinced myself that not finishing was giving up on an author or myself as a reader. But I have come to understand that neither of those is true at all. For whatever reason, it’s okay to stop reading a book, especially if you’ve lost interest in it, because there are so many other books that could be more interesting to you.
This year, I’ve decided to try out Nancy Pearl’s Rule of 50 for dropping a bad book. Pearl, a famous librarian with her own action figure and author of "Book Lust," acknowledged that the world of books is immense, but time is short. So “If you’re fifty years old or younger, give every book about fifty pages before you decide to commit yourself to reading it, or give up.” Over fifty? Subtract your age from 100 and use that as your guide.
To prepare myself, I’ve been thinking about some of the books that I did put down and why I never finished them:
"See Me" by Nicholas Sparks
Before picking this one up, "A Walk to Remember" and "A Bend in the Road" were the last Sparks novels I read, and that was back when I was in high school. I recall enjoying, and maybe even being emotionally moved by them. After getting only a few pages into this later release, though, my immediate thought was “Not for me!” It’s funny how your reading tastes change.
"Infinite Jest" by David Foster Wallace
Yes, I could not get through this notoriously unapproachable hipster tome that once had a movement dedicated to reading it. Honestly, it both confused me and bored me. I can’t say how many pages I made it through, because I made the biggest un-hipster-like mistake of trying to read it on a digital device. If you ever attempt it, I’d suggest purchasing your own print copy that you can mark up, dog-ear and post-it to death and carry around in a satchel so it weighs constantly on your mind.
"IQ84" by Haruki Murakami
Another gigantic hipster tome of doom, but I actually did find this one approachable and intriguing. The only reason I put it down was because I checked it out from the library back when it was on the new shelf and the two week checkout period was up before it seemed I had a chance to crack the spine. Not wanting to accumulate overdue fees, I returned it, and I never bothered to pursue it again. I’ve enjoyed Murakami’s other works, so I think if I ever have 46 hours and 46 minutes to kill, I might just check out the audiobook.
"Marvel and a Wonder" by Joe Meno
Up until I checked out this book, Joe Meno was one of the few authors that I had to purchase every title they’ve written. Unlike any of his previous novels, though, I just did not care for the characters in this one. The contemporary Western feel of it, too, put me off. But to admit, even after giving up on the library’s copy, I bought my own. I guess I’m not quite ready to give up on Joe Meno yet either.
I look forward to being more ruthless this year in my inclination to stop reading books that don’t interest me, if only for the chance of finding more that do. What are some books you’ve dropped?
— William Ottens is the cataloging and collection development coordinator at the Lawrence Public Library.
Hi Lawrence! Look Play Listen is the library’s team of AV appreciators. Each month we’ll round up some of our favorite music, film/TV, and video game reviews from our staff and put them in one easy to read, easy to locate blog post.
"The Mind of a Chef" somehow weaves together cooking, culture, and chef backstory in 25 minute short episodes that tend to culminate in some kind of thought-provoking reflection on life. The span of entries following Nordic master Magnus Nilsson are frankly the best. Magnus is at once a lovable goof with a childlike wonder and imagination for food and one of the best chefs on the planet with a merciless eye for perfection and control. We watch as he forages around the woods near his restaurant, Faviken, for dry, fallen oak leaves to flavor potatoes; he explains that he wants to "expand the potato eating experience." Sign me up, Magnus.
Eli from Readers’ Services
If you enjoy Tea Leoni in the TV series "Madam Secretary," give this movie a try. She costars with Nicolas Cage in a modern take on "It's a Wonderful Life." An encounter with an angel transforms Cage's pampered, investment-banker existence to a middle-class tire salesman's lot, complete with wife (Leoni), two kids, and a crummy minivan. Set during the winter holidays, this is a perfect movie for couples to enjoy over the end-of-year break, but really, it's fun to watch any time of year.
Tricia from Collection Development
As much as I'd like to consider myself an avid horror movie fan, I hadn't seen "The Shining" until a few months ago. I walked in expecting a chilling horror legend and what I found? Well, I couldn't quite put my finger on it. "The Shining" was a movie that didn't feel quite like horror but at the same time, it didn't feel like anything else I'd ever seen either. The movie baffled me. "Room 237," though I don't agree with any of the interpretations about the film, made me feel a bit better about being baffled.
"Room 237" is a documentary that highlights the madcap theories of avid fans. Without giving too much away, my favorite theory is that "The Shining" was a secret symbolic outcry from director Stanley Kubrick who felt guilt about his involvement in faking the moon landing. Now, I don't believe the interpretation, nor do I believe the Apollo 11 landing was a Stanley Kubrick production. "Room 237" also showcases darker theories about historical violence, genocide, and subliminal messages. Overall,the film isn't about the theories themselves, it's about how we as viewers can have vastly different interpretations of the same work. Perfect for both the avid film buff and the casual viewer, it’s a descent into madness (and subsequent interpretations of madness) that was a blast to watch.
Margo from Youth Services
It feels a little early to say "Breath of the Wild" is my favorite game ever, but man, is it a contender. The game’s not perfect. I can’t stress how much I miss classic Zelda dungeons and tools (no hookshot?!) and the weapon durability system can be tedious — do Hyrule’s blacksmiths only work in chalk? — but those complaints pale in comparison to the game’s living, breathing, astounding, explorable and incredibly fun open world.
Ian from Info Services
"Songs of Innocence" In the third major chapter of U2's career (beginning with 2000's "All That You Can't Leave Behind"), I find this to be a particularly standout effort. Unlike moments of the band's recent few albums, "Songs of Innocence" holds its coherence and message for its entirety — working off the threaded narrative of reflection on one's innocence and its loss.
Each song on this record stands alone with identity and sonic charm, though listening to the album top to bottom allows the songs to form the greater picture. The opening three songs are anthemic, catchy, and brooding and set the tone marvelously for the rest of the record. I could highlight every song, honestly. The only track that slips up for me is "Volcano," merely because the lyrics seem a bit unhashed. Through time this has become one of my favorite U2 releases, rivaling "Achtung Baby" and "Joshua Tree" as one of their finest efforts. It is the cornerstone of the current U2 chapter.
Joel from Tech Services
Lawrence Public Library director Brad Allen recently gave this album a thumbs up, and I am in complete agreement with him, but not because he's the boss. The songs produced by Jack Antonoff (“Fun,” “Bleachers”) truly are the strongest tracks of the record. This latest album is an excellent follow up to Taylor Swift's "1989," combining all the pop/dance hooks that made the previous album catchy, yet with better pacing and content. If this is the "Reputation" that Swift wants to be known for, she is on the right path.
Ilka from Readers’ Services
So that’s it from us for December! What media did you love this month?
The stranger-than-fiction story of the women who painted radium dials during World War I got a proper exploration earlier this year in the nonfiction hit "The Radium Girls." Now the topic gets its due in the realm of fiction with Brooke Bolander’s "The Only Harmless Great Thing," with an intriguing twist.
As if the story of the radium factories were not already peculiar—and tragic—enough, Bolander imagines sentient elephants working alongside the women of history.
For those who aren't quotation buffs, here's the explanation for the enigmatic title. “Nature’s great masterpiece, an elephant; the only harmless great thing,” said John Donne, an English poet of the fifteenth century.
Though such a premise could simply be stamped as fantasy or perhaps science fiction, it feels more like magical realism in this treatment. The alternative history approach changes nothing here apart from the capacity of elephants to communicate with humans. There are no spells being cast or otherworldly technology at play; Bolander preserves the gritty, realistic fabric of history (with her own tusked amendment, of course).
"The Only Harmless Great Thing"’s narrative cycles through three different times and settings as distantly-related stories unfold. In the present day, we follow Kat, a scientist roped into diplomacy negotiations with sovereign elephants, in hopes that they will help designate the danger of radioactive sites even after mankind might perish. Then, in the 1910’s, Reagan, a radium girl, works with Topsy — an elephant, and a fiery one at that — both suffering the effects of radiation poisoning and ruthless working conditions. Finally, Bolander adds the what is essentially a telling of the elephant’s creation myth; it is the story of their first matriarch, who overthrew the bull elephants long ago.
Despite jumping around so drastically in focus, reading the novel feels like a well-tuned stream of consciousness. Bolander has a knack for creating a resonance that spans all the different protagonists while preserving each of their unique identities. She takes on quite the challenge, too, by writing in a modern voice, a rural 1910’s voice and an elephant voice that is fairly experimental and closer to poetry than prose. I’ll admit, the elephant sections aren’t the easiest to read at first, but they’re vivid, thoughtfully constructed and well worth it.
Tracing the elephants’ relationship with mankind — along with mankind’s relationship with radioactive substances — makes for compelling and effortless storytelling. Really, the premise is just too good. The radium girls already make for a fascinating topic, and adding elephants somehow feels perfectly appropriate. Every character feels real, and it’s the best kind of emotional devastation when we witness their increasingly-grim plights.
There are plenty of social critiques and insights that could be drawn from the book. Bolander, though, presents her story at face value, allowing the reader to derive any further meaning as they please, be it a message relating to the treatment of animals, feminism, labor rights, the military industrial complex et al.
Put it all together, and "The Only Harmless Great Thing" is a unique and satisfying read if you want to start the year off with a change of pace. John Donne may have been on to something: There is just something about elephants, isn’t there?
— Eli Hoelscher is a readers’ services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
In 2017, the Lawrence Public Library's Book Squad introduced the Squad Goals Reading Challenge, a collection of 13 prompts designed to get you reading more widely.
In 2018, by popular demand, we’re back with 13 new prompts that we hope will intrigue, delight and, yes, challenge you. We’ll have hard-copy forms available at the library by January, and the same “rules” apply as last year:
- Read along month-by-month, or read in any order you like.
- Make a plan and stick with it, or pick books on a whim.
- Start every book you finish, or
stop reading anything you aren’t
You do you, is what we’re saying.
Because I love making plans (and willfully discarding them), I’ve mapped out my choices below.
January: Read a thriller — I’m going with Tiffany Jackson’s "Allegedly," about a black teenager, Mary, who was convicted of murdering a white baby when Mary was just eight years old. I’ve heard this psychological thriller is great on audiobook, so I’ll plan to listen to this one.
February: Read an #ownvoices book — The #ownvoices movement encourages readers to pick up books written by authors who share an identity with the characters they’re writing about. I decided to read Corinne Duyvis’s "On the Edge of Gone," which has an autistic heroine written by an autistic author (also the founder of the #ownvoices movement).
March: Read a book with a character’s name in the title — After watching the very charming "Spider-Man: Homecoming" recently, I decided to delve deeper into Spider-Man, a hero who usually doesn’t interest me much. I’ve heard great things about "Miles Morales," author Jason Reynolds’ young adult novel about the current Spider-Man.
April: Read a book about a mythical creature — For many years, I summed up my taste in fiction as “no dragons” — then along came Naomi Novik’s "Temeraire" series. For this prompt, I’ll indulge my newfound love of dragons with Jo Walton’s "Tooth and Claw," about the power struggles in an influential dragon family after the death of its patriarch.
May: Read a book about nature — I read more poetry in 2017 than I have in years. I want to build on that progress, so I’ll read through the anthology "Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry."
June: Read a book with an LGBTQ+ protagonist — Spoiler alert! I’ve been meaning to try Adam Silvera’s work for a while now, so I plan to weep my way through his 2017 release "They Both Die at the End," about two young men who receive notice from the Death-Cast notification system that they’ve got one day left to live.
July: Read a nonfiction book on a topic you don’t know much about — In college, I took a course that explored the connections between math and music — and was shocked to find that I was more interested in the math than the music. I’ll brush up my knowledge with "Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity," David Foster Wallace’s nonfiction deep-dive into the mathematical concept of infinity.
August: Read an urban fiction book — I devoured Aya de León’s fun, thought-provoking heist romance "Uptown Thief" this year, and I’ve been saving its sequel, "The Boss," so that I wouldn’t tear through the series too fast. I’m especially excited because it moves one of my favorite secondary characters front and center.
September: Read an anthology of short stories by multiple authors — I mostly missed the "Hamilton" craze (I still haven’t listened to the entire show), but I can’t wait to read "Hamilton’s Battalion: A Trio of Romances," which brings together stories set at the Battle of Yorktown, written by three of the best romance novelists currently working (Alyssa Cole, Courtney Milan and Rose Lerner).
October: Read a book by an author with a disability — I’m going with Kody Keplinger’s "Run," a young adult novel about the friendship between wild child Bo and rule-follower Agnes. Keplinger has written several really good young adult novels, but this is the first one where she includes a blind main character. (Keplinger is blind herself, so this one would also work for the #ownvoices prompt.)
November: Read a true crime book or fiction based on a true crime — Talk about stranger than fiction: Did you know that prolific mystery writer Anne Perry was convicted for participating in the murder of her best friend’s mother in the 1950s? If that doesn’t make you want to read Peter Graham’s "Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century" with me, I don’t know what will.
December: Read a book set in the future — I was debating between two books for this prompt, and then I saw that my fellow Book Squad-ers Kate and Kimberly had both given one of them five stars. I’m reading "Orleans," by Sherri L. Smith, set in a quarantined, almost-abandoned Gulf Coast.
Anytime: Read a book you’ve been meaning to finish - Whatever else 2018 may hold, I can guarantee it will hold this: it will be the year I finally finish Bradley Udall’s "The Lonely Polygamist," which I have thoroughly enjoyed every time I’ve started it, and which has nevertheless been hanging out on my to-be-read list since 2010.
So that’s my very tentative plan for the 2018 Squad Goals challenge. I’m looking forward to reading along with you.
-Meredith Wiggins is a readers’ services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
As 2017 comes to a close, with all its turbulence—for better or worse—one thing remains constant: great books of all flavors.
Staff from all across the library share their favorites; read on for LPL’s best books of 2017.
Shirley Braunlich, reader's services assistant: "The Turtle’s Beating Heart: One Family's Story of Lenape Survival" by Denise Low is a memoir of deep exploration into the author’s ancestry. Thoughtful personal stories of family are beautifully interlaced with poetic prose and occasional wry humor. References to Lenape (Delaware) Indian landmarks in Lawrence are also noted. Also, "Wildness: Relations of People and Place" is an anthology of essays about human relationships to the natural world, self-determination and holistic environmental sustainability. Among the noteworthy authors included are Robin Wall Kimmerer, Wes Jackson, Vandana Shiva, Rob Dunn, Joel Salatin and Courtney White.
Dan Coleman, collection development librarian: British zoologist Nicola Davies has long been one of my favorite children’s authors, and this year she has outdone herself with "Song of the Wild: A First Book of Animals." Featuring the richly colored paintings of veteran Czech illustrator Petr Horacek, the book consists of over 50 poems broken up into five thematic sections, revealing wonder after wonder of the animal world. At over 100 pages, with ample room on pages nearly a square foot in size, this book will have a place in children’s lives from their earliest lap-sitting days through the years they are able to read by themselves.
Kate Gramlich, readers' services assistant: I'm going to throw in what I think is the funniest book of this year: "We Are Never Meeting in Real Life" by essayist and blogger Samantha Irby. What makes this book so good is the unflinching honesty and humor she employs when sharing not only embarrassing moments in her life, but also moments of serious struggle. She does an amazing job of balancing humor and sharp wit with insightful social commentary, and I can't wait to see what comes next for her.
Eli Hoelscher, reader's services assistant: It took me a second to fall under Wioletta Greg’s spell in "Swallowing Mercury," crafted from pastoral scenes and a somewhat confabulated childhood memory of rural life in 1970s communist Poland. As it undulates from grim to fantastic moments, this dreamlike autobiographical novel pulled me in deeper with every stirring vignette; it’s a work that will stay with me for a long, long time.
Polli Kenn, reader's services coordinator: "Heating and Cooling" by Beth Ann Fennelly: a surprising, stunning, tiny gem of a book. Funny, true and heartbreaking, Fennelly's concise, perfect prose has a poetic sensibility. You'll find every word in just the right place in these micro-memoirs of a life, seen from the midway vantage point. Read slowly to savor, then reread several times to remind yourself how perfect this wee book is.
Kimberly Lopez, reader's services assistant: It’s difficult to choose just one favorite book of 2017, so why not two? "Pachinko" by Min Jin Lee impacted me the most. A multi-generational tale of one Korean family living in Japan, this story is enlightening, enraging and emotional. I absolutely fell in love with all of the characters and never wanted to let them go. I honestly don’t see how I can ever forget them. This is easily one of the best historical fiction novels I have ever read. I also adored "The Bear and the Nightingale" by Katherine Arden, a fantasy novel based on Russian folklore. The writing style is absolutely gorgeous, the setting is so atmospheric (equal parts magical and creepy), and the heroine is someone you can really root for.
Sarah Matthews, account services assistant: Long after reading "Exit West" by Mohsin Hamid, I find myself thinking of Nadia and Saeed, whose fledgling love affair begins as their country finds itself on the brink of civil war. What struck me the most was the ease of it all. Gunfire and bombings startle at first, but slowly become the new normal. The characters worry as much about holding hands or kissing as they do about newly imposed curfews and checkpoints. It was downright chilling how naturally it all came to be, and yet the story is full of hope and magic and indelible beauty. Picking my favorite of the year was no easy task, but this one really stuck with me in a way that nothing else did.
William Ottens, cataloging and collection development coordinator: "This Book Is Not for You" by Daniel Hoyt: townies, last calls at the Replay, a plot to blow up Wescoe Hall — disregard the title, Lawrence, this book is for you. Maybe it was because of the familiar setting, maybe because it reminded me of the debauchery of my early twenties, or maybe because Dan Hoyt is a gritty but charmingly witty storyteller, but I could not stop reading this one. Short chapters make for an easily digestible but chaotic experience with as much clarity as a hangover. All the pieces eventually come together. And you’d best not read this on a digital device. Let's just say the protagonist would not approve.
Lauren Taylor, youth services assistant: I am a sucker for a good romance with an excellent meet-cute, and "When Dimple Met Rishi" does not disappoint. Paired together by their parents, the title characters meet outside a Starbucks, where Rishi jokes about being Dimple's future husband. The catch? Dimple has no idea who he is, throws her hot latte on him and runs away. This book has so much heart and encapsulates the immigrant experience while rolling out a romance worthy of young adult fame.
Jake Vail, information services assistant: Everybody’s favorite cantankerous hermit is the subject of — wait a minute! He wasn’t that cantankerous, and Henry Thoreau was certainly not a hermit! Laura Dassow Walls’ "Henry David Thoreau: A Life" is my choice for 2017 Book of the Year. In easy-to-read yet scholarly fashion, Walls peels back the layers heaped upon “Henerey Thorow” (as he was called) and takes a good look around, providing new cultural and natural context to Thoreau’s life and works. The result is a triumph in un-pigeonholing, a fascinating look at the rapidly changing world that moved around Thoreau and how he came to view it. An easy choice for book of the year, for Henry’s 200th birthday.
Meredith Wiggins, readers' services assistant: This year, I fell in love with three books that explored human connection in very different ways: "Lincoln in the Bardo," by George Saunders, which melded historical fiction about a well-known historical figure with ghost stories to gorgeous, devastating effect (my true #1); "Exit West," by Mohsin Hamid, which used magical realism to speak to the real effects of false boundaries on human lives; and "Anything is Possible," by Elizabeth Strout, which took us into the life of a town with a famous daughter, examining, in a series of short stories of one chapter each, how her life intersected with that of the other townspeople. Each of these books challenged me, delighted me and moved me to tears.
It’s that time of year again! The ground is covered in leaves, the holiday lights are on, the heater is cranked all the way up and snow is imminent. You look outside one minute, and the sun is shining, and the world is like a gorgeously illustrated picture book, and then one minute later you look again, and suddenly the world is now made of darkness. Your body is all “what is happening?!” and your brain is like “but it’s only 5pm!” Winter has (almost) come.
The sudden weather change is discombobulating, and sometimes even a little disturbing when you manage to miss those few hours of sunlight, and your mood levels plummet. At times like these, I find it most comforting to try and embrace the season by cuddling up with a fuzzy blanket, maybe baking some scones and topping it all off by grabbing a cozy book.
The term “cozy” can differ for everyone — for some, a good mystery will hit the spot; for others, it might be Gothic novels or classics, or even children’s adventure books. What I personally mean by a “cozy read” is one that inspires you to really settle in and fully immerse yourself in a book that makes outside stressors just melt away. Lately, that has been an extremely specific type of book for me — Victorian alternative history, complete with steam gadgets, spunky heroines and mythical creatures come to life.
I’ve fallen completely in love with Gail Carriger and devoured her entire "Parasol Protectorate" series.The universe is steampunk Victorian where supernatural vampires and werewolves are fairly common, but preternatural “soulless” are quite rare. The main protagonist in the series is Alexia Tarabotti, an aforementioned preternatural, who can render any supernatural folk human with just one touch. Start with the first book, "Soulless," which introduces the extremely sassy and hilarious Alexia, who isn’t complete without a trusty parasol (so that she can whack people on the head when she gets angry or doesn’t get her way). Carriger has written other series set within the same universe, so once you finish Alexia’s story, there is still more to explore.
Along the same lines, I just finished the first book in the the "Memoirs of Lady Trent" series - "A Natural History of Dragons." Not exactly alternate history, because technically Marie Brennan has created an entirely new universe, but one that is directly inspired by the Victorian era. The books are set up and written like Victorian adventure memoirs, in which Lady Trent (Isabella) looks back on her life as a preeminent dragon naturalist. She is essentially the Jane Goodall of dragons, and, considering how obsessed with Jane Goodall I was as a child, I am thrilled with discovering this series.
This is no dragon-hunting fantasy epic — rather, it's a methodical exploration of dragons as creatures that exist within nature. Brennan is so utterly convincing that I found myself wanting to drop everything and go out and become a naturalist. While the books in the series focus heavily upon the scientific side of dragons, there is still plenty of adventure for those who like action in their fantasy books. Immediately after finishing the first book, I turned to my partner and said, “5 out of 5 stars — would definitely recommend!” and then picked up the second novel. So far, this series has helped to fill the void that finishing "The Parasol Protectorate" has left, so if you love one series, I can see you loving the other.
In general, now is the time to settle down and commit to a series. If you haven’t tried reading a series lately, I suggest you give it a try! Binge-read like you would binge-watch a Netflix series — or try binge-reading a favorite author. It seems like such an obvious thing to do, but it’s something I haven’t really tried until recently. That way, when day melts into night and night becomes unending, it doesn’t really matter. You’ve got yourself a mystery to solve or beloved characters to follow, and “it’s totally fine” that it’s only 12 degrees outside.
(Don’t forget — the library has Seasonal Affective Disorder lamps! They’ve been immensely helpful for days when I need a pick-me-up and a reminder that the sun still, in fact, exists and we are not living in one endless dark and cold night. We even have a few available to check out — it’s pretty neat.)
— Kimberly Lopez is a readers’ services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
The newest "Star Wars" movie is days away from release, and there’s an electricity in the air surrounding this excitement that I’m forced to refer to as the Force. With the new trilogy and Expanded Universe movies all abuzz, it’s become clear that women have taken a firm hold of the "Star Wars" Expanded Universe. Characters like Rey and Jyn Erso are proving to be even more popular than their male counterparts.
Recently, I happily discovered that there are many female writers contributing to the fiction of the Expanded Universe, and that they're creating totally kick-butt stories. There are Expanded Universe stories for all ages, which is perfect for fostering a long-term love of "Star Wars" in young readers. They’re complex, fascinating, and cover all of the backstory that would’ve turned each of the existing movies into 6-hour features — something I wouldn't be at all opposed to, for the record.
If you have any young readers in your life, I cannot more highly recommend Jude Watson’s "Jedi Apprentice" and "Jedi Quest" series. "Jedi Apprentice," which is set before the action of "Episode I: The Phantom Menace," tells the story of how Obi-Wan Kenobi became Qui-Gon Jinn’s apprentice. Honestly, this series made "Episode I" pretty forgivable for my young mind, as I was more excited to see the embodiment of these characters I had come to adore. We can all just pretend Jar Jar Binks just didn’t exist.
Post-"Episode I," "Jedi Quest" reveals the development of Anakin Skywalker as he begins his Padawan training under Obi-Wan’s watchful eye. Because it is told from the perspective of a young Anakin, this series would be great for an even younger reader than "Jedi Apprentice." I can almost guarantee that they’ll demand Padawan robes for their next Halloween costume after following this journey.
As we get older, one of the most fun areas to explore in the Expanded Universe is the dark side of the Force. Christie Golden’s "Dark Disciple" follows Asajj Ventress, former Sith apprentice turned bounty hunter and one of the great antiheroes in the "Star Wars" galaxy. This storyline was originally part of the "Clone Wars" TV series, but was scrapped and later adapted into this novel.
Martha Wells delivers us "Razor’s Edge," a perfectly raucous Han and Leia marauder story set just before "Episode V."
In the midst of the Rebellion, we have Claudia Gray’s "Lost Stars," which spans many years and switches between the voices of two best friends as they grow up and train to become Imperial pilots.
Golden returns with New York Times best-seller "Battlefront II: Inferno Squad," picking up the story from the Empire’s side just after "Rogue One." This novel lends so much perspective to the “bad guys” that you’ll find yourself almost saddened by the Death Star’s destruction. Almost.
Finally, we have Delilah S. Dawson’s New York Times Bestseller "Phasma." If you were at all curious about Captain Phasma in "Episode VII," this is an absolutely necessary read before "Episode VIII" comes out. I’ll give nothing away and just say that it is truly one of the best books I’ve read this year.
There is much more to discover in the "Star Wars" Expanded Universe than what I’ve listed here. Go explore, and may the Force be with you.
— Logan Isaman is the community assessment coordinator at the Lawrence Public Library.
About a month ago I tweeted, with 100 percent sincerity, “I zone out as soon as a TV show description uses the words, ‘crime boss.’” Although in my tweet I was referring to a synopsis I had seen on Netflix, believe me when I say this is true for books as well.
I have no capacity for paying attention to a story where macho men brandish guns while calling women “broads” or where the word “capiche” is used as a replacement for a question mark. I am not so arrogant to think that just because these stories don’t appeal to me, it means they’re bad, but nevertheless, whenever I say I don’t like this genre someone usually mentions "The Godfather" or something similar as if I’ve been living under the biggest and most soundproof rock in creation.
“BUT WHAT ABOUT 'THE GODFATHER'?” “I’ve seen it!” “But did you like it?” “No!” Anyway, one week after my tweet (and its now obvious foreshadowing), I was cracking open Jennifer Egan’s newest novel, "Manhattan Beach," to find the story centered around what can best described as… sigh… a crime boss. Or, more accurately, a woman whose life is deeply affected by a crime boss. I broke out into a cold sweat as I became increasingly aware of what I was getting myself into. I’d already planned to write a review of Egan’s new book because two of her previous novels,"The Keep" and "A Visit From the Goon Squad," are some of my personal favorites. I didn’t feel like I could back out now. Besides, what would I write about if not this?
Time was of the essence and, frankly, I hadn’t expected Jennifer Egan to do this to me. Despite my trepidation, I took the plunge and read it … and as much as I hate to admit when I’m wrong, I guess I like crime fiction now.
"Manhattan Beach" is a historical novel which begins at the seaside in Brooklyn ten years before the start of WWII. Here we meet the book’s main character, Anna, as a young girl whose father has taken her on a business trip to meet up with a man we later learn is a racketeer, Dexter Styles. The reader quickly recognizes that Styles will be an important person but Anna is the character around which the story revolves.
We watch her grow from a young girl with a special closeness to her father and disabled sister, to a woman whose relationships become more complicated as time passes (as relationships often do). A little later in the book Eddie, Anna’s father, disappears, leaving the reader and Anna to presume he’s dead after involving himself with Styles and other nefarious characters. We won’t find out what happens to Eddie (or how it happens) until the end, but getting there is captivating as Egan has each of the main characters crossing paths in present day and in flashbacks.
As we discuss main characters, I would be remiss not to mention the sea itself, where this novel begins and ends. No, crime bosses and mob stories are not my normal thing, but I am a sucker for tales set in New York City, and I love a good World War II backdrop as well. Combine these with a seascape description so palpable I could feel, smell, and hear it. Suspending my disbelief came easily.
Even locations and situations which would normally cause me to zone out (back rooms of nightclubs with a lot of cigar smoke, poker dens, the repetitive use of the word “boss” which I can only hear in a thick Joe Pesci accent) rolled right off of me and, in some cases, lured me in. Egan crafts this backdrop of the beach and the sea masterfully. The ocean is always there; she has built this dreamy, foggy world so well. It cleanses, it blinds, it maims, it baptizes.
The book, of course, is not without its flaws, and I did not feel compelled to shout from the rooftops my admiration for it as I did with "Goon Squad" and "The Keep." It is plot-driven almost to a fault, leaving something to be desired when it comes to the intricacies of characters’ relationships. At 433 pages, Egan does not rush her story. In fact, at times, I wished for fewer details about ship repair and more about the inner workings of the characters and their thoughts.
But overall "Manhattan Beach" succeeds, and Jennifer Egan has proven herself to be a writer who will not be pigeonholed as someone who only writes a specific genre. And, thus, she has made this reader branch out into other genres as well, which can only be a good thing. Capiche?
— Sarah Mathews is an accounts assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.
Look Play Listen is the library’s team of AV appreciators. Each month we’ll round up some of our favorite music, film/TV, and video game reviews from our staff and put them in one easy-to-read, easy-to-locate blog post.
"Hunt for the Wilderpeople" is a phenomenal film full of the heart and humor director Taika Waititi does so well. It follows Ricky Baker, a child in New Zealand's foster care system who must adjust from his city life to a life in the bush.The screenplay walks the perfect balance between light, humorous and heart-wrenching. I found this film quotable, comforting, and perfect for rewatching. If I was only able to watch films from a single director for the rest of my life, Taika Waititi would be on the very top of the list. If you enjoyed the new "Thor" film I would highly suggest giving Hunt for the Wilderpeople a watch ... or twelve.
— Margo from Youth Services
I'm not sure how to feel about the Netflix series adaptation coming this month, but Spike Lee's original "She's Gotta Have It" is a truly special film. This artful rom-com blends humor, drama, and emotion in a manner few narratives ever can; there's also a nuanced exploration of sexuality and class dynamics (among other things) underpinning the whole production, but it doesn't demand that you analyze it — "She's Gotta Have It" remains disarmingly enjoyable at face value. Honestly, despite his later triumphs, Lee peaked right out of the gate — but that's just a testament to an incredible piece of filmmaking.
–Eli from Readers’ Services
Whit Stillman's films are perfect for people who like character-driven, dialogue-packed films. Set in New York City in the world of privileged college youth (plus one middle-class gentleman) during the debutante season, the film documents their parties and private conversations, their romantic crushes and social commentary. It's the first in an exceptional trilogy — don't miss Stillman's follow-ups: "The Last Days of Disco" and "Barcelona."
— Tricia from Collection Development
Not too shabby, Guardian! With "Destiny 2," Bungie continues to inch towards delivering on the promise and hype of vanilla "Destiny." Quality-of-life changes abound, and there’s more to do than ever before. For better or worse, nothing has fundamentally changed in the sequel, but joining up with two strike buddies and absolutely wrecking some generic alien baddies has never been as fun.
— Ian from Information Services
The score to the epic, anime classic about biker gangs, psychokinetic powers, political corruption and human experimentation is as unique and energetic as the movie it accompanies. The Japanese musical collective Geinoh Yamashirogumi combines traditional musical elements of Southeast Asia such as the chromatic bamboo percussion of Indonesian Gamelan and the intense, rhythmic chanting of Japanese Noh theater with the pulsating synthesizers of '80s techno and hints of prog rock to create a texturally unique soundscape. The score can be enjoyed as a solo piece without seeing the movie, but the pair complement each other so much that it’s best to be able to conjure up the striking imagery of Neo-Tokyo while listening.
— Kevin from Collections Development
In my opinion, The Killers' "Wonderful Wonderful" is the jewel in 2017's musical desert wasteland, which seems appropriate as the band hails from Las Vegas, Nevada. I've held The Killers’ 2006 album "Sam's Town" in high esteem for years, and this new release would be a serious contender in a prizefight, no doubt. Along with combining elements of Brandon Flowers' solo works, the prototypical Killers synth-laden jams will leave you feeling wonderful wonderful.
— Ilka from Readers’ Services
So that’s it from us for November! What media did you love this month?