Posts tagged with Library

“Manhattan Beach”: a mob drama for the rest of us

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.


November Look Play Listen Round Up

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"

"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

"She’s Gotta Have It"

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


"Destiny 2"

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


"Akira Symphonic Suite"

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

"Wonderful Wonderful"

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?


One Place, Many Voices: Local Authors Share Connections to Place

Writing by our local authors is rich and diverse in both mood and voice. My current focus is on such writing that provides a sense of place. This is an invitation to explore outside spaces with local authors in a series of events aptly titled Local Authors Outside.

I also want to encourage you to check out their books and hopefully be inspired to deepen your connection to this place — from the lush woodlands of Douglas State Fishing Lake to Delaware Indian landmarks in North Lawrence, the fertile prairie at Prairie Park and the wide expanse of diverse flora and fauna throughout our area.

About the weather, I have no guarantees, but if it is mild on Dec. 16 we will visit woodland trails at Douglas County Fishing Lake with Caleb Morse. Morse is a fantastic guide to learn from during a nature tour, especially if you want to learn about plant families and identify birds by their songs; he is the collection manager for the McGregor Herbarium and a contributor to "Flora of North America."

I’m curious to see these trails during their winter dormancy. Having visited this woodland in late spring, when the trees are fully leafed-out, I’ve been amazed at how much the sunlight is filtered — stepping back out of the woods is nearly blinding when the sun is shining.

Following that outing, Denise Low and Thomas Pecore Weso will help illuminate the former Delaware trading post in North Lawrence on Dec. 30. This married duo writes about connections of land to their Native American heritages.

Low is an award-winning author of prose and poetry, including "The Turtle’s Beating Heart: One Family’s Story of Lenape Survival." Her candid, compelling and poignant memoir reveals family history with vivid moments that smell like sunshine, to paraphrase the author.

Weso wrote the award-winning "Good Seeds: A Menominee Indian Food Memoir." He provides an intimate and nostalgic bridge into the rich heritage of his ancestors' ways of life. Wild rice is a source of cultural identity as well as sustenance, and recipes are included.

Another celebrated author in this series is Elizabeth Schultz; she will share her inspired, visual and lyrical poetry of natural wonder at Prairie Park on Jan. 6. Schultz is a professor emerita at the University of Kansas and author of "The Sauntering Eye: Kansas Meditations," a collection of poems on Kansas wildlife and environment.

Find more information about this series of events from the library’s website or this link: Local Authors Outside.

I hope you will step outside to enjoy local places, meet local authors and read their words to develop a greater appreciation for this place and our landmarks, prairies, wetlands and woodlands.

— Shirley Braunlich is a readers’ services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.


Luaka Bop and the world’s psychedelic classics

Almost 30 years ago, David Byrne (of Talking Heads fame) founded a record label “to turn people onto stuff [he] liked.” Because he’s David Byrne, and because he’s eminently cooler than you or me, the stuff he liked was Brazilian pop music.

In January of ‘89, Byrne released his first compilation, "Brazil Classics 1: Beleza Tropical." Three other Brazil Classics followed. From there, Luaka Bop — a record label name Byrne nicked off some tea packaging — and its “rather obscure Masonic” logo started to jump all over the globe. Cuba, England, India, West Africa, Japan, etc.

I wish I could claim to be a lifetime follower of Luaka Bop, but the truth is I’m a new convert. I hadn’t heard of the label until I stumbled upon the fifth of its "World Psychedelic Classics" series, "Who is William Onyeabor?" a year or two back.

"WiWO?" is a compilation of hits from one of Nigeria’s most enigmatic musicians. Throughout the late seventies and eighties, Onyeabor was “Nigeria’s answer to synth-pop and New Wave.”

He self-recorded, -pressed and -printed nine synth-propelled electronic funk records between 1977-1985 and then disappeared. He converted to Christianity, stopped talking about his music, opened a semolina mill and lived in a woodland palace as the high chief of his community until he passed away this January.

From start to finish "WiWO?" provides a smorgasbord of foot-tapping, head-bopping tunes. The album is pleasantly contradictory throughout. Firmly rooted in a specific time and place yet managing to transcend both. Paranoid and cheerful. Spiritual yet worldly. Even though its nine tracks come in at a whopping 73 minutes, when album closer “Fantastic Man” — recently popularized [thanks to Apple][2 ]— wraps up, you’re left wanting more.

Luckily, Luaka Bop has you covered. Nine times over, in fact. A year after they released "WiWO?," LB released Onyeabor’s entire recorded oeuvre in the nine-disc William Onyeabor box set. And while the albums are short — 17 minutes at the shortest, 37 at the lengthiest — they ought to occupy you for the foreseeable future.

After that, if you’re interested in what Onyeabor’s contemporaries sounded like, give "World Psychedelic Classics, Vol 3: Love’s a Real Thing: The Funky Fuzzy Sounds of West Africa" a try.

Published in 2004, this grab bag of '70s West African music is another delight. Going back to William Onyeabor for a minute, it was his inclusion in this collection that sent Luaka Bop on what ended up being a yearslong quest to get the rights to his discography in order to publish "WiWO?" and the box set.

But it’s not just Onyeabor that shines here. Each of the 12 songs completely transports you to an era and continent that's probably unlike anything you’ve experienced before (unless you lived in '70s Africa, I guess). Funk, soul, acid rock, Cuban rumba, Latin percussion and more elements combine with various local African sounds to expand your definition of "transatlantic" on this eminently listenable record.

Why stop there? If you’re hankering for more world music after that, you’ve still got "World Psychedelic Classics" volumes 1, 2, and 4 ahead of you. They cover Brazilian folk psychedelics Os Mutantes, America’s own Shuggie Otis and Brazilian genre bender Tim Maia. And that’s just one of Luaka Bop’s many series.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, there’s an entire world out there, and I’m glad the library (and Luaka Bop) does the legwork when it comes to introducing me to new music.

So what are ya waiting for? Come check out our world music collection already!

— Ian Stepp is an Information Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.


From coal to Thoreau: the essays of “Practice Resurrection”

Not long ago I took a trip across the High Plains, and in addition to seeing more pronghorns and prairie dogs than I’ve ever seen, I also witnessed the landscape of Wyoming’s Thunder Basin for the first time. While much of it is drop-dead beautiful, one gets the feeling that something ominous is brewing there — roads are being repaved, railroads are new or well-maintained, and, of course, trucks are many, big, and well-used.

One soon finds out why. Thunder Basin is where about 40 percent of America’s coal is mined, though a traveler gets only an occasional glimpse of the massive dark pits uprooting acre after acre of prairie. It’s kind of the opposite of the mountain top removal mining that's tearing down places in Appalachia.

Serendipitously, upon my return to Lawrence I discovered Kentucky author Erik Reece, who recently published a wonderful new book, "Practice Resurrection." It turns out his previous work, titled "Lost Mountain," is what poet and fellow Kentuckian Wendell Berry calls “by far the best accounting of mountaintop removal and its effects.” In it Reece describes a year on a particular promontory, “thinking like a mountain,” in ecologist Aldo Leopold’s words, before said mountain’s head is blown off for the coal beneath.

My unanticipated examination of coal happened even as I launched River City River, the library’s series on Kansas Water and the Kaw. And so it came full circle, as we were reminded that one of the largest water users in the area is the coal-burning power plant just upstream.

Wendell Berry says, “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.” So what I’m really here to tell you is how in addition to discussing rivers, all last month I lived beneath a babbling blue river — of birds. Henry Thoreau noted that “the jay is the bird of October,” and so it proved to be. It’s especially obvious if you live beneath a large pecan tree, which blue jays scream about even more than acorns.

The sight and sound of all those jays took me back to a day I spent years ago on a large rock on the Connecticut River, where raucous rivers of jays also flowed past. When not watching them, I read Annie Dillard’s "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek." Surprised by an acrobatic mockingbird, Dillard reminds us “beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.”

When investigating mountaintop removal mining, Erik Reece tries to be there. He takes a "live it and write it" approach. He also likes to read what I like to read, and liberally sprinkles quotes from authors of import in his wanderings. This is evident in "Lost Mountain," and is evident too in his "Practice Resurrection."

Right from the title, there is much to like in this wide-ranging collection of essays. Who can resist “Birding with Wendell Berry”? Not this reader. "Practice Resurrection" is dedicated “To Wendell, in memory of Guy,” and the title itself is from one of Berry’s Mad Farmer poems. Guy is Guy Davenport, a “densely allusive and disarmingly erudite” writer who I’ve been intrigued (and baffled) by for years. Reece considers him his mentor, and I thank him for sending me back into the Davenport thicket.

There are chapters on human aviation, nature’s circulatory system, one that appeared as the introduction to "Remembering Guy Davenport," which Reece edited, a meditation on suicide and Mark Rothko, and much more. My favorite is “A Week on the Kentucky River Reading Henry David Thoreau’s A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, Which Nobody Reads Anymore (But Should)” -- it’s shades of Edward Abbey’s inimitable “Down the River with Henry Thoreau,” but very different and also worth reading.

Reece, like Thoreau, builds his own boat, and names it for Henry’s unrequited love, Ellen Sewall. Down the Kentucky he floats (Henry and his brother John, predictably, went against the current), pondering companionship, ecology, religion, poetry, capitalism, and Henry Thoreau. It’s a lovely journey.

The penultimate chapter in "Practice Resurrection" is called “Speak and Bear Witness” and comes out of Reece’s time researching "Lost Mountain."

Part of what makes any story engaging is a degree of familiarity, a sometimes not-so-subtle reminder to us of things we already know. Mining disrupts social systems. Mining exterminates ecosystems. Mining perpetuates destructive economic systems. These things we know. We might also remember, along with Erik Reece, the words of ecologist Aldo Leopold: “A thing is right when it preserves the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

-Jake Vail is an Information Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.


Discover a made-up menagerie in children’s books

As an animal lover growing up in Kansas, I thought our annual grade school field trip to the University of Kansas Natural History Museum was always a high point. I adored the famous panorama of taxidermy, and the working, cutaway beehive, but what I looked forward to most was the chance to gaze upon a real jackalope.

We adults require our animals to be just what they are, but I often think the world would be a better place if we hadn’t lost whatever it is about kids that allows them to accept the possibility of crazy animal hybrids. I’m as big a stick in the mud as any when it comes to combining species. After all, it recently took 30 minutes of bickering and a Wikipedia entry to convince me that cattle and buffalo had been crossed to produce an animal called a beefalo.

If there is one place such a creature could roam free, it’s in the children’s collection at the library. In fact, there are so many weird animals to be found here, I sometimes think of it as a warmer, fuzzier "Island of Dr. Moreau," with the sociopathic, mad scientist of that title replaced by a maniacal Lisa Frank, fresh off a post-doc fellowship in genetics at Johns Hopkins, flush with grant money and ready to combine as many cute animals as she can get her hands on.

Most remember the Gryphon, a lion and eagle mash-up immortalized by Victorian illustrator John Tenniel in "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland." But there are so many other wondrous species within the pages of books, I’ve compiled them over the years into a sort of children’s literature bestiary. Without further ado, here are my five favorites:

Kitten + Mermaid = Purrmaid. “It was a paws-itively beautiful morning in Kittentail Cove,” begins this series of early chapter books. Can you go wrong with a start like that? Kitten-mermaid hybrids Coral, Shelly and Angel, with no visible gills (perhaps they invoke the same magic Daryl Hannah used to allow Tom Hanks to breathe underwater at the end of "Splash"), navigate the treacherous distance to Tortoiseshell Reef. But can they keep from devouring their own tails?

Grizzly bear + Buffalo = Gruffalo. In addition to being hailed as a modern classic, an animated version of this picture book received an Oscar nomination for Best Short Film. I agree with The Guardian reporter who called it a scandal that its author, Julia Donaldson, who was Children’s Laureate of the UK from 2011-13, is not better known. Her books, which include "What the Ladybug Heard," "Stick Man," and "Room on the Broom," are as clever as the mouse in this story, who outsmarts every predator in the forest, including the Gruffalo, rhyming in couplets all the while.

? + ? = Hank. In Rebecca Dudley’s "Hank Finds an Egg," Hank finds an egg. When the egg hatches, it’s obvious what kind of animal was inside. Just what Hank is, however, remains a mystery. Puppy? Bear cub? Weasel in a sock monkey costume? In a sequel, "Hank Has a Dream," Hank has a dream. But we still don’t learn what knitting of species produced him.

Camel + Zebra + Giraffe + Elephant + Rhinoceros + Reindeer = Whingdingdilly. Bill Peet, who had a hand in many of the animated features of Disney’s first golden era ("Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "101 Dalmatians," and most famously, due to a falling out with Walt Disney during its creation, "The Jungle Book") before he turned full-time to children’s books, may hold the record for combining the most species. He also holds the record for most books ever written about the experience of keeping a pet capybara (one).

Cat + Bird = Catwings. Ursula K. Le Guin’s children’s fiction is as thoughtfully beautiful as the adult science fiction and fantasy for which she has garnered so many awards. Her "Earthsea Cycle" is about as good as science fiction for older kids gets, and the four "Catwings" books she wrote for younger readers decades ago are still as irresistible to their audience as real live winged cats would be. Mrs. Jane Tabby’s four kittens, Thelma, James, Harriet, and Roger can fly somewhere better than the Dumpster in which they were born. But when they see themselves in a mirror, do they do that weird bitey thing cats do when they see a bird outside a window?

— Dan Coleman is a collection development librarian at the Lawrence Public Library.


Two books to celebrate the season of the witch

Magician, wizard, practitioner of magic, whatever you want to call that person, I'll bet some of the first examples that pop into your head are male: Harry Potter, Merlin, Gandalf. The greats of the fantasy genre are usually males with women in supporting roles. Women are the wife, the jealous lover, the know-it-all, and sometimes in a world full of men practicing magic, they have no magical ability at all.

Growing up enamored with the fantasy genre and novels filled with magic, I found my favorites: Tamora Pierce’s "Song of the Lioness Quartet," Garth Nix’s "Abhorsen" series and of course the biggie, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. But for every Alanna and Sabriel there were dozens of Harrys and Eragons.

Young adult and juvenile fiction have been quick to turn around, but it can be pretty difficult when browsing the adult fantasy shelves to find a novel centered on a well-rounded female character. Fantasy has long been reigned over by male protagonists, but there are female writers like Ami McKay and Kat Howard who are daring to go where only Robert Jordan and J. R. R. Tolkien had gone before. Let me talk to you about witches in America. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

"An Unkindness of Magicians" by Howard and "The Witches of New York" by McKay are so similar yet dissimilar that when I read them back to back, quite by chance, I couldn’t wait to write about them. Let me start off by saying that these are two very different novels. They have a lot of commonalities like magic, fierce women, self-discovery, community and their big-city setting, but "An Unkindness of Magicians" reads like a gritty revenge story, while "The Witches of New York" is historical fantasy and very much an exploration of women’s issues.

The way magic is portrayed is also very different. "The Witches of New York" hails from the common understanding of witches: tea leaves, palm reading, incantations, communing with the dead. "An Unkindness of Magicians" reeks of a more technical magic: spells woven intricately with fingers to create illusions and to kill. Both books are unflinchingly beautiful.

"An Unkindness of Magicians" follows Sydney as she competes in the Turning, a magical competition that takes place every 20 years to determine the next ruler of the Unseen World. This hidden enclave of magicians ensconced in New York City, unknown to the mundane inhabitants, sold Sydney into magical servitude. She’s broken free and wants to watch the Unseen World burn.

This novel is so expertly woven that it feels as if Howard worked her own particular spell in prose. With multiple viewpoints and many switches between them all, the pace is a little dizzying but utterly satisfying; this may be my favorite book of the year. Apparently, the title is based on collective nouns: a murder of ravens, a flamboyance of flamingos, a parliament of owls. When steeped in absolute power—over magic and people — what else would brew up, except "An Unkindness of Magicians"?

We’re still in NYC for our next book, but rewind the clock 137 years. "The Witches of New York" starts in the autumn of 1880, and instead of one determined magician, we are greeted by three very different, well-rounded witches.

Compelled by an ad in the paper seeking a shop girl that closes with “those averse to magic need not apply,” Beatrice leaves her small town upstate for New York City. She begins her work at Tea and Sympathy with Adelaide, a fortune teller and Eleanor, a mixer of potions, teas, and all sorts of spells. All three women grapple with their power and what it means to be a witch in a city equally obsessed with technology and seances, superstition and progress.

Hounded by forces both normal and paranormal, Beatrice, Adelaide and Eleanor must find their place in the world while conquering their own fears. "The Witches of New York" has a lot going on, and even though there were parts I wanted to skim through, I found each character enchanting.

While "An Unkindness of Magicians" is sleek and wholly its own, McKay’s work dabbles in everything from fairies to Cleopatra’s Needle to tasseomancey (tea leaf reading). It confronts head on the persecution women faced for being “other” and has so many parallels to what women face in current times that it feels modern while being unapologetically eclectic.

There you have it: two fantasy books with women at the forefront. Finding well-developed female protagonists can be a struggle, and there are so many books that I roll my eyes at or don’t finish because the central character doesn’t have depth or isn’t compelling. But Sydney, Beatrice, Eleanor and Adelaide are sure to bewitch you. I have definitely fallen under their spell and can’t wait to escape to their worlds again.

— Lauren Taylor is a youth services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.


Five-star young adult books published this year

Liked it, really liked it, it was amazing — if you’re a GoodReads user, you’ll recognize these as the three, four, and five star ratings on the site. I admit, I’m probably a little over-generous with my stars.

Looking back at this year’s reads, I’ve given no less than three stars to each. But I also feel like I’ve read some really good books.

Because I order books for the teen collection, many of those reads were young adult books. I know it’s a tad bit early for “Best of 2017” lists, but here are five published this year that I unhesitatingly gave five stars:

"The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue" By Mackenzi Lee

With "The Gentleman’s Guide," Mackenzie Lee brings the 18th century to life in a way that engages and enlightens the modern reader. Henry “Monty” Montague embarks on a grand tour of Europe with his younger sister, Felicity, and his best friend Percy. Monty is charmingly arrogant, secretly obsessed with Percy, and has a penchant for getting the three of them in the worst trouble. Through their adventures, Felicity and Percy bring balance to the reckless and self-obsessed Monty we meet at the beginning of the book. It’s a fun romp full of history, adventure and forbidden romance.

"Radio Silence" by Alice Oseman

Frances spends most of her free time studying, but she has one extracurricular obsession: a podcast mystery. When she gets the opportunity to contribute her artwork, she befriends the otherwise anonymous creator, but as the podcast gains popularity, it’s hard to keep his trust. Fans of Rainbow Rowell's "Eleanor & Park" take note: current, diverse, and filled with quirky adorableness. You won't want to put it down until you're done.

"The Hate U Give" by Angie Thomas

This is probably one of the most important and timely reads of the year. Starr Carter’s life is turned upside down when she witnesses the death of her best friend at the hands of a police officer during a traffic stop. Born and raised in a predominantly poor, black neighborhood, Starr attends a private school that’s mostly white. After her friend’s death, she struggles with helping bring justice for her friend and determining her place in these two communities.

"Perfect Ten" By L. Philips

If the adorable cover doesn't draw you in, the story definitely will. Frustrated with the lack of eligible guys at his school, Sam crafts a list of 10 traits he wants in a boyfriend for a love spell his Wiccan best friend, Meg, suggests performing. And voila, three perfect guys enter Sam's life — all in pursuit of him. Sam’s the kind of character you'll be annoyed with and then adore, never want to hear from again, and then find yourself obsessing over. A delightful teen rom-com with lots of heart, some drama and hints of magical realism.

"Looking for Group" by Rory Harrison

My new favorite road trip novel. It’s a beautiful story about taking charge of your own life and connecting with those who accept you for who you are. Dylan is in remission, addicted to medications and struggling to get along with a mother who only takes advantage of his situation. Arden lives with a father who refuses to accept her as she is. They've only met online playing World of Warcraft, but when Dylan shows up on Arden's doorstep, they decide to abscond across the country on their first real life mission. A fun, endearing read.

— William Ottens is the Cataloging and Collection Development Coordinator at Lawrence Public Library.


“The Man from the Train”: a midwest murder case for the history books

Bill James and Rachel McCarthy James' nonfiction "The Man from the Train" opens with the brutal murder of 8 people in the quiet town of Villisca, Iowa during the summer of 1912.

The murders rocked the tiny town and fed the newly burgeoning press scene with half-truths and speculation. Though the press could be wildly unhelpful, authorities could now see a continued pattern of murders stringing along the rail lines from small town to small town in the Midwest thanks to the reporting and sharing of information across county and state lines.

Bill James and Rachel McCarthy James work backward through time, focusing on the later, more reported murders first, then weaving into the creation of the titular Man from the Train. We see the established patterns and psychoses, then see how the assailant built his skill set of quietly murdering families, then disappearing without a trace.

The authors not only detail the murders of those whom they have concluded are the work of our assailant, but they also detail other crimes and attacks they believe are not the work of the Man from the Train to establish a set pattern for the crimes. This psychological profiling pays off as the reader progresses through the book.

One of my favorite elements of historical nonfiction, whether it be biography, history or true crime, is the well-researched world building authors do to place the reader in their story. Learning about 19th century medical procedures in Candice Millard’s "Destiny of the Republic," or the 17th century philosophy of scientific inquiry in Holly Tucker’s "Blood Work," creates a truly immersive experience for the reader.

The authors detail police procedure (or lack thereof), the press, and the explosion of information that occurred between 1909 and 1912 that allowed police to share information and see the multi-jurisdictional puzzle that our assailant had been creating for almost 15 years.

Police work during the height of the killing spree was quite often crowdfunded and utilized the services of private investigators. Local police departments, especially in the small rural towns where the Man from the Train struck, simply did not have the resources to carry out time-consuming and expensive investigations. This created the need for private investigation firms (the most famous being the Pinkerton Agency) to step in.

One of the best characters (and by best, I mean most vile and opportunistic) is investigator J. N. Wilkerson of the Burns Agency, who was more interested in extorting money from innocent people rather than actually solving the horrendous Villisca crime. With little governmental oversight, this was common practice among investigators, who would declare innocent a suspect brought into custody by local police forces and condemn another party guilty in order to claim a not insubstantial reward for “solving” the crime.

This is only one example of the historical detail the authors go into. The rest are equally fascinating and describe the boons and perils technology brings to any time, whether it’s 1910 or 2017.

I’ve never been one for true crime until recently. "The Keepers," a seven part series that premiered on Netflix that details the continued investigation of a nun’s murder in the 1960’s, proved to be my gateway to the genre. In today’s culture, we are constantly inundated with the idea of violence with no rational motive in fiction and nonfiction, whether it’s in the shower of the Bates Motel or the pages of a memoir by convicted BTK killer Dennis Rader.

The authors of "The Man from the Train" argue early on that this is a relatively new phenomenon, no doubt stroked by sensationalism and media exposure. However, irrational killing was not on the radar of early 20th century police in small rural towns where the murder rate was only one or two cases a year. They often looked for motives such as revenge or passion, which is one of many reasons our assailant was able to kill for so long, undetected.

If true crime and historical sleuthing are your thing, "The Man from the Train" reads like a thriller and gives you a backstage pass into the authors’ research techniques and Sherlockian deductions. It’s a great read and a testament to the archaeological research done to piece together the profile of one of the worst serial killers in the country.

Bill James and Rachel McCarthy James will talk about the book at Lawrence Public Library on Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. The Raven bookstore will sell copies and a signing will follow the reading.

— Kristin Soper is the programs and events coordinator at the Lawrence Public Library.


October Look Play Listen Round Up

Look Play Listen is the Lawrence Public Library’s team of audio and video 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 Last Kingdom" (Season 2)

Sure, you'll make fun of it, but when you're desperate to fill that "Game of Thrones" void in your heart, where else are you going to turn? Super entertaining, great costumes, totally recommend.

–Logan from Development & Community Partnerships

"Over the Garden Wall"

I missed the boat on "Over the Garden Wall" when it originally aired on Cartoon Network in 2014, and I never got into its spiritual sibling, "Adventure Time," but I’m delighted that the show finally crossed my path on a recent, lazy Sunday afternoon as the Summer had begun fading into Fall. The anthology of ten, ten minute episodes works best when watched together as it tells the story of half-brother Greg and Wirt and their adventures making their way home through “The Unknown,” a strange, fairytale land.

Over their travels, the two encounter fantastic and grotesque characters, including witches, magical turtles, re-animated skeletons masquerading as a village of pumpkin people, a human family cursed to live as bluebirds and a soul-sapping beast lurking in the everpresent woods. The fable-like themes of the show, along with the muted, autumnal color palette make for cozy fall viewing.

–Kevin from Collection Development


A thrilling adventure with an all-star cast. I enjoyed this modern take on the classic King Kong story, with fantastic visual effects and new twists. It makes you think about the way we respond to that which we fear, but ultimately is unknown.

–William from Collection Development


"Uncharted: The Lost Legacy" "Uncharted" is back in fine form in the newest from developer Naughty Dog’s "Indiana Jones" meets "Tomb Raider" series. Chloe Fraser and Nadine Ross are a fierce duo hunting down the fabled Hoysala civilization in this perfectly paced, over the top, beautiful romp through India.

P.S. It passes the Bechdel test with flying colors.

–Ian from Info Services



An anthemic and fist-pumping conceptual record from one of Sweden's beloved extreme metal acts, Amon Amarth. "Jomsviking" is cohesive and inspiring (in a "let's go head first into a viking battle" sort of way) — an excellent testament to a band who has already established themselves as one of the greats. –Joel from Tech Services

"The Saga Continues"

Replete with kung-fu snippets and shout outs to high-end apparel brands, it's the Wu-Tang Clan, back again. The world of 2017 is pretty different from the super group's heyday, yet they seem unfazed, marching forward with their trademark tightly produced beats and unmatched lyrical wordplay. "If Time is Money" bittersweetly recalls "Cash Rules Everything Around Me"; though the bombastic veneer is mostly the same as it was in '94, their thoughts can be seen turning to bigger concerns, primarily the fostering of family and community.

There's something oddly reassuring that despite everything that may happen, the Wu can still be the Wu, even now. Highly recommended.

–Eli from Readers Services

So that’s it from us for October! What media are you loving this month?