Saturday, April 19, 2014

What We're Reading: The Lotus War

At the end of Stormdancer (book one of The Lotus War series), chaos is reigning. Yoritomo-no-miya, Seii Taishogun of the Shima Isles, is dead, and he has no heir. The other clans look upon the throne with hunger, making plans and hurling the entire country towards civil war.

As Kinslayer begins, Yukiko and Buruu, her thunder tiger (what we would call a gryphon), are now seen as heroes of the Kagé rebellion. As Yukiko struggles with the death of her father, her power to hear the thoughts of other living things has begun to grow erratic and dangerous. More concerning is the fact that Yukiko may be losing control of it, making her a threat to anyone or anything living near enough to her to be affected.

Kin, the Guildsman that committed treason to help Yukiko and Buruu escape from Yoritomo, has escaped from the Guild’s retribution only to find himself the object of suspicion, derision and scorn from the members of the Kagé rebellion.

And the Lotus Guild, the true controlling power behind the tiger throne, has conspired to enact a scheme to eradicate the rebellion and seize control of the Shima Imperium from the vying factions for its own sinister purposes--a scheme that could be the undoing of all the clans and the destruction of the Shima Isles themselves, proving without question that the Guild will stop at nothing to maintain its control.

In Kinslayer, author Jay Kristoff shows the aftermath and consequences of the actions portrayed in Stormdancer. While the immediate goal in the first book was the overthrow of the mad shogun Yoritomo, once that had been accomplished it became clear that there are greater foes to Shima’s freedom and that his ouster was, in actuality, only a first step. In Kinslayer, Kristoff deepens the reader’s connections to familiar characters and introduces new and compelling ones who will surely become integral in the coming Lotus War.

While Kinslayer does end with the requisite unresolved issues that will wrap up in the last volume, there are enough revelations and plot developments to make it incredibly satisfying. Indeed, with deeper characterizations and a more complex plot (and with greater stakes for all involved), Kinslayer is the unusual middle book in a trilogy that is a stronger and more compelling read than the first.

The final volume in The Lotus War series, Endsinger, is scheduled for release in the fall of 2014.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

This week at the library...


Central Library, @ noon
Literacy conference room

The Brown Bag Book Club
Bring your lunch and join us for a lively discussion about Cannery Row, by John Steinbeck.

Buena Vista branch, @ 7:00 p.m.

National Poetry Month,
with local poet Terry Stevenson
How did poetry shape the momentous cultural and political events of the 20th Century, from the Beats' attack on the conformity of the '50s to the Aftrican-American poets and women poets of the '60s and '70s? And what is poetry's future in the 21st Century?

This is an interactive event, so please bring your favorite poetry anthology and join us in reading some great poems to celebrate National Poetry Month.

Central Library, 7:00 p.m.

Family Night at the library presents...

Clint Perry & the Boo Hoo Crew!
A high-energy, interactive, fun, kids' Rock band.

The "Crew" will return for an encore performance at the Buena Vista Branch Library on Thursday, April 24!

Central Library, 7:00 p.m.

Opera Talk
An uncensored expose of the story explored in the opera THAIS, by Jules Massenet.

Please note that this program is not suggested for those under 18, due to provocative references and nudity.

Central Library, 2:00 p.m.

Movies to put a song in your heart presents...
Walk the Line
One man's unwavering devotion to his sound, his message and the greatest love of his life--the story of Johnny Cash and June Carter.

Central Library, 3:00 p.m.
with Bianca Ornelas

Teens (ages 12-19 ONLY) make chalk art on the sidewalks beside the Central Library. Bring a reference photo if you like, and wear clothes you don't mind getting covered in chalk!

Central Library, 2:00 p.m.

A special screening of...

Determined to fulfill a promise to his daughters, Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) tries for 20 years to obtain the rights to author P. L. Travers’s (Emma Thompson) beloved book, Mary Poppins. The untold story, with tea and prizes! PG 13 / 120 minutes.

The Buena Vista branch will be CLOSED FOR EASTER.

Friday, April 11, 2014

What We're Reading: New History

The Wars of Reconstruction: The Brief, Violent History of America’s Most Progressive Era, by Douglas Egerton

Douglas Egerton’s previous book, Year of Meteors: Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and the Election That Brought on the Civil War (previously reviewed on this blog) was an engaging narrative about the personalities who shaped the political debate in America on the eve of the Civil War. The Wars of Reconstruction looks at the altered political landscape in the country that followed the war and Lincoln’s untimely assassination. Much of the attention here is on the critical early years of the Johnson administration and the battles between Andrew Johnson and the Republican Congress over what would be the place of the newly freed slaves in American politics and society. Suddenly, and virtually unimaginable but a few years earlier, the nation had four million new citizens. How would they earn their livelihood? What would be their political and social status? Johnson was a border state Democrat from Tennessee who supported the Union and was put on Lincoln’s ticket in 1864 for the sake of attracting Unionist votes throughout that region. But while a Unionist, Johnson, a former slave owner, had very little interest in securing the rights that came with citizenship for newly freed slaves, and indeed the viability of his own political future depended much on restoring the Southern states to the Democratic column as soon as possible. He knew he would not be the Presidential nominee of Republicans in the next election. The Republicans, too, had concerns about the future of their party, and saw the enfranchisement of black Americans, who were a majority of the population in many Southern states at the time, as key to their building a viable and sustainable national party.

LEFT: Lincoln's Unionist ticket Vice-President Andrew Johnson, A Democrat from Tennessee, became President of the United States upon Lincoln's assassination. He was a former slave owner and had little sympathy for the plight of freedmen or for their hopes of securing political and social equality. His attempts to remove more progressive members of his cabinet and his failure to enforce reconstruction legislation lead to conflicts with Congress and his impeachment. RIGHT: Pennsylvania Congressman Thaddeus Stevens was one of the leaders of a coalition of "radical" and moderate Republicans who were determined to secure civil and voting rights for newly freed African-Americans.

At the adoption of the 13th Amendment, Southern states and municipalities, with leaders of the rebellion back in power as a result of Johnson’s profligate pardons, enacted Black Codes that in many respects reestablished involuntary servitude. Radical and moderate Republicans viewed this as nothing more than a repudiation of the Union victory. They saw it as a matter of the late rebellion being continued by other means, and they were determined to honor the sacrifice that so many soldiers had made, that the “new birth of freedom” of which Lincoln had spoken at Gettysburg would not die in its infancy. It was a conflict that resulted in the Reconstruction Act, Johnson’s impeachment, and the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, amendments that would end slavery nationally, define national citizenship and guarantee equal protection of the laws to all citizens, and protect the right of former slaves to vote. The Republican Congress with its veto-proof majority divided the Southern states into districts under military control. Those states were “reconstructed” in light of these new amendments , their state constitutions rewritten, and they went through the process of applying for readmission to the Union. Egerton looks at not only what went on in Washington, but how this struggle played out in both the North and in the states of the former Confederacy. He provides readers with a broad survey of Reconstruction up to 1877, the year that is generally considered to be the end of Reconstruction. In that year a political deal was made that settled the disputed Hayes vs. Tilden election and resulted in the withdrawal of the last remaining federal troops from the South. The author argues that 1877 was not as conclusive an end as has been so frequently assumed, and explores some of the period’s lingering progressive legacies that lasted well into the final decades of the 19th century.

A famous Reconstruction era cartoon by Thomas Nast that was often reproduced in 20th century school textbooks. Much of the Southern version of Reconstruction was built around the characters of the “Carpetbagger” (Northerners who travelled to the South after the war to exploit distressed Southerners for personal gain) and “Scalawags” (native Southerners who had been Unionists or became Republicans). Most Northerners who travelled south, however, were teachers, ministers, and political activists who came to assist the newly freed slaves.

When I was a boy in school, the Southern view of Reconstruction had triumphed in American history. The story we were told was that Reconstruction was a period in which Republican radicals, like Thaddeus Stevens, took bitter revenge on the South for its rebellion. We saw in our history books cartoons of “Carpetbaggers,” Northerners who came to the South to exploit for personal gain the devastated economic and political fortunes of the defeated Confederacy. Egerton traces the development of this Southern narrative through major historical works of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but he credits its ultimate triumph to the popular novels of Southern writers and their translation into movies such as Gone With the Wind and, in particular, D.W. Griffith’s racist saga Birth of a Nation. The Wars of Reconstruction is a work in the broad revisionist review of the period that has been underway since the latter part of the 20th Century. It is an important addition to that scholarship and explores themes that deserve additional study in the development of the history of this era.

During the early days of Reconstruction major race riots broke out in both Memphis and New Orleans in 1866. Nearly 100 African-Americans were murdered and hundreds were injured. The national backlash to these events was reflected in the outcome of elections that year, where enough Republicans were elected to both houses of Congress that they had a veto proof majority. They were able to pass the Reconstruction Act over Johnson's veto and send the Fourteenth Amendment to the states for ratification.

The writing in this book is perhaps not as compelling as that in books that are built around a major historical figure, those works in which notable actors serve as protagonists of a sort. And as extensive as the research here has been, a reader will get the sense that the book is not by any means comprehensive. In many respects, it has the feel of a miscellany of local events, however representative those incidents may be of what was occurring across the broad geographical and political landscape. But it exposes a violent period in American history about which most Americans simply have no knowledge. The African-American Civil War hero Robert Smalls, who later served in Congress, estimated that during Reconstruction 53,000 African-Americans had been murdered in the South. Their white supporters, too, were often the targets of violent harassment and were designated for assassination by the nascent Ku Klux Klan. It is hard to say which is more astonishing, that this happened in the United States of America or that we have so little historical memory of the depth and scope of this violence.

Egerton writes, “Too often the central question becomes why Reconstruction failed, as opposed to ended, suggesting it was flawed and contributed to its own passing.” Reconstruction ended, he argues, because there was not the political will in the nation to combat the violence employed by former Confederates to establish the Jim Crow South. It is a past we are reluctant to face. As the author says, “…members of a nation who rightly regard themselves as residents of a more just and democratic society than many others on the planet are collectively loath to admit that good and honorable policies were consciously overturned by a reactionary minority while thousands of people across the nation found it easier to look the other way.” Most white Americans either did not want equal political and social rights for African-Americans or were unwilling to support a sustained battle to secure them.

The Freedmen's Bureau was an agency of the War Department created during Reconstruction to assist freed slaves with basic needs such as food and clothing, finding employment and contracting their labor, establishing schools and churches, reuniting families and formalizing marital relationships, and advocating for the civil rights of freedmen in local courts and jurisdictions.

If there is a protagonist in this story, it is certainly the collective group of African-American freedmen, those free blacks living in the North and South and the newly freed, who energetically sought to secure the rights and privileges of full citizenship for their race. Egerton’s account should dispel forever any notion that the first Civil Rights Revolution failed because newly freed African- Americans were unprepared, uncertain or hesitant to claim full rights as equal citizens. Reading The Wars of Reconstruction, one is struck by the fact that there is in fact no psychological, philosophical or political distance between African-American activists of 1865 and those who fought the second battle for equal rights 100 years later. The demands and aspirations were the same, and the sense of kindred spirit is unmistakable. The country allowed that first movement for African-American equality to be cruelly crushed by violence and murder, on what was simply a shocking scale. It is a hidden episode of American history and a story that must finally be told.

Monday, April 07, 2014

This week at the library...

Central Library
7:00 p.m.

Enjoy a folk music concert with the whole family! Hear old favorites and discover tunes new to you from country blues to traditional folk songs.

And at the Buena Vista branch (note location!)
at 7:00 p.m. in the Storytime Room...

The club is discussing Howl's Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones. Please note that this club is for members only! For more information, email


Buena Vista branch
7:00 p.m.

Meet the author!

John Corey Whaley's first book, Where Things Come Back, won both the William C. Morris Debut Award and the Michael L. Printz Award in 2012.
His NEW book, Noggin, releases April 8, and YOU can buy a copy and get it autographed by Corey the very next day! Books will be available for purchase and signing.

Central Library
6:00 to 8:30 p.m.
and April 12, 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Would you like to help adults improve their reading, writing and spelling skills? Our Literacy Department offers free one-to-one tutoring for adults, 18 or older, who speak and understand English, and read at or below an 8th grade level. No experience is necessary to become a tutor. Call 818 238-5577 to register for these workshops. (You must take both sessions to become a tutor.)

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Andy Weir interview

Andy Weir is a software engineer (a career he started at the age of 15!) and a lifelong enthusiast regarding space exploration and manned spaceflight--including relativistic physics and orbital mechanics. He is also the author of The Martian (reviewed here by Daryl Maxwell), which is his first novel. It was released in February of this year, and debuted on the bestseller lists of The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and Publisher's Weekly. Recently, Andy agreed to be interviewed for the Burbank Library Blog.
What was your inspiration for The Martian?
I was speculating on how a manned Mars mission would work, so I had to consider emergency scenarios. Those scenarios started to sound really cool, so I made a main character to suffer through them all.
I understand that you originally published The Martian on your blog in a serialized format and then as a completed e-novel before it appeared in print. Can you talk a bit about how that affected the publishing process? How did you end up with Crown/Random House?
I didn’t have any intention to publish it when I first wrote it. I just posted chapters to my website as a sort of serial presentation (though I was clear to my readers that it’s a book, not a serial, and I might change earlier chapters without warning). Once I finished, some readers requested I make an e-book version, so I did and posted it to my site. Then readers asked if I’d post it to Kindle, because it can be a hassle to download an e-book and manually install it on an e-reader. So I posted it to Kindle, which has a minimum price of 99 cents, so that’s what I set the price to. It sold very well, and attracted the interest of Crown Publishing.

How did the novel evolve and change as it moved through these different formats? Are there any major changes between the earlier versions and the most recently published version? (I’m curious about a scene at the end of an earlier version between a child and Mark after he returns to earth.)
There were no major changes from version to version. I had a professional copy editor do a pass before I self-published it to Kindle. Later, during the publishing process with Crown, we made a lot of non-plot-related edits. But they were focused on making minor characters unique from one other, rewording clumsy paragraphs, etc. The book is much better for it, and far more polished.

Is Mark Watney inspired or based on a specific individual (or group of people)?
Not really, no. He’s kind of like the comedy sidekick would be in other movies.

There are a lot of references to '70s television/music in The Martian. What’s your favorite '70s television show? Band? Are you a fan of disco?
TV show: “Doctor Who” (still my favorite TV show to this day).  
Band: Abba.
Disco: Yes, actually I love disco. My friends give me all sorts of grief about it.

Favorite ABBA song?
"Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight)". That's some proper disco there.

What’s currently sitting on your nightstand?
Robot Dreams, by Isaac Asimov. I’m one of those guys who reads books over and over.

What was your favorite book when you were a child?
Tunnel in the Sky, by Robert Heinlein.

Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?
Heinlein, Clarke, Asimov, Niven, and Pratchett. I’m not really into fantasy, but I love Pratchett books.

What is a book you've faked reading?
I couldn’t get through Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein. Some people consider it the greatest sci-fi novel of all time, but I just couldn’t keep interest. I can name 10 other Heinlein novels that I think are far better. So when people start talking about it I just nod and smile.
Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?
Friday, by Heinlein. I was a teen-ager at the time. It’s had several covers, but Google around and you’ll figure out which one grabbed my attention. (When contacted to confirm the cover, Andy said that the cover to the right "grabbed me right by the teen hormones and made me buy it.")

Can you tell me a book that changed your life?
Red Planet, by Heinlein. I was the right age when I read it to really get into it and fantasize about living on Mars. It was the first time I read an entire book in a single day.

Is there a book for which you are an evangelist? (i.e., you think everyone should read it)
Yes, I generally hassle people to read Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett. It’s not the first book in the Discworld series, but it’s a stand-alone story that shows off all the coolest parts of the mythos. Plus, it’s just a really good story.

Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?
I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov. I think it’s the best sci-fi novel ever written. (Yes, all right, it’s a short story collection. Whatever.)

What are you working on now?
I’m working on another hard sci-fi novel. I won’t say more than that because I haven’t pitched it to the publisher yet and I like them to hear things from me first.

Here's a bonus from Andy:

Eight tips for surviving on Mars, by Andy Weir


So you want to live on Mars. Perhaps it’s the rugged terrain, beautiful scenery, or vast natural landscape that appeal to you. Or maybe you’re just a lunatic who wants to survive in a lifeless, barren wasteland. Whatever your reasons, there are a few things you should know:

1: You’re going to need a pressure vessel.
Mars’ atmospheric pressure is less than one percent of Earth’s. So, basically, it’s nothing. Being on the surface of Mars is almost the same as being in deep space. You’d better bring a nice, sturdy container to hold air in. By the way, this will be your home forever. So try to make it as big as you can.

2: You’re going to need oxygen.
You probably plan to breathe during your stay, so you’ll need to have something in that pressure vessel. Fortunately, you can get this from Mars itself. The atmosphere is very thin, but it is present and it’s almost entirely carbon dioxide. There are lots of ways to strip the carbon off carbon dioxide and liberate the oxygen. You could have complex mechanical oxygenators or you could just grow some plants.

3: You’re going to need radiation shielding.
Earth’s liquid core gives it a magnetic field that protects us from most of the nasty crap the sun pukes out at us. Mars has no such luxury. All kinds of solar radiation gets to the surface. Unless you’re a fan of cancer, you’re going to want your accommodations to be radiation-shielded. The easiest way to do that is to bury your base in Martian sand and rocks. They’re not exactly in short supply, so you can just make the pile deeper and deeper until it’s blocking enough.

4: You’re going to need water.
Again, Mars provides. The Curiosity probe recently discovered that Martian soil has quite a lot of ice in it. About 35 liters per cubic meter. All you need to do is scoop it up, heat it, and strain out the water. Once you have a good supply, a simple distillery will allow you to reuse it over and over.

5: You’re going to need food.
Just eat Martians. They taste like chicken.

6: Oh, come on.
All right, all right. Food is the one thing you need that can’t be found in abundance on Mars. You’ll have to grow it yourself. But you’re in luck, because Mars is actually a decent place for a greenhouse. The day/night cycle is almost identical to Earth’s, which Earth plants evolved to optimize for. And the total solar energy hitting the surface is enough for their needs.

But you can’t just grow plants on the freezing, near-vacuum surface. You’ll need a pressure container for them as well. And that one might have to be pretty big. Just think of how much food you eat in a year and imagine how much space it takes to grow it.

Hope you like potatoes. They’re the best calorie yield per land area.

7: You’re going to need energy.
However you set things up, it won’t be a self-contained system. Among other things, you’ll need to deal with heating your home and greenhouse. Mars’s average daily temperature is -50°C (-58°F), so it’ll be a continual energy drain to keep warm. Not to mention the other life support systems, most notably your oxygenator. And if you’re thinking your greenhouse will keep the atmosphere in balance, think again. A biosphere is far too risky on this scale.

8: You’re going to need a reason to be there.
Why go out of your way to risk your life? Do you want to study the planet itself? Start your own civilization? Exploit local resources for profit? Make a base with a big death ray so you can address the UN while wearing an ominous mask and demand ransom? Whatever your goal is, you'd better have it pretty well defined, and you'd better really mean it. Because in the end, Mars is a harsh, dangerous place, and if something goes wrong, you’ll have no hope of rescue. Whatever your reason is, it better be worth it.

Friday, April 04, 2014

What We're Listening to: Old Time Radio Shows.

Growing up, I have fond memories of summer family trips and listening to "old time radio" shows (my father's one traveling entertainment indulgence).  So it isn't too surprising that this British radio production originally broadcast in 1955 caught my eye and ear.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is a great piece of fun.  It has Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, mystery and adventure all served up in 16 30-minute shows, and stars two great British actors--Sir John Gielgud as Sherlock Holmes, and Sir Ralph Richardson as Dr. John Watson. Plus, when you get to the next-to-last program, The Final Problem, you get Orson Welles as Professor Moriarty [talk about radio stunt casting!].
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes will appeal to fans of mysteries, classic radio shows, and great actors, and is perfect car listening for those of us with short daily commutes who don't care to commit to 16 hours for an unabridged audio novel.
The game is afoot, dear listener!

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Saturday Bike-a-thon for Sister City!

The Sister City Annual Bike-a-Thon is happening this coming Saturday, April 5. The 26-mile ride begins and ends at the Buena Vista Library. Registration begins at 6:45 AM, and the ride will begin at 7:30 AM. All BSCC members, Burbank community members, friends, family, and members of the cycling community are welcome to participate!

The fee is $30 per rider (cash or check only, payable at the event), and everyone is also welcome to make pledges/donations to offset the cost of our student exchange programs with our sister cities Ota, Japan and Incheon, Korea; to support the awarding of scholarships for the exchange programs; and to help fund other projects such as the purchase of mosquito nets for families in our sister city of Gaborone, Botswana.

Go to to download information and registration forms for the Bike-a-Thon, including a route sheet, a riders' checklist, and a pledge/sponsor form. And if you are a rider, don't forget to fill out and bring your Rider Registration and Hold Harmless forms too! (And a bike...and a helmet!)

If you have questions, please call the Burbank Public Library Administrative Office at 818-238-5551.