Friday, October 09, 2015

What we're reading: Longmire

I'm continuing on with reading Craig Johnson's series about Absaroka County (Wyoming) sheriff Walt Longmire, which I discovered and enjoyed long before the A&E network decided to turn it into a TV show. Happily for those of us who enjoyed the television version as well (despite its failure to follow many significant details from the books), after A&E cancelled it in August of 2014, Netflix picked it up less than three months later, and has committed to at least one more season of 10 episodes. Longmire rides again!

In the latest novel, Dry Bones, Johnson mines what would have seemed to me (previous to doing a little research) to be an unlikely story line: Dinosaurs? in Wyoming? But there is actually a Wyoming Dinosaur Museum in the town of Thermopolis, and it even has its own adjacent Allosaurus dig site, where visitors can see bones, teeth, and footprints of sauropods and therapods.

 In the book, the largest, most complete fossil of a Tyrannosaurus rex ever found is discovered in Absaroka County. Then the rancher on whose land the T-rex is found (a member of the Cheyenne tribe) turns up dead, face down in a turtle pond. Not only is there a suspicion of murder, but the case is then vastly complicated by the number of parties vying for ownership of the priceless remains (of the dinosaur!), including Danny Lone Elk’s immediate family, the Cheyenne, the Deputy Attorney General, and the federal government. Walt and his undersheriff, Vic Moretti, recruit Lucian Connally and Henry Standing Bear (and Dog) to help them investigate a sixty-six million-year-old cold case that’s heating up. There are also the usual family complications, since Walt's daughter Cady and his brand-new grandbaby are due for a visit smack in the middle of all this action.

This wasn't my favorite in the series, but it was still great. The characters are so strong that they can carry any story, whether weak or compelling. I didn't personally feel like this was one of Johnson's strongest, but many people on Goodreads disagreed with me; and if you are interested in the chequered history of archaeology in this country, with the endless battles over who owns, who keeps, who displays, who profits from such discoveries, you will like it a lot.

There are also some significant life changes that take place in this story line for some of the characters, one of them so abrupt and shocking that it took me a while to get back to the rest of the book. And there is the trademark poker-faced humor of Henry Standing Bear to leaven the solemnity with a little laughter.

If you haven't tried this series, read the first and see if you're not hooked into pursuing it right up through #11.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

What We're Reading: Dystopian Literature

In a future dystopian version of America, society is stratified into three kinds of people. There are those who are rich and live in Charter Villages. Then, there are small communities that provide the things that those in the Charter Villages need. Outside of those two, there is the vast rest of the country—where people live in abject poverty and crime is rampant. This story centers on the second of the three—a fishing and farming community named B-Mor (formerly Baltimore), where the descendants of the first immigrants from New China reside.

The anonymous narrator, seemingly speaking with the voice of the whole community, tells the story of young Fan, an expert fish tank diver who leaves the community after the mysterious disappearance of her boyfriend. Carrying nothing with her and without a plan, Fan is immediately beset with bad luck in the open countries when she is hit by a car and taken in to a small community led by a mysterious man who was once a rich resident of a Charter Village but was banished after losing his job and money. But her journey does not end there, as it leads her to people who are strange and dangerous, and only her wits and will to survive and find her boyfriend guide her.

On Such a Full Sea is a unique and well-written dystopian novel that connoisseurs of the genre will appreciate. Its mysterious, often foreboding language makes for some tense, nail-biting scenes. There is a good balance between action and philosophy, as the narrator takes a third person omniscient approach to analyze, foreshadow, and relate the events of Fan's adventure. However, at times the pacing of the book was slow and overly philosophical, making this more a work of literary fiction than a page-turner. 

This said, there are some witty and humorous passages that are made even more comical due to the lofty, philosophical style of the narration, like the narrator's recounting of the re-discovery of the "hoodie," dug up from some video archives, which "transforms any respectable, demure person into a shifty, slump-shouldered gnome." I found the offbeat humor most engaging, especially because it's hidden between more philosophical quotes, like this one:
“If there is ever a moment when we are most vulnerable, it's when we're closest to the idea of the attained desire, and thus farthest from ourselves, which is when we'll tread through any flame.” 
Although it has some flaws, On Such a Full Sea is well worth reading for its great writing and unusual story, as well as its insights into society and individuality.

Monday, October 05, 2015

This week at the library...

Toddler, Preschool, and Baby Story Times will meet at their regularly scheduled times and branches. To see these, check our library calendar.

Central Library, 7:00 p.m.


Join us for another session of Drawing 101 for Adults, with instructor Noah Fontana. This time, we will cover topics such as light, perspective, composition, and value. This beginner course is for those new to drawing.

Space is limited. Supplies are provided. You must sign up to reserve a spot. Call 818-238-5562 (Laura or Joan).

Buena Vista Branch, 7:00 p.m.

This book club is for registered teens in grades 10-12. This month the club will discuss Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, by Matthew Quick, an Alex Award-winner.

This club is currently full; to be added to the wait list, please email

Buena Vista branch, 1:00 p.m.

Music, dance, and a story for kids ages 3-5.

Central Library
4:00 p.m.

Kids in grades 3-6 will learn about Ancient Egypt, mummies and Egyptian gods through hands-on activities and crafts. Please sign up by calling 818 238-5610.

Central Library, 2:00 p.m.

Friday Matinee presents...
95 minutes / rated PG13

Northwest Branch, 4:00 p.m.

Make your own canvas pumpkin bag for Hallowe'en! For kids in grades 1-8. You must register to participate! Call 818 238-5640.

Central Library, 10:00 a.m.

Open to children ages 2-14 and their families! Specially sized larger blocks will be available for toddlers. Children under the age of 9 years must be accompanied by an adult. For more information, call 818 238-5610.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Teen Review: Topical Memoir

Editor's note: I received this review from a teenager and published it on our Young Adult blog (, but upon rereading it, I concluded that it should be shared here as well. I feel Alexia, grade 12, gave an eloquent and relevant summary that we adults would benefit from reading.

--Melissa Elliott, teen librarian

Between the World and Me
by Ta-Nehisi Coates
152 pages
Adult memoir

Reviewed by Alexia, grade 12
“…But all our phrasing – race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy – serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.” (Coates, 7)
Between the World and Me is a memoir fashioned as a long letter written from father to son. Author Ta-Nehisi Coates discusses the harsh realities faced by black males in our American society – a society that dehumanizes and pillages black bodies as part of a centuries-long tradition and revolves around the dream of being “white” in the context of its history.*

This isn’t my book to rate or review. It isn’t my place to reiterate Coates’s experiences or the realities he uncovered from them, because I can never understand for myself what it means for the sanctity and safety of someone’s body to be wholly undermined due to the hue of his/her skin. But as someone who is on the benefits side of the culture of oppression whether I like it or not, it would be wrong for me to sit placidly in ignorance. Between the World and Me is an eye-opener on just how deep the problem of racism runs in our society. The writing is gut-wrenching but beautiful, direct yet poetic, uncomfortable for white audiences but necessary to educating them. I can’t speak for what this book means to black audiences, but Coates himself, when asked if he had an intended or imagined audience when writing about race, said this: “I think a lot about the private emotions of black people — what we feel and yet is rarely publicly expressed. I guess in that sense, the audience is black people.” (Here’s the link to the interview from which this quote was taken.)

I don’t think it’s my place to say who should read this book, or who is best fit to read it, because I’m not a part of Coates's intended audience in the first place. But I will say that it’s a heavy book, and one should be aware of that before reading it. Still, I think everyone should read it once they’re ready. This book is extremely important in furthering the discussion that America needs to have on race*. If you’re young and you read it, have your parents read the book too, and discuss it with them. No matter how old you are, share it with others, with as many you can. Toni Morrison said “This is required reading,” and seeing as she’s one of the most iconic black writers alive, her commendation holds great import.

* “Americans believe in the reality of “race” as a defined, indubitable feature of the natural world. Racism… inevitably follows from this inalterable condition…. But race is the child of racism, not the father. And the process of naming ‘the people’ has never been a matter of genealogy and physiognomy so much as one of hierarchy.” (Coates, 7)

Friday, October 02, 2015

What we're reading: Alex Grecian

Alex Grecian's latest historical novel (#4) set in Victorian England and featuring the Murder Squad from Scotland Yard is a great two-directional story, with Saucy Jack (Jack the Ripper, still at large at the end of the last book) making mischief in the wings while the Harvest Man is the current major preoccupation of the police.

The Harvest Man is a pretty horrifying guy. He apparently has childhood issues, because he is fixated on finding his parents. Did they desert him? Did they die? He doesn't seem clear about that--only that they're gone. The problem is, now he's a middle-aged man (although we're not sure he realizes that), and he has no idea where to look for them, so he keeps picking out couples and trying to turn them into his parents, by gruesome means I won't describe here! (This series is not for the fainthearted.)

Nevil Hammersmith is still around, trying to carry on with the hunt for Jack the Ripper even though he's off the force and no longer has the backing or cooperation of the Murder Squad. He still hasn't noticed (the great looby) that Fiona Kingsley has feelings for him.

Walter Day, a bit the worse for wear from his previous encounter with Jack the Ripper, now the proud but anxious parent of twins, and not too happy about hosting his hostile inlaws for the foreseeable future, is thinking like a detective (psychologically speaking), but is hindered by his injuries and physical weakness.

Dr. Kingsley is expanding his practices (with the aid of some dubious officers) to preserve the integrity of "his" crime scenes so he can collect the new and controversial "forensic" evidence that may be the turning point of the case.

I liked this one a lot--I think even better than the last--but I have to say: Talk about your dangling CLIFFHANGER of an ending! I'm not going to spoil anything here, but prepare yourself to wait impatiently for the next in the series!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

What we're reading: The latest Inspector Gamache

I was thrilled to grab The Nature of the Beast, by Louise Penny, off the New Books shelves last weekend. I was afraid I'd have to wait a lot longer to read it, with her steady increase in popularity since she swept the mystery prizes with Still Life, the first in the Inspector Armand Gamache series, nine years ago.

After his many hair-raising and life-threatening difficulties with bringing the Sûreté du Québec back to a state of integrity (see How the Light Gets In), Armand Gamache has retired from his position as head of homicide and is living in the village of Three Pines with his beloved wife, Reine Marie. It's an idyllic existence that includes dropping into the Bistro for a warm croissant and some apple cider or a glass of wine before a sumptuous meal; strolling, reading, visiting with friends and neighbors...until the death of a young boy galvanizes first Armand, then the village, and then a cast of cryptic government officials to tear the town apart in search of the answer to an old--and evil--mystery.

As always, this Gamache novel was worth the wait. Fortunately Penny doesn't make us wait years, as some authors do--she pretty reliably publishes one every August. I may have rated one of these as a four-star (out of five), but I don't think I've ever gone below that. This one was definitely a five. Along with the mystery, which this time was interesting and horrifying and complicated, the characters are what make these books--the psychological complexity, the sensitivity, the nuance, the feelings. Such a great mystery series. If you have never read Louise Penny, I envy you for getting to start from the beginning and read your way through!

Monday, September 28, 2015

It's Banned Books Week!

No, that doesn't mean we're celebrating people who ban books--quite the contrary!

BANNED BOOKS WEEK is an initiative of the American Library Association designed to celebrate the freedom to read. It highlights the value of free and open access to information, and draws our attention to the harms of censorship.

What happens when someone wants to ban a book? Hopefully a librarian, teacher, or community member stands up and speaks out to preserve the freedom to read it for any who want to.

People try to get books banned--removed from the public library, or the school library, or the school curriculum--all the time. From Harry Potter to Captain Underpants, from To Kill A Mockingbird to Fahrenheit 451 (ironically, itself about a society that burns books!), you will find familiar and many times inexplicable choices on the list of "Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books" through the decades.

Banned Books Week is a yearly opportunity for librarians (and teachers, and community members) to stand up for the right to read.

WHAT are those librarians up to now?

Buena Vista Branch has a display of books that have been banned or censored, on a cart in the central aisle of the library. You can find examples at Northwest Branch on the ends of the bookshelves in the adult fiction section. Central Library has a display that includes lists of banned books, plus a fun contest for our patrons to identify banned books from various age groups and genres by guessing what book is in each jar. (There will be prizes.)

Support the freedom to read: Check out a banned book today!

(Here's a cool interactive timeline highlighting one significant book from each year between 1982 and 2012 that was banned or challenged. Be sure to click on "more" under each book if you want to know the whole story.)

Cart at Buena Vista Branch; featured Banned Books at Northwest Branch.