What are we reading? Staff recommended reads for November

NovSliderAre you looking for a good book to read?  Hundreds of thousands of books are published each year, so how does one choose? Read on for several Milne Library staff  book recommendations for the month of November.

Business & Data Librarian Justina Elmore recommends a popular novel by Dan Brown:

Inferno-coverI’ve just finished reading Dan Brown’s latest book Inferno.  Brown is best known for his novel The Da Vinci Code (2003) and his works are guilty-pleasure reading for me. It isn’t high literature, but he’s a great storyteller and you can tell he’s spent a good deal of time in a library. In this latest novel, symbolist Robert Langdon unwittingly finds himself at the center of controversy (again) and in a globe-trotting race to save the world from a bio-terrorist attack.  A task that can only be accomplished by decoding Dante’s Inferno. Dante scholars should probably avoid the agony of reading this one, but it’s a quick and entertaining read for the rest of us willing to suspend reality for a few hours.

Librarian Kate Pitcher recommends a new fantasy novel, The Bone Season, by British writer Samantha Shannon:

bone seasonThe Bone Season is the first of a projected seven book series and is generating  a lot of buzz. Paige Mahoney is a “dreamwalker”, a type of clairvoyant in London, circa 2059.  Paige’s special abilities allow her to walk in and out of others’ minds and take information without their knowledge. Paige works for  a crime syndicate in the shadowy underbelly of London, but her life is dramatically changed overnight when she is kidnapped and taken to the lost city of Oxford.  Paige is kept imprisoned by a race of beings from another world, called the Rephaim, and is assigned a keeper, called Warden.  In order to find her escape, she realizes she must get close to Warden; an uneasy and altogether dangerous subterfuge. Gripping and entertaining, The Bone Season, marks an impressive debut  in what will be an original and thrilling series of science fiction.

For fans of contemporary fiction, Business Manager Ryann Fair recommends two titles this month:

light oceansI’m currently reading The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman. If you’re looking for a gripping, emotional, and morally challenging read then I would give this first time novelist a try!

Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah is hands down one of my all-time favorites! This novel is beautifully written and will draw you in. It’ll take you on one heck of an emotional roller coaster; making you laugh and (if your like me) cry as you discover the chilling and courageous story of Anya Whitman and her family.

What are we reading? Staff recommended reads for October

Are you looking for a good book to read?  Hundreds of thousands of books are published each year, so how does one choose? Read on for several Milne Library staff  book recommendations for the month of October.

In the mood for a spectacular YA fantasy?  Then read the following recommendation by Bill Jones, IDS Project Creative Technologist, for a truly amazing young adult novel:

The multiple award-winning YA novel, A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, is a story filled with surreal illustrations and a captivating a-monster-callsstoryline that leaves the reader wondering what is in fact real and what is simply perceived to be.  The story is told through the eyes of a teenage boy named Conor, who describes his struggle in coming to terms with his mother’s cancer and the terrifying possibility of losing her.  Awakened from a nightmare, a monster comes to help Conor understand his future and admit truths that he holds deep inside.

Throughout the novel, the monster shares with Conor three stories to help him understand the truths of life and what lies ahead.  “The answer is that it does not matter what you think,” the monster said.  “Because your mind will contradict itself a hundred times each day. You wanted her to go at the same time you were desperate for me to save her. Your mind will believe comforting lies while also knowing the painful truths that make those lies necessary. And your mind will punish you for believing both.”

Check out Patrick Ness’ amazing three-part Chaos Walking Trilogy:  The Knife of Never Letting Go (2008), The Ask and the Answer (2010), and Monsters of Men (2010).
Download the free prequel of the trilogy, A New World, today from Amazon Kindle!

Special Collections Librarian Liz Argentieri recommends an Irish writer and a trilogy which broke numerous social and literary barriers when first released in the 1960s.

Edna O’Brien’s Country Girls trilogy includes The Country Girls (1960), The Lonely Girl (1962), Girls in Their Married Bliss (1964).  All three novels were then reissued together with an  Epilogue in 1987.country girls

The impetus to pick up Edna O’Brien’s Country Girls trilogy came from chancing upon a panel discussion of it on the Diane Rehm show last spring.  Dealing with growing up female and Catholic in mid-20th century Ireland, it sounded intriguing: controversial, daring, and literary.  And since I liked what I had read of O’Brien’s short stories, I thought I’d tackle her trilogy. I’m glad I did.

The novels center on Caithleen (“Kate”) Brady, mainly, and her friend Bridget (“Baba”) Brennan, whom we first meet as two young teenage girls living in a small Irish town and straining against the confines of their lives – as teenagers often will.  They are an unlikely pair, and I never did grow to like Baba. Throughout, she bullied Kate and quite literally led her astray, beginning with her orchestration of getting them both expelled from convent school (an opportunity Kate, whose mother had recently died and whose drunk of a father drifted in and out of her life (usually violently) could ill-afford to squander).  But Kate was not easy to root for either.  Watching her drift through her own life, allowing friends, family, and lovers to largely decide her course, often made for frustrating reading, and if it weren’t for her sweetness and vulnerability and the unfortunate events in her life that she truly was unable to control, I might have had less sympathetic feeling for her.

lonely girlThe tone and point of view of the narration shifts between Kate and Baba.  When Baba’s telling the story, the language is more lively, the attitude more devil-may-care, but I’m sure I sensed an underlying pathos in there, especially in the last novel and Epilogue, when the two had more or less “made their beds.”  A current of loneliness flows through Kate’s rather spare narrative voice, especially when she’s talking or thinking about her girlhood home, a run-down farm on the edge of town.  The language she uses to describe that place and her life there – which was not without happiness and love – evokes the stereotypical image of a rainy, damp, bleak Ireland.  The feeling carries through her days in Dublin as a shop girl and Baba’s reckless tag-along, her romantic misadventures with older married men, and her ultimate fate.

Are you a fan of contemporary literary fiction?  Librarian Kate Pitcher recommends Life After Life, the latest novel by Kate Atkinson:

Ursula Todd is born on a cold and blustery night in 1910, and then dies.  She is then reborn, living through her traumatic birth, until a tragic death by drowning.  Ursula is then reborn again, lives a happy but chaotic childhood and dies in a firebombing during World War II.   She is then reborn again.life after life

Kate Atkinson (author of the wonderful Jackson Brodie mystery novels; Case Histories, One Good Turn, When Will There Be Good News? and Started Early, Took My Dog) is an expert storyteller and a literary artist.  In her newest novel, she takes on an interesting device to tell the story of her heroine, Ursula Todd. What if your life didn’t really end at your death, rather, that your life is actually a series of lives as one person, and that you are destined to relive some of the same experiences over and over again, until you get it right?  This is the conceit that Atkinson employs to show Ursula’s development as a character and a person living through some of the worst calamities the human race has ever known – two World Wars and the almost entire destruction of people, namely those of the Jewish faith during the Holocaust.

Atkinson’s novel explores Ursula’s surreal sense of déjà vu and it works – the reader plays along and relives these lives; each one slightly different than the one prior, depending on how Ursula “learned” from that life.  What captures the reader’s imagination is the authors’ shaping of the narrative; how she uses the same plot and events, but almost every chapter reads like a different story.  It is a completely inventive and captivating story and engages the reader from page one, until the end, when we are left with the desire to relive those lives all over again.  Highly recommended, especially for fans of literary fiction and authors such as Margaret Atwood and Jennifer Egan.

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What are we reading? Staff recommended reads for April

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Here’s what some of Milne’s Staff is reading!

Are you looking for a good book to read?  Hundreds of thousands of books are published each year, so how does one choose?  Milne Library staff  have selected a few choice ones to highlight for the month of April.

If you are a fan of more traditional fantasy fare, Reference & Instruction Librarian Sherry Rhodes recommends the The Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix:

Last summer my teenaged daughter picked up a book called Sabriel from her favorite bookstore. I took a look at the back cover and found the description to be interesting, and decided to read it. I sure am glad I did!

I really enjoy fantasy, but it’s got to be well done. Too much of what is published as fantasy are ill-disguised reworkings of previously published books. Sabriel, and its two sequels, Lirael  and Abhorsen, are set in a completely unique world, with completely unique characters and plots.

sabrielSabriel is finishing school when her father, known as The Abhorsen and a gifted necromancer, goes missing. She journeys home, to the Old Kingdom, where magic is alive and well—and the dead are alive as well. With the help—and hindrance—of a cat who is not just a cat, and a long-imprisoned mage she rescues, Sabriel uses the skills her father has taught her to journey into Death to attempt to rescue him, and in the process battle the forces of evil necromancers determined to escape Death and return to the land of the living.

liraelLirael, on the other hand, has spent her entire life in the Old Kingdom. She is a daughter of the Clayr, women who have the ability to see the future. Fourteen when the book begins, Lirael is painfully aware that she is the only Clayr who has not received the Sight by her age. She also has no family, with the exception of the aunt who runs the Clayr settlement and who has little time for her. Feeling alienated from her surroundings, Lirael seeks isolation in the enormous library and is apprenticed as a Third Assistant Librarian. Over the months she works there, her curiosity enables her to learn how to battle hideous creatures lurking in the library’s depths, as well as how to construct a magical dog who becomes her loyal companion. Events reveal that Lirael’s destiny is not confined to the home of the Clayr, and actually is closely intertwined with the ruling family of the Old Kingdom. The end of the book leaves readers with few answers, setting up the plot for Abhorsen and the convergence of the main characters from the previous books and the resolution of the various plotlines.

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I especially enjoyed the character development present in all three novels. Sabriel, Lirael, Sameth, and Nick are all believable teens, growing more mature and confident in themselves as the books progress and they age. The Disreputable Dog and Mogget the Cat exhibit typical characteristics of their respective species, but are far more than just a dog and a cat. Their often humorous and sometimes caustic interchanges reveal more about the Old Kingdom and Charter Magic—and conceal far more. Nick and the other ordinary humans live in a kingdom reminiscent of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Trilogy, flavored with a strong strain of Victorian/Edwardian steampunk. And Nix’s descriptions of the various levels of death, its denizens, and the dangers that are encountered there by the living are creepy and nerve-wracking.
If you’re looking for a really original fantasy series with appealing characters, Garth Nix’s The Abhorsen Trilogy is one to read.
Another favorite set of fantasy books is the comic fantasy series of  Thursday Next novels by Jasper Fforde, highly recommended by Electronic Resources & Digital Scholarship Joe Easterly:
fforde booksThe Thursday Next books by Jasper Fforde are wonderful British novels which blend comic fantasy, detective fiction and literary wit. Set in a parallel universe where classic literature is revered above all, and criminal masterminds steal manuscripts and murder literary characters, literary detective Thursday Next is part of a specialized police force charged with protecting Britain’s literary heritage. As this fast-paced, endlessly imaginative series progresses, Thursday moves from one unusual situation to the next, such as running anger management classes for the cast of Wuthering Heights, to standing trial (set in Kafka’s book, of course) for changing the ending of Jane Eyre, and encountering fan-fiction versions of herself and Harry Potter. Start reading the series with the first book — The Eyre Affair. However, the third (The Well of Lost Plots) and the fifth (First Among Sequels) books are particularly good as well.
How about contemporary fiction?  Librarian Kate Pitcher recommends the recent publication of the novel, The Dinner, by Dutch writer Herman Koch and translated into English by Sam Garrett:
The Dinner is a contemporary book, set in present-day Amsterdam, although a specific day and time is never mentioned in the course of the novel’s events. The setting is dinner at an upscale restaurant in the heart of urban Amsterdam. Dinner is also the framework of the novel; chapters are nestled within sections of the book indicating which course is being served (“Aperitif” being the first, followed by “Appetizer” and so on ).
kochOur main characters are two couples, brothers and their wives. Narrated  by one brother, Paul, the other brother is Serge Lohman, an up-and-coming Dutch politician. The reader soon learns of the presumable reason the couples are meeting for their dinner – a horrible crime committed by the two brothers’ children. At the same time, we figure out Paul is an unreliable narrator; as the story moves on, not only do we learn more details of the sons’ horrible crime, but also the reason why Paul has lost his job as a history teacher. The reader is also continually struck by Paul’s anger and bitterness towards his brother, his sister-in-law Babette and their adopted son. As the novel progresses, the dinner itself feels surreal, the couples dancing around the decisions that must be made about their children and the impact it will have, not only on Serge’s career, but on all their lives.
A bestseller in his native Netherlands, The Dinner is an uncomfortable and disturbing story of how far people are willing to go to protect their family. It has surprises, and although the children’s’ crime is unforgivably brutal, it isn’t their crime that is the most horrible, but rather their parents’ reaction and response to it which moves this novel in so tragic a direction.  As The New York Times stated in its book review, the author  “…[he] has created a clever, dark confection, like some elegant dessert fashioned out of entrails. “The Dinner,” absorbing and highly readable, proves in the end strangely shallow, and this may be the most unsettling thing about it..”
Recommended and hard to put down, so save the reading for a day when you have a few hours to absorb yourself completely.

Have you read any good books lately? Are you willing to share a review? Let us know – submit your review to Kate Pitcher at [email protected] for a future post.