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Book Discussions at the Library July 2010

June 23, 2010 by Reader's Connection

Beginning Thursday night at Spades Park, three June book discussions are still coming our way.

Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line by Martha Sandweiss will be discussed at the Spades Park Library on Thursday, June 24th at 6:00 p.m.

Passing Strange

Sandweiss serves a delicious brew of public accomplishment and domestic intrigue in this dual biography of the geologist-explorer Clarence King (1842-1901) and Ada Copeland (c. 1861-1964), a “black, working-class woman” who was “born a slave.” Rendered as fiction, this true tale, would seem quite implausible–“a model son of Newport and one of the most admired scientists in America,” Clarence kept secret for 13 years his marriage to Ada and their apparently contented domestic life. He kept his patrician past and celebrated present concealed as well from his wife, who believed herself the wife of James Todd, a black Pullman porter. Sandweiss provides a fascinating account of King’s “extraordinary double life as an eminent white scientist and a black workingman”; Ada’s struggle “through the legal system to assert her rightful name, give her children their true familial history, and [unsuccessfully] claim the trust fund she believed to be hers”; and rich insights into the “distinctive American ideas about race” that allowed King to “pass the other way across the color line, claiming African ancestry when he had none at all.” — Publishers Weekly

Dennis Lehane’s thriller Shutter Island will be discussed at the Franklin Road Library on Thursday, June 24th at 6:30 p.m.

Shutter Island Although not a part of Lehane’s appealing series about private investigator Patrick Kenzie and ex-partner Angie Gennaro, this crime thriller is probably Lehane’s best book to date. Off the coast of Massachusetts is rather grim, gray, and forbidding Shutter Island, a penal colony for the criminally insane. Federal marshals Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule are sent there to find a woman prisoner who has apparently disappeared. But how and where did she go? The island is heavily guarded, as is the twice-weekly supply ferry. Teddy also has another agenda: he seeks the man who killed his wife two years ago. Things are not what they seem as Chuck and Teddy, plagued by migraines and nightmares, dig deeper into the secrets that the island holds. At one point, they are the objects of a manhunt during a hurricane that isolates the island. Teddy pulls off some interesting stunts, especially in the water. Things reach such a pitch that you don’t know whom to believe, which all leads to an ending worthy of Agatha Christie or O. Henry. — Library Journal

Jane Green’s novel The Beach House will be discussed at the Southport Library on Monday, June 28th at 7:00 p.m.

The Beach HouseSixty-five-year-old Nan Powell has lived comfortably and happily in Nantucket since the suicide of her husband, Everett, so she is thrown for a loop when she learns that she is in danger of losing her beloved house. After weighing her options, Nan decides to turn her home into a bed-and-breakfast. The guests she gets for the summer are all at a crossroads in their lives in one way or another. Daniel has just separated from his wife and is facing something he has denied for years; Daff is recovering from the heartbreak of a divorce and getting a much-needed break from her anger-filled 13-year-old daughter; and Nan’s son Michael is on the run from a disastrous affair. Nan finds herself opening up to her guests and enjoying their company, but she is shocked when she discovers a person close to one of them has a startling connection to her. Peopled with likable, flawed, realistic characters and moving seamlessly between them, this is Green’s best novel in years, a compelling, unputdownable read. — Booklist


The July discussions kick off–or light up, I should say–at Warren

Randall Stross’s biography The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World will be discussed at the Warren Library on Thursday, July 1st at 10:30 a.m.  

The Wizard of Menlo Park

Biographies abound of inventor Thomas Edison, so Stross distinctively positions his book under the theme of Edison’s celebrity. The publicity apparatus of Edison’s day, quaint compared with today’s multimedia conduits to the public and its tabloid appetites, still served to elevate Edison into the realm of the famous. Stross . . .  recounts the onset of Edison’s celebrity with several articles published in 1877-78 about his phonograph. Soon trainloads of curiosity seekers, from hustlers to those already famous, such as actress Sarah Bernhardt, descended on Edison’s laboratory to gawk at the inventor. With this loss of privacy, Edison learned the difficulty of controlling one’s fame. As Stross’ narrative explains, Edison attempted to exploit his name to attract attention to his business projects and succumbed to other temptations, such as pontificating on subjects outside his expertise–executions by electrocution, for example. Stross’ Edison, capitalizing on his prominence but coping with the importunities of the multitude, becomes a human-scaled character grasping the honeyed thorns of fame. — Booklist  


The Shadow Catcher by Marianne Wiggins will be discussed at Central Library on Tuesday, July 6th at 6:00 p.m.

The Shadow Catcher Wiggins takes a magnificently Sebald-like approach to fictionalizing the life of photographer Edward Sheriff Curtis (1868-1952)–along with that of a woman named “Marianne Wiggins.” The book opens as Wiggins presents her newly completed Curtis novel to a Hollywood agent. Curtis photographed American Indians in the early 20th century, and Marianne attacks the common image of Curtis as a swashbuckler who risked his life to photograph his favorite subjects. Even as she shows that Curtis staged the shots, and was an absentee husband and father at best, the agent is enthralled. Marianne, ambivalent, arrives home to a phone call that her father is in a Las Vegas hospital–the father who has been dead for 30 years. From that quick setup, the novel moves seamlessly back and forth between Marianne’s painstaking research into Curtis’s life and the journey she undertakes seeking closure with her father’s past. Photographs taken by Curtis and from the Wiggins’s family album, which she approaches from multiple angles, give the story several layers of immediacy. Curtis emerges as a fascinating, complex figure, one who inhabited any number of American contradictions. Suffused with Marianne’s crackling social commentary and deceptively breezy self-discovery, Wiggins’s eighth novel is a heartfelt tour de force. — Publishers Weekly   


Mari Strachan’s The Earth Hums in B-Flat will be discussed at the Irvington Library on Thursday, July 8th at 1:30 p.m. 

The Earth Hums in B-Flat

 Twelve-year-old Gwenni Morgan bears witness as her family crumbles under the weight of its secrets in Strachan’s lyrical debut. In a small Welsh village swirling with secrets and gossip, few are willing to tell the truth about who they are. Gwenni soars above the local intrigue in her dreams—each night as she drifts off to sleep she flies away from her family and over the nearby fields and farms—and hopes someday to fly during the day as well. Though most, including her mother, see Gwenni’s unending curiosity as a nuisance, local schoolteacher Elin Evans nurtures Gwenni’s dreams of a different life. When Elin’s husband, Ifan, disappears, town tongues wag, and when his body is found, Gwenni’s mother mourns him more than seems proper. Strachan ramps up the tension, as Gwenni is caught between loyalties and learns some damning family secrets. The author’s light touch keeps the story unfamiliar and surprising, while Gwenni’s über-precocious narration revels in a love for language and reveals an unspoiled innocence about the world. It’s small, quiet and nicely done. — Publishers Weekly

  The Fountain Square Library will host a discussion of Regina Brett’s God Never Blinks: 50 Lessons for Life’s Little Detours on Thursday July 8th at 1:30 p.m.

God Never Blinks


In this incredibly moving and inspiring essay collection, Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Brett recounts 50 hard life lessons. Overcoming a troubled childhood, being a single parent, and surviving cancer lead her to maintain that while “life isn’t tied with a bow, it’s still a gift.” She speaks convincingly of believing in miracles and forgiving everyone everything. While autobiographical inspiration can be self-serving and tedious, this example of the genre is hard to put down. — Library Journal







Greg Mortenson’s  Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan will be discussed at the East 38th Street Library on Monday July 12th at 6:00 p.m. (This is Mortenson’s follow-up to his bestselling Three Cups of Tea which is being discussed at Southport on July 26th.)

Stones into Schools

 Mortenson’s best-seller, Three Cups of Tea (2009), introduced his commitment to peace through education and became a book-club phenomenon. He now continues the story of how the Central Asia Institute (CAI) built schools in northern Afghanistan. Descriptions of the harsh geography and more than one near-death experience impress readers as new faces join Mortenson’s loyal “Dirty Dozen” as they carefully plot a course of school-building through the Badakshan province and Wakhan corridor. Mortenson also shares his friendships with U.S. military personnel, including Admiral Mike Mullen, and the warm reception his work has found among the officer corps. The careful line CAI threads between former mujahideen commanders, ex-Taliban and village elders, and the American soldiers stationed in their midst is poetic in its political complexity and compassionate consideration. Using schools not bombs to promote peace is a goal that even the most hard-hearted can admire, but to blandly call this book inspiring would be dismissive of all the hard work that has gone into the mission in Afghanistan as well as the efforts to fund it. Mortenson writes of nothing less than saving the future, and his adventure is light years beyond most attempts. — Booklist


  Vince Flynn’s thriller Pursuit of Honor will be discussed at the Wayne Library on Monday, July 12th at 7:00 p.m.

Pursuit of Honor

 The action begins six days after a series of explosions devastated Washington, D.C., targeting the National Counterterrorism Center and killing 185 people, including public officials and CIA employees. It was a bizarre act of extreme violence that called for extreme measures on the part of elite counterterrorism operative Mitch Rapp and his trusted team member, Mike Nash. Now that the initial shock of the catastrophe is over, key Washington officials are up in arms over whether to make friends or foes of the agents who stepped between the enemy’s bullets and countless American lives regardless of the legal consequences. Not for the first time, Rapp finds himself in the frustrating position of having to illustrate the realities of national security to politicians whose view from the sidelines is inevitably obstructed. Meanwhile, three of the al Qaeda terrorists are still at large, and Rapp has been unofficially ordered to find them by any means necessary . . . Publishers note  


College Avenue Library’s Sugarbook Club will discuss Tami Hoag’s Deeper Than the Dead on Tuesday, July 13th at 6:00 p.m.

Deeper Than the Dead

 There’s a truly terrifying serial killer at the heart of Hoag’s new page-turner: a man who abducts women, glues their eyes and mouths shut, and pierces their ear drums, essentially locking them in their own minds while he tortures and kills them. Set in the peaceful California town of Oak Knoll in 1985, the story opens with four fifth-graders discovering the body of a woman buried in the woods. Their teacher, Anne, is horrified and tries to shield shy Tommy, spitfire Wendy, bully Dennis, and nerdy Cody from the ensuing media and law-enforcement attention. Though many of the local cops are reluctant to bring in outside help, FBI profiler Vince Leone, who is recovering from a gunshot wound to the head, is summoned. He turns to Anne for help, in part because of her knowledge of the children and their parents and in part because of his immediate attraction to her. As Vince and Anne grow closer, it becomes increasingly clear that the killer is a pillar of the community. The chilling premise and exciting twists make Hoag’s latest a thriller in every sense of the word. — Booklist   


J. D. Mason’s novel Take Your Pleasure Where You Find It will be discussed at the Flanner House Library on Monday, July 19th at 6:30 p.m.

Take Your Pleasure Where You Find It

Mason sets three former best friends on a collision course with the secret that shattered their friendship in her commendable latest. When the former “Tres Amigas” reunite at their 30-year high school reunion, they’re unaware that the baby girl they abandoned at an emergency room in 1979 is now grown and eager to confront them. Although Tasha Darden, the abandoned baby, loved Miss Lucy, her recently deceased foster mother, she wonders about her birth mother, and a private detective has winnowed the suspects down to three potential women. Was it Renetta Smith, now married to an abusive husband? Or Phyllis Neville, a driven career woman whose first marriage gave her a lovely daughter before it ended in divorce? Or Freddie Palmer, who has a fulfilling if boring marriage and three grown children? The day of reckoning is unavoidable for all four women in this fast-moving and fascinating look at friendship, the repercussions of keeping secrets, and the power of forgiveness. — Publishers Weekly    


The Sweet Potato Queens’ First Big-Ass Novel by Jill Conner Brown will be discussed at the Sweet Potato Festival . .  . I mean at the Spades Park Library on Thursday, July 22nd at 6:00 p.m.

The Sweet Potato Queens' First Big-Ass Novel

 After five nonfiction bestsellers, Browne leaps into fiction (with assistance by Bottom Dollar Girls creator Karin Gillespie) and delivers a GEN-U-WINE page-turner of a novel. Fans won’t be surprised that Browne’s combination of bawdy humor and self-empowerment affirmations easily translates in novel form. An unexpected delight is how deftly Browne creates fully dimensional supporting characters surrounding her first-person narrator, Jill Connor. (In her nonfiction adventures, all the other queens are named Tammy and intentionally blend together.) Beginning in 1968 with five high school misfits thrown together, Browne traces the core members of the Sweet Potato Queens through two decades of weddings, funerals and disastrous relationships . . . Fans of the Queen’s artery-choking recipes are in luck; after the final chapter, Browne offers menu items from Rest in Peace, a restaurant the Queens would love to open that would only serve food found at Southern funerals. Browne’s hilarious and heartwarming debut sets sturdy groundwork for future fictional follies. — Publishers Weekly   


Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations–One School at a Time will be discussed at the Southport Library on Monday, July 26th at 7:00 p.m.

Three Cups of Tea

 Some failures lead to phenomenal successes, and this American nurse’s unsuccessful attempt to climb K2, the world’s second tallest mountain, is one of them. Dangerously ill when he finished his climb in 1993, Mortenson was sheltered for seven weeks by the small Pakistani village of Korphe; in return, he promised to build the impoverished town’s first school, a project that grew into the Central Asia Institute, which has since constructed more than 50 schools across rural Pakistan and Afghanistan. Coauthor Relin recounts Mortenson’s efforts in fascinating detail, presenting compelling portraits of the village elders, con artists, philanthropists, mujahideen, Taliban officials, ambitious school girls and upright Muslims Mortenson met along the way. As the book moves into the post-9/11 world, Mortenson and Relin argue that the United States must fight Islamic extremism in the region through collaborative efforts to alleviate poverty and improve access to education, especially for girls. Captivating and suspenseful, with engrossing accounts of both hostilities and unlikely friendships, this book will win many readers’ hearts. — Publishers Weekly


Joe Simpson’s mountaineering memoir Touching the Void will be discussed at the Pike Library on Tuesday, July 27th at 6:30 p.m.

Touching the Void

 Joe Simpson and his climbing partner, Simon Yates, had just reached the top of a 21,000-foot peak in the Andes when disaster struck. Simpson plunged off the vertical face of an ice ledge, breaking his leg. In the hours that followed, darkness fell and a blizzard raged as Yates tried to lower his friend to safety. Finally, Yates was forced to cut the rope, moments before he would have been pulled to his own death. The next three days were an impossibly grueling ordeal for both men. Yates, certain that Simpson was dead, returned to base camp consumed with grief and guilt over abandoning him. Miraculously, Simpson had survived the fall . . . Publisher’s note





The Franklin Road Library will host a discussion of Heroes Among Us: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Choices by John Quinones on Thursday, July 29th at 6:30 p.m.

Heroes Among UsHeroes Among Us reminds us all of the courage and dignity it takes to stand up for oneself and those around us. By chronicling such bravery, John Quiñones captures America’s can-do spirit and shows that through the slightest good deed, each one of us harbors a hero within. Texas native and veteran ABC journalist John Quiñones has traveled the world and the country reporting on hundreds of stories during his illustrious career. Long ago he realized that the stories he was most attracted to had one thing in common—a shared focus on the goodness inherent in ordinary Americans. According to John, truly heroic individuals are people who make difficult choices, even in the face of danger, without giving in to fear. They don’t expect fame or money for their efforts—they’re just doing the right thing. They are compassionate and courageous, and our world would be a far worse place without them. They rarely get the recognition they deserve. — Publisher’s note


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