Sunday, March 22, 2015

Book Review - "My Sunshine Away" by M.O. Walsh

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh is probably the best book I've read in a long time. I gave it a rare five stars in my LibraryThing catalog. I dare you to pick up this book and not be moved by it.

The pivotal event happens in 1989, but connected scenes take place earlier and later than that. They all occur in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in a nice middle-class neighborhood and among private school students. On the face, this is a setting that would never expect to see a violent crime, yet one does happen, as do other less violent or public ones but ones just as harmful.

Lindy Simpson is fifteen, a track star, and the object of the narrator's affection. The (unnamed) narrator is male, a year younger, and convinced that he and she have a future together...except that Lindy barely notices him. She is knocked out and raped on the sidewalk outside their homes one night, and the perpetrator is never caught. How this act of violence changes Lindy, the narrator, and indeed the whole neighborhood is the point of the book.

This is a work of suspense, yes, but finding out who did it is not the reason to keep turning pages. The narrator is looking back at this incident from a distance of about twenty years, and it's this introspective rumination that gives life to the characters. We see why things happened the way they did, why people acted the way they did, and how those decisions changed them. I don't want to give away anything, so you'll just have to trust me when I say finding out the identity of the rapist (and it does come, right at the end) is almost incidental and yet that one act of violence leads to so much more: questions of guilt, manhood, and personal identity to name a few. What makes us human, or what separates humans from animals (such as the stray dog that figures in the book), is a central theme.

The writing is beautiful, and I don't say that lightly. The plot is tight, and while you may guess at the name of the rapist, you probably won't figure out who the narrator is talking to. (Oops, I just gave away a twist.) Pick up this book if you like suspense novels or deep character studies or amazing writing. If you wrestle with questions of faith (of any kind) or guilt or life in general, read this book. You'll have a difficult time putting it down, and it will stay with you long after you close the back cover.

Friday, November 21, 2014

SearchReSearch Blog: How to Search Effectively

Recently I came across a neat blog called SearchReSearch and added it to my Feedly RSS reader. The author works for Google and is fascinated with how people do online searches. He poses intriguing research problems and asks his readers to find answers...documenting their work, of course. If you want to learn how to do deep or multi-layered research, check out this site. I might call myself an expert searcher because, as a librarian, I'd have to find all kinds of information for patrons, but this guy knows tricks I never would have thought of. I guarantee you'll learn something from every one of his posts.

Monday, July 15, 2013

New Books for Sherlock Holmes Fans

For readers who like their mysteries hard-boiled and gritty, set in nineteenth-century England, take a look at Alex Grecian's The Yard and The Black Country and David Morrell's Murder as a Fine Art. Okay, so neither has an egotistic, drug-addicted detective at its core (well, one kind of does), but they both have action, mystery, and gore (plus plenty of brandy and poisonings).

Grecian's new series, the first of which is The Yard, begins in 1889 with the creation of Scotland Yard's Murder Squad, which is a response to the police force's inability to catch Jack the Ripper. Twelve of the best cops are tapped to become detectives investigating only murders. Walter Day is new to the force and one of those twelve. He is eventually joined by Nevil Hammersmith, and the two do their best to figure out what happened to a fellow Inspector, who was found stuffed inside a steamer trunk at a London train station. The Black Country picks up a few months later, when Day and Hammersmith are sent to Blackhampton in the Midlands to find three missing people. This book does involve murder, but the story isn't as complex as the first one. Grecian likes to shift perspectives, including sections from the viewpoint of the murderer. He doesn't shy away from the dirt and blood of nineteenth-century London or from the disturbing secrets of a small village.

David Morrell's book is set before the time of Sherlock Holmes, but his story is no less intriguing. He takes a real-life person, Thomas de Quincey, and makes him the main suspect in murders mirroring de Quincey's essay, Murder as a Fine Art. De Quincey is an opium addict (the story of which the real de Quincey explained in a memoir), and he and his daughter Emily assist the local constables in chasing down the real murderer in order to clear his name. This story takes place in the 1850s so Jack the Ripper hasn't terrorized London yet, but another real event, the Ratcliffe Highway murders, have occurred some forty years prior. Morrell also dares to shine a light on the mud and guts, drugs and violence of nineteenth-century London.

If you are drawn to series, start with Grecian's The Yard and follow his characters into The Black Country. If you prefer stand-alone titles, get Morrell's Murder as a Fine Art. Actually, since Grecian has written only two books so far, readers of stand-alones can try both without feeling like there are too many to catch up on. I don't know whether de Quincey or his daughter will make another appearance in a murder mystery, but if they do, readers will probably not be disappointed. Whether you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes or not, there is plenty to like with these new stories.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Book Review - "The Dinner" by Herman Koch

When is a dinner not a dinner? When it's the scene for a serious conversation between two couples concerning a horrible act of violence two of their teenage sons have committed.

Herman Koch lays out all the courses of fancy meal in his book The Dinner, and with each course the atmosphere gets more tense until tempers finally explode with dessert and coffee. Early on we find out the connection these two couples have, and the ties are closer than just what their sons have done. We see a father trying to understand why his son did what he did, and we also see that same man attempt to come to terms with his own violent tendencies. How much of those tendencies are genetic, and what has he passed on--however unwittingly--to his son? What does his wife think about what the boys did?

I don't want to give away too many details from this tightly plotted, slim book. I will say that some patience is required in the reading. Koch explains his narrator's own history with violence, taking us away from the conversation during dinner about to handle the fall-out, and it may take a few chapters to see how the past connects to the present gruesome act committed by the two boys.

If you enjoy psychology, pick up The Dinner. It's not a thriller and while it does have elements of suspense, it's not really a suspenseful read either. It is a journey into the mind of a man and father as he tries to understand his son and ultimately himself.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Search Trends in 2012

Google and Twitter have released their top searches and topics. (If Yahoo and Bing released theirs, I missed them.) What did you search for and discuss this year?

Twitter: Topics included AT&T, Family Guy, the NFL, IHOP, President Obama's victory tweet, and Whitney Houston.

1. Whitney Houston
2. Gangnam Style
3. Hurricane Sandy
4. iPad 3
5. Diablo 3
6. Kate Middleton
7. Olympics 2012
8. Amanda Todd
9. Michael Clarke Duncan
10. BBB12

Friday, November 30, 2012

What Should Children Read?

I came across this opinion article from the New York Times: What Should Children Read? It has to do with the standards for English and literature being written that individual states may adopt. The author raises the question of nonfiction and whether it should have a place in school curricula. She thinks nonfiction has a place in education, especially quality nonfiction, which is sometimes harder to find than quality fiction.

What do you think? Should public schools teach more nonfiction? What titles would you recommend? Leave your suggestions in the comments.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Sixty Ways to Use Your Library Card

I saw this post recently on Stephen's Lighthouse and liked it so much I'm including it here in its entirety. It's actually a repost from the link shown below. September is Library Card Sign-Up Month, and there are a few days left in which you can visit your local library and see what they have to offer. School has started, projects are underway, and the card and library resources are free. Why not take advantage?

Sixty Ways to Use Your Library Card
Library Card Sign-up Month is a celebration held at the beginning of  the new school year during which librarians across the country remind  parents and caregivers that a library card is the most important school supply of all.

Visit your local library with your children and teens today and sign up for a library card!

A library card is a key resource in achieving academic success, and  the library is the perfect place to spend quality family time together.

Check out these great ways to use your library card and library.
1. Download an e-book.  (Over three-quarters of libraries offer access to e-books. E-book readers are available for check-out at nearly 40 percent of libraries.)
2. Not sure how to download an e-book on your new device? A librarian can show you how. Take a workshop on how to use your e-reader or other gadgets.
3. Use a computer to finish a school project. (Over 62 percent of library outlets report they are the only provider of free public computer and Internet access in their communities.)
4. Use free Wi-Fi. (Almost 91 percent of public library outlets offer wireless Internet access.)
5. Learn the secrets of editing digital photos in a Photoshop class. (More than 90 percent of public libraries now offer formal or informal  technology training.)
6. Learn how to edit your family vacation video.
7. Find love at the library: meet like-minded mates at a library speed dating event (or check out a romance novel).
8. Learn check mate: attend a library game night.
9. Take the kids to a free movie during spring break, or pick up a DVD to watch together at home… or get a movie for free from your library’s website.
10. Attend a family crafts workshop.
11. Attend preschool story hour with your child.
12. Start a parents & teens book club.
13. Ask for a recommended reading list for your kids.
14. Enroll your child in a summer reading program.
15. Save money while spending quality time: plan a family afternoon at place that’s free – the library!
16. Build your young reader’s self esteem by letting her read to a dog at the library.
17. Check out a pass to a city museum.
18. Launch your future: Get free assistance with job searches, resume writing and interviewing tips.
19. Use a library computer to apply for a job online or check out materials to help study for a certification exam. (92.2 percent of libraries offer access to job databases and other online job resources.)
20. Research your term paper.
21. Get help with homework.
22. Get ready for the SAT with online test-prep services.
23. Explore new opportunities and research technical schools, community colleges and universities.
24. Figure out how to pay for college at a free library seminar.
25. Learn about local candidates for office and pick up information on voter registration.
26. Book a meeting room for your club or community organization.
27. Learn about the history of your city or town.
28. Spend an hour with a “living book”; see if your library has a list of local experts who can share their knowledge on different subjects – like knitting, taxes, or training for a triathalon – or simply share a bit about themselves.
29. Get involved – join your library’s Friends group or teen advisory board.
30. Check out your favorite graphic novel.
31.Trek to another planet in a Sci-Fi novel.
32. Research before you buy. Access an online consumer guide on the library’s website.
33. Learn how to manage your money at a free financial planning seminar.
34. Search out tips for building your retirement nest egg.
35. Learn how to write a business plan.
36. Get new ideas for redecorating your house.
37. Hear a local author reading his/her latest novel.
38. …then research WWII espionage…
39. …then find a quiet spot to plug in your laptop and begin your own novel.
40. Use style guides to write a bibliography for your new book.
41. Learn how to self-publish – and market – your new book.
42. Take a cooking class.
43. Learn a new language with books or online language-learning software.
44. Broaden your world by checking out cookbooks of foods from other cultures.
45. Borrow or download an audio book for your next road trip or commute.
46. See a new art exhibit.
47. Volunteer as a literacy tutor.
48. Find a new hobby.
49. Enjoy a concert.
50. …then borrow some sheet music.
51. Use free online tools to research your family tree.
52. Empower yourself through home improvement: check out a book on learning how to fix that leaky faucet.
53. Find a quiet spot, curl up with a good book and enjoy.
54. Take a fitness class.
55. Talk mysteries with people who like mysteries, too, at a library book club.
56. Find the best resources on how to preserve that photo of your great grandmother.
57. Get growing! Check out seeds to plant in your backyard or community garden.
58. Go back in time: use databases or microfiche to access early newspapers or rent a “classic” movie, like “Back to the Future.”
59. Check out books in the bookmobile.
60. Learn new knitting techniques and get new patterns.