What I Read on My Summer Vacation

poolRight after school lets out (which, due to a strike and ALL THOSE SNOW DAYS this year, was much later than usual), we like to have a long weekend getaway. Due to circumstances, this will probably be our only summer vacation this year, so we made the most of it. Four days at a lovely resort, including a poolside cabana, and LOTS of reading was what I wanted and what I got. I managed to read five books, more or less, during that time.

Here’s what I read (in reading order):

Frog Music by Emma Donoghue — I started this one before vacation began, but finished it during. So it counts, right? This is a historical mystery is by the author of Room (which I haven’t read yet despite all of the great things I’ve heard about it). Set in San Francisco in the late 1870s, this is a story of an unlikely friendship between two very different women and the life of immigrants in America’s burgeoning western economy, as well a murder mystery. The “frog” in the title has two connotations, for the amphibians one of the main characters catches and sells to local restaurants and also the derogatory term used for the French.

Chose the Wrong Guy, Gave Him the Wrong Finger by Elizabeth Harbison — I’ll admit it. I chose this book because of the title. And the cover. It just looked like a vacation book. Turns out I was right, it read like one too. Quick, light, amusing chick lit. I finished it in a day. Nothing too serious and I’m not sure I ever really cared about the characters, but I did appreciate some of the quirkier ones. Quinn almost marries Burke, but his brother (and best man!), Frank, stops her minutes before the ceremony by telling her that Burke’s been cheating on her. So she runs away with Frank to Las Vegas to clear her head. Only thing is, that makes the whole situation even more muddled. Flash forward ten years and Quinn still hasn’t dealt with her feelings for either brother. When they both come back to town for their grandmother’s wedding and to sell the family horse farm, all heck breaks loose in Quinn’s life. This book is filed under the subject heading Triangles (Interpersonal Relations) — Fiction. Um, duh.

My Venice by Donna Leon — After reading this, I’m not sure that Ms. Leon likes anything. In this collection of essays, she pretty much complains about everything — the United States and its inhabitants, her neighbors in Venice and in the Italian countryside, most countries in the Middle East, the mob, hunting and hunters, men in general, books, operas other than those by Handel, ALL music by people other than Handel, etc. The list goes on and on. I was talking with a library user about this book before I read it myself. She had read it already and was picking it up for her husband. She mentioned that she thoroughly enjoyed Leon’s mysteries, but wished that she hadn’t read this book because now she didn’t like Ms. Leon very much. Now, I understand what this lady meant.

Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story by Peter Bagge — I share a birthdate with Margaret Sanger — September 14th. She’s been on the periphery of my knowledge for a while — advocate for birth control and free love, socialist and all-around rabble-rouser. My kind of gal! When I saw this graphic novel biography, I figured this would be a fairly quick way to find out more about her, and it was. Let me tell you, Margaret Sanger was a hoot! She seemed to always have a snappy comeback for her critics, one that usually ended up making them look foolish. She really knew her way around propaganda, too. But she was also a difficult personality sometimes, especially for her family, and she usually didn’t get along with other women leaders. This book has led me to want to know more about Sanger. Thankfully, the author lists a bibliography of sources, and his opinion of each, at the end. Note: The font size for the forward and afterward of this graphic novel is very small. A magnifying glass may be required.

The Girl: A Life in the Shadow of Roman Polanski by Samantha Geimer — You probably wouldn’t know her just by hearing her name. Add on the name of Roman Polanski and, for those of us of a certain age, you now know EXACTLY who she is. Samantha was just 13 years old when Roman Polanski came into her life for only a few days, but with impact that would last a lifetime. In 2009, when Polanski was arrested for fleeing the United States prior to the sentencing for his crime of unlawful sex with a minor, Samantha knew it was time for her to tell her story.  Especially since others had been telling it for her, incorrectly, for over 30 years.

Happy Summer Reading!
-Melissa M.




Filed under Uncategorized

Song Of Ice And Fire Read-Alikes

Over the past holiday weekend I enjoyed unexpected access to HBO on-demand, and managed to watch the first three episodes of Game Of Thrones season four.  Needless to say, I was instantly reminded not only how much I love this show, but also the epic George R. R. Martin series that spawned it.  I feel like re-reading the whole series, but I also feel like it might be more productive to seek out something new to fill the void until Mr. Martin gets that sixth book out to us.

While I have recommended it before here in this space, I want to plug our Novelist database again. A lot of the titles I am going to mention below came from a Game Of Thrones read-alike search on Novelist. While I am not searching for carbon copies of Mr. Martin’s epic, I would like to at least match the tone of his series–gritty fantasy or even historical fiction with plenty of compelling characters.

Name-of-the-Wind_cover The Name Of The Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.  The first book of the Kingkiller Chronicles, descriptions indicate this book possesses the necessary grittiness of Martin’s work, but with a good deal more magic. It also utilizes different point-of-view characters to tell the story, much like Mr. Martin does in his books. Mr. Rothfuss and this series has been recommended to me before, so that encourages me as well. Also encouraging is that the second book, The Wise Man’s Fear is also out and in our collection. The next installment, The Slow Regard Of Silent Things, seems to be due in October of this year, so if I do really enjoy it, I’ve picked a good time to start reading.

Iron-King_cover  The Iron King by Maurice Druon.  Brought to us from France by the same outfit who publishes Mr. Martin’s books, it’s no coincidence why the cover of this historical novel has a similar livery to the Song Of Ice And Fire series. Mr. Druon’s epic tale of the rule of the Iron King, Philip the Fair of France served as Martin’s inspiration for Game Of Thrones. A cast of flawed and fascinating characters populates this epic tale of ambition, violence and revenge.

Legions-of-Fire_cover Legions Of Fire by David Drake.  I have long been a fan of Mr. Drake’s sci-fi writing, but I have only read his shorter fantasy fiction, so this one would be a first for me. Set in a fantastic analog of the Roman Empire, Legions is the first book in a quartet of novels in the author’s Books Of The Elements series. Out Of The Waters marks the second title in the series, and the fact CLP also has it on the shelves makes this one another enticing option on my list!

Desert-of-Souls_cover The Desert Of Souls by Howard A. Jones.  Part of another series, this book could prove a good example of the sort of serendipitous meandering that results when using Novelist.  I found this title after plowing through a few of the database’s sidebars of suggested titles. Set in 8th century Baghdad, this quasi-historical novel contains some interesting fantastic elements, and is followed up by The Bones Of The Old Ones.

A few minutes poking around in Novelist gave me quite a few options to plan my next few weeks and months of reading!

I would also be much obliged for other title suggestions. Thanks!



Filed under Uncategorized

With A Little Help From My Friends

By the time you read this I will be several days into my own long summer escape from normal life. Unlike Natalie, I won’t have an adorable baby at the end of my break, but The Formidable Teenager and I have managed to sweet-talk my husband into adopting two more kittens. I call this a win; our current cats are somewhat skeptical.

Like all good staycations, mine will involve long swaths of reading, preferably while curled up on a comfy couch with a cold beverage less than an arm’s length away. This year’s summer reading list is very special to me, because friends and family chose all the books: rather than try to decide which of the many books in my TBR pile I should read next, I crowdsourced the problem by asking all my Facebook connections for titles. The resulting list of 44 main books and 22 backups (some people couldn’t pick just one) is probably more than I can actually tackle in one summer, but I’m having a great time trying.

Here are some of those crowdsourced summer reads.

Brad Thor - The Lions of Lucerne

America! Heck yeah!

Brad Thor’s The Lions of Lucerne is a fast-paced political thriller and first in a series.  Lions introduces Secret Service agent Scot Harvath, a former Navy SEAL with an incredible devotion to his country, and an equally formidable dislike for rules and procedures that get in the way of what seems obvious to him. When, for example, thirty of his fellow agents are killed and the president is kidnapped, he’s convinced there’s no way it could’ve been Muslim terrorists, as his supervisors seem to think ( for a snow mission in Utah? Please).

Determined to find the President and get the bad guys, Harvath follows the clues all the way to Switzerland, with both his own countrymen and enemy agents hot on his trail. This book is a really good time if you like political thrillers: with Thor, you get a basic American hero doing what’s right, while dodging in and out of seemingly impossible scrapes, and taking down the bad guys in the end. Who doesn’t love that? Recommended summer reading for anyone in search of adventure.


She’s Kindath. He’s not. Can they make it work?

Jumping from lions to lions, we get Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Lions of Al-Rassan. Kay’s lions are separated from Thor’s by about 1,000 years of civilization, in a fantasy world set up to resemble medieval Spain. If you know anything about medieval Spain, it won’t be too difficult to draw conclusions about the three cultures (sun worshippers, moon worshippers, and star worshippers) who inhabit the region and fight amongst each other frequently. Can a small band of citizens overcome their interfaith differences and help lead the region to political stability?

Although the subject matter is heavy, it’s not heavy-handed You just have to really enjoy historical fantasy, which is not hard to do when Kay’s prose is so luminous. He’s also the master of the plot twist, throwing you a curveball just when you think you know what’s going on. And at the kernel of the narrative is a poignant, passionate love story. This is the kind of book you take into a hammock for a long, cerebral summer escape.

Summer Reading Sign-up

You’re registered for adult summer reading, right? Click here to register and/or review your books!


Can you prove a negative? Jennet sure is trying…

Jumping forward somewhat in time, but still in the realm of historical fiction, we find James Morrow’s The Last Witchfindera romp through the 17th and 18th centuries that’s a great reminder of just how exciting a time it actually was. Our heroine, Jennet Sterne, loses her beloved Aunt Isobel to a roaring fire, for the lady’s been convicted as a witch…by Jennet’s father (awkward!). Heartbroken, Jennet swears to spend the rest of her life proving there’s no such thing as witchcraft, and her resulting adventures take her all over the world as she attempts to write her grand argument.

Along the way Jennet marries into–and then escapes from–a Native American tribe, outwits pirates, and manages to find time to have lots and lots of sex with Ben Franklin (the 18th century, so ribald!). To top it off, the book is narrated by another book, Newton’s Principia Mathematica, a narrative device that turns out to be a hilarious (in a dignified, jolly sort of way). Recommended for history buffs and anyone who loves both outlandish adventures and a good laugh.

I’m having so much fun with this project that I think I’ll let my friends pick my summer reads every year from now on! Reading books I might not have picked up on my own makes me feel more connected to the people who recommended them; does it work that way for you? Where do you get your book recommendations from?

–Leigh Anne

PS: Don’t forget to sign up for the Adult Summer Reading program. Register and complete two book reviews by August 9th, and you’ll be entered into a drawing for a shiny new Amazon Kindle Fire!



Filed under Uncategorized

The 24/7 Library

Despite our burgeoning “eds and meds” economic environment here in Pittsburgh, our working-class roots still show now and again in unexpected ways. Take, for example, the anticipation surrounding the placement of July 4th, that bluest of red, white, and blue-collar holidays, on the calendar each summer. Because many employers will give the day off when it falls on a workday, a weekend Independence Day is a big disappointment for all; a mid-week 4th may offer the opportunity to stretch one or two vacation days into a mini vacation, but of course that comes at a price. A Monday or Friday holiday, which we have this year, is the biggest jackpot of all. You get your holiday and your weekend, with no need to burn vacation time.

As a public librarian, however, I’m a little ambivalent about this year’s Friday holiday. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly appreciate the day off! But because we close for the holiday, that means that our users will miss out on the all-important Friday afternoon stop at the Library to grab some things to read, watch, or listen to over the weekend. I know that, for many people, that’s an important part of your transition into the weekend.

But if you finish your book on Friday, or unexpectedly decide to hide from the sun and watch a good movie, you may just find something to tide you over until Saturday in eCLP, our digital collection of downloadable and streaming books, movies, music, and magazines. Sometimes it takes a little push to try something new. Maybe this holiday will be your occasion to try out your digital library! Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

Richard Ford’s Independence Day won him a lot of acclaim, particularly for the development of Frank Bascombe into an iconic American character. There’s no time like a long weekend to follow Frank as he stumbles through his “Existence Period,” a sort of shell-shocked life stage following the death of a child and the end of a marriage. It’s a lot warmer and funnier than you might expect, and Ford proves himself to be a compassionate and empathetic writer. Read it via OverDrive or listen to it on OneClick Digital.

Courtesy of LoC’s American Memory http://memory.loc.gov

Perhaps you share with your fellow Western Pennsylvanians (or at least seemingly all of my neighbors…) a sincere love for fireworks. And perhaps this year, you’re planning to really impress the neighbors by synchronizing your fireworks display with a musical score. It wouldn’t be very patriotic to violate copyright law and illegally download recordings! Fortunately, you don’t have to: with Freegal, every library cardholder gets three free (both free of cost and free of DRM) music downloads per week. There are over 2oo recordings of Sousa marches in there. Talk about a grand finale!

If you have kids in your life, at some point they may begin to wonder what the significance of July 4th is, besides the hot dogs and fireworks. This weekend would be a great time to take an hour and gather around the tablet to try out our streaming media service Hoopla, which includes a bunch of documentaries about all kinds of topics, including the founding of the United States. Or, you could also use Hoopla to binge-watch Ken Burns documentaries to get a more fleshed out version of American history. Don’t blame me if you miss the barbecue…

Hopefully, if you follow any of the links above, you’ll find something that will at least get you through til we open up again on Saturday. Enjoy your long weekend folks!



1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Type L For Live

At least once a year, I take down a certain book and read it through, though I know it well enough that I can start from any point. And then, if I can, I give it away. The gap in my bookshelf makes me happy; it feels right to pass along this book. But it comes with a sense of regret, too, and not a little awe. I don’t think anyone will write anything like William Horwood‘s Skallagrigg again.

Published in 1987, it seems both timeless and brave as a product of its time; Horwood’s winding prose is gentle, but spares you nothing. It begins in 1927 with Arthur, a boy with cerebral palsy abandoned in a squalid institution, where he loses even his name. He begins to tell his fellow patients of the Skallagrigg, a mysterious figure who he prays will take him home–over a fence and into a field of poppies, where someday he will run. Skallagrigg becomes a legend among the patients, a protector amid neglect and brutality. For years, disabled people pass down Skallagrigg stories all over England–with eyes, feet, symbols, speech–until Arthur becomes legendary too.

In the 1970s onward, the stories reach Esther Marquand. Privileged, clever, and contrary, she too is tangled in her body. She’s not always likable, but she is appealing. With more to say than she’s able, Esther reveals the workings of her mind in subtle ways. Every twist of a limb matters; every “Nah” or “Yeh” has an inflection. Emerging technology reveals her quick reasoning as well as foreshadows the freedom computers would bring to many disabled people. When Esther scans the letter grid of a Possum typewriter or chords Speedwords on a Microwriter-esque keyboard, you’re in her head where time passes in letters per minute, then words; you know exactly how much effort it takes her to communicate, and how elegant numbers and logic can be. Esther begins to believe the Skallagrigg stories are real, programming them into a labyrinthine interactive fiction game as she searches for the only person who knows who or what the Skallagrigg is. Along the way, she leaves an “Easter egg” especially for our narrator, who’s telling the story against Esther’s father’s wishes in 2019.

None of this does it justice; I don’t think I can. It’s a hell of a quest novel, where the mazes are library stacks and hospital corridors, and the battles are spiritual and personal as well as physical. Today it’s also a little bit of nostalgia for people who remember things like BASIC, Pong, and such vexing lines as “You are in a twisty little maze of passages, all different.” But if that were all, it wouldn’t have become its own Skallagrigg story. Out of print (but available through WorldCat), it circulates now through word of mouth and gifts of secondhand copies. Often the recipient is another disabled person, but always it’s only someone who would understand.

Skallagrigg is an epic act of empathy; I haven’t read anything so broad and painstakingly detailed before or since. This is worldbuilding–but what Horwood recreates is the everyday history, language, love stories and struggles of people like his own daughter as well as himself. His daughter has CP; the novel was partly his coming to terms with their relationship. But Esther’s is not the only quest, nor the only disability. Here, disability is also loneliness and estrangement and the inability to help the people we love. There is an ache throughout this book, and we follow the thoughts of each character as they slowly make their way to the people who might ease it.

Horwood returns often to the characters’ relationships, sometimes mentioning each with their complement in a refrain, as if they’re dancing. Relationships are everything in this novel, their mutual exchange and dialogue essential for the characters’ survival. In their bonds I find an apt line of poetry attributed to Roy Croft: “I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you.”

Disabled people may be rooted in their bodies, but the spirit of disability is also fluid–shaped by whom you’re with and where you are. Some people drag down hard at your bones and render you helpless, strangling your voice worse than disability could by shouting over your words until hopelessness and tension make you mute. With others, your limbs ease and you can breathe and participate and laugh. Expansive and forgiving, granting the whole human spectrum of emotion to mutually imperfect minds, Skallagrigg is a testament to the people who help you over barriers when you’re bruised and scraped against them–who give you glimpses of poppies and the sky between the trees.

It’s an intense and sometimes dramatic read, but it is also fiercely beautiful. The effect of reading the characters’ journeys in such exhaustive detail is greater than the sum of its parts, generating an amazement that’s distinct from the book itself–a mix of peace and joy and sadness and rightness so deep it’s almost a presence. The Skallagrigg, perhaps.

photo of bright orange poppies, taken by Rebecca O'Connell

Bright orange poppies, taken by Rebecca O’Connell. All rights reserved.

Related reading:

Under the Eye of the Clock, by Christopher Nolan

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline

The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases From A State Hospital Attic, by Darby Penney, et. al.

Out of My Mind, by Sharon Draper

Petey, by Ben Mikaelsen

William Horwood’s site

–Amy R.




Filed under Uncategorized

CLP @ Conflict Kitchen


Conflict Kitchen, located at Schenley Plaza in Oakland, is a “restaurant that only serves cuisine from countries with which the United States is in conflict. Each Conflict Kitchen iteration is augmented by events, performances and discussions that seek to expand the engagement the public has with the culture, politics, and issues at stake within the focus country. The restaurant rotates identities every few months in relation to current geopolitical events,” (quotation taken from the website). The featured country right now is Afghanistan.


The Carnegie Library will have a table with samples of materials pertaining to the featured country every other Tuesday, weather permitting. You can check the items out right at the table!

We were there on Tuesday, June 24th, with CDs, DVDs, fiction, non-fiction and children’s books from or about Afghanistan. Here is a sample of the items we brought with us:


what'sWhat’s for Lunch?: How Schoolchildren Eat Around the World by Andrea Curtis




CDs -

rubab The Art of the Afghan Rubâb by Homayun Sakhi, rubâb and Toryalai Hashimi, tabla. CD & DVD packaged together.


pamirSong and Dance from the Pamir Mountains by The Badakhshan Ensemble.




DVDs -

star Afghan Star

Popular TV show modeled after “American Idol.”




Drama chronicling the true story of a young girl in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan who must disguise herself as a boy to save her family from starvation.


kiteThe Kite Runner

Based on the novel by Khaled Hosseini. 



mirThe Boy Mir – Ten Years in Afghanistan

Documentary following a boy named Mir as he grows into an adult in Afghanistan.



restrepoRestrepo – One Platoon, One Valley, One Year

Documentary chronicling the deployment of a platoon of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley.



Adult fiction -

fear of beauty Fear of Beauty, a novel by Susan Froetschel





Adult non-fiction -

forbiddenForbidden Lessons in a Kabul Guesthouse: The True Story of a Woman Who Risked Everything to Bring Hope to Afghanistan by Suraya Sadeed







Children’s fiction -

breadwinnerparvanamud city





The Breadwinner Trilogy by Deborah Ellis, an international bestselling trilogy about refugee children under the oppressive rule of the Taliban.

The Breadwinner, Parvana’s Journey, and Mud City

woodenThe Wooden Sword: A Jewish Folktale from Afghanistan by Ann Redisch Stampler





Children’s non-fiction -
dreamsAfghan Dreams: Young Voices of Afghanistan by Tony O’Brien

Interviews and photographs of real children from Afghanistan.




The Carnegie Library will be back at Conflict Kitchen on July 8th from 11:30 to 2:00, when the featured country will be Venezuela.


Stop by!


*Staff photographs by Joelle Killebrew and Tara Goe


Filed under Uncategorized

4 Books to Take to (Insert Your Dream Vacation)

By the time you read this post I will probably be on my way to my summer vacation… I know, I know… you are pretty envious right now. You are imagining me lounging around, slacking off and reading to my little heart’s content on some far away beach…but alas, don’t get too worked up because in reality my summer vacation is going to take place in the labor and delivery ward. I am currently (as I am writing this on June 12th) 37 weeks pregnant  and, as you may know, that translates into street talk as, “lady you’re about to pop…are you sure you should be walking around out here in public like that?” But having already done this whole ‘bring a new life into the world thing’  before, well… to be honest, the novelty has kind of warn off.

How To be a Villain

My eldest daughter circa 2009

I am looking forward to my stay at the hospital, not just because it will end with me bringing home a cute little newborn to mold into an evil genius, but also (actually mostly) because it means I am going to get a couple days off! While in labor and then for a few days afterwards I will get treated like a princess…nurses will do my bidding, people will bring me food, no one will ask me, for the zillionth time, to watch Frozen or clean up something sticky they spilled (and if they do, so help me, I am having them forcibly removed from the premises). I seriously cannot wait for my little mini-vacation and like all good bookworms looking forward to a vacation I have picked out a few titles to take with me to the spa…er, I mean hospital. Let’s face it, there will be a lot of downtime in between contractions and all that other stuff, and all moms know that you grab those few precious ‘me’ moments whenever and whereever you can, even if it means you have to get yourself admitted to do so. If you are searching for some titles to take on your own vacation this summer, whether it be to a tropical island or to the 7th floor of your nearest hospital, look no further:

bookcoverCAYX5D8LAmerican Spring: Lexington, Concord and the Road to Revolution by Walter Borneman: I am student of history, it has always been my favorite subject and I love a good story. This book focuses on, in my opinion, one of the best stories of American history; the spring of 1775 and the events leading up to the American Revolution. But it gets us there in an interesting way. Borneman asks you to step back from history and remember that, while the outcome may seem preordained to us, that for the men and women living through the spring of 1775 – much like our contemporaries all over the world today – the events of that season held only uncertainty and confusion. I cannot wait to finish this book even though I already know the story; it is interesting to look at it from a fresh perspective.

bookcoverCAYB3DD4The Library Lovers Mystery Series by Jenn McKinlay: Recently I was looking around for a fun mystery series and stumbled on to Jenn McKinlay’s Library Lovers Series. I sped through the first three books and am now moving on to the 4th in the series, Read it and Weep. These books are great little mysteries. They are current, which I love because sometimes it can be hard to read a mystery written 25 years ago before the wide spread use of cellphones and google. They also do a great job of balancing the love we library workers have for our jobs with a healthy dose of humor about the not-so-pleasant aspects of our duties. If you love your local library, love books, or just love a fun little mystery. this series will give you something to do on your down time during your vacation, or before the IV drip kicks in.

bookcoverCATHWUU4You Are Not Special and Other Encouragements by David McCullough, Jr.: I am really looking forward to reading this book, which is based on a Boston area high school commencement speech from 2012. Being in my early 30’s I grew up at the beginning of the “you are so awesome” movement but my default slacker personality meant that I never really took those sentiments to heart, I would much rather just be than excel at anything. I do, however, know lots of friends and family members who are struggling in a world that doesn’t automatically give them a trophy for just showing up (“You want me to, like, work overtime? Because it’s part of my job responsibilities? What? I don’t understand”).


Dodger by Terry Pratchett: I love me some Terry Pratchett and I love re-imaginings of classic characters and stories so this is right up my alley. Here we have the story of 17-year old Artful Dodger who sees a girl jump from a carriage in an attempt to escape her captors and ends up on a wild ride that introduces him to Sweeney Todd, Charles Dickens and Benjamin Disraeli. I can’t wait to sink my teeth into this one since it includes other well-known characters and some real-life people from history.

At some point I also might also pack clothes and my camera and stuff like for the hospital, but let’s be honest, the books are the most important part.

-Natalie (a/k/a baby mama)





1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized