Lately I’ve found myself a little off the beaten path of what I usually read, and have been really enjoying some historical fiction. For some reason I haven’t ventured much into this genre, but I’ve been finding that one of my favorite things is being able to follow up on a novel and find out more about characters who actually existed. Here are a few titles that have crossed my path recently:

The Fortune Hunter, by Daisy Goodwin: I enjoyed Goodwin’s previous book a few years ago (The American Heiress), so I was excited to read her second novel. Like her first, this is a work of historical fiction, centering around the love affair of Charlotte Baird and Captain Bay Middleton and complicated by the charismatic Empress Elizabeth of Austria. I love historical fiction that’s based on real characters; all three existed and while the plot is fiction, there were enough details in this novel to make me curious about the real Empress Elizabeth (who apparently really did sleep with raw meat on her face!).

Frog Music, by Emma Donoghue: As one of the few people left who didn’t read Donoghue’s bestselling Room, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this novel. This may have worked in my favor, since I didn’t have any preconceived notions of what to expect. What I discovered were more compelling characters taken from history. In the summer of 1876, a San Francisco woman named Jenny Bonnet was murdered and a sensational court case followed, with a French burlesque dancer named Blanche as the primary witness. Aside from the gripping plot, I found the descriptions of 19th century life in the West to be just fascinating, and I especially loved that at the end of the novel Donoghue closes with an afterward about her research. (More on her research for this novel here, if you’re into that kind of thing).

Bittersweet, by  Colleen McCullough: I was a young teenager when I first read The Thorn Birds, and although I haven’t kept up with any of McCullough’s other books this one caught my eye. It’s no Thorn Birds (but what is??!), but still a fun read. It’s about four sisters– two sets of twins– in 1920’s Australia who are just setting off to start their lives away from their parents and become registered nurses. I’m still reading this one, but one thing I’m loving is commentary on women during this time period: in Australia women seemed to have much greater freedom (in terms of dress and general independence), but were still very much at the mercy of their husbands.

Reading anything good? Let us know in the comments!




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Farewell, My Dear Friend

This past month has been very difficult. My husband and I lost our sweet old baby girl cat, Holly Golightly, on July 28. She was very old and I wrote about her for this blog just last year. She went very quickly (as the vet had once predicted) and naturally but still, you’re never really ever ready to say goodbye. You want just one more cuddle, one more purr.

Seventeen years of an established and familiar routine, daily care, and infinite love are gone forever. While we are very sad, we are also grateful that she was not ill so we did not have the angst of having to make a painful decision; in her own tough and sassy way, Holly Golightly made it for us.

Above all else, I learned that we are not alone in our sorrow and have found great solace with fellow pet lovers. The library is helping us out–as always–with this wonderful little book we have found to be invaluable for comfort and peace to any pet owner.


Goodbye, Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost a Pet

by Gary Kowalski

Though penned by a Unitarian clergyman, this beautifully written book does not have an overtly religious tone. What it does offer is comfort and calm in a reassuring and understanding voice that I desperately needed to hear upon the passing of my beloved animal companion. He encourages ways to remember and memorialize your pet, acknowledgment of the cycles of life, and the very real pain we feel when a pet, a member of our family, dies.

Be sure to also check out next week’s display in the Reference Room on the second floor of Main Library for more resources on this topic.

~Maria A., still grieving but slowly healing


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Take Good Care

“I was kind of a sludgy mud-dweller… everything was really slooooow.” – Neko Case


I’ve long admired the talented musician Neko Case, and when she came out last year in interviews as having dealt with major depression, I was deeply moved. What struck me most about these interviews was her honesty, humor, and utter nonchalance while speaking about the illness—depression is not often talked about this openly by public figures. And yet, according to the National Council for Behavioral Health, nearly 7% of the North American population experiences depression in any given year. I have been one of those people.

After attending a training entitled Mental Health First Aid a couple weeks ago I was reminded of the stigma and shame attached to mental and mood disorders—illnesses that people often have no more control over than say, epilepsy or diabetes. I’ve always been pretty hesitant to talk about my own experiences with dysthymia (chronic depression) for this very reason, but I’ve made it a goal of mine to be more open about it from now on. I think it’s important that other people feel they’re not alone, and also that they’re aware of resources for getting help. We all need a little help sometimes.

I’ve compiled a few helpful resources here for those dealing with a mental or mood disorder (with a focus on the under- or uninsured), or for the loved ones of those who are struggling.


re:solve Crisis Network: 1-888-7 YOU CAN (1-888-796-8226) — This 24-hour hotline is staffed by mental health professionals who can assist callers in avoiding a mental health crisis. They can also direct callers towards in-person care.

Allegheny County Mental Health Services:  Allegheny County Information, Referral and Emergency Services (IRES) (412) 350-4457 — This number is also answered 24 hours a day /7 days a week and puts you in contact with an Allegheny County staff member who can provide information, find someone to provide ongoing help, or help you arrange involuntary examination and treatment when needed.

Allegheny County Peer Support Warmline: 1-866-661-9276 — This hotline provides supportive listening, problem solving, resource sharing and peer support for mental health service users or anyone else 18 and older.

Anonymous Mental Health Screening for In/Active Members of the Military: This service is designed specifically for members of the armed forces. These free, self-administered, online screenings can help determine if behaviors related to mood or anxiety levels might be related to a mental health concern and/or indicate that a professional consultation could be helpful.

Birmingham Free Clinic: Basic primary care, blood pressure and blood glucose screening, smoking cessation, and physicals are provided. Mental health assessment and counseling by appointment only for existing patients. Provides free health care to uninsured Latino patients on Saturdays.

Mental Health America – Allegheny County: A comprehensive list of services available to residents of Allegheny County. The “Where to Call Guide” is especially helpful.

NAMI Family-to-Family Education Program: A free 12-week course for family caregivers of individuals with severe mental illnesses that discusses the clinical treatment of these illnesses and teaches the knowledge and skills that family members need to cope more effectively. NAMI De Familia a Familia, Contact Alby 412-244-3142 or Jorge 412-788-4582.

Pittsburgh Action Against Rape: PAAR offers English and Spanish language counseling for victims of sexual violence. Additional services offered include preventative education and mental health counseling for both adults and children. Offices are on the South Side at 81 S. 19th Street. Contact Teresa Otoya-McAdams 412-431-5665 or teresao@paar.net.

Psychology Clinic: Duquesne University has a free clinic that requires no insurance or personal documentation. There is no limit to the number of sessions a person can have. Family members are welcome. It does not have addiction and substance abuse services.


One good thing that has come out of my own (ongoing) experiences with depression—I’ve realized that mental and mood disorders can happen to almost anyone, and I need to give people the benefit of the doubt and be gentle when they’re having a hard time.

So be kind to your fellow travelers and take good care,


PS – Bonus resource: the Mental Health Channel has a series called The Inside Story that profiles people who “reveal their mental health diagnoses and their paths to overcome them.” It’s terrific!


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In Celebration of Women

Happy Women’s Equality Day!

In 1971 a joint resolution of Congress chose August 26th of every year to be designated as Women’s Equality Day. This particular date was selected because of the two significant events in women’s history that occurred on that day: the passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote in 1920 and the 1970 nationwide demonstration for women’s rights.

Women (and men!) hiked around the east coast in support of women’s suffrage? Two major “Suffrage Hikes” brought attention to the campaign: the 1912 hike from Manhattan to Albany, NY and the 1913 hike from Manhattan to Washington, DC. (Photo: Suffrage hikers on way to Washington, 1913. Library of Congress.)

Women (and men!) hiked around the east coast in support of women’s suffrage. Two major “Suffrage Hikes” brought attention to the campaign: the 1912 hike from Manhattan to Albany, NY, and the 1913 hike from Manhattan to Washington, D.C. (Photo: Suffrage hikers on way to Washington, 1913. Library of Congress. Caption courtesy of the National Women’s History Museum.)

Think you know everything there is to know about the history of women’s rights in the United States of America? Take this quiz and find out. Or this one.

So how’d you do? Need to brush up on a few things? Here are just a few of the many items available at the library to help improve your knowledge of women’s history in America:

Sisters: The Lives of America’s Suffragists by Jean H. Baker

The American Women’s Rights Movement: A Chronology of Events and of Opportunities from 1600 to 2008 by Paul D. Buchanan

A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s by Stephanie Coontz

The Feminist Memoir Project: Voices from Women’s Liberation edited by Rachel Blau DuPlessis and Ann Snitow

Seneca Falls and the Origins of the Women’s Rights Movement by Sally G. McMillen

The World Split Open: How the Modern Women’s Movement Changed America by Ruth Rosen

The Road to Seneca Falls: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the First Woman’s Rights Convention by Judith Wellman

I feel like there should be cake or something.
-Melissa M.


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Yinzer Gone South

I will probably harass this alligator. Photo by: Me

I will probably harass this alligator. Photo by: Me

In a few weeks I’ll be heading south to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. I plan on harassing some alligators, riding my bike, drinking large drinks with tiny umbrellas, eating a metric ton of fried chicken and barbeque, visiting the Piggly-Wiggly and of course, laying on the beach with a big stack of books.

Like any self-respecting librarian, I have a total horror of not bringing enough to read.

What happens if we get stuck in terrible traffic on I-77 again? I’m willing to run into the woods to pee, I’m willing to go hungry and thirsty, but OMG SWEET LORD, WHAT IF I FINISH MY LAST BOOK?!?!

I do not have a problem.

Five books (+ two back-ups because I don’t mess around).

CloseYourEyesClose Your Eyes, Hold Hands, Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is all over the map as a writer and I love it. He’s written historical fiction about World War II, he’s written about interracial adoption, midwives, and murder-suicide. Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is about a teen orphaned by a nuclear plant meltdown, which may or may not have been caused by her father. Homeless and on the run, she takes a new identity based on Emily Dickinson. Read an excerpt here. Good stuff.

AdulteryAdultery, Paulo Coelho

Paulo Coelho has a remarkably ability to write from any point of view (Andalusian shepherd boy, an Irish girl.) This time, the point of view is Linda, a married mother of two with a great job, a successful, loving husband, and all of the other trappings of modern life that are supposed to make you happy. And she is not happy. According to reviews, you will love and you will hate Linda, but you’ll understand her completely. Whoa.

TGoodGirlhe Good Girl, Mary Kubica

A one night stand goes horribly, horribly wrong. There’s no walk of shame here; there’s abduction and a cabin in rural Minnesota. Watch out for enigmatic strangers with modest wit. The Good Girl has been compared to last year’s suspense bestseller, Gone Girl.

BittersweetBittersweet, Colleen McCullough

McCullough’s first romantic saga since The Thorn Birds? Two sets of twins in New South Wales at the beginning of the twentieth century? Sold.


WearenotourselvesWe Are Not Ourselves, Matthew Thomas

This is the book making everyone cry this summer. It’s a “sweeping” multi-generational novel about an Irish-American family starting the 1940s. Redemption, betrayal, love, blah, blah, blah.



The WhWheel of Fortuneeel of Fortune, Susan Howatch

I read this a long, long time ago and I love it. I always wanted to be glamorous and bold like Ginerva. I got the bold part down at least. It also inspired my inexplicable love of Wales.


NightmaresNightmares and Dreamscapes, Stephen King

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy says that a towel is “about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have.” I would argue that a Stephen King book of short stories is second.


I’m also taking recommendations. Always!

happy beach reading-


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From The Mists Of Obscurity…

The Guardians of the Galaxy movie has made a gaggle of money so far and enjoyed wide critical acclaim from the likes of Forbes Magazine  and others. In other words, Marvel and parent company Disney have struck gold again by trusting writer/director James Gunn to make a blockbuster film with incredibly obscure feature characters. I could go on and on about the greatness of Guardians, the cast, and Mr. Gunn himself, but I’ve done that already. The point of this post is to entertain the thought of what other obscure property might make a great feature film. So what are the ground rules? The characters could be from a comic book or graphic novel. Or from a novel or stage play. I’ll entertain a few titles, and then ask you, the reader, to chime in with a few of your own.

Wait, what? Click here for more clever Vulture posters.

Wait, what? Click here for more clever Vulture posters.

Suicide Squad from DC Comics tops my entries from the graphic novel department. You can read an issue #1 of this oft-reincarnated title in our copy of DC Comics: The New 52 vol 1. The basic premise of this title is simple. Lame super-villains get an offer of amnesty in exchange for performing sometimes deadly missions. This cool formula allows writers to play with otherwise ignored characters, but could this setup carry a movie? Would audiences flock to see a movie featuring the likes of Captain Boomerang and Bronze Tiger? I think they would if the producers employed marketing strategies similar to those used for Guardians.

Eisenhorn by Dan Abnett marks my choice for gamer fiction most likely to succeed in the right hands. Set in the Warhammer 40,000 sci-fi universe, this collection features three linked novels that detail the exploits of Gregor Eisenhorn, an Inquisitor in the service of the monolithic Imperium of Mankind. He and his allies hunt aliens, heretics, daemons, witches, and other threats to humanity. I imagine if someone like Mr. Gunn handled this material, it could be movie gold.

Ari Marmel’s Hot Lead, Cold Iron offers a slick mix of fantasy and noir with detective Mick Oberon solving mysteries in 1930’s era Chicago. Yes, I know it sounds like Dresden Files, but Oberon’s Fae blood makes the “rules” of the book’s action a bit different than Jim Butcher’s Dresden stuff. The 1930’s era patois Marmel uses for Oberon’s narrative voice also makes the reading fun.

I usually do these things in three’s, but I’ll step out of my comfort zone a bit and suggest a fourth title, Katherine Boo’s Behind The Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, And Hope In A Mumbai Undercity, a haunting and sometimes uplifting account of families surviving in the face of utter poverty and hopelessness.  Read this and you will cry and also experience moments of triumph. Give this to the “right” film crew and you have an Oscar-candidate for sure.

Now it’s your turn. Give me some obscure titles that need the Hollywood treatment.




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On the Road Again: More Audio Books to Enjoy

My road trips are usually serene.  That’s because it is normally just me in my car listening to my favorite authors and readers.  I am so used to mentally dropping into the stories coming from my automobile CD player that when traffic problems require me to check road status on radio news channels, or I’m accompanied by occasional passengers, like my husband or sisters — who don’t want to listen to that “talking” — I am irritated and maybe a little angry because my burning need to be constantly entertained is thwarted.

Here are a few suggestions for recent audio books that have held me enthralled on the road:

Ladies and gentlemen, start your audio books. Photo taken from post-gazette.com

Ladies and gentlemen, start your audio books. Photo taken from post-gazette.com

Actress Julia Whelan, who played teenager Grace Manning on the TV show Once and Again, narrates Nora Roberts’ latest romantic suspense book The Collector.  Whelan has a soft and soothing voice that belies the fact that she does a very credible job portraying both male and female characters and various accents.  The story involves teen werewolf book series author Lila Emerson, who has a “Rear Window-like” experience: She observes a murder take place through the window of an adjacent apartment building.  As the only witness, she becomes a prime target of the murderer.

Artist Ash Archer, brother of the victim, engages Lila’s help, searching against the clock for the murderer.  As they connect the dots between a Russian with claims to the Romanov dynasty, long-missing Faberge Imperial eggs, and an art deal gone bad, they also find the missing parts of themselves in their blossoming love relationship.  She is a strong-willed army brat, independent and leery of allowing herself to become too attached to anyone.  He is wealthy, emotional and domineering, in the sense that an artist’s prerogative is to do and create, and he’s not used to having anyone challenge or resist his presumptive ways. This suspenseful tale with the spritely conversations between Lila and Ash as they negotiate their way to love and finding a murderer provide for another winner by my personal favorite author, Nora Roberts.

I’m not crazy about books with lots of jumping back and forth in time, but Laura Lippman’s latest standalone novel, After I’m Gone, pulls it off.  Reader Linda Emond’s clear, distinctive pronunciation of words and the varied character’s voices make these transitions easy to follow from the 1960s to the present.  The story tracks the bewilderment and agony of the women left behind when gambler Felix Brewer goes on the lam before he can be sentenced to prison.  Despite having promised always to take care of her, Felix leaves his wife Bambi with three girls to raise and no money.  His young mistress Julie seems to have funds to start a bed and breakfast, but then she disappears, too.  His daughters, each of whom carries different memories of their father in their hearts, struggle to understand their places in the world, each taking a very different path. This story holds its secrets close and the reader/listener keeps guessing.

Missing You is Harlan Coben’s latest book and the plot is a doozy.  NYPD detective Kat Donovan hasn’t had a serious relationship since she was dumped unceremoniously by her fiancé 18 years earlier.  When his picture shows up on an online dating site she is shocked.  She never understood in her head or her heart what happened between them.  So her police career has dominated her life.  She is a shrewd, no-nonsense investigator, driven by curiosity and determination.  She also probably drinks too much for her own good.

When she decides to reach out to the anonymous yet very familiar face online, disturbing details about her own past are slowly revealed.  And as she is assigned to work on a series of missing persons cases that may have national implications, Kat begins to realize that there may be a connection between her life and the missing persons.  Coben’s typical serendipitous plot twists keep Kat turning backward and forward in time, as she struggles to save others as well as her own piece of mind.  January LaVoy is a new reader for me.  Her voice is deep and gravelly and she communicates Kat’s no-nonsense attitude toward life and her job very well.

One of my favorite audio books this year, by far, is the Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd.  To my great satisfaction, this book was narrated partly by Jenna Lamia, whose distinctively youthful voice wonderfully read Kidd’s previous book, The Secret Life of Bees.  In this story, Lamia shares the reading credits with Adepero Oduye.  In alternate chapters, these talented readers bring to life, in first person, two very different girls living in antebellum South Carolina.

Sarah Grimke, daughter of a wealthy plantation owner, is given her own slave when she has her 11th birthday — a girl called Handful.   Over the years of their youth and through their adulthood, these characters each struggle to achieve freedom.  Handful rebels against the oppressive inhumane bonds of slavery while Sarah flails against the Southern patriarchal system that keeps her from becoming a lawyer like her father and brother.  Sarah is a voracious reader who secretly steals adult treatises on law and history and she teaches Handful to read, against the dictates of the State and her family.  Sarah’s need for independent thought and opinion sets her into adulthood choosing to live in the North, where she finds like-minded women at the early years of the women’s suffrage movement in America.

Handful, by contrast, must remain with the Grimkes, taking over her mother’s role as family seamstress.  Handful increasingly takes risks by participating in a pre-Civil War slave uprisings.  Sarah eschews love and marriage in favor of speaking out with the abolitionists and for women’s rights.  Reader Lamia conveys Sarah’s conviction to find her own voice.  By contrast reader Oduye brilliantly portrays Handful’s strength of character and resolve. Author Kidd successfully interweaves the challenges, determination and joys and sorrows each woman encounters both together and apart in this gripping tale based on true lives.

Who are your favorite audio book narrators? What great reads have you been taking on the road lately? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments section.




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