Tag Archives: fiction

Surprise! This Book Just Transformed Into My Worst Fear

I love Halloween because it’s the one time of year wearing a costume is socially acceptable. It’s the time you can be someone or something you’re not. You can taste what it’s like to be a monster, or your favorite fictional character, or a concept.

zombinatorLots of people in Pittsburgh, pretty much everyone apparently, wants to “taste” what it’s like to be a zombie—there are zombie walks, massive humans vs. zombies games on college campuses, zombie literature, a zombie store, and new zombie movies all the time.

Before I go any further, let me say this: I don’t scare easily.

Spiders? I put them outside so they can eat annoying bugs. Snakes? I had a pet snake when I was a kid, and the only reason I don’t have one now is because my dogs would probably try to eat it. Bats? I squeal with delight when I see one because I think they are super adorable (and they eat half their body weight in insects per night!). Insects? As long as they aren’t trying to bite me, dive bomb me, or fly into my mouth or ear, I don’t bother with them. And I love the ones that help my garden, like bees and lady bugs.

I do have one mortal fear, though: Zombies.

That’s right. I think bats are the cutest things ever, snakes make great pets, and spiders are my friendly household helpers, and yet I’m Terrified—with a capital T—of zombies.

It’s the idea that a monster could scratch you ever-so-slightly and yet still infect you with a disease that turns you into a mindless husk of a body with cannibalistic leanings. It’s the slow and relentless onslaught. The overwhelming numbers. That once they start coming, you can fight, but humanity’s demise is inevitable.

Walking Dead Book OneOnce, I tried reading The Walking Dead, and got ten pages in before I slammed the book shut. “Nope. No way. Not going to happen,” I told the book.

Miniature WifeLately, I’ve been stumbling onto zombie stories everywhere. This past weekend, I was reading The Miniature Wife and Other Stories by Manuel Gonzales, and BAM, surprise zombie story! I had to read it, because I have this compulsion about finishing books, and aside from the surprise zombies, I really enjoyed the delightful weirdness of the collection.

That night, I made my husband hold my hand after we turned out the lights, because I couldn’t stop thinking about the zombies and their gray teeth and slurping sounds.

bprdhellonearthoneLast month, I was reading B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth, and BAM, zombies! I’ve encountered the traditional slow-moving raised-from-the-dead zombies in Hellboy before (and those don’t really scare me), but these were mindless mutated half-animal creatures that got turned into zombies from breathing a gas released from a gigantic monster. UBER CREEPY.

weliveinwaterEven Jess Walter’s seemingly normal collection about class and race issues, We Live in Water, contains a surprise zombie story. It’s not a typical zombie story—people are turned by taking a recreational drug that changes their brain chemistry—but it’s still a zombie story.

stitchedIf you look at the cover of Stitched by Garth Ennis, a writer I greatly enjoy, it looks like a war comic with some scary reaper dudes. NOPE. It’s about voodoo zombies who can’t be killed. I read this one anyway, but man did it freak me out.

All these zombie stories act kind of like zombies themselves. You think you’re safe and comfortable and then all of a sudden your best friend has become a flesh-eating monster, and you have to fight for your life. I think I’m safe and comfortable reading fun quirky short stories about miniaturized wives or class issues in a decaying city, and then all of a sudden I’m reading a story about zombies and I’m terrified.

I guess this is one of the risks of being a science fiction and fantasy reader in the zombie-obsessed 21st century. It makes a kind of sense—lots of people believe we’re all turning into zombies because of too much work, because we listen to the same talking heads and don’t think for ourselves, because there is always a new virus that does scary, scary things to the human body.

So I’m not going to stop reading these types of stories, even though they make me want to hide under the covers like a five-year-old afraid of the monster in the closet.

How about you? Do you love zombies? Hate them? What’s your favorite zombie story?

-Kelly

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Brooding Dukes and Damsels in Distress

Gothic novel: a novel in which magic, mystery, and chivalry are the chief characteristics.

A Handbook to Literature (6th edition) by C. Hugh Holman and William Harmon

Windswept moors, drafty and remote castles, stormy nights, and a dark and dangerous hero suffering lots of angst. Jane Austen spoofed it in Northanger Abbey in 1816 while the Bronte sisters epitomized it in Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre in the Victorian era. But what about today? Read on for some historical romances with a darker journey to happily ever after.

Máire Claremont’s Mad Passions series.

darklady

In the Victorian era, it wasn’t considered unusual for powerful men to send their troublesome women to an insane asylum for reasons such as, say, having a nervous breakdown after the death of a child (The Dark Lady) or witnessing a father murder a beloved mother (The Lady in Red). Men, however, are not immune to commitment by a parent for opium addiction (The Dark Affair).

Seven Nights in a Rogue’s Bed by Anna Campbell. (Sons of Sin series)

seven

As payment for her married sister’s gambling debts, Sidonie Forsythe agrees to replace her sister in Jonas Merrick’s bed. In doing so, she will give up her virtue to a man haunted by his past and determined to prove his parentage.

Taken by the Duke by Jess Michaels. (Pleasure Wars series)

taken

Lady Ava Windbury is kidnapped by Christian Rothcastle and taken to his estate in revenge for one sibling’s death and another’s incapacitation in this Romeo and Juliet love story.

Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare. (Castles Ever After series)

duke

Take one penniless and homeless orphan, add one tormented duke, and a dash of King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table and you get this charming gothic spoof.

A Duke’s Temptation by Jillian Hunter. (Bridal Pleasures series)

temptation

Lily Boscastle is the biggest fan of the mysterious and handsome Duke of Gravenhurst’s “horrid” novels. When she becomes his housekeeper at his remote estate, she discovers the real secrets behind the man. Another gothic spoof, this one is best listened to aloud on e-audio, read by the enchanting Justine Eyre.

-Maria A.

Note: This post is the fourth in a series highlighting historical romance novels I’ve greatly enjoyed.

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Let’s Read a Banned Book!

BBW14_300x250_2

Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association.

 

One of the books that has appeared on the Top 10 list of banned books, compiled by the American Library Association, for each of the last 5 years is The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. This is a young adult novel (as so many of the books on these lists are) about a teenage Native American boy who chooses to attend school outside his home on the reservation. This decision leaves Junior, or Arnold as he’s called off the reservation, shunned by his people, as well as trying to fit in and on the outskirts of his new community. It is an honest portrayal of his life in high school – girls, bullies, fights, sports, and parents. Junior must learn to cope with a lot of loss in his family and embrace what’s good in his life.

Alexie’s book is most often challenged in libraries and schools due to its themes of sexuality, racism, use of drugs and alcohol, and offensive language. Many of these objectors feel that its content is unsuitable for the age group for which it is written. Considering that I have two teenagers at home who are dealing with and making personal decisions about all of the issues listed above, I find it hard to believe that some people don’t seem to understand what really happens in high school. But I shouldn’t judge, I’m sure they have their reasons. I’m more grateful that there are books like this available to my teenagers, so they know that what they’re going through is typical. They are not abnormal or weird. Being able to relate to a book’s characters and to recognize yourself in their struggles is one of the most important things a book can impart to an adolescent in the throes of indecision and hormones and peer pressure. But that’s just one person’s opinion. Happily for me and mine, those librarians and educators who fight against the banning of books must feel the same way.

book

Our librarians who lead the Let’s READ English book discussion group at the Main Library have decided that The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is also a good vehicle for those who are learning to read and speak English as a second language. As well, it can serve as a catalyst for discussion about life in America amongst this group of foreign language speakers. The Let’s READ English discussion group will be talking about this book at their program on October 10th at 2pm. If you know someone who is looking to improve their English language skills, please have them stop by the library and check out a copy of the book prior to the discussion day.

Today is our last post for Banned Books Week 2014. However, through programming and book recommendations, libraries continue the fight against censorship every week of every year.

Now go out and continue to read banned books all year long!
-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.

 

Back-ups

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-

suzy

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Great SF eAudiobooks for Your Commute

If I could read in moving vehicles without experiencing that delightful form of nausea known as car sickness, I would be able to read so many comics in the time I spend on the bus commuting to and from work every day.

Thankfully, humans invented the audiobook, and eCLP lets me download these miraculous spoken books directly to the tiny computer I carry around in my pocket (you might know it better as a smartphone).

The Library adds newly released titles all the time, but one of my favorite facets of the collection is the classic science fiction available for the listening. Over the past few years, I’ve been reading some new-to-me Big Names of SF as well as old favorites.

Here are some of the titles I’ve enjoyed the most, alphabetical by author’s last name:

Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot
irobotBefore reading this collection of linked short stories, I’d only read a random sampling of Asimov’s short fiction, including the short story “Nightfall” that inspired the novel of the same name (and a movie adaptation). This book inspired a movie too, but from what I know of the movie, it’s nothing like the book. For one, the book’s main character is a female robot psychologist, and the robots are never allowed on earth. They malfunction, have emotions, read minds, kill people, and serve as metaphors for many things, but it all happens in space or on other planets. Asimov does touch lightly on sexism, as the main character butts heads with some of the male scientists in some of the stories, and she usually comes out on top, while the men look foolish.

Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles
martianchroniclesA haunting collection of loosely connected tales, Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles essentially re-tells the story of Europe invading the New World, but with a twist at the end that I won’t reveal here. The coming of men to Mars spells doom for the Martians, who are wiped out by diseases the humans carry. Men build new cities that look like their cities back on Earth, but things do not go the way they might hope. The spirit and soul of Mars is not so easily corrupted or overcome. The only thing that gave me pause about this book was the fact that all the women are relegated to domestic roles, when they’re included at all. Perhaps I shouldn’t expect much more from a book published in 1950, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Octavia E. Butler’s Fledgling
fledglingThe last novel written before her death in 2006, Fledgling explores themes of memory, race, sexuality and belonging. It’s a vampire novel, but not a traditional vampire novel. The vampires in this book, known as Ina, bond with humans and only feed from the humans they’ve bonded with. They do not murder people, and live in tightly knit family groups that include their bonded humans. If an Ina dies, his or her bonded humans will die as well because of how strong their bond is. The plot revolves around Shori, who has lost her memory and her family, and wakes up not knowing that she’s a vampire. This is, unfortunately, the only Octavia Butler novel available as an eAudio book. I’ll have to stick to paper for the rest of her award-winning work.

Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
moonThis wasn’t my first audiobook foray into Heinlein, but it’s my favorite of his novels that I’ve read so far (the others being Starship Troopers and Citizen of the Galaxy). This book tested the skills of the narrator, as he had to speak in a Russian accent for much of the time, and he managed to do so without being annoying or sounding fake. The plot follows an intelligent supercomputer and his repairman as the lunar colony attempts to break away from the tyrannical rule of earth. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is more fun than the other two Heinlein novels I’ve read. It features more humor, and the characters are more likeable, so it’s a more enjoyable read.

Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed
dispossessedLe Guin is my all-time absolute favorite author in the universe, and I wish the Library had more of her work in eAudio. The Dispossessed, however, is worth listening to over and over. It follows the story of Shevek, a brilliant physicist who has made an important discovery and is invited to live on a neighboring planet for a time. Shevek’s world and the neighboring world follow different economic and political systems, and through Shevek’s eyes, the novel looks at the differences between the two and asks which is better, or if there’s a better way yet to be explored. Don’t let the high-minded themes of the book deter you, though. Shevek and his family ground the book in characters with real emotions, desires and needs—the things that make for a good novel.

-Kelly

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Pairings

On a recent visit to the Squirrel Hill Library’s Children’s Department, my kids and I discovered the silkworms. Tucked into a nook by the children’s nonfiction books are a few containers filled with leaves and lots of white silkworms! Given that this is the summer that both my children have decided that they want to adopt every single worm, caterpillar, and beetle that they discover outside, we were all thrilled to discover yet another thing to love about the library. The librarian in me also appreciated the fact that next to the worms was a book suggestion. I started thinking of a creepy but great story I recently read, in which women were turned into human/silkworm hybrids and I thought how much I would love to see more displays of books that have similar themes or subjects but for different age groups. In that spirit, here are a few of my own suggestions of book pairings for children, teens, and adults.

On silkworms: The Empress and the Silkworm/Vampires in the Lemon Grove (the story Reeling For the Empire)

Books with strong heroines: Pippi Longstocking/The Hunger Games/Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution

Gender: Jacob’s New Dress/Freak Show/Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation

Crafting: The Artful Parent: Simple Ways to Fill Your Family’s Life With Creativity/Go Crazy With Duct Tape/Craft-A-Day: 365 Simple  Handmade Projects

School: I Am Not Going to School Today/Prep/Never Let Me Go

-Irene

 

 

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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.

 

 

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