Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

 

The second book by the author of the bestselling mystery The Girl on a Train will not disappoint!

Into the Water takes place in a rural Beckford, England. A river flows throughout the town; with so many twists and turns that one character comments that, “everywhere you turn, you run into the river”. But there is a particular place in the river that is famous in the town. The Drowning Pool. There is no mystery as to why it is called the Drowning Pool. The first page of the book introduces the reader to a young woman that is being tied up and forced into the water. We quickly learn about the latest victim of the Drowning Pool, Nel Abbott. Nel had been researching the former victims of the Drowning Pool for a book. It turns out that women have been found submerged in the river for hundreds of years. While it looks like a suicide some people wonder if there was foul play. Nel Abbot had made enemies.

Nel’s sister Jules comes to Beckford to take charge of her niece, Lena. Lena has not only lost her mother, but a few months earlier, she lost her best friend to the Drowning Pool. People are unsure why Katie Wittaker decided to commit suicide. Katie’s mother, Louise is having a terrible time coming to terms with her daughter’s death. Louise’s son, Josh, notes that the night that Nel Abbott went into the water, Louise was gone for most of the night. When detective Erin Morgan, who is new to town, asks people about Nel Abbot, it seems that no one really cares that she died. Except of course, her family, Jules and Lena. To complicate matters, Jules has been estranged from her sister for quite some time. So Jules and Lena do not know each other at all. Throughout the book, we learn more about Nel Abbott and Katie Wittaker and the people in their lives. The more that we learn, it becomes harder to trust anyone in Beckford.

If you listen to audiobooks, you will enjoy this one. Into the Water is read by five voice actors and they do a wonderful job. Read by Laura Aikman, Sophi Aldred, Rachel Bavidge, Imogen Church and Daniel Weyman.

 

 

Pogue’s Basics by David Pogue

Journalist David Pogue has written a series of books sharing some tips and tricks to make life easier.  I started with the ironically titled Pogue’s Basics. Life : Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers to Tell You) For Simplifying Your Day.   Some critics say they already know this stuff. Good for those geniuses. As for the rest of us, there are some very useful things to pick up in Pogue’s books.

For instance: you can tell whether your upcoming exit from the interstate will be on the left or the right by the placement of the exit number on the sign. If exit is on the left, the little sign displaying the exit number will be on the top left. If exit is on the right – you guessed it- the little exit number sign will be on the right. There is a helpful picture in the book that best explains this. This knowledge helped me navigate with aplomb on a recent trip to Chicago.

Another useful tidbit I took from it was the tip on placing my vehicle’s key fob up against my neck fat when attempting to unlock it from across the parking lot. It will unlock from a greater distance, and can be useful during those times when you forgot exactly where you parked. Pogue says this technique works because the fluids in the head act as a great conductor. I say it’s nice to know my neck fat is good for something.

Pogue’s suggestion for getting a lost dog back: place a toy and/or blanket with the scent of home on it outdoors, near where the pet was last seen. Leave it there for 24 hours. The pet will most likely follow his or her nose back toward it. I hope you never need this particular piece of information.

There are lots more suggestions that you’ll just have to check the book out to learn. If you like this book, you might also like Pogue’s Basics. Tech: Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers to Tell You) For Simplifying the Technology in Your Life. It will tell you, among other things, what to do when your cell phone falls into the toilet. You can thank me for this recommendation later. Preferably not with a handshake.

Now Arriving from: Kenya

Hello Friends!

How did your month in Kenya (or African country of your choice) go? Sadly, the quantity of books isn’t especially generous, but the quality of what is available helps make up for that.

This month I read A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicolas Drayson. This is not an actual bird guide, but a novel, although the birds and wildlife of Kenya make many appearances. Rather, it is about Mr Malik, a widower, who has attended the weekly bird walks of the East African Ornithological Society, which are lead by a certain Rose Mbikwa, for years. Mr Malik is desperately in love with Ms Mbikwa and, just as he’s nearly gotten up the courage to ask her to the annual society dance, a rival appears in the most horrible form – Harry Khan – brash, good-looking and flashy, the very opposite of Mr Malik.

A competition is cooked up by their fellow birders – whoever can identify the most species of birds in a week wins the right to ask Ms Mbikwa to the dance. What follows is a charming love story (think Alexander McCall Smith) set against the sweeping landscape of Kenya. I have always thought of Africa as dry and hot and empty and while some of this is partly true, A Guide to the Birds of East Africa also shows how gorgeous it must be, a land of wide open skies and teeming with birds and wildlife as well as people from all walks of life. Highly recommended.

Now it’s your turn – what did you read this month?

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat“You have the best kids books!”, exclaimed a library patron with her son in tow. Smiling, I thanked the patron and stole a quick glance of the title in her hand. Javaka Steptoe’s Caldecott award-winning Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat  is as beautiful as you might expect a book about Jean-Michel Basquiat to be. What is particularly unique about this book, in addition to the messages it conveys, is that Steptoe’s illustrations emulate the kind of street art you might find Basquiat himself producing in New York in the 1980s on various organic textures & surfaces. The book itself is a literal work of art.

The dominant message Javaka conveys in this book is simple: imperfection is beauty.  Is this not an important and timeless message that we can and should celebrate and teach? Adults and children alike stand to benefit simply by acknowledging this pure and simple wisdom. Determined to create a masterpiece, the narrator notes that young artist Jean-Michel’s pictures “are sloppy, ugly, and sometimes weird” but they are nonetheless “still beautiful”. I’ll definitely be reading this book to Pebbles, my 8 year-old Blue Heeler dog since I don’t have any human children. I’m a dog mom — does that count? Also, Pebbles embraces the “imperfection is beauty” credo because she likes to rip holes in comforters and knock the trash can over. She gets it.  But in total seriousness, spread the aforementioned important message! (Especially in today’s Black Mirror world in which the bizarre expectation and practice is that the images we project of ourselves on social media are disproportionately perfect, happy, and overflowing with rainbows and unicorns). Let us remember that what is flawed is real. Even more?: what is flawed is beautifully and uniquely human.

Other representations of Jean-Michel Basquiat are also available at Davenport Public Library if you’re interested in learning more about this fascinating and legendary artist! For example, check out the 2002 film entitled Basquiat  that features David Bowie, Gary Oldman, Benecio del Toro and others alongside Jeffrey Wright who plays the unforgettable part of Jean-Michel. (The late great David Bowie, playing the role of the quirky and iconic Andy Warhol easily makes Basquiat one of my absolutely favorite films.) One particular scene in this film perfectly summarizes the idea that imperfection is beauty when Jean-Michel takes a paintbrush to his girlfriend’s new dress because he thought “it needed something”. In short, this film does an excellent job of illustrating 1980s Brooklyn and how Basquiat went being homeless to a wildly successful artist overnight. Sadly, and as is the case with so many inimitable artists of our generation, however, Basquiat struggled with a drug addiction that would derail him and his career.  What Basquiat left behind–his legacy–is far greater and more memorable then any of the challenges he endured in his lifetime.

Also amazing? Check out Life Doesn’t Frighten Me, a book of poetry by the amazing Maya Angelou with illustrations by the one and only Jean-Michel Basquiat!

Let’s hit the streets!

Are you ever curious what people are actually reading? If you’re like me, you see all the books that people are checking out from the library or are buying at bookstores and you wonder if they are really reading those books or not. I know that most of the books that I check out just sit on my shelf until I either return them to put another hold on them or I renew them for another 3 weeks of book shelf sitting. It’s a little frustrating.

While I was poking around on the internet one night before bed, I found CoverSpy. CoverSpy is a Tumblr put together by people roaming around New York looking for people reading. These ‘agents’, as they call themselves, wander into bars, parks, subways, and streets to take note of the cover of the books being read and what the person reading looks like. They also have groups in Vancouver, BC, Omaha, Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Montreal, Barcelona, Boston, Chicago, and Washington, DC that do the same.

CoverSpy caught my interest because instead of posting pictures of the people reading, which vaguely creeps me out because it makes me super self-conscious when I read in public, CoverSpy just posts the cover and a little description of the person reading. And it’s not just books adults are reading! It’s coloring books, kid’s books, cookbooks, how-to manuals, etc. Anything that looks like a book or that could be counted as reading material (BESIDES e-readers and magazines) count!

Each post is set up like the one above. I love scrolling through the list because the description of the person reading can get pretty funny.

This website veers away from traditional book recommendation sites that pull their source information from librarians or book reviewers. Instead CoverSpy pulls anonymously from people who are actually out reading in public. If you don’t find your next read on these site, no big deal. At least you were entertained and maybe laughed a bit.

Astronomy Photographer of the Year: Prize-Winning Images by Top Astrophotographers

Take a deep breath – then, open this book. Astronomy Photographer of the Year : Prize-winning Images by Top Astrophotographers will transport you.

Every year since 2009, the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London, England hosts an Astronomy Photographer of the Year Competition. Entries are collected in the spring. Winning exhibitions are displayed at the Royal Observatory September to June. This book is a compilation of the best from the first six years of that contest.

It is hard to believe these images were not captured by the Hubble telescope, but rather by amateur astrophotographers on earth. Flip through the pages of this heavy book and find eyeball-shaped nebula staring back at you from a background of innumerable stars. Feel a shiver as you take in an image of a snowy night with Aurora Borealis coloring the sky in purple and green. Ponder how tiny you are compared to all the galaxies out there. It always fills me with wonder to see images of galaxies and nebulae that resemble eyes or other body parts. I think the one displayed on the cover of this book looks rather like a heart, don’t you?

Some photos, such as the ones tracing the sun’s position in the sky over nearly a year made me wonder aloud, “How did they capture that?!?” The collection is even more remarkable when you consider that some contest entries were submitted by people who have only been practicing astronomy photography less than a year. There are special categories for those who have not entered the competition before, as well as a youth category for ages 15 and younger. You can learn more about the contest at the Royal Museums website.

 

Online Reading Challenge – Halfway Through May

Hello Fellow Traveling Readers!

How is Kenya treating you this month? Because the selection of books about or set in Kenya is pretty slim, probably the hardest part of this challenge is finding a book that interests you. Don’t give up – there are some excellent ones that are well worth the search! (see this post for some suggestions)

Of course, because of the lack of Library Police, there is no rule that says you can’t read a book set in a different African country. Or different country from anywhere for that matter. However, if you’d like to stick with the African continent, there are some amazing books.

Travel to Botswana with any of the titles in the delightful No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith. These fun and charming books follow Mma Precious Ramotswe as she untangles the various problems of her clients with wisdom and humor. Her love of Botswana and its people shines throughout. There’s also a beautifully done television series which originally ran on HBO.

The Congo, with it’s dark history, has inspired some outstanding books including The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, a journey into the African wilderness and the human heart. I would also recommend The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver about a fire-and-brimstone preacher who brings his family to the Congo to be a missionary. The book is elegant and thoughtful and absolutely devastating.

If you want to explore South Africa, there is no better place to start than with Nelson Mandela. Look in the Biography section alphabetical under Mandela for books about this man’s remarkable life. For a classic, try Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton about a black man’s country under white man’s law, written with dignity, courage and love. Or check out the Tannie Maria mysteries by Sally Andrews, set in rural South Africa. The first in the series, Recipes for Love and Murder, is filled with humor, romance and recipes (and a murder!)

What about you? What have you read this month?

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I spend a lot of time reading review journals, magazines, and online blogs about books. This helps me to order the most current books for my sections and keeps me aware of other books that are coming out across the whole library. The Hate U Give came across my radar as a book to recommend to teens about gun violence. Based on all of the talk going around about this book and its relevance to the Black Lives Matter movement, I knew I needed to read The Hate U Give if just to try to understand the power this book has.

The Hate U Give is a MASSIVE New York Times and Amazon bestseller. If the title drives you grammar nerds a little crazy, Thomas has reasons for it. The Hate U Give comes from the acronym THUG LIFE that Tupac Shakar had tattooed across his abdomen. It stands for “The hate u give little infants f**** everybody”. (If you’re offended by that word, I strongly suggest you don’t read this book. It doesn’t shy away from violence and language.) That acronym runs rampant throughout The Hate U Give and the main characters keep returning to it. It’s important. Now let’s get down to what this book is about.

The Hate U Give tells the story of Starr.  By the time she is sixteen, Starr has seen both of her best friends die as a result of gun violence: one by a gang drive-by and the other just recently fatally shot by a cop. Starr was out at a party, something she never does, when shots rang out. She and her friend Khalil took off running to his car. On their way home, they are stopped by the police, pulled over, and Khalil is shot and killed. (Obviously there’s more to the story, but I don’t want to give too many spoilers!) Starr is the only witness to Khalil’s fatal shooting by that police officer. This fact causes her a great deal of agony. Does she speak up? Obviously her parents and the cops know that she witnessed his death, but does she tell her friends? How will she react when the story is plastered all over the news? What will she do if the district attorney contacts her or if the cops want to interview her? Starr wants to stand up for Khalil, but she is afraid. How will she react if people start telling lies about Khalil? She just doesn’t know what to do.

Starr has grown up in the rough area of Garden Heights, but with a solid family backing her up. Her mother works as a nurse in a clinic and desperately wants to move away to protect the family. Her father, known as Big Mav, is a former gang-member who took the fall for King, a notorious gang lord in the community, and spent three years in prison when Starr was younger. Now Big Mav owns the local grocery store and is working to make the community better. Starr doesn’t go to the local high school; instead she goes to Williamson, a private school in a more affluent neighborhood where instead of being a black majority, she’s one of only two black kids in her school. Starr constantly talks about her Williamson self and her Garden Heights self. They’re kept separate and each Starr acts different. Her Williamson friends and her Garden Heights friends hardly ever mix. This is a life that Starr has kind of adjusted to, but the slightest bump to her normal life could cause her world to come crashing down. Khalil’s death rocks her world and Starr soon finds herself and her family the target of the police and King, the local drug lord, as everyone puts pressure on her and intimidates her in order to figure out what really happened the night that Khalil died.

The author, Angie Thomas, began writing in response to the fatal shooting in Oakland, California in 2009 of 22-year-old Oscar Grant. She quickly found the subject too painful, so Thomas set the book aside. After the stories of Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice broke the news, Thomas knew she had to start writing this book again. Thomas had to voice her opinions, had to acknowledge the neighborhood where she grew up, and needed to shine a light on Black Lives Matter. The themes of social justice, opinion, responsibility, existing in two worlds, and violence are so prevalent and deeply explored in this book because Thomas knows what she is talking about. She lived it.

This book has been optioned for a film and is in development. I can only hope that the movie is just as moving as the book was. The movie has the opportunity to further change the world.

Black Irish by Stephan Talty

I have a fascination with serial murderers, the grislier the better. I snatch up books about them as quick as I can, but veer away from television shows because they seem too formulaic and predictable. The books that I have read/listened to recently have all been reliably gritty and suspenseful. I stumbled upon Black Irish by Stephan Talty a week ago and loved it.

Black Irish is delightfully gruesome and mysterious. Absalom ‘Abbie’ Kearney is a detective in South Buffalo. Even though her adoptive father is a revered cop, Abbie is considered to be an outsider in this working-class Irish American area because of her dark hair, druggie mother, mysterious father, Harvard degree, and a myriad of other reasons. Her troubled past makes her current life in South Buffalo difficult as she works to earn the trust and respect of everyone in ‘the County’. The County is full of fiercely secretive citizens who look out for their own and shun outsiders. Digging for the truth or trying to find out about her past is nearly impossible for Abbie without the help from accepted local Irish good-ol’-boy cops and detectives. Because of this, Abbie works even harder to prove herself to be more than capable and worthy of her badge, much to the chagrin of the locals.

When a mangled corpse is found in a local church’s basement, the very church that Abbie herself attended, the County finds itself unnerved. A message seems to sweep through the area. While Abbie is the lead detective on the case and is running the investigation, she finds that other detectives, and more importantly the locals, are taking it upon themselves to solve the case. The code of silence and secrecy that began in Ireland still exists in the County, making Abbie’s search for the killer even more difficult. This secrecy stonewalls her everywhere she goes, even at the Gaelic Club which her father frequents. Shaking down leads is difficult and Abbie soon finds herself receiving vicious threats and warnings.

The killer has a clear signature and with each passing day, Abbie thinks she is getting closer. With more people murdered, Abbie finds this case consuming her. While working to solve these crimes, the killer is slowly circling closer and closer to Abbie, until finally dropping into her life. Abbie is left to dig into her own past, her family’s past, how everything is related to the County, and also how the County’s secrets just may end up destroying everything in which the whole community believes.

This book hooked me from the start. The narrator uses different accents for each character which made them all easy to follow. Stephan Talty has woven a masterful examination into the cone of silence in closed off neighborhoods, even when that code hides dangerous, murderous pasts and people. I greatly enjoyed this book and can’t wait for more.


This book is also available in the following formats:

We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter

We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter is the story of the Kurc family and their experiences  during World War II. This novel is actually the story of her family, and she uses the real names of her grandparents, mother, aunts, uncles and cousins.

I was struck by the similarity of phrase, when reading an account in the April 24th issue of The Dispatch  and The Rock Island Argus  of a speech by Doris Fogel.  During Holocaust Remembrance week,  Ms. Fogel, a Chicago resident who spent years in a Shanghai ghetto during World War II, said: “No one could have foretold the horror and hardship the coming years would bring to millions of Jews and others,” … “Every day, I realized I was one of the lucky ones.”

The Kurcs are from a small town in Poland, and as the war goes on they see their lives and homes disintegrate. Some are forced to live in ghettos and  concentration camps, some are sent to a Siberian gulag. The “luckiest”  is Addy who is living in Paris when the war starts, and he cannot get back home to Poland, and he can’t let them know where he is. Finally, he gets a visa to Brazil. After the war, the Red Cross is able to connect those who survive and the extended family emigrates to Brazil, where Addy can help them rebuild. They’ve lost their homes, identities, friends, belongings, savings, and occupations, but in the end they still have their family and faith.

Survivors were left in limbo after the war. Hunter describes in realistic detail the rules, regulations and laws involved in getting visas, and the rigors and dangers of travel – both during and after the war. I was unfamiliar with the level of atrocity in Poland and how, even after the war, Jews were still  persecuted in Germany.

Hunter personalizes the horror of what so many suffered. It’s hard to comprehend the scope of what happened and how many millions of stories there are that have been lost. The reader gets a small sense of this by following the members of the Kurc family as they, incrementally, have everything taken from them. Another tragedy is losing so many stories – as the last several generations pass away, along with their first-person accounts.