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.

 

 

 

 

Woman of God by James Patterson

As I mentioned in one of my earlier blog posts, I’m slowly making my way through big name authors in adult fiction. There are so many books available to read that I know I will never have time to read them all, so I have been utilizing my driving time by listening to audio books. By doing so, I can listen to one book while I’m driving and read another one when I’m not! Two books at once!

Woman of God by James Patterson was my latest listen. I checked this book out based primarily on the description that I read in OverDrive. The summary listed details the selection of a new Pope in Rome, an occurrence that would normally garner major attention on a normal day, but this time there are rumors that the new Pope could be a woman. This news rocks the world as the woman candidate is not like any other priest in the Catholic Church’s history. Sounds interesting, right? I thought so and then promptly checked it out.

This book made me cry and I’m not talking about little tears escaping from the corner of my eyes. I’m talking about crocodile tears and heartbreak. Woman of God begins with a prologue. Brigid Fitzgerald is rumored to be the new pope, a fact that has led dozens of reporters and thousands of people to descend on her doorstep and her church. She is worried about the safety of her daughter and given her tragic past, Brigid knows that people are capable of anything. Weaving her way through the massive crowds and to her church to do Easter mass, Brigid mentally prepares herself to speak to everyone. Once before her congregation and after her initial talk, a man shouts at her from the crowd. Brigid feels sharp pain across her body and her world goes dark.

The book then flashes back to the beginning of Brigid Fitzgerald’s remarkable adult life. She graduated young from college and headed to the front lines of Sudan to work as a doctor in refugee camps. Working there earned her the adoration of her coworkers and the refugees, but also targeted her as the enemy of many powerful people. The Sudan was the first in a traumatic series of trials that prove to test her faith in humanity and in God at every single turn. Just when her life seems to be going well and God has decided to bless her, Brigid is tested again and again in a number of ways that had me wondering where she even found the strength to get out of bed every day.

Brigid began life as the daughter of drug-addled parents and her childhood was rife with drama. Going to the Sudan and then traveling around the world helping others gives meaning to her life. Brigid’s own convictions and callings differ from those of the mainstream Catholic Church, a fact that puts her at odds with and makes her a target of those who believe adherence to tradition is of utmost importance. Despite the threats and the immense loss she goes through, Brigid is forced to rise above and find a way to rally people behind her, so she doesn’t lose her faith or her life.

I greatly enjoyed this book, even though it made me a bucket of emotions at times. There are so many intricate pieces that fit into making Brigid the woman that she is.  10/10: would recommend.


This book is also available in the following formats:

If Not for You by Debbie Macomber

If Not for You by Debbie Macomber was a delightfully powerful read. Beth Prudhomme has been living under her mother’s thumb in Chicago for the last 25 years. Her mother has decided what she wears, who she dates, where she works, and frankly, Beth is beyond tired of this. After squirreling away money to run away, she finally talks to her father (the more level-headed parent in her family) and he agrees to talk to her mother. Beth’s mother is broken-hearted to find out her daughter wants to move away and to Portland, no less! Portland is where Beth’s aunt Sunshine lives. Sunshine and Beth’s mother don’t get along, the result of a massive fight over thirty years ago. Beth doesn’t know the reason for their fallout as neither sister will discuss it. Nevertheless, Beth decides to move to Portland to restart her life after securing a promise from her mother that she will not contact or visit her for six months after her move. It sounds perfect!

In Portland away from her mother, Beth finally lives the life she wants. She lives close to her aunt in a one bedroom apartment that she is paying for herself by working as a music teacher at a local high school. Through her job, she meets Nichole Nyquist, a teacher who quickly becomes Beth’s friend. The two begin hanging out and Beth quickly finds herself absorbed into Nichole’s family. Nichole decides to set Beth up on a blind date and invites Beth over to dinner where she meets Sam, one of her husband Rocco’s friends. Sam is a tattooed mechanic who is guaranteed to send her severely conservative mother over the edge. He curses, has long hair, and a big bushy beard. Sam and Beth could not be more opposite. Beth has no desire to anger her parents more after her big move away, so she decides to steer clear of Sam. Sam is completely fine with that because the minute he sees Beth, he decides he wants no part of that prissy music teacher. (Kinda obvious where this is going to go, right? I thought so too.)

After their blind date, Beth gets into a horrible car accident and Sam visits her in the hospital at first because Nichole can’t come and because he doesn’t want her to be stuck there alone with no family or friends to visit. Sam soon finds himself unable to stay away, but there are barriers to the two getting together. Sam has massive skeletons in his closet that have proven to be huge trust barriers, Beth’s mom is largely against their relationship, yet the two of them are drawn together. In the end, Sam will have to figure out if he really fits into Beth’s life, whether or not he feels worthy/is wortty of her love. and if he is willing to fight for the two of them to be together.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It wasn’t as fluffy and formulaic as I was expecting, which I really appreciated. Each character had their own separate backstory and concurrent running story that fit in perfectly with Sam and Beth: Sunshine and her art, Beth and her volunteer work, Sam and his past, Sunshine and her sister’s messy separation, Nichole and Rocco’s relationship, and so so much more. I highly recommend this.

(Side note: This book is actually part of Debbie Macomber’s ‘New Beginnings’ series, a fact I didn’t realize until after I read If Not for You. All of these books read perfectly as standalones. I wasn’t left wondering about any plot point in If Not for You, so go ahead and read it by itself.)


This book is also available in the following formats:

They Left Us Everything

They Left Us Everything, Plum Johnson’s account of her parent’s illnesses and deaths, is refreshing in its candor and will resonate with anyone who has gone through something similar. She’s candid, too, about her family.

Plum grew up in Singapore, Virginia, and finally Canada – which was a compromise for her British father and American mother. Her parents spent the ends of their lives in the family home on Lake Ontario. Her mother was from Virginia – her ancestors and cousins were attorney generals and ambassadors. While her mother was exuberant, eccentric, and a writer of letters and a copywriter in her youth, her father was British, reserved, and quite eccentric, as well. Their relationship endured but was volatile and complicated.

Plum and her three brothers all have skills, roles and competencies related to caregiving. Some are hands-on and some help at a distance with financial, legal and real estate matters. Sibling Suppers are mostly supportive and cooperative, but, as she is the oldest, divorced, single, and the daughter, Plum is most directly involved in her parents’ care and the settling of the estate.

Plum sometimes compares her life at 63 with her mother’s relative freedom at the same age.  She details the steps and the incredible energy and patience it takes to do routine tasks – like going to the mall. Just reading the description is exhausting.  “It feels as though the last twenty years have leached out my patience, my empathy, my compassion – the best parts of me- until I feel unrecognizable, a person I don’t like very much.” “Nineteen years, one month, and twenty-six days of eldercare have brought me to my knees.”

The house is as much a character in this book, as her various family members. Plum loves the house and it’s setting by the water, and it’s through the house that she comes to terms with the contradictory feelings she had toward her parents. She is overwhelmed by her parent’s house and it’s contents, but she doesn’t succumb to the temptation to discard and give away their belongings immediately and without thought. She ultimately decides that those items are a curse, but they are also a blessing. “This house I am now slicing apart is theirs – the place that we’d taken for granted would always be here as a backdrop to our lives.” Later, she says, “Now I believe this clearing out is a valuable process – best left to our children. It’s the only way they’ll ever truly come to know us…”

In the end, she acknowledges the truth of what funeral guests tell her: “When your mother dies, you’ll wish you’d asked her some questions.” When it’s too late, she realizes, “Now there are questions I didn’t even know I had.”

 

 

Life Unstyled: How to Embrace Imperfection and Create a Home You Love

If you enjoy perusing images of eclectic home furnishings used in creative ways, have I got a book to recommend to you!  Life Unstyled: How to Embrace Imperfection and Create a Home You Love by Emily Henson is filled with a wealth of full-color photos sharing the unique ideas of homeowners from varying parts of the world.

I like it because it left me with a feeling of validation of what I have always believed at the core: a home need not be a polished display of swanky décor to be great. It can be so much more gratifying to make your space uniquely your own, conforming to your way of being rather than try to live up to a magazine perfect ideal. After all, shouldn’t a home tell a story about the personality and life experiences of its residents?

Another thing I like about this book is that you don’t need an overabundance of time or money to borrow ideas from it and modify or incorporate them into your current living space. True, some of the homes pictured in the book are owned by buyers for textile or furnishings companies. I’m sure that definitely helps them gain access to the goods. But I think you will find that whatever your profession or station in life, there is a spark of an idea waiting inside this book somewhere for you.

If you are reading this blog, you are likely a fan of libraries and books. Let me share two ideas that will delight the book lovers. The first (pictured on the left) is featured in a warehouse-turned-residence in London. The owner has archive shelves (much like the kind used in our very own Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Department.) Here, they are used to divide the bedroom and the kitchen. They store everything from clothing to kitchen crockery and everything in between. You can see from the photo that the metal panels on the side are employed to display lots of pictures and artwork. Feel free to fall in love with this idea like I did,  just don’t ask me how to get rolling archive shelves into your home!

The second idea for book lovers is the vertical shelf featured in a bedroom (below). It looks like a floor-to-ceiling stack of books, but there are shelves in the middle of it all keeping it (hopefully) stable. This idea could be done relatively easily and cheaply in a variety of ways. Your imagination (and ceiling) would be the limit.

Happy home decorating! I’ll leave you with this quote: “The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”
― Maya Angelou, All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes

Question: Is the Movie Ever Better Than the Book?

Here’s the question – Have you ever thought that a movie was better than the book it was based on?

This question is a little unfair – comparing books and movies is like comparing apples and oranges. They are very different media with very different user experiences; a 2-3 hour movie cannot possible capture the nuance of emotion or inner dialogue that a book can. Nor can a book show you sweeping vistas in full color (especially if it’s a landscape you’ve never experienced)

Most people would claim, strongly, that the book was better and for the most part, I agree. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy many of the movies based on books – movies have their own kind of magic and can often enhance the overall experience.

But there are some exceptions. A quick internet search brings up several articles with “better than the book” lists including these from Buzzfeed,  Bustle,  Hollywood.com,  and Purewow

It’s interesting to note that while there are some differences, most of the lists tend to agree on several titles including Forrest Gump, The Godfather, The Notebook, Jaws, The Princess Bride, Fight Club and Jurassic Park. This is often due to the creativity and vision of the director, or to careful editing of the original source material. It’s also enlightening to note that most of the books that these movies were based on were not hugely popular successes on their own, but considered fair to middling.

As for movies that enhance the book without insulting it, I would include movies such as the Harry Potter series, the Lord of the Rings movies and Master and Commander. And as much as I love to read Jane Austen, some of the Jane Austen adaptations are some of my favorite movies of all (I especially love the Emma Thompson version of Sense and Sensibility and the PBS version of Emma) In all of these cases, the beautiful settings, costumes and music contribute to and expand well-loved stories. (Although I still prefer the book!)

What about you – have you ever thought the movie was better than the book? Or thought that the movie caught the spirit of the book especially well? Tell us what you think!