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.

 

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.”

 

 

Little People, Big Dreams

I happened upon a charming series of books for children called Little People, Big Dreams. (Not to be confused with the TV series Little People, Big World.) These are picture book biographies of notable figures from different parts of history. I loved reading them and learning more about the protagonists along with my children. The depictions of the heroines are captivating and, although they do not all have the same author and illustrator, they share an endearing similarity in style – large, round faces and colorful attire and settings.

I first read Frida Kahlo to my kindergartener. He came up with so many follow-up questions, I soon realized I didn’t know as much about this famous artist as I would like. I mentioned this to a friend and she insisted I should see the 2002 film Frida starring Salma Hayek as the title character and Alfred Molina as Diego Rivera. I did (alone), and enjoyed the sensual interpretation of the artist’s life.

Then an idea occurred to me. Wouldn’t it be nice to read a bedtime story for the kids and after they are fast asleep, read or watch something more adult on the topic? You know how a wine will sometimes be suggested that pairs well with your food? Couldn’t we do that with the books we read, as well? With that thought in mind, here are some recommendations you might want to try.

In Maya Angelou, author Lisbeth Kaiser and illustrator Leire Salaberria present to children the difficult topics of racism, domestic and sexual abuse, and mental health sensitively. Don’t let the fact that this book covers a difficult childhood deter you from reading aloud to your little ones what is a very inspiring story. Angelou’s story is, ultimately, one of hope. Most of us are aware of Angelou’s prolific career as a writer and civil rights activist, but how many knew her as a cook, streetcar conductor, dancer, singer, and world traveler? Share this inimitable woman’s story with the children in your life. Then on your own, read her classic I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings if you haven’t already done so (or even if you have, it may be time for a re-read). Also, listen to Angelou read her poetry in the book on CD entitled Black Pearls: The Poetry of Maya Angelou. I’d recommend the kids not be within listening range of this one, as there are vulgarities in it.

 

I will be the first to admit I am not a couture kind of gal (my style would more aptly be described as thrift store eclectic). Still, I enjoyed learning about Coco Chanel in the book written by Isabel Sanchez Vegara and illustrated by Ana Albero. Tired of seeing her contemporaries unable to breathe in their tight corsets, she designed clothing that was looser and easier to wear while dancing. She also designed hats and, of course, let’s not forget about the perfume. For more on the life of the woman once known as Gabrielle Chanel, you may wish to check out the 139-minute DVD Coco Chanel, a 2008 made-for-TV movie starring Barbora Bobulova as the young Chanel and Shirley MacLaine as old Chanel. You may also enjoy the coffee table style book Chanel: Collections and Creations by Daniele Bott. With 159 illustrations, it goes into delightful detail on Coco’s unique styles. My favorite was the chapter on the Camellia flower, which is pictured on the cover. Other chapters detail ‘The Suit’, ‘Jewelry’, ‘Fragrance & Beauty’, and ‘The Black Dress.’

All the suggested children’s books are from the Little People, Big Dreams series.There are more books in this series and you can find all the ones the library owns by doing a series search for Little People Big Dreams. If you have favorite books or movies that you think go together like Chardonnay and Gruyere, please let us know.

 

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan is a fascinating glimpse into the homefront of World War II England. Set in a village in Kent, this focuses on the women who maintain their communities, families, and the war effort after their sons and husbands have joined the military services. I didn’t realize how real the fear was that the Nazis were going to arrive on English soil – people near the coast really began to feel that an invasion was imminent. I also didn’t comprehend the extent of the damage  outside of London  during the Battle of Britain. We’re so used to seeing the rubble of London, that we forget the impact on the countryside.

Several women of Chilbury describe their fears and the strength they gather from each other and from singing together; we read their first-hand accounts through letters and diary entries. At first, they seem to be stock English characters, but they begin to show their complexity as the war and tragedy change them.  Venetia Winthrop was particularly interesting, I thought. At the start of the novel and the war, she’s vain, selfish, and revels in her power over men. As she suffers pain and loss, she becomes more a more generous sister and friend. Not only are the accounts from the point of view of women, but we see them become stronger and more independent. They find their voices both musically (the power of music is movingly conveyed by Ryan), and in their ability to stand up for themselves and for other women.

Not everyone is admirable; there are men and women behaving badly, sometimes criminally, but, overall, there is a sense of hope, and satisfaction is watching a community and country support each other.

Keeping Track

Hey Everyone!

Question for you: Do you keep a record of the books you read? If yes, how do you keep track – in a journal or notebook? In a spreadsheet or google doc? Or do you use an online service such as goodreads or LibraryThing? Or do you just live on the edge and hope you’ll remember?

When I was little I would keep track of titles on paper (and, of course, with reading logs from my local public library’s summer reading program), and I have taken a stab at keeping track every once in awhile since then, but mostly I’m pretty bad at doing this consistently. And, quite frankly, most of the lists I did keep were just that – lists, with no hint of what the book was about or if I liked it or not. Boy, I wish I had a list of everything I’ve read though – it’d be fun to see how my tastes changed and remember old favorites.

One way to keep track of your reading is with goodreads a free, online service. With goodreads you can list books that you’ve read or are in the midst of reading or would like to read someday. You can also see what your friends are reading and get recommendations based on titles you’ve read and liked. There’s a rating system and room to write your own review. One of the great things about it is that it isn’t just a list of titles, there is also a summary of what the book is about (as well as a picture of the book cover!) right at your fingertips, ready to jog your memory. There’s even a goodreads app for your phone so your list is always handy and easy to update.

If you’re already using goodreads, or if you join, be sure to request the Davenport Public Library as a friend (we’ll friend you right back!) AND – special bonus – our Online Reading Challenge now has a book club listing on goodreads! Join the “Read the World 2017” book group and you can list the books that you’ve read each month for the challenge, see what others are reading and talk about what you liked (or didn’t like!) in the forums. Hope to see you there!