Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

We all remember the “March of Progress” poster from grade school science class, used to illustrate the  straight-line evolution of Homo sapiens from our ancient ancestors. From Australopithecus  to Homo habilius and then to the assumed apex of human evolution – us. But what if evolution wasn’t a straight line? What if suddenly, somehow, it doubled-back on itself, returning our species to our most ancient origins?

It is in this speculative world that Louise Erdrich’s latest novel Future Home of the Living God is set. Taking place in an unspecified time in the near future, the novel is presented as the journal of 26 year-old Cedar Hawk Songmaker, written to her unborn child. Cedar, the adopted daughter of liberal Minnesota parents, finding herself pregnant, is compelled to seek out her Ojibwe birth parents, ostensibly to discover any genetic problems that might affect her baby, and in a larger sense, to find her own identity. This familiar journey of personal discovery is set against a tumultuous time in which the future of the earth is gravely in doubt as evolution appears to be running backward. Plants and animals are born “wrong,” throwbacks to their genetic ancestors. Human babies and their mothers are dying at an alarming rate, and those infants that do survive are abnormal, with characteristics more similar to our genetic ancestors. The planet is heating up, with harsh Minnesota winters a fond, distant memory, and political chaos is rampant. Soon, pregnant women are encouraged, then forced, into “unborn protective centers” – prisons, really – and a “womb draft” is instated. As Cedar’s pregnancy progresses, she confesses to her baby that she isn’t sure if he (and she is sure it is a he) will have the ability to read the journal that she is writing, if he survives at all. Cedar soon becomes a fugitive, then a prisoner, then fugitive again, seeking sanctuary with her birth family with the help of her adoptive parents.

If this all sounds strikingly familiar to The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, you would be correct. In her author’s notes, Erdrich writes that she began the novel in 2002, then set it aside,  picking it up again after the most recent election. Future Home of the Living God is Erdrich’s first speculative fiction book, but still closely shares the Native American culture she has explored in her past works. The premise of backwards evolution and how it might bring the end of civilization is compelling – it’s what interested me in the book in the first place – and it reads like a thriller (I read it all in one sitting). But at a slim 267 pages, it reads almost too fast, with not nearly enough time spent exploring the circumstances of the world it is set in, the stories of Cedar’s families, or her baby’s father. Since the story is told in the form of a journal, which does lend an intimacy to the narrative, many things go unsaid, or dropped entirely. Even the mystery of Cedar’s birth and adoption – the revelation of which is emotionally catastrophic for her – is quickly dropped to move onto the next crisis. At a few points, I thought that the plot was going in one direction, and then, disappointingly, found it dropped. Perhaps my expectations were overly influenced by my usual science fiction preferences. Some the misdirections reminded me of the short story “Before” by Carolyn Dunn (contained in the excellent collection After edited by Ellen Datlow) an end-of-the-world tale of a plague that leaves only those with Native American ancestors alive. But, that is not the case here.

Which isn’t to say the novel isn’t an exciting and interesting read. There are thoughtful explorations of faith (Cedar is a recent convert to Catholicism), the origin and evolution of our species, how and why we became human, and the consequences of ignoring and abusing our environment and each other, all alongside Cedar’s journey into motherhood and her birth family. The ending might come abruptly, but it is well worth the journey.

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

You either love or hate John Green. There’s just no other way around it. I’m firmly in the ‘love John Green’ camp and as a result, I had been anxiously awaiting the release of his newest book, Turtles All the Way Down. He spent a good chunk of time writing this book and when press started to talk about it, I knew I would relate to the character.

Sixteen-year-old Aza has a lot going on in her life. The father of one of her childhood friends has disappeared. That would generate fuss in the community anyway, but add in the fact that the disappeared parent is a fugitive from the law and the craziness begins to snowball. Russell Pickett is a fugitive billionaire and has completely disappeared leaving the community and, more importantly, his two orphaned sons wondering where he is. When a $100,000 reward is offered, Aza and her best friend, Daisy, decide to try to figure out what happened to him. Aza used to be friends with Russell Pickett’s son, Davis, something that Daisy decides is a good omen. Aza is left to try to bridge the gap between herself and Davis.

Aza finds herself doing a lot of trying in life now. Her father died when she was younger, leaving Aza and her mom to try to cope without him. Aza is trying to be so many different things that she feels like she has lost sight of who her real self is. She is trying to be a good friend, a good student, a good daughter, but her mind never lets her be. Aza is contantly caught in a spiral of her own thoughts that gets tighter and tighter the more she tries to ignore it. Until she acknowledges these thoughts, Aza’s mind and body control her. She can’t escape. The distraction that the disappearance of Russell Pickett provides gives Aza a new escape and reintroduces herself to his son, Davis. Aza, Davis, and Daisy form a complicated friend group and Aza spends a great deal of time worrying over herself.

Turtles All the Way Down is a fascinating glimpse into the life of a teenager trying to make it through life. Aza is constantly battling the voices in her head and the spiral that threatens to overwhelm her. She knows that what she is told to do in her mind is usually wrong, but unless she listens, Aza knows she will be unable to function. This book looks deeply into mental health, resilience, the power of all types of friendship, and how love tries to reach us all. Give it a read and let me know what you think.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Keep track of those books! Try Goodreads

The holiday season is here and you are probably going to be interacting with friends and family at gatherings. A popular topic of conversation is books. Well, books always becomes the topic after I mention that I am a librarian. “Oh, it must be nice to sit around and read all day”. Sadly, we don’t get to sit and read all day either. But I do like talking about books! However, I cannot always remember the author or title of a book that I read that I want to recommend to someone.

So what do I do?

Thankfully, there is an app for that. I like to use Goodreads. And if you don’t like squinting at your phone, check out their website. Goodreads is my favorite app/website. It helps me keep track of what I have read. If I find a new author I like, I can search Goodreads for all of their works. Best of all, while I am searching new titles, I can see what other Goodreads users ranked and reviewed a book. So if I see that a book has a low rating, I might put it in my “To-Read” list on the site instead. While you are comparing books at that holiday gathering, you can add those interesting sounding titles to your “To-Read” list on your phone so you don’t forget them later.

Goodreads is not just a site of lists of books and authors. It is social site that allows you to interact with other people. You can see what your friends have read or want to read. You can compare your lists with their lists, see how your rankings compare and read their reviews. There is a news feed that shows you what your friends just added to their list or what book they just finished. Goodreads now offers a personal reading challenge that keeps track of how many books you have read during the year. Also, Goodreads users vote on their favorite books at the end of the year.

Hopefully I have given you a reason to join Goodreads. It is a fun way to keep track of what you have read and interact with your friends. It is great tool for helping you find new books and authors to read as well. When you are at those family gatherings, it will be much easier to add that recommended book on your Goodreads app then to try to remember the book title (and forget it later).

 

 

The Child by Fiona Barton

In The Child by Fiona Barton, Barton weaves a twisting tale of psychological suspense that will rip through your senses as you try to figure out what is happening. Have you ever wondered what happens when old houses are demolished? What if they discover something hidden in the ground? Hidden in the walls? What of the secrets that are uncovered?

The Child begins with the discovery of a tiny skeleton during the demolition of an old house in London. Journalist Kate Waters stumbles upon this story and decides to dig deeper into what happened to the child. Piecing together what information she can gather, Waters is continuously left with more and more questions with the chief one being: who is the building site baby? Forced to work with a young male intern, Kate is able to convince her boss, Terry, that she needs to investigate.

Angela is a grieving mother who is struggling to comes to terms with a devastating event that tore her family apart almost forty years ago. Her family is trying to help Angela move on with her life, but they are just as torn up as she is.

Emma is a young wife who is going through some major anxiety. She is having trouble just living her life, much to the chagrin of her husband who is trying to help her however he can. Emma’s issues seem to stem from her past. She was raised by her single mother, Jude. The two have a strained relationship that will leave readers wondering what exactly happened between the two to cause such dislike.

Angela, Emma, and Jude all have some interest in the building site baby. Kate’s investigation into what happened to the baby elicits a different reaction from each woman. Kate finds herself going back to the building site and visiting each house to try to track down someone who knows something about the baby. The more she investigates, the more secrets and connections Kate digs up. Kate finds herself becoming a keeper of Angela, Emma, and Jude’s secrets. Her journey to find out what happened to the building site baby evolves into a much larger conspiracy that consumes Kate’s life, but leaves her hesitant about what she can and cannot disclose to the authorities.


This book is also available in the following formats:

The Rooster Bar by John Grisham

John Grisham is the king of legal thrillers. I always know whenever I pick up one of his books, I am going to be introduced to another part of the legal system that I had no idea existed.  I recently finished listening to The Rooster Bar, Grisham’s latest. Grisham dives into the gritty world of law schools, student loans, and financial scams. Speaking as someone who still has a pretty good chunk of student loan debt, I found the premise of this book to be interesting.

The Rooster Bar by John Grisham is a legal suspense thriller that is packed full of crime. Mark, Todd, and Zola are all third-year law students at Foggy Bottom Law School. All three decided to go to law school to try to change the world, but now that they are in their third year, Mark, Todd, and Zola have realized that they have been scammed. Only one of them has a job lined up and it’s not in the best law firm. His job is contingent on passing the bar exam, something that only 50% of Foggy Bottom Law School students do. The job market is a mess anyway, at least for FBLS graduates. With student loan collectors hounding them, Mark, Todd, and Zola realize that they have hundreds of thousands in debt, no solid job prospects, and a soon-to-be worthless degree from a third-tier, for-profit law school. Things are bleak.

When another one of their friends hits his breaking point, Mark, Todd, and Zola realize that their school is part of chain owned by a hedge-fund operator out of New York who ALSO owns a bank that specializes in student loans. That school is shady! This whole situation reeks of a scam and the friends decide they have to do something about it. Mark, Zola, and Todd name their situation The Great Law School Scam and try to figure out a way to expose it.

Mark and Todd slowly come up with a plan to get rid of their massive debt, expose everything, and maybe make some money to survive. They decide that continuing to go to Foggy Bottom Law School is a complete waste of time. Why not just stop going?! After all, what’s the worst that could happen?? The Rooster Bar is an examination of Mark, Todd, and Zola’s life decisions and what happens when they decide to actually take their lives into their own hands. It’s a good read. You should check it out.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Now Departing for: New York City

Hello Fellow Readers!

One last journey in our 2017 Online Reading Challenge! This month we’re headed for New York City, equal parts glamorous and gritty. You’re sure to find something fabulous to read (or watch)

There is no shortage of books set in New York City. In fact, there’s almost too many – an embarrassment of riches. From classic, to modern classic to brand new there is something fabulous to read. And to watch! All kinds of movies and tv shows are set in New York City. Let’s take a look at each category.

Classic: Edith Wharton reigns supreme here with her scathing observations of the upper class society including The Age of Innocence. Or turn to Dashiell Hammett’s witty The Thin Man about the detective work of Nick and Nora Charles (the movies are also delightful). This would also be a great month to read Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, at turns poignant and moving about a girl’s coming-of-age at the turn of the last century.

Modern Classic (as defined by me!):  The Godfather by Mario Puzo about a New York mob family (a rare case where the movie is almost as good as the book). Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote (again, the movie is great and well worth watching just for Audrey Hepburn alone but be warned – the ending in the movie is very different from the ending in the book). Bonfire of the Vanities by Thomas Wolfe, a brilliant satire of the 1980s culture of greed.

New: Lillian Boxfish Takes of Walk by Kathleen Rooney trails along with Lillian as she walks through her beloved city, reminising about her life. The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberg is a sharp, often hilarious look at the fashion industry, Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay follows two young boys who unite to create a comics empire in mid-century America.

Feeling Christmasy? From the arrival of Santa in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, to the dropping of the ball at Times Square on New Year’s Eve, New York City is the very definition of a big-city Christmas. Get your holiday fix with Debbie Macomber’s Call Me Mrs Miracle or Anne Perry’s A New York Christmas among others.

I’m reading The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis which takes place at the Barbizon Hotel, switching between 1952 and the present day. There’s a mysterious death and lots of intrigue as well as some sharp societal observations. So far, so good!

There are lots more New York City titles – so many more! Stop by any of our locations and check out the displays – we’ll have books and movies (so many movies!) to help you find a great read (or viewing!). And watch this space for news about the 2018 Online Reading Challenge – it’s going to be an exciting year of reading!

Now Arriving from : St. Petersburg

We’re back from our book-ish trip to St. Petersburg and the surrounding area – how was your adventure? Did you find something new and intriguing? Any Russian novels that are light and happy? Yeah, I didn’t hold out much hope for that last one!

I went with watching a movie this month and I chose the recent production of Anna Karenina starring Keira Knightley and Jude Law. I have to admit, I’ve never read Anna Karenina (#badlibrarian) but maybe that helped. I watched with no expectations (well, it’s from Russian literature – I knew it was going to be dark and depressing) and, while I disliked the story line, I found the movie to be both beautiful and interesting.

In case you don’t know the story, here’s a quick rundown. Set in Imperial Russia during the late-1800s, Anna is a young woman who has nearly everything – wealth, status, a beloved child. What she does not have, but doesn’t realize she’s missing, is a passionate marriage. When she meets cavalry officer Count Vronsky, sparks fly and they begin an intense affair. When the affair is publicly acknowledged, the scandal has far-reaching effects on everyone around them.

My objection to the story is how Anna is treated (which was most likely typical for this time period). Two people take part in the affair, but when it is revealed it is Anna that suffers the most. The Count is married off – willingly it seems – to a princess. Anna’s husband, cold and dull, gains sympathy and custody of the children (Anna has a daughter with the Count). Anna, however, is not allowed to see her children, is shunned by society, divorced by her husband and abandoned for another woman by her lover. Plus, it’s very cold all the time. No wonder she does what she does. There is also some commentary on the excessive wealth of the upper class versus the simpler lives of the peasants – a hint of the social unrest that Russia will soon face, but it is not fully explored (in this version of the book).

The movie itself is quite beautiful – the costumes and jewels are stunning, with lots of sumptuous furs and dark, rich colors. The production is shown as if you were watching it in a theater, albeit a theater with spectacular, moving, multi-level sets. The movements of the actors are also very theatrical, with lots of hand waving and synchronized standing and walking and sitting. Plus, there is the strangest, arm-waviest waltz I’ve ever seen. I may not have appreciated the story, but it was a fascinating movie to watch.

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

Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane

Conspiracy theories run amuck in Dennis Lehane’s Since We Fell. This piece of psychological fiction will pull your mind taunt with the heart-breaking, suspenseful story of a woman struggling to find herself while her life falls to shambles around her.

Since We Fell tells the story of Rachel Childs’ journey to find herself again after she has a mental breakdown on air while working as a journalist. Obviously many stressors piled up to lead to Rachel’s breakdown and watching Lehane plot out Rachel’s demise is fascinating. Readers are privy to Rachel’s close examination of her life and how she ended up where she is today.

Rachel’s childhood was fraught with turmoil. She was raised by Elizabeth Childs, a self-help author with a Ph.D. who spent her days criticizing Rachel and left her life as damaged as she could. Elizabeth relished in the fact that only she knew the true identity of Rachel’s father while Rachel was left wondering continuously who her father could be. The fact that her mother kept her father’s identity such a secret from her left Rachel missing a part of her identity and determined to do whatever necessary to find her biological father.

Rachel’s relationship with men is a testy one, yet she always finds herself looking for the good in them. Enter in Sebastian and Brian. Both men pop up at important moments in Rachel’s life. Sebastian is a producer at the TV station where Rachel works. Brian is a man that Rachel knows casually, a man that Rachel tried to enlist to help find her father. Both Sebastian and Brian propel Rachel forward and drag her back in life. They add both positivity and negativity to her life.

Rachel finally feels like she has everything under control filled with a loving husband and a worthwhile career. After she has her on-air meltdown however, Rachel becomes a shut-in and life becomes significantly more difficult. One rainy day while out of her apartment, Rachel has an encounter that drastically changes her life. She soon finds herself questioning everything. Rachel’s life starts to unravel and she can’t pull herself out of the conspiracy that she finds herself thoroughly enmeshed in. Dealing with her mental breakdown and subsequent psychological issues, Rachel has to work to discover what is actually true despite all of the madness, deception, and violence that continuously rock her life.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Class Mom by Laurie Gelman

Have you ever been a class mom? These women(or men) serve as the teacher’s right hand person and handle a lot of the grunt work. My mom was a class mom multiple times for both myself and my younger siblings. I remember her organizing parties, meeting with teachers, volunteering in my classrooms, and organizing events for me all throughout school. She was always busy and I thought she pulled everything together effortlessly. When I was looking for a new book to read and saw Class Mom by Laurie Gelman in the catalog, I decided to give it a try because I was feeling nostalgic about all the work that my mom put in to my classrooms when I was younger.

Class Mom by Laurie Gelman is a hilarious romp into the life of Jen Dixon. Jen is married to Ron, who she continuously refers to as her ‘first husband’ much to his annoyance. Jen and Ron have an adorable five-year-old son named Max who is just starting kindergarten. Jen is not new to the school system as she has two older daughters, by two different men, who are now in college. Jen had a lively youth following bands around the country and the world. Her two daughters were born as a result of her carefree younger days. Jen raised her two daughters with some help from her parents and when she met Ron, her life seemed to fall together pretty perfectly.

Now that Max is starting kindergarten, Jen finds herself being prodded into becoming class mom for Max’s class. Nina, the PTA president and Jen’s best friend, keeps telling Jen that the new parents have a lot to learn from Jen’s expertise and experience. Jen thinks that’s all baloney and it’s just because she’s older than the other parents that Nina is asking her to be class mom. Regardless of those factors, Jen soon finds herself as the class mom to Ms. Ward’s new class of kindergarteners!

Jen’s tenure as class mom is full of hilarity, snarkiness, offensive, and uproariously funny emails and interactions. She holds nothing back in her emails to the other class parents and is sure to note specific response times to her requests. Jen is responsible for assigning conference times, finding field-trip volunteers, and doing whatever the teacher Ms. Ward wants her to do.  She soon finds herself as the middle-man between Ms. Ward and the other class parents. The interactions between Jen and everyone at Max’s school are ripe with hilarity from Max’s supersexy kindergarten teacher who has a very odd way of running her classroom, an old flame of Jen’s popping up as one of the parents of another student, a mother whose son is severely allergic to almost everything, and two moms who Jen can never seem to tell apart! Outside of Jen’s interactions at Max’s school, Jen herself is struggling to get in shape to do a mud run to make up for last year’s disastrous attempt, trying to figure out what’s going on with her two older daughters, and working to keep her relationship solid with her husband. This book was very entertaining. Definitely recommended.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Davenport Public Library will be closed on Thursday, November 23 and Friday, November 24 in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday. All three of our locations – Main (321 Main Street), Fairmount (3000 Fairmount Street) and Eastern (6000 Eastern Avenue) will reopen with regular business hours of 9am to 5:30pm on Saturday, November 25.

Have a safe and happy Holiday!

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