Robert Hellenga’s latest is told from the point of view of Gabe Johnson, the last in a line of booksellers. His grandfather and father operated a Chicago institution, Chas. Johnson & Sons, a bookstore and rare book dealer. If you’re interested in learning arcane details about the physical book – such as binding, end papers, foxing, plates, tooling and watermarks – Love, Death & Rare Books is for you. As is usual with Hellenga’s books, there are a lot of references to the classics. Erudite throwaways about French literature, Native American rarities, sailing, shipping, the Great Lakes and philosophy abound.
The first part of the book is set in Chicago – from mid-century to the early 2000’s, when independent bookstores were battling chains and then online sellers. It ends on the shores of Lake Michigan, where Gabe starts over in a new venture, adapting to a new way of selling books, a new part of the country, an idiosyncratic house and its previous owner. Throughout, there is rich evocation of the natural world, geographical landmarks, businesses and neighborhoods.
Hellenga is from Galesburg, and it’s fun to pick up on references you’d recognize if you lived in central Illinois, or the Quad Cities. A coffee shop in the town where Gabe eventually settles is named after “Innkeeper’s” (a marvelous cafe and store in Galesburg), and a municipal worker in Gabe’s new town embezzles city funds so she can buy expensive, purebred horses, not unlike a similar occurrence in Dixon.
There are always many layers and levels of enjoyment to be found in Hellenga’s novels, and this one certainly follows in that tradition.
Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine has announced a new book pick! Every month, Reese picks out a book that she loves to share with her book club. All of the books that she chooses have a woman at the center of the story. Since the launch of this book club in 2017, Reese has hand-picked over 35 books for her community to read.
Her May pick is The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi. For more information about what the book is about, check out the blurb below provided by the publisher.
Escaping from an arranged and abusive marriage, seventeen-year-old Lakshmi makes her way alone from her 1950s rural village to the vibrant pink city of Jaipur. There she becomes the henna artist—and confidante—most in demand to the wealthy women of the upper class. But trusted with the secrets of the wealthy, she can never reveal her own…
Known for her original designs and sage advice, Lakshmi must tread carefully to avoid the jealous gossips who could ruin her reputation and her livelihood. As she pursues her dream of an independent life, she is startled one day when she is confronted by her husband, who has tracked her down these many years later with a high-spirited young girl in tow—a sister Lakshmi never knew she had. Suddenly the caution that she has carefully cultivated as protection is threatened. Still she perseveres, applying her talents and lifting up those that surround her as she does.
Vivid and compelling in its portrait of one woman’s struggle for fulfillment in a society pivoting between the traditional and the modern, The Henna Artist opens a door into a world that is at once lush and fascinating, stark and cruel.
Want to make sure that you don’t miss any of Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine book club picks? Join our Best Sellers Club and have her picks automatically put on hold for you when they are announced every month.
This book is also available in the following formats:
I want to tell you about an app that could be useful to you as you spend more time outdoors. This free app is called PlantFinder and I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. I have it downloaded on my Android phone from the Google Play store but according to a search I did today on the Apple app store, it is also available for Apple products. Since it is free it does have ads, but you can pay a small subscription fee to avoid the ads if you prefer. The ads pop up after you take a photo of a plant and before it loads the results that display the plant’s name and identifying information. I try to remember to turn my phone’s volume down, otherwise it can be quite intrusive during a quiet nature walk.
I have used PlantFinder to successfully identify plants I see while walking trails. Sadly, many of them were invasive species. Examples from a recent outing include honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum), wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata), and creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea). The results aren’t always as specific as I would like. For instance, I was hoping to refresh my memory on what variety of apple tree is growing in my back yard, but PlantFinder could only tell me that it is an “Apple tree,” rather than confirm if it was Honeycrisp or Zestar. I suppose that is only fair, as the fruit hasn’t even appeared yet. I have a Japanese dappled willow (Salix integra) in my front yard and when I snapped a photo of it to test it out on the app, it came back with the result, “Grey willow,” (Salix atrocinerea). Those are not exactly the same things, but it at least got the genus right. Sometimes, though rarely, PlantFinder can get it wrong. For instance, it thought my rose bush was a buckthorn. Perhaps when it blooms I’ll take another photo and get better results. Overall, however, I have been very pleased. It keeps a record of the photos, dates, plant names and details of what you have previously looked up. Access it by tapping “My Plants.” It also offers a “Plant Care” section that will help you keep track of watering & fertilizing frequency for the plants you cultivate at home.
In my opinion, the real test of usefulness is if it it can successfully identify poison ivy, which it did when I sought out and (fortunately? unfortunately?) found a rarer variety called Western Poison Ivy. I wondered if it would show a bright word of caution on the results page for plants like poison ivy that can cause rashes or allergic reactions, but it did not. So although it can successfully identify poison ivy, you still have to be reasonably savvy when you’re out there and take care not to touch any of the wild plants as you are taking photographs.
I would love to hear your comments if you decide to try this app after reading this, or if you are already familiar with it share your experiences. Have fun out there and stay safe!
Practice social distancing with us and join our Virtual Book Club this Wednesday, May 20th at 2pm, to discuss The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. We discuss a new book every week! Information about how to join the book club is listed further down in this post.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is a riveting read. Curious what this book is about? Check out the description from the publisher below:
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.
This book is available in the following formats:
The Hate U Give is also available as a movie in two formats: DVD and blu-ray.
Virtual Book Club
Wed, May 20, 2020 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM (CDT)
Please join my meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone.
Access Code: 147-920-589
You can also dial in using your phone.
(For supported devices, tap a one-touch number below to join instantly.)
United States: +1 (571) 317-3122
– One-touch: tel:+15713173122,,147920589#
New to GoToMeeting? Get the app now and be ready when your first meeting starts: https://global.gotomeeting.com/install/147920589
Despite living in the Quad Cities nearly 20 years I have only a rudimentary knowledge of local jazz legend Bix Beiderbecke. I feel like I am missing out on an important part of local lore.
In the graphic biography Bix by Scott Chantler, the musician’s story is illustrated rather than told. With the use of wordless, static, straight panels we get a sense of Bix’s confining young life when in school and interacting with his parents, particularly his father. As a reader, I can feel the panels trying to fit him into a box, making me feel claustrophobic for the protagonist. Finally the panels begin to float and dance on the page whenever music is in the scene — whether hearing it pass on a riverboat, trying the trumpet for the first time or upon entering a Chicago jazz club.
Once Bix makes the decision to leave Iowa and dedicate his career to music he leads a life typical of young adults: work, good times, and romance. Just when I started to think of Bix as a nice guy who got swept up in talent and fame come scenes that show an in-demand, cocky musician willing to lie and manipulate. In this graphic biography, we don’t hear Bix speak until this part of the book — about a third of the way through. His first conversation? A lie he tells his girlfriend. Bix becomes difficult to work with and unreliable. Static panels return to show drinking as a default reaction to everything — both good and bad. As his drinking spiraled out of control, my heart broke for the lost talent.
I was pleased to catch the familiar scenes of Davenport in the early pages. It took me the better part of an afternoon to read, but the time was spent getting a better sense of of who Bix was beyond his connection to the Quad-Cities. The life of Bix Beiderbecke doesn’t fit neatly into a box. He wasn’t just a ground-breaking, successful jazz soloist. He wasn’t just a wide-eyed innocent guy in over his head. This graphic novel treats its subject with compassion and care while not forgiving him for his self-destructive behavior. Through artful storytelling I have a better understanding of Bix’s multilayered life.
Bix is available on Overdrive as well as physical format.
How is your reading going so far this month? It’s a crazy time so you wouldn’t be blamed if your usual reading habits have veered off course. Maybe a movie or documentary would appeal to you? Here are some to look for that center on spies, real and imagined.
Since access to the library and our collections is still limited, let’s started with a couple of free online services that we offer! First up is Acorn TV which is a treasure trove of British and foreign television series and films. Here you’ll find the documentary David Janson’s Secret Service that examines the real-life versions of some of Ian Fleming’s most iconic characters – “M”, “Q” and James Bond himself. Another documentary available on Acorn TV is The Spy Who Went Into the Cold about the devastating betrayal of top MI-6 official Kim Philby and his defection to the USSR in 1963.
A service just added to the Library’s digital content line-up is IndieFlix an eclectic mix of independent shorts, documentaries and feature films. You’ll find lots of classics including the brilliant Notorious staring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman about a woman asked to spy on a group of Nazi’s living in South America. Or check out British Intelligence starring Boris Karloff about German spies placed in the home of a high-ranking British official during World War I.
At this time the Library is planning on reopening the drive-up window at Fairmount beginning on May 18. There will be strict guidelines to follow to protect both patrons and staff, but you should be able to start picking up reserves again. Fill your “spy” section of the Online Reading Club with a James Bond film like Skyfall or something humorous like The Kingsmen or The Spy Who Dumped Me. If you’re in the mood for bingeing a television series, try Turn: Washington’s Spies about spies during the Revolutionary War or The Americans about Russian double agents living in the United States.
Turn the tables on your doctors and give them an examination! We are pleased to announce that within our ReferenceUSA product you’ll now find a new sub-database called U. S. Healthcare, which allows you to obtain information about your doctor’s vital statistics.
Search by the doctor’s name to learn primary specialty, medical school, year of graduation, hospital affiliations, and whether they are Board Certified. Or if you are searching for a new doctor, you may enter geographic criteria and choose from a list of primary specialties.
This product provides information on over 675,00 doctors and 180,000 dentists, potentially providing their group’s name, office manager’s name, and what health plans they accept.
Take the pulse of your medical providers today.
Practice social distancing and join us on Wednesday May 13th to discuss American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. Virtual Book Club meets every Wednesday at 2pm to discuss a different book every week. For information about how to join in the virtual book club, directions are further down below.
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins was chosen as an Oprah book club book. Curious what the book is about? Check out the below description from the publisher:
“También de este lado hay sueños. Lydia Quixano Perez lives in the Mexican city of Acapulco. She runs a bookstore. She has a son, Luca, the love of her life, and a wonderful husband who is a journalist. And while there are cracks beginning to show in Acapulco because of the drug cartels, her life is, by and large, fairly comfortable. Even though she knows they’ll never sell, Lydia stocks some of her all-time favorite books in her store. And then one day a man enters the shop to browse and comes up to the register with four books he would like to buy-two of them her favorites. Javier is erudite. He is charming. And, unbeknownst to Lydia, he is the jefe of the newest drug cartel that has gruesomely taken over the city. When Lydia’s husband’s tell-all profile of Javier is published, none of their lives will ever be the same. Forced to flee, Lydia and eight-year-old Luca soon find themselves miles and worlds away from their comfortable middle-class existence. Instantly transformed into migrants, Lydia and Luca ride la bestia-trains that make their way north toward the United States, which is the only place Javier’s reach doesn’t extend. As they join the countless people trying to reach el norte, Lydia soon sees that everyone is running from something. But what exactly are they running to? American Dirt will leave readers utterly changed when they finish reading it. A page-turner filled with poignancy, drama, and humanity on every page, it is a literary achievement.”
Virtual Book Club
Wed, May 13, 2020 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM (CDT)
Click the link below or copy/paste to join our book club. Join the meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone. You will need the access code listed below to join.
Access Code: 905-164-389
You can also dial in using your phone.
United States: +1 (872) 240-3311
– One-touch: tel:+18722403311,,905164389#
New to GoToMeeting? Get the app now and be ready when your first meeting starts: https://global.gotomeeting.com/install/905164389
Want to check out the book from the library? We have this book available in the following formats. Reminder that the library is currently closed, so the OverDrive options are your only ways to get this book at the moment.
Set in southern Poland at the turn of the century in 1890, Mrs. Mohr Goes Missing , is the first book in a new series by Maryla Szymiczkowa, a pseudonym for two Polish authors. The book offers a unique look at the culture, lifestyle and social climbing of the upper class society in Cracow, which comes alive through our heroine, Zofia Turbotynska. Zofia is the wife of a university medical professor who is looking to strengthen (and elevate) her social status with a variety of charitable endeavors but finds her true calling as a newly minted sleuth.
Her favorite organization of the moment, Helcel House, is a retirement home run by a bevy of nuns who she finds in panic one morning upon the disappearance of an elderly resident, Mrs. Mohr. Mrs. Mohr is finally located dead in an attic room that would be impossible for her to reach in her immobile condition. Zofia starts her own investigation after the police rule the death an accident. Soon thereafter, another resident of Helcel House goes missing and then a third disappears and Zofia is confident that someone is targeting the elderly residents of the home. Investigating the cases with only her cook and one inquisitive nun in her confidence, Zofia is able to solve the complex case near the end of the book while gathering all the parties together at the Helcel House for an unveiling of the real killer.
Its glimpse into the changing landscape of Poland is what initially caught my attention. As mysteries are my genre of choice, the cultural context and hierarchy of their society was fascinating as well. The author provides a nice summary at the beginning of the book that details the complex history of Poland during the 1800s, which includes being partitioned by the empires of Prussia, Russia and Austria. If you like the feel of a cozy mystery with a rich historical glimpse into the past, Mrs. Mohr Goes Missing is a great choice.
When I start something new, I have to start at the very beginning. Lately, I’ve been wanting to take a deep dive into the world of graphic novels, but I know I’d quickly get overwhelmed. However, Harleen might be the perfect fit to both start at the beginning and jump into an established universe. The new graphic novel from Stjepan Sejic tells the fall-from-grace origin story of Batman and Gotham City’s favorite antihero — Harley Quinn.
We meet a restless Dr. Harleen Quinzel looking for funding to develop a method for detecting stages of deteriorating empathy. What are the trigger points throughout a lifetime for creating a sociopath? After presenting her theory at a conference she encounters a classic Joker / Batman duel on the streets of Gotham City.
The outcome of this fight is:
- a demoralized Gotham City Police Department and the rise of the Executioners, a group of masked officers taking justice into their own hands.
- newly disfigured District Attorney Harvey Dent taking leadership of the Executioners and veering into his own villainous ways.
- Joker in the Arkham Asylum as a subject of Dr. Quinzel’s study, newly funded by the Wayne Foundation.
When Dr. Quinzel meets her new patient, the Joker (Mr. Jay, she respectfully calls him), she becomes infatuated with him. As she reflects often, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Dr. Quinzel alternates between falling for his manipulation that he is the perfect candidate for her study, therefore an asset to her career, and believing she can cure the Joker from his mental illness.
Dent and the Executioners stage a breakout of the Arkham Asylum. In an effort to protect the Joker, Quinzel kills a security guard, falls into the arms of the Joker and is baptized Harley Quinn.
The characters are complex and intriguing. More than once, I found myself questioning if Harleen and the Joker were manipulating other characters, themselves or me, the reader. Harleen and Harvey Dent struggle to keep a grasp on reality, while the Joker seems eager to get back to a world chaos and madness.
Clear flashbacks and subtle flash-forwards compel the story through a coherent timeline. There is so much set up for future stories, I’m looking forward to reading anything else that comes out of Sejic’s Harleen story and going further into this universe.