Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Urban Fantasy for Anglophiles


In Ben Aaronovitch's Midnight Riot, Probationary Constable Peter Grant is a young London copper hoping for a spot on the Murder Squad when he comes to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale. Nightingale heads up a little known department of the London police: the one in charge of magical peculiarities that need to be swept under the rug. Nightingale has been the entire department for the past several decades, but when a random-seeming murder leaves certain markers on the bodies of the perpetrators and victims, and the only witness is a ghost seen by PC Grant, it’s time for the spook squad to double in size.

The murder mystery, which seems to be a bizarre case of possession that causes innocents to commit murder and then die when their faces fall off, is only half the fun. The other half is Grant’s discovery of the magical London existing right under his nose, and his wry commentary on life in a department that no one believes in.

On the audiobook, reader Kobna Holbrook-Smith does a wonderful job bringing Grant to life. Midnight Riot is the first in a series called Rivers of London, available on eBook through Library2Go and audiobook through Hoopla. The print version is available through our catalog, as well. Each book in the series features its own mystery, and Grant’s growing facility with and understanding of the world of magic. Great reads for anyone interested in light paranormal mystery.

Rivers of London series:
 Midnight Riot
 Moon over Soho
 Whispers Under Ground
 Broken Homes
 Foxglove Summer

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Royal Fan Fiction




Reading The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan felt very odd, not least because it takes place in the 21st century and I generally read books that are set before texting was ever a thing that real people did. In point of fact, the most disconcerting part of the experience was the sense that I was reading a HUGE People Magazine article. At 454 pages, this fictionalized account of Prince William and Kate Middleton's courtship is one seriously voyeuristic piece of business. But I would be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it. 

There are some changes, of course, like making the novelized Kate an American named Bex Porter with a decidedly more expansive vocabulary than her real-life parallel, but for the most part it sticks pretty closely to the official version of events. I wouldn't have picked it up if I hadn't seen a five star review of it by one of my colleagues on GoodReads that simply said, "Just entertaining." Her word is good enough for me, so I gave it a shot and ended up gulping it down in an embarrassingly short period of time. 

So. Here we are. I'm recommending a book that has been placed under the wide-brimmed genre hat of "chick lit." (With which there is NOTHING wrong. I just seem to have English major guilt about it, is all.) There's a first time for everything, and you know... sometimes you just want to be entertained.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Henry Mitchell - A Master Garden Writer


Mid May. The smell of freshly cut grass wafts in through an open window. Looking out, I see a doe nudging at the wire cage surrounding a newly planted Japanese Maple. I think she knows that anything I’m trying to keep away from her must taste delicious. I should probably go outside and get down to some actual work but instead, I’m on the couch delighting once again in the essays of garden writer Henry Mitchell.

I first started reading Mitchell when he was the garden columnist for the Washington Post. Writing as The Essential Earthman, Mitchell was my kind of gardener. He loved plants, loved getting his hands dirty, but he was never precious. And he certainly suffered no fussy prima donna plants and their temperamental ways. If it couldn’t hack the conditions, let natural selection have its way. Mitchell’s way was finding what plant worked where and finding pleasure in the simple joy of tasting a home-grown tomato still warm with sunshine. Or in the sight of the first spring crocus.

And his love of the garden and of gardening was highlighted by simply great writing.

Wherever humans garden magnificently, there are magnificent heartbreaks. It may be forty heifers break through the hedge after a spring shower and (undiscovered for many hours) trample the labor of many years into uniform mire. It may be the gardener has nursed along his camellias for twenty-five years, and in one night of February they are dead. How can that be? Well, it can be.

Newport Library owns three of Henry Mitchell’s books on gardening:


Give them a try. But not on a sunny summer day when you really should be outside getting your hands dirty.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Small Sacrifices


While cutting peat with his Uncle Tally, 18-year-old Fergus McCann sees an unusual glint in the turf. Gently brushing the dirt away, he uncovers a coil of metal encircling a tiny wrist. The small body, later christened ‘Mel,’ was found on the north-south border of Ireland in 1981, during the Troubles.

So begins Bog Child, a Young Adult novel written by Siobhan Dowd. Appealing to both teens and adults, the book is rich in imagery, complex characters, and moral dilemmas.

Fergus has vivid dreams about Mel, which serve to tell the story of her life in the first century A.D. She lives with a loving family in a small village. Grey fog blocks sunlight from the fields, and crops are failing. While people are starving, the local leader demands tribute in food, placing their lives in further jeopardy. When he is murdered, his death must be avenged.

In the present, Fergus wants to pass his exams so he can escape to medical school. His older brother, Joey, is in jail and has joined the hunger strike. Their distraught mother seeks solace in religion, while their father stoically supports Joey’s choice. When Fergus thinks he has a chance to help Joey, he takes part in a dangerous mission that goes against his principles.

How far will Mel - or Fergus - go, to save those they love?

I listened to the audiobook of Bog Child from Library2Go, lyrically narrated by Irish actress Sile Bermingham. It is also available in print from our catalog.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Nothing Is True And Everything Is Possible, by Peter Pomerantsev


I’ve been reading a lot about Eastern Europe over the past year or two in the hope of getting a better understanding of events in Ukraine, as well as the socio-political consequences of the invasion on Russia itself. Newport Library has purchased several of these books lately. And I’m afraid that after all that reading, I can’t say I’m much closer to understanding the Russian psyche.

Some of the causes for those feelings of bewilderment are brilliantly described in film-maker Peter Pomerantsev’s Nothing Is True And Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart Of The New Russia. Born in London of  Russian emigre parents fleeing Communism in the 1970’s, Pomerantsev moved to Moscow several years ago to work in Russian television. 

While researching subjects for “reality” television shows, Pomerantsev stumbles into and out of the terrifying weirdness that is modern Russia. He attends lavish parties thrown by oligarchs who fly in inmates of provincial insane asylums to read their life stories aloud to wealthy Muscovite party-goers. He interviews the female students of a Moscow school for snagging oligarch sugar-daddies.  And he travels to the countryside to attend ultra-nationalist biker gang rock concerts, complete with live recitations of Stalin’s speeches before 250,000 cheering fans.

It’s all too surreal to believe.

Little by little, the bizarre and the pathetic, the vulgar and the vicious, acrete to form what the author comes to understand as the essential schizophrenia of life in Russia. Under the Tsars, Russians had to lie, cheat and steal in order to survive. When the Communists took over in 1917, Russians traded one pathology for another. And when perestroika eventually brought Vladimir Putin to power, the Russian people traded, and lost, one more time.

At once terrifying, heart-breaking and riveting in a voyeuristic sort of way, Nothing Is True And Everything Is Possible led me to the depressing conclusion that nothing in Russia is going to change any time soon. Nevertheless, it makes for fascinating reading.

You can reserve Nothing Is True And Everything Is Possible here.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Sailing aboard the HMS Bounty


Our May Literary Flick takes us on a high seas adventure to Tahiti, on board the HMS Bounty. Mutiny on the Bounty is a 1935 film based on the novel by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall. Set in 1787, it follows the ship and crew on a two-year voyage to the Pacific. Its captain, William Bligh (Charles Laughton), is a brutal tyrant who punishes those who lack discipline, cause any infraction on board the ship, or defy his authority. Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable), the ship's lieutenant, disapproves of Bligh's treatment of the crew. 


The film was one of the biggest hits of its time, and film critics consider this adaptation to be the best cinematic work inspired by the mutiny. Nominated for seven Academy Awards, including three for Best Actor, it won the award for Best Picture. 

We will be showing Mutiny on the Bounty on Tuesday, May 12 at 6:30 p.m. Admission is free, as is the popcorn!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

I Am Sorry To Think I Have Raised A Timid Son, by Kent Russell



The art of the American essay is not dead. As a matter of fact, it has come roaring back to life in Kent Russell’s, “I Am Sorry To Think I Have Raised A Timid Son.”

Russell paints a cultural picture of America, and more specifically, the American male, that we might not recognize at first. Amish baseball players, horror movie special-effects wannabes, and Juggalos, an underclass of mostly mid-western followers of the heavy-metal band Insane Clown Posse, populate this underbelly America. It is a picture of the American male that includes Self-Immunizers, men who intentionally subject themselves to the bites of poisonous snakes. And it leaves us both puzzled by the inanity of our trivial pursuits as well as overwhelmed by the extent of choice that 21st century American life affords. And we have to wonder, at what cost?

Punctuating these essays like a savage flurry of sucker punches is an account of Russell’s trip to the East Bay to convince his surly ex-Marine father to take a road trip back to the family’s original stomping grounds in Ohio. Russell's father takes every opportunity to challenge his son's choices. Between side trips down the memory lane of his own childhood and an exploration into the fringes of American masculinity, Russell has written a searing and insightful collection of essays. His writing, like David Sedaris on steroids, shocks, dismays and enlightens us. They describe an American man, fragile yet stubborn and resilient, who is still in the process of finding himself. And maybe it's a process we can all learn from.

You can reserve Kent Russell’s “I Am Sorry To Think I Have Raised A Timid Son” here.