Wednesday, September 29, 2010


I admit it. Alan Brennert's debut 2003 novel, Moloka'i, is the one book that made me cry.

When her mother discovers the tell-tale sores of leprosy on 5 year-old Rachel Kalama's legs, she tries to hide them under long skirts and white lies. But a school-yard argument with her big sister exposes Rachel's secret. The little girl is first sent to quarantine hospital in Honolulu and eventually becomes one of the first settlers on the Kalaupapa peninsula on Moloka’i. Left to fend for themselves, the patients are treated more like inmates, denied family contact and even the most basic of supplies. Despite the odds, they carve a life out of the barren windswept rock that is Kalaupapa with little more than their bare hands and debris washed up onto the beach.

Despite the sometimes barbaric treatment of the island’s patients by the medical authorities and the Catholic church charged with running the leper hospital, the residents create a real community. Rachel Kalama’s brave and resilient spirit sings out in this poignant and touching novel.

Brennert uses the true story of the leper colony on Moloka’i along with his wonderfully rich gift of character to bring us to tears as we read about the residents of Kalaupapa, the last of whom still live there today.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A mockingbird in the rye makes three

I Read Banned Books. You probably do, too. One person's banned book is another person's Bible, Koran, or classic childhood favorite. Throughout history, as long as people have expressed ideas, others have tried to limit or squelch their freedom to speak, read, and think for themselves.

Banned Books Week, which is recognized September 25 to October 2 this year, highlights the benefits of free and open access to information, while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.

To celebrate our freedom to read freely, the Newport Public Library will host a panel discussion with readings from banned and challenged books on Wednesday, September 29 at 7:00 p.m.

This is the third year the Newport Public Library has offered this discussion program. Panelists at this year’s event are Sharon Beardsley, English instructor at Oregon Coast Community College; Carla Perry, author, publisher, and founder of the Nye Beach Writer's Series and Writers' on the Edge; Niki Price, writer and editor of Oregon Coast Today; Catherine Rickbone, Executive Director of Oregon Coast Council for the Arts; Ted Smith, Director of the Newport Public Library; and Joaquin Varo, Certified Medical Assistant-Medical Translator with Centro de Ayuda.

Admission to the program is free of charge. For more information, check our website at

Shut Up and Freegal Me

I was flipping the channels on my car radio when I came across a song I hadn't heard in years. "Shut Up and Kiss Me" by Mary Chapin Carpenter sits right on the corner of Country and Rock. It has a bluesy guitar line and fun lyrics, and Carpenter has a beautiful smoky voice.

In short, I dig it, and I wanted to own it.

Did I go to iTunes or other online music vendor and buy the song? No.
Did I go to a record store and buy the album? I did not.
Did I go to some virus-raddled P2P site and download it illegally? Hardly.

I went to the Newport Public Library's home page, where I clicked the Freegal icon. Within 45 seconds, that song was mine, all mine.

I did not part with a penny. It was easy and fast and completely legal. And the song I downloaded is DRM-free.

There is a downside to this. You need a card from the Newport Library. You're not going to find any indie artists on Freegal, and you can only download three songs a week. Still, that's a lot of free, legal music that's just waiting to be claimed.

Interested in learning more? Go to our home page and click this:

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

Extremely epic fantasy, which stretches beyond the common trilogy format, is an ambitious field for a writer. At its worst, it can be tiresome, repetitive, wearying—but at its best it can be an exploration of character and theme more intensive and thorough than any other. Some of the more notable efforts:

• George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire—amazing, transcendent—and STILL unfinished.
• Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant—much more uneven. (Let us not even speak of Donaldson’s further epic efforts.)
• Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time—another uneven one, though incredibly popular.
• Goodkind’s Sword of Truth—thought-provoking and addictive, with slightly clunky writing.

A new epically long series is on the scene, and promises to be up there with the best. The Way of Kings is the first book in a new fantasy series by Brandon Sanderson called The Stormlight Archive. Sanderson’s the fantasy writer who was chosen by Robert Jordan’s widow to complete The Wheel of Time, based on her admiration for his earlier work. For me, that wasn’t much of a recommendation, as Wheel isn’t one of my favorite series, but I gave The Way of Kings a chance anyway, and I love it. It’s kind of a bummer, how much I love it, because I have a feeling this projected ten book series could be the work of decades.

Way of Kings follows several fascinating characters through a time of political upheaval in a believable and well-crafted fantasy world. World-building information is trickled into the story naturally, so despite the unique and foreign nature of the magical energy that suffuses the world (Stormlight) and the complex history and class structure, one is always absorbed in the characters’ immediate experience rather than feeling overwhelmed by expository information. My favorite character is Kaladin, a young man whose desperate internal struggles between hope and despair are matched only by his dismal situation. He epitomizes human ingenuity and perseverance in the face of hell, and at the same time he’s a stupid kid who makes the same kind of mistakes we all do. He’s a soldier with the training of a surgeon, and he’s full of the need to protect and save as well as the need to fight.

The themes of the book center around honor, loyalty, and hope. Sanderson makes a strong case for living by one’s beliefs no matter how decadent or bleak one’s surroundings, no matter how beaten down or how jaded one’s peers. He writes suspensefully, combining mystery, comedy, and intrigue with skill.

I don’t know how many epic fantasy fans we have out there, but if you think you might be, this looks like it’s going to be a series to enjoy for a long time coming.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Tim Gunn makes it work.

I rarely watch television, and I never read self-help or advice books. And yet, when a new advice book came out by a television personality, I seized it with a glad cry. The book is Gunn's Golden Rules by Tim Gunn, the co-host of Project Runway.

If you haven't seen Project Runway, a.k.a "My Favorite Show," it's a reality show that brings together a group of beginning fashion designers. They are given design challenges, which they must complete in a severely limited period of time, sometimes using odd materials. (In the first season, designers had to make outfits out of materials found at a grocery store; the winning garment, pictured here, was woven from corn husks.) Then there's a fashion show, and we get to see the beautiful, hilarious, and/or awful creations of the designers. Each episode, one designer wins, and one is eliminated.

The show rewards hard work, creative thinking, and persistence. Group challenges emphasize teamwork and interpersonal communication. Excuse-making, back-stabbing, and whining are almost as severely discouraged as sloppy craftsmanship and poor taste.

The show's courteous, responsible tone is consistently set by the designers' mentor, Tim Gunn, an impeccably-suited teacher from Parsons School of Design. See a mashup of Gunn's style here:

Gunn's Golden Rules is, on its surface, a book about manners. His rules include "Take the high road," "Be a good guest or stay home," and of course, "Make it work." Nothing cutting-edge there. What makes Gunn's Golden Rules a must-read for me are the behind-the-scenes Project Runway tidbits and the dishy anecdotes about people in the fashion industry. Among these is the now-famous story of Vogue editor Anna Wintour being carried down several flights of stairs by her bodyguards.

Gunn is not a brilliant prose stylist, and you'll find no deep insights here. But Gunn is exactly the sort of person you want to be friends with, share drinks and gossip with, get advice from, and maybe even introduce to your mom. In other words, he is delightful, and his book is lovely, silly fun.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Morpheus Road: The Light by D.J. MacHale

"You will . . . travel the Road," says the gravelly monotone voice coming through the static in Marshall Seaver's cell phone , and it makes a shiver go up his back-and yours. Morpheus Road: The Light is a supernatural thriller intended for the YA crowd, but I'd call it creepy and engaging enough for all. Outstanding fast action, and loads of fun.

Marsh is a total geek, into comic books, making rockets, and playing air-drums; and not so into talking to girls, at least not very well. His best friend Cooper, though, is the opposite; popular, rebellious, cute, and charming enough to be forgiven for all the trouble he causes. When Marshall breaks a decorative South American glass sphere left to him by his dead mother, and it explodes in a dripping splatter of blood across his bedroom wall, it's the beginning of some very weird times. Marsh wants Coop by his side, but Coop has disappeared. The more Marsh tries to find him, the weirder things get.

Coop's sister Sidney is known as the Ice Queen. She's on the fast track to an Ivy League school, and won't let anyone forget it, but her perfectionism hasn't endeared her to her brother. Marsh has a bit of a crush on her, but he learns a whole lot more about her when what's haunting him decides to go after her as well.

This book is full of supernatural twists and turns, and I don't want to spoil a single one. What I really appreciated was the way the plot opened out; just as you begin to think you understand what's going on, the story gets bigger. Apparently, MacHale intends it to be a trilogy. It's not often that I would describe a book as simply fun, but this one is, with a cinematic/ graphic novel feel. I will travel the Road . . . and like it!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Two ways of telling a story

In 1931, the brilliant German filmmaker Fritz Lang released M, a movie about a child-killer, and about those - the police and the city's criminals - who hunt him down. Set in the shadowy streets of Berlin, the film presents shades of moral ambiguity: a killer who cannot help himself, judged by those who are no better than he. The best thing about it is the way it looks, the gray alleys and black shadows, the smoke-filled rooms. It's one of the most visually haunting movies I've ever seen.

Would a print version of the same story be as effective as the movie? I would have said no, until I saw the graphic novel version by the extraordinarily talented illustrator Jon J. Muth. This graphic novel, like the film, is almost wordless; its striking images capture the film's gritty intensity.

So is the novel as good as the movie? Why not check them both out and compare for yourself?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

False Mermaid by Erin Hart

The tale of a nineteenth century Irish housewife who was said to be a selkie is interwoven with the unsolved murder of pathologist Nora Gavin’s younger sister in the newest mystery by Erin Hart.
False Mermaid is the third book in the Nora Gavin series, but can be read as a stand-alone.

Triona was found dead in the trunk of her car three years ago, and the details surrounding that time are gradually developed through flashbacks to Nora’s memories. In particular, Nora is fixated on her sister’s husband, Peter Hallett. She has deep suspicions about Peter’s guilt, but the police have no evidence to link him to the crime scene, and the rest of her family professes to believe in his innocence. Nora fled to Ireland to focus on her work on bog bodies, but now returns to Minnesota in a final effort to get to the bottom of what happened.

Left behind, Nora’s boyfriend Cormac has family problems of his own. The sudden illness of his estranged father leaves him unable to follow Nora to the States, and he finds himself in the company of his father’s house guest, a university professor researching folktales about selkies. In tales and songs, selkies were seals who could strip off their sealskins and become human. If the sealskins were lost or stolen, the selkies would be trapped in human form until they could win them back. Cormac helps Roz get to the bottom of the tale of Mary Heaney, a woman who lived around the turn of the nineteenth century who was said to be a selkie after she disappeared.

The interwoven plots are enjoyable and interesting, especially for those who have an interest in Ireland or folklore. I found that some of the pieces of the central mystery seemed to fit together awkwardly, causing Nora to leap to unwarranted-- yet invariably correct!-- conclusions, so if you’re in it purely for the Sherlockian logic of it, this might not be the book for you. However, the suspense level is high, the writing is crafty, and there’s even a bit of a twist at the end.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Circle of Readers

Today the Newport Reading Circle met to discuss The Beekeeper's Apprentice, a delightful mystery novel by Laurie R. King, in which an aging Sherlock Holmes takes on a young female apprentice. The book was generally well-liked by the group; we found that we enjoy Sherlock Holmes stories anyway, and the dynamic woman lead character was an interesting addition.

The Newport Reading Circle meets the second Tuesday of every month at noon here at the library. It is an informal, chatty book club. We read a wide variety of books. Past reads have included memoirs and biographies, like The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls and Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin; literary fiction, including The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison; and fun genre fiction, such as The Beekeeper's Apprentice. The only requirement for our book choices is that the library system have enough copies.

Our next book is The Bone People by Keri Hulme, an award-winning novel set in New Zealand. We will meet to discuss that book on October 12. On November 9, we'll sit and talk about A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, a riveting coming-of-age novel and one of my all-time favorites.

The Reading Circle is free, and anyone is welcome to come by; no need to call ahead or sign up. If you enjoy reading and talking about books, why not join us? For more information see our website here, or feel free to give us a call at 541-265-2153.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Arsenic in the sugar

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson is about family, and murder, and the inexplicable cruelty of ordinary people.

Constance, 28, is ladylike and agoraphobic. She never goes beyond the garden. Her sister Merricat (as 18-year-old Mary Katherine is called) is fey, hostile, conscienceless, and just plain weird. Merricat is our narrator; it's through her questionably-reliable eyes we see the events of this novel. Constance and Merricat have lived alone, with their damaged uncle Julian, since terrible events destroyed their family six years ago.

Merricat loves their isolation. Any change in the status quo upsets and angers her, and she has an obsessive system of magical safeguards all over the property: locked gates, books nailed to trees, buried teeth. Constance, too, has her protective rites: wholesome meals on matching china and grandmother's silver service. "We will take our meals like ladies," she says, in the midst of chaos. Gradually the sisters come to seem like refugees, ritualistically assuring themselves that life is normal and safe.

But their life is not normal, and they are far from safe.

Shirly Jackson was herself agoraphobic; for long periods she was unable to leave her bedroom. Her books and stories are peopled with women who cannot escape their fear - who, sometimes, embrace it. None have the sweet, shocking remorselessness of Merricat Blackwood.

I've written before about Jackson; I loved her earlier novel, The Haunting of Hill House. That book is a shining pearl of a ghost story, a perfect example of a very familiar genre. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is genreless and unique. It's a shot of distilled female anxiety and rage, and it burns as it goes down.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Newport Library Card = Free Music!

At Newport Library, free music downloads are legal at freegal
Patrons with Newport Library cards are eligible to download 3 songs each week from the thousands of tracks listed in the Sony/BMG music catalog. It’s fast. It’s easy. And it’s free.
Log in to freegal with your Newport Library card number as well as your account PIN (usually the last 4 digits of your telephone number). There’s a handy search window or browse/search by artist, song, album, genre or composer on the advanced search page. You can also create a wishlist if you’ve reached your weekly limit but want to keep track of music you’d like to download later.
Newport Library is so much more than just books. We also offer DVDs, downloadable audio, and now free music downloads.
Get started by clicking on the “freegal” icon on our homepage here.

A horse and his boy

Willy Vlautin's newest book, Lean on Pete, is a coming-of-age tale set in Oregon. It is also so much more. Charley Thompson’s fifteen years on earth have been spent moving from place to place with his dad, the latest move being from Spokane to Portland. In Spokane, Charley makes so much progress toward his most cherished goal, a normal life, that he is even slated to play varsity football as a sophomore. But his dad’s drifter self gets in the way and they leave Washington in the dead of night for Portland. After settling in NE Portland’s Delta Park area, Charley wanders over to Portland Meadows racetrack where he meets horse trainer Del Montgomery and the quarter horse Lean on Pete. Vlautin’s tale let me follow Charley’s journey of loss, love, starvation and road tripping with my heart in my throat. By the time Charley and Lean on Pete are in Eastern Oregon, I’d fallen in love with this boy and the horse. Good thing that they are fictional characters or I’d be raising another teenager (if I could find him).

Vlautin’s secondary and minor characters are as compelling as Charley. Horse trainer Del Montgomery, skinny, scheming and totally dishonest, raised my hackles every time he appeared in the tale. Charley’s dad, a handsome ne’er do well, did at least love his son even if he would have flunked every item on a good parenting list. This book is dark, very dark, with close attention to every word written. This is not a story for kids, but I do think that older teen readers who’ve had their own experiences with a less than ideal upbringing will find this an intriguing, albeit rough, read.

Vlautin is also the lead singer and songwriter for Richmond Fontaine, a Portland area alternative country band. For a sample, you can listen to some of their songs on YouTube.

Willy Vlautin’s spare, fluid prose has been likened to that of Raymond Carver and Denis Johnson. He will be in Newport with Writers on the Edge, Saturday September 18, 7:00 at the Visual Arts Center, reading from this or, perhaps, his other books, Northline and Motel Life, all of which are available from Newport Library.