Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Todd Hewitt is the last boy in Prentisstown, surrounded by men and the Noise they can’t help making since the Spackles attacked. There are no women—they all died of the same biological warfare that turned the men’s thoughts and feelings into a constant river of Noise. Todd was the last baby born before the women died off, and he lives in a dank, hopeless, shrinking town of anger and secrets hidden behind the Noise: like the secret of what happens when a boy becomes a man.

When Todd feels a Silence in the swamp just a month before his coming-of-age, he thinks it might be a Spackle hiding there, come back to attack again after years of retreat. But it’s something even stranger—a girl. This impossibility causes the lies that make up everything that Todd knows to start crumbling, and the violence rips his world apart. Todd flees with the girl, Viola, learning wonderful, startling truths about the outside world; but Prentisstown will not let them go, and it’s building an army to prove it.

The Knife of Never Letting Go definitely falls into the realm of speculative science fiction. It uses a future where human beings are colonizing the galaxy to explore the twists of the human brain that create ‘us’ and ‘them’, and to delineate how little things like anger and greed can twist the entire course of history. This is the first book in the Chaos Walking trilogy, followed by The Ask and the Answer and Monsters of Men. It’s sometimes categorized as young adult fiction due to the age of the protagonists, but don’t let that discourage you from reading it; Ness has a writing style that’s both lyrical and raw, and the plot and characterizations are more sophisticated than those of many an adult book.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol

Anya is a sullen teen who hates school and isn't very nice to her family and friends. She's sort of a portrait of me at sixteen, except with more cigarettes. And oh yes, a ghost.

Anya acquires the ghost when she accidentally falls down a well, where a girl named Emily died ninety years ago.

Emily the ghost seems lonely. She hangs around with Anya, asking questions and demanding attention, and soon she proves her worth by providing Anya with a lot of nice things. She's a friend and a supporter, and she helps Anya cheat on tests, and keeps watch while Anya sneaks cigarettes, and helps her manipulate a cute boy. Actually, you start to wonder if maybe Emily's not a very good influence on Anya after all.

Anya's Ghost provides a funny and real glimpse of high school life, with expressive drawings and a sweet, surprising ending. Neil Gaiman calls it a masterpiece, and I think it's pretty wonderful, too.

Friday, September 23, 2011

An Empty Death by Laura Wilson

An Empty Death is the second mystery in Laura Wilson’s series featuring Detective Inspector Ted Stratton. This atmospheric book is set in London circa World War II, where Stratton and his wife Jenny are bearing up as well as possible after their children have been evacuated to the countryside. Wartime rations, nightly blackouts, and the constant presence of loss wear them down, but their relationship is a touchstone for both of them and provides them with the strength to help others: Jenny volunteering long hours for the Red Cross and Stratton as a detective.

When a shell falls on the home of a neighbor, Stratton assists in the excavation, and is startled to find her still breathing and seemingly unharmed. Jenny and her sister Doris are drawn into providing shelter for the woman, whose trauma soon proves to be invisible but extremely severe. Meanwhile, the killing of a local doctor is the first in a series at the hospital, and Stratton must piece together clues and untangle motivations to track the murderer.

With a sympathetic villain, a surprise twist, and a well-developed detective, this historical mystery looks to be part of a very promising series. The first book is The Innocent Spy, although An Empty Death can stand alone.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Do you Kindle?

Kindle-compatible e-books are now available free from the library. Log in here with your library card number and PIN to start downloading.

Of course if you have another kind of e-book reader, like a Nook or a Sony, you've been able to download free e-books over a year now. You knew that, right?

More than ten thousand titles are available, free from the library, for you to start downloading and reading today.

For more information or for help downloading e-books from the Newport Library - even Kindle e-books! - give us a call at 541-265-2153.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Roadside America

I think I was nine when my family traveled across the Great Plains on a Greyhound bus. "Look at that," said my mom at one point, and outside the window I saw I majestic statue of a gigantic cow. We were in New Salem, North Dakota, and the sign said "World's Largest Holstein Cow." It was. I didn't stop giggling 'til Bismarck.

Ever since then I've enjoyed spotting such things - what are they called? Really big three-dimensional attractions? Roadside novelties?

Whatever you call them, I like them. I've seen a steakhouse in Florida with a giant bull pawing outside the front door. And not far from where I went to college in Sarasota stood a Tastee-Freez in the shape of a soft-serve ice-cream-cone. (Florida is a hotspot for roadside novelty spotting.) When I moved to Oregon, I was thrilled to see the dinosaurs of The Prehistoric Gardens, peeking out of the forest south of Port Orford.

No one seems to build anything that monumentally tasteless anymore, so such things are getting hard to find.

That's why I love Roadside America, a big glossy book filled with pictures of big fiberglass things: huge fish sculptures advertising bait shops; cafes whose signs are enormous coffee pots; at least three Italian restaurants, all shaped like leaning campanile, all called the Tower of Pizza.

Roadside America is a treasury of playful American kitsch, and I really enjoyed it. I spent a lot of time leafing through its pages, admiring the hubcap shops and fireworks stands, and remembering all the weird things I've seen.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Mourn Not Your Dead by Deborah Crombie

Senior policeman Alastair Gilbert has been bludgeoned to death, and no one is sorry, not even the Scotland Yard detectives sent to see justice done. Mourn Not Your Dead is a British mystery in the classic “village mystery” tradition, where the murder and its resolution lie entirely within the population of a small Surrey village. It’s number four in the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series, and my favorite one so far, as I read and listen my way through the series.

Superintendent Kincaid and Sergeant James have had dealings with Gilbert before; he had a reputation as a self-righteous martinet who enjoyed throwing his weight around, and both have seen the truth of it. But they are devoted to carrying out their duty as well as they can, even in a village where they find the suspects more appealing than the deceased. From the philosophical young video gamer to the psychoanalytical psychic with a witch’s nose, from the barman with a secret to the widow’s teenaged daughter, the characters are finely drawn and sympathetic.

The relationship between James and Kincaid adds another layer to the plot. The steady partnership that’s developed between them is threatened by their growing feelings for one another, and both are leery of the consequences in different ways. Is it more dangerous to turn away from love or to embrace it? This is a subtle thread throughout the book, echoed in the lives and issues of other characters.

Crombie’s masterful writing has received the Macavity Award and been shortlisted for the Edgar award. Each book can certainly stand alone, but if you prefer to start a series at the beginning, the first book is A Share in Death.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Sci-Fi or Speculative Fiction?

I’ve always thought the term, “speculative fiction” was a silly way to try and get readers to take science fiction seriously. But in the case of Tony Daniel’s 2001 novel, Metaplanetary, the term is apt. Cloaked in a classic space opera setting is a novel that dares to ask radical questions, posits far-out concepts, and challenges the reader to speculate on the nature and validity of their own biases and beliefs.

A thousand years from now, in an age where the biological and the algorithmic have merged, what does it mean to be human? Can wiping out an entire population of computer programs be considered genocide? And what about their children?

Ames, dictator of the inner planets of the solar system, is bent on adding the outer planets to his list of conquered territories. And he is willing to enslave or kill millions of virtual humans, known as free converts, to achieve those ends. As refugees, real and virtual, stream out towards the edge of the solar system, a young woman named Aubry joins up with a partisan group, The Friends of Tod, to stop Ames and liberate the free converts from their concentration camp on Mars. One of those free converts is her mother, Danis.

A simple plot synopsis hardly does justice to some of the compelling ideas and situations that inhabit this wildly inventive novel. A sequel, Superluminal, came out in 2004, and I’ve just started reading it. If you like your science fiction, dare I say, speculative, give Metaplanetary a try. You can reserve it here.

Friday, September 9, 2011

This one's for the students

Going to school? Me too! Are you writing a paper? So am I! Do you think that the "Works cited" page is the hardest part? I know I do.

I used to just write down a list of all my references, and then leave the actual composition and formatting of the list until the very last moment. Why? Because it was hard.

I didn't know how to cite different types of resources. What if I wanted to cite a web page, or a newspaper article, or a documentary film? What if the professor wanted my references in APA format, and I'm only familiar with MLA? The whole process was daunting, and procrastinating only made it worse.

Well, I've discovered that there are good citation tools online. I don't mean websites that explain the rules (although there are lots of those) - I'm talking about websites that do all the work.

I like BibMe. It's free to sign up for an account. If you need to cite a book, type in the author, title, or ISBN in the search box, select your book, and voila - it creates a citation for you, in whatever format you need. Same thing with magazine articles - you type in the relevant information, and BibMe creates the cite. You can paste the url of a website into the search box and get a cite for an Internet resource.

BibMe will save several bibliographies for you in whatever format you need, so you can paste them right into your papers.

I went back to school a few years ago to get a degree in Library Science, and I've been using BibMe for all my projects. I wish it had been around back in my undergrad days - it's certainly easier than the way we used to do it.

If you're a student, take all the help you can get - try BibMe.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Away by Amy Bloom

Lillian Leyb is a newcomer in 1920s New York. She is young and pretty and barely speaks English, but she is no innocent; the survivor of pogroms that killed her entire family in Russia, Lillian is not about to let New York defeat her.

She outwits the other applicants for a seamstress job at the Goldfadn Yiddish Theatre. When the handsome lead actor of the theater seems attracted to her, she lets him know she might be available. When his father also expresses an interest, well, that too is negotiable.

But Lillian's cynical and practical stoicism is shattered when she hears a rumor: her baby daughter, Sophie, believed to have been murdered with the rest of her village in Russia, may still be alive somewhere in Siberia. That possibility changes everything. Soon Lillian leaves the safety of her Manhattan apartment and embarks upon an odyssey to find out the truth about Sophie's fate.

That quick summary doesn't do justice to the richness of Away by Amy Bloom. I loved the opening chapters, about the immigrant Jewish experience on the Lower East Side. Lillian's guess at how to get to Siberia from New York sends her on a heartbreaking voyage westward, to Chicago and Seattle and then to Alaska. Along the way she encounters the outcasts and down-and-outs of America in the 1920s: prostitutes, prospectors, grifters, homosexuals, and other vagabonds like herself.

A hearty Yiddish mix of tragedy and wit, Away is a suspenseful tale of a not-very-respectable heroine and her amazing quest.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Obnoxious, kind of preachy, and absolutely hilarious—Beauty Queens is a thrilling feminist pop-culture-eviscerating extravaganza of laughs, worthy of reading yourself or suggesting to your teens.

The Corporation, monopolistic maker of such fine self-improvement products as Lady ‘Stache Off and Maxi-Pad Pets, is sponsoring the Miss Teen Dream Beauty Pageant—but the plane carrying the 50 contestants crashes on a desert island, killing off pilots, stewardesses, adult chaperones, and even a few Teen Dreamers! The remaining beauty queens must struggle to survive while keeping up with their exfoliating, singing drills, and ab crunches.

Bray keeps the pace quick by alternating chapters focusing on different girls, adding in commercial breaks and footnotes from the Corporation, and including the girls’ Teen Dream Pageant applications—with everything they crossed out.

Gradually, the girls adjust to living on the island, finding pride in their survival skills and their strengths, changing their priorities to reflect their new reality. When a ship goes aground on the shore of the island, carrying a load of dashing pirate teenage boys who’ve gone AWOL from the “reality show” they were filming, the girls suddenly have a whole new set of issues. And when it turns out the island is actually a secret government military base in the pocket of the Corporation, things get even zanier.

OK, this book is NOT SUBTLE AT ALL. There were points where I found the preachiness kind of off-putting—but I stuck with it for the humor, and I’m glad I did. For many teens, Beauty Queens may be just the irreverent refreshment they need to question the cookie-cutter consumer teen magazine mentality that teaches them uniqueness is just another shade of lipstick.