Friday, November 29, 2013

Pseudonym surprises

Historical fiction, with the history easily digested into a good story, is one of my favorite genres.  So when I grabbed Sara Donati’s “The Endless Forest” off the New Books shelf after work, all I knew about the book was the enticing cover. Much to my chagrin, when I got home, settled into my reading chair and opened it up, it was the sixth book in a series! Oh well, I read it anyway (it was a rewarding tale) then immediately tracked down the first book in the Bonner family saga, Into the Wilderness.

Reading all the books in the series found me engrossed in the ups and downs of the Bonners and their lives in upstate New York from 1790 to 1824. Wars, love, hate, sex, adventure, intrigue, pirates and fluid storytelling made me very happy I’d found Donati’s books. Then the series ended! And she hasn’t written other books.

But wait. She has, only they are published under her real name, Rosini Lippi. Sarah Donati is the pseudonym Lippi uses when writing historical fiction. Lippi is an academic linguist, editor, researcher and former university professor. All of which explains her delicious attention to linguistic and historical detail. She does dialects very well as evidenced by her Scots dialect in book 3 of her Bonner family series, Dawn on a Distant Shore. Finding this on her blog led me to her literary novel, Homestead, a saga of the villagers in the Austrian village of Rosenau. Told as interconnected stories of women living in the village over the course of decades, Lippi’s attention to detail and language found me lingering over the words and images they evoked. This, her first novel, was awarded the PEN/Hemingway award. Now I’m on to the rest of her backlist.

I highly recommend the “Wilderness Novels” for fans of Diana Gabaldon’s historical fiction.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Awesome Old Newport Photos

From Oregon Digital
Did you know the Newport Library is on Pinterest? Well, we are! Along with putting together some great theme-based collections of books and movies that link straight to our catalog so you can reserve items with ease, we have also made a few non-bibliographic compilations that might be of interest to you, particularly Ye Olde Newport! It's filled with great photos from our little city's past. The pictures come from a variety of sources, including the University of Oregon Libraries and Oregon State Libraries' Oregon Digital and Salem Public Library's Oregon Historic Photograph Collections, both of which are fun sites to poke around on. So come check us out on Pinterest, follow us if you have a Pinterest account, and become one of the few Newportians who know that children used to pile on donkeys to explore the Bayfront.

From Oregon Digital

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Thirteenth Tale

The nights are getting long and cold, which makes it the perfect time of year to snuggle up with a blanket, a hot drink, and an engrossing story. I have an excellent cozy winter recommendation for you.

In The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, quiet bookish Margaret Lea is hired by Vida Winter, the most famous novelist in England, to write her biography. But Winter has lied to everyone who has ever interviewed her - journalists by the dozens have been sent away with dazzling stories of her youth, only to find them to be complete fabrications. Margaret is not convinced that she will be any different. In fact, Margaret is not sure what Vida Winter is actually up to.

The tale the elderly author recounts seems too extraordinary to be true: two beautiful but strange twins, their equally lovely and possibly mad mother, their definitely mad and horrible uncle, their bewildered servants. And is there a murderer in the house as well?

The Thirteenth Tale partakes joyously of the gothic novel tradition, and is in many ways an explicit homage to both Jane Eyre (which you know I love) and The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. Like those books, it features:

  • a big house full of locked doors
  • strange children
  • ghosts
  • madness
  • windswept moors
  • a governess who ought to watch her step
And so on. And like all gothic novels, its heart is full of secrets. What is the truth about Vida Winter? Will she reveal it? What is the truth about Margaret Lea? Does she even know it?

It’s also a book about stories - the importance and centrality of reading, books, and stories in people's lives. If you love stories too, then fix yourself a mug of something hot, and wrap yourself in the mysteries of The Thirteenth Tale.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A New Sleuth is on the Case!

If there is a thing I truly despise, it is being addressed as ‘dearie.’ When I write my magnum opus, A Treatise Upon All Poison, and come to ‘Cyanide,’ I am going to put under ‘Uses’ the phrase ‘Particularly efficacious in the cure of those who call one ‘Dearie.’’ 
-Flavia de Luce, the Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie 

A crumbling English manor house in the 1950’s. A plucky youngest daughter. A tiny village inhabited by colorful characters. Buried secrets. A whole lot of foul play.

Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series offers mystery, intrigue, and more chemical reactions than you can shake a Bunsen burner at. The youngest of three sisters, Flavia scorns the more traditional passions her sisters Ophelia and Daphne pursue (music and literature, respectively), instead throwing herself with characteristic abandon into the study of chemistry (particularly the manufacture of poisons) in her long-dead Uncle Tarquin’s Victorian laboratory.  She has a knack for finding murder victims and (maybe because she appropriates evidence?) is often several steps ahead of the local constabulary in cracking cases. 

It may seem odd at first to read an adult mystery novel by a retired Canadian gentleman who writes from the perspective an 11-year-old English girl sleuth, but you get over it pretty quickly. Flavia is some sort of rare and difficult genius, but she’s funny, brave, and endearingly naive. Each addition to the series is as well-written and minutely researched as the first, dealing with such varied subjects as postage stamps, puppetry, religious cults, movie stars, and saints. So go ahead, dearies, pick up the first book and reserve the others, because once you start you'll want to read them all! (And keep an eye out for the upcoming BBC series!)

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Diviners by Libba Bray

The Diviners is the frog’s eyebrows, I mean, it’s posi-lute-ly the cat’s pajamas. Evie O’Neill’s a live wire who gets zazzled and splifficated and spills the beans on a high society dewdropper who knocked up a squiff. (OK, sorry—I can’t keep that up. Flapper-talk is the bee’s-knees, baby, but it’s Greek to me. Let’s try again.)

The Diviners is a rollicking fun historical-paranormal novel, set in Prohibition-era Manhattan. Our heroine, Evie, is a privileged seventeen-year-old girl who lost her beloved brother to the War, and she wouldn’t be a teenager if she didn’t rebel against the pain and her broken family. Turns out liquor is even more attractive when wrapped in the forbidden glamour of speakeasies and flapper fashion, and Evie’s become a little of out of control. Her paranormal talent comes out during a drunken party, and she airs secrets that she has no right to know and no way to prove. But she won’t apologize, and so her parents send her from Ohio to New York, to stay with her fusty old museum-curator uncle.

Being sent to Manhattan is not quite the punishment it was intended to be. Turns out Uncle Will doesn’t run just any old boring museum: he runs the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult, and is consulting with the police on a bizarre murder which included supernatural symbols on and around the body. Evie manages to befriend a cabaret dancer and hang out at speakeasies—but she also talks herself onto the crime scene, where her talent comes into play, giving her an unwanted peek at the intimate details of truly horrific killing. Should she come clean about her special ability, to stop a serial killer?

Evie’s the protagonist, but the book alternates among several featured characters, like Memphis, a handsome young poet with terrible dreams, and Theta, an orphan who’s reinvented herself but can’t escape her past. They all have secrets or paranormal talents or both, and their lives all collide with the terrible plans of the killer.

Between the atmospheric Roaring Twenties, the creepy murders, and the vivid characters, Libba Bray’s The Diviners is truly hotsy-totsy and the darb! (If you have no idea what I just said, check Dewey 427 in the nonfiction section for slang dictionaries, or see Slang of the 1920’s online.)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Rereading the classics: Jane Eyre

Reader, I’m assuming that you're familiar with Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (if you haven't read it, you've probably at least seen one of the numerous movies). It is often seen as a sort of proto-romance novel, about a mousy governess who falls in love with her hunky boss, the whole thing draped over with swathes of dreary Victorian morality. 

That’s … not untrue, exactly, but it’s an extreme oversimplification. Jane Eyre is a novel about a powerless person, and her struggle to remain true to herself and her passions, in spite those who try to dominate, manipulate, and change her.

I love Jane Eyre, and I think it’s worth reading again (and again, and again).

Jane is not pretty. She has no money. And, crucially, she has no family. In 1840s England, there were no secular social services to help the disadvantaged: no welfare, no child services, no police. If you got sick, or lost all your money, or were the victim of a crime, the only social structure that existed to help you consisted of your family and friends. (Or the church, to which, interestingly, Jane never turns for help.) 

Jane Eyre is repeatedly described as “friendless.” As an orphaned child, she is the ward of a family that actively dislikes her. They try to scold and frighten her into becoming a different kind of child. Jane straight-up tells her aunt that she is going to hell for being such a terrible adoptive mother.

As an adult, Jane gets a job working for a wealthy man, Mr. Rochester, with whom she falls hopelessly in love. When he commits his crime against her, she can’t just resign. Aside from the fact that she loves him, she has nowhere else to go.

But she does.  She quits. That’s who Jane is. In spite of her insignificance, Jane has a knotty, stubborn, not-necessarily-attractive personality, one that refuses to compromise to those who try to manipulate her.

For all Rochester’s many faults, this uncompromising spirit is what he loves about her - which is why his attempt to trick her into betraying her principles is so heinous. When Jane defies him, he cries,

“Consider that eye: consider the resolute, wild, free thing looking out of it, defying me, with more than courage… It is you, spirit – with will and energy, and virtue and purity – that I want: not alone your bitter frame.”

And that’s when she leaves him.

I’ve read it at least five times, and I’m likely to read it again. I never stop enjoying watching Jane forgive, but not capitulate to, her bullies.

Click here to place a hold on Jane Eyre. If you enjoy ebooks, you can download it free from Project Gutenberg.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Daigo is a competent but unremarkable cellist with a small orchestra in Tokyo. When that orchestra goes bankrupt, Daigo knows he is not good enough to compete for better jobs at the professional level. Out of desperation he and his obliging wife, Mika, return to his hometown, a small city at the base of Mount Fuji. While living in the abandoned coffee shop his now dead mother once owned, Daigo answers an ad for a company called Departures, where he assumes he will be offered a position as a travel agent. Instead the company’s inscrutable boss teaches him the art of the Nokan, men who ritually prepare the dead for burial.

At first Daigo keeps his new job a secret from his wife and friends. And after preparing the body of an old woman dead for nearly two weeks, Daigo himself isn’t so sure about his new profession. But he soon gains fulfillment from his work as he comes to appreciate the virtues of his calling and the gratitude of the mourners. And as he learns more about his job, he comes to know more about himself and his own family, including the whereabouts of his father who’d abandoned Daigo as a child.

Departures is a small, gentle, sometimes sentimental film about appreciating life while we are blessed with it. It’s also about coming to terms with death and how even the littlest gifts matter when offered with a pure heart.

A couple of interesting notes about the making of the film: it took ten years to produce and the actor Masahiro Motoki, who played the main character Daigo, not only studied the art of ritual corpse preparation but also learned to play the cello for the film as well. It also won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2009.

You can reserve Departures here.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Velveeta to Vertigo

If you’re a student, researcher, or a lifelong learner, we have great news! You don’t have to venture out into sideways-blowing rain to use our three new reference book collections: the St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia: Extinction, and the Encyclopedia of World Biography. We’ve just added them to Gale Virtual Reference Library (GVRL), which is available from our website, so you can sit in your cozy pajamas and drink chamomile tea while you peruse these encyclopedias.

The St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture is a five-volume set that covers topics and people in major areas of popular culture: film; music; print culture; social life; sports; television and radio; and art and performance. Articles range from George Burns to Ken Burns, Little League to Little Richard, Velveeta to Vertigo.

Generations of Lassies. The family of collies that portrayed Lassie 
during the show's run included, from left, Pal (the original Lassie), 
young Laddie, Lassie, old Laddie, and Lassie Jr.

Reunion gallinule
Porphyrio coerulescens
Extinct since about 1730

Grzimek’s (pronounced “Chim-icks”) is a two-volume set that explores all aspects of extinctions and extinct life, with articles written by experts in zoology, paleontology, and environmental science. You can find information on ancient extinctions, as well as current concerns about endangered species.

One of Price's greatest triumphs was her 
creation of the role of Cleopatra in 
Samuel Barber's Antony and Cleopatra.
The third title we added is the 33-volume Encyclopedia of World Biography. This set covers notable individuals from every part of the world and from all time periods who have made significant contributions to human culture. A search for ‘Cleopatra’ finds 43 biographies, including those for Marc Antony, William Shakespeare, Elizabeth Taylor, Leontyne Price, and Julius Caesar. Instead of by name, you may decide to search by location or occupation. A search for ‘Australia’ brings up 345 results, and a search for ‘inventors’ brings up 350 biographies. This is a great resource at report time, especially at night when the library is closed. Each article has a citation at the end, so you can include it in your bibliography.

To use GVRL, go to the library’s website, click on Databases, and click on the Gale Virtual Reference Library link. All you need is your Newport Library card to have hundreds of reference books at your fingertips!