The Boys Are Back in Town

Carol Luers Eyman The time has come for Zachary Olson to turn himself in.

Susan knows it. Her son admits that he threw the frozen pig’s head into the mosque while Somali refugees worshiped. He thought he was pulling a prank! He’s never heard of the Muslim taboo on pork, and the butcher wasn’t selling cow heads.

“Any minute now,” she tells Gerry O’Hare, the chief of police and an ex-beau. “I’m just waiting for Bob. . . Please do not send a cop car.” Her brothers, Jim and Bob, are the Burgess Boys, both of them New York City lawyers, and they’re headed to the rescue.

The Burgess Boys

“The Burgess Boys” by Elizabeth Strout is available at the library in hardcover, large print, CD audiobook, downloadable audiobook, and e-book.

“Here’s what I think,” says Gerry. “I think we’re not having this conversation.”

But Zach’s guilt doesn’t remain under the radar for long.

Antithetical attorneys
Jimmy Burgess is a defense attorney in the style of Johnny Cochran. No one who knew him when he lived in Shirley Falls can forget how he helped the infamous Wally Packer duck murder charges.

Bobby is a Legal Aid attorney in the style of Woody Allen. When he couldn’t stomach the courtroom, he switched to appellate court, but trial work isn’t the only thing that gives him indigestion–seemingly minor events like overhearing a quarrel between two neighbors he barely knows have him heading to the liquor cabinet. And yet, when we learn about a traumatic incident from his childhood, we forgive Bobby his neurosis.

At first I took Jimmy for a good guy. Didn’t he rush up to Maine to help his sister deal with Zach’s arrest? And doesn’t Jim’s wife tell us that he treats her well, has never raised his voice to her, even when she lost her engagement-ring diamond?

But listen to him talk to Bobby. “Knucklehead” and “Slob-Dog” are just a couple of the insulting nicknames he calls his younger brother–to his face.

Humor too?
Tensions between the town’s large contingent of Somali refugees and the native Mainers are high, but all is not dark here. Humor abounds: Bob is terrified of airplanes. But when he nearly backs into a Somali pedestrian, re-inflaming Somali/Mainer animosity, he ditches the car and flies back to Brooklyn.

Jim is forever deriding Bob for crying “Oy!” when anguished, so this exchange with a woman Bob’s attracted to made me laugh out loud:

[Bob] “Did you say ‘Oy’?”

[Margaret] “I did. One of my husbands was Jewish. I picked up some expressions. He was very expressive.”

[Bob] “Have you had a lot of husbands?”

You’d think the animosity inflamed by the pig’s head incident would take center stage in this insightful novel. Instead Pulitzer-winning novelist Elizabeth Strout places it as a backdrop to the brothers’ battles. Imagine the conflicts their mother, God rest her soul, refereed when they were kids. Oy vey!

About Carol Luers Eyman

Carol Luers Eyman is the outreach and community services coordinator at the Nashua Public Library. After graduating from Kirkland College, she earned a master’s of education and a certificate in technical communication from the University of Massachusetts.

Farewell to My Favorite Leper

Loren RossonThirty-six years.

That’s a long time since we first met Thomas Covenant and wet our toes in a fantasy series that somehow became a 10-volume sprawl.

And if “The Last Dark” sounds like a grim conclusion, it is, which makes it right at home in today’s Game of Thrones climate of moral ambiguity.

The Last Dark by Stephen R. Donaldson

The Last Dark by Stephen R. Donaldson. Available at the library in hardcover.

Unlike George Martin, however, Stephen Donaldson is an acquired taste. Not only are his characters all shades of grey, they’re very depressing, and for some readers the self-loathing can be suffocating.

Thomas Covenant is a leper, and also a rapist; Linden Avery a tormented woman for being forced to watch her father’s suicide as a child, and murdering her sick mother as a teenager. They are loners from our world (the “real world”), but in The Land find themselves taking on the mythic roles of archetypes. Coming to terms with their inner demons is what enables them to combat external evils in The Land more effectively.

Boost your vocabulary
Then there is Donaldson’s vocabulary, which is rich and aesthetic but sometimes gets out of hand. Stephen R. Donaldson Ate My Dictionary offers an amusing catalog of words found throughout the chronicles–and a great way for teens to improve their SAT scores.

And I love Donaldson’s metaphors and similes. For instance:

“Her joints protested as she forced herself to her feet, and shambled forward like a poorly articulated manikin.” (The Runes of the Earth, Chapter 5).

Or:

“He took long draughts of the harsh wine with an air of outrage, as if he were swallowing insults.” (Fatal Revenant, Chapter 8)

You’ll find gems like these on every other page.

The 10 novels make up three chronicles. The first consists of Lord Foul’s Bane, The Illearth War, and The Power That Preserves. The second includes The Wounded Land, The One Tree, and White Gold Wielder. The last is a quartet: The Runes of the Earth, Fatal Revenant, Against All Things Ending, and The Last Dark.

The first chronicle is a Tolkien-like clash of armies with clearly defined good and bad guys. The second is a horror show, involving the corruption of magic, the poisoning of weather and land, and blood sacrifice. And the last has raised the bar with the ambitious theme of time travel.

In all the books, the enemy is a being called Lord Foul (the Despiser), who wants, like all mythic foes, to ruin beauty and make people suffer for sheer love of despite. His methods become more convoluted and hard to figure out in each of the chronicles.

Farewell my friend
Thomas Covenant has been a part of me for a long time now, and it was emotional turning the final page of The Last Dark. I’ll miss him and Linden, and all the friends they made in the strange, passionate world of The Land.

About Loren Rosson

Loren Rosson heads up the circulation department at the Nashua Public Library. He's worked at the library since graduating from Lewis and Clark College, with the exception of the two years he spent in Lesotho with the Peace Corps, teaching high school.

A Murder Mystery for Fans of Downton Abbey

“The September Society” by Charles Finch. Available from the library in hardcover or digital download.

Jen McCormack

Like many people I have a long commute to and from work.  Admittedly there are some days when I crave silence and room for my own thoughts for those two or three hours, but most of the time I’m listening to an audiobook that I’ve downloaded from the library’s website.

It took me a while to develop the habit but now after almost four years working in Nashua I can’t imagine commuting without “reading” a book at the same time.

One of the books I listened to during September was The September Society by Charles Finch, a murder mystery  set in England in the late 19th century. That’s a little earlier than Downton Abbey (and quite a bit later than Pride and Prejudice),  but like those stories this book features influential men and women from wealthy households that employ a large staff and observe the rules and etiquette of fine society. Finch intertwines detective work and suspense with dinner parties, balls, and London gentleman’s clubs.

Fried tomatoes and dead cats
The story begins with a hysterical Lady Annabelle Payson begging wealthy private investigator Charles Lenox to find her missing son George. Lenox has only a preposterous assortment of clues to start with (a bit of string, a piece of fried tomato, a fountain pen, a dead cat) and has to make full use of his wits, influence, and the services of his butler Graham to discover just what’s happened. Cryptic messages written on the backs of cards from “The September Society”  deepen the intrigue and lead our detective into grave danger.

The narrator for this audiobook, James Langton, is tremendous: the voices and tones he gives to individual characters make them seem so real. The author helps the narrator and makes this a good choice for an audiobook with his excellent balance of dialogue in the story vs. narrative descriptions of scenes. Books too heavy on dialogue can become difficult to follow in an audiobook; keeping track of who’s speaking can be challenging without the visual cues of quotation marks and line breaks.

Like many mystery authors Finch writes his novels in series, so when you are done with The September Society there is plenty more of Charles Lenox to enjoy.  You don’t need to wait until next September, either; The September Society is a great read in any month!

Already read this book? Looking for something similar? Comment below, I’d be glad to suggest another Great Read!

About Jen McCormack

Jen McCormack is the director of the Nashua Public Library. Previously she was director of the Tewksbury (Mass.) Public Library and assistant director and reference librarian at the Amesbury (Mass.) Public Library. She studied history at UNH and earned her master's in library and information science from Simmons College.

Fangirling

Sophie Smith
Fangirl

“Fangirl” by Rainbow Rowell. Available in the Teen Room and in Adult Fiction.

After finishing Rainbow Rowell’s latest novel, Fangirl, I wanted more.

I wanted more of Cath, more of Levi, more of Reagan, even more of the often insufferable but ultimately essential Wren. And more of Rowell herself, an author who knows just where to hit me.

This young adult novel centers around Cath, one half of a pair of identical twins who are heading off to college. Her twin, Wren, wants to start fresh, with a new identity, and Cath wants everything to stay the same.

Cath is an avid reader of Simon Snow—a Harry Potteresque character with a gigantic online fan community. She writes fanfiction about the characters of the Simon Snow novels, highly anticipating the final book in the series. Cath can’t keep out of the Simon Snow world, and, having just finished Fangirl, I can’t keep out of Cath’s.

YA Book Club for All Ages at the Nashua Public Library
Next Meeting: Oct. 23, 2013, at 7 pm
“The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green

For anyone who’s loved a fictional universe, it’s easy to imagine a story taking a different track, or continuing after the final pages. Rowell understands this, and writes quirky, complicated characters that make you want to befriend them and know their entire life.

Rowell also understands the fan world—her tumblr (rainbowrowell.tumblr.com) is filled with reblogged posts of fan art of Cath and her friends, moments from her story, and other beautiful re-imaginings of the world she created. No one wants her story to end.

If you’re looking for a good YA book to read, pick up Fangirl. Or, since it’s likely checked out, put it on hold and try Eleanor and Park, Rowell’s first YA novel, which is equally incredible and devastating. In fact, it’s an upcoming pick for the YA Book Club for All Ages, so once you’ve read it, come talk about it on November 20. Please register at tinyurl.com/nplteen.

About Sophie Smith

Sophie Smith is the supervisor of teen services at the Nashua Public Library and can also frequently be found at the reference desk. As a history and Spanish major at Kenyon College she spent a year in Salamanca, Spain. She earned her master's in library and information science from Simmons College.

“So the truth was he was dying.”

Carol Luers EymanYou would expect reading 257 pages about a dying old man’s last months to be depressing.

You would expect his stream-of-consciousness memories of 80 years in a remote Colorado town to be boring.

And in the hands of another novelist, you would be right.

But not when that novelist is Kent Haruf.

Benediction book jacket

Benediction by Kent Haruf. Available from the library in hardcover and downloadable audio.

True confession:
I hesitated to check out Benediction, passing it by on our New Fiction shelves for several weeks. Having consumed all of Haruf’s previous books (Plainsong, Eventide, The Tie That Binds, and Where You Once Belonged), did I really want to read more of the same?

But that was a moment of madness. I had forgotten his serene prose, his ability to evoke a mood, to paint characters who surprise you.

By page 5, we know how the story ends:

“So the truth was he was dying. That’s what they were saying. He would be dead before the end of summer. By the beginning of September the dirt would be piled over what was left of him out at the cemetery three miles east of town. Someone would cut his name into the face of a tombstone and it would be as if he never was.”

The real story here is not the demise of “Dad” Lewis (oddly, everyone in town calls him “Dad”) but the life that got him to this point–the hardware store he’s owned for 60 years, the neighbor woman and her eight-year-old granddaughter Alice who’s just moved in next door, and most touchingly, the tenderness of his wife, Mary, as she sees him through his final weeks.

A slow reveal
Haruf’s technique is first to draw those simple pictures, almost stereotypes, of rural life, then later to peel them away to reveal the drama behind them. At the hardware store, an employee Dad fired for stealing later committed suicide, and Dad assuaged his guilt by secretly supporting the widow and children for years. Alice’s caution around Dad’s illness, it turns out, has to do with witnessing her mother’s recent demise from breast cancer. Mary wants to spend all her time with her husband in his dying days, except for the day she steals off to Denver, searching for their estranged son.

If you like the way you feel reading the short stories of Alice Munro or Snow Falling on Cedars, don’t pass by Benediction when you’re browsing our shelves.

Carol Luers Eyman is the outreach and community services coordinator at the Nashua Public Library, where she handles publicity and marketing, plans adult programs, and works with community groups. She has a master’s degree in education and a certificate in technical communication. 

 

About Carol Luers Eyman

Carol Luers Eyman is the outreach and community services coordinator at the Nashua Public Library. After graduating from Kirkland College, she earned a master’s of education and a certificate in technical communication from the University of Massachusetts.

The Five

Loren RossonI can’t remember the last time I read a novel like The Five.

If you like suspense, horror, and rock music, then this book is tailor made for you.

And for my money, it’s Robert McCammon’s best book since Boy’s Life.

McCammon’s horror novels of the ’80s were great: he gave us Amazon women who slaughtered men by night in a remote Pennsylvania village; city-slicking vampires running over Los Angeles; the descendants of Poe’s Usher family; a Russian werewolf infiltrating Nazi Germany.

But in the ’90s McCammon broke the mold. First with Boy’s Life, a coming of age story so literary it deserved Cliff Notes, and still does. (Think The Adventures of Tom Sawyer meets The Prince of Tides meets the author’s unique elements.) Then with Gone South, a throttling page-turner about a man on the run from a tragic mistake, yet moving toward a weird redemption without knowing it.

Like these latter efforts, The Five resists genre-labeling and contains moments transcendent enough to read like classic literature.

“The Five” by Robert McCammon is available at the library in hardcover.

Indie rockers chasing their dreams
So what’s it about? A dirt-poor indie rock band (called The Five, three men and two women), drive around in a van and play gigs across the southwestern U.S., chasing dreams of success.

They finally get exactly that, but at a nasty price when a crazy ex-Marine sniper starts picking them off for comments made by the lead singer about soldiers in Iraq. Suddenly the band’s concerts swell in proportion to the media vultures, and with the fame comes devastation. It’s a nail-biter punctuated with slow pauses and soul-searching, both parts just as hard to put down.

Smashing Pumpkins meet The Walkmen?
The narrative is saturated with the author’s love for rock ‘n’ roll. It’s no mean feat to make a reader “hear” music off the page, yet that’s what I was doing–crafting my own mental jams and drawing on textures from favorite bands. (You’ll make your own associations, but I imagined The Five as sounding grungy like The Smashing Pumpkins and searing like The Walkmen.) This was especially true for the signature song written by all of the band members instead of the usual two: it takes on a curious life throughout the story, as it’s born of harrowing events and each band member finds his or her muse at the oddest, eeriest moments.

There’s even some of the supernatural in The Five: it appears unexpectedly and with enough subtlety that you’re never quite sure if there is something ghostly or psychological going on.

But for all its terrors, The Five is ultimately about the enduring power of music and the feverish creativity of artists. It’s a brilliant story, and one I’ll be reading again at some point.

The Five’s paperback release is coming November 26, 2013, but the hardcover has been in the library’s collection for a while now.

About Loren Rosson

Loren Rosson heads up the circulation department at the Nashua Public Library. He's worked at the library since graduating from Lewis and Clark College, with the exception of the two years he spent in Lesotho with the Peace Corps, teaching high school.

Bad Boys on the Bayou

Glass Rainbow

The Glass Rainbow by James Lee Burke, available in hardcover, large print, CD and downloadable audio.

Jen McCormackI love reading James Lee Burke’s novels; he has created the two best characters in American detective fiction and pits them against the most insidious evil against the peaceful background of the heat and beauty of southern Louisiana in every book.

For this post I tried to pick my favorite to introduce the series, to choose a place to recommend that a reader begin, but found that I couldn’t talk about one of these novels without referring to the other.

So I will tell you to start reading James Lee Burke’s novels by picking up The Glass Rainbow, but be forewarned that when you’re done with that you should have Creole Belle on your nightstand ready to go.

While these two books aren’t the first in the Dave Robicheaux series, they are the perfect introduction to the friendship between Robicheaux, a police detective, and his best friend Clete Purcel, a kind of one-man wrecking machine who consistently makes all kinds of bad decisions in the name of honor and loyalty.

Low-lifes and high-lifes
The villains in The Glass Rainbow are as malevolent as they come:  Herman Stanga is a vile crack dealer who also works as a pimp and is easy to spot as a low-life criminal. The more dangerous may be Kermit Abelard who comes from a prominent Louisiana family and is so smooth that Dave’s daughter believes she is in love with him.

But Robert Weingart may be the most treacherous of the bunch:  a best-selling author who is also an ex-convict and certainly not the man he wants everyone to believe.  Dave and Clete are looking for the culprit in the murder of seven young women and somehow all three of these men seem to be connected to each other and the murders in a way that Dave can’t quite untangle.

The violent end of this book is like the cliff-hanger episode of your favorite crime show. Luckily you don’t have to wait for the summer hiatus to be over to find out what happens to Dave and Clete, just reach out to your nightstand and grab that copy of Creole Belle I told you about and stay right there in the bayou of New Iberia, Lousiana.

If you’ve already been introduced to Dave and Clete and are looking for other great detectives send me an email:  Jennifer.Hinderer@nashualibrary.org

About Jen McCormack

Jen McCormack is the director of the Nashua Public Library. Previously she was director of the Tewksbury (Mass.) Public Library and assistant director and reference librarian at the Amesbury (Mass.) Public Library. She studied history at UNH and earned her master's in library and information science from Simmons College.

Everybody Poops

Sophie SmithMost mornings when using Starbucks’ drive-through, I don’t bother turning down the volume of my audiobook.

Just the other day, though, I was listening to Mary Roach’s Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal and I may have scarred the employees.

It’s not that Gulp is inappropriate or mean-spirited or violent or graphic, but it is a little, well, gross. Not everyone wants to hear about Elvis’s giant colon at 7:30 in the morning.

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach, available from the library in print and audiobook

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach, available from the library in print and audiobook

Despite the topic, the book is fascinating. I can’t stop talking about it and pushing my friends and family to read it. Surely everyone should know about giant colons! And fecal transplants! And rectal hooping! And how dog food is made! And why farts smell like they do!

As Roach traces the human digestive process, each new twist and turn is as enthralling as the last. I haven’t read or listened to any other books by Mary Roach, but I am completely hooked by her humorous and informative science writing.

Stiffs and bonks
When I was working through the Dewey decimal system, several colleagues mentioned that Roach’s books Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void and Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers are both excellent. I didn’t get to them last year, but you can be sure I’ll be checking them out soon. Or perhaps I’ll further scandalize the employees at the Starbucks drive-through window by listening to Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex.

What about you? What are your favorite science books? Do you have a book you might want to turn down when going through the drive-through, but love it anyway?  If you love engaging science writing and a good fart joke be sure to check out Gulp!

About Sophie Smith

Sophie Smith is the supervisor of teen services at the Nashua Public Library and can also frequently be found at the reference desk. As a history and Spanish major at Kenyon College she spent a year in Salamanca, Spain. She earned her master's in library and information science from Simmons College.

Reader advisory: Sex, drugs, and violence?

Carol Luers EymanWelcome to Next Great Read!, the Nashua Public Library’s new reader advisory blog.

Say what? “Reader advisory”?

When you see the words “viewer advisory” at the beginning of a TV show, you expect sex, nudity, violence, drugs, and swearing.

So is a “reader advisory” a warning to expect similarly juicy content, but in books?

That’s what I thought when I first heard the term. But in reality, it’s a phrase used by librarians and booksellers to mean the process of suggesting books to customers.

I’ll bet you didn’t know that librarians take courses in reader advisory while at library school. (For that matter, did you know there is such a thing as “library school”? So if you go to library school to become a librarian, do you go to “school school” to become a teacher?) They learn how to recommend what to read next, based on what you tell them you’ve liked in the past.

And that’s what we’ll be doing here in “Next Great Reads!” To start out, four of us will be posting:

  • Library Director Jen Hinderer will write about mysteries, historical fiction, and audiobooks.
  • Supervisor of Teen Services Sophie Smith will recommend nonfiction, as well as fiction that’s written for teens but appeals to adults, too (think: Marcelo in the Real World, The Book Thief).
  • Supervisor of Circulation Loren Rosson will write about fantasy, horror, and occasionally about films.
  • Outreach & Community Services Coordinator Carol Eyman (that’s me) will recommend mainstream, historical, and literary fiction.

When I’m looking for a book recommendation, I’ve learned over time to go to people who share my tastes. I’ve also learned that when certain other people recommend books I should smile politely–and relegate their recommendations to my “To Read (Not!)” list.

Likewise, we hope you’ll come to know, among the four of us, whose opinions jive with your own. We also hope you’ll give us feedback, either by commenting on a post or by seeking us out when you visit the library.

If you haven’t subscribed to Next Great Read! yet, find the box near the top right of your screen and sign up now. Tell your friends about us too! Give them this link: nashualibrary.org/nextgreatread.

About Carol Luers Eyman

Carol Luers Eyman is the outreach and community services coordinator at the Nashua Public Library. After graduating from Kirkland College, she earned a master’s of education and a certificate in technical communication from the University of Massachusetts.