Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Mississippian wins 2014 Pulitzer for Fiction (copy)

Did you stand a little taller, April 14, this past Monday? You should as a Mississippian. Our very own Greenwood native, Donna Tartt, won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for fiction with her third book The Goldfinch. The Pulitzer website states the award is given, “for distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life.”
From the publisher Little Brown (since I have yet to read it), “Composed with the skills of a master, The Goldfinch is a haunted odyssey through present day America and a drama of enthralling force and acuity.
It begins with a boy. Theo Decker, a 13-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don't know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.
As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love-and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.
The Goldfinch is a novel of shocking narrative energy and power. It combines unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language, and breathtaking suspense, while plumbing with a philosopher's calm the deepest mysteries of love, identity, and art. It is a beautiful, stay-up-all-night and tell-all-your-friends triumph, an old-fashioned story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the ruthless machinations of fate.”
High praise comes from the Pulitzer jury who states, “It is a beautifully written coming-of-age novel with exquisitely drawn characters that follows a grieving boy’s entanglement with a small famous painting that has eluded destruction, a book that stimulates the mind and touches the heart.”
Upon hearing the news, Tartt said, “"I am incredibly happy and incredibly honored and the only thing I am sorry about is that Willie Morris and Barry Hannah aren't here. They would have loved this."
May I say, we are “happy and incredibly honored” to have raised such a talented Mississippian in Donna Tartt!

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

The Storied South (copy)

The Storied South
William Ferris has a new book out titled, The Storied South: Voices of Writers and Artists. It is his early interviews with noted movers and shakers in the late 60s through to early 90s, and not all were Southern. The book includes his original recordings of the interviews on CD and his Super 8 videos on DVD.
Readers will hear familiar voices like Eudora Welty, Alice Walker, Bobby Rush, Walker Evans, William Eggleston, Carroll Cloar, and William Dunlap. They will also find some surprises with Charles and Pete Seeger, Sterling Brown, and Dr. John Dollard.
Take some time to revisit the Agrarian Movement with the voices of one leader Robert Penn Warren, one follower Cleanth Brooks, and one detractor John Blassingame. In Robert Penn Warren’s interview I read that Faulkner was loved by the Agrarians and Warren cited Fletcher, Ransom and Owsley. In college, I learned they hated Faulkner thus my distaste for them.
 As a resident of Como, MS, I also like Warren’s comment, “During my time as a student and teaching in the South, parties were almost always either playing charades or poker or tale-telling. Andrew Lytle was a great actor and a great improviser of tales. He was one of the best raconteurs and conversationalists I have ever known. There are only a few people who can even touch him. Stark Young could and Lyle Saxon in New Orleans could.”
Pete Seeger’s interview was eye opening probably because I am more familiar with his children’s book, “Abiyoyo,” than his activism. His father who is also interviewed taught him the importance of folk music and Alan Lomax hired him—for $15 a week—to listen to “old commercial records of the twenties.”
Seeger wanted to improve his banjo playing and what better place than the South. He “learned to hitchhike” in 1940 and hit the road with a little trick from friend, Woody Guthrie. Sit at a bar nursing one beer with your banjo slung over your shoulder. After a while, someone is bound to ask if you can play. Woody said hang back and be reluctant. “Well maybe a little,” and keep on drinking your beer. “Finally, somebody is going to say, ‘Kid, I got a quarter. Play me a tune.’ Now you start playing.”
Seeger crossed the great Suwannee River in the sky this past January, but this interview feels like he is talking directly to us today. William Ferris’s rapport with all his subjects emits a back porch, talk amongst friends, feeling and we have access to rare and fun Southern stories.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (copy)

Bruno and his family have recently been uprooted from their beautiful home in Berlin to a shabby salt box in the country of Germany. It all happened after a dinner with the Fury and his beautiful blonde companion who sat across from his mother.
The next morning, Bruno came in from breakfast to find the family maid, Maria, digging through his closet. In the room were four large boxes and she was pulling out clothes. He was in shock and upset because someone was going through his possessions. He hoped she would not find his secret stuff.
Bruno went downstairs to ask his mother if he had done something wrong. He would understand if his sister, Gretel, had been bad. All the family considered her a Hopeless Case and had caused nothing but trouble for him anyway, but to ship him off instead of her seemed wrong.
Mother calmed him down with the news that the whole family is moving away. Not just him, but Father, Mother, Gretel and all the help are going on an adventure. She continued to explain that the Fury gave Bruno’s father a very special job and the family is moving to support him.
All excitement was lost when Bruno got a good look at the new house, though. He went from a staircase he could slide five floors all the way down to a three-storied banister that was bound to cause splinters. His room was tiny, too. Way smaller than his sister’s room and with only one window he had to stand on his tippy-toes to see out.
This new house was the only one on the block. Not like his home in Berlin that was on a tree-lined road with his best friends living next door. No more Karl, Daniel and Martin. It looked like Bruno would have to make new friends and he was worried since there was no other house in sight.
Well, that was until he looked out the window. Standing high as he could on his toes, he could see little boys, skinny fathers, and even old grandfathers. Where were the little girls, mothers and grandmothers? He did not know, but somewhere in this group of pajama wearing guys there was bound to be a friend.
This is the beginning of the 2005 book titled, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by Irishman John Boyne. He writes the story as it unfolds from a nine-year-old German boy’s perspective. Prior to the prejudices that may taint Bruno later, readers experience the Nazi side of the fence at a concentration camp. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Author Rodeo Round-Up 2 (copy)

Northwest’s first Author Rodeo Round-up has been a joy to organize. The experience is humbling, though. We are surrounded by all kinds of talent and I am a slacker for not knowing.
My first awakening was from author Margaret Eubanks. She has written two books, Whispers (2006) and her new book Goodnight, Sippi, I Love You. Her Amazon page states, “It is her desire to share Sippi’s story, hoping it may help other pet owners. A portion of the proceeds of this book will be donated to help abused, neglected, and rescued animals.”
Margaret introduced me to friend, Nancy Millikin Tubbs, who edited her Sippi book. Nancy has six books under her belt. The Invisible Bridge, written after the death of her husband; Unconditional Grace, a book of prayers; Hummingbird Inn, a mystery with historical romance included; The Key of Nostradamus, about, you guessed it, the key of Nostradamus; Rustic Breads and Spreads, a cookbook, and Fresh and Crispy: Journal of an Italian Walking Tour, about her humorous first trip abroad.
What is more humbling to a librarian than finding a local author who has written 17 books? Linda Rettstatt’s website states she writes women’s fiction and mainstream romance novels, though her latest release is a paranormal romance involving a writer, a ghost, and a murderous hunter. She is a Pennsylvania Yankee currently residing in Northwest Mississippi where she has yet to report an Elvis sighting.
Diana Anderson honed her craft while growing up in southeast Oklahoma. She explains on Goodreads, “As a child, I made up stories in my head while working in the peanut fields on my father's farm during the long hot days of summer.” She has written five books and will be bringing her latest, Famous in a Small Town. Readers can expect a southern, dark mystery-thriller with a touch of romance and humor.
Dr. Rachell N. Anderson is on the Northwest Board of Trustees. She has authored 10 books. Her most recent are: Before Our Eyes, a chronicle of the healing advantages of watching psychotherapy between a client and a therapist in an open forum followed by, The Legacy Continues: Writing Healing Stories, Run Turkeys, Run: 50 Years of Celebrating Family a memoir and Cultivating Cotton: From Field to Runway.
This is only a small taste of the talent that will be on the Northwest campus this Saturday. We will have 20 authors and two publishers. Stop by and meet Dr. David Ball, Lisa Cockrell, Dr. Mike Cockrell, Rev. Ray Cross, Pam DeLoach, Jody Dickson, Dr. Cassandra Hawkins, Thomas Herrington, Shane Louwerens, Sharon Morgan, and Merle Temple.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Rivers (copy)

I woke up to rain again. How many days since the last time I saw the sun, I cannot tell you. The musk, mold and dampness that surrounds me is heavy like being pulled down by the weight of thick kudzu. I have to get out of this house for various reasons. My sanity being number one.  
I now carry on conversations with Dog and Habana. They both came to me, Dog after the first storm when the line was drawn and Habana in the middle of a level five looking for shelter. The horse has a name only because it is tooled in the leather of her saddle. Dog came to me without a calling card.
This morning is no different as I open the door and urge Dog out to take care of business. With coffee in hand, I tell him to report back if there are changes in the weather. He smirks. Even he realizes the rain will never end.
Another big one is coming, too. Last night I found myself cowering and scratching at my ratty beard with every blow to the roof. I need to get supplies before it really hits.
Joe, my contact to the other side of the line and supplier, always quizzes me on reasons for staying in this mess?  Go north, he tells me, but it is not that easy. No one waits for me up north. My family is here. The visits are all I have.
I walk back through the hall and place one hand on the plaster that blocks the entrance to our bedroom. It was my last chore after burying her near the Magnolia. Those trees are so strong. I watch the wind throw the branches to the ground repeatedly, but they bounce back like a fresh fighter weaving in the ring.
The plaster feels damp with moisture, but a warmth spreads through my fingers and into my hand inching its way past my wrist and into my arm. Is this a real or imagined sense? I can no longer tell. I must get out of this house.
She tells me to go, too. We will be fine. Habana whinnies in the background and the spell is broken. I walk back to the kitchen placing the mug on the counter then grab a cap. I hunch in the rain to save my front from getting wet and run to the barn. She is ready for open pasture.
Mississippi native, Michael Farris Smith, shares an apocalyptic adventure filled with foreboding in his first book set near the lawless Mississippi coast titled, Rivers. I sense the ghost of Capote rearing his Southern Gothic head amongst the sad Larry Brown trash. My feelings toward this book are all warm and fuzzy, though. It is destined to win awards.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Author Rodeo Round-Up! (copy)

Excitement builds as our first ever Author Rodeo Round-up at Northwest nears. We have a great group of panelists and an eager collection of local authors rounded-up. One panelist in the group is key because of her ability to tackle tough issues making her work very accessible to readers.
We first met Julie Cantrell at a Reading Roundtable event sponsored by Sycamore Bank in 2013. Members read her book, Into the Free, and were impressed with her main character, Millie. Millie is the product of an alcoholic father, suicidal mother, and an unethical preacher.
Cantrell explained, “Sometimes, readers ask me why I choose to write about dark topics such as domestic violence, sexual abuse, addiction, betrayal, and hypocrisy. My answer is simple. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been touched by struggle in some significant way. So my goal as an author is to explore these human journeys and to remind each reader that we are never alone in our suffering.
I also hope to show readers that recovery is possible, and that faith is the key to healing. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about life, love, and the redemptive power of forgiveness. I realize, as Millie points out in “Into the Free” that forgiveness is a heavy word. To forgive someone is never easy, especially when we seem to have been hurt beyond repair. And let’s be honest…who hasn’t?
I know too many people who have been violently attacked, verbally abused, emotionally destroyed, or sexually victimized. I know soldiers who have sacrificed limb and life, left their families, entered the battlefield, and returned with wounded body, mind, and spirit.
I also know parents who have lost their children to addiction, wives who have been betrayed by their adulterous husbands, men who have sold their souls to the fantasy of porn, and children whose parents have hurt them in ways too horrific for our imaginations.
Best friends and coworkers betray one another, fractured families carve deep ravines between loved ones, and the race for wealth, fame, or power lead many well-intentioned individuals to corrupt and selfish paths.
But despite all the hurt in this world, here’s what I believe. Honest people trust others. Joyful people love others. Secure people see only the good in others. Selfless people take great risks in order to help others. Genuine people never turn their back on others. Grateful people do not envy others. Kind people do not intentionally hurt others. Humble people celebrate the success of others.”
Cantrell will discuss her latest, When Mountains Move, Mar. 29 at 2 p.m. in the R.C. Pugh Library at Northwest Mississippi Community College as part of the Author Rodeo Round-up.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Locomotive (copy)

At the end of January, the American Library Association (ALA) announces their award winners for the previous year. Because Northwest supports a strong Early Childhood Education program, the library is expected to purchase those award winners for their students. The program concentrates on serving children younger than five years of age.
Goodie! This year’s Caldecott Medal winner is nostalgic, dusty, informative and loud. I am talking about Locomotive by Brain Floca. In the soft watercolors enhancing Floca’s drawing, readers will feel like they are looking at old tintypes. He even includes his own drawing of a tintype on the title page.
Let me regress slightly and tell you first about the Caldecott Medal. According to ALA, the medal is named in honor of 19th-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott and awarded annually to an artist with the most distinguished American picture book for children.
I believe Randolph Caldecott would be proud to hand his award personally to Floca had he been alive. Floca’s work is set in 1869 during the Victorian Era. Caldecott did his best drawings enhanced with watercolor just like Floca between the years 1861- 1879.
“Locomotive” opens with men in various maneuvers hammering down a spike as American workers connect east to west by rail. Listen to the noise from Floca’s words.
“CLANK CLANK CLANK! Men came from far away to build from the East, to build from the West, to meet in the middle. They cleared the rocks and dug the tunnels. They raised the hammers and brought them down—‘Three strokes to the spike, ten spikes to the rail!’ CLANK CLANK CLANK!”
The next page shows a crowed train station platform in Omaha, Nebraska. At the end of the stage stands a mother, older daughter and younger son all bending over to see the approaching train.
“Hear a clang of the bell, hear the huff of an engine—her crew is bringing her out! Clang-Clang-Clang…See a puff from her stack—a puff of smoke, a smudge in the sky. CLANG-CLANG-CLANG! Here she comes! See a puff, a smudge, a cloud …WHOO-OOOOO”
Through Floca’s artwork, he studied with David Macaulay who illustrated Castle and Cathedral, one rides No. 119 through the west, arriving at Sacramento, California where the family joins their father. 
This picture book will delight old and young as they ride the exquisitely drawn rails. All Aboard!

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Aviator's Wife (copy)

Most everyone has read a version of The Spirit of St. Louis by Charles Lindbergh. I read the autobiography while at school in Murfreesboro, Tenn.  Plenty of ladies have read The Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh and quoted passages in garden and civic clubs across Mississippi. Lindbergh the Pulitzer Prize winner by A. Scott Berg is an extraordinary read.
My point? Lindbergh makes good reading and The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin is destined to be a book club darling. This historical fiction gives readers an insight to what it might be like to be married to one of the most famous characters of the 20th century. A brilliant concept since we all want to get into that active brain of his and roll around.
I was once asked who I looked up to as a young woman pilot. Must be Amelia Earhart, right? My answer was short and sassy. No! She got lost. My hero was Lindbergh from the start. I cannot imagine how I would react if I saw him in person. Probably like the rubes in Benjamin’s book.
Even after it came to light that Lindberg supported Hitler and his anti-sematic views, I still had a connection with the man.  His achievements outweighed his wrongs like the scandals of our times with baseball, football and basketball. I still saw him in a god-like persona.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh makes me jealous, too. How irrational is that statement? Not only did she become his wife, but she became a pilot in the golden age of flight. Not many women can lay claim to flying twin engine airplanes just because their husband needed a nap while in flight.
In Benjamin’s book, readers will get a real sense of the married couple’s life. Lindbergh’s responsibilities are to fly the plane. Anne must cook, clean and plan their cross Atlantic trips alongside him and at times he is extremely demanding. Even the day after they wed, he gets out the charts and explains to her that she will become a pilot. She is the only person he trust.
It is the 1930s. Who does Anne have to admire other than her husband? Amelia Earhart and Poncho Barnes would have been the most famous, but she could not compare to these record and rule breakers. I doubt they would have given her the time of day. Sometimes her loneliness seeps off the pages and begins to fill your hands.
I treasure this book alongside those mentioned in the first paragraph. To step inside Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s shoes is an incredible experience, even if it is imagined. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Brain on Fire (copy)

Mental health is a tough issue and in the forefront for those of us who work with the public regularly. Some of my favorite stories come from the time I worked at a local public library. Some regulars had peculiar habits that were related to a slight trace of paranoia. The two I mention today are no longer with us having passed at least 10 or more years ago.
The first I will call clock man. He was extremely well mannered and always dressed to the nines. To look at him, one would see an aging man (think Cab Calloway with a pencil mustache) but nothing out of the ordinary.
As was his habit, he came around two in the afternoon to make copies. These copies were campaign advertisements or donation letters from non-profits. Usually Republican in nature, we shared polite conversations about the party and current national politicians.  
Everything seemed normal until he started to insist that his pocket watch be placed on every copy made. Every copy made. Unless donating, this type of mail we file 13 daily, but he stuffed the copies made back into the free return envelopes and sent back.
The second man was a dear friend of mine who knew his thoughts were controversial. We had all kinds of fun and fights, but neither of us held a grudge. His favorite “theory” was the useless eater theory. He believed the contrails flowing from the back of airplanes was a form of high altitude crop dusting, but instead of plants it was a government plot to poison children and the elderly, i.e., useless eaters.
I speak of two harmless and much-loved individuals protected by a small town community, but what if these individuals are teenagers and the community much larger? We are lucky here at Northwest because of the small community and the support system for these types of problems. We can identify an individual who may not be showering or eating regularly and get them help.
I talked about Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith last month. The 16-year-old main character loses her mind in the short span of two months. In Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan’s descent is faster.
She opens the book with a preface. “At first, there’s just darkness and silence. ‘Are my eyes open? Hello?’ I can’t tell if I’m moving my mouth or if there’s even anyone to ask. It’s too dark to see. I blink once, twice, three times. There is a dull foreboding in the pit of my stomach. That, I recognize. My thoughts translate only slowly into language, as if emerging from a pot of molasses.”
Cahalan is going mad, but at least in a hospital setting. This memoir is a non-stop unbelievable ride as you spiral down with her believing there is no relief for her burning brain. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Orphan Train (copy)

Christina Baker Kline has a hit on her hands with her 2013 book titled Orphan Train. It may no longer be on the bestseller list, but book clubs will eat it up for years to come.
According to Kline’s blog, “Between 1854 and 1929, so-called orphan trains ran regularly from the cities of the East Coast to the farmlands of the Midwest, carrying thousands of abandoned children whose fates would be determined by luck or chance. Would they be adopted by a kind and loving family, or would they face a childhood and adolescence of hard labor and servitude?”
Orphan Train runs two different time lines. The book opens in modern day Spruce Harbor, Maine and Molly Ayers is in trouble. She was caught stealing a book from the library and has been assigned community service. This does not bode well with her foster parents; especially, Dina who is looking to get her moved on for various reasons.
Molly knows that she is skirting the comfort zone of her agreement with Ralph and Dina. Dina’s quick to tell her that other foster parents will not take in a known shoplifter for the trust issues alone, but Molly is 17 now and soon the foster system will be all but a bad memory.
What’s the big deal anyway? It was Jane Eyre, the ugly copy. Who would even miss it? The paperback was too new and the hardback too clean, so Molly slipped the dog-eared, yellow-highlighted, crispy brown papered copy into her coat. The librarian should thank her for doing the weeding.
Because of this action, Molly will spend the next 50 hours cleaning the attic of an elderly woman, Vivian Daly, in the nice part of town. “But she’s not sure about this idea. Stuck alone in a musty attic day after day, going through some lady’s trash?”
As you can guess, Vivian Daly is our little orphan train rider, Niamh Power, who leaves New York City and ends up in Minneapolis in 1929. Her shock of red hair and freckles marks her as Irish and undesirable to most that look her over. The Claddagh necklace that still resides on her neck today also served to ward off even the kindest of strangers.
Both Molly and Niamh then Dorothy and finally Vivian are characters that will pull at your heart strings. With 60 years of difference in their ages, their common ground is measured in acres not feet. 
Orphan Train is a remarkable novel bringing this little known history back to Americans.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Bright Wings (copy)

It was a breezy spring day and I was running the runway. The runway is 5,000 feet and the parallel taxiway make a two mile loop when you add the space connecting them at the ends. It is a calming run and once my Pandora is rocking nothing will stop me.
The storm the night before had left a breeze perfect for practicing crosswind landings, and I was enjoying the comical landings my green husband was attempting in our tail dragger. I once had an instructor show me how he could land on one wheel in crosswinds and maintain that wing down stance until the speed finally bled off and we kissed the runway.
Back to my breezy spring day and running the runway. Every 50 feet is a runway or taxiway light. I use the lights to mark off start/stops for speed work sometimes by running faster in between them or alternating leg drills. Not on this day. My goal was to log 8 miles and fight against the breeze while running north.
I was at the end of my run and the sun was starting to set, when I saw it. Out of the corner of my eye, a bird hopped twice on a runway light and then landwd. Not that unusual, but it looked like it had a broken wing.
As I got closer to the light the bird took off and landed on the next light. I saw a flashing of the super long tail that must have been the broken wing look. When I neared it again, I paid even closer attention as it took flight and the pink of its underbelly was caught by the light of the setting sun. It was a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher!
I rushed to the college library to find a Peterson or Sibley bird book with more on the elusive bird and I found, Bright Wings: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems about Birds sitting amongst the group. Curated by former poet laureate Billy Collins and illustrated by David Allen Sibley, the cover features this beautiful bright bird created in watercolors and ink.
In Collins’ introduction, he discusses what he calls “the phenomenon of poems about birds.” It extends back to the earliest of writings and may have occurred as late as the poetry writing workshop given any night of this week. And, why not? Birds symbolize so many things such as freedom, a closeness to God and bad omens.
What a beauty I was treated to that day, as the bird stayed one light ahead of me. What a beauty you will be treated to while reading this rare collection of poems.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Wild Awake (copy)

Seventeen-year-old Kiri is planning to really get her music career off this summer. These plans include practicing her piano piece five hours a day, winning Battle of the Bands with her soon-to-be boyfriend who lives next door, and being accepted into the master class of elite who will perform in the Showcase-within-the-Showcase.

Kiri is assigned some practical chores, too. Her parents who happen to be on a summer long cruise expect her to water the azaleas, take accurate phone messages, and call her older brother Denny if need be.
On the first day with the parents away, Kiri spends it in the basement of her neighbor’s house. Lukas has the perfect set-up. His basement is almost sound proof and the cool cave-like temperature keeps him from sweating too much during long drum sessions. Kiri sets her synthesizer near and both rock out for hours of improvisation.   
So much for the five hours of piano, her day long jam session with Lukas will have to do. Kiri rationalizes the goofing off as practice without memorization. Anyway, how will she see Lukas and be available for another impromptu kiss if she is at home on the piano stool.
As night falls and the two fight over the band’s name, Snake Eats Kitten versus Sonic Drift, Kiri is asked to stay for supper. It is pasta night at the Malcywycks and Lukas’s mom, Petra, is worried about her nutrition. Petra is a social worker by day and a slight meddler by night.
Kiri does not mind the inquisition as long as she can stay near Lukas. She actually likes the touchy-feely questions because they present another opportunity to bond with him.
The phone is ringing when she finally gets home that night. She is tempted to let it go to message thinking it is probably her parents, but at the last minute she dives for it. “Byrd residence,” as she drops the leftovers and scrimmages for a pencil to take those must have accurate notes.
The voice on the other end is slurring his words as he asks if this is Sukey’s home number. Kiri snaps to attention. Suki is her sister who died in an automobile accident five years ago. “Hello?”
“Yes, this is Doug Fieldgrass and I have Sukey-girls stuff. Can you come by tonight and pick it up?”
Debut author, Hilary T. Smith, has written a mesmerizing young adult book in Wild Awake. Kiri not only retrieves her sister’s things, she also finds out that she was murdered. Readers will watch Kiri’s mind slowly unravel and then wind back up in this unpredictable plot. 

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Orleans (copy)

After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Gulf States were hit over and over by larger category 4-6 hurricanes. Katrina was followed by Isaiah, then Lorenzo, Olga in 2016, the twins Laura and Paloma in 2017, and the least forgiving Jesus in 2019.
Jesus took an estimated 8,000 lives and left the Gulf with an estimated 10,000 survivors. The pestilence that followed was known as Delta Fever and reported to be the worst outbreak since the Spanish Influenza of 1918.
In 2020, the fever could not be controlled and thought to be incurable. A quarantine was declared by the Center for Disease Control and borders to the region were sealed. Without war, the United States became five states less in 2025. All aid to Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas ceased and by the year 2050 humans are thought to be extinct in those non-state areas.
Fen de la Guerre is O-Positive. All her tribe is O-Positive and they live in the woods outside of Orleans. She stays alone in a leaf covered lean-to while most of the tribe live in mud made warrens. They move constantly since they are hunted for their quality blood. Everyone in Orleans carries the fever but O-Positives are the mildest strain.
ABs are the blood thirstiest of the tribes. They live within the old city where only fools venture after dark. Their chieftain keeps them hopped up on drugs and the fever makes their eyes look bloody. To see an AB is to see insanity walking.
Fen’s tribe is the only one to have a woman chieftain, Lydia Moray. Lydia is eight months pregnant and feeling the weight of hosting her first powwow with the O-Negatives. Fen has her suspicions that Lydia’s baby is a product of an unwanted O-Neg visit and tonight the secret will be revealed.
The O-Negs are dressed to impress with feathers, alligator leather and painted bodies. They leave their weapons at the warren opening and are greeted with drinks from the O-Positives. As they gather around the fire, the outside trees and bushes are filling up with crazed ABs. The attack will be swift and only two survivors from the O-Positive camp will see the sunrise.
Orleans is the second book by the award-winning author of FlygirlSherri L. Smith. This young adult book is filled with science, adventure and awe. I stayed up late into the night to read this one.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Every Day (copy)

I wake up.
Immediately I have to figure out who I am. It’s not just the body—opening my eyes and discovering whether the skin on my arm is light or dark, whether my hair is long or short, whether I’m fat or thin, boy or girl, scarred or smooth. The body is the easiest thing to adjust to, if you’re used to waking up in a new one each morning. It’s the life, the context of the body, that can be hard to grasp.
Every day I am someone else. I am myself—I know I am myself—but I am also someone else.
It has always been like this.”
Can you imagine waking up in a different body every day? The character named A can. He has been possessing a different body since the day he was born; although, he does not remember his earlier experiences as a baby.
A believes he first came aware of the different rooms, houses, siblings, and parents around the age of five. By the time he is eight, he realizes he is different from the other kids. As far as he knows, he is the only essence that moves from body to body.  
A is 16-years-old now and has rules that help him and the new person cope with the one day change. He inhabits bodies that are the same age as him. His personality is different from everyone, but for the day he needs to at least resemble them in words and actions. And, at midnight, he will transfer to another body whether awake or not.
The person A inhabits will not be themselves, but A can access their memory for all the important details. When the book opens, A is in Justin’s body. A drives to school as Justin and goes through the motions of a regular day. Between 2nd and 3rd period, he notices a girl hovering around his locker.
Rhiannon is Justin’s girlfriend or not. They are prone to fight. A is thrown for a loop when he looks into her blue eyes. He sees sadness and a girl who tries too hard to make Justin happy. To make her smile, A promises he will do what she wants for the day knowing Justin would never.
Rhiannon wants to skip 3rd period and go to the beach. By the sunset, A is in love. 
“Every day a different body. Every day a different life. Every day in love with the same girl.”

Young adults will love reading “Every Day” by David Levithan. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The 5th Wave (copy)

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey opens with a quote from Stephen Hawking. “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.”
Clever writer Yancey opens his first young adult book with an alien mother ship hovering over Earth. The bright green glowing ship can be seen all over the world because of its enormous size, but the aliens inside refuse to communicate with any human, American or otherwise.
Within a week the first wave attacks. An electromagnetic pulse hits the Earth with such power that all electricity fails and transportation comes to a morbid stop. The second wave is literally waves as a giant metal slab is dropped from the mother ship to fragile fault lines all over the world and causes tsunamis that take out every major city near the ocean.
“Bye-bye, New York. Bye, Sydney. Good-bye, California, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, British Columbia. So long, Eastern Seaboard. Japan, Hong Kong, London, Rome, Rio. Nice to know you. Hope you enjoyed your stay!”
It is figured that 97% of humanity is lost in the second wave. By the third wave 99% have died from an avian flu. Those humans remaining call it the pestilence wave. After the loss of Mom to the flu, The Sullivans (Dad, Sams and Cassie) are walking to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
It is believed the airbase will be the safest place--that is-if anyone is alive. On their way the family arrives at a fortified refugee camp with food, bunk beds and medical facilities. After seeing no one for miles, it is a relief to be accepted and fed.
The camp is full of children and a handful of adults, mostly men. The Sullivans are the only family that is intact. The camp members have lost everyone special to them. As they listen to the latest gossip, Cassie finds out they are experiencing the fourth wave. Aliens, implanted in human brains prenatal, are systematically killing other human beings one bullet at a time.
This fourth wave is known as the silencer. These human look-alikes use suppressors on their guns to keep noise levels low and silence people with one shot. All is not lost though. Cassie saw helicopters fly over two days ago and today three school buses are on the road heading directly to their camp. Is it the fifth wave or salvation?

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Tilt (copy)

What has happened to the cautionary tale? All the rage since the dawn of time, but now young adult writers such as Ellen Hopkins and Alex Sanchez are turning their backs on the formula genre. In their stories, those who do the wrong gain acceptance and little in the way of dire consequences.
Normally, a cautionary tale is told when the teller, a wiser person with years of experience, wants to warn the listener, a naive younger person, against a danger such as grab a hot poker and your whole body will burst into flames. In the irrational example, the dangerous thing now done and someone must endure horrible pain.
Cautionary tales are not based on normal circumstances like break a law and go to jail, but hyper-penalties like point at a dog and lose a finger even though the dog is a block away.
When I was a young adult, I remember reading an odd connection between family members as an example. The daughter gets pregnant and the grandmother has a heart attack. This cause and effect were directly related, yet granny was probably a heavy smoker with a love of bacon.
Ellen Hopkins is the author of ten young adult and two adult books all in verse format. Her titles for the YA crowd include her first book Crank that is based loosely on her daughter’s addiction to crystal meth to her latest Smoke. Each book possessing a potential to knock the socks off us literally, but the consequences are actually common sense.
Young readers are already scared of becoming pregnant or addicted to drugs, but Hopkins pushes the fear aside as her characters work through solutions to make things better despite being pregnant or addicted or both. And, yes, sometimes there are dire consequences, but Hopkins keeps them in balance with the problem.
I read Tilt this weekend and thought, wow, times have changed! Pregnancy happens, drugs happen and no one is struck down by lightening. I have to say, while I read, I kept my head down waiting for the boom!
The story follows two families with parents that are either divorced or thinking about it. The young adults are in their senior year of high school, and either popular or outsiders. The situations are tough, but Hopkins brings solutions not consequences. Young readers will benefit.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Rules of Civility (copy)


She sees him for the first time in years, almost 30 years. She and her husband, Val, are attending an art show at the Museum of Modern Art when she spots him. The world is in the midst of 1966, but she has just entered her most eventful year, 1938.
She plays it cool, though. The surprise of seeing his face barely registers on hers as she squeezes Val’s arm and says, “Tinker.” He admires the photograph of an ill shaven man with dirt on his face drawing on a cigarette with his thoughts elsewhere. Believing she is about to start one of her many guessing games, Val asks, “What did he tinker with, Hon?”

She is about to say “my heart” when she realizes the two have never met; although, she met them both in the same year. The 1930s, a decade of broken dreams, were a time of transformation for Katherine Kontent. She went from 16-year-old Katya to the trendier 24-year-old Katey in 1938, but she has to wonder when this picture was taken.
The museum is filled with portraits of subway riders who are being snapped by a hidden camera. Walker Evans took them between the years 1938-1941 per the entryway poster. Each one transfixed on personal thoughts as the rocking motion lures them away from being conscience of others and more of themselves.

“No, Dear. This is Tinker Grey.” Val’s mind races through his friends and acquaintances and admits he knew a Grey once. She says, “This is his brother.” Val furrows his brow as he tries to picture the brother’s face from so long ago. They move down to the next portrait and Katey admits that Tinker was once a friend.
Two rooms later and they are about to call it a night when they stop in front of a handsome man in black tie. She makes an audible gasp as Val turns to look at her. It is Tinker again, and this time he is smiling directly at the camera as if he knows he is about to be photographed. The two portraits are so vastly different that Val is unaware that she has seen the same ghost.

She explains that it is Tinker and Val is utterly confused. He shoots his eyes across the room and realizes the other Tinker is directly at the other end juxtaposed in dirt. In a bemused way, Val asks, “Which one was taken first?”
Welcome to the incredibly alluring read, Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. We welcome you to an open discussion of the book Tuesday, October 29, at the Northwest library in Senatobia. This Reading Roundtable event is sponsored by Sycamore Bank.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Si-cology 101 (copy)

Read Si-cology 101: Tales & Wisdom from Duck Dynasty’s Favorite Uncle by Si Robertson this weekend and had a hoot. Before I even picked it up, I had rave reviews from instructors and librarians alike.
Just who is Si Robertson? He is a family member of the Duck Commander Company and appears on Duck Dynasty, an A&E reality show, that follows his brother’s family who make millions on a reed duck call retailing at $60.
I have yet to see the show myself, but I cannot get through one aisle at Wal-Mart without bumping into a camo-wearing, bearded caller ad. Two weeks ago I was in Roanoke, VA, visiting a high school that happened to be celebrating homecoming and that particular Friday was Duck Dynasty Day. All the students were wearing camouflage in some form or fashion along with their school colors. One can easily guess the favorite Halloween outfit this year.
Uncle Si did not join the company until his retirement from the military. He really did not sign up for the reality show, either. His cameos were secretly taped and some of his sayings and stories were so memorable they had to include him in more of the show.
Si-cology 101 begins with Si explaining that he has only told a handful of lies in his life. He can count them on one hand and he still feels bad about a couple told as a child.
He states, “I believe lying is a learned skill. Some people are good at it, while others aren’t. I’ve always been a lousy liar. The key to being a good liar is to know when you can get away with it and when you can’t. You have to keep a straight face if you’re going to lie, and I could never stop smiling when I tried. My palms would get sweaty, and I’d lose my composure and start to stutter. Hey, I even grew a long beard so people couldn’t call me a bald –faced liar.”
So, Si claims that 95% of his stories are truthful, at least what he can remember of the original events, and this is how he became popular on the show. His stories about growing up in southern Louisiana and his Vietnam days have been perfected in the many hours sitting in cold duck blinds with Willie and Jase.
This book will start you at his beginnings, naked as a jaybird, and end with letters from his family addressed to him. Along the way, one will learn why he is forever carrying his Tupperware cup of iced-tea and why his face is so hairy. All stories you do not want to miss, and that’s the fact, Jack.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore (copy)

I am so intrigued by my current read. It is not a mystery, but an enigma. I picked it up, like many of my personal books, while waiting for a plane. Bookstores in airports will never go out of business, but I picked this read up because of the sweet title, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.
I was thinking little white-haired ladies and their crazy attics while petting several cats in a dusty old building, but what I got was a modern day coder falling in love with the local hacker who works for Google.
Our hero, Clay Jannon, lost his webmaster position with a start-up in San Francisco and spends his days on craigslist looking for a comparable positions. Things are not going well. It is as if the whole world is looking for a job and he is always a step or two late.
Typical of his generation, he takes his cushy pale body away from his laptop and smart phone to hike a couple of San Francisco hills. While admiring the scenery – one can walk the streets and be inundated with large Victorian homes and skyscrapers then all the sudden crest a hill and see nothing but sky and sea – a sharp red help-wanted sign distracts his eyes.
Clay pops into the dark stained entrance and is smacked by the smell of old books and burnt coffee. On the walls as far back as his head can tilt are shelves full of books. The ladders are in the shape of a venturi with wide months on both ends and thin middles. These meander on wheels all around the steep bookcases looking like an Edward Gorey maze.
Mr. Penumbra stands behind the large desk and ask for Clay’s intentions as the neighboring establishment, Booty, makes the walls throb with low bass beats. The two lock eyes and smile. Clay would like to know if he has filled the position.
“Tell me,” Mr. Penumbra quizzes, “about a book you love.”
Clay takes a breath and says, “I love The Dragon-Song Chronicles.”
His smile got a little wider and Clay was staring at a jostle of teeth when Mr. Penumbra then asks, “But can you climb a ladder?”
Author, Robin Sloan, will have you climbing up and down the ladders trying to answer the puzzle located in the bookstore within a bookstore in the back.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Tribes (copy)


I love a good business book. Unlike fiction and readable nonfiction that tell a story, business books waste no words. The formats are concise and to the point. The books are short and say the same thing over and over so that you (the very busy business person) can get it and then go out and use it.
That being said, I am fired up about a book called Tribes by Seth Godin. Throughout history, we have all wanted to belong – to connect – to other people in our community, in our work place, and in a larger sense, our world. We want people to notice us when we are not there whether it be church choir, book club, or Saturday mornings at the park. We want to be connected.
Tribes take those who want to connect and put them together with like-minded individuals. A library group that plays scrabble is a tribe. By seeing each other weekly and getting to know one another, they become a cohesive group. The group then becomes a cohesive request for library services because as a group, they can incite change.
The book uses CrossFit.com as an example of like-minded  fitness fanatics who have created a nationwide tribe. In gyms all over the country these tribe members compete against the clock by doing a number of different exercises. Once completed their numbers are recorded on the website to compete with others who did the same workout that day.
Why would anybody push her body to the limit just to put a time on a website? Greg Glassman, the founder of the movement, created an environment where like-minded people could connect and share the results or in most cases the story they tell to get to the results. People want to share. People want to connect.
Glassman leads them be providing the space and the forethought to let them be themselves but also a part of the tribe. They cheer each other on to greater fitness and Glassman stands back as the coach for guidance and leadership. He no longer has to say much to recruit trainers. His tribe does all the work.
Three qualities are needed to become a leader of a tribe. First, the leader upsets the status quo. Who said you could play scrabble in a library? The leader sees the current situation and knows it can be better with change. Second, the leader connects those people who have the same passion for the change. Calling all scrabblers, meet at the library for fun and games. Third, the leader leads.
How simple is that? Lead! Upset, connect and then lead. I love a good business book. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Wool (copy)

Holston knew this was his last time to walk these spiral stairs. After a lifetime of speeding down and lumbering back up the silo steps, he possessed no will to ever do it again. His knees ached as he moved up the treads automatically. His tin badge burned in his right hand as he no longer wore it over his heart.
He made the decision while he tried to sleep that night. His wife, Allison, became a cleaner three years prior, and Holston still did not know why. He missed her so much and the white dot on the hill far away no longer looked like her but a piece of granite shinning in the sun.
Why did she think there was life on the outside of the silo? The place was brown and the wind kicked up great toxic storms, but not once had he seen life or even a green plant. The silos past the hill were ragged and rusty. Again no life, but Allison swore it was a lie. She had found old computer language that proved it was verdant and teaming with life.
Holston walked into the silo’s police department, passed his Deputy’s desk and into his office. He looked down at the files on his desk and felt a pang of guilt knowing he was about to hand down unfinished business to his deputy and best friend, Marnes. He picked up the heavy ring of cell keys and headed down the hall.
Marnes ambled in and watched his friend open the cleaning cell. He walked the opposite way to make the coffee and turn on the lights. They had worked so long together they knew each other’s boot shuffle. Holston pulled the cell door shut and threw the keys towards the scratch of heel on the linoleum. Marnes felt the keys whack his heel and put the coffee pot down to mosey towards the cell.
“You cleaning the cleaning cell, Holston?”
Holston smiled at the joke as he sat on the bench and looked out the view to the hill. His badge laid on his right knee. Cleaners had a full view of the outside to remind them how important the job was to others. There were so many years between cleanings that the view was hard to see with all the muck stuck to the lens.
Holston looked up at his friend and pushed the badge towards the bars. “Sherriff Marnes, I surrender.”
I am reading an engaging story titled Wool by Hugh Howey. Howey wrote this in the morning before work and during lunch while working at a bookstore. He did an excellent job for every chapter pulls you to the next.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

What I Saw and How I Lied (copy)

There are just some books that deserve a soundtrack playing in the background. What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell is a prime example. I could hear theme music to some of my favorite television shows as I read.
Our heroine, Evie Spooner, lives an idyllic life in Queens. A small group of friends surround her and her mother and recently returned from the second war father are happy together. Unfortunately, she is a sweet sixteen who has never been kissed. Her mother keeps her dressed in pastel shirt dresses and saddle shoes. Leave it to Beaver is the theme song that plays while we follow her easy-go-lucky existence.
Conflict arises when her step-father, Joe Spooner, is hounded by mysterious phone calls from an old army buddy. In the short time Joe has been back from the war, his appliance business has become successful. He now has three stores and is about to add two more. Tactlessly, these calls really start to bring out his bad side. I hear Dragnet.
In an attempt to dodge this phone pursuer, Joe takes the family on a road trip to Florida. At the beginning of the trip, everyone is happy and playing the license plate game. Cue the Andy Griffith whistle. But, as they get deeper in the south, the sweaters come off and the uncomfortable sweat begins to flow down their stuck-to-the-car-seat backs and legs. Bluesy, In the Heat of the Night, sends you the rest of the way down to the Florida state line.
Can you guess the theme music for finding their hotel in Palm Beach? Miami Vice drums and soars as their spirits start to lift. Unfortunately, they are there in the off season and most the homes and businesses are boarded up for hurricane season. Evie is alone to bathe at the pool and walk on the beach without friends.
That is, until she meets “movie-star handsome Peter Coleridge.” Don’t laugh, but Rockford Files is playing in the background. As the two seem to hit it off, Evie’s mom, Beverly, decides to act as the chaperon on drives around town and shopping in West Palm Beach. Beverly is a knockout with dark hair, blue eyes, light tan, and slender figure.
Beverly is such a looker that Joe starts to become wary of Peter and the attention she is giving him. Jealousy is a bad trait in any mate, but has Joe gone too far? Perry Mason kicks off the next scene as Evie sits in court discerning the facts that point to both Joe and Beverly.
What I Saw and How I Lied won the National Book Award in 2008 for Young People’s Literature. I found it to be a slow starter, but well worth my eyes and ears.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

After Freedom Summer (copy)

This summer I was asked to review a book for our state’s library publication, Mississippi Libraries. The book titled, After Freedom Summer: How Race Realigned Mississippi Politics, 1965-1986 by Chris Danielson, is the history of voting in our state after The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were enforced.
Danielson’s comprehensive book explains the political climate in Mississippi after these acts removed legalized segregation from the South.  He explains the cerebral turns African Americans in Mississippi made such as testing the black independent candidates against the black democrat candidates for local elections throughout the different counties. He also demonstrates white and black Mississippians jockeying for the vote in race after race and the new strategies that changed a born white Democrat into a card-carrying white Republican during the “Great White Switch.”
The narrative is not an easy read. At times it can be confusing with all of the acronyms. The first three chapters become an alphabet soup while breaking down the alliances at the poles represented by these factions. The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), a grassroots party organized from Freedom Summer’s Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), fought for the same votes as the top-down organization represented by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Both MFDP and NAACP found success in two strong democratic leaders in 1965: Robert Clark and Charles Evers respectively.
The constant race results also give a stop and start feel to the narrative. I read about black candidates that win or lose in a 70% white county or white candidates who cater to the black vote because the county is 80% black. There are plenty of black firsts like Evers being elected as the first mayor in Fayette and Robert Gray the first black alderman in the town of Shelby, but they are mentioned as side notes to the races. The ballot count and any legal action that takes place after elections are the important facts in this book.
Danielson’s narrative excels when writing about the major politicians at the time. For instance, Medgar Evers’ brother, Charles, was vastly different from the soft spoken leader. Charles once said, “Medgar chased civil rights…I chased girls, civil rights, and the dollar.” Charles worked alongside his brother on voter’s registration until white hostility ran him out of the state. While in Chicago, he did legal and illegal work. His prostitution and numbers running charges haunted him throughout his career. His personality is well defined by Danielson as we follow boycotts he led and his rivalry with Marie Farr Walker.
This is an excellent addition to those who collect Mississippi history books, but be comfortable. Nodding off happens.  

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Ocean at the End of the Lane (copy)

I think England is a magical place. After reading authors like JK Rowling and Neil Gaiman, I want to walk around the cobbled streets and placid country lanes where anything might happen to me. Excitement and fun accompany the misty fog filled air where I will bump into a character that takes me to another world completely.
Maybe, it is the Tolkien reader in me, but I am thankful Neil Gaiman continues the “other world” writing tradition. His latest book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, is a novella that hints at another world and another sequel. Here is my interpretation of our no-named hero as he looks back in time to when it all began.
Forty years ago a South African living in my room in Sussex, England, committed suicide in my father’s mini car. I was seven when it happen. I actually found him before any adult. I was out early that morning looking for my new kitten, Fluffy.
The South African had ran over my first cat and he replaced it with my now missing Fluffy. I liked the man. He was an opal miner in his native country and when he first moved in he gave my sister and I a couple of opals. Now his face all red and his lips blue, I knew he would never give us anything else.
As the police arrived, I was moved to the other side of the road. I could have easily walked back home, but father thought it better if I stay with someone instead of being alone. That was when I met Lettie Hempstock. She got permission from my dad and we walked to the end of the lane where her farmhouse stood.
I was ushered in by her grandmother, Old Mrs. Hempstock, who made me eggs and toast. The warmth of the hearth filled my heart. I was in a safe place with a new friend. I also found my Fluffy who curled up on my lap and slept while I ate. Life was good.
After breakfast, Lettie suggested we go out to the ocean. Now, looking back, I knew the ocean was a far piece and we would have a while before we reached it, but I kept quiet. I kept quiet about a lot of things back then. Lettie was 11 years old and knew more than me, so I figured she might have a short cut.
When we walked to the back of the farm behind the barn and over the pasture, we faced Lettie’s ocean. It was a duck pond and I had a feeling she was either teasing me or silly herself. I smiled as she said that her mother and grandmother traveled this ocean from the old country.
Back at the farmhouse, Mrs. Hempstock asked Lettie about our adventure. She said she showed be the ocean then asked her mother why they could not return to the old country. Mrs. Hempstock said because it sunk then Old Mrs. Hempstock said she remembered it wrong. The old country blew up.