By Nancy Jordan
I’ve got two suggestions here for good reading, one a mystery by a new Maine author, and one by an author I haven’t read before but apparently is popular.
‘Among the Shadows’, written by Maine author Bruce Robert Coffin, is set in Portland, ME, adding more interest to an already good story. It starts out with what seems like a lot of effort going into the investigation of what seems to be a natural death of a man in hospice care, ready to die anyway, with no friends or relatives who care. Soon it’s determined that he was strangled and that he was a former Portland policeman. Even so, the effort going into solving it seems too much for the circumstances, until a few days later a second retired Portland Policeman is found dead of an apparent suicide that turns out to be murder. The action, and the twists and turns, escalate quickly. As more retired officers die mysteriously, the reader and as well as the lead detective do not know who to trust. Coffin’s first book is a good one. He is a retired Portland Detective, and his experience and knowledge shows. The plot is well developed and the characters are just what one wants in a good book.
The other book that I liked is ‘the Opposite of Everyone’ by Joshilyn Jackson. It’s about Paula Vauss, a hard as nails attorney who specializes in ‘BANKS’ divorce cases, ie; clients who are ‘bad asses – no kids’. It’s a joy to read about her in action as she works over these clients. Her right hand man, Birdwine, is a private detective, a teddy bear of a man with a serious black out drinking problem. In between their adventures, we find out about Paula’s history: brought up by a hippy, single mom, Kai, who moves from boyfriend to boyfriend, and from worse to worst living situations. Kai weaves mythical stories through Paula’s life, and the stories are the bonds that hold them together. Until Paula’s secret action sends Kai off to jail, and herself to an orphanage. Once they reunite, both with secrets, their relationship is never the same. The present and past come together when Paula begins to suspect her mother has died, and at the same time, Julian shows up at her law office, a young man who turns out to be her half-brother whom she knew nothing about. The 2 of them begin a search, aided by Birdwine, to put their family back together. Heart-wrenching, funny, insightful, this is a book that’s hard to put down.
By Nancy Jordan
It’s a busy time, with not much time to read, but here’s a sleek little gem of a book that can be read in a few hours. It’s by Paulette Jiles and is called ‘The News of the World’. It’s about Captain , a 70 year old veteran of several US wars, who travels the west, mostly in Texas, to stop in small towns to read the ‘News of the World’. These small towns don’t have access to newspapers, so the Captain stocks up on all the latest whenever he passes through places big enough to have papers New York, Philadelphia and London. He rents a hall in each town, gets a room, a bath, a shave and a meal, then reads to the townspeople for an hour or more, for a dime each. People look forward to his coming. At one stop, he accepts a commission to deliver a 10 year old white girl back to her relatives near San Antonio. This feisty girl had lived with the Kiowa since she was captured at age 6 and has no memory of her previous life or language. It’s a trip of over 400 miles, no small feat in a wagon through the wilds of Texas. The captive and the captain have nothing in common, not even a language. Through many adventures, and hard times, the two become friends and develop a strong bond. Their characters shine through it all, to make for a very satisfying ending.
The other outstanding book that I highly recommend is ‘One in a Million Boy’ by Monica Wood. It’s hard to describe this book about a 104 year old woman, an autistic 11 year old boy, and his less-than-involved musician father. Let it be said that it’s well worth reading, heartwarming, funny, and sad.
By Nancy Jordan
After the turkey’s cooked and eaten, the guests are gone, you’ve either decided to skip Black Friday or you’re exhausted after shopping, and you’re ready to settle in with a good book, here are two suggestions that can’t be missed. The Library will be open Sunday from 11:30 ? 1:30.
The first one is set in Burma leading up to and during WWII. It is called ‘Elephant Company’. It’s the true story of an amazing man who went to Burma ‘to seek his fortune’ in the 1920’s but became immersed in the culture of the jungle, its people and most of all its elephants. Through Billy Williams eyes, we learn everything he knows about these remarkable and awe-inspiring animals. His adventures are compelling, but really begin with WWII when his goal is to rescue refugees and the elephants from the invading Japanese. The escapes are harrowing, and would be hard to believe if it weren’t for the detailed documentation and attention to detail of the author, Vicki Constantine Croke. This book won’t disappoint?it’s terrific.
The second suggestions is ‘The Orphan Mother’ by Robert Hicks. It takes us to Tennessee in 1867, in the tumultuous time right after the Civil War. (You may remember Hicks’ first book, ‘The Widow of the South’. This book is set in the same small town but a few years later.) It starts a little slowly, and I didn’t think I’d like it, but did I get sucked in before long. The action starts with a political rally where a young, idealist black man, Theodopolis, decides to exercise his newly won freedom and speak publicly. The conservative whites in town feel threatened, and as a riot breaks out, Theo is first cruelly beaten and then shot. His mother, Mariah Reddick, begins her search to find out who shot him. She wants Justice. The reader knows all along who shot him, and some of the reason why, but follows the agonizing quest of the mother who enlists most of the newly freed slaves to help her. She makes a new friend, a freeman from New York named George Tole, who not only supports her but falls in love with her. I can’t begin to explain the twists and turns of the plot, and the issues these people have to deal with as they struggle with their world as it is changing. A great book to read, and a great book for a book discussion group.
By Nancy Jordan
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
This impeccably researched historical fiction was impossible for me to put down. It’s short, but packs a wallop. Through a series of 1 or 2 page chapters, each telling the story from one of 4 characters points of view, the author tells of a little known tragedy of WWII. Florian, Emilia, Joana and Alfred are all under 20, from different countries with different backgrounds, and are all harboring secrets. In the waning days of the war, they are thrown together as they try to escape by foot the atrocities committed as the Russians storm victorious through this part of Germany. Heading toward the Baltic Sea, hoping to become legally sanctioned evacuees, they collect more refugees to their small party: an elderly shoemaker whose fatherly wisdom buoys the spirits of the terrified and often destitute group; a small wondering boy who has lost is grandmother; and a giantess who is negative about everything. In spite of disagreements, language barriers and distrust, the group connects and forms unshakable bonds. I found myself drawn to them, and caught up in their misfortunes.
As the book draws to its inevitable conclusion, I was impressed with how attached I was to the characters, (except one despicable one), with how angry I was at war, the needless heartbreak and devastation, and at the leaders who draw us into them. The author’s handling of the ending was unique and for the most part, satisfying. I recommend you read this novel, it won’t take you long and the rewards are great.
By Nancy Jordan
There are so many new books at the Library that it’s hard to choose just one to suggest. One of my favorites that I read over the winter is ‘When the Moon is Low’ by Nadia Hashimi. It’s a must read for anyone following the immigration/refugee situation from the mid-east to Europe and for anyone else who likes a good book.
It?s the story of a small family who begins the arduous journey from their home in Afghanistan to find peace and safety in England. The single mother, a teacher whose husband was murdered by the Taliban, has a young baby, a daughter and a teenage son that make their way with her through Iraq, Turkey, and Greece meeting every obstacle imaginable along the way. We read about the friendly family in Turkey who shelters them and becomes like family. About the way the son finds work and tries so hard to support his family, and yet is treated like scum. About the fear of losing the baby because there is no money for medical attention. Finally they make it to Greece, where the son gets tragically separated from the family on the eve of departure to England. The mother has to make the hard decision to continue on without him to save her other 2 children. The son has to fend for himself, facing more problems and failures, until the book ends with the hope that he is successfully on his way to join his family.
The book is beautifully written, and concentrates on understanding the human side of the devastating effect of borders, barriers and discrimination forced by war and political upheaval.
By Alanna Rich
My name was Alanna Wallace and in 1997, I stood at the site of Wounded Knee at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is South Dakota. My knowledge of the Lakota Indian Tribe and what happened at this place came to me through history books. I grew up in the small town of Eastport, Maine. Eastport is located next door to the Passamaquoddy Indian Reservation, known as Pleasant Point. Always, when I am learning our country’s history and the fate of our First Nation’s People, it strikes a cord in me. To this day it still doesn’t sit well with me. I don’t think it ever will. Standing at Wounded Knee at the age of 19, I cried for forgiveness as I looked through teary eyes upon the simple chain linked fence surrounding the cemetery. I would never be the same. A deep shame resonated within me. I cried for the people of the Lakota. To this very day The Lakota Nation still carry the weight of Post Traumatic Stress over the massacre of their people. The fence around the site is completely covered with prayer flags, trinkets and pieces left by those who visit Wounded Knee.
Now, I go by the name Alanna Rich. In the fall of 2015, I stood outside of my Church here on the island. It was after service. I was saying goodbye to Penny Murley. She seemed in a hurry. Where are you going? I asked. She and her husband Curt were off to a book signing in their hometown of Casco, Maine. Both Penny and Curt had worked in Casco at Hancock Lumber in the past. They knew the author since he was a baby. I recognized the name Hancock Lumber right away from T.V. advertisements. Turns out the company’s CEO, Kevin Hancock was the author of the new book Curt & Penny were off to see & hear about. I was excited when Penny described to me the nature of the book and what Kevin Hancock wrote about. So excited, that it prompted Penny to bring me back my own signed copy from the event!
You can check out the book and read it yourself. It’s at our library titled Not For Sale, Finding Center in the Land of Crazy Horse, by Kevin Hancock. Kevin, like me, spent time visiting Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. In his story you read a great deal of history (he was a history major in college before he stepped into the role of Hancock Lumber’s CEO). In addition to a rich history lesson, you hear how Kevin was transformed and witness his personal journey. I love this book so much, I had Penny take me to meet the author. I had to see him and thank him for writing down and sharing his personal experience. I purchased 2 more copies of his book that day, one for a friend and the other for our Long Island Library. It is available for check out now, and I highly recommend it
The Library Suggests: Shakespeare Wallah 12-28-15
By Nancy Noble
I remember well my first Merchant Ivory movie “A Room with the View” . I was mesmerized by the scenery, story, and music. Producer Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory created 44 films since 1961, but this was the first one I saw in a movie theater, around 1983, when it first came out (the year I graduated from college). It was based on a book by E.M. Forster, which I read sometime after I saw the movie (which is the sign of a good movie to me, if it inspires me to read the book). After that first movie, I saw several others in a similar vein. As Wikipedia says, a typical “Merchant-Ivory film” would be a period piece set in the early 20th century, usually in Edwardian England, featuring lavish sets and top British actors portraying genteel characters who suffer from
disillusionment and tragic entanglements. (Sound familiar in this day and age of “Downton Abbey”?)
So, when I found “Shakespeare Wallah” on the shelves of the Long Island Community Library, I was intrigued enough to check it out. This movie, set in India, harkens back to the original goal of the Merchant Ivory Productions, “to make English-language films in India aimed at the international market.” “Shakespeare Wallah” is in black and white, so you don’t get the effect of the later lush and colorful films, but it has the wonderful characters and stories. In this case it’s based on the true story of a traveling family theatre troupe of English actors in India, who perform Shakespeare plays in town across India, about the time of the rise of Bollywood. It definitely feels like a 1960s movie in style and costume, with Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant stylishness found in a young English actress and Indian actor who fall in love. I found it slightly hypnotizing
to watch, in true Merchant Ivory fashion. If that is your style of movie too, I would recommend checking out “Shakespeare Wallah” (it also helps to appreciate Shakespeare, but that’s not a requirement)
The Library Suggests: 11-7-15
By Nancy Jordan
As soon as I finished a book last week, actually while I was still reading it, I was telling everyone I saw about it, and reading parts out loud to family members. It is Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal. Anyone who is thinking about what life has in store for them as they age, or who is concerned about a loved one who is aging and needs help, must read this book. If you’ve ever thought about end of life choices, this is a must read. Being Mortal is very well written, and even though the subject is not light, many parts of it are heartwarming and even funny.
From today’s Portland Press Herald, I learned that the Portland Public Library is hosting Community Discussion Groups around Portland based on this book. Most of them are in senior living facilities, but two of them are public. One will be held at the Rines Auditorium in the Portland Public Library at6pm Tuesday November 10 (plenty of time to get the 8:30 boat back to Long). The other is on Peaks on November 17th.
The Library Suggests: 3-20-15
By Nancy Jordan
Two new movies just in: The Imitation Game and Wild.
And 3 non-fiction books that might be of interest: Unique Maine Farms by Mary Quinn Doyle is a large format book that profiles many, many farms in Maine, from old to new, from large to small, hat grow everything that will grow in Maine. Photos on every page. A good inspiration and information on sustainable food production going on in Maine.
Steamboats of Casco Bay. This is an oldie but goodie that the Library had for a long time, but that got lost. It was recently replaced. A wonderful look at Casco Bay in the era of Steamboats. Hard to believe there were so many options! It’s full of fascinating details with maps, charts, sketches and photos.
And, a Handbook of Legal Services for the Elderly in Maine. This book is a useful resource for our senior residents and/or their Caregivers.
I just read 2 compelling novels that I have to write about. The first is a debut novel by S.M. Hulse called BLACK RIVER. The main character is a man in Montana who suffers through unbearable problems: the agonizing death of his beloved wife, estrangement from his stepson, and a riot in the prison where he worked that resulted in his kidnapping and torture. Dealing with these problems simultaneously is made more difficult by the fact that he’s the strong, silent type for whom relationships and communication are difficult. He’s a fascinating character, made more so by his love of the fiddle. The author’s descriptions of Montana and the river make the setting as strong as the characters.
The second one is AQUARIUM by David Vann, a story of a precocious 12 year old who loves and knows everything there is to know about fish. It starts slowly enough, revealing a developing relationship between Caitlyn and an old man who Caitlyn describes as “very old, like almost dead. At least 70 or something”. They spend time together in the city aquarium every afternoon after school, where she waits for her mom to pick her up after her shift ends as a crane operator. It erupts into violent action when the mother misunderstands the relationship and suspects that the man is a pedophile. Surprise after surprise lead to such rage and tense moments that I had to take breaks from reading. Somehow this skilled author brings it all to a most satisfying ending.
The Library suggests: 3-16-15
By Bette Jane Fitzgerald
May I suggest Boston Girl by Anita Diamant. A granddaughter asks her grandmother how she “became the woman she is. ” So the story begins. (This book just arrived at the Library, so come on in and get it! – says Nancy Jordan)I also thought Vanessa and her Sister by Priya Parmar was great. It is about Vanessa Ball and Virginia Woolf.
Another good one is Ruth’s Journey: The Authorized Novel of Mammy from Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind by Donald McCaig.
The Library suggests: 3-2-15
By Nancy Jordan
The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope – Rhonda Riley. Evelyn Roe is a determined, hardworking young woman living and working on the family farm, happily living her dream, when she finds whom she thinks to be a badly burned man buried in the mud. That event begins her complicated journey into into love and a marriage, filled with happiness and challenges, all of life’s events that most people face. But there is a difference here that makes this an absorbing and magical story. A beautifully written tale.
Norwegian by Night—Derek Miller. This unusual page turner, set in Oslo, is a thriller and a mystery, but also a detailed look into the Bosnia/Serbia conflict and the lasting effects of that brutal time. The main character, Sheldon Horowitz, an octogenarian who has been known to exhibit signs of dementia, is funny, infuriating, and wily. His side kick, a 7 year old who has just witnessed the murder of his mother, doesn’t say a word the entire book, but will haunt the reader long after the book is over.
Signal and Noise – John Griesemer Signal & Noise is the epic page-turning story of the laying of the trans-Atlantic cable, and the men and women who are caught in its monumental tide. It is also a novel about the collision of worlds seen and unseen: the present and the future; the living and the dead; the real and the imagined. This novel was written several years ago, but is too good to be ignored.
The Library suggests: 2-15-15
Chris McDuffie offers these suggestions this week, 3 books that aren’t brand new, but are well worth reading. Oldies but goodies, so to speak.
Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner is the book I just finished, about the longterm friendship of two couples through life’s ups and downs. One of the wives is a dynamo who orchestrates lots of liveliness in their lives and goes to great lengths to support her friends, but she never finds her husband’s successes quite to her standard. A nice study of devoted friendship over time.
Shucked by Erin Byers Murray gives lots of interesting details of the process of farm raising oysters from a city girl/ restaurant writer who decides to dramatically change her career and explore this ingredient at its source. Made my mouth water for fresh oysters.
The Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiami traces the lives of a boy and girl in the Italian Alps both forced to go to America when Ciro finds the local priest in a compromising situation, and when Enza’s family is betrayed by the local patron into giving up their dream of a home in Italy. Hardworking and selfless Enza’s laundry is the whitest, her homes the cleanest, her Italian cooking the tastiest, and her sewing skills above the rest in the costume department at the Met where she works to send money back home so her family can build a new home. Ciro’s route to success in America is more winding, but he becomes a skilled shoemaker, and his service in WW1 gains him citizenship, returning him to New York just in time to snatch Enza at the church door from marrying another.
The Library suggests: 1-21-15
It’s Christmastime on Long Island, and I decided to take a break from Gone, Girl (entertaining, but slightly disturbing) to indulge in something more uplifting, Jan Karon’s newest offering, Somewhere safe with somebody good. This novel is the latest in Jan Karon’s The Mitford Series, and was like a visit with old friends, having read and loved her previous nine books in the series. Taking place in the small village of Mitford in North Carolina the tales center around Father Tim, a retired Episcopal priest, and his wife Cynthia. A mixture of comedy and drama, Mitford is full of characters, much like our own Long Island. Although a bit overly long (511 pages), I was sad
to see it end. And it ended at Christmas, making it the perfect book to read in the winter season.
In addition to good reads, we’ve also enjoyed a few good movies in the LICL collection:
Nebraska. Filmed in black and white, and also a mixture of drama and comedy, this is a film I could watch over and over again, with memorable characters, and a good story. In some ways, a classic “buddy road trip” film, although in this case it’s a father bent on a mission and the reluctant son who tags along in an effort to keep dad out of trouble.
We also enjoyed The Man Who Never Was, a classic film (1955) about wartime espionage during World War II, based on a true story.
Also, don’t forget to keep your eyes out for some of our wonderful foreign films that many of us enjoyed in past autumn’s foreign film series at the library, such as The First Grader, Women on the Sixth Floor, and Mid-August Lunch.
The Library Suggests: 1/11/2015
Bitter Crossing by D.A. Keeley is a excellent Maine mystery set in the County, brimming with French influence flavored with Poutine and Crepes. Peyton Cote, the detective, is fearless and feisty, but runs into a ruthless trafficking scheme that puts her and her son in danger.
Louise Penny, Canadian author whose mysteries are set in Quebec, Montreal and a small, idyllic country village, doesn’t disappoint with her new book, A Long Way Home. Her detective, Inspector Armand Gamache, has retired, but gets sucked back into his old life when a friend in need comes to him with a missing person problem. Great characters and a good story. (If you don’t know Louise Penny’s books, I highly recommend the previous two, Beautiful Music and How the Light Gets In.)
Tana French is an Irish author whose mysteries bring current day Ireland to life. Her latest, A Secret Place, takes place in a posh girls school over the course of 24 hours. The intrigue remains high, with the two detectives demanding more and more respect as their techniques shed more and more light on what happened. The author writes convincingly about the ins and outs of behavior of adolescent girls.
In a Rocket Made of Ice: Living among the Children of Wat Opot by Gail Gudtrat is a heartwarming account of the author’s years spent volunteering at an orphanage in Cambodia. Most of the residents of Wat Opot are HIV positive and/or have lost a parent or close relative to AIDS. They depend on the efforts of a gentle, determined man named Wayne who, in atoning for his part in killing children during the Vietnam war, almost single handedly finds the financial resources to feed and care for up to 100 children at a time. This brave book is about people who, in their efforts to survive, help others to do so too while bringing love and caring into their lives. It will make you both laugh and cry.