Book Review: The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne

Ignore the unwieldy title and ill advised cover art.  This book is for anyone who is a fan of historical fiction. Set in post world war II Ireland, the reader visits the main characters every seven years. It’s a great look at the heroic people who are the foundation for our LGBTQ community.  This isn’t exactly a love letter to Catholicism or Ireland, rather a story about characters you care about. Laugh out loud funny, heartbreaking at times, it was the book the Stantons were the most emotionally invested in this year.

Review by Johnna and Brian Stanton.

Click here to request a copy. 

Book Review: “We Ride Upon Sticks” by Quan Barry

You don’t need to be a field hockey player from the 1990s to love this book, nor do you need to have a keen interest in the lore of the Salem Witch trials. If you can check those boxes, the Stantons can pretty much guarantee you will LOVE this book. The rest of you will have to take our word for it. The Stanton family has spent many years in the singular world of field hockey as a player, coach, and supportive family on the sidelines, so we are no strangers to the lengths a team will go to in order to boost morale and grab that “W”.  But we have NEVER seen the likes of this team. The premise of a desperate field hockey team at UNH summer camp signing a lined notebook named “Emilio” (yes, Estevez) – maybe making a pact with the Devil – in order to rise to fame and glory is too good to pass up.  You’ll root for the characters, laugh at the spot-on nineties references, and ache for the teenage girls trying to find their way in an often indifferent world. But they have each other. And the book. And maybe some magicked sticks…

Review by Johnna and Brian Stanton. 

Click here to request a copy.

Movie Review: “Obit.”

Who would have ever guessed that a group of New York Times obituary writers could be the topic of a great documentary?  Director Vanessa Gould certainly turned an interesting idea into a bittersweet but entertaining film (2016) about how this small staff of career journalists research and write about the lives of those who have died. 

I liked the movie for many reasons.  First, I grew up in the New York metropolitan area, so New York is my city.  I felt right at home. The movie profiles an eclectic bunch of New Yorkers with a profession that none ever imagined having. These writers are a vanishing breed, and the movie truly captures the nature of their work and how seriously they approach their craft.  You see them in phone interviews, struggling with deadlines, choosing words carefully, carefully constructing their leads, navigating “front page” meetings, and even sometimes bemoaning errors that made it into published copy. You get to peek into a large and distinctly old-school photo archive with a wonderfully eccentric overseer.  Each staff person also is given plenty of on-screen time just to reflect upon the many aspects involved in writing about dead people. 

The movie is also a great behind-the-scenes look at how this particular part of the paper gets produced.  How do the staff choose who gets New York Times obituary coverage, or decide who deserves a 500-word versus a 10,000-word obituary? Who decides whether an obituary is on the front page, or only referenced there?  How many and what size photos does a newsworthy subject merit?  What happens when someone very famous, like Michael Jackson, dies unexpectedly at four in the afternoon, just hours before the paper must go to press?  

All these questions are answered through a series of vignettes about a wide variety of obituaries that the staff has produced. These pieces chronicle the lives of some fairly famous figures, but they also show you how the paper and the staff choose and create obituaries for lesser known but historically significant figures. I really enjoyed seeing all of these “stories-within-the-story.”

You can watch this film for free through the Library’s streaming service, Kanopy. 

I chose it from the “Staff Picks” section of the KANOPY site; it received a lot of critical acclaim when it was released, and garners high ratings on Rotten Tomatoes. There were several more movies in the “Staff Picks” section of the Canopy site that caught my attention.  Kanopy has a lot to offer: old classics, indie films, foreign films, Oscar winners, and more. To register for your free account and start browsing titles, click here.

 

Review by Roberta Jordan, Assistant Director.

 

Book Review: “Beetle & the Hollowbones” by Aliza Lane

Are you tired of the summer heat? Looking for a sweet and spooky Halloween treat? If you are, I would recommend picking up Aliza Lane’s graphic novel Beetle & the Hollowbones in between staring longingly at your calendar and cursing the humidity.  It was hard to be grumpy about the hot weather while I was following the story of twelve-year-old goblin-witch Beetle, her best friend Blob Ghost, and her old best friend Kat Hollowbones. Beetle is being home-schooled by her grandmother and trying to learn goblin magic, which doesn’t seem to be coming naturally to her. We quickly find out that Blob Ghost can’t leave the mall they are haunting, and Beetle starts looking for magical and non-magical solutions to help Blob Ghost untether themself from the mall. The stakes are raised even higher once Kat Hollowbones returns to town, accompanying her aunt who she is apprenticed to. Kat’s aunt has nefarious plans to turn the town upside down, and her schemes include the demolition of the mall.  Beetle and Kat’s relationship is quickly tested in their quest to save Blob Ghost before it’s too late. 

I highly recommend this magical adventure of friendship, love, and self discovery to all ages. The artwork and story are so thoroughly thought out and well-detailed that I felt very much in the story, riding Beetle’s grandmother’s broomstick and running around the mall right alongside Beetle and her friends. If you enjoyed graphic novels like Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell, Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker, and Snapdragon by Kat Leyh, then you won’t be disappointed by this enchanting mission to save the day with Beetle and her friends.  

Review by Megan Hultman of the Children’s Department. 

Click here to request a copy.

 

Staff Picks: The New Children’s Museum and Theater of Maine

 
 
I took my son to the Grand Opening of the Children’s Museum in Portland and we really enjoyed our visit! My children and I frequented the former Children’s Museum over the years and we have such fond memories from those visits. It’s been exciting to watch the new museum spring up on Thompson’s Point in Portland, and we have been very curious about the new space. It’s clean and bright and colorful, and I found it to be thoughtfully designed for a decent span of ages. While we were visiting, we saw children ranging from babies and toddlers to about ten years old, and everyone seemed happily engaged.
 
When we arrived, we headed up to the third floor and planned to work our way down. Our first stop included an aquarium space with fish and turtles and an expansive touch tank filled with starfish. Some popular features from the old space are also on display on the third floor – most notably the beehive and the camera obscura. There’s also a darkened area featuring some fun, hands-on projects like a stop-motion animation station, a giant lite-brite installation, and a crystal and light table. There’s also a spectacular series of water tables and a fun new twist on the popular ball and ramp installation.
 
 
The second floor includes a fun “our neighborhood” play space complete with a refreshed fire truck, an Amtrak train, air traffic control tower, lobster boat, fish market, and lobster shack restaurant. There’s also a contained toddler play space on this floor. Further back, there’s an interactive display of “Beautiful Blackbird” by Maine author Ashley Bryan where kids can become an avatar in the story. Tucked in the back, we found our favorite spot – the Maker Space. Kids can explore everything from simple crafts to woodworking options. The saws, hammers, and drills are real – and there’s helpful staff standing by to provide safety equipment and helpful advice.  
 
The first floor includes an impressive stage area for theater performances. There’s also a wonderful climbing structure that seemed appropriate for all ages. It’s always fascinating to watch and listen as children make instant friends helping one another through the climb and indulge in pretend play in the “clubhouse” tucked at the top of the structure. There’s access to an outdoor play space complete with a CedarWorks climbing fort and a massive sandbox. We did not venture outdoors, but it seemed like a popular spot for folks looking for a little fresh air and those transitioning back to the outside world. 
 
As an aside, the museum overlooks the Portland Jetport, so there are aircraft coming and going – adding to the “wow” factor. The views are spectacular. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and hope that you will, too!
 
 
A Few Things to Know Before You Go:
 
  • Parking is not free – it’s a “Pay and Display” lot. Staff asked us several times upon entry if we had paid for parking. You will need a credit card to pay for parking. ($2 per hour)
  • The timed entry process means that everyone shows up at once for their entry. We waited in line for 20 minutes before getting to the reception desk to show our tickets. This was the first day and I’m sure there are kinks to work through, but be prepared to wait.
  • Masks are required for everyone over the age of 5. Masks are provided if you do not have one.
  • Perhaps this is obvious, but there are A LOT of communal materials at the museum. All the hands-on materials are shared by everyone. There are many safety precautions (limited entry, masks, numerous hand sanitizing stations), but after the heightened awareness of surface contact during the pandemic, a communal museum experience might feel surprising.  
  • There are picnic tables available to eat on the museum grounds. It’s such a beautiful spot – next time we’ll bring some snacks or a picnic to extend our stay!
 
Review by Emily Read, Development Director

Staff Picks: Learn More About Juneteenth!

We have a new national holiday! Juneteenth (also known as”Black Independence Day”) has been celebrated by the African-American community on June 19 since 1865, when Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced the end of the Civil War and the end of slavery. Although the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed two years earlier, many slave owners continued to hold their slaves captive. Juneteenth became a symbolic date representing African American freedom.
 
Want to learn more? We have several items in our collections about this important moment in American history.
 
On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed (2021). “The essential, sweeping story of Juneteenth’s integral importance to American history, as told by a Pulitzer Prize–winning historian and Texas native.” Gordon-Reed’s book is a New York Times best seller. Click here to request.
 
Juneteenth by Ralph Ellison (1999). At the time of his death in 1994, Ellison had been working forty years on his second novel, a sweeping piece of historical fiction about a dying, race-baiting senator and a black minister.  John Callahan, Ellison’s literary executor, edited and published the unfinished manuscript with the help of Ellison’s widow. Click here to request a copy. There is also an audiobook version of Juneteenth available through the Cloud Library.
 
Ralph Ellison: An American Story (2002) Our free streaming video service, Kanopy, has an excellent documentary on the life and work of Ralph Ellison. There is a section of the film in which friends and critics discuss Juneteenth; Toni Morrison reads an excerpt.
 
Miss Juneteenth (2020). Also available through Kanopy is this critically-acclaimed film directed by Channing Godfrey Peoples. It follows a single mom (a former teen beauty queen) and her 15-year-old daughter as the daughter reluctantly competes in a Miss Juneteenth pageant. A New York Times reviewer wrote: “The movie tackles multitudinous themes in its roughly 100 minutes, from the significance of Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, to the legacy of racism in predatory bank lending practices. But what’s most impressive is the amount of space Peoples’s black female characters inhabit in the narrative.”
 
All Different Now by Angela Johnson (2014). A beautifully illustrated children’s picture book by Coretta Scott King Award winners Angela Johnson and E.B. Lewis. Click here to request a copy.

Book Review: “The Sum of Us” by Heather McGhee

The Sum of Us explores economic policy through the lens of who benefits and who suffers.  McGhee’s central claim is that policy has been crafted over the years to prevent services, upward mobility, and wealth accumulation for people of color, often at the expense of white people.  A signature example referenced throughout the book highlights the proliferation of public pools in the 1920s and 30s.  Towns and cities tried to “one-up” one another with gorgeous, expansive public pools which were wildly popular with residents.  During this time, of course, communities were segregated and these public pools catered to white residents.  In the 1950s, efforts to integrate public pools led to their closure – denying everyone the opportunity to cool off during the hot months of summer.  McGhee also explores more recent policies including Medicaid expansion, drug possession penalties, sub-prime loan practices, tuition costs, globalization and automations, etc.  It’s a wonkish dive into policy brought to life with so many personal narratives that tell the story of the real-world impact of these economic directives.

There’s a chapter that hits close to home when McGhee’s travels take her to Lewiston, Maine.  She explores the history of Lewiston’s glory days as a mill town, its depression as mills closed, and its current renaissance.  She’s honest about the tensions in Lewiston surrounding the immigrant population.  She’s equally encouraged by the stories of solidarity that have emerged as new Mainers have contributed to the economy and helped to revitalize Lewiston.  There’s an anecdote about a woman who grew up in a French-Canadian family.  Like so many Francos, she stopped speaking French as a girl to better assimilate at school.  Upon retirement, she wanted to re-connect with her heritage and sought out French conversation groups to brush up on her native tongue.  To her great surprise, she found that her best opportunity to speak French was with African immigrants from Congo.  Friendships and partnerships flourished as immigrants and Lewiston Francos worked together to teach one another French and English.  These stories of personal connection serve as an aspirational framework for how Americans can prosper together.  McGhee rejects the idea that expansion of opportunity is a zero-sum endeavor. She advocates for an expanded middle class that includes everyone.  Her proposals run the gamut from individual efforts to grass-roots organizing to government support.  I confess that I don’t spend much time thinking about economic policy, but this book definitely puts it on my radar.  Thought-provoking, inspirational, and optimistic, The Sum of Us is worth checking out.   

 

Review by Emily Read, Development Director. 

To request a copy, click here

Book Review: “The Book of Eels” by Patrik Svensson

The New York Times referred to this surprise best-seller by Swedish journalist Patrik Svensson as ‘strange and nerdy.’  I just loved it.

It is part natural history, part memoir, and all about eels.   Even if you know or care nothing about eels before reading the book (like me), you will be amazed to learn that eels are probably one of the few creatures on earth that are still largely a mystery to scientists, even to those who have studied them for years.   The author recounts the work of many renowned thinkers — from Aristotle to Freud to Rachel Carson — who were obsessed with the mysteries of the eel.  Did you know that no one has ever seen an eels mating or giving birth?  Do you know that they can travel on land as well as in water (both salt and fresh)?  Do you know that their lives start and end in the same place, after long journeys elsewhere in Europe and the United States?  Do you know they are now critically endangered, not just because of global warming, but because as a food product they are in great demand in places like Japan and in the Basque region of Spain?

Svensson alternates discussing the finer points of the eel’s natural history and its current endangerment with his own memoir about eels.  The memoir chapters are an hommage to his now-deceased working-class father.  Svensson and his dad bonded over eel fishing throughout their lives, often adventuring late at night in the stream near their home. Father taught son tried and true methods for catching these elusive creatures, but also made adventures with less successful eeling methods involving trapping and netting.  We learn how his father liked them cooked, about eels in literature, and about the history of eel-fishing on the coast of Sweden.   The book ends on a memoir chapter that I found almost unbelievable because it was so perfect. 

Unlike many natural histories, The Book of Eels is brief and readable.  Yet it is comprehensive enough to make you realize how crazy it is that scientists still can’t explain everything about the life cycle of this kind-of-creepy creature.  You will easily read the book in a day, and I guarantee you will come away feeling more interested in and better educated about eels.  

Review by Roberta Jordan, Assistant Director.

Click here to request a copy.

 

Book Review: “Whereabouts” by Jumpa Lahiri

I really identified with the narrator of Jumpha Lahiri’s  new book, Whereabouts.  The storyteller is an Italian woman in her 40s, a solitary soul who wrestles with conflicting needs and desires. She likes to be alone and unattached, but also seeks companionship and belonging.  It was amazing how I could identify her “whereabouts” even though the setting was in a place and a country I have never been to before. Each chapter was very short but moved in such a way that made me feel that I was continuously searching for something.

Lahiri, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Lowlands and Interpreter of Maladies, first wrote this novel in Italian and then translated it into English. It is composed of 46 brief chapters; each one is a reflection written by the narrator at different locations in the unnamed city where she lives over the course of a year. The locations become the chapter titles:  “At My House,” “In the Shade,” “In My Head,” “At the Supermarket.”  When pieced together, these loosely connected musings create a picture of a life at a crossroads. 

It has been over a decade since Lahiri has published a novel.  I think Whereabouts was well worth the wait.

 

Review by Katy Dodge, Head of Children’s Services

To request a copy, click here

 

 

Book Review: “Fangirl” (Volume 1): The Manga

This is the first volume of what will be a series of four manga, a Japanese style graphic novel adaptation of the young adult novel Fangirl, which was written by bestselling author Rainbow Rowell. This adaptation stays faithful to the original book as we follow Cath on her journey as a first-year English major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She and her twin sister, Wren, have been inseparable until Wren decided she didn’t want to share a room with Cath for the first time in their lives. While Wren is making new friends and partying, Cath struggles to adjust to college life. Not only does she suffer from social anxiety, but she also has to adjust to her blunt new roommate and the roommate’s oddly charming boyfriend.  They both take Cath under their wings. Right off the bat we find out that Cath loves the Simon Snow book series (this universe’s version of the Harry Potter series), and she writes a popular “fan fiction” work based on the series. One big issue: the last book of the real series is about to come out, and Cath is determined to write her own conclusion of the story before the author releases her final volume. 

It was so fun to see Cath, her sister Wren, and the rest of the cast of characters come to life in illustrated form, and to enjoy a fresh take on this already well-loved story. I think that the adapter (Sam Maggs) and illustrator (Gabi Nam) did an amazing job capturing Cath, Wren, and all the other characters from the series and have stayed faithful to the original source material. I recommend both versions of this book, but they definitely stand on their own separately, meaning I think you could read either version and get the same great story. I’m looking forward to the second volume, which comes out this October. 

Review by Megan Hultman, who works in the Children’s Room.

To request a copy of this adaptation of Fangirl, click here.

To request a copy of the original Fangirl novel by Rainbow Rowell, click here.

 

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