Book Review: “Daisy and the Six”

At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic (and my unexpected hiatus from work) I briefly considered reading a lovely copy of War and Peace I had received as a gift years ago. My powers of concentration and tolerance for frustration were lacking and, sadly, the great novel was returned to the shelf. It seemed that a lighter, somewhat offbeat reading selection was in order.

The right book at the right time turned out to be Daisy Jones & the Six. It’s a romp through the LA rock music scene of the late sixties and early seventies. These years coincide with my late teens, and I get weirdly nostalgic and misty-eyed when I hear certain songs from the era. I wasn’t at Woodstock but did listen to an 8-track tape of the soundtrack hundreds of times. This novel promised to be about MY music: what could be better? [Note: A book is considered to be historical fiction if it’s set 50 or more years in the past – ouch!]

The story centers on the tempestuous and star-crossed relationship of Daisy Jones and Billy Dunne, lead singers and songwriters for an up-and-coming rock and roll band. Daisy’s beauty and charisma move others to write lyrics about her, but she is a gifted singer and songwriter in her own right. I wanted to hate her until she said, ”I have absolutely no interest in being somebody else’s muse. I am not a muse. I am the somebody.” Her willfulness and wit won me over. Initially, things are also rocky with Billy, who resents Daisy’s inclusion in a recording session and, later, his band. Her destabilizing presence threatens his recovery from drugs and his reconciliation with his wife, yet their collaboration in songwriting, recording, and performing  is pure magic.

Stylistically, the novel is written as an oral history based on interviews with band members and other people in their orbit. The fun part of reading it is trying to figure out which real-life musicians of the seventies inspired Reid’s descriptions of the era. What particular hit songs, classic album covers, stars’ addiction issues, and newsworthy temper tantrums did she research to include in the plot?  I’m quite certain that Janis Joplin’s Piece of My Heart inspired the moment in the recording studio when Billy tells Daisy to “sing so hard your knees buckle.”

I love the films Almost Famous and Bohemian Rhapsody because they transport me to a time when music seemed raw and fresh and evoked all-new images and emotions. Daisy Jones & the Six had the same effect and was an unabashed pleasure to read.

Review by Pam Barry of the Reference Department.

Daisy Jones & the Six is available through the Cloud Library. Click here to get started.

Book Review: “Snow, Glass, Apples”

Snow, Glass, Apples is Neil Gaiman’s chilling take on Snow White, told from the view of the “Evil Queen.” Gaiman originally published it as a short story in his 1998 anthology, Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions. He teamed up with illustrator Colleen Doran in 2019 to create a graphic novel version. The story offers a more sinister take on one of our most  beloved princesses, one that would have Mr. Walt Disney shaking in his Mickey ears. Doran provides illustrations that are as beautiful as they are mildly disconcerting, and Neil Gaiman doesn’t fail to bring his own scary twist on why Snow White has lips red as the rose, her hair black as ebony, and skin white as snow. 

If you are looking for a dark and spooky adult fairy tale, I highly recommend giving this a read. If you enjoy it, you might also like The Sleeper and the Spindle, another Gaiman retelling, that is a part Snow White and part Sleeping Beauty.

Review by Megan Hultman, who works at the main circulation desk.

Book Review: “An American Marriage” by Tayari Jones

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. They are settling into the routine of their life together, when they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to 12 years in a Louisiana prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend and best man at her wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, Celestial is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.

This stirring love story is a deeply insightful look into the hearts and minds of three people who are at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control. An American Marriage is a masterpiece of storytelling, an intimate look into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while moving forward- with hope and pain- into the future. In addition to romantic love and marriage, themes of motherhood and fatherhood, race, class, and tradition also play prominent roles.

This is a thought-provoking, well-written, character study about a marriage on the brink. It made me think deeply about human nature, love, America’s criminal justice system, and, of course, marriage. Tayari Jones creates three very real, well-drawn out characters who are struggling with both the choices they have made, and not being able to change what they cannot control. I felt their pain; their emotions permeate the pages. The ending felt authentic, and while some might not like the way things played out, I was satisfied. This is a credit to Jones, who paints an honest picture of the characters and events that take place. 

Review by Leslie Mortimer, Adult Services Manager

This book is available through the Cloud Library. For more information on the Cloud Library and other digital content, click here.

Book Review: “Dig” by A.S. King (2020)

Marla and Gottfried Hemmings have raised five children and find themselves wealthy in their retirement years after trading in potato farming for real estate development.  Each of their children has left the nest – and none of them come home any more.  Marla blames Gottfried; Gottfried blames Marla.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the story, five teenagers are being raised with varying levels of success by their parents. They are estranged cousins, the next generation of the Hemmings family. 

Malcom, a spoiled brat, is facing down having to live with Marla and Gottfried after his Dad dies of cancer.  No more weekend trips to Jamaica to see his girlfriend, no more take out, just Marla’s loveless home cooked meals, over which he has no control.

CanIHelpYou? is in the process of getting as far away from her racist
parents as she can, as fast as she can, on the back of cash made selling drugs.  She does this using a clever code system while on the clock at the fast food drive through she mans, all while falling in love with her best friend.

Loretta spends her days hiding from her abusive father, while training her flea circus for their opening acts.  She has other dark secrets, too.

The Shoveler tries to help his flaky, lazy mother survive by taking any job she can.  Shoveling, painting, whatever – he’ll do it.  His only hope is that they can stay in the same apartment long enough for him to graduate, buy a car, and get away.

The Freak begins the story.  She physically flickers from place to place – appearing and disappearing in ways completely beyond her control.  Or can she?

A complex, slightly fantastical story emerges as the characters live adjacently but separate from each other.  The stories converge one crazy spring, when the darkness lifts, intriguing old secrets (and new ones) are exposed and reveal a bigger story, and decisions are made.  No one is quite who they seem to be, but by the end, they all know who they want to be – and who they don’t want to be.

The resulting story is well worthy of the Printz Award. This is one of my favorite books of the year, and I can’t wait to read it again from the beginning.

Trigger warning: this is a young adult story told by extremely authentic teenage voices.  There is plenty of dark content, racism is a strong theme, and sexual content and drug use content are prevalent.  Read with care.

Book Review: “City of Thieves” (2008) by David Benioff

During the Nazis’ brutal siege of Leningrad, Lev Beniov is arrested for looting and thrown into the same cell as a handsome deserter named Kolya. Instead of being executed, Lev and Kolya are given a shot at saving their own lives by complying with an outrageous directive: secure a dozen eggs for a powerful Soviet colonel to use in his daughter’s wedding cake. In a city cut off from all supplies and suffering unbelievable deprivation, Lev and Kolya embark on a hunt through the dire lawlessness of Leningrad and behind enemy lines to find the impossible. By turns insightful and funny, thrilling and terrifying, City of Thieves is a gripping, cinematic World War II adventure and an intimate coming-of-age story with an utterly contemporary feel for how boys become men. 

Another title that is not my usual fare, but I’ve been using my time cooped up at home to catch up on books that have been recommended by coworkers over the years. City of Thieves is a terrific book that proves you don’t have to write 500 pages to have real depth. I was intrigued by how Benioff managed to describe the characters enduring terrible hardship and the worst of one of the most brutal battles in history, but the book doesn’t read as grim or overly depressing. That’s not to say that there isn’t real drama, horror and sadness, but the natural humor of the characters keeps it from being just another book about the horrors of war. 

Review by Leslie Mortimer, Adult Services Manager.

This book is available as a digital audiobook through the Cloud Library. For more information on how to get started with Cloud Library, click here.

Book Review: “One Day” by Gene Weingarten

I am cheating a bit, because I haven’t quite finished this book; I am reviewing it because I am sure I will recommend it by the time I have finished. It’s a very good read.

Whatever you do, don’t skip the introduction, in which Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Weingarten describes how he pitched the idea for this book to a friend. His plan: to select an ordinary day at random and report on it, fully and deeply, from beginning to end. You will learn about how he chose the date (hysterical) and then, despite skepticism, stuck with the date as chosen.

Six years of research later, he has produced an extremely compelling volume (thus far in my read, anyway), which begs the question: Is there really such a thing as an “ordinary” day? Weingarten proceeds with an overview of everything he will report on in the day he’s chosen, and then devotes a chapter to each, starting at 12:01 a.m. in Charlottesville, Virginia, and ending at 11:55 p.m in Oakland, California. It is meticulously researched, but very easy to read.

The day, as illustrated by the events he chose, is one “filled with comedy, tragedy, implausible irony, cosmic comeuppances, kindness, cruelty, heroism, cowardice, genius, idiocy, prejudice, selflessness, coincidence, and startling moments of human connection . . . ” Slate Magazine called the book one of the 50 best nonfiction books of the last 25 years.” And it is certainly a great read during a time when we’re all wondering when we will return to our “ordinary” days and lives.

Review by Roberta Jordan, Outreach and Instruction Librarian.

Book Review: “Gabriel Du Pré” Mystery Series by Peter Bowen

I lost a friend this month, a friend known to PFL’s lovers of mysteries: Peter Bowen, the author of the Gabriel Du Pré series set in Montana.  I met Peter decades ago, when I was at the University of Michigan. He once said, “I attended the University of Michigan without much effect on either one of us.” But Peter was wrong. He had an effect on many, among them my husband Richard Sears, a professor of Art at Michigan. Dick feared that he hadn’t helped Peter very much during the time Peter took classes in the Art & Design Department, but, regardless, they became fast friends. During Dick’s last years, I knew when Peter was calling because of Dick’s uproarious laughter echoing through the house. We knew the Montana cowboy/tall Viking/foul-mouthed folksinger/well-read raconteur with the proverbial heart of gold for years before he became, as labelled by the New York Times review of the first Du Pré book CoyoteWind, “the Thoreau of Montana.” 

As David McCumber wrote earlier this month in his obituary of Peter: “Bowen was best-known for a series of 15 mystery novels set in the fictional Eastern Montana town of Toussaint, and featuring a Métis brand inspector named Gabriel Du Pré. He also wrote a four-book series of historical novels set in Montana in the 19th and early 20th century that blended history and humor in a way that delighted readers and critics alike. They featured a fictionalized version of the real-life Western character Luther Sage “Yellowstone” Kelly, a soldier, frontiersman, hunter and scout. Bowen was a writer’s writer, respected for his wordsmithing — and his irreverence and sardonic humor. For a time, he wrote columns for Forbes FYI magazine under the name ‘Coyote Jack.’”

It is hard not just to paste all of McCumber’s essay on Peter here as a way to share all the stories about him — his friendship with Christopher Buckley; Peter’s decision to run away to the mountains near Bozeman, Montana, rather than attend junior high school; his listening as a child to the tall tales told by old men, former cowboys of the 19th and early 20th century; and so on. Peter didn’t suffer fools gladly, nor did he mince words. But he loved to tell and write stories. 

When the library reopens, I invite you to sample the works of Peter Bowen, the series featuring his determined brand inspector/eccentric detective/skilled fiddler of Montana as Du Pré investigates a variety of crimes against individuals and the Métis people. There are stories that emphasize current issues and wrongdoings, while others take the reader back into the history of Montana’s settlement and ancient violence, or into the world of the mysterious shaman Benetsee, who sometimes guides Du Pré to the answer he seeks, sometimes just kicks his ass and disappears in a puff of smoke or the flight of a bird. That is how I would seek Peter now – in the howl of a coyote, the flight of a bird, the leap of a fish in a sparkling stream, or in echoes of raucous laughter. 

Review by Robin Haynes, Head of the History Room.

Many of Bowen’s books in this series are available on-line through Open Library.

Book Review: News of the World (2016)

In 1870, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd is asked to deliver a 10-year-old German girl back to her relatives in San Antonio in exchange for $50 in gold. He agrees. Johanna’s parents had been killed by the Kiowa when she was 6, but she was spared and raised as one of their own for four years. Facing a 400-mile journey filled with threats of ambush and an uncooperative charge, Captain Kidd wonders if his choice to deliver the girl was the right one. Prior to accepting this mission, the 71-year old Kidd had roamed northern Texas, performing live readings from newspapers to paying audiences hungry for “news of the world.”

This book has been on my list for a long time; reviewers and coworkers have recommended Paulette Jiles for years. I avoided her novels because they are set during the Civil War or the Great Depression, and I assumed they would be unpleasant, if not downright gruesome. Who wants to read about that during the current pandemic?

On my last day at PFL before the closure, I was browsing the shelves for a month’s worth of reading material. I grabbed News of the World, The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead, Home for Erring and Outcast Girls by Julie Kibler, and City of Thieves by David Benioff. The only book I did not finish was Whitehead’s.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Jiles’ novel. It was a quick read at 209 pages, but also because I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next, what the final outcome would be. Would the Captain and his ten-year old charge survive their journey? Would Johanna be re-united with her extended family? For the answers to those questions, you’ll have to read the book. My lips are sealed!

The inclusion of a map allowed me to follow the journey of Captain Kidd (“Kep-dun”) and Johanna (“Cho-henna”) from Wichita Falls to San Antonio. Having lived in Dallas for several years, when I also visited Fort Worth, Austin, and San Antonio, I found it fascinating to learn what these modern major cities were like in the years immediately after the Civil War.

Reviewed by Leslie Mortimer, Adult Services Manager

Book Review: The Prydain Chronicles

I started The Book of Three, the first book in this classic fantasy series by Lloyd Alexander, with a great deal of skepticism. First of all (with the exception of the Harry Potter series), I am not fantasy fan. Secondly, the series involves five books, and when you have a reading wish list as long as mine, a series of this length is a big commitment. I forged ahead, however, since a member of the Teen Library Council said it was her FAVORITE fantasy series of all time. (She’s a huge Harry Potter fan, too.)

I am so glad I followed through on her recommendation. I devoured it in a couple of weeks. It is an older series (it was around when I was in elementary school!), but it is truly a classic. If you’re looking for something to keep you and/or your upper elementary and middle school children engaged in the long weeks ahead, I would give these books a try.

Yes, there are the typical annoying and unpronounceable fantasy character names (and these are Welsh, too, so they are especially so). But everything else about the series hooked me. You and your children will inevitably start making comparisons to the characters and themes in Harry Potter. There’s Taran, the parentless boy who grows into manhood over the course of the series, and his smart and sassy female foil, Eilonwy. There’s a Dumbledore-like father figure, a Dobby-like character, an early version of Death Eaters, who work for an evil leader . . . you get the idea.

All in all, it’s a slightly simpler take on fantasy themes like good versus evil and what makes a person one or the other; there are lots of musings about love, death, loss, and the search for identity. Alexander also includes a lot of subtle humor into the stories that adults will appreciate.

The Library owns the series in print; of course these books are not available at this time. I found free online copies of each book in the series in Open Library (www.openlibrary.com) and also through the new project of the Internet Archive, the National Emergency Library. (It has over a million free titles you can read on-line or download, and there are no waiting lists.)

The seres, in order, is:

  • The Book of Three
  • The Black Cauldron (a Newbery Honor book and also a Disney movie)
  • The Castle of Llyr
  • Taran Wanderer
  • The High King (a Newbery winner)

Enjoy!

Review by Roberta Jordan, Outreach and Instruction Librarian


Book Review: Bread on the Table

I borrow every baking book we get here and this book by David Norman is my favorite since The Rye Baker by Stanley Ginsberg. They’re similar in scope and difficulty and each provides histories of the breads in each recipe. The difference is that Ginsburg’s book is exclusively rye while Norman’s tackles all sorts of breads from several different regions and then gives recipes for a meal that will really showcase the bread. (The German and Italian spreads look particularly amazing.)

So far I’ve made what I thought was a simple white bread that Norman suggests pairing with BBQ (his bakery is in Austin, TX). Warning: this bread, and most of the breads in the book, are a commitment; they will take anywhere from 6 hours to over a day to complete. After several folds and risings I found myself half hoping that the bread would only be ok and I could move on to a new recipe but the bread was absolutely delicious and worth the work. I made it two days in a row. None of the steps are difficult but you’ll have to plan to be for a large part of the day. Many of the recipes use either a rye or sourdough starter and you can either make them, they take about a week, or come ask me for some. I’m always happy to share the love of bread!

Review by Sarah Maciejewski, Children’s Room Staff.

Click here to reserve a copy.

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