Haunted Webster Groves by Patrick Dorsey
(Factual Planet, 2015, 131 pages)
This book by Patrick Dorsey provides fourteen riveting accounts as told to him of unquiet spirits in and near the area of Webster Groves, Missouri. As a ghost agnostic, I am generally fascinated by and open to hearing people’s accounts of interactions with ghosts. This 131-page book is divided into two main section: “Legends,” being more a compilation of experiences that many people have had over many years, and “Firsthand Accounts,” in which Dorsey interviews several Webster Groves-area residents about their up-close-and-personal experiences with these spirits.
Regarding the writing style of the book, sometimes I was charmed by the way in which the author inserted his own editorial commentary into the stories; at other times, I wanted him to get out of the way a little more and simply let the stories speak for themselves. However, a book of this nature is at least in part personality-driven, and the playful treatment of this subject matter provides a bit of non-ghostly levity to the stories. Dorsey notes that he is “a storyteller and a writer, not a ghost hunter” (p. 10), and that the reader will thus find more story and less science. This book is good reading for the casual ghost hunter looking for an entertaining and spooky evening, particularly one familiar with or interested in the Webster Groves/St. Louis County area.
Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill
(W.W. Norton & Company, 2007, 489 pages)
Someone Knows My Name is also known by another title, Book of Negroes, which is the title it was originally published with in Canada. Aminata is kidnapped from Africa as a young child and sold into slavery. This book is meant to be the story of her life told from her perspective. The book starts off in the early 1800s with Aminata as an elderly woman in London who is there in support of abolitionism. She then reflects back on how she came to be in the circumstances she’s in today.
Aminata’s story takes us from Africa to North America. We experience the inhumane conditions of life onboard a slave ship in addition to being exposed to what life was like as a slave in North America. Aminata was fortunate that her intelligence was noted, she was taught to read and write and this enabled her to really move ahead in the world. Eventually she was enlisted by the British Army to write in the Book of Negroes, a record of all those people of color who went to fight on the side of the British during the Revolutionary War.
A unique aspect of this book is that it touches on an aspect of history that isn’t often recounted in slave literature. We journey with Aminata to Nova Scotia where she is promised freedom but is faced with still more hardship. From here she is finally able to fulfill her dream of returning to Africa as she travels with many other Nova Scotians to settle in Sierra Leone. Unfortunately, reality has a way of shattering the dreams we thought we had…
I liked this book and would recommend it if you’re a fan of historical fiction. I wouldn’t say it was the best book I’ve read on the topic, but I really appreciated the different perspective Hill offered. It made me reflect on slave narratives I read in the past and would like to revisit in addition to reminding me to pick up a number of books relating to this subject that have been on my to-read list for quite some time.
P.S. This book was made into a mini-series on BET which you may have heard of.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
(Doubleday, 2015, 736 pages)
I have to admit right off the bat that the cover to this book almost turned me off to the whole idea of reading it. I know, don’t judge a book by its cover… Well, what finally prompted me to pick up A Little Life was the fact that I was hearing about it everywhere. It was highly praised on a podcast I listen to called “Books on the Nightstand” and then it was getting shortlisted for numerous literary awards. I couldn’t resist the pull any longer.
A Little Life follows a group of 4 friends as they proceed through adulthood. The friends, Jude, Willem, Malcolm, and JB, met in college where they all shared a suite in their dorm. The book takes place after they have all moved to New York City and are finding their way in the world. The central figure in the book (and in their friendship circle) is Jude. Jude suffers from episodes of debilitating pain that seems to stem from damage to his legs that occurred when he was younger. In addition to this physical pain, it’s clear that Jude suffers in other, more emotional, ways but he’s not one to talk about himself or his past – not even with those closest to him.
This novel is about love, friendship, forgiveness, and coming out on the other side of tragedy. We see the men grow over a span of decades and Yanagihara’s focus on character development is pretty great. Every time I was forced to put it down I couldn’t wait to get back to the book because I was so invested in the characters. I was definitely still thinking about them after finishing the book.
I will say that there were some elements of the novel that felt a little unfinished. But overall this is a book I would certainly recommend. Despite its size it reads fairly quickly. And it certainly isn’t a “light” read so prepare yourself for some dark elements. Some people talk about how this book had them sobbing – there were certainly moments where I teared up, so if you’re looking for that kind of read, this is a good one to pick up. Plus, it has gotten rave reviews and, as I mentioned previously, it’s shortlisted for all kinds of awards.
Sisters by Raina Telgemeier
(GRAPHIX, 2014, 208 pages)
Sisters is the follow-up to Smile and explores Raina’s love-hate relationship with her sister. Flashbacks are prominent throughout the story and evident by sepia-colored pages. It follows 13-year old Raina, and her sister, brother, and mom on a road trip from California to Colorado for a family reunion. Raina just wants to listen to her music through headphones, while her sister wants to annoy her. Later they realize that their parents haven’t been getting along after their father takes a plane to the reunion instead of riding with them. This story wasn’t quite as upbeat as Smile, but I still enjoyed it.
Smile by Raina Telgemeier
(GRAPHIX, 2010, 224 pages)
Smile is the author’s autobiographical story of herself as a 12-year old girl and her experience losing her two front teeth after falling while racing friends outside. It leads to appointments with a dentist, endodontist, and orthodontist and all the angst that results from trying to make her smile normal again. It also explores her relationships with her friends and family, getting her ears pierced, and all the other things that go along with being a pre-teen. The dialogue is clever and the artwork full of bright colors and lots of detail. The book is geared toward 8-12 year olds, but I enjoyed it as someone significantly older than that!
The Poems of Aemilia Lanyer: Salve Deus Rex Judeorum
edited by Susanne Woods
(Oxford University Press, 1993, 192 pages)
Aemilia Lanyer, the early seventeenth century devotional poet, is a figure of intense literary speculation. Some suggest that she is the “Dark Lady” of Shakespeare’s sonnets, while others claim that she is the true author of the Shakespearean canon. Aside from these wild speculations surrounding the scant biographical information available, the poetry that is unquestionably attributed to Lanyer stands on its own unique merits.
Lanyer is considered a proto-feminist figure. Her major poem, Salve Deus Rex Judeorum, is a meditation on Christ’s Passion and the traditional Christian doctrines of sin and redemption that concern much of the era’s poetry. However, unlike the work of contemporaries like Herbert and Donne, Lanyer’s reflections pick up on the distinctive roles of women in redemptive history. Christ’s Passion is viewed largely from the perspective of Pilot’s wife, and Lanyer argues against the traditional attribution of blame for the Fall to Eve. As Woods states in the Introduction, “Lanyer’s religious poem claims biblical and historical authority and grants the viewpoint of women as much or greater authenticity as that of men” (xxxii). These themes, along with poems of dedication to multiple female patrons, serve to show the unique place that Lanyer occupied in her time. Not only was she a women trying to make a living as a professional poet, but the themes of her poems also serve as critiques of patriarchal structures.
Susanne Woods’ Introduction is valuable for the biographical and literary context that it offers. The textual notes within the poems help to elucidate arcane terminology and biblical and cultural allusions. This volume is a very helpful introduction to a poet who holds a unique place in the English Renaissance and continues to generate a lot of scholarly interest.
Saga: Volume 5 by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples
(Image Comics, 2015, 152 pages)
I didn’t even realize that Saga: Volume 5 was out until it caught my eye while checking for something else on Amazon. As soon as I saw it I put in my request at the library. Saga never fails to keep you entertained and I’m still in awe of the artistic creativity of Fiona Staples and the many social issues Vaughan brings up in the series.
I don’t want to really offer much of a summary in case people are still looking into reading the graphic novels. I’ll just say that Lying Cat cameos in this volume. And if you’re new to this series and have an interest in seeing what it’s all about, please go pick up Saga: Volume 1 (we have it in the library). Just prepare yourself for some “adult” content.
Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012, 286 pages)
I planned on reading Are You My Mother? after I finished rereading Fun Home a few months ago. Where Fun Home focused on Bechdel’s father, this graphic novel centers around her relationship with her mother. The book isn’t quite what you would expect. Instead of simply looking at her relationship with her mother as one might in a typical memoir, Bechdel reflects on their relationship through the lens of psychotherapy. The drawings in this book show Bechdel in various therapy sessions and the book is regularly described as very meta. Are You My Mother? reflects back on the time when Bechdel was initially writing Fun Home and the concerns she had with how her mother would react to its publication, which then ties in to her concerns with how her mother will react to another book being written where she is the focus.
As with Fun Home there are a lot of references in Are You My Mother? that had me feeling a little out of the loop. Bechdel refers to the theories of psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott while also touching on people like Freud, Jung, and Virginia Woolf. I had to reread certain sections a few times to make sure I understood them properly. This also happened in Fun Home when Bechdel made some references to pieces of classic literature I hadn’t had the chance to read. The book is still accessible and it’s obvious the author is intelligent, it’s just not the type of graphic novel you should think you can just pick up and read in an hour. Bechdel is proof that comics aren’t a dumbed down or throwaway genre.
This book takes us through the author’s journey to understand her mother and how their relationship came to be the way it is.
Monkeys, Myths and Molecules: Separating Fact from Fiction in the Science of Everyday Life by Dr. Joe Schwarcz
(ECW Press, 2015, 293 pages)
This is an informative and entertaining book written by McGill University professor Joe Schwarcz. It’s a collection of short essays on science and how it applies to everyday practice. The author is a chemistry professor so the book covers more chemistry and biochemistry topics. The writing is smooth and clear and the explanations are straightforward. I’ll admit that I took great pleasure in reading “Dr. Oz Should Be Red-Faced over His Portrayal of Red Palm Oil as a Miracle.”
To engage readers, the author weaves history into many essays. I enjoyed reading how the Scottish doctor James Simpson discovered the anaesthetic properties of chloroform in 1847 and pioneered its use in surgery and childbirth. What a huge impact it made on medicine! If you are a fan of composers of classical music, you’ll appreciate the essay “Beethoven’s Poultice and Mozart’s Pork Chops.” Although the book is directed at general readers, I would have liked to see some sources. I’d be interested in reading the journal article published by the Viennese pathologist Dr. Christian Reiter about his analysis of Beethoven’s hair and bones. His article generated more speculations about the cause of Beethoven’s death. A bibliography would benefit the book greatly.
I highly recommend this book for science and history readers. It can also be used by college and high school students as an idea book for research papers of science topics.
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein
(Random House Books for Young Readers, 2013, 304 pages)
Mr. Lemoncello, a creative game-maker, has built a new public library around an existing bank and wants to make an advertisement to let everyone know that it is now open. He decides that he would like a child to be in the ad so of course he has decided to come up with a game for twelve 12-year olds to play and the winner is awarded a spot in the advertisement. He has an overnight lock-in in the new library and the children must figure their way out. The trick is that they may not leave the same way they came in. There are secret codes and clues placed throughout the library and the children must use their detective skills to try and solve the puzzles in order to find the exit.
I read this book with my third grader and we both enjoyed it thoroughly. We found it very entertaining to try to solve the riddles before the characters would. The characters, and boy some of them really are ‘characters,’ are very likable, so much so, that we found ourselves routing for certain ones. I would highly recommend this book for guys and gals of all ages who are a fan of fun, captivating stories filled with riddles to keep you guessing.
P.S. There is one final riddle at the very end of the book. Will you be able to figure it out?
P.P.S. You can also read Jean’s review of this book!