Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis by Timothy Egan

October 20, 2014

Short Nights of the Shadow CatcherThis is an amazing account of the life of photographer Edward Curtis. It begins in 1866 in Seattle, where Princess Angeline is living in a 2 room damp shack down among the piers. She is the oldest and last surviving child of the chief of the Duwamish and Suquamish tribes, and also the most famous person in Seattle, her image on china plates and other knickknacks sold to tourists of Puget Sound.

Seattle is also where Edward Sheriff Curtis runs a successful photography business. Curtis is sought out by politicians and wealthy patrons, but also trolley car drivers and sailors who have saved for a session in front of the camera.

Curtis eventually photographs Princess Angeline, first in a studio portrait, and then in Shantytown, where he captures her in her daily chores of digging clams and gathering mussels. Angeline tells of other Duwamish and Suquamish people living on the edge of the city and the Tulalip reservation to the north. He visits, even pays for access, and photographs them. This is the beginning of what becomes a lifelong endeavor of photographing all intact Indian communities left in North American before their way of life disappears.

This plan entails traveling the Southwest, the plains, the Rockies, the fjords of British Columbia and Washington State, northern California mountains and southern California desert, and the Arctic. Curtis gives up a successful photography studio in Seattle for this pursuit.

He is constantly broke and struggles to obtain backers as he continues documenting Native Americans as their numbers are plummeting. While America is laying down railroad lines and paving roads for automobiles, the Indians who wish to continue living as they always have, end up hiding from dominant ever encroaching culture (the government has banned many ceremonies and children are sent to boarding schools).

Even when Curtis presents his picture opera–Indians in hand-colored slides and film, accompanied by music–to sold out crowds at Carnegie Hall and Washington’s Belasco Theater, he still faces bankruptcy: a penniless state that follows him through the rest of his life.

When he completes Volume XX of The North American Indian in 1930, thirty years have passed since the onset of the project, and Curtis is sixty-one years old. Sadly, his book goes unnoticed after his death in 1952, but resurfaces in the 1970’s to great acclaim. The Curtis family set goes to the Rare Books Library at the University of Oregon, and a gallery devoted to the work of Curtis is in Seattle.

Thankfully, because of Edward Curtis’ steadfast dedication to record the Native American tribes’ way of life before its tragic demise, we have an immense photographic and written historical record. And because of Timothy Egan’s exhaustive research, we have a sense of what Edward Curtis went through to accomplish this great feat.

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Grown Folks Business by Victoria Christopher Murray

October 17, 2014

Grown Folks BusinessSheridan meets Quentin while serving as an intern at her doctor’s office; it’s love at first sight. Sheridan marries Quentin right out of college despite her parents’ objection. They have two beautiful children, Tori, nine years old and Chris, sixteen, and live a perfect life as a family.

But Sheridan and Quentin’s seventeen years of marital bliss collapse all of a sudden when Quentin gives a shocking announcement that he is in love with someone else, and that someone else is a man, a close family friend named Jett.

Quentin moves in with Jett. Sheridan now deals with how to inform their kids about their father’s new lifestyle, but Chris finds out anyway, and that begins a new drama in Sheridan’s household. Chris changes his name to Christopher fearing that Chris could be a girl’s name. He makes several changes in his life just to prove he is nothing like his father. Tori and a few family members accept Quentin’s new life while others find it unforgivable.

Sheridan receives emotional and spiritual support from her close friend, her parents, and her church pastor. At her pastor’s office, she accidentally runs into a UPS driver, Brock, when she is not ready for love but Brock will not let her rest until she finally falls for him.

Sheridan and Quentin come together in order to help their son, Chris, out of his own life crisis that leads to a rebirth in the life of Deja, his girlfriend.

I enjoyed this book because it’s an easy read, it’s full of love and support, disagree to agree, and friendship.

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Baptism by Max Kinnings

October 16, 2014

BaptismA heart-pounding thriller taking place in the London Underground.

Religious fanatics commandeer a subway train and stop it between two major stations. Nobody knows what they want but they are prepared to kill without hesitation if anyone gets in their way. They may be religious fanatics wanting to make a statement. Bodies are falling right and left as ace negotiator Ed Mallory leads a team desperately attempting to head off this potential catastrophe. Caught in the middle is George Wakeham, the driver of the train. His family is being held hostage so that George will do whatever the leader of the fanatics, Tommy Denning, tells him to do.

But there is something more involved in this: somehow MI5 is entangled with the impending tragedy and they have kept important “intel” from Mallory. As the situation worsens, the London police must do anything and everything possible to stop this situation before hundreds perish.

This fast-paced thriller will keep you awake at night. Kinnings has written one heck of a page turner. I expect we will hear more from him in the future.

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The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

October 15, 2014

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava LavenderAva spins a tale of how she, who was “just a girl,” happened to be born with a huge set of wings. To truly tell the story, she has to go back three generations to her great-grandmother, Maman, who moved from France to “Manhatine” to follow her husband’s dream, and then to the story of her grandmother, Emilienne, and her mother, Vivianne. All of these women were cursed in romance. It seemed that they fell in love quite often, but rarely with the right man, and even then, once they had a child, their lover would either die or run away. So the women depended on one another and raised their children alone—at least on this plane of existence.

Ava and her foremothers eke out a living, running a bakery and living together in a lonely house with a bizarre history. Ava stays indoors almost all the time, just so that she can avoid other people’s sometimes startling reaction to her wings. While she is afraid that some people may hurt her because of her difference, others may be obsessed with her for more sinister reasons. All she wants to be is a regular girl.

Walton writes a story filled with magical realism. One of Emilienne’s sisters was utterly besotted with a musician who barely knew that she existed. Her love transformed her into a canary, hopeful that her beloved would be enraptured by her music, but now he noticed her even less. Relatives who have died tend to return in strange forms, and the living often have powers that most people would call superstition. The lines between living and dead, reality and illusion, are gossamer-thin. The writing is exquisitely beautiful, but some of the situations are too mature for most teenagers. However, adults and older teens who love Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude or Isabelle Allende’s House of the Spirits will be enthralled with Ava Lavender. Highly recommended.

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The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

October 14, 2014

The AlchemistThis book is about a shepherd boy who takes risks and endures hardship to pursue his dream. At first, it reads like a simple fable written for a child, and the pace of the story developed ever so slowly. I had to read it for a book discussion so I stuck to it. Oh, how it has paid off! What a beautiful and purposeful book, just when I needed it: be patient and focus!

The Alchemist offers inspiration in such a way as if it has awakened the deep sleep of a hibernating bear that has finally felt hunger for food (spiritual food) and wanted to roar (come alive) again. It connects one back to an earlier life of an innocent age. Of a questing soul of a brave and pure spirit. Coelho knows I am not the only one who feels this way, even he is from Brazil, half the world away.

The Alchemist is a brilliantly crafted book with vivid descriptions of culture, people, and scenery to fill the imagination of any reader. It has been translated into 80 languages. We may be distracted with earthly desires or duties; it is never too late to feel young and ambitious again.

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The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

October 13, 2014

The Valley of AmazementAmy Tan has written another sweeping historical novel about Chinese relationships and culture. In The Valley of Amazement, Tan invites us into a world of courtesan life from early years to retirement during a politically charged China in the early twentieth century. With lyrical beauty and harsh reality, Tan traces the lives of American-born mother, Lulu Minturn, and her half Chinese daughter, Violet. And, because it is Amy Tan, it is really a story of the mother daughter relationships and their struggle to understand each other.

The book tells its tale through the many voices of its strong women characters. In the beginning we are introduced to young Violet, our main protagonist, as she watches her mother’s life, being the owner of a respectable courtesan establishment, implode. With unforeseen circumstances, she leaves Violet standing at the boat docks as she disappears from Violet’s life, presumably on her way to the United States without her, as Violet sees it. Violet is alone and must make her way using only her wits and her mother’s teachings, and unfortunately her body, to live. Courtesan Violet falls in love, has a child, and just as her mother was ripped from her life, her daughter is ripped away when Violet’s lover dies and his vindictive family kidnaps the baby girl. Everything now is taken from her: her baby, her money, her house, her freedom. So when she finds love again she believes that this man will save her and care for her. After all, he wants to make her his wife. He isn’t truthful, and probably crazy, and she finds herself in a remote village, tortured by the man’s number one wife. In this second part of the book, Violet tries to escape so she can find her daughter and eventually, her mother.

It is a journey of pain, murder, jealousy, misunderstandings, friendship, family, but finally love, the love of mothers and daughters.

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The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger

October 10, 2014

The Strange Case of Origami YodaDwight, a 6th grader at Ralph McQuarrie Middle School has created an Origami Yoda that seems to know the future. At least, that’s what it seems like to Tommy, another boy in Dwight’s class. Tommy, however, needs to know for sure whether Origami Yoda can really know the future. Why? Tommy’s asked Origami Yoda advice on what to do about a girl he likes, named Sara.

In order to satisfy his curiosity, he collects stories from other students at school to see what advice Origami Yoda gave them and what happened as a result of said advice. The result is a binder full of stories, illustrated by Tommy’s friend Kellen, with commentary from his other friend Harvey, who is an unbeliever in the power of Origami Yoda.

The casebook proceeds to tell the stories of kids who ask Origami Yoda advice. It includes some practical advice, such as: Kellen gets water on his pants and it looks like he wet his pants; Yoda’s advice, get your shirt wet as well, and that way no one notices the wet pants. Some of Origami Yoda’s advice seems crazier, like learn the Twist. What’s the Twist and why should Tommy and his friends learn to do it? Well, what happens at the next dance? The DJ plays the Twist.

The various stories of Tommy and his friends are a reminder of traps and trials of middle school. Told as an interwoven collection of stories this book and its illustrations are a fun look at middle school with an unusual Star Wars twist. Five more books follow in the series.

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Join us on Saturday, October 11 from 3-5 p.m. for Star Wars Reads Day when we’ll have fun crafts, trivia, books, and more in an event for all ages to celebrate all the reasons why we love Star Wars.

Life Expectancy by Dean Koontz

October 9, 2014

Life ExpectancyOn the day Jimmy Tock was born, his dying grandfather predicted the exact time of his birth and his measurements, along with a warning of five “very bad” days, beginning in his twentieth year. His father would have discounted the predictions, but when Jimmy was born at exactly the time and weight predicted, he decided to take all the predictions seriously. Our story begins when Jimmy’s 20th birthday is approaching – the first of his “very bad” days.

Think about this–if you know something bad is going to happen, do you stay at home and endanger your family? Do you try to act normal and go about your business? Would you worry, walking down the street, about a stray asteroid, or a runaway truck? How do you avoid collateral damage when you know you’re doomed? Fortunately or unfortunately, Jimmy has had 20 years to think about it and a family who has done everything possible to prepare themselves and Jimmy for any eventuality. He isn’t prepared for what’s coming, of course, because no one can prepare for the truly awful, but his family gives him strength. The unusual circumstances bring the family together in a wonderful way, and provide Jimmy with plenty of time to reflect on life and family, which makes this a book full of beautiful lines like this one:

“No one’s life should be rooted in fear. We are born for wonder, for joy, for hope, for love, to marvel at the mystery of existence, to be ravished by the beauty of the world, to seek truth and meaning, to acquire wisdom, and by our treatment of others to brighten the corner where we are.”

Reading this book, I found myself going back and rereading lines like the above, thinking about life and what it means to appreciate what you have. Very unusual for a book categorized as horror fiction! Yes, there is a serial killer in this book and the spooky predictions of Jimmy’s grandfather, but this is also a book filled with quirky, thoughtful humor, exploring the simple things that make life worthwhile, like love and family. It’s worth a read.

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Star Wars: Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown

October 8, 2014

Star Wars: Jedi AcademyJeffrey Brown brings the heavily cartoon illustrated middle-grade novel popularized by Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series to the Star Wars universe.

The story features a young boy, very reminiscent of Luke Skywalker, named Roan. Roan dreams of being a fighter pilot like his father. His dreams are crushed when he finds that he has not been accepted into pilot school, but must instead begin training to become a Jedi.

Yoda, as the headmaster, is one of the only characters from the movie world, but there are plenty of familiar alien species and droid types. One of the most entertaining was his unintelligible female Wookie gym teacher, often pictured wearing head and wrist sweatbands like a furrier Bjorn Borg. Others include the tutor droid T-P3O, the Mon Calamri Librarian Lackbar and a school bully who looks remarkably similar to Darth Maul. This book documents an eventful school year where Roan learns to make friends, duel with a light saber and use the force. Anyone who has experienced middle-school will empathize with Roan’s experiences and root for him to find the Jedi Path.

Jedi Academy is not to be confused with author Tom Angleberger’s equally laudable Origami Yoda series, which takes place in a realistic Earthbound setting featuring characters who are fans of the Star Wars mythos. I would recommend this series for upper-elementary and older Star Wars fans. It is filled with many Star Wars puns and movie references. For example, the kids go to Ralph McQuarrie Middle School and a couple of the origami villains are named Jabba the Puppet and Darth Paper.

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Join us on Saturday, October 11 from 3-5 p.m. for Star Wars Reads Day when we’ll have fun crafts, trivia, books, and more in an event for all ages to celebrate all the reasons why we love Star Wars.

Tatiana by Martin Cruz Smith

October 7, 2014

TatianaArkady Renko, Martin Cruz Smith‘s intrepid detective is caught up in a case that he knows he won’t be assigned to investigate. A daring Russian reporter, Tatiana Petrovna, has apparently committed suicide. But things are not always as simple as they appear. Arkady is drawn into the case by his sometimes girlfriend, Anya Rudenko , a photographer for the same newspaper that Tatiana worked for.

When Renko starts to investigate on his own, he discovers that Tatiana’s body is missing and her apartment has been “tossed,” as if someone was looking for something–a reporter’s notes perhaps? There seems to be a mysterious missing notebook. Plus the recent murder of a Russian Mafia boss has left the Moscow crime scene clamoring for a new leader.

When Arkady finally secures the notebook , no one can interpret it because it is pages of symbols. Then, on top of the notebook mystery, Zhenya, Renko’s young ward steals the notebook and attempts to hold it for ransom so that Arkady will give written permission for Zhenya to join the military. There is no one as stubborn as Renko and one knows that he will pursue the bad guys and somehow get the notebook deciphered.

Arkady Renko , one of literature’s favorite detectives, is on the case and Martin Cruz Smith has another winner. One can be assured that there will be many surprises awaiting the reader.

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