Posts Tagged ‘Architecture’

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2013: Stephen B’s Picks

December 18, 2013

My name is Stephen Bank and I have been working in Wake County Public Libraries for over 12 years. My favorite genre is mysteries, but I also like Historical Nonfiction and sometimes human interest stories as you will see from the following 5 short blogs.

Snow in August by Pete Hamill
Having been raised in a multi-ethnic neighborhood in New York City, I have found no one who captures the essence of the Big City like Hamill. This touching story takes place in Brooklyn just after WWII, where an extraordinary relationship develops between 11 year old Michael Devlin and Rabbi Judah Hirsch, a Polish refugee. Michael’s Dad was killed in the war and he and his Mom are just surviving. The relationship between Michael and the Rabbi teaches us how all people can live together in all types of circumstances.   Read my full-length post here.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
It’s 1890 and Chicago politicians will do anything to bring the next World’s Fair to their city. As various factions battle against other sections of the United States for the Fair, something very diabolical is going on. Chicago wins the rights to the World’s Fair and now there will be the infighting from those factions who want to profit from producing the Fair. There is also a serial killer loose, but at first no one realizes that the dead women have not died of natural causes! We are really dealing with the two stories, the Fair and the murders.  Larson’s unbelievable research makes you feel like you are there, living in Chicago. And this is a true story!  Read my full-length post here.

The  Informationist  by Taylor Stevens
In this book you will meet one of fiction’s most interesting leading protagonists, Vanessa “Michael” Munroe.  Abandoned in darkest Africa by her missionary parents as a teenager, Vanessa has to learn every possible survival skill…which she does. As an adult, she is self-sufficient and capable of anything, including killing to save herself and her clients. She is not evil and she hires herself out to secure information for clients.  She is fascinating and if you become “hooked” as I did you will seek out Stevens’ two successive novels with ‘Michael’ as the main heroine. If you do some research on author Stevens and her background, it may become clearer to you how she arrived at this talent and the development of ‘ Michael ‘ as a leading character!  Read another review here.

Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo
This was a new discovery for me. This book is the first in a series of books where our main protagonist is Kate Burkholder, the chief of police of Painters Mill, Ohio. I always thought that the main Amish community was in Pennsylvania but there is a strong Amish community in Ohio. The Amish and English residents have lived besides each other for years but not entirely peacefully! Although they were peaceful, there always was some resentment of the Amish.  Kate was brought up in the Amish community but a series of brutal murders convinced her that she didn’t belong there.  Despite that, she returned to Painter’s Mill after some big city training to be the new Police Chief. A new murder and Kate is convinced she must find the culprit before there is another murder. Castillo has followed this initial story with several other books with Burkholder as her leading protagonist. Not only is this a solid read but you will learn some things about the Amish communities.

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield
This is the different selection, one I would not ordinarily select but it was suggested by a fellow librarian I trust. Samuel Lake is preacher, a good one but one who has alienated his parish enough that they don’t renew his contract. Now it is time for Samuel and his wife, Willadee and their three children to return to her family’s farm in south Arkansas and the annual reunion of the Moses’ family. And that is the catch…!  You will fall in love with Samuel and Willadee’s precocious eleven year old daughter, Swan. And as you get to meet and know the rest of the Moses clan, you will see the good and the bad. If you have an extended family as I do, you will understand their trials and tribulations.  Samuel has to face his own demons … why can’t he hold on to a congregation? Plus there certainly are members of the Moses’ clan that will present their own challenges. This book will touch your heart, I promise.


The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

May 28, 2013

I first met Erik Larson when I read ” In The Garden of Beasts “”.   It was the brilliant story of Germany between the Great Wars and the American family that lived there during the thirties. I was able to feel I was there with Ambassador William Dodd and his family as they slowly grasped what Hitler was doing and how it would affect the whole world in just a few years.

Now I am traveling back to 1893 and the Chicago World’s Fair to meet two polar opposite figures… the brilliant architect of the Fair, Daniel Burnham and the other, our first recognized serial killer, Herman Webster Mudgett aka H.H Holmes.  Although they never met, their stories will cross over in the telling of this tale.

The construction of the fair, if it hopes to top what Paris’ Exposition has just done, will require the cooperation of a lot of people.  It will need the brain power of some of the best architects that the US has produced….and that’s a lot of egos to deal with!  Meanwhile our serial killer is operating under the ‘radar’ as the people responsible for the Fair try to accomplish their mission in just 27 months!

You will be overwhelmed by the details and research that went into the writing this book.  Larson may well have spent years in accumulating what is truly an amazing story. And remember you will be getting two stories for the price of one.  An unbelievable tale of an unbelievable period in the history of Chicago and the United States.

Find and reserve this book in the library.

Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli

December 4, 2009

It seems to me that blogging and hubris go hand-in-hand, so maybe now it’s time for a little braggadocio.   Not mine, though.  Asterios Polyp’s.

Asterios Polyp is the protagonist of David Mazzucchelli’s graphic novel by the same name.  He (Polyp) is a child of immigrants, their surname halved by an impatient administrator—fans of Homer will likely guess the omitted part by the end.  He’s also a quick-study genius, an expert in and esteemed professor of architecture (despite never having built a single structure), and an all-around pompous jerk.  When we meet him he is broke, newly divorced, and his house is burning down (despair, lightning), so he runs to the appropriately named town of Apogee, where he becomes a car mechanic.

Except that’s not really what the book is about—that’s how it starts, though.  The rest of this novel is hard to explain without Mazzucchelli’s illustrations, which is perhaps why I think that this comic is so brilliant: you truly have to see it to completely understand the story.  Even the colors are significant, though it isn’t necessary to be a student of printmaking to grasp the author/artist’s intentions.  For example: in a flashback, Polyp is shown meeting his future wife.  He’s depicted entirely in cyan, while the color used for her is magenta.  Their “blending” happens literally when, as they have a conversation over the course of a few panels, they both are gradually rendered in purple ink.  Over time as their marriage crumbles—largely because Polyp is incapable of understanding the world in anything other than black-and-white, true-or-false terms—the two-color cyan/magenta dichotomy returns.

It’s simple, beautiful, perfectly suited to the medium, and sort of amazing that this is relatively new territory for so-called Graphic Novels.   Some artists, like Chris Ware, are more adventurous with their graphic storytelling techniques, but by-and-large I’d guess that comic book fans are used to authors drawing/telling a linear story: the action unfolds from left to right, panel by panel—all easily translated to a movie screen, I might add.   Mazzucchelli, however, moves far beyond this, and will utilize something like the “one page” comic (see Frank King’s Gasoline Alley) as a means to simultaneously depict his characters’ wildly different perspectives while they engage in a conversation about postmodern musical composition; that he does this without alienating his reader (in fact, you might not even notice this at first) is what makes this book so brilliant.

Whether you like comics, art, or just skillful and innovative storytelling, you must read this.

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