Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

In the classic manner of Vonnegut, Sirens, defies genre labels and is inherently difficult to describe. There is science fiction, there is morality, there is religion, there is war, and there is love and loss. But I am not sure that Sirens could be called a novel of any of these (although it was nominated for a Hugo in 1960).  The primary characters are Winston Niles Rumford and Malachi Constant. Rumford, an intrepid man that got stuck in a chrono-synclastic infundibulum. This means he appears, at regular intervals, on Earth and other planets dispensing prophetic proclamations while accompanied by his dog, Kazak. Constant is incredibly rich and sybaritic, but suffers a number of interesting turns. Malachi is told by Rumford that he will have a son with Beatrice, travel from Earth to mars to mercury and to Earth again before finally ending up on Titan, a moon of Saturn. The subsequent plot defies summary nearly as well as Sirens defies categorization. But each step of Malachi’s journey is filled with that odd, poignant mixture of humor and tragedy that Vonnegut can do so well.

An aside note: I picked up this title for two reasons. First, both Vonnegut and Sirens are frequently mentioned in The UniverseVersus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence, the book for October’s meeting of Uncorked. Second, I was making a weekend trip to Indianapolis, Vonnegut’s hometown, and was planning on stopping by the Vonnegut Memorial Library. In the midst of prowling the streets of Indianapolis for some pizza, I came across this huge portrait of Vonnegut by Pamela Bliss it was pleasant and unexpected. Anyway, I can recommend pretty much everything mentioned in the previous two sentences in addition to Sirens

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The House of Small Shadows

Keep one kitten, destroy the rest . . .

To say that Catherine Howard's life has been difficult would be an understatement. Given away at birth, picked on by bullies throughout her school years and beyond, prone to crippling panic attacks and surreal dissociative episodes, she's always been an outsider. After an unfortunate episode involving a spiteful coworker, Catherine loses both her job and the life she's built for herself in London. Things look hopeless for her until a kindly old gent named Leonard Osberne takes her under his wing and offers her a job as a valuer for his stable of eccentric--and wealthy--clients. Such a sweet old man, Leonard even has a cutesy nickname for Catherine: kitten. The job is interesting, but the best is yet to come when he lands her the find of the century: an immaculate collection of antique dolls--and more--belonging to elderly recluse Edith Mason, niece of London's most famous taxidermist, M. H. Mason. To catalog Mason's estate, Catherine must stay at her gothic Victorian manor, the Red House.

That's when things take a turn for the weird, and ultimately, for the worst. Valuation aside, Edith insists on exposing Catherine to all of her uncle's "art," dark and increasingly demented pieces that trigger disturbing childhood memories for Catherine. Add to that her unsettling feeling of being watched (by who? Wheelchair-bound Edith? Her silent housekeeper, Maude? Or worse, M. H. Mason's precious marionettes?) and Catherine feels herself coming undone. By the time she realizes that landing at the Red House was no stroke of fortune, it may be too late for her to leave. 

The House of Small Shadows is Adam Nevill's latest (The Ritual, Last Days), and with it he continues to live up to his well-deserved reputation as "Britain's answer to Stephen King," producing finely written contemporary horror that never fails to leave his readers looking over their shoulders. And if you've been hanging on to your childhood doll collection, The House of Small Shadows just might inspire you to get rid of it once and for all. Horror lovers, and fans of Clive Barker's early work particularly, will enjoy this.  

Saturday, October 11, 2014

October's In the Queue

This month's In the Queue has it all suspense, humor and sex appeal. 

 Crooked River by Valerie Geary
Full of emotion and suspense, Crooked River is an inventive and atmospheric story about family and friendship, good and evil, secrets and lies, grief and forgiveness. This coming of age story is part ghost story, coming of age story and a mystery that will grip the reader's hearts.

Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk
Palahniuk's newest novel is an unsubtle, often hilarious, over-the-top satire about rampant consumerism and one man's attempt to (literally) control women's sexuality. This novel contains sexually explicit content.

Yes, Please by Amy Poehler
Yes, Please offers Amy's thoughts on everything from her "too safe" childhood outside of Boston to her early days in New York City, her ideas about Hollywood and "the biz," the demon that looks back at all of us in the mirror, and her joy at being told she has a "face for wigs." It is chock-full of words and wisdom to live by.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Women of the Wild Blue Yonder: The Aviators

This fourth and final installment about female aviators focuses of the women themselves and their contributions to aviation history. 

Ann Baumgartner Carl--(1918-2008)-- became the first woman to fly an USAAF jet at Wright Field when she flew the Bell YP-59A twin jet fighter. 

Cochran with Canadair Sabre Mk.3 No. 19200 at Edwards AFB

Jackie Cochran--(1906-1980)--was a pioneer in the field of American aviation, considered to be one of the most gifted racing pilots of her generation. She was an important contributor to the formation of the wartime Women's Auxiliary Army Corps (W.A.A.C.) and Women Airforce Service Pilots (W.A.S..P).

Eileen Marie Collins--(born November 19, 1956) is a retired NASA astronaut and a retired United States Air Force colonel. A former military instructor and test pilot, Collins was the first female pilot and first female commander of a Space Shuttle.  

Pauline Mary de Peauly Gower--(1910-1947)--British pilot who was instrumental in creating the Women's section of the A.T.A. and helping get equal pay for female pilots.  In 1943 she became the first woman to be appointed to the board of a state airline when she joined the British Overseas Airways Corporation. She died giving birth to twin sons in 1947.

Amy Johnson--(1903-1941)--Amy Johnson was a pioneering English aviator. She set numerous long-distance records during the 1930s.  Johnson flew in World War II as a part of the A.T.A. where she died during a ferry flight.

Hazel Ying Lee--(1912-1944)--she was a Chinese-American pilot who flew commercially in China and for the U. S. as a member of the W.A.S.P.  She was the last member of the W.A.S.P. to be killed in service to her country on Nov 25, 1944.

Lidya "Lilya (Lily)" Vladimirovna Litvyak--(1921-1943)--WWII Soviet pilot who was the first woman in history to shoot down an enemy plane and one of the world's only two female fighter aces.  Flying under the call sign White Lily, she is credited with up to 12 solo kills. Litvyak died in 1943 when her plane was shot down as she attacked German bombers in Ukraine. She was 21.

Nancy Harkness Love--(1914-1976)--she organized the first group of woman in America to fly military aircraft, the W.A.F.S. and was the commander of the ferrying division of the W.A.S.P. until it's end in 1944. 

"Nachthexen"--Night Witches--three regiments of Soviet women combat pilots who flew night bombing missions and were so successful and deadly the Germans feared them, calling them "Nachthexen" - night witches.  The women of the 586th, 587th, and 588th Night Bomber Regiments dropped 3,000 tons of bombs during the course of the war, with over 23,000 sorties were flown by 2-woman teams. 

Nadezhda "Nadia" Vasil'yevna Popova--(1921-2013)--trailblazing military pilot of the Soviet Union.  Highly decorated; she set the record for missions flown in one night by executing eighteen sorties over Poland in 1945.  She was shot down on numerous occasions, flew rescue and supply missions, and completed 852 missions throughout her career.   

Marina Mikhaylovna Malinina Raskova--(1912-1943)--A famous Soviet navigator and decorated pilot during WWII.  She founded three air regiments (400 each) of all women combat pilots and crew which would eventually fly over 30,000 sorties in WWII.  She was killed in an air crash in 1943.  

Hanna Reitsch--(1912-1979)--was a German test pilot and the first woman to fly a helicopter.  She was one of only six women who flew for Germany during World War II.

Helen Richey--(1909-1947)--was was a pioneering female aviator and the first woman to be hired as a pilot by a commercial airline in the U.S.  In 1936 she and Amelia Earhart came in fifth at the Bendix air race and she also flew for the A.T.A. during WWII.  Richey was also the first woman sworn in to pilot air mail and one of the first female flight instructors. 

Sally Kristen Ride--(May 26, 1951 – July 23, 2012)--was an American physicist and astronaut. At the age of 32, she became the first American woman in space.  She remains the youngest American astronaut to travel to space. She died of cancer in 2012.

Melitta Schiller, Countess Von Stauffenberg--(1903-1945)--was a prolific test pilot for Germany.  She was of Prussian and Jewish ancestry but her value as a pilot protected her from reprisal. She was shot down in April 1945 and died of her wounds.

Mildred Strelitz--was the first woman engineering aide to participate in test flights at Wright Army Air Field, Ohio on Nov 9, 1943.

Since World War II, women have been involved in every facet of aviation history.  From commercial airline pilots, combat pilots, astronauts, and everything in between.  In the air and on the ground, women have had an upward struggle to be recognized and credited for their roles in flight.  They are an inspiration to little girls everywhere who have that dream of flying into the "wild blue yonder".

American Women and Flight Since 1940 by Deborah G. Douglas (History)

Thursday, October 2, 2014

2014 Dayton Literary Peace Prize Winners

The Dayton Literary Peace Prize was inspired by the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords that ended the war in Bosnia. It is the only international literary peace prize awarded in the United States, which gives Dayton a very unique claim to fame. With any literary award, I always recommend that everyone make a point to review the full list of finalists. The writers who create works worthy of a finalist list for any literary accolades, especially one as profound as the DLPP, are typically well worth your time and effort.

Introducing the 2014 DLPP winners…
Fiction Winner
Bob Shacochis, The Woman Who Lost Her Soul

Shacochis's first collection of stories, "Easy in the Islands" won the National Book Award. His second collection, "The Next New World" was awarded the Prix de Rome from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His novel, "Swimming in the Volcano" was a finalist for the 1993 National Book Award. Shacochis has been a contributing editor for Outside and Harper's, and has been a columnist and writer for several national publications, which include GQ magazine. (Bowker Author Biography)

In The Woman Who Lost Her Soul (Grove Atlantic), Shacochis sweeps through four countries over a span of fifty years and multiple wars, unraveling tangled knots of romance, espionage, and vengeance while tracing the coming of age of pre-9/11 America. In a magnum opus described by The Los Angeles Review of Books as "what may well be the last Great American Novel," Shacochis creates an intricate portrait of the catastrophic events that have led to an endless cycle of vengeance and war between cultures. Retrieved from http://daytonliterarypeaceprize.org/2014-winners-press_release.htm

Nonfiction Winner
Karima Bennoune, Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here
Bennoune is a professor of international law at the University of California–Davis School of Law. She grew up in Algeria and the United States and now lives in northern California. For more information, read her full biography here.
In Your Fatwa Does not Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism (W.W. Norton & Company), Bennoune profiles trailblazers across the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, and beyond who risked persecution and even death to combat the rising tide of fundamentalism within their own countries. From Karachi to Tunis, Kabul to Tehran, the book shares the inspiring stories of a global community of Muslim writers, artists, doctors, musicians, museum curators, lawyers, activists, and educators whose stories are often lost amid heated coverage of Islamist terror attacks on one side and abuses perpetrated against suspected terrorists on the other. Retrieved from http://daytonliterarypeaceprize.org/2014-winners-press_release.htm

Fiction Runner-Up
Margaret Wrinkle, Wash (Grove Atlantic)

Nonfiction Runner-Up
Jo Roberts, Contested Land, Contested Memory: Israel's Jews and Arabs and the Ghosts of Catastrophe (Dundurn Press, Toronto)

The 2014 Dayton Literary Peace Prize award ceremony will take place on November 9th at The Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center. Nick Clooney will be returning as Master of Ceremonies. For more information, please visit the Dayton Literary Peace Prize website


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Twice Challenged: The Watchmen

Saturday, September 27, 11:30 am

Support Banned Books Week, bring a lunch and learn about the misunderstood history of a commonly censored genre from WCPL librarians and Epic Loot Games & Comics staff. Trivia (with prizes) after the talk. 

Banned Books Week: September 21-27, 2014

Banned Books Week celebrates the freedom to read by bringing awareness to censorship and challenged materials. Every year The American Library Association with the national Banned Books Week planning committee selects a theme or genre of books that have been challenged. This year the focus is on the frequently challenged genre of comics and graphic novels. During the week leading up to Banned Books Week and throughout the week itself, we are devoting our Fine Print posts to graphic novels.  We hope to raise awareness of the ongoing threats of censorship and to spread knowledge about graphic novels as a unique form of storytelling.

I am going to begin by saying the only graphic novel I have ever read is Captain Underpants and this was because my son was reading the series and I wasn't sure I liked them. He loved them! They made him laugh and gave him the desire to go back to the library to read more of them. I tolerated Professor Poopy Pants, because my son was reading books. Reading them. Devouring them and coming back for more. How do you say no to that? I can't/couldn't/wouldn't and last but not least won't say no to any book that will get my child to read. If I ever have a question about a book my children want to read, I pick it up and read it before they do. 

I have never had a desire to read a graphic novel. Sure I enjoy reading comic books, who doesn't? They are an easy diversion from everyday life and they are quick reads.  I am not so sure that The Watchmen will be a quick read. It is huge. My son assures me this graphic novel will not harm my sensibilities (can you tell I am a bit nervous to read my first adult graphic novel). Sounds silly to be afraid to pick up a book, after all it is a book and I love books. But this one has been "challenged" am I going to let that stop me. No! I laugh in the face of danger.  Well obviously,...my son is leading the charge. In my mind I keep hearing the little engine that could say, " I think I can. I think I can."  

I did it! I have read my first graphic novel and now I wonder what the fuss was all about. The Watchmen is a Hugo Award-winning graphic novel, which chronicles the fall from grace of a group of super-heroes. It's set in the 1980's in an alternative timeline where the U.S. won the Vietnam War. This is a dark story, but it also has moments of unbridled humanity. It dissects life, love, death, war, comic books and the superhero as a romantic/mythological figure for the century. Much to my surprise, I enjoyed the book. I then went on to read why this book was challenged.

Two schools challenged The Watchmen. The first challenge was in 2001 at a High School in Harrisonburg, VA. This challenge was unsuccessful and two copies of the book remain in the school library today. The result of the second challenge, which occurred in May 2004 at a Florida school, is unknown. The reasons for the challenges include sexism, offensive language and that it is unsuitable for the age group. You might be interested to know that Captain Underpants is one of the most frequently challenged books. It is challenged for  its use of offensive language, violence and unsuitable for the age group. Guess that's why I had doubts about it, but it got my son to read. Again I ask how do you say no to that?

Banned books week is a celebration of our freedom to choose what we read. I am thankful that I have the right to choose what I read are you?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Queen of the Tearling

I have a fondness for reading debut novels. This particular debut novel, Queen of the Tearling, is a gem. Erika Johansen creates an intense novel in a fantasy world filled with treachery. Young Princess Kelsea is hidden away from the world when she is a toddler. She is raised by two devoted servants who teach her politics, languages and a little about fighting. She is hidden away in a secret cottage for her protection. The world is not a safe place for a young untried princess, especially when her Uncle, the acting regent, wants her throne and the power that goes with it. 

Kelsea knows little of her mother, the queen or the current state of affairs, because her servants never spoke of her or the treaty she signed with the Red Queen. On her nineteenth birthday Kelsea becomes the queen and the Queen's soldiers arrive to take her to the Keep.  They do not faun or bow to her but treat her with disrespect and distrust.  Kelsea's journey to become queen is a quest of epic proportions that will either make her a strong leader of legends or destroy her and her kingdom.

Johansen's debut novel is solid, intriguing and captivating. It is riddled with mysteries, betrayals and treacherous battles. If you enjoyed The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, The Wheel of Time series or A Game of Thrones you will enjoy this novel. I cannot wait for the next book in the exciting new trilogy.