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Reciprocal Awareness

Reciprocal Awareness

posted by:
September 6, 2012 - 7:05am

Gifts of the CrowSeattle wildlife scientist John Marzluff partners with illustrator-naturalist Tony Angell to create Gifts of the Crow: How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans. While absorbing and fascinating, this is not the usual natural history of another species that shares our environment. Instead, the authors take an approach that delves deep into the neurological similarities between crows and humans, and look at numerous studies of the birds’ behavior that show how our noisy neighbors have adapted to our lives.

 

These birds share many characteristics of humans. In a chapter that discusses the emotional lives of crows and ravens, anecdotes describe these birds’ approaches to injured comrades, and particularly their grieving rituals. While crows often eat the dead of other species, they rarely if ever even touch their own, but instead come close and linger in a sort of respect-paying process. Also considered in great detail is the way that crows approach play. Scientists consider species that have incorporated play into their lives as highly advanced. The “social brain network” of these evolved mammals and birds is shown to be complex, and indicates multifaceted consideration of decision and realization. Crows have been observed playing “ring-around-the-rosy” with themselves and with unwitting humans who suddenly realize they too are part of the bird’s game.

 

Humans and crows have been watching each other for generations: cultures that laud crows as our forebears are plentiful worldwide, from India, to the American Southwest, and most famously the Canadian Pacific coast.  While we have learned much about crows and their relatives through scientific and neurological study, there is still much more to understand. Our mutual ecologies and simultaneous evolution will continue to shape both our species moving forward.

Todd

 
 

A City's Redemption

A City's Redemption

posted by:
September 6, 2012 - 7:01am

Season of the WitchSeason of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror and Deliverance in the City of Love by David Talbot is a deeply researched, fascinating cultural history of one of our most unique cities, San Francisco. Talbot focuses on the city’s slide toward the dark disillusionment of the 1970s and the devastating AIDS years of the 1980s. The founder of Salon magazine, Talbot knows how to tell a great story, offering fascinating glimpses into the lives several SF notables, including Janis Joplin, Jerry Garcia and Harvey Milk.  Talbot rounds out his history with San Francisco’s redemption, as the City by the Bay transformed itself into one of the most innovative urban centers in America.

 

This epicenter of “flower power” took a more ominous turn toward the end of the 1960s. Harder drugs like heroin became more prominent. City government was less effective. Crime was rampant. Talbot illuminates the dark underbelly of the city during the 1970s and 80s. He writes of its overall dangerous quality during this time. He also highlights several major San Francisco crime stories that transfixed the nation, such as Charles Manson, Patty Hearst, Harvey Milk, Jim Jones and the Zebra Murders.

 

Still reeling from the difficult 1970s, San Francisco was then ravaged by the AIDS epidemic in the 80s.  Talbot reminds us of those dark years when San Francisco virtually became a ghost town, a time when it seemed like everyone knew someone (or many people) who had died of AIDS. Coming out of these harrowing years, San Francisco emerged to be one of the most vibrant, progressive cities in the country. Talbot does an outstanding job of describing San Francisco’s lowest years in modern history and then tracing this city’s path to greatness.

Zeke

 
 

The Beauty Killer Strikes Again

The Beauty Killer Strikes Again

posted by:
September 4, 2012 - 8:30am

Kill You TwiceKill You Twice, the fifth book in Chelsea Cain’s Gretchen Lowell series, is sure to keep readers up all night. This series of gory, fast-paced thrillers follows Portland detective Archie Sheridan who was kidnapped and tortured for 10 days by Dr. Gretchen Lowell, the Beauty Killer. Gretchen is both terrifyingly violent and undeniably magnetic. Even now, years after the attack, the two of them have a strange bond. No matter how hard Archie tries to stay away from Gretchen, he will never truly escape her influence.

 

In Kill You Twice, Archie is investigating a gruesome murder when he receives two cryptic pieces of information from Gretchen who now is locked away in a state mental institution: Gretchen has a child, and Archie should investigate someone named Ryan Motley. Kill You Twice gives readers a surprising glimpse into Gretchen’s past while pulling them deeper into her latest game of cat and mouse.

 

This riveting suspense series will remind readers of The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. It isn’t for the faint of heart, but fans of horror and suspense will be drawn into Gretchen’s web. Readers new to the Cain’s thrillers should start with Heartsick, the first novel in the series, which provides insight into how Archie and Gretchen’s dark, twisted relationship developed. 

 

FX recently announced that the network has begun development on a new TV series based on the Gretchen Lowell books. The first season will follow Heartsick. Cain is thrilled with the news. She wrote on her blog, “FX makes some awesome TV. JustifiedAmerican Horror StorySons of Anarchy. These people clearly buy fake blood in bulk and know how to use it.” Will Heartsick be the network’s next big hit?  Cain’s fans certainly hope so.

Beth

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Life, Love, and Ducks

Life, Love, and Ducks

posted by:
September 4, 2012 - 8:00am

The Chemistry of TearsMerriam-Webster’s dictionary defines automaton as “a mechanism that is relatively self-operating” such as a robot. Such a machine forms the underpinning of the two-time Booker Prize-winning author Peter Carey’s newest book, The Chemistry of Tears.

 

Carey introduces Catherine Gerhig, a London museum curator. She has just been told about the unexpected death of co-worker and family man Matthew, with whom she has been having a covert long-term affair. Catherine’s boss assigns to her the labor-intensive job of reassembling a complicated Victorian mechanical toy in attempt to distract her from her overwhelming grief. Amongst the chests of parts, Catherine finds the journals of Henry Brandling. Brandling was an Englishman who had traveled to rural Germany to commission clockmakers to build a fantastic mechanical duck which he intends to present to his beloved sickly son.

 

Webster’s second meaning for automaton refers to a machine operating according to predetermined directions; Catherine and Henry, as revealed through his diaries, both seem to be on autopilot themselves. Henry is on his single-minded quixotic quest to bring home a toy, the magical novelty of which he believes will spark his son to live. Self-medicated Catherine is slogging through the motions of life, unhinged as she is by her anguish at losing her lover.

 

Carey is a clever writer who blurs the distinctions between man and machine. Catherine eats only to live, Henry despairs at the paucity of food available to him, and what turns out to be a swan has a fully functioning digestive tract and eats for the entertainment of others. Henry and Catherine are objects of manipulation, as is the swan. The Chemistry of Tears is a well-written and intelligent story and Carey’s illuminating descriptions of antique mechanical inventions are a lovely bonus.  

Lori

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A Simple Life

A Simple Life

posted by:
August 31, 2012 - 8:30am

The OrchardistDespite majestic surroundings and lifelong ties to the earth's bounty, there was little color in William Talmadge's days.  A solitary figure living a simple life, his emotional and physical toils are somberly chronicled in Amanda Coplin's haunting literary debut, The Orchardist.

 

Set in the rural Pacific Northwest at the turn of the twentieth century, Talmadge spends his days methodically tending a grove of fruit trees started by his widowed pioneer mother on his 400 acres of family land. No stranger to loss, the middle-aged farmer still pines for a beloved sister who mysteriously disappeared years earlier. When he encounters two young and pregnant runaway sisters, Jane and Della, he decides to shelter them. His actions are shaped by his memories of the sister he lost and the family he hesitantly envisions. It is the one person who knows him well, his old friend Caroline Middey, who observes, "suffering had formed him. " Circumstances will now change his life, especially as a new baby, Angeline, becomes "his shadow in the trees," and the new bud of this makeshift family whose fragile underpinnings are about to give way.

 

Coplin's writing is spare and deliberate, with minimal dialogue. Much is conveyed by the silent introspection of memorable characters and their sense of belonging, especially of a broken Della. Coplin, who was born in Wenatchee, Washington, grew up among her grandfather's orchards. Her storytelling is rich with images of a frontier before railroads or highways and of a time and place when one belonged to the earth. Fans of John Steinbeck, Leif Enger ‘s Peace Like a River or Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain will welcome Coplin to their stack of enticing reads.

 

Cynthia

 
 

Farewell Summer, Live Forever

Shadow ShowThis summer, the world suffered the loss of literary giant Ray Bradbury. In the same summer, we found him again between the pages of a remarkable new anthology: Shadow Show: All New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury. Twenty-six of today’s finest authors, some bestsellers, some living legends in their own right, have come together in this anthology to pay tribute and to immortalize the magnificent mind and imagination of Bradbury. The collection, prepared prior to the honoree’s passing, includes a poignant yet humorous introduction by Bradbury himself, in which he expresses his love and gratitude for his literary children and welcomes the reader to enjoy the family reunion within. 

 

In Shadow Show Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Dan Chaon, Alice Hoffman, David Morrell, Sam Weller and a score of other immensely talented authors have contributed a diverse range of original short stories in celebration of the life and works of the Teller of Tales. Some stories are laced with deliberate allusion to individual Bradbury works, while other compositions display a subtler, more effervescent influence. Each tale is concluded with a uniquely personal author’s note, explaining the influence either Bradbury or a story he wrote has had on the author’s life and the story contributed. As one reads through the tales and accompanying notes, it becomes apparent that what makes this anthology so very special is not so much the talent of the contributors– though considerable – as the genuinely mindful  care taken by each author to create something worthy of their literary papa.

 

Bradbury once recounted the story of how he became a writer, citing a surreal, almost dreamlike encounter with a magician in his childhood. Sharing a chance meeting and ensuing conversation one afternoon following a funeral, the magician confided to the boy that in young Bradbury he saw the soul of his best friend reborn. As many will readily agree, to read Bradbury is to know him like a best friend known lifelong. As the contributing authors so skillfully demonstrate in Shadow Show, though Mr. Bradbury may have passed from this realm, his indelible influence will live forever.

 

Meghan

 
 

Let's Get Ready to Rumble

GooseTony Siragusa, one of the most beloved former Ravens, writes about football and life in Goose: the Outrageous Life and Times of a Football Guy. Siragusa’s path to the Super Bowl wasn’t easy, and his was a career which almost didn’t happen. Readers meet Goose as a child in New Jersey and learn that athletics did not always come easy. In fact, he used his failure to make the Little League All Star team at age twelve as future motivation to prove his prowess. He had a successful career as a college athlete at the University of Pittsburgh and also enjoyed the extra-curricular fun associated with college days. Unfortunately, he injured both knees while playing and lost a season to rehabilitation.

 

During the 1990 NFL draft, Siragusa was not picked through twelve rounds, but was selected by the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted free agent. The team doctor thought he would be lucky to survive a few years in the NFL. But what do doctors know? Siragusa played for twelve seasons, signing with the Ravens in 1997. He will forever be remembered in Baltimore as a critical member of the 2000 Ravens’ defense which allowed the fewest points in NFL regular season history, and which went on to bring the Lombardi Trophy to Charm City by claiming victory in Super Bowl XXXV. Today, Siragusa is a popular sideline reporter on the Fox network and cohost of DIY Network’s Man Caves. Football falls will appreciate the insider details, but this is more than a tale of the gridiron. Siragusa shares life lessons, stories about small town living, and the importance of perseverance in this breezy, humorous read which will appeal even to those readers who don’t claim citizenship in Ravens Nation.  

Maureen

 
 

Here's to You, Mrs. Robinson

Mrs. Robinson's DisgraceBefore British Parliament passed the Matrimonial Causes Act, marriages could only be dissolved in a private Act of Parliament, the cost and scandal of which made divorces rare. During the summer of 1858, that changed. The new Court of Divorce and Matrimonial Causes began to grant divorces to the English middle class. On June 14, 1858, a man named Henry Robinson petitioned the court to dissolve his marriage to his wife Isabella on grounds that she had committed adultery. The evidence came from her own diary, portions of which were read aloud over the course of the trial and then widely published in London newspapers. London was riveted by the scandal. Kate Summerscale brings this fascinating story to modern audiences in Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady.

 

In her diary, Isabella Robinson regularly reflected on her unhappiness with her life and marriage. She also wrote about a relationship with a man named Edward Lane, who publicly denied the affair. Standards for proving a wife’s adultery in divorce cases were so low that the diary was potentially enough to condemn Isabella in court despite her husband’s multiple infidelities. To protect Lane’s reputation, Isabella’s attorneys and doctors convinced her to present the diaries as fictional, and her only viable legal defense was to claim that she had imagined the affair because she suffered from sexual mania.

 

Summerscale first read about this story in a book about Victorian scandals while she was researching her previous bestseller, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective. She began to investigate the story because she was intrigued by the double standards that women faced in Victorian divorce courts; she wanted to know the truth about Isabella Robinson. Her storytelling results in the gripping tale of Mrs. Robinson’s fall from grace and the ensuing scandal.

Beth

 
 

Memories of War

Memories of War

posted by:
August 28, 2012 - 10:20am

The Yellow BirdsDebut author Kevin Powers takes us to the Iraq War and back in his poignant novel The Yellow Birds. Narrating from a secluded cabin in the mountains of Virginia, twenty-one-year-old veteran John Bartle recalls his hellish experiences in Iraq’s Nineveh Province and his current struggles to rebuild a life ravaged by post-traumatic stress.

 

Private Bartle’s story begins in basic training, where he quickly befriends an eighteen-year-old recruit named Murphy. They become inseparable, and Bartle takes it on himself to protect Murphy and get him back home safely. But once they arrive in war-torn Iraq, these two young soldiers discover that neither is ready to face the physical and psychological battles yet to come. What unfolds is a testament to friendship and loss set against the horrors of war, as well as a moving portrayal of how war affects not just soldiers but also their families and friends at home.

 

Powers, an Iraq veteran himself and recent M.F.A. graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, has the voice of a poet and wrote The Yellow Birds largely based on his own war experiences. Early praise from authors like Colm Toibin and Ann Patchett hails this novel as a “superb literary achievement” and proclaims it a modern classic. In fact, New York Times bestselling author Chris Cleave has compared Powers to Ernest Hemingway and Cormac McCarthy for his use of spare, lyrical prose.

 

Rich with flashbacks, metaphors, and written in a stream-of-consciousness style, The Yellow Birds will stay with you long after the final page. Readers who enjoy this new novel may also want to try Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain and Fobbit by David Abrams, two equally wonderful stories that take a satirical spin on the Iraq War.

 

Alex

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The Price of Beauty

The Price of Beauty

posted by:
August 27, 2012 - 8:30am

Great-Aunt Sophia's Lessons for BombshellsLisa Cach introduces Grace Cavanaugh who is a bit of a frump, a strong feminist, and an impoverished grad student in Great Aunt Sophia’s Lessons for Bombshells. Grace needs to finish her dissertation in Women’s Studies, which is based on the thesis that beauty in women leads to misery. As she struggles with her work, she receives an offer to act as a companion to her great-aunt who she has only met once as a child. Grace jumps at the chance to head to Pebble Beach, for what is sure to be a summer of comfortable quiet during which she will be able to focus on her studies. But Great Aunt Sophia has other ideas, and for Grace it becomes a summer to remember.

 

Sophia is a former B-movie star who at eighty-five still attracts attention wherever she goes. She decides that Grace is a project and upon hearing her thesis, Sophia sets out to prove Grace wrong. Sophia’s object is to change Grace outwardly which will then improve her self-esteem and create an empowered and desirable woman. Before Grace can blink, she has a trainer, a personal shopper, and some truly awesome lingerie. As Grace’s appearance slowly changes, so too does her view of herself and her perception of beauty. Grace quickly attracts the attention of Declan, a bad boy with a commitment phobia, and Andrew, Sophia's handsome but deadly dull doctor. Grace’s head is telling her to go for Andrew, but her pesky heart and that sexy spark keeps leading her to Declan.

  

In the end, Grace's thesis is turned on its head and she finds personal satisfaction in her appearance and appeal. This fun story goes past a simple ugly duckling transformation tale with plenty of wonderful and unique characters, a whole lot of humor, and a sprinkle of spice! 

 

Maureen