Monday, June 25, 2012

Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay

Guy Gavriel Kay's Under Heaven (SF KAY) first piqued my interest with its cover, an ancient horse sculpture against a background of scrawled Chinese calligraphy and rough-hewn stone.

I totally thought this book was going to be about horses. I was wrong. But Kay, a historical fantasist, made it more than worth my while. He takes those horses and shoves them to the distant background, making them simply a vehicle for an epic story about the channels carved by political power and the spectrum of people who navigate them. Moreover, he sets that drama amidst a world very concretely inspired by the rich, nuanced tapestry of 8th century Tang Dynasty China.

This is not the kind of story that I normally gravitate toward, but Kay's storytelling ability and his mastery of language and detail kept me enthralled.

Although there are multiple points of view represented in Under Heaven, the main character is Shen Tai, second son of a renowned general of the empire of Kitai. Tai has spent the last two years by himself on the outskirts of civilization burying the remains of the war-dead from both Kitai and its neighboring enemy to the west, Tagur.

As reward for his labors, he learns that Tagur wishes to bestow him with 250 magnificent Sardian horses. Coming from a country that must make do with the stubby horses of the steppes, Tai realizes this is a gift that defies all sense of scope and proportion.
Two hundred and fifty Sardian horses, Tai was thinking, from within the sandstorm of his forever-altered life. Being brought by him to a court, an empire, that gloried in every single dragon steed that had ever reached them from the west. That dreamed of those horses with so fierce a longing, shaping porcelain and jade and ivory in their image, linking poets’ words to the thunder of mythic hooves.
It goes without saying that Tai will donate them to the empire's cause. He sets out on one of those Sardian steeds for the Kitan capital to first bring the news to the emperor before he goes to collect his reward from Tagur. His newfound wealth has not gone unnoticed, though, and after a failed assassination attempt on his life, Tai hires the Kanlin warrior Wei Song to ensure he makes it alive to court.

Nevertheless, the Tagurans’ gift sets in motion an inexorable slide toward war as we see the ruling factions at court jockey for dominance. We see the submissive role women are largely relegated to and how the clever ones and the determined ones manage to still shape and influence their fate as well as that of the empire's.

Kay brings the world of Kitai life with breathtaking lyricism and studied research. The details don't overwhelm but rather effortlessly flesh out social constructs and culture. His characters, too, are never one-dimensional. We see them as complex beings with foibles, fears, ambitions and strengths. For added measure, he even throws in a dose of the supernatural in a seamless way that doesn’t distract from the story.

Under Heaven was a wonderful introduction to Canadian author Guy Gavriel Kay and a welcome reminder that it sometimes pays off to venture outside your reading comfort zone. Even if it does mean judging a book by its cover.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Food for your ears

Groove Salad
Photo by seanomatopoeia available through a Creative Commons License

June is Audiobook Month, and one way the audiobook industry marks the occasion is with its annual awards, the Audies, sponsored by the Audio Publishers Association.

We've got many of the winning titles in our collection. And don't forget to check out our downloadable audiobooks at OneClickDigital for an even wider selection!

Audiobook of the Year
by Tina Fey
read by Tina Fey
AD 792.7028092 FEY

Distinguished Achievement in Production
The Watch that Ends the Night
by Allan Wolf
read by Michael Page, Phil Gigante, Christopher Lane, Laural Merlington, Angela Dawe

Daughter of Smoke & Bone
by Laini Taylor
read by Khristine Hvam

Literary Fiction
State of Wonder
by Ann Patchett
read by Hope Davis

Multi-Voiced Performance
A Raisin in the Sun
by Lorraine Hansberry
read by Judyann Elder, James Gleason, Noah Gray-Cabey, Corey Hawkins, Deidrie Henry, Terrell Tilford, Rutina Wesley, Mirron E. Willis

Feast Day of Fools
by James Lee Burke
read by Will Patton

Narration by the Author or Authors
Beauty Queens
by Libba Bray
read by Libba Bray

New York to Dallas
by J.D. Robb
read by Susan Ericksen

The Wake of the Lorelei Lee
by L.A. Meyer
read by Katherine Kellgren

The Nightmare Thief
by Meg Gardiner
read by Susan Ericksen

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Some Popular Summer Reads

There are lists and lists out there of recommendations for summer reading. These are some of those recommendations that made it on multiple lists. Try them out, and let me know if they deserve all the hype.

Throne of the Crescent Moon: Saladin Ahmed



Doctor Adoulla Makhslood is the last “real” guhl hunter in Dhamsawaat, but Adoulla would rather spend his time with a cup of tea. Then a friend’s family is murdered, and Adoulla has to work with old friends (and some new ones, too), to find out the plot for the Throne of the Crescent Moon and stop the destruction of the city, as they know it. The world of this fantasy has an Arabian feel, but is filled with magic, monsters, and mayhem.


How to Eat a Cupcake: Meg Donohue


Annie Quintana and Julia St. Clair were best friends, even though Annie was the daughter of the St. Clair’s housekeeper. Then a betrayal rocks their worlds and destroys this friendship. Ten years later, Annie has become a pastry chef, and Julia is a successful business woman. Now the two women want to work together to open a cupcakery, but can they get over the past or face new threats together?

A Partial History of Lost Causes: Jennifer Dubois


This story arcs across two countries and two very different individuals. Aleksandr Bezetov is a world chess champion that has decided to run for the presidency against Vladimir Putin, even though he knows this is a lost and life-threatening cause. In Massachusetts, Irina Ellison finds a copy of a letter her father, who had died of Huntington’s disease, had sent to Bezetov, asking about how to proceed against a lost cause. Irina decides to go to Russia and find Bezetov, in order to get an answer to her father’s question.

Gone Girl: A Novel: Gillian Flynn


Nick Dunne soon finds out how much he really never knew his wife or what she was thinking or feeling. On the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick discovers his wife has disappeared. The cops suspect that Nick had something to do with the disappearance, and the things that Amy’s friends are saying about him, are not helping his case. Nick is also receiving strange calls to his phone. Just what is going on?

Canada: Richard Ford


Dell Parsons’ life will never be the same after his parents decide to rob that bank. After their parents are arrested, Dell’s twin sister, Berner, takes off. A family friend takes Dell, so that he will not be alone, to Canada, but will living with Arthur Remlinger be any less dangerous? Will Dell find the peace he so desperately needs while living with someone whose darkness may not be so well hidden?

The Fault in Our Stars: John Green


Hazel was diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer, and she was not expected to live. Then a medical miracle saved her life. Now at age 16, Hazel is feeling very “not normal,” especially since she needs to keep using special chemicals to keep the tumors from growing back and be on an oxygen tank. At cancer kid support group, Hazel meets Augustus. Augustus is in remission, though he lost a leg to the disease, and he does not seem to mind Hazel’s “nor normalness.” Hazel does not want to get close to anyone, for fear of doing them irreparable harm when she dies, but Augustus makes it hard. Hazel talks Augustus into reading her favorite book, and he talks her in to taking a trip to Amsterdam to meet the author and get her questions answered about the book. Maybe while getting some answers about the book, the characters can find some answers of their own.  

The Red House: Mark Haddon



A well to do doctor, Richard, invites his estranged sister, Angela, and her family to his vacation home in the English countryside. With a new wife and stepdaughter, his sister’s rambunctious group, and plenty of long-held guilt and resentment, Richard is in for an interesting week (along with everyone else in the house).

Steve Jobs: Walter Isaacson



Walter Isaacson conducted more than forty interviews with Steve Jobs (along with family, friends, and even adversaries) to complete this biography of the late Steve Jobs. Jobs wanted “no holds barred” from anyone that spoke about him, and he was also very forthcoming with anything that Isaacson wanted to know. This biography covers his innovations in personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing, and how he pushed himself and those around him to build his company to his standards. 

I’ve Got Your Number: Sophie Kinsella



What do you do when you have lost your engagement ring (that has been in your fiancĂ©’s family for three generations) and your cell phone? You borrow a phone you find in the trash can, of course. Unfortunately for Poppy, the owner of the phone, Sam Roxton, does not appreciate her using his phone and wants it back.  Poppy decides to work with Sam by conducting all of his business through the phone, without giving it back to him. As she does this, she thinks she is getting to really know who Sam is, but is that really all there is to Sam? Does she really even know her fiancĂ©?

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin: Erik Larson

943.086 LARSON


The year is 1933, and William E. Dodd has become America’s Ambassador to Hitler’s Germany. The family is enjoying themselves at first with the lavish parties and excitement of the time, but soon it is apparent that very bad things are happening in Germany. Dodd’s messages about things fall on deaf ears in the State Department back home. No one really knows (or wants to know) what Hitler’s group is capable of until it is too late. This is our Texas City Reads book, so make sure to stop by for one of the discussions to share your thoughts on the book!

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: (A Mostly True Memoir): Jenny Lawson



Jenny Lawson, The Bloggess, walks us through her childhood and tells about how her life (and her family) has made her the entertainer that she now is. For the curious, Jenny Lawson’s blog is found at

Home: Toni Morrison


Frank “Smart” Money has just returned from fighting in Korea, and he is feeling the traumatic scars that the war has left him with. Frank then gets a strange message from his sister, and he wants to rescue her from the situation she had gotten herself into. Frank takes Cee back to their hometown of, even though it is a place that neither ever wanted to see again. Will both siblings find the redemption they have been seeking in this place that they did not want to go?

The Expats: Chris Pavone



Kate Moore is tired of living a double life that she has to keep secret from everyone. When her husband tells her about a new job in Luxembourg, she is happy to become an “expat.” “Expat” living, though, is not quite what Kate expected it to be. Now her husband is acting secretive and suspicious, and when a new couple joins the “expats,” Kate starts to wonder if her double life is catching up to her. But will she find more than she bargained for when she starts digging? 

Little Night: Luanne Rice



Clare Burke tried to defend her sister from an abusive husband, and she ended up in prison based on her sister’s lies, instead. Twenty years later, Clare’s niece, Grit, shows up and wants a relationship with her aunt. The two know this will be a very hard road, though. Would the two women bridge the gap for reconciliation with each other? Will they be able to have one with Anne, too?

The Orphanmaster: Jean Zimmerman



It is 1663 in the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam. Orphans have gone missing from the settlement, and a 22-year-old orphan, Blandine von Couvering, and British spy, Edward Drummond, are looking into the matter. There is no short list of suspects, but there is also the issue of Blandine being accused of witchcraft and Edward being sentenced to hang as a spy. There are also rumors that the British king is looking to take control of the colony, too. Will the two be able to make it through and solve the mystery?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka

Julie Otsuka did not start writing until she was 30 years old. This, her first novel, was published in 2003, when she was 40 years old.  Almost immediately the book won acclaim for its evocative portrayal of a family’s upheaval. 

The book is about the more than 127,000 American citizens of Japanese ancestry who were interned during World War II, by executive order. They were put into 10 “relocation” camps, eight of which were in western states and in the desert.  Some families were separated for the span of almost three years, from February of 1942 to January of 1945.  Many sold all they had, having no guarantee that their property and homes would be waiting for them when they were finally released.

Otsuka tells her story swiftly and with resolution.  She has three characters who speak: the Japanese-American mother, and her son and daughter.  Their father has already been taken away and they will not see him for three years.  They will eventually write to each other, but with lines blocked out by the censors.  

Otsuka’s prose is spare, full of quiet detail which evokes not only the picture of the moment but also the feelings of the narrator.   Many describe Otsuka’s style as non-emotional.  But actually she makes use of how our perception of our environment carries emotion.   Ostuka especially uses how a child, whose capability of reflection is not so developed as an adult, invests objects and words with submerged longings and desires.  The boy remembers his father coming into his room when the boy had a bad dream, sitting and smoothing his hair, saying, “Hush, Puppy. It’s all right.  Here I am.”  Just to hear the pet names his father used makes us see the father and feel his devotion.

Eventually the family gets to go home.  People have lived in their home, have camped out and wrecked parts of it.  The mother’s prize rosebush was dug up and carried away, to be someone else’s pride and delight.  They make do and start their life again, but no one welcomes them home.  History tells us that some communities even erected signs after the war, discouraging those returning from internment from moving back.  And some did not; they moved on and went somewhere else.  The father in the story finally comes home.  But he doesn’t look like their father, the one who was taken away.  He is a changed man, suspicious, prone to sudden rages.  When he asks the children what their day was like, he listens to their stories, but is abstracted, with his attention somewhere else. 

Some readers have drawn parallels between what the Japanese endured from internment and how Arab-Americans have experienced harassment and discrimination in this country since the events of September 2011.  But the novel is not just about persecution.  One of the things the boy dreams of when they are journeying to the camp, during these long days filled with heat and thirst and discomfort, is being by the sea and seeing three black ships, with white sails, sent by the Emperor, slowly turning to the shore.  The image is one of power and strength.  The strength is almost unearthly, and perhaps something that Americans sensed in the Japanese culture, to make them do what they did.  But in the dream, the ships are beautiful.

Otsuka has preserved sparseness and fragility in her writing by ‘only seeing’, a phrase she used to describe herself as a former artist.  And this “seeing” helps us to see how we are not apart from the world, that we inform our experience. This is a quality of a great writer. 

See the catalog listing here.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Fun in the Sun

Summer is almost here, and these are some books to help you get ready. Hopefully, these books will remind you of the summer and all of the little things that go with it. Enjoy!

Bitsy’s Bait & BBQ            

Katy was ready for something new when she purchased a B & B in the Ozarks. She thought that this move to a small town would be great for her young son, Josh. Katy’s  sister, Emma, thinks it’s a crazy idea, but decides to go with her sister. Then they find out that B & B stands for Bitsy’s Bait & BBQ, which neither of them know anything about. With no other option, can these sisters turn the shop around to success?

Beach Girls           

Emma Lincoln, Stevie Moore, and Maddie Kilvert were inseparable as teenagers, but through the years, they have drifted apart. After Emma dies in a car accident, her father brings their daughter, Nell, to Hubbard’s Point. Nell reaches out to Stevie (who stayed there) to learn more about her mother. Stevie enjoys spending time with Nell and her father. However, Emma also left behind secrets that will leave everyone reeling.

Fireworks Over Toccoa               

Lily Davis Woodward discovers something that takes her back to the days of 1945. She was married for only a week before her husband went off to war, and she is very anxious to get him back to start their life together. Then Lily meets Jake Russo, who is working on the fireworks display the town is having in honor of the returned soldiers. Now Lily has to make an important decision about the life she should live and the life she wants to live.

The Empire of Ice Cream           

This work is a collection of fourteen short stories that mixes the everyday, such as coffee, sandcastles, words, and chess sets with the fantastic and peculiar. 

The Sun: A Biography                

Astronomer and BBC Science Editor David Whitehouse has created a comprehensive biography of the sun. The beginning of the book deals with how different groups of people have viewed the sun (more religiously and philosophically), while the second half deals with the sun from scientific approach.

592.0976 ROTHSCHI
Beachcomber’s Guide to Gulf Coast Marine Life: Texas Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida              

This guide covers the biology and ecology of the Gulf Coast Region. It also covers the effects of recent storms and hurricanes on that region. There are hundreds of detailed drawings of over 300 marine creatures found in this region. There is also a description of how each of these creatures live.


594.1477 OLIVER
Guide to Seashells of the World            

As the title suggests, this guide covers all the different kinds of seashells that can be found all over the world. This guide covers over 1,200 species of seashells and how to identify them (and where to find them), and it discusses the classification system of seashells.

635.986 RICHARDS
Small-Space Container Gardens: Transform Your Balcony, Porch, or Patio with Fruits, Flowers, Foliage, and Herbs             

Ever thought about sprucing up a corner of the porch or adding some color to the patio? The author discusses the basics of small container gardening (if you don’t have or want a yard garden) with creatively thinking of more nontraditional ways to garden. And there are illustrations.

641.76 ADLER
BBQ Bash: The Be-All, End-All Party Guide, From Barefoot to Black Tie  

The authors have provided over 100 recipes for different kinds of barbeque, from casual baby back ribs to Persian Grilled Leg of Lamb with Tabbouleh Stuffing and Pomegranate Sauce. There are also ideas on menus for themed barbeque events.

641.863 PEARCE
The Ciao Bella Book of Gelato & Sorbetto: Bold, Fresh Flavors to Make at Home

Now you can make your own gelato and sorbetto at home using the recipes of Ciao Bella. Some of the recipes include Apple Caramel Crisp, Pomegranate Champagne, and Hazelnut Biscotti.

Sand Castles Step-by-Step         

Ever wondered how to prepare the big sandcastles that are created each year on the beach in Galveston for the contests? This book begins by listing the tools you will need, preparing the basic parts of the sand sculpture (base, towers, walls, and arches), conducting the sculpting and carving to the sandcastle, and other more advanced techniques to try out.

Beach House Style: Designing Spaces that Bring the Beach to You  

This book looks at coastal homes from all along the east and west coasts down to the Caribbean. These homes can get you thinking about how you can bring the coast into your own home.


796.357 TURNBOW
The Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing, and Bench-Clearing Brawls: The Unwritten Rules of America’s Pastime          

There are lots of rules when it comes to the game of baseball, but there are also a lot of “unwritten” rules, too. The players share some of their own stories of these rules and what they think of them.

799.1 MOREY
Incredible Fishing Stories           

The author traveled all over the world to collect these eighty stories (and found out if they were true: sometimes with photographs) of incredible fishing. How do your stories compare?

Libraries: A Digital Bridge

Libraries have become so much more than buildings that hold books for people to check out. This video captures the spirit of today's libraries and some of the ways they're helping their communities:

Monday, June 4, 2012

Texas City Reads 2012

This year's Texas City Reads book is Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts.

Although In the Garden of Beasts is nonfiction, it reads like fiction: suspense, scandalous love affairs, political intrigue and heartbreak.

It depicts the story of the American ambassador and his family who were stationed in Berlin in the years just before WWII, just as Hitler was gaining his power in Germany. The ambassador, William E. Dodd, was a fairly tame personality, but he had one of the hardest jobs around trying to represent American interests in Germany as Hitler gained political ground.

Dodd's daughter Mary, however, made up in spades for her father's conventionality. She was an inveterate flirt and a very opinionated young woman; later in life she became an author and then ended up fleeing the United States after being accused of spying for the Russians.

Larson does not try to hide the Dodds’ shortcomings or prejudices — for example, they didn't seem to be too bothered by the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Germany when they first arrived — but he also portrays their strengths, such as Dodd's admirable refusal to kowtow to the future Fuhrer.

You may recognize Larson's name; he wrote Isaac's Storm, about the 1900 hurricane that struck Galveston — the greatest natural disaster to ever strike the United States. In the Garden of Beasts has received excellent reviews and appeared on many best books lists of 2011.

Intrigued yet? Here are a few reviews of the book:

New York Times
L.A. Times
Brevity magazine, an online journal
We Heart Reading book blog

The library will have multiple copies available for check-out at the Circulation Desk. We have In the Garden of Beasts in book, large print and audiobook form. We will host discussions of the book in the Holland Meeting Room of the library in September. All are welcome at the discussions.