Thursday, September 27, 2007

Brief hiatus

For anyone who follows the blog on a regular basis (thank you!), I will be out of town for a few days, so the blog will be taking a break. I'll be back on Tuesday.

Now that you've seen the movie...

The last few days I have been staying up past my bedtime watching the eagerly-anticipated new documentary from Ken Burns: The War. Just in case you missed any of the action, be assured that we have ordered the DVD set for the library. In the interim, perhaps you would like to thumb through the companion book - The War: an intimate history 1941-1945. Co-written by Geoffrey Ward and Ken Burns, this book covers the same ground as the documentary, and contains many of the same photos. The eerie original score composed by Wynton Marsalis is, alas, absent from the book.
Even after 60 years, WWII history remains one of the most popular subjects in the library collection. We are losing the veterans themselves as time marches on, but their children will continue to be interested in what life was like for their parents then. Succeeding generations - the grandchildren and great-grandchildren - will hopefully watch this series and gain some appreciation of what a world war looks like. It's very easy to forget that we are in a war right now if you do not have a family member serving. (I myself am somewhat detached from events in Iraq, even though I have a nephew stationed in Bagdhad). Ken Burns' new documentary is wonderful fodder for family discussions of what war means to those involved and where it can potentially lead to.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Romance 101

If your idea of a typical romance novel involves a plot line straight from a 1940's musical, then you might want to update your mental image. The old 'girl meets boy' thing does not hack it in today's romance industry. It's all about subgenres now, and we have a few new romances that represent the new developments in paperback lit.
Let's Misbehave, by Lisa Plumley, is a chick-lit romance. A ditzy urban single woman in her 20's, with a shopping addiction, relocates to a sleepy small town where she meets a hunky divorced dad. Flirtatious repartee and wacky hijinks ensue, with the aid of the 3 kids, and it's not a question of if they will get together, but how.
Web of Love, by Mary Balogh, is a Regency romance that introduces a new set of characters (Balogh likes to write series that follow the romantic lives of a particular family. We have the Bedwyn family series already on the shelves). The backdrop for this book is the Battle of Waterloo (see my post from Sept. 10). The plot is more interesting and less far-fetched than most Regency romances, and the sex scenes are less steamy (that may be a good or bad thing, depending on your tastes).
Blood Red, by Heather Graham and Scent of Darkness, by Christina Dodd are both examples of the hot new thing: paranormal romance. Graham's story involves evil vampires in New Orleans (of course), a good-looking vampire hunter and some unlucky bridesmaids. It leans more heavily on the vampire angle than the romance, and the sex scenes are much tamer than Laurel K. Hamilton's vampire books, but the elements are still all there. Dodd's book involves werewolves and ancient Faustian deals. The shape-changing descendants of Konstantine Varinski are 'love-em and leave-em' men who owe their souls to the Devil. But one member of the family has truly fallen in love, and this love may be a deal-breaker for the Devil. The rest of the family are called upon to deal with their errant member, which adds a large dose of suspense to the romance.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Upcoming author visit

This coming weekend, Anchorage is hosting Bouchercon 2007: the World Mystery Convention. Some of the biggest names in crime fiction will be there, including many names you will find on our bookshelves. And thanks to the Alaska Sisters in Crime, one of those authors will be visiting Ketchikan next week. The Sisters in Crime sponsors an "Authors in the Schools" program that helps connect published authors with Alaskan communities. The authors very kindly donate their time, and the Sisters in Crime pay for the transportation costs (which, as we all know, can be quite hefty). This wonderful program will be benefiting a number of schools here in town, as well as the public library. We're all looking forward to hosting Denise Hamilton.
Denise Hamilton is a former reporter for the L.A. Times, and she incorporates both her experience with journalism and her familiarity with Los Angeles into her stories. Her protagonist is an L.A.-based journalist, and her stories are suspenseful and tightly written, full of inside knowledge and gritty reality. To meet increased demand, we have added a couple more of her books to the collection. You still have a chance to pick up Last Lullaby or The Jasmine Trade before meeting Ms. Hamilton herself at 6:30 pm on Tuesday, Oct. 2. So be sure to mark your calendar for a week from today, bring your well-thumbed copy of her book, and look forward to an interesting evening with a top mystery author!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Help, I'm a Best Man!

You're buddy's asked you to be the Best Man at his wedding: congratulations! Did you know that being the Best Man involves more than planning a bachelor party? And did you know that planning a bachelor party involves more than picking out a bar? The role of the groom's entourage is pretty low-key (as opposed to the bride's), but there are still things that are your responsibility. Our new book, The Pocket-Poet's Guide to be the Quintessential Best Man by Robert Melillo, will help you avoid wedding faux-pas and icy glares from the bride's family as you frantically search your pockets for the rings. Each section is very short, concise and to-the-point. This book lays out exactly what you need to do at each point of the wedding process (and believe me, this starts long before the day of the ceremony) and sticks to the basic level of Best Man service. If you want to get fancy, feel free, but this book is about meeting obligations, not impressing the bridesmaids with your decorating ability or organizational skills. Actually, this book is blunt almost to the point of being insulting (should a grown man really need to be told that he has to say "Hello" to everyone in the receiving line?). But if you're starting to get nervous about your buddy's wedding and you want to make sure you keep everybody happy, then this is the perfect book. You might even move from 'tolerable' to 'a good friend' in the bride's opinion.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


We have two new CDs that will introduce you to a couple of talented young singer/songwriters:
Keren Ann is all about the voice. The guitar music in the background is good, and lends a great atmosphere on a couple of the tracks, but the true focus of attention is Keren Ann's wonderful singing abilities. She's not thready, but she's not belting out lyrics like Ethel Merman, either. Her voice is very arresting and other-worldly (like Bjork, only without being high-pitched and screechy. I'm sure I've just offended legions of Bjork fans there). The lyrics are good, but you might not notice them the first time or two through this disc. You'll just be carried away by the voice.

Anjani also has a beautiful voice, but it is the more familiar sultry croon of a dimly lit jazz club. Her voice is warm, mellow and seductive. Don't think about ignoring the lyrics on this CD, because they songs were co-written by Leonard Cohen. And you can tell - his poetic style really leaps out at you. So between Anjani's voice (and piano - she's no slouch there, either) and Cohen's words this CD is sure to please anyone who enjoys great music or poetry.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Music of Native America

We have three new CDs to add to our collection of Native American and Hawaiian Native music.

The first of these - Sanctuary - is from perennial favorite R. Carlos Nakai. A multi-Grammy nominee, Nakai plays Native American flute music with a modern interpretation. His haunting melodies have been widely praised.

Nominated for a Native American Music Award (Nammy), Indian Summer is the newest release from the group Redheart. Redheart is led by Navajo flutist Vince Redhouse and includes guitars, keyboards and a variety of percussion.

The final CD is Tradition - a compilation album of various Inuit groups from Canada and Alaska. These performances showcase the traditional throat singing and percussion from the far Northern tribes.

If you are a fan of Native American music, or if you would like to sample something new, then browse through our collection of indigenous musicians.

Friday, September 21, 2007

A Man With a Past

Finding a soul mate is no easy task, as the vast array of dating advice books demonstrates. Dating can be an uncertain, emotionally fraught activity. Dating someone who has been through a divorce can make things even more complicated. In her new book - Dating the Divorced Man - psychologist Christie Hartman helps readers think about all the various aspects involved in establishing a romantic relationship with a man who has been through a divorce. Even if the split was amicable there can be financial obligations involved. If the split was not amicable (and most of them aren't) then this can leave him with very mixed feelings about relationships and marriage. Hartman also counsels readers to strongly examine the biggest x-factor in dating a divorced man: his kids. A rocky relationship between you and his children, especially if they are bent on sabotage, can have a huge effect on a romance. In her introduction, Hartman explains what she is trying to accomplish with this book and offers some disclaimers: she does not advocate settling for less than you need and want, she does not judge, she is not here to teach you how to lure him into a relationship. She is here to offer advice on how to identify and solve problems, and she defines success by your happiness. And if your path to happiness is ending a relationship, then so be it. Even if you don't act on her advice, this book will at least get you to consider aspects of your relationship with a divorced man that you might not have thought about. It's a practical, reassuring book.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A little bit of history

I found this letter dated November 2, 1909 while looking through a collection of notes on the history of the Ketchikan Public Library:

"Gentlemen; The set of books ordered from you for our Public Library were (sic) rec'd and are not at all satisfactory to the association. The binding is of the cheapest and a very poor finish. It would be a disgrace to our library to put these on our shelves. We will hold them till we hear from you. We are very sorry to do this for it is certainly a great disappointment to us. These books are nothing like the prospectus that was shown us by your agent, not in any particular.
Yours respectfully, Ketchikan Public Library Association. Mrs. F. J. Hunt, Secretary/Treasurer."

Even a hundred years ago we didn't like getting inferior merchandise just because we live in Alaska!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Things that make you go hmm...

You will not find any earth-shattering information or life-altering strategies in our newest book, but you will definitely be intrigued. Why Don't Penguins' Feet Freeze: and 114 other questions is a fun collection of questions and answers that appeared in the pages of NewScientist Magazine (the British equivalent of Discover Magazine). The questions were submitted by readers, and the answers were supplied by a variety of scientists, industry experts, and 'those-in-the-know'. If you really want to have fun with this book you can try to guess the answer before reading the experts. There were a few in here I knew the answer to, and there was one - how do you strengthen conkers for a conker fight? - where I didn't even understand the question. There's even a response in here from a retired professor from UAF. I learned a lot of fun little snippets of information (why cookies go soft when they're stale, while bread gets hard - the velocity of a falling bullet - what the heck a 'conker' is). It's a good book to read out loud to your family at the dinner table. Have everyone try to guess the answer and whoever gets the most right doesn't have to wash the dishes that night (if your kids are too young to have taken any biology or chemistry classes this might be a bit mean. But hey, that's a life lesson in itself).

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I love a challenge

Here's a no-nonsense title: 37 Houseplants Even You Can't Kill. Mary Kate Hogan's guide to indestructible houseplants is a great resource for any plant owner. Even if you have a vibrant green thumb, you may be faced with a less-than-vibrant setting for your plant: a tiny cubicle, a windowless bathroom, a drafty entryway. Here are your best chances for injecting a little green into your life. She starts the book off with a few basics of plant care - fertilizing, propagation, pest control, display ideas and watering. (She advocates using a humidifier to maintain a 50% humidity level - I would love to get my house down to 50% humidity). Most of the plants she suggests are foliage plants, but with a variety of shapes, colors and textures you could still get a very stunning display. There are even a few flowering plants on her list that you could throw in for a bright splash of color. Each plant is given a nice color photo, a brief sell of where it works best, and the basic care needed for the plant (light, water, temperature, drafts). She even includes "Grow-Like-A-Pro tips" that will help you keep it looking its best. Fake plants are easy to take care of (you still have to dust them, tho), but they will always look fake. With Hogan's guide you can make the commitment to living, oxygen-producing plants for any room in your house or office. Although to be honest, as much as I love the title, I counted no fewer than 4 plants in her book that I have managed to kill. It's a gift, really.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy

A few years ago, there was a renewed interest in swing music, typified by modern bands like Cherry Poppin' Daddies and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. The swing music from the 1940's is so energetic and toe-tappin', that it only seems right that it would still be appropriate for dance clubs today. Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and Duke Ellington knew how to get people dancing. One of other marquee names of that era was the Andrews Sisters. Perfect harmony, Latin rhythms, and lyrics full of cool slang were their hallmark. A new female trio - the Puppini Sisters - is following in their footsteps. A lot of the songs on their new album, Betcha Bottom Dollar, are remakes of Andrew Sisters' classics: 'In the Mood', 'Bei Mir Bist Du Schon' and 'Boogie Woogie Bulge Boy'. Others are classics from the same time period, including a nice rendition of 'Sisters' (which was sung by Rosemary Clooney and Vera Allen in the movie White Christmas). They also try their hand at some more modern tunes: the Gloria Gaynor hit 'I Will Survive' is fabulous, the Blondie tune 'Heart of Glass' is not so great. But what is consistent on this album is that it is full of fun, perfect for dancing, and the pure harmonies of the three singers will drill their way into your skull bones. Cool, man!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Who would like to go on a trip?

The rain and wind have returned, the dead salmon smell is wafting through the aisles of the library, and it's the start of another Ketchikan winter. What better time to start dreaming of travels to foreign lands and warmer climes? Perhaps you might even be in the lucky position of planning an actual trip. Well, we've just gotten 16 new DVDs to help you plan your vacation, or to just while away a few dark winter hours. Most of the videos are from the Globe Trekker television series, with a rotating slate of tour guides. Ian Wright is the funniest, although I wouldn't want to travel with him, and Justine Shapiro is a little whiny. But they cover a vast range of things to see and do in each country, and they pay a lot of attention to eating and shopping (everybody's favorite activities when they travel!).
Perhaps there's a destination here that's just right for you:

Foreign Countries -

Regions of the United States -

New England
New York

Saturday, September 15, 2007

A Denali tragedy

If you enjoyed Into Thin Air: a personal account of the Mount Everest disaster by Jon Krakauer (and the copies in our system have been checked out 149 times, so there's a lot of you out there), then you might enjoy our new book for the day. Forever on the Mountain: the truth behind one of mountaineering's most controversial and mysterious disasters, by James Tabor chronicles the disapperance and failed rescue attempts involving a 1967 expedition up Denali (or Mount McKinley, as it was known then). Trapped by one of Denali's famous storms, seven members of a 12-person expedition died in the snow. Tabor uses interviews, diaries and government documents to piece together the events surrounding the disaster and the official (and non-official) responses. Tabor lays bare infighting amongst the expedition members - especially following the disaster - and bureaucratic cover-ups in this gripping story. He is a well-known writer on the outdoors, and it's obvious that he has little sympathy for people who have attempted to shield themselves from criticism, especially the decision makers in the Park Service. It's also clear that he admires the local volunteers who tried to rescue the stranded climbers and were briefly trapped by stormy weather themselves. This is a gripping read that you will find hard to put down.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Sushi zen

If you are a good enough storyteller, you can make anything interesting. Mark Kurlansky is an expert at this. His 300-page book about cod and his 500-page history of salt are both fascinating. (Who knew salt was interesting?). Trevor Corson is another wonderful nonfiction author who can weave a great tale around anything. His new book The Zen of Fish: the story of sushi, from samurai to supermarket, is great. The bulk of the book follows the trials and tribulations of a few students at an L.A.-based sushi chef school (say that 3 times fast). The Japanese are as religious about their sushi as the French are about their sauces, and the students are in for a trying time as they learn about the techniques, aesthetics, and imagination necessary for being a great sushi chef. Various events during the course of their training also offer perfect segues for Corson to explain about some of the history of sushi, fish farming, the L.A. restaurant scene, and the natural history of various fish. This is a really fun book, even if you hate sushi.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Half a glass

We have two new books here that are half-helpful. By 'half-helpful' I mean that part of the book is probably too region-specific to interest most people here in Ketchikan. BUT: the other half of each book is chock-full of information that would be of great interest to our patrons. The first book is Island Halibut Fisherman: halibut tips and hot spots for the West Coast of BC, by Robert Jones and Larry Stefanyk. By 'West Coast of BC', they really mean Vancouver Island, so the halibut hotspots aren't going to do anyone here any good. But they also offer lots of valuable advice on tackle, bait, lures, fishing tactics, processing your catch, how to pick a likely spot to fish, and what to wear. If you've ever wanted your picture in the paper with a 200-lb halibut, this book might help you achieve that goal. It's especially helpful for anyone who is new to halibut-fishing.
The other book is Carve Your Own Totem Pole by Wayne Hill and James McKee. The authors favor the designs and styles of the Kwakiutl tribe, so as a source of design inspiration this book is a little out of range. The practical advice they give to the beginning carver, however, is very interesting. The cover such topics as sharpening tools, caring for the wood, selecting paints, texturing, and mounting the finished pole. The also break down design elements into individual geometric shapes. They suggest beginning with masks and working your way up to poles, and give lots of other generic pointers. This is a good book for anyone who is considering carving and would like to play around a bit before committing themselves to a class from the Totem Heritage Center (where you will really learn how to carve).

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Silk Road

If you read my posting from a week ago (Patrick O'Brian), you'll know that we have a novel of his called The Road to Samarcand, which takes place along the route of the Silk Road. Well, we also have a new travel diary by respected author Colin Thubron that takes you along the same journey. Shadow of the Silk Road is an interesting account of Thubron's 7,000 mile trip from Xian in the heart of China to Antakya (Antioch) in Turkey. Unlike the travel books I usually read, this is not full of funny anecdotes and Thubron is not an inept adventurer. Instead, he paints beautiful pictures of both the scenery and the people that he encounters on his journey. He sprinkles his account with some history of the Silk Road and the groups that controlled its access at various times. And unlike Patrick O'Brian's novel, this is a modern Silk Road, with televisions, chemotherapy, and widespread knowledge of global affairs and English. It is also a region touched by modern events: the dissolution of the Soviet empire, the Iranian revolution, the struggle for Tibetan Independence, and the recent fighting in Afghanistan. The book starts off on an interesting note, as Thubron explains that the middle portion of his journey - through Northern Afghanistan - was delayed by a year due to fighting between the Taliban and western forces. This is an interesting look at a region that is playing an increasingly important role on the global stage.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

From sea to shining sea

If you live in America you should, at some point in your life, drive across the country. There is no better way to understand the size and grandeur of America than to spend hour after hour after hour driving through it. I've done the trip twice: once across I-80 and again on I-90. But after looking at The Lincoln Highway: coast to coast from Times Square to the Golden Gate I realize that zooming across a sterile modern interstate at 75 miles an hour doesn't really do the trip justice. If you really want to see the country - especially the Midwest - then you need to slow down and meander around a little. You need to take the Lincoln Highway.
The Lincoln Highway (I-30) can still be found on the road maps, nestled between I-80 and I-90 (and actually merging with I-80 through most of Wyoming). It may be a little red line on the road atlas now, but back in the 1920's this was the trip to take. And it remained an important regional route even into the 40's. Peppered with small towns, diners, motor inns, and weird little historic landmarks (Dennison, Iowa: birthplace of Donna Reed), the Lincoln Highway is nostalgic and kitschy. And our authors Michael Wallis and Michael Williamson take you on a state-by-state tour of all the sightseeing highlights along the route. Full of historic and current photographs, including some fun 'then and now' shots, this book will inspire you to load up the car next summer and spend a couple of weeks communing with small-town America.

Monday, September 10, 2007


There are some events in history that seem to grab the imagination more than others. The Battle of Waterloo (June 1815) is one of those events. Great works of literature (Vanity Fair), the military adventures of Bernard Cornwell (Waterloo: Sharpe's last adventure), the romantic novels of Mary Balogh (Slightly Tempted), the historical fiction of Georgette Heyer (An Infamous Army), even lame disco music ('Waterloo', ABBA Gold: greatest hits) all use this historic battle as inspiration. In novels the battle is often in the background, with interaction between the characters taking center stage. But in his new book Waterloo: 1815 campaign, Jacques Logie presents a beginner's guide to the event itself.
It's a very good overview. He starts with the political background of the Napoleonic Wars and explains the methods of warfare used at the time. He introduces the various generic players (infantry, cavalry, camp followers) and the big name generals (Wellington, Blucher, Napoleon, Soult). He then explains how the battle unfolded, day by day. He discusses the effect of the victory on the participants, including the poor local peasants whose towns and fields were destroyed during the campaign. He also discusses the political, cultural and historical legacy of Waterloo. Military history buffs might find this book too superficial for their tastes, but if your knowledge of the battle and 19th-century warfare is limited, then this book is a great introduction.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The perfect Ketchikan book

When I saw the write-up for our new book du jour, I knew I had to get it for our library. Chainsaws: a history by David Lee is sure to conjure up warm memories for most Alaskans. Perhaps your family was involved in the timber industry. Maybe you used a chainsaw to build your cabin or put up wood for the winter. At the very least, you probably have one rusting in the garage in case you ever have to clear alders off your property. If you're looking for an object that exudes danger, noise and sheer manliness, there is no bigger bang for your buck than a chainsaw. David Lee has assembled beautiful color photos of 250 chainsaws, from the 1919 Sector developed in Sweden to the 1975 Husqvarna 2100. He provides a history of each manufacturer, various technological developments, historical photos and advertisements, and the pros and cons of various features and models of chainsaws. And unlike Stihl calendars, where finding the actual machine in the photo is like playing 'Where's Waldo?', Lee's entire focus is on the beauty of the chainsaws and the ingenuity of their engineering. So if you or someone you know is a rugged Alaskan type, drift through the pages and see if there's anything in here that you recognize from your youth.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Good German

If you love classic films from the 1940's, you'll like The Good German (be warned, it is far more explicit than those old movies. This is not kiddie fare). If you like film noir from the 1950's, spy thrillers from the 1960's or George Clooney, you will like this film. It is beautifully shot and wonderfully acted. Cate Blanchett is an interesting mix of Marlene Dietrich sex and Greta Garbo moodiness. George Clooney - who I always associate with roles where he is ultra-cool and completely in control - is a lot more vulnerable in this movie and no longer the guy who has everything. As another character tells him, "You've gotten everything else wrong, Jake, why not keep going". But the true stretch here is Tobey Maguire. If you're drawn to his all-American, gee-whiz wholesomeness in movies like Seabiscuit and Pleasantville, then you are in for a surprise here. His character is not only a lousy person, he's lousy on a pathetic, two-bit scale. Set in post-war Berlin, the film is ostensibly about solving a murder and uncovering a plot to protect the reputation of German scientists. But really, it's about survival and the extent to which people will go to accomplish their aims. Lena (Cate Blanchett) is the most obvious example of this, as she has turned to prostitution in order to eat. But the other aspects of her life, and the goals of the other characters who have come to Berlin, are also about surviving. The plot is full of shifting allegiances, double-crosses and tension (as any good noir film should be), and the backdrop of rubble and bombed-out buildings is just as bleak as the characters. The last scene was such an over the top tribute to Casablanca that I laughed out loud when I saw it, which was a little disconcerting considering it was the big depressing climax of the story. Ah well, it was a lovely film to watch.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Lace Style

I'm not a knitter (not having had the patience to learn this popular skill), but if I were I would make the clothes in our new book: Lace Style: traditional to innovative, 21 inspired designs to knit, by Pam Allen and Ann Budd. I usually associate knitting with the big, chunky afghans and cable-knit sweaters my grandmother used to make. But the patterns in this book are for light, draping, figure-flattering clothes. There's a lace-edged corset and a 'Katherine Hepburn cardigan' that are very shapely. A lily-of-the-valley shawl looks as light as air. Forget about thick hiking socks and knit some floral lace anklets instead. There are also patterns for some interesting accessories, like a Greta Garbo garden hat (very chic), elbow-length gloves (for a winter wedding) and leg warmers (when did those horrible things come back into fashion?). My favorite pattern in the book is perfect for a teenage girl: the featherlight lingerie dress. And while most people wouldn't be keen on sending a young girl off to school dressed in anything approximating lingerie, this dress is different. It is white and airy, and made of mohair and silk. (It reminds me of the famous Degas statue of the young dancer). The model in this book is wearing it over a tank top and leggings, and it adds a soft, beautiful look to what would otherwise be a boring outfit. And if I start learning to knit now, I might be able to make it by the time my daughter is in high school. Even I could learn to knit in a decade.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Celtic music redux

Word association time: "Celtic Music". If you find yourself thinking of pale young women with ethereal voices draped artistically over castle walls, it's time to give the music of the Scots and Irish a second chance. We have a few CDs here at the library - not new, but definitely worth a listen - that will get your speakers thumping.
If I Should Fall From Grace With God is by the cream of Irish punk: the Pogues. Definitely not their most raucous album, If I Should Fall is arguably their best. They blend traditional tunes with a modern punk rhythm and the result is fantastic. Some of the lyrics are very poignant ("Thousands are sailing"), while other tracks are just plain fun. I challenge you to sit still while you listen to "Fiesta".
A newer generation of the Pogues is the U.S-based band Flogging Molly. A hugely popular live band, especially with the college-age set, Flogging Molly blends traditional instruments with electric guitars and a screaming punk sound. You can still hear the beauty of the mandolin, tin whistle and uileann pipes, but this music is definitely in your face. Their album title - Swagger - is truth in advertising. Basically, it's young Irish pub music (as opposed to old farmer Irish pub music).
For more of a grunge sound, rather than punk, you can try Hi How Are You Today by Canadian fiddler Ashley MacIssac. Some of the tunes are pretty traditional Maritimes fare, but some of the other songs ("What an idiot he is" and "Rusty D-con-STRUCK-tion") are absolutely modern. And, after all, not all Celtic music is influenced by the Irish.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Counting the days

Well, school has started, the Halloween merchandise is on the shelves at Wal-Mart, and there are only 110 days left until Christmas. My mother used to warn me that time sped up as you got older, and I never used to believe her. But I'm already starting to get a whiff of holiday stress, so I thought I would pass it along to you with a new book on our shelves: Quick and Clever Christmas Cards - 100 fast and festive cards and tags, by Elizabeth Moad. It may seem too early to start doing your Christmas crafts, but if you set the reasonable goal of one card a day between now and mid-December, then you can send a beautiful hand-crafted greeting to 100 people without incurring an ulcer. And if you were thinking of participating in the Winter Arts Faire, now is the perfect time to start crafting. The cards and tags in this book are very attractive, and Moad offers a wide range of styles and techniques to choose from. You can stamp, paint, cut, sew, glue, fold or quill. Card patterns include religious themes, children's cards, abstract designs and more traditional looks. She also offers a range of time commitments, including a final "Super-Quick Gallery". I would not recommend trying to make these cards with an 8-year old, but preteens would enjoy this book, and the techniques and design suggestions can be a launching pad for even more creative cards.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Patrick O'Brian

Finding a posthumous novel from an author you love is a little like finding a hundred dollar bill in the pocket of the jeans you haven't worn in months: a surprise gift. And while The Road to Samarcand is not a complete novelty - it was printed in the U.K. in 1954 - it was certainly off the radar screens of most American readers. Patrick O'Brian wrote this book before he launched his beloved Jack Aubrey & Stephen Maturin series, and the writing is not as good as his later works. But Patrick O'Brian at his worst is still head and shoulders above most writers, and this story is a wonderful, old-fashioned yarn. A recently orphaned teenage boy, whose parents were missionaries in China, undertakes an adventurous overland trip from southern China to Samarcand (located in Uzbekistan, it is the midpoint of the Silk Road). He is accompanied by his archaeologist cousin, his sea captain uncle, a burly Swedish sailor, a flowery-tongued Chinese sea cook and a young Mongol boy his same age. There are murderous monks, roving bands of Mongol hordes, precious antiquities and prowling yeti. Obviously, this book is packed with action and excitement, but O'Brian also manages to pepper the story with interesting dialogue and picturesque descriptions. The setting is actually the 1930s but it feels more like the 1880s, probably because the group is traveling amongst people still living their traditional lifestyles. (Because of this, the appearance of a helicopter in the story is an incredibly jarring note.) But overall it's a great story by a talented author just beginning to develop his style.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Labor Day

Labor Day is one of those wonderful holidays where you (probably) don't have to go to work, but there are no ceremonial obligations, either. No giant turkey to cook, no gifts to be bought, no parades to go watch. You can bum around your house like a slob in pajamas all day, and it's O.K. But Labor Day does exist for a reason, and we have a few books here that can help readers reflect on why so many people get the first Monday of September off.

Strikemakers and Strikebreakers, by Sidney Lewis, gives a condensed history of the American labor movement, from Molly Maguires in the post-Civil War coal mines to Ronald Reagan's intervention in the air traffic controller's strike in 1981 (how ironic the Washington, D.C airport got named after him).

A Country That Works: getting America back on track, is by Andy Stern, the president of the Service Employees International Union. Stern discusses the new reality of the American labor market in a time of outsourcing, globalization and budget retailers. He offers his ideas about how to preserve the standard of living for America's workers.

Hey, Waitress: the USA from the other side of the tray, by Alison Owings, describes some of the realities of waitressing: low pay, long hours, few benefits and rude customers. Personally, I think everyone should be forced to wait tables at some point in their life, so that they behave better in restaurants.

Nickel and Dimed: on (not) getting by in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich and The Working Poor: invisible in America, by David K. Shipler both focus on the millions of Americans who are just making it. These are the people who are working multiple jobs, living from paycheck to paycheck, uninsured and only one illness away from financial disaster. They clean our buildings, pick our crops, mow our lawns and cook our burgers. If you are fortunate enough to have a job where this Monday is a holiday for you, then you should read about your neighbors who will be working this Labor Day (and Thanksgiving, and New Year's and July 4th).

Saturday, September 1, 2007

For Mystery Lovers

Earlier this year we added a magazine to the shelves that we were certain was going to be a big hit: Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. I can't help but feel that the reason no one has checked out so much as a single issue has to be due to location and size. It's a tiny little magazine on a low shelf in the far left corner, and I think it just doesn't get noticed. So I am taking this little wallflower under my wing and trying to set it up on a date with you.
Ellery Queen has been publishing the best in mystery and detective short stories for over 60 years. Some famous names in fiction have appeared in the pages of EQ over the years - Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Norman Mailer - and that tradition continues today. Just looking over some of the authors who have been featured this summer, I have come across many names that are currently on our fiction shelves. If you are a fan of authors like Lawrence Block, Marcia Muller, Bill Pronzini, Ed Gorman and Peter Lovesey, you will find unique short stories from them and from up-and-coming authors who may be new to you. The cover art may put you off a bit, since they're going for the pulp fiction look. But the publishing house Hard Case Crime has been reviving the hardboiled detective genre that was made popular by authors like Mickey Spillane, so if you've enjoyed the nostalgia trip through the fifties and sixties, you'll find the covers of EQ fun. But, as always, don't judge a book by it's cover - open it up and dive into some of the best detective fiction around.