Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A whole lotta listening: new audiobooks

Gone Tomorrow: a Reacher novel by Lee Child. 13th in the series, this one has Jack delving into the past: Afghanistan in the 1980's.
Medusa: a novel from the NUMA files by Clive Cussler. Kurt Austin battles Chinese criminals and the threat of biological attack.
The City & the City by China Mieville. A compelling mixture of mystery and fantasy set in an alternative Europe.
The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly. A reporter about to be downsized exposes a false murder confession and decides to track down the real killer.
The Deadhouse by Linda Fairstein. A new installment in Fairstein's popular Alexandra Cooper series.
Women's Fiction:
The Story Sisters by Alice Hoffman. A nicely-layered story that follows three sisters as they become women and deal with the challenges of life.
The Diary by Eileen Goudge. Two sisters try to decipher the secrets of their dying mother's life through the pages of her old diary.
On the Divinity of Second Chances by Kaya McLaren. A full-cast reading of a light novel that showcases one very odd family.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Guides to your health

We have a pretty extensive section on health and wellness here at the library, and since that is the kind of information that needs to be as up-to-date as possible, we are constantly adding new editions and new titles. Here is a sample of our latest health guides:
The Alzheimer's Advisor: a caregiver's guide to dealing with the tough legal and practical issues by Vaughn E. James. As upsetting as it is when a loved one begins to disappear behind Alzheimer's, it makes it even worse when you are also dealing with the legal and financial issues involved in providing affordable care, planning for power of attorney and guardianship, writing wills and legal liability issues. This guide helps answer some of those questions.
What to Expect When You Have Diabetes: 170 tips for living well with diabetes. This book from the American Diabetes Association provides information about medications, nutrition, foot care, complications, blood sugar levels and weight management. The topics are presented in a nice Q&A format.
Macular Degeneration: a complete guide for patients and their families by Michael A. Samuel, M.D. Retina specialist Samuel gives you advice on how to slow the progression of the disease through exercise and nutrition, the various treatment options for both dry and wet AMD (age-related macular degeneration), and how to improve the quality of your life even as your vision dims.
The Ostomy Book: living comfortably with colostomies, ileostomies, and urostomies by Barbara Dorr Mullen and Kerry Anne McGinn. This is an invaluable source of information for anyone who is going to be undergoing one of these procedures; it discusses alternative procedures, what to expect before and after the surgery, and how to recover more quickly. It also provides information on how to fit your new medical needs into your current lifestyle and how to maintain good health. There are also sections in this book for patients with temporary ostomies, children & teens, and healthy pregnancies for ostomy patients.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Historic photos of Alaska

Standing at the circulation desk, across hall from the Tongass Historical Museum, we have noticed that the most popular exhibits amongst the locals are the ones featuring historic photos of Ketchikan. There is something very compelling about studying the way familiar places used to look. Our new book Historic Photos of Alaska is a great example of this.
Selected and narrated by Fairbanks historian Dermot Cole, this book is a wonderful look back at the way Alaska has changed over the past century (there are a few earlier photos - including one of the Ketchikan waterfront in 1899, but the majority of Alaska's photographic record originated after we became a U.S. Territory in 1912). Published in time for Alaska's 50th anniversary of statehood, this is a good historical overview for both new residents and visitors to the Last Frontier and a valuable refresher to those of us who may have forgotten what we learned in school.
One of the things I found most interesting was the geographical ebb and flow of the photos. Most of the images in the first chapter ("The Alaska Purchase, 1867-1905") are of Southeast. The next chapter features a lot more photos of Interior Alaska, especially the mining hotspot of Nome. The section on the Depression is the most wide-ranging, looking at how all the areas of Alaska fared during the uncertain economy. The last part of the book goes from World War II to the completion of the Alaska Pipeline, and focuses mainly on Interior Alaska (the rail belt). I think this geographic progression in the photographs echoes the shift in economic and political power in the state. The only photo in this last chapter that features Southeast is of a group of tourists visiting the abandoned Kennecott Mine site.
How symbolic.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

New music

We've just put another stack of CDs out on our music racks, so I'm offering a little sampling of what there is to choose from:

Vampire Weekend. The four members of Vampire Weekend formed their band while students at Columbia, but rather than being drenched with angst and obtuse allusions, their music is nothing but fun. One song - "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" - has been receiving a lot of play on the radio lately, and with good reason. This is a great summer album.

Kinsmen is a fascinating jazz album from saxophonists Rudresh Mahanthappa and Kadri Gopalnath. Mahanthappa provides the modern jazz feel, while Gopalnath brings in the flavors of India. The collaboration works beautifully, conjuring up images of both smoky clubs and snake charmers. Whether you are a fan of jazz or Indian music, this album will open up new sounds for you.

Fingal is the self-titled album from an American-based trio with deep Irish roots. James Keane (accordion), Randal Bays (fiddle) and Dáithí Sproule (guitar and vocals) play a selection of traditional jigs, reels, hornpipes and set dances, as well as some beautiful songs sung in Sproule's Irish tenor. A must for anyone who likes Irish music.

I Think We're Gonna Need a Bigger Boat is the latest project from Fatboy Slim (Norman Cook). The Brighton Port Authority is a fictional '70s alternative band, and this album is supposedly gleaned from a set of recently discovered tapes. What you'll really get is a mixture of new songs and covers with guest artists such as Iggy Pop, David Byrne, Martha Wainwright and Cagedbaby. Some great dance music here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What a little angel!

I don't ordinarily read parenting books (I prefer to flail around in blind ignorance....we've only made the trip to the ER once, so I must be doing something right). But I started thumbing through Stop Second-Guessing Yourself: the toddler years by blogger and author Jen Singer, and I found myself laughing at page after page.
The advice that is dispensed in this book is pretty sound common-sense and boils down to basically: choose your battles. Don't ruin mealtimes for the entire family by getting into a battle of wills with your 2-year-old about eating their carrots. But don't let them fling spoonfuls of applesauce at their sister. Don't be an anal parent - don't be a lazy parent.
The real value I found in this book is the sense of camaraderie. We're all in this together, and how nice to hear from someone else that they've distracted their toddler with a Backyardigans DVD while they check their email. How nice to hear from someone else that their toddler had a drop-down, floor-kicking, fist-pounding tantrum because you wouldn't let him spend 20 minutes trying to zip up his coat. And how funny to read about the mom who got locked out of her house by her toddler daughter, so that she had to call 911 to break open the door (fortunately, that one's never happened to me!).
If you are a parent that desperately needs the information in this book, you probably won't find it that funny because you're already too miserable. But if you regard toddlerhood as a tunnel, with preschool being the light at the end of it, you'll get a lot of chuckles out of this book and you'll find yourself reading it out loud to any other parents you run into. And the next time someone at the store tells you what a little angel you have in your stroller, have them read this book.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


The 'hook' of our latest mystery - The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie - is the protagonist: an 11-year old British girl named Flavia. Her method of coping with an emotionally distant widowed father and two unpleasant older sisters has been a fanatic devotion to the study of chemistry. (Since Flavia is the narrator of the story, she gets to depict her sisters as unpleasantly as she wants). Her ordinary life gets a bit shaken up when she overhears her father having a violent argument with a red-haired stranger, and then finds the stranger dead in the cucumber patch that night. Being resourceful, meddlesome and curious, Flavia sets off the solve the mystery herself, using her vast knowledge of chemistry.
This is author Alan Bradley's first novel, and he does an excellent job of capturing the voice of an 11-year-old girl. Flavia reminded me of Harriet (Harriet the Spy) and Scout (To Kill a Mockingbird), and she's a great example of the depth and potential that kids that age can have. I think Bradley had a harder time capturing a true British atmosphere. I'm not British, and I've never been to Britain, but I've read enough authors from the U.K. to realize that North Americans have a tendency to sprinkle their "British" dialogue with a bit too many 'pip, pip cheerios' and 'gor blimeys'. But after a few chapters either I got used to Flavia's speech patterns or the author toned them down.
The plot itself is interesting, even if some of it is a bit far-fetched. Bradley is currently working on another book featuring Flavia, and I'm looking forward to seeing if he smooths out some of the rough edges. In the meantime, I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys traditional British mysteries, especially those focused on village life. Since there is no sex, strong language or graphic violence, this book will also appeal to anyone looking for a nice, gentle read.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Our new book Faces From the Land: twenty years of powwow tradition is full of page after page of gorgeous images. The photographers - Ben and Linda Marra - have spent the last two decades traveling around North America making portraits of the dancers at powwows both large and small.
Each full-color portrait is accompanied by a brief narrative from the dancer. According to the Introduction, these portraits are often shot quickly between dances, which probably accounts for the brevity of the narratives. As you look at each person, you become thirsty for more information about their regalia and their personal powwow history. How many years have they been dancing? Who in their family taught them to dance? Have they mentored relatives themselves?
Some of the regalia has been passed down through the generations, from mother to daughter or uncle to nephew, while other dancers have created their own regalia. The colors and patterns symbolize important aspects of their life, from military service to clan references to traditional family designs.
The beauty and intricacy of the regalia is perfectly showcased in this book, and since the Marras give copies of their work to each subject, these portraits occupy a place of honor in many homes across America and Canada.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Istanbul noir

Mysteries are my favorite genre, but like any genre, they can get a little stale after a while. There's only so many murder weapons, so many double-crosses, so many investigative procedures out there. One good way to freshen things up a little is to have an exciting setting: a different time period, an unusual crime scene or an exotic backdrop.
The short stories in Istanbul Noir are set in one of the world's most intriguing cities. Secular and religious, Eastern and Western, millenia-old and crisply modern, Istanbul is a character in itself. And with the exception of three authors, all of the contributors to this anthology are Turkish. Their familiarity with, and love for, the personality of Istanbul comes across in their stories.
Fortunately, the stories themselves are interesting regardless of their setting (putting a decorative bow on a hack mystery doesn't make it a better read). But these little gems contain all the smoldering emotions, treachery and dark irony that make noir fiction such a tasty read. Some of the stories in here - "An extra body" for instance - remind me of the old Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, and flow quickly, keeping your attention throughout.
Edited by Mustafa Ziyalan and Amy Spangler, this is a very enjoyable collection of short stories for any mystery fan, or for anyone who likes to get a feel for another place through fiction.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

ListenAlaska: better and better

As much as we love ListenAlaska - the free audio download service we've been offering patrons for the past 2 1/2 years - things can always get better. There are a few enhancements that have been made lately to ListenAlaska that should be welcome news.
  • The latest version of the Overdrive Media Console (the software that manages your ListenAlaska files) is more iCompatible. With version 3.2, you can now transfer almost all the WMA files in the ListenAlaska collection (which currently features over 4,000 titles) to your iPod or iPhone. The world is your oyster now.
  • Our more dedicated users can now listen to up to 10 audiobooks a week! We've not only expanded the checkout limit from 5 to 10 titles, we now give you the option of either a 7-day or 14-day checkout period. No more waiting around for your titles to expire so that you can check out new selections.
  • Become an audio advocate. You can rate your favorite (and least-favorite titles) and see what the average rating is, based on the input from your fellow listeners. There are also reviews from AudioFile magazine, and recommendations for further listening.
  • Looking for a title we don't have? At the bottom of the grey navigation menu there is a Purchase Suggestion link. Let us know what you want to listen to...it's your collection!

With more and more music and audiobook titles available, ListenAlaska is getting better every month. If you haven't used the system yet, we will be happy to walk you through the process. Call us at 225-3331 or stop by for a demonstration.