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Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

As the title implies, MEXICAN GOTHIC by SILVIA MORENO-GARCIA is an homage to the gothic fiction novels of the 20th century, but one set deep in the mountains of Mexico rather than the English countryside.

Noemí Taboada is the strong-willed, somewhat-spoiled daughter of a wealthy family. She spends her free time reveling in the glamor and decadence of 1950’s Mexico City – dating men her father doesn’t approve of, and enjoying life.

As the book opens, Noemí has been summoned home from a costume party by her father. Expecting to be reprimanded for her choice of date, Noemí is surprised that her father instead wants to talk about her cousin Catalina.

Catalina was recently married following a whirlwind romance. She kept her relationship with Virgil Doyle a secret from everyone, and the two went back to Virgil’s ancestral home as soon as they were wed.

Noemí’s father has received a frantic, confused letter from Catalina claiming that the Doyles are poisoning her and mentioning ghosts. Fearing that either Catalina is in real danger, or that she may need some psychological help that her new husband refuses to provide, Mr. Taboada asks Noemí to visit her cousin and report back about the situation.

Arriving at the crumbling mansion known as High Place, Noemí is immediately at odds with the Doyle family. Virgil is brusque, dismissive, and unhelpful. Virgil’s aunt, Florence, keeps Noemí from visiting Catalina, who she claims has tuberculosis. And the Doyle patriarch, Howard, talks almost exclusively about eugenics.

Now a sickly, bedridden old man, Howard also tells Noemí about his deceased wives. They were a pair of sisters, both wards of Howard when he came to Mexico. He married the elder sister initially, but she died within the year, leaving Howard to marry the younger sister.

From one of the local people in town, Noemí learns about the fate of Howard’s children. Years ago, Howard’s daughter Ruth had fallen in love with a local young man. When the young man went missing following her father’s disapproval of the match, Ruth took a shotgun into the house and shot every member of her family, including herself.

Howard survived his gunshot wound, Florence and young Virgil were not in the house at the time; the three of them were the only remaining members of the Doyle family.

Noemí’s only ally at High Place is Florence’s son, Francis. It is through him that she learns much of the history of the mansion and the Doyle family.  He tells Noemí about his family’s mining business that built their fortune, which has since dried up, and the English cemetery that Howard had constructed – with dirt brought over from Europe – where the deceased Doyles have been laid to rest.

When Noemí is finally allowed to see her cousin, Catalina seems relatively normal. She does seem weak and tired, but more coherent than she was in her letter. Until Catalina tells Noemí that the Doyles can hear her through the walls.

Concerned for her cousin, but unable to convince Virgil to get help for her, Noemí resolves to leave High Place and get help. Up to this point, the Doyles have been creepy and off-putting, but as Noemí attempts to leave the mansion, things begin to get a lot more supernatural.

Moreno-Garcia borrows elements from the classics of gothic fiction, from Flowers in the Attic to Dracula. MEXICAN GOTHIC is a creepy, atmospheric novel. The reader feels a growing dread as the history of the Doyle family is revealed, and as they – along with Noemí – come to understand just how much danger the Taboada cousins are in.

Noemí herself is not a traditional amateur detective. She is focused, driven, and stubborn. But while she has the fashion sense and charisma of a teenage sleuth like Nancy Drew, she has no real interest in solving the case. Her whole focus is on helping her cousin, not piecing together any mysteries.

It is an unusual book, and there is more going on below the surface than I can convey. Once you finish the novel, I recommend seeking out interviews with the author – she has a lot to say about this book, and about the real mining town in central Mexico that inspired the novel.

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We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry

With its brightly colored cover and its strange title, WE RIDE UPON STICKS by QUAN BARRY caught my attention immediately. If I had been more familiar with the plot, it is possible that I would have been more suspicious of the way it instantly grabbed me.

In the summer of 1989, the members of a high school field hockey team pledge themselves to the powers of darkness in order to make it to the state championships.

The novel is set in Danvers, Massachusetts, a small town outside of Salem. It is common knowledge in Danvers that much of the chaos of the Salem witch trials actually happened in their town – which was called Salem Village at the time.

During the previous school year, Mel Boucher found herself reading a reference book about the trials. The story of the teenage girls whose interest in witchcraft sparked the witch hunt inspires Mel to do some dabbling of her own.

The Danvers Falcons have been consistently terrible for years. Starting with Mel Boucher, the team decides to take matters into their own hands and, one-by-one, sign their names over to the darkness – represented by a notebook featuring Emilio Estevez.

Each member has their own reasons for signing the book. Everyone wants the team to win the state championship, but they each have their own personal goals that become clear over the course of the novel.

Julie Kaling, for example, lives in a restrictive, uber-religious household. When she signs her name, she asks the darkness to help her with a project. Her dreams revolve around a dress she wants to make for prom. With the boldness given to her by “Emilio” she begins spending her free period in the Home Ec room, working on her masterpiece.

Initially, signing their names seems to be enough. They obliterate the competition at their summer training camp, but once the regular season starts, they are only scraping by with narrow wins.

As the team soon finds out, the only way to appease the darkness (and secure their victories) is by doing dark things. Which the team takes to with a vengeance. They use their new power to affect change in the school and come into their own power as young adults.

AJ Johnson is upset about the racism in her English class curriculum. She uses this anger to start a rumor about a teacher, but then she decides to affect change more directly and run for student council president. Thanks to the darkness, she wins easily without ever putting up a poster.

The Falcons’ varsity team – Abby Putnam, Jen Fiorenza, Girl Cory, Little Smitty, Mel Boucher, AJ Johnson, Boy Cory, Julie Kaling, Sue Yoon, Becca Bjelica, and Heather Houston – are seniors. Like many high school students, they are trying to reconcile who they have always been with who they want to be.

Ultimately the book is about the internal power we all have, if we choose to harness it. Many of the team’s accomplishments were within their own power, they just needed the confidence to take action. On the other hand, I’m not completely sure that they weren’t also doing magic.

Reading WE RIDE UPON STICKS was a delight. It was a very unique novel, with only a small amount of actual field hockey – for which I am grateful.

Barry’s writing style is very visual. I was not surprised to find out that she is also a prize-winning poet. Jen Fiorenza has the iconic 80s teased bangs, which the team lovingly refers to as “the Claw.” Every time she mentions the Claw, Barry describes its subtle movements – which reflect the way Jen is feeling – from a tall, platinum railroad spike to a sad stack of pancakes.

She also perfectly captures the spirit of high school. Barry uses little details to accomplish the high school atmosphere, like the fact that the Danvers Falcons think about each other as either a first and last combo name, Abby Putnam, or exclusively by a nickname: Boy Cory.

The reader is given a glimpse into each character in turn, watching them go through their biggest moment of change.

By relying on each other – and using the powers of Emilio – each member of the team is able to accomplish something they never thought they could. As long as they don’t go too deep into the darkness.

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The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Matt Haig’s THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY is a sliding doors novel about one woman’s search for a fulfilling life.

In the course of one day, Nora Seed has been mugged, lost her job, and found out that her cat has died. On top of that, she has been reminded of all of the ways that she has failed everyone in her life: her father, her brother, her best friend, and her ex-fiancé.

Struggling with depression, and feeling that she has nothing in her life worth living for, Nora decides to kill herself. Then she wakes up in the Midnight Library, which exists in a pocket of time between her life and her death.

Every book in the library represents another life that Nora could be living at this exact moment; parallel lives sprung from decisions big and small that Nora made in her life. The stacks are accessible through a librarian, who appears to Nora as Mrs. Elm, the school librarian from her childhood.

All Nora has to do is decide what she wants to change — what regret she wants to erase — and Mrs. Elm will find the book that contains that future. Nora will then slip into that version of herself and experience this different life.

With infinite lives waiting for her in the books of the Midnight Library, Nora has the opportunity to find the one where she fits; a life where she is truly happy. She can make any adjustments to her life, but if she gives up her search for happiness, the Midnight Library will crumble and Nora will die.

She starts with the life where she is married to her ex-fiancé, Dan. This Nora went through with her wedding and she and Dan opened a pub in the English countryside. In her own timeline, Nora called off the wedding after her mother succumbed to cancer.

In this life the two of them run a fairly successful pub – but they are deeply unhappy with each other. Seeing Dan in person after all this time, Nora realizes that her life is better off without him. He never supported her, never really cared what she wanted, and actively prevented her from accepting a huge record deal that her band had been offered.

Back in the Midnight Library after realizing this life was not for her, Nora sets out to see the outcomes of her other biggest regrets.

She follows her best friend to Australia, instead of letting her reservations hold her back. She decides to continue competitive swimming – which she had given up after the pressure to succeed gave her panic attacks – and arrives in a timeline where she is an Olympic champion. She even accepts that record deal and finds that she is a world famous rock star currently on tour in Brazil.

As she spends time in these other realities, Nora begins to see how she has shaped the world in her real life; how the choices she made changed the people around her. She begins to see the ways that she succeeded, and begins to accept her own failures.

THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY is a vivid picture of depression and regret. The author, Matt Haig, is very open about his own mental health struggles, and does an excellent job translating them into this novel.

Nora is a compelling narrator; she is truly gifted in a number of ways, but has shut out the world at every turn and failed to pursue any of her dreams. The Midnight Library gives her a chance to see what her life could be if she had lived it differently.

Ultimately, I enjoyed the novel, although I did have some issues with the way it ended that I will not go into here. Haig offers an interesting perspective on life, and a person’s ability to understand their own impact on the world. THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY was an engaging read, one that I am certain to keep thinking about for a long time.

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The Last American Vampire by Seth Grahame-Smith

THE LAST AMERICAN VAMPIRE by SETH GRAHAME-SMITH is an alternate history of America, from the colonies to the present, told by a person who experienced it all: Henry Sturges, the last American vampire.

Henry Sturges has been a major player in many key moments of American history. He came to America as a newly-married twenty-five-year-old Englishman, human and ready to start a new life. He and his wife were members of the Roanoke Colony, who built a fortified settlement in what is now North Carolina. Roanoke is infamously referred to as the Lost Colony – because its more than one hundred inhabitants disappeared without a trace.

The Roanoke Colony, including Henry’s wife, was completely wiped out by a vampire who had come to the New World in order to control it.  He is impressed by Henry’s spirit and decides to save him by turning him into a vampire.

The life of Henry Sturges follows the flow of American history very closely. He watches from a distance, trying not to attract attention, living independently from it until his friendship with Abraham Lincoln convinces him to take part.

THE LAST AMERICAN VAMPIRE is the sequel to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, which details Henry’s involvement in Lincoln’s life – from the time when he was a young man to his assassination. The first book focuses on the events surrounding Civil War, with both sides backed by vampires.

Henry is one of the Union vampires, but the Union does end with the war. Vampires like Henry continue to fight to protect mankind at large. They still call themselves the Union far into the 20th century, though their numbers have dwindled considerably.

The novel jumps around through Henry’s history. The conceit of the book is that Grahame-Smith (whose fictional counterpart narrates the book) is pulling from diaries that Henry has kept through the years; he is picking out the most interesting parts and building a narrative of the power struggle behind the scenes of American politics – the strings of which are being pulled by vampires.

Henry spends time in both America and Europe meeting many notable figures throughout his life. Authors like Bram Stoker and Edgar Allan Poe make appearances, along with John D. Rockefeller and Nikola Tesla. Henry and his allies fight against the villains of history, including Jack the Ripper and Rasputin – who are both vampires themselves.

As a result of his involvement as an advisor to Abraham Lincoln, Henry is coerced into working for multiple presidents and repeatedly conscripted into armies. The American government knows exactly what Henry is, and they rarely hesitate to use him. America wouldn’t be the same without Henry Sturges.

The book is filled with photographs, which add to its sense of historical weight. It contains letters, telegraph transpositions, newspaper clippings, and email. Excerpts directly from Henry’s diary are also used liberally, to get a sense of what Henry was feeling at the time.

The pseudo-realism of the book is very engaging, and although the book looks like nonfiction – right down to its footnotes – it reads like a novel.

The line between real and imaginary is thinnest at this time of year, and I think there are few better ways to embrace that than by reading supernatural fiction. This book is action-packed and fun, while also being somewhat gruesome (as most vampire fiction tends to be). So, if you’re looking for something to quench your thirst for the supernatural, give THE LAST AMERICAN VAMPIRE a try.

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The Annotated American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Recently, an item appeared on my cataloging shelves that I needed to read immediately: THE ANNOTATED AMERICAN GODS by NEIL GAIMAN; edited with notes by LESLIE S. KLINGER. I did not know this book even existed before it appeared on my shelf, but I was very familiar with AMERICAN GODS – Gaiman’s epic novel that blends classical mythology into contemporary America.

The novel follows Shadow Moon, a recent ex-convict who has just received news that his wife has died in a traffic accident – along with his best friend. Finding himself with nothing to go home to, and no connections worth pursuing, he reluctantly accepts a job offer from Mr. Wednesday, a man who Shadow just met, but who seems to know a lot about him.

Mr. Wednesday hires Shadow to be his personal driver and bodyguard. This job takes him all over the country. Wednesday introduces Shadow to an eclectic group of strange, otherworldly people. As he gets deeper into Mr. Wednesday’s world, he discovers that these people are gods, brought to America by humans centuries ago.

When humans immigrated into the country, they brought with them the stories and belief in these old gods, this faith permeated the country, and made it a place where the gods could thrive. In this modern age, belief in these gods has begun to fade. Humans have turned to new deities – Technology, Media, and others – who are taking the belief and getting stronger while the old gods become weak.

Mr. Wednesday is organizing the old gods against their new counterparts – trying to form an army and wage war against them, to destroy them and restore the old gods’ power.

The old gods come from all over the world, from Norse, African, Irish, Egyptian, Slavic, and Hindu mythologies, and many, many others. Gaiman has managed to bring them all together seamlessly in a rich, dense story full of unforgettable scenes.

This novel is truly an epic tale, like one of classical mythology. The summary above, while encompassing the novel, only covers one of the story threads that Gaiman has woven together to make this masterwork. In the course of the novel, Shadow also finds himself at the center of a murder-mystery in a small town in Minnesota, where young girls go missing with suspicious frequency. Not to mention that Shadow is being watched by a specter from his past for much of the story.

AMERICAN GODS is simultaneously an epic fantasy and an American road trip novel. Gaiman has a deep love for nostalgic Americana, and it shows. The book begins in Oklahoma, but Shadow and Wednesday travel all over the country, from Florida to Chicago – San Francisco to Kansas.

Gaiman has an understanding of the importance of road trips in American culture, of the feeling of driving down a long, empty stretch of road surrounded by fields. And the sad emptiness of the abandoned tourist destinations that have been passed over by the creation of highways.

Mr. Wednesday refuses to take the highways.

AMERICAN GODS has gone through a few editions since it was first published in 2001. Most notably, the wide release of the author’s preferred text – in the tenth anniversary edition in 2011. It has also been adapted into a comic series by Dark Horse Comics, and a Starz television series. This edition, published in 2019, is the author’s preferred text, with footnotes denoting when the text varies from the first edition.

The footnotes also give context to all of the gods and creatures that appear in the novel, which makes them a wonderful resource. Gaiman rarely explains what mythology he is referencing, leaving it up to the reader to investigate or ignore the history of the character. Klinger’s footnotes add a depth of understanding that I really appreciated.

THE ANNOTATED AMERICAN GODS is gigantic and beautiful. In addition to the footnotes, artwork depicting the gods and stills from the television show are also presented alongside the text. Having all of this together in one volume is a fan’s dream. I would encourage you to read this edition if you have read the book before – I assure you that you have never experienced the story like this.

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An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

You know that feeling, when you have been putting off reading a book that a friend recommended to you – and then you read it, and you also need to tell everyone about it?

Well, let me tell you about “AN ABSOLUTELY REMARKABLE THING” by HANK GREEN.

April May is a twenty-three-year-old graphic designer living in New York City. Walking home from a very, very late work night she discovers a ten-foot-tall, completely stationary robot dressed in samurai armor.

Her first instinct is to call up one of her friends from art school – Andy – who wants to be internet-famous, and owns video equipment. Together, they make a short video, spoofing a news report, talking about the giant robot (April calls him Carl).  When April wakes up the next morning, her entire world has changed.

The video that she and Andy made has gone viral, every news agency in the country – and many in other countries – has been airing it. She has hundreds of emails from people asking her questions about Carl, wanting to know more about what she saw. Because her Carl is not the only one; there are sixty-four Carls in cities all over the globe.

Each Carl appeared at exactly the same moment, huge and immovable, without anyone seeing how they got there or where they came from, and April was the first person to capture one on video. April makes appearances on news programs and late night talk shows. She and Andy make more videos. And April gets very into Twitter. Soon she is the most recognizable person on the planet.

With this fame comes power; and as April becomes increasingly famous, she discovers a growing desire in herself to keep this audience. She will do anything to continue to be the authority on Carl.

People around the world have been studying the Carls, and the cryptic clues left on any surveillance footage from the exact moment they arrived. To stay relevant, April needs to keep providing answers. She assembles a crew of fellow twenty-somethings, who can help her decipher the mysteries of the Carls.

Using social media, and April’s influence, they are able to crowd-source the answers to many of the questions surrounding the Carls, but every answer seems to lead to more questions. Where did they come from? And what do they want from humanity?

“AN ABSOLUTELY REMARKABLE THING” is intensely readable. The book is told in first-person perspective; April is telling you the story as if you (the reader) remember the events she is describing – as if you might have seen a Carl firsthand.

April is speaking as a person who remembers these events, and has had time to process them – and time to think better of many of her choices.  She makes many terrible decisions throughout the course of the book. I found myself liking the book, but not liking April.

This is Hank Green’s debut novel, published in 2018. It illustrates how humanity reacts to the unknown – whether with fear or wonder. It also delves into the virtues and perils of social media with regard to both our culture and ourselves – as a YouTube personality himself, Green understands this better than most. If you enjoy “AN ABSOLUTELY REMARKABLE THING,” I will mention that next month it is getting a sequel: “A BEAUTIFULLY FOOLISH ENDEAVOR” comes out July 7th!

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Digital Knitting Round-up

In the summer of 2009, I needed a distraction. It was just before my sophomore year of college – I was an English major here at Missouri Southern – and I was looking for new ways to spend my time. I made a list of about 20 things to accomplish over the summer (nothing productive, just for fun): juggling, performing magic tricks, being ambidextrous. By the end of summer, the only thing could confidently cross off was: learn to knit.

The inspiration had come from a book – there are few more likely sources of inspiration for an English major. My knitting muse is a character from the young adult series “The Nine Lives of Chloe King.”  The series is about a girl who learns she is one of a group of cat-people; the romantic interest opposite Chloe is a boy who knit his own earflap hat with cat ears. I wanted that hat, and by the end of the year – I had one.

I did not stop knitting after the hat, and the first place I turned to for new inspiration was knitting books. People who knit are incredibly creative, and there are some really excellent pattern books available at the Joplin Public Library. These books are full of glorious, full color pictures of the most amazing things knitters can accomplish – with step-by-step instructions so that you can accomplish them too.

I love looking at these books; I do not love trying to hold a book open while I am using both of my hands to knit.

So, instead of telling you about some of my favorites from the JPL’s physical collection, I am going to round up a few of the most interesting pattern books available in our digital collection. Knitting from a digital book is a breeze: my tablet sits propped up at just the right angle, never loses my spot, and I can often even zoom in to any particularly complicated charts I may encounter.

Most recently I was working from “Interweave Favorites: 25 Knitted Accessories to Wear and Share,” which is full of cute and colorful accessories that knit up relatively quickly. To me, small projects are the most fun – there is nothing more depressing than the half-done sweater or afghan that you just don’t want to finish.

If you are tired of knitting basic hats and scarves, maybe you will enjoy “Once Upon a Knit” by Genevieve Miller. These patterns are all inspired by fairy tale stories and classic literature: from Little Red Riding Hood’s red riding hood to a Wonderland-inspired beret.

Once you have knitting basics down, I recommend that you check out Margaret Radcliffe’s “Circular Knitting Workshop.” Radcliffe guides you step-by-step through circular knitting: the process of knitting in one continuous loop, making a tube of fabric. This process is a game-changer for socks, hats, sleeves, mittens, and almost every knitting project you want to make.

The final book in my round-up is “2-at-a-Time Socks” by Melissa Morgan-Oakes. Knitting a comfortable sock is complicated – it involves constant measuring, and knowing exactly where to make the heel is crucial. The last thing many knitters want to do when they finish a sock is start another one. That’s where this book comes in. If you master the two-at-a-time technique, you never have to suffer through knitting two socks in a row ever again! Knitting both socks at the same time also helps ensure that your pair is identical, rather than one sock being slightly longer or wider than the other.

I have been knitting steadily for almost eleven years now, and I am much better than I was in my cat-ear hat days. Being able to bring something to life with just a piece of string and a couple of sticks is a magical feeling, and if you find yourself at a loss for how to spend your time, you might give it a try. I have always found it to be a rewarding and fulfilling hobby, and I hope you will too.

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

Teenage sleuths are all well and good, but what becomes of them when they grow up?  In Edgar Cantero’s “Meddling Kids” we meet the Blyton Summer Detective Club – a group of grown-ups who spent the summers of their formative years solving mysteries in Blyton Hills, Oregon.

Thirteen years ago, they solved their final mystery: the case of the Sleepy Lake monster. Two boys, two girls, and one dog put a man in jail for impersonating a monster and attempting to steal the fortune said to be hidden in a local abandoned mansion. On that fateful night, they solved their case, but the deeper mysteries of the mansion have haunted them ever since.

Now in their mid-twenties, the four members of the Blyton Summer Detective Club have gone their separate ways; they lead broken, unstable lives in various parts of the country:

  • Peter Manner, the leader, moved to Hollywood and became a famous actor, but he was fighting his own demons and killed himself before the action of this book.
  • Nate Rogers, the resident supernatural expert, has spent the intervening years checking himself in and out of mental institutions. He is currently at an institution in Massachusetts, where he is hoping to rid himself of a hallucination of Peter’s ghost.
  • Kerri Hollis, the brains of the group, moved to New York where she works at a bar, plagued by nightmares and unmotivated to finish college.
  • Andrea (Andy) Rodriguez – the muscle – is a vagrant with active warrants out for her in multiple states, and an as-yet-unrequited, decade-old crush on Kerri.
  • Rounding out the group is Kerri’s Weimaraner, Tim, the great-grandson of the original mystery-solving dog.

Andy is convinced that something has cursed them, and that solving the mystery of the abandoned mansion is the only way for them to move on with their lives. She convinces Kerri and Nate to join her, and the three humans, one dog, and one ghost/hallucination make their way to the house in Blyton Hills where everything began.

“Meddling Kids” is a high-energy romp, complete with wacky hijinks and suspicious townspeople. It has mysterious messages, intricate traps, and secret passages. But it is also a horror story with actual monsters for our grown-ups to battle – and an evil force waiting to be set free. It’s Scooby-Doo in the world of Cthulhu.

The story moves forward at break-neck speed; the mystery getting more complicated at every turn. Cantero’s love of pop culture beats at the heart of this book, though some references are more subtle than other – I’m looking at you, Zoinx River.

Cantero bounces back and forth between traditional dialog and movie-script-style dialog (complete with stage directions) in a way that I found compelling. He plays with language throughout the book, making it clear that he had as much fun writing it as the reader does reading it.  I look forward to seeking out more of Edgar Cantero’s work, and I hope that you give “Meddling Kids” at try.

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Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence

Librarians love books. We love the smell and the feel of books. We love the weight of knowledge that you feel just holding a book in your hands. But sometimes, you find a book that just makes you want to throw it against a wall. Or bury it in your yard. Or – fellow librarians, cover your eyes – set that book on fire.

In “Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks,” librarian Annie Spence writes letters to books that have left an impression on her (both good and bad).  From “Matilda” to “The Goldfinch” to “Cornzapoppin’!: Popcorn Recipes and Party Ideas for All Occasions” – Annie has read them all, and she has feelings.

Annie’s letters are well-written and approachable, she mourns her inability to get through “Anna Karenina” and sheds light on the unhealthy relationship at the center of “The Giving Tree.” Each letter is composed like a love letter, or a break-up letter in some cases, and is signed with Annie’s signature. Reading this book feels like reading someone’s personal, and very unusual reading journal.

These letters are hilarious, but also ridiculously informative. If you want to know what series is loved by both semi-truck drivers and precocious children bored of the books in the Children’s Room, Annie can help with that (it’s Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series).

Annie Spence is a master of a skill essential to library work called “reader’s advisory.” It is skill all about being able to understand and create connections between books. When a patron comes into a library looking for what to read next, we have been trained to help you find something else you will probably enjoy. Annie Spence is here – in book form – to help you find your new favorite books.

Annie is also ready if you need some advice for your life, not just what to read but also Excuses to Tell Your Friends So You Can Stay Home With Your Books (page 177) or Turning Your Lover into a Reader (page 205) – if you find that your significant other is just not that into books.

Reading this book feels like talking to a friend, the reader feels very connected to Annie and her experiences reading books. You can tell just how much she loves reading – and it makes you want to expand your own reading horizons. If nothing else, pick it up so you can truly understand how voracious readers feel about the library from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (page 163).

If you look forward to reading these book reviews that we at the Joplin Public Library provide every week, then I heartily recommend that you give “Dear Fahrenheit 451” a try.

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Semiosis by Sue Burke

Part Planet of the Apes, part 2001: A Space Odyssey; “Semiosis”, by Sue Burke, tells the story of a group of astronaut colonists, and the planet they discover.

“Semiosis” is a generational novel, each chapter is told from the first-person perspective of a member of a new generation – beginning with original team of astronauts. The reader experiences the colony’s development through 107 years on Pax, the name the colonists give their new planet.

The original team of colonist consists of less than a hundred people from all over the world. They were chosen to provide particular skills to the community, not only to survive on their new planet, but to thrive. Scientists were chosen (meteorologists, doctors, biologists, and botanists) as well as artists (musicians and sculptors), and particular care was given to the type of personality that each member possessed.

The goal for Pax is to create a peaceful society that will become a part of the ecosystem of the planet, and live in harmony with any life forms that they may discover.

As the novel progresses, the narrators become more familiar with the nature of planet, and subsequently less ‘earthling’. The original colonists view Pax through the lens of Earth, comparing animals and plants to ones they (and we) are familiar with. From generation to generation, Earth customs and culture become increasingly more alien, as the humans develop their own ways of life.

Each narrator has unique voice; they have different perspectives on the planet, and its residents, and very different personalities. Burke’s experience as a short story author enables her tell each of these stories as its own distinct piece of a whole narrative. The chapters have their own narrative arcs, though many of the characters overlap from chapter to chapter.

Burke’s background in journalism – as a reporter and editor of various newspapers and magazines – also informs her writing style. Her chapters are character driven and concise, with an eye for scientific processes and vocabulary.  The first narrator, Octavo, is a botanist – and he thinks like a botanist.  His chapter is full of observations about plant life that some readers, and Octavo’s co-colonists, may not completely follow.

In many ways, “Semiosis” can be viewed as a first contact novel, with humans as the alien species. I will not go into detail about the other life on this planet, I will only say (mysteriously) that the colonists are not alone – there is life on Pax, beyond the animals that the team first encounters.

For interested readers, I will also say that rereading the first chapter – with all the hopes and new discoveries of the original colonists – once you have finished the book is an experience that I highly recommend.

I would like to also give a content warning for one instance of sexual assault.

Because this is my first book review, I think I ought to introduce myself. Hello, I’m Alyssa Berry – the new Technical Services Librarian at Joplin Public Library.  If you come into the library, you might not see me, because I spend a lot of my time in the back room, but I am hard at work getting books into our catalog and out onto our shelves. My team and I do all the digital and physical processing that turns regular books into library books. I started at JPL about a month ago, and I’m excited to be a part of everything that happens at the library – and to share my particular taste in books with all of you.

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