Author: Aimee

Be Hair Now: ‘Norma’ by Sofi Oksanen

normaYou might think that having magic hair that’s attuned to your emotions would be a blessing, but the titular character in Norma (by Finnish-Estonian writer Sofi Oksanen) would disagree. Norma is an ordinary woman whose hair corkscrews and kinks when she feels strong emotions, such as danger or guilt. It also happens to grow about a meter a day, causing Norma to have to constantly cut it off so that no one notices. The only person that knows Norma’s secret is her mother, Anita.

As it happens, Norma opens up on the day of Anita’s funeral. Anita has committed suicide by throwing herself in front of train, or so we’re led to believe. The first inkling Norma has that something is off is when her hair starts to corkscrew when meeting a stranger at the funeral.

While it is Norma’s name who’s on the cover, I think it’s safe to say that this book actually has three main characters. Norma, obviously, is the focus of book, but alternating chapters are in a woman named Marion’s point of view. Marion is the daughter of Anita’s best friend. Marion works for her father in the seedy underworld of the hair extension business. The third main character is Anita herself. Through video diaries that Anita has left for Norma to find, Norma finds out the history of why her hair is the way it is.

There are lots of little kinks and turns in that lead you down paths you hadn’t fathomed would happen. The sub-chapters are short so it feels as if you’re flying through; I read the first half of the book in a span of about two and a half hours. Normally, I don’t like alternating points of view, but I think it’s masterfully done in Norma. I’m invested in both Norma and Marion, so I didn’t feel impatient while reading through one or the other. On the surface this may seem like a book about hair, but it’s so much more. It’s an artful look into what would happen if your best asset was also your worst, if your blessing was also your curse.

Classic crime stylings in ‘Magpie Murders’ by Anthony Horowitz

magpie murdersLet me start by saying that I’m a big fan of Agatha Christie; I’m super pumped for the Murder on the Orient Express movie coming out later this year. So when I saw that Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz was described as similar to Christie’s books, I immediately grabbed it to read.

Magpie Murders is actually two books in one. The framing story is about Susan Ryeland, a publishing editor, trying to solve the murder of Alan Conway, a bestselling mystery writer. Conway’s books are reminiscent of Christie, with a Poirot-esque detective, English countrysides, and intricate webs of suspects, clues, and motives. The book within the book is the actual Magpie Murders story, Conway’s latest novel starring his detective Atticus Pünd.

When Conway is found dead of an apparent suicide, his editor, Susan Ryeland, can’t help but feel like something is fishy. She starts poking her nose around and ends up going to Conway’s hometown to talk to the cast of characters in Conway’s life. Ryeland knows that what she’s doing is a bit crazy and goes through a thought process of how everyday people don’t just turn into sleuths like they do in the books she edits. That doesn’t stop her, however, from playing Nancy Drew to try to prove that Conway was actually murdered.

While visiting Conway’s hometown, Ryeland sees just how much inspiration the author drew from his real life. Several of the characters in his books are based off the actual people that surrounded him. There are direct references to his town and his house in the books.

Horowitz has done a fantastic job of recreating Christie’s voice in the Alan Conway novel. It doesn’t feel like a carbon copy, but the way Pünd interacts with suspects and is able to detect barely noticeable clues is instead an homage to Hercule Poirot. Horowitz himself has written for the popular Poirot television show (which is one of my all time favorites). He’s also written for Midsomer Murders and created the show Foyle’s War, both of which are great detective shows (All three of these can be found on Netflix).

I really enjoyed the format this was written in, with the fictional novel opening the whole book. I found myself hooked, trying to figure out the complicated clues and untangling the web of motives and suspects. If you like a good a whodunit, then you’ll love Magpie Murders.

Get Your Dad the Perfect Book for Father’s Day

Father’s Day is THIS SUNDAY. If you’re like me, then it snuck up on you. Don’t have a gift yet? Lemuria is here to help! We’ve got a book for every dad out there.

For the dad that loves thrill seeking:

Camino Island – John Grisham

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This is Grisham’s latest book, out just in time to give to your dad for Father’s Day!

No Middle Name – Lee Child

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Another recently published book, No Middle Name is a collection of Jack Reacher stories.

For the Dad whose favorite room is the kitchen:

A Southern Gentleman’s Kitchen – Matt Moore

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Classic Southern recipes, with a twist!

Reel Masters – Susan Schadt

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This not only has recipes, but big fish tales, as well.

For the Dad who prefers the past over the present:

The Flight – Dan Hampton

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The story of Charles Lindbergh’s famous 1927 transatlantic flight.

Killers of the Flower Moon – David Grann

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The incredible true story of the FBI’s first big case about the murders of the Osage Indians.

For the Dad who watches the big game every weekend:

Ballplayer – Chipper Jones

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Jones’ autobiography about his 19-year career as an Atlanta Brave.

The Last Season – Stuart Stevens

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A touching story about a man and his father, and the lifetime of college football games they attended.

For the Dad who seems to already have everything:

Atlas Obscura – Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras, Ella Morton

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An encyclopedia like you’ve never seen. You can find all sorts of amazing factoids about places you’ve never heard of!

The Revenge of Analog – David Sax

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Have you ever heard your father complain about the “kids these days”? This book laments the long lost art forms of brick and mortar stores, vinyl records, etc.

If none of these strike your fancy, the folks at Lemuria have hundreds more books to recommend! We would love to help you out, and we will even wrap your book for your dad.

These Shining Lives: ‘The Radium Girls’ by Kate Moore

I’m pretty inexperienced with non-fiction. I would rather enter a new world through books, instead of inserting myself into one that already exists. However, The Radium Girls grabbed my attention with its mildly horrifying accounts. Kate Moore’s narrative non-fiction debut is the story of the young women who painted glow in the dark watch dials with radium laced paint in the 1910s and 1920s. This era was the height of radium-based products that were believed to be cure for everything. There were advertisements for “radium-lined jars to which water could be added to make it radioactive.” It was deemed the “miracle drug.”

radium ad

Of course, we now know just how dangerous radium is.

Radium Girls centers around the young women who worked for a company called the United States Radium Corporation, or USRC. More specifically it centers around 10 or so of the women who painted watch and clock dials with radium paint. They were well paid and the positions were considered very glamorous. In their workspace, there was a darkroom where the women could check their work but they used it mostly to paint glow in the dark mustaches on their faces. In order to be more precise about their painting, they employed what was called the lip pointing technique, in which the girls would use their mouths to finely point the paintbrush bristles, dip in the paint, then lip point again. This would turn out to be small but deadly process.

radium deathMost, if not all, of the girls who worked for USRC started getting ill. Some had sore mouths, some had achy joints, some started walking with limps, and some showed all of the symptoms. Several of the women developed deadly sarcomas. Since radium affected each girl differently, the sources of their illness were misdiagnosed. Syphilis, “phossy jaw,” early onset arthritis, etc. were some of the main diagnoses. These “radium girls” were dying left and right, and USRC kept denying that their deaths were work-related. Finally, with the help of sympathetic doctors and committee agents, radium was finally pinpointed as the cause of these deaths and illnesses.

Cue the legal battles. These women wanted justice for how horribly they were treated; newspapers were calling them the “living dead.” USRC still denied they were involved, going as far as to blatantly lie and cover up medical exams given they themselves. I won’t tell you what the final judgment was, but it was a long and hard journey to get it.

As someone who hasn’t read a lot of nonfiction, I really enjoyed The Radium Girls. There’s an epilogue that delves into how radium and other radioactive elements started being handled, as well as the laws put into place to protect those who handle these elements regularly.

The Hunt Will Go On: ‘Celine’ by Peter Heller

What is it we were always told…? Don’t judge a book by it’s cover…? Well, with Celine by Peter Heller (author of The Painter and The Dog Stars), I did judge it. Lemuria got a poster for this book a few weeks before we got the actual book, and I fell in love with it. I immediately looked it up online to see what it was going to be about. It’s about a lady detective that brings broken families back together. I knew right then and there that this book and I were going to have a great relationship.

Celine is about so much more than a lady detective. The titular character is an effortlessly glamorous woman in her 60s who lives in Brooklyn with her second husband Pete. (I’m a little in love with Pete, if I’m being completely honest.) She is whip smart and knows exactly what to say and when to say it. However, Celine is not your average Jessica Fletcher or Miss Marple.bang! Celine specializes in bringing families back together, for example, finding parents that had to give their children up for adoption. She has no interest in looking for cheating spouses or catching white collar criminals. Is it weird to say that I want to be like Celine when I grow up? Not that I want to be a private detective (just kidding, I totally do), but I want to be as calm and collected as she is. Her husband, Pete, is a man of few words and just as smart as Celine. He often accompanies Celine on her cases, and offers great insight on them.

The story opens up to the story of Gabriela, who is five years old. She and her family are playing in the waves of Big Sur when tragedy strikes. Fast forward about 40 years later, and Gabriela contacts Celine to help her find out once and for all what has happened to her father. Celine is captivated by Gabriela’s story and agrees to help. The case takes Celine and Pete to Yellowstone Park, where they quickly find out that not everyone wants closure for what happened to Gabriela’s father. Throughout the book, episodic stories from Celine’s past offer up explanations of why she is the way she is. Her own background was incredibly glamorous, if not a little broken itself.

This is my first experience reading Peter Heller’s work, and I can say that I can’t wait to get my hands on the rest of his books. Heller’s way with words draws me in with the poetry that’s spun through every sentence. When reading about Celine’s past, I feel nostalgic about a life that’s not even my own.

If you’re in Lemuria, come find me and I’ll wax poetic about why I love Celine!

Check Out Anytime You Like, But You Can Never Leave: ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ by Amor Towles

gentleman in moscowIt’s so easy to take our freedom of speech for granted. In A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov has committed a crime and is now sentenced to live the rest of his life in the world famous Metropol Hotel in Moscow, Russia. If he dares to step outside, he will be shot on sight. What was his crime? He wrote a poem–a political, divisive poem that he wrote as young man in 1913, but now, in 1922, has to answer for. And so, he has to live out his days wandering the halls of the Metropol. The beginning of the book is slowly paced, as the Count acclimates himself to his new life. He is often bored, counting down the minutes to his weekly appointment with the hotel’s barber. A young girl who also lives her life in the hotel shows him all the best hiding spots to spy on people in exchange for the Count telling her how to be a princess. As time goes on, the Count becomes intertwined with old friends, an actress, and a deadly plot against him.

count peekingThe way Towles writes his descriptions is playful and witty. The Count himself is the charming gentleman we’d like to imagine the aristocracy to be. There’s often little asides in the book that explain certain things in further detail, one of my favorites being a footnote that spans almost two pages. In one spot, Towles tells us to forget about a character, but to be on the lookout for another character that’s going to make a brief appearance in the next chapter. Occasionally Towles will go ahead and tell the reader what’s going to happen even further down the timeline.

Actual video of Towles' writing process

Amor Towles

Lemuria recently had an event where Towles came and signed books and then spoke about A Gentleman in Moscow. Let me tell you: he was riveting. Towles spoke about the research he did in writing this book, about the Bolsheviks that didn’t like the poem the Count had written, about how Lenin had his photos altered to erase people that fell out of favor with him (when I went home afterwards, I immediately started doing my own research on these early “Photoshopping” jobs. It’s fascinating.) Towles is charming and witty in person, so it’s no wonder that his books translate the same charm and wit.

If you’re still on the fence about reading this delightful book, I implore you to watch the book trailer right here.

A Con’s Cold World: Lydia Peelle’s ‘The Midnight Cool’

I am currently reading The Midnight Cool by Lydia Peelle, meaning there’s no chance I can spoil the ending for you in this blog. Regardless, I can already say that I would fully recommend this book. Set at the brink of World War I, the story follows two drifters, Billy and Charles, who arrive in a small Tennessee town to buy and sell horses. Billy is a middle aged Irishman that has immigrated to the United States at a young age to build a better life for himself, while Charles is a young, idealistic dreamer who envisions himself one day becoming a rich man. Together they wander from town to town, not yet living the life they truly want to live.

The Midnight Cool is a slow build that always feels like there’s a seam that’s just about to burst. Each character has got their secrets, which has me trying to guess all the possible outcomes that could come from each of them. Charles unwittingly buys a murderous horse named The Midnight Cool from the richest man in Richfield, Tennessee. This horse, as both we and Charles find out, is a force to be reckoned with.

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Usually, I don’t like the use of flashbacks as a literary device. However, they work here really well. I’m enjoying seeing Billy as a young man and seeing how he’s made himself into the expert con man that he becomes.

Peelle has a wonderful way of writing that feels like this entire story is a distant memory, one that’s been retrieved to tell to a willing listener. And don’t let the lack of quotation marks throw you off: it was disconcerting when I started reading, but it was easy to acclimate to once I got pulled into the world of the story. Now, I feel that the device is part of what’s helping me to become fully immersed in this story. Rather than being an omniscient third party, I am part of Billy and Charles’ racket of horse trading. I am helping them try to break The Midnight Cool. I feel everything they feel, from hope to disappointment and all that’s in-between.
I’m going to be honest and say that this is a book I would not have normally picked up, but I’m so glad I did. The pacing of this book allows me to slow down and actually chew on what I’m reading. It keeps me thinking long after I’ve set it down. What more could you ask for from a book?

Lydia Peelle will be at Lemuria on Wednesday, January 18,  at 5:00 p.m. to sign and read from her new book, The Midnight Cool. You can reserve your signed or personalized copy here. In addition, Ketch Secor of the Old Crow Medicine Show will be giving an acoustic performance in conjunction with the reading.

Get to Know Aimee

How long have you worked at LemuriaAbout a month, just in time to get thrown in the deep end during Christmas.

What do you do at LemuriaRight now, I work at the front desk. I love seeing what books people buy; I’m making a mental to-read list based off of what books slide across the counter!

Aimee

Talk to us what you’re reading right now. I’m reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Steven Spielberg is making this into a movie, so I wanted to read it before it comes out in theaters.

What’s currently on your bedside table (book purgatory)? My bedside table tends to be Death Valley for unfinished books. I have a very bad habit of starting a book, putting it down, and then never picking it back up again.

Currently there is Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan and The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen

How many books do you usually read at a time? Usually between 2-3

I know it’s difficult, but give us your current top five books. I don’t really have any “current” favorites, so I’ll give you my all time favorites.

Persuasion by Jane Austen, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris, The Witches by Roald Dahl

Favorite authors? It’s cliché, but I just love Jane Austen. I have been to a Jane Austen festival and I’m convinced that’s the closest I’ll get to heaven on earth.

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Any particular genre that you’re especially in love with? I love science fiction, fantasy, mysteries. I am a total sucker for cozy mysteries.

What did you do before you worked at LemuriaI have a degree in graphic design and I worked at a marketing agency. I decided that I liked the world of books much better than the world of computers!

If you could share lasagna with any author, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you ask them? Dorothy Parker. She’s the only poet I’ve really gotten into. I would love to listen to her hymns of hate in person.

Why do you like working at LemuriaI love the atmosphere. I love that I’m surrounded by books for a living. I was always the kid that got in trouble for reading while the teacher was talking or staying up way past my bedtime reading just one more chapter. Now I’m doing those things as my job!

If we could have any living author visit the store and do a reading, who would you want to come? There’s this cartoonist/children’s book author named Kate Beaton and I would love for her to come. She would come under the premise to do a children’s storytime for Oz, but in reality I would monopolize her attention talking about her hilarious history comics.

If Lemuria could have ANY pet (mythical or real), what do you think it should be? Real: Lemuria’s shelves are just begging for a cat to laze about on them. Or maybe a carrier pigeon to carry books back and forth between rooms.

Mythical: Has house elf been said before? (Ed. Note: Yes.) An independent house elf that wears Lemuria t-shirts.

If you had the ability to teleport, where would you go first? I spent a semester in London when I was in college, and I’ve been itching to go back ever since.

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