Tag: Staff Blog (Page 1 of 11)

Up to Code: ‘Code Girls’ by Liza Mundy

code girlsThe Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1945. The United States was caught virtually unawares,  in a nearly two decade season of disarmament. The U.S. military had sparse forces, and few spies abroad. There was an immediate and urgent need for code breakers to decipher enemy message systems.

The U.S. Navy and Army began to send out secret letters to universities, seeking high achieving young women to be taught training courses in code breaking. The women were summoned to secret meetings, and sworn to secrecy. They came from all different backgrounds, but all bright, hardworking, and eager to serve their country.

Liza Mundy in Code Girls highlights the contributions of such experts in the field as William and Elizabeth Friedman and Agnes Driscoll, as well as those of the many women that labored day to day to recreate enemy enciphering machines.

Wars, by those who fight them, say they should never occur. They hold atrocities that can be too much for the human soul to bear. Yet, in the ugliest and most terrifying of times, unrecognized human potential can be found. The code breakers of World War II fought in classified rooms, instead of the battlefield, but they fought with everything they had, and discovered previously unknown strengths and abilities. They served quietly and humbly, virtually unappreciated to this day. They were great American Women, they were the Code Girls.

Author Liza Mundy will be at Lemuria Books today, Friday, December 8, at 5:00 p.m. to sign and read from Code Girls.

Climbing the Wall in Dan Santat’s ‘After the Fall’

“Life begins when you get back up”

after the fall

Now we all know the story of Humpty Dumpty and how he fell and couldn’t be put back together again. But in Dan Santat’s beautifully illustrated new picture book After the Fall, he has already been put back together, but is now terrified of heights. His fear was so crippling that he could no longer enjoy things he once loved, like the good cereal on the top shelves of the grocery store or bird watching on top of the wall.

atf pictures

But Humpty Dumpty will not give up all the things he loves just because he is afraid of heights. No! He will just have to be more creative about enjoying them. He starts making paper airplanes to fly alongside his beloved birds. But tragedy strikes again, and his favorite plane gets stuck on top of the very wall he first fell off. Now Humpty Dumpty has to face a hard decision.

Does he let his fall define him or does he get back up again?

Dan Santat’s storytelling and illustrations blend perfectly together to create this vibrant and heartfelt story. With some fun twist and surprises to a tale we all thought we knew, After the Fall will inspire all that read it (trust me, I loved it so much that I bought it for myself). This is not just a book for children, it is a fun reminder to everyone that the important thing is not that you fell, but whether you get back up again.

Cassie Pruyn’s ‘Lena’: A New Kind of Elegy on Love and Loss

After reading Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey and feeling all the raw emotion she so skillfully conveys in her poems, I said to myself, “I will never experience that level of emotion in a book of poetry ever again.”

coverI now stand before you utterly and entirely corrected, as Cassie Pruyn has done that very thing in her collection of poetry, Lena Pruyn brings new meaning and understanding to the elegy, asking not only why we grieve and why we love, but how these experiences have changed us; how the people we love and grieve for have changed us. She skillfully tells a story of love, heartbreak, and loss in one collection of poems. To me, the speaker of each of the poems in this collection is the same woman. The series of poems follows a non-linear timeline, often seeming like the speaker is reliving old memories she made with Lena as she walks in the present time through New Orleans, Louisiana. As she visits various solitary places in New Orleans, like St. Louis Cemetery and Royal Street and the river, and visits in her memory places in New England where she lived in college and where she met Lena, shethe speaker illustrates these memories and the deep and sometimes conflicting emotions they evoke. I felt her passion and her love for Lena, as well as her pain when she and Lena parted ways. I was often overcome with emotion and felt the urge to hug the speaker and tell her everything was going to be okay.

This one tops my list of best poetry collections I have read to date; perhaps, I daresay, even higher than Milk and Honey.

Tom Hanks’ collection ‘Uncommon Type’ are my type of stories

Let it be known that I am a big Tom Hanks fan. Like HUGE. You’ve Got Mail is my favorite movie, and Hanks is my favorite actor. So when I learned that he had a book of short stories coming out, I just had to get my hands on it.

And guess what? America’s dad can actually write.

hanks gif

Uncommon Type is a collection of short stories and Tom Hanks’ first book of fiction. These 17 stories are simple in nature, diverse snapshots of lives from past to future. From a man who decides to date his friend and gets a lifestyle overhaul to a man who keeps bowling the perfect game, these stories are sentimental and sweet, just like Tom.  

There’s a strong sense of nostalgia in this collection, which can best be seen in a four-part series of stories called “Our Town Today with Hank Fiset,” in which a writer comments on the shift from print to digital newspapers and other “good ole days” discussions, via his typewriter (of course). This theme is also strong in “The Past is Important to Us,” a Midnight in Paris-esque story about a man who keeps going back in time (literally) to the World’s Fair 1939.

uncommon typeThere is also, of course, the underlying presence of typewriters. For those of you who don’t know, Hanks has a slight obsession with the machine. He even typed up this collection on one. So he made sure that one crops up in each of his stories in some way, just another element of the “yearning for older times” theme that’s present throughout the book. In particular, “These are the Meditations of My Heart” is all about a woman who falls in love with typewriters.

As I read this collection, I couldn’t help but compare the stories to Hanks’ movies. That WWII veteran reflecting on the friends he lost in “Christmas Eve 1953” gave me images of Saving Private Ryan. The immigrant from a war-torn country in “Go See Costas” reminded me of The Terminal. And “Alan Bean Plus Four” definitely had Apollo 13 vibes. Even minor characters in other stories had me pondering one of the star’s many roles. There’s one story, “Junket in the City of Lights,” about a debut actor’s packed touring schedule that I assume Hanks drew upon personal experiences to write. He even said in an interview that he wrote many of these stories while traveling for films or on press tours.

What I love about this collection the most is how diverse it is. Hanks definitely played around with character, style, and setting to tell a larger story about humanity and how things change over time. The most powerful story in the book is “Go See Costas,” a heartfelt depiction of immigration. But there are also light-hearted, comedic moments in the book to balance out the more emotional ones.

Unlike a lot of stars-turned-author, Hanks actually holds his own as a strong writer. While I think he played it safe and could have done a little more risk-taking with this debut, he is a good storyteller, and I look forward to any more pieces of fiction he comes out with next.

Thankful for Jeffery Eugendies’ ‘Fresh Complaint’

I recently told someone that Fresh Complaint, Jeffery Eugenides’ new collection of short stories, is so well-written I could cry.fresh complaint I lied. I had already cried, specifically while sitting by my apartment’s swimming pool and reading the story “Early Music.” I don’t think anyone saw, but if they had, I would have told them the truth–that one of my favorite authors has reminded me how much I love books, and that I am not sure I will ever be so passionate about anything else.

It all began three Christmases ago when I did something completely out of character: I went home to California without a book. The going home part is normal enough, but I am the type of person who always has a book. Work, coffee with a friend, shopping? There’s probably a book on the front seat of my car or hiding in my purse. My plan was to find something random to read at home, some literary junk food to pass the time. I distinctly remember looking through my shelves one night, thinking, “I should probably start reading more adult fiction,” and picking up The Marriage Plot. That was when I fell in love.

There is something about the way Jeffery Eugenides tells a story. Instead of focusing on plot points or crazy adventures–although his works contain both–he draws the reader towards the characters themselves. He begins by introducing us to a character and her current life. Then he steps into a short flashback, and then another with more details, until we are caught in a whirlwind of the past and the present. When we know the characters as intimately as we know ourselves, Eugenides allows them to progress, or regress, and we proceed with them. In his story “Complainers,” two women become friends despite unlikely circumstances. As they grow older, one moves away and eventually develops dementia. Her friend’s attempts to help are both painful and relatable, set against the backdrop of a snowstorm. “Timeshare” is about a man whose aging parents throw themselves into renovating a motel in Florida. Each person’s feelings towards the property are unique, and it comes to symbolize dreams for reliving life. My favorite story, “Early Music,” is about a man who based his entire higher education on learning to play an early form of the piano. Now, years later, he is called daily by debt collectors asking for his remaining payments on this instrument. Despite having a wife and children to support, he cannot bring himself to give up his dreams in the form of the clavichord.

If you crave intimacy with a character the way I do, you will not get enough of his Eugenides’ writing. On the other hand, the amount of detail is intimidating. People shy away from his novels because they think they are too long, or too detailed, or too boring (none of which are true). I was a bit apprehensive that his short stories wouldn’t incorporate the trademark detail and introspection. But this is exactly why his short stories work so well. In just a few pages, Eugenides is able to capture a person, their entire life, and boil it down to the important scenarios. If you have been intimidated by the sheer length of Middlesex, or bored by the idea of the Marriage Plot, or put-off by the subject of The Virgin Suicides, this is the collection for you. It’s time to stop being afraid and pick up Fresh Complaint.

John Hodgman’s ‘Vacationland’ will make your Thanksgiving grand

If you’re a fan of dry wit and humorous situations, then guess what! I’ve got the perfect book for you. Vacationland by John Hodgman is the book you need to take with you when you go home for the holidays. You may not have heard of John Hodgman’s name, but you’re probably already familiar with him. Hodgman is an author, comedian, and actor who is arguably most famous for his Apple commercials where he portrayed the PC. Hodgman also has a big presence on Twitter, which I would recommend taking a gander at because he’s hilarious while also being socially conscious.

vacationlandVacationland is a collection of nonfiction essays and reflections about things that happened to Hodgman. I was hooked from the first paragraph when he says “Many people have asked me why I grew [my beard], and most of those people are my wife, and to them and to her I say: I don’t know. I’m sorry.” This almost self deprecating humor is a theme throughout his stories. In his first story, “Dump Jail,” he describes the anxiety his father put upon him when he was told to lie to the men that work at the city dump about where he lived. He wonders what would happen if he was caught in the lie; is there a dump jail that he would have to go to? In “Mongering,” he tells about the “loathsome affectations” he cultivated as a teenager such as playing the viola because it was less popular than the violin.

 

John Hodgman will have you ready for Thanksgiving

John Hodgman will have you ready for Thanksgiving

Some of the stories, while still funny, are more poignant than others. In “Daddy Pitchfork,” Hodgman gets a little introspective towards the end of the story. He has just woken up after a night of drinking too much bourbon at a party thrown haphazardly in his honor and feels like he could find a new life waiting outside the door for him. The titular essay “Vacationland” made me tear up, but the story immediately following had me laughing deep belly laughs on the first page.

Here’s where I tell you that I’m a bad bookseller because I don’t really read short pieces. However! I couldn’t resist picking up Vacationland, and I’m so glad I did! I love books that make me laugh out loud, then look up in embarrassment to see if anybody heard. That’s exactly what John Hodgman made me do. Christmas is coming up and if you’re like me, you’ll want a distraction from the all of the family togetherness. This is the distraction you need! I’m terrible at ending blogs so if you still need convincing, come visit me at Lemuria, and I’ll extol the virtues of Vacationland in person.

hodgman toast

Madcap Moon Caper: ‘Artemis’ by Andy Weir

Picture an upbeat thriller about a scrappy dock worker who gets tangled in a web of murder, corporate espionage, and organized crime. Now picture a work of speculative fiction that imagines a future where humanity has industrialized the surface of the moon and turned it into a tourist trap for the very rich. Mix the two together and you’ve got Artemis, the latest from Andy Weir.

Weir burst onto the scene in 2011 when he self-published his debut novel, The Martiana fascinating first-person tale of sarcastic botanist Mark Watney, who is stranded on the surface of Mars, which was adapted into an Oscar-Nominated movie in 2015.mark watney space pirate


Artemis 
is a worthy successor, and is like its predecessor in many ways; utilizing a sarcastic narrator to soften the blow of the heavy, hard-sci-fi concepts that Weir once again throws at the reader.

artemisThat being said, Artemis is not just for fans of Science Fiction. In a literary landscape dominated by seriousness, Artemis offers something different; a fun adventure with a backdrop that still touches on many social issues, but doesn’t allow them to overtake the story. It is an escape into a future that may not be necessarily bright, but is certainly exciting and has the reader, consistently curious as to what would happen next.

The novel takes place on the eponymous moon colony, “Artemis”, which is essentially a series of metal bubbles stuck to the surface of the moon. Artemis is divided between luxurious sections that cater to the rich tourists and the even richer inhabitants of the colony, and some that house the impoverished factory workers and tradesmen that are necessary to keep Artemis alive.

Our protagonist, Jazz Bashara, is the daughter of a welder and an aspiring smuggler who uses her position in the loading bay to sneak contraband in and sell it to wealthy residents, but when one of her clients offers her a large sum of money for a less-than-legal job, she is pulled into the criminal underground that she never knew existed.

One of the strongest qualities of the book is its characters; they are uniquely driven, expertly described, and surprisingly colorful. Jazz is sardonic, biting, and cynical in the best ways, and makes for a relatable narrator whose perspectives and descriptions really make the book inimitable and kept me laughing throughout. So, even if you think science fiction isn’t your thing, Artemis may still be for you, so come by our sci-fi section this week and get a copy; you won’t regret it.

Signed first editions of Artemis are available on our website.

Reel to Real: ‘Our Souls at Night’ is a tender elegy about love

Kent Haruf passed away of cancer in November of 2014, shortly thereafter his final novel Our Souls at Night was published.our souls at night pb Our Souls at Night is now a film on Netflix starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. But, I encourage you to read this great author’s last novel before seeing it. It’s beautifully written and it will only take you an afternoon.

Haruf wrote this novel during the time in his life that he knew he was dying. He chose to write about finding love in the last chapters of these characters’ lives in spite of his reality.

Louis and Addie are neighbors, they’ve know each other for awhile…but just as friends. Louis lost his wife about a year earlier and Addie has been widowed for some time now. Both are in their seventies and are a bit lonely, but getting by just fine on their own. Addie, who has trouble sleeping at night, makes a suggestion that they begin sleeping together. Just sleeping in the same bed, talking, staying with each other through the night…companionship.

As the nights go by, they learn about each of their histories; their past spouses, their children, their fears and what they both still want out of life at their age. They help one another in different ways: emotionally, mentally, and physically.  Addie’s son is having some issues with his own son, so her grandson Jamie comes to stay with her for the summer. Addie and Louis help Jamie through a tough time and we learn that love is needed during all stages of life.

They start to have outings together, and people begin to notice their fondness of one another. They deal with rumors about the two of them that run through their small town, but even still…grow closer.

It’s about love, and it’s about loneliness and loss; friendships young and old, family and non-family. This is a book for literally anyone that wants a few hours of pure joy. I laughed and I cried, all in one sitting. The love and friendship between Addie and Louis is so real, I could feel it. This is a short read, but oh….it is so perfect. Haruf knew what he wanted out of this book and it’s superb.

Johnny Be Good: 3 ‘John’ Books You Have Probably Heard About

“John” is one of the most common names in the English language.

Go, Johnny, Go

Go, Johnny, Go

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that some of book publishing’s hottest commodities share the same cognomen. Two of the books I’m about to talk about were written by a John and published in October, and the other one a John is responsible for and, while not quite new, would make a great gift this holiday season.

John Green, in addition to appearing to YouTube on the Vlogbrothers and Crash Course channels, is responsible for some of this generations most memorable YA titles, such as Looking for Alaska, Paper Towns, and the ubiquitous The Fault in Our Stars. The latter two were made into movies, so you’ve probably heard of his works even if his name isn’t familiar. After a five-year publishing hiatus, Green returns with his new novel, Turtles All the Way Down.

turtles all the way downTurtles All the Way Down tells the story of Aza Holmes as she hangs out with her over-the-top friend Daisy, is awkwardly romanced bt her childhood friend Davis Pickett, and searches for clues as to what happened to the missing, tuatara-obssessed, shady local billionaire Russell Pickett (who also happens to be Davis’s father). Meanwhile, Aza struggles to live her daily life while continuously caught in her “thought spirals,” which is her shorthand for explaining the will-destroying nightmare that living with obsessive-compulsive disorder can be.

While Turtles has a touch of romance (and only a fraction of the turtles promised by the titles), it is far less melodramatic than the teenage cancer star-crossed romance that The Fault in Our Stars was perceived by some to be. Aza and her illness are thoughtfully represented by Green, who suffers from OCD himself. Although your mileage may vary, I also highly enjoyed the madcap levity that best friend Daisy provides. It’s an evolution in his writing, but still definitely a John Green work that both long-time fans and hopefully some new readers will really appreciate.

rooster barSpeaking of madcap hi-jinks, John Grisham released his second mystery novel for adults this year (Camino Island, an intensely readable Fitzgerald manuscript heist, came out in June). This book, The Rooster Bar (which has even fewer roosters than the previous book had turtles) tells the story of three low-rent law students moving from scam-to-scam in the wake of a tragic suicide of a friend and in the shadow of impending student loan debt and professional misery. Friends Mark, Todd, and Zola stop studying for the bar exam, attempting to practice law out of an actual bar on the far side of Washington D.C. from the substandard, for-profit law school they just dropped out of so they can attempt to hustle legal fees in traffic court and hospital cafeterias. They also use information left behind from their lost friend to (hopefully) nail the guy at the top of the disgusting-but-not-actionable law school scheme.

The Rooster Bar has one of those grand conspiracies that has become a Grisham hallmark, but those who seek to uncover it are not out for justice; they’re out for themselves. They not only skirt the rule of law; they barely seem to understand its intricacies. But, hey, when you enroll at a law school called Foggy Bottom, you deserve what you get. Plenty of rich atmospherics highlight a book that combines the the scheming of The Brethren with the delicious sleaziness of Rogue Lawyer. Both the plot and the main characters end up in a place you’d least suspect.

As for the final book I’d like to talk about, I can only repeat a familiar refrain: let’s talk Jackson. Ken Murphy’s luscious photography dominates the book, but I can assure you that it would not exist without the will and insistence of Lemuria owner John Evans.

JXNLAMAR-2TI’ve lived in the Jackson area all my life, and I love this city. I’ve spent a lot of time in Belhaven, Fondren, Downtown, the Interstate corridor, and parts all over. I find something new to love all the time, or  I rediscover a spot once visited that tugs me back into the past. Although the Jackson this book captures is frozen in the specific period of 2013-14 (here’s a neat trick: compare the Lemuria cover to the view from a half-flight up Banner Hall’s staircase and see what noticeable feature is flipped), there’s a timeless quality to the sense of place the photographs capture. Murphy’s beautiful, mostly depopulated photos allow us to imagine ourselves among the beautiful scenes of the city we share, in both memory and possibility. If you haven’t already checked out one of Jackson books, a Lemuria exclusive, I highly encourage you to do so.

‘Ranger Games’ is Lemuria’s inaugural pick for our Nonfiction FEC

I am thrilled to introduce our newest First Editions Club on Lemuria’s blog. This new club will focus specifically on compelling, eye-opening nonfiction. We will still look for collectible authors and debut books, but we will select  6 to 10 books each year rather than one book each month. As with our original First Editions Club, members of the new FEC for Nonfiction Readers will receive the highest quality, signed first editions covered in protective mylar jackets. I’m very excited to announce our inaugural selections, Ranger Games by Ben Blum (appearing Thursday, November 2) and Sticky Fingers by Joe Hagan (appearing Friday, November 3). Both authors will be at Lemuria later this week for events.

The original FEC, now called the First Editions Club for Fiction Readers, will continue with the same mix of novels, short story collections, and standout nonfiction with a strong narrative element such as Hue 1968.

Our first NONFICTION pick:

ranger games

In Ranger Games, Ben Blum delivers a powerful and deeply personal story, oscillating between investigation and memoir, psychological profile, and cultural criticism. On August 7, 2006, Alex Blum, the author’s cousin, participated in a bank robbery in Tacoma, Washington. Alex was on his final leave before his first deployment as an Army Ranger. He was 19. That “inexplicable crime” lies at the core of Ranger Games, an inscrutable question pulling the many tangents of Ben’s investigation into orbit. Ben circles this black hole by delving into the infamous Ranger Indoctrination Program, Alex’s problematic defense of brainwashing, his Ranger superior Luke Elliott Somner, and the affecting maneuvers of the rest of the Blum family.

This is a messy, convoluted, and achingly long search for Ben, tirelessly recounted in dynamic and moving writing.

It’s a book that defies easy classification. Mary Gaitskill comments, “Ranger Games is one of those rare books that illuminates its subject beyond what you thought possible—and then transcends its subject to become something more.”

I get the sense that Ben Blum is devoted to telling the whole story, to revealing the bigger, more profound and more complicated truth for Alex, for himself, and for us. I am very much looking forward to meeting the author of this tangled, swirling, and strong debut book.

Ben Blum will be at Lemuria on Thursday, November 2, at 5:00 p.m. to sign copies of Ranger Games. The reading will begin at 5:30 p.m.

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