Tag: Staff Blog (Page 1 of 12)

Family hunts fresh start on the frontier in Kristin Hannah’s ‘The Great Alone’

When I first started working at Lemuria, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah was all the rage. Reader after reader was coming in asking for a copy either for themselves or, if they had already read it, for a friend. I quickly learned where her books were located in the store and because I hadn’t read her before, how to hand sell them. Which got me interested….So, when I heard that she was writing another book, I grabbed an advance copy to get a head start on the reading rush…and I’m really glad I did!

great aloneKristin Hannah’s The Great Alone is a powerful, compelling story of survival — survival both of the natural elements and of the human spirit. The year is 1974, and 13-year-old Leni Allbright is not your average teenager. She lives with her devoted mother, Cora, and her abusive father, Ernt, who was a prisoner of war during Vietnam and has never been the same since.

Not only has Ernt changed, but America is changing after the war as well, and Ernt thinks their best chance at a fresh start is to move off the grid, to America’s last frontier—Alaska. The family leaves everything behind to start over on their own, away from the government and hopefully away from Ernt’s abusive past.

The Allbrights quickly learn that Alaska is a harsh place to live, in summer or in winter. Wild animals are abundant, the elements are unforgiving, and people aren’t always on your side.

Leni is one of a handful of kids that live in the small Alaskan town they move to. She begins to learn what it is like to work for food, comfort, and well being. She makes a friend who becomes her lifeline, and begins to settle into their new life with hope. Leni and her mother Cora finally feel that they have truly started fresh and can move on as a family.

Grizzlies, wolves, and dropping temperatures are the worries outside of the family’s cabin, but as Ernt’s battle with his demons rages on, it’s no safer inside.

Kristin Hannah has pulled together mental illness, survival, love, abuse and family in The Great Alone. The result is a beautifully descriptive, heart-wrenching adventure.

Signed first editions of The Great Alone are still available at Lemuria.

Border Patrol Perspicacity: ‘The Line Becomes a River’ by Francisco Cantú

Lately, I’ve been on a nonfiction kick. There’s something about a true story that engages and connects me more than any other genre. It’s a chance to take part in a conversation that’s happening in the world, allowing the reading experience to go beyond me and the book I’m holding.

line becomes a riverOne such conversation I feel like I’m not that knowledgeable about is immigration. I hear a lot of things, but haven’t really tried reading about the topic myself. So when The Line Becomes a River fell into my hands, I knew it was a chance for me to start listening to that conversation more closely.

The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border is the true account of Arizona native Francisco Cantú, who served as an agent for the United States Border Patrol from 2008-2012. His retired park ranger mother thought he was crazy when he told her that he’s going to go work at the border, but Cantú is determined to immerse himself in a place he has spent the past few years studying.

The book is structured into three parts. The first two are comprised of vignettes about Cantú’s work with the border patrol, both out in the field and behind a desk. Taken from his journal entries during those years, he writes about rescuing stranded migrants out in the desert, tracking drug smugglers, and researching the Mexican cartels. These snapshots of life along the border paint a vivid picture of a place few really understand.

Cantú’s experience proves that things aren’t always black and white out at the border. The numerous characters he encounters cross between countries with all kinds of intentions, and Cantú often struggles to make sense of his duty to his job and his moral duty. Plagued by strange dreams, he fears losing his humanity in a profession where the line between guilty and innocent is often a thin one.

The third part of the book has the strongest narrative and was what really sealed the story as a winner for me. It follows Cantú after he leaves the Border Patrol and is working at a coffee shop. His friend, José, gets detained coming back to the U.S. after visiting his dying mother in Mexico. José, though an undocumented migrant, is a hard worker with a family and an entire community that rallies to support him during his trial. Cantú offers a realistic and heartbreaking account of what families like José’s go through.

Cantú’s writing is strong. I love how he blends in the history of the border, as well as Spanish dialect and local color to make the narrative more authentic. Cantú is anything but preachy, letting his personal encounters do most of the storytelling, hoping that his internal conflict stirs something in the reader as well.

I really enjoyed Cantú’s interactions with his mother in the book. The daughter of a Mexican immigrant, she acts as a voice of reason and great contrast to the harsh environment that Cantú is being exposed to on a daily basis.

I think we can all relate on some level to Cantú, who at first wants to ignore what happens to people once he rescues them from the desert and delivers them to detention. But, as is the case with his friend, José, it’s not so easy to ignore the outcome once you or a loved one is put in that situation.

Overall, I recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about what is happening on the border or anyone who thinks they know. It’s an eye-opening book that humanizes a minority in a tension-filled political climate.

Join the conversation: Francisco Cantú will be signing copies of The Line Becomes a River at Lemuria on Monday, April 9 at 5:00 pm. The Line Becomes a River has been selected for Lemuria’s First Edition Club for Nonfiction Readers.

Reality Sent Reeling: ‘Woman in the Window’ by A.J. Finn

The last couple of years has seen an upswing in “missing woman” fiction, leaving me considering two things: why are we so excited about missing women and when would the embers of trend’s durability finally burn out? Then I picked up A.J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window. woman in the windowI said, “Self?” and myself said, “Hmm?” And I replied, “Sis, this book is good. It’s pretty good…. I mean, it’s REALLY GOOD.” And before you question my sanity, I let you in on a not-so-secret secret: I often have conversations with myself about something that speaks to me, or rather, enraptures me. Besides, once you begin reading this fast-paced psychological thriller, you’ll not only question the narrator’s sanity, you’ll be critiquing your on perspective about the world around you, the validity of your memories, and your own perception of the people we probably talk to the least: our neighbors. Oh, and if you’re a cinephile like me, this book will give you all the feels for Alfred Hitchcock’s most popular films.

Woman opens with Anna Fox, a former child psychologist confined to her New York City apartment because of agoraphobia, a type of anxiety disorder where a person fears places or situations that may be difficult to escape. But not only is she virtually imprisoned because of her condition, she is bound by the shame of not engaging with the outside world. She maintains relationships with her husband and daughter via telephone and feels guilty because she isn’t emotionally and physically available to them. Her only solace is watching film classics like Vertigo and Rear Window, spying on her neighbors with her Nikon, playing online chess, and counseling others in agoraphobia support chat rooms.

stewart camera

Not to mention mixing medication and guzzling endless glasses of Merlot. Then the Russells move in across the street, and Anna is immediately drawn to them: a perfect family that mirrors what used to be hers. But after a friendly visit from Mrs. Russell, Anna’s daily spy session from her bedroom window is turned upside down when she witnesses something ghastly in the Russells’ living room. Or did she?

Finn is a master at building the stifling world that has become Anna’s home and her very being. From playing out scenes throughout the day through tightly woven short chapters, to developing Anna’s internal monologue, Finn left me holding my breath and wondering what was going to happen next. Anna Fox is undoubtedly one of the most unreliable narrators of I’ve ever come across, spinning in a haze of what amounts to drug and alcohol abuse. With that being said, Anna is not just a caricature of emotionally instability; she is fraught with complexity and is a mirror of our own anxieties about who we are, how we see ourselves, and what we believe about others.

This page-turner kept me on edge and fed my love of both books and film. If you haven’t guessed it already, I highly recommend this ode to Hitchockian mystery.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to have another conversation with myself. I’ll tell you about it later.

Cut to the ‘Bone’ by Yrsa Daley-Ward

Hello, readers of the Lemuria Blog. I have become known as “the poetry reader” by my coworkers, which I am proud of, as I do love reading and writing about poetry. boneFor the last year and a half, I have loved being able to share different collections from new voices in the poetry world with my coworkers, and with all of you. Unfortunately, this is my last blog for the store, as I have decided to give my full attention to getting my master’s degree and to working as a teaching assistant at my university. So, naturally, I had to make my last blog one of a new collection of poetry, Bone, by one of the most powerful female voices I have read so far: Yrsa Daley-Ward.

Daley-Ward’s poems are raw and emotional, which, as anyone who I have ever talked to about reading poetry knows, is just how I like them. A sharp stab to the feelings, these poems are an outpouring of love and, often at the exact same time, hatred. They explore her complicated relationships with her mother, brother, father, and grandmother. They explore the effects of a staunchly religious upbringing on how she navigates romantic relationships. They explore different identities that often conflict. A few great ones discuss what many are afraid to talk about: mental health. when they askMost importantly, though, the most powerful poems explore the way she coped with abuse and how she grew up thinking that was what love was supposed to be like, because that’s what she endured and what she watched her mother endure. And just to let you know this book isn’t all poems about abuse and mental illness and gloomy subjects, there are poems, toward the end of the collection, about working through the events of her childhood, about healing, and about learning how to love healthily.

My first reaction to this book is one of sadness. As a literature major and huge appreciator of the craft of writing poetry, my second reaction was one of awe (and just a tinge of jealousy). Daley-Ward deftly tells stories through verse that makes you feel for her, and, as I said in my last poetry blog on Cassie Pruyn, made me want to jump into the book and give her a hug, cry with her, and tell her everything would be okay. If you like poetry that is honest, poetry that tells a story without sugarcoating anything, you will like this collection.

Jamie Quatro’s ‘Fire Sermon’ explores desire

By Kelly Pickerill. Special to the Clarion-Ledger Sunday print edition (January 14)

Jamie Quatro’s second book and first novel seems, by the summary, as through it may be an expanded version of one of her stories.

Her first book, a collection of short stories called I Want to Show You More, was populated with characters whose predilections included  running, infidelity, and theology, though not necessarily in that order.

fire sermonWith Fire Sermon (Grove Press), Quatro has proven that she can successfully make something new out of the same materials, and do so in ways that are fearless, boundary-pushing, and exhilarating to read. As she did in More, Quatro plumbs truths about the gratification and restraint of desire, about the intimacy and estrangement of marriage, and about the steadfastness and inconsistency of faith.

Maggie’s marriage to Thomas and their two children seems perfect from the outside–they married young, had two children, and enjoy a comfortable commitment. But an innocent exchange of letters between Maggie and a poet, James, who shares her spiritual acuity, sparks a desire in Maggie that she finds herself helpless to resist.

Quatro uses several storytelling devices throughout the novel–emails, therapy sessions, prayers, poetry, even a sermon. The affair unfolds in pieces that are out of order chronologically, narrated by Maggie in first person. Maggie and Thomas’s story is written in third person, where Maggie is referred to as “the bride” or “she,” but the reader senses it is really Maggie who is narrating at a distance, perhaps removing herself from the memories, from the past.

The more traditional prose sections have a dreaminess about them, as though you’re being told a story by someone close to you, but the memory they’re describing is one you lived, as well, so you have the benefit of remembering while also being reminded.

Some passages read like they happened long ago, the repercussions almost forgotten. Reading others, what’s happening is so immediate you feel like  you might be able to stop it by crying out.

Fire Sermon is a novel that is more than the sum of its parts. Maggie is a real human being, and Quatro’s prose never judges her, so the reader can’t either.

The choices she makes are not necessarily right for anyone, not for Maggie, not for James, not for Thomas. But they’re her choices.

In anyone else’s hands, the level of empathy might not be as strong; Quatro adeptly depicts a messy situation with flawed people in a way that connects us with our own shortcomings.

Jamie Quatro will be at Lemuria on Thursday, January 25, at 5:00 p.m. to sign copies of Fire Sermon and read from the book at 5:30 p.m. Fire Sermon is Lemuria’s January 2018 selection for its First Editions Club for Fiction.

Cozy Books for a Cold Winter

There are a lot of reasons for which I say that I’m blessed. But the most important reason is that when Jackson’s weather reached literal freezing temperatures a few weeks ago, I was in California visiting my family. Mid -70s, people. I know: you’re jealous. Anyway, even though Jackson weather has warmed up, it’s still pretty cold outside. So I’m sharing a few of my favorite cozy, wintertime, bundle-up-with-hot chocolate-and-a-quilt books!

olaf sun

potato peel societyThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society
by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

I’m not usually a fan of novels told through letters, but this book was surprisingly amazing. It’s the story of Juliet Ashton, a writer in search of her next topic, and her love affair with the island of Guernsey. Set in the years just after World War II, Juliet begins by corresponding with the island’s inhabitants and eventually comes to love them so much that she decides to visit. It’s one of those books that needs to be accompanied by a fireplace and a cup of tea–just make sure you can put the cup down while you laugh!

eleanor oliphantEleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
by Gail Honeyman

This is a more recent book, which came out in the middle of last year. Eleanor Oliphant lives a very structured, solitary life until she accidentally becomes friends with a coworker. As the book progresses, you realize Eleanor’s dry wit and attachment to routine stem from an inability to process tragedy. The sweet characters and gentle ways Honeyman deals with brokenness make this novel the perfect balance of cozy and serious.

hazel woodThe Hazel Wood
by Melissa Albert

This YA novel is coming out on January 30, but I got to read an advanced copy and loved it! A girl who cannot remember her past, a collection of twisted fairy tales authored by her grandmother, and an unpredictable adventure, this story goes a step beyond magical realism while staying grounded in a contemporary mindset. The old-world fairy tales and slightly dark storytelling style made me want to curl up in bed and just keep reading.

capture the castleI Capture the Castle
by Dodie Smith

Written in the 1940s, this YA classic came recommended by a friend a few years ago, and I was instantly in love. Cassandra is a young girl whose family lives in relative poverty in a renovated castle. There’s her unproductive–novelist father, her flamboyant and nature-loving step-mother, her romantic sister, her logical brother, and the sentimental boy who has always lived with them. Add to the mix two handsome brothers–their new landlords–and you have a novel in which anything can happen. I reread this one over Christmas break and its delightful, old-fashioned nature was perfect for nights spent reading.

Not in Our Stars, But in Ourselves: ‘The Immortalists’ by Chloe Benjamin

The year is 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side and the Gold siblings have heard rumors of a mystical psychic living in their area. This rumored gypsy-lady claims to be able to tell anyone the exact date that they will die. The siblings, all under the age of thirteen, decide to visit the woman together and then–one at a time–learn the exact date of their death. Such is the setup for Chloe Benjamin’s new novel, The Immortalists.

immortalistsOnce they have stepped out of her door, their lives and how they live them have forever been changed. Each sibling’s story of how they manage their decisions in life knowing when they will die is then told in moving and powerful chapters.

Simon, the youngest, has his story told first– it follows him as he moves to San Francisco, young and looking for love in the 1980s. We then move on to Klara’s magical world as she becomes a preforming magician obsessed with fantasy and blurring the lines of reality. Daniel is next; he becomes an army doctor post 9/11, hoping to control fate, even if it’s not his own. Lastly, we have Varya who has completely thrown herself into her work: longevity research, testing the boundaries between science and immorality.

Each story holds your attention, even though you know the outcome. It’s almost impossible to not become emotionally invested in each sibling. Benjamin has written a rich and thought provoking novel on the nature of believing. How does learning when you will die, even if it could be untrue, determine how you live your life in the present? Is our time of death predetermined, or can we play a part in changing our destiny? This fascinating read leaves you dreaming for long afterward.

Signed first editions of The Immortalists are currently available.

Aimee’s New Year’s Resolution: Read the Classics

My New Year’s Resolution for 2018 is not fitness, money, or travel related. Instead, I am going to try to read at least one classic novel a month. You might laugh and think to yourself, “That’s it? That’s kind of lame.” From someone who’s never really enjoyed older books, aside from the occasional Jane Austen novel, it’ll be interesting to see if I can pull this off! Classic novels tend to remind me of my high school reading, and we all know that reading isn’t fun when it’s something that’s mandatory. I’m trying to make the old classics fun again; I’m already enjoying planning out what books I definitely want to read.

So many books, so little time...

So many books, so little time…

What classifies as a classic novel? Certainly anything found in our classics section at Lemuria, but my first choice, which I will tell you about in a little bit, can be found in our general fiction area. I decided to look up a definition and found that there’s no actual checklist for picking and choosing what gets classified as a classic or not. I did find a good list that is helping me set my criteria for my list.

  • A classic expresses artistic quality.
  • A classic stands the test of time.
  • A classic has a certain universal appeal.
  • A classic makes connections.

we have always lived in the castleSo, with these bullet points in mind, what did I pick as my first classic novel? I have started with We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. This is a book I have been wanting to read for a while, so I figured I would dip my toes in the classics water before diving into Oscar Wilde or Charles Dickens. Since this book was published in 1962, it’s one of the newer classics on my list. So far, I’m enjoying it; I’ve been told it’s kind of scary, so we’ll see if I’m still enjoying when I get further into it.

Another newer one on my list is A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. I’ll be honest and confess that I’ve started this one before, but put it down because I couldn’t quite get into it. Now, that I’m a little older (and debatably wiser), I will give it another go. I’m going to be cheesy and coordinate some of the books to the time of year they remind me of. A Christmas Carol in December, Northanger Abbey (a romance) in February, Treasure Island in September (Talk Like a Pirate day… I know, it’s a stretch). I’m still looking for a few more to round my list to 12, so feel free to leave me some suggestions next time you come into Lemuria!

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.

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