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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Talulla Rising by Glen Duncan

Talulla Rising is book two in Glen Ducan's The Last Werewolf trilogy. The first book, The Last Werewolf, came out in 2011 to much fanfare. I didn't think it lived up to the hype, but I still think it's a book that horror fans might like to check out. It's certainly nowhere near the literary heights of horror classics like Dracula or Frankenstein, but it does bring a grown-up werewolf to the contemporary literary scene.

Let me start with what I liked about Talulla Rising:

I like the world Duncan has created, even if I don't always admire how he executes the story. It's a world where werewolves and vampires are physically repellant to one another. Most humans seem oblivious to the monsters in their midst, but a small paramilitary organization is out to capture or kill them. Vampires get "vampire burnout" from living forever and not being able to eat real food or have sex or walk in the sunshine: vampires are depressives,"centuries of no sunlight. Seasonal Affective Disorder on a massive scale." Werewolves live about 400 years and even Jake Marlowe from book one was ready to be done with it after only 200 years of eating, shagging, and walking in the sunshine. There is some good, dark humor throughout the story.

Jake's advice to Talullah that she keep reading will tug at the heart and library card of most bibliophiles: "Literature is humanity's broad-minded alter-ego, with room in its heart even for monsters, even for you. It's humanity without the judgement. Trust me, it'll help." She thinks of his words after noticing the pages of Moll Flanders fluttering on the table near an open window. How can anyone not appreciate that sentiment or image?

Duncan also won me over with the idea of species sympathy: "a feeling of accommodating something you never imagined you'd have room for. At the time I'd thought: that's what God wants us to do, find room for each other the way He finds room for Everything." Least you think this book has gone soft or religious, the sprouting of Talulla's species sympathy gets its energy from a moment in the past when she secretly sniffed her best friend's recently worn underwear.

This species sympathy is part of a huge shift that's underway in Talullah Rising and which I'm assuming will play out in book three, By Blood We Live (click here to read a NYT interview where Duncan mentions the title).

Overall, however, Talulla Rising lands a bit lower on my rating scale than did its predecessor, The Last Werewolf.

There's some poor, uneven writing throughout, particularly in the first 100 pages or so when it seems that Duncan was still looking for Talulla's voice. In the beginning she sounds exactly like Jake Marlowe (the last werewolf character of book one) and even uses male slang to describe her own masturbatory act. I've never heard a woman say she "jerked off." Perhaps it's a British thing.

I'd need to give the book a second reading to sort out the vast array of sexual violence and stereotypes about women, men, rape, and motherhood (there's lots of angst about motherhood). In short it seems that Talullah's voracious female libido has to be counterbalanced by rape, prostitution, domestic violence, and/or the pornographic subjugation of women. It's like feminism never happened. I'm all for a healthy libido and it would be refreshing to see a woman character have one that can stand on its own.

Another sexual device that I found offensive is Talulla's teasing speculation about not if, but when she'll have sex with another woman. Sure, Jake Marlowe had sex with a few guys over the 200 year span of his werewolf existence, but this hint of woman-on-woman sex came off like a cheap Hollywood ploy designed to keep some people watching (or reading).

And speaking of characters, don't get me started on Mr. Walker. He's a walking, talking, plastic stereotype and the plot twist regarding him toward the end, with the help of the babysitter, is a cheap deus ex machina.

I had a hard time suspending my disbelief with the non-supernatural aspects of this novel. I'm hoping book three will rely less on stereotypes and cheap tricks and have more species sympathy.

If you really liked The Last Werewolf, you'll no doubt want to rush out to your local bookstore and pick up Talulla Rising. If you thought The Last Werewolf was just so-so, I recommend you check it out of the library. If you didn't like The Last Werewolf, I imagine you'd like the follow-up even less so, but you never know.

Talulla Rising
Glen Duncan
Knopf/Doublday, June 26, 2012
Source: review copy via netGalley

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Library: Seattle, WA (Fremont Branch)

Fremont Branch
731 N. 35th St.
Seattle, WA 98103
website

Happy Summer Solstice! What better day than today to share this post on the Fremont Branch of the Seattle Library System?

The good folks in Fremont take Summer Solstice seriously and have been celebrating it since 1972 with their very own Fremont Fair. I've recently returned from a trip to visit family in Seattle and although I left just prior to the Fair I did get to visit the beautiful Fremont Branch Library. We made a quick stop there one afternoon to pick up next month's book club selection (A Visit from the Goon Squad). I've been to this branch before and was happy to have my camera along as this is one unique and beautiful Carnegie library.

About the library:
  • Grant date: January 6, 1901. (From what I gather, Seattle received a lump sum from Carnegie for a main library and branch libraries. $35,000 was set aside for Fremont).
  • Fremont Branch opened: July 27, 1921
  • Architect: Daniel R. Huntington
  • Style: Mission
Depending on which source you consult, the twenty year delay from the grant award to the library's completion was due to budget issues, World War I, or the residents of Fremont not being able to agree on where they wanted the branch or what design they preferred. Click here for a history of the library in Fremont written by David Wilma on Washington State's HistoryLink.org.

The distinctive white stucco and red tile make you want to stop and admire the design.
Running into the front entrance.
The main room to the left. Circulation.
The main room when you walk in to the right. Standing at reference.

A vertical shot so you can see the height of the warm, wood ceiling.
Window detail.

Back door, office windows to the right.

Book return.
New plaque from the major renovation completed in 2005.

"Seattle Public Library, Fremont Branch. This building was erected in the year nineteen hundred twenty one with funds provided by Andrew Carnegie. Generous contributions from local residents formed a substantial part of the purchase price of the site."

I wish I had more pictures to share of this beautiful library, but as we were parked a wee bit illegally, this was a grab and dash visit.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Lost Lady: Thoughts & Comments

Hello again, Cather fans! For those of you who haven't yet read A Lost Lady, you might like to check out the intro post on this novel here.

My Thoughts
Cather, July 1922 at Breadloaf
Reading A Lost Lady right after One of Ours was an interesting experience. For one, there's the difference in length. One of Ours was long, coming in at 459 pages, whereas A Lost Lady is only 159 pages. Cather herself thought that perhaps it was too short to stand on its own. Mr. and Mrs. Knopf assured her that was not the case, that A Lost Lady stood alone just as strongly as did Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome.

But we all know length can be deceptive. As a bookseller I always advised high schoolers coming in to buy their summer reading to read the first few pages of the books that looked interesting to them rather than just picking the small or short ones. A short novel can be such a slog to get through whereas a long novel can be a breeze.

A Lost Lady is both short and a deceptively calm breeze. In fact, when I finished it I was left with more of a sense of feeling than anything concrete. Well, that's not exactly true. That woodpecker scene left me with some pretty concrete horror. It was only in thinking about that scene that others came back to me, vividly, and often juxtaposed: the elegant dinner the Forresters host vs. Mrs. Forrester's dinner with the local boys; Mrs. Forrester's sleigh ride with Frank Ellinger vs. her mad dash to town during a storm to telephone him.

But speaking of juxtaposition makes the story sound heavy-handed, and it is anything but. I am in awe of how deftly Cather unfolds Niel's gradual disillusionment with Marian Forrester from his days as a boy to young adulthood. I've read the novel a couple times now and find it challenging to read it critically, with an eye to seeing how Cather does what she does, without getting swept up in the beauty of her style and the story itself.

Things I've Been Pondering
I've been thinking about how O Pioneers!, The Song of the Lark, and My Antonia are referred to as Cather's Prairie Trilogy. As much as I admire The Song of the Lark, it seems to me that a stronger  trilogy grouping would be O Pioneers!, My Antonia, and A Lost Lady, both as a history of Nebraska settlement and growth, as well as representative of Cather's own life experience. O Pioneers! is all about hope, hardship, and fruition. My Antonia depicts the move from sod houses into frame houses and town life which are the result of fruition. A Lost Lady depicts the corruption of that fruition and the descent into crass materialism.

Granted, many of Cather's novels at least touch on these themes and I realize how important The Song of the Lark is to understanding and appreciating Cather's life and art, but it is a slog for many readers, some of whom are left wondering why it was considered part of trilogy (if they're aware of the grouping).

I'm thinking about this revised trilogy grouping in terms of increasing Cather's popular readership. People do like trilogies and O Pioneers!, My Antonia, and A Lost Lady seem to be a stronger grouping in terms of style and content.

What do you think? Does anyone know when or why the Prairie Trilogy concept originally came into use?

Share Your Thoughts!
What do you think of A Lost Lady? Whether this was your first reading or your fifth, I look forward to hearing your thoughts about the book, even if it's just a sentence.

Please leave your comments below, however long or short (or leave a link to your blog post, Goodreads review, etc.). This is an open forum, so please feel free to reply to one another.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Summer Reading Recommendations 2012

Do you read more or less during the summer months? I'm not sure if I actually do read more in the summer or if it's just that I think about and plan more of what I'm going to read during the summer months. 

I was unable to participate in last week's #summerreading hash tag fest on Twitter, but I'm throwing my hat into the ring here with some summer recommendations of my own. 

Some of these I've read and others I'm looking forward to diving into--

Mystery/Suspense
  • Bent Road by Lori Roy: I recently read a review copy and was blown away by this Edgar Award winning novel. It is a beautifully written, atmospheric suspense novel set in Kansas in the late 1960s. The simplistic style belies its complexity. An outstanding read if you appreciate a strong sense of place and well-crafted characters who are tied to place and circumstance.
  • Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon Series is perfect summer reading because you can do some arm chair traveling--each book in the series is set in a different National Park with a mystery appropriate to and/or "in sync" with the landscape.
  • Louise Penny's The Beautiful Mystery is coming out August 28, 2012.  I adore Penny's Chief Inspector Gamache Series and will spend the summer counting down yo the release of this book. This will be Penny's eighth entry in the series. Don't be a fool like me and delay reading this well written and thoughtful series. Start now.
Sci-Fi
  • Callahan's Crosstime Saloon by Spider Robinson: recently read this one for book group. Published in 1977 it's a collection of related stories set in Callahan's bar. It's packed with references to the 60s/70s (Nixon, Watergate, Vietnam) and social issues that are still relevant today.
  • Dana Stabenow's Star Svensdotter Series: I recently read the first book in this series, Second Star (it's available for free download here). I'm not a hug sci-fi fan, because sometimes the worlds that are created are just too complex to keep straight or they don't interest me, but Stabenow creates a society and characters that I care about. Stabenow is best known for her Kate Shugak series which I also recommend.
Horror
  • The Swarm by Frank Schatzing: This book has been on my shelves for a couple years. Since I don't have a beach vacation planned this year, I'm thinking it's safe to read now. It was a bestseller in Germany for over two years.
  • Tallulah Rising by Glen Duncan: This is book two of Duncan' werewolf trilogy. There was much hype surrounding the first book, The Last Werewolf, which I read and was left with mixed feelings. However, I was intrigued enough by book one to finish it and am looking forward to seeing how book two of this planned trilogy comes off.
Young Adult
  • Scars and Hunted by Cheryl Rainfield: Both novels are great reads for teens or adults. Scars is an award winning novel that deals with a girl who cuts herself and Hunted is a sci-fi thriller about a girl who lives in a society that persecutes people for paranormal powers. See Cheryl's website for details on both books.
  • The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss is technically not a young adult novel, although I've seen it shelved in some YA sections in bookstores. It's a solid adventure/fantasy read for folks of high school age or older who like Harry Potter. Plus, it's big, thick book in which to get lost for a while.
Biography
  • Taking My Life by Jane Rule: Her novel, Desert of The Heart, (and the movie, Desert Hearts) had a big impact on me as a young adult.  Although I haven't read anything else by Rule, the reviews of this book have captured my interest. Her reputation as one of the most important lesbian writers of the twentieth century seems to have been lost in the U.S., but is perhaps more alive and well in Canada, her adopted country.
  • The Peabody Sisters by Megan Marshall: I was enthralled by Elizabeth Peabody in graduate school and read Louise Hall Tharp's dated 1950 biography of the sisters. I purchased Marshall's book when it came out in 2005 and plan to make this the summer that I actually read it. The Peabody Sisters are often called "the American Brontes." Elizabeth was a great mover and thinker; Mary was a reformer who married Horace Mann; Sophia married Nathaniel Hawthorne.
History
  • The Auschwitz Volunteer: Beyond Bravery by Captain Witold Pilecki: The true account of Pilecki, an officer in the Polish Army and resistance, who volunteered to be captured by the Nazis in a round-up and be sent to Auschwitz to gather intelligence on what was going on inside. I was honored to receive a review copy of this book from the publisher.
  • Sin in the Second City by Karen Abbott: This is one of those books that I've been meaning to read since it first came out (in 2007). I'm a big fan of The Devil in the White City and people who love that book have told me I'll love this one as well. For someone who enjoys Chicago history, I've no idea why it's taken me so long to read this one.
For The Willa Cather Novel Reading Challenge I'll also be reading:
  • June: A Lost Lady
  • July: The Professor's House
  • August: My Mortal Enemy

What are you excited about reading this summer?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Library: Beatrice, Nebraska (New Public Library)

Beatrice Public Library
100 North 16th Street
Beatrice, Nebraska
402-223-3584
website

Opened: November 9, 1991

Operating Budget: $552,567
Registered Users: 6,353
Collection Size: 125,743
Annual Circulation: 129,247
source

It can be a sad experience, visiting a town's new library after seeing the beauty of its historic, no longer in-use library. I'm happy to report this was not the case in Beatrice, Nebraska. The new library, built in 1991, is full of natural light, open space, cozy reading nooks, and friendly staff. The town's old library was a Carnegie, which opened in 1904 (see here).

A view of the front entrance from the parking lot. It's a long, rectangular building.

The front entry cove.

Wonderful mural carved into the brick around the entry.

Close up above the door.

Detail of an old homestead with tree to the left.

Detail of the iconic windmill with tree to the right. Trees have been important to Nebraskans since the first white settlers planted them on the once relatively treeless Great Plains. Arbor Day was the brain child of J. Sterling Morton of Nebraska City.
Close up of the windmill. Dempster, a Beatrice business started in 1878, is still in business.
Circulation.

The main hall.

The adult reading section.

The teen section.

A perfect place for storytime or a book group.
Neat idea in the kids section. I'd love to snuggle down with a good book in this cushy tub. This is the only picture of the kids section because some kids were there enjoying books.
This was was tucked away in a far corner, but it always makes me feel warm and fuzzy to see an actual card catalog in a library.
My favorite founding father, Ben Franklin. Sculpture by G.W Lundeen.

Pardon the glare, but do you know who this is?

Its Nebraska author Mari Sandoz. Her book, Old Jules, a biography of her pioneer father, holds the distinction of being the only book I've literally thrown across the room in disgust. Don't get me wrong, it's a well-written, powerful story. Old Jules, Mari's father, is a real SOB and it was due to him that I threw the book. After calming down I got up and retrieved it and kept reading. I highly recommend it.
Out front.
I visited the Beatrice Public Library before I started the tradition of taking a picture of each library's Willa Cather holdings, but their online catalog returns 152 items when you search her name. Looks like I missed out on a good collection!
 ###

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Library: Beatrice, Nebraska (Old Carnegie Library)


Beatrice City Library
218 North 5th Street
Beatrice, Nebraska

No longer in use as a library.  See the Carnegie Restoration Project website for future plans.

Grant Date: March 14, 1902
Grant amount: $23,000
Architect: George Burlinghof
Style: Beaux-Arts
Opened: January 1, 1904
In use until 1991

Main level originally designed for 16,000 volumes. Lower level included a large open area designed for lectures, exhibits and debates.

The Beatrice City Library was the first Carnegie Library in Nebraska. It was build prior to Carnegie's specifications for libraries using his grant money. (Many towns ran out of funds during the construction of their library or ran into other problems, so Carnegie eventually started requiring certain standards. Beatrice obviously did not have such problems.) When I visited last spring the library was vacant, but plans are in the works for its renovation and re-purposing. Please visit here for information on these efforts, the history of the building, and historic pictures.

The date on the ornamental piece is 1903.

Wish there'd been a person handy to stand in front to show the size of this grand building.
Can you see the boot scraper to the left of the stairs?
Boot scraper.

Cornice and column detail.

A view of the entryway arch from below.

Lions guarding the knowledge within.

Wonderful facial detail and paws with claws.

I like how realistic the tail looks.

A peek through the front doors. Beautiful natural light.

The back door.

The wooden curb out front has nothing to do with the library, but I thought it was neat.

Using modern designs with an old building can sometimes be a challenge!


On Thursday: Pictures of the new Beatrice Public Library on 9th Street. 

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