Saturday, December 20, 2014

December 2014 Staff Book Recommendations

December 20, 2014

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
By Cheryl Strayed 

Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild, details the author’s journey hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in an effort to walk herself back to “the woman [her] mother raised.” After her mother’s death, Strayed’s family drifts apart. At the age of twenty-six she is divorced, orphaned and overcoming a heroin addiction. The hike is a desperate attempt not to reinvent herself but to find her herself again. The book opens with a snap shot of Strayed in the middle of the hike resting barefoot near a ledge she watches in horror as one of her hiking boots topples over the edge. The absolute catastrophe of this is obvious: she is alone in the wilderness miles from civilization with only one boot. What next? 

There are two aspects of this story that Strayed excels in capturing. The first is the absolute shock of grieving for a parent at such a young age. Strayed describes feeling cheated and disbelieving when her mother dies before reaching the age of fifty. But she also touches on how grief can make us forget that our loved ones were not perfect. There is a moment while Strayed is walking the PCT when she realizes that she hasn’t cried once since starting. It’s the longest she’s gone since losing her mother. 

The second thing that Strayed perfectly depicts is the experience of hiking the PCT as a lone woman. While her male friends claim that she gets special treatment from strangers as a female, they are not aware of the constant threat of rape and violence that hangs over her with every step she takes. The most poignant illustration of this is the night that Strayed meets a pair of hunters in the woods. They enter her personal space, demand assistance with purifying their drinking water and then proceed to make lewd comments about her body. In this moment it is painfully obvious that the men could do anything they wanted to her. When she tries to move on and escape their presence one of the men becomes angry and claims that she should feel “complimented” by their attention. Rather than walk she runs as far as she can to get away from them. 

This memoir is compelling, heart wrenching and thought provoking. Strayed’s tone is alternately gritty and lyrical. She describes the realities of long distance hiking in unflinching detail while also using beautiful language to evoke the memory of her mother. It’s a worthwhile read for anyone who’s ever lost someone or felt as if they’d lost themselves. 

--Chelsea

December 16, 2015 

Broken Monsters 
By Lauren Beukes 

This literary thriller by accomplished author Lauren Beukes starts off weird, and gets weirder. Dedicated Detroit cop Gabriella Versado finds the body of a dead boy, dumped under an underpass, but she only finds part of him. His torso has been brutally severed and stitched onto the legs of a deer. She has very little to go on…consult taxidermists? Voodoo experts? Could it be gang related? While she investigates, we also follow the stories of others in Detroit: the detective’s teenage daughter; a hipster ‘journalist’, recently displaced from New York by heartbreak; a man called the “Homeless Hero” who works at the shelter and looks out for everyone around him. We hear from each of these characters every day as the tension builds. How will their lives intersect? The journalist, Jonno, gets an in to the Detroit art scene from an attractive female DJ, who shows him the secret world of graffiti around the city. He decides he is a video journalist and begins documenting everything he sees, eventually capturing footage that may greatly help the police. The detective's daughter and her best friend stumble into vigilantism as they convince an online pedophile to meet them in real life. Meanwhile, he body count grows. The characters daily lives fit together like a puzzle, which converges one night at a wild warehouse party/art installation where the serial killer is trying to showcase his morbid masterpiece. 

Broken Monsters is well-researched, and the characters ring true, from the detective to the “Homeless Hero.” The internet could be said to be another main character in this book, as we are given chat records, Youtube video play-by-plays, and even a Reddit AMA. As a reader who knows little about Detroit’s culture and only of its financial trouble, this was an illuminating read and piqued my interest in learning more. The grotesque nature of the crimes, especially the final scenes in the killer’s bizarre hideout nest in an abandoned factory, are very reminiscent of the TV show "True Detective".

--Kate

December 9, 2014 

Fireball: Carole Lombard and The Mystery of Flight 
By Robert Matzen 

This is an ebook downloadable from Overdrive on the Worcester Public Library website. Matzen's book explores the violent crash of Flight 3 into Mt. Potosi, Nevada on the night of January 16, 1942. Lombard, at the height of her immense popularity, died, along with twenty one other people, including her mother. 

 Fireball scrutinizes, in alternating chapters, the life of Lombard and Hollywood, and the events leading up to and the aftermath of the terrible crash. The events in these alternating chapters leave one with a powerful sense of fate at work, a tragic fate that could have no other ending. Lombard was married to the legendary actor Clark Gable at the time of the crash and Lombard was barnstorming America to sell War Bonds when she refused to disembark the plane for servicemen who were a priority at the time. She had been barnstorming by rail. The irony in this is that at one point she nearly gave up her career due to an accident but tenaciously fought her way back through recovery. 

Matzen's book is very thorough in its details. To his credit, he tells the stories of all the victims even though the focus is on celebrities. He also analyzes the investigations into Flight 3 by government agencies and even sabotage theories. The book is a look at Hollywood, a country at war, soldiers, pilots, and the mystery of the tragedy. Readers should be braced for some graphic passages. However, when all is read, Matzen's book is an honest and very empathetic page turner of a famous actress's life in the golden age of film and her untimely death. This book is highly recommended for movie fans, aviation history buffs, and anyone interested in American social life in the 30's and 40's. 

--Bill

December 1, 2014 

Belzhar 
By Meg Wolitzer 

Take a group of troubled teens, a Vermont boarding school, and journals which when used pull the writer into a time warp where he can re-live and re-experience a part of his life, and you have an interesting concept for a novel. Meg Wolitzer’s latest novel Belzhar is taut story about a group of emotionally traumatized teens in a private Vermont therapeutic boarding camp named The Wooden Barn. 

The novel focuses on a female student Jam and her relationship with a British exchange student, Reeve, with whom she has fallen in love. The group is selected to participate in a prestigious class called Special Topics in English led by the reclusive and strict teacher Mrs. Quenell. She assigns a journal writing task to the group, and eventually, each student is pulled back into the netherworld of their respective trauma whenever they start writing in their journal. Wolitzer’s students and the specific traumas they must deal with to overcome the psychic paralysis in their lives give the story a strong sense of suspense and other worldliness as each student, under the mentoring of Mrs. Quenell, resurrects their former self in dealing with their past trauma. A sub-plot in this story features one student’s refusal to be released from her past and this drama leads to the climax of the novel. 

Wolitzer’s novel is entertaining, suspenseful, and deals with gaining emotional and psychological maturity in a context to which many young readers will be able to relate. Additionally, her ear for teen dialog, school social scenes, and relationships between teachers, parents, and siblings flow realistically and flesh out a novel which, in less talented hands, could have veered too far into the weird. 

--Bill

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