Thursday, December 29, 2016

Treasures from the Worcester Room: A Historical Feud!

Some of my favorite books in our Worcester Room collection are books that have to do with Worcester's most influential citizens throughout its long, proud history.  Unquestionably, any list of famous Worcesterites would have to include renowned historian and politician George Bancroft. Bancroft is the namesake of both the prestigious Bancroft Prize for history, as well as Worcester's Bancroft Tower.  However, you don't get to that level of influence without making a few enemies along the way, which is why our Worcester Room collection includes the 1867 title Correspondence and Remarks Upon Bancroft's History of the Northern Campaign of 1777, and the Character of Major-Gen. Philip Schuyler by George L Schuyler.

For fans of Hamilton, yes this is the same Philip Schuyler who was Alexander Hamilton’s father-in-law.  The book features George Schuyler’s long and increasingly angry letters to George Bancroft regarding what he felt were slanderous criticisms of General Schuyler’s commanding ability in Bancroft’s account of the Revolutionary War.  A descendant of Philip, George also considered himself a historian, and wrote the book to feature a point-by-point defense of  Philip Schuyler’s conduct during the war, also including all of George and Bancroft's testy correspondence with each other.

In one exchange, George Schuyler writes that “I have no alternative but to deny publicly the correctness of your account of General Schuyler’s character for courage, which I can view in no other light than a gratuitous insult,” whereby Bancroft responds with “the tone of your note today shows conclusively how proper it was for me to decline entering into a correspondence with you, on a subject which you can hardly be expected to consider with the critical calmness of a disinterested inquirer.” I can’t help but feel that if this dialogue were to take place today, it would be delivered through a series of angry tweets.

While most of the books regarding influential Worcester residents tend to be respectful biographies, it is occasionally refreshing to read about a historical argument like this.  It is nice to know that those from the 1800's could be just as preoccupied with petty feuds as we can be today.  Just another example of the fascinating items that can be found in the library's Worcester Room collection.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

December 2016 Staff Book Recommendations

Under the Udala Trees
By Chinelo Okparanta

Under the Udala Trees is a coming-of age tale about an eleven year-old Nigerian girl named Ijeoma. Her story begins on June 23, 1968, on the day of her beloved father’s death. His untimely passing occurs during and as a result of the Biafran War, a civil war in which the Igbo people attempted secession from Nigeria and lost to disastrous effect. Although Ijeoma’s mother lives on, grief has rendered her incapable of parenting Ijeoma and protecting her from imminent danger. She sends her to live with a local teacher’s family and there, she befriends Amina. Because Amina is not Igbo but instead Hausa, few approve. When it is discovered that the two girls’ friendship has evolved into a romantic relationship, Ijeoma is abruptly packed up and sent back to her mother. 

What proceeds is a story of hidden love and attempting to bridge the gap between the expectations of the family one is born into and the possibilities of the family one desires to manifest. Believing she can cure Ijeoma of homosexuality through biblical force, Ijeoma’s mother sets out to eradicate her daughter’s most tender feelings order to meet the socio-politico-religious beliefs of Igbo life in the 1970s. 

Okparanta excels at evoking empathy from the reader through her lyrical language, imagery and detail. As Edwidge Danticat says, this is a book “that demands not just to be read, but felt.” If you like the work of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ishmael Beah, or Edwidge Danticat herself, put this on your list. 


Before Jamaica Lane
By Samantha Lane

There are some books you read that just fit you. You find them at the right time in your life and they fill up a need you didn’t know you had. In contrast, there are books that emotionally drain you and make you feel things you don’t want to feel…Samantha Young’s Before Jamaica Lane was one of these books for me. 

Before Jamaica Lane takes place in Scotland where we meet best friends Olivia and Nate who bond over their shared love of geek culture, “Would You Rather?” questions, and the hardship of losing a loved one to cancer. Even though Olivia and Nate share many things in common with each other, their love lives are drastically different. Nate brings home a different woman every night without ever returning her phone calls, while Olivia can barely speak with a man she finds attractive without stuttering or turning bright red. Furthermore, in addition to Olivia’s shyness, she loathes her body and thinks that no “hot” guy will ever find her attractive. 

One night after striking out one too many times with her crush Benjamin, Olivia drunkenly and tearfully confesses to Nate that she hates her body. Nate, being her friend, as well as confident in his own experience with other women, offers to help boost Olivia’s confidence and brings Olivia to a mirror in her bedroom. Nate instantly refutes every criticism Olivia has about her body (such as her belief that she has: flabby thighs, a huge butt, and average looking features), and assures her that he, as well as any man would want to sleep with her (actual language more colorful) because she essentially has the body of a Kardashian and “great hair”. The story of course goes on to track the complexities of Nate and Olivia’s relationship (from friends to friends with benefits) and is chock full of all kinds of emotional upheaval. 

I’m no stranger to romance books and I count myself a big fan of the genre because I adore love stories and happy endings. However, part of the fantasy in reading a romance novel is that you can put yourself in the story-warts and all. Yet, the constant focus on the characters’ level of attractiveness (both with main and secondary characters) puts this story in a completely different category. Instead of escaping into a fun story I noticed myself judging what I saw when I looked in the mirror a little more harshly than usual. 

It’s important to note that I’m in the minority in terms of my review (Before Jamaica Lane received a 4.5 out of 5 on Goodreads because of its friends-to-lovers theme, emotional depth, and heaps of sexytime scenes), but in my opinion, when only certain types of physical appearances overtly meet the criteria for what is considered beautiful (whether in fiction or in real life), this is never something to ignore. 

Before Jamaica Lane is #3 in the On Dublin Street series:

1. On Dublin Street
2. Down London Road
3. Before Jamaica Lane
4. Fall From India Place
5. Echoes of Scotland Street
6. Moonlight on Nightingale Way


American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750-1804
By Alan Taylor 

When someone mentions the American Revolution, most people probably get a few well-known images in their heads. They might think of George Washington crossing the Delaware, or Minutemen fighting Redcoats, or the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The book American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750-1804 by Alan Taylor argues that the truth is quite a bit more complicated and interesting. In fact, Taylor makes a compelling argument that the American Revolution could easily be referred to as the 1st American Civil War. 

What Taylor does amazingly is really drive home the idea that there were a large number of loyalists who did not favor independence. Taylor points out that the tactics used by the pro-independence groups included the wholesale destruction of homes and property, and tarring and feathering anyone who was considered a collaborator. Taylor also describes how many Native Americans and African Americans resisted independence, believing that continued rule by the Crown offered them the best chances for survival and freedom. Moreover, Taylor makes a compelling argument that much of the American Revolution was caused by the colonists’ fears that England would abolish slavery and prevent the westward expansion that worsened conflict with the French and Natives and sparked the costly French and Indian War. These arguments aren’t all new; however, Taylor collates the arguments in a very convincing manner and makes the case to think of the Revolution as a civil war. 

Taylor, a historian who has twice won the Pulitzer Prize, has a great writing style. American Revolutions is written in a compelling fashion, and is not dryly written as you might expect from a book of its size and scope. A basic knowledge of American history would be helpful to readers, as the book is not really written for the layperson. However, I found Taylor’s writing and arguments to be highly accessible and easy to follow. You don’t need to be an expert in history to appreciate Taylor’s book. I would highly recommend this one.


By Byron Katie

“I am an old man who has known many troubles, but most of them never happened.”  This quote, often attributed to Mark Twain, tells a simple truth: most of our troubles are in our heads. These words also hint at a path to freedom from those very same troubles, a freedom Bryon Katie aims to help you find. 

In Loving What Is, Byron Katie details this path to freedom in what she calls “The Work,” a method of self-inquiry which centers on asking simple questions about the thoughts we have regarding difficult people, events, and life circumstances.  The method itself is simple and to the point – simple to the point that it may be difficult to swallow. 

While Katie does explain her method, much of “The Work” is illustrated by dialogues between Katie and a series of participants.  The themes of the dialogues vary, ranging from common issues such as shyness and infidelity to difficult topics like rape and death of loved ones.  The plausibility of the transformation found in the dialogues varies, but more than anything, the dialogues show that “The Work” can be done on anything, even the most difficult people and circumstances. 

Katie’s self-inquiry work consists of asking half a dozen questions which always have similar answers.  The uniformity of the answers may be off-putting for some, but the questions are not about getting into the details of our anxious narratives.  Indeed, the point of the questions is to break through the details, to drive home the understanding that most of our pain is caused by thought. This lesson is easily lost when we get caught up in the details of the stories we tell ourselves, but the plot-holes in our narratives are easily torn apart by the inquiries Katie provides.

Loving What Is
is a beguilingly easy read with a simple teaching that is more than meets the eye.  This is a book of tough love which is not for everyone, but the opportunity for radical transformation awaits anyone willing to undertake this difficult Work.  


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Treasures from the Worcester Room: Books of Appreciation from England

One of the great things about Worcester is what a welcoming city it is. You can see this today in how Worcester has embraced the refugee community.  One of the best examples of Worcester's welcoming attitude is the case of the schoolchildren from England who lived in Worcester during the Second World War in order to be safe from the Nazi bombing campaign against England.  While not widely known today, this act of kindness by the people of Worcester inspired a generous donation that still benefits our library.

Recently, when going through books in our Closed Stacks collection in the basement, we came across a book with a bookplate saying "Presented to the Worcester Free Public Library by parents of children from Sherrardswood School, Welwyn Garden City in the County of Hertford, England, in token of their gratitude to those in Worcester who cared for their children during the War of 1939-1945." Obviously we were intrigued by this and decided to further investigate the story.

Looking through our records and papers in the Worcester Room, I found a binder with a number of papers documenting both the children's stay in Worcester, and the donation of books by grateful families in the aftermath of the war.  I was able to find newspaper clippings, correspondence between the Library Director during that time and the parents of the children, and a list of all of the books that were donated.  Over one hundred books were donated in 1948 to our library, most having to do with British history or culture.  Many of these books are still in our collection, available for library users to borrow, and, according to their website, the Sherrardswood School is still in existence today. Just one more example of a connection that the city has made with communities across the globe.


Monday, November 21, 2016

November 2016 Staff Book Recommendations

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
By Bejamin Alire Sáenz

Another gem from a Renaissance man: poet/author/curator Bejamin Alire Sáenz has recently introduced his latest quirk of a YA novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Aristotle has a lot to be bitter about. His dad barely talks, let alone answers any questions about his time in Vietnam. His own mother has more friends than him. His sisters are all grown up and never around. His brother is in prison, but he might as well be dead because nobody even mentions his name anymore. It’s the late ‘80s and school’s out for the summer, but Aristotle doesn’t really have anything to look forward to other than swimming (or attempting to, anyways). He’s pretty much accepted the fact that he’ll walk through the rest of his high school career a loser (and he’ll fight anyone who gives him crap about it.) But one day at the pool, a guy named Dante gives him some swimming tips. From there, everything changes. 

At first glance, Dante’s personality is the polar opposite of Ari’s. He’s crazy about his parents, he’s confident, secure in his loner-dom, he’s emotionally expressive, he’s a brilliant poet — he’s everything Ari’s not. But they have an unmistakable bond, and it’s not just because they both have weird, philosophical names. They share a poignant sense of being “othered” due to their Mexican identities, and a profound, wholly unique view on their world. Throughout the story Ari softens his rough edges, finding new ways to open up to Dante more and more. Perhaps he’s inspired by Dante’s poetic expression and flattered by his attention, or perhaps he simply cares so much about him that he wants to let him in his world. Ari learns to see himself the way Dante does… At the risk of revealing spoilers, I’ll stop here. 

Though the plot moves fairly slowly at first, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is generally a quick read; the chapters are short and it’s heavy in dialogue. And the storyline really picks up toward the end, as more “secrets of the universe” are revealed. It’s a tad on the angsty side, even for a young adult novel, but Ari and Dante ultimately became my heroes by the end. Recommended for ages 13+.


Cry Wolf
By Patricia Briggs

I’ve never been a big fan of monsters. As a little girl I had nightmares about them crawling through my window, vampires scare me to death (I mean who really wants to be forcefully bitten on the neck with cold, sharp fangs? Ouch!), and if I ever saw a zombie, my blood-curdling screams would probably make the zombie run the other way. In spite of all this, I recently found myself choosing, reading, and thoroughly enjoying a paranormal romance book. Patricia Briggs’ Cry Wolf, the first book in her Alpha and Omega series, is an entertaining, suspenseful, and gripping story about a completely different kind of creature that goes bump in the night: the werewolf, i.e., Jacob, Professor Remus, and other misunderstood four-legged furballs. 

In Cry Wolf, we meet Anna who was turned into a werewolf against her will, and Charlie, a powerful, politically savvy werewolf who is determined to protect Anna at any cost. The action is non-stop and includes multiple fight scenes. Briggs has painstakingly created a detailed world and culture centered around the werewolves’ ability to survive the bone-chilling mountains in winter. However, characters’ depth, shown, for example, when Charles’ unshakeable belief in himself and others faltered, was what really made Cry Wolf a special read for me. Perhaps I’m no closer than before to reading stories about vampires and zombies, but if I find a book featuring one that’s as well written as one of Patricia Briggs stories, I may just be converted. 

Check out more of Patricia Brigg’s stories conveniently located in the Sci-Fi section at WPL’s Main Branch!

Alpha and Omega
1. Cry Wolf (includes prequel Alpha and Omega)
2. Hunting Ground 

3. Fair Game
4. Dead Heat

Also if you prefer a different kind of canine in your stories, try Briggs’ coyote shape shifter paranormal romance series: Mercy Thompson. The first book in this series is titled Moon Called.


The Circle
By Dave Eggers 

Google employment benefits are the stuff of fairy tales for most American workers: free onsite daycare, five-star cafeteria food, office cots for power naps, massage credits for work well done. If for no other reason than sheer entertainment, read this exaggerated, fictional account of Google life; you can tell author Dave Eggers really had fun creating his made-up company The Circle. 

But there’s a darker theme spinning in the background…the plot of The Circle centers around recent college graduate Mae Holland, feeling unfulfilled by a monotonous job at a utility company until she swallows her pride and asks ex-college roomie and corporate superstar Annie to help get her hired at The Circle, the most influential Internet company in the world. Once there a few weeks, Mae’s dream job full of incredible opportunities to affect positive societal change while enjoying outrageous perks turns more sinister as her on-campus popularity skyrockets when she unwittingly volunteers for a human “connection” experiment. 

Mae agrees to wear a camera around her neck and subject herself to the world’s commentary 24/7, and while she does succeed at increasing her accessibility with the world at large, her non-Circle relationships completely unravel. Nonetheless, believing her own hype (and much to her bosses’ delight), Mae floats the progressive idea of voting, paying bills, and streamlining all social media interactions through one mandatory Circle account. Public opinion grows divisive; on the one hand, eliminating the need for many accounts and many passwords appeals to many, but wouldn’t that result in a government-sanctioned corporate monopoly? Suddenly, the best of intentions has morphed into a looming threat of totalitarianism through technology. 

What will happen once “the circle” is complete? A cautionary tale about the potential dangers of excessive social media proliferation and surveillance of the citizenry, read The Circle and reflect on your own beliefs on where modern technology is leading the world. 


Start Where You Are
By Pema Chödrön

Don’t read this book if you want to change. Pema Chödrön will not only tell you that you’re already okay, and all the things you probably don’t like about yourself are actually useful.  

Self-help books usually start with the premise that something is wrong and needs fixing, but in Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living, the emphasis is not on solving problems, but rather on self-acceptance.  Self-acceptance is not an easy lesson, but the humor and humility Pema weaves into her teachings make them easier to receive.  She even includes stories of her own blunders, making Pema feel relatable and her teachings achievable.

Chödrön, an ordained Buddhist nun, bases Start Where You Are on Buddhist teachings, focusing specifically on what are known as traditional slogans.  The slogans, along with some foreign vocabulary, add an element of difficulty to the reading, but the unfamiliarity makes for a good starting point.  Chödrön uses these unfamiliar bits as opportunities to shed light on difficult concepts, turning seemingly abstract ideas into something clear and within reach.  

What I love about this book is that it reads like Pema is speaking to you, as though you went on a meditation retreat and were presented with these lessons.  Pema acknowledges the real emotional difficulties that arise from the diversity of experiences life brings, asking you to work with the emotions instead of sweeping them under the rug and telling you to think happy thoughts. 

If you have never read a book by Pema Chödrön, are interested in learning about self-acceptance, facing the difficulties of your life head-on, or Buddhism generally, then this book is for you.  


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Health Goings On at the Worcester Public Library

November is National Diabetes Month:

In order to bring attention and awareness to diabetes, a disease that affects over 9 million Americans, there is a display on the 2nd floor of the Main Library with diabetes related titles including cookbooks. For further information on managing diabetes, support networks, and other resources, check out the American Diabetes Association and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)

November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month:
More than 5 million Americans are affected by Alzheimer’s disease. In an effort to highlight this disease there is a display on the 2nd floor of the Main Library with related titles as well as information from the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. For more information, visit the Alzheimer’s Association and For an overview of the kind of support and research the government is pursuing with regard to Alzheimer’s prevention, read the Presidential Proclamation by President Barack Obama.

Resources in the Health Reference Center:

The 2nd floor Health Reference Center at the Main Library is a great place to find reliable information. We have many useful and reliable health reference titles which are always available for our patrons. Also in the Health Reference Center is an abundance of health-related newsletters, brochures and pamphlets focused on chronic diseases, substance abuse, healthcare, and local health information for patrons to take home.

Health recipes from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute are also available for patrons to take home. Our health recipes table has yummy and healthy recipes from the Keep the Beat recipes book like "Good for you Cornbread" and "Baked Pork chops with Apple Cranberry Sauce." Recipes are changed out every few months so keep your eye out for new ones!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Treasures from the Worcester Room: A Bookmark to the Past

It’s certainly amazing what can be found inside a book.  You can find not only the knowledge and writing that they contain, but sometimes what readers will use as a bookmark.  While the library always has bookmarks available for readers, occasionally library users will use any number of papers or household objects as a bookmark.  Our librarians have found ticket stubs, take-out menus, and even cash between the pages of books.  It’s not every day though that we find a postcard from 1895, addressed to one of our Head Librarians.

Samuel Swett Green was the second Head Librarian of the Worcester Public Library and the nephew of Dr. John Green, whose donated personal collection served as the beginnings of the library back in 1859.  Samuel served as Head Librarian from 1867-1909 and is widely considered to be incredibly influential in the development of the modern public library.  Green was also one of the founders of the American Library Association.  This postcard was sent to him in 1895 from Berlin, Germany and appears to be regarding the invoice for a book.

The postcard was found inside a book from that era, and may very well have been placed there by Samuel Green himself in 1895.  If that is the case, it is good to know that one of the major contributors to public librarianship didn’t dog-ear his pages!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Attention Massachusetts Residents: Do you need to purchase or change your health insurance plan?

Open Enrollment for Health Insurance 
November 1, 2016 through January 31, 2017 

Massachusetts Health Connector
  • Visit the Health Connector website to buy a commercial health plan and receive financial assistance if you qualify
  • Information you will need before you start your application:
    • Social Security numbers for all people who are applying (if they have one).
    • Immigration documents for all non-U.S. citizens who are applying (if they have one).
    • A copy of your federal tax return from last year. If you did not file taxes last year, or your income has changed since last year, have information about your current income ready (such as recent pay stubs or an unemployment award letter).
    • Home address or mailing address (if applicable) for everyone in your household who needs insurance, unless they are homeless.
    • If you are found eligible for coverage through the Health Connector and you plan to make a payment online, you will need your banking institution routing number and account number for either your checking or savings account (if you have a premium).
    • If you are found eligible for coverage through the Health Connector and you plan to make a payment by mail or in-person, you will need a personal check or money order to make a payment for your first month’s premium (if you have one).
    • If your employer offers health insurance, ask your employer these questions:
      • Do any of the health plans that the employer offers meet the “minimum value” standard?
      • What is the employee contribution to the lowest-cost health plan offered by your employer for an individual?
      • How often?
        • Weekly
        • Every 2 weeks
        • Twice a month
        • Monthly


Below is a list of trained and certified Enrollment Assisters in Worcester who can help you from the application through the enrollment into a new health insurance plan. Call ahead to make an appointment.

Health Connector Walk-in Center
146 Main Street
Worcester, MA 01608

Family Health Center of Worcester
26 Queens Street
Worcester, MA 01610

Spectrum Health Systems
10 Mechanic Street, Suite 302
Worcester, MA 01608
Margaret Milani
508-752-2590 ext. 5341

Rebecca B. Asare,
Independent Broker
340 Main Street Suite 511-512
Worcester, MA 01608

Saint Vincent Hospital
123 Summer Street
Worcester, MA 01608

Edward M. Kennedy
Community Health Center
631 Lincoln Street
Worcester, MA 01605

Edward M. Kennedy
Community Health Center
19 Tacoma Street
Worcester, MA 01605

Trang Pharmacy Inc.
456 Park Avenue
Worcester, MA 01610

Community Healthlink
72 Jacques Avenue
Worcester, MA 01610

Community Healthlink
Outpatient Clinic
Thayer Building
12 Queen Street
Worcester, MA 01610

Community Healthlink
162 Chandler Street
Worcester, MA 016107

UMass Memorial Medical Center
Memorial Campus
119 Belmont Street
Worcester, MA 01605

UMass Memorial Medical Center
Hahnemann Campus
281 Lincoln Street
Worcester, MA 01605

UMass Memorial Medical Center
55 Lake Avenue North
Worcester, MA 01605

* information adapted from

Monday, October 24, 2016

October 2016 Staff Book Recommendations

Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen
By Jazz Jennings 

Who do you think of when you hear the word “transgender?” A drag queen? A radical liberal? Someone who's just confused? Who hates themselves? If there's anyone who defies the trans stereotype, it's Jazz Jennings. 

16-year-old Jaron "Jazz" Jennings knew she was a girl ever since she could remember. She transitioned from male to female at the tender age of five, and if you think gender reassignment surgery for children is a controversial decision now, there were perhaps twice as many objections to this issue a decade ago. But her parents never had any doubts, and it's largely the infinite support from her family that has led to her positive outlook on life. Soon after the transition, an interview with Barbara Walters sparked her role as one of the most visible and prolific representatives and advocates for the transgender community. 

From then on, her life has been in the public eye: from interviews to her YouTube channel, and most recently the TLC documentary series I Am Jazz. Jennings gives a refreshingly optimistic perspective, acknowledging how fortunate she's been to have experienced so many unique opportunities instead of dwelling on the adversities she has faced. She discusses at length her public life with a sense of awe, as if even after a decade of fame she's still--excuse me--jazzed about her life in the spotlight. I would have liked to learn more about her brief bout with depression, the haters she's crossed and the criticism her parents have received, but I can't complain too much because the book lifted my spirits. Before she was introduced to Obama, she'd been forewarned that time would not allow for much more than a handshake and a photo, but Obama deliberately "broke the 'no talking' rule." This is the effect the effervescent Jennings has on everyone she meets: you can't help but like her. 

Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen is a great read for grades 6-12, and a great addition to LGBTQ literature. The end of the book includes an interview with the Jennings family as well as many additional resources (related reads, websites, and depression outreach services).


Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders 
By Joshua Foer, Ella Morton, and Dylan Thuras 

Do you ever want to explore far-off lands and places, and wander off the beaten path without leaving home? Atlas Obscura by Joshua Foer, Ella Morton and Dylan Thuras offers a look at some of the more obscure places and objects throughout the world. Adapted from the popular website of the same name, Atlas Obscura chronicles over 600 of the world’s most obscure and intriguing tourist destinations, items and sites of interest. 

From the ancient, to the modern, Atlas Obscura lists and describes such places, objects and events as the Museum of Counterfeit Goods in Thailand, the World Elephant Polo Championships in Nepal, an ancient flooded city in China, and a lightbulb that hasn’t burnt out since it was installed 115 years ago in California. Along the way, Atlas Obscura also details other lists such as a selection of bizarre street-food eggs, and a catalogue of giant sculptures across Australia. 

The book itself is laid out well, with entries separated by country, and the entries also tend to feature good photographs or illustrations of the subjects. One issue that I had with the book was that many of the entries were interesting enough to warrant more information than the brief paragraphs included in the book. As I was reading, I found myself often pulling out my phone to look for additional information on many of the places listed. It would have been nice if more of the entries could have gotten at least a multiple page description. As a starting point for research, or to spark travel ideas, however Atlas Obscura is great. I also appreciated that the entries in question are actually obscure. I was familiar with some of the places and objects the book described, but most were new information for me. I would recommend this one for anyone interested in travel, history, or the obscure.


A Promise of Fire
By  Amanda Bouchet 

A Promise of Fire is a fast-paced adventure containing elements of fantasy, romance, and suspense. One of the main reasons I decided to read this book was because of the marketing ploy on the inside cover that read: “If you like…cool world building, a kick-ass heroine, pulse-pounding adventure, snappy banter, and an uber-alpha warlord hero: you’ll love the Kingmaker Chronicles.” I wish all books had this unique feature! 

For the most part, this book delivers what it promises: “kick ass-heroine” Cat (Catalia Fisa) is pretty cool. She is the perfect companion to walk with through a back alley in a seedy town; she packs knives which she can throw with incredible precision, she can become invisible within seconds, and she can steal magic from others, such as Dragon’s Breath, which will obliterate anyone in her path. She can also communicate with Gods such as Poseidon, and Hades’ slobbery sidekick, Cerberus. 

In addition to Cat, we get to meet Griffin (also called Beta Sinta), the “uber-alpha warlord hero,” who is massive, commanding, and could cut someone with one look. In spite of his size and power, however, Griffin is very understanding and patient towards Cat even though most of the bruises and attacks he receives in the story are by her hand. These two strongly developed characters make this book a real find, but I also greatly enjoyed the scenes with the plethora of fleshed-out secondary characters, like Griffin’s rough and tough yet goofy fellow soldiers Flynn, Kato, and Carver. 

Even though this book is extremely well written and engaging, there are a few things that somewhat diminished my enjoyment of the story, namely, the love scenes. While scorching and very detailed, they are full of anguish and are exhausting to read. Throughout the story, Cat reveals snippets (mostly in the form of nightmares that plague her) of having a very tough childhood. While it is understandable why she carries so much angst and distrust towards others, at the same time, it is frustrating to witness her apathetic, and at many times, violent behavior towards those who are on her side.  Another drawback was that I was so far on the edge of my seat waiting to see if I was right about a big plot twist...and it was never revealed! 

The good news is there is a sequel in the making (Breath of Fire is due out next January) so hopefully The Kingmaker Chronicles will just keep getting better.


The Passenger
By Lisa Lutz

If you ever find yourself considering life on the lam, read The Passenger by Lisa Lutz. From this book you will be able to create an impressive checklist of necessary supplies (hair color in every shade) and things to worry about when you make your great escape!

The thriller opens with the line “When I found my husband at the bottom of the stairs…” and doesn’t slow down much from there. Tanya Dubois, from whose point-of-view the action unfolds, pours herself a bourbon and ponders:  Should she call the cops to report her husband’s accident?  This would surely cause them to look closely at her and there are good reasons for her reluctance on that score. Unraveling those reasons will take the reader through eight chapters, each named after Tanya’s latest identity, on a road trip that gives new meaning to the term “reckless abandon.” 

In Tanya, Lutz has created a pragmatic, resilient, preternaturally independent protagonist reminiscent of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, and also crafts a few memorable characters, most notably, Blue the world-weary bartender from Austin, TX. Together Tanya and Blue embark on a Thelma and Louise-esque adventure that leaves the reader unsure of Blue’s true motives, despite Tanya’s impressive ability to size people up in an instant. Ultimately, it’s a combination of her intuition, quick thinking and keen observation of human behavior that ensure Tanya’s survival in every situation.

Readers will relish the vicarious thrill of Tanya’s devil-may-care life on the edge, while rooting for her happy-ending redemption at the same time. Lutz’ dry humor and storytelling acumen can also be enjoyed in her Spellman series.