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Posts Tagged ‘Fiction’


Novelist Kent Haruf Dies at 71

by Maeve Clark on December 2nd, 2014

harufOne of my favorite novelists, Kent Haruf, died on Sunday at the age of 71. I first discovered Haruf’s lyrical writing when his wonderful 1999 work Plainsong was under consideration as the inaugural All Iowa Reads selection n 2003, Peace Like a River by Leif Enger, another excellent work, was selected as the first book for All Iowa Reads and with it setting in rural Minnesota it trumped Haruf’s Colorado high plains locale.  Plainsong was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1999.

Haruf was able to capture small town and rural life in his books.  His latest, Benediction, was published in 2013, and with Eventide completes the trilogy set in Holt, a fictional town on the high plains of Colorado.  If you haven’t read his novels and enjoy a strong sense of place, you will not be disappointed.

Morning Edition aired a tribute to Kent Haruf today. It included clips from an interview with Diane Rehm where he talked about moving to Iowa City in the winter of 1971 with hopes that he would be admitted into the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in the fall.  He received an MFA from the workshop in 1973.

And for those of you who have read and enjoyed his writing, Kent Haruf’s final novel, Our Souls At Night, is in the editing phase and is currently scheduled for a 2015 release.

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Levy

by Morgan Reeves on November 29th, 2014
The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Levy Cover Image

Two dads, four boys, one dog, one cat, and one invisible cheetah. The Family Fletcher is preparing for a new school year, the first school year where all four of the very different boys will be in school. The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Levy follows this unique, and at the same time totally normal, family throughout the year as they deal with their individual problems. Twelve year-old Sam is a soccer player, a cool kid looked up to as the example for his younger brothers. Can he transfer his talent for storytelling into a part in the school play, and more importantly still be cool? 10 year-old Jax thinks Sam is the coolest, and wants to be accepted as part of the same crowd, now that he’s in the same school building. But with a changing friendship and a school project hanging over his head, Jax might end up more behind than ever.  Eli, also 10 (but a couple of months younger), is starting a new, expensive, academically minded school, trading familiar faces for scholarly challenges. When his new school turns out to be less amazing than he had hoped, he struggles with the his ability to admit he made a mistake. Six year-old Froggie (not Jeremiah) is excited to start kindergarten with Flare, his invisible cheetah. His biggest problems are asking for kittens, turtles and convincing his family that his new friend Ladybug is real girl.

Even with all of their individual issues to work through, the whole family comes together for the biggest Halloween party ever, camping trips, and convincing their grumpy neighbor Mr. Nelson that they mean no harm. With loving support from both Papa and Dad (who have some misadventures of their own), the Fletchers work together to overcome all obstacles that come their way. This is a fun romp that just happens to have a diverse family at the heart of it.

Vacationers by Emma Straub

by Kara Logsden on November 21st, 2014
Vacationers by Emma Straub Cover Image

Straub’s Vacationers is a vicarious trip out of the cold Iowa winter. Frannie and Jim decide to vacation in Majorca, Spain with their grown-up children and Frannie’s best friend, Charles, and his husband. For each character Majorca represents a turning point of either falling back into the ruts of life or moving forward and finding new potential.

Emma Straub’s writing is clean and crisp. The books is funny, warm and realistic. Straub creates characters who are real and struggle with insecurities and secrets while ultimately triumphing over what life throws at them. I listened to the book and Kristen Sieh’s narration is perfect.

As I look out my window I see it is snowing again. If you need a vicarious escape to Spain check out Emma Straub’s Vacationers.

Mister Max by Cynthia Voigt

by Morgan Reeves on October 30th, 2014
Mister Max by Cynthia Voigt Cover Image

Not since first picking up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone have I read a book that started off full of so much life and mystery. But this is just how Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things by Cynthia Voigt begins. As dramatic as any play, the scene is set when a letter arrives inviting Max Starling’s actor parents to visit the Maharajah of Kashmir. His parents say Max will be coming too, but when the steamship leaves, Max is left behind. Determined to be independent until his parents return, he decides to find a job. But jobs for twelve year old boys don’t pay very well, so Max uses his experience of growing up in the theater to disguise himself and act older. To his surprise, he discovers he has a talent for solving problems for other people. He is not quite a detective and not quite a life coach, but something in between, a Solutioneer, as he calls himself. Cases start rolling in, a lost dog, a lost Baron, even a lost spoon, Max finds the solution to them all. This wonderful beginning of a trilogy weaves tricky problems and spirited characters into the the overarching story of what has happened to his parents.  A story that leaves readers both satisfied with Max’s solutions and eager to find out more about Mister Max, Solutioneer.

http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1389591922l/17471117.jpgMister Max: The Book of Secrets is the recently released second title in the trilogy, which follows Max on his most important case yet. The problems are bigger and more complex, but Max is sure he can handle them. Fires have been springing up in small businesses, but no one will talk to the police, and with a visit from the Royal family approaching, the Mayor is desperate stop the fires without a fuss. Enter Mister Max and his ability to get people talking without knowing who they are really talking to. But with the appearance of an old schoolmate, for the first time he must deal with the possibility of being recognized, which could ruin Max’s independent lifestyle. Help is provided in the form of his librarian Grammie; his tutor Ari; and the sometimes irritating, very talkative Pia, who insists she is his assistant. All the while Max continues to receive troubling hints on the whereabouts of his parents. A great follow-up to the first, this story manages to leave some solutions open-ended while setting up the last book and what readers will hope to be Max’s reunion with his parents.

Top 10 reads from the 2014 Adult Summer Reading Program

by Beth Fisher on August 14th, 2014
Top 10 reads from the 2014 Adult Summer Reading Program Cover Image

You told us what you read this summer and we kept track.  Click on the cover or title to place one of these on hold.

The most read book this summer, by both teens and adults is The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.    The story is narrated by a sixteen-year-old named Hazel Grace Lancaster, who has accepted her diagnosis of stage IV thyroid cancer.  She is forced by her parents to attend a support group, where she meets and falls in love with the seventeen-year-old Augustus Waters, an ex-basketball player and amputee.  Their relationship forces her to rexamine her perspective on love, loss and life.

 

DivergentDivergent, by Veronica Roth is the first book in a dystopian trilogy of the same name.  It follows Beatrice “Tris” Prior as she explores her identity within a society that defines its citizens by their affiliation with one of five predetermined factions.  Her chose will shock everyone.

 

 

little wolvesLittle Wolves, by Thomas Maltman is the All Iowa Reads 2014 title.    Set on the Minnesota prairie in the late 1980s during a drought season that’s pushing family farms to the brink, Little Wolves features the intertwining stories of a father searching for answers after his son commits a heinous murder, and a pastor’s wife who has returned to the town for mysterious reasons of her own.

 

 

goldfinch Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.   Theo Decker, a 13-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his longing for his mother, he clings to the one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.

 

gonegirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn.  When a beautiful woman goes missing on her fifth wedding anniversary, her diary reveals hidden turmoil in her marriage and a mysterious illness; while her husband, desperate to clear himself of suspicion, realizes that something more disturbing than murder may have occurred.

 

 

insurgentInsurgent by by Vernoica Roth.   Book two in the Divergent trilogy finds Tris Prior’s initiation day shattered by Erudite simulation attacks that end the lives of several loved ones and launch a bitter war, compelling Tris to embrace her Divergent nature and make painful sacrifices.

 

 

oceanendoflaneThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman  A modern fantasy about fear, love, magic, and sacrifice in the story of a family at the mercy of dark forces, whose only defense is the three women who live on a farm at the end of the lane. When otherworldly beings are set loose on the world, threatening the life of a little boy, the extraordinary Hempstock women summon all of their courage and cleverness to keep him alive, but soon discover that his survival comes with a high–and deadly–price.

 

silkwormThe Silkworm by  Robert Galbraith (the pseudonym for J.K. Rowling) is the second in the series of crime novels starring private investigator Cormoran Strike. When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. As Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine’s disappearance. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were to be published, it would ruin lives–meaning that there are a lot of people who might want him silenced.  When Quine is found brutally murdered under bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any Strike has encountered before.

 

allegiantAllegiant by Veronica Roth. The conclusion to the Divergent trilogy reveals the secrets of the dystopian world and the consequences of a fateful decision.

 

 

 

top secret 21Top Secret 21 by Janet Evanvich.  The 21st Stephanie Plum novel finds Stephanie looking for Trenton, New Jersey’s favorite used-car dealer, Jimmy Poletti who’s on the lamb, and leads are quickly turning into dead ends, and all too frequently into dead bodies. And unfortunately for Stephanie, Randy Briggs may be the clue. To top things off, Ranger has become the target of an assassination plot.  Death threats, highly untrained assassins, and Stark Street being overrun by a pack of feral Chihuahuas are all in a day’s work for Stephanie Plum. The real challenge is dealing with her Grandma Mazur’s new bucket list.

Mid-summer reading recap, or, what I haven’t been reading

by Candice Smith on August 2nd, 2014
Mid-summer reading recap, or, what I haven’t been reading Cover Image

Summer is usually a time where I go through many books, at a fairly quick pace, because I’m doing other things that go well with reading…lying on a beach, relaxing in the air conditioning, sitting on a bench downtown having a cold drink–you get the idea. It’s the time of year where I can be reading several books at once; a book I read on my lunch break, a book by my bedside, one in the beachbag, one in my purse. This summer is no different, except that I didn’t finish most of the books I started. I have no good excuse. I promise that I WILL go back and finish them.

The one book I did read in its entirety is Laura McHugh’s The Weight of Blood. This book has two mysteries confronting main character Lucy–the disappearance of her mother when Lucy was just a baby, and the very recent murder and dismembering of her friend. The book is richly atmospheric, with a slightly dark and menacing flavor to it; it’s set in small town Missouri, an area that is only hours away from us geographically, but manages to seem worlds away in how life is lived there. Small town, long memories, big secrets. The characters are unique and in some cases a bit odd, and are well-drawn and feel somewhat familiar to anyone who’s lived in a small or close-knit community. Without giving away too much, the book also has at its center a very modern and urban-feeling crime, in marked to contrast to its setting, which makes seem even more sinister by way of encroachment.

In full disclosure, the books I didn’t finish (yet):
A Dark and Twisted Tide by S.J. Bolton (I came so close to finishing this!)
I’d Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman (beachbook–waiting to go back to the beach)
Love You More by Lisa Gardner (about halfway done)
A Song For the Dying by Stuart MacBride (didn’t even crack it open)

The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel

by Morgan Reeves on June 30th, 2014
The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel Cover Image

Trains, Sasquatches, and a circus make for an exciting combination in this steampunk adventure story from Kenneth Oppel. During the late 1800′s in Canada, Will Everett grows up witnessing the expansion of the continental railroads as the son of the railway company manager. A shy boy with a talent for drawing, he has always wished for adventure, but never seems to find it. Now on the maiden voyage of The Boundless, the longest train ever built, his adventure finally begins, as he witnesses a murder. In order to stay alive and warn his father about the criminal plot, Will disguises himself as part of a circus with the help of an old acquaintance. He teams up with Maren, the highrope walker from his past, and Mr. Dorian, the circus ringmaster who has an agenda of his own. Together, they try to reach the front of the seven mile train before the criminal gang catches them. The journey, full of perils both magical and real, puts Will’s drawing skills and new friendships to the test. As the train reach the snowy mountains, danger finally catches up to the circus trio, and not everyone will escape uninjured.

The only hitch in this otherwise fantastic story, is the present tense narration takes some getting used to for most readers. Overall this is a page turning story bolstered by mild fantasy elements and plenty of detail from a lesser-known period of history, with some edge of your seat moments that lead to a suspenseful climax.

For the Twi-Hards and other lovers of bloodsuckers

by Melody Dworak on May 27th, 2014
For the Twi-Hards and other lovers of bloodsuckers Cover Image

True Blood fans waiting for the final season to start on June 22 have lots of other vampire works they can explore. The recent spate of popular vampire stories has a rich past, and the curious can learn all about it in How to Kill a Vampire: Fangs in Folklore, Film, and Fiction by Liisa Ladouceur. Read the rest of this entry »

The Last Wild by Piers Torday

by Morgan Reeves on May 23rd, 2014
The Last Wild by Piers Torday Cover Image

Like many children, Kester Jaynes feels powerless, and without much choice in what goes on in his daily life. Kester’s situation is unique in that he is mute; he has no voice. He lives in a world where all of the useful animals and plants have died off due to “red eye,” a terrible plague. Only “varmints,” pigeons, rats, and cockroaches are left alive. Fear of the virus has led to a taboo against touching animals. Food has been replaced by the corrupt Facto corporation with a nutritional slime and the entire human population has been forced to live in cities for their own protection.

Six years ago Kester was kidnapped and brought to live in a home for troubled children, where he is told something is wrong with him. When he starts to hear voices, he thinks he has finally gone crazy. Reality though is even stranger, the voices turn out to belong to a cockroach and pigeons, who help him escape and bring him to a gathering spot of the last surviving animals. These are the last wild; the last living animals and they need Kester’s help. Their leader, a large stag, asks Kester to find them a cure. While Kester feels unprepared for the weight of such a task, he promises to try. He even has an idea of where to start, by finding his way back to his veterinarian father. But traveling with animals that society both covets and fears leads to some dangerous situations. As Kester is forced to make more and more decisions, his self-confidence grows. By the end he has found both his father and his voice, but tensions remain as the cure is not wanted by the food controlling Facto corporation.

Overall an imaginative take on a dystopian world that will strike a chord with kids who are starting to make their own choices.

A Snicker of Magic

by Morgan Reeves on April 29th, 2014
A Snicker of Magic Cover Image

Felicity Pickle is a poem catcher, a word collector, and a wanderer longing for a place to call home. When her mother decides to try moving the family to Midnight Gulch, Tennessee, Felicity is hopeful that this might finally be the place where they can settle down. After all, it’s her mother’s hometown, as well as still having just a bit of magic floating around. On her first day at her new school, Felicity makes a new friend, Jonah, who has the not-so-secret occupation of helping people when they really need something. When Jonah suggests she read one of her poems in the school talent show, Felicity agrees, even though she knows she gets stage fright. The family settles in with gruff Aunt Cleo, who shows her softer side in telling stories of the family’s history. It soon becomes apparent that Felicity’s performance in the talent show is the key to shaking off the wandering ways of the Pickle family, which may be tied to a curse tied up in the history of Midnight Gulch. The cast of vibrant characters leap off the page  in this middle-grade tale of tangled up history and yes, just a snicker of magic. To cap off the end of National Poetry Month, give this great read about the meaning of family and home a try.




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