Sunday, September 29, 2013

Southern League

1964 was not a time of racial harmony in Birmingham, Alabama. The previous year saw the jailing of Martin Luther King, Jr. as well as the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that killed four African American girls. Both events cast Birmingham as a place of particularly harsh intolerance, even in comparison with the neighboring cities and states of the Jim Crow South. Twenty years earlier, Jackie Robinson broke
baseball's color barrier but the Birmingham Barons - Birmingham's professional team in the Southern League - remained all-white due to a city ordinance called the "Checkers Rule," forbidding blacks and whites from playing any game together, including baseball. In 1961, Major League Baseball mandated that all minor league teams integrate and the team disbanded rather than allow blacks to play on the same field.

In Southern League : A True Story of Baseball, Civil Rights, and the Deep South's Most Compelling Pennant Race, Larry Colton details the 1964 season of the new, fully integrated Birmingham Barons. Charlie O'Finley, the charismatic owner of the Kansas City Athletics, started the experiment of integrated baseball in Birmingham to return minor league baseball to his hometown. Although his main goal was to create a pipeline of talented ballplayers for his Major League team, more importantly it created a litmus test for the city of Birmingham. If an integrated baseball team could be successful both on the field and at the gate, and get through a season without any serious, racially charged incidents, it would go a long way towards getting Birmingham out of the segregated Dark Ages.

Southern League is a fantastic read told mostly through the day-to-day lives of four Baron players (two black and two white) as well as rookie manager Heywood Sullivan, a native Alabaman. The Barons were an immensely talented team, perhaps one of the best in Birmingham history, and Colton captures the excitement of the 1964 Southern League pennant race. Yet perhaps the most illuminating aspect of the story is the compassion and camaraderie that developed not only among the players of the team, but between the Barons and their city. Many of the players and fans were forced to deal directly with integration for the first time and, with the results so roundly successful, many were changed for the better.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Light Between Oceans

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman is a beautifully crafted story of love, loss, forgiveness, and redemption.

In December 1918, Tom Sherbourne signs on as an Australian lighthouse keeper. He is looking for isolation after spending four years on the Western Front. His first permanent assignment is on a small island at the southwestern tip of Australia called Janus Rock. His only contact with the outside world is the seasonal supply boat. He only gets shore leave every other year. Janus Rock is the perfect place to hide away from the world and from the past. Remarkably, while on a shore leave he meets a young beautiful woman who is willing to share his life on Janus Rock. They live happily cocooned in their isolation until a series of miscarriages brings unbearable sadness into their lives. Two weeks after the stillbirth of their son a miracle happens. A small boat drifts up to the island. The young man in the boat is dead, however a tiny baby girl is very much alive. Isabel believes this baby is a gift from God sent to replace the son she just lost. Isabel tells Tom that the baby's mother must have drowned, and she convinces Tom that they should keep the baby. He reluctantly agrees, but only because he sees how this little girl has brought joy into his wife's bleak existence. He falsifies the lighthouse documents to indicate that Isabel has given birth earlier than expected. Then their plan begins to unravel.

The Light Between Oceans is on my personal "favorite books" list. I highly recommend this remarkable award winning debut novel.

~Gilby G

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Though the Heart of the Grand Canyon

In June, 1983, the iconic Glen Canyon Dam was in crisis. A winter of super snowstorms followed by a sudden heat wave had produced massive snow melt, and the unprecedented runoff was flooding into Lake Powell faster than it could be discharged through the dam. Critical spillways were being torn to bits by the raging water and jagged chunks of concrete and rocks were catapulting out at 120 mph as the Glen Canyon groaned and vibrated. Out of options and facing a cataclysm, engineers increased the flow of the Colorado River through the dam to the maximum amount possible. The resulting torrent that roared through the Grand Canyon presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a small crew of river guides to set a speed record and make history in a wooden dinghy named The Emerald Mile.

Eluding the authorities who had closed the Colorado and were evacuating Grand Canyon National Park, the tiny crew launched the Emerald Mile at Lee's Ferry in the dead of night into a maelstrom of savage white water, deadly whirlpools, 30-foot standing waves and psychotic river hydraulics. It was a hurtling ride of mythic proportions undertaken by river obsessives and madmen incapable of giving up on a dream of speed.

Their heart-stopping story is masterfully recounted by Kevin Fedarko, a former staff writer for Time magazine and a part-time river guide who clearly knows his stuff.  He begins the Emerald Mile’s journey not

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Alex by Pierre Lemaitre

I picked up Alex by Pierre Lemaitre on a whim, being between series. Originally published in French and winner of a 2013 Crime Writers Association award, Alex initially presents as a rather run-of-the-mill kidnap story. The main character has been taken; a reluctant detective is working the case. There is no ransom demand, no missing persons report, no concerned family, one mediocre witness. There are the usual questions about who she is, why she was taken, will she be rescued in time? Things are not looking good for our heroine, but we are confident everything will work out. It always does.

But after 150 pages the plot ceases to be routine and discards the usual formula altogether. The kidnap story is done. Lemaitre opens a new door for the reader, one you never expected to take. Who IS Alex?  I can't say more without releasing spoilers. Sorry, but you will thank me later. Alternating back and forth from different points of view Alex is a very dark and graphic thriller in three acts. The detectives lighten the mood as they battle administrators and bureaucracy. Varied in personalities and quirks, this is the team you would want searching for you.

Alex is also the first title in a the Commandant Camille Verhoeven trilogy, a series that I will now be snatching up.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Three Times Lucky

Because I work at the library, I feel under some pressure to come up with the perfect book for every family member's birthday. It can be pretty tricky, given the wide range of ages and interests. Their tastes run the gamut, from dry, historical nonfiction for my dad to Captain Underpants for my youngest nephew. Last year, the biggest hit with my tween nieces was Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos. This year, the clear winner is sure to be Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage.

Moses (Mo) LeBeau is an 11 year old girl in Tupelo Landing, North Carolina. When she was a newborn baby, Mo was set loose on a homemade raft into the rising floodwater during a hurricane and was found floating downstream. Mo is always searching for her Upstream Mother, despite having been adopted by the eccentric, but loving couple, Miss Lana and the amnesiac Colonel. Mo writes never-sent letters to her Upstream mother and she enlists friends and neighbors to release messages in glass bottles up and down the river.

The story begins when Detective Joe Starr comes into the local diner, asking questions about a recent murder in another town. When a local man winds up dead soon thereafter, the investigation really gets underway. Together with her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, Mo searches for clues. With this brief synopsis, Three Times Lucky sounds like a children's mystery. However, it is so much more than just that. Sheila Turnage has created a unique and wonderful character in Mo LeBeau, and Mo's voice brings the characters in the town to life.The story is ultimately one about friendship, love and acceptance within a community. Highly recommended for all ages!


Friday, September 13, 2013

Reader Assistance Requested

I know we're supposed to be the reading experts here, but I'm requesting your help this week.  I have over 1700 titles in my to-read list.  I realize that even if I stopped working right this second (and since I haven't won the lottery that doesn't look to be happening any time soon) and did nothing but read books all day every day, I still wouldn't get through this list.  This is where you come in.  I figure I should probably whittle down my list a bit.  Chip away a book here and there.  So following are six titles on my to-read list that were popular at the time that I read the review.  Tell me what you think (apologies to the Clash), should they stay or should they go?  And if you haven't read them yet, perhaps I can make your to-read list six titles longer.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Leverage by Joshua Cohen

In Leverage, by Joshua Cohen, everybody knows that the football players at Oregrove High are like gods. They can get away with any amount of bullying, hazing, and pranking, and nobody will say anything as long as they keep winning games. Well, Danny Meehan is tired of it. He and the rest of the men’s gymnastics team are going to take a stand and fight back.

But fighting back just escalates the football team’s rage. When an innocent gets caught in the crossfire, with terrible consequences, Danny realizes that he needs a man on the inside. He might just have what he needs in Kurt, the new guy on the team who’s disgusted with his teammates’ behavior. But can two boys with a tentative friendship really take on undisputed gods?

Cohen takes on a sensational, current topic and shows how it comes to pass. Who has given these boys the carte blanche to act as they do? What effect does it have on a community, and on an individual? And most importantly, what does it take to bring the bullying to an end? Disturbing, raw, and terribly real, this book will stick with you.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

From Cook to Convict

For over a century, American society demonized Mary Mallon. As recently as 2005, she was labeled, "the most dangerous woman in America." An Internet search of Mary Mallon yields thousands of results. Prominent newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times, continue to run articles about her. Yet she is far from a household name, unless you're aware of what a New York City paper dubbed her in 1910 - "Typhoid Mary."

Blending biography and fiction, Mary Beth Keane's compulsively readable novel Fever is the account of Mary who, as a teenager, traveled alone from Ireland to New York City in 1883. Starting life in her new country as a laundress, she quickly harnessed her talent and passion for cooking and worked her way into the kitchens of the New York elite. Her story opens with the simple line, "The day started with sour milk and got worse." and weaves through her complicated journey from cook to convict. Accused of being an asymptomatic carrier of typhoid - infecting her clients through her cooking - she was forcibly quarantined on North Brother Island for close to 30 years (dying on the island in 1938) but maintained her innocence to the end of her life.

Fever is a fascinating study of both Mary and the times, and perfectly captures the personalities, climate and catastrophes of turn-of-the century New York including the General Slocum ferry disaster and Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. During its annual award honoring young writers, the National Book Foundation named Keane one of 5 Under 35 and her tender portrayal of Mary's loves and losses is one of the reasons.

Vicki Ann

Sunday, September 1, 2013

LOL - Swedish Style

If you thought that contemporary Swedish literature was limited to the darkly noir (courtesy of the late Steig Larsson's Millenium Trilogy) you'll be thrilled to discover the other side of the coin or - more accurately - the crown (Sweden's monetary unit) in Jonas Jonasson's brilliant comic criminal caper, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared.

With less than an hour to go before his BIG birthday party, Allan Karllson boycotts the festivities, opens the window of his room at the Old Folks Home and steps into the flower bed. From the flower bed, he makes his way to the bus station and purchases a ticket. Waiting at the station is another prospective passenger - a very angry, slightly built young man with long greasy blond hair and a scraggly beard wearing a jean jacket with the words "Never Again" on the back and wheeling a large gray suitcase. Needing to use the restroom, which is a bit too narrow for both man and suitcase, he asks Allan to keep it in sight. When he emerges from the restroom, both the suitcase and Allan are gone.