A new season has begun, and the Camden Public Library staff is reflecting on some reads from winter as we move on to days marked by a little spring in the step. Many of the books we've picked up have been delightful, while others may have awakened a more skeptical eye. Read on for a critique from Ken, an enthusiastic foray into adult literature from Amy, and a wealth of middle grade joy from Nora.
The New York Times recently reported the murder of a Chinese billionaire, who had bought up the rights to an unlikely book: The Three-Body Problem, by Liu Cixin (translated by Ken Liu). It's sci-fi, and I particularly enjoy foreign sci-fi because it is so revealing about the culture of the writer.
Some books are a pleasure to read; this is not one of them. The narration and the characters' speech are stiff and wooden, as if they had all been re-educated in the famous camps of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and speak stiffly with care and circumspection. I suspect the narrator of creating the uncomfortable stiffness, and failing to put the story into comfortable English (or American), but perhaps he indeed created a true translation.
Every character in the book seems to have been demolished by their experiences in the Cultural Revolution; so much so that they look forward to alien invasion and earth's destruction. The book, if it indeed reveals the true lack of warmth and lack of heroism in the culture, makes me glad I am not Chinese.
The plot of the Chinese billionaire's murder seems to be at least as intriguing as the plot of the book. Here's what the New York Times had to say:
The “billionaire millennial” Lin Qi was working with Netflix and the “Game of Thrones” creators to bring a Chinese best seller to the screen. The police have a suspect, and fans have questions. Lin Qi;s death has rattled China's technology and gaming worlds and set off furious speculation about who killed him and why. Lin Qi, a 39-year-old video game tycoon, had spent a small fortune buying up the rights to a Chinese science fiction novel called “The Three-Body Problem.” A tale of alien invasion that intertwined cosmic machinations with the horrors of China’s Cultural Revolution, the book had become an unlikely international best seller that counted Barack Obama among its admirers.
Three great adult crossover books that teen historical fiction lovers will enjoy!
The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel
Set in 1942 and modern day. Ava is a Jewish Pole living in Paris during WWII when the Nazis come to take all the Jews. She is a talented artist and librarian in training when her family is forced to flee. She gets involved with the underground resistance helping children escape to safety. When she sees the book on the cover of NY Times as an old woman, she picks up everything to fly to Germany to claim the book that is hers. The book protecting the true names of the children. An incredible story of survival, loss, love, and hope!
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
This is based on the real story of the packhorse librarians in Kentucky and the Blue people, who had blue tinged skin due to a genetic disorder. This is an incredible story of Cussy, the government program to put females to work, and the education through books of the backwoods peoples of the Kentucky mountains. She is looked up to and celebrated as one of the librarians bringing them books but experiences discrimination, fear, and hatred by others because she is a blue.
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
This story begins at a Residential School for Indian children during the Great Depression, where 2 white children, Albert and Odie, are taken in after no kin is found. The Headmistress, better known by the children as the Black Witch, utilizes her wards as slave labor. She denies them meals, puts them in isolation, and has them beaten when they have done the littlest of transgressions in her eyes. If not for the kindness of some other students and teachers, they, along with a mute friend, would all probably be dead. But then the unthinkable happens and they, along with a little girl, must flee! The four children, in a canoe on the Mighty Mississippi, running for their lives! This is truly an epic tale.
When I'm seeking some kind of healing balm—a book that can feel both lighthearted and full of emotional insight—I turn to a middle grade reading spree. Anna James' latest installment in her Bookwanderers series (The Map of Stories) takes the London duo Tilly and Oscar to the Library of Congress in yet another tale that combines fantastic adventures with a love of all things bookish, dotted with many reflections on the power of stories that will no doubt resonate for all ages.
Kate Albus's debut A Place to Hang the Moon is the very best kind of historical fiction, using a clever plot to inform about the evacuation of schoolchildren from London during WWII. Orphaned siblings William, Edmund, and Anna strive to achieve a "preposterous plan" when they head to the countryside during the war in the hopes of finding a permanent family. In a story full of humor and quite real emotion, the trio befriends librarian Nora (I promise my delight isn't pure bias) and finds immense comfort throughout in the power of stories, not unlike Anna James' Tilly and Oscar.
Christine Day's The Sea in Winter deals both with injustices to indigenous peoples and protagonist Maisie's struggles with depression and anxiety after a severe injury puts her ballet dreams on indefinite hold. Maisie's emotional struggles may serve as a mirror for young (and old) readers, while the narrative also serves as a vehicle for family stories that reflect how the Makah community suffered throughout history at the hands of the dominant society (and how that legacy continues into the present).
Joy McCullough's Across the Pond has an unutterably delightful premise. 12-year-old Callie's parents inherit a Scottish castle, so she moves across the pond to take up residence, relishing a room with her own window seat overlooking the castle grounds... the stuff dreams are made of. But navigating this new terrain isn't all fun and games for Callie, who is fleeing the social anxieties born of horrible peer pressure drama at home. Callie convinces her parents to let her homeschool but is forced into a "social activity" and becomes a budding birder in her new environment. Full of wonderful writing and insights into navigating self identity, family, friendship, and home.
My most cherished of all my recent reads is the truly spectacular A Home for Goddesses and Dogs by Leslie Connor, which is rife with both wit and heart. When Lydia's mother dies, she goes off to live with her Aunt Brat (and Brat's wife Eileen) on a farm, just in time for the couple to also adopt a rather questionably behaved dog, who winds up primarily as Lydia's troublesome responsibility. Throw in some goats, a hilarious and warmly crotchety man named Elloroy, incidental home demolition, neighbors both friendly and not, and Lydia's intriguing goddess art project and you've got one of the most terrifically written novels (for any age) that I've read in a long time.
I feel thoroughly refreshed after time spent relishing these middle grade novels!