The Strange Library by Murakami

Last night I eagerly climbed into bed and cracked open The Strange Library by Murakami. Freshly released, much anticipated – I couldn’t wait to delve into it.

15 minutes later I was done. It was over. What? WHAT?

Not that it was bad, I enjoyed the short romp into one of Murakami’s worlds… I just wish there was more! I wanted more! Why wasn’t there more?

The Strange Library is a compact, but beautiful, little story. It has intriguing illustrations incorporated into the book as the story progresses, something I haven’t seen before in Murakami’s works and which adds a whole new perspective to the story you’re enjoying. In this tale, we go on an adventure with a young man who just wanted to check out some books. (Don’t we all?) It begins as he enters the city library and returns a few volumes. The woman at the front desk tells him to go to room 107 in the basement. Suspicious, but wanting new books, he goes to room 107 and there he meets a large, angry, man. The man asks him what he wants and the boy tells him the first thing that pops into his head – he is interested in books on tax collection in the Ottoman Empire. Three large dusty tomes are fetched and the boy is instructed that he must go to the reading room to read these books. To get to the reading room he follows the large man through a labyrinth, down many dark hallways, stairways, and eventually – into a cell. Suddenly the boy finds himself locked away and in grave danger. He must read all the books he was given or he won’t be allowed to go home. The mysteriousness of his adventure continues, though I don’t want to ruin it for you. There is an odd accomplice in a sheep suit, a beautiful girl and a daring attempt at escape. There is even delicious donuts and a brave pet starling.

As always, Murakami’s writing is lovely. He’s imaginative, mystical and unique. Nothing ever quite makes sense in his stories but we don’t mind, we’re just along for the ride.

When you pick up The Strange Library, turn those pages slowly and savor it while it lasts. It’s a short but sweet escape into a library of darkness, danger, books and possibly, love. We couldn’t ask for anything more.

New releases to lose sleep over

Holidays are great aren’t they? Not only do we get to buy books for our loved ones but people give us books! And certificates for books! And money to buy MORE books! It’s the best time of the year.

Here are a few upcoming releases to be excited about this holiday season and save some of that cash for.

           To be released: December 2, 2014

Haruki Murakami will be releasing “The Strange Library” next week and if you’re a bookworm – be really excited. Book nerds like us adore authors who write about their love of literature or set their stories in a place of books. Shadow of the Wind? Dash and Lily? Ex-Libris? So many great novels revolve around books within books. “The Strange Library” is about a boy and a girl who try to escape a dark and mystical library full of nightmarish things. SO EXCITED! Who doesn’t want to read about being trapped in a dark, surreal library? It’s a dream come true.

 

 To be released: January 6, 2015

SO YOU THOUGHT FLAVIA WAS GONE? Think again. Flavia may have been packed up to be sent away from Bradshaw at the end of the last book, but her new adventures will occur in the super secret boarding school for spies. New mysteries to solve, new murders to stumble upon. And all with fellow children her age who are uncannily intelligent! It’s a whole new world and I can’t wait to see what Flavia will get tangled up in next.

 

To be released: February 17, 2015

I can only imagine this will be yet another rollicking adventure with our favorite couple, Sherlock Holmes and his badass wife Mary Russell. They are on their way to California (always an excellent choice) and decide to stop by Japan on the way over. The mystery begins aboard their steamer and continues round the world, from Tokyo to Oxford.

                  To be released: December 23, 2014

I have not actually read Sundquists’s other book but I’ve read great reviews on it and this one sounds really funny too. I’m looking forward to checking out this author and seeing if he’s worth his salt! “We should hang out sometime” is Josh humorously investigating why he can’t seem to get a girlfriend. He has many adventures and mishaps and it promises to be an amusing trip into his world.

 

I’m sure there are many more upcoming. What are some of the books you’re excited for?

Clariel (Abhorsen #4) by Garth Nix

Have you ever read Garth Nix? Wait, no. More specifically, have you ever read Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series? If you haven’t, you should go out and get them. Train, plane, kindle, library, stealing/borrowing from your local bookstore (or the more traditional route of buying the book..) however you wish that will get your eager little paws in possession of these stories, it’s imperative you go for it.

The first three, Sabriel, Lireal and Abhorsen are wonderful. They’re all incredibly distinct adventures in this world Nix has created. A world that teeters between the normal world, in a city named Ancelstierre, much like our existence (no magic) and the Old Kingdom (full of magic.)

In the first adventure a young lady named Sabriel is at school in Ancelstierre when her father, the Abhorsen, goes missing. The Abhorsen is the person who protects the world from the malevolent dead. Those spirits that have been enslaved, gone astray or are naturally evil. The Abhorsen uses bells to bind and send the spirits where they’re supposed to go, beyond. So in a search for her missing father, Sabriel dones a set of bells, accompanied by a smart-aleck cat, Mogget, who talks, accidentally wakes up a prince and goes on an adventure to save her father.

In Lireal we meet the Clayr, cousins to the Abhorsens. They see the future and can give a hint to how it all ties together or what needs to be done to avoid disaster. Lireal, never having gained the sight, feels unwanted and out of place in her home with the Clayr and ends up embarking on a journey that will show her who she is and what she is meant to become.

In Abhorsen, Lirael’s adventures are extended as she learns what it will truly take to save the world from an ancient evil.

And then, comes Clariel.

Thus far, all of the Abhorsen stories have more or less ended positively. The characters undergo great losses and suffer quite a bit, but in the end they mostly end up with a brighter tomorrow for the greater good and their own life journeys. Clariel, though, is a bit darker.

Clariel is forced to move away from her beloved forest to live with her family in the city of Belisaere. She hates the masses of people, the high walls, the politics, the society and how her future is being decided for her. The King is disintegrating into his own mind and the Guiltmaster Kilp is taking control to use power for his own evil ends. Her parents are blind to all of it due to their grand new life as part of the Goldsmith’s guild. As a plot to put Clariel on the throne and overthrow the king comes to light, Clariel ends up running for her life. She seeks help from an unreliable source which eats away at the very essence of her being and changes her path to an irrevocably destructive one. Though Clariel’s intentions are good, some mistakes cannot be fixed. Though she survives her adventures, Clariel’s fate is a dark one foretold in the earlier Abhorsen books.

And though we suspect that she is who we think she is, as the ending creeps closer we can only hope it is untrue and that we’re ultimately wrong. We hope that some magical resolution will make Clariel’s story a little brighter, a little less despairing. But in the end, it is all as we feared and nothing more.

Clariel is yet another excellent addition to the Abhorsen series, if a darker, more hopeless version than anything we’ve read by Nix before.

Unnatural Creatures selected by Neil Gaiman

A black spot appears on your tablecloth. When you look again, it’s gone. Now it’s on your wall. You blink. It’s on your ceiling. With each new appearance, it grows. It swells. It becomes a large, hideous, dark presence in your home. And then you learn – it’s hungry.

“Unnatural Creatures” is a collection of stories selected by Neil Gaiman. I picked it up while I was visiting Portland, Ore., to see a friend. Elbowing my way through the crowds at Powell’s Books to find a new read, I stumbled upon it in the staff-recommended section.

Since I was only allowing myself to buy one book (such willpower) I decided anything selected by Gaiman was worth checking out.

These fantasy stories feature dark and mystical creatures ranging from hungry black spots to professor werewolves.

In “Ozioma the Wicked” a young girl is an outcast when her town learns that she can speak to snakes. Then one day, something lowers itself down from the sky and threatens everything they hold dear. Only Ozioma can help them.

“Moveable Beast” is an adventure in which a Beast collector arrives at the Bastardville Dreamy Creamy, an ice cream store in a town that prides itself on being miserable. He comes to collect their beast, but little does he know what that beast truly is.

Larry Niven’s “The Flight of The Horse” is about a man who travels back in time to find curiosities for the modern royal family. He goes on a quest further back in history than ever before to find a horse but finds something quite startling instead.

In one of my favorite pieces of the collection, a young girl named Matilda gets off the omnibus one day at an unexpected destination. In this village, the princesses’ pet cockatoucan transforms aspects of the village with its magic laughter.

The king becomes a butcher; the prime minister becomes a child. It makes Sundays come together and Thursdays get lost. It changes time, people and places to make their village a topsy-turvy mess.

Though Matilda normally wouldn’t be able to tackle such a complicated problem, the cockatoucan accidently makes her clever. And she concocts a plan to set the village to rights.

Each piece in “Unnatural Creatures” is different and delightful. Whether the authors are writing about griffins or bicycles, the characters are unique, and the stories are imaginative.

Gaiman has assembled a charming collection of whimsical romps – whether they are dark, sweet or deadly – that any reader will enjoy.

Hyperbole and a Half; dinosaurs, cake and rainbows

“Hyperbole and a Half” by Allie Brosh is like reading about the inside of your head – all the dinosaurs, cake, rainbows and overly emotional thoughts churning around into a colorful mess that constitute your life completely unfiltered.

We try really hard to keep all those dinosaurs and rainbows under control, but in this book, they roam free. I admit, maybe this isn’t everyone’s head (if you’re scowling at me right now, I mean you), but I loved it because it is a little bit like being inside mine.

It started the day I read the dinosaur costume entry, Menace, on Brosh’s blog. It was like making a new friend. I have worn a dinosaur costume, and I, too, have felt incredibly powerful waving my claws in the air, having a tail and roaring.

The best part is people not looking at you like “why is that human roaring?” because you’re a dinosaur now – you can roar to your heart’s content. So yeah, I was hooked.

Brosh’s blog is truly great. Each entry contains humorous stories and drawings to illustrate the ridiculousness that is daily life with blatant honesty. Her book “Hyperbole and a Half” is an extension of this.

In “Hyperbole and a Half,” we experience Brosh’s battles with depression, her childhood memories, her struggles to be a better person and even a little delicious cake stealing. Her writing is brutal, comical and wholly sincere.

There are many, many reasons to read this book, but here are just a few. You should read it if:

You love dogs.

You love cake.

You love books.

You like to laugh.

You are human.

The thing is, I think a lot of us can relate to Brosh’s book. It’ll make you chuckle, sure, but it’ll also make you think.

If you’ve ever struggled with depression or felt overwhelmed by the total lack of control in your daily life, or if you’ve ever needed someone just to understand how amazingly frustrating it can be just to be a person existing in this world, you’ll relate. And I think we’ve all been there.

Brosh reminds us that we’re all human, and that, yes, life is hard. It’s hard and ridiculous and exquisite. We should be grateful just to be experiencing it every day, but most of the time, we aren’t.

We’re mostly caught up being infuriatingly human, and if we’re going to do that anyway, then we might as well laugh a little bit at ourselves, too.

“The World’s Strongest Librarian” reminds us to take it one day at a time

He has to wake a woman up, comfortably curled under her blanket, who is surprisingly indignant that he disturbs her nap. Normally, it would be considered rude to wake up someone in the midst of a pleasant snooze, but the woman is resting between the library’s stacks, and he is a librarian trying to work.

On any given day, he has to remind someone to watch their children who are destroying books with their mighty little fingers. Or during storytime, he ends up tracking down an owner who lets their dog run amuck as it bounds with unrestrained joy through the library.

“The World’s Strongest Librarian” by Josh Hanagarne begins with amusing anecdotes about working in the Salt Lake City library. After engaging us with his sense of humor, unfailing kindness and passion for books, we learn a little more about his life.

Being a librarian is not all there is to Josh Hanagarne. He grew up as part of a close-knit family in the Mormon faith. He also grew up with Tourette’s.

In an effort to not make a problem out of something Hanagarne feels he can deal with, his parents don’t address the tics from his Tourette’s until he requests they go to a doctor. He begins a lifetime of fighting, questioning and adjusting.

Hanagarne tries many methods to deal with the tics. He tries ignoring them, he tries praying, and one day, his dad introduces him to weight lifting. The weight lifting seems to help for a while, but new tics appear, and he has to constantly search for fresh answers.

Though this is his most constant struggle, his memoir not only addresses Tourette’s but his evolution of belief in his faith, his journey to having a family of his own and his love of books and all the possibilities they provide.

The story is a bit random in a wonderfully human way. Hanagarne doesn’t define himself by any one aspect of his life. He is a librarian, a weight lifter, a father, a Mormon, a son and a skeptic. As he meets and faces each new challenge, he tries to answer many of the universal questions we all ask ourselves every day.

He questions whether there is a God, whether he is strong enough to face the trials in his life and why certain events happen to those who don’t deserve it. Like most of us, he struggles to understand the ‘whys’ of his life when it begins to feel overwhelming.

“The World’s Strongest Librarian” is a sweet, funny and moving memoir. Reading Hanagarne is like sitting down with a friend for a long conversation that leaves one feeling lighter and more hopeful.

Afterward, we feel like maybe anything is possible, if we just take it one day at a time.

‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette’ offers delightful dysfunction, adventure

“Where’d You Go, Bernadette” by Maria Semple is a hilariously quirky rendition of a dysfunctional family in Seattle. Bernadette lives in a crumbling home with her genius husband, Elgin, who works at Microsoft, and her loving daughter, Bee.

Bernadette used to be a revolutionary architect in Los Angeles, but after a disaster with her project, she moves to Seattle to hide and pull herself together. Though she means to restore their decrepit home as a way to get back on her architectural feet, she ends up leaving it to crumble more into ruin instead. And with the aid of some bad luck, wild choices and a crazy mom at school, she too, begins to fall apart.

Bernadette’s downward spiral begins to gather speed when Bee gets perfect grades on her report card and they plan a family trip to Antarctica. Bernadette, experiencing full-blown social anxiety, doesn’t sleep and uses her online personal assistant out of India to book their vacation and make purchases so she doesn’t have to face people out in the world.

As the trip gets closer, Bernadette is unsure how she will face going to Antarctica when she can’t even make a call to the local restaurant to make a dinner reservation for the holiday.

As Bernadette battles her inner demons, she also deals with craziness from others. A mom at her daughter’s school is completely nuts, accusing Bernadette of running over her foot in her car, sneaking onto Bernadette’s property to cut out her blackberry bushes (a first step in a wildly funny confrontation that ends with no injuries but lots of property damage) and generally makes Bernadette’s daily struggles much harder with her trivial issues and overblown complaints.

Bernadette is a great character. She handles just about everything with a sense of humor and flair. Despite all her personal problems, she tries to focus on the most important aspect of her life, her daughter Bee.

Bee is incredible. She is smart, accomplished, loves to help other children at school and is excited to go to boarding school the following year. She cheers on her mother’s odd antics and humorous confrontations with full support and compassion. They’re best friends.

One day, when Bernadette’s father, an FBI agent and a psychiatrist all end up confronting her together in a complicated climax of events, Bernadette goes missing.

Bee, heartbroken but determined, sets off to find her mother, using emails, Post-Its, confidential FBI papers and her own smarts to bring her mother home.

“Where’d You Go, Bernadette” is a sweet and zany novel about a woman and the confluence of events that lead to her disappearance. Her story is funny, touching and surprising throughout.

As we watch the complicated and absurd plot unfold, we cannot help but be hopeful that Bernadette will find her way back to her family, her love of architecture and, ultimately, herself.